Spike Jonze is one of the most essential American directors working today. His collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” are two of the wildest, most unique films of the last 10-15 years. And “Where the Wild Things Are,” his first Kaufman-less effort, turned out staggeringly well despite all the early signs of a passion-project free fall. “Her” has flown slightly under the radar until now, probably because the plot outline was a little too close to “S1mone” for everyone’s comfort. But this trailer pretty much dispels all fears – “Her” looks just as weirdly affecting as any of Jonze’s work. I’m thrilled that Joaquin Phoenix is off the crazy bus and back to work, although I’m possibly even more excited about Amy Adams’ Cameron-Diaz-in-Being-John-Malkovich hair.
Interesting to note is that Scarlett Johannson’s voice role was originally meant to be filled by Samantha Morton – Jonze switched things up in post-production, bringing in Johannson to re-do all of the computer’s dialogue after everyone else was done filming. I’m normally a huge Samantha Morton fan and…less high on Johannson, to say the least…so that’s a very curious move for me. But I’m going to trust that Jonze of all people knows what he’s doing.
One of the late, great Gandolfini’s last roles comes in the latest by indie darling Nicole Holofcener (“Lovely and Amazing,” “Please Give”). Julia Louis-Dreyfus is another actress I’ve never been that into, but I can’t believe that she and Gandolfini never worked together other than this and I’m actually really digging the pairing. Plus, I always need more Catherine Keener and Toni Collette in my life.
This Is Martin Bonner
As a regular reader of In Contention, it’s really weird for me to see Chad Hartigan, that site’s former resident box office analyst, making his directing debut – even more so that it looks quite so visually sophisticated and subtle. A story of the emerging friendship between a just-released prisoner and his rehab sponsor, this is clearly a sober drama, but positive reviews out of Sundance indicate that it’s a remarkably restrained, character-driven one. Could be a nice bit of counter-programming.
The Monuments Men
I have to say I didn’t expect George Clooney’s directorial effort to have quite so much of an “Ocean’s Eleven” vibe to it – “The Monuments Men” appears here to be slightly lighter in tone than anticipated, not a brittle political thriller like “The Ides of March” or “Syriana.” In fact, more than anything this project is looking like “Argo,” which could land it right in the entertaining-but-educational wheelhouse that the Academy so dearly loves. Hitler’s appropriation of European art and culture (and the rush to save it towards the end of WWII) is one of the more fascinating subplots of the war, so it’ll be nice to have someone draw attention to it on screen (watch the documentary “The Rape of Europa” if you want a more in-depth, grounded account), and I’ll certainly follow a cast like that anywhere. John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban on screen together? Yes please. Also good to see Jean Dujardin again (although only for the briefest of moments in this trailer), who’s been remarkably quiet in Hollywood since winning his Oscar for “The Artist” a couple years back.
Although its script was a Swiss cheese mess, I thought last year’s “Prometheus” was actually a strong sign that Ridley Scott was back in top directorial form. That sci-fi epic was moody and visually stimulating, which goes as well for this slick, thrilling trailer for “The Counselor.” And what gives me hope that “The Counselor” will turn out better than “Prometheus” is the fact that the script was written by renowned author Cormac McCarthy, making his original screenplay debut. You can feel the “No Country for Old Men” stamp on this trailer, and not just because Javier Bardem is skulking around in a bizarre haircut. I don’t know if it’s going to restore Scott to the Oscar heights of “Gladiator” or anything, but I’d definitely be in for a fast, engaging genre flick.
Thank god for the British, still churning out solid middlebrow dramas even as Hollywood increasingly turns to the extremes. As is often the case with such films, it’s not even the writing/directing necessarily that gets you interested here (although Stephen Frears, of “The Queen,” “High Fidelity,” “The Grifters” is no slouch in that department), but the acting – and Judi Dench is of course sure to be amazing, as always. Her comic timing has been severely underestimated, I think, and the bit about Anne Boleyn here is a perfect example. Steve Coogan has had less success in shifting from his comic persona to more dramatic roles, but this seems like a role more properly balanced to his talents. The Weinstein Company is handling the distribution for “Philomena,” so you can be sure Frears’ film will at least be an art-house hit, if not something even more than that.