Saturday, January 31, 2009

New posters for "State of Play" and "Wolverine"

Waltz With Bashir (2008) - REVIEW

Sometimes it's hard to think of documentaries as "movies"; they're (hopefully) based entirely on fact, and as such, aren't so much escapes from reality as they are claws to drag us back into reality. This is why "Waltz With Bashir", writer/director Ari Folman's look at the effects that the Christian/Muslim conflicts in Lebanon have on the soldiers succeeds so well. First off, it's not just a documentary, but an animated one, so from the very beginning we're being presented with something fresh. It opens with a nightmare; 26 crazed hounds dart through the streets before stopping at the base of an apartment buiding. A man looks from his 3rd story window and stares down at their freakish yellow eyes, before we cut to "reality". This is where the animation is most successful. Though the talking head segments are just like those in any other documentary, the flashbacks, hallucinations, and even dreams all benefit from being animated. Having to stage recreations with real people (especially dreams) could have been irritating and too obviously fake, but the animation makes everything flow, and even makes the talking head sections more interesting. In his quest to find out what happened at a small, Palestinian-dominated village, Folman seeks out other Lebanese soldiers who fought with him, to see if they hold the key to not only what happened, but Folman's particular involvement. This premise as a whole would have, most likely, felt dry and dull if left to live action and potentially cheesy staged flashbacks, and the animation saves it. Even the quieter sections (a young boy running through the snow) are vibrant, and when the film reaches its best moments, the animation is truly what makes it soar. One particular hallucination/dream is a standout; Folman and two unidentified soldiers rise up from the water as falling signal flares light the way, and they slowly march towards land and dress for battle. It's a mysterious and stirring sequence that is only one of many stunningly composed images that help the film's loose narrative stick. Max Richter's moody score works beautifully, especially in the dream scenes, and the animation provides many moments that outshine some of last year's best cinematography. However, if you're still puzzled as to why anyone would combine animation with documentary, then you have an even bigger incentive to see it on the big screen. Once the film's final reels unfold, you'll realize why animation was the only way to tell a story so somber...

Grade: A-

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 57

Friday, January 30, 2009

Concept art from "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen": Soundwave

I have no idea is this even remotely resembles the Soundwave character from the cartoons, but it looks pretty cool...

New set photos from "Nine"!: Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicole Kidman

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

9 to watch: 2009 First Quarter (Winter)

Well, it's a new year (which I'm guessing you've figured out by now...) and that means it's time for those dreary first few months that are usually nothing short of a cinematic cesspool. Last year started on a great note with February's "In Bruges" (the first movie I saw of 2008, and it's still near the top of my favorites from last year), but it also brought us "10,000 BC", along with other reasons to avoid the theater, unless you were just catching up on all of the end-of-the-year-Oscar-hopefuls. Will 2009 be any different? Well, here's hoping that these 10 movies coming out between January and March say, "YES".

9. Adventure Land (March 27th): From the director of "Superbad" (2007) comes the story of a recent college grad (Jesse Eisenberg) who doesn't have any clue what to do with his life. He eventually settles on a 3rd rate amusement park run by a quirky couple (SNL cast members Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig), and befriends the local freaks and geeks who work there, including the resident hot girl (Kristen Stewart). The trailer promised a handful of good laughs, but it's hard to say if it will be a true gut-buster like "Superbad" was (although on the plus side, the gross-out humor quotient seems to have dropped significantly).Jesse: So, I hear you like vampires and smoking pot on a stoop...
Kristen: So, I hear you have no prospects in life...


Anticipation Meter: 5/10

8. Duplicity (March 20th): "Michael Clayton" writer/director Tony Gilroy turns to more lighthearted antics in his first film since his 2007 Best Picture nominee. This is sooooo much more fun than "Closer"

The story centers on two ex-agents (Clive Owen and Julia Roberts) who decide to team up and use their knowledge of the CIA/MI6's inner workings to grab a hefty sum of money from two rival corporations and their overly competitive CEO's (Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti). "Duplicity" seems to promise the same level of plot complexity as "Michael Clayton", only with a bit more fun going this time around.


Anticipation Meter: 6/10

7. Push (February 6th): What do you get when you combine telekinesis, crazy gun fights, a bunch of really good looking people, and REALLY BRIGHT COLORS? That would be "Push", one of the year's earliest wannabe action blockbusters. Psycho Asians: They'll f**k you up...

Story focuses on a group of telekinetic people (namely Dakota Fanning, Chris Evans, and Camilla Belle), who are hunted down, for some shadowy reason, by a government agency headed by CRAZY DJIMON HONSOU and his plans to...harness their powers or something like that. I'm Dakota Fanning. Who the f**k are you?

What the story might lack in originality, it makes up for in ideas. Most of these pseudo-superhero movies involve attempts to cram about 50 different superpowers on screen, whereas "Push" focuses on clever variations of telekinesis (one can levitate small weapons with his mind, another can scream loud enough to shatter even the thickest glass, etc...). A blind date with CRAZY DJIMON HONSOU can't be that bad...right?

Who knows, if it's got the right combinations of fun characters and badass action scenes, it could be the year's first action blockbuster...Trailer

Anticipation Meter: 6/10

6. Two Lovers (February 13th): Joaquin Phoenix reunites with his "We Own the Night" director James Gray for a much different story. Phoenix plays a shy young man struggling to get by in New York, who finds himself entagled with, you guessed it, two lovers (and one of them's played by Gwyneth Paltrow, so it can't be all bad...). Of course, romantic complications ensues as Phoenix must choose between the quieter lover and Paltrow's fast-living party girl. I must admit, however, that I wouldn't be nearly as excited for this had the trailer not been so beautifully put together (whatever that opera song was in the second half is gorgeous).Trailer

Anticipation Meter: 7/10

5. The International (February 13th): Though the cast and crew didn't realize it, there's something oddly coincidental about a movie being released in the aftermath of an economic downturn that features a globe-spanning bank as its central villain. Clive Owen stars as...some sort of agent/rebel who teams up with Naomi Watts (no idea what her character's job is) to try and take down the murderous and dictator-funding bank. The trailer indicates that there will be a fair share of globe trotting (Turkey, Africa, among others) and interesting action scenes (one of which is staged in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum). Besides, in this current economy, who doesn't want to see Clive Owen and Naomi Watts take down a bank and look smokin' hot while doing it?


Anticipation Meter: 7.5/10

4. Taken (January 30th): We've finally come to the first movie on this list that has actually been screened for critics. So far, the reaction has split critics down the middle, but considering that it's produced by Luc Besson, who gave us the fantastic "Leon: The Professional", it can't be all bad. Liam Neeson stars as a former spy whose daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. Because he's not willing to let that stand, and because he's Liam f-ing Neeson, he uses his old spy skills to lay a brutal smackdown on the bad guys, which includes tying them down to chairs and smashing their legs until they talk. If it weren't for Besson and Neeson's involvement, I would have zero interest in this, so kudos to them for ramping up my interest.Trailer

Anticipation Meter: 7.5/10

3. Coraline (February 6th): In his first feature in years, "Nightmare Before Christmas" director Henry Selick returns to stop-motion animation, with a shot of 3-D gimmickry. Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a young girl who has moved into an isolated house with her nice-but-boring parents. One night she accidentally discovers a portal in the third floor that leads her to a parallel universe populated by her "other mother" and "other father" among other curious and otherworldly inhabitants. Everything seems wonderful, but soon signs begin to surface that the alternate world may not be so great. And of course there's one final icky question: why are other's eyesockets filled not by eyes, but by buttons?Trailer

Anticipation Meter: 8/10

2. Sunshine Cleaning (March 13th - Limited): When in need of offbeat, original stories, one can always turn to indepdent cinema. Emily Blunt frowns upon your shenanigans.

One of the few notable indie releases of the first quarter, "Sunshine Cleaning" stars Emily Blunt and Amy Adams as sisters in dire need of money, who decide to start a business that cleans up after deaths or accidents. Judging by the second trailer, there might actually be something worth watching here, instead of just another by-the-numbers-quirk fest, with a good combination of relationship drama and goofy comedy. OH MY GOD! There's fruit punch EVERYWHERE...

The fact that it's headlined by three reliable actors (Blunt, Adams, and Alan Arkin) is another huge plus.A dead body? HA-HA-HA! That's marvelous!

Anticipation Meter: 8.5/10

1. Watchmen (March 6th): It wasn't hard to determine where to place this graphic novel adaptation on the list. Given the director's knack for beautiful visuals, the stellar cast, and of course the fantastic source material, this has the potential to be the next "The Dark Knight", in terms of storytelling and character depth. For the last time, I am NOT Robert Downey Jr.

Though it's easy to dismiss as "just another comic book movie", anyone who's read the graphic novel can tell you that "Watchmen" is something else entirely. Filled with complicated semi-heroes, interesting twists on historical events, and a labyrinthine mystery that unfolds after a simple murder, "Watchmen" is the movie to beat. In fact, if it turns out to be any good, this early spring release could end up topping some of the big summer blockbusters in terms of box office intake. Who watches the Watchmen? Hopefully more than just rabid fans....and how could you not be intriguied by a movie whose trailer juxtaposes music by Philip Glass and Muse?Trailer

Anticipation Meter: 10/10

Final poster for "Watchmen"!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Revolutionary Road - REVIEW

In an odd sort of way, I almost feel sorry for Sam Mendes. Sure, he has an Oscar, is well respected in Hollywood and the theater world, and he's married to Kate Winslet...but I feel sorry for him. Why? Because after his brilliant debut in American Beauty (1999), he's had a meteoric fall in quality. Not that he's directed anything atrocious (although 2005's Jarhead was pretty blah save for the cinematography), but everything Mendes has done after American Beauty just doesn't measure up. In fact, he seems to be heading downhill. 2002's Road to Perdition was excellent, but it didn't quite match American Beauty's dramatic impact. Jarhead was annoyingly average aside from the technical aspects. And then there's Revolutionary Road, where Mendes seems determined to tread similar ground, only without those aspects of American Beauty that made it so amazing. This time, the story seems to combine the crumbling marriage of Lester and Carolyn Burnham with the escape fantasy of their daughter Jane and boyfriend Ricky Fitts. Frank and April Wheeler (Di Caprio and Winslet) are a 1950s couple settled in the suburbs. Frank goes to work every day and faces monotony in the office, while April stays home with the kids and faces the monotony of life on Revolutionary Road itself. Then of course, comes the plan to escape to Paris. Frank will have time to figure out what he really wants to do in life while (GASP) his wife supports him. Then of course, like in American Beauty, there's the neighbors with a son who's spent time in a mental institution (Michael Shannon, who could be a worthy successor for Heath Ledger's version of the Joker) who sees through the BS and says what everyone else keeps hidden. And it could have all been so compelling, if it wasn't for Justin Haythe's screenplay hurting everyone's efforts. When Haythe isn't forcing DiCaprio and Winslet to shout dialogue that spells out the message of the movie ("Who made these RULES anyway!?"), he's hurting them in other ways. For instance, we almost never...NEVER see the Wheeler's two young children, and after a while, you might begin to think that the kids just ran away and no one cared. And for all of the explosive arguments between Frank and April, it's very rare that it ever feels electrifying; mostly it's just LOUD. And then there's the biggest issue: the comedy. For a movie that's been hyped up to be depressing enough to make you want to cut yourself, there's an awful lot of small moments of humor, which holds the movie back from becoming truly compelling until the last 20 minutes, by which time the damage has become irreparable. Artistic and technical aspects are solid, though any episode of Mad Men is probably superior, and Thomas Newman contributes another simple-yet-magnetic score, but it's all in vain against Haythe's script. As for the acting, Winslet and DiCaprio are very good, particularly as the film reaches its conclusion, but they're held back for so long that their performances suffer (again, this is not their fault). Then there's Michael Shannon, who gives a performance so off-the-wall bizarre that I still can't decide if I like it or hate it. But most bizarre of all is that after all the shouting, personal attacks, mind games, suffering, and tragedy, the movie ends on a mildly funny note. Perhaps a better title would have been "Tonally Inconsistent Road"...

Grade: B-/C+

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 56

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Screen Actors Guild Award Winners (and reactions)!

Cast in a Motion Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Male Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn, Milk

Female Actor in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep, Doubt

Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Paul Giamatti, John Adams

Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Laura Linney, John Adams

Ensemble in a Drama Series: Mad Men

Female Actor in a Drama Series: Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters

Male Actor in a Drama Series: Hugh Laurie, House

Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Ensemble in a Comedy Series: 30 Rock

Male Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

Female Actor in a Comedy Series: Tina Fey, 30 Rock

Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture: The Dark Knight

Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series: Heroes

Life Achievement Award: James Earl Jones

My Thoughts:

  • Biggest shocker: Meryl Streep wins Best Actress for Doubt. Maybe that third Oscar isn't such a longshot after all. Streep herself was clearly surprised, judging by her hilarious arm-flailing run up to the podium.
  • Tina Fey gives yet another fantastic acceptance speech, this time comically praising her young daughter's inspiration.
  • Best Presenters: John Krasinski and Amy Poehler, who decided to be "dramatic" and got a (well deserved) explosion of applause.
  • 30 Rock picks up Best Comedy Ensemble after losing last year.
  • Why is Mad Men's Christina Hendricks so damn voluptuous? It's distracting (albeit in a good way).
  • One of these days, I will see Penelope Cruz accept an award at a televised award show. One of these days...
  • That's a really expensive bed sheet you're wearing, Angelina Jolie...
  • Someone finally had the guts to comment on the SAG award's large, um...package (thanks Sean Penn. It needed to be said...really).
  • Call the toll free number at the bottom of the website, and you can help feed Anthony Hopkins for only 1 dollar a month...
  • As much as I love Slumdog Millionaire, I'm not sure it deserves any sort of recognition for its acting. The acting certainly isn't bad, but the characters are really there to support the story, unlike something like Frost/Nixon or Doubt, where the actors are put center stage.
  • Josh Brolin seemed to be getting a lot of applause after his nominee clip was played. Is he Ledger's biggest threat to receiving the Oscar (if there even can be a threat)?