Werner Herzog

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I think it’s pretty safe to say that the most exciting thing about Tom Cruise‘s new action flick, Jack Reacher, is Werner Herzog. The legendary German director does act, occasionally, but playing a Russian bad guy in a mainstream Hollywood movie? That’s something to be excited about, if only because his Russian accent will almost definitely be memorably off-beat. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, this isn’t Herzog’s first time dealing with machismo on film. Way back in 1962 he made a short called Herakles, his very first film ever. It’s a critical look at the relationship between masculinity and the 20th century world, at least in a sense. The bulk of the film is made up of footage of bodybuilders working out in a gym, wearing the scantiest of briefs and flexing for the camera as often as possible. The beefcake reel is then interwoven with images from the modern world that clash with the “ideal” human male, sarcastically representing the twelve labors of Hercules. “Will he clean the Augean stables?” Herzog asks, and then shows us an enormous pile of trash.

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Nicolas Cage

What is Casting Couch? It’s your Monday look at all of the great work casting agents and PR people did over the weekend to keep those Hollywood gears turning. UPDATED: We dreamed too soon, kids. It seems like Sylvester Stallone is fully committed to his experiment of figuring out how many big name celebrities have to be packed into an Expendables movie before one of them actually becomes interesting. The latest news regarding his quest (found on Stallone’s Facebook page by JoBlo) is that Nicolas Cage has been confirmed for a role in The Expendables 3, and that Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Mickey Rourke are the names he intends on recruiting next. You keep on trucking there, Mr. Stallone. With the addition of just five or ten more celebrities, The Expendables 3 is bound to be the one that finally gets out of first gear and actually becomes a decent action movie. We have faith!

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Jack Reacher Tom Cruise Robert Duvall

Lee Child has published seventeen novels with lead character Jack Reacher, and this December one of them will finally be hitting the big screen. Reacher was a military policeman once upon a time, but just because he no longer carries a badge doesn’t mean he’s forgotten wrong from right. Now he wanders the nation from one state to the next, and like Bruce Banner and Sam Beckett before him he helps those unable to help themselves. “One Shot” (renamed simply Jack Reacher for the movie) is the ninth book in the series and sees him investigating a mass shooting in Middle America and the man arrested for the crime. Reacher has some very specific characteristics, mostly focused on his size, that should have realistically precluded any actor under 6’3″ from playing him onscreen. Hollywood though is a magical place where respect for the written word isn’t always a priority, so Tom Cruise was cast in the role. Cruise, as we all know, stands 3’7″ which led to a fair amount of bitching and moaning online about his giant ego in a tiny body ruining such a kick-ass literary character. But books and movies are two different mediums, and changes big and small are inevitable when adapting between them meaning the resulting films should be judged on their own merits. We got a glimpse of those merits with the first teaser back in July, but today the full trailer has dropped offering us a look at the story, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie‘s sense […]

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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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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog got shot by an air rifle in 2006 during an interview with the BBC. He, of course, continued the interview and declined to get the police involved because, you know, they would have overreacted by trying to apprehend the shooter. Unsurprisingly, this happened shortly after he pulled Joaquin Phoenix from a crashed car on Sunset Boulevard. To look at his work, you have to look into a colorful life – the details of which approach folklore – because there’s often a clear connection between the two. The best example? When he was doing location scouting for Aguirre, Wrath of God and cancelled a plane ticket that would have seen him inside a turboprop that was struck by lightning mid-air with only one survivor. We all have stories of narrowly avoiding danger, but few are as dramatic as that, and almost none of them result in a movie being made. Yet that’s what Herzog does. He makes movies. So why not make Wings of Hope where you focus on the only woman to survive a plane disintegration that you should have been in? Why not push a giant boat up a mountain if that’s what the script demands? Why not eat your own shoe? So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the mad man of Munich whose last name means “Duke.”

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Actor Pat Healy doesn’t have an easy role in Craig Zobel‘s Compliance. In the controversial Sundance hit, Healy is mostly seen alone in his scenes, doing one of the most dull cinematic acts around: talking on the phone. Not only that, the character’s reasoning is all a mystery, motivations which Healy has to completely internalize. Those feelings he has to capture aren’t the most pleasant ones as well. “Officer Daniels” (as he likes to go by) is a self-loathing emasculated man who revels in power, or at least that’s how Healy sees him. Zobel doesn’t give plain answers for the many of the characters’ bone-headed and disturbing actions. Compliance could be about how far misogyny can drive an emasculated dweeb or, as our Kate Erbland put it, an “exceedingly well-made interpersonal drama that hinges on the limits (and, oftentimes, depths) of human nature and people’s response to certain carefully calibrated psychological tricks.” Here’s what actor Pat Healy had to say about having to carry around feelings of self-loathing, why he couldn’t do his scenes in his pajamas, and the childlike wonder of Werner Herzog:

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Culture Warrior

A few weeks ago, as the indie group Here We Go Magic traveled through Ohio, they encountered a tall, skinny hitchhiker who they quickly recognized to be the inimitable filmmaker/public personality/pencil-thin mustache enthusiast John Waters. The band members took pictures of themselves with Waters and sent them out to the twittersphere. John Waters’s presence in their van did not transform into a difficult-to-believe apocryphal story between friends over drinks, nor did it grow into the stuff of urban legend, but instead became a certified true web event simultaneous to the band’s immediate experience of it. For any fan of the ever-captivating and unique Waters, this unlikely scenario which was still somehow consistent with Waters’s personality was truly bizarre, interesting, funny, and perhaps even enviable. But Mr. Waters’s is simply the most recent in a string of out-of-the-ordinary celebrity encounters. Celebrity has changed greatly over the past few decades. Whereas stars of film, television, and popular music formerly dominated the imaginations of their public through their creative output and carefully orchestrated public personae (through interviews, red carpet appearances, etc.), today’s celebrities are characterized more by their public personae than any output to warrant it. The Kardashians, the Hiltons, and the VH1 reality stars of the world are simply famous for being famous (or, more accurately, for being born into incredible wealth). There is no longer a sense that one earns fame through creating something or contributing to culture.

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Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s messing with the bull, and ain’t scared of the horns. We begin tonight with a look at Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He tweeted the picture himself, which is the hip new way to get first looks at new films out into the world. Which sucks, because now I have to follow him on Twitter and sift through what Hugh Jackman ate for breakfast just to see what he looks like with a convict beard. My life is so hard, you guys.

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So you can’t afford the plane ticket (or you’re afraid they’ll show Mr. Popper’s Penguins on your cross-Atlantic flight). So you can’t stand to wait outside in freezing temperatures. So you can’t figure out why an international film festival is showing A Prairie Home Companion in a one-film Robert Altman retrospective. So what? That’s why we here at FSR are going to do all that for you. In 24 hours, I’ll be boarding a train, and 6 hours after that I’ll arrive at the apartment where I’ll sleep on Tim League’s floor for a week, catching all of the strange, the challenging, and the Oscar-worthy films of the future right here in the cold as hell country of Fritz Lang, Werner Herzog and Uwe Boll. That’s right sports fans, it’s the Berlin International Film Festival (also affectionately known as the Berlinale). It’s my first time, so we might all feel a little pinch, but I go undaunted into the morass of venues, celebrity sightings and movies in search of the flicks that demand to be cheered and shared. Coverage starts Thursday and will head on into next week. Berlin! It’s like Cannes except colder and more Prussian! Aren’t you glad you can experience it from home?

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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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Culture Warrior

The self-reflexive practices of the meta-film take various forms. On the one hand, there’s the legacy of cinephilic directors from Brian De Palma to P. T. Anderson to Robert Rodriguez who shout out to specific films through their in-crowd referencing, or even go so far as to structure entire narratives through tributes to cinema’s past. Then there’s “the wink,” those film’s, like this weekend’s The Muppets, who exercise cheeky humor by breaking the fourth wall and by constant reference to the fact that they are in a heavily constructed film reality. The third category is less common, but perhaps the most interesting. There has been a recent influx of films that don’t use past films to construct present narratives or engage in Brecht-light humor, but have as their central narrative concern the broad developmental history of the medium itself, from practices of filmgoing to particularities of projection, and anything in between. Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a good example of this mode of meta-filmmaking, but more high-profile films have begin to make this turn, specifically by directors who formerly operated in the first (and perhaps most common) category, like Tarantino with Inglourious Basterds two years ago. Now Martin Scorsese has followed suit with the 3D love letter to early cinema and film preservation that is Hugo.

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The supplementary title for Werner Herzog’s new documentary about capital punishment is “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.” These clauses are placed in a perplexing order that seems, at first, to run in reverse. However, when viewing the film, it becomes abundantly clear why life is not necessarily a linear trajectory that ends in death, with all the mutual exclusivity implied in the assumed separation of these categories. Instead, Into the Abyss argues that death is something one perpetually lives with, especially the certain knowledge of impending death in the case of state-run execution or in the memory of death when one’s loved one has been murdered. The certainty and harsh reality of death not only plagues the prisoner and the victim’s kin, but also profoundly effects a large array of individuals involved directly or indirectly with every heinous crime and execution. The timing of the release of Into the Abyss is worth noting. In September, Troy Davis was executed in the face of massive public protest and significant lingering doubts as to the fairness of his trial. Many anti-death penalty advocates saw the case as a potentially fatal blow for state-run execution, as it illuminated flaws within the system which in turn troubled capital punishment’s logic of justice. A mere two months later, the Troy Davis case has been almost completely forgotten in the public sphere as the news cycle has turned its lenses to Occupy movements and the ongoing reality show known as GOP debates. The […]

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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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Christopher McQuarrie’s upcoming adaptation of the Lee Child novel “One Shot” continues to make curious casting decisions. First it cast Tom Cruise, the diminutive head of the militant wing of the Church of Scientology, as the hulking, brute of a protagonist Jack Reacher. And now it has cast a German man in the role of The Zec, a Russian ex-POW who acts as the story’s antagonist. And not just any German man, the most German man in the world: Werner Herzog. To the public at large, that name might not mean much, but for those of us reading a film site, it’s kind of a big deal. Herzog is one of the most respected directors of film on the planet, his narrative works include things like Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God and his documentary work includes titles like Grizzly Man and the upcoming Into the Abyss. We’re used to hearing his voice narrating his docs, and he’s even showed up in features with small roles before (my favorite being his turn as the creepy father in Julien Donkey-Boy), but this will be the first time he ever gets a meaty role in a mainstream Hollywood film. Is it now only a matter of time before the entire country falls in love with Herzog’s rich, comforting grandfather voice? Is it only a matter of time before we see bumper stickers and novelty Ts carrying catchphrases about trees being in misery and birds screaming in pain? Is this the beginning […]

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This weekend’s 38th annual Telluride Film Festival has just announced their slate, including a number of buzzed-about titles from the likes of Cronenberg, Payne, Ramsay, Kaurismäki, Scorsese, Herzog, and McQueen. Telluride differs from other film festivals by keeping mum on its lineup until the day before the festival opens, though speculation runs high in the weeks before opening, with a bevy of well-educated guesses often revealing the festival’s top picks well in advance (an example from this year would be We Need to Talk About Kevin, as star Tilda Swinton is a consistent Telluride favorite). The festival will continue to announce additions to its lineup throughout its run. The festival seems to have a taken a number of cues from Cannes and Venice, with Cannes picks The Artist, Le Havre, Footnote, The Kid with a Bike, Bonsai, and We Need to Talk About Kevin showing, along with Venice films A Dangerous Method and Shame. The festival also announced that they will be bestowing the Silver Medallion Awards (which “recognize an artist’s contribution to the world of cinema”) to George Clooney (starring in The Descendants at the festival), Swinton, and French filmmaker-actor Pierre Etaix. The festival runs this weekend, from September 2 through September 5. Check out the full lineup for the festival’s main program, which also includes Albert Nobbs, Living in the Material World, and The Tuirn Horse, after the break.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column and link collector that is tired of explaining itself to you, quite frankly. Drew McWeeney at HitFix got the scoop this evening on a big story, in which Harry Potter director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves will be re-teaming to do a multi-film version of Stephen King’s epic The Stand. The hope here is that Yates can give it that Deathly Hallows scope, something the work of Stephen King has long deserved, but never really received. With The Dark Tower on the ropes, this could become a new fixation for King fans.

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Last week the programmers for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival introduced the main course of this year’s festival lineup, fifty-three films from all over the world, big and small, about any number of subjects. The list was so impressive I ran out and booked a hotel room. So, now that I’m financially locked in to heading up to the city of David Cronenberg and that rapper who called himself SNOW, I’ll be following future announcements by the festival pretty closely. Today brought a big one. Adding to their initial lineup of films, TIFF has added a bunch of documentary works by fairly large documentary filmmakers and a bunch of genre works from fairly deranged genre filmmakers. First let’s take a look at some of the docs. Thom Powers is the lead programmer for documentaries, and about this year’s lineup he said, “I’m thrilled at the large number of veteran filmmakers who have brought us new works this year. The line-up contains a wide range of memorable characters – crusaders, convicts, artists, athletes, nude dancers, comic book fans, dog lovers and more. Not to mention the epic 15-hour Story of Film. These documentaries will have audiences discussing and debating for months to come.” I don’t think I’ll have time for that fifteen hour one, I’ve only got five days in the city, but the one about nude dancers is definitely on my docket.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that rounds up junk and stuff. It also likes J.J. Abrams’ movies, but not so much that it can’t laugh at them, as well. It is also currently being written by an author who is distracted with Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules. It’s surprisingly charming. Geek icon Simon Pegg released a book recently, “Nerd Do Well,” chronicling his life as a now-famous nerd. Personally, I can’t wait to read it. In the mean time, one passage about George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels has become a topic of discussion. Did Lucas apologize for the prequels? That’s the question of the day.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that sometimes diverges off the path of cinema and into other forms of entertainment, such as Broadway musicals, art, politics, television or even Werner Herzog doing a reading of a filthy children’s book. Yes, that’s happening. Stay tuned. Who should step in and direct The Expendables 2 if Sly Stallone isn’t up for the job? How about Con Air director Simon West? Ruminate on that a bit, dear friends.

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Culture Warrior

I am not a fan of 3D. Even in the most technologically adept cases where the 3D landscape has layers of depth, even in those most “Cameronesque” of instances, I am unable to get past the gimmickry in the mode of viewing. As a human being, I’m already trained to perceive two-dimensional images in three dimensions, why would I need to attach cumbersome glasses to my face to show me a pronounced version of what I already perceive? I had never encountered a situation in which the forced depth of 3D actually added to any depth in content of the film itself. That is, until I saw Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

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