Monday, November 30, 2009
Poland was even inspired enough to write a smackdown of every critic who inappropriately compares a film to its source material or vice-versa. I agree with every word of it. This isn't to say that the negative reviews have gone away - they're still there - but maybe there's some hope for it. After all, I pretty much had written the movie off last week.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
With full-bore teenage gawkiness and exploratory love-lust, Chris Weitz's New Moon is an amber-tinted, beefed up, awkward brew - neither an improvement over Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight or a franchise deal-breaker.
I found it by-and-large both flashier and far more tedious, both in equal measure. Like any sequel or procession in a series, it ups the stakes and broadens the scope, all the while exposing Stephanie Meyers' source material as it becomes increasingly more inane and seemingly illogical.
Nevertheless, the series continues to remain harmlessly produced and executed - unashamedly exploitative of its stars' mass sex appeal. It's also occasionally pleasurable in its own sort of way even as this installment seems to sulk and pout for its majority. (A Thom Yorke-inspired chase through the woods feels just inspired enough to appear out of place).
I hate to say it, because as much as I'm willing to bang the drum for Kristen Stewart (see Greg Mottola's Adventureland), the overnight sensation and envy of millions of girls across the country is genuinely bad in her second tour of duty as the latest victim of forbidden love, Bella Swan.
With infuriating indecision and incessant fly-trap eyelids, Stewart can't deliver a line without rinsing them through her mouth a couple of times before spewing them out. She sputters and blinks and contorts her brows to varying degrees dependent on her mood (which rarely wavers from near-suicidal brooding). No wonder Bella can't decide what to do - she can hardly speak.
After hearing from several close relatives who have thoroughly read through the entire "Twilight" saga (4 novels), this is a series that gets progressively far-fetched as it reaches its conclusion. The film adaptations may inevitably follow suit, but with Chris Weitz's New Moon, it hasn't quite gotten here. This isn't a train wreck, and as much as I'd like to completely hate these films, I can't. At least not yet, anyway.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Clint Eastwood's Invictus (Warner Bros., 12.11.09), the Nelson Mandela-rugby biopic, is having its temperature checked through various media screenings on both coasts this past week and the near unanimous conclusion is that it's a well-drawn, predictably safe and performed historical recreation - a kind of flowery, no-scruff, inspirational Peter Morgan kind of thing. It's respectable in many ways, but no one will lay down for it.
Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere predicts Morgan Freeman will take home the Best Actor Oscar for his Nelson Mandela/Jesus performance as the uniting leader of a broken nation, but even he (a self-proclaimed Eastwood groupie) calls it a "second-tier" effort. I also love this quote:
"...a satisfying plate of pasta doesn't have to be 'brilliant.' It just has to be carefully prepared and well seasoned and made with love. Invictus is a very pleasant and mildly stirring bowl of fettucini with highly agreeable lead performance by Freeman. But it's not one of those ratatouille dishes that win awards and inspire raves from restaurant critics."
Variety's Todd McCarthy ("very good story very well told") and Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt ("temperate, evenhanded, overly timid") have both apparently broken the review embargo on the film, but have both offered more proof that Invictus is a warm, safe, predictable Frost/Nixon sort of thing.
That is, it will be adored by older viewers and journo-types and critics, likely nominated for a Best Picture Oscar because of its reverent overtones. But it won't stand a chance in winning and anybody and everybody under-35 who like their films more cerebral and slick will proclaim it as junk - you see it every year, and Invictus appears to be that film.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Well, it's New Moon weekend (or for many it will start tonight at midnight) and the sequel to last year's Twilight will no doubt make big waves at the box-office as predix are ranging from $70 million to $110 million. Apparently, director Chris Weitz loved the experience so much that he's contemplating retirement. Yeesh.
The Blind Side also opens tomorrow and I wouldn't touch this thing with a ten-foot pole. I get this acid-reflux, nauseated stomach thing when I see Sandra Bullock's oddly structured nose paired with her big blonde wig and Southin' accent.
A Sony/Columbia animated sci-fi flick comes out, Planet 51. So, there's that. I couldn't tell you anything about it except that it has green people in it. Opening in limited release is Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which I reviewed three weeks ago and admired very much for Nicolas Cage's wacked-out performance. Local opening near me are Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, the controversial horror/gothic/talking fox film from the Danish auteur, and Oren Moverman's The Messenger, the post-war societal grief re-entry drama starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.
I'll be seeing both on Friday most likely, and with influences and personalities outside of my control who like to take advantage of me, I will probably end up seeing New Moon at some point in my lifetime -- just not this weekend. I also want to catch up on Roland Emmerich's 2012 at some point.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Warner Home Video's Gone With the Wind Blu-ray comes out tomorrow and I'll be there bright and early to throw down the $50 to get it. This is a high-definition re-engineering of the biggest of all Hollywood classics in the best sense possible. This isn't a manipulation of the original product, it's a purification of it.
Similar to what Warner did with the Wizard of Oz Blu-ray that came out over a month ago, this is a back-to-vault cleansing. The Gone With the Wind that comes out tomorrow will look different (i.e. more pure, clear, true-to-form) than any version before it, it will be reborn. 1939 all over again, get excited.
John Hillcoat's The Road and Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, the stop-motion animated Roald Dahl tale, are the only films opening that I have any interest in. Other than that, you get the repugnant male-comedy pulverizer Old Dogs, starring John Travolta and Robin Williams, and Ninja Assassin, which looks and sounds and feels too much like Blood: The Last Vampire to factor into the equation.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Of all of the February Criterion releases announced this weekend, the covert art for Steve McQueen's Hunger ('08) is easily the most striking and ingeniously designed.
Also announced for a Blu-ray release were Max Ophuls' Lola Montes ('55) and Gotz Spiellman's Revance ('08). Leo McCarey's Make Way For Tomorrow ('37) was given a standard DVD release.
Before Cecil B. DeMille repaired his image at Paramount, and in the early stages of the sound era, Rouben Mamoulian was the studio's edgiest director, a natural counter-programmer to Ernst Lubitsch's musical comedies of the early 30's. Beginning with work on the stage, Mamoulian moved to the big screen in 1929, where his subversive techniques and fluid camera movements culminated into the classic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ('32).
Starring freelance actor Frederic March as the titular bipolar mad scientist, the film has the same foggy, top-hat-and-tux 19th-century eeriness as Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Gray ('45). Both films are about unintentionally evil protagonists, their inner struggles, and their insistence on keeping it a secret.
Beginning the film with an opening first-person tracking shot (beginning with the playing of an organ) we are first introduced to Dr. Jeykll through a trick mirror shot while he adjusts his cuffs and slicks back his hair. For a 1932 film, this is an impressive feat, and the film proves to be as technically on-par as Lewin's almost Hitchcockian Dorian Gray 13 years later.
In-house Paramount actress Miriam Hopkins plays a prostitute named Ivy Pierson whom Jekyll and Hyde both find extremely attractive, but whom only Hyde treats with utter cruelty as Dr. Jekyll is set to marry the rich and and royal Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart). It is during these scenes, and those of its era alike, where the film was opportunistic of its pre-Code condition. The Hollywood Code, which cut-down significantly on sexual and religious perversities like the ones seen here, was not put into affect until July 1, 1934.
Wally Westmore's makeup and the filming of the transition between Jekyll and Hyde, shot in a time-lapse form, is quite stunning considering the year. Frederic March is damn-near unrecognizable in his Quest for Fire get-up with a snarling rack of teeth. I haven't seen the Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Bergman 1941 version, but I plan to. Apparently, Mamoulian's is widely considered the best of the bunch. There is also a silent version starring John Barrymore from 1920.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Lee Daniels' Precious, the current front-runner for a 2009 Best Picture Oscar and a box-office smash, but it wasn't the film I was expecting it to be. It's surprisingly unaffecting and even subdued in certain areas, dispelling notions that the film is overly manipulative or melodramatic.
What I wasn't caught off-guard by however, was the over-directing by Lee Daniels, especially in the first half, which consists of the introduction of the school and domestic life of Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her tight-lipped, abusive loose-cannon of a mother -- played by the excellent Mo'Nique in what will be a Oscar-winning role come March, barring a late newcomer to the party in the coming months.
Here, Daniels, in-between mother-daughter fisticuffs and verbal undressings of increasing violence, decides to interject fantasy montages, gospel tracks, and still photographs into the scenes about as seamlessly as Rich Rodriguez taking over at Michigan. These scenes lose their vivacity and impact with Daniels' finagling and audience pandering, never letting this terrific cast operate on its own. Instead of a neo-realist effort with minimal hoopla and cinematic coating, we get a film that simply tries too hard when it shouldn't, lessening the overall impact.
I object to outcries of racial stereotyping by a small, vocal, minority -- spearheaded by New York Press curmudgeon and African-American critic Armond White in his 11.04 review -- but Precious does offer just a sliver of "opportunism and exploitation," as he describes, although I can't agree with much else.
I also had a problem with Paula Patton's radiating mediator character, Ms. Rain, who teaches a small alternative education class and immediately is drawn into Precious' story and exudes all manners of decency and maternal hospitality comparatively absent at home. Although Ms. Rain, with her slim figure, glowing smile and clean-cut clothes, is hopelessly artificial. To expose Daniels further, he washes a certain shot out in a glowing light as if a descent into heavenly waters when our title character walks into Ms. Rain's classroom for the first time.
I will give the film credit for not completely selling Precious as a holy, Jesus-like wanderer of the Harlem ghettos. During the opening hour or so, where I was all to ready to dismiss the film, it depicts several scenes of indecent behavior. Precious steals food from a local diner, gets into fights and hurls obscenities just enough to buy into her character as a real-life portrait. Of course, it also helps that Gabourey Sidibe, in her first film role, is very true-to-life.
A film like Precious will undoubtedly garner audience sympathies and hearts alike, as it already has. I just don't think it's terribly convincing in its cause and is too showy without any cause for its actions. Director Lee Daniels, who produced Monster's Ball in 2001 and the murky Tennessee (which starred Precious co-star Mariah Carey) last year, has simply fallen into perfect situation. He hit on a few actresses, namely Sidibe and Mo'Nique, and futzed together the rest with half-hearted originality and inventiveness. This is the work of a man who isn't entirely sure of himself and for some reason, is reaping the benefits.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Say it again -- most people are no damn good & lack the necessary backbone when a threat is hovering and their financial security may be threatened. If nothing else, may each and every person on the planet understand that in the end you have to depend on yourself and no one else to do the hard thing. Tell me of another film that conveys this basic reading of human nature with more clarity or force."
More historically speaking, of course, is the fact that High Noon was a definitive allegory against Hollywood blacklisting that was ongoing during the course of the film's development. Foreman wrote the film to illustrate how hollywood refused to stand up to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) while their friends, family and co-workers were being hunted down for thier political beliefs.
John Wayne and Howard Hawks were two figureheads in the movie industry adamantly opposed to Foreman's views and High Noon. After the film's release, Wayne called it, "the most un-American thing he'd ever seen," and thus, Foreman was blacklisted -- something that Wayne himself never regretted doing -- he even teamed up with Hawks for a rebuttal in Rio Bravo ('59). It wasn't until 1997 that Carl Foreman was finally reinstated. He died in 1984.And so, High Noon is essentially about Marshall Kane's realization of this truth, which is universal even to this day, and how he responds to it, becoming the exception. Which brings me back to the title song, sung from Kane's point-of-view (with Ritter sounding similar to the deep-throated Gary Cooper) which has the same endearing homeliness and comfort of Kane's moralistic, saintly, dutiful character. Watching the opening two minutes or so with this context adds bounties of foreshadowing and cool-cut irony.
The baddies, assembling to ride into town and await the return of Frank Miller, are without their knowledge, riding to their death by the one man who had the decency and the effrontery to do what's right. The good side of human nature will win out in this end, and spiking the tin star in the dirt never felt so good.
You can watch the opening credits to Fred Zinneman's High Noon here. I'd embed here, but no codes.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
It was to my delight, though not my aching eyes, to find that Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol was, despite a few scenes of indulgence, a really enjoyable digitized retelling -- probably the best animated film I've seen this year. (How this gets ripped to shreds and Dreamworks' repugnant Monsters vs. Aliens gets a pass is beyond me.)
This version is accurately ghostly and dark, both visually and sensually, and is easily the best film Zemeckis has made using his much-adored performance capture technology. Instead of the animation becoming almost a hindrance in Beowulf, or incomplete as in The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol is the best example that the director can summon as to how it can enhance a viewing experience.
Charles Dickens' classical tale of retribution and forgiveness proves to be a perfect match for the technology, capturing the chill, the era, and the coldness -- both of Ebenezer Scrooge and the seemingly sub-zero temperatures. The flesh tones of the actors re-constructed faces are splotchy, they exude steam from their mouths, they make crunching sounds in the snow -- it was about 80 degrees in the theater I was in and about the same outside it, but I actually felt that inescapable chill and shudder before the warm relief of a wool blanket.
Jim Carrey's performance as Scrooge is top-notch. I think it's a shame that most people won't even know that Carrey is doing more than just lending his voice here (which is literally unrecognizable at times), he's physically performing the facial expressions and gestures of the infamously misanthropic curmudgeon -- the same expressions which are picked up by Zemeckis and his animation team with such astonishing detail as to put to shame all that came before it.
But besides the animation, I really am surprised to find that some (if not most) critics found the film emotionally cold and hindered by the digital sheen. Perhaps it's because I'm not too familiar with the other screen adaptations of this classic story (I need to see the Alastair Sim '51 version), but I thought that Scrooge's madness and his subsequent and predicatable life-affirming roundabout were handled delicately and well.
Now, yes, I do agree that Zemeckis indulges himself in one-too many "exciting fabrications" in an attempt to either justify the ludicrous budget or keep the fidgety ones half-awake, but they feel exactly that -- unnecessary. For the most part, this is a refreshingly morose, quiet and dimly-lit tale that when the gushy finale arrives, it feels completely earned. It's the first time I've watched one of the 57-year old director's performance capture animated films and marveled at the technique as it benefits the product. I'm like my own Ebenezer Scrooge in that regard -- seeing the world with a fresh perspective! Although I forgot, my eyes still hurt from the RealD 3D glasses.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Louis Leterrier's Clash of Titans (Warner Bros. 03.26.10) looks predictably like an aggro-rock, skateboarder update of Desmon Davis' terrible 1981 original. I kind of hate this just-released trailer, but I don't think the film looks terrible and I'm actually as interested as I was before seeing it. I'm a bit of a believer in Sam Worthington (Perseus), and this remake also stars Liam Neeson (Zeus) and Ralph Fiennes (Hades) -- plus, Leterrier did alright by me with Universal's reboot of The Incredible Hulk, starring Ed Norton two years ago. He's one of the few French director's who have made the Hollywood action leap to not embarass themselves.
This is the third year out of the last four where Warner Bros. is slated to release a major action tentpole in the month of March. (Zach Snyder's 300 and Watchmen came before and the director's upcoming Sucker Punch will take the spot in 2011.)
I'm grateful for the apparent use of actual location shooting, opposed to Snyder's 300, which was filmed entirely in front of green screens.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Roland Emmerich's 2012, which finally comes out on Friday (Sony/Columbia, 11.13.09), is obviously the director's biggest apocalyptic get-off movie of his career and seemingly a life-affirming kind of feature and culmination of all his sub-par blockbuster extravaganzas (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) leading to this point. Nevertheless, it looks like it will keep in tune with all of his previous works -- monument demolition, tidal waves, presidential speeches -- with an updated, 21st century digital sheen.
The first reviews are in (83% RT) and the consensus is clearly, even in the early stages, that this is a megaton disaster flick selling preposterousness and mindless detour for anyone who's willing. Yes, 83% is high, but all of the positive reviews indicate that 2012 is more of guilty kind of fun, reminding me of the early reviews for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Emanuel Levy chimes in with his [C+] review:
"Puncuated by eight or nine big, expensive CGI set-pieces, the shamelessly derivative narrative makes sure to include every possible catastrophe imaginable, setting the action scenes on the air, under water, on the ground -- you name it. In the course of the film, the hero (John Cusack) drives every vehicle imaginable through fire, earth, ash, clouds, earthquakes, and water."
"The movie unfolds as an adventure ride, sort of a day spent and Disneyland, samplin all the attractions you can stomach, without takinga break or a pause to breathe. Opinions will differ as to what extent 2012 is a pleasurable joy ride or an endless series of crashes, earthquakes, and explosions. Throughout, intentionally or unintentionally, the movie walks a fine line between the darkly humorous and the outrageously risible. The dialogue needs to be heard to be believed."
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Anyways, here are the Times Top 30 of the Decade:
01. "Cache" (Michael Haneke, 2005)
02. "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004 and 2007)
03. "No Country For Old Men" (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007)
04. "Grizzly Man" (Werner Herzog, 2005)
05. "Team America: World Police" (Trey Parker, 2004)
06. "Slumdog Millionaire" (Danny Boyle, 2008)
07. "The Last King of Scotland" (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
08. "Casino Royale" (Martin Campbell, 2006)
09. "The Queen" (Stephen Frears, 2006)
10. "Hunger" (Steve McQueen, 2008)
11. "Borat" (Larry Charles, 2006)
12. "The Lives of Others" (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
13. "This is England" (Shane Meadows, 2007)
14. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
15. "Downfall" (Oliver Hirschbeigel, 2004)
16. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Michel Gondry, 2004)
17. "Brokeback Mountain" (Ang Lee, 2005)
18. "Let the Right One In" (Tomas Alfredson, 2007)
19. "United 93" (Paul Greengrass, 2005)
20. "Donnie Darko" (Richard Kelly, 2001)
21. "Good Night, and Good Luck" (George Clooney, 2005)
22. "Far From Heaven" (Todd Haynes, 2002)
23. "Man on Wire" (James Marsh, 2008)
24. "28 Days Later" (Danny Boyle, 2002)
25. "Dancer in the Dark" (Lars von Trier, 2000)
26. "Minority Report" (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
27. "Sideways" (Alexander Payne, 2004)
28. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
29. "Being John Malkovich" (Spike Jonze, 2000)
30. "Irreversible" (Gaspar Noe, 2002)
First off, where are David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood? Not in the top 30? When Slumdog Millionaire, Team America, The Last King of Scotland are?
And, I admire and respect the Bourne movies to a certain extent, and they unquestionably rise above the traditional summer blockbuster mold, but putting them #2 is embarrasing. Perhaps the editors couldn't seperate the two because they're exactly the same film - they have the same flow, the same beats and rhythms, the same pulse, etc.
I'll be making my "Best Of Decade" list sometime in early February/late January after I've finished by 2009 "Best Of" list.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Marc Lawrence's Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Sony/Columbia, 12.11.09) looks like the biggest give-up of a romantic comedy I've seen in a long time. It's the story of a Manhattan couple (Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant), on the brinks of separation, who witness a murder and are forced to lay low in rural, small-town Wyoming.
Was there any thought to this? How many times to we have to get the city girl-in-the-country hilarity up and running? You've got Mary Steenburgen in a cowboy hat cocking a shotgun, horse-riding, bears, marital bickering, Hugh Grant's twitchy eyebrows and motormouth schtick, Parker's horse-face, etc. Let me guess, through this backwoods hilarity, the couple will somehow rekindle their love?
This will be a failure of epic proportions. It might make money in its opening weekend, but this is single-digit tomatometer stuff -- mark my words. When nothing in the trailer even remotely resembles a well-written scene or genuinely funny moment, it has no shot. When all you have is a Hugh Grant/bear face-off, and that's the best you can do, you might as well not even show up.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Clearly, the marketing team at the Weinstein Company is trying to play down the "gay" angle -- this poster makes the film out to be a mumblecore movie with Julianne Moore and Colin Firth.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I remember vividly playing "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" for the Playstation 2 back in the cold months of '03, but not even a heavenly dose of nostalgia could convince me to enjoy Mike Newell's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Buena Vista, 05.28.10), which had its trailer debut a couple days ago -- Monday night, I believe.
The 2003 Ubisoft game was a critical and financial success (spawning several sequels) as a kind of platformer/puzzle/action game mold. Nobody played it for the story, nobody played it because the Prince was a great character, and thus, the film should be no different. Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney are tackling this thing, which means it should have all the wisdom and under-the-hood goodies of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
Don't get me wrong, I dig Jake Gylenhaal with his weird British accent, but everything -- Ben Kinglsey, Alfred Molina, some really tan hot chick, the sepia tones, the camera wizardry, etc. -- just looks like a product of Michael Bay's long lost half-brother. Jerry Bruckheimer name means, "I want money, and I'm going to give you the most dim-witted, soft-served, down-easy crap I can put together for $150 million."