Monday, May 31, 2010

Full-length "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" trailer


Not only does this one include even more fun footage, but it also gives more screen time to supporting players like Anna Kendrick and Alison Pill (if only briefly). Were it not for director Edgar Wright, who has the ability to make films that both satirize genre conventions while also utilizing them for high intensity, I would be iffy about this, but he is, so I'm interested. Even with the increase in visual effects, I'm hoping that, like Hot Fuzz, you can almost feel every punch/kick/injury. And while it likely won't be groundbreaking territory, it's nice to see Michael Cera in a role where his character can legitimately kick some ass, instead of just being a comic relief wallflower.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


1936-2010

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" - REVIEW



It's no secret that some video games have stories rich and complex enough to the point where they are actually better than some films. Nevertheless, the transition from console to theater has never truly been successful. The inherent problem with video game-to-film adaptations is the structure. Video games are built to take hours (7 hours of play from start to finish is considered relatively short), and often have so much in them (levels, enemies, etc...) that trying to cram them all in to a 2 hour film can only lead to disaster. That was where the potential lay, however, for the Sands of Time trilogy in the long-running "Prince of Persia" games. The first installment, The Sands of Time, had a rather straightforward story, with a nice little ending to tie everything back together. Once the prologue was over, and the main conflict kicked into gear, it was simply the story of two people navigating through a ruined kingdom, in order to undo the damage done by the titular Prince. Sure, a good adaptation would have to have condensed events and cut out many of the wondrous locales explored over the game, but it wouldn't have been narratively unsatisfying, because the narrative would have remained the same at its core. Unfortunately, where Mike Newell's big-budget adaptation of the acclaimed video game goes wrong, is that it tries too hard to create something new, and ends up tacking on too much to a simple-yet-sweeping adventure story that needed very little else to begin with.

Much like the game, the story proper begins with the Persian army seizing a city, although instead of simply ransacking it for treasure, they're after "hidden weapons," and it's all too easy to not see the smack-you-in-the-face parallels to the search for WMD's in Iraq. The first 40 minutes or so also feel rushed, and the film moves among locations so often, and the fights are so often shot in close-up with occasional blurry-vision shots that it certainly makes it feel less epic. Thankfully, the problems are mostly contained in the first half of the film, but they are a nuisance. By tacking on so many new characters, good and bad, including two brothers for the titular Prince (buffed up Jake Gyllenhaal), the film doesn't necessarily feel overstuffed, but these aspects are almost totally superfluous. Then there's the nature of the casting. Though Gyllenhaal's hair doesn't look as weird in motion as it does in still images, he still looks out of place (though at least he isn't burdened with any silly hats). However, the rest of cast, though none are outstanding, actually feel more or less right. Gemma Artreton is easily the better half of the central duo, carrying herself with much more poise and showing a better sense for comedic timing, even though much of her banter with Gyllenhaal is often second rate (Pirates of the Caribbean, it is not). Ben Kingsley, as the scheming villain is wasted, though he brings the expected generic charisma to the otherwise thankless role. Alfred Molina is certainly the most embedded in his character's skin, but like Artreton, much of his dialogue is second rate (not to mention that he's underused and totally unnecessary).

That said, even with the limply shot fight scenes, the film does become better when it moves away from throwing around characters, and simply focuses on the characters evading baddies. A brief fight with a chain-claw wielding assassin is probably the stand out, though it too suffers from blurry-vision shots and sub-par framing. Full credit should also go to the sound design, for replacing the punch of the fight scenes that's been removed by the photography. Had the film striven to be a stronger PG-13, it would have been better as a whole. Harry Gregson Williams' score, on the other hand is totally forgettable. But the biggest offender is probably the CGI. For the most part, especially in wide shots, its cartoonish, and in one particular death scene more than a little giggle-worthy. Like the film as a whole, the VFX are sometimes enjoyable, sometimes silly, and wholly forgettable.

Grade: C

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tree of (speculated) Knowledge


It's no secret that Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is, well, full of secrets. The notoriously reclusive director has been especially guarded on his latest project, which some speculate has been gestating since the 1970s, and was once known only as Q. Little details have popped up here and there, but finally, at long last, some real answers have arrived. Paul Maher over at PopMatters.com has put together a wonderfully detailed article about everything that is "confirmed" regarding the film, now slated for release (I hope) this November or December. Now, when I say "confirmed," I mean every bit of speculation, not 100% confirmed facts. But for a director as reclusive as Malick, speculation is almost as good as fact in its own odd way. Click the link to read the full article, which is filled with lots of wonderful info.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes 2" release set


The folks over at JoBlo.com have gotten official word that the sequel to 2009's surprise smash hit Sherlock Holmes has a confirmed release date of December 16, 2011, exactly two years after the first film (making this the second film franchise for Downey Jr. to do so, after Iron Man 2 opened two years after its predecessor). However, change is afoot; Downey Jr. and Law are back for sure, but Rachel McAdams, despite being "present," won't be the leading lady. As much as I like Ms. McAdams, she was my one gripe casting-wise in regards to the first film; she appeared to be way in over her head. Hopefully the new leading lady will be A) more age appropriate, and B) be able to carry a better repartee with Downey Jr. Perhaps his Iron Man co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New "Tree of Life" production still


What else is there to say other than "wow, that's beautiful"? The richness of color, though downplayed by darkness, is sumptuous. This isn't surprising considering that A) it's a Malick film and B) Emmanuel Lubezki is director of photography. As of April, the the film was reportedly "97% finished," and there has been a secret test screening in Austin (why do they always get the great secret screenings?). This is good news, because knowing Malick, that final 3% could take a while. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MacGruber's Dragon Tattoo

My two latest theatrical viewings are two wildly different features: one is an adaptation of an SNL sketch that lasts less than 2 minutes, and the other is an adaptation of a 500+ page Swedish novel that has become the new "it" book, deservedly or not. How were they? Which was better?

Surprisingly, MacGruber is not an awful movie, which is probably should have been. What saves it, and just barely, is that it embraces its juvenile sense of humor without veering into full-blown gross-out territory. Though it starts off without many laughs, as it builds, the number of laughs does slightly increase, thanks to good chemistry among Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, and stiff-as-wood straight man Ryan Phillippe. Wiig is easily MVP, though there are a few instances of straight up absurdity from Forte that are worth a chuckle. It's good for a few laughs, but it's nothing remotely memorable, and if you can find a way to see it without paying, so much the better. It also never drags, or becomes offensively unfunny either, which helps.

Grade: C



The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is the better of the two, unfortunately suffers from one problem which MacGruber didn't: pacing. The first hour in this 2 hr 20 min murder mystery is, well, inert. It takes far too long for Michael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) and punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to finally join forces, hindered by a wholly unnecessary detour involving the destruction of Lisbeth's laptop. The incident becomes a device simply to build to a scene where we learn how tough Lisbeth can be when you wrong her, although this is vaguely shown in a flashback as well, so it doesn't feel entirely necessary. The mystery itself also isn't as ground breaking as reviews/fans of the novel make it out to be, and pulls out an easy trump card to make the hidden villain(s) instantly despicable. Thankfully, the second hour or so, when the mystery actually begins to become clear, is much more intriguing, though it does lessen the impact of one twist. It does effectively build some strong tension though, but once it reaches its true climax, it meanders into a lengthy 20 minute epilogue to finally resolve the story and set up for the second installment: The Girl Who Played With Fire (opening in the US on July 2nd). Overall, it's a good thriller, but it takes far too long, and keeps too close to the source material. This is one foreign film that actually makes me long for its already-planned English remake (directed by David Fincher, who should do wonders with the material).

Grade: B/B-

Monday, May 24, 2010

New "Inception" character banners deepen the mystery





First, let me say that I really love these character one-sheets (full collection can be viewed HERE) in their design, color scheme, and most of all, mystery. As you can see, each character is given a title, but in conjunction with what little is known about the film (entering dreams to steal/protect ideas), they actually add a thin new layer of intrigue. Cotillard's wife-character is a perfect example. In the latest trailer, we see her in DiCaprio's arms, smiling, and later crying, but here she's listed as The Shade, which sounds much less innocent. Factor in the fact that on the most recent theatrical poster Cotillard is holding a gun, and it makes you wonder. Same goes for Ken Watanabe. His character is described as someone who blackmails DiCaprio, but about what and with what no one knows...so why is he called The Tourist? It's all part of the mystery, one that we'll have to wait until July 16th to try and unravel...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cannes Clips

With Cannes finally, concluded, here's a handful of peeks at the films that won awards during tonight's ceremony (or in France, last night). Of all of these, the ones that pique my interest the most are Grand Jury Prize winner Of Gods and Men and Palme D'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The latter in particular looks beautifully, lushly shot, and from what I've carries an amusing mix of bizarro-fairy tale elements that add up to a mesmerizing whole. If the 2.5 minute clip is indicative of the film as a whole, then it's no wonder that Burton and his merry jurors picked it for the Palme.







The 2010 Cannes Film Festival Winners




Palme d’Or:
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Grand Prix (runner-up):
Des Hommes Et Des Dieux (Of God and Men), directed by Xavier Beauvois

Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director):
Mathieu Amalric for “Tournée” (On Tour)

Prix du Scenario (best screenplay):
Poetry by Lee Chang-dong

Camera d’Or (best first feature):
Año Bisiesto directed by Michael Rowe

Prix du Jury (jury prize):
A Screaming Man directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress):
Juliette Binoche for “Certified Copy” (directed by Abbas Kiarostami)

Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor - a Tie):
Javier Bardem for “Biutiful” (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu)
and
Elio Germano for “La Nostra Vita” (directed by Daniele Luchetti)

Palme d’Or (short film):
Chienne d’Histoire directed by Serge Avedikian


Also winning awards at the Festival de Cannes:

UN CERTAIN REGARD
Prize of Un Certain Regard: Ha Ha Ha, directed by Hong Sangsoo
Jury Prize: Octubre, directed by Daniel Vega & Diego Vega
Special Prize: The three actresses—Adela Sanzhez, Eva Bianco, and Victoria Rapos—from Ivan Fund & Santiago Losa’s Los Labios (The Lips)

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT
Art Cinema Award: Pieds nus sur les limaces, directed by Fabienne Berthaud (France)
Prix SACD/SACD Prize: Illégal, directed Olivier Masset-Depasse (Belgium – Luxembourg – France).
Label Europa Cinemas: Le Quattro Volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino (Italy)
PRIX SFR: “Cautare”, directed Ionut Piturescu (Romania) and “Mary Last Seen,” directed by Sean Durkin (USA)
Palm Dog Award: Vuk, the goatherd’s dog in Le Quattro Volte, directed by by Michelangelo Frammartino

INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ WEEK
Grand Prix Semaine de la Critique: Armadillo, directed by Janus Metz
SACD Prize: Bi, dung so! (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!), directed by Phan Dang Di
ACID/CCAS Support: Bi, dung so!, directed by Phan Dang Di
OFAJ (Very) Young Critic Award: Sound of Noise, directed by Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjaerne Nilsson
Canal+ Award for Best Short Film: “Berik,” directed by Daniel Joseph Borgman
Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film: “Deeper Than Yesterday,” directed by Ariel Kleiman

FIPRESCI CRITICS AWARDS
Cannes Competition: Tournée” (On Tour) directed by Mathieu Amalric
Un Certain Regard: Pal Adrienn, directed by Agnes Kocsis
Director’s Fortnight/Critics’ Week: Todos vos sodes capitans, directed by Olivier Laxe

QUEER PALM AWARD:
Kaboom, directed by Gregg Araki.

Predicting Tim Burton's Cannes Jury


It's hard to believe, but it's here: the end of the most prestigious film festival in the world. Though general response to the collection of films in or out of competition hasn't been as enthusiastic as say, last year, there are a few standouts that are likely bets for the top prizes; the tricky part is figuring out which film will land where, since Cannes awards second and third place "top prizes". And with Tim Burton as president, odds are something a little on the weird side is in the running for the Palme D'Or, the festival's highest honor. So, who and what is likely to take home awards in the next few hours? Here's a few guesses:

Palme D'Or: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Why?: Long-winded title aside, this Thai entry has been earning the closest the festival has seen to across-the-board-praise. The story is about an aging fisherman who is visited by incarnations of lost friends and family members (one in the form of a talking cat fish...), and seems weird enough to be right up Burton's alley.

Grand Prize of the Jury: Of Gods and Men
Why?: Though it's been called "overly pious" by some, it has powerful subject matter including religious tolerance (as well as intolerance), and a political statement that practically can't be ignored; supposedly quite moving too.

Jury Prize: Another Year
Why?: One of the better-liked films of the festival, plus Cannes is usually kind to Mike Leigh, who won the Palme for Secrets and Lies.

Best Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Best Actor: Javier Bardem - Biutiful

Best Actress: Lesley Manville - Another Year

Best Screenplay: Certified Copy - Abbas Kiarostami

Un Certain Regard (out of competition): Film Socialisme - Jean-Luc Godard

Camera D'Or (first film): Blue Valentine




Friday, May 21, 2010

Taylor Hackford's "Love Ranch" finally gets a trailer


Here's the synopsis from AwardsDaily: Inspired by the story of Joe and Sally Conforte, proprietors of the Mustang Ranch, the first legalized house of prostitution in Nevada. Boxer Oscar Bonavena was gunned down at the ranch in 1976, suspected of having an affair with, Sally, the madam.

Hmmm...not really sure what to make of this one. It could be really compelling, but then again there's the issue of how Hackford treats the subject matter, which is thorny enough as it is. And it's probably not a fair judgement, but the mere presence of Gina Gershon is making me have Showgirls flashbacks, which is not a good thing. If the film tries to totally martyr-ize the Conforte's, it could be a problem (this was an issue I took with Steven McQueen's Hunger, which felt slightly in favor of its hunger-striking protag, who was a member of the IRA in its bloody, terroristic heydey...). That said, without being too premature, Dame Mirren should probably start preparing herself for another Oscar campaign, seeing as she'll have The Tempest coming out too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cannes Review Round-Up: Doug Liman's "Fair Game"



Next up for reviewing is Doug Limon's (The Bourne Identity) latest film: the Valerie Plame story, titled Fair Game, with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Limon, who's more know for his flashier, action-oriented films, is in relatively new territory with a thriller that has to engage purely with words, and without any chases or fights. I haven't been able to find too many reviews to choose from, but the general consensus seem solid, if not ecstatic. IndieWire's Eric Kohn isn't too enthusiastic, saying that the film "only occasionally moves beyond the level of a solid made-for-TV-movie" (yikes). Kohn does go on to say, though, that Penn and Watts's performances "ensure that the stronger bits hold together," and that the film "builds to an admirably intelligent perspective in its middle section." Brad Brevet over at Rope of Silicon is much more positive, giving the film a grade of 'B+'. He says that "Watts and Penn are excellent," citing Penn's restraint and claiming that Watts "will most likely make a change at the Best Actress category come nomination time in one of her better performances to date." Brevet goes on to praise the film's pacing, saying that after its run time of 1 hr 46 min, "you certainly wouldn't mind if it had gone further." The Guardian, which has yet to publish a full review, mentions the film in a column about film at Cannes with mixed emotion. Xan Brooks says he's not totally sold on the film, in part because it's "too stolid, too by-the-book." James Rocchi of IFC, however, says that Fair Game "specifically succeeds as ambitious and engaging cinema." Finally, The Playlist offers up a review in the middle ground. Kevin Jagernauth writes that while the opening is strange and that "Limon assumes the audience knows nothing about the post-9/11 lead in to the war," he goes on to say that "as the film moves into its second half...the film rockets forward." However, Jagernauth says the film ends on a false note involving a speech by Penn's character to high school students about democracy. That said, he praises the performances, writing that "Watts and Penn are in top form here."

[current] Cannes Verdict: A fact-based, political thriller that walks a fine line between compelling thriller and bland procedural drama.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ouch...


EDIT: Verified

It's not a happy time for Megan Fox. Her first major attempt at headlining a film, Jennifer's Body, didn't do well at the box office, and her next film, this summer's Jonah Hex, doesn't have the best early buzz from test screenings. Sadly, the latest, and worst, sting has arrived:

MICHAEL BAY'S REVENGE! No More Megan

EXCLUSIVE: I've just learned that Paramount won't be picking up Megan Fox's option on Transformers 3 -- and that it was "ultimately" director Michael Bay's decision. (So he gets his revenge for her remark comparing him to "Hitler".) Right now Bay et al are finishing up the script for the threequel and "giving Shia a new love interest makes more sense for the story," an insider tells me. Bay will start casting immediately for the new female co-star.

Um....ow. She won't even be around for the third installment? Megan Fox was one of the key reasons so many teenage boys flocked to that blockbuster and its train wreck of a sequel. Will better things await Megan Fox? What does it mean to have a love interest who "makes more sense?" Do we really care?

Quick thoughts on "The Messenger" (2009)


- Despite possessing a sense of objectivity, the first half hour is particularly powerful, albeit quite uncomfortable.

- Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson are both excellent, and Harrelson firmly deserved that Oscar nomination.

- Surprisingly, the highlight of the film is the segment involving Steve Buscemi as an angry, grieving father.

- Unfortunately, with a story built initially on episodes, Oren Moverman's script meanders a bit in the latter portions when it starts to deviate from the formula, and at about the 1 hr 20 min mark, it starts to drag.

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cannes Review Round-Up: "Certified Copy"



Next in the Cannes Review Round-Up is Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche. I know I said more or less the same thing yesterday about A Screaming Man, but Cannes may now have a new front-runner. Though it's difficult to glean plot details, what I've been able to gather sounds something like a more melancholy version of the Richard Linklater's brilliant Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Awarding the film a grade 'A,' Film.com lavishes praise on the film, summarizing it as "An amazing film, and one worthy of our adoration." Eric Kohn of indieWire is quite kind as well, although he does stress the heavy amount of ambiguity, though praises the film in his conclusion by saying "Certified Copy wanders a bit but never loses focus, with the only certainty being that its gimmick is genuine." Time Out London, awarding the film 4 out of 5 stars, heaps further praise on the film, calling it the new "best film at Cannes so far." The reviewer, Geoff Andrew, goes on to say that the film builds to a beautiful climax "by way of a seemingly meandering but in fact very focused narrative held together by meticulous mise-en-scene," and concludes his review with a single word: "Superb." While still positive, Rope of Silicon is less enthusiastic, giving the film a 'B,' and saying that the amount of ambiguity in the film will be "a problem for a lot of people." Finally, The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young says that the film is a "sardonic reflection on marriage [that] is playful, engaging Euro art cinema under the Tuscan sun."

[current] Cannes Verdict: Uses its meandering structure to ask insightful questions that engage the head without ever forgetting to engage the heart.

Tina Fey hits the big 4-0


Today one of the funniest women in Hollywood, and one of my favorite people on the planet (that I'll never ever meet), celebrates her 40th birthday. As the former head writer of "Saturday Night Live," and the star of the brilliant "30Rock," Tina Fey has built something of a mini comedic empire for herself. She's not a brand, per se, but she has become something of a icon for funny women everywhere. Let's celebrate with some of her finest moments in recent memory...


Monday, May 17, 2010

Julie Taymor talks "The Tempest" at Cannes


Find more videos like this on AnneCam

Despite the collapse/resale of Miramax, Taymor's next major Shakespeare adaptation, The Tempest, is due for release in December thanks to Touchstone Pictures. Like Titus, Taymor explains that her vision is not necessarily grounded in a time period, but rather in what suits the specific characters. As someone who was blown away by how seemingly easy Shakespeare's prose was to understand under Taymor's vision in Titus, I can't wait for this film. Now if only some official stills or a trailer could make their way to the Internet soon...

Cannes Review Round-Up: "A Screaming Man" (do we have a contender?)



Reaction to the 2010 Cannes Film Festival hasn't been as enthusiastic as, say, last year, but finally a strong, generally well-liked film is positioning itself as a possible front-funner, ahead of films like Another Year. That film is A Screaming Man, directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. The story of a family in war-torn Chad, A Screaming Man has earned generally positive response all around. The New York Times' Mahnola Dargis called it "the strongest film in competition" so far. The Hollywood Reporter isn't quite as strong in its praise, but says the film is a "modest but quietly powerful story of love between a father and son." The film might be too small, and with Tim Burton heading the jury, it's hard to say what will be picked for the Palme D'Or, but at last, Cannes 2010 may have found a true front-runner.

[current] Cannes Verdict: Though not hugely ambitious, A Screaming Man is a low-key film that is powerful, with a quiet grandness.

When David met Marion, part II


So apparently that "Poem" video was only David Lynch's hint about the full extent of his "Blue" installment for the "Lady Dior" campaign. While digital video has a sense of movement that usually irritates me, in short form it's okay, and coupled with Lynch's hypnotic music, it's rather effective. It only reinforces my belief that Cotillard and Lynch need to work together on a feature film; she seems totally capable of expressing Lynch's bizarro vision.

Cannes Review Round-Up: Inarritu's "Biutiful"



The next film in the review round-up series is Biutiful, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Babel and 21 Grams. However, this is his first major project that isn't focused on fractured storylines, and is also the director's first film without screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, with whom he a had a falling out. So what does Cannes think of Inarritu's latest lushly shot downer? Well, like Babel, the results vary wildly. Time Out Chicago's Dave Calhoun writes that while the film benefits from being more central in focus, "Inarritu can't help but take his story down distracting roads," and that "the film is best when trying to understand Uxbal [Bardem] as a husband and father." Rope of Silicon's Brad Brevet is much more enthusiastic, awarding the film a solid 'A' grade, and saying that "Bardem is extraordinary as Uxbal" and "everyone involved deserves a round of applause." Anthony Kaufman of IFC has a slightly different take. He says that while "Inarritu and crew keep the proceedings restlessly alive" Bardem's Uxbal "isn't as compelling as he needs to be." Kaufman does make an interesting point about Inarritu's ability to generate intensity, though, writing that "the director clearly knows how to direct an action sequence, with a heart-thumping scene involving police chasing down illegal merchants through crowded plazas." Going back to the positive, Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter summarizes the film as "An impressionistic, poignant portrait of a man on the fringes of Barcelona, forced to relinquish earthly things before his time." He claims that Bardem delivers a "knockout performance," and praises the cinematography and score, but warns that the film "will require several viewings...to yield a complete portrait of its mysterious, flawed hero." Like most Inarritu films, we'll end on a slight downer. The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu thinks that all of the pain forced on Bardem's character are signs that Inarritu is "laying it on a bit thick."

[current] Cannes Verdict: A powerful, well-made film that may test your suspension of disbelief when it comes to human suffering.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One step forward, two steps backward (actually, make that three)

So many movies, so little time. That was the thought that popped into my head over the past few days and realized that as many movies as I try to see in/from a year, there are still so many that it will likely take a while for me to get around to. Though we're five months into a new year and new decade, I'm balancing my viewing selections between what's current, and films from 2009 that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, I haven't had the best luck with my choices; hopefully The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), in some cities now, will be better, because these first two films are 'blah' marks on the otherwise good reputation of 2009, while the third is a disappointment of the moment.


First is The Young Victoria (2009), or as many of us like to think of it, Emily Blunt's Oscar vehicle. All of the elements are there: period setting, romance, courtly intrigue, and pretty things. Yes, there's a lot of prettiness in Jean Marc-Vallee's film, but unfortunately, there isn't much of anything else. Despite having assembled quite the cast, Julian Fellowes' (writer of the wonderful Gosford Park) screenplay doesn't offer much of interest. Aside from some hilariously over-the-top arguing between Blunt and Mark Strong ("You must sign it!" "I WILL NOT!" "How DARE YOU!"), the acting is fine, and it's a shame that someone as talented as Blunt wasn't giving something meatier to work with. The real problem is that it's just, well, plain, and no amount of pretty-but-uninspired costumes can change that. The theme music is lovely, possibly the best artistic aspect of the whole show, but it's over-used, even feeling too strong in scenes that seem to require softer music. In the end, it is a sweet, well-intentioned film, but while its heart is in the right place, the other elements just come off as lazy.

Grade: C+



Next we come to the big puzzler of the triad: Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). Oy, where do I begin? I'm not sure what it is, maybe I've started to lose my hearing (although the results of my latest physical beg to differ), maybe I wasn't being a good audience member, but I don't think I've ever seen a film whose dialogue so poorly explained/clarified its plot. Worse is the terrible quality of sound recording on said dialogue. It's difficult to understand a film when the characters' voices are presented at a volume level so neutral that even with the volume on my TV nearly at maximum, I was struggling to really hear what was being said. I understand that characters shouldn't spend every second spoon-feeding us the plot, but discussing plot elements is nothing new, and it's really not hard to do...it's done in most movies, good and bad. Credit should go, however, to the marvelous production design; once the film finally delves into the heart of the titular Imaginarium (and the first Ledger stand-in, Mr. Depp, appears), there are a few moments of visual delight. Sadly, everything else in Gilliam's film is murkily presented and falls flat, especially the performances (although Tom Waits does have the perfect voice to play the Devil). Had I not read the back of the DVD case beforehand, I would have zoned out a lot quicker than I did.

Grade: C-


We've come upon a trend lately in our blockbuster fare: origin stories coupled with gritty revisions. It's worked marvelously for Batman, but for Robin Hood and his merry men, the result isn't exactly good. It's far from good. It's boring. Taking a look at Robin's "origin" (as an archer in Richard the Lionheart's army), Ridley Scott's film winds up a long, dull, mess. Despite stellar production values and a strong cast, the characters are beyond flat, not helped with the constant switching of locations to cover as many different angles of the story as possible (a great drinking game would be to take a shot every time a location title appears on screen). Crowe is all scowls and gruffness, much like his Gladiator role only without anything remotely interesting to drive him, while Cate Blanchett's Maid, sorry, Lady Marion could have been fun had the role been more fleshed out; these two, like other characters, feel haphazardly thrown together. Three of Robin's merry men practically blend together, while Friar Tuck feels like a non-entity and Oscar Isaac's King John is a rehash of Joaquin's Phoenix's Commodus. William Hurt, Eileen Atkins, and Max Von Sydow are also thrown into the mix, while Mark Strong plays, you guessed it, the kind-of-sort-of main bad guy, since King John isn't quite the villain yet. But the real crime of it all? It's. F_cking. Boring. Hell, at least the god-awful racist robots in Transformers 2 kept me awake (albeit in an irritated state). After the initial castle siege, during which everything is filmed not only in staccato low-frame rate, but also with a shaky camera, it just becomes flat out dull. There's a lot of talk and plot build up, but it's never interesting. The attempts at humor fall flat, and the political/royal intrigue isn't terribly intriguing. As a result, none of the performances register; it's hard to either root for our band of heroes or really hate the villains. And if you can't feel anything, why bother?

Grade: C-

When David Met Marion


The third part of Dior's "Lady Dior" commercial campaign has arrived, courtesy of David Lynch. Though stylistically, it's less "polished" than "Lady Noire" or "Lady Rouge," there's something really magnetic about the way Lynch shoots with digital photography. These two need to work together on a feature, and soon.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cannes Review Round-Up: Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger"



Welcome to the second installment of the hopefully many-part series detailing the "results" of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Up next is Woody Allen's latest star-studded ensemble piece, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger. Even though Nicole Kidman left the project, dashing the first possible chance for her to work with BFF Naomi Watts, it is the latest from Woody, which good or bad, usually means interesting. Continuing his European phase after Match Point, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, now Allen's in London. Judging from the first handful of reviews, the response has been nice, but nothing spectacular. The Hollywood Reporter calls the film "A serviceable Woody Allen comedy that trifles with its characters rather than engaging with them." Vanity Fair has a slightly different take; content-wise, that is. Julian Sancton says the film "is perhaps the most somber screening at Cannes." However, Sancton goes on to say that, like the film's press conference, the film was "the funniest and darkest at Cannes." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman is less kind right from the get go; his article/post is titled "Mike Leigh scores and Woody Allen bores". The review doesn't let up, with such comments as, "The atrociously titled You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is one of Woody Allen’s “fables” — which is practically code, at this point, for the flavorless, dry- cookie thing that results when he writes and directs a comedy on autopilot," and, "There should, by now, be an award for worst actor forced to impersonate Woody Allen in a Woody Allen film. I would probably give the award to Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity (with Scarlett Johansson as a close runner-up in Scoop). But if Josh Brolin, in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, doesn’t quite enter the make-it-stop stratosphere of whiny fumbling stuttering embarrassment, he’s still got to be the least likely actor yet to play a faux-Woody neurotic intellectual." Ouch.

[current] Cannes Verdict: A routine Woody Allen comedy/drama that is by no means essential viewing.

Cannes Review Round-Up: Mike Leigh's "Another Year"



One of the big entries at Cannes this year is Another Year, courtesy of Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky). The film recently screened at the major festival, and early word seems to have been quite good. After struggling to fully get into Happy-Go-Lucky, I'm excited due to Leigh's strength as a director, but not as much as usual. Then again, slice-of-life films have always been really hit-or-miss with me. Here are five reviews from the festival:






[current] Cannes Verdict: Though slowly paced, and without a distinct narrative, Leigh's examination of loneliness is a fine addition to his filmography.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Isn't it funny how time changes things?


And when I say time, I'm not talking about months or years; I'm talking about mere days. And when I say 'things,' I'm talking about one thing: Iron Man 2. I saw the film a second time last night, and after telling one of my friends my problems with it, we all came out of the theater saying that we liked it better than the first. So what happened? I'm not sure, but all I can say now is that I take back some of the things I said about the latest Tony Stark adventure. Some of them:

1) Tony Stark becomes nothing more than a jackass: originally I felt that this was pervasive through most of the film after that birthday party scene (that part still sucks, though). On my second go-round, I found Tony much more enjoyable for the most part, and bits of humor that seemed forced originally were suddenly amusing. This leads me to point #2...

2) The charm has been sucked out: While I'm still bothered by the stammering, the spark between characters did seem to give off more heat this time around. That said, the Justin Hammer character, though in the talented hands of Sam Rockwell, is irritatingly inconsistent. One minute he's just a Tony Stark-lite rival, the next he borders on incompetence. What gives?

3) The pacing/action scenes: The biggest 'wha' during round two was how much faster it felt. The opening 30-40 minutes were a blast, and the big action scenes at the end seemed more lively. However, Johannson's mixed martial arts battle is still the best thing in the whole damn movie.

Conclusion: Though there are still a few problems with the second installment, I'm actually going to go out on a limb and say that after giving Favreau and crew a second chance with a more open mind, I might actually like this film more than the 2008 original. Mr. Stark, you've been upgraded...

New Grade: B


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"The Adjustment Bureau" trailer


On the upside, these sorts of stories are always interesting, but the way the trailer is put together isn't entirely enticing. The cast is great and the use of John Murphy's "The Surface of the Sun/Adagio" from Sunshine is awesome (is there any thriller-ish film that that song doesn't work with?), but I'm not entirely sold on this yet. Originally slated for the end of July, it's now being released in September, which may not be the best sign...

Monday, May 10, 2010

In case you were wondering...


As it turns out, the incredibly epic piece of music from the latest Inception trailer is actually not from Hans Zimmer's score for the film, even though it sounds totally like something he would compose. No, the trailer music actually comes courtesy of Zack Hemsey, who has uploaded the track onto Youtube. The video description contains the link where the track can be purchased (which is nice, considering that most of the epic trailer music you hear is often only for the ears of the people who edit the trailer) for a minimum of $1.

First poster for Inarritu's "Biutiful" with Javier Bardem


At long last, one of the potential major contenders for 2010 Awards season is revealed: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful. IMDb gives the following premise:

A man involved in illegal dealing is confronted by his childhood friend, who is now a policeman.

From what I've been able to search, there isn't any concrete early buzz, though that will all change when the film premiers at Cannes sometime in the next two-three weeks. Though I'm excited to see Bardem tackle a front-and-center lead role, I am slightly worried by the presence of the director. Inarritu's Babel, though technically marvelous and occasionally wrenching, suffered from some irritating contrivances and stupid character actions.
Bardem isn't content with one Oscar; he wants more...

Yet unlike Babel or the much better 21 Grams, this one seems to be free of the director's tendency towards intersecting-stories narratives. Hopefully with only one story to focus on, Inarritu can deliver a film whose narrative will match up to the likely success of its actors. Oh, and this also stars recent Almodovar collaborator Blanco Portillo, which is always cool with me. And is it just me, or is the poster going for a rather Michael Clayton-esque look?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A song for Mother's Day

"Iron Man 2" - REVIEW


Part of the charm of Tony Stark, the hero of the Iron Man series, is his combination of brilliance and snark. Arrogant? Yes. Self-centered? Yeah. Oddly appealing nevertheless? The answer Iron Man (2008) was yes. In the sequel? Eh...not so much. The central problem with Jon Favreau's sequel is that the character traits that helped carry the first film through its origin-story checklist are either toned down or absent altogether. Stark's snarkiness has been replaced with a cockiness that borders on obnoxious, particularly in a scene where he becomes drunk at his own birthday party. This leads to a sluggish fight between Tony and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, taking over for Terrence Howard) that calls to mind a similar scene from Spiderman 3 *shudder*. Oh, and while this plays out, "Another One Bites the Dust" is playing in the background. Yup. Even worse is that the snappy repartee between Tony and other characters has devolved into irritating Robert Altman-esque convos of people talking rapidly over each other without anything interesting or amusing to say.

That's not to say that Iron Man 2 is a bad film, but it's just so far beneath its predecessor in almost every aspect that the fun is minimized. Picking up where the original left off, the sequel focuses on Stark's out-in-the-open status as Iron Man, and the many foes he acquires ranging from Congress, to a rival arms dealer (Sam Rockwell), to a revenge-bent Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke). Some have made the argument that the film's fault is in trying to pack too much into the story, and they're correct to an extent. The film never feels overwhelmed or chaotic, but it could have benefited from sharper focus; either Rockwell's Justin Hammer or Rourke's Ivan Venko should have been cut as a villain. Rourke could have been an incredibly entertaining villain with his electro-whip weaponry, and Rockwell's overzealous Hammer could have been an intriguing rival, but combining the two somehow drags the film down. Meanwhile, one character who is interesting and fun enough to merit a better-developed subplot (Scarlett Johannson's Natalie Rushman) does little save for one acrobatic action scene that's better than all of the explosions and lasers combined. Elsewhere, Paltrow's Pepper Potts, one of the most enjoyable characters from the first go-round, is reduced to a nagger trying to keep Tony under control.

If there's one area where this sequel does improve on the original, it's the action. While there's still nothing groundbreaking (Favreau shoots the battles in a rather workman-like fashion), they're bigger and more exciting than before, although the final confrontation feels like a whimper following a big bang. As I said before, the best action scene is also one of the shortest, and involves a character who barely got anything to do other than be a means by which to further the subplot to set up the eventual Avengers film. The special effects, which felt so fresh and seamless, now feel totally unspectacular, while the sound mix simply sounds LOUDER without been more effective. Aside from the occasional flippant one-liner, Iron Man 2 is sadly missing the wit and charm of the original, and now feels as robotic as the suit Tony Stark wears.

Grade: B-/C+

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Inception" trailer #3!!!!

WOW. Even with the plot clearer...WOW, this easily tops the teaser and first trailer. Glorious new footage, and incredible music (please tell me that piece is part of the score), with a combination of psychological and physical action...I'm in.

"How to Train Your Dragon" - REVIEW


I know I'm late. I know I'm really late, as a matter of fact. But alas, it's happened: I've jumped fully on the How to Train Your Dragon bandwagon. It might be hard, but I'm going to try and keep this quick. What struck me most was the shift in writing on this particular Dreamworks release (perhaps due to the fact that it's based on a book?). The studio's formula of cramming as many pop-culture jokes into a scene has been abandoned in favor of something surprisingly adult. The attempts at humor aren't forced or obvious, and even though it sometimes (mildly) backfires, this step towards maturity is an encouraging one. The protagonist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), is your typical I-don't-fit-into-my-society-the-way-my-father-wants-me-to misfit, but the screenplay, by focusing almost solely on him, gives him a greater sense of depth, even if Baruchel's voice sometimes grates on the ears. That the other half of the central duo only communicates in grunts, growls, and purrs, only adds to the effectiveness. The design of the central dragon, Toothless, is part salamander, part cat, and the creature is given so much personality in his (her?) movements and facial expressions, that it doesn't take long to feel the bond between boy and dragon. And when the two finally join forces, after a surprisingly long build-up, and take flight for the first time, it's nothing short of exhilarating. I'm not even sure if the 3D added that much, but the placement of the "camera" is spectacular (not so surprising once I learned that Roger Deakins was the film's visual consultant). Coupled with John Powell's soaring score, it's the big flight sequences that take the film one step above what it could have been. The problem, unfortunately, lies in certain elements of the script. The story is familiar, but it's nicely told with enough detail to give this world a sense of life. That said, secondary and tertiary characters tend to get screwed over in the development department. Astrid (America Ferrera), Hiccup's romantic interest of sorts, changes her views on dragons in a heartbeat, and then shows up toward the end just to motivate Hiccup into doing what he needs to do to arrive at the film's climax. Others, like Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill, are totally one-note. Gerard Butler manages to do a nice job as Hiccup's stern father, however, as he's given more to do and has more one-on-one interaction with Hiccup. So while How to Train Your Dragon may not quite be up to the Pixar standard in every department, when it soars, it stands (or rather, flies) up there with the best of them.

PS: I want my own Toothless. Seriously.
lol wut
Grade: B/B+

New, much better, actor-riffic "Inception" poster

Word has it that a third trailer is on the way (and currently playing in front of Iron Man 2), which I'm dying to see. Hopefully it doesn't reveal too much, though; I've loved how intense the trailers have been so far without giving away a shred of plot. This poster really does a nice job of playing with the footage from the trailers, and the whole mind-bender aspect of the film. Oh, and Marion Cotillard has a gun now? Nice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trailer for Sundance Best Picture Winner "Winter's Bone"


I need to start brushing up on my indie films, because I could have sworn that this was an acclaimed film starring Michelle Williams (turns out that's Blue Valentine). Well, that silly mishap aside, this is quite a chilling little trailer. The whole "character about to lose house so she turns to something desperate" is reminiscent of 2008's Frozen River, although this film is certainly more focused on the thriller aspect. More on this as it arrives, but this just moved up my list of films to see for this summer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Teaser trailer for "The American" starring George Clooney


When I first saw production stills for this film, I assumed it was just another assassin thriller, but the trailer makes it look much more thought-provoking. I still haven't seen Anton Corbijn's Control (2007), but I've heard great things. From this trailer alone, it's obvious that Mr. Corbijn has a beautifully understated visual style that should go with the film well. And even cooler is the presence of Thekla Reutan, who did a nice job in a what was basically a throwaway role in the fantastic In Bruges (as the hotel co-owner/receptionist).

RIP Lynn Redgrave


1943-2010