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.