After making big waves at this years edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, both in terms of audience appreciation, as well as upstart distribution Neon paying $5 Million dollars for the rights, the Margot Robbie starring biopic I, Tonya gets a snappy, stylish and snarling little teaser to when the palette. Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) directs and Allison Janney (shown only briefly here) also stars in the flip side of the story of Tonya Harding, the exceptionally talented figure skater that defied the image of the sport by being a whole-lot ‘trailer trash’ in terms of her presentation. If you were around in the 1990s, she became a household name in North America and the woman everyone loved to hate during the 1994 Olympics after details (and a guilty plea) came to light about her violent assault on fellow American skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Are you old enough to recall Bre-X? If not, Stephen Gaghan’s Gold is a fanciful, fictional retelling of a story about Wall Street greed and hubris that is happy to take the cautionary tale and gild it with Hollywood glitz. Investment bankers taking wild speculative gambles, the roller coaster of unsupervised capitalism; one might ask incredulously, what could possibly go wrong?
In the vein of The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, Gold charts the progress of a mining company that hits the largest gold strike in the 20th century, deep in the jungles of Indonesia. More so, it is an opportunity for Matthew McConaughey to play an oily and charismatic slob, Kenny Wells, complete with snaggle-tooth, bald pate and pot belly.
We see Wells, early on in the picture, crudely romancing his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), unrecognizable with a late 1980s perm and a push-up bra, a la Erin Brockovich, presenting her with expensive baubles and cheap (but earnest) philosophy in his father’s office. He takes the meeting with his dad (Craig T. Nelson) who offers the moral of the film and the modern prospecting business: “I don’t have to do this, I get to do this.”
Some years later, the younger American prospector-dreamer has brought his father’s company to a pretty low point. In a Hail Mary pass, he liquidates his meager assets to team up with sexy geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) on a jungle prospecting adventure.
Watching Ramírez unconsciously (effortlessly) channel Oliver Reed up against the backdrop of Robert Elswit’s superb 35mm cinematography — albeit, Thailand dubiously subbing in for Indonesia — trumps the Wall Street shenanigans of the film. The bromance is more compelling than the business at hand, but the film doubles down on the conference rooms and Waldorf ballrooms that occupy vast swathes of its two-hour running time.
The local peasantry have been panning the Busang River in Borneo for thousands of years, but it is Wells and Acosta that come in with a modern engineering approach and take a plethora of core-samples in the nearby mountains. When the results indicate that the region contains rich deposits of gold, the madness truly begins. Word in the financial district that the Wells’ company is, quite literally, sitting on a gold mine, prompts everyone from billionaire bankers (such as Bruce Greenwood, stealing his all-too-brief scenes) to Indonesian dictators to the mainstream media to want a piece of the action.
Wells lets his ego and his natural showmanship fan the flames before, well, you might expect that things go a bit off the rails. Wells’ mantra vacillates between the whimsical, ‘a bird without feet sleeps on the wind’ and the far more pragmatic, ‘you land where you are stuck.’
He fights with on-again, off-again Kay, who is fine with being assistant manager at a furniture store, while Kenny rides the rollercoaster. The mythology of the ‘big American vision’ takes a pounding, but we all learn something, a canard favoured by M. Night, Mamet, and of gamblers everywhere: ‘The last card you turn over is the only one that matters.’
If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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.
Let the Oscar-bait commence! Actually, that is probably not fair to apply that in a derogatory way to Pablo Larraín’s bio-pic of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the near-mythic ‘Camelot’ period of the United States of America (a term Onassis herself coined). The Chilean director’s previous Tony Manero and The Club are far from the usual trophy middle-brow. Indeed, in the trailer below, there is a Malick-esque kind of cinematography going on, and a far more challenging approach to the subject matter than one might expect. I now regret not using my TIFF ticket to see this. Either way, the film is getting a release this December.
A searing and intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, and placing us in her world during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a psychological portrait of the First Lady as she struggles to maintain her husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot” that they created and loved so well.
Director: Alex Cox
Screenplay: Alex Cox, Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Andrew Schofield
Running Time: 109 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
I‘m not a huge punk fan. The original movement came and went a few years before I was born and later punk iterations never did much for me. However, The Clash’s London Calling album has long been one of my all time favourites and when I was a teenager I also got a lot of play out of my CD copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. It was and still is a powerful album, full of youthful exuberance and fiery anger at the damaged establishment, which spoke to me back when I was a youngster. I never really looked into the history of the band though. Although I’ve long been a music lover, I’ve rarely paid much interest in the private lives of the artists involved. I tend to let the lyrics and music do the talking and leave the rest a mystery. Some of the Sex Pistols’ history is unavoidable though and I was aware of their troubled and brief existence, even if I didn’t know all the details.
My love of the band’s sole studio album helped pique my interest in reviewing this 30th Anniversary re-release of Sid & Nancy then, along with an interest in its director, Alex Cox, who wrote and directed the rather excellent punk movie Repo Man. Sid & Nancy dramatises the relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and sometime prostitute Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The two met in early 1977 and quickly formed a very destructive relationship, based largely around heroin. Nancy was already a user before she met Sid and it’s reported (and suggested in the film) that she introduced him to the drug. The two grew heavily dependent on one another, as well as the drugs, and their lives inevitably both came to tragic ends. In October 1978, Nancy was found dead with a single stab wound to her abdomen in the bathroom of the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, with Sid laid in a drug induced stupor on the bed across the room. After being arrested for Nancy’s murder, Sid died of a heroin overdose a few months later. The film opens with the discovery of Nancy’s body by the police and flashes back to their first meeting to tell the story of their brief time together.
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.
As Oscar-baity films go, being released in March is not a sign of faith. Exhibit A is the trailer for a film based on the relationship between Thomas Wolfe and his editor Max Perkins, here played by Jude Law and Colin Firth, respectively. The film is in the period-drab hue of grey, and has a fine supporting cast including Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney playing put-upon wives, and Guy Pearce and Dominic West play F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway, respectively. The trailer does feel like it walks you through all of the plot and emotional beats of the story, but I could be mistaken. The two men spend the film trying to bring a 1000+ page manuscript of Wolfe’s novel, “Look Homeward, Angel” down to a manageable length for publishing, and it puts them at odds with just about everyone, including themselves.
Genius is adapted from the biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg, written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Skyfall), and being the directorial debut by playwright Michael Grandage.
It is trailer day here at Rowthree, and here we have Don Cheadle’s biopic of Jazz (er, social music) legend Miles Davis, which is seems to be retold as a heightened story of cool, crime and a wee bit of heist excitement. Not your run of the mill biopic, for sure, and Cheadle is on double duty as both the star and the director (his debut film after his adaption of Elmore Leonard’s Tishomingo Blues fell through a decade ago).
Miles Ahead apparently did not set the New York Film festival on fire when it debuted there last October, but it certainly looks like a fun time at the movies. Any movie where Ewan MacGregor is sucker-punched in the face can’t be all that bad. It gets a release via Sony Pictures in a couple months on April Fool’s Day.
It is telling that all of our ‘investigative journalism’ stories are now period pictures. Jeremy Renner here plays San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb who uncovered the fact that the CIA was smuggling cocaine into the United States for the purposes of funding Central American Contra activities. (On a side note: This is also why former LA police detective Michael Ruppert turned down CIA appointments and became a full time investigative journalist and conspiracy researcher, and the subject of the 2009 film, Collapse. And while Ruppert is not in any way involved in this particular story, in real life, both Ruppert and Webb eventually committed suicide.)
Adapted from Webb’s 1999 book Dark Alliance and directed by Michael Cuesta (TV’s Homeland and Dexter) this looks very solid stuff, in a genre of film that isn’t made as often as I would like. The massive supporting cast is stacked to the gills with great actors: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Michael K. Williams, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Tim Blake Nelson, Berry Pepper, Robert Patrick, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
It seems that we’ve been waiting for some time for the release of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco. The movie was originally due late last year and then delayed, likely due to the fact that the family didn’t care for Dahan and writer Arash Amel’s take on Grace Kelly and looking at the trailer, it’s easy to see why the family would have apprehensions.
I’m only familiar with Kelly as a Hollywood starlet and always assumed that she’d left her life in the spotlight of the silver screen for a slightly different type spotlight and that she was happy there but it appears that her life, like real life, was not a perfect fairy tale.
Nicole Kidman stars as Grace and Tim Roth as her prince, Rainier III, in a tale that seems to cover a troubled year of Kelly and Rainier’s marriage as she deals with the pull of her old life and the realities of her new one.
I haven’t seen any of Dahan’s other films but I do love myself some Kidman action and Roth is always fantastic not to mention that the inclusion of Frank Langella as Father Francis Tucker, Kelly’s confidant, makes me quite happy. And who am I kidding, I love a good bit of romantic drama. I don’t expect it’ll be particularly hard hitting but it does looks like a great bit of entertainment. It won’t take much to be better than Diana.
Grace of Monaco opens in the UK on June 6. No indication as to when it’ll open domestically.
I could not resist also highlighting the teaser poster for the upcoming Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried (and a wonderful ensemble behind her). Sticking with the theme of simplicity, the key art here has a woman on her back with her legs in the air, forming the MPAA adult rating, “X”. This is remarkable in its pure simplicity, even if it has been done in other films before, such as Jon Hewitt’s Aussie trash thriller, from 2011 and Steven Shainberg’s Secretary.