Thursday, April 28, 2011

Albert Nobbs

One of the interesting curiosities of the fall 2011 film slate has to be Albert Nobbs, a passion piece for Glenn Close about an English woman who disguises herself as a man and becomes a butler in in 19th century male dominated Ireland. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who has knack for putting together interesting pieces for women...Mother and Child, Nine Lives, Thing You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her and co-starring Mia Wasikowska, Jonathon Rhys-Meyers, Janet McTeer, Brendan Gleeson and Aaron Johnson.

I'm hopeful that this could be a reminder of the great power of Glenn Close.  It's been too long since she's truly dominated a movie before.  Remember, she was a giant in the 1980s, earning five Oscar nominations.  She pretty much sat the 1990s out, and reigned on television in's time for a triumphant return.

Love the teaser poster.

Meek's Cutoff

The Meek in the title refers to Stephen Meek (played with a sketchy beard by Bruce Greenwood) who imposes himself as the leader of a group of families across the Oregon Trial circa 1845.  But it could also refer the film itself, a quiet and meandering independent confection, directed by Kelly Reichardt, and written by Jonathon Raymond.  Both of which collaborated on Old Joy (2006) and Wendy & Lucy (2008), quiet slices of life from the perspectives of which one would never think of as cinematic.  And yet, the quiet, novelistic reveries of both those films, as well as Meek's Cutoff in their own not insignificant ways recall a hopeful and refreshing to the almost dormant aesthetic of American independent cinema.  While Wendy & Lucy was a small slice of life feature about a runaway and her dog, Meek's Cutoff, is bigger in scope, but, if possible, even more taciturn and ponderously paced.  To some it will come across majestic, to others it will be like watching paint dry, and the marvelous thing about it is, that it appears to have been made as wished, without compromise, or notes, and without a care in the world of being commercial...good thing, considering it's middling box office numbers.

What this is an unassuming slice of life western detailing the lives of three families, Mr. Meek, and the Indian who is captured along the way.  We see lots of hiking, pitching tents, scrambling for water.  We get an up close look at a group of characters lost and stranded.  And yet so many allusions can be made from this potentially (and probably) doomed voyage: the whole nation of Manifest Destiny comes across right in the faces of the dirt-stained actors, it appears even the bonnets worn by the female characters have their own story.  Reichardt and Raymond are never explicit about anything, but there's so much atmosphere, and so much detail in the wagons themselves, the women darning clothes, the secret conversations between the men and the quiet gossip between the women.  It feels almost too-lived in, almost invasive as we, the audience, walks along for nearly two hours with this troupe.  They include young man and wife Thomas and Millie (played by Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan), married couple William and Glory (Neal Huff and Shirley Henderson) who are expecting their second child, Solomon (Will Patton) and his young wife Emily (Michelle Williams.)

To say there would be no movie without Michelle Williams would be an understatement-- she is through and through the soul of the film, and I'm sure the main reason how this visually breathtaking film got financed in the first place.  With every gesture, quiet line reading, or long tracking shots of simply her walking, she firmly reminds how striking an actress she is, and like in Blue Valentine, or Brokeback Mountain, or Wendy & Lucy, appears so strong, despite on the surface playing such fragility.  With only two films together, Williams and Reichardt appears symbiotic in their cinematic approach, and she's almost an embodiment of the west itself, as well as laying on a lovely feminist subtext with every glance.  B

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin

The first image of Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin has surfaced.  It's for the HBO TV Movie Game Change, best on the bestselling book, chronicling the 2008 presidential election.  Directed by Jay Roach, who did the HBO TV Movie Recount, about the 2000 presidential election.  Joining Moore will be Ed Harris as John McCain.  As has been documented more than once here, Julianne Moore is one of the few modern screen performers that I so breathlessly admire, even while she wiles away in undeserving crap (sadly, she does that often), however no matter how this one turns out, no doubt she's a ballsy actress.  Too face a character (and by which, excuse my mild political aside: Palin cannot be a real person) of such contention, and utterly clueless sound-bytes, a mere couple of years after Tina Fey masterfully conquered nearly all of them is ballsy indeed.  But so far, looks fairly convincing.  Maybe Moore will rack up another Emmy: she previously won a Daytime Emmy (for Best Ingenue) for her duel role in As the World Turns.

Opening This Week

  • Fast Five- Nearly ten years to the date when the first The Fast & the Furious opened and became a surprise summer sleeper.  Two years later came 2 Fast 2 Furious, three after that came Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and three years later came Fast & Furious, now two years have passed and the fifth (?) installment is opening, to shockingly the best reviews of any in the franchise history.  The gang's all here, plus The Rock, ahem Dwayne Johnson.  Perhaps the box office will finally pick after winter\spring slump.  Thing again only two weeks ago, Scream came out with it's fourth installment and one never knows.  Either way, I'm sure since it's already an international success story, a sixth installment will come in two\three years.
  • Hookwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil- Hold it, there's a second sequel nobody exactly asked for coming out this week too!  Yep, six years after the first Hoodwinked opened, it was one of them self-aware Shrek-type takes on fairy tales (and rather modestly it did (it made $55 million stateside, and a tad bit over $100 million globally), the saga everyone forgot long ago returns.  This time in 3-D, and Hayden Panettiere taking over the vocal talents of original Red Riding Hood Anne Hathaway.
  • Prom- I love how movies now more than ever are simply about days or holidays (think: Valentine's Day, or the upcoming New Year's Eve), pretty soon they'll be "Graduation Day." "Arbor Day," "Monday"...why not.  Walt Disney brings to light the best (and worst) days of a teenagers life.  Thanks Disney.
  • Dylan Dog: Dead of Night- Supernatural thriller with a totally awesome grade-B cast: Brandon Routh, Peter Stormare, Sam Huntington and Taye Diggs.
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams- Werner Herzog, mighty Werner Herzog returns to cinemas with the first ever 3-D documentary.  In this one, he showcases the little seen and gets exclusive access inside the Chauvet Caves in Southern France, where present contains the oldest pictorial creations of humankind.  I suppose, it's about time 3-D has given back some.
  • 13 Assassins- From Takashi Miike (Audition, 2001-- very unsettling movie!) comes an action, carnage fest, featuring a 45-minute action sequence...I'm exhausted just thinking about watching all that.
  • Exporting Raymond- Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal makes a documentary about transporting his Emmy-winning and celebrated sitcom overseas.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Perhaps ever since Reese's Pieces were so prominently featured in E.T., the idea of product placement in movies has seemed out of hand, unintentionally funny, corporately evil and just good business sense.  All at the same time.  We, the consumers, are always being sold to, and it's always been that way, perhaps the pop ups on our internet browers and favorite television shows just come across more desperate than in the relatively more tasteful pasts when cigarette companies sponsored television game shows.  Morgan Spurlock, the puckish, gimmicky-driven documentary filmmaker decided to make the first film entirely funded, sponsored by corporations.  The winking full title is POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.  And just like his past gimmicks, the McDonalds diet from hell he put himself through in Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama bin Laden, and his television reality show 30 Days, it's not a bad gimmick.  This one just happens to be flimsiest-- the world of advertising is a welcome target (why else would Mad Men be so popular), and in truth, most studio films would never have quite the glossy sheen without the ever present sports cars, or preferred soda brand.  And to be fair, there's some giddy little pleasures in store as Spurlock quests to shill for every company, big and small, in order to make his little gimmick work.  Unfortunately, it lacks the emotional subtext of something like Super Size Me, which again took aim an easy target, but used it as a platform for a more thoughtful discussion of a large American problem, and while detailing the rapid deterioration of his Everyman body, Spurlock was able to entertain, but also repulse, like a gentler Michael Moore.  Here, there's barely a blip of any sort of commentary or discussion, just lots of round-table discussions with (justly) suspicious ad men, and likely contractually obligated name-dropping.  Spurlock is clearly having a ball, and there's some nice invention with his gamemanship and sales aesthetic, but there's very little actual material here.  There's a sampling of interesting topics, like advertising in schools, and a brief trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city where advertising is outlawed, but both are almost arbitrarily mentioned and quickly forgotten.  He gets some smart people to join him on his fun, notably Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, but again, it feels both parties are just trying to sell something.  C+

Tim Hetherington

Very sad news, as British born war photographer and documentary filmmaker Tim Hetherington was killed yesterday while covering the conflict in Lybia.  Known, at least to cinephiles, as the co-director of the wonderful 2010 documentary Restrepo (partnered with Sebastian Junger), nominated for the Oscar but two months ago.  He was also an incredibly respected photography, with a varied body of work-- photographs in Vanity Fair, covering Afghanistan for ABC News, and the Darfur documentary The Devil Came on Horseback.  He won the World Press Photo Award in 2007.  I know Restrepo best, and the wonderfully, lived-in, almost unbearably close insight into the nature and psyche of the soldiers followed was, far and away, some of the best footage of this dubious war ever documented.  I'm grateful that a film like this exists, period.  Incredibly sad news, Hetherington was 40 years old.

Opening This Week


  • Water for Elephants- Depression-era romantic epic set around a traveling circus, adapted from the bestselling novel by Sarah Gruen.  Stars Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz.  I'd have a bit more faith in this utterly cinematic looking feature perhaps with better casting and a director like Baz Luhrmann-- just an idea!  Yet, I'm sure the one-emotion (bland staring) that Pattinson has honed and director of I Am Legend are good too. 
  • Madea's Big Happy Family- Wow, it's been seven months since the last Tyler Perry production (For Colored Girls), feels like the longest gap since he started churning out his tragic\comic soap operas.  I swear this one came out already; either way it might be the last saving grace for a decent opening weekend until summer officially bangs us on the heads. 
  • African Cats- The latest Disneynature film, just in time for Earth Day.

  • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold- Morgan Spurlock, the prankster documentarian of Super Size Me returns with the first movie ever paid for by advertisements.  I saw it last night (more to come later.) 
  • Incendies- Nominated for foreign language feature by this years Oscars, this Canadian film focuses puts a family mystery right in the heart of Middle Eastern country.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scream 4

Christmas time 1996: A new horror film with a terribly attractive cast just opened up on screens.  It was branded a horror-comedy and the fresh angle was that it put a sarcastic, and decidedly self-referential spin to the laws of slasher movies.  Not just a slasher, gut-the-pretty-girls genre piece (of course, it was that as well- a genre staple ever since Janet Leigh entered the shower in 1960), but also an almost communal experience to unite all the film nerds who worshiped the glory days of 1980s slasher movies.  Adding to the meta-fun was that it was directed by a master of many of those flicks, Wes Craven.  The film, of course, was Scream, and with it's clever, perhaps all-too-clever self awareness of the grade-B fun that these movies are supposed to be, but so rarely are, it was new and exciting and successful.  Two sequels and eleven years later we jump to Scream 4, and all that precious cleverness, as well as the telephone-haunting, Ghostface-stabbing feels, sadly, dated.  The tides of time are all too apparent as the film wares down-- this isn't the age of Scream-- that would be the late-90s, and the too-cool, overly articulate movie geek dialogue is, at times, painfully stale.  Perhaps, it's that in the interim, we (the moviegoing collective) have endured nearly a 1,000 Saw films, a joyous Dawn of the Dead remake, and even more joyous parody Shaun of the Dead, nearly 1,000 dreadful other prequels\sequels\reboots\whatchamacallits, Paranormal Activy-s-- we've become too aware of the horror machinations that Scream 4 explains to us throughout.  Yet, for the truly devoted, and even the semi-fans of the venerable franchise (like myself), there's still moments of giddy little jumps and bouncy banter delivered by an ensemble that's old school and new-- again all terribly attractive and ripe for a stabbing.

The best part of Scream 4 is it's opening-- it's best since Drew Barrymore met her fate in the original outing-- a funny\scary\meta, finely calibrated fake out.  It dishes everything prime and sweet and bloody about the series, with it rattling off dialogue of horror movie cliches and surprise stabs; Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell are good sports in their quickie cameos.  At first it's a redesign (it was written by original scribe Kevin Williamson), rather than sequel, declaring, with it's campaign slogan, "new decade, new rules," and the opening re-sparks the nifty comedy\horror that felt so fresh to begin with.

It's ten years later, and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns home to Woodsboro.  She's on a book tour, her writing-- an inspirational tome about overcoming the odds of victimhood and such.  Her old allies are there-- Dewey (David Arquette), whose turned from Barney Fife to Andy Taylor, and steely reporter Gail (Courtney Cox), now there married.  We also meet the fresh new breed of potential victims\suspects, starting with Sidney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), and her high school cohorts, all a comely group of young actors fresh from the WB stock house.  Of the new school, Hayden Panetttiere and Rory Culkin make the best impressions.  And just as the cheesy, gleeful ride of the opening fake-out ends, we realize everything is back to normal-- people start dying, the typical fake out whodunnit starts (is the ex-boyfriend of Jill's, or the social awkward deputy, or...), all while horror movies, both old and new, are dissected and name-checked.  Thankfully, there's still a loving nod to the sneaky, original question that started it all..."What is your favorite scary movie?"  It becomes clearer as the movie meanders about, that it's not Ghostface that's the problem here, but rather, father time.  The dithering, all-too-self-awareness of the dialogue (the same that was fresh fifteen years ago) starts to come off arch and forced.  And while, on surface value, there's nothing inherently wrong with Scream 4, it feels necessary and unwelcome.

Well, when I say there's nothing wrong with Scream 4, I'm mistaken, there is one painful move of wrong-headedness, and sadly it's the last stretch of the film.  It has a bit of the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King condition in that it doesn't want to end.  There's about six ideal spots where it should take it's bow, and refuses.  All the winking it gives to it's audience can't save it at this point.  These new rules for a new decade it promises goes out the window with the sad notion that it's time that killed this production.  C+

Saturday, April 16, 2011

10 Most Eagerly Awaited Films This Summer

It's been a mostly forgettable year in the cinema so far, and it's hard to believe that summer is so rapidly approaching.  Of course, Hollywood has pushed the summer movie season up so far, it can be a bit misleading.  Coming our way, an assault of sequels-- Harry Potter, Transformers, Cars, Kung Fu Panda, The Hangover, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spy Kids, awwwwwww!  A few wannabe franchises-- Thor, Captain America, The Green Lantern; 'tis the season to leave ones brain at home, and indulge on high calorie studio crap to go with your over-priced popcorn.  It was hard to find ten movies that I'm eagerly awaiting, so bare with me, and let's get through it together.

10. The Beaver- Perhaps more a curiosity piece than anything else (it was really hard looking for quality stuff; on paper at least) but there's always a fascination with the hopeful redemption of someone, and is there anyone in Hollywood in need of better PR than Mel Gibson.  Before the personality appeared to completely take over, he was at times a capable and charming movie star.  More so, I've always been intrigued by Jodie Foster's body of war, when it's up, it's absolutely tremendous, and even when it's down, it's usually still interesting.  She's directing- her first since the underrated 1995 comedy Home For the Holidays, which interestingly chronicled another troubled actor issues, Robert Downey, Jr.  The premise is an odd one, of a depressed man (Gibson) finding solace with his beaver sock puppet, but with the right restraint, maybe it can be modern Harvey. Foster co-stars along with Anton Yelchin and recent Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence.  Opens in May.
9. The Help- Adapted from the best selling novel, and directed by first timer Tate Taylor, The Help is a '60s era ensemble drama concerning the lives and class struggles of a group of women in Mississippi.  What intrigues me about it is through and through, the cast, a wonderful group of actresses who, assuming the work jells, could make this a savory piece of cinema, and perhaps an awards contender.  Of course, sight unseen, one never knows.  The ladies of The Help are Emma Stone, the charming light comedienne who each film out affirms a movie star in the making, Viola Davis, who is nearly always captivating (even before her awards honors in Doubt, she made the most of potentially sketchy roles in films as varied as Far From Heaven and Antwone Fisher, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson provide the veteran support.  Also stars Bryce Dallas Howard, an actress who for some reason or not, I oddly appreciate without particularly ever liking any of her performance, and the suddenly high in demand Jessica Chastain, who appears in about ninety films this year...I'm very curious.  Opens in August.
8. Cowboys & Aliens- A sci-fi western starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, okay, I'll give it a try.  From director Jon Favreau, whose noticeable fatigue on Iron Man 2 caused a blip in an otherwise amusing collection of films, adapts from the comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg a story about cowboys taking on some extra-terrestrial critters.  It might just be hokey enough to work, and out of the endless supply of studio popcorn flicks soon to be hitting us all over the head, I'd rather spend some time with Mr. Craig and Mr. Ford, two actors who usually know what kind of films they're in, than some of the other, lamer wannabe heroes coming at us.  Opens in July.
7. X-Men: First Class- Am I really looking forward to this, or is this looking more and more like one of lamest summer movie seasons of recent memory; it's hard to say.  X-Men gets rebooted, five years after director Brett Ratner nearly destroyed the series, and after the mostly deserved goodwill from the first two films directed by Bryan Singer, that was not the easiest thing to do, now Matthew Vaughn takes the film, he of Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake partial fame.  This prequel sets the stage for young Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Magneto, ahem Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to begin their epic quarrel.  McAvoy and Fassbender are always of interest, and the teaser trailer hinted that their might be some good fun in store...  Opens in June.
6. Midnight in Paris- Woody Allen returns, a bit quicker than usual after last fall's dreadful London picture, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.  This year, he continues his European quest, filming in Paris for the first time.  This is probably way to high on the list, seeing as the past decades have not been overly kind to Woody Allen fans, but you never know-- in the past decade he has surprised us at least twice, with Match Point (2005) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008.)  Here's hoping his latest ensemble comedy-- this one featuring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Mimi Kennedy and Adrien Brody-- refreshes the palette.  Opens the Cannes Film Festival, and hits theaters in May.
5. Beginners- With a trailer that looks like a precious dramedy concerning the relationship between a recently out father (Christopher Plummer) and his son (Ewan McGregor), one poses the question what type of film Beginners is going for-- cutesy or sobering.  Either way, it will take a deft filmmaker to pull it off-- it's helmed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker.)  Whatever the approach, Plummer and McGregor are more than capable from turning potentially saccharine material to total mush, and the steely Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) co-stars as McGregor's girlfriend, so either way, I'm totally there.  Opens in May.

4. Crazy, Stupid, Love- The sad destruction of the romantic comedy genre has boiled down to one concept-- get a group of famous actors together (the more, the better), write a half backed script (perhaps compiled from a self-help book, episodes of Sex and the City, or merely based on national holidays), and bam, you're good.  Crazy, Stupid, Love, from the naughty guys behind I Love You Phillip Morris may prove no better, but at least a wonderful group of actors came aboard-- Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei-- and while the infectious trailer may have but included the only watchable parts of the film, this one appears, on the surface anyway, acutely aware of what it's selling.  Perhaps the defunct genre may fully recover, but I'm hopeful, this one won't be the culprit.  Opens in July.
3. Tabloid- Festival favorite of last fall, Errol Morris returns with a documentary about a former beauty queen who was charged for abducting and imprisoning a Mormon missionary.  Here's hoping the insightful and brilliant mind of such game-changing films like The Fog of War (for which he won the Academy Award), The Thin Blue Line and A Brief History of Time can bring some much needed brain power to cinemas; I've got a hunch he just might.  Opens in July.
2. Super 8- The hype is crazy, and enough to almost be sick of already, but every once in a blue moon, even in the land of dumbed down summer blockbusters, it actually delivers.  Hopefully, director J.J. Abrams isn't just blowing smoke with his homage to kind of magic popcorn fare Spielberg used to bring, and the infectious childlike joy is for real.  Abrams already has proven a canny manipulator of pulp fiction, first on television, with Alias and Lost, and already rejuvenated a lost franchise with 2009's Star Trek, bringing a taut, and at times joyous variant of the summer blockbuster.  Now after teasing us, and quite brilliantly, it's time for the film to actually be seen, expectations to be brought to mere mortal standards, the curtain to raise to hopeful movie magic.  Opens in June.
1. The Tree of Life- I'm tired of waiting, and that's all director\auteur\poet Terrence Malick makes his humble audience do.  Ready to be wowed and completely immersed in his latest, a '50s era meditation on family, time and dinosaurs.  Not at all sure what this is exactly, but Malick has never delivered anything less than a haunting movie experience.  Stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain-- isn't strange that all of his highly lauded movies have never netted much acclaim or prizes to his actors; going back.  Of course, the star of the show is always Terrence Malick, and it's time to show.  Opens in May (we hope.)
Other curiosities this summer: the Kristen Wiig vehicle Bridesmaids (which she also co-scripted) hopes to out-naughty the R-rated boys comedies, The Whistleblower, about an American peacekeeper in the Middle East caught up in a homeland scandal (stars Rachel Weisz in a potentially interesting role), Larry Crowne, which re-unites movie stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (hopefully a lot more memorably than Charlie Wilson's War; their first film together), Horrible Bosses, a dark comedy starring Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, the South African selection of last year's Academy Award, Life, Above All, and the British comedy Submarine, which was well reviewed during last fall's festival season, starring Sally Hawkins.

Sleeping Beauty

Not the Disney classic, but the Australian film from director Julia Leigh, that comes with an avid endorsement from Jane Campion-- a very good thing.  This trailer to Sleeping Beauty, which will appear in competition at this years Cannes Film Festival, might just be my favorite 2011 teaser.  Evocative and deliberate, it quietly teases the rules of the game, but reveals absolutely nothing-- if Hollywood had any faith in their product at all, I'd advise them to do the same.  The drawback, at least as of this time, may be it's leading lady, Emily Browning, currently modeling the Kristen Stewart acting aesthetic of glaring in rapidly decreasing cinemas everywhere in Sucker Punch.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


The teenage girl killer role has been a popular cinematic motif forever.  In fact, all the chaotic, disorienting facets of Joe Wright's latest- Hanna- have been done again and again; here it's all a misapplied assembling of various filmmaking distractions, and overly indulgent flourishes combined together to make a strange and tonally uneven piece of pop fiction.  Part little girl revenge film, part Euro-trash art house pretentiousness, part Chemical Brothers-scored Ecstasy trip, all brought together by talented people, but never adding up to more than the sum of their parts.  Too self important to truly be fun, and way to self aware and over the top to be taken seriously, Hanna, lies in a purgatory, much like it's hard to pin down title character.  Perhaps Mr. Wright is just out of his element, he of the refined literary adaptations, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, and the sloppier modern melodrama The Soloist; this is his first stab at action, and the plotting and suspense never jells or builds particularly to anything.  None of the fine instruments help flesh out a story that doesn't appear to exist, not the flashy editing, nor the camera tricks, especially not the distracting musical score soon to appearing at a rave near you.  Yet the film is weirdly schizophrenic enough to believe that if a cohesive center were at the center of the film, no matter which way it went, Hanna might have been a terrific picture.  With the proper balls of conviction to embrace the cartoon parts of it truly are, it could have been hypnotic fun, or with the proper restraints, a finely calibrated subtler drama could have worked as well.

We first meet Hanna (played by steely blue eyed Saoirse Ronan, who is no stranger to Bad Seed-like little girls; Mr. Wright directed her to an Oscar nomination for her bratty preteen work in Atonement) in the forest where she is trained and educated by her father (Eric Bana) in all the skills of being a great warrior.  Using a mantra, "Adapt or die," Hanna kills her prey, trains in combat with daddy, and is clearly and cohesively schooled in all ways formal ways.  There's but one sense of a normal girl when we meet her-- she wants to hear music, and engulfs herself in Grimm fairy tales.  Of course, it's her mission that's paramount; one of which moves the story forward, but never quite makes any sense, but nonetheless, time has come for the little forest warrior to make her move to the big city and do some a whole lot of killing.  Ronan, the actress is quietly expressive and almost always compelling, and it's true even here with a character that makes absolutely no sense.  She's brilliant and strong, but also portrayed as a sort of Tarzan idiot savant-- Daddy never taught her how to make polite conversation with natives.

There's more to story as a mysterious dragon lady CIA agent (played with mad brio, but again not much sense by Cate Blanchett)-- she wants Hanna and her daddy too.  There's an exciting early sequence where Hanna is brought into a holding cell and using her ace training manages to outsmart and over power all the guards on route to freedom.  We've seen it before, but glimmers of fun and a sense that a nice ride is upon us awaits...unfortunately shortly after is where the film stalls to bloody halt.  Upon freedom, and her first real sense of the outside world, Hanna meets a vacationing family (the lovely Olivia Williams plays Earth mom) whom she hitches with; we learn she's en route to Germany to meet her Pop.  The family itself, comprised of mom and dad, young boy, and irritating teenage girl are almost portrayed as a parody of an actually family; perhaps on purpose to further screw up young Hanna's ideas of family (her mother died when she was an infant, to three bullets, we learn in one of the lighter scenes.)  Yet the film has the half-witted notion that this is where Hanna learns about humanity or something.  There's added subplots of Blanchett's cronies zeroing in on our young killer, and her relationship to dad, and while I maintain to be spoiler-free, most of which are fairly uninteresting and generically routine.

Perhaps it's after Kick-Ass, Let Me In, The Professional, et al, that I'm a bit over the whole teenage girl killer sub-genre.  Or that Hanna, while strange and visually savored out to a fetistists delight, never grabs or reaches to anything especially new.  The one plus is that this is certainly one of the few times where the young lady killer isn't overtly sexualized, but that's hardly enough to make it work.  The film limps along to Berlin, where we expect to get our climatic bloody conclusion; but instead of ending with the bang we may have hoped after nearly two hours of meandering, off center, tonally mixed adventures, it ends more with a thud.  And not even the loud soundtrack can wake us up.  C-

Opening This Week


  • Scream 4- It's been eleven years, and tons of terrible knockoffs since Ghostface last made his or her appearance.  Now it's back, with director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson.  Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette return with a new batch of young would be killers\killed including Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin.  Who's excited?  Someone, surely!
  • Rio- Hoping to steal some of that box office charity that Hop has had the last couple of weeks, comes the latest animated feature from guys behind Ice Age.  This one's also in 3-D; it's been a couple of weeks since being inundated with third dimension cinema; kind of a nice respite.  This macaw epic features the voice talents of Jessie Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx.

  • The Conspirator- From director Robert Redford, let's all forget his last feature film-- Lions for Lambs-- and remember fondly for his Oscar-nominated work on 1994's Quiz Show.  His latest- starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Evan Rachel Wood looks back at the woman charged in the assassination plot of Abraham Lincoln.

Cannes Film Festival 2011

The official selection for this years Cannes Film Festival line-up:

  • Midnight in Paris- Woody Allen's latest starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen.

  • The Skin That I Inhabit- The latest from Pedro Almodovar starring Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon on the hunt for the man who raped his daughter.  Almodovar famously takes all his films to Cannes and is the past recipient of the Best Director prize (for All About My Mother) and the Best Screenplay prize (for Volver.)
  • L'Apollonide- French film from director Bertrand Bonello, who made his Cannes debut in 2003 with Tiresia.
  • Foot Note- Joseph Cedar.
  • Paterre- Alain Cavalier.
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatonlia- Turkish film from longtime Cannes mainstay Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the Best Director prize in 2008 (for Three Monkeys), the FIPRESCI Prize in 2006 (for Climates), and the Grand Prix in 2004 (for Distant.)
  • The Kids With the Bike- Longtime Cannes favorites, the Dardenne Brothers-- Jean Pierre and Luc return in competition this year with their latest French offering.  They've previously won Best Screenplay (for 2008's Lorna's Silence), and the Palme D'Or twice (in 2005 for The Child and in 2999 for Rosetta.)
  • Le Havre- Acclaimed filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki (winner of the Grand Prix in 2002 for The Man Without a Past, which was incidentally an Oscar nominee for foreign language film the following year) returns with his latest French-Finnish-German offering.
  • Hanezu no Tsuki- Naomi Kawase.
  • Sleeping Beauty- Australian film from debut director Julia Leigh.  Described as a haunting erotic fairy tale about Lucy (played by Sucker Punch's Emily Browning), a young college girl drawn into a hidden world of beauty and desire.
  • The Tree of Life- After year of waiting, and endless speculation...Terrence Malick's latest will officially unveil at Cannes.  In his 40-plus year career, this is only Malick's fifth feature.  He previously was honored at the 1979 Cannes for Best Director (for Days of Heaven.)
  • La Source des Femmes- French battle of the sexes comedy\drama from director Radu Mihaileanu, who directed the Melanie Laurent film The Concert.
  • Polisse- From director\actress Maiwenn Le Besco comes a French film about a journalist who is assigned to a juvenile division and has an affair with one of her subjects.
  • Harakiri- Latest from the Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition.)
  • We Have a Pope- Italian film, from Cannes favorite Nanni Moretti concerns the relationship between a newly elected Pope and his therapist (a bit too soon for a King's Speech knock off, right?)  Moretti has previously won the Palme D'Or (for 2001's The Son's Room) and the Best Director prize (for 1994's Caro Diario.)
  • Melancholia- Lars von Trier's latest provocation, and end of days movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.  von Trier has a storied history with the festival, winning the Palme D'or for 2000's Dancer in the Dark, and the Grand Prix for 1996's Breaking the Waves.
  • Michael- Markus Schleinzer.
  • This Must Be the Place- From Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (winner of the 2008's Grand Prix for Il Divo) directs Sean Penn and Frances McDormand in a story about a retired rock star who sets out to find his father's executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal.
  • Drive- From director Nicholas Winding Refn (the writer\director of 2009's Bronson, which introduced art house fans to Tom Hardy) stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.  About a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman and discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin- Acclaimed Scottish director Lynne Ramsay returns to movies, after a nine year absence-- her last film, Morvern Callar, which starred Samantha Morton, earned her two awards at 2002 Cannes Film Festival.  Her latest, starring John C. Rielly, Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller (City Island) is about the mother of a teenage boy who went on a high school killing spree trying to deal with her grief and responsibilities of her child's actions.

  • Restless- The latest from Gus van Sant starring Mia Wasikowska.
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene- The Sundance hit from director Sean Durkin.
  • The Hunter- Bazur Bakuradze.
  • Halt auf frier Strecke- Andreas Dresen.
  • Skoonheid- Oliver Hermanus.
  • Hors Satan- Director Bruno Dumont won the Grand Prix in 2006 (for Flanders) and again in 1999 for Humanite.
  • Les Neiges du Kilmimandjaro- Robert Guediguian.
  • The Day He Arrives- Hong Sang-Soo.
  • Bonsai- Christian Jimenez.
  • Tatsumi- Erik Khoo.
  • En maintenant, on va ou?- Nadine Labaki.
  • Ariang- Kim Ki Duk.
  • Loverboy- Catalin Mitulescu.
  • Toomelah- Ivan Sen.
  • Yellow Sea- Na Hong-Jin.
  • Miss Bala- Gerardo Naranjo.
  • L'exercice de l'Etat- Pierre Schoeller.
  • Oslo, August 31st- Joachim Trier, director of the acclaimed 2006 film, Reprise.
  • Travailler Fatigue- Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra.

  • The Beaver- Jodie Foster's latest with Mel Gibson and a puppet.
  • The Artist- Michel Hazanavicius.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides- Rob Marshall and Disney make some direly needed publicity.
  • La Conquete- Xavier Durringer.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom- Jennifer Yuh.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Does anyone ever get bothered by the constant and such accessibility of the amount of money a movie makes?  I have a theory that the rules of filmmaking changed when the weekend opening numbers started making news.  Whereas a film is judged as a "blockbuster," or a "hit," or a "bomb," rather than "good" or "bad."  Quality and it's price tag seem rarely mutually exclusive.  Anyhow, this weekend:

  1. Hop- remained at the top for it's second weekend straight adding $21 million to it's tally, bringing it's gross to $68 million.  Proving that family films will usually always deliver, even with creepy animated bunnies acting besides real human beings like James Marsden (no offense to him; he deserves better); however it's 42% drop from it's opening weekend proves that while family are attending, they're not quite loving this Easter feast.  Family films typically drop far less than that on second weekends.
  2. Arthur- It was a Russell Brand twofer this weekend (his irritating British squeal is featured in Hop as well) as his remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore classic brought in $12.6 million on its opening weekend.  I remember back in the days of yore, or more specifically my early childhood (early 1990s era) where that would be considered a respectable number; not so much anymore.  I won't deem it a "flop," since a) I haven't seen it, and b) the numbers should mean nothing anyway...however I'm sure most accounted for already have...
  3. Hanna- The latest in the teenage girl killer subgenre debuted in third with $12.3 million.  While making less than Arthur, it played in nearly 700 fewer theaters and had a marginally higher per screen average ($4,800 versus Arthur's $3,800), so this might not quite have the stigma of failure quite yet.
  4. Soul Surfer- Even better than Arthur and Hanna, was the per screen average of this inspiration tear jerker ($5,000), benefiting from heavy campaigning to it's Christian core no doubt.  It made $11.1 million opening weekend.
  5. Insidious- Bucking the trend of typical horror films, this latest haunted house story from the teams of both Saw and Paranormal Activity dropped only 26% in it's second weekend; horror films usually make all their dough opening weekend and quickly fade away.  I suppose that shows signs of the good word of mouth kicking in, a term that feels strangely outdated...such trained seals we usually are: seeing everything right away.  Kind of curious about this one, since the reviews were atypically positive.  It made $9.7 million this weekend for a cumulative $27.0 million.
  6. Your Highness- The R-rated stoner Princess Bride parody will surely be stigmatized as the "bomb" of the weekend.  Opening to middling reviews and an even more middling $9.7 million leads to assume it will go up in smoke very shortly.  I'm sure the potheads were psyched about this James Franco\Natalie Portman comedy; they probably just got the showtimes wrong.
  7. Source Code- The Groundhog Day sci\fi\runaway train thriller dropped a not terrible 38% percent in it's second weekend for a decent $9.0 million and a cumulative gross of $28 million.  This feels inherently wrong from my take, as it's a fun ride of a film: an Inception-lite if you will.  Director Duncan Jones (Moon) crafted a slick and tight thriller that feels like the type of film that should have lines around the block.  The nutty premise (a man with the power to go back into the last eight minutes of a mans life in order to prevent a terrorist attack) is played with nicely rounded logic and just enough sense of fun and bewilderment that it never made me question the machinations of the plot.  What helps greatly is the rich, humane lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, in what must be the first real grown up role of his career.  B
  8. Limitless- In it's fourth weekend, the Bradley Cooper taking a miracle drug caper is starting to taper off, after it's modest, but undeniable spring success.  Easing 38%, it has now made $64 million.  Except to see Cooper around for a few more years at least-- hopefully not in romantic comedies.
  9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules- Rodrick may rule, but after three weekend the sequel in the Wimpy Kid franchise is all but forgotten...of course until next year when the third installment hits screens.  Dropping 51% percent, it's total gross stands at $45 million.
  10. The Lincoln Lawyer- Dropping only 32%, this Matthew McConaughey lawyer drama, like Limitless, is a modest spring success.  It's cum stands at $46 million.
  11. Rango- The number one film of 2011 (according to box office statistics only) has retired from the top ten in it's sixth week of release.  It's total box office stands at $117 million.  I don't quite get the love for this particularly ugly lizard, nor it's particularly ugly environment, but it must, at least for now, be considered at threat for an Oscar nomination for animated feature.
  12. Sucker Punch- Banished from the top ten in it's third weekend, Zack Synder's porno\asylum mess dropped 65% percent for a cumulative gross of $32 million.  I'm okay being considered a hypocrite here...this stinker's a "bomb!"
  13. Paul- The Greg Mattola (Superbad) directed, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) scripted and acted sci-fi comedy dropped 58% in it's fourth weekend for a total gross of $35 million.  Paul suffers a bit, I believe, of the same condition that destroyed the wonderful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, in that it's Comic-Con endorsed, nerds rebellion has the reek, at least of the surface, of exclusivity.  However, in viewing it's a harmless hash of 80s era Spielberg and Apatow-ian lowbrow comedy, from a decidedly British perspective.  A lot of the gay and pot jokes are stale as hell, but there's a few small performance that make Paul pop, particularly Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver.  B-
I find it truly horrifying in today's state that independent movies really are just movies the studios made 25 years ago, and have given up based on franchise material.  It's a bit disarming that the model has shifted so, that to truly find transgressive, independent filmmaking, you basically have to stalk the major film festivals, and even there perhaps it's bereft of the kinds of movies I grew up with...Safe, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Pulp Fiction come to mind...

Win Win- Tom McCarthy's deft character study led all indies this weekend with a weekend gross of $1.2 million ($5,300 on 226 screens for a grand total of $3.5 million), marking his third mini-success story.  I firmly believe that if McCarthy were writing and directing films back in the '80s, he'd likely have an Oscar by now.

Jane Eyre- The umpteenth screen adaptation is still playing well in limited release ($1.1 million this weekend; $4,800 on 247 screens and total cum of $5.1 million), yet this film makes me miss the old Merchant Ivory days-- no modern filmmaker has yet to really match them in adapting classic novels-- a silent swoon to A Room With a View.

Meek's Cutoff- Eagerly anticipated by a least one Los Angelino (me), this Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy) directed western selfishly only opened in New York this weekend.  Thankfully, it did kind of okay.  It made $22,000 on two screens.


In the past, provocateur\auteur\madman Lars von Trier has tortured the likes of Emily Watson, Bjork, Nicole Kidman and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as well as a few audience members journeying into his films.  Now it's Kirsten Dunst's turn in his latest, science fiction? provocation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love

Perhaps all the insipid Valentine's Day, He's Just Not That Into You rom-com crap has yielded something for the which a romantic ensemble comedy with a glorious cast-- JULIANNE MOORE, RYAN GOSLING, STEVE CARELL, EMMA STONE, MARISA TOMEI-- no one named Ashton or Heigl.  Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris, and co-writers of Bad Santa) and featuring a generous amount of Gosling's body, and chuckles most importantly (love Moore's line: "I went to the new Twilight movie by myself...and it was bad," delivered awesomely)...I handily approve.

Opening This Week

  •  Arthur- Remake of the 80s Dudley Moore charmer about a self obsessed trust fund man child trying to make it on his own.  Russell Brand takes over the reigns, and in a gender swap, Helen Mirren takes on the nanny role made famous by John Gielguld.  Co-stars Jennifer Garner, Luis Guzman, and Greta Gerwig.
  • Hanna- Teenage girl assassin story starring Saoirse Ronan, she of the hypnotizing eyes as the young killer trained by father Eric Bana, while the hunt from the mysterious CIA lady Cate Blanchett.  The pedigree her is fascinating, as it's directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) and features a film score by the Chemical Brothers...I for one am always intrigued when bands tackle movie compositions...and recent examples have been sweet (Trent Reznor has an Oscar to back that up.)  Reviews have been decent, but after Kick-Ass, Sucker Punch, and the upcoming Hunger Games; I'm weirded out on the seemingly endless trend of stylized female terrorists.
  • Soul Surfer- The true story of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer who lost an arm due to a shark attack.  The inspiring tale of her comeback stars Anna Sophia Robb, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt.  Surely to be seen on the Hallmark Channel after it's theatrical run.
  • Your Highness- Director David Gordon Green returns with his latest stoner comedy-- a medieval riff with princes and dragons, and nudity; at least the title is sort of clever.  Stars Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel.  Before Pineapple Express, Green made small, character driven indies like George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow...those films were kind of good. Sigh!
  • Meek's Cutoff- I pains me that the movie I'm most looking forward to this spring opens this weekend, but alas only in New York, not Los Angeles, the sad major city I call home.  For those on the east coast, you can surely delight in seeing Kelly Reichardt's follow up to Wendy & Lucy, a festival celebrated western starring her muse Michelle Williams, as well as Bruce Greenwood and Paul Dano.  It's a sad and unsettling fate that so many smaller and foreign films nowadays don't even open in Los Angeles, and if they do, their relegated to one week engagements, and your screwed.  I hope this film does something because Reichardt has exhibited such rich auteur tendencies in the past...she's a real find.
  • Ceremony- Michael Angarano (Snow Angels, and young William Miller in Almost Famous) plays a young lad attempting to stop the wedding of his love (a cougar-ish Uma Thurman) to a vain actor, played by Lee Pace. On the subject of Pace-- after Pushing Daises, shouldn't this guy be enormously famous by now!  Something tells me this won't be the savior of modern romantic comedies.
  • Meet Monica Velour- Kim Cattrall plays a dried up former porn star in this indie comedy.  Feels appropriate, hopefully she has fun with it.
  • American: The Bill Hicks Story- Documentary that chronicles the life of transgressive comic Bill Hicks. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sucker Punch

Dear Zack Synder,

I write this with the utmost respect, but you're oeuvre is positively nutty, and it's difficult to truly get a sense of what kind of filmmaker you really are, or what kind you seem to want to be.  With your ballsy remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), I was readily on board, and with that film, you exhibited a great sense of play, and a charitable spirit-- casting indie queen Sarah Polley may have been one of the best moves in horror film logic in the last two decades.  There was style, and menace, and fear, attentively executed for maximum frights that felt both old and new school.  With 300 (2007), you're first, and thus far, only blockbuster, it was apparent that style was more your forte than substance, and while I may be in the minority in which felt the film was flat as pancake, I enjoyed the fact that such a decadently homoerotic film is fancied by so many straight men.  Watchmen (2009) was next, and while perhaps expectantly greeted with muted praise, there was something there-- style again preceded substance, but a few performances popped, and more than few set pieces, while perhaps derivative of Kubrick, made one appreciate the ambition and scope of such an undertaking-- I liked, if not loved, the densely crafted subversion of superhero lore.  I missed Legends of the Guardians (2010), you're first endeavor in the world of animation (and 3-D), but I feel the need to request penance for the atrociously and aggressively inanity of your latest, and first original work-- Sucker Punch.

Styled as either a music video, videogame, or bad drug trip-- yes you have a knack, and\or fetish for over the top production values, slow-motion shots, fast-motion shots and pop music variants.  But, you must remember, that some sort of story, or emotion, or gravitation force must be there to make your audience want to take this journey.  You, perhaps, were going for a cheesy fun ride, and that's all well and good-- I'll take cheese anytime, as long as it's not quite as insipid, or boring as the latest you've provided.  Here, there's the barest inking of a premise, performed by cast who appears not to know at all that the hell their supposed to doing; all of which choreographed by a director who should know better at this point-- this isn't you're first film, nor is it even you're most expensive.  Never forget story-- this one, set in a mental institution\brothel focusing on a screwed up lass named Babydoll (Emily Browning: previously film credit: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) and her fight to save herself and her crazy, and barely dressed friends from the evils inside.  For randomness, or maybe just something far and away too sophisticated for me, she drifts into fantasy dimensions where she's fighting dragons and ghoulish baddies, and in WWII.  It sadly gets to a point where it's not even funny in a bad way, but merely embarrassing and boring.

Mr. Synder, as important as story is, also please never characters, and on this end, you really deserve a lashing.  The gals that partake in Babydoll's ridiculous plan-- all of which are given equally misogynistic stripper names like Sweet Pea and Blondie-- are all as interchangeable and vacant as the lead gal herself.  Sad considering that at least two of the girls-- Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone-- have proven themselves far superior actresses in the past.  Either bogged down by your relentless (and kinda ugly) effects, or severely lacking in the notes department, these two previously marvelous actresses are as vacant and dead eyes as the far more unproven Browning.  Surrounding them is Carla Gugino, an actress who typically delights in cheesy epics (Sin City and your very own Watchmen), one who always appears canny and knowing in just the type of project she's in, is lost, likely because nobody can know what to do with material like this, that seemingly comes from the mind of an autistic methamphetamine addict.  Mr. Synder, you at least had a few actors with the capacity to feel something-- yet like the crazies\whores inside your grimly lit institution, they come across sad and depraved.

What depresses me most is that it appears, even in lavishly god-awful experiences like one-- which by the way appears stolen by Kill Bill, Inception, The Last Airbender, and nearly ever other tripping, mind bending, action adventure of the last ten years-- what distresses most is that you, Mr. Synder, obviously have that joie de vivre spirit that's so lacking in mainstream Hollywood, and while this blunder is major, and indeed it is major, I continue to be on the fence on whether your a future auetuerial wunderkund or hack.  I suppose Superman will settle the argument once and for all.  Good luck, and let's all try to get the unpleasant aftertaste of Sucker Punch out of our system.

Disgruntled Cinephile 


Since the creation, there's always been a great fascination in the idea of a superhero.  Thanks to comics, movies, television, and the once in a lifetime real human incarnation, nothing settles the soul more so than one man (or woman) defeating evil.  Since the idea has come about, there's a million variations-- the ones with non-human powers and those mere mortals with extra chutzpah fighting truth and justice in that ultra, and positively American way.  Probably last thing this over-saturated culture needs is a parody.  There have many in recent years, like last year's Kick-Ass, then there's Super, written and directed by James Gunn, raising his middle finger plum in the air, a deranged and bloody comedy squarely aimed at the worshipful nerds so ingrained in superhero nostalgia.  He's also keenly aware of the grade-B, destined to play midnight shows for years to come, cheesy fun he's going for.  Gunn, who previously directed by sadly underrated horror schlocker Slither (2006), and screenwriter for the nerdishly salivated over Dawn of the Dead (2004); I'll forgo his affiliation with the awful Scooby-Doo movies, but he's playing to his peeps, and for long stretches Super is gleefully twisted.

Frank D'Arbo (Ranin Wilson) is an everyman schlub-- socially awkward, regularly humiliated-- pathetically living a fry cook's existence.  His saving grace is his marriage to Sarah (Liv Tyler.)  That is until a wily dochebag (Kevin Bacon) steals her away, prompting the already self esteem challenged Frank to spiral even more downhill.  What is he to do?  Well, a divine hallucination and addiction to Christian-based television show (featuring Nathan Fillion with a Jesus wig and tights), the only natural thing to do is fight crime and win back the gal he loves.  Dressed in a red suit that would make Kick-Ass seem most legitimate, and ironic catchphrases like, "Shut Up, Crime!," Wilson and Gunn are clearly having a ball setting the stage.  And while completely derivative, there's a loose energy, added by the fact that Frank is clearly a nutcase.  This may in fact be one of the few movies in recent memories where no character is particularly likable or overly cared about, yet there's still an odd affection for the show itself-- it's a cartoon, but such an over-the-top knowing cartoon, that whatever uneven plot device or lame joke is thrown around, the fact that it's all in super-sized quotation marks, it can't help but evoke giggles.

As Frank's alter ego, known as the The Crimson Bolt, gains local notoriety, a young girl-- a nerd herself working in a comic book shop named Libbie (Ellen Page) becomes ever more curious about the odd, socially awkward schlub rummaging her shop for ideas.  Libbie ingratiates herself so forwardly to Frank that eventually she becomes his "kid sidekick," and proves to be even more deranged than he is.  For a film that purposely lacks an emotional center, Page's performance is luminous in it's gamesmanship and ability to just go there, herself raising her middle finger squarely in the air in a spirit of thespianic impulsiveness.  Libbie really nothing more an ADD-filled sociopath looking to kill, and possibly fall for Frank.  She brings such an odd, and riotous sexuality to the film that feels intentionally forced, more than a tad creepy, but has the dynamism of a screen vixen.  Super becomes ridiculous super-charged with Page's appearance, and while that may be a lame pun, it's valid-- her vitality, and overly-charged energy remind us why in films like Hard Candy and Juno, she became so in demand.

The machinations of the plot matter little, in fact, not at all.  Bacon's having clearly having a ball hamming it up as the supreme root of all evil, while Tyler's presence evokes a calm, almost serene quality-- neither is particularly interesting.  We want to get to the blood, the violence hijinks, the Batman-inspired "POWs," and it comes.  There's a high body count, a tremendous amount of blood-- The Crimson Bolt's weapon of choice is a wrench, and a whack awaits drug dealers, child molesters, but is not limited to such violent perpetrators-- merely cutting in line at the movies will due.  And while Super may forever seem but a prankster's delight, with little intention of illumination or invention, there remains still that strange empathetic attraction to it.  B

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Certified Copy

On the onset, there's something utterly beguiling about Certified Copy, from acclaimed international filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (The Taste of Cherry), a Euro-dialogue driven romantic comedy-cum-mystery.  It stars the utterly beguiling Juliette Binoche, who is as beautiful as ever, this time speaking three tongues (French, English and Italian)-- for her efforts she won the best actress award at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  Her co-star William Shimell matches her with presence.  And it's a clever Brief Encounter travelogue set in an utterly beguiling small sector of Tuscany.  However, the clever, beguiling start to this most arty of art projects begins to slowly, and very slowly descend a monotonous path that wares down ones patience, at least it did so in this viewers eyes, so much so that it feels little interest in particularly deserved to it's main characters, even after such charming first impressions.  Eventually the cleverness folds on itself, somewhere towards the middle, leaving a sad feeling that the audience is just being punked by a smarter than thou, utterly pretentious Euro-art house flick.

Not that it's without pleasures, for the premise is certainly finely calibrated.  We meet a writer on a book tour named James Miller (played by Shimell), whose promoting his latest art history hypothesis in Italy.  The book concerns the value of great works of art versus copies of the same great works of art-- which is better, he argues perhaps both, perhaps neither.  We meet a woman, Elle (played by Binoche) who slithers into his book junket.  Through cutesy stages of happenstance (or maybe not) the two get together for an afternoon to discuss, ruminate, argue, flirt-- it recalls Before Sunrise\Sunset, and the early scenes make that comparison indeed complimentary.  Over a visit to local cafe, the barista mistakes the two for a married couple, and Elle doesn't correct her-- the two then proceed to play out as a married couple for the remainder of the day.  Fighting, bickering, playing out old memories, until the grand question arise: is it true?  It's all a very clever metaphor of what more important: the real thing, or an imitation, and it's played a bit thickly as the film wares down.

What changes is not the chemistry of the performers, both of whom are captivating and play off one another beautifully.  It's the pacing-- it's too languorous and dithering.  The dialogue, while mostly sharp, starts to ware off it's clever sheen and almost become a distraction.  Whereas Before Sunrise invited a beautiful and aching romantic possibility, Certified Copy offers a quandary-- how to truly care about a couple you can't trust.  There's something here, but it sadly turns an utterly beguiling concept into a whimpering bore.  C+
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