Chinese film studios firing Americans, killing projects

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The cast of Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall attend the December premiere in Beijing. (Image Courtesy: Foreign Policy).

As part of the trade war between the United States and China, Chinese studios are terminating American-born actors and cancelling international-themed works, according to Foreign Policy. Sources say there is no official order banning Americans from the Chinese film industry, and these executives are writing their blacklist in case such an order is passed down in the future, since Beijing restricted the importation of South Korean soap stars and pop singers in 2016 after Seoul deployed an American-made missile defense system that July. Because China is one of Hollywood’s most lucrative markets, an outright ban could cost U.S. filmmakers billions.

Criterion Channel off to a strong start, reviewer says

After debuting last month, Criterion Channel offers over a thousand titles from the Criterion Collection as well as distributor Janus Films for eleven dollars a month, according to Fortune; the archive is relatively small, but there are more Golden Age movies than on Netflix, which largely limits itself to the last twenty-five years, and Amazon Prime, which charges members extra to watch older pictures. Reviewer Lance Whitney writes that Criterion includes a diversity of silent, sound, short, feature-length, international, and independent releases from Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate, and IFC Films; while the likes of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941), Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), or Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s American classics are not yet part of the selection, the library will grow if more studios sign licensing deals. Overall, Whitney’s review is positive, praising special features such as interviews, documentaries, and collections; however, while the fledgling streaming service is compatible with all browsers, some available texts are only searchable on the website.

New casting announcements for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020)

 

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh are set to make an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s next project. (Image Credit: Variety).

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh have been cast in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming international espionage epic, Tenet (2020), according to Variety. Their co-stars will include Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, and leading man John David Washington. Shooting is taking place on location in seven countries, with director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema mixing together a cocktail of Imax and 70mm film for the big screen, and Warner Brothers will distribute the action movie worldwide July 17, 2020; Nolan is also serving as co-producer for his own original screenplay, alongside his wife, Emma Thomas, their follow-up to the critical and commercial triumph, Dunkirk (2017).

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (2019) premieres at Cannes

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The Wrap reviewer Steve Pond celebrates Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances in their first time onscreen together. (Image Courtesy: The Wrap).

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood had its first official press screening Tuesday at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, according to The Wrap. Reviewer Steve Pond writes that the Croisette was swarmed with passholders scrambling to get into the premiere after the film was infamously excluded from the April 18 lineup announcement, a decision Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux says was made to give Tarantino more time to finish the movie. As for the picture itself, Pond criticizes its length (the runtime clocks in at over two and a half hours), but ultimately praises Once Upon a Time… for the personal, semi-autobiographical flourishes the aging director brings to this story of a successful 1950s television actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), fighting to stay relevant in a feverishly stylized vision of 1969 only Tarantino could dream up.

Amazon Prime review: Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” (2018)

“Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave… Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story, told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.”

Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born (2018) is the third remake of William A. Wellman’s 1937 film of the same title. If you don’t know what to watch next, the musical romantic drama is available on Amazon Prime.

Cooper’s directorial debut was nominated in eight categories at the Ninety-First Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Cooper himself earned nods for his work as lead actor as well as his contribution to the adapted screenplay.

Co-star Lady Gaga (and Best Actress nominee) won Best Original Song for “Shallow.”

It is the story of an alcoholic country musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who falls for a waitress named Ally Campana (Gaga) after he sees her deliver an intoxicating cover of “La Vie en rose” at a drag bar.

When Jackson learns Ally has given up on pursuing a career in music because of all the rejection she’s faced, he uses his fame to help her get discovered.

But once Ally’s meteoric rise to success eclipses his own, Jackson’s drinking drags him down to new lows, and threatens to tear down their relationship with it.

As filmmaker, star, co-screenwriter, and co-producer, Cooper runs the risk of Shyamalanian self-indulgence. But with his stringy hair and slurred growl, he paints an unflattering portrait of alcoholism.

Indeed, the most redeeming characteristic about Jackson is how he helps Ally find the happiness she deserves for her talent.

As for Gaga, the focal point in this fairytale of a server who becomes a pop star, she runs the risk of playing herself, which could go one of two ways: chewing the scenery with her outrageous onstage persona; or striking a flat note with a pedestrian performance.

Instead, she harmonizes with Cooper’s mise-en-scene, balancing a melodious complement between “personal” and “transformative” in her characterization of Ally.

The power of the two romantic leads is critical to the chemistry the audience feels between them.

That Cooper could inspire three Oscar-nominated turns in his first project, is testament to his potential as a director – Sam Elliot, who speaks the “twelve notes” line, was nominated for his supporting role as Jackson’s half-brother and manager, Bobby Maine.

The Academy did not recognize Cooper’s directing work, however. It is disappointing that he chose to shoot a fourth A Star Is Born in a market already oversaturated with reboots, remakes, and sequels.

And it is problematic that the poorly aged template for his wish fulfillment fantasy is a love story between a jealous, narcissistic man who forces his partner to be strong enough for both of them and save him from his own self-destruction (when she isn’t using him for her own ambition).

Still, the way Cooper sees “those twelve notes” is as much a cinematic celebration as it is musical.

Matthew Libatique’s award-nominated cinematography frames Jackson and Ally in fluid closeups as intimate as a lover’s gaze, with lens flares as dazzling as the adrenaline rush of falling in love, or watching your dreams come true.

The cheering crowds at their concerts are relegated to background noise for the courtship at the heart of the picture.

Meanwhile, the dance between the movie’s visual and auditory aesthetics is no less charged than one of Jackson and Ally’s duets. Sound mixers Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow were among the nominees at the 2019 Oscars ceremony.

The ringing of Jackson’s tinnitus deafens viewers to the music he shares with Ally, the passion she stirs in him even as he drinks himself half to death, and it invites us to live the tragedy of his downfall.

While the ballad of Jackson and Ally is not immune to the remove of critical viewership, it is stylistically self-aware that it is a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme.

And so we can be forgiven for enjoying it as something of a love letter to the “twelve notes” that bring two creative souls together in a consummation as intense and brilliant as they are.