Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I had a mini Vincente Minnelli marathon this week (more on that later) and the most prestigious and well-regarded musical of his that I watched was 1953's "The Band Wagon" starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
Minnelli's film has more than a few similarities to 1952's "Singin' in the Rain." Both take place in the entertainment industry, both star performers who are feeling inadequate and both films run on manic, high-wire Technicolor energy from the first frame. One excels at it, the other doesn't.
"The Band Wagon," in my mind, is a mess. It starts off with promise - a washed-up song-and-dance man (Fred Astaire) is attempting a comeback on Broadway by taking the starring role in a musical interpretation of "Faust" directed by a hotshot actor/director (Jack Buchanan) and headlined by a renowned dancer (Cyd Charisse).
Like the scenes attempting to implement sound into, "The Dancing Cavalier" in "Singin' in the Rain," these early scenes take advantage of their comedic potential. The problem with "The Band Wagon" occurs when Tony (Astaire) takes on the production himself and rides it back into stardom, rescuing the rest of the cast and crew along with him.
This "restructured" stage play (more true to their original intent before "Faust" came into the mix) is played out bit-by-bit as the group tours the country before opening in New York City. The effect is dizzying and this piecemeal unveiling of the production never coalesces, resulting in a product that is seemingly inferior to the supposedly wretched musical "Faust," which inexcusably, we never get to see.
And the musical numbers, with the exception of the wonderful noir-spoof finale, "Girl Hunt Ballet," are mostly a drag. "That's Entertainment!", "Louisiana Hayride" and "Triplets" are all gleefully underwhelming in the worst way, and seeing Fred Astaire's Abe Vigoda-like mug in the proportionately out-of-whack form of a 3 1/2-foot tall baby is hardly the kind of entertainment that "The Band Wagon" thinks its providing.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
When Colin Firth, the unmistakable star of Tom Ford's striking debut film, is approached for conversation in "A Single Man," he dips into an inquisitive trance - studying the eyes and lips of his conversational opponent as if he were a sculptor - perhaps trying to gain a new perspective on how others see him or how others see the world he inhabits.
It's enough to send even the most grounded man into an existential funk of melancholy and misanthropy, but George, one of the 'invisible minorities' that he openly discusses during an Aldous Huxley lecture, is about to embark on a 24-hour journey as lonely as it is life-affirming.
Cinematographer Eduard Grau's otherworldly 60's Southern California compositions, combined with the production designs and art direction of Dan Bishop and Ian Phillips, (at home in 1962, as architects of AMC's "Mad Men") together with Ford's keen sensual eye and extravagant, albeit occasionally indulgent images, create the most deliciously indelible kind of digital-free visual palette on screens this year.
In the end, the title, "A Single Man," becomes something more than a relationship status, it comes to suggest an undesirable state of solidarity and detachment. The beauty in George's personal imprisonment lies in the film's (and life's) unexpected reprieves.
Obviously, U.S. participation in the war hadn't yet come to fruition, and what this clear and concise anti-Nazi film did was to inform and shed light upon the rise of the Third Reich and Fascism, particularly, the capture and internment of the Jews through the eyes of a German family.
The film, adapted from British writer Phyllis Bottome's novel of the same name, chronicles the Roth family, particularly their young daughter Freya (Margaret Sullavan) and her relationship with a young farmer, Martin Breitner (James Stewart). The Roth's aren't specifically described as being Jewish, but are instead labeled simply as "non-Aryans." The exception being their two stepsons, Erich and Otto, who now don Nazi patches on their left biceps and rough up Mr. Breitner when he visits Freya.
Now, a subject so identifiable and obvious could have been an overwrought drag, but the constraints of Hollywood censorship at the time could arguable have saved the film from being too clear-cut.
The country of Germany is rarely even mentioned, nor the Holocaust or the Jews. All of this was done at the time, to limit the film's potential offensiveness overseas, but to no avail. The Germans not only crucified the film, they banned any and all MGM releases from that point forward. This kind of egg-shell, non-confrontational removal of small details keeps the film on track and from indulging in maudlin, barefaced imagery. It keeps "The Mortal Storm" refreshingly restrained and delicate as Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart attempt to escape the ongoing witch hunt in the film's final act, hiking through the German mountains on skis.
It's a film that portrays the dangerous power of propaganda and faith better than most, as members of the Roth family (at the outset, a lovable, peaceful and healthy family) and their closest friends, drop into the ranks of the Third Reich. Among many things, it's an indictment on the current condition of the human race before hinting at its inevitable recovery with a stunning final scene. A set of footprints in the snow leading up to a doorway disappear before our eyes set to a calm, soothing voice-over of Marie Louise Haskins' poem, "The Gate of the Year" ("Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown...")
"The Mortal Storm" isn't the first film that Borzage made depicting the rise of Nazism (see 1938's "Three Comrades"), but it is his clearest, his most accusatory and his most well-known. Although good luck finding a copy of it on DVD - it can only be seen currently on either TCM or by order from the Warner Archives.
This was also the last film that Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart ever made together. They previously worked on Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 masterpiece, "The Shop Around the Corner."
Sunday, December 27, 2009
"The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond", which opens in NY and LA on Wednesday (12.30.09), is an adaptation of an unused Tennessee Williams script written in 1957 and unavailable until Williams' death in 1983.
This 12.23 Charles McGrath piece discusses how stage and screen actress Jodie Markell began pursuing the script all the way back in the early 90's. Now the 51-year old actress, in her feature-length debut behind the camera, brings the neglected script to screen.
Bryce Dallas Howard takes on the lead role as a "young Blanche DuBois", the delusional aging character played in Williams' classic play "A Streetcar Named Desire." The film expands to larger markets throughout January, and surely this won't bear the imprints of a lost Elia Kazan film, but I'm interested.
Even standout performances from Daniel Day-Lewis as the stretched-out, indecent and creatively-stumped Guido Contini or Marion Cotillard as his beautiful, broken-hearted wife get buried under all of the extravaganza.
Rob Marshall, who directed the Oscar-winning "Chicago," has no grasp of this story, and his dull, repetitive and tiring music-video compositions (all of which are performed on the same stage intended to be Contini's film set) lack the required weight - both musically and lyrically - to add anything here. He's lucky his actors squeezed as much out of it as they did.
Occasionally, the film finds a sure foot during one of its many musical numbers - Fergie's "Be Italian" reaches several high-notes of choreography and song - but far too often they fall painfully flat (see Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench) or are wrung through cinematographer Dion Beebe's grainy black-and-white lens (see Cotillard's final number.)
Nine has zero sustainability - it's dress-up, play-along Fellini for the uninitiated. It's an Italian cinema appetizer that teases and swoons with its distinctive Euro-styled production, but it doesn't fill you up. Sooner or later, you need the real thing.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
This video of James Cameron throwing obscenities at a autograph seeker is a) really funny and b) is likely not indicative of Cameron's attitude towards his fans in general. This was obviously an ambush (this clearly isn't a spontaneous, "look its James Cameron!" moment) by the TMZ guys.
The second theatrical trailer for Louis Leterrier's Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros. 03.26.10) looks unsurprisingly like a Zach Snyder flag-bearer this side of 300, and fits nicely into the March action-tentpole slot that Warner Bros. has been succesful with in the past.
I don't think it looks tremendous or anything, but part of me feels excited for it after watching this trailer a couple of times at home and in the theater. The main reason is my delight in Leterrier's decision to use location-shooting and not slather it in CG-glaze by way of shooting exclusively in front of a green-screen.
And there's no animosity from me with regards to remaking the Desmond Davis/Ray Harryhausen 1981 version, which is dated in the worst way. It was bound and primed for a re-imagining and, Damn The Gods, I'm in.
Of course, these figures are subject to change, but with these early estimates, Avatar may not have to wait a week to beat Holmes for the weekend.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Weekend of December 18th
1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) $73 million
2. The Princess and the Frog (Buenva Vista) $12.2 million
3. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) $10 million
4. Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Sony/Colombia)$7 m
5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit) $4.3 million
6. Invictus (Warner Bros.) $4.1 million
7. A Christmas Carol (Buena Vista) $3.4 million
8. Up in the Air (Paramount) $3.1 million
9. Brothers (Lionsgate) $2.6 million
10. Old Dogs (Buena Vista) $2.2 million
First off, I went to see Avatar again today and I have to admit that it played better a second time. I rolled with it a little, felt a little more enveloped by it and a little more persuaded, but I haven't crossed-over in the slightest. It still hassuch a painfully cliche and formulaic script laced with bad dialogue and broad characterizations - plus James Horner's score is the worst kind of thing that defies description, it's bad. And the Leona Lewis song, "I See You" is embarrasing. White bread, etc, etc.
Today, I don't absolutely hate the film, yesterday I did. I don't know - I'll let it sink in, but I most definitely know this isn't one of the 20-30 best films of the year. No way.
Anyway, it made $73 million this weekend, which is pretty solid (within the realm of expectations) but everyone in the biz knows that what Avatar does next weekend and the week after and the week after is where the truth lies. Can this thing have Titanic legs? Not a chance, but maybe Blind Side legs.
The Princess and the Frog dipped a pretty steep 50% and looks poised to underwhelm through the holidays - especially with the Chipmunk Squeakquel (or whatever the hell it is) coming out on Wednesday (12.23). Disney's animated, CG-less throwback is most certainly not a hit.
The Blind Side is still making money, yes. It's now over $160 million domestically - good god, make it stop! Meanwhile the repugnant looking Did You Heart About the Morgans? tried and failed miserably to gain the yuppie/older/counter-Avatar demo. With It's Complicated out on Christmas, this thing is deader than dead (I'm pretty sure that's a Charlaine Harris novel). But that's what you get when you name a movie after a question.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
"Few films return us to the lost world of our first cinematic experiences, to that magical moment when movies really were bigger than life (instead of iPhone size), if only because we were children. Movies rarely carry us away, few even try. They entertain and instruct and sometimes enlighten. Some attempt to overwhelm us, but their efforts are usually a matter of volume. What’s often missing is awe, something Mr. Cameron has, after an absence from Hollywood, returned to the screen with a vengeance. He hasn’t changed cinema, but with blue people and pink blooms he has confirmed its wonder."
Avatar currently sits at 83% on RT and a stout, surprising 83 on Metacritic. Tomorrow it all goes down. I personally find comparisons to The Jazz Singer ('27) or Gone With the Wind ('39) in terms of changing the climate or possibilities of the movie medium over-exaggerated, but of course, admittedly, I haven't seen it. As much as I've been somewhat resenting this day (tomorrow) all year, I admit I'm personally very excited for tomorrow.
Lots and lots of trailers today, which I'm assuming are all going to play in front of James Cameron's Avatar tomorrow. This latest trailer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (Buena Vista, 03.05.10) looks about on par with the first, but I'm still too weary of the heavily digitized green screen backdrop to every shot. (Why not just slap Helena Bonham Carter in crazy makeup to play the Red Queen?)
Oh well, I'll still see it. I'm also pretty sure this will open huge. Think about it, it's obviously going to cater to children and their parents, it has name-branding, it has Johnny Depp, and it will undoubtedly receive a boost from the over-16/pot-smoking hipster crowd. Watch. Plus, for some reason, 3D films, even though I don't know a soul who prefers them and seeks them out, are performing very, very well.
The teaser for Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2 (Paramount, 05.07.10) looks good enough. It teases Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, teases Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and ends on a Iron Man/War Machine team-up. I mean, I could have put this thing together, but it still gets the job done, I'm looking forward to it. Should be one of the biggest releases of all-time, really, monetarily speaking.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Today we are introduced to the first trailer for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (Universal, 05.14), which, not surprisingly, looks and feels a lot like Gladiator. I don't really like the heavy-metal, rockin' out music and vibe that this trailer exudes - indicating that this is more of a kick-ass, bare-knuckle retelling of the classic legend of Robin Hood.
To me, this is a Hollywood dream-factory green-tights thing - romanticized and idealized - perfected with Michael Curtiz's The Adventures of Robin Hood ('38). Then again, it might not be half-bad, who knows. It almost, almost, has a Uwe Boll thing going on. Just sayin'.
Among new releases to the Criterion Collection are Nicolas Ray's Bigger Than Life ('56) starring James Mason as an addict shot in Cinemascope (who can turn down Nicolas Ray?). And lastly, a DVD-only release of Marco Ferreri's Dillinger is Dead ('69), an apparently surrealistic Italian film that frankly, I've never heard of, but the cover art is gorgeous.
Well the Hollywood Foreign Press shows their true colors yet again as star-f****** whores. As a result, there weren't too many surprises, no films were truly killed by anything announced today, and in the end, the Globes are essentially irrelevant, but here we go:
Best Motion Picture (Drama):
"The Hurt Locker"
"Up in the Air"
Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy):
"(500) Days of Summer"
"Julie & Julia"
Best Actress (Drama):
Emily Blunt, "The Last Victoria"
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gaboure Sidibe, "Precious"
Best Actor (Drama):
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Tobey Maguire, "Brothers"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Up in the Air"
So, big picture wise, it still looks and feels like a battle between "The Hurt Locker" and "Up in the Air" to me, but once "Avatar" starts kickin' this Friday and presumably makes some big cash-money, it could easily jump in and spoil every one's party.
For the record, I find it repugnant and nausea-inducing that Meryl Streep's hen-fest "It's Complicated" and the frat-boy, douche-bag comedy of the year "The Hangover" get Best Picture nominations over the Coen Brothers' masterful "A Serious Man".
But then again, the HFPA can't have a bunch of middle-aged, hairy Jewish guys showing up at the ceremony, I mean, whose going to take pictures and interview them? Pfft...
Monday, December 14, 2009
It's early-to-mid December, and that means one things: Critics Awards Groups. There was a bounty of nominations/winners announced yesterday, here are the big winners.
National Board of Review: "Up in the Air"
D.C. Critics: "Up in the Air"
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: "The Hurt Locker"
New York Film Critics Online: "Avatar"
Boston Society of Film Critics: "The Hurt Locker"
It's safe to sat at this point that Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Jason Reitman's Up in the Air are two sure-fire locks at this point for a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time. Lee Daniels' Precious is sliding a bit (no critics groups have gone to bat for it yet and its box-office performance has hit the wall), but you can bet that it'll be in the final 10.
Also, the timing of James Cameron's Avatar (the unrelenting glee, unstoppable buzz) will carry it into a Best Picture slot - and that's before it probably goes on to make a boatload of cash starting Friday.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I haven't heard one bad thing about James Cameron's Avatar, which had its big media screenings across the world on Thursday night - the closest thing I can get to a negative reaction is this half-hearted shrug by The Playlist.
Roger Ebert digs it, Jeff Wells digs it, Variety digs it, Dave Poland called it an absolute "lock" for a Best Picture nomination today. There you go, it literally went from Delgo to Star Wars overnight.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
The best opening sentence of any Up in the Air review I've read to this point comes from Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman (whom I usually discount):
"Here are a few of the kinds of movies I wish Hollywood made more often (like, you know, two or three times a year): a drama that connects to an audience because it taps, in a bold and immediate way, into the fears and anxieties of our time."
Bingo. You sir, get the drift. Congrats. Hop In.
In honor of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince releasing tomorrow on DVD and Blu-ray, here is a two-minute featurette on Deathly Hallows: Part One, which will hit theaters next November.