When Lightning McQueen crashes during a race with a cocky, younger talent, he starts fearing retirement but tries to find his way back at a new racing center, and with a new, annoyingly enthusiastic trainer. The third film reconnects with the original in several ways. Beautifully designed in 3D, with harrowingly convincing racing scenes, earthy tones and an emotional story. Clearly, the hijinks of the second movie are a thing of the past… on the other hand, most ingredients here are much too familiar. Still, Cruz Ramirez is an engaging new character.
2017-U.S. Animated. 102 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Brian Fee. Voices of Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Cristela Alonzo (Cruz Ramirez), Chris Cooper (Smokey), Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer… Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Kerry Washington, Bob Costas, John Ratzenberger, Lewis Hamilton, Cheech Marin.
Trivia: Previously unused recordings of Paul Newman from the first movie are used in some flashback scenes.
In 1926, WWI veteran Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), who’s fallen in love with the mistress (Sienna Miller) of a gangster, becomes involved in the battle between two crime families, one Irish and one Italian. Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, the second part in a series of books about a fictitious Irish-American family, has lush cinematography, exciting shootouts and classical gangster movie ingredients. However, none of this is enough to compensate for the turgid pace and Affleck’s wooden performance; it’s a mystery why women fall for his character in the movie.
2016-U.S. 129 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Jennifer Todd. Written and directed by Ben Affleck. Novel: Dennis Lehane. Cinematography: Robert Richardson. Cast: Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin), Elle Fanning (Loretta Figgis), Remo Girone (Maso Pescatore), Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher… Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Anthony Michael Hall.
Trivia: DiCaprio was allegedly first considered for the lead.
FROM THE CREATOR OF BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, COMES THE STORY ABOUT THE CREATOR OF BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.
In 1994, Jonathan Demme bought the rights to journalist Susan Orlean’s book ”The Orchid Thief”, where she investigated the arrest of John Laroche who was dealing illegally in rare plants. Neither she nor Demme could have predicted what would happen when he asked Charlie Kaufman to turn it into a screenplay. Kaufman, who was the brilliant, absurd mind behind Being John Malkovich (1999), hit a creative wall and couldn’t figure out how to adapt this non-fiction book. Eventually, he figured the only way he could do it was to go completely nuts, incorporate himself in the story and make up a final act involving not only Orlean and Laroche but also himself and his fictional twin brother Donald! Kaufman never told the people who hired him what he was up to, convinced that he’d get fired, but he did confide in Spike Jonze, who had directed Being John Malkovich. As it turned out, Adaptation. didn’t end Kaufman’s career, but must be considered a high point.
Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), in this version, is brilliant but full of self-loathing. Socially inept, the only thing he can focus on whenever he’s in a meeting with a studio representative is how fat, bald and sweaty he is. His twin brother Donald also wants to become a screenwriter; in awe of his brother, Donald visits the set of Being John Malkovich and has a lighthearted way with the cast and crew that Charlie can’t muster. Donald’s attempt at writing a thriller basically has everything that Charlie hates about Hollywood, but he still gives him (tepid) support. In the meantime, Charlie suffers from writer’s block. He doesn’t know how to approach ”The Orchid Thief”, but is still afraid of talking to Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) whom he’s attracted to from a distance…
Reflecting the themes of the book
When the real-life Orlean heard what Kaufman had come up with, she was horrified, thinking this will destroy her reputation… especially considering what he has her doing in the final act of the movie. When she finally saw the film she had no regrets and came to admire how well it reflects the themes of her book. As we follow Kaufman’s struggles, flashbacks also take us back a few years to the time when Orlean approached the weirdly charismatic John Laroche (Chris Cooper) in Florida, who had hired a group of Seminoles as a way of getting around the law in his pursuit of rare orchids. As she got to know him better, she learned the tragedy in his past and developed a special relationship with this man who wasn’t easy to get along with. This part of the film is moving and Jonze handles the disparity between that and the offbeat humor of the Kaufmans’ screenwriting projects well. Obviously, the whole film goes off the tracks completely in the end when all the characters meet… but amazingly enough it works as a perfect symbol of the whole creative process that Kaufman’s been going through and how it risks consuming you altogether. The story depicts passion and its motivations, be it writing or searching for that elusive flower in a Florida swamp. Funny and strange, the film dissolves the border between reality and fiction, but in a clever way that doesn’t limit this as a concern only for Kaufman.
The cast is a huge asset. This is one, no, two of Cage’s best performances ever as the neurotic Charlie and the wide-eyed, sociable Donald; their interaction is totally believable even though it’s fake, just like Donald. Streep and Cooper add gravitas to the film as the journalist and the orchid-hunter who open up to each other and then form a bond that threatens to destroy the man trying to portray them.
Adaptation. 2002-U.S. 115 min. Color. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Vincent Landay, Edward Saxon. Directed by Spike Jonze. Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman. Book: Susan Orlean (”The Orchid Thief”). Music: Carter Burwell. Cast: Nicolas Cage (Charlie Kaufman/Donald Kaufman), Meryl Streep (Susan Orlean), Chris Cooper (John Laroche), Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox… Judy Greer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky. Cameos: John Malkovich, Catherine Keener, Curtis Hanson, John Cusack, David O. Russell.
Trivia: The screenplay was officially credited to Charlie and ”Donald” Kaufman. Joaquin Phoenix was allegedly considered for Cooper’s role.
Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Cooper). Golden Globes: Best Supporting Actor (Cooper), Supporting Actress (Streep). BAFTA: Best Adapted Screenplay. Berlin: Jury Grand Prix.
Last word: “I’d be literally acting with a tennis ball or an X on a wall, to tell me where to look, and an earpiece in my ear listening to whatever I had already recorded so that I wouldn’t overlap dialog. And then I’d try to move so it worked with my memory of what I’d done as the other character […] I was a fan of Jeremy Irons’ performance as twins in ‘Dead Ringers’. But I’d get frustrated when we would switch the characters three or four times a day. At one point I literally screamed out of frustration and Spike would talk me down.” (Cage, RogerEbert.com)
Maine English teacher Jake Epping (James Franco) is introduced to a time-traveling portal by his friend (Chris Cooper) at a local diner, and decides that he will use it to prevent the murder of John F. Kennedy. The engrossing Stephen King thriller gets a worthy but not quite equally engaging TV adaptation that starts out great and comes to an intense, moving close. But far too often does this miniseries get bogged down in its subplots, and the horrors of the future unveiled in the last episode don’t have the impact they should. Still, well cast, handsomely produced and done with a sense of humor as well as a sweeping, romantic touch.
2016-U.S. Made for TV. 435 min. Color. Developed by Bridget Carpenter. Novel: Stephen King. Theme: J.J. Abrams. Cast: James Franco (Jake Epping/James Amberson), Chris Cooper (Al Templeton), Sarah Gadon (Sadie Dunhill), Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webster… Josh Duhamel.
Trivia: Originally shown in eight episodes, each one helmed by different directors, including Franco and Kevin Macdonald. Co-executive produced by Abrams. Jonathan Demme was allegedly first considered as director for a film adaptation of the novel.
In 1780, South Carolina widower Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is drawn into the Revolutionary War when the British murder one of his sons and set his home on fire. When the director behind Independence Day (1996) and the star who brought us Braveheart (1995) join forces, the result is a good-looking, often exciting and stirring epic… but as expected it has historical flaws and portrays the British as bloodthirsty savages (symbolized by Jason Isaacs’s deliciously wicked turn as an officer). Both silly and irresistible in many ways, with a great score by John Williams and another engaging effort by Gibson as the tortured hero.
2000-U.S. 164 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Screenplay: Robert Rodat. Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel. Music: John Williams. Cast: Mel Gibson (Benjamin Martin), Heath Ledger (Gabriel Martin), Joely Richardson (Charlotte Selton), Chris Cooper, Jason Isaacs, Tom Wilkinson… Tchéky Kario, Adam Baldwin, Logan Lerman.
Trivia: Alternative version runs 175 min. Lerman’s first film. Harrison Ford, Ryan Philippe and Kevin Spacey were allegedly considered for roles.
When a Boston shipbuilding giant starts downsizing, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) loses his job, but he’s far from the only victim. TV producer and writer John Wells’s feature directing debut is a comment on the Great Recession of 2008, where we follow several white-collar workers and how they react to shockingly changing circumstances, especially Affleck’s character who finds it very hard to accept his fate. An angry attack on corporations that lose their moral compass, and a celebration of small-scale business. Well-acted and compelling, but a greater diversity among those laid off might have been even better.
2010-U.S.-Britain. 104 min. Color. Written and directed by John Wells. Cast: Ben Affleck (Bobby Walker), Tommy Lee Jones (Gene McClary), Chris Cooper (Phil Woodward), Kevin Costner (Jack Dolan), Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt… Craig T. Nelson.
A LAWYER AND HIS ASSISTANT FIGHTING TO SAVE A FATHER ON TRIAL FOR MURDER. A TIME TO QUESTION WHAT THEY BELIEVE. A TIME TO DOUBT WHAT THEY TRUST. AND NO TIME FOR MISTAKES.
Young Mississippi attorney Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) takes a case where a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) stands accused of having murdered two white supremacists who raped his ten-year-old daughter. One of the most successful adaptations of a John Grisham novel. The way it addresses racism in the South may be simplistic and crowd-pleasing, complete with a resurrected Klan, but attempts are made to complicate things and the febrile atmosphere adds to the tension. It’s a long movie, but doesn’t really feel that way. Some of the courtroom scenes pack a punch, especially near the end where McConaughey is electrifying; this was his breakthrough performance.
1996-U.S. 149 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John Grisham, Hunt Lowry, Arnon Milchan. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman. Novel: John Grisham. Cast: Sandra Bullock (Ellen Roark), Samuel L. Jackson (Carl Lee Hailey), Matthew McConaughey (Jake Tyler Brigance), Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt… Ashley Judd, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Patrick McGoohan, Kurtwood Smith, Chris Cooper, Charles S. Dutton, Octavia Spencer.
Trivia: Spencer’s film debut. Kevin Costner and Val Kilmer were allegedly considered for the part of Brigance.
Last word: “Everyone knew when they saw ‘Dazed and Confused’ that [McConaughey] leapt off the screen. The Grisham books were so hot at that moment, but John didn’t want to make a movie of his first book. I just stalked him and John loved ‘The Client’, which helped. He said I could do ‘A Time to Kill’, but he had approval over the lead character. A lot of actors wanted to do it, and John didn’t want them. When I brought in Matthew, I thought of him to play the redneck bad guy at first [later played by Kiefer Sutherland]. I was talking to him and realized this guy would be great in the lead. He asked me if Brad Pitt was doing the film and I said he’s not. Anyway, I didn’t want to ruin his career. With some friends, we went way downtown in L.A. and did this little audition, because if John didn’t like it, no one would know. I sent it down to John. And the next day he called me and said, ‘Who is this guy? I love him.’ We got to call Matthew and tell him he got the lead.” (Schumacher, Variety)
While Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) worries over Gwen’s (Emma Stone) safety now that she knows his secret alias, Spider-Man faces two new enemies. Marc Webb’s attempt to make the greatest blockbuster ever has moments of beauty in its execution, including striking 3D visuals. Unfortunately, many jokes fall flat and the introduction of two charismatic super-villains (at least), Electro and Green Goblin, is overkill and leads to exhausting showdowns stacked on top of each other. Considering the emotions involved, this is far from the knock-out it should have been.
2014-U.S. 142 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Marc Webb. Cast: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Max Dillon/Electro), Dane DeHaan (Harry Osborn/Green Goblin), Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz… Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Denis Leary. Cameos: Stan Lee, Chris Cooper, Martin Sheen, Jennifer Lawrence.
The story of how American Beauty, one of the most celebrated films of the 1990s, was made is the story of how a struggling TV writer tried to break into movies and a theater director with a flair for staging dark reinventions of musicals like “Cabaret” and “Oliver” got his huge breakthrough by making a film. Looking back at this project now, it all seems so clear – Sam Mendes’s move followed his work in theater in such a natural way, and the themes and tone of Alan Ball’s black comedy kept resurfacing in new, ingenious ways in his two hit TV shows, Six Feet Under and True Blood.
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is 42 years old, works for a magazine and is married to Carolyn (Annette Bening), a real estate broker. The highlight of his day is jerking off in the shower in the morning. The Burnhams’ marriage has been dead for quite some time, which is obvious to their teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch). When Lester one day sees Jane’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari) perform as a cheerleader he’s struck by her beauty in a not too subtle way and decides to try and woo her by starting to work out. At the same time, Carolyn embarks on an affair with a rival real estate broker (Peter Gallagher) and Jane is intrigued by the boy next door, Ricky (Wes Bentley), an aspiring filmmaker who’s also selling weed on the side. Lester becomes one of his clients, and Ricky’s conservative dad (Chris Cooper) begins to smell a rat…
Immense sadness in much of it Alan Ball originally intended to write a play based on the 1992 Amy Fisher affair, where a 17-year-old fell in love with an auto body shop owner and ended up shooting his wife in the face. Ball never went through with that project, but part of the film looks like it might have been inspired by the scandalous case. Above all, this is a satire on middle-class life in suburbia where everything looks perfect, complete with an obligatory gay couple in the neighborhood being just as middle-class perfect as their straight neighbors. But scratch on the surface, and it all comes pouring out. Just like in Sunset Blvd. (1950), the film opens with Spacey’s character talking to us from beyond the grave, instantly making us understand that his death will create tragedy as well as suspense over the length of the story. There is immense sadness in much of it; in the fact that Angela sincerely believes that the only thing in life that matters is beauty; and in the next-door family with its downtrodden mother and gay-bashing, hateful father. At the same time, Ball and Mendes’s sense of humor brings relief and depth to the way these lives are portrayed, at least in the case of the Burnhams. Spacey and Bening are amazing, taking their characters’ pent-up frustrations from a simmering boil to complete rupture where nothing is off the table. Especially the former is fun to watch, when you know that his performance was inspired by Jack Lemmon in the first place – but also Walter Matthau in the way Lester always slouches in the beginning of the film. The teenagers’ dialogue, emotions and actions all seem utterly real, echoing what the adults were once like before Life crushed their dreams. Thomas Newman’s music score was a big hit, mirroring the comedy and tragedy of the film in quirky ways.
Ball poured all his troubled life experiences into this drama and Mendes made sure it resonated with audiences on several levels, creating one of cinema’s finest portrayals of middle-class angst, all the misery that exists behind a façade of smiles and expensive Italian sofas. Truth is what hides beneath the beauty and it isn’t easy to deal with. Part of it is ugly as hell and depressing… but part of it is also liberating and necessary.
American Beauty 1999-U.S. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks. Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay: Alan Ball. Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall. Music: Thomas Newman. Editing: Tariq Anwar, Christopher Greenbury. Cast: Kevin Spacey (Lester Burnham), Annette Bening (Carolyn Burnham), Thora Birch (Jane Burnham), Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper… Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Scott Bakula.
Trivia:Jessica Biel was allegedly first cast in Birch’s role; Jeff Daniels was allegedly considered for the part of Lester.
Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Spacey), Original Screenplay, Cinematography. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Film, Actor (Spacey), Actress (Bening), Cinematography, Film Music, Editing.
Last word: “I spent four seasons as a sitcom writer on shows that were really frustrating to be a writer on. As a playwright in New York, I had been used to having this really passionate connection to my work. And you can’t do that on certain sitcoms, like the ones I was on, because the work just gets rewritten and shredded until it goes in front of the camera, because that’s just what the process is. You have to develop a healthy detachment from it. I longed for the chance to write something that I was deeply invested in, and that – plus my anger and rage at my working situation – just sort of channeled into ‘American Beauty’.” (Ball, Amazon.com)
When the Weston family patriarch (Sam Shepard) disappears one day, the oldest daughter (Julia Roberts) goes back to her childhood home in Oklahoma; she’s never been able to get along with her pill-popping mother (Meryl Streep). The very dark hit play gets its equally claustrophobic film adaptation. Featuring strong, in some cases showy, performances and captured by a barely noticeable camera, the movie certainly has its spellbinding moments. Expect broken china and barrages of insults, but there’s something a little too contrived about this perfect storm of unhappy people clashing over and over.
2013-U.S. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler. Directed by John Wells. Screenplay, Play: Tracy Letts. Cast: Meryl Streep (Violet Weston), Julia Roberts (Barbara Weston), Chris Cooper (Charlie Aiken), Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard… Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Trivia: Chloë Grace Moretz, Renée Zellweger and Andrea Riseborough were allegedly considered for parts.
After the arrest of a former Weather Underground activist (Susan Sarandon) who’d been a fugitive for the last 30 years, reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) turns his attention to a seemingly honest Albany lawyer (Robert Redford). The 1970s terror organization is portrayed in rather simple fashion as consisting of essentially decent people who made undeniable mistakes in their attempts to fight the power. A soft approach, seen in other Hollywood films, and this one has nothing new to say. However, the rich cast of old pros delivers and the basic story is reasonably engaging to follow.
2013-U.S.-Canada. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Robert Redford. Novel: Neil Gordon. Cast: Robert Redford (Jim Grant/Nick Sloan), Shia LaBeouf (Ben Shepard), Julie Christie (Mimi Lurie), Terrence Howard, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte… Brendan Gleeson, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci.
On a visit to Los Angeles, two brothers who are huge fans of the Muppets realize that the old studio closed down years ago… and now the showbiz gang are in danger of losing everything, including their name. The first Muppet movie in 12 years wisely, cleverly and disarmingly acknowledge the fact that time has passed and cheerfully accepts the challenge of attracting a new generation. Kudos to the filmmakers (including star, co-writer and co-executive producer Jason Segel) who may employ a time-worn formula but still earn laughs and make Muppet fans feel right at home. They also came up with the brilliant idea to hire Bret McKenzie to write songs.
2011-U.S. 103 min. Color. Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Directed by James Bobin. Screenplay: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller. Song: “Man or Muppet” (Bret McKenzie). Cast: Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), Rashida Jones. Muppet Performers: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta. Cameos: Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Mickey Rooney, James Carville, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski.
Trivia: Frank Oz, the original Miss Piggy, was first hired to direct, but wasn’t happy with the script and departed. Followed by Muppets Most Wanted(2014).
Oscar: Best Original Song.
Last word: “I think there’s a misconception that a family film has come to mean a children’s film, and that’s not what it has to be like. The Muppets have an inherent tone that was never going to be dirty or raunchy, though I’m sure some of the executives were nervous that we were doing The Muppets with a sense of irony. But it doesn’t take long to realize that we had a pure love for The Muppets.” (Segel, NPR)
After robbing a bank in Boston together with his crew, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) tries to make sure that the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) can’t identify them… but he also falls in love with her. Affleck’s second directorial outing is another crime saga set in his hometown Boston, and shows that the star has learned not only how to deliver pulse-pounding action but also make sure that the audience cares about both characters and the universe they inhabit. The movie may lack genuine surprises, but the filmmakers utilize Boston locations in the best way possible and the cat-and-mouse games (between Affleck/Hall as well as the robbers and Jon Hamm’s FBI agent) are fun and exciting.
2010-U.S. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Graham King. Directed by Ben Affleck. Screenplay: Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard. Novel: Chuck Hogan (“Prince of Thieves”). Cast: Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay), Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey), Jon Hamm (Adam Frawley), Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine… Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper.
Trivia: Adrian Lyne was allegedly first considered for directing duties. Also available in a 153 min. version.
Last word: “My first thought was, I really wanted to play the role. But I was concerned that the overlap between this and the other movie I directed would be too much, and that I ran the risk of getting pigeonholed for making crime movies in Boston. When I really want to tell stories that take place all over. That made me pause. But there were a couple things that ultimately persuaded me to take on directing it as well. There were a ton of great parts, and I thought the material gave me a shot to work with really good actors. And there was a big challenge in trying to synthesize the two elements of the movie. There was the traditional genre element — the robbery, heist, chase and all that stuff — which had to be done in an interesting and unique way in order to work. That needed to fuse with the character drama on the other side.” (Affleck, Deadline)