Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt 12 Years a Slave

After the first Sunday of March, movie star Brad Pitt might be an Academy Award winner — not for his acting, but for his role as producer. His production company, Plan B, has been deployed since 2006 as a platform for making films (many that star or co-star Pitt, and a few that don’t) largely outside of the franchise and sequel mentality that a name brand like Pitt would otherwise be subject to. Pitt is hardly the first example of an actor who exchanges celebrity capital for some industrial and artistic autonomy – examples of powerful actors who have used the capacity of producer to buck the studio system go as far back as Humphrey Bogart – but Plan B is unique particularly because it’s been utilized as a means for Pitt to rather self-consciously define himself against any conventional understanding of his movie star image. Rather than use the production arm as a means for gritty, challenging, Hollywood-unfriendly lead roles (as Bogart did with In a Lonely Place), Pitt is casting himself conspicuously on the margins of his own work, often in supporting roles that have in common characters who somehow omnisciently perceive a bigger picture than what’s available to the foregrounded characters around him. These are characters that exist inside and outside the narratives of their films simultaneously.

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outofthefurnace

“There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show.” The above summary is of an an impromptu speech The Wire showrunner David Simon delivered at “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in Sydney this week. Simon’s work as producer has been characterized by a distinct effort to represent the “great horror show” America he mentions – the America without social mobility, the America where people are left to survive in the marginal social position they’ve inherited, the America without special interest groups to make a perpetual underclass visible in the media and worth pandering to for politicians’ votes. The Wire, as Simon attests directly, sought to represent the conditions and lives of people who are “economically worthless,” a series that lent a rare lens to ordinary people’s endurance in the face of total invisibility in the public sphere. Mainstream contemporary movies and television shows have, perhaps until very recently, almost exclusively surveyed the lives of those with considerable economic worth: audiences with expendable income that can be advertised to during commercial breaks or be expected to buy most movie tickets. But Out of the Furnace and Killing Them Softly – both of which take place in 2008 and were released almost exactly a year apart – offer an incisive lens into a hermetically sealed, economically deprived, and otherwise underrepresented American underclass.

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James Gandolfini Sopranos

The world lost a robust acting presence on Wednesday. It was obvious looking at James Gandolfini that the big guy was powerful, but his work was often so fragile and nuanced that he had no trouble crawling into our veins. No one did vulnerable tough guys quite as well as he did, leaving his footprint on television and film screens alike. With that in mind, we put the entirety of his career to our panel of writers, asking simply: what is James Gandolfini’s best performance? Their answers (and a place for your own) can be found below.

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discs natalie portman

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Beautiful Girls Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) has returned home for his high school reunion at a very confused time in his life. His long time girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) joins him on the trip as he visits with friends, strikes up a purely platonic relationship with a 15-year-old neighbor girl (Natalie Portman) and decides if he’s ready to settle down and get married. The late Ted Demme has a few fine films to his name including The Ref and Blow, but this sweet, honest and funny movie remains his high point. Portman’s perfect encapsulation of the untouchable teen is fantastic in every regard, but to be fair her storyline is only a small part of the whole. Willie’s friends (Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich, Max Perlich, Michael Rapaport, Rosie O’Donnell and more) run the gamut of emotional stages as some are satisfied with their lives and others are not, but all of them feel authentic. The story threads fold together so effortlessly, the performances feel so real and the Blu-ray debut is long overdue. Also, Natalie Portman. [Blu-ray extras: None]

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Jake Gittes in Chinatown

Films noir, crime novels and detective stories all have a long history of unlikable characters that we cheer for. Bad guys doing good work. Flawed heroes who always know the right line to say and the right time to offer a lady a light. Agatha Christie this isn’t, and this week we’re getting our hands dirty by talking with Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominik about violence and “Seduction of the Innocent” author Max Allan Collins about the history of the genre. He’ll offer the best films noir for new fans to start with, and then Geoff and I will discuss how to write unlikable characters with Chinatown in our sites. For more from us on a daily basis, follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on the Twitter. And, as always, we welcome your feedback. Download Episode #11 Directly Or subscribe Through iTunes

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Video on Demand: Life of Pi

You may be asking yourself, what is the Video On Demand Power Ranker? It’s quite simple, really. Every week, more and more films are coming to your home entertainment systems prior to hitting the shelves of Blu-ray and DVD. Sometimes even before or during their theatrical run, you can get at this films on your cable box, your Roku, your Apple TV, your iPad, whatever other tablets exist that aren’t the iPad, and plenty of other devices. With that in mind, we’ve built a space-age supercomputer chip and implanted it into my brain. Combined with my brain’s higher film-loving function, this silicon-based hyper-drive calculates which Video On Demand titles are best each week, complete with a handy 1-10 ranking. Video On Demand. Power. Ranker. Got it? Great. Let’s get to it…

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In an off week at the box office, it was the battle of three holdover releases, with all of the new films dropping well down the charts. From Killing Them Softly‘s lukewarm 7th place finish to horror film The Collection, it was not a great weekend to be new to theaters. The films with previously built success — from the wildly passionate fanbase film (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2) to the one with a half-century of history (Skyfall) to the one with Oscar written all over it (Lincoln) — were the ones that brought home the bank in an otherwise warm weekend.

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Andrew Dominik

Killing Them Softly is both a surprising and unexpected return for director Andrew Dominik, whose name has been missing from the big screen for five long years. What’s most surprising about the film is that it’s not much more commercial than his previous film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a movie which didn’t nearly get its due back in 2007. His latest film is, however, unsurprising in terms of theme: the power of the dollar. After Jesse James didn’t light the world on fire financially, Dominik found it difficult to get other projects off the ground, so money must have been on his mind. And, according to Dominik, it was, and that’s a part of how we got his new political crime picture, Killing Them Softly. Here is what writer and director Andrew Dominik had to say about the film’s slightly cartoonish approach, why the crime genre is so appealing, and the trials and tribulations caused by Jesse James:

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Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

After only about five people paid to see Andrew Dominik‘s beautifully poetic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the popular belief was that any director in that position would follow up his ambitious financial failure with something more commercial. While Killing Them Softly has far more public appeal than Jesse James, Dominik has fortunately made another film unafraid to polarize. Set in 2008, following the economic collapse, mobsters have been seeking easier ways to make a quick buck or two, there is no clear order left, and, in this America, as the smooth contract killer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) puts it, you’re on your own. Cogan — who’s sort of the protagonist — is brought down to New Orleans after a series of robberies hit Markie Trattman’s (Ray Liotta) poker games. With criminals afraid to play and spend their money, it’s Cogan’s job to get them back to playing, by finding the two men responsible for the latest theft, two big time losers named Frankie (Scoot McNairy, now holding the record for the most number of irritating characters in a single year) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). This reads as all fairly simple, but there’s more to this story than the trailers have been leading us to believe. Killing Them Softly is, in fact, almost more of an angry, loud voicemail left for the politicians who aren’t all that different from the lost, scrambling criminals we see in the film.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

What is Movie News After Dark? According to everything that has happened in tonight’s entry already, it appears to be quite inquisitive. All of your questions and more will be answered. Tonight’s lead story is also tonight’s leading non-story about leading men. Who will be the leader of Guardians of the Galaxy, the next big Marvel Studios project that supposedly has James Gunn in the directors chair. Deadline offers up a list of guys who you’ve seen on the big screen recently, courtesy of Tammy’s brother Joey’s cousin Suzie who knows a guy, but not that well. So there’s that.

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Life of Pi AFI FEST

October offered up plenty of films to give this awards season a proper start. Ben Affleck once again showed he’s got one of the best eyes for tension working today; John Hawkes gave another year’s best performance in Fox Searchlight’s The Sessions; Martin McDonagh made another wicked, original dark comedy with real bite; and, who could forget, The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer made a huge box office smash which received unabashed praise up the wazoo, especially for the seamless makeup work. While I wish Cloud Atlas did fit that description, at least for a few more years the trio’s daring and moving film will go down as a box office bomb which may or may have not been ahead of its time. No matter how Cloud Atlas stands up in a few years, it was the type of ambition which served as another reminder of how important going to the movie theater is and to truly have experiences while you are there, be they good or bad. With November 2012, there are plenty of movies to have a similar experience with, from Ang Lee‘s Life of Pi to a triumphant new Bond movie. Keep reading to find out what other eight movies you must see this month.

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Argo

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that brings you only the most excellent links, news items, art and moving images from around the web. It’s also glad to be back in the saddle now that guest author week is over. First up tonight, a big round of applause for Ryan Gallagher of The Criterion Cast for stepping in last week and filling in while I gorged myself on the bloody mess known as Fantastic Fest. It made the festival experience that much more enjoyable to know that fans of this column were being treated to some excellent writing. Maybe we’ll convince him to come back again in the future. We begin our news night with one of over 30 new images from Argo, the Ben Affleck directed drama that’s getting all sorts of buzz. Even our own Rob Hunter is said to have liked it a lot…

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Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

After the box office bust and critical disappointment of their Lawless (hey! I liked it!), The Weinstein Company has pushed back their potential awards contender, Andrew Dominik‘s Killing Them Softly, to the more awards-friendly date of November 30. The film was last slated for a release on October 19, after being moved there in July, when TWC moved it off its first release date (September 21) after they announced that The Master (another one of their awards contenders) would open in limited release on September 14 and then expand on September 21. In regards to the choice, Deadline Hollywood reports (via /Film) that Harvey Weinstein commented, ““In this industry it is a very rare event to look at a weekend where your movie could open as the only wide release picture…November 30th will allow us to bring Killing Them Softly to a wide audience without competition. Additionally, the critical response to the movie has been very favorable especially on the amazing performances and November 30th positions us better in the Awards season calendar.” Two points for honesty. Simon saw Killing Them Softly back during Cannes, and he called it “an artfully crafted, occasionally very funny satire dressed up in tough-guy leathers and packing a knuckle duster punch.” Check out his review HERE, and give the film’s trailer a look right HERE.

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Andrew Dominik is not a prolific director. After bursting onto the scene in 2000 with the violent biographical tale Chopper he waited seven years before releasing the critically acclaimed The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford with Brad Pitt. The film was universally praised by critics, but theater-goers have notoriously short attention spans meaning most of them moved on to something else before they even finished reading the title. (The ‘something else’ in this case was a one-two punch of Resident Evil: Extinction and Good Luck Chuck, so shame on you America.) Five years later and Dominik is finally returning to the screen, and he’s bringing Pitt along with him. Killing Them Softly is a blackly humorous crime thriller about a pair of low-rent amateurs who rob the wrong poker game. Pitt plays a mob man brought in to find and handle the pair, and the film follows his efforts arrange for their demise while interacting with the local criminal element. The film is an adaptation of George V Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, and while it updates the story to the modern day it keeps the Boston setting that has served the genre so well over the years. Pitt’s joined by Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy. Our own Simon Gallagher was a big fan when he saw it at Cannes, and now the rest of us can get a taste as well with the debut of the highly […]

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The Master Trailer

Looks like The Weinstein Company is doing a little end-of-week clean-up, as Variety (via ComingSoon) has now gotten word that the production company has moved around a couple of its major awards season contenders. First up, everybody’s most anticipated fall film, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, has moved up to September 14. The film was last scheduled to open on October 12. The Philip Seymour Hoffman- and Joaquin Phoenix-starrer will now open on the 14th in limited release, with an expansion on the following Friday, September 21. This puts the film against the Finding Nemo 3D re-release, Resident Evil: Retribution, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Liberal Arts. It’s interesting that TWC has announced this move now, after a few days of fevered chatter about why The Master was not headed to any big upcoming festivals – like Venice and TIFF. It also removes the possibility that the film would pop up at Fantastic Fest as a big surprise. With FF kicking off on September 20, perhaps The Master will open the festival, as it’s quite likely that the festival’s hometown, Austin, TX (what what!), will not get the film during its first week limited run. Here’s to hoping.

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Killing Them Softly

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly column about movies that’s been kickin’ ass and takin’ names since the sun came up, but for some reason it still waited until late at night to bring you all the movie news of the day. It’s eccentric like that. We begin tonight with an image of Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy in Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik’s new film based on the adaptation of the novel “Cogan’s Trade.” They are but two of the badass names attached to said project, which includes Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Sam Shepard, among others. Not bad.

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Last year, I kicked off the FSR Cannes Awards by taking the opportunity to give three awards to The Artist (three of the Oscars it won actually, if you’re interested in just how much of a boss I am), and though there isn’t quite the same standout type of film at this year’s festival, there were some notable highlights. The rain was not one of them. This year, I saw 21 of the hundreds of films available to see, so these awards obviously only take in those that I deemed worthy of my attention (or which were possible to see given the intense mathematical equations required to see everything and write reviews of them all in timely enough fashion that all of the key information doesn’t bugger off out of your head). Here are my own highlights of the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival:

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The Paperboy John Cusack

Last year’s Cannes Film Festival featured this year’s Oscar winning Best Actor performance thanks to the inclusion of the wonderful The Artist in competition, and though the films seem to have been chosen for their artistry and provocative subtexts more than any really commercial pointers (as always happens the year after the festival is deemed “too commercial”), there have been some seriously fine performances this year as well. There wasn’t an Uggy this year, but there was a murdered pooch in Moonrise Kingdom, a bitey Killer Whale in Rust & Bone, and a striking performance from an armadillo in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You, so we’ll have to wait and see who emerges with the best animal performance. Probably won’t come from Madagascar 3 though…so for the time being, let’s stick to the humans.

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Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik always had an ominous mountain to climb with his next feature, having polarized opinion with The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, that most tonal and visually textured of revisionist Westerns, but with Killing Them Softly he has certainly at least avoided the black hole that tends to suck young talents perilously down into obscurity. He might not, however, have scored a huge commercial hit. Taking a leaf out of Jesse James‘s book, Killing Them Softly is effectively a post-gangster film, deconstructing the genre and smashing it against the oh-so-contemporary wall built by recessions and austerity measures. The label might still seem to read “gangster,” with the presence of wise guys and henchmen presiding over their own lawless patches of the murky underbelly of normal society, but gone is the aspirational elements of Goodfellas and Casino in favor of a tight-belted, thoroughly modern revision of the gangster ideal. For all intents and purposes, this is the cut-price Cosa Nostra.

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Simon has already weighed in on Moonrise Kingdom – his first Cannes film of 2012 – but we check in with him to see what 6 films he’s looking forward to the most. Plus, Movies.com’s Peter Hall faces off against Landon Palmer in the Movies News Pop Quiz, and we end up asking important questions about repertory screenings. Will the films of the future digitally last forever? Download Episode #134

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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