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Sunday, September 7, 2008
IRAQ-WAR FILMS TRY AGAIN
BIGELOW, BURGER, DICAPRIO & SCOTT

I've been following the trail of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker with much anticipation as it premiered at Venice last week, and moves on to Toronto next week. According to the U.K.'s Metro, Bigelow was asked at the Venice press conference how she felt about the troops returning home from Iraq. "I hope and pray that that is imminent, meaning immediately. I would like to see that happen. I think with a change of administration that's possible. But only one man is capable of doing that and that's Mr Barack Obama." (According to Bob Woodward, interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes tonight, George W. Bush's advice regarding Iraq to whoever takes over the presidency is, "Don't let it fail.") Regarding Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells has reviewed the reviews and finds that Variety's pan of the film ("War may be hell, but watching war movies can also be hell, especially when they don't get to the point," writes Variety's Derek Elley) is at curious odds with every other rave review of the film Wells has read or heard first-hand. The bottom line from the Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young? "War made exciting."

Young writes in her review that "Hurt Locker's refusal to take a moral stance on the war should widen its audience to the U.S. military, while lowering its chance for a a major festival prize." (Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler won the Golden Lion at Venice-- can't wait to see that!) The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik wrote an article for the site's Risky Business blog quoting publicists of various upcoming Iraq-themed films who say that, after the low box office of last year's Iraq-war films, they are doing everything they can to avoid using the work "Iraq" when promoting these films. Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones (the promising trailer for which you can watch at the top of this post), about three soldiers returning from the Gulf who end up renting a car together on the way home, will premiere at Toronto this Wednesday. Howard Cohen of Roadside Attractions, the company distributing the film, told Zeitchik that "'Iraq' is a dirty word in film marketing right now."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times today ran a joint interview with Tony Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio about their upcoming Body Of Lies, which they both think, according to the article by Chris Lee, "will be the Iraq-war movie that finally draws a crowd." Lee writes that the film (which will open October 10) "presents the most stinging screen portrayal of American foreign policy by any Hollywood studio movie in recent memory. DiCaprio portrays Roger Ferris, an idealistic field agent operating out of Iraq and Jordan who resorts to elaborate subterfuge -- concocting a fictitious sleeper cell and staging a mock bombing -- to flush a terrorist mastermind out into the open." Lee writes:

It's a deliberate throwback to Nixon-era conspiracy thrillers, films that spotlighted American political skulduggery and corruption. "To make a highly intelligent film with today's politics: That was the objective," DiCaprio said. "This movie could -- not necessarily say something about the state of the world, but -- take grasp of where we are in history right now."

Arriving in the climactic days of an election year, however, at a time when public fatigue with war on two fronts is at an all-time high, Body of Lies might be a hard sell. As DiCaprio and Scott seem only too aware, a spate of earlier films set in and around the social fallout of the Iraq war -- Rendition, Stop-Loss, The Kingdom and In the Valley of Elah -- failed to connect with audiences.

"It is a failed subject matter in the sense that none of those films has been successful," DiCaprio said. "But whether [Body of Lies] was going to be commercial or not was never a factor. It's the opportunity that we get to make this movie. You feel lucky to get to do it. The audience can get involved while simultaneously getting insight into what the United States is doing in the Middle East."

Scott was more blunt. "Do I think it's a commercial movie? My gut tells me it's a commercial movie," he said. "I think a lot of those Iraq war movies were jingoistic. This one isn't jingoistic. The audiences smell that."


Posted by Geoff at 7:07 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:13 AM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 5:25 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 7, 2008 5:25 PM CDT
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Holland & Koepp Nest Fest Reviews
GENOVA EVOKES ROEG'S DON'T LOOK NOW
Willa Holland is pictured here at last night's premiere for Middle Of Nowhere, one of two features she has premiering at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. We haven't seen any reviews yet for that film, but Michael Rechtshaffen at the Hollywood Reporter has filed a review of Holland's other Toronto film, Michael Winterbottom's Genova. While Rechtshaffen does not single out any specific evaluation of Holland in his positive review of the film, he does mention "fine performances," and states that Colin Firth is "well-cast." More interestingly, Rechtshaffen writes, "With Italy providing an evocative backdrop, not to mention an unsettling vibe that intentionally evokes Nicolas Roeg's 1973 classic, Don't Look Now, the tautly-choreographed, effectively acted film shouldn't have any trouble finding a distributor despite the generally downbeat tone." Interesting that the film stars Firth and evokes the Roeg film with its Italian setting, because Don't Look Now was one of the reasons Brian De Palma wanted to make Toyer, which was to star Firth, in Venice. There are many (including myself) who still hope De Palma's Toyer will get made someday.

KOEPP COMEDY A MODEST AFFAIR
Screen Daily has filed the first review of David Koepp's new film, Ghost Town, which premiered a couple of days ago at the Toronto fest. Calling it "a minor studio comedy," the review states that Koepp "has a light touch with the comic material and actors, and there's a sweetness to the supernatural storyline that gives the film its heart." Jeffrey Wells writes elsewhere that Ghost Town is "a playful mainstream studio wanker that has no business being in Toronto, really, except to satisfy the ambitions of its distributor, Paramount Pictures." Koepp collaborated with De Palma on a trio of films in the '90s: Carlito's Way, Mission: Impossible, and Snake Eyes.

LINKLATER PRESENTS A "DAZZLING" WELLES
Also of interest at Toronto, Richard Linklater's Me And Orson Welles has been reviewed by Screen Daily's Allan Hunter as "a sweetly entertaining putting-on-a-show period drama that celebrates a defining moment in the life of American theatre and one of its most iconoclastic stars." Hunter is particularly taken with Linklater's casting in the role of Orson Welles, writing:

If you are going to make a film about Orson Welles then you need an actor who can provide a brilliant impersonation of this colossus of the New York stage. They have found such an actor in Christian McKay who gives a superlative performance. He captures both the look and sound of Welles, convincing in every aspect from his sing song cadences to the mischievous twinkle that dances in his eyes. It is a performance that achieves the same kind of verisimilitude and depth that earned Philip Seymour Hoffman plaudits and a Best Actor Oscar for Capote.


Posted by Geoff at 4:10 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 7, 2008 5:02 PM CDT
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Friday, September 5, 2008
DE PALMA IS AT TORONTO FEST
DIRECTOR IS GUEST AT TALENT LAB
Brian De Palma had to cancel his master class at this year's Montreal Film Festival due to "serious dental surgery," also referred to as "killer dental surgery," and also as just plain old "crazy dental surgery." But we're happy to report that De Palma has safely made it to another of his regular festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival, where the director is a guest at this year's Talent Lab. De Palma, pictured top left in front of participants at the lab yesterday with Talent Lab governor Don McKellar (a multi-hat Canadian filmmaker who most recently wrote and acted in Fernando Meirelles' upcoming Blindness), has participated in the lab multiple times over the past few years. It is there that he met producers Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss, who produced Redacted and will produce two more upcoming De Palma features. At right, De Palma is pictured with fellow Talent Lab guest, actress Samira Makhmalbaf, at last night's Talent Lab dinner.

WILLA HAS 'STAR QUALITY'


As mentioned in my post yesterday, not only will De Palma's friend and collaborator David Koepp be at the Toronto fest with a new film, but so will De Palma's step daughter, Willa Holland. Holland has two films premiering at this year's fest, and one of them has received a rave from Baz Bamigboye, a columnist for the U.K.'s Daily Mail. Bamigboye is quite taken with Holland, writing that the camera loves her, and that Michael Winterbottom's Genova shows that she is "blessed with star quality." Bamigboye writes, "There's a scene where she's riding pillion on a Vespa, the camera lingers a while on her face and we see the sense of panic, fear and grief she must be going through. I just hope this gifted young actress is allowed to continue to make brilliant choices." One of Holland's costars in Genova is Colin Firth, who earlier this decade was prepared to make a film with De Palma that has never yet panned out: Toyer, an adaptation of the play by Gardner McKay that De Palma wanted to make with Firth and Juliette Binoche, transfering its setting from Los Angeles to Venice. De Palma had written the screenplay himself, and it was reported that Ted Tally had worked on a revision, but the timing (Venice in the winter) never quite worked out for everyone involved.

Posted by Geoff at 10:51 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Film Fest Items of Interest

KOEPP & HOLLAND AT TORONTO, HURT LOCKER IN VENICE


David Koepp's latest film as director, Ghost Town, will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow. While the new film, which Koepp cowrote with John Camps, shares certain supernatural themes with Koepp's previous directorial outings, this one is a comedy that stars Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni.

Also premiering at the Toronto fest this weekend will be two new films featuring Brian De Palma's step daughter, Willa Holland. Holland stars alongside Colin Firth and Catherine Keener in Michael Winterbottom's Genova, and also stars with Susan Sarandon in John Stockwell's Middle Of Nowhere. Holland will also appear on TV's Gossip Girl this fall.

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker will also appear at Toronto, but it makes its world premiere today at Venice. At the Venice press conference today, according to Variety, Bigelow said of the film, "My interest was to give this conflict a human face, and to enable the audience to actually experience what a soldier experiences, based on personal observation from the battlefield." Screenwriter Marc Boal described the film as "primarily observational, as opposed to polemical." Boal added, "It's almost a dirty little secret of war that, as horrible as it is, there are some men who through the intensity of the experience come to find it alluring."


Posted by Geoff at 11:41 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:09 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 31, 2008
Howell on The Hurt Locker


The Toronto Star's Peter Howell has an early review of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, in anticipation of the film's screenings at this year's Toronto International Film Festival September 8 and 10 (prior to that, Bigelow's film will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this Thursday, September 4th). The Hurt Locker was written by Mark Boal, whose 2004 Playboy article Death and Dishonor was the source for the Paul Haggis film In The Valley Of Elah. Howell states that with this new film, Bigelow "can add titan of suspense to her laurels. If you can sit through The Hurt Locker without your heart nearly pounding through your chest, you must be made of granite."

Howell begins his review by stating, "Just when you think the battle of Iraq war dramas has been fought and lost, along comes one that demands to be seen – if you can handle the raging adrenaline. Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker strips the Iraqi conflict of politics and brings it right down to the garbage-strewn pavement, where lives are saved through skill and nerve but lost through bad luck and malevolence." Elsewhere in the review, Howell writes, "Testosterone flows non-stop and so does blood, but these macho men are just getting the job done. In so doing, they reveal much about themselves and also deliver some home truths about the Iraqi quagmire. This is no message movie, yet insights abound."


Posted by Geoff at 1:00 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:09 AM CDT
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"CRAZY DENTAL SURGERY"
NO DE PALMA AT MONTREAL FEST
The New York Post's V.A. Musetto finally received a confirmation Sunday morning from the festival press office that Brian De Palma would not be coming to the Montreal World Film Festival to conduct a master class after all. "The reason," writes Musetto, "according to the festival: 'Crazy dental surgery.'" Meanwhile, John Griffin posted yesterday at the Montreal Gazette Ciné Files blog that De Palma's master class "was one of the biggest draws of the line-up" at this year's festival. "But neither date nor venue were ever confirmed," writes Griffin, "and despite various rumours - work, illness - his no-show remains a mystery." Griffin hoped to find out more at a Saturday dinner with the fest's publicity corps.

Posted by Geoff at 10:14 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 12:43 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 30, 2008
MUSETTO WAITS FOR DE PALMA
AS HUPPERT RECEIVES SPECIAL AWARD AT MONTREAL FEST

In a blog entry posted this afternoon, New York Post critic V.A. Musetto says that he is still waiting for Brian De Palma to show up at the Montreal World Film Festival, and is beginning to doubt that De Palma will even show up at all (the festival continues through Labor Day Monday). Although Musetto writes that no site has been named for De Palma's master class, the usually reliable Brendan Kelly of the Montreal Gazette has stated that the master class will take place at the Imperial Cinema.

Meanwhile, Isabelle Huppert (pictured above by Sylvain Legaré, courtesy of the Montreal World Film Festival) arrived in Montreal earlier this week, where on Thursday she received a special award for her exceptional contribution to the cinematographic art. Huppert interviewed De Palma in 1994 for Cahiers du Cinéma.


Posted by Geoff at 2:29 PM CDT
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Friday, August 29, 2008
MASTER CLASS THIS WEEKEND
AND CURTIS TALKS DE PALMA
New York Post critic V.A. Musetto blogged yesterday that Brian De Palma was to arrive later that day at the Montreal World Film Festival, where the director will give a master class this weekend (so much for Danielle Cauchard's previous statement that De Palma would be in attendance for the entire festival-- De Palma must have had a slight change of plans). In any case, Musetto states that the press office at the fest "has been deluged with calls" about De Palma, but that if all goes well, the critic will have a chance to sit down with the director.

According to Musetto, Tony Curtis had already left before De Palma arrived, which is a bit of a shame, because De Palma may have been able to correct a bit of misinformation regarding De Palma's upcoming project, The Boston Stranglers. Last month, Curtis was interviewed by Neal Justin at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Justin aksed Curtis whether the films he made in the past could be done today. Curtis replied, "I did a movie called The Boston Strangler. Brian De Palma is going to do a remake. What's he going to do? He's probably going to show the strangling. He's going to show these women being torn apart. He's going to show that in his own poetic way." Well, actually, De Palma is not remaking that film, but he is making a film based on a book by Susan Kelly, whose The Boston Stranglers purports to correct the conclusions depicted in the Curtis film (itself based on a book by Gerold Frank). In fact, Kelly's book discusses the Curtis film (directed by Richard Fleischer), which seems likely to be a part of De Palma's story.


Posted by Geoff at 1:59 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 29, 2008 5:48 PM CDT
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Bigelow's Hurt Locker
"A thrilling combat film" conjuring John Wayne


From The Economist:

With one exception, films about the Iraq war have done badly in American cinemas. The exception was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a fiercely anti-war film made the year after the invasion. Though Disney refused to distribute it, the movie still made a fortune. But the films that came after it have mostly bombed at the box office, a fact that has led film financiers to regard the war with a superstition as potent as that which has actors referring to Macbeth as “the Scottish play”.

Why is this so? Persuading audiences to flock to a film about an unpopular war is obviously difficult. Comparisons with Vietnam don’t really work. Television coverage of the Vietnam war was so intensive that Hollywood did not bother to make many films about it while it was going on. (John Wayne’s The Green Berets was released in 1968 as a corrective, it was hoped, to the TV coverage that was turning the country against the war.) But, with Iraq, that situation is reversed. The New York Times has reported that the three major American television networks logged only about 180 minutes of weekday evening reporting on the war in the first half of this year (compared to 1,157 minutes for all of 2007), and that CBS News no longer has a full-time correspondent in Iraq.

Film-makers are trying to fill the gap but their efforts, though worthy, are often depressing—and certainly not designed to pull in 14-year-olds at the mall. The best of the recent lot are Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss (2008), in which a decorated soldier is ordered back to Iraq against his will, and Redacted (2007), Brian De Palma’s re-enactment of an atrocity. The latter film, made with Canadian money, uses faux video clips to tell the awful tale of the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl by American soldiers. Stop-Loss and In the Valley of Elah (2007), about a former military cop trying to find out who murdered his son after he returned from Iraq, were both made by studio speciality divisions created for modestly budgeted films, both of which have since been folded into their parent companies, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros...

...Will Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, premiering at the Venice Film Festival, succeed in disarming audience resistance? About a bomb squad defusing “improvised explosive devices” planted by insurgents in Baghdad, it is a thrilling combat film from its first image of a bomb-handling robot racing through the rubble. Then a new squad leader walks in, and the film has a hero. Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner (pictured above), is a wild man addicted to the adrenalin rush of doing the most dangerous job in the world. He is a character who can embody the central myth of American cinema because his job is saving lives, not taking them.

“James is the man who walks down that street in the direction that everyone else is running from,” says Ms Bigelow. “He has an iconic aura. But those traits exert a heavy price.” By making a film about an unpopular war that still gives the audience someone to root for, she may have struck gold. Perhaps the return of John Wayne is what people have been waiting for.


Posted by Geoff at 1:06 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 29, 2008 1:11 PM CDT
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