THE AVERAGE PERSON USES 10% OF THEIR BRAIN CAPACITY. IMAGINE WHAT HE COULD DO WITH 1%.
After a prank that lasts for 20 years, Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne (Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels) are back together again, this time trying to find the daughter Harry didn’t know he had. It took years to finally get this sequel made, but it shows that virtually everyone involved has seen better days. Watching the two stars try to look almost exactly the same as 20 years ago feels strange, and the directing duo used to make movies that were funnier and more provocative. Joints are creaking, but at least some of the craziness and a few lines are worth a chuckle or two.
2014-U.S. 109 min. Color. Directed by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Songs: Empire of the Sun. Cast: Jim Carrey (Lloyd Christmas), Jeff Daniels (Harry Dunne), Rob Riggle (Travis Lippincott/Captain Lippincott), Laurie Holden, Don Lake, Kathleen Turner… Bill Murray.
A boy (Jaeden Lieberher) who’s recently moved to Brooklyn with his mom (Melissa McCarthy) befriends a grumpy, alcoholic Vietnam veteran (Bill Murray). A pleasant indie flick that emphasizes the bonds between various people who are struggling in their community, their relationships constantly being tested. Above all this is a chance for Murray to play a character he could choose to do in his sleep but doesn’t; his sarcastic and cynical vet takes turns being funny, off-putting and sad, and he has a nice rapport with young Lieberher. Done with a light touch; entertaining but ultimately unremarkable.
2014-U.S. 102 min. Color. Written and directed by Theodore Melfi. Cast: Bill Murray (Vincent MacKenna), Melissa McCarthy (Maggie Bronstein), Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver Bronstein), Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Kimberly Quinn… Terrence Howard.
Five years after the events in the first film, the Ghostbusters have been forced out of business… but a new supernatural threat against New York City catches their attention. The charm from Ghostbusters (1984) is still intact in this sequel thanks to the wonderful cast, with Peter MacNicol adding fun as a Renfield-type art curator who falls under the spell of a ghostly villain. Not a brilliant story, but once again the city is incorporated in amusing, eye-catching ways; director Ivan Reitman makes sure it all stays fun. Instead of a giant marshmallow man, we get a very animated Statue of Liberty this time.
1989-U.S. 102 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Screenplay: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis. Cast: Bill Murray (Peter Venkman), Dan Aykroyd (Ray Stantz), Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett), Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler), Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson… Peter MacNicol. Voice of Max von Sydow. Cameo: Cheech Marin.
When one of New York City’s oldest buildings appears to be haunted, two parapsychologists jump at the chance to see an actual ghost, and drag a skeptical friend (Kristen Wiig) along. The folks behind the original franchise long tried to get a third movie made, but instead we got a remake that was maligned by Internet trolls even before cameras started rolling. The reason? Women were cast as ghostbusters. The final results turned out to be an entertaining ride, with intense visual effects in 3D and amusing lead performances. As always with Paul Feig movies though, an uneven barrage of jokes and action.
2016-U.S. 116 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Amy Pascal. Directed by Paul Feig. Screenplay: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig. Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann), Leslie Jones (Patty Tolan), Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong… Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Ed Begley, Jr.. Cameos: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Ozzy Osbourne.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Aykroyd. Emma Stone was allegedly considered for a part. Also released in a 133-min. cut.
Quote: “I guess he’s going to Queens – he’s going to be the third scariest thing on that train.” (Jones watching a ghost escape on a subway train)
Parapsychologists Pete Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis) start a business where they hunt ghosts in New York City, but a particularly dangerous demon is about to present itself. One of the biggest hits of the 1980s has become a much-loved classic with a perfect cast, including perennial Ivan Reitman collaborator Murray’s irreverent ghostbuster and Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis in amusing supporting turns as the demon’s victims. The visual effects show their age but are very creative, with a giant marshmallow man as a highlight. Well paced, with a nice feel for New York City, and scored by Ray Parker, Jr.:s title song, which is used to great effect in the opening sequence.
1984-U.S. 107 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Ivan Reitman. Screenplay: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis. Music: Elmer Bernstein. Song: ”Ghostbusters” (Ray Parker, Jr.). Visual Effects: Richard Edlund. Cast: Bill Murray (Peter Venkman), Dan Aykroyd (Ray Stantz), Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler), Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts… Ernie Hudson.
Trivia: Eddie Murphy and Michael Keaton were allegedly considered for roles. Followed by Ghostbusters II (1989) and an animated TV series, The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991). Remade as Ghostbusters (2016).
BAFTA: Best Original Song.
Last word: “I had a meeting with Frank Price, who was running Columbia Pictures. He said, ‘I hear you guys have a movie you want to make.’ I said, ‘Bill and Danny both want to do it. We want to bring Harold Ramis into it. They’re writing a script.’ I gave him a description of the script, even though it didn’t exist. ‘Stripes’ had cost $10 million; ‘Ghostbusters’ was going to be way more elaborate, so I thought, let’s make it three times as expensive: $30 million. I was really just pulling a figure from the air. He said, ‘You’ve got a deal.’ This was May, 1983; about six weeks later, Aykroyd, Ramis, and I all went to Martha’s Vineyard, where Dan has a house, and spent two or two-and-a-half weeks in Aykroyd’s basement, every day. [We] basically created the movie as it exists now on film.” (Reitman, Rolling Stone)
HE’S HAVING THE WORST DAY OF HIS LIFE… OVER, AND OVER…
As a critic, one should be careful sometimes. In 1993, Washington Post’s Desson Howe sat down to watch a new movie starring Bill Murray, and he didn’t like it. Confidently, he stated in his review that Groundhog Day ”will never be designated a national film treasure by the Library of Congress”. 13 years later, exactly that happened. Howe has every right to dislike the movie, but he did gravely misjudge its impact. So did many others, including myself. Groundhog Day is sort of a movie that sneaks up on you years later as perhaps being better than your first impression.
It’s February 1 and a Pittsburgh TV crew is headed to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the largest of the state’s annual Groundhog Day festivities. The highlight is an event where a special groundhog’s appearance will indicate how much more winter weather can be expected. The crew consists of TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Murray), producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and Larry the cameraman (Chris Elliott). Phil, who hates his assignment (and pretty much everybody else), performs his duty the following day in Punxsutawney, but fails to predict the arrival of a blizzard. The storm makes it impossible for the TV crew to leave. The next morning, Phil wakes up only to realize that it’s still February 2 and that he’s reliving the day. He’s stuck in a time loop and each Groundhog Day he’s the only one who knows it…
The romantic and the fantastical meet
Much of the charm of this film is due to the lovely portrayal of Punxsutawney as a peaceful, wintry, almost Christmas-sy town with good neighbors. A place to fall in love. It may very well be, but the film was shot in Woodstock, Illinois, a suburban community outside of Chicago. Still, the romantic and the fantastical meet in Groundhog Day; the story takes place in a warm bubble and exactly where that is doesn’t really matter. There are elements of Frank Capra to the story; some of you will think of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Murray’s character may not be as lovable as Jimmy Stewart’s, but thanks to his performance we still root for the misanthropic weatherman. It wasn’t until Lost in Translation ten years later that Murray started getting reviews that took him more seriously, but Groundhog Day was a first indication of an actor whose work revealed something deeper behind that comical slacker façade. Because in spite of everything that’s funny and cozy about this movie, what touches us deeper is its serious elements. As Phil relives February 2 over and over his mindset changes in several ways. At first, he’s having fun with the obviously absurd fact of already knowing what everybody’s going to say and do. But he’s also falling in love with Rita the producer and tries to woo her, never quite succeeding. Every ”new day”, he gets a new chance to either change his approach or try to perfect a strategy that looks like it’s working. It still ends with him getting slapped in the face every night, but it’s an interesting project that serves as a commentary on how love is ”created” and what we do, desperately, to make it happen. Then there’s also the darker direction that the story takes after a while, when Phil develops a depression, realizing that he may live forever like this, stuck in one day that never changes, and he turns to increasingly wild and even suicidal adventures, just to see what happens.
Murray handles this balance between the hilarious and the heartbreaking very well. He’s an outsider in this film, much like he is in Japan in Lost in Translation. I guess we do like him best as a perennial outcast/rebel.
Groundhog Day 1993-U.S. 103 min. Color. Produced by Trevor Albert, Harold Ramis. Directed by Harold Ramis. Screenplay: Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis. Cast: Bill Murray (Phil Connors), Andie MacDowell (Rita Hanson), Chris Elliott (Larry), Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Marita Geraghty… Michael Shannon. Cameo: Harold Ramis.
Trivia: Shannon’s first feature film. Remade in Italy as Stork Day (2004). Later a stage musical.
BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay.
Last word: “They were like two brothers who weren’t getting along. And they were pretty far apart on what the movie was about – Bill wanted it to be more philosophical, and Harold kept reminding him it was a comedy.” (Rubin on the feud between Ramis and Murray that began during the making of the film, New Yorker)
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO SAY GOODBYE BEFORE YOU CAN SAY HELLO.
Military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) goes to Hawaii to take part in a traditional blessing that has unclear ties to the military; the disillusioned Gilcrest gets the wide-eyed Allison Ng (Emma Stone) as his Air Force liaison… After some controversy, both Cameron Crowe and Stone expressed regret over the casting of another white woman as a character who’s part Asian, but the film’s real problem is that the director is unable to make his various ingredients in this romantic drama-comedy gel satisfactorily. Moderately charming at times, but Cooper’s emotional issues (much like everything else here) remain shallow.
2015-U.S. 105 min. Color. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Cast: Bradley Cooper (Brian Gilcrest), Emma Stone (Allison Ng), Rachel McAdams (Tracy Woodside), Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride… Alec Baldwin.
Trivia: “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Hawaiian nationalist leader, plays himself.
It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2016 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.
* 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay leaves his robots aside for a while, taking on a politically sensitive subject. Looks far from another Zero Dark Thirty (2012) though.
* Kung Fu Panda 3 – Another entry in this popular animated franchise.
* Jane Got a Gun – Natalie Portman stars in a Western, alongside Ewan McGregor, about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband.
* Hail, Caesar!– Another star-studded comedy from the Coen brothers, where we follow the adventures of a Hollywood “fixer” (Josh Brolin). Looks like great fun.
* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – A film adaptation of the bestseller that promises blood, gore and Victorian romance. Stars Lily James.
* Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as the dim-witted models that we first met in 2001. The sequel is on a large scale and has many cameos, including Justin Bieber.
* Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero in a movie whose first trailer was wildly praised at its release during Comic-Con. The character is tied to the X-Men movies.
* The Witch – This low-budget horror movie, which follows a 17th century Puritan family as it encounters evil in the New England woods, premiered at Sundance last January and is finally bowing in theaters.
* London Has Fallen – The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013) moves the action to London. Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are back as the President and his Secret Service agent.
* Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is back with a movie following a Hollywood screenwriter. Starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, the trailer looks very “malicky”.
* The Divergent Series: Allegiant – The last book in the popular series has been divided into two movies; here’s the first part.
* Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – The most talked about superhero movie of the year, a follow-up to Man of Steel (2013). Starring Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.
* The Boss – A new Melissa McCarthy comedy is usually worthy of some attention. This one has her as a ruthless former executive who’s sent to prison. Her husband Ben Falcone directs.
* The Jungle Book– Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Disney classic was originally supposed to have premiered in 2015. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.
* Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater’s new movie has been described as sort of a sequel to both Boyhood and Dazed and Confused.
* Captain America: Civil War – The third Captain America puts Cap (Chris Evans) in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). This year’s biggest Marvel event.
* Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the famous whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s take on how Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. Expect controversy.
* The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back with another action-comedy that looks overly familiar… but the trailer is funny, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem game.
* X-Men: Apocalypse – This one follows X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and has the younger versions of our most famed mutants battling the world’s first mutant.
* Alice Through the Looking Glass– I was no big fan of the original Alice in Wonderland(2010), but we’ll have to see what Muppets director James Bobin has up his sleeve. Several of the first film’s stars return.
* The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist – The first film was damned scary, so James Wan’s sequel had better be good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the ghost-hunting couple.
* Warcraft – Duncan Jones is adapting the famous game and we’re all wondering if this is the one that will change the sad reputation of movies based on video games.
* Finding Dory – The follow-up to Finding Nemo (2003) has the same challenge as The Conjuring 2 – how can you top a beloved sequel? The trailer shows that Pixar likely has found the lovely tone of the first movie.
* Independence Day: Resurgence – 20 years have passed since the first Independence Day, and this sequel brings back some of the old stars as well as new ones. And, of course, the aliens are back.
* The BFG– Steven Spielberg directs this family-friendly story about a giant. Based on a Roald Dahl story, the script was written by the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote E.T..
* The Legend of Tarzan – Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan in this take on the classic story, directed by David Yates. The trailer suggests a rather traditional approach.
* Ghostbusters – The remake of the 1984 comedy classic has women replacing the male ghostbusters of the original. Stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig; directed by their Bridesmaids helmer, Paul Feig.
* Star Trek Beyond – The third movie in this new franchise premiered a trailer a few weeks ago that sent fans into a rage. Will it honor the predecessors or turn into a new Fast and Furious?
* The Bourne sequel – It still doesn’t have a title, this fourth movie in the franchise to star Matt Damon, the first since 2007. Paul Greengrass is back as director.
* Suicide Squad – David Ayer directs this dark DC Comics adventure that unites supervillains recruited by the government. Will Smith leads the cast; Jared Leto plays the Joker.
* A Cure for Wellness – We don’t know much about this project, but it’s a supernatural horror movie directed by the very uneven Gore Verbinski. Dane DeHaan has the lead role.
* Sully – Clint Eastwood directs this film about the pilot who heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays “Sully”.
* Deepwater Horizon – The story of the 2010 disaster that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is directed by Peter Berg and stars Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.
* The Accountant – Warriordirector Gavin O’Connor is back with a thriller starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons.
* Gambit – After Deadpool comes this, another spin-off set in the X-Men universe. Doug Liman is directing, with Channing Tatum in the lead.
* Inferno – Ron Howard is once again directing this third entry in the franchise that began with The Da Vinci Code(2006); Tom Hanks also returns as Robert Langdon.
* Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s antihero, now directed by Edward Zwick. This time, Reacher is accused of an old homicide.
* Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surgeon who discovers a world of magic and different dimensions. Another Marvel adventure gets its big-screen treatment.
* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates’s second movie this year is a return to Harry Potter world for him; this is a prequel set in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne.
* The Great Wall – Hollywood’s love affair with the Chinese market continues with this film about a mystery surrounding the construction of China’s Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon.
* The Founder – The story of the man who turned a small hamburger joint into McDonald’s stars Michael Keaton.
* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A stand-alone film, a prequel to Star Wars (1977), depicting a team of rebels trying to get their hands on the plans for the Death Star. Directed by Gareth Edwards.
* Passengers – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this space romance set in the future, directed by The Imitation Game‘sMorten Tyldum.
* Assassin’s Creed – The second adaptation this year to possibly save the reputation of movies based on video games. Stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
In the clip above, the always entertaining (and gifted) Margo Martindale is interviewed on the Creative Emmys red carpet by a GoldDerby reporter. Later that evening, September 12th, she won an Outstanding Guest Actress award for her work on The Americans; it was her fourth Emmy nomination and second win (after Justified in 2011). That night, Reg E. Cathey also won the male equivalent for House of Cards; in the comedy categories, Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford won Emmys for Shameless and Transparent. The award for Outstanding Television Movie was also presented that night, with Bessieas winner.
The Creative Emmys is merely an appetizer. This Sunday will see the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox with Andy Samberg hosting for the first time. Now, this blog will pick the winners.
Drama Series: Mad Men. An irresistible farewell to one of the great shows in TV history.
Directing: David Nutter looks set to win for episode 10 of the last season of Game of Thrones.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are returning this Sunday for their third hosting stint at the Golden Globe awards. Thank God for that; recently, this show has been more reliable than the Oscars. In the promo above, the hosts promise not to keep it fresh their third time ’round. Sounds very reasonable in this case.
Time to make predictions.
In the Drama categories, everybody believes in Boyhood as a winner, with Richard Linklater likely to pick up an award for Best Director (he will face competition from Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman, though). Julianne Moore will win for Alzheimer drama Still Alice and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything(even though I would prefer to see Benedict Cumberbatch win for The Imitation Game). J.K. Simmons is a shoo-in in the Supporting Actor race for Whiplash; Patricia Arquette looks likely to win for her beautiful supporting performance in Boyhood. Birdmanwill possibly win Best Score, although I would prefer to see Alexandre Desplat pick up an award for The Imitation Game. The Grand Budapest Hotelis in a good position to win Best Screenplay.
In the Comedy/Musical categories, Birdman will win Best Motion Picture (but I would prefer The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Michael Keaton will pick up a Best Actor award for that film. In the Best Actress category, it’s a dead heat between Emily Blunt in Into the Woods and Amy Adams in Big Eyes; Blunt may have the upper hand.
Best Animated Feature is likely to go The Lego Movie‘s way. The Polish drama Ida is the frontrunner in the Foreign Language Film race. The Best Song category belongs to “Glory”, a John Legend and Common collaboration, from Selma.
It seems to be a race between the second season of House of Cards and newcomer The Affair, but the Golden Globes gets a kick out of shaking things up a bit, so I believe in the latter for Best Drama Series. Viola Davis will win for How to Get Away with Murder. The Best Actor race stands between three guys – Dominic West in The Affair, Clive Owen in The Knick and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. The last one seems to have the upper hand.
In the Comedy category, everybody seems to believe that Orange is the New Black will win for its second season. But it wasn’t a great season and this is the Golden Globes and I believe Transparent will win. Jeffrey Tambor will pick up a Golden Globe for that show and the Actress category seems to belong to Gina Rodriguez for Jane the Virgin. In the Best Supporting Actress race, it’s down to either Uzo Aduba in Orange is the New Black or Kathy Bates in American Horror Story.
The TV movies and miniseries category is hard. Will True Detective or Fargo, two anthology series, pick up the main award? True Detective seems to be a frontrunner, but I would personally pick Fargo. Any other year, Olive Kitteridge would be the obvious winner. Still, Frances McDormand will win Best Actress for that miniseries. Bill Murray is a heavy contender for Olive Kitteridgein the Best Supporting Actor race, but he was onscreen for like ten minutes. I would prefer to see Matt Bomer win for The Normal Heart, and he’s also Murray’s hottest competitor for the award. Matthew McConaughey will continue his streak from last year and win for True Detective.
It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2015 for ya.
* Blackhat – Michael Mann’s first directorial outing since Public Enemies(2009) is a cyber thriller starring Chris Hemsworth. Its January release makes it hard to really get excited about it.
* Escobar: Paradise Lost – Notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar reaches the big screen in the shape of Benicio Del Toro. Josh Hutcherson plays the innocent young man who becomes a witness to Escobar’s life of crime.
* Still Alice – There have been several Alzheimer dramas before (most notably Away From Her (2007)), but this one boasts an already heavily lauded performance by Julianne Moore.
* Mortdecai – David Koepp is an unreliable director, but this art-heist comedy might be worth a look. A true star vehicle for Johnny Depp, who needs a hit.
* Jupiter Ascending– The Wachowski siblings deliver another sci-fi movie, this time starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The stars will help, but it’s doubtful that audiences will be much attracted to the film.
* Kingsman: The Secret Service – An action thriller from Matthew Vaughn that follows a veteran secret agent taking on a protégé. Starring Colin Firth and Michael Caine.
* Fifty Shades of Grey – No one expects this adaptation of the hugely successful novel to be any good; the only question is how naughty will it be? And will audiences line up to find out? Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are in the leads.
* Insurgent – The sequel to Divergent (2014). It’s hard to separate this series from the Hunger Games movies and all the other dystopian youth thrillers. But the first film was a huge hit.
*Serena – Susanne Bier’s first American film since Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) is a Depression-era drama about a love affair between a girl and a millionaire. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are likely to bring star power.
* Furious 7 – There’s an anxiety to make this movie worth the effort, considering it’s Paul Walker’s last. It will no doubt be interesting to see how well the filmmakers have worked around his absence. It certainly looks wild.
* Child 44– Daniel Espinosa directs this adaptation of an excellent hard-boiled bestseller, a serial-killer thriller set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman are headlining.
* Avengers: Age of Ultron – Summer puts in a higher gear with this sequel that reunites some of our favorite superheroes. I hope Joss Whedon lives up to the original, and I look forward to watching James Spader as the villain.
* Mad Max: Fury Road – Perhaps few expected George Miller’s belated sequel to the 1980s franchise to be noteworthy, but the trailers that have been released so far indicate a furious thrill ride. Tom Hardy is in the lead.
* Tomorrowland – A new Brad Bird movie is always worth a look. This sci-fi adventure, that was co-authored by Damon Lindelof and stars George Clooney, looks very intriguing.
* Jurassic World – It’s been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park movie and that time difference is illustrated in the story of this sequel. Now it’s a fully operational theme park, and very busy. I’m sure everything will go wrong.
* Inside Out – The new Pixar movie is a weird concept. We follow the emotions inside a little girl, all represented by quirky characters. Co-directed by Monsters, Inc.director Pete Docter.
* Ricki and the Flash – Meryl Streep plays an aging rock star who’s trying to reconnect with her kids. May sound unremarkable, but Jonathan Demme is directing and Streep is probably a hoot to watch. And there’s Kevin Kline.
* Terminator Genisys– Terminator Salvation(2007) failed to jump-start this franchise, but here comes a movie that seems to be everything – a sequel, a remake and a prequel all at once. And Arnold Schwarzenegger returns. Has to be seen.
* Ant-Man – Can’t say I’m excited about this latest superhero project, but perhaps a sense of humor will boost it, as in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy. The cast has Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.
* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Guy Ritchie directs this adaptation of the 1960s spy series. I guess Warner is hoping for their own Mission: Impossible franchise. Stars Henry Cavill and Hugh Grant.
* Straight Outta Compton – The story of the legendary hiphop group N.W.A. reaches the big screen. Director F. Gary Gray’s first film in six years. Paul Giamatti is in the cast.
* Everest – A star-studded thriller about a Mount Everest expedition that is hit by a snowstorm. Starring Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright and Josh Brolin.
* Black Mass – Infamous Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger is the subject of this film that focuses on his rise. Johnny Depp plays Bulger and the cast also has Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller and Joel Edgerton.
* The Walk – Did you see the documentary Man on Wire(2008)? Well, here comes Robert Zemeckis’s fictionalized version, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The teaser is eye-popping, and I believe this is an occasion where the 3D will truly serve a purpose.
* The Jungle Book – Hard to tell what Jon Favreau might make of this adaptation, but it seems inspired by the Disney version as much as Rudyard Kipling. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken will provide the voices of Baloo and King Louie.
* Crimson Peak – Guillermo del Toro directs this ghost movie starring Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain. Early footage was a hit at Comic-Con last summer.
* Spectre – The 24th James Bond movie promises to reintroduce both SPECTRE and Blofeld. Daniel Craig returns and Christoph Waltz plays the villain. Sam Mendes is back in the directing chair after the success of Skyfall (2012).
* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – The book certainly did not need to be divided into two separate movies, but here’s the final film in this franchise.
* Midnight Special – Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returns with a film about a man who goes on the lam with his son after discovering that the boy has special powers. Stars Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon.
* Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The most heavily anticipated movie of the year. The teaser trailer got everybody curious and J.J. Abrams’s take on this franchise certainly looks exciting. Now we’re waiting for a first look of the old stars…
* Mission: Impossible 5 – Both the plot and, likely, the title are unknown at this time. But Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and the other familiar faces from this franchise are returning. Christopher McQuarrie, who made Jack Reacher, is helming.
* Joy – David O. Russell is back with another vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a Long Island single mom who becomes a wildly successful entrepreneur. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro are also in the cast.
* The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu directs this drama about a frontiersman who sets out for revenge in the 1820s. Stars Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Six years ago, Frances McDormand read “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout. This was at a time when the actress had watched The Wire (2002-2008) and realized how a sprawling story could be told in a television format. In McDormand’s mind, “Olive Kitteridge” could not be made as a movie. “Female stories are more circular, protracted and complex and need to be told in a different format”, as she told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. McDormand is a strong feminist, and I admire her for that, even though I disagree that stories about women need the miniseries format in particular. However, HBO had previously produced another miniseries helmed by an indie director, Mildred Pierce (2011), so this became a perfect fit for Lisa Cholodenko.
Olive and Henry Kitteridge (McDormand, Richard Jenkins) live in the small town of Crosby, Maine. When we first meet them, Olive works as a teacher and Henry runs the local pharmacy. They have a 13-year old son, Christopher. At first sight, the Kitteridges look like an odd couple. Henry could very well be the sweetest man in town and he’s paying particular attention to a vulnerable girl (Zoe Kazan) who’s just started working at the pharmacy. Olive seems to put everyone off; her stern demeanor makes her an unpopular teacher and Christopher finds it very difficult to connect with her. Olive has a fling with a fellow teacher (Peter Mullan) who has a drinking problem…
Down-to-earth and universal There are many ingredients here that make this one of the best television experiences of 2014. As in the director’s most successful film to date, The Kids Are All Right (2010), the story of Olive Kitteridge is down-to-earth and universal. We follow the Kitteridges through 25 years, give or take, from the challenging years of their relationship when they’re looking elsewhere for thrills and companionship in the shape of Kazan and Mullan’s characters to the later years when life is changing and they’re left with the consequences of earlier actions and the sad facts of aging. There is an episodic feel to it, inevitably, but Cholodenko and writer Jane Anderson keep a firm grip on the overarching themes. A friend of mine described the Kitteridges’ marriage as “unhappy”, but that’s simplifying it. Realistic is a better word; as the full story shows, there are ups and downs between them and we also get a sense of what it is that binds them, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the differences that somehow fill the needs of the other. There is a lot of darkness and angst throughout the story, some of it related to the characters and their disposition, some of it to mental illness, as in a memorable sequence where Olive is talking to a former student who has inherited his mother’s depression, contemplates suicide and keeps hallucinating (which includes seeing Olive turn into an elephant!). Similar problems tormented Olive’s father and are showing up in Olive herself, as well as Christopher – but is it really depression or merely the facts of life? Intriguing, and vividly brought to life, with beautifully melancholy music by Carter Burwell and windy, autumnal Massachusetts cinematography by Frederick Elmes.
As an actors’ showpiece, this is a formidable achievement. Jenkins and McDormand are both brilliant, delivering layered performances that reveal a lot about their characters, even in moments that aren’t as intense as a certain crisis that appears midway through. There’s honesty and a directness in McDormand that shines through in her characters, and in the case of Olive it helps us understand and accept this New Englander more easily.
Olive Kitteridge 2014-U.S. Made for TV. 254 min. Color. Produced by David Coatsworth. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Teleplay: Jane Anderson. Novel: Elizabeth Strout. Cinematography: Frederick Elmes. Music: Carter Burwell. Cast: Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge), Richard Jenkins (Henry Kitteridge), Bill Murray (Jack Kennison), John Gallagher, Jr., Zoe Kazan, Peter Mullan… Martha Wainwright.
Trivia: Originally shown in four episodes. Co-executive produced by McDormand and Tom Hanks.
Emmys: Outstanding Limited Series, Directing, Writing, Actor (Jenkins), Actress (McDormand), Supporting Actor (Murray).
Last word: “It was one of the best times I’ve ever had as an actor. Also because I’ve made a career of playing small supporting roles, mostly to male protagonists, and one of the reasons I thought I was perfect casting, from a producing standpoint, for Olive was that she is, too. In the short stories and in her family’s life, she is a supporting character. She’s a supporting character that should be a leading lady. And that was always my situation as a supporting actor in film. I never needed a break [from the character], are you kidding?” (McDormand, NPR)
Sofia Coppola, the daughter of esteemed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, was about to direct her second film after debuting with The Virgin Suicides (1999), and she still wasn’t sure if she had her star. After going to Japan to start shooting, Coppola and her crew did not even know which flight Bill Murray was going to be on. This was no great surprise since Coppola had spent so much time trying to woo the famously elusive star for the film. In the end though, Lost in Translation was completed and it elevated its director to fame, revived Murray’s career and helped establish Scarlett Johansson as a new star to be reckoned with.
Bob Harris (Murray) is an American actor who usually appears in action movies. His career is winding down and he travels to Tokyo, Japan, to shoot a commercial for Suntory whisky. Charlotte (Johansson) is another American in the city, a college graduate who’s married to a celebrity photographer, John (Giovanni Ribisi). He dives headfirst into work, and Charlotte feels left out; as John seems to focus more on the models he’s working with, Charlotte begins to question what she’s doing with him in a foreign country and where her life is headed. At the same time, Bob maintains sporadic contact over the phone with his wife of 25 years; there’s no passion left in their relationship, only concerns about the kids and unimportant matters like choosing the color of wallpaper. Bob and Charlotte eventually meet in the hotel bar and recognize each other’s need for a break…
Confused encounters with Japan In her breakthrough to a wider audience, Coppola borrowed heavily from her experiences as a twenty-something visiting Japan. All the insecurities and frustrations that a person of that age has is channeled into Charlotte’s character. And all the wide-eyed, confused encounters with various aspects of Japanese big-city culture is on display for two reasons. Part of it is about simple entertainment, because it is undeniably amusing, but part of it is also about having cultural clashes serve as a nifty illustration of the confusion and loneliness that the story’s two leads are going through. Bob and Charlotte feel alienated because of her youth and marriage troubles and his midlife crisis. Some people saw in the depiction of Tokyo and Japanese culture a typically Western attitude. While it’s true that very little of what we see of Japan looks attractive, the feeling of alienation is a more important effect to achieve for Coppola. Some will interpret this as racism, but I’m not buying it. We’re viewing this from Bob and Charlotte’s perspective and that’s what the movie is about – their isolation. You could also see this film as a variation on the old favorite Brief Encounter (1945). There is something sweet about these people’s attraction, which grows into a deeper understanding. Watching the story unfold is both romantic and depressing, a fabulous achievement in itself, but also very funny at times thanks to Murray’s appearance, which was ad-libbed in several scenes. Cinematographer Lance Acord emphasizes the loneliness and sadness with slightly desaturated colors and well composed shots of impersonal hotel rooms and neon-glaring views of the city at night.
Sofia Coppola’s movies always feel like personal projects. This is not automatically a good thing; you can pour your heart into something and it can still come out as… nothing. The movies she has made recently have been largely disappointments, good-looking but empty. Lost in Translation, her most personal, is brilliant. Let’s hope she finds her way back to the sincerity of it.
Lost in Translation 2003-U.S. 105 min. Color. Produced by Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Cinematography: Lance Acord. Editing: Sarah Flack. Cast: Bill Murray (Bob Harris), Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte), Giovanni Ribisi (John), Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi, Catherine Lambert.
Trivia:Co-executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
Oscar: Best Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Actor (Murray), Actress (Johansson), Editing. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actor (Murray), Screenplay. Venice: Best Actress (Johansson).
Last word: “My dad and Kurosawa did a Suntory commercial which they shot at our house in San Francisco. But going to Japan, you’d always see ads of people like Kevin Costner or someone promoting coffee. It’s this heightened, Japanese idea of Western culture. And I was cracking up the whole time during that shoot. That was a real photographer, and I was sitting with the photographer and I would say things to him and he would repeat it to Bill, so he was yelling things like, ‘Rat pack!’ at Bill, and Bill would respond. And Bill improvised that entire scene.” (Coppola, The Daily Beast)