Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan doesn’t quite spit it out and call a spade a spade, but the gist is that three high-profile Toronto Film Festival movies about trans or gay characters — The Danish Girl, About Ray and Freeheld — all disappointed or under-performed with the cognoscenti. One reason, he believes, is that these films seem to be more about their cisgender (i.e., straight) characters than the characters they’re ostensibly focused on. Hence Alicia Vikander is the Danish Girl standout, Michael Shannon allegedly gives the strongest and most humanistic performance in Freeheld (haven’t seen it), and Naomi Watts‘ Maggie character, the mother of Elle Fanning‘s transitioning girl/boy, is more “favored”, Buchanan claims, than anyone else in the film.
But again, if it’s at all loyal to Nathaniel Philbrick’s novel, Ron Howard‘s In The Heart of The Sea (Universal, 12.11) is going to be a lot more about starving sailors in a small boat than great big fat leviathans leaping up and crashing down and spraying tons of water. You can’t blame the marketing guys for emphasizing this but at some point they’re going to have to sell what the movie more or less is…right? Another view is that the proverbial steak is what the filmmakers and the audience are focused upon, and that advertisers need only concentrate on the sizzle.
Grantland‘s Mark Harris enthused earlier today about William Wyler‘s The Best Years of Our Lives, which is airing next Tuesday as part of a night of war-related Wyler programming that Harris is guesting on. I should think that Harris’s well-reviewed “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” qualifies him as an authority in this regard.
Six years ago I complained about Criterion’s choice of a jacket cover for the forthcoming Downhill Racer DVD (due 11.17). I said I preferred the original 1969 movie poster — a bedroom metaphor for the glamour of Olympic-level skiing — to designer Eric Skillman‘s concept of a droid skiier (i.e., Robocop negotiating a slope on the ice planet of Hoth) that came from a Downhill frame capture.
Skillman blogged about the various options he came up with for Criterion and why the robot-droid art was chosen, etc.
“The concept for Downhill Racer came pretty easily,” he wrote. “The film, about an arrogant but talented athlete, has some really dynamic skiing visuals, and a freeze-frame sequence during the opening credits that just begs to be made into a cover.
“There was also this pretty great-looking original poster…but frankly, the film is anything but a love story, and we all felt it was pretty misleading. Better, I thought, to focus on the great skiing cinematography — shot on skis in large part — that’s such a big part of the film.”
I avoided Lenny Abrahamson and Emily Donoghue‘s Room during the Telluride Film Festival for understandable reasons. Thoughts of confinement and claustrophobia have always unsettled me, and who, really, would want to submit to a film that’s essentially about imprisonment? Mine, I mean. I was locked inside Room for two hours last night as I sat in my Princess of Wales orchestra seat, and the sputtering rage I felt when it finally ended was considerable. (Just ask Coming Soon‘s Ed Douglas — I ranted his ear off as we walked over to the Soho House after-party.)
Room, which Donoghue adapted from her own 2011 novel, is essentially a mother-love film about nurturing a young child (the very young and quite good Jacob Tremblay) through years of grotesque imprisonment imposed by the biological dad, and about the child’s gradual recovery after he and his mom (Brie Larson) have managed an escape.
Last night a New York-based female journalist told me and another columnist that she “really loved” Room. There are many sensitive souls out there who have felt and will feel the same way. But I’m telling you straight and true that it was hell for me. The story sucks and the emotional currents, while strong, don’t go anywhere. They just fret and shudder and play out in a vacuum. I for one felt like a dog in an airless box. It was agony.
Room is about confinement, confinement and more confinement. Okay, with a nicely delivered spiritual uplift moment at the very end. But the feeling of physical and psychological entrapment is nothing short of lethal. I ask again — who would want to sit through something like this? To what end? I’ve got my stress levels and deadlines and the weight of the world on my shoulders and you want me to sit through a movie like Room on top of everything else?
Confinement situation #1 involves a working-class fiend named Old Nick having imprisoned twentysomething Ma (Larson) and five-year-old Jack (Tremblay) in an eight-by-eight-foot shed for seven years. This situation, which is ghastly and yet boring, occupies the first 50 or 55 minutes. Then they escape (the most interesting part of the film) and then comes confinement situation #2 in a hospital, and then confinement situation #3 in the leafy suburban home of Larson’s mother (Joan Allen) and her second husband Leo (Tom McCamus) in which various resentments eventually erupt. And it goes on and on like this. And on and on. The rooms change but the caged atmosphere persists.