Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening This Week

  • Hop- Animated film brought to us by the writers of Despicable Me and the director of Alvin & the Chipmunks (oh boy) about the Easter Bunny and his teenage son who dreams of becoming a rock star.  Features the voice work of Russell Brand, James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Hugh Laurie, Chelsea Handler and Elizabeth Perkins.
  • Insidious- Haunted house movie from James Wan (the director of Saw) and Oren Peli (the director of Paranormal Activity); isn't cute that the puppeteers of the biggest horror schlockers in recent years are joining forces.  This one stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne.
  • The King's Speech (PG-13 edit)- Lord help us all!  Mercifully re-edited and rid of that bloody "f-word" that plagued the Best Picture winner with a R-rating.  Thankfully and generously the good folks at The Weinstein Company have done away with the offensive epitaph and now children young and old can enjoy without such destructive content.  Hopefully the film will make some money now, because obviously $373 million worldwide gross is much to modest for such an epic tale.
  • Source Code- Two years ago, Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) made his feature debut with the nifty, retro sci-fi trifle Moon, now he's back with another one starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who can live out the last eight minutes of someone's life, and judging by the trailer, he must save the world, fall in love with Michelle Monaghan and take orders from a video feed by Vera Farmiga.  Okay, I'm in.
  • Cat Run- Quirky action comedy from director John Stockwell.  Stars Paz Vega (Spanglish), Janet McTeer (remember when she was Oscar nominated for her wonderful performance in Tumbleweeds, anyone?) and Christopher McDonald.
  • In a Better World- The 2010 Oscar winner for best foreign film finally lands in the United States.  This one, the Danish entry from Suzanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire, Brothers- the original, better version, not the 2009 Tobey Maguire one.)
  • Super- James Gunn, the director of underrated 2006 horror flick Slither, comes back with a superhero parody starring Ranin Wilson and Ellen Page.  This movie likely would be more appealing had it not felt like it hard already been made, like last year with Kick-Ass.  Why is that certain parody must all come out in waves...could still be fun however.
  • Trust- a ridiculously strong cast-- Clive Owen, Catherine Keener and Viola Davis star in director David Schwimmer's on first glance made-for-TV-like family drama about a family coping when an online predator attacks a child.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Tree of Life

It's getting real...will it actually open in theaters?

Midnight in Paris Trailer

Our first glimpse of the latest Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris.  It's a bumpy ride being an Allen booster, for which I blame my endless passion for Manhattan and Annie Hall back in my teens; both of which are timeless and seminal in my upbringing.  Of course since the glory days of the 1970s and the interestingly reflective and absurdest films of the 1980s, it's been hard...there have been majors ups (Bullets Over Broadway, Deconstructing Harry, Everyone Says I Love You, Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), yet there's been major downs (pretty much every other film), yet it would be sacrilege to turn away.  I like America's greatest screenwriter, I like Paris, I like midnight.  This one stars Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates, Rachel McAdams, and bearded Michael Sheen and a strangely hidden from the trailer Marion Cotillard.  It opens the 2011 Cannes Film Festival this May.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Opening This Week

  • Sucker Punch- Zach Synder, he of the massively popular Spartan homoerotic epic 300 (2007), and the less popular, but more ambitious Watchmen (2009), and the even less popular children's picture Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) returns with the heavily stylized girl prison\dragon fighting exploitation film.  It stars Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgeons, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino and Jon Hamm.  Who's curious?  I think even if the film turns out to be awful, it will be so in such interesting ways. 

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules- sequel to last year's springtime hit Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  As a former wimpy kid, I have no interest in revisiting those days...

  • Miral- The Weinstein Company waiting til now to release Julian Schnabel's at one point awards contender.  Disastrous reviews at last years Venice Film Festival were likely the culprit for it's soft early spring opening.  A drama centered around an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in the wake of Arab-Israeli war and caught in the conflict.  The film stars Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and Hiam Abbass (The Visitor.)
  • Potiche- French film directed by Francois Ozon (of the wonderful Under the Sand and the absurdly fun 8 Women) comes a retro comedy starring the grandest, Frenchest dame that ever was, Catherine Deneuve as a trophy wife prone to wearing track suits.
  • White Irish Drinkers- 70s era crime film about two brothers plotting to rob a local theater on the night of a Rolling Stones concert.

Win Win

With films like The Station Agent and The Visitor, writer\director Tom McCarthy has a clear understanding of grounding human comedy and drama.  And while the premises of both films read like bad television-- the aloof dwarf obsessed with trains, or the aloof college professor aiding an illegal immigrant-- the play with such a natural rhythm and grace that's crystallized by fine writing and wise casting choices.  Never flashy, nor outlandish, McCarthy excels at crafting quiet humane situations and exchanges between regular folks.  He continues the tradition with the everyman dramedy Win Win, which while never revelatory or groundbreaking, is a pleasingly soft slice of life with characters that feel as finely etched as your next door neighbors.  While, perhaps, not quite as good as his two prior works (McCarthy is also an actor; you might remember him is such films as Michael Clayton and Syriana, and a co-writer of the Pixar triumph Up), Win Win is a film that in less competent hands would have likely been a contrived, and potentially shrill bore, and it's in his generous humanity for his characters, and his actors, that such long stretches of the film feel so warm and authentic.

Small town Jersey lawyer Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is struggling-- his practice has been whittled down to senior citizens, and their silly, arbitrary concerns, the wrestling team he coaches has never won a match, money is tight.  Right off the bat, Win Win feels like a standard issue sad sack vehicle for Giamatti, a role the fine actor can play in his sleep, but McCarthy's light touch never denounces Mike as a simple, sad schlep, but a real American man facing very real concerns.  That light touch gives Giamatti to wink and smile and open up in a way that feels fresh, marking one of his most gentle and soft performances to date.  He's got a lovely wife Jackie (Amy Ryan), two children and a nice house, as well as an old high school friend Terry, played with not a hint of subtlety by The Station Agent's Bobby Cannavale, he's the one caricature in an otherwise very real environment.

One of Mike's clients is Leo (Burt Young), an elderly man in the first stages of dementia, who wants nothing more than to live out his life on his own, in his own home.  He's got no one to take care, and after noticing a nice financial incentive comes along with becoming the lonely old mans guardian, Mike pounces.  There's a glitch of course, as in life, no one can really ever get anything for free, and that unexpected surprise comes in the form of Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) a young teen runaway, and Leo's grandson, who after running away from his broken seeks solace in Jersey.  Mike takes the troubled teen under his wing, and lo and behold, he's actually a great wrestler.  Win Win is neither particularly interested in getting into the familial mess of the young kid nor wrestling itself, instead it's an amusing collection of characters, most of whom seem completely out of place from one another, and the humanistic interaction between them.  Be it Mike's anxieties, Jackie's blunt straight-forward Jersey talk, or Kyle's reticence.  And as contrived as the plot may sound, it plays quite naturally, and boils down to circumstances that feel very ordinary.

The real gift of Win Win, beyond McCarthy's deftly textured screenplay, is the actors amassed.  Giamatti is front and center, but there's a wonderful generosity between the ensemble-- Amy Ryan can probably play this part in her sleep, but the compassion and no-nonsense sweetness shines through even while playing a variation of the standard long suffering wife role.  Plus McCarthy has the great sense to give wonderful character actors supporting roles, some perhaps with only a few scenes, but feel as nicely calibrated as the leads, including Melanie Lynesky as Kyle's mother, Jeffrey Tambor as one of the wrestling coaches, and Margo Martindale as an attorney.  For those seeking a pleasing and affectionate human dramedy; this is a 'Win Win".  B

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Hollywood sparkles less tonight and perhaps permanently with the passing of one of truest, greatest, ripest and richest movie stars that ever existed.  Where would one begin to start on her legacy on cinema.  As the youngster who first made her mark in National Velvet (1944), or the goddess who claimed such classics as A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956) and the Tennessee Williams' classics Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959); silly Production Code be damned, this woman had such raw sensuality, beauty and talent that ignited any screen, not matter the size (I've only been privileged to see these massive films on the small screen!), or the grand goddess acting without a net in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1996.)  Or do we start with the Richard Burton years, which not only provided a great Hollywood love affair (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had nothing on them), as well as wonderful dripping films, all of which seemed a commentary on their relationship at the time-- tempestuous, passionate, aggressive, hostile and loving-- my personal favorite is their interplay in The Taming of the Shrew (1967.)  Or do start with the disaster that was Cleopatra (1963), which at the time nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, and still managed to get nominated for Best Picture.  Or her eight husbands, one of which-- Eddie Fischer-- was stolen right from Debbie Reynolds!  Or her beloved diamonds, her humanitarian efforts fighting against AIDS when it truly was brave; damn Reagon era screwed everything up!  Or her friendship with Michael Jackson.  Or the wondrous movie land chemistry she shared with Montgomery Clift, proving once and forever they don't make like they used to.  Or her two Oscar wins (the first for Butterfield 8 (1960), a film she publicly rejected and famously won the award while showing off her tracheotomy scar, the second for Virginia Woolf, a landmark if ever there was one.)

My first encounters with La Taylor were auspicious, due mostly to my age, not taste-- it was The Flintstones (1994), and her brief voice work as Maggie on The Simpsons (she just sweetly said, "Daddy."  But Hollywood has lost a legend, and the overwhelming sadness will last a while, I'm afraid.  Do oneself a favor and check out her glorious filmography, and treasure it, for she was more than a gossip fixture, husband stealer, and wirey Golden Globe presenter...she was a goddess.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God of Carnage

Something for crazy film people (like me) to obsess about as the first still of Carnage, based on the Tony winning play God of Carnage hits the world wide web.  Directed by Roman Polanski (who we can safely assume is responsible for the grisly and precise name change) and starring Jodie Foster, John C. Rielly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz...I can already see the For Your Consideration ads, and it's kind of headache inducing.  The play revolves around two sets of parents meeting after their children get into a fight at school, and is set in real time all in one room-- which, according to reports, is how the film is going to be; Polanski must feel confident enough to pull this off, with the inevitable criticism of "stageyness" just ready to be unleashed; of course he should be confident with his filmography, and a major mojo re-boost last year with The Ghost Writer.

The original play starred Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and James Gandolfini, all of whom will be reprising their roles this spring at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles; which I'm desperately itching to see.  They were all Tony-nominated, and Harden won Best Actress in a Play in 2009.  I'm sure if it all works out, next year all four leads could be Oscar-nominated as well...

Mars Needs Moms

Based on the book by Berkeley Breathed, Mars Needs Moms is a perfectly adequate minor Disney animated feature.  Using the same stop motion affect that Robert Zemeckis (a producer here) implemented with such facial creepiness in The Polar Express, that was later perfected with Avatar, this sci\fi adventure tale, while perhaps not a technological breakthrough in the sub-genre, is competently rendered.  Here we have a young kid named Milo (voiced with various tweaking by Seth Green), an average hyper-active youth with a long suffering mother (Joan Cusack, whose warmth transcends any techno nonsense), an absentee father, and a wandering imagination.  He's the kid out of every Disney picture, or Steven Spielberg film for that matter.  But this evening, something unexpected happens-- Milo's mother is held captive by intergalactic something or others, and after a fight where he said something he instantly regrets, Milo chasing the saucer and goes along for the ride; destination: Mars.  It appears the red plants needs moms, not to parent the little ones so much as continuing a tradition of strong, obedient work and order-- Milo's mom was chosen because she was good at getting her son to take out the trash.  There's doom afoot and Milo must save his dear mum and learn some valuable lessons along the way.  He also meets another Earthling, one with a sad past, played with consistent irritation by Dan Fogler (Take Me Home Tonight), and walks through a barrage of sets that seem borrowed by WALL-E and Tron, but there's a slight charm throughout as well; it's muddled and bit uneven, and very desperate to please, but a nice B-quality sense of nostalgia that makes it go down quite nicely.  B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Frankly, I must admit I gave up on this after the first movie, which I heavily enjoyed for the record, but never needed nor deserved a long-gestating franchise.  Bias out of the way, perhaps the reboot will be fun; I like the fountain of youth angle.  Out are Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and director Gore Verbinski; in are Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha.)

I'm still in award season fatigue, so it's difficult to even imagine that summer is almost upon us!

Chlotrudis Award Winners

PICTURE: Winter's Bone
DIRECTOR: Debra Granik, Winter's Bone
ACTOR (tie): Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Goes Boating
ACTRESS: Hye-ja Kim, Mother
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
ENSEMBLE CAST: The Kids Are All Right

And on that note, goodbye 2010!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Memento: Ten Years Later

Today, ten years ago the great modern noir twisty art funhouse thriller Memento opened in the United States.  In an age where it's difficult for filmmaking to truly surprise us, what with every trailer giving the game away from first glimpse, and our own savvy societal bias to anything familiar, Memento was just that, a surprise.  Made on the cheap, and banking only because it's nutty premise was so intriguingly juicy and new, cleverly incorporating every noir idea of the last century into one super tight puzzle-- amnesia, murder, cops and gals whose alliance are unclear-- beautiful.  And the audacity of staging it all in reverse-- labyrinthine memory games should always be this much fun.  It was also the beginning of the movie universe of Christopher Nolan, and I think by now we all have to refrain and realize it's his world, we're merely living in it.  I feel very old now, since I vividly recall watching Memento on the big screen, however I continue to tattoo my memories of this striking film all over my body...emotionally at least!

Memento earned two well deserved Academy Awards for Original Screenplay and Film Editing, although rest assured it deserved far more.  It won neither, and while Nolan received his first DGA nomination here, he was slighted, which has become a semi-annual Academy tradition at this point, snicker, boo!  However, it's tricky, wondrously original storytelling and structure must remain hallmarks in the modern cinema.

Larry Crowne trailer

I've been embracing Julia Roberts a lot more recently.  Probably because she makes fewer films these days, but this one looking a bit, well...meh.  Written, directed and starring Tom Hanks.

Red Riding Hood

We all know the fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood," as she's off to grandmother's house and lured by a the big bad wolf.  In Catherine Hardwicke's wretchedly awful, Twilight-y adaptation, the story is fleshed out.  Fleshed out with such out-there oddity, gonzo acting and such nutty visual sense, that it makes Julie Taymor's avant-garde period pieces seem understated by comparison.  Yet for such an illogical, non sense film it's bad in such interesting and strangely pleasurable ways, that it must be stated that there's major talent associated with this film-- no one could make something this grandiose and bizarre without something.  A new camp classic might be it's best hope at a lasting legacy.  Odder still is that a major movie studio (Warner Bros. in this case) would pay the bill for such an aggressive strange adaptation of a such a famous tale, credited screenwriter is David Johnson (Orphan.)  And while the young female contingent that made Twilight the phenomenon it is may coo to the Gothic mist of Red Riding Hood, the best hope for anyone else is to sit back and embrace the inappropriate giggle bursts.

Little Red is giving a name, Valerie, and is played by Amanda Seyfried, whose photogenic complexion was clearly given more attention too than her character.  She lives in a quaint village, date and time unspecified, but there's lots of fog and snow-- the sets appear lifted from a Disneyland park attraction, but a very lovingly created one.  Valerie, a young comely girl, and the prettiest in town, is torn between two men, the brooding, dangerous love since girlhood, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the richer, brooding one she's meant to marry for a better future, Henry (Max Irons.)  Both are incredibly pretty in that airbrushed, WB television show sort of way, impeccably groomed.  For such a small town, they obviously know how to take care of their skin.  Most of film is torn up in this love triangle that lacks any sort of passion or much interest-- in truth both boys are fairly interchangeable, despite such pleasant hairdos.  Seyfried does better than required, she has the right come on, but the film doesn't quite know what to do with it, and oddly puts the star in the back of the herd for a lot of the film.

The town is of course haunted by the famous wolf, who for generations has terrorized the quaint village and is rearing to destroy it all, one pretty person at a time.  Early on a plan is set where the men will go off and kill the beast-- and they think they do, the first time out, twenty minutes into the feature.  And they celebrate in an aggressively and atrociously bad sequence where all the townspeople get their party on and drink up a storm.  At this point, there can't be anything to take seriously, embrace the giggle fits.  Of course their wrong, the wolf is still out there and still on the hunt...for Valerie.  A priest-- Father Solomon, played without a care in the world by Gary Oldman, reveling in his pay check and an opportunity to do whatever the hell he wants, comes to save the town, rid it of it's sinful beast.  That he's the most amoral character in the film may be a small commentary on church ethics, or a typing error in the script, either way it's all very arbitrary.  Oh, oh, yes there's also Grandmother, played with witchy verve by the great Julie Christie, who like Oldman hams it up masterfully.  Grandmother is an odd one, certainly not the saintly, kindly matriarch one might expect.

Valerie pines for the two boys that love her, as the wolf rages on, killing more of the ridiculous members of the town.  There's lots of fog and snow, and fire.  The wolf itself is an throwback to '80s era dopey special effects, but there's an endearing cuteness to his silly design.  The werewolf is, but of course, one of the townsmen, but who?  It all gears to a ridiculous twist ending, that must indeed, have made M. Night Shyamalan jizz in his pants, it's on that level.  Embrace the giggles... D+

A Brief History of Title Design

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

One forgets how much the title design of a film used to be, or how much fun is should be.  It sets the tone for the entire the great Hitchcock classics....

Battle: Los Angeles

It's the end of the world in Battle: Los Angeles as aliens strike the fair city with forceful tenacity.  Ripping off nearly every disaster movie plus War of the Worlds, Alien, District 9 and Black Hawk Down, there isn't a cue or cliche that Battle: Los Angeles doesn't miss, everything is expected, from the jerky camera shots, debris-filled landscapes, and easily identifiable character ploys.  Yet, for stretches (especially in the middle), the film is actually kind of enjoyable-- leaner and tighter than it has any right to be, and in small doses pleasurable in it's cheesiness.  The problems arise when the film abandons the cheese, the goes down the road of self-importance with forced emotional interludes and an irritating sense of pro-military propaganda.  When what should have been firmly more embraced was that gleeful sense of doom, it would have helped a lot if Shelley Winters had been available.  That's the nature of cheese-- it should never be subdued; make it large and make it grand.  Just because the world is ending means we should lose our sense of humor.

First we meet our hero, Staff Sargent Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), he's a longtime Marine with a painful backstory close to retirement on for one more fight, we've meet this character before in every action\heist movie ever made.  His loyal team includes a newbie, small and virginal, a soldier undergoing therapy visits desperate to get back in the field, a young man grieving the loss of his brother (which conveniently relates to Nantz's painful backstory), and so on and so forth...all the players are nearly interchangeable and only decipherable by cliche; they might as well have been named "Sleepy" and "Dopey" and "Moody,"  The fun begins soon as newly detected meteors are detected hitting the Earth at rapid speed in LA and nearly every other major city on the globe, but we're only interested in LA, otherwise the title wouldn't make much sense.  Except these aren't meteors, but aliens intent on crushing mankind, so the Marines step in...they're the only ones who can save us you see, and the Marine recruitment sci-fi action extravaganza starts to tease us with mayhem, getting are juices flowing for the money shot of pure F\X destruction, there is a small dash of that palpable, adrenaline busting sense of "what the fuck."

We unfortunately never really get it, we get a mildly pleasurable middle section of getting our characters from Point A to Point B, but the pure cheesy money shot never happens.  Our brave Marines dash from one LA spot to another, and in Ten Little Indians style, many die.  Part of the problem is the aliens themselves, they're so arbitrarily designed and plotted.  We get their big and bad (a bit about genetic artillery is shamelessly stolen from District 9), but never feel their evilness, any film must always remember that the villain needs to be loved to be hated.  I recognize it's pointless to really criticize a film like this, of course the film-loving pretentious type are suppose to hate such obvious popcorn junk, but there's a bit of longing, not this would ever be a great film, but it could have been meatier junk food.  C+

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


One of the most priceless moments of cinema when Claudette Colbert hikes up her skirt to show up Clark Gable in 1934's It Happened One Night.  Directed by Frank Capra at the top of his craft (apologies to It's a Wonderful Life devotees, but this is his prime work); a sublime and absolutely wondrous screwball comedy-- it even ignited the censors and women (and I'm sure a few men) with the sight of Gable sans undershirt.  To say they don't make 'em like this anymore is both a sad reminder that true cinematic romance and whimsy has dissipated, and that the societal mores are too wise to pure screwball.  Watching this beaut now might seem dated, but remember, this one invented more than a few of the rules, and the chemistry between it's ace leads is legacy in itself.

For trivia sake, this film has a few grand legacies-- it's the first film in Oscar history to win picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay (the only others to accomplish this rare feat were One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs), it was also the first film to win both the Oscar and the top prize at the National Board of Review.  Of course, statues mean nothing; Colbert hiking up her skirt for a ride stays forever-- it's at turns sexy and goofy-- one the of the best moments of American cinema ever.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Arthouse Films Aren't Quite Dead

Something noticeable happened this past weekend at the North American box office-- an arthouse film, actually two of them, performed not just strongly, but wonderfully.  Jane Eyre, the latest umpteenth adaptation of the "great" novel won the prize of having the best per-screen average of any film opening in 2011, while the Christopher Walken crime drama Kill the Irishman scored the second highest theater average of the year.

Jane Eyre- $45,721 (on four screens)
Kill the Irishman- $29,086 (on five screens)

Now films like The King's Speech and Black Swan did double, triple this on first weekend, but these are great starts for upstart films.  Money and movies make my head hurt...

Super 8 Trailer

This trailer is ridiculously good.  Off the bat, I felt a certain sentimental goosebump when I saw the old trademark Spielberg Amblin Entertainment logo, as if being transported back into the time of my childhood, excited for some movie magic.  And this J.J. Abrams directed, Spielberg produced picture seems eager to recall the popcorn movies of yore.  Plus it about the cinema, but the greatest aspect is that is explains absolutely nothing, giving one confidence for a movie that can entice purely on ambition alone; it's biggest star is Kyle Chandler, so wonderful on TV's Friday Night Lights, but hardly a marquee name.  Plus the young blonde girl has a Hitchcock hair bun...I'm eager...

Happy Pi Day

I'm no good at math, but I'm grateful that Darren Aronofsky is in my movie universe!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Opening This Week

  • Battle: Los Angeles- My fair city takes a beating this weekend with the sci-fi\action\alien disaster flick.  I love disaster movies, or at least the disaster movies of yore (Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno), they had the right ingredients of melding effects with comedy, with a slight dash of camp thrown in for good measure.  The modern ones seem so wooden in comparison, the acting and writing too overtaken by the computerized razzle dazzle.  Then again, this could be soon pleasurable Grade-B schlock.  Either way, it's poised to win the weekend.
  • Mars Needs Moms- 2011's latest 3-D spectacle uses the same motion capture technology implemented in Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express, Zemeckis himself is a producer of this Disney animated hybrid based on the book by Berkeley Breathed.  What strikes me about this film, featuring the acting\voices\impressionist facial expressions of Seth Green, Dan Fogler (Take Me Home Tonight) and Joan Cusack, is how barely visible the film appears to be, did Disney try and bury this one, and why?
  • Red Riding Hood- Amanda Seyfried dons the famous frock is an adaptation of the favored fairy tale directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight), with a supporting cast featuring Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas, Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie.  The odds are likely against this one, but I'm mildly intrigued, and all that promise that Hardwicke showed on her debut feature- Thirteen, while reasonably depleted since then, I marginally maintain hope in her finding the right balance between pop and informed female characters.

  • Black Death- an arty period horror film set during the great plague starring Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, John Lynch and Clarie van Houten (Black Book.)
  • Certified Copy- The latest from acclaimed international filmmaker Abbias Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, The Man Without a Past) stars Juliette Binoche (in a role that earned her the best actress award at last year's Cannes Film Festival) and William Shimmel in a playful and romantic drama that calls to mind the Before Sunrise\Sunset, which is always a good thing.
  • Jane Eyre- The first high minded period drama of 2011, coming courtesy of Focus Features, in a prestige bouquet arrangement, and glowing reviews (it's right now at least the top reviewed film of 2011) starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins and Judi Dench.  Directed by Cary Fukunaga, his second film after the acclaimed 2009 Sin Nombre.  I feel like I've seen the trailer to this seven thousand times, so I'm glad to finally be rid of it.
  • Elecktra Luxx- a sequel of sorts to the 2009 indie Women in Trouble, which was a not terrible Almodovar rip off starring Carla Gugino (always enjoyable) as a pregnant porn star.  She is supported by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Alicia Silverstone and Timothy Olyphant.

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin

It has been announced that Julianne Moore, an actress I freely and obsessively admit that I absolutely adore, and have for quite some time will tackle the role of Sarah Palin in the upcoming HBO movie Game Change, based on the bestselling book about the events of 2008 election.  It will be directed by Jay Roach, who recently did the HBO film Recount, about the 2000 election, which is reassuring because that one was actually kind of good, unlike a few of Mr. Roach's feature films.  I love the idea of Moore tackling a baity role for a network prone to quality, and idea of her potentially getting at the very least an Emmy-- really how can an actress so profoundly and otherworldly talented have so few trophies on her shelf, aside from a crap load of critics award citations and a Venice Film Festival win for Far From Heaven.  But again I worry, since the muse-like, incandescence of Moore's depth has mostly come from an original, almost primal place, not the showy art of mimicry, she's untested there.  I also worry that because Ms. Palin is such a character (one that given a certain political taste, I for one wouldn't mind a little less of), and one that was so spot-on mimed before with Tina Fey, will that dampen whatever Moore brings to the character.  I need a moment to pine at some of her best work:

Boogie Nights, Safe, Far From Heaven, The Kids Are All Right
And of the film itself-- political gossip is hard to tackle on screen.  Getting the tone right is important (the quality of Josh Brolin's performance couldn't save the tonally awkward, and damningly schizophrenia of Oliver Stone's W), and Palin is such an easy target.  Urgh, I've ranted myself into a tizzy, and feel the need to close...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rango & the Animated Onslaught of 2011

The altogether strange and hopelessly precious animated western Rango makes an interesting case for itself: how can a film so visually interesting and affectionately rendered be ever so dull?  It's the story silly.  And on that end, the Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) directed, John Logan (The Aviator) scripted animated fable doesn't really have one; it's all smoke and mirrors, a cavalcade of visual gags (a few of them admittedly endearing), a vocal showcase for Johnny Depp, who needn't actually appear on celluloid to ham it up, a slight observation of eco-friendliness and greed, but nothing can hold it all together.  It's as if the filmmakers forgot somewhere down to road that a plot might be essential to keep things going, so every third scene or so, they tread it lightly forward, more interested in sights along the way.  Which would be fine if they were any good.  Instead it's a dry (hopelessly dry) picture about lizards and slimy things and the silly wars waged between.  Yet there's something that rubbed me the wrong way about this exceedingly violent send-up of westerns.  I can deal with the flat jokes and forced irony, but really this film is incredibly violent, as all the reptilian heroes of the film are packing serious weapons.  And this is intended for children.  Yeep!

The lackadaisical mediocrity of Rango makes me wonder if the animation boon of the last fifteen years is starting to fade away.  As a devout junkie of the medium, I sincerely hope not, and again it's not particularly far to blame one less than stellar film for the doom of an entire art form, but the options especially this year give me cause for alarm.  In 1995, when Pixar revolutionized the medium with the first Toy Story, it's impression was so indelible one can argue it changed modern filmmaking forever.  With the great success of Pixar, and it's wondrously original (key word: original) products they've achieved unparalleled success both commercially and artistically, as well as a butt load of Academy Awards, and two Best Picture nominations.  The second tier was DreamWorks, whose first Shrek and last year's How to Train Your Dragon reminded that they can compete with the all mighty and make artistically viable films too, however they're sequel-leaden track record has a few smudges.  Even other studios found success in the last ten years, including Universal (Despicable Me) and Warner Bros. (Happy Feet.)  The last decade even included great specialty animated fare with Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Triplets of Belleville, Persepolis, and The Illusionist-- all of which were Oscar nominated for animated feature, and commercial successes in their own right.

But the future looks grim, at least this year.  The biggies coming are way are Cars 2 from Pixar, a sequel (the only film they've franchised other than Toy Story), which comes with a whimper instead of grand expectations.  In the great consensus, and in my biased opinion, it's the least of the Pixar greats, not formerly horrible, but a spot in a perfect record of unmatched quality.  It also speaks volume about certain greediness-- rumor has it that the Cars merchandise is so so lucrative that that was the agenda behind number two.  The other giant of 2011 is DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda 2, yet another sequel.  Remember the reason why animation got the modern boon it did was because the vast majority of the products were original, that can never be forgotten.  On that end, Rango is indeed original, but it's also shallow and bad.  Of course, to put things into perspective, we always romanticize the past and fear the worst for the future-- movies in the 1940s weren't all classics, those are just the ones we remember.  As a junkie of the medium, I pray it hasn't lost it's mojo.

The Adjustment Bureau

The enjoyably overcooked and just plain right daffy paranoia thriller\love story The Adjustment Bureau has a few of the elements that hearken back to the days of Alfred Hitchcock.  The scenario of a good man, unjustly wronged by a sinister all encompassing powerful group, the good girl by his side, a smattering of political all brings back wondrous memories when twisty thrillers used to give such pleasurable knots in your stomach.  Unfortunately first time director George Nolfi (writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's Twelve) doesn't quite know how to make all the strong elements on screen pop in a dynamic, cohesive way.  In adapting a short story from Philip K. Dick, modern cinema's most popular writer for twisty whatchamacallits (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next), Nolfi gives away the good too early for genuine suspense to really get us all hot and bothered, leaving a highly watchable piece of disposable filmgoing, when it perhaps could have been a nifty throwback to the master.

Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an upshot politician making his bid for a Senate seat for the state of New York; presented as brash, young and authentic, with presidential potential to boot.  And also a bit of a self destructive guy with a miserable past.  He meets Elise (Emily Blunt), in a meet-cute, seemingly by chance, only in the movies sort of way (it's in a boys restroom no less), and her free spirited British charm sparks not only David's political career but his heartstrings as well.  Unfortunately fate has other plans for the budding lovers, or the ones in charge of fate, who come in the form of fedora wearing Mad Men-types (John Slattery naturally plays one of the messengers.)  They're known as adjusters, who foresee that everyone is leaving their lives according to a plan already made up for them.  While there's certainly a nifty subtext at work to the free will vs. determinism debate, The Adjustment Bureau settles for surface depth, for as seemingly on top of their man in keeping when away from his girl, they keep running into each other, another meet-cute moment on a bus, so on and so forth.

What keeps the energy going for as long as it does must be credited to the easy going, sweet rapport of Damon and Blunt.  It may not exactly be the old school Hitchcock magic of James Stewart and Grace Kelly, but in certain glimpses it comes awfully close, with Blunt's flirty demeanor and Damon's straight man mug.  The problem lies in that Blunt's Elise gets short shifted in screen time, we need more of her to really root for them.  And we get too much of the adjuster guys (Slattery, Anthony Mackie, and baddie number one, Terrence Stamp) who are too mechanical to be seen as legitimate threats, and who spill the beans on the fun within the second reel...suspense needs a longer through-line to keep those stomachs in such delightful knots.  Mackie, a fine actor, is unfortunately given the villain with a conscience role, one that unfortunately recalls a past Matt Damon work in my eyes at least, as the saintly black guy-- The Legend of Bagger Vance-- frightening.

Yet through the daffiness, Nolfi holds it mostly together with a competently made glossiness.  It holds out until the climax where are the loose ends spiral out of control, right when the film should be at it's most vibrant.  The fun house sequence at the end should be a jolt to senses, instead it comes across as routine, almost arbitrary.  C+

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Opening This Week

Paranoia, lizards, and an 80s flashback, oh my!  For the first in quite some time, there's so real options coming our way.
  • The Adjustment Bureau- Matt Damon headlines, alongside Emily Blunt, John Slattery and Terrence Stamp for an adaptation of a short story by Phillip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly.)  A romantic thriller about the fate of a promising politico and a dancer.  While faith in this project has diminished slightly (it was originally supposed to open last summer), reviews have been decent, if not spectacular.
  • Rango- Johnny Depp headlines a looney tunes sounding cartoon from the director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean.)  Bonus points: it's not in 3-D.  I've had a strange aversion to this for some time; the reason I'm not really sure, but reviews are promising.
  • Beastly- Beauty and the Beast goes the tween route with Vanessa Hudgeons and Alex Pettifyer (I Am Number Four)'s long delayed.
  • Take Me Home Tonight- The always likable Topher Grace and Anna Faris team up for an 80s flashback comedy (a guess it's the Hot Tub Time Machine of 2011) about a young dude's coming of age over one crazy night.  I'm sure this one will be utterly disposable, but for guilty pleasures, it's tempting.

  • HappyThankYouMorePlease- Winner of the Audience Award at last years Sundance Film Festival, How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor wrote, directed and stars in this relationship dramedy.  The ensemble includes Malin Ackerman, Zoe Kazan and Kate Mara.  For the privileged to be live in New York or Los Angeles, you can find out why the five word title is only one.


One thing we didn't see at the 83rd Academy Awards was the lip-lock between Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem before they presented the screenplay awards.  C'mon, lighten up world: they're just old buds (and No Country for Old Men adversaries); would a discerning viewer really object?  I handily and proudly say "NO!"

Meek's Cutoff

Now that True Grit has made the western fashionable again, here's the indie alternative.  Starring Michelle Williams, who as I surmised yesterday has the most enviable (at least to my impressionable eyes) post-Oscar nomination slate ahead, re-teaming with her Wendy & Lucy director Kelly Reichardt.  Also stars Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson.  While I'm totally aware this will be an acquired taste already, it's the first 2011 film I'm totally psyched about.  Plus the one sheet is absolutely frame worthy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Happens Next...

Picking the next project after an Oscar nomination can be difficult.  Sometimes, as it the cases of Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges, they can net another nomination.  Bridges, who won last year from Crazy Heart, was up again for True Grit, while last year's bridesmaid, Firth was up for A Single Man, and came victorious this year for The King's Speech.  In their company last year was also Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker, who was up for supporting actor this time for The Town.  Who will return next year:

Javier Bardem- He's going to follow up the Spanish miserablist melodrama Biutiful, with Terrence Malick's next film, which is still untitled and co-stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz.  Malick's upcoming The Tree of Life is just opening this May after a long delay, so don't expect this one to come out in 2011.  Bardem, a new father with fellow genetically gifted Spaniard Penelope Cruz is also rumored to be up for a role in the next Bond film.

Jeff Bridges- The Dude appears to be taking it easy for now.  Aside from participating in a nutty-sounding documentary\animated feature called Pablo, and a speculative film option called The Seventh Son, there's not much on his slate.

Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network star, on the other hand, is keeping plenty busy.  This spring, his distinctively prickly voice will be used in the animated feature Rio, from the Ice Age guys.  He'll also appear in more indie-driven comedies Free Samples, co-starring Jess Weixler (from Teeth, who I want to see more of) and 30 Minutes or Less, opposite Danny McBride.

Colin Firth- The 2010 champion is wasting no time-- he'll appear in the Cold War thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy co-starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman later this year, has committing to heist flick, Gambit, co-starring Cameron Diaz, and written by the Coen Brothers, a remake of the 1966 film of the same name that featured Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, and may co-star opposite Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska in grief drama Stoker.

James Franco- The first time Oscar nominee may have stumbled as host this year, but he has no shortage of projects lined up.  The ubiquity of the year of Franco has just begun-- next he'll reteam with his Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green for the adventure comedy Your Highness, co-starring 2011 ubiquity queen Natalie Portman, segue that into the indie drama Maladies, about a mentally disturbed actor, co-starring Catherine Keener.  He'll further change gears with Rise of the Apes, a re-vamping of the Planet of the Apes flicks, and may close out 2011 with his directorial debut, The Broken Tower, about poet Hart Crane.  All that and a rumored Broadway engagement with fellow 2010 nominee Nicole Kidman in a revival of Sweet Bird of Youth.  And that's just on his plate this year...whew! I'm exhausted.

Annette Bening- The 4-time Oscar bridesmaid (seriously she had to be a strong second place each time out) looks to be taking 2011 off, but 2012 might be a good one for die-hard Bening fans-- she'll be in Hemingway & Fuentes, directed and co-starring Andy Garcia, opposite Anthony Hopkins, about the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea, and might re-team with her American President director Rob Reiner for the dramedy The Third Act, co-starring Morgan Freeman.

Nicole Kidman- After getting back her Oscar groove with Rabbit Hole, Kidman has some promising stuff on her slate.  She's already returned to screens with a cameo in the Andy Sandler film, Just Go With It, well go the genre route with Nicolas Cage in Joel Schumacher directed Trespass (which I think is a safely assumed miss), might appear on stage opposite James Franco in a revival of Sweet Bird of Youth, will court a potential Emmy (perhaps she'll be a Triple Crown victor by years end) with the HBO filmed Hemingway & Gellhorn, opposite Clive Owen about the inspiration of For Whom the Bell Tolls (that Hemingway guy is popular), then might appear opposite Colin Firth in Stoker.

Jennifer Lawrence- The Winter's Bone beauty (who became only the second youngest leading actress nominee in history this year) has a bounty of stuff coming our way.  First up, is the bound to be controversial The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson, then the bound to be blockbuster with X-Men: First Class, where she play a youthful Mystique, followed by a supporting role in the Sundance grand prize winner (that makes her the star of two in a row) Like Crazy.

Natalie Portman- We've already seen two of Portman's nine thousand 2011 projects-- the winter hit No Strings Attached, and the indie flop The Other Woman.  Next, she'll appear opposite James Franco in Your Highness, appear in the 2010 Sundance holdover Hesher along side Joseph Gordon Levitt, and join the Avenger ranks as the romantic lead to Thor.  Of course, her most personal 2011 project will be that of mother, and while the personal lives of the rich and famous are of little interest to me, one must ask the question whether Portman will join the ranks of past Best Actress winners (Swank, Witherspoon, Winslet, Bullock) who found themselves unlucky in love after winning the Oscar?  Let's hope not.

Michelle Williams- The lovely Williams will follow her second nomination with an eclectic trifecta in 2011, each sounding juicier than the last, in my humble opinion.  She soon be on screen in Meek's Cutoff, a western from her Wendy & Lucy director Kelly Reichardt (YAY!), which has already been praised after running the festival circuit last year.  She follows that with My Week with Marilyn, as Ms. Monroe, opposite Kenneth Branagh, and lastly might close the year with Take This Waltz, a drama directed by Sarah Polley, opposite Seth Rogan.  The latter was based on a script that was on the blacklist a few years back as one of the best unproduced screenplays; and I love my some Polley-- her directorial debut, Away From Her, earned it's actress, Julie Christie, an Oscar nomination.  If I were a mad predicting fool, I'd suggest Williams has the strongest shot for a return to Kodak next year; thankfully I'm not that big of a fool.

Christian Bale- The Fighter winner will return to screens with a 2012.  He'll star in Zhang Yimou's The 13 Women of Nanjing, play scientist Nikola Tesla, and return to small-scaled, more independent work with a little film called The Dark Knight Rises.  Hopefully, an adventurous filmgoer will make that movie slightly profitable.

John Hawkes- Hawkes will follow his Sundance breakout and first nomination for Winter's Bone, with another Sundance hit-- Martha Marcy May Marlene, which won the directing prize this year.  He will also be apart of the crazy all star cast of Contagion, the new thriller from Steven Soderbergh, co-starring everyone in the Screen Actors Guild-- it's my best bet for a Best Ensemble award next year.

Jeremy Renner- The former indie actor is moving on to big, big things.  This year he'll co-star with Tom Cruise in the fourth installment of Mission: Impossible, exciting only because it's being directed by Brad Bird.  Although, Ghost Protocol has to be one of the lamest subtitles in cinema history.  He'll follow that with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, opposite Gemma Arberton, and if the damn thing ever happens will suit up as Hawkeye in The Avengers.

Mark Ruffalo- The Kids Are All Right sperm donor might appear opposite fellow nominee Javier Bardem in Cogan's Trade, the new film from director Andrew Dominik (whose last-- The Assassination of Jesse James was a true marvel), will replace Edward Norton as the Hulk in The Avengers, and while it's silly to assume the movie will ever come out (it's been like six years), he is credited to Margaret, the long-gestating second film from Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) co-starring Anna Paquin and Matt Damon.

Geoffrey Rush- American audience might be privy to the Australian drama The Eye of the Storm, in which Rush co-stars with Charlotte Rampling, however three-time Oscar nominee (and one-time winner) will be far more accessible returning to his role of the evil Barbossa, in god help us, the fourth film in the Pirates franchise: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in 3-D!  Taking over the directing reins of Gore Verbinski, will be Rob Marshall.  I'll be nice and reserve further comment.

Amy Adams- After the de-glam of her Fighter role, Adams will get far cheerier again with The Muppets, opposite Emily Blunt and Jason Segal.  She'll follow with the role of Jane in Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which would sound awfully exciting if it weren't co-starring Kirsten Stewart and Garrett Hedlund.  She's also joining the ranks of the long lists of actresses who were at some point attached to Janis Joplin bio-pic-- hopefully hers will be the chosen one to actually get made.

Helena Bonham Carter- After three blockbusters (playing two queens) in 2010, Carter will have to settle for appearing in but one in 2011: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II, which I hear is quite popular.  After that, she may appear in husband Tim Burton's (but, of course) adaptation of Dark Shadows, based on the television show.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm totally still rooting on Burton.

Melissa Leo- The wacky Oscar winner always keeps herself busy.  2011 is no exception-- she'll appear in the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet, she also has a role in the controversial Kevin Smith Sundance shocker, Red State, which may never see a cinema near anyone, and will appear in the sports drama Seven Days in Utopia alongside Robert Duvall.

Hailee Steinfeld- It appears that 14-year-old Steinfeld is going to enjoy her youth for a bit, no projects lined up yet...however an Oscar nomination your first time out; not too shabby.

Jacki Weaver- It doesn't appear that Hollywood is calling for her as of yet, which is a damn shame...she was my favorite of the supporting line-up last year, and a meaty role would be greatly enjoyed by me; Hollywood don't be selfish here- think of my needs.

The End

As the afterglow of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards begins to fade to but a distant memory, and really there wasn't too much about this specific telecast to linger in one's memory, there's still the classic mantra of "the show must go on" to hold onto.  "The show," of course is the continued legacy to cherish the incandescence of cinema itself.  For the Academy has always been, and will always be a stubbornly middlebrow community, whose collective tastes are as suspect as agreeable.  But it's not really a statute that confirms one's place in the history of filmmaking.  As Steven Spielberg eloquently put while presenting Best Picture, the names of the films not called join a roster including Citizen Kane and Raging Bull
And while The King prevailed, it was far from dominant, The King's Speech earned four awards, one of the lowest tallies ever for a film with so many nominations, there was a spirit of generosity that extended in the below the line awards, shared by The Social Network (screenplay, film editing, and original score), Inception (cinematography, sound, sound editing, and visual effects), and those are very good things.  Good enough to almost settle with the notion that Alice in Wonderland is a two-time Oscar winner (art direction and costume design), trivia aside: this marks the fourth time a Tim Burton film has won for art direction (Batman, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd and Alice.)  The major winners were largely expected (I successfully predicted seven out of the eight big categories, sadly only missing out on Best Director, which is something we are all, especially the Academy is just going to have to deal with.)  And they all looked a bit tired, I'd suggest-- pretending to be surprised must be difficult, even for the most adept actor. 
Best Actor winner Colin Firth continued his refined thing, while Actress winner Natalie Portman was warmer and softer than in the past, Supporting Actor winner Christian Bale maintained his cool-- all were on their best behavior, except for, and god bless her...Melissa Leo.  Whether shamelessly flirting with presenter Kirk Douglas, or dropping the "f-word" during family hour of television, she was the peak at least for entertainment purposes.  She was having a ball, and while she may have across increasingly nutty throughout the awards season, perhaps even slightly tacky, it still made for an exciting live-wire couple of minutes of viewing.  She played to the rafters!
While the can argue the merits of the winners till the dogs come home, what of the show itself?  The Academy, more desperate than usual, laid it on the line a while back when it was announced Anne Hathaway and James Franco would serve as co-hosts.  A decision that prompted every reaction from stern wrongheadedness, rousing curiosity, and indifference (at least that was my initial reactions.)  The end result was decidedly bland, with one of the more boring telecasts of the recent history.  There were no montages, they ditched the legends toasting the acting nominees (a practice that took place the last two years), brought back the performances of the original songs (which unfortunately had to be one of the weakest years for that category, and that's saying quite a bit), and left a bunch of dead air to co-host Mr. Franco.  Was he stoned?  Just tired from the tireless amount of projects he's got?  Or was it some sort of weird avant-garde performance piece?  Whatever it was, it didn't work; thankfully Ms. Hathaway was game, and played her weak material with utmost precision and charm-- she should have done it solo...

So as the 83rd Annual Academy Awards drifts off into irrelevance, there are things to take away from it:
  • The Academy is the Academy-- and the pundits\cinephiles need to accept it-- The King's Speech is their best picture, it doesn't have to everyones.
  • The Academy needs to realize what they are-- younging up the joint won't impress (ratings were down 10% this year, 37.6 average viewers.)
However, I'll return next year like a proper trained seal.
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