Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Favorite Cinematic Moments of 2012

A musing, aside if you, of my favorite moments while in the solitude of the cinema of 2012.  This is not a list of my favorite films, I've already done that, but my favorite collection of scenes, sequences, or moments that I found the most heavenly in the past of year of the cinema.  In no particular order...except the one final one:

Opening Title Sequence, LIFE OF PI
Ang Lee's Life of Pi was a visual wonder, and if you strip away the awkward (not matter how truthfully adapted) framing structure, it may well have been a cinematic masterpiece.  Never mind, perhaps the brightest sequence of the whole ungodly massively produced project came at the very begin.  A beguiling, playful and wonderfully spirited vignettes of the animals in the zoo that would become shipwrecked some time soon.  No matter how banal it may appear on the onset, it was warm, inviting and beautifully filmed to the Michael Danna's lustrous score.  You start here and remove the older guy talking to the bland English dude and Life of Pi would be nearly a perfect picture.

While I still submit that the hipster teens in Stephen Chbosky's coming of tale are made somewhat false because of their lack of knowledge in all things Bowie, the moment(s) where are three heroes joyride to the famous tune is a touchingly bewitching moment.  Purely a for a movies screenshot-- but then again that can be true of real teenage moments too-- a point of which that the film highlights beautifully.  A rousing sincere sequence that showcases the posture of adolescence.  At first Emma Watson, as the pixie cum muse stands in the back of the truck, arms extending, an image of youthful idyllic expression.  When Chbosky repeats the sequence with star wallflower Logan Lerman doing the same thing, it's an entirely different thing, and the silly joy and bubble of a pop song, it's nearly irresistible.

Self-Administered Abortion, PROMETHEUS
It may hold true that Ridley Scott's widely hyped return/not return to the Alien franchise befuddled and never exactly took flight, but there's one sequence that not only wondrously and horrifyingly paid beautiful homage to blockbuster establishment of his career, but also cemented Prometheus as a horror/sci-fi puzzlement that wasn't short on thrills.  The intense and gross emergency self-administered alien abortion that Noomi Rapace must hastily perform was the icky and tingly edge of your seat sequence that jolted Prometheus and one of the few sequences in recent horror memory where you can't but not look away.  Masterfully and terrifyingly staged, filmed and a rare feat of a performance at its most physically visceral, it's surely something not easily forgotten.

Ruby's Breakdown, RUBY SPARKS
Actress Zoe Kazan both wrote and starred in the twirly indie Ruby Sparks, a film more interesting than particular successful, where a shaggy and none particularly likable writer (played by Paul Dano) finds his latest character becomes a full fledged person, of which he can control with his writing.  Kazan may have written the whole bloody thing in a manner just to showcase her talent and range, of which comes out in a manic, but memorable final act bit of craftiness when the douchebag writer proves his authority in a sequence where Kazan must act swiftly, quickly and unnervingly to the speed of his type.  Ruby Sparks doesn't quite work, but the breakdown is a masterful acting audition tape that should hopefully given Kazan, the actress, the creme of the roles in the near future.

The first part of The Impossible, before it devolves into a standard issue survival film, is a bravura, matter-of-fact depiction of real world terror.  In documenting the tragic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, director Jay Bayona uses real water and real world effects to capture that scene, and it's frightening as hell, riveting cinema and reveals a grandeur and gravitas that can only come from the cinema.  Intensely staged-- in fact, nearly so as a thriller, that first wave appears nearly out of nowhere (a statement many have validated) and in its pure cinema visual feat sadly almost undoes the film because there's nothing that could top it.

The First Session, THE SESSIONS
The miraculous thing about The Sessions is that it, while fully enshrined in a near innocence and staged nearly innocuously, is that is one of the most sexually free American films to grace the screen in a long while.  The first session between polio victim Mark O'Brien, who yearns to not die a virgin and the sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, is a beautifully written and incredibly acted sequence that makes aware the strange condition of the pairing, but plays wonderfully as a naturally expression of ones first sexual experience-- awkward, warm, engaging and inviting.  Filled with a playful banter, especially when Hunt speaks of the difference between her services and that of a prostitute (while comically disrobing) gives way to something far warmer, deeper and affecting.

Near the end of the David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, the ensemble assembles for a chaotic, seeming free-for-all in mania, only to be eternally shut up when the tartly messed-up Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) speaks the truth.  An expected monologue, in which the young actress/ingenue firstly must put Robert De Niro in his place is a grand display of showmanship and a strength to O'Russell's gift at ensemble performances.  It first plays as a nearly righteous, "go girl!" moment but Lawrence sells it straightly and with absolute assured drive that it's difficult not to get swept up in the fervor.  I strongly suggest the strength of this scene alone is the reason why Lawrence is collecting prizes left and right, and while my eyes may recoil at that a bit, it's hard not to deny why.  It's in this scene where, and Katniss be damned, that Lawrence becomes a movie star.

Quentin Tarantino has long been a champion, and an adept one at that, at the long talking scene.  The sequence where everyone is dining at Candyland and everyone is in the ensemble is inviting is a chiller, a doozy of the written word and masterfully stroke of a film that's undoing comes from its lack of focus.  In short, this is Django Unchained's money shot, and the greatest stroke is that all the characters, each on display and acting on their own part, is on a completely different wavelength.  That conflict and tension is a beaut to watch, and something that seems sadly missing the before and after of this messy film.

A perfect marriage of filmmaker and sequence was formed and beautifully executed when the youthful lovers concoct their runaway plans in Wes Anderson's majestic and personal homage to youthful lust.  The sequence, a series of jump cuts that overlap one another but make a wondrous cohesiveness, seems like something ripely belonging to Anderson's sensibility.  On a dime whimsical, then melancholy, then hopeful, then silly-- a perfect marriage and perhaps the most novel sequence in the auteurs career.

And well, this one might feel kind of obvious, but it's the best....

I Dreamed a Dream, LES MISERABLES
A perfect marriage of character and performer, and one in which both become deeper, and that nearly incandescent way, richer and eternally altered.  The tragic heroine Fantine was always the emotional bulls-eye in Les Miserables, as was the show-stopping song Ï Dreamed a Dream," and yet even as the song has become nearly irrelevant due to YouTube and reality television, Anne Hathaway seizes the opportunity and gives the song seemingly new meaning with her deeply felt, nuanced, live-sung expression.  This utterly transcendent sequence, one in which all the vitriol that has spewed on the interwebs of Tom Hooper's ultra close-up filming must be granted worked to a thrilling degree, can be compared to Jennifer Hudson's Dreamgirls number, but I think a fairer critique should view this as the best musical number filmed for the cinema since the glory days of Liza Minnelli's extolling the virtues of Cabaret.

Monday, January 28, 2013


There's a square elegance to Mama, Andy Muschietti's minor spooks in the night horror show which he adapted from his 2008 short film, as well as a pleasing, albeit highly derivative aura from this less is more mystery.  And while the story-- essentially a bargain basement pillaging of sharper films-- putters out into banality, there's a nicely calibrated tickle of scares and twitches that teases through the first two-thirds of the film.  Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabele Nélisse) are two young girls with a horrific backstory-- their father, on the heels of financial collapse has a breakdown, goes on a killing spree and kidnaps his young children, holding them in a creepy woodsy cabin until his life is taken.  The two girls grow feral-- raised, seemingly by a ghostly guardian, referred to as "Mama."  Mama was produced by Guillermo del Toro, and while this film is slight in regards to the his modern suspense track-- mastered by the classier Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone-- it makes sense that del Toro would back Muschietti's less is more approach, marked with its uniquely designed villain.  It's a shame, then that "Mama." as a villain is one that sadly loses its allure as the tease wears on.  As a result, Mama, the film suffers the same fate.

The story begins introducing Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) fives years after the children-- Lucas' nieces have disappeared.  Annabel and Lucas are a boho punk couple-- she, first introduced relieved at the negative results of a pregnancy test, is in a rock band, he is an artist, tormented himself in the tragic events of that past-- he continues to search for his family.  Naturally, to the duress of Annabel, the girls are found-- wild and unresponsive-- and the movie charts the makings of its dysfunctional family.  The mystery-- and the greatest moments of Mama-- belong in that tease that "Mama,"-- an eternally jealous, unstable thing seems to have followed them.  The film asserts typical bumps in the night stabs of suspense, most of which are quite liberally stolen from superior films-- but they mostly work, as Muschietti masters a polished and stately look matched with a nicely shock-proof sound design.

There's an early sequence of nicely bent mystery and playfulness-- one that feels like the work of a young Spielberg-- in an elongated shot of happy Lilly tugging and coyly playing with "Mama." The trick is we only see one side of the shot, but it invites the audience to suggest that "Mama" is a villain of terror and humanity-- a quirky quality that gives the film its slightest uptick.  It certainly also helps to have an actress like Chastain front and center, who in a black punkette wig and fake tats still manages to finesse soul and poise in her first for-the-pay junky movie.  She bridges further humanity and imbues Annabel with a tangible central conflict in a character lacking maternal nature thrust into this scary new role-- there's a slight metaphor that the film wants to hit home.

I do wish Mama had a more satisfying conclusion-- the film is better as a tease than as a reveal.  Yet even with a premise, one that's just as preposterous as say, Ringu or The Others, that elicits enough gentle stabs at the chest, it's still an unfortunate thriller that's all dressed up with no place to go.  C+   

SAG Awards- The Best Bad Idea

ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Argo is tops with the Screen Actors Guild winning the Best Ensemble prize last evening, topping off its PGA victory Saturday, which coupled with the Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins implies that despite the very odd omission from director Ben Affleck in the Best Director Oscar line-up...it is the undisputed leader.  Lincoln won two prizes, the most of any film, but it's lack of Best Picture prizes signals on also-ran quality to what, on paper at least, seems like the quintessential Best Picture of the year.  It's an interesting development to this year of mystery and that Affleck-Oscar omission, seeming to tell of weakness to a film that, has in truth, in the thick of the awards hunt since its celebrated debut last fall at Telluride and Toronto, onward to mass populist and critical appeal.  However, it's done just the opposite to damper its chances, igniting an underdog feeling-- a strange one to the undisputed frontrunner.

I've long believed since its debut that Argo was an Oscar powerhouse, with its jabs at relevance within a Middle Eastern historical period piece (set long enough ago not to ignite waves, like it's darker cousin-- the problem child Zero Dark Thirty, but not so long ago not to be considered purely a stately period show)--  more importantly the film showcases a love of the film industry; and that kind of showmanship appeared as genuine fodder for AMPAS.

Personally, my prediction record with the 2012 awards season is spotty-- I expected a Silver Linings-upset at SAG, netting three out of five correctly.  Best Supporting Actor appears to be my personal undoing this year....

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Australian Academy of Cinema Arts Awards

PICTURE: Silver Linings Playbook
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPP. ACTOR: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPP. ACTRESS: Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
SCREENPLAY: Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino

SAG Predictions-- A "Silver Lining" for Weinstein Company?

Will win: Silver Linings Playbook

Ripe after the PGA and Globe wins for Argo, where it asserts itself it the frontrunner position even as the pesky Best Director snub for Ben Affleck stings, SAG should shake things up slightly in honoring Silver Linings, if anything neatly packaged fodder for the Screen Actors Guild, with its agreeably chaotic interplay of its actors, and their diverse styles, all merging and fusing together in David O. Russell's mental illness romantic comedy.  While the huge ensembles of Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables may split votes, this seems like the best bet.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was always doomed one of SAG's fatefully pleasant also-rans.  Be mindful that the Best Ensemble SAG award typically has little heft on terms of the eventual Best Picture, as last year's The Help, and other past winners like Inglourious Basterds, Gosford Park, Traffic and The Birdcage can surely attest, while others may sight that the SAG victory was the leading component to upsets like Crash.

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Another safely assured victory in my book.  Day-Lewis' masterful portrait of Abraham Lincoln cries for attention in the very way that this actor, as always, escapes and paints a beautifully vivid character study without constrictions of legacy.  Actors will surely admire the performance as the Best Actor race has all but been solidified.

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

I'm going with Lawrence with say a 60% likelihood, since certainty freaks you out, but the catnip of the freshly turned movie star in a stalwart performance in the film that should be the one to beat should prove enough of an advantage.  Off stage antics, including the dismissive Oscar nominee roast on SNL shouldn't be a deterrent here, especially considering her rival, Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty received a low turnout from SAG.  I wonder, however, if the constant celebrity pushings for The Impossible (from the like of people like Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie) might sway a Naomi Watts shocker.

Will win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

I stand that Philip Seymour Hoffman (for The Master) and Tommy Lee Jones (for Lincoln) stand great odds, but strongly feel SAG will go with De Niro, because firstly-- this would be his SAG award (not so terrible to comprehend since the awards themselves were only formed in 1994, and well, the legendary actors output in that time, was well...not exactly awards worthy), and because his genially comedic performance in Silver Linings Playbook was a nicely calibrated ticking time bomb that De Niro handled nicely, if not exactly capturing the grandness of his greatest cinematic achievements.

Will win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

The dream that was dreamed was that Hathaway's star turn in Les Miserables would be awards bait.  While the film itself has caught itself in the midst of very divisive notices, that dream will continue on with SAG and beyond.  The surest acting category of the night.

John Dies at the End

They come from time to time.  Little novelties of cinema with that aching yearning to be loved, not just loved but worshiped, endlessly quoted with the hope of making fanboys foam at the mouth and to come to the utter defense of.  Films that have a need to achieve a must-have cult fantasy.  Sometimes, of course, that can work despite whatever challenges, either in early reviews or dismal box office numbers...for example Donnie Darko achieved a status few films ever will because the demographic that remained loyal and true to it will likely stay in that bubble of fandom forever.  Sometimes, naturally, it can be a films undoing, and have a stink of desperation.  A mixed, muted, somewhere in the middle reaction will likely be the fate of John Dies at the End, an irony-infused oddity that seeks lust and and nerdy salivation in every turn, but falls short of all-encompassing worship because the story itself-- an amalgam of horror freak shows, fun house effects and droll teen comedy one liners-- is rather half baked, incoherent and seemingly making up its own rules on the spot.  Without even the slightest of sincerity and everything left in quotation marks, it would be easy to reduce John Dies at the End as wannabe, too-cool-for-its-own-good indie, but there's a light charm to it, an inventive sense of play, and genuine charisma in the group of performers.  Writer/director Don Coscarelli has been here before-- he's last feature was Bubba Ho-Tep, a funnily titled bit of absurdity that coasted on its oddball premise and its leading man Bruce Campbell as filler-- and in that regard John Dies at the End may well be a step forward in his seeming quest for eternal geek appreciation.

Dave, played by Chase Williamson-- a handsome smart-alec whose like the slacker, indie-grunge version of Topher Grace-- is a strange young man, with an even stranger pastime/job, or whatever.  Given the power the see dead things, move into various dimensions and given an astute awareness of things to come, mind reading, and various other supernatural-like abilities, all of which is accredited to a magical drug called "soy sauce" that chose him or whatsit, Dave is constantly at odds, but his ironic bent and merciless wit keep him, and the movie, from ever going to deep.  Dave is trying to sell his story, or just merely tell it, or trying to rationalize it in the form of recanting the how of his gifts to journalist Arnie Blondestone (played by Paul Giamatti.)  A flashback, a puzzlement and recurring nightmare, John Dies at the End pleads its case for eternal cult worship as the film shifts from clever readings to cheesy, tongue and check splatter violence to inventively low-brow effects.  The problem lies in a story that fails to truly grasp anything much at all.  We learn that Dave inherited his gifts and burdens from the titular John (Rob Mayes), a high school mate who got into "the sauce" after a meeting with a mysterious soothsayer.  What leads in an intense recollection of some otherworldly gobbledegook of apocalyptic proportions, all of which staged with a smirky grin, and cast aside more often than not by nonsensical oddball tangents-- oh look, a dog driving a truck, or a bratwurst working as a mobile phone.

One could discredit John Dies at the End on storyboarding logic, but there's a few guilty pleasures that make the film, if not the eternal cult fantasy it wishes to be than a pleasurable and a mostly agreeable slight of hand.  Williamson and Mayes are charming performers, and their off-kilter touches and clever line readings are, if nothing else, than nicely calibrated in such nonsense.  Giamatti, who works as audience skeptic, works as nifty piece of stunt casting, giving a slight nudge of gravitas to a work of immense cheese, and finally, Coscrelli is certainly a cheerfully anarchic filmmaker, one with an inventive sense of play and mayhem, only needing a structure to refine it.  There's a slight smidgeon of joy and chaos to the frantic sequences of madness, it just feels as thought John Dies at the End sputters out before it can reach the punchline.  B-

Inside Llewyn Davis

Sundance 2013: The Winners!


Ryan Coogler's feature-- a true story about the 2008 Bay Area shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant-- won both the coveted Grand Jury Prize and Dramatic Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  The film, starring Kevin Durand, Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer, was sold to The Weinstein Company earlier in the festival and hopes to potentially join the recent past Jury Prize winners  onward to success at the Academy Awards.  Remember Precious (2009), Winter's Bone (2010) and current success story Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) all started their journey in the same place.


Steve Hoover's documentary about  Ricky Braat, who traveled to India as a disillusioned American, only to become immersed with the population of children battling HIV/AIDS, also double-dipped in winning both the Grand Jury Doc Prize and the Audience Award.

U.S. DRAMATIC DIRECTING PRIZE: Jill Soloway, Afternoon Delight
A dark comedy starring Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn and Jane Lynch about a housewife who takes in a stripper and adopts her as her live-in nanny.  Hahn, whose made a comedic impression on Parks & Recreation, as well as the Paul Rudd comedies Our Idiot Brother and Wanderlust earned nice notices here.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY DIRECTING PRIZE: Zachary Heinzerling, Cutie & the Boxer
A New York love story that chronicles the relationship between boxing painter, Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko and their forty-year marriage.  The film was sold the Radius/The Weinstein Company.


Actress Bell (Boston Legal) directed, wrote and starred in this film about a father/daughter relationship in the professional world of movie-trailer voice over artists.

U.S. DRAMATIC CINEMATOGRAPHY AWARD: Bradford Young, Ain't Them Bodies Saints
David Lowry's Ain't Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is the story of an outlaw who journeys to reunite with his wife.  The film earned decent praise, with many pointing the visual grace of the film that seemed to recall Terence Malick.  The film sold to IFC Films.

U.S. DRAMATIC SPECIAL JURY AWARD: Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

Written by (500) Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber, and directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed), actors Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Woodley (The Descendants) were cited for their performances in the film about a budding high school relationship.  Distributor A24 picked up the film.

Full list of winners.

Other highlights of the festival included Joseph Gordon Levitt's directorial debut, Don Jon's Addiction, a film starring "Robin" as a porn-addicted Jersey boy with whom Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore try to cure-- the film earned lukewarm notices, but was picked up by Relativity Media.  Fox Searchlight picked up The Way Way Back, directed by The Descendants scribes Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, a comedy starring Steve Carrel, Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette, and was the biggest sale of this years festival at nearly $10 million.  Sony Pictures Classics secured Austenland, a comedy starring Keri Russell as a Jane Austen-obsessive who journeys to live in the novelists works for a retreat.

The biggest deal, in my mind at this Sundance Film Festival, was the unveiling of the third part of Richard Linklater's master Before series.  Before Midnight, the continuation of the grand brief romance, Before Sunrise, that started eighteen years ago on a fateful train trip to Vienna between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and reignited nine years later with the better, leaner, even more heavenly wistful Before Sunset debuted to ravishing reviews and sold to Sony Pictures Classics. Oh, Jesse and Celene, I want to visit you now!!!!

PGA Awards--- Argo F!@# Yourself!

The Producers Guild Association of America has chosen their field for the best of 2012.  The first guild honor of the season and a potential unlocking to the Oscar race, as the PGA, awarding prizes since 1990, has a fairly strong correspondence.  In the past five years, they've matched perfectly with the eventual Best Picture winner, while sometimes choosing left honorees like Little Miss Sunshine and Moulin Rouge!.  Here are the 2012 results:

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Searching for Sugar Man

And the surging momentum for Argo, fresh from its Golden Globe and Critics Choice victories after that strange and mysterious Best Director snub for Ben Affleck, continues...soars perhaps.  No film has famously won the Best Picture Oscar without a matching Director nomination since Driving Miss Daisy, but statistically, with the Golden Globe, and now the PGA in the bag, Argo is taking great shape in this weird and exciting awards season.  It's worth noting that the PGA uses the same preferential balloting that the Academy uses, and a film like Argo, a great lop down the middle, is surging.  Had the PGA gone with Lincoln, a strong frontrunner despite its empty nest of Best Picture prizes, or Silver Linings Playbook, a safely presumed third, it may have added a greater degree of mystery to this years award season, however Argo seems, at least for now-- or till tomorrow evening when the Screen Actors Guild announce their winners-- the top despite its supposed weaknesses.

PGA Awards

The Producers Guild Association of America has chosen their field for the best of 2012.  The first guild honor of the season and a potential unlocking to the Oscar race, as the PGA, awarding prizes since 1990, has a fairly strong correspondence.  In the past five years, they've matched perfectly with the eventual Best Picture winner, while sometimes choosing left honorees like Little Miss Sunshine and Moulin Rouge!.  Here are the 2012 results:

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Searching for Sugar Man

And the surging momentum for Argo, fresh from its Golden Globe and Critics Choice victories after that strange and mysterious Best Director snub for Ben Affleck, continues...soars perhaps.  No film has famously won the Best Picture Oscar without a matching Director nomination since Driving Miss Daisy, but statistically, with the Golden Globe, and now the PGA in the bag, Argo is taking great shape in this weird and exciting awards season.  It's worth noting that the PGA uses the same preferential balloting that the Academy uses, and a film like Argo, a great lop down the middle, is surging.  Had the PGA gone with Lincoln, a strong frontrunner despite its empty nest of Best Picture prizes, or Silver Linings Playbook, a safely presumed third, it may have added a greater degree of mystery to this years award season, however Argo seems, at least for now-- or till tomorrow evening when the Screen Actors Guild announce their winners-- the top despite its supposed weaknesses.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

May the Force Be With...J.J. Abrams

Ever since news came about of the acquisition of Lucas Films to the Walt Disney Company, with the promise of another round of Star Wars films, the never-ending question became...who would direct it?  Well, now it's confirmed that J.J. Abrams-- mastermind of Lost, Super 8 and Star Trek will helm the next generation of Star Wars.  It was previously announced that Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) would pen the screenplay.

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie,” said Kennedy. “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”
George Lucas went on to say “I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.”
“To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor,” J.J. Abrams said. “I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid.”

What about that.  Now the question comes-- will the Star Trek/Star Wars helmer find himself in conflicts between the two.  And the added irony that the two science fiction prodigal projects are in eternal conflict within one another perpetually.   

West of Memphis

Many documentaries have the power to instill rage in us-- that raw power of a story outside ourselves that strikes a certain anger and fervency.  Very few documentaries have a power to actually evoke change.  While certainly Morgan Spurlock's fast food uprising Super Size Me prompted McDonalds to disavow their Super Size meals, the eternal power of cinema may be the primary influence in the call for change for the West Memphis Three.  In 1993, three teenagers from West Memphis, Arkansas-- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley-- were charged with the heinous murder of three eight-year-old boys.  Despite a severe lack of evidence, cries of misconduct during the investigation and further more during the trail, the only tangible piece that put these three young men behind bars was a controversial, and believed to heavily coerced confession by Misskelley, a high school drop out deemed by his own father, "retarded." The crime, dubbed the Robin Hood Hills Murder, has generated a heavy dose of controversy since it occurred, and through the investigation and trial process there was a certain call to arms to the stumped detectives that justice must be served.  What was found was three young men, all of whom condemned as others in their world, who might fit the bill.  West of Memphis, Amy Berg's avid and insightful documentary chronicles the past and the present, bringing about an astute primer study for those unaware of the case, and a deeper, more thoughtful perspective for those already deeply immersed in the unfolding human drama that enveloped in the Paradise Lost trilogy.

The Paradise Lost film themselves can be held assuredly responsible for bringing about the strange events and questioning the guilt of the young men being held accountable for it.  Since of course, there's been a further outpouring.  Of facts, DNA evidence, testimony, recanting of information and enough back and forth bedlam to drive anyone mad.  What stems clearly and most authoritatively is that nothing equals up and the horrific crime at the center is still essentially unsolved, despite nearly twenty years of time spent in prison (Echols on death row.)  One can make the argument, perhaps a well sounded one, that West of Memphis may be treadling on the repetitive, especially since the third installment of Paradise Lost is itself only a year old (and a 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature), but Berg, under the scrupulous supervision of producer Peter Jackson mount their offering with a clear-eyed and even-keeled analysis, fringed with an astute and straight-forward artfulness that navigates this tricky study with an assured confidence and a detailed prism of the complex narrative that's seeming continually unfolding.

The boys themselves were picked as easy targets, as Echols states they, "were poor white trash."  Echols himself, a depressed goth kid living squarely in the Bible Belt, who speaks with an eloquence and sober refrain perhaps only instilled after half a lifetime of confinement, acknowledges his otherness.  As a young punker who didn't fit in, and one with a few sinister jabs at authority, and a light criminal record to boot, it must have seen like candy to the investigators, stumbled and perhaps aware of their own frailties, when the crime became entangled with superstition and allusions of occult involvement.  Never mind the fact that the three teenagers could never be placed at the time of the crime, and numerous measures were either forgotten, misguided or fumbled-- a crime like this needs a suspect, and that may have been all that was key to the West Memphis Police Department.  A similar story unfolded at the center of another 2012 documentary involving mistakenly incarcerated teens in Central Park Five, prompting a further delving into possibly how many kids have had their lives shattered by a mishap of identity.  Not all can get Hollywood backs like the West Memphis Three, the one thing that stings West of Memphis the film is the plugging away by the distracting sights of famous faces-- Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and producer Peter Jackson all commit to on-camera PR work.

However, what does hold is everlasting appeal and power of this case, and as four movies, countless books, articles and etc. unfurl, it continues to be ever changing.  A document of fluid and on going history, and a case of trial and errors.  Just as the three teenagers themselves were branded as culprits due to image, Paradise Lost made a similar assumption of one of the victim's stepfathers named John Mark Byers-- a sinister looking Southern Bible Belter, neglecting-- just as everyone else another choice in Terry Hobbs, West of Memphis' assumption of the real killer due to recently re-examined DNA evidence and a hodgepodge of stories that don't add up.  The victory of the films puzzle resolves in the three teenagers, lives ruined and soiled in prison, were granted freedom on a peculiar stance of time served due to new evidence, without being exonerated.

What's left, and what's puzzling and what may indeed take a few more movies to unravel in this ever-changing case is that grand stance of finality and closure.  Until then, Berg's West of Memphis must settle for being a hell of good film.  B+

Movie 43

Whatever the hellish impetus of Movie 43, a random collection of gross out short films cobbled together courtesy of twelve filmmakers and an A-list, it was apparently lost in translation en route to the screen.  Perhaps inspired, in a way, as a response or an ultimate say in toiletry humor by way of past, more delicate, omnibus films like Paris, Je Táime or as a sort of lurid extrapolation of the ongoing parody of whatever craze that steamed from the original Scary Movie.  It matters little, since this ugly, cynically-scoped whatever of a movie-- a ninety-minute train wreck filled with sub-MadTV quality sketches that dubiously attempts to out gross-out the confines of good taste-- accomplishes but memorable achievement in becoming the ultimate bamboozle and time waster of its audience.  While movie stars degrade themselves with half commitment to the witless, nonsensical material provided by folks like Peter Farrelly, Griffin Dunne and Brett Ratner, we wait for the punchline.  And either by design, the ultimate punk or something, it never comes.  In fact each pointless, humorless and irritating short comes and goes without any sort of meaning, purpose or laughter.

And so we meander through the unholy hell of Movie 43.  Kate Winslet goes on a blind date with Hugh Jackman, a seemingly perfect suitor-- except for the fact that he has testicles resting upon his neck.  And Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber play parents who home school their teenage child and seek to impart the "normal" horrors of adolescence by messing him up psychological and sexually.  Oh, and Anna Faris and Chris Pratt play a budding young couple who decide to add scatological "fun" to their romance, just as another young couple played by Keiran Culkin and Emma Stone swap naughty wordplay over a supermarket microphone-- admittedly the best installment, but that's akin to finding the cute one in a litter of rabid dogs.  Or perhaps Richard Gere's segment involving an iPod-like device in the shape of a naked female that's under fire due to mangled male organs promises more ensuing hilarity?  Or a half-witted speed dating short featuring superheroes that finds Justin Long kissing a boy for comic effect?  Or Chloe Grace Moretz having her period in a room full of moronic men?  Or Gerard Butler as a balls-obsessed leprechaun, perhaps?  Or Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant engaging in a one-ups-man-ship game of truth or dare during a first date that ends with a penis face tattoo and plastic surgery?  Or, Terrence Howard as a basketball coach for an all-African American team in the yesteryear and his motivational musings of impending victory, might be the ultimate play as it uses the films addiction to penises in a racially offensive manor?  All inspired...this may be longest ninety minutes in cinematic history.

The cynicism, and the recoil may rest in not just the shorts themselves are lame, scatter-brained and so earnestly made out of shock value, but just in how benign and listless they are to be begin with.  That said, the asinine banality may have sat a bit better had Movie 43 chosen not to frame itself with the ugly and nearly spiteful incision of a movie pitch itself.  The connective tissue that binds these sordid, wannabe outrageous vignettes is staged as the ultimate prank itself, a firm middle finger squarely in the air the audience members, as Dennis Quaid sells hapless movie executive Greg Kinnear his nasty ditties.  It transpires into further sequences of insipidness.  I offer a request: that the A-list cast-- all of whom must have surely lost some horrible bets in the past-- will bathe and atone from this joyless endeavor, as film executives at distributor Relatively Media should ever kindly burn the negatives, and that audiences in search of a stupid good time stay home at tune into reality television.  That's all.  F

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lumiere Awards

Think of them as the sort of French version of the Golden Globes.

FILM: Amour
DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard, Rust & Bone 
ACTOR: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
SCREENPLAY: Rust & Bone- Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain
MALE NEWCOMER: Ernst Umhauer, In the House
FEMALE NEWCOMER: Judith Chemla, Julia Faure & India Hair, Camille Rewinds
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE: Noemie Lvovsky- writer, director, star of Camille Rewinds

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top Ten of 2012

The constant fixation has completed, for the time being.  Here are my picks for the ten best motion pictures of 2012:

Martin McDonagh's razor sharp gangster absurdest comedy brings out the very best in the famed playwright-- rapid fire dialogue, acute characterizations and a mocking self absorption all funneled into a witty and acidic crime-laced world filled with that kind of violent brio that would make a young Quentin Tarantino proud to steal from for ages.  A tongue in check meta Adaptation. crossed with Pulp Fiction, McDonagh's buildhas s nicely from his first feature, 2008's In Bruges, telling the story of a struggling Los Angeles screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who becomes engaged in crooked folk and the most oddball assortment of characters in any feature from 2012 after the misbegotten theft of an idiosyncratic gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.  What could have easily been thrown away as a creative writing assignment is the virtue and the strange zesty soulfulness of the cast.  Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken, all at their most unhinged, make Seven Psychopaths a joyful generous comedy of manners, each divisive and succinct, playing off one another, unpredictably and impenetrably, creating a delightfully warped dadaism to McDonagh's self aware violent hymn.

The arc of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's cinematic career is one of the most savory in recent memory.  Brash and electric when first thrust upon the scene as one of America's most exciting to watch, first he seemed to be mirroring Robert Altman's approach with the grand ensemble films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia.  A shift seemed to occur after his last film, There Will Be Blood, and most certainly in his polarizing, galvanic, unsettling and gargantuan staging of The Master.  At first roused upon as that movie that speaks (or mocks, or what have you) the early formation of the Church of Scientology.  Anderson's ambition, as with There Will Be Blood, was far greater than a reductive tagline or concept.  Instead, The Master, speaks of a culture, a lost America in search of salvation, or a cause, or something tangible.  The filmmaker has never quite been so reserved before, nor as chillingly oblique, but even while the film may keep itself forever at a heady distance from its audience, there's a wonderment and poetry to be utterly savored.  As teacher and student, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix bring out the very best in each other, and as the film charts their relationship-- the film changes, morphs and alternates between a grand performance achievement, something akin to the likes of what it may have felt like to witness Marlon Brando for the first time-- and a deeper and chillier mediation of life and religion.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Marc Boal are back for more fun in the Middle East, following their Oscar-winning small wonder that could in 2009's The Hurt Locker, and return with a loftier bit of war of terror business in their staging of the capture and execution of Osama bin Laden, again exacting a thrillingly sharp view of the danger seekers who put their lives at sake for the safety of others.  Sprawling, nervy and ambitious, Zero Dark Thirty is a chillingly masterful stroke of journalism with a savvy and sharply adept (non) character study of Maya, a top level CIA agent who holds a huge part in the eventual outcome.  Playing with a tough-minded grace by Jessica Chastain, she maintains the thorny disparate narratives, in and out players, and the dead-end clues with pluck and intelligence.  And while the masterful execution of Zero Dark Thirty is immense and wonderfully wrought, the tenacity and stoicism of Maya bring the film an emotional rawness and tenderness, far more interesting than the films alleged views on torture or the debatable liberties taken with may have actually occurred.

There may have been little to look forward to on the onset to this animated feature about an alienated video game villain who wants to be a hero, but the joyous and inventive Wreck-It-Ralph, perhaps by playing to ones lesser-than expectations, is one of the most generously playful and moving films I saw in a movie theater in all of 2012.  Witty, surprising and magnificently executed, simultaneously playing on the feverish novelty and nostalgia of arcade games, while creating something thrillingly alive at the same time.  Even with the patented be-true-to-oneself message that tries to ever cloy at it's sides, director Rich Moore, his animators, and ideally cast vocal stars gently subvert any triteness with warped bits of silliness, an inspired, carefully layered screenplay that splices video game arcania with even niftier displays of the heart, and jubilant, free-associative meditation of redemption.  A video game villain in a group therapy session filled with villains of yore exclaiming the virtues of being bad may be most favorite scene of any feature this past year.

Rian Johnson's ultra slick science fiction odyssey was the niftiest bit of slight of hand in 2012-- an ambitious and unassuming morality play that uses the sometimes stale device of time travel in a marvelously wrought and inventive way.  Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis are both wonderful, playing younger and older Joe, a once steely reserved professional whose life was changed by a particularly defining incident that ties the marvelously contrasted whole together.  Filled with endless creativity, imagination and style, Johnson-- the man behind the indie genre busters Brick and The Brothers Bloom-- rises to graces (hopefully the grandest) of heftier Hollywood properties with a deft eye for scope, graceful notes for storytelling, and an incisive voice and bridges all those qualities into the most unique and original genre film of last year.

The surprising things about Steven Spielberg's epic biography feature of our 16th president is that firstly, it's not really a biography feature.  Missing is a great man treatise of the episodic passages of Abraham Lincoln's life.  Instead we focus on one chapter-- his journey to get the 13th Amendment passed, and thus ending slavery.  The second surprising part is how, and I mean this as a wondrous compliment, unlike a Spielberg film his Lincoln really is.  Scripted, poetically and bountifully by Tony Kushner, Lincoln is a stirring, wonderfully entertaining master play of politics, with a sprawling ensemble that points to the most decidedly performance driven feature of all of Spielberg's career, as well as his most visually subdued-- brilliant but held back, letting the actors and their words capture the show.  In that regard, the film still needed its Lincoln, and Daniel Day-Lewis, capturing the idea of this man in enough inventive little details to ruminate on for a lifetime, is jaw-dropping astounding as master and commander.  What springs is an uncommonly good film that while tackling one of the single most important moments in our nations history, captures the idea, the mythology and the politics all shrouded around a grander notion of Abraham Lincoln.  For whatever reason-- perhaps goading from Kushner, or Day-Lewis, or thoughts of his own legacy, Spielberg made the more surprising and the better film.

Director Tim Burton, whose warpy imagination has for too long now been branded by an industry that has little interest nor canny sensibility to do with it, did something quietly amazing in 2012.  Adapting his own live action short film, the same one that cost him his early gig at Disney, into a stop motion animated feature.  No matter that it tanked at the box office, this sweetly demented riff on monster movies and the lure of mans best friend was what Burton needed to do-- either as atonement for his recent output or creative recharging-- and what his long suffering fans hoped for year now.  Shot in gorgeous black and white, and made with the mystifying visual sense and style that made Burton such an electric artist to begin with, Frankenweenie was one of the most hopeful and buoyant cinematic experiences in all of 2012-- a religious experience for film nerds who came of age in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Benh Zeitlin's astoundingly original and mythic tale of the denizens of "The Bathtub" and the intrepid young warrior named Hushpuppy engulf the cinematic imagination that delightful and intangible way of reminding the power and artfulness in which movie are capable of-- to absorb and the thrill the senses at the excitement of seeing something for the very first time.  Even the most jaded aficionados must have recoiled with that sense at some point during Beasts of the Southern Wild, which at its simplest details a lifestyle on the fringes-- in this case off the levees of Louisiana, left with nothing to do but surrender in the awe and scope of this grandly, yet scrappy tale of survival and mysticism.  Young Quvenzhane Wallis may have just been six when she made this film, but her charisma, drive and determination nets a performance that transcends mere accolades, and like the film, strikes the heart, just as the film creates an ever optimistic hopefulness for American independent filmmaking.

Do you hear the people sing?  Well yes, and their singing live in Tom Hooper's moving and sincere epic telling of the beyond popular musical, itself derived from the immortal work by Victor Hugo. The endless gripping and drubbing of the film has done nothing to alter my take, my love and lust for this delectable movie musical.  Unapologetically wearing its heart on its sleeve and made with a go-for-broke brio that singes right into the immortal cinematic soul, Hooper's Les Miserables is firstly a grand performance piece with star Hugh Jackman baring all as the graceful lead of Jean Valjean, a fugitive imprisoned who seeks a redemptive life and Anne Hathaway's searingly emotional Fantine, a true miserables, glides in with a heavenly voice and immortalizes a classic song that long ago had faded into novelty.  What's most astonishing about Les Miserables, and may be a clue as to what get people all worked up at it, is the way Hooper and his team boldly go for the gut, making a riveting, thought long ago defunct emotional epic.  Les Miserables on a technical standpoint, or on a mere bits and pieces dissection may be the one film on this list that I have the most issues with, but I stand that in all strives in making the film more interesting and magical.

A perfect melding of material with its artist.  Wes Anderson, eternally besieged as the precocious maker of the  preciously gilded and inventively art-directed.  The rules of the game continue with Moonrise Kingdom, but the surprise and the delight of his best feature film since 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, is that there's an enchanting and lovingly melancholic undertone.  A tale of young, adolescent love and quirky at-odds grown-up in a vacuum of 1960s nostalgia, Moonrise Kingdom is engrossing and witty, but with the surprising tugs of something more, something deeper and ultimately something far more personal that Anderson has ever shared with us on screen before.  What's left and what's taken away is the best movie of 2012.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

London Film Critics Circle

BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR: Berberian Sound Studio
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour 
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
BRITISH ACTOR: Toby Jones, Berberian Sound Studio
BRITISH ACTRESS: Andrea Riseborough, Shadow Dancer
YOUNG BRITISH PERFORMER: Tom Holland, The Impossible
SCREENWRITER: Michael Haneke, Amour
TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT: Life of Pi (visual effects)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gangster Squad

In Gangster Squad, director Ruben Fleischer's noir wannabe send up of the gangster genre that was once the bread and butter of distributor Warner Bros., Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen, a nefarious mob leader.  Played with a twitchy menace, with an over-the-top bombast that all but begs to be called into comparison with Al Pacino's manic screeching in Scarface, Penn utilizes all his actorly grace notes into a gleeful cartoonish creation.  As a sadistic overload with all intent of taking over 1940s Los Angeles, his Cohen is something straight out of Dick Tracy, with an all knowing wrinkle and tongue in cheek nod so unreserved and mannered he may as well be twirling a mustache and patting a black cat as he cuts into his dialogue.  He's clearly having a ball, acting without a net nor the slightest bit of directorial cues, which may have been fine if the film surrounding this display of showmanship, had settled on a tone or a cue of it's own.  The film, written by former cop Will Beall, instead wants to have it both ways-- at once a cartoon full of the cacophony of machine gun blitzes along with a L.A. Confidential-lite morality tale of corruption all set in the glamor of high-end showbiz window dressings.  Without a net of its own, Gangster Squad turns silly and sour, and as a true disservice to any cartoon entertainment, becomes, seemingly against all odds, dull.

The film was originally set for release last September but was pulled out of respect to the horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado due to its excessive violence and a first cut sequence of a melee taking place inside a movie theater.  Reshot and retooled for our convenience, it likely wouldn't have mattered much of a lick since Gangster Squad leaves only the slightest bit of a taste, edging into near irrelevance as quickly as its unraveling.  Fleischer, director of horror comedy Zombieland, certainly has a flair, but not the resolve to coalesce Gangster Squad into a film that matters.

Our hero, Sgt. John O'Mara (played by Josh Brolin, with an indignant seriousness) is portrayed as one of the few honest cops of the LAPD, circa 1949.  Under corruption in a town ruled by Cohen's nefarious efforts, O'Mara is obsessed with bringing him down, going so far as seeking guerrilla-like missions.  The smidgeon of a backstory is provided in that he's a WWII vet, perhaps still looming to bring down the big bad even as the war as past, as his pregnant wife and quaint lifestyle isn't enough to settle his adrenaline.  Another war vet is viewed at first as amusing counterpoint in the freewheeling Sgt. Jerry Wooters (played by Ryan Gosling in a twee accent and introduced as comedic jig), whose withdrawn nonchalance to the excessive violence is only sparked after he hooks up with Cohen's gal Grace (Emma Stone-- a tad too nice and girl next door-ish for a gangster's moll) and finds himself as well as she in apparent danger.

In a riff on nearly every B-action movie of the 80s, a team is secretly assembled-- headed by O'Mara in an effort to take on Cohen and his gang and make Los Angeles safe again.   This golden era A-Team includes a tech expert (Giovanni Ribisi), a gun-slinging novelty (Robert Patrick), his immigrant protege (Michael Pena) and the always welcome Anthony Mackie, for, well the movie doesn't quite explain.  The squad goes to great (and needlessly violent) measures, encompassing the films silliest problem as the good guy team starts to question their efforts and ponder if their actions are any better than the real villains.  That matters little as both detectives and gangsters are saddled with such a pedestrian script that makes all parties seem relatively dim, each discovering clues as screenplay dictates in what shrewd investigators or bad guys should realize long before.  Without insight or scope or dimension, the actors are all seemingly left to their own devices, and it's true that the alpha cast all appears to be a different films, left directionless by Fleischer to delight in their own disparate actorly delights.

At least the films looks good in its ridiculousness, as cinematographer Dion Beebe (no stranger to theatrical eye candy, as evident by his Oscar-winning lensing of Memoirs of a Geisha or to astute LA-driven crime dramas, as in Collateral) lustfully and colorfully brings bits of zest and texture to the surface only film.  Same is said to the artful production designers and costumers who stage old school elegance and fun set pieces with an aplomb that's missing from the page.  Sadly, even as mere window dressing, Gangster Squad can't quite quell its own insipidness, as it nears parody towards its predictably bloody and uninvolving conclusion.  D

Best of 2012: Runners-Up

My top ten favorite films of 2012 are underway, but first a few favorites that missed the cut:

AMOUR- Michael Haneke's unflinchingly tender film about an elderly couple at the twilight of their lives features two of the most aching and moving performances of the year from cinematic legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.  That the film is presented through the unsentimental prism and a masterful touch isn't the surprising part considering Haneke's reputation, but that the film compliments the filmmaker's famously chilly persona whilst simultaneously being his most moving and indelible personal film is.  What's left is a heartbreaking chamber piece that's hard to shake and mercifully alive in creating two astonishing characters and their loving and wrenching battle with time.

ARGO- Ben Affleck's crisply entertaining docudrama of the outrageous mission to save young Americans during the Iranian Hostage Crisis is a tale so incredible not to be true.  Intelligently written by Chris Terrio, Argo is big, immense Hollywood drama in the truest sense, harkening back to glory days of 1970s while remaining quintessential entertainment.  Affleck, in his third time in the directors chair keeps a sturdy hand, maintaining the potent mixture of gloss and reality that evolves in a third act that ranks as one of the strongest and nerviest of the year.  Hyperbole aside, he gets better and more assured with each outing.

BULLY- One of the most emotional bits of candid filmmaking of the past year as director Lee Hirsch followed the various fates of five youngsters in an analysis of bullying in schools.  A film that should required viewing for any parent, teacher and school administrator, it's a avid document that the kids aren't all right, and the rules of the game of changed, while the age-old adage of "kids will be kids" remains the same.  While certainly not the most graceful or lyrically made of documentaries, Bully is first and foremost an emotional wake-up call, a solemn reminder of years past, and looming fears of the future. 

CABIN IN THE WOODS- Drew Goddard's insanely clever meta horror show, aided with a script co-written by Joss Whedon, was the best B-movie ride of 2012-- a twisty and enticing unraveling and subversive display of wit and showmanship.  A horror flick playing on the tracks of both parody and homage with a gleeful sense of humor and menacing pace of terror-- it's perhaps the best episode never aired of The Twilight Zone, as it extracts the archetypes and past times of the horror staple, upending it with a zest and control.  The delirious and diabolical conclusion ranks as one of the nuttiest and niftiest slights of hands in modern horror filmmaking.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- How exactly does one top the infinite mighty force that was 2008's The Dark Knight.  Director Christopher Nolan opts smartly by not trying to out master a film that succumbed to legend before it even released, instead drawing on the very strengths, dignities and nervy intensity in which he has brought to the franchise.  Enveloping politics, controversy, and even grappling with a tragedy that befell the film on it's opening night, Nolan's final act may forever have the stink of unfortunate reality attached to it, but the film nonetheless remains a grandly entertaining, intensely thrilling and slick piece of franchise filmmaking at its finest, one forever entombed in the pop cultural lexicon where as a whole it's legend will be appreciated as it should.

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME- Perhaps 2012's most underrated film.  A Homeric odyssey re-imagined as an indie slacker tale.  Sadly released without much conviction and left to near rust, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, from the Duplass Brothers deserved better and far more richer returns as it maneuvered through an improbable, but utterly hopeful, day of chance and circumstance as seen through the eyes of it's sad man-child leading character, played with a perfect mixture of flightiness and inquisitiveness by Jason Segal.  The great surprise from this quietly playful comedy-drama was how it movingly sneaks into your heart with the slightest of fanfare.

THE KID WITH A BIKE- The latest bit of European miserablism, coming from the finest to offer such in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike, sensitively, indelibly and movingly tells a story of young child, wonderfully played by newcomer Thomas Doret, troubled and abandoned until a kind hairdresser, played by Cecile de France, takes him in.  Disparaging in its anguishing honesty and presented plainly but emphatically without cloying sentiment nor sermonizing, The Kid with the Bike serves as some of the best of refined and restrained cinema to grace screens in 2012.

PARANORMAN- The wizards of Laika Animation, the same that brought us the wonderfully rich view of lonely childhood in 2009's Coraline do the very same with ParaNorman, an unsuspecting stop motion riff on monster movie channeled into a clever and incisive coming of age tale of a lost young boy with a peculiar gift.  The great gleeful surprise of ParaNorman is its generosity of humor (the film features quite possibly the most hopefully positive gay joke in cinematic history-- perhaps an easy feat), richness of animation and wonderfully lived-in characterization of a lonely, smart as a whip young man whose peculiarities in the end save the day.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK- Like David O. Russell's last work, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook works because of the manic, varying acting styles of its wonderful ensemble cast, all jelling to one another into a jazzy, nutty, swooning vibe.  Invariably, and perhaps stupidly reduced as depression-induced romantic comedy, one with an improbable dance sequence finale to boot, there's knocks that Silver Linings Playbook may and perhaps should be dismissed as an idiosyncratic as mere frivolity.  But there's such a buoyancy and vibrancy to the performances, headlined by a never better Bradley Cooper and a radiant Jennifer Lawrence that bellies any fuzziness and marks a wonderfully calibrated piece of work.

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER- Unassuming would be a perfect word to describe Your Sister's Sister, a deftly nimble performance piece indie drama that takes place nearly exclusively in a rustic cabin populated by three actors, all of whom are at the top of their game.  Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt mark an incredible triptych in Lynn Shelton's incisive and sensitively written talk-fest.  In the spirit of quiet offerings, Your Sister's Sister was the loudest attraction in barely noticed art house movie houses in all of the summer of 2012.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association

PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR- MALE: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR- FEMALE: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
LGBT FILM OF THE YEAR: Keep the Lights On
DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR: How to Survive a Plague
CAMPY FLICK OF THE YEAR: Magic Mike and The Paperboy 

Costume Designer Guild Nominations

Anna Karenina- Jacqueline Durran
Argo- Jacqueline West
Les Miserables- Paco Delgado
Lincoln- Joanna Johnston
Moonrise Kingdom- Kasia Walicka-Maimone

BEST COSTUME DESIGN (Contemporary Film)
Beasts of the Southern Wild- Stephani Lewis
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- Louise Stjernsward
Silver Linings Playbook- Mark Bridges
Skyfall- Jany Temime
Zero Dark Thirty- George L. Littl

Cloud Atlas- Kym Barrett & Pierre-Yves Gayraud
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor & Bob Buck
The Hunger Games- Judianna Makovsky
Mirror Mirror- Eiko Ishioka
Snow White & the Huntsman- Colleen Atwood

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cinema Shame- 2012 Edition

As I start to get myself together-- with the full realization that we are already mid-way through the first half of January 2013-- that annual twitchy anxiety yet again rears its ugly head as I formulate the last year of the filmmaking.  The truncated awards season is not helping much, typically there's another week or two to go before Oscar nominations.  Blerg.  I start my annual kvetching, first with something I sure about-- what didn't work.  I'll put aside easy targets that yielded uncomfortable viewing for me this past year-- the like of Wrath of the Titans, Dark Shadows, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, What to Expect When You're Expecting, as well, they all sucked, and further more why venture into half witted commentary on subject not nearly at worthy of it, or of items no one their right minds remember much of anyway.

CLOUD ATLAS (The Waschowskis, Tom Tykwer)- The OMG of worst of filmmaking in 2012 comes from three filmmakers, each of whom perhaps past their prime or novelty, a world class ensemble of movie stars and journeymen, and spans thousands of years in telling six disparate, but interconnected tales of, well something I'm sure.  There's a wealth of ambition, pyrotechnics, prosthetics, and pseudo gravitas, but the film a convoluted, pretentious mind fuck is also cold and insufferable, uneven to to point to be grandly ridiculous and long enough to arouse enough shuffling in ones seat to the point of dehydration and, I'm sure, a litmus of health of risks.  Perhaps that's being mean, but Cloud Atlas, with all its metaphysical daydreaming, is a film that yearns and believes its about everything, and in truth, it's about nothing at all except the brief novelty of a catching a game and rotating chess game of actors dive further into a needless rabbit hole that's head scratching and alternately alienating, confusing, and a bit racist.  Further more, the six strands of inter-connected gobbledygook are less bewitching separately making a product that cannot stand on the sum of it's parts because there's sparsely little their to begin with. 

COSMOPOLIS (David Croenberg)- Imagine spending two hours with the most deathly boring, abhorrent slice of humanity in the back of a limousine in an endless and fatiguing quest to, get this- get a haircut.  That specimen belongs to Robert Pattinson, in an effort for the Teen Beat incarnate of modern vampire romanticism to grow, or perhaps atone, as an actor.  Croenberg's films are always superbly crafted, and while Cosmopolis is certainly ambitious in it's thematic melding of the end of the world foreshadowing with Occupy-like hysteria, the material is so drab, stagey, and moribund that it becomes a draining couple of hours spent in the company of pseudo-intellectual types spewing needless nonsense in the man of art.  Pattinson, it appears, has further atoning to do-- getting a prostate exam in an art film does not equate a great artist.

"THE GRETA GERWIG DOUBLE FEATURE FROM HELL"- Greta Gerwig, the mumblecore romantic heroine, discovered after an appropriately praised performance in the misbegotten Noah Boambach dramedy Greenberg came off age in two headlining 2012 indie comedies, and both were nearly unwatchable.  The first was Whit Stillman's alien and oddly scoped anti-feminist curveball Damsels in Distress, and the second, the stifled and second rate Woody Allen carnival of neurosis in Lola Versus.  Coincidentally, Gerwig was also featured in To Rome With Love-- read below.  I still find myself interested in this unlikely movie star, whose slanted off-kilter line readings and cadences are certainly different and hopefully a right fit for some filmmaker, but this was not the coming out party for her this year.

HITCHCOCK (Sasha Gervasi)- The gloves deserve to come off so to speak in this ungracious, ever looking for a tone film that teases with early-Hollywood allure with insight into the making of Psycho and the genius behind itSomething for the movie geeks to pine at, and at first, I was willing to take the bait, until I realized what a silly, barely together slight of hand truly on hand from director Sasha Gervasi, and nagging, winking portrait by Anthony Hopkins.  Replacing the fun, gentile ride with behind the scenes dirt on the making of one of the most savory pieces of filmmaking of time, with a dull scenes from a marriage burst the cinematic bubble, and dared to turn a subject so fascinating and gleefully alive into something so downtrodden and slow.  Hitchcock at once makes a fool of its subjects and moreso of it's actors-- especially Helen Mirren, the sprightliest of Dames reduced to second hand material and a particularly dull backstory, likely juiced just to woo her in the first place.  What's left is not fun, more so, it's quite deadly.

TO ROME WITH LOVE (Woody Allen)- The reasons for returning to the yearly ritual of a Woody Allen film are partly because the romanticism of his necessary work (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, The Purple Rose of Cairo) is enough to take part-- Allen's very best will eternally play in a wonderful loop in head.  Also, even in the recent hit and miss, keep going run of his modern work, there's a surprise to behold every so often in the sea of Curse of the Jade Scorpion missteps.  Last years Midnight in Paris holds that to be true, as does the small pleasures of trifles like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match PointTo Rome With Love is an epic blunder, however, a half-assed Euro bit of cheese, with neither any filling nor topping.  The boring and trite unconnected stories that make up Allen's Italian vacation harvest neither wit nor pleasure, but instead bore with barely cobbled together ruminations of celebrity, romance, sex and opera singing in the shower?- whatever-ness.  Any of which are things Allen has done better thousands of times, and without any bombast, nor an exceeding running time-- okay, it's barely a two hour film, but it felt like ten dull hours in half-wit Allen mode.  The briefest respite comes from Judy Davis, whose heavenly line readings offer the solace in one of Allen's worst.

And a special award to:

LEE DANIELS, writer and director of THE PAPERBOY
Cast aside after it's embarrassing showing at this years Cannes Film Festival, and cemented as the novelty freak show where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, The Paperboy-- despite some top talent involved including Matthew McConaughey (a blip on his unmatched year), John Cusack, Macy Gray and Nicole Kidman, to one who almost manages to get ahead of this stinking trainwreck-- this thundering piece of cinematic shame begs the question on which may be the worst follow-up in history to an Oscar-winning success story.  Daniels rightfully earned praise for Precious, but The Paperboy, with it's rote and pretentious style, flow and dirty energy may prove a top contender for that prize.  Ugly, unsubtle, and only wannabe-gritty, The Paperboy was handily the trashiest piece of filmmaking of 2012, but decorated in the veneer of laudable art project.  Daniels wastes the abundant talents of his cast and crew, and the time of the poor suckers spent in the auditorium of this filth.

USC Scripter Nominations

The Scripters celebrate adapted screenplays by honoring both the screenwriters and the original authors of the source material.  The 2012 nominees are:

  • Argo- Joshuah Bearman, author of the article "The Great Escape," Tony Mendez, author of The Master of Disguise, and screenwriter Chris Terrio
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild- Lucy Alibar, dramatist of the play, Juicy & Delicious, and screenwriters Alibar and Benh Zeitlin.
  • Life of Pi- Yann Martel, author of the novel, and screenwriter Chris Magee
  • Lincoln- Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and screenwriter Tony Kushner.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky, author and screenwriter.
  • Silver Linings Playbook- Matthew Quick, author of the novel and screenwriter David O. Russell.

Rust & Bone

The twirly melodrama of Rust & Bone, directed and co-written by Jacques Audiard, is fascinated by the severed limbs and broken psyches of it's main characters.  Audiard, through his last French hits A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped has emerged as one of the freshest and most direct of international auteurs with his swishy, yet fluid, nearing on poetic strikes with the camera-- coupled with a mature, yet even handed take on human drama.  Rust & Bone is notable mostly in its flourishes-- immerse but beautifully wrought camera work, the near fetishistic look at his actors pained and broken body parts, the silly bit of slight transcendence while a Katy Perry song plays in the background-- here's a case where you have a film, made with abundant sincerity, graced with actors willing and certainly capable of exposing nakedly personal portraits; a film unsentimental until it isn't, un-romantic until it isn't, bewitching but at arms length-- a bold cinematic curiosity that never quite reaches into ones soul.  What's left is a marvelously well-crafted and well performed film that never quite reaches the sum of its parts, perhaps because they weren't as well filled as they could have or should have been in the first place.

When the film debuted at last summer's Cannes Film Festival, it seemed to ignite a media firestorm for it's actress Marion Cotillard.  The Oscar-honored French beauty, the same who's nearly become a Hollywood movie star returning to her native land for a hard hitting film from one of her countryman's most newly respected.  The content of the film seemed secondary-- other than the fact that the famous lady was playing a whale trainer at a Sea World-like aquatic park who loses both her legs in a freak killer whale accident.  Behind that hubbub is a subtle and beguiling performance that holds because of what Cotillard keeps from us; that mystery and sense of wonder.  Aside from a few shrieks of "What has happened" shock, her Stephanie is creation of both the enchanting actress and the filmmakers is one that never asks nor pleas for sympathy and one that has no need for the typical rounds of disability anguish.  All dare to make her unlikable even at times, but mostly just human.

Perhaps the other major surprise at first sight of Rust & Bone is that Cotillard's tale was merely one part, or perhaps even a little less than that if running time math matters any.  Before the accident, Stephanie meets Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a hulking brute, while she's teasing and inciting barroom fights as a local club where he is a bouncer.  Ali's bruises are first met as emotional, not that he will share them, as he along with his young, estranged son move in with his sister, of whom he has a contentious relationship with, until the once amateur boxer finds an easier source of income in kicking the crap out of guys in backyard melees.  Schoenaerts matches Cotillard round for round as the two take up an unlikely friendship, one that leads to emotional and spiritual healing, but not in the way one may expect.  Both characters are at odds with their lives, if not with each other-- the find a small salvage in the arms of one another perhaps if nothing else because they've both become stagnate and estranged in themselves.  Audiard puts aside any easily digestible sense of courtship as the two become bed mates, and invariably turned on their bruised bodies.  It's a movie still through and through-- legs or not and scenes with muted make-up, Cotillard is still breathless, and with bruises and black-eyes, Schoenaerts still a catch.

There's brief respites of the ethereal, especially when Ali takes Stephanie out in the ocean for the first time, and a gracious rapport between the actors, but their afflictions, as well as their emotions feel strangely aloof.  And as Rust & Bone edges on, the film becomes more improbable, reaching to an additional third act tragedy until it reaches an even more improbable glimpse of a happy ending.  Audiard's filmmaking is seductive, and alternately alluring and electric, but in the end there's precious little to linger on aside from the beauty of it's leading actors.  B 

Monday, January 14, 2013

70th Annual Golden Globe Awards

PICTURE (Drama)- Argo
PICTURE (Musical or Comedy)- Les Miserables
DIRECTOR- Ben Affleck, Argo
ACTOR (Drama)- Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS (Drama)- Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
ACTOR (Musical or Comedy)- Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
ACTRESS (Musical or Comedy)- Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR- Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
SUPPORTING ACTRESS- Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
SCREENPLAY- Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino
ORIGINAL SCORE- Life of Pi- Michael Danna
ORIGINAL SONG- "Skyfall," Skyfall


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crystall Ball: Golden Globe Awards

A few notables for this most interesting awards season.  Because of the abbreviated schedules and the lack of the typical over-lapping of events, this years race may turn bonkers in a few short hours as the Golden Globes announced their favorites from the always interesting (!@#@) Hollywood Foreign Press Association.  Because the Oscar nominations were moved up this year, ballots were due before some of the more notable shocks the Academy provided this year.  All of which makes it a bit more confusing.  Here's how I think it will go:

Will win: Argo
Or maybe: Lincoln

Argo, despite the shocking Best Director Oscar snub for Ben Affleck may still be king of the world with the Globes who looove stars.   Lincoln tells a fundamentally American story, which may not have the same impact from this group (then again Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and even Django Unchained...all nominated do the same thing.)  Either way, I'm still going with Argo, fresh from it's Critics Choice victory.  However, the internationally more successful Life of Pi could shock as well.  Damn.

BEST PICTURE (Musical or Comedy)
Will win: Silver Linings Playbook
Or maybe: Les Miserables

I'm guessing the Weinstein-loving HFPA will go for Silver Linings considering the critical drubbing of Les Miserables.  Then again, they do love musicals-- Moulin Rouge!, Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd all recently won this prize, and Les Miserables has a heavy international flavor.  Silver Linings screenplay nomination makes me suggest they liked it a tad bit more...

Will win: Ben Affleck, Argo
Or maybe: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

I'm thinking it will come down the to the two shocking Director Oscar snubs for the win.  Bigelow didn't win the Golden Globe for The Hurt Locker, make me think this might be a way for a make-up, but the allure of fallen matinee idol making good on director potential me thinks will be too good for the HFPA to resist.

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Or maybe: ????

No contest-- unless the HFPA wants to submit themselves to even further ridicule and embarrassment, they will look no further than Day-Lewis' mercurial turn as Abraham Lincoln.

Will win: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Or maybe: Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone or Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Damn, another hard one!  Chastain has the buzz and the controversy-laden movie and she's a pretty, likable star in the making who gives a tremendous performance, but who knows if this group knows that, care about that, or even liked the movie.  Cotillard, who won for La Vie en Rose en route to that surprise Oscar victory may make the cut for what was assumed to be another run with Oscar, or Watts, may get an overdue credit.  Best Actress is confusing this year.

BEST ACTOR (Musical or Comedy)
Will win: Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Or maybe: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Probably the hardest to call for Jackman or Cooper both make compelling cases however I'm going with Jackman, because he's a movie star and a charmer, and one, I assume, they've been wanting to celebrate for some time now.  Cooper-- who's great in Silver Linings, I just don't see as his time just yet-- it's more his welcoming nomination.  Still could go either way.

BEST ACTRESS (Musical or Comedy)
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Or maybe: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

No contest-- with the year she's had, she's didn't even need to be good in a good movie for the HFPA to praise her.  Enough said...

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Or maybe: Anyone?!?!?!

A confusing one, that seems to have many plausible scenarios.  Remember, the Oscar nominations really shouldn't have any effect here, as DiCaprio was noticeably snubbed.  But he's again, a star, and a HFPA favorite.  However, I'll be the first to admit, I have little confidence in this one.

Will win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Or maybe: It won't matter, because Hell would have frozen over if anyone other name is called.

Les Miserables may have lost a lot of buzz and awards credibility due to some very harsh critics, but Hathaway's emotional turn as the dying and tragic dreamer Fantine is awards gold.

Will win: Lincoln- Tony Kushner
Or maybe: Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell

How strong is Silver Linings?  We shall find out tomorrow, but I feel, again, not honoring Kushner for Lincoln will be something akin to an act of treason.

Will win: Frankenweenie
Or maybe: Wreck-It-Ralph

Will win: Amour
Or maybe: The Intouchables

Will win: Life of Pi
Or maybe: Lincoln

Will win: "Skyfall," Skyfall- Adele
Or maybe: Not a chance 

May the odds be ever in your favor.  How do you see it going?     
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