Thursday, September 3, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 7:29 AM
James Garner. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Although James Garner, who died Saturday, age 86, is probably best remembered for his TV work -- for his sly, signature roles as a cowboy cardsharp in the late '50s western, Maverick, and as Jim Rockford, the gun-shy private eye in the 1970s series The Rockford Files – the actor’s film output was nothing to take lightly. (Although Garner’s screen persona was all about taking things lightly – in the most beguiling of ways.)

On Monday, July 28, Turner Classic Movies will shove aside its regular schedule to make way for a dozen of the lantern-jawed, Oklahoma charmer’s movies. (Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner, by the way.)  Missing from TCM’s lineup are the Roald Dahl  brain-twister, 36 Hours (1965), the jaunty POW thriller The Great Escape (1963), with Steve McQueen,  Clint Eastwood’s  aging astronauts drama Space Cowboys (2000) , and Murphy’s Romance (1985), the Martin Ritt-directed, Sally Field-costarring rom-com which won Garner his one and only Oscar nomination.

But there are a few essential ones here, foremost being The Americanization of Emily (1964), a sharp World War II anti-war piece from writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Arthur Hiller, with Julie Andrews as a proper Brit who is both turned off and turned on by Garner’s cynical Navy Reserve officer, scamming his way around London in the weeks leading up to D-Day. And Andrews and Garner reteamed in 1982’s gender-crossing comedy musical Victor/Victoria, from director Blake Edwards. In Mister Buddwing (1964), adapted from an Evan Hunter novel and directed with jazzy cool (in black-and-white) by the great Delbert Mann, Garner plays an amnesiac wandering around New York, wondering who he is – a forerunner to Harrison Ford’s Regarding Henry.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 4:48 PM
The Beatles de-plane in San Francisco, August 29, 1966, for their concert at Candlestick Park.

A new, as yet-untitled Beatles documentary, focusing on John, Paul, George and Ringo’s touring years, 1960-1966, is being readied for theaters, and Ron Howard -- the Oscar-winning director (A Beautiful Mind) who spent labor Day weekend, 2012, in Philadelphia shooting Jay-Z’s Made In America for the concert film of the same name – is doing the readying.

The Beatles doc, which will incorporate anecdotes and footage from fans, will follow Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr from their early gigs in dark, smoky dives in Hamburg  and Liverpool, to their triumphant stands at New York City’s Shea Stadium and San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. CNN’s The Sixties series just devoted an hour-long segment to the British Invasion, and featured the Beatles prominently, of course, while other TV and DVD projects have boasted Beatles concert and behind-the-scenes clips, but this will be the first Beatles theatrical release since 1971’s band breakup swansong, Let It Be.

McCartney, Starr, and widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison are all onboard the official Beatles release, collaborating with Howard and his producers. The goal is to have the film in theaters  by year’s end. Howard is in the post-production stages on his 19th century whaling ship survival epic, Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Michelle Fairley. That’s due March, 2015.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:36 AM
"Blackhole" by Charles Burns

Things aren’t going well between humans and the primates in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the new sequel to the 2011 reboot of the classic late-’60s/’70s Planet of the Apes sci-fi franchise. Mistrust, wariness, bloodshed abounds. But Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Alexander, the teenage son of  good guy Jason Clarke, has found a way to bond with the simians – notably the sage old orangutan Maurice (a motion-captured Karin Konoval) . Alexander has been reading a book called Black Hole in his pup tent, and when Maurice drops by, the kid shows the furry orange ape a few panels, even reading dialogue aloud from the gorgeously creepy graphic novel about a strange plague that befalls a band of suburban teenagers in 1970s Pacific Northwest.  

Black Hole is the work of Philadelphia artist, illustrator and writer  Charles Burns, who had “signed off” on letting the 20th Century Fox film production use his book -- so long ago that he completely forgot about it.

 “It was one of those things that I agreed to, and I just spaced it out,” says Burns, who has not seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes yet-- it opens Friday – but thought the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, pretty cool.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 3:04 PM
Amy Schumer attends the Ms. Foundation Women Of Vision Gala 2014 on May 1, 2014 in New York City. (Getty Images for Ms. Foundation)

Judd Apatow, the writer/director/producer and comedy uber dude responsible in no small way for the careers of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd and Katherine Heigl, is behind the camera in New York City right now -- directing comedian Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. Based on the Comedy Central star’s screenplay, and reportedly the story of a woman trying to put the pieces of her botched-up life together again, the film boasts an oddball aggregation of Apatow alums, indie film thesps, sports gods, rappers, Oscar nominees and, yes, Harry Potter.

Here’s a partial lineup of who’s orbiting Schumer’s character, one way or another, in the film: Brie Larson, Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Barkhad Abdi (the Oscar-nominated Somali pirate of Captain Phillips),  rapper Method Man, NBA all star LeBron James, storyteller and comic Mike Birbiglia, Marisa Tomei and Daniel Radcliffe. Although Apatow jokingly denied the Harry Potter star’s involvement in the film, a zillion cell phone photos of Radcliffe walking a mess of dogs through Central Park at exactly the spot where the Trainwreck crew happened to be shooting hit Twitter and Instagram, suggesting that the Brit, on stage on Broadway right now, does indeed have a role. Even IMDB says so.

Look for a 2015 release. Apatow's last film in an auteurial capacity was 2012's This Is 40. Schumer's famously raunchy stuff has mostly been observed on Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer, and other TV guestspots. Trainwreck will pretty much mark her feature film debut.
POSTED: Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 2:48 PM
"Phil? Hey, Phil? Phil! Phil Connors? Phil Connors, I thought that was you!" Stephen Tobolowsky spots Bill Murray on the street... and spots him again the same day, and the same, and the same.

Do a Google search for “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and about a quarter of a million results pop up. Just about every review and blog post about the new Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt Earth-vs-aliens war movie drew comparisons to the 1993 existential rom-com in which Bill Murray, as a smug TV weathercaster, relives the same day over and over and over again, from the time his clock radio goes off to the moment he beds down in the B&B that night.

In Edge of Tomorrow, which opened last weekend to middling box office numbers ($28.7 million -- it’s doing way better overseas), Cruise’s smug military p.r. man wakes up on a pile of duffle bags and goes off to battle intergalactic “Mimics” that have blitzkrieged their way across Europe. At some point in the action he dies, only to find himself waking up on that same pile of duffle bags to go off tofight another day. Or, more accurately, that same day. And so on.

Well, the template has been set. An  email with this in its subject field showed up in my inbox a few days ago: “PREMATURE" (Groundhog Day meets American Pie) - Opening In Theatres/VOD July 2.”

POSTED: Thursday, June 5, 2014, 7:33 AM
Brian "Astro" Bradley, Ella Wahlestedt, Reese Hartwig and Teo Halm experience an extraterrestrial sensation in "Earth to Echo."

The Philadelphia International Children’s Film Festival pitches its pup tents at the PFS Roxy Theater this weekend, offering a cool collection of animated and live-action features and shorts, mostly curated by the folks at the New York International Children’s Film Fest. Friday, June 6, kicks off with pre-release debut of Earth to Echo, an E.T.-like affair about a group of best buds who discover an alien among us--  or among them, anyway. The little being is wanted by the Feds, but the kids have other ideas. Rapper Brian “Astro” Bradley, who plays Tuck, one of the friends, will be on hand in person at the 6pm and 8pm screenings.

Other features running through Sunday, June 8, at the Roxy off of Rittenhouse Square, include:

 Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, a French animated piece about a boy with a wind-up ticker who’s forbidden to fall in love; Patema Inverted, a Japanse anime about a princess who discovers a world of reverse physics; Anina, a Uraguayan ‘toon about a girl with a palindromic moniker and the trouble she gets into in school, and Boy and the World, from Brazil, in which a country kid treks to the big city in search of his dad.

POSTED: Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 5:20 PM
From "This Time Next Year".

The 2014 Lighthouse International Film Festival begins Thursday, June 5 and runs through Sunday, June 8 on Long Beach Island – the community devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Not coincidentally, the festival’s opening night film is This Time Next Year, Jeff Reichert and co-director Farihah Zaman’s  chronicle of the Long Beach Island community’s struggle to rebuild and recover from the hurricane. Reichart s family has lived on LBI for decades, and producer Dan O'Meara is an island native. The film is the  inaugural grantee of Tribeca Film Institute's Resilient Communities Project, made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation; This Time Next Year was fully-funded by the grant. Reicheert directed the 2010 political doc, Gerrymandering.

Also on the LIFF program this year:

Fort Tilden, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ comedic indie feature about  NYC hipster quarter-lifers looking for sand and surf in the title locale – a waterfront state park tucked away in Queens. Fort Tilden won rave reviews, not to mention the grand prize, at the South By Southwest Film Festival in March.  

Evolution of a Criminal, Darius Clark Monroe’s first-person doc, detailing how, as  a 16-year-old from a struggling Houston family, he robbed a bank and went to prison. The graduated from college and attended NYU's Graduate Film program. Evolution of a Criminal is the grand prize winner of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
POSTED: Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 5:17 PM
Actor David Oyelowo will star as the Civil Rights leader in A Martin Luther King Jr., biopic. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Selma, a dramatization of one of the pivotal chapters in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. – his 1965 campaign for voting rights – is in production, with the British-born David Oyelowo as the Civil Rights icon. The casting has a nice symmetry to it: In  2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Oyelowo (pronounced oh-yellow-oh) played White House butler Cecil Gaines’ son. Tensions between father and son mount through the film, with Oyelowo’s character becoming increasingly radicalized, going from a Freedom Rider to a follower of Martin Luther King, and then a Black Panther.

Ava DuVernay, the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival, for her second feature, Middle of Nowhere, in 2012, is helming, with Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Tom Wilkisnon as President Lyndon Johnson (how’s Bryan Cranston feel about that?). Actor and rapper Common also has a role. Plan B, the production company behind 12 Years a Slave (with Brad Pitt  as one of its principals) is co-producing along with Oyelow's Butler co-star, Oprah Winfrey. There’s a chance, says industry blogger Anne Thompson (Thompson On Hollywood), that Selma could be shot, cut and soundtracked in time for the key fall film fests -- Toronto, Telluride, New York.

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. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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