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Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY'S GAME

It’s Only a Movie: Batman & Spiderman Walk Into MOLLY’S GAME, But Jessica Chastain Doesn’t Cave to Superheroes

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Holy Toledo, sometimes an insider Hollywood story is so good, you see how the game is played.

Jessica Chastain in MOLLY'S GAME

Jessica Chastain in MOLLY’S GAME

So once upon a Batman, and a few-movies-ago Spiderman, the caped one and the web slinger became poker fanatics, like super fanatics, in a snake-pit-named Hollywood club’s back room, a club once owned by a Pirate. True story, plus there’s an ex-Olympic skier with the same name as a character from James Joyce’s opus “Ulysses” who ran the tables, the whole game. But in a short decade the card mania went awry, as doomed as an Irish-made ocean liner, whose lead also flipped his chips there as the face-card bash spread from LA to NYC to the FBI.

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY'S GAME

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY’S GAME

MOLLY’S GAME is based on the Joycean real-life Molly Bloom’s 2014 book “Molly’s Game: High Stakes, Hollywood’s Elite, Hotshot Bankers, My Life in the World of Underground Poker,” from HarperCollins. Her memoir begins circa 2004 and spans almost a decade of decadence. Lawless screen siren Jessica Chastain is die-cast as the ‘Poker Princess’ who found her mettle dealing with all the superheroes’ undesirable antics. Red is on fire in this one, shall we say.
Aaron Sorkin’s movie mostly deals with Bloom’s fight for survival with the Feds on gambling and likely racketeering charges, but Chastain also has to find an air hole in a superego’s off-screen realm where every A-Lister is vying for all the oxygen in a room where huge money stakes makes everyone a lot uglier in a hurry. As in “bark like a seal,” ugly.
Ultimately Batman and versions-ago Spiderman end up in high-profile divorces while their wronged spouses, one a movie star, the other a studio mogul’s daughter, end up vindicated. Wait, scratch that, will end up vindicated as MOLLY’S GAME is released by STX Films on Nov. 22. So tempting to say *payback is a bitch,* but you get the drift.

Jessica Chastain and Chris O'Dowd in MOLLY'S GAME

Jessica Chastain and Chris O’Dowd in MOLLY’S GAME

Again this gambit/movie comes from the deft hand of writer/director Aaron Sorkin, who literally can make a piece of paper into a smash hit. Sorkin has so many credits, though THE SOCIAL NETWORK rings a bell to most people.
Amy Pascal, ex-SONY hack now indie purveyor, lays down her aces as a producer; Idris Elba also comes into play here as memorable onscreen; with Kevin Costner taking a break from his own helming ways to add a hell of a sweet cameo. Michael Cera is the pivot point, a clue to Hollywood’s real elite players mentioned above. You gotta see this story to believe it. Bridesmaid’s Chris O’Dowd rounds out a great cast here that includes Graham Greene, Joe Keery and Rachel Skarsten.

Make Your Bets This Will Be Something of a Royal Flush

MOLLY’S GAME will open first at TIFF, Sept. 7 – 17, mark it down, dude.

Playing Pick-Up STX, Or Close to the Bone On Official Notes?

MOLLY’S GAME is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey, who learned that there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led us to believe.

In Theaters November 22, 2017

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Chris O’Dowd, Michael Cera, Joe Keery, Rachel Skarsten, Graham Greene and Brian d’Arcy James

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Writer: Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the memoir by Molly Bloom

Producers: Stuart M. Besser, Mark Gordon, Leopoldo Gout, Matt Jackson, Lauren Lohman, Lyn Lucibello and Amy Pascal

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STX Entertainment is a fully integrated, diversified, global media company designed from inception to unlock value from the 21st Century’s changed media landscape. STX specializes in the development, production, marketing and distribution of talent-driven films, television, and digital media content, with a unique ability to maximize the impact of content across worldwide, multiplatform distribution channels, including unparalleled global capabilities and direct passage into the China market.

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MOLLY’S GAME fans out this loaded hand on November 22, 2017.

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1sheetOKOT16

Susanna White’s “Our Kind of Traitor” Is the Le Carré That Came In From The Cold

Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

If in the fifty-odd years since British spymaster John le Carré began plying his trade as a novelist, you have somehow missed any of the screen versions of his works, know this: there are favorites. Everybody has one: from 1965’s Richard Burton classic The Spy Who Came in From The Cold to 2005’s The Constant Gardener (Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes) to 2011’s Gary Oldman-starrer Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.

The author, born David John Moore Cornwell (1931-), hasn’t helped matters by continuing to write brilliant works and toying with his audience, even poking fun at his own legend.  “In the old days it was convenient to bill me as a spy turned writer. I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British Intelligence… It is forty years since I hung up my cloak and dagger. I wrote my first three books while I was a spook. I wrote the next eighteen after I was at large.” The point is, nearly every major star through the last five decades has signed on to a le Carré project because they are so well-crafted. From Sir Alec Guinness, Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, to more recent entries such as Tom Hiddleston, the public has definite opinions.

The usual favorite TV adaptation is, Hiddleston in BBC’s recent “The Night Manager” mini-series (from the 1993 book) notwithstanding, Guinness in 1986’s “The Perfect Spy.” The best movie is usually pegged as Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, based on le Carré’s third novel published in 1963. Laborious lists have been made of Top 10’s. There’s the Karla Trilogy, Russia House, Panama Tailor, Little Drummer Girl — the point is, the bar is quite high. So British Director Susanna White’s just released le Carré entry, Our Kind of Traitor, from the 2010 novel of the same name, looks to have some stiff competition as a new addition into the record books. Or does it?

HarrisMcGregorStarring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, and Naomie Harris, Our Kind of Traitor remarkably has nothing to fear from the past, because this film will be remembered as The Movie That Came in From The Cold. What does that mean exactly? Cold, as in cold shoulder, for one. Look at the lighting in Oldman’s Tinker, Tailor. As a bleak and calculating reflection of its subject matter, this is a near-perfect le Carré example. Yet, as with nearly every single adapt, perhaps with the exception of 2005’s Constant Gardener which leans more toward the emotional, the archetypal classic take on John le Carré’s spy-craft deconstruction of “The Circus” (shorthand for MI6) is usually a stoic rendering with an intellectual view toward Deception and Betrayal, in capital letters. Deceit and eroding loyalty are the two mainstay themes of his work. Here’s where Our Kind of Traitor parts company.

Director Susanna White spins something entirely different into the fabric of espionage: layers of emotional complexity. This isn’t the hand-wringing kind of sentimental nonsense, it is the intricate emotional mining of subtext for our entirely human lead characters. Smug-free, the players in Our Kind of Traitor seem to understand exactly what the consequences are, and why the risks are worth it. EwanStellanWhite pre-loaded the odds of success here, not only with casting choices like the inexorable Harris and Damian Lewis, but with Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE (Ryan Gosling) screenwriter Hossein Amini, a great choice. Her previous projects include HBO’s “Generation Kill” series, where she directed Stellan’s son Alexander Skarsgård, yes of Tarzan fame, and she had previously worked with Ewan McGregor.

An interview with Susanna White follows, but for now, here’s a snapshot of the plot, courtesy of our friends at Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, the film’s distributors. You’re welcome to use your best Announcer Voice while you read this… “While on holiday in Marrakech, an ordinary English couple, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), befriend a flamboyant and charismatic Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who unbeknownst to them is a kingpin money launderer for the Russian mafia. When Dima asks for their help to deliver classified information to the British Secret Services, Perry and Gail get caught in a dangerous world of international espionage and dirty politics. The couple is propelled on a perilous journey through Paris and Bern, a safe house in the French Alps, to the murky corners of the City of London and an alliance with the British Government via a ruthless and determined MI6 agent (Damian Lewis).”

SusannaWhite

Q: The first thing I wanted to ask you about is Brexit, since it just happened. How do you feel about it?

Deep despair, deep despair. It’s a terrible dark business for Britain. Most of my friends have been in deep shock.

Q: How do you think it will effect the film industry for the UK?

Its hard to know yet. At the moment an immediate impact is on the Pound against the US dollar. In terms of being a filmmaker in Britain, of course I’m here (in Los Angeles) now, there may be certain EU grants we are eligible for, that we won’t be eligible for (post-Brexit). People are doing a lot of analysis now — there were big email round-robins sent from the producers association urging people to stay in the EU. I just don’ t know. I think we won’t know for a while.

Q: Since you directed Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee Returns (2010), is Our Kind of Traitor a departure for you?

It’s a big change. To go from a four-quadrant family film to a different kind of film. But in the context of me having done a lot of TV more similar to Our Kind of Traitor, Generation Kill and more adult drama, you could say Nanny McPhee was the departure. So it’s obviously very, very different, something that is a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. But they have Ewan McGregor in common. He was in Nanny McPhee Returns (as Mr. Green), which means they have a great cast in common.

My work as a director has been very varied. In some ways (this film) is muscles I’ve used before — I’ve done CGI and fight sequences. What was new was to make sure a suspense was working the movie.

Q: Were you a le Carré fan?

I’ve been a big fan since Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From The Cold. One of my favorites is The Constant Gardener. That brought an emotional side which is not usually associated with le Carré. But I had to be true to my own voice as a filmmaker. That’s why I open the movie with the dancer to make it feel very emotional at its heart. (The movement) makes it feel very contemporary, different than dark interiors.

Q: Where was it shot?

It was set it on a big landscape, Finland, Russia, France, Switzerland, UK and Morocco.

Q: There are parallel relationships in it, which is unusual.

There’s Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris); Perry and Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Hector, Damian Lewis, is part of two marriages in the movie. Damian’s failed marriage has made him very lonely and warring with the system and the British establishment. Those are the emotional layers — maybe as a woman, it is looking at the consequences of violence. When somebody dies you really feel it in the movie. This will bring an audience which isn’t the traditional le Carré audience, perhaps it’s more accessible.

Q: It has a conscience, you mean?

Right, exactly. Thats what I set out to do. Make the movie that was inside of me.

Q: Did you always have Ewan in mind, because he has that strange sense of inner conflict usually?

He was the only choice. Ewan has that boy-next-door quality. (In the movie) his pride is slightly dented. His career hasn’t taken him to the place he has wanted. His wife is a successful lawyer in training. It’s a modern relationship, and I wanted to show how lost he is at the beginning of the movie — then there’s this unlikely relationship with Dima.

Q: Did you see Eastern Promises (2007) for background on the Vor? How did you research it?

(Laughs) I did look at Easten Promises. It is a movie with very clear tattoos — I am working with that writer Steve Knight on my next movie — we wanted to make sure we got those right. But mostly I thought ‘how am I going to do my version?’ This isn’t American Italian (read: The Godfather), this is completely different. 1sheetOKOT16We did quite a lot of research on the Vor v Zakone (def: “Thieves in Law” Russian mafia). We worked with someone who had been to Russia, and met someone on whom he modeled (Stellan’s) character. I also talked a lot with Frederico Varese (author of “Mafias on the Move: How Oragnized Crime Conquers New Territories”), on hand to advise as well. Also Stellan and I went on an adventure of our own. It was very important to both of us, (to explore his character) so he wasn’t just black-and-white, that we understood the circumstances in his life.

Q: Stellan Skarsgård is so good at inhabiting a role, so how was he to work with?

It was a complete joy working with Stellan. I’ve been a massive fan since Breaking The Waves (1996).

Q: He’s usually complex and sensitive, also (cruel) funny but humorous too —

Hopefully it makes the audience think about it, that (opening sequence) dancer suspended in the air. I hope it makes you think about masculinity a lot, (what it says) about being a man. A rediscovery of what it means to be a man.

Q: Can you name five female directors you admire?

Oh, lots. Jane Campion is the person who really inspires me, with The Piano. Kathryn Bigelow, for sure. Amma Asante (A Way of Life), breaking through in the way that she has. Then there’s probably a few other British directors who I am very connected with, Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, 2015). And a woman you will see her first film this summer — she is my generation, who hasn’t had a chance to make a film yet — Philippa Lowthorpe.

Q: The reason I asked you that question is because there was a time when it was nearly impossible to name five.

It’s getting better and it’s improving slowly.

Q: What’s your next project?

I’m working with writer Steve Knight (Eastern Promises). It’s based on a true story of a woman who is portrait painter in the 1880’s and had a relationship with Sitting Bull.

Q: Have you cast the female lead?

Jessica Chastain.

Q: She’s perfect for that role. Also, I really enjoyed Our Kind of Traitor, as an adult movie with those emotional elements you don’t see very often.

I’m happy you like the film. I think this the whole thing about bringing emotional layers that makes it different.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released OUR KIND OF TRAITOR in theaters beginning July 1, 2016.

Directed by Susanna White, and written by Hossein Amini (screenplay), from the John le Carré (novel), the film stars Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgård. To find out how to see it, click here or look for local showtimes.

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