Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

The hampered and manic Rise of the Guardians establishes the very best and very worst skill set in distributor DreamWorks Animation.  The best, which comes from the accomplished likes of Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon in which the studio, built on the grubby green shoulders of Shrek, focuses on story over sight gag or easy self referential pop.  The worst lies in a seeming lack of confidence on relying on story alone, and the need to pepper with such busy antics it takes away the gentle pleasures that may have lied ahead.  Like a sugar addled kid with an already too hyped-up ADD disorder, Rise of the Guardians clutters its simple and humble holiday offerings by appeasing to whomever and appealing to no one in particular.  Frame after frame of the beautifully animated, nicely 3-D rendered wintery template is too cluttered to be enjoyed, too swift to relish, and too arbitrary to matter.  Based on the children's book, The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce, adapted by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) and directed by art director Peter Ramsey, Rise of the Guardians feels pitched and conceived with mixed signals and proffers the mixed bag effect on nearly every beat.

Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) is a twinkly imp who knows nothing of his past, or of why he is what he is-- a mischievous force of nature who nips under noses of the young.  He's a prankster, and also an invisible who knows not but what the man in the moon has bestowed upon him.  He's chosen to be, in lieu of a more operative word, the one in a matter of crisis.  Pine, a gifted actor and certainly charted for wonderful things as captain of the Starship Enterprise, has all the wrong vocal qualities for Jack, there's little sense of danger or inquisitiveness, but more a labored cadence that reads more theatrical than enchanting.  The guardians of the namesake refer to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman, the keeper of the keys and protectors of children, or other lies our parents once told us.  Here they are real and in real danger.   The danger is the power of disbelief.  According to Rise of the Guardians, those same silly tales that kept the are childhood in check is what keeps the calming order to the world.  The power of a child's lack of belief in the creatures of the night that bring out their dreams, or their Christmas presents, Easter eggs and quarters for loose teeth, makes the guardians disappear altogether and wander invisibly like Jack, or Pitch (voiced by Jude Law), the films interrupted Boogieman.

Santa, known as North (voiced by Alec Baldwin) is a jolly, naughty\nice mixture of Russian descent and full sleeve tattoos.  He's kind of the ring leader of the guardians, if only due in stature from the kids below.  Missing is the "ho, ho, ho" merriment, replaced with a gleeful stance of badassery.  The Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is a six foot tall Aussie stereotype whose secret weapon is his, um, boomerang, alongside a temperamental and nearly self-deprecating disposition.  Tooth (voiced by Isla Fisher), is a pixie, as well a master of efficiency as her and her follower faeries travel and chart the missing teeth of the children the world.  The most inventive creature is the Sandman, a voiceless and powerful guardians, and conductor of the childhood dreams.  Communicating through shape-shifting and conjuring, Sandy is easily the most powerful guardian, and the one that Pitch strikes for first by infiltrating the soothing dreams with devilish nightmares.  To the surprise of all of the guardians, the man in the moon picks Jack Frost to help the guardians in their time of peril.

There's bits of charm and twinkles of delight in Rise of the Guardians, but the film is at once too eager to please and not self assured enough to rely on the simplicities of its narrative.  The film beats too quickly and jets from action sequence to action sequence and even in slight moments is too busy to focus on the pleasurable animation and the decent quality 3-D novelty.  Lots craft and consideration was surely put into the animation of the guardians, each wildly colorful and imaginatively and distinctively designed (Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro served as a producer), but the film never lets us soak any of it up and enjoy it for a moment.  It's too busy trying to be everything, it quickly dilutes into nothing.  C

Sundance Film Festival 2013

The selections for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival are coming in.  One wonders of which of these films could be next years Beasts of the Southern Wild, which not only won the Grand Jury Prize for 2012 but is an Oscar contender as well.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is one of the sixteen premieres in competition starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
 

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The world premieres of 16 American narrative feature films.

Afternoon Delight / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) —  In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost L.A. housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine.

Austenland / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale) — Thirtysomething, single Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. On a trip to an English resort, her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman become more real than she ever imagined. Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis.

C.O.G. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris' work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.

Concussion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can't do it anymore. Her life just can't be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini) — Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious, new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O'Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.

Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

In a World... / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell) — An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.

Kill Your Darlings / U.S.A. (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — An untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.

The Lifeguard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.

May in the Summer / U.S.A., Qatar, Jordan (Director and screenwriter: Cherien Dabis) — A bride-to-be is forced to reevaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan and finds herself confronted with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander Siddig. DAY ONE FILM

Mother of George / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter: Darci Picoult) — A story about a woman willing to do anything and risk everything for her marriage. Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia, Bukky Ajayi.

The Spectacular Now / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber) — Sutter is a high school senior who lives for the moment; Aimee is the introvert he attempts to "save." As their relationship deepens, the lines between right and wrong, friendship and love, and "saving" and corrupting become inextricably blurred. Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler.

Touchy Feely / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother's foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.

Toy's House / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that’s the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.

Upstream Color / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Shane Carruth) — A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The world premieres of 16 American documentary films.

99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film / U.S.A. (Directors: Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read, Nina Kristic) — The Occupy movement erupted in September 2011, propelling economic inequality into the spotlight. In an unprecedented collaboration, filmmakers across America tell its story, digging into big picture issues as organizers, analysts, participants and critics reveal how it happened and why.

After Tiller / U.S.A. (Directors: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson) — Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, only four doctors in the country provide late-term abortions. With unprecedented access, After Tiller goes inside the lives of these physicians working at the center of the storm.

American Promise / U.S.A. (Directors: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson) — This intimate documentary follows the 12-year journey of two African-American families pursuing the promise of opportunity through the education of their sons.

Blackfish / U.S.A. (Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite) — Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.

Blood Brother / U.S.A. (Director: Steve Hoover) — Rocky went to India as a disillusioned tourist. When he met a group of children with HIV, he decided to stay. He never could have imagined the obstacles he would face, or the love he would find.

Citizen Koch / U.S.A. (Directors: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin) — Wisconsin – birthplace of the Republican Party, government unions, “cheeseheads” and Paul Ryan – becomes a test market in the campaign to buy Democracy, and ground zero in the battle for the future of the GOP.

Cutie and the Boxer / U.S.A. (Director: Zachary Heinzerling) — This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.

Dirty Wars / U.S.A. (Director: Richard Rowley) — Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill chases down the truth behind America’s covert wars.

Gideon's Army / U.S.A. (Director: Dawn Porter) — Gideon’s Army follows three young, committed Public Defenders who are dedicated to working for the people society would rather forget. Long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads are so common that even the most committed often give up.

God Loves Uganda / U.S.A. (Director: Roger Ross Williams) — A powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to infuse African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow biblical law.

The Good Life / U.S.A. (Directors: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine) — Dr. Leslie Gordon and Dr. Scott Berns fight to save their only son from Progeria, a rare and fatal disease for which there is no treatment or cure. In less than a decade, their work has led to significant advances.

Inequality for All / U.S.A. (Director: Jacob Kornbluth) — In this timely and entertaining documentary, noted economic-policy expert Robert Reich distills the topic of widening income inequality, and addresses the question of what effects this increasing gap has on our economy and our democracy.

Manhunt / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Greg Barker) — This espionage tale goes inside the CIA’s long conflict against Al Qaeda, as revealed by the remarkable women and men whose secret war against Osama bin Laden started nearly a decade before most of us even knew his name.

Narco Cultura / U.S.A. (Director: Shaul Schwarz) — An examination of Mexican drug cartels’ influence in pop culture on both sides of the border as experienced by an LA narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front line of Mexico’s Drug War.

Twenty Feet From Stardom / U.S.A. (Director: Morgan Neville) — Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight.  Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead – until now. DAY ONE FILM

Valentine Road / U.S.A. (Director: Marta Cunningham) — In 2008, eighth-grader Brandon McInerney shot classmate Larry King at point blank range. Unraveling this tragedy from point of impact, the film reveals the heartbreaking circumstances that led to the shocking crime as well as its startling aftermath.

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

Circles / Serbia, Germany, France, Croatia, Slovenia (Director: Srdan Golubovic, Screenwriters: Srdjan Koljevic, Melina Pota Koljevic) — Five people are affected by a tragic heroic act. Twenty years later, all of them will confront the past through their own crises. Will they overcome guilt, frustration and their urge for revenge? Will they do the right thing, at all costs? Cast: Aleksandar Bercek, Leon Lucev, Nebojsa Glogovac, Hristina Popovic, Nikola Rakocevic, Vuk Kostic. World Premiere

Crystal Fairy / Chile (Director and screenwriter: Sebastián Silva) — Jamie invites a stranger to join a road trip to Chile. The woman’s free and esoteric nature clashes with Jamie’s acidic, self-absorbed personality as they head into the desert for a Mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip. Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

The Future / Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Alicia Scherson) — When their parents die, Bianca starts to smoke and Tomas is still a virgin. The orphans explore the dangerous streets of adulthood until Bianca finds Maciste, a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Cast: Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta. World Premiere

Houston / Germany (Director and screenwriter: Bastian Günther) — Clemens Trunschka is a corporate headhunter and an alcoholic. Drinking increasingly isolates him from his life and leads him away from reality. While searching for a CEO candidate in Houston, his addiction submerges him into his own darkness. Cast: Ulrich Tukur, Garret Dillahunt, Wolfram Koch, Jenny Schily, Jason Douglas, Jens Münchow. World Premiere

Jiseul / South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Muel O) — In 1948, as the Korean government ordered the Communists’ eviction to Jeju Island, the military invaded a calm and peaceful village. Townsfolk took sanctuary in a cave and debated moving to a higher mountain. Cast: Min-chul SUNG, Jung-won YANG, Young-soon OH, Soon-dong PARK, Suk-bum MOON, Kyung-sub JANG. International Premiere

Lasting / Poland, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Jacek Borcuch) — An emotional love story about two Polish students who fall in love with each other while working summer jobs in Spain. An unexpected nightmare interrupts their carefree time in the heavenly landscape and throws their lives into chaos. Cast: Jakub Gierszal, Magdalena Berus, Angela Molina. World Premiere

Metro Manila / United Kingdom, Philippines (Director: Sean Ellis, Screenwriters: Sean Ellis, Frank E. Flowers) — Seeking a better life, Oscar and his family move from the poverty-stricken rice fields to the big city of Manila, where they fall victim to various inhabitants whose manipulative ways are a daily part of city survival. Cast: Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla, Althea Vega. World Premiere

Shopping / New Zealand (Directors: Mark Albiston, Louis Sutherland, Screenwriters: Louis Sutherland, Mark Albiston) — New Zealand, 1981: Seduced by a charismatic career criminal, teenager Willie must choose where his loyalty lies – with a family of shoplifters or his own blood. Cast: Kevin Paulo, Julian Dennison, Jacek Koman, Alistair Browning. World Premiere

Soldate Jeannette / Austria (Director: Daniel Hoesl) — Fanni has had enough of money and leaves to buy a tent. Anna has had enough of pigs and leaves a needle in the hay. Cars crash and money burns to shape their mutual journey toward a rising liberty. Cast: Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Christina Reichsthaler, Josef Kleindienst, Aurelia Burckhardt, Julia Schranz, Ines Rössl. World Premiere

There Will Come a Day / Italy, France (Director: Giorgio Diritti, Screenwriters: Giorgio Diritti, Fredo Valla, Tania Pedroni) — Painful issues push Augusta, a young Italian woman, to doubt the certainties on which she has built her existence. On a small boat in the immensity of the Amazon rain forest, she faces the adventure of searching for herself. Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Anne Alvaro, Pia Engleberth. World Premiere

Wajma (An Afghan Love Story) / Afghanistan (Director and screenwriter: Barmak Akram) — A young man in Kabul seduces a girl. When she tells him she’s pregnant, he questions having taken her virginity. Then her father arrives, and a timeless, archaic violence erupts – possibly leading to a crime, and even a sacrifice. Cast: Wajma Bahar, Mustafa Abdulsatar, Haji Gul, Breshna Bahar. World Premiere

What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love / Indonesia (Director and screenwriter: Mouly Surya) — Mouly Surya’s film explores the odds of love and deception among the blind, the deaf and the unlucky sighted people at a high school for the visually impaired. Cast: Nicholas Saputra, Ayushita Nugraha, Karina Salim, Anggun Priambodo, Lupita Jennifer. World Premiere


WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary filmmakers working today.

Fallen City / China (Director: Qi Zhao) — Fallen City spans four years to reveal how three families who survived the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to embark on a journey searching for hope, purpose, identity, and to rebuild their lives in a new China torn between tradition and modernity. North American Premiere

Fire in the Blood / India (Director: Dylan Mohan Gray) — In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Western governments and pharmaceutical companies blocked low-cost antiretroviral drugs from reaching AIDS-stricken Africa, causing 10 million or more unnecessary deaths. An improbable group of people decided to fight back. North American Premiere

Google and the World Brain / Spain, United Kingdom (Director: Ben Lewis) — In the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet, Google has been scanning the world's books for 10 years. They said the intention was to build a giant digital library, but that involved scanning millions of copyrighted works. World Premiere

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear / Georgia, Germany (Director: Tinatin Gurchiani) — A film director casting a 15-23-year-old protagonist visits villages and cities to meet people who answer her call. She follows those who prove to be interesting enough through various dramatic and funny situations. North American Premiere

The Moo Man / United Kingdom (Directors: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier) — A year in the life of heroic farmer Steve, scene stealing Ida (queen of the herd), and a supporting cast of 55 cows. When Ida falls ill, Steve’s optimism is challenged and their whole way of life is at stake. World Premiere

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer / Russian Federation, United Kingdom (Directors: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin) — Three young women face seven years in a Russian prison for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. But who is really on trial: the three young artists or the society they live in? World Premiere

A River Changes Course / Cambodia, U.S.A. (Director: Kalyanee Mam) — Three young Cambodians struggle to overcome the crushing effects of deforestation, overfishing, and overwhelming debt in this devastatingly beautiful story of a country reeling from the tragedies of war and rushing to keep pace with a rapidly expanding world. World Premiere

Salma / United Kingdom, India (Director: Kim Longinotto) — When Salma, a young girl in South India, reached puberty, her parents locked her away. Millions of girls all over the world share the same fate. Twenty-five years later, Salma has fought her way back to the outside world. World Premiere

The Square (El Midan) / Egypt, U.S.A. (Director: Jehane Noujaim) — What does it mean to risk your life for your ideals? How far will five revolutionaries go in defending their beliefs in the fight for their nation? World Premiere

The Stuart Hall Project / United Kingdom (Director: John Akomfrah) — Antinuclear campaigner, New Left activist and founding father of Cultural Studies, this documentary interweaves 70 years of Stuart Hall’s film, radio and television appearances, and material from his private archive to document a memorable life and construct a portrait of Britain’s foremost radical intellectual. World Premiere

The Summit / Ireland, United Kingdom (Director: Nick Ryan) — Twenty-four climbers converged at the last stop before summiting the most dangerous mountain on Earth. Forty-eight hours later, 11 had been killed or simply vanished. Had one, Ger McDonnell, stuck to the climbers' code, he might still be alive. International Premiere

Who is Dayani Cristal? / United Kingdom (Director: Marc Silver) — An anonymous body in the Arizona desert sparks the beginning of a real-life human drama. The search for its identity leads us across a continent to seek out the people left behind and the meaning of a mysterious tattoo. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

NEXT <=>
Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a “greater” next wave in American cinema.

Blue Caprice / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: R.F.I Porto, Alexandre Moors) — An abandoned boy is lured to America and drawn into the shadow of a dangerous father figure in this film inspired by the real life events that led to the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Cassandra Freeman, Leo Fitzpatrick.

Computer Chess / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski) — An existential comedy about the brilliant men who taught machines to play chess – back when the machines seemed clumsy and we seemed smart. Cast: Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, James Curry, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Wiley Wiggins.

Escape from Tomorrow / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Randy Moore) — A postmodern, surreal voyage into the bowels of "family" entertainment; an epic battle begins when an unemployed, middle-aged father loses his sanity during a close encounter with two teenage girls on holiday. Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor.

I Used to Be Darker / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Porterfield, Screenwriters: Amy Belk, Matthew Porterfield) — A runaway seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, only to find their marriage ending and her cousin in crisis. In the days that follow, the family struggles to let go while searching for things to sustain them. Cast: Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Kim Taylor, Ned Oldham, Geoff Grace, Nick Petr.

It Felt Like Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman) — On the outskirts of Brooklyn, a 14-year-old girl’s sexual quest takes a dangerous turn when she pursues an older guy and tests the boundaries between obsession and love. Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nick Rosen, Case Prime.

Milkshake / U.S.A. (Director: David Andalman, Screenwriters: David Andalman, Mariko Munro) — In mid-1990's America, we follow the tragic sex life of Jolie Jolson, a wannabe thug (and great-great-grandson of legendary vaudevillian Al Jolson) in suburban DC as he strives to become something he can never be – black. Cast: Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Leo Fitzpatrick, Danny Burstein.

Newlyweeds / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Shaka King) — A Brooklyn repo man and his globetrotting girlfriend forge an unlikely romance. But what should be a match made in stoner heaven turns into a love triangle gone awry in this dark coming-of-age comedy about dependency. Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez.

Pit Stop / U.S.A. (Director: Yen Tan, Screenwriters: Yen Tan, David Lowery) — Two working-class gay men in a small Texas town and a love that isn't quite out of reach. Cast: Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda, Amy Seimetz, John Merriman, Alfredo Maduro, Corby Sullivan.

A Teacher / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Hannah Fidell) — A popular young teacher in a wealthy suburban Texas high school has an affair with one of her students. Her life begins to unravel as the relationship comes to an end. Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Jonny Mars, Julie Phillips, Chris Dubeck.

This is Martin Bonner / U.S.A.(Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Martin Bonner has just moved to Reno for a new job in prison rehabilitation. Starting over at age 58, he struggles to adapt until an unlikely friendship with an ex-con blossoms, helping him confront the problems he left behind. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet, Demetrius Grosse.
SPOTLIGHT

Fill the Void / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Rama Burshtein) — A devout 18-year-old Israeli is pressured to marry the husband of her late sister. Declaring her independence is not an option in Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, where religious law, tradition and the rabbi’s word are absolute. Cast: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir, Razia Israeli, Hila Feldman.

Gangs of Wasseypur / India (Director: Anurag Kashyap, Screenwriters: Anurag Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri) — Exiled and outcast for robbing British trains, Shahid Khan spurs a battle for revenge that passes down generations. Shahid's son vows to get his father's honor back, becoming the most feared man in the Indian town of Wasseypur. Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddique, Richa Chadda, Huma Qureshi, Tigmanshu Dhulia. U.S. Premiere

The Gatekeepers (documentary) / Israel, Germany, Belgium, France (Director: Dror Moreh) — Since its stunning military victory in 1967, Israel has hoped to achieve a long-lasting peace. Forty-five years later, this has yet to happen. Six former heads of Israel’s Secret Service reflect on the successes and failures of the “peace process.”

Mud / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeff Nichols) — Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and reunite him with his true love. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon. North American Premiere

No / Chile, U.S.A. (Director: Pablo Larraín, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano) — When Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide his permanence in power, the opposition persuades a young advertising executive to head its campaign. With limited resources and under scrutiny, he conceives a plan to win the election. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana.

Sightseers / United Kingdom (Director: Ben Wheatley, Screenwriters: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram) — Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but when events conspire against the couple, their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn. Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram. U.S. Premiere

Stories We Tell (documentary) / Canada (Director: Sarah Polley) — Sarah Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: always complicated, warmly messy and fiercely loving.
 
PARK CITY AT MIDNIGHT
From horror flicks to comedies to works that defy any genre, these unruly films will keep you edge-seated and wide awake. Each is a world premiere.

Ass Backwards / U.S.A. (Director: Chris Nelson, Screenwriters: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson) — Loveable losers Kate and Chloe take a road trip back to their hometown to claim the beauty pageant crown that eluded them as children, only to discover what really counts: friendship. Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Cryer, Brian Geraghty.

Hell Baby / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon) — An expectant couple moves into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans – a house with a demonic curse. Things spiral out of control and soon only the Vatican's elite exorcism team can save the pair – or can it? Cast: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Key, Riki Lindhome, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel.

In Fear / United Kingdom (Directed and story by: Jeremy Lovering) — Trapped in a maze of country roads with only their vehicle for protection, Tom and Lucy are terrorized by an unseen tormentor exploiting their worst fears. Eventually they realize they've let the evil in – it’s sitting in their car. Cast: Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker, Allen Leech.

kink (documentary) / U.S.A. (Director: Christina Voros) — A story of sex, submission and big business is told through the eyes of the unlikely pornographers whose 9:00-to-5:00 work days are spent within the confines of the San Francisco Armory building, home to the sprawling porn production facilities of Kink.com.

The Rambler / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Calvin Lee Reeder) — After being released from prison, a man known as “The Rambler” stumbles upon a strange mystery as he attempts the treacherous journey through back roads and small towns en route to reconnecting with his long-lost brother. Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady, Scott Sharot.

S-VHS / U.S.A., Canada (Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener, Screenwriters: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Huw Evans, John Davies) — Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his abandoned house and find another collection of mysterious VHS tapes. In viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be terrifying motives behind the student’s disappearance. Cast: Adam Wingard, Lawrence Levine, L.C Holt, Kelsy Abbott, Hannah Hughes.

Virtually Heroes / U.S.A. (Director: GJ Echternkamp, Screenwriter: Matt Yamashita) — Two self-aware characters in a Call of Duty-style video game struggle with their screwy, frustrating existence. To find answers, one abandons his partner and mission, seeking to unravel the cheat codes of life. Cast: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill, Ben Messmer.

We Are What We Are / U.S.A. (Director: Jim Mickle, Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle) — A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family. Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Kelly McGillis.

NEW FRONTIER
With media installations, multimedia performances, transmedia experiences, panels, films and more, New Frontier highlights work that celebrates experimentation and the expansion of cinema culture through the convergence of film, art, and new media technology.

FILMS

Charlie Victor Romeo / U.S.A. (Directors: Robert Berger, Karlyn Michelson, Screenwriters: Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory) — An award-winning theatrical documentary derived entirely from 'Black Box' transcripts of six real-life major airline emergencies brought to the screen with cutting-edge stereoscopic 3D technology. Cast: Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory, Noel Dinneen, Sam Zuckerman, Debbie Troche, Nora Woolley.

Fat Shaker / Iran (Director and screenwriter: M Shirvani) — An obese father and his handsome, deaf son share extraordinary experiences in Tehran. Then a beautiful young woman upsets the balance of their relationship, forcing them to renegotiate their position with each other and the world around them. Cast: Levon Haftvan, Maryam Palizban, Hassan Rostami, Navid Mohammadzadeh.

Interior. Leather Bar. / U.S.A. (Directors: Travis Mathews, James Franco, Screenwriter: Travis Mathews) — To avoid an X rating, it was rumored that 40 minutes of gay S&M footage was cut from the controversial 1980 film, Cruising. Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews re-imagine what was in the lost footage. Cast: Val Lauren, James Franco, Travis Mathews, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory.

Halley / Mexico (Director: Sebastian Hofmann, Screenwriters: Sebastian Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes) — Alberto is dead and can no longer hide it. Before surrendering to his living death, he forms an unusual friendship with Luly, the manager of the 24-hour gym where he works as a night guard. Cast: Alberto Trujillo, Lourdes Trueba, Hugo Albores.

The Meteor / Canada (Director: François Delisle, Screenwriter: François Delisle) — Forty-something Pierre, his mother and his wife are linked by crime, guilt and loneliness. Like casualties of love and desire, they are dying to stick their heads above water and breathe the air of life. Cast: Noémie Godin Vigneau, François Delisle, Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Pogonat, François Papineau, Andrée Lachapelle.

INSTALLATIONS

Cityscape 2095
Artists: Yannick Jacquet, Mandril, Thomas Vaquié [AntiVJ]
AntiVJ artists Yannick Jacquet and Marc Ferrario blend painting with light projection to transform the walls of New Frontier into a luminous, three-dimensional cityscape that feels strangely familiar yet impossible to locate. With its disorienting sense of time and space, Cityscape 2095 places spectators on the observatory deck of a skyscraper, where they take in a sprawling, imaginary city as it glitters over the course of one day.

Coral: Rekindling Venus
Artist: Lynette Wallworth
Inspired by the first collaboration among the international science community to witness the celestial transit of Venus in 1761, Lynette Wallworth’s visually stunning Coral: Rekindling Venus is an augmented-reality and full-dome planetarium presentation designed to nurture an emotional connection between a global audience and the planet’s endangered coral reefs. This epic project features original deep-sea photography, augmented-reality artwork and music by Antony and the Johnsons. Presented at the New Frontier venue in Park City, Salt Lake City’s Clark Planetarium and other locations nationally. Details to be announced.

E.M-bed.de/d, Datamosh, Augmented Real
Artist: Yung Jake
Rap artist Yung Jake is Net art incarnate, flowing lyrics about tweet culture, data-moshing, hashtags, and memes as he blows up on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram in his HTML5 music video, E.M-bed.de/d. This MC drops unexpectedly into your browser sessions, streams into Festival screenings, Skype-bombs live DJ performances, and pops out of floors and magazines in augmented-reality music videos.

Eyjafjallalokull
Artist: Joanie Lemercier [AntiVJ]
Inspired by the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption that wreaked travel havoc across Europe, Eyjafjallalokull is a stunning, three-dimensional, audiovisual mapping installation that challenges audiences’ perception of space by creating an optical illusion that transforms the walls of New Frontier into a sweeping digital vista that artistically recreates the seismic event.

North of South, West of East
Artist: Meredith Danluck
North of South, West of East enhances narrative storytelling by wrapping the film around the entire room. Presented to an audience in swivel chairs, Meredith Danluck’s remarkable four-channel narrative feature deftly unspools a darkly humorous tale of small-town folks as they try to make sense of a posthope America. Shot on location in Detroit, Michigan, and Marfa, Texas, this unique film features fantastic performances by Ben Foster, Stella Schnabel, and Sue Galloway, and a soundtrack by Marfa local punk band Solid Waste.

Pulse Index
Artist: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s beautifully resonant, interactive media installation swaths the central lounge of New Frontier with images of the warm, breathing flesh of its visitors. Pulse Index records the heart rates and fingerprints of participants and exhibits them in a beautiful Fibonacci pattern. Place your finger into the custom-made sensor, and your fingerprint appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to your heartbeat. Your print then travels down the sequence to join those of all the others who have visited the room, immersing the community space with the radiant glow of the human touch.

What’s He Building in There?
Artists: Klip Collective
Ricardo Rivera and the Klip Collective transform the entire front of the New Frontier venue into an interactive, 3-D projection-mapped parable, inspired by the Tom Waits song. Sip a hot beverage in the outdoor lounge and watch the walls and windowpanes dissolve into a story about a man on a mysterious mission inside the building. Use the X-ray flashlight to peek at what he is up to.

Best Live Action Short Film

The semi-finalists for the Live Action Short Film race for the 85th Academy Awards have been announced:

  • A Fabrica, directed by Aly Muritiba
  • Asad, directed by Bryan Buckley
  • Buzkashi Boys, directed by Sam French
  • Curfew, directed by Shawn Christensen
  • Death of a Shadow, directed by Tom Van Avermaet
  • Henry, directed by Yan England
  • Kiruna-Kigali, directed by Goran Kapetanovic
  • The Night Shift Belongs to the Stars, directed by Silvia Bizio & Paola Porrini Bisson
  • 9meter, directed by Anders Walther
  • Salar, directed by Nicholas Greene
  • When You Find Me, directed by Bryce Dallas Howard

Best Visual Effects

The semi-finalists for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award have been announced.  Five of these ten titles will be nominated when the announcements are made January 10th.


  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • John Carter
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel's The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Skyfall
  • Snow White & the Huntsman
The lists of titles snubbed include: The Hunger Games, The Impossible, Total Recall, Looper.

Interesting to note that The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall would be somewhat anomalous in that both use more practical visual effects (stunts and mis en scene tricks) than CGI, prominent in the remaining films, which might make both films vulnerable in the end.  Life of Pi looks like the only one of the ten with a Best Picture chance, which might bode well not just for a nomination, but the eventual win-- the past three years the Visual Effects winner was a Best Picture nominee (Hugo, Inception and Avatar.)
Cloud Atlas, the box office dud from the Wachowski Bros. and Tom Twyker may still be an Oscar nominee.
Only four these films were not presented in 3-D (Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall and Snow White and the Huntsman.)

Two of these films, Cloud Atlas and John Carter were two of the costliest bombs of the 2012, so it will be interesting to see if either can gain any traction in the one category that typically favors blockbusters.

Each film will present a clip reel and panel for members of the Visual Effects branch of Academy shortly before the nominations are announced.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom and Oscar?

After snatching the Best Feature prize at the Gotham Awards-- the first awards proper of the season-- and snagging five big Independent Spirit Awards nominations, does Moonrise Kingdom have what it takes to take it's youthful love story all the way to the Academy Awards?

Well the golden reviews the Wes Anderson film received this summer were pretty impressive.  A 94% on critical aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, and a 84 on Metacritic are comparable to falls heavy hitters (and certain Best Picture nominees) Argo and Lincoln; my review here.  Plus, it's $45 million at the summer box office is good enough (more so than The Artist made last year.)  It was a bonafide sleeper that played and played and played well.  It held the record for the biggest opening weekend per-screen average for a live action feature of all time, until Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master yanked it away a mere four months later.  It's an enchanting film, and upon its debut as the opener of this years Cannes Film Festival, many were wistful of the personally-honed nature that Wes Anderson channeled within his own idiosyncratic charm.
There's a quiver and a hopefulness that perhaps now is his time, and a shot with Oscar.  Anderson was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay (with Owen Wilson) for 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums and for Best Animated Feature for 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox, but aside from that the Academy has been immune to his gifts.  Moonrise Kingdom is against odds, a seminal Anderson selection about a budding young romance between two misfits, elaborately and preciously staged, but there's a longing and romanticism and dare one say, soulfulness, that he's never expressed on screen before.  He lies on the artifice, as Anderson does, and does superbly, but there's also a stripped down fragility at the heart of Moonrise Kingdom that expresses a loneliness and tenderness he perhaps hasn't yet achieved on screen before.

While Moonrise Kingdom will forever remain a dark horse Best Picture (and even more so Best Director) candidate, these early gets offer a nice bit of exposure for a film surely to be forgotten in the haste of the coming weeks.  If nothing more, it solidifies what will surely be Moonrise's best bet-- an Original Screenplay nomination.  Hopefully, the coming weeks will set up a win. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gotham Awards

Your Sister's Sister's tight ensemble (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt) besting big guns like Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, Bernie and Safety Not Guaranteed.

FEATURE 
Moonrise Kingdom

DOCUMENTARY
How to Survive a Plague

ENSEMBLE
Your Sister's Sister

BREAKTHROUGH FILMMAKER
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER
Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere

BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty 

Independent Spirit Award Nominations

Jennifer Lawrence nets her first nomination of the season for Female Lead in Silver Lining Playbook

And we're off!  Summer sleeper Moonrise Kingdom and potential fall sleeper Silver Linings Playbook lead the nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards with five each, with Beasts of the Southern Wild and the Sundance hit Middle of Nowhere following closely behind.

After a surprise win at the Gothams, Moonrise Kingdom co-leads Indie Spirits with 5!

BEST FEATURE
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Bernie
Keep the Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST FIRST FEATURE
Fill the Void
Gimme the Loot
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sound of My Voice

JOHN CASSAVETTES AWARD (Best Feature under $500,000)
Breakfast with Curtis
The Color Wheel
Middle of Nowhere
Mosquita & Mari
Starlet

BEST MALE LEAD
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On
Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
Wendell Pierce, Four

Perhaps a preview of whats in store for the most competitive category of the year...the Best Actor race has six candidates including John Hawkes in The Sessions.  Co-star Helen Hunt was also nominated, but the film was snubbed everywhere else.

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Linda Cardellini, Return
Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
David Oyelowe, Middle of Nowhere
Michael Pena, End of Watch
Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister's Sister
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice
Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

BEST SCREENPLAY
Keep the Lights On- Ira Sachs
Moonrise Kingdom- Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Ruby Sparks- Zoe Kazan
Seven Psychopaths- Martin McDonaugh
Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Celeste & Jesse Forever- Rashida Jones & Will McCormack
Fill the Void- Rama Burshstein
Gayby- Jonathon Lisecki
Robot & Frank- Christopher Ford
Safety Not Guaranteed- Derek Connolly

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
Amour
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Rust & Bone
Sister
War Witch

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Central Park Five
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Marina Abramoviac: The Artist is Present
The Waiting Room

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Here
End of the Watch
Moonrise Kingdom
Valley of Saints

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (presented to a films director, casting director and ensemble cast)
Starlet

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Skyfall

The thrill and wonder of a great chase sequence is that spontaneous charge that the action is all being made up on the spot.  A kinetic improvisation that can send a chill and shiver down your spine without ever being aware of the highly choreographed pyrotechnics involved.  There's a feeling like that at the beginning of Skyfall, the twenty-third James Bond outing, as Bond runs and leaps, rides and bounces in a sequence that's heart-poundingly good.  The mission, if one bothers to care, is in order to retrieve a British-intelligence ruining flash drive, but the fun is seeing the team jettison from car to train in a such a pulsating and nervy way-- one that's also thankfully and elegantly straightforward.  The start-up is a beaut, and director Sam Mendes, rightfully begins on a high note, sticking to formula, but bristling with energy.  Of course, as formula dictates, the action sequences is but a prelude for the second prelude, the grand musical title sequence-- this time courtesy of Adele's already winning hit.  There's a tricky task to come into a Bond film, even after all these years, as there's such a well-greased machine to it that the audience expects, necessitates and argues about until the next round.  For Skyfall, which enters cinemas the same year as Bond is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a cinematic franchise, there appears great measures to get this one exactly right.  Starting with bringing aboard Mendes, an Oscar-winning director and respected man from the theater, along with a far more illustrious team on and off camera.  Yes, Skyfall is fun entertainment, and a benchmark for the series, but the formula need not be forgotten either, and it isn't.

Six years ago when Daniel Craig started his turn as 007, he brought an icy cool resurgence to not just the series, but to character himself.  A formidable and a broodingly charismatic star-- Bond's first blonde--Craig rejuvenated a hipness that the series perhaps never really had before.  While beckoning on the classic mold, his come-on was tighter and the series raised its stakes ever more to keep up with his intensity.  2006's Casino Royale seemed to please not just the loyalists, but a newer generation more in tune to the grooves of the Bourne films.  While his second feature, Quantum of Solace wasn't quite as successful, Craig and team are definitely on the rebound.  Skyfall is notable for embarking on a slightly more weathered look at Bond-- a little more unraveled, morally ambiguous and physically drained.  Craig embodies all these elements wonderfully, while still maintaining the essence of Bond.  He's still a master spy, an impeccable dresser and charming cad with the ladies.  The best subversion Craig has imbued in his Bond, is he's more the sexpot than his comely conquests.

The fullest, most complete arc to Skyfall comes at further cementing the push and pull, mother and child relationship with Bond and his MI6 superior M (again played by Judi Dench.)  Typically sidelined, distilling orders and light judgements, Skyfall is the first film to truly dive into their complicated narrative.  It's also the first film where the villain of the piece has motives directly targeted at them, and more specifically, her.  There's a nod, as M is caught under fire over the her division's current failures that ought to put her old school ways of espionage out to pasture as they connect to a cinematic franchise that is legendary for it's starts and finishes.  And while there are those among the Bond-o-sphere that will proclaim Skyfall the heartiest of escapist entertainment to the level of near exhaustion and thunderous chatter when the film fails to sway the hard to please members of Academy, there is reason to cheer for Skyfall and its fun, but it's also important to remember that this is a Bond movie first and forever.  Mendes and team have made an excitingly diverting film, and through their effort they are simultaneously paying homage to and subverting the routine Bond formula, without ever quite transcending it.

Silva (playing with a bouncy chill of menace by a to the rafters Javier Bardem) is a cunning devil of a villain.  He has old school ties to M and knows exactly the kind of maternal protection that 007 shows for her.  He comes around, not with typical bombastic worldwide takeover plans, but instead with a vendetta.  And he's sharply and sickly threatening.  His chilling entrance begins with a teasing and slightly flirtatious tet-a-tet with a tied up Bond-- it's a grandiose and flamboyantly alive scene merely because of Bardem's tenacity.  Silva is frightening and certainly capable of extreme devastation, but the problem with Silva, and main problem with Skyfall, is that he remains at heart a one-dimensional figure of destruction.  The model for Mendes and teams appears to be slightly from Christopher Nolan's revision of The Dark Knight tale, with a darker mood and more unsettling volcanic and vengeful baddie, but instead it sometimes plays too self-serious, and Silva is no Joker-- he's all flash, zero substance despite the actorly massaging Bardem artfully employs.  The mayhem is again just playing lip service to the firmly cemented formula of Bond.

Skyfall is, in the end, blockbuster eye candy.  But it is sublimely concocted eye candy.  Aesthetically, this may be the most accomplished Bond film ever made, with Mendes, a newbie at franchise for hire work, adept at the challenges.  One of his smartest moves was bringing in cinematographer\poet Roger Deakins to photograph the action and mayhem.  The camera work is sizzling, stark and potent, and the action sequences have a visual clarity (courtesy of editor Stuart Baird) that seems nearly forgotten in the jump-cut-to-death styling of now.  Skyfall is certainly the best acted Bond feature, likely to date, with Craig firmly at its center, Dench given more to chew on, Bardem hamming about, and a supporting cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Noamie Harris, Albert Finney, and a delicious Ben Whishaw as a young Q.  The formula is tried and true, and now for fifty years strong.  B 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

There is, indeed, a silver lining to David O. Russell's latest, a romantic screwball comedy fairy tale, which won the Audience Award at this years Toronto Film Festival, and is being packaged as the feel good confection primed for awards goodwill courtesy of Harvey Weinstein.  Adapted from Matthew Quick's novel, Silver Linings Playbook follows The Fighter as O'Russell's return from movie jail and again showcases a sprawling family dynamic presented in a seemingly gritty version of reality.  Just like The Fighter, his latest is a true ensemble effort, and much of the fascination of the film revolves around the disparate acting styles stewed around.  It's interesting the course of David O. Russell, who started as an idiosyncratic maker of comedic chaos in the same age of the Wes Andersons and Spike Jonzes, whose fail from grace was spawned by less than gracious movie set behavior (that unfortunately went viral) and the less than stellar reception to his joyously nutty 2004 existential romp I Heart Huckabees, only to have rebounded as a sharp (and seemingly refined) director for hire.  And while Silver Linings Playbook on the outset reminds a glimmer of the wacky and disjointed free associative messiness of I Heart Huckabees, it's really more of finely greased machine charting its course to happily ever after, with occasional of the road pit-stops along the way.  Which isn't to say that for a film whose audience manipulation is fully soaked in, is without its pleasures.  They are abundant.

We first meet Pat (Bradley Cooper), a manic depressant being released into the care of the his family.  Hospitalized after a nearly killing the man who was his wife was having an affair with, he's attempting to prove to her, and himself that he can overcome his anger and issues.  Instilled with a new found sense of positivity and optimism, Pat's mission is clear: to win back his estranged wife, restraining order be damned.  Coming home to his Eagles-loving, superstitious father (Robert De Niro) and pleasingly motherly mom Dolores (Jackie Weaver), O'Russell pins down in seconds (a perhaps a bit too on the nose) that the apple doesn't fall to far from the tree.  Right off there's a nuanced and manic energy with bits of overlapping dialogue-- all crisp and quick that fuses a nearly schizophrenic sensibility to Silver Linings Playbook.  The film is centered around messy people and their messy, nearly debilitating neuroses, but there's such a wittily screwball joie de vivre to the writing and the performances that at times the whole thing nearly erupts with frothiness.  If it works, and I'm not entirely sure it does exactly, the reason may be that the Silver Linings is so quick, that the contrivances, the problems, the messiness and the short segments of intensity move about so fast-- possibly afraid to linger-- that the audience has to keep up, and let go.  Perhaps just as do the characters.

Cooper himself is magnetic in a performance that suits the actors quick speech and temperament.  Pat is a difficult character to like, and as he says, he has no filter, and is just taking the truth.  He may just be an asshole too.  Known for the overgrown frat guy dude from The Hangover films, this feels like his first real movie star performance, and he ably anchors the films messier and more finely calibrated scenes with a dignity that's truthful to Pats mental illness, but charming enough to cater to the romantic comedy whims Silver Linings ultimately becomes.  He meets his match in Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a troubled young widow.  Acid tongued and accepting of the dirty, messed up things about herself, she challenges Pat, just as she becomes drawn to him.  After an awkward meet-cute set up, Tiffany begins to follow Pat around on his neighborhood jogs-- he's trying to firm up to impress his wife, who complained of such things (he wears a trash bag over his sweats, for oddball comedic effect)-- and the two when they aren't fighting over who's crazier, develop a cutely jagged rapport.  Tiffany, as the plot must dictate, is an acquaintance of Pat's wife and a truce is introduced that she will help him out in exchange for a dancing partner.  Tiffany uses dance as therapy and needs one, you see, for an upcoming dance contest.

Lawrence is nearly revelatory as Tiffany.  First off, it's in the stark contrast of her work in Winter's Bone and this year's blockbuster The Hunger Games, but mostly because of her fresh take on a character that could have read as nutty pixie girl next door, or worse yet, a muse of which to free her messed up man.  Instead she showcases a steadfastness, an intelligent and a vigor that changes the film and provides it with its real silver lining.  Even the caveat that Tiffany often works as a cipher for the film's encoded messaging is itself put aside because of her charm, comedic beats and timing.  It's in her daffy, often profane flirtiness and pent up exasperation that highlight the film and while the film, about depressed mentally unfit people, may never really have the guts to fully explore the mania of love itself, Lawrence's tight and energetic performance comes the closes without even seeming like caricature.  

The best moments of Silver Linings are where the words and language of its loud characters all come together and there's a lovely bit of controlled chaos that evolves as all the disparate parts and characters come together and tie it all up.  The way it gets tied up is all movie fantasy, nearly sitcom-like in its reduction, but it almost doesn't matter because the characters and the performances have at this point, ingratiated themselves strongly enough that the emotion feels earned.  That is until you move back and truly to start to think about it.  For a film that flirts with honest exploration with real human malaise, it's main quest is really just to have a good time.  B+

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln

It's 1865, and president Abraham Lincoln is set to start his second presidential term.  Times are tenuous as the nation is divided and a key piece of legislation is being bitterly fought through the House-- sound familiar?  There's a unflinching link to Lincoln that succinctly provides the connective tissue from our past to our present, a sense that the game of American politics as we see it today in our 21st century lives was really no different at all in action to how it was as the Civil War was waging on.  That master writer Tony Kushner, the extraordinary Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Angels in America, and the screenwriter of Lincoln, based in part on the book Teams of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, showcases and finesses this connection with such a lightness, a nimble seeming charm is the secret, the key and the way into Lincoln, a grand stage play of the American political system dressed up as an epic cinematic biography film from director Steven Spielberg.  And that Spielberg, a filmmaker enshrined into the American subconscious just as Lincoln is in marble memorial form, so gently recedes his striking and majestic film to rest mostly in Kushner's text and the superior group of actors he has assembled feels in it of itself a greater triumph.  The lack of Spielberg DNA in Lincoln frees the film, one which would far too easily could have fallen wayside by expectation or pedigree alone, and showcases one of the most fragile, restrained and mature pieces of work he has ever completed.

The smartest choice in Lincoln is that in settles in on a brief moment in time with Honest Abe-- the quintessential time period wherein President Lincoln is trying to enact the thirteenth amendment which would abolish slavery and hopefully end this grisly war.  Spielberg, Kushner (who also scripted Munich) and team wisely rid themselves of the tired and inelegant birth to death biopic formula and distill a sense of humanity within the confines of his greatest action.  The searing image through and through in Lincoln is Daniel Day-Lewis, who creates, embodies and imbues something almost supernatural in Lincoln.  Never speaking in more than hushed whispers, but commanding and searing with authority, Day-Lewis (himself enshrined to obligatory greatest actor of our generation laurels) paints a portrait that's uniquely fascinating and altogether unexpected.  Lincoln was a tall man, and Day-Lewis paints an imposing figure, but a fragile one, and a non-threatening one-- his walk is slightly crooked, his posture slightly hunched-- he paints a man with warmth and dignity but rids him of unsightly great man status.  Speaking in wistful and colloquial cadences while biting on Kushner's nearly poetic prose, there's an uncommon intelligence to Day-Lewis' Lincoln, but also a slight cunning, a manipulator of sorts-- he was a lawyer, and a politician, of course, before he was a heroic noble figure in American history.  That Day-Lewis so ably, commandingly and bewitchingly clears the cobwebs from such a part, eschews the easier, if less dignified, shades of outright nobility and inhabits a real world Lincoln is not just Lincoln's greatest thrill, but also perhaps all of cinema.

That's a big part of the spark of Lincoln, Spielberg just lets his actors act, trusting the rhythms of Kushner's words to further the drama.  A film with something ridiculous, like 140 speaking parts, and a cavalcade of actors, ranging from movie stars to a veritable who's who of characters, there's thought, that had Lincoln played to the Disneyland portrait of history, say like Spielberg's own War Horse, the film might have been like a period drama version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World.  Instead, where given space, breathing room-- some might complain too much in a film nearly two-and-a-half-hours long-- where the differing acting styles and ranges in mood feel nearly perfectly intact, much like a Congress itself, which anyone whose watched a news channel recently is filled with characters, some mighty and some cartoon-ish.  It fits right then that Lincoln would provide space for a grand Tommy Lee Jones portrait of Thaddeus Stephens, a Republican House member with a willful charm and personal reasons for moving forward with the amendment, or a more caricatured rumination of the opposition from Lee Pace as a Democrat House member, or blisteringly entertaining minstrel show displayed by three lobbyist, portrayed by John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and an awesome James Spader.  These characters are also a part of our American political system, and Lincoln is a grand testament to politics before character study, which makes the shadings of not only Lincoln himself, but his countrymen all the more compelling and emotional as Kushner and company always keep the momentum rolling.

Just as the political machinations take the central stage and great actors big and small provide nuggets of insight and intelligence from characters that range from low ranking Congressmen to people like Ulysses S. Grant (Mad Men's Jared Harris- excellent), we still see bits and notches of the personal life of Lincoln.  Whether in hearty political or personal debates with wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), a woman famously not as in control of her emotions as her husband, but equally wizened and well versed, or in dialogues of tension with eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), or even in smaller, simpler scenes of the family man and president carrying his younger son off to bed, there's a seemingly un-Spielbergian display of restraint on display.  Field's histrionics are quietly overshadowed by Day-Lewis' passivity, and create a lovely balance and nuance that belies the actors noticeable age difference. 

There's only a few glaring instances where the sentimentalist in Spielberg takes over the cool reserves of Kushner's poetry, and only then are when Lincoln start to show it's seams.  The most glaring offensive occurs toward the end, when (spoiler alert!) we take a visit to Ford's Theater.  Naturally, the obligatory John Williams orchestrations provide their own emotional beats, despite how ill-fitting from time to time.

That being aside this is still a monumental film.  Expressive and filmed in a nearly painterly fashion that not just fits the times but is nearly expressionistic.  Spielberg's longtime collaborator Janusz Kaminski, the Oscar winning cinematographer of Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan frames Lincoln mostly in shrouds of darkness with thin traces of light to capture the scenes.  It's illuminating but also quite beautiful, and while Lincoln doesn't provide the nicer brand of visual eye candy that Spielberg touches usually acquire, his work is perhaps his best yet.  Same goes for Rick Carter's production design that mixes elegance with muddiness, perfectly capturing the period and tone.

History will forever fully enshrine Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator and less famously, as vampire hunter, but Spielberg, Kushner and Day-Lewis will undoubtedly be immortalized themselves for telling his tale with such uncommon dignity, humor and artistry.  A-

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hitchcock

DISCLAIMER:  In the interest of full disclosure, pertinent in exploring a feature film revolving around Alfred Hitchcock, it should be stated on the record the Master of Suspense is one of my personal favorites.  At an early age, I felt a shiver and gleeful revelry toward his filmmaking, his signatures, his style.  For even at an early age, whether consciously or not, I was acutely aware of watching a Hitchcock film-- his personal authorship of his films that permeated across every frame, every scene, every little nuance and gesture.  As I'm sure is the case with many other budding cinephiles, Hitchcock is an easy in for the pure rapture of filmmaking, one so that if caught at a young and impressionable age will likely remain strong for life.  Even without being aware of the technician, the craft or the artistry, there's a certain hold that can come under way even in his most seemingly benign efforts.  One that evaluated and soaked through the tides of time become deeper and penetrable images forever soaked into memory.  With this being said, I enter a film like Hitchcock with some resolve that may make it nearly impossible to sever the profound personal effect his filmmaking took hold of me.  In the nature and style that Hitchcock himself was a witty self promoter and flourished his many films with encoded personal desires, I felt it necessary to get that off my chest.

Speaking of witty self promotion, Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock opens with a clever nod introducing his to our tale of intrigue.  Based on the book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," by Stephen Rebello, the film chronicles the turbulent making of the grand slasher film that in more ways than can ever be counted (or dissected by ninety-eight minutes of celluloid) changed the face of popular movie making.  As the opening title cues, creating an aura that's fitfully awesome as it is expected, the tone is nearly established.  This is going to a bouncy, fluffy trifle providing a broad assessment of the man, his genius, his process and his furtive, if slightly brittle, relationship with his wife and confidant, Alma Reville.  Gervasi achieves a playful inventiveness and a nicely pre-packaged sense of fun in recreating Psycho, through it's rough venture as an idea to the finished product to his uncanny release pattern.  There will likely be a rousing chant and firmly planted smile on the faces of the Hitchcock and Psycho devoted as Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is pitching his latest-- a grisly, edgy and maddeningly violent take on the Ed Gein murders-- to the befuddled Paramount executives who really just want another North by Northwest, as well as the censors board (Psycho was the first film to feature a toilet, and that's a big deal), who rigidly proclaim no such film will ever see the light of day. 

There's certain documented truth to the circumstances. Hitchcock was at the height of his career at the dawn of Psycho, and the film was a notoriously tough sell, enough that the financing and the making of the film were ultra-indie to his standards.  The fun occurs really on the elements of which anyone jazzed about Hitchcock will likely already know by heart.  The casting of Janet Leigh (played with commanding fragility by a nearly channeling Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy), the shooting of the infamous shower scene, the inventive publicity show orchestrated by Hitch as Paramount was trying to dump a potential disaster.  This stuff is likely film geek porn, and lots of smiles are surely in store.  Yet it's also incredibly shallow, and about as revelatory as a behind the scenes extra on a Psycho DVD.  Part of the problem lies in the overly broad stylization that Gervasi, the director of the charmingly nimble documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil making his feature debut, maintains-- it's just right of cartoon, but just left of reality.  It starts with Hopkins himself, who is quite good at miming the rotund filmmaker's famous figure and charms with the droll speak, but it's a desperate crowd pleaser's Hitchcock, one with little attempt at really exploring a humanity inside the legacy.  That is until it isn't.

The making of Psycho is nearly put aside to concentrate in the troubling mid section of the private life of Hitch and Alma (Helen Mirren.)  Either cobbled together by conjecture, fabrication, disparate threads of reality, of whatever, it derails the fun, superficial momentum built up at the beginning.  Turing the tale into a grand love story provides lots of nice moments for the esteemed and highly pedigreed actors to do good work, but has a stained glow of nearly being a side attraction.  We want to see Psycho.  Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) do a greater disservice in brief asides that try to force Hitchcock to explore his own inner demons, especially in hokey dream sequences where Ed Gein is his analyst.  Light and peppery showbiz fun is fine, but the pot appears overcooked with Hitchcock, draining it of its high calorie art house junk food allure.  Mirren, to be fair, is compelling and devours her dialogue (a mixed bag that alternates between clever and ill-advised) with an aplomb that floats somewhere between scene-stealing, bloated histrionics, and perfectly natural.  And while historians can dissect the truth to their relationship-- Alma is believed to have deeply influenced and shaped the work of his films-- there's an awkwardness to the clunky execution and how it fits into the overall world of Hitchcock.

Yet this may be the prickliness of the inner Hitchcock loyalist coming out, as a fan who relishes the world inside and out of one of the best films every made, but also wants to keep a certain distance and keep the experience sacred.  The breeziness of the best patches of Hitchcock, in tune with the drippy frothiness of last years My Week With Marilyn, play with an ease that may make for a great night at the movies.  The inside-Hitchcock gossip (for instance, his distaste for Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel, who became pregnant shortly before the filming of Vertigo, whom Hitchcock primed great things for, or the back and forth fight over the weather the shower sequence should be accompanied to music), and old-school Hollywood backdrop are catnip for staging engagingly nostalgic cinema.  But there's a play to the rafters approach that sometimes comes closer to camp than mere homage, and the purists at heart might to taken out at these things, while the uninitiated likely won't even be a part of the joke.  That's the mixed bag of Hitchcock.

What does rouse rivetingly well is the joyful, and likely untrue, moment of Psycho being screened for the first time, as a seemingly nervous Hitchcock peers onto the crowd as the famous shower scene is about to play.  The buoyancy of Hopkins humming along to the famous shrieks is the most heartfelt moment in the picture.  C

Monday, November 12, 2012

'Skyfall' Soars

Money matter naught!  However, the latest Bond. James Bond epic Skyfall, the third starring Daniel Craig, has made a boatload.  Yielding the biggest opening weekend gross for a Bond film ever, special for the 23rd film in the franchise, and the in the 50th Anniversary of Bond.  Netting $87 million in its opening frame in North America, and $90 million counting midnight shows and a premium Thursday times presented in IMAX and large format screens, this is pretty huge.  Along with its record breaking worldwide run (which started before its stateside debut), the Sam Mendes-directed 007 tale is now worth upwards of half a billion dollars.  Not too shabby for a man in his fifties.  That the film marks one of the best reviewed titles ever for the franchise is the cherry on top, or the shaken martini.


  1. SKYFALL- $87.8 million \ $90.0 total
  2. WRECK-IT-RALPH- $33 million \ $93.6 total (-32%)
  3. FLIGHT- $15.1 million \ $47.7 total (-39%)
  4. ARGO- $6.7 million \ $85.7 total (-33%)
  5. TAKEN 2- $4 million \ $131 total (-32%)
  6. HERE COMES THE BOOM- $2.5 million \ $39 total (-27%)
  7. CLOUD ATLAS- $2.5 million \ $22 total (-53%)
  8. PITCH PERFECT- $2.5 million \ $59 total (-18%)
  9. THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS- $2.4 million \ $12.7 total (-68%)
  10. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA- $2.3 million \ $140.9 total (-46%) 
Aside from the power of Skyfall, Wreck-It-Ralph continued to play strong with a great second weekend, while Flight and Argo continue to hold strong with adults and eventual awards momentum.  A big surprise may be that Pitch Perfect, the affable acapella musical is continuing to hold really well, even as it reaches the two-month mark in its run.

A look at how Skyfall holds up on 2012 opening weekends:
  1. MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS- $207.4 million
  2. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- $160.8 million
  3. THE HUNGER GAMES- $152.5 million
  4. SKYFALL- $87.5 million
  5. BRAVE- $66.3 million
  6. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN- $62 million
  7. MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED- $60.3 million
  8. MIB3- $54.47 million
  9. TED- $54.4 million
  10. PROMETHEUS- $51 million
 Fourth overall for the year, and thirty-first on record-- not adjusted for inflation.

The other big story was the impressive limited debut of Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's Oscar hopeful, which opened to $900,000 on 11 screens, averaging $81,000 per screen.  The well reviewed biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis will find its real test as it opens wide next weekend, but wowza, that's a huge start, especially considering the two-hour-plus run time likely impacted the amount of show times each theater could run.


Here's the top per screen averages of 2012 so far:
  1. THE MASTER- $147,262 (5 screens)
  2. MOONRISE KINGDOM- $130,749 (4 screens)
  3. LINCOLN- $81,818 (11 screens)
  4. TO ROME WITH LOVE- $72,272 (5 screens)
  5. SLEEPWALK WITH ME- $68,801 (1 screen)
  6. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER- $57,090 (4 screens)
  7. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD- $42,426 (4 screens)
  8. SAMSARA- $38,111 (2 screens)
  9. THE HUNGER GAMES- $36,871 (4,137 screens)
  10. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- $35,532 (4,404 screens)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Force in Michael Arndt

Ever since the bombshell news that the Walt Disney Company snapped up LucasFilms and thus, Star Wars, and making the announcement of new films, there's so much buzz surrounding the who, who, what, when.  Well, now comes the announcement that Michael Arndt, Oscar winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, and Oscar nominated for his work on Toy Story 3 will pen Episode 7.  Yay?  Nay?  Whatcha think?


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Best Animated Short Film Short-list

The Simpsons might find itself an Oscar nominee!
Five of these ten titles will be nominated for the Best Animated Short Film for the Academy Awards:

  • Adam & Dog- directed by Minkyu Lee
  • Combustible- directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
  • Dripped- directed by Leo Verrier
  • The Eagleman Stag- directed by Mikey Please
  • The Fall of the House of Usher- directed by Raul Garcia
  • Fresh Guacamole- directed by PES
  • Head Over Heels- directed by Timothy Reckart
  • Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'- directed by David Silverman
  • Paperman- directed by John Kahrs
  • Tram- Michaela Pavlatova
The joyous Disney short Paperman.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Evening

There's been something of an Alfred Hitchcock renaissance as of late.  You could see it back in August, when the once-per-decade poll by Sight and Sound cited Vertigo as the best film as all time, unseating reigning champ Citizen Kane.  Further more by the HBO movie The Girl, which charted the relationship between Hitch and model-turned-actress\muse Tippi Hedren, and finally by the last minute decision by Fox Searchlight Pictures to unleash the film Hitchcock, featuring Anthony Hopkins as the rotund auteur, for 2012 awards consideration.  Just taking a look at the top banner, I'm certainly in a degree of glee by the recent saturation of interest in the Master of Suspense.  Personally speaking, he was the first filmmaker that piqued my cinematic spark.  Not merely by accident, as his approach and mastery and innovation of the medium is easy to admire, easy to spot and hard not to get spellbound by.  The figure behind the magic has long been something far more allusive, and as The Girl, and certainly Hitchcock (which earned decent reviews as the opener of AFI Fest this past week) try to create a more behind the scenes portrait of the genius, there's left some questions and a few grumblings.  First off, is that particularly necessary?  The films left behind paint a portrait of man with curious obsessions, a fascination with voyeurism, and an attraction to beautiful blonde women.  The films themselves are a testament to that, but also enriching, master plays of a time and period where the difference between art and commerce weren't quite so divided.  Remember, Hitchcock was a populist filmmaker at the time, and prime moneymaker; his artistry and mastery wasn't quite as well established until some time after.  And certainly there's curious sparks of near sadism on display in certain features, but there remains a deeper perspective of whether a film like New Girl (which I've seen) and Hitchcock (which I have not) might, at the very least, tamper with kismet, or worse, leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the audience most primed to watch them
The Girl especially is an interesting case.  The film which stars Toby Jones (Infamous) as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren chronicles their turbulent relationship during the filming the two movies they made together-- The Birds and Marnie.  There's an old school adage that certainly rings true that Hitch discovered Hedren, a successful model, while watching a commercial featuring her.  He chose her to come in for The Birds.  He primped and trained the neophyte actress, molding her to become the next Grace Kelly.  That's certainly stuff that's been well documented and considering Hitch's longtime regard for the then Princess of Monaco, a certain high compliment for the newcomer Hedren.  The film, based on conjecture, stories told by Hedren, and who knows what else paint a tawdry portrait of Hitchcock.  One that not just feels false but particularly pathetic.  Jones, who matches the cadences and posture of filmmaker quite well is posited as a grotesque, nearly gargoyle-like creature.  He's filmed as nearly a demented, sadistic toad, obsessing on the women he certainly could never have-- Imelda Staunton provides her usual finesse as Hitch's long-suffering wife Alma.

After molding Hedren into a movie star, Hitchcock, as seen through the shallow, flat prism of The Girl, is seen a beast.  Whether through the telling of off-color limericks to Hedren, or falsely presenting scenes of The Birds.  There's an ugly re-telling of a famous attack scene where Hitchcock forced Hedren to endure five days of being bombarded by live birds, after being assured that only mechanical birds and post production special effects would be used to for the shooting.  There's certainly evidence that occurred, with the exception of the behind the scenes drama.  The question that The Girl fails to really respond to, is why Hedren put up with it the first place.  Why she continued work with a man who seemingly punished her for not accepting his sexual passes.  Why she stayed afloat, with a brave, victim-like expression on her face when she felt so unhappy and marginalized.  Whatever speculation of the Hitchcock\Hedren relationship will forever remain a mystery, since only one side can truly ever be explored, but The Girl seems to disingenuously present Hitch as such a loathsome cad, that it reeks of caricature, and is completely bereft of humanity on either side.  Hedren is presented rather dully, and Miller's nonchalant portrayal lacks clear definition or insight.  One wonders what counterpoints past Hitchcock blondes Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Janet Leigh or Kim Novack might provide on the subject.

The Girl even fails on the seemingly easy-get on the fun it should have in recreating some of the classic moments of The Birds and Marnie, foregoing the simple revelry of old school Hollywood glee in favor of unsightly and broadly drawn melodrama.  F

I wonder about the fate of Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi's (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) take on the filmmaker while shooting his seminal film, Psycho.   Written by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) and starring a cast with a larger pedigree than The Girl, with Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren as his wife, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and featuring roles for Toni Collette and Danny Huston.  Will Hitchcock succumb to the easy deducing of mans talent to small fetish, or will it be able to grasp a deeper insight in the acclaimed filmmaker.  Whatever the fate, the film has done a hell of a job in marketing itself an art house diversion, making great, good-natured fun of the man himself while acknowledging his achievement and uncanny sense of self-promotion.  I wonder also, if the film itself does become apart of the deeper Oscar dialogue if the quality of the film will matter as much as the fact that the Academy was dismissive of his talent and failed to acknowledge him at the time.  Surely, he received five Best Director nominations over the course of his career (Psycho, Rear Window, Spellbound, Lifeboat and Rebecca) and received the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1968-- where he famously said, "Thank you," before promptly leaving the stage-- but could that failure to reward his talent at the time resurface if Hitchcock is a success.  Again with the questions!!!

For what's it worth, for a filmmaker with such a mighty talent, and an inarguable story worthy of compelling entertainment, the fascination with the auteur, the provocateur, the Master of Suspense, in my book, always deserves a resurgence.  He also deserves a superior spotlight tale than The Girl provided.


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