Maximum Engagement

BN-GD860_ebert_G_20141224055725After a few weeks in which the release calendar worked against me, I’m all over the new issue of NOW. Hooray!

So here I am interviewing Alex Ebert, the rocker who composed the score for J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, and here I am taking a look at TIFF’s Hou Hsaio-hsien and Alex de la Iglesia retrospectives, and here’s a thing about this year’s touring Oscar Shorts programs.

Isn’t that nice? I was starting to feel left out.

Mission Creep

American-SniperSee the rubber baby everyone’s talking about! 

At least I assume that’s how the juggernaut that is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper pulled in a ridiculous $64 million over the weekend, breaking $200 million domestically and leaving everything else in the dust — not that everything else had much of a chance. The Boy Next Door opened in second place with a decent $15 million, but the week’s other major contenders, Strange Magic and Mortdecai proved dead on arrival.

Yup, George Lucas’ CG jukebox musical opened in seventh place with a piddly $5.53 million, while Johnny Depp’s risible comedy scraped into ninth with $4.13 million. You can fool some of the people all of the time, et cetera et cetera.

I mean, American Sniper is awful too, but at least it’s topical.

Sacrificial Lambs

girl-walks-home-alone-at-night-a-002Well, here we are in the middle of January and a dozen movies are opening. American Sniper will probably steamroll everything this weekend, controversy or no controversy, but it’s nice to have variety. (I mean, it’s not like Mortdecai is going to open to $50 million, is it?)

The Boy Next Door: “Okay, so what if we redo Fear, only Marky Mark comes after the mom instead? And J-Lo is the mom?” I have not seen this film.

Cake: “Okay, so what if we redo Rabbit Hole, only there’s just Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Aniston is Nicole Kidman?” Really, that’s pretty much it.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Ana Lily Amirpour’s remarkable first feature is just so great, you guys. See it in a theatre.

The Humbling: Al Pacino and Barry Levinson tackle Philip Roth, with the help of Greta Gerwig. Susan is skeptical.

Leviathan: I loved Andrey Zvyagintsev’s epic Russian domestic-drama-cum-social-allegory at TIFF, though I readily admit “epic Russian domestic-drama-cum-social-allegory” is a bit of a tough sell. But great art doesn’t always have vampires in it, you know?

Mortdecai: In which David Koepp and his Secret Window star Johnny Depp reunite for an unimaginable disaster that should be buried in a deep, deep well and covered with salt.

Song One:  “Okay, so what if we redo Once with Anne Hathaway and a Michael Pitt lookalike and get Jenny Lewis to write the songs?” Well, the Jenny Lewis part sure sounds great.

Still Alice: Julianne Moore’s terrific performance as a woman struggling to hold on to herself in the throes of early-onset Alzheimer’s will probably win her an Oscar. (Susan certainly thinks so.) But the movie around her is exactly what you think it’s going to be.

Strange Magic: “Okay, so what if we redo A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a CG adventure with fairies and elves and monsters with some seriously disturbing character design? And it’s a jukebox musical? Guys? Guys?”

The 50-Year Argument: Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi run down the history of the New York Review of Books as the literary giant marks a half-century of cultural influence.

Tru LoveSusan found this mid-life romance, co-written and -directed by co-star Shauna MacDonald, a little on the contrived side. But she recommends it on the strength of its performances — not just MacDonald’s, but Kate Trotter’s and Christine Horne’s too — which seems entirely reasonable to me.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?: Sion Sono approaches cinema like a supercollider, smashing ideas, genres and tones together to see what comes out the other side. His 2013 TIFF hit takes a very, very long time to reach its payoff — but holy crap, what a payoff.

And there we are! Enjoy your weekend! Please don’t see Mortdecai.

Hiding A Toothy Grin

cdn.indiewireI review a whole bunch of movies in this week’s NOW, but due to scheduling issues, the only interview I have is an online Q&A with Ana Lily Amirpour, writer-director of the most excellent and entirely subversive vampire picture A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

I’m cool with that. The movie is a revelation, and she was a lot of fun to talk to. You should read it, and you should definitely catch the film when it opens at the Lightbox tomorrow.

Nation’s Pride

61d77d518f3d9f74b1e29dcffc16c8c4ff8de6e9Well, there you go. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, nominated for six Academy Awards despite being terrible, continued to exert its terrible will on the world by grossing $90.2 million this weekend, its first in wide release.

Competition wasn’t even close. The Wedding Ringer opened in second with $21 million and Paddington took third with $19.3 million while last week’s champion, Taken 3, settled for fourth place with $14 million.

It’s not all bad news, mind you. Selma landed in fifth place with $8.3 million, dropping just 26.6% in its second week, and Michael Mann’s insufferable Blackhat tanked hard, opening to a thoroughly underwhelming $4 million. Maybe there’s a little goodness left in the world after all.

Man Versus Bear

pad1It may be the middle of January — and how about those Oscar nominations, huh? — but the movies opening in Toronto today are rich and varied. Sure, the Eastwood movie is a disappointment, but be honest: You’re used to that by now.

American Sniper: Clint Eastwood brings his distinctive that’s-lunch-people approach to this drama about self-styled alpha male Chris Kyle, who shot a bunch of people in Iraq and went on to craft a legend around himself on FOX News when he got home. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller try their best, but the Rubber Baby scene is an object lesson in what happens when your director just doesn’t care.

Appropriate Behavior: Desiree Akhavan’s first feature is a mightily encouraging debut, with the writer-director also starring as a contemporary young woman juggling various identity conflicts. I probably shouldn’t say anything else about it, but Susan does.

Blackhat: Michael Mann’s first film since the misbegotten Public Enemies is a modest  improvement, but still hugely problematic, starting with the casting of The Mighty Thor as a genius superhacker.

Escobar: Paradise Lost: Rad really didn’t care for this arm’s-length portrait of Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro), seen through the eyes of a surfer kid (Josh Hutcherson) who falls for the notorious drug kingpin’s niece.

Housebound: Bumped from last week, Gerard Johnstone’s horror-comedy features a really great performance from Morgana O’Reilly as a remarkably pragmatic young woman living under haunted-house arrest.

Last Days in Vietnam: A Doc Soup highlight last fall, Rory Kennedy’s documentary examines the remarkable efforts of a few American officials to evacuate as many people from Saigon as the city collapsed.

Paddington: Paul King’s long-dreaded feature is not just a charming adaptation of the beloved children’s character but a goddamned terrific family film with so much heart it cannot contain it. So, yeah. See this.

Two Days, One Night: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne continue to mine their very specific vein of human drama, exploring the basic conflicts endemic to modern Western society. Here, Marion Cotillard plays a woman who must spend the eponymous window of time trying to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. Rad loved it. So did I.

The Wedding Ringer: Josh Gad is an engaged doofus who seeks coolness assistance from best-man-for-hire Kevin Hart. I enjoy Josh Gad in many things; I have never really understood the appeal of Kevin Hart. I will not be rushing to see this.

Phew! There, that’s everything. What are you guys up to this weekend? I’m planning on being less cold, myself. Doing well so far.

Men Of Conviction

selma-david-oyelowo-mlkThe first full week of 2015 ends with a combination of awards bait, indies and studio pulp — so, basically, it’s exactly the January Friday we deserve. Go see a movie, get warm.

I Put a Hit on You: Aaron Ashmore and Sara Canning star in a modest but well-realized Toronto rom-com about a gal who takes a contract out on her ex. You know, like you do.

Monk with a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland: The grandson of Vogue grande dame Diana, Nicky Vreeland segued from privileged scion to spiritual wanderer in the 1970s, becoming a Buddhist monk a decade later. Rad is skeptical about the whole white-privilege thing, but likes the movie a little more  than I do.

Selma: I wasn’t a huge fan of Ava DuVernay’s first feature, Middle of Nowhere, but holy crap does she level up with this powerfully felt docudrama about Martin Luther King, Jr’s trial by fire in 1965 Alabama. David Oyelewo, who co-starred in Middle of Nowhere, plays King as a human rather than a demigod, and a harrowing re-creation of the confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge smashes American history into the present day with a sickening thud.

Taken 3: After he punched his way through Paris and Istanbul, Bryan Mills’ latest battleground is … Los Angeles. Olivier Megaton, who made Taken 2, directs; it is very bad.

Winter Sleep: Glenn was thoroughly captivated by Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or-winner about an Anatolian hotelier (Haluk Bilginer) whose worldview is sorely challenged over the course of a few conversations. This is the appropriate response.

Also opening today: The World Made Straight, which was not provided to us for inclusion in this week’s package. I write about the larger problem that represents in this afternoon’s web column.

My other other gig.