Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'The Band Wagon' (1953)

By Chase Kahn

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

Review: 'A Single Man' [A-]

By Chase Kahn

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 a world, at least through the eyes of the middle-aged English professor George (Firth), that is on the brink of collapse, a world controlled by fear. It's 1962, the Soviets hold the key to Armageddon, the cultural and sexual minorities are beginning to clash with conservative ideals, and George's longtime lover, a tall, young, frequently shirtless Matthew Goode, has been killed in a car crash.

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.

And such is the center of fashion designer Tom Ford's meditation on grief and isolation, which examines a subject in a society which doesn't enable him to grieve outwardly, yet does it in a way that's so sophisticated and elegant that it transcends tragedy into something strangely beautiful.

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.

And Mr. Colin Firth, a slam-dunk Best Actor nominee-to-be, gives a refreshingly subdued and refined performance, free of Oscar clips or audience pandering. He makes George (and therefore the material) universally relatable without ever seemingly trying. And to the audience goes the benefit - for the film becomes something that anyone can connect with and appreciate.

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.

Classic Rewind: 'The Mortal Storm' (1940)

By Chase Kahn

The Utah-born director Frank Borzage, son of an Austrian-Hungary father, was one of the few Hollywood directors willing to chronicle the rise of Nazism overseas in his films, and none were more direct, or subtly moving, than 1940's "The Mortal Storm" for MGM.

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

Found Tennesse Williams

By Chase Kahn

"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.

Review: 'Nine' [C]

By Chase Kahn
At one point in Rob Marshall's "Nine," a Broadway adaptation first conceived from Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," a Vogue fashion journalist (Kate Hudson) describes to the infamous Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) why she loves his films. She mentions the black-and-white imagery, the dress, the style, the glamour and the glitz.

Nine exudes all of that. It's all about the style - the slim suits and cigarettes, the shades, the operatic lighting, the vintage Alfa Romeo Roadster. It's not so much a film as it is a glossy, prettied-up and mass-produced reduction of Fellini into a barrage of song-and-dance numbers. Simply put, it's a film for Kate Hudson.

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.

Bloody Sunday

By Chase Kahn

After taking the day off yesterday from doing anything, I'm off to see Nine at 10:30 am followed by A Single Man at 1:30. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cameron Unleashed

By Chase Kahn

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.

Clash of the Titans: Trailer #2

By Chase Kahn

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.

Review: 'Sherlock Holmes' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, for better or worse, should be exactly what anybody who walks into it expects it to be. Like any Ritchie film, it's a whirlwind of subplots, supporting characters, muffled British dialogue and machismo brutality all plugged into the Sir Arthur Donan Coyle 19th Century London world of superior intelligence and deductive reasoning.

The result is a hodgepodge of equal parts both ill-fitting and surprisingly tight-knit. Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes is not traditionally played by Basil Rathbone standards, yet he pulls it off convincingly because nobody pulls off cocky, half-deranged amusement and heroism like Downey. Although, with this latest performance (a concoction of Tony Stark and Paul Avery), the 44-year old actor's biblical rise from the dead is starting to show signs of repeating itself.

Jude Law, as the straight, comparatively clean-cut Watson, registers during his moments of bromance bickering between Mr. Downey, although mainly I just felt relieved and comforted seeing him back on the big screen in a major year-end studio film. Once you get past the fact that these two traditionally witty and supremely intellectual beings are now additionally mixed-martial artists, Sherlock Holmes is a bit easier to slip into to.

The actors do their part (if a bit too predictably) to ease the transition from detective to superhero, but in all honestly, the driving force of the film is not Ritchie's brash, brutal sensibility or the smoggy, soft-focus photography of the back-alley cobblestone streets of London, but the driving, smirky musical accompaniment of Hans Zimmer's original score.

One of the most audacious and recognizable composers working today, (The Dark Knight, The Da Vinci Code) Zimmer's score here, with its broken piano chords and banjo-thumping crescendos, is as much a voice in the film as any other working part. From the opening shot of the Warner Bros. logo along a rainy, faintly-lit street, accompanied by the opening 4-note theme, it's clear that Zimmer's modernist Western tunes are the glue keeping this otherwise broad and safely-played action-mystery film from falling completely apart. It's also the most eccentric that the German-born composer has sounded in a good while.

As far as the rest goes it's a good deal of uncovering the mystery of the death, and then apparent revival of Lord Blackwood (played by Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong), with a good deal of exposition, counter-view points and head-scratching schemes of villainy, which frequently border on inanity - plus, the three-headed script predictably features a dangerously compromised femme fatale (Rachel McAdams) and a climax on top of the previously-foreshadowed and yet-to-be-completed Tower Bridge gives a new meaning to the word formula.

Nevertheless, I think it can be characterized as one of Guy Ritchie's finer achievements, which is admittedly faint praise, but in contrast to his earlier works, which were unimpeded by studio hands, Sherlock Holmes actually makes a bit of sense.

Avatar's Boffo Business

By Chase Kahn

Courtesy of Nikki Finke over at Deadline Hollywood, Sherlock Holmes was #1 on Christmas Day with a total of $25 million, while Avatar continued to rake it in with an unprecedented $24 million Friday. (Which isn't far off from the $26.7 million it pulled in on opening day last week - amazing number).

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

Review: 'Me and Orson Welles' [B]

By Chase Kahn

Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, which was the fat kid at kickball for over a year, waiting to find a distributor after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September of '08, is a delightful slice-of-stage-life drama, a safe but not lethal coming-of-age story and a showcase for the performance of Christian McKay as the titular Orson Welles.

Young Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) is an awe-struck, inspiring actor miraculous cast from the street to star in Orson Welles' Mercury Theater production of Julius Caeser in '37. Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr.'s script (based on the novel by Robert Kaplow) deftly mixes elements of the Welles mystique before it hit the big-screen with a keen eye into what it takes to become a noteworthy artist.

As somewhat of an authority on Orson Welles, I found the film appropriate in its portrayal of Welles as an egotistical, arrogant, slimey, yet brilliantly transcendent artist. There are obvious hints at the man who would later be outcast from Hollywood (he even reads a passage from Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons) including his constant heckling from various higher-uppers and powers-that-be, struggles with deadlines and bickering amongst employee, fellow actors and/or understudies (Efron).

In the end, Me and Orson Welles is the story of what it takes to become an artist in the creative realm. You can't soft-peddle it or hope for the best, you have to know somebody, you have throw all manner of morals and honor to the wind and take it, no matter the cost. It may have eventually cost him his mainland career down the road, but as Christian McKay's Orson shows, he wouldn't have it any other way.

On a Mission

By Chase Kahn

The fact that James Cameron's Avatar made $16 million on Tuesday, which is what it made the day prior and moves its to-date cume to $109 million in 5 days, is just the icing on the cake that this is a beast of a movie and undoubtedly your #1 Oscar contender as of this moment.

The $77 million opening (Friday-Sunday) is nice, but pulling in that kind of dough the following week and showing no signs of slowing down heading into the holiday break signals money for 20th Century Fox and trouble for the competitors. Don't think the Warner Bros. guys aren't shaking in their boots - Sherlock Holmes has some stiff competition on its hands this weekend.

Of course, I still don't get it. Avatar is a technical marvel and a soothing visual CG-bath, but it doens't register anywhere else, and in fact, is elementary and fatally faulty in many aspects, starting with Cameron's age-old screenplay. Get ready for it, though. Avatar is no Titanic (let's hope not anyway), but it's a runaway freight train heading for the promiseland.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Picture Race

By Chase Kahn

With Avatar releasing this week and Nine and The Lovely Bones receiving harsh-to-mixed responses, the Best Picture race is pretty much laid out in front of us. The question is what will get in to this field of ten - the first field of ten since 1943.

Right now, I think the biggest locks are Avatar, Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker. All three have received near-unanimous critical praise and although the former is new to this group, I think the overwhelming reception which began last week and then culminated into big box-office business (not to mention the film's transcendent visual leaps) will make it a legitimate contender - as hard as it is for me to swallow, it's the truth.

Following closely on the heels of the top three are a stable of well-liked films that ultimately haven't taken off due to either lack of timing, box-office numbers or medium of choice. Precious, Invictus, Inglourious Basterds, Up and An Education.

Then we have a grab-bag of goodies which are either too cerebral or too mainstream for the Academy, but up for the last several spots are A Serious Man, Star Trek, District 9, A Single Man, Crazy Heart, Where the Wild Things Are and Bright Star. It's really inconcievable, at this point anyway, that any other film would slide in.

So the big board says, in order:

1. Avatar (20th Century Fox)
2. Up in the Air (Paramount)
3. The Hurt Locker (Summit)
4. Precious (Lionsgate)
5. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company)
6. Invictus (Warner Bros.)
7. An Education (Sony Pictures Classics)
8. Up (Buena Vista)
9. Nine (The Weinstein Company)
10. A Serious Man (Focus Features)
11. Star Trek (Paramount)
12. A Single Man (The Weinstein Company)
13. Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight)
14. Bright Star (Apparition)
15. District 9 (Sony/Columbia)
16. Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.)

Weekend Box-Office [Dec. 18-20]

By Chase Kahn

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

White Bread

By Chase Kahn

I'm lost today - lost to find a meaning into the unanimous praise across the board for James Cameron's Avatar, which looks poised to carry over into the new year as a critical and audience favorite, and most likely your leading candidate for Best Picture. Right? It certainly feels that way.

I just don't understand how Cameron's film, with it's blatantly lazy scripting, which forgoes any semblance of characterization, dialogue and plotting in favor of easy cliches, gets the free pass for its admittedly impressive visual bath. What we get here is a re-skinned Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves, a pair of 3D glasses and with a pat-on-the-back are told it's the future of filmmaking. If that's true, I don't want any part of it.

Avatar is simply the white bread of movies. It doesn't bother with taste or texture or the nuances that make certain breads so tasty (that you might have to make a trip to specialty foods store to seek out), but it appeals to the widest possible audience (you can grab it at Walmart, Kroger, Tom Thumb, everywhere!).
Old people like white bread, kids like white bread, almost everyone likes white bread, or more so, just accepts its mediocrity. And such is the fate of Cameron's 160-minute epic, which is pieced together from particles of every science-fiction/indigenous species/pro-ecology material ever written down or committed to screen and tidied up into a 3D motion-capture, CG-blitzkrieg to hide its shortcomings. It has all the sensibility and sophistication of a Disney cartoon or a SyFy Network series.

It's not even fluently conceived, either. With names like "Pandora" and "Avatar" and "Hometree" and the way the Na'vi "link-in" to their methods of transportation or capture. It's like the concept was lifted from a young adult novel in the clearance section at Half-Price Books. It took you twelve years and this is what you come up with?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: 'Avatar' [C+]

By Chase KahnAdd Image

Well, James Cameron's $300 million+ science-fiction epic is here and its predictably entrancing with its visuals. Long touted as the benchmark for the currently thriving 3D format, Avatar supplies pretty substantial visual evidence. It's a marvel to behold, a wondrous feat in the pantheon of movie history - the way Gone With the Wind exemplified Technicolor, the way The Jazz Singer implemented sound.

But not all landmark films are without their share of setbacks, and Cameron's latest colossus of a film (and his first since 1997's Titanic) is as epic in scope, setting and budget as it is in overindulgence, cliche and cheese. Mr. Cameron isn't out to reinvent the cinematic narrative as we know it (he's never been a dynamic screenwriter), but Avatar is so dully conceived and lazily executed, not even a digital dream-like immersion and a pair of 3D glasses could cover it up.

Avatar's pro-ecology, pro-indigenous narrative, with its evil, greedy and blood-thirsty, bare-muscle baddies hiding behind corporate weaponry and new-age technology is just a retelling of classical history (not to mention film history) of human nature's need for expansion, which can be dated all the way back to a time when the Jamestown settlers flexed their horsepower and gunpowder over the Native Americans. Heck, it even translates to the United States' current involvement in Iraq - which gives the film a slight edge of topicality.

But to hint at any semblance of depth is to give Avatar too much credit - this isn't a $300 million lecture, and it doesn't pretend to be. The problem clearly lies in Cameron's chameleon-like script, which borrows, steals, blends and expands (length-wise) on countless films before it - Dances with Wolves, The Matrix, The Last of the Mohicans, Pocahontas, etc, etc.

Not to mention the blatantly dull characterizations - which stretch the gamut from beefy, block-headed military scene-chewer (Stephen Lang) to indigenous, bare-skinned daughter of the tribe leader (Zoe Saldana) to the snappy, cold, corporate stockholder (Giovani Ribisi).

The film is a living, breathing, cinematic contradiction. Its anti-industrial, pro-preservation viewpoint is laughingly presented under the guise of one of the most technically bombastic productions of all-time, and for all of Avatar's pre-loaded anticipation of futurized filmmaking, it feels curiously stuck in the past. How can I be in awe of something when I feel like I've seen it before?

Classic Rewind: 'Anthony Adverse' (1936)

By Chase Kahn

Not even the wonderful Frederic March or Olivia de Havilland can save Mervyn LeRoy's Anthony Adverse ('36), an adaptation of the 1,200+ page Hervey Allen novel about a grief-stricken orphan (March) who falls on hard times everywhere he looks during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe.

The film, produced by Warner Bros. and a recipient of 7 Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture) is a sprawling, 141-minute, lifeless adaptation. Clearly Allen's novel is a detailed, thorough and fictional account undeserving of this bullet-point recreation by LeRoy and screenwriters Sheridan Gibney and Milton Krims (uncredited).

Once Anthony (March), given the last name 'Adverse' by his various father figures in awe of the boys adverse conditions, travels abroad, where he is driven by greed and corruption in Africa, the story is intended to become tragic and ill-fated - instead it feels miscalculated. Too much time is spent on the opening 30-minute prologue (which details the time and the conditions in which Anthony was born) that there isn't ever time for the film to breathe or coalesce in the later scenes which are undoubtedly more worthwhile and meaty in their resolutions.

Anthony is supposed to be a victim of his era, a victim of war and fate, but the film's too quick and too off-kilter for the effect to be fully felt. Not even Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score can squeeze any drama out of this mess, and the wonderful Olivia de Havilland, who plays a lifetime friend and lover to Anthony, is criminally underused. The cast also features villain-extraordinaire Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard, who would later be screen-tested to play the Wicked Witch in Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz ('39), but was ultimately deemed too "beautiful" for the part.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dargis on 'Avatar'

By Chase Kahn

James Cameron's Avatar finally releases on 3,400+ screens tomorrow and, as I'm sure you are well aware of by now, the feedback on the film to this point as been giddy to say the least, and it even managed to pick up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Drama on Tuesday morning - very much cementing its status as a major Oscar contender.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis, one of my very favorite writers and certain the best female film writer in the business, expressed her opinion just moments ago in a reserved, yet gleeful rave.

"The scale of his new movie, which brings you into a meticulous and brilliantly colored alien world for a fast 2 hours 46 minutes, factors into that wow. Its scope is evident in an early scene on a spaceship (the year is 2154), where the passengers, including a paraplegic ex-Marine, Jake (Sam Worthington, a gruffly sensitive heartthrob), are being roused from a yearslong sleep before landing on a distant inhabited moon, Pandora. Jake is woken by an attendant floating in zero gravity, one of many such aides. As Jake himself glides through the bright cavernous space, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore, as someone soon quips (a nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” Mr. Cameron’s favorite film). You also know you’re not in the gloom of "The Matrix."

"The first part of Jake’s voyage — for this is, above all, a boy’s rocking adventure, if one populated by the usual tough Cameron chicks — takes him from a wheelchair into a 10-foot, blue-skinned Na’vi body. At once familiar and pleasingly exotic, the humanoid Na’vi come with supermodel dimensions (slender hips, a miniature-apple rear); long articulated digits, the better to grip with; and the slanted eyes and twitchy ears of a cat. (The gently curved stripes that line their blue skin, the color of twilight, bring to mind the markings on mackerel tabby cats.) For Jake his avatar, which he hooks into through sensors while lying in a remote pod in a semiconscious state, is at first a giddy novelty and then a means to liberation."

"After a few minutes the novelty of people and objects hovering above the row in front of you wears off, and you tend not to notice the 3-D, which speaks to the subtlety of its use and potential future applications. Mr. Cameron might like to play with high-tech gadgets, but he’s an old-fashioned filmmaker at heart, and he wants us to get as lost in his fictional paradise as Jake eventually does. On the face of it there might seem something absurd about a movie that asks you to thrill to a natural world made almost entirely out of zeroes and ones (and that feeds you an anticorporate line in a corporately financed entertainment). But one of the pleasures of the movies is that they transport us, as Neytiri does with Jake, into imaginary realms, into Eden and over the rainbow to Oz."

"If the story of a paradise found and potentially lost feels resonant, it’s because “Avatar” is as much about our Earth as the universe that Mr. Cameron has invented. But the movie’s truer meaning is in the audacity of its filmmaking."

"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.

'Alice in Wonderland' Trailer #2

By Chase Kahn

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.

'Iron Man 2' Teaser

By Chase Kahn

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

Classic Rewind: 'The Women' (1939)

By Chase Kahn

An all-star, all-female cast given to George Cukor on the rebound from him being removed from directing Gone With the Wind (due to creative or personal differences between himself and Clark Gable) and what you have is a bit of a long-winded, yet rewarding viewing experience if for nothing else than its embarrassing bounty of tremendous golden age actresses.

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, and on and on. The film boils down to, among other things, infidelity. Almost every kind of women is represented here, from the gold-digging jezebel (Crawford) to the stingy, materialistic gossiper (Russell) to the sweet, loving, mother and wife (Shearer). It's got to be the biggest movie of all-time that doesn't have a male in its entire cast.

Hilarity and heartbrake ensues in this kind of head-spinning, jabber-mouth comedy/drama via a slick script and Hawks-ian dialogue and delivery. However, the film's central message of 'swallowing your pride' and not abandoning your man during times of marital unevenness and uncertainty is almost embarrassingly dated. The Women ('39) turns out to be a fascinating history lesson and an example of cultural disconnect between eras as Women's Lib was very much off in the distance.

Review: 'Invictus' [C]

By Chase Kahn

Clint Eastwood is an old-time, classical studio director. One of the few who can churn out films year after year without reprieve, gliding on a wave of lifetime, Hollywood icon status. His films behind the camera are predictably clean-cut, to-the-point and fatally sentimental in their evocations and images. Invictus, the story of Nelson Mandela's first several years in office as President of post-apartheid South Africa and the springbok's miracle, symbolic run in the '95 Rugby World Cup, is no different.

It's shamelessly manipulative, cut-to-the-chase, old-school filmmaking in the worst sense. This is a powerful story of forgiveness, redemption and unity boiled down to a thick, syrupy molasses, spoon-fed to exhaustion. The opening shot of the film has a group of white, well-dressed South Africans playing rugby on one side of the street while a group of blacks play soccer on the other side, Mandela's caravan riding on the dirt-swept road in-between. Just in case you weren't aware of South Africa's racial divide, Eastwood spells it out for you.

And not just with one shot, but for 132 painfully repetitive and long-winded minutes. Soft piano chords and stirring strings slowly fade in and out of these plainly portrayed scenes of a nation rebuilding and the courage, strength and selflessness that must exist in order for forgiveness and cooperation.

The film's intentions and overall offensively blunt post-racial imagery can be summed up during the predictably trite championship rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand - which occupies the last thirty-some-odd minutes of the film. Make no mistake, this is very much a sports drama.

Here, Eastwood pours it on good and well, interspersing scenes of on-field action - men sweating and toiling away on the battlefield - with scenes of a nation putting aside all racial tides in this one moment of unity, of sport. Shots of families, white and black, watching closely from their homes, a wide-eyed young black boy mingling with a group of white security guards, listening to the game on the radio, plus Mandela's personal interracial security detail, all on the same team.

It's almost too easy to bash the song choice during a key scene where Mandela (played with staccato and saintliness by Morgan Freeman) visits the team before their opening match against Australia. Titled, "Colorblind", the sheer audacity of such an overbearing, obvious song choice recalls the crooning of Eastwood himself over the credits of last year's Gran Torino. Sometimes, with the 79-year old actor/director, the phrase "on-the-nose" just doesn't quite cut it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

21st Century Folklore

By Chase Kahn

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'.

DiCaprio Takes on 2010

By Chase Kahn

The first one-sheet for Christopher Nolan's Inception (Warner Bros., 07.16.10). Here's the teaser trailer that premiered in August, with a full-length feature trailer apparently set to debut in front of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day.

Criterion March Releases

By Chase Kahn

It's always fun when Criterion announces their monthly releases and today is no different. Now the majority of the March releases are catalogue Crtierion titles revisited for high-def treatment, but Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven ('78)and Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro ('62) and Yojimbo ('61) are almost too good to pass up, even if you own them on DVD.

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.

Classic Rewind: 'High Sierra' (1941)

By Chase Kahn

Raoul Walsh's High Sierra ('41) was the last film that Humphrey Bogart made in his career in which his name did not receive top billing. Watching the film today, it's obvious why. Bogart, as the newly-released-from-prison, notorious bank robber Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle, is magnetic and stoically iconic. His seemingly disproportionate head size making for a threatening profile via shadowy noir-thrillers of the late 30's and 40's, featuring running-clock, last-ditch tough guys and the dames who are so attracted to their fedoras, their wealth, and the gun.
Ida Lupino is the first name listed on the credits for High Sierra, a film not without faults to be frank with you. The screenplay was written by W.R. Burnett and John Huston (before he would go on to direct Bogart himself in countless other noirs and adventures throughout the 40's and 50's) and it tells the simple story of an outlaw, granted a new lease on life, who desperately, though secretly, wishes to retire from his aimless existence as a bad-tempered baddie and find some purpose.

He intially finds it in a young, crippled girl named Velma (played by Joan Leslie in her first major screen role), whom Roy (Bogart) decides to help by funding her operation to get her walking again. It's also here where the film tends to border between mawkish laziness and genuine character-building.

A relationship between Roy and a scruffy dog named Pard and a heavily-stereotyped African-American lodgehand named Algernon also date the film somewhat, but most inexcusable of all are the plot holes in Burnett and Huston's script involving key decisions by characters.

Nevertheless, High Sierra tells a story of a man looking for redemption and finding none of it - a classical plotline for the noirish gangster/crime films of Michael Curtiz, Archie Mayo, Raoul Walsh and later, John Huston. And for the most part, it succeeds, but mostly because of Humphrey Bogart, in his star-making role. There is also some very nice on-location shooting in the Sierra Mountains, and a particularly wonderful T-model mountainside car chase - one of the few times where the shot composition and editing are first-rate.

I think High Sierra is a minor film in the pantheon of the gritty crime films that Warner Bros. was so well-known for at the time, but it is certainly a major film in the career of Humphrey Bogart, who would rightfully replace James Cagney as the flag-bearing baddie of the silver screen throughout the 1940's, a decade that would prove to be kind to him.

67th Annual Golden Globe Nominations

By Chase Kahn

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"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Up in the Air"

Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy):

"(500) Days of Summer"
"The Hangover"
"It's Complicated"
"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"

Best Director:

Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

Best Screenplay:

"District 9"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Up in the Air"
"It's Complicated"
"Inglourious Basterds"

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

Breakfast with HFPA

By Chase Kahn

Tomorrow at 5 am (!) PST, the Golden Globe nominations will be announced and read aloud for the world to hear by John Krasinski, Diane Kruger and Justin Timberlake. One of the interesting aspects of any celebrities announcing nominees is the ever-present possibility of a personal gain to said announcer. Krasinski could call the name of his newlywed, the lovely Emily Blunt, while Diane Kruger could possibly be reading her own name for her supporting role in Inglourious Basterds (although that's more of a long-shot).

It should be interesting given that the Oscar Best Picture slate expanded to 10 nominees this year, and there will undoubtedly be a few heavy-hitters who miss the cut as well as a few off-the-radar picks sneaking in (think The Great Debaters in 2007).

I've always hated the Comedy/Musical category and the Hollywood Foreign Press always whore out their slate with starpower over quality, but it can definitely pick up or slow down a film's chances of Oscar glory. Nevertheless, you can bet on Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker being a major player, which won another major critics award courtesy of the New York Film Critics Circle today.

I'd like to play the too-cool-for-school cynic and realize the idiocy of the Golden Globes, but I'll be up at 7:00am CT time, being sure to mute the TV when Ben Lyons speaks.

Sherlock Holmes Appears Healthy

By Chase Kahn

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros., 12.25) has, from the very beginning, seemed like a buddy-cop action-bromance romp - a marketable mixture of slow-motion, geek-bait wizardry and screwball comedy - basically, Iron Man meets 19th Century London.

And considering the out-of-this-world trajectory of Robert Downey Jr.'s current career path, it will a) feature the actor doing his best fast-talk, ironic, smart-ass maneuvers and b) will make a shitload of cash over the Christmas break.

I'm kind of half-interested in seeing it once my slate is clean. (I'm honestly more interested in Rob Marshall's Nine, Tom Ford's A Single Man, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, etc.) But the one thing that could persuade me slightly is overwhelming giddiness by the leering press. So far, the temperature is, "good, fun, entertaining - audiences will love it".

InContention's Kris Tapley just slapped it on his Best of 2009 List, and Variety's Todd McCarthy gave it a mild approval, although that involved calling it, "amusing and rather flagrant" - hmm.

Dargis on "A Single Man"

By Chase Kahn

I missed the influx of noteworthy criticisms and writings this weekend because of a) the unveiling of James Cameron's soon-to-be landmark film, Avatar, and b) because of the overwhelming quantity of awards groups dolling out their picks for the best films of the year, and thus, painting the picture of the inevitable Oscar nominations.

Well, most noteworthy of all was Manoghla Dargis' NY Times review of Tom Ford's A Single Man, which is out now in New York and Los Angeles. Here's the abridged version:
"The face of grief that the actor Colin Firth wears in “A Single Man” is crumpled and gray. There is little movement in the face initially: it’s a beautiful and gently furrowed mask, not yet old, despite the small brushstrokes of white at the temples. You might think that gravity alone was tugging at its mouth. But George, the middle-aged professor and single man of the title whom Mr. Firth plays with a magnificent depth of feeling, has had his heart broken, and the pieces are still falling."

"The film, directed by Tom Ford, follows the outlines of the landmark 1964 novel of the same title by Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), the openly gay British-born author whose story “Sally Bowles” was turned first into the play “I Am a Camera” and later the musical and movie “Cabaret.” An intensely, at times uncomfortably, intimate work of fiction, “A Single Man” condenses George’s story — much of his very life — into one emotion- and event-charged day. What makes the day special, and the book too, is George’s existential condition. George is single. And he is a man. But he is also a homosexual, which helps set him and his lusting, fading body apart from almost everyone in his life."

"That Mr. Ford has placed so much weight on Mr. Firth suggests that he knows how valuable his actor is to his first effort. And while “A Single Man” has its flaws, many of these fade in view of the performance and the power of Isherwood’s story. Part of the radical importance of Isherwood’s novel is its insistence on the absolute ordinariness of George’s life, including with Jim, whose relationship together is pictured only briefly in both the novel and the film, and yet reverberates deeply (then as now). Mr. Ford’s single man might be less common than Isherwood’s, a bit too exquisitely dressed. But with Mr. Firth, Mr. Ford has created a gay man troubled by ordinary grief and haunted by joy, a man apart and yet like any other."

Of course, among other things, Colin Firth is a Best Actor lock for his work here, which has been talked about ever since it premiered in Venice back in September. A Single Man expands on Christmas Day to smaller markets.

Keeping Score

By Chase Kahn

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.

Best Picture
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

"Best Picture Lock"

By Chase Kahn

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

"Avatar" Day

By Chase Kahn

James Cameron's Avatar, the 163-minute "gamechanging" epic premiered pretty much across the world today (reviews started rolling in overseas this afternoon) with domestic premiers kicking off tonight.

Well, despite a reported December 18th review embargo (coincidentally the film's release date), Variety's Todd McCarthy and Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt have already chimed in on one of the most anticipated (or curiously awaited) films of the year. McCarthy gives it a pleasant hurrah ("all-enveloping and transporting"), while Honeycutt flat out does cartwheels for the thing ("How will Cameron ever top this?")

As a self-proclaimed Avatar skeptic, this good early word is surprising and half-welcoming - I'm now a little excited about this $300+ million 3D bonanza. Having written this thing off months ago ("The Na'vi look like blue goats"), it gets my blood flowing a little to be looking forward to something, although I'm still not completely sold on it.

David Lean on Blu-ray

By Chase Kahn

Yes, David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1968), possibly my favorite from the director, will be released on Blu-ray sometime next year, but the bigger question is why Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957) were not the first David Lean films to hit the high-def format, seeing as how they're undeniably more universally appreciated.

I've tried to locate the home video distribution rights to both films and came up empty. Regardless of studio properties, all three should already be out on Blu-ray - if there were ever a set of catalogue classics that demanded it, it's the work of David Lean.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Favorite Actresses of All-Time [16-20]

By Chase Kahn

So, news a little slow this week and I haven't gone to see any movies lately, so I thought I would compile and post a list of my favorite actresses. Just to clarify, these are my favorites (i.e. a personal list and an actresses historical footprint on cinema is just part of the deal.) Essentially, this is a ranking of which actresses I enjoy watching the most - if I were to pull up a film on IMDB and read the cast, these leading ladies would convince me to check it out the most. Here we go:

Favorite Actresses of All-Time [16-20]

[20] Margaret Lockwood

Yes, Lockwood is on here for one movie and one movie only and that is Alfred Hitchock's late-British comic-mystery masterwork, The Lady Vanishes (1938). She's like the anti-Hitch woman (somewhat reserved and a dark brunette to boot) but I'll say that it's one of the most endearing roles by any lady in a Hitch film. Sue me.

Best Film: "The Lady Vanishes" (1937)

[19] Joan Leslie

First starring in George Cukor's Camille (1936) at the age of 11, Joan Leslie will always be remembered by me as that cute little country girl in Howard Hawks' Sergeant York (1941). Born as Joan Brodel, Leslie didn't take on her star name until she scored a role in Raoul Walsh's High Sierra (1941). Perhaps her most well-known role is opposite James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Joan's still kickin' it at age 84.

Best Film: "Sergeant York" (1941)

[18] Miriam Hopkins

The kind of mousy yet feisty Miriam Hopkins was most proficient during the early 1930's as the victim of a mad scientist in Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and the lover to a confused con-man in Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932). Supposedly, she and Bette Davis (two-time co-stars) were quite the on-screen and off-screen rivals. (Davis had an affair with Anatole Litvak, Hopkins' husband at the time.) Quick, get William Wyler and a film crew, this would make a great melodrama.

Best Film: "Trouble in Paradise" (1932)

[17] Anna Karina

The Euro-styled, picturesque and playful Anna Karina is, of course, known for her string of films from 1961-67 under her director and then-husband Jean-Luc Godard, one of the founding fathers of the French New Wave. Maybe the best bangs in the business.

Best Film: "Bande a parte" (1964) aka "Band of Outsiders" (U.S. Title)

[16] Rosalind Russell

Known for her great pairing with Cary Grant in Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) and a lead role in the feminine, no-boys-aloud comedy, George Cukor's The Women (1939). She also squared off against Jean Harlow for the love of Clark Gable in China Seas (1935). Was recently overtaken by Meryl Streep for Golden Globe wins. Russell won 5, Streep 6.
Best Film: "His Girl Friday" (1940)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tapley Lays Down for "The Lovely Bones"

By Chase Kahn

"Oscar season is where good films go to die," says AwardsDaily's Sasha Stone, and InContention's Kris Tapley agrees.

"...from where I sit, and speaking solely for myself, the initial quality-assessors of the industry have twisted their roles as measured, considerate analysts into something resembling auctioneers, barking verdicts and moving to the next. And this time of year, it seems the desire to offer that judgment first has murdered many a season’s darling."

"This year's victim, as I see it, is Peter Jackson's meticulously-crafted masterwork, The Lovely Bones."

He goes on to say, "Alice Sebold’s work on the page could have yielded any number of boring, sluggish and slavish adaptations. It is frankly not the most compelling piece of literature as it is. What it did yield was a cinematic depiction unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And when one gets over the stomach-turning notion that there are those who actually would have preferred a more graphic interpretation of Susie Salmon’s fate, one comes to understand how absolutely insulting that is to the filmmaker."

I'm also starting to believe that those who have read the book are disappointed with the film and those who have not read the book (Tapley, Poland) are in favor of it. Nevertheless, this went, for me, from, "eh, it's supposed to suck" to "welll, really interested now."

More Like Wilder

By Chase Kahn

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.

Review: 'Up In The Air' [A]

By Chase Kahn

George Clooney's Ryan Bingham is a 'lone wolf' smoothie with a rough-and-tumble job - he's hired by corporate pansies without the guts or the personable mannerisms and geniality to fire their employees. Most people wouldn't last a day, but the job suits Bingham like a glove. Why?

Well, for one, he's an opposer to meaningful human connections and has no need for them, so he says. ("Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star-crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans...we're sharks.") That's an excerpt from one of his many motivational speeches, which in fact, are not motivational at all. The point of the talk is to use a backpack as a metaphor for your life's weight. Ryan Bingham's backpack, symbolized by his neat, tidy, accommodating travel case, is close to empty.

Secondly, Ryan's self-proclaimed philosophy of nomadic movement in an attempt to free one's self of excess human connection is exhibited by his love of flying. ("To know me is to fly with me.") He zips through the checkout lines with his privileged access cards and gets through the security checkpoints as rhythmically as a dance. His current life goal is to obtain 10,000,000 frequent-flier miles simply because he would only be the seventh person on the planet to do it. It's the echelon of elite status.

So who better to approach thousands of grown adults at their most vulnerable and emotionally fragile (the moments right after being given the axe) than a man who values and approaches human connection as if it were a nuisance and non-essential?

This of course, is the big gist of Jason Reitman's epically topical tale of human interaction and life-worth. Does Ryan's way of life prove valuable in such a chaotic economical climate or will he eventually by in need of a change? Such questions are necessary, especially after he strikes an inferno-like relationship with a fellow airport monk in Alex (played by the wonderful Vera Farmiga).

There's also the excellent Anna Kendrick as Natalie, a hot-off-the-presses Cornell grad who decides to face-lift the fundamental business model of Clooney's agency with her impulsive, yet money-friendly plan to incorporate a video web-chat network to replace physical interaction in the workplace.

Adapted from the Walter Kirn novel by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air is such a densely weaved story done in a gentle, seemingly innocuous way that it's hard to catch onto its wavelength right away. It's whip-smart funny, sexy and sometimes sleek, but it's mostly keenly perceptive, achingly human and undeniably well-timed. The reason that the film will last beyond the years and likely take home a few Oscars in March is because it's about right now.

When you think about it, not many films have even attempted, much less succeeded, in having the guts and the finely-tuned ears and knowing eyes to capture the feel and the mood and the pulse of an ongoing era as expertly as Jason Reitman has done here. It's a career watermark and a far cry from comparatively flimsy Thank You For Not Smoking and Juno.

There are multiple shots here where we have our protagonist, Ryan Bingham, staring at a vista of human population - whether it be a map of the U.S. on a PowerPoint slide or a fake travelogue at his sister's wedding. Whether it's a top-down cityscape from an airplane window or a color-coded schedule of outgoing/incoming flights. These glimpses slowly suggest uneasiness within Ryan and his initial quest for detachment before it eventually evolves into loneliness.
Up in the Air is about many things, but it's mainly about finding solace in life during a time of crisis - whether that manifests itself as finding a companion or a job, it's clear that the film's title hints at a broad generalization of a nation of people wallowing in a world of unpredictability, uncertainty and unfulfillment. It captures this world, our world, to perfection.

"Enchanted the World"

By Chase Kahn

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.