Netflix greenlights Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein film, with all-star producers

Netflix has acquired the rights to the untitled Leonard Bernstein biopic Bradley Cooper will direct, star in, and produce, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Academy Award-winning scriptwriter Josh Singer, who wrote Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight (2015), according to Deadline. Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Todd Phillips are all set to produce, with Netflix determined to ride its own wave of star-driven prestige success from this year’s Best Picture nominees, Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019) as well as Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019). Cooper’s sophomore effort will cover thirty years of marriage between Bernstein and his wife, Chilean-born actress Felicia Montealegre.

Disney rebranding 20th Century Fox

After buying 20th Century Fox last year for seventy-one billion dollars, Disney will remove “Fox” from the name of this film division, which will be rebranded as “20th Century Studios” without the word “Fox” in its iconic logo, according to The Washington Post. Fox Searchlight, the prestige unit, will also be renamed “Searchlight Pictures,” while Twentieth Century Fox Television as well as Fox 21 Television Studios will retain “Fox” in their names for now. The maneuver comes as Disney’s attempt at distancing itself from Rupert Murdoch’s new Fox Corporation, which counts the Fox Broadcasting Network and Fox News among its assets.

Hulu review: Paul Feig’s “A Simple Favor” (2018)

Can you keep a secret?

If you don’t know what to watch next, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor (2018) is available to stream on Hulu. The black comedy mystery thriller stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. It is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.

Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a widowed single mother who vlogs.

She befriends Emily Nelson (Lively), a fashion PR director as well as wife to English professor Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), after a playdate between their sons, Miles Smothers (Joshua Satine) and Nicky Townsend (Ian Ho).

When Emily disappears, Stephanie tries to solve the mystery.

All fictional genres are governed by their respective rules of writing, especially in film, which is edited according to an assembly-line formula as cutting as journalism, but the beats of suspense are arguably the most rhythmically drummed.

Jessica Sharzer’s script marches along its tightrope of tension with nary a misstep, a whole as much greater than the sum of its parts as a jigsaw puzzle. This female-led noir, written by two different women, feminizes a stereotypically misogynistic tradition of storytelling.

And leading the charge is Lively, the femme fatale herself. Even with a male filmmaker behind the camera, she is not objectified under the male gaze – in fact, her costumery, though sexy, is borderline androgynous, stylizing her sex appeal without exploiting it.

Through a look on her face, Lively can charge even just a line of dialogue into a livewire.

Kendrick dynamizes, too, as the unreliable narrator with secrets of her own. She chases her candy-coated vlogger persona with an ominous subtext which unsettles every foundation she lays for this closet where she hides her skeletons.

Stephanie is as psychologically complex as any noir antihero, but in a way that doesn’t masculinize her.

Now, for all the movie’s generic pleasures, its comedy dulls its sharp edges. The climactic fart joke is anticlimactic, and, as with many age-diverse casts, the child actors try too hard (which is not to judge them, but the adults who write and direct their characters).

This isn’t to say humor and crime are mutually exclusive, but, where, say, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) satirizes the “missing white woman” media narrative ingeniously, A Simple Favor is apolitically set in white, upper-middle-class suburbia.

Still, no picture is above reproach, and while A Simple Favor isn’t perfect, like Stephanie and Emily, it’s picture perfect.

Warner Bros. signs deal with AI startup to predict film success

Film company Warner Bros. has signed a deal with Los Angeles startup Cinelytic, which utilizes machine learning to predict film success at the greenlight stage, but the artificial intelligence will assist the studio’s marketing as well as distribution decisions, according to The Verge. The software’s fantasy football algorithm allows customers to pitch a genre, budget, actors, and so forth, tweaking individual elements to see how they affect the hypothetical movie’s performance in different demographics and markets. Scientific studies, however, show that AI only regurgitates self-evident findings (such as “Scarlett Johansson is a bankable star”) which can be discovered without AI.

The advent of “extreme film criticism”

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Review aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have also degraded long-form analysis. (Image Courtesy: The Los Angeles Review of Books).

With the rise of home video, film criticism (as per the French New Wave filmmakers behind the Parisian Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s) democratized, and to compete against the amateurs, professionals resort to “extreme film criticism,” according to the Los Angeles Review of Books. When AMC theaters screened all twelve Marvel movies leading up to the release of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that April, IndieWire reviewer David Ehrlich as well as The New York Times critic John Bailey subjected themselves to the thirty-one-hour marathon. Even this practice harkens back to François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Éric Rohmer, who would spend entire days at the Cinémathèque Française bingeing the American masterpieces over and over again.

Behind the score for “Uncut Gems”

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Adam Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a New York jeweler and gambler. (Image Courtesy: NPR).

Daniel Lopatin, an electronic musician who also records under the name Oneohtrix Point Never, scored Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems (2019), having collaborated with the brothers previously for Good Time (2017), according to NPR. Using an eclectic cocktail of old-school synthesizers, Mellotron flutes, saxophone solos, as well as an eight-person choir, the inspiration behind the cosmic, New Age soundtrack was Vangelis, the Greek synthesizer conductor. Lopatin says while film is expected to be more realistic, music is expected to be more fantastical, which is why such a meditative score of analog synthesizers is juxtaposed against such a chaotic movie.

US Justice Department strikes down landmark “Paramount Decree” after seventy years

As part of his review of legacy antitrust decisions (up next is a 1941 music royalties decree) since his appointment in 2017, Makan Delrahim, the chief of the United States Department of Justice’s antitrust division, struck down the Paramount Decree, according to the Financial Times. The 1948 competition case began as a 1938 price-fixing and monopolization lawsuit against eight Hollywood film companies; the outcome regulated the divestiture between distribution and theater ownership, as well as the practice of studios dictating minimum ticket prices. Delrahim told an American Bar Association antitrust conference in Washington online streaming services have changed exhibition over the last eighty years, but the Independent Cinema Alliance says this move will hurt smaller theater chains.