Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patricks Day

It's the day of Irish pride, Guinness taps and green...everywhere green, green, GREEN! And well my specialty is in the cinema, so my top pick today is the 2007 gem Once. Watch it in between Irish car bombs and sing along, rejoicing in this intimate, yet amazing little feature, and the cute love story between a poor Irish busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech flower girl (Marketa Irglova)-- rejoice it in it's poor Dublin setting (missing the customary Irish miserablism.)
It's a miraculous movie and a great mood reliever for however you choose to celebrate your inner Irish-ness. Here's the Academy Award (YAY!) winning song "Falling Slowly" from this beaut of a movie.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Funny People Trailer

Trailer to the new Judd Apatow film....always excited about that. Never been disappointed by films he's directed, just one's he has produced. The cast looks pitch perfect, but this one looks a little heftier, focusing on a dying comedian (Adam Sandler.) Sandler, for the record, looks nicely in Punch Drunk Love mode (I know that was a divisive film-- but I intend that as a compliment.) One quibble already-- why must the trailer reveal everything, I hate that so much.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


So, let me preface, I have never read the Watchmen graphic novel; in fact I had not even really heard of it before the film starting generating such crazy (slightly nauseating) buzz. Apparently it's big...huge...massive. It's a holy temple to some, and after watching the film I think I understand why, even if I didn't fully buy into the movie as a whole. Set in an alternate version of the mid-1980s, where Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as president and a Doomsday Clock ticks symbolically to nuclear devastation. It's the Cold War, and there exists a brand of retired superheroes. It's heady, audacious, incredibly dense stuff originally written by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore (who as in the case of V for Vendetta, opts yet again to go uncredited), and for the first say 45 minutes of the film, it seems that director Zack Synder is up to the challenge. Then the film, seems to succumb to the limitations of the genre. The problem I believe is that the Watchmen mythology is a cult thing through and through, and Synder addresses the cult, but then proceeds to pander to the mainstream anyway. And so, what develops is a challenging piece of pop cinema, that's neither total disaster, nor complete triumph-- which is almost the worst position to be in with material with the potential to be so daring.

I can honestly say that the best aspect of the film is the opening title sequence, where a history of the superheroes are seen in snapshots, while Bob Dylan's "Times They Are a Changing." You see the first set of "Watchmen", or Minutemen and their decades long transformation. It's without question the wittiest and most engaging part of the film. Then again I'm a sucker for a good opening title sequence (why don't they seem to exist anymore) and have always been smitten with Dylan. I have to say that the first few minutes genuinely got my interested and excited about the possibilities-- could this actually be the next step in grand superhero films (like The Dark Knight), and not trash like Synder's own 300.

The actually story starts out with the death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)- real name Edward Blake. He's one of the original "Watchmen" and has a penchant for crimes about women and killing hippies. He's been found and killed at the age of 67. At this point, the "Watchmen" are long retired, fairly reviled in town, and off to individual gloom. The Comedian's death inspires Rorschach (played with mad, feverish gusto by Jackie Earle Haley)-- a paranoid man in a white mask with roving ink spots who walks in the rain, all noir-like, and carries a Travis Bickle-style journal-- to reach out to his ex-Watchmen and warn them of a potential wacking of "masks." The rest of the group consists of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), the smartest man in the world, and only superhero who sold out his identity and cashed in on it. Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a giant blue governmental weapon (he ended the Vietnam War in a week) whose human form was mutated after a accident occurred when he was a young nuclear physicist. Dr. Manhattan is in love with Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), a second generation super prone to tight latex costumes and whinning. The last group member is another second generation mask Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), a bulking Superman type-- out of all them, he's the one true boy scout in a team of anti-heroes and straight out sociopaths.

The most inspired part of the film occurs in it's first half. It's mostly flashbacks and execution of the characters. It informs the characters and the complicated web of Gibbons and Moore's masterwork. From what I've heard, the only difference in text to screen is the a tweaking of the ending. This seems be a strength and weakness-- it works in opening the characters and events, but feels too trapped and bogged down by extreme faithfulness when the story starts reaching it's climax. I realize this is a double-edged sword, as the Watchmen cult is one of the most feverish of comic book nerds, ready with stink eye in toe at whatever indescritions Synder might throw, but it's weakness to those unfamilar with the holy text, and leaves it a bit cold. What does come across crystal clear is Synder must be pleased with the outcome-- many shots are framed are kept still for quite a while (notable since every other action film is sped up to extreme-- thank you Bourne films), which makes the experience slightly colder (at least for me.) What starts out as something promising and mammoth ends up not quite adding up to the sum of its parts and drifting more and more in a series of pretentious production design with Matrix rip off action sequences.

Much has already been made of some lukewarm reviews and and softer opening weekend than expected ($55 million), considering the huge hulabaloo centering Watchmen in the past year (personally I blame Comic-Con), but as much as there is complain about the overall film, I couldn't out and out hate it. There's something obsessive worthy about this band of parodied superheroes and anti-heroes that film sparks but never seems to be able to fully flesh out. There's some exciting set pieces-- a beautiful scene on Mars (where Dr. Manhattan goes in recluse) in the center of the film is exciting and more metaphysically challenged than superhero films allow themselves to go. And there's some genuinely terrific performances-- Billy Crudup makes the naked (yep, it's true, you see it all) CG blue guy part work-- he capabily brings pathos to this special effect. Wilson and Morgan come across equally charming in differing characters-- Wilson's boy scout is decent but smart, while Morgan's Comedian is slick and devious.

Haley's performance is brave in it's daring (how shocking that a film that reportedly cost $150 millions to make would bring about an actor so idiosyncratic and perfect-- again this is why I can't honestly hate too much here.) However my favorite performance in the film was one of it's smallest-- Carla Gugino of Sin City fame plays Silk Spectre I, mother and ex-superhero. Even in the smallish role, she seems to understand this universe moreso than anyone else, especially the vacant Ackerman. She plays the hell out of her damaged character and plays to the rafters-- it's a bit over-the-top, but perfectly pitched-- someone should give her a movie, now! And so, like I said, I can't completely hate these flawed, but interesting Watchmen. B-

Monday, March 9, 2009

Public Enemies Trailer

Another official trailer of another of my most eagerly awaited films is out, and while it looks a bit ho-hum on the outset, I believe the film will work in the end-- Michael Mann's brilliance isn't exactly the sort that makes for great previews-- try and encapsulate Heat or Collateral into two minute sound-bytes. Very excited!

Up Trailer

Pixar's latest has a full trailer out, and it looks scrumptious, as per usual. Can't wait-- need fix now...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The utterly enchanting new film from Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach), adapted from an enchanting tale by Neil Gaiman, is a beguiling stop motion charmer. So charming in fact while the 3-D gimmick attached to film is beautiful, it's also unnecessary. No such gimmickry should be required to get folks to theater for this. Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is your typical young girl, an adventurous tween trapped in small town malaise. Her parents are too focused on their garden book catalogue (despite a disinterest in actual gardening or the outdoors-- too dirty says mother), and she's just moved to a new town. Left alone to her own devices, Coraline is left to her imagination. Well that an a handful of odd people in her housing complex-- the awkward neighbor child Wybie (his name literaly translated to "Why be born?"), the upstairs rat contortionist Mr. Bobinsky (voiced by Ian McShane), and the spinster sisters downstairs (voiced by the "Absolutely Fabulous" team of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders to utter perfection.) The beginning portion of Coraline is a bit slow, but not in a bad way, in a character and visually building way. What feels so authentic in the first half is that even in it's splendor-ific stop motion universe, the film really vividly gives off the ennui and loniliness that childhood can often be. There's a beautiful montage of a bored Coraline counting the windows and doors of her strange new Victorian home-- made moving by the beautiful accompaniment of Bruno Coulais' wonderful score.

And what's in that strange Victorian house, but a portal to an alternate world-- a trippy and colorful Alice in Wonderland fantasy land, where alternate mother and father are attentive and fun. (For the record, Coraline's mother is voiced by Teri Hatcher in both real and alternate world form, and while I will never claim myself a fan, her voice work here is terrific; Coraline's faher is voiced by John Hodgman.) Her neighbors are fun, existing only to perform for her; the outside gardens are plush and magnificent (a prime example of visual eye candy in every shot of this marvelous film-- of course Selick is a pro at this), even Wybie is there, without the ability of speech (much to Coraline's delight.) But as with Alice, there's always a price in wonderland, and soon Coraline learns the truth to her alternate reality and the hell that it really is. I'll stop on the story, but it's clever in it's twists of expectations. My only qualm is I wish Coraline had opened last year so it would have been Oscar nominated. So rejoice this beautiful film-- in 3-D or not.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The 81st Academy Awards

Well, it's been a week-- I've gone through the five stages of grief, finally acceptance-- I can now remove the 2008 movie year from my memory. Thankfully!

PICTURE: Slumdog Millionaire
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
ACTOR: Sean Penn, Milk (link to speech)
ACTRESS: Kate Winslet, The Reader (link to speech)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (link to speech)
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Milk- Dustin Lance Black (link to speech)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Slumdog Millionaire- Simon Beaufoy
FOREIGN FILM: Damages (Japan)
ANIMATED SHORT FEATURE: La Maison en Petits Cubes
ART DIRECTION: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button- Donald Graham Burt & Victor Solfo
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Slumdog Millionaire- Anthony Dod Mantle
COSTUME DESIGN: The Duchess- Michael O'Connor
FILM EDITING: Slumdog Millionaire- Chris Dickens
ORIGINAL SCORE: Slumdog Millionaire- A.R. Rahman
ORIGINAL SONG: "Jai-Ho," Slumdog Millionaire
SOUND MIXING: Slumdog Millionaire
SOUND EDITING: The Dark Knight
MAKE-UP: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
VISUAL EFFECTS: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

And that's the end of that one-- and Slumdog brought home 8 of a possible 9 Oscars, as expected. I got over the fact that the film would sweep despite my reservations about it a long time ago-- no point in dwelling on it anymore-- time to prove my right eventually (RIGHT?) On a prediction standpoint I did pretty well (expecting the Slumdog sweep) missing out on Actor and sound editing only. On the Sean Penn point-- he'd been running neck and neck with Mickey Rourke all season-- so that doesn't really count-- and well either way the winner was completely worthy-- Penn's win is still one of the best of decade. And when the biggest surprise is in a sound category, you know it's a lame year.

Not that the whole show was a loss, and a bit more watched than last year (13% up, a modest, but good thing)-- Hugh Jackman proved a terrific showman (link to his opening number), playfully mocking the films and bringing back a little song and dance. Somebody should give him a musical (and for that matter give one to Anne Hathaway too, for her nicely showtuney gamemanship in the Frost/Nixon section.) It just would have been nice if they'd bother to use more of Jackman's movie star charisma (didn't he just disappear after that?) Also, the theme of announcing the categories in the way films get made (from script to production to post-production) kinda worked. It especially would have worked if most movies seemed to be made that way nowadays (just an aside!) Also bring back Steve Martin and Tina Fey, the best presenters of the night (let them host possibly?)

What didn't work was the a strange acting categories by having announed by five previous winners-- it's felt too crowded up there, and more than a bit self-congratulatory in the bad way, not in the sublime way it can be at the Oscars. The musically numbers aside from the opening sucked too (but that goes back to the whole problem of the Oscars continuing to nominate crappy songs-- I've gone off on that one too much as well...) But the numbers about musical numbers with the scrappy kids of High School Musical and Mamma Mia!...boo!

What may stick with me the most are the speeches from the expected winners-- the Man on Wire guy doing magic (beautiful-- more people should have fun with it.) Sean Penn getting political (surprise, surprise), but also astute (his observation about how hard he makes it for everyone to like him had me stitches) and politically incorrect ("commie, homo-loving son-of-a-guns" has to become a trademark expression from now on.) Kate Winslet whistling to her father was the cutest moment-- I'll just pretend in my mind the great Kate won for Eternal Sunshine instead, and Dustin Lance Black's heartfelt speech was the most intelligently optimistic of the night. I heart!

Good Bye 2008, now be better 2009!
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