Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Australia - REVIEW

One of the easiest observations one can make about "Australia" is that they don't quite make them like this any more. "Australia" is above all things, old fashioned (lines between good and evil are drawn clearly, the bad guy has no redeeming qualities, etc...) and un-apologetically so. It is truly the epitome of the "sweeping" romance genre that has just about died out, where things are painted in broad strokes, and where the plot continues to stretch on and on, and you sometimes wish that it would keep going. Granted, it's not up to par with Baz Luhrmann's musical acid-trip, "Moulin Rouge!", but it has its share of brilliance, albeit in a less over-the-top/theatrical manner. Many scenes have a layered look, where backgrounds look less real than foregrounds, so as to create a sort of fairy-tale-pop-up-book look. At times it can be a little distracting, especially in a heart-pounding cattle stampede in the first act, but luckily it never completely derails the movie. At its center is the relationship between English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman), ranchhand The Drover (Jackman), and a mysterious aboriginee boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters, making a lovely acting debut). Predictably, Drover and Sarah start off quarreling (some of it with hilarious results), but eventually begin to fall for each other. Sounds predictable enough, right? And this is where the magic of Mr. Luhrmann comes into play. Just like with "Moulin Rouge", Mr. Luhrmann takes the type of story that we've seen done a million times, and manages to tell it in a refreshing way that stands out. Perhaps most unique (and most charming) is the way that "The Wizard of Oz" is woven into the plot, for results ranging from comical (Sarah trying to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to Nullah) to charming (Nullah actually getting to see "Oz") to haunting (a fusion of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Ave Maria"). If it sounds corny, it surprisingly isn't, and the little references and musical flourishes dedicated to "The Wizard of Oz" don't feel forced, but rather flow seamlessly with the story. Yet perhaps the biggest surprise in all of "Australia" is its sense of humor. The first third of the film is where 95% of the humor is, and some of it is gold. Watch out for a purposefully over-the-top scene with Lady Ashley getting overly excited about the site of kangaroos, that takes a rather odd turn (and one that gives Kidman the chance to tap into her often neglected comedic prowess). Though this is neither her best performance nor the most memorable character in her career, Kidman still manages to turn a cardboard cut out of a character and make Lady Ashley a living, breathing, person. Jackman, though not quite as nuanced, proves that he's one of the few actors out there who can pull off the rough-hewn leading man role with plenty of charisma and charm, while Walters exudes charm and innocence as Nullah. David Wenham makes good as the loathsome villain, along with David Gulpilil as an old mystic who guides Nullah on his spiritual journey from afar. Cinematography, while not as beautifully oversaturated as "Moulin Rouge", is still wonderful and manages to capture the Outback's more rugged beauty, while costumes and sets look grand. Tying it all together is David Hirschfelder's score, which pounds away to great effect, even bringing in a screeching choir during the brief-but-spectacular Darwin bombing sequence. Part opposites-attract love story, part western adventure, part spiritual fairy tale, and part somber war tale, "Australia" was a truly gargantuan undertaking for a director who has previously relied on stories confined to a smaller stage. Australia the continent provides Luhrmann with the biggest stage possible, and its history, its culture, its people, and, well, its actors, all serve him beautifully, and Mr. Luhrmann proves that he is the cinematic wizard of that strange and beautiful continent down under.

Grade: A

Nominations: Best Picture(#2), Best Director - Baz Luhrmann(#2), Best Actor - Hugh Jackman(#3), Best Actress - Nicole Kidman(#2), Best Supporting Actor - Brandon Walters(#4), Best Original Screenplay(#1 WINNER), Best Editing(#2), Best Cinematography(#1 WINNER), Best Art Direction(#1 WINNER), Best Costume Design(#1 WINNER), Best Original Score - David Hirshfelder(#1 WINNER), Best Original Song - The Drover by Elton John(#4), Best Makeup(#1 WINNER), Best Visual Effects(#3), Best Sound Editing(#2), Best Sound Mixing(#2)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 42

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
2. Australia
4. In Bruges
5. Burn After Reading
6. The Fall
7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
8. I've Loved You So Long
9. The Duchess
10. Rachel Getting Married

New pictures from "Public Enemies" (2009) with Christian Bale and Johnny Depp

The film, about real life crime lord John Dillenger, opens this coming summer, and also stars Oscar Winner Marion Cotillard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I've Loved You So Long: REVIEW

To quote Houston Chronicle film critic Amy Biancolli, "this [2008] has been an extraordinary year for middle-aged women. First there was Melissa Leo in Frozen River, and now there' s Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long". I've Loved You So Long is a beautifully delicate little film that explores the struggle of one woman's attempt at re-entering normal life (and reconnecting with her family) after 15 years in prison. Anchoring what could have been another so-boring-you-thought-it-was-on-life-support-story are Kristin Scott Thomas as the main character (Juliette), and Elsa Zylberstein as her younger sister Lea, who both give excellent performances. Though it all starts off quite low key, the surprisingly rich story unfolds gradually, and it works, save for a heartbreaking-yet-truncated ending. To go indepth would threaten to reveal too much, and this is a movie that needs to be fully discovered by the viewer, so I'll have to give my compliments in broad strokes. Scott Thomas is in top form, with her face not as youthful as in "The English Patient", but still just as beautiful, makes Juliette a compelling character, who we are given chance to sympathize with before we find out everything that's been going on. Aside from the truncated ending, the film also suffers at times from trying too hard; just about every character, major or minor (and there are quite a few) has dealt with some sort of enormous physical tragedy, which almost reaches the point of being too much when we learn the fate of a Muslim doctor's first wife and child. But I better stop there...for I might reveal too much. It's best that you see for yourself...

Grade: B+

Nominations: Best Actress - Kristin Scott Thomas(#2), Best Supporting Actress - Elsa Zylberstein(#2), Best Original Screenplay(#5), Best Foreign Language Film - France(#1 WINNER)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 41

Top 10 of 2008:
1. The Dark Knight
3. In Bruges
4. Burn After Reading
5. The Fall
6. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
7. The Duchess
8. I've Loved You So Long
9. Rachel Getting Married
10. Tropic Thunder

New poster for "The Reader"

It's not a bad poster, but I think it doesn't represent the story properly. Though there is a steamy affair at the center of "The Reader", it's hardly "Notes on a Scandal: Holocaust Edition". This poster gives the film too much of a Gossip-Girl-In-Nazi-Germany look...

Trailer for "The International" starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts

Looks like a lot of fun.

New TV spot for "The Spirit"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

3 new concept art pictures from James Cameron's "Avatar"(2009)

Winter movie preview: 14 worth your consideration

With a little over a month left in 2008, it would seem that there wouldn't be too many reasons to run off to the theater, but in truth, there's plenty to see. From Holocaust dramas, troubled marriages, child molestation, aliens, and an animated documentary, here are the films worth watching for the remainder of the year (note: The reason that #10 is on this list and not Australia, which opens on the same day, is that I put Australia in the previous "season preview" post).

14. Nothing But the Truth: Legal dramas are a tricky sub genre to pull off, but when done right (Primal Fear, Michael Clayton), the results are riveting. This one stars Kate Beckinsdale as a reporter who, against the wishes of many others, publishes a shocking, but true (apparently) article that outs a government agent. Of course, there's much more than meets the eye, and the trailer promises to have a number of twists as we uncover what is really going on in this deceptively simple case. The Departed's Vera Farmiga and Oscar Nominees Matt Dillon and Alan Alda also star.

Anticipation Meter: 6/10

13. The Day the Earth Stood Still: Many a film snob would quickly dismiss this as further proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas, and to an extent, this remake is. However, if handled correctly, this remake of the 1950s sci-fi classic could be a great piece of popcorn entertainment. With great special effects, and a (mostly) good cast (Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, and Mad Men's Jon Hamm), there's a lot of potential in this remake. There are only two things that worry me: 1) Keanu Reeves' acting and 2) the possibility that there's a cheesy "take care of the Earth" message shamelessly shoe-horned in there. We'll see...

Anticipation Meter: 6/10

12. Gran Torino: The only reason I'm becoming interested in this Clint Eastwood project is the recent buzz it has garnered from a recent LA screening. That, and GT bears an eerie similarity with Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima": both were preceded by films which everyone expected to scoop up tons of nominations and critics awards, and then sputtered out (Changeling and Flags of our Fathers). If GT has the "Letters" magic charm, then consider this a shoe-in for major awards consideration.

Anticipation Meter: 6/10

11. Revolutionary Road: I proudly count myself as one of the few Oscar watchers who isn't exploding with excitement over this Sam Mendes project. Though it has the potential to be a 1950s-esque version of the fantastic Mendes-helmed "American Beauty", the trailer for RR never fails to leave me cold. I've read a version of the script, and while there is some strong emotional tension, it's certainly not one of the most compelling things I've ever read. In fact, it seems like a very bland version of American Beauty (even though the original novel was written years before that film came out). Troubled marriage between two attractive middle class white people? Check. Infidelity? Check. Slightly off-kilter neighbors with a weird son? Check. Oscar bait? Triple check.

Anticipation Meter: 7/10

10. Milk: Though Gus Van Sant is a wildly uneven director, he did helm one of my all time favorites (To Die For), so I'm willing to give this biopic of openly gay mayor Harvey Milk a chance. Featuring a sure-to-be-compelling central performance from Sean Penn, and boasting a reportedly powerful supporting cast, this one might turn out to be a winner. My only question: who on earth thought that releasing a film about a gay mayor on Thanksgiving Day was a smart idea? Seriously....

Anticipation Meter: 7/10

9. Waltz with Bashir: There are few cinematic combinations stranger than the one in Waltz with Bashir: animation meets documentary. With similar material to last year's lovely "Persepolis" (also animated, but based off of an auto biographical graphic novel), could this foreign language animated feature possibly upset WALL-E's til now unthreatened spot as top contender for the Animated Film Oscar? All early review point to "maybe". Regardless, the unique look and compelling story should still be a strong draw.

Anticipation Meter: 8/10

8. Frost/Nixon: One of several Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptations this year comes from none other than Ron Howard, director of A Beautiful Mind. Featuring original cast members Michael Sheen as David Frost and Tony Winner Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, there's sure to be many intense conversations, but the film will need a little something more if it wants to avoid feeling too stagey. Early reviews have been quite positive, though, and the film also boasts a stellar supporting cast including Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Matthew MacFadyen, and Toby Jones.

Anticipation Meter: 8/10

7. Valkyrie: While I've never been much of a Tom Cruise fan, there's still plenty here to make me excited about this WWII project from director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects). First, there's the story, which is a jaw dropping example of truth being stranger than fiction: a plot to kill Hitler from within his own generals. The recent trailers (especially the one with the nerve-wracking ticking clock noise) seem promising, which is good considering the number of times this film has been delayed. The stellar supporting cast includes Kenneth Branaugh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Eddie Izzard. My only question: why on earth do all of the German characters speak with British accents (save for Cruise, who has a flat American one)?

Anticipation Meter: 8/10

6. Defiance: Another WWII thriller, also based on an incredible true story. Three Jewish brothers help lead a number of Nazi captives to freedom, and lead a mostly undetected life in the middle of the forest. Though Edward Zwick can be hit or miss, he does know how to make an exciting film, and with source material so compelling, I hope that it turns out to be the powerhouse thriller that it has the potential to be. Adding to the prestige are Daniel Craig and Liev "Mr. Naomi Watts" Schrieber as the two elder brothers.

Anticipation Meter: 8/10

5. The Wrestler: I was only mildly excited for Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler", and that was all due to the hype from the Venice Film Festival. However, after finally seeing the trailer AND renting Aronofsky's stunning "Requiem for a Dream" (previously I'd only seen "The Fountain", which was solid, but nothing more), I'm quite excited for this end-of-the-year release. The film stars Mickey Rourke (who is supposed to be phenomenal), Maria Tomei, and Across the Universe's Evan Rachel Wood.

Anticipation Meter: 8.5/10

4. Doubt: It's more than a little irritating when just about every book, play, or movie involving Catholicism HAS to include some pedophilic clergy member. It gets old really, really quickly. So why on earth am I excited about Doubt? Because it's full of ambiguity. The whole crux of the play hinges on the lack of certainty over the charges leveled against a priest at a Catholic school in 1960s New York. Featuring most of the play's rapid fire dialogue, the film is also blessed with three great actors for the key roles: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the accused priest, Amy Adams as the uncertain nun who brings the baseless charges, and Meryl Streep as the icy mother superior determined to have Hoffman stripped of his status (or at least transferred to another parish). Besides, it's usually more fun when stories like these don't spell it all out for you. It's designed to start discussion. That's something quite lacking in today's society: people forced to argue their ideas and also defend them, and defend them well.

Anticipation Meter: 9/10

3. The Reader: Much like "The Wrestler", my excitement spiked after I finally watched Stephen Daldry's previous film "The Hours", and was fascinated by it. With compelling source material, and two fantastic leads (Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes), The Reader has everything it takes to be a slam dunk that could resonante with audiences, critics, and the Academy. What I particularly like is that the film's story is tied to the Holocaust, but in a less conventional way (it won't be like Schindler's List, that's for sure). Instead of focusing on people trapped in concentration camps, The Reader focuses on the way two physically unscathed people are forever changed by what happens.

Anticipation Meter: 9/10

2. Slumdog Millionaire: Though it will surely be drastically different from more intense Danny Boyle films like Sunshine and 28 Days Later, I still have faith that Mr. Boyle can pull this more uplifting story off. The story focuses on a poor Indian teenager on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" who has managed to answer every question (save for the final one) based on his short life. Working in other story threads involving a long lost childhood friend and ethnic genocide, the trailer promises to deliver a tale that is magical, devastating, and joyous all in one package.

Anticipation Meter: 9.5/10

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: This is the only film on this list that I have been excited about from the very beginning, for multiple reasons. First, there's fantastic director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac), the cast (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton), and the story (man ages backwards and has incredible adventures). Think of it as a Tim Buron-esque version of Forrest Gump. With stellar production values, and heartstring-pulling story, and a talented cast (also look out for Taraji P. Henson, who is generating major buzz for her performance as Benjamin's nanny), this one looks like that rare film that can draw huge crowds and get major love from the critics.

Anticipation: 10/10

I'm slowly losing faith in humanity

My only hope is that this will suffer from "High School Musical" syndrome and have a huge opening weekend, where 90% of its audience swarms to it, and then box office intake nose dives. The book and its sequels are, to quote a great critique, "the great literary plague of the 21st century". Great, now His Dark Materials gets to lie broken and unfinished, and this schlock with its infinitely inferior source material is going to have the whole series filmed (the movie only cost about $40 million). To help me express my outrage once again, Mr. Peter O'Toole....

Source: Yahoo Movies

Bigger than the latest Indiana Jones. Bigger than the biggest James Bond. That's how big Twilight was yesterday.

The $37 million vampire flick, expected to have a killer opening day, had a monster opening day, grossing an estimated $35 million, Exhibitor Relations reported. One-fifth of that gross, or $7 million, came from Friday midnight screenings.

The box-office tracking firm said a $75 million Friday-Sunday gross was now a possibility. Going into Friday, $60 million was considered the movie's best-case scenario.

When the counting's done, Twilight's Friday take may rank as the 14th or 15th biggest opener of all time, having surpassed the debuts of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($25 million) and Quantum of Solace ($27 million), to name two recent blockbusters.

Bolt, the animated talking-dog movie, was curbed by Twilight, grossing $7 million on Friday, Exhibitor Relations said.

For a great critique of Stephenie Meyer's literary bubonic plague, click HERE (I want to kiss this person's feet).

Friday, November 21, 2008

One depressing movie week: Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Hours(2002)

Instead of watching some happy, family friendly movie, or standing in line to see the sure-to-be-hideous "Twilight" movie, I chose to curl up with two really depressing (and one REALLY disturbing), but truly fantastic movies from the first half of the decade. Here's a few quick thoughts...

1. The Hours (2002): I never had much of an urge to see this all. Yes, it stars three of my favorite contemporary actresses, and yes, it's the role that one of those favorite actresses won her Oscar for (Ms. Kidman), but it all seemed like an overblown, pretentious piece of feminist fluff (albeit, very dark fluff). At the insistence of a friend, I finally caved and rented it, and I could not have been more blown away. Though the initial half hour or so had me thinking "good, but not great", by the time the three-way story arc came to its conclusion, I was fascinated, and unable to look away. Though I'm not sure whether Kidman is actually a lead or not (Moore and Streep had more screen time than her by a significant margin), it's still a very strong performance, even though it's not my favorite of hers. While many fans of this performance often cite the "train station monologue" as her best moment, I found Kidman's Virginia Woolf (kudos to the makeup department by the way) the most compelling in her opening voice over, where we hear her dictate her good-bye letter to her husband. With her voice lowered an octave, the opening speech is delivered with masterful sublety, that conceals the psyche of a woman who is about to collapse and commit suicide. Moore and Streep are also excellent, though I think Moore might turn out to be the winner here. While, yes, she does have the most expressive performance, there's plenty of nuance as well. And then there's Philip Glass' neverending score, which only ratchets up the emotional tension even further. The only aspect I'm not too keen on is Ed Harris. Though he's certainly a fine actor, I couldn't quite buy him as a tortured artsy type of person. Everytime he endearingly called Streep "Mrs. Dalloway", I began to cringe just a bit. Still, it's certainly not enough to ruin the movie for me, and after several years of strong resistance to this film, I'm glad that I overcame my (purely speculative) prejudices and gave it a watch; those depressing two hours were quite the reward.

Grade: A

Nominations for 2002: Best Picture, Best Director - Stephen Daldry, Best Actress - Nicole Kidman, Best Actress - Meryl Streep, Best Actress - Julianne Moore (WINNER), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score - Philip Glass(WINNER)

2. Requiem for a Dream: When someone tells you "don't do this/see this/touch this/etc...", the natural human inclination is, of course, to go out and do that which you have been told not to. Such is the case with Requiem for a Dream, which several friends ( and even a few adults in their 40s) advised me against, simply because it was "compelling, but too hard to watch". After sitting through the movie, I can understand why they feel that way, but even at its most disturbing, I found Requiem to be so hynotic that I couldn't look away, even when the worst fates befell the four main characters. Shot in a very organic, unique style that only helps it feel more real (and thus, the hallucination scenes all the more bizarre). A character heads outside, and we're treated to a closeup of the sun and hear a sizzling noise, and then we cut back to the actual scene about to take place. It sounds odd on paper, but it works marvelously (and Clint Mansell's strange score only enhances this). I won't give away any of the plot other than that it centers on drug addiction (bring the kids!), but I will say that Ms. Ellen Burstyn was flat out robbed of an Oscar (no offense to Julia Roberts). Her transformation from normal old lady to self destructive, image-obsessed addict is phenomenal and heartbreaking all at once. The supporting cast are also excellent, with Jared Leto as Burstyn's son, Jennifer Connelly (please marry me) as his girlfriend, and most surprisingly, Marlon Wayans, a man best known for comedies like...White Chicks. I feel like I can't say much more before I'd have to start skirting around plot details, but despite the downward spiral the story takes, Requiem is a fascinating and devastating journey, made even more special by it's innovative directing style.

Grade: A

Nominations for 2000: Best Picture(WINNER), Best Director - Darren Aronofsky(WINNER), Best Actress - Ellen Burstyn(WINNER), Best Actor - Jared Leto, Best Supporting Actress - Jennifer Connelly(WINNER), Best Supporting Actor - Marlon Wayans, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score - Clint Mansell(WINNER)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The folks at ABC are pure evil....

Why do all the good shows have to get cancelled? Pushing Daisies certainly isn't the best show on TV, but it is/was a delightful and unique high concept comedy that always kept itself fresh and fun. Just when Lee Pace had a great career break....what a shame. How is it that this is going off the air and crud like America's Next Top Model and Survivor keep on living? ARGH!

Source: TV by the numbers

Update: Watch with Kristin has Pushing Daisies executive producer Bryan Fuller’s take on the news.

James Hibberd reports that producers of all three shows have been informed that their series will not get full season pickups. This jibes with all of our numeric sensibilities, and we’ve been seeing it in the making for weeks. But rumors were rampant that Eli Stone or Dirty Sexy Money could be kept. It’s possible that’s true, but that continued ratings erosion this week killed off any chance of that. We’d presumed Pushing Daisies dead all along.

The networks held off on using the word “cancellation” but that’s typically the case. Hibberd seems to think since the shows are still on the schedules the networks want to leave a little wiggle room about it in the event that they order more shows. I believe it far more likely, especially given this week’s low numbers for all three shows that the network is avoiding the “c” word only because it doesn’t want to hear flack from advertisers who don’t want to advertise on shows that have been CANCELLED.

We may need a new category of as close to cancelled as you can possibly get — so close, that it’s the same thing as being cancelled.

Personally, while I’m sad for both fans of these shows and the producers and everyone involved with working on them, I’m happy it shook out like this. If they’d have kept Eli Stone, for example, we’d have seen 10,000 “how could they cancel Dirty Sexy Money and keep Eli Stone! WTF!?” I’m glad we won’t have to deal with that…

Again, there is no comment on the quality of any of the shows here, but from a numbers perspective, they weren’t on the bubble, they were well below the cancellation line. All three shows performed well under ABC’s average, and even before this week’s lousy numbers are factored in, they were ABC’s three worst performing scripted shows among 18-49 year olds.

Update: Hibberd also reports that Life on Mars will air after LOST at 10pm on Wednesdays as was earlier thought, starting January 28, but I’m not sure yet whether that means a full season pickup for the show.

The acclaimed "The Wrestler" finally gets a trailer

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kate Winslet: This year's award season double threat

EDIT: No, I did not write this. I forgot where I saw it, but if I ever find it, I'll list the source to give credit. Sorry for any confusion.

Kate Winslet Brings Sexy Back — And Reading

I spent the better part of yesterday screening the two Kate Winslet films up for Oscar consideration and ready for holiday release: "The Reader" and "Revolutionary Road."

The good news is: they are each excellent. It’s a total win-win situation for Winslet, who shows such an incredible breadth of talent in these two polar opposite films that critics and fans are going to start calling her "Meryl Streep, Jr."

Stephen Daldry’s "The Reader" has a lot going for it, not the least of which is some sexy material. In a dry season "The Reader" benefits not just a little from Winslet’s cougar-esque Hanna’s many naked tanglings with Michael, played by 18 year old David Kross, a German actor who had to learn English for the movie. (He’s supposed to be 15 on screen.)

The Reader is based on the novel by Bernard Schlink, which was highly praised, a bestseller and a choice of Oprah’s Book Club. The subject is serious, since after Michael’s summer fling with Hanna circa 1964 he discovers that she’s on trial in Berlin as a war criminal. Hanna and several other women are being tried as Nazi guards who caused the particular death of 300 Jewish women.

Winslet and Kross have sizzling chemistry in the film, and Ralph Fiennes—as the adult Michael—could not be better. Daldry is unsparing of Hanna as a villain, and makes no apologies for her participation in the Holocaust. Neither, frankly, does Hanna, and that’s what makes the movie so fascinating. There is no tendency to cliché. Rather, "The Reader" has also the earmarks of a Best Picture nominee, a movie about an intimate relationship set against the backdrop of an Important Issue.

Winslet is a revelation in "The Reader," and quite different than in "Rev Road" (see below). That she could have both movies in one season is really the achievement. In "The Reader" she not only ages drastically, but she manages to convey with depth the emotions of a sexually voracious 40 year old and an embittered, incarcerated 60 year old. And, as it turns out, each of these personas also shares one more: a concentration camp guard with no regrets.

"The Reader" has its own strong foundation in a David Hare screenplay, not to mention a vibrant musical score by Alberto Iglesias and a gorgeous palate supplied by cinematographer Chris Menges. The only problem now is convincing Academy voters that Winslet should be considered ‘supporting’ here instead of lead since she’s on screen most of the time. She will go into competition with Penelope Cruz, Viola Davis, Amy Adams, Marisa Tomei and Rosemarie Dewitt – just to name a few.

One thing about "The Reader"—unlike, say, "Valkyrie" and "Defiance," you will not see any swastikas or Nazi uniforms. You will hear much discussion of the Holocaust, however, which makes it itself the opposite of "Valkyrie" in its subject matter and intentions.

PS The literati-oriented audience at "The Reader" screening last night loved it. Among the fans: famed book agent Lynn Nesbit, journalist Marie Brenner, and novelist Walter Moseley. Daldry took questions from the small group, not one of which was about Hollywood. Everyone wanted to discuss the Holocaust, the characters’ motivations, and the sublime execution of this landmark film...

So apparently "Gran Torino" is actually pretty good...

In his latest "Notes on a Season" (posted yesterday), The Envelope's Pete Hammond reports that Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino "was shown to a handful of top critics (okay, exactly three) on the Warner Bros. lot last Thursday afternoon, and consensus is it's a slam-dunk acting nomination for Clint."

This has been speculated all along as a potential gold-watch gesture due to the assertion-belief that Gran Torino may be Eastwood's final performance, but now the idea has a little more meat on its bones. Draw your own inferences from Hammond not passing along "consensus" talk about Gran Torino being Best Picture material.

"Eastwood always lets a very select few on his approved list see his movies first, and in this case it was a highly respected top-tier critic from a major daily newspaper" -- the L.A. Times' Kenny Turan, one presumes -- "a major Hollywood trade paper" -- Variety's Todd McCarthy, obviously -- "and a major consumer entertainment news TV show" -- i.e., Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin.

Trailer for "Nothing But The Truth"

Monday, November 17, 2008

New trailer for "Che/Guerilla/The Argentine/Whatever"

First OFFICIAL "Australia" review

Source: Herald Sun

HE SET himself an enormous challenge, but Baz Luhrmann has pulled off an incredible film in Australia.

Shoehorning two complete films into one package, Australia sees Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley, a priviilged aristocrat drawn to the outback to sell her late husband's failing cattle station.

But she's soon drawn to the landscape, a little Aboriginal boy called Nullah, played startlingly by newcomer Brandon Walters, and a taciturn drover (Hugh Jackman) who reluctantly helps her save her property.

The film begins with surprising slapstick and trademark Luhrmann over-the-top humour - a scene featuring Jackman giving himself a bath with a bucket is pure beefcake and proud of it - but settles into a compelling and moving tale which traverses war, race relations, class and the Stolen Generation.

It's a movie with a message, but Luhrmann provides the audience with no shortage of thrills, from a cliff hanger cattle stampede to the bombing of Darwin.

Kidman and Jackman are perfect together, Jackman's broad speaking drover a perfect foil to Kidman's snooty English rose.

Australia is full of familiar faces, from David Gulpilil to David Wenham, Bryan Brown to Ben Mendelsohn, but not so familiar places, to many Australians anyway.

Australia features some of the most beautiful photography ever seen in an Australian film, from the Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley to the Northern Territory in the midst of the wet season.

A love letter to the Australian landscape and our history, Australia has international blockbuster written all over it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Variety heaps praise on "Benjamin Button"!

A shimmering melancholic romance about the most unusual of criss-crossing lovers -- a man (Brad Pitt) who ages from infirmity to infancy, and a woman (Cate Blanchett) who grows old like we all -- "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is imagery wizard David Fincher's big-canvas play for mass acceptance, and he's fashioned an effects-laden but character-driven epic that recalls the sweetly doomed, emotional glamour of Hollywood's golden era.

Aging is a theme that resonates with an Academy often criticized for its predilection toward the sentimentality of the subject ("On Golden Pond," "Driving Miss Daisy"). But Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth elegantly fused F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story with a decades-spanning love story, another favorite genre with voters (the Roth-written "Forrest Gump," "Reds"). It helps give "Button" a chance at a category-sweeping juggernaut, with Fincher on track to score his first Academy nomination.

At five nods with one win, Blanchett is fast becoming a yearly Oscar night fixture, and her Daisy is another full-bodied portrayal of sensuality and intelligence that wouldn't be out of place among leading actress turns of the '30s or '40s. One-time supporting actor nominee Pitt (for "Twelve Monkeys"), meanwhile, has an unusual role that fortunately plays to his strengths: love of character parts and brooding ambivalence about his beauty. It could mean his first lead actor nom. Strong supporting work from the lively Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's adoptive mother Queenie, and last year's supporting actress winner Tilda Swinton as Ben's aristocratic first love could yield other noms.

A Fincher movie is usually a cause for technical celebration, and "Button" covers all the bases, from the sepia-to-spectrum richness of the visuals (Claudio Miranda) to the century tour of clothing styles (prior nominee Jacqueline West), and from the stunning New Orleans-based production design to the performance-capture-meets-makeup aging effects that put Pitt's wrinkled face on a shuffling, diminutive body.

007: Quantum of Solace - REVIEW

There's an interesting similarity between the routes the 007 and Batman film franchises have gone recently. Roughly around 2000, both series were feeling dated, and suffering from installments that went a little too far (Batsuit nipples, massive satellite firing solar blasts, planes flying through and surviving said solar blasts, etc...), and both were in desperate need of a kick in the pants. Only one year apart (05 and 06 respectively), both franchises got what they desperately needed, in the forms of "Batman Begins" (B+/A-), and the superlative "007: Casino Royale" (A). Both films, in eerie coicidence, were also story reboots, beginning more or less as origin stories. Now, in 2008, the first follow ups from the grittier/more real reboots arrive, with high expectations. July gave us the sublime "The Dark Knight", which left only "Quantum of Solace". Unfortunately, where "The Dark Knight" surpassed its predecessor, Quantum falls a little short of Casino Royale, in a solid, yet oddly uneven entry into the Bond canon. Beginning only a half hour or so after Casino ended, we start with a high octane car chase in Siena, Italy. It's here where we first notice that something is...different. Apparently Bond has contracted "Bourne" editing syndrome (ie: frantic, jarring close ups meant to disoriente the viewer). I understand that this is the "new" Bond, but there's no need to completely turn him into Jason Bourne and steal all of his cinematographic tricks. Now, I don't usually do this, but since there are certain key components to any Bond film, I'm breaking the rest of the review up into individual grades for those sectors, before giving the final verdict.

The theme song: (C) Though sung by the talented (albeit odd) duo of Jack White and Alicia Keys, there's something about "Another Way to Die" that's frighteningly unmemorable. Not only is the main chorus choppy and the lyrics sometimes unclear, but it's simply lacking in rhythm. You won't be dying to download this one as you leave the theater.

The opening title sequence: (B) One word: Sand.

The action: (A-) In spite of the frantic camera work and editing, most of the action sequences do get the adrenaline going (the superb sound work only adds to this). Rooftop chases, aerial battles, and a (quite literally) explosive finale, it's all well staged and executed (especially when you realize that this was directed by the man who gave us Finding Neverland...).

Bond: (B-) Though Craig gets more to do action wise this time around, the character isn't as fully developed as he should be (given that his newfound rage is all masking his grief over Vesper's death, etc...). Hopefully Craig sticks around for more; he's still one of the better Bonds.

The Bond Girls: average: (B-). Olga Kurlyenko's Camille sometimes misses the mark tonally, as if she's wandered onto the wrong film set. The problem is, she's too much like Bond; a victim of tragedy, out for cold blooded revenge. Gemma Artreton's Agent Fields, despite limited screen time, displays signs of serious spark, but it never goes anywhere (though it does set up for a BRILLIANT homage to a scene in Goldfinger). However, neither one comes close to Eva Green's Vesper Lynd.

The Villain: (B) Though he lacks any colorful deformities, Mathieu Amalric still does a solid job as a bug-eyed sleaze bag.

The exotic locales: (C+) We globe trot so much that there's barely any time to get a sense that we're actually in Vienna, Italy, Bolivia, Port Au Prince, etc...

The overall plot: (C) So much revenge, yet so little story to channel it through. Though Bond is clearly on a search and destroy personal mission, the sequence of events either feels rushed, undercooked, or misfocused (a subplot involving the CIA doesn't add much).

The Bond Theme: (A) Sounding as great as ever thanks to David Arnold's lush orchestrations. The rest of the score is also fantastic in that it matches the rhythm of, but never overpowers, the action scenes (and there are a LOT of them).

Final Side Note: Please, never EVER get rid of Judi Dench as M. She's perfect.

Final Grade: B-

Nominations: Best Makeup (#5), Best Sound Editing(#2), Best Sound Mixing(#2)

Number of 2008 films seen: 40

Baz Luhrmann manages to finish "Australia" in the nick of time

Apparently it was declared finished at 9 AM yesterday, only 5 days before the first in a series of global premieres. The crew must be exhausted/relieved. In spite of finishing so close to the wire, the article is actually very reassuring, which is nice to hear.


Days before its Nov. 18 world premiere, Baz Luhrmann's "Australia" was still an unknown quantity, a period romance shepherded by a director known for his visual flair, a lengthy wait between passion projects and a penchant for tweaking his films right down to the wire -- while often commenting publicly on his frenzied work in progress.

In other words, this guy has a flair for the dramatic.

A pair of research screenings in June yielded some upbeat reaction, and an "Oprah" crowd who saw a rough cut was enthusiastic. But few people, outside top studio execs, have seen the final film.

Luhrmann is nothing if not ambitious. With "Australia," the director/co-writer set out to fashion a sweeping 1939-set romantic adventure styled after "Gone With the Wind" and starring two stars from Down Under, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The pic costs $120 million, less 30%-40% from Australia's new filming rebate.

After wrangling with Fox over the pic's budget, Luhrmann shot the pic over nine months with a crew of 300 on remote locations in Northwestern Australia and at Sydney's Fox Studios.

The production, after coping with 110-degree heat, windstorms and delays, finally wrapped last December. Reshoots were completed in August to cover some shots that revealed Kidman's surprise pregnancy.

Luhrmann, 46, finally delivered his locked print in time for the studio to start striking thousands of prints in Sydney and Los Angeles at 9 a.m. on Nov. 13, five days before the pic's Sydney premiere.

But for Fox exec Peter Rice, who has supervised Luhrmann's films ever since he met the "Strictly Ballroom" director at the Cannes film fest and brought him to Fox to develop "Romeo + Juliet," there's a method to this Baz-ness.

While Luhrmann told Australia's the Age that he repeatedly asked for more time to finish the picture, and the film did get an additional 13 days when Fox moved "Australia" to open on Nov. 26 after "Quantum of Solace" and "Harry Potter" changed their release dates, Rice confirms that pushing back the film had nothing to do with Luhrmann's editing needs and the director was always committed to finishing on time.

Rice knows the writer-director is prone to fine-tuning his edits up until the last minute, delivering dripping-wet prints just under the wire.

"Baz's movies are beautiful and unique because he's a perfectionist," says Rice. "There are things he'd still change on 'Strictly Ballroom.' "

On 2001's "Moulin Rouge!" Luhrmann persuaded Fox to push the pic's release date back from Christmas to May, giving him six extra months in the editing room. The $50 million "Moulin Rouge!" scored $57 million domestically and doubled its gross overseas.

At 2½ hours, "Australia's" running time reduces the number of daily showtimes. And, while it has a clear appeal for adult women hungry for romance, the studio hopes to bring in young women and men, too, and execs believe the pic has strong international potential.

The film is resolutely old-fashioned, broad, accessible storytelling, centering on Kidman's uptight Lady Sarah Ashley as she spars with, and then falls for, Jackman's rough-hewn Drover as they drive cattle across the Outback, bonding with a young Aborigine boy before being attacked in Darwin by Japanese bombers.

Oprah and her audience certainly went gaga.

"It's the best movie I've seen in a long, long time," Winfrey gushed on the Nov. 10 show. "They just don't make movies like that anymore. ... It is epic, it is majestic, it is romantic, it is a spectacle. The scenery is so gorgeous. It's everything a great movie should be."

Score one for the target demo.

As for the recent flurry of online speculation over the film's ending, and word that the studio was urging changes, Rice said the helmer -- who has final cut -- has always had a handle on the final vision.

Luhrmann wrote six endings, shot three, and tested three different versions of the film. Someone does die at the end of the pic, but Luhrmann found an ending with hope.

"It's neither happy nor sad," says Rice. "It's bittersweet and complex. It's not a simplistic ending. It's an incredibly satisfying one."

New mini trailer for "The Spirit"


New "Half Blood Prince" trailer!

3 beautiful new "Benjamin Button" stills

New poster for "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Next (and last) "Australia" podcast: Music!

In case you haven't noticed, I'm REALLY excited about this movie...

The "Australia" ending change issue gets more clarification

Oscar-nominated director Baz Luhrmann's $130-million epic film "Australia" is due to make its world premiere in Sydney on Tuesday -- but the director says he has not finished it yet.

Luhrmann, who was honored at The Museum of Modern Art's Film Benefit in New York on Monday, is flying back to Sydney with a day to spare to complete the film he has spent four years working on.

"I'm going back to the mixing desk to finish it in 24 hours," the Australian director told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday just before he left for the airport.
"It's right on the edge, we're right up against it. I literally have to on Friday night push that button," he said. "This is really dangerous, I hope there's no problem with the plane going back."

Luhrmann said a rough cut of the film, starring Australian actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, had so far only been shown to U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her audience, and "Good Morning America" host Diane Sawyer.

Kidman and Jackman appeared on an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Monday that was dedicated to the film and Winfrey praised the film, saying: "I have not been this excited about a movie since I don't know when."

"Our hearts are all swelling because, my God, it's just the film we needed to see," she told Luhrmann, who appeared on the show via the Internet.

"Australia" is Luhrmann's fourth film. "Strictly Ballroom" (1992), "Romeo + Juliet" (1996) and "Moulin Rouge!" (2001), which was nominated for a best picture Academy Award, have earned $390 million worldwide.

The film tells the tale of an English aristocrat, played by Kidman, who inherits a sprawling Outback property and falls in love with a rugged "drover" or cowboy, played by Jackman.

They join forces to drive 1,500 head of cattle hundreds of miles across stunning yet brutal landscape in a bid to save her property and find themselves caught in the Japanese wartime bombing of Australia's tropical northern city of Darwin.

Luhrmann scoffed at recent media reports that Twentieth Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., had forced him to change the ending of the movie so Jackman's character didn't die because audiences didn't like it.

"You really think that on my films people tell me what to do? I don't think so," he said. "On my films I decide."

"I wrote six endings and I shot three," said Luhrmann, adding that he decided not to use the ending where Jackman's character dies. "There is a death at the end of this film, but it's a surprise how that works."

"Australia" opens in the United States and Australia on November 26 and in Britain on December 26.

6 new "Watchmen" posters

Midnight's Children being adapted into a movie!!

This is one of my all time favorite books, and a movie version has the potential to be spectacular (although lots of stuff would have to be cut out). Here's hoping it gets done justice...

By Etan Vlessing

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Canadian director Deepa Mehta is collaborating with Salman Rushdie on a big-screen adaptation of the author's 1981 historical novel "Midnight's Children."

The book, which earned Rushdie the prestigious Booker literary prize, portrays the history of India from 1910 to a declared state of emergency in 1976. The story is narrated by a young man born on the stroke of midnight August 15, 1947, the day India won independence from Britain.

Toronto-based Mehta and Rushdie will co-write the screenplay, and they hope to have cameras rolling in 2010.

Indian actors Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, who starred in two earlier Mehta films, "Fire" and "Earth," are on board to star in the project.

Both Mehta and Rushdie were born in India, with the filmmaker eventually moving to Canada and the novelist to Britain.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter