Yesterday, on her twenty-seventh birthday, no less, Demi Lovato announced via Instagram she has been cast in David Dobkin’s Eurovision (without revealing who her character will be), which has no release date scheduled as of yet, according to People. For the video announcement, fifty-two-year-old costar Will Ferrell presents Lovato with a store-bought cake he says he made from scratch before smashing it into the camera, which then cuts to the songstress blowing out her candles on the set. Costarring Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan, the comedy centers around Icelandic musicians Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) was released forty years ago this May, and since then, the Hollywood extraterrestrial has evolved into something more scientifically feasible than the xenomorph, according to Business Insider. Before CGI, science fiction films in the 1950s and 1960s dressed actors in alien costumes, and because sci-fi is often an allegory for society’s fears, these humanoids are almost always hostile, even though physicist and author Sidney Perkowitz says no lifeform is evil for the sake of itself. With mosquitoes carrying viruses farther due to climate change, and filmmakers concerning themselves more with box office figures than scientific accuracy, Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017) realistically posits that alien life will be discovered microscopically, but still villainizes it.
Netflix will upload Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory (2019) on Wednesday, with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions picking up the documentary after its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, according to The New Yorker. The subject of the film is a General Motors plant in Ohio that closed in 2008 and reopened as Fuyao Glass America under a Chinese investor, and the culture clash between management and the employees. It marks the first release for the Obamas’ newly minted production company, which has also scheduled a Frederick Douglass biopic, a drama about women and people of color set in post-World War II New York, and an educational series teaching nutrition to preschoolers.
With the thirtieth anniversary for the release of Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989) come upon us, the time is now to revisit the filmmaker’s feature-length narrative debut as well as its place in cinematic history, according to The Independent. It was the first independent film to succeed as much as it did, winning the Palme d’Or for a twenty-seven-year-old Soderbergh, the youngest director to do so, and grossing a hundred million worldwide on a million-dollar budget. Not only that, but it also laid the foundation for Soderbergh’s career, with his eclectic genres ranging from mainstream to arthouse sensibilities.
A seventy-nine-year-old Peter Fonda, the son of Academy Award-winning actor Henry Fonda and younger brother of Jane Fonda, died Friday, fifty years after the release of the film that made him a star, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), which he co-scripted, according to Fox Business. Easy Rider grossed sixty million dollars worldwide against a budget of less than four hundred thousand, and Fonda went on to perform in: Victor Nuñez’s Ulee’s Gold (1997), sitting at a nine million-dollar gross; James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma (2007), with fifty three million dollars at the box office; and Kelly Asbury, Rich Moore, and Walt Becker’s Wild Hogs (2007), which took home four hundred twenty-one million. A nonconformist, countercultural icon, Fonda had forty-five acting credits to his name.
When the preview for Paul Feig’s Last Christmas (2019) dropped this week, dozens of film theorists took to Twitter to dissect the three-minute clip, according to The Guardian. The going consensus is that the final twist will reveal the leading man is either a ghost, an angel, or a dream, because his character always sneaks up on hers, delivers cryptic lines, never changes his outfit, and doesn’t interact with anybody else. The romantic comedy, written by Emma Thompson, stars Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke, and features the music of George Michael, sharing a title with the Wham! song, “Last Christmas.”
It gives this critic pause when a director writes and stars in their own work. Cinema is a collaborative medium between diverse photographic, musical, and dramatic artists synthesizing their respective talents into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
A temptation factors into the equation for filmmakers to indulge in narcissistic wish fulfillment when they emulate Orson Welles and presume themselves to be better actors and screenwriters than, well, actors and screenwriters.
Keeping all that in mind, how does Billy Bob Thornton fare?
If you don’t know what to watch next, Thornton’s Sling Blade (1996) is available to stream on Hulu. It is an adaptation of George Hickenlooper’s short film, Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (1994), which Thornton also scripted and performed in.
The drama picture snagged Thornton an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, in addition to a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Thornton plays Karl Childers, an intellectually disabled Arkansas man who is released from the state mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover when he was twelve years old with a sling blade.
He lands a job at a repair shop in his rural hometown, where he befriends Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black), a boy the same age as he was at the time he committed double homicide.
Karl becomes an eyewitness to the abusive relationship between Frank’s mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday) and her boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakam).
Thornton’s writing Oscar is well-merited, for his dialogue characterizes the cast who deliver the lines with as much life as it does the setting in which they stage themselves, and his narrative galvanizes the Faulknerian tone behind his Southern Gothic mood.
Thornton’s acting is no less forceful. Karl Childers is an ambitious, uncomplimentary performance, demanding of Thornton not only to change the way he looks and speaks, but also to invest in this unlikely hero a sympathy which conflicts against the violent crime he’s guilty of.
And he directs a powerhouse out of Yoakam as well, though for as loathsome a villain as you are like to see on the screen.
But as intense as these portrayals are, there’s a reason Thornton’s direction wasn’t up for an award. His final cut is a reel of “master shots,” with entire scenes taking place in a single frame so nothing can be edited out.
To direct is human. To edit is divine.
Thornton’s notorious anal-retentiveness cramps the pacing at times, for modern audiences most of all, who are seasoned consumers of media propelled along by myriad cuts.
All in all, Thornton is an exception to the rule of self-obsessed authorship, and Sling Blade is an exceptional movie.