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I’m not sure why LOGAN LUCKY failed to launch this weekend. Bob Lefsetz has some ideas. But Tracy and I saw it Friday night and loved it. Funny, sweet, and cynical. What’s not to love?

It’s possible that in this politically charged atmosphere the trailer for LOGAN LUCKY came off as a Rorschach test for both Trump Supporters and Trump Opposers — and it signaled to each group that this was the antithesis of what they wanted to see. Unfortunate, because in reality this is just a couple of hours of solid, popcorn movie magic with nary a politically reference.

A few years ago I was pitching a “Redneck Ocean’s 11” around Hollywood. It never failed to get a laugh and attracted some good talent for a while. But then we lost our key element and enthusiasm waned. I would love to have gotten that movie made but lucky for us Steven Soderbergh saw fit to make his own Redneck heist picture.

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THRcoverSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS will have its official premiere roughly a couple of hours from now. The film will unspool simultaneously at 3 of the 4 big houses on Hollywood Blvd: the Dolby, the Chinese and the El Capitan. (I wonder how the Egyptian missed out — is it a Disney thing?) Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells runs the numbers, and tells us that the three venues have a total of 5653 seats. I’m sure every one will be filled. Wells also takes note of this interesting tidbit from a Disney-issued email to the press and participants in tonight’s big event: no phones with cameras will be allowed in any of the theaters.

I predict there will be an unprecedented riot on Hollywood Blvd tonight as underpaid, overworked security teams attempt to confiscate 5600+ phones from Hollywood movers and shakers. May the Force be with them. (Forgive me. I kind of had to say that.)

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This Labor Day weekend I’m thinking about HOFFA. Not the long disappeared Teamsters leader, but the 1992 movie about him. I think about this film every Labor Day – and it’s not uncommon for me to watch some or all of it before the holiday is over. Simply put, Danny DeVito’s HOFFA would easily land in my Top 10 list of vastly underrated American movies – probably in one of the top three spots.

The argument could be made that this was Jack Nicholson’s last tour de force in a lead role. (One could make the same case for 1997’s AS GOOD AS IT GETS.) Not to say that Nicholson didn’t do memorable and/or good work after his portrayal of Hoffa but this is the last time he seemed to fully lose himself in a character. The nuanced humanity he brings to the role in spite of — not because of — the prosthetics and make-up is a sight to behold.

The NYT’s Vincent Canby observed the following in his thoughtful review

“Hoffa” is a remarkable movie, an original and vivid cinematic work, but is that enough? I think it is. Others will have legitimate objections to the ways the film operates.

Indeed, others objected – with a typical list of nit-picky items that usually accompany historical biopics. But with HOFFA the objections seem to me more rote than applicable. Critics were split, box office was dismal. Regardless, the film is a collaborative work of art worthy of (re)consideration.

David Mamet’s screenplay is both epic and personal. It is neither sentimental nor defensive. It plays fast and loose with the facts but it is truthful in its portrayal of the shades of grey that have always colored American politics and business.

Danny DeVito came to HOFFA already an accomplished director, having helmed two dark comedies – THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE WAR OF THE ROSES. Here he created a film that one critic called “almost impressionistic.” And that’s a fair assessment. DeVito is not afraid to create fly-away sets, use forced perspective, move the camera grandly, and shoot exterior scenes inside a soundstage, in order to create powerful, memorable images.

This from Roger Ebert’s original review

“Hoffa” shows DeVito as a genuine filmmaker. Here is a movie that finds the right look and tone for its material. Not many directors would have been confident enough to simply show us Jimmy Hoffa instead of telling us all about him. This is a movie that makes its points between the lines, in what is not said. It’s not so much about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, as about the fact that something eventually would.

David Newman’s score is one of the best examples of classic movie music that hits all the right notes without veering into cliché. The last cue in film, “Jimmy’s Last Ride”, is one of my favorite pieces of film music ever. This was an era when it was not uncommon for a track to be created specifically for the trailer. Newman composed a 2minute 15second track for HOFFA’s trailer that still gets my full attention when it pops up in my iTunes library.

So, to all the people who worked so hard to make this film – I salute you this Labor Day and thank you for your effort. I’ve enjoyed the fruit of your labor for many years.

A Most Wanted Man

MARTHA SULLIVAN (Robin Wright) and GUNTER BACHMANN (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are spies squaring off in A MOST WANTED MAN – available on DVD/Bluray.

If you’re looking for something film-related to do this weekend, try one or two of these. These are all a touch on the dark side.

birdman

RIGGAN (Michael Keaton) is having issues in BIRDMAN. In theaters now.

Go see: BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R, 119 mins, Fox Searchlight, in theaters now) – Alejandro Inarritu’s film has been one of the most highly touted and anticipated of the year in cinephile circles. Now everyone can see what the fuss is about — and there’s so much to see and take in. This one will likely have a few nominations in the major categories come award season — starting with Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Dan Lybarger’s review of BIRDMAN in today’s (11.07.14) Arkansas Democrat Gazette, is especially illuminating on why the movie works on several levels simultaneously.

Watch: A MOST WANTED MAN (R, 122 mins, Roadside Attractions, on DVD/Bluray now) Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just re-post myself. Here’s what I said about A MOST WANTED MAN during it’s theatrical release — and why I still recommend it.

Read: INDECENT PROPOSAL by David McClinktick (Collins Business Essentials) – Hands down, my favorite inside-Hollywood book. It’s so well written, the story itself is so much of an avoidable train wreck — and it transports the reader to the time that big business was done without personal computers, smart phones and electronic tablets. This is not dusty, ancient history — it’s a cautionary tale worthy of it’s own HBO series. Columbia Pictures’s larger-than-life leader, David Begelman, is caught a crime that will forever alter the careers and personal relationships of people in in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the boardroom and in the police department. It’s one of the more darkly comedic and tragic stories in Hollywood history. I’ve read this book two or three times all the way through and find myself picking it up every once in a while to read 10 to 20 pages.

movie-theater

The news Monday that Regal – the largest theater circuit in the world – is open to being courted by any suitable buyers willing to kick its tires, raised a lot of eyebrows. Investors liked the news; Regal’s stock spiked upward even as its earnings report looked pretty bleak compared to same quarter last year. But most everyone else did a bit of handwringing over the future of the movie business – specifically the theater business.

Coming off a disappointing summer at the Box Office, the news that Regal might be going on the block could be interpreted as a bad sign for the future of theatrical exhibition. On the other hand, it could be a sign that Regal’s board thinks this is a good time to get a great price. Why? Foreign money and a strong slate of blockbusters are on the near horizon. You can read some good analysis of those factors by Variety’s Brent Lang here.

I’m not one to kvetch about the prospects for theatrical distribution. The studios and the theater owners still have a vested interest in exhibiting movies for the foreseeable future. Change is coming but that’s nothing new. Some changes are for the worst (or maybe it only seems that way to those of us given to bouts of nostalgia). Some changes are for the best. And sometimes threats to a business can bring out the best in that business. The theater business survived the onslaught of radio (30’s), television (50’s), video games (90’s & aughts), and they’ll survive the Internet. In some ways they’ll thrive because of the Internet.

Here are three reasons I’m not betting against theaters any time soon:

The experience of watching a movie in a theater is still my favorite way to see a movie. So far this year I’ve walked up to a box office window 29 times to buy tickets to a first run movie in a theater. In the last eight weeks of 2014 I’ll probably see another 6 or 8 – ‘tis the season. I have always loved walking in, settling down and opening up to the immersive experience of seeing an image projected on a large screen in a room completely dedicated to that singular experience. Add a roomful of strangers who laugh, gasp, cry or applaud in the same places you do, and the experience becomes communal in the best sense of the word. It’s the last media viewing experience that I’m not in control of — it unspools and I can’t pause it, save it for later or let sit dormant in my queue. I think that increases its value rather than diminishing it. There’s a core audience out there that feels the same way I do about going to the movies. We may be a small band with fewer options in years to come but I believe we’ll always have a place to go.

The experience of watching a movie in a theater is better than at any other time in my life. More than ever there has to be a compelling reason for people to go to the theaters. The compelling reason can be the movie or the experience – ideally it will be both. The experience has steadily improved in the last quarter century. Our neighborhood theater happens to be a Regal property. It was a United Artists Theater when it opened in the late 70’s. Since then it’s gone through numerous updates and several major overhauls – including total demolition and the construction of a brand new building where the parking lot used to be. Most recently there’s been an update to the decor and installation of luxury recliners. Top notch projection, sound, and seating — what’s not to love if you’re a movie-lover? Regal’s CEO Amy Miles seems to be a movie-lover with skin in the game of making sure the theater experience falls somewhere between compelling and irresistible. Whatever happens with Regal, I hope she continues to be a leader in the Industry. I applaud every pragmatic visionary in the theater business who keeps investing and innovating for a better user experience.

The experience of going to the movies is still one of the best out-of-the-house entertainment values I know of. I recently took my son and a friend of his to the State Fair. It was $75 for all access tickets for the three of us before we bought a souvenir or anything to eat. A night out at a nice restaurant with my wife will cost upwards of $75 to $90 – it would easily be over $100 if either of us drank alcohol. Tickets to a college football game start at about $75 a pop as do concert tickets (for the cheap seats). When my family of 3 goes to the movies we’re generally in an out for right at $50 for tickets and concessions. Now, I’ve still got enough of my Dad in me to think that $50 is a lot of money but that’s still a good deal for something we can all do together — that we all enjoy. At home I pay for 100 channels and only watch about 6. Every time I go to a movie, I watch it. That’s a 1 to 1 ratio and a pretty good bang for the buck.

Screenplay is a new podcast hosted by Philip Martin, produced by Philip and print editor extrarodinaire, Karen Martin. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on the first three episodes of their soft-launch while they shake things out. This week we got into the topic of faith-based films — hopefully providing more light than heat. Check out this edition of Screenplay (24mins). And if you have something to contribute to the conversation please comment here, at Soundcloud or on Philip’s blog: Blood, Dirt & Angels

Philip Martin is the award-winning film critic of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He oversees the Democrat-Gazette’s Movie Style section. While major markets around the nation are shuttering local coverage of the national film scene and cutting their critics loose, Philip remains a strong voice with a regional and national presence. He’s one of Rotten Tomatoes top critics. And he’s a good friend to me personally and filmmakers in general. I hope to sit down with Philip for a chat about film criticism that we can share with you in the near future.

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1)   I often quote my friend Philip Martin when people kvetch to me about the historical accuracy of a movie: “People who get their history from movies deserve the history they get.” I think there’s an appropriate corollary here: People who get their theology from movies deserve the theology they get.

2)   I’m not worried about people being led astray by the movie NOAH any more than I’m worried about them being led astray by the American Evangelical church. Wait a minute.

3)   Isn’t there more to be gained from learning how people who don’t share your assumptions or beliefs interpret your foundational narratives than there is in telling them they’re not welcome to try? Which response has the potential to foster a conversation and which fosters a shouting match?

4)   Which movie do you think started with more of an explicit agenda to win people over to a specific worldview: NOAH or GOD’S NOT DEAD? Discuss amongst yourselves. I have to go take my beating now.