Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fuqua's Latest

By Chase Kahn

According to Variety, Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment have set a release date and fast-tracked Antoine Fuqua’s latest effort, “Prisoners”. The studio will release the film on October 22, 1010, which is based on a script by first-time writer Aaron Guzikowski concerning a small-town carpenter whose wife and daughter are kidnapped.

“Prisoners” is in the early stages of pre-production.

For me, Antoine Fuqua has been churning out generic action titles ever since Training Day in 2001. He reached a new low with the Mark Wahlberg snooze-fest conspiracy thriller, Shooter. He does have a slew of directorial projects on the horizon at this moment with “Pablo Escobar”, “Prisoners” and “Brooklyn’s Finest”, which played at Sundance earlier this year and just recently found a buyer in Overture Films who will release the film on 11.27.09.

Alcon Entertainment will also release two films in conjunction with Warner Bros. in the coming months with the Sandra Bullock vehicle, “The Blind Side” and the Denzel Washington post-apocalyptic actioner, “The Book of Eli”.

"Prisoners" sounds like a starring vehicle for John Cena or Derek Luke. They should play this back-to-back with 12 Rounds or Takers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wizard of Blu

By Chase Kahn

This morning, at approximately 9:55 am, I had to go to Target to pick up Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz on Blu-ray (pictured below). I wasn't planning on it, but I suddenly realized that I needed to. As a self-respecting film fan who is a nostalgic observer of history and a high-def junkie, I just had to.

Warner Bros. dug up the original 3-strip Technicolor camera negative to the classic family film and has beefed up the resolution big time as part of an 8-month restoration process. As described in one of the features inside the 3-disc set, this is The Wizard of Oz like its never been seen before -- brighter, clearer, bolder.

The kind of work that Warner Home Video did to get this thing done quickly and done the right way needs to be recognized and rewarded -- it's really astounding and I think it's important for the home video industry and Blu-ray as a format that sales are strong, because I know I'm not alone in saying that I wished more high-profile catalog titles were readily available. (Gone With the Wind and North By Northwest are on their way in a few months).

By the way, at about 10:00 am Central time, I had picked up the second-to-last copy of the $34.99 Emerald Edition (possibly more in storage?) but I've heard some people say that Target locations near them have run out of the more economical, less excessive package (opposed to the $60+ Ultimate Collector's Edition).

I'll write more on the actual film in a few days -- it's place in history, how good I think it is, etc. Of course, I've seen the The Wizard of Oz probably 6-7 times in my life, but probably none in the last 8 years or so. Looking forward to seeing it all the way through again and look forward to writing about it as well!

Review: 'Wolverine' [D+]

By Chase Kahn

I watched Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine on Blu-ray yesterday and was turned off immediately by the simplistic, fundamentally hackneyed storytelling and the CG-airbrushed sheen to it all, including the phony, video game-level cockiness towards the many action scenes. In short, I felt it was like an extension to X-Men III: The Last Stand and that this whole X-Men saga on screen peaked with Nightcrawler's attempted assassination at the beginning of X2 and is now in an irreversible free fall.

It's such a slog of a origin story -- beginning horribly with a tragic childhood event and detouring through moralistic behavior, hiding from greedy military figures, living in the country seeking solidarity, a love interest, revenge, a retired and hospitable old farmhouse couple, etc.

I know comic book adaptations tend to mirror one another, especially origin stories, but for instance, in Batman Begins (a film I love), the approach to the origin or birth/uprising of the titular superhero is handled with skill and infused with a refreshing pulse. Wolverine is so derivative and scatter-shot and busy budget-flexing to work out for anyone over the age of fifteen. I felt like I was immersed in a film made by GameStop employees who were pressured by the studio to cut fifteen minutes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ask and You Shall Receive

By Chase Kahn

So Paramount's micro-budget horror film that has the internet set ablaze the past few weeks, called Paranormal Activity, released in 12 theaters nationwide last weekend plus some midnight showings at college campuses.

For the past week, you could sign on to Paramount's website and "demand" that the film be shown in your area. Living in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, my "demand" went a long way and my city was #4 on the list until I got an e-mail a moment ago explaining that it would be showing in the following cities this Friday:

Atlanta, GA - Chicago, IL - Dallas, TX - DC/Baltimore, MD - Denver, CO - Detroit, MI - Houston, TX - Los Angeles, CA - Las Vegas, NV - Miami, FL - Minneapolis, MN - New York, NY - Philadelphia, PA - Phoenix, AZ - Sacramento, CA - San Antonio, TX - San Diego, CA - San Francisco, CA - San Jose, CA - and Tampa, FL.
So the twenty cities with the most votes will get the film on Friday -- pretty cool, right? Paranormal Activity is being compared to 1999's The Blair Witch Project.

Trier and Error

By Chase Kahn

I think this poster is way better than the scissor shot that went around a few weeks ago for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (IFC Films, 10.25.09).

Review: 'Surrogates' [C]

By Chase Kahn

Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates is a decent-enough but lazy science fiction cautionary tale. It’s straightforward, passive and not nearly flashy enough in the visual or script department to be worthy of anything more than a mildly diverting redundancy about technology versus humanity.

The main problem is that it doesn’t present a convincing enough case for it’s obvious pro-humanity viewpoint, which is to say that it doesn’t trigger the right emotions – i.e. Bruce Willis’ relationship with his surrogate-friendly wife (Rosamund Pike) lacks depth and genuine vivacity.

It’s all just a lethargic blue-and-purple neon-streaked collage of evil acronym corporations, glass hallways, computer code, etc. It doesn’t dissolve into the CG-inanity of Alex Proyas’ I, Robot but it’s equally as dim and predictably plotted.

Freddy Gets Knive Fingers

By Chase Kahn

Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes studio is at it again with a remake of Wes Craven's original 1984 cult classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, which today, is almost a Cronenberg-esque staple in the genre. It works because it was spontaneous and it is what it is (i.e. Johnny Depp, 80's clothes, CG-free, crazy gore effects, psychological disturbances, etc. ) -- things that can't be replicated or duplicated, things that are sure to be missing from the new version.

Bay's production studio, along with The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films will order any and all moderately successful or half-known horror franchises of the last forty years to be uprooted, modernized, whored-out and given a fresh paint of money.

Abercrombie models and CW network douche-bags will be cast and lined up for the next decade until every last penny is squeezed out. (Bay even has Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds in his sights).

The trailer for the revamped A Nightmare on Elm Street (New Line, 04.30.10) is predictable, safe/not terrible. I do like the casting of Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, Little Children) as Freddy Kruger, but this thing just looks boring and gratuitous. It's too dark (literally), too replicated and too big-budgety -- this is like remaking Videodrome or The Brood, it shouldn't be done and it doesn't need to be done. The 80's Donnie Darko, neon sweat pants-and-bad scrunchy feel will be gone, replaced by Michael Bay's Point Break hairdo and dollar sign grin.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Couples Retread

By Chase Kahn

Couples Retreat (Universal, 10.09.09) opens in two weeks and anyone who has seen a movie in the past four months knows about and has seen the trailer for this Vince Vaughn marriage-counseling comedy of epically familiar proportions.

Also starring Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau with Malin Akerman and Kristen Bell, Couples Retreat appears firmly set in la-la sitcom-land where fat guys have smoking hot wives and tell massage jokes ("tension in upper thighs") and wear Tommy Bahama shirts and eat snapper next to tiki-torches and so on. The "exotic destination" of marital rekindling depicted here is the stuff of shitty movies.

Iron Man producer Peter Billingsley directed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Citizen Pain

By Chase Kahn

F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen (Overture, 10.16.09), a mind game, bare-knuckled revenge-kick about an ordinary joe-turned-killer (Gerard Butler) after his lawyer (Jamie Foxx) allows his family's slayer to walk free, looks like a half-interesting sort of small studio, modest-budget fall diversion.

However, after seeing the trailer, I get the feeling that Law Abiding Citizen will be a drunk, wrong-footed, morally confused kind of film. I don't know why, the trailer is decent enough, but it just looks that way. Exploring this kind of material -- i.e. a man fighting the system by provoking it -- needs to be examined without compromise or its not worth examining at all.

Does Butler's character convincingly crossover into this alter ego of vigilance, with personal battles, everyday morality and guilt, or does he just do what he does without personal remorse? My guy tells me it's the latter.

Maybe part of the problem is the casting of Gerard Butler, whom I like, but looks like a complete doofus in a plain, everyman trench coat with glasses and a less threatening shave -- which were no doubt thrown on him to make the Scottish brute appear more innocent and rightfully blood-thirsty.

I hope I'm wrong, because Law Abiding Citizen could induce some interesting dichotomies between the two characters, but I'm fascinated to see how they'll play it, even if it's in a failed, passive sense.

Review: 'Pandorum' [C-]

By Chase Kahn

Christian Alvart’s Pandorum is an attempt to tap into the science-fiction realm of paranoid claustrophobia while still maintaining an accessible veneer of an aggressive sound mix along with the usual modern, new age horror tactics. The result is a preposterous amalgamation of a psychological sci-fi horror-action film that is so flaccid and loopy that you’ll be shocked it isn’t based on a video game. After all, Travis Milloy’s script displays all the necessary characteristics of an adaptation; equal parts uninspired and tediously dim-witted. It’s more “Dead Space” than Alien, without any of the formers ingenuity or instinctive feel for atmosphere and legitimate dread.

In the film’s opening prologue, we are informed through a time-lapse that Earth is becoming overpopulated and under-resourced to the point of extinction. It is the year 2174 when we are given a glimpse at the Elysium, a thoroughly extensive ship capable of carrying thousands of willing human beings – where to and what for? Well, surely our two protagonists will know, right?

Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from hypersleep to an apparently abandoned ship, his clothes almost molded to his body, which are discarded the way a snake would shed its skin. After grazing for signs of life and a quick, blade-free shave, Bower is treated to the company of a Lieutenant Peyton (Dennis Quaid), who is awoken in similar fashion. The problem is that the two can’t remember anything besides their instinctive training – no memory of the mission, family, time, date, etc.

Conveniently, the one thing that the Corporal can remember is a psychological side effect of emerging from hypersleep in deep space called ‘pandorum’, which causes its victim to experience severe paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations. After discovering that the door to the bridge must be opened, Bower climbs through the vent system and with the voice guidance of Lt. Peyton, finds more than he bargained for on the other side, along with a feisty temptress named Nadia (Antje Traue).

Along the way, Pandorum slowly reveals (as the characters regain lost memory) certain aspects of Bower’s pre-Elysium existence and the crisis facing all of mankind. As a result, the film is heavy on backstory and light on interpretation. Sometimes I just wanted the film to shut up for a second, but when it isn’t bending over backwards trying to explain itself, it’s parading scene after scene of supposedly pulse-pounding action like a dagger to the sternum.

There is no sense of intended paranoia, anxiety or claustrophobia because the filmmaking is just inconsistent, unfocused and bumpy – shifting from psychological horror to Resident Evil action to descriptive end-of-the-world shenanigans. By the time a disheveled and dishonest cook named Leland (Eddie Rouse) shows up, Pandorum has crossed over into a full-blown mess all the way to its disappointing climax.

Ben Foster (Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma) is an actor who always plays psychotic blood-boilers with short fuses and wide-eyed stares. Here, he’s not even given the confines of his own typecasting. He barely even registers a blip on the radar and not even obvious attempts at humanizing him through flashbacks can help matters. Dennis Quaid is still in an extended, almost Nicolas Cage-like slump of ineptitude. You almost have to go back to Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven to find his last memorable performance.

But you’ll forgive the two lads for coming up with something so uninspiring given the material, which offers plenty of promise and no execution. Despite its best efforts to shake things up and deliver a bloodcurdling, moody piece of horror interlaced with psychosomatic undercurrents, Pandorum pulls off neither. Instead, it boils down to the equivalent of a second-rate survival-horror action game with one too many cut-scenes.

Review from my work on

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Week News Roundup

By Chase Kahn

Played golf all day yesterday without a sliver of energy left. I missed a few noteworthy stories, so here we go:

David Goyer penning Ghost Rider 2 (Variety)
So apparently, any Marvel property that has been sold to a studio must be in use, or Marvel, and therefore, Disney, can re-claim the property. This apparently happened to Iron Man, which New Line did nothing with and therefore Marvel turned it into one of the hottest superhero properties going.

Magnolia Acquires Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (The Wrap)
This Italian drama is said to be reminiscent of Ludo Vischonti and stars Tilda Swinton amongst an almost exclusive Italian cast. It received high marks from its showings in Venice and Toronto earlier this month.

David Fincher's The Social Network is Officially Cast (The Film Nest)
Yes, it's a movie based on 'Facebook', but I've heard that Aaron Sorkin's script, which focuses on the triumvirate of co-founders behind the social networking site, is a seathing study of greed and corruption along the lines of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield will star in The Social Network, expecting to release next year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


By Chase Kahn

Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland (Sony/Columbia, 10.02.09) is very clearly a go-for-broke zombie killing mix-tape-comedy with a talented young cast. I think it looks enjoyable and should certainly do a killing with the 18-25 male demo.

Here is an early review from Raging Rob over at The Film Nest, the site that you can view my work on -- so yes, I'm pumping it up a little bit, nothing wrong with that. Zombieland stars Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland), Emma Stone (Superbad), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Woody Harrelson.

P.T. on Blu

By Chase Kahn

Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) will be released on Blu-ray on January 19, 2010, courtesy of Warner Bros. (New Line). The article also hints at Anderson's breakout debut and masterwork, Boogie Nights (1997) being released on Blu-ray in early 2010, as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Radha Mitchell = Bridget Moynahan

By Chase Kahn

Why is it that every trailer, television spot or screen I see for Jonathan Mostow's Surrogates (Buena Vista, 09.25.09) looks like I'm viewing the film through some sort of glass kaleidoscope in a neon-lit dive joint. Then throw in its avatar-like, age-old concept of self-aware technology undermined by evil corporate shenanigans and you have the recipe for disaster. I mean, it looks like Die Hard meets I, Robot. I'll still see it, though.

Review: 'Easy Virtue' [C-]

By Chase Kahn

Stephan Elliot's Easy Virtue, based on the 1924 Noel Howard play of the same name, is a minor, messy, meet-the-family comedy with a boisterously playful jazz score delivered in an uninspired, breakneck package.

The film is a familial culture-clash about an eccentric, stunningly glamorous American racecar driver (Jessica Biel) who marries the young, dashing, only son (Ben Barnes) of a floundering, uncertain and fractured English family, predisposed to despise the romance. It generates mostly playful (albeit miscalculated) results early on until things predictably hit a road bump.

Easy Virtue just plays itself up too much like a modern, dysfunctional family checklist comedy. It's Meet the Parents meets Four Christmases and Gosford Park. Jessica Biel's Larita is subjected to a barrage of archetypical in-law behavior spearheaded by Mrs. Whitaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her two envious daughters (played by Kimberly Nixon and Katherine Parkinson).
Plus I just couldn't get over the hermetic Mr. Whitaker's (Colin Firth) miracle-grow facial hair, which goes from a stubby, all-night Don Draper to a Gillette commercial to Che Guevara.

Box Office: Weekend (8/18-8/20)

By Chase Kahn

Not in the least big surprisingly, the 3D animator Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs dominated the weekend with $30.1 million with Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! coming in second with a modest $10.5 million.

The Jennifer Aniston soft-serve buffet, Love Happens, came in fourth with $8.4 million and Diablo Cody's Megan Fox script Jennifer's Body flopped with $6.8 million (5th), putting a serious dent in Fox's box office power.

Interesting trends elsewhere as Jane Campion's Bright Star -- a lavishly detailed, performed and composed period piece without an ounce of substance in the drama department -- opened in 19 screens to the tune of a very nice $10,000 per theater average which translates to a $207,000 opening. Bright Star is the first film under the new Apparition label and will expand to over 100 screens next week.

The bomb squad is out for Gamer, the Gerard Butler/Death Race/video-game testosterone enhancer. The Lionsgate action film dropped a gaudy 61% in its third week for a grand cume of $18 million.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: 'The Informant!' [B+]

By Chase Kahn

Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! is a completely nutty, entertaining and wicked deadpan comedy that's as eccentric as the exclamation point that dons its title. It's reserved, studious and flat-out disorienting in its depiction of the real-life story of a corporate employee-turned-informer named Mark Whitacre -- played with zany insanity by Matt Damon.

The thing is, Mark is a bit of a eccentric character himself. He lies, backtracks, mumbles and narrates through this maze of corporate and federal investigations until he's not even sure who's on his side anymore. In the actual account, I'm sure Mark Whitacre was just nothing more than a hypocrite -- a whistle-blower who was guilty as the corporation on the other end of his accusations. Here, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns have decided to turn this crazy true story into a full-blown farce.

The Informant! is never a laugh-out-loud howler and it isn't trying to be. It's a disturbing, exaggerated character study about a braindead Cornell genius whose a bipolar enigma of greed and misplaced morality. Matt Damon, who put on 30 lbs. for the role, is spectacular. From his bumbling gape to his forced smiles, he falls right in line as a man who is so far into an elaborate scam job that even he forgets his next play.

I've always felt like Soderbergh is a filmmaker who excels on not only what he shows you, but what he doesn't show you. Here, he spins a web of loopy Midwest corporate/FBI shenanigans into a purposefully hazy ordeal. In the opening thirty minutes, we're as confused as anybody else as to what Mark Whitacre is thinking, scheming or even trying to say.

There's also a persistent Marvin Hamlisch score that's a cross between James Bond and The Jazz Singer, a constant reminder of the inanity of the whole thing. There are a few sight gags and some laugh-intended drops, but The Informant! is a predictably dry and crazy form of comedy by way of the Coen Brothers doing Michael Mann. Anybody expecting anything different is going to squint at the screen and miss the point.

Review: 'Big Fan' [C+]

By Chase Kahn

Making his directorial debut after writing the screenplay for the Oscar nominated The Wrestler, Robert Siegel returns to his apparent comfort and understanding of the low-life fringe participators’ sports world. It’s regrettable that Big Fan is a not-good-enough portrait of lower class Northeastern sports loyalty and obsession. Sure, it’s a wholly authentic and believable entrenchment into the sports bar, gutter-rat football culture, but with a vacant, hollowed-out core.

Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is a parking garage booth worker, an overweight basement dweller and a massive New York Giants fan. He scribbles down a script to call into the local late night sports talk radio show where he’s made a name for himself – a mainstay simply known as ‘Paul in Staten Island’. He and his best friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), go to the Meadowlands for every home game, only to sit in the parking lot come kickoff, watching it on TV.

One night, while snacking on foldable pizza slices, Paul and Sal spot a familiar face across the street at the gas station – it’s Quantrell Bishop, the Giants’ fictional pro-bowl linebacker. Star struck, the pair quickly tail Bishop’s car to a Manhattan nightclub in Paul’s mom’s beaten-up red hatchback. Once inside, Paul and Sal observe Bishop and his hefty entourage from a distance, contemplating how to get his attention until they finally work up enough courage to approach the group at their elevated back table.

As a result of a misunderstanding in which Bishop categorizes Paul and Sal as threatening stalkers, Paul is brutally beaten and hospitalized with a concussion and a baseball-sized black eye – his face and his Giants loyalty taking equal blows. However, once back at home, Paul is hesitant to file charges against Bishop when he learns of the Giants’ losing streak and their disciplined star player now indefinitely suspended. With a lawsuit in the balance, he is forced to choose between team success and life success – prosperity on the field or off it.

One certainly worthy trait of Big Fan is the performance of Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero. With his indefinable haircut, stubby limbs and puffy features, he’s a model for obsession. Someone who is either so caught up in their own passion that they’ve failed to maintain simple self-preservation or a social outcast who has turned to the one thing he truly loves. Oswalt, a recognizable TV character actor (“The King of Queens”, “The United States of Tera”) is perhaps best known for lending his voice to Remy, the ambitious rat of Ratatouille. It’s good to see a relative unknown getting their face out in the open and pulling it off. Oswalt is so convincing as this hypersensitive fan that I almost half expect him to be at the Meadowlands every Sunday this season.

Behind the camera for the first time, Siegel captures the cold and uninviting staleness of a Staten Island winter effortlessly. The sun, if out at all, always seems to shine a stark white with windows as intrusive entry points. Using nosy close-ups, he also finds the untidy features of the actors’ pale and lifeless features, all contributing to Big Fan’s unmistakable clarity for the hopeless and the weak. But the film misses even where it hits. There are too many self-reflective bus rides, too many call-in interruptions by Paul’s slumbering mother and just a forceful, over-exultant sense of pity attempting to be bought through repetition.

In Siegel’s script for The Wrestler, he made a poignant, emotional and occasionally beautiful film under the sure-handed guidance of Darren Aronofsky. Where that film felt humanistic, tragic and defined, Big Fan feels a bit self-loathing, redundant and curiously weightless. Paul, played wonderfully by Patton Oswalt, is a sympathetic character, but he is never given any real retribution or reward for his devout faith and the climax is absurdly unsatisfying – a disappointing end to a well-intended, but minor debut.

*This review is from my work on

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eastwood, Damon: Part Two

By Chase Kahn

Clint Eastwood's Invictus (Warner Bros. 12.11.09) will likely be a major year-end awards contender later this year. The Nelson Mandela biopic will star Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon during Mandela's first term as President of South Africa after the fall of the apartheid.

Well now, Eastwood is joining up with Damon again, this time on Hereafter, a supernatural thriller written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and set to begin shooting next fall.

I'm not a huge fan of Eastwood's directorial effors of the past seven years or so. Letters From Iwo Jima is an amazing film, but Gran Torino was as wretched as Changeling was bloated. However, anytime he's working with Matt Damon -- or I should say anytime Damon is working with anybody -- I'm interested, sign me up, done deal.

Anyway, it's a big day -- off to see Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! plus upcoming reviews of Robert Siegel's Big Fan (which, it turns out, is an inappropirate title for me) and Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments

"Youth In Revolt" Delayed

By Chase Kahn

The Weinstein Company has delayed the Michael Cera comedy Youth in Revolt from its original October 30th release date to a January 15th, 2010 release. The film recently played at the Toronto International Film Festival to a good response, and TWC is hoping that this will be a great counter-programming alternative to the heavier fare of the winter months.

Obviously this isn’t the first film to be pushed back from a late ’09 spot to early 2010. With the economic climate, we’re seeing studios narrow their awards-season slate to just two or three films in order to stay afloat and avoid paying high P&A costs at the same time. Paramount just recently narrowed its contenders down to Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones and Jason Rietman's Up in the Air -- shunning Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island to next year.

The Weinstein Company already has heavy late-season hitters in Rob Marshall’s Nine, John Hillcoat’s The Road and the newly acquired Tom Ford’s A Single Man.

Everyone knows that January/February/March are Sarlac Pit death traps -- usually an amalgamation of PG-13 slasher films, third-rate romantic comedies and Hayden Christensen action movies. But early 2010 is frankly loaded with not just watchable studio fare, but potential awards-season fare -- in February! I would expect 2 or even 3 more films to get the, "we don't have the money to promote you" treatment, as well. Bad times for October, good times for February. Look at this line-up:

Paul Greengrass’ The Green Zone (Bourne director teams up with Matt Damon in Iraq)

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman

Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island

The Hughes Brothers' The Book of Eli (post-apocalyptic Denzel Washington)

Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness (Mel Gibson!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weekend -- Meatballs, Soft-Serve and Corn!

By Chase Kahn

It's a very slow news day, so I'll just talk about this weekend a little bit, which resembles more of a fall release weekend than an August, this-movie-sucks, garbage dump of a weekend. What I mean by that is that there are 4 studio films releasing who all touch upon different demographics, a characteristic of a big movie weekend.

Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! (Warner Bros.) opens tomorrow in 2,500 screens, so go see it. Jennifer's Girl (20th Century Fox), the teen horror/satire/sex comedy mash-up written by Juno stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody, will open and nobody will see it outside of Megan Fox worshippers, which means it will make a lot of money, unfortunately.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will get the RealD glasses circulating again. The 3D animated adaptation of the beloved children's book is getting really good reviews so far, which just continues the trend of critics throwing softballs at any animated movie that doesn't suck. Monsters Vs. Aliens did suck, and still managed good reviews -- I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Rounding out the wide release studio fare is the Jennifer Aniston-Aaron Eckhart vehicle, Love Happens, which is cinematic soft-serve ice cream served in a giant mixing bowl with extra spoons. The only thing more on-the-nose than the title is the trailer -- plus it didn't even screen for critics -- so avoid at all costs. In fact, if you go see a movie this weekend, make sure your theater is no less than 50 feet from another theater playing Love Happens this weekend. If you're in the proximity area, don't make any sudden movements and quietly demand a refund.

Opening in limited release this week, at least in my humble abode, are:

Jane Campion's Bright Star (Review)
Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)

By Chase Kahn

Roman Polanski exploded onto the Hollywood scene in 1968, bringing his avant garde, surrealistic Gothic-horror with him in an adaptation of the late Ira Levin's 1967 novel, Rosemary's Baby.

It would be a disservice to call it one of the greatest horror films of all-time - a distinction that improperly suggests that Rosemary's Baby simply exists to thrill or terrify its audience. It is an unshakable film, a pinnacle in paranoia and an indelibly shot and composed testament to the power of maternal instinct.

It's a film that knows it has the goods and it takes its time getting there, much to its credit. I love the way that it's formed, almost like a vice just tightening and tightening until full blown hysteria has broken out.

I won't even get into Mia Farrow's frightening performance, the imagery, the masterful editing, or the lived-in, paint-chipped, high-ceiling upper class New York City vibe that perpetrates throughout. It's just that rare film by an auteur that isn't missing a thing, knows where it's going, how to get there and how to put something on screen to create palpable mood and atmosphere.

Just take the opening lullaby sung at the beginning by Mia Farrow. Then, over the opening credits, the song means nothing really. It exudes a sort of eerie melody of uneasiness, sure, but it's ambiguous and indistinct. However, with the exact same song, played over the final shot and then the end credits - all of the sudden, it means everything.

Review: 'Extract' [B]

By Chase Kahn

Mike Judge invades the working-class environment again, this time with Jason Bateman as his human punching bag for everything horribly rote, unjust, unfair and intolerable about going to work and then coming home to suffer the same methodical cruelty.

Extract is a half-relevant, half-pedestrian rated-R comedy that's a tad redundant but heavy on laughs, even if they are generally broad and obvious. Jason Bateman is in full "Arrested Development" mode as an extract factory owner on the verge - and then in the midst of - a full-blown mid-life crisis. If you're a fan of the show, you know that's a whole-hearted compliment.

The supporting cast is rounded out with familiar faces like Kristen Wiig as Bateman's wife, Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as a smoking hot con artist-turned-factory employee, Ben Affleck as the next door bartender druggie and J.K. Simmons (Juno, Burn After Reading) doing his usual shenanigans around the workplace.

If there is on thing Extract confirms it's that we're a little sick of pot jokes and bad drug experiences, although Bateman does some fantastic physical acting during these scenes. The film is also a little too familiar around the edges, with David Koechner channeling Bill Lumbergh and a few too many implausible encounters, but such is the nature of this beast.

Extract is certainly a broader, more marketable film from Judge after his latest, Idiocracy (2006) peaked at just 130 screens before becoming more profitable and appreciated by his loyal fanbase on DVD. Even with a slightly familiar and redundant new film, Judge still proves that his comedies are more truthful, amusing and honest than most these days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Longer "Single"

By Chase Kahn

We knew it was going to happen, but Tom Ford's A Single Man, which I've been harping about for the last four days incessantly, has been sold to The Weinstein Company in the festival's first seven-figure deal since opening Thursday.

You know what this means -- A Single Man is a sure-fire Oscar contender, and Colin Firth just put himself squarely in the Best Actor race.

"The Weinsteins, of course, are famous for their awards maneuvering, so “Single” could be a good match. TWC plans to release the pic in a limited run to qualify it for the Academy Awards. Pic will then go out wider in early 2010."

There's just something about the gloomy, skinny-tie Mad Men-vibe in the trailer for A Single Man that has me giddy and panting to see it. Congrats to fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford for scoring a winner in his debut, it's nice to see.

First Purchase at Toronto: "Valhalla Rising"

By Chase Kahn

IFC Films has just bought the U.S. distribution rights to Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising, the Danish director's Viking Opus about a mute, enslaved Norse warrior played by Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale).

Refn's previous filmography includes the Pusher trilogy and the yet-to-be-released biographical prison drama, Bronson -- reported by many, but not all, to be very good. Valhalla Rising did not receive very many accolades at its first screening at the Venice Film Festival (if any), but certainly a film by an up-and-comer, cult-leading, distinct personality like Refn is a pretty smart move by IFC and an off-the-radar move as well for the small studio.
IFC Films also has U.S. rights to Ken Loach's Looking For Eric and Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. I was kind of hoping they would buy Tom Ford's A Single Man or Samuel Maoz's Lebanon.

Plus, am I the only one who just absolutely digs Viking movies? I just wish there were more good ones. I even wanted to see Pathfinder for the longest time. Richard Fleischer's The Vikings (1958) and Jon McTiernan's The 13th Warrior (1999) are my favorites. I can't even think of any other decent ones.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Sale Tonight?

By Chase Kahn

No major film has signed a U.S. distribution deal from Toronto as of yet, but this article by Steven Zeitchik at Risky Biz Blog is good news. Two big-time Venice buzz-word films: Samuel Maoz's Lebanon and Tom Ford's A Single Man are apparently very, very close to being snatched up -- the former won the Golden Lion (top prize) and the latter won its star, Colin Firth, a Best Actor award from the festival.

If I were in Toronto right now, Tom Ford's A Single Man would be on the top of my must-see list. A former fashion designer, Ford has crafted an apparently unshakeable period film about a gay college professor (Firth) who contemplates suicide after the death of his lover in the 1960's. Its first big Toronto screening is tonight, with a U.S. distribution deal likely either afterwards or early tomorrow morning. This thing needs to get primed for an awards-season run starting in November or December or what-have-you. If it does, Firth is likely shoots right to the top of the Best Actor race.

Watch the trailer for A Single Man here.

Audiences are Whipped

By Chase Kahn

Drew Barrymore's Whip It (Fox Searchlight, 10.02.09) debuted to very positive reactions in Toronto today. Screen Daily's Tim Grierson, Variety's Rob Nelson, Hollywood Reporter's Peter Brunette, The Wrap's Eric Kohn and Roger Ebert have all been 'whipped' into a frenzy by the roller-derby comedy/drama of female empowerment.

Of course, it's actress Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and stars Ellen Page as the coming-of-age protaganist who finds solace in enlisting on a local roller-derby team. No one is banging the drum that this is by any means a traditionally "great" film, but no one seems unenthused after exiting. I haven't heard a bad thing about it.

Nobody Buying Yet at Toronto

By Chase Kahn

Not a single film as been bought for U.S. distribution so far at the Toronto International Film Festival, with early prognosticators predicting that buyers are playing the wai-and-see game in an attempt to find bargains.

Jon Amiel's Creation, the pretty well-received Charles Darwin picture starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, is currently without a U.S. partner and it opened the festival. Also without a U.S. distrib. are:

Tom Ford's A Single Man -- starring Colin Firth (Best Actor winner at Venice)
Atom Egoyan's Chloe -- starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried
Daniel Barber's Harry Brown -- vigilante flick starring Michael Caine
Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime -- Venice Best Screenplay Winner
Neil Jordan's Ondine -- starring Colin Farrell
Oliver Parker's Dorian Gray -- starring Ben Barnes
Danis Tenovic's Triage -- war drama starring Colin Farrell
Ian Fitzgibbon's Perrier's Bounty -- Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
Nikki Caro's The Vintner's Luck -- 19th Century French period drama

These are just a few of the high-profile films that have all screened at Toronto to no sale. Hopefully it's the calm before the storm, as I would love to see platform releases for most of these films later this year/early next. Especially Tom Ford's A Single Man, more on it later.

Review: 'Lemon Tree' [B]

By Chase Kahn

Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree (2009) is a nearly pitch-perfect political against-the-system humanist drama about an aging, desolate woman ordered to abandon her lemon grove after the arrival of the Israeli Defense Minister next door.

Located on the border between Israel and the 'West Bank' (Palestine), the minister's secret servicemen advise him that the lemon grove offers a serious level of threat. Without contemplation, he okays the order to cut down the grove and compensate Salma (Hiam Abass) for her troubles. But the grove holds sentimental value to Salma, who is now the last of her family remaining to look after it. Not only does the grove represent everything to her, but it becomes a symbol of an entire nation and race holding on and unwilling to let go.

Lemon Tree is at once a very touching and poignantly observed little film. It's great in that it uses a small-scale domestic issue to encapsulate the idealogy of two cultures and two nations, but it boils down to something that doesn't ever truly sing. It's a film that does what it wants to without a lot of aggression, but the result is not completely satisfying or extraordinary. For what it's worthy, it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Viewed on DVD

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Lebanon" Takes Golden Lion Award

By Chase Kahn

The Venice Film Festival, now overshadowed the by arrival of Toronto on Thursday, handed out its awards last night, granting their top prize, the Golden Lion Award, to Samuel Moaz's Lebanon, an Israeli war drama taking place entirely inside a tank.

Darren Aronosfky's The Wrestler took home the Golden Lion Award just a year ago from Venice.

The Grand Jury Prize went to Fatih Akin's Soul Kitchen while Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime took the Best Screenpaly award.

Another noteworthy accolade, and perhaps a sign of things to come, is the Best Actor award being handed out to Colin Firth for his work in Tom Ford's A Single Man, which is an adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel set in 1962 Los Angeles about a college professor (Firth) who contemplates suicide following the death of his lover (which, as it were, is a man). Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode also co-star.

Review: 'The September Issue' [B]

By Chase Kahn

R.J. Cutler's The September Issue is a doc that's more interesting than great. Chronicling the months-long preparation and execution of the Vogue September issue, which pushes 850 pages, it's also an inside-look at the real 'devil' who wears Prada, Anna Wintour -- head honcho, not only of American Vogue, but of the international world of high fashion.

She's depicted as a transcendent, almost precognitive trend-setter who is, yes, not very warm and cuddly inside the walls of the 12th floor Vogue suite. She's not inhumanly cruel or anything, but more of a no frills, no fun, business-first lady with a my-way-or-the-highway demeanor. She's also not the star of The September Issue, which is curiously both the strength and the weakness of the film.

It's a very free-forming and scatter shoot narrative that runs through the intense, high-stress months leading up to the most important month in high fashion. In between photo shoots, clothes racks, board meetings and fashion weeks, we see glimpses of Anna's home life and her background, but Ms. Wintour is honestly upstaged by her inferiors and not to mention, featured far less prominently.

Grace Coddington, a former model-turned-editor, wears her years in the industry on her worn-down features and frizzled red hair more reminiscent of a brushfire. She's described, even by Anna herself, "as brilliant" -- a perpetrator of indelible images and understanding -- some of her photo shoots, including a 1920's homage, are indeed, brilliant.

Seeing her work go through the wringer and then the cutting block is part of the high drama that seethes from The September Issue. It's a slight affair, but captivating nonetheless.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Box Office: Friday Numbers

By Chase Kahn

Variety was quick to the chase this Saturday, posting yesterday's box-office numbers with very little intrigue. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself is unsurprisingly on-pace to win the weekend unanimously with $8.6 million yesterday -- doing nothing to stop the Tyler Perry assembly line productivity more reminiscent of, say Warner Bros. in 1936.

Shane Acker's 9, a mediocre, glum and repetitive science-fiction animated film took in $3.3 million for second place in its third day (it came out on Wednesday). Sorority Row took in just $1.9 million despite extraneous efforts from Summit and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds ($1.9 million), All About Steve ($1.8 million) and the Kate Beckinsale snowbound parka-thriller Whiteout ($1.7 million) rounded out the top 6.


By Chase Kahn

Jon Amiel's Creation, the opening film of the Toronto International Film Festival (premiering Thursday night) has been getting generally warm remarks. The film chronicles the life of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) just before publication of his radical evolutionary theories. However, most describe it as focusing primarily on his relationship with his family, including his wife, Emma played by Jennifer Connelly.

Creation is based on the book "Annie's Box", written by Randal Keynes, the great grandson of Charles Darwin. As of this moment, it has no U.S. distributor -- at least I can't find one -- but surely that will change in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 11, 2009


By Chase Kahn

The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man just made one hell of a first impression at the Toronto Film Festival. Incontention's Kris Tapley just called it a "miracle movie" while Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells ("brilliant") and Variety's Todd McCarthy are equally enamored.

Of course, A Serious Man is a wacky, wicked mistanthropic black comedy about Jews in 1960's-70's Minnesota. Its got a no-name cast and one of the craziest trailers of the year. Anything by the Coen Brothers and I'm all for it, first in line, fervently awaiting. I like my Fargo, No Country for Old Men Coens better, but I'm so psyched for this now.

Captain Jack Spare Us

By Chase Kahn

Supposedly this is the title and release date of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Because Dead Man's Chest and At World's End were so great that we have to dip into that well again. Plus, even though I'm one of the biggest fans of Michael Mann's Public Enemies , I'm losing a lot of respect for my man Johnny Depp.

Each movie turns Jack Sparrow into a bigger self-parody than the one before it. It's getting so bad that I've started to turn even on the original film.

'Up' Staged

By Chase Kahn

"I've just seen the most eloquent, affecting and altogether best film of far", says Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere. Get in line, because Jason Reitman's Up in the Air is sweeping the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals like a good-natured plague.

Imagine that scene inside the movie theater during Outbreak where we see the germs flying around the air -- then replace them with little fairies spreading magical pixie dust that enlightens and deeply persuades the viewer into feeling nothing less than an overbearing wave of movie ecstasy.

"But Up In The Air really has it all -- recognizable human-scale truth, clarity, smart comfort, the right degree of restraint (i.e., knowing how not to push it), and -- this got me more than anything else -- a penetrating, almost unnerving sense of quiet".

The film has really been on my radar ever since those various reports of gushy test screenings back in July. I would say at this point, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Lone Sherfig's An Education and now Jason Reitman's Up in the Air are the three biggest year-end unshakeable powerhouses going right now -- your safe bets.
By the way, the George Clooney-vehicle is beginning a platform release on 11.13.09 followed by an expansion two weeks later and a wide release on 12.04.09 -- I think.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"See Your Last Breath"

By Chase Kahn

Dominic Sena's Whiteout releases tomorrow, a continuation of the numerous desolate parka-thrillers set on Hoth. Not surprisingly, the film is reportedly awful -- scoring a current 5% tomatometer rating -- and Warner Bros. is clearly just dumping this thing off, covering their eyes, and hoping for the best.

Like I said in a post a few weeks ago, I pretty much threw in the towel on these snowbound claustrophobic artic-horror thrillers after Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter was such a unmitigated failure on every level. I think I gave it one more chance with David Slade's 30 Days of Night, but it did nothing to reverse the trend.
I'd also like to nominate Whiteout for having the worst tagline of all-time: "See Your Last Breath".
Howard Hawks and John Carpenter are rolling over in their graves this weekend.

Sharp-Fanged Succubus

By Chase Kahn

Karyn Kusama's Jennifer's Body (20th Century Fox, 09.18.09), the next project from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody, is getting some feedback today as the film premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (kicking off today).

Tim Grierson's Screen Daily review is harmlessly mixed -- "Though clever and generally amusing, the horror-comedy runs into problems on the fright front." He continues, "director Karyn Kusama and star Megan Fox seems uncertain if they're satirising the conventions of teen-gore fests or simply catering to their core audience's expectations."

Variety's Justin Chang is less mild-mannered. He says the film tackles its premise with, "eye-rolling obviousness and, fatally, a near-total absence of real scares." Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere didn't provide any significant writing sample of the film, but simply says that, "I wouldn't submit again with a knife at my back."

I don't really approve of these horror-comedy schlock-fests. Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell was a mildly amusing, mildly threatening, low-rent thing. I don't really get watching intentionally bad movies squarely playing up the tongue-in-cheek angle. There is a scene near the end of Drag Me to Hell -- involving a seance, a demon and a goat, that is so blatantly stupid I was stunned.

I have a feeling Jennifer's Body is made of this mold and early reviews say that even it doesn't know what it wants to be.


By Chase Kahn

Michael Speier at The Wrap has reported that, finally, Freestyle Releasing will distribute Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles in a limited run on 11.25.09, with Warner Home Video handling the DVD release.

The film played to a great response at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, then somehow went untapped until now, nearly a year later. One of the film's biggest fans, Roger Ebert, called it, "one of the best movies about the theater that I've ever seen."

Me and Orson Welles follows a teenager (Zac Efron) who is hired to star in Orson Welles' stage production of Julius Caesar -- this, of course, during Orson's ownership, pre-Hollywood, of the Mercury Theater Group in the late 1930's before "War of the Worlds", RKO, Citizen Kane/William Randolph Hearst and so on.

Christian McKay is said to be stunning as Orson Welles and Claire Danes plays Efron's love interest. You can watch the trailer for Me and Orson Welles here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apple Boy

By Chase Kahn

I saw the new, extended trailer for David Bowers' Astro Boy, a manga/anime series adaptation being given the big wide-release fall-schedule distribution by Summit Entertainment on 10.23.09.

First off, the teaser trailer made the film look decent enough, so I wasn't exactly primed to hate this new trailer as much as I did, but there you go -- I hated it. It looks, animation-wise, to be good enough, although I kind of hate that plastic-soft look that makes everyone's head look like the surface of a red delicious.

Furthermore, it's made plainly evident that the plot revolves around nothing more than an evildoer attempting to round up the 'freak' science experiment, where Astro Boy has to not only survive, but save the day. Humor looks amateurish in that Dreamworks kind of way -- butt jokes, giant robots with soft voices, etc.

Then I began thinking of what a crazy, scattershoot studio Summit has become. They have a surefire Best Picture nominee in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, an inevitable teen-friendly blockbuster in waiting with Chris Weitz's New Moon, and this is on top of Sorority Row releasing this friday plus Push, Knowing, The Brothers Bloom and Next Day Air being released earlier this year, among others. Talk about a random movie grab-bag.

I just think of Summit as being a kind of shoddy, halfway-there kind of studio. They decided to release The Hurt Locker in the summer (why?), their handling of the Twilight movies is almost barbaric in its haste and the rapid-fire genre turnstile just keeps on flipping -- "lets try animation, fantasy, action, drama, teen horror, shitty Nic Cage movies, anything!"

Review: '9' (C+)

By Chase Kahn

Five years after director Shane Acker won an Oscar for his animated short film 9, the director is back helming a feature-length expansion of his own premise about a group of rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The short film is a delightful slice of animation -- dialogue-free, inventive, stylized and fun. As it turns out, some things are better left alone. With all of its visual and technical innovation and intrigue to burn, 9 is nevertheless a bland, repetitive and hackneyed inflation of the eleven-minute short film with as many bad ideas as good ones, until the source material is proven overexposed.

Trying to duplicate the moderate success of Coraline ($75 million domestic gross), Focus Features has an odd blend of genres rolled into a niche package. The PG-13 science-fiction action-adventure animated film is too dark, bleak and humorless for anyone under the age of twelve, yet too undemanding, unpolished and meandering for anyone old enough to carry a driver’s permit.

Beginning with an aged, painful voiceover narration, 9 begins brilliantly with the awakening of its title character (Elijah Wood) in the workshop of a now deceased scientist. After flipping open the tapping, wind-battered shutters, we’re exposed to a hazy, smog-ridden ruin of what used to be a great city – think 1940’s London crossed with Soylent Green. 9 soon meets a resourceful old “sackboy” like himself, named 2 (Martin Landau), who is quickly snatched up during an attack by a roving machine known simply as, “The Beast”.

Wounded from the attack, 9 awakens under the hospitality of 5 (John C. Reilly) and a band of fellow “stitchpunks” (courtesy of Mr. Acker) led by #1 (Christopher Plumber) who, it appears, have been seeking refuge and solitude from “The Beast” for quite some time. Through various plot devices and tactics, we come to learn that the human race has become extinct at the expense of their own ambition. Through newspaper clippings, a scientist is identified as to have built an army of intelligent machines for this nameless “State”, who then became self-aware, turning on their creators with unremitting numbers and hostility. This war is depicted briefly during the origin story of the numbered “stitchpunks”, much to the delight of this reviewer.

Unfortunately, 9 can’t sustain its opening passages, nor can it duplicate (not to mention expand on) the wondrous and artistically rendered eleven-minute short film upon which it’s based. It’s quite obvious that Shane Acker and screenwriter Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House) are spreading this premise thin to the point of tedium. It boils down to a series of capture-and-escape, machine-versus-rag doll monster battles spliced with a MacGuffin/post-apocalyptic, “save the world” narrative – a short film on repeat.

Dialogue, all too prevalent here, is a barrage of banal moralistic debates perfectly fitting our archetypical, straight-laced, pint-sized heroes. The voicework by everyone involved is non-essential with the exception of keeping Elijah Wood busy these days. John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly and Christopher Plummer, among others, are given no range here to make an impression, simply a vehicle for the action like everything else. The kind of exacting, strength-building inspiration for the characters and their voiceover counterparts, noticeable in any feature made by Pixar, is plainly absent here.

If there is one thing worth chewing on in 9, it is the animation, a kind of stop-motion/computer-generated hybrid. Interiors are appropriately dark and faintly lit with exterior sequences, which expose the pinkish-yellow beauty of the sky, looking gorgeous. The character design and the imagination involved with the detailing of the environment and the set pieces are undeniably impressive. For instance, the numbers on a calendar serve as a scorecard for which “stitchpunks” are still alive and a saltshaker’s silver top is efficiently used as a jousting mask.

Regrettably, only in this aspect does anything about 9 signal any stroke of inventiveness. In fact, nothing in the film is definably awful, but what you have here is a harmlessly dull and dreary piece of action-animation -- stubbornly visceral and tirelessly unprogressive.

Prince Caspian...Forever Young

By Chase Kahn

I have a piqued curiosity when it comes to Oliver Parker's Dorian Gray, which will open in the UK on Friday (09.11.09) before playing in Toronto this month, where it will hopefully find a willing U.S. distributor.

Having recently introduced myself to Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and reading up on Oscar Wilde's 1890 source novel, I'm fascinated by this tale of infinite youth and sin.

This review from Allan Hunter at Screen Daily hardly sings praises and finds nothing nice to say about Ben Barnes' portrayal of Dorian (shocker!), but I'm just interested in how a modernized take on the story would work.

Hunter goes on to say that this version is very "faithful" and "traditional" towards the material, so at least no liberties are being taken there. Once again, Dorian Gray opens on 09.11.09 in the UK before playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. I would think a movie starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth with a new-wave gothic horror vibe wouldn't be too hard to market for a modest studio like Summit, Overture, Lionsgate, etc. But, we'll see.

Dorian Gray Trailer

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Venice: "The Men Who Stare at Goats" Premieres

By Chase Kahn

Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats premiered at Venice this morning to very strong accolades from Variety's Derek Elley, Incontention's Guy Lodge and Screen International's Mike Goodridge.

The film is a U.S. military-intelligence farce -- think Coen Brothers and Dr. Strangelove. It's based on Jon Ronson's non-fiction book of the same name which focused on, among other things, the development and research of paranormal military activities. It stars George Clooney and Ewan McGregor, directed by Clooney's frequent collaborator (Good Night and Good Luck, Leatherheads) Grant Heslov, who takes a step up from a producing or writing credit.

I would say buzz at this point is slightly stronger than Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! -- another farcical deadpan comedy with corporate ineptitude and greed subbing for U.S. military craziness.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"Erin Brockovich" Meets Her Little Brother

By Chase Kahn

Todd McCarthy's Variety review of Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! isn't quite a rave, but mostly an enthusiastic thumbs-up. He describes the film as, "the wacky little brother of Erin Brockovich", something that, "goofs around lightheartedly while still doing some justice to the true-life story of a zealous but wildly delusional corporate whistle-blower."

"Having already done a major film that called out big business with a straight face, Soderbergh returns to the same arena with a cocked eyebrow and lots of jokers up his sleeve. The exclamation point on the title and the jaunty, old-fashioned score by Marvin Hamlisch serve as immediate tipoffs as to the film’s hyperreal intentions, which will inevitably put some viewers off, but for others will provide an amusing, original angle on the sort of story that’s almost always done with an earnest sense of self-importance."
McCarthy also describes it as a film that's more "amusingly eccentric" rather than "outright funny", a compliment by his books, but no doubt a speed bump for many. It's being marketed as Oceans Fourteen, so likely the populace will be impervious to any significant, sly and understated performance tweeks or subtle physical comedy -- i.e. expressions, delivery. They just want Matt Damon to put on a fake nose and try to sip out of a champagne bottle.

I'm excited, but I expect reactions, both critically and commercially, to be lukewarm -- at least based on the early word.

"The Informant!" Premieres at Venice

By Chase Kahn

Stephen Soderbergh's The Informant! screened early today in Venice (or late yesterday? time zones confuse me) and the first couple of reviews are mild mixed-to-good reactions.

For those uninitiated, The Informant! is a corporate greed/deadpan comedy about a real-life worker (Matt Damon) who turns to the FBI to expose an agricultural companies' dirty deeds. It's being described as The Insider through the eyes of Soderbergh in his Oceans Eleven mode.

Incontention's Guy Lodge liked it, giving it a 3 star/out of 4 review, praising Matt Damon's performance and the witty banter of Scott Z. Burns' script, but ultimately is a tad underwhelmed by the claustrophobia of Soderbergh's comic-insanity and slightly calls into question the adaptation of Kirk Eichenwald's non-fiction expose into a Oceans-level comedy/drama.

Screen International's Mike Goodridge is less forgiving, calling it, "an uneven semi-comedy" that "can't quite decide its tone". Like Guy Lodge did in his positive interpretation, Goodridge calls out the film for taking the approach that it does: "For no apparent reason, Soderbergh chooses to dress The Informant! as a Peter Sellers-style sixties comedy".

It's early in the post-fest review process, so still waiting on Variety, Hollywood Reporter and others to chime in. Honestly, my curiosity is slightly more piqued after reading these two reviews, despite their non-committal tone. I was shocked to see that Soderbergh was taking this thing in a dryly comedic direction, but I'm curious to check it out.

You can watch the trailer for The Informant! here. Warner Bros. is set to release it nationwide on 09.18.09.