Ridley Scott’s style is that he has no style. Whether directing a war film or a science-fiction film, Scott shoots with the same sleek polish and attention to production values. Nothing seems to interest Scott and he has no trademark, which means the success of his films depend entirely on the quality of the screenplay. His best film is Alien, which is a triumph of plausible, economical screenwriting. By that same token, Prometheus is an utter disaster because the screenplay denies its characters any clear motivations or intelligence. Scott’s latest is Exodus: Gods and Kings, a Biblical epic with an astoundingly terrible screenplay. Long stretches of the film are so tedious and rote that they won’t inspire much anger; instead, audiences will simply forget they saw this utter misfire. In fact, the main reason I hate this movie is because this review is forcing me to think about it again.
Back in 2004, long before YouTube, I had a mild obsession with the web cartoon “Strindberg and Helium.” In it, a caricature of the Swedish playwright/philosopher August Strindberg would opine about his exquisite misery, while a cute anthropomorphized balloon named Helium would lovingly mock him. The cartoons are still hilarious. Strindberg’s prose is morose and serious, so it takes daring and talent in order for any Strindberg adaptation to achieve the intended effect. Liv Ullman, a longtime partner and collaborator of Ingmar Bergman, has more potential than anyone to modernize his plays. Unfortunately, her effort Miss Julie plays out like the Strindberg caricature, except much longer and without any cute balloons.
Foxcatcher would rather receive respect, not praise. Filmed with chilly cinematography, director Bennett Miller maintains a tasteful distance from his subject. While many true crime films focus on lurid details, here is one that goes out of its way to remain obtuse. The three main characters never discuss how they feel, at least not in a direct way, which means Miller wants us to read between the lines. The only trouble is that Foxcatcher maintains its distance to a fault, to the point where the nuanced, terrific performances are nearly lost. Given the somber tone and look of the film, however, it’s ironic that its best moments are also the most funny.
Mike Nichols has passed away at the age of 83, and among other things, a list of accomplishments will define his legacy. He is one of twelve individuals to receive an EGOT: he got Emmys for directing Wit and Angels in America, his Grammy for a comedy album he recorded with his longtime collaborator Elaine May, his Oscar for The Graduate, and several Tony awards for directing theater (most recently, he won a Tony for his 2012 production of Death of a Salesman, which starred Andrew Garfield as Biff). Nichols received nine Tony awards over the years, either for direction or Best Play, and he worked up until his death. Nichols is survived by the journalist Diane Sawyer, his fourth wife. The two married in 1988.
It is always interesting to see how documentary filmmakers happen upon their true subject. When Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky began Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, they intended a straight forward “making of” documentary and ended up with a strange, unintentionally hilarious examination of rock stars and their need for therapy. When Wim Wenders began Pina, he had no way of knowing that choreographer Pina Bausch would pass away during the production, and so he was left with an elegy to her. Jesse Moss is the latest documentary filmmaker who starts filming one story, only to discover one altogether. The Overnighters is compelling because no one seems to know just how the story will unfold.