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Updated: 2017-10-19T10:30:00-05:00


A Distinctive Pattern: The Legendary Costume Designer Sandy Powell on "Wonderstruck"


Lovely, nostalgic and wondrous, Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” casts a magical spell through a melancholic tale that intersects two parallel stories set in two separate eras. Adapted by Brian Selznick from his own illustrated book (the author, whose The Invention of Hugo Cabret was the source material for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”), “Wonderstruck” impressively brings two chapters of New York City’s history to life in following the analogous (and ultimately interconnecting) journeys of two non-hearing children. In one, which receives a dreamy and gorgeous silent movie treatment, we follow Rose (the astonishing newcomer Millicent Simmonds, a real-life non-hearing actor) in the 1920s as she embarks on a quest to find her actress mother Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). In the other, Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Jamie (Jaden Michael) lead us into the gritty streets of the city in the 1970s with an adventure and familial mission of their own. From Carter Burwell’s exquisite score to Ed Lachman’s stunning photography, this overwhelmingly ambitious project—perhaps the biggest film of Haynes’ career from a sheer scale and scope perspective—is a craftsmanship spectacle of the highest order. Unsurprisingly, its costumes—designed by the inimitable and legendary Sandy Powell—play one of the most crucial parts in visually telling the two interrelated tales while presenting two polar-opposite eras of The Big Apple through sublime details of foreground and (especially) background costumes. Recently joining me on the phone, the 12-time Academy Award-nominated and three-time winning costume designer (with previous wins for "Shakespeare in Love," "The Aviator" and "The Young Victoria," while “Wonderstruck” may very well be her fourth Oscar) shared her approach to this monster of a project which she rightly sees as dressing two separate films and the unique challenges of costuming for black & white. You're an Executive Producer on “Wonderstruck” in addition to being the Costume Designer. Todd Haynes often mentions you first brought Brian Selznick's book to his attention.  I met Brian during the making of "Hugo," which is the Martin Scorsese film I designed the costumes for. It was [also] based on Brian's book, although he didn't write the screenplay. But we met and became friends. And then I actually didn't read "Wonderstruck," which was the book following "Hugo," until I visited him in his San Diego home in La Jolla. I just one day picked it off the shelf and read it in one sitting, and said, "Brian, this would make a great film!" I think what I thought would make a great film is (as usual with Brian's books): his books are 50% illustration. He tells the story wordlessly with illustrations. It's either sort of mixed in with narrative, like in "Hugo," or half of it is dialogue and half of it is pictures, which is how [“Wonderstruck”] is. It began with a very visual experience of reading a story. And I just thought visually it would be really interesting. And the fact it actually covered the two periods, I thought, would be a really interesting concept for a film, especially for kids. How did you approach this giant task of covering two completely different periods from a costume design standpoint? Not only they are two different periods, but also they are sort of polar-opposite periods. The mood in the ‘20s is nothing like the ‘70s. Exactly. Was it like costume designing two separate films? It was. I think that is exactly what it was like. It's like doing two separate projects rolled into one. I mean, you have to think differently for each one. Although the design process is the same. How you go about creating the costumes and creating the looks is thought of in the same way. But you did have to divide yourself and your team almost into two different groups. One dealing with 1920s or certain days of the week dealing with 1920s, and certain days of the week dealing with 1970s. Obviously there were occasions when you had to try and do both in the same day and get[...]

The Killing of a Sacred Deer


A man who plays God for a living meets a boy who chooses to play Devil in Yorgos Lanthimos’ chilling and breathtaking “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Once again, as he did with “The Lobster,” Lanthimos is working in a deeply metaphorical register, using an impossible situation to illuminate relatable human fears. The result is a mesmerizing thriller, a movie that asks questions with no good answers and traps us within its terrifying and bizarre situation with little hope for a happy ending. With uniformly great performances throughout the cast and Lanthimos’ stunning eye for detail and composition, this is one of the most unforgettable films of the year. Colin Farrell, reuniting with Lanthimos and a bit bushier and grayer than before, plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a noted and respected surgeon. Externally, he would seem to have it all. He’s powerful and successful with a gorgeous wife named Anna (Nicole Kidman), who happens to be an ophthalmologist. They have two children—15-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven has befriended a 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan of "Dunkirk"), the son of a man who died on his operating table a few years ago. Exactly what happened in that room, and how and why Steven has tried to stay close with Martin is unclear at the beginning of the film. Lanthimos often keeps histories and motivations vague, allowing us to fill in the blanks as the film progresses. From the beginning, something seems vaguely off with the relationship between Steven and Martin. The doctor introduces him as a friend of his daughter’s, but he’s not. And he buys the kid presents, even inviting him over for dinner. Martin becomes friends with Steven’s kids, and a romantic interest for Kim, but there’s a dark undercurrent here from frame one. Something’s just not quite right in the Murphy household, and it’s not only that the good doctor likes his wife to pretend to be under general anesthesia when he has sex with her. The Murphys seem to be just a little off, and Martin more than a little. Then Bob can’t get out of bed. His legs don’t work. Not long after, he stops eating. Martin tells Steven what’s going on. It’s justice. Steven took his father, and now a member of his family must die. The scales must be balanced. Steven can choose to kill one of his family members and end the nightmare, but they will continue to lose the use of their limbs, refuse to eat, and eventually bleed from the eyes if he does not make a decision. Steven, being a man of science, turns to medicine to explain what’s happening to his family, refusing to believe that it’s some sort of cosmic karma coming to get him. Thematically, Lanthimos is playing with the differences between science and the supernatural. Steven plays God. He saves lives and he makes mistakes that take lives. And he sees the world in that kind of black and white. Martin breaks down his perfectly controlled worldview, and demands something rarely asked of the gods, personal sacrifice. Working with his regular cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis again, and a multi-talented team of designers, Lanthimos delivers one of the most visually striking films of the year, a movie that recalls prime Polanski in its claustrophobic tension but more distinctly feels like an entirely new voice in horror. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” takes place in a world of clean lines and kitchens as antiseptic as operating rooms. It's this world of suburban perfection that Martin, and Lanthimos, deconstructs with a waking nightmare. There’s something about the cool, detached world of “Sacred Deer” that makes it all the more terrifying. Of course, fallible man must be punished in a world this perfectly refined and lacking in common humanity. It almost feels like Martin gives Steven an out early in the film, inviting him to his more “everyday” world in which they watch “Groundhog Day” (tellingly, another movie about a man who must learn a lesson to stop a physically impossible situatio[...]

Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: October 19, 2017


10 NEW TO NETFLIX "Battle Royale""Cabin Fever""Cube""Donnie Darko""Hostel""The Midnight Meat Train"Saw""Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby""Teeth""The Voices" 10 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD "American Gods: Season One" It's indicative of how overcrowded the medium has become in the age of Peak TV that Bryan Fuller's brilliant adaptation of Neil Gaiman's famous book fell relatively under the radar. Fuller seems destined to create fantastic television that not enough people watch. "Pushing Daisies" and "Hannibal" make every list of the most underrated and criminally-canceled shows of all time. His latest project "American Gods" is on Starz, so it could get more support than his shows have received on ad-driven TV, but you still need to do your part. This is a smart, creative, funny, brilliant TV show, and I'll be writing about it again in my Best of the Year piece. Until then, read this and get your own copy today. Buy it here  Special FeaturesThe Road to "American Gods"Title GodsGod Squad Video CommentaryAmerican Gods OriginsOld GodsNew GodsWhat is American Gods?Book vs. ShowExplore the Crocodile Barin 360 Degree with Commentary by Cast and CrewAudio Commentaries with Cast and Crew "Baby Driver" Speaking of the best of the year, the biggest hit of Edgar Wright's career has arrived on Blu-ray shortly after making notable waves on theaters. Wright has been a cult icon for years, a favorite among critics and Comic-Con goers, but "Baby Driver" broke through to another audience, making over $225 million worldwide and counting (it's his first film to break nine figures). Given that, you've probably seen it and are wondering if it holds up on repeat viewing and if the Blu-ray is worth picking up for the special features. YES and YES. It plays better at home than I expected (especially if you have the right sound system), and even allowed my minor criticisms to fade away. It's the kind of movie that people will love showing their friends who haven't had a chance to see it yet. Buy it here  Special FeaturesOver 20 Minutes of Extended and Deleted ScenesMozart in a Go-Kart: Ansel DrivesI Need A Killer Track: The Music                That's My Baby: Edgar Wright                          Meet Your New Crew: Doc's GangFind Something Funky On There: The Choreography                                        Devil Behind The Wheel: The Car Chases Animatics Ansel Elgort Audition Annotated Coffee Run Rehearsal                                                 Hair, Make Up & Costume Tests Mint Royale - "Blue Song" Music Video Complete Storyboard Gallery            Director CommentaryFilmmaker Commentary (Edgar Wright and Director of Photography Bill Pope) "The Beguiled" Broken record here, but this is also one of my favorite films of the year, a brilliant period piece tightly directed by the multi-talented Sofia Coppola. Remaking the Clint Eastwood drama, Coppola shifts focus from the Civil War soldier stuck at a home filled with women to the ladies themselves, directing her great ensemble to uniformly fantastic performances. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Colin Farrell are phenomenal here, particularly the women in the way they define their characters' conflicting emotions of lust, fear, and jealousy. This is another 2017 movie that I don't feel like enough people saw but that viewers will catch up with on Blu-ray. I hope you love it as much as I do. Buy it here  Special FeaturesA Shift in Perspective Southern Style "Girls Trip" The breakout comedy hit of the year ($115 million domestically!) comes home in an extras-packed Blu-ray edition. I'm really[...]

Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" Joins the Criterion Collection


Although the late Stanley Kubrick took great pains to never repeat himself as a filmmaker, a pattern would eventually begin to emerge whenever he would release one of his meticulously crafted efforts. Although the films would usually achieve some degree of commercial acceptance, the initial critical response would often be mixed—some would praise him to the skies for advancing the art of cinema with each of his efforts while others would deride them as pretentious bores that were stunning on a technical level but merely stunned in emotional and narrative terms. However, within a few years, the critical tides would begin to shift decisively in Kubrick’s favor as the once heavily critiqued works were now deemed to be masterpieces, sometimes by the very same people who had written them off when they first came out. For example, when “The Shining” (1980) first came out, it was considered to be a botched take on the Stephen King bestseller that not only failed to receive a single Oscar nomination but found itself competing for a couple of Razzies. Nowadays, it is regularly considered to be one of the greatest horror movies ever made by practically everyone other than King himself. With the possible exception of his still-undervalued 1999 swan song, “Eyes Wide Shut,” no film of Kubrick’s would undergo a longer period of reevaluation than “Barry Lyndon,” his 1975 adaptation of the satirical 1844 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray that he originally published in serial form. When it was first released, it received the usually array of highly mixed notices, though it would receive seven Oscar nominations and win four of them, but for once, audiences more or less rejected it as well, especially in the United States (though it would do a little better in Europe). Whether it was the chilly tone, the self-consciously deliberate pacing and visual style, the lack of a conventionally sympathetic main character or the overly opaque performances from leads Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson, it just did not click with most observers, was written off as a rare failure on Kubrick’s part and probably helped inspire him to tackle “The Shining,” a more overtly popular and contemporary work, as his next project. As time passed, one would hear isolated bits of praise for the film and its considerable achievements—Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier would both cite it as a favorite (and its influence could be seen in Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence” and a number of von Trier’s films)—but for the most part, deeming it to be a masterpiece was considered to be kind of perverse, like claiming that “The Trial” was your favorite Orson Welles film. In recent years, however, the critical tide regarding the film has shifted decidedly in its favor with the new consensus suggesting that it is one of the greatest and most audacious of all of Kubrick’s films. Polls conducted by the Village Voice, Time, Sight & Sound and the BBC have placed it as one of the best films ever made and it became a part of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies collection. Now, to fully solidify its newly enhanced reputation as a masterpiece, “Barry Lyndon” has been released on home video by the esteemed Criterion Collection in a special edition as lavishly appointed as the film itself that gives the film the bells-and-whistles treatment that it has long deserved. It is widely assumed that Kubrick’s decision to make a film of “Barry Lyndon” was inspired at least in part by the failure of another project that took place at roughly the same time. This was “Napoleon,” an epic biopic that he had originally planned to make right after “2001: A Space Odyssey” with the possibility of Jack Nicholson in the lead role. Unfortunately, the combination of the rapidly spiraling budget and the failure of another expensive Napoleon film, “Waterloo” (1970), caused MGM to pull its funding during pre-production. Kubrick went on to make “A Clockw[...]

CIFF 2017: “Sea Sorrow,” “Killing Jesús,” “The Charmer”


Reflecting on the past eight decades of her life, Vanessa Redgrave has begun to see history come full circle. Her rigorous attempts to portray the humanity of oppressed people drew controversy forty years ago, when she produced and narrated Roy Battersby’s documentary, “The Palestinian,” while earning an Oscar for her performance as a woman targeted by Nazis in Fred Zinnemann’s “Julia.” The renowned actress’s fierce opposition to fascism in all its forms is readily apparent in her new documentary, “Sea Sorrow,” a wrenching portrait of the refugee crisis that marks her debut as a feature director.  Whereas Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow” surveyed the global scope of the crisis in the form of a masterful visual essay, Redgrave’s picture is an enthralling symphony of words, fusing interviews and on-the-ground accounts with archival footage and staged readings. Photographs of Redgrave’s own youth also materialize, as she recalls how Nazi air raids forced her family to move far from their London home when she was only three years old. “We were refugees in our own country,” Redgrave notes, illuminating the cyclical nature of history that has resulted in the largest displacement of people since the aftermath of World War II.  When Redgrave accepted a Visionary Award this past Monday prior to a screening of her film at the Chicago International Film Festival, she thanked Chicago for being a “sanctuary city,” and encouraged everyone in attendance to do their part in combating division and ignorance. “Sea Sorrow” is unflinching in its depiction of recent crimes against the increasing displaced population, from the French government’s destruction of a refugee camp in Calais to the notorious EU-Turkey deal that shipped migrants back to their home country, where they were stripped of their basic rights. There’s horrifying footage of refugee families nearly drowning as they attempt to cross from an overcrowded raft onto a boat. What is guaranteed to linger most potently in the minds of viewers is the terror and despair observed in the eyes of countless children.  Redgrave has always possessed one of the saddest smiles ever to grace the stage and screen, and here it conveys hope for the future while acknowledging the long road that lies ahead. Her face beams as she shares a sign constructed by her youngest granddaughter that reads, “For Every Child Protection,” suggesting that greater unity could potentially be achieved by the next generation of adults. The intricately personal nature of “Sea Sorrow” is further reflected by the involvement of Redgrave’s family: it was produced by her son, Carlo Gabriel Nero, and includes appearances by her daughter, Joely Richardson, and her niece, Jemma Redgrave.  One of the filmmaker’s greatest recent performances was in Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 directorial debut, “Coriolanus,” so it’s only fitting that Fiennes turns up here to perform the haunting monologue from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that inspired the documentary’s title. During her visit to a refugee camp, Redgrave replies, “I feel like I’m in ‘Richard III,’” citing how the appalling figures populating the Bard’s plays have begun to emerge in prominent places of power. It’s downright chilling to hear so many words from the past that might as well be commenting directly on our present crisis, such as Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1948 speech about why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is utterly essential. Emma Thompson reads excerpts from a 1938 issue of The Guardian, including a letter to the editor detailing the plight of a Jewish refugee left stranded by nations unwilling to welcome her.  What appears to fuel Redgrave’s artistry and activism, above all, is her love of people. Like Agnès Varda, she is a gleaner at heart, characterized by an insatiable interest in others. At a reception held after the Chicago premiere of [...]

The Snowman


In the year 2075, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, and they start writing histories of 21st century cinema, “The Snowman” will make a very excellent case study. Perhaps by that time sufficient evidence will have been gathered to explain just why a movie assembled by a group of mostly first-rate talents wound up such a soggy, slushy mess. I myself cannot quite figure it out. Adapted from the bestselling mystery novel by Jø Nesbo, the movie stars Michael Fassbender as a Norwegian police detective with the much-already-remarked-upon name Harry Hole. Why they couldn’t have just called him Harry Chasm or Harry Abyss is beyond me. The movie begins with what turns out to be a flashback. The scene is shot with what appears to be a lilac petal dangling in front of the lens. In a large cabin in a snow-covered field, a man in a police car visits a young boy and his mother. And there the man administers a test to the boy, slapping the mother every time the kid gets a question wrong. Things go from bad to worse, and eventually a Volvo sinks into a lake, and a kid is left homeless. Cut to the present day, and Harry is sleeping off a drunk in a bus shelter. Heckuva way for a cop to conduct himself, but Harry’s a special cop. A little later on in the picture, Katrine Bratt, who becomes Harry’s unofficial partner on a serial killer case, tells him that she studied his cases in “the academy.” Harry’s a genius detective whose personal life is an utter mess. One of the movie’s many problems is that the viewer is treated to much more of the mess part than the genius part. In point of fact, I don’t think the genius part ever emerges. I mentioned first-rate talents. The cast is what they used to call one of “International All-Stars.” Aside from Fassbender, there’s the engaging Rebecca Ferguson as Bratt. Charlotte Gainsbourg is here as Harry’s ex-girlfriend. Toby Jones is a policeman in another Norway town. Val Kilmer, his voice rather badly and inexplicably dubbed, turns up. As does J.K. Simmons, speaking in his own voice and applying to it a credible and yet somehow incredible mid-Atlantic accent. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard him say “gah-raaaahzzh,” but I’m not sure I’d pay sixteen bucks for the privilege. There are big names who should know better behind the camera as well. The director is Tomas Alfredson, who made the very excellent 2008 “Let the Right One In” and the very ambitious and mostly excellent 2011 “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” The three screenwriters, Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup, have not unusually disgraced themselves in the courses of their respective careers. The editor is Thelma Schoonmaker, the veteran of much work with Martin Scorsese, who is here an executive producer. On the subject of editing, let’s move back to that opening scene. Given to where it cuts to, the viewer might infer that the movie’s orphan grows up to be its hero. Which provides a frisson, or is meant to provide a frisson, to the fact that the movie’s serial killer seems to know an awful lot about Harry, and that the killer constructs snowmen at the scenes of his crimes, snowmen that look an awful lot like one that appears in the opening scene. How, one might wonder, did the killer get sufficient insight into Harry and his past to be able to taunt him like this? Well, not to give anything away, but the film is constructed to misdirect the viewer as much as possible. I think there’s a relatively simple reason for this, and it also has to do with why this ostensibly adult thriller has an ending that’s almost literally a gloss from a “Scooby-Doo” episode: the actual plot, once laid out in a way that makes sense, is so patently packed with convenient coincidences that it’s practically simple-minded. Another problem is this: snowmen aren’t scary, and when you try too hard to make them scary, y[...]

Only the Brave


“Only the Brave” is the latest in a string of reality-based disaster films in which horrible tragedies are brought back to life via special effects and offered up for the delectation of the multiplex crowds—a sub-genre that has become so prevalent as of late that Mark Wahlberg has pretty much made a personal cottage industry out of them. This is a type of filmmaking I have always felt a certain level of ambivalence towards because good intentions can’t hide their tendency to feel hollow and exploitative in nature. “Only the Brave,” which chronicles an Arizona firefighting crew known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots from their early days struggling to get certified to their tragic encounter with the Yarnell Hill fire, has been made with a combination of sincerity and technical skill that is effective on a fundamental level, even if it never quite becomes the devastating emotional experience that it clearly wants to be. “Hotshots,” the film explains upfront, are an elite group of forest firefighters who are specially trained and certified to go into on-fire areas and establish a controlled fire line that the approaching inferno cannot cross. As the story begins, a team from the small town of Prescott, Arizona, under the leadership of chief Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is trying to get certified, a feat that would make them the country’s first municipal hotshot squad. For now, they are merely part of the second wave that has to look on while the hotshots get to do all the real work, even if they have a better idea of the terrain and how the fire might turn in an instant than the top dogs. Eventually, local wildland division chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges) gets them in position to finally get an official evaluation. As the group begins to train for this, they take on a new recruit in Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a local screw-up who decides to finally get off drugs and become responsible after learning that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. To take Brendan on at this time seems like an enormous mistake, as fellow firefighter Christopher McKenzie (Taylor Kitsch) is constantly reminding him, but Marsh sees something in McDonough that inspires him to take that risk. Ironically, it is Marsh who almost blows it for the group during their evaluation when he elects to utilize a risky maneuver to combat a fire. Nevertheless, the group is officially certified at last and the newly dubbed Granite Mountain Hotshots quickly establish themselves in a series of fires, even becoming local heroes when they help save a cherished tree from a nearby blaze. However, the dangers of the job, not to mention the extended periods of time they are away from their families, do begin to take a toll. For McDonough, who has fully pulled himself together in order to establish a relationship with his baby daughter, he fears that the absences will turn him into the never-there father that he had and vowed that he would never become. As for Marsh, the new job pressures cause additional stress between him and his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who knew what she was getting into when she first married him but is no longer thrilled with him devoting so much of his life to his job and so little to her. Although one might think that the Yarnell Hill blaze and its aftermath might dominate the proceedings, “Only the Brave” spends the majority of its time showing how the crew grows and develops, both professionally and personally, with special emphasis on the lives of Marsh and McDonough. This is not necessarily a bad approach to take but it does lead to some clunkiness in the early going due to a screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer that has to deal with a mass of exposition involving the details of what a hotshot crew actually does and the group’s internal politics. One of the reasons that a film like “Black Hawk Down,” on which Nolan served as scr[...]

Video Interview: Julianne Moore, Oakes Fegley, Jaden Michael and Millicent Simmonds on "Wonderstruck"



The most remarkable thing about Todd Haynes new film “Wonderstruck,” scripted by “Hugo” writer Brian Selznick, are the performances. From James Urbaniak as a disapproving father to Tom Noonan as a bookshop owner with a delicate touch, the film is full to bursting with great performances. 

I spoke with Julianne Moore, who gives a dual performance that ranks among her best as both a self-centered silent film actress and an elderly deaf woman and her young co-stars Oakes Fegley, Jaden Michael and the preternaturally expressive and talented deaf actress Millicent Simmonds about working with Haynes and finding their characters in the film's labyrinthine plot.

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Wonderstruck Interviews from Scout Tafoya on Vimeo.

NYFF 2017: Odie's Favorites and Other Highlights


The 55th New York Film Festival has come to a close. Here are a few of my favorites and other highlights from this year. Bruce Weber’s Robert Mitchum documentary “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast” may still be a work in progress, but fans of the iconic actor won't be disappointed by the version shown at the festival’s Mitchum retrospective. Shot in the black and white cinematography befitting a veteran of noir (“Out of the Past”) and nightmares (“The Night of the Hunter”), “Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast” lets viewers take a long, deep puff of pure, unfiltered Robert Mitchum. Bespectacled, grey-haired and never without a cigarette and a flirty comment, the legend cuts a bemused, relaxed figure, masterfully posing for the camera. When not describing his numerous adventures or explaining his standard answer when someone asks how he’s doing, Mitchum is shown singing several standards in a recording studio. The songs remind us that he once cut a calypso album between acting gigs. Clips from some of Mitchum’s more famous movies occasionally pop up, as do interviews with family members and actors like Polly Bergen, who recounts a familiar tale about her first, menacing day on "Cape Fear." We also learn how Weber was able to convince the press-shy actor into agreeing to be photographed and filmed for posterity. Robert Mitchum died in 1997, so Weber’s footage is over 20 years old. With 2017 being Mitchum’s centennial, “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast” is a nice celebration. I can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like. I thought the festival’s picks for the Opening Night, Centerpiece and Closing Night were better last year. "13th," “20th Century Women” and “The Lost City of Z” were all excellent films. I was not a fan of this year’s Centerpiece, the overwrought “Wonderstruck,” and despite gorgeous cinematography by Vittorio Storaro the Closing Night selection “Wonder Wheel” (pictured above) is one of the worst movies of 2017. Kate Winslet gets the "Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 'Don Jon'" award for the worst Noo Yawk accent. But even if she had sounded as pitch-perfect Brooklyn as Cousin Brucie, nothing could have saved her from Woody Allen’s horrendous screenplay. I’m in the minority on this one, and I’m happy to be there. I also seem to be in the minority on this year’s Opening Night film, “Last Flag Flying,” which is Richard Linklater’s semi-sequel to 1973’s “The Last Detail.” I went into “Last Flag Flying” with much hesitation, as Hal Ashby’s military masterpiece contained my favorite Jack Nicholson performance and an endless amount of well-placed bitterness. I expected much more sentimentality here, which I got, but I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell are very good, but the film belongs to Bryan Cranston. He doesn’t imitate Nicholson, but he does capture the “I don’t give a f—k” nature of the character. Like “The Last Detail,” this is a film about the fictions that we’re told by the government and whether we choose to honor or mock the patriotic pomp and circumstance that come with them. While a bit more anger would have been welcome, “Last Flag Flying” still emerged as my third favorite film of the festival. At number two on my favorites was Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, “Lady Bird,” the story of a high schooler played superbly by Saoirse Ronan. Gerwig’s script is a perfectly calibrated tale of a teenager trying to break out of a mundane Sacramento existence to spread her wings and fly to New York City. Ronan’s parents are played memorably by playwright Tracy Letts, who is spectacular and Laurie Metcalf, who is even better. The tension between Metcalf and Ronan rang true and was equally painful a[...]

Patton Oswalt Brings His Truth to a Netflix Comedy Special



Patton Oswalt has been performing in front of audiences for years, but he’s never had a special quite like “Patton Oswalt: Annihilation,” debuting on Netflix today, and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Filmed at the Athenaeum in Chicago, Oswalt’s hour-long stand-up set features the comedian/actor discussing the sudden death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, in April 2016. You can see when he gets to that part of the show just over half an hour into his set. He takes a deep breath, uses the word “widower,” and then doesn’t look back. However, the genius of “Annihilation” is that Oswalt never allows it to turn into a dirge or a therapy session. It always maintains its wit and energy as a stand-up set, even when he’s talking about his daughter’s first Mother’s Day without her mother. It’s a beautiful tonal balancing act for an artist to even attempt an anecdote that both makes you laugh and cry, but Oswalt does it simply by being a talented, natural speaker.

Oswalt doesn’t just dive right into the death of his wife. He starts with some commentary on the current President of the United States, of course, as well as his theories on how we got here, which are insightful and hysterical. He also offers sheds some light on the theory that Trump is good for comedy and satire—he’s not. It’s impossible to do jokes about him because he’s done something crazier by the time you get to the punchline. Oswalt’s greatest gift is as a storyteller—the way he blends just enough detailed information to paint the picture with his verbal gifts as a joke teller. There’s a story about a fight outside the Roxy that’s one of his best bits yet. And then he segues into some fantastic crowd work.

Of course, many people will come to “Annihilation” to hear Patton Oswalt talk about that day, and he doesn’t hold anything back. He speaks openly and candidly about how losing his wife was difficult, but telling his daughter that her mother was dead was harder. And yet he never lingers too long in a space that makes him uncomfortable, or would do so for the audience. I’m sure as Oswalt was working out this set in clubs, there were nights in which it was just too hard for him to do, but he’s found the right balance between honest emotion and humor, often getting both in the same beat. And he ends with a defiantly raunchy routine that at first might seem to be antithetical to the more heart-baring moments of the set, but makes perfect sense when he reveals why he chose it. It’s those kind of decisions that make Oswalt one of our best stand-ups, and it’s in how he balances humor and heart in ways that make neither feel forced or disingenuous. I think Michelle would be proud of what he reveals and the lessons he imparts, but, more than that, I think it matters to Patton that she’d find “Annihilation” pretty damn funny.

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