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"

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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Comic Con 2012, and why I no longer care

Though I really hope people haven't come to expect this of me, you may be wondering why I haven't been periodically snapping in with conversations regarding the happenings at this year's San Diego Comic Con. Quite often the source of a great deal of buzz regarding major films on the horizon, the convention has in the past been something to aspire towards visiting. The con has over the past two years been receiving a certain downgrading, not only in hype. Much more enthusiasm is being spent on a film that's not likely to crack my top 10 at the end of the year, though will likely still be rather exceptional. But there's quite obviously an outside factor in why I'm no longer as interested in the famed con.

I don't watch trailers anymore. I've made a case of avoiding trailers for films I am rather highly anticipating or have heard good things about. Why? Because, for all intents and purposes, I already have enough reason to believe that the films will be good. Marketing is meant to spark audience interest in a film, and it's only for films that I have major doubts on that I make exceptions with. So since I have set a taboo against a pointless form of media corruption, what is the point of going to a convention that specializes in pushing marketing for films that are, for the most part, not even close to release? The closest thing that comes to mind is hot chicks in cosplay, but even that isn't enticing enough.

Friday, July 13, 2012

THE LISTS: Best below-the-line elements in Christopher Nolan's films

It's rather easy to underestimate how suffocating the cloud of hype for "The Dark Knight Rises" can be, even if you're trying to ignore it. Fact of the matter is that they simply didn't have a midnight screening for "Alps" for me to get excited about, so what else is a man supposed to do with his life except delve back into Nolan's filmography? Plenty ideas crossed my mind when deciding on where to focus my energies, one being the performances across Nolan's now eight films, but that's really something that requires much more time and further films in order to pick out the best. It's inferred that Nolan has plenty left in him.

At this moment, what seemed rather appropriate to do was go below-the-line with Nolan's films, especially considering how "The Dark Knight" achieved a rather difficult across the board perfection of sorts which this sequel hopes to continue. Nolan has worked with a lot of the same people across his career, switching up partners every once in a while when it seems prudent, and he's rather likely to find even more collaborators over the rest of his career, as well as continue the ones he has made. Given that we don't know what the future holds for him after "The Dark Knight Rises", which more and more is seemingly like a cutting point in Nolan's career, now is a rather good time to consider his collaborations thus far.

"Oz: The Great and Powerful" Teaser Trailer

I really haven't a clue what to do with this "Oz: The Great and Powerful" trailer, except to shrug it off. I was tempted to do that the moment Sam Raimi even signed on for the film. For the most part, Raimi's poppy and colourful style grates on me, and this film looks devastatingly similar to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland". The colour palette is, admittedly, more lush, and there's a slight bit of intrigue at where it's all going, but I can't help but wonder, why? Why are Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz in this movie, or even James Franco and Mila Kunis for that matter. It's a trailer that makes me sink with dread at its obviously sentimental motivations, so much so that I already feel it as a retread of "Alice in Wonderland".

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Weekend Forecast: "Ice Age" heats things up

I think 20th Century Fox is fully aware of the irony in releasing the films in their "Ice Age" franchise in the heat of the summer. Perhaps that's a strong reason to their success, being the most natural sense of escapism. It's also probably because the "Ice Age" franchise is one of the funniest of juvenile kids franchises. I admit that I've had an absolute ball with all three of the films so far, most especially "Dawn of the Dinosaurs". I'd be tempted to see it in theaters myself if I weren't saving up for bonus cost of IMAX for a certain feature releasing next Friday. If "Continental Drift" balloons to success this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised if it were to forestall the anticipation of Christopher Nolan's latest.

As for the holdovers, what can you expect beyond the inevitable fact that they'll continue to do well? "Spider-Man" is well on its way to scrape the bottom of $300 million by the end of its run, and it's been playing extraordinarily well overseas, so that absolutely confirms a sequel. The rest of the weekend's winnings will be split between "Ted", continuing on its summer winning streak, "Brave", and "Magic Mike". Other than that, I don't suppose we can expect a $200+ million opening for "Alps", can we?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peter O'Toole announces retirement from acting

"It is time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won't come back."

And so ends the career of one of the highest respected performers in cinema history, no understatement to be absolutely certain. But perhaps that is the reason O'Toole is packing it in now, having been so entirely focused and devoted to it for several years. The man's been nominated for the Academy Award eight times, a record for performers who have not won a single award. He did, however, receive the Honorary Award in 2003 for his body of work, past and future. But when the spark is gone, it's absolutely gone, and there's little sense in sticking with something you just don't have the passion for anymore. We can only be happy for O'Toole deciding now to walk away from it.

In the past, O'Toole has lost to Gregory Peck ("To Kill a Mockingbird"), Rex Harrison ("My Fair Lady"), Cliff Robertson ("Charly"), John Wayne ("True Grit"), Marlon Brando ("The Godfather"), Robert De Niro ("Raging Bull"), Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi"), and Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland". It's left to your interpretation whether or not they deserved to win against his performances in "Lawrence of Arabia", "Becket", "The Lion in Winter", "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", "The Ruling Class", "The Stunt Man", "My Favorite Year", and "Venus", respectively. Upon receiving the Honorary Oscar, O'Toole stated that he was "still in the game" and wished to "win the lovely bugger outright". At some point, I suppose, to be still trying takes its toll.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Box Office Report: "Spider-Man" leads "Amazing" weekend

My worries of a large dip for "Amazing Spider-Man" were apparently unfounded, as the film performed rather positivity anyway. The more I dwell on it, the more I think this proposed trilogy is salvageable, provided they find the right director for the follow-up (can I start by pitching David Cronenberg?). Sure, the reboot didn't perform nearly the same numbers as any of Raimi's trilogy, but reboots generally have a tough time inspiring new followers. In comparison, it's fared much better than the openings for "Batman Begins", "Superman Returns", or "The Incredible Hulk" ($48.7, $52.5, & 55.4, respectively). The film is tracking for a $300 million finish, which is fantastic with all things considered.

The real success story of the summer, currently, continues to be "Ted", to which aspirations were made to "The Hangover" very early on. Seth MacFarlane's talking-teddy comedy is holding extremely well, and considering there isn't a comedy to steal its audience for another three weeks, one could expect it to continue its victory run. Talking of which, "Brave" continues to be a return to form for Pixar, at least in terms of box office success. It seems destined for the same average as predecessors such as "Cars" and "WALL-E". "Savages" fell to a middling status debut, despite aspirations of wider audience acceptance.

Friday, July 6, 2012

THE LISTS: Best performances of 2012 thus far

At this point I have a tendency of wondering if we're really at the halfway point of this year already. It's true that often times this period of the year is marked by a stunt of intellectual cinematic properties and an abundance of blockbuster diversions. This year, however, it seems like things are just heating up exponentially with a rush of quality cinema. The past two weeks alone have offered not just one, but two films that may qualify the best of the year. But if I'm to be perfectly honest, the last thing I feel like doing at this point is putting the films to task in an effort to rank them. I leave the placing of favorites as a year end routine.

What's more, we're still waiting on plenty of films that seem ever so slightly outside our reach and prove to dramatically change the order of anyone's lists at this time. In just two weeks time we'll finally be able to take in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", putting an end to suffocating fanboy hype and finally giving us a chance to judge it on its own humble merits. I'm waiting in eager anticipation to see how Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps" turns out, since that's the real ticket premiere of this month, at least from where I'm looking. And we know that Venice, Telluride, and Toronto are just around the corner with more to bring to the table.

Weekend Forecast: "Spider-Man" fights off "Savages"

"The Amazing Spider-Man" may be the buzz of the weekend, but the weekend is proving to be somewhat dicey territory for the superhero reboot. The film's been taking a box office tumble over the past few days, and it could have a tough time maintaining audience favor this weekend. The way it premiered on tuesday made it look prime for a big weekend, but now it's back down to ground level. One could expect it to go the usual way of $60+ million opening, which should be pretty positive given the recent developments. It's one of those things that's too soon to say because we don't know the trend it's on yet.

Its competitor, Oliver Stone's "Savages", could be in for a bigger debut than people are allotting it. It seems like the sort of film that draws in male centric audiences with a fever before quickly dissipating. Think "Predators" of two years ago, and the general feel that surrounded that action flick. As for holdovers, you can expect "Ted", "Magic Mike", and Brave" to all hit somewhere in the $20+ millions, which should easily put us over last year when "Zookeeper" and "Horrible Bosses" had disappointingly big debuts on their hands while "Transformers 3" continued its massive run.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Film Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man" (**1/2)

The franchise reboot is a move that's almost always been met with criticism, or at least skepticism. Before Christopher Nolan brought "Batman Begins" for judging, most didn't even indulge the idea of a solid Batman film after "Batman and Robin". Same goes for "Star Trek" showing up after the maligned "Nemesis". "The Incredible Hulk" came under fire for its close proximity to the previous rendition, though it admittedly had itself more self-knowingly put together than Ang Lee's version. "The Amazing Spider-Man" has it toughest because it's coming on the heels of a franchise that rendered two quite wonderfully entertaining entries before being collapsed by studio self-interest.

We have to feel bad for Sam Raimi, who was preparing "Spider-Man 4" all in the midst of Sony planning to reboot the franchise altogether. In the grand scheme, it seems rather juvenile of them to trash the entire future of that franchise for the critical failures of "Spider-Man 3". What's even more juvenile is that Sony themselves were responsible for the overloads of plot glut that many blamed for the film's weaknesses. They were able to get away with the move, however, thanks to some crowd-pleasing casting of Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and the hiring of "500 Days of Summer" director Marc Webb.

"Jack Reacher" Teaser Trailer

Tom Cruise has had a tough run of the past week or so. After "Rock of Ages" landed to a sadly tepid response with both critics and audiences, Katie Holmes' divorce is just a further beating on a guy who just can't seem to please people enough. Fact of the matter is that he tries, and it comes through in nearly every single one of his performances. I don't recall a single time when he hasn't been convincing and devoted in his role. His next film and performance, "Jack Reacher", pitches to earn him back some favor with thrill seeking audiences. He's the main showcase in the film's first trailer, and though I'm hesitant to trailers that merely build the announcement of a character ("Red Lights" forever be damned), it's Tom Cruise. After all these years, he deserves the buildup.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Film Review: "Magic Mike" (****)

Matthew McConaughey takes the stage, back to the camera as he takes his passion to the crowd of screaming girls. As he peruses his own body, gloriously drinking in the glory of himself as the audience is, he repeatedly asks the question, "Can you touch this?" That seems to be the question that Soderbergh and company are faced with in "Magic Mike", as everyone is heading into this with certain preconceptions regarding what they will be seeing. I walked in knowing nothing other than the simple fact of Channing Tatum playing a male stripper, which seems like such a coy play for laughs, and could easily end up as such in another world.

Fascinatingly enough, the thing that puts "Magic Mike" automatically on the right course is the least thing you'd be expecting, that being Channing Tatum. The word that this film takes cues from Tatum's earlier career has not escaped audiences, but that brings a certain honesty to the table that would otherwise not exist. Even more respectable of Tatum is his refusal to put himself at the center of this world, building other elements to the world Mike inhabits. The film is absolutely his story, but everyone involved is working desperately to remove that imposition, not for the loss of personality, but for the sake of the audience it is made for.