Christopher Nolan: No 3D, no cell phone, lots of diagrams.

Christopher Nolan: No 3D, no cell phone, lots of diagrams. (photo)

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“I don’t have e-mail, a cell phone…it gives me more time to think,” said Christopher Nolan, which might’ve been the greatest revelation from his appearance at this weekend’s inaugural Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival. His admission came in response to a question about online chatter concerning his films, though it was evident others are keeping track of his tight schedule, as he stopped by for a 45-minute chat with the Times’ Geoff Boucher during a break from the dub stage for “Inception.”

Although the talk was sandwiched between a double bill of “Insomnia” and “The Dark Knight,” the subject quickly turned to his latest film. There was a wave of excitement when the end credits of “Insomnia” led directly into an MPAA green band, which proved to be the beginning of “Inception” trailer #3, which is available online. Shortly after, Nolan was greeted with a standing ovation as he made his way to the stage and after a question about Robin Williams’ performance in “Insomnia” — which the director called “flawless” and considered himself lucky that it came out before “One Hour Photo,” even though “Insomnia” was shot later — Boucher started in with questions about this summer’s most anticipated film.

06122010_Inception.jpg“I’ve wanted to make a film about dreams since I was a kid,” Nolan told the audience and mentioned that he pitched the film to Warner Brothers right after finishing “Insomnia.” He gave a basic synopsis that largely resembled his recent comments to Empire magazine, about a team of extractors that can steal information from the mind. “I thought it would take months, but it took me 10 years,” said Nolan about the writing process that followed.

While he conceived of “Inception” as a heist film, he couldn’t complete it since he felt “heist films tend to be deliberately superficial,” a problem he knew was solved by the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, of whom he likened to Guy Pearce in “Memento” with his ability to “find the emotional truth of the character.” (When Boucher brought up that six of the eight actors whose names appear on “Inception”‘s poster had been nominated for Oscars, Nolan got a laugh when he shrugged, ” I hadn’t noticed actually…it’s an incredible cast.” He also got a rise out of the audience when he said he screened “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” for cast and crew right before shooting for inspiration and “it was shocking to everybody”; he’s presenting the film next week at the L.A. Film Festival.)

But Nolan didn’t have a hard time winning over the discerning fanboy crowd. He championed practical effects, which he used extensively in concert with CG for “Inception,” explaining that he learned on “Batman Begins” that effects artists need something to start out with. After doing tests with a digital Batman, he thought most of the audience could be fooled, but he wasn’t. (“I could tell. [The artists] weren’t real happy, but it was incredibly close.”) He continued, “If you can photograph something real…they’re able to do much, much better work.”

Nolan also appeared disinterested in discussing 3D, though he couldn’t help but give a well-reasoned response to why “Inception” is one of the rare summer blockbusters to elude the treatment. “I’m not a huge fan of 3D,” said Nolan to the cheers of the audience before mentioning that he did tests with post-conversion. “They looked good, but they wouldn’t have the time to get up to my standards.” Taken out of context, those comments might appear that he was flirting with the process, but he continued, “I find the dimness of the image extremely alienating” when projecting a 3D film and mentioned the “enormous compromises” he would have to make like shooting on video first to accommodate the 3D process. He left a door open when he said “post-conversion would be the future” for him personally, if he were to make a 3D film, and acknowledged that “audiences will decide” 3D’s fate, but seemingly shut it when he said in a later answer, “I find it impossible as a viewer to forget I’m watching a movie [in 3D].”

06122010_TheDarkKnight.jpgHe also took questions about his involvement in “Superman” (“I thought [David Goyer’s] pitch was terrific and I didn’t want it to not get done,” but stressed he was only a producer on the project) and dished a little on “The Dark Knight,” saying there was a direct connection to Richard Donner’s “Superman” to his take on Batman: “I wanted to make the Batman film that would’ve been made in ’78, ’79…[Warner Brothers] never did the Dick Donner version of an extraordinary person in an ordinary world” with an esteemed cast filling out the supporting roles. Boucher also prodded Nolan to talk about his favorite scene of “The Dark Knight” — the Joker’s interrogation sequence, which he made distinctive with bright lighting and wanted near the beginning of the film — and its incredible financial success in comparison to “Batman Begins,” which Nolan believed “suffered from a lot of suspicion of the franchise” with audiences at first, but allowed for “the massive benefit of showing what you can do with the character.”

Comic book writer Ed Brubaker was in the audience and asked Nolan about his writing process and whether how much he outlines his screenplays, to which Nolan responded he doesn’t use outlines, but “I draw a lot of diagrams. It all gets a bit ‘Beautiful Mind.'” He also writes in a linear fashion and always plans to do rewrites later to “make it flow.” “It’s almost like you write a bunch of dailies and edit it into a more comprehensible form.”

[Photos: “Inception,” Warner Bros., 2010; “The Dark Knight,” Warner Bros., 2007]


Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?

2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.

3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.

4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.

5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.

6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.

7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?

8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.

9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!

10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Disc Covering: “Enemies Among Us,” starring Billy Zane… sort of.

Disc Covering: “Enemies Among Us,” starring Billy Zane… sort of. (photo)

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The top-billed star in 1978’s “Superman” wasn’t the guy who played Superman, Christopher Reeve. It wasn’t even Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. It was Marlon Brando, playing Superman’s father Jor-El for about ten minutes in a two and a half hour movie. That works out to the star of the film appearing on screen for just 7% of the runtime. That was always my gold-standard of disproportionate credits… until I watched this week’s selection from our new direct-to-DVD column: “Enemies Among Us,” which “stars” Billy Zane in what is basically a glorified cameo.

According to my completely unscientific calculations, the top-billed Zane appears onscreen for just three and a half minutes of this seventy-five minute movie, between 4 and 5% of the runtime. He has just one long scene; long relative to his other appearances, which are brief pop-ins during the opening credits and a pre-end credits montage. He has less than 20 lines. That’s like Bill Murray getting top billing for his one scene in “Zombieland,” or selling “The Hurt Locker” as a movie starring Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

Before I forget, that brings us to BAD SIGN THAT YOUR MOVIE IS GOING STRAIGHT TO DVD #2: It stars Billy Zane. Somehow this guy went from headlining comic book movies and playing the deliciously oily villain of the biggest movie of all time to making his living entirely in the world of direct-to-DVD. The last time I remember even seeing Zane in a theatrical release was his cameo as himself in “Zoolander.” That was almost nine years ago. How did this happen? Is he impossible to work with? Does he have outrageous salary demands? Does God hate Billy Zane?

I just don’t know. Then again, Zane just made more money for three and a half minutes of screentime than a lot of folks make in a year. So it’s not all bad. Let’s get to the movie.

06012010_enemiesofthestatedvd.jpg“Enemies Among Us” (2010)
Directed by Dan Garcia

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: The corrupt governor of Louisiana kills a hooker-slash-assassin; a morally conflicted cop debates whether or not to cover it up.

Salable Elements: The aforementioned Zane, plus supporting (but far larger) roles by Eric Roberts and Robin Givens and one impressive shot of a car exploding.

Biggest Success: “Enemies Among Us” achieves the sort of timeliness that only happens by chance. The film establishes the corruption of Louisiana Governor Chip Majors (James DuMont) at a press conference where he boasts that his state has “for years been a pioneer in off-shore drilling” and announces a new Aphrodite drill platform. Later, a reporter presses an equally slimy Presidential candidate about “cozy relationships with Big Oil that have cost this nation dearly.” Writer/director Dan Garcia is maybe the only guy benefiting from the BP oil spill. Without it, these references would look as shamelessly didactic as the rest of his attempts at topicality, which include characters motivated by mortgage foreclosures, and bankruptcies, and subplots about waterboarding and campaign finance violations. This is a movie about police officers, government officials, journalists, homemakers, terrorists and intelligence agents who all talk exactly the same: like indignant political pundits.

Biggest Failure: Besides the film’s inability to deliver on the promise of Billy Zane in a prominent role? That would be the film’s inability to go more than a scene without at least one brazenly cliched bit of dialogue. There’s too many to pick just one example, so let’s pick five favorites:

06012010_enemies3.jpg5)“I’m gonna kick ass and take names!” Rowdy Roddy Piper was making fun of this line back in 1988. That was 22 years ago. Piper’s line from “They Live” can legally drink now. Time to update this one.

4)“If it blows up, it’s on you!” You know why I hate corrupt cops? No sense of personal responsibility.

3)“I got some very important therapy for your sexy ass.” How many times have we heard this one before? Okay, never. But it’s such a hilarious line — especially coming out of the mouth of dirty cop Eric Roberts — that I had to figure out a way to include it in this piece. I know you’ll understand.

2)“I– I– I can explain!” Yes, it’s a little of the old wackety-schmackety, as Louisiana State Police Officers Taylor (Griffin Hood) and Cobbs (Roberts) walk in on Governor Majors as he strangles a prostitute to death. But it’s not what it looks like! You see the prostitute — that Majors has apparently visited with on numerous occasions — is actually an assassin-for-hire, working with a cabal of other mercenaries who have been hired by North Korea to kill Majors. Majors, in other words, has very bad taste in prostitutes. To his credit, that does sort of explain things, though it still doesn’t square why Majors would take time out from what he describes as “the biggest day of my life,” securing endorsements and campaign donations from wealthy elites, to sleep with a hooker.

1)“This is so far above your pay grade you can’t even imagine!” Movie heroes are always working above their pay grade. Just once I would like someone in a movie to adequately paid for the job they’re required to do. “It’s a good thing you’re here Johnson! This a job that calls for someone of your job description and approximate wage.”

06012010_enemies2.jpgBest Moment: Eric Roberts, responding to an offer of a bribe in exchange for disappearing the dead prostitute’s body, by making this face:

A close runner up to The Eric Roberts Surprise Face in the Best Moment category comes from Robin Givens, playing a cruel CIA agent who tortures a guy for information for the entire film, threatening her interrogation subject by randomly telling him “You leave me no option! You have wasted my time! Do you realize that I have missed an entire season of ‘Ugly Betty?'” That one was so out of left field, I actually made the Eric Roberts Surprise Face myself.

(By the way, nobody tell Robin Givens that “Ugly Betty” is canceled. There’s really no telling what she could do. We’re just now patching up our relations with the countries of the Middle East; we don’t need anymore war atrocities.)

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Definitely not. The tired dialogue is really just the tip of the iceberg of “Enemies Among Us”‘ problems, including bad effects, go-nowhere subplots, and camera shots and angles that are, at best, poorly chosen, and, at worst, totally out of focus. It’s also not entirely clear who this movie is about: with the headliner nowhere to be seen, the de facto protagonist becomes Hood’s Officer Taylor, who the movie at least tries to give a backstory (his sister has breast cancer and needs money for treatment, which gives him a reason to seriously consider the governor’s bribe offer). The character with the most scenes, though, is actually the villain, Governor Majors, and there’s also a lengthy (and narratively irrelevant) “60 Minutes”-style interview with a powerful senator (Steven Bauer). This movie needs characters who make conversation, not points. And at least one of them should have been played by Billy Zane.

For Further Viewing: One YouTube user’s tribute to the greatness of The Zane. It’s a minute longer than his entire contribution to “Enemies Among Us.”

[Photos: “Enemies Among Us,” Phase 4 Films, 2010]

Chris Klein and the cruel comedy of audition tapes.

Chris Klein and the cruel comedy of audition tapes. (photo)

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Poor Chris Klein. It’s bad enough that the guy has been reduced to appearing in stuff like “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.” Now, he has to deal with the fact that late last week someone leaked a tape of his failed audition for the movie version of “Mamma Mia!” online.

After some awkward small talk, Klein says, “Let’s go, shall we? Before I embarrass myself further,” then proceeds to embarrass himself further and farther and more intensely than most of us will ever do in our lives.

For three-and-a-half excruciating minutes, Klein absolutely butchers ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Flat notes, vocal cracks, intense stares to camera, eyebrows that defy logic and gravity by refusing to go down — it’s beyond terrible; it’s guy-on-“American Idol”-who-can’t-sing-but-who-gets-to-audition-for-the-judges-so-Simon-can-make-fun-of-him terrible.

Good sport that he is, Klein has made his own self-deprecating response video, in which he flunks auditions for “Twilight,” “Dreamgirls,” and more. But it doesn’t do much to erase the discomfort of the original. And while everyone’s falling all over themselves to make fun of Klein (including, let’s not forget, Klein himself), we should remember that most auditions are incredibly, incredibly awkward. Every actor has bad ones; most actors are just lucky that they don’t wind up on the Internet in front of millions and millions of people.

Even successful auditions can get awkward. Christopher Reeve scored the role of his life with a great reading of the rooftop flirtation scene between The Man of Steel and Lois Lane from “Superman.” But the poor guy was so nervous, he sweated through his tights; he spends almost the entire scene in the classic superhero hands-on-hips pose, revealing some not-so-super pit stains (the evidence is in the below clip, beginning around 2:17):

Seth Rogen was still an unpolished Canadian teenager when he auditioned for a role in “Freaks and Geeks.” Judd Apatow, the show’s producer, cast Rogen, then brought him along to his next show, “Undeclared,” encouraged him to write, and turned him into a movie star. It all started with this one very nervous audition. Look at the way Rogen fidgets and fixes his shirt; see the deer-in-the-headlights stare. Does this look like the audition of the future young king of mainstream comedy?

Or consider these two auditions by “300” and “The Ugly Truth”‘ star Gerard Butler, reading for the role of Dracula in “Dracula 2000″ — or at least I think these are two auditions for “Dracula 2000.” Sporting a terrible heavy metal wig and guyliner, Butler is so hilariously over-the-top that if I didn’t know he ultimately got the part, I’d swear this was a parody à la Chris Klein’s face-saving Funny or Die sketch. Judge for yourself:

This is why there are casting directors. It’s up to them to see past these unrefined moments to the potential underneath. That doesn’t make the process any less strange or, at times, any less of a crapshoot. To wit, here’s a funny scene that lampoons that very idea from Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” in which Robert Downey Jr. plays a robber who hides out from the police at a casting call with unexpected results:

Now, that is a great audition. But, please Chris Klein, don’t get any ideas and show up to your next one bleeding.

On the plus side, Klein’s fridge-nuking moment is about to be replaced in the public consciousness by another hilariously weird audition, this one featuring (and put online by) silicon-based life form Heidi Montag. In it, Montag tries to prove to Michael Bay that she’s ready to take over for Megan Fox in “Transformers 3″ by clumsily shooting a pistol on a gun range. I wonder if she knows any ABBA songs.

[Photo: “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, 20th Century Fox, 2009]

Are blockbusters really becoming too intellectualized?

Are blockbusters really becoming too intellectualized? (photo)

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Slate sometimes prides itself for contrarianism, but if there’s a point to Tom Shone’s claim that “Blockbusters have become way too intellectual,” I’m not sure what it is. I’ve read it three times and it becomes more baffling every time, because Shone thinks the main problem with “Up In The Air” is that it wasn’t emotional enough, because he’s really looking forward to “Love and Other Drugs,” in which Pfizer salesman Jake Gyllenhaal falls for Parkinson’s victim Anne Hathaway, and because, well, he believes Hollywood movies are too intellectual and not emotional enough.

It should be noted that Shone himself doesn’t use the word “blockbuster” once — the label is only present in the presumably editor-provided subhead. To co-opt the term anyway, it is halfway true that the modern blockbuster is more overtly “intellectualized” than its predecessors. “Star Wars” is about movie love and good vs. evil, while “The Dark Knight” is openly about the ethics of the surveillance state, entropy and the prisoner’s dilemma. “Superman” is about a dude who can spin the world backwards on its axis and reverse time, while “X-Men” is an allegory for homophobia and tolerance.

One thing most blockbusters do have in common is that they tend to be much more fun to pick apart subtextually than smaller-budget movies, which have to focus and achieve their goals with precision — there’s not much room for error or weird outside influences to sneak in.

04022010_x2.jpgBlockbusters, though, have cash and resources to spare. They also often have scripts that are easily distracted or lavishly incoherent. While that may not make for flawless viewing, it does make things interesting in other ways. Blockbuster casts are frequently stacked with actors possessed of far more acting talent than they’re required to display (see John Malkovich’s upcoming turn in “Transformers 3,” or Ian Holm slumming in “The Day After Tomorrow”), which lends to all kinds of odd connotative experiences, in the same way that it’s impossible to watch “Gandhi” without getting weirded out by Candice Bergen’s presence. Some actors take their images with them no matter where they go.

Of course, you can pick apart blockbusters for subtext all day long for academic ends — the “Alien” series has become a cornerstone of feminist studies. But they’re also unintentionally resonant, overlapping with actors that summon up all kinds of memories and themes they can’t process in ways that don’t require intellectual stretching to pick up on. The great independent films may be better at achieving their goals as intended, but it’s the blockbusters that can, unintentionally, pick up on things that will linger long after they’re meant to. Long after Malkovich’s sole feature directorial effort “The Dancer Upstairs” fades away, we’ll still parse him through these weird paycheck tangents.

[Photos: “Up In The Air,” Paramount, 2009; “X2,” 20th Century Fox, 2003.]

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