Trailer or Spoiler: Justin Timberlake Edition

Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, Inside Llewyn Davis movie

Inside Llewyn Davis – CBS Films via imdb

I can see your furrowed brow as you read that headline. “Huh?”  Stay with me. Justin Timberlake, having grown bored with bringing his own brand of sexy back to people who didn’t know it was missing, has turned his hand to acting more than music these past few years, his new album notwithstanding.

What appeared to be a lark in a straight-to-dvd crime thriller, 2005’s Edison, continued in 2006’s Alpha Dog, earning him good notices, The Social Network in 2010, and then got real in 2011 when he top-lined Friends with Benefits and In Time (in which JT was asked to do most of the heavy lifting alongside the slight Amanda Seyfried). This year, Timberlake will appear in two films, both slated for fall release and for which there is already (very) early awards season buzz.

Runner, Runner costarring Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie, is currently scheduled to be released in the US on September 27. It’s a drama that centers on the world of offshore online gaming and an increasingly tense relationship between the founder of one such successful business (Affleck), and his protege (Timberlake).

Written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, the team behind Rounders, Runaway Jury and Ocean’s 13, as well as the upcoming Untouchables sequel, Capone Rising with Tom Hardy, and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (among others), Runner, Runner is directed by Brad Furman, best known for The Lincoln Lawyer. All of the above makes it one of fall’s hotly anticipated flicks, especially since it’s Affleck’s first since Argo. (Affleck has himself gone from punchline to bona fide auteur whose mere presence will give whatever he does from here on out a patina of respect.)

The other film has that same shine because it was written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Inside Llewyn Davis premiered back in May at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize, essentially the runner-up to the Palm d’Or.  It stars Oscar Isaac as an aspiring folk musician in the early 1960s. The film, by all accounts, belongs to Isaac and is, after Sucker Punch, Robin Hood, W.E. and Drive, the one that will finally make him a star. The rest of the cast includes Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and…Justin Timberlake.

The Cannes buzz (it will probably go to Venice and Toronto as well) along with the Coen Brothers pedigree,  finally got the film distribution, and it is currently slated for an awards-friendly (limited) US release date of December 3 (before going wide on the 20th). I’ve had my eye on this one since filming began in Greenwich Village in January of 2012. The Coen Brothers. That is all. When can I buy my ticket?

Since all that these two films have in common is Justin Timberlake, I’m but using him as a jumping off point to introduce a trailer for each.

The name of the game is “Trailer or Spoiler”. Those few minutes of footage for Runner, Runner would seem to be yet another example of a “teaser” that gives the game away. It’s a story that’s already been told countless times: wide-eyed innocent gets a taste of the good life, starts to lose his soul (prodded by the devil’s surrogate), comes to his senses thanks to the love of a good woman and does battle with the devil and vanquishes the evil in his life. But, shouldn’t one have to buy a ticket to find out if it is, in fact, the same old song and dance?

The arc of the plot won’t be a mystery to most (especially since Robert Luketic covered nearly the same territory in 2008’s 21), but is that reason enough to lay it all out in these few flashy feet of footage?  Shouldn’t the producers have enough faith in their material, not to mention their cast, to let them attract ticket-buyers? The fact that Runner, Runner is being released in September and not in, say, November, coupled with this seemingly no-holds-barred first look, does not bode well for the finished produce. Just my humble opinion.

The clip below is not the first, but the third trailer released for Inside Llewyn Davis and while we can put a lot of the pieces together from what we’ve been given, we do still have to use our noodles to get a clear idea of what’s going on here.

We already know the film is about struggling musicians on the cusp of the folk wave about to break in the early 1960s, but does Davis have any talent? We can tell that Isaacs’ title character has some sort of relationship with Carey Mulligan, but the exact nature remains a mystery (even if earlier trailers gave us more of a hint).  Where does Timberlake fit in? Who is John Goodman’s character? Will Davis ever make it big? And why is he carrying around that cat? Will we get to hear more of JT harmonizing with Marcus Mumford?

Perhaps because this film is more a character study than a high-concept adventure/drama, there are still plenty of secrets left to uncover. (Unless of course one chooses to read any of the spoiler filled reviews that came out of Cannes, but that’s another rant for another day.)

Runner-Runner-Timberlake Runner-Runner-Affleck Runner Runner poster Inside Llewyn Davis poster

Mud: Huck Finn for the New Millennium and the Re-Birth of McConaughey

Mud, poster, movie, Matthew McConaughey

poster via Lionsgate and imdb

Walking out of the theater in which I saw my first viewing of Mud, I was reminded of star Matthew McConaughey’s performance in John Sayles’ Lonestar, a film which, thematically, has little in common with Mud. Specifically, I remember thinking that McConaughey hadn’t been this good since that earlier film. What makes that really interesting to me is that 1. I just read that it was Lone Star that Mud director Jeff Nichols had in mind when he cast his star and 2. That movie came out in 1996. Seventeen years ago. “What the hell happened in between?” you may well ask.

Frankly, there have been some damn fine performances in between. I have to admit to being a Matty fan, but if all you know of him is  his breakthrough role as skirt-chasing stoner Wooderson in the cult classic Dazed and Confused, or lame pseudo romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch or Ghosts of Girlfriends past, you’re missing out on some very good performances in some very fine films like A Time to Kill that came out the same year as Lonestar, Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis and costarring Jodie Foster, (One of my favorites from the 90s.) and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. In fact, even while making the aforementioned dismal comedies, there were movies like Frailty (Bill Paxton’s directorial debut. Seek it out if you’re not familiar) and We Are Marshall. Of course, I even liked Reign of Fire. (Christian Bale, Gerard Butler and dragons. C’mon!)

The real problem was that overshadowing the good performances in either iffy movies or good movies no one saw, Matty became a certified movie-star and  his private life (including liaisons with ATTK costars Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, as well as naked bongo playing) began to get more ink than his performances. He became a punch line more famous for his physique than his acting chops. (Remind you of anyone? – read that with Craig Ferguson’s voice and side-eye)

The real ‘why’ of it is anyone’s guess. It could have been the lure of the lifestyle and big paychecks or believing one’s own hype and publicity, you name it, it’s as big a mystery as what sparked the turn-around.

Was it the fact that he started wearing a shirt when he settled down and started having kids? Who knows, but the fact is that beginning with The Lincoln Lawyer, perceptions about the actor Matthew McConaughey began to change.  When that movie became a surprise hit in the spring of 2011, McConaughey was suddenly part of the conversation again, in a good way.

His extraordinary run has continued with impressive work  in four wildly different films in 2012: Bernie a black comedy based on real events involving a small-town Texas funeral director, costarring Jack Black and Shirley McLaine (it’s available on Netflix instant and definitely worth a look);  Steven Soderbergh’s penultimate film (so he says) Magic Mike, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, the divisive The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Zac Efron that anyone who saw it either really loved or really, really hated, and William Friedkin’s screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ award winning play, Killer Joe.  Another black comedy (the blackest), this one is not for everybody. It’s violent, bloody and very twisted. (It may put you right off fried chicken.) Matty plays a lawman who moonlights as a hitman and his performance was nominated for an Independent Spirit award as Best Male Lead.  In 2013, we’ll see the actor so famous as an ideal of male pulchritude minus  more than 45 pounds, the weight dropped from his already lean frame in order to play a drug treatment crusader dying of AIDS, in the upcoming drama Dallas Buyers Club, slated for an awards-friendly fall release.  2013 will also bring Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Matty will be vying against Matty at the box office and possibly on the trophy circuit.

With Mud, which went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and Sundance in 2013, the career make-over, deliberate or otherwise, continues.  McConaughey plays the title character, a drifter, a fugitive from the law risking his life and freedom for love, in a film that, to me, is nothing short of a “Huck Finn” for the new millennium.  Jeff Nichols’s subtly sweet coming-of-age tale, set on the Mississippi River, in southern Arkansas, is about an adolescent boy’s search for love and it is filled with indelible characters played by an exceptional ensemble cast that includes Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Reese Witherspoon.

Here’s the (somewhat spoiler-y) synopsis from Roadside Attractions:

14 year-old Ellis(Tye Sheridan) lives on a houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Paulson) and Senior (McKinnon). His best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), also 14, lives with his uncle, Galen (Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood sometime in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh footprints.Leaving, they find footprints near their boat and that’s when they meet Mud, a gritty, superstitious character with dirty clothes, a cracked tooth, and in need of help. He tells the boys he will give them the treehouse boat, his current hideout, in exchange for food. Neckbone is reluctant, but Ellis brings food to Mud, and they develop a tentative friendship.

Ellis learns that Mud has killed a man in Texas, and police and bounty hunters are looking for him, but Mud is more concerned about reuniting with his longtime love, Juniper (Witherspoon). Ellis, who has recently developed his own crush, agrees to help Mud escape with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone carry out bold schemes in an effort to protect Mud and relay messages to Juniper, who is holed up in a fleabag motel, under constant surveillance by a Texas bounty hunter taking orders from the cold-blooded King (Joe Don Baker). As the boys risk everything to reunite the lovers, Ellis’s own ideas about love and romance are challenged by the strains in the relationships closest to him: his parents’ marriage is dissolving while he himself falters in his efforts to impress May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). Through it all, Ellis struggles to look for an example of love that he can believe in, learning about the unspoken rules and risks of love and the reality of heartbreak.

McConaughey, is definitely a version of Mark Twain’s Jim, but defies Southern caricature. He’s a combination of both Boo Radley and Boyd Crowder— the “unknown” who can strangle as easily as save, rather than say, Max Cady (either the Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro versions) or Long Hair (Bruce Dern in the Cowboys).

As eye-catching as McConaughey’s performance is — thanks, in large part, to a leathery suntan, body-wrapping tattoo and snaggly prosthetic teeth — Mud belongs to the two boys who cross Mud’s path, with memorably fateful results. Without the extraordinarily performances from Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland, there’d be no movie. Sheridan in particular, is in nearly every scene and you can’t take your eyes off of him.  If Sheridan’s Ellis represents youthful wonder, Lofland’s Neckbone represents a more clear-eyed reality.

Mud, Tye Sheridan, Jacon Lofland, movie

photo courtesy Facebook for Mud The Movie

Nichols uses close-ups of Sheridan’s and Lofland’s open, expressive faces to strike a balance between naturalism and more fantastical elements in telling a story in which menace and tenderness coexist,  often in the same scene, sometimes in the same sentence.

Ellis’s reality is a dilapidated houseboat, in which his parents are constantly skirmishing over his mother’s desire for something more, particularly  to move into town.  Neck, ostensibly an orphan, lives with  his well-meaning if ill-equipped, uncle Galen (Shannon).   But as we go with the boys out to the golden, sun-dappled river and to the island where that improbable boat suspended in a tree awaits, Mud shrugs off reality and becomes something more mythic and fairy-tale like.  The movie is more than half over before anyone other than the boys has any contact with Mud. Until then, he may has well have been the boys’ invisible playmate, albeit one not designed to prolong their childhoods but rather take them by the hand and lead them toward adulthood.

Mud extols the basic virtues of honesty, hard work and most of all, trust. The film’s only misstep is a preposterous, in my humble opinion, climax that not only goes on way too long, but the outcome of which is utterly predictable.  Fortunately, by the fade to black, it’s the outcome we’ve all  hoped for anyway.

Here’s the trailer from Lionsgate:

Coriolanus is Bound for the South of France!!

Ralph Fiennes’ eagerly awaited directorial debut, Coriolanus is apparently screening during the Cannes Film Festival!

When the initial announcements for the festival lineup were made, there was no mention of Coriolanus and I, for one, was extremely disappointed. There had been rumors of Fiennes taking his film to France almost since it was completed. JMHO, but the cachet that comes with having your film shown at Cannes cannot be underestimated. 

The complete schedule can be found here:

(Thank you to the Weinsteins, whose name and influence, I have no doubt, were instrumental in bringing this about.)

"I’ve always liked you, Harvey"

My Daily Moment of Zen

*these get bigger with a flick of the finger*

November. Nine months. Long enough to gestate a human. That’s how long we have to wait for the US release of Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus.

On the one hand, I believe that the wait indicates a desire to position the film for awards contention. On the other, I would hate to see it lose the positive buzz from its premiere at the Berlinale that surrounds it right now. (I’m on tenterhooks awaiting Saturday’s results of the competition for the Golden Bear.) I hope the rumor that Fiennes is taking it to Cannes is true. (Somehow, I think the involvement of The Weinstein Company improves the odds. Harvey likes a good party.) I think this would be a good fit for the Venice Film Festival (31 Aug – 10 Sep) as well but, Cannes is the biggest and most prestigious film festival in the world (11-22 May), so keep your digits crossed.

I pledge to do my part by talking this up at every opportunity. Never fear, gentle reader, I won’t let you forget.

Could ‘Coriolanus’ Be the Next ‘The King’s Speech’?




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On Monday February 14, Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus, a modern day interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, will have its world premiere at the prestigious Berlinale (the Berlin Int’l Film Festival.)

There has already been considerable industry buzz for this film. The expectations for the first turn behind the lens of an actor of Fiennes’ caliber are high, even if it is Shakespeare, and indeed it is the only British film in competition for a coveted Golden Bear.

It is also scheduled to open the 39th Annual Belgrade Film Fest at the end of February. (The movie was filmed in Belgrade and the surrounding area in April and May of 2010.) There are rumors circulating that Fiennes also plans to bring it to Cannes in May 2011.

In addition, there has now been a report that the Weinstein Company is interested in distributing the film.  I can’t help but think that, if true, this is not just very good news, but another vote of confidence in the film. 

The Weinstein name on a movie is something of a stamp of approval or legitimacy. It has a certain cachet within the industry. Weinstein backed films tend to be of a certain class or caliber and historically, they tend to be the types of films that garner awards attention. 

Just look at a partial list from the last two years (with a smattering of their awards & nominations:)


·  The Reader (2008) *Best Actress Kate Winslet* (co-starring Ralph Fiennes)

·  Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)*multiple Guild and Critics Association awards nominations*

 ·  Inglourious Basterds (2009, co production with Universal Pictures and A Band Apart) *Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz*

·  A Single Man (2009) *Best Actor nomination Colin Firth*

·  Nine (2009)*nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz*

·  Le Concert (2010) *nominated for Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film, nominated for 6 Cesar Awards incl. wins for Music & Sound*

·  The Tillman Story (2010)*won Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize*

·  Nowhere Boy (2010)*nominated for 4 BAFTAs and 5 British Independent Film Awards incl. a win for Best Supporting Actress*

·  The King’s Speech (2010) *most nominated film of this year’s Academy Awards*

·  Blue Valentine (2010)*Best Actress nomination Michelle Williams*

·  The Company Men (2011)
Not only have all of the films listed been nominated for awards, but most are small little art-house movies that without the backing of a distributor with the clout of the Weinsteins, or perhaps even Sony Pictures Classics, behind them, they probably could have gone straight to dvd without a theatrical release.

Whatever else can be said of the Weinsteins, Harvey in particular, they do know how to market a film.  This year’s current top contender for the Oscar for Best Picture of the year, The King’s Speech, is a case in point. While it helps that the movie is just that good, without the backing of a company that knew what to do with it, it could easily have languished under the radar. Instead, with an aggressive campaign that created a demand for the film before it was widely released, including a media blitz that embraced the burgeoning bloggisphere and made good use of new social media outlets (ironic given its chief competition for the year’s big awards), it is on track to become one of the most successful independent films in history and has made back its modest budget many times over. Now, of course, they have all of those awards and nominations to use to keep it in the public eye until the big dance on February 27th.

This is what I want for Coriolanus. 

While Mr. Fiennes is accustomed to attracting attention for his acting prowess, as is a majority of the rest of the ensemble that comprises his cast, it would certainly be a grand achievement if he were to earn it for a film he directed as well.  He has earned the respect of his peers and the industry in which he toils (and they appear poised to embrace his next efforts as well.)

This is what I want it for Gerard Butler.

Some really impressive promo shots from this film have just been released and I wanted both an excuse to post them and to use them as an excuse to talk about the film.

I’ve read the play (although it has been many years since I have done so.) It is a story filled with passion and violence and politics and themes like ambition and familial devotion, friendship, and betrayal. While some may instantly grimace at the idea of sitting through a filmed version of a Shakespearian tragedy (and I fear some of those people will never be able to open their minds to the possibility,) there are parallels to be found in current world politics and if done right, will resonate with a modern viewer.

Judging from the stills alone, this film will showcase the gravitas that Ralph Fiennes possesses in spades. I was hoping Mr. Fiennes would be able to impart some of that to his co-star, an actor he hand-picked based on the qualities he exhibited in a little movie called ‘300.’  Gerard Butler as King Leonidas delivered a performance with a stillness that suggested power and strength beyond the 8-pack abs, qualities that Fiennes wanted for Coriolanus’ arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius.  Judging from the stills alone, he seems to have gotten what he asked for.

It is my hope that this film will not only serve to prove that Ralph Fiennes has successfully joined the ranks of a mere handful of actors who have transitioned from in front of the camera to behind it and back again, but also to prove what a small but vociferous bunch of us have known for a long time, that Gerard Butler is a very talented actor.  More talented than his recent foray into romantic comedy and action adventure would have indicated; the talent that seemed evident in much of his earliest work and seemed to want to break out of the constraints of a caged serial killer.

It is my hope that Coriolanus will be Butler’s entrée to the real A-list, the small list of actors like the Colin Firths and the Ralph Fiennes of the world who are offered the meaty dramatic parts that showcase and challenge their talents, not just their abs or their gorgeous mugs.

It is my hope that filmgoers will be able to get past their prejudices against watching Shakespeare on film, let alone a film by an actor who thinks he can direct and yes, even get beyond their prejudices against Gerard Butler as a serious and talented actor long enough to just watch the damn movie.

Forget it’s Shakespeare, forget it’s Gerard Butler, forget everything you think you know… and let his face tell you the story

*Immeasurable thanks, as always, to my editor, Connie!