Steve McQueen

Scoot McNairy at Cannes

Scoot McNairy and Brad Pitt recently tag teamed Cannes with Killing Them Softly, which is apparently pretty good. Unsurprisingly.So it’s probably unsurprising that the pair are going to be working together again in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. Speaking of people who love working together, the film stars Michael Fassbender as a plantation owner who buys a free man (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. According to Variety, McNairy will be playing a “shrewd circus worker” who has his eye on selling a free man as a slave. Hopefully McNairy can sell cabbage-smelling hands in a medium without scent.

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Paul Dano to Co-Star in Twelve Years A Slave

We’ll soon be seeing Paul Dano starring in cutesy romance Ruby Sparks (co-starring alongside his own real life lady love, Zoe Kazan, who also penned the screenplay), but as wonderful as a sweet Dano is, there’s something much better: a cruel Dano. While a lot of the praise for P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood went (quite deservedly) to Daniel Day-Lewis for his yowling, evil performance as Daniel Plainview, Dano was just as terrifying (and just as unhinged) as Eli Sunday. Something about seeing Dano’s generally welcoming face twisted up into snarls and howls and screams was viciously unsettling, and it’s been too long since we’ve seen that side of him. Deadline Franklin reports that’s no longer the case, as we’ll soon be gifted with a particularly cruel Dano in Steve McQueen‘s Twelve Years A Slave, where he will play a slave owner who “brutalizes” Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s character, a free man who is abducted into the Louisiana slave trade. Dano will, in fact, just be one of the evil owners, but his performance will likely be a stand-out. He and Ejiofor will also be joined in the film by McQueen’s consistent star, Michael Fassbender, along with Brad Pitt.

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Culture Warrior

Ambiguity is no stranger to the arthouse film. Over fifty years after a group of daytrippers never found their lost shipmate in Antonioni’s L’Avventura, the ambiguous ending still retains the power to frustrate, confuse, anger, and challenge viewers. Continued controversies over ambiguity in narrative films point to Hollywood’s enduring dominance over the notion that films must be coherent and contain closure. However, the convention of closure can be a maddening limitation for filmmakers who intend to ask questions with no easy answers, or pose problems with no clear solutions (assuming that such answers or solutions exist in the first place). But ambiguity can take on a variety of forms, and with different degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes a film’s ambiguous hole can be more fulfilling and thought-provoking than any convention of linear causality in its place, but at other points ambiguity can become a handicap, or a gap that simply feels like a gap. Here are a few films from the past year that engage in several modes of intended ambiguity.

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Culture Warrior

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Young Adult, Shame, and The Descendants. 2011’s holiday movie season ended the year with a barrage of relatively conventional heroes. From Ethan Hunt saving the world from yet another MacGuffin to Sherlock Holmes solving an additional mystery to a cyberpunk and a journalist battling wealthy Swedish career-misogynist neo-Nazis, December was packed with varied iterations of good triumphing over its clearly delineated evil opposition. In contrast, the holiday season’s slate of smaller-scale filmmaking brought forth several protagonists who function in strict contrast to your conventional hero. These protagonists are (decidedly) so toxic, broken, unheroic, and even unlikeable that they can’t even be deemed antiheroes. These characters (to varying degrees of success) challenge the assumed connection that filmic convention makes between the “main character” and the “film itself” by presenting protagonists who don’t triumph over adversity, who don’t fight or win a “good” battle, and who frankly don’t warrant an act of rooting. These protagonists trip up an oft-unquestioned notion conditioned by cinematic tradition: that films should serve as a means of rooting for a clearly demarcated, pre-telegraphed, unassailable idea of goodness. These are three protagonists that we aren’t often asked to spend ninety minutes with.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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Material similar to Shame, to break it down immaturely, could easily falter into emotion porn. With a story about a self-loathing sex addict, overwrought drama is easy to give into, even with the slightest lack of subtlety. This could be one of those films where characters are emotionally tortured for the sake of torture, one that revels in its characters problems.  Co-writer and director Steve McQueen, who is surely aware of the dramatic trickiness of Shame, takes a more sensitive and observant approach. McQueen uses his distant and precise framing to create the atmosphere and world Brandon’s created, not to draw attention to himself as a filmmaker. This, among many other topics, is what I recently discussed with the press tour-exhausted filmmaker. Here’s what Steve McQueen had to say about internal writing, powerful expressions, capturing beautiful butterflies, and why films can be important:

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr walks around his apartment naked, rents out hookers of various shapes and sizes then tries to pick up married women on a subway. He figures if it’s good enough for Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s Shame, then it’s good enough for anyone. Of course, this leads Kevin to spending most of the rest of the day weeping in his birthday suit. Shaking off the humiliation, he decides to take in some culture and give Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus a gander, being one of them Shakespeare pictures and all. Unfortunately, he never stops giggling about the name of the movie long enough to decipher all of the fancy Elizabethan language, and Kevin ends up weeping again, curled up naked in his shower.

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When it comes to director/screenwriter Steve McQueen and screenwriter Abi Morgan’s film about living a life of secrets (and what it does to those who carry them), much more is said with their characters’ actions than any of the words that pass through their lips. Even more so when it seems most of the words that are said are unreliable and laced with the feeling that they are not simply lies, but lies each are telling themselves. Shame shows us a complicated and layered world that is both enticing and chilling, begging the question – what kind of music would underscore and accompany these distinctive moments? A mix of score (by composer Harry Escott), piano concertos (as performed by Glenn Gould), jazz (John Coltrane and Chet Baker) and popular music (from Tom Tom Club, Blondie and Chic) come together to create a musical landscape that is both sexy and unsettling while also deeply sad, troubling, and (at times) terrifying. Escott begins the film with an almost mournful-sounding orchestration (aptly titled “Brandon”) as we focus in on our lead, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), lying in bed with a mix of emotions already playing across his face. The piece is driven by an unrelenting ticking which immediately gives you the sense that this is not a place of rest as we begin to realize Brandon’s addiction to nighttime rendezvous may not be the only thing keeping him awake. Brandon never seems able to rest or relax. If he is not out getting his sexual fix, […]

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Michael Fassbender in Shame

Years from now, cinephiles and film fans will likely remember the stipulations that brought Steve McQueen’s Shame to regular, film-going audiences after running through film festivals like some men go through women. McQueen himself reportedly told prospective buyers two things – it had to stay uncut (thus guaranteeing that fearful NC-17 rating) and they would have to push lead actor Michael Fassbender for recognition come awards season. The film has stayed uncut, and Fassbender won’t need a back cover For Your Consideration ad for viewers to recognize that he’s turned in the most brave (and bare) performance of the year. McQueen and Fassbender have reteamed for their second feature with Shame (following 2008’s Hunger, a similarly wrenching film that established both men as talents to watch), and the film only cements their bond and shared aesthetic – one that film fans should be eternally anxious to see more of. Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a handsome Manhattanite whose seemingly normal exterior shields his true self, one driven almost entirely by his out-of-control addiction to sex. McQueen approaches his subject in an almost clinical manner – using Sean Bobbitt‘s stunning cinematography to observe Brandon in his natural environment, as it were, a predator amongst prey. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious (and more and more unsettling) that Brandon is not “safe” around any woman. He leers at women on the subway, gets a touch too close physically to his own kin, manhandles a perfect stranger in a bar […]

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Shame

There has been a lot of talk about the sexual content in Steve McQueen’s upcoming drama about sexual addiction and bratty little sisters, Shame. How explicit does it get? Exactly how many seconds is Michael Fassbender’s wang on screen? What gets glossed over a lot, however, is that Shame has been stuck with an NC-17 rating not because it shows too many boobs and butts, but because of how dirty, creepy, and downright…well, shameful watching this movie is going to make you feel. This is a no frills, brutally honest look at sexual compulsion, and the explicit content it contains is much more likely to repulse than it is to titillate. There is nothing healthy about the way Shame portrays human sexuality. You wouldn’t know that from the newest red band trailer for the movie though. What we get here is an isolated scene from the film, where Fassbender’s character eyeball humps a redhead on the subway. His wolflike leering and her suggestive thigh shuffling are interrupted by brief bursts of images from all of the dirty, dirty sex that Fassbender has over the course of the film, and the effect of watching it all cut together is rather… well, exciting. Make no mistake, this trailer paints Shame as being a much more pleasingly erotic experience than it really is, and is in some ways misleading.

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Much ado has been made about the nudity and explicit sexual content in director Steve McQueen’s upcoming drama Shame. In it, Michael Fassbender plays a compulsive sex addict whose routine of perversion is interrupted when his flighty younger sister (Carey Mulligan) comes calling and crashes at his apartment for a few weeks, and the results are both a little titillating and a little repulsive. That’s understandable and everything, but the thing is, in all of the whispering and hullaballoo about wieners and boobs, I haven’t seen much reported about the fact that Mulligan shows off some of her talent for singing in this film. Which is a shame (pun acknowledged), because not only is she pretty good, but the scene where she performs “New York, New York” kind of becomes a huge moment in the film. Sorry to disappoint the pervs out there, but Shame isn’t all about sex stuff. So, while I have enjoyed the marketing for this film so far, this second full-length trailer played to me like a breath of fresh air. We get a lot of the same images from the first trailer, but this time they take on a whole other tone because Mulligan’s singing is playing over them. And then, once we’ve run through the already familiar images, the trailer ends with a scene of Mulligan finishing her performance, and her and Fassbender sharing a look. What’s really going through the heads of these two basketcases? You’ll have to check out the movie to […]

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Steve McQueen is not the first established director to get the bug to direct a highly sexual film for adults, and he certainly won’t be the last. Sadly, most directors who have actually made bold films about sexuality ended up with sub-par movies. Verhoeven’s Showgirls is a punch-line, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is an interesting mess, and Cronenberg’s Crash is maybe the best example of these experiments. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lars Von Trier do an adult film in the next few years; he’s already expressed interest in the subject. While McQueen’s Shame does a lot of things right, it stumbles just before the finish line. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a normal guy. He goes to work, goes out for drinks with co-workers, goes home. But every waking moment he has is devoted to sex. Thinking about it, watching it, paying for it, sex pervades his every thought. This goes beyond the normal human desire for and fascination with sex and actually consumes his life. When his sister, Cissy (Carey Mulligan), shows up for an unannounced and open-ended visit, it puts a cramp in his style. His normal evenings of watching porn, paying for webcams, and inviting prostitutes over don’t really work with his sister sleeping on the couch. Then he gets in hot water with his boss when IT checks his work computer and finds all kinds of pornography filling his hard drive. But he can’t stop. His is a true addiction and Brandon can’t stop himself.

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The sweat is from all the running Michael Fassbender‘s character seems to be doing, and the prestige is from the plastering of Award Wins all over a crisp trailer for Steve McQueen‘s Shame that takes its own time in telling a story. It’s rare that a trailer doesn’t just vomit out story points into our eyeballs, but this one is a symphony of short-form movie advertising. It’s quiet almost in purposeful contrast to the NC-17 rating emblazoned on the first few frames, and it slowly reveals Fassbender’s character as a high class hound dog with massive emotional issues. Check it out for yourself:

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Earlier this morning, my partner in LA film festival crime, the lovely Ms. Allison Loring, posted her list of Most Anticipated Films from this year’s upcoming AFI FEST presented by Audi. Of course, many of our choices overlap (Shame, Butter, Rampart), but we part ways when it comes to some of the smaller films at the festival. For all the big, Oscar bait flicks (J. Edgar) or the wang- and soul-baring Fass-outings (Shame again, always Shame), there are a few films that I’ve been positively rabid to see (Alps, Michael) that might not yet have the cache value and audience awareness of those other films. From the festival’s incredible list of 110 films, I’ve narrowed down my list to ten films that are my bonafide Most Anticipated Films of the festival. Like any list, I am sure that some of you perusing it will be displeased, weighing in on titles I’m a fool to miss. But hold your wrath for a few days, because many of the best titles of the fest are ones I’ve already seen, and those films might just crop up in an unexpected place (like, oh, another list). AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting today, October 27, right HERE). The complete schedule grid is now online for the festival, which you can check out HERE. After the break, […]

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With AFI FEST presented by Audi just one week away, fellow FSR-er and AFI FEST attendee Kate Erbland and I went through the impressive list of films on the schedule and selected the ones we are most looking forward to seeing. To the credit of those putting together this year’s AFI FEST, I found myself practically highlighting the entire schedule grid as I saw film after film that had already been on my “to-see” list. From films I have been anticipating for the past few months (Shame) to ones I had not heard of until now (Butter), this year’s AFI FEST looks to be one of its strongest lineups yet. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting today, October 27, right HERE). The complete schedule grid is now online for the festival, which you can check out HERE. After the break, check out my list of my top ten most anticipated films of this year’s AFI FEST. Which films are you planning on seeing at this year’s AFI FEST?

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It looks like Brad Pitt will not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk in Steve McQueen’s next project Twelve Years a Slave. Pitt is producing the film through his production company, Plan B, and has reportedly worked on developing the project for a number of years, but now word is out that it won’t be just Pitt the producer showing up for filming, but also Pitt the actor. A small item in Screen Daily announcing the addition of River Road Entertainment as producers and financiers, along with the news that Summit International will handle sales of the film at the upcoming American Film Market, also included a cast listing for the project. That list included McQueen’s contestant star, Michael Fassbender, along with the already-announced Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Pitt himself. The Playlist went ahead and confirmed the casting with Plan B, who would only confirm that bit of news, but would give no further details. McQueen and John Ridley have adapted their script from the 1853 autobiography written by Solomon Northup, an African-American man who was born free and later abducted into slavery. Northup had an entire life in his native New York (complete with an education, a musical background, a wife, and three children) when he went to Washington in 1841 under the pretense of a job offer to play fiddle in a traveling circus. Once there, he was kidnapped and drugged. He was then sold into slavery and, for the next twelve years, was shuttled between owners and subjected to brutal […]

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Feel free to stand up from your seat and slow clap while loved ones and strangers stare, because one studio has decided to slap the stigma of the NC-17 rating right in its moronic little face. As we all know, that stupidity is two-fold. The first is in its existence in the first place. A betting man or woman could win easy money that most don’t even know that the NC stands for No One 17 and Under Admitted (because there’s a confusing C in there), but it might as well just stand for No Children. There’s an absurdly thin line between R and NC-17 that becomes all the more apparent when you hear a screaming 4-year-old in the theater where Jason Statham is beating a dude to death on screen before banging down Amy Smart’s doors. Come to think of it, the No Children of NC sounds pretty good in those cases. The second part of the stupidity surrounding the rating (which inherited its bad reputation from the X rating that it morphed into), is in the connotation that some doomed by Puritanical high horsemanship slather onto it. Yes, NC-17 means adult, but there’s also nothing wrong with making a film for an adult audience. Those that don’t think so, aren’t adults.  In a way, the rating’s reputation does a small service in weeding out those too emotionally, psychologically or sexually infantile to handle a solid adult drama (no matter their age). Sadly, that small service is a life […]

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A week ago, when I reported on Joel and Ethan Coen’s new movie Inside Llewyn Davis picking up Oscar Isaac as its leading man, I opined that further casting news would probably be coming soon. The Coens’ new film is about a folk singer coming up in the Greenwich Village scene, and it’s loosely based off the life of Dave Van Rank, so it’s going to be necessary for the brotherly team to cast actors as stand-in characters for all of Van Rank’s musician friends. Well, a week later the brothers have signed up their first, and this one is a doozy. According to Variety, Carey Mulligan has signed on to play the female lead opposite Isaac. Despite my conclusion-jumping that most of the characters in this film will be musicians of some sort, there isn’t actually any confirmation that the character Mulligan will be playing will be musically inclined at all. Variety is correct to point out that the actress has the chops to pull some musical numbers off if she has to, however. She plays a singer in director Steve McQueen’s upcoming sex addiction drama Shame and really knocks her singing scene out of the park in that film. It’s maybe the most crucial scene of the film, and Mulligan rises to the occasion admirably.

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As it turns out, I’ve been slightly remiss when it comes to praising this year’s 25th edition of AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi. I’ve tossed off comments about how the festival gets better with every passing year, but in the wake of today’s announcement of the festival’s Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings, I’ve realized that I have not gone far enough. AFI FEST has not just gotten better this year, the festival has made a dramatic jump to top-tier status, rolling out titles that play like a cinephile’s Christmas list for 2011. Today’s lineup announcement is essentially a “best-of” list of this year’s festival favorites, including Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist, Steve McQueen‘s Shame, Oren Moverman‘s Rampart, Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Roman Polanski‘s Carnage, Simon Curtis‘s My Week with Marilyn, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala, and Wim Wenders‘s Pina. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27). After the break, check out the full list, including descriptions and showtimes, of the films to be featured as AFI FEST Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings.

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Director Steve McQueen’s second collaboration with his Hunger star Michael Fassbender, Shame, has been getting almost universally effusive praise as it’s made its way through the recent festival circuit (Venice, Toronto). The film sees Fassbender as Gothamite Brandon, a sex addict who uses his very apparent addiction to keep emotions at arms’ length. Brandon’s tenuous lifestyle is thrown for a loop when his younger sister (Carey Mulligan), who is just as damaged as him (though perhaps in different ways), shows up to live with him. For all the chatter we’ve heard about the film (and, in particular, Fassbender’s very naked in every sense of the word performance), we’ve yet to see a trailer until today. The film itself is laced through with all manner of explicit and deviant sex acts, complete with plenty of nudity from its cast, but the first trailer for the film doesn’t capitalize on that aspect. Instead, it cuts together the different pieces of Brandon’s life, from his late night runs to his constantly leering eye, and it’s quite competent at showing a man whose multi-faceted appearance is really all in service to his carnal desires. Put on some protection (from the elements! for the running! obviously!) and check out the first (mostly SFW) trailer for Shame after the break.

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published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C
published: 11.18.2014
B+
published: 11.14.2014
B+


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