Trailer: Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel

The annual Woody Allen joint for 2017, Wonder Wheel, is a mob story set on Coney Island in the 1950s seemingly in Technicolor. Starring Kate Winslet (in Romance & Cigarettes mode), Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, and a very potbellied Jim Belushi. The film revolves around Ginny (Winslet), the wife of a carousel operator (Belushi), who perks up when she falls for a handsome lifeguard, Mickey (Timberlake). But when her husband’s estranged daughter (Temple) resurfaces and also sets her sights on Mickey, it begins ‘the great unraveling of Ginny. Not as baroque or kooky as Jonathan Demme’s Married To The Mob, but still it looks like Allen stepping a (wee) bit outside his comfort zone here. Once again, Amazon Studios is funding, and while the film will premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 14, it will be seeing a wider release on December 1st.

The eponymous Coney Island Ferris Wheel is no stranger to being on screen, as it is featured in The Taking of Pelham 123, Remo Williams, Angel Heart, underwater in A.I., and in the opening credits of Walter Hill’s iconic, The Warriors.

Review: The Founder

The evolving nature of the film biopic has recently become quite interesting to me. Insofar as Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is as much about Theodore H. White’s Life magazine article as it is about the iconic First Lady, so John Lee Hancock’s The Founder is as much about the process of business franchising across the United States in the 1950s as it is about the man who made McDonald’s the corporate empire it is today.

That is not to say that Michael Keaton’s performance as Ray Kroc, nor the delightful duo of John Caroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, who portray the McDonald brothers Mac and Dick (respectively), are not important or excellent. Of course they are. Kroc innovated the franchise model and was the driving force behind nationalizing fast food; for a while he was the richest man in America. The McDonald brothers innovated the process whereby cooking and serving burgers and fries was approached more like an industrial assembly-line than a kitchen; efficiency and repeatabilty are king.

By focusing on the minutiae of moving from a single, fresh-thinking restaurant to a nationwide, and eventually international, chain, Robert D. Seigel’s script elevates The Founder to a story about America as an idea and how that idea is expressed at a certain point in the nation’s history, akin to the way Easy Rider or Ace In The Hole or American Honey are fascinating inquiries into what, exactly is America in the late 1960s, the late 1940s or in the mid 2010s.

Sure, it is simple enough just to lob out a few ‘great cinema’ titles and call it a day, but it also becomes obvious that (particularly because I am Canadian) the very titles I choose from thousands of excellent movies about America, is more a reflection of what I think of the complex toffee-swirl of regions, ideals and flavours that is the United States.

The Founder is told from the perspective of Ray Kroc, the travelling salesman who took the idea of fast food, and brought essentially one restaurant in America to one (or more) restaurant in every town in America. At the outset of the film, in the early 1950s, Kroc is pitching high efficiency milk-shake machines to owners of drive-in restaurants, you know, the kind where the waitresses on roller-skates serve fries, ribs and shakes through the car windows of teenagers.

His smooth sales pitch, road-warrior attitude and collection of disturbingly garish neckties set the stage for the age-old rags to riches story, the one where elbow grease, gumption and a wee bit of luck realize the untapped potential of the individual. The rosy rural cinematography by John Schwartzman, who shot Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, and will soon be shooting Star Wars Episode IX, and the generic yet oddly satisfying soundtrack, courtesy Carter Burwell, both underscore the familiar nature of this story. Surprisingly, the execution is 180 degrees from any semblance of the direction of the movie.

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Trailer: Fences

Bring on the Oscar bait!

OK, perhaps this is not fair, when you have performers this good, namely Denzel Washington, and the incomparable Viola Davis, well, then I am certainly down for a ‘lay its cards on the table’ period family melodrama. Judging form the trailer below, one can likely expect to be told how to feel by the music and pointed dialogue alone, even those these actors could comfortably pull this off without all the cinematic excess. Both of them did, indeed, accomplish this in 2010, during the award winning Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences stage-play.

Troy Maxson, is a strong man, a hard man. He has had to be to survive. Troy Maxson has gone through life in an America where to be proud and black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul. But the 1950s are yielding to the new spirit of liberation in the 1960s, a spirit that is changing the world Troy Maxson has learned to deal with the only way he can, a spirit that is making him a stranger, angry and afraid, in a world he never knew and to a wife and son he understands less and less.

Fences gets a limited theatrical release on December 16th before a wide release December 25.

Trailer: Papa: Hemmingway in Cuba

I think it was Andy Warhol who said, in the future, everyone will play Ernest Hemmingway in a movie. After yesterday’s trailer for Genius, here we have a trailer for Papa: Hemmingway in Cuba. Giovanni Ribisi (always a pleasure to watch) plays a young reporter whose earnest letter to his literary idol wins him an invite to the great man’s tropical paradise just as Fidel Castro’s leftist guerrillas are sweeping into the cities. Ernest Hemingway was at that moment in the 1950s Cuba’s most famous fisherman. Here Hemmingway is played in full ‘Old Man And The Sea’ mode by TV and character actor, Adrian Sparks.

The film looks to be a pretty straight Hollywood style telling of that moment in time, but because it is an indie flick, it is told without too much fuss or muss; rather with a lot of testosterone, cantanker and some fighting and fishing. Hemmingway might have scoffed at the whole thing, or he might have liked it. The trailer is below.

Blu-Ray Review: Nikkatsu Diamond Guys

Arrow Video are planning to release a new series of budget Japanese genre movie box sets, beginning with Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 1. I’m feeling lazy this morning, so rather than explain the set’s title in my own words, I’ll just borrow the blurb from Arrow’s press release:

‘Nikkatsu, the oldest film studio in Japan, inaugurated a star system in the late 1950s, finding talent and contracting to their Diamond Line for a series of wild genre pictures. This collection celebrates these Diamond Guys with three classic films from directors Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife) and Buichi Saito (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril).’

The films included in the set are Voice Without a Shadow, Red Pier & The Rambling Guitarist. Below are my thoughts on the individual films.

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Trailer: Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers’ latest film looks to be capitalizing on what they do so effortlessly: Wacky and convoluted kidnapping comedy. Set in the 1950s, in Hollywood movie studio, Capitol Pictures, where a super expensive sword and sandals picture is underway. Their main contracted star, Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, is flubbing his lines and wasting a lot of pricey resources (and apparently, there also a sailor musical with Channing Tatum called “Merrily, We Dance” shooting next door.) The would-be blockbuster is in trouble, and that is before Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious group known as “The Future.” Even if there is nothing more to that name than simply a set up for a phone-message gag, shown here in the trailer, that’d be fine, because it’s that good.

Taking place a fair bit on Studio backlots with all the hustle and bustle and politics, it will come as no surprise that the cast, is ridiculously stacked. Scarlett Johansson is back in a Coen Brother’s film (after only the tiniest of roles in The Man Who Wasn’t There), as is Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading) and Fred Melamed (who was a scene stealer in A Serious Man.) Frances McDormand is a given, but here they’ve made her the editor, in the picture. New faces for the directors include Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Josh Brolin, the latter playing the studio boss. But if you keep going down the cast, you’ll see Clancy Brown, Christopher Lambert, Robert Picardo, Fisher Stevens, John Carpenter regular Peter Jason has a small role, and then there is Dolph Lundgren. (Hopefully he gets in a bar fight with Tatum.) With Roger Deakins behind the camera and Carter Burwell doing the music, well now, you’ve got yourselves a picture, don’t you. Cut and Print.

Blindspotting: Phantom Of The Opera and Creature From The Black Lagoon

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Yes, this would have made more sense in October. Conspiring forces and all that…
 

It’s odd to think that two vastly different films with 30 years between them could both be lumped together under the same generic genre banner. But that’s what happens when you start classifying anything old as “classic” – like, for example, the 1924 silent feature The Phantom Of The Opera and the mid-50s monster flick Creature From The Black Lagoon both being labelled as Classic Horror. The fact that the technical tools available to the filmmakers were worlds apart and their aims were very different don’t seem to matter. If it wasn’t for alphabetical order, you’d find them side by side on a video store shelf.

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Of course, both films are even further removed from modern day fare. Some might claim they suffer for that, but it really does depend what you want from a horror film. Do either of these films shock or scare you? Likely not in an immediate, jump out of your seat kind of way (though the iconic reveal of the Phantom’s face can still unsettle), but that’s not necessarily the only thing horror can do to you. There’s something chilling about the idea of unseen monsters living in a foreign environment right under your feet which could – at a moment’s notice and through no fault of your own – rise up and destroy your life. As well, both films provide haunting images of their monsters in close-up that can leave rather disconcerting feelings within you (put the dead-looking eyes of the Creature alongside the contorted, deformed face of the Phantom and your sleep may be interrupted tonight). The jump scares are few and far between, but good horror leaves an impression, not just a brief quickening of the heartbeat due to the crash of sound and image. So the two films do have a good deal in common I guess.

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Review: THE TREE OF LIFE

 

[I am pulling this review out of the archives, because The Tree Of Life goes into limited release in Canada this weekend. Chime in with your thoughts on this folks, it is a film that sparks much conversation (as evidenced by the hour we spent on it in the recent cinecast episode.)]

 
 
As with any piece of cinema, first there is darkness, then there is light. Terrence Malick opens his latest film with a pulsating nimbus before jumping headlong into one of the films many “Big Questions:” Why do we die? From there it is a mere cut to the beginning of the cosmos, the big bang, before settling on the O’Brien family, or at least Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) knocking up Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain). Now it might seem cliche to compare the universe to a womb, or a volcano to sex, or asteroids colliding into planets as pregnancy, hell, there is a fish shaped like a vagina and a fish shaped like a penis, but indeed, it feels fresh here. Hell, it feels holy. A friend of mine remarked on a recent viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that it was the most depressing movie ever filmed, that the only way humanity could ever fix its problems was to evolve into another life-form. Malick’s take, despite opening the film from a quotation from the book of Job, is a much more positive outlook: Life is all around you. Drink it in. This is as good as it gets. Indeed, it is a mighty thing. And suffering is a part of the joy (a profound part, apparently). Consider it the antithesis of Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void, although there are similarities there enough to make one consider a hobby-graduate thesis.

The Tree of Life is a collection of the wondrous memories of childhood, when we look up at everything (for we are smaller than everything else and must crane our necks). The film spends a lot of time with the camera on the ground and the sun peaking into the frame in one fashion or another. The three O’Brien brothers grow up in the white picket fences, big cars and endless summers of the 1950s. Baseball, running through the wilderness unsupervised and blowing up frogs round out their days. In between this wild abandon is the discipline imposed by their father and the ethereal fragility of their mother who offers love silently. There are scenes when the boys bear witness to a man being arrested and also attend the funeral of a friend who drowns. There are attempts, to parse what (and why) violence occurs and what (and why) is pain woven into life, mainly they do as children do: move through events with a playful ignorance, the effects of bearing witness come out in other ways. These are the images and experiences that wedge themselves in your brain and linger on into adulthood. The film spends most of its time with Jack O’Brien, the eldest child of three played with nuance (and screen presence) by Hunter McCracken as a child of about 10 and by Sean Penn as an older man who is still coming to grips with his father and his childhood. His eventual awakening (and rebellion from) the man his father is, is the backbone of the film. A struggle.

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Bookmarks for December 9-10

MarthaHyerMovieStarMag
  • Bad Lieutenant (1992) – Ed Howard, Only the Cinema
    A thoughtful and visceral review of the original Bad Lieutenant: “Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant is a film entirely built around its central performance, Harvey Keitel’s fearless, unfettered turn as a corrupt, unnamed New York City police lieutenant. Keitel delivers a performance of unrelenting power and intensity, a nasty, ugly portrayal of a man on a mission of self-destruction. He staggers through a filthy, dimly lit vision of New York, doing drugs in grimy apartments and even grimier hallways, pulling out his gun at a moment’s provocation, engaging in sordid sexual exploits even though he actually seems barely interested, and must have so many drugs in his system that real sexuality is impossible anyway. It’s a sloppy, crazy performance, and Keitel pours himself into it, breathing life into this bottom-dwelling man, this guy who, for no discernible reason, seems bent on bringing himself to the lowest possible place.”
  • façade: Forgotten ’50s Femmes
    An appreciation and call to remember 1950s B-movie actresses like Barbara Rush, Julie Adams, Delores Michaels, Dana Wynter, Patricia Owens, and Martha Hyers.
  • Top 10 Comedies of 2009
    The comedy tide turned a bit in 2009. Titans dropped while underdogs soared. Alpha males were KO’d while beta males throw punishing right hooks — in quality, at least. Box office is another story.
  • TIFF Announces Canada’s Top Ten 2009
    Alphabetically: Cairo Time; Carcasses; Crackie; Defendor; La Donation; J’ai tué ma mère; Passenger Side; Polytechnique; The Trotsky; The Wild Hunt
  • Meet the ‘Shock Jocks’ of movie criticism: Armond White and Fiore Mastracci
    Two film reviewers who attract gallons of bile from those who consider themselves discerning fans are Fiore Mastracci and Armond White. Mastracci is a film teacher from Pittsburgh with a blog and a cable television show, who writes reviews for (in his own words), “those who remember when films had and expounded on American and family values” [..] Armond White, meanwhile, is no idiot. He writes for the Manhattan freesheet New York Press, and is currently the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle. When he gave a bad review to the otherwise-acclaimed South African sci-fi thriller District 9 this summer, the web erupted in outrage.

Stiljagi: Russia’s Answer to Grease?

Stilijagi Movie Still

Earlier today, Kurt sent me an email saying “I want to see this.” Enclosed was a Screen Daily review for Stiljagi (will be known to us non-Russian speakers as Hipsters). The winner of four Nikas (Russia’s Oscars), the film was a hit at home and according to the review, should play well to international audiences. But will it really have cross over appeal? It certainly seems like it might.

Set in 1955, it’s the story of a group of young Russian rebels (referred to as “hipsters”) who copied American fashions, hairdos and slang to separate themselves from communist uniformity. This is anything but grey drab. It’s bright, it’s loud and the trailer certainly suggests a good time. Sadly, we may need to chalk this up to “movies we’ll never get to see.” It’s already on DVD in Russia, though the only release I’ve found lacks English subtitles, and to make matters worse, I can’t find any listings for upcoming festival release either. I just burst my own bubble. Still, the trailer is worth checking out.


The 50’s Live Again in Cadillac Records Trailer

Cadillac Records Movie StillThe 1950’s music scene is foreign territory to me. Aside form some of the hits to come out of the era, I’m not familiar with either the big players or the companies that discovered and promoted the artists to superstardom but I do love myself a good period drama and when it includes music as good as this, it’s certainly worth, at least, a mention.

Cadillac Records, directed by mostly TV lady Darnell Martin, stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the founder of Chess Records, a label which specialized in blues, R&B, gospel music, early rock and roll and occasional jazz releases. Along with Brody, the film stars quite the cast of talents including Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade, Mos Def as Chuck Berry and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James and though the film is said to chronicle the rise of Chess Records and its recording artists, the trailer suggests that Knowles and the story of Etta James features prominently.

I’m not big on biopics, particularly ones that seem as straightforward in approach as this one, but Brody is a big attraction and Knowles, though not a great actress, has shown that she can definitely hold the audience’s attention and if nothing else, the girl has lungs.

This will likely get lost in the shuffle of December prestige releases but one never knows, the timing certainly suggest that perhaps they’r shooting for some awards love. I doubt they’ll get any but it doesn’t make the film any more or less appealing.

Cadillac Records opens on December 5th.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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