Chris Pratt seems to be living a charmed life.
It would be lovely to report that he's a jerk who seems ungrateful and who is nowhere near as likable off-screen as he is on-screen, but that would be wildly untrue. Instead, we have to contend with the possibility that he's a genuinely nice guy who happens to be just the right combination of talented, hard-working, and lucky. I spent some time on the set of Nick Stoller's new film "A Five-Year Engagement" this summer, and I met Pratt for the first time there. He's got a major supporting role in the film as one of Jason Segel's best friends, and he struck me right away as a young guy who is still defining himself in this business, but who is grateful for every break he's had so far, and who understands that each new role is an opportunity to expand his range and prove what he can do.
Chris Pratt seems to be living a charmed life.
At this point, I think it's safe to say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has carved out a space for himself as one of the most promising talents in his age range, and he's demonstrated a pretty remarkable range over the past twenty years in front of the camera.
Even as a kid on "Third Rock From The Sun," he managed to stand toe-to-toe with John Lithgow who was turned up to Full Ham. And Lithgow at Full Ham is like ten times anybody else at Full Ham. To stand there and play scenes with that when you're still in your teens is no easy feat, but Gordon-Levitt always made it look easy.
And as he's come into focus as an adult performer, he has been lucky enough to find collaborators that have helped him redefine himself with grace and style. I always wonder what would have happened to Kurt Russell if there was no John Carpenter, and likewise, I wonder about Gordon-Levitt if there was no Rian Johnson. "Brick" may not have been a giant box-office hit, but it was a key step in the way he evolved into a credible leading man, and without him playing that role, he might not have been given a shot at films like "The Lookout," "Stop-Loss," or "500 Days Of Summer."
We have reached an interesting and, frankly, depressing place in modern political dialogue, where even trying to tackle the subject guarantees that part of your audience will walk away angry. My first political memory involves the Watergate trials, so it's little wonder I've grown up in an increasingly cynical political atmosphere. I do wonder sometimes if it's even possible to fix things at this point, or if we are simply at the point where there will never be something like a middle ground again.
We ran a piece here about the statement that Harvey Weinstein sent along to be ready before the public premiere of "Butter" at the Toronto Film Festival last week, and while it drew some big laughs in the room and got some play in the press, I felt like it was yet another set of battle lines being drawn. And while there are many things I like about the film, which is definitely worth seeing, there's a chance that its merits will be ignored in the conversation over the easy targets that the movie singles out, especially in the climate as we're gearing up towards the 2012 election season.
When I was contacted about running a clip from an upcoming indie called "A Bird Of The Air," one thing got my attention right away, the name of co-star Rachel Nichols. Aside from the fact that she's adorable, I think she's interesting although still largely untested on film. She still hasn't had that breakthrough role or that big moment, and so instead, she's chipping away doing nice work in films like "P2" or "Conan The Barbarian" or on shows like "Alias."
Is "A Bird Of The Air" a different type of role for her? Maybe. I don't know much about it. The first time I heard of it was when they approached me with the clip. When I got home from Toronto, I found a screener of this one waiting on my desk, and at some point this weekend, I'll throw it in and take a look at it.
The film was written by Roger Towne, who is indeed the brother of screenwriting legend Robert Towne. Here's hoping this is more of a Beau Bridges situation than a Jim Hanks situation, where this is a brother with his own thing going on, and not just someone barely getting by on a last name. He did write a draft or two of "The Natural," so fingers crossed, right?
Welcome to The Morning Read.
By far, the most entertaining thing going on out there this morning is Joseph Kahn versus Jim Emerson on the subject of "The Dark Knight." Here we are, three years down the road from the release of the movie, and look at the passion this one sequence seems to inspire.
Kahn, of course, is the director of "Torque," as well as the upcoming "Detention," which has been playing the festival circuit, and he's got a commercial and video resume a mile long. He's got an active Twitter presence, and he's fairly blunt about his work and his opinion. I like the guy, and that's a real evolution from my position when "Torque" was released. I also like that "Detention" fiercely divided people when it screened at SXSW, and critics I like and respect reacted in an absolutely opposite fashion than I did when reviewing it. Lately, he's been engaging a lot in the discussion of fight geography and the use of sound in cutting action and defending the work of Michael Bay at length, and well. This piece he published today is the culmination of a lot of conversations over the last week or so, it feels like.
If I'm being honest, one of my very favorite films that played at the Toronto Film Festival this year is something I saw in May at Cannes. At the time, I did an impromptu interview with the director of the movie, Gerardo Naranjo. At the time, I didn't run it, so I thought this morning, I'd publish the interview for the first time, and then republish the review I wrote. Since I published it with another review, and since we weren't doing letter grades at the time, I thought I'd take the opportunity to assign it the one it deserves now.
The thing is, there's a limited release of this film supposedly set for October 14th, but there's no ads for it yet, and we're only a month out. This film needs some time to build a head of steam, and it needs the support of the critical community to convince audiences to give it a try. I hope Fox really tries with this one in the US, and that this isn't a cursory release. Here's my original review, and I think you'll see just how enthused I was when I saw it. Nothing's changed almost five months later:
Francis Ford Coppola has produced some of the finest movies of all time, and when he is gone, there is no doubt in my mind that his work will live on. As long as people are watching movies, they will be watching "The Conversation" and his "Godfather" films and "Apocalypse Now." No doubt about it.
Having said that, his latest film "Twixt" is so bad that it feels like a practical joke. It's so bad that I can't believe anyone who has ever seen "The Conversation" made this film, much less the person who actually made it.
I am still having trouble processing what I sat through at the film's first press screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. I've seen plenty of bad films by good filmmakers, and even in those bad films, I can still see the identity of the filmmaker. I can still see their fingerprints on the work. With films I haven't liked this week like "A Dangerous Method" or "Wuthering Heights," I can still have a conversation about how the filmmaker's craft is evident in what they do, and ultimately, my reactions boil down to how I feel about choices they made. I may not like those choices, but I can see the reasoning behind them.
The Duplass Brothers have somehow managed the nearly impossible trick of moving from the no-budget indie world of their first feature, "The Puffy Chair," to making movies with well-known movie stars without having to trade any of their independence and without subverting their voice at all. Their new film, "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," is the most accessible thing they've made, and it's also a bit of a marvel, a film without a single hint of cynicism in it.
Jeff is played by Jason Segel, and he's a 30 year old still living with his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) is married to Linda (Judy Greer), and they're struggling with some pretty fundamental communication issues. They all live in Baton Rouge, and the easy version of this film would treat Jeff and his decidedly arrested adulthood as the source of the joke. Instead, the opening scene sets the stage for everything that follows, as Jeff dictates a long monologue into a recorder about the importance of the movie "Signs" in his life. He explains how the structure of the film and the way it eventually draws all of its story threads together changed the way he views the world, and now he's open to the voice of the universe, no matter how mysterious its method of communication.
Earlier today, I was at the press day for "50/50," shooting video interviews with the cast, and one of the people working at the event was a local. As we were talking about movies I'd seen at the fest, I mentioned Sarah Polley and "Take This Waltz," and immediately, she got defensive, before I even offered an opinion on the film. "Sarah Polley is one of our treasures," she said, a good Canadian protecting one of her own. Thing is, no one need to protect Polley, because she's carving out one hell of a career, and there's nothing to be defensive about.
We have very few women writing and directing personal work on a regular basis these days, and if you look at the percentages of women to men in those jobs, it's truly upsetting. I love all of my boy movies, certainly, and I know when a filmmaker is playing right to my interests or my worldview. I don't just go to the movies to have my perspective endlessly reinforced, though. I want to be challenged. I want to be knocked out of my comfort zone. I want to hear a voice I haven't heard before. I want to understand the world through other people's eyes.
Alexander Payne had one of the most promising starts of any of the filmmakers in the Class of '99, as I like to call them, and "Election" is one of those films that I find always rewarding to revisit. "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" are both strong, mature pieces of work, and they both demonstrate a clear sense of voice as well as a very strong sense of place. Locations play a major part in his work, helping to define who these people are and giving them a proper landscape in which to play out their issues.
And, yes, like his earlier films, "The Descendents" captures a character in crisis, someone facing a major life-changing event and having to redefine themselves as a result. And while it does not carry the same satiric sting that some of his work is noted for, I think it's warm and human and beautifully made, and it is one more triumph in a long list of recent triumphs for George Clooney as a movie star and an actor both.