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?

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)

Pierce Brosnan Back In Bond Mode *UPDATED with TRAILER*

Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, movie, still, The November Man

Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko in The November Man

An auspicious beginning, yes?

Pierce Brosnan stars in a new thriller, November Man, for his Dante’s Peak director, Roger Donaldson. Donaldson, director of The Bank Job with Jason Statham and No Way Out and Thirteen Days with Kevin Costner, usually knows his way around the genre, 2011’s Nic Cage opus Seeking Justice notwithstanding.

In November Man, Brosnan plays an ex-CIA operative who, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in, for a very personal mission. He finds himself pitted against his former pupil (Luke Bracey) in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

The film will also give US audiences a chance to get to know Bracey before the controversial (*eyeroll*) remake of Point Break, in which he’ll inhabit the wetsuit that used to belong to Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah.

As for Brosnan, it’s been twelve years since he hung up his tux and drained his last martini as James Bond in 2002’s Die Another Day.  He’s had a couple of action roles, like After the Sunset and Seraphim Falls, but nothing that makes use of his “particular set of skills”.  These first four just-released images give us a hint that agent Peter Devereaux might be a return to form. He’s even got a cool car!

Based on a novel by Bill Granger, with a screenplay by Michael Finch (Predators) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion), November Man costars Olga Kurylenko, Will Patton (No Way Out), Eliza Taylor and Bill Smitrovitch. Hopefully we’ll get a trailer soon, since the movie opens in the US on August 24.  Hey, by then we’ll be tired of the blockbusters and will be looking for something to tide us over before the Big Guns of Awards Season are rolled out. I’m in. How about you?

Spoke too soon! Here’s the first teaser trailer!

Looks like fun. JMHO

 

Another Look at Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard in Macbeth!

Macbeth, Scottish play, Shakespeare, movie, still, Marion Cotillard, Michael Fassbender

Another new image has just been released from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth. It again features Michael Fassbender as the titular Scottish Laird, this time speckled with blood as he gazes adoringly at his “Lady M”, Marion Cotillard.

This photo follows the two that surfaced just ten days ago.

No release dates for the film have yet been announced, and imdb still lists a vague “2015”. I have to wonder though, given that the publicity stream has started to flow, whether that might be moved up to late 2014 – you know, awards season. It won’t make Cannes next month, since that schedule has already been announced (or is a late edition possible, given that Fassbender has a high profile film like X-Men: Days of Future Past about to open around the same time?), but it could make Venice or TIFF. If a trailer arrives in the next month or so, I’d say 2014 will be a safer bet, with or without a festival appearance. JMHO

Macbeth is directed by Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders), from a script by Jacob Koskoff and Todd Louiso, based on Shakespeare’s play. It also stars Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor and Elizabeth Debicki.