Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween


"The Gentleman" have taken my voice.  More updates and tons of reviews on the way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

IDA Documentary Awards Nominations

The 2013 International Documentary Association are:

The Act of Killing- directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Blackfish- Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Let the Fire Burn- directed by Jason Osder
Stories We Tell- directed by Sarah Polley (review)
The Square- directed by Jehane Noujaim

full list here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013 Gotham Awards Nominations

And we're off!  The 2013 awards season is officially underway as the first organization as announced its best of the year line-up.  The Gothams, New York based, lead the way honoring the best of American independent films.

12 Years a Slave (directed by Steve McQueen)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (directed by David Lowery)
Before Midnight (directed by Richard Linklater)
Inside Llewyn Davis (directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
Upstream Color (directed by Shane Corruth)

The Act of Killing (directed by Joshua Oppenheimer)
The Crash Reel (directed by Lucy Walker)
First Cousin Once Removed (directed by Alan Berliner)
Let the Fire Burn (directed by Jason Osder)
Our Nixon (directed by Penny Lane)

Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
Adam Leon, Gimme the Loot
Alexander Moors, Blue Caprice
Stacie Passion, Concussion
Amy Seimetz, Sun Don't Shine

Thursday, October 17, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Throughout cinematic history, there's been an undeniable race problem that's run deep in Hollywood filmmaking, particularly when tackling the subject of slavery.  The grand global practice whose currents throughout America still run with a trepidation, a fear and a tremendous supply of guilt; it would be difficult if nearly impossible not to impose some kind of sermon.  In that respect, the immense impression of brute honesty, violence and degradation on display in director Steve McQueen's impeccably made 12 Years a Slave does more than a solid, it provides a lulling and masterful refrain to decades of Hollywood glossing over an aspect of a repugnant period in American history.  More so than anecdote to the Hollywood treatment (expressed from Gone With the Wind to last years' Django Unchained), McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley have adapted the amazing-purely-for-the-sake-that-it-exists first person novel written by it's real-life protagonist, one Solomon Northup, and made a searingly truthful, lived-in account of the horrors of slavery.  And if the utter and intentional lack of Hollywood spectacle and overt emotional manipulation marks the film a bit cold, a bit emotionally detached in the end, it's still remains an essential film merely for existing in the first place.

The film chronicles the titular hell of Solomon, a free black man in 1841.  He lives a quietly dignified life with his wife and two children, a gifted musician and educated in scholarly ways that were rarely afforded in that time period.  When a job opportunity arises for a circus show, Solomon finds himself shackled and shipped off to become a slave after a night of carousing and celebratory libations.  From the start, 12 Years a Slave shows itself to be a film unafraid to show the brutal honesty of the period and the film charts Solomon's course with a clear-eyed intensity that's becomes more and more terse as the audience continues down his path.  Solomon is played with an unerring dignity by Chiwetel Ejiofor in a subdued but tremendously alert performance.  The British-born actor has always been a strikingly alive performer on screen and if nothing more, this film should hopefully bolster his career outside the marginalized supporting parts he's skillfully but thanklessly played in recent years.  The immense integrity that Ejiofor hold at once strikes a committed chord, even as his character proves more to be an observer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings, a featherweight but atmospheric biographical sidenote from director John Krokidas, chronicles the humble beginnings of a few of the most influential American writers of the twentieth century that came to be represent the Beat generation.  These literary rebels, which included the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac as primary members, have been the source of many recent films, most of which have been brunt with similar hero-worship adulation preventing the spark of character or interpretation to blaze through the screen.  Twas the case with 2010's Howl, the unconventional Allen Ginsberg chamber piece with James Franco that focused on the famed poet's obscenity hearings, as was with last years On the Road which never bothered to separate its cast of characters from their legend status.  Kill Your Darlings, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January, is an energized, well-acted affair that nonetheless suffers a bit from the same trappings of over-sized fandom.

Fortunately, beyond the period artifice and drapery of Kill Your Darlings, there's a small but fascinating story at its center.  It just takes a while to get there.  Starting in the late 40's in New York, Ginsberg (played by Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe in full Jew-fro do-up) is isolated in a unhappy situation living with his father Louis (David Cross), a modestly successful poet in his own right and mother Naomi (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a depressive in between hospital stays.  His world and social calendar opens up with his enrollment to Columbia University, where the budding still-in-closet writer and fragile introvert will meet the group of people that would inform not just himself but an entire generation.  Thankfully Krokidas isn't nearly as heavy-handed with the introductions of the soon-to-be literary icons, but their introduced with such broad strokes it borders on parody from time to time-- especially when nitrous-addicted Burroughs (played to the gallows by a dryly funny Ben Foster) and carousing Kerouac (Jack Huston) enter the fray.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gravity 's Gravitational Pull

Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity accomplished the second weekend challenge times ten as grown up movies lead the pack of the weekend box office.  Gravity hovered ahead of everything else thanks largely to the price increases that IMAX and 3-D surcharges afford; word is out that this is indeed the one film that merits the most from large format screenings.  Easing a gentle 21% from its massive opening weekend (currently holding the record of the slightest second weekend drop for a film that opened to $55 million+; records themselves continue to be made up on the spot.)  Meanwhile Tom Hanks' awards hopeful Captain Phillips opened to strong number two, the best debut the 2-time Oscar winning actor has had since 2009's Angels & Demons (not counting Toy Story 3.)

  1. Gravity- $43.1 million / -22% / $122 million total
  2. Captain Phillips- $25.7 million / new
  3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- $13.7 million / -34% / $77 million total
  4. Machete Kills- $3.8 million / new
  5. Runner Runner- $3.7 million / -51% / $14.1 million total
  6. Prisoners- $3.6 million / -36% / $53 million total
  7. Insidious Chapter 2- $2.7 million / -30% / $78.5 million total
  8. Rush- $2.3 million / -46% / $22 million total
  9. Don Jon- $2.3 million / -43% / $20 million total
  10. Baggage Claim- $2 million / -50% / $18.2 million total
  11. Enough Said- $1.9 million / -12% / $8.1 million total

Lee Daniels' The Butler- $0.6 / -49% / $113 million total
Romeo & Juliet- $0.5 / new
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete- $0.2 / new
Blue Jasmine- $0.2 / -33% / $31 million total
Escape From Tomorrow- $63K / new
As I Lay Dying- $7K / new 

Wes Anderson's 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Quentin Tarantino's Top 10 of 2013

It's only October, but auteur/personality Quentin Tarantino has unveiled his top ten of the year, or at least so far.  It's a very Tarantino-like list, but there's something to said for filmmakers who dole out their personal favorites and an enduring fascination to that.  A fun experiment for all prolific filmmakers, me thinks.

In alphabetical order:
  • Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)
  • Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
  • Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
  • The Conjuring (James Wan)
  • Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)
  • Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  • Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • Kick Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow)
  • The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)
  • This Is the End (Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogan)

Auteur Power at the Box Office

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity caused many a critic to foam at the mouth upon its premiere as the opening night presentation at the Venice Film Festival, further amping up the fuss at Telluride and Toronto.  There was much pressure all considering for distributor Warner Bros. to translate this risky (and expensive) auteurial experiment into a commercial success...for the good of not just industry dollars, but all cinematic kind.  My review will be up shortly, but lots went to theater this past weekend, prompting a new opening weekend record for the month of October.

  1. Gravity- $55.0 million (first weekend)
  2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs- $21.5 million / $60.5 million total
  3. Runner Runner- $7.6 million (first weekend)
  4. Prisoners- $5.7 million / $47.8 million total
  5. Rush- $4.4 million / $18.0 million total
  6. Don Jon- $4.1 million / $16.0 million total
  7. Baggage Claim- $4.1 million / $15.1 million total
  8. Insidious Chapter 2- $3.8 million / $74.7 million total
  9. Pulling Strings- $2.5 million (first weekend)
  10. Enough Said- $2.1 million / $5.3 million total

Blue Jasmine- $0.4 / $31.3 million total
Parkland- $0.3 (first weekend)
Wadjda- $0.1 / $0.3
A.C.O.D.- $20K (first weekend)
Concussion- $8K (first weekend)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thanks for Sharing

Stuart Blumberg's Thanks for Sharing, a smart, Shame-lite ensemble dramedy centering around three men in recovery for sex addiction is one of the more surprising films of the year.  In its affably low-key, albeit slight way, Blumberg has fashioned a film that's nearly better than it has any right to be, showcasing the daily struggles of recovery with a refreshing honesty and earnestness, infusing it with a nimble and disarming charm and rarefied sense of humanity.  Thanks for Sharing also points the surface the problematic ways in which movies are often marketed-- the trailers and promotional materials gloss over the heavier weight of the subject matter in lieu of pretty movie stars like Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow bantering drolly with the tease of naughty, R-rated imagery and words flutter about-- it was presented as a disposable sex comedy about sex addiction.

And yet the movie, which Blumberg co-scripted with Matt Winston, is a sobering and melancholy ensemble comedy of manners that vibrates in the convivial camaraderie of the men in different stages in their Twelve Step process.  The most refreshing component of Thanks for Sharing is in its sharing, where the group of addicts circle around and openly talk, and yet it feels different here than in the countless iterations of the recovery process that's been canvased throughout the decades on film and television.  The acting is never IN ALL CAPS big with whooshing and histrionic fits, the writing isn't punctuated with big moments and clever word plays to mash everything together-- it's quiet, it's low-key, slightly humorous and impacting because it isn't played to the last row.  In short, it may be the least heavy-handed showcase for the most heavy-handed of subjects.  All of which makes the characters, their evolutions and struggles all the more surprising, alert and nearly moving.

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