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Steve McQueen’s Widows Starring Viola Davis Gets First Trailer

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Steve McQueen’s Widows Starring Viola Davis Gets First Trailer
Steve McQueen’s Widows Starring Viola Davis Gets First Trailer

Today, 20th Century Fox released the trailer for Widows, Steve McQueen’s first feature-length film since 12 Years a Slave. The film is co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, and is adapted from the 2002 ABC series Widows written by Lynda La Plante that starred Mercedes Ruehl, Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez, and N’Bushe Wright. The film is set in present-day Chicago and concerns four women who take fate into their hands in the wake of their criminal husbands’ deaths, forging a future on their own terms.

Summer of ’90 Days of Thunder

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Summer of ’90: Days of Thunder

Paramount Pictures

Summer of ’90: Days of Thunder

I was just a little tyke when Days of Thunder opened in June of 1990, still vroom-vrooming toy cars on the beige carpet of my parents’ living room and in need of an occasional diaper change. That description also fits director Tony Scott’s film, which routinely resembles what would happen if a dozen dudes who like to slug cheap beer and talk about engine pistons were given $60 million to make a masturbatory fantasy about stock car racing. However, to say Days of Thunder is about anything more than ego tripping gives Scott and screenwriter Robert Towne too much credit. Towne frontloads the script with endless racing jargon and Scott’s got his trusty filter collection on his right hip, drawing monochromatic reds, blues, and greens as fast as thunder, er, lightning, which muffles and masks the film’s core, male melodrama.

The American flag. The Confederate flag. The Pepsi flag. All fly at full mast during the film’s opening credits through a succession of shots that would function as auto-critique of national-cum-corporate exploitation were they not part and parcel with producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s own, still freshly minted brand of hyper-capitalist blockbuster cinema. Bruckheimer’s corporate circle-jerking is even fluidly integrated into Towne’s script: When Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) explains his orientation to racing, he mentions how “the coverage on ESPN is excellent.” Cruise’s boyish bravado naturalizes the rep, another tacit formation of the Bruckheimer mold, where charisma compliments commerce and obfuscates insidious dealings in conglomerate mitosis.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

It may be a moot point since he actually got nominated in the lead category, but many wondered why Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell didn’t attempt a campaign in supporting actor, which is where BAFTA slotted him. In other words, his thinly drawn portrayal of John du Pont as an unstable, homicidal cuckoo would be competing in a category more welcoming of that particular kind of role. Best supporting actor has recently gone all-in for sociopathic, antagonistic wild cards (Anton Chigurh, the Joker, Jared Leto’s sense of self-satisfaction), making it the most predictable Oscar category of them all. (The surprised reaction greeting Christoph Waltz’s repeat win two years ago was less a reflection of the quality of his performance and more a reaction to the nobility of his proto-civil rights gunslinger character.) It, in part, explains why Patricia Arquette is widely considered to be the frontrunner for her award, but her hirsute Boyhood counterpart Ethan Hawke is at best running a fairly distant second or third for turning in equally nuanced work as an only part-time functional father figure—and why Oscar voters gave Robert Duvall’s far more flamboyantly flawed, piss-n’-vinegar patriarch a free pass to just be happy for the nomination once again. You have to assume Carell’s handlers took note of how frequently J.K. Simmons’s profane performance as Satan in Whiplash (which, despite all the seasoned professionalism the actor brings to the set, still emerges as the barely human equivalent of the all-staccato soundtrack to Birdman) earned comparison to another prototypal best supporting actor: An Officer and a Gentleman’s Lou Gossett Jr. And then promptly ran for the hills.

Summer of ‘88: Tucker: The Man and His Dream

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Tucker: The Man and His Dream</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Tucker: The Man and His Dream</em>

As you’ve no doubt noticed from the last few entries in this series, the waning days of 1988’s summer didn’t feel quite like the blockbuster season we now see extending all the way up to September. Opening on August 12, 1988, Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream was the kind of prestige project you’d more likely associate with awards season. For Coppola, it is among his most personal films, not only because it spent the longest time in gestation, but because it’s the closest the filmmaker has ever come to a confessional about the professional betrayals he’d contended with in his career, and the virtues and flaws of mounting a creative collaboration.

As Coppola recounts in the DVD commentary, he had been fascinated with Tucker ever since childhood, when his father had invested in the iconoclast’s auto company. Coppola had conceived of a Tucker musical biopic while still in film school at UCLA. His initial vision was as ambitious as Tucker’s was for his automobile. In the years after the Godfather films, Coppola had attained sufficient clout, enough to invite Gene Kelly to choreograph, and to offer the lead role to actors like Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and even Burt Reynolds. Coppola wanted composer Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) to score, with Singin’ in the Rain’s Betty Comden and Adolph Green writing the lyrics, and the collaboration produced at least one song. But this iteration of Tucker was ultimately scrapped after the failure of Coppola’s experimental One from the Heart (1982).

Berlinale 2012 The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, & Meteora

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Berlinale 2012: The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and Meteora
Berlinale 2012: The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and Meteora

Berlinale, the most smoothly run of all major festivals, is a pleasure for the Anglophone. Everybody speaks English and most of the non-English-language films have English subtitles rather than German. However, this Anglo-centricism seems to be creeping into several films here, among those from the Philippines, China and Switzerland, which suffer from the misguided idea that they would attract a wider audience, especially an American one.

English is the lingua franca of Brillante Mendoza’s The Captive, which seems to have been directed by his younger brother, Mediocre Mendoza. Based on a true story of the kidnapping of a group of tourists and Christian missionaries by a group of armed men belonging to a militant Islamist group, it fails the first principal of a disaster movie: identification with the victims. Except for Isabelle Huppert, as one of the missionaries, they’re an anonymous lot. Only toward the end of a long two hours, during which we are subjected to what can be called “wobblyscope”—jerky handheld camerawork intending to give the story the immediacy of a documentary, relieved only a few times by a crane shot or two—is there a feeble attempt to get Huppert to relate to one of her captors, a 15-year-old soldier. Mendoza seems to think that it’s enough to present the hardships the victims suffered in the Philippine jungle at the hands of Islamist fanatics without any overarching viewpoint.

Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actor in a Leading Role

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Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actor in a Leading Role
Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actor in a Leading Role

The second I heard Scott Foundas splooge over David Fincher’s The Social Network prior to the film’s New York Film Festival premiere for representing our cyber-obsessed times as importantly as All the President’s Men captured its own eight-track era, I knew we had our Best Picture Oscar winner. Even then, it didn’t seem like its star, a young Jewish kid who stammered his way memorably, if unimaginatively, through a handful of high-profile indies since 1999, would make it into the Best Actor horse race, even if the actor had finally, and scarily, succeeded in articulating on screen the sort of personal neuroses that might actually be attributed to someone other than himself. Flash forward four months and Jesse Eisenberg is the only actor standing in the way of Colin Firth’s regal march toward Oscar victory—and by standing in the way I mean the shadow cast by the topmost curl on Eisenberg’s head.

In Anticipation of True Grit

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In Anticipation of <em>True Grit</em>
In Anticipation of <em>True Grit</em>

Charles Portis, the author of the original incarnation of the story of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who hires a one-eyed U.S. Marshal to avenge her father’s death, started his writing career as a journalist in Arkansas after serving as a sergeant in the Korean War. The novel, entitled True Grit, was his second, but it wasn’t until after a fruitful career with the New York Herald Tribune at their London desk that Portis returned to his home state and started to write fiction. Despite leaving his foreign correspondent’s post, Portis retained his beat reporter’s precise attention to detail, as the book is filled with accurate period parlance, historical allusion, and “research” done by the narrator, Ross. In fact, True Grit saw its first publication in serial form in The Saturday Evening Post in 1968, which is fitting considering the heroine’s own penchant for journalism and the field of reporting.

Mattie’s attention to detail and use of newspaper clippings to back up her tale is pleasurable, even as she tells the tale from a quarter century down the road. We are introduced to her avenging Marshal, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, through a partial transcript of a court hearing, which she managed to dig up from old newspaper archives. The adult Mattie concedes that she did this while researching an article she wrote, entitled, rather verbosely, “You will now listen to the sentence of the law, Odus Wharton, which is that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead dead! May God, whose laws you have broken and before whose dread tribunal you must appear, have mercy on your soul. Being a personal recollection of Isaac C. Parker, the famous Border Judge.”

A Movie a Day, Day 61: Get Low

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A Movie a Day, Day 61: <em>Get Low</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 61: <em>Get Low</em>

I spent a few years in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I love Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, so I was eager to see Get Low in spite of a trailer that looked sappy and sanctimonious. Duvall plays Felix, an old coot who’s been holed up in a log cabin in East Tennessee for decades. He’s nursing a secret that half the people in the county, including his old girlfriend (Spacek), would love to hear. The twist is that Felix is planning his own funeral, which he wants to host while he’s alive so he can hear the stories people have been making up about him. That’s something I’d pay to see, though I didn’t have to thanks to a press screening last night (it opens in two weeks).

Get Low wanders off and gets temporarily lost in a couple dead ends (is Felix really near death or not? What are his plans for that casket full of cash that he makes the funeral director keep for him?), but the story I just laid out, which you get from the trailer, is basically the whole movie. And it would have been plenty, if only I could have believed that these people would have behaved in that way.

Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz’s lip-licking good show as the smartest Basterd in the Gestapo has so thoroughly run the table with guilds’, critics’, and humanitarian awards that it’s left the remainder of the category’s contenders cowering in his shadow. It’s so dark back there, in fact, it’s hard to even know who else is vying for one of the other four slots, widely accepted to be superfluous at this point given that no one has amassed a sweep this powerful since Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi in 1994. (Even that invincible perfect storm that was Heath Ledger’s Joker managed to miss a few key trial heats; both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics opted to sidestep posthumous laurels.) Waltz’s biggest miss to date: losing the National Board of Review citation to Woody Harrelson’s tough, empathetic, emotionally wounded war vet in The Messenger. (The Board was blind to Landau too, instead opting for Gary Sinese’s tough, empathetic, physically wounded war vet in Forrest Gump.)