Friday, April 20, 2018

Stanley Tucci’s FINAL PORTRAIT: A True Art Film That Finishes Well

Opening at indie art houses, and a few multiplexes near me:

FINAL PORTRAIT (Dir. Stanley Tucci, 2018)



S
tanley Tucci’s fifth film as director is a true art film. It is about the excitement of creating art, the frustration that goes into making art, and, most importantly for our purposes here, the huge amount of time it may take to satisfactorily finish working on art.

This is what Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti, played superbly by Geoffrey Rush, goes through in painting a portrait of American art critic James Lord (a dapper, refined Armie Hammer) in his crumbling, rundown studio in 1964 Paris.

At their first sitting, Giacometti tells Lord, “you have the head of a brute; you look like a real thug.” To which Lord replies, “Gee, thanks.” The dialogue between them continues in this vein, as what Giacometti had initially said would take “an afternoon at most,” turns out to take weeks, with Lord having to constantly reschedule his flight back to New York to his growing irritation.

Lord gets particularly concerned when Giacometti decides to undo what he’s painted and paints broad white strokes over portions of what he’s labored for days on. He also gets a bit weirded out when the elder painter tells him he has fantasized about killing women to help himself go to sleep.

Lord also takes note of Giacometti’s relationship with his wife and former muse Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud), who appears to mostly tolerate her husband’s infidelity probably because she has a lover on the side as well. Ah, Paris.

As most of this film takes place in Giacometti’s studio, it often resembles a filmed play. Its meager cast, which includes Clémence Poésy as the artist’s prostitute mistress Caroline, and Tony Shalhoub as his brother Diego, adds to that effect, but there are exterior flourishes that keep it from being too claustrophobic.

Despite a few outbursts by Rush’s Giacometti, Tucci’s adaptation of Lord’s 1965 memoir “A Giacometti Portrait,” is a quiet, little drama which I bet some folks will find as dull as watching paint dry, but I found fascinating. That may be because I have an art school background, and love learning about different artist’s processes.

Rush and Hammer convincingly inhabit the characters of these men whose demeanors are very different but they share a love of art that the film makes feel palpable. Hammer’s Lord knows that however draining it can be to sit for this cantankerous tortured creator, the work is important, and may last longer than either of their personal stories. Especially since, as the title of this film plainly states, this work is the capper to Giacometti’s career (he passed away in 1966).

As FINAL PORTRAIT is an indie film in limited release, it’s a release that can be easily overlooked. It
s well worth seeking out as while its charms, and appeal are certainly subtle, they are very finely mixed. A true art film indeed, and one that finishes well.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE Is Scary Good

Now playing at a multiplex near me:

A QUIET PLACE (Dir. John Krasinski, 2018) 



Since the hit NBC comedy, The Office, ended its run in 2013, John Krasinski has been trying to shed the skin of everyman Jim Halpert, who he played for nine seasons; 188 episodes.

Krasinzki played parts in Cameron Crowe’s infamous bomb, ALOHA, Michael Bay’s lowest grossing movie to date, 13 HOURS, did some low-key voice work in fairly forgotten animated films (THE PROPHET, ANIMAL CRACKERS), and he directed and starred in the 2016 comedy drama THE HOLLARS.

Much like his directorial debut, 2009’s, BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, THE HOLLARS got mixed reviews, and didn’t make much of a splash, but now with his third film, A QUIET PLACE, Krasinski has made a major leap out of the shadow of Jim.

Krasinski, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck, stars as husband and father, Lee Abbott, though we never hear that name out loud as he and his family, including his wife Evelyn (played by real-life wife Emily Blunt, and their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and their sons, Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward), have to be completely quiet or else they’ll be attacked and eaten by demons.

You see, it’s yet another post apocalyptic landscape with, you know the drill, shots of an abandoned town with walls covered with missing persons flyers, the ransacked shelves of department stores, and newspaper headlines like “NYC on Lockdown” interspersed into the set-up. Another headline, “Stay Silent, Stay Alive,” lays out the Abbott family’s lifestyle as we see them communicate in sign language as they quietly make their way and back on a trip into town to get supplies during the film’s prologue.

The Abbotts live on a large farm, with corn fields, and multiple silos, and have taken precautions like stringing lights throughout the property which can be switched from yellow to red to warn the others of danger, and having fireworks on hand so that they can distract the monsters with loud noises when needed. And with Blunt’s very pregnant Evelyn about to give birth, lemme tell ya, they are needed!

We never learn where these blood thirsty creatures came from, or any other info about how large parts of the population were annihilated by them, we just get the Abbott’s tale of survival with the dad’s attempts to try to make contact with any other survivors via his shortwave radio bringing little hope (“it never works!” signs Regan).

With a cast of only six people (there’s an old man played by Leon Russom that they run into in the woods), precious little dialogue *, and a fair yet sparring amount of CGI for the demons, Krasinski has made a stirring, nerve-racking, and tensely effective thriller that never lags. It’s a confident piece of construction in its pacing, and with its edgy emotional pull it feel like you’re right there with these characters right up until its satisfying ending.

Krasinski gets a lot out of this simple but powerful premise by bringing a lot of heart to it. You can feel the warmth between he and Blunt, like when they share a moment listening to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” through shared earbuds, and in how they work together to get their newborn baby to safely. Blunt, by the way, has the movie’s most terrifying scene, involving having to give birth in completer silence in a bathtub by herself as creatures crawl through the house around her.


The kids’ performances deliver too – Simmonds is strong as the determined oldest sibling who feels unloved by her father, while Jupe is “on” as the very scared younger brother.

Marco Beltramis subtle score never intrudes on one of the film's other big stars - its sound design which successfully made me feel every aural instance. This is a movie that anyone who talks during should be immediately escorted out - its spare use of sound will reward its audiences’ complete silence.

A QUIET PLACE is quite an exciting surprise from Krasinski. It goes to show like Jordan Peele before him with GET OUT, these actor/director/writers can carve a new niche for themselves in with low budget yet high concept horror productions that can come in on an off season and make a killing. Of course, it also helps greatly that Krasinski, like Peele before him, has made a movie that’s scary good.

*By going to a nearby river and waterfall, the father and son get to briefly talk safely, and there’s a soundproof room they’ve constructed for the new baby. Of course, these elements have made some critics ask “why don’t they just live by the river, or in the soundproof room then?”

More later...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

William H. Macy Chats With Film Babble Blog About His New Film KRYSTAL


This Friday, William H. Macys KRYSTAL, his third film as director, releases in the Triangle area. The movie is a intriguingly weird comedy drama about an 18-year old named Taylor (Nick Robinson), who falls for the title character, a 38-year old ex-hooker-stripper-junkie-alcoholic (shes often referred to by these terms), played by Rosario Dawson.

I spoke with Macy about the film, in which he appears as Taylors father, Wyatt, alongside a strong supporting cast including Kathy Bates, William Fichtner, T.I., Grant Gustin, 
Jacob Latimore, and Macys wife Felicity Huffman, and he provided a lot of insight into the very offbeat production.

Film Babble Blog: Watching KRYSTAL, I kept thinking that with that cast, and those themes all being batted around it must have been a lot of fun to shoot.

William H. Macy: It was. You’re not wrong - it’s a very complicated movie, there’s a lot of balls in the air. It has a very delicate tone because it goes from high farce to high tragedy in a nano second. But I just loved the dialogue that [Will] Aldis wrote, and I loved the characters.

FBB: How did Aldis
’s screenplay come into your orbit? 

WHM: The film was produced by a woman named Rachel Winter, who I’ve been working with a long time now, and Dan Keston, and they sent the script to me to look at to perhaps act in, and when I read it - I just saw the film in my mind’s eye completely, and very much out of character for me, I said “can I direct this thing?” So they told me, “Yeah, you can direct it.” So this is the first one I ever tried to direct. It turns out it’s the third one I actually directed because it took us 12 years to get the thing made.

FBB: So you said there were many balls in the air, and I can see why because it’s a number of things – it’s a coming-of-age story, an ensemble comedy, and there, are like you said, farcical elements, but I really didn’t expect it to get as surreal as it did with the visions of Satan.

WHM: One of the things I really appreciate in films these days is surprise. I love it when I don’t know where the plot is going, and I’m surprised by where it does go. And, more importantly, when I’m surprised by the solution – ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ And this one has that in spades.

FBB: I was indeed surprised by all the visual tricks with the Satan imagery.

WHM: Yeah, it gets supernatural there, the magical realism. I really liked that element. Yes, one could say it was a coming-of-age story, certainly it is, it’s a love story, it’s a ‘bromance,’ but I like to say that it’s a lighthearted, frolicking look at the world of addiction, and when you really unpack addiction, at the root of it is fear.

Life is a scary thing, and some people medicate themselves to face life, and it’s all about fear. And I love that Aldis decided to give fear a personality. I loved that - I thought what a great way to look at it.

My hope is that someone even in the depths of despair over addiction could watch this film and laugh, not feel attacked, not feel accused.

FBB: My takeaway, with all the messed-up souls there, all the things this film touches on – theology, unconventional love, dysfunctional family, the concept of a tiny Satan on your back – my takeaway was that it’s about people realizing that it’s time to ask for help.

WHM: Well, there it is. We agree, and we talked about that on the set. The takeaway is ‘hey, everybody is afraid, but you’ve got to move on. You gotta keep moving. You gotta keep striving. The fear will never go away. That’s part of the human condition, but you can do it.

FBB: It seemed like Aldis’ script was pretty set – there were specific lines that had to be said, and keyed into other lines, and all that, but was there much room for improvisation in the movie?

WHM: Not really, I mean, there were some things that were underwritten so there was a little. A perfect example is when Rosario Dawson comes back, and she’s fallen off the wagon, and she’s clearly high. Her son is there, and she didn’t have any dialogue. 
So she came up with that kind of stoned-out, sing-songy thing – I couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying, but it really filled it in. 

So there were little things like that, but everyone loved Will’s dialogue, and wanted to do it as written, because it’s pretty wonderful. It’s unusual for a film to have such a literary approach to this. I mean, these people do love to talk.

FBB: One scene I wanted to ask you about is when Nick Robinson’s character, Taylor, first takes on the “Bo” persona. He’s walking along with Krystal, and he’s spouting out these things that he lifted from Rick Fox’s Bo moment at AA. I thought there were times that it looked like Rosario Dawson was about to break, because some of the things he was saying were so funny, so over-the-top, so I was wondering if there were flubs on those takes?

WHM: It happened a couple of times, but it was a pretty happy set, I’ve got to say. But you bring up a good point - I can tell you from an actor’s point of view - that’s sort of a dicey section there. The audience knows what he’s doing, there’s no secret there, he’s imitating another actor so they’re judging him on how well a Bo he’s doing, so Nick, very wisely, said to me, “tell me about Bo – do I believe I’m Bo, how far do I take it?’ And what we all decided was well, the text is does Krystal buy it? Rosario Dawson – does she buy it? She’s the only one you’ve got to convince that you’re Bo. And to Rosario I said, ‘well, it’s his job to convince you he’s Bo, and a tough hombre. If you don’t buy it laugh at him.’

And there were times when, as you said, that it just beyond the pale, and she laughed, and I thought they were delightful moments. Because you know, Krystal has been around the block. One thing she knows about is men, she knows men, very, very well. She knows this young guy is full of crap.

FFB: You can really see that in Dawson’s performance.

WHM: Yeah, I mean, everybody is really good in it. I really scored with this cast.

FFB: Was there much stuff that was on the cutting room floor, are there going to be DVD extras?

WHM: (laughs) No, this was a true indie film. Everything you see is on the screen. Uh, there were two or three scenes that we cut, and a couple of others that we cut sections from. The first film I did (RUDDERLESS), the producer called me in as I was cutting it and he said – “look, you always have this conversation with the directors, especially new directors, I know you love it, I know it’s near and dear to your heart, but you have to cut it.” And I said, “Oh, well, what do you think we should cut?” And he said, “No, that’s not what I’m saying to you, you always have to say that, but what we’re saying to you is stop cutting it! You’re cutting all the good stuff out!” All three films, I’ve argued with producers where I say, “I’m gonna cut it,” and they’re “No, leave it – it’s good!” I’m a cutter.

FFB: I noticed there were a couple of Bob Dylan lines in the film – “He not busy being born is busy dying,” and “remember when you’re out there tryin’ to heal the sick, that you must always first forgive them.” Were those deliberate or am I, as a Dylan fan, just picking those out?

WHM: No, wait – did Dylan say that? “You must always first forgive them”? I’m a big Dylan fan too. Man, I feel foolish - I didn’t know that was a direct Dylan quote, I thought it was just Dylanesque. That’s Will Aldis, he’s a great rock and roller.

FBB: Now, you’ve worked with a lot of great filmmakers, like Paul Thomas Anderson or David Mamet for example, so of course those are present influences, but one thing that really stuck in my mind was seeing you on some talk show years ago talking about FARGO, and you said that the Coen brothers really knew exactly what movie they were making, so I wanted to ask - did you feel like you knew exactly what movie you were making with KRYSTAL?

WHM: Well, that’s a very cagey question, a good question. Uh, Yes - the first time I read the script I saw it so clearly, which was unusual. I saw the whole film, and I loved it. But in all candor, when we put it on its feet – some of those scenes that read so beautifully were awkward, and there was something wrong with them when we actually mounted them. It was fascinating to go in and dissect the scenes, and figure out what’s going wrong - why did it work for me, and now it’s not? What am I looking for? What am I seeing? What am I missing here? It’s a fascinating process and I love it, it’s just that I’d rather not do it when I’m directing an independent film and the sun is setting.

I got caught flat footed a couple of times; it’s the tone of the piece. It’s very, very delicate.

FBB: I definitely could feel that it was a tricky tone to deal with there.

WHM: Yeah, I underestimated it. Rachel Winter, a who is a lovely filmmaker herself, kept warning me – it’s the tone, it’s the tone, we’ve got to get this tone right. And I think we did, but, as I said, I was caught sadly lacking a couple of times.

FBB: There was an interview you did with the AV Club around the time of WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, where you were talking about what makes a good actor’s director – coming to set prepared, talking action not emotion, since this was a while before you directed, is there anything you’d add to that? Do you feel you are a good actor’s director?

WHM: I hope so – you should probably ask others that. I do believe, as an actor, I don’t need to be told how to play it and, like, if I ask, I’m lost, I’m brave enough to say ‘okay, I’m lost, give me some help, I don’t know how to play this.’ But I like a director who talks subjective. You know, ‘I’ll figure out how to do it – let’s make sure we agree on what I’m doing.’ The what is up for discussion.

What I’ve discovered from directing three films is that if you have to stop and talk about acting with an actor – you’re lost. (laughs) You’re really in trouble because there’s no time for that. I’ve discovered what you really pray for as a director is that everybody walks in as the character and they’re brilliant every single take. All you’ve got time to do is take pictures of it.

FBB: The last several days I was at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, and saw Amy Scott’s excellent documentary about Hal Ashby, and it reminded me that a while back you narrated the EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS documentary that was all about that period. Do any of those filmmakers like Ashby, Altman, Bogdanovich, Coppola, Hopper – the New Hollywood kids –register as big influences on you when you work as a director today?

WHM: Yes, I mean, that was a time of the actor because they were brave, they were really brave. I mean, it was the summer of love and everybody was smoking a lot of pot, and everybody gave themselves a mission to act impulsively, to not make every moment in a film completely studied, and allow mistakes to happen. And all stories didn’t have to have a nice ending all tied up in a bow. Stories didn’t have to have a happy ending. But as I mature, I realize that when I go to the movies, I want to laugh, I want a good old fashioned story.

FBB: You want to feel something.

WHM: I want to feel something, and I want a good punchline that I didn’t see coming. I’m old fashioned you know, and KRYSTAL is kind of an old fashioned film. I’d like to try one that’s out there and improvisational. I’d like to give that a shot some day.

FBB: Well, that brings up the question – as a filmmaker, do you have any projects lined up after this?

WHM: Nothing is scheduled right now. I directed three films while I was doing Shameless during my hiatuses, and that was really, really tough. It was tough on me and really tough on my family. I missed all the vacations because I was working all year around. I go back to Shameless in about four weeks for season nine, I believe there’s going to be a season ten, but I think things will open up after that. I don’t know what I’m going to do after that but I would love to direct another film. I’d like to get a little bit of a bigger budget. I’d like to pay people, if I can be blunt. I’ve done three films where everyone is doing me a favor. I’d like to be able to pay people.


William H. Macys KRYSTAL opens on April 13th in the Triangle area in N.C.

More later...