Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I can't listen to this trailer for Paul Greengrass' Green Zone because I don't have any speakers hooked up in my new location, but it looks and feels exactly like a continuation of the Bourne franchise migrated to Iraq, for what its worth.
I've never been a giant fan of the Bourne series, if only because by the time Ultimatum rolled along, I felt like the series was just spinning its wheels and regurgitating the same plot beats, crescendos and formulas to death.
Of course, with Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass, with his notoriously identifiable filming techniques, and Matt Damon in the lead role, it's not hard to imagine why. Green Zone was delayed until 2010 by Universal and is now slated to release on 03.12.10 in what is quickly becoming the most exciting first three months of any movie year I can recall due to lack of studio funding for p&a, the writers' strike, etc. -- thank you, dwindling movie economy!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
It's such a strange, dark and surreal 10 minutes, certainly more in-tune than the 100 minutes or so that come afterwards. At this point, I thought Huston was in Beat the Devil territory with a half-serious, half-satirical western, but mostly this thing just flat out doesn't work.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Clint Eastwood's Invictus (Warner Brothers, 12.11.09), the Nelson Mandela biopic starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, has a poster and it pretty much sucks. It screams of faux-inspirational hooplah with Morgan Freeman's profile, engulfed in a blinding light as if to represent a biblical figure of some sort, looks phony. After Gran Torino was the surprise hit of January last year, why not slap his name all over it? Instead, he's relegated to a Tom Hooper or a Brad Anderson.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I saw Duncan Jones' Moon at the Dallas AFI Film Festival in April and thought it was pretty okay. To me, it's just a visually compelling film with a very interesting Sam Rockwell performance to say the least (plus Clint Mansell's score is really good in places), but I found it slight and too duct-taped together. Despite some spectacular lunar ingenuity, it doesn't have an original bone in it's body.
So I was more than a little surprised to see such enthusiastic remarks for the film throughout the summer as it saw an extended, popular art-house run. The Blu-ray comes out 12.29.
Monday, October 19, 2009
I swear to you, this trailer for The Spy Next Door about a special agent (Jackie Chan) in charge of babysitting a house of annoying kids is one of the worst I've ever seen. I'd rather watch G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 400 times than sit through this thing once.
Sprouting up from the genes of Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier, this looks to achieve a whole new level of parental cruelty. Just look at the supporting cast of spares they've rounded up for this thing (Billy Ray freakin' Cyrus!).
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Director F. Gary Gray, with all of his mustered machismo brutality and combustible set pieces, is back and he has the judicial system in his sights with Law Abiding Citizen. Swooping flyover shots of the William Penn bronze statue sitting atop Philadelphia’s City Hall are filmed with a seemingly discerning eye while judges and prosecutors alike are depicted as flamboyantly assertive and dishonest.
This is an oppressive film, with its industrial color palette, clanging shackles and flood of legal terminology. If you could smell a film, Law Abiding Citizen would smell like a musty rod-iron fence. But wait until the slimy politicians and self-preserving district attorneys start roaming the halls of steel-caged thugs who aren’t any more animalistic and unlawful than the prosecutors who put them there. As they speak, you can even see their corruptness and indecency through the cold, wintry air – that is until they receive a new inmate, Clyde Shelton.
Clyde (Gerard Butler) is a father and a husband who is the victim of a random break-in, which brings about the death of his wife and daughter at the hands of two brutes. The prosecutor in this case, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), in an effort to guarantee a conviction, makes a deal with one of the two murderers who is now a cooperating witness and will testify in court against the other. So we have two murderers – one gets the death penalty, one gets off in three years.
Outside the courthouse, in front of a sea of photographers, Nick shakes the witness’ hand in the view of a sheepish and bewildered Clyde, who has just witnessed the injustice of the legal system first-hand. The fact that Nick was unwilling to go to court and get a conviction for both men because of insubstantial evidence, despite it being the absolute truth, makes it all the harder for Clyde to swallow. Fast-forwarding ten years, the film quickly becomes an amoral revenge-kick before switching gears completely (to its credit) into a somewhat rational undressing of the American judicial system through the mind games of the now imprisoned, yet still mystifyingly dangerous Clyde Shelton. “I’ll bring the whole system down on your head”, he says to the wide-eyed and frustrated Nick, “it’s gonna be biblical”.
The fundamental problem with Law Abiding Citizen is that it’s a film that wants to toe the morality line and do it under the guise of a slick package, but it simply doesn’t have what it takes under the hood. Our two protagonists are given bland, lifeless dialogue to just throw back-and-forth while the filmmaking is far too routine to overcome the lack of viable substance and certainty. Compounding matters are the surprisingly flat and underwhelming performances of not only the supporting cast but also the two main stars.
Gerard Butler (300, The Ugly Truth) is just plainly miscast here as an unbelievable portrait of a grieving father/husband-turned-vigilante. He’s too rough and prickly with his lisp and toned-physique – the fact that I never bought him as this “wounded soul” could not be compensated for by button-down shirts and raincoats, much to the filmmakers’ surprise. Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, looks like he needed a warm cup of coffee to the face. Supporting players and familiar faces like Colm Meaney and Bruce McGill are almost too ideal for their roles while female counterparts like Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) as an understudy lawyer to the district attorney and Viola Davis (Doubt) as the no-nonsense Mayor are hopelessly derivative.
I do appreciate what the film is trying to do here, but it’s often too non-committal, meandering and preposterous. When Clyde’s secret, or rather how he does what he does, is revealed, it’s both a letdown and a shot to the film’s already crumbling credibility. When it’s over, we get the feeling that Clyde’s goal could have been obtained through simpler means and spared us the lecture.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Credit must also be given to novelist Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonze himself, as the adapted screenplay of Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's book is inflated into a feature film that more closely resembles a work of art than a glorified flip-book. If Dr. Seuss could only have been so lucky.
I'm off to see Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are at 10:00 am this morning followed (hopefully) by F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen at 12:25, which I'm covering for The Film Nest. Then I have high school football duty at 5:00 and have to find time to write two reviews (one for the site, one for the blog). It's half-exciting, half-overwhelming.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Martin Campbell's The Edge of Darkness (Warner Brothers, 01.29.10) marks the return of Mel Gibson to the big screen, or rather, on the big screen - his first appearance in seven years. I can't say that it looks like any big deal, or that it looks any better than those French-directed vigilante stinkers like Taken or the upcoming From Paris With Love, but with the cast and Bill Monahan (The Departed) writing the script, it should be pretty decent.
I like how it has this Baltimore outdoors-y pine tree feel to it instead of Parisian euro cars and luxury yachts. As long as the ridiculous factor is toned down a bit, January-revenge thrillers can be handled with care and come out alright.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I've been watching a lot of bad movies of Blu-ray lately, because, well, that's what Blu-ray is for - giving you an excuse to watch movies you otherwise wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Plus, it's actually a lot of fun watching bad movies that you expect to be bad. I get off on it like I'm sure Simon Cowell gets off on 300 lb. cows trying to sing Kelly Clarkson.
Iain Softley's Inkheart (2009) C+
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
My Saturday was full of football, driving and a back-to-back Friday-to-Saturday double-viewing of The Coen Brother's A Serious Man, easily the most fully realized and expertly crafted film of the last two years, really. I doubt Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon or Lone Scherfig's An Education could top it, but I'd be willing to find out.
On the surface, it's a sly, dry black comedy about a guy who can't catch a break, with the Coen's usual affinity for full-on wayward geographical immersion and cultural typecasting. But underneath, this is a scathing, black-hearted takedown of the passive, noncombatant followers to the philosophical fundamentals of faith, destiny and truth.
It's a fable, or illustrative tool, used to heighten, dramatize and question the metaphysical motives for hardship, tragedy and everyday fatigue. It's subject, Larry (Michael Stuhlburg), a harmless everyman father and husband, endures a cavalcade of godly interventions and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, sending him scrambling for just cause, heavenly refuge, and more importantly, for answers. The Coens (and Hashem) are hardly forthcoming in their revelations.
A Serious Man just operates on such a level of thorough assuredness that's uncanny even for a Coen Brothers film. It frequently resonates louder and more honestly than the eerily similar philosophical yarn in No Country For Old Men - a superb film in its own right.
Any film that's able to pick out a faith-loving, "rest easy" punching bag and give it about ten good bloody-knuckle uppercuts, followed by a roundhouse kick, and does it in a generally humorous and surgical way, deserves my utmost respect.
It's about what happens when the cards are stacked against you with no outlet in sight and what it all means - how to interpret it. "Why me?", the film asks, just before it slaps you on the wrist for even asking.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I'm not sure what happened, but I just checked the Criterion website to find that the cover-art for Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale has been changed. The old cover was middling, uncolorful and dispiriting, but I totally dig this new re-design for the Blu-ray/DVD release due out on 12/1.
The only eye-sore on here is that the title covers up the Criterion "C" logo in the top left, why not move it down to 3/4 up the tree? Oh well, the point is that Criterion, after several very mediocre cover designs, have restored my faith a little bit - my life is practically riding on what they come up with for Steven Soderbergh's Che ('08), due out in January of next year.
I actually can't wait to pick up the Blu-ray (11/3) on Wednesday or Thursday from Netflix and just revel in its campiness and the Stephen Sommers zest of leather-bound vixens and square-jawed, beret-wearing military figures. However, something struck me about the cover art for the Blu-ray - why not throw Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller up there holding big guns in their most revealing and tight-fitting outfits? Whose going to see Rachel Nichols or Marlon Wayans and throw down $25 bucks?
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Billy Wilder's The Spirit of St. Louis ('57) is a terrific, well-polished, albeit safe CinemaScope account of Charles A. Lindbergh's non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. I dug it because of Franz Waxman's score and Robert Burks' photography and Jimmy Stewart's performance, but Wilder's screenplay certainly has an air of respectability running through it even when it misteps at some crucial moments.
The movie sticks out to me because of the excellent stream-of-consciousness voiceover by Stewart as Lindbergh - which surely was something that was added into the script so that engine sputtering wasn't the only noise you heard during the historic flight taking up the second-half of the film as Lindbergh battles sleep deprivation, boredom, and unrest.
The fact that Wilder and Mayes chose to portray the early days of Lindbergh's life as an aspiring pilot during several flashback vignettes throughout the flight is an inspired choice but the scenes prove ultimately worthless. Instead of serving as insightful and prying, they're innocuous and obviously exist as mere time-lapses to speed along the epic, 32+ hour journey across the Atlantic. Honestly, we learn more from our time inside the cockpit than in the memories of our flying hero.
But The Spirit of St. Louis ultimately proves triumphant for the overall grand-sweep admiration is provides for the task. Billy Wilder certainly made better films, and I certainly wished the film had more scenes like the one between Jimmy Stewart and Patricia Smith in the hangar or the takeoff from Roosevelt Field scene, but I still stand behind it about 90%.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
This decade has seen a rapid influx of these white-boy rap world crime dramas. Takers is the next in line - Chris Brown, T.I., Idris Elba, Paul Walker, etc, etc. If the photoshopped poster is bad enough, check out the trailer. Anything keeping Hayden Christensen employed has to be a bottom-of-the-barrel gutter rat, doesn't it? This is like Fast & Furious without cars.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Those two films are good early works, but where they are optimistic, god-loving and reverently sympathetic, Manhattan Melodrama is hands-off and favorably indecisive. I'm strictly speaking of endings here, because in my opinion, Angels With Dirty Faces is a more lived-in and gritty film through 80 minutes before it takes a turn for the worst in the final few scenes.
I just prefer that whole Clark Gable sacrificial, unyielding move at the end of the film ("die the way you live") which so beautifully resembles the last hours of the life of John Dillinger - a point made clear by Michael Mann at the end of Public Enemies ('09). This is opposed to the jolly and flowery final moments to San Francisco and Angels With Dirty Faces which closely resemble the holy and pure mentalities prevalent in the films of the early Hollywood studio system.
Manhattan Melodrama may be a bit more rough around the edges and feel way to boxed-in and claustrophobic with its dark interiors, but it gets my vote over those two films because it doesn't completely succumb to the expected outcome. Both Clark Gable's Blackie Gallagher and William Powell's Jim Wade stand their ground and that kind of blurry line between right and wrong, in the end, makes the film work.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Spiked with girl power spunk and hair-colored rebellion, Drew Barrymore's Whip It is just a punk variation on the teenage-liberation, coming-of-age dramedy. It's funny, likeable, good-spirited and too syrupy by a half.
I did enjoy just taking in the excellent ensemble cast (Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis) and the breezy, fishnet stocking and nose pierced brutish femininity of it all - in fact, for 90 minutes, I was cool and mostly down with it. Then the third act finale of over-extended bow-tying and maple syrup spillage reminiscent of Richard Linklater's School of Rock turned me off a bit and after that, I just couldn't fully embrace it the way I wanted to.
I really like Ellen Page and she's very good here - almost too perfect for the role. In fact, the biggest problem with Whip It is that its coming on the heels of the Oscar-nominated Juno. Page has played this kind of alternative, imprisoned and eccentric maturation adaptor before and this fact doesn't help distinguish the two works from one another, magnifying the telegraphed connect-the-dots script. There just isn't a lot of suspense in Whip It, which hits its narrative beats all too precisely - it's like a fixed roller derby match that's nevertheless fun to partake in.