For those interested, Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner will be part of a live Twitter chat this Friday, June 19. It’s simple to participate; at 10 a.m. Pacific time, log in to Twitter, put #foodinc in the search bar, and hit enter. You’re now following the conversation. If you have questions, be sure to include the #foodinc tag.
A pure Oscar-bait type of movie, through and through — a period-piece drama starring awards-vetted actors, based on a respected novel, under the direction of an established filmmaker — Revolutionary Road centers on Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, reuniting for the first time since Titanic), a young married Connecticut couple who, in the 1950s, have two kids and come to feel, each in their own way, irredeemably weighed down and oppressed by the monotony of suburban life they’ve default-embraced.
Neither Frank’s cushy, well-paying advertising job, nor a friendly relationship with neighbors Milly and Shep Campbell (Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour) can dull the tiny razors of ennui. In fact, over time, all that pre-formatted comfort and familiarity seems to be a big part of what wears Frank and April thin, and leads to the sort of emotional separation that eventually breeds infidelity. That the rest of the movie is generally paced like an ambling, summer night’s post-dinner stroll helps Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Michael Shannon blow in and steal a number of scenes, based on sheer energy. He plays John, the blunt-spoken, not-quite-right son of Helen Givings (Kathy Bates), the Wheelers’ real estate agent, and when eschews social niceties and upsets the prim-and-proper conventions of the time and place during a pair of afternoon tea sessions, it’s like a welcome electrical storm in an otherwise uninterrupted stream of muggy, overcast but rainless evenings.
Look, without launching into a more intellectually robust dismissal, or re-posting my original theatrical review, which came under contract for an outlet with whom I do not have reprint rights, Revolutionary Road is an ornate, full-bodied drama in which all the proper levers of the craft of filmmaking are pulled, with earnestness and passion. Its artistic execution is pretty much unassailable. It looks fantastic, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, who expertly uses light to capture both the sunny charms and eventual sense of preordained suffocation of upper-middle class white America, circa 1955.
“And yet” — well, those are the two words I found hanging around in my head for almost the entire running time of the film, and long afterward. I never felt fully persuaded or caught up in the dramatic stakes of the movie, and DiCaprio, a fine actor, can’t quite ever wrap his mouth around curse words in convincing fashion. When he swears — especially in frothy rage, as he’s required to here — he sounds like a kid who’s wandered into a group of his older brother’s friends, and is trying to impress some girl via blustery badassedness. Mostly, though, Revolutionary Road is damningly hamstrung by a presented fork in the road — Frank and April entertaining the notion of ditching suburbia and heading off to France — that we as the audience know is never going to happen. It would be one thing if the story hit this beat and moved on, but the movie chews up an awful lot of ground peddling this non-starter of a twist. Consequently, I just felt far out in front of it, wondering — if one will permit the indulgence of a Simpsons reference — when the film and its makers were going to quit jerking me around and get to the fireworks factory.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Revolutionary Road comes presented via a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with English, French and Spanish Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, plus optional subtitles in each of the aforementioned languages. A full-length audio commentary track with Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe kicks off the slate of supplemental features, and the pair have a nice rapport, sharing anecdotes and doling out major props to Deakins and the “happy accident” of capturing the loneliness beyond the characters, as rendered in flickering lights and a lakeside reflection on glass during a bout of automotive lovemaking.
Running just under a half-hour is a making-of featurette packed with insights from cast and crew, and some cool behind-the-scenes footage (over 200 extras being outfitted and handed reprints of commuter newspapers, and Deakins rigging up white sheets off of which to bounce light). Production designer Kristi Zea talks about the important selection of the movie’s house, albeit as if the notion of smaller domestic square footage in 1955 is a great shock to her. In mixed interview footage from the set and the movie’s promotional junket, Mendes, sometimes sporting a beard, sometimes clean shaven, describes the movie as a “tragic love story, set in the 1950s, but dealing with very modern concerns.” Winslet, meanwhile, says it’s “about marriage, and how honesty must be present in underpinnings.”
Of perhaps the most interest is the movie’s meandering path to the big screen, though. Producer John Hart played shepherd to the project, and Winslet initially read it over four years ago, when pregnant with her son. She began planting seeds with DiCaprio — plying him slowly, she says — and then pressured Mendes into taking it on. For his part, Mendes, who pulled in producers Bobby Cohen and Scott Rudin, and says he always loved the script, copped to needing to take some time to be extra sure of tackling the movie, because of the scrutiny involved in collaborating with his wife.
There are also five deleted scenes, including an argument in front of the kids while Frank is cutting the grass and, most notably, a scene in which a slightly buzzed Frank talks about a birthday he had during the war, and how he was sung to by an entire division. The quiet punch of the scene, underscoring the nodding suburban repetitiveness of Frank and April’s lives, comes when it turns out he told the same story previously, a year earlier. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)
While its behind-the-scenes machinations are mined for laughs in another superlative film this summer, In the Loop, war is also very much at the heart of The Hurt Locker, a punishing, devastatingly well-made Iraq-set thriller with an implosive but no less powerful emotional impact. Eschewing the whirling, bird’s-eye helicopter shots of so many armed conflict flicks (this is most assuredly not a Tony Scott film), director Kathryn Bigelow tightens her focus in laser-like fashion, examining the effects of combat and danger on the human psyche.
Unfolding in Iraq in the summer of 2004, the movie opens on Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), part of a small, elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad specifically trained to handle the homemade bombs killing thousands of Iraqis and accounting for more than half of all American deaths in the country. A high-pressure assignment, the job leaves no room for mistakes, as they learn when they lose their team leader on a mission. When cocksure Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes over the unit, Sanborn and Eldridge are unnerved by what seems like his reckless disregard for both military protocol and basic safety measures. As chaos swirls around them, Sanborn and Eldridge try to come to terms with James’ behavior, even as it seems to endanger them during the dog days of their respective tours.
Based on the first-hand observations of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special Army bomb unit in
The wry, mordant banter of the soldiers is often revealing. “Aren’t you glad the Army has all those tanks parked there so if the Russians come along we can have a big tank battle?” one specialist asks his cohort. Yet Bigelow and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd — who similarly located the solemnity of courage and doom in United 93 — also find compelling shorthand images with which to seed their film, as with a hobbled cat limping along the dusty, war-torn roadside.
Through it all, there are set piece moments of exquisitely fine-tuned pressure-cooker tension, executed by Bigelow with a steely precision and skill that matches her protagonist’s on-screen bomb-defusing talents. One sequence finds James having to examine the body of a young boy that may have been booby-trapped; another scene finds him locating and disarming a hidden improvised explosive device, only to pull up a spider web of buried red ancillary wires, stretching 12 to 15 feet in every direction.
The Hurt Locker is perhaps most notable, though, for the manner in which much of its emotional impact lies outside the parameters of the picture and its contained, if ample, drama. Without giving away anything, suffice it to say that the film plays as a sort of tragic prequel to a post-traumatic stress disorder drama one might see five or six years hence. The greatest tragedy of war, you see, is that it isn’t really over when it ends. (
In Nobel Son, Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) is struggling to finish his Ph.D. thesis when his father Eli (Alan Rickman), a long-striding, socially artless, egomaniacal bastard, wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. While Eli and his wife Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), a forensics specialist and fellow academician, travel to accept the award, the former’s indiscretions, past and present, complicate matters. After a late-night hook-up with a kooky artist chick (Eliza Dushku), Barkley is knocked unconscious and ransomed by Thaddeus (Shawn Hatosy), a bitter young man who turns out to have a long-held grudge against Eli. Soon, Barkley becomes complicit in Thaddeus’ scheme, and eventually everyone gets in on the kidnapping, philandering and blackmail. And Pat Benatar is quoted… twice.
The other indie films of director Randall Miller (Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School, Bottle Shock) have, to various degrees, been intriguingly sketched if fitfully misguided character ensembles, up-and-down affairs in which fantastic scenes abut awkward and/or pointless ones. Nobel Son is Miller’s most processed work, most concerned with self-satisfied style over substance, and it’s a misstep in a different direction. The movie wants to be a pulse-quickening genre knuckleball, part Zero Effect, part Lucky Number Slevin, part dysfunctional family dramedy. But the tone isn’t at all a match with the material, no matter the gameness of an intriguing ensemble cast, and imprinted upon almost every frame in the movie’s 111-minute running time, under the electro-throb score from Paul Oakenfold and Mark Adler, is effort, with a capital E.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Nobel Son comes presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a complementary English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. The disc’s supplemental features are anchored by a chatty feature-length audio commentary track from director Miller, wife/writing partner/co-producer Jody Savin, cinematographer Mike Ozier and on-screen talent Dushku and Greenberg. There’s an awful lot of cross-talk here, and plenty of vacuous self-congratulation, honestly, but some of the anecdotes (the problematic fiberglass on the roof of the love scene between Dushku and Greenberg, for instance) provide a bit of amusement.
Three deleted scenes — which only further underscore a couple narrative points, including a twisty ending, in declamatory fashion — each come with optional commentary from Miller and Savin. Finally, a 14-minute making-of featurette includes interviews with Miller and some of the cast, notably Dushku, Rickman, Greenberg and Steenburgen, who notes that it’s easy to detest her screen husband given the manner in which Rickman so magnificently embodies Eli. Both red-band and normal versions of the movie’s trailer are included, along with a couple other trailers for 20th Century Fox home video releases. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Movie) B (Disc)
Full review goes live at midnight or so, but Year One is better than expected, at least based on the bulk of its TV advertising. Well, let me qualify that somewhat: the pairing of Jack Black and Michael Cera gives the movie some punch, and a pleasant enough vibe, and the joke writing is pretty strong. The story, about two wayward, primitive age villagers who embark on a weird sort of road trip, is unfocused, and kind of a mess, mainly because it doesn’t unfold in one discrete time period and there’s not a codifying interior logic with respect to what sorts of human inventions and modes of behavior with which its characters are and aren’t familiar. (Black’s Zed, when confronted with a woman who “likes girls,” responds with a blank smile that he doesn’t even know what that means; later, Cera’s Oh pointedly uses the word “gay” when explaining away to his crush an incident where he was caught rubbing oil onto the chest of a priest played by Oliver Platt.) Still, The Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, along with cowriter-director Harold Ramis, stuff the movie’s edges with an above-average amount of ADR riffs and other scene-capping quips. My favorite line might just be Zed, bargaining for his life after having entered a supposedly forbidden chamber and not being struck dead, trying to save Oh by dint of executive privilege, claiming, “Everyone knows the Chosen One gets a plus-one!”
Screen International‘s Mike Goodridge takes a nice swing at the new studio calculus of foreign theatrical gate when it comes to greenlighting certain films, using as a case study Angels & Demons, among a few other movies. This new slide-ruler will continue to play a more and more prominent role in Hollywood decision-making, which on a certain level has to mean even less support for original spec drama and comedy scripts, since — absent the pre-sale attachment of big stars and directors — there’s more X-factor variability in those types of production go-aheads.
It’s a happy 31st birthday to Emma Heming, aka Mrs. Bruce Willis, a leggy Maltese falcon if ever there were one.
I don’t know whether they met on the set of the perfectly awful Perfect Stranger — one of Heming’s few acting credits — or that’s a later gig Willis helped her get, but either way that’s not something they should ever really spend much time discussing. Which then begs the question: what do they discuss? How she was 10 years old when Die Hard came out?