Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekend Forecast: "Magic Mike" preps to be a smash

Channing Tatum is prepping to storm the box office in a huge way this weekend, and everyone seems to have their backs turned to it. For caution's sake, I'm only going to predict "Magic Mike" to debut in the mid-40s, but I honestly believe that it's going to hit higher than that. There are a few things that inform that opinion, one being the $2 million it scored in midnight showings. For an R-rated "comedy", that's spectacular. It's also got Channing Tatum to its name, and the man has never been hotter in the audience eye. Between "The Vow" and "21 Jump Street", he has been making the rounds pretty well to get to this point. What it amounts to is the most potent release of his career. Add to that the fact that the film is absolute dynamite, and you're golden.

My heart tells me to expect that Soderbergh film to mint $50+ million this weekend. As for "Brave", expect it to still hold on spectacularly, seeing as there's nothing new for kids this weekend, unless they unadvisedly walk into "Ted" thinking it's something it's not. Talking of the McFarlane debut, I expect it will do pretty well with people looking for a more overt laugh-fest. It'll find an audience, as will "Medea's Witness Protection", which should find success with Tyler Perry's existing crowd of onlookers, though I speak purely in box office terms.

Film Review: "Take This Waltz" (****)

Putting aside notions of cinematic greatness briefly, it's rare for a truly delectable film to find its way to the surface, and even rarer for such a film to have a genuine kick to it. The last film I recall under similar circumstances was "Certified Copy", which went a long way with reviewers around my corner of the net. Before that, "White Material" is a film that got such a spectator's joy out of me. Both manage to deal with rather difficult emotional or social issues, but they're visually worthy of glorious visual consumption. "Take This Waltz" also finds its way along that path, be it with a much more scrumptious palette.

The film follows sweet Margot, played with childlike simplicity by the ever-lovable Michelle Williams, living in Toronto, Canada with her cookbook writer husband Lou, performed with equal, though not as fragile, simplicity by Seth Rogen. The unexpected power-couple is having a recent boom in mainstream cinema, with pairings like Steve Carell and Keira Knightley or Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum gaining much favor for their singularly unexpected chemistry. Rogen and Williams can be brought into that circle now, since both have such a warm mesh with each other. Amongst other things, it makes portions of this film seem like a big bear hug.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Films to See in 2012: July

We are, rather officially as it turns out, in the full storm of summer, though it really feels like its dying throes at this point. Of course, we do have the most ridiculously anticipated film of the year, but besides that the gems are rather wide spread. Don't read me the wrong way, since from the very start we have some potentially fantastic cinema on our hands. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is only days away, and seems all the more like a nice, if relatively minor, superhero escapade. Less optimistically on the roster is Oliver Stone's "Savages", which seems like a misfire in the same degree as "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps". Even far less promising is "Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D", the latest in a run of concert films that really do not need to happen.

The following week gives us both something more, and something less. On the former side is "Ice Age: Continental Drift", and given that franchise has proven guiltily quite fun, I wouldn't be disinclined to experience this latest adventure. There's also "Red Lights", which looks extremely pointless, much like the career of Robert De Niro at this point. We know what comes the following week, and we'll get more on that later. The last week of the month is a full serving of mainstream comedy ("The Watch"), pointless franchise retread ("Step Up Revolution"), and dark comedic plant ("Killer Joe"). And then there's...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quick Takes: "Moonrise Kingdom", "Damsels in Distress", "La Luna", "Battleship"

"Moonrise Kingdom" (***)
Directed by Wes Anderson

For once I don't feel like Wes Anderson has lied to me again. Not that any of his previous films have claimed to be anything else, but it so often feels like his stories pitch notions that they have no intention of keeping. Wes is all about the innocent beauty of romance in the context of a not-so-innocent world, or at least that's how it often seems. I walked into "Moonrise Kingdom" like so many else did, expecting more of the quirky, entertaining, but still hollow and dishonest brand that Wes has been pushing across six previous features. What surprised and delighted me about the film is that it's still Wes, but he doesn't seem to faking sincerity this time around.

Taking a tweedy and knowingly ridiculous interpretation of a chaotic ex-military romance, Wes brings some actually true conflicts about adulthood, life, violence, and love to a much younger setting. In embracing the youth of his brand, rather than run off with adults who act like children, which serves ever so annoyingly in nearly all of his previous film, Wes taps something that doesn't feel dishonest. The amazing beauty that his team is often capable of constructing can finally be given the chance for the audience to drink it in. It's not a lie, and the emotions that the characters feel aren't an obvious facade. This is a fascinating debut for Kara Hayward, a place where Edward Norton can finally sink into something fresh again, a project for Tilda Swinton to wax ridiculous playing "Social Services", and honestly a career-best performance from Bruce Willis, if that means anything. It's a thing of true beauty, and one that Wes is sadly not likely to achieve again.

OSCAR 2012: "Brave" shoots for new horizons

I'm not at all into placing bets on the Oscar race this early, which only serves to throw me for an uninformed list as I realize all the possibilities that aren't yet on the schedule or just appearing. However, there was one particular film recently that sparked my interest into one of the technical races. I was a bit shy on discussing the visuals of "Brave" in my favorable write-up the other day, but I don't need to further state how tremendous a technical achievement the latest from Pixar is. The setting lends itself to a glorious visual landscape, from the way the sun lights up the cliffs and the water streams down so brilliantly. Personally, the most recurring visual treat of the film for me is the way Merida's tangled mane of hair moves.

It's an outstanding film that shows how far Pixar has gone in mastering their craft, far above where any other animation studio has ever dreamed. From the lively and acute details put on display in "Ratatouille", to the unbelievably grounded and real worlds composed in "WALL-E", Pixar has constantly been pushing the bar technically, so one can stand to reason that at some point they'll make a break into the visual effects race. Of course the Academy has been rather stingy in the past regarding the line between animated and visual effect, neither allowing motion capture films entrance into the former, or the latter into a visual effects race.

,!-- more -->
Of course the odds of that happening are somewhat slim, with more action oriented or Oscar friendly fare being more likely to take up all five slots, but it may end up a surprise hit along the way. What's more likely for "Brave" are the regular spots for Disney flicks, mainly the expected animated feature nod that's doubtless to come. Also quite likely is a nomination in the increasingly miniscule Original Song category. Any one of the film's songs could qualify and make it in, and I'd place my bet on the most memorable "Touch the Sky". I have a bad feeling that could be the winner, because everyone would be very likely to shrug at that moment. But if they choose the ending song then we could get the positive word of Mumford and Sons winning an Oscar! Wouldn't that be something?

But it very well may be a single nomination in Best Animated Feature, though possibly not a win. The love isn't crazy for Pixar's latest, though there could be quite the positive boost late in the season. It depends on which animated films emerge favorably with audiences. "ParaNorman" is a distinct possibility, but I don't feel like people will really want to give themselves to that film. "Wreck-It Ralph" may be the surprise hit with mainstream audiences, and a similar possibility going out for "Rise of the Guardians". I have a feeling, however, that one of the year's foreign standouts will finally catch the Academy's greater attention for once. Filling out possibilities, I wouldn't count out sound mixing, or Patrick Doyle's memorable and Scottish tinged musical score.

BEST BETS: Animated Feature
POSSIBLE NODS: Original Song, Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Box Office Report: "Brave" changes its fate

Just a general rule to keep in mind when predicting box office success: Do not play down expectations ever. True, there are situations in which films like "Rock of Ages" and "That's My Boy" don't perform as well as people expect they normally would. There are also situations in which we're predicting a fantasy action film starring Kristen Stewart will only earn $30 million its opening weekend, or that a Dreamworks animation flick will suddenly disappoint just when kids are getting out of schools. So when Pixar, a company that specializes in films that appeal to both children and adults, debuts a heartfelt new feature, do not play down the odds of success!

I don't often play up the film's quality in relation to box office, but "Brave" is consistently hilarious, amazingly beautiful, and brought some real tears to my eyes towards the finish. For those qualities, I think people are almost certain to spread some positive word on this film, possibly returning for a second go in theaters. Given those facts, I think we could project a similar trajectory as "Cars" took back in 2006, possibly going on to achieve $250 by the time it finishes up. It has three weeks until another animated film enters the market, which should be plenty time for it to build its case against "Madagascar 3". In any case, Pixar probably has a genuine success on their hands with this one.

Speaking of "Madagascar 3", the film kept an admirable hold at the box office against Pixar's latest, though now that there's a much better alternative for kid crowds we might see its strength taper off greatly in coming weeks. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" had quite the miserable weekend, with audiences either steering clear or figuring out why they should have. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" crapped out altogether, sadly enough for the Focus Feature... comedy? That lack of knowledge in marketing may be the problem. Ultimately this weekend was $10 million shy of last year, when "Bad Teacher" boosted the weekend ruled by "Cars 2" up a notch financially.

1. "Brave" (First Weekend; 66.7 million)
2. "Madagascar 3" (Second Weekend; $20.2 million; $157.6 MILLION TOTAL)
3. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (First Weekend; $16.5 million)
4. "Prometheus" (Third Weekend; $10 million; $108.5 MILLION TOTAL)
5. "Rock of Ages" (Second Weekend; $8 million; $28.8 MILLION TOTAL)
6. "Snow White and the Huntsman" (Fourth Weekend; $8 million; $137.1 MILLION TOTAL)
7. "That's My Boy" (Second Weekend; $7.9 million; $28.2 MILLION TOTAL)
8. "The Avengers" (Eighth Weekend; $7 million; $598.3 MILLION TOTAL)
9. "Men in Black 3" (Fifth Weekend; $5.6 million; $163.3 MILLION TOTAL)
10. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (First Weekend; $3.8 million)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Film Review: "Brave" (***)

I realize that after a film as bad as "Cars 2", many were looking for Pixar's next to be a rousing and masterful return to form for the company that has put forth multiple genuine masterpieces in its relatively short lifespan. Apparently it's some great fault on the studio's part for not turning out another absolute masterpiece just two years after their last brilliant film. One can't comment positively on this film without mentioning the irritating barbs it's received over this past week. For one thing, you can't proclaim a studio's decline on the shortcomings of a single film. You can't even proclaim a director's, for that matter. People should remember pretty freshly that shortly after making "Hulk", Ang Lee went on to make something as great as "Brokeback Mountain".

"Cars 2" may be the "Hulk" in this situation, but saying "Brave" is the metaphorical equivalent to Lee's 2005 60s set romance could be an overstatement. It lands more favorably in relation to "Taking Woodstock", a film of Lee's where he wasn't attempting a masterpiece. He was doing something different. Similarly, "Brave" doesn't hit the same notes as has been known in Pixar's history, but it's not trying to. As a matter of fact, I can only think to applaud them for going so bravely outside their narrative and technical comfort zone to attempt something like this. It's not what you expected, but when has that ever been a bad thing?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Quick Takes: "Up", "Monsters Inc.", "A Bug's Life", "The Incredibles"

"Up" (**1/2)
Directed by Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson

My oh my, how a single month in between can make all the difference. At the tailend of April I took this film as a lighter friend. What changed? In a word, me. To be perfectly honest, "Up" has aspirations of being something more intimately emotional, but there's a stillness to each shot that stuck out to me this time. The intimately hued color palette doesn't illusion the stillness of nearly every shot. It's as if Wes Anderson directed a Pixar film, and the small emotions simply don't come to the fore the way they used to. The narrative is there, but it all just seems odd and uninviting. For a film that's meant to feel like a waltz, "Up" is rather stiff.

"Monsters Inc."  (***)
Directed by Pete Doctor

This is admittedly Pete Doctor in an even more cartoony light, but there's something closer to reality about this film than his more recent endeavor. Maybe it's just a further sweetness to it, or maybe it's the real impact of a company forestalling societal collapse by use of children's fear. That is an interesting concept that they don't quite go into. They don't make it so clear that what they are doing is wrong, which is where my issue with the film comes in. It just seems like so simple a narrative stroke to add, but they only frown upon kidnapping of children. They don't bring it full circle to insight guilt into our main characters. Also, the relationship between Mike and Sulley is a little bit too inferred. Maybe that's what they're hoping to do with the prequel. I hope so anyway.

Television Review: "Girls" Season 1 (****)

For about five years it's been common knowledge that "Mad Men" is the best show on television, but I think that instantly changed the moment "Girls" premiered on HBO. Within a single episode, all the angst and insecurities of a current generation rose to the surface. What's more is that it all comes from a particularly unexpected source, Lena Dunham whose previous experience mostly amounts to the 2010 indie film "Tiny Furniture". That film trudged along similar emotional and physical landscapes, but in a less gender-centric manner and with something of a stale mannerism. That is somewhat attributable to the low-budget it was filmed on.

"Girls" has budget enough to erase that still quality, and actors a plenty to pull off Dunham's witty dialogue. The film's circulating ensemble of characters is led by none less than Dunham herself, who's confident enough to not only direct herself, but genuinely excel in her self-deprecating performance. Not ignorant of the story-of-my-life aspect of her show, Dunham plays Hannah, an aspiring writer who is thrust into the real world by her parents cutting her off of financial support, as parents often do. Hannah responds to this as most probably would, which is to panic, complain, and beg their parents forgiveness.

Hannah would so like to believe that the world revolves around her, but it obviously doesn't as the show has a wider focus than that. Her roommate and best friend, Marnie, is in a stable job situation and knows where she's going with that. It's her dulling relationship with longtime boyfriend Charlie that is eating up inside her, and it's not something as simple as cheating. Marnie is more sheltered and young inside than she'd like to admit to herself, expecting everybody to be all together and cute, but not-so-secretly desperate for something other. Allison Williams really milks both the emotion in the dialogue and every slight expression she gives. She doesn't even need a one-liner to get across a point she can distill to a glare or head tilt.

They really are the lost generation of characters, and the only one who is absolutely fine with that is Jessa, Hannah's British friend who doesn't have anything together, and is quite fine with that. She's far from ultimate wisdom, but she's not about to jam herself into a corner by defying her own logic. She is absolutely honest in her manipulation of people who she wants to feel guilty for what she represents to them. One such instance comes across in the fifth episode of the season, when a geisha-costume infused encounter with an old flame takes an unexpectedly unexpected turn for the hilarious, simply because Lena Dunham can't find a reason not to have it happen that way.

Jessa is brought into the fold through her American cousin Shoshanna, who is so precious in the most adorable and innocent of ways. She's just not introduced to the trials of the world, and so inexperienced sexually that you just want to give her a hug. She really represents that breed of "Sex and the City" inspired students who wish their lives were as great as in television. There's simply the problem of getting there, which is a problem for her because she has ambition, but certainly not the confidence to do anything about it. It makes her such a lovable character, and perhaps the most so of the entire show. Having growing comedic icon Zosia Mamet in the role is just icing on the cake.

A strong fixture in the first season of the show is Adam, Hannah's sorta-boyfriend who rings semi-abusive, extremely weird, but mostly just plain confident. "When I commit to something, I really fucking commit!" That's something so perfect about him, is that he knows who he is and what he wants to be. He has no qualms with it not being the next big thing. He's fine being the strange and somewhat disturbing off-the-carpet fare. The best way I can describe him is as the Nicolas Winding Refn of boyfriends. It wouldn't come off if it weren't for Adam Driver's aggressive and perversely brilliant performance. He deserves any Emmy nomination he's not likely to get. The man is rather perfect.

Then there are a lot of rotating characters in the show, like Hannah's parents who appear at first in just the premiere, but later return at the midsection of the season to really give a further dimensionality to their characters. There are things that people really don't want to think about in terms of their parents. Lena Dunham isn't too afraid to cross those lines, and those parents are more human because of it. Marnie's aforementioned boyfriend Charlie is given something of an arc this season, but the show really isn't about the guys. There's an uninformed feeling about some of the men, and it doesn't detract from the show. It actually enhances it. Charlie's friend Ray is such a singular mooded character, and for the present now that's all he needs to be.

What sets "Girls" apart is that it makes the choices other shows aren't cruel enough to do. I think Lena has found a way to separate herself from those characters in a way that makes the mistakes they make all on them. This show is remarkably honest and passionate, which really makes all the difference in the world. As a guy, how does this show make me feel? Am I simply a man who thinks these girls are funny? Absolutely not. I often find male characters to be less intriguing than female ones, who I often really connect with on a deeper level. Maybe that says something about my own orientation. Maybe I'm just weird that way. What goes without saying is that "Girls" has touched, shaken, and affected me more significantly than any male drama on television, maybe ever. And that's just the first season!

Best Series (Comedy): "All Adventurous Women Do"
Best Actress: Lena Dunham ("She Did")
Best Supporting Actress: Jemima Kirke ("Vagina Panic")
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Williams ("Hard Being Easy")
Best Supporting Actress: Zosia Mamet ("Hannah's Diary")
Best Supporting Actor: Adam Driver ("She Did")
Best Directing: Jody Lee Lipes ("Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident")
Best Screenplay: Lena Dunham & Judd Apatow ("The Return")

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Weekend Forecast: The odds be ever in "Brave"s favor

It surprises me that people are estimating a smaller than usual opening for "Brave". It seems rather illogical for three reasons, the first being the fact that it's a kids flick. After "Madagascar 3"s strong opening, it seems ridiculous to expect it to do any less than $61 million. The second strong aspect is Pixar's recognizable staple, which secures in a large sect of people enamored with Pixar films. The third factor, and I may be overestimating this, is "The Hunger Games". Similarities alone factor it a strong boost, especially in this year. I think a $70+ million opening is close to a certainty. If "Cars 2" can get $60 million with bad reviews and negative buzz, "Brave" will be fine with its solid reviews.

The competitors have a much riskier time this weekend, particularly "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World". The Keira Knightley and Steve Carell rom-com has been particularly low on the buzz meter, especially considering it's about the apocalypse. I guess that isn't so much of a draw right now, but it's just had a silent marketing campaign, killing any wider potential the film has. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" at least has the heat of male hype to fuel it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it got to $25 million this weekend. I just don't expect it to.

"Anna Karenina" Trailer

Can I be perfectly honest in saying that "Anna Karenina" sounds particularly all over the place, even if it does have the potential to be wildly gorgeous thanks to cinematography by Seamus McGarvey and Joe Wright's natural sensibilities? I have a tendency to distrust films with Jude Law in the cast, which is no mark against him. It's just that they often don't know what to do with him. This seems like similar terrain, since Aaron Johnton is given more focus than Law. Johnston is an odd actor, and tends to feel rather too timid in all his performances. I know it sounds like I'm declaring war against "Anna Karenina" from the start, but this could be the boring period spectacle that the Academy just fawns over. In fact, I'm certain it will be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

THE LISTS: Best Female Characters of Pixar

It's another blessed Pixar week, even if the buzz regarding their latest film, "Brave", isn't all sunshine and daisies. It doesn't discount the widely lauded milestone of Pixar's first female protagonist, and quite optimistically not the last. Last year I posted a semi-serious list of the Best Pixar Characters, so why focus in further because of a specific gender? Because that list was majorly taken up by the men of the show, as Collette would lament were she working in this business. So I decided to look deeper into the catalog of Pixar's characters to pick out ten female characters outside of "Brave" that truly state the potential Pixar has had for significant feminine emotion.

It is worth mentioning those who could not make the list, such as Merida and Queen Elinor of this weekend's "Brave", simply because I have yet to see it. From the "Toy Story" trilogy, the presence and loss of Bo Peep is absolutely nothing to neglect, and delivers resonance in a single line of dialogue in the third film. Boo was especially close to making the mark for "Monsters Inc.", but the fact of the matter is that she's a kid, however sweet. And nobody really enters the frame from "A Bugs Life" or either of the "Cars" films. They all just feel so simple in construction. But with no further ado, here's our list of the top ten ladies of Pixar!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Takes: "Dr. No", "Dark Shadows", "Journey 2", "Boardwalk Empire"

"Dr. No" (***)
Directed by Terence Young

James Bond is a rather stereotypical choice for Father's Day, but as somebody whose total Bond knowledge amounts to incomplete memories of "Goldfinger" and long past viewings of "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace", revisiting the beginnings of the property served more of a purpose. From the first moments, the trademarks of the Bond series, from the pre-credits prologue to the music video essence of it, all were stripped away. Though "stripped" may be an inadequate phrase, since they hadn't been in place yet. This was a film working on the assumption that this will be a simple cinematic series, when eventually it would grow to be anything but.

The plot is very simply, with Bond heading out to track down evil scientist Dr. No and stop him from destroying the world or something tantamount to that. We don't get so up close to Bond, the action, the chaos, or the emotions. Simple treasuries are all it seeks, and those simple treasuries prove absolutely fine for what they are. Ursula Andress only serves as visual treat for Honey Ryder, whose singing and speaking voices are offered to different actresses, though that's really all we need or ask for from her, and she fulfills that duty proudly. But let's not dally over the real attraction, which is Sean Connery in his prime. Illusions of where he would end up physically wash away the moment he's given time to speak. Bond is, quite simply, the coolest character on film, and Connery so perfectly embodies and acknowledges that.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bryan Cranston dreams a world after "Breaking Bad"

I've dabbled around the idea of a Greatest Working Actors list for some time now, and as alluring as it is to put them all up on a scale like that, I'd simply never know what to do with the actors who have their feet firmly planted in television. With all the shows moving towards their finishes, I am intrigued to see what Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, John Noble, Anna Torv, Jasika Nicole, and Aaron Paul are to do once their respective shows are up. The bell is chiming for Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, John Slattery, and the rest of the "Mad Men" gang as well, and Jared Harris has already been let off the leash for a promising future in the business.

One actor who isn't laying down while waiting for his television check to ring in is Bryan Cranston, headliner on AMC's "Breaking Bad", headed now towards its fifth and final season. For every year Cranston has performed in the pivotal character of Walter White, he has taken home an Emmy for Best Actor. He is quite likely to make it four this fall, and with the splitting of the final season into two eight-episode stretches, the possibility is not merely alive for two more, but it's a certainty for after the show's completion. Cranston is in very good hands with showrunner Vince Gilligan at the helm, though has not been laying steady while the end approaches.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Box Office Report: "Boy", nothing can "Rock" "Madagascar"!

How come we still aren't able to see these things coming? After last weekend, when an animated kid-flick beat out a Rated-R sci-fi piece, we still weren't quite prepared for a teen rock musical and dumb boys comedy to not perform too well. Let us please shed a tear for "Rock of Ages", budgeted at $75 million and now rather unlikely to make that back domestically. We can still hope the film will have enough staying power and overseas strength to not be considered a failure. Less mourning will be had for "That's My Boy", Andy Sandler and Adam Samberg's comedy which stalled majorly at the box office this weekend. It looks like people know what to expect from Sandler these days, and they know well enough to avoid him. Or maybe it just lacked the kid-appeal "Jack and Jill" had.

Last week's large debuts haven't entirely tapered off, though one certainly is fading faster than the other. "Prometheus" isn't plummeting so much out of sight as one might have expected, though it's clear that this one has a tougher time ahead of it than the likes of "Snow White and the Huntsman". "Madagascar 3", in the meantime, continues to fare as well as Dreamworks films often do. The finishing of that respective trilogy is turning out to be quite a hit with the kids, at least at this frame of it's lifespan. We could very well see a substantial dip with "Brave" entering the market, stealing the target audience as well as people who are simply more enamored with Pixar.

TOP 10 SHOTS from "American Beauty"

Welcome to TOP 10 SHOTS, where we usually have a tendency to take up films of strong cinematographic prowess to look at the greatest choice shots of the affair. This weekend doesn't precisely evoke much visual wonder in terms of the films releasing, and in fact seems to exist basically to give people a breather from the more seriously inclined blockbusters and family-friendly animated charmers of the surrounding weeks. So I could bend over backwards to accommodate one of this weekend's releases, like a previous idea I had of sinking my teeth into "Burlesque", in correlation with "Rock of Ages", a film with similar theme and the mutual D.P. Bojan Bazelli.

But I'm not going to do that, since this weekend also has the occasion of being father's day, and usually when a holiday reels around the corner I feel more inclined to go with something that laughs at the holiday more than it exonerates it. It just so happens that it's father's day weekend, and though there are so many films that could fit the occasion well, I'm going for something that's quite hilariously unconventional. More than that, though, it is also a film that truly screams of massive cinematic value, with plenty gorgeous shots to pick from. Taking on "American Beauty" was quite a fun challenge to pit myself against.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Could "Toy Story Toons" disable Pixar creativity

There should always be somebody around to point things out indelicately, just so that they're out there in the world. I am frequently happy to fill that role, and seeing as "Brave" is set to hit theaters in only a week now, I couldn't help but raise awareness for another cinematic treat that comes coupled with it. I speak of "La Luna", Enrico Casarosa's short film which is to be attached to the Pixar outing. The bits and pieces that have eked their way online have been both gorgeous and sweet, and mark a slight return to form for Pixar. Not too long ago, something happened that changed the Pixar landscape in a way nobody could have foreseen.

The mind may spring to "Cars 2", but I am in fact speaking of "Toy Story 3". I'm not about to lodge a complaint against the animated endeavor, as it in fact is so tightly constructed a conclusion as to delight, dazzle, and bring to tears anybody who watches it. Still, it seems that Pixar is having a little too much trouble filing a divorce from that precious franchise, which has manifested in a series called "Toy Story Toons". First shown a year ago in front of "Cars 2", and then again in front of "The Muppets", the shorts offer us the chance to reunite with those characters we've come to know and love so dearly, offering us the chance to never truly lose them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quick Takes: "Snow White", "Madagascar 3", "Return", "Romeo + Juliet"

"Snow White and the Huntsman" (*1/2)
Directed by Rupert Sanders

I took the effort to revisit Tarsem Singh's own take on the fable, "Mirror Mirror", before sitting in on "Snow White and the Huntsman", and though I don't wish to file comparison, it's pretty clear that the latter has much less enthusiasm in its cogs. I think it's pretty clear when a filmmaking crew is having fun, and when they're not. This film seems like rather drudging work. It takes real emotional effort to make something this cinematically dull. Lacking any color or levity, but not possessing any real emotional tether to proceedings, people die and battles wage, for no purpose. What's more, it feels like the actors are just too consumed by the ham of the dialogue and lacking intellect of the script to really put in any effort. This film just feels entirely effortless, and not in a positive manner.

"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (**)
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon

Dreamworks has made a pretty good name for itself across the past few years for making wild and crazy films, filled with popping shenanigans, but not overtly kiddie as to not appeal to the adults. "Madagascar 3" shatters that a bit, throwing about the same shenanigans, but this time strictly playing to the children's crowd from which most of its box office is growing from. It feels like we're coming into a half completed story, and they don't feel the need to make us care about these characters any more. They don't put in nearly enough heart, which they quite oddly had plenty of in "Madagascar 2". It feels like a conclusion for the sake of concluding, and not for the sake of closure, or smart entertainment. The kids? They'll love it, and they already do. It's us who aren't gonna have a good time with it.

Weekend Forecast: Cruise Musical vs. Sandler-Samberg

It's a very odd feeling I have concerning this weekend, especially in comparison to last. Consider the general head-space regarding last weekend. "Prometheus", a film with through the roof anticipation, and "Madagascar 3", a film from a company who is known for entertaining at a hyperactive level, were both being released. Both of those films debuted over $50 million, and yet they both proved disappointing to me personally. Mind you, I'm never surprised when a bad film rakes in a surplus of cash, but I didn't truly believe these films would turn out so ill-forged. That said, both films will do very well this weekend, along with the mix of new releases.

What gives it a strange dynamic is that I am suddenly rather excited to see "Rock of Ages". I have no love for the jukebox musical sub-genre, but the cast of this film coupled with some fantastic musical numbers is enough to spark interest for me. It simply looks like more fun than has been in the theaters for a while, likely since "The Avengers" hit multiplex's. On the other side of this weekend, "That's My Boy" will do its share in the box office because it's Father's Day weekend, it's a comedy, and it stars crowd magnates Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. College age boys will be doing some majorly hedonistic male bonding on this one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Prometheus" marks end of arrival for Michael Fassbender

I always feel robbed when an indie film star finally hits a stride of mainstream hits, and very quickly ceases to be mine. Michael Fassbender wasn't a cinder of non-existence at the start of last year, having had plenty more than memorable roles in the few years prior. His winning single-chapter stint in "Inglourious Basterds" was my first brush with the transformative actor, playing a charismatic connoisseur of cinema. Indeed he has taken in cinema of a rather wide branch, from his less known, but far more devastating work on films like "Hunger" and "Fish Tank", Fassbender is now one of the latest exciting commodities in mainstream film.

"Prometheus", which released recently to high buzz followed by declining critical and box office returns, does mark a certain climax in terms of this massive arrival party for Fassbender. It seems all too appropriate, given he's playing a corporate robot of massive intellectual properties who defies rational behavior to achieve his goals. The fact that Fassbender has had such a dynamite reception as of recent is some kind of oddity, though he has honestly been silently paving the way for a boom of activity that rushes him into the public interest. His work in mainstream cinema actually goes all the way back to 2007.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Television Review: "Mad Men" Season 5 (****)

It may seem so long ago, but the more I reflect on "Fringe"s fourth season, the more worthwhile and tenderly soulful it seems. An odd note to start on, but hear me out before scampering off. The fourth season of "Fringe" tackled a massively ambitious, and thus equally risky, storyline. When you erase one of your main characters off the face of existence, that happens. I think I've taken it to heart that when you take massive risks, the results are inevitably going to be a bit messy, but they are no less worth it, I feel. "Fringe"s fourth season allowed us to revel in the show's most camptastic genre splendor, while simultaneously further investigating the emotional connections of its characters.

"Mad Men"s fifth season, much similarly, took many a huge risk in the stories that it decided to investigate. The world we were introduced to at the start of this season was one of being quite simply adrift. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was almost frozen in shock, still so long after Lucky Strike abandoned them and placed their future in question. In this world of such active indecision and struggle, it really caused our characters to examine the strengths in their own lives. What resulted was a full scale investigation of aging, decay, death, and are we willing enough to fight that? Are we even capable of winning such an uphill battle that seems so impossible to reach?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Box Office Report: "Madagascar" steals "Prometheus" fire

I feel like box office analysts are kicking themselves in the heads for not seeing this coming a mile away. After all, animated films in general have been a mainstay in the summer landscape, most especially as they draw the child masses out to the theaters. It is for that reason we'll see "Brave" perform remarkably well in two weeks, and how "Madagascar 3" managed to out-muscle "Prometheus" at the box office this weekend. "Prometheus" merely operated within the expectations that were allotted it. It's an Rated-R sci-fi horror flick on a huge budget, with few name stars and the added bonus of 3D. By that factor, it performed decently.

Heading on from here, however, is a noticeably more dicey situation for Ridley Scott's slow-build thriller. Audience reaction hasn't been exactly through the roof, and that word of mouth could bite the film in the sack. It's still very likely to make bank, and even turn some kind of profit. We aren't prepping a failure on the scale of "John Carter" or "Battleship". It's just not quite as fortunate as we expected it would be. Turning back to "Madagascar", it absolutely has some strong credentials going forward. Dreamworks films generally tend to dip around or below 40% on their second weekends, and from there it's relatively easy sailing.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

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

I've received a rather curious stigma regarding my reviews of blockbuster hits that people funnel out to see with such urgency. It's inevitably been one of dissapointment, that I didn't have exactly the same reaction to a film that they did. As if it's some fault against me that a film was unable to live up to my expectations. I'm frankly surprised by the ecstatic responses people I know give to nearly every single movie. Maybe my disagreement is a sign of difference, but it's not one that I too willingly take part in. If I see a film and hate it, there's really nothing more I can do about that. Damage dealt. It's for that reason I was rather confused by most reviews on "Prometheus".

It really feels like people can't make up their minds on this one, which is weird because there should always be a pretty definite decision on the quality of a movie. Furthermore, my surprise doesn't come from heightened expectations, since I haven't even seen the slightest bit of footage from the film until it was in its finished form. That shouldn't truly bear any greater significance than having high expectations, since the only real expectation you should have going into a film is that it will fulfill the money you spent to see it. And of course I wouldn't usually go on this long regarding expectations around a film if "Prometheus" had actually met them.

Friday, June 8, 2012

[the films of] Ridley Scott

My greatest apologies that I cannot give you another edition of TOP 10 SHOTS this week, though it's not from neglect or lack of trying. As a matter of fact, I've tried desperately all week to find a film by Ridley Scott to get deeply into for TOP 10 SHOTS. I've already stated some mild disappointments for "Alien", a frankly overrated and simple sci-fi horror flick. Generally, Ridley Scott isn't an absolute master director, but he is by no degree a bad one. He simply doesn't try to make any statements with his filmmaking. He is strictly a storyteller, which isn't a bad way to be. It just means that he'll never make a film that give more than three stars to. Still, a career built on solid work is nothing to scoff at, and so to give him proper recognition for that, here's a rather expertly constructed tribute to what Ridley Scott does best.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mads Mikkelsen becomes a rising commodity

Last year seemed to be the year of bombastic new talent, or at least the full realization of existing talent. I mean, Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender certainly existed long before 2011, but they really came into their own stardom this past year. So there's an obvious question of who is left to come into their own this year? I could make a strong bid for Rachel Weisz, who has already proved quite shiveringly powerful in "The Deep Blue Sea", and she still has "The Bourne Legacy" and Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" coming up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too, is in a position of really defining himself, split between films like "The Dark Knight Rises", "Looper", "Premium Rush", and Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln".

On the horizon, however, I can sense that people are just on the edge of singing someone else's praises, and that man is Mads Mikkelsen. It's true that he's surely not new to the game, having appeared as a Bond villain in "Casino Royale", and worked with Nicolas Winding Refn numerous times on films like "Pusher", "Bleeder", and "Valhalla Rising". He's not quite a household name, though that could change rather soon given quite a few opportunistic projects opening up for the skilled actor. The man has recently taken the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for "The Hunt", and that seems to be the catapult for this recent surge of activity.

"Django Unchained" Theatrical Trailer

Quentin Tarantino has been in a rather mixed area over these past couple years, though to call it self-indulgent would be a misstep. True, "Death Proof" reeks of a half-hearted effort, and it was evidently built to be so. "Kill Bill, Vol. 2", however, just seemed like a step in a rather unadventurous direction. With "Inglourious Basterds", Quentin was doing something different, trying to drill into a rather deeply significant subject, though his own style somewhat throws him off from being something greater. With "Django Unchained", Q.T. seems to be getting back to his good-timer roots of throwing something rambunctious and lively to the screen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quick Takes: "Alien", "Elena", "Mulan", "Minority Report"

"Alien" (**1/2)
Directed by Ridley Scott

This could very well cause to enrage people, and it already has if you follow my actions on twitter, but the moment I sat down to take on "Alien" for this week's TOP 10 SHOTS column, I realized it couldn't possibly work. Why not? Because there is so desperately little going on in this film. Ridley Scott is devoted to creating an intense horror aesthetic, and there's some truly honest effort there. But it only works, in this case, if we care about why this is happening, and who it is happening to. The characters are etched so thin as to offer nothing distinct about them. Them being there is a product of happenstance, like any other horror flick. There's just not that much cinematically to dig into. Don't worry, though, since you'll still have your share of Ridley Scott in this Friday's TOP 10 SHOTS column. It just won't be in the same vein as what Ridley's up to this year.

"Elena" (****)
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Russia seems to carry with a heap of apocalyptic baggage that it just cannot seem to get rid of. Even in a film that holds absolutely no apocalyptic subject matter, the grim specter of massive and inescapable death looms heavy over. That's the definitive stroke that makes Andrey Zvyagintsev's third feature, "Elena", so much more than the chilling character study that it already is. Though the first ten minutes lull you into the belief that you're in for a contained story comparable to that of Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles", it really expands to being something rather more maniacal. It's Zvyagintsev's analysis of family boundaries that truly piques the interest.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Box Office Report: "Huntsman" raises average summer weekend

I get a feeling, given the response to "Snow White and the Huntsman", I am going to end up hating it, and people will, for some reason, chastise me for it. It simply feels in the precise same vein as "X-Men: First Class", in more ways than that they share the same release date and the same opening gross. To be honest, I felt we were in for a much larger disappointment, but not so, and while I'm happy with a Charlize Theron vehicle garnering a significant audience, something just reeks foul and joyless about this enterprise. But learn to let people have their successes, especially if somebody is enjoying it. That's no bad thing.

On the brighter side, "Men in Black 3" is holding onto audience interest as well as I hoped it would, with just a 47% fall, which far outshines "Hangover 2"s 64% drop in the same frame last year. "The Avengers" too is holding on well to its audience, even as it falls slowly from view. As for where the other blockbusters of this summer lay, "Battleship" is coasting towards a $60 million final cume, with "Dark Shadows" likely for $75 million at the end, neither particularly fortunate. Overall, the weekend was 14.3% down from last year, understandable given the lack of fare last weekend, which is usually quite filled with blockbusters.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Weekend Forecast: Mild Chance of "Snow"

Summer box office season is underway, be it with less of a gallop than a weakened stride if you count it through box office terms. If you count it through quality cinema terms, too, there's a bit of a degeneration to be seen. Last year's "Thor" actually might just be better than "The Avengers", and few will dispute "Bridesmaids" having better, more winning, comedic performances to offer than "Men in Black 3". And in the grand scheme of the year, "Moonrise Kingdom" will likely never be as witty and fantastic as "Midnight in Paris", though it could come close. So where are we heading now in terms of year to year ratios of box office and critical standards alike?

Well, you might remember a certainly unhappy camper from last year when "X-Men: First Class", "Super 8", "Green Lantern", "Cars 2" all proved to be massively depressive disappointments. This month offers quite enough chances at redemption in that scheme of things. This weekend, however, not so much. In fact the only release worthy of mention, and maybe not even that, is "Snow White and the Huntsman". Heading to conquer the weekend only because there's no alternative choice in the matter, it hasn't been getting much critical favor, though that won't stop it from performing decently opening weekend, though not quite as decently as its star cast might provide otherwise.

TOP 10 SHOTS from "Let Me In"

Welcome to TOP 10 SHOTS, our regular convening space in receiving visually strong films of the recent past, and I must make that emphasis on "films". As much as this column often provides distinctive shots of massive value in and of themselves, it is also a way of dissecting the films more accurately than a straightforward review. It's a measured way of conveying what I feel throughout a film without having you right here beside me watching it. That's what keeps me returning to this stream, and hopefully you as well. Just a month ago I had the positive reaction to my piece on "Atonement" that inspired them to revisit the film. If I'm doing this for any reason, it's that.

But on to this week's film, which I had to do a bit of digging to arrive at, since "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders is making his debut. No disrespect, but I do not consider it a good sign when a director makes his debut with a blockbuster. So I went straight to cinematographer Greig Fraser, whose work on the film may not turn out so fantastic, as is often the case with blockbusters, but Fraser does have some rather interesting credits on him. He worked with Jan Campion on "Bright Star", which I regret to say I still must get around to, but what stuck out to me rather immediately was his work on "Let Me In".