Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I've already spent the greater part of this weekend watching violent, but not quite frightening horror films, most of which I enjoyed quite a lot. I say "most" because I honestly wasn't drawn into Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. The man has really started to grind on me, and I never thought I'd say that my favorite film of his is Watchmen. Due to my negative experience, you shouldn't expect another post this month after this one. Now, since most of the online community is putting in their opinion of their favorite Halloween/Horror film, I've decided to take a somewhat different route, if for no other reason than that I have no favorite film of the genre.

Instead, this holiday, or at least the way it is perceived today, always has me thinking the most of last year's polarizing classic-in-the-waiting Where the Wild Things Are. I understand that there's a great deal of people who dislike this film, which is why I included the word "polarizing". Oddly enough, whenever critics use that word as a description for a film, I usually love it. As for the film itself, it obviously has an instant connection to this holiday with the subject of a child in a costume pretending to be a monster, but it's a lot more than that. It has the melancholy nature of childhood attached to almost every frame of the film. Spike Jonze embellished nearly every little thought that comes into the young mind of a child, and in many ways, Halloween is a children's holiday. It may not be the obvious pick for something to watch on this day, but it's certainly suitable for it. If nothing else, it will end your weekend on a somewhat lighter note.

Box Office Update: Oh, The Horror

I really do look forward to next weekend when I can get back to a more natural setting at the theaters. We've had quite a few weeks in which there's been only one notable release, and this weekend should've been a complete failure. It's what I expected, and it's what I actually hoped for. Instead, Saw 3D managed to rake in an dishonest living, grabbing the fifth highest opening weekend of the series. Of course, we should still expect it to take a huge dive next weekend, not only from competition in the 3D market with Megamind, but because of negative word of mouth.

Speaking of such word of mouth, it certainly took its toll on Paranormal Activity 2, which suffered a near 60% drop from last weekend. Jackass 3D took a similar drop of the same amount, but that can mostly be attributed to the fact that the film is really a one-and-done sort of affair. In any case, the film still passed the $100 million mark this weekend, so that's a plus. Oddly enough, Red overtook it this weekend, taking a steady 28% drop and remaining in third. In summation, this weekend was a good 8.1% rise from the same weekend last year.

1. Saw 3D (First Weekend; $24.2 million)
2. Paranormal Activity 2 (Second Weekend; $16.5 million)
3. Red (Third Weekend; $10.8 million)
4. Jackass 3D (Third Weekend; $8.4 million)
5. Hereafter (Third Weekend; $6.3 million)
6. Secretariat (Fourth Weekend; $5 million)
7. The Social Network (Fifth Weekend; $4.7 million)
8. Life as We Know It (Fourth Weekend; $4 million)
9. The Town (Fifth Weekend; $1.9 million)
10. Conviction (Third Weekend; $1.8 million)

Saturday-Sunday: From Dusk Till Dawn

By 1996, Quentin Tarantino had already astonished audiences and critics with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, while Robert Rodriguez was occupying the same road of gratuitous violence that he's been on ever since then. Somewhere along the road they decided to make a film together, and I'm guessing they had a bit of a disagreement on what type of film to make. Tarantino wanted to make an intense crime thriller about two brothers taking a family hostage in order to escape to Mexico. Then Robert Rodriguez said in response, "Really? Because I want to make a vampire movie."

And so, through a few compromises by both parties, we have From Dusk Till Dawn, which follows the Tarantino storyline for the first fifty minutes of its runtime, right up until a third act twist of vampires. Personally, I think that if they had advertised this film as a crime thriller first and foremost, it would've made the vampire aspect a lot more interesting. As it is, it's still one hell of ride from start to finish. The film is directed by Rodriguez, so you can expect those quick and fun visuals you saw in Desperado. However, Tarantino was the man writing the script, so it has a bit more flair in its dialogue and characters.

The acting in this film, for the most part, is phenomenal. George Clooney plays Seth Gekko, who was broken out of prison by his brother Richie, played by Tarantino himself. While Seth is the sort of calm and smooth criminal who plays everything cool, and draws such a great line of friendly intimidation. You know that he'd rather nobody get hurt, but if he has to, he will not hesitate to cut you down like any other schmuck. A friend of mine once told me that Clooney can't really act, but that he's naturally that awesome in his day to day life. I feel somewhat inclined to believe him, but at the same time, he did choose to be in The American. So I believe that he can act, and he's on top of his game in this film.

As for Seth's brother Richie, he's pretty much a sociopath. Seth constantly has to watch over him like a babysitter, and deep down, he kind of wishes he'd never been broken out of prison. Tarantino usually isn't a great actor, but maybe the reason he plays such a good sociopath is because he is one. How else could he have come up with some of the insane ideas he has in the past? Harvey Keitel plays the former-priest father of the family the Gekkos kidnap, and he does it pretty well despite the cliched character. The action for the third act of this film is unbelievably gory, and I really enjoyed it a lot. The vampires genuinely look like monsters, which is something that the tween vampire Twilight cult seems to have forgotten. Overall, if you're expecting something as textured as Inglourious Basterds, you'll be disappointed. However, if you're expecting gritty B-movie style horror film, it will exceed your expectations.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday-Sunday: Shaun of the Dead

How the hell have I not seen this film until now. Shaun of the Dead is one of the first films from Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), and as soon as this film came out it was the zombie comedy that every following zom-com would be graded against. If you don't already know, the plot of the film is pretty much identical to Dawn of the Dead, which I will be seeing tomorrow evening. The zombie apocalypse has hit, and there is only one safe place left on earth: the Winchester pub. From there slacker Shaun and his friend Ed try to get Shaun's family, friends, and ex-girlfriend there as soon as possible.

Wright has always shown a spectacular sense of humor, and the actors he chooses to work with know exactly what to do with the dialogue their given. There really is nobody else who could've made this film the way it is. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a natural team, and most of the greatest scenes in this film are of the two. The film is occasionally frightening, as usually comes with the zombie genre. It also deals with exactly what it means to be human, albeit in a comedic way. Personally, I'll always have a specific place in my heart for Zombieland, but this is a very close second.


Saturday-Sunday: 28 Days Later

To tell the truth, I wasn't expecting to follow up what I did last weekend, as it was pretty much supposed to be a one time thing. However, then I decided to sit down to watch 28 Days Later, and here we are. For those who don't know, the film is about Jim, who wakes up from a coma to discover that humanity is, for the most part, gone. Instead, there are a bunch of zombies in their place, with a small contingent of survivors focused on continuing to survive. It's a really unique and realistic look at would happen if we were to sustain a zombie apocalypse, and extra points are deserved for it being British. That always adds a slight shred of credibility to your film.

We get both perspectives of the apocalypse, with Jim experiencing these horrific events for the first time, and the survivors who are by now used to the way the world is. We have Selena, who is the ruthless survivalist who will do pretty much anything to ensure her group's survival, even if that means killing them. On the other end there is Frank, a father trying to give his daughter some sense of stability and normalcy in the new chaotic world. We quickly get a sense of how unsafe the world is now, and every time they're out in the opening, things get extremely intense very quickly.

It helps when bringing a story like this to the screen to have an acclaimed director on hand. Come to think of it, I'm don't think that there's a genre of film that Danny Boyle hasn't worked with. He's been covering all bases, and he does a pretty good job here transforming the world we see everyday into a ravaged monstrosity. The cinematography is the usual high energy sort of thing we see with his work, though the score isn't really too notable. What sells me on this work is the actors, who are genuinely fantastic. Cillian Murphy leads the pack, with an emotional performance as well as a courageous one.

Brendan Gleeson's time in this film is cut off a little too soon for my tastes, but he's so damn charming as the father with a heart of gold. Although any Potter fanatics will have a joke about that drop of infected blood falling into his eye. Naomie Harris does a passable job playing the aggressive Selena, all though I can't stop laughing at that hair. Megan Burns is just too nice to be raped, in any case. Christopher Eccleston, who was a guest star on Heroes before he inexplicably disappeared right before the series turned into a crock of s***, does a great job playing the evil military officer. Overall, a pretty great film, despite being made for merely £5 million.


Soundtrack Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" By Alexandre Desplat

Only a few days past that soundtrack preview, we have the entire soundtrack for your viewing pleasure and mine. So how great is the soundtrack for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, now that we have a complete look at it? It's pretty damn spectacular, and bests a great deal of Desplat's work in the past. If he doesn't get nominated for an Academy Award for this score, it will be a great disservice. Even if he gets nominated for something like The King's Speech, it will still feel disappointing. He really goes above and beyond with what he does here. Packed full of complex emotions, whimsy, action, and most of all, atmospheric darkness, if you don't see this before seeing the film, it will be that much more meaningful for you.

The score starts out strong with the emotional piece Obliviate, which manages to serve as a proper introduction without once bringing up Hedwig's Theme. It makes the point very clear that we're not in Hogwarts anymore. It's a strange new world, and Desplat does a good job embellishing that. There are merely three tracks that contains only small flourishes of the main theme we've all become familiar with, the most effective being The Will. Rest assured that several tracks evoke an epic feeling satisfactory to hardcore fans, including Ministry of Magic and Sky Battle.

Though I'm a strong opponent against whimsy, where would these films be without it? That Williams style whimsy has a short and proper presence in Dobby, Lovegood, and Detonators. It's not all fun and games though, as things get especially dark very quickly in some takes. Bathilda Bagshot and The Locket do a good job of bottling up the tension before finally and chaotically releasing it. The most intense track in that respect is Destroying the Locket, which doesn't at all overstay its welcome. This soundtrack has plenty of emotional beats which are occasionally heartbreaking as it is in Ron Leaves and Track 25, whose name I'm still not ready to say. The wound is still fresh, and it's a crucial plot detail as well an emotional one. The soundtrack ends on an epic pit-in-your-gut note with The Elder Wand. I look forward to seeing this soundtrack in the context of the film it was made for. Call me crazy, but I think that Alexandre Desplat may be this year's Michael Giacchino, and I mean that.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Film Review: Saw 3D

You see what I have to put up with? Do you understand exactly how much I do for you? I just went through the least entertaining 90 minutes of the past month, and that includes the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker. If you haven't heard of it, that's probably for good reason. But lets get back to Saw 3D, the finale of the overly extended Saw franchise. I have a soft spot for the final episode of a series, because when it's done right, it offers the sort of closure we always yearn for. It's something that Lost achieved earlier this year, and that the Harry Potter series is edging towards as we speak. The film I saw this evening offered none.

The film follows two parallel storylines, one following Jigsaw apprentice Hoffman trying to kill John Kramer's wife Jill Tuck. The other follows a man who pretends to have escaped a Jigsaw trap in order to earn free publicity, who is then set up in a real Jigsaw trap which he of course fails. That's really all there is to the plot, and it's rather pathetic. Sorry if I hoped for better from a franchise which reached an early peak, and has since existed for nothing but gore. This was once a tale of morality, and an effective one at that. I won't lie that I rather enjoyed the first two films, and to a certain extent the third. I kind of liked the sixth, but this one just falls flat on its face.

Even I realized that this film only existed for the traps to be seen in 3D, but they didn't even succeed in that department. None of the traps were especially inspired, offer fake blood more than anything, and the execution was far worse. Where there might have been slight bits of intensity in previous installments, there is none left. As for what we knew going in, the acting is unbelievable in the negative fashion, the script is practically nonexistent, and the cinematography is just pathetic. They filmed this production the way they would a television sitcom or a daytime soap opera, and it showed in each and every frame.

There were perhaps three things that I liked about this installment. The first involves a trap that we've seen used before, only to be disarmed before being triggered: the bear trap. We finally see it in action, and it was the only trap that lived up the Saw pension for disturbing gore. Then there's Cary Ewles, who returns to the role he last played in the original Saw. The man has a grand total of three scenes, all of which are too short. I'm not afraid of spoiling the fact that he's Jigsaw's third(?) apprentice, and the franchise properly ends where it began. Lawrence Gordon permanently traps Hoffman in the bathroom from the first film, just after taking a look at his rotten and deformed former foot whose role we remember all too clearly. Those were a few nice touches, which nonetheless do not justify the misery we had to sit through to get to that point. Saw 3D was one of the worst films of the year, and without a doubt the worst in the lackluster Saw franchise. I don't even think it's fair to call it a film. It simply, and illogically, is.


Oscar 2010: "Alice in Wonderland"? Seriously?

I'm going to open this piece with a question, and it may seem kind of dumb at first, but bare with me. Is Tim Burton's directing style fit for an entertaining onscreen experience? The initial answer to that isn't going to be yes, but rather another question. Would he have gotten this far if it wasn't? However, if you think about the films that really put the director on the map, can you say that they were especially well directed? I always felt that his work on Batman and Edward Scissorhands was obviously corny and hokey, and it didn't quite hit in the way it should have. Edward Scissorhands was an extraordinary idea, but the execution was so-so.

The reason I bring all this up is because Disney, in all their wisdom and glory, has decided to launch an Oscar campaign for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which is competing in pretty much every category. My initial shock reaction was "seriously?" Does anybody truly believe that this is a good idea? The film did make more than $1 billion worldwide, but critics simply didn't favor it too well at all. I never got a review up for the film, mostly because I absolutely hated it. I couldn't bring myself to write a review of something that atrociously cold and sick. I can definitely see it snagging nominations in Art Direction and perhaps Makeup, but nothing more. And so I ask again: Does anybody really think this is a good idea?

Todd McCarthy is Back!

Let me clarify that title, as realistically speaking, he was never gone. After being removed from his strong post as Variety, Todd McCarthy moved to the indiewire blog Deep Focus, so if you were wondering his opinion on films that were released since he left the spotlight, just head over there. However, Todd McCarthy is now back in center stage as a critic for The Hollywood Reporter. He makes his debut this weekend with his review of next weekend's top release, Due Date. Just follow the link to his review. It's nice to have such a skilled critic back in the main circuit.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"The Way Back" Poster

Well this certainly looks more optimistic than I expected The Way Back to be. Not sure whether to take that as good or bad.

Potter-Watch (26 of 77): The Next Three Weeks

Three weeks until the release of Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and anticipation is merely bubbling below the surface. It has yet to reach nail-biting, flesh-ripping intensity when we quite literally cannot wait to see this film, but we're definitely close. I'm glad to say that for the rest of the time between now and then, my job is pretty much done for me. The L.A. Times blog Hero Complex is doing their tradition daily countdown until the day of release for the film, and that offers a spectacular outlet for footage, news, interviews, and more. Among my personal favorites at the moment is the interview with costume designer Jany Temime, who has recently been accused, and rightfully so I'm afraid, of fashion plagiarism for one of the costumes more crucial to the plot.

The bulk of the past few days have been short posts where Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton express their own anticipation to see the finished product of their work. Toby Jones, who reprises his role as Dobby the house elf, was able to sneak in an intriguing interview. However, one of the most interesting features they've brought us so far is an exclusive featurette of Alexandre Desplat composing the score for the upcoming film. It comes right on the heels of the musical samples that have been recently released, and it certainly gets me excited to buy the soundtrack when it's released on November 16th. Check out the featurette below, and let me know what you think.

In the sector of more ensemble news, the MPAA changed their rating Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, but only slightly. It's still PG-13, but they've added on to their description "brief sensuality". I'm kind of hoping it's for the scene between Hermione and Harry. If you don't know what I mean, read the book. Also, it's recently been announced that the film will be roughly 147 minutes long, making it the third shortest in the series, but still pretty damn long. That's as long as Inception was, so don't try to sugar coat it. Finally, a featurette on the upcoming finale was released on monday, bringing a sympathetic look back on the series so far along with it. It's a nice watch to give you an idea of what's in store for the next film. Check it out.

Capping this week off, we have #6-4 in our countdown of the best moments in the Harry Potter film series. Comment below on what moments of the series you think made it into the top 3.

6. The Cave (Half-Blood Prince)

The next three scenes are all from Half-Blood Prince, and if you don't know why there are so many of these scenes on this list, then you just can't put two and two together. The climax of the penultimate film in the franchise consists of Harry and Dumbledore going on a mission to find a piece of Voldemort's soul, so that they can eventually destroy it. It's a solid ten minute sequence which ranges from their epic arrival at the caves to the terrifying confrontation between Harry and zombies. If ever there were a scene most fit for this time of year, it would be this one. It's the sort of scene that makes us question the MPAA's decision to rate the film PG. It ends on a high note, with the visual feast of Dumbledore conjuring a ring of fire to defeat the creatures and save Harry. It definitely tests the audience on a visceral and emotional level, and that's what the best scenes of this series should do.

5. It Feels Like This (Half-Blood Prince)

Many still criticize the sixth film's emphasis on the romantic sub-plots, but I can't help but admire it for taking one of the most realistic stabs at depicting real teenage relationships, without going into sexual territories. For all the magic and fantastical creatures, some of the best moments of the series are the more intensely personal ones. After Ron's victory in the Quidditch match, he sparks a sudden and rambunctious relationship with Lavender Brown, much to Hermione's dismay. In a sweet moment between her and Harry, we get an idea of the beautiful relationship between the two. They are both strong and loyal friends who are there for each other as a shoulder to cry on, rather than another person to sleep with. Anyone who has had a crush go unnoticed knows what Hermione feels in that moment, and it's one of the most relatable moments of this series.

4. After the Burial (Half-Blood Prince)

As we move towards the exciting climax of the film, Harry finally finds a way to extract an important memory from Professor Horace Slughorn, and that leads us into what is probably the funniest sequence of the series, and well as an emotionally touching one. As a matter of fact, Harry is pretty much high (as in drugs) throughout the course of the scene, due to a luck potion that he acquired early on in the film. It's a pretty hilarious change because we're used to him being somewhat controlled in his emotions, and he's sudden so hyperactive and energetic. It's still hilarious to see simulating an acromantula's pincer's in that pathetic geeky sort of way.

After surprisingly coming across Hagrid burying his dear friend Aragog, the two end up drinking their troubles away while singing an amusing little tune. The tone subtly turns from heartfelt hilarity to heartbreaking and morose as Slughorn recalls a gift Harry's mother gave him. It gets really emotional as Slughorn deals with his worst fear of finally having to own up to what he did years ago, or forever be considered a coward by his favorite student. Jim Broadbent had sold us on character throughout the film, but his work here is really among his best in any film. It's a shame he didn't receive a Supporting Actor nomination for his performance, but he still remains the standout of this episode.

Living On "Fringe" Benefits

Well, we've been living without Fringe for a good two weeks now, and I'm honestly sick of it already. Fortunately, this is probably going to be our last week without the show, as it's set to return next Thursday. Then again, that's assuming that the World Series doesn't take up an entire run of seven games, therefore pushing the series' return back a week. Nonetheless, when the series is back, we're in for another top notch episode for sure. The returning episode features a boy who somehow frees his twin brother from an amber quarantine zone, therefore breaching security. If that isn't enough to draw you in, the twins are set to be played by Shawn Ashmore (X-men) and Aaron Ashmore (Smallville).

Meanwhile, Walternate and Brandonym (the clever nickname i09 has come up with for Brandon's alternate) continue pushing towards discovering how Olivia's ability works. I have a feeling that they'll be disappointed when they find out that it has to be fostered at an early age through the chaotically random cortexiphan trials. These first four episodes have been an almost non-stop thrill ride, from the chase scene fueled Olivia, to the tragic case in The Plateau, finally to this year's emotionally charged landmark fourth episode. At this point last year, Newton had just been reborn, and a year later, he meets his conclusion with a wicked Ralph Fiennes smile on his face.

Our time over there has given us an amazing look at the alternate universe. The Fringe team over there is disabled to say the least. Charlie Francis has to take daily medicinal doses to delay the progression of the monster worms living inside him. Lincoln Lee is constantly operating on a time table while he heals from the aggressive burns he received from Nancy Lewis in last year's finale. Astrid doesn't have any physical handicap, but it's clear that something is different about her. She processes information in a non-emotional way, and I don't know if they holding out on that reveal, but I dare not spoil why.

With everything holding back the alt-Fringe team, I can't help but feel like there's a similar fate waiting for Bolivia when the two roads come together in the season's eighth episode. A lot of parallels have been made between her and the shapeshifters, so I shudder when I think about the possibility of her ending up as something like that. As for our Olivia, she's been making a great connect with the alternate Charlie Francis since she's been over there. I love the chemistry that's been going between the two, and I'd be totally in favor of her bringing Charlie back with her when she comes home.

Finally, there's the terrifying idea of what will happen when she does come home. How will everything in that episode unfold, and where will it leave our characters? Finally, will we be returning to the typical below average case of the week episodes after that happens. I've been loving the consistent quality of these episodes, and I want it to be this way all season long. Only time will tell which direction the writers have in store for us. They've already exceeded the expectations of their core fans, giving us more to talk about in the first four episodes of season 3 than we got for most of the first season. They have us. Now Fringe only needs to lure back those who have traveled away, as well as new viewers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theatrical Trailer: Sanctum

Another film produced by James Cameron! It's sad that I just don't care anymore. Here's the set up for his latest production, Sanctum. A group of cave divers decide to explore the largest unexplored cave system on earth, when chaos strikes. If it sounds vaguely like The Cave or The Descent, then you drew the same parallels that I did. The core differences are that there is no monster trying to kill our team, which is always a mark against a film, and that it is being marketed in a similar vein as 127 Hours. Suddenly, I'm more inclined to like Danny Boyle's upcoming film. I'd like to be nicer to James Cameron and give him a shot, but I did that for Avatar and it cost me more than it benefited me. So watch the trailer, and let me know what you think.

Soundtrack Preview: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" by Alexandre Desplat

There are definitely a few risks when bringing Alexandre Desplat onto a franchise like this. The man has had a wide variety of work, but never anything quite like this. The closest thing he's ever done would have to be The Golden Compass, which raised said film from mediocre status to being simply bad, and that is a complement. He hasn't dealt with anything on a scale the size of this franchise, so the one certain thing is that it's going to be like nothing that's hit the series to date. Now that we have our first full sampling of the soundtrack, we can get a grasp of what to expect.

What we've heard so far of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 feels like something of a companion piece to his work one year ago on New Moon, and these are still complements. We know that Desplat has had his fingers in a good share of pathetic fantasy franchises, so it's a nice change that he's on a great one now. The samples have swells of emotions that we can't quite comprehend yet without hearing the entire tracks. There are some unorthodox tunes flying around in some tracks, which only adds to the pleasure. There are some haunting melodies building in some of these bits, most especially the 19th track, and I'm just counting the days until I get the chance to hear their climax's.

We still don't get much of an idea if his work on action scenes has improved, but there are flourishes of John Williams' work in parts. We have yet to hear Hedwig's theme, but it's got to be in there somewhere. What seems to be the sample that embodies the epic feeling I hope to get off the film is the 10th. I'm still eagerly awaiting hearing the full score, so these teasers have been a success to say the least. Listen to the bulk of the samples below, and let me know what you think. And I mean it this time! Stop playing with me and comment for once!

Nolan's Next "Batman" Title Is...

We're now less than two years away from the release of the last film in Christopher Nolan's Bruce Wayne trilogy, and we now hear that the title for the last film will be The Dark Knight Rises. But wait, because that's not all that Nolan has disclosed to us. He has also revealed that the villain for the film will most certainly not be The Riddler, as many have suspected for quite some time now. That raises the precarious question of who the villain will be, and what role Tom Hardy will be playing in the film. I personally believe that he'll not be playing a villain at all, and instead be aiding our hero. I encourage you to speculate who the villain(s) will be, but I'd still like to remind you that we're going for a hardcore gritty realistic world, so don't suggest anything ridiculous like Killer Croc.

Cameron Taking On "Avatar" Sequels Next

As usual, there is some good news, some bad, and some that's open to interpretation based on what you like. James Cameron has spent the last year twiddling his thumbs, wondering if he wants to just go ahead and shoot the Avatar sequels now, or do what Christopher Nolan did and take a break to make a separate classy effort. The only problem with the latter decision is that Cameron isn't classy, so this decision makes sense. The man has confirmed that his next projects will be the two sequels to Avatar to finish off the trilogy. Currently, he foresees the effort to take a good six years, presumably for the technical costs.

I assume, based on what he did for the first film, he could probably just bust out the next two scripts in about a week. If he has the entire world mapped out in his head, why spend any time working out something like intriguing dialogue. Just give fans what they apparently want. I know it sounds like I'm being pessimistic, and that's because I am. I'm just playing the odds, based on what I saw of the first film. For me, these next six years will be something of a relief, and then we'll just be finished with this franchise as the final two installments are both released within a two year period. What do you think of this news. Are you one of the people who loved Avatar, or are you a member of my party?

For Your Anticipation: Once More, With Feeling

I have to tell you, I haven't been happier to see a Saw film released than I am this week. It's not because I expect it to be good or anything, because we all know it won't be. It's because Saw 3D the final Saw film, and after this we'll never have to deal with them anymore. All the "secrets" will be revealed, and optimistically, everyone will die. There will be definite closure of a sort, and that's what I wanted all along but never got. Need any more proof? I'll give it to you. Below is a clip of an important and beloved character in the Saw franchise getting ripped in half. TWICE! Enjoy the blood and guts, and envision what it will look like in legitimate 3D.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday's Best: Winter's Bone

Due to a lack of notable activity recently, it's relatively harder to find a fix on news in the film industry. So the best thing I can do is point you this week's latest DVD releases, which are mostly uneventful with the exception of Winter's Bone. The film has been making the theatrical rounds through limited release since June, so if you haven't seen it by now, you're not alone. So now that it is available for your viewing pleasure, I highly suggest you take a look. Like I've said before, it's surely not amongst the upper echelon of great films this year, but it's a solid and thrilling independent film, and the sort of thing you'd be shown in a college level film analysis class. Check it out, and let me know what you thought of it.

Theatrical Trailer: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

JusThis is really what passes for a legit documentary these days? I just find it shocking that an important film like Waiting for Superman is struggling to get viewers while Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is almost guaranteed for a $40+ million opening. I'd be more okay with it if it were actually a good concert documentary. Michael Jackson's This Is It worked because it was Michael Jackson's voice back from the dead. Justin Bieber isn't dead yet, and until he is, I probably won't care. I like his music enough as a guilty pleasure, but it's not something I'd go and see in concert.

Monday, October 25, 2010

5 To See In November!

I got into such a fit recently while trying to decide which films to put on my 3 To See segment for the month, and I ultimately found that there were simply too many films coming out to promote such a narrow group. Even expanding the radius of the list by two doesn't offer enough recognition to some of the hopefully great films of this month. There are definitely some films that people should rightfully overlook. Dwayne Johnson's Faster looks like just another action failure. Morning Glory has no sanctity left, due to a foul comedic atmosphere. Don't even get me started on Skyline. It just looks like wasted potential for a science fiction film.

However, for the most part, this is a fantastic month to be going out to the theaters. There are films that I wish I could put on this list. Todd Philips' Due Date looks like another similarly hilarious film like The Hangover, and it puts together two of the most talked about actors of today, Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifiankis. The Next Three Days looks fantastic, but it is nonetheless doomed because it falls on the same release date as the #1 film on our list. Finally, there is the Dreamworks Animation film Megamind, which I've been playing both sides of the field on. I have no idea whether it will turn out to be great or as just another failure like Madagascar.

5. 127 Hours

I've been generally up in the air on this film, because I just don't know if it has what it takes to make it into the top 10 for Best Picture. The trailers have always kept me at a distance, making me question immediately whether all the preemptive praise is deserved. The reviews have been, for the most part, average. A few of them have gone into adoration of this film, and I'm still not certain. I'm looking forward to it, but reluctantly. It's a film that should be higher up on my list, but it simply isn't. What everyone instinctively feels for 127 Hours, I just don't, and I can't give myself into it entirely.

4. Love and Other Drugs

The last huge ? on my list is Edward Zwick's upcoming comedy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Like everybody else who watched the trailer for the first time, I thought it looked like a pretty smart comedy at first. Watching it over again, I find some obvious cliches, and I feel like this is a film of gradual transformation of characters where they change over the course of two hours. That simply doesn't entirely work in the context of a trailer. Word has been that the film is a great romantic comedy, and some are saying that it's Zwick's best. I'm still on the fence, but I'm a little more inclined to embrace Love and Other Drugs than I am for 127 Hours.

3. Tangled

From here on, I have general faith in my decisions on this list. Obviously, I didn't warm up to this film immediately from the first trailer, because it was far too cutesy for my tastes. In some ways, I'm still not entirely on to this film, but that's my way with most Disney films. Two years ago, Bolt was released under similar circumstances, and it turned out to be great. The second trailer for Tangled brought a lot more of the amusing comedic aspect to it, and I think this has that sort of fun potential. It has a sort of hand drawn quality without being hand drawn, and I'm sure it will look beautiful in 3D. Nothing quite suits the format like bright colors. Tangled opens on Thanksgiving weekend, which is always a lucrative frame for family releases.

2. The King's Speech

Of all the films on this list, The King's Speech is the only one I've already seen, so I'm more than a little biased in putting it this far up on the list. Don't let that distract you, because this is one of the most enjoyable films likely to hit the Oscar crowd. I've heard some people favoring The Social Network for Best Picture right now on the fact that it's a lot more of a mainstream film. In truth, that's not even a fact, because I found The King's Speech to be a lot more accessible to a wide audience. It has a lot more comedy than originally expected, and it has immense heart to go along with that. If this film was marketed for a wider crowd, I'm sure they would love it. The film opens in limited release on Black Friday, but should expand to a wider audience going into December.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

I'm not going to waste this opportunity on yet another Oscar plug for the film to be nominated for Best Picture. I can't say anything else for certain until the film is actually released. What I can tell you is why you absolutely have to see it. For the past ten years, David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, and the entire crew of the series has been working to build this world of magic, locations, and characters, and within the next year it is all going to come to a conclusion. This is the beginning of that end, and everything is going to be tied up by the end of it. This is our last adventure with these characters, and it's not something to be breezed through.

The first part has plenty of action in it, but the focus is more on our core characters. The relationships between Harry, Ron, and Hermione are going to be examined and tested to the breaking point. These characters have trusted in one another for six years, and that trust is corroding. They're on their own, and nobody else can help them, so it's a pretty poor time for them to have such conflict. There is more conflict than in any of the films that have come before, and death is an almost constant visitor. In the first half, at least five characters will meet their tragic end. Director David Yates has been building up to this, and it most certainly cannot disappoint.

The Best of Alexandre Desplat

What is perhaps my most anticipated soundtrack of this year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, seems almost destined for an Oscar nomination for Alexandre Desplat. In the past, Desplat has been able to do wonders with so little. His scores for such small films like The Queen and Fantastic Mr. Fox have earned him enough acclaim to make him a rising presence, with another score for The King's Speech on the way.. He's one of the most spectacular composers working in the business today, and a personal favorite of mine. Even the films he's worked on that have critically flopped have had stellar scores attached to them. It seems proper to go over his best work to date. His works speaks for itself, so enjoy and comment on your thoughts.

The Special Relationship

New Moon

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Ghost Writer

Tamara Drewe

The Painted Veil

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday-Sunday: The Big Lebowski

I decided to end this weekend marathon a little earlier, after bailing twenty minutes into Terrence Malick's The New World. Rather disappointing for a film such a presumably great director. I wouldn't know because I haven't seen any of his other films. So I just moved on to The Big Lebowski, which I honestly didn't know that much about going into it. I know that Jeff Bridges played a man called The Dude, that the film was directed by the Coen brothers, and that somehow Steve Buscemi figured into the story. So I'm glad to have had the fresh experience going into it.

The film starts out like your normal everyday Christmas special, with Sam Elliot narrating the adventure of The Dude from the beginning. When The Dude loses his favorite carpet which really brought the room together, he's thrown into a series of coincidences and classic Coen mishaps. It became very clear to me as I went on that this wasn't exactly a classic, as some people have told me it is. It has all the Coen beats to it, including unexpected character deaths, seemingly random but highly enjoyable interludes, and the incomplete conclusion which answers all the questions, but doesn't exactly offer complete resolution.

I have to say that nobody writes dialogue quite like the Coen brothers, and this definitely has some hilarious scenes, particularly with John Goodman. Almost the entire gang has something that they bring to the table. Jeff Bridges' The Dude certainly is as Sam Elliot described in the opening. He's just your regular sort of guy who doesn't want money or a job or anything important like that. He just wants his goddamn carpet back. Goodman's Walter is a dark comic treat. I knew that somebody would end up pulling a gun on a mild-mannered pedestrian, and it makes me feel good to know that it was him.

Julianne Moore shows up along the way, and it's a funny little role that she's supposed to play stingily. Finally, as he's really the only other person worth mentioning, Steve Buscemi is in this film, sort of. He has a slight presence, but he's not 100% crucial to the story. He offers a perfectly good recurring joke, and I'm glad he exists for that reason alone. Ultimately, The Big Lebowski was just a mellow, fun, and enjoyable time, but nothing above and beyond. That would almost betray the character The Dude was created to be. The film fits the in the film, mostly. I'm glad I watched it, and I think it's a lot better than most average films. It's an average film slightly above average. I'm losing my train of thought.


Box Office Update: High Activity

Marking another splendid weekend of October this year, Paranormal Activity 2 came out on top and set a horror film opening weekend record for the month of August. Given these strong numbers, one can easily expect to see another sequel in the works for release next year. Jackass 3D took a great 57% fall from last week, but that was expected for an opening of such magnitude as well as such hardcore competition opening. Red held on even better with a 31% fall, boding well for the coming weeks. Finally, a fair few film-goers went out to see Hereafter out of curiosity, leading a decent opening weekend, but not Eastwood's best.

1. Paranormal Activity 2 (First Weekend; $41.5 million)
2. Jackass 3D (Second Weekend; $21.6 million)
3. Red (Second Weekend; $15 million)
4. Hereafter (First Weekend; $12 million)
5. The Social Network (Fourth Weekend; $7.3 million)
6. Secretariat (Third Weekend; $6.9 million)
7. Life as We Know It (Third Weekend; $6.1 million)
8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of GaHoole (Fifth Weekend; $3.1 million)
9. The Town (Sixth Weekend; $2.7 million)
10. Easy A (Sixth Weekend; $1.7 million)

Saturday-Sunday: Atonement

There are definitely quite a few films that I should have seen by now, but haven't, and that's probably the recurring theme of today. Atonement was a British drama that came out in 2007, and quite often I find that people point to it automatically as the definitive British drama. Films like Never Let Me Go and its ilk have tried to capture the same deep emotional spark, often unsuccessfully. The film is about an misunderstanding by a young girl named Briony, which eventually leads to her sister Cecilia's lover Robbie being arrested for a rape that he never committed.

The film is told through three acts, the first telling of how it all began and how Briony came to accuse Robbie of such a foul deed. The second act details the consequences of such, where Robbie, Cecelia, and Briony ended up in the four years since, and how Briony has come to regret what she did. The final act is difficult to describe without spoiling anything of crucial importance. There's a love story, as is the case with many of the best films, but it rests on much more than that. There's a great deal about how horrible things can be done by people out of the most pure innocence of their hearts.

The performances are nicely done, with the biggest stand out for me being Vanessa Redgrave, who doesn't appear until the film's final minutes. Saoirse Ronan does a nice job in the first act portraying such a biased young girl, who is almost cold in a way. There's a specific shot of her eye just at the end of the first act that gives me chills. Kiera Knightly does a rather beautiful performance visually and vocally, but it's quite hard not to like her in any case. James McAvoy continues to operate on the fringe of stardom, as he could easily become the latest Hollywood sweetheart. Wisely, he has chosen to keep at a distance from that particular path.

The cinematography is rather polished and clean, moving smoothly through most of the sets with grace. The musical score is just as elegant, with a recurring theme that simply never gets tired or cliched. Director Joe Wright has done fantastically for himself when portraying a British drama such as this. As the years go by, Atonement may not grow sharper, but it still has a sharp mind to it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday-Sunday: The Constant Gardener

Somehow, my day ends on the same line I've been following from the first film set down to watch. The Constant Gardener was released in a year of five nominees, but if put by today's Best Picture rules, it certainly would've made the top ten. The thriller follows Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat with a passion for gardening, who finds out that his wife Tess (Rachel Weisz) has been murdered in Africa. Within the first ten minutes, I was completely caught off guard by the events taking place. I'd heard that Rachel Weisz had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the film, and going into this film with such little knowledge about it other than the main players, I was not expecting her to be dispensed with so quickly.

The first forty minutes of the film are dedicated to telling Tess' side of the story from the very first moment she met Justin, to her powerful activism in Africa, and eventually to her inevitable death. Every scene with her in it exists with such a pang of sorrow for what will happen to her. The man who holds most of the film together is Justin, who is always trying to do best by his job and to protect his wife no matter what. When she is taken from him, he goes through a magnificent transformation into a man with nothing to lose, and into a human being as brave and impassioned as Tess was in life.

The man with nothing to lose has been done in several forms, but none as convincing or true as Ralph Fiennes is here. The man is quite literally a genius who is able to play both heroes and villains with a commanding power and grace. Except for Hades in Clash of the Titans. That was just pathetic, sad as it is to say. Rachel Weisz does the best with what precious little screen time she is given. She's not a character who recurs throughout the film. She holds the screen with passion and vigor for the entire first act, and if it hadn't been a brilliant performance then we wouldn't have been carried through the rest of the film.

The supporting cast does a great job as well. Richard McCabe is that delightful geeky sidekick who comes in along the way to offer crucial intellect to help the case. Danny Huston still continues to draw out the worst in me, and I still hate him with all the blood and animosity I have in my veins. Here, his character is a complete douchebag so it's easier to hate him. It's no excuse for his piss poor talent. Bill Nighy keeps a nice presence as the main villain of our piece, and he's a lot more commanding and conspiratorial than he was in The Girl in the Cafe. He needs to merely flip one small switch on his immense switchboard to channel his energy into a completely new character.

Things are pushed forward by the high energy tight wire musical score, and the textured cinematography. However, like I said before, this film does follow a line through the other films I've seen today, but more so with The Girl in the Cafe. Where as that film was a more romantic and politically minded film, it still dealt with powerful female leads trying their best to improve life in Africa wherever they can. In both films, it takes a while for their men to finally understand the point and stick up for what they always believed in. Needless to say that Justin Quayle pays more dearly for contributing than Lawrence did. The Constant Gardener is a physically and emotionally activating thriller, and a more than worthy end to the first of my two day series.