Monday, August 31, 2009

Voting rules for Best Picture changed

Interesting...very interesting. However, I'm not sure the rule makes too much sense considering that Best Picture only goes to one movie. If there were runner/s up prizes, then I would understand making voters rank the nominees, but since the only movie getting an award is the one that gets the most #1 votes, or normally, the most votes, I don't really see the need for the modification. What does everyone else think about this new development? Am I missing something obvious here, or is the change meaningless at its core?

Source: Yahoo! Movies/The Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Adding yet another wrinkle to next year's Academy Awards, Oscar organizers plan to use a preferential voting system in tallying the final vote for best picture, where 10 nominees will be competing for the first time since 1943.

In all other categories, the win goes to the nominee who earns the most votes. But in the case of best picture, voters will be asked to rank their preference from 1 to 10, with 1 being best. It's the same preferential voting system that the Academy uses in its nominating process -- and that Australia uses in some of its elections.

The Academy opted to use the preferential system in the best picture race because it realized that with a field of 10 nominees -- if support for the nominees was relatively evenly distributed among the 10 candidates -- a winner could emerge with just over 600 votes out of the potential voting pool of 6,000 members.

The preferential system is designed to measure depth of support, since second- and third-place choices can be just as important as first-place choices.

Under the system, the ballots are first separated according to first-place choices. If one film wins a majority of 50%-plus-one among all first-place votes, it's the winner. If not, then the film with the fewest numbers of first place votes is eliminated and those ballots are redistributed according to their second-place rankings. The process continues until one film has picked up a majority of the votes.

The process creates an added hurdle for Academy campaigners, who will have to work to ensure they pick up as much wide support from Academy members as possible, since earning the gold trophy won't be a simple matter of amassing the most votes. The 82nd annual Academy Awards will be handed out in Hollywood on March 7.

(Editing by DGoodman at Reuters)

Not All Texans Ride Horses to School's Top 15 of the 2000s (so far...)

Sometime in the past two weeks, IMDb released the top 15 highest user-rated films of the 2000s, and after giving some commentary on each one, I decided to make my own list. However, instead of simply giving a list, I'm going to count down my top 15 favorites of the 2000s one day at a time. I took into consideration performances, editing, emotional impact, and rewatch value, among many other criteria and tt certainly wasn't easy, but after several days of comparing and reevaluation, I think I've finally made a (ranked) list that I'm ecstatic about. So, without further delay, let's get this started.

Coming in at #15 IS...

#15. "Zodiac" (2007) by David Fincher: Given proper marketing and a better timed release (ie: NOT mid-February), "Zodiac" could have been a significant player in awards season 07. Unfortunately, Fincher's lengthy, exhausting, expertly executed real-life thriller was a bit of a box-office failure. Despite making it onto a number of critics' Top 10 lists was a relief to see, but this didn't convince the studio to take notice and launch any sort of Oscar campaign, which is unfortunate. For despite its lengthy running time, "Zodiac" was a masterful, intelligent, and at times downright terrifying thriller. From its opening scene, where a cheating wife and her lover are attacked on the side of the road, Fincher does a brilliant job at bringing out the tension, aided by the eerie green-blue and orange flooded nighttime visuals. Yet while the few times we actually see the Zodiac killer attack his victims are frightening, the movie actually gets even better the less we see of him. It makes his threats of attacking a school bus full of children, or his taunting faxes and letters all the more unnerving. Deftly maneuvering the twists and turns of the Zodiac story, Fincher and writer James Vanderbilt manage to keep the film from sinking to the level of a slasher flick, and instead let truth, which here is much much stranger and freakier than fiction, play out in full. The ways in which Fincher and Vanderbilt navigate the complexities of the Zodiac case, keeping so much detail intact without any of it ever feeling extraneous or boring, is a remarkable achievement in its own right. In some ways, the film is like a fact-based, more epic version of Mr. Fincher's "Se7en", although its villain lacks any sort of "gimmick". The film's only weakness is that, unlike "Se7en" or "Fight Club", which boasted few primary characters and excellent performances, "Zodiac"'s characters aren't nearly as interesting and neither are the performances, no doubt because of the fact that they are constrained by reality. However, everything else, from the tension to the storytelling, is so phenomenally well done, that such a flaw fails to register strongly against the overall success of this gritty, fascinating thriller.

Final Grade: A

Best Performance: Mark Ruffalo (I never thought I would say that about a film)

Best Scene: The Basement Scene, which might be one of the most terrifying, hold-your-breath moments ever put on screen.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Adam" - REVIEW

Movies about characters with disabilities, mental or physical, are tricky, especially when there’s a romantic plot involved. Either a film will try to hard to not go overboard with schmaltzy moments and become too distant and cold, or as is more often the case in Hollywood, shamelessly yank at our heartstrings. Then there’s option three, exemplified by Max Meyer’s “Adam”, which manages to be touching without the schmaltz, due to the strength of its leads.

Opening with an oddly rushed voice over, we are then introduced to Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy), a New York City based electronic engineer with Asperger’s Syndrome. His father has recently passed away, leaving Adam alone in his father’s sizeable apartment where eats the same meals every day, and has a fascination with the cosmos. Just when it looks like he’s going to get stuck in a rut, he gets a new neighbor. A very pretty new neighbor named Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne), who slowly starts to build a friendship with Adam after an awkward first encounter in the laundry room of the apartment. Like any romance the relationship will have its ups and downs, complicated by Adam’s condition.

The two best decisions made in “Adam” were the casting of Byrne and Dancy, and Mayer’s general tone of innocence in the relationship. When Beth first sees Adam’s makeshift planetarium and exclaims “oh my!”, the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes isn’t that of a ditz, but that of a genuine, innocent, awe-struck child. It’s a moment that manages to be adorable without being sickening, much credit of which has to go to Byrne, who, while beautiful, is able to downplay her sex appeal and lend these moments the degree of innocence needed to make these moments work. Matching her is Dancy, who was given the incredibly tricky task of playing a romantic lead with Asperger’s, without accidentally mocking those who actually have the condition. He succeeds wonderfully, from the look/s in his eyes to the oh-so-slightly stilted line delivery that still manages to deliver emotional depth. Though the tone and situation are quite different, Byrne and Dancy certainly give “(500) Days of Summer”’s Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt a run for their money.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mayer’s script can’t keep up with his leads. The story is oddly put together, especially at the beginning. The scene where Beth sees Adam’s planetarium is hindered by the fact that it occurs so early, when the pair barely know each other. Placed just 15 to 20 minutes later, it could have achieved greater impact, because we would have had more time to see Beth and Adam’s relationship start to grow. Instead, it lands smack dab in their second meeting, and slightly out of the blue. Then there are the subplots. Chief among them is one involving Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher). Though it plays an important role and gives Beth her own set of personal issues to deal with, it doesn’t fit into the romance that well, and culminates in a strangely jarring shout-off in the second half of the film between Beht, Adam, and her father. There’s also the character of Harlan, played by Frankie Faison, who gets thrown an empty shell of a subplot involving a long lost love that is neither interesting nor satisfying.

On the artistic/technical front, the results are mixed. Cinematography seems to be coated in pale blue-greys, lending an overriding sense of sadness, which is can be oddly effective. However, there is one distracting moment where the camera takes on Adam’s point of view that feels entirely pointless and pretentious. Editing on the other hand is strange. While never dull, there seem to be an awfully high amount of really rough cuts when the film changes scenes. Whether these are signs of the low budget, or just a lack of polish is hard to say. Musically, the film is hit or miss. Sometimes the mellow score/soundtrack works well in enhancing the mood of scenes, but other times it comes across as harsh and over the top, lending an unneeded sense of anguish to scenes that would fare better with less noise.

So as a whole, the project is one supported almost entirely by its leads, which is no small feat considering that this is a romantic drama (though there are some very funny moments) involving Asperger’s. In spite of technical inconsistencies and uneven writing, there is an undeniable sweetness to “Adam” that is admirable amid romantic films that focus too heavily on the sexual aspect of the romance. Had it not been for Byrne and Dancy, this could have been an abject failure; luckily that’s not the case. Not necessarily a film that one should rush out to see, but it is worth seeing for its two leads, who overcome an awful lot of hurdles to deliver a near perfect chemistry in a movie where nearly everything else is flawed.

Grade: B-

Overlooked by the Academy?

Some of us think so...

Okay, that might be a bit much, but those scenes in the movie theater are PRICELESS. It's a shame Regina Hall can't seem to find her way into better comedies...she's got such great timing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The top six most overrated things from Hollywood and the pop culture uniiverse: 2008 edition

When I made my list of the 12 most overrated things in movies for 2007, I knew that I wanted to do this for each year following. Unfortunately, one way or another, I kept getting distracted, and instead of posting such a list during or shortly after Awards Season, I now find myself making my list at long last. This one is only half as long as the list for 2007. But does that mean that 2008 was a better year for film and pop culture than 2007? Not exactly. But regardless of which year was better or worse, 2008 somehow managed to provide fewer things worthy of being on this list. What are they? Some of the picks may surprise you, especially the first one. So, without further delay, here are:

The Top 6 Most Overrated Films, Performances, and Pop Culture Sensations of 2008:

6. The Dark Knight: I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly say it again: I love Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. The direction, the editing, the acting, the whole nine yards. So why would I put my recently decided favorite film of 2008 on this list? It comes down to one word: fanboys. Rabid, psychotic, blinded fanboys. It’s one thing to be really passionate about a film that you love. Why shouldn’t you be? But there are limits, and the hardcore Dark Knight fanboys crossed the line many times. Crime #1? Labeling the film as one of, if not THE greatest film/s EVER made. While I understand how this could be a person’s first reaction (it’s a larger than life, overwhelming movie), on closer inspection, the label of “One of the greatest EVER” is a bit much (though apparently that never bothered Ben Lyons…). If you want to call it one of your favorites, that’s fine, but when you immediately dismiss the countless other brilliant films from this decade alone, it’s easy to think that you’ve got a screw or two loose. Really, my only complaint is Bale’s Batman voice, but it’s still a complaint. No movie, not one, as hard as that is to believe, is perfect. There may not be glaring flaws, but rest assured, no matter how easy they may be to miss or ignore, in some way, they’re there. But the lowest moment of Dark Knight fandom actually wasn’t the superlative labels. Nope, it was the madness that ensued after it failed to snag a Best Picture nom. Now, in a way, I was right there with some of the crazies, but to claim that this one instance totally INVALIDATES the Oscars? The Joker himself would probably cackle and say “Why so serious?” at such lunacy. Plenty of great movies have gotten the shaft when it came to nomination time, and The Dark Knight just happens to be the latest member of that unfortunate circle. Even so, it still scored EIGHT nominations, and WON two of those, including Ledger’s richly deserved award. Instead of gritting their teeth and recognizing the remarkable achievement it was for a comic book movie to do THIS WELL in awards season, the hardcore wackos simply went overboard, trashing all of the best picture nominees, or at least going overboard in finding faults with them. Nothing suffered more than The Reader, which, in retrospect, was probably the film that got The Dark Knight’s spot, if we assume it got the sixth most votes from Academy voters, and while I don’t think The Reader should have been in the lineup, there are limits to how far one goes in trashing a film in blind rage. Instead of being supportive but also respectful, the fanboys gave the rest of us who loved The Dark Knight a bad name that we’re still trying to get rid of. It’s a level of chaos that the Joker himself would have been proud of…and that’s not a good thing.

5. The Disastrous Duo: Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": Okay, the word “disastrous” is a bit much, but I was in the mood for some alliteration. So why did I pick these two performances from one of the most unfortunately popular best picture nominees in recent years? Because they fell totally flat. Let’s start with Pitt. In my Inglourious Basterds review, I criticized Pitt for being cartoony and not blending into the movie. In Benjamin Button, it’s the exact opposite problem.Yes, Benjamin is supposed to be something of an “observer”; he doesn’t cause things to happen, things happen to and around him or people he knows. But even so, did Pitt have to be SO bland? He barely, if ever changed expressions (and the subtlety excuse won’t work here), transforming a protagonist saddled with a compelling psychological and physical dilemma into a central figure who, frankly, is rather boring. Not a good thing for a film that runs close to three hours. As for Ms. Henson, she actually gets a range of emotions to display, but there’s no nuance. This sort of role may have been acceptable in the days of “Gone with the Wind” and Butterfly McQueen, but in today’s world? Not so much. The worst part is when Benjamin returns home, to discover that Queenie is dead. It would have been meaningful, but we’re learning about the death of a cardboard cut out character and seeing the reactions of a bland protagonist. Not exactly movie magic. And yet somehow these two got nominations over the much better Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and even Julia Ormond who barely had anything to do. Something is rotten in the land of Hollywood.

4. "Wanted": I had a feeling that Wanted would develop a fanbase in the weeks after its release. After all, it plays like the mentally deficient offspring of Fight Club and the Matrix. So why is it on here? Because, astoundingly, the critics liked it too, which baffles me. Despite a few good, tongue in cheek scenes, everything else is either totally over the top or ridiculously DUMB and inconsistent (the Fraternity’s motto is that by ending one life, you can save 1000, yet they have no problem or deep regrets when one of their operations ends with a train falling into a VALLEY filled with civilians). Topping it all off? The 360-degree bullet. We knew from the trailer that the film would boast some physics-defying fire power, and some of it was actually pretty cool, but the final bullet just jumped the shark by so many miles, that it was hard not to pull a Homer Simpson and exclaim “D’oh!” For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s what I’m talking about…(CLICK)

3. Angelina Jolie in "Changeling": Yup, she’s back folks. But what makes this worse than her work in A mighty Heart, is that this time she actually snagged a nomination! While the suffering mother role is one the Academy loves, why did it have to be this one? She cries, she screams, and she cries some more, made worse by those moments when the score starts playing to let us know what to feel. In the end it’s not a bad performance, but it’s just a rather hollow one. She can cry and scream all she wants, but if there’s no depth, then it’s not even worth the price of admission, let alone a free ticket to the Oscar ceremony.

2. Sean Penn in "Milk" (please don't kill me): This one took me a while to come to terms with. While I certainly didn’t think that Sean Penn was GREAT in Milk, I still thought he was good, and if you look back at my personal nominations for 08, he’s in my best actor roster. So why did I feel extremely miffed when he won the Oscar? Well, after locking myself into a Cave of Meditation (for 10 minutes…yeah, I’m deep) the lightbulb went off and I knew why: I felt like I could see Penn acting. For an actor who is often praised for “becoming” his characters, I found his work here to be distracting. Every little gesture, every vocal inflection, I felt like I was seeing a work in progress (and a mechanical work in progress at that). As a whole, the performance simply didn't flow together. Maybe if I see the film again in a year or two I’ll change my mind, but for now, I have to place Mr. Penn’s performance on this list. It’s distracting enough that I don’t have enough rage to direct at the spectacularly overrated supporting cast, or the film itself, which is saying something

And the number one offender from 2008 is....*drumroll*

1. The “Twilight” phenomenon: Why is this schlock so totally popular? Whether film or book, this thing is filled with stupidity. Now, I have no problem with people liking the books for what they are: silly, gooey, fluff. But when fans starting touting them as “the next Harry Potter,” the vein in my forehead starts to bulge, and it isn’t pretty. There are so many wonderfully witty articles dedicated to dissecting the silliness of this franchise, so I’ll try my best to condense some of their points. First: The Writing. Easily the underlying problem to just about everything else wrong with this series is Stephenie Meyer’s prose, which at times is exceedingly purple (though never as bad as Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series). Having skimmed a copy owned by some cousins (who like the books but acknowledge them for the fluff that they are) it seems that Ms. Meyer can’t go two pages without mentioning how Edward’s (the vampire love interest) eyes “smolder”. They smolder in gold and amber, and all variety of yellow based colors, which makes me think that Edward’s sockets are inhabited not by eyes, but by kaleidoscopes. Worse, in addition to bludgeoning her readers with the same empty adjectives, she likes to use more adjectives than necessary. To paraphrase one such overwrought passage, “He lay there perfectly still, his muscled bare torso sparkling like some unknown material: smooth and cold like marble, glittering like crystal.” No, that’s not overwrought at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that passage. You are a true artist with words Ms. Meyer. Cormac McCarthy doesn’t have sh*t on you.

Problem #2: Sparkling vampires. I’m sorry, I think my brain just malfunctioned. Surely I’m getting something wrong. Hmm…nope. I’m not. The vampires, when hit by sunlight, instead of reeling in pain, SPARKLE. And this is somehow supposed to make Edward darkly alluring? Because he sparkles? What exactly is so intimidating or alluring about a man who sparkles? Common knowledge would seem to indicate that if a man sparkles and does nothing to change it, he probably isn’t interested in girls. Girls…that reminds me… Problem #3, the Protagonist: Bella Swan. First problem, she’s a classic Gary Stu (or in her case, Mary Sue). So what’s a Stu/Sue? It’s a lead character that is either A) a vague idealized version of the author, or B) a character so blank and uninteresting and lacking in identity that desperate readers can transfer themselves onto this bland canvas, instead of learning about a defined, multidimensional, interesting character. Bella Swan’s (Bella swan…Beautiful Swan…GET IT?) most interesting trait? She’s “adorably” klutzy. That’s it. Other than that, she’s kind of a bore, and a pretentious one at that: “The reading list [for school] was fairly basic: Bronte, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, I’d read them all already.” And though she describes herself as being plain, awkward, and shy, she becomes the most sought after girl in school after what feels like a week. It only gets better. In the second book (New Moon), Edward feels that he needs to leave after an incident where his brother tries to attack Bella after being attracted to the smell of her blood when she gets a paper cut. So what happens when dear perfect sparkling Edward leaves? Bella’s whole life unravels. I’m not exaggerating. At some point she tries riding a motorcycle off a cliff, all because some guy who sparkles left her. And then, to get out of having to write scenes that explore the mental state of her protagonist, Ms. Meyer “cleverly” has pages written with only the name of a month. Bella is so distraught, that a month goes by without anything of remote importance because OH NOES, MY SPARKLY BOYFRIEND IS GONE!! Y’know instead of focusing on school (although she probably doesn’t need to try in school because she’s sooooooooo intellectual) or trying to make new friends (again, based on what’s been said earlier, this shouldn’t be hard), she just sulks around. Really Ms. Meyer, are you serious? This is supposed to be your protagonist, someone who’s supposed to be something of a role model for tween girls, and yet you’re saying that if your boyfriend leaves you should just give up on life? How is this remotely healthy? You’ve basically just set feminism back a century or two. Hell, Jane Austen wrote more progressive female leads back in her day.
But the one moment in this unfortunately popular series that tops them all in awfulness comes in the fourth book. Having finally been married, Bella and Edward finally get horizontal with each other, and she becomes pregnant with his human/vampire spawn. First off, if the vampires’ bodily fluids have all be replaced with their “venom”, how can the sparkly one impregnate Bella? Even better, the spawn grows so fast that Bella begins showing after barely 3 weeks, and is ready to pop a few weeks after that. Oh, wait, we’re not even close to the “best” part, because nothing…NOTHING can compare to the insanity that arrives when Bella has to give birth. The spawn has gotten so big that as it’s coming out it breaks Bella’s ribs and pelvis, and even threatens to kill Bella. So what does good ole’ McSparkles do? He runs over and uses his fangs to help get the baby out. Let me repeat. He uses his FANGS to help give birth. Bloody, pelvis-shattering, torn-flesh-including, birth that basically amounts to an oral C-section. Y’know…for TWEENS!
So at the end of the day, the most popular literary phenomenon for tween girls is a story about a bland, weak, backwards girl who falls in love with a guy who has taken relationship advice from the Abusive Guy’s Handbook, and falls apart when he leaves, even if it’s for her own good? And making it worse, in the same year that the film version of “Twilight” descended upon us, a much better vampire flick “Let the Right One In” only raked in a few million dollars at most, and is now being faced with the ultimate insult: an English language big budget remake. Is sparkling the future of vampires? Bela Lugosi is rolling over in his grave. I won’t post any direct clips from “Twlight”. Instead, I’ll let the geniuses at Rifftrax do it for me. I’ve seen this video several times and I crack up each time; that “Twin Peaks” reference is sheer brilliance.

Three more Spanish posters for "Agora"

Video of the Week: The Soup spoofs cooking and weight loss shows

One of several new installments I have planned for this blog, now that my sidebar of favorite sites is relieving some of the pressure that came with trying to report on every significant news headline out of Hollywood. If you come here for that sort of stuff, don't worry, there will still be news articles, (see the post below), but they won't dominate this blog any more, giving me more room to, well, have some fun with this site. Our first Video of the Week winner comes from the always reliable pop culture satire "The Soup", hosted by the very funny Joel McHale. Mr. McHale also has a TV show starting soon called "Community", and while it has potential (the pilot was made available on Facebook) let's hope that if it succeeds, Joel will still have time for "The Soup".

Friday, August 28, 2009

New picture and article on "Rabbit Hole" (2010), including a first look at Aaron Eckhart

Source: The New York Times

WATCHING Nicole Kidman stroll unencumbered through the streets of Queens is like seeing an out-of-place apparition, Marilyn Monroe on the subway platform instead of on the grate above. Yet there she was, walking down Bell Boulevard in Bayside in a long flax-colored cardigan, hardly noticed by the locals one bright morning this summer.

No, Ms. Kidman doesn’t come to Queens often. But she gladly spent a few weeks around the borough filming “Rabbit Hole,” an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer prize-winning drama about a fraying family. In the film version Douglaston stands in for Westchester, and Ms. Kidman toned down her glamour to play a suburban mother dealing with the loss of a child.

She took on another demanding new role as well, as a producer of the movie, the first from her production company, Blossom Films. With a modest budget of less than $10 million, a brisk 28-day shoot, a surprising director in John Cameron Mitchell, few frills (no trailers for the stars) and many interns, “Rabbit Hole” is more like an indie than a Hollywood production. Make no mistake: it was Ms. Kidman’s wattage that got it made, and quickly. But it does not yet have distribution.

“This is a passion project for Nicole,” Aaron Eckhart, who plays her husband, said after shooting a scene at Papazzio restaurant in Bayside. “The reason why I’m in the movie is Nicole. If she wants to work with somebody, then that’s what happens.”(Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard and Sandra Oh are also in the cast.)

Mr. Mitchell noted that he received the call to direct in February and began working soon after. “That never happens,” he said, “but it was a priority for her.”

A downtown actor known for adapting his own often raucous and sexually explicit work — “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus” — Mr. Mitchell was an unorthodox choice to direct an intimate story about the differing ways a couple cope with the accidental death of their young son. (In fact he was the second unorthodox choice: Sam Raimi was originally attached, but withdrew to do the next “Spider-Man.”) And it was strange for him to want to do it. “It’s the first thing since ‘Hedwig’ 10 years ago that made me drop everything,” Mr. Mitchell said.

He was attracted by Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s taut script, and by a personal connection. “When I was 14,” he said, “we lost our brother, who was 4, to a heart problem. It was a sudden, unexpected event. It defined a family forever and recovering from it was something we’re still doing.”

But Ms. Kidman said Mr. Mitchell hardly needed to pitch her to get the job. “He already had it,” even before the phone call when he told her his story, she said. “Talking to someone, I don’t think words and talking is ultimately the way that you choose to do a piece,” she added over a cappuccino in the back of the set. “It’s all based on a sensation, on an instinct. That’s what my whole life’s been based on, a gut instinct. And either it goes way off and it’s something else, or it’s exactly what I thought it would be, or it’s way more.”

Her instincts have not always served her well lately. Ms. Kidman’s last three big-budget films, “Australia,” “The Golden Compass” and “The Invasion” were box-office disappointments, and an auteur-directed indie, Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding,” was a moderate success at best. So while her red-carpet appeal is undiminished (her life in Nashville with her husband, the country star Keith Urban, and their daughter, Sunday Rose, is still tabloid worthy), her big-screen clout may be. That there are fewer boutique studios releasing the “odd stories” Ms. Kidman says she’s interested in — Paramount Vantage, which distributed “Margot,” is much diminished, for example — means she may have a harder time following her gut.

“It’s definitely a rough time,” said Bob Berney, the former president of Picturehouse, a division of Time Warner that was shut down last year. “There’s fewer buyers than ever before. On the other hand, I think the market in terms of audience is stronger than ever, in terms of the number of theaters there are, in terms of people who are interested in something unique or different.” (Mr. Berney has just opened a new distribution company, Apparition.)

Blossom Films has a first-look deal with 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight specifically for “Rabbit Hole.” “We get to finish at the pace that we want to,” Ms. Kidman said, “and then if people respond to it, we get to place it somewhere, with people that we feel are as passionate about it as we are.”

Ms. Kidman did not see “Rabbit Hole” on Broadway in 2006, but after reading a review, she called Per Saari, Blossom Films’ producer, and he flew to New York from Los Angeles that night, he said. He saw the show, for which Cynthia Nixon won a Tony in the role of the grieving mother, and set up a meeting with Mr. Lindsay-Abaire. Ms. Kidman read the play and later saw an Australian production.

“When I first responded to it, it was because I read it, and it was about grief, which fascinates me,” she said. “Loss and love seem to be themes that run through my work.” This film is about “a marriage and the way that people fuse through pain, that you can either be pulled apart or you can come together. In the same way that ‘Birth,’ a film that I did, was about loss of the loved one who’s your partner in life, this is the most profound loss, and it’s the worst place to tread. And so my nature tends to be to explore something that I’m terrified of.”

Shooting a tense scene at the restaurant, Ms. Kidman and Mr. Eckhart remained in character between takes, continuing their conversation as husband and wife or staring intently down in concentration. Ms. Kidman didn’t deviate from the text, but made subtle changes in her inflection, giving the moment, in which she reveals that she no longer wants to attend a support group for grieving parents, a tinge of sadness or bitter resignation.

Asked if making a smaller-scale movie was a refreshing change, Ms. Kidman seemed to bristle. “I’ve always done them,” she said. “I mean, I won the Academy Award” — in 2003, for “The Hours” — “and I went straight into making ‘Birth.’ ”

True: for an A-list star, her career is a patchwork of quirky choices. And in conversation she was personable and down to earth, asking for recommendations of things to do in New York. “A good jazz club is what I need,” she said, “something that is really underground.”

Mr. Saari said she reminded him of his last boss, Robert Redford. “Redford has always had one foot outside of Hollywood,” he said. “I think Nicole, although she’s known to be a movie star, she has this independent spirit to her. It’s the same part of her that lives in Nashville and has a farm. She brings in these giant squash, and says, ‘Look what I grew in my garden.’ She wanted to enter them in a competition.”

Ms. Kidman said her goal with Blossom Films was to promote the vision of directors like Mr. Mitchell and writers like Mr. Lindsay-Abaire, who was surprised to find himself a part of the production even after he submitted his draft. “They haven’t changed anything without my permission, which in my experience never happens,” he said.

Of course vanity production companies in Hollywood are nothing new, nor are pet projects. Most of the films that Blossom is developing, including “The Danish Girl,” based on a novel about the first man to have a sex change operation, have roles for Ms. Kidman. (One that doesn’t is a remake of “How to Marry a Millionaire” in which a man is the gold digger; Ms. Kidman said it was her idea.) But surprise: Ms. Kidman said she has no plans to direct, though she would like to write. “I’m not interested in just producing movies,” she said. “I’m actually interested in protecting the material, because you don’t want this stuff to get hacked to pieces and commercialized and taken into a place that isn’t authentic and real.”

That may be true as an actor, but as a producer, doesn’t she want her films to be commercially successful? Ms. Kidman dismissed the question.

“Films are so ephemeral,” she said. “You can have all of the components and still miss horribly. That’s the beauty of art.”

Trailer for "The Men Who Stare At Goats"

Because really, is there anything more awesome than seeing Jeff "The Dude" Bridges rocking a braided ponytail while in an Army jumpsuit? I think not.

New photo and two new Spanish posters for "Agora"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just so we're all up to speed...

Soon it will be upon us....

I've taken into consideration just over 40 films covering every major genre, and am drawing close to my final 15. A handful of films have already secured their spots on my list, but there's still plenty of space to fill, and lots of great movies to choose from. What's going to make it in? The countdown begins Monday August 31st. Here's a glimpse at just some of the films vying for those remaining seats....

Poster for Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon"

The film won the Palme D'Or (as well as raves) at Cannes in May, and was recently selected as Germany's entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. EDIT: US release date is set for December 30th. Thanks to anonymous for the info.

Theatrical trailer for "Agora" with Rachel Weisz

Blurry new photo of Marion Cotillard in "Nine"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Japanese "2012" trailer with all new footage

"Inglourious Basterds" - REVIEW

It's been a good few years for villains in cinema, with each successive 12 months giving us at least one standout, albeit supporting, antagonist. 2007, great year that it was gave us two: Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men", and Casey Affleck as Bob Ford in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (although Chigurh fits the notion of "villain" somewhat better than Ford). Then 2008 gave us, what else, Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight". Each of these three, whether quietly malevolent like Ford, or obviously deranged like the Joker, had a way of making an impression: Ford's strange aloofness throughout the entire film, Chigurh's conversation in the gas station, and the Joker's first hostage video. Not exactly low standards. So, who is in the running to be 2008's prime candidate for achievement in villainy? None other than Col. Hans Landa of the S.S., played by Christoph Waltz. Though he has been given the nickname "The Jew Hunter", he quite enjoys his work, going through an inspection of a French farm house in the film's opening scene with a casual demeanor and a smile. And this role, this wonderfully eerie role than doesn't even begin to show its full insanity until much later, is just one of the reasons Tarantino's World War II spaghetti western "Inglourious Basterds" succeeds.

Divided into six chapters, "Inglourious Basterds" refers to the Basterds, a group of Jewish-American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to give the Nazis total hell, do not actually dominate the story, and this turns out to be quite a good thing. It's not that those segments featuring the Basterds are bad, but they contain the film's key weakness, which I'll touch on later. Let's focus on the positives first. The other story threads concern The Jew Hunter, and the plotting of Nazi downfall in a movie theater by Shoshanna Dreyfuss, whose parents murder serves as the opening chapter. Much of the early praise has gone to Mr. Waltz as The Jew Hunter, but Ms. Laurent (as Shoshanna) is certainly worth some attention. Mostly displaying a totally stoic expression, whether in the presence of Joseph Goebbels or a young Nazi celebrity sniper (Daniel Bruhl), she gives us several glimpses of emotion, and each one, no matter how fleeting rings true. Though it would most likely make a much shorter movie, I actually wouldn't mind seeing a deeper look into Shoshanna, considering that it is Shoshanna's scheme that helps make the film's finale as wickedly satisfying as it is. The Basterds may be in the title of the film, but it's Shoshanna who, along with Landa, becomes the most interesting to watch. In fact, just about all of the foreign cast members are more interesting than the Basterds, even Diane Kruger as a German double agent who spends all of her time with the Basterds. There's re stories filled with better flowing, more intrigue, and better characters, whereas in the Basterds segments, barely anyone gets to talk (those of you "Freaks and Geeks" fans who are hoping for a few moments of fun from Sam Levine? He doesn't even get a single line of dialogue, and his one action scene, shown in the first trailer, has been cut).

So what exactly is the problem with the Basterds portions? The answer is none other than Brad Pitt. The accent is amusing, but cartoony, as is Pitt's portrayal, which feels more like a glorified caricature, which is a shame considering all of the great characters Tarantino has written in the past. Though he probably had some of the best lines, Pitt's over the top accent and empty posturing make some of said lines less satisfying to the ear, in contrast to past Tarantino roles like Bill in "Kill Bill" or Jules in "Pulp Fiction", both of whom were given stellar monologues and delivered them perfectly. And then there's the internal competition from Waltz, who only gets to shine more at the end because of Pitt's surface-only performance. Making it worse is the fact that none of the other Basterds have any sort of depth whatsoever. Sure, Eli Roth can talk about how he and Tarantino created a backstory for Roth's Boston-born Donny Donowitz (aka "The Bear Jew"), but we never get any looks into that backstory, whether in dialogue, actions, or in flashbacks. In fact, all of the other Basterds are more fun to watch than Pitt, though we know little to nothing about them, save for Hugo Stiglitz (Til Shweiger), a Nazi-turned-Basterd. Luckily, despite Pitt's star power, there are plenty of Basterds moments without him. Best example? A scene in a basement where several of the Basterds rendezvous with Kruger's Bridget Von Hammersmark, only to find that the bar there is crowded with Nazis. In very Sergio Leone-like fashion, Tarantino builds suspense by lengthy conversations, turning up the tension slowly, notch by notch, only to have the payoff be quick-but-bloody bursts of violence. And what makes the scene work so well? No sign of Pitt, seeing as Lt. Aldo Raine can't speak German. Whew, what a relief.

Directing wise, Pitt's misguided interpretation aside, this is Tarantino at his finest, and like most of his movies, "Basterds" is, well...a movie. Pure entertainment, no social commentary or deep, sorrow-drenched character study whatsoever. The music is just as unconventional yet oddly appropriate and production values are great. But perhaps his best choice as a writer and director, was his decision to mess with history. In this politically correct age, it's become common to give bad guys, especially real bad guys like The Fuhrer, a sense of depth, Tarantino cuts us a break. The Nazi leaders, Hitler and Goebbels (the two we see the most of) and all the rest are simpering, blathering fools. There are no "Downfall"-esque moments of introspection where we get glimpses into Hitler's madness. We know what he did, we know he was bad, and as far as Tarantino's concerned, that's all we need. It's all of these things that help "Basterds" reach its finest, most satisfying moments in its grand finale, which is so delightfully insane and satisfying that when a woman's face appears on screen and laughs as flames rise, I kept expecting the screen in my theater to combust. It's this descent into dazzlingly mad historical fantasy that allows "Basterds" to succeed where other "let's-try-to-kill-Hitler" films like "Valkyrie", grounded in reality and facts, failed. We already know how those films are going to end, so Mr. Tarantino did the politically incorrect thing and messed with history, and the result is twisted bliss. And that's what entertainment looks like.

Grade: B+

First look at Sigourney Weaver as an avatar in, well, "Avatar"...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First picture of Josh Brolin and Frieda Pinto on set for Untitled Woody Allen Project (2010)

Neill Blomkamp talks about "District 9" sequel and "The Hobbit"

Source: Ain'

In THIS INTERVIEW with SciFiMoviePage, writer/director Neill Blomkamp reveals that The Powers That Be want a "sequel" to DISTRICT 9 - which he "jokingly" (although not unexpectedly) refers to as DISTRICT 10.

The interview discusses whether to prequel or not to prequel, what to do with Wikus, etc.

Neill also mentions D9 producer Peter Jackson's work on del Toro's HOBBIT adaptation - indicating that current plans call for 370 days of shooting on that film, starting in April. Not sure that length of shoot has been mentioned elsewhere before (although maybe it has) - 'tis a long haul indeed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maury Yeston sheds light on "Nine"'s three new songs

Source: Variety

Can lightning strike twice? Rob Marshall, who took the seemingly unfilmable Broadway musical "Chicago" to Oscar-winning heights in 2002, is expected by many to do the same for "Nine," the Tony-winning musical adaptation of Federico Fellini's semiautobiographical "8½."

"Nine," slated for a November release, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as fictional '60s Italian cinema icon Guido Contini in the throes of midlife crisis, along with a bevy of Oscar-winning actresses who alternately attract and plague him, including Marion Cotillard (his wife), Penelope Cruz (his mistress), Judi Dench (his producer), Nicole Kidman (his star) and Sophia Loren (his mother). Kate Hudson (an American journalist) rounds out the cast.

"Nine" composer-lyricist Maury Yeston was realistic about handing his baby over to the movies. "It was incredibly important to understand that film is a director's art, that (Marshall) be able to adapt this stage musical and make a film independent of an overcontrolling Broadway author looking over his shoulder," he concedes. "That's the very first thing I said to Rob."

Still, the film offered Yeston another chance to extend his lifelong obsession with Fellini's classic. He began working on the musical in 1973, won a Tony for its score in 1982 and tinkered with it for the 2003 Broadway revival. Having worked with Raul Julia in the original and Antonio Banderas in the revival, he was especially aware of "the impact of what some of the casting choices might be on the score."

The result was three new songs:

  • "Guarda la Luna" (Look at the Moon), sung by Loren. "We were lucky enough to have someone who was part of that great period of Italian cinema, who knew Fellini, who knew Marcello Mastroianni (Guido in the Fellini film)," Yeston says. So he tailored a lullaby specifically for Loren's voice (but based the melody on the song "Nine" from the Broadway score).
  • "Cinema Italiano," for Hudson as a Vogue writer in Rome to interview the director. "Italian movies also communicated lifestyle and fashion for the world," Yeston says, so Hudson sings and dances to a number with "a retro feel, elements of '60s pop" that is designed to illustrate to younger audiences how important Italian cinema was in that era.
  • "Take It All," originally written as a trio for Kidman, Cruz and Cotillard but, just before shooting, rearranged as a solo for Cotillard, according to music supervisor Matt Sullivan. "Heart-wrenching" is how Yeston describes the performance by Cotillard (who won an Oscar playing Edith Piaf).

"Rob's idea of a musical is that people don't sing to each other in real life, so he doesn't want them singing to each other in his reality of that life," Sullivan says. "So we go to a stage, and this is all happening inside of Guido's mind and his fantasies. The way he sees his world is through theatrics, through this music."

Music director Paul Bogaev's biggest job was working with the actors and preparing them to record the songs before shooting. Cruz, for example, was auditioned for the film star but wound up as the mistress; Cotillard auditioned for the producer but was cast as the wife.

Bogaev conducted a 50-piece orchestra in London over three weeks in late 2008. "Rob didn't want it to be too slick," he recalled, telling the brass section to play it rough, "like the Sicilian wedding band in 'The Godfather.'" Italian film composer Andrea Guerra ("The Pursuit of Happyness") has agreed to write the underscore.

Much of the speculation about "Nine" has dealt with star Day-Lewis: Can he sing? "He's got a wonderful voice," Bogaev says. "He had never done anything (musically) except sing in choirs, but he works harder than anybody." Bogaev worked with him every day for weeks prior to recording.

But Day-Lewis is nothing if not a Method actor. One day during shooting at London's Shepperton Studios, "Rob and I got called into Daniel's dressing room, which was designed as a 1960s film director's office," says Sullivan. "He's smoking a cigarette, in full outfit and in character, and he's telling us how he would like to see this number that he's performing. And he's talking to us as Guido Contini. It was a really surreal experience."

Hear the first song from the "Where the Wild Things Are" soundtrack

The song is written by Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The full soundtrack will be released on September 29. Click HERE.

"Bioshock" (20??) finds a new director

Well, it's a shame that Verbinski won't be along for what has the potential to be one hell of a fun ride, but I have faith in Fresnadillo. "28 Weeks Later" may not have been as good as Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", but Mr. Fresnadillo still did a very good job of creating tension, fear, and dread, all of which fit well into some of "Bioshock"'s less, um...kid friendly moments. Here's hoping for the best. The game was wonderfully cinematic with its George Orwell/Ayn Rand inspired dystopia, and the story was filled with twists and turns. Hopefully this (and maybe next year's "Prince of Persia") will finally break the video-game-to-movie-curse.


Bioshock after all. The bad news: Gore Verbinski has stepped out of the director’s chair. Who is the new director? Why did Verbinski step down? Details after the jump.

Lets recap the story thus far: Universal greenlit the movie, and director Gore Verbinski stepped down from directing a possible fourth film in the Pirates of the Carribbean series. But in late April, Universal shut down the production, due to the film’s ballooning budget. The plan was to rework the script and explore possible locations outside the country which would offer financial incentives. When asked by the Los Angeles Times for an update on the project, Verbinski sounded less than hopeful.

“The bottom line is it has to shoot out of the States for budget reasons and my schedule may be prohibitive. There’s a great script and a really interesting cast. It really comes down to the financial model now. Big movies are just not being shot in the States. I’m weighing whether I can physically go the U.K. or Australia or one of those other places with a tax rebate for a year-and-a-half.”

Well, that is exactly what Universal has done, and as Verbinski hinted at in the quote from a few months ago, the shooting schedule abroad prevents him from being able to commit to the overseas shoot. Variety says that Verbinski could not commit to the overseas scheduling due to his duties on the animated film Rango, which he is directing for Paramount, and stars Johnny Depp. So who is going to take Verbinksi’s place?

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, best known to American filmgoers as the writer/director of 28 Weeks Later. Verbinski will remain involved in the project, but only as producer. I know a lot of people weren’t too excited about Verbinski’s involvement with the property, but I thought he would be one of the filmmakers who would be able to get the production design and tone right. I was actually one of the few people who didn’t like Fresnadillo’s 28 Days Later sequel, although I did enjoy some of the cinematography and terrifying action.

With a pool of talented name brand filmmakers hoping to helm such a project (Guillermo del Toro has been outspoken), its amazing that Universal went with Fresnadillo in the end. Don’t get me wrong, Fresnadillo shows a lot of promise, but why is Universal trusting a project this big to a filmmaker with only one Hollywood hit? Going from the guy who released three of the highest grossing films in the history of cinema to a guy who directed a fun horror sequel is a huge trade downhill.

When Verbinski was working on the project, the budget ballooned to an unreasonable $160 million, and was said to be growing larger and large by the day. I understand why Universal would be afraid to step into those waters, but the project they are now prepping sounds like a massive cut in creative, talent, and budget. I could be wrong, and I hope I am, because Bioshock is the kind of property that needs to look and feel as big as the game.

Since its release, Hollywood has eyeing a big screen adaptation of this popular first-person shooter. Praised for its morality-based storyline, immersive environment and Ayn Rand-inspired dystopian setting, the game has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and ranks as the thirteenth best video game on Game Rankings. Set in an alternative history 1960, BioShock follows the story of a plane crash survivor named Jack, who must explore the underwater Objectivist-dystopian city of Rapture, and survive attacks by the mutated beings and mechanical drones that populate it. Jack is drawn into a power struggle during which he discovers that his will is not as free as he’d thought. Aviator screenwriter John Logan penned the script.

Official, high quality "Inception" teaser trailer

Well it looks like Mr. Nolan finally learned how to properly film people fighting...y'know, by NOT putting the camera so close. Good for him. This actually looks really good (I was afraid it was going to be just a "well, here's my followup project that I don't really care about before I do Batman 3" type movie).

"Julie and Julia" - REVIEW

Meryl Streep has a reputation for "devouring" the younger actresses that she co-stars with (Anne Hathway in "Devil Wears Prada", Amanda Seyfried in "Mamma Mia!"), which is why Amy Adams, who worked with Streep in "Doubt" should feel somewhat lucky, because she never has to share the screen with her, giving her some distance from Streep's lively portrayal of Julia Child. As Julie Powell, Adams, who ran the risk of being saddled with an incredibly inferior half of the film, manages to rise above the less colorful material. So while she may not match Streep's work in the film, she does elevate her segments into something far above "bland" or "forgettable".

The film opens with parallel movings. Child and husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) are just arriving in Paris, and Powell and husband Eric (Chris Messina) are arriving at their apartment in Queens, situated over a pizzeria. From here, we see both women's lives unfold, albeit over drastically different periods of time, as Julia rises to become the famous chef who co-wrote "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and in 2002, Julie attempts to cook and blog her way through all of that book's recipes over the course of a year. Not surprisingly, Streep's performance is uncanny. In addition to growing seven inches for the role (kidding) she nails Child's voice, with it's semi-musical pitch changes and emphasis on the last word ("I need something to doooooooooooooo!"). Obviously Adams has a bit more room, seeing as Powell isn't nearly as documented, or has any significant distinguishing traits. And despite my fears from the trailer, Adams succeeds in making this a deeper, less naive role than some of her past ones ("Junebug", "Enchanted"). For once, there's no wide-eyed innocent staring or adorable accent; here, she's just a working woman who wants to "finally finish something that [she] starts". Unlike her scenes in "Enchanted", when Adams is sad, the emotions are grounded more in reality; the role may not be super gritty, but this is still a far cry from any delightfully naive princess/nun roles.

As for Streep, there's not to much to say. Outside of nailing Child's mannerisms, she take the role beyond caricature. To highlight this, there is a scene where Julie and Eric catch a Saturday Night Live re-run with Dan Akroyd spoofing Child; the differences are obvious. Even with the musical voice, Streep's potrayal never runs amok or turns cartoonish. There are some undeniably sweet scenes between Child and her husband (played with nice understatement by Tucci), that manage to show off Child's humanity. It's these glimpses into the less charming parts of Child's life that allow her triumphs to be that much more delightful on screen, whether it's succeeding at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, or moving one step closer to getting her book published.

Now, in a film with two related but separated stories, comparisons are inevitable. Which one is better? Do the Julia Child segments demolish those with Julie Powell? Well, having been convinced that the Powell segments would be a terrible bore by some reviews, I was pleasantly surprised with the way these portions turned out. The film allows us to see the strain Julie's project puts on her job and marriage. However, this can also be problematic. In attempting to make the overall film quite light, we never quite get the sense of how much of a strain the project puts on Julie's marriage (explored much more than the effects on her job). So when Eric says that Julie has become unbearably self centered, it's a bit confusing. Is he overreacting, or has she really become so obsessed with the project that she only thinks of herself? While it's easy to assume, we don't have enough evidence to go either way. As for Julia, the lightness of the project does keep Streep from exploring deeper, meatier territory, but the quieter, more serious moments still flow better.

Shockingly, there is one significant way in which Julie one-ups Julia, and it's in the realm of framing devices. With Julie, we are given a defined sense of time: she has one year, and 524 recipes, so whenever we get an update from her (via voiceovers of various blog entries) we get a stricter, more focused sense of time. With Child, who, yes, did have the richer life, the story at times starts to feel a bit aimless, though thankfully never dull. Though we do hear several letters written by Paul and Julia, they aren't used as consistently, and don't do much to give us a sense that the narrative is moving forward. So by the time that Julia is in the process of showing the book to various publishers, the movie starts to feel a bit uncertain as to where it wants to end, even though the ending is a perfectly obvious place.

On the artistic and technical side there's nothing mindblowing. Sets and costumes from the Child segments recreate the period, although several wideshots of Parisian streets a strangely absent of extras. Most memorable is Alexandre Desplat's score, which is as light and charming as the movie itself, which as I said, tends to stay on the bright side of life. So, while this film about a world famous chef and a woman seeking to channel her decades later may not be a richly satisfying entree, it's still a satisfying and light dessert. Bon appetit!

Grade: B

First photo from "Your Highness" with Natalie Portman


For those of you who don’t know, David Gordon Green is following up his stoner action movie Pineapple Express with a stoner medieval comedy called Your Highness, also starring James Franco and Danny McBride. Ben Best wrote the script, which features “an arrogant, lazy prince (McBride) who must complete a quest to save his father’s kingdom.” Franco plays Bride’s relatively more heroic brother, Zooey Deschanel is his bride, and Portman is a warrior princess who is love interest for McBride.