Sunday, December 21, 2014

POSTED: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 5:00 PM

Unless Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Gizzardgulper and Bonecruncher get wind of the project and hire a team of hackers to do serious cyber-mischief, there should be no problem when Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children’s book, The BFG, hits theaters in the summer of 2016. The story, about an orphan who befriends a Big Friendly Giant (thus the titular acronym), is one of Dahl’s most popular. It was made into an animated feature (released in 1989) and has often been mounted as a stage play. Now, a movie -- with Spielberg set to start production early in the new year.

While casting for the aforementioned evil giants has not yet been announced, Tony-winner Mark Rylance gets the title role, and 10-year-old Ruby Barnhill has been pegged to play Sophie, the heroine.  Spielberg’s track record with unknown kid actors is pretty good:  Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore in E.T., Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun – all have gone on to decent (ha!) Hollywood careers. Dahl, whose granddaughter Sophie was the inspiration for the girl in The BFG, died in 1990, but he (and his estate) have had an amazing run with film adaptations: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971),  Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), James and the Giant Peach and Matilda (both 1996) and The Witches (1990), not to mention a slew of adult stories and novels turned into TV and film projects. Dahl also wrote the screenplays for two Ian Fleming titles: the family-friendly flying car tale, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Sean Connery 007 entry, You Only Live Twice.

POSTED: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 9:38 AM
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton duke it out in "Birdman." (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

If the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s goofy tradition of splitting its best picture and lead acting Golden Globes awards into two categories -- drama and “comedy or musical” – has an upside, it’s in its inclusiveness: Let’s invite everybody to the party. And so, when the nominees for the 72nd Golden Globes were read off Thursday morning, Alejandro Inarritu’s  hugely adventurous Birdman, a backstage drama (yes, a drama -- it’s about suicide and self-redemption, about looking for love and finding the will to go on, and about the transformative power of art, isn’t it?) found itself positioned in the “musical or comedy” slot. And the movie’s star, Michael Keaton, was nominated as best actor in a musical or comedy. Fair enough: there’s music in Birdman, a propulsive jazz drum score, and some classics, too. And certainly there are scenes that will make you smile and laugh – before your heart sinks along with Keaton’s fallen superhero, into a chasm of doom.

That said, Birdman handily landed the most nominations -- seven, including screenplay, musical score, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone in the supporting acting slots. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, followed with five nominations each. And although Gone Girl’s director, David Fincher, was nominated in the directing category, his film was not among the best picture candidates, drama or comedy or musical. Too bad, Gone Girl – best comedy of musical, that would have been a good one.

It’s worth noting that four of the five best actor/drama nominations – Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, David Oyelowo for Selma, and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything --  are for performances based on real-life figures (John du Pont, Turing, Martin Luther King and Stephen Hawking, respectively). Jake Gyllenhaal, as a creepily zealous freelance cameraman in Nightcrawler, was the lone fictional character.

POSTED: Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 1:37 PM
Ellar Coltrane at various stages of "Boyhood." (Photographs: Matt Lankes/IFC Films)

If one thing is clear from the results of the kudos meted out this week by the Gotham Independent Film Awards, the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, it’s that nothing is clear. On Monday, the NYFCC announced Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood as the year’s best picture. The Gotham Independent Film Awards were handed out that same night, with Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s  Birdman glomming the grand prize (and Michael Keaton, its star, best actor). On Tuesday, the National Board of Review chimed in, plucking J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, from their list of 2014’s ten most worthy (on which both Birdman and Boyhood appeared). Boyhood and Birdman have both been released in theaters nationwide.  A Most Violent Year – set in New York City during the grimier, crime-ier early ‘80s – gets a limited, Oscar-qualifying release in late December, but won’t widen out until January. (It’s tentatively slated to open in Philly on Jan. 23.)

There was more accord on the documentary front, with both the Gothams and NYFFC naming Citizenfour, about NSA whistleblower (or traitor?) Edward Snowden, their best non-fiction feature of the year. And Julianne Moore won best actress recognition from both the Gothams and the NBR for her portrayal of a college prof with early onset Alzheimer's, in Still Alice. (Marion Cotillard got the NYFCC’s attention for her work in two 2014 releases: The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night.)   

Next up: The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announces its picks Sunday, Dec. 7, and the Screen Actors Guild’s nominations on Wednesday, Dec. 10.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 25, 2014, 11:08 AM
Clockwise from top center: J.J. Abrams, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Lawrence Kasdan at a read-through of "Star Wars: Episode VII." (David James / Lucasfilm)

The very first look at Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens, an 88-second teaser that should give legions of fans some inkling of what’s going on in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the 37-year-old franchise, is set to premiere Friday, Nov. 28,  in a very select – a mere 30 -- AMC, Cinemark and Regal moviehouses nationwide, in front of every film playing in those theaters this holiday weekend. Here in the Philadelphia area, the Regal Warrington 24 in Bucks County is the place to park you’re A-wing fighters, Droid gunships, Jedi Starfighters and Sith Speeders, to catch the 1 minute and 28 seconds of, of, well, who knows? In addition to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Carrie Fisher’s Leia, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca and Kenny Baker’s, RD-D2 and Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO, The Force Awakens boasts a new lineup of  actors, and characters. Among ‘em: John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Serkis. Lucasfilm/Disney’s The Force Awakens is scheduled to open on Dec. 18, 2015.

POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 10:57 AM
Daniel Craig stands at the ready.

Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winning Austrian who gave Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained much-needed heft, has joined the cast of the 24th James Bond picture, still untitled and about to start production in  the U.K. While story elements haven't been revealed, speculation is that Waltz -- very soon to be seen in Horrible Bosses 2 and Big Eyes – will be playing the antagonist to Daniel Craig’s Agent 007. Other newcomers to the upcoming installment of the centuries-old franchise include Blue Is the Warmest Color star Léa Seydoux and Guardians of The Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, who some Bond watchers are tagging for the role of an “iconic henchman,” along the lines of the early pics’ Oddjob and Jaws. Skyfall’s  Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are expected to return for the 24th, which Skyfall’s Sam Mendes is directing, for a November, 2015 release.

And as for that other spy guy with the matching monogram and his own shelf of bestsellers, the 4th Jason Bourne thriller, reuniting The Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass with Matt Damon, is gearing up for production in the new year, and a release date for 2016. Damon and Greengrass’ return to the franchise doesn’t mean that The Bourne Legacy spinoff starring Jeremy Renner as rogue agent Aaron Cross, is dead. Renner has said that he and writer/director Tony Gilroy are plotting a Cross sequel, and that there’s room in the Bourne universe for both of the CIA-trained assassins to operate.

POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2014, 9:02 AM
Warner Bros.

Channing Tatum was caught by surprise when Magic Mike, the body-oiled 2012 dramedy loosely based on the actor’s experiences as a male stripper, turned into a hit – a modest $7 million movie that grossed $167 million at the box office, and rave reviews, to boot. “I don’t think we could have guessed that,” he says. “I mean, I wanted to see it -- because it was a weird subculture that I hadn’t seen on screen before.”

Now Tatum is diving back into that subculture, with Magic Mike XXL, with original castmates Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello and Alex Pettyfer (but without Matthew McConaughey, who costarred as the male strip club's pelvis-swinging patriarch). Steven Soderbergh, who directed the first, is serving as cinematographer and editor (under his long-running respective pseudonyms, Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard), ceding the director’s chair to protégé Gregory Jacobs. Amber Heard, Elizabeth Banks, Jada Pinkett Smith and Donald Glover are all in the sequel's lineup.

“It’s a road trip movie,” Tatum says. “If the first one was sort of Saturday Night Fever, then this one will be The Last Detail — with strippers."

The actor, interviewed recently, says that Soderbergh “brought something highbrow to something that’s very lowbrow. And it was an interesting mix…. This one, I think, we’ll do that the same way, but I think positively this one will be way more fun."
POSTED: Thursday, October 9, 2014, 9:23 AM
Jessica Chastain considers her future, James McAvoy skulks behind. "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her."

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, starring Jessica Chastain in the title role (her parents – played by William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert – met at a what was supposed to be a Beatles reunion), is a study in the meet-cute, break-up-badly arc of a relationship. Released in theaters last month under the clunky title The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, the film was a hybrid – an editing room mashup – of what writer/director Ned Benson planned as two separate but paired projects. One, colon-ized Him, examines the storm-tossed romance between Eleanor (“Elle”) and James McAvoy’s Conor, a struggling New York restaurateur, from his point-of-view. The other, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, focuses on Chastain, shot from her character’s perspective.

It’s an ambitious concept, and a dream job for a workaholic editor (Kristina Boden). As anyone who’s ever been in a relationship -- or seen Gone Girl -- can tell you, even the closest of couples are coming at their partnerdom with different agendas, different ideas, different feelings. And now, for those intrigued enough to sit through the sad, French New Wave-y story of Eleanor Rigby again, the Him and Her iterations have been released. Beginning Friday, Oct. 10, The Disappearance of Eleanor RigbyHer first, then Him – will be playing back-to-back at the Ritz East.   

POSTED: Wednesday, October 1, 2014, 8:01 AM
Rosamund Pike gets profiled in 'Gone Girl,' while Ben Affleck looks on.

David Fincher likes to go looking for the unexpected. When he was searching for his Lisbeth Salander, the title character in his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s mega-selling Swedish thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he picked Rooney Mara, and everyone went “Who?” Jesse Eisenberg wasn’t exactly a household name either when Fincher cast the New York actor as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Both Mara and Eisenberg went on to receive Academy Award nominations for their work in the Fincher films.

To play Amy Dunne, the mysterious missus vanished and presumed dead in Fincher’s spellbinding take on the Gillian Flynn bestseller, Gone Girl, Fincher looked high and low, hither and yon, before casting Rosamund Pike, a British actress he’d seen in a few films over the years. It was a meeting in St. Louis, where Fincher was in the early stages of pre-production on Gone Girl, that clinched the deal.

“Rosamund is an interesting puzzle,” Fincher explained in a phone interview recently. “I’d seen her in four or five things.... I’d seen her in the James Bond movie [Die Another Day, the last of the Pierce Brosnan 007s], I’d seen her in Joe Wright’s movie [Pride & Prejudice}, I’d seen her in An Education… and I’m somebody who sort of prides themselves on being able to see what the actor comes equipped with, what their weaponry is, what their— like Batman, what’s on their utility belt. I look for an actor’s utility belt, and she’s one of those people that I just could never get a bead on.”

About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays, and his blog, On Movies Online, can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Steven Rea's previous blog posts can be found here. Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at srea@phillynews.com.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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