Friday, June 28, 2013

Welcome Members

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has invited 276 new members to join the club.  What's notable about this years announcement list is that the Academy seems to actually be kinda/sorta listening to some of the complaints that have been hurled in their direction.  The ratio of female vs. male / Caucasian vs. non-Caucasians on the list is about even.  That can only mean good things, but there is but a caveat in that being invited to join the Academy doesn't mean everyone will accept, and further along that it will make a tremendous amount of difference in the stodginess of the yearly proceedings.  Bitterness aside, welcome new members:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Jason Bateman (Up in the Air, Juno)
Miriam Colon (City of Hope, Scarface)
Rosario Dawson (Rent, Sin City)
Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls, Beloved)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Lincoln, The Dark Knight Rises)
Charles Grodin (Midnight Run, The Heartbreak Kid)
Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, The Town)
Lance Henriksen (Aliens, The Terminator)
Jack Huston (Not Fade Away, Factory Girl)
Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, Chaplin)
Lucy Liu (Kill Bill: Volume One, Chicago)
Jennifer Lopez (What to Expect When You're Expecting, Selena)
Alma Martinez (Born in East L.A., Under Fire)
Emily Mortimer (Hugo, Lars & the Real Girl)
Sandra Oh (Rabbit Hole, Sideways)
Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Precious)
Michael Pena (End of Watch, Crash)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour, Hiroshima, Mon Amour)
Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore)
Geno Silva (Mulholland Drive, Amistad)
Danny Trejo (Machete, Heat)
Chris Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook, Rush Hour)

Pablo Larrain

Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair, Truth About Men)
Ava DuVernay* (Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow)
Paul Feig (The Heat, Bridesmaids)
Catherine Hardwick (Twilight, Thirteen)
Kirk Jones (What to Expect When You're Expecting, Waking Ned Devine)
Ken Kwapis (Big Miracle, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants)
Pablo LarraĆ­n (No, Tony Manero)
Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger)
Kim Nguyen (War Witch, City of Shadows)
Jafar Panahi* (This Is Not a Film, The Circle)
Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School)
Joachim Ronning (Kon-Tiki, Max Manus)
Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki, Max Manus)
Tim Story (Think Like a Man, Fantastic Four)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Glory at Sea)

Sarah Polley

Jessica Bendinger (Aquamarine, Bring it On)
Reggie Rock Bythewood (Notorious, Get on the Bus)
Tina Gordon Chism (Peeples, Drumline)
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight, 2 Days in Paris)
Lena Dunham (Nobody Walks, Tiny Furniture)
Ava DuVernay* (Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow)
John Gatins (Flight, Coach Carter)
John Hamburg (I Love You, Man, Meet the Parents)
John Lee Hancock (Snow White & the Huntsman, The Blind Side)
Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick)
Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter)
Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz, Away From Her)
Chris Terrio (Argo, Heights)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Saturn Award Winners



BEST DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon, Marvel's Avengers
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Clark Gregg, Marvel's The Avengers
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE: Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
BEST WRITING: Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
BEST MUSIC: Frankenweenie
BEST COSTUMES: Les Miserables
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS: Marvel's The Avengers



BEST ACTOR: (tie) Kevin Bacon, The Following; Bryan Cranstan, Breaking Bad
BEST ACTRESS: Anna Torv, Fringe
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jonathon Banks, Breaking Bad
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Yvonne Strahovski, Dexter

VISIONARY AWARD: Richard Matheson
LIFE CAREER AWARD: Jonathon Frakes

The 39th Annual Saturn Awards are presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Arrested Development: Season Four

Hard to believe it was ten years ago when Arrested Development, Mitchell Hurwitz's labyrinthine serial of the ne'er do well Bluth family, first debuted to massive critical acclaim, rabid cult status, and terrible Nielsen numbers.  That Emmy-winning show nobody watched had it's fanbase build to supernova expectations in the seven years in between the shows cancellation and game-changing return to Netflix this past Memorial Day Weekend.  And since...well, it appears all that hype and binge watching has seeped into the ether rendering Season Four nearly irrelevant a month after arrival.  In truth, binge watching was probably never best for Arrested Development considering all its in joke and a layout that forgoes the typical ba da boom rhythms of sitcom punchlines.  The show was always a richly textured tapestry of absurdity as the revolving doors of the dysfunctional family members further dug themselves deeper and deeper down various holes, mazes and loops.  It took the "no hugging, no lessons" rule of Seinfeld and turned it on its head, entrenched ever further by layer upon layer of irony.

Binge-watching may be disastrous-- after all, like Seinfeld, the members of Bluth family are fairly loathsome individuals and the strewn about multiple narratives could easily fly through the roof in one eager sitting.  On the outset, the leading reason why Arrested Development never became an initial ratings winner a decade ago was because the weekly format that spilled each episode on to another was so inclusive and involving and expertly crafted, there was a hardly a way in unless you started from scratch at the beginning.  Regardless of the tastes or viewing habits of others, it is without question that Arrested Development is/was a benchmark for television.  Intricate, crafty, and more clever than can ever be fully analyzed or dissected; it will always be a diamond in the rough without equals.  That being said, in the seven year absence, I can't exactly say I've become such a devotee that I could recite lines of dialogue from heart or remember the slick structures of the three golden seasons the show had from the start.  On that regard, binge watching (at least of the first three years) may well do some well before venturing into Season Four.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

James Gandolfini (1961-2013)

Sad news as reports have come in that James Gandolfini, forever canonized as Tony Soprano, has died today at the age of 51.  The famed actor of television, stage and screen fell victim to a stroke while in Italy, leaving behind a legacy of being apart of what many consider the best television series of all fact The Sopranos was just named the Best Written Show by the Writers Guild Association of America a few weeks back.  So much of the success of the series was reliant on the thoughtful, but tough characterization that Gandolfini created-- he was rightly award 3 Emmy Awards, 5 Screen Actors Guild Award, 3 Television Critics Awards and a Golden Globe for his role in the David Chase mob drama.  Well before however, he was distantly memorable as a character before his big break, mostly playing variants of the touch guy role that perpetuated his career.  Even still, his varied portraits in small roles in films like Get Shorty and True Romance were standouts.  It was Tony Soprano, of course, that he would become synonymous with.  Even as later roles created more varied textures of his talents like the underrated Coen Brothers noir The Man Who Wasn't There, the silly trifle The Mexican, where his transgressive take on the classic toughie stole the show away from both Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, his surprisingly witty take in the bonkers political satire In the Loop, touching work in Where the Wild Things Are and recent work in varied films like Not Fade Away, Killing Them Softly and Zero Dark Thirty.  On stage, he recently received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in God of Carnage, which was later adapted into a film by Roman Polanski.  It's a shock, a sudden fade to black from one of the top performers in recent years, one of which that is reminiscent of the last shot in his eternal series. 

So this "Fifty Shades" Thing Might Actually Happen After All...

Some heads were turning when Universal Picture acquired the rights to E.L. James' sexually explicit Fifty Shades of Grey back in March of 2012.  The globally bestselling novel (and eventual series) that chronicled the S&M-tinged relationship of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele has become a hot-button Hollywood curio since the announcement, with the running joke seeming that due to the extreme sexual nature of the book that no top tiered filmmaker or performer would come anywhere close to the job.  Considering the tepid reviews of the novels, the nearly inevitable factoring of a possible NC-17 rating and, you know, the damned American prudishness, it didn't seem that the spawn of Twilight fan fiction was ever going to see a movie screen in the near future.  Now it appears that it's a go...

The announcement of director Sam Taylor-Johnson in the directors chair changed all of that.  The filmmaker, who only has one feature film to credit-- the little seen John Lennon boyhood biopic Nowhere Boy-- and who has made more headlines for marrying the barely legal Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the up and coming actor of Anna Karenina, Savages and the upcoming Godzilla reboot fame on the set of Nowhere Boy.  The choice of a female director of such sexually explicit material seems like a good choice, especially in the wake of the fantasy porn debates weathered over such material like the recent Palme D'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, however the story behind the scenes and back and forth director and casting decisions have made such amusing fodder in the recent months, it's almost sad to see that go.  A few months back director Gus Van Sant lobbied for the film, while Atonement director Joe Wright was flirted with the idea before reportedly turning it down, as was the case of Darren Aronofsky.

Casting will be the next major hurdle for the film that has been greenlit with a reported $40 million budget.  The murmuring of choices for the leads has been a great deal of speculative fun, most for all the famous young pretty people who seemingly want no part in the piece.  The film question may perhaps be if Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a veritable young heartthrob in his own right, might be primed for the leading role.  Armie Hammer famously just responded he wanted no part in this "mommy porn" piece, while Emma Watson was reportedly a strong contender for the leading lady, until turning to Twitter with her congenial refusal.  The stakes are further raised for Universal, who will try to make Fifty Shades a classy erotic piece.

Kelly Marcel, who has taken to media asserted this will be a NC-17, un-neutered adaptation, will write the film.  Strangely enough, her other big assignment comes in the form of this holidays decidedly non-sexual Disney awards piece Saving Mr. Banks, which stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and concerns the making of the film Mary Poppins-- that script earned a place on the Blacklist of the best unproduced scripts recently.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Frozen and the State of Animated Feature

The trailer debuted for Frozen, in house Disney's latest.  Looks very Ice Age-ish-- in fact, isn't the teaser essentially selling the same joke?  Anyhow it's something upon the horizon on the heels of this weeks release of Pixar's latest travesty, ahem-- fourteenth full length feature, Monster's University, a prequel to the positively delightful 2001 stand alone film Monsters, Inc.  2013 has been so far a fairly barren ground for animated features, with the box office sensation The Croods and the more earthbound grosses of Epic making up a largely artistically forgettable field for this years animated features Academy Award.

Much has been written of the current state of Pixar and the diminishing returns of the fabled studio house since 2011's Cars 2 broke their longtime tradition of excellence-- last years Brave was a decent movie (and the eventual winner of the Academy Award), but still left an impression as a minor achievement to say the least.  With Monsters University, the are continuing to further brand characters, and to say nothing of the film (I have not seen it yet), it strikes as an increasingly desperate undertaking for the house that prodded story as their most important asset.  Further pillaging will take place as a Finding Nemo sequel is in the works.

What's interesting about 2013's crop of animated features is just how few of them are original, and what impression that might leave at the end of the year-- on top of Monsters University, Despicable Me 2 opens in July and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens this September.  Looks like a potentially weak field at least on the onset-- GKids, this may well be your year to pounce.  Monsters, Inc. was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in the first year of its inception and famously lost to Shrek (the funny thing about legacies is that sometimes you just never know-- at the time that seemed like the right move), so could Monsters University achieve what the first film failed to do?  The cases for Despicable and Cloudy are much fuzzier because neither of the their originals were in contention in the first place, rendering them longshots at best.

Based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson

That may be where Frozen comes in.  Coming off an especially strong 2012, in house Disney seems poised and more confident than ever, even if the sheen and shine of the early '90s Renaissance is well behind them.  With last years Wreck-It-Ralph (considered by many much more of a "Pixar" film than Brave) and Frankenweenie, Disney had it's most artistically fruitful year in over a decade.

Still this year doesn't exactly look the most promising. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wall Street Wolves

Martin Scorsese is back with The Wolf of Wall Street in what looks like a return to gritty form.  Muse Leonardo DiCaprio stars, but it's the large and eclectic supporting cast that's most interesting-- it includes newly awesome Matthew McConaughey, the somehow prestige friendly Jonah Hill, plus Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Spike Jonze and Rob Reiner.  Looks like a boys only club this time, but then again, I suppose, if it's Scorsese at his best, that won't particularly matter.  Terence Winter (TV's Broadwalk Empire, The Sopranos) adapts from the novel by Jordan Belfort.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel

There's a sweaty, pulsating sense of pressure that permeates through every frame of Man of Steel, Zack Synder's exhausting reboot of the long in distress Superman movie franchise.  So strenuous and aggressive is the entire enterprise, the only summation that can truthfully be felt is an urgent sense of nerves.  That sounds about right, especially in the light of the difficulties that the powers that be at Warner Bros. and D.C. Comics have had in building and re-building their distinctive canon of characters to the screen, what with all the false starts, misguided behind the scenes decisions, and the general nerviness of an undertaking something so big, noisy and expensive.  After all, the superhero cinematic landscape has undergone a drastic coming of age since the 1978 Richard Donner Superman first took flight, ushering in an era of comic book extravaganzas.  The movies have gotten bigger, grander and grittier, distilling real world terrors with their iconography.  There's a quivering notion walking into Man of Steel on whether there's still a place for Superman in this landscape after all, is he, the beloved grandfather of them all still relevant in a post- 9/11 superhero climate?

Man of Steel hasn't quite successfully answered that question, but for a movie that's as utterly watchable as it frustrating, one that for every satisfying moment or performance or tiny nook to cling to fails to satisfy as a whole, it does try in earnest to alter the cinematic impression of it's iconic character, now celebrating his seventy-fifth year of preserving truth, justice and the American way.  With Christopher Nolan serving as maestro after his unqualified success at rebuilding Batman from the flamboyant throes of self-parody, and with a screenplay by David S. Goyer, the intention is that Man of Steel will, of course, rear Superman out of the dusty cob-webs of his past and flesh out the character and the broader universe that contains him-- you know, and show up all those Marvel guys and their billion dollar success stories.

The result is frantic, over-bloated and sadly, under-nourished.  That pressure culminates in a lot of movie, one of excess and such over-the-top massive-ness, that the ingredient that's forgotten is the fun, the thrilling lure and unabashed glee of popcorn entertainment exciting the senses and taking flight.  Instead it's more of a connect-the-dots action film where point A leads to nothing more than grandly executed bits of explosive point B nonsense.  It's all a bit of a shame, for the smaller moments (what few there are to begin with) of Man of Steel are capably performed that given just a bit more time to properly jell or the tiniest hint of subtlety, this Superman may have been given a chance to soar emotionally just as does through the air so adroitly.  Instead the film is distinctly mechanical, a bit cold, and ironically, while trying to distill more of a sense of a real world to surround the man and superman reverts itself into something all the more shallow and cartoonish by forgetting the most valuable thing any film needs: a beating heart.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"In a World" Trailer

In a World, Lake Bell's feminist slant on the cutthroat world of voice over artists, has dropped it's trailer.  Bell wrote, directed and stars in the film that Roadside Attraction acquired at this years Sundance Film Festival, where Bell won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award earlier this year.

This Is the End

Remember when movies were made out of Saturday Night Live sketches and they almost never worked?  It's not exactly a science, but that gut-busting exhilaration that can come from a nugget of an idea can spawn something magical within the confines of a five minute interval.  This Is the End, the Seth Rogen and friends end of the world comedy hour, could have been a gleefully hysterical, perhaps even transcendent, otherworldly thing of funny had it been filtered through, say- a "Funny or Die" segment or even maybe as a thirty-minute situation comedy for lofty and uncensored stations like HBO or Showtime, however as a feature film (a plodding one that which meanders for over a hundred minutes) it, well, kinda thuds.  For sure there's laughs here, but it's all punchline with no setup-- Entourage played out with the revolving door of Judd Apatow alums while a sub-Blazing Saddles reinterpretation of 2012 blares outside.   

This stoner, R-rated, more "meta" than can be handled apocalypse buddy picture was written and directed by Rogen and longtime partner Evan Goldberg, who previously crackled the now seemingly innocent Superbad (2007) and the similarly tempered ultra violent, cuddly buddy picture Pineapple Express (2008).  It's the first time either have directed a film before, and it shows.  While it's true that their oeuvre hasn't exactly lead itself to strongly finessed, nor particularly tightly packaged movies in the past (though David Gordon Green brought his auteur hat to the mix with Pineapple Express), This Is the End looks and feels like a crummy goof-of session between bong hits given a go as a feature film.  Even as a gooey slime of cheese, it doesn't look endearingly scrappy in that cheap, homemade sense, but plain, ugly and crappy.  Visual aesthetics aside, and more to the point, is that the film feels in every sense a house party of famous pals joshing around and around and around.  Again, I state, as a sketch, it could have been gold.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Broadcast Television Journalists Association

The Critics Choice Award winners are:

BEST SERIES: The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
BEST ACTOR: Louis C.K., Louie (FX)
BEST ACTRESS: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: (tie) Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Eden Sher, The Middle (ABC)
BEST GUEST PERFORMER: Patton Oswalt, Parks & Recreation (NBC)

BEST SERIES: (tie) Breaking Bad (AMC); Game of Thrones (HBO)
BEST ACTOR: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)
BEST ACTRESS: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Cudlitz, Southland (TNT)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Monica Potter, Parenthood (NBC)
BEST GUEST PERFORMER: Jane Fonda, The Newsroom (HBO)

BEST MOVIE: Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
BEST ACTOR: Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
BEST ACTRESS: Elizabeth Moss, Top of the Lake (Sundance)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)

BEST REALITY SERIES: (tie) Push Girls (Sundance); Duck Dynasty (A&E)
BEST REALITY SERIES (Competition): The Voice (NBC)
BEST REALITY HOST: Tom Bergeron, Dancing wth the Stars (ABC)
BEST TALK SHOW: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tony Award Winners

Kinky Boots
Musical: Kinky Boots 
Revival of a Musical: Pippin
Direction: Diane Paulus, Pippin
Actor: Billy Porter, Kinky Boots 
Actress: Patina Miller, Pippin
Featured Actor: Gabriel Ebert, Matilda: The Musical
Featured Actress: Andrea Martin, Pippin- Previously won 2 Emmy Awards and a Tony. 
Book of a Musical: Matilda: The Musical- Dennis Kelly
Score: Kinky Boots- Cyndi Lauper- Lauper is has a Tony, Emmy and now a Tony-- thus just an Oscar away from becoming an EGOT.  Quick Hollywood producers...

New Broadway musicals continue their ongoing mission to adapt ever single motion picture to the stage as Kinky Boots, a microscopic and easily forgettable 2005 film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton about a drag queen who saves a nearly at ruin shoe factory, dominates the 2013 musical field.  It's competition- adaptations of A Christmas Story and Bring it On, as well as Matilda: The Musical, which itself was a movie, but the stage show is more of an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Play: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike- written by Christopher Durang
Revival of a Play: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Direction: Pam McKinnon, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Actor: Tracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?- The Tony winning and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of August: Osage County (he also wrote Bug and Killer Joe) won on his first nomination for acting, playing one of the most famous characters the American theater has brought and beating Tom Hanks (who made his Broadway debut in the late Nora Ephron play Lucky You this season) in the process.
Actress: Cicely Tyson, A Trip to Bountiful- Legendary Tyson adds a Tony to go along with her 3 Emmy Awards and Screen Actors Guild Award.
Featured Actor: Courtney B. Vance, Lucky You
Featured Actress: Judith Light, The Assembled Parties- Has won 2 Daytime Emmy Awards and now, 2 Tony Awards (she won last year for the play Other Desert Cities.)

Full list here.

The show was hosted, impeccably, by Neil Patrick Harris.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Horror entry The Purge surprised many with its top placement of the box office charts this weekend.  The micro-budgeted scarer revolving around a lawless period where all crime is legalized starred Ethan Hawke (who may be having a banner year with this little bit of nonsense as well as Before Midnight, in selected theaters) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones.)  Produced by Michael Bay and Jason Blum, who notably shepherded the Paranormal Activity saga, the film cost approximately $3 million to make and was put under a tightly managed and thrifty promotional budget that apparently worked wonders.  In other news, this was just an appetizer of cinema weekend before S comes and makes everything all glittery again.

  1. The Purge- $36.3 million ($14,000 per screen) new
  2. Fast & Furious 6- $19.7 million (-43%) ---> $202.9 million total
  3. Now You See Me- $19.5 million (-33%) ---> $61.3 million total
  4. The Internship- $18.1 million ($5,000 per screen) new
  5. Epic- $12.1 million (-27%) ---> $84.1 million total
  6. Star Trek Into Darkness- $11.7 million (-30%) ---> $200.1 million total
  7. After Earth- $11.2 million (-59%) ---> $46.5 million total
  8. The Hangover Part III- $7.3 million (-55%) ---> $102.3 million total
  9. Iron Man 3- $5.7 million (-31%) ---> $394.3 million total
  10. The Great Gatsby- $4.2 million (-35%) ---> $136.1 million total
  11. Mud (the little engine)- $1.2 million (-0.7%) ---> $18.6 million total

Notables further down:
Frances Ha- $0.5 (+11%) ---> $2.3 million total
Before Midnight- $0.5 (+44%) ---> $1.5 million total
The Kings of Summer- $0.2 (+273%) ---> $0.3 total
Much Ado About Nothing- $0.18 ($36,000 per screen / 5 screens) new
Stories We Tell- $0.1 (+37%) ---> $1.1 million total

What did you see this weekend?  

Seattle International Film Festival Winners

The Seattle International Film Festival concluded.  Here are the winners.  The opening night gala was Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing (the director was the third runner-up for the Best Director prize) while the closing film was Sophia Coppola's The Bling Ring.

Harmony Lessons (Kazakhstan)- directed by Emir Baigazin
Emir Baigazin's astounding debut feature Harmony Lessons set the bar for all the films that the Narrative Jury watched before and after. On one level, it's the simple tale of a bullied Muslim boy in rural Kazakhstan. But as no single child's life is ever as simple as adults believe, from the moment we meet the dark-eyed, pimply hero chasing down a family sheep to slaughter with his aging babushka, to his ultimate act of vengeance in his struggle for survival, his confrontation with bullies at his local school spirals into a larger tale of societal dominance and submission. Power relations based on intimidation and violence flow from boy to sheep, alpha boy to beta, local police to accused criminals, and ultimately an entire society defined by a hierarchy of male bullying male. Visually exact, transparently acted by a mostly juvenile cast, and quietly terrifying, this Kazakhstan/Germany/France co-production is a hard-won lesson in how brutal life can be that is told with spellbinding assurance by a visionary young talent.

Grand Jury Prize
Our Nixon (US)- directed by Penny Lane
For Best Documentary the prize goes to Penny Lane for Our Nixon. For this original telling of the unraveling of the Nixon presidency, Lane poured over a mountain of archival Super 8 home movie footage and audio to take a story that we think we already know and give it a fresh and human perspective.

Special Jury Prize
The Crash Reel (US)- directed by Lucy Walker
The Crash Reel is a nuanced look at snowboarder and Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce, his inspiring journey back from traumatic brain injury, and the healing power of family.  Walker was previously nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary Waste Land.

Grand Jury Prize
C.O.G. (US)- directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
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.  Based on the short story by David Sedaris, the film stars Jonathon Groff, Dale Dickey and Corey Stall and had its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year.  It was acquired and will be released theatrically by Screen Media Films.

Feature Films
Fanie Fourie's Lobola (South Africa)- directed by Henk Pretorius
First runner-up: The Rocket (Australia)- directed by Kim Mordaunt
Second runner-up: Monsters University (US)- directed by Dan Scanlon
Third runner-up: Decoding Annie Parker (US)- directed by Steven Bernstein
Fourth runner-up: Still Mine (Canada)- directed by Michael McGowan

Twenty Feet From Stardom (US)- directed by Morgan Neville

Nabil Ayouch, Horses of God (Morocco)

James Cromwell, Still Mine (Canada)

Samantha Morton, Decoding Annie Parker (US)

Full list of all winners here. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Last 365 Days of Cinema

Do you know what movie this is from?  Hint- it was released in the last 365 days. Guess in the comments.

Man of Steel and the Billion Dollar Dream

Back in the Jurassic Era of blockbuster filmmaking, the benchmark for success was when a film hit the $100 million mark at the box office.  It feels like a million years ago, but truly, it really wasn't that long ago.  An even stranger occurrence in the not-too-distant past was the word of mouth quotient to a films playability, one of which, if deemed by the masses, could extend months and months in theaters, as opposed to the new (but not completely improved) idea of a three month window between opening night and its DVD/Blu-Ray release.  Of course, those days are gone-- now in the age where social media works as a defacto say so on public opinion and bad omens portend to films that fail to break records opening night, much less opening weekend-- welcome to 21st Century Hollywood. 

Now the benchmark for success is (imagined said with Dr. Evil-like impishness) ONE BILLION DOLLARS!  Worse yet, the biggest, most tentpoliest offerings from major studios almost need to make a billion dollars to become profitable.  Next weeks hopeful addition to the fray of only sixteen feature films that have crossed this international barrier is Warner Bros.' hotly anticipated Man of Steel.  Consider, however-- the film, a reboot of the Superman mythology, produced with careful care under the mighty eyes of Christopher Nolan (and the stand alone trilogy might of Batman behind him), directed by Zack Synder (Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch) has a production budget north of $200 million.  This, not including promotional costs (which may well be another $100 million when all is said and done), back-end deals (sure to be considerable for talent, crew, executives, etc.), exhibitor costs (theater chains themselves earn a piece of the box office, usually considered half what a film earns, but perhaps negotiable slightly more in the favor of the studios for a film like Man of Steel) and, wow, yes, it will nearly need to earn a billion dollars in the international box office for it to truly be a hit.  Craziness...

Of course, Man of Steel is an important film to be successful for Warner Bros. and the future of the DC Comics cinema scope.  After all the botched attempts at trying to trigger a Justice League franchise (Nolan's Dark Knights didn't quite help out there) by way of terrible films (The Green Lantern?) and unwise backstage decisions (like tossing aside Joss Whedon's take on Wonder Woman?!@#$), Man of Steel is the first step in trying to build a DC universe to rival the oh-so-successful and billion dollar-able Marvel films-- point of reference, the last film to cross the billion dollar mark was Iron Man 3, thusly the only member of the 2013 class of films to do so as of now.  On this end, it's a sensible idea to go for the start from scratch approach, completely doing over the Richard Donner original and the Bryan Singer 2006 film Superman Returns, which read like a strangely built rebooted homage.  It's still risky and startling when it comes to the business model of current big budget films.  And a bit nonsensical considering only sixteen films have netted over a billion dollars in box office sales...ever.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Blue Jasmine" and the Annual Struggle to Maintain Devotion to Woody Allen

"I don't think I can take it.  For some reason my Xanax isn't kicking in."
Every year, more and more around this time like clockwork, Woody Allen releases his latest film.  It's insane to think it through, actually, considering the consistency.  It's a minor miracle of sorts, considering all the inanity that comes along with the release of a motion picture these days.  That he can write one off each year whilst still maintaining a top-drawer ensemble and finding funding to boot.  The mixed bag of America's favorite screenwriter is that the last two decades have been a decidedly mixed bag.  To the point that we must meet his next project with such a cautious optimism-- I sort of parental, "I hope he doesn't screw this one up" sort of vibe.  All that being said, his latest-- a dramedy inspired in sorts by the Bernie Madoff scandal of excess gone to stink (which couldn't be more timely, come to think of it)-- Blue Jasmine on first glance looks, dare I say, rather juicy.  Cate Blanchett plays the lead, an unhinged woman whose wealth and marriage have gone down the tube, and she is supported by an eclectic ensemble cast including Sally Hawkins (in a hopeful return to the promise she exhibited in 2008's Happy-Go-Lucky), Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis CK, Michael Stuhlbarg and most peculiarly, Andrew Dice Clay.  One reason for the hope must surely be presented in the form of Blanchett herself, who hasn't headlined a film in quite a few years, and on first glimmer looks perfectly on cue. 

Even so, it's a bumpy ride in Allen-land these days, as evident from the joyous surprise (and even more surprisingly, Oscar-winning) Midnight in Paris.  He quickly followed the Best Picture contender and his highest grossing film to date with the absolutely negligible To Rome With Love.  And while Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona rank as astounding successes in the last decade-- When You Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works, Cassandra's Dream and Anything Else, um, don't.  Examine:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Last 365 Days of Cinema

Do you know what movie this is from?  Hint- it was released in the last 365 days. Guess in the comments.

The Wonderful Wizard of 3-D

The Wizard of Oz, the great Technicolor triumph of 1939 that has turned generations of children into followers (as well as many a studio executive mighty rich on behalf of the original source having entered the public domain), will return to cinemas for a one-week IMAX engagement in 3-D this September.  It's all a part of that will be another epic year in the land of Oz, and next year the beloved film will be celebrating it's 75th Anniversary...come to think of it, it's also the landmark anniversary of Gone With the Wind, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Babes in Arms, The Women, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Ninotchka, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights.  Whoa, holy cinema brain topic, The Wizard of Oz and the majesty of the Emerald City will be converted to the third dimension to kick off the celebration.  Of which brings about a sort of mixed blessing.  Surely, this pandering of the 3-D surcharges and (potential) debasing of classic films goes against the idea of a sacred film history, one in which classics are restored but presented to fit their original glory.  Doing this service to films like Titanic and the Star Wars prequels and The Lion King is one thing-- for instance, the proprietors behind these properties are well known whores.  Then again, if this silly gimmick can bring back some more classic films to play in actual movie stadiums, perhaps that's just the most wonderful packaging for something that reads as pure greediness and grubbiness.

The Wizard of Oz, at least in theory, with it's colors and bedazzlement may indeed be perfectly complimentary as filtered through those silly (and, ahem, expensive) glasses.  A sequence as magnificently calibrated as Dorothy opening that to a whirlwind of color is perhaps one of the few truly indelible images in American cinema that continues to amaze, allure and charm any audience that happens to watch it for the first, or the several hundredth time.  In the very least, it might just be the thing to wash away the undisguised manufactured shilling that was Oz: The Great & Powerful. What classic movies do you think are worthy of the 3-D treatment?

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Last 365 Days of Cinema

Do you know what movie this is from?  Hint- it was released in the last 365 days. Guess in the comments.

Weekend Box Office

  1. Fast & Furious 6- $35.1 million / $171.0 million total
  2. Now You See Me- $29.2 million (new)
  3. After Earth- $27.5 million (new)
  4. Star Trek Into Darkness- $16.7 million / $181.5 million total
  5. Epic- $16.6 million / $65.3 million total
  6. The Hangover Part III- $16.3 million / $88.5 million total
  7. Iron Man 3- $8.4 million / $385.1 million total
  8. The Great Gatsby- $6.5 million / $128.5 million total
  9. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani- $1.5 million (new)
  10. Mud- $1.2 million / $16.8 million total
Further down:
  • Frances Ha- $0.5 / $1.5 million total- It ranks as Noah Baumbach's fourth highest grossing film to date.  The Greta Gerwig charmer (which I loved) will easily rake in more than Margot at the Wedding, with a fighting chance at beating Greenberg's numbers; catching up to his all time The Squid & the Whale's $7+ million might be trickier, especially without the benefit of award time specialty play.
  • Before Midnight- $0.4 / $0.7 total- With a per-screen average of $10,000+ plus in its second weekend in limited engagement, it's a healthy number, if not crazy considering how well it opened last weekend.  Hang on there...
  • What Maisie Knew- $0.1 /$0.5- This Julianne Moore starrer based on the Henry James novel has performed well in teeny-tiny limited release, but with a per-screen average of less than $2,000, it may not have what it takes to cross the illustrious $1 million mark.
  • Stories We Tell- $0.1 / $0.9- Sarah Polley's beautiful family album documentary is nearing the $1 million mark...a great run for a documentary.  The bigger question mark is whether awards at the end of the year will follow?
  • The Place Beyond the Pines- $0.08 / $21.1 million total- Like Mud, this Ryan Gosling indie has been the specialized movie of the spring.  It's grosses are nearly over theatrically, but over $20 million in the can is a great number.
  • The East- $0.07 (new)- This politically thriller that stars Ellen Page, Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgaard and Patricia Clarkson won the per-screen average game of the weekend, netting $19,000 on four screens.
  • The Kings of Summer- $0.05 (new)- This coming of age Sundance hit opened on four screens for a decent $14,000 average.

The Butler Gets a One-Sheet

101 Best Written TV Series of All Time

The Writers Guild Associations of America, in conjunction with TV Guide, revealed the 101 best written television series of all time.  In something that's all in good fun, if a tad meaningless, the most interesting find in the list is that the WGA seems to have a particularly modern sensibility.  Sure, there's some classics scuttled about in the list, and the top ten give or take seems nearly right for universal appeasing, but there's something telling in that the list is so eagerly made up of shows in the past twenty years (including a great many that are still on the air today.)  Have a look, and argue:

1. The Sopranos (HBO)- created by David Chase- nominated for 11 WGA awards and won four.
2. Seinfeld (NBC)- created by Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld- nominated for 13 WGA awards and won four.
3. The Twilight Zone (CBS)- Season One writers: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Robert Presnell, Jr. and Rod Sterling- nominated for 2 WGA awards.
4. All in the Family (CBS)- developed by Norman Lear; Based on Till Death Does Us Part by Johnny Speight- nominated for 11 WGA awards and won once.
5. M*A*S*H (CBS)- developed by Larry Gelbart- nominated for 28 WGA awards and won seven.
6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS)- created by James L. Brooks & Allan Burns- nominated for 10 WGA awards and won once.
7. Mad Men (AMC)- created by Matthew Weiner- nominated for 11 WGA awards and won five.
8. Cheers (NBC)- created by Glen Charles, Les Charles & James Burrows- nominated for 13 WGA awards, winning four.
9. The Wire (HBO)- created by David Simon- nominated for 3 WGA awards, winning one.
10. The West Wing (NBC)- created by Aaron Sorkin- nominated for 12 WGA awards, winning two.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Last 365 Days of Cinema

Do you know what movie this is from?  Hint- it was released in the last 365 days. Guess in the comments.
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