Mel Gibson Talks PASSION follow-up RESURRECTION (VIDEO)

It’s not a sequel.

Or, more to the point, as director Mel Gibson puts it, “It’s not The Passion 2“.

While promoting his upcoming World War II movie Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson spoke with pastor Greg Laurie at the SoCal Harvest conference, held at Laurie’s Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.

During the nearly 10-minute conversation (video below), Gibson talks about why he made The Passion of the Christ, the likelihood of The Resurrection being his next film, thoughts about Hacksaw Ridge, and why faith is a recurring theme that he’s compelled to explore.

Hacksaw Ridge opens nationwide on November 4, 2016.

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New DOCTOR STRANGE Sneak Peak And Image Gallery (VIDEO/IMAGES)

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I’m not a big fan of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), but everything I see about Doctor Strange has me excited about new possibilities.

That would include this new 1-minute behind-the-scenes video sneak peak that sets the basis for these characters. It’s a great tutorial for people (like me) who are fresh to the Strange mythology.

Doctor Strange opens everywhere on November 4, 2016. (Click on any picture for larger image gallery.)

A “Force” Perspective On Classic Vinyls (IMAGES)

DarkSideOfTheStar

Ground Control to General Solo.

Everybody loves a Pop Culture Mashup, and freelance digital artist Steven Lear has come up with some beauts over at his website Why The Long Play Face. Transforming 37 classic album covers into Star Wars themed art, Lear proves he’s a Photoshop Padawan who’s strong with The Force.

Just click on the gallery to see all 37.

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU (Movie Review)

SouthsideWithYou
***1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for
brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference)
Released: August 26, 2016
Runtime: 84 minutes
Director: Richard Tanne
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Taylar Fondren, Preston Tate Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Phillip Edward Van Lear, Jerod Haynes

Well that didn’t take long.

Presidential biopics of any form usually don’t start popping up until a few years after a final term has been served (and, more often than not, a generation or more), yet Southside With You hits theaters while Barack Obama still has five months left in office.

Given that total lack of distance, an initial gut impression can’t help but provoke an eyeroll, wondering if the Obama mythologizing has already begun – especially considering the premise: Southside With You is the “Obama First Date” movie. Could this be insufferably sycophantic Obama Fan Fiction?

Sure enough, there’s some Obama hagiography in full effect about halfway through. But on either side of that idealized community organizing is an authentically drawn portrait not only of a young Barack Obama and (eventual First Lady) Michelle Robinson but, more broadly, one of the least-polarized and (quite frankly) truly beautiful reflections on the African-American experience that’s been seen in quite some time.

Playing out over the course of a single 1989 summer day on the titular side of Chicago, Southside With You follows Barack and Michelle around on what (they would eventually agree) was their first date. Barack’s intentions are clear, but Michelle rebuffs the definition. She’s a young legal clerk trying to build a career at a firm that Barack is merely interning at between semesters at Harvard. For Michelle, any semblance of unprofessional impropriety could be damaging. But dang, that Barry is smooth.

Strolling through parks and art galleries, driving around local neighborhoods, and talking over drinks or after a movie (which just happens to be, appropriately enough, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing), Barack and Michelle get to know each other as they leisurely share the day. It’s an effective construct (and effectively done) right out of the Richard Linklater playbook; it’d be tempting to nickname this Before 44 in homage to Linklater’s Before Trilogy and Obama’s numerical slot in the Presidential succession.

Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter (she also produced the film) completely immerse themselves, respectively, into the roles of Barack and Michelle. Impressively natural and spontaneous at virtually every turn (Sawyers especially, whose casual affectation of Barack’s persona is entirely authentic), Sumpter and Sawyers go way beyond caricature to something that’s personally felt, and portrayed.

Their conversations are very well-written, too, particularly given how they never self-consciously project what the future will eventually hold. Yes these two are ambitious, even dreamers, but geared specifically toward hopes of impacting their community, not transforming a nation or ruling the free world. And as they share their thoughts on life, topical issues, and societal concerns, the exchanges are organic, not didactic. It actually feels like a first date, not the start of inevitable history in the making.

In fact, the greatness that lies within Southside With You isn’t so much what it reveals about the Obamas but rather the talent of its first-time filmmaker. Making his feature debut, writer / director Richard Tanne (who’s Caucasian; not that it matters, but in case you were wondering) could’ve gotten by just fine with how well he dramatizes this date, which strikes a much deeper connection than the typical genre “meet cute”.

But as the two look at and listen to art of different kinds, or make their way through various boroughs, Tanne uses the opportunity to craft a thoughtful rumination on African-American culture. It’s both a celebration and elegy of that history and experience, of how it’s been expressed and captured, and is sensitively observed on both counts (something that’s even carried through the end credits).

This gives Southside With You surprising layers that never require a soapbox, makes the film much richer than it needs to be, and elevates it beyond a mere biopic. The focus, too, is on the African-American community’s simple but hard-earned virtues, ones that have challenged and strengthened the fabric of America itself. The intentionality of these themes portends Tanne not only as a director to watch but an actual artist in his own right.

The world could’ve waited for a film about the Obamas, even a good one like this. But given how it’s ultimately not about the Obamas but rather the culture that forged them, Southside With You couldn’t have come along at a better time.

New Images From Live Action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST…Sort Of (IMAGES)

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Now we have a better idea of how some of these characters are going to look.

To go along with the first teaser released earlier this year, two new official images from Disney’s live action remake of their musical version of Beauty and the Beast have been released…but one isn’t final.

The picture of Lumière and Cogsworth (played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen, respectively) is not a final image from the upcoming film. It’s been described as late stage concept art that, while close, is still subject to change. (Sounds to me like the studio is uncertain themselves and is fishing for feedback before they lock these character designs in.)

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The next image is official, taken from the song “Gaston”. Josh Gad‘s LeFou can be seen in the upper right hand corner, with Gaston facing him (leaving actor Luke Evans‘ back to us).

And then, finally, is a leaked (allegedly) backstage photo of actor Dan Stevens striking his non-Beast look.

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Diseny’s live action Beauty and the Beast musical lands in theaters next spring, March 17, 2017.

Trailer/Pics For Oscar Hopeful LION (VIDEO/IMAGES)

Harvey Weinstein‘s going all in on Lion.

Every Awards season, The Weinstein Company (like Miramax before it) makes a few plays for Oscar glory. Ultimately, though, they push one above the rest. This year, that movie will be Lion. The studio just released the film’s first trailer.

Based on a true story, it’s the account of a young Indian man (played by Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) who was separated from his family as a child. Now as an adult, he goes on a quest to find them…with the help of Google Earth.

Co-starring Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, the Weinsteins are betting this is exactly the kind of emotional weeper that Academy members eat up. Whether it does so authentically, or as Oscar bait, remains to be seen.

Lion opens on November 25, 2016. (Click on any image for larger gallery view.)

EQUITY (Movie Review)

EquityMovie
**1/2 out of ****
Rated R

(for strong language and sensuality)
Released: August 26, 2016
Runtime: 100 minutes
Director: Meera Menon
Starring: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Samuel Roukin, Nate Corddry, Craig Bierko

In a new ranking by the BBC of the 21st Century’s best films so far, the consensus of top international film critics and writers put David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive at #1, a movie (interestingly enough) that started out as a failed TV pilot before being reworked into a feature film. It’s a masterpiece that belies its roots.

Equity is sort of the inverse of that. This female-centric Wall Street thriller is a feature film with no TV pedigree that feels very much like a series setup. In the Golden Age of Television, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But for a movie with a unique gender spin on a testosterone genre, its ambitions are undercut by sensationalized tropes straight out of Shondaland.

Anna Gunn (TV’s Breaking Bad) plays Naomi Bishop, a famous and unorthodox consultant who’s risen near the top of a leading New York financial firm. Her strength is in guiding promising IPO’s toward making a big splash when they “go public” for investors and shareholders. It’s a precarious job that balances complex prep, marketing, and rumor management, and Naomi has mastered it. She’s ruthless, even greedy, but ethical; sort of a Gordon Gekko with a conscious.

Yet on top of her job’s inherent demands, she also has sexism and corruption to deal with. Both threaten to take her down at the most important crossroads of her career, when the launch of a new security software could promote her to heir apparent for the firm she works for. Or, if her challengers’ schemes work, she could find herself in jail. Even if Naomi pulls it off, there’s still the not-so-latent misogyny that could keep her stuck where she’s at, regardless of how successful she is. All of these overbearing injustices loom, grow, and collapse in on Naomi as the plot unfolds.

This would all be very compelling, and certainly is in fits and starts (including the subplot of Naomi’s right-hand superstar – played by co-writer Sarah Megan Thomas – whose earned ascent is threatened by her pregnancy), but the smart and challenging aspects of the story start to compete with (and lose out to) the more base aspects: sex, power, backstabbing, etc. Even the self-righteous female government agent who investigates insider trading isn’t above using her sexuality to garner information (I mean, seriously?) Writer/Director Meera Menon crafts a chic, classy aesthetic but, ultimately, it’s a polished veneer covering a pulpy core.

Clogging up the works a bit, too, is a script burdened by exposition. It’s forgivable for awhile in the first act, but as the story continues the script requires too much of its dialogue, laden with information and detail. Exchanges aren’t organic; often, they simply serve the plot and backstory. These conversations, in effect, become too self-conscious.

This, along with the pulpy aspects, is what gives Equity more of a TV feel. Television is a medium where scripts have to be churned out much more quickly, so exposition and seedy elements become easy go-to’s. In film, particularly an indie, the hope would be to keep rewriting until the script matches ambition. Here, Menon and Thomas’ script is headed in exactly the right direction; it just could’ve used a few more rewrites to make it as smart and sophisticated as it wants to be. It shoots for Margin Call but doesn’t quite get there.

That said, this story could’ve also been better served over a 13-episode arc. In such a context, Gunn could’ve given Naomi’s cutthroat confidence more nuance than can be achieved here (although when Naomi is trapped in a corner, Gunn can sell anxiety and disaster control at the drop of a hat, thanks to her years as Mrs. Walter White). Similarly, the arc of the government agent (played by producer Alysia Reiner) could’ve been treated with more patience over the course of a season, and not have necessarily needed to resort to seducing easy marks and insider prey.

Menon has more impressive instincts as a filmmaker than a storyteller (and clearly has better films ahead of her). She’s not bad at the latter, necessarily, but the story here is a fairly rote potboiler. Once you get past how it observes this world from a female / feminist perspective (which is fresh, to be sure), we’re left with the kind of slick yet vicious high stakes game we’ve seen played out plenty of times before. More to the point, Equity doesn’t so much immerse us into the corrupt Wall Street world as it does Hollywood’s version of it.