Saturday, October 31, 2009
Source: USA Today
Jane Champion - ""I've heard it's because of the major studios," says the screenplay winner for 1993's The Piano, whose hopes this year are pinned on her period romance Bright Star. "None of their movies are being chosen."..."It's not a popularity contest," she says. "That is box office. We have that. The Oscars should be something else. Whose decision was it? Why didn't we vote on it? Let it be a challenge for these studios rather than just expect to see Batman on the list."
William Defoe - "I think it dilutes the exclusivity of it," says Willem Dafoe, a two-time acting nominee. "You know, some years there might not be that many movies that deserve it. I just worry it lowers the bar a little bit."
Michael Sheen - Or, as Frost/Nixon actor Michael Sheen, who joined the academy in 2007, puts it: "The more films you have, the less special it becomes."
Peter Schneider - the former head of Disney feature animation who was in charge when Beauty was in the running: "It won't mean as much. Getting in is not as special as when it was just five. It's like cheating."
people who did not want to be quoted - "Already, a shortage of worthy selections is being cited as a problem this year by voters who prefer not to be quoted. Even with five slots, they might only fill in two or three titles on the ballot, leaving the rest blank".
The rest of the article discusses how in the past the most popular films were nominees so the 10 picture slots wasn't a big deal, but now a days it's the smaller or less seen films which are better.
Others members blame precursor awards for the lack of interest in Oscars today:
•Statue-swapping fatigue. Some voters suggest the real problem isn't the ceremony or the nominees. It's the fact that there are so many other awards shows that air before the Oscars, including the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Film Institute and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
Since they feature a similar slate of contenders, they undercut the importance of what should be Hollywood's ultimate evening to shine.
As 15-time nominee and two-time winner Meryl Streep says, "The Oscars should be Jan. 2. By the time we get to the Oscars, these same winners have trudged up on stage multiple times..."The best acting all year is when they act surprised."
Friday, October 30, 2009
After the unsettling opening credits (which consist of von Trier's name and the title written in crayon), we're launched into the prologue: a gorgeously shot slow-motion black and white sequence in which He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) have sex, while their toddler accidentally slips out of a window blown open by the wind. Set to the music of Handel, it's a beautiful, albeit briefly graphic, opening that is a misleading as the title itself. Von Trier's film is not about a physical antichrist; in fact, it's really more about, well...other "things". The mention of the devil is nonexistent. Instead, what we're given is the story of a man and his wife dealing with grief, and their encounters in a forest getaway called "Eden" that hint at some sort of supernatural evil, without making anything completely clear.
She is convinced that the son's death is all her fault, while He disagrees, and tries to talk her out of her depression by stressing rationality. But at the same time, He himself is tested. Over the course of the stay in Eden, He encounters three cryptic animals: a deer with a dead fetus, a hawk that eats its dead young, and most famously/infamously, and a fox that tears at its own flesh and proclaims, "chaos reigns". Yes, it's all pretty insane, but for most of the film, save for tiny flashes, von Trier's film remains interesting and even accessible, despite falling into the almost nonexistent "art house horror" niche. He plays with sound and light to good and often eerie effect without gratuitous gore. Until the end. Whether you can keep your eyes open for two key scenes in the final 25 minutes or not, you will be shaken. And you'll never look at a pair of scissors the same way again.
I probably should have started my review with this bit, but, well, maybe I can tie it in here as well. There are those who claim that certain films aren't meant to be "enjoyed" because they are "art" and are meant to challenge us and be wrenching and unpleasant. This strikes me as total BS. Even if a film is tough to get through (for example, Mr. von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark"), one still enjoys seeing scenes that are well directed/shot/edited/acted. So while I may not be itching to pop "Schindler's List" into my DVD player every other week, to claim that it's not meant to be enjoyed in any sense of the word strikes me as nonsense. But I should have known that if anyone could make me make an exception, it's Lars von Trier. While much of the film could be "enjoyed" in a more conventional sense as a psychological thriller, the final portion is so extreme that is almost defies description. I'm still not exactly sure what I was feeling. For one scene I covered one eye but watching with the other, and in another I close my eyes at the last second. If you had a hard time looking at the "face-sewing" scene in "Pan's Labyrinth", you'll barely survive half a second of what's in store for you here. It's graphic, and not entirely justified (although I'm still trying to wrap my head around the film on a thematic/symbolic level), and certainly a shock to one's system.
That said, it's hard to fault Mr. von trier and crew in many areas. Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is potent, though it never soars as high as in the prologue, and the other tech aspects are solid. In terms of pacing, it certainly felt like on of von trier's faster films (it's also shorter: 1 hr 40 min), though I'm sure some will find the conversations between He and She unbearably slow. For me, this wasn't the case, thanks to the strength of the actors. Though so much of the film is built on mystery and ambiance, Dafoe and Gainsbourg turn in very good, though not quite great work. Their characters don't quite grow enough to give us the most well rounded performances, though they are intriguing; this is perhaps the first von Trier film that succumbs to style over substance. It will certainly shake you without resorting to cheap "jump" scares, and the characters are more interesting than anything in most Hollywood horror films, but as a whole it falls short of greatness due to feeling somewhat underwritten. If anything, it is a film made more so for the director, and not for the audience. Instead of leaving me speechless, von Trier has left me babbling, and much like his film, I'm not sure what it all means.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Christ almighty, we're finally here. We've covered quite a few genres, looking at everything from westerns to musicals. So what's at the top of my list? None other than the biggest film trilogy since The Godfather and Star Wars. At #1 is...
#1. "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" (2001-03) by Peter Jackson: [NOTE] If these comments seem awkward (and long winded), it's because I already poured my heart out about this films when I talked about the entries on IMDB's top 15 list. Therefore, I've decided to take a large part of my three separate rants on each entry (starting with the second chapter: The Two Towers).
First off, right from the get go the effort is obvious. The stunning score starts to play and we hear Cate Blanchett's narration of the stunningly rendered prologue, tracing the first War of the Ring. It's still hard for me to watch the scenes in the Shire and not get slight chills by how beautiful and earthy it feels. And of course there are the other beautiful settings: immaculate Rivendell, white and glowing Lothlorien, the Mines of Moria, etc... Yet even with the prologue, there's still a lot for Mr. Jackson to set up, and he does so flawlessly. Though there are plenty of scenes that have no buildings or markings of the cultures of Middle Earth, they still feel like they're part of another world. Thrilling, dark, haunting, and beautifully rendered, it's a brilliant start to a towering trilogy. In both scale and detail these films are masterfully directed, aided by near perfect casting and of course Howard Shore's magnificent scores. On The Two Towers specifically, this one showcased Jackson's impressive ability to handle large scale action scenes (the Battle of Helm's Deep) and introduced us to one of cinema's greatest character creations: Smeagol/Gollum, as portrayed by Andy Serkis. When he first hisses "my precioussssssss", it was like a sign flashed up on the screen that said "ICONIC PERFORMANCE". In capturing both sides of Smeagol Serkis and Jackson created a rich, despicable, memorable character that leaps off of Tolkien's pages and becomes frighteningly real (credit also goes to the amazing use of motion capture technology). On a different note, one thing that also deserves mentioning is the way that Jackson and crew really made you feel the malevolence of the One Ring. Throughout the trilogy there are moments where almost all background noise is muted and all we hear is either a strange tone or a strange "whoom" sound. The effect is nothing short of hypnotic and it makes us understand why whenever characters hold the ring before their eyes, they feel compelled to just stare at it. Best example of this effect? The scene at the end of The Two Towers where Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol, captured by Faramir and his men, pass through the ruined city of Osgiliath, under siege by Orcs. Suddenly, the fearsome Nazgul and their lizard-like winged beasts soar overhead, and right on cue the sound gets turned down and people start to move in semi-slow motion as that "whoom" effect pulses from the speakers. Frodo, as if in a trance, eerily mutters "they're here" and walks up some steps, out into the open. Not missing a beat, we see one of the Black Rides rise up on his steed, the great leathery wings slowly propelling them up. The first time I saw that scene in the theater, I was so sucked in and so mesmerized, that when the Nazgul popped up I almost couldn't breathe. And that's just one of the many brilliant this magnificent (and LONG) trilogy got right. Many believe that either Fellowship or The Two Towers was the shining moment in the film trilogy, but I think that Jackson just kept topping himself, even with those 5 million endings. Yes it's long, but so were the other two, and even so there's soooooooooo much to love. Visually, this one may be the richest, grandest looking one, with grand vistas of Mordor, Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul, and the jaw dropping panoramas of the siege of Gondor and the Battle of Pelenor fields. The music is as gorgeous as ever, the bad guys as menacing, and the story as strong. Once again, Jackson is a master at making us "feel" certain situations, most notable when Frodo and Sam, beaten and exhausted, begin their ascent of Mount Doom. As they crawl up it's hard to not feel the weight that the Ring has put on them, and Sean Astin's delivery of the "I can't carry it, but I can carry you!" line, which could have been silly, is just fantastic and a wonderful testament to the story's underlying themes of friendship and loyalty. And don't even get me started on the collapse of Mordor. Call me a sicko, but it's one of the most jaw droppingly phenomenal scenes of destruction (but hey it's the bad guys, so give me a break) ever put on screen, and as it happens it's hard not to feel the sense of relief that washes over the characters. But even then it's not done. I still get chills and even a little teary eyed at the scene where Aragorn, at his crowning ceremony, sees the four Hobbits and says "you bow to no one" and everyone in the audience kneels before the four shortest people there. And with all of those endings, where did they finally cut it off? Annie Lennox's hauntingly beautiful song "Into the West". Icing on a glorious cake.
Final Grade: A++
Best Performance: Sean Astin and Ian McKellan
Best Scene: The very definition of epic - The Fall of Mordor
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
And with that, every major Best Picture hopeful finally has footage available. I wouldn't be surprised if this film did quite well during awards season, particurlarly after Eastwood's double strike-out last year with "Changeling" (3 noms, but none for Eastwood) and "Gran Torino" (zilch). Unless it's a total disaster, which I doubt, expect to see some major love for "Invictus" and everyone involved.
Just make a few cast changes and this could be "Bourne 4"...not that this would be a bad thing...
"Set at an all-girls boarding school in 1934, Cracks sees the one-time Bond girl playing Miss G, an enigmatic-yet-alluring teacher who inspires fanatical loyalty within the small clique of girls in her diving team. However, when the arrival of a Spanish girl (María Valverde) as a new boarder throws their cosy world into flux, all manner of nastiness ensues and a new side of Miss G emerges."
Monday, October 26, 2009
I know that it's shallow to judge a movie on looks alone, but I'm a sucker for films that are visually snazzy...at least until I see the finished product. This looks like a delightfully deranged combination of "Sin City"/"300" and an actual anime cartoon...and that's before you even get to the weird robot machines...
Source: The Hollywood Reporter/Spill.com
The Hollywood Reporter says that the title of Woody Allen's new film is You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.
The film stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto and Lucy Punch as different members of a family struggling with their tangled love lives and their attempts to try to solve their problems.
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is slated for release in fall 2010.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
As far as sequels go, especially unplanned (ie: not intended from the start of production on the original) sequels, it's rare that lightning strikes twice. The result is either a boring and/or rushed retread of the original, or a delightful surprise that may even be better than the original. And then there are those total anomalies, like "New York, I Love You". A followup to the art-house smash "Paris, Je'Taime" (2007), which was built on short films directed and starring dozens of names, the New York chapter in the possible series-to-come of "cities of love" anthologies is an oddity because it isn't exactly a failure or success. Lightning a seems to have struck twice, but simply with much less impact this time around.
One of the biggest changes in New York is its overall construction. In the Paris film, each short film was told in entirety, followed by a few establishing shots to introduce the neighborhood of Paris where the next film would take place. With this structure, the film was able to give each story a sense of standalone power, which is sadly missing in New York. The New York film sees characters from different story threads crossing paths in odd ways, and some shorts start in one place and then pick up at a different point further along. The intention was most likely to give a greater sense of coherence, but to me that seems to defeat the purpose, which is to emphasize the different angles of the city that each director wishes to showcase. While some of the short bits are fun (Chris Cooper's first appearance has a great ending), the parts of the film that succeed the best are those that are told in their entirety, namely Shekar Kapur's story of the relationship between a former opera star (Julie Christie) and a crippled bellhop (Shia Labeouf). It's a beautiful and mysterious piece that, due to not being broken up by interludes and other stories, is able to achieve better impact while also imparting a sense of closure. A case of the opposite effect? A short involving Justin Bartha and Eva Amurri, which I'm pretty sure barely clocked in at 2 minutes; what a waste! But even in its best moments, there's something about the New York installment that doesn't hold up. Plot development is sometimes foggy and mired in dully executed dialogue (case-in-point: opening short with Hayden Christensen and Andy Garcia). And unlike the Paris installment, the failures really do feel like failures. Paris had its odd moments (the crazy Asian salon, the Elijah Wood vampire story...) but there was at least something weirdly compelling about them. Sadly, when New York messes up, it messes up in a noticeable way, and by the time the hour and 40 minute film is over, you'll be ready to leave the theater. It's a shame, really, because if any city should have been able to produce a worthy successor to "Paris Je'Taime", it was New York, but the fire just isn't there. Perhaps it would be best if the film were retitled: New York, I Kind of Enjoy You...But Not Too Much
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
I hate to have to wait until 2011 for the next Bond film, but I'd rather have everyone involved take their time. Let's hope Bond 23 is more like "Casino Royale" than "Quantum of Solace"...
Diamonds are forever - and so is James Bond.
The 23rd 007 film will start production in late 2010, series star Daniel Craig told fans Thursday outside the stage door for his Broadway play, "A Steady Rain."
"We start end of next year," he said in a video posted to YouTube.
The actor has played the debonair spy in two Bond films so far, franchise reboot "Casino Royale" and last year's Quantum of Solace," both huge box office hits.
Daniel, currently acting alongside fellow big screen hero Hugh Jackman in "A Steady Rain," will next be seen in theaters as Red Rackham in Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn."
I actually didn't have any problems with the original teaser, but a lot of people did. Something tells me this one will go over a lot better with the general public and the fans who have been following this film since day 1.
I probably should have started this earlier, but, hey, better now than later, right? That's right, it's time for the Oscar Buzz Ratings (ie: determining which films/performance have just gotten a boost up or down toward Oscar stardom).
Helen Mirren for Best Actress/Supporting Actress for "The Last Station" (which has secured 2009 release).
ROME - A Danish movie about a gay love affair between two members of a neo-Nazi group won top honors Friday at the Rome Film Festival, while Helen Mirren won the best actress award.
Mirren won for her depiction of Leo Tolstoy's wife in Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station," while Meryl Streep picked up a career achievement award.
The winning movie, "Brotherhood," takes a hard look at the neo-Nazi group that the leading character, Lars, joins after leaving the army. The group carries out raids on homosexuals, but Lars and his mentor in the group, Jimmy, begin a love affair that they try to keep secret.
"Brotherhood" is the first feature film by Nicolo Donato, a 35-year-old who previously worked as a fashion photographer.
The jury handing out the awards was headed by Oscar-winning director Milos Forman.
The best actor award went to Italy's Sergio Castellitto, who played a single parent and blue-collar worker dreaming that his son will become a boxing champ in the movie "Alza la Testa."
The festival paid homage to Streep through the career award and a retrospective of her work. Her cooking flick "Julie & Julia," in which she plays Julia Child, was shown out of competition and was chosen to close the festival.
At the award ceremony, a black-clad Streep was presented with the career achievement prize by Giuseppe Tornatore, the Italian director who won an Oscar for best foreign film with "Cinema Paradiso."
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Set in England in 1961, we're quickly introduced to Jenny: she's a top flight student, an avid reader, and has plans to go to Oxford to study English, so she can finally read what she wants. Then along comes her encounter with David (Sarsgaard), who offers to take her to a concert in London. Surprisingly, both of Jenny's parents, though hesitant, are swept up by David's charms, and Jenny goes and meets David's business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his ditzy girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike). Time passes, and Jenny starts to go on further adventures, and it's here that the film reaches its high points as far as movie-making goes. Watching Jenny transform is nothing short of delightful, and Scherfig manages to accomplish it all without a single obnoxious "trying-on-different-clothes-shopping-montage".
Of course there are complications, namely as to whether Jenny will still be attending Oxford or not and tt's here that the rest of the cast gets their chances to shine. Sarsgaard makes for a convincing cad, and Cooper and Pike are effective in their smaller but important roles. But the ones who really shine are those characters trying to force Jenny to continue her path of studies. Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson contribute greatly in their brief appearances as Jenny's teacher and school headmistress respectively. But it's Alfred Molina as Jenny's father who really hits the nail on the head. Loud but never blustering or buffoonish, Molina creates an endearing, albeit not always likable character. The same can be said for Mulligan. Jenny may not always seem like she's doing the right thing, but it's hard to deny that Mulligan's performance is engaging and compelling.
Where the film falters, however, is in its storytelling. Though quite breezy in its pacing, an effectively so, the introduction of David into the story is a bit too quick, even though it doesn't diminish Sarsgaard and Mulligan's chemistry. What doesn't work between the two actors are a handful of scenes that are effective at conveying what David wants from Jenny, but not the other way around. Such scenes are dangerously close to crossing the fine between "appropriately uncomfortable" and "icky". There's also a key scene involving Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) which is both too brief and poorly executed on the dialogue front; if there's something important being imparted from one character to another, it falls flat because so much of it sounds mumbled and without conviction. There's also the ending, which, though emotionally resonant, is almost too quick and too tidy. The final line uttered in the film provides a strange combination of closure and a desire for something more.
But at the end of the day, story hiccups and all, Sherfig's film remains an effective one. By turns both funny and serious, blended nicely thanks to Nick Hornby's sharp adaptation of Lynn Barber's memoir, and the cast handle Hornby's words with aplomb. Nick Englishby's score has some nice moments, matching both the livelier and slower portions of the film. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to Mulligan, whose radiant star-making performance is worth the price of admission alone. Scherfig's film has its flaws, but its numerous successes make this an education worth listening to.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
No more explanations, no more "oops-I-did-it-again" sentences about how I keep delaying. I'm getting this countdown done this week, and that's final. Here's #2...
#2 "No Country for Old Men" (2007) by Joel and Ethan Coen: There have already been quite a few films from 2007 on this list, but none of them, amazing though they were, come close to scratching the immense brilliance of the Coen brothers' quadruple Oscar winner. Gorgeously adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, "No Country" showcases the Coens at the height of their cinematic powers. The emptiness of McCarthy's world is beautifully conveyed thanks to focus almost entirely on primary characters (down with the extras!) and Roger Deakins' beautifully bare opening shots of the Texas prairie combined with Tommy Lee Jones superbly restrained narration. Such an opening is eerily reminiscent of the first frames of their debut, "Blood Simple" (1984); it's a beautiful homage as well as a symbol as to how far this powerhouse directing duo has come without losing their identities. But emptiness is not all that is impressive. One thing I admire immensely about McCarthy's prose is his ability to switch from simple, "plain" dialogue to careful back-and-forth exchanges that keep you on the edge of your seat. The Coens and crew don't dissappoint here, and the fact that there are actors (damn good actors, too) saying these incredible words is enough to make me think that this is one adaptation that's as good or better than the book. Case in point: the instant-classic gas station scene, in which psycho hit-man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in a chilling Oscar-winning turn) engages in a bizarre analysis of a humble store clerk. The whole interaction between both men builds beautifully, with the Coens ratcheting up the tension at a slow but effective pace. The fact that its end is so mystifying and even lightly humorous only adds to the overall effect and to Chigurh's mystique. But Bardem isn't alone as far as great performances go. Josh Brolin, often overlooked, certainly gives the least powerful performance in the film, but to totally dismiss it seems wrong. As the closest thing to a hero, Brolin makes Llewellyn a someone worth caring about, albeit from a distance. Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Dillahunt have their own small moments as Llewellyn's wife and Sheriff Bell's deputy respectively, as does Woody Harrellson as a mysterious man trying to hunt down Llewellyn's cash-filled suitcase. But the real stand-out, aside from Bardem, is Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell. He changes expression little, but there's a beautifully restrained gravity in his delivery as posture that is quite effective, especially in the divisive final minutes of the film. But ultimately, the performance that gets everyone talking is Bardem, and it's understandable. Everything from the menacing stares to the bizarro page-boy haircut seems instantly iconic, and Bardem's chilly delivery and occasionally wicked facial expressions are brilliant to experience. The New York Times' A.O. Scott put it best when he wrote, "...At its center is a figure of evil so calm, so extreme, so implacable that to hear his voice is to feel the temperature in the theater drop". As for the Coens themselves? As both directors and editors (Roderick Jaynes is the Coen's editing pseudonym), they're at the top of their game. The tension, the quietness, the pacing, and most of all their beautiful understanding of McCarthy's prose are just incredible. In many movies it can be frustrating when a film seems to either forget to tell us everything, or does so on purpose. But the Coens understand that no everything needs to be explained. When Woody Harrelson tells Brolin's Llewellyn, "you don't understand" it's a message: Llewellyn is in WAY over his head, and since he is our protagonist for most of the film, its appropriate that the audience not fully understand everything either. But what about the ending? Easily the most controversial aspect of "No Country", I was never someone who hated the film's ending. Mystifying and surprising? Certainly. But "pointless" or "stupid"? Not so fast. "No Country for Old Men" is an extremely layered film and with each viewing I pick up something new, some new detail, or some new subtlety in an actor's inflection. As for the ending, I won't rant about my theories about "what it all means", but I will say that it all begins and ends with the title of the film. It's a beautifully thematic puzzle to the best film of 2007, and my second favorite film of the decade. It is a masterwork in every sense of the word, and deserves to take its place as one of the Academy's most inspired picks for Best Picture in a long while.
Final Grade: A+
Best Performance: Javier Bardem
Best Scene: apologies about the video quality
I have to agree with the folks at FirstShowing.net: this shorter trailer is much better. By not focusing as heavily on plot details and simply giving us a good feel for the atmosphere, this trailer actually has raised my interest quite a bit. And that cast is pretty fantastic as well.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" has certainly had quite the rollercoaster ride through development hell. First there were reports of difficulties during shooting, then rumors of the studio taking over the project, and THEN rumors that Jonze wanted to re-shoot the entire film. And then the trailer was released, and interest soared, as did expectations. So where does the final product land? Oddly enough, it lands somewhere in-between. While Jonze certainly makes a satisfying film, and one that has its brilliant elements, the overall film feels a bit slight, in spite of being somewhat enchanting.
Adapting a 10 sentence book into a compelling feature film was always going to be a challenge, despite the book's status as a children's classic. But to my great surprise, Jonze and crew manage to turn Maurice Sendak's book into a film that may not have a great deal of forward momentum, but doesn't feel sluggish or empty either. After behaving badly for a variety of reasons, Max (Max Records) is scolded by his mother, after which he runs away and discovers a small boat that takes him to a strange island. Once there, he meets the titular wild things, strange creatures resembling everything from bulls to birds.
From their introduction, the wild things are impressive. Rendered almost entirely in the form of large puppet-costumes (courtesy of the Jim Henson company) instead of CGI, they're quite striking to look at, and blend with the environments beautifully (kudos to Jonze and crew for shooting mostly on location instead of in a studio). The wild things are certainly quirky in both appearance and personality, but at times there are hints of something darker and nastier. And this is where the film will surprise many: though based on a children's book and given a PG rating, Jonze's film is not exactly a "kid's movie". It is a movie about being a kid and learning to grow up, as opposed to escaping into fantasy every time things don't go one's way. Max may be king in this strange new world, but even that fantasy of having complete control starts to crack and break down.
Performance-wise, Jonze's feature is first rate, particularly from young Mr. Records, on whose credibility the film rests. With a perfect sense of child naivete, and a look of wide-eyed hope that never becomes over-bearing or obnoxious, Records' energy and restraint are one of the film's highlights. Aiding Records is the superb voice cast, bolstered by strong turns from James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano. Sadly, Chris Cooper and Forrest Whitaker get shortchanged, and their characters at times border on extraneous, because they're never given a chance to leave an impression. Whitaker's character Ira in particular seems to be there only as the "boyfriend" of O'Hara's character Judith, while Cooper role as Douglas borders on insignificance. There's also the matter of a large bull/ox-like wild thing, who never speaks, and never does anything terribly meaningful. He gives a brief, mask-like stare to Max near the film's end, but given his general lack of activity throughout the film, it feels empty. Bit roles from Catherine Keener as Max's mother and Mark Ruffalo as her new boyfriend have virtually no screen time at all, though Keener does well with establishing a genuine mother-son connection with Records, which makes the final scenes gently affecting.
On the production front, however, the film couldn't be stronger. The cinematography beautifully highlights the natural and artificial elements of Australia, which is the setting for the wild things' world. Cinematography and the limited but important art direction are lovely, though occasionally the camera-work does make the fun-and-games scenes a bit hard to decipher. The real winner however, is the score from Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O and the wonderfully talented Carter Burwell (who has never been nominated for an Oscar...why is this?). Their music, a mix of alternative indie-folk and gentle piano captures the overall adult tone of Jonze's film, infusing a sense of child-like wildness with somber elegance.
But in the end, what causes Jonze's film to never reach its full potential is in fact, the source material. In keeping with the book, Jonze's "expanded" story is slight. If Jonze had wanted to expand upon Sendak's original narrative, he would have risked breaking thematically with the book, and creating a movie that wasn't true to the source material. So while Jonze's film is by no means a failure, it's somewhat ironic to see that one thing holding it back isn't studio interference or creative control issues, but rather the very source material from which the movie comes from.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Ain't it Cool News' head honcho Harry posted a rumor from a source he calls "pretty reliable" that director Martin Campbell is looking to lock the rest of GREEN LANTERN's main roles in the coming days, and the lead choice to play Sinestro would be none other than Jackie Earl friggin Haley. First Rorschach, then Freddy, and now Hal Jordan's nemesis - that guy is on fire!!!
Harry also mentions the possibility of a Superman cameo in the film, but who gives a crap about big blue - I wanna see Rorschach kicking Ryan Reynold's butt!!! What say you schmoes about this?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Sure, this poster may be the headline of one of the blogs/sites listed on the right of the page, but this is so cool that I felt I had to post it as well. Despite mixed notices I am still looking forward to seeing this quite a bit, and little things like a striking poster only magnify my excitement.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Remember when I said I was going to try and finish this list quickly in the previous installment? Yeah...I kind of lied. We've covered pretty dark territory and even though today's entry is somewhat lighter, it's not exactly a feel-good film. We're delving into fairy tale/fantasy today, and though there's plenty of beauty, there's also plenty of horror. Number 3 on the list is...
#3. "Pan's Labyrinth (2006) by Guillermo Del Toro: Though more people have certainly seen both of Del Toro's "Hellboy" films, what he deserves to be known for is "Pan's Labyrinth", his follow-up to the similarly themed ghost story "The Devil's Backbone" (2001). But while "Backbone" stayed strictly in ghost territory, "Pan's Labyrinth" moved into full-blown fantasy, and the results are nothing short of stellar. By beautifully switching between the real and the fantastical, Del Toro gives us a haunting tale of imagination, hope, fear, good, and unspeakable evil, in the context of fantasy and in the very-real Spanish Civil War. And while this film may have significantly fewer fantastical creatures than "Hellboy", they carry more weight and seem to have more thought: the mystic faun who guides protagonist Ophelia on her three tasks, the slimy toad draining the life from the twisted tree in the woods, and most memorably, the terrifying creature known only as the Pale Man, whose eyes reside in sockets cut into his palms. Theirs is a realm filled with both beauty and ugliness, often in the same frame, thanks to the gorgeous set design and photography (and I know I'm in the minority, but I still think that this film deserved its cinematography Oscar much more than the wildly overpraised "Children of Men"). But it's not just the fantasy creatures that leave an impression. The real world sequences can both be soft and light, or dark and grimy with flashes of unsettling violence and cruelty. And what better way to epitomize cruelty than in the Capitan, played with mesmerizing intensity by Sergi Lopez, who firmly deserved a Supporting Actor nomination for creating such a singularly sinister character without ever devolving into caricature. His mere presence, particularly in the latter half of the film, is enough to evoke both fear and disgust. It certainly doesn't hurt that the other major roles are played so well. As Ophelia, Ivanna Baquero brings a lovely doe-eyed innocence to the role that makes her willingness to accept the faun's (Doug Jones) proposal that much more effective, and her fate(s) that much more powerful. Backing her up are Jones, who spends the entire film in different sets of astonishing makeup, and Maribel Verdu as Mercedes, the maid in the Capitan's woodland home who develops a bond with Ophelia. But what's truly so mesmerizing about the film is Del Toro's skill as a director and writer. The film is neither overwhelmed by reality or fantasy, and the characters, though firmly divided in regards to whether they are good or evil, feel grounded in some sense of reality. But his greatest achievement is how he is able to evoke so much without ever going overboard. We can feel the pain of injuries inflicted on characters without being subjected to over-the-top gore, feel tension without cheap tricks, and feel uplifted or heart-broken by the various turns in the story, aided beautifully by Javier Navarrete's score (why exactly did this lose to "Babel"?). As dark as it can be, there remains something beautifully hopeful about Del Toro's often somber fantasy. It is a fairy-tale for adults whose impact can best be summed up by its tagline: Innocence has a power Evil cannot imagine.
Final Grade: A+
Best Performance: Sergi Lopez
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
While I was waiting in line to see Paranormal Activity last Friday, I was invited to an early screening of a 're-imagining of a classic horror film'. Today, I took my invitation and went across town to get to the early screening. I didn't know what the hell they were going to be showing us. Many were hoping it would be A Nightmare On Elm Street or The Wolfman. I thought that either would be too good to be true. Every seat was filled up in the theater, and I was sitting next to some film critics and some film industry big-shots. After an hour of waiting in my seat, a lady came up in front of the screen and announced that we would be among the first to see The Wolfman. Everyone in the theater cheered loudly, and one guy even stood up and held a fist in the air screaming. I'm sure he made a mess in his pants due to his excitement.
So this is my review of what I was shown. There may be some minor changes done to the film before its theatrical release, but I doubt its anything that would alter my review.
'The Wolfman' Review
The film is a remake of the 1941 horror film of the same name. The central plot follows Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro), a man who re-unites with his father (Anthony Hopkins) after learning his brother has been brutally murdered. Talbot, who has had a distant relationship with his family, decides to stay home in order to discover what happened to his brother. As he gets deeper into his 'investigation', he unravels secrets from his childhood and crosses path with the werewolf, which eventually bites him and makes him a target.
Let me start off with some of the positives of the film. The performances in the movie were absolutely fantastic. Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt all delivered and really brought their characters to life. It's always good to have great performances in a horror/action film. Everything seems genuine and all of the characters are very engaging. The set pieces and cinematography are all beautifully created. There's a lot of eye candy in this film just as far as the sets are concerned, and I really love the atmosphere this film created. The visuals I saw were pretty cool, although some of them were still in progress. I imagine the visuals will be awesome when the film is released next year. The music is also pretty bad-ass. I rarely comment on the score of a film, but this one really had some great music.
Some other things that impressed me were the action sequences and the 'kills'. The action sequences are pretty exciting and they'll keep you at the edge of your seat. Just when you think it's safe... something crazy happens and mayhem ensues. The 'kills' are also pretty awesome. The werewolf in this film is pretty insane, so expect to see a lot of blood, gore, and human body parts flying around all over the place. The violence, along with the dark atmosphere, really gave a suspenseful experience.
While the film had lots of positive sides to it, it also had its fare share of negative attributes. The one thing that pissed me off the most was the pacing of the film. It starts off slow to introduce the characters and setting, and then all of a sudden it kicks to high gear. After it has some fast scenes (which sometimes feel as if you just skipped ahead and missed something entirely), the film will go back to a slow pacing. What I'm trying to say is that the film's pacing was pretty inconsistent. The pacing stems off and creates other problems, such as poor story elements. I feel as if some of the mysteries in the film were just solved by adding a few lines to the script. The writers probably said amongst themselves:
"So, how does this happen?"
"Umm...I don't know, let's just make him say this or add this sub-plot"
The story even forgets to answer some questions that may have been burning in your mind, and when you leave the theater you wonder why these questions were never answered (you can blame the writing and fast-paced scenes for that). Emily Blunt's character also seemed to be useless, and was just added to give off some romance. Finally, the ending wasn't that great. I wish it gave off more of a conclusion, but the ending just wasn't for me.
Overall, The Wolfman is a fun horror/action film. The acting is great, the sets and visuals are awesome, and the action sequences are pretty bad-ass. There are also some pretty cool kills in this one for all of you blood/gore fans. While the film can be fun, the plot suffers from the film's inconsistent pacing, which eventually leaves some plot holes. Trust me, the trailer makes this flick seem a lot cooler than it actually is. As for my Spill Rating, I'm left in a split decision: If you're really dying to see this film and you're in love with werewolves, horror, gore, and action, then you should see this in a Matinee screening, just don't set your expectations too high! If you saw the trailer, and you were unsure if you wanted to see this in cinemas, I suggest you just give this a Rental.
My Spill Rating: Matinee
I'm excited about this...but there's just something odd about Cate Blanchett dressed up as Maid Marion saying, "welcome to Nottingham, GIRLFRIEND!"
Eleven years ago, a little movie with no stars, no budget, and apparently no "scripted moments" called "The Blair Witch Project" made headlines and scared up some serious money at the box-office, terrifying audiences and critics. Sadly, this led to a pathetic sequel, which despite a much bigger budget, tanked. However, it now seems that the "Blair Witch" blend of shaky-cam, low-budget, could-this-be-a-documentary?, style of film making has found a worthy successor in Oren Peli's low budget fright-fest about a young couple who might be haunted by a demonic spirit of sorts.
And when I say low budget, I'm not exaggerating. Costing only $11,000 and shot over only seven days, and utilizing minimal but effective how-did-they-do-that? special effects, it's certainly an impressive example of what can be achieved with such a minuscule budget. But special effects aren't the only impressive thing about this eerier little movie. Instead of devolving into a non-stop scream-fest, the film, written by Peli, actually gives its leads time to talk as they go back-and-forth on what's going on. On the one hand, there's Katie (Katie Featherston, who looks like a cross between Jenna Fischer and Amy Adams), who thinks that the strange events around their house have to do with a "presence" from her childhood, and on the other hand there's Micah (Micah Sloat), who for much of the film throws out sarcastic commentary, giving the film some levity, and providing balance in the "supernatural vs. rationality" conflict that arises.
So what makes "Paranormal Activity" so effective aside from its bare-bones, no-budget style? For starters, Peli takes his time before getting to the scares; maybe a little too much time, but time none the less. And even when the spooky things start happening, there's a sense of gradual build-up. Initial spooks are more weird than frightening, so when the time comes for Peli to pull out the big moments, they usually work, even if there are times when the shock-factor stems more from thinking "how did they pull that effect off?". Performance-wise the film is actually quite solid, with Featherston and Sloat projecting a very real, zero-glamor appeal that adds to the overall effect (made particularly impressive by the fact that there were no re-shoots).
If I had to make a recommendation about "Paranormal Activity", I'd say that you should see it in a theater, and at a night-time showing (I went at 11pm and had a blast), and hopefully a sizeable crowd will be there. Even though there are bound to be a few obnoxious jerks who won't shut up AT ALL, there's something riveting about feeling the tension and jolts that "Paranormal Activity" is able to generate. You'll also want to make sure to go with at least one other person (especially if you go at night), because this is one fright-fest that you won't want to see by yourself, or else you'll face a long, unsettling walk back to your car. To quote one review of the film from the San Francisco Chronicle, "a few people in the audience were laughing during the first half of the film. No one was laughing during the long walk out of the theater."
Friday, October 9, 2009
Lars Von Trier has been doing press over the past week for the US release of Antichrist. (Remotely, as he doesn’t fly, and has never been to the States.) But it wasn’t until today that he revealed the name and nature of his next project. Planet Melancholia is said to be a ‘psychological disaster film’, which he will write and direct. Hm. Psychological disaster? Sounds like Antichrist, no? But this one has a sci-fi bent, and a couple other interesting things about it.
There’s the possibility that the film is actually just called Melancholia, which is how Variety is currently listing it. The trade says the title is illustrated in their press release by ‘an enourmous planet…that looms threateningly close to Earth.” THR says that Von Trier is “moving into Roland Emmerich territory” with Planet Melancholia, but also calls Antichrist an “art house mash up of the slasher horror genre,” so I’m not sure I trust the Emmerich description.
More intriguing is the note from producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who said the film will shoot next summer in Germany and Sweden, and feature “a mix of spectacular, cinematic imagery with Dogme-style handheld camerawork.” Jensen also said the film, which has reportedly come together very quickly, would be “romantic, in a Lord Byron sort of way.” The sci-fi intimations are slight, so I’m curious to hear more about that angle, if indeed it is significant. Jensen says the film does not involve an alien invasion, so there’s that. Wonder if this one will get a video game, too?
Unfortunately, we don’t know any more than this. We might get a few more details as the director does more Antichrist promotion, but I expect we’ll have to wait a few more months for anything significant.
As for Lars Von Trier, there was only one comment: “No more happy endings!” Be afraid
"I didn't do anything" is a phrase often said by Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) in the Coen brothers' latest cinematic oddity "A Serious Man", and for the most part, the statement is accurate. Opening with a quote from Rashi (paraphrase: receive what life gives you with simplicity) and a rewind back to what I'd assume are Gopnik's ancestors, the clash between belief in spirits and curses, and belief in the purely rational is established, and it will continue into the film's present-day (1967). Larry, as so many other reviews have said before, functions more or less as a Job figure: a man whose life just gets worse and worse even though Larry never really did anything wrong, and through it all, though he questions God's hand, he never doubts God's existence, even as things start to pile up. Like many Coen films, this one centers on characters (or in this case, a character) who is inherently good, but whose life falls apart due to a combination of fate and his/her own less-than-great choices.
However, in Larry Gopnik the Coens seem to have created their most innocent suffering protagonist yet. When Larry says he didn't do anything, it's pretty much true. He's been faithful to his wife, who now wants a special religious divorce so she can marry a neighbor with whom she's developed a connection, and manages to uphold his academic integrity when one of his students tries to bribe him for a better grade, among other incidents. There's also his squabbling kids, one of whom is stealing money to buy pot all while zoning out in Hebrew school to the songs of Jefferson Airplane. There's also the matter of two new neighbors: a family of rednecks who may or may not be anti-Semetic, and a very attractive single woman who likes to sunbathe nude. So what does Larry do in the face of all of these mounting problems? He decides to visit three very different rabbis, hopefuy that one of the men will give him the answer he so desperately needs.
I've actually just given you the entire plot of "A Serious Man", but surprisingly, this isn't a spoiler. Why? Because the joy here is in the way Joel and Ethan Coen, by now masters of this sort of film, beautifully craft this near-constant downward spiral that is certainly dark, but also filled with surprisingly hilarity that won't elicit laughs from Jews alone. The way in which the Coens gradually, almost imperceptibly, turn up the tension and intensity beautifully shows their command of the craft of filmmaking, particularly in the humor. Whereas the Coens' 2008 offering, the star-studded "Burn After Reading", was a well-made film that suffered from forced, inorganic attempts of humor, "A Serious Man", much like "The Big Lebowski" or more closely, "Fargo", finds its humor in organic, real ways, never trying too hard to turn some odd idiosyncrasy into a joke. The dialogue that hits home isn't forced or constructed for the sole purpose of being "catchy" or "easily quotable", but instead is natural, making the funniest moments come with a delightful amount of surprise. And, much like "Lebowski" or "Fargo", the storytelling gradually becomes more compelling, while somehow maintaining an outward appearance of being totally relaxed. The early portions particularly may seem to be too relaxed, but they are in fact all part of the superb build-up that the Coens accomplish.
The Coens have a long history of getting good work from their casts, and "A Serious Man" is no exception here by any means. Stuhlbarg makes Larry a character with whom we can feel as he suffers, even though some of his troubles are meant to be taken as bleakly funny. As for the supporting cast, no one has a stand-out supporting role. However, the supporting ensemble as a collective is incredible, particularly Richard Kind as Larry's brother Arthur, and Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman, the man Larry's wife is leaving him for. It's movies like this that make me wish there was an Oscar for Best Ensemble Cast, because while the supporting roles taken individually may be too small to garner any deserved attention, as a collective they pack a wallop.
Artistically and technically the film is superb. Though slow and not entirely clear during its opening scenes, the Coens, once again working under the fake persona of Roderick Jaynes, edit this story to near-perfection. They're aided by long-time cinematographer Roger Deakins (why does this man not have an Oscar yet?), who frames and lights the shots with subtle richness, and nails a handful of scenes when characters are high on pot. And though his music is rarely heard, long-time collaborator Carter Burwell (also, why does this man not have an Oscar?) provides the occasional smattering of low-key, effective music.
I've saved one last piece of the story for the end, and it happens to be, well, the end. The Coens practically made headlines with their abrupt, mystifying ending to "No Country for Old Men", and "A Serious Man" ends in a similarly mystifying way. And while, unlike "No Country", I still have yet to begin to decipher the full meaning of the ending, it does function as a strange, full-circle point in the Coens' careers. Roger Ebert said in his review (again, I'm only paraphrasing here), "it is often said that parables contain clues to their full meaning in their final lines," and "A Serious Man" seems to be no exception. The ending, both confusing and heart-stopping, is a testament to the Coens' strange talents as filmmakers. I may never fully grasp what the ending to "A Serious Man" means, but in a sense it doesn't matter. The mystery almost makes it all better, in what may be the most mature (behind "No Country") film of the Coens' careers, and a more than worthy successor to their crowning achievement from two years ago. Serious and seriously funny, "A Serious Man" will certainly be as divisive as previous Coen brothers films, but for those who can open themselves to their odd little way of making movies, it's also seriously good filmmaking.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
It's been quite some time, so, here to help me express myself, ladies and gentlemen, Sir Peter O'Toole!
The Weinstein Co. has bumped its star-studded musical Nine to December, according to Brad Brevet at Rope Of Silicon. Instead of its previously announced release date of Nov. 29, Rob Marshall’s film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and Penélope Cruz will now come out on Dec. 18 in New York and Los Angeles followed by a wider release on Christmas Day. This isn’t the biggest shock in the world; as it was, the Weinstein Co. was scheduled to open Nine and The Road on the same day. Now they’ll have two weeks between The Road and Tom Ford’s A Single Man (now set for Dec. 11). And I’m sure Marshall doesn’t mind having the extra time to tinker with his cut.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007) by Paul Greengrass: I was not really fond of "Ultimatum" when I first saw it. Whether it was due to my then-ignorance of "The Bourne Identity", or simply not being in the mood, all I could think about when I walked out of the theater that summer day was, "damn, that was overrated." So, having gone through the Bourne films again, has my opinion of this critically hailed, good-old-fashioned action film changed? Yes it has, and considerably so. I mentioned briefly in my write-up on "The Bourne Identity", how important re-watching films could be (especially if the film has received strong reviews and you find yourself simply thinking that it was "meh"), and I have few personal examples better than "Ultimatum".
What makes the final chapter, and Greengrass' second turn at the helm, so effective, is how it beautifully combines the strongest elements of "Identity" and "Supremacy". "Identity" had a greater number of "action moments", but some of them were quite small, whereas "Supremacy" only had handful, but they were often expanded. However, "Identity" lacked the depth and intrigue brought about by "Supremacy", especially in the last half. As for "Ultimatum"? It blends the two somewhat together, although it does lean more toward "Supremacy". There are really three key action scenes, although they could each be described as having separate sub-components (particularly the fantastic pursuit/s in Tangier), and in between we get encounters that carry more conflict. In "Identity" it was Bourne/Marie vs. the government, and this was somewhat the case in "Supremacy". But in "Ultimatum" we get a refreshing new angle: fights within the government. In addition to Bourne racing against the government, there are those in the government who want to see him, but not to have him taken out, namely Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), returning from "Supremacy", and new addition Noah Vosov, played commandingly by David Strathairn. This extra tension helps propel "Ultimatum" into richer territory, without ever sacrificing action. In fact, this may be one of those rare "smart action movies" that does a near-perfect job of balancing fighting/chasing and talking, without ever losing intensity.
Its set pieces are exhilarating and well-structured, its dialogue sharp, its editing swift, and its camera work intense without becoming indecipherable, the final (for now) chapter of the Bourne saga is a stunningly well-executed action film filled with a great cast doing good work. It's a thinking-person's action film that generates excitement out of well-written situations, and gritty action scenes that are never bogged down with gadgets, and instead bolstered by an organic realism that is all too rare in these days.
Final Grade: B+