TORONTO – In 2010, Derek Cianfrance seduced the independent film community with his stellar debut, “Blue Valentine.” The heartbreaking drama contrasted the beginning and end of a young couple’s marriage through Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ stellar performances. It became a staple on year-end critic's top 10 lists and landed Williams her second Oscar nomination. One of the reasons the picture resonated with so many moviegoers and critics was Cianfrance’s remarkable skill at creating honest and intimate moments with his actors. Unfortunately, It’s with sincere regret that I report Cianfrance’s latest endeavor, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” doesn’t measure up to the cinematic standards he set for himself just two years ago.
TORONTO – Y’know, it hasn’t been the best month or two for Kristen Stewart.
In theory, Stewart should be on top of the world. The 22-year-old just starred in her first legitimate blockbuster outside of the “Twilight Saga”, June’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” And in May, she found herself walking the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival where Walter Salles’ prestige player “On the Road” debuted. Unfortunately, well, that thing with her “Snow White” director happened.
TORONTO – Don’t let anyone ever say Joe Wright is easy on himself. Ever since his acclaimed directorial debut “Pride & Prejudice” he has pushed cinematic boundaries while working within the confines of traditional narrative media. “Anna Karenina,” which screens at the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow and just opened in the U.K., finds Wright walking Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel along a fine line of period and postmodernist cinema. It’s a very dangerous game to play artistically and narratively, but, for the most part, it works.
It will painful for the organizers to hear this, but it was hard to find anyone who thought this was a strong year for the Telluride Film Festival. The 39th edition featured tributes to Marion Cotillard and Mads Mikkelsen, but only one or two films that had the attendees raving. Longtime festival goers didn't seem to mind that much, however, as they see the annual Labor Day event as a time to catch up with old cinephile friends from around the country.
TELLURIDE – There is a moment in the new Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig collaboration “Frances Ha” where you begin to think, “Oh, no. This seems way too much like Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls.’” And during the picture’s opening act, the tone and hipster Brooklyn setting makes that a very valid concern. Thankfully, and somewhat remarkably, “Ha” transforms into something all its own.
TELLURIDE – Over a small number of films, Elle Fanning has displayed a transcendent range that many would argue has surpassed the talents of her better-known sister Dakota. In Sally Potter's "Ginger and Rosa," a new drama that premiered Friday at the 39th Telluride Film Festival, the 14-year-old actress once again impresses. This time she makes a mature leap by enveloping herself in a character thee years her senior. Unfortunately, the rest of the Potter's endeavor is a ponderous mess that negates the best aspects of Fanning's performance.
TELLURIDE – The Iran Hostage Crisis is one of the more defining moments in American history, but it has never received its due course on the big screen. That changes somewhat in Ben Affleck’s engaging and entertaining new thriller “Argo” which sneaked at the 39th Telluride Film Festival Friday.
Summit Entertainment has a tough sell on their hands this Fall. No, it's not convincing fans to see the final installment of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" (hardly). Instead, they have the long awaited adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" to market to the masses. If you were to watch the "Perks" trailer you might assume the picture is just for young adults or teenagers. Shoot, check out any stills from the movie and it looks like yet another "teen movie." To assume so would be a huge mistake.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this morning that Oscar winners Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will produce the 85th Academy Awards. The best news about this announcement for fans of the grand daddy of all awards shows is that after two years Don Misher is no longer behind the scenes as an executive producer. Misher was part of the 83rd Academy Awards which is now considered one of the worst productions in the history of the event.
Dax Shepard has come a long way. His first major acting gig was assisting in Ashton Kutcher's pranks on "Punk'd." It paid (well as much as MTV pays), but it probably didn't provide great clips for his acting reel. Still, he persevered, worked hard and eventually his talent won out in what has always been a very cutthroat business (and no doubt his reality background didn't help). Currently, Shepard plays Crosby a fan favorite on NBC's "Parenthood" and has memorable turns in flicks such as "Baby Mama," "Let's Go To Prison" and "Zathura." Moreover, he's publicly always been humble about his relatively modest success to date. When "Hit and Run" opens this Wednesday he'll earn another career bump and be recognized for crafting a broad action comedy that's unexpectedly sweet and dramatic. Considering it's just his second official directorial effort and was made on a shoestring budget, Hollywood executives should be taking meetings with Shepard about his potential behind the camera and not just in front of it.
Shepard's partial ode to comedies such as "Cannonball Run" features a strong ensemble of actors who get a chance to broaden their range. Bradley Cooper, Kristen Chenoweth, Tom Arnold and Joy Bryant are clearly all having a ball often playing against "type." Shepard crafted most of these characters for each actor most of whom are old friends. One character who many audiences will enjoy is a gay cop played by 6'6" red-headed who, along with his partner, get wrapped up in the film's wild goose chase. Unless you're a die hard fan of "General Hospital" this will likely be the first time you've experienced the impressive talents of Jess Rowland.
Full disclosure, I've known Jess for over 10 years. We've played basketball together in a local LA league and anyone with an eye for talent can tell you his comic timing is as good as his offensive rebounding and scoring ability. Jess is a very funny guy who met Shepard while they were both studying improv comedy at "The Groundlings." They remained friends over the years and when Shepard was writing the script for "Hit" he specifically wrote this role for Jess. Not a one or two scene cameo, but the big break Jess has been pursuing for years. Shepard (who also wrote a quieter role for his sister in the film) was under no obligation to do this for Jess. He did it because he knew Jess would deliver and maybe a little part of him wanted to give back. So, if you see "Hit," and I hope you do, you'll be hard pressed not to remember Jess just as much as you remember Cooper, Shepard or Kristen Bell's performances. In fact, during my interview with both Shepard and Bell, Bell point blank says Jess "steals the movie."
It may sound naive, but living and working in this town for as long as I have has taught me that if you are a good person, have talent and work hard you'll eventually get your shot and rewarded for it. Basically, you don't need to be an epic [expletive] or sleep your way to the top to make it. Sure, many do, but their success is usually short-lived and when they eventually fall from grace it sure isn't pretty. Knowing Jess, I'm sure he'd joke that he'd have slept with whoever he needed to for that big break, but sometimes the long road is more rewarding when you can really appreciate it. Even in tintsletown.
You can watch my interview with Shepard and Bell where, much to their surprise, we mostly talk about Jess' performance embedded at the top of this post.
"Hit and Run" opens nationwide tomorrow and I'd highly recommend it even if I didn't know one of the stars personally (of course I might recommend it more if he passed the ball out of the post more, but that's a different story…)