Friday, May 30, 2008

The Fall - REVIEW

Over the past few years, our cinemas have given us a number of "eye candy" films that, unfortunately lacked substance and genuine excitement (Memoirs of a Geisha, Marie Antoinette). Despite their great trailers, the films themselves fell short and plodded along, beautiful but mind numbing. The film that best succeeded (2006's The Fountain) did so barely; I didn't find it boring and I liked parts of it, but I wasn't enthralled by it. Because of this, I was incredibly nervous when I saw the mindblowingly gorgeous trailer for independently released story-telling/fantasy film "The Fall". My gut instinct told me that I would get all excited (which I did), I'd watch the trailer countless times (which I did), and I'd wait anxiously for reviews to instill a sense of unwanted doom in my head (which I did...although the film got a sort of 50-50 split from critics). So then a few hours ago I wandered past the crowd of women getting their reserved tickets for the Sluts and the City Movie and sat down with about 10 other people in a theater, expecting to find my worst fears confirmed within the first 10 minutes of the film. I've never been so grateful that my instinct was wrong. The Fall is magnificent, not just in its visual splendor, but in its (only occaisionally awkward) story telling and character development. One day in a hospital Alexandria (newcomer Cantinca Undaru), a young girl who fell and broke her arm, stumbles upon an adult patient named Roy (Lee Pace) while searching for one of her belongings. As she retrieves it and leaves, Roy asks her if she knows that she's named after Alexander the Great. She shrugs (she's an immigrant and only somewhat speaks English) and he invites her over and tells her a brief story. Seeing that she's enchanted (though somewhat puzzled) by it, he tells her to return the next day for a new story; an epic about love and revenge. However, it's not his story alone to tell. As he goes along with it, Alexandria occasionally interrupts and asks questions or makes her own suggestions. Without spoiling too much, as the story builds, it soon turns into a matter of deciding not only whether a character will live, but also a real person. Both Pace and Undaru turn in good performances, the real shocker being Undarua, who's only six and has never acted before; amazingly, she can display a wide variety of emotions and even cry on cue, and it all feels genuine. Even the characters who primarily exist in the story feel genuine which makes parts of the second act that much more inspiring, touching, or even devastating. Of course, this is still an eye candy film, and director Tarsem doesn't hold back at all. Instead of creating beautiful imaginary landscapes with special effects, Tarsem chose to shoot the film in 18 different countries including India, Turkey, and Italy. In making his fantasy grounded in real locations, the visuals are even more stunning than nearly any special effects design; the brilliant cinematography also enhances the stunning shots of temples, forests, deserts, water, and so on. It's also a stunner in terms of costume design; while it's no fashion show with dozens and dozens of beautiful costumes, all the ones that are shown in the fantasy sequences are gorgeous, most notably a red dress with a lotus shaped head piece. Complimenting the visuals is the nice (if sometimes bombastic) score, which in addition to original compositions, makes frequent use of the 2nd Movement from Beethoven's 7th Symphony. It's not perfect however; an important subplot that relates to Roy's telling of the story is sometimes told in very hushed voices, and Undaru's thick accent is a times difficult to decipher. Some of the conversations between Pace and Undaru at times get dragged out a bit so that they begin to feel tedious instead of amusing, and some of the moments of humor (many of which work in an odd sort of way) are strangely placed (mostly those in the movie's finale). However as a whole imaginative director Tarsem has given the world something special: a combination of the edit-the-story-on-the-go tactic of "The Princess Bride" along with the darkness and unique visual imagination of fantasies like Pan's Labyrinth (though this is film is much "prettier" than Pan's). It's what we've all been waiting for: a drop dead gorgeous film that balances style with substance. In fact, it may just be one of the most visually arresting films you'll ever see.

Grade: A-

Current Nominations:
Best Picture(#1 WINNER/sorry In Bruges), Best Director - Tarsem(#1 WINNER), Best Actor - Lee Pace (#2), Best Actress - Cantinca Undaru(#1 WINNER), Best Original Screenplay (#3), Best Editing (#4), Best Cinematography(#1 WINNER), Best Art Direction(#1 WINNER), Best Costume Design(#1 WINNER), Best Makeup(#1 WINNER), Best Visual Effects (#3), Best Original Score - Krishna Levy(#3), Best Sound Mixing (#3), Best Sound Editing(#4)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 9

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Trailer for the Coen bros. "Burn After Reading"

I'm guessing it won't even come close to topping No Country for Old Men, but it does seem to have all of the typical Coen brothers traits: great dialogue, interesting and unusual story, and well drawn characters whose flaws lead them to make bad choices....I can't wait!

Side Note: The film is set to open this year's Venice Film Festival

Extended trailer for "Australia"!

Freakin' amazing. I just hope the semi-slowmotion segments don't feel awkward in the actual context of the film; there seem to be a lot of brief clips of people moving in slow-mo....

I know it's ridiculous to make such claims this early in the year, but I think we may have found this year's future Best Cinematography winner....

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two clips from Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Unfortunately there's no code, so I can't directly insert the videos; follow THIS LINK.
The good news, however, is that unlike the past handful of Woody Allen movies, this film's dialogue doesn't feel awkward, stilted, or clunky. I especially love the clip in the park; the cast members all seem to have good chemistry, and Penelope (yes, I'm making judgments off a 45 second clip) looks really good.

New "Australia" podcast: Costume Design

Catherine Martin (who also designed costumes for Moulin Rouge) is some sort of genius.....

Monday, May 26, 2008

RIP Sydney Pollack

July 1, 1934 - May 26, 2008

A truly great and diverse director, actor, writer, and producer; you will be missed.

Early review of "The Happening"

this is not a good sign....

"The Happening" is a terrible, terrible movie. I mean, it's bad on an epic scale. It's so bad that I can't possibly tell you how bad it is without understating the point or making it sound like I'm picking on the film. But let me stress: this is not pent-up Shyamalan aggression or a desire to see him fail. This is bad in a jaw-dropping "they can't really be serious, can they?" kind of way. The closest comparison I can draw is to Neil LaBute's "Wicker Man" and, like that film, the only consolation I can offer potential theater-goers is that you might want to see it just to be in on the ground floor when the film gets its ass handed back to it.

I can also throw out that I'm not certain if the version I saw was the final version. It certainly felt rough but compared pretty dead-on with what I remembered from the script. The score, certainly, was missing and while that can really work wonders in the final form, I can't imagine it coming close to saving "The Happening".

The story is relatively simple and I don't want to venture too far into spoiler territory. Picture "The Birds" without any birds, and that should give you a good idea of what Shyamalan seems to be going for. Suddenly and for seemingly no reason a neuro-toxin is released in the Northeastern United States that causes people to murder themselves in terrible ways. The effect sweeps through different towns and everyone races to escape, unsure of what's really going on. The lead, Mark Wahlberg, is a schoolteacher who is on the outs with wife Zooey Deschanel. They flee together with a few other strangers and try to figure out what has caused the deadly outbreak.

The most obvious fault in "The Happening" is the acting -- in particular Wahlberg's performance. I'm saying this with no hyperbole, but Wahlberg might very well give the worst performance I've ever seen in anything. He's that bad. His character is a passive aggressive high-school teacher and each line in delivered with nasally whines that sound like some strange parody. As bad as the rest of the movie is, Wahlberg is the part that the internet is going to eat alive. But is it really his fault? Wahlberg's proven himself with "I (Heart) Huckabees" and his amazing turn in "The Departed". I can't help but feel that Shyamalan -- intentionally or otherwise -- is ultimately to blame for forcing some truly awful line readings.

The rest of the cast is passable but nothing special. Zooey Deschanel is extremely cute but never really does anything that matters. She's very similar to a lot of female Shyamalan characters: the recent-love-that-didn't-work-out. John Leguizamo probably does the best job of maneuvering around clunky, awkward dialogue as another schoolteacher and friend to Wahlberg but he's also barely in the film and only really serves the purpose of, fairly early on, having Wahlberg and Deschanel watch after his little girl for the duration of the film.

I bring the acting up first only because it's the most damning aspect of "The Happening", but the pacing is issue number two. The film moves at a ridiculous speed and bits that seemed, on the page, like they'd be perfect for Shyamalan's slow, long-running shots are rushed through and made laughable. The opening -- which consists of a couple different scenes of people hurting themselves -- almost flashes by and instead of being genuinely disturbing, they're overly melodramatic and come off as fake. There's something scary about someone not realizing they're hurting themselves -- as we do see at one point through a cell-phone video of a man walking casually into a lion cage and being torn apart -- and something just plain stupid about forced shock like we get in a long, choreographed steadicam of people one by one shooting themselves, dropping the gun and letting the next person pick it up.

But this all just flashes by. There's a problem and we cut to a school where the students take unrealistically in stride that the world is pretty much ending. The characters are so far removed from reality that, when news of the disaster hits, it makes you wonder if Shyamalan ever stepped outside his house on 9/11. There's no panic or disorder and everyone freely accepts their information from the high school itself and goes home. No one's getting texts or making phone calls or demanding that someone explain what's happening.

Wahlberg and Deschanel take in Leguizamo's little girl while he goes off to look for his wife. There's all kinds of Spielberg "War of the Worlds" on the road bits, but they're segmented and awkward. They're on a train for a bit. They're in a diner for a bit. They meet a soldier for a bit. They come to a farmhouse with a trigger-happy farmer. Nothing really sticks out as interesting or meaningful and all the while Wahlberg makes up crazy, crazy theories about how the neurotoxin works without any real evidence or logic. And, of course, he's right.

Here's the bit that I'm honestly not sure if it's a spoiler or not so consider yourself warned: (highlight to read)
It's plants that are responsible. They've decided to wipe out humanity and release the neuro-toxin as their natural weapon. This was far, far more clear in the script (and even the title "The Green Effect") and I'm really of the opinion that it's a pretty neat idea, though. What Shyamalan quickly finds, though, is that it's very, very hard to menacingly cut to an evil-looking tree. That doesn't stop him from trying, though, and he inexplicably adds wind as a way of livening up the scenes. When the leaves of a tree start to blow, evil's afoot. It's really, really hard not to laugh at and there's even a real groaner of a gag-scene wherein Wahlberg timidly apologizes to a houseplant only to find that it's made of rubber. Really.

After moving way, way too fast over the interesting parts, there's an incredibly long and slow period where Mark, Zooey and little girl run afoul of a friendly old lady who instantly and for no particular reason explains that her house is of a bizarre architectural design (built for hiding slaves). She just sort of tells them this right off the bat and, believe it or not, it soon comes into play as a plot device.

If you're dreading the Shyamalan trademark twist-ending, you can breathe a sigh of relief. There's no twist whatsoever. But there's also no ending. I won't ruin it any further by talking about what's not there, but prepare to feel very, very cheated and figure out in advance what consultation you can offer when the person next you confusedly asks, "Is that it?"

Seeing a Shyamalan has become this horrifically abusive relationship where I desperately cling to the belief that if I keep loving him, he'll stop hitting me. I'm already telling myself that "The Last Airbender" will be fascinating because its an adaptation rather than an original creation. That'll help, right? Because "The Happening" just makes me want to cry.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Amy Winehouse back on for Bond 22 Theme Song! YES!!!


words can't express how THRILLED I am about this......the beehive is BACK!Beyonce wanted to sing this song, but I said NO NO NO!

2008 Cannes Film Festival Award Winners!

The Cannes Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals around, came to a close barely minutes ago, and here are the winners.

Palme D'Or: "The Class" by Laurent Cantet

Grand Jury Prize: "Gomorrah" by Matteo Garrone

Jury Prize: "Il Divo" by Paolo Sorrentino

Best Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan for "Three Monkeys"

Best Actor: Benicio Del Toro for "Che"

Best Actress: Sandra Corveloni for "Linha De Passe"

Best Screenplay: "Lorna's Silence" written by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Palme D'Or for Best Short Film: "Megatron" by Marian Crisan

Camera D'Or: "Hunger" by Steve McQueen

Saturday, May 24, 2008

teaser/promo for Julie Delpy's "The Countess"


this is going to be one TWISTED movie...

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull - short review

Imagine you're on a rollercoaster. It starts out slow with a few gentle jolts, before gradually picking up speed...and more speed....and more speed until suddenly you're being hurtled around and losing all sense of time before screeching to a halt. This is the best metaphor I can come up with to describe the latest Indiana Jones film which, I'm glad to say, does not suck, and it only feels a little bit creaky. It's flaws are more obvious that those of its predecessors'; some dialogue is a bit stiff, and at times the film takes a page out of the National Treasure handbook by having characters solve riddles in a matter of seconds. However, even after all these years, Harrison Ford's still got the role nailed, and the sets, like every Indy film, are glorious and intriguing. Said sets are complimented by the surprisingly beautiful cinematography (courtesy of Diving Bell and the Butterfly DP Januz Kaminiski). What's likely to cause the most debate, however, are the special effects. They aren't bad, but at certain points (most notably the finale), some may find them to be a bit too much; others will simply have problems with the film's climax (which obviously, I won't reveal). Cate Blanchett does a good job with her character, even if she is a bit one-note, and it's great to see Karen Allen back as well, though I do wish Hollywood would stop trying to cram Shia Labeouf down my throat. Whatever quibbles there may be, however, this is a nearly non-stop roller coaster ride of a film that's worth a look for any Indiana Jones fan. While I'm certain that it will always be known as "the other Indy movie", the kingdom of crystal skull is certainly worth entering.

Grade: B+

Current Nominations: Best Picture(#3), Best Director - Steven Spielberg(#3), Best Actor - Harrison Ford(#4), Best Supporting Actress - Cate Blanchett(#3), Best Editing(#3), Best Original Screenplay(#3), Best Cinematography(#1 WINNER), Best Art Direction(#1 WINNER), Best Original Score - John Williams (#2), Best Visual Effects(#2), Best Sound Editing (#2), Best Sound Mixing(#1 WINNER)

Number of 2008 films seen: 8

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button TRAILER!!

unfortunately, it's in Spanish, but on the other hand, there isn't much dialogue seeing as this is just a teaser. Perhaps I'm wrong, but something about the trailer (specifically the music) is giving me the idea that this will be something of a darker "Big Fish"-type film...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breaking News: Beyonce replaces Amy Winehouse for "007" theme song


While I'm disappointed that Winehouse isn't doing the song, I'd much rather her recover before doing any more recordings. While there's no doubt that Beyonce can sing well, I'm not sure if she suits the grittier James Bond that Daniel Craig projects; her style might have gone better with one of the Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks. Oh well, they certainly could have done worse (at one point Panic! At the Disco was rumored to be the choice.....ugh).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Things we're learning from Cannes 08 - Part III

Clint Eastwood's "The Exchange" (formerly "Changeling") is the first major contender for Best Picture AND Angelina Jolie has a strong shot at Best Actress

The Evidence:

This is a brief excert from the Variety review, and as I type this I'm finding more and more good reviews from the film's Cannes screening.

"A thematic companion piece to "Mystic River" but more complex and far-reaching, "Changeling" impressively continues Clint Eastwood's great run of ambitious late-career pictures. Emotionally powerful and stylistically sure-handed, this true story-inspired drama begins small with the disappearance of a young boy, only to gradually fan out to become a comprehensive critique of the entire power structure of Los Angeles, circa 1928. Graced by a top-notch performance from Angelina Jolie, the Universal release looks poised to do some serious business upon tentatively scheduled opening late in the year."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Australia trailer (AGAIN)

I couldn't find another video to directly add to the blog (the youtube one won't return until the trailer is deemed "officially released" by the studio....???). Here are links to several sites that have them in varying formats; one even allows you to watch it in HD, which really makes the cinematography stand out (and it looks glorious).

1. Cinemablend

2. AppleTrailers

3. MustWatch

Thoughts on "Prince Caspian"

- all of the kids have become better actors, though the two youngest (who play Edmund and Lucy) are still the best

- the first half is incredibly boring, even with the palace intrigue that sets off the story

- the armor actually looks like ARMOR and not like high-end Party City costumes

-Ben Barnes, who plays Caspian, really can't act at all

- some of the creature effects are still awkward. Even Aslan looks like he's been superimposed onto all of his scenes.

- great things come in small packages: some of the best moments come from a dwarf (played by actual dwarf Peter Dinklage) and a warrior mouse (voiced by Eddie Izzard).

- the action sequences are actually exciting, as opposed to coma inducing like in the first film.

- by itself, the music is good, but within the film it often feels over the top and misplaced

- even though she's barely on screen for more than a minute, Tilda Swinton manages to almost steal the whole show (which is 2.5 HOURS)

- better than the first film? Hard to say, considering that even in the action packed second half, there are still some moments of unintentional laughter...

Grade: B-

Current Nominations: Best Supporting Actor - Sergio Castilletto(#5), Best Art Direction (#2), Best Costume Design (#2), Best Cinematography (#4), Best Original Song - "The Call" by Regina Spektor(#1WINNER) Best Visual Effects (#2), Best Sound Editing(#2), Best Sound Mixing (#2)

Number of 2008 Films seen: 7

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trailer for AUSTRALIA!!!!!!

it looks wonderful!

Things we're learning from Cannes 2008 - Part II

After today's screening at Cannes, the verdict seems to be...

Indiana Jones IV is actually good!

The Evidence:


One of the most eagerly and long-awaited series follow-ups in screen history delivers the goods -- not those of the still first-rate original, 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but those of its uneven two successors.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" begins with an actual big bang, then gradually slides toward a ho-hum midsection before literally taking off for an uplifting finish.

Nineteen years after their last adventure, director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford have no trouble getting back into the groove with a story and style very much in keeping with what has made the series so perennially popular. Few films have ever had such a high mass audience must-see factor, spelling giant May 22 openings worldwide and a rambunctious B.O. life all the way into the eventual "Indiana Jones" DVD four-pack.

Full review to be posted shortly.

Emanuel Levy:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullB+
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the fourth chapter of the India Jones adventure that began in 1981, is not a great picture, but it delivers the goods and is a lot of fun.

The eagerly awaited segment, that took nearly two decades to make due to the lack of an acceptable script, could be described as Spielberg's spectacle for the masses, by which I mean that the movie belongs to the old Spielberg movies of the 1970s and 1980s.

Indeed, blurring all the genres that the maestro has worked with—action, sci-fi, and even horror—"Indy Jones 4" at once reflects and is inhibited by the three-way collaboration of producer George Lucas, who created the concept, Spielberg, who directed all four pictures, and Harrison Ford, reprising the most iconic role of his career.

For starters, all fears and doubts that Ford is too old (he'll turn 66 in July) to play again the world's bets-known archeologist, should put to rest as he gives a commanding performance that holds the necessarily episodic picture together.
Ford not only look good for his age, but acts better than ever, and moves with the agility of a man half his age. Just the sight of Ford, as the whip-toting, punch-packing, snake-hating, globe-trotting archeologist wearing his signature fedora hat brought a huge applause; it's like visiting an old friend of the 1980s.

Shrewdly, screenwriter David Keopp has penned a multi-generational saga that reunites Ford with his old squeeze (Karen Allen, also looking good, at 56) and arranged for him to have a younger companion, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a rebellious youth sporting a black leather jacket.

This time around, the saga is set in the Southwest desert—Nevada to be specific, in 1957, the height of the Cold War and Senator McCarthy's communist witch-hunting. In the first scene, Indy and his sidekick Mac (Brit Ray Winstone, excellent as usual) barely escape a close scrape with nefarious Soviet agents on a remote airfield.

Click here to find out more!
Professor Jones returns home to Marshall College, only to find things have gone bad. The dean of the college and close friend (Jim Broadbent) explains that Indy's recent activities have made him the object of suspicion and that the government and the FBI have put pressure on him to fire Indy—albeit with full salary and benefits.

On his way out of town, Indy bumps into Mutt (LaBeouf), a youth whose physical appearance pays tribute to Marlon Brando's iconic role in "The Wild One" (1954), wearing a white t-shirt, sexy leather jacket and jeans, and riding a motorcycle. Proudly introducing himself as a dropout, Mutt describes his family background, revealing anger, grudge, and dissatisfaction. But he also makes an alluring proposition for the adventurous Indy: If he'll help Mutt on a mission with deeply personal stakes, Indy could make one of the most archeological finds in history—the Crystal Skull of Akator, a mysterious, legendary object that holds fascination, superstition, and fear.

In short order, Indy and Mutt set out for the most remote corner of Peru, a land of ancient tombs, forgotten explorers, and rumored city of gold. As expected, the odd couple soon realizes that they are not the only ones in search of the treasure. The Soviet agents are also hot on the trail of the Crystal Skull.

Chief among them is Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, sporting heavy Russian accent), the icily cold but devastatingly beautiful commissar who was introduced in the very first act, during a search of a military warehouse. Like Indy, Irina and her elite military squad is scouring the globe for the eerie Crystal Skull, which they believe can help the Soviets dominate the world through brains-washing, or control of the human mind. The "only" problem is how to locate it, and once found, how to unlock its ancient secrets.

The saga's organizing theme is rather simple: Indy and Mutt, later joined by Mary, must find ways to evade the ruthless Soviets. The two groups follow seemingly impenetrable trails of mysteries, grapple with human enemies (primitive tribes that look as if they were taken out of Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto") and friends of questionable motives, and Nature itself, in the form of monkeys, ants, water falls, and so on.
To that extent, the narrative is structured as a series of chases, encounters, separations, and reencounters between Indy and his group, which also includes Mac (a man with at least two or three identities) and Oxley (John Hurt), a somehow damaged and bruised man who knows more than given credit.

Some critics may have issues with this adventure's old-fashioned nature, but I think it was consciously to fit into the general pattern of the three previous chapters that were made in 1981, 1984, and 1989 respectively.
Indeed, with the exception of some state-of-the-arts special effects, technically speaking, the art design, costume, and the staging of the various action scenes have the feel of late 1980s picture.

The film's visual motifs borrow from (and pay tribute to) seminal mythic adventures that both Lucas and Spielberg have made in such films as "Star Wars" (the first series), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "E.T." (1981), and of course, "Indiana Jones" series that began in 1981 with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the first and (for me) still the best of the four chapters.

The Telegraph
The Times Leader
Austin 360
The London Times

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New trailer for Indiana Jones IV

Things we're learning from Cannes 2008 - Part I

I've decided to start a new "series" of posts that will basically, give impressions made by films and performances at various film festivals leading up to the start of awards season in late September. While it might seem like it's too early to start something like this, consider that No Country for Old Men and the Diving Bell and the Butterfly were screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and Julian Schnabel even won the best director award. Meanwhile, No Country got slightly mixed reception, but went on to become the best reviewed film of 2007. Perceptions often change drastically in the time between Cannes and the Oscars, so I thought it would be interesting to track those changes. To start things off......
Penelope Cruz is a contender for Best Supporting Actress:

The Evidence:
"Cruz, who officially graduated from sex kitten to powerhouse melodramatic actress in "Volver," is in full Anna Magnani mode here, storming up and down mountain peaks of emotion and captivating everyone in the process. Allen even generates affectionate comic mileage from the common rap on Cruz's acting--that she's great in Spanish but blah in English--by having her deliver Maria Elena's colorful tirades in her native language, only to be told again and again by Juan Antonio to speak English so Cristina can understand her. She's dynamite here in either language."
- Variety

"Cruz turns in a performance that's better, even, than her Oscar-nominated turn in Volver; her Maria Elena is on-the-edge crazy, but is also very funny and engaging."
- Cinematical

"We've saved the most vibrant character for last: Maria Elena, which Penelope Cruz turns into one of her boldest, fullest characters. A painter so sexy that Juan Antonio's father still has erotic dreams of her, Maria Elena had been Juan Antonio's muse, competitor and wife; their turbulent marriage ended when she tried to kill him"
"Whenever Bardem or Cruz are on screen, VCB finds its heart"
- Time

"the movie is nearly stolen by Penélope Cruz—and not because she and Johansson make out while developing photos together"
- Timeout

"Penelope Cruz, who give the film's outstanding performance and should be considered seriously for the Supporting Actress Oscar (and other kudos) at year's end"
- Emanuel Levy

"The only parts of Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Weinstein Co., 8.29) that feel truly alive and crackling are the Spanish-language scenes between Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz."
"Cruz, especially, is electricity itself. When she loses her temper, it's sheer bliss"
- jeff wells

"Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem steal the movie from the two callow American girls"
- anne thompson

"Bardem and Cruz create the comic fireworks, both looking like they are having fun as the nutty exes driven by fiery passion"
- screendaily

"punctuated by applause for Penelope Cruz’s wildly funny out there performance as a perhaps crazed, maybe genius, highly temperamental and foul-mouthed artist whose marriage and love for Javier Bardem propels much of the romantic confusion– even though Cruz doesn’t make an appearance until at least 30 minutes into the 96 minute comedy"
"I actually could see this movie again just to laugh and cheer all over again at the wonder that is Penelope Cruz"
- stephen schaefer

"The two most hilarious characters, played by Spain's two most famous actors, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, are nothing if not cliches about tempestuous Latin lovers"
"the film belongs to Bardem and Cruz"
- Hollywood Reporter

Top 10 On Camera Meltdowns

The Bill O'Reilly one is priceless....

The first entertainment trainwreck of the year

Simon's expression at 2:57 says it all: WHAT THE HELL AM I WATCHING? (Hell, even Paula had trouble faking a smile here).

A list of what's wrong with the video above:
1) the "singing" (by which I mean, raspy wailing)
2) appearence: she looks HIDEOUS
3) the dancing: just because you can work the stage doesn't mean you're giving a good performance
4) the "singing" continued: honestly, can anyone understand what she's saying?

and don't even get me started on the woodpecker red hair....

Friday, May 16, 2008

28 Days Later(2003) - REVIEW

^This poster scared the hell out of me the first time I saw it back in 03

Though not as good as Danny Boyle's most recent effort (07's Sunshine), I can see why this film put him on the map. In a movie market that throws out another gross out "torture porn" horror flick every other month, it's refreshing to see a legitimate horror film (ie: there's plenty of blood) that isn't all about screaming and gruesome dismemberment. That's's a modern day horror flick WITH A STORY, and an interesting one at that. In the film's prologue, animal rights activists break into a research facility where monkeys are being shown relentless footage of violence. Why? Scientists are trying to help figure out ways to get rid of violent urges by understanding the problem. Unfortunately, the activists don't heed the warnings of one lone scientist who catches them. One cage is opened, and a monkey sprints forward and bites one of the activists. In it's greatest scene of irony, a fellow activist kills the monkey to save his cohort (hahaha), but it's too late; she's become "infected". Her eyes are getting red, blood is dripping from her mouth, and soon she attacks everyone else in the room

28 Days Later....

We see Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up in a disturbingly empty hospital. Finding some clothes, he walks out to see London completely empty in the film's most impressive scene. Why? Because none of it is fake (unlike some movies like I Am Legend). The director cleverly got permits to block traffic for certain areas during the filming, resulting in a scene that resonates with authentic isolation and emptiness. But if you (like Jim) think that there's no one else in the'd be very very wrong. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how one SHOULD make horror films; Ones that have a story (which I won't elaborate on), but still has a constant sense of dread, with more than its fair share of tension and blood.

Grade: B+/A-

Noms: Best Picture (#5), Best Director- Danny Boyle(#5), Best Original Screenplay - Alex Garland (#4), Best Editing (#3), Best Cinematography (#1 WINNER), Best Art Direction (#3), Best Sound Mixing/Editing (#3)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WOW....just WOW

I never actually reported this, so for those who missed it, this post will be a double whammy.

Part A: Javier Bardem reluctantly drops out of musical "Nine".

Part B: Daniel Day-Lewis eyeing empty lead role in "Nine". That's right. DANIEL. FRIGGIN. DAY-LEWIS. The man NEVER spends so little time between projects (well, he was in some 2005 movie, but it only took a week to shoot or something). The only problem: can he pull off being Italian for the role????

And this isn't just some internet rumor; it's being reported in Variety, one of the two goddesses of movie industry information (the other being The Hollywood Reporter). Here's the article:

Daniel Day-Lewis is in talks to follow "There Will Be Blood" with "Nine," the Rob Marshall-directed musical for The Weinstein Co.

If Day-Lewis commits to playing the role of Guido Contini, he would be replacing Javier Bardem, who dropped out of a planned fall start, claiming he was exhausted from work and awards season.

The role is a famous film director who experiences personal and creative crisis while trying to balance all the women in his life. Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench will play the women. The musical was inspired by the Fellini film "8 ½."

Michael Tolkin wrote the screenplay, and Anthony Minghella turned in a rewrite before he died.

Getting Day-Lewis is a coup for Harvey Weinstein, whose first association with the actor came when Weinstein's Miramax Films acquired distribution rights to the 1989 Jim Sheridan-directed film "My Left Foot."

While actor and distributor clashed over the marketing, Day-Lewis later credited Weinstein with gaining notice for a small Irish film that might otherwise have disappeared. Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Christy Brown, who fought through cerebral palsy to become a noted writer.

A TWC spokesman denied that a lead had been set: "Any of the names being thrown around is pure conjecture and when we're ready to make an announcement we'll let you know."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

trailer for Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona"

interesting decision to not use any dialogue, though I'm worried by that gunshot at the end. I really don't want this to be Match Point Version 2.0......

Trailer for "The Edge of Love" is here!

well I think that one critics blurb really nailed it when he called it "this year's Atonement...". Some of the scenes are so incredibly alike. First there's Keira telling Cillian Murphy's character to "come back to me", and then there's the shot of two figures frolicking on the beach, footage of someone on a typewriter, and the grimly lit shots of WWII destruction......crazy...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Visitor - REVIEW

Well ladies and gentlemen, it's right on time: this year's nice but needlessly overpraised indie film has arrived right on schedule. Despite a good story and good performances, it doesn't quite match the hype. It's also a bit of a letdown, considering that director Tom McCarthy's previous effort was the wonderful and poignant "The Station Agent" (2003). The story follows Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, good, but getting too much praise), and old college professor who is sent to New York to present written by a collegue at a convention. Checking in at his NYC apartment, Walter is surprised to find a couple living in his apartment; They are Syrian born Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), and Senegal born Zainab (Danai Gurira). After the initial shock has worn off, Walter agrees to let the stowaways continue to live with him since he rarely uses the apartment anyway. As time goes by, he begins to find himself awakening out of his seemingly endless daydreaming by learning how to play the African drum from Tarek. Soon, after a mishap that was completely innocent, however, Tarek is mistakenly taken into custody, and eventually detained because he is in the US illegally. Against Tarek's wishes, his mother (Hiam Abbass) eventually shows up, even though she cannot enter the detainment facility. While it's all interesting, the pacing of the film is a bit off, and at times the pacing feels more sluggish than thoughtful. Despite earning rave reviews, Jenkins really doesn't turn in the brilliant performance that the critics promise. There doesn't seem to be a terrible amount of depth until late in the movie, but it's not enough to warrant the praise he's been receiving. The real star of the show, is in fact Hiam Abbass, who paints a wonderful portrait of a woman unable to see her own son in his darkest hour. She and Sleiman give the film what little "spark" there is in it, because they show the most emotion; he is lively and generally optimistic, and she is heartbroken and distraught. The script also suffers from some glitches along the way, most notably when McCarthy (who wrote the film as well), decides to give Jenkins his first BIG EMOTIONAL MOMENT. It's not that Jenkins fails at acting, but rather, the script turns a man's outrage in a "spell-out-the-message-of-the-movie" moment, that feels a bit ham fisted and false. All in all, a bit of a disappointment; not because it's bad, but simply because it just doesn't live up to the ridiculous hype surrounding its central performance.

Grade: B-

Nominations: Best Picture (#5), Best Director - Tom McCarthy(#5), Best Actor - Richard Jenkins(#3), Best Supporting Actor - Haaz Sleiman(#4), Best Supporting Actress - Hiam Abbass(#1 WINNER), Best Original Screenplay(#3), Best Original Score (#3)

Number of 2008 films seen: 6

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dogville (2004) - REVIEW

If I thought that "Eternal Sunshine" was a strange way to kick off my weekend, it's now obvious that I had no idea how strange Dogville would be. Taking the advice of the old saying "less is more" director Lars Von Trier strips this film down to the barest minimum. There are no complete sets, only a single, sparsely decorated sound stage, with markings that say things like "Tom's House" and "Gooseberry Bushes". For the most part, there are no doors; the actors mime knocking and turning door handles. At first it seems ludicrous. Why would someone want to debase a film so that it became almost no more than a filmed stage play? And then it becomes clear: you get to witness film level acting in an environment that is much more demanding for the actors themselves. One normal day in the remote town of Dogville, Tom (Paul Bettany) the town philosopher of sorts hears gunshots from the nearby valley. A few hours later a woman clad in an expensive fur coat stumbles into the town, looking lost. The woman is Grace (Nicole Kidman), and she's an enigma from the start. At first on Tom's advice, the town welcomes Grace, as part of an experiment: Grace will help the townspeople for two weeks with little odd jobs, forcing the citizens of Dogville to be open minded and welcoming to an outsider. However, after enough time passes Dogville decides to bear its teeth, and things get a little "Scarlet Letter"-ish. Grace may be the one the law is looking for, but it's in Dogville itself where the true evil lies. But if you think this is going to turn out anything like the above mentioned novel you'd would be wrong, for this is something wholly original, deep, symbolic, mysterious, and brilliant. Though at times they can seem somewhat lethargic, the performances are actually excellent, and they become stronger as the story goes on and on and on (the film is 3 HOURS LONG) . As little tidbits get revealed either via dialogue or by narration (done superbly by John Hurt with sickly sweet inflection), we begin to understand more and more, the reasons why this little town is the way it is. While in some cases it can be less than pleasing to see Ms. Kidman playing these reserved, whispery types (her performance in "Fur" wasn't all it could have been), here she really makes it work, especially near the end where we see her character's other side. Bettany is also strong as Tom, the (seemingly) only other person who Grace can truly count on. Dogville's other citizens also come wonderfully and viciously to life with great work from Lauren Bacall, Phillip Baker Hall, Patricia Clarkson, Chloe Sevigny, and Stellan Skarsgaard. Even with it's scaled down look, there's something oddly lush about the staging. The decorations may be few and far between, but they are effective and beautifully thought out. The simple music that plays from time to time is another nice touch, but in the end, it's all about the acting. There's no room for actors to disappear into the sets, and so they must always be fully in character, even when they are silent, and in the back corner of a scene. Despite it's lengthy running time, the film (after the languid first 45 minutes) maintains a quiet level of suspense that keeps you hooked. This is a good thing, considering that the finale of the film is so bizarre, so strange, and so exhilarating, that it's worth everything leading up to it.

Grade: A+

Nominations for 2004: Best Picture (#1 WINNER), Best Director - Lars Von Trier (#2), Best Actor - Paul Bettany (#3), Best Actress - Nicole Kidman (#1 WINNER), Best Supporting Actor - John Hurt (#2),Best Supporting Actor - Stellan Skarsgaard(#4), Best Supporting Actress - Patricia Clarkson (#3), Best Original Screenplay (#1 WINNER), Best Editing (#3), Best Cinematography (#2), Best Art Direction (#5)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(2004) - REVIEW

For whatever reason, sometimes there are movies that I haven't seen, that I come to dislike, simply because of the way everyone fawns over them; Eternal Sunshine is (or rather, was) one of them. However after sitting through it, I've changed my mind. Though it's not quite the masterpiece many make it out to be, it is wonderful, and refreshingly unique. But perhaps the thing I have to give the most credit for is that for ONCE, I was able to tolerate Jim Carrey on screen. For ONCE he abandoned his "look at how much I can contort my face" shtick and actually inhabited a character (and what a great character to inhabit). As Joel, a man who realizes that his ex girlfriend Clementine (a radiant Kate Winslet) has had him erased from her memory and then decides to have the same thing done to him, Carrey finally gets a chance to...act. In fact, the film is full of normally "meh" actors giving good performances: Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood (and Tom Wilkinson, but he's very good most of the time and shouldn't be counted among this bunch). With a unique concept that's handled beautifully, director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman have created one of the most lovably weird love stories ever put on screen.

Grade: A-

Nominations for 2004: Best Picture (#3), Best Director - Michel Gondry (#3), Best Actress - Kate Winslet (#2), Best Actor - Jim Carrey (#4), Best Supporting Actor - Mark Ruffalo (#5), Best Original Screenplay (#2), Best Editing (#4), Best Cinematography (#5)

Summer Preview - Part II

A few months ago I posted a list of the top 10 films I was looking forward to in spring and early summer (May). The following is a list of the top ten films from June August (roughly the end of the summer movie season) that are worth paying attention to. However, before I get down to the top 10, I need to rewind just a little bit to give credit to a film that never got edited into the Spring/Summer post:

Special Mention: The Fall
While this could turn out to be a case of style over substance, this caught my eye with what has to be the trailer of the year. Shot in 18 countries and boasting stunning production values and an interesting story (David Fincher's executive producer credit is also a plus), this immediately jumped to the top of my most anticipated list. Whether it's brilliant, mediocre, or even flat out terrible, this fantasy-meets-reality fable is one film that has to be seen on the big screen.
Excitement Level: VERY HIGH

And now onto the TOP 10 Films You Should Care About This Summer (June-Late August)

10. Pineapple Express - Yet another film from the Judd Apatow team (though this time he's not heavily involved), and written by Apatow protege Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), this is one stoner comedy that looks worthwhile. When Dave (Rogen) accidentally witness a murder by a corrupt cop, he flees to his weed dealer Saul in order to find out if a rare form of weed he was carrying (named Pineapple Express) can be traced back to him. Raunchy, politically incorrect laughs are bound to follow. After Walk Hard restored my faith in Judd Apatow and his cohorts, I'm actually excited to see where this wacky journey will go.

Excitement Level: Decent

9. Mamma Mia! - Most people will see Mamma Mia because A) they love ABBA or B) they love the Broadway show. I have a completely different reason: I love Meryl Streep and I'd rather pay $10 to see a big budget movie than $150 to see a Broadway show, where the quality can fluctuate from night to night. While it looks enjoyable, I still have some doubts seeing as the stage show isn't as well liked as "Hairspray", "Phantom", or "Chicago". However, the trailer looks like some sort of bizarre hybrid of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Hairspray, so this could be the sleeper hit of the summer. The only thing going against it (box office wise) is that it opens the same weekend as The Dark Knight........BAD idea....
Excitement Level: Decent

8. Wanted - If you read my previous preview post, you'll remember that this film was featured on there. Oops. As it turns out, the film isn't coming out in May, but rather late June. Oh well. Not much more to add. It just looks like ridiculous summer fun (that and it'll be interesting to see James McAvoy in action hero mode).Excitement Level: Decent

7. The Happening - perhaps this will be the year that M. Night Shyamalan finally gets his groove back. After misfires (The Village) and complete disasters (Lady in the Water) over the past few years, M. Night could possibly redeem himself with this thriller. The film centers on a teacher (Mark Wahlberg, refreshingly going against type) and his estranged wife, who get caught up in a strange crisis spreading all over the planet: something is causing people to simply stop moving, before they suddenly drop dead/commit suicide. Aside from the well put together trailer, the film also peaked my interest in that there's real potential considering the subject matter. The film plays off the all too possible threat of biological weapons and airborne diseases and so on. If it's handled right, this could be the horror/thriller of the summer season.Excitement Level: Good

6. Hamlet 2 - though the title screams "sequel-itis", the film is surprisingly original for a comedy. A failed actor turned theater teacher (Steve Coogan) decides to save his career by writing a sequel to, you guessed it, Hamlet. When asked by his wife (Catherine Keener) how there can be a sequel when "pretty much everyone died at the end of the first one", Coogan responds with his warped idea: a time machine operated by Jesus. Throw in crazy song and dance numbers, and a cameo by Amy Poehler, and this looks like an original winner.Excitement Level: Good

5. Get Smart - sometimes you can just tell from a film's trailer whether it will be good or bad; a hit or a miss. Let's hope that's the case with Get Smart, because Steve Carell is in need of a hit after the massive critical and commercial flop that was Evan Almighty. So far, it seems like a good comedy, with Carell's dead pan idiocy fully intact. Luckily, unlike some comedies where only the main character gets to be funny, the film seems to have been kind enough to Anne Hathaway, The Rock, and Alan Arkin, and given them their own unique forms of humor.Excitement Level: Good

4. Tropic Thunder - Yup, another summer comedy; Hollywood must really be in a laughing mood this year. And hopefully we'll be able to laugh along with them in what looks like a potential comedy smash hit. When a director (Steve Coogan again) filming an Apocalypse Now-style Vietnam epic gets fed up with his prima donna cast, he drops them off in the middle of the jungle to fend for themselves. However, the three principle actors think they're just part of an elaborate exercise to help themselves get more into character. While the film features comedy vets Ben Stiller as the brash leading man (he also directs), Jack Black as the comedian-turned-serious-actor, the film packs another hilarious surprise: Robert Downey Jr. as the award winning prestige actor. If you don't recognize the Downey in the trailer at first, it's because his character (within the movie) decides that his character (in Coogan's fiction movie) would benefit from him undergoing special makeup so that he can be, Level: High

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army - isn't it always refreshing when a sequel comes along that looks BETTER than its predecessor? That's exactly the case with this follow up to 2004's Hellboy. With a more epic story, gorgeous (and unique) production values and wicked cool creatures, this looks like a great bit of less conventional action fare. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) returned to direct is also a major plus.Excitement Level: High

2. Wall-E - I'll admit, I wasn't too excited when I first heard about Pixar's latest. However after seeing the trailers, there's something about it that has me dying to see it. The story revolves around Wall-E, a robot who is in charge of cleaning up earth 700 years in the future (humans have abandoned the planet for the time being). However, one day a peculiar spacecraft lands and whisks the curious little robot (think of him as an adorably naive R2-D2) off on a glorious adventure through space. Though there isn't much speaking in the film (Wall-E communicates in little bleeps), I have a feeling that this could be one of the most refreshing screenplays of the year.Excitement Level: Very High

1. The Dark Knight - really, was this any surprise given the amount I've time on this blog I've dedicated to pimping out the movie? Early word of mouth has been good (especially for Ledger's performance) and as a whole it just looks so much better than Batman Begins (which was great). The darkness and grittiness seem to have been amplified by a factor of 10, and for a superhero as dark as Batman, that can only be a good thing. Expect great things (there are rumors that Ledger might be good enough to snag a postmortem Oscar nomination...wouldn't that be something?).Excitement Level: VERY VERY HIGH