ONE NATION UNDER SURVEILLANCE FOR LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.
In 2013, former NSA employee Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) clandestinely meet with two journalists and a documentary filmmaker in Hong Kong to tell them the story of why he decided to expose the U.S. government’s wide-ranging surveillance of citizens. We already have Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour (2014) covering what Snowden exposed, but Oliver Stone’s film dramatizes his life from Army basic training up until the meeting in Hong Kong. The process behind Snowden’s decision to become a whistleblower is effectively illustrated; well made, but we don’t really learn anything new.
2016-U.S.-Germany. 134 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Kieran Fitzgerald. Books: Anatoly Kucherena (”Time of the Octopus”), Luke Harding (”The Snowden Files”). Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Edward Snowden), Shailene Woodley (Lindsay Mills), Melissa Leo (Laura Poitras), Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood… Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson.
Trivia: Snowden himself makes an appearance near the end. Margot Robbie was allegedly considered for the part of Lindsay.
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.
Three best friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie) are going out on Christmas Eve in New York City as they always do… but a fourteen-year long tradition is about to end. The director and stars of 50/50 (2011) are reunited for a comedy that looks like they usually do whenever Rogen, James Franco and co-producer/writer Evan Goldberg are involved. Considering the amount of raunchy silliness and stoner jokes it’s amazing that there’s room for any kind of substance, but the spirit of Christmas is alive. Uneven, but funny most of the time, and a little sweet; the same is true for the leads.
2015-U.S. 101 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Ethan Miller), Seth Rogen (Isaac Greenberg), Anthony Mackie (Chris Roberts), Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon… Mindy Kaling, James Franco, Tracy Morgan, Miley Cyrus.
In the early 1970s, French street performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sees a picture of the newly built World Trade Center in a magazine and decides that the goal of his life is to walk a tightrope between the Twin Towers. Petit’s story was first told in the excellent documentary Man on Wire (2008), but a fictional take on it would give filmmakers with deep enough pockets and creative minds the chance to really give the audience a feeling of what it would be like to stand on that wire along with Petit. This film is a technical triumph; with the help of outstanding 3D effects, Robert Zemeckis gives us a hair-raising experience. Gordon-Levitt also brings considerable charm to his French character.
2015-U.S. 123 min. Color-B/W. Widescreen. Produced by Jack Rapke, Tom Rothman, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne. Book: Philippe Petit (“To Reach the Clouds”). Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Philippe Petit), Ben Kingsley (Papa Rudy), Charlotte Le Bon (Annie Allix), Clément Sibony, James Badge Dale, César Domboy.
Last word: “[Gordon-Levitt] went into intensive wire-walking training with Philippe. Joe went and lived with Philippe, ate all his meals with Philippe and it was like a wire-walking boot camp where Philippe taught him how to do it. But the whole time, Joe was watching Philippe’s every move, and of course, like all great actors, he didn’t mimic Philippe. He took the essence of Philippe and made him his own.” (Zemeckis, Deadline)
Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has no problem meeting women, and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the sexiest he has ever hooked up with… but his addiction to Internet porn becomes a problem. The star’s directing debut is all the more impressive because he manages to make a romantic comedy exploring the allure of porn both compelling and charming. Serious and relevant, but also smart, with a light touch in spite of some dark aspects. Gordon-Levitt is perfect as the young guy who finds porn to be pleasure on a whole other level; Johansson and Julianne Moore are also very good as two women who challenge him in different ways.
2013-U.S. 90 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ram Bergman. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jon Martello), Scarlett Johansson (Barbara Sugarman), Julianne Moore (Esther), Tony Danza, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly… Brie Larson. Cameos: Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Last word: “The idea of it had a long gestation period of several years since I was thinking of different versions of how to do it, what kind of movie could it be. I knew I wanted to tell this story about how people objectify each other and how the media impacts that, but how exactly to tell that story could take any number of shapes. It was actually while I was working on ’50/50′ with Seth Rogen and his whole posse that I thought of doing it as a character-based comedy. Then I thought of, ‘Well, alright, what kind of version of ’Don Juan’ would that be?’ My first thought was this sort of East Coast machismo guy with the gym body and shiny hair and stuff and that made me laugh. When it made me laugh, I was like, ‘Well, that’s a good sign.'” (Gordon-Levitt, Coming Soon)
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.
FROM THE WESTERN CAPITALIST PIGS WHO BROUGHT YOU NEIGHBORS AND THIS IS THE END.
When they unexpectedly land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a dim-witted TV host and his producer (James Franco, Seth Rogen) are approached by the CIA who wants their help to kill the dictator… The directors’ second movie after the crazy This Is the End (2013) is just as outrageous and silly, a merciless attack on a real-life dictator in the shape of a buddy comedy that actually sparked a historic hacking affair and a political crisis between the U.S. and North Korea. The movie itself is harmless, often funny, with enthusiastic performances… but loses energy now and then.
2014-U.S. 112 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Cast: James Franco (Dave Skylark), Seth Rogen (Aaron Rapaport), Lizzy Caplan (Lacey), Randall Park, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons. Cameos: Eminem, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Lowe, Bill Maher.
Trivia: The film’s premiere was initially canceled due to threats against movie theaters made by a group of hackers reportedly linked to North Korea that struck against Sony Pictures in one of the worst cyber attacks ever against a company in the U.S. The film was eventually released simultaneously in theaters and on several online streaming sites.
New York City bicycle messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) clashes with a dirty cop (Michael Shannon), who’s deeply indebted to a loan shark, over a valuable envelope. As a screenwriter, David Koepp rarely shows much flair, but this thriller is the opposite. The story of a daredevil messenger who gets chased all over the city by all kinds of foes looks like Speed (1994) on a bicycle, a very tense and fun thriller that moves fast, looks dangerous and has nifty stunts and visual tricks, even in the shape of maps that help us navigate through the chases and the streets. Needless to say, the filmmakers take great advantage of NYC. The two stars are terrific as the savvy hero and the cocky villain.
2012-U.S. 91 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Gavin Polone. Directed by David Koepp. Screenplay: David Koepp, John Kamps. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Wilee), Michael Shannon (Bobby Monday), Dania Ramirez (Vanessa), Jamie Chung, Wolé Parks, Aasif Mandvi.
Last word:“Being in the city and seeing bike messengers almost hit you make you wonder, ‘who are those assholes and why do they do that?’ It also just struck me as such a cinematic thing to do: to go through traffic on a bike and to see those kinds of chases. I’ve seen a million chases but we hadn’t seen one on bikes in dense traffic. In the beginning we were calling it a map movie in that we’d see a map and he has to get from point A to point B and point A is up here and point B is down here and there is a limited amount of time. That quickly evolved into he needs to be a messenger because it’s somebody who has a purpose and then the package could be of interest and stuff like that. Initially we did a lot of research online. The New York Bike Messenger Association is a newsletter that we found online and started looking into what they were all about. Then we met real messengers as time went on. We had a lot of real bike messengers there to advise us and appear in the film.” (Koepp, Latino Review)
The Sundance festival ends tomorrow and we’re only a few hours away from learning which films will earn this year’s awards. Let’s take a look at a few highlights from the past days.
In the clip above, Chaz Ebert talks about her late husband Roger Ebert and her memories of coming to Sundance with him in the past. Also present is Steve James, the director of Life Itself, the crowd-funded documentary about the legendary critic that debuted at the festival. James owes part of his career to Ebert who argued forcefully in favor of his film Hoop Dreams(1994) and helped raise awareness of it. Chaz addresses the fact that it’s easy to think of film critics as just sitting there in the dark. But this film should offer a rich portrait of a man who helped change the movie industry.
William H. Macy has directed his first feature film, Rudderless, which stars among others his wife, Felicity Huffman, and Billy Crudup. The interesting part of the interview above is how much Macy obviously is in love with directing, claiming that he doesn’t care whether or not he ever acts again. Let’s wish him the best of luck… but perhaps he could direct himself at least?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is merely an actor. The immensely talented 32-year-old is also the genius behind hitrecord.org, a community that has grown impressively since its 2005 debut, now boasting a 300,000 member community. Gordon-Levitt, who is also quite the Sundance star, is currently in Park City to promote HitRecord on TV, an innovative new variety show where the host himself works very hard. In the clip above, Gordon-Levitt shows how to sell his favorite project even when the interviewer has a hard time looking beyond his good looks… and when she doesn’t really understand what he’s passionate about. The “content” discussion is revealing.
In 2044, Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a contract killer for the mob in Kansas City; one day, he’s shocked to learn that his next target is an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) from the future. The star and director of Brick (2006) reunited for another thriller, one that I found initially hard to get involved in because of its borderline too-clever jumps between different periods of time. However, Rian Johnson’s script is smart (and emotional) enough to break down resistance, aided in no small part by the three stars’ excellent performances. The film definitely finds its footing from the moment the story introduces Emily Blunt and her powerful protégé.
2012-U.S. 119 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ram Bergman, James D. Stern. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Cast: Bruce Willis (Old Joe Simmons),Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Young Joe Simmons), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo… Jeff Daniels.
Trivia: Gordon-Levitt’s face has been slightly altered using prosthetic makeup in order to make him look more like Willis.
Last word:“Your job as a writer is to soak up the world and just be really present and then put that into the work and everything that is in the movie comes from your own experience and stuff that you’ve soaked up. And especially with a sci-fi film. I think what I love about science fiction and what sci-fi can be really good at is obviously you’re working with outlandish concepts that have very little to do with the real world, like time travel for instance. But what we’re gunning for is to use those outlandish concepts in order to amplify something very human and recognizable. In this case, a young man and an old man sitting across the table from each other and the young man saying, ‘I’m not gonna turn into you’, and the old man saying, ‘You’re such an idiot. You’re doing it all wrong. I see where you’re gonna end up. Take my advice’, and that’s obviously a very human, recognizable thing that sci-fi just lets us kind of attack on a grand scale.” (Johnson, Screen Rant)
This year’s edition of the Sundance film festival in Utah is over – and we have a few winners. The Grand Jury prizes for American films went to Fruitvale in the drama category and Blood Brother in the documentary category; both also won the Audience Awards. The World Cinema Grand Jury prize went to the South Korean Jiseul (drama) and the Cambodian A River Changes Course (documentary).
Fruitvale is the real-life-inspired story of Oscar Grant who was 22 when he was shot and killed by police in Oakland, California. In the clip above, first-time director Ryan Coogler talks about the film and what it feels like to be in Park City. The win is also a triumph for Forest Whitaker who co-produced the film. Its distribution rights have been bought by The Weinstein Company.
The clip above shows the trailer for Blood Brother, which is the story of Rocky Braat, a young American who moved to India to work with HIV-infected orphans. A portrayal of that horrifying situation, the movie also illustrates a typical need among well-to-do Westerners to make an impact somehow.
Actress Lake Bell also had a really good Sundance experience. She picked up a screenwriting award for her directorial debut, In a World…, about a vocal coach.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a familiar presence in Park City. He hosted the awards ceremony, but he was also there to promote his directorial debut, Don Jon’s Addiction, a film he also wrote. Co-starring Scarlett Johansson and Tony Danza (as Gordon-Levitt’s dad), the film’s distribution rights have been acquired by Relativity Media for a high price, $4 million. Shows what kind of a star Gordon-Levitt is about to become.
The festival also featured a new film by Michael Winterbottom, The Look of Love (starring Steve Coogan), The Descendants writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s directing debut The Way, Way Back, and a documentary called Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (about the band whose members were imprisoned for criticizing Putin). We will doubtlessly hear more about these films over the year.
On a visit to Washington D.C. last October, I made the obligatory visit to the Lincoln Memorial and found the experience of first taking in the huge marble statue of the 16th President and then reading the words from his second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address that are engraved onto the walls of the chamber quite overwhelming. Lincoln has become a saintly figure in American history, and if a few deserve that status he certainly is one of them. Steven Spielberg’s epic doesn’t offer a challenging vision of the President, but as an adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s brilliant “Team of Rivals” it is sheer mastery.
In January, 1865, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just won reelection and the Civil War looks like it might finally draw to a close. At Gettysburg, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves in Confederate territories free, but it has no basis in law. Lincoln needs Congress to formally abolish slavery and this will happen if the two legislatures pass a 13th amendment to the Constitution. After sailing through the Senate, the proposal lands in the House where it meets fierce resistance from Congressmen who fear the consequences of such an amendment. The President and his supporters embark on a campaign to convince lame-duck Congressmen who have little to lose – as well as the conservative founder of the Republican Party. At the same time, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) has personal reasons to make sure that the amendment passes…
Never losing credibility or gravitas One of the greatest achievements of this film belongs to Tony Kushner. There were several stabs at adapting Goodwin’s massive book about Lincoln and his closest men, but Kushner came up with the final draft that convinced not only Spielberg but also Day-Lewis who had had his doubts. The book is a not easily approached masterpiece, but Kushner chose to focus on the meaning of the 13th Amendment, the reasons why Lincoln fought so hard for it at that time, and the dirty horse-trading that went on behind the scenes in order to secure votes. Some critics of the film found it too talky and stagy, but the director uses every tool at his disposal to make the process as vivid and entertaining as possible, without losing credibility or gravitas; in supporting roles, James Spader steals every scene he’s in as one of the men hired to offer government jobs to get the necessary votes, and Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as Thaddeus Stevens, the Congressman who can trade insults on the House floor with the best of them. Day-Lewis delivers another bravura performance, virtually becoming the Lincoln Goodwin describes in her pages – gentle, firm, distant at times, sorrowful but with a knack for telling humorous stories whether you want to hear them or not. Field is also impressive as the First Lady who is almost overcome with grief from losing her son, but still finds enough strength to function. Spielberg has sometimes been accused of not caring about actors, but this is certainly an actors’ movie; watching this cast at work is fascinating… and so is observing every detail of the production and costume designs, knowing the kind of effort that lies behind this drive to get as close to history as possible.
Democracy is messy. As I write this, Obama has just begun his second term and Congress will likely clash once again over the debt ceiling. Lincoln shows politicians threatening each other and twisting arms. The process itself ain’t pretty; it wasn’t in 1865 and it isn’t in 2013. But who can remember if something truly decent comes out of it?
Lincoln 2012-U.S. 150 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Tony Kushner. Book: Doris Kearns Goodwin (“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”). Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski. Music: John Williams. Production Design: Rick Carter, Jim Erickson. Costume Design: Joanna Johnston. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Strathairn (William Seward), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook… Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Dane DeHaan.
Trivia:Liam Neeson was considered for the part of Lincoln, at an early stage. Holbrook has himself played the President in several miniseries made for TV.
Oscars: Best Actor (Day-Lewis), Production Design. Golden Globe: Best Actor (Day-Lewis). BAFTA: Best Actor (Day-Lewis).
Last word:“What really, really did the trick was when [Day-Lewis] read the Tony Kushner script and I was able to get a take two. My good buddy Leo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said ‘you need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this and he’s not willing to make the movie without you’. Based on Leo’s phone call to him, Daniel offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, which he had never read. That’s when the courtship part was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with that big decision he would eventually have to make. Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way that I’ll be able to live with this the rest of my life?” (Spielberg, Deadline)
On the night of this film’s intensely anticipated premiere, a 24-year-old man attacked a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado and murdered 12 people. The horrendous act caused the studio to remove ads for the The Dark Knight Rises and director Christopher Nolan released a statement where he called the movie theater his “home” and that it had been “violated”. It is indeed sickening how this 24-year-old tried to connect the franchise to his personal inner terrors and make so many innocent people suffer for it. One way of dealing with it is to move on from the tragedy and talk about matters that are more significant in the long run, such as the gun culture, psychiatry… and the movie itself.
Eight years have passed since Batman sacrificed his good name for Gotham City. As the late Harvey Dent has become a haloed figure, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) struggles with whether or not he should tell people the truth about Dent. Ever since Batman retired, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse in his mansion who cares little about what goes on in the city or at his own company. When a new powerful threat against Gotham emerges in the shape of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked brute who plans to turn the city into something resembling a failed state, Wayne believes that the time has come for the Bat to return – against the advice of Alfred (Michael Caine) who recognizes a death wish when he sees one. At the same time, Wayne is confronted by the sexy Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) whose allegiances change as swiftly as a cat hunts a mouse.
Oddly endearing visuals of Gotham We’ve reached the end of the greatest superhero franchise ever and Nolan ties the knot as beautifully as can be expected. After a long, dark and exceptionally brutal journey, Wayne faces his greatest challenge and Nolan’s insistence on grounding these films in an alternate reality that often looks very much like our own (this time, Gotham is decidedly New York-ish) makes us genuinely fear for not only Bruce’s life but those of several other prominent characters. Bane’s agenda of anarchy may look a little too much like the Joker’s in The Dark Knight (2008), but Nolan’s new take on it is a deeper examination of its large-scale implications – and it’s one of several ways how the director fuses various elements from both previous chapters with this finale, creating a cohesive whole. The running time tries our patience (as well as a few frustrating logical gaps in the story), but Nolan keeps us busy with oddly endearing visuals of a gritty Gotham and a final hour that amps up tension in many ways as everybody in this large cast finds useful purposes. Superior performances all around, including Hardy who finds a voice reminiscent of Gert Fröbe’s cheerful insanity in Goldfinger (1964), Caine whose Alfred uses every mean available to save Bruce from himself, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young beat cop who’s destined for greater things. Hathaway brings a sense of humor as the Catwoman who’s never exactly called that; the character’s appearance risked moving the franchise closer to Joel Schumacher territory, but Nolan and Hathaway manage to avoid it.
As muscular, militaristic and masochistically painful as established in Batman Begins, Nolan remains true to his concept. But he also offers rays of light and heartfelt emotion, which is a relief as this is supposed to be the end. We need it. What we don’t need is another reboot, but I’m sure it’s coming. When it does, those filmmakers have their work cut out for them.
The Dark Knight Rises 2012-U.S. 164 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan. Music: Hans Zimmer. Cast: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Tom Hardy (Bane), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman… Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Tom Conti, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Thomas Lennon.
Trivia:U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy has a cameo again, as in The Dark Knight.
Last word:“For me, it was incredible because the great thing about it was – and the secret of the success of this picture as opposed to those massive blockbusters out there – is the stunts and special effects are real. There is very, very little computer generated imaging in it. All these other ones you see a million people marching towards you, you know they’ve photographed ten and just kept doubling it up and up and up. In ours, when the stuntman falls off the roof, it’s a real man falling off the roof and hitting the bottom. And I think that is very important. It’s very human and I suppose the class of acting is a little better…” (Caine, Empire)