Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Screenwriting Duo behind The Disaster Artist would love to write for Emma Thompson & Jessica Chastain

The Disaster Artist did well yesterday at the Golden Globe nominations announcement yesterday with director/star James Franco earning a nom for Best Actor and his movie for Best Film. We had a look at The Disaster Artist and some scenes from The Room a couple of months back. 

When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

While the screenplay, based on the book by Greg Sestero and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, didn't come into the Globes mix, it has been receiving steady praise since the movie’s festival journey began. If you’re a regular here, you know I’m pretty much a groupie for the screenwriting duo who major in scripting adaptations. While they started off their career with an original script for 500 Days of Summer, that was quickly followed by The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, Our Souls at Night, the upcoming Where'd You Go, Bernadette and in development, Salt to the Sea based on the book by Ruta Sepatys.

I ran across this interview with pair on The Film Stage and reproduce the interview portion of the article here. 
Tommy Wiseau is a screenwriter. Was that an easy way to write from his point of view and get into the mind of the character?

Scott Neustadter: When you watch The Room you get some good insight into this man’s brain, so we used the film and also Greg’s book. James Franco gave us some audio recordings that Wiseau had made, and there was also some behind-the-scenes footage, so we had a plethora of material to dive into him.

But was there anything in particular about Wiseau’s unabashed love of movies that made it easier to write about him?

Michael H. Weber: For us the angle was seeing this as the story of two outsiders, two dreamers who stick with each other even as everyone else tells them no. So as an outsider, a dreamer, a fan of movies, Tommy’s voice is unusual, but we identified with all of those characteristics about him. It wasn’t too long ago we were outsiders desperate to break into this business.

I found the film to be very romantic in how it approaches these two men and their love for creating. At the risk of sounding ridiculous and using the word “bromance” I wondered if as co-screenwriters you have a similar dynamic.

Michael H. Weber: [Laughs] Definitely the thing that we were attracted to was the fact that this is a relationship story at heart. That’s the one commonality of all the projects we’ve worked in together, obviously we’ve dealt with romantic relationships in other projects, but in this one it’s more of the creative relationship between the two of them. These men have known each other for 20 years now.
How many times did you have to watch The Room?
Scott Neustadter: I watched the film while reading the book, but Weber didn’t actually watch it until we finished writing the script.
Michael H. Weber: I waited till we finished the first draft, because fans of the film are very passionate, they’re a subset of movie culture and the vast majority of people out there have never even heard of The Room, so the movie we were trying to make needed to work for the superfans, but for the most part it needed to play for people who’ve never heard of the movie. I felt it was better if I held off on watching The Room and just use the book as the source material.
So what surprised you the most after you watched the film?
Michael H. Weber: The book does such a good job of describing many of the scenes and aspects of the movie, but even despite having read the book I was shocked at just how strange the movie was.
Films are an extremely collaborative medium and throughout the film it seems that Tommy doesn’t get this, he wants to be in control of every aspect. So even if this seems trite, what advice would you have given him when he shot The Room?
Scott Neustadter: I don’t think we would’ve changed anything or given him any advice. One of the things that made sure The Room wasn’t a movie that was forgotten was that it wasn’t made by committee, as most studio films are: you get notes and a lot of feedback. In many ways that can water down a vision, and The Room is one man’s pure vision, it’s as pure a movie as you’re likely to see. We learn about the auteur theory in college and The Room is as singular a vision as you’re ever likely to get.
Have you come up with a formula or division of tasks when it comes to writing together?
Michael H. Weber: It’s funny, we’ve had the same process from the beginning since we first met in New York. We never write in the same room. We will outline extensively before we write a word, and that thorough outline is pretty helpful, then we work over it through email or on the phone. We divide scenes and a day or two later we email each other to go through them.
You’re also executive producers in The Disaster Artist. What does this means in terms of new tasks or things you’ve never done before?
Michael H. Weber: It changes in every project, because it’s a role that’s somewhat undefined. In a lot of cases being a producer is simply the difference between asking permission to be involved in other creative decisions and being involved in those creative decisions. Regardless of our role as producers we were on set every day. We felt good about our creative place. We didn’t want to overstep and we were just so happy to be involved in this.
You’ve become specialists in adapting Young Adult novels, I remember my niece asking if I was embarrassed of seeing The Fault in Our Stars since I’m an adult, and my answer was no, because I don’t feel in your screenplays you don’t approach these characters from a point of condescension. How do you pull that off every time?
Scott Neustadter: I don’t know if we’ve matured or not, but we remember how important everything seemed when we were young. We grew up on movies by John Hughes and others who refused to talk down to teenagers and make their problems seem small, because they aren’t small when you’re that age. Those little dramas are big deals we don’t overlook or belittle.
I recently spoke to Daniel Kaluuya who said his most memorable moviegoing experience was watching The Room in London. So I’d love to know what’s your favorite moviegoing experience?
Scott Neustadter: I remember distinctly two movies from when I was younger. I saw Coming to America when I was way too young probably. I went with a friend, my parents were like, “Oh yeah, go see that movie, it’s totally appropriate for two eight year olds to go see that movie,” and I remember the energy and the atmosphere. I also remember Misery because it felt like a collective experience where audiences were talking back to the screen and there was a lot of back and forth, we were all communicating together. The Room similarly becomes a communal experience, it’s so different than watching something alone in your laptop.
It’s become very common to see people in social media call out and condemn other people for their taste. You wrote a screenplay about what many people consider a terrible film and yet we see in the end how much pleasure it gave to audiences. Did writing the film in any way change you approach taste?
Scott Neustadter: It’s just what you just said about Daniel. If something’s the most fun you’ve had at the movies, how can it be bad?
Michael H. Weber: I remember being in college and making fun of bad movies, but as an adult now that I’m doing movies with Scott you realize how hard it is to get anything made. That made me stop making fun of bad movies, because people can discuss many elements of The Room, and a lot of it is unorthodox if not just plain not good, but the fact is what you can’t argue with is that Tommy and Greg made something lasting. People still line up all over the world to see The Room, and that matters a lot. They made something people really care about.
You also co-wrote the screenplay for Where’d You Go, Bernadette and I’m so excited to hear what Cate Blanchett does with that material. So with that in mind, is there any actor you’re dying to write something for?
Scott Neustadter: A lot! My favorite performance I can think of is Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day, so I’d be happy to put some dialogue in front of Emma Thompson any day.
Michael H. Weber: I’d love to write something for Jessica Chastain. She can do anything. So I’d love to have the opportunity for us to write something for her.
Emma Thompson and Jessica Chastain? Those are actors I’d love for them to write for too.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Big Little Lies Scores Six Sexy Golden Globe Nominations

congrats to HBO’s Big Little Lies 
for scoring six Golden Globe nominations.

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Big Little Lies competes against Fargo, Feud: Bette and Joan, The Sinner and Top of the Lake: China Girl.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Reese Witherspoon

Nicole Kidman

Also nominated in the category Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon for another show we liked a lot. Feud: Bette and Joan and Jessica Biel for The Sinner. But let’s be real. We LOVE these two women. We want Nicole & Reese to tie and walk off stage together holding their Golden Globes high.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

 Laura Dern
Shailene Woodley

Because the supporting actor and actress category isn’t limited to series or limited series Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern are competing against not only each other, but Ann Dowd in the brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale, Michelle Pfeiffer in The Wizard of Lies and also Chrissy Metz in the hugely popular This Is Us. I love them all —they’re all winners—but I’d bet on Metz or maybe Pfeiffer because of her movie star status. And for those who think Zoe Kravitz should have been in the mix consider the fact that while her performance was super strong, she never had the amount of screen time the key quartet had. And unlike Alexander Skarsgard, she made it out alive. At least she gets to come back, not just in flashbacks either.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Alexander Skarsgard

I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the winner beyond more recent popular favorite David Harbour for Stranger Things in a sprawling category that includes Alfred Molina for Feud: Bette and JoanChristian Slater for Mr. Robot and David Thewlis for Fargo.

For those of us thrilled with this week’s news that Big Little Lies is coming back with a second season after all, this is just a little icing on the big celebratory cake. No lie.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Matinee: L.A. Confidential starring Kim Basinger in her Oscar winning role

Seeing that Kim Basinger just celebrated a birthday, I thought reissuing this Saturday Matinee post was apropos.

Twenty years ago Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her supporting actress role in L.A. Confidential. She also won a Golden Globe and a SAG award. 

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland shared a Best Screenplay Academy Award with the film's director, Curtis Hansen. The Golden Globes, BAFTA, Cannes and critics associations around the world called it out as one of the best films of 1997. If you’re into L.A. noir films, L.A. Confidential is at the top of the neo-noir heap. While the film was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, '97 would turn out to be Titanic’s year.

Based on the book by James Ellroy, the author approved of what the director and screenwriter did with his material about three cops—the oh so good guy (Guy Pearce) the brutal (Russell Crowe) and the sellout (Kevin Spacey).

“At the time Helgeland told the Dallas Observer that the plan was “to remove every scene from the book that didn’t have the three main cops in it, and then to work from those scenes out.” The result was a model of streamlining, allowing them to adapt a book that some had deemed unfilmable. Ellroy himself paid tribute to them, saying, “They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme…Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny.”—Dallas Observer

Let’s stop the chatter and watch. You can stream L.A. Confidential for a few dollars on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, GooglePlay, and YouTube.  When it comes to Netflix, you’re on your own. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Big Little Lies is coming back!

I was shocked & thrilled to read this tweet from Reese Witherspoon. I actually had to double check that I wasn't being had! But it’s all true. Big Little Lies is coming back with a second season. No surprise that author Liane Moriarty isn’t terribly involved with this new iteration.

The new season is “partly based on a story’’ by Moriarty, with screenwriter David E. Kelley writing the new series. As Moriarty has said all along, Big Little Lies was a stand alone novel, never intended to be followed up. BUT we the people have spoken, we’ve taken it out of her hands, and handed it to David E. Kelley to write.

"I'm thrilled to be bringing back this talented team of artists," said Witherspoon in a statement provided by HBO. "It gives us the opportunity to delve deeper into the lives of these intriguing and intricate Monterey families and bring more of their stories back to the audience who embraced and championed them."
And that’s true. These characters, who we first fell in love with in the novel were truly transformative when the readers of the book and the much, much larger community of television viewers got to know them over the course of the season. Many of us hollered for a sequel simply because we didn’t want to move away from that glorious neighborhood filled with fascinating women and families and their myriad problems. No wonder the show understandably won 8 Emmy awards out of its 16 nominations.
Kidman said in a statement that the second installment of the so-called limited series was "inspired by the overwhelming response by audiences around the world."
"What a journey this has been," she said. " I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to keep exploring these female characters and make this series with my friends."
Unfortunately director Jean Marc Vallee won’t be back as 

director but on the good news front, is being replaced by a woman; Andrea Arnold a British actor/writer who has helmed several episodes of Transparent and I Love Dick will will direct.

My photo of Bixby Bridge from my Instagram account Follow me?

I know I’m looking forward to driving over that bridge every week and hearing that gorgeous theme song by Michael Kiwanuka. How about you?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Johnny Depp's Beastly Behavior?

J.K. Rowling has news for the fans that are upset that Johnny Depp is still playing Gindelwald in the sequel to Fantastic Beasts, Fantastic Beasts:The Crimes of Grindelwald. Not because of Johnny’s potential to show up with some outrageous and outlandish characterization but because of stories of domestic abuse and acts of violence perpetrated by Depp against Amber Heard.

The author linked to her blog from twitter explaining that despite concern about the allegations, she and the film producers stood by their casting decision. 

Rowling basically says that knowing what she knows, she’s satisfied and happy to have Depp on board. 

According to Variety 
“Depp was accused of domestic abuse during his divorce from Amber Heard, which was settled in January. He denied the allegations and at the time of the settlement the couple issued a statement saying “there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm” by either party.”
“‘Harry Potter’ fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role,” she said. “As David Yates, long-time ‘Potter’ director, has already said, we naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen.”
She added that she has wanted to address the issue with fans but only felt able to do so now.
“The huge, mutually supportive community that has grown up around Harry Potter is one of the greatest joys of my life. For me personally, the inability to speak openly to fans about this issue has been difficult, frustrating and at times painful. However, the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people [Depp and Heard], both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives, must be respected. Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”
Rowling said she understood that some fans would still not be happy with Depp’s inclusion: “I accept that there will be those who are not satisfied with our choice of actor in the title role. However, conscience isn’t governable by committee. Within the fictional world and outside it, we all have to do what we believe to be the right thing.”

David Yates, the director and producer David Heyman echoed Rowling and Warner Bros.’ issued their own statement. 
“None of us involved in Fantastic Beasts would ever let our appreciation of talent obscure other, far more important considerations. We recognized the magnitude of the issues raised and understood the strength of feeling expressed. We hoped and strived at all times to be sensitive to both parties. We stand by our decision to have Johnny in the films.”

I’ll be honest. I won’t be seeing Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald but for me the decision was easy and had nothing to do with Depp. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, despite the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote the script, despite the presence of Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, was boring. The emphasis on huge, splashy CGI effects instead of the story turned me off. Seeing the sequel? Nah, I won’t be bothering. No moral dilemma whatsoever. 

How about you? Is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on your watch list? If so, the film is set for release on November 18 with a cast that includes not only Depp and many of the predecessor’s actors—Redmayne, Waterstone, Farrell and Ezra Miller of course—but new additions like Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange and Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December: 5 Books We're Watching this Month

December 1: The Disaster Artist
 There is a lot of buzz about this movie starring James Franco and baby brother Dave. James directs (naturally) from a script by the adaptation kings Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. The film is based on the book about the making of the movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau. A movie so bad, it’s become a cult classic. 
When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.
More Disaster Artist News

December 1: Crooked House

I missed this last month, but now Gilles Paquet-Brenner adaptation of the Agatha Christie story is available on Amazon so dig in! The script was written by Julian Fellowes, with Paquet-Brenner and Tim Rose Price getting a writing credit as well.

Haven’t read the book yet but if the logline is to be believed Crooked House is Agatha Christie’s “most twisted tale, a spy-turned-private-detective is lured by his former lover to catch her grandfather's murderer before Scotland Yard exposes dark family secrets.’’

Pretty compelling cast too, with Christina Hendricks, Gillian Anderson, Max Irons, Glenn Close, Terence Stamp and Julian Sands starring. 


December 22: All the Money in the World

This is the movie famously reshot with Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty when Spacey was accused of making improper sexual advances on a 14 year old boy when he, Spacey, was in his mid 20’s. And that’s how the film will always be remembered. 

All the Money in the World is based on the book by John Pearson about the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and his mother’s attempt to get his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom. In addition to Plummer, the cast includes young Charlie Plummer as the young J. Paul Getty along with Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams.

Let’s take a look at the trailer.

December 24: Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain. Idris Elba. Kevin Costner. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. What else do you need to know? Based on the memoir about Molly Bloom, the critics love this film about a world class skier who sets up super high stakes poker games and became a target for the FBI. 

Molly’s Game, based on Bloom’s memoir opens in limited theaters on Christmas Day before rolling out on January 8th here in the US. 

Take a chance on the trailer (sorry!)

December 29: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Based on the memoir Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool  by Peter Turner, the movie is about actress Gloria Grahame’s dying days. Grahame who won a Best Supporting Oscar for The Bad & The Beautiful but I remember best as Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life is played by Annette Bening with Jamie Bell as the young British actor who falls in love with the older woman.

The film—which was released in the UK mid November—comes out here in the states on December 29. Which makes it my last must-see movie of the year. 

What did I miss? Because I always do miss something. 
What bookish adaptation are you most excited to see?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My Last Must See Movie of 2017: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Have you seen the trailer for Film Stars Don't Die in LiverpoolBecause I just did and it made me weep. That’s probably because as an older woman I A) actually know who Gloria Grahame was and B) find the issues of aging and dying particularly poignant.

The logline for the movie listed on imdb has to be the most understated phrasing of what the film is about that I’ve ever read. Check out the trailer below and you’ll see what I mean.
A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is actually based on the memoir by Peter Turner about Grahame’s dying days. You many not remember Grahame who won a Best Supporting Oscar for The Bad & The Beautiful but but I bet when I say she was Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life you know exactly who I’m talking about. 

Annette Bening plays Grahame with Jamie Bell as the Pete Turner character.  The film—which was released in the UK mid November—comes out here in the states on December 29. Which makes it my last must-see movie of the year. The fact that it is set in the UK is another plus for this particular Anglophile. Oh, and it’s also set in the 1970’s. Irresistible!

Watch the trailer and let me know, is Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool on your must see list too?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Julianne Moore is going to be a real diva in Bel Canto

I shared this tweet this morning, birthday wishes for Julianne Moore who celebrates her 57th birthday today. 57 and still gorgeous after all these years! Chances are that’s an honest 57, as one of the quotes I dug up casts the idea of facelifts and Botox in a negative light.

I don't know why women do Botox. It doesn't make them look younger, it just makes them look like they had work done. You are not going to look the same as you did at 25.
Moore seems to be gifted with lucky genes because she really does still look beautiful, beautiful enough to play the glorious Roxanne Coss in Bel Canto, a diva in the nicest sense of the word. I hope Moore can sing, I would be devastated if she didn’t encapsulate the opera singer’s heart-stopping talent. 

She did sing in the wonderful What Maisie Knew (above) which isn’t exactly the same thing. I believe she can do it though, I trust in Moore’s ability and judgement. I don’t think she’d take on the role if she couldn’t. It’s too late to ponder those questions now, the film has been shot—mainly in Mexico— and is in postproduction now. 
A world-renown opera singer becomes trapped in a hostage situation when she's invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist in South America.

Bel Canto, one of my favorite Ann Patchett books—although to be honest I drool over every single word she writes, I've just finished Commonwealth and for me Patchett never fails to capture the quintessential and painful loveliness of all life’s fleeting little moments like no one else—is coming to the screen sometime next year. 

Ken Watanabe is playing Mr. Hosakawa the opera superfan whose birthday is the occasion that brings Coss to South America. You read the book right? So you know they fall in love, and you know what happens as their romance develops under the watchful eyes of their captors. Gen Watanabe (not to be confused with Ken Watanabe!) is played by Ryo Case while Christopher Lambert plays the wealthy industrialist who hosts the party. 

One thing I take away from this book is NEVER go to a huge, big deal of a party where powerful people are gathered together in the middle of a jungle. It just ain’t a good idea.

Are you a Patchett fan? Looking forward to this one or scared to death they’ll blow it?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saturday Matinee: Julie Harris in East of Eden

Julie Harris, born on this day, December 2, had a legendary stage career, winning 5 Tony awards, the first in 1952 for playing Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera based on the novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. Harris reprised the role on film in 1955, getting a BAFTA nom for Best Foreign Actress. I can’t find a forum for the film, but I did come across the trailer for you to check out.

1955 was the same year Harris played Abra opposite James Dean’s Cal in the classic East of Eden where he falls in love with his brother’s girl.

Let’s take a look at the ferris wheel scene where Cal blurts out—in his mumbly way—his love for Abra. It’s clear Abra is deeply conflicted about her own feelings as well as the sexual side of her nature—the bad girl—Cal awakens within her. 

You can stream East of Eden on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes and GooglePlay. Let me know if you run across I Am a Camera, I’d love to see it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Mercy: Colin Firth Lost at Sea

‘‘Life must be lived. The question becomes what can you do to give it all meaning.’’

The Mercy staring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz has opened in Portugal (11/23) and is slated for release in the Netherlands in December. While the UK and most countries are releasing it in early 2018, there is still no specific opening date for the US. Based on a true story, as told in the book The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. I’ve been waiting for this one since I heard about it last December

The logline
Yachtsman Donald Crowhurst’s disastrous attempt to win the 1968 Golden Globe Race ends up with him creating an outrageous account of traveling the world alone by sea.
As a Colin Firth fan, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with the trailer for now. How about you?

Colin Firth in A Single Man

Check out more British news and reviews at Joy Weese Moll's British Isles Friday

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Catch 22: I'll be happy to see George Clooney in my living room.

Another reason to stay home and watch what we used to call the boob tube. George Clooney is set to produce, direct and act in a six-episode adaptation of Joseph Heller's Catch-22

Clooney is not taking the lead part of Captain Yossarian—played by Alan Arkin in Mike Nichol’s 1970 movie—instead, he’ll take on the role of Colonel Cathcart. I’ll definitely need a refresher course on Catch 22, maybe read the book again and re-watch the original which also starred Richard Benjamin,  Art Garfunkel, Jack Gilford, Buck Henry, Martin Sheen, Paula Prentiss, Jon Voight and the list goes on. It was one of those movies where they use big names all over the place, including Orson Welles.  

Remember the story?

About the book

Catch-22 is like no other novel we have ever read. It has its own style, its own rationale, its own extraordinary character. It moves back and forth from hilarity to horror. It is outrageously funny and strangely affecting. It is totally original. 
It is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever even if he has to die in the attempt.)
His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men have to fly.
The others range from Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, a dedicated entrepreneur (he bombs his own airfield when the Germans make him a reasonable offer: cost plus 6%), to the dead man in Yossarian's tent; from Major Major Major, whose tragedy is that he resembles Henry Fonda, to Nately's whore's kid sister; from Lieutenant Scheisskopf (he loves a parade) to Major -- de Coverley, whose face is so forbidding no one has ever dared ask him his first name; from Clevinger, who is lost in the clouds, to the soldier in white, who lies encased in bandages from head to toe and may not even be there at all; from Dori Duz, who does, to the wounded gunner Snowden, who lies dying in the tail of Yossarian's plane and at last reveals his terrifying secret. 
Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to someone dangerously sane. It is a novel that lives and moves and grows with astonishing power and vitality. It is, we believe, one of the strongest creations of the mid-century.
Shall we watch the trailer for the 1970 film just for fun? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mudbound: How the Director Cast the Award Winning Ensemble

Congratulations to director Dee Rees and the cast of Mudbound for winning the ensemble prize at the Gotham Awards. If you’ve seen the film—you can watch it on Netflix—you know why. Below is my original post after seeing the movie and a Q&A with the director. She shares her reasons for sharing each member of the prize winning ensemble.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mudbound with my husband at a DGA screening earlier this year. Short version: we both loved it. 

The screening was for both DGA and SAG members and with its incredible cast: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke and Jonathan Banks it’s easy to see the film getting nominated for its ensemble in addition to individual actors for their outstanding performances. 

Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund and the director, Dee Rees, participated in a Q&A after the screening. They were all received with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

I shared how much I loved Hillary Jordan’s book yesterday, so powerful in its telling this difficult story of racism. Key to the book’s success was the technique the author employed of having the characters tell the story from their point of view in alternating chapters. Director Dee Rees, working from a script she co-wrote with Virgil Williams, followed suit, using multiple viewpoints to tell the story. The film was faithful to the book in a major and unexpected way, relying heavily on voice over, usually a technique decried in the film world. That method worked beautifully here, allowing the audience to see into the characters’s heads.

In my take on the book, I said it was a beautifully written novel about racism, about ptsd, about love, about denial and delusion. A book that makes you hurt and makes you think. The director, using her own familial and historical perspective, took that novel carefully in her hands and turned it into a stunning, deeply moving film.

Key was casting. 

Rees told the audience that she selected Mary J. Blige to play Florence for what she knew would be her ability to inhabit the space of the strong, silent woman, feeling much but saying little. 

For her part Blige said she had much of Florence in her already. As a child she spent summers at her grandmother’s farm in Georgia, she knew that way of life, watching her grandmother kill chickens with her bare hands, as her character did. Blige also said she knew what it was like to be a silent wife, and that she accepted the role because she knew something big had to change. That her life was preparing her. Curious, and knowing nothing about Mary J. Blige’s private life, I looked it up this morning. 

While she was filming Mudbound, Blige was in the process of discovering her husband was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars traveling with his mistress.
“I used a lot of my own heaviness from my own misery that I was living in that horrible marriage,” Blige told Variety. “I was just dying in it. I knew something was wrong. I just couldn’t prove it. I just had all the heaviness of not feeling right, not feeling good. I gave it to Florence.”
Rees had loved Hedlund in Inside Llewellyn Davis where he was mostly silent. Rees said she had to have him for Jamie, the younger brother who returns badly damaged from the war. She made a joke about how gorgeous he was. He is! Exactly the kind of man that ‘makes the girls sparkle’ as the older brother Henry (Jason Clarke) describes him.

Hedlund felt the material personally relevant to his life too, having grown up on a small farm in Minnesota. In addition to the hard work that a life of farming entails, he talked about ‘company’ coming to visit and his grandfathers sitting around drinking and telling their war stories, key to his character of the returning vet. That background informed Hedlund’s rehearsal process when Australian Jason Clarke—cast for his essential powerful whiteness, basically the entitled way of throwing his weight around—asked that they visit the south and spend some time together. The pair stayed at some roadside cabins near Greenville, Mississippi where they went deep into their Delta accents at night with conversations fueled by alcohol.

For Laura, Rees wanted an actress who could be two women, one who could sit, straight backed at the piano and another who would be the woman Carey Mulligan becomes, hunchbacked at the farm, chewing off her own calluses.

Jason Mitchell, who plays the eldest son of the black sharecroppers, newly returned from serving as a sergeant in WWII, interested Rees for his solidity. There’s a key scene where that solidity is in full view, the ending of his storyline had me wiping my tears away furiously. 

Rob Morgan, who worked with Rees on Pariah, gives a heartbreaking performance as the head of the family, responding to the boot on his neck in the only possible way a black man in the Jim Crow south could respond. As Blige indicated, it’s painful to see that in some ways, so very little progress has been made in the racial divide.

Jonathan Banks has the most thankless role, that of Pappy, cast because Rees had seen him in Breaking Bad. He is truly evil incarnate, a despicable pig of a racist character, sadly all too relevant today.

 ‘When I think of the farm, I think of mud.’ Looking at the movie, that mud is a constant, an effect not easily achieved as they were shooting in the heat of summer. Rees talked about bringing in water trucks to wet down the fields which would then dry out, baked in the sun, and would have to be wet down yet again.

 As Laura says, she began to ‘dream in brown’ the mud was so ever present. The cinematography by Rachel Morrison—who has just completed shooting Black Panther— is gorgeous in capturing the harsh beauty of the landscape, the rust and grime and dirt in contrast to blue automobiles, shirts and sometimes sky. Tamar-Kali Brown who has worked with Rees on past project Pariah and Bessie is responsible for the soundtrack, rich in gospel music, while production design by David J. Bomba struck the perfect note of authenticity. 

Mudbound is an exquisite film—which many real critics have stated in review after review during its successful festival run—my only criticism is that it’s coming to Netflix on November 17th. I’m a fan of Netflix, I love watching films on the platform, but it saddens me that so many people will see the film on a smaller scale than the theater screen where its cinematic beauty can truly shine. Big sigh. Please, please, just don’t watch it on your phone.

Here’s the trailer ...

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