Sunday, August 31, 2008

Another divisive review of "The Duchess"

This one, from the Hollywood Reporter, is different in that it gives the movie a so-so review, but still gives Knightley good marks. This is going to be interesting to see how much this movie divides critics and audiences when it finally hits theaters....

"Duchess" a disappointing showcase for Knightley
Sunday August 31 9:25 PM ET

In "The Duchess," actress Keira Knightley's latest period picture, a lavish melodrama of aristocratic foolishness and betrayal is designed around the colorful though not always happy life of an 18th century socialite.

British filmmakers seem born to make these costume movies and make them well. "The Duchess" is no exception in this, though one would have liked a more modern appraisal of the subject, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.

A feminist eons before the word was invented, Georgiana established a salon devoted to the artists and politicos of her day and even campaigned for Whig party candidates despite not having the vote herself. But this movie, directed by Saul Dibb and based on a biography by Amanda Foreman, only notices these things insofar as they relate to her marital discord and an illicit affair. The movie doesn't seem to appreciate how modern she was.

Knightley captures all the wit, intelligence and high-born manners of a woman given little choice other than to pursue pleasure in a world engineered for and by men. Dibb, a sturdy but uninspired director, brings no Shekhar Kapur visual or dramatic flamboyance to the task of bringing Georgiana's life to the screen. So "Duchess" will satisfy those who enjoy costume dramas but not reach much beyond that audience.

The Paramount Vantage release opened Friday in the U.K., and then premiered Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival before its Los Angeles and New York bows on September 19.

The movie begins with the 1774 nuptials of Georgiana Spencer and a temperamentally unsuitable duke. (Ralph Fiennes does manage to somewhat humanize the loutish noble). The duke perceives his marriage to have the sole purpose of producing a male heir. Years of miscarriages and daughters pass before this happens, though. Meanwhile, Georgiana finds her feet as a celebrity and fashion plate, making her husband seemingly the only man in Britain who is not in love with her.

She even introduces into the household Lady Elizabeth Foster (a bright, alluring Hayley Atwell), who becomes her husband's mistress. For her part, the duchess dallies with handsome politician Charles Gray (Dominic Cooper of "Mamma Mia!"), causing a near scandal from which the family manages to recover.

The melodrama is a bit bloodless, though, figuratively and literally. This is a not-uninteresting chapter during an exciting time in British and European politics -- either the American nor French revolutions get mentioned -- but writers Dibbs, Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen find no way to connect us with these distant personages. Probably the most surprising thing to a modern audience is how aristocrats engage in the most intimate and embarrassing conduct in full view of servants who are treated as little more than furniture.

The producers have secured grand estates and stately homes for the movie's sets, and the English countryside looks as splendid as ever. Tech credits are superb.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

"Frozen River" - REVIEW

Every year, independent film makers try to flood the art house theaters with "gritty" and "realistic" portrayals of people, yet most of them don't quite succeed in feeling authentic (I'm looking at you Noah Baumbach). It's a relief then, that "Frozen River", although quite flawed, manages to at least feel authentic, in spite of the unusual story taking place. Ray (Melissa Leo) has just discovered that her husband has run of with most of the money the family was going to use to buy a new mobile home. Though at first you don't know why, the opening shot of Ray smoking and quietly crying in her car does help to drive home the fact that she and her two sons are now in trouble; this is where the movie earns its credibility. Almost 15% of Americans live in the sort of state that Ray does, living from pay check to pay check, struggling to find money to give her kids for the school cafeteria, renting out items because they can't pay for them upfront etc... However, things potentially change when Ray has a run in with a Mohawk teenager who helps smuggle immigrants across the Canadian border into America. At first reluctant, when Ray hears that the pick up and drop off of each pair of immigrants will earn her $2400 up front, she slowly gets sucked in, in part because they cross the border on a stretch of frozen river that is on Mohawk reservation territory, and therefore not under border surveillance. Helping to set the tone for the film are stunning landscape shots of snow, ice, and the gray sky punctured by light from the sunrise. Tension is low key but well maintained, and the runs across the border never feel repetitive; each one is done economically, save for one heartstopping one. However, in this heartstopping moment, the flaws begin to surface. Looking back, the heartstopping moment in which Ray and Little Wolf must return to the river after a drop off is brought about by an action that is explained via dialogue, but not entirely believable. Also, the film's subplot involving Ray's 15 year old son as part of a fraud phone call service (or something like that) adds next to nothing save for the ability to set up a heavyhanded moment in which the son (aka The White Man) apologizes to the one woman he tried to con; guess what? she's Native American. However, inspite of the weaknesses, the one thing that does stand out is Leo's performance. Leo has a perfect face for these types of roles, and director Courtney Hunt knows it, making frequent use of close ups. However, Hunt's writing at times undermines Leo's acting, and the performances don't always acheive the impact that they should. All in all, a solid Indie film made worth while by nice photography, an interesting story (which, by the way, skips out on a neat and tidy ending; kudos) and a beautifully subtle lead performance (though it's not the master class of acting it's touted as). It could have been truly great, if only Frozen River had allowed its characters emotions some room to thaw a little.

Grade: B

Nominations: Best Actress - Melissa Leo(#3)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 28

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
3. The Fall
4. In Bruges
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
6. Tropic Thunder
7. Iron Man
8. Frozen River
9. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
10. The Bank Job

Saturday, August 30, 2008

An alternate take on "Benjamin Button"'s Telluride preview

A detailed breakdown of the 20 minutes of footage show in Telluride from David Fincher's 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' starring Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett.

Tonight’s Silver Medallion Tribute to David Fincher at the Telluride Film Festival closed with a screening of 20 minutes of Fincher’s much-anticipated new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt as a baby born old who reverse-ages over eight decades. Fincher called the footage “a series of scenelets,” meaning that, unlike the single reel of There Will Be Blood shown at last year’s tribute to Daniel Day-Lewis, this reel was cut together to give us a teasing glimpse of the wider narrative and scope of the film.

First impression: it’s impressive. It’s absolutely gorgeous, for starters. Coming as it did after a show reel featuring excerpts from Fincher’s music videos and adverts (both cut into a montage set to “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths, weirdly and unadvisedly divorcing both pop and product promos from what they were made to promote) and each of his features aside from Alien³, it’s clear that Fincher has moved beyond the cool blacks and blues with florescent highlights that have thus far defined his visual style. It’s a period epic, so the broader visual palette makes sense, but it came as a relief that, within all this beauty, the effects used to transform Pitt first into an 80-year-old man and then backwards into a child felt of a piece and not overwhelmingly effect-y.

Also exciting: though the reel gives every hint that Button is a proper epic tearjerker about love and pain and time and blah blah blah, it’s also infused with the dry, quippy sense of humor that cuts through the darkest swatches of Fincher’s filmography. This is, after all, the man who says he wanted to make Fight Club because he thought the book was “hilarious [and] ridiculous. But I’m an asshole.”

A detailed run-down of the clip follows after the jump. Not having seen the full film, I can’t say for sure whether or not there are spoilers, so I suppose if you want to know absolutely nothing, don’t click.

We open on an aged Cate Blanchett in a hospital bed. Her 30-something daughter is sitting by her side, reading aloud from a book. It’s someone’s will. She reads, “All I have is my story, and I’m writing it while I still remember it.”

Brad Pitt’s voice takes over as we fade to an end-of-WWI party on the streets of New Orleans. A man runs up the stairs of a mansion, where a doctor and a number of servants tend to a woman covered in a bloody sheet. She’s just given birth and she’s dying. The man runs to her side, and she cries, “Promise me he’ll have a place.” Pitt’s VO: “She gave her life for me, and for that I am forever grateful.”

The baby is crying, and the dad approaches the cradle. He looks down at the baby and gags. We don’t see anything. He grabs the baby, wrapped in a blanket, and runs down the stairs and out the door as the other people in the room call after him. He approaches the back steps of another house, places the baby on a bottom step, sticks a wad of money under the blanket, and sneaks off. A black man and woman walk out the back door of the house and start flirting. The man, walking backwards down the steps, leads the woman by the hand. They trip over the baby. We get a quick close-up of what’s in the blanket: it’s normal baby-sized, but with grotesquely wrinkled skin. “The Lord done something awful here,” the man says, and books it.

The woman takes the baby inside the house, which appears to be a retirement home where she works. A doctor examines the baby and says, “Shows all the deterioration of a man on the way to the grave.” The woman lies and says the baby was her sister’s, and that the sister had an infection and “the baby got the worst of it. He came out white.” The doctor tells the woman–named Queenie–that “some babies aren’t meant to survive.” She says this baby is a miracle, and takes it into the parlor to introduce it to the old folks. An older white woman says she knows how to cure any baby, and comes over to take a look. “he looks just like my ex-husband,” she says.

Queenie takes the baby, now aged to what appears to be a very old, wheelchair-bound man, to revival service in a tent. At this point, Benjamin doesn’t quite look like Brad Pitt underneath the prosthetic wrinkles, liver spots, etc, but some of Pitt’s mannerisms shine through, and in close-ups, you can’t mistake his eyes. The preacher asks him how old he is. He croaks, “Seven, but I look a lot older.” The preacher does his cast-the-devil-out thing and tells Benjamin to get up and walk. He stands out of his wheelchair, and falls down.

Cut to Benjamin, looking a bit younger but still very much an old man, at the steer of a ship. A drunk sailor asks, “You been on this earth so many years, and you never had a woman?” They go to a brothel. Girls are lined up on the stairs, whispering about how they don’t like the looks of the old guy. A redhead offers to take Benjamin upstairs. Cut to her moaning–Benjamin’s apparently enjoying some kind of beginner’s luck––and cracking, “What are you, Dick Tracy or something?” As he walks out, his voiceover informs us that this is where he learned the value of having an income. As he disappears into the night, his father pops into the frame––he’s seen his son.

Cut to Cate Blanchett, younged-up, at a ballet audition. She has red hair, too, but she’s not the hooker. Still, if it was explained in this reel how she and Benjamin know each other, I missed it.

Cut to Benjamin and his drunk friend, back on the boat, in a blizzard. Benjamin is looking younger, and the drunk asks him what his secret is. Benjamin says, “Well, you do drink an awful lot.”

Cut back to aged Cate in her bed. Her daughter has found a postcard from Benjamin, and is asking if her mom was in love with him. Cut to young Cate, reading the postcard.

Now Tilda Swinton, in a black fur coat, is waiting in the deserted dining room of wherever Benjamin is staying. She’s a redhead, too, which by this point means we know she’s going to take a liking to Benjamin. He comes downstairs in a bathrobe over pajamas–he looks about 60 now, is unmistakenly Brad Pitt, just silver foxed-up quite a bit. TIlda teaches him about caviar and vodka. Tilda tells him she tried to swim the English Channel when she was young, but failed, and never ended up doing anything with her life. He touches her hand on the table, and she leans in to kiss him. A clock strikes. “I’m afraid of the witching hour,” she says, and runs off. “it was the first time a woman ever kissed me,” says V.O. Benjamin. “It’s something you never forget.”

On the ship, at night. “The war finally caught up with us,” V.O. Benjamin says. A wide shot of the sea, full of black blobs–bodies.

“It was May 1945. I was 26 years old. I came home.” Benjamin returns to Queenie’s house. She’s delighted to see him; her daughter doesn’t recognize him. Queenie tells him they’re gonna find him a wife and a job.

Cate Blanchett is suddenly outside. Benjamin greets her, but she doesn’t recognize him. Then she does.

They go for a walk in the moonlight, and Cate’s going on and on about how wild her life is up in New York. She tells Benjamin she’s leaving the next day. She takes off her shoes, then her coat. She starts dancing for him, her body (or her double’s body) silhouetted against a cloud of steam. If it wasn’t obvious that this was a seduction, she then asks him if he’s ever read D. H. Lawrence. She coos, “He was banned, for using words like ‘making love.’” As she continues to babble and contort her body, Benjamin just watches from afar. “In our company,” she says, “We have to trust each other. Sex is part of it.”

She starts telling him about how a lesbian dancer made the moves on her. He says he’s not surprised that people find her attractive. She literally crawls over to him, pauses with her face an inch away from his as if waiting for him to make the move, and then kisses her anyway. He tells her he’ll disappoint her. She tells him she’s been with plenty of older dudes. She tries again. “Not tonight, is all,” he says, more firmly. She collects her things and walks off.

Telluride Film Festival report: Benjamin Button teaser reel gets cold shoulder

Luckily it was only a teaser reel....for a nearly 3 hour movie. Somehow I doubt that 20 minutes would be able to do the whole product true justice....

From Critic Jeff Wells' website:

To my displeasure and irritation, their reactions to the Button footage, and frankly the reactions of others they spoke to as they left the theatre (including a couple of journo-critics and a respected director of an '07 political documentary), were not all that good. Wait...what? This is supposed to have Oscar heat, this thing. Fincher's possible home run, payback for the Zodiac diss, whatever.

My friends had one unqualified positive reaction, which was to the performance by Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow) as Brad Pitt's adoptive mother. But beyond that, the Button footage felt vaguely underwhelming, they said.

It just wasn't particularly exciting or engrossing, one explained. Excellent visual effects (old Pitt as a baby, etc.) and fine cinematography but with a kind of enervated, waiting-for-something-to-happen quality. The footage showed portions of the entire film, the other friend said, but in a way that kept you from getting into it with cuts coming too abruptly. And so people were kind of...whatever, grunting and muttering on the way out.

I didn't like hearing this, of course, because I'm a fan of Eric Roth's script as well as an overall Fincher fan so I started arguing with these two. What were people looking for? I asked. What is it that people wanted to happen? It's just a reel, a taste of a feature film.

They only repeated that whatever it was that the Button reel was trying to sell, they didn't get it or get into it, and some others they've spoken to since it ended feel the same way.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"The Bank Job" - quick REVIEW (really really quick)

Cliched though it may be, the old saying "truth is stranger than fiction" proves to once again be true in this unfairly overlooked heist thriller. With a number of coincidences and layers that one would think HAD to be purely fiction, the fact that the film is a (mostly) true account of a 1970s London bank heist only makes it more interesting. What makes it truly different from other heist thrillers however, is that the mystery of the story isn't "how on earth will they pull this off", but rather "how in the hell is this all going to end?". What starts out as a relatively basic bank robbery eventually unearths other hidden agendas (some planned for, and some completely unexpected). Not great, but thouroughly entertaining and well edited fun.

Grade: B

Nominations: Best Editing(#5)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 27

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
3. The Fall
4. In Bruges
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
6. Tropic Thunder
7. Iron Man
8. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
9. The Bank Job
10. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Behind the scenes footage AND character posters for "Watchmen"(2009)

Bittersweet news: "Boston Legal" coming to a close...

It's really a shame to hear that this show is going off the air, even after the wildly uneven fourth season (the writer's strike probably made matters even worse); I'm going to hate to say goodbye to the weirdos at Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. However, better that David E. Kelly and crew don't drag it out past its welcome, I guess......

Long live Denny Crane!

THE SKINNY: While BOSTON LEGAL continues to be creatively one of ABC’s most interesting series, the writing on the wall that its time was over was certainly clear and due to the writer’s strike, the series never got the chance to end properly.

Hence, creator David E. Kelley was given a last-minute reprieve and will complete 13 final episodes for its fifth and final season according to ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson.

“We really felt like it didn’t get its due on its way out this year,” says McPherson. “And the opportunity to give it really a final 13, he was really excited about it. He committed to really writing those, which, for us, was really important because he’s kind of transitioned his life a little bit. So it’s great to have the show back.”

As for 13 episodes, versus a full season pick-up, McPherson says it all came down to David Kelley.

“David felt he had 13 episodes left in him,” says McPherson. “He really wanted to end it. he really wanted to do some things with our two core characters [played by James Spader and William Shatner]. It was really his decision.”

That said, much like last year’s announcement of a LOST end game, McPherson enjoys knowing when one of the network’s signature shows are ending.

“I really like being able to know when shows are going out,” says McPherson. “As big a decision as LOST was a couple years out, it’s really good to know, as opposed to, you know, with SCRUBS, ‘is it on again? Is it going to not be on?’ Let’s let these creators, who have created unbelievably compelling characters and iconic pieces of television end it with dignity and integrity. We can market it as such. For us, it’s an advantage. We really appreciate David signing up and getting excited about these final 13. We’re talking about how to really sell them as this kind of final crescendo for what we believe has been a terrific series.”

Venice Film Festival Update: "The Burning Plain" opens to raves

Arriaga with actress Jennifer Lawrence

The film, directed by "Babel" and "Amorres Perros" scribe Guillermo Arriaga and starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, is one of a host of potential Oscar successes that has being laying low...until now.

Only three days in to the Venice Film Festival, a front-runner for the Golden Lion best film award has emerged. The Burning Plain, written and directed by the Mexican film-maker Guillermo Arriaga and starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, has all the right credentials: it is serious-minded and dramatic, with universal themes and a clutch of fine acting performances.

It isn't too early to suggest this film's the one to beat. The story is complex, and reveals itself gradually. It moves back and forth in time and takes place in two main locations; rainy Portland, Oregon, and a dusty, down-at-heel American border town. Events that occur in one place have consequences elsewhere, sometimes years later.

None of this will seem strange to fans of the brilliant Arriaga, who makes his directing debut here but wrote the outstanding screenplays for two notable films, Amores Perros and Babel, both of which also jump around in place and time.

The film's first image literally burns itself on the memory: a trailer consumed by roaring flames in the middle of a desert plain. Then the action moves to Portland, where Theron plays the brisk, competent manager of a chic restaurant. But she's a flawed character, given to self-harming and meaningless one-night stands.

Basinger appears as a wife and mother in the border town, guarding the secret of her illicit affair. It is impossible to explain further without ruining the suspense elements in the story. Suffice to say that Arriaga pulls together the strands of his narrative with great expertise. His job is made easier by great performances from three actresses: Theron and Basinger, who both look like racing certs for next year's awards season, and Jennifer Lawrence as Basinger's teenage daughter.

We have not heard the last of The Burning Plain.

Another positive review for "The Duchess"

Source: Empire Magazine
The Duchess of Devonshire was an 18th century It Girl: she wore extravagant clothes, threw extravagant parties, gambled extravagantly, even set fire to hair extravagantly. And if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she also had a taste for booze, a head for politics and an eye for politicians. A Georgian scandal-magnet, she wasn’t your shrinking Jane Austen type, but this sombre portrayal of such a glittering star echoes the fate of a Diana or Marilyn - the woman doomed to have everything but love.

Amanda Foreman’s bestselling concrete-block biography isn’t short on incident but, rather than cram in events, this adaptation captures the Duchess in her twenties and turns its dramatic focus onto the emotional life of the public figure. In many ways, the picture celebrates Keira Knightley’s duchess as a flamboyant, headstrong modern woman born ahead of her time, trapped in a marriage that resembled a slow-motion coach-crash. In public, and by the public, she was much loved. In her husband’s affections, and as the film drolly points out, she placed somewhere below his dogs. And there she remained, eventually ousted by his affair with her best friend (Hayley Atwell). It’s this bizarre relationship that forms the film’s dramatic core, generating an oddly captivating anti-chemistry from its two leads.
The Duke could’ve gone the way of the stiff aristocratic bastard, but Fiennes’ dry wit and delicate touch make him a far more complicated proposition. For Knightley the part fits like a corset - it’s an enigmatic, free-spirited turn and a role she’ll be remembered for, probably her best role to date in a film not directed by Joe Wright.

This is the second movie from director Saul Dibb, who made his name with Bullet Boy, and the shift to another tone and era is handled with some confidence. The cast and period are immaculately turned out, and events roll at an assured, stately pace, dragging a little only in a slightly saggy third act. But - and perhaps this is Dibb’s documentary background put to use - it’s the more observant, intimate touches that count. Watch, for instance, how the emotional distance between characters is measured out during the film’s recurring dining scenes, across a table so long it would take a week to pass the salt.

Diane Kruger joins "Inglorious Bastards"

Source: People

Diane Kruger isn't up for a trophy at this year's Venice film festival, but Wednesday she received a prize of a different sort.

"I just found out I'm going to do [Quentin] Tarantino's next film with Brad Pitt," Kruger told PEOPLE at the Valentino party in Venice Thursday. "I'm very excited. Quentin just called. I play a German movie star but I don't want to give too much away."

Kruger was in Venice sans boyfriend Joshua Jackson, who's "working – he has a job, you know." But, the actress added, "He comes in on Saturday so I'm excited for that, too."

Kruger said she was "fashionably busy" at the film festival. Besides the Valentino premiere and party, where she sat next to the designer at the film's screening, wearing a beige gown he picked out for her, she's also attending a party Sunday for Jaeger Le Coutre, the Swiss watch company she promotes.

First clip from "W"

It actually looks alright....(and no, I'm not just saying that because of Elizabeth Banks)...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Body of Lies" poster released

This movie keeps looking more generic by the day, which is a shame due to the talent involved. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Teaer poster for Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards" leaked

that is, assuming that this is authentic....

"Australia" pushed back to Thanksgiving Day

Christ, this Harry Potter switch has caused all sorts of hell to break loose. The only upside is that now the film won't be opening against the new James Bond flick (where it would be smashed box office wise) and, as the article says, it gives Lurhmann and co a little more time to edit in the new material they shot recently.

20th Century Fox has announced they are pushing the release of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia from November 14th, back to November 26th. The shift was made as a butterfly effect of Warner Bros’ decision to movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince from November 21st back to Summer 2009. As you may remember, this prompted Sony to move Quantum of Solace to the November 14th release date. The move will also give Australia more time in the editing room, as Variety reports that Luhrmann is currently shooting pickup shots. The film will now go head to head with Transporter 3, Four Christmases, The Road, Bolt and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

4 new Half Blood Prince pictures

Apparently Warner Brothers thinks this is enough to tide us over until July. Although they're DEAD WRONG, it's nice to get a little something. Plus, that last picture of Bellatrix/Bonham Carter is just so batsh*t insane that I can't help but smile. Mrs. Burton does make a lovely psychopath, doesn't she?

Trailer for "New York, I Love You"

Apparently the city of New York got a little jealous after seeing the wonderful "Paris Je'taime", which involved 16 short films dedicated to Paris, so they decided to fire back with one of their own. Following the same concept, the film centers around a number of stories, each set in New York and related to love. Will lightning strike twice? We'll see...

"Burn After Reading" - exclusive clip

only two more weeks, only two more weeks, only two more weeks...

"Burn After Reading" reviews filtering in from Venice Film Festival 08

And they're mostly good (though this could change, seeing as there are only four of them out now. The good:

EDIT: A new one! Hollywood Reporter: CLICK

The Times (London): CLICK

The Guardian: CLICK

Screendaily: CLICK

The Bad:

Variety: CLICK

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Early (and extremely positive) script review of "The Road"

For the sake of those who haven't read the (amazing) novel, I've omitted the segments of the script. If you want to see them, click HERE.

No you're not seeing things. I hold in my hands the entire 123 page screenplay for Cormac McCarthy's The Road, written for the screen by Joe Penhall. Oddly, there is no cover page to help indicate which draft I might be looking at but each page is watermarked 9/11/07 (eerie eh?) and there is no question that this is a complete and fully realized work. To be blunt, the script is a complete stunner. It is a devastating masterwork which, I'm glad to report, has been written with absolute devotion to the original novel. If this is the script that gets filmed, then The Road will not only be the most important post-apocalyptic film ever made but it will profoundly affect the cinema going world. But I can't help but wonder; is the world ready for a film this dark? You can read the rest of our review after the break but I must warn you; there are some minor spoilers.

Those of you who've read The Road know how successfully it strips humanity bare and exposes the best and worst of our nature. There's no jaunty use of narrative framing devices like in No Country for Old Men, or playful genre blending a la All The Pretty Horses to blur the message either. The Road is McCarthy's masterpiece because the style is so friggin' precise that it becomes impossible to miss the point and equally impossible to put down. It is a very scary book and I'm here to tell you that this is going to be one hell of a scary movie. And I don't mean BOO scary here people. I'm talking about being confronted by how unbelievably evil we are scary.

I don't know how it's possible but everything, and I mean everything, from the book is in this script. No attempt whatsoever has been made to gloss over some of the book's more difficult subject matter and nowhere has Penhall tried to explain away the unexplainable. He truly gets this book and he gets why it was so effective. For example, we're still not told why the world is a charred smoldering pile of ashen snow, though there is a small hint at the beginning. The ambiguity is terrifying and Penhall is willing to let us draw our own conclusions about character motivations.

That's not to say there aren't some changes and surprises along the way. However, I'd say most if not all the changes are for the better. In some cases, scenes have been extended to create even more tension. If you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about when I mention "the house" scene. It is one of the tensest scenes in the screenplay and it has been extended to the point that it is almost unbearably suspenseful.

Surprisingly, most of the additions do the exact opposite of what I would have expected them to do. They actually make the world scarier, the situation seem more dire, and life more hopeless than the book even did. The first 15 pages are just scene after scene of powerful head-shaking stuff. I predict people are going to be blown away by how far this film is willing to go. And again, I don't mean to insinuate designer gore or cheap thrills but just dark dark dark subject matter and quiet, personal scenes of real life terror- like this one from page 8 and 9 of "The Man" reminding his son about the best way to kill himself:

[omitted scene]

When, within the first ten minutes of a film, you get a scene like this you know that everyone involved was willing to pull no punches.

There are also a couple of scenes that have been added to give Viggo Mortensen's character a bit more background. They are very minor and do nothing to disturb the flow or integrity of the original piece- though I wondered how necessary they really were next to the five or so flashback scenes that are also in the script. One added scene has "The Man" taking "The Boy" to the house he grew up in. My guess is that it has been added to hit home the idea of "what we've lost" but again, something about it seemed a tad extraneous.

Another thing that shocked me were the flashbacks featuring "The Wife" (which will be played by Charlize Theron). I had been assuming they would be altered or extended to cash in on Theron's star power but they are actually given quite short shrift and they are very much to the point. No slow-mo scenes of frolicking in nature or funny hat wearing dream montages here folks. At most I would say the flashbacks will probably occupy less than 5 minutes of total screen time and they mostly take place after "the event" which gives them narrative weight. I slightly question how Penhall has written one aspect of her character but, in the interest remaining somewhat spoiler free, I'll not get into specifics. Suffice it to say her character does something very strange and she seems a little too worldly in one scene. That's all I'll say on the subject.

Of course I haven't even mentioned the most crucial aspect of the screenplay and the one ingredient that will determine how well the film plays. That's of course the relationship between the father and son. Ultimately, this is a story about a father who is desperate to protect his son and get to the coast before winter comes. The dialog here is pitch perfect and very sparse like in the book but I gotta say that, in the end, it's all going to come down to young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. This is a very demanding role for a young actor. Besides having never known the world of the past, the character of the son has at least four highly emotive scenes that involve all sorts of crying and carrying on. If handled with care this relationship could be powerful enough to become the stuff of cinema legend. The scene reprinted below is a minor one and doesn't betray any crucial plot points, but it is pretty indicative of the strong bond between the two characters and how scary life would be if they ever lost each other.

[omitted scene]

Even at the film's most epic and intense, it retains this close personal connection between the two characters and it's the one ingredient that will make this film deeply moving. The character of the father is no hero. But when pushed he will go to any lengths to protect his son. But, perhaps it's his willingness to do even the unthinkable and actually give a crap about someone other than himself that makes him as close to a hero as is possible in a world where everyone is is only out for their own survival.

So yeah, in case you couldn't tell, this script pretty much blew my mind. I loved it as much as the book and truly feel confident in predicting that the cinematic experience of The Road will be bold and unique. It manages to retain both the horror and the heart of the original piece. So, big thanks to our new best friend for sending us the screenplay. You rock!

Until Novemeber, keep on carrying the flame!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Early review of "Doubt"

Sounds very promising. Actually...much more than promising....more like flat out amazing.

I know what people are saying about Hoffman, since he usually plays creeps, but in the film, his performance doesn't skew it either way. There are moments where you may feel he's guilty and moments when you'll feel he's being senselessly persecuted, which is as it should be. Don't worry about Streep, Adams or Davis either. They are all fabulous.

The film has the same feeling of mounting tension as the play did. I was also gripping my armrest during Viola Davis's scene, since she plays it very real and raw.

For the Hoffman worriers, again, I tell you that the character's innocence or guilt is not betrayed in any way by Hoffman's presence or performance, and there are a few new scenes and moments, including some interaction with the boy, that leave you further conflicted.

The film is opened up in the best possible sense. Nothing feels extraneous, but you see contrasting scenes of the priests and the nuns in their respective worlds, as well as scenes in the classroom with some of the other children that were referred to in the stage script, such as William London, and the girl whom Sister Aloysius wants seated away from the boys. (I'm blanking on the name).

Streep's Aloysius is ferocious. She's funny in the terror she provokes in others and in the character's dry wit, but without any camp creeping into her performance. She's mesmerizing in her stand-offs with Hoffman, and in the heat of the confrontation scene, did something incredibly surprising, giving Aloysius a moment of vulnerability that helps humanize her for the final scene. I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I think it stands with her great performances.

I should have mentioned Adams. She fares very well throughout - and looks great. As you mention, she is the one that hears both points of view from Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn and her reactions are important as a barometer for the audience. I particularly liked her courtyard scene with Father Flynn and her standoff with Aloysius where she defends the priest. She also benefits from some new material in her classroom, where she tries to adapt herself to the methods suggested by Aloysius, and a moment where she witnesses something that further clouds the issue of Flynn's innocence or guilt.

I don't think Streep's qualifications to play the role would ever be in question. Nor is a comparison between Cherry Jones and Meryl Streep's interpretations quite fair. Film, by virtue of close-ups and editing, can do things that theatre can't, and by comparison, the electricity of live theatre when it is at its best, is a sensation I do not usually experience even at the finest movies.

If I had to compare the performances, I'd say this: for me, Cherry's Aloysius seemed absolutely resolute in her conviction until the play's final scene. Streep seems to allow some consternation and vulnerability creep in starting with her scene with Viola Davis. Both Aloysius performances are equally forceful, terrifying and imposing - and funny.

As for other questions about Shanley's work as director, I don't think it is my place to "grade" his efforts (I leave that nonsense to pop culture magazines), but it is simple, unfussy, generally clean and direct, without calling attention to itself. Since Shanley grew up in the Bronx at the time Doubt is set, he also knows the neighborhood and the look of the film feels right in its production design and attention to detail.

Regarding the other characters that were in an early screenplay, apart from a few shots of William London (the one who "would set his foot on fire" for a day out of school) and a boy who is sent to see Aloysius after talking out in class, there is no material in the cut I saw examining the "mental growth" of the other boys.

The movie ends as the play did. I think the film is a much better translation than either The History Boys or Proof. The quality of all of the acting is very high and I had mentioned earlier that I think Streep's performances stands with her finest work.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is Frank Miller's "The Spirit" in trouble?

This reporter seems to think so after witnessing the film's discussion panel at Comic-Con 2008...

Frank Miller's "The Spirit," is officially in trouble. The film, which sport the same "Sin City" visuals and aesthetics for almost no good reason (The original comic by Will Eisner has a much different take with color and none of that stark, black and white look Miller adores).

Geeks will turn on you if you don't deliver the goods, and it appears that mostly everyone was grossly underwhelmed from the Comic-Con panel and what footage was shown. Not a good sign considering this is Frank Miller's directorial debut solo (no Robert Rodriguez to guide him) and the film comes out in December. If you can't build buzz at Comic-Con, five months out before release, you could be fucked. Does this speak to the idea that comic-book films have reached their inevitable tipping point? Reiko Takara, our correspondent in the field breaks it down:

"The Spirit" was supposed one of the most hotly anticipated movies going into Comic Con 2008 but it was quickly eclipsed on the Convention Center floor by the buzz around "The Watchmen." After attending The Spirit panel which featured, Frank Miller, Samuel L. Jackson, Jaime King, Gabriel Macht and producer, Debra Del Prete (Eva Mendes was also supposed to attend but was stuck on the set of the 'Bad Lieutenant'; who knows where Scarlett Johansson was), I don't think anyone left with a different sentiment. In fact, a third of the way thru, a large exodus seemed to head towards the exits. Miller showcased three clips from the movie, a romantic sequence between Gabriel Macht's The Spirit and Sarah Paulson's Ellen Dolan, one underwater gun scene with Eva Mendes' Sand Saref and a "clash of the titans" sequence between The Spirit and The Octopus played by Samuel L. Jackson where the two characters battle in the mud with the scene ending with The Octopus hitting The Spirit over the head with a toilet and the line, "Come on! Toilets are always funny." Really, always? Not in this case.

Although Del Prete, was clear to say it wasn't "campy," the clips' dialogue seemed unintentionally funny. The scenes previewed were heavily in the vein of the sleek, tech heavy work Miller did on "Sin City" with glossy black & white, grays and hints of red. This look they called "nevertime" which included mostly '40s and '50s references but with the presence of cell phones. When Miller was later asked about the special effects in another panel he was quick (for the reserved Miller) to explain that you need to "use every medium for their advantages. Every form has to be embraced for what it can do. You have to remember, I have been writing "boom" to explain an explosion..."

One thing is clear coming out of Comic Con, "The Watchmen" is still the one to watch for the geek set and their messiah, Kevin Smith is spreading the word, who during a panel with both Miller and Zack Synder, kept raving about "The Watchmen" trailer and asking them to play it, even asking Synder to act it out if they didn't have video. Even people like Slashfilm who normally adore most comic-book films called what they saw an "atrocity." If it's constituency doesn't even like it... Man, the studios should definitely be paying attention here. This one needs a major life raft or overhaul if at all possible. One of the film's prime mistakes in our mind was hiring Samuel L. Jackson, he practically ruins every movie these days and has seriously fallen from grace in the last 10 years.

Keira Knightley in The Duchess: The polarizing performance of the year?

While it's quite routine for big "Oscar-bait" films to cause sharp divisions among critics/audiences, it's not quite as often that the same happens for performances. This makes Keira Knightley's performance in September's "The Duchess" something of an oddity. For a while, early word of mouth had been solid, yet yesterday two new reviews of the movie hit, and they weren't fans of either the movie or Knightley:

"Keira Knightley acquits herself capably, though it's not much of a stretch or progression following on from her strong performance in Atonement. "

"Production values are sumptuous, but the narrative is mind-numbingly predictable. You've seen the trailer, you've seen the film. The supporting perfs are okay. It's always great to see Charlotte Rampling, but Dominic Cooper has a serious case of the David Beckhams. Looks great, and then he opens his mouth.

"It'll make money. Women and girls will probably dig it. But anyone who has the film on their Oscar charts needs to arrange a revision, aside, perhaps, for the pretty costumes."

-- from Hollywood

''The clinical approach to the casting is also being replicated in the drive to get Knightley an Oscar nomination for the performance. It would be entirely unmerited, considering that this is a below-par turn from the actress..."

- from The Independent

And then, to add to the confusion, a friend of mine informs me that her friend (who is involved with the upcoming Toronto Film Festival) told her that Knightley is fantastic. Interesting to see how bitter sides will both get when the movie goes into wide release on September 12th...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just when I thought I had them all covered.....

I had a feeling I was forgetting something in my Top-10-Which-Was-Actually-13 list of Fall movies to see. So, here's the last one:

#14: The Duchess

Keira Knightley goes to another period piece without director Joe Wright. Ironically, early buzz is claiming that THIS is going to be the performance that makes people think of her as a serious dramatic actress. The fact that she'll be facing off against Ralph Fiennes is an additional plus.

Excitement Level: Good

Quick thoughts on "Pineapple Express"

- not as funny as all the hype has made it out to be.

- really drags in some spots.

- rarely laugh out loud funny, but still amusing.

- James Franco is actually really good...much better than when he's whining up a storm in Spiderman.

- who knows...maybe this actually is better if you're high...

Grade; C+

Nominations: none

Number of 2008 films seen: 26

Pick up a copy of "The Road", won't you?

So I just finished this novel a few days ago, and to be blunt: it's pretty f***ing amazing. McCarthy's prose is elegant, lean, and haunting, with a truly cinematic quality, and a moving story at its center. It also goes by extremely quickly (make sure you have plenty of time when you first pick it up; you'll have trouble putting it down), almost too quickly. There's not really much else to say other than that this is a stunning work of fiction that should hook even those who don't like to read (it also closes with one of the most beautiful paragraphs I've ever read). Why are you still reading this? Go to Barnes and Noble. NOW.

I need to see this movie....

This is the first time I'm interested in any movie that has Paris Hilton in it. And holy crap, Sarah Brightman is all psycho goth-opera. It's Moulin Rouge meets.....I don't know...something futuristic and bleak (Blade Runner maybe?).

In case you've forgotten about this little piece of insanity...

Now you'll have it painfully etched into your brain for all eternity:

Say a prayer for Helena Bonham Carter...

What a terrible thing to happen to someone so nice....

Actress Helena Bonham Carter is in mourning after four members of her family were killed in a horrific road accident.

Bonham Carter's relatives were on holiday in South Africa when a minibus they were travelling in spun out of control and flipped over after a tyre burst.

The Harry Potter star's cousin Fiona Bonham Carter, 51, escaped with a broken shoulder. But Fiona's son Marcus Egerton-Warburton, 14, her mother Brenda, 74, and stepfather Francis Kirkwood, 75, all died.

Fiona's sister-in-law Kay Boardman, 54, also perished in the crash, in a remote area six hours' drive from Johannesburg. The family was on a safari holiday when the tragedy happened on Wednesday.

"Hamlet 2" - REVIEW

Just when you thought Hollywood couldn't sink any lower, they went and made a sequel to, of all things, Hamlet, often considered the greatest play in the English language. That's what most would think after hearing such a blunt title, but this is actually something wildly different (though yes, there is a Hamlet 2). When failed actor turned worse drama teacher Dana Marschz (British icon Steve Coogan, going full on American here) learns that his (pathetic) drama department at a Tucson, Arizona high school is being shut down, he thinks it's the last straw. His sarcastic wife (funny but underused Catherine Keener) has fallen off the wagon again, he's near broke, and his adaptations of Hollywood blockbusters/Oscar winners are continually panned by his school's theater critic (most recently: Erin Brokovich). Along with that, his new drama class for the trimester is filled with the types of ethnic minorities that one would normally expect to find in any inspirational teacher movies (though there are two ULTRA white theater dorks). In his last ditch attempt Dana does the unthinkable: he writes a sequel to Hamlet. From this point on, the movie (divided into 5 acts) chronicles the ups and downs of the seemingly doomed production of one of the most outrageous plays ever written (Satan French kissing the President, anyone?). Though it's a pretty hilarious idea in concept, the execution leaves a little to be desired. Coogan is hilarious as Dana, even when the script undermines his efforts with overdoses of the same gags (watching Dana travel via rollerskates gets old really quickly). However, the biggest problem that plagues Hamlet 2 is that, despite it's best intentions, a number of gags just seem to fall flat, even though as I sat in the theater I thought "wait...this should be funny...why isn't it???". At the end of the film in particular, the script's attempts to poke fun at religious fundamentalists, it feels uneven, and at times too obvious. Perhaps the script's biggest crime is that it wastes Amy Poehler as Dana's ACLU lawyer, along with most of the supporting cast. However, if there's one part of Hamlet 2 that doesn't underwhelm (aside from Coogan), it's the actual production of Hamlet 2, which occupies the last 20 minutes of the movie; it's outrageous, shocking (a song titled "Raped in the Face"), bizarre, and ultimately leaves you wishing that someone would actually stage this show in real life.

Grade: B-

Nominations: Coogan is the only one who comes close...other than that...: Best Original Song - Rock Me Sexy Jesus(#1 WINNER), Best Original Song - Raped in the Face(#4)

Number of 2008 films seen: 25

Friday, August 22, 2008

Trailer for Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" hits the web...

This could actually be really good. I've heard Langella was amazing in the stage version, and the supporting cast (namely The Queen's Michael Sheen as David Frost) is really good. The only reason that I'm worried is that it can be difficult to make the transition from stage to screen. I just hope it doesn't end up like that wretched adaptation of The History Boys from a few years ago...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sony moves "Quantum of Solace" back a week...

dammit...this whole Harry Potter switch is causing all sorts of trouble (although this means I'll get to see Quantum and Australia back-to-back in one weekend...)...

Harry split the scene, so 007 moved in for the kill.

Sony on Thursday moved its next James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace," back one week to November 14. That move is closely tied to the departure of Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" from the November 21 release berth.

Just last week, the sixth "Potter" film newly planted its domestic flag on July 17, as executives sought to fill a hole in Warners' summer 2009 slate. The most immediate response to that move was Summit Entertainment's decision to move its youth-targeted vampire film "Twilight" up three weeks into the vacated "Potter" slot.

Now Sony executives -- who had been wishing for a release date closer to Thanksgiving and the holiday boxoffice season for their next Bond release -- have taken "Solace" to a suddenly much more attractive slot. Bond's previous perch, on November 7, was intended to maximize pre-"Potter" playtime.

Scratch that worry.

"'Harry Potter' moving out gave us an opportunity to get a little closer to the holidays, which has always been the traditional Bond spot," Sony worldwide marketing and distribution chairman Jeff Blake said. "Bond has a really good history of not only playing through Thanksgiving but going deep into the Christmas holidays."

Sony unspooled the last Bond film, the Daniel Craig-starring "Casino Royale," on November 17, 2006, and it was still playing in about 1,100 theaters between Christmas and New Year's, Blake noted.

Sony holds worldwide theatrical rights to the Eon-produced Bond franchise, with longtime Bond distributor MGM controlling all post-theatrical windows.

Three other domestic wide releases are set for November 14 -- Fox's Baz Luhrmann-helmed adventure "Australia," starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman; the MGM comedy "Soul Men," toplined by Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac; and Overture's Freddy Rodriguez-starring "Nothing Like the Holidays."

Universal's comedy "Role Models," with Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, also had been set for November 14. But just a few hours after word spread of Sony's move with its Bond film, Universal moved the comedy up one week to November 7, where the Paramount-distributed DreamWorks Animation sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" now represents its sole wide-release rival.

Besides "Twilight," two other domestic wide releases are set for November 21. Those include "Bolt" from Disney -- which always has a big release bowing over the Turkey Day play period -- and DreamWorks/Paramount's "The Soloist," a drama about the relationship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) and a violin-playing homeless man (Jamie Foxx).

Bond films tend to get an earlier jump in the U.K., and "Solace" will receive its world premiere October 29 in London, two days before its U.K. opening.

"Prince William and Prince Harry will attend the world premiere," Sony said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Carol Channing is better than you

from a 1985 tv movie version of "Alice in Wonderland". It's muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetttttteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer....

More "W" posters

what's ironic is that these are being posted in Denver, the site of this year's Democratic Convention.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Burn After Reading" International trailer

Not much new stuff, but it's still cool. September 12th can't get here soon enough.

Poster for "Synechdoche, New York"

simple, yet still very different (in a very good way).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pictures from Pedro Almodovar's "Dying Animal"

E1F2B7638482C3AC703BC160935E1B3F Unfortunately the site where I got these is is Russian, so I have no idea what the hell this movie is about. The only reason I'm excited is that Penelope Cruz's last collaboration was "Volver", which I loved. Almodovar in general has a good touch with women, so expect not just strong performances from Cruz, but from the rest of the cast as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New "Australia" screenshot

What's odd about this is that it appeared in a slide show of previously released pictures. How in the hell has this one screen shot slipped by for so long? Regardless, it's a really cool picture (nice to see that the actors get down and dirty here as opposed to Moulin Rouge where everyone looked perfect the entire time):

New(ish) trailer for "Che: El Argentino"

There aren't any subtitles, but it's still pretty powerful. The first half is footage that's been shown before, but the second half packs in a lot of new stuff (ie: massive train derailment).

New poster for "W"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Australia" finally gets some (teaser) posters

Even though they're basically just super color saturated versions of previous pictures (with a nice logo in the corner, kudos), they're a million times better than the boring black poster with the title in the center.

Today in bizarre casting...

Mike Myers has been recruited by Quentin Tarantino to join the ensemble cast of "Inglorious Bastards," the Tarantino-scripted pic that the Weinstein Co. and Universal will put into production Oct. 13 in Germany.

Myers will play British Gen. Ed Fenech, a military mastermind who takes part in hatching a plot to wipe out Nazi leaders.

Brad Pitt recently committed to star in the film, along with Eli Roth, and Tarantino is also courting Simon Pegg, Nastassja Kinski, David Krumholtz and B.J. Novak.

"Twilight" takes over weekend vacated by Half Blood Prince

Looks like the bizarre postponement of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has caused yet another schedule changing frenzy in Hollywood. In addition to Disney's animated "Bolt" being bumped back to Friday November 21st, "Twilight" the (unbelievably stupid looking) adaptation of Stephanie Meyers' vampire teen novel has been pushed back to the same weekend. No offense to Twilight's legions of screaming teen girl fans, but I still hope that this movie completely tanks. Even some of the fans must be troubled by the cheese-tastic trailer.....

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" - REVIEW

For years Woody Allen made it his mission to make many of his films love letters to his favorite city: Manhattan. Even when he started losing his touch in the late 80s and most of the 90s (and pretty much all of this decade too), he mostly carried on his love affair with New York. Then, for whatever reason he decided to do a little cinematic globetrotting; to try and fall in love with cities abroad and dedicate films to them. Match Point and Scoop went out to London, as did Cassandra's Dream, but none of those managed to ignite much of a romantic spark between Allen and Europe. However, it seems that in Spain, specifically Barcelona, that Mr. Allen has found his European muse. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though perhaps not among Allen's top tier work, is without a doubt his most pleasurable work in YEARS, and that's saying something. Vicky (lovely Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johannson) are two best friends who take a trip to Barcelona for the summer. They stay with a family friend of Vicky's (Patricia Clarkson) to enjoy the sights, and do a little studying for their degrees. However, everything changes when care free artist Juan Antonio (a low key Javier Bardem) whisks them off (much to Vicky's dismay) on a four day weekend in a small town in Spain. I won't reveal much more of the plot, but let's just say that Vicky and Cristina have wildly different views on love. Vicky (already engaged) is a big fan of finding comittment, while Cristina is more of a free spirit who isn't quite sure of what she wants; all she knows is what she doesn't want. The three become engaged in a semi love triangle and dine at charming restaurants, and listen to seductive performances of Spanish guitar pieces in candle-lit gardens filled with bouganvilla. While Juan Antonio seduces the two ladies, Allen begins to seduce the audience, with golden shots of Spain accompanied but wonderful Spanish guitar. All of it pratically doubles as a video brochure for Spain, which is shot lovingly in a comforting golden glow (it's as if someone went and dunked the film in a jar of honey). However, there's still one final piece of the puzzle; Juan Antonio's unstable ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Now, the whole time the main trio have been mostly laid back and calm. It becomes Cruz's job to inject the movie with a few volts of electricity, and she does it marvelously. Every minute she's on screen (which regretfully, isn't much) is delightful, wacky, and electrifying; though she arrives quite late into the film, Cruz still manages to run away with the show and simultaneously make the two American girls look plain by comparison (crazy rarely looks this beautiful). However, even though Allen obviously had the most fun with Cruz's role, he still manages to fully develop all of his characters, and bring that out in the central trio of actors. Cristina finds herself falling for Juan Antonio AND Maria Elena, while Vicky finds herself inexplicably moved by the sounds of a Spanish guitar, and the audience gets to feel that as it plays out across the actors' faces on screen. It's not perfect though. The narrator, though not annoying as a concept, falters due to the bland and stilted way in which he recites his lines; it feels out of place against the honey colored frames on screen. Also, there are times when Allen's dialogue starts to become a tad clunky and threatens to become like that of Match Point. However, the script has plenty more successes, mostly in how fully drawn the characters are (as I kind of said before); perhaps the most notable little inside joke the script plays is it's spoof of, to an extent, Penelope Cruz herself. Cruz at first struggled to make much a splash in English speaking roles, and was often criticized for it. It seems to be no coincidence that Bardem's Juan Antonio is constantly urging Maria Elena, "please you must speak English! She [Cristina] can't understand you! You must speak English while she is around!" And there's another thing the script does right; it lives up to its promise to make us laugh. Though there are some dark undertones (Maria Elena is suicidal), they are handled in a way that mostly elicits laughs, and some of them are riotous (a scene where someone is almost killed is juxtaposed with the movie's funniest line). It's probably a good thing that these darker issues are left relatively unexplored, because they would detract from the movie's secondary purpose: to be a love letter to Barcelona. And no one wants to read a love letter about suicide and bad marriages...

Grade: B+/A-

Nominations: Best Picture(#5), Best Director - Woody Allen(#5), Best Actress - Rebecca Hall(#2), Best Supporting Actress - Penelope Cruz(#1 WINNER), Best Original Screenplay(#3)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 24

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
3. The Fall
4. In Bruges
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
6. Tropic Thunder
7. Iron Man
8. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
9. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
10. Be Kind Rewind

Burn After Reading - Meet the characters featurette


Fall Movie Preview: The 10 to Watch

With the summer movie season finally reaching its end (and considering that the only one movie on my summer preview list remains unreleased--Hamlet 2), it's time for Hollywood to enter its fall movie season, which also doubles as the starting line for the Oscar race *insert dramatic music here*. However, seeing as there are plenty of films-of-interest set to arrive in late November-December alone, this "Fall" preview will extend from September all the way through the middle of November. Though I usually try to keep these lists to 10 movies, I couldn't deny that there were a handful more films that have fallen on my radar, so this list will go up to 13.

Special thanks-in-advance to Entertainment Weekly for reminding me of a number of movies that I had forgotten about over the course of the summer....

13. Eagle Eye - I feel like something of a hypocrite for wanting to see this after I wrote several times that I was sick of having Shia Labeouf forced down my throat by Hollywood. In spite of this, LaBeouf's next project, titled "Eagle Eye" has caught my eye. The story (which reteams Labeouf with his "Disturbia" director DJ Caruso) centers on a young man who one day returns to his apartment only to find it filled with guns; lots and lots of guns. He then picks up a cell phone, where he hears a voice telling him that the FBI will arrive at his house in 30 seconds. As Jerry protests and claims that, "but...none of this is mine!" sure enough, a SWAT team bursts into his house and arrests him. During his arrest however, he gets broken out again, and must now start taking seemingly ludicrous (and life threatening) instructions from a mysterious shadow group. Meanwhile, a single mother (rising star Michelle Monaghan) finds her son has been kidnapped, and receives a call to enter an empty parked car and to, "insert the keys and start driving" from the same shadow group. All the while the FBI remains hot on the trails of both Jerry and Rachel, they find themselves potentially involved in something much bigger than just personal torment. Though parts of the trailer seem like standard action-thriller fare, I'm curious to see how the whole story plays out (there are scenes in the new trailer set near an electrical grid that's eerily remniscent of the conclusion of "Se7en").

Excitement Level: Solid

12. W - As much as my sixth sense is telling me that this will fail, I can't deny that I really want to see this movie. With a stellar (though not always appropriate) cast, this has plenty of potential. My greatest worry, though, is that Oliver Stone seems to have rushed the project just to get it out in time for election year. And then there's the issue of tone; is it a serious drama? a spoof? a Charlie Wilson's War-esque satire? Even after having read a draft of the script, I still can't tell what Stone and company are aiming for with this project. The only thing that is certain is that the movie is going to sidestep a lot of Bush's presidency, and focus more on his rise to power and his (supposedly) strained relationship with Bush Sr. Make up your mind Oliver; are you with us, or against us? (haha...see what I did there?)Excitment Level: Solid

11. Zack and Miri Make a Porno - yup, that's actually the title of what is sure to be THE raunchiiest movie both the fall season and the whole year (it just recently received an NC-17 rating). When roomates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (wonderful but often overlooked Elizabeth Banks) find themselves short on cash, they try to find something they can do that will make them lots of money, and fast; something cheap, easy, and requiring little in the way of real talent. So of course, they settle on making a porn film. Rogen is now an established comedic force in Hollywood after last year, and Banks is a gifted comedic actress who could finally find a breakout LEADING role in a comedy (Meet Dave doesn't count). An early trailer for the film (filled with tons of naughty adjectives) hit the internet for a short period of time, and promised to elicit gales of laughter from audiences (well...those old enough to actually buy a ticket). Though an NC-17 rating is often a kiss of death for box office returns, it does mean one thing; the film makes didn't have to cut out the film's raunchiest dialogue. Let's just the actual movie itself if better than the one being made by the characters in the movie....

Excitment Level: Good

10. Rachel Getting Married - As I said before, this is basically what would happen if the director of The Silence of the Lambs directed Margot at the Wedding, and traded out Nicole Kidman for Anne Hathaway (ie: someone still looking to prove herself as a strong dramatic actress). Rachel (Mad Men's Rosemarie Dewitt) is all set to be married in a low key wedding at her family's house. All the family will be there, and it'll be great! Well, except that all of the family includes big sister Kym (Hathaway) who, to put it mildly, has some problems. Though the whole "let's shoot this in grainy digital film to make it look even more like an indie film" schtick is starting to get old, this on still holds plenty of promise, especially from Hathaway. Even if the project as a whole sinks, Hathaway has generated plenty of buzz for herself; if she can live up to that buzz, expect at least a handful of accolades for this rising talent.Excitement Level: Good

9. Happy-Go-Lucky - Speaking of breakout performances, if there's one indie flick that's generated monumental amounts of buzz for its leading lady, it's Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. Taking a break from such heavy fare as Vera Drake, Leigh instead presents us with a comedy touted as both hilariously funny and delightfully life-affirming and charming. And of course there's the leading lady for whom all that buzz has been stirred up for: unknown Sally Hawkins, in the role of Poppy, a British school teacher who can see the good side of any situation. Though a small minority have found Poppy to be more irritating that charming, there's something irresistable about Hawkins, even in what little I've seen (just the trailer). Also, Mike Leigh has a habit of drawing strong performances from his female leads (again, Vera Drake and Imelda Staunton).

Excitement Level: Good

8. Synechdoche, New York - In this directorial debut, Charlie Kaufman (writer of Eternal Sunshine) presents what is sure to be the most original movie of the year. A depressed playwright (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) stages his new play withing a life-size reconstruction of New York City. Expecting plenty of mind warping, as well as strong performances from the talented cast, which besides Hoffman includes Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.Excitement Level: Very Good

7. Changeling - Though I'm not the biggest fan of Angelina Jolie in heavy dramatic roles, the fact that this is directed by Clint Eastwood is a major draw. The story centers on a woman in 1930s LA who greets her son on his return from....boarding school/the army (I have no idea which one it is) only to suspect that he isn't really her son. Her investigation leads her into a web of corruption and deception within the LA Police Department. With goreous period details and Eastwood's firm hand at the camera, this has the potential to be this decade's "LA Confidential", and that's quite an accomplishment. The only thing that's kept me from being truly ecstatic about this movie is the absolute lack of marketing for it. It opens in early October, and not a single damn trailer has arrived (and there are barely any screenshots from the movie).Excitement Level: Very Good

6. Body of Lies - Ridley Scott swung and missed last year with American Gangster, so now he's back this year to try and hit another homerun (okay, that's harsh. Gangster was very entertaining, but it wasn't the Oscar smorgasbord that everyone wanted it to be). Having finally seen the seconds (and much better) trailer, this one is starting to look like something that could rise above the realm of "well made popcorn entertainment" and into the realm of "high caliber film making worthy of recognition". Russel Crowe looks like he's in top form as a CIA agent who has more than a few hidden motives. The only thing that really worries me is Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems like he's once again doing his pouty little bitch routine. gets OLD.

Excitment Level: Very Good

5. Appaloosa - though this just recently came to my attention, the trailer and formidable cast are more than eye catching. A dark, gritty western in the vein of 3:10 to Yuma and Unforgiven, Appaloosa looks like it will provide some solid, old fashioned drama and thrills. That, and Renee Zellweger might finally be in a good movie again!Excitment Level: High

4. The Road - Another Viggo Mortensen starrer (the other being Appaloosa), this one comes from Cormac McCarthy's highly praised 2006 novel of the same name (which I hope to start reading within a few days). In a post apocalyptic future, a dying man (Mortensen) must try to transport his young son to safety while evading bands of murderers and vagabonds. Mortensen proved last year that he's truly a powerhouse actor, and this looks like it could be the leading role that truly catapults him onto the A-list. The rest of the cast is filled with huge talent in the forms of Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, and Robert Duvall, and the book has often been praised as McCarthy's most profound and emotional work. The only thing that worries me is that director John Hillcoat is relatively inexperienced, and after the Coen brothers did such a masterful job adapting McCarthy last year, it seems a shame that they couldn't have worked their magic on this McCarthy novel as well.

Excitment Level: High

3. 007: Quantum of Solace - Much like Batman Begins, Casino Royale proved to be a brilliant way of resurrecting a film franchise that had started to wear out its welcome. And, much like Begins, Casino Royale took away much of the glamour and injected a healthy dose of grittiness, making it one of the best, (if not THE best) Bond flicks to date. Now that same grittiness is back, in the first ever true sequel-Bond film. Still reeling from the death of Vesper Lynd (a sure to be sorely missed Eva Green, who was one of the best Bond girls ever), Bond sets out (against the order of MI6 boss M) to track down the organization responsible for her death. Headed by the mysterious Dominic Greene (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Mathieu Amalric), this shadow group is as strange as Greene himself; though it sports no outward and obvious traits of evil, the schemes that lie underneath are unbelievably sinister). Not to sound shallow though, but the only thing that concerns me are the two new Bond girls; no they aren't ugly, but there's something oddly lacking in their beauty that leaves them seeming somewhat uninteresting (although anyone having to follow up behind the gorgeous Eva Green is sure to face that challenge).Excitement Level: Very High

2. Australia - If there was anyone who could possibly prove up to the task of resurrecting the David-Lean-on-location-epic, it's Baz "Budget Be Damned" Luhrmann, the eccentric mad man behind one of my favorite movies ever, Moulin Rouge. The story (which unlike Moulin Rouge, is quite solid and unique) follows the uptight Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) who leaves England to confront her unfaithful husband who owns a ranch the size of Maryland back Down Under. One thing leads to another, and Ashley ends up having to transport thousands of cattle along the eccentric and harsh terrain of Australia in order to keep it out of the clutches of schemeing cattle barons. She's assisted by an outlaw, known solely as The Drover (Hugh Jackman). At first the two clash wildly, but slowly begin to fall for each other. And then there's still the looming threat of the Japanese sweeping the south pacific in WWII. Though I love all the talent involved (Luhrmann seems to have done a magnificent job of breaking the stereotype that Australia is just a giant desert), what excites me the most is the amount of thought and PASSION that everyone seems to have for the project. All of those behind-the-scenes features I've been posting have continually wowed me with the way Lurhmann and crew talk about the thought process that has gone into each aspect of filmmaking (my favorite being the way in which costumes would be used as outer manifestations of the characters' internal feelings). The actors too seem to have nothing but praise for the project. Jackman has said that there will never be a movie like this anytime soon, and Kidman said it was easily the most fun she'd ever had making a movie, and that she thrived in the rough on location shoots. And when actors profess love for a project so sincerely, it's almost always a sure sign that something wonderful is on its way to the cinemas for audiences to enjoy. This is going to (accoring to Baz) be the "big" movie of the year: big adventure, big action, big romance, big comedy, big thrills, and even big tragedy. Doubters be damned; this looks like a must-see in my eyes.Excitement Level: Ridiculously High

1. Burn After Reading - After the bleak masterpiece that was No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers return with this screwball comedy. When a couple of gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find a valuble CD containing CIA files, they decide to black mail the agent (John Malkovich). Getting thrown into the mix are the agent's unfaithful wife (Tilda Swinton) and her womanizing lover (George Clooney). The trailer (well...the R-rated one at least) left me in stitches, mostly because of the goof-tastic performance by Brad Pitt. Everyone else seems to be bringing their A-game as well (I can't wait to see McDormand working with the Coens's such a brilliant match) and it's cool to see the Coens add the likes of Pitt and Swinton to the cast (with whom they've never worked before). Even though I doubt it will be as good as No Country, the entire tone of the movie feels just right, and the cast just seems too good to disappoint.

Excitement Level: Insanely High