Thursday, January 31, 2013

Film Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Sometimes it is a good thing to have such a terrible movie as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, come out so early in the year.  That way, you don't have to spend the rest of the year, wondering if you will have a film bad enough - godawful enough - to top your eventual worst of the year list.  And trust me when I say that this movie could very well be that film.  The sad part is, there will probably come several films to take its place before year's end, but for now, we certainly have ourselves a perfectly fine, er, I mean perfectly rotten, place holder.  But seriously folks, this film really is just that bad.  Really.  Just awful.  How the producers and/or director (who, incidentally, is the same fella who gave us the much more enjoyable Dead Snow, the Norwegian, zombie Nazi film from a few years back), managed to get an actual flesh and blood Oscar nominee in Jeremy Renner, to do this film, even though there is no feasibly possible way this was one of those "the script was good, but the film just didn't work out" kind of things, is quite remarkable.  He's the new Bourne, and he's in The Avengers movies, there is no way he just needed the money.  He  seems like a pretty smart guy in interviews, so it could not be plain stupidity.  Perhaps it was blackmail of some sort.  Yeah, let's go with that.  Blackmail it must have been.

Seriously, for real this time.  This film, in the same vein as last year's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - though without the spark of whimsy that was that film - is the tale of the grown-up brother and sister of Grimm's fantasies.  They just happen to be a pair of kick-ass witch hunters now.  I suppose, psychologically speaking, when a witch tries to stuff you in her oven when you are in the formable years of childhood, you will probably have a thing against witches when you grow up.  Apparently, aside from this rabid hatred of witches, if you eat a candy house as a child, you will grow up with a severe case of diabetes, or as it is called here, the sugar sickness.  Whether such a sickness was even known when this film took place (one assumes the setting is somewhere in the 18th or early 19th Centuries), or whether there were injections for such, I really do not know - nor am I even interested enough in the film to bother looking up such a thing.  Perhaps a quick call to Wilfred Brimley would help explain things.  But, in the case of this ridiculous film - the somewhat high tech weapons that blend in with the crossbows and magic wands we can just toss off as a case of willing suspension of disbelief, and leave it at that - do we really need to know, or even care about any of this?  Probably not.

Granted, thanks to the casting of Famke Janssen as the head witch, the nerds and fanboys can imagine a battle between Hawkeye and Jean Grey, but otherwise, yeah, probably not.  Worst film of the year?  Like I said earlier, there will probably be worse.  Yes, it would take a substantially steaming pile of cinematic shit to top (or is that bottom) this one, but I have the utmost faith in Hollywood to do just that thing.  There are a lot of films I tend to avoid like the plague (Adam Sandler films, Tyler Perry crap, anything to do with a Wayans sibling), all of which would be healthy candidates for any worst of list, so this one may end up being the worst for me personally.  Then again, who knows what the next eleven months will bring.  After all, there is a new M. Night Shamalamadingdong film coming out later this very same year, so who knows.  As of right now though, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, is penciled in at number one in my tentative worst of 2013 list.  Only time will tell if it can be beaten.  My better judgement is saying that I hope this does not happen, but the darker recesses of my mind, almost feel it is a challenge to find such a film.  Perhaps I should stop listening to that part of me, and just hope for the best - which, to get one final dig in, is most certainly not what this film was, is, or ever will be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Astaire/Rogers #1: Flying Down to Rio (1933)

The following is the first in a ten part series on the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Enjoy.

Fred Astaire began dancing on the stage when he was just five years old, partnering with big sister Adele.  Comparatively a late bloomer, Ginger Rogers entered Vaudeville at sixteen, as a spur of the moment addition to Eddie Foy's traveling show.  In 1933, these two hoofing talents came together for the first of what would eventually be ten films as dancing partners - all but the final one, at RKO.  This inaugural film was called Flying Down to Rio, but unlike their successive nine celluloid partnerships, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were not the stars of the film.  The film was actually a starring vehicle for the beautiful Mexican actress, Dolores Del Rio.  Fred and Ginger were merely supporting players for her and male lead, Gene Raymond.  Nothing but a goofy musician and a smart-mouthed singer, respectively, to Raymond's suave, womanizing band leader, and Del Rio's Brazilian debutante.  But that didn't stop director Thornton Freeland from putting them out there on the dance floor together - and, as they, whomever they may be, are prone to say, a legend was born.  Well, that and the fact that they pretty much steal the film out from under Del Rio and Raymond.

Though Astaire was a well known and well renowned star of the stage in 1933, this was only his second film - the first being a small part as himself in the Joan Crawford/Clark Gable vehicle, Dancing Lady, earlier the same year - while Rogers was already an established comedic and musical actress, albeit as a second banana type - such precoders as A Shriek in the Night, Hat Check Girl, and most notably, 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, were already under her tight belt.  Not so incidentally, this not only marks the first pairing of Astaire and Rogers, but also the first, and only, time where Ginger actually got billing above Fred.  But it is not the billing we are looking for in an Astaire/Rogers musical, it is, of course, the dancing, and even though we have to wait a good third of the way into the film before we finally get that dancing, get it we finally do.  Granted, we have to sit through the silly antics of love child Raymond, trying to put the moves on spitfire Del Rio, before this happens, but happen it finally does.  And please don't get me wrong, for I can watch Dolores Del Rio do just about anything, at anytime, but the film doesn't exactly have a strong script or a very powerful director.  But I digress.  We are here to talk about the dancing of Fred and Ginger.  The many and multifaceted Latin charms of Dolores Del Rio are another story for another day.

For cinematic history's sake, the first time any of us ever get to see Astaire and Rogers dancing together, it is a Brazilian number (we are in Rio after all) called the Carioca.  The number was written, specifically for the film, by Vincent Youmans (music), and Gus Kahn & Edward Eliscu (lyrics), and is choreographed by Dave Gould and Hermes Pan, the latter of whom became Astaire's long time regular choreographer.  The number is a blend of the Samba, Maxixe, Foxtrot and Rumba, and is danced with the dancers foreheads together.  A rather strange dance, and certainly not one of Astaire and Rogers' best moments, but still fun to see these two great hoofers getting to play at meet cute.  The highlight of the film though, is the final, titular number.  Sung by Fred Astaire on the ground and danced by Rogers and a slew of chorus girls, while all tied to planes flying over the Rio de Janeiro nightclub that most of the action takes places.  Why the number is set up like this, is a somewhat convoluted scenario involving a mostly unseen trio of Greek gangsters, who have gotten the club's owner to seemingly lapse on entertainment permits.  How exactly it solves this problem by having the dancers in the air, while the band and singer are still performing outside the club, I have no idea, but it is a fun set-up to see Rogers and all her girls high-kicking it over the streets of Rio.  Of course, all these air acrobatics are done on the ground, using rear projection - and trust me, it shows, quite hilariously at times, most notably when one chorus girls plummets to what at first appears to be her death, only to be caught by an apparently lower flying plane of chorus girls.  Even with the obvious fakery abounding, it is a rather spectacular number - even if Fred and Ginger are several thousand feet apart through the duration.

And in the end, even though it is Del Rio's film, it is a final shot of Astaire and Rogers, who close the film out - a pair of slightly known second bananas, who steal the film out from under its stars, and cause enough of a commotion to warrant them doing another nine films together, this time as the bonafide stars of the screen.  Eventually the pair would split up (rather amicably, as opposed to tabloidish rumours to the contrary), and Rogers would go on to more dramatic fare, winning an Oscar in 1940 for the title role in Kitty Foyle, while Astaire would partner up with many more leading ladies, such as Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland and Cyd Charisse, eventually receiving his one and only Oscar nomination, at the tender age of seventy-five, for The Towering Inferno.  But all of this came well after these two great hoofing legends first made history - or perhaps, prehistory - in Flying Down to Rio.  Next up for the duo would be The Gay Divorcee, the following year.  That film would co-star the great comic character actor, Edward Everett Horton, who would go on to co-star in several more Astaire/Rogers musicals.  But that is a story best left for the second installment of our Fred and Ginger story.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Some Idle, Fresh-From-Viewing Thoughts on Quentin Dupieux's Absurdist Film, Wrong, Follow-up to That Murderous Tire Movie

If, by chance, any of you fine folks out there, saw, and liked, Parisian-born, electronic musician turned filmmaker Quentin Dupieux's last film, titled Rubber, and ostensibly centered around an abandoned car tire that somehow attains sentience, and goes on a killing spree, murdering people with, what seems to be telekinesis, then it is a pretty good bet that you might just like the director's new film as well.  But, if you are one of those who thought Rubber was a, let's say, steaming pile of dog shit, then it is an equally good bet that you should probably avoid this new film like the veritable plague.  Lucky for me, I am in the former group, and not the latter, so Dupieux's simply titled, Wrong, though not as flat-out enjoyable as Rubber (less frantic but more cerebral indeed), is just my so-called cup of tea.  Granted, this tea may very well have been laced with something (think David Lynch meets Charlie Kaufman), but it still tastes pretty darn good to me.    

Now, to set up the plot of this film for the non-initiated, may be a little difficult.  Sure, I can tell you that the film is about a man named Dolph, who loses his dog, Paul.  I can let you know that in actuality, Paul has been kidnapped by a a mysterious self help guru who goes by the name of Mr. Chang.  I could also mention that there may be man/dog telepathy involved, as well as mind control, matter-of-fact returns from the dead, odd occurrences, such as a palm tree suddenly becoming a pine tree, or a torrential downpour inside an office building, that is never even questioned (much like the ever-burning house in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York), and to top it all off, time itself may have no meaning whatsoever.  Oh yeah, and we get to see the inner thoughts of a dog turd as well.  And, these things are merely the tip of the batshitcrazy iceberg that is Quentin Dupieux's aptly titled, Wrong.  Trust me, once you experience the film's opening shot, you will know whether you are in the rightest of places or in the the wrongest - all depending on which side of the fence you were on with Rubber.

Wrong will be available on VOD come February 1st, and will hit theaters (in NY/LA at least, and probably not any farther) on March 29th.  A full review of all the insanity will come sometime in between those two dates.  Until then, perhaps you want to take the chance and check out this film.  Then again, perhaps you do not.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Film Review: David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook

After he finished watching David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, a friend of mine called it a chick flick for guys.  I suppose, that is one way of looking at it.  Here's another.  Russell's adaptation of Matthew Quick's best selling novel, is an audience pandering, cliché-addled, overlong, even at barely just two hours, achingly middle-of-the-road attempt at being quirky and funny and, ultimately poignant.  In other words, a fail.  Perhaps not an epic fail, for there are still things to like about the film, but a fail nonetheless.  Director Russell began his directorial career, back in 1994, with the Sundance hit and Independent Spirit Award winner, Spanking the Monkey.  The film - an acerbic black comedy about incest and masturbation - showed great promise for its budding director.  Ever since this debut, Russell's films have become increasingly less edgy, and increasingly more mainstream, finally becoming replete with a typical mainstream mundane attitude - or perhaps saying lack of attitude would be more apropos.   

Following a career that went, after Spanking the Monkey, from the early days of the funny Flirting With Disaster (one of Ben Stiller's few enjoyable films) and the satirical Three Kings (probably the director's best film), to the mediocrity that was I Heart Huckabees (a mere Wes Anderson wannabe) and the sheep-in-wolf's-clothing that was 2010's Oscar winner The Fighter (outside of a brilliant performance by Christian Bale, the film was trite and expected), comes the director's least edgy film yet - and such a claim is made even more palpable by the fact that Russell, much like in The Fighter, seems to believe himself to be just as edgy here as ever.  The main problem here, as is the case with most mainstream films, is that nothing ever surprises.  At no point during this film, which incidentally is about a man getting out of the mental ward, after being locked up for beating up his wife's lover, and having to go back home to live in his childhood home, was I ever surprised at what a character does.  At no point, did I ever say, "Wow, I did not see that coming."  Granted, once you have seen as many films as this critic has - five digits, easily - that moment of surprise comes less and less easily with each passing year, but here, the by-the-book mechanizations of narrative storytelling get especially heavy handed indeed.

Granted, Russell's film is a fail, but, as I more than alluded to earlier, it is not an epic fail.  The thing that keeps this inexplicably well-awarded film from, as they say, stinkin' up the joint, are the performances handed in by its leads - Jennifer Lawrence, and especially, or at least more surprisingly, Bradley Cooper.  Lifting themselves above the trite material, Cooper and Lawrence do a fine job showing crazy, without ever going overboard on it.  But even these quite nuanced performances cannot save an otherwise mediocre work such as this.  Sure, the film is, in no way, something to include on anyone's worst of the year lists, but in an even more troublesome scenario, the film just aches of a staid pedestrianism - which in my book, is a much worse fate than being truly bad, or even rotten.  To finish my review off with yet another reiteration of a theme - something Russell's film does in veritable spades, yeah, we get it, you want to be a better person - Silver Linings Playbook is mere middlebrow folderol, made popular by the mainstream moviegoer's desire to see unthreatening, unoriginal and ultimately uninspired stories.  Sure, newly-minted Oscar nominees Cooper and Lawrence keep things going as best they can - Bobby D. and Jacki Weaver are along for a pair of Oscar nominated rides as well, but in no stand-out kind of way - but the quirk and edge of Russell's earlier films is just, as Kansas would say, dust in the wind.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Film Review: Kim Jee-woon's The Last Stand

With his stoic, larger-than-life on screen presence, Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Olympia, one time box office champ, former two-term California governor, and the freakin' Terminator himself, could be considered the modern day equivalent to Gary Cooper.  Then again, perhaps not.  Seriously though, to get this out of the way right away, Schwarzenegger is an atrocious actor.   No doubts about it, he is simply terrible.  He should not even be used in the same breath with an actor such as Cooper, unless it were to help describe what opposite ends of the acting spectrum look like together.  Just godawful.  With that said, I must admit to having enjoyed quite a few of the Austrian "actor/politician's" films.  And yes, quotes, air or otherwise, need to be put around both of those occupations.  The first two Terminator films were fun.  Both The Running Man and True Lies were enjoyable - even Last Action Hero had its moments - and Total Recall is one of my favourite sci-fi films of the last thirty years.  Granted, the Austrian Oak's oeuvre is bulked up with the lion's share of things like Commando and Red Sonja and Raw Deal and Red Heat and Twins and Kindergarten Cop and Jingle All the Way and Batman and Robin and so on and so on and so on.  Still, every once and a while, we hit on a good one.  Maybe not top grade beef, but still a pretty good chop now and again.  And that is just what we get with The Last Stand - not Grade A by any means, but still a pretty good chop, if you are willing to dig in and take a bite.

The Last Stand, directed by Korean director Kim Jee-woon, making his English language debut, marks the return of Schwarzenegger to leading roles.  After a decade's absence from film - other than a few cameos, most notably in pal Sly Stallone's Expendables films - and eight years spent as laughing stock-cum-governator of the great state of California - including his very own sex scandal and a quick kick to the curb from the Kennedy compound - Schwarzenegger returns as LAPD hero turned small town sheriff Ray Owens, who must hold off an onslaught of a cartel leader and his small army of ridiculously over-armed killers.   With its rag tag team of misfits, up against seemingly insurmountable odds, the film is a sort of take-off on Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, which in turn was a cinematic reply to Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, and its indictment of Hollywood blacklisting (ooh, see, there's that aforementioned Gary Cooper connection), and probably owes just as much to John Carpenter's urban Rio Bravo remake, Assault on Precinct 13.  Kim Jee-woon's first Hollywood film plays fast and loose with genre conventions, and even though it never goes quite far enough to be considered a deconstruction of said genre, its ever-climbing ridiculous scenarios, blatant riff on the cartoonish American gun culture, and the excessive 1980's-esque action mentality - wait til you see Ah-nold go mano y mano with the cocky cartel leader - make for a fun movie indeed.

Sure, Schwarzenegger still hasn't learned to act in his years away, and now returning as disgraced governor turned back into action hero, he is still just godawful, but let's face it, he really has no need to truly act, as long as he is playing such roles as he is playing here.  Riffing on his age - he is 65, but I wouldn't call him an old guy to his face - as well as the conventions of the genre that made him an inexplicable star, Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Last Stand, go together quite well.  Yes, Kim Jee-woon's direction has been more than a bit stunted by the Hollywood machine, but that is to be expected.  Many foreign directors have come to the states with dollar signs in their eyes, only to be disappointed by their outcome.  Both Eisenstein and Murnau fled back to their respective homes, and more recently, anyone who knows anything about cinema, will surely agree that John Woo's Hong Kong films are far superior to his American ones.  Still though, even in his stilted form, Kim manages to breathe a bit of life into the old Austrian horse, as well as into the action-comedy genre itself.  Surrounding Schwarzenegger with a plethora of interchangeables - Eduardo Noriega as the psycho cartel leader and Peter Stormare as a ticky head henchman are the closest we ever get to a stand out performance - as well as the stereotypical hapless federal agent (Forest Whitaker in a role well beneath him), the stereotypical crazy gun nut (Johnny Knoxville, pretty much just being Johnny Knoxville), and the equally stereotypical smokin' hot woman ass-kicker (Jaime Alexander, last seen as the Goddess Sif in Thor), the film may not be Grade A sirloin, but it ain't no McDonald's burger either.  What we get with The Last Stand is still a pretty good chop.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Battle Royale #10: Battle of the Japanese Masters (The Results)

And another Battle Royale has come to an end.  You were asked to make your choice between two Japanese cinema giants - Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa.  Now, as some have told me, perhaps this is an unfair fight, for Kurosawa is so well known throughout the world, while Ozu is not nearly as famous in the West.  Maybe an Ozu vs. Mizoguchi fight would have been a better choice - a fairer fight.  But alas, 'twas not to be.  This is Ozu vs. Kurosawa, and since, I am assuming now, that most of my so-called fan base (if one can call it that without sounding too egotistical) are of the more cinephiliac bent, there should be no one claiming to not knowing the work of Ozu.  And let's face it, anyone who likes cinema, should be well aware of the works of Yasujiro Ozu, and if they are not, then shame on them.  But I digress.  Let us get on with the results of this supposedly slanted tenth Battle Royale.  

Of course, perhaps the preceding paragraph was merely just a way to more easily break it to all those Ozu fans and voters out there, that there boy lost the fight.  Yep, that's right fight fans, Kurosawa beat out his mentor and champion, by a cool four votes.  With 46 votes being cast (and yes, that number could and should be higher), the man who gave the world Seven Samurai (a film in my personal top ten btw) beat out the man who gave that same world Tokyo Story (not in my top ten, but still a great work of art), by a score of 25 to 21, or 54% to 46%, if you will.  Perhaps this is due to more people - more voters - being familiar with the works of Kurosawa over Ozu.  Perhaps not.  My vote went to Kurosawa, but that's just me.  I'm a fan of Keisuke Kinoshita after all, and no one knows who that is.  Anyway, congrats to AK and all that.  Let's talk about that aforementioned rather weak voter turnout this time around.  Pathetic even.  

So far, in Battle Royale history, our best turnout was the Battle of the Hollywood Hoofers, where Astaire took down Kelly, 34 to 32.  For those of you unskilled in basic math (and that is probably me a lot of the time), that is 66 votes cast, way back in our second battle.  Godard and Truffaut almost matched that, when they pulled in 64 votes in their battle, which, incidentally, was won by Godard, 34 to 30.  But other than those two rounds, voter turnout has been mostly in the fortysomething range, even dipping as low as a mere 28 when De Havilland took on her sister, Fontaine, and lost 15 to 13.  So my question, ladies and germs, is where the hell are all my voters!?  I know those classic and foreign film cinephiles are out there in cyberspace somewhere.  Must I pit Adam Sandler against Will Ferrell to get people to notice?  Clooney vs. Pitt?  Edward vs. Jacob!?  Now, even though I dig both Clooney and Pitt (my vote goes to Brad), and watch as much modern cinema as I do classic, I am not going to do that with the Battle Royale.  No sirree.  I will stick with the classics of cinema.  

That being said, the goal, as I have been saying since almost the beginning, is to get those votes into the triple digits.  I know we can do it people.  I know we can.  But such an argument is null and void right now, since this Battle Royale is over and the next one will not be appearing until March 1st.  Why March 1st, you ask?  I will tell you.  As I am sure you have noticed, I have an Oscar poll running right now (unless you happen to be reading this more than a month after I have written it, then this whole thing is pretty much null and void) and since I do not want competing polls, Battle Royale will not return until after the Oscars.  So March 1st it is - and this one is going to be a real battle of the sexes.  Oh yeah, and get prepared to vote and making all your friends vote as well, because we are getting that vote count well into the triple digits, baby!  Until then, have fun.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Film Review: Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad

When a director makes his debut with a film that is so fun and rompy, so out-of-the-box insane, so full of giddy surprises and cheeky attitude, you cannot help but look forward to what comes next.  Well, the director in question is Ruben Fleischer, and the debut film is 2009's acerbic and witty Zombieland.  Two years later, Fleischer made his followup.  It was the rather lackluster, but still quite witty 30 Minutes or Less.  Sure, it did not live up to the hype of being the sophomore work of the guy who made Zombieland, but it was, by no means, a failure.  Perhaps just a misstep.  The sophomore jinx maybe.   Something that, in theory, could be remedied by the director's third film, the long anticipated and ultimately delayed Gangster Squad.  Of course, whenever the studio decides to push back the original release date from September of 2012, and possible Oscar consideration, to the cinematic no man's land of January 2013, you know something is off.  The thing that is off in this case, is the movie itself.  Almost totally lacking the wryness of his first film, and not even able to live up to his second, Fleischer's third film makes one wonder if Zombieland wasn't just a fluke after all.

Fleischer's third film is set in an appropriately noirish late forties L.A. - everything shimmers, but always with a dark foreboding - and stars Josh Brolin as Sergeant John O'Mara, lovingly and quaintly called Sarge by his buddies, a super stud cop-cum-alter boy, and apparently one of the few honest cops in the LAPD of the time; Ryan Gosling as Sergeant Jerry Wooters, a cocky fellow officer with no respect for authority, with the face of a choir boy gone wrong and the proverbial heart of gold; and Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, the local mob boss, who has worked his way up from a Joe Palookaville youth to being the prospective next Al Capone or, since we are in Hollywood here, the next Tony Camonte.  Fine premise indeed.  Toss in Fleischer's Zombieland hottie, Emma Stone, as Mickey's moll, and Jerry's love interest (yeah, that's a good idea kid), and Nick Nolte as the stereotypically hard-as-nails police chief, and you have the makings of a damn fine movie.  A damn fine movie indeed.  The only real problem is finding that damn fine movie, because I am not sure where that prospective damn fine movie got to.  It definitely was not up on the screen that I happened to be watching. 

Slickly made - the film does look quite good, and I suppose that is at least something - but rather staid in its storyline.  Sort of a cookie-cutter type manual for how-to-make a period gangster film.  Which is a shame, since Zombieland (and we keep going back to that one, don't we?) was about as far from a cookie-cutter type manual for how-to-make a zombie film, as could be.  I think Fleischer, working more with the studio than he did in his more independently-minded debut, which is always a bitch, not-so-secretly wanted his film to be L.A. Confidential, and it most certainly is not that.  Brolin is one note, Gosling is too wishy-washy and Stone is really nothing more than a pretty face and a hot body in a slinky red dress - and this too is a shame, since all three are more than capable of taking on these roles.  The only real stand out in the crowd is Penn's mob boss.  Sure, it is as stereotypical as stereotypical can get - and to be honest, I think, for the sake of comedy, this is done purposefully - but Penn pulls it off with his usual panache.  Otherwise though, the film just simply falls flat.  Just like last year's Lawless and Killing Them Softly, two disappointing, albeit to varying degrees, films from directors who have done good enough work in the past to warrant, perhaps inevitably so, a bit too much giddy anticipation.  But at least those films had enough going for them that they were not total wastes of times.  I am not sure I can say as much for Gangster Squad.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Film Review: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

I don't want to say that Roman Coppola should leave the filmmaking to his father and sister, but after sitting through - not watching, mind you, but sitting through - the godawful train wreck that is A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, that thought did indeed cross my mind.  Now, I did enjoy Coppola's first, and so far only other, directed film - 2001's CQ.  Sure, it was not a great work of art or anything, but it was cute and quirky, and made me feel like a daffodil.  This one though?  This one is just about as awful as one can get.  Just two weeks into the new year, and already a viable candidate for inclusion on my worst of the year list.  In fact, I would almost guarantee this film's inclusion on said list.  Otherwise there may not be a list at all, because if I end up seeing - or sitting through - more than nine other films worse than this one, I may just end up blowing my brains out before year's end.

With Charles Swan, Coppola is attempting to make his own 8 1/2, but the only problem is that when Fellini created his introspective masterpiece, and, for that matter, when Woody Allen was making Stardust Memories, his homage to 8 1/2, the directors were both in transitional periods.  Fellini was being criticized for his departure from neo-realism, while Allen kept getting told that he should go back to his slapstick comedy days.  Both of these directors were aching to become something more in their work, and with these films (granted, Woody had Annie Hall and Manhattan at the same time as well), they did just that.  As far as I know, Coppola is in no sort of transitional period.  Hell, what does he have to transition from in the first place?  But still, here he is with a film that so wants to be Fellini, that it almost hurts.  No, make that, definitely hurts.  At least it hurt me to watch the damn thing.  Sure, there are some nice shots herein - he inherited something after all - but the film never stands up to the promise of either his heritage or his first film.  Coppola may want to be Fellini - his first film was Felliniesque as well, but done in a less obnoxious way - but he has yet to back up such a desire, with the work that would prove it.

Hell, even if Coppola were only being all tongue-in-cheekiness with his Fellini obsession - and one must assume that he must be - this film fails on all levels as well.  The premise of having Charlie Sheen playing a self-absorbed, womanizing prick (a metaphorical descendent of Proust's more genial womanizer, perhaps), and surrounding him with buddy Wes Anderson's stalwarts Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, makes for a lovely, even quite bubbly, postmodern idea for a movie.  Taking stabs at movies and media, and finally breaking the fourth wall that was never truly there in the first place (this film ends eerily similar to the aforementioned 8 1/2), are all good too.  I think this is why I was more than just averagely offended by this film.  The fact that the premise and promise had me thinking that, despite the obvious obstacles, this could be a fun movie - a deconstruction of a man's mind, which takes us back to another Woody Allen film, the appropriately titled Deconstructing Harry.  But alas, this was not to be.  Well, at least Coppola has his recently announced Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay (nominated, along with Wes Anderson, for Moonrise Kingdom) to keep him warm at night.  I wonder when Sofia's new movie is coming out.

Film Review: Barry Battles' The Baytown Outlaws

The one thing I wonder, when detractors and haters begin to put down Quentin Tarantino as nothing more than a director who rips off every movie he has ever seen, is why then, have so many directors since QT first put his foot into the directorial waters, try to copy him?  If he is only a copy, then why is everyone trying to copy him in turn?  The 1990's had a slew of bad Pulp Fiction wannabes lining dusty video shelves, and there have been multiple attempts at recreating the director's Kill Bills over the better part of a decade now.  None of which can stand up to the originals, or, if the aforementioned haters are talking, the originals of the originals.  Now, here we are in early 2013, eight films deep into Tarantino's career, and we have a film that vainly tries to recreate, not just one of these, but pretty much all but the director's latest (they were filming at the same time after all).  And, for more or less, this latest QT wannabe, is as successful, or should we say unsuccessful, as all the others.

Directed by Barry Battles, an actor-turned-director so obscure that he doesn't even warrant a Wikipedia entry, The Baytown Outlaws is the story of three redneck brothers who work as hired guns.  One of the brothers is a large mute ex-wrestler, the other two are so interchangeable that I had a hard time telling them apart throughout the film.  I suppose this is apropos of how unoriginal the movie as a whole is.   With dialogue that sounds like a cheap knock-off of Tarantino, and cinematic aspects lifted right out of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1 and 2, Deathproof and Inglourious Basterds, but given a cheap twist that makes them even drabber than the typical Tarantino wannabe film.  Hell, Battles even gets Zoe Bell, QT's ass-kicking, stunt-driving, car-surfing bella donna from Death Proof (and muse Uma's stuntwoman in Kill Bill), to play a small part in his film.  Hell, he's not only stealing ideas and scenes and the such, but actors as well - and she doesn't even kick any ass in this one.

Now, I should probably take it easy on Battles for his so-called theft of ideas, for my vaunted dear Quentin does this as well (he is quoted as "I steal from every movie ever made"), so let us look at this film with newly opened eyes.  How exactly does it stand on its own two feet?  Not well I'm afraid, not well at all.  Hitting on every cliché in the proverbial book, Battles, whomever he may be, has created - nay, concocted - one hell of a messy movie.  The lines given to Billy Bob Thornton as the mob boss our aforementioned redneck brothers run afoul of, would be the perfect opening chapter in a book describing how to act and sound like a stereotypical bad guy.  Granted, Billy Bob is good enough that he almost manages to make it work, but no one else fares as well.  When one of the brothers is hurt, guess who comes to the rescue of these white trash, immigrant-hating killers.  That's right, an illegal immigrant.  Seriously, who is writing this shit?  Perhaps Battles is better to keep himself under the radar.  Anyway, going on from here would just be unsportsmanlike, so I will end things right here.  So long.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Film Review: Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty

Okay, let's get all that controversy-cum-in-defense-of boiler plate crap over with right away.  As anyone who has not been living under a rock (or in a cave in Afghanistan) knows, director Kathryn Bigelow's military procedural action thriller Zero Dark Thirty, though mostly praised by we critics (a thing I will be mostly doing myself in this review), has been getting cut down left and right.  Literally (or is that figuratively) from the actual left and right.  As conservatives bitch that they think the Obama white house gave away too much confidential information in helping the filmmakers make the film, liberals are whining that Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, are acting as Bush/Cheney apologists, and condoning torture.  Social critic Naomi Wolf has even likened Bigelow to Third Reich director extraordinaire Leni Riefenstahl.  In my, not-so-humble opinion, I believe these allegations, form both sides of our bi-coloured political spectrum, to be total and utter bullshit.

Yes, the film does open up a dialogue on the moral ramifications of torture.  Was it a necessary evil?  Would we have gotten Bin Laden without the aid of torture?  These are questions we cannot possibly answer.  Yes, information gotten by means of torture led to the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden, but how are we to know we still wouldn't have gotten him without it.  Is torture wrong?  Of course it is, but perhaps, in some cases it was that very same necessary evil I questioned just above.  The fact that war even has supposed social conventions is quite ridiculous.  Basically, the act of war comes down to one side hoping to kill more people than the other side.  To question tactics in such an endeavor is downright ridiculous.  Of course, all this rambling about the use of torture, will probably bring controversy to me as well.  Maybe Naomi Wolf will liken me to fascist-sympathizing writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline - an assumption that would be just as wrong as her comparison of Bigelow to Riefenstahl.  Should torture have been used?  Morally no, but pragmatically, we can never say.  But no matter what was done to get the information that helped to track down and kill the man who orchestrated 9/11, in no way does Bigelow condone such acts in this film.

What Bigelow and Boal do in Zero Dark Thirty is show what occurred (and yes, torture did occur, whether the denyists want to believe it or not), and allow we, the viewers, to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is necessary and what is beyond the scope of morality.  We see Jessica Chastain's CIA operative, Maya, turn from someone who is disgusted by the waterboarding she witnesses as a newly assigned foreign agent, to a woman so determined to catch Bin Laden, that she is willing to do anything to make that happen.  It is not the filmmaker's job to say this is right or wrong, but instead to show us what they show us, and let us decide for ourselves.  Was the torture the right, or better yet, the necessary thing to do, or what is just wrong, pure and simple.  To paraphrase a famous quote from A Few Good Men, "Perhaps, deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want certain people, certain acts, on that proverbial wall," and in thinking this, maybe we are all complicit in the actions, whether right or wrong, of what it took to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden.  As for the right wing's accusations that the Obama white house allowed Bigelow and Boal and their crew, access to secret files - that too is pure bullshit.  If they were allowed access to anything, it was only files involving a mission that has already been done and gone several years prior.  But enough of all this tallywagging about who did what and who condoned what and who complained about what - let us move on to a review proper.  

The story, as if you didn't already know (really, have you been in a cave in Afghanistan the past six months?), is about the hunt for public enemy numero uno, Osama bin Laden.  The film stars the most dangerously talented Jessica Chastain - drop dead in both looks and ability - as a woman who spends the better part of a decade in search of the phantom known as bin Laden.  We watch her Maya go from determined but disenfranchised field newcomer, shading her eyes from the waterboarding of a detainee, to willing participant, to obsessed, self-proclaimed motherfucker, to, finally, when all is said and done, and the big man is dead and buried at sea, and her long, lonely struggle is at an end, a lost soul with no idea where to go from there.  Chastain pulls off this difficult, multifaceted character with a subtle grace and wicked chutzpah, that just helps to prove that the actress, since suddenly popping on the scene just two years ago (she was in every movie of 2011, right?), has become one of the finest actors around today.  All this and an almost inevitable Oscar in her near future.  Chastain is surrounded in the film by the likes of Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Duplass, Kyle Chandler, Édgar Ramirez and James Gandolfini, but this is her picture, and she not only makes it her own, but she, as the kids are saying these days, blows it out of the motherfucking water.

And to go along with this bravura performance by Chastain, is the pinpoint screenplay by Mark Boal and the balls out direction of Kathryn Bigelow.   Women can't make action films, my ass!  Much like the duo's previous collaboration, 2009's Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, the film that made Bigelow the first ever woman to win the Best Director Oscar, Zero Dark Thirty is an intense military drama - a procedural thriller that is as much an adrenaline rush as a psychological mindfuck - that gives as much of its attention to those quiet moments between battles, as it does to the battles, the missions, themselves.  Let's face it, we all know how this film is going to end.  We all saw the announcement on TV, when the president let the nation know that its number one villain was dead and gone.  There is no real mystery here - by film's end, we will get the bastard.  What Bigelow does though, is make every moment - from those aforementioned quiet ones to the explosive ones - filled to the veritable brim with a living intensity.  The film never shuts down.  It is always on.  Whether we are in the CIA offices, a detention center, or at the titular half past midnight, with the night-visioned Navy Seals creeping up on their eventual target like deadly goblins in the night, Bigelow's film vibrates with intensity.   We know what is coming next (though I must admit to experiencing a rather jump-out-of-my-seat moment) but it never calms down.  It never lets us rest.  It is unrelenting - and it damn well should be.

Zero Dark Thirty is an uncompromising thriller-diller of a motion picture, created by a director that, oddly enough, much like the aforementioned Fraulein Riefenstahl, can turn the horrendous into the gorgeous. Zero Dark Thirty is more than just a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden - more than mere, albeit harrowingly seductive, action movie.  Zero Dark Thirty is a film that opens up a dialogue - a much needed dialogue.  Zero Dark Thirty is a film that dares us to think for ourselves - understand what needs to be done, and what did or did not need to be done.  Whether we see the condoning of torture or not (and to reiterate, we most certainly do not see that), Bigelow may very well be seen, to borrow a term from Woodrow Wilson, on Griffith's Birth of a Nation, as writing history with lightning.  What she is really doing, is making a film full of viscous, ofttimes reprehensible acts, as well as heroic, redemptive ones - and she is putting it all together with a surprising melange of subtlety and intensity.  What she is doing, is making a film that doesn't necessarily make us choose between right and wrong, between blind patriotism and questioning our government as Jefferson had wanted us to do, but a movie that makes us realize that good and evil - whatever those terms even mean in a discussion such as this - need each other in order to survive.  And I for one, applaud that, and in turn I applaud Zero Dark Thirty as well.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Retro Review: Troll Hunter (André Øvredal, 2010)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.


Due to how the film is shown in a first person documentary style (almost a mockumentary style) by three students trailing the title huntsman with constant camera in tow, its image seen only through such a lens, the film has been inevitably compared to The Blair Witch Project and/or Cloverfield (though often despairingly so, which should not be the case), but still, André Øvredal's Troll Hunter, the Norwegian answer to our vampire/werewolf obsession perhaps, is a whimsical, satiric romp that starts off innocently enough before turning itself on its own head midway through and eventually driving itself into the most giddy of monster movies by the time its quite abrupt ending and subsequent end credits arrive - all too soon in my opinion.  Okay, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, the film is called Troll Hunter after all, but when the titular woodsman comes running toward the aforementioned omnipresent camera and yells "Troll!!” you know right there that you are in for a fun ride - and what a fun ride indeed.

It is a very basic story.  Trolls, giant ones, some as tall as 100 feet, roam the fjords and forests of Norway and it is the troll hunter's job to keep their population wrangled and out of sight of the Norwegian populace.   Kept on reservations of sorts, these trolls (more beast than man we are told by the titular zookeeper) come to symbolize the multitudes of oppressed throughout history while at the same time being shown as mere stupid mammals who need to be controlled or at the sympathetic least, be put out of their own misery.  It is a government job so of course you know there are going to be some bureaucratic entanglements as well as your typical giant-ass monster problems - and this is where the socio-political satire comes even more into play.  Still though, satiric prose aside, what we get in Troll Hunter at its most basic level is a fun monster movie that perhaps never reaches the heights of which it has the potential, still happily harkens back to a simpler time of moviemaking - even if it does all get captured on the very modern technique of digital filmmaking and is shown through the tech-savvy eyes of a younger, more jaded generation.

Following around this somewhat loony government-sanctioned (but not government-controlled we are happy to learn) monster hunter, our three intrepid college student filmmakers are used as the skeptical eyes of the average person and are given such fun (and funny) instructions as bathing with "troll-smell" and making sure they had none of that dirty Christianity left inside of them (apparently trolls can smell Christian blood, and believe me they sure do like to devour them first).  This band of “warriors” goes about their business (one hunting trolls, the others documenting whatever they see) with a smooth efficiency and of course inevitable tragedy.  Full of beautiful scenery of the Norwegian countryside and a full array of surprisingly good special effects of the monsters themselves, and with an acerbic tongue-in-cheek attitude toward storytelling, Troll Hunter is a cool blend of pop moviemaking and dark-humoured satire (of both the genre and of society itself) that works pleasingly as a peach as pure entertainment.  Of course now we are inevitably left with a palpable sense of dread as the American remake (rights already procured) is soon on its way.  

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 06/26/11]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

There Be Oscar Nominations Maties!...and a New Poll Too!!

Well folks, Oscar Nomination Morning (a strange little holiday in our household) has come and gone, and we are left with all of our why's and WTF's - and I am left with my worst prediction rating in...well, in as long as I can recall.   Garnering a rather pathetic prediction percentage of just 71% (slightly lifted to a still quite poor 77% when including just the big eight categories), I should well be ashamed of myself.  I am not, but I should be dammit.  Anyway, to get on with what gave me such a low rating, here we go.

I went four for five in all the acting and both the writing categories, and I went eight for nine in Best Picture (I even aced the costumes - so there), but alas, it was Oscar's quite surprising choices for the director slot that got me, and many other Oscar precogs I am sure, all befuddled and bewildered.  Allow me to quote what I wrote yesterday, when predicting this category. "The top three here are locks.  No doubts.  In fact, I think Affleck may actually take the Oscar, but that is a story for next month."  Well, those top three, and I may add, the top three on nearly every other prediction I came across yesterday, were Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck.  Anyone who was up early to watch the nominations this morning, or anyone who has looked up the nominees since then, you already know full well that the latter two of those supposed locks, were not named today.  Snubbed, royally snubbed indeed.  So, in the very same category that I boldly claimed that I was assured of at least a 60% accuracy rate, I got just a 40%.  Yeah, I figured picking Tarantino was a bit of a stretch, but I figured Affleck and Bigelow were safe bets.  Locks, no doubt, some said.  Anyway, I digress.

There were some nice surprises too.  Like, to go right back to that director fiasco, Michael Haneke's first ever nomination in the category - as well as a nod for screenplay (and the film is also up for picture, actress and, of course, foreign language as well).  I did have the Austrian master pegged as my dark horse pick at least.  Other dark horse picks to grab nominations were Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor and Quvenzhané Wallis for Best Actress.  Wallis, along with Haneke's Amour star Emmanuelle Riva, are now the youngest and oldest ever Best Actress nominees, respectively.  Other nice picks were Tarantino for Screenplay and Christoph Waltz for Supporting Actor.  As a fun sidenote, for the first time ever, all five nominees in a single category (Best Supporting Actor in this case) are former Oscar winners.  So there.  Granted, I would have liked to have seen Matthew McConaughey and/or Ann Dowd get surprise nods, or possibly P.T. Anderson, but alas, 'twas not to happen.  As for who will win, my best conjecture right now is Lincoln, Spielberg, DDL, Chastain, De Niro, Hathaway.  My Alt. Picks: SLP wins all six of these. My Alt. Alt. Picks: Haneke wins Best Director, and Lars von Trier suddenly becomes frontrunner for next year.  But, I am getting ahead of myself here.

Hey, before I go, I should probably mention the new poll here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  Starting today, and running through February 22nd, you can cast your vote for the film that you think SHOULD win the Best Picture Oscar.  As I am sure you can see (this golden-coloured poll can be found near the top of the sidebar of this very site), all you need do is choose which of the nine nominees you would vote for if you had a ballot.  Remember, not what you think will win, but what you think SHOULD win.  Winners (and losers) will be announced the day before the Oscars - as will my final Oscar predictions.  Here's hopin' I do better than I did today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oscar Nomination Predictions

Well, ladies and germs, it is that time of year again.  Granted, it is a bit earlier this time around, but it is still time for my annual Oscar nomination predictions.  With the announcement coming tomorrow morning, here are my predictions for who will get nominated in the wee hours of 5:30 am PST (8:30 am around these Atlantic coast parts).  In 2009, I did a bang up job of predicting, and had a prediction rate of 89%.  In 2010, I dropped ever-so-slightly, to an 87%, and then last year, I kind of plummeted a bit, to a rather lackluster 82% prediction rate.  Here's hopin' I can bring that number back up again, but this year seems a bit more difficult to narrow in, so that may not happen.  Anyway, here we go.

Best Picture

Since we are never sure these days, just how many nominations will come in this top category (the academy officially says between five and ten), I will list them in order of probability, starting with the big five.
  • Lincoln
  • Les Miserables
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Argo
  • The Silver Linings Playbook
If it goes further (my prediction is eight)...
  • Life of Pi
  • Django Unchained
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
Then again, it could go to ten...
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Skyfall
But Don't Count Out: Amour
Dark Horse: The Master

Really, any of the top three could be considered the frontrunner here, but we are not here to talk about who might win, but instead, who will get nominated, and the top three are definite locks for that.  In fact the top five are all locks for nominations.  I think Django, though controversial, will slip in there as well, as will Life of Pi and Beasts.  Then it gets tricky.  Will there be a ninth or tenth nominee?  Who knows.  There were nine last year, but what does that matter?  The PGA gave nominations to the top nine on this list, and a tenth one to Skyfall, but will Oscar actually nominate a Bond film?  Probably not, but hey, almost anything can happen when we reach ten nominees.  As I say above though, I think it will stop at eight.  Then again, we should not count out Michael Haneke's Amour.  A virtual lock for the Foreign Language Oscar, it's name has been ballyhooed about on many an Oscar predictor's table.  And then, we also have The Master.  PTA's film had once been thought the frontrunner, but those days are long past.  Now it is merely wishful thinking that this film, my second favourite of the year, will get a BP nomination.  As for one final longshot possibility - let's go with Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and leave it at that.

Best Director
  • Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
  • Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty
  • Ben Affleck for Argo
  • Ang Lee for Life of Pi
  • Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
But Don't Count Out: Tom Hooper for Les Miz and/or David O. Russell for Silver Linings
Dark Horse: Michael Haneke for Amour

The top three here are locks.  No doubts.  In fact, I think Affleck may actually take the Oscar, but that is a story for next month.  As for Lee, I think he has a strong near-lockish feel.  But this is when we get into trouble.  Who will be that fifth nominee?  The DGA just announced its nominations, and the top four, along with Tom Hooper, were their choices.  Normally, the DGA and the Oscars match four for five, so that means one of these five will need to be tossed aside tomorrow morning.  Obviously, I have chosen that person to be Hooper. Common sense says this won't happen. Les Miz is probably too big a film to let that happen, and it is considered a frontrunner for the BP Oscar, but still, my heart says go for the wishful thinking of good ole QT, so go with him I shall.  I suppose Hooper could still get in, and Tarantino would replace Lee.  Of course, we could see a 5 for 5 match with the DGA.  Then again, we should not count out Russell, and some people are talking a surprise nod for Haneke.  As for P.T. Anderson - like his film, three months ago he would have been a veritable shoo-in.  Now though, forget about him.  It would be great to see though, huh?  Anyway, to throw one other possible, but quite unlikely surprise in, howzabout Banh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Yeah, probably not.  Like I said, this is the most difficult category this year, but at least I am assured of a 60% ratio on this one.

Best Actor
  • Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables
  • John Hawkes in The Sessions
  • Bradley Cooper in The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Denzel Washington in Flight
But Don't Count Out/Dark Horse: Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

This is probably the easiest category to predict this year.  Almost anyone who is anyone has these exact five names getting announced tomorrow morning.  I see no reason to change that.  A few months ago, both Bill Murray and Anthony Hopkins were thought to be pretty good bets, but now, we can forget 'em.  The only other possible surprise would be Phoenix sneaking in, but I suppose that ship has pretty much sailed.  Still would be fun to see though.

Best Actress
  • Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
  • Naomi Watts in The Impossible
  • Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
But Don't Count Out: Helen Mirren in Hitchcock
Dark Horse: Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Chastaine and Lawrence are pure locks.  The actual Oscar is probably a battle between the two of them.  Cotillard is what one would call near-lockish, and Watts seems to be a pretty strong contender as of late.  Then we have that fifth spot. Helen Mirren was thought of as a lock just a month ago, then her film came out and it just wasn't very good.  Rachel Weisz, for The Deep Blue Sea, may have had a chance, but no one remembers the film.  For the longest time, many - myself included - were pushing for a nod for nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis.  That could still happen, but I think instead of the youngest (she was just six when she made the film) will end up making way for the oldest, in 85 year old Emmanuelle Riva.  Riva blew most - myself included - away with her stunning performance, and even though it is a foreign language performance (Oscar has never been overly big on such, and Cotillard may already have the token foreign spot here), I think she will grab that fifth nod.  Then again, Wallis could still get in, taking Watts place instead. 

Best Supporting Actor
  • Alan Arkin in Argo
  • Robert De Niro in The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Tommy-Lee Jones in Lincoln
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master
  • Javier Bardem in Skyfall
But Don't Count Out: Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
Dark Horses: Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike and/or Eddie Redmayne in Les Miz

I would say the top four are locks, though Hoffman may be only a semi-lock, since his film is getting a bit bamboozled this awards season.  As for the fifth spot, DiCaprio is probably the safe bet here (and a bet that I have been saying for months now - even as far back as my June early bird predix), but there is so much love for Skyfall (really, it isn't that great people) that I think the first ever acting nod from a Bond film will actually happen.  The thing I would love to see happen is McConaughey sneaking in, which, I suppose, could happen.  Yeah, right, but a guy can hope.  I suppose I should mention that, if the voters have really taken to Django, we could see not just DiCaprio, but possibly Christoph Waltz in there as well, but that scenario is highly unlikely.  Still wanted to mention it though.  One final thought on this category.  If Eddie Redmayne is nominated tomorrow morning, that means the love for Les Miz is through the proverbial roof, and it will take home BP.  There ya go.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
  • Helen Hunt in The Sessions
  • Sally Field in Lincoln
  • Amy Adams in The Master
  • Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
But Don't Count Out: Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy
Dark Horse: Ann Dowd in Compliance

Hathaway is the lockiest of locks (this and Actor seem to be the two big locks for actual Oscar night), and Hunt and Field are in there for sure as well.  Adams, like Hoffman above, should still get in, even without the love for The Master.  Then, like with most categories, we have that fifth spot.  Some are saying Kidman, some are saying Dame Maggie.  It really could go either way, but I think Smith will get the nod tomorrow morning.  I would love, love, love to hear Dowd's name announced tomorrow, and this tends to be the category most rife with surprises over the years, so who knows.  We probably shouldn't count out Hathaway's costar, Samantha Barks, or another dame, Judi Dench for Skyfall, but both still quite unlikely.

Best Original Screenplay
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Django Unchained
  • Amour
  • The Master
But Don't Count Out: Flight and/or Brave
Dark Horse: Looper

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Lincoln
  • Argo
  • The Sessions
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
But Don't Count Out: Les Misérables and/or Life of Pi and/or Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Dark Horse: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I think this is Paul Thomas Anderson's best, and probably only, chance at a nomination this year.  I think both of these sets are relatively strong bets.  I probably should include Les Miz, but I already kicked Hooper to the curb in the Director category, so why not here as well. Of course Les Miz could easily pick up 12 or 13 nominations tomorrow morning, and, and like its musical contemporary, Chicago back in aught two, blow this all out of the water.

Anyway, that is it for me this year.  I suppose I could go on and add predictions for the rest of the categories, but I have other things to do.  Oh hell, I don't have that much to do, here they are in quick succession.  Cinematography (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Django, Skyfall); Art Direction (Lincoln, Les Miz, Life of Pi, Anna Karenina, Django); Film Editing (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Skyfall, Argo, Django); Costumes (Les Miz, Lincoln, Anna Karenina, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman); Make-up (Lincoln, The Hobbit, Looper); Sound Mixing (Les Miz, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Avengers, Skyfall); Sound Editing (Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Looper, Zero Dark Thirty); Visual Effects (Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Prometheus); Score (Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Anna Karenina, Beasts of the Southern Wild); Song ("Suddenly" in Les Miz, "For You" in Act of Valor, "Skyfall" in Skyfall, "Everybody Needs a Friend" in Ted, "Touch of Sky" in Brave); Animated (Brave, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, Le Tableau, Rise of the Guardians); Doc (The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, This is Not a Film, Sugar Man, Chasing Ice); Foreign (Amour, The Intouchables, Royal Affair, No, Beyond the Hills).  So there.

I'll be back tomorrow, and let everyone know how well (or poorly) I did in my predictions.  I know you are all waiting with giddy anticipation.  See ya then kiddies.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My 25 (or so) Most Anticipated Films of 2013

My best of 2012 list is up and running, so that means it is time to stop looking back, and begin looking forward to the most anticipated of 2013.  Most of the following films will hit US cinemas sometime in this calendar year.  Some of them will end up being held until 2014 (or even later) and therefore will pass onto my most anticipated list for next year (as in turn some of the films here have done after not arriving last year - one film is making its third annual visit to this list).  All of these films are (obviously) ones I am excited about for one reason or another.  Some of them will inevitably not live up to my expectations - hopefully not too many - but judging from last year's list, where five of the films made my eventual top ten list, and several others were in close proximity, it should be a pretty good year - at least as far as these twenty-five or so films go.  So, without further ado, I give you my 25 most anticipated films of 2013.

1.  Nymphomaniac - An unsurprisingly (look at the source), and probably appropriately, considering the prudish world we live in, controversial, and very likely pornographic, Lars von Trier film, that will supposedly have a hardcore (rumours claim actual penetration) and a softcore version released for more of a choice for cinema owners, that stars the dangerously provocative Charlotte Gainsbourg as the titular sex addict, and also features Stellan Skarsgård, Uma Thurman, Willem Defoe, Christian Slater, Udo Kier, and even, in an attempt to change his image, Shia LeBeouf?  How can this not be the number one film on anyone's list this year? 

2. The Grandmaster - Making this list is getting to be a regular gig for this long-awaited Wong Kar-wai film.  In it's third annual appearance on my list, it may finally be making its screen debut later this year.  No, really, I mean it this time.  The film opens in its native China this very week and will make its international debut at Berlin in February, followed by an international rollout throughout the Spring.  It could actually get here by the Fall.  Seriously.  I know I have promised this before, but I really believe it this time.

3. To the Wonder - This Terrence Malick project was on last year's list, but this year we really mean it.  Just two years since the director's last film - a quick turnaround that is soooo not a Malick trait - and a few months after making a splash in Venice, this film will see a US release in April.  Obviously, I am rather excited about the whole thing.  Of course, as with The Tree of Life, and every other film Malick has made, there are sure to be a lot of moviegoers scratching their heads.  Ah well, screw them.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street - Martin Scorsese once again teams up with Leo DiCaprio, in this look at mob infiltration on Wall Street.  Shot digitally instead of on film, as Scorsese has always done (Hugo was shot digitally, but that is because it was done in 3D), it is the start of a new era for the director that has championed film until its last dying breath.  Long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker expressed her disappointment with the decision, saying, "It would appear that we've lost the battle. I think Marty just feels it's unfortunately over, and there's been no bigger champion of film than him." Still though, whether we like it or not, we are in the digital age, so we might as well embrace it, and see what masters like Scorsese will do with the new medium.

5. The World's End - The third in Edgar Wright's "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy," and (of course) starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this is a film that starts out as a group of old pals recreating a pub crawl from their youth, and eventually turns into an end-of-the-world disaster film.  Considering the crew involved, it should be quite fun indeed.

6. Star Trek Into Darkness - The true Trek purists probably did not like me call J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot, the best Star Trek film ever made, but who the hell cares.  It was dammit.  Whether the director can recreate that greatness - that boldly going - in this follow-up is still to be determined, but since I think of Abrams as the bast mainstream director working today, my hopes are rather high.

7. Only God Forgives - This is another one of those films that had erroneously been included in last year's list - but this time it looks like we will have ourselves an actual release date.  From Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling, the director and star of 2011's brilliantly subversive psychological actioner, Drive, comes what looks to be another balls-out action/thriller, mindfuck of a movie.  Every damn thing about this film excites me.

8. I'm So Excited - Spanish auteur Pedro Almadóvar has described his nineteenth film as a very light comedy, so we may not get the depth of things like Talk to Her or The Skin I Live In, but it is still Almadóvar, so it should be muy hermosa.  See what I did there.  I threw in some Spanish, so I would appear international and sophisticated.  I'm cool like dat.  Seriously though, the film should be quite fun indeed.

9. Before Midnight - Shot in secret, this follow-up to Before Sunset, picks up the story of Jesse and Celine nine years after we last saw them in the aforementioned film, which in turned was a look at our intrepid wouldbe couple nine years after Before Sunrise.  Once again directed by Richard Linklater, and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (all three also once again share screenwriting credit) the film will debut at Sundance before an eventual US release later in the year.

10. Side Effects - Director Steven Soderbergh has announced he will retire after this year, so this could very well be the versatile auteur's final theatrical release (he has an HBO movie out later this year, which will be discussed later).  Looking to be in the same vein as 2010's Contagion, a film I was only lukewarm about, this ensemble film still looks to be an intriguing work - and if it truly is the director's last (which I honestly doubt), then it is most definitely a must see.

11. Night Moves - The new film from Kelly Reichardt, one of the best indie filmmakers out there today (and the director of Wendy and Lucy, one of my favourite films of the last decade), features former moppet star Dakota Fanning, in what amounts to her first real adult role, and Jesse Eisenberg, still looking for his first adult role (oh, I kid, Jesse, I kid), as radical environmentalists, determined to blow up a dam.  Should be fun stuff indeed.

12. The Great Gatsby - This long-germinating Baz Luhrmann adaptation (in 3D and probable "Baz" style) was supposed to come out this past Christmas Day, but was postponed until May of this year.  Some say, this says something about what the studio thinks of the final product, but I am still looking forward to it anyway.  Hey, it has Carey Mulligan as Daisy, so why wouldn't I be excited.

13. Her - This is the story of a lonely writer who falls in love with a computer operating system that he purchases, and which promises to fulfill all his desires.  Sounds good so far, right?  Right.  Well, add to that writing and directing by Spike Jonze and a central performance from Joaquin Phoenix, and you have yourself one hell of a possible good time.  In fact, toss out that possible part - this is almost assured to be a blast.

14. Pacific Rim - Sure, from the shots we've seen so far, the film could easily pass for Transformers IV, but considering that Guillermo del Tor is at the helm, such a terrible thing is unlikely to happen.  It is the story of the military, encased in giant robots, doing battle against giant monsters from beneath the ocean waves.  Del Toro has described his film as "a beautiful poem to giant monsters."  I know, I can't wait.

15. Elysium - Directed by Neill "District 9" Blomkamp, and starring Jodie Foster as a megalomaniacal government official who will do anything to keep the peasants of a destroyed future Earth from tainting the super-rich space station upon which live the elite of the species, and Matt Damon as an ex-con, determined to take her down and save not only his own wretched life, but his fellow Earth bound rabble as well, should be a fun time had by all.

16. Oldboy - Originally a pretty killer 2003 Korean film from Park Chan-wook, this American remake, now helmed by Spike Lee, of all people, has been percolating for quite some time now.  I don't know if this new version will be any good or not (it has a strong cast in Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson), but I am fascinated to see what Lee does make of the whole thing.

17. Machete Kills - He's back baby!  Following up the surprisingly entertaining 2010 Robert Rodriguez Mexploitation film, simply title Machete (in turn, an elongated version of one of the fake trailers from Grindhouse), Danny Trejo is back as the ex-Federali-turned-vigilante.  Also coming back are Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan, now being joined by Antonio Banderas, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson and Lady Gaga in her film debut.  How can this not be the most fun?

18. Twelve Years a Slave - The new film from director Steve McQueen (no, not that one, the other one) and his macho muse, Michael Fassbender (still kinda my current man crush), set between 1841 and 1853, is the story of a New York man, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana.  This time, the director is aided by big fan, and producer Brad Pitt, who also has a role in the film.  Shades of Django?  Probably not really.  Should be a quite different kind of film.

19. The Place Beyond the Pines - Another holdover from last year's list, this film reunites director Derek Cianfrance with his Blue Valentine star, Ryan Gosling.  The movie, taking its name apparently, from the descriptive Mohawk name of Schenectady, NY, is about a motorcycle stunt driver, who turns to a life of crime in order to provide for his newborn son.  The film also stars Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes.  Should have some fun humph to it.

20. Inside Llewyn Davis - Originally set for a late, Oscar qualifying 2012 release (and, yes, this did appear on my most anticipated films list last year at this time), the seventeenth film from the brothers' Coen, will finally take a bow in February.  The film takes place in and around the New York City folk music scene of the 1960's, and stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake. 

21. Stoker - Above we saw a Spike Lee remake of a Park Chan-wook film.  Now we have the English-language debut of Park himself.  Again, a leftover from last year's list, this is the story of a stepfather from hell, in a battle with a stepdaughter from hell.  Oh yeah, and we also get Nicole Kidman.  Anyway, the trailer makes it look rather a fun Hitchcockian like film, but I am sure Park will bring his own warped sensibilities to the endeavor.

22. Gravity - Yet another holdover from lat year's list, this Alfonso Cuarón film about a pair of stranded astronauts in a broken-down space station, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, has been in some sort of production stage for nearly three years now.  Pretty much every actor in Hollywood has been attached to one of the leads at one point or another, and the film was originally set to be released last November.  Whether it gets a release in 2013 is still kind of up in the air, but here's hopin'.

23. Mood Indigo - This new film from French madman Michel Gondry, is the story of a woman who has a flower growing inside her lung.  Yup, that's right.  Starring Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris, and named after, I gather, the Duke Ellington song, the film should be a rather madcappy kind of creature, much like the auteur's Science of Sleep.  Sounds good to this guy.

24. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III - A movie about a vain, womanizing asshole in the 1970's, played by - and here is the kicker - one Mr. Charlie Sheen.  Fantastic.  Directed by Roman Coppola (Sofia's brother, Francis' son) and also starring Coppola's cuz, Jason Schwarztman, and Bill Murray.   The film was originally due out last year (we seem to be saying that a lot on this list) but will finally make an appearance this February.  Cannot wait baby.  Cannot wait.

25. Carrie - Remaking one of my all-time favourite horror flicks, by one of my all-time favourite directors, could end up being a disaster once it is all said and done, but the idea of doing just that, intrigues me enough to include the film here.  Also, the casting of Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, in the roles originally played by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, is equally intriguing.  Let's hope it holds up - though I have a feeling it will not.

There ya have it folks.  To add a few other films into the fold, let's go with Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad; Jarmusch's Only Lover's Left Alive; Alex Payne's Nebraska; Ridley Scott's The Counselor; Bennet Miller's Foxcatcher; Johnathan Glazer's Under the Skin; James Gray's Lowlife; Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa; Marc Forster's World War Z; as well as the annual comicbook adaptations, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine and Man of Steel; and both Mad Max: Fury Road and Oz: The Great and Powerful.  I am also looking forward to seeing Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, again.  I saw this film, written by and starring Baumbach's significant other, the lovely and talented Greta Gerwig, at the NYFF last year, and it is always a pretty sure bet for my eventual Best of 2013.  It will be released sometime in early Spring.  Oh yeah, and there are also two final films I would like to mention before I shuffle off.

After Earth - With each successive film, M. Night Shamalamadingdong falls deeper and deeper into the abyss that is godawful cinema.  From The Village to The Lady in the Water to The Happening to The Last Airbender, his films just keep getting worse and worse and worse.  With each one, it seems near impossible that he could do worse, but then he makes another movie and bazinga!  I must admit that I would be very upset if the Shamalammeister made a good film again.  Very upset.  Statistically speaking, they can't all get worse, so one day he will break this streak, and I will be very unhappy.  Here's to hopin' the ole bastard has at least one more cellar dweller in him.

Behind the Candelabra - Technically, this Steven Soderbergh film was made for HBO, but I still wanted to include it.  Michael Douglas as Liberace?  How could I not?  And, it could be the last thing the old dog ever makes.  Okay, the director's supposed early retirement is probably going to end up more a sabbatical, but still, this film needs to be included here.