FIVE MINUTES, MR. WELLES: THE THIRD MAN inspires an actor’s homage

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With the luminous 4K restoration of The Third Man hitting theaters now, this seems like a fine time to revisit Vincent D’Onofrio’s wonderful short, Five Minutes, Mr. Welles, in which he plays the legendary actor and auteur in preparation for shooting what has become known as The Third Man’s “Cuckoo Clock” scene. The 2005 film marked D’Onofrio’s directing debut and Will Conroy spun the screenplay out of the actor’s own, meticulously researched story.

This wasn’t the first time that D’Onofrio played Welles. In 1994, he played a 1950s version of the man in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, looking every inch the part, but voice actor Maurice LaMarche dubbed his dialogue. In a 2006 FilmStew interview, D’Onofrio admitted that he wasn’t fond of his own performance and wanted another crack at getting under the skin of a cinematic genius whose name was already synonymous with trouble by the time he took the role of The Third Man’s vicious, debonair black marketeer Harry Lime.

Carol Reed’s sublime noir reunited Welles with his friend and collaborator Joseph Cotten, cast as Holly Martins, a penniless pulp Western novelist who comes to postwar Vienna at the invitation of his old pal Lime only to arrive in time for the man’s funeral. Not satisfied with the official explanation of the hit-and-run accident that killed Harry, Martins undertakes a dangerous and clumsy investigation of his own in a city under military occupation and that has been divvied up into sections by the Americans, Soviets, British, and French. The location itself is striking, piles of rubbles sitting cheek-by-jowl next to what survives of prewar Vienna’s magnificent architecture. Long shadows fall over those exteriors and engulf the interior high ceilings, spiral staircases, and maze of sewers, Robert Krasker’s expressionistic cinematography adding to the sense of menace.

The great novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene (Brighton Rock, Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair) wrote The Third Man’s script. What inspired D’Onofrio’s story was the discovery that it was Welles and not Greene that wrote a key piece of dialogue in which Lime makes a case for his criminal behavior by comparing the Borgias’ bloody 30-year reign over Italy with 500 years of peace in Switzerland.

That monologue is still in Welles’ future when Five Minutes, Mr. Welles opens. Alone in a room with Katherine (Janine Theriault), the assistant lent him by Universal, he is waiting to be called to the set for his next scene. But as he rehearses with her, he has trouble remembering his lines. The scene, he feels, needs something else, but she argues that there’s no time for that, and in any case, he seems stumped. This is Welles in all his magnificent contradictions, by turns charming and petulant, a man defiant in his independence, yet desperate to hang on to a job he needs if he is to have any hope of having enough money to make Othello. Katherine accuses him of acting like an aristocrat but without the money to back up his arrogance, and there is something to that.

Like The Third Man, Five Minutes, Mr. Welles is in black-and-white, the cinematography by Frank Prinzi, an Emmy winner who also shot over five dozen episodes of D’Onofrio’s series Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Composer David Mansfield adds an atmospheric score that is wholly original and yet also evokes Anton Karas’ indelible zither accompaniment to The Third Man. D’Onofrio gets his second chance at inhabiting Welles and, in the process, delivers a wonderful homage to the man and the role.

By all means, see The Third Man again or for the first time in its new restoration. It is absolutely gorgeous and nearly 70 years after its original release, it is as vital as it ever was. But spend 30 minutes with Five Minutes, Mr. Welles as well. D’Onofrio’s remarkable tribute to a classic actor and classic film deserves to be seen.—Pam Grady

Q&A: Benicio Del Toro plays a notorious villain in ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST

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It’s easy to see why Josh Hutcherson’s naïve Canadian surfer so willingly moves into first the orbit and then the inner circle of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar after his new girlfriend introduces him to her notorious uncle in actor-turned-filmmaker Andrea Di Stefano’s evocative feature debut Escobar: Paradise Lost. The kingpin is charismatic and charming, on the surface a true man of the people. It is only gradually that the young man sees what is behind the amiable mask and what he discovers is horrifying. Benicio Del Toro delivers an indelible performance as Escobar, an intricate turn that reveals the complex man behind the headlines. Getting the Oscar winner was a coup for the fledgling director, but as Del Toro explains in this interview at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival where Escobar: Paradise Lost had an early screening, it almost didn’t happen. But once it did, it gave Del Toro the opportunity to get under the skin of one of the 20th century’s most infamous villains.

Q: Escobar kind of reminded me of Michael Corleone in this, lethally charming and absolutely lethal.

Benicio Del Toro: That’s cool. I take that as a compliment. We love Al Pacino.

Andrea Di Stefano, the director, contacted me a long time ago, through other lines, not directly, and I kind of said, ‘I don’t know if I want to get into that right now.’ So then the project was floating around and it came back around. I had befriended Josh, because I directed a short in the movie 7 Days in Havana and Josh starred in it. So there was talk, ‘Could this movie be a possibility? Yes.’ And then I remember getting a phone call saying that they were looking at Josh to play the kid, and then I got really excited, because I know him and I like him very much and he’s a very good actor. I just felt like I wouldn’t be completely alone there. That was really exciting.

Q: What was your hesitation about the project when it first came around?

BDT: First of all, it was that the story was fiction. I think at the time, maybe it was a year before we shot the film, I just didn’t feel—sometimes you get projects and you think, ‘Oh, they’re going to do this movie about Escobar, but, really, it’s another story using Escobar.’ Also, at the time, I was maybe busy doing something and just said, ‘I’m not going to do this now. I’m not really completely interested.’ But then my meeting with Andrea Di Stefano, what I really liked about the idea of going fiction was that every chance you got to base the character on truth, we would, and the script does have that, also. Once I got into it, I said, ‘There are interesting angles here that would make it more interesting than just make-believe.’ There’s a lot of things about his relationship with his family, his relationship with the people…Everything that we could, we based it on truth, which was exciting. The script had that and we brought in a little bit more, perhaps.

Q: Given those fictional aspects, how deep did your research go into the actual man?

BDT: I did as much as I could, just to really understand his trajectory. He basically starts—he was bringing in goods from somewhere, it wasn’t drugs at the time. He basically did some sort of union with the workers. He said, ‘We’ll pay you a percentage of what we bring in.’ So all the workers started loving the guy. So he starts like that and eventually he gets more powerful and then he took it to another level and made it really crazy when he went political. He tried to run for office and the other politicians started saying, ‘This guy’s a drug dealer.’ He saw the people that ran the country like other gang members. He declared war on the country and he won, and then it was hell. And there were other gangs taking advantage of this and other drug dealers taking advantage and it just became really gray. Had he not run for office, I think he would probably still be alive and Colombia would not have gone through the hell it went through. But, who knows?

Q: His ambitions were understandable. Politics can be such a dirty business that he probably thought, ‘Why not a drug dealer? Why not me?’

BDT: Well, ‘Why not me? I’ve helped the poor and you been running this for how long? 100 and some years and you haven’t looked at these people and I just built a whole neighborhood here for the poor.’ The people really liked him, because he really gave back. But he ain’t all good! He’s definitely a talented man. He was a great example of a lot of talent gone the wrong way.

I think you’re right when you say, ‘Politics is a dirty business. Another dirty guy, there’s no difference.’ And that’s not true. Two wrongs don’t make a good one—if the politicians he was talking about were wrong, because there were a lot of good politicians that he killed that could have been the hope [of the country]. Actually, the one who said, ‘He’s a drug dealer,’ was the one who had not completely taken bribes from him, and so Escobar went after him and took him down. And then the press, he went after the press. If you were a writer, ‘If you don’t write a good article about me, you’d be careful, I’ll perm my hair and come after you.’ He was like that. It’s very scary. That’s how he looked at it, but he did have some beautiful family values, very much like Michael Corleone. It’s kind of like the same story, just come up and suddenly have power. The lack of being able to give in could make any person in power into a Godzilla. Without compromise, you could just turn into a terrible dictator and run amok. Who knows? With his anger and his strive towards power, he probably could have turned into a maniac had he won and ran the country. Who knows what he would have done?—Pam Grady

DOPE: Geek power

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It’s Boyz n the Hood meets Revenge of the Nerds meets After Hours for three geeky teenagers navigating the mean streets of Inglewood, CA’s tough Bottoms neighborhood in Rick Famuyiwa’s delirious coming-of-age/drug dramedy Dope. A boy’s crush on a girl leads to all sorts of complications for the trio as they are challenged to prove that they are every bit as street-smart as they are book-smart.

Gangs and drugs are part of life in the Bottoms, but lifelong friends Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori) ignore that world as much as they can. They are a self-contained unit dedicated to all things ‘90s, particularly hip hop. They are college-bound kids and Malcolm is determined to get into Harvard. It is a dream firmly within his grasp until Malcolm’s crush on Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) leads him and his friends to step out of their comfort zone and attend drug dealer Dom’s (A$ap Rocky) birthday party. By the end of the evening, they are in possession of a backpack full of molly, squeezed by both Dom’s allies and rivals and petrified of being caught with the stuff by the cops.

How Malcolm and company deal with their problem is the stuff of much raucous humor and more than a little suspense. The genius of the film, though, is not in its plot, but in its sly observations. As geeks, Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib have run of the school, particularly the areas no one else bothers with in a distressed public school where few of their peers are on an academic track: the science lab, the computer room, even the band room. As geeks, they also have an air of innocuous respectability that gives them a measure of freedom.

Within the world Famuyiwa creates there is room for everything from debate over the “n” word to Malcolm’s pointed conclusions on the all-important college application personal essay. It’s funny stuff, but what pushes Dope over the top from goodness to greatness is the charm of its three young leads. –Pam Grady

 

The time Robert Chartoff saved John Boorman’s bacon

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point blankProducer Robert Chartoff passed away last Wednesday, June 10, and left quite a legacy, nearly 40 films, a list that includes They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the Charles Bronson thriller The Mechanic, The Gambler (both 1974 and 2014 versions), Rocky, Raging Bull, and The Right Stuff. His first credit was on John Boorman’s classic revenge neo-noir Point Blank. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. The pair collaborated two more times on the director’s 1970 comedy drama Leo the Last and his 2004 drama In My Country.

Boorman also dedicated his last film, the recent Queen and Country, to his old pal. It wasn’t purely an act of sentiment, but an acknowledgement of Chartoff’s importance as a friend and collaborator, as well as a thank you. Without an act of kindness and generosity on Chartoff’s part, Queen and Country might not exist.

The subject came up during an interview with Boorman for a piece that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle. Why the dedication? Why now, nearly 50 years since their first collaboration?

“Bob’s been a dear friend for 40 years and more,” Boorman said. “We see each regularly. We talk on the phone at least once a week. I’m very devoted to him.

“When I was trying to make this film, some of the money fell out at the last moment, about a week before we were supposed to start shooting. Bob asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘Oh, I’m a bit depressed. The money’s fallen out.’ He said, ‘How much?’ And I told him. The next day he put that money in my account. He saved the film. I’m glad to say that he’s got it back from Fox picture. He just sent it. He didn’t ask for a contract or anything. The money just appeared in my account.”

Condolences to Mr. Boorman on the loss of his friend. –Pam Grady

Trailer: THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT promises unexpected results

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One of the standouts from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloane Feature Film Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award is Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment, a riveting drama based on a real-life psychological experiment. Twenty-four young men are assigned to be either prisoners or guards in a pretend jail on the Stanford University campus where play-acting and reality quickly begin to blur. Billy Crudup is the ambitious professor who designed the experiment, starring alongside a kind of supergroup of up-and-coming talent that includes Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, James Frecheville, Thomas Mann, Moises Arias and Chris Sheffield.

Intriguing TRUE DETECTIVE, SEASON 2 teaser

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The best of the teasers and trailers for HBO’s True Detective, Season 2. Colin Farrell welcomes judgement. In two weeks, when the new season begins, it will be rendered.

5 Questions with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3’s Hayley Kiyoko

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cyb102ravenbHayley Kiyoko is having a busy 2015. In February, the 24-year-old actor and singer/musician released an EP, This Side of Paradise, in February. In October, she’ll be seen as Aja in Jem and the Holograms, a live-action adaptation of a beloved 1980s cartoon series. She also plays a former black-hat hacker turned hacker for the FBI on the CBS series CSI: Cyber, starring opposite Oscar winner Patricia Arquette. Currently, she can be seen on movie screens as the best friend of a teenager stalked by demons in Insidious: Chapter 3. It was that horror thriller that brought her to San Francisco along with the “Into the Further 4D Experience,” a virtual reality/oculus rift haunted house installed on the grounds of a Mission district high school for Carnival weekend.

Q: How did the Insidious 3 script strike you when you first read it?

Hayley Kiyoko: I had to skip through a lot of it, ‘cause it was so scary. I definitely had to read it during the day. You can’t read those kinds of scripts at night. You end up reading them at night. You’re lying in bed and you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? Why did I just read that? I’m about to go to bed. Now I’m going to have nightmares.’

Q: You’re a musician as well an actor. Which came first?

HK: Music was always the first thing, but music, as anyone knows, is such a long journey. You’re constantly trying to find your sound sonically, and so now I’m finally where I want to be, as well as now the acting thing is blowing up. It’s really cool. They’re kind of surfacing together.

I was a drummer since I was little, so I’m very into rhythm. I’m doing a tour on the East Coast this summer, which will be really fun. I love playing music. I’m always doing that when I’m not acting.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to do both?

HK: I never planned on being an actress. When I was little, I planned on being a performer, whatever that was, whether it was a dancer or a drummer or a singer. I knew I wanted to perform. The acting thing happened through music. I would do commercials playing guitar, doing music stuff, and then it just evolved and I started building my resume. Then I took a shot in the dark and got a great offer to do a movie, Scooby-Doo, way back when. That started the bug of loving to act. It was so different and it was such a challenge. I’d done musical theater when I was younger and stuff. It’s such a different way of performing and exuding that artistic expression from music.

Q: You’re also a regular on CSI: Cyber.

HK: I’ve never really had such a steady job as a network show before, so I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m actually kind of nervous. It’s just such a long thing, that I’m very excited. And my character is fun. And I’m working with a Golden Globe/Oscar winner, that’s kind of cool. That’s a plus.

Q: You’re Aja in this fall’s Jem and the Holograms movie. Can you tell me about it?

HK: It’s crazy hair and makeup and wardrobe. It’s not a remake of the cartoon. It’s definitely just inspired by the cartoon and placed in a modern time. It’s going to be great for the new Jem fans. It’s really geared toward the new generation, but I think old Jem fans will really enjoy it. The trailer’s out and they’re all going, ‘It doesn’t have this and this and this.’ Well, you’re going to have to see the movie. Don’t be too scared. Go check it out.

Portraits of the Artist: LOVE & MERCY’s dazzling evocation of a troubled life

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There are moments of transcendence in Love & Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s sensational depiction of two discrete chapters in Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s life. When a 1960s era Wilson (Paul Dano) is in the studio recording first Pet Sounds and then Smile, collaborating with legendary studio band The Wrecking Crew and transforming the sounds he can hear in his head into music, his joy is palpable. That makes all the more tragic scenes of a 20 years older Brian—now played by John Cusack—a shambling wreck living in terror of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), the psychiatrist who controls him. As these two threads weave in and out of the drama, two portraits of Wilson emerge of a young man at the height of his creative powers able to keep the darkness at bay long enough to produce some of a singular decade’s most brilliant music and of an older man practically a walking ghost who finds a foothold in life through the intervention of a wise woman. Love & Mercy is one of the best films of the year.

This is longtime producer Pohlad’s (Into the Wild, 12 Years a Slave) only second directing job in nearly 25 years and with a brilliant assist from screenwriter Oren Moverman, he delivers a remarkably assured feature. In a way, the two sides of Love & Mercy are almost like bookends. The younger Brian’s slide toward mental illness is most obvious when he is home with his family and the other Beach Boys. His house high in LA’s hills is idyllic, but his discomfort in his own skin is apparent at the best of times. At the worst, the glimmers of a bleak near future are only too apparent. He’s stopped touring with the band by now, which can be taken as a sign, but then when he’s in the studio collaborating with the best session musicians in the business, all of that falls away. Wilson’s genius comes to the forefront and so does the happiness that eludes him in everyday life.

By the time Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) meets Brian in the 1980s in the Cadillac dealership where she works, the satisfaction that music gave him has long since evaporated. Landy has separated Brian from his family and his band. The doctor controls every aspect of his patient’s (and meal ticket’s) life, even arranging for chaperones when Brian starts dating Melinda. Medicated out of his gourd, Brian is no shape to protest, but as Love & Mercy morphs into a romantic drama, he has found a fierce advocate in Melinda.

The intertwining of the two parts of Wilson’s story is flawless. If the 1960s Brian’s story has more energy, well, it is the tale of a younger man and it extracts that much more oomph from all of the recording scenes between both Brian and The Wrecking Crew and Brian and the rest of The Beach Boys. The older Brian is slower and a lot sadder with a vulnerability that tugs at Melinda’s heart. Dano and Cusack look nothing alike, but nevertheless are convincing playing the same person. The two Brians possess the same sweetness. The two actors deliver among the finest performances of their careers and so does Banks.

Beach Boys fans will lap up Love & Mercy, and the film certainly adds to the mythology surrounding some of their most iconic recordings. But while the music features heavily in the soundtrack, it is not essential to be familiar with it or even necessarily like it. The drama is about the man, not his art. Love & Mercy delivers what all those old VH1 shows used to promise. It really does get behind the music. –Pam Grady

Review: A not so bright TOMORROWLAND

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“Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland…It is a tale told by an imagineer, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Sorry, William Shakespeare, couldn’t resist the appropriation. Brad Bird is an enormously talented filmmaker as he proved with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. But his gifts fail him with his latest, a libertarian fantasy of a better world that only the best and the brightest can access and where they will be free to perfect the future. The problem isn’t that Tomorrowland is a libertarian fantasy—although that is problematic—it is that there is precious little wonder to be had in a silly saga inspired by the Disneyland attraction in which a teenage girl’s optimism is the one thing that might prevent apocalypse.

Britt Robertson (Under the Dome, Cake) has the thankless task of playing the gee-whiz kid herself, Casey, the daughter of a NASA engineer, who spends most of the movie in constant amazement, her eyes so wide it’s a miracle that her eyeballs don’t pop out. Counterbalancing Casey’s sunny disposition is sour Frank Walker (a gruff George Clooney), one-time boy genius turned embittered recluse. Athena (Raffey Cassidy), an old friend of Frank’s, puts them together. Casey’s had a glimpse of Tomorrowland and is eager to visit. Frank spent part of his childhood there, but his sense of wonder is long gone. Athena knows the sands of time are running out for the world and senses that Casey is the key to reversing the situation—but only if she and Frank can make it to Tomorrowland.

Naturally, there are forces determined to keep Casey and Frank from making their way to this eden. Nix (Hugh Laurie), who runs things in this sleek, futuristic world, doesn’t even want the ne plus ultra of humanity darkening Tomorrowland’s doors, since even the elite aren’t immune to humanity’s self-destructive pathologies. Not that he’s one talk, based on how he defends his realm. For a Disney movie, there are a lot of explosions.

Most dispiriting of all is Tomorrowland itself. While Casey insists that the place is “amazing,” bits of it resemble a well-appointed airport, parts of it evoke an oil refinery, and even the sections of it that are genuinely spectacular are still a little antiseptic. It’s a museum world, not a living one. The film’s recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair and vision of the Eiffel Tower with a couple of special additions are much more awe-inspiring than this utopian world. And it’s not nearly as amusing as the junk shop Casey visits presided over by Ursula (Kathryn Hugo) and Hugo (Keegan-Michael Key)—the two best reasons to see the film, hilarious in their cameo performances—two more characters obsessed with Tomorrowland. After all the trouble, Casey and Frank take to get to the place, it is a letdown. Kind of like the movie itself.—Pam Grady

Much too giddy about MINIONS

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The best part of the Despicable Me movies—by far—were the banana-colored, gibberish-spouting minions. So it was only a matter of time until they got their own movie. Will all minions, all the time be too much of a good thing? We’ll all find out when Minions opens on July 10. The trailer has cameos by Dracula, Queen Elizabeth II, and a corgi and it’s hilarious. So far, so good. —Pam Grady

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