Bill Pohlad wants 'Love & Mercy' to take you inside the genius of Beach Boy Brian Wilson

Posted by · 8:53 am · May 21st, 2015

http://players.brightcove.net/4838167533001/BkZprOmV_default/index.html?videoId=4909757796001

Biopics are a double-edged sword. On one hand, carving out a larger-than-life persona on the big screen drives iconography and extends a legacy. On the other, the inherent trap of the “greatest hits” approach, a structure often leaned on just because of the sheer amount of information you can carry across, can lead to a lack of dimension, sapping the humanity out of a subject. Bill Pohlad was aware of those pitfalls when he set out to make “Love & Mercy,” a cinematic portrait of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, and he avoided them expertly.

The film tells Wilson's story in two eras. Paul Dano plays the younger, his musical brilliance on display as he puts together landmark albums like “Pet Sounds” and feverishly pushes the boundaries of popular music. John Cusack plays the older, trapped in an emotional cage, over-medicated and with seemingly no one truly looking after his best interests. The result is a dissection of genius and an attempt to understand how it ticks.

I talked to Pohlad recently about all of that, about construction a sonic environment with a sound mix that puts you in Wilson's head, about what the music legend has in common with another genius Pohlad has collaborated with (Terrence Malick) and a whole lot more. Read through the back and forth below.

“Love & Mercy” opens June 5.

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HitFix: It's nice to see a non-traditional approach to a biopic, but I'll get to that in a moment. I just wanted to start by asking about “The Pet Sounds Sessions,” because I understand that had a lot to do with driving your interest in making the film. What did you discover in that that lit the spark?

Bill Pohlad: Well first of all, I try to make this admission early on that I didn't grow up as a Beach Boy guy or Brian Wilson guy at all. I was a big music fan but I was kind of more of a Beatles guy back then. I always appreciated their music for what it was and Brian's music for what it was, but I never got fully into it until later in life. And then about 10 or 15 years ago I spontaneously got deeply into “Pet Sounds” for no apparent reasons. Just kind of a spontaneous thing, and really fell in love with it and appreciated it for all that it is and was back at that time.

So that kind of set me up perfectly for when this story came along and when we started really talking about doing the Brian Wilson project. I started kind of getting involved in the material and certainly “The Pet Sound Sessions” boxed set was one of those things that I fell in love with immediately. It's one of these things you can just listen to and just be amazed by it. I guess at times I was listening to it for research, so to speak, to get a sense of how Brian worked in the studio and how he interacted with The Wrecking Crew and how he built things and just, you know, the sound of his voice, really. But on a larger scale and on a more personal scale just simply listening to that, I mean, I think it's just beautiful music all the way through, including Brian's direction and the starts and the stops and all the other things. It's just so beautiful and impactful for me to listen to that. So the idea of trying to capture that on film was certainly a big part of my interest in making the movie.

What do you think not growing up as one of the devoted, if you will, did to help you? Does it give you an objective perspective rather than if you had grown up with more devotion?

To be honest, I mean we talked to a lot of people, as we were starting to develop the project. A lot of people wanted to be involved. I mean some pretty big people in all parts of the business wanted to be involved just because of the Brian Wilson thing. And some great writers and things like that. But a lot of them honestly were such Beach Boys fans that they almost were too close to it. They couldn't see the forest for the trees. They were just so into the world and all the minutiae and all that, which is great, but it was never our intention to make a film just for Beach Boys fans or Brian Wilson fans. It was wanting to make a film that would satisfy that group and go deeply into his music and that part of his life. But more so I wanted it to be about a human being, somebody that we could really care for and that you wouldn't have to be a Beach Boys or a Brian Wilson fan to appreciate it. So that drove a lot of it.

You hadn't directed a film since 1990. So two questions: Why did you stay away from the director's chair for so long and why was this the material that got you back there?

After I did my first film I actually didn't want to move to Los Angeles and I kind of wanted to stay in Minneapolis. And, you know, the film had done OK. I mean whenever people saw it and all that but, you know, it wasn't a great testament of my abilities or anything. So I kind of stayed back in Minneapolis and I directed documentaries and commercials and all sorts of things, just kind of to keep me in the business and to keep the bills paid, so to speak. So I did that for like 10 years and I did a fair amount but it really wasn't getting me any closer back to the feature side. So I decided after that to focus more on producing. And at the same time I didn't like the idea of the producer who wanted to be the director, so I just totally didn't say anything about that. I didn't acknowledge, you know, whatever – my desire certainly was to get back to it but I really wanted to be low key about it and very few people knew about it. As time went on and the producing thing got further along, I gained more experience and it felt like I could start loosening up a little bit and start thinking about finding something.

I actually had found something that we were developing when the Brian Wilson project came along. And so I was working on the Brian Wilson thing more as a producer for sure, you know? There was a script that was floating around called “Heroes and Villains” that John Wells and Claire Rudnick Polstein had put together and were kind of shepherding. They came to us to see if we wanted to partner with them on it. I read it and I didn't really like it at all, unfortunately. But I said, you know, “If this doesn't work, out come back and we'll start over. And they did come back. So I started looking at it and getting into it more closely. And then I started working with Oren Moverman on finding the way in and developing the script. And Oren was on the list of possible directors, but as we were working together one day he turned to me and said, you know, “You should direct this. You've got a very clear vision of it and you clearly know what you want it to be. You should direct it.” So I was like, “OK.” It was like somebody giving you permission to do it and it was something that I clearly was very into at that point, even though maybe I hadn't even realized it. And so it just kind of started flowing pretty easily.

I love Oren. He's such a great voice out there, you know.

Yeah, an amazing guy. A great talent.

What you hear in this movie is nearly as important as what you see, I think. The sound mix is so immersive and interesting and I just wanted to get your philosophy behind that.

That was certainly part of it. Obviously there's the music and you want as much of it as you can. On the other hand, this isn't “Mama Mia!” We never wanted it to be a movie where it just hung itself on the music. I love the music for what it is but I've never – like I didn't want to make a “biopic.” I didn't really want to make a movie that was just about the music. At the core I wanted it to be some kind of and intimate portrait of somebody that we could really relate to, that at the end of the day it wasn't just about “Fun, Fun, Fun” or “Surf's Up” or anything like that. I wanted it to be about him as a person. So that's what drove that part.

And Atticus's score is so organic it kind of bleeds in and out of the Beach Boys material and creates this – along with the mix – this whole little sonic universe. What was your direction to him?

Part of Brian is the challenges. I mean one of the first things I think [his wife] Melinda said when I first started to get to know them both a little better was this notion that Brian hears these amazing orchestrations and harmonies and arrangements in his head that are so complex, nobody else can understand them until he actually executes them. They're these amazingly, you know, layered things. The problem is he hears them all the time and he can't turn them off necessarily. That ocean of kind of being the genius as well as the madness really intrigued me, and going into someone's mind who is super creative and also somewhat troubled is exciting to me. But you're making a movie, so the normal way in would be some visual representation of some kind of thing, you know, that he's going through. But obviously that's not what Brian suffers from. He suffers from an illness that has him hearing, you know – he doesn't see visual hallucinations. He hears them. It's like he has auditory hallucinations, and so I really wanted to be able to try to get to that and to try to represent that in some way.

So when I started to visualize that I thought of “Revolution 9” on the Beatles' “White Album.” I was like, “We should do something like that.” And in talking about that we started talking again to people, musicians and composers and producers and all that. And Atticus was one of the first people that I sat down and talked about it. And he immediately took it and ran with it. He knew exactly what I was talking about and we kind of totally connected on it. A big part, too, was the discussion about what kind of score this was going to be, and there were a lot of people that wanted to do it. But a lot of them, again, as I explained before, were such big Brian Wilson fans. What were they going to do, write some tribute to Brian or something like that? It just didn't feel right. Atticus got that right away. You're not going to try to compete with Brian Wilson. So he had the idea – because we had access to all of Brian's original music and the original tapes and stems and tracks from these recordings. So we started talking about rearranging those. He would take them and combine them in different ways and we'd mix them and things to create new music that essentially was Brian's music.

Yeah, kind of disassemble it. That's interesting. And Atticus such an inspired pick for something like that. He's so good at building aural environments, you know?

Yeah.

As I said it's very encouraging to see someone take a unique approach to the biopic format. I think that it's interesting because it's not by any means a traditional biopic, but it definitely gets across the information that you would receive in a traditional biopic. But it does it in organic ways. So with that in mind, how did the way you decided to tell this story play into the themes that you wanted to explore?

It's hard to go back and go, “I did this for this particular reason,” or whatever. I grew up more in a mainstream film world. In other words I wasn't at the art house all the time. But my sensibilities are also such that I don't like doing the same thing over again. I mean what's the point if you're just trying to do the same thing that somebody else has done? So here in this effort of trying to do something, you know, to represent Brian in some way, again, what I wanted was to paint a portrait that was more human. And certainly a biopic doesn't allow you to do that because you're just having to hit so many different beats along some famous person's life and get into that trap. So the idea of trying to do it as these two parts of his life intertwining and allowing that to paint the portrait was what I wanted to do and how we started talking about it. Sorry, can you repeat the question.

I was going to ask you to get into this idea of conceiving it as a diptych.

Basically you look at Brian's life and he's gone through so many different eras and so many different phases and so many different lives in a lot of ways. If you were trying to do a biopic that just hit every one of them, I mean, it would have to be some brilliant, long, you know, miniseries or something like that. But I just didn't want to do that. So originally it was actually going to be three and it kind of still is. It was more of a triptych. It was Brian past, which was the 1960s Brian. Brian present, which was the guy in bed. And Brian future, which became the John Cusack era. And kind of by interweaving those we'd show, without having to tell every beat. Obviously we don't wallow in the bed era. We could have. A lot of dramatic things happened there. But again, it just didn't seem necessary. There's a lot of different ways of painting a portrait of someone and in this case it just felt right to focus on these two or three and let them kind of speak for the other eras that we're not seeing. It just felt more intimate to me.

Something occurred to me while watching it, a bit of an odd question but – you obviously immersed yourself in the world of a genius here. And you've worked as a producer with a guy I think a lot of people would consider a genius, Terrence Malick. I'm just sort of curious if any parallels about how these two guys create art struck you.

Not literally. Not something I guess off the top of my head I could express in that way. I think there are certainly similarities in their personalities, to be honest, but I don't know how relevant. That seems more coincidental. I think the important thing is that like any artist in their great moments, they're on their personal journey, as opposed to following some convention or some rule that you have to do this and then you have to do that. They really are freeing themselves in a way to try to do it differently, so what they're doing comes from their heart. Hopefully that's what any of us who are in that realm are trying to do. Some are more successful than others and some let it take over their lives more than others, if you know what I mean. I think we all, in some ways, are on that spectrum somewhere. We learn ways of approaching life so that it's more acceptable to the wider world. And artists, on the other hand, challenge themselves in a lot of ways to go against that and be more free and more kind of able to explore areas that other people might not even think of or allow themselves to go there. So in that sense I think both Terry and Brian are examples of that in different ways, of trying to stay true to whatever that artistic journey is that they're on. And try not to get too hung up on the other side of it or trying to find a balance.

Did this feed the furnace for you as far as directing is concerned? Do you think you'll tackle something else somewhat soon or do you think it will be a little while again?

Hopefully not. I mean again to a large degree I was keeping it under wraps because, you know, it wasn't – whatever, I needed time or I didn't want… I was shy about it, I guess would be the word. Now I feel obviously a little more comfortable coming out in that regard. Definitely I want to do it more and actually Oren and I have just finished an adaptation of a book that looks like hopefully I will direct if we can get it all together. But it's, you know, one of those things you've got to take one day at a time and not get overly hung up on yourself and try to find the right way to do it again. But I definitely want to. It's my first love and something I would like to continue doing.

And then the last two things here I just wanted to ask about some peripheral stuff. How is the Sean Penn movie you produced, “The Last Face,” coming along? Can we expect to see that this year?

It's fantastic. We shot it later last year and we're just in post on it now and we're starting to show some little bits of it to people. I can only say – I don't like to over talk about these things or blow the horn before it's time – but I'm very excited. I've been excited about it from the beginning and as we go through the process and it gets closer to reality my enthusiasm continues to increase.

You'll forgive me if I also ask about the Malick movie “Voyage of Time,” then. Any update on that?

You know, Terry continues to work on it. It is one of those long processes, but he's got a lot of other things going on lately with the trilogy, or the sequence of films he's done since “Tree of Life.” But I think he's spending a little more time on “Voyage of Time” now and obviously we're all excited about it. It's certainly been in the vision and all of our heads since “Tree of Life,” and for Terry a lot longer. So it would be great to see it finally come out.

Well great work on the movie and in capturing a lion of a persona.

Thank you. Thank you very much. It's great to hear.

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Review: Gaspar Noé's 'Love' is a barrage of sex mainstream cinema has rarely seen

Posted by · 2:46 am · May 21st, 2015

[This review contains descriptions of graphic sexual acts.]

CANNES – The first shot of Gaspar Noé”s new drama “Love” lets you know exactly what you”ve gotten yourself into. Murphy (Karl Glusman) and Electra (Aomi Muyock) are naked on a bed. She is giving him a hand job while he fingers her. The camera does not move. There is no cut to another shot. There is no music. And then, in what will be a common occurrence, Murphy ejaculates in Electra”s hand. Noé has given you ample warning of what”s ahead. This film will not simulate sex. The intercourse will be real and it will dominate the proceedings.

After this initial scene the film jumps two years later and the actual narrative begins. Murphy, an American film student living in Paris, awakens in bed with his current companion, Omi (Klara Kristin). Their young son is crying and Murphy goes to try and calm him down. A voice over immediately telegraphs how miserable his life is, declaring, “This place is a cage.” His day is quickly interrupted by a voicemail from Elektra”s mother who pleads with him for help. Her daughter has not been in heard from in two months and she fears suicide. Murphy becomes despondent over the love of his life's potential fate and we begin to flashback to the highs and lows of their relationship.

In his director”s statement, Noé, who is best known for 2003's “Irreversible” and 2009's “Enter the Void,” says he wanted “to film the organic dimension of love.” In layman”s terms, that constitutes characters engaging in graphic sex that has rarely if ever been seen in a “legitimate” film. What begins to hinder his proposition is that the film contains so many sex scenes that the cumulative effect is numbing. You almost tune it all out. If Noé had lived by the “less is more” philosophy, his argument would be more impactful overall. Moreover, how he films many of these sequences doesn't help, either.

One of the first extended sex scenes is between Murphy, Electra and Omni. Murphy and Electra have seduced Omi, their new neighbor, to fulfill Electra”s biggest fantasy (this is also where they discover Omi is only 16, to which Murphy exclaims, “I love Europe”). Surprisingly, the three-way is shot from one angle with almost no cuts. The song that plays over it includes a very long guitar solo that you”d expect from a porno made in the 1970s. In this particular instance, providing the audience a simple observational perspective that any webcam can depict makes it increasingly feel as though Noé is taking advantage of his actors instead of allowing them to tell his story. And while it takes a long while to come to the surface amongst the almost constant sex, there actually is a real story Noé wants to tell.

Frankly, Murphy and Electra are not that special. They are just another dysfunctional couple whose relationship is full of jealousy and infidelity (mostly on his part). Neither of them ever discuss having an open relationship, but Murphy”s unspoken presumption is the underlying cause for its eventual failure. As Noé slowly pulls back on the barrage of sex scenes we do begin to see how these lovers fell for each other, however. Shockingly, there are actual sequences in the movie where all the characters do is walk through the streets of Paris talking to each other about life, their hopes and their dreams. There is also a rare moment or two where Noé is able to use the sex to seed the couple”s relationship.  

One particular example finds the couple, at the behest of Electra, experimenting by hooking up with a transsexual. Murphy”s discomfort with the taboo encounter leads him to lovingly ask Electra to keep it a secret. It”s one of the few times in the film where the pair seem truly in love as opposed to playing being in love. It”s also worth noting this is one of the few times Noé insinuates the sexual acts that take place rather than completely revealing them. The film doesn”t have enough of these moments.

After the sex is over, Noé often lets the camera lazily gaze upon its subjects in the afterglow. His willingness to display the male form completely nude so intimately may seem minor compared to the sexual acts we”ve seen Murphy”s private parts engage in, but if “Love” cracks open the door for more sexual expression on screen in any way, it will likely be in this context. And, yes, that's a positive.

It goes without saying that there are few well-known actors who would be willing to participate in a project such as this, even if it meant working with a renowned filmmaker such as Noé. The three main leads, all unknowns, may look back upon this project a decade from now and marvel at how brave they were to take it on. Noé is lucky they are as good as they are.

Sometimes Glusman, who has a supporting role in Roland Emmerich”s upcoming drama “Stonewall,” is very good conveying a “bro” who thinks he's more talented and smart than he really is. Other times it appears as though he is a relatively inexperienced actor plucked off a generic Hollywood casting call just trying too hard. 

Electra is feisty and passionate, but Muyock”s natural charisma brings her more to life than Noé”s screenplay ever does. 

As for Omi, she becomes such a peripheral character that Kristin isn”t able to make much of an impression with her. Considering the film”s primary focus, that”s likely what Noé had in mind. Providing her a little more depth would have made Murphy”s present day obsession with Electra that much more interesting, though.

But “Love” may not be as erotic as many expect. The gratuitous sex may eventually start to bore many viewers. Some may even take off their 3D glasses because they simply aren't necessary. Yet, for all its faults, “Love” is a film that somehow still resonates. And it”s not because Noé is pushing the boundaries of human sexual expression in cinema. On the surface, that aspect of the film feels superfluous. No, somehow there is one sliver of genuine intimacy that appears through all of the noise and distraction, a sliver of true intimacy that is rarely seen in narrative film. And after 2 hours and 10 minutes, that may be enough to justify the entire experience.

“Love” has secured distribution in the United States, but it”s unclear when it will be released in theaters.

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Roger Deakins will shoot Denis Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner' sequel

Posted by · 10:32 am · May 20th, 2015

Oh wow. So cinematographer Roger Deakins has signed on to shoot Denis Villeneuve's “Blade Runner” sequel. I'm paying attention now, folks.

Seriously, this whole project has been filed under “whatever” for me for the longest time. But then I have a dirty little secret that I suspect is shared by more than a few who just don't want to get into it: I've never agreed with the legions who think Ridley Scott's original film is an indispensable work of modern art. But…not going to get into it. I've mainly just been snoozing at the prospect of revisiting the material because of your standard grade reboot/sequel-itis.

However, when Denis Villeneuve joined up, I got a little excited. This isn't some run-of-the-mill action director sure to lumber his way through the thing. Villeneuve is a pretty intriguing new voice. I didn't love the scripts for “Incendies” or “Prisoners,” but I loved his approach to them as a director. I thought “Enemy” was bold and exciting. And I can't wait to see “Sicario,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last night.

One smart decision Villeneuve has made is keeping Deakins on board. His eye behind the camera makes any project that much better. And knowing he'll be bringing this detailed world to life on screen has me pretty giddy. Though now that I think about it, I hope Jeff Cronenweth's name was at least in the hat. His father, the great Jordan Cronenweth, gave us the amazing imagery of the original after all, and he's a brilliant technician in his own right.

Nevertheless, sign me up.

Deakins, by the way, will be presented with the Pierre Angénieux Excellens in Cinematography Award at Cannes Friday. The “Blade Runner” sequel, meanwhile, begins principal photography next summer.

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I'll miss you, David Letterman

Posted by · 5:00 am · May 20th, 2015

As I begin writing this I'm watching David Letterman, in one of his final appearances as host of “The Late Show,” walk out to greet the audience as he's done thousands of times. He's talking about the weather in New York, again, as he's done countless times. After Wednesday, he'll never walk out onto that Ed Sullivan Theater stage and shoot the breeze about the weather again. He'll never again throw it to Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra to kick off the show. The misfits, alas, will have lost their shepherd.

Because at his core, that's who Letterman is and has been. He has represented the off-brand sensibilities of an audience allergic to the vanilla stylings of his cool kid contemporaries. He has been the kind of personality who could give us Stupid Pet Tricks and turn throwing a football at a meatball-topped Christmas tree into an annual tradition. If anyone, Conan O'Brien was to take up the baton and bear that standard in Letterman's wake. But shelved away on TBS, forever changed by his own late night network political turmoil, he doesn't quite have the stride he once did and might not even be much longer for this landscape himself. When Letterman signs off for the last time, there will simply be no more options for the late night dissidents.

I know my bedtime is about to get a little earlier, anyway. I know the Jimmys aren't really for me, Fallon towing the safest of lines on NBC's flagship “Tonight Show,” Kimmel obsessed with going viral on ABC's “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Seth Myers is just the steward of the “Late Night” brand Letterman started, a shell of what it once was, while “The Late Late Show's” James Corden really just seems like he's trying to keep up. And I'm no old fogey. It's just that the landscape isn't one I quite want to traverse anymore. I'm a guy who tucked himself in watching Letterman growing up and and then drifted off to sleep to the sounds of Tom Snyder interviews. I think Stephen Colbert will be a wonderful and, above all, smart addition to this flock, but an era, to say the absolute least, is ending.

Or maybe it ended long ago, and the king of late night has finally realized it.

I loved Letterman because he was that showman for the weirdos without begging for the adulation. He never tried so hard that the strain showed, though he certainly put himself through his share of creative torture along the way, striving to produce memorable television night after night. He wasn't our monkey out on that stage. He had our number. He had a collected, sly intelligence woven throughout his work, and he defined comedy for a generation with that assurance.

The final stretch has been memorable but classy, the requisite parade of reverence organic and familial. Favorites like Bill Murray, Jack Hanna, Julia Roberts and Howard Stern have stopped by once last time. I've watched Ray Romano and Norm Macdonald get very emotional, unable even through laughs to contain the deep admiration for the man who inspired them so. And the musical performances have been a wonderful trip down memory lane for 90s kids: Dave Matthews Band, Eddie Vedder popping guitar strings – yeah, even Hootie and the Blowfish.

But the keel has remained even, Letterman's usual business consistently of a piece. I've delighted in his skewering of presidential candidate Jeb Bush's mind-bogglingly regressive positions, and the glimmer in his eye as he's needled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots over Deflategate. It's been a welcome magic trick, keeping us from fully realizing that it's all almost over.

I'm going to miss it, and him, so much. I'm going to miss the little things he would seize upon in an interview and find so personally hilarious. I'm going to miss Will Lee's perfectly placed bass drop “rimshots.” I'm going to miss Darlene Love's annual rendition of the greatest Christmas song of all time, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” and Jay Thomas zipping that pigskin at the meatball. And I'm going to miss that horn outro sharply cut off by one of announcer Alan Kalter's many ridiculous Worldwide Pants taglines. But I'll have the memories from my couch, and moreover, from my seat in the studio audience.

Indeed, I've seen “The Late Show” live twice, and I relished the little hoops you had to jump through to get there. In order to get tickets, you would have to humor a phone call asking you to answer a bit of Letterman trivia. (Nothing terribly difficult. What color is Kalter's hair, for instance.) When you'd arrive at the theater, the secret – if you wanted to sit close – was to be outwardly excited in front of the team assembling the audience. Letterman liked to have that energy up front. My wife and I pulled it off in December of 2009 and we landed on the front row! It was a pity that we missed the annual Darlene Love/Jay Thomas Christmas special by a day, but who can complain? When Letterman grabbed a handful of the faux presents sitting underneath that meatball-and-pizza-topped tree and tossed them into the crowd, one landed in my hands. I of course have it still.

I went again with a friend three years later and the two of us together, low-key blokes, well, we apparently didn't have the requisite energy. So we ended up in the back of the balcony. But so what? Even with stage lights blocking the view in that freezing cold studio space, it was a delight. We grabbed a sandwich at Rupert Jee's Hello Deli for old time's sake. Because you gotta.

I don't know what Letterman will do in his career after this chapter closes, but I have to assume he won't stay away from the fray for long. A podcast or something seems like the kind of low-pressure pursuit he'd be interested in. I hope he's back sooner than later. Whatever respite he takes with his family, he's certainly earned it. But more importantly, what he and Paul and the family of crew members he's so wonderfully focused on in the final stretch created in that historic space between 54th and 53rd on Broadway in the greatest city on earth (and pioneered for over a decade a few blocks over in 30 Rock's Studio 6A prior to that), it belongs to the ages. It belongs to us. It transcends. And I don't even care how corny that sounds.

Thank you, David Letterman. You did Johnny proud.

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7 things I learned from the Wired oral history of Industrial Light & Magic

Posted by · 9:50 am · May 19th, 2015

Industrial Light & Magic, the San Francisco-based visual effects house that has changed the course of cinema history countless times over the years, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015. Wired Magazine has rounded up a who's who to discuss its impact and how the advances made there – first in a sweaty Van Nuys warehouse, and now in a swank Presidio complex – have morphed the film industry into what it is today. It's well worth your time.

If, however, you're the “tl;dr” type, I couldn't help but jot down a few takeaways as I read. Here are seven. But seriously, take some time to read through it if you can. It's a tight but detailed look back, full of the kind of stories – from “Star Wars” to “Transformers” – that make “movie magic” a thing.

George Lucas wants Marvel to make another “Howard the Duck” movie
I've actually always loved Willard Huyck's 1986 adaptation of the comic book property, terrible as it is. Lucas produced, and there's some fun discussion about trimming feathers to get everything just so in those practical effects days. But we could get another one. Marvel has already toe-dipped with that post-credits gag in “Guardians of the Galaxy” last year. “Someday, I hope, Marvel will make a new version of 'Howard the Duck,' and you'll see it could be a good movie,” Lucas says. “A digital duck will make that thing work.”

James Cameron calls the pseudopod sequence from “The Abyss” the “water weenie”
I don't know, that just cracks me up. “The Abyss” was a significant turning point for ILM, one of a handful of milestone productions that you can literally trace with a line throughout the company's 40-year history. Also notable was the fact that Pixar, an internal exploratory situation at ILM that was spun off as its own company and sold, bid against ILM for the film. They lost in the end because while Pixar was only dealing in CGI, ILM had other methods to their madness.

The sound of the T-1000 squeezing through bars was dog food
I had to smile at the random inclusion of a Gary Rydstrom anecdote regarding a sound effect in the middle of all this visual effects talk. There's literally nothing else about sound except that one bit, and as someone who's struggled with what to cut from an oral history and what to leave in, I have to assume it was one of those things the writers and editors loved too much to exclude. In a nutshell, the sound of the liquid-metal T-1000 squeezing through that Pescadero State Hospital door in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was dog food sliding out of a can. “That sound effect cost 75 cents,” Rydstrom says.

No “Jurassic Park,” no “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”
We all know “Jurassic Park” was the hybrid watershed moment for the transition from practical effects to digital effects. That production forced the extinction of stop-motion as a process, as Steven Spielberg says in the piece. But the world also owes “Jurassic Park” for the “Star Wars” prequels, development of which were announced a year after the 1993 dinosaur spectacle hit theaters. “I never thought I'd do the 'Star Wars' prequels, because there was no real way I could get Yoda to fight,” Lucas says. “There was no way I could go over Coruscant, this giant city-planet. But once you had digital, there was no end to what you could do.” It was “like a giant switch was thrown overnight,” Pixar's Ed Catmull says about “Jurassic Park's” impact.

“Twister” didn't even have a script before it was green-lit
Honestly, “Twister” is one of my favorite action movies. Soft spot, nostalgia, sure, but the effects work on that film was stunning at the time and there had been no cinematic experience like it. Turns out, the film was pretty much given the go ahead based on a single proof-of-concept shot. “The minute we took that shot into the studio and they saw it, they said, 'Done. We want to make it,'” producer Kathleen Kennedy says. “We didn”t even have a script yet!”

Rian Johnson nearly burned his house down trying to recreate a “Back to the Future” shot
The “Looper” director was apparently doing a parody of the film with friends once upon a time and he wanted to recreate the fiery tire trails left by the DeLorean after it shoots off through time. He soaked strips of paper towel in gasoline and laid them out in a line behind a big model DeLorean in his parents' garage, and you can probably guess how that turned out. “I don”t remember how I got the fire out, but I almost destroyed my family's house,” he says. “And now I'm doing 'Star Wars.' That's how you do it.” Mic drop on that last bit, Rian.

“Warcraft” will be a new watershed moment for ILM
“Star Wars,” “The Abyss,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “Pearl Harbor” appear to be the big bar-raisers for ILM over the years. And apparently, Duncan Jones' upcoming “Warcraft” is the next. R&D supervisor Cary Phillips calls it the most amazing work they've done in his 20-year tenure with the company. The concept art alone was enough to make him soil himself, he jokes.

Go read more. Trust me.

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Review: 'Sicario' simmers as it indicts the fallacy of the drug war we can't win

Posted by · 6:55 am · May 19th, 2015

CANNES – In 2001 Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for his portrayal of a Mexican police officer attempting to take down the drug cartels in Steven Soderbergh”s “Traffic.” Fourteen years later he”s starring in another film about North America”s “drug war,” Denis Villeneuve”s “Sicario,” and the picture makes the disheartening argument that things may have actually gotten worse.

The film begins during an FBI operation in Phoenix, Arizona where veteran agent Kate Macy (a superb Emily Blunt) is leading a SWAT team to take down a hostage situation. They soon discover a home with no hostages to be found but over 20 dead bodies hidden within its walls, all victims of a Mexican drug cartel. Kate is shaken by the murders enough that she reluctantly signs on to be the FBI liaison for what she”s told is a DEA and Dept. of Justice task force. This group is led by the ever-jovial Matt (Josh Brolin), who Kate is immediately wary of.  

Despite her prodding, Matt continues to sidestep who he actually works for and Kate becomes more skeptical upon the arrival of his colleague, Alejandro (Del Toro). She eventually learns that Alejandro is Mexican and has years of experience battling the cartels, but no one will tell her his true purpose on the task force.  

Before Kate has a moment to process any of this the trio is off to El Paso, Texas to facilitate the extradition of a drug lord, currently in Juarez across the border, and into U.S. custody. The mission ends up in an illegal and deadly firefight provoked by Matt, Alejandro, the U.S. Marshals and military security forces. This leaves Kate wondering what exactly she”s gotten into. Pleading with her boss (Victor Garber) for assistance brings even more frustration as he informs her that right or wrong, “publicly elected officials” have now authorized this sort of behavior. As things turn darker Kate has to decide how far she”ll let her new colleagues go before deciding they've crossed a line she can't live with.

While Villeneuve expertly stages the film”s action elements with a patient eye that is rarely seen in commercial cinema, screenwriter Tayler Sheridan has no intention of ignoring the political realities at play. Even if only half of what transpires in the film is true, it”s an indictment against every strategy the U.S. and Mexico have put forth this century. The killings in Juarez were real and the violence committed between the warring cartels has reached horrific levels (though as of late there has been a significant period of relative peace).

At one point, Brolin”s character insists that if “20% of the population” is going to insist on taking cocaine that it might be safer for America if there was just one major power again, such as the infamous Medellín cartel. The concept that “Sicario” could be inspired by anyone in the U.S. government thinking that is astounding, but it”s a powerful statement because that logic sounds exactly like something the FBI, CIA or Department of Justice might secretly push for.

“Sicario” starts and ends with Blunt”s impassioned performance (and she's spectacular in her final scene), but it”s Del Toro who is the real standout. Alejandro is obviously the Sicario the film”s title refers to (English translation: hitman) and Del Toro finds a way to make him the most intimidating figure in a movie chock-full of strong personalities. Alejandro may not wear his broken heart on his sleeve, but Del Toro lets it simmer below the surface. The performance is an impressive return to form for an actor who hasn”t appeared to be this invested in a role since Soderbergh”s “Che.”

Brolin”s natural charisma comes in handy playing Matt, but it would be a mistake to assume his character”s cavalier attitude is superficial. Matt has simply seen the worst of the world and if he can”t find the humor in even the darkest of situations he won”t be able function. Brolin, like Del Toro, could have strayed into over-the-top territory here, but he gives Matt an authenticity that helps make the movie feel all too real.

Villeneuve reunites with a number of his “Prisoners” collaborators including director of photography Roger Deakins, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, costume designer Renée April and production designer Patrice Vermette on the film. Deakins once again proves he stands alone amongst his contemporaries in shooting the southwest. His widescreen compositions, often positioned from an imaginary satellite perch, particularly emphasize the emptiness that buffers El Paso and Juarez. The confidence Deakins and Villeneuve have in each other manifests itself in one key sequence shot almost entirely in night vision. These scenes could have easily devolved into cliché, but instead Deakins is able to use the style to accentuate the horror of Matt and Alejandro”s intentions.  

Jóhannsson”s score here is even more minimalist than in “Prisoners.” It”s a stylistic cousin to Hans Zimmer”s “Inception” score and Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans”s compositions for another Villeneue movie, “Enemy.” It”s an important contribution to the tension Villeneuve is building during the law enforcement operations.

The creative imprint Villeneuve has put on “Sicario” is becoming increasingly recognizable. This is a director who relishes a slow build, who wants you to wait and, frankly, he may test your patience in doing so. But if you can appreciate the artful build-up long enough, you will be rewarded with a pop and crackle that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.

“Sicario” opens in limited release on Sept. 18.

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Mindy Kaling says she wept when she visited Pixar to discuss 'Inside Out'

Posted by · 8:00 am · May 18th, 2015

CANNES – “Inside Out” made a splash at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival on Monday morning earning thunderous applause after its first press screening and rave reviews including one from this particular pundit.

Pixar's first original movie since 2012, “Inside Out” introduces us to five key emotions living in the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl who has just moved to San Francisco with her parents. When two of the emotions, Joy and Sadness, are lost in the long term memory portion of her brain, Riley is thrown for a dramatic loop. The two lost emotions find themselves racing against the clock to get back to headquarters before it's too late.

Director Pete Docter, Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, producer John Rivera and vocal talent Amy Poehler (who plays Joy), Mindy Kaling (who plays Disgust) and Phyllis Smith (who plays Sadness) were just some of the participants during the film's official festival press conference. The session began with Poehler taking a question about the similarities between Joy and Leslie Knope who she played for seven seasons on “Parks and Recreation.”  

“Well, Joy in the film is kind of the motor and she kind of keeps things moving and that certainly is a similar to the character I played on ['Parks'],” Poehler said. “What was so nice about playing this character was that she, like all of the emotions, feels like she should really be the only one there. So it was fun to play with the dynamic of sadness, especially with the journey of Joy and everyone else realizing you are stronger as a team and need to work together. But yeah, I just basically do one character.”

Kaling, whose television show was just saved from cancellation by Hulu, was frank about how much the opportunity to participate in this particular movie meant to her.

“I'm not asked to do that many things,” she said. “I think I am very specific in how I look and talk and what I'm interested in. So I've resigned myself, slash known, that I'm going to be writing my own work, which is fine for me. I'm not an actress that goes on auditions that often.”

It was when she traveled to Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville, California to meet with Docter and his animators that the quality and opportunity the project offered really hit home.

“When I was asked to do this, the script was amazing,” she recalled. “I went up to Pixar and I cried. I was just in a meeting with these guys and they showed me the story and I started weeping. They weren't too scared off by that and let me continue to work with them, but this is amazing. I am so critical of things and to read something and have it be so fresh and not feel that there was this need to give it notes was just wonderful.”

Poehler appreciated that the Pixar team was so collaborative, noting, “Sometimes when you do voice over stuff you are in a booth. [For this project] we were all in the same room and I remember a day when Pete said, 'I think you're just gonna cry today, all day,' and I was like 'Yes!' And then I gave you guys $350.”

One member of the media asked Lasseter and Docter why “Inside Out” isn't in the festival's official competition. Both men refused to tip their hand as to whether it was a decision made by the studio or the festival only wanted the film for an out-of-competition slot. That didn't stop Poehler, who likely forgot a jury actually decides the awards, from campaigning for the Palme d'Or.

“I want to remind you you can vote for whoever you want,” she joked. “It's your vote!”

Not really, but in a perfect world, “Inside Out” and another out-of-competition film, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” would be up for a slew of jury awards. Thankfully, there's always Oscar.

“Inside Out” opens nationwide on June 19.

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Review: 'Inside Out' is simply one of Pixar's most creative films ever

Posted by · 2:36 am · May 18th, 2015

http://players.brightcove.net/4838167533001/BkZprOmV_default/index.html?videoId=4909817440001

CANNES – Stop and think about it for a just a minute. Imagine a movie almost completely centered on individual emotions living in a young girl's head. Not a short, but a feature length film. It sounds like some sort of nightmare screenwriting assignment, doesn”t it? How do you explain how the emotions work? Do they control her every action? Do they grow and mature alongside her? How do you make a coherent, entertaining and moving experience out of that concept? Pete Docter, who previously directed one of Pixar's best films, “Up,” doesn't make things easy on himself taking on that challenge and it makes the success of “Inside Out” more admirable than it initially might seem.

The most important character in “Inside Out” is actually our heroine, Riley (eventually voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). Her birth spurs the creation of the first emotion, Joy (Amy Poehler), but as she grows, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) arrive to balance out her emotional makeup. Each has a key role to play in Riley”s life, but it's Joy who diligently makes it her responsibility to command the team and keep her as happy as possible.

The emotions live in a control room in Riley's mind and are responsible for making sure her core memories are protected. Joy believes these important core thoughts need to be happy memories and is somewhat obsessive that the timid and shy Sadness not taint them with her touch. As Riley grows, however, the emotions begin to learn it can be harder to influence her reactions. This first becomes apparent when Riley's parents (Diane Lane and Kyle Maclachlan) move the family from a quiet country home in Minnesota to a townhouse in San Francisco.  

Like many kids uprooted at an early age, Riley does not adjust well to her new surroundings. She starts to act out and rebel against her parents, who, unable to put two and two together, seem puzzled by her new behavior. At the exact same time Riley takes a turn for the worse, Sadness has done the unthinkable and touched a number of core memories that are contributing to Riley”s sour mood. Joy and Sadness bicker over these memories (which look like large spheres) and in a dispute find themselves sucked out of the headquarters.

This turns out to be the worst possible scenario for Riley, because now Fear, Disgust and Anger are at the helm. Without the influence of Joy and Sadness, Riley will be even more moody than your typically headstrong 11-year-old. As the two emotions attempt to find their way back to Headquarters, Riley concocts a plan to escape to the one place she was happy: her old home. Joy and Sadness need to get back in time to stabilize her psyche before she does something very dangerous.

If you are thinking that Joy and Sadness storyline sounds like a very familiar movie trope, you”re absolutely right. The second half of film finds them on a road trip through Long Term Memory and numerous unexpected obstacles such as Imagination Land to find their way back to Headquarters. What is unexpected is for Riley”s fate to take a bit of a back seat to Joy”s own arc. Joy has always dismissed Sadness, but is confronted with the fact that her fellow emotion is essential to Riley”s being. And this is where Docter shows true brilliance in the vocal casting of Poehler and Smith.

In the past, Pixar has found tremendous success in harnessing dramatic work from voice actors who are primarily known for their comedic talents. Can you imagine “Finding Nemo” pulling the heartstrings without Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, or caring about Remy”s fate in “Ratatouille” without the contributions of Patton Oswalt? Docter makes the smart choice of casting all of the emotions in Riley”s head with comedic actors, but Poehler and Smith (who first gained notice on “The Office”) bring an unexpected depth to these seemingly one-dimensional emotions that no editor spending hours at a mixing console could muster on his or her own. Smith is particularly heartbreaking, delivering one of the finest performances of her career.

What truly makes “Inside Out” remarkable, however, is how incredibly creative it is. Once Joy and Sadness are stuck in Long Term Memory you can see the story beats laid out in front of you, but Docter and his animators constantly surprise with the inhabitants they have populated throughout Riley”s mind. From her abandoned imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) to the eye-popping realization of Abstract World, there is a wealth of new ideas here that put recent Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios films to shame.

The dramatic elements of “Inside Out” will stick with you, but don”t fear. The humor is palpable. Sure, the shtick of having an intense and loud comedian such as Black voice Anger is painfully obvious, but it”s in the emotional control rooms of Riley”s parents where, again, the film”s creativity and the laughs really come in to play. And when Docter depicts the emotions in people outside Riley”s family? It only serves to answer the main question we asked at the beginning of this review. You can make a coherent, entertaining and moving experience out of this concept as a feature length film and it can be very, very good.

“Inside Out” opens nationwide on June 16.

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The deification of 'Steve Jobs' begins with first look teaser trailer

Posted by · 7:17 pm · May 17th, 2015

http://players.brightcove.net/4838167533001/BkZprOmV_default/index.html?videoId=4911134110001

It seems pretty obvious given what's on paper that, if you're interested in the annual film awards derby at year's end, you should be keeping a pretty close eye on “Steve Jobs.” Produced by Oscar winners Scott Rudin (“No Country Old Men”) and Christian Colson (“Slumdog Millionaire”) along with nominee Mark Gordon (“Saving Private Ryan”), written by Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) starring Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) and winner Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) – yeah, this is that “sight unseen” territory.

And just like that, everyone forgot about that Ashton Kutcher movie.

Of course, it goes without saying, buyer beware on that kind of thing. Every year something that looks like a perfect fit on paper ends up falling to the wayside. Each of those names have seen it happen, in fact, as well as the studio distributing the film: Universal Pictures. Just ask them how “Unbroken” turned out last year. And this project already experienced turmoil at another studio before ending up there. Nevertheless, that level and amount of talent does nothing if not drive interest, and Fassbender starring as the titular tech titan in a film courtesy of those filmmakers has mine, certainly.

The studio has decided to push out a teaser/first look trailer for the film, and it's an interesting sell. When you have a guy like Sorkin behind the script, you know it will have a certain rhythm, so playing up the dialogue over a simple image to kick things off is pretty much what you'd expect. The film's key cast members are front and center – Fassbender, Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels – and the whole thing takes on a definite whiff of importance. The sense of deification is a bit heavy, but also difficult bait to ignore, so…

My expectation is this film will open the New York Film Festival this year. Rudin has a history there (“Captain Phillips,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Inherent Vice” in recent memory) and the film hits theaters two days before the festival closes. You want a major splash like that rather than a centerpiece spot, I should think. So that's where I'd put my chips.

And then, well, we'll see. For now, check out a taste above.

“Steve Jobs” opens October 9.

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Cate Blanchett says she told reporter she hasn't had sexual relationships with women

Posted by · 4:57 am · May 17th, 2015

CANNES – There's nothing like a Cannes Film Festival press conference to stir things up a bit. This year we've already had Tom Hardy publicly apologize to director George Miller for his behavior during the filming of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and on Sunday none other than Cate Blanchett stoked the flames. Something tells us she's been waiting for the opportunity.

Blanchett returns to Cannes for the second year in a row with Todd Haynes' critically acclaimed “Carol.” The 1950s period romance finds her and Rooney Mara as lovers during a time when it was almost unheard of for lesbians and gay men to display their affections openly. In a recent interview in Variety, the trade magazine says it asked Blanchett if this was her first turn as a lesbian. The two-time Oscar winner is quoted as “coyly” responding, “On film – or in real life?” The outlet then noted, “Pressed for details about whether she”s had past relationships with women, she responds: 'Yes. Many times,' but doesn”t elaborate.”

This created worldwide headlines proclaiming Blanchett had experienced numerous lesbian affairs during her life. During the “Carol” press conference, a member of the media asked her if she would elaborate.

“From memory the conversation ran, 'Have you had relationships with women?' And I said, 'Yes, many times. If you mean I've had sexual relationships with women the answer is no.' But that really didn't make it to print,” Blanchett said as the assembled media laughed.

She continued: “In 2015, the point should be, 'Who cares?' Call me old fashioned, but I thought one's job as an actor was not to present one's boring, small, microscopic universe, but to raise and expand your sense of the world and make a psychological and empathetic connection to another character's experience so you could present something other than your own world to an audience. My own life is of no interest to anyone else. It is, I know, but I'm certainly not interested in putting my own thoughts and opinions up there. Why I love being an actor and working is what you refer to before, the research. It's finding other people's experiences and making those beautiful, intangible [connections] that will communicate something.”

Considering the esteemed actress' recent experience with Variety, we thought it best to include her entire response.

Variety has not formally responded as yet to Ms. Blanchett's assertion, but it's hard to believe an actress of her sterling reputation would make this clear clarification if she did not believe their assertion was inaccurate. Moreover, her response shows that as much as she wanted to set things straight – for lack of a better term – she personally feels it shouldn't be an issue in the first place.

It's worth noting that the author of the article, Ramin Setoodeh, is standing by it.

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As for the film itself, there was a significant amount of discussion among the panel regarding how, in certain respects, little has changed in regards to gay rights since the time period when “Carol” takes place. Frankly, that seems like a stretch to this writer. In many ways it's night and day. That being said, the movie occurs when a legal system was in place to deny a mother custody of her child simply because of her sexuality. This may not be as significant a problem for gay and lesbian parents in many western nations today, but universal acceptance across the globe has a long way to go.

“There are still many, many countries around the world where it is still illegal,” Blanchett said. “We are living in deeply conservative times and if we think otherwise we're really foolish.”

Added Rooney, “Certainly in America, where the film takes place, there has been great progress made from when this story takes place. But like Cate said, I think we'd be foolish to think it ends there. That's not the case everywhere in the world. We still have a lot of headway to make/ We still have a long way to go until we'll not be talking abut it.”

While the social benefits of the film may not make news, you can expect lots of discussion regarding the intimate and beautiful love scene between both women. Blanchett has rarely stripped down to the bare essentials and joked that this will be the most people to see her naked since she last gave birth. More importantly, she noted how that it would make no difference if the scene had been with a man and a woman.

“I have such respect and admiration for Rooney and it was quite hilarious in a lot of ways,” Blanchett said. “I think it's always great when it's not titillating for a particular reason. It was a really, really important scene in the structure of the film and the telling of the story. And Todd was really fantastic in really explaining how it was going to be shot. So it was a scene like any other scene. Yes, there was a bit of apprehension going in, but not because it's between two women in any way.”

When Mara was asked to follow up, she deadpanned, “I'm nude quite often so it was no big deal for me.”

Haynes didn't seem worried about the MPAA slapping the picture with an NC-17 because of the sex scene.

“No it hasn't come up in our process,” he said. “It really hasn't been a concern and I don't think it will be. Harvey Weinstein is distributing the film in the United States and we'll forge ahead and see what happens.”

A little over a year ago, Blanchett won her second Academy Award, for her leading role in “Blue Jasmine.” She took that moment to deliver one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in recent memory. In less than two minutes she took Hollywood to task for continuing to believe films with female leads are “niche.” “Carol” may not be the financial success “Jasmine” was and clearly isn't a studio movie, but does the fact that its screenwriter and five of its six producers are women mean things are looking up?

“Well, it needs to be very much the center of conversation,” Blanchett said. “There was an article in the International New York Times that it was the 'year of the femme.' You hope it's not the year. That it's not some sort of fashionable moment, but the more rich and diverse the stories are, the better it serves audiences both male and female.

“It's not a niche experience. Yeah, I think it's important to keep talking about it. It fell off the agenda and I think we lost a lot of ground. But I think it's wonderful to be working with female producers who want to make great, entertaining and intelligent films.”

As you'd suspect by the raves coming from la Croisette, “Carol” is one of them.

“Carol” opens in limited release on Dec. 18.

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Review: Cate Blanchett masters all the signals for Todd Haynes' 'Carol'

Posted by · 5:41 pm · May 16th, 2015

CANNES – A look across a crowded room. A hand on a shoulder, slightly longer than expected. A conversation of code words. In the McCarthy era, gay men and women were forced to follow societal norms, with even the most “obvious” gays and lesbians trapped in the closet. It is in this context that we are introduced to department store clerk Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and her new customer, the somewhat older Ms. Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) in Todd Haynes' adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, “Carol.”

It's almost Christmas and Carol is hunting for a specific doll for her young daughter. The store is out of the model she needs. Carol quizzes Therese on what she always wanted to get for Christmas. There are glances, there is light flirting and Carol “mistakenly” leaves her gloves on Therese's counter.  

This advance is both forward and subtle, which puzzles Therese, but also excites her at the same time. Soon she mails back the missing gloves and that leads to a “thank you” lunch and, eventually, a Sunday visit to Carol's suburban home. Unbeknownst to Therese is the fact that Carol and her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) are in the middle of what will soon be a nasty custody battle. Carol no longer wants to live a lie, but being unable to see her daughter is something she simply cannot fathom. Of course, Therese has her own problem in Richard (Jake Lacy), a boyfriend who can't seem to recognize his girlfriend is not reciprocating his love.  

Soon the ladies figure out how to convey their mutual attraction without actually saying it. (Although at one point Carol breathlessly says to Therese, “Ask me anything,” seemingly daring her to say the words.) Distraught over Hages legal maneuvering, Carol decides to take a spur-of-the-moment road trip out west and she has little problem convincing Therese to drop everything and join her. It's a welcome escape from the real world and the ladies soon consummate their love in a scene that is 100 times more realistic that the sex scenes in 2013 Palme d”Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Their nirvana is short lived, however, once Hage forces Carol to return to the city.

We won”t spoil the turn “Carol” takes from there, but only the combined talents of both Blanchett and Mara can make the film's powerfully realized finale work. Carol may have a little bit of Jasmine”s pretentiousness from “Blue Jasmine” or Meredith Logue's privileged charm from “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but she has an inherent patience those characters lack. Blanchett is at her best when fighting for her daughter and you can already pick out the awards season clips.

Mara's typically cold demeanor helps her here. It's not because lesbians should be portrayed frigidly – that would be a huge mistake. Instead, it allows her to play Therese's hidden passion for Carol, a passion festering just beneath the surface. Blanchett may have the showier part, but without Mara's subtle work here we simply wouldn't root for the couple to end up together.

In many ways this is familiar territory for Haynes. He explored the forbidden love dynamic in the 1950s-set “Far From Heaven,” as well as female protagonists rebelling against societal constraints in the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce.” It's easy to tell see confident he is with the material, but Phyllis Nagy”s screenplay makes things slightly bumpy at times.

In the novel, Therese dreamed of becoming a theater set designer, but the movie changes that to a love of photography. You can understand why as this provides Haynes with a nice visual motif to work with. However, while Therese needs to blossom after meeting Carol, too much energy is spent setting up her new gig at the Paper of Record (which is slightly unbelievable even for 1953). Considering the intricate detail to so many other elements of the film, this feels, again, bumpy.

Edward Lachman was the director of photography on both “Heaven” and “Pierce,” earning an Oscar nomination for the former. The longtime collaborators differentiate “Carol's” aesthetic by giving it less polish and making the image intentionally grainier. Production designer Judy Becker (“American Hustle”), meanwhile, assists by using Cincinnati locations to recreate a grittier New York that still feels stuck in the 40s and far removed from the modern glass towers that will soon populate the city.

Costume designer Sandy Powell continues her masterful work by dressing Carol in purposefully muted red and green dresses that hint at a woman unable to let her true spirit fly. The three-time Oscar winner also contributes to Therese's transformation by initially dressing her with somewhat beatnik-esque ensembles, until she eventually wears print dresses that owe something to Chanel couture at the time.

Frankly, Carter Burwell, another Haynes regular, can be hit or miss here. As the film movies along, his score for “Carol” initially disappoints as it repeats the same theme again and again (and certainly not a memorable one). Somewhere in the third act, however, the film becomes unburdened by it. And much to the composer's credit, the final scene simply could not work without the soaring place Burwell is willing to take it.

Among the supporting cast, Sarah Paulson is superb as Carol's longtime best friend Abby Gerhard and the aforementioned Chandler channels Hage's internal conflict over the fate of their daughter. Cory Michael Smith also delivers some much-needed comic relief as a mysterious salesman the ladies meet on their cross-country excursion.

There have been many films over the past 25 years that have touched upon the gay experience. Some have reached mainstream audiences and others have not. “Carol” is not a game changer in this regard. Truthfully, its inherent subtlety means it will not blow broad audiences away. What it is, however, is a stark and moving reminder of the societal persecution gays and lesbians faced for a majority of the 20th Century, injustices that still haunt many parts of the United States and too many countries around the world. If the beautiful work Blanchett, Mara and Haynes have created here can enlighten one mind, “Carol” will have found a meaningful calling beyond its artistic achievements. And that”s pretty powerful, isn't it?

“Carol” will open in limited release on Dec. 18.

Note: An earlier version of this review noted that the production designer was Mark Friedberg. Both this review and, it appears, IMDB have been updated to reflect proper credit to Judy Becker.

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Review: The tragedy and talent of Amy Winehouse's life unfolds in powerful doc 'Amy'

Posted by · 8:10 am · May 16th, 2015

CANNES – There are two moments that stand out the most in Asif Kapadia's new documentary “Amy.” They will haunt you.

The first finds its subject, Amy Winehouse, in a London television studio waiting to perform via satellite on the 50th Grammy Awards. While viewers around the world only saw her response to winning Record of the Year for “Rehab,” the filmmaker has gotten access to the footage that captures Winehouse's awe as two of her idols, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole, walk on stage to present her category. She is saucer-eyed and euphoric looking at her father Mitch Winehouse in the audience and telling him like a child, “It's Tony Bennett!” When she's announced as the winner, the small crowd of friends and family go wild and she jumps into a group hug with her band. This win is even more poignant as we've previously learned Island Records, Winehouse's label, made her sign an agreement to get clean or they would not let her perform on what has been billed as “Music's Biggest Night.”

During the celebration she sees her childhood friend Juliette Ashby, who is incredibly emotional that Winehouse, who has already experienced a lifetime of lows at the tender age of 24, has earned such acclaim. Kapadia shows Winehouse pulling her offstage, but it's Ashby's recollection that stabs the heart. “This is so boring without drugs,” Winehouse told her.

The second comes months later as Winehouse is drowning again in her addictions, holed up in her Camden, London home. She takes photos of herself with the webcam on her computer. She looks horrific. She is a shell of the snappy singer who won the world over with the soulful voice of a woman three times her age.

Within two years, at just 27-years-old, she would pass away from complications of a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse.

Kapadia, who earned critical acclaim for his racing documentary “Senna,” paints a portrait of Winehouse”s life beginning with the amateur footage her first manager, Nick Shymansky, recorded of his teenage prodigy. Shymansky is just one of many who contributed unseen footage of Winehouse. Considering how her every move was chronicled by thousands of paparazzi over the years, it”s remarkable how much new insight into Winehouse Kapadia is able to present. In many ways it makes “Amy” a poignant bookend to the Kurt Cobain doc “Montage of Heck,” which debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and also included a wealth of unseen home movies.

At a young age Winehouse showed a love for jazz music and songwriting. When Shymansky first met her she never expected to be a pop star. She never wanted to be famous. She would have been happy singing in small jazz clubs. However, like almost all the men and women who worked with her on her music career specifically he realized early on that she had an addiction problem. Along with Ashby and a few other longtime friends they attempted to stage an intervention to get her to go to rehab before her signature album “Back to Black” had even been written (and, yes, it”s the genesis of her famous lyric in “Rehab”). What stood in their way was her father, Mitch Winehouse.  

A participant in the documentary, Mitch simply didn”t believe his daughter had a problem. Because he wouldn”t make her, Winehouse refused to go. Along with with Winehouse”s ex-husband Blake Fielder, they consistently incriminate themselves as the most significant enablers of Winehouse”s addiction. Fielder introduced Winehouse to crack for the first time after they were married and provides personal video footage of Winehouse at her lowest points. She”s so high that she seems like a completely different person than the star we”ve seen bluntly speak to the camera. Granted, the negative influence of both men in her life was known before this film was made, but it”s the new footage and their apparent lack of remorse that is so striking.

“Amy” also turns the camera back on the viewer who saw, mocked and ignored Winehouse”s descent as it transpired across the media landscape. How could the world collectively denigrate a woman whose addiction was destroying her? In this era of reactionary social media it”s a warning to all of us to be wary of stoning the next Amy in the digital town square.  

Kapadia received remarkable access to all the key people in Winehouse”s life. Because he wants to focus on his subject he avoids the talking heads motif and only features their thoughts in voice over. It mostly works, although you can argue it slightly diminishes the audience”s reaction to Winehouse”s inevitable passing at the end of the film.  

What this review hasn”t touched upon, though, is Winehouse”s most important legacy: her music. And Kapadia absolutely nails it. He intersperses many of Winehouse”s most memorable songs (as well as some of her early compositions) throughout the doc. As we hear each song the lyrics appear on screen, reminding the viewer of what a brilliant songwriter she was.

As you might suspect, music was the most important part of Winehouse”s life and the film makes the point that she was often happiest in the recording studio. Of all the footage Kapadia was provided, a standout moment features Winehouse recording “Back to Black” for the first time. We hear her vocal with the backing track barely audible. It”s so iconic you get goosebumps just hearing it. And after she belts out the end of the song she stops, looks at producer Mark Robson in the control booth and smiles.

“Amy” opens in limited release on July 10.

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Review: Matthew McConaughey and Gus Van Sant get lost in 'The Sea of Trees'

Posted by · 10:45 pm · May 15th, 2015

CANNES – In the 25 years since his breakthrough film “Drugstore Cowboy” was released, Gus Van Sant has spent his time bouncing back and forth between the independent film world and more distinctly commercial endeavors. The style and tone of each work has clearly been dictated on the audience it's intended for and you can argue he”s only attempted to meet in the middle a few times, with the Oscar-nominated “Milk” or “Good Will Hunting.” Van Sant”s latest work, “The Sea of Trees,” sadly proves what a dicey proposition that can be.

The film begins with a sullen Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) arriving at an airport. He leaves his keys in his car. He has no bags. There is no return ticket for his flight. Arthur is going to Japan and he has no plans on coming back. What he intends to do becomes more clear when he arrives at the Aokigahara forest in Japan. Seemingly alone, Arthur finds a peaceful spot on a rock and sits down. He pulls out a bottle of water, a bottle of prescription medicine and pulls a package out of his jacket, placing it next to him. Even if a viewer is unaware that Aokigahara is also known as the “Suicide Forest,” what Arthur has planned will be painfully obvious.

One by one Arthur begins to take his pills.  He's barely started when out of the corner of his eye he spots a Japanese man struggling in the distance, dressed in a business suit and bloodied. Arthur cannot stop himself from getting up to assist him. We soon discover that Takumi (Ken Watanabe) has been lost in the forest for two days, unable to find his way back to the main path. Strangely, while Takumi was seemingly only 100 yards or so away from Arthur”s rock after deciding to help get his new friend to safety, he can no longer find it. Both men are lost – in more ways than one – and then the flashbacks begin.

We learn that before his descent into despair, Arthur was an adjunct college professor married to Joan (Naomi Watts), a real estate agent and the couple”s increasingly bitter breadwinner. While Watts does everything in her power to make Joan more interesting than the obvious alcoholic she's presented as, the bickering couple is not as interesting as Van Sant or screenwriter Chris Sparling (“Buried”) want them to be. Clearly, something bad is going to happen to spark Arthur”s voyage, but the familiar conflict Sparling puts forth doesn't generate much sympathy.

When the story jumps back to the present the tone really starts to get funky. Van Sant has artfully presented Arthur's journey to Aokigahara thanks to sparse use of dialogue and some lyrically composed imagery. Arthur and Takumi's ordeal, however, turns into a completely different movie. At one point, the pair takes shelter from a heavy rainstorm in a cave that inexplicably becomes flooded with water. All of a sudden “Sea” feels like it”s a turn-of-the-millennium Tom Hanks movie directed by Robert Zemeckis. Don't worry, though, the bumpiness returns as we quickly endure yet another flashback to the less compelling storyline back in the States.

It may be hard to believe, but Van Sant hasn't completely lost us yet. That happens toward the climax of the film when Arthur and Takumi bond over a campfire and it simply all goes wrong. The scene is meant to be a cathartic moment for Arthur to reflect on his life and decide whether he truly wants to live or not. It's also one of those “actor's moments” you see coming a mile away and McConaughey is ready for it. He's pulling out all the stops as he digs deep down to do everything he can to convey his character's pain. His recent work has demonstrated that he's a man of many talents but even he can't transform a beat that feels so tedious, unnecessary and, sadly, clichéd into a moment that should be powerful and heartbreaking.

Some of Van Sant's choices only make things worse. A strangely misplaced score by acclaimed composer Mason Bates exacerbates the movie's awkwardness. This is Bates' first cinematic work, but he unexpectedly ventures into a stereotypical movie studio style that is shocking once you discover who wrote it. The film would have benefited from a much less traditional score that is no doubt what Van Sant and the film's producers believed they were getting with Bates. Director of photography Kasper Tuxen, however, does an admirable job selling the wilds of Massachusetts as Japan and making the proceedings aesthetically pleasing.

“The Sea of Trees” first gained fame after it was selected to the Black List in 2013. That annual industry spotlight has opened many doors for unheralded screenwriters, but the resulting film is yet another example of a Black List script that does not work on the screen. And, frankly, we're not sure an auteur other than Van Sant would have fared any better.

“The Sea of Trees” was recently acquired by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions and is expected to be released sometime later this year.

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Review: 'Son of Saul' is a truly remarkable cinematic experience

Posted by · 8:31 am · May 15th, 2015

CANNES – The competition slate of the Cannes Film Festival is usually packed with established cinematic auteurs or former jury prize winners. When a first-time director is selected to be a part of such esteemed company, it usually means they have created a work that is truly remarkable. In terms of filmmaking prowess, “remarkable” may not do Laszlo Nemes' holocaust drama “Son of Saul” justice.

Set in the Auschwitz concentration camp near the end of World War II, almost every frame of the film is centered on the title character, Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig). He is a Hungarian Jew forced to assist the Nazis as a member of the Sonderkommandos, a group of prisoners who helped the Nazis in the clean-up of the camp's gas chambers. The film begins with a group of scared new arrivals being ushered into a room where German soldiers force them to take their clothes off. They are then shuffled into a second room, the gas chamber, and the door is closed behind them. Saul and his fellow Sonderkommandos are forced to stand against a door that holds in the poison, but not its victim”s screams for help. As a sequence composed for a typical dramatic film, this would be powerful enough and you have likely seen it depicted in some capacity in other movies or television programs. It's how Nemes's shoots “Saul” that makes the moment so intimately abhorrent.

Incredibly, Nemes and his cinematographer Matyas Erledy never let the camera leave its subject. Whether it's positioned immediately behind him or facing him, Saul never leaves the viewer's sight. We follow him, for instance, as he drags bodies out of the gas chamber, but while other directors would center the camera on the body being moved, Nemes makes the moment more powerful by keeping it within the periphery of the frame. Moreover, the entire film is shot in extremely long takes and on 35mm stock, an achievement in and of itself in this digital age. This combination of intimate composition, minimal cuts and shooting in the Academy aspect ratio (1:33:1 or 4:3) results in a hypnotic cinematic style rarely, if ever, seen in a full-length feature film. You often forget how long it's been since the last cut because you become lost in the unrelenting hell Saul is living in.  

The monotony of Saul's existence as a Sonderkommando is shaken when a boy is found breathing while the gas chamber is being emptied. Saul immediately becomes transfixed on the boy. We watch as a doctor is called in and stops his breathing, but there is something about the child Saul can't dismiss. He volunteers to bring the body up to an examination room where he'll be autopsied. For some reason, Saul is horrified at that prospect and cannot let it happen. He begins a delicate and dangerous personal mission to figure out how to properly bury the boy.  Saul's fellow prisoners dismiss his crazy talk, but they are also preoccupied with their own plans.

Although not directly stated, the movie appears to occur around or during October 1944, when Sonderkommandos undertook a long-planned revolt against their Nazi captors. Saul is swept up in this as he makes burying the boy a greater importance than his own escape. When a fellow prisoner asks early on why he cares so much about the boy's body, Saul replies, “He's my son.” This results in a puzzled look back as his fellow Sonderkommando insists he never had one.

Is Saul holding on to his humanity by believing this? Does he feel providing the boy a proper burial would atone him of the guilt he feels working in the camp? Nemes smartly leaves it for the viewers to decide, and they are not passive bystanders. Often, what is occurring on screen is as confusing for the audience as it is for Saul. Not everything is explained, nor should it be. If this journey is through the eyes of Saul we should feel his confusion, his stress and his heartache just as he would.  

None of this would be possible without a powerhouse performance by Röhrig. “Son of Saul” appears to be Röhrig”s first feature film, but he takes a proposition of great responsibility that would make any veteran Hollywood star nervous and simply owns it. Saul has few lines. Most of Röhrig”s work has to be conveyed through his facial expressions or visible emotions.  This is an even tougher task considering he”s on screen for almost all of the movie”s 1 hour and 47 minute running time. The film would be an almost heartless cinematic exercise if Röhrig was unable to bring Saul to life, but he does so and he does so gloriously.

It can be easy to overhype a film, especially in the context of a major film festival. Many will try to pigeonhole “Son of Saul” as the great new Holocaust drama, and make no mistake, there is tremendous importance to educating new generations of this atrocity. What is just as important is to recognize the cinematic triumph Laszlo Nemes has created. It”s so visceral and so intimate that it”s hard to put into words. But, trust you will see it soon enough.

“Son of Saul” is currently without U.S. distribution, but won”t be for long.

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Review: Emma Stone does her best to bring Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' to life

Posted by · 6:55 am · May 15th, 2015

http://players.brightcove.net/4838167533001/BkZprOmV_default/index.html?videoId=4911161966001

CANNES – Anyone who even casually follows Woody Allen's career knows that these days the prolific filmmaker delivers just as many misses as he does hits. Last year, Allen directed Emma Stone and Colin Firth in the not-so-enchanting “Magic in the Moonlight.” His follow-up, “Irrational Man,” premiered today at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and once more finds Stone front and center as his muse. To say it's better film than “Moonlight” may be a compliment, but we won't pretend it's not a backhanded one.

The story begins at fictional Braylin College in Newport, Rhode Island with the impending arrival of famed philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix). Lucas has a reputation for being something of a womanizer and an alcoholic, but his writings are so inspiring the school's staff and students are in something of a tizzy over his joining the faculty. One of those students is Jill Pollard (Stone), a philosophy major whose overly supportive parents (Ethan Phillips and Betsy Aidem) are tenured in the music department. She soon befriends her new teacher, whom she immediately begins to obsess over, much to the chagrin of her adorable boyfriend (Jamie Blackley).  

Unknown to the fine people at Braylin, however, is that Abe is not in a good place. He has a severe case of writer's block and has basically succumbed to something of an existential crisis. By her own admission, Jill is attracted to men that need mothering and soon finds herself doing the one thing she said she wouldn't do: falling for him. Abe, on the other hand, is already involved sexually with another member of the faculty, Rita Richards (Parker Posey). An unhappily married woman, Rita fantasizes about running off with Abe to Europe and starting her life over again.

As the film unfolds, Abe continues to do everything he can to keep his relationship with Jill platonic. That changes after they eavesdrop on a disheartening conversation between a divorced mother and her friends at a local diner. The woman”s crisis kickstarts a moral debate in Abe's head, which, for better or worse, provides him with some direction in his life and breaks down his aversion to being romantically involved with Jill.

What Abe does next takes the film into darker territory that plays with the philosophical ideas Allen wants to explore. His characters may spout Kant and debate the ethics of different human interactions, but it's only sugar coating on top of what is effectively a simple and familiar story. It doesn't help that the film has a lightness to it that diminishes the consequences of Abe's actions. In theory, “Irrational Man” should feel as though it stands alongside serious Allen dramas such as “Match Point.” Instead, it seems more at home next to his other recent efforts, the middling “To Rome With Love” or the whimsical “Midnight in Paris.”  

It's also hard to sit through “Irrational Man” and wonder why Allen has written another movie where a May-December romance is the film's main relationship. This is head scratching considering the aforementioned “Moonlight” featured the same construct just a year ago. Young ingenues may be a key part of foreign financing these days, but we find it hard to believe a man of Allen's talent couldn't find another way to present the ethical and philosophical arguments the picture wants to explore.

Stone, it should be noted, does everything she can to bring some realism to the proceedings. The Oscar nominee sells us on Jill's infatuation with Abe even when Phoenix”s disinterest makes it hard to comprehend the attraction. She also finds a way to deliver much of Allen's exposition-filled dialogue with a contemporary energy it sorely needs. Stone is so good and charismatic that in one pivotal scene near the end of the film you begin to forget she”s acting opposite a much more celebrated peer. In theory, she should be the next great Woody Allen muse, but he hasn't given her the material yet to make it a truly memorable collaboration.

As for Phoenix, all of the frenetic energy and charisma from his performance in “Inherent Vice” is long gone here. His portrayal of Abe is so understated it's hard to comprehend why Jill or Rita would fall for him in the first place (or why he”d play him that way). Posey is a unique talent who should have appeared in Allen's films years ago, but she's only given so much to do here. She still finds a way to make Rita more three-dimensional and memorable than the material demands, however.

This is director of photography Darius Khondji”s sixth film with Allen. He shoots it with a golden sheen that casts Stone in a particularly luminescent light and makes good use of Newport”s coastline.

“Irrational Man” opens in limited release on July 17.

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'Hateful Eight' looks good, but 'Lion' may be Harvey Weinstein's secret Oscar player

Posted by · 11:19 am · May 14th, 2015

Cannes – Harvey Weinstein appears to be in a good place. The Weinstein Company is, after all, coming off three-straight hits with “The Imitation Game,” “Paddington” and “Woman in Gold.” Thursday evening the industry titan held court for his annual Cannes preview, noting that he loved this year's slate while insisting that that's not always the case. The highlight of the evening was intended to be the first footage screened of Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight,” but this pundit was much more impressed with Garth Davis' “Lion.”  

Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, “Lion” chronicles how, thanks to his inherent curiosity, a 5-year-old boy is separated from his family in India. Now, 25 years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) has grown up after being raised by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and begins a search for the biological family he believes is still waiting for him to come home. Davis is a first time director, but the cinematography by Greg Frasier (“Foxcatcher,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) looks superb. Moreover, Kidman is slumming it in a more dowdy and older roll than you've seen her play in quite some time.

Footage in this context can always be deceiving, but we were surprised when The Weinstein Company confirmed a 2016 release. Perhaps the studio feels it can slot it into that “Best Exotic Marigold” spring date with the same success. Or, perhaps the movie has problems they were effectively able to hide in the sneak peek. In either case, it's hard to understand why Harvey wouldn't just throw it up against the wall like he has with so many other awards players.

As for “The Hateful Eight,” it's visually and tonally very reminiscent of the winter scenes in “Django Unchained.” The preview didn't give away much of the story but instead focused on the fact that these are eight complete strangers (except for one) who are all stuck in the same establishment due to inclement weather. Kurt Russell's The Hangman, Samuel L. Jackson's The Bounty Hunter and and Tim Roth's The Little Man received the most screen time. These sort of teases can be deceiving, too, but judging from the footage, the film appears to have a much smaller scope than “Inglourious Basterds” or “Django Unchained.” It's currently scheduled for a release sometime this fall or early winter.

The preview compilation also included footage from “Southpaw” and TWC conveniently scheduled the event so Jake Gyllenhaal, who is serving on the Cannes jury this year, could attend. Harvey says he thought Gyllenhaal should have been nominated for Best Actor last year for “Nightcrawler” and that they will make it up for him this season with Antoine Fuqua's film. (He also said the movie was offered a slot in the festival, but wasn't ready in time.) We're convinced the boxing thriller could be a surprise summer hit for the company, but film's storyline (daddy will do anything to get custody of his little girl) isn't inspiring confidence the movie is anything more than a commercial play.

Here's a quick rundown on the other films that sparked interest during the event.

“Adam Jones”
Bradley Cooper plays a topflight chef who intends to take over the London restaurant world. Sienna Miller, another jury member who also stopped by, plays a fellow chef and his love interest. Frankly, the John Wells dramedy looks commercial if and only if Cooper's star power has grown since “American Sniper.” Outside of “Ratatouille,” cooking movies have never been huge business. What has us more intrigued are the supporting roles from Uma Thurman, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Lily James, Matthew Rhys and Jamie Dornan. Just how special was Oscar nominee Steven Knight's screenplay to make them jump on board, even if just for a cameo?

“Tulip Fever”
Set for sometime in 2015, this period drama got some of the biggest buzz from the international media and buyers on hand. Based on Deborah Moggach's novel, the film centers on a romantic affair between Sophia (Alicia Vikander) and Jan (Dane DeHaan). Christoph Waltz plays Sophia's older husband Cornelis (seemingly another bad guy role). It certainly looks beautiful, but is it really a serious awards player? Something tells us Vikander's chances at an Oscar nod lie with Focus Features' “The Danish Girl” and not here.

“Carol”
Todd Haynes' new drama plays in competition at Cannes this weekend and the extended footage looked promising. The awards hype for Carol herself, Cate Blanchett, appears warranted and both Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson have larger roles than we expected. We'll find out more when the film screens for the press Saturday night.

“Macbeth”
Well, it's certainly William Shakespeare's play up their on the big screen. Director Justin Kurzel's interpretation has a striking visual palette, but it will sink or swim based on the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Normally we wouldn't even question the pairing of two of the world's greatest thespians. Unfortunately, the fact that “Macbeth” debuts on the absolute last day of the festival has us slightly concerned.

“Hands of Stone”
The true story of boxing legend Roberto Duran (Édgar Ramírez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), this drama was just snagged by The Weinstein Company this past week. After “Southpaw” and Warner Bros.' “Creed,” it will be the third boxing movie hitting theaters in the next 12 months. It may be good, but are moviegoers that enthralled with boxing on the big screen? “Stone” will arrive in theaters in 2016.

It's worth noting there was no mention of Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts' “Suite Française,” which was previewed last year and has already opened across most of Europe.

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'Beginners' director Mike Mills lands Bening, Gerwig and Fanning for '20th Century Women'

Posted by · 9:24 am · May 14th, 2015

When last we left director Mike Mills, he was ushering the great Christopher Plummer to his first Oscar, for 2011's “Beginners.” Now he's teaming up with Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures for “20th Century Women,” with Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning in tow.

The film is set in Santa Barbara during the summer of 1979 and tells the story of Dorethea Fields (Bening), a mother struggling to raise a teenage son while navigating life and lvoe, sex and freedom, men and women. She looks for answers in two other women in her life, each from a different era of the 20th Century. “Filled with punk-rock verve, '20th Century Women' takes a humorous and heartfelt look at how we figure out who we are,” the press release says.

Gerwig will play Abbie, a photographer submersed in the punk culture of the era who is forced to return home and ends up living with Dorothea and Jamie, while Fanning will play Julie, a “secretly provocative” 16-year-old friend of Jamie's.

“These three characters are all women that I knew growing up,” Mills blurbs. “I'm thrilled to have Annette, Greta and Elle, three incredible actresses who will bring an authenticity and vulnerability to each of these very strong, funny and complicated roles.”

I was a big fan of “Beginners” and think Mills has a lot more to show us. This sounds like exciting material for the three actresses he's rounded up, and who knows? Like Plummer a few years ago, maybe the director can help Bening to that elusive first trophy.

“20th Century Women” begins filming in Southern California later this year.

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Tom Hardy says he knew he owed George Miller an apology after he saw 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

Posted by · 5:45 am · May 14th, 2015

CANNES – “Mad Max: Fury Road” hit the Croisette this morning and like their counterparts in America and the UK, the global media went gaga for George Miller”s visual masterpiece. Before the movie's red carpet screening, the director and his cast sat down for a packed press conference in the Palais. While Theron wasn't asked about the silly controversy centered on misogynists who are calling for men to boycott the movie, Miller was asked what the original Mad Max, none other than Mel Gibson, thought of the movie.

Although Gibson and Miller hadn't seen each other “for a long time,” the former collaborators sat next to each other during the film's world premiere last week in Los Angeles.

“Mel is someone, in a sense, who cannot lie and he started chuckling during the movie and I thought, 'There's that chuckle that I remember,'” Miller said. “Then he started chuckling and kneading me in the ribs and then he started asking me about the actors, because he's about to direct a movie in Australia. Then he gave me great respect at the end as a director, because I think he's a wonderful actor, but also a really great director.”

Gibson's personal turmoils made for “kind of an emotional moment for me,” Miller continued. “You probably know I was heartbroken to see what was happening with Mel because I had always known him to be a really, really good man.”

The new Max Rockatansky, Tom Hardy, was asked if he had any qualms about taking over a role that helped turn Gibson into a global superstar.

“Like any actor you get excited to get the part,” Hardy recalls. “Than I realized…that 'Mad Max' is synonymous with Mel Gibson and there group of people who love Mel as Max so if it's not Mel as Max…I was a little bit crestfallen for a second.”

Miller made it clear he specifically wanted something new and that helped Hardy feel more comfortable about taking the role.

“Ultimately George and Mel are on a journey for three movies and the legacy continues to develop,” Hardy said. “So I just had to take comfort in George being [comfortable] with that.”

The true stand out in “Fury Road,” however, is Charlize Theron. The Oscar winner portrays Imperator Furiosa, a warrior willing to risk everything to save five women from the horrific Immortan Joe  (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Theron said she saw great potential in the project from the beginning.

“I had heard kind of just lose talk about it,” Theron said. “There was a lot of talk about the female character that would stand alongside Max. So, for a female actress that sounds really good. Seeing it through was something else. I've been doing this for awhile and I had my cynical self and I'd freak out every once in awhile and George just never disappointed. He promised me he'd do something and delivered on it and never veered away from that.”

For Theron, “it was incredible to play in this sandbox, literally,” she continued, “and be a woman not trying to be a man, celebrate everything there is about being a woman. Not trying to put women on a pedestal, but be surrounded by other women who are just real. And in a story that was informed and real. So I know that I was given a great opportunity.”

“Mad Max: Fury Road” has received euphoric reviews and at the time of this story has a 90 on Metacritic and an astounding 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, out of 90 reviews. Since production wrapped over two years ago, Hardy and Theron have both been public about what a grueling and difficult experience it was. Their reactions to the final product include a mea culpa from the film”s leading man.

Hardy provided the following long-winded and fascinating reaction.  

“I suddenly got what George was talking about, actually, because for seven months I think the most complicated piece for me or the most frustrating piece for me or the hardest parts was trying to know what George wanted me to do at any given minute, so I could fully transmute his vision,” Hardy says. “But because he's orchestrating such a huge village — literally so many departments and…because the vehicle is always moving…the whole movie is just emotion.”

More importantly, Hardy turned to Miller on the podium and remarked, “There was no way, I mean, I have to apologize to you because I got frustrated. There was no way George could have explained what he could see in the sand when we were out there. Because of the due diligence that was required to make everything safe and so simple, what I saw was a relentless barrage of complexities, simplified for this fairly linear story. I knew he was brilliant, but I didn't know how brilliant until I saw it. So, my first reaction was 'Oh my god, I owe George an apology for being semi-off it.'”

Apparently Theron didn”t need to apologize to Hardy (although reportedly Hardy may still need to make good with his co-star), but she clearly recognizes “Fury Road” now stands alongside the best films of her career.

“I was blown away. The post-production was really long. You kind of go on with life, and then I saw it and I was in a dark theater kind of by myself and I was a kid back in South Africa watching a movie,” Theron says. “It felt like I was in a world that was so different and I think the time of post-production gave us all a moment to breathe, so I had full appreciation of when I watched it in the theater. I was really blown away by the time and the effort people put towards this film. I knew it was a long time because my hair was in a ponytail.”

“Mad Max: Fury Road” opens nationwide on Friday.

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