Watch: Millennium Gives Us Our 1st Look at Antonio Banderas In Automata

Automata, movie, poster, Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott

poster for Automata with Antonio Banderas

The moviegoing public has flocked to films about automatons, machines, automatons and robots since the movies began. One of the world’s first “blockbusters” or event movies, was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from 1927, a film so beloved to this day that it has been updated, restored, and rereleased countless times.

One of the givens in 90% of these films is that we get to watch these machines turn on their makers, providing us with countless fables about the evils of progress and allegories for human nature. The latest such film stars Antonio Banderas in Automata, from Spanish director Gabe Ibañez. According to Ibañez, his film is about “this moment where artificial intelligence arrives at the same place as human intelligence.”

Banderas plays Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent or accident investigator 50 years in the future. Earth’s ecology is on the point of collapse. Vaucan, working for the ROC Robotics Corporation, begins another routine investigation into the “illicit manipulation of a robot”, but this time he gets to know the ‘bots a little better than he bargained for, and even starts seeing their side of things, as the machines develop sentient intelligence and begin to rebel. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

The actor also produced the film. During a recent Reddit AMA conversation he described it as “… a movie about … [a] scientific concept called singularity, which is the time in which machines actually overcome the human mind. So it’s a very reflective philosophical science fiction, going back to the science fiction I love, like Isaac Asimov. That’s the type of movie we tried to do.”

Take a look at this:

I like it. It doesn’t appear nearly as cold and bloodless as the landscape or even the synopsis would suggest. Or maybe it’s just the pulse-pounding score they put under this trailer. But c’mon, how cool was that gunslinger robot throwing off his cape a la Clint Eastwood and his serape? In any case, we see lots of different robots in varying degrees of technological advancement, which may hint at some sort of class structure and sociological hierarchy among the machines. A ‘bot “Animal Farm” perhaps.

In addition to Banderas, Automata stars Dylan McDermott and Robert Forster (in an Olympus Has Fallen reunion – although they didn’t share any scenes in that film), Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Tim McInnerney, Andrew Tiernan, and yes, that was Javier Bardem’s voice. Automata has been languishing on the shelf for a while, which explains the presence of the ex-Mrs. Banderas, Melanie Griffith. Automata bows at the San Sebastian Film Festival next month then opens in the US on October 10, released by, what seems appropriately enough, Millennium.

London Has Fallen Finally Has a Director! – edited

London Has Fallen, movie, poster, teaser, Gerard Butler

1st teaser artwork for London Has Fallen

I have no idea how to feel about this.

The good news is that four months after the announcement that Olympus Has Fallen was getting a sequel, with the catchy title London Has Fallen, which one would think would be a HUGE clue as to the plot line, Millennium has finally signed a director for the project.

The bad news is that his name is NOT Antoine Fuqua. I had been convinced that the reason the director of the original had not signed on for the sequel yet was that he was holding out for more money. After all not only was OHF a huge box office hit, but he’s got The Equalizer (with his Training Day star, Denzel Washington) in the can, a film with such high expectations a sequel to THAT film has already been green-lit. But it seems that Fuqua is moving ahead with his passion project Southpaw, with Jake Gyllenhaal. Or maybe the producers didn’t meet his price.

Either way, London Has Fallen will now be helmed by Fredrik Bond, a director of music videos with one other feature to his credit, the festival favorite (and uber-indie) The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, with Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood and Mads Mikkelsen. (And they weren’t even action &/or violence-laden heavy metal videos. We’re talking Moby.)

Yeah, that’s a head scratcher. Maybe Melissa Leo recommended him, assuming she’s coming back for LHF (hey, she didn’t die in OHF), since she’s in TNDoCC as well.

This actually doesn’t disturb me as much as the fact that Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt’s script has been rewritten by Christian Gudegast. One of the reasons I was ready to buy a ticket to this sequel, which in my humble opinion, with the rare exception of films like Jaws and The Godfather, are generally not a good idea, was that the husband & wife team responsible for the first film was back on board for the second. Again, just my humble opinion, but that their script is being redone by a writer whose biggest claim to fame is the Vin Diesel vehicle, A Man Apart does not inspire confidence. Although in all fairness, it might be the best Vin Diesel vehicle. But having said that, need I say more? (More proof that all roads lead to Gerard Butler – A Man Apart was directed by F. Gary Gray who directed Law Abiding Citizen. Just a bit of trivia.)

As it stands now, the only things London Has Fallen will have in common with Olympus Has Fallen will be its stars Gerard Butler (who will again produce) as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, Aaron Eckhart as President Asher and Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House Trumbull.

The plot has them in London to attend the British Prime Minister’s funeral. Of course some brain-trust with an evil bent thinks that they can use this occasion to kill all of the world’s leaders and “unleash a terrifying vision of the future”. Of course. This premise is no more preposterous than that of Olympus Has Fallen, which I believe I’m on record as having enjoyed enormously. So, at least on that score, my disbelief is still safely suspended…for now.

London Has Fallen has a release date of October 2nd, 2015 and production is scheduled to begin in October. Butler is supposed to be in Louisiana in October to film Geostorm for Dean Devlin. Millennium is based in Louisiana, so maybe it’s possible. (Hey, London is expensive.) More to come.

**Edited to add: London IS expensive so London Has Fallen will, if the sets being constructed are any indication, be filmed in Bulgaria.  Production may still begin in October, but filming is set to begin in December. (Hopefully indoors.)  I knew that.

So, what do you think of the latest development? Does the selection of this particular director have any influence on your interest in London Has Fallen?

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin Deliver a Steamy Labor Day

Josh Brolin, movie, photo, Kate Winslet,  Jason Reitman, Labor Day

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

Another film you more than likely missed in the theaters is Labor Day, directed by Jason Reitman with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. (I’d been following it since filming began, since the story takes place and was filmed in the suburbs west of Boston. But I digress.) The movie is a sweet, old-fashioned love story. The type that could easily have been made by Howard Hawks in the 1940s or Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk in the 1950s, the type about which it could appropriately be said, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. Until this one came along, that is.

Critics, for the most part, savaged the film. Perhaps they’d have found it more plausible if it starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (or Gloria Grahame) or even Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. It was the first of Reitman’s films to earn a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, let alone fail to earn a single Academy Award nomination (although Winslet did earn an obligatory Golden Globe nod. The HFPA loves her).

Never one to let someone else tell me what I should like, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that Reitman took a chance on a genre completely out of his comfort zone. I enjoyed seeing Josh Brolin’s tender side. And of course, I enjoyed Kate Winslet as Adele, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who not only finds love, but manages to find herself again, over the course of this one strange and sticky long weekend.

It’s not really a spoiler if I mention the pie-making scene in which Brolin’s escaped convict, Frank, teaches Winslet’s blowzy single mother how to bake a peach pie. It rivals Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and the clay in Ghost.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. There is no “meet cute” for Frank and Adele, it’s more a “meet terrifying”. It’s 1987. The agoraphobic Adele and her 13 year old son Henry (an amazing Gattlin Griffith) have made the painful journey out of the house and into town because school is about to start and Henry has outgrown his old clothes. She’s terrified, he’s patient. While Adele trepidatiously pushes her cart through the store, Henry wanders off to look at comic books. Out from behind the rack pops a bleeding man. Having recently escaped from prison, Frank forces Adele and Henry to drive him to their house where he proceeds to hold them hostage.

There is, of course, a lot more to Frank than his arrest record. The house is, of course, as unkempt and rundown as Adele herself and soon, as only happens in the movies, the hostage situation dissolves into something else entirely and we see Frank teaching Henry how to throw a baseball; he waxes floors and even irons. And again, as only happens in the movies, pretty soon it’s not only Adele’s car that gets a tune-up.

For her part, Adele used to be a bright, vibrant woman until tragedy struck. As the adult Henry explains in voice-over (Tobey Maguire), “I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself”. It’s plain to see from the beginning that these two people need each other.

Reitman admits that the hardest hurdle raised by the story was why this woman would take in this strange man in the first place, one who’s bleeding and probably dangerous to boot. And what about Henry, who is obviously a mature and savvy 13, why wouldn’t he stop her? But if you’re along for the ride, you understand. It’s because Adele sees the way he treated her son, and she responds to his courtesy toward her as well, and whenever she thinks he’ll behave one way, he surprises her.

Adele also can’t bring herself to turn her back on Frank’s wound. Despite the fact that she can’t take care of herself, she has the skill to care for Frank. Again, we know that there is much more to the stories of these people, some of it we’re shown, some of it we intuit. If you’ve seen and enjoyed any of Reitman’s previous films, you know he is a master storyteller, and one of the biggest reasons is that he understands human nature. He helps us to understand that these two wounded people just fit.

Okay, okay, before the eyerolling begins, let me add that I can understand how you might have some difficulty buying into all of that, at least on the face of it. But it is Winslet and Brolin, (such an unexpected pairing in real life and on film), and their earthy, sexually-charged chemistry that sells the entire package. Sure it’s a preposterous premise. But it was no less preposterous when Joyce Maynard published the novel in 2009. It became a bestseller and achieved widespread critical acclaim. Why any of this would be any less easy to accept in film form, from a cast and crew as talented as this movie had, doesn’t make much sense to me.

Jason Reitman read the book and immediately knew he wanted to adapt it for a film. He told a TIFF 2013 audience, “I wanted to know why these broken people needed each other, and slowly, the answer unveiled itself to me. I was overwhelmed. Parts of the book leveled me, and I cried.”

For my money, Labor Day is a warm and lovely little film about longing, hope, and the redemptive power of love, beautifully photographed by Reitman regular Eric Steelberg, with an evocative score by another regular, Rolfe Kent (who also composed the score for Dom Hemingway).

It was a novel, not a memoir. It’s a movie, not a documentary. If it’s a good story, emotionally gripping, well told and well acted, isn’t that enough?

Labor Day also stars Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons, and Brooke Smith. It’s out on dvd and blu-ray today, August 5.

Trailer:

First Look: Emma Thompson Is Robert Carlyle’s Mother

Ray Winstone, Robert Carlyle, The Legend of Barney Thomson, movie, photo

Ray Winstone, Robert Carlyle on the set of The Legend of Barney Thomson

Another one of my favorites, actor Robert Carlyle, has spent the summer up in Glasgow where he has just finished principal shooting on his directorial debut, a black comedy called The Legend of Barney Thomson. The photo above of the director with one of his stars, Ray Winstone, is the first image from the set .

There is so much for me to like about this, I can hardly contain myself. In addition to directing, Carlyle plays Barney and stars along with Winstone and the always wonderful Emma Thompson, who will bring her formidable acting skills to bear as she plays the mother of a man who is a mere two years her junior. The script is based on a popular series of novels by Douglas Lindsay, with a screenplay by BAFTA winning writer Colin McLaren and Richard Cowan.

Barney Thomson, awkward, diffident, Glasgow barber, lives a life of desperate mediocrity and his uninteresting life is about to go from 0 to 60 in five seconds, as he enters the grotesque and comically absurd world of the serial killer.Complicating matters further, Barney’s mother, Cemolina (Thompson) cheerfully emasculates him at every turn, causing a bloody and comedic chain of events. While Barney clumsily tries to cover his tracks, Glasgow police inspector Holdall (Winstone) fights his own battles within his inept homicide department as he tries to solve the crime of the century.

The rest of the cast includes Sir Tom Courtenay, James Cosmo , Ashley Jensen, Martin Compston, and Brian Pettifer.
Icon (Mel Gibson’s company) has the UK distribution rights, so although The Legend of Barney Thomson doesn’t yet have a release date, I think it’s safe to assume one will be forthcoming. When I know, you’ll know.

In the meantime, peep these pics of Ms Thompson and Mr. Carlyle on set.

Into the Words with Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick

Into the Woods, movie, musical, Rob Marshall, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, photo

Meryl Streep as the Witch in Rob Marshall’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods

 

No, that isn’t a typo.

We have the first trailer for Into the Woods, the latest film version of a Broadway musical from Chicago’s Rob Marshall. It’s based on the award-winning show by Stephen Sondheim, who is a legendary wordsmith, and James Lapine.

I spent quite a few years working part time at the box-office for a production of “Forbidden Broadway”. When “Into the Woods” was new, the parody version was called “Into the Words”. That I use that title now, is apropos because this trailer barely has a soundtrack, let alone a song.

While it makes sure to let us know who the stars are, including Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp (He’s not playing the Giant, despite the fact that the trailer makes it seem so. Supposedly he’s The Wolf and Frances de la Tour is credited as the Giant), not a one of them sings a peep. They all…”wish”. (“I wish to go to the FESTival”.)

Are Disney and the producers hedging their bets? Do they not want anyone to know that Into the Woods is a musical? Only fans of the show will recognize the film’s logo as the one used on the show’s Playbill. It is the fans of the show, which opened on Broadway in 1987, that have been clamoring for a film version ever since. I don’t think anyone else will care.

Then again, this is but the first teaser.

“Into the Woods” was the first show I saw on Broadway, so I have a special place for it in my heart, but I can’t say that I’m eagerly awaiting this movie. In fact, I distinctly remember groaning “WHY?!” when I heard that this was in the works and when Ms. Streep was announced to star. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Idina Menzel, Penelope Cruz, Donna Murphy, Miranda Richardson, Kate Winslet, and Nicole Kidman were also considered. Wonderful actresses all. (Murphy played the role in a summer revival in Central Park. Menzel probably turned it down. Who wants to be typecast as a witch?), but to me, the role belonged to Bernadette Peters; which is yet another reason I have to wonder who this movie is for. Fans of Broadway musicals would pay to see her in a role she created and aren’t going to pay to see this movie version just because Streep is a bigger name.

For those unfamiliar, Into the Woods is a sort of compilation of the characters from the stories of the Brothers Grimm. There is a childless baker (Corden. Blunt plays his wife) who attempts to lift a family curse by journeying “into the woods” to confront the witch (Streep). Is she evil or just misunderstood? In the show she definitely gets the best song. Along the way he encounters Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Cinderella (Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) among others. And the witch is there to teach them all important lessons.

Marshall’s film, with a screen adaptation by Lapine is fairly close to the original stage musical, with the exception of the Narrator, who was dropped in favor of using the Baker for voiceover narration. Another noticeable change is the cut of the Mysterious Man. The role played by Streep is a combination the Witch with some of the Mysterious Man thrown in.

Into the Woods opens in the US on Christmas Day, (just in time to lock up that Musical/Comedy Golden Globe nomination and probable win. And if you think that’s not a consideration, why else were so many of the show’s songs cut so that Sondheim could fit in two just for the movie, if not to win Best Original Song?) and 9th January in the UK. (Doesn’t that make it BAFTA ineligible?). The rest of the cast includes, Tracy Ullman, Annette Crosbie, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Simon Russell Beale, Billy Magnussen and Christine Baranski.

More will follow. What are your first impressions?

New Interstellar Trailer is Epic In Its Awesomeness

Interstellar, movie, poster, trailer, Matthew McConaughey, Christopher Nolan

“Why the hyperbole,” you ask? Because, it requires superlatives, but all of the others have already been used. At last weekend’s San Diego Comic Con, the star of Christopher Nolan’s first post-Batman film, Matthew McConaughey, told the audience that this is “by far” Nolan’s most “ambitious”. The Bat Cycle aside, Nolan likes to push, not only the envelope, but also his audiences to think, so I can only imagine, based on this newest trailer, that that statement is true.

What I think I can be virtually certain of, is that Interstellar has the warmth and the heart that Alfonso Cuarón‘s technically brilliant Gravity lacked. While I have no doubt that this, too, will be a technical marvel, it is ultimately about love and family. But that is also, obviously a distillation. McConaughey plays a former pilot who wants to fly again, and gets his chance as part of the greatest rescue mission in the history of mankind. There is a lot going on here.

“A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.”

Nolan has cited 2001: A Space Odyssey as the single greatest inspiration for the film. And considering that forty five years after its release, that film is not only still relevant, but the benchmark for movies about space exploration, I think that’s a good choice.

Along with McConaughey, Interstellar has a phenomenal cast, including Anne Hathaway (who appears to be playing a real adult person here, not a princess or a waif or a victim. We’ll see.) Jessica Chastain as Mackenzie Foy’s “Murphy”, all grown up, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, William Devane, David Oyelowo, John Lithgow, and Nolan staple, Michael Caine.

The movie arrives to kick-start awards season on November 7 in the US and the UK. I’d start saving my pennies for IMAX if I were you.  Shot on an IMAX camera with an ambitious sound mix, Nolan claims to want to”give audiences an incredible immersive experience. The technical aspects are going to be more important than any film I’ve made before.”  I can’t wait.

More will surely follow.

I’m Not Trying to Sell You Anything, But Jude Law Is

Jude Law, short film, photo, advertisement, Johnnie Walker Blue

Jude Law stars in The Gentleman’s Wager for JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL Blended Scotch whisky

It is not often I feel the need to do a post about an advert (or as Ralphie Parker* would say, “A crummy commercial”), but this one came to my attention today and while it may be simply because it stars Jude Law, whom I’ve been thinking about more than usual of late, but I find it so unusually impressive, I feel the need to talk about it.

The ad is nominally for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which, if you’re going to drink a blend, as opposed to a single malt, this is a good one. I say nominally, however, because the makers of what can only be called a short film, are not doing the hard sell here.

The film has a title. It’s called A Gentleman’s Wager, and along with Law it stars Giancarlo Giannini (whom most of you probably know best as Rene Mathis, in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which is too bad. It means you’ve missed, among other things, the films of Lina Wertmüller.)

The film tells the story of a wager between two men striving for personal progress through the quest for a truly rare experience. The Gentleman’s Wager sees Law in the role of a man who, despite having it all, challenges himself to strive for something he wants that money can’t buy. The film begins with Law and Giannini sipping Johnnie Walker Blue Label on a gorgeous hand-crafted boat as they look out across a stunning ocean seascape. We hear Law’s character state that he wants to buy the boat, but it is not for sale and the only way he can get it, is by putting on a truly unique performance. The wager begins.

What makes this short remarkable is its pedigree. Sure, there have been any number of high-profile advertisements in the past decade, featuring both A-list actors (Clive Owen, Brad Pitt) and directors (Guy Ritchie, Michael Mann), the latest of which was the “It’s Good to Be Bad” campaign for Jaguar featuring Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston and Sir Ben Kingsley. But not many have the talent both onscreen and behind, that Johnnie Walker has assembled.

A Gentleman’s Wager is directed by Jake Scott. If the first name isn’t familiar, it probably will be soon, but the last name should be. He’s one of those Scotts. He’s the son of Sir Ridley and nephew of the late Tony. His own resume includes Welcome to the Rileys and Plunkett and Macleane (with Jonny Lee Miller and which I liked. Don’t judge) as well as a slew of big-name rock-docs.

It was shot in The British Virgin Islands, Caribbean and London by John Mathiason, who was the cinematographer on Ridley Scott films like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood as well as Phantom of the Opera and X-Men: First Class. Production design was by Joseph Bennett, responsible for the look of HBO’s “Rome”. Costumes are by Scott regular Janty Yates, in conjunction with London bespoke mens outfitter, Mr. Porter. The film was produced by Jules Daly (The Grey, Assassination of Jesse James) and Tracie Norfleet of Scott Free.  That’s a lot of stops that were pulled.

Commenting on his role and involvement in the film, Law says: “The film is about improvement and progress and this is something I try to do in my work and my everyday life. I had to learn new skills shooting this film and that combined with the places we visited and shot in, alongside working with Jake and with Giancarlo, made it a truly rare experience.”

Take the above with a grain of salt or a slug of Johnnie Walker. I’m sure Mr. Law was paid a boatload of pounds sterling for his “rare experience”. Oh well. A Gentleman’s Wager is still a classy and entertaining little bit of footage.  And if it were up to me, I might give Jake a shot at the next Bond film. Whenever Sam Mendes decides to pack it in, of course.

*A Christmas Story (1983)