Now Playing: ‘The Unknown Known’

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in 'The Unknown Known'

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in ‘The Unknown Known’

Late last year, possibly in an attempt to garner an Oscar nomination, the Weinsteins’ Radius-TWC outfit gave Errol Morris’ newest documentary The Unknown Known a short pre-holiday run. Now, this riveting, feature-length interview with the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld, is getting a proper release.

The Unknown Known is playing in limited release again starting this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s the trailer:

 

Coming Soon: ‘The Unknown Known’

Rumsfeld: 'The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.'

Rumsfeld: ‘The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.’

The_Unknown_Known_posterErrol Morris’ riveting new documentary is a feature-length interview with none other than the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld. The Unknown Known has been playing festival dates recently and is going to hit theaters on December 13.

My early review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s a look at the trailer:

 

Screening Room: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

hobbit_desolation_of_smaug_poster

So, granted, the first installment of The Hobbit was something of a letdown even for those who weren’t a little exhausted with Peter Jackson by the time The Return of the King ground to an end. But, the trailer for Jackson’s second—and most likely just as bloated episode—has thrills and beauty aplenty.

In the plus column: Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Smaug, and a Mirkwood that looks as much of a thrilling mythological darkland as Tolkien described it.

In the minus: romance for Legolas, the fact that there is still one more film to come.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Books: A Documentary’

booksdoc

This is the killer Kickstarter pitch for a new proposed film project with the can’t-go-wrong title of Books: A Documentary:

This past August over 300,000 antiquarian books from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up were sold at auction: This is the story of those Books.

Color us intrigued.

For those not already in awe of the man, Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain author McMurtry also owns one of the nation’s great used-book emporiums. He told the tale of last fall’s great blowout sale at the New York Review of Books.

booksdoc2

According to Publishers Weekly, the filmmakers (husband-and-wife Sara Ossana and Mathew Provost) have already shot about half of the doc and need $50,000 to finish it up. Ossana notes that the film, which uses McMurtry’s sale to explore the modern book landscape, might be expected to be a downbeat tale about an industry and way of life in decline:

“We weren’t sure if the film would be a moratorium, or more uplifting,” Ossana said. “It’s turning out to be more uplifting.” That, she thinks, is due to a larger cultural shift afoot in America—brought on by the country’s economic need to develop a stronger foothold in the production of goods and in manufacturing—that is driving more people to ask where the objects they have come from, whether it’s the food on their table, or the hardcover novel on their shelf. “There is a cultural awakening happening now,” Ossana explained, “around what people find valuable. I think the book is a large part of that,” she said. And, with that, Ossana thinks physical bookstores are becoming more important as “cultural centers” on the community level.

Here’s to hoping that she’s right.

Department of Adaptations: Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Slaugherhouse Five’?

Guillermo Del Toro ponders one of his 'Pan's Labyrinth' beasts.

Guillermo Del Toro ponders one of his ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ beasts.

After many years of nothing much, horror/fantasy wunderkind Guillermo Del Toro is finally getting back into the game. His long-in-gestation R-rated take on H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness never quite came to fruition for the usual reasons (detailed in a 2011 New Yorker profile of Del Toro here) and he ultimately left The Hobbit to make room for Peter Jackson; an arguably poor choice either way.

Now, Del Toro’s got a massive monster mashup movie coming out, Pacific Rim, wherein alien monsters battle giant Robotech-like mechas for the survival of humanity. Could be like Godzilla (the lamentable remake) meets The Transformers or it could be honest-to-God bang-up summer fun. There’s also Crimson Peak, a The Shining-esque British haunted house story starring Benedict Cumberbatch, coming out later this year.

slaughterhouse5-coverIn even more intriguing Del Toro news comes this tantalizing note via an interview with The Daily Telegraph, that not only is Del Toro looking to film Slaughterhouse-Five  but he’s interested in having Charlie freaking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Kaufman write the thing.

Granted, Kaufman is more exciting to hear about here than Del Toro (Vonnegut’s concept of being “unstuck in time” would appeal perfectly to Kaufman’s sensibilities, while Del Toro’s maybe too creature-feature for this tonally complex a book), but this is still potentially great news.

Not knocking George Roy Hill’s 1972 version (trailer below), but this is one book that might be worth knocking the dust off and introducing to a new generation, and Del Toro would hopefully take some risks on it that other more award-ready filmmakers wouldn’t.

Trailer Park: ‘Salinger’

SALINGER_FINALThe theories that have swirled around the reclusive J.D. Salinger over the decades since his disappearance are many and mostly ridiculous (a personal favorite being that he actually still walks among us … writing as Thomas Pynchon). It’s what happens when you write a defining novel like The Catcher in the Rye and then just drop off the face of the earth.

It will be interesting to see what Shane Salerno’s award-potential documentary Salinger is going to be able to come up with when it opens this fall. What pops up in the trailer looks to be a mix of biography, adulation from various literary types and actors, and wildly imaginative speculation—the most enticing of which being: Is there a new book in the offing?

You can check out the trailer here:

Trailer Park: ‘The Grandmaster’

grandmasters

It’s been a few years, but the inimitable Wong Kar Wai is back with a new film. Eschewing the fashion-plate romanticism of In the Mood for Love that made him en vogue with the culturati, he’s now returning to the impressionist wuxia films of his earlier career (Ashes of Time and such). The Grandmaster looks to be a full-on period martial-arts blowout, starring Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, last seen on this side of the Pacific in John Woo’s epic Red Cliff.

Weinstein Company is planning for an August 2013 release, but don’t be surprised if that gets pushed back when the director decides to do some more editing or shoot additional footage.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Department of Awards: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Best Film of 2012?

zerodarkthirty1This afternoon, the New York Film Critics Online (an august group that I am glad to be a member of) announced their awards for films released in 2012. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, led a fairly scattered pack, with three awards. Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln and debut filmmaker Benh Zeitlin’s magic-realist Beasts of the Southern Wild were tied at two awards each.

Herewith the full list:

  • PictureZero Dark Thirty
  • Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Actress - Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Director - Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  • Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Breakthrough Performer - Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Debut Director - Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ensemble CastArgo
  • Screenplay - Zero Dark Thirty
  • DocumentaryThe Central Park Five
  • Foreign LanguageAmour
  • AnimatedChico and Rita
  • CinematographyLife of Pi
  • Film Music or ScoreDjango Unchained

This gives Bigelow’s war film an early lead in the oddsmaking for Oscar contention (and for good reason, despite whatever idiot musings come from Bret Easton Ellis these days), as the NYFCO joins other critics groups like New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, and the Boston Film Critics Society in naming it film of the year. Of course, that still leaves plenty of time and other awards to allow early favorites like Les Miserables and Argo to make up some room.

Trailer Park: ‘Oz: the Great and Powerful’

Strangely, given both the rather towering presence that the film The Wizard of Oz holds in world cultural consciousness and the current mania for sequels and films based on proven properties, it’s been decades since anybody has tried to make another film based on the L. Frank Baum series. There’s over a dozen books there, filled with strange worlds and CGI-worthy beasties to turn into multiplex 3D and IMAX gold. The sour memory of Walter Murch’s then-failed but now 1985 cult classic Return to Oz  holds a powerful sway over studio heads, it seems.

But next spring, Disney (which holds film rights to the entire series) is getting back into the Oz business. Sam Raimi is at the helm of Oz: the Great and Powerful, with James Franco (who he directed in the Spider-man series) starring as the young Wizard, who gets swept away to Oz in a balloon years before young Dorothy is even born. There is some great potential here for a sweeping new kind of fantasy filmmaking, but also for an imagination-starved Tim Burton-esque detour into design and animation for its own sake.

Either way, the trailer is up now and shows that at least Raimi is borrowing the trick of using color stock for Oz and black-and-white for Kansas: