Movie Nation Interview: Questions for Mark Wahlberg?

wahlHe’s an entrepreneur, actor with some clout and a former pop star (rapper seems an exaggeration) in search of pardons for his rough and violent and criminal teen years.

The last item will be old news by the time my profile of Mark Wahlberg runs, so we’ll talk more about gambling and his role in the remake of “The Gambler,” his most challenging acting role ever. As in the James Caan original, Wahlberg plays a college professor, a one-time novelist, addicted to gambling until he’s broke. Winning is OK, but it’s the losing — inevitable — that seems to get Jim Bennett’s motor running.

We’ve talked before. I remember catching Wahlberg on the golf course  to talk about “Invincible.” Funny, “Hang on, lemme make this putt, here.”

Anyway, he’s got lots of projects in the pipeline, big fat “Transformers” cash to spend.

Questions for Mark Wahlberg? Comment below, and thanks for the suggestions.

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The Golden Globes Nominations — Is this the true Oscar preview?

globe
 You look at the best picture (drama, anyway) field, and some of the acting categories, and even allowing for the double-your-chances by splitting comedy and drama, and we could be looking at the full potential field for the upcoming Academy Awards. In some form.
Nominating Emily Blunt instead of Meryl Streep for “Into the Woods” is a stretch, but she’s wonderful. Streep is majestic and working on a whole other level, but maybe the Academy will recognize that, as the Screen Actor’s Guild did.
Much love for “Foxcatcher,” which has been waiting for awards buzz before it is rolled out into wider release.
“Boyhood” and “Birdman” still look like Oscar favorites, and both could collect Golden Globes, as they’re in separate categories.
Another bit of Robert Duvall recognition for a weak film (“The Judge”) and far from his best work. But whatevs. Love Duvall.
“Grand Budapest” and “Lego Movie” (and “Noah,” if you count original song) are the “oldest” (came out in spring) movies in this mix.
Here’s the Hollywood Foreign Press Association website, if you want to see it online — but below, here’s the full FILM (their TV picks lean to “whatever’s new”) list of nominations.
1. BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a BOYHOOD
IFC Productions and Detour Filmproduction; IFC Films
b FOXCATCHER
Annapurna Pictures; Sony Pictures Classic
c THE IMITATION GAME
Black Bear Pictures; The Weinstein Company
d SELMA
Paramount Pictures and Pathé; Paramount Pictures
e THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Working Title Films; Focus Features
2. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a JENNIFER ANISTON CAKE
b FELICITY JONES THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
c JULIANNE MOORE STILL ALICE
d ROSAMUND PIKE GONE GIRL
e REESE WITHERSPOON WILD
3. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a STEVE CARELL FOXCATCHER
b BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH THE IMITATION GAME
c JAKE GYLLENHAAL NIGHTCRAWLER
d DAVID OYELOWO SELMA
e EDDIE REDMAYNE THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
4. BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a BIRDMAN
Regency Enterprises and M Productions and Le Grisbi Productions; Fox Searchlight Pictures
b THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
American Empirical Picture; Fox Searchlight Pictures
c INTO THE WOODS
Disney; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
d PRIDE
Pathé Productions Limited, British Broadcasting Corporation, The British Film Institute and Calamity Films; CBS Films Inc.
e ST. VINCENT
Chernin Entertainment; The Weinstein Company
5. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a AMY ADAM BIG EYES
b EMILY BLUNT INTO THE WOODS
c HELEN MIRREN THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
d JULIANNE MOORE MAPS TO THE STARS
e QUVENZHANÉ WALLIS ANNIE
6. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a RALPH FIENNES THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
b MICHAEL KEATON BIRDMAN
c BILL MURRAY ST. VINCENT
d JOAQUIN PHOENIX INHERENT VICE
e CHRISTOPH WALTZ BIG EYES
7. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
a BIG HERO 6
Walt Disney Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
b THE BOOK OF LIFE
Twentieth Century Fox and Reel FX Animation Studios; Twentieth Century Fox
c THE BOXTROLLS
Laika; Focus Features
d HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
DreamWorks Animation LLC; Twentieth Century Fox
e THE LEGO MOVIE
Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures / RatPac-Dune Entertainment / Lego System A/S / Vertigo Entertainment/Lin Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures
8. BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
a FORCE MAJEURE
(SWEDEN)
(Turist)

Coproduction Office; Magnolia Pictures

b GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM GETT
(ISRAEL)
Arte France Cinéma; Music Box Films
c IDA
(POLAND/DENMARK)
Phoenix film investments; Music Box Films
d LEVIATHAN
(RUSSIA)
(Левиафан)
Non-Stop Production, Ministry of Culture of the
Russian Federation of the Cinema Funds, RuArts
Foundation; Sony Pictures Classics
e TANGERINES

(ESTONIA)

(Mandariinid)
Allfilm

9. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
a PATRICIA ARQUETTE BOYHOOD
b JESSICA CHASTAIN A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
c KEIRA KNIGHTLEY THE IMITATION GAME
d EMMA STONE BIRDMAN
e MERYL STREEP INTO THE WOODS
10. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
a ROBERT DUVALL THE JUDGE
b ETHAN HAWKE BOYHOOD
c EDWARD NORTON BIRDMAN
d MARK RUFFALO FOXCATCHER
e J.K. SIMMONS WHIPLASH
11. BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
a WES ANDERSON THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
b AVA DUVERNAY SELMA
c DAVID FINCHER GONE GIRL
d ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU BIRDMAN
e RICHARD LINKLATER BOYHOOD
12. BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
a WES ANDERSON THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
b GILLIAN FLYNN GONE GIRL
c ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ
IÑÁRRITU, NICOLÁS GIACOBONE,
ALEXANDER DINELARIS,
ARMANDO BO
BIRDMAN
d RICHARD LINKLATER BOYHOOD
e GRAHAM MOORE THE IMITATION GAME
13. BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
a ALEXANDRE DESPLAT THE IMITATION GAME
b JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
c TRENT REZNOR, ATTICUS ROSS GONE GIRL
d ANTONIO SANCHEZ BIRDMAN
e HANS ZIMMER INTERSTELLAR
14. BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
a “BIG EYES” — BIG EYES
Music by: Lana Del Rey
Lyrics by: Lana Del Rey
b “GLORY” — SELMA
Music by: John Legend, Common
Lyrics by: John Legend, Common
c “MERCY IS” — NOAH
Music by: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye
Lyrics by: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye
d “OPPORTUNITY” — ANNIE
Music by: Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler, Will Gluck
Lyrics by: Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler, Will Gluck
e “YELLOW FLICKER BEAT” — THE HUNGER GAMES:
Music by: Lorde MOCKINGJAY – PART 1
Lyrics by: Lorde
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Movie Review: “Yellowbird”

bird

In the Euro-animated “Yellowbird,” an agoraphobic orphaned hatchling is entrusted with the task of leading a flock of bluebirds from Northern France to their winter home in Africa.
The animation is average, but it is the locations that sell this comic kiddie travelogue. It helps that the bird, sheltered from the outside world (or flying, for that matter) has no sense of direction. But attempting to save the bluebird patriarch (Danny Glover) from feral cats means he’s the one given those last, dying instructions.
“Trust yourself. You will find a path.”
That lack of direction means Yellowbird (voiced by Seth Green) has no idea where this “River of Fireflies”or other way points the small flock is supposed to pass over will be. He gets sidetracked into Holland, where a Dutch innkeeper owl (Elliott Gould) and his staff of rats try not to set them on the right course until they’ve rented them some rooms. There’s a sea crossing that has the flock — Dakota Fanning voices the cute bluebird who trusts Yellowbird, with Christine Baranski and Richard Kind also in the voice cast — imperiled. There are “Iron Birds” to be avoided, especially at high altitudes.
And they’re contending with seasons “out of kilter,”  unseasonal storms and polluted cities and the like.
The dialogue of the English language version of this French comedy is thin on laughs.
“Oh my God, I’ve got to MOLT. I can’t wear THIS color for autumn!”
Yellowbird must learn to face the world, “be tough” and embrace the unexplored world he’s traveling through.
It all adds up to perfectly banal kids’ entertainment, with just a single decent plot twist, a few cute lines and a tried and a couple of trite and true messages — “Trust yourself” and “stop polluting” stand out.
2stars1
MPAA Rating: PG for mild peril

Cast: The voices of Seth Green, Dakota Fanning, Christine Baranski, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould

Credits: Directed by  Christian De Vita, written by Antoine Barraud, Cory Edwards. A Wrekin Hill release.

Running time: 1:30

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“Mad Max: Fury Road” — the first trailer

You can have your costumed crusaders, your “Terminator” retreads, your J.J. Abram reinvents this or that.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the one I’m looking forward to.

Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, sort of splitting up the Mel Gibson role (she has one of Mad Max’s famous lines) this post-Apocalyptic, post-oil wars/post water wars duel in the deserts of Australia.

Gonzo stuff, big explosions, epic confrontations between monster trucks and scavenged/modified cars. Sure, “Mad Max” ran his course under Gibson. But the films were all, to a one, marvels — sci fi thrill rides with a serious, cautionary subtext.

Has highway culture changed? Have oil wars gone away? No? Damn straight.

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SAG Nominations: The Oscar field finally narrows

jk1“Birdman” collected four Screen Actor’s Guild Award nominations today — with Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone singled out for actor, supporting actor and actress.

“Boyhood”did almost as well, with Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and the ensemble collecting honors.

Best actress looks a lot like what we can expect the Best Actress Oscar race to look like — Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”), Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) and Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) were selected.

But Jennifer Aniston shows up as a wild card there, for “Cake.”

The men’s field left out Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood,” and Bill Murray for “St. Vincent” and gave it up for Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”) and Keaton and…

“The Imitation Game” is officially a player, with Benedict Cumberbatch becoming some sort of irresistible force among the the Cumberbitches in the acting ranks. He was nominated for TV’s “Sherlock” as well.

J.K. Simmons heads the supporting actor field, Keira Knightly the supporting actress one.

But Meryl Streep’s stellar turn as the witch in “Into the Woods” got a nod, as did Arquette (“Boyhood”), Stone (“Birdman”) and Naomi Watts, for her pregnant Russian hooker in “St. Vincent.” Robert Duvall (“The Judge”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), Hawke, Norton and Simmons are the supporting actor field.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” was nominated, as it should be, for “best ensemble,” where it will do battle with the “Birdman,””Imitation Game,” “Theory of Everything” and “Boyhood.”

None of this National Board of Review/Gotham Awards/New York Critics nonsense about “The Immigrant” or Marion Cotillard.

But then, Brendan Gleeson (“Calvary”), Michelle Monaghan (“Fort Bliss”) and a few other worthies I had faint hopes for failed to make the all-important SAG Cut, too.

All the nominations, TV included, are listed here.

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Movie Review: “Top Five”

rock5
With all the timely cultural commentary Chris Rock has been making about Ferguson, Staten Island, police chokeholds and the like while doing interviews ostensibly promoting his new film, it’s actually a relief that “Top Five” is pretty good. Decades into an indifferent film career, Rock finally discovers his “first, best destiny,” that he is more a stand-up comic than an actor. And if he’s going to write, direct and act in a film, he’d be better off playing a stand-up not unlike Chris Rock.
Rock is never more at home than in the film’s stand-up scenes, or its walking-and-riffing moments, with the comic doing killer takes on “Planet of the Apes” and race relations, Obama and what Tupac Shakur would be doing if he was still alive. “A statesman, a leader” a relative insists. “Tyler Perry movies” Rock cracks back.
Rock plays Andre “Dre” Allen, a New York comic who ventured into movies, made a series of popular but forgettable comedies that had him playing “Hammy,” a cop in a bear costume, fell into drugs and recovered.
“Top Five” follows Dre through opening day for his new “serious” movie, sure to be a flop. He’s playing a Haitian freedom fighter, a leader in the biggest slave rebellion in history and the day is an endless parade or radio and print interviews promoting the film.
Then there’s his bachelor party. Dre is about to marry Erica (Gabrielle Union), a gorgeous and vapid reality TV star — and their courtship and nuptials will be filmed and broadcast on Bravo.
Shadowing him on this long day is Chelsea, a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) assigned to do a profile of a comic their film critic has been vilifying for years.
We meet Dre’s lifelong bodyguard and fixer (J.B Smoove), the friends and family he sort of left behind — including Tracy Morgan, Ben Vereen (as his dad) and the irrepressible Sherri Shepherd, as Dre’s ex-girlfriend. The alcoholic flashes back to “rock bottom,” a Houston concert date where Dre’s in the care of a gonzo promoter played to the hilt by Cedric the Entertainer. Clubs, hookers and drugs and the unsanitary orgy that follows put the guy on the path to recovery.
Dawson, playing a reporter who is a compendium of every ethical violation the Times has admitted to in the past 30 years, confesses her own addictions, flirts, drags her interview subject into her single mom life and hits him with just one hard question.
“How come you’re not funny any more?”
Rock is more a genial presence here than an actor playing an addict tested by a bad day. He never lets us see the strain that could make him fall off the wagon. He scores laughs, but generously leaves the outrageous stuff to his legion of supporting players. A funny round table of marital advice is hurled at Dre from his comic pals, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld, and the treadmill of Sirius XM radio interviews and repetitive, rude print press conferences are peppered with real radio folk and real newspaper people.
Dawson’s character is a romantic plot contrivance, and her actions are so ignorant of the power relationship between a star and a journalist as to defy belief. The movie has plenty of uncomfortable coincidences — a black man beaten by police and comically put in a choke-hold, Dre’s joking attitude toward rape and embrace of Bill Cosby, and what may be the last funny performance the injured Morgan may be able to manage in a movie.
But seemingly random encounters with juicy cameos are hilarious (wait for the jail cell serenade), and the heart of the piece — what a funnyman needs to do when “I don’t FEEL funny any more” — will be familiar to anyone who knows Woody Allen’s best films or Seinfeld’s career.
The title refers to that common currency of pop culture, your “top five” hip artists, a question everybody in the film can answer — definitively — from Rock and Dawson to Seinfeld. With “Top Five,” Rock, at 49, has at long last made a movie that will top any list of the five best Chris Rock movies from here on out.

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use

Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Cedric the Entertainer, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracey Morgan

Credits: Written and directed by Chris Rock. A Paramount A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:41

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Movie Review: “Inherent Vice”

vice“Inherent Vice” is a stoner “Chinatown” as directed by Wes Anderson, if Wes got sick midway through it and the darker Paul Thomas Anderson took over for the last acts.
Actually, only one Anderson — Paul Thomas (“The Master,” “There Will Be Blood”) — tried to wrestle Thomas Pynchon’s comic novel about drugs, detectives, disappearances and dentists into a film. He manages some deliriously off-center performances, daft writerly pronouncements and a plot that almost defies summary.
“As clear as the vodka you keep in the icebox!”
But it’s also stupidly long. “Vice” is the first real patience-tester from a director who typically works “long,” a muddle of amusing conceits and aimless, infuriating randomness.
Joaquin Phoenix is the detective in this mystery, but Doc is unlike any gumshoe the movies have ever seen. Yeah, the PI gets a complicated assignment from a dame, an ex-girlfriend.
But Doc Sportello’s challenges aren’t just hateful, hamfisted cops, foolish Feds, shady drug traffickers and bikers. Doc’s biggest challenge may be his sobriety. He has a dazed, word-slurring “Can I trust what my eyes are seeing?” way about him. With wolfman sideburns and glazed eyes and a collection of Woodstock Era pants, vests, shirts and Army jackets, Doc is on the cusp of the hippy drug culture/”straight” America divide of 1970.
The Feds, cops and other straights may not trust him.
But “I’m only a LIGHT smoker,” he protests between joints.
From his side of the generation gap, people flock to his doctor’s office detective agency, people like Shasta (Katherine Waterston), an old flame caught on the horns of a blackmail dilemma, or Coy (Owen Wilson), a sax-playing surf musician and snitch wondering how the family he had to abandon is doing.
Josh Brolin is the cop they call “Bigfoot,” a two-fisted thug who labels himself a “Renaissance detective.” Sure, he confuses “descendent” for “decedent” when talking about dead people, but he’s a veteran at “civil rights violations” and takes a swipe at Doc every time they meet.
Benicio del Toro, ironically delivering the most coherent line-readings of his mumbling career, is Doc’s dockside lawyer.
The script, ostensibly a search for a missing L.A. developer (Eric Roberts), is peppered with hookers, hippies, runaway heiresses, ex convicts and the occasional coke-addict dentist (Martin Short).
Anderson keeps these various juggled balls in the air for 90 minutes or so, scoring Pynchon points about the breadth of the culture divide of 1970 — every pot smoker is a “fiend” to the straights –and landing Pynchon laughs. Note how loopy everyone’s name is — Puck, Sauncho, Japonica, Dr. Blatnoyd, etc.
But Anderson loses his way, failing to thin out the novel and its overload of characters, piling scene upon scene that neither amusingly complicates the plot, nor advances it.
Phoenix, however, is never less than fun as a private eye who never seems to collect payment from anybody, whose case notes are nonsensical and whose grasp of all the confusion around him is no firmer than ours. Pairing him with Wilson is one of the great moments in screen stoner history.
“I don’t know what I just saw.”
“Me neither. I don’t know if I WANNA know.”
Bit players like Elaine Tan (as a masseuse whose unprintable “specials” she happily demonstrates to Doc) make an impression. Reese Witherspoon has a glorified cameo as a buttoned-down assistant DA whose wild side involves catting around with Doc. And Joanna Newsom, as a wholesome hippy narrator, gets most of the best lines.
Still, there’s no sense making more of “Inherent Vice” than it is. Because in the end, it’s about 90 minutes of narrative and an indulgent, meandering final hour that makes almost no sense at all.

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Jena Malone
Credits: Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the Thomas Pynchon novel. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:28

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“Bigfoot” Josh Brolin stomps through and steals “Inherent Vice”

jb

“Luckily,” Josh Brolin growls, “I don’t take these characters
personally.”
Some times he’s the “No Country for Old Men” anti hero, sometimes Brolin
plays villains (“American Gangster”), corrupt to the core. But if you want him
to pick up another badge, if you want him to play another cop, after “American
Gangster” and “Gangster Squad,” you’ve got to show the man that he won’t be
playing “a caricature.”
Paul Thomas Anderson, looking for an actor to play Bigfoot, a door-kicking,
civil rights-violating straight arrow in his film of Thomas Pynchon’s comic
novel “Inherent Vice,” had such a character. Brolin was sold the minute he read
the scene where the brute of a hippy-hating 1970 LAPD detective is berated and
belittled when he gets home.
“I like seeing a guy, even a guy I’m playing, put in his place. That’s the
reality of who they really are, contrasted with how he wants to be perceived –
man who thinks he’s a big deal, Bigfoot, put down by his wife.”
“Vice” is a picaresque/Altmanesque comic mystery thriller about a pot-smoking
hippy private detective, Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to save a former lover
(Katherine Waterston), track down a missing surf music sax player/snitch (Owen
Wilson) and figure out how a cokehead dentist (Martin Short) is pulling the
strings of the drug trade, the rehab industry and the highly lucrative
reconstructive dentistry business in restoring drug-abused teeth. Like a lot of
Thomas Pynchon’s work, it is packed with characters with colorful names and even
more colorful backgrounds, and is stuffed with scenarios that could be
important, or could be nothing more than comic asides.
And at every turn, there’s Bigfoot, confronting the slightly-buzzed Doc with
fists or wit.
“Welcome to a WORLD of inconvenience!”
“Inherent Vice” is about the culture clash of people Richard Nixon labeled
“The Silent Majority” and hippydom — “freaks,” stoners, the drop-out
generation.
“It’s one belief system vs. another,” is Brolin’s take. “I love how Bigfoot
tries to hang on to this idea he has of himself, this ‘Right Stuff’ guy who
believes in something and stands for something and that you have to have
integrity. A family. It’s not about ‘free love,’ it’s about having rights and
wrongs, a society with structure to it. That’s Bigfoot. Then, you go into his
house and see how totally emasculated he is. There’s no reality to his ‘Right
Stuff.’ It’s just his delusion.”
Brolin laughs.
“He’s the child in the grocery store having a massive tantrum because people
aren’t giving him what he wants, aren’t behaving in a way he wants them to.
Bigfoot, by the end, realizes he’s never going to get his Froot Loops. And he’s
having an absolute, total meltdown.”
“Inherent Vice” is a mixed bag, in terms of reviews. But Brolin and Phoenix
are earning praise for their scenes, “little gems of comic business” (David
Edelstein, New York Magazine), with Ethan Alter in Film Journal International
opining that “Brolin in particular is a joy to watch here” delivering “a
live-wire turn that hits as many unexpected, unpredictable notes as the movie
itself.”
“He’s so wild and creative and inventive and funny,” co-star Jena Malone, who
plays the wife of the missing snitch/sax player. “I never thought of him having
comedy in this tough guy exterior.”
The “Chinatown Meets Cheech and Chong” nature of “Inherent Vice” makes the
film a complex, meandering mystery with a darkly goofy overcoat. And nothing
captures that like a scene Anderson and Brolin cooked up, with the cop
threatening the blitzed gumshoe by phone. We see Bigfoot’s home life and in a
moment figure out the life his tough talk and big foot are trying to hide.
“Bigfoot’s on the phone, and his little boy is sitting up on the bar,” Brolin
recalls. “I tell him to go to bed, Paul had the idea that the kid should pour
his dad a drink. And I suggested to Paul, ‘What if he slid the glass over to the
kid, as if he’s done this a million times?'”

The child — he can’t be more
than five — expertly delivers just the right amount of Johnny Walker into the
whisky tumbler, a pre-school bartender.
“It’s a funny bit, and it shows Bigfoot for the incredibly selfish vortex
that he is, and the world exists to serve his wants and needs,” Brolin says. And
it encapsulates the film’s big theme.
“We all have, every generation, that thing that’s pulling us down and
distracting us, that we have to deny. Booze, way back when Bigfoot was young. Or
drugs, then, when the movie is set. Now? Smart phones now.”

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Movie Review: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

mosesSprawling and spectacular, brawny and bloody, Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” stabs an exclamation point onto a year peppered with religious films, one that began with the less conventional and trippier “Noah.”
This is Old Testament as action epic, featuring a two-fisted, Hittite-slaying “Prince of Egypt,” a Moses selected to lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery because God needed “a general.”
Christian Bale is that general, a growling skeptic who poo-poohs superstition and religion and chuckles at the prophecy that suggests he will save young Ramses (Joel Edgerton) in battle, and become a great leader himself. A pagan priestess makes that accurate prediction, by the way.
Raised in the royal household, adviser first to the elder pharaoh (John Turturro, who wears the eye-liner better than most) and then his son and heir, Moses makes enemies. And when those enemies win the new Pharaoh’s ear and reveal that Moses was born a Hebrew, the acclaimed soldier, anti-corruption zealot and rational man is exiled, not even allowed to live amongst the enslaved Israelites, whose elder (Ben Kingsley) knows his story and his destiny.
You probably remember the rest — Moses wandering, marrying into a family of shepherds (Maria Valverde makes the most gorgeous Sephora, his bride). A bush catches fire, a reluctant Moses is given the task of going back to Egypt and freeing his people — plagues ensue, seas part, etc. It makes no difference, as historian Simon Schama wrote in his book and PBS series “The Story of the Jews”, that there’s no written or archaeological evidence to support this Biblical account. It’s still a ripping good yarn.
Scott shows us a vast 3D civilization, propped up by slaves laboring in the quarries that feed the pyramid and monument-building mania. This Moses becomes a guerrilla leader, bickering with the Almighty over how this business of freeing the Hebrews is going.
“Wars of attrition take time!”
The cleverest conceit is the voice and face of God/Yahweh, who guides Moses. It’s an 11 year-old English boy named Isaac Andrews — childishly vengeful over the 400 year enslavement of his Chosen People. As we’ve seen in “Children of the Damned” and assorted other bits of Brit horror, there are few things scarier than an English schoolboy. Their scenes are alternately funny and creepy. Scott also shows us realistically grim consequences of these plagues, and the movie is at its most moving when we see the suffering, the deaths of Egyptians, Hebrews and animals of every description.
Bale wears a fine beard and underplays The Lawgiver as droll, dry and skeptical. His confrontations with the Pharaoh are generally mild, debates over the “economics” of slavery. That robs Edgerton of the white-hot rage that is supposed to drive Ramses’ later actions. Edgerton’s best moment may be his resigned swatting of flies during one of the later plagues unleashed on Egypt. Others — Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver as the Queen Mother, Aaron Paul as Joshua — are given almost nothing to say or do.
Thus, for all its stunning and stark wilderness settings (Spain and the Canary Islands), its stunning effects, technical proficiency and scriptural cleverness, “Exodus” is a chilly affair — a Biblical epic lacking even a stab at preaching or inspiring. Like modern translations of the Bible compared to the King James version published in Shakespeare’s time, “Exodus” lacks the stentorian, poetic authority of the cornball Cecil B. DeMille “Ten Commandments.” You will never hear “BEHOLD, his mighty hand,” or anything remotely like it.
It’s still an exciting, entertaining epic. But those hoping for a sermon might feel let down. Scott’s Old Testament may be action packed, but it doesn’t preach, not even to the choir.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Isaac Andrews

Credits: Directed by Ridley Scott, script by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian . A 20th Century Fox release.

Running time: 2:30

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Movie Review: “Get Santa”

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Prison doesn’t suit Santa. Yeah, his long white hair and beard are perfectly
weavable into prison dreadlocks. Call him “Mad” Jimmy Claus and try to get him
to talk tough, maybe the other cons won’t eat him alive.
But surely his jolly demeanor, his hearty “Ho Ho Hos,” his firm grasp of the
other inmates’ childhoods — what they begged for in their Letters to Santa,
long ago — will get him through.
“Get Santa” is an at-times adorably daft holiday farce from those blasphemous
Brits. Writer-director Christopher Smith cast jovial Jim Broadbent as an
out-of-sorts St. Nick, scatter his reindeer across London — loose on the Tower
Bridge, for instance — and have a little boy (Kit Connor) bully his ex-con dad
(Rafe Spall) into helping him “Save Christmas,” and you’ve got something cute,
if not exactly a new holiday classic.
Santa loses his reindeer, so he visits young Tom (Connor). Father Christmas
needs Tom’s dad, Steve (Spall). And not because Steve’s a get-away driver. The
ex-con once saw He Whom No Child Must See, long ago. Steve believes. Or will,
when he’s reminded of it.
Steve has an ex-wife, visitation rights and a no-nonsense probation officer.
He isn’t having this, no matter how convincing the suit and beard are.
“Are you on medication? Or worse, are you OFF your medication?”
Santa’s efforts to retrieve his reindeer from various animal control shelters
get him arrested. So Tom browbeats poor Steve into helping, probation be damned.
Cool effect? Santa magically attracts every letter that’s written to him. You
lose Santa, just write him a note and the paper flies off until it’s in his
hands.
Kid friendliest gag? Reindeer, especially Dasher, communicate with humans
through flatulence. That’s right, reindeer farts.
Best cameo? Warwick Davis, of “Star Wars” and “Willow” and various Harry
Potter pictures, one of the most famous Little People in Britain. No, he’s not
an elf. He’s an inmate.
Best image? Santa, counseled and made-over by the prison barber, walks
through Lambeth Prison in the aforementioned dreadlocks.
“Oy! Santa! You gonna escape up the CHIMNEY?”
Whatever else “Get Santa” has or hasn’t got going for it, you will spit up
your soft-drink over the sight of the Oscar-winning Broadbent, befuddled and
bemused as a Rasta-ready Santa just trying to fit in amongst the cons.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor and language
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Warwick Davis, Kit Connor</P>
Credits: Written and directed by Christopher Smith. A Wrekin Hill release.
Running time: 1:40

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