For Your Consideration: Feb. 6, 2015

Yesterday, Amy Pascal announced that she will be stepping down as co-chair of Sony Pictures when her contract expires next month. It’s not a particularly surprising announcement – after the notorious November e-mail hack aired her private, often unflattering feelings towards David Fincher, Angelina Jolie and any number of other key collaborators (not to mention jokes about our President that were at best ill-advised and at worst ignorant), Pascal’s time as a studio head was doomed, and Sony’s subsequent back-and-forth bungling of the release of “The Interview” was just icing on the cake. Why neither co-chair Michael Lynton, nor producer Scott Rudin, (the recipient and main participant in Pascal’s most cringeworthy email exchanges) seem to be getting quite the same grilling from the industry, well, I suppose that’s something to investigate another day.

In any case, Pascal is moving on to run her own production company, which might not be a bad thing. Since she started working for Columbia Pictures (now a Sony subsidiary) in 1988, Pascal’s shown an interesting knack for shepherding both successful prestige flicks and blockbuster fare (give or take an Amazing Spider-Man). This week, here’s three films that Pascal helped develop.

– Ethan

“A League of Their Own” (1992)

Cast: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Rainer, Bitty Schram, Ann Cusack, Anne Ramsay, David Strathairn, Bill Pullman, Jon Lovitz, Tea Leoni

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, Vudu, or iTunes, on disc from Netflix

That rare kind of film that manages to be just as charming and fun as it is enlightening. Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” took a quickly-forgotten slice of American history, the All American-Girls Professional Softball League formed in the middle of WWII, and brought it to breezy, comical – and in the case of Tom Hanks’ Jimmy “There’s No Crying In Baseball” Dugan, iconic – life. Maybe now that she’s got some free time Amy Pascal can reunite with her former lead and get involved in Geena Davis’ female-filmmaker focused festival later this year.

– Ethan

“Casino Royale” (2006)

Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Caterina Murino, Isaach de Bankolé, Tobias Menzies, Jesper Christensen

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

James Bond might be the most durable franchise in film history, but 2002’s “Die Another Day” sure did its darnedest to test that theory. As the series has managed to do in years past (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on the heels of “You Only Live Twice,” “GoldenEye” following “License to Kill”), the Bond production team – an always-complicated mess of developers at Eon Productions, MGM, the Broccoli family, and lately Sony – turned a complete 180, reinvigorating the franchise with a new actor, a new tone, and a hearty helping of theft from the latest action-movie trends. In this case, the dodgy CGI and horrifically absurd plotting of “Die Another Day” were replaced with the grit and brutal action of Jason Bourne and “Batman Begins” – which, led by the smirking, petulant Daniel Craig, ended up getting closer to the suave-but-troubled killing machine of Ian Fleming’s imagination than any previous attempt. The extended Texas Hold ‘Em tournament reeks of excessive mid-2000s fad-chasing, but otherwise “Casino Royale” is as thoroughly entertaining an action film as you could ask for.

– Ethan

“The Social Network” (2010)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rashida Jones, Josh Pence

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Perhaps Sony should’ve taken a hint about cyber-security from Mark Zuckerberg’s antics in the opening sequence of David Fincher’s still-brilliant, moody and incisive critique of the pursuit of power in the digital age. “Citizen Kane” it’s not, but it also kind of is – certainly not so formally ground-breaking (although Fincher’s regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth is on great form here), “The Social Network” is still just as concerned with the alienating and paradoxical sacrifice of personal relationships in the name of wealth and influence as Orson Welles once was. The tools have changed, but the self-corrupting urges at the heart of our society stay the same. Eisenberg is cast perfectly as Aaron Sorkin’s desperately needy and abrasive take on the Facebook founder, while Andrew Garfield broke out as the in-over-his-head, not-so-innocent Eduardo Saverin; but surprisingly it’s Timberlake who threatens to steal the show as Sean Parker, playboy entrepreneur and modern Mephistopheles.

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: Aug. 22, 2014

Almost ten years after Robert Rodriguez first took us into the hyper-stylized ultra-violent world of Frank Miller’s “Sin City,” the long-gestating sequel has finally appeared. The comic book/graphic novel writer has seen his work mainstreamed through the popularity of “300,” the influence of The Dark Knight Returns on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and, um, the super-hyped fiasco that was his solo directorial debut (“The Spirit”). But for some reason the noir-tinged psychopaths of Basin City still seem to hold a special fascination; though perhaps that’s not so surprising, considering the very real attraction of the original Sin City. Avarice, danger, sex, glitz: you can get it all in Las Vegas (at least in the movies). This week we’re recommending three films from the world’s center for adult entertainment.

– Ethan

“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands, Richard Lewis, Steven Weber

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Mike Figgis’ acclaimed indie was not responsible for the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, nor the depressed alcoholic; but it’s hard to see these stock roles in any modern film and not see the echoes of Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. Though it embraces the bleak, self-destructive side of Vegas’ flurry of temptation and obsession, “Leaving Las Vegas” still finds some positive energy amidst the desperation and disappointment. It’s not that either character is beyond redemption, which makes it all the more strangely, tragically pitiful that Cage’s struggling screenwriter obstinately chooses to continue down his path toward implosion; did he go to Vegas to drink himself to death, or did he drink himself to death because he was in Vegas?

– Ethan

“The Cooler” (2003)

Cast: William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, to rent on disc from Netflix

A twisty neo-noir with a few (slightly gimmicky) flashes of Scorsese-in-“Casino”/dice-fetishist style, “The Cooler” stands out not so much for its story – unlucky Bernie Lootz’s transition from professional jinx to can’t-miss-lover isn’t exactly shocking – but for the exceptional cast, making the most of a traditional setup. Baldwin got the Oscar nod, and deservedly so, for his rough, jaded Vegas old-timer resisting the city’s efforts to scrub away its dirty history; but William H. Macy plays the sad sack titular role with a kind of pathetic, schlubby dignity (Paul Giamatti would be proud), and Maria Bello makes for a pretty believable good luck charm.

– Ethan

“Fright Night” (2011)

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, Dave Franco

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant or iTunes, on disc from Netflix; you can also check out the original streaming on Netflix or Hulu

Forget Transylvania; Las Vegas is the place to be if you’re one of the undead. Everyone stays up all night, there’s plenty of new blood coming into town, and no one stays in town long enough to figure out what you’re up to. That’s what brings Jerry the Vampire (Colin Farrell) to town, moving in next door to high school student Charley (Anton Yelchin) in this remake of a 1985 cult classic. The very fact that our vampire is named Jerry should tell you what kind of movie this is, exuding that special charm of movies aware of their own campiness. Farrell is surprisingly convincing as Jerry, alternately sexy and scary, charming and menacing. To top it all off, David Tennant makes a delightful appearance as Peter Vincent, a sniveling, leather-clad Van Helsing who headlines a Vegas show but is too afraid to actually hunt vampires. Next time you’re packing for Vegas, better bring some garlic.

– Elaine