New FBI satire based on real cases

Chris Morris’s The Day Shall Come (2019) opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles after the filmmaker started researching FBI stings and interviewing terrorist defendants, federal prosecutors, as well as FBI agents in 2012, according to The Intercept. The protagonist, a conman named Moses (Marchant Davis), leads the Star of Six, a Miami group loosely inspired by Narseal Batiste and his Seas of David (better known as the Liberty City Seven, their media moniker). Reviewer Trevor Aaronson writes that the film satirizes the FBI as a scam artist a la Moses, entrapping hundreds of small-time suspects as part of the institution’s codependency upon terrorism.

“Downton Abbey” and its journey from television to film

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Scheduling the ensemble proved to be one of the most daunting challenges for the filmmaking crew, as much of the cast had found success with the triumph of the series. (Image Courtesy: CNN).

Michael Engler’s Downton Abbey (2019) exceeded box office projections for its opening weekend, raking in three times its production budget as well as outperforming Adrian Grunberg’s Rambo: Last Blood (2019) and James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), according to CNN. Showrunner Julian Fellowes did not plan on writing a big-screen adaptation of ITV’s Downton Abbey (2010-2015) until producer Gareth Neame started developing it after the series ended, and Engler approached the movie as though it were the show, just with greater resources. Neame says a cinematic franchise is in the works, and Fellowes is waiting to see how the first film fares.

2019 New York Film Festival kicks off this weekend

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Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winner, Parasite (2019), is coming up October 5 and 7. (Image Courtesy: CBS News).

The fifty-seventh New York Film Festival began Friday at Lincoln Center, and before it ends October 13, more than a hundred fifty movies will play, with many American and New York premieres for top prize winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, according to CBS News. In addition, panel discussions, filmmakers workshops, revivals, and free screenings will take place. These sidebars include: a catalogue of documentary features; the “Secret Screening” (Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems (2019)); “Projections,” a slate of experimental and short pictures; “Convergence,” interactive and virtual reality; a screenwriting masterclass by Olivier Assayas; and a celebration for the centennial anniversary of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Letters, memos, telegrams from Golden Age Hollywood published in new book

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When she was cast in George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964), Audrey Hepburn asked the director for the designer’s sketches of her shoes so her private Parisian bootmaker could cobble them because she had “trouble” with her feet after dancing ballet. (Image Courtesy: NPR).

Rocky Lang and film historian Barbara Hall have edited and compiled the new book Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking, a collection of written correspondences between classical stars, according to NPR. Hall says the documents humanize the artists who wrote them, and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who penned the foreword, says this publication is more historical than it is an invasion of privacy. Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Hattie McDaniel, as well as Henry Fonda are among the authors found in the text, writing to everyone from Ernest Hemingway to George Cukor to Jack Warner to Hedda Hopper to William Wyler.

Ansel Elgort defends “The Goldfinch”

This weekend, Ansel Elgort took to Instagram to challenge the critics who made John Crowley’s The Goldfinch (2019) one of the worst-reviewed releases of the year, inspiring fans to flood Letterboxd with enough four-star reviews to raise its score, according to IndieWire. Not only has the film’s word-of-mouth underperformed, the adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has also been a box office nightmare for Warner Bros., dropping seventy-one percent its second weekend in theaters. While praising the reviewers for their writing, Elgort dismisses their articles as one-sided, saying audiences (and his mother) still enjoy the movie despite its flaws.

Netflix review: Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (2017)

With a hero from a desert planet who goes on to help destroy a galactic fascist’s superweapon, J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) can be read as a companion piece to George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

In a similar vein, Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) aims to be as game-changing a sequel as Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but as it shoots for the moon, where does it land among the stars?

If you don’t know what to watch next, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available to stream on Netflix. The epic space opera was nominated for four Academy Awards. The filmmaker also served as scriptwriter.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives on the planet Ach-To to train in the Jedi arts with exiled Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill) so she can defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

At the same time, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) flees a First Order dreadnought with a comatose General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern); Poe plans to fight, but Holdo plots an escape.

Poe sends former First Order stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a mechanic named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to Canto Bight to rendezvous with the hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) so he can deactivate the First Order’s tracking device.

It is refreshing to see a popular entertainment franchise like Star Wars and all its self-contained stylistic formulae churn out a “critic’s film” to be deconstructed through an authorial lens.

From a postmodern context, it is the most thematically ambitious release in the saga (not to say “ambition” always translates to “success”), and it needed to be after The Force Awakens inaugurated the third trilogy with a beat-for-beat revisit to A New Hope.

If The Empire Strikes Back is most remembered for its “big reveal,” then The Last Jedi is defined by its subverted expectations.

That said, as a sequel to The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi fails to satisfy some of the foreshadowing introduced in its parent film. While this is intentional, dramatically, it’s still… well… unsatisfying.

Maybe these films would have better consolidated this experiment with the mainstream myth that is the Star Wars universe if the same director had shot both of them.

In any case, the overarching poetry of Star Wars is the past rhyming with the present, and using the Rotten Tomatoes audience reception score for a litmus test, The Last Jedi complements The Empire Strikes Back as the movie even more beloved than A New Hope, the one that started it all.

“The Princess Bride” star leads charge on Twitter against remaking film

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Cary Elwes and Robin Wright light up the screen as The Man in Black and Buttercup in The Princess Bride. (Image Courtesy: NBC News).

As part of a Variety profile published Tuesday about Norman Lear, the executive producer behind Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987), Sony Pictures Entertainment chief executive Tony Vinciquerra says a reboot of the film may be in the works, according to NBC News. Cary Elwes, who stars as Westley, tweeted his condemnation against the idea, calling the classic a “perfect” movie, and so did Jaime Lee Curtis (whose husband, Christopher Guest, plays Count Tyrone Rugen), saying “there is only ONE The Princess Bride.” So many other celebrities as well as fans have followed suit, the backlash topped Twitter’s trending topics.

World’s first Holocaust feature film to premiere in Tel Aviv this weekend

 

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Wanda Jakubowska, “the grandmother of Polish cinema” as well as “the mother of Holocaust movies,” said the reason she lived through her imprisonment was because she was obsessed with making a film about it. (Image Courtesy: Haaretz).

As part of the Tel Aviv Polish Institute and the Polish Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s “Polish Zoom” film festival this month and next, Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage (1947) is screening in Israel Sunday night seventy years after it debuted there, according to Haaretz. It is the first feature-length picture about the Holocaust, shot on location at Auschwitz, and the filmmaker, scriptwriter, and many cast members – all women – were camp survivors. As ahead of its time as the movie is with its intersectional feminism, though, it is still a Stalinist propaganda piece, sanitizing the Soviet war criminals into warriors of liberation.

Amazon Prime review: M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” (2019)

M. Night Shyamalan enjoyed somewhat of a revival since The Visit (2015) and Split (2016), never quite meeting the triumphs of The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), but still at least becoming watchable again.

As for Glass (2019), the third in a trilogy with Unbreakable and Split, the faults of his authorship stand in relief against these two stronger entries.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Glass is available on Amazon Prime. The psychological superhero thriller got largely negative reviews, with only thirty-seven percent of critics aggregated via Rotten Tomatoes praising the film.

The filmmaker also wrote, co-produced, and made a cameo appearance in the picture.

Unbreakable hero David “The Overseer” Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Split villain Kevin Wendell “The Horde” Crumb (James McAvoy) are institutionalized at the same Philadelphia facility as The Overseer’s nemesis, Elijah “Mister Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson).

There, Doctor Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who specializes in treating patients who believe they’re superheroes or otherwise superhuman, studies the three characters.

But Mister Glass has a plan for escape, and with The Horde in his reach, an alliance between the two could spell doom for the city The Overseer can no longer protect.

The premise is the highlight of the movie – three of Shyamalan’s finest creations conflicting against one another in a setting evocative of the ambiguous realism making Unbreakable a masterstroke of suspense.

It would’ve done the same for Split, if not for a denouement which decisively answers the question, “Does The Beast exist?” when no answer is what gives Unbreakable its staying power.

For the first time since Unbreakable, the audience asks themselves if The Overseer, The Horde, and Mister Glass really are players in a comic book, or if they’re suffering from a collective delusion of grandeur; debating the truth of the text warrants devoted re-watches.

But Shyamalan makes the same miscalculation at the end of Glass as at the end of Split, except worse, unleashing a veritable Pandora’s box of absurdity onto his world-building that no amount of mystery could ever close again.

And he might not have made this error if he hadn’t marketed himself as a brand after the success of The Sixth Sense, the Wellesian wunderkind, the lovechild of Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg whose signature style orbits the climactic twist (even at its most contrived).

It’s the reason why auteur theory, developed in postwar Europe as part of the French New Wave by early film critics obsessed with studying Hollywood directors, is problematic and borderline fallacious in the inherently collaborative world of moviemaking.

Shyamalan is indisputably talented – The Sixth Sense is one of the best of all time – but The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are greater than their twists, and even Hitchcock knew his limits. Hitch cast himself in cameos, but he never delivered a line, and he didn’t pen a word of dialogue.

His greatness lay in knowing when to take “no” for an answer.

If Shyamalan had an executive to answer to, or a seasoned screenwriter to ground his concepts into the dramatically satisfying, Glass might have lived up to its “super” potential.

What it is instead, is a delusion of grandeur.

Star-studded preview uploaded for Roland Emmerich’s “Midway” (2019)

Roland Emmerich’s Midway (2019), written by Wes Tooke and starring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, as well as Woody Harrelson, dropped a new trailer Thursday, according to Rolling Stone. The cast of characters are mostly real-world military officers, and the World War II blockbuster will detail the Battle of Midway, a Pacific Theater defense of the American West Coast from the Japanese Imperial Navy after Pearl Harbor which marked a turning point during the conflict. The film is scheduled for a Veterans Day weekend release from Lionsgate, November 8.