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Updated: 2017-02-28T09:17:31-06:00

 



A Preview of the 22nd Annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

2017-02-28T09:19:22-06:00

Cinephiles whose tastes lean towards the Gallic will want to make arrangements to spend a considerable amount of time over the next two weeks at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. From March 1-12, the Film Society at Lincoln Center, in conjunction with UniFrance, will be hosting “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema,” the 22nd edition of an annual series presenting viewers with a chance to see the latest in contemporary French film. Over the course of those 12 days, 23 films—ranging from children’s fantasies to gut-crunching (and chewing) horror—will unspool, a collection that includes both the latest efforts from some of the country’s top directors and performers as well as the audacious early works of a number of emerging voices deserving to be heard. Many of the screenings will have the filmmakers and other talent on hand to present their efforts and participate in Q&A’s afterwards. In addition, there will also be a number of panel discussions and one of the legends of French cinema, the great Agnes Varda, will participate in a live talk on March 10 that will find her looking back on her long and illustrious career. Having seen all but three of the films that will be screening—I have yet to catch the dark drama “Faultless,” the documentary “The Paris Opera” and the Closing Night presentation, the Jacques Cousteau biopic “The Odyssey,” featuring Lambert Wilson as the famed explorer and Audrey Tautou as his wife—I present for you an overview of the festival as a whole. The offerings, as is the case with many festivals, are a bit of a mixed bag that contains a few gems, a few perfectly passable items and a couple of fairly dubious titles. What is interesting is that while the films with the bigger names behind them will almost certainly be the most popular of the presentations, the smaller movies with the lesser-known talents are the ones that, more often than not, turned out to be the more memorable selections. Needless to say, there is pretty much something for everyone here and those who drop by to experience the cinematic culture of another country as they can here are likely to come away entertained, informed and, in at least a couple of cases, enraptured by the enigma that is French pop singer Soko. Many of the higher-profile selections in the year’s festival are period pieces, starting off with the Opening Night presentation, the North American premiere of “Django” (March 1, pictured above). Etienne Comar’s film follows celebrated Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) in 1943 Paris, where his musical talents have allowed him to thus far escape the fate of his fellow Romani, who were then being rounded up and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis. At first, his view of the world is decidedly apolitical but when he can no longer ignore what is happening to his people, he is finally compelled to act, utilizing his artistic gifts as his weapon of choice. The film does have its virtues—Kateb is fairly magnetic as Reinhardt and the extended musical sequences allow fans and neophytes alike to bask in the genius that was Reinhardt’s work. But as a whole, it's a bit of a misfire. Comar (making his directorial debut) never quite figures out a way to make the story nearly as engaging or emotionally compelling as the music it celebrates and the climax, in which Reinhardt’s music distracts the Nazi bigwigs at a party he is playing at from Resistance activities going on practically under their noses, leans more towards the silly than the suspenseful. A movie seemingly designed to fill opening night festival slots—opulent and well-produced but never too much of a challenge for viewers—“Django” serves as a nice if superficial tribute to the man’s music, which will continue to live on long after this film has been forgotten. For his latest work, “Frantz” (March 2, 11), the always bold filmmaker Francois Ozon has made the audacious decision to remake a film by no less a revered figure in the history of cinema than the great Ernst Lubitsch. But little of the[...]



Video: Bill Paxton on “A Simple Plan” at Ebertfest 2001

2017-02-27T15:53:13-06:00

"It’s a strange thing, the whims of fate and destiny," reflected Bill Paxton during his 2001 appearance at Ebertfest. When he passed away on Saturday, I was immediately flooded with fond memories of the man when Roger and I met him all those years ago. He was so grateful that we had selected Sam Raimi's 1998 crime drama, "A Simple Plan," in which he starred opposite an Oscar-nominated Billy Bob Thornton, to be screened at the third installment of our annual festival. Roger awarded the film four stars and hailed it as one of the best films he had ever seen in his introduction prior to the screening. During their conversation that followed, Paxton spoke candidly about how personal the film was for him, and how Thornton's character reminded him of his own handicapped brother. He also reminisced about how James Cameron had taken him to a screening of Raimi's "Evil Dead II," and marveled at how the picture had invented a new genre for itself. Joining the actor onstage was Brian Tyler, who was working on Paxton's feature directorial debut, "Frailty," a film that also received four stars from Roger upon its U.S. release in 2002. Paxton noted how "A Simple Plan" and "Frailty" were both regional noir films, a genre he held close to his heart. Not only was he a talented actor, he was also kind and gracious to our audience. It was wonderful to see Paxton light up when members of the audience recalled their favorite roles in his career, including Private Hudson in Cameron's "Aliens," thus prompting Paxton to deliver his immortal line, "Game over, man!" The conversation begins at the 17-minute mark in the video embedded below, yet Roger's introduction is also well worth a look. It includes appearances by "American Movie" star Mark Borchardt as well as ace projectionists Steve Krause and James Bond. Krause refers to the 70 mm screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" that memorably opened the festival that year, featuring the unforgettable HAL 9000, whose birthday is celebrated each year by Urbana-Champaign's technology and arts festival, Cyberfest.By the way, in addition to scoring that year's Ebertfest selection, "Panic," Tyler has also provided the scores for this year's upcoming releases, "Power Rangers" and "The Fate of the Furious." Bill will be seen in "The Circle," directed by Ebertfest favorite James Ponsoldt, when it is released this April.  src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/62101638?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""> A Simple Plan (2001) from Ebertfest on Vimeo.The 20th anniversary of Cyberfest will occur on Monday, March 13th, while Ebertfest 2017 runs from Wednesday, April 19th through Sunday, April 23rd at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. [...]



The Consummate Everyman: Goodbye to Bill Paxton

2017-02-27T15:52:37-06:00

Bill Paxton passed away this weekend at the age of 61. We asked our writers if they wanted to contribute a memory of the underrated actor to supplement our obituary. Below is what we received. Our sincere condolences to his friends and family. He will be sincerely missed. BRIAN TALLERICO When I think of Bill Paxton, I think of underrated range. He's one of those few actors who would work in any size film, any size role, and find a way to make his screen time memorable. There was a brief window where it appeared Paxton would ascend to another critical level of fame on the strength of reviews for "A Simple Plan" and "One False Move" (his two best performances in film), but it never quite happened and he went back to stealing films in smaller roles (and doing underrated work on TV, especially in "Big Love"). Paxton's name was a smile generator when you saw it in the credits. "Oh, he's in this. I bet it will be pretty good." There aren't enough actors like that—reliable enough that their mere presence elevates an entire production. James Cameron knew it. Kathryn Bigelow knew it. Sam Raimi knew it. Carl Franklin knew it. We all knew that Bill Paxton was something special, maybe even more than he did. And it's a true shame that more directors won't be able to know it in years to come. COLLIN SOUTER Bill Paxton first made a huge impression on me in 1988 when I first saw Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" on video. I hadn't yet put together that he was also in "Weird Science" or "Aliens," probably because he didn't look like a marine this time, but rather an early incarnation of Trent Reznor. As the merciless and charismatic killer Severen, Paxton proved he was an actor who could easily walk into a room and steal any scene he was in—the bar scene in "Near Dark" is evidence of that. Yet he never tried too hard to cash in on that ability. He remained a solid, working-class actor who could be versatile and down to earth, whether he was a cowboy, an astronaut, a tornado chaser, a Mormon in a plural marriage or just a working stiff trying to make ends meet. While he delivered some of the most quotable lines in film history, he remained an essential "everyman" actor as well as a great storyteller (see his directorial effort "Frailty," Roger gave it 4 stars). He will be greatly missed and everyone should listen to Marc Maron's interview with him on "WTF," posted on February 6, 2017 (Paxton starts at the 24:00 mark and runs about 70 minutes).  CRAIG LINDSEY While Bill Paxton was a great actor and a decent human being, let’s not forget he was also a riot on the talk-show circuit. The man could always be counted on to turn out a rowdy, late-night TV appearance. For example, here’s this clip of him coming out swinging on “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” ready to lift up his shirt to show off how much weight he lost—he says he was on “the director stress diet”—while making his directorial debut “Frailty.” (Whoever posted this video cut out the moment where he goes full Tracy Morgan and removes his shirt, revealing his hilariously pale torso.) I remember one rip-roaring appearance he made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” back in the early aughts, where he was on the panel with a pre-“Black-ish” Anthony Anderson and notorious film critic/blurb-whore Earl Dittman. Paxton and Anderson were practically falling all over each other giggling as Dittman explained why he gave so many rave reviews to bad movies. When Kimmel mentioned that Dittman called “What Women Want” one of the best films he’s ever seen, Paxton did a well-timed, well-executed spit take, immediately making Anderson and the audience explode with laughter. “Be careful—you don’t want to be the only person to get a bad review from Earl Dittman!” Kimmel warned him. (If that clip is out there online, please hit us with the link.) Paxton continued to be a lively talk-show guest even recently. Watch him reveal a crush he had on one of his former co-stars over on a weeks-old ep[...]



Thumbnails 2/27/17

2017-02-27T10:35:16-06:00

1."Peyton Kennedy on 'American Fable,' 'XX' and 'Odd Squad'": The remarkably talented actress chats with me at Indie Outlook about her breakthrough performance in Anne Hamilton's gorgeously lensed picture, now in limited theatrical release and available on Amazon Video, iTunes and On Demand.“[Indie Outlook:] ‘Your portrayal of Gitty was easily one of my favorite performances I saw last year. How were you able to relate to her?’ [Kennedy:] ‘Thank you, I really appreciate that. I connected with Gitty because she’s a young girl who is very close with her family—not necessarily with her brother, but with her mom and dad. She has a great relationship with her parents, and that helped me because I am really close to my family. I think that when you’re playing a role, even one that is completely different from your experience, you always have to put a little bit of yourself into it. By harnessing a little of myself to put into Gitty, I think that made her more realistic.’ [Indie Outlook:] ‘How did you go about navigating your character’s complex arc during the shoot? Was any part of the film shot in sequence?’ [Kennedy:] ‘We didn’t shoot any of the silo scenes until the end of production, and those were mainly shot in sequence. The rest of the film was not. But I think my character arcs often occurred during my interactions with Jonathan, either inside or outside of the silo. I was really grateful to be able to portray that arc every day without it being completely out of sequence. The film is really a coming-of-age story for Gitty. She starts as a very innocent young girl and eventually becomes a strong and courageous young woman. It was really important for me to portray that arc correctly. Anne Hamilton is an amazing director. Before I flew out to Illinois, we had Skype sessions together where we talked about the character and went through the whole script. I was able to see the entire script through her eyes. She didn’t tell me exactly what I needed to feel in every single moment of the story, she just gave me a general idea of it. From there, I was able to elaborate on what I thought the character would be like, and my ideas would end up being close to what Anne had in mind because of our earlier discussions.’”2."Interview: Dale Robinette, on His Iconic Photo From 'La La Land'": In conversation with Hollywood Chicago's Patrick McDonald.“[HollywoodChicago.com:] ‘What was the process, when you were on the set, for capturing the iconic photograph of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘La La Land’? [Robinette:] ‘First, it was fascinating filmmaking, on the first of a two evening shoot when we arrived at the Burbank side of Griffith Park at 3pm, and were shuttled to the location for the dance scene. There was a techno-crane there, a telescoping filmmaking instrument that goes from 12 to 40 feet in three seconds or so, with a camera on the end loaded with a 1000 foot roll – which is 6 minutes of film. The crane can also sweep up to 300 degrees or just pan left or right. Our Director, Damian Chazelle, wanted his shot to be like a golden age musical, by framing Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling from head to toe. That afforded me a modest bit of room to work, as the camera was not on top of the talent, and was remotely operated. After rehearsing with stand-ins, Ms. Emma and Mr. Ryan began the dance sequence just as the light was perfect – ‘The Golden Hour’ – we only had two tries with the city lights and when the was sky so sublime. We returned the following evening for two more takes. I will come back to this moment later in our talk.’ [HollywoodChicago.com:] ‘So during those two nights, what was your assignment, and how were you positioned?’ [Robinette:] ‘My job was to capture various moments in the dance. After enjoying ‘La La Land’ at a recent screening in Hollywood, I realized the pose I captured was less than a second. The fact that still photographers are still on sets [...]



ABC's Gay Civil Rights Epic Mini-series "When We Rise" a Revolution Itself

2017-02-27T10:22:27-06:00

There’s a revolution itself within the ABC mini-series “When We Rise." It seeks to share with a primetime, non-cable, mass audience the story of the gay civil rights movement across decades, which includes a center-stage depiction of the LGBTQ community and their activism, love and struggles. As a project created by “Milk” screenwriter (and Oscar-winner) Dustin Lance Black, it starts off as a magnetic work about these important events that are rarely told with such ambitious, expansive storytelling. Only by its own wild choices, like stunt casting and narrative stasis does the series start to lose its way, although the fire for the story it wants to tell is constantly, visibly burning.  “When We Rise” will play this week on ABC in four-episodes/six parts starting tonight, and the first episode is written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by the man who visualized “Milk,” Gus Van Sant. And along with this story making one want to revisit the 2008 biopic again (which I did directly because of this show), the series initially plays out like a spin-off of that film. It's based off an unpublished manuscript by activist Cleve Jones, who later worked for Milk’s campaign and starts off here as a young man (played by Austin P. McKenzie) who moves away from his suburban family to San Francisco in the early '70s, embracing his homosexuality and looking to connect with people who aren’t like his father (David Hyde Pierce), who in particular says that Cleve has a disease. Streets away in San Francisco, a young gay woman named Roma Guy (Emily Skeggs) is making her place in the city, trying to start up a movement for lesbian feminists, after a group like NOW (National Organization for Women) excluded them because of their homosexuality. And coming from overseas is a young black man from New Jersey who joined the armed forces, Ken Jones (Jonathan Majors) who comes to San Francisco after being assigned to help with racial sensitivity training for other army and Navy men, while dealing with his own private sexuality. All the while, San Francisco is divided by homophobia, in which cops openly harass gay men and women, with the city even trying to push out the gay community thinking it will help their tourism. In this tense first episode (and in the second, which deals with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic killing gay men), the three leads are all compelling. While their characters are written to be a bit too glossy with their perfect words and their simple flaws, they're given raw embodiments by McKenzie, Skeggs and Majors. In turn, these performances offer a sense of discovery, both in the story’s vivid world, and of the new actors’ strong range.  The series wants to cover a lot of ground, and its fascinating most of all when it leads with history. I don’t mean specific events, of which this series is much more natural just hitting checkpoints or throwing in glaring cultural references. I’m referring to moments, like a powerful scene in which a group of men lock arms around a squad car, full of their friends who are being beaten and arrested by police for being gay, and sing “God Save Us Nelly Queens” from the bottom of their hearts. And there’s a unique, almost refreshing drama in how people who might have the same desire for equality don’t support other outsider groups, whether it’s due to race, age, gender or sexual orientation. As it seeks to show us a time when people gave their lives to activism, it reconciles the complicated roads to equality and shows how far different movements have come. “When We Rise” most successfully creates a sense of atmosphere, a you-are-there rush as it moves from year-to-year, but that proves hard for it to maintain.  In the third and fourth episodes, “When We Rise” leans on a campiness it had previous avoided, and that comes as it’s meant to be bigger with its name cast. Taking place ten years later, after the horrific p[...]



Logan

2017-02-27T11:19:32-06:00

Is “Logan” more powerful because of what the superhero genre has delivered over the last decade? Does it seem both groundbreaking and classic because it doesn’t feel like a modern superhero movie, especially those with the Marvel brand? Don’t worry. I’m not going to dissect the flaws of the Marvel and DC brands, but it’s undeniable that the modern superhero movie has relied on CGI, particularly in final acts comprised almost entirely of apocalyptic explosions. And so many of them have served as bridges between franchise entries that one feels like they’re constantly watching previews for the next movie instead of experiencing the one they’re watching. “Logan” has stakes that feel real, and fight choreography that’s fluid and gorgeous instead of just computer-generated effects. Most importantly, “Logan” has characters with which you identify and about whom you care. It's not just "great for a superhero movie," it's a great movie for any genre. “Logan” calls back directly to “Shane,” including a scene in which the characters watch the film, but it has more echoes of late-career films for icons such as “The Shootist” and “Unforgiven” in the way it deconstructs the line between hero and legend. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a Western archetype, the gunslinger forced to put away his six-shooters and try to live out his days as routinely as possible. In the world of “Logan,” The Uncanny X-Men comics exist, meaning that Logan/Wolverine is like a retired sports hero or celebrity, someone who’s recognized but no longer really essential. It is 2029 and mutants have been removed from the human bloodline, meaning that the creaky Logan and the nonagenarian Professor X (Patrick Stewart) are the end of an era. Or are they? When the film opens, Logan is laying low, working as a driver. He’s introduced sleeping in his car, as a group of tough guys try to steal his tires. When he attempts to stop them, he gets shot, but we all know bullets don’t do much to Wolverine, and it’s minutes before his Adamantium claws are slicing through skull and bone in ways we’ve never seen on film before. Not only is “Logan” the first R-rated iteration of this classic character but Mangold’s approach to action is unique for the Marvel film brand. Gone is any sense of hyperactive editing or wide overhead shots to disguise the stunt and CGI work. We’re close to the action in this film, often shot from low to the ground, more like a “Bourne” film than a superhero movie, and the focus is more on fight choreography than editing. Jackman’s work in the fight scenes is smooth but also character-driven in that Wolverine’s style reflects the no-nonsense approach of the character. “Logan” also works in a few fantastic chase scenes later in the film, and again it doesn’t feel like the film stops and takes a break for set pieces as so many superhero movies do—the action is organic to the story and the characters, much like “Mad Max: Fury Road” in that regard. “Logan” shares more than just an action style with George Miller’s film for it too becomes a road movie when Logan, Professor X, and a mysterious girl (Dafne Keen) head out to try and find 'Eden,' a place where escaped mutants are going to start over, which may or may not even exist. Reticently, Logan realizes he has one more heroic journey in him, and that he has to protect this girl from the team of mercenaries chasing them (an iteration of the Reavers from the comic books) led by one particularly nasty SOB named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Holbrook is good here and Richard E. Grant chews some scenery well in later scenes, but the real villain of “Logan” is time. Professor X has gotten to a point late in his life where he has seizures, and if you’ve ever wondered what happens when a telepath so powerful that his brain has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction has sei[...]



Fantastic Performances Carry Challenging “National Treasure”

2017-02-27T08:21:09-06:00

Hulu’s “National Treasure,” not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage franchise of the same name, is a four-episode mini-series about the downfall of a popular comedian. Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) was the more irascible half of a popular British comedy duo (with Tim McInnerny’s Karl), but his entire world collapses around him when he’s accused of a horrible crime. A woman comes forward to accuse Finchley of raping her in his trailer on the set of a movie decades earlier. And when that news hits the press, others come forward to accuse Finchley as well, including the young lady who babysat for the Finchleys and now accuses Paul of having sex with her when she was only 15 years old. With echoes of the Cosby case ringing in our ears, “National Treasure” is about what happens to a life in the public eye when it’s accused of rape, but it’s more about the ripple effect of the accusation than a traditional legal drama. You probably want to know if he did it. And, to be honest, “National Treasure” plays a little too loosely with the mystery surrounding his guilt or innocence. What I mean is it becomes too much of the focus of the piece when the show is way more interesting when it’s concerned with the impact of the accusations more than the veracity of them. At first, Paul’s wife Marie (the amazing Julie Walters) stands by her man. Sure, Paul has always had a voracious sexual appetite, and he’s cheated on her numerous times, but they have something of a unique arrangement—if Paul admits the infidelity, it’s all OK. But is it? And does the fact that Paul still somewhat regularly goes to prostitutes for a more violent brand of sex than he gets at home indicate his degradation of women? Marie starts to question whether or not Paul is capable of that of which he has been accused, and it’s clear from relatively early on that she thinks he might be. Walters is spectacular here, getting what really becomes the best part in the mini-series, as someone who has looked the other way so many times that she starts to feel like an accomplice. Also incredible is the great Andrea Riseborough as Dee, Paul and Marie’s deeply troubled daughter. Dee is a former addict and in jeopardy of losing her children. She’s been a tabloid sensation for years—the troubled daughter of the famous funny man—and she starts to wonder if her problems can’t be traced back to her father’s behavior when she was younger. Is it even possible that Paul abused her? Dee starts to question everything she thought about her family and her beloved dad, and it sends her spiraling. “National Treasure” at first feels like it’s examining the public presumption of guilt in the world of celebrity, but it becomes much more grounded within the drama of the Finchley family as it progresses. The question isn’t so much if Paul did it or if he’ll be found guilty or innocent but how even asking such a question would forever change someone’s life. Even if Paul didn’t do it, how could Marie ever look at him the same way once she realizes that she thinks he’s capable of being guilty? “National Treasure” is about how accusations can’t be rescinded and doubt can create rifts that can never be fully closed again. It’s a strong, challenging drama with great performances. Seek it out on Hulu this Wednesday. width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bM9kiD8OudQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> [...]



"Moonlight," "La La Land" Win Big at Academy Awards

2017-02-28T09:19:22-06:00

Who would have guessed that, 50 years later, Bonnie and Clyde would end up stealing the show?Up until the very last award on Sunday night that arrived past midnight, the 89th edition of the Academy Awards was running fairly smoothly with host Jimmy Kimmel proving to be nearly as congenial as Ellen DeGeneres was in her second go-round as emcee in 2014. Certainly, the ABC late-night star was more relaxed and less scathing than previous host Chris Rock when #OscarsSoWhite was THE hot topic of the evening and the criticism was aimed at the attendees.This year, the show was overflowing with diversity and not just because the acting categories all featured nominees of color after two years of all white contenders. Those in charge also made sure that presenters represented an array of backgrounds, including Gael Garcia Bernal (who, as a Mexican, declared himself to be “a migrant worker” and decried the need for Trump’s border wall), Salma Hayek, John Cho, David Oyelowo, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson and Halle Berry.Meanwhile, Kimmel made the expected political jabs that have become de rigueur at post-election awards shows, but they were delivered more as humorous punchlines than angry punches. A typical joke had him observing, “I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone, thanks to him.” He also took aim at the “mediocre” and “overrated” Meryl Streep, referring to the tweeter-in-chief’s online criticism of the 20-time Oscar nominee after she gave him a bashing during her Golden Globes acceptance speech. Later, Kimmel directly tweeted @realDonaldTrump’s account by sending him the messages “U up?” and “#Merylsayshi.”Two other Kimmel digs hit pay dirt with the crowd. First up: “This is being watched live by millions of people in 225 countries that now hate us.” And later: “‘Doctor Strange’ was nominated for special effects … and also Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.”Now for what will likely be considered the worst on-air mistake in Oscar history. Yes, “La La Land”—the top contender with 14 nominations—had to wait a nerve-wracking two-and-a-half-hours before claiming its first award for cinematography. But after that, the trophies came at a steady pace for the candy-colored musical set in the world of showbiz: production design, score, song for “City of Stars,” Emma Stone for lead actress and Damien Chazelle for director.But then came the much-touted reunion of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway who played the Depression-era bank robbers in “Bonnie and Clyde,” the Best Picture nominee from 1967. They presented the final category and Dunaway read off the name of the Best Picture winner: “La La Land.” At least, she thought she did. But as the film’s producers and cast gathered to give thanks and celebrate, there suddenly was an outburst of confusion on stage. It seems that Beatty was given an envelope that said “La La Land,” but it was for Stone’s win, not Best Picture. Meanwhile, “Moonlight,” about a fatherless boy’s struggles with his identity while growing up in the Miami projects, was the actual recipient.This is the kind of last-act twist that would be too far-fetched for most Hollywood screenwriters to even consider. But for anyone who relishes such Oscar lore, this is the sort of historic flub that just made a better-than-average telecast go right through the roof when it comes to memorable Academy moments.There were other legit surprises throughout the evening. Even costume designer Colleen Atwood admitted she was shocked to hear her name called out as the winner for her wardrobe for the Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”—her fourth win—when “La La Land” and [...]



Bill Paxton: 1955-2017

2017-02-28T07:31:23-06:00

In a way, it makes a grim sort of sense that the day of the annual presentation of the Oscars would kick off with the sad and startling news that actor/director Bill Paxton had passed away at the age of 61 as the result of complications following surgery. Although he had worked steadily in the industry for four decades, he never received a single nomination for his film work. For the most part, he didn’t appear in the kinds of film favored by the Academy and even when he did end up in projects they looked upon favorably, his performances ended up getting lost in the shuffle. And yet, his body of work did strike a chord with viewers who sparked to his considerable gifts. He soon became one of those reliable actors whose presence in a film automatically ensured moviegoers that something interesting was going to happen when he was  on the screen. As a result, his screen work is certain to continue to entertain and resonate with moviegoers long after most award-winning performances have long since faded from memory. Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1955, Paxton eventually headed to Hollywood and broke into the film business in the same manner as so many others before him—working for the legendary low-budget movie producer Roger Corman. In the case of Paxton, however, he started off working behind the scenes as a set decorator on such films as “Big Bad Mama” (1974), “Eat My Dust” (1976), “Death Game” (1977) and “Galaxy of Terror” (1981), the latter being an exceptionally sleazy “Alien” knockoff in which he worked for an ambitious young art director by the name of James Cameron. Eventually he began making brief appearances in front of the camera in films like “Stripes” (1981), “Night Warning” (1982), “Mortuary” (1983), “The Lords of Discipline” (1983), “Impulse” (1984) and the cult favorite “Streets of Fire” 1984). By this time, former colleague Cameron had graduated to the director’s chair and for “The Terminator” (1984), he cast Paxton in the small but memorable role of the leader of a trio of punkers who are the first people to cross paths with the title character and discover the painful things that can happen to those who threaten naked cyborgs.Over the next year, Paxton would appear in another Arnold Schwarzenegger action extravaganza, “Commando” (1985), play the borderline psychotic older brother in the teen comedy hit “Weird Science” (1985) and turn up on TV on an episode of “Miami Vice,” the landmark TV movie “An Early Frost” and the mini-series “The Atlanta Child Murders” and “Fresno.” He then reunited with Cameron, whose success with “The Terminator” landed him the plum job of writing and directing “Aliens” (1986), the sequel to the landmark sci-fi/horror hit “Alien.” As Private Hudson, one of the Marines sent to accompany Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate the happenings at a seemingly deserted space colony that has been overrun by the titular creatures, Paxton was one of the standout elements in a film that became an instant classic virtually from the day it premiered; watching his character’s macho bluster disintegrate into jabbering terror lent an undeniably human element to the tech-heavy surroundings and his plaintive “Game over, man” became an instant part of the film geek lexicon. He then solidified his credentials among genre fans with his creepy turn as one of the members of a band of redneck vampires in Kathryn Bigelow’s horror cult favorite “Near Dark” (1987). After a few more years of supporting performances in films like “Pass the Ammo” (1988), “Next of Kin” (1989), “Navy Seals” (1990), “The Last of the Finest” (1990), “Predator 2” (1990) and a grisly turn in the demented black comedy “The Dark Backward” (1991), Paxton finally achieved leading man [...]



Rock Dog

2017-02-27T16:25:58-06:00

You may have already heard that “Rock Dog,” a new animated movie from an outfit that’s not Pixar and not Disney and not Dreamworks and not the People Who Gave You “Ice Age” and not the People Who Gave You “Minions” and “Despicable Me” is, besides not being from a proven provider of child-distracting content, also a movie that features a character who’s a yak and is named Fleetwood Yak. All these things are true. “Rock Dog” is a Korean/Chinese co-production crafted by largely American animation artists. Portions of its scenario may look like they’ve been inspired by the likes of “Kung Fu Panda” but the actual source material for the movie is a Chinese graphic novel called “Tibetan Rock Dog” by Zheng Jun, whose day job is as a Chinese rock musician. And yes, there is a character in it who’s a yak named Fleetwood Yak. But to be honest that’s really the most objectionable joke in the whole feather-light, primary-color filled, shorter-than-90 minute movie. What’s interesting about “Rock Dog” is just how very unapologetically a kid’s movie it is. True, the voice cast for the American version is designed to have some adult appeal. The aforementioned Fleetwood Yak is voiced by Sam Elliott, and the role of the yak is structurally a nod to Mr. Elliott’s work in “The Big Lebowski.” But this movie, despite being about a dog who wants to play rock music, has no winky pop-culture references besides that. The comic actors doing voice work, who also include Luke Wilson, Lewis Black, Matt Dillon, J.K. Simmons, Kenan Thompson, and Eddie Izzard, all do their jobs with relish and dispatch, but there’s nothing clever-clever about it. The story is dopily simple. In the Asian mountain (Tibet is not prominently mentioned here), an alliance of guard dogs and self-shearing lambs have managed to form a society that happily keeps predatory wolves at bay. The mastiff patriarch Khampa (Simmons) has come to believe music has no part in this society—too distracting—and has banned it. His good-natured but lacking-in-fire son Bodi (Wilson), slouching around in a very neat wool cap that nonetheless manages to scream “stoner,” is traipsing through a valley one day when a radio falls from a plane. Once he tunes into a particular station, he can’t believe what he hears at all. He starts dancing to that fine, fine music, and so on. He breaks out a koto/guitar from the village storeroom and gets to strumming, which gets to annoying his dad. But the old man’s a softie, and gives him a bus ticket to the big city, where he hopes to go to Rock Park and learn from his new idol, rotter rock star Angus Scattergood. The arrival of Bodi attracts the notice of a wolf pack, led by Linnuxx (Black), who, having been banished from his mountain source of lamb chops, now runs mixed-martial-arts events in the local sports arena and thugs around ineffectually with his gang. So Linnuxx here sees an opportunity to get back at Khampa. In the meantime, charmingly naïve Bodi flops big in Rock Park, but is reluctantly adopted by pompous Angus (Izzard), who’s having a devil of a time writing his long-overdue new single, and is intrigued by Bodi, whose burgeoning talent sees him creating a very nice blue fire when he strums his guitar. All this is every bit as silly and innocuous as it sounds, and it goes down, if not like honey, than like very finely spun cotton candy. I had to pay to see this movie like any other civilian. The distributors were not screening it for “digital” press, so despite my protestations that I liked rock, and that while I’m generally more of a cat person I also like dogs, so how bad was my review likely to be, I couldn’t get headway. So I trudged to my local multiplex at two this afternoon. On the way up to the theater I saw a nanny w[...]