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George Clooney (#110 of 35)

Toronto Film Review George Clooney’s Suburbicon

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Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

Paramount Pictures

Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

A truly nasty piece of work, Suburbicon sees a bunch of candidly left-leaning movie stars doing their best to out-awful each other. George Clooney, working behind the scenes as director and co-screenwriter, dusted off an old Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay set in a 1950s suburban tract community and detailing a murderous insurance scam gone wrong. Then, with writing and producing partner Grant Heslov, he grafted on a slow-burn subplot that tackles racism, and as such is meant to resonate with contemporary U.S. anxieties. Yet the result is a hysterical and simplistic—if still in-the-moment compelling—parody of bourgeois American greed and ignorance.

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Box Office Rap The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

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Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace
Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

When Paramount announced a few weeks ago that The Wolf of Wall Street would be pushed back until Christmas due to runtime and “trimming” issues, The Best Man Holiday was left as the only wide release slated for a November 15th debut. The departure of a new Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle surely meant another equally high-profile or even several smaller-profile releases would be flocking to the date. Prime candidates were Homefront and Oldboy, both hard-R difficult sells which appeared destined to get lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle; Delivery Man, too, could have gotten out of the gate a week earlier to beat The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s impending box-office hurricane; or perhaps George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, which would undoubtedly have attracted a similar audience as Scorsese’s film, but instead retreated to a 2014 release date. Conspicuously, no studios were willing to bump their films into the slot.

The only thoughtful explanation for these trepidations is that no studio dared sandwich one of their films between blockbuster juggernauts like Thor: The Dark World and Catching Fire, with the pair looking to gross a combined $250 in their opening weekends. Fair enough, yet clearly Paramount originally showed no real concern with offering up a prestige, $100 million film in this slot, but even their refusal to shuffle Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit forward to the date is baffling, especially considering the recent press generated by Tom Clancy’s death.

Oscar Prospects Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

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Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner
Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

On September 12, when Mark Harris officially returned to Grantland to cover the Oscar race (he stepped aside last season due to the conflict of husband Tony Kushner’s Lincoln being in contention), he penned this dead-on and intentionally prickly piece, which took to task the festival-going, hastily-Tweeting types who hurried to declare 12 Years a Slave this year’s Best Picture winner. In true Harris style, the article used insider wisdom and everyman accessibility to comprehensively articulate the trouble with this particular behavior, and the folly of using “I’m first” tactics to simplify something that still has miles of nuanced ground to cover. It’s one thing to announce, with great certainty, one’s thoughts on a probable nominee, like the baity Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but it’s quite another to plant one’s feet so early, and firmly name a winner. 12 Years a Slave has a lot of promise, but it’s impossible to tell how it will fare amid the cavalcade of critics’ awards, additional precursors, shifting tastes, and campaign strengths, not to mention the mystery of whether or not Academy members will stomach the film’s violence enough to hand it their loftiest vote. That said, as another adored colleague, Nathaniel Rogers, recently acknowledged, Gravity simply isn’t walking away this year without statuettes for Cinematography and Visual Effects. Sorry, Mark, but this time, my feet are planted.

Box Office Rap Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

When Contagion opened in IMAX theaters on September 9, 2011, only a handful of films had previously been offered in that large-scale presentation that weren’t either part of a franchise, an original film with hopes of becoming a franchise, a work based on another text, or a prominent remake a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From 2002 to September 2011, a total of 77 wide release films made their way to IMAX screens. Of these, and excluding animated and concert films, only three films (Eagle Eye, Inception, and Sanctum) opened over that nine-year span that didn’t fit the above qualifications. Certainly, these anomalous entries can be explained by their potential box-office appeal, but only Inception had directorial (let’s say auteur) pedigree, which is where my interest lies. We shall call such films art-house blockbusters (AHB), in accordance with our established definition.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

More successful as delirious cinematic exercise than emotional survival tale, Alfonso Cuarón’s highly anticipated Gravity possesses a vast space between the quality of its virtuoso technique and its trite screenplay. Embarking into space on her first mission, a slightly nervy Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is assisting in the installation of data and just becoming acclimated to her clumsiness in a cumbersome space suit. As she works on the outside of their spaceship, a bolt comes loose and she uses all her strength to grab at the floating object, sighing, “I’m used to a hospital basement where things fall to the ground.”

Ryan’s joined by seasoned, retirement-bound astronaut Matt (George Clooney, as alternately goofy and confident as ever), who tosses off stories of Mardi Gras in 1987—juxtaposing the casual layman banality of everyday conversation against the distractingly beautiful multi-miled view from space—as well as self-esteem-boosting pep talks. The data Ryan is installing, however, isn’t uploading correctly and, as Houston in the command center reports, a collision has left bits of a satellite hurtling through space and, possibly, in the direction of Ryan, Matt, and another astronaut (cue the groan-worthy line “clear skies with a chance of satellite debris”). Danger, of course, is imminent, and Cuarón delicately calculates and disarms the audience in the opening moments with a placidity that will soon be absolutely shattered.

On Location Las Vegas

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On Location: Las Vegas
On Location: Las Vegas

Like many, I did my vacationing first by way of the movie screen, making all subsequent traveling the realization of romanticized visions. When I moved to New York, it was a thousand cinematic moments made real, an excitement that still continues in spurts, despite the inevitably of the city having become, simply, the place where I live. But wherever I go, for the first time, specifically, there’s some kind of filmic attachment. In Rome, there was the evocation of countless Fellini scenes, and in Iceland…well, there wasn’t much in Iceland, really, save the Blue Lagoon spa, a high-tech, seemingly impossible haven that I’ll always compare to a Bond villain’s lair. Las Vegas, where my partner and I recently went for our fifth anniversary, has its own unique link to the movies. One might even say the town has spawned its own subgenre. Defined by glitz and excess, it’s a place that was built to be photographed, so much so that I even started to feel guilty, as it inspired more snapshots from me than the whole of Vatican City. It’s also a veritable theme park for adults, preferably for those willing to, if I may quote the Showgirls tagline, “leave [their] inhibitions at the door.” The entire atmosphere is one of fantasy, which, thanks to film, has evolved through various stages of glorification. And the city, in an almost otherworldly way, welcomes those chasing that fantasy with, big, outstretched, glittering arms, standing as a mecca of gluttony, temptation, and, of course, sin. You don’t have to be bad to do Vegas right, but it helps, as the movies have certainly taught us.