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James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix Making The Immigrant

Wild Bunch

James Gray seems like an anachronism. Between visually noisy blockbusters and indies that display a greater interest in bending narrative conventions rather than mastering them, his adherence to a more classical form of storytelling feels out-of-touch with contemporary filmmaking practice. His evident influences and forerunners include Robert Bresson, Roberto Rossellini and Francis Ford Coppola, and his cinematic relationship to New York City feels indebted to Sidney Lumet yet remains unmistakably his own. Gray doesn’t use other filmmakers’ work as a Tarantino-esque palette for diversion, despite his shared affinity for crime drama, that signature ’90s indie genre staple (Gray’s first feature was a 1994 gangster film starring Tim Roth – that’d be Little Odessa, not Pulp Fiction).

Gray’s narratives are classical and familiar, but they’re never derivative or postmodern. The filmmaker instead uses cinema’s history as a tool to master storytelling, character development, mood and setting as a form of practice, and he realizes his personality as a filmmaker through the life he knows outside of filmmaking, principally as the Brighton Beach-raised grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. If his standalone work feels anachronistic, that’s exactly why his work is essential and urgent – a reminder of what filmmaking can be beyond formal gimmickry and narrative subversion. He is the rare example of a filmmaker whose primary referent is not cinema itself.

And with his latest, The Immigrant (now available on Netflix Instant), Gray has quietly released what might turn out to be the best film this year. It’s a small step for a filmmaker whose unassuming but magnificent work has had a difficult time finding a following. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the guy who made that one Joaquin Phoenix movie you’ve been meaning to see but haven’t gotten around to yet.

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The Best Man

Universal Pictures

Malcolm D. Lee‘s crowd-pleasing and big money-earning The Best Man franchise is bound for trilogy designation, as Universal has just announced that the third film in the series will arrive in 2016. Deadline reports that The Best Man Wedding – wait, is it the wedding of the best man? who is his best man? maybe they should have thought about these titles a bit more — will arrive on April 15, 2016, reuniting the sprawling cast to participate in (what else!) a big time wedding.

Lee is back on board to write and direct the feature, and the franchise’s many cast members — including Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau and Melissa De Sousa — are all expected to come back for more. Monica Calhoun will probably, um, not be back. Now that the blockbuster series is moving into pretty firm franchise territory, is it time for you to get on board? Well, yes. 

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Robin Wright in The Congress

Drafthouse Films

Stardom is a fundamentally contradictory experience for audiences. On the one hand, we can feel like we know a star intimately as a human being, despite the many roles that they play and despite the fact that they do not know us. We carry our past knowledge of the star onto each new project. And every time a star is captured by a camera, a brief record of them is made, in a moment solidified for a seeming eternity. Marlene Dietrich may be long deceased, but in revisiting any close-up fashioned from Josef von Sternberg’s films, she can feel as immediate to us as she was to the cameras eighty years ago.

On the other hand, a star is always both more and less than a human being. Stars are the foundation for an industry of magazines, brand names readily available for peddling products, personalities to be mimicked, fashion icons to aspire to, and economic conditions for a film’s making and marketing. We can experience fleeting moments of intimacy with a star image, but the industry that makes stardom possible continually alienates us from a polished, selectively represented human being before us.

It is through this dual capacity of stardom that stars continue to exist well after the physical lives of the people who embodied them. These inherent tensions between personhood and media are explored in great depth in Ari Folman’s new film The Congress, a film that uses the strange condition of stardom and the technological advancements of the current age to explore where human existence and is possible, or even knowable, in an uncanny landscape of digital representation.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) is a recent college grad with an MBA and a strong desire to work. Unfortunately he’s holding out for something in upper management, and that something is not on his career horizon. Defeated he returns to his hometown to move back in with his mom and dad (Barbara Niven and Ray Wise), but while he expects living at home again to be a nightmare he’s unprepared for just how horrific it becomes.

A little dead girl is discovered buried in their backyard, and the find is soon followed by all manner of supernatural shenanigans and terrifying apparitions. Raymond is no stranger to ghostly visitors as he used to regularly see and commune with the dead as a child. He lost the ability as he grew up, but reminded of his true calling and with the assistance of a dryly sarcastic bartender (Kat Dennings) he sets out to appease the vengeful spirit and return the household to normal.

Director/co-writer Richard Bates Jr.‘s second film, Suburban Gothic, is a bit rough around the edges at times — due clearly to budgetary limitations as opposed to creative ones — but none of that gets in the way of the high energy and generous laughs packed into a tight and very funny 90 minutes.

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Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

One of the many highlights of Guardians of the Galaxy (out next week) is when the gang pays a visit to The Collector. James Gunn‘s film already had shades of strange, but Benicio del Toro kicked it up a few notches. Once you visit his black market, you don’t want to leave it. Maybe the film’s biggest problem is del Toro: he’s not in it enough. They’ll likely incorporate him more in future Marvel movies, but he’s a character you want to see more of. Take one look at that guy and it’s pretty obvious he lives an interesting life.

Him wheeling and dealing with that funky outfit on could be as exciting as any huge set piece. The fact of the matter is, we need a movie about The Collector. It wouldn’t have to be a super expensive tentpole movie. The Collector is the kind of character we don’t need to see in action. He’s engaging enough on his own.

In the past there’s been talk of Marvel movies making smaller scale pictures. They recently announced their release date schedule for the next five years. It’s doubtful any of those summer and fall releases aren’t huge blockbusters. That’s fine, of course, but wouldn’t fandom turn up for a smaller Marvel movie? A little slice of life kind of story in the life of a hero or villain?  Will we ever see those movies from Marvel in the future? “Well, someday,” Marvel’s Kevin Feige tells us at the press day for Guardians of the Galaxy.

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Edgar Wright

Rogue Pictures

Right now, the words “Edgar Wright” are synonymous with “not directing Ant-Man.” It’s gotta be tough for the director, not only to have sunk so many years into a film only to end up walking away, but to be bombarded by Peyton Reed this and Peyton Reed that any time he opens an internet browser. At least Wright’s moving on in a healthy fashion. Deadline reports that the English film wonder has decided on his next project. The title? Baby Driver. The details? Practically nonexistant.

Here’s an exhaustive list of what we know so far:

  • Baby Driver will team Wright with producer Nira Park and Working Title Films (this is superb news, as the same pairing brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End).
  • It will probably have nothing to do with Simon Pegg or Nick Frost (they’re busy enough as it is – Frost has a TV show called Mr. Sloane and Pegg has six films in the pipeline).
  • The film will be “a collision of crime, action, music and sound.”

If that’s just a smidge too vague, Baby Driver was described in slightly more detail when Wright first brought it up in 2009. So forget the collision thing and instead consider it “a wild spin on the action and crime genre which will be set in the US.” Actually, as far as rampant speculation goes, Wright wrote a script in 2011 that he described as “kind of like a musical.” So maybe don’t forget the collision thing (at least not the “music and sound” part of it).

But all that pales in comparison to Baby Driver‘s toughest enigma: what the hell is a baby driver?

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Ethan Hawke in PREDESTINATION

Blacklab Entertainment

The concept of time travel is one thing. Entrusting time travel, and the fate of the world, to Ethan Hawke, really seems like quite another. But here we are, with Ethan Hawke: Time Cop keeping us safe from the world’s ills while we sit pretty in whatever linear concept of time and space we think actually exists. How foolish we’ve been this whole time.

Fresh off his oft praised turn as the dadliest of dads in Boyhood, Hawke is trying his hand at sci-fi with Predestination, a film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (his second collaboration with the Spierig Brothers after 2009′s Daybreakers) that answers the questions: is Ethan Hawke the hero we need right now, and is he the one we deserve? The premise for the film, laid out in the first trailer, is simple, but it doesn’t make any of the details any less dazzling. Hawke is a temporal agent, a time traveling arm of the law who leaps back and forth between decades stopping crimes before they are even committed. His main mission is to stop the terroristic reign of the so-called Fizzle Bomber, which if we’re being honest, sounds like a spectacular new rocket-shaped popsicle that you can get from your local ice cream truck.

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TMNT Recycle Dudes

New Line Cinema

Rebooting a franchise can mean a lot of changes to a beloved film property, and that tends to inspire everything from angry Tweets to petitions and boycotts. Just recall all the complaints about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie at various stages of both rumor and actual production. Fans are wary of there being too many alterations to their favorite heroes in a half shell, and they weren’t having any of that alleged alien race nonsense.

But you know what would really have put pitchforks in their hands aimed at the throat of producer Michael Bay? The lack of a TMNT-centric rap song on the soundtrack. Fortunately, the upcoming movie does have one of those. We can all finally rest easy with this news.

The tune this time is titled “Shell Shocked” and it’s performed by Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Ty Dolla $ign with material from Brian Tyler’s score for the film as the melody. You’ll be able to hear it during the end credits of the movie, but you can also download it now via iTunes. Reportedly everyone associated with the song is a huge TMNT fan, and that has nothing to do with publicity spin whatsoever, I’m sure. Wouldn’t want any fans criticizing the idea of a track in the movie being made by people just in it for the cash. After all, how would we otherwise know if one of the rappers wouldn’t have given a damn about the turtles originating from space?

Disappointment could come — at least it has from me — in the fact that “Shell Shocked” doesn’t sound enough like it’s a genuine plot song. Of course, Hollywood is likely wary of these sorts of classic soundtrack staples given how protective they are with plot details, and anyway the TMNT franchise hasn’t had a proper plot song since the first movie’s “Turtle Power.” At least it’s got more relevant references to the characters of the movie than Vanilla Ice‘s “Ninja Rap” off the soundtrack for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

While the video is expected to drop next week, you can check out the song itself below followed by a nostalgic appreciation for the TMNT rap songs of the past.

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TIFF

TIFF

We may be within spitting distance of this year’s Comic-Con, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t spend some time getting excited about the next next big event: this September’s Toronto International Film Festival. The festival has now unleashed the first bit of its slate, and it’s already the kind of talent-packed, big name-crammed, jaw-dropping kind of thing we’ve long come to expect from the festival. Honestly? I’m sort of already packing my bags right now, because I don’t want anything slowing down my ability to see a whole mess of these films (even excessively and embarrassingly early preparations).

This announcement includes thirteen Galas and forty-six Special Presentations — just a smidge of the festival’s full slate, really, but the one that’s the most glitzy and recognizable — which includes thirty-seven world premieres and plenty of films we’ve been waiting a long time to see. Eager to see what TIFF has to offer? After the break, take a look at every single film announced today, including twenty-three titles that already have us excited to decamp to Canada in two months.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.

Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead, and her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is all torn up about it. Sure they were having troubles and it looked like they might be heading for a split, but now that she’s gone — as in gone gone — he’s finding it difficult to think about anything else as he sinks into his pit of despair. Hoping for company with like-minded people he takes to spending time with Beth’s equally distraught parents, but just a few days later they shut him out of their lives. Distraught and driven for similarly bereft companionship he heads to their house only to glimpse something odd through a window.

Beth is still alive.

Kind of.

She’s returned from the dead, and overcome with joyful confusion her parents are hiding her from the world. Beth’s memory isn’t all that great — she’s really stressed about a test she has tomorrow and has no idea that she’s dead — but Zach isn’t bout to turn his back on this second chance at a struggling relationship. Every couple hits some bumps in the road right? He soon discovers though that some love stories are better off dead.

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Fargo

FX Networks

Aw jeez, we didn’t think that FX’s hit series Fargo was really going to run for just one single season, don’t cha know, but it sure is exciting to hear that we’re getting more of the good stuff, you betcha! (End bad slang usage.) Hot on the heels of some major Emmy nominations — 18 total, the most for any FX series ever — the cable channel has renewed their beloved series, based on the Coen Brothers’ film of the same name, for ten all new episodes. And they really will be all new, thanks to a new setting, a new cast of characters, a new actual cast, and a new crime to follow. But, rest assured, this Fargo promises to still feel like both of its predecessors.

So what does the second season of the series hold for us? Well, probably plenty more winter jackets. But this time, they will be vintage winter jackets.

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RADiUS-TWC

RADiUS-TWC

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

BLUE RUIN bluBlue Ruin

Dwight (Macon Blair) is a bit of a loner. He lives in his car, parked on the side of a road near a Delaware beach, and spends his days scrounging for food, collecting cans and reading. A gentle wake-up knock on his car window precedes a disturbing piece of news. The man who killed Dwight’s parents is being released from prison. Single-minded but far from focused, Dwight fills the gas tank, pops the car battery into place and makes a beeline straight into hell.

The setup here is economical, and the rest of the film follows suit, but rather than be a negative that simplicity actually elevates the film above its bigger budgeted, higher profile cousins. A Hollywood version of this tale would complicate things with unnecessary subplots, excessive exposition and time spent highlighting just how bad the bad guy and his henchmen really are. Here we stick with Dwight throughout, and the result is one of the most intimate and affecting revenge films in years. My full review.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, camera test]

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dwayne johnson in tooth fairy

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Walden Media, LLC.

We’re likely to get the official announcement this weekend at Comic-Con, but the cat is peeking out the bag regarding a DC Comics superhero role for Dwayne Johnson. He hinted in a recent interview with Total Film that he has finally found the character for him, and without naming names he basically revealed that character is Shazam. “Just say the word,” he not-so-cryptically said at the end of the conversation, which is a pretty good giveaway considering Shazam, aka Captain Marvel, becomes his super-powered self when a kid named Billy Batson exclaims the word “Shazam.” He also reverts to his younger self by saying it again. Johnson also noted that his secret role has the powers of Superman, and Shazam certainly has those. In fact, he was believed to be modeled after the more famous DC hero when Captain Marvel debuted in the pages of competitors Fawcett Comics.

Presumably Shazam, a movie already slated for 2016 with Peter Segal (Grudge Match) producing and possibly directing, will be a part of the Justice League mega-franchise that Warner Bros. is building (to be kicked off/continued in 2016 with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). That could be chalked up to producers truly believing that Johnson is the opposite of kryptonite for troubled franchises — which Justice League has been before even getting off the ground. Shazam has been part of the team at times, yet he’s not one of the core JL characters that we tend to think of as being a member.

It’d be pretty cool if DC and Warners were able to launch a separate series for Shazam simultaneously to Justice League, but we all know that’s not likely. Then again, there was that other DC superhero movie starring a former athlete that came out the same year as a Batman movie. Hopefully Shazam will be a little better than Steel.

Watch Johnson giddily fumble his can of beans to Total Film’s Josh Winning below.

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