Tag Archives: George Clooney



tomorrowlandCasey Newton (Britt Robertson) finds a pin that shows her a vision of a futuristic place called Tomorrowland that’s invisible to everyone else; soon she’s on the run with a mysterious girl (Raffey Cassidy)… Another Disney amusement park attraction gets its own movie, as in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). Elaborate, with a few spectacular scenes and a rousing score. The story is driven by a longing for a better world, but fails to make much of an impact in the film’s second half. Most rewarding aspect: the humorous and emotional relationship between Frank, Casey and Athena. 

2015-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: George Clooney (Frank Walker), Hugh Laurie (David Nix), Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn… Judy Greer.

Trivia: Alternative title: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.

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Three Kings


threekingsAfter the Gulf War, a group of Army officers get their hands on a document showing the location of bunkers that might contain gold bullion that Iraqi soldiers stole from Kuwait… Director David O. Russell’s first major critical breakthrough may look like Kelly’s Heroes (1970) on paper, but its heist story takes on a more satirical and emotional edge with a portrait of how President Bush failed to support those Iraqis who were led to believe that America would help them rise against Saddam. Exploring how soldiers handle humanism and rationality, the film is lively, chaotic and absurd, essentially a wild ride with an enjoyable ensemble cast. 

1999-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Paul Junger Witt, Edward L. McDonnell, Charles Roven. Written and directed by David O. Russell. Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel. Cast: George Clooney (Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief Elgin), Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy… Judy Greer.

Trivia: Clint Eastwood and Nicolas Cage were allegedly considered for Clooney’s part.

Last word: “I always have a shot list, and I always know what I want compositionally. You have to storyboard action stuff, like in ‘Three Kings’. I made that picture because I wanted to come out of that dark, intense, somewhat more cynical place I’d been in as an angry younger man – I’d worked through that in the first few films, and I wanted to do something bigger. Something more muscular, about men who weren’t wobbling so much, like the guys in those first two movies. I wanted to shoot some action.” (Russell, DGA)

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Hail, Caesar!


hailcaesarIn 1951, Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) juggles a busy life, including trying to find out where the studio’s biggest star (George Clooney) has disappeared… The Coen brothers on familiar turf, with yet another kidnapping and a comedy set half a century ago. The biggest appeal here is how lovingly the directors portray and send up the Hollywood studio system, showing the “reality” behind the making of Bible epics, B Westerns and musicals. This is done with an irresistible sense of humor of course, and an outlandish subplot involving Communist screenwriters. Wonderful cast, but perhaps a tad too sprawling.

2016-U.S. 108 min. Color. Written and directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Cast: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton… Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens. Narrated by Michael Gambon.

Trivia: That’s allegedly Dolph Lundgren standing on top of a submarine near the end of the film.

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The Greatest Hits of 2015

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.


* Cinderella – Kenneth Branagh directs this movie that seems to follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. Lily James plays Cinderella in the live-action version. 

* 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.

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The Men Who Stare at Goats


menwhostareatgoatsAfter flying to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War, journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) meets a retired Army operator (George Clooney) who’s been trained in parapsychological skills. You really want to love this film, but it squanders a good opportunity. Loosely based on an actual military initiative, the script chronicles the creation of a “New Earth Army” within the U.S. Army while also following McGregor and Clooney’s misadventures in Iraq. The latter (and Kevin Spacey) are standouts in the cast, but this is never as funny as you’d like. The last half-hour just drops the ball entirely.

2009-U.S.-Britain. 94 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Paul Lister. Directed by Grant Heslov. Book: Jon Ronson. Cast: George Clooney (Lyn Cassady), Ewan McGregor (Bob Wilton), Jeff Bridges (Bill Django), Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root, Robert Patrick.

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The Monuments Men


monumentsmenIn 1943, art conservationist Frank Stokes (George Clooney) talks President Roosevelt into allowing him to form an Army unit consisting of art historians and various experts, with the task of saving as many works of art from the Nazis as possible. Based on true events, this film has a light, old-fashioned and playful touch, which should have made it more amusing than this. Perhaps the episodic nature is to blame; Cate Blanchett’s part is unsatisfying, for instance. Still very likable thanks to the star-studded cast and its dry sense of humor. The story, a tribute to unconventional heroes, maintains one’s interest. 

2014-U.S.-Germany. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by George Clooney. Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov. Book: Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter. Cast: George Clooney (Frank Stokes), Matt Damon (James Granger), Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin… Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban.

Trivia: The older Stokes seen near the end is played by Clooney’s father Nick. Daniel Craig was allegedly first cast in the role that Damon came to play.

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The Greatest Hits of 2014

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2014 for ya.


* Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – This reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst cum action hero has Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh (who’s also directing), but the trailer disturbingly shows another variation on the Jason Bourne concept.

* Labor Day – Jason Reitman returns, aided by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Unfortunately, what looked like a promising drama has now been dumped in the frigid January slot.


* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig. Originally slated for a late 2013 release.

* RoboCop – The remake has Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman. One vital question remains: What’s the point?

Also interesting to note this month: Kevin Costner and Liam Neeson will clash in 3 Days to Kill and Non-Stop, two action thrillers that look pretty similar in style and tone. One likely hit will be Son of God, a movie based on material from The Bible as well as previously unseen footage.


* The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s new movie has a star-studded cast and an intriguing story set between the world wars.

* Grace of Monaco – Another movie originally slated for a late 2013 release, this one is hopefully better than Diana. Nicole Kidman plays the princess.

* Muppets Most Wanted – The Muppets return for a jewel-heist caper. Lots of star cameos, as expected.

* Noah – One can’t help but being intrigued by a Darren Aronofsky movie about the biblical hero. Stars Russell Crowe, and the trailer has Gladiator-esque qualities.


* Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A summer of big blockbusters begins with this Marvel sequel.


Sabotage – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies has been largely tongue in cheek, but the trailer for this film, directed by David Ayer of End of Watch fame, suggests a different approach.

* Transcendence – Johnny Depp stars in this sci-fi flick about a scientist who downloads his mind into a computer. Directing debut of cinematographer and Christopher Nolan loyalist Wally Pfister.


* The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – The sequel looks like it might have the same problems as the first one. On the other hand, the first one was surprisingly good.

* Godzilla – Looks like a tired retread on paper, but director Gareth Edwards and the cast might make a difference. The trailer has the right look.

* X-Men: Days of Future Past – Bryan Singer tries to unite two franchise threads. Let’s hope it’s better than Star Trek Generations (1994).


* Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise fighting aliens. Again. Directed by Doug Liman.

* How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Could become the animated hit of the summer. DreamWorks will be anxious to make sure that the sequel matches the wonderful original.

* Transformers: Age of Extinction – The last time I made the mistake of giving Michael Bay the benefit of a doubt. This time I’m sure Mark Wahlberg will be lost in a flurry of incomprehensible battles.


* Tammy – Melissa McCarthy puts her stardom to the ultimate test, being directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, in a summer blockbuster comedy that has Susan Sarandon playing her alcoholic grandmother.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has Gary Oldman (but Andy Serkis is still the star). Directed by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame.

* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski Siblings return after Cloud Atlas (2012) with another sci-fi movie, this one starring Mila Kunis.


* Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel strikes back with another adventure, this one starring among others Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie. Postponed for a year after its original 2013 release date. Hardly promising.

* The Expendables 3 – I’ll mention this simply because Mel Gibson plays the villain and the cast also has Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer. I guess it has to be seen to be believed.

As a Swede, I have to highlight two world-famous fellow Swedes this month: Lasse Hallström is set to release The Hundred-Foot Journey, a film about an Indian family competing with a Michelin-starred restaurant in France, starring Helen Mirren, and Alexander Skarsgård who’s starring alongside Meryl Streep in Phillip Noyce’s sic-fi drama The Giver.


* The Equalizer – Another TV show gets a movie adaptation, this one directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington.


* Gone Girl – David Fincher adapted the bestseller, with Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris set to put the screen ablaze.

* Get On Up – James Brown is the latest music star to get a proper screen biography. Directed by Tate Taylor (of The Help) and starring Chadwick Boseman.


* Interstellar – Christopher Nolan returns with one of the year’s most highly anticipated sci-fi films. Starring Matthew McConaughey, who’s clearly continuing his current brilliant streak.

* Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return after 20 years. Are they getting any smarter?

* Fury – Another film by David Ayer this year (after Sabotage), a war movie set near the end of World War II. Stars Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Francis Lawrence directs this complex endeavor, where author Suzanne Collins’s book has been chopped into two chapters.


* Exodus – Ridley Scott mounts a comeback after the creative abyss known as The Counselor. This biblical epic, starring Christian Bale, looks more like Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

* The Hobbit: There and Back Again – The third and final chapter in Peter Jackson’s insanely protracted franchise

* Annie – Another movie adaptation of the Broadway hit, this time featuring Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz and Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis.

* Into the Woods – The Brothers Grimm fairy tales are presented with a twist in this film, directed by Rob Marshall, and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.

* Unbroken – Angelina Jolie is set to direct this World War II story, which is based on a best-selling book and adapted by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson.

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Terrence Malick, the 20-Year Mystery, Turns 70

The clip above is fascinating. It’s from last year when Christopher Plummer came together with George Clooney, Viola Davis, Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron for a Newsweek round-table talk about the Oscars. However, in this clip they’re talking about Terrence Malick and they seem to be unusually candid about a filmmaker who usually attracts big names to his movies. Plummer, who appeared in The New World (2005), did not enjoy his experience with Malick and says in the clip that not only does the director need a writer who prevents him from interfering with every aspect of the picture, but Plummer refuses to ever work with him again.

Tomorrow, Terrence Malick turns 70 years old. Today, he’s a reasonably active filmmaker whose latest film To the Wonder was released earlier this year to respectable reviews. For a man who first gained attention in 1973 with Badlands, there haven’t actually been many films released. He took a 20-year break between 1978 and 1998, chronicled by Michael Nordine in a Los Angeles Review of Books Article that both demystifies those two decades, and still maintains the allure of the legendary auteur who stays away from media and pursues various projects that fall apart. Malick’s movies are sometimes ridiculed – easily summed up, they’re overlong, solemn dramas that have characters walking through fields of grass, touching straws as their barely penetrable thoughts are represented in the narrative. 

Malick’s critics have a point. There’s only one problem. His movies are usually very good. Badlands (1973) is a youthful rebellion portrayed onscreen; Days of Heaven (1978) is romantic and incredibly beautiful, his best film to date. His next movie after that legendary 20-year hold-up is The Thin Red Line (1998), a very touching war movie that features some of composer Hans Zimmer’s best work. Sure, The New World is a disappointment. But Tree of Life (2011) had him back in form, a drama that combined his expected sensibilities with visual effects and a larger-than-life approach to his usual philosophical ideas about our lives.

I have yet to see To the Wonder, but I have high hopes. As for Plummer, I have to say that regardless of the veteran actor’s experiences, Malick nevertheless usually knows how to employ his stars.

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The Earl of Grantham Turns 50

Hugh Bonneville turned 50 years old yesterday, the same day as it was announced that his immensely popular TV show Downton Abbey would get a fifth season next year. He plays Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, on the show, and has been nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance. Bonneville’s career has been mostly confined to television from the early 1990s and onwards. His breakthrough to a wider audience was the movie Iris (2001), where he played the younger version of novelist Iris Murdoch’s partner (the older version of the author was played by Judi Dench). That role earned him award nominations, but there’s no getting around that people all around the world will recognize him primarily for Downton Abbey, even though he’s also been the narrator for a reality show called The Hotel (2011- ).

I love the clip above, where Bonneville and Jim Carter (both dressed up as they were in the middle of shooting an episode) talk about the “upstairs and downstairs” aspect of Downton Abbey. Bonneville has caught the attention of Hollywood now. Coming up next is a small role in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men (2014). Hopefully, other entertaining roles will come his way.

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Gravity: More Science, Less Hollywood



gravityNeil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and the most famous person working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was surprised the other day to learn how media had reported on a series of tweets he’d made where he pointed out scientific mistakes in Gravity. He felt compelled to explain himself. In a Facebook post, he wrote that the film may have gotten ten things wrong, but a hundred things right. “To ‘earn’ the right to be criticized on a scientific level is a high compliment indeed”, he added. In other words, Alfonso Cuarón’s greatest film so far is not only a thrill ride, but a largely scientifically correct experience as well.

On his last mission in space, veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) has a first-timer on his crew, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who’s a Mission Specialist. Their maintenance work on the Hubble Telescope is abruptly interrupted when a Russian missile strike on an old satellite causes a chain reaction that hurls debris into low Earth orbit, traveling as fast as a bullet. In its path lie both Hubble and the shuttle. Less than a minute after Houston’s order to abort, debris come flying, hitting the shuttle, and Ryan is detached. As she’s tumbling through space, farther away from Earth, she loses contact with Houston and her oxygen level becomes critical…

Based on real concepts
More of the story should not be revealed, and I made sure not to know more before I went into the theater. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this be another 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which is one of my favorite movies of all time? Gravity is more down-to-earth, though. Even that chain reaction is based on a real concept, the Kessler Syndrome, a catastrophic scenario that would render the use of satellites impossible. The consequences for mankind would be severe, but in this film they are limited to the crew of the shuttle, and Dr. Stone in particular whose mission to survive becomes Herculean. This wouldn’t be the kind of white-knuckle thriller it is without its characters. The writers don’t provide much time for us to get to know Stone and Kowalski, but we do learn a little (especially about a tragic incident in Stone’s past that makes us understand her emotions and spiritual hopes better)… and it does help that they’re played by such likable and reliable stars as Bullock and Clooney. The former in particular delivers one of the best performances of her career; it took a lot of time for her to prepare, and it shows, both mentally and physically. There are no lulls here whatsoever; visually, this is a stunning experience, especially in 3D, with special effects that are in turns horrifying and beautiful. The sight of Earth from low orbit is remarkably rendered, complete with phenomena like hurricanes and northern lights that look even more fascinating from high above. But it’s also likely the first movie to really capture the nauseating feeling of being in space, what it must be like to have no gravity, especially when you lose control in a crisis. Kudos to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for that achievement. True to its scientific ambitions, there’s no noise when the debris destroys the shuttle, but Steven Price’s dramatic score makes the sound of an explosion obsolete.

Ed Harris provides the voice of Mission Control, and it’s a nod to another key Hollywood portrayal of space exploration, Apollo 13 (1995). If some people who provided feedback had had it their way, Gravity would have been much more Hollywood; there was even an idea of Stone being in a relationship with the Mission Control Commander. Thank God, the Cuarón brothers stayed true to their vision.

Gravity 2013-U.S. 91 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón. Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Editing: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger. Music: Steven Price. Cast: Sandra Bullock (Ryan Stone), George Clooney (Matt Kowalski). Voice of Ed Harris.

Trivia: The voice of Aningaaq is a reference to a short film directed by Jonás Cuarón, where the character first appeared. Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr. were allegedly considered for the lead roles.

Oscars: Best Director, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing. Golden Globe: Best Director. BAFTA: Best British Film, Director, Cinematography, Original Music, Special Visual Effects, Sound.

Last word: “There were different technologies that were involved that we created. What they all have in common is that they had to be pre-programmed. So when we went to the shooting stage, everything was set in stone, meaning that we could not do adjustments, and meaning that the actors, there was very little room for actors to do changes, because the scene had to be exactly that length of time — the timing was written in stone. The positions were written in stone. It was like, ‘At that exact moment, [Sandra], you reach out with your hand like that’. Everything was so millimetric. It was a testament to Sandra and George how they went through with all these technical, psychological limitations around them, how they make it seem effortless. Everything was very uncomfortable for the actors.” (Alfonso Cuarón, Vulture)

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Ben Affleck is Not the Problem

Few things are likely to have caused such nerd rage this year as the decision to cast Ben Affleck as the next Batman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel. My reaction was simply, this could be interesting. I should explain my lack of passion. I loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy; I consider The Dark Knight (2008) a masterpiece. When we learned of the project that became Man of Steel I was suspicious since I’m no fan of Zack Snyder… but Nolan was still involved. The results turned out to be very disappointing, nevertheless. In a way, this disappointment has been liberating. I don’t exactly look forward to the inevitable sequel, because if they were able to screw this one up and not admit mistakes they are likely to repeat them. Especially since there will always be a huge global audience to support their follies.

The news of Superman and Batman finally meeting onscreen was a big deal this summer. But our expectations are now so low that everyone’s fighting from an underdog’s perspective. That goes for Affleck as an older, battle-scarred Batman as well. I’m sure he will be fine. He’s a better director than actor, but Daredevil (2003) wasn’t as big a disaster as some fanboys would have you believe. The problem is not Affleck as Batman. The problem is that the wrong people are in charge of it. And I guess Nolan is also part of it, ironically.

A quick look at previous Batmen:

Adam West: Who doesn’t love the Mayor of Quahog? The 1960s TV series turned Bob Kane’s creation into high camp, but it’s pretty hard to compare West with the subsequent, much darker incarnations. In the clip above, he downs a toxic shot of orange juice and dances the night away. “You shake a pretty mean cape, Batman!”

Michael Keaton: Another heavily criticized choice to play Batman, Keaton may have been best known for comedies but managed to combine a sense of humor and brooding darkness in the character of Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy. The clip above is a YouTube tribute. Keaton made two movies as the dark knight and remains best of the bunch.

Val Kilmer: Replaced Keaton in Batman Forever (1995). Batman Returns (1992) may have been a disappointment, but under Joel Schumacher’s guardianship the franchise deteriorated into something that came close to the campiness of the 1960s. Kilmer was far too bland as the Bat.

George Clooney: Who doesn’t love the Clooney? We want to see him in virtually everything… except Batman movies. Clooney certainly knew how to play Bruce Wayne, but Batman & Robin (1997) was simply more of the nonsense that ruined the franchise in the first place.

Christian Bale: The second best Batman. He may have been less fun than Michael Keaton, but the British actor showed what a serious attitude and hard work, both physically and mentally, could do for this troubled character. His and Christopher Nolan’s approach was a reboot worth admiring.

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Ashley Judd Deserves a Break

A few weeks ago, Ashley Judd’s political career seemed to end before it even started. The news that she was mulling a bid to challenge the Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell apparently got him so nervous that a super PAC run by Karl Rove ran the attack ad above, even though the election isn’t scheduled until next year. After reports that Kentucky Democrats had their share of doubts concerning Judd, she announced that she will not run for senator. Today, one of her advisors, Jonathan Miller, describes for the Daily Beast how the campaign was derailed:

“The prosecution was assisted in nearly every article by the same handful of Democratic professionals railing against the prospects of a Judd candidacy, promoting instead the potential Senate candidacy of Kentucky’s young Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes. While many may legitimately believe that Grimes is the better candidate, many of those who have been quoted impugning Judd, or have done so on background, also have personal motives: some stand to profit from a Grimes campaign, some may have been trying to redress perceived “disses” by the actress, and some may be aiming to keep Grimes out of the 2015 gubernatorial race, where she could undermine their preferred candidates.”

I honestly don’t know what to make of all this, except that it’s dirty politics of a kind that nobody wants to see. It’s impossible to say just what kind of candidate Judd would have been. To some people it’s always thankful to drag a Hollywood celebrity through the mud, but on the other hand what did Judd stand to gain from a senatorial run in a state where she hadn’t spent all that much time? Maybe this is for the best – George Clooney, a committed activist, has previously said that he’s not going to run for anything, and yet his work makes more of a difference than that of certain U.S. senators. Judd should take a cue from him and continue her humanitarian efforts. 

Ashley Judd’s film career is certainly not as strong as it used to be, but not in free fall; right now, she’s the First Lady in a box-office hit, Olympus Has Fallen. In the late 90s, she had a string of successful thrillers where she played strong women in danger; audiences found it easy to identify with her, as long as the plot remained reasonably solid. She made movies like Kiss the GirlsDouble Jeopardy and High Crimes work better than they would have without her. Still, Twisted (2004), a critical and box-office failure, posed a real obstacle and she has yet to find a drama or thriller worthy of her talents (she doesn’t get top billing for Olympus Has Fallen). Let’s hope she does, and soon. The clip above shows what must be the archetypal Ashley Judd role, in Double Jeopardy.

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All NBC Has is Its History

The clip above shows the wonderful opening of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live, where Justin Timberlake enters the magical world of the “Five-Timers Club” (people who’ve hosted the show five times or more) and finds that its members include the likes of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Paul Simon and Candice Bergen; there’s also Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Dan Aykroyd. Very funny, and yet another testament to the kind of power that is inherent in the brand name of Saturday Night Live and NBC.

What’s sad is that things have changed over the years. Last week I took some time off, went skiing with friends, and read Warren Littlefield’s book “Top of the Rock”, an account of the network’s “Must See TV” era. Funny, bitter and completely engrossing, the book offers memories and insights from NBC executives, directors, writers and stars, starting with Cheers and ending with Will & GraceIt’s the story of how Kelsey Grammer went from living in his car to becoming one of television’s top-paid stars (surviving an alcohol and cocaine addiction in the process); George Clooney quickly realizing how good ER would become and taking in Anthony Edwards and the bright-eyed Noah Wyle under his wings; and Jerry Seinfeld fighting like an animal to make sure his show survived without Larry David. It’s the story of how director James Burrows became an integral part in the success of all these shows… and how Littlefield himself got embroiled in a fierce struggle with Don Ohlmeyer, another NBC executive, which ended in Littlefield’s departure. 

Does the book offer only the perspective of Littlefield and his allies? Yes. Ohlmeyer doesn’t get a say in this. A fair-minded person might say that both guys share a credit in the success of NBC in those days, but it’s also easy to believe Littlefield as one of the few creative-minded executives in the business; after he left, “Must See TV” was a dead phenomenon and the network’s greatest shows were on their way to being replaced by cheap reality rating-winners like The Apprentice and The Biggest Loser. It’s the kind of programming that requires a minimum effort compared to what lay behind “Must See TV”… and yet those shows are among the best of what the reality genre has to offer!

I remain a fan of NBC simply because of its history. But what passes as NBC these days is just depressing. The network cannot survive simply on Sunday Night Football and reality shows like The Voice. There’s goodwill among fans in the shape of Saturday Night Live… but just as much “bad will” lingering in Jeff Zucker’s disastrous handling of the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien disaster. It’s time for NBC executives to read Littlefield’s book again and try something risky.

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