Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF DIARY: My love (and hate) for 'Life of Pi'

Hello all once again, checking in for the first time since my move to Film Misery. In that time I have written many challenging pieces, one most recently which was my review of Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi'. The film had the ceremonious honour of being the first press screening I have attended in my life, and the act of seeing so many critics I had only known in an online context was a jarring one. It may sound odd, but not yet being a paid member of the press and being around so many of them was profoundly humanizing. Suddenly they're not figures or opinions, but people. Everything clicks in that precise moment.

Unfortunately I was not so lucky in receiving 'Life of Pi', Ang Lee's adaptation of the popular Yann Martel novel. Many a director has had their fingers in this, ranging from M. Night Shyamalan to Alfonso Cuaron, but it ultimately fell to Lee. Ang Lee is an interesting choice for the project, not merely for his visually unassuming work in prior films, but more for his fusion of storytelling and filmmaking. He's committed himself to the telling of other peoples' stories, and while that works better for 'Life of Pi' than it did for 'Hulk', it's not without its difficulties.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Follow us to Film Misery!

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life." - Lester Burnham, or Walter White. I never saw that poster.

I hope you've all been enjoying the output this week, because it's the last time you'll be seeing so much new writing on the site for a while, if ever. Just over two weeks ago I sent in an application to write for a new site. On Monday I got word back. Today, if official. I am a new member of the staff of Film Misery, headed up by Alex Carlson, senior edited by Justin Jagoe, writing alongside already strong fixtures, Davin Lacksonen, Vincenzo Tagle, and joining the game with fellow newcomers Hilary Kissinger and G Clark Finfrock. I know! All those names are totally awesome! Not to mention Phil Koller, who often hosts the podcast with Alex.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Television Review: "Breaking Bad" Season 5

The opening teaser of every season of Breaking Bad has often been indicative of the season to follow. The first season kickoff of Walter on the side of the road, gun in hand and trousers inexplicably gone, simple as it may be, still establishes the show's comedic hard-glass tone. Season 2's disturbing image of a half scorched teddy bear, while simultaneously teasing a Season 4 finale death, also displays how mangled something seemingly harmless can become (Jesse. Walt. Take your pick.). Season 3 is about Walter White, the legend Heisenberg, and the interests in such legend. Season 4 took us into the past, displaying a character (or perhaps all three characters) who witlessly is/are signing his/their own death warrant(s).

Season 5, touted as the final season in two parts but is narratively complete as two separate seasons, begins with a wild leap into the future. Walter is alive, hair atop his head, on the lam with a fake name, turning 52, and picking up a cache of assault rifles as his birthday gift. It's a riddle that isn't answered overtly by episode's end, nor in the seven subsequent episodes, though its implicitly significant throughout the season. It's a place-marker of where Walter White is irretrievably headed, and by the close of the premiere titled Live Free or Die, we think we know the answer. Season 5 is about Heisenberg's rise to power and inadvertent reign of terror.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Film Review: "Compliance"

As another insidious prankster said in a 2008 crime thriller, "Let's wind the clocks back a year." Around this time we were in a relatively similar position of the year, be it with more reasons for hope than this year has given us. I'm rather confident that Hope Springs is no The Help, and Dredd 3D is likely no Drive, but 2012 has found its equivalent to a film that released around this period of last year. Steven Soderbergh's Contagion was, as usual for the director, a tight mainstream propelled thriller with ace atmospherics and a stylistic coda to keep to. More than anything, however, it was a case study in a subject that we suddenly could not stop thinking about.

Where Soderbergh's film had me squirming all over in realization of the abundance of germs shortly afterwards, Compliance raises a not quite so immediate post-screening reaction. The impact of the film isn't so much one that can be felt at face value, and the effect of it is not what it achieves onscreen, but what it has the audience poring over in retrospect.

VENICE 2012: "Something in the Air" both flies & falters

"The Master" and "To the Wonder" may have flown above the radar for the directorial cred Paul Thomas Anderson and Terrence Malick carry with them, but Venice's most promising feature comes from a less renowned expert director. Olivier Assayas may be on the outside of common knowledge, but the sublime "Summer Hours" and insane thrills of "Carlos" have put him on the map, even if audiences aren't quite headed his way yet. His latest, "Something in the Air" is receiving something of a mixed reaction, not in that it is a "love it or hate it" affair, but that the most prevalent complaint has been of less than astounding characters. Praise is still going inexorably towards Assayas, and it's worth stating that this will be one to watch for, even if simply in passing.
Justin Chang (Variety): "Decidedly not revolutionary cinema, "Something in the Air" instead quietly demystifies its subject. The tone of the piece is wryly affectionate but never indulgent; the experiences depicted feel emotionally true and lived-in without ever catching the viewer up in a rush of intoxication or excitement. Eschewing the handheld restlessness of Assayas' recent films, d.p. Eric Gautier's luminous, sun-dappled compositions remain as steady as the editing by Luc Barnier and Mathilde Van de Moortel, which compounds the film's slightly muted feel with regular fade-ins and fade-outs."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

VENICE 2012: "To the Wonder" stuns, but why the booing?

I don't think anybody truly expected Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" to be received in a negative fashion on the critical front, but what the hell is with the booing over in Venice? Even at my most blatantly pissed off, I never express vocal disappointment at a film screening. As a matter of fact, I don't say a word, letting the film get all the attention from everyone in the audience as I can give. The reviews that have found their way to us since the film's screening in Venice have been quite resoundingly positive, so the reason for all this booing is beyond me. All the same, a film that retrieves such a vocal response from a room of "professionals" almost immediately demands attention.
Guy Lodge (In Contention): "One could wonder why a director as famously indifferent to actors (and commerce) as Malick -- Rachel Weisz's role, incidentally, has been given the old Adrien Brody heave-ho here -- continues to hire such big-name actors. (You might think he of all directors would be in favor of non-pro casts.) The combined attractiveness of this star quartet runs the risk of making the film's least integrated or resonant sequences -- those in which Bardem wearily calls on all manner of buck-toothed, poverty-stricken local parishioners -- the teeniest bit condescending to boot. Even this faint absurdity, however, seems parcelled up in Malick's restless, tender, unfashionable quest for beauty in its highest physical and spiritual forms." 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

VENICE 2012: "The Master" unveils to resounding positivity

The word's been out on Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for nearly a month now, thanks to some less than covert 70 mm screenings intended to get it seen first in its proper format. This morning saw "The Master"'s more or less official premiere in Venice, which brings the already positive word further to the front of the conversation. In two weeks the film will have its release in New York and Los Angeles before expanding to the rest of us the following Friday, but the encouraging, if somewhat beguiled, reaction to the film makes the short wait a more manageable feat. 
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter): "In a film overflowing with qualities but also brimming with puzzlements, two things stand out: the extraordinary command of cinematic technique, which alone is nearly enough to keep a connoisseur on the edge of his seat the entire time, and the tremendous portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman of two entirely antithetical men, one an unlettered drifter without a clue, the other an intellectual charlatan who claims to have all the answers. They become greatly important to each other and yet, in the end, have an oddly negligible mutual effect. The magesterial style, eerie mood and forbidding central characters echo Anderson's previous film, There Will Be Blood, a kinship furthered by another bold and discordant score by Jonny Greenwood."

Friday, August 31, 2012

VENICE 2012: Bahrani's "At Any Price" receives positivity, despite booing

As the Venice slate slowly starts ramping up, the critical reactions we have received in the meantime have largely been a conflicted thing. It started with a mildly despondent reaction to Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", and continues today with a more positivity tinted reaction to a film that has already been met with "boo"s. That happens to be Ramin Bahrani's heavily American "At Any Price", starring an unlikely cast of Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, and Heather Graham. When a festival feature is met with vocal or physical negativity, such as those who felt the need to leave the "Alps" screening last year, I rarely go in the other direction. The reviews too haven't given as much reason to avoid as reason to adjust expectations, which were malleable in the first place.
Justin Chang (Variety): "The fastidiousness of this sociological inquiry is undeniably impressive, even if it sometimes puts a stranglehold on spontaneity, as in the emergence of a dark third-act twist. The way Bahrani deals with the fallout is at once vaguely unsatisfying and admirably bold in its lack of moral resolution, casting a long shadow of deceit and injustice over the sun-dappled pastoral imagery that closes the picture. Yet the film's truer, more generous heart may rest in an earlier sequence of the characters singing the National Anthem together, their off-key voices isolated one by one, an authentic expression of faith in a community's ability to weather any storm."

Weekend Forecast: "Lawless" leads a decreasing slate

Though this weekend touts one of the more pleasant surprises of the past couple months, it is something rather thin in terms of encouraging options at the multiplex. If by now you've already seen "ParaNorman" and "Lawless", and you're still looking for fresh mainstream options, you may very well be out luck. Of course "Lawless" only took in just over $2 million these past two days, so I will assume most are still uninitiated in the positive offerings of the feature. I've already effused on this rural slice of good-time entertainment, though I assume most will still turn a cold shoulder to the gangster film, leading to a sturdy, though not spectacular, box office take.

So where else to go than to another typical horror flick in "The Possession". It saddens me to think that is where the momentum is heading this labor day. As much as films like "The American" and "The Constant Gardener" got more appropriate exposure here than elsewhere, it's been more positive to films like the "Halloween" remake and "Transporter 2". Expect most to tune into the Jeffrey Dean Morgan starring horror offering, though not a massive amount. Labor Day still isn't that major a holiday to merit blockbuster considerations.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Film Review: "Lawless"

No wonder Cannes didn't warm to John Hillcoat's latest, beyond the simple feeling that it's cut from the crop of Sundance. "Lawless" is the anti-gangster film, at least in that the confident and macho persona that most characters of this film take on is more of a smokescreen for some honestly pathetic human weakness. Don't let the "true story" prestige fool you, as this is much more an adaptation of a novel than it is the story of the Bondurant brothers. Shia Labeouf's commemorative narration gives assurances of that from the beginning, and calls to mind another narrator propelled feature from a year ago, "The Help".

That unlikely feature would go on to Oscar glory, which is more than can be expected from "Lawless". That's not to say that Hillcoat's latest is lacking in comparison. In fact quite the opposite, in much the same way as films like "Drive" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" were too genre oriented for the Academy's taste. Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (who also scores the film) are not intent on thrusting the audience into the world of prohibition-era in a rural landscape. This isn't conventionally a history lesson, which would probably pin the film's more exciting inclinations and rob it of a degree of intensity.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Films to see in 2012: September

September again, and you know what that means. Back to school, the fall festivals, and the full fledged kickoff of the Oscar film season. Today (August 29th) gets things moving in that third category with "Lawless", though it's become rather unlikely for that film to hold interest all the way to nominations morning. Next weekend pulls the month in with just as tepid a slate of releases, mostly (if not entirely) consisting of "The Words", a Bradley Cooper-Jeremy Irons drama about stolen glory. That seems much more sympathetic an awards play than this week's bid, and I can't imagine it prospering in box office or critical interest.

The following weekend should prove profitable in terms of box office returns, as it brings horror-action sequel "Resident Evil: Retribution" and the 3D re-release of Pixar classic "Finding Nemo". Not taking a look at the latter is unimaginable, given not only the emotional rollercoaster it consistently offers on repeat viewings, but to see how the visuals translate to a 3D representation. Another 3D offerings that I confess myself guilty of wanting desperately to see is "Dredd 3D", a film which has every reason to be awful, and yet has a promising genre quality to it. It seems the sort of project which could either turn out like "Legion" or "Immortals", or some conflicted combination of both. I expect the third option, but hope for the second.

VENICE 2012: Mira Nair's "Reluctant Fundamentalist" expectantly fizzles

The opening night feature at Venice Film Festival this year lost any weight or anticipation attached to it when it was announced that Mira Nair's latest, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", would fill the spot. Last year wasn't exactly spectacular, but you could do a lot worst than the atmospherics of George Clooney's "The Ides of March". Ringing in the festival with a primarily negative response is rarely an encouraging notion, and I'll admit that I have worrisome suspicions regarding the rest of the festival. All those aside, at some point things will be picking up in some way. I can't imagine any of the three major European festivals without even a single resounding standout.
Guy Lodge (In Contention): The Mira Nair of "Mississippi Masala" would have found sufficient dramatic fire and urgency in the protagonist's ample personal conflicts with his family, his colleagues and his lover to make such a stakes-raising gambit redundant; as it is, all the film's characters are straw men in an argument as promisingly heated and finally un-nuanced as those between Anna Paquin's naively righteous Lisa and an opposingly impassioned Middle Eastern classmate in Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." That, incidentally, is a film that spoke no less provocatively, and a lot more subtly, about the see-sawing burdens of guilt and martyrdom in post-9/11 America -- without ever being as strenuously About Things as Nair's sporadically stimulating misfire."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

OSCAR 2012: Borne back ceaselessly into the past

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master".
It comes with a certain panic that I must inform you all that the fall festival season is set to kick off any moment now with goings on in Venice set to start very soon. The season often comes with something of a ruckus, but this year seems wholly preoccupied with Cannes, at least in the respect that the May festival didn't offer much to blow this year's slate open. Last summer coasted through with the general knowledge that "The Artist" would be a relative frontrunner in the race, and... well, it won. I've spent much time mulling over the events of Cannes this year in attempt to find potential candidates for the races this year, and if we come up short on first half year nominees, it wouldn't be the first time.

That's putting it lightly, since last year had a rather unprecedented three Cannes debuts nominated for Best Picture. Previous year would be lucky to get just one, mostly due to original five nominee ballot, but in the past three years of expanded category, Cannes has had notably little effect in proceedings. If the 2012 awards season takes a similar trait, I wouldn't be thoroughly surprised, though I do expect a few Cannes premieres to infiltrate the Best Picture race this year. The most obvious one, which I previously went on at length about its chances, would be Wes Anderson's independent hit "Moonrise Kingdom". That simply seems like one for the heart, which should appeal to the Academy in the same way "The Artist" did last year.

Quick Takes: "ParaNorman", "Miss Bala", "About Cherry", "Kung Fu Panda 2"

"ParaNorman" (First Viewing)
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

That "ParaNorman" entered theaters with a mark against it for not being what "Coraline" was speaks to hint of insightful irony that comes into play for the film. It is, after all, about people who become chastised for being different, some in ways crueler than you would expect for an animated feature. I didn't walk into this with terribly high expectations, which was due largely to a juvenile pair of trailers that emphasized the film's seemingly hollow comedic values. All those judgments go out the window in the first moments of the film, showing a high camp zombie flick that's rife with inconsistencies and errors, and intentionally so.

"ParaNorman" has a very different feel from what "Coraline" was doing. The 2009 film from Laika benefited heavily from Neil Gaiman's boundless imagination fuelling a frightening design aspect to the film. The new film from Laika goes retro and pulpy with its scares, because it is mainly a comedy which has zombies in it as a function of its storytelling. It's working off of stereotypes, something usually frowned upon in cinema, but it works them in a way that's funny, endearing, and offers some mature twists on them. That raises a question of the film's content, which is comically of a more mature brand, but offers some legitimately terrifying moments.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Box Office Report: "Expendables" tops summer weak-end

If you take this weekend's box office statistics at face value, they come off as rather abysmal. That's largely to blame on the lack of appealing options in theaters this weekend. I cautioned that this weekend would be an unfortunate grind through the remaining fodder of the summer. I didn't expect that not a single new release would make it into the top five slots. "The Expendables 2" safely won the weekend, though it didn't hold particularly well, as was the case with its predecessor. I'd place odds against it matching the $100 million take of the first film, and would be surprised if it struggled its way to $80 million.

"The Bourne Legacy" continues to hold second, which still disqualifies it from being a failure, but it pales heavily in comparison to previous installments in the franchise. "ParaNorman" didn't hold nearly as well as "Coraline", as was expected, but it maintained better than "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" did back in April. "The Dark Knight Rises" is still doing rather well on its way out of the summer, and seems likely to slowly eke its way to $450 million. Earlier dreams of breaking new box office ground were scattered away the morning of its release, but it's performed admirably given everything going against it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weekend Forecast: Summer ends with empty "Rush"

August has somehow managed to avoid losing steam entirely before Summer comes to its actual close, until now anyway. This weekend descends pretty deeply into what we've come to expect from this last month of the hot season, which is crass action, cash-out comedy, and amateur horror. Leading the pack is "Premium Rush", the bicycle action flick which honestly caught my interest slightly on the mention of Michael Shannon, but seems to have fizzled out. It's likely to be the main attraction this weekend, especially considering Joseph Gordon-Levitt's recent credentials as "Robin", but I wouldn't expect fruitful returns.

Even less enthusiastic is "The Apparition", a scare-of-the-week pic starring Tom Felton and Ashley Greene of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" fame, respectively. Don't expect either of those to be enough to drag people into the theaters. Lastly on the mainstream end is "Hit and Run", which I had the painful misfortune of catching a trailer for. The thing that caught my eye most was the insistent hashtag in the corner of the screen. We have prosaically found rock bottom for the medium of cinematic promotion. The action-comedy has already tanked its opening day without even clearing $1 million. I'd expect a weekend take that doesn't even reach $5 million.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Zadan & Meron to produce 85th Oscar telecast

About a month after we got the producer pot stirring in terms of who would be ideal for this year's Oscar telecast, the Academy has again chosen for style over substance. Not that that's a terribly bad thing, and I personally consider this recent news rather fortunate. Neil Moren and Craig Zadan, most popularly known for producing the original 1984 "Footloose", Adam Shankman's "Hairspray", and the NBC hit "Smash", are actually quite ideal choices to helm this year's Oscar telecast. The Academy has always had a tendency to hire teams known for a certain extravagance, given the 2009 telecast produced by Bill Condon of "Dreamgirls" fame was met with an interesting amount of glee.

The instinct is to shrug when a group of musical producers are put on a show meant to celebrate film, but the telecast has, in recent years, been rather deprived of razzle-dazzle. The most current memory of such a feeling came with the 2010 show, when a group of dancers were choreographed to the original score nominees. I think that knowledge of stage presence and theatrical excitement will fit the telecast like a glove, and perhaps give us the most entertaining show since 2008. Now the only question that remains is who will host the event. Your guess is as good as mine, but given the announcement, I'd place hard money on Daniel Radcliffe. Honestly, how would that not be a ridiculously fun show?

Monday, August 20, 2012

On Tony Scott...

UPDATE: Tony Scott is currently reported to not have had inoperable brain cancer.

When something as horrible as death occurs close to the cultural mindset, my first fear is that people will pollute the air with gross comedic jabs. That's generally what I expected with the news of Tony Scott's reported suicide this morning, since Scott is far from what you'd claim to be a master filmmaker. In past years I have written him off as one to avoid, since both "Unstoppable" and "The Taking of Pelham 123" left me not just cold, but reeling from a battered headache. Those films are a distinguished part of what made his name as a director, which is a certain stylistic sensibility that pushed action to full-throttle, no matter how the audience liked it.

It does me good to see people focusing on the good in Tony Scott's career, with "Crimson Tide", "Top Gun", and "True Romance" coming to the front of the conversations in his favor. Scott had 16 features to his name at the time of his death, which isn't so much of an oppressive thing for the fact that there is an apparent explanation for it. Scott had been supposedly diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and it appears he decided to do something about it. Not as some condoning of his methods, but jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles is one hell of a way to go. In death as in life, Scott pushed things to the edge, for better or worst.

Quick Takes: "Polisse", "The Kid with a Bike", "I Wish"

"Polisse" (First Viewing)
Directed by Maiwenn

"Polisse" opens with a table conversation where two untarnished young girls promise to always tell the truth. This is a mission statement that director Maiwenn was wise to take to heart, given that across the film's two hours are a handful of truly unnerving scenes that brings across the serious tragedy that the French Child Protection Unit deals with every day. These are not mere creations of the director's emotional whims, but taken from real cases that Maiwenn does well to recreate for the audience. Much like a commoner who is visiting the offices for a short period, these scenes come across as invasively piercing evidence of things we haven't the experience to understand; only the heart to cry for.

Child abuse is doubtlessly the heaviest topic that is dealt with in "Polisse", and the cases are given rather thorough and aggressive attention, though not by writer-director Maiwenne. Her characters do much of what we'd like to do, which is to express outrage overtly towards these horrible individuals. As for the film itself, it takes on a much more procedural approach to these events. There must have been more than twenty different cases shown throughout the film, and not all of them hit right at the heart the way others do. The abundance of these events nearly dulls the shock of some of the films more expressive moments. As focused as Maiwenn may be to get these events the proper audience, some would have been better left to the cutting room floor.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Box Office Report: "Expendables" rules boys' weekend

Cleanly sliding in place as August-sized blockbuster of the week, "The Expendables 2" had little trouble landing top placement at the box office this weekend. The action extravaganza had more going against it than its predecessor, which had at least the spark of the (relatively) new, and took in nearly $6 million less in its first three days. That may not be such a negative sign for the second installment in the Stallone-led franchise, since audiences heading into the film knew very well what they were in for this time around. Considering the sequel got more positive opinions from critics, or at least more understanding, expect this film to hold well as the summer soldiers on.

The other three debuts fared less significantly, with the strongest of the batch being stop-motion children's horror "ParaNorman". Scoring nearly $3 million less than Laika's last stop-motion adventure, "Coraline", it did manage an impact greater than "The Pirates! Band of Misfits". I suspect "Frankenweenie" will end up the strongest of this year's three stop-motion projects at the box office, but "ParaNorman" could make a decent earnings if it holds up as well as "Coraline" did. I have certain doubts, given critics have more reservations against this one than they did with Henry Selick's 2009 film.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Weekend Forecast: All competition is "Expendables"

The summer blockbuster heat had unanimously died down after "The Dark Knight Rises" unusually anticlimactic first week, but there have still been a slew of wannabe actioners that have been trying to keep it alive. "The Bourne Legacy" has had a fair degree more success in that aspiration than "Total Recall" and "The Watch" have, but each new option for male audiences seems to take attention away from its predecessor. "The Expendables 2" doesn't have the franchise intelligence that "Bourne" had going for it, but that's hardly a necessity with so many 80s action icons proliferating the screen. It almost qualifies overkill if the film actually has aesthetic depth.

Since the box office majority will likely go the way of the mega-action sequel, audiences can expect smaller returns on the three other wide releases this weekend. The most promising in terms of audience affection is "Sparkle", long gaining buzz as Whitney Huston's last screen appearance. I admittedly have a place in my heart for pop-propelled cinema, but not without a genuine sense of care. I don't see it in "Sparkle", though I could end up proven wrong in time. Another significant release I have rather heavy doubts on is "ParaNorman", previously placed as my most anticipated film of the month. Excessive marketing since then has pushed it as a senselessly juvenile animated feature, rather than a piece of outstanding and terrifying originality like Laika's previous feature, "Coraline".

Thursday, August 16, 2012

NYFF's lineup digs Baumbach, Haneke, and Assayas

After a week of slowly revealing the three exclusive premieres of their festival, New York Film Festival has now unveiled the Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, and Venice scattered main slate for their 50th run. Amongst the already announced primary three, "Life of Pi", "Not Fade Away", and "Flight", also chosen for this year's festival are Cannes champion "Amour", Christian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills", Leos Carax's apparent fireball of "Holy Motors", and Pablo Larrain's universally acclaimed "No". Also of close interest from Cannes is "Like Someone in Love", a film that split critics decisively at Cannes, which promises an experience that's captivating at minimum.

From Berlin this year are "Barbara", "Caesar Must Die" (No, it's still not a sequel to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), and "Tabu", the last of which has had quite a few very outspoken champions. Out of Toronto are quite a few interspersed foreign features, plenty of which are likely to emerge as prominent candidates for this year's Foreign Language Film race. Fixed along with them are Noah Baumbach's rather secretive new project "Frances Ha", which instantly receives my attention based on up-and-comer Greta Gerwig's central role in the film. Less interesting is Oscar bait "Hyde Park of Hudson", which seems all too much like the "Albert Nobbs" of this year.

"Bullhead" director Roskam takes "The Tiger"

Michael R. Roskam (left) alongside Matthias Schoenaerts (right).
Among the less deplorable selections of this past year's Academy Awards nominations was the Foreign Language Film selection, which featured more intriguing picks than simply the magnificent winner that was "A Separation". There are still a handful of black marks in "Footnote" and "In Darkness", but there wasn't much cynicism to be had over "Monsieur Lazhar" or "Bullhead". The latter has gained a reputation as the unofficial runner-up of the award, all while giving a fair amount of press for star Matthias Schoenaerts, and more recently for director Michael R. Roskam. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker is now preparing to make a long-term name for himself.

"The Tiger", a project once meant for Darren Aronofsky before he turned himself onto "Noah", will now move forward with Roskam at the helm. Aronofsky is still in place as producer, along with Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Ari Handel, Mark Heyman and Jeremy Kleiner. "Bullhead" has been an object of desire to me for some time, not only due to lead Schoenaerts part in Cannes debut "Rust and Bone", but because it seems to be of a distinct visual style, as well as a certain brutality. Give the plot description attached to "The Tiger", Roskam sounds as fitting a decision as any to take it forward. I'd even indulge him as a far-off Best Director nominee when the time and film is right. Take a look at a basic plot description from the book after the jump!

"10 Years" trailer pushes breakout ensemble

To say that "10 Years" is the final lynchpin in the year of Channing Tatum might turn out to be true, but the trailer pitches it more strongly as an intentional ensemble piece. A high school reunion flick, the film pushes Tatum alongside Justin Long, Kate Mara, Chris Pratt, Brian Geraghty, Anthony Mackie, Rosario Dawson, Aubrey Plaza, but perhaps most interesting of all being Oscar Isaac. The actor has been in the post for a major surge in his career to push him towards definite stardom, not unlike many of the other actors featured in this film.

Kate Mara has been making her way with small roles since coming closest to the public eye in "127 Hours". Chris Pratt has tempered his comedic work with dramatic stabs in "Moneyball" and the upcoming "Zero Dark Thirty". Brian Geraghty has been pretty much MIA since a strong breakthrough with "The Hurt Locker", also featuring Anthony Mackie. "10 Years" feels like a film meant to do one thing, that being to nudge these worthy actors ever so closer to the spotlight, and it seems to be doing it in a supremely "nice" way. I can see it playing with audiences much the same way "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" did. Take a look at the trailer after the jump!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NYFF brings "Not Fade Away" for centerpiece premiere

Barely two days ago it was announced what the opening and closing films for the 50th New York Film Festival would be, to much rapturous anticipation given they brought the premieres of Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" and Robert Zemeckis' "Flight". In contemplation on the two choices, they go hand in hand with directors going in bold new directions. While Ang Lee is embracing romantic 3D vistas and crowd-pleasing blockbuster inclinations, Robert Zemeckis is heading back to his live-action roots with an intriguing drama with legal strings to it.

As such, the centerpiece film begs a similar attempt to break new ground, and in a way the festival has kept to that running theme. Far from a bid towards putting debut filmmakers in the spotlight, David Chase has found a stronger cinematic outlet than most in his much acclaimed series "The Sopranos". Now he makes a rather late career entrance into feature filmmaking with "Not Fade Away", a project whose only inkling of plot description remains "a young man's coming-of-age in the 60s". It's certainly a move that will get people talking, but also one with a certain degree of trepidation attached to it.

"Seven Psychopaths" trailer goes crazy on Hollywood

I doubt there's another film out this fall that has my attention quite like "Seven Psychopaths" does. Coming from the writer/director of what more and more seems like my favorite film of 2008, "In Bruges", Martin McDonagh is not far off from making a name for himself as a comedic writer with heavily emotional direction. Joining Colin Farrell this time is a much more American cast of more indie-drawn standouts including Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, and Zeljko Ivanek.

The plot of a group of dog-nappers turned onto a murderous gangster is a rather hysterical one, and it's already seeming likely for a writer's commentary on American cinema's obsession with fluffy animals to ensue. If not for the fantastic cast, I am waiting to see how McDonagh shifts our expectations in a more daring and emotionally satisfying way as he did so shockingly (delightfully) with "In Bruges". I do hope "Seven Psychopaths" delivers where too many full-blown comedies this year have fallen heavily short. Take a look at the trailer after the jump!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quick Takes: "Bambi", "Detachment", "Mirror Mirror", "Bourne Ultimatum"

"Bambi" (1st Viewing)
Directed by David Hand

Less than two weeks past my 25 Greatest Films of All Time list, and I'm already reconsidering certain selections. For example, I suspect next year will see a marginal decrease for "The Illusionist" in lieu of its place being taken up by this more seasoned of animated delights. It's not to say "Bambi" decreases Sylvain Chomet's recent masterwork in any degree, but I can only admit a "Greatest of All Time" list is still a work in progress for me. There are blind spots to be filled, and I can't even begin to comprehend that this was one of them for so long. Who hasn't seen "Bambi", right? While I do have faint memories of childhood, they don't stand the test of time as well as recent experiences.

Something that strikes you in the first moments of the film is how layered the illustrations of these woods are, beyond simple cardboard cutout movements. The way the trees move as perspective changes is a thing of extreme beauty that no other traditional animation Disney flick has quite achieved. As years progressed, the composition of animated pictures has become very stationary and simple, whereas in "Bambi" so much is moving with the action. There's a big to-do in the first five minutes of the film that has all the animals in motion. It brings us into this graceful world with such vim and life. In replacement of overt magic, Disney has given us a more natural wonder to behold.

NYFF taps "Life of Pi" as opener; "Flight" as closer

I've been slowly eking my way into the festival circuit over the past couple years, mostly with brief and not-terribly-thriving trips to Portsmouth, NH for their annual Telluride by the Sea redux of the Colorado festival. As much as I enjoy the atmosphere, they only ever have one standout, or even entirely solid, film on display, in past years playing host to "The Illusionist" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin". While I'll doubtlessly check out the one or two worthwhile films suspect to hit the fest this year, I have my much more ambitious sights set for the biggest festival on the east coast. That's right. This year has me rearing to go to New York Film Festival.

Of course that process can only be helped along by the choosing of outstanding films to make up its program. It'll be a short while before we get the full listing, but they've hinted at what the overall feel of the fest will be by announcing the film kicking off events. Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" is set to have its world premiere as opening up the festival, a move which has everybody kicking with anticipation at what else is on tap for the festivities. Lee's film has already been praised for the gorgeous visuals of its trailer alone, though how it stacks up for a feature length film is really what matters. I wouldn't caution him to worry, since his film is already a shoo-in for Oscar glory.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Box Office Report: "Bourne" starts a short legacy

The Summer box office season may be finding a kind of resurgence in itself, even if it comes at the cost of quality cinema. I'm speaking of course of the latest installment in the Jason Bourne franchise, which almost entirely disassociates itself from what made the first three films so thrilling. Tony Gilroy simply doesn't have Paul Greengrass' style, and the box office shows audiences aren't quite buying the franchise turnaround. Sure, "The Bourne Legacy" had a stronger-than-usual opening, but didn't bring at all the same numbers as its predecessors had. I imagine things only going more mildly from here on, much to my dismay.

Will Ferrell comedy "The Campaign", in the meantime, has been playing up the market elsewhere to similar effect. By that I mean the allure is more enticing than what people end up seeing, with many disappointed in how uninspired and not particularly entertaining it was. Once again, sight unseen, but the trailers paint a reliable enough picture of how dismissible this film is. "Hope Springs" is the only film this weekend that's even slightly rewarding viewers what they came to see, that being a light comedy with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. It's simple, unambitious, and maybe even a viable option. It's performing adequately as usual. Overall, this weekend didn't bring the box office back to where it was a year ago, with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "The Help" giving the market an optimistic boost.

Friday, August 10, 2012

TOP 5 SHOTS from "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

It's official. I'm out of excuses for not bringing this column back, be it with less of a bang than a slight ease-in, so another welcome to the retooled "Top Shots". You may have noticed in prior lists that the amount of dynamic shots has a potential to vary from film to film. Occasionally, I'm just stretching to a ridiculous point to bring ten shots in, so having a sense of rotation in the list is as freeing as it is stressful. Not having an extra five shots to lean back on means much more care in picking five for the top, so this week felt the need for something that wasn't so incredibly overbearing in terms of numerous cinematic opportunities.

Seeing as "The Bourne Legacy" is out this weekend, which not only features star Jeremy Renner, but also cinematographer Robert Elswit, the choice for this week wasn't just obvious. It was delightful, given it's a film I have no problem seeing repeatedly. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" made the cut for my Top 20 of 2011 literally under the wire, given an update to replace "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" at #20 for something I genuinely had a great deal more encouragement towards. It's a film that not only knows how to have a ridiculously good time, but to evoke some tangible emotional themes throughout that the casual viewer might overlook.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

OSCAR 2012: Pre-Fall films spark enduring interest

It's been a particularly dry patch at the theaters, given that it's been more than a month since wide release yielded any particular gems. The last new release I caught in theaters was "The Dark Knight Rises", and somehow that just didn't light a fire for the end of summer. Even a handful of my most anticipated films of this month are already falling from grace. "The Bourne Legacy" seems to be receiving a universal yawn from critics wondering how this story couldn't have booted up into an entirely new franchise. I caught a preview for "ParaNorman" recently that entirely doused my interest in the film, which seems to be trading heavily in hollow and substance-less wit rather than genuine magic.

So I've taken the time to revisit some rather positive cinematic revelations of the recent past, and it's beginning to show how much of a splash these films could make in the awards season conversation. We're bound to see one or two films not meet expectations, but on the most part the fall slate is seeming to have a pretty massive hold on the Academy's interest. "Argo", "Les Miserables", "Life of Pi", "Lincoln", and "The Master" remain prominent figures on the schedules, and we'll see rises and falls depending on how those play with audiences and critics. But there are more than a few films from this first half of the year that I suspect will figure into the conversation more than they have been.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Warner Bros. pushes "Great Gatsby" to 2013

Warner Bros. is playing a very confusing game with their year-end films, and not a particularly comforting one. Wise, it may very well be, but the studio seems to be in a position of prolonging their stream of 2012 films. The studio had long ago pushed Alfonso Cuaron's much anticipated "Gravity" into the 2013 netherworld, without even the comfort of a release date. "The Gangster Squad" was pushed back so the studio could do reshoots on a scene involving a cinema shooting, which they deemed too insensitive so shortly after the Aurora shootings. Now they are taking one of my most highly anticipated flicks of the year's latter half and sending it into Summer of the following year.

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby", by all known accounts, would be ready for its original Christmas release date, though Warner Bros. has been massively retooling their year-end schedule ahead of the rest of the crowd. The move to Summer could be for a couple of reasons, one I mostly suspect being the success of counter-intuitive Soderbergh smash "Magic Mike". That environment is a strong area for such pop heavy films, and the imagery of Baz Luhrmann really speaks for that kind of energy. In general, Baz has seemed more in tune with the summer feeling than the critical rush of winter.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Box Office Report: "Recall" falters as cinema recovers

It's been a solid two weeks since I tuned in on the box office, for the most part because it's had quite a downward tumble in the wake of the Aurora shootings. It was expected that we'd have a dry rest of the season following "The Dark Knight Rises", but audiences have generally felt rather shy and hesitant regarding cinematic endeavors of recent weeks. Out of lack of options, I only revisited the theater recently, all to share the experience of "Magic Mike" with somebody else. It feels like the trip to see a movie has taken on a greater symbolic meaning, as it's about the act of sharing with somebody, amongst a theater of similarly bound individuals.

Thus it makes sense that "Total Recall" didn't really call out to audiences as joyous experience to share. Perhaps on some father-son level, but outside the male crowd, I don't see this playing too widely. Even there, most guys are still experiencing "The Dark Knight Rises", which is growing a few stronger legs than it initially had. The weight of critical disappointment and the unfortunate event that introduced it to theaters took its toll in a very frontloaded fashion. That's working to the film's advantage now, as some stragglers are coming along to it, and if for no other reason than not having better options, plenty are revisiting.

Friday, August 3, 2012

THE LISTS: Duncan's 25 Greatest Films of All Time

Two days ago marked the enormous milestone of Sight and Sound Magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. It wasn't quite a matter of what was most at the top, and more of what was on the most Top 10 lists. Given that, it's rather unsurprising what landed at the top, given that it's a much more unanimously acclaimed film than "Citizen Kane", which has suffered from a "top dog fatigue" that most associate it with. Being hailed as the end-all-be-all of cinema takes away some of the wonder from it, like you're not coming upon something fresh for you specifically. It becomes a corporatized experience instead of a personal one. For that reason, "Citizen Kane" just didn't figure into my Top 10, or even 25.

But hey, it's a personal list after all. Not everyone operates under the same criteria, and nobody sticks with the same criteria on every approach at a list. Egregious amounts of ranking with years, decades, and trying to meld those two lists together, ultimately fell apart to a rather hollow and uninteresting list. Going film-by-film asking "Is this better than this?", quickly grew rather tiresome and became an overwhelming chore. A list like this shouldn't come across so mechanically, and it should be a pleasant experience in arriving on certain films rising to the front. So I attempted for a much simpler, far less foolproof approach.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Vertigo" is the Greatest Film of All Time (According to Sight & Sound)

It's been something close to common knowledge that the publicly agreed upon "best film of all time" has been "Citizen Kane" for a long time. It takes years of consideration, along with enough sheer will, to change an opinion as public as that, but Sight & Sound made a strong case this year for a little variety. Hell, a lot of variety if we're going to be perfectly honest. Their once-a-decade poll of critics and directors has brought two films to the fore as rockers of "Citizen Kane"s strong, and well earned foundation. On the critics side of things, Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" supplanted Orson Welles' film for the top spot, with 17 less years on its hands, but still 50+ years old.

Given my recently discovered adoration of Hitchcock's rather unexpected gem of a film, this turn of events struck me as quite pleasant. On the director's side of things, Yasuhiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story", which I have regrettably not found occasion to see, snagged the top spot away from "Kane". The director's branch reads with a lot more recognizable cinematic icons, like "The Godfather" and "Taxi Driver", while the critics list is filled with films of the 20s and 30s, with "2001: A Space Odyssey" the most recent film on the list. Film of the future, indeed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

OSCAR 2012: Calling all potent telecast directors!

Mary Poppins' abound in the Danny Boyle
produced Olympics opening ceremony
We're likely just on the outside of people starting to wonder when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are going to pick out their producer(s), and then subsequently host, for the 85th Annual Academy Awards telecast. Usually the latter is the talk of the net, but equally, and actually even more important is the producer behind the show. We all know the kerfuffle that ensued last year on behalf of Brett Ratner's ill-timed comments that forced him and Eddie Murphy out of proceedings. It is kind of a shame, because I would have liked to see what Eddie Murphy would have done with that opportunity. Less interested in Ratner, but that thing passed for a reason.

Brian Grazer and Don Mischer produced this past year's show, which wasn't really that unpleasant a thing if we're to be perfectly honest. A bit predictable, corny, and safe even, but it was still a brisk and enjoyable night of celebration, and the only major letdown had to do with somebody winning an award which rightfully belonged to another. Billy Crystal was the right choice for where the Academy was at that point in time, calling back to its past in an exuberant manner, and making us all feel generally at home. It was, or at least it should be, a gentle goodbye to what was difficult time in the history of the awards ceremony.

Films to see in 2012: August

July brought the excitement of this summer to an odd climax with "The Dark Knight Rises", a film hampered by horrible publicity very close to its release. And so common knowledge tells us that the summer is now in for a drawn out and stalled conclusion, but there is something radically compelling about the films that make up the last month of the season. Obviously there are some hairs out of place here and there, but there are a lot of interesting films teeming not below the surface, but right out there for people to see. The month starts out silly and ridiculous with kiddie threequel "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" and much debated sci-fi action remake "Total Recall".

The following week continues that trend of lighthearted filmmaking (or not) via broad political comedy "The Campaign", honestly unregistered rom-com "Hope Springs", and Julie Delpy's comedic indie flick "2 Days in New York". Dead in the middle of the following week is "The Odd Life of Timothy Green", bringing further career work to Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, who by the way deserve way more work than they've been getting. "The Expendables 2" lights up the broader end of box office for masculine crowds, and the late Whitney Houston's last film, "Sparkle", is likely to do the same for the female crowd.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quick Takes: "Ted", "Chronicle", "The Gold Rush", "Battleship Potemkin"

"Chronicle"
Directed by Josh Trank

Over the past few years, "found footage" has emerged most fully in the mainstream as a manipulative and tired tool for horror thrills, most effectively used in films like "Paranormal Activity", "Cloverfield", and most especially "The Blair Witch Project". This year in particular seemed to bleed them out of every orifice in the first three months, so much so that the "found footage superhero movie" just felt like another feature to throw in the pile. And so it stood for several months, and then when it was mentioned amongst the top 3 films of the year thus far according to Justin Jagoe and Alex Carlson of Film Misery... well, I didn't have an excuse to moan about how it wasn't worth my time anymore.

What surprised me wasn't merely the fact that it was good, but that it used both the found footage and superhero genres in peak form. From the first moment of the film, you see the role in which the camera plays in these characters' lives, and it's becomes not merely a gimmick. The "Chronicle" of the film's title doesn't merely allude to that single camera, but the abundance of material that's made so publicly available for people to see. In the film's third act the style goes rampantly, exhilaratingly all over the place, jumping from cameras of different quality and purpose, moving freely between them as a jarring document.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's good about "The Dark Knight Rises"

I'm very interested in leaving behind Christopher Nolan's latest film altogether, since it's rather brazenly overstaying its welcome in internet talk sessions, particularly for somebody who is not at all taken with it. Personally, I feel the need to move on towards other, optimistically better, film experiences, but I've caught myself with a few notions on "The Dark Knight Rises" that quite honestly aren't too shabby. If for no other reason than to alleviate some of the hate that's come my way due to my own personal opinion, which still stands. Just as most people can't understand why I hate it so fervently, I can't understand what so many people find great about it, but not for lack of trying.

Take for example the opening six minutes that played in front of "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" half a year ago, which whet my appetite deliciously for what this film could be. I still maintain that it was a ridiculous and frankly overcomplicated scheme that served only to get this character, who is an absolutely cartoonish mad scientist. That doesn't stop it from being the lone example in the entire film of a true cinematic set piece, with some reservations. The sequence doesn't say a whole lot about the world these characters inhabit, other than the fact that the police and CIA are idiots. It doesn't come close to doing what The Joker announcement in "The Dark Knight" did, but it offers some legitimate and ambitious thrills that the rest of the film utterly fails on. Also, as a plus, the CIA agent looks like my uncle Joe, so that's something.

Mira Nair & "Looper" to open Venice & Toronto

The festival season is finally within a short breath, or a month depending on your emotional disposition this summer. It feels like the announcements of the films to open Venice and Toronto is long overdue, and I've been waiting for something grand at least when it comes to Venice. The past two years of "Black Swan" and "The Ides of March" could certainly have played host to far lesser films. Cannes too has opened rather fortunately these past two years, dealing in calm, relaxed, but spectacularly affectionate films. Unfortunately the opener for Venice this year does seem at all in keeping with the trend of strong dramatic fair, that is if we're going on simply the name value of Mira Nair.

Perhaps not immediately recognized, the Indian director is most recently known for the massive critical flop of "Amelia" back in 2009. The announcement of opening the festival with her latest film, titled "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", doesn't at all come as a pleasant notion. It kicks off the festival on a rather downtrodden note, if anything, and I'm fairly certain we'll be getting plenty reviews to that effect once late-August arrives. I could very well be wrong and operating on an assumption based on past knowledge of her work, but the title alone hints at something rather boorishly self-confident.

Box Office Report: "Dark Knight" rises amidst tragedy

No box office analysts could have predicted the turn this weekend would take, and everything stopped dead in its tracks when news came up from Friday morning. Box office statistic were thoughtfully abated until Monday, so as to not trivialize the tragic events looming over this weekend. Needless to say "The Dark Knight Rises" probably would have fared much better had none of this happened, with some saying it was on track for upwards of $200 million, stomping out "The Avengers"' stronghold over this summer. Christopher Nolan action flick still did rather well in comparison to ordinary releases, even if it didn't come close to setting records. Expect this film to just barely skip past $400 million by the end of its run.

Box office in general took a heavy dive this weekend; with scarcely a single film dropping below 50%. The two occasions in the top ten were "Brave", likely benefiting from the "go out and see a film without people you love" statement many pushed at the start of the weekend. "The Amazing Spider-Man" took the nastiest dive, smothering chances of it getting anywhere close to $300 million. "Ted" is seeming more and more like the success story of the summer, playing favorably with most crowds. Indie films "Moonrise Kingdom" and "To Rome With Love" continue to be some of the strongest holders on the box office.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Man of Steel" Teaser Trailer(s)

Accompanying "The Dark Knight Rises" this weekend was not merely one, but two teaser trailers for Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel". Which one you saw largely depends on what theater you went to, but it's more or less a crap shoot. The two trailers have the contrasting fatherly inspirations of Kevin Costner's Johnathan Kent and Russell Crowe's Jor-El, both speaking for choice and destiny in a rather interesting way. Given the imagery of Clark/Cal-El wandering almost aimlessly, could we be in for a Superman not landlocked to the protection of a city. Is this a series truly about a man serving as an inspiration for mankind to strive for? I am unusually optimistic concerning this film, plan on evading any further trailers, but remaining ever cautious as the film slowly approaches. We know what comes of inflated expectations.


With Russell Crowe:



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Film Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

I get tired of having to restate this opinion, but let me verify that I do not spend $15 to see a movie with the expectation, much less the intention, of hating it. Even with this particular film, against which this week has me particularly jaded, I went in with an open heart and a cautious mind, as I do with every film. When you get down to the bare skeleton of it, the film either has to be entertaining or compelling, which is something I can say both previous Batman films from Christopher Nolan did in unison. "Batman Begins" was stunning, insightful, and tightly plotted for the first 70 minutes, and "The Dark Knight" was a nonstop hammering of terrifying notions of terrorism, insanity, and political morality. Moreover, it was a complete piece of cinema, honest and deliberate in all its ideas.

Christopher Nolan has frequently stated that he always devotes himself to the film at hand, not thinking about the future and allowing for there not to be one after the film concludes. I assumed that would go both ways, with films not relying on past sympathy either. In respects to "The Dark Knight Rises", he breaks the promise that each of his films must stand on their own. However few people who go into this film with no previous knowledge of the series will be lost in rushed and extraneous story arcs. It doesn't work as a film on its own, but it doesn't trust the memory of the previous films. Alone, it's a string of plot details carried on from the first two films, but it doesn't tonally reconcile with the first two films in the slightest.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Radio silence...

In lieu of today's shootings in Aurora, Colorado, all planned articles have been postponed. Thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and loved ones of this senseless tragedy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quick Takes: "Rock of Ages", "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", "Haywire", "The Godfather"

"Rock of Ages" (***)
Directed by Adam Shankman

I teased this property feverishly in reference to Tom Cruise's film-owning performance as Stacie Jaxx, the rock star icon who serves symbolically to represent the dying light of rock and roll. What this film quite fervently and ridiculously protests is that while the time of rock and roll may be past, it is certainly not dead. Adam Shankman is the cinematic spokesperson for people foolishly chasing their dreams, having directed "Hairspray" and a couple episodes of "Glee", even. He's covered plenty of varying ground cinematically, given that most of his films do hold his staple gullible optimism against logic branding.

This film genuinely speaks for Shankman trying to find a leg into different, perhaps something darker waters, while sticking to his fun-seeking code. "Rock of Ages" does find its way into the story through a small town girl and a city boy, both of which are seeking stardom, but the music and adult characters take the baton from there. Tom Cruise is the exceptional piece of insane devotion that gives this film such a strong beating heart, but Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and Paul Giamatti['s mustache] all nail their high-on-rock-fumes comic beats perfectly. File this one in the growing pile marked "shouldn't work, but joyously does!"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Batman, Marshall Fine, and being a film critic

This morning dealt a harsh blow to Christopher Nolan's already overhyped "The Dark Knight Rises", and one which may prove decisively crippling before the week is out. The floodgates recently opened regarding reviews for the trilogy conclusion, and that paved the way for several positive, even ecstatic, reviews to come rushing in. The excitement, hype, and one can assume general quality of Nolan's film have given it the best reviews of Nolan's career. It's something that I rather hope he deserves, and I would like to preface all this with as many well wishes as I can. Nolan puts undeniable effort into his films, as most who saw the goings on behind "Inception" will attest.

However, there will always be at least one negative review in the mix, and this time it isn't coming from Armond White, but from Marshall Fine of Hollywood and Fine, a site which is currently down, either for maintenance or avoidance of negative outlash. Any review where comparisons are made to "Transformers" is bound to get a certain amount of hostility, but given the overeager excitement that has been ballooning over the past several weeks, Fine got special treatment. Users over at Rotten Tomatoes took to the comment boards with their outrage, as they often do, in defense of the film. Defense, in this case, is wishing that Fine's site be pummeled into the ground, and pushing death threats upon him.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Box Office Report: "Ice Age" melts as "Moonrise" rises

We may be getting stuck in the doldrums of summer, I fear. A weekend filled with films earning a lot of money is garnering merely a shrug out of me. Admittedly, that's much the way I am during the summer, with "Moonrise Kingdom" being the only success story that merits emotional resonance from me. The audience circus that is box office stats, while I occasionally enjoy commenting on it, wanes with the years as the sums get larger and real success seems a much smaller thing. For example, on some scale "The Amazing Spider-Man" is doing rather well. It's on its way toward $300 million by the end of its run. And yet not only is it meager in the face of the success of the original "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2", but it'll barely register by the year's end.

True box office achievements are stated by two things: 1) the exceptional quality of the film it belongs to ("Twilight" and "Hunger Games" do not count), and 2) contrast to the average box office of its type of film. Take "Moonrise Kingdom" for example, as usually indie films do not register with mainstream audiences. Not only is it continuing to fare extremely well throughout the summer, but it also happens to be Wes Anderson's most inspiring creation to date. Contrast that with "Ice Age: Continental Drift", which opened in line with its predecessors, sure, but nearly $15+ million below any of the other major animated openings this year. Add to that reviews similar to those of every other film in the franchise, we get something that's not all that interesting to comment on.