Friday, September 30, 2011


Bittersweet and observant, the small minimalist pleasures of the simple boy meets boy chamber piece that makes up Weekend have an almost raw and aching sense of revelation and discovery.  It follows a well traveled cinematic tale of a chance encounter by two people, lovers separated by life and circumstance, but unlike the past films it might at first evoke-- thinking of Brief Encounter and Before Sunrise (and it's greater sequel Before Sunset)-- there's a refreshing candor and non-sentimental edge that defines Weekend, makes it potent and real, and heartbreaking, not because it's trying to be, but because it would be hard not to find some sense of identity in it's tale of chance meeting, sex and talk.  Written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh, who has helped build films as varied as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Mona Lisa Smile and Mister Lonely, has sculpted a thoughtful and intelligence piece of filmmaking that explores the tingling awkwardness of first encounters, one that while focuses on a pairing of two men, should never be ghettoized as a mere queer flick, but one of more quiet and luminary power.

Set in Nottingham-- this would be an altogether different story had it been set in a major city, one where gay and straight interactions are more commonplace-- we meet Russell (Tom Cullen), a quiet, semi-closeted lifeguard.  After leaving a party full of straight-only friends, on a whim he goes to a gay bar, where he meets Glen (Chris New.)  There's no meet-cute scenario here; in fact the two first meet at the toilets.  Cut to: the next morning and Glen is in Russell's bed.  The awkward, hungover next morning feels so lived in, that it first it feels almost unbearably terse, what with casual pleasantries and timid, post-coitus questions.  This abruptly changes when Glen, far more out and more brash than Russell, screams out this bedroom window at neighboring gay bashers, and continues to challenge Russell when we brings out his tape recorder.  An emerging artist, Glen asks Russell to speak into it and honestly tell, point by point, what lead them from a the bar the night before to his bed.  Nervous and probably a little intimated, Russell candidly speaks of first attraction to sexual play by play.  The two exchange polite technological information, with little expectation, even moreso as Glen has revealed, "he doesn't do boyfriends," which is given more challenging meaning as the film goes on.

Yet something is evident in both men, that something, whatever it is, or may well be is piqued in both and they meet up later that day.  As the plot envelops, we learn that Glen is leaving soon stateside to go to art-school, and this first weekend will as be their last, but that's hardly the point.  It's in the textures of how they spend it together, and the confines spent is Russell's small apartment where they have sex, do drugs, and talk a lot.  And while it's constructed that Russell is the quieter, "straighter" guy in pursuit of, but also scared of lasting love, and Glen is the louder, more aggressive guy running away from it, there's never a sense of agenda or one-note thinking in either.  To Haigh's immense credit, he has crafted two superbly rounded and carefully shaded characters that feel achingly truthful, and Cullen and New both prove fascinating young discoveries, deftly distilling the politics of sex and love and being gay in the modern era.  And that may be the film's ultimate meaning, that of in a world that is more accepting of homosexuality, does that instill some sense of conforming.  While many of the mostly drug-fueled discussions teeter around the political, Haigh and his actors always bring it back and thoughtfully boil it down the philosophy of why these two men have these mindsets.

It's in the final act of Weekend where quietly earned emotion takes over.  What's remarkable is how intimate it is, but still feels real-- there isn't an artificial or heightened moment in the entire.  In an age, where romantic movies feel less and less nuanced, it's quietly affecting and almost revelatory to experience a film free of gimmicky slights of hand or tacky commercialism; there's a funny bit when Glen caustically says, "is this our Notting Hill moment?"  And while the slow-building melding of thoughts and ideas may read as hard, or a slow sit at first, grows memorably as a realistic showcase of how chance affairs sometimes may have more power than ever imagined.  Haigh shoots the entire film almost as a documentary, with long unbroken scenes, little music, lots of ambient noise and slow, but graceful pacing.  Weekend is evocative, soft and hard at the same time (which almost feels complimentary to the characters themselves.)  It might just be my favorite film so far this year.

There is a little quiet transgressive quality to Weekend that almost makes it feel like a throwback, not only in it's story nod to Brief Encounter, but to the Queer New Wave of the early-1990s when filmmakers like van Sant and Haynes were making artful declarations of the gay experience.  Whatever has changed (and surely lots has) since then, there's still a sense of a movement not quite sure of its overall identity, perhaps because it's led by those who have most likely at some point or another put on an entirely new identity.  And while Weekend, certainly is modern and correct in current queer thinking, there's a small dash of fresh spunk that seems all but forgotten in queer storytelling today, and while it's quiet and deeply nuanced, it might just feature the best (non) love story, hetero or homo, in quite some time.  A

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Trailer

Cue the tears, as the trailer of what could end up being one of 2011's brightest awards hopefuls premieres.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathon Safran Foer, and adapted by screenwriter Eric Roth, he of such fine pedigreed films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, The Insider, and Forrest Gump, for which he won the Oscar (let's forget about his involvement in The Postman and Lucky You.)  A family weepie about a young boy who quests to find out what a mysterious key (belonging to his father) opens.  The film stars Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max von Sydow, James Gandolfini and newcomer Thomas Horn.  A U2 song and a 9\11 in the trailer ensures general mistiness.  The grandest prospect for the film, however, is that is directed by Stephen Daldry.  This is this mans third motion picture, and he received Best Director nominations for his first two-- Billy Elliot and The Hours.  Either he knows Academy secrets, or whatever the case, Oscar has a crush on him.  If the movie makes anyone cry, it doesn't even have to be as good...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Melancholia Ad Work

 The star and Cannes winner, and latest victim of Lars von Trier's hellbent revenge on pretty actresses.

And the true star, faux Nazi-sympathizer auteur extraordinaire.

Anyone else think it's kind of cool that a strange, apocalyptic art flick set at a wedding gets it's own character posters?  Lars von Trier is certainly a brand of his own.  Melancholia, which earned warm reviews (and a Best Actress award at Cannes for Kirsten Dunst), before being entirely dismissed by von Trier's silly comments, opens, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, and opens in limited engagements November 11th.  Anyhow, it's nice for folks like Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard and John Hurt get their own one-sheet.

War Horse one-sheet

Regal, but a little boring, no?  I miss Steven Spielberg before he won any awards-- such a sense of joy and wonder and magic.  There's always a pain to be the prime Oscar frontrunner, and Spielberg's been there many time before, but at this point, on pure pedigree alone, can there be another one?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Lion Roars in 3-D

I feel like I'm ten years old again...only in the context that The Lion King topped the box office for the second week in the row.  Doing the actual math, and recounting my actual age kind of makes me a bit bitter, but that's besides the point.  The nostalgic factor of the one of the most beloved animated features (or features of any kind) topping the charts is fairly miraculous.  Converted to 3-D, Disney has achieved something quite special with its limited run, even more telling in an age as the 3-D craze is starting to underwhelm general audience tastes.  Aside from that, this was a fairly stellar weekend all around:

  1. The Lion King 3-D- $22 million\ -26% \ cum gross: $61 million-- The Lion King as a whole as made a whopping $390 million, making it the highest grossing traditionally animated feature ever, and the second highest animated feature ever (just after Toy Story 3.)
  2. Moneyball- $20 million-- The wonderfully reviewed Brad Pitt, baseball\math drama scored well for a drama and should hold up, considering it's awards potential and the fact that most seem to really, really like it-- I see it tomorrow!  Go smart people!
  3. Dolphin Tale- $20 million-- The sad animal family fable did pretty well too, bolstered by surprisingly good notices, and 3-D inflation.
  4. Abduction- $11 million-- Taylor Lautner's bid to outgrow Team Jacob was greeted with a shrug, and terrible reviews...He'll be fine, Breaking Dawn opens in November.
  5. Killer Elite- $9 million-- The randomly casted (Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen) action whatever will be on DVD soon, so no need to catch in theaters...remember when Clive Owen did good movies...sigh!
  6. Contagion-- Steven Soderbergh's scary viral\movie star killing opus is still holding strong in its third week.  Down an ok 41%, the film made just over $8 million for a total of $57 million so far.  It's one of the best major studio offerings so far this year, and great for non-fans of Gwyneth Paltrow!
  7. Drive-- The majorly awesome Ryan Gosling neo-noir dropped a sad 49% in week number two, but this was always going to a polarizing film, I assume, and thankfully was made for a scant $15 million; it's already made $21 million, and I'm hopeful it may stabilize in the next few weeks.
  8. The Help-- In week number seven, the sensation has broken the $150 million barrier, and dropped a nice 32% from last week-- I feel really ballsy saying this, but I'm thinking Best Picture is almost a sure thing.
  9. Straw Dogs-- Down 59% in its second week, the poorly reviewed remake has earned just over $8 million.
  10. I Don't Know How She Does It-- Down 53% in its second week, the Sarah Jessica Parker dramedy has earned $8 million.
Other box office notes:

  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes has finally escaped the top ten after a nice roll, earning $173 million in eight weeks...Hail Caesar!
  • Warrior, despite good reviews, and a small, but fervent loyalty has still failed at the box office-- in its third weekend, the pugilist drama has earned a paltry $12 million.  I was a bit unkind to the movie, but still think it deserves better...the acting is stellar, and the finale is emotionally stirring.  I expect a huge fan resurgence when the film hits DVD.
  • Pearl Jam Twenty, Cameron Crowe's documentary performed fairly well in limited engagements, earning $369,00 on 7 screens, for a per-screen average of $12,700.
  • Machine Gun Preacher, the poorly reviewed Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Monster's Ball) drama starring Gerard Butler, earned $44,000 on 4 screens, for an alright per-screen average of $11,000.
  • Weekend, the wonderfully reviewed new gay romantic drama earned $25,000 on 1 screen (it selfishly on played in New York), and received the highest per-screen average of any film this weekend.  YAY!

    Absolutely Nothing in Moderation

    The long gestating adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel looks like it could well be a straight out mess, but at least they're having fun with it.  Johnny Depp stars, in what hopefully will be a redeemable vehicle after an endless stream of cartoon-y nonsense.  The upstart company Film District is handling the project, and after a terrific year of the surprise horror hit Insidious, the Christian polemic Soul Surfer, and the cult-potential of Drive, this might be a a juicy property to add to their strange little library.

    Then again, the trailer could have used some of the spunk in the one-sheets.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Opening This Week

    The big draw this coming weekend is Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  It was directed by Bennett Miller, his second feature as his Oscar-nominated Capote (2005), and written by screenwriting demigods Steven Zailian and Aaron Sorkin.  The film, based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, tells the true tale of how the underdog Oakland "A"s reinvigorated the sport of baseball.  The film received nice notices upon it's debut at the Toronto Film Festival, and looks primed as a possible Oscar contender-- much of the praise has been pointed at Pitt, who is having quite the great, auteur-driven year (Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life might still have some awards fate left in it), but also and more surprisingly Jonah Hill has been signaled out, which is jarring-- I personally, may not be quite ready for Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill; and I pride myself on being progressive.  The film has a checked history, for Steven Soderbergh tried valiantly for year to get the movie made and it never happened for a number of the old Hollywood reasons-- I'm thinking dollar signs.  But so far, things point out this one might be a good one.  A baseball movie that's about all about math; sounds spectacular!

    Also opening:
    • Abduction- Trying to position itself as a tweener Bourne Identity, Taylor Lautner breaks out of Team Jacob (perhaps not expressively-- the 0% current rating on Rotten Tomatoes is telling) for John Singleton's teen thriller that inexplicably co-stars Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver.
    • Dolphin Tale- Family tale involving an injured dolphin-- I'm not going anywhere near this.  I'm totally okay with cinematic mayhem taken out on people, but not animals...sad face.
    • Killer Elite- Action thriller headlined by Jason Statham, Robert De Niro and Clive Owen...
    • Machine Gun Preacher- Gerard Butler stars in this true story of badass who helps Sudanese children in Marc Forster's latest drama (in limited release.)
    • Puncture- Captain America stars as a troubled lawyer (in limited release.)
    • Weekend- Festival favorite from Britain about a short term relationship between two gay men that's earning terrific reviews (in limited release.)


    3 is a twee and ridiculous menage-a-trois dramedy from Berlin, a nicely lived-in story about a long term, never married couple whose relationship is turned upside down when they both fall for the same guy.  The film was directed by Tom Tykwer, who twelve years ago was thought to be the new German wunderkind of cinema with his breathtaking international breakout Run Lola Run.  Since then, he's stumbled, first slightly with a ponderous but inventive fable starring Lola's Franka Potente with The Princess and the Warrior (2001), then more so in trying to bring his Euro-art house sensibilities to more Hollywood-ready genre fare like the Cate Blanchett-terrorism vehicle Heaven (2002) and the Clive Owen-action vehicle The International (2008.)  One thing is for certain, and that is that Tykwer is a gifted visual stylist and not afraid of experimental flourishes; the best complement that can be served to 3 is that with a premise that almost feels tacky and bad sitcom bound, or at the very least crappy made-for-television movie bad, is that is looks interesting, and there's a constant flow and energy that keeps the audience off guard for large parts of the film, just waiting for the real impact to hit.  It never quite does, mostly because the story is altogether silly, a bit over the top, and utter nonsense, and far large sections, a complete snooze.  But he moves his camera with such emotional pull, and employs split screens, and fantasies and artsy flourishes that make one hopeful that the film will pull through and not be as flimsy as it really is.  The lovers are Hanna (Sophie Rois; flustered and abrasively interesting) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper), a 40-something couple who've been together forever and are happy and settled and strange in such an unrelatably Euro-trashy way.  Through coincidence and whatever-ness that's neither quite explained nor really explored, both find themselves drawn to Adam (Devid Striesow), and both start to form a hot and sexual relationship with this man.  There's a lovely shot at the end (and this isn't a spoiler, since it's on the poster!) where the three are cuddled together in bed; this shot may be the reasoning for the film.  For 3 is neither particularly sexy nor smart, it's just a muddled mess of pretty images and pretty people.  C

    We Bought a Zoo trailer

    There's been a lot of flack on this in the online universe, and with quite reason-- on first glance Cameron Crowe's latest We Bought a Zoo looks pretty terrible, with seemingly every family dramedy cliche in place, and what appears to be slightly mawkish sentimentality-- but either by foolish illogical reasoning or whatever, I'm forever hopeful that this finds an audience and restores some much needed creative stock in Crowe.  He was the screenwriter behind Fast Times at Ridgemont High (one of the best teen comedies of the over-saturated genre of the 1980s), and the man behind Say Anything (has a Poison song ever been put to better use; no!) and the Oscar-winning writer and director of Almost Famous, which is probably the greatest movie about rock and roll ever made.  With a heart forever steeped in music, and a knack for dialogue that it's best channels both Billy Wilder and Frank Capra, I want a joyous return for Crowe.  Of course, after the disasters of Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown still burn.  One blessing might come from it's casting-- Matt Damon is proving himself a mature and lovable cinematic everyman and Elle Fanning is still fawned about for her muse-like performance in Super 8.  I'd like to be hopeful here....

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    The Iron Lady one-sheet

    Not quite sold on the poster, nor the film itself, but like the image itself, I'm compelled enough to calm my doubts about the director of Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd) doing a serious biography picture.  I just pray she's learned basic filmmaking tools in the three year interim-- like how to use a camera.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011


    Some movies exist solely in their own cinematic universe that bears little to no resemblance to the real world, and the very best of those types of films transport our humdrum reality into a heightened state of joy.  Even if that unique world is hardly joyous.  I felt that way watching Nicolas Winding Refn's wondrous, ponderous Drive, a super-stylized neo-noir that's as black as night, cold as ice, and beguilingly entertaining.  That last time I felt a similar sense of joy and terror in a movie theater was likely Black Swan, or Children of Men, two very different films, both with bleak views of humanity and icy hearts, but because of ingenious craftsmanship and a rare, but marvelous take for the unexpected, both of those films were achingly haunting and crushingly joyous experiences.  Drive is chilling, scary, offers little but a scathing view of humanity and the world, but is a purely cinematic experience, in that every shot, every frame, every deliberate edit, every elongated line reading is utterly and intentionally self conscious of itself, but thrilling in its chutzpah, high on its own adrenaline rush, and achingly beautifully in depicting low life people at their ugliest.  In short, it's the arty popcorn film for film geeks, if perhaps nothing more.

    Danish-bred Refn, who directed Bronson (which was Tom Hardy's big break before Christopher Nolan capitalized on it) and the Pusher trilogy won the directors prize at this years Cannes Film Festival for Drive, and it's easy to see why, for even those who may utterly despise the film (and there will be many), the crafty and meticulous beautiful\ugly noir palette on display is a visual feast.  The surreal rhythms, fanciful lighting, heightened and evocative camera shots-- Drive is a film to be worshiped in the sense that there's really nothing quite like it, even though structurally it follows old school film noir rules.  The pace is slow, but brash, and the notes where nothing is happening are perhaps more startling than the chases and hyper violence that peppers the film.  Something else that might have appeased the Cannes voting committee was the minimalist to an extreme lead role performed by Ryan Gosling, who is lit and staged in such old school iconic fashion that it feels akin to what it might have felt like to be watching James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause for the first time.  Whatever happenstance led Gosling and Refn together, it pays off in spades, and likely will accrue dorm rooms full of the films poster and T-shirts of the Method actor's mug to be worn be hipsters for decades.

    The first instinct is that Drive relishes an old Hollywood feel, Gosling plays a stuntman for the movies-- his impeccable, death-defying car tricks likely led him to extra circular side work.  In simplest terms, he's just a driver, he's so intentionally anonymous, the film fails to give his character a name.  Moonlighting at a body shop run by his crony\agent Shannon (played with effortless mugging by Bryan Cranston), the taciturn driver is given side work with shadier players.  He's been there before-- the film opens with a bravura sequence that maps out his routine, he just drives, while others do their thing.  As noir rules dictate, our driver himself has rules-- he waits five minutes, no more, no less, he never carries a gun, all he does is drive.  Again, as noir rules dictates, those rules are later broken.  Gosling the movie star has never looked so ripe, so quietly dominating-- just as in this summer's Crazy, Stupid, Love, it's hard to take your eyes off him, even here where he erases the charming sheen.  There's a cold beatific poetry to his work that's startling, dangerous and unexpected.

    Our nameless driver gets entangled in real trouble when he starts a slowly-evolved kinship with his neighbor, a quiet pretty lass named Irene (Carey Mulligan), a mother of a small child with a husband named Standard (Oscar Isaac), recently released from prison.  What starts as small act of kindness leads down a rabbit hole of violence with heavy bad guys.  One is Nino, played to the hilt by Ron Perlman and other, Bernie Rose, played in delightful overload by Albert Brooks.  I don't want to get to heavy into plot specifics, because Drive is better experienced than explained, though Mad Men's Christina Hendricks pops up in a small role as a noir moll whose brief appearance provides a terse impression, and the impending violence is shocking, not just because who nonchalantly it's shot, but also because how surprising it is.  The performances are thankfully glowing across the board and play right into the heightened reality.  Perlman and Brooks are terrific and funny and ever so menacing, relishing the chance to be good and bad, while Mulligan is gracefully sweet in her interlude with Gosling; what they may lack in chemistry they make up for in mood, and their quiet nods of affection read genuine.  There's a nifty, hyper stylized first kiss on a elevator that turns into bloodshed that's haunting, surreal and lovely all at once; it's an only in the movie type of sequence, but one that's gloriously staged so much that's it hard to turn away.

    Drive is pure pop filmmaking-- part music video, part video game, part old fashioned gangster tale, part ultra-modern cult wannabe, but all those seemingly incongruous pieces work to make a piece of beautiful style over substance art.  Refn's film has the blackest of hearts, but the joy of this violent thriller is in it's glittery piece, it's retro soundtrack, a beautifully crumby view of a crime-leaden Hollywood underbelly.  With it's part Raymond Chandler, part David Lynch look and feel, here's a film that feels like it could go just about anywhere, and yet on its high and intoxicating confidence carries the willing and patient moviegoer into a trance of submission.  What may come of Drive's legacy is unknown, but for now, I'm willing to say it's the most exciting, entrancing and refreshing film so far this year.  A-

    J. Edgar Trailer

    Higher Ground

    There is always something about Vera Farmiga that's a tad bit severe.  It's not that's such not beautiful, she is, but there's a certain earthy rawness about her features that are interesting, slightly incongruous and intense.  As an actress, she's always imbued such uncommon intelligence and authority, despite hardly ever speaking more than a slight octave above a whisper, plus a unique sense of humor and play that feels both natural and a bit strange.  In a crowd-pleasing mainstream film like Up in the Air, she managed to romance George Clooney, and still made it feel as though he had to earn it, only to break his heart anyways, and in her breakthrough, Down to the Bone, a microscopic drug abuse indie few have seen, she possessed the same features in such a stark, unsettling and deeply emotional way.  In Higher Ground, which serves as her directorial debut, she's given herself a choice role that fits her beautifully, but it also appears she approaches directing in the same manner as her acting.  Higher Ground, based on the memoir "This Dark World," written by Carolyn S. Briggs (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a film centered a woman and her struggles to form and reconcile her relationship with God, and neatest trick of the film is that even though the premise isn't cinematic in the least, Farmiga brings such a warmth, sense of humor and such an inquisitive nature to the film that the introspective, deeply personal grappling with ones faith feels not only assured, but universal.  And yet like the actress herself, it's a bit incongruous and rough around the edges, but uncommonly intelligent, and in nice contrast to most faith-based features, blessed with an open heart.

    Farmiga plays Corrine, a timid wife and mother searching for the connection between herself and her lord, a relationship that appears so easy to everyone else around her; she and her family live on a sort of Christian-hippie commune type of place.  Her husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard) never asks questions of his faith, even in spite of martial discord.  Her best friend Annika (an excellent Dagmara Dominczyk) proudly and teasingly uses her belief as an aphrodisiac.  And all the members of her small church, headed by the pious pastor Bill (played by Broadway vet Norbert Leo Butz) seem more at ease than Corrine, who tries so hard to feel that certain connection.  The beginning of the film shows Corrine's slight unease beginning as a child, where she faked divine intervention for acceptance more so than truly believing.  As a young woman, Corrine (played by Vera's real life younger sister Taissa Farmiga) marries young, and experiences an accident that leads Ethan down a true believers path; Corrine nearly followed.  Setbacks early in life made Corrine susceptible to nearly all that felt loving and true.  Yet, what's most striking about Higher Ground is its non-judgmental mood; for a film that features plenty of sermons, it's always character based and never at once feels like proselytizing, for Corrine's personal skepticism is so thoughtfully, sometimes very movingly rendered.  And Farmiga as a filmmaker, just as an actress strikes a nice blend of shifting between light and dark, and proves a good touch with her strong actors that also include Donna Murphy and John Hawkes as Corrine's quarrelsome mom and dad, the always welcome Bill Irwin as a preacher that affects young Corrine, Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris) as Corrine's less than divine sister, and Sean Mahon, who plays a friendly mailman, who strikes a mild flirtation with Corrine.

    And it's in the many graceful patches of Higher Ground that it makes it easier to forgive when the film occasionally wobbles, as there a few stretches of over-the-top flights of fancy that never quite work, and a few too many characters that come and go with little consequence, but it's Farmiga's unwavering commitment that shines full and through.  And with a quiet artfulness, she displays a rare and genuine gift at honestly questioning the nature of faith and spirituality with such disarming dignity and intelligence, that Higher Ground in a small, art house way feels akin to cinematic divinity.  B

    Thursday, September 15, 2011


    Boxing has always had the best track record on terms of American filmmaking.  Perhaps that's not entirely surprising what with the built-in metaphor of fighting another person can stand for fighting anything-- society, oppression, unhappiness, oneself.  The great American filmmaking standard shows that even the toughest, the strongest and most infallible are prone to human weakness.  And while On the Waterfront's Terry Malloy was never shown in the ring, the backstory informed his rage and grief and why he felt he had to fight again.  Rocky Balboa's story was more unsettling because of the fight he couldn't win.  And so on, and just as neither of those films, nor recent examples, like Million Dollar Baby (more an urgent care father\daughter melodrama than pugilist epic) or The Fighter (more an A-method exercise in differing acting styles than sparring tale), the squarely rounded, slightly stirring new entry Warrior is less about the actual sport than the reason why its characters get in the ring to begin with.  Directed by Gavin O'Connor, of previous by-the-numbers, sock-it-too-you, teary-eyed crowd-pleasers Miracle and Tumbleweeds, has both the skill and compassion to convey raw honesty mixed with over the top manipulative slush.

    In Warrior, first we meet Tommy Reirdon (Tom Hardy), a brooding, pill-popping mess-- he's drunk and on the stoop of his father's porch.  Full of pain, remorse, and guilt over the sad death of his mother, and further trauma overseas in Iraq, we learn he was once a great and shining beacon of hope as a champion wrestler.  Bottomed out and full of rage, Tommy starts training again, and enlists his father (and old-time coach) to train him.  His father is Patty Conlon (Nick Nolte), a once mean and frightening drunk, now one-thousand days sober, and full of guilt and pain and wants for nothing but to reconcile.  Tommy will have nothing of it, it's all about the training, and that's final.  Hardy is such a brittle, menacing and hostile giant that the easiest thing in Warrior to believe is that no one would ever really challenge him.  There is of course, more pain and sorrow to come, as the soft-spoken but ever angry Tommy shares small intimate notes with the audience of his grief and pain, most of which involving an Iraqi war disaster and a promise made to a friend of his.

    Secondly, we meet Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teacher struggling to make ends meet and pay off his mortgage, a loving husband and father to two small girls (one of whom recently underwent tremendous, if nondescript heart problems, to further complicate and infringe on Brendan's financial stability.)  Brendan was an ex-fighter, and secretly moonlights as a pugilist for extra cash.  After his school suspends him for a bloody appearance and the bank foresees foreclosure, Brendan feels there's no other option than to get back in the ring to save their home.  As embodied by Edgerton, Brendan is a lean, wily character, whose size is belied by his patience.  Of course Brendan and Tommy are brothers...there's no spoiler, that's the film.  Both Tommy and Brendan through skill and cunning find themselves at Sparta, the ultimate, holds-no-barred event for mixed-martial arts supremacy, and a top prize of five million dollars.

    Essentially, Warrior is a fairly mediocre film, save for the final twenty minutes, when the inevitable occurs.  And that's where the grand-standing of director O'Connor's part really must be heralded-- for a film that succumbs to nearly every filmmaking cliche in the book, and for characters (no matter how heavy-handedly, or broodingly portrayed), there's a great sense of feeling and rooting and emotion in the brothers-in-arms tale, as all the dithering and over-flowing crap that surrounds fades out and the two Conlon brothers fight it out, not just beating the crap out of each other, but beating the demons out too.  For their credit, both Hardy and Edgerton are effective, even if it's hard to buy their circumstances or successes through lengthy stretches of Warrior.  Hardy, who nearly stole the show in Inception, and has shown his gigantic-ness before in the little seen Bronson is certainly intense, but's its the small pockets of warmth that are most impressive.  Edgerton (of last year's Aussie indie Animal Kingdom) by contrast has charm to burn, but is more impressive when fired up.  While neither quite make the interesting acting exercise of Mark Walhberg\Christian Bale of last year's The Fighter, both are surely good finds.  Nolte, by the way is outstanding in the nearly impossible role of bad seed father with the heart of gold, but his gonzo persona, coupled with his nearly gone, raspy voice gives the film a lot of heart, no matter how falsely stated.

    That it does feel so falsely stated is the problem.  For a film that will certainly illicit feeling out of anyone-- I admit I got misty, I still didn't exactly buy a moment of it.  In the ring, it feels a bit too easy for Tommy, a bit too tough for Brendan...both are too tragic outside the ring, it sobs of mush.  There's too much stuff, an over-bloated surface of doom, what with parental death, parental addiction, war, heart murmurs, financial strife at stake robbing the film of its biggest, simplest and most poignant battle-- that of two brothers at odds.  When they're on screen, just them, Warrior is a real contender.  C+

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Venice Film Festival Winners

    Golden Lion: Faust (Russia), directed by Aleksandr Sokurov (he also directed the art house one-shot hit Russian Ark)
    Silver Lion for Best Director: Shangjun Cai, Mountain People Sea (China)
    Special Jury Prize: Terraferma (Italy), directed by Emanuele Crialese
    Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, Shame (UK)
    Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Deannie Yip, A Simple Life (China, Hong Kong)
    Osella Award for Best Screenplay: Alps (Greece)- Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou
    Osella Award for Best Technical Contribution: Robbie Ryan (cinematography), Wuthering Heights (UK)
    Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Acting Newcomer: Shota Sometani, Himizu (Japan)
    The big news that Michael Fassbender, who pulled double duty at this years Venice Film Festival with Shame (directed by Steve McQueen, who also helmed Fassbender's breakthrough Hunger in 2008) as well as co-starring in David Croenberg's A Dangerous Method won top honors for his portrait of a sex addict.  The film itself, based on early reviews, seems like unlikely catnip for the Academy, but it certainly ups the credibility for the up and coming, and seemingly ubiquitous actor, he's already scaled the heights of such iconic roles of Magneto and Mr. Rochester, and that's this year alone.  The film was recently snapped up by Fox Searchlight, which will be interesting for a film that most seem to think will get slapped with an NC-17.

    The other get was Alps, which was directed and co-authored by the provocateur of last year's best foreign language film nominee Dogtooth, as well as the cinematography mention for the umpteenth rendition of Wuthering Heights, directed by Andrea Arnold, whose 2009 feature Fish Tank (which co-starred Fassbender) was a beaut.


    Sprightly and spongy, the cancer comedy 50/50 warms us on the fact that however serious a subject can be, pot and sex jokes and bromance gestures can fit in anywhere these days.  For a film of ambition and comic-serious motives, this is still a film that co-stars Seth Rogen.   It will be determined how this plays out in the long run-- I eerily envision some kind of buddy flick, cannabis-infused Seth Rogen\Holocaust feature at some point soon enough-- but under the direction of Jonathon Levine (The Wackness) and written by Will Reiser, a bud of Rogen's whose debut feature as a writer is inspired by his own personal struggle, there's an agreeable, pleasing roly-poly appeal.  The plight of a young man, not yet turned thirty, whose faced with a rare, and tongue-twisting, monosyllabic form of cancer is enough to tug at heartstrings, but the slightly unwieldy 50/50 takes its time to really hit its stride.  Perhaps like its main character, the film is a bit unsure of itself, and early on settles on easy jokes in the name of potentially awkward subject matter.  However, there's a shift that occurs towards the middle of the feature that continues to its finish that somehow makes the film almost appear better than it actually is, and perhaps even a bit graceful-- for a film that could very easily give way to simple cinematic manipulation, it never quite feels like such.  All of the the platitudes, however, belong to the wonderful, career-elevating, somewhat miraculous performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    Gordon-Levitt plays Adam Lerner, a 27-year-old good boy who gets diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer.  The film first plays off as a slightly raunchy, good-natured five stages of grief play as Adam is first struck by a sort of numbness that masks his real emotions.  He plays supportive nice guy with his selfish longtime girlfriend  Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and youngster therapist Katie (Anna Kendrick), insisting his calm demeanor is not an act.  Rachael is clearly uncomfortable, and in the wobblier parts of the first their relationship derails, even though Adam, with his puppy faced act, insisted she didn't stay in the first place.  Kyle, a frat-boy Rogen type uses his terminal disease to pick up chicks, while offering sympathetic insights such as the numerous celebrities who have beaten cancer.  It's with Katie, that a real genuine sort of reaction takes place as Adam slightly unbuckles his own fears of a disease that might take his young life away, where the film starts to shed it's shaggy crowd-pleasing ways and starts to form as a film of substance.  Kendrick, for her part, is thoughtful and receptive in a nice contrast to her breakthrough role in Up in the Air two years ago.  And Rogen, though still Seth Rogen is at his best-- in relatively small doses.  But this is a one-man show, and Gordon-Levitt, with ample charm, and grown-up dignity, seems fully aware of that.

    The film chronicles his struggles, the bouts of chemo, the funny head-shaving scene that's sadly already been ruined by its trailer and poster, as well as his fondness for medical marijiana.  There's a disarmingly charming sequence after his first experience where Adam walks down the hospital corridors, stoned as can be, and a happy grin on his faces while watching life at its most grim.  It's a silly, sensitive, and slightly poetic little montage that features the niftiest bit of visual flow and captures a nice sense of, at the very least, what the film is trying to capture.  A humorous take on something sad and terrible.  It's also after this sequence that 50/50 starts to form its groove, as Adam dumps the dreadful Rachael (who is given too much screen time to begin with) and come closer to harsher, sadder realizations that his situation brings.  There's added complications as Adam also has his nagging mother (Angelica Huston) to tend with, herself overburdened with the struggle of having to take care of Adam's Alzheimer-plagued father.  To the credit of Reiser and Levine, this is never overplayed, but a reminder of the cloying-feel good tug fest that it really could have been...Terms of Endearment is name checked.  And Huston is wonderful is one-note role, shading bits of history and sadness while naturally projecting motherly concern.  Again, though it's Gordon-Levitt's movie.

    For what sells the film as not just a serviceable cancer lark, or sentimental story of a man battling something raw and sad is the quick-witted and subtle flow and dimension of its leading actor.  For when the film delves itself into more dramatic, pricklier territory, Gordon-Levitt with what appears to have been an incandescent ease and utmost control, passionately and abruptly breaks down.  What could have read as a melodramatic fit, plays real and utterly raw, as does his cute-awkward little connection with Katie, which surely must have read a bit faintly, but due to Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick's nice and natural rapport feels earned rather than manipulated.  Yet there are moments of reality-based terror of a man coming to terms with the concept he might die young, or a fragile adult bracing his scared mother that can likely never be scripted properly, they must be felt.  And it's in small, but graceful, little nods that 50/50 latches onto, for the sake of audiences tears, but hardly in cynical way, that makes the film a success.  And that of an performer who holds firm control over a movie, perhaps in such a unique and charismatic way for the first time, and breathlessly envision grander plans for the future.  For even the shaggier, shakier bits of 50/50, we never lose focus of Adam.

    And if this film is perhaps entirely a success only due to the great performance that grounds and centers it, than there are far worse reasons to dish out obscene amounts of money on a movie.  B

    Friday, September 9, 2011


    There's little time to waste in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh's latest, a brisk, nervy, globe-trotting thriller about a virus that takes hold of the population, so much so, that within the first few frames of the feature, movie star Gwyneth Paltrow is killed off, and nearly gutted.  She's the victim of a highly contagious and rapidly lethal unknown virus caught while on a business trip to Hong Kong.  For the record, she seizures beautifully, and does return in crucial flashbacks.  It takes a bit to get a grasp on the film, rooted in technical jargon, procedural takes and blatant matter-of-fact realism.  Yet there's still a little tinge of paranoid, antsy exasperation that the film opens with a grisly death of a Hollywood beauty, and the Janet Leigh of Psycho effect is part of the thrill, and oddly pleasurable allure of Soderbergh's multi-layered popcorn yarn.  And while Contagion, scripted by Scott Z. Burns (The Informant) has little interest in matters of the heart, Paltrow's character for instance is given but a blip of backstory, it fairly intelligently and absorbingly dives into a very scary and real reality of fear.  And the idea of a film, especially one starring a huge, very starry, cast of movie stars in which all must keep away from each other, there's a sort of cerebral and smart devise that the film intentionally keeps its audience at arms length the entire time.  But this is also one of Soderbergh's most commercial films in quite some time too, and the big, sprawling and glamorous ensemble he assembled is part of the manic joy, as is the mystery of whose going to go next.  The film plays a wicked mash-up of The China Syndrome and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, or in simpler terms a B-movie ride with enough hints of broader social commentary, should one be up for it.

    The film just jumps in, there's not enough time to spare for a single opening title sequence, as Soderbergh jets his camera all over the world, tracing the first cases of the mysterious virus.  We jump from major city to major city, and start watching people croak.  He jets from the Center of Disease Control to the World Health Organization to the homes of families, as this thing grows with little idea of what it is, and how it can be stopped.  One of the alarming features of the briskness, is just how eerily real it feels.  As Soderbergh jumps from governmental meetings, and major scares like the bird flu are name dropped, they feel like achingly real conversations, and the film grows on our own fears of overblown hysteria, and the unknown.  There's even a nifty subplot involving a slimy blogger (played by Jude Law), who using his power of free speech spawns his own sort of fear mongering for financial means.  The main thing that keeps Contagion as alive and interesting as it is, is because there's the frightful sense that this could actually happen, and all powers that be of government, media and health departments could be undone by a scared and frantic world.  Like all good thriller, Contagion's fears are all reality based.

    The neatest feat might just be the certain joy in watching someone like Soderbergh tackle a film on a large scale again.  After amusing and sometimes brilliant, sometimes less than forays in small scaled independent films, crowd pleasing director for hire jobs, the spectacle of Contagion is its strength, in all it's fast moving, agonizing intensity, here's a filmmaker of immense scope and bold chutzpah.  Like with Traffic, it's almost more on the surface that matters most, the film as a whole, and when dissected to the microscopic level, things start to glisten a little less.  For Kate Winslet is formidable and commanding as a no-nonsense CDC investigator, and Jennifer Ehle is disarming and graceful as epidemiologist striving to stay on step ahead of the virus she knows nothing about, just as Marion Cotillard is short-tailed as a World Heath Organization worker given a subplot that needed more than Soderbergh's fast-moving parade could provide, and Matt Damon's panic-stricken suburban dad take tries to provide a thorny heartbeat to a film that's best when it's in motion.  Other names include Laurence Fishburne as a CDC head and Elliot Gould as a doctor who solves a critical clue in the puzzle.  Yet there's no mistaking that this is Soderbergh's show, and the aplomb and visceral gravitas he injects Contagion.

    And yet even with a larger than life group of movie stars at hand, and a few too nods at global hotspots (the film does cross into Babel territory a few times-- especially when Cotillard travels to Hong Kong to retrace host Paltrow's sickly steps), there's still a few quieter and even more unsettling tricks up Soderbergh's sleeve.  As perhaps some of the most haunting shots are of empty airport terminals and school houses of fleeing children, and the onset of very real feel like you're almost watching a documentary.  There's a lovely and chilling little sequence in the middle of the feature of Winslet struggling to keep everything together, and without giving anything away, a brief shot very human sorrow, but again Contagion cares very little of matters of the heart, it's the terse, direct, technically mechanics of driving panic that Soderbergh and Burns are clearly after.

    The upwards, downwards, sideways track that Soderbergh employs-- fans of his work will catch on quicker than others-- does provide proper closer to the tale, and while many might see it all coming, and perhaps even snicker a bit, it's far from the point.  The hysteric and menacing anguish of what fear can bring is the motive of the movie, and the nervy stylization of it here is practically contagious.  B

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Something's Coming

    While it may be hard to tell, but the movie seasons are slowly but surely beginning to change.  While perhaps hard to see from the perspective of the regular filmgoer (which sadly I'm apart of) who had to witness a sad past weekend where the brightest thing was a soggy Helen Mirren thriller and Shark Night 3-D (both of which were bested by a month old message picture), the fall festival seasons is most certainly underway.  The Telluride Film Festival has already wrapped, and the shined a few lights on a few noteworthy films coming our way.  The festival, a favorite of the exclusive cinephiles, for that it announces its selection after tickets are already sold.  The exclusives the festival typically brings are the reason it can get away with such things.  Recent films like The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Up in the Air and Juno made their first big splashed at Telluride.  That's not all, however, as the Venice Film Festival is underway-- last year's opening night film-- Black Swan-- made it all the way to an Oscar nomination.  Then comes the big festival orgy of the Toronto Film Festival, which offers even more films than anyone could possibly hope to see in one lifetime, and that it offers that on a yearly basis is quite exhausting.  Later on, comes the New York Film Festival (last year The Social Network opened), this year the honor belongs to Roman Polanski's Carnage.  After that comes the London Film Festival (Fernando Mierelles, director of City of God, opens that festival with his latest ensemble drama 360, starring Rachel Weisz and Jude Law.)  And that's followed by the AFI Film Festival, which will unspool Clint Eastwood's latest J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio...whew!

    Roman Polanski's latest, adapted from the Tony Award winning play, God of Carnage, played Venice, with it's very starry cast-- Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Rielly and Christoph Waltz, and was greeted with lukewarm praise, all of which translates to a potentially interesting, but possibly non-awards caliber type of film.  For a film shot in real time, set in one apartment over a group of two squabbling parents, the film reeks of potential stagy-ness.  And the tone of melodrama and overt comedy may harken its chances of awards and a large audience, but still how can one not be curious.

    The Daily Telegraph said:
    "It's well-acted and giddily enjoyable, if slightly less so once the characters start to analyse their descent into barbarism."

    The Hollywood Reporter said:
    "Snappy, nasty, deftly acted and perhaps the fastest paced film ever directed by a 78-year-old, this adaptation of Yasmina Reza's award-winning play God of Carnage fully delivers the laughs and savagery of the stage piece..."

    A Dangerous Method:
    David Croenberg's latest- a period drama and study of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and the girl caught in the middle stars Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortenssen and Keira Knightley.  The film earned mixed reviews from its bow at Telluride and Venice and due to the kinky but seemingly austere nature of the film may not be able to become the film that finally warms the Academy to endless but idiosyncratic talents of Croenberg.  The performances and the technical aspects of A Dangerous Method seem to have earned high praise, but the film seems to have come across as the least-Croenberg-like film he's every created, and a lot of attention was payed to Knightley's performance that seems to be dividing critics.

    The Daily Telegraph said:
    "It's Knightley that one remembers, for a full-on portrayal that is gutsy and potentially divisive in equal parts."

    The Guardian said:
    "A Dangerous Mind feels heavy and lugubrious. It is a tale that comes marinated in port and choked on pipe-smoke."

    The Hollywood Reporter said:
    "Precise, lucid and thrillingly disciplined, this story of boundary-testing in the early days of psychoanalysis is brought to vivid life by the outstanding lead performances of Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender."

    The Descendants:
    The brightest thing potentially from Telluride was Alexander Payne's latest feature starring George Clooney as a husband and father trying to rebuild his family after his wife is struck with a life-threatening ailment.  It's been seven years since Payne unleashed the huge critical sweep (and Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay) Sideways, and should at the very least, on paper, be primed for another awards contender.  While the trailer may have read a bit nondescript and possibly lacking in the usual humor one might expect from Payne, there's bound to be a great deal of attention towards the film, as well as Clooney's performance, and with distributor Fox Searchlight, it's fairly certain a stellar campaign will be mounted.  The next step is Toronto, where perhaps the film will truly sink or swim.

    Variety said:
    "Some movies aim to distract us; others seek to help us understand. "The Descendants" tackles some of the prickliest issues a contempo family can face -- coping with a loved one's right-to-die decision -- with such sensitivity that it's hardly noticeable you're being enlightened while entertained. As a Hawaiian father of two negotiating complex emotions while his wife lies comatose after a boating accident, George Clooney reveals yet another layer of himself. His involvement, plus the welcome return of "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, will bring in auds; their tell-a-friend enthusiasm should spell sleeper success among catharsis-seeking adults."

    The Ides of March:
    George Clooney's is everywhere, as per usual.  The stars and directs this film, which opened the Venice Film Festival, and while play Toronto.  A timely, political story with an all star cast-- Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, and Jeffrey Wright.  The film received mostly kind, if unspectacular notices.  Yet many seem to assume the film, a very American story, will play better here than in Venice, and if the film reaches out to the uber-Hollywood liberal elite, it could certainly be an awards film.

    The Hollywood Reporter said:
    "Classy and professional throughout, the technical work gracefully holds all the threads together."

    Time Magazine said:
    "Clooney sees blustering bustle and edgy familiarity - giant closeups of private conversations - as the contrasts of political campaigns, which are, at heart, all rhetoric and no accountability."

    Variety said:
    "[An] intriguing but overly portentous drama, which seems far more taken with its own cynicism than most viewers will be."

    A film of definite interest that played both Telluride and Venice to a lot of good notice was Steve McQueen's second feature starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.  Defined as an unflinching film about the relationship between a depraved sex addict and wayward sister, the film seems to have gotten a lot of attention, not perhaps as a magnet for upcoming awards, but it's frank, and full-frontal realism.  While much press on the film has noted that the film will likely be rated NC-17, there still seems to be a lot of interest in the story as an alleged bidding war is underway between Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company and Sony Pictures Classics.  Whatever there's to make of the outcome, one certainly hopes that McQueen follows through on the promise of his hard-edged, provocative, but ultimately dazzling debut feature, Hunger, which (depending on what year the few of you that caught it, actually saw it-- release dates for the little ones can be confusing-- was the real breakout feature for the formidable Fassbender.)  The film will trek onto Toronto next.

    The Guardian said:
    "This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie."

    This is London said:
    "McQueen's film-making is undoubtedly powerful and without compromise, especially during the frequent sex scenes, which depict a man on the edge intent on propelling himself over the cliff."

    Directed by Madonna, W.E. was snapped up by The Weinstein Company well before it made its auspicious and critically reviled premiere at Venice.  Described as a Julie & Julia-like biopic of Wallis Simpson (the woman King Edward III abdicated the throne for) and a modern woman obsessed with the tale.  The film stars Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish.  Perhaps the Weinstein's were hoping for a side story of sorts to last years champ The King's Speech.  Either way the film received a critical drubbing, and will surely rouse endlessly curiosity and hisses as it approaches theaters; Madonna just can't get a break in films, can she?

    The Guardian said:
    "What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is."

    The Hollywood Reporter said:
    "Madonna's second foray into directing is pleasing to the eyes and ears, but lacking anything for the soul."

    Variety said:
    "Burdened with risible dialogue and weak performances, pic doesn't have much going for it apart from lavish production design and terrific, well-researched costumes."

    Other possible films of interest include Albert Nobbs, the two decades long passion project for Glenn Close, who both stars and scripted the gender-bending tale of a woman who poses as a man in 19th century Ireland.  While reviews were mild, there's still bound to be interest and praise given to Close (who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at Telluride) and who, after five tries and an Oscar track record in the 1980s that rivaled Meryl Streep, still has yet to win the big award.  What the irony that Streep herself as an Oscar bid in her Margaret Thatcher biography The Iron Lady coming out later this year...a festival run is thus far unannounced for that one.  And what of the further irony if eventually when all pans out if Viola Davis ends up becoming the victor for The Help...

    Cannes favorites The Artist and We Need to Talk About Kevin also played Telluride, further building potentially buzz.  The Artist, which was snapped by the very busy Weinstein Company earlier this year seems likely to benefit most from the fall festival circuit (it will play Toronto as well), and crowd-pleasing old Hollywood throwback to silent era, might very well be the toast of this coming season, if early reaction is any indication.  Kevin, on the other hand might have a bit more trouble seeing it's rough subject matter-- a family drama centered around a Columbine-like high school shooting.  However the film's star Tilda Swinton has received a lot of acclaim, and received a tribute at Telluride, as did George Clooney, and its distributor, Roadside Attraction (also handling Albert Nobbs) had a good run last year with not so easy sells like Winter's Bone and Biutiful.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Young Adult Poster

    The lastest film directed by Jason Reitman and scripted by Diablo Cody, Young Adult, has unveiled an amusing bit of art work.  Starring Charlize Theron, as a writer, one, must assume, not unlike the prolific Oscar-winning blogger, ex-stripper that created her.  Paramount Pictures has opted not to unspool the film at any of fall's festivals, but given the pedigree, will likely to clamoring for awards attention.  Perhaps the reasoning was because after Reitman's 2009 Up in the Air was greeted with such unfortunate frontrunner status after the fall festival season, only to be left with no statutes.

    Eddie Murphy, Our 2012 Oscar Host

    The calm, I suppose, has settled as the rumor has become fact that Eddie Murphy will be the master of ceremonies at next February's Academy Awards.  The telecast will be produced by Brett Ratner, who coincidentally (not for a second) is directing Murphy in the fall comedy Tower Heist.  While that type of synergistic Hollywood maneuvering may be nothing new, it still reads fishy.  The upside, well at the very least to the Academy, will be a familiar face with a streak (if not exactly currently) of being's been, what, about twenty years since Murphy has performed live.  And I suppose it smooths things over after his Oscar snub in 2008 for his supporting role in Dreamgirls, I'm guessing Alan Arkin may not be invited to this years festivities.  Murphy is only the third African American to host the Oscar; Whoopi Goldberg did so twice in the 1990s, and Chris Rock hosted in 2005, and while that should be no big, the stat is still true.

    Margaret-- Six Years Later We Finally Get a Trailer

    In 2000, playwright Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed his first feature, You Can Count on Me, a simple, but assured piece of small-time filmmaking that netted two Academy Award nominations, one for his original screenplay, and one for Laura Linney's wonderful performance.  The coming of age drama about a small town brother and sister reconciliation was funny, moving, and in a rare gesture of American independent filmmaking, felt completely honest.  Linney's counterpart, Mark Ruffalo should have been nominated as well for deft breakthrough performance as her fuck-up sibling.  Five years later, Lonergan began principle photography on his second feature, a seemingly more challenging ensemble drama centered around a horrible bus accident.  The movie wrapped sometime in 2005, and has been awaiting release ever since.  A lot of the drama seemed centered around Lonergan's finicky final edit of the film, and his perfectionist work ethic...the filmmaker, even though it was only his second film, had an exclusive final cut of the film, a rarity even for some of the most internationally regarding directors working today.  There was also two lawsuits between distributor Fox Searchlight and production company Gilbert Films, and huge names listed with producer credits, including luminaries like Scott Rudin, and the sadly passed away likes of Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.  Shelved and put on hold, and assumed to have be assembled and reassembled countless times, many a patient filmgoer may have thought the idea of theatrical release for Margaret would never come.  I, for one, am not fully going to buy until I've watched the trimmed two hour and thirty minute feature in its entirety.  The movie stars a pre-Sookie Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney, Keiran Culkin, Olivia Thirlby and Mark Ruffalo.  Allegedly it will be release by Fox Searchlight Pictures on September 30th.

    The Guard

    An endlessly quirky comic thriller set in the middle of Irish nowhere, The Guard has become a small art house hit this summer.  The film stars veteran character actor Brendan Gleeson (always a phenomenal presence, even he will likely be best remembered for playing Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films) as an endlessly quirky police sergeant.  With a penchant for whores and drugs, Gleeson's Gerry Boyle is an amusing character study only because the actor himself is so gifted at getting through the very dense, cleverly, if a bit too cheeky, scripted shenanigans that writer\director John Michael McDonagh (brother of playwright and In Bruges writer\directed Martin McDonagh) baits and throws our\his way.  A murder and drug-smuggling ring in a sleepy Irish town offset the story in The Guard, and Sgt. Boyle, with the aid of an FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, are the detectives in charge; the baddies are played by Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and modern cinemas go-to villain Mark Strong.  And it's Gleeson's commitment that shines the brightest in the genre-switching, tonally all over the place film-- that's part fish out of water comedy, part character study, part hard-boiled detective yarn, part all-too quirky indie crowd-pleaser.  With all the extraneous parts groveling for screen time, it's expected that whole souffle will eventually cave in.  The principle flaw is that under McDonagh's novice direction, The Guard exhibits little control of its pace, and thus the comedy falls flatter than it should (not that dialogue doesn't have a spark, nor the actors have trouble in delivery), and the violence feels inconsequential, in fact the story itself in The Guard slogs away for long stretches, as if the filmmakers were more interested in amusing asides rather than a coherent whole.  The reason may be that Gleeson's performance bests everything else in the movie, it's a great creation in search of better material.  C+  

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    End of Summer Blahs

    The Labor Day weekend marks the end of the summer movie season.  And as typical for the standards set by Hollywood, late August in the dumping ground for excess crap, marking the end of a fairly lackluster summer.  None of the this weekend's offerings-- the Helen Mirren-Holocaust spy thriller The Debt, long-delayed horror space tale Apollo 18, nor the in-the-tradition of Piranha 3-D exploitation flick Shark Night (in 3-D)-- sparked much interest from North American filmgoers.  In fact all three features were overtaken by the month old phenomenon that is The Help, which topped the box office for the third consecutive week (something no film has done since last summer's Inception.)  It's a bit more of an accomplishment considering the Viola Davis-headlined domestic weepie opened in second place in its first weekend of release.  Thus creating perhaps the zeitgeist film of the year, as all its word of mouth praise, constant hype and astounding box office numbers should attest.  For a film that cost only $25 million to make, The Help has made $123 million.  All grosses are over the 4-day holiday period:

    1. The Help- $19 million \ 123.3 million (+30%)
    2. The Debt- $12 million \ $14.4 million-- The Holocaust thriller starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (third movie of 2011 after The Tree of Life and The Help, and there's more to come...) directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) was the best of the newcomers, the film opened last Wednesday.
    3. Apollo 18- $10.7 million-- First weekend of release for the long-delayed Weinstein Company horror flick.
    4. Shark Night- $10.3 million
    5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes- $10.2 million \ $162.0 million (+15%)
    6. Columbiana- $9.7 million\$23.9 million (-9.7%)-- The Zoe Saldana starrer is doing better than it probably looks considering it cost only $40 million to produce and producer Luc Besson (Leon, Le Femme Nikita) is bankable overseas.
    7. Our Idiot Brother- $7.0 million \ $17.5 million (+0.5%)-- The Paul Rudd-helmed stoner comedy is proving a nice little art house hit for the Weinstein Company, as the festival favorite of last season cost only $5 million.
    8. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World- $6.6 million\$31 million (+10%)-- The Weinstein Company is all over the map in this weekend's top ten, as the ill-fated fourth entry in the Spy Kids franchises will likely leave the top ten (and enter further oblivion) next week.  Upside: cost only $27 to produce.
    9. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark- $6.1 million \ $17.5 million (-27%)-- The Guillermo del Toro produced horror flick has faded in it's second weekend of release.  At least upstart company FilmDistrict (which opened this spring's surprise hit Insidious, and is tackling the Cannes critics hit Drive in two weeks) won't lose too much, as Dark cost around $25 million.
    10. The Smurfs- $5.6 million \ $133.5 million (+17%)
    11. Crazy, Stupid, Love.- $4.3 million \ $75.5 million (+29%)
    12. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II- $3.3 million \ $375.4 million (+29%)
    13. Captain America: The First Avenger- $2.4 million \ $172.1 million (+9%)-- Still $9 million short of last May's Thor...
    In other news:

    Cars 2 was re-released and greeted with a sigh-  $1.6 million \ $189 million becoming the first Pixar movie since A Bug's Life (1998) not to cross the $200 million barrier, and by a large margin the lowest attended one.
    Bad Teacher is teetering on the $100 million threshold, having made $98.8 million in eleven weeks of release...will it make it...
    Higher Ground, Vera Farmiga's directorial debut (which has earned lovely reviews) is doing decent, if not gangbusters art house numbers, in it's second weekend in limited release the film has earned $169,000 on 17 screens, for an per-screen average of $7,300.
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