“I Origins” director and star shrug off mixed reviews, aim for the thinking film fan

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Director Mike Cahill has spent a lot of time, the past couple of years, thinking about coincidences, “big ideas” and the human eye.

“There’s magic in real life,” the director of “Another Earth” says. “I’ve had more coincidences than any other person in history. So I sometimes wonder just how ‘real’ this ‘real world’ is.”

He’s in search of film projects “where big ideas turn up in intimate stories — this notion of what happens when you die, what our deepest fears are, losing someone you love. Embed those in a personal, intimate story, that’s kind of where I live as a filmmaker.”

And for his latest film, “I Origins” he had to find a cast with the deepest, most immersive eyes he could find.

“If you look very carefully into someone’s eyes, you can see their being, their feelings and their emotions. Great actors give you even more than that. It’s the most restrained kind of acting, doing it with just their eyes.”

Where “Another Earth” used the idea that an alternate Earth appears in the sky, freeing a guilt-stricken woman (Brit Marling) from the grief of having caused other people’s deaths because the “other her” might have not been to blame, “I Origins” explores what happens when a molecular biologist is confronted with a hint that science doesn’t explain everything. Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) whose focus is on the eye, aims to close the “loophole” that creationism exploits about the novelty in “design” of the eye, by finding an evolutionary missing link. He has success, only to wonder if the late love of his life and her unique eyes have turned up in another human being.

Cahill needed a star who could manage “the most restrained kind of acting, doing it with just their eyes. In this movie, we get the whole arc of the of the character Ian is revealed in Michael’s eyes. That’s a tremendous talent, for someone to be able to pull off showing ‘arriving’ at this, the end of his story arc, in just his eyes, without speaking a word.”

According to Pitt, that’s not just an accident of nature, that eye-empathy that some actors have and many don’t. The 33 year-old, best known for dark, twisted roles in “Boardwalk Empire” and such films as “Seven Psychopaths” and the recent “Rob the Mob” relished the chance to draw the viewer in with just his eyes. “You do have control over it…(Laurence) Olivier used to say that he would look right off the lens, and if you do that in cinema that you connected more with the audience. I absolutely believe that and I can feel it working when I’m doing it.”

Cahill cooked this tale up with specific actors and their eyes in mind. Marling, his frequent collaborator since college, has a supporting role. Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays the great love of Ian Gray’s life. Pitt and Cahill created Gray together. “This character was really his creation, based on my concept,” Cahill says. The result is a disquieting slice of romantic science fiction that collected the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, given to thought-provoking indie films that focus on science and scientists.

Critics, wrestling with the movie’s concepts and ideas, haven’t come to a consensus on the merits of “I Origins,” with the Christian Science Monitor praising its “deep-dish philosophizing” but The New York Times sniffing that “It may blow your mind, but only if you’re not in the habit of using it.”

Pitt isn’t disappointed in that reaction.

“It’s easier to make movies that don’t make a person think. But audiences are like actors, I think. They crave good material, just like I do. They get more out of it.”

Cahill, 35, makes light of the mixed reviews, saying “I believe there are movie-goers out there who like to think. And if three of them, just three, watch the movie and connect with it, than I will be happy. The best part of life is finding those like-minded individuals. And if only three ‘get it,’ those three are invited to

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J.J. Abrams shows off more of the “Star Wars” set

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Here’s the shot — one of several — that director, franchise-reviver J.J. Abrams posted from the new “Star Wars” film set. OK, it’s full sized, it looks pretty much exactly like the ones Lucas & Co. introduced. Been the “Star Wars” celebration conventions. Seen it.

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Willem Dafoe and Anton Corbijn talk about Le Carre and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman

dafe3There’s something about a good spy novel that says “fall,” and the best films in that genre reflect this. The skies are overcast, a sort of pale gun-metal grey. Everything is rain and shadows, all the better for skulking about under the ever-present pall of death
Photographer turned filmmaker Anton Corbijn gets this. He saw John le Carre’s “A Most Wanted Man” as an “autumnal sort of story.” A post Cold War tale about terrorism, a Muslim immigrant who sneaks into Hamburg and the urgent but never frantic search for his contacts, Corbijn “insisted we film it in the autumn, and that it goes into wide release in most of the world this autumn,” and in the U.S. in late summer.
“The events of this movie make it feel like this is sort of autumn for mankind, as well,” Corbijn adds. And then there’s the fact that the film’s star, the much heralded actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, died of an overdose before it was released.
Hoffman, in what many are calling “his last, great performance” is Bachman, a world weary German anti-terrorism chief anxious to follow this possibly radicalized young illegal to his money people and his probable control agents. Rachel McAdams is an idealistic young attorney whose job it is to protect the rights of immigrants, and Willem Dafoe is a banker who doesn’t worry too much about where the money comes rom or goes to, so long as it passes through his bank.
“This story feels like it has something to do with our lives, at the moment,” Corbijn (“The American,” “Control”) says. “After 9/11, the world changed quite a bit. I felt that this polarized world, in which we see so much in black and white terms, could use more grey in it. That’s what le Carre does.”
Dafoe appreciates le Carre’s “attention to detail, the authority the man has over the material. He knows this world, having been in the intelligence community.” John le Carre, whose spy novels have been Hollywood favorites since “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” on through “The Constant Gardener,” “The Tailor of Panama” and the recent hit “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy,” is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell, who began writing his fiction while still employed by Her Majesty’s spy agencies, MI5 and MI6.
“This man specializes in being able to tell a story, through the characters, from many different points of view,” Dafoe says. “And during the process of telling that story, we take everyone’s side, at one point or another. That’s really the case with this film, and it’s marvelous. Clearly, there are all these people trying to do the right thing, and they are kind of sucked into the events that happen around this illegal immigrant. They’re all flawed, even though each thinks he or she is doing the right thing. As we see those flaws, we empathize with first this person, then that one.”
Hoffman, playing a rumpled chain-smoking drinker seemingly toting the weight of the world his shoulders “carried a certain physicality that I wanted for Bachman character,” Corbijn says. “He’s a good man, with good intentions. He’s done this for a while and he tries to go after the people who really matter, not the small timers.”
“Philip put some pretty extreme characters on the screen, over the years,” Corbijn says. “We remember them because of how big and vivid they were. But the sign of a great actor is being able to tone that down, play someone ‘normal’ with such depth and soul and hidden anger and fear. It’s beautiful to watch. “
Dafoe, who turns 59 at the end of July, says he relished the chance to work “with one of the really good ones,” Hoffman. The two actors didn’t know each other, “just each other’s work. Guys like Phil you seek out in this business.”
Hoffman died of an overdose last February, weeks after appearing to promote the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But those who worked with him see the film as a fitting tribute to an exacting actor. Both director and co-star say they were struck by Hoffman’s level of devotion to a role.
“He struggled at what he was great at, and that’s what made him remarkable,” Corbijn says.
“I didn’t even try to figure out what his game was,” Dafoe says. “When an actor’s that good, that flexible, you feel like you’ve known each other forever, and that makes acting in a film comfortable.”
Corbijn cast both Dafoe and Hoffman, who share several blackmail scenes where Hoffman’s agent threatens the banker into setting up the suspected terrorist. But Corbijn got so immersed in the performances, he forgot himself, which he sees as the best tribute you can pay an actor.
“I recall watching the film during editing with Phil, and I had gotten so used to the Bachman character that I could not believe that was actually Phil sitting next to me. Here was the same guy who is so convincing on the screen, so complete, that you forget he was created by an actor. Phil and Willem can both do that. That’s the mark of genius.”

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Box Office: Audiences still bananas over “Apes,” “Purge” packs them in, “Sex Tape” stalls

boxA second big weekend for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” arrives as Friday night audiences eat up the box office again. Deadline.com figures that’ll translate out to a $30-34 million weekend, a 50-60% from last weekend’s opening.

The sleeper hit of last summer, “The Purge,” is riding weaker reviews but stronger brand ID to a healthy $25-28 million opening. Considering how little was spent on it, it’ll be in the black by next weekend.

The other wide opening for the weekend of July 18-20 is “Sex Tape,” which despite suffering from rather inept marketing is looking toward a meekly respectable $17-18 million opening. The movie isn’t very good, so word of mouth may smack it Saturday-Sunday.

“Jersey Boys” has exited the top ten, as did “Begin Again. Dinesh D’Souza’s “America” documentary should clear the $10 million mark this weekend, provided more of its audience doesn’t wind up in the obituaries before getting around to it.

But Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” expanding to 33 screens from its opening 5, is still showing a very strong per-screen average and will have made its first million by Sunday night.

Jon Favreau’s “Chef” cleared the $25 million mark, “Belle” cleared $10 and “Godzilla” will fall just a teensy bit shy of being another of the year’s rare $200 million hits, as it loses its last few screens.

 

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Richard Linklater, how to stop people who talk during the movie

 

The Alamo Drafthouse down Austin way has long had a way with PSAs asking patrons to STFU or face the consequences.

Here’s Richard Linklater, the Godfather of Austin’s slackers and indie film scene, giving advice on how to deal with people who cannot put a sock in it during a movie, on behalf of the Alamo (Drafthouse).

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Weekend Movies: “Wish I Was Here” is the best of a pretty poor new lot

 

Rare is the weekend when every single new movie opening carries no bragging rights or “fresh” ratings on Rottentomatoes or passing grades on Metacritic.

I liked “Wish I Was Here” more than most. Here’s a movie being criticized for its funding and the self-indulgence of its star/co-writer/director. Seriously, the fact that his fans felt like funding his not-quite-vanity project shouldn’t enter into it. And you have to judge every Kate Hudson performance on its own merits, not hold a lot of best of a series of bad choices roles in bad rom-coms against her. She’s very good in “Wish I Was Here,” the kids aren’t bad. It’s all over the place, Braff leans on his “Scrubs” timing a bit too much. But funny and watchable.

Then there is “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” a sequel that improves on an AWFUL original “Cars” spinoff. This one has more jokes, John Ratzenberger (Pixar good luck charm) and a better story. It’s better, not good. Reviews overall reflect this. Another “fail” from Disney animation, which is in quite a slump (as is Pixar).

“The Purge: Anarchy” is a different spin on that one percent having to face an annual “purge” of legalized slaughter. This time, it’s the poor, in the form of a no name cast, out to survive a game that the rich have rigged against them. Preachier and worse, I thought. Split reviews on this one.

“Sex Tape” is a raunchy erotic comedy where the erotica is at a minimum, the raunch is tepid and tame (explicit, but not “hot” despite the presence of Cameron Diaz). A few laughs, a weak supporting cast (Rob Lowe scores, Rob Corddry doesn’t) — poor to mixed reviews for “Sex Tape.”

Limited releases “I Origins” and “Mood Indigo” aren’t landing a lot of love, either. I really liked the former and did not care for the latter, but neither is rating as “fresh.”

“Persecuted” is earning the worst reviews of the year, a faithless faith-based rant (government conspiracy frames a famous TV preacher).

“Purge” could manage $30 million at the box office, based on the brand name and pent up demand for horror. “Planes2″ could manage $22 and “Sex Tape” $24.

Box Office Mojo predicts $30, Box Office Guru figures $24 for “Purge” $22 and “Planes” $16.

 

 

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Movie Review: “The Purge: Anarchy”

1half-starpurge2The clever conceit behind James DeMonaco’s 2013 sleeper hit “The Purge” was not that American society had resolved its crime/inequality/population problems with an annual free-pass-for-murder “purge.” It was that this hell night came home to roost on isolated, gated suburbanites, ostensibly liberal people above this annual bloodletting, immune to its impact, but benefiting and even profiting from the mayhem — until it invades their community and their homes.
“The Purge: Anarchy” abandons that sly and disturbing message for a straightforward quest — people trapped outside when the annual “release the beast” commences, people who fall in with a bloody-minded man, bent on vengeance. It’s preachier, more diverse in its casting. All of which make it more specific and limit it. Throw in generally lackluster performances and illogical plot twists and “Anarchy” is seriously crippled.
It goes wrong right from the start, with the title. Years into this annual purge, it’s become widely accepted. Anarchic? No. There are organized gangs, piling into armored school buses, roid-raging skinheads and tractor trailers full of jackbooted thugs. Images of the Rwandan genocide, or of packs of gun nuts toting their semiautomatic weapons through discount stores come to mind.
“Stay safe” everybody says, but most don’t mean it.
A black revolutionary with the basketball hog-friendly name Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) is preaching against the purge, calling it a racist way the rich and powerful use to cull the minority population.
But all waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) wants to do is keep her daughter (Zoe Soul) safe for the night and her aged dad (John Beasley) out of trouble. Then trouble blows down their door.
Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) are a bickering couple who only want to finish their shopping and drive home. But their car is sabotaged, and when darkness hits, black kids in whiteface with machetes and machine guns are after them.
One scowling stranger (Frank Grillo) has armed himself to the teeth, armored his Dodge Charger and set out for revenge this night. But these people in jeopardy fall into his path and interfere with his plans.
“Purge 2″ is more overtly about race and class as our mixed group of five tries to make its way to the safety of dawn (when The Purge ends) without getting slaughtered by a mysterious “army” or murderous oligarchs or black revolutionaries. It’s closer to a sermon. And it’s very close to being an utter bore.
DeMonaco, who has written thrillers such as “The Negotiator,” plainly was given this sequel order as a rush job and the lack of polish shows. Characters act against their self-interest as well as their morals. They stop to bicker in deadly situations and clumsily act as if they’ve read the dull, tin-eared script and know they aren’t in danger in this sequence, so they can chatter and traipse through this alley or down that subway tunnel without a care in the world.
To a one, they’re blase, only summoning up rage or terror once or twice in the third act. We don’t care for any one of them, and Grillo plays his hard-hearted killer with barely a hint of wit or heart.
That reduces this sequel to a first-person shooter video game with a dose of politics added. Maybe that’s the only way to experience “Anarchy,” with the viewer doing the shooting. Let’s hope DeMonaco has a piece of the spin-off game action, because “The Purge” has pretty much run its course as a violent big screen social satire.
 
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violence, and for language
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Zoe Soul, Kiele Sanchez
Credits: Written and directed by James DeMonaco. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “Persecuted”

perscThe unholy bond between religion and politics is the background for “Persecuted,” a confused and confusing thriller about a TV preacher ruined by a sinister government plot.
Written and directed by Daniel Lusko, who has Christian documentaries among his credits, and having ex-GOP senator Fred Dalton Thompson and Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in its cast, you can guess its politics.
But the targets are less clearly defined than you might expect. There are evil Feds, and righteous ones. There are veiled attacks on a Congressional effort to give all religions equal standing, and Federal tax money. The president is a devious Clinton look-alike. But Big Time Religion takes it on the chin, too. The most sinister scenes in it take place in the boardroom of a multi-million dollar TV ministry.
So, “Fair and balanced,” right? Not exactly.
James Remar, who broke out in films 35 years ago with “The Warriors” and later as the villain of “48 Hours,” is cast against type as John Luther, an ex-drug addict who now leads Truth Live!, a crusade that he aims to keep above politics, above religious denominations.
Sinister Senator Harrison (Bruce Davison) is pressuring Luther to endorse The Faith and Fairness Act, something backed by a Coexista-oriented organization called SUMAC. It’s incredibly vague what this will do, but it seems to be some sort of religious tolerance/equality act that will give all religions equal standing and all religions equal access to adherents to other faiths. Luther isn’t having it. But he’s been warned.
A drive home takes a turn toward the honey trap they’ve set for him. A girl dies. Luther is on the lam, hunted by the law, as his ministry tumbles into the hands of his opportunistic second-in-command (Christian comic Brad Stine, pretty good).
Luther turns to his wise old dad (Thompson), who happens to be a Catholic priest, another bit of back story that is unexplained.
“Those who believe in nothing must bring you down,” Dad warns. “You’re just a pawn in a political game.”
The safe way to approach this is as the thriller it is supposed to be, and as such, “Persecuted” is pretty limp. There’s no urgency to the performances, no ticking clock to Luther’s desperate bid to clear his name. Remar, a fine character actor, is utterly miscast as a preacher. He doesn’t have the pulpit presence.
Cops don’t stop to question a guy (Luther) sitting in a darkened car, wearing a hoodie and watching a suburban house, even though they see him. A hotel clerk is so anxious to turn Luther in that she dials up the cops while Luther is waiting for his room key. Missteps like that abound.
More interesting are Luther’s repeated entreaties to a supernatural being that isn’t keeping him or his family safe, shouted prayers that go unanswered. Luther, however, doesn’t lose faith, even when he’s confronting the Senator.
“Remember what the Lord said…”
“Oh STOP with the Lord!”
This slapdash script fail to articulate its basic complaint or identify who, exactly, is persecuting them. Government? The culture? Liberals? Humanists? Jews? U-2′s Bono, champion of the Coexista bumper-sticker?
You wonder, because you can’t help but notice this movie’s almost all-white cast around the time we see the evangelical son of the Catholic priest rub his Rosary beads one last time, and pick up a gun.
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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Cast: James Remar, Bruce Davison, Fred Dalton Thompson, Gretchen Carlson, Brad Stine
Credits: Written and directed by Daniel Lusko. A Millennium release.
Running time: 1:31

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Movie Review: “Sex Tape”

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“Sex Tape” is not quite the train wreck its TV ads make it out to be. Which turns out to be the good news as far as this last and least of the big R-rated comedies of summer goes.

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel slimmed down and earned the most flattering lighting manageable for the nudity, which is plentiful. They’re game enough. But their chemistry is strictly professional, and there’s just not a lot of fun in watching two actors go through the motions as boring suburbanites who dare to cut loose and try a no-holds-barred/every-position-tried sex tape, and then freak out when that video gets “out there.”

Diaz is Anna, who narrates an opening that recounts “the first time” her husband saw her naked. Diaz and Segel, as her husband Jay, make a spirited stab at playing their randy collegiate selves — making the beast with two backs in dorm rooms, cars and in between the library stacks.

A pregnancy and marriage follows, and Annie asks the only important question left to ask.

“When’s the LAST time your husband saw you naked?”

She’s narrating her blog (Who’s Yo Momma?) and lamenting the way kids, work and routine kill the romance and the sexual heat in a relationship.

Her blog is popular enough to merit attention from a big toy maker, which would like her to tame it and make her the face of their ideal mommy customer. Rob Lowe is the toothy, “I’m VERY excited” corporate kingpin courting her.

But the couple’s solution to their marriage doldrums could destroy that. Running through “every position” in “The Joy of Sex” on video for their new iPad may have been fun. What happens to the video that Jay “forgets to erase” is what sends them out, in the dark of night, to retrieve iPads they’ve given away to friends, family and their postman.

Yeah, I know, who DOES that?

The best moments in the middle acts involve Segel playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a German shepherd belonging to Lowe’s uber-rich toy mogul (He has Annie’s iPad).

But those moments are scattered as they team up with unfunny friends (Rob Corddry, usually better than this, and Ellie Klemper) and an obnoxious kid. Where a Judd Apatow or Nicholas Stoller or Seth Rogen would pile outrageous joke upon joke, Kasdan and crew dawdle from one half-hearted gag to the next. At a slogging 95 minutes, “Sex Tape” has no pacing and few rewards for enduring its dull stretches in between the better bits. Segel amps up the mania, here and there. But Diaz never unleashes that “Bad Teacher” fury.

“My gynecologist is going to be SO disappointed!”

Still, two troubling social ills are mocked in the film. Yes, our world’s over-connected, something demonstrated every time an iPad/Macbook or iPhone runs an app that uploads a video, or turns up creepy toy boss Rob Lowe’s fireplace, cranks up his favorite band (Slayer) or sets the mood lighting for when he asks if Annie is up for a little cocaine.

“You wanna bump?”

And yes, product placement has run amok in the movies. Seriously, did Apple underwrite this? Because the message isn’t going to help their bottom line. That message — “Apple will be our undoing.”

On paper it all should have worked. Diaz’s “Bad Teacher” director Jake Kadan behind the camera, Segel and his “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” pal Nicholas Stoller joking up Kate “The Back-Up Plan” Angelo’s script. Something goes terribly wrong long before Jack Black turns up as the foul-mouthed porn purveying voice of reason and marital harmony in the third act.

As Black’s character reminds up, no “Sex Tape” ever did anybody any good. It just spices up what’s already stale — a marriage, or a movie, especially one that Jay, as he’s making it, reviews himself.

“I’m not sure the story’s that important.”

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MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Lowe, Ellie Klemper, Rob Corddry

Credits: Directed by Jake Kasdan, written by Kate Angelo, JAson Segel and Nicholas Stoller. A Sony/Columbia release.

Running time

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Willem Dafoe on playing the Italian director, poet and gay activist Pier Paolo Pasolini

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At the end of our chat about “A Most Wanted Man,” in which he has a wonderfully conflicted, out-of-his-depth banker role, I asked Willem Dafoe about the film he just finished, “Pasolini” with Abel “King of New York” Ferrara.

Here’s a link to Pasolini’s biography on Wikipedia — controversial before he ever exposed a frame of film, famous, a polymath (poet, novelist, filmmaker) and out of the closet before Italy was ready for — his death is still considered, by some, a mystery and potential scandal.

“I remember very specifically that when I worked on ‘Last Tempation,’ one of the few pieces of preparation that Marty Scorsese asked me to do was to watch ‘Gospel According to Matthew.’
I was quite struck by that film. Later, I saw some of his other movies. Later still, when I was working in Italy, I started to read his poetry. As I learned Italian, because I’m married to an Italian, I read all about his life and work. His novels, his journals, his poems.

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“I immersed myself in all things Pasolini when I agreed to do this film. He was prolific in all these different fields. He excelled in all these different forms of writing and creating. He was a lot of people, too. He had all this energy for politics and art and life and love.

“Many of the ideas that Pasolini expressed, particularly the political ones, were beautifully written.

“He was deeply restless and curious in challenging himself and the world he lived in — Italy in the ’60s and ’70s. He could see where Italian society and Western society were going.

“The fact that he was an out gay man in 1960s Italy, living a high profile life as a leftist intellectual, meant that he was constantly being hauled into court — laws and lawsuits.
He had a LOT going on.
“I think we have a good take on him, following him through the last 24 hours of his life. We don’t get too obsessed with his murder, which is the subject of a lot of other TV shows and films about him. We deal with it. It happened.

“But what Abel and I were trying for is to paint a portrait of who this man was on the last day of his life — what he was thinking about, who he was meeting, what he was working on. We tried to reconstruct everything from who he had lunch with and what was said, to conversations with his family and friends. A very well-documented life, so we had lots of facts to guide us.

“It’s my fourth film with Abel, and we’re more and more in sync, efficient, as collaborators.”

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