Friday, September 30, 2011

"Fringe" Review: "One Night in October" (***1/2)

I'll be honest in saying that last week's episode didn't exactly rock me to my core as much as I hoped. I believe it has most to do with that central absence of Joshua Jackson, and much as I love Seth Gable, he doesn't quite fill that space in our hearts. Nor is he meant to. Across the seasons, Peter has always seemed like the odd one out. Walter and Olivia are clearly so much more interesting, lets just get rid of Peter. But now that he's gone, we really miss him. He had this charisma and endearment that just burrowed into the fabric of the show. How does it work without him. Begrudgingly and cynically, and this week's episode puts that pretty delicately.

Case of the week? Yeah, but with a twist we haven't really done before. The alternate universe has asked for Olivia's assistance in a serial killer case, escorting the serial killer's doppelganger from over here, a professor, over to glean information from the killer's home. There's immediately this sort of intrigue about Olivia and Altlivia working with one another, and a mutual frustration between the two. Admittedly, Altlivia is a lot more nonchalant about the ordeal, because what does she really have against the other Olivia? She's something of a competitor, and that's how she really sees it.

Olivia, in the meantime, has so many deep issues with Altlivia. It's not just the fact that the woman stole her life, but she realized that her life in the alternate universe, for the most part, has been so much better. She's happy, cheerful, and honestly possessing of a freedom that our Olivia doesn't have. Altlivia is what Olivia would have ended up as if her life had gone as she hoped it would. This may be stating what's been obvious all along, but it's so much more prevalent when the two of them are in a scene together.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" Trailer

And so we have the inevitable Oscar vehicle from Stephen Daldry, who is woefully known as a contender for nearly every film he releases. He has no acknowledgeable voice in his direction, and his latest film seems like a tedious exercise in such. Curiously taking on the exact same plot as "Hugo", replacing 1920s Europe with 9/11, this looks like the feel good WTC film of the year. There is no effort made to capture the tragedy of it, aside from the fact that Tom Hanks is dead. That's pretty much it.

For Your Anticipation: I'm Gonna Throw Up

I don't think many would have pegged this as one of the top films coming out this month, but it's been a really sad and depressing year for comedies. There's a bit of irony in that the one with most depressing subject matter has the most potential. Honestly, I keep hearing about people getting illogically excited for "What's Your Number?" and I'm wondering why that energy isn't being pointed towards "50/50". This isn't an insensitive sort of film, and there's some kind of honesty going on here. It's based on the writer and Seth Rogen's experience of this. There's got to be some honesty in the pot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For Your Anticipation: Not a Word

If I've sounded a bit dismissive of "Take Shelter" in the past, it's not been by intention. I barely knew it was coming this month, and it hasn't been at the top of my mind. It seems, forgive me, somewhat simple. Man has dreams of storms, invests too much money into building a tornado shelter, and starts to lose his mind. Spooky stuff, and I don't mean that as a joke. This is how a decent thriller should be made, with motivating performances as well. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain both look to be in great form here. I'd be interested to see it if it comes around anytime soon. Still, I'm not rushing out for it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2 Years of 'High on Celluloid'!

It's kind of hard to think that I've only been working on this site for two years, but at a point it seems like time becomes a less solid thing. I map things out by experience, and I am still very dissatisfied with my work in my entire first year. It was mostly based on these minimalist and isolationist ramblings of somebody who hadn't lived, and therefore didn't have an opinion. I think that the film that really begged me to be more individual and self-assured in my dissent from the popular opinion was "Black Swan", which was oddly absorbed by the popular opinion. Society's sensual obsession with it seemed to minimalize the accomplishment.

If you brought it up to any average person who liked it, they'll say that Natalie Portman's performance is the film. Those who disliked it will narrow it down to being an average thriller. Both miss the point of the film entirely, and I kept reaching these emotional roadblocks in others' responses, and I simply balked at it. It suddenly became so apparent how flawed the public opinion is, which was further compounded by "The King's Speech" winning Best Picture at this year's Oscar race. I thought of the film's true merits, which were few, and it got me to scrutinize the other players in the race, and finding I wasn't as taken with "Toy Story 3", "The Social Network", or "True Grit" as I thought.

I owe some of that sudden change to my film professors, who've done an absolutely brilliant job of broadening my horizon, if feeding my ego a tad too much inadvertently. I owe a great deal more to "Black Swan", as those central themes of railing against your owners in defense of what you believe just ignited inside me. Realize that I gave 17 A-range reviews last year, and only four so far this year, two of which in the past two weeks. I raised my standards to what they should be, rather than settling for less. If I operated this year the way I did in 2010, I think I'd have lost more readers than I'd have gained. The readers I have now are at least more specific.

Films to See in 2011: October

It's strange that September may indeed end up the highlight of my motion picture autumn, as October slows things down a considerable bit with stale comedy, Oscar bait, and amateur horror. That may be a degenerative statement, but it's a highly degenerative month. Last year kicked the month off with "The Social Network" and "Let Me In", which are both equally good films, though perhaps not as great as imagined. This year it's George Clooney's Academy hopeful "The Ides of March", crashing metal hybrid between kids flick and fight film "Real Steel", and off-path indie comedy "Dirty Girl". Which of those catches my interest best? Oddly enough "Dirty Girl". It has one more Juno Temple than its competitors.

Then there's the obvious mixture of pathetic horror-remake "The Thing", pathetic not-really-a-musical remake "Footloose", and whatever the hell "The Big Year" is supposed to be. "The Skin I Live In" is opening in limited release, but my interest in that one is rather restrained. "Paranormal Activity 3" and "The Three Musketeers" follow, pushing me deeper into my own hole that weekend. And then things pick up considerably in that last weekend of the month. Disregarding "Johnny English" of course.

"Anonymous" has gotten some strong buzz out of Toronto, though don't expect me to invest a second of my time in that. Nothing against director Roland Emmerich, but I'm just not that interested in a Victorian era dramatic piece one week after "The Three Musketeers" comes out. And in limited release there are two films that everyone has more vested interest in than myself. "Like Crazy" got a ton of buzz out of Sundance, but it just looks like an illogical romantic story with a simple solution. And I just don't entirely see the point of "The Rum Diary". Given what films are left out of this recap, it may be all too easy to guess my most anticipated three. That comes either way, so take a look after the jump!

For Your Anticipation: Overbearing Creepy Music

I'm not sure Jim Sheridan is the type of man you'd expect to take on this sort of overtly creepy sort of haunted house flick. BUT "Dream House" is a twist on that, because it's also a psychological drama. Combine the two, and you get, something. I'm going to be honest. I'm not interested in this beyond Daniel Craig. The man just can't get a break these days. Besides that, there are other things I have more of a priority to write about.

Monday, September 26, 2011

For Your Anticipation: So Many People

And now we have an assemblage of some fine comedic actors in a film that entirely wastes them. I am not at all talking about Anna Faris. I'm talking about the dozens of people she's apparently dated, and it didn't work out. It's pretty clear there's a reason why they didn't work out. It's pretty clear Chris Evans is going to end up with her. It feels like a chore writing about it. I'm not going to suggest "What's Your Number?".

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Film Review: "A Dangerous Method" (**1/2)

"Do you think they know we're on our way, bringing them the plague?"

I doubt a film so irritatively dividing of me has come along thus far this year. That much I can say with confidence about David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method". Across the film's generous runtime, questions of sexuality, psychology (obviously), emotion, compromise, family, and repression are brought up by the script, but oddly enough not by the film itself. By "the film" I speak of Cronenberg, whose work here is more to draw attention to the film than embellish anything about it. A line like the one above should just be one a group that stick out, but it's the only moment in the film in which you wish for something a bit more incendiary than what we received.

"A Dangerous Method" follows Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, a budding psychologist following in the steps of Sigmund Freud, portrayed here by the more recently unseen Viggo Mortensen. Jung's passion is lit by prominent patient Sabrina Spielrein, with Keira Knightly literally screaming onto the scene. It puts things firmly in her corner as far as where our attention goes. The film very nearly begins with her first meeting with Jung, jutting her jaw out obtrusively as the telltale sign of her own mental instability. It's never stated what her problem is, but it's never really necessary either.

Box Office Update: Crowded at the Front

I very nearly let this slide, as my Sunday afternoon schedule is quite hazily packed. I have two reviews from yesterday still in the works, not to mention my work outside of this site. It's severely frustrating, so forgive me for not having much enthusiasm vested in the workings of a typical box office weekend. True, this weekend was a fond improvement from last, with three films hitting just above the $20 million mark. All of them opened to fine reviews, and I only expressed interest enough to see one of them, and barely at that. "The Lion King 3D" was not that film, and this being its last week in theaters, I won't be able to check the film out at all as things are currently.

The film still, appropriately, played well this weekend, falling slightly as audiences tried to rake in the film's last winnings while they still could. Falling just barely behind it was "Moneyball", which I gave a slight pass to on Friday. Just on its tail, pun most definitely not intended, was "Dolphin Tale", which somehow found and audience in young children. Who could have guessed that? "Abduction" and "Killer Elite" were a good $10 million down from their newer competitors, but they still managed to fill out the top five. "The Help" fell slightly. "Contagion" fell slightly more. "Drive" fell even more, sadly. We can't account for taste in this particular market, but it was up nearly 20% from last year.

1. "The Lion King 3D" (Second Weekend; $22.1 million)
2. "Moneyball" (First Weekend; $20.6 million)
3. "Dolphin Tale" (First Weekend; $20.3 million)
4. "Abduction" (First Weekend; $11.2 million)
5. "Killer Elite" (First Weekend; $9.5 million)
6. "Contagion" (Third Weekend; $8.6 million)
7. "Drive" (Second Weekend; $5.8 million)
8. "The Help" (Seventh Weekend; $4.4 million)
9. "Straw Dogs" (Second Weekend; $2.1 million)
10. "I Don't Know How She Does It" (Second Weekend; $2 million)

Short Take: "Le Havre" (***)

While walking out of my first film of the day, I caught a couple of older viewers remarking that "they don't make films like that anymore". In quite a few ways they are definitely right. Within moments of "Le Havre", you can tell there's an old-school style being brought to the table. Due merely to my own experience, my mind immediately flocks to "West Side Story". The color pallette, especially in the nighttime scenes, reminds me fondly of the old technicolor conversions of the past. The glow of evening is given this greenish blue tint, and thoughts skew immediately romantic of the old days of cinema. In spite of that, "Le Havre" bares just as many signs of today as it does of the past.

Previously pegged at Cannes as the Palme D'Or frontrunner until "The Tree of Life" proved pundits wrong, "Le Havre" focuses on an elderly shoeshiner named Marcel Marx, living in Le Havre, Normandy. His wife has been growing sicker and sicker each day, to the point where she's placed in the hospital quite gravely. Meanwhile elsewhere in the city, Inspector Monet is put onto the case of a bunch of black immigrants, one young boy of which escapes quite easily from the bumbling police. The boy seeks refuge with Marcel, who inexplicably decides to help the young boy out of the kindness of his heart. If it doesn't sound in keeping with the regular stories of today, there's a random and overstayed rock concert towards the end of the film. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Film Review: "Moneyball" (***)

"We are card counters at the blackjack table. We're gonna turn the odds on the casino."

That is perhaps the closest that Bennett Miller's new film gets to the snappy and rapid-fire intensity of "The Social Network", another film written by Aaron Sorkin. Although "Moneyball" has had the imprint of a cacophony of other writers, it bares the strongest mark of the recent awards winner. This is a far degree from that previous writing venture, but don't expect me to spend all my time griping that it's not as good as "The Social Network". These two are vastly different films that share that similar feeling. There are plenty of things that this film has in its favor.

"Moneyball" isn't a film I was really too eager to see, so the response I had to it was somewhat positive for my expectations. It's set on the backdrop of the world of baseball, but it's oddly enough not really about baseball. It deals more with what the sport, at its best, represents. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former baseball player whose luck didn't pan out, and now he's general manager of the ill-budgeted Oakland Athletics. He's the odd man out at the discussion table, with scouts of the old generation of baseball throwing around superficial nitpickery about players. "He has an ugly girlfriend. Ugly girlfriend means no confidence", states one geezer superficially.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Fringe" Review: "Neither Here Nor There" (***)

If I'm not ecstatic about this week's season/series premiere of "Fringe", it's probably because of basic jitters over the massive leap the writers have done. This is very likely the most ambitious, and thusly terrifying, science-fiction plot development in recent television memory. There's quite a lot that goes towards making it work, and excuse me ever so slightly if the premiere leaves something to be desired. The episode truly works as pilot for this new series, and it has all the telltale signs of such. The opening moments lead in the initiated to a state of calm, while then bringing the uninitiated in similarly. I builds for an hour that's quite flawed, but understandably so to a point. I feel confident enough that there's nowhere to go but up.

Peter is gone, but certainly not completely forgotten. Slight traces remain of the man who sacrificed himself for the sake of two worlds, and one of the first scenes we see shows our main observer, September, in a light we haven't seen him in before. He's absolutely terrified. They did this massive reset to further a goal, which is still unknown. We see September in these odd situations, gazing almost remorsefully at Walter's Harvard abode, and to more comedic effect, telling a store clerk up front that he's erasing a person from time. It's tricky stuff we're dealing with now. For the first time, we feel sympathy for these strange characters, because we have to. They can't be the people who completely destroyed Joshua Jackson.

And Peter's absence is noticed quite evidently in nearly every moment. Olivia isn't so emotional as she was before. She's hardened, authoritative, and bitter in her work. Peter was a constant in her life, and now that tether's gone. Walter is very much the same, but that tether held him not just close to people, but to reality. He's paranoid, frantic, and depressingly cynical. We get this one point in which we realize that the Peter he stole simply did not survive, and that only compounds that feeling of guilt and self-loathing. Not to say he's completely alone. He's got "the man in the mirror" keeping him company.

For Your Anticipation: Stuck in Second

 I'll be the first to admit that tonight's season premiere of "Fringe" didn't exactly rock me to my core as I'd hoped. There are plenty of good reasons why, obviously, and I still have to suggest that anyone uninitiated check in right now. When the season kicks off, it's always a strong jumping on point for new viewers. When we get deep into the season, that opportunity just isn't there anymore. So I have to suggest you put in the time just to check it out. It's a show I'd love to see its proper conclusion, probably after Season 5. We don't want to overreach, now do we? So this clip isn't so much to get you pumped for tonight. Just a random anecdote I enjoyed a lot.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Extended Trailer

Aside from the obvious, I've been looking forward to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for the specific reason that it has David Fincher taking on something less heavy-handed in subject matter. This trailer takes me down from those feeling enough for me to be slightly disappointed, but not down on it yet. There are moments here that ring quite a bit obvious, and you can't help be wonder if they could've done a better job in writing.

For Your Anticipation: The Lineup Card is Mine

 I can't say I have much interest in seeing "Moneyball" this weekend. Given my own circumstances, it's something of a lame duck. I'm not singing the fine music in this one's regards, because where most have reacted so positively to it, I just lack a sense of interest. It looks like a boring statistics race set on the boring backdrop of sports. Maybe good for some straight interest, but other than that I don't see a reason to invest my own time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TELLURIDE BY THE SEA: My Saturday Lineup

Each year brings me a unique and exciting festival opportunity in the form of Telluride by the Sea, a weekend long recurrence of six of the films that appeared at Telluride Film Festival in Colorado earlier this month. Last year was my first time at the festival, and I saw "The King's Speech" and "Never Let Me Go" there. I wouldn't have called my critiques of the two exactly accurate. I was a bit harsh on the former, and too kind to the latter. No wonder I had such a hard time in equating my thoughts on "The King's Speech". They were ultimately dishonest.

This year I had hoped to experience the full six film experience, but that fell through the moment they announced the films appearing. I just don't have the time or interest to sustain the Sunday viewings of "The Kid with a Bike" or "In Darkness", and "Albert Nobbs" follows last year's "Tamara Drewe" in the tradition of thematically lacking openers. Saturday is going to be the beginning and the end for me this year, with three films I am eager to experience and break down. I was apprehensive to "Le Havre" at first, but it looks quite honestly agreeable, and the most interesting of the lower tier festival fare.

"A Dangerous Method" has had a wide berth of reception, from excited to unimpressed to downright hateful. I had cautious optimism from the start, and still do, but I'm not going to let my optimism dictate me astray as it did last year. Cronenberg, be prepared for a proper bashing when I'm done with you. And then the late night brings me the most exciting film of the weekend, and one I was simply ecstatic to see on the list. I still haven't finished reading the book yet, but I'll have to push forward in time for "We Need to Talk About Kevin"s appearance in Portsmouth this Saturday. Color me excited.

Oscar Park: "Drive"

Seeing as 'Carpet-Bagging' is more speculative than concrete, I thought it appropriate to expand things a fair degree. Or, I just wanted another chance to talk about "Drive" in a different respect, and I couldn't find any better way to do it. "Drive" has had plenty of us talking about its merits, and I hold a strong position of restrained adoration for Refn's film. I see the slight cracks in the pavement, but I still fell head over heels for the extra-sensory, semi-psychological musical/superhero/fairytale/action/drama cacophony that the cast and crew were miraculously able to pull off. But, what about the Academy?

Many ignorantly assume that any film they thought was brilliant or deeply affecting is a surefire candidate for Best Picture. I think it's clear that "Drive" has few chances to really break into this year's Oscar races. Best Picture? Forgedaboudit! Not their type Best Director? Not a chance. Refn has never had a focus on that, and he probably still doesn't. Best Actor? Sadly enough, Gosling has better chances with "The Ides of March", which I refuse to call a top Oscar player or a dud. Best Supporting Actor? Now we're talking, as Albert Brooks has had strong buzz going for months, and now that we've seen his performance, we're just waiting on those first critics awards for confirmation.

For Your Anticipation: Where is he?

Initial thoughts on the trailer for "Killer Elite" was that it looked like fun. What more could you possibly ever say of a Jason Statham action flick? That it's dumb? That it's simple? That it lacks narrative depth? In all honesty, who cares. The people who see these things will see it. It's nothing new, so I won't see it. I'm on the record that for the rest of our existence, we don't need another action film. We've got enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Wuthering Heights" UK Trailer

So let's assume that this isn't your typical Emily Bronte adaptation. Fears that Andrea Arnold was going soft are completely dispelled by the harsh trailer for "Wuthering Heights". How is it that women directors have the most sense nowadays?

For Your Anticipation: What Are You Doing?

I think it's cute that Gerard Butler is suddenly trying to be a better actor. He's practically the Arnold Schwarzenegger of our generation, and he seems to know it. It'll be a while until he shakes off that semi-Scottish accent, and it still seeps through here. Not the telltale signs of a great actor, and he never has been. But at least he's trying. I don't think "Machine Gun Preacher" is going to be his big shot. He's better left laying his chances with "Coriolanus".

Monday, September 19, 2011

"J. Edgar" Trailer

I think we can dismiss "J. Edgar" as the one to swoop in and take it all for this year's Oscar race, but it still remains a point of interest. After so many prominent failures, Clint Eastwood is somewhat back in well traveled territory. Three main points of this trailer are Leonardo DiCaprio, Judi Dench, and the makeup on display. It may be a bit too overly evident, but I'll wait till the film to do the ultimate judging. It looks like Eastwood is still messing around a bit with the visual effects that he started use of in "Hereafter". I'll wait to see how this pans out, but DiCaprio is wallowing in Orson Welles territory with his role this time.

The rapid death of the Primetime Emmys

Not that it's worth mention in the slightest, but last night's Emmy broadcast cemented every flaw and discrepancy in the ceremony, and in the awards themselves. I set aside my own prejudice for them never once rewarding "Fringe" with even a nomination. What I won't set aside is my anger at the clear disdain they show for it. In their montage of the year in Drama television, they set aside time for even mediocrity like "Smallville" and "True Blood". They don't spare a second for the sci-fi drama, which says a great deal about what respect they hold the show in. It's a display of boorish ignorance that only inspires disgust.

As for the ceremony itself, gaudy and repulsive from start to finish is all I can really say for it. I could tell I was in for an embarrassing show from that painful opening number. Jane Lynch is quite possibly the worst host in recent memory for the telecast, no offense towards her. She's just gotten remarkably stale with all of her appearances. I just don't care for her anymore, which is a sad statement indeed. If there was a slight moment of levity it was "The Office" parody, most specifically the moment that Jesse comes in and sells Creed meth. It reminded me that there were better things I could be watching right now, instead of this crap.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Box Office Update: The "King" has Returned

So anyone with measured doubt about how much a 3D re-release of a 2D animated feature from 1995 could really bring in is scratching their heads. Hell, I'm scratching my head at how much "The Lion King 3D" made this weekend. I know that it's kind of brilliant and all, but are people really that eager to revive that classic theater-going experience? I guess that will happen when you release a beloved title that's being re-released specifically for 3D. People aren't going to be interested in seeing it in 2D. They want the entire new experience of it, so maybe I'll end up checking it out later this week. I've heard the film's not bad either.

"Contagion" would've topped the weekend if "Lion King" didn't over-perform to such a degree, instead landing in second from a 35.4% drop. "Drive" topped the rest of the new releases, though still falling to third place. What's more, the mainstream audiences really didn't like this one. Ally that to the action heavy expectations, but I'll get more into that at another time. By the time we get to "The Help", the box office is resting in low digits that garner little to no attention. "Straw Dogs" and "I Don't Know How She Does It" both earned about $5 million apiece. This weekend was a fine improvement from last weekend, but a slight downgrade from last year, when "The Town" and "Easy A" rocked the box office.

1. "The Lion King 3D" (First Weekend; $29.3 million)
2. "Contagion" (Second Weekend; $14.5 million)
3. "Drive" (First Weekend; $11 million)
4. "The Help" (Sixth Weekend; $6.4 million)
5. "Straw Dogs" (First Weekend; $5 million)
6. "I Don't Know How She Does It" (First Weekend; $4.5 million)
7. "The Debt" (Third Weekend; $2.9 million)
8. "Warrior" (Second Weekend; $2.8 million)
9. "Rise of the Apes" (Seventh Weekend; $2.6 million)
10. "Columbiana" (Fourth Weekend; $2.3 million)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To the Bifrost!

I'm bored. "Thor" came out on DVD this week. I liked "Thor". That's enough excuse for me to show this here, right?

Film Review: "Drive" (****)

"I used to produce movies, in the 80s. Kind of like action films. Sexy stuff. One critic called them European. I thought they were shit."

Nicolas Winding Refn doesn't make any illusions about his being a specific taste, and the negative reactions to his films only reinforce that resolve he's created. To that note, "Drive" works so exceptionally as a title to his latest film, which sees him crafting his festishizations to peak effect. Some could, and many probably are, talking about how this is a film about what people live for and what spurs them on, or to be a bit more direct, what drives them. In more than a few ways, it absolutely is. You don't have to be an esteemed critic to figure that out. However, Refn hasn't ever really been about philosophical exercises on the purpose of humanity, and he doesn't pretend to this time either.

"Drive" is a full-blooded narrative film, from that gut-in-throat opening scene on. That opening sets the stage in a way that almost counter-productively puts the audiences expecting an action film with the wrong impression. Then they're stuck with another 90 minutes they'll slap with the label of "boring", completely ignoring the craft at work. There isn't anything that's drastically original here. Ryan Gosling plays a movie stuntman who works as a getaway driver for the criminal underworld. He gets involved in a job that goes wrong, and it endangers the recently found love of his life. It's a general genre exercise, to put it in blunt and diminishing terms.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Report: Moving On...

So let's assume that the several weeks of disappointment are behind us. I'd like to get that sort of feeling, especially since this weekend brings us one of my most anticipated films of the fall circuit. That being said, with all the films coming out this weekend, and there are a lot, I don't expect one of them to crack $15 million over the course of the weekend. I'd like it if that happened, but it just won't. The top film of the weekend, and this is the optimist in me speaking, should be "Drive". Setting aside my own anticipation, as I'll have to the moment the film starts, the marketing for the film has been standard, yet seductive. I imagine enough people hoping for a simple action film will be there, and they'll probably get more than they expected.

I'd also expect people to head out to see "The Lion King 3D", because aside from the film's classic status amongst most people who grew up with it, it's just something we haven't seen before. Not the film, but a 3D conversion of 2D animation. I'll probably check it out sometime next weekend when I'm not busy at Telluride by the Sea. The rest of the film slate this weekend, I could care less about. "Straw Dogs" had a tiny shred of hope, but I'm honestly not sure how. I was never interested, and I'm not sure why I expected anything else than what the trailer alludes to. And there's also "I Don't Know How She Does It", for the female crowd. That's the only group I can imagine seeing that.

Back to September

This week, the fall television season got to a lumbering start, and if you're wondering why Stuart hasn't voiced his thoughts on the new premieres already, it's just a matter scheduling in time. I'm patient, as always. I knew bringing him on, there were going to be a few small problems along the way, but what he brings to the table is enough to warrant some patience. Don't expect me to talk much about what's going on in television this season, except for in one particular category, and you probably know full well what that is.

Even if you don't care about what I have to say about "Fringe" in the slightest, I only ask that you listen. My fanaticism for the show has been overblown in the past, self-indulgently so. The show has always existed on a general B+ level, at best A-, but it's no masterpiece. "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" are far more brilliant shows in most ways, but "Fringe" is such a wonderful piece of genre television delight, even at its most frustrating. They're taking on their most ambitious storyline to date this season, and I'm all for it. The fourth season premieres next Friday at 9. Here's a preview for the episode!

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" Trailer

In case the trailer doesn't manage to blow that news, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is no awards play. It's a collection of four of the best British performers (and Dev Patel) taking a bit of a breather in less dicey waters. This isn't something I'll be waiting for in heated anticipation. It's nothing to get excited about. It's not supposed to be. This is the film they release in March to alleviate the dour post-festival season, much like "Win Win" did this year. This looks kinda humorous. Not ecstatically so in any way. It looks, simply, fine.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stop 'Dragon' Our Feet

I'll admit, there are better "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trailer parodies, but this put a smile on my face, if only because they put in the effort to make one.

For Your Anticipation: Do You Wanna See Something?

And we finally get to "Drive", and the fever pitch of my autumn anticipation is finally allowed to level out. The problem with being fanatically obsessed over a film you're looking for is making sure your expectations aren't too wildly out of control. So there's some conditioning to do there, but for the most part I'm still crazy excited. Ever since Cannes, I've heard how great a film this is, and the marketing for the piece has only added to that insane, punch-drunk feeling.It's not the action either. It's moments like these, when the form of the film takes hold.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Carpet-Bagging: Holding out for a frontrunner

Every single year it feels like the scope of the Academy Awards becomes far more narrow in focus, and considerably less dangerous. Remember that landmark four-punch of "The Departed", "No Country for Old Men", "Slumdog Millionaire", and "The Hurt Locker"? I fear those glory days are behind us. Although I may hopefully be wrong, as there's still no clear winner as of yet. Even this time last year, "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" were set as the ones to beat, with favor put in the latter's arena. Right now there's a lot of favor put in the arena for "The Artist" which, as charming as it looks, seems so soft and safe. Then again, I'm not entirely sure you'd expect anything else from it.

"The Descendants" too, while gaining an array of well sought adoration from Telluride audiences, is Alexandre Payne's kindest film to date, taking on a subject less cynical than he has in the past. And not to piss off any of my Hawaiian readers, but the Hawaiian locale has never been much of a compelling backdrop. I've heard plenty saying George Clooney gives his best performance to date in the film, and he will definitely be a name we hear a lot of in the months to come. It's just that I have a layer of hesitation about the film's chances when it comes to going for the win.

It does seem a tad early to talk about winners, but the race is usually over far enough before the actual telecast. "True Grit" came into the game too late to make enough news for even one win, and "Another Year" scarcely got a single nomination. Both that and its frontrunner status put "War Horse" in the position for a fall. It could be one of those things that swoops in and becomes the film of the moment, but I doubt it.

For Your Anticipation: Red-Neck Wisdom

So, I have no idea why "Straw Dogs" is apparently so damn important. Apparently it was a remake of a controversial film, but the film was only controversial because of a rape scene. That's old hat these days. And nothing from the trailers eludes to anything more than an average thriller. So I'm not going to go on expecting anything more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For Your Anticipation: Not Completely

So since there's no chance in hell of "Sex and the City 3", Sarah Jessica Parker is just looking for anything she can possibly find, and dragging anyone she can down with her. This time, that includes Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, and Pierce Brosnan. Although, Brosnan was pretty much done before anyway. "I Don't Know How She Does It" is such a self-indulgent title, and you know that's gotta reflect some line in the script. Probably a line that's used multiple times. Expect nothing of "Never forget where you came from" magnitude.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TORONTO: "Moneyball", "Anonymous", "Twixt", "Rampart"

So, it seems as if I've been neglecting the greater festival of the month, as Toronto's been going on and I've been pretty much ignoring it. I just wanted to take the time to get caught up on what the general opinion has been on these films. Nothing of the same scale as my Telluride and Venice posts, as I just don't take Toronto as seriously. There's something that's simply lacking in the Canadian powerhouse, as if it's just free of emotion or relevance. Take the first four films I've heard plenty about in the past few days. Only one of them is something I was genuinely interested in, and despite everything still am.

First there's "Moneyball", which has been getting the lions share of the buzz this week. Many are lining up in approval of that one, and I must admit my maintained skepticism. It frankly looks soft, and very much the same thing we've seen before. It's about underdogs, and what better way to paint that than with sports? In any case, critics love the film, for the most part anyway. I can't wait to knock it down a peg, but I'll be doing better things by the time it comes my way. I can't see immediately how the Academy will react to it, but they very well may take it out of lack of a better option.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Box Office Update: "Contagion" breaks competition down

The top player at the box office this weekend may lead you to believe this weekend was generous. In actuality, "Contagion" was perhaps the only real standout this weekend, with the rest withering in defeat. Soderbergh's film defeated a slump that's been dominated honorably by "The Help" for the past few weeks. Sadly, however, if it weren't for "Contagion", "The Help" would've still conquered the weekend. Despite its most substantial drop of 40%, the film still held on towards the top. Not even "Warrior" could draw in enough audiences, and its weak opening doesn't exactly inspire much confidence in it. The rest of the chart is old hat, with "Bucky Larson" thankfully not even making the top 10. This weekend was just a slight hair above last year, when the stats were pretty much exactly the same with "Resident Evil: Afterlife" in the top spot.

1. "Contagion" (First Weekend; $23.1 million)
2. "The Help" (Fifth Weekend; $8.7 million)
3. "Warrior" (First Weekend; $5.6 million)
4. "The Debt" (Second Weekend; $4.9 million)
5. "Columbiana" (Third Weekend; $4 million)
6. "Rise of the Apes" (Sixth Weekend; $3.9 million)
7. "Shark Night 3D" (Second Weekend; $3.5 million)
8. "Apollo 18" (Second Weekend; $2.9 million)
9. "Our Idiot Brother" (Third Weekend; $2.8 million)
10. "Spy Kids 4" (Fourth Weekend; $2.5 million)

VENICE: "Faust" takes the Golden Lion

So how can we be surprised that the Golden Lion went to something I didn't really put much interest into? Aleksandr Sokurov's "Faust" somehow didn't gain my attention, but it got enough passion from the jury to grab the top prize. I guess I may have to check this one out, but my eyebrow hasn't even been raised yet, so no promises. Similarly, the Silver Lion prize went to something I hadn't heard the slightest bit of news on, "Ren shan ren hai". I can make a pretty solid promise I probably won't end up seeing that one, because as much as I go for things off the beaten path, I'm also kind of lazy.

That confusion ridden first response may make it seem like I'm disappointed, but there's enough to be pleased about here. "Alps", from director Yorgos Lanthimos, took the screenplay prize despite his typically brazen subject matter, or perhaps because of it. I suppose what may have repelled others is what benefited from Aronofsky's jury. Cinematography went to "Wuthering Heights", and there's no surprise there. Same goes for Michael Fassbender's Best Actor win, but it certainly got a more favorable response. The rest of the awards are many in number, and far too time consuming, so see those after the jump!

Golden Lion

Silver Lion
“Ren shan ren hai (People Mountain People Sea)”

Vopli Cup (Best Actress)
Michael Fassbender, “Shame”

Volpi Cup (Best Actress)
Deanie Yip, “Tao Jie (A Simple Life)”

Special Jury Prize

Osella for Best Screenplay
“Alps” (Giorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou)

Best Cinematography
“Wuthering Heights” (Robbie Ryan)

Marcello Mastroianni Award
Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, “Himizu di Sion Sono”

Best Film, Venezia 68: “Shame”
Best Film, Orizzonti and International Critics’ Week: “Two Years”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Film Review: "Contagion" (**1/2)

Within 10 minutes of "Contagion", I was already catching myself touching my spotty face and letting out a nervous cough, and the slightest scare of paranoia reached me, and other audience members understandably. I'm about to get into a lot of things that I wasn't too fond of in "Contagion", some forgivable, but nonetheless troubling. All the same, I think it's worth mentioning the one thing that Steven Soderbergh does to perfection in this film, which is that central fear of germs and illness that is unavoidable in real life.

If Soderbergh's film has a main character, it's the virus to which it owes its title. From the first moment, it's about the spread of the virus, and how society and the several disease control agencies deal with that problem. There are several characters put to work in the film, and you'd be forgiven for forgetting one or two. Soderbergh packs "Contagion" with all star cast members, none of which hold total focus. Some of them are doctors (Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet), some of them civilians (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, John Hawkes), and just outside players (Bryan Cranston, Jude Law).

VENICE: "Damsels in Distress" Reactions

Such a delight that Venice goes out on a high note, as one usually expects the closing night of the festival to end in a whimper. That's mostly because most journalists are already Toronto-bound, and we'll get to our covering of that festival when the time comes that I become interested. Suffice it to say that there will be some that are downtrodden to hear that they missed out on something great in Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress". Stillman is another example of a director coming back into the fold after a long hiatus, but he's been out for 13 years, so who's to say what he's been up to? In any case, word is positive on his latest. And if Neil Young sounds a bit negative, keep in mind that it's his favorite of the festival.

Guy Lodge (In Contention; ***1/2): "It’s tempting to imagine that the reason for Stillman’s 13-year gap between features is that he was merely waiting for an actress as ideally attuned to his oddball intelligence as Gerwig: a quicksilver comic actress often cornered into passive roles, she’s on gloriously spry, expressive form here, finding reserves of empathy, however blinkered, in a character that many might play as an unremitting nightmare. (Her cohorts are very nearly as impressive, notably Megalyn Echikunwoke, whose gleefully mannered timing seems set to make “playboy and operatOR type” a beloved catchphrase among Stillman fiends.)"

"Shame" goes to Fox Searchlight

Fox Searchlight has had such a strong way of picking up exactly the right titles recently. "The Tree of Life", which I liked quite a bit, but not ecstatically so, was such a strong vote of confidence that seems to be paying off to some degree. They've also got "Martha Marcy May Marlene" coming up in October, which I may be significantly more positive to. Now they've picked up Steve McQueen's likely NC-17 second feature "Shame", which is probably the more favorable outcome of the kinda-sorta bidding war over the film. It also puts chances strongly in the corner of the film getting a release sometime this year, so it's nice that we won't have to wait too long for it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" Trailer 3

Another trailer? How aggressively are they going to pound this film into our subconscious? It's easy to think this trailer is overkill if it weren't for the fact that the film doesn't premiere stateside until December. Earlier today I spoke of Oldman's Oscar chances on this film. The film itself, in a decent world, should have Oscar chances as well. Far be it from me to call it a lock, but this trailer plays up its more mainstream aspects, and that'll get people in the door. Allow Alfredson and his boys to take it from there.

Weekend Report: Exponential Degradation

As cynical as I can be in matters of film, or more accurately inadequate film, it's weekends like these that make a strong enough case for optimism. Last time I went to the theaters was almost a month ago for "The Help", and since then I haven't felt the urge to head out to the theater for something. This weekend I have the widest variety of options, from films I've been excited for, films I'd be willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and films I've been dreading the imminent task of talking about them. Don't expect the box office to be blindingly alight, but expect a notable uptick.

"Contagion" is clearly the main ticket this weekend, as it's the only wide release playing above 2000 theaters. I've heard people go on about the strong star power at play, as I have gone on about it myself. It's interesting that that isn't much of a playing factor this time around. I'm more interested in the effect of the story, and whatever tools Steven Soderbergh may have put to use this time. The marketing of the film should aid in a wide audience appeal throughout the weekend, but I'll still be surprised if it goes any further than $25 million.

Other than that, I can't make any sure promises. I've had an antagonistic tendency towards "Warrior" since the first trailer, and it seemed to me like the formula of how to make an inspirational fight film. That might be exactly what it is, but ZOMG TOM HARDY!!!!! That's my mentality towards it. It's a lot kinder than what's left, which is "Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star". Honestly, if you put me in any position in which I haven't a choice but to see this film, I will put a bullet in yo' head as if you were Gustavo Fring. That might be a bit extreme, but who the hell makes films like this?

On Oldman and Smiley

Earlier on this week I spoke of Oldman's Best Actor chances being significantly lessened by an ensemble effect of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". I may have spoken a tad bit too soon, and I'd be quite happy to be wrong. Oldman has been routinely overlooked by the Academy for years, so intensely so that it's hard not to discount him on the slightest word of doubt. The clips since then, and most notably this featurette for the film, put a strong sense of reserve in Oldman's corner, and indeed the film's. That may work in his opposition, but I have a feeling it'll work in his favor.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

For Your Anticipation: Graffiti with Punctuation

"Contagion" is set to own the weekend, with only a slight fight given from competitor "Warrior", which is opening on nearly 1300 less screens. I think it's wonderful that the buzz for a film this heavily star-laden has been kept on such a steady level. As for the film, I'm not elevated to irrational anticipation for it, but I'm interested nonetheless. It looks like a reserved medical thriller which doesn't just wink at potential consequences. I don't think it'll go all the way down that road, but it'll go considerably further than others would.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

VENICE: "Wuthering Heights" Reactions

To tell the truth, I very nearly forgot that Venezia 68 was still going on, seeing as things seemed to drop off after Labor Day. I almost forgot to comment on "Wuthering Heights" from Andrea Arnold, who is very much responsible for one of the more life-altering films I've seen in a while, "Fish Tank". Like many others, I feared she was going to tread safer territory by taking on Emily Bronte's classic novel, but reviews clearly debunk any such worries. Arnold is still in top form, which simply makes me want to see this film all the more immediately. Is it still a strong player for the Golden Lion? I'd say so, seeing as Darren Aronofsky is heading the jury, and who's to say what he's liable to choose?

Neil Young (Hollywood Reporter): "Performances are blunt and unmannered. Top-billed Kaya Scodelario plays the adult Cathy with only the occasional linguistic anachronism jarring on the ear. These minor flubs are outweighed by the impact of the plausibly unadorned, sometimes vicious language used by what are essentially uneducated working-class farmers. This includes several four-letter outbursts and a smattering of uses (by Hindley) of the N-word towards Heathcliff – Glave and Howson are both black, a pioneering bit of casting from Arnold. Heathcliff is described in the book as “dark”, “gipsy” and looking like a “Lascar” from southern Asia, but has always been previously played by Caucasians."

Guy Lodge (In Contention; ***1/2): "Like most previous screen versions, Arnold and co-writer Olivia Hetreed have taken on only the irresistibly full arc of the novel’s first half, but have zeroed in more emphatically on the class tensions and familial cracks that both enable and cripple Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship. Arnold’s simplest and most successful amendment is the introduction of a black Heathcliff (played at different ages by Solomon Glave and James Howson), a stroke that places the social landscape of Brontë’s story in starker relief, and adds an extra layer of rancour to the abuse the character endures at the hands of Catherine’s seethingly inarticulate brother Hindley (Lee Shaw)."

For Your Anticipation: "You Owe Me 200 Bucks"

I'll confess some natural curiosity regarding "Warrior", but it's got little to nothing to do with the film itself. I find it, for the most part, to be somewhat disinteresting, and even sweetly repulsive. Call it a gut feeling. However, I will say that what draws my eye is Tom Hardy, who has had a strong way of stealing the show from his co-stars, notably in "Inception" from last year. This is his only role since then, so I might check this out from simple Hardy-deprivation. Although, I'd also be willing to wait for "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Carpet-Bagging: Add it to the pile. Then burn it.

It seems like the main heat of the festival circuit has already come and gone, even with Toronto still to come. Telluride came and went in a minute, and Venice is on its last long stretch with all the main hype come and gone. I'm still anticipating a surprise or two to come, but nothing major to change the state of the Oscar race. I'm actually somewhat weakened by the number of potential dropouts in the Best Picture race due to their festival receptions. If "A Dangerous Method" was ever a real contender, isn't now. After a mixed response at Venice, it received a similar response in Telluride. I'd say Fassbender should look elsewhere for accolades, but "Shame" is absolutely no Oscar player.

"The Ides of March", which was a favorite amongst critics before its Venice premiere, now has a general feeling of skepticism about it. It's not that it's officially out as a contender, as it may have a more positive response in the states where people may find it more relevant. And indeed there is little negative reaction out there. It's mostly positive, but not ecstatically so. The new system is based on passionate votes, and I'm not at all sure if they'll really respond with the same passion they'd place towards something like "The Tree of Life".

Eddie Murphy hosting 84th Annual Academy Awards

And here I was thinking that Brett Ratner wouldn't be dragging all parts of this year's Oscar telecast down to the pits of oblivion. Well, any denial is just superfluous at this point, so it looks like Eddie Murphy is going to be the face of the 84th Academy Awards. Now, am I saying that this is necessarily a condemning factor in the scheme of this year's ceremony. Yeah, pretty much. It's exactly the sort of decision you'd expect Brett Ratner to make, it goes in line with all his beliefs, it's the first guy he'd choose, and it's a completely unimaginative vote.

Am I saying that Murphy doesn't have the capacity to be funny? Far from it, as I admit he has had potential for success in the past, but has since fallen into a downward spiral. He's most infamously known for making comedies that are neither good, nor are they at all funny. And it does somewhat weaken the resolve of an awards telecast that should have nothing to do with the mainstream. The Academy is constantly in denial of what their show should be like, and that's my biggest lament of this move. It's crass. It's loud. It's not good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

VENICE: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" Reactions

I think "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has been the main player in many ways heading into this fall, but most of the buzz seemed to gravitate around Gary Oldman's "lead performance" and what his Oscar chances were. The first reviews for Tomas Alfredson's film do enough to change the field of our first speculations. Word is that this is less an Oldman vehicle than an ensemble piece, which is very much what I gathered from the trailer. It does seem like something of a shame, as this was Oldman's biggest Oscar opportunity in recent memory. The man is far overdue. As for the film itself, there are generally positive ramblings going on. I can see it being a Best Picture play for sure.

Guy Lodge (In Contention; ***1/2 out of 4): "Rarely has a perversely beautiful lack of vitality been so integral to a film’s success: for all the accomplished work done on the storytelling front, principal memories of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" may well linger on Maria Djurkovic’s splendidly down-at-heel production design, a veritable rabbit-warren of graying wood, petrified office furniture and gloriously tasteless bursts of contemporary modernism, like the queasily orange graphic pattern that papers the Circus’s main conference room. Everyone on set and off seems to have taken their cue from these worn-in but hardly comforting surroundings — Alberto Iglesias’s mournfully brass-heavy score is another asset."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Box Office Update: "Help"! Somebody! Anybody!

Does the enduring box office success of "The Help" have anything to do with how good a film it is? Maybe a little, but it's more to do with the fact that we have nothing better to do. I dismissed the lion's share of releases this weekend, and as it turns out I wasn't the only one. The only slightly positive film this weekend, "The Debt", ended up the strongest release, despite the tepid response on its Wednesday release. "Apollo 18" and "Shark Night 3D" fell just slightly behind, splitting the horror crowd down the middle. It was a very uneven weekend.

As far as long term box office goes, I'd actually say that August has been something of a success. Three films of this month have earned more than $100 million thus far. "The Smurfs" is somewhat arguable, as it premiered at the tail end of July, but it still managed $130 million throughout the month, despite terrible reviews. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" could've been much worse than it was, so the general optimism from it has pushed it to $160 million. And "The Help" is still on the rise, currently with $118 million and climbing. This weekend was about 8% higher than last year, when "The American" arrived to undeserved critical bashing, just barely outrunning "Machete".

1. "The Help" (Fourth Weekend; $14.2 million)
2. "The Debt" (First Weekend; $9.7 million)
3. "Apollo 18" (First Weekend; $8.7 million)
4. "Shark Night 3D" (First Weekend; $8.6 million)
5. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fifth Weekend; $7.8 million)
6. "Columbiana" (Second Weekend; $7.4 million)
7. "Our Idiot Brother" (Second Weekend; $5.2 million)
8. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (Second Weekend; $4.9 million)
9. "Spy Kids 4" (Third Weekend; $4.6 million)
10. "The Smurfs" (Sixth Weekend; $4 million)

VENICE: "Shame" Reactions

This is doubtlessly the most interesting prospect on the festival circuit this weekend. After Steve McQueen devastated Cannes in 2008 with "Hunger", he's now taking Venice with his follow-up of "Shame". From everything I've heard and seen, it seems like McQueen is preparing himself a trilogy of entrapment. His recently announced "12 Years a Slave" adaptation lets on about as much, and all that's missing in that effort is Fassbender. That's something I can see being remedied in the coming weeks and months, as it clearly should. With Fassbender having played a victimized political soldier, followed by a more self-destructive character, I'd kind of like McQueen to put him on something deliberately antagonistic.

But that's just personal preferences. As for "Shame", I really didn't have any idea of what to expect from the reception. I imagined one of two outcomes, the first being riotous success above even "Hunger". The second, and as it turns out the right one, is about on even ground as his first film, if only a tad behind. I had no expectations of flat-out failure. Reception out of Venice this morning was positive enough, with main concerns being a somewhat soft screenplay. Telluride hopefully should echo that later this morning.. Now it's just a matter of waiting on distribution.

Guy Lodge (In Contention; ***1/2): "Like the finest filmmakers from a fine-arts background, he has a consistently rewarding understanding of the narrative powers of composition: abetted by heaving, tricky sound design and Harry Escott’s counter-intuitively soaring score, "Shame" conjures image upon image of such astonishing beauty that they’d risk stalling the film if not for the spare depth of feeling grounding the whole. The first of these opens the film, with Fassbender sprawled across his bed, his body as unhappily taut and angular as a Francis Bacon subject. He takes up the top half of the screen, a sea of creased cornflower-blue bedsheet filling the remainder: for its dense chain of trysts and dependencies, "Shame" is most powerfully a film of absence."