Friday, July 29, 2011

Terri

With Terri, we enter yet another very indie world of the loser that must be loved.  In this case it's a lonely, overweight high school student with a penchant for wearing pajamas at school, an odd fascination with the death of rodents and with an infatuation with the schools guidance counselor, played with aplomb, but without a point by John C. Rielly.  And that's pretty much the gist of Azazel Jacobs mawkish, self consciously condescending, slightly creepy and mostly tedious film.  The hero (anti-hero) of the story is a shy loner named Terri, played with almost too much restraint and lack of backbone by newcomer Jacob Wysocki, and from the start it feels as if the coming of age trails and terrains that the film intends to showcases are something out of science fiction, as he's a character too vague and inarticulate and foreign to feel relatable in any way.  Living in a small town with an invalid uncle, there's a sense that backstory isn't necessary in the space of cluttered art direction.  Alienated and unfocused at school, Terri begins an odd relationship with Rielly's guidance counselor, Mr. Fitzgerald, himself a strange and less than fully formed character, full of incidental quirks and little dimension.  There's slight peripheral story involving Mr. Fitzgerald's other misanthropic patients, an elderly and dying receptionist and a bad reputation girl that Terri bonds with, but little adds up to much at all-- it's all meandering dithering in search of a point.  The tone of Terri is what's striking and potentially the most interesting quality of the film at all-- not quite serious, not quite funny, but with a chilly aftertaste that the films characters are meant to be laughed at instead of with, a slight Napoleon Dynamite-esque effect of what's weird must be artful, and nasty revelation that an hour and forty minutes of ones life will never be returned.  D

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Crazy Cowboys and Stupid Smurfs in Love

An eclectic mix at the movies this weekend, with an ensemble romantic comedy from the directors of I Love You, Phillip Morris competing against one of the few big summer originals (it's based on an obscure comic book, but you cares) from the director of Iron Man, versus...well, The Smurfs.  It could be win\win\win across the board as there's something for the ladies, the gents and the kids (or really, who under 30 has ever heard of The Smurfs, I keep thinking that ones a joke, even after seeing the trailer countless times), but does anything have the power to take on the mighty forces of Marvel, and last weekend's champ Captain America and Harry Potter, heading into its third weekend after a major drop-off.
  • Cowboys & Aliens- Director Jon Favreau brings franchise kings of past and present together (in the mighty package of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig) for his western\sci-fi hybrid.
  • Crazy Stupid Love- Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon come together for this romantic ensemble piece, blissfully not based on a self-help book, nor a holiday.
  • The Smurfs- They're blue.
Also opening this weekend:
  • Attack the Block- Edgar Wright produces this comedy of aliens attacking an inner city (in limited release.)
  • The Devil's Double- Dominic Cooper plays a double rule in a drama about a dubious Iranian prince (in limited release.)
  • The Future- Miranda July (Me & You & Everyone We Know) releases her latest...a festival favorite (in limited release.)
  • Life in a Day- Director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) and producer Ridley Scott bring a time capsule movie centered on one day in the world (in limited release.)

Venice Film Festival

In competition for the Golden Lion this year:



The Ides Of March – George Clooney (US) [opening film]
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Tomas Alfredson (UK, Germany)
Wuthering Heights – Andrea Arnold (UK)
Texas Killing Fields – Ami Canaan Maan (US)
Quando La Notte – Cristina Comencini (Italy)
Terraferma – Emanuele Crialese (Italy/France)
A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg (Germany/Canada)
4:44 Last Day On Earth – Abel Ferrara (US)
Killer Joe – William Friedkin (US)
Un Ete Brulant – Philippe Garrel (France/Italy/Switzerland)
A Simple Life (Taojie) – Ann Hui (China/Hong Kong)
The Exchange (Hahithalfut) – Eran Kolirin (Israel)
Alps (Alpeis) -Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)
Shame – Steve McQueen (UK)
L’ultimo Terrestre – Gian Alfonso Pacinotti (Italy)
Carnage – Roman Polanski (France/Germany/Spain/Poland)
Chicken With Plums – Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud (France/Belgium/Germany)
Faust – Aleksander Sokurov (Russia)
Dark Horse – Todd Solondz (US)
Himizu – Sion Sono (Japan)
Seediq Bale – Wei Te-Sheng (Taiwan)

The Ides of March trailer
 
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy trailer
 
One of these films will be win in a jury headed by Darren Aronofsky, whose Black Swan debuted last years Venice Film Festival. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Toronto Film Festival Line-Up Announced

Whatever the calendar says, in the universe of the movies (where summer begins two months before it does officially), it's almost time for the end of the year awards season chaos to get underway.  The first stop is the late summer film festivals; the big ones and most important in sizing up early Oscar buzz and driving the prognosticators mad (Toronto, Venice and Telluride) are all interloped in the same couple of weeks time during the month of September.  The madness begins with the announcement of the line-up to this year's Toronto Film Festival, and the typical array of awards bait films, buzzy movies that have already premiered at other festivals (Sundance, Cannes) trying to stay relevant, and those itching for enough attention to become the next Crash-- the first film ever acquired at a film festival (2004's Toronto, in fact) to wind up winning the Best Picture Oscar.  The slate at Venice will revealed Thursday; Telluride famously keeps its offerings secret until it's shown.  The Toronto line-up (expect many more to be announced as the festival approaches):

  • 11 Flowers- Chinese mystery from director Xiaoshuai Wang (Beijing Bicycle); World Premiere.
  • 50/50- Cancer dramedy starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogan, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston and Anna Kendrick, written by Will Riser (his debut) and directed by Jonathon Levine (The Wackness); World Premiere.
  • 360- Globe-trotting slice of life ensemble piece inspired by Arhur Schnitzler's La Ronde that stars Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law.  Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and directed by Fernando Mierelles (City of God); World Premiere.
  • Albert Nobbs- The latest bid for Glenn Close to finally reap her first Academy Award comes from a story that she's championed for many years about a woman who pretends to be a man in 19th century Ireland in order to carve out a better life.  The film was snapped up by Roadside Attractions recently, who had a terrific year last year with Winter's Bone. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives, Mother & Child); World Premiere.
  • Americano- Drama from first time director and actor Mathieu Deny that stars Salma Hayek and Geraldine Chaplin; World Premiere.
  • Anonymous- Speculative history piece that argues the validity of the work of William Shakespeare.  A change of pace from director Roland Emmerich (2012), starring David Twelis and Vanessa Redgrave; World Premiere.
  • The Artist- Cannes favorite (it's star Jean Dujardin won this years Best Actor prize at the May festival) about a silent movie star struggling with the birth of sound.  Already acquired by The Weinstein Company and an early awards season favorite. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius.
  • A Better Life- Canadian social drama from director Cedric Kahn; World Premiere.
  • Burning Man- Father and son drama starring Matthew Goode and Rachel Griffiths; directed by Jonathon Teplitzky (Better Than Sex); World Premiere.
  • Butter- Mixture of social commentary with comedy, this film stars Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell and Hugh Jackman and takes place in the unusual and competitive world of butter carving.  Directed by Jim Field Smith; World Premiere.
  • Chicken with Plums- French period drama about a celebrated Iranian violinist from directors Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Vincent Paronnaud; North American Premiere.
  • Coriolanus- Period epic about a banished Roman solider who seeks revenge that stars Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox.  Acquired by The Weinstein Company after debuting at this years Berlin Film Festival.  Directed by Fiennes (his debut); North American Premiere.
  • Countdown- Heist flick from Huh Jong-ho.
  • A Dangerous Method- Viggo Mortenssen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley star in the eagerly anticipated period drama about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung; recently acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.  Directed by master David Croenberg.  North American Premiere-- indicating that it's real premiere will take place, hopefully in competition, at Venice.
  • Dark Horse- The latest from provocateur Todd Solondz, a romance starring Justin Bartha, Selma Blair, Christopher Walken and Donna Murphy.  No US distribution as of now.  North American Premiere, and likely to be shown at Venice first.
  • The Deep Blue Sea- Period epic starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Midnight in Paris) from director Terrence Davies (The House of Mirth); World Premiere.
  • The Descendants- The latest from director Alexander Payne stars George Clooney as a man seeemingly going through a midlife crisis.  Fox Searchlight Pictures has it's hand on the film, making its World Premiere.
  • Drive- A hit at Cannes this year (winning the Best Director Prize for Nicholas Winding Refn), Drive is a heist flick centering around a Hollywood stuntman.  Star Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks.
  • Elles- French drama starring Juliette Binoche as a journalist reporting on prostitution at a local university.  Directed by Malgoska Szumowka; World Premiere.
  • The Eye of the Storm- Based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White, this Geoffrey Rush-Charlotte Rampling top lined drama concerns a family as its matriarch lies at her deathbed.  From director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, A Cry in the Dark); International Premiere.
  • Friends with Kids- Ensemble relationship comedy starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph and Megan Fox.  Directed by Westfeldt (star and co-writer of Kissing Jessica Stein); World Premiere.
  • Habemus Papam- Premiered at Cannes this year to mixed reviews, Italian filmmaker Nanni Morreti's (The Son's Room) concerns an ailing Pope.
  • A Happy Event- Described as a film "that breaks the taboo of pregnancy through the tragicomic diary of a young woman who becomes a mother." Directed by Remi Bezancon; World Premiere.
  • Headhunters- Norwegian thriller from director Morten Tyldum; North American Premiere.
  • Hick- Dramedy about a teen girl from Nebraska who gets into trouble in Las Vegas.  Star Chloe Moretz, Blake Lively, Rory Culkin and Juliette Lewis.  Directed by Derick Martini (Lymelife); World Premiere.
  • The Hunter- Psychological drama starring Willem Dafoe, directed by Daniel Nettheim; World Premiere.
  • The Ides of March- Based on the play by Beau Willimon, George Clooney's latest directorial project (which he stars and co-wrote with his Good Night...& Good Luck partner Grant Heslov) takes on a crash course on dirty politics and scandal over a presidential hopeful.  The cast includes Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood.  Coming courtesy of the always busy Sony Pictures Classics. North American Premiere; this film has already been confirmed to play at Venice first.
  • Jeff, Who Lives at Home- Paramount Pictures brings the latest from the Duplass Brothers (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair), a comedy about a man searching for the meaning of life starring Jason Segal, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon; World Premiere.
  • Killer Joe- Based on the acclaimed play by Tracy Letts, William Friedkin directs Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch in a twisted story of a poor man trying to collect insurance money by taking a hit out on his mother.  No US distribution; World Premiere.
  • The Lady- A period biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis.  Directed by Luc Besson; World Premiere.
  • Like Crazy- The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, which stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as a young couple dealing with a long-distance relationship (an artier Going the Distance?)  Paramount acquired the film by Drake Doremus (Douchebag) in January.
  • Machine Gun Preacher- Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) directs a biopic of Sam Childers, a former nogoodnik who found God and became a crusader for Sudanese children.  Stars Gerard Butler and Michelle Monoghan; World Premiere.
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene- Tongue-twisting title of the Sundance hit starring Elizabeth Olson as a woman reacimilating after fallen victim to a charming cult leader.  From director Sean Durkin (who won the Best Director prize at Sundance), the film was acquired by Fox Searchlight in January.
  • Melancholia- Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress prize in Cannes this year for her work in Lars von Trier's latest, and end of the world\family wedding film.  Recently acquired by Magnolia Pictures.
  • Moneyball- Brad Pitt stars in this true story of a struggling general manager of a baseball who reconfigures the ways of the game with controversial results.  Also stars Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright and will be released through Sony Pictures Classics at the end of September.  Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote); World Premiere.
  • The Oranges- Ensemble comedy starring Adam Brody, Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie and Allison Janney.  From director Julian Farino, making his feature debut (he's directed several episodes of shows including Sex & the City and Entourage); No US distribution; World Premiere.
  • Peace, Love & Misunderstanding-  Family dramedy starring Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Chace Crawford and Sundance it girl (and famous sister) Elizabeth Olson.  Currently has no distribution, so if early word is good, than this will likely make its way to theaters this fall, given its cast.  Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy); World Premiere.
  • Pearl Jam Twenty- Cameron Crowe directs this documentary celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band Pearl Jam; World Premiere.
  • Rampart- Director Oren Moverman follows up his Oscar-nominated The Messenger with a film about a cop trying to take care of his family.  Star Woody Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster and Robin Wright.  No US distribution; World Premiere.
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen- Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt star in Lasse Hallstrom's (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules) drama about a fisheries scientist.  From Lions Gate Films; World Premiere.
  • Shame- Director Steve McQueen (Hunger) re-teams with Michael Fassbender in a family drama also starring Carey Mulligan.  No US distribution; World Premiere.
  • The Skin I Live In- Pedro Almodovor's latest starring one-time muse Antonio Banderas as a vengeful plastic surgeon.  Sony Pictures Classics has this one, which debuted at Cannes last May.
  • Take Shelter- End of the world thriller starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain that debuted at Cannes this year and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.
  • Take This Waltz- Sarah Polley wrote and directed this romantic drama (her second feature after receiving an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod for her debut, Away From Her) and stars Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan, currently without distribution; World Premiere.
  • Ten Year- Drama about a group of friends that reunite ten years after high school starring Channing Tatum and Kate Mara.  No US distribution, World Premiere.
  • Trishna- Michael Winterbottom's latest starring Frieda Pinto; World Premiere.
  • Twixt- Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning star in Frances Ford Coppola's latest, a thriller about a writer who winds up in his own mystery.  No US distribution; World Premiere.
  • Tyrannosaur- Directed by actor Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur is a drama about a woman who looks to get out of her abusive relationship.  Premiered at Sundance, where Considine won the Best Director prize for World Cinema; Strand Releasing acquired the film.
  • W.E.- Either simply a curiosity piece or, who knows, maybe a real awards contender as The Weinstein Company has already grabbed this biography of Wallis Simpson (fans of The King's Speech will remember-- she's the gal that Guy Pearce abdicated the throne for) that's directed by a certain person of interest, Madonna.  North American Premiere, again indicating the Material Girl will debut her film in Venice.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin- Cannes favorite with Tilda Swinton about a mother coping with her son's involvement in a school shooting.  Directed by Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Caller); Roadside Attractions will release it later this fall.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tabloid

Tales of the lurid and tawdry are so commonplace in todays media for many reasons.  There's always been, and always will be, a great fascination in stories of the famous, and not-so-famous crashing and burning.  Part of that thrill is the innocent observor wondering in bewilderment, "How the hell did that happen?"  And while trashy and disturbing, headlines and soundbytes make up so much of our modern existense; they survive only because we want them to.  The plights of people like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony-- they became famous for reasons, but the became a part of pop cultural lexicon because we kept reading and talking about them.  One such truly bizarre story is the make-up of Errol Morris' endlessly entertaining new documentary Tabloid, which has it all-- a story of sex, innocence, religion, out-of-nowhere nuttiness all consumed by a global press capturing everything, and an audience ready to eat it up.  The results are pure cinematic eye candy, for Morris, an exceptionally gifted documentarian (and Academy Award winner for the superb The Fog of War) knows he has a subject of such dirty glee that he doesn't need to offer any intellectual treatise, he knows will be glued by the crazy, trashy story at hand.  The story is that of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen and good ole fashioned Southern belle (one with an alleged 168 IQ), who in the early 1970s fell in love.  What came of this was a jail sentence, instant notoriety, an absolutely crazy modern existence, and an wonderfully observing piece of pop filmmaking that's oddly sweet and completely mysterious.

McKinney was a very pretty young woman, a model(?) who while living in Salt Lake City met a boy named Kirk Anderson.  She fell head over heels in love, just as Anderson, a Mormon, was sent to London for his missionary service.  A forlorn, and perhaps off her rocker, McKinney travelled to London (with a nutty plan and even nuttier accomplices) to be with him and save him from the church that stood in their way.  She arrived and abducted (or perhaps he went willingly) and held Anderson at a country hostage and forced sex (or perhaps not) on the devout and conflicted man for three days before being arrested and becoming an international tabloid fixture.  There's more scandal in store, especially when delving into McKinney's past work, a questionable trade that's never quite conclusively answered, but one things for sure: her costly expenses and trip to London came from somewhere.  The greatest disposal Morris has is McKinney's presence, and that see is such an ingratiating participant.  The great fun of Tabloid is also the great frustration as we'll never know what actually happened, the talking heads in Morris' film are all seedy underling types (understandably Kirk Anderson doesn't show up to defend himself) which shrouds the film with mystery and endless and enduring curiosity, much like tabloids themselves.

Yet McKinney is such a lively recantour of her tale, and just about everything else.  She comes across absolutely convincing and absolutely crazy at the same time.  What's striking is the lucidity and conviction she conveys.  Because of this the actually truth matters little, she believes this, and that's instantly felt; she was saving the man she loved.  Of course she would later mature into an isolated woman forever trying to write her memoirs while cloning her dog with the help of a nutty doctor in Korea, all of which adds to the curiosity factor.  Especially when she bemoans her mistreatment in press, even though she used and lived off the attention it gave her.  Nonetheless, she's a great interview, and Morris seemingly doesn't have to coax anything out of her-- she lets it all out, and within the first reel of the splendid film, most of details of her bizarre story are already laid out, though he's as tough on her as he was with Robert McNamara in The Fog of War.  To aid, Morris adds an almost kitschy aesthetic to Tabloid, full of appropriately gimmicky cartoons and tabloid snapshots, either as commentary or joke.  The added layer to Tabloid, and perhaps the juiciest is the Mormon commentary (already hot in the presses due to the success of the musical The Book of Mormon, and forever entangled in controversy), Morris even adds a former missionary and ex-Mormon as an expert talking head.  But whatever the case, and whatever is already known about the religion adds a conflict to the story, and a suspense that perhaps McKinney's love wasn't quite the prisoner that the church and media made him out to be.

A case like McKinney's will always endure because we want it too.  Morris knows that, as likely does McKinney herself.  Gratefully, the story is preserved, in all it's bizarre glory, by a filmmaker with such an uncanny eye for such bizarre human interest stories, and presents all the trashy details with such a humane, non-judgmental scope that raises an eyebrow, and a guffaw, and perhaps a tactful urge to grow up from such lurid and crazy sex stories.  A-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Project Nim

An experiment meant to explore the idea of language in chimpanzees became a landmark, and altogether unsettling study of nature vs. nurture is the focus of the solidly fascinating, if a bit nature television bound documentary Project Nim.  In 1973, Columbia University professor Herbert S. Terrence founded a subject that pitted a baby chimp under the care of an ordinary family to study the effects and progress of his ability to pick up on human language and communication.  Rescuing him, him being Nim from an Oklahoma research facility, separating him from his mother (in the first fairly traumatic scene of many) and putting him up in the care of a hippie mother in New York named Stephanie LaFarge, who bonded and raised the young chimp as if he were her own, including but not limited to breast feeding, sharing joints, and various mother-son Oedipal curiosities...the rationale was "it was the 70s."  What developed was a far more interesting, and more unsettling account of the various upheavals and human dramas at the center of the young ape, who was behaving as would be expected...playful, curious, tempestuous and dangerously unaware of his own strength.  Director James Marsh, using the same inventive and seamless precision he brought to his Academy Award winning tightrope-on-the-Twin Towers doc Man on Wire, infuses Project Nim with a gentle flow that melds archival footage, stills and reenactments in telling a portrait of a mad science project with enough pathos that plays slightly like an inter-species version of A Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The project, while constructed as a study of language and the barriers between chimps and humans, ultimately gained noteriety as a study of raising a wild animal as if it were human; the danger of project was the unfortunate and sad effect it left on Nim himself.  Being taken away from his mother at birth, and later taken away from LaFarge (a former student and lover of Terrence's), Nim was taken up by another comely student of the professor, and another part-time lover.  Traded off again before the project was over, there's an inevitable sense of doom not just on the poor monkey, but the folly of the people involved.  Nim's behavior grew more and more volatile-- the first glimpses of violence are seen as silliness (he was not fond of LaFarge's husband and liked to wreck his looming book collection), but become more and more severe as the primate is traded off, most of which is taken lightly by Terrence who has a books to publish, as well as press snapshots, Nim kind of did serve as the star of a messed-up version of An American Family.  It's even more unsettling that nearly every member of the project, outside of its creator, has more or less formally regretted it.  Even after its completion, and the conclusion by Terrence that the project was a failure, there's little remorse for the detrimental harm that may have been hoisted upon the now fully grown, and very strong Nim.

The last third of the film has an immediate gut punch as Nim is put back into the Oklahoma lab that he came from, caged like many of his peers, but unable to separate the multitude of maternal abandonment.  There's a respite of sorts and a bit of absurdity (a nice bit involving a clever lawyer) that almost saves the day, but ultimately the science motivated by the project is less interesting, and likely discredited, than the human story behind it which is what makes Marsh's twee but penetrating film special and sad.  B+

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Holy Cow Box Office

The final installment of the Harry Potter series netted the highest single day gross in history with $92.1 million.  This is including an almost ungodly $40-plus million from midnight showings alone.  It earned nearly $20 million more than it's runner-up, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which rather pathetically held the record at a mere $72 million.  Harry is also ignited the global box office with $249 million worldwide, calling to question if the poster's premise, "It All Ends," will actually be true.



Top Ten Single Day Grosses:
  1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II- $92.1
  2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon- $72.7
  3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse- $68.5
  4. The Dark Knight- $67.1
  5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen- $62.0
  6. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I- $61.6
  7. Spider-man 3- $59.8
  8. Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince- $58.1
  9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest- $55.8
  10. Spider-man 3- $51.3
The keys to a top single day record gross:
  • Be a sequel (all of them are)
  • Be an adaptation of teen-lit (Harry Potter & Twilight)
  • Be a product of Time Warner (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Dark Knight)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Contagion


Steven Soderbergh does Outbreak with nearly every member of the Screen Actors Guild in his latest thriller.  It looks fresh and fun, and far more genre than Soderbergh's been in quite a while.  Some may take note that the trailer gives away that Gwyneth Paltrow dies...

It All Ends

After nearly a decade of movies, over $2 billion in the bank (and plenty more to come), seven movies (adapted from seven books), three words are all that are needed for marketing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II: "It All Ends!"  It will come as a relief to the less devout and sorrow for the worshipful; of course distributor Warner Bros. didn't really have to say anything at all to elicit something for the opening of this film-- of course all will come it droves.  The film has already made over $25 million in pre-sales in the North American box office and it hasn't even opened yet, provoking and teasing the notion of whether this will indeed be the record-breaking weekend that 2011 has been long waiting for.  What else matters; not much but even for the slightly curious observer of the Potter movies (like myself) who appreciates the skilled texture, if not the rudimentary, stop and go subplots, this is the end of the era, and the past decade of its attack on the pop cultural lexicon is something that nothing else could ever match.  It's a series that got children (even those who would never dare pick a book) read with joyous delight, and the movies have their odd pleasures outside the material itself.  It's a fascinating four director series-- the cluttered and insecure first two volumes directed by Chris Columbus, the most triumphant and cinematic third chapter by Alfonso Cuaron (I haven't read the book, I freely admit, but that movie singed), the clunkier fourth volume by Mike Newall, and the final dark chapters by Peter Yates.  The series has in total earned 9 Oscar nominations, mostly for Stuart Craig's production design.  There's also the great curiosity of the three leads we've seen grow up before our eyes in the past decade-- Daniel Radcliffe seems more at home on Broadway these days, Emma Watson has My Week with Marilyn to test out post-Potter waters with later this year, and Rupert Grint has a few others as well-- but they will always be Harry, Hermione and Ron, and all rich beyond belief...sigh!

Also opening this week (yes other films open as well):
  • Winnie the Pooh- For those who miss hand drawn 2-D animation, this is all you have for some time...
  • Life, Above All- South Africa's submission for last years foreign language Oscar...it didn't make it, but is well reviewed (in limited release.)
  • Salvation Boulevard- Religious satire starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connolly, and Marisa Tomei (in limited release.)
  • Snow Flower & the Secret Fan- Director Wayne Wong (The Joy Luck Club) returns with a historical drama that features a singing cameo by Hugh Jackman (in limited release.)
  • Lucky- A serial killer wins the lottery...stars Colin Hanks and Ari Graynor (in limited release.)
  • Tabloid- The triumphant Errol Morris returns with his latest enticing documentary about a 1970s beauty queen who kidnapped and imprisoned a Mormon man for love, becoming a scandal celebrity in the process (in limited release.)

Emmy Nominations

DRAMA SERIES
Boardwalk Empire
Dexter
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Mad Men

ACTOR (Drama Series)
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Timothy Olyphant, Justified

ACTRESS (Drama Series)
Kathy Bates, Harry's Law
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Mirelle Enos, The Killing
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men

SUPPORTING ACTOR (Drama Series)
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Walton Goggins, Justified
John Slattery, Mad Men

SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Drama Series)
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Michelle Forbes, The Killing
Christine Hendricks, Mad Men
Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Margo Martindale, Justifield
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife

COMEDY SERIES
30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Glee
Modern Family
The Office
Parks & Recreation

ACTOR (Comedy Series)
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carrell, The Office
Louis C.K., Louie
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

ACTRESS (Comedy Series)
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation 
Could it be residual Bridesmaids good will that got McCarthy here; honestly I haven't heard of this show.

SUPPORTING ACTOR (Comedy Series)
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Chris Colfer, Glee
Jon Cryer, Two & a Half Men
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

I know that Cryer has been here before, but this can really only be seen as a "you survived it" recognition...but what about all the previous years, that's what I don't understand...Emmys are confusing to me.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Comedy Series)
Julie Bowen, Modern Family 
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Jane Lynch, Glee
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland

MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Cinema Verite
Downton Abbey
The Kennedys
Mildred Pierce
The Pillars of the Earth
Too Big to Fail

ACTOR (Movie or Miniseries)
William Hurt, Too Big to Fail
Idris Elba, Luther
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Greg Kinnear, The Kennedys
Barry Pepper, The Kennedys
Edgar Ramirez, Carlos

ACTRESS (Movie or Miniseries)
Taraji P. Henson, Take From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story
Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Jean Marsh, Upstairs, Downstairs
Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce
One must assume now that Winslet is a Tony Award away from joining the elusive "Triple Crown" club of actors with an Oscar, Emmy and Tony.  Get to the stage, Kate-- better yet can you sing?  You could knock out the Grammy too.

SUPPORTING ACTOR (Movie or Miniseries)
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Bryan F. O'Byrne, Mildred Pierce
Guy Pierce, Mildred Pierce
Tom Wilkinson, The Kennedys
James Woods, Too Big to Fail

SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Movie or Miniseries)
Eileen Atkins, Upstairs, Downstairs
Melissa Leo, Mildred Pierce
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Mare Winningham, Mildred Pierce
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce

ANIMATED PROGRAM
The Cleveland Show
Futurama
Robot Chicken
The Simpsons

VARIETY, COMEDY OR MUSICAL SERIES
The Colbert Report
Conan
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live

REALITY SHOW
The Amazing Race
American Idol
Dancing with the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef

GUEST ACTOR (Comedy Series)
Will Arnett, 30 Rock
Matt Damon, 30 Rock
Idris Elba, The Big C
Zach Galifianakis, Saturday Night Live
Nathan Lane, Modern Family
Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live

GUEST ACTRESS (Comedy Series)
Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock
Kristen Chenoweth, Glee
Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
Dot-Marie Jones, Glee
Cloris Leachman, Raising Hope
Gwyneth Paltrow, Glee

Full nominees, all 39 pages in PDF format.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises

Why fuss around about the rest of this summer's movie season when there's this to hopefully reaffirm everything grand and spectacular summer blockbusters should be.  One catch: 372 days before opening day of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's continuation of his great Batman franchise, easily the best cinematic reboot ever.  The teaser poster, likely already the wallpaper of any nerd's (cinematic or otherwise) desktop, is a nifty design in the production full of them.  The teaser trailer is rumored to be apart of the package of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Iron Lady, or Meryl Streep's Third Oscar?


"That's the tone that we want to strike."

I'm conflicted by the tone that the teaser trailer to The Iron Lady, the latest Oscar bid for Meryl Streep, wants to strike.  It's staged almost as a parody, or drawing board comedy, with a big crescendo-like gravitas in musical score.  Streep will portray Margaret Thatcher which will nonetheless be huge awards bait regardless of the films actual quality.  What's even more worrisome is that she's reuniting with her Mamma Mia! director, Phyllida Lloyd, in what should be an interesting, rousing drama.  Let's hope Lloyd has learned how to use a camera in the interim.

Horrible Bosses, Zookeepers, and Rap Stars

The big movie of the weekend, but probably not big enough to knock Transformers: Dark of the Moon out of the top spot, is Horrible Bosses, the latest R-rated comedy of the summer, this one about a bunch of dudes who want to knack each others bosses out-- am I the only one who counts this as a dumbed down version of Strangers on a Train, presumably with lots of fart and boob jokes.  Anyhow it's gotten me thinking about the greatest horrible boss the cinema has ever presented: Meryl Streep's wicked and monstrous Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, this year celebrating its five year anniversary; I can't believe time is moving by so fast, it seems like just yesterday she was torturing Anne Hathaway and playfully zipping her catchphrase, "That's all!" in such whispered, but frightening beats.  The majesty of the performance is Streep's hellbent commitment, and pleasure of it comes from the understated nuances of her creation, thinly veiled as Vogue's Anna Wintour; she comes within an inch of caricature, but retreats ever so, and so gracefully, that she comes across just human enough to be given credibility, but salacious and pointed to the point of mass hilarity.
An aside, Horrible Bosses, stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx.  Am I the only who feels that this might be a funny idea, but the trailer plays ridiculously flat.
Also opening this week:
  • Zookeeper- The latest Kevin James comedy (he talks to animals)
  • Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Named Quest- Documentary from Michael Rapaport (limited release.)
  • The Ledge- Thriller starring Terrence Howard, Patrick Wilson and Liv Tyler (limited release.)
  • Project Nim- Sundance favorite from director James Marsh (Oscar winner for Man on Wire; limited release.)

Leap Year

A bracing, sexy and bold film from Mexico, from first time writer\director Michael Rowe, Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto) is unsettling, but assured, possibly a birth for a future big name in international cinema.  Rowe won the Camera D'Or (Best First Film) at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  What's striking about the film, aside from its very adult and frank sexual content, is the accomplished look and feel of the film.  It flows effortlessly, almost painfully, creating a raw, authentic, achingly lived-in sense of time and space.  What's also striking, especially coming from a debut filmmaking and novice actors, are the elongated shots that feel almost intrusive; there's an odd sense of voyeurism on display in Leap Year; we are watching the most deeply private and volatile moments of the life of the main character, a reporter named Laura Lopez (played with raw and naked abandon, with an aura almost childlike by Monica del Carmen.)  The scenes play out beautifully and slowly, with little visual hemming and hawing, suggesting a confidence that few filmmakers (even many of the very best) ever have the nerve to showcase.  The stillness adds to the alienation and discontent of its leading lady, and unsettles more and more as the film delves into dark and frightening territory.

Laura is an unhappy single woman, unhinged but composed either by will or psychosis.  We follow her through the month of February, hence the leap year, and learn the sad and painful resonance the day brings to her later on.  Laura cooks, and watches television, makes phone calls to her mother and brother, insisting her life is much happier and less lonely than it really is, at first the film kind of plays out like a dramatic Bridget Jones, but Laura is far kinkier and more troubled.  Her hobby of sorts is going from one night stand to the next, most of the guys she brings home have no interest in her; she has less interest back-- sex is just a release, a sense of control and empowerment, not exactly pleasurable and surely not romantic.  One night she meets Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), who surprises Laura by daring to become close.  Their relationship is the center of the film and as the movie goes on, it becomes stranger, abusive (whose abusing who is the ultimate question), dangerous, slightly disgusting, and strangely sweet.  This is one of the few films that actually delves head on into the raw power of sexuality this side of Last Tango in Paris, and while certainly not for the faint of heart, there's something altogether thoughtful, titillating and sad in Leap Year's frank depictions of sex.  As Laura and Arturo's relationship grows, and the sexual acts become more and more deviant, there's an odd romanticism to it, that's lovingly underplayed.  The power of Leap Year is just that, as well as the sad and poignant mystery to the leading lady.  She's elusive, and even after spending a month with her in her apartment (the film has only one primary set), we've only just cracked the surface.  A-

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

War Horse and the Dreadful Fate of the Early Oscar Frontrunner


With the first footage of Steven Spielberg's War Horse newly arrived, and one has to admit it look massive and impressive in what will surely be a finely detailed piece of big filmmaking, one thought arises, and it may come out cynical, but it's honest: How will this fare come end of the year awards time.  Surely a film like this, with it's pedigree, it's scope with its WWI setting and emotional musical cues, and it's director, the major reason it was made to begin with was for a couple of Oscar statutes.  Perhaps Spielberg will have yet another banner, much like the mammoth one he had in 1993, where he managed to successfully meld his fun pop filmmaking sensibilities with that of the mature artist he had always tried to be.  That year he opened the summer blockbuster Jurassic Park (which had been the biggest and most technically awe-inspiring of at least that summer) and the winter scorcher Schindler's List.  That year his films won an impressive ten Oscars (seven for Schindler's including two for himself; and three awards for Jurassic Park.)  This year again he has two very different films coming out-- War Horse, based on the acclaimed novel by Michael Morpurgo, which already spawned a successful and acclaimed play (that coincidentally won the Tony Award this year-- has a film and play based on the same source won both Tony and Oscar in the same year before?) as well as the 3-D fantasy The Adventure of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Suffice it to say that at the halfway point of 2011 where nothing has really stood out as an awards magnet, this is the first glimpse of a film we've seen that has the probability of doing anything.  On that alone, and with all of the other awards friends components will already, fairly or not, peg War Horse the movie to beat.  Which has gotten me thinking about how dreadful a spot that can be, even Spielberg knows the sting of the feeling of film that crazy heat going on months before it arrived, only to have its hopes diminished when the awards start actually get handed out-- in 2005 his return to serious, sober adult dramas, Munich was greeted with muted praise despite unconditional love sight unseen.  It managed a Best Picture nomination, but momentum was lost before the darn thing even opened.  The very same thing happened the year after, when Dreamgirls was the early frontrunner (and perhaps an apologia to coveted Oscar-loving gay crowd that witnessed the dismal Brokeback Mountain loss the year before), only for the film to fail to receive the top honor, despite critical praise and a more than decent showing at the box office.  The very next year, Atonement for a time, was considered the classiest choice for the prize, but again was shut out, perhaps because it peaked too early.  The list goes on-- Up in the Air allegedly had the Oscar sealed after it debuted at the fall film festivals, only to have its momentum shifted to The Hurt Locker and Avatar as the season played out.  It's almost an unfortunate slot to be in, the pre-ordained winner.

Good luck, War Horse!

Top Ten Performances of 2011 So Far

Forget about awards, forget about everything sad and dismal that this years offerings at the movies have been, it hasn't all been bad.  Well, mostly yes, it's been fairly terrible, and the fact that third rate junk like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is now the eighth highest grossing motion picture in box office history doesn't settle well.  But, there have been good things out there too, just most of which were hard to find, but good things nonetheless, things worth celebrating.  Here on my favorite performances of 2011 at the halfway point:

10. Nick Thurston, White Irish Drinkers- A blink and you missed it little coming of age tale set in 70s-era Brooklyn, the film concerned two brothers trying to eke out of their working class background while staging a phony Rolling Stones concert.  The movie is well made and effective enough, comfortably trapped by its influences, but there's one striking element that makes the film just interesting enough to slightly transcend its familiarity and it's in the exciting and warm presence of newcomer Thurston, playing the recessive, good Irish boy more interested in art than his thuggish older brother's crime sprees.  He brings a nice and balanced naturalism that helps deflect the moments when the movie, confidently made, if poorly scripted by John Gray.  Hopefully this young actor will breakthrough in a major way soon.

9. Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy- The best roles of Binoche's immense, multi-lingual career (think of Cache, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Code Unknown, Trois Couleurs: Bleu) have such a tough, austere quality to them that it's jarring (at least for me) to notice how light and versatile she can really be on screen.  In Abbas Kiarostami's twee mediation on art and relationship, Binoche is given an opportunity to simply glow on screen.  The film may be a bit too clever for its own good, but Binoche (who won the Best Actress prize for her work here at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival) has never been so charming or alluring on screen before.

8. Elle Fanning, Super 8- Perhaps she's the easiest to fawn over in the Super 8 ensemble because she's ostensibly playing the "muse" type character-- one in which the other characters fall madly for, and by design the audience must do so as well-- another performance I quite liked this year (that just missed the top ten) that may also appear to be guilty of this is Marion Cotillard's performance in Midnight in Paris.  That may be true-- many of the boys in the Stand By Me lot of Super 8 are quite smitten by Fanning, but she also has a preternatural poise and refreshing lack of precocity that it's easy to understand why.  She brings an warmth but also a mystery to her portrayal of a young woman on the wrong side of the tracks taken in by the power of the movies.

7. Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life- Like Elle Fanning above, McCracken (making his film debut with a wallop of a motion picture that will be obsessed over the cinematic powers that be for decades to come) plays Jack, 1950s youth with such delicate ease and graceful naturalism, it hardly appears like acting at all.  Much of that may have to do with the fact that director Terrence Malick is always the major star of his movies, but McCracken manages to outshine even the masters most grandstanding of sequences with a humanity and curiosity only an eleven-year-old could possess.

6. Michelle Williams, Meek's Cutoff- In Kelly Reichardt's life on the Oregon trail art house epic, there's a lot of walking and waiting and experience might be akin to what the real thing was like: long, slow, insufferable, but full of meaning.  A great deal of that meaning comes courtesy of Williams' face-- achingly expressive, brittle and tired.

5. Ewan McGregor, Beginners- McGregor plays Oliver in Mike Mills' adorable dramedy about a man coming to terms with his father's homosexuality and cancer, while forming a new relationship on his own.  There's such a quiet, bittersweet tenderness to McGregor's work that's sharply recessive, but always in tune.  He grounds the film in the more outrageously syrupy sections, makes a formidable net partner with Christopher Plummer who plays his father, and brings back memories to the joyous late 90s\early 00s days when McGregor regularly charmed the cinema into a joyous state of enlightenment.
4. Christopher Plummer, Beginners- Playing a man who comes out of the closet late in life and finding the joie de vivre in the idea of liberation at last, Plummer gives a wonderful, late in the game performance.  And whether carrying on with his much younger boyfriend or agitating his son about gay aesthetics, Plummer never loses a grip on his character, while nicely shading him with warmth, compassion, and abundant humor.  The refreshing thing about Beginners is that Plummer's character (named Hal) is never once reduced to a pitying martyr, nor a flamboyant caricature and the honest pathos that an actor with the stature of Plummer makes Hal and the film, quietly revelatory.

3. Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids- For years Wiig has been a charming cut-up with her Suzie Orman impressions on SNL, childish histrionics briefly and hilariously on display in Knocked Up, and bit parts all over the moon that have gathered up an impressive rap sheet.  Wiig may have found a classic with Bridesmaids, playing Annie, a neurotic single woman who begins to slowly and hilariously lose it when her best friend becomes engaged.  In Annie, Wiig may have created a sort of iconic comedy character, one that, while loopy and charmingly off-kilter, is grounded in such intense reality that it would hard for anybody (male or female, perhaps all in the animal world) not to identify with her.  The classic scenes of a bridal party's fitting after some not very Kosher Brazilian food and an ill-fated plane trip to Las Vegas (all creations in the warped brain of it's star and co-writer) are already permanently stamped on the pop cultural mindset.

2. Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class- After years of being a complete badass on the international independent scene (films like Hunger and Fish Tank are must sees for anyone craving rich filmmaking), the imposing and dangerous Fassbender finally gets a real chance to take on mainstream Hollywood as young Magneto in the prequel to X-Men.  If only the movie were as raw as Fassbender himself, then this would likely be one of the best superhero films ever made; instead it's a serviceable movie with a grand, awesome performance as its anchor.

1. Ellen Page, Super- An odd choice for my favorite performance of the year at it's halfway point for sure, but there's reasoning here.  Page's bouncy, absolutely loony performance of a comic book store nerd turned homicidal superhero sidekick is without question of the single most fun performance so far this year.  In a role that's such an about face from Juno, and more unhinged than her breakthrough in Hard Candy, Page owns the role of Libby (aka Boltie) from the second she's on screen and in one of greatest go-for-broke acting endeavors put on screen in quite some time, Page has such an uncanny ability to make crime and immorality not only cute, but also kind of sexy.

What are your favorites so far this year?

A.I.: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago almost to the day (I'm a bit late, the exact day was June 29), Steven Spielberg unveiled A.I. Artificial Intelligence.  I remember frantically rushing off to theater that early Friday morning, I was the first show of the day.  The nervous tension of a long awaited idea, first concocted by the great Stanley Kubrick realized by Spielberg opening in the year 2001, was unbearable.  I remember my first reaction was a gentle awe, only to be stymied when exiting the theater hearing my fellow moviegoers ripping it to shreds.  This, of course, would be the reaction I was going to have to get used to.  Come to think of it, few big summer blockbusters in waiting since have had such a popularizing reaction; many have been out-and-out panned, but few have been as heavily analyzed, with a sense of judgment looming on both sides of the love-it or hate-it line.  I only saw the film once, and don't think I could bear to watch it again...for I was instantly smitten with the story of a robotic boy and his search for love and purpose in such a beautifully textured cruel, dark universe.  The melding of Spielbergian hopefulness and Kubrickian dystopia created an unusual and soaring hybrid.  It's perhaps not the masterwork anybody was expecting, but I have always felt A.I. Artificial Intelligence was all the stronger because of it's flaws, because for the first time in a long while it felt that Spielberg was almost unafraid of going somewhere new and dark and unexpected.  There was, and still is, a mysticism and danger in thinking back.

The first part of the film is quiet and serene in and definitely more infused with Spielberg's instincts with familial pleasures.  The middle section is nearly all Kubrick-infused-- violent, aggressive, but soulfully beautiful in its ambivalence (it's also, I believe the strongest section of the movie.  The ending, which probably killed it for many and is and will always be the troubling area, where the darkness is coalesced into that of a fairy tale, and the mixture of the two cinematic giants looming generated an awkward undercurrent of diminished returns.  But in a film so complicated, not just in origin, but in design, it's forgivable that the destination isn't nearly satisfying as the journey itself.  And even if a great sense of hero worship was on display in every shot, the hero is Stanley Kubrick...there's a full circle effect this summer with the love adorned on Spielberg with J.J. Abrams' Super 8.

What's best remembered and hopefully enshrined are the amazing production values, inventive effects, and two of the best performances a Spielberg film have ever provided.  Haley Joel Osment, two years after The Sixth Sense, and a few years away from becoming unnoticed gave David, the artificial child robot who learned to love, the perfect blend of innocence and creepiness and made the story credible right from the start.  The second performance I'm personally more fond of, and feel that it should the classic character of the piece: Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, another artificial being made to love.  Law's bravado and unabashed sexuality is the separator from Spielberg yin and Kubrick yang; Gigolo Joe springs A.I. from youthful innocence to adulthood depravity, and either serving as comic relief or surrogate father (both to David and the audience, unfamiliar to the rules of the game), Law's presence grounds the movie with spectacular depth and unyielding charm.  He deserved an Oscar nomination-- the film received two pity nominations that year for Best Visual Effects and for Best Score, a token slot reserved for John Williams-- I kid, I'm sure it was a great score.

While ten years ago, movie patrons may have laughed or been taken off guard but what they just saw, I have faith in the cinematic universe that a film so singular and scary will have a lasting legacy.  If not now, then later on because it deserves it, and ambitious think-pieces, even those that are wrapped with familiar genre flourishes nearly always take time to be properly admired.  That was a staple throughout Kubrick's career; none of his films were out and out celebrated upon arrival-- many of them are still heavily contested in the most aggressive of film battles, but they were notable, as A.I., easily the most ambitious sci\fi story made since Blade Runner with few to rival on terms of scale or heart.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rubber

In the prologue to the strange and impishly clever Rubber, a man pops out of the trunk of a car and distills that movies, like life, are made up of things without any reason, and perhaps logic has little place in either.  Director Quentin Dupieux, who also serves as writer, editor and composer, expands on that idea with his logic-defying, free associative, Dada-like little indie.  With a high concept premise involving a nihilistic tire causing mayhem in a quiet desert town (yes, you read that correctly), Rubber sets the stage fairly high early on in obtaining the cult-like, B-movie exploitation slot its so richly pining for, with all its winks and nudges.  There's even an audience watching the film with us, a Greek chorus of sorts who make quiet asides about the story going on before us and chattering amongst each other; whether as a metaphor for disrespectful movie patrons or as just another prankish bit of random nothingness-- they're all killed halfway through the movie.  Rubber doesn't have any rules, but it does have a strange little charm all its known.  Slightly piggy-backed from Steven Spielberg's Duel, with a dose of Hitchcock's Psycho (there's a fun shower scene reference), blended with the Coen Brothers at their most unhinged, mixed with who knows what, but Dupieux has such a unique absurdity and confidence behind the camera, so much so that sequences that are ridiculous (nearly all of them) or implausible (ditto) come out not only meticulously rendered, but almost masterful.  Rubber is just as absurd as Transformers, but there's a joyful bust of spirit coming out of the seams here, and a pulsating sense of fun and adventure.  There's so few movies that come out these days that genuinely surprise, and Rubber's to-hell-with-it attitude might grate some, but quietly feels like a shot of adrenaline for the American independent movement.  And while Rubber is also guilty sometimes of being a little too over the moon with its own cleverness, the gentle and fun pacing of Dupieux' oddity wins out in the end.  B+

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weekend Box Office

As America celebrates it's independence, the film industry celebrated its favorite Fourth of July tradition, seeing the latest, biggest offering from the Hollywood studio machine march its way to the top of the holiday box office.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon for this achievement, is now the top grossing film to open over the Independence Day weekend.  The top ten are:
  1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)- 97.5
  2. Spider-man 2 (2004)- $88.1
  3. Transformers (2007)- $70.5
  4. War of the Worlds (2005)- $64.87
  5. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)- 64.83
  6. Hancock (2008)- $62.6
  7. Superman Returns (2006)- $52.5
  8. Men in Black II (2002)- $52.1
  9. Men in Black (1997)- $51.0
  10. Independence Day (1996)- $50.2
And so Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg and Paramount Pictures are a little bit richer, and the film adapted from silly toys in it's third outing boasted the highest grossing opening weekend of the year thus far.  The only caveat was that it slightly trailed the opening weekend gross of the second film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen...that was likely to be slightly expected, considering that film, you know, was awful.  Dark of the Moon wasn't nearly as disliked, meaning that it might stick around for a little while, and since the 3-D was one of the films best selling points, it counts as a cold victory for Hollywood.  There were also a few other milestones this weekend.

  1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon- $97.5 million\$162 million since Wednesday
  2. Cars 2- $26.1 million\$117 million in two weeks.  The latest Pixar release dropped a striking 60% from weekend to weekend (it will look a little better once Monday grosses come in), and marks the steepest decline for a Pixar product.  We all knew this was a bad idea!
  3. Bad Teacher- $14 million\$59 million in two weeks.
  4. Larry Crowne- $13 million.  In it's opening outing, the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts comedy failed.  After this, and the soft box office of their first film together-- Charlie Wilson's War (2007)-- I suppose the world just isn't into the both of them together.  Fortunately, this one only cost $30 million to make.
  5. Super 8- $7.8 million\$108 million total.  The J.J. Abrams throwback may not have been the huge blockbuster that it's hype alluded to, but it's doing remarkably well for itself, easing just 35% in its fourth weekend.  This marks the second film produced by Steven Spielberg in the top five.
  6. Monte Carlo- $7.4 million.
  7. Green Lantern- $6.5 million\$102 million.  Down 63% in its third weekend, the Ryan Reynolds superhero movie has to be considered that top dud of the summer given its $200 million price tag.
  8. Mr. Popper's Penguins- $5.4 million\$50 million to date.
  9. Bridesmaids- $3.6 million\$153 million to date.  Over the weekend, Bridesmaids, the little engine that could this summer became the highest grossing film that Judd Apatow has ever been apart of, period.  The bridesmaid spot belongs to Knocked Up (2007) which made $148 million.
  10. Midnight in Paris- $3.5 million\$33.7 million to date.

The other big news over the weekend was that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides became the seventh highest grossing picture in history with a worldwide gross of $1.0 billion.  It's reasonably tepid domestic take of $234 million is kind of encouraging, but again it calls into question the real power of the international movie sales.  And when Part 5 is announced, we will all have our answer.  We can all at the very least take pride in the fact that adjusted for ticket inflation (3-D inflation as well) and overall movie attendance the third unnecessary Jack Sparrow tale would be way further down on the list...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

There comes a point in watching Michael Bay's latest visual assault where one must choose to either go with the crazy, muddled and bombastic and will oneself to surrender to aural and visual submission, or pick at the millions of problems with story, character, coherence, logic, and egotistical buffoonery (the auteurs specialty) with Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  The third, and absolutely unnecessary latest in the Hasbro toy epic is long (very long; too long at two hours and thirty-seven minutes) and silly and stupid and a product of a soulless industry, but it's strangely enough kind of cool, more so the first two mindless exercises in blowing things up, more so than most of the output Bay has unleashed in his career.  And while the overly indulgent, nutrition-free runs it's course, and eventually runs out of gas (how could it not), for the first time in Transformers trilogy, there's a bemused sense of humor and slightly contagious fun.  Also for the first time it seems that the shape-shifting alien robot spectacles of the Autobots (our heroes) and Decepticons (not our heroes) are in the same movie as the human characters, headed by an incongruously manic and relaxed Shia LaBeouf, finally fitting into his character of nerdy-boy-next-door caught up in a holy cow intergalactic stage show, while inexplicably always landing a hot girlfriend-- British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley subs for Megan Fox.  The supporting cast is bolstered by Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and the returning John Turturro, each fully aware of the their respective preposterous roles with pleasurable aplomb.

And wait just a freaking moment.  Am I admitting to actually have found pleasure in a Transformers film.  I feel like the ultimate traitor, and even the most ardent of blow 'em up, popcorn should expect more than Bay's latest ludicrous ego trip, and while improvements over the first two films are noticed...let's be perfectly honest, those movies aren't very good at all.  This is the conflict of conscience here, and yes the story is dumb-- a muddled mess of science-fiction pop cliches, aggressively violent, and overly extended battle sequences, a film of little consequence or nutritional value, it's vaguely sexist, and less vaguely homophobic-- but there's an almost earnest and strangely operatic amusement to which it so desperately wants to entertain.  The first sequence, a fairly nifty one at that, re-stages and montages the entire space race of the late 1960s, using archival footage, seamless visual cues and re-creations in a disarmingly elegant way.  The payoff, and story kick-off (not that it matters) is that on the far side of the moon, our morphing toys were found, starting a top secret government cover-up and stuff (Buzz Aldrin makes a cameo.)  It's not the point-- the sequence looked terrific and reminds the easily-forgotten fact that Bay is an impressive stylist, and while he's, I'm sure, many other things as well, he knows how to stage spectacle with a bravado few could ever dream of.  That he chooses an extended shot of Huntington-Whiteley's ass immediately following this sequence reminds the not-so-easily-forgotten fact he's kind of a jerk as well.

The story that can be coddled together has perhaps a little more on its plate (it was written by Ehren Kruger, already well versed in Transformer nonsense; he co-wrote part two, Revenge of the Fallen as well as The Ring and Scream 3) than its predecessors, as in it still makes no sense, but is slightly more thoughtfully outlined.  The epic war between arch rivals the Autobots (led by the mighty Optimus Prime) and the Decepticons (led by the evil Megatron) continues, this time with American space age cover-ups. An elder robot known as the Sentinel is restored with ideas of dominating Earth, and lots of robot on robot carnage ensues...really who knew machines could bleed!  The more human-driven story revolves around Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) finding a job, perhaps in a nod for a more relatable, recession-driven audience sympathy; sure he's saved the world a couple of times, but he has money struggles too.  And relationship woes as he, not so suavely, battles his girlfriend's oily boss (played by Patrick Dempsey), who has deceptions in his own right.  John Malkovich stops by for a lark as Witwicky's obsessive compulsive boss, and McDormand storms in as a top CIA something or a another, each seemingly enjoying their paychecks and freedom to do whatever the hell they please.  There's even enough time (it's a long movie folks) for Witwicky's obnoxious parents to visit, and it's just as awkward as before (Julie White and Kevin Dunn play Mom and Dad, respectively.)

Perhaps it's best to think of Transformers: Dark of the Moon as a screwball comedy moreso than anything else, the character actors are surely playing up the camp value, and the toys themselves, while technically amazing, are still implausible characters. Interchangeable and recklessly abandoned for long awkward stretches, there's almost a comic wit to the film's inconsistency, and abrupt change in tone.  Yes the action sequences are stellar and slightly more coherent than in the past, but while the joke may be completely unintentional (or perhaps not, who knows) there's a humorous aside to the utter inconsequential mayhem in store, and for a film where it's baddie is hellbent on world domination and enacting human slavery, that is kind of feat.  There's a wonderfully pointless moment when Lincoln's head at the Lincoln Memorial is blown up and replaced by a Dececpticon robot...gravity is turned into absurd humor.  There's a gay sex joke, accompanied with extra tackiness by The Hangover's Ken Jeong that clearly was played for laughs that nets far lamer results, by comparison.

And so you take the good and the bad with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and decide whether you want to roll your eyes at the ridiculousness or go with it.  I was on both sides of the fence, almost simultaneously.  The climatic battle sequence has enough holes and breathless wonderment to it, that after a while I readily admit I didn't know, nor care what was going on, but still thought it was cool...a thrilling office building sequence is a technical marvel, and while logic persists that no one should have survived it, words like that mean nothing to Bay, and after two-hours and thirty-seven minutes of alien robot carnality, it may mean nothing to you as well.  And for the first time in cinema relationship with Hasbro, that's not entirely a bad thing. C+

Blowing Up This Week

The major movie over this weekend, and the big fourth of July event film is, but of course, Michael Bay's third entry in the Transformers series.  Right on schedule two years after the dreadful (and looong) and noisy Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which arrived two years after (nearly to the day) of the very first Hasboro-inspired sensory onslaught, the journey of the Autobots and their odd attachment to Shia LaBeouf continues, this time famously missing Megan Fox (I suppose comparing her director to Hitler didn't win her any favors; she's recast, or whatever, by British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.)  What's fascinating, more so than the movies themselves is the career of Michael Bay.  After a successful run in music videos, and now with nine feature films to his credits, and well as numerous successful outings as a producer, he's the most successfully hated director perhaps in Hollywood history.  None of his features (outside of the ill-fated 2005 outing The Island, an awkward Logan's Run-type story) have been commercial duds, and despite critical raping nearly every time out, here's a wiz-bang, blow 'em up auteur that intrigues, that despite tyrannical press releases, always manages to garner not just buttloads of box office, but draws in an unusually high-prestige cast nearly every time (Steve Buscemi, John Turturro are regulars; and actors from Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery and Billy Bob Thornton and Ewan McGregor have taken the Bay trip; Transformers: Dark of the Moon adds highbrown thespians Frances McDormand and John Malkovich to the Bay mix.)  His films have also netted 13 Oscar nominations, winning one for the sound editing of Pearl Harbor.  Part of the fun of his movies (even when they're epic failures) is that I think we all secretly or not so secretly want them to fail due to the mindless indulgences and illogical storytelling, but his popcorn sensibilities and pure artificial goofiness sometimes have an almost infectious charm; 2006's Alcatraz lark The Rock is my favorite just because it's implausible absurdity ekes a grin every time.  And while the case may almost remain whether his derision is called for or not, I suppose I would be lying if I said I wasn't going to see his latest, and while I fully expect to hate it and pick it apart for my own amusement, yet that itself, no matter how mean-spirited, has a certain charm as well.


Transformers: Dark of the Moon has already grossed $64.6 million, thanks it's early Wednesday opening and Tuesday night sneaks and midnight screenings.  It will, like it or not, be the top-seller this weekend, and likely the top seller of the summer.  Also available in 3-D.


Also opening this week:
  • Larry Crowne- A generically nauseating comedy starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
  • Monte Carlo- Tweener fantasy starring Selena Gomez.
  • The Perfect Host- Creepy looking indie starring David Hyde Piece (limited release.)
  • Terri- Awkward looking coming of age tale with John C. Rielly (limited release.)
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