Jane Got A Gun and (FINALLY) a Release Date

Jane Got A Gun, Natalie Portman, movie, photo, Gavin O'Connor, Joel Edgerton

A film whose troubled beginnings will almost certainly overshadow its box-office, Jane Got A Gun, has finally been taken off the shelf and is set to be dusted off and released to US audiences in September (which could mean a festival bow at TIFF or Telluride).

In case you’re unfamiliar with “the saga of the making of Jane Got A Gun”, I’ll recap:

The screenplay was plucked from The Blacklist* back in 2011 and when production began it was originally set to star Natalie Portman as Jane Hammond and Michael Fassbender as her ex-lover Dan Frost and Joel Edgerton as villain John Bishop, with Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) at the helm. By what was to have been the first day of filming, Fassbender had already left, supposedly because delays had resulted in “scheduling conflicts”, Edgerton had taken Fassbender’s role with Jude Law as the bad guy. Then came reports that Ramsay had walked on that first day. It was weeks before anyone had a clue why and to this day, all anyone will say is “difficulties with producers” (one of whom, it’s worth mentioning, is Natalie Portman).

By the time cameras did eventually roll, the production had lost Law, because he only signed on to work with Ramsay,  who was replaced by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior). Law was replaced by Ewan McGregor.

Got it?

Anyway, to celebrate the fact that this potential cluster-fuck will finally see the light of day, Relativity (oh dear) has dropped these first-look images, which you can see below.

Young and pretty with a soul of pure steel, Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) is a good girl married to one of the worst baddies in town. When her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) turns against his own gang, the vicious Bishop Boys, and returns home barely alive with eight bullets in his back, Jane knows it’s time to ditch the dress for a pair of pants and strap on her own gun. As the relentless leader John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) gears up for revenge, Jane’s best hope for her family’s survival rests with her old love Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) – a gunslinger whose hatred for Bill is only slightly overshadowed by his love for Jane. Together Jane and Dan spring clever traps, luring Bishop’s men to certain death just as their old feelings for each other resurface amidst the flying bullets.

So, what do you think? Will you see it? Does the back story make you any more or less curious about the end result?  For my part, I’m a fan of Gavin O’Connor’s work and he did have a talented cast to work with, regardless of how it was cobbled together. And at least he got to start at the beginning. It’s not like he had to step in mid-stream and finish another director’s work (regardless of how seamlessly he might have accomplished it because he’d probably be lambasted or it anyway *coughMichael Apted**cough*) It’s entirely possible that more films than we know go through similar machinations before they reach the finish line, just less publicly. I suppose I should wait for a trailer, but I’m in.

*The Blacklist is a database of the year’s best unproduced scripts. The list that included Jane Got A Gun also included The Imitation Game, Grace of Monaco, Django Unchained, St. Vincent de Van Nuys, Saving Mr. Banks and Sex Tape.  A lot can happen between the page and the screen.

 

**Chasing Mavericks

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)

Jude Law Gets Hilariously Filthy in Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway, Jude Law, movie, poster, Richard Shepard, Richard E. Grant

Poster for dvd release of Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway with Jude Law

Dom Hemingway, a movie I’m almost certain you missed in the theaters, is out now on dvd and blu-ray. It’s about a Cockney safecracker of the same name, zealously played with bawdy, psychotic, raunchy, balls-out , go-for-broke bravado by Jude Law like you’ve never seen him before – and not just because he gained thirty pounds to play him. Dom is Bricktop from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (sans pigs), if Ritchie were Francois Rabelais channeling Mickey Spillane.

Actually, Dom Hemingway sprang from the talented and slightly twisted mind of writer/director Richard Shepard, whose last movie, 2005’s The Matador, gave us Pierce Brosnan strolling across a hotel lobby in a Speedo and ankle boots.

After spending 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.

The story begins as we listen, likely in slack-jawed wonder, watching Law’s face in close-up, as Dom addresses the audience and delivers an ode to his favorite part of his anatomy. As the camera pulls back we realize he’s talking all the while being “serviced” by a faceless someone whom we come to recognize as a fellow inmate. It is a truly awesome monologue, an efflux of Shakespearean proportions, both epic and surreal, funny and jaw-droppingly filthy.

jude law, shirtless, movie, photo, dom hemingway

That stunning scene pretty much tells us what we’re in for as we follow this violent, poetic, hilarious, anachronistic gangster on his quest to get the money owed to him for not ratting out his boss… plus a present.

Then there’s Dom’s best friend, Dickie, played by the under-rated Richard E. Grant, as a toff in leisure suits and aviator shades, with a prosthetic hand. Dickie is at Dom’s right hand, observing everything and responding with a verbal or literal eye-roll, but we know instantly that this is just par for the course and there is deep affection between the two.

Dom: Fontaine better have a well-stocked bar.
Dickie: He was raised in a Russian orphanage and kills people for a living. Of course he has a well-stocked bar.

In fact, all of the characters, from the double-crossing Russian mobster Mr. Fontaine, played Demian Bichir (!) to Melody (Kerry Condon), whose life Dom saves in a rare moment of unselfishness, to an unrecognizable Emilia Clarke as Dom’s estranged daughter Evelyn, are very well drawn. The problem is that Dom is such a BIG character that everyone around him is dwarfed.

It’s a story we’ve seen play out countless times before with varying degrees of success, but a character like Dom, rarely. Shepard’s twist is the humor with which he tries to balance his main character’s amoral behavior. However, that we are not repulsed by Dom is, of course, down in part to the clever things Shepard has given him to say, but mostly it’s all Law, who manages to remain as charming as ever. He embodies every aspect of Dom, from the way he walks (more like swaggers bow-legged with hips thrust forward like a cowboy or porn star, usually with a cigarette plugged between his teeth), talks, swears, drinks, laughs, and cries with every bit of the bold presumptuousness needed to make the character come to life.

The movie ultimately can’t decide what it wants to be. Instead of letting Dom just “be”, Shepard sees the need to add a redemption plot to his otherwise slight tale of an ex-con looking for payback. Dom’s efforts to repair his relationship with his daughter, despite how good Clarke is, and how good Law is in the scenes with her son, feel tacked on. It really wasn’t necessary to give Dom any redeeming qualities when the reprobate is so much fun.

Dom Hemingway as a whole should not work, but amazingly it does, for the most part – including the striking and vibrant color palette, the soundtrack full of instantly recognizable classics by The Alarm, Primal Scream, Big Country, Pixies, Godfathers, Motorhead, and Citizen Cope, as well as a very sweet version of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” sung by Emilia Clarke, and a truly memorable car crash sequence – as long as you don’t ask too much from it.

If for nothing else, though, I recommend the film for Jude Law, who at 41 has eschewed “pretty boy” status for good and Dom Hemingway finds him at his very best.

Red-band trailer:

Dom Hemingway, written and directed by Richard Shepard, with Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter and Madelina Ghenea, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 and is on dvd and blu-ray now.

Make a Reservation For Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel, movie, Poster

via imdb

Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, while definitely for adults, earning its R-rating with mature themes as well as blood, death and copious f-bombs, is also as delightfully flaky and multi-layered as one of the beautifully decorated pastries, the “Courtesans au chocolat”, that play a key role in the film. It’s lovingly crafted in Anderson’s signature candy colors and wrapped in an equally pretty pink box, not the one tied with a blue ribbon, but the Grand Budapest Hotel itself.

The film recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

The film is another in a line of Anderson’s charming and brightly colored shadowboxes, this one awash in extravagant shades of topaz, rose and amethyst, and filled with the director’s usual complement of wacky characters to whom he’s given lots of amusing and eloquent things to say and lots of screwball antics to perform.

It begins with an aging writer embarking on a story told to him when he was a younger man, by another aging raconteur who then proceeds to tell the tale of The Grand Budapest Hotel when it was indeed still grand.  So it’s a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, telling a story within a story within a story, spanning three different eras, each with its own production design and color palette. The setting is the fictional European country of Zubrowka, an obvious stand-in for any of a number of Eastern bloc countries like Czechoslovakia or Poland. When the film opens, the titular castle-like hotel, though clearly fallen on hard times, stands as a remnant of a bye-gone era – an era of grace and beauty…and excess.  The year is 1968 and the Grand Budapest Hotel has been refurbished to reflect more utilitarian times, but it is one of the mysteries around which the film revolves that it has been allowed to remain otherwise untouched, a gracefully aging doyenne atop a mountain, looming over the villages below when private property is clearly frowned upon. (Think of how many families could make use of the hotel’s rooms!)

As all of Anderson’s films revolve around some variation of a father/son dynamic, usually a quirky middle-aged man and the precocious boy he takes under his wing, The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. This time around, the mentor is played by Ralph Fiennes as “the mysterious Monsieur Gustave H.”, the consummate concierge who is by turns fussy, fastidious, charming, condescending, a little creepy and sweetly endearing. Often these traits are all visible within the same scene The elderly society matrons who seem to make up the lion’s share of the hotel’s guests, provide Monsieur Gustave with ample opportunity to polish his gifts for seduction and flattery to a fine patina, even when they’re dead.

The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Anderson at his most spirited and stylish. As Gustave and “his  lobby boy” named Zero embark on a fateful trip to honor one such dearly departed guest’s memory, they wind up embroiled in a zany murder mystery comprised of a string of antic set pieces that take them from a vast and spooky mansion to a hilarious prison break to a cartoonish ski-and-sled chase from a mountaintop monastery.

Of course along the way they’ll run into a colorful array of  Anderson’s regular company of players. It would be too spoilery for me to tell you who Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson play but part of the fun is waiting for them to pop up, since you know they’re bound to. Adrien Brody is obviously having a blast as the villain, all but twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash in melodramatic glee, as is an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, who has far too little screen time. (Apparently both she and Ralph Fiennes agree as Swinton has said that they’ve talked about doing a “prequel” depicting Monsieur Gustave and Madame D’s “love story”.) Edward Norton does a variation of Scout Master Ward from Moonrise Kingdom, as Henckels. New members of the company include F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law, among several other familiar faces. But it’s Fiennes to whom this movie belongs and who provides the gravitas and is the ambiguous heart and soul of the film. He’s in nearly every frame of the picture. As an actor he’s gotten so good at playing villains or heavy dramatic roles that it’s almost a giddy surprise to discover his impeccable comic timing. He inhabits Monsieur Gustave in such a way that we cannot doubt his sincerity whether he’s berating his lobby boy, vetting Zero’s young girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) or complimenting a corpse on her complexion, despite the fact that he remains a bit of a cryptic figure. He’s civilized and refined, at least superficially, but he’s also prone to vulgarity and casual cruelty and his own background is left purposely vague.

The spectre of impending war looms large and the Nazis are given the thinnest of veils instead of being named outright, but Nazi-era anxieties play a huge role.  If one compares The Grand Budapest Hotel to another film set during the same time period, Cabaret, then Gustave H. is like a more genteel version of Joel Grey’s Emcee.

If the only Wes Anderson film you’re familiar with is 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, a gently deviant story of first love, it might surprise you to discover that The Grand Budapest Hotel is peppered with startling images of violence. After a character tosses a cat out a window, we see its bloody remains on the pavement below before it’s off-handedly discarded in a trash can, not to mention the close-up of some recently amputated fingers. There’s also a brief glimpse of sexual explicitness that feels almost shockingly out of place in a Wes Anderson film. (It’s meant to be jarring and it does earn a well-deserved laugh from the audience.)  Anderson seems ready and willing to indulge a taste for the crude and grotesque. He treats characters’ physical blemishes and deformities as visual one-liners like the shoeshine boy with the prosthetic leg and the bakery girl with “a port wine stain in the shape of Mexico” on her face.

Anderson has said that his inspirations were the wartime comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, like To Be or Not to Be, but this isn’t so much a satire as it is an homage or soft focus mirror image of those films. He gives us the abhorrence of authoritarianism which marked that earlier genre,  not as a crime against humanity, but more as an affront to good taste and Old World etiquette. Despite the humor, the pastels and jewel tones and the near slapstick energy of some of the vignettes, there is a tinge of melancholy wafting through the film, particularly in the section that takes place post-war, centering on Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and The Writer (Jude Law).

The dialogue written by Anderson from a story by Hugo Guinness and inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, is heavily laced with poetry and gives Gustave the right to be called a genuinely romantic figure, in the truest sense of the term.

Part of Anderson’s charm is his ability to put together the perfect musical canvas upon which to draw his pictures. I’ve been listening to Alexandre Desplat’s memorable score for weeks now.  It will carry you along until it dares you not to tap your toes, especially during the final credits. (You do stay, right?) You must. You’ll want to dance the Hopak like a Cossack or at least throw your arms up to shout “Hey!” when the music stops.

Ultimately, The Grand Budapest Hotel is enchanting,  as well-appointed and smoothly run as its titular establishment. So here’s a question, why is a movie this much fun, this well made and well acted, released in March?  Why wasn’t it saved for the big end-of-the-year awards circus? It played a few well respected festivals like Berlin and Glasgow earlier in the winter, but not the biggies like Cannes, Toronto or Venice or even Tribeca. Was releasing it in March Anderson’s way of thumbing his nose at awards in general? Am I reading too much into this? Quite possibly. Okay, probably.  But I submit that all those of us who care about such things should agree to keep talking about this film and keep it in people’s minds –the minds of the people in a position to have an impact anyway – so that it’s not forgotten at the end of the year.

Sure there will be a lot more films released between now and then, some of them may be flashier, some of them may even be better. But some may not, but by virtue of their place on the calendar may get the accolades.  Just my humble opinion, but I think that at the end of the year we’ll still be thinking that Ralph Fiennes will deserve some mention as a candidate for Best Actor. Even Edward Norton admits, despite the fact that he really wanted to play Monsieur Gustave himself, that no one could have played him as well as Fiennes. Sure he didn’t have to gain or lose any weight or wear a prosthetic nose or anything else, but the delicate balance of the movie rests on his shoulders. Lord knows Fiennes has deserved the recognition many times before and has been overlooked (*coughCoriolanuscough*). He hasn’t been nominated by the Academy since 1996. 1996! C’mon.

Okay, I’m off of my soapbox. Bottom line, you need to check into the four-star establishment that is The Grand Budapest Hotel and let Monsieur Gustave see to your comfort for a couple of hours.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, written and directed by Wes Anderson, with Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux and Fisher Stevens, is open in select cities in the US and Canada now and is rolling out to more tomorrow March 21.

Final Trailer – Red Band:

How to Make “Courtesans au Chocolat”:

Meet the Cast:

The Central Conceit of Wes Anderson:

Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, elevator, Tony Revolori

courtesy Fox Searchlight