James Gray

James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix Making The Immigrant

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 […]

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The Weinstein Company

The Immigrant is a film of faces. That may seem simple, and perhaps it is, but James Gray‘s newest film does not try to be inscrutable. This is one of the virtues of melodrama, the raw and transparent quality of its emotion beaming from close-ups of the human face. Marion Cotillard‘s open, Catholic performance falls about her eyes, somewhere between Maria Falconetti and a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel. Joaquin Phoenix‘s brow, meanwhile, seems ever wider and more brutal as he oscillates between compassion and selfish violence. Jeremy Renner wears eyeliner, like the star of a theoretically possible Mike Leigh film about Yiddish vaudeville entertainers. The plot is relatively straightforward, even initially cliché. Cotillard is Ewa, a woman just off the boat from Poland, with her sister Magda in tow. Yet when the Ellis Island officials notice that Magda is ill she is rushed off to the infirmary, where she will recuperate or face deportation. Ewa, meanwhile, is put in a precarious position by a vaguely-alluded-to incident on her journey that has cast her as a “woman of low morals.” Threatened with deportation herself, she appeals to a passing American for help.

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The Immigrant

For some reason, James Gray‘s The Immigrant didn’t get released last fall as an awards contender. Like Snowpiercer, The Immigrant was far better than pretty much everything else Harvey Weinstein decided to release in 2013. Both movies sat on the shelf for a little bit, but thankfully for not too long. Snowpiercer and The Immigrant will have limited releases this summer, and it’s highly recommended to seek out the theaters that will show Gray and Bong Joon-ho‘s films. Both movies were made for the big screen. Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional control over tension makes for a true theatrical experience, while Gray’s new movie features gorgeous cinematography and another superb performance from Joaquin Phoenix that shouldn’t be first seen on your television set. Following up his best film, Two Lovers, Gray tells the story of an immigrant, played by Marion Cottillard, hoping to make it in America with her sister. It’s an often moving, refreshingly funny, and smartly structured drama.

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Blood Ties

Writer/director James Gray has explored brotherhood with real depth over his career. From We Own the Night to the  The Yards, Gray shows a deep understanding for unconditional love. He knows how to make cliches feel honest, like two brothers on the opposite sides of the law. Gray slyly subverted that idea in We Own the Night, a drama that went unnoticed in 2007. Blood Ties, which Gray co-wrote with the film’s director Guillaume Canet, will likely go unnoticed as well, but for very different reasons. Unlike We Own the Night, Canet’s film shows no interest in reinventing the wheel or putting down any personal stamp. When the protagonists at the center of Blood Ties make the tough decisions, Gray and Canet are unwilling to do the same with their by-the-number crime picture. Ever since Chris (Clive Owen) and Frank (Billy Crudup) were kids they’ve been different. Chris was the troublemaker of the two, while Frank followed the rules. Neither of them changed their ways as they grew older. At the start of the film Frank is released from prison. He’s been away so long that his kids, who are quickly pushed aside after one scene, don’t even recognize him. Chris can’t find a decent job, owes a ton in child support, and has to live with his brother, who’s now a straight and narrow cop.

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Blood Ties

James Gray has directed a total of five films over the past two decades, and while a movie every four years isn’t too shabby it’s also not quite a workmanlike pace either. He takes his time on personal projects like The Yards or divisive, subversive ones like We Own the Night. He’s an American filmmaker we don’t talk about often enough, but 2014 may change all that seeing as he’s attached in varying capacity to two different films. April will see the release of his latest directorial effort, The Immigrant, and a month earlier a film he co-wrote, Blood Ties, will hit theaters. Both films premiered at the Cannes film festival last year, a festival that’s always welcomed Gray’s work, and our Shaun Munro was mixed on Blood Ties, calling its 144 minute runtime “wholly excessive – even counter-productive – to telling this story. Furthermore, though Blood Ties will be no doubt be marketed on the strength of its brief bursts of action, it is in retrospect difficult to see the film having much commercial appeal outside of getting butts in seats by way of trailer-based manipulation.” Shaun’s prediction has been proven correct, since the newly released trailer does lean heavily on its occasional bursts of action. Take a look at the possibly misleading trailer for Blood Ties below.

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immigrant

Does it sound like a super-dramatic period piece featuring beautiful, warm cinematography and starring first-rate actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner would be the sort of thing that you’d be interested in? Then you’re probably going to want to watch the trailer for co-writer/director James Gray’s (We Own the Night, Two Lovers) new film, The Immigrant. It tells a complex tale that involves starting over in a new land, searching for lost family members, sex trafficking, and the seedy world of stage magicians. The Immigrant’s basic setup seems to be that Cotillard is the title character, who has traveled to 1920s New York in order to find a better life, Phoenix is a sleazy pimp, who offers to provide her this new life but ends up exploiting her, and Renner is a mustachioed gentlemen, who, upon meeting her, attempts to liberate her from the unseemly situation in which she’s found herself. Click through to give the movie a try, but be warned—this is an international trailer, so it features bare bosoms and, even worse, French subtitles.

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The Immigrant

James Gray has steadily gained a head of steam over the four pictures he has released to date, culminating with the grand critical success of his compelling 2008 romantic drama Two Lovers. With another film again appearing In Competition at Cannes, Gray raises the curtain on what is easily his most-anticipated work to date, The Immigrant, which has previously gone by the names The Nightingale and Lowlife, though has no doubt landed on its final moniker for ripe positioning by the Weinstein Company in the impending awards season. As soon as Polish immigrant Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) arrive in the United States, their circumstances are dire. Magda is immediately quarantined with tuberculosis, while Ewa is questioned for reportedly being a “woman of bad morals,” due to her apparent conduct on the ship over from Europe. Appearing sympathetic to her plight, Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) bribes an official to allow Ewa passage, at which point he introduces her to his Prohibition-era bar and theater, and soon enough has her turning tricks in his employ. As Ewa finds little possibility to escape from this life, only Bruno’s magician cousin Orlando (Jeremy Renner) seems to offer any respite, locking the two in a fierce battle over the woman.

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Jeremy Renner has a role in the upcoming Mission Impossible sequel Ghost Protocol. He’s going to be playing Hawkeye in Marvel’s upcoming Avengers movie, which will undoubtedly spawn sequels and spin-offs. He’s inheriting the Bourne series from Matt Damon. What else could he possibly put on his plate? Well it turns out he’s somehow found the time to start his own production company and begin development on a Steve McQueen biopic that he will both produce and star in. Watch out James Franco, your productivity is starting to look ordinary. This new production company will be called The Combine, and a quote floating around to describe their mission states that, “the company will provide a framework to create, develop and support the vision of actors, writers, and directors across all platforms.” What does that mean for a Steve McQueen biopic? Well it means they’re getting We Own the Night director James Gray to write the screenplay, which will be based on two books by Marshall Terrill called Portrait of an American Rebel and The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon. Also it will allow video director Ivan Zacharias to make his feature film debut. That’s a good handful of artistic visions being supported right there, so the story checks out.

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Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a strong performance, and the beauty and cold of the Brighton Beach winter comes to life for this stirring romantic drama.

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Brad Pitt

Are Brangelina on their way to a forbidden city to adopt their 100th kid? No, Brad Pitt has found a new movie to star in, The Lost City of Z.

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