In Conversation with Film Director Oren Moverman – Sarasota Film Festival 2015: Day Two

In Conversation with Oren Moverman

On my schedule for The Sarasota Film Festival’s second day was an afternoon In Discussion with Film Director Oren Moverman who had directed the festival’s opening night feature film – Time Out of Mind. The venue was the John C Court Cabaret Theater which is a part of the Florida Studio Theater located at Coconut and First Street, within a few blocks of the Sarasota Opera House.

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It is an intimate setting with tables and chairs, rather than theater style seating.

You can see how close I was to the stage from my photos.

Moverman was going to be interviewed by Mike Dunaway, the Festival’s Creative & Programming Director, which would be followed by a short Q & A.

Oren Moverman seems to be on the fast track in the movie business. He was born in 1966 in Tel Aviv, Israel, His father worked for an Israeli bank, and in 1978, the elder Moverman was transferred to work for the bank in New York. They settled in Brooklyn. Oren was 12 years.

Dunaway is in the white shirt and beard. Moverman is clean shaven and wearing dark clothes.

Dunaway is in the white shirt and beard. Moverman is clean shaven and wearing dark clothes.

With some prodding from Mike Dunaway, Moverman told us that the first film he ever saw, beyond that which aired on Israeli TV was The Wizard of Oz. This is the one that captured his imagination, giving him his first clue about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Moverman went to Brooklyn College and managed to get some non-paying jobs on movie sets – you know like the assistant to the assistant of the Assistant Movie Director. As we all know and have heard repeatedly, some of the most successful people in the movie biz started at the bottom.

Moverman has now directed three feature Films – The Messenger in 2009 was nominated for two Oscars – Woody Harrelson for Best Supporting Actor, and Mr. Moverman along with Alessandro Camon as the co-writers of the Original Screenplay. His second directorial effort was the feature film, Ramparts, also starred Woody Harrelson. And now, Time Out of Mind starring Richard Gere.

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Six Gals Talk About the Movies, Making Movies, and the Movie Biz at the Gasparilla

My Thursday entry at Tampa’s Gasparilla International Film Festival would be an Industry Panel Discussion. It was called For the Love of Movies/Women in the Industry.

The venue was the Channelside Cinemas, once a 10 theater cinema hall, until they closed in the fall of 2012. The building remained closed and dormant and has re-opened just for this festival.

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Over the five-day period of Wednesday to Sunday, March 25th – March 29th, 130 films will be screened. 70 shorts and 60 feature films.

Four of the film makers who have films showing at this festival formed the core of the panel.The Moderator, a last-minute fill in) and panel member, was Actress/Producer Mary Rachel Dudley.

Her film, which she both produced and wrote, In Lieu of Honor, would have its World Premier tonight. Have a look at the trailer:

Here’s a short precis of what the film is about –

Frank Chapman…a man and a soldier. He finds himself surviving another day…a day all too familiar that tortuously repeats itself with the stench of failure. Each step spirals him out of control. He might be back home, yet he was left behind…somewhere in a desert of painful illusions.

The second panelist was Film Director Lindsey Copeland. Her film is called Girls Night. Lindsey not only produced it, directed it,and wrote it, she also was the cinematographer. That’s wearing a lot of hats isn’t it?

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Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys started as a trio and would later end up as four guys standing under a street lamp, and from there, they went on to become the Four Seasons, or the American Beatles. If you came of age in the 60’s, the 70’s, or even the 80’s, The Four Seasons, and their iconic lead singer Frankie Valli, probably figured in your life.

lookin' good and not getting any younger

lookin’ good and not getting any younger

Whether you were with your best girl parked in a car, submarine race watching (a term coined by NY radio personality Murray the K), or driving to work, or just stuck at home on a rainy day, it is entirely likely that you listened to these guys sing.

Jersey Boys is a film that’s just opened. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is an adaption of the long running Broadway hit musical Jersey Boys. Rather than me writing a solo review of the film, we are going to have a discussion about the impact of The Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, the merits of the film, and some personal remembrances.

My guests are Mike Pandolfino (DJ Mike) of Sarasota, Florida, and Guy Breen (The Ghost) of College Point, New York. While none of us were Jersey born and raised, DJ Mike and I both lived in New Jersey for a while. The Ghost is a Brooklyn born guy who nows lives in College Point.

I’ve asked these gentlemen to join me because we all came of age when the The Four Seasons were in their heyday, and their music was being played on every radio station in the country. So this will be three guys from New York talking about four guys from New Jersey.

These days, DJ Mike does the music for everything from Graduations, Sweet-Sixteens, Weddings, Engagement Parties, Proms, Anniversaries, Birthdays, and School Reunions.

The Ghost hosts his weekly 2 hour radio show, called The Ghost, on the internet’s All Noise Radio, every Monday night from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM. As for me, as JustMeMike, this post is my 700th on this website.

I’ll start things off with a question for both DJ Mike and The Ghost.

JustMeMike: While I truly like the Four Seasons, I’ll admit to having none of their CD’s. Nor do I have any cassettes, 8-tracks, or vinyl discs of them in a box somewhere. But that’s because, these days,  I write about film, tv, art, travel, and sports. But you guys have a far greater connection to music than I do. How much a part of your DJ work involves the Jersey Boys aka The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli? Let’s start with DJ Mike –

DJ Mike: As a DJ I have not had a lot requests for the Four Seasons, but I always play December 1963 and Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You to great responses, but I’m sure that with the success of this movie I will be getting a few requests for their music. My favorite song is Working My Way Back To You but the remake by The Spinners.

The Ghost: The great thing about my show, and All Noise Radio as well, is there are no boundaries. I’m not pigeon holed in what I can play. So I play everything  from Classic Rock to Funk, Disco, Punk Oldies, you name it. Oldies and Disco is where the Four Seasons fall in, especially Oldies. I have played their music. The song “Dawn” is my personal favorite.

JustMeMike: I’ll have to say that My favorite song is Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You. Let’s switch over to the film. When you first heard about the film, what was your reaction to Clint Eastwood as Director?

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A Young Film Maker Talks with JMM

A bit more than a week ago, at the IIFA (International India Film Awards) in nearby Tampa, I watched 2 short films made by a brother and a sister, Arosh and Sabreena Sarkian. I think they went to a film school in LA. They were students and they wrote, produced, and directed two films that were shown at this important event.
That got me interested in more short films. I found an outfit called Meera Productions. Meera Darji is a second year student at Coventry University in the UK. She’s enrolled in the Media Production Honours course at the school. She writes, produces, directs, and edits her own films under the banner of Meera Productions. She also works as a cinematographer, and has manned the cameras for other folks. I’ve watched a number of her short films, and I like what I see. I like the way she frames a shot – a technique that can be taught but I believe is mostly instinctual. One isn’t born knowing how to use a camera, or frame a shot, but someone can be far better at it – even without training – than others.

There’s a second component to film making that is also invaluable, and that is the editing. Knowing when to cut, to change the perspective or angle, to choose a one shot then pull back for a two shot, is very important in keeping a viewer’s interest. A stationary camera conveys information that is endlessly repeated, but a moving camera, whether it be the camera that is in motion, or a series by edits, simply heightens the amount of information that is offered to a viewer. Each change edit offers a fresh perspective. New information is delivered, and the eyes are attracted again and again. I think Meera excels in camera positioning, locations, and the framing of the subjects. And when you factor in the editing – that’s where it really gets interesting.

To kick off this post, please have a look at Meera’s showreel:

So my subject for this post is the young film maker Meera Darji. I’ve asked some questions and I found her answers to be compelling, insightful, honest, and most worthy of your consideration. Some of the films in the showreel will be discussed. Wasn’t Meera’s showreel quite exciting? So without further preamble let’s get started. Continue reading

Girl Rising: Day Three at the IIFA in Tampa, Florida

Ruksana was a small child, living with her parents, on the streets of an unnamed Indian city, They were so poor that they hadn’t a proper home, instead they lived behind and below plastic sheeting, and corrugated cardboard, and pieces of wood or bits of tarpaulin. Life in this city was described by the narrator (speaking as an adult Ruksana):

This place teemed with life. With so many people each going their own way like thousands and thousands of different rivers.

As poor as they were, Ruksana’s parents sacrificed what little they had to keep her in school. They deemed that an education was the only chance for Ruksana to escape from the endless chains of poverty that go on for generations and generations in some parts of the world.

Then later, when urban planners, government ministers, city health inspectors, and private developers put their heads together, the shanties, and street dwellings came down. The people were displaced under the guise of urban renewal.

Now the narrator spoke again in the voice, or thoughts of a young Ruksana:

With thousands and thousand of rivers, we are now adrift.

It was a heart breaking moment. The narration for this particular segment was made by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra. What’s more, this segment also included another famous voice, that of Liam Neeson.

The film is called Girl Rising and it is the story of nine girls from Peru to Nepal, from Sierra Leone in Africa to India, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Haiti. Their stories are remarkable.

Here’s a description of the film from the website www.girlrising.com:

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins, Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice.

The voice actors included Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett, Chloe Moretz, Kerry Washington, and Liam Neeson.

To say the film has impact is just being truthful as well as being an understatement. As we hear in the film in the voices of some of the girls portrayed: I am change. I am my own master now. I feel as if now I have power. I feel I can do anything.

Said another way: One girl with courage is a revolution.

And from the trailer: There comes a film – about changing the world – one girl at a time.

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The Nostra Blogathon : Life, Love & The Movies

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Have you seen any of the posts that are a part of Nostra’s Blogathon. The topic is Life, Love & The Movies. Here’s a link to the blogathon’s origin:
http://www.myfilmviews.com/2014/01/20/announcing-llm-blogathon/

I know I am a bit late to the party – but what with Valentine’s Day waiting in the wings, I figured it was not too late to jump in. The format is simple. Nostra has proposed that one answer 8 questions about films and your life, and 8 questions about love and films as they concern you. The questions were not easy, nor was flipping the pages of the film catalog in my head, so I had to do some research. But here we go.

Life

1. What was the first movie you saw in the cinema and what do you remember about that visit?

I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly which film that I saw in any cinema. But I do remember which film I saw that impressed me as well as being impressed by the movie theater itself. That would be the Alfred Hitchcock film North By Northwest which was playing at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. I saw this film with my parents and brother. We lived in Huntington, New York which was out on Long Island and about an hour east of Manhattan. So a family outing into the city to see a movie matinée and have dinner was really a big deal.

2. Are there any movies you have very strong memories of which are not because of the movie (for example something which happened at the time you were watching it)?

Most likely that would be The Wizard of Oz which was generally shown years ago on Thanksgiving – a family dinner wasn’t normally special – but on Thanksgiving Day it was always special.

3. Which movies had a big impact on you and changed a (small) part of your view on life?

That’s easy – I have two – To Kill a Mockingbird. I felt that the integrity of Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck was better and more inspiring than any other film character I’d seen before or since.

The other would have to be All The President’s Men. As I lived through that era in American politics, I became quite disillusioned about politics. But to be able to revisit, the short version of that period of history, via this film, is something I treasure to this day.

There were films that offered not so much of a view on life – but rather – a feeling that movies would be the entertainment form that I valued most. One was Lawrence of Arabia for the epic spectacle,

the second was Dr. Zhivago for the epic love story,

and the third was Chinatown because it was a look at life’s dark side.

4. Do you have any comfort movies which you return to because you are in a specific mood (for example if you are feeling down/nursing a heartbreak)?

If nothing else of value is going on, and a film comes on TV that I would watch any time it is being shown because it has not only entertainment value, but it serves as a grand bit of escapism, I have three –

A Few Good Men

The Bourne Identity or any of the others with Matt Damon as Bourne –

shawshank_redemption_ver2

The Shawshank Redemption

5. If a movie would be made about your life, what type of movie would it be and who would you like to portray you?

Great question. Of the actors no longer with us – I would have chosen Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck or James Stewart.

http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2902000409/

Beyond those three – I’d go for Dustin Hoffman who would be more than a tad short to play me. Anyway I guess it would be a story with a ‘hopeful sign’. See the clip above.

6. Which existing movie best represents you? Not really – but I do love baseball.

Tough question – I think I’d select Field of Dreams.

7. If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would be the last movie you would want to see?

For the sheer excitement, and the fun of watching the non-stop edge of your seat thrills, it would have to be Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Or to watch a film that exemplifies the traits of bravery, heroism and courage – it would be The Bridge On the River Kwai.

8. If you can spend your life working in the film industry, what would you be and why? (you know, director, producer, actor, cinematographer, costume designer, sound designer etc?)

At one time I would have selected screenwriter. I actually did co-author a film, but it went nowhere as in not sold. So these days, without having to over-think the question – it would be cinematographer.

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Talking About The Fifth Estate – A Film Review/Discussion

You can’t expose the world’s secrets without exposing your own.

That’s the tagline for the new film The Fifth Estate. Directed by Bill Condon, this is the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks — especially Assange, up close and personal, warts and all.

Expectations for the film were high, especially with star Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, and packaged as a fast-paced global thriller that traces the relationship between Assange and his early collaborator, Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl).

But the film crashed and burned. It opened in a whopping 1769 theaters across the USA a few days ago, but earned only $1.7 million over the weekend — a truly awful number. This was the worst box office debut for any film opening in at least 1500 theaters this year. What went wrong?

Didion of the Feminéma blog and I sat down to try to figure it out.

JMM: I hate to tell you this, but I was one of just two people who saw this movie at the 10:45 AM showing today. How many people were in attendance at the screening you attended?

Didion: There were four of us at the 1:40 showing, but hey — it’s a Monday! it’s mid-afternoon! I’m not sure the weak audience numbers necessarily reflect anything. And the two guys next to me loved the film.

I’m still processing, to be honest. JMM, do you think this film was written for a broad audience, or for people with particular views of WikiLeaks?

The not so thrilling opening - four people watching a monitor

The not so thrilling opening – four people watching a monitor

JMM: Great question. The film looked like it was marketed as a thriller. Proponents of transparency in government and media would be the standard bearers. But it played out much differently. I failed to detect any thrills, and I failed to learn anything about the process. What I came away with was that WikiLeaks (the organization) was a good idea, but that Assange himself turned it into being more about himself, than what he was trying to accomplish.

Which leads to the question (for which I have no answer) was the film fair to Assange?

Didion: It’s hard for me to answer that because I keep asking, would this film look any different if Assange had made it? Isn’t it very much to his advantage to be at its center, the way he is here? Isn’t it to his advantage to be portrayed as a complicated figure? Perhaps Assange would have portrayed himself as more heroic than he appears here, but I think he’s enough of a publicity savant to know that an ambivalent character is more interesting than a purely heroic one. (The one thing about the film that’d be different is the absence of the Daniel character, as the two men have had a devastating fallout.)

So in that regard, the film is more than fair; it lets Assange be the main character. Moreover, it wants us to believe that WikiLeaks truly is a fifth estate, a new guerrilla means of exposing the truth behind our institutions — also very much Assange’s message.

JMM: Well that certainly fits. A guerrilla means of bringing the truth out into the light. However it is also true that his methodology could be called something like Egotistical Anarchy. Or we might call him an Informational Insurgent. Maybe that’s the problem with the film – people would prefer to have learned more about the process and less about the guy behind the curtain.

Which leads me to another point. I really didn’t care for the first hour – at least once the opening montage concluded, we had no place to go but down. Did you see the film as two distinct and separate halves?

Didion: Hm. I’m not sure I can answer that. You’re right that it presents a gradually more problematic view of Assange in the second half. But I thought the biggest drama in the film — the lead-up to the dump of the 90,000 documents on the websites of the Guardian, the NY Times, Der Spiegel, and other publications — was nicely handled. That is, those scenes portrayed nicely all the competing interests, motives, and worries, including by two US State Department heads (Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci).

It was good, I thought, because it forced everyone in the theater to consider all sides of the question about this form of exposure — not only the question of whether the dump of documents might lead to blood being spilled, but also whether it’s more honest to dump documents unredacted. It was fascinating. You’ll have to tell me your opinion of this too, JMM.

But in addition, there’s another question I find important: does this film ultimately send the message that WikiLeaks would have been a fine and dandy new mode of communication but for its egomaniacal leader?

JMM: Exactly.

Assange stressed again and again that he was primarily concerned with protecting the whistleblowers, the so-called sources. Anonymity was crucial, otherwise no one would leak anything to them. And that was an honest and accurate appraisal of the process. But as you said, he was totally dishonest about everything else. Even Daniel was deceived.

So the question of his character is something that none of us, not even Josh Singer the writer, or Bill Condon, the director, can answer.

Actually, I couldn’t believe that Assange was so gung-ho to publish the docs without any redacting. Did that send Assange’s credibility out the window for you?

Didion: Honestly, I’m still on the fence about how I feel about the film being a referendum on Assange’s character, especially as it’s been told by a former associate. On the fence, because I’m more interested in the establishment of WikiLeaks as an institution with the potential to achieve a greater degree of transparency than our profit-driven fourth estate has managed recently. All the attention to Assange seems like a red herring; shouldn’t we be asking harder questions about the institution rather than its colorful central figure?

But maybe that’s the problem — it’s hard for me to think of this simply as a film with its own internal logic, rather than as a comment on real-life institutions and people.

I must say that the way the film portrays Assange’s growing sense of urgency and paranoia — his eagerness to publish the documents so hastily — was badly handled. The film played it as a sign of his recklessness; but is it so wrong to argue that censoring any part of the docs, even a person’s name or the location of a battle, might limit the documents’ usefulness? In other words, even though the film played it as part of Assange’s messianism, I found his point worthy of a conversation.

JMM: Sure. It is an interesting question. That could have been the whole point of the film. But I’ll ask you about the usefulness. Who would benefit from the knowledge that Agency X, in Country Z, did this or that? It would all be after the fact of the events, and could precipitate following events. I’m saying that it is a slippery slope – and the real life stuff that followed now has Assange living sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. So who benefited? – the usefulness can’t really be quantified.

On the other hand, I really do like that you were able to leap from the cinema that we saw and take that information and apply it to the real world. I’m still more grounded to the film itself than the worldly aftermath.

Didion: that’s what makes you such a good reviewer! that’s what we’re supposed to do!

It occurs to me that my refusal to see this merely as a thriller, but also as a film with real-life implications, springs from some essential disappointments. I don’t mean to suggest the film is bad; far from it. But as you can see, I’m disappointed that it was so much about Assange, even though I recognize what a compelling character he is.

On that note, I must say that Cumberbatch did a fabulous job — I had to google the real Assange afterward to remind myself what he actually looked like. Cumberbatch not only got the charm and the deceiving back stories right; he also got Assange’s methodical manner of speaking, his tics…those beady eyes, darting around a room, over-thinking everything. It was a terrific performance. What did you think of the acting overall?

JMM: Sorry Didion, I’m not much of a Cumberbatch fan at all. He wore wigs and false teeth to look the part, and he just doesn’t impress me. Which is not to say he wasn’t good in the role. Personally, I enjoyed Brühl more. Maybe it was the deceptive manner by Assange that kept me from either liking him, or being partial to him. Brühl, on the other hand, was a far more open character, one that was infinitely more accessible.

I liked Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci better. But I just couldn’t get my arms, or my head around Cumberbatch.

Didion: I wonder — was it the acting or the character?

I liked Brühl too (and had only seen him in The Fall, the Gillian Anderson series, before now), but for the most part, he just didn’t do a lot with the character except function as a nice window through which to see Assange.

Linney and Tucci were great! Taking on smaller roles like these must be such a treat for seasoned actors like them. I swear, I’d pay to watch Stanley Tucci read the phone book.

We probably can’t answer the question of why the film hasn’t succeeded at the box office, but I’m curious: do you think the film should have done well? is it worth the big budget, the big advertising campaign?

JMM: Another great question, Didion. I’m thinking that the film is disappointing in so many ways. I’m also thinking that Assange is not particularly important at the moment, even though WikiLeaks still exists. I’m also thinking that Dreamworks made a mistake with Cumberbatch. I just don’t see him selling tickets. Granted, Redford and Hoffman are now in their 70s, but when you think of All The President’s Men – a great film about revealing the truth – you can say that film was a great film with great stars who sold tickets on their names.

We can’t say that about the actors here in The Fifth Estate can we?

The story had all the relevance and importance – yet – no one wants to see it.

Didion: And All the President’s Men was such an uncomplicated story in contrast, wasn’t it? Crusading journalists uncovering increasingly fraught information that leads them farther up the chain of command. Whereas it’s hard for anyone but the most zealous to find WikiLeaks to be straightforwardly heroic. These two films would make fascinating counterpoint in a college class about the public’s views about the media, actually!

Cumberbatch might not be your cup of tea, but you frame the problem exactly: focusing the story on Assange is going to turn people away from the film. Tell me, purely on the subject of the film as a thriller, you’ve mentioned that you were disappointed. Do you think this is the fault of the storytelling, the filming, or something more pervasive about the film?

JMM: As I said earlier – the first half of the film was kind of tedious, not at all to my liking. Guys at keyboards, typing furiously isn’t scintillating film making. Then factor that what we saw on their screens wasn’t the least bit accessible to a standard viewer. So even if we give them the first hour to establish the characters and the narrative – it left me cold. It gains some traction in the second half, but by then the two main characters were going in opposite directions.

Condon handled his cameras quite well, and Singer did manage to make the film have some excellent pace – but only in the second half.

Didion: The fact that all of us spend all our time in front of screens these days is going to make modern thrillers incredibly boring, isn’t it? I don’t feel as negatively about the online screen time the characters engaged in; I actually thought about whether there’s a way to make that stuff riveting for future audiences. (Actually, the series Sherlock did some interesting work with graphics onscreen representing texting.) But it’s not the same as Robert Redford walking into creepy parking garages, or Dustin Hoffman on the phone and frantically taking notes on his interviews, is it?

In the end I think Hollywood hasn’t quite figured out how to make real-time computer/internet exchange exciting. And in the end, isn’t that really what films like The Social Network and The Fifth Estate are all about? and they’re a sign of things to come.

JMM: Smart phones, tablets, and the like get more and more intricate and evolve every month. But filmmaking? Not so much. At least not in this one.

Didion: Exactly! I wonder if they’ll find a more elaborate kind of personal viewing experience — high-tech 3D glasses that interact with the film’s story, for example — to enhance our sense of what’s going on onscreen? A sort of Google Glass experience for the theater.

Meanwhile, back here in October 2013, I have to pronounce myself slightly disappointed overall. If pressed, I’d give the film something like 3 stars out of 5 — a perfectly watchable thriller, but one that doesn’t do anything very interesting or new. That’s ultimately what gets me about this film. On the one hand, it does a nice job of convincing me that WikiLeaks is a thoroughly new institution worthy of a moniker like The Fifth Estate. On the other hand, it’s an old-fashioned story about a follower who grows disillusioned with his cult of personality leader. Neither the story nor the filmmaking are innovative or particularly thought-provoking, even as the film raises some good questions about WikiLeaks’ central aims and motives.

JMM: Nice summary Didion. I’ll agree to a 3.0 out of five as well. There’s nothing wrong with old stories if told well, And we don’t need a whole lot of innovative technical wizardry if told well.

What was it that Berg’s girlfriend Anke called Assange – an asshole? Well, you can make a good story about one of those too.

Didion: Okay, one final question for you, JMM. At the very end of the film — and I promise, this doesn’t spoil anything — Cumberbatch appears neatly coiffed, sitting in a chair, as if for a televised interview. He’s answering questions, including about “the WikiLeaks movie,” and he frankly dismisses the project. In other words, the film allows Assange to have the last word. What did you think of that filmmaking choice?

If you want the truth, you should seek it out yourself. That's what they're afraid of. You.

If you want the truth, you should seek it out yourself. That’s what they’re afraid of. You.

JMM: You mean the coda at the end when Assange disavowed the film? I have two thoughts on that – it seemed tacked on as an after thought. At that point – or should I say before that – the film was over. It wasn’t necessary.

Didion: Honestly, I kind of liked it. It seemed so … oddly eager to have Assange weigh in, even if he disavowed it.

JMM: Would you have liked it better if they used the real Assange who was interviewed by Stephen Colbert?

Didion: No, actually. I liked it that Cumberbatch remained our version of Assange… and he was just as ambivalent a character in those scenes as he’d been earlier in the film. I think I found it so weird because on some level Condon wanted to show Assange’s opposition to the film as a film. I thought that brief scene really did add something oddly self-conscious about this being a film.

JMM: Yes, in that context, as a directorial choice by Bill Condon, it did add a dimension. But it didn’t increase my appreciation on the overall film.

Didion: So, we weren’t entranced … and the film left us with some fairly damning evidence about Assange’s character. But as always, talking with you about the film — particularly so soon after seeing it — has been both highly enjoyable and useful in debriefing about its qualities. Thanks, JMM, as always for the pleasure of a happy-hour movie chat!

JMM: I’m happy to have the opportunity to discuss film with you at any time. And it was a particular pleasure this time as neither of us was gushing with praise. Until next time…

Broadchurch: Episode 8 – More Talk About Who Done It?

Broadchurch 8 aired last night. Many questions were answered. Okay, maybe not all that many, but the fact that remains is the single most important one – we still don’t know with certainty, who killed Danny Latimer.

After reading my post following episode 6, and following Episode 7, I received a lengthy series of questions from reader FD. Mind you, these were set forth as questions not questions AND answers.

FD: Great discussion. No solution yet. But, let’s try to focus on some key details.

1) Why were there paint chips that matched Danny’s skateboard found in the remains of the burned boat? And why was the boat burned?

2) Why did Susan hide the skateboard for six episodes and then give it to Tom Miller, the son of Detective Miller? Was she trying to provide new evidence to the police? And why did Susan Wright change her name? What secret(s) is she hiding about her past?

3) Why did Tom Miller delete the information on his hard drive and then destroy the laptop entirely when he found out the police might be able to recover the deleted data? Is he trying to protect himself or someone else by destroying the data?

4) Why did Nigel take Susan’s dog Vince? Did he kill Vince? Why? Did Vince know too much, or does Susan know things she won’t disclose unless she sees Vince is safe?

5) Why was Danny’s body moved? From where? How? And why did he have 500 quid under his bed? Where did the money come from?

Danny was killed by person or persons unknown. Was it murder, or an accident?
If it was murder, what was the motive? Drugs? Blackmail? Sex? All of the above?
Find the motive and you find the killer. Unless Danny was not the intended victim. Or he wasn’t a murder victim at all.

Hardy botched his last murder case. He has to solve this one. Like Hardy, Ellie Miller now says “the longer the case goes on, the more I suspect everyone.”
She needs to look closer to home.

JMM: Following FD’s commentary, I didn’t respond. A week went by and no other reader offered any theories, or alternatives. So reader FD posted again yesterday:

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Just Back From Elysium

Well, it is summer and time for another dialogue/discussion with Didion of Feminéma. Our topic today is Elysium, and I have asked Didion to write the intro. So lets get to it.

In the future according to Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, LA looks like the favelas outside Rio — a vast, dusty, treeless series of shantytowns covering those coastal hills as far as the eye can see. It’s overwhelmingly Latino — everyone speaks Spanish, or Spanglish — and we learn that the rest of Earth is similarly dark-skinned and downtrodden. A title card tells us that the world is diseased, overpopulated, and broken,

and that the wealthiest have decamped from Earth altogether for a kind of space station

called Elysium that looks like Bel Air on steroids, where they sip champagne, swim in glamorous pools, and speak French.

It’s a great premise, fully in keeping with the brilliant work Blomkamp did with his earlier District 9 (2009) — a believable dystopia that reflects the worst tendencies of today’s world, the ways that the wealthy can hoard the best resources for themselves. In a brief flashback, a little boy called Max (who grows up to be Matt Damon) gets taught to read by a little girl called Frey (who grows up to be Alice Braga) as they pour over a book describing the wonders of Elysium. He gazes up at her with love, and promises to take her there someday.

We know he will. But how? and what will the consequences be? By the time we find the adult Max, he’s an ex-con on parole working in a factory making the robo-cops that terrorize the populace, and he and Frey have lost touch.

Add to this story a sharp-edged, power-hungry Elysium defense chief named Delacourt (Jodie Foster) with a sort of South African accent; Delacourt’s designated mercenary named Kruger, who solves problems for her with murderous glee (an unrecognizable Sharlto Copley, who played the hapless lead in District 9); and a crime kingpin on Earth named Spider (Wagner Moura), who sends shuttles full of illegal immigrants up to Elysium on the off-chance they’ll make it past Delacourt’s defenses. Those who don’t make it … well, what do the inhabitants of Elysium care?

Don’t worry: we’ll warn you in advance about spoilers.

Film blogger JustMeMike and I sat down to have an extended conversation about this film as we have many times — most recently about The Great Gatsby. So, JMM, let me start by asking: were you as intrigued as I was by the film’s premise?

JustMeMike: I hadn’t seen District 9, so I may not have the same entry point as many did. But who could resist Matt Damon as a Mad Max type wearing an exo-skeleton suit rather than leather. I was also eager to see Foster as a villain. I loved Moura from his two Brazilian cop movies that I’d seen. But those are just the actors.

As for the premise, sure, with a dystopian/utopian combo it seemed like a can’t miss. And with Blomkamp at the helm of a 100 million dollar production, it seemed that he has been anointed as the new boy-wonder of the film world. So yes, I was eager to see it. Show me a tasty premise and A-list actors? Where do I sign up?

Didion: I loved loved loved District 9. Really: a stunner. It might have made me a bit overly optimistic for Elysium. But I have to say, the opening scenes of this film, with those miserable favelas and all the Spanish (Matt Damon does some good language work here) — well, I can’t remember a more believable dystopia, nor a summer blockbuster with so much Spanish being spoken. I was all in for the film’s setup.

JMM: We can agree, that when you add the imagery to the intellectual side of the premise – then you have created an immediate hook for the viewers with or without the language medley of English and Spanish.

Which leads to a question – why the Francais up on Elysium – or was that just for that particular cocktail party?

Didion: I’m not sure we’re supposed to know, but I loved the contrast between the gritty, almost apocalyptic world of LA and the jolting scene of Jodie Foster, with her chiseled calves and perfect hair, schmoozing en francais with the hoi polloi. It was so jolting, in fact, that I wondered how much Blomkamp wanted his viewers to get angry about the impossible social divides that exist in our own world. District 9 was ultimately a story about race; perhaps Elysium is his commentary on class?

JMM: Of course it was. And that feeling is what has occurred to so many who have seen the film. I mean that he started with a premise of class issues (and the obvious divide created by money) – separated the two between Earth and Elysium, then switched away from that and made the film into an action/adventure yarn. I still enjoyed myself – but I wanted more thoughtful concepts than explosions.

Didion: I’m with you there. I found myself oddly ambivalent at the end of the film — feeling as if some other director had arrived mid-stream and transformed the film into something more safe by distracting us with explosions and bad bad guys, away from the class issues.

I’ll say this: of the summer blockbusters I’ve seen, this seems like the most original and substantial — that is, particularly compared to the superheroes and sequels — but I’m ultimately disappointed by Blomkamp’s ultimate privileging of action over ideas. Tell me, JMM, would you ultimately recommend this film — and why?

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