Sunday, January 25, 2015

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.”

POSTED: Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 5:58 PM
Jean-Louis Trintignant and and Stefania Sandrelli consider the Seine.

A film that had huge impact on Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and other young upstarts of ‘70s Hollywood, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist is back on the big screen -- at the Ritz Bourse, locally, starting Friday, Sept. 19 – and well worth a revisit. Released in 1970, the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Marcello Clerici, a fedora-topped Fascist in 1930s Italy sent to Paris to assassinate his friend and former college professor, a left-leaning intellectual with a beautiful wife (Dominique Sanda) whom Clerici proceeds to tumble for, despite the fact that he himself is married (to Stefania Sandrelli).

Propelled by haunting flashbacks that help to explain Clerici’s profound self-doubts, soullessness  and urgent need to assimilate, The Conformist boasts scenes of such exquisite power that they practically define the cinematic experience. Shot by Vittorio Storaro, with production design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the film evokes the sensual sweep and elegance of 1930s art and architecture. Even Clerici’s visit to the courtyard of an asylum where his father, frail and fractured, is being kept, has a visual majesty about it that is unnerving. And the tango between Sanda and Sandrelli in a Parisian dance hall  -- erotic, electric,  and weirdly funny. Yes, the camera pans to a fogged-up window where someone has stuck a black-and-white still of Laurel and Hardy. Even in this crushing portrait of sublimation and unhinged ambition, couched as political thriller, Bertolucci finds room for a laugh.  

POSTED: Thursday, September 11, 2014, 11:03 AM

Hollywood studios and specialty houses traditionally use the Toronto International Film Festival to launch titles into the awards season fray, and this year is no different: Warner’s The Equalizer, with Denzel Washington, Fox Searchlight’s Wild, with Reese Witherspoon, The Weinstein Company’s St. Vincent, with Bill Murray, Sony Pictures Classics’ Foxcatcher, with Channing Tatum and Steve Carell – off and running after their Toronto debuts.

But literally dozens of films, independently financed and produced, pull into North America’s largest film festival without a distributor, hoping audience buzz and press and industry chatter will help them land a deal. And midway through TIFF 2014, the deal-making has been fairly feverish. Here are a few of the bigger acquisitions:

Big GameSamuel L. Jackson is the President of the United States, crash-landed in the Finnish outback in an Air Force One escape pod, and discovered by a 13-year-old boy, in this wildly received “Midnight Madness’ entry. EuropaCorp nabbed U.S. distribution rights.  

POSTED: Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 5:15 PM
Ricardo Darin (left) and Jérémie Renier walk the barrios of Buenos Aires in "White Elephant."

Argentina’s White Elephant, starring its country’s beloved Ricardo Darin, and directed by Pablo Trapero, traces the relationship between a shantytown priest nearing the end of his career and a young Belgian clergyman (Jérémie Renier, from In Bruges), whose non-traditional methods put him in the midst of a raging drug war.

Deemed the “film of the year” by Beatriz  Urraca and Gary M. Kramer, editors of the new Directory of World Cinema : Argentina (Intellect Books) , the 2012 release gets its Philadelphia premiere Friday, Sept. 12, at International House. Both Urraca and Kramer will be on hand to introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion.

In their essay at the begining of the extensive Director of World Cinema: Argentina book -- which also includes contributions from critics Matt Prigge and Carrie Rickey -- editors Urraca and Kramer compare White Elephant to Slumdog Millionaire and City of God for its unflinching look at the urban underclass, its sweeping realism and force.

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

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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