Sacred Quests

There was no formal holiday episode of Someone Else’s Movie this year … but now that I think about it, there are two. Whit Stillman’s double-feature felt like an unexpected gift, and this week’s episode is celebratory in a different sort of way.

The movie is The Fisher King, and the pleasure that my guest Aaron Costa Ganis clearly takes in Terry Gilliam’s film — and in Richard LaGravenese’s script, and in Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams’ performances — feels like it’s about to spill over into the world like the end of A Christmas Carol, even though we recorded it in Manhattan over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I dunno. It just feels nice. And as we bid farewell to 2016 and see what fresh hell awaits us in 2017, a little “god bless us, every one” couldn’t hurt.

As usual, you can find the show on iTunesGoogle Play and Stitcher, or download the episode straight from the site. And enjoy it! See you in the new year.

Christmas Song and Dance

Well, here we are. Christmas Day, and finally you can catch up to the TIFF People’s Choice award-winner as it rolls into theatres on its way to Oscar glory (or at least a few Golden Globes). Some other stuff is opening too, but honestly? There’s only one movie you need to see.

Fences: Denzel Washington can be a compelling and vital actor, but he’s never been an especially distinguished director. His lack of filmmaking chops becomes a particular liability in this leaden attempt to bring August Wilson’s stage play to life; he compensates for the lack of cinematic juice by turning up the acting, and it doesn’t work. (Viola Davis maintains a certain steadfast dignity, but then she always does.) Glenn nails it.

Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi: Simon Stadler’s documentary is being billed as a real-life version of The Gods Must Be Crazy. Okaaaay.

Hidden Figures: Theodore Melfi’s follow-up to St. Vincent stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — three black women who were of crucial importance to NASA during the space race. Susan feels much the same way I did about it: It’s a good story, told in a manner as meticulously calculated as any of its heroes’ equations.

La La Land: Gosling and Stone, together again — and singing and dancing, because god dammit we need this right now. One of the best films of the year; go see it and lose yourself for a couple of hours over the holiday.

Why Him?: I haven’t seen this one, but as far as I can tell it’s just Bryan Cranston and James Franco making faces at each other for an hour and a half in a next-gen subversion of Meet the Parents? Anyway, Rad hated it.

That’s that! Check back on Tuesday for a brand new episode of Someone Else’s Movie, assuming I don’t die of turkey before I finish the edit.

Ramping Up

Just a couple of openings today, as everyone braces for the arrival of the big holiday awards contenders on Sunday. I’m running around doing last-minute stuff (including a podcast taping, somehow!), but these are they:

Julieta: Pedro Almodovar adapts a trio of Alice Munro short stories into a decidedly minor work that ends just as it starts to get interesting. Susan feels much the same way.

Reset: Glenn is similarly reserved on this documentary about choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s first show for the Paris Opera Ballet. I haven’t seen it, but it sure sounds frustrating.

There you go! Check back Sunday for the big boys.

No Solace This Solstice

Three new holiday releases open today, but there’s precious little joy to be found in any of them. Shall we?

Assassin’s Creed: The Macbeth team of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel reunite for a grim, dull slog through the imagery of the popular videogame series. In related news, Warcraft is no longer the front-runner for this year’s “worst gaming movie” award.

Passengers: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in what director Morten Tyldum clearly thinks is a deep-space romance. In related news, The Birth of a Nation has some competition for this year’s “most subtextually unsettling film” award.

Sing: Garth Jennings — whose Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow are movies I really, really like — stumbles with this overstuffed, overcomplicated all-star CG musical in which funny animals enter an American Idol-style singing competition. In related news, Seth MacFarlane is still way out in front for this year’s “you can keep singing if you promise to stop acting” award.

Oh, and also I made a few contributions to NOW’s Worst Films of 2016 rundown. Sadly, we went to press before Assassin’s Creed and Passengers were screened.

Saddle Up

This week’s Someone Else’s Movie moves the show from the Upper East Side to a Brooklyn apartment complex, where writer and podcaster Kevin Seccia (and his snorty pug) settle in for a conversation about The Magnificent Seven.

Not the remake, which does arrive on disc today, but the John Sturges original — which I revisited in advance of this episode, and which turns out to be a lot more interesting than I’d remembered. And Kevin is a great guest, coming in with a lifetime of enthusiasm for the film and its history.

You’ve got this down by now, right? Find it on iTunesGoogle Play and Stitcher, or download the show straight from the site.  And enjoy yourself. It’s that kind of episode.

War Party

First things first: Rogue One is really good, and you should see it. But there’s another truly great film opening in town this week, so make sure you don’t miss that either.

Cameraperson: An essay film built out of unused footage from projects she’s worked on as a cinematographer and her own home movies, Kirsten Johnson’s exquisite documentary is a meditation on the toll of bearing witness. One of the year’s best films.

Collateral Beauty: If it’s awards season, it must be time for another craven Will Smith project — and this one has his stupidest premise yet. (Yes, even stupider than Seven Pounds). Rad was dumbfounded. Poor Rad.

The Eyes of My Mother: Nicolas Pesce’s minimalist horror film demonstrates that there’s still life left in the Gothic farmhouse genre. Icky, icky life.

Harry Benson: Shoot First: Justin Bare and Matthew Miele — the guys who made those fawning documentaries about Bergdorf’s and Tiffany’s — return with a profile of Life photographer Harry Benson. Rad liked it, with reservations.

Neruda: Jose liked it, but I found Pablo Larrain’s meditation on Pablo Neruda to be one big meta mess, with Luis Gnecco playing the poet and politician as a gimlet-eyed hedonist and Gael Garcia Bernal squinting and scowling as his fictional persecutor.

Rogue One: Gareth Edwards’ not-quite-stand-alone Star Wars story imagines The Dirty Dozen in a galaxy far, far away … and winds up being the only prequel we’ll ever need.

There, that’s everything. Bundle up, please.

Happy Holiday Movie Special!

Yup, it’s that time again — time to dive into NOW’s great big movie package, featuring reviews of everything opening from now through New Year’s.

(Well, not quite everything; Collateral BeautyPassengers and Assassin’s Creed weren’t screened in time, so we’ll be catching up to those as they open.)

I’ll be posting links to everything on the appropriate day, but if you just want to gorge on ’em now, follow the link above. Start with Rogue One, maybe. It’s pretty great.

Elegant Conversation

This week on Someone Else’s Movie, I land me a big ‘un: Whit Stillman, the Oscar-nominated writer and director whose distinctive voice helped define American indie cinema, and who is also one of my favorite people to interview. (Here we are talking about Damsels in Distress at TIFF 2011, and about Love & Friendship earlier this spring.)

Whit was really enthusiastic about doing the podcast; in fact, he was so enthusiastic he couldn’t settle on just one film, so he programmed an RKO Studios double-feature of The Gay Divorcée and Wagon Master, with detours into a few other things. We recorded it in his sister’s apartment on the Upper East Side when I was in New York last month, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you today.

Grab it on iTunesGoogle Play and Stitcher, or straight from the web. And enjoy! You’ve earned it, I’m sure.

In Contention

We’re getting into the heart of awards season, and I’m forgetting which movies I’ve seen and which I haven’t. But I’ve (mostly) broken down my Top Ten for the year and I’m filing my TFCA ballot tonight, which will put an end to the constant deliberations and reprioritizing in my head. It’s been exhausting.

Meanwhile, here’s this week’s stuff!

All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone: Fred Peabody’s documentary examines the way the corporate media consistently fails to serve the public interest. Susan found it a little US-centric, but I thought that was the whole point.

Jackie: Natalie Portman plays the enigmatic First Lady in Pablo Larraín’s impressionistic biopic, which focuses on the window of time immediately after the assassination of JFK. Susan liked it a bit more than I did — Portman’s great, and so is Peter Sarsgaard as a grieving RFK, but the movie around them is a little mannered.

Lion: Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman do great things with thin material, and Glenn is willing to give Garth Davis’ inspirational true story a pass on the basis of its emotional impact … but I was too distracted by its mechanics to ever invest in the story. 

Miss Sloane: Jessica Chastain is terrific as a Washington lobbyist who shocks the system when she applies her remorseless tradecraft to a noble cause, but John Madden’s mediocre movie never rises to her level.

Office Christmas Party: All-star corporate mayhem, duuuuuude! It is what it is. Rad‘s review will be online later today. UPDATE: Oh, well.

Sadie’s Last Days on Earth: Michael Seater’s YA dramedy has some good ideas and solid performances, and that’s enough to carry it over some of the rougher stuff.

Sugar Mountain: A hoax spins dangerously out of control in Richard Gray’s wintry thriller, opening for a run at the Kingsway with very little fanfare. UPDATE: Postponed at the last minute!

Tampopo: Juzo Itami’s  noodle Western returns in a new digital restoration, remains both insane and delightful — though perhaps not as daring as it was back in 1985.

That’s everything, I think. Now, back to my ballot. Keep an eye on the TFCA’s Twitter account Sunday afternoon for news of the awards!

My other other gig.