Monday, December 31, 2007

DVD COVER ART: ZODIAC -- THE DIRECTOR'S CUT


Love the look of this.  ZODIAC, one of the best films of 2007, is hitting dvd next week in a director's cut format.  David Fincher has a commentary track and there are a bunch of special features.  And the film itself is about 7 minutes longer.  Can't wait to pick this one up.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

AND LET ME ADD...

that this was a nearly impossible list to make.  

BIG PROJECT

As I reflect on this past year and look forward to the next, I've noticed that my love and passion for watching movies is growing and expanding at a huge rate.  I love watching, discussing, and sharing them with friends, family, and strangers.  I have a number of big projects coming up for 2008, one of them being a piece I will begin working on in the next few weeks; it's called 50 MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE YOU'RE 30.  Below you will find the 50 movies I have chosen to write about; if you think there's one I have missed that demands to be seen, please let me know as I will be researching and preparing for a little bit before I commence writing this particular article.  It will be a lengthy and time consuming endeavor, but it's something I want to hold up as a calling card for myself and anyone who loves, appreciates, and devours movies...like me.

Here's my preliminary list...let me know what you think:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Citizen Kane
  3. Black Hawk Down
  4. Fight Club
  5. Double Indemnity
  6. Braveheart
  7. 2001
  8. No Country for Old Men
  9. Fargo
  10. Some Like it Hot
  11. The Searchers
  12. Goodfellas
  13. Pulp Fiction
  14. Back to the Future
  15. Airplane
  16. The Magnificent Ambersons
  17. Rushmore
  18. Traffic
  19. Top Gun
  20. Heat
  21. Taxi Driver
  22. A Clockwork Orange
  23. Midnight Run
  24. The Big Sleep
  25. Bladerunner
  26. Rashomon
  27. Raging Bull
  28. Leon
  29. The Big Lebowski
  30. Seven
  31. The Passenger
  32. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  33. The Thin Red Line
  34. Superman: The Motion Picture
  35. The Godfather Part 1
  36. The Godfather Part 2
  37. Irreversible
  38. My Left Foot
  39. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  40. Blow Up
  41. All The President’s Men
  42. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  43. The Deer Hunter
  44. The New World
  45. The Lost Weekend
  46. Jaws
  47. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  48. Amacord
  49. The Insider
  50. Major League

Saturday, December 29, 2007

TOP 30 OF 2007

Julian Schnabel’s THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

David Fincher’s ZODIAC

Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD

Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER

David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES

Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

Tim Burton’s SWEENEY TODD

Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE


Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON

Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM

Zack Snyder’s 300

Paul Greengrass’ THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS

Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA

Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP

John Carney’s ONCE

Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN

Tamara Jenkins’ THE SAVAGES


Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT

Jason Reitman’s JUNO

Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE

Kevin Lima’s ENCHANTED

Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE

Gore Verbinski’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END

James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT

Dan Klores’ CRAZY LOVE

Gavin Hood’s RENDITION

Paul Haggis’ IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

TEASER POSTER: HANCOCK


Simple.  Stylish.  Cool.  Can't wait.


Friday, December 28, 2007

QUICK COMMENTS: SWEENEY TODD

Wow.  Yet again I walk into a movie theater in 2007 and yet again I am blown away. SWEENEY TODD, one of visionary director Tim Burton's absolute finest efforts, was a mesmerizing movie musical, the best of any of the recent tuners to hit the screen.  Macabre, gothic, and beautifully realized in all production departments, SWEENEY TODD is, in many ways, a masterpiece of tone, style, filmmaking, and storytelling.  The actor/director bond that Johnny Depp and Burton have formed has hit a new crescendo.  Depp is in complete command of his vocals, delivering a richly compelling performance.  Burton is firing on all cylinders here, working with themes that he's been exploring for years in films as diverse, yet strangely similar, as ED WOOD, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, BIG FISH, BATMAN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  He fuses his grand filmmaking techniques with an intimate story of love, revenge, and murder.  Working with the phenomenal cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN 1-3), Burton brings a near monochromatic look to much of the film; SWEENEY TODD is painted in varying shades of grey, black, and white, with a surreal red darting across the screen as Depp's Sweeney slices throats and spills blood on his way to salvation.  Horror films and musicals are two of my least favorite genres, but with Burton and Depp doing something wild and genre busting like SWEENEY TODD (a lovingly bloody R-rated musical),  it was impossible for me not to get sucked into this world immediately.  Grand guignol of the highest order, John Logan's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's original play is bracingly nihilistic yet strangely cathartic by the end; the film's final images are unforgettable.  Add another four star film to the pile for this year, one of the best I've ever experienced at the movies.  My full review will appear soon. 

Thursday, December 27, 2007

PETER BERG DIRECTING YET ANOTHER KICK ASS FILM

Per Variety:

Columbia passes 'Salt' to Peter Berg

'Hancock' director in talks for Cruise spy thriller

Peter Berg is in talks to take the directing reins on the Tom Cruise starrer "Edwin A. Salt" for Columbia Pictures.

Terry George had been attached to helm the spy thriller, which is slated to start shooting in June, depending on labor developments.

Berg, who recently wrapped the Will Smith starrer "Hancock" for the studio, met with Cruise to discuss the project, which centers on a CIA officer fingered as a Russian sleeper spy out to assassinate the president. While trying to reunite with his family, he struggles to prove someone else is the traitor. Kurt Wimmer ("The Recruit") penned the screenplay.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura is producing "Edwin A. Salt" alongside Sunil Perkash.

Although actor-helmer Berg has never directed Cruise before, the two shared the screen in two recent Cruise vehicles: "Lions for Lambs" and "Collateral."

If Berg signs on to direct "Edwin A. Salt," he would prep the pic while doing post-production on "Hancock." He is expected to deliver his print of "Hancock" in May.

"Edwin A. Salt" will shoot half on stages in L.A. and half on location on the East Coast.

Berg most recently directed "The Kingdom" for Universal Pictures.


Well this sounds awesome.  I have heard GREAT things about this script.  Berg directed the piss out of THE KINGDOM and HANCOCK looks like a crazy action romp.  This new film sounds like it could be his best film yet.  I watched some of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS a few days ago and I was reminded of how incredibly put together that film is.  There is just something about his directorial style that really sits well with me.


BROADWAY

There's no place like New York City and there's nothing like seeing a show on Broadway...especially when it's a show as masterful as AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.  My full review will appear soon for this terrific, dark, sad, and often hilarious family comedy from writer Tracy Letts (BUG).  The acting from everyone in the extremely talented cast was top-notch, and the themes explored by Letts pick at the emotional scabs of every character involved; it's riveting stuff.

Look out for my full review, and also my long-in-the-works review of the finest motion picture of 2007: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

BEST OF THE YEAR FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

A.O. Scott, who is one of my favorite film critics, has chosen his best films of the year
(his top two are 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, & TWO DAYS and RATATOUILLE), and it's a rather interesting list to say the least:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/23/movies/23scot.html?_r=1&ref=movies&oref=slogin


And here's the best of the year from the Times' other film critic, another of my personal favorites, Manohla Dargis (her best of the year was a tie between ZODIAC and THERE WILL BE BLOOD and she gives a shout-out to THE KINGDOM!):

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/23/movies/23darg.html?ref=movies

QUICK COMMENTS: THE SAVAGES

I saw Tamara Jenkins' THE SAVAGES (****) last night. Awesome film. Loved it. Dark and sad and very funny. As usual, Philip Seymour Hoffman was great. But it was Laura Linney who stole the show. Movie after movie, performance after performance, Linney has proven to be an exceptional actress. I submit to you the following films: DAVE, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, PRIMAL FEAR, THE TRUMAN SHOW, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, MYSTIC RIVER, LOVE ACTUALLY, P.S., KINSEY, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, and BREACH. She's appeared in even more than that. And each time, she's been fully committed, extremely emotional, and always engrossing to watch. She's been one of my absolute favorite actresses for a while now, and in THE SAVAGES, I'm tempted to say she's given her best performance yet. The film, which has Hoffman and Linney playing brother and sister, is a dark comedy about how they have to take care of their ailing father after the death of his girlfriend. Their father, a tough old S.O.B. played to perfection by Philip Bosco, is suffering from delusions and early Parkinsons disease. It's a brilliant performance actually; never resorting to actorly ticks and convulsions, Bosco downplays the physical, in favor of the emotional, and the results are devastating. Yet never fully depressing. It's in the fine details, and this film is a subtly tricky one; you'll have to see the film to know what I mean. And I reccommend that you do. This is small film, a true low budget effort. No guns, car chases or explosions. It's not glossy; Jenkins favors chilly winter and gloomy skies over a Michael Bay sunset. It's generously written, honestly acted, and confident yet modest in its direction. And it's also extremely funny. My full review will appear soon, but add it to the pile of great work from a diverse group of filmmakers this year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

THE 10 BEST & THE 10 WORST SO FAR THIS YEAR

There are still a bunch of films left for me to see this year, but here's my 10 best and 10 worst for 2007 thus far:

BEST

1. Julian Schnabel’s THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
2. Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
3. Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
4. David Fincher’s ZODIAC
5. Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
6. Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
7. David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
8. Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
9. Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
10. (tie) Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON
Peter Berg's THE KINGDOM


WORST

1. Marcus Nispel's PATHFINDER
2. Dennis Dugan's I KNOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY
3. Adam Shankman's HAIRSPRAY
4. Ken Kwapis' LICENSE TO WED
5. Dave Meyers' THE HITCHER
6. Joel Schumacher's THE NUMBER 23
7. James Foley's PERFECT STRANGER
8. Walt Becker's WILD HOGS
9. Len Wiseman's LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
10. Sam Raimi's SPIDERMAN 3

QUICKTIME TRAILER FOR HANCOCK!


Peter Berg's upcoming summer action flick HANCOCK, starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman, and Charlize Theron, has released it's first official trailer in Quicktime format....check out the craziness here:


Besides the fact that this movie will probably make a billion dollars next summer, this early footage indicates that this is going to be a big-budget summer action film with a different sort of edge. Michael Mann had been attached to direct this film for a long time, and in the end, retained a producer credit on the film (he was also a producer on Berg's THE KINGDOM, another film he was set to direct for a while). Exploring a dark, sloppy, drunk superhero who has lost his touch and adding an interesting romantic element to the story is certainly different than any of the recent exploits of SUPERMAN and SPIDERMAN. I'm excited and very curious about this film. Berg is working with his FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS cinematographer Tobias Schleisser, and the script is credited to some interesting writers. Oh yeah...Charlize Theron is pretty hot as well.

THE KINGDOM HITS DVD EARLY

Peter Berg's gripping action film THE KINGDOM, released this past fall, was originally supposed to hit dvd shelves this coming Tuesday. However, due to the holidays, Universal released the disc yesterday (at least at Best Buy on Pico in West Los Angeles). After watching the film with the commentary supplied by Berg, I love the movie even more. He's a cool guy to listen to; informative, funny, and modest. The various documentaries detailing all forms of production on the film are also terrifc. I loved this film after I saw it at a test screening last April, and the second viewing upon regular theatrical release last September was equally as exciting. It's a no fat, no nonsense procedural with an exotic setting and some absolutely first rate action sequences. Sporting an R-rating, and earning it during some particularly brutal close-quarters shoot-outs, it's a visceral film that pulls no punches. It's also smart and timely; the dark coda packs a punch as well. If you missed this film in the theaters, well, shame on you. Check it out on DVD.

Friday, December 21, 2007

ROGER EBERT'S TOP 10 OF 2007

Here's Ebert's top 10 for the year; some good picks in there from my favorite critic:

1. Juno
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
4. Atonement
5. The Kite Runner
6. Away From Her
7. Across the Universe
8. La Vie En Rose
9. The Great Debaters
10. Into the Wild

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071220/COMMENTARY/176124809

THE LAST MOVIE WEEKENDS OF 2007

I am preparing to head back east for Christmas and I couldn't be any more excited; I have the red-eye on Sunday night, landing at 6am Connecticut time on Christmas eve. Time with family, good eating, my comfortable, old house in my quiet neighborhood. Away from all the annoyances and business of Los Angeles, I will be looking forward to some decompression time, and of course, seeing some films.

Here's a list of the remaining films I plan on seeing before the end of the year: SWEENEY TODD, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I AM LEGEND, THE SAVAGES, WALK HARD, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, THE KITE RUNNER, and THE GREAT DEBATERS. After I have seen those, I will then be able to create my final best and worst of the year list and comments, as well as my personal picks for the Academy Awards.

It's been a phenomenal year of movie watching, one of the best of my lifetime.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

THE BIGGEST PIECE OF SHIT OF THE YEAR IS...

PATHFINDER ZERO STARS

A massive piece of cinematic dung, Marcus Nispel's PATHFINDER is almost beyond description. Now, you may not even know about this film. I'm betting most people don't. Released on 1,700 screens (a relatively low count by most major release standards) last April and costing roughly $30 million dollars, the film is a bargain-basement disaster, a Ridley Scott wannabe actioner that has more in common with Uwe Boll than GLADIATOR. Seriously--Boll probably loves this piece of shit. The set up is initially intriguing; young Viking boy is left by his waring elders with a group of Native Americans, roughly 600 years before Columbus started tearing stuff up. The boy grows up to be a powerful warrior; the actor is Karl Urban, who was either drunk during production, or is mildly mentally retarded. Anyways, our hero, whose name is Ghost(!), encounters his people again, only 15 years later. Buff and ready to crack some skulls, he's been raised by, and has naturally come to love, his fellow Native Americans. So when the Vikings show up again looking to pick a fight, he fights against his own kind. Heads roll, limbs are hacked off, raspberry syrup is flung across the frame; and it all looks incredibly phony. If screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis had taken her idea seriously, we might have gotten a fun action movie with a unique setting, playing off familiar films such as DANCES WITH WOLVES and THE LAST SAMURAI. Instead, under the clumsy directorial hand of Nispel, who is also responsible for the needless TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake, the audience is insulted with one stupid scene after another. What passes for dialogue is puerile; the plotting is beyond obvious and contrived. It's a wonder that a movie this toxic could actually make it through the Hollywood studio system. But when you've gotta make your slate, you've gotta make your slate, and at $30 million, I have to assume that Fox figured they'd have a film that would sell some dvds and do well internationally. Well folks, I'm here to say that PATHFINDER is the worst movie of the year. And audiences smelled it: it grossed $10 million domestically. But what's most irritating, is that it might have been good. I mean, had a truly talented writer come up with something remotely interesting to happen in the same setting that this film provides, I think it could've worked. I will give Nispel credit on one thing and one thing only--some of his individual shot compositions were quite striking. But it's few and far between, and as the relatively spare running time wore on, I kept looking at the clock. I had a feeling that this would be a piece of trash; the rottentomatoes rating is 11% with a 0% cream of the crop. That's pretty fucking bad. And to be honest, as much fun as it is to have seen such out-and-out masterpieces like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, ZODIAC, and JESSE JAMES (to name a few) this year, it's good to watch a bad movie every once in a while. It's cleanses the palate. Now having said that, I'm going to walk up to the mail box right now and send the dvd back to Netflix tonight--I don't want this dvd stinking up my apartment any more than it already has.

REVIEW: ATONEMENT

ATONEMENT ****
This year’s sweeping, epic romance ATONEMENT, from director Joe Wright (PRIDE & PREJUDICE), is about as Oscar-friendly as movies can get. Pretty much every single department of the filmmaking process is firing on all cylinders for a film of this sort; similar to tragic war-time romances like COLD MOUNTAIN and THE ENGLISH PATIENT, ATONEMENT delivers cinematic grandeur and intimacy on a large scale. Based on Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel, the screenwriter Christopher Hampton (DANGEROUS LIASONS, THE QUIET AMERICAN) has expertly fashioned a tale of lust, jealousy, and deception while never losing sight of the story’s relatively tight trajectory. It’s a layered tale that is engrossing on both a visual and narrative level, highlighted by two terrific central performances by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley.

ATONEMENT centers on three main characters; Robbie (McAvoy), Cecilia (Knightley), and Cecilia’s sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). The stage is the London countryside, circa 1935; the war machine is almost ready to begin cranking its wheels. Robbie, the good looking, educated son of the family's housekeeper has harbored feelings for Cecilia for years and vice versa; their longing looks for one another say it all. Sparks fly and the two young lovers engage in a library room tryst that Briony walks in on, confusing it for something else. Meanwhile, the precocious Briony, an aspiring playwright, has a crush on Robbie as well; the jealousy that she holds of her sister compels her to accuse Robbie of a crime he did not commit. And even though that Cecilia and Robbie declare their love for each other, Robbie is arrested. Cue WWII, and Robbie and Cecilia are separated even further; he’s a soldier and she’s a nurse. Briony has grown up but continues to seek forgiveness for her reckless behavior years before. Everyone’s lives intersect but will happiness find Robbie and Cecilia? And will Cecilia ever be able to forgive her sister? By the time the painful ending comes and the truth is revealed (I dare not spoil the particulars), you’ll be riveted by the tension.

The sordid nature of some of the plot elements in ATONEMENT was surprisingly soapy in the fine details; it’s a sexy story with sexy actors and there is palpable chemistry between McAvoy and Knightley. Similar to the long-gestating romance at the center of the Civil War saga COLD MOUNTAIN, ATONEMENT is about the enduring power of love; no matter what obstacles the characters face, they only care about being reunited. Hampton’s screenplay is tasteful and tactful and his dialogue crackles with period-flavor and authenticity. McAvoy, who registered strongly in last year’s THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, is impressive as Robbie. He's manly enough to suggest that he could become a regular leading man in Hollywood films, but there's an interesting feminine quality he holds at the same time. He’s a little short to be the proto-typical “leading man” I think. He's an emotional actor, and his crystal clear blue eyes pierce the screen with a quiet dignity. And Knightley, now a pro at these types of costume dramas, aces every scene she appears in, and could teach an acting class about stately, British diction; her voice is so sharp it could cut glass. Impossibly skinny yet beautiful to look at all the same, Knightley has progressed as an actress from film to film; she's one of my favorites. But the real find is Ronan; considering that Briony is a thoroughly detestable character, her skill as an actress in the small details allows the audience to possibly grasp why she does what she does. Ronan landed the role in Peter Jackson’s upcoming adaptation of THE LOVELY BONES based largely upon her work in this film.

The movie works as well as it does because director Wright, who demonstrated a steady, un-showy professionalism in his previous collaboration with Knightley, PRIDE & PREJUDICE, aims high with his ambitions and delivers a powerfully observed tale of love and redemption. However, the entire film comes to a halt about halfway through when Wright, and his amazing cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (WORLD TRADE CENTER), stage a six minute tracking shot of Robbie walking along the beach at Dunkirk that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This bravura sequence, highlighted by any number of logistically complicated camera moves and background action, is lyrical without being pretentious, challenging yet amazingly assured. It’s up there with some of the greatest single takes in cinema history, earning its rightful place next to the Copacabana shot in GOODFELLAS, the opening shot of Brian De Palma’s SNAKE EYES, the opening sequence of Orson Wells’ TOUCH OF EVIL, and any of the single take sequences in last year’s masterwork CHILDREN OF MEN. I have had the opportunity to watch this sequence in ATONEMENT a few times, and each time I see it, the more impressive it becomes.

ATONEMENT is a very well made film. It’s forcefully acted, accomplished in every department of the filmmaking process, and thematically rich. My only complaint is that there wasn’t a big battle sequence, but that’s not what this film is about, so I can’t hold the filmmakers at fault for not figuring out a way to shoehorn in something that doesn’t belong. It was my preconceived notion of the genre that led me to believe that there’d be some bloody battlefield action. And in the end, the film doesn’t need it; I was waiting for it to happen because I expected it to come. And while I loved watching ATONEMENT, it won’t end up in my top 10; this year has been just too damn good. However, I will not be surprised in the slightest if ATONEMENT is nominated for multiple Academy Awards; it’s the kind of film that the Academy loves. That said, mark it down as yet another excellent piece of filmmaking for 2007.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

REVIEW: JUNO

JUNO ***1/2

JUNO, the new comedy from director Jason Reitman (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING), is one of those quirky, pseudo-independent films that a lot of people absolutely flip out for. Me…I liked it. I really liked it. I didn’t love it, however, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. I’ve seen it twice now; there’s no debating that debut screenwriter Diablo Cody is someone to watch. Her script is punchy, sharp, and frequently funny. There’s a certain charm and a distinct air of melancholy that hangs over this comedic farce, and while I don’t think it reaches the heights of this year’s other pregnancy comedy KNOCKED UP, JUNO is a sweet little movie that is going to find a passionate audience. Possibly a bit too smug and self-satisfied for its own good, JUNO has shades of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and ELECTION running through its veins. I found myself constantly smiling and chuckling all throughout, and occasionally laughing out loud; it’s one of those comedies that needs to be seen twice because you will miss some of the jokes the first time around.

Ellen Page, who blew me away with her performance in last year’s HARD CANDY, is Juno, a spunky 16 year old Minnesota high school student who ends up pregnant after a fling with her best friend Paulie (a terrific Michael Cera). They’re not a couple per se, but it’s clear that there are some feelings between the two of them. They’re better friends than they are lovey-dovey boyfriend and girlfriend; the respect that they have for one another is the glue that keeps them together. So what’s a 16 year old pregnant girl to do? Get an abortion? After a messy encounter at a clinic, Juno decides that she’s going to have the baby, but give it up for adoption to a couple in need. And here’s where the best elements of the story come into focus. Juno picks a typical yuppie couple who are having problems conceiving naturally; the parents-to-be are played with perfection by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. From there, the film becomes a statement about personal responsibility and the effects that something only like a pregnancy can bring to caring people. To even hint at the film’s ending would be a crime. Rounding out the ensemble cast is the always awesome J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s very understanding parents, and Rainn Wilson in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. But the film belongs to Page, who dominates the screen every time she appears; she’s a lock for a best actress Oscar nomination.

Reitman, whose debut film was the brilliant satire THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, is a natural born storyteller (his dad is comedy director Ivan Reitman). He has an easy-going, relaxed style and creates a particular rhythm with JUNO that feels effortless and breezy. The script by Cody is always self-aware and knowing, and it’s here where the movie gets a little too smart for its own good. I’m just not sure if teenagers really talk they way they do in this film as they do in real life. The dialogue has the attitude of a 28 year old blogger (which Cody is); it’s a heightened form of speech that you only see in the movies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, when compared to the amazingly realistic dialogue of the similarly themed KNOCKED UP, Cody can’t compete. Her pg-13 rated vernacular and sexual lingo is certainly funny, but it’s too interested in pleasing itself rather than the audience; it was only until the second viewing that I caught some of the wittier, more subtle jokes. And the music, which works excellently while in context with what’s on screen, is of the usual soft-tempo, indie-rock variety that can sometimes become an annoyance. It’s a testament to Reitman’s skill as a director that he’s able to wrangle all of these elements into such a satisfying picture.

However, I have one major gripe with the film, which is that the two main characters never, even once, thought to use a condom. We see them in sex-ed class, being shown how a condom should be applied (a banana is used in a funny sight gag), and we have to assume that since kids nowadays have heard so much about teen pregnancy that Juno and Paulie might have thought about using protection. But nope, it’s never discussed or even lamented over after the pregnancy is revealed. There is something unique about the film’s stance on teen pregnancy; while not outright encouraging it, Cody and Reitman are basically saying that there’s a lot worse that could happen to a 16 year old girl than get pregnant and actually go through with the child birthing process. It’s sort of a bold statement to make in this day and age and I applaud the filmmakers for taking a different stance on this sensitive issue.

For me, though, the best parts of JUNO involve Bateman and Garner, who has personally never been better on the big screen. Bateman, playing the ultimate man-boy, is perfect at capturing the mundane and the mournful; he’s scared to become a father, and he’s not sure if he himself has fully grown up yet. Watch him as he’s in “his room” full of his music stuff; it’s priceless. Garner, who should be considered for a best supporting actress nomination for her work, is amazing. Playing a neurotic, OCD-inflicted worry-wort, she nails every scene she’s in. Watch the tender moment she has with Juno in the shopping mall when she puts her hands on Juno’s pregnant belly; there’s more truth in that once scene than most movies have in their entirety. She cuts such a convincing portrait of a slightly depressed, overly manicured, wannabe soccer mom that it’s hard not to empathize with her, especially when the script takes a few unexpected turns.

JUNO is a lot of fun. It’s a good-hearted comedy that will make you laugh, smile, and think a little. The quirks and kinks of a story like this can sometimes feel labored in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. Reitman strikes the right balance between the whimsy of his style and the acrid nature of Cody’s dialogue. It wouldn’t surprise me if JUNO becomes a big hit ala LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE; I personally preferred the former more than the latter (and I enjoyed LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE as well), and it was clear to me that the audience was eating all of JUNO right up. A definite crowd pleaser, JUNO will work its considerable charms over anyone who has a chance to see it.


MINI REVIEW: ONCE

ONCE (****), John Carney's small, modest masterpiece, is the musical for people who don't like traditional musicals. I saw the film this past summer but never got around to reviewing it; after watching it for the second time last night on dvd, I was immediately reminded of its many charms. A sleeper hit on the art-house box office circuit, ONCE is the sort of film that will find a massive second-life on dvd and cable; it's a super low-budget effort that sits along side THE COMMITMENTS as one of the best working-class musical dramas of all time. There is spoken dialogue throughout the film, but much of the story is told through song. The actors, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, were friends for a long time before they shot the movie, and are musicians first and foremost. The story is simple: boy meets girl, boy wants girl, girl sort-of wants boy, boy impresses girl, girl warms up to boy, and then....well...I'm not spoiling. What I will tell you is that each and every musical sequence is divine, especially when the two actors collaborate in the back of a music shop. It's one of the best single scenes of the year. The emotion, joy, and love that the characters develop for each other, and that they share over the power of music, is enough to lift you out of your seat and make you cheer. And the ending of the story is just about perfect; I couldn't have imagined a better way to cap this lovely film. By the end of the film's swift 86 minute run-time, you'll be wishing that there was one more song to be heard. Carney, who played in a band years ago with Hansard, takes a natural stylistic approach to his story, employing a hand-held digital camera shooting style that adds to the realism of the story. Much of the film, which took 17 days to shoot on a $150,000 budget, was shot by the cameramen from a distance, thus relaxing the actors and allowing them to be spontaneous with their performances. Honestly, the less I hype this movie up the better. It's a true gem, one that I look forward to re-watching over and over again. Seek this film out, you won't be disappointed.

POSTER: PRIDE AND GLORY

I love the cop/procedural genre. Ed Norton and Colin Farrell, two of my favorite actors, star in the long-delayed crime film PRIDE AND GLORY, from director Gavin O'Connor (MIRACLE). The script was co-written by O'Connor with NARC and SMOKIN' ACES writer/director Joe Carnahan, so I expect some serious ass-kicking in this film. The film hits theaters next spring. I look forward to the release of a trailer. Love the poster.

STAR CHANGE

After watching Joe Wright's masterful romantic drama ATONEMENT for the first time on the big screen, I came to the conclusion that it was a 3.5 star film. Now, after watching it for the second time last night (courtesy of an Academy Award screener dvd), I am upping it to the 4 star mark. I bumped it up after watching (twice) the tour de force, six-and-a-half-minute stedicam shot which features James McAvoy's character stumbling along a war-torn beach, appearing in and out of frame, involving a large number of logistically complicated background action and camera moves, resulting in one of the finest single takes in cinema history. A staggering achievement.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT: NEW TERRY MALICK!!!

Per Variety:

Pitt in talks to star in 'Tree of Life'; Sean Penn to co-star in Malick drama

By MICHAEL FLEMING

Brad Pitt is in talks to climb into "Tree of Life," a drama Terrence Malick wrote and will direct.
River Road is financing, and Bill Pohlad is producing with Sarah Green ("The New World") and Grant Hill. Pitt, who recently ankled the Universal Pictures drama "State of Play," would replace Heath Ledger, who was skedded to star with Sean Penn in the Malick-directed drama, which begins production in the spring. Though Penn is booked to play the title character in the Gus Van Sant-directed "Harvey Milk," he's still expected to play a supporting role in "Tree of Life." Penn has an allegiance to River Road's Pohlad, who co-financed with Paramount Vantage the Penn-directed "Into the Wild."No deals have been made with Pitt or Penn. Pitt would have earned $20 million against gross to star in "State of Play," but he'll likely sign on to "Tree of Life" for nearly no upfront money.


In a word--unfuckingbelievable.

TERRY GILLIAM

I love Terry Gilliam's filmmaking style. He's never made a truly awful film (the worst would have to be THE BROTHERS GRIMM and I thought that was messy fun) and I have always found his movies to be thrilling on any number of levels. Just think--Gilliam has unleashed the following films on the public: BRAZIL, TIME BANDITS, BARON MUNCHAUSEN, 12 MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE FISHER KING, and TIDELAND. All of those are visionary works as far as I'm concerned, and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is one my top 20 films of all time.

Variety announced today that he's got a new film about to start production. Per the trade magazine:

"...the 67-year-old filmmaker, originally from Minneapolis but now a naturalized Brit, has just started shooting "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," a $30 million indie movie which he describes as 'a compendium of everything I've done.' It's his first wholly original screenplay, and his most personal statement, since "Brazil" in 1985. Set and shot in contemporary London and in parallel fantasy realms, it stars Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits and Lily Cole in a characteristically convoluted tale of a travelling theater troupe led by the 1,000-year-old Parnassus (Plummer), whose magical mirror lets his audience escape into a universe of boundless imagination."

Now...I must say....a fantasy fan I am not. However, given that this is a Terry Gilliam movie, I'll be there opening weekend.

Monday, December 17, 2007

TRAILER: HANCOCK

UPDATED: Sony has pulled the trailer from the net for some inane reason...

Peter Berg's first super-budget summer movie. Starring Will Smith. Release date: JULY 2, 2008. And...it looks...pretty f'ing sweet. Berg, who directed this years THE KINGDOM and is exec-producer on the television show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, is one of my favorite up and coming filmmakers. His movies have gotten progrssively better each time out (VERY BAD THINGS to THE RUNDOWN to FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS to THE KINGDOM) and here, it looks like he's fashioned a crazy, high-concept action-comedy that will make a mint next summer.

Here's the link: http://www.joblo.com/video/player.php?video=hancocktrailer

FORTHCOMING REVIEWS

I hope to post three more reviews by the end of this week for THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY (****), ATONEMENT (***1/2), and JUNO (***1/2). Its been a busy month and with the holidays coming up my time will be eaten up even more. But keep an eye out for these reviews throughout the week. There are still a handful of 2007 releases that I've yet to see, but by the middle of the first week of January '08, I should be ready to call 2007 quits and have a full, end of the year report, along with my final best-of/worst-of the year lists and summaries.

TRAILER: THE DARK KNIGHT

Looks. F'ing. Amazing.

You have blinders on if you don't agree.

http://atasteforthetheatrical.com/deathtrap/default.htm

TOP 20 OF 2007

I didn't see any new releases in the theater last weekend, and the two films from this year that I saw on DVD (LUST, CAUTION and HAIRSPRAY) didn't make my top 20. But here it is, slightly changed from last posting.

Julian Schnabel’s THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
David Fincher’s ZODIAC
Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON

Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300
Paul Greengrass’ THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS
Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT
Jason Reitman’s JUNO

QUICK REVIEWS

Adam Shankman's pitiful musical-comedy HAIRSPRAY (*) was basically unwatchable. I know, I know...it's supposed to be kitschy and cheesy and over-the-top but it was just so lame I could barely take it. John Travolta, flat out, was an embarrassment. Truly. The man has appeared in some god awful studio garbage in his time, delivering some classically hammy performances. But here, his work in drag AND a fat suit, was just too much to take. It also doesn't help that he delivered every line of dialogue in his best (or worst?) Dr. Evil voice. Shankman's direction is spirited, to be sure, but to the point of annoyance. There's nothing remotely subtle (I know, subtlety is not the aim here) about the film as it crashes from one scene to the next. The only thing that this cheese-fest proved was that the actor James Marsden, who tore it up in the much better ENCHANTED, should ditch the movie career and have a go at it as a musical-theater star. And don't get me started on Nikki Blonsky...nails on a chalkboard. This was one of the worst movies of the year.

LUST, CAUTION (***), Ang Lee's new World War II erotic thriller is part espionage noir, part artsy-fartsy sexploitation. The acting was good, the scenery was nice, the story was predictable. The much hyped sex scenes were graphic but nothing any more graphic than what's on display in HBO's masterpiece television show TELL ME YOU LOVE ME; the flexibility of the actors is the most interesting aspects of the sex scenes. Tony Leung is his steely, icy self, and newcomer Wei Tang has the skin of fine porcelain and cetainly photographs well. The movie, at two and a half hours, is overlong by at least 45 minutes, and the ending, while handled nicely, is predictable about half-way through. This film sort of compliments Lee's underseen (and better) civil war tale RIDE WITH THE DEVIL; there's lots of good stuff buried under a lot of pretty window-dressing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

REVIEW: ENCHANTED

ENCHANTED ***1/2

Kevin Lima’s delightful fantasy ENCHANTED is, simply put, the surprise of the year. Sometimes when you least expect it, a movie can sneak up on you and win you over when you’re least expecting it. That’s what happened to me with this wonderful family film from Disney. As much of a movie for adults as it is for kids, the fanciful tone, excellent mix of animated and live action photography, and revelatory performance from the radiant Amy Adams all add up to one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year. Bill Kelly’s funny, knowing screenplay pays homage and takes its cues from a litany of Disney classics (CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, SNOW WHITE, and THE LITTLE MERMAID are all slyly referenced) and Lima’s surprisingly steady directorial hand never lets all of the action spin out of control, even when the ending piles on one too many flights of fancy. Still, aside from some minor quibbles, this is the sort of film that only a person with a cold, cold heart couldn’t enjoy. And for all you men out there—if you think I’ve lost it, recommending a PG-rated Disney film, you really only need one reason to see this film, and that’s its lead actress. While your significant other will be smiling with delight with the musical numbers and outright charm, you’ll be crushing hard on Adams, who gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the film’s heroine.

The set-up is simple: a beautiful animated princess named Giselle (Adams) has found her prince charming, the typically dashing Edward (a terrific James Marsden). Trouble is, Edwards witch of a mother, Queen Narissa (the elegantly evil Susan Sarandon), doesn’t want her son to marry Giselle. So, she pushes Giselle down a well and sends her to a place where “happiness doesn’t exist.” That place turns out to be New York City. Circa 2007. The once animated Giselle pops up through a sewer grate in the middle of Times Square and realizes that she’s now a real person. A princess in a strange world, a true fish-out-of-water. Edward follows his love down the well and the prince finds himself in the middle of the city as well, looking for Giselle, who has happened upon a divorce attorney (ha-ha) named Robert (a bland but solid Patrick Dempsey) and his adorable daughter Morgan (the cute Rachel Covey). Their meet-cute is one of the best scenes in the film; Morgan, positive that she’s in the company of a real princess, sees Giselle hanging from a billboard of a castle (she thinks she’s found her palace), and from there, the movie never takes off and never looks back once. Trouble is coming though, as the evil queen heads to the big apple to get her son back, and to put an end to Giselle once and for all. And by the end of the film, Giselle will have to decide for herself which man in her life is her real knight in shining armor.

The movie opens (and closes) in animated form, and during the film’s live action middle-section, a parade of animated or digitally rendered characters surround Giselle in seamless fashion. There are a number of musical scenes in ENCHANTED; one of the film’s best sequences showcases Adams (who does all of her own signing and who has a lovely voice) cleaning up Robert’s messy apartment with the help of various animals and critters. The lyrics to her song are funny and sweet, and all of the musical numbers are reminiscent of bits from some of the great Disney classics. Borrowing from other stranger-in-a-strange-land movies such as SPLASH and ELF, the naïve and childish sensibility of Giselle is expertly handled by Adams, who is just beyond cute for the entire picture. And at the film’s climax, which takes place at (of course) a big costume ball/party, she makes the full transition to real-life princess with beauty and class. This movie wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is without the many charms of an actress like Adams; this is a big, robust performance that ranks with the best of the year, male or female. Comedies have long been considered to be a tough genre to garner award buzz for; it will be a crime if Adams’ delicious comedic performance is ignored by the Academy. And Marsden is sensational as the square-jawed prince who bounds around the city looking for his princess; the unbridled enthusiasm that he brings to his role is infectious. He should be considered for a best supporting actor nomination.

ENCHANTED almost goes over the top in the last 20 minutes with the arrival of a fire breathing dragon and certain characters dangling from building ledges, but Lima’s solid direction keeps the film moving at a clip. Kelly’s script is consistently engaging and is always respectful to the films that are being referenced. The visuals are lush and colorful (the talented cinematographer Don Burgess is behind the camera) and the film’s overall energy is pulsating and vibrant. This was not a film that I expected to love as much as I did, but every once in a while, there’s a film that works in ways you never expected. ENCHANTED is one of those films. It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s one of the most enjoyable. You’ll walk out smiling, singing, and in love with the irresistible Amy Adams.


REVIEW: I'M NOT THERE

I'M NOT THERE ***1/2

Todd Haynes’ experimental, eclectic new film I’M NOT THERE is a strange, bold film that strenuously avoids the routine conventions of the Hollywood musical biopic. Bob Dylan’s diverse career and life is the subject at hand, and Haynes, who previously directed the colorful satire of 1950’s melodramas FAR FROM HEAVEN, takes his audience on a trippy, surreal, occasionally frustrating ride through the many moments of Dylan’s impressionistic life. Abandoning the traditional three act structure and casting six different actors to play versions of Dylan, Haynes’ film is unique and fresh in ways that seem almost impossible for the genre. You won’t leave the theater knowing anything more about Dylan than you may already know, but for fans of his music, I’M NOT THERE is essential viewing.

Starting with the film’s title and continuing on with its defiance of a conventional narrative, I’M NOT THERE is about how Dylan was/is, essentially, a vapor of an individual. Representing different things to different people, Haynes’ nervy decision to cast multiple actors as the singer is an audacious move. It allows the audience to indulge in a multitude of feelings and sensations about the legendary singer, and his actors are pretty much all up to the task. And what a roster of talent he’s assembled: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and youngster Marcus Carl Franklin all take on their roles with gusto and passion. Some of the performances are better than others (Blanchett leads the pack followed closely by Ledger; Gere is miscast) but they all carry a distinct, hallucinatory quality that bridges the film’s desire to marry the expected with the unexpected. I’M NOT THERE is, at heart, an art film. It’s personal and uncompromising in its vision and design, and it’s unlike any other musical biopic I’ve ever seen. Oh yeah—the music is killer too.

Haynes, who also wrote the film, cuts back and forth between the various actors, forming a kaleidoscope effect of emotions, styles, and moods. Blanchett (brilliant) is the drugged out Dylan, unable to respond adequately to the press and critics, stumbling around in a stony daze. Ledger is a famous actor playing a role in a film that is Dylan-esque; he’s married (to the lovely French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg) and has a kid and shows zero desire to be a part of the family dynamic. Bale is Dylan as innovator and creator; one of the best scenes in the film is the infamous Virginia Beach concert where Dylan went electric for the first time, much to the chagrin of his loyal fans. Whishaw, so good in last year’s under seen masterpiece PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, is a bit wasted as the talking-head Dylan, spouting off lines of psychological assessment that work as links between the segments. Franklin, who has an awesome presence despite his young age and relative lack of acting experience, is Dylan represented as naive child and; the moments with Franklin singing with some train hobos is lyrical and sweet. But Gere, who roughly approximates Dylan when the singer took on a role in Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, is truly lost. He’s not helped by Haynes’ decision to insert a bit of Fellini-esque magical realism (the 8 ½ references are explicit), and his segment sort of shambles from one dazed moment to another. It’s a bold artistic decision of Haynes to add this layer to his already surreal tale, but it’s here where the film feels a bit unfocused.

I’M NOT THERE has been crafted with love, passion, and reverence by Haynes, and it’s a film for anyone who considers themselves a true Dylan fan. The beautiful texture and diverse multi-format cinematography by the estimable Ed Lachman (FAR FROM HEAVEN, THE LIMEY) is a pleasure for anyone who considers themselves a cinematography buff. And as I mentioned earlier, the music is dynamic; it sends you out of the theater on a high. I’M NOT THERE is a private, challenging film that will certainly frustrate viewers who go into the film looking for easy answers and clear-cut ideas. Haynes, who has established himself as a singularly idiosyncratic filmmaker (aside from the brilliantly conceived FAR FROM HEAVEN his work includes the stunning glam-rock expose VELVET GOLDMINE and the creepy domestic “thriller” SAFE), is an artist working overtime in artist mode. Never pretentious or labored, this long-ish film works up a full, heady stream of images, sound, and ideas, and culminates with an exceptional final shot that wraps the film up beautifully. This is an interesting film that I look forward to re-watching down the line.


THE DARK KNIGHT


This is one of the sexiest posters I've seen in quite some time. I love the look of this film already.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SPIKE JONZE IS A NUT...


...and a genius. I can't wait to see his next film, his adaptation of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Here's a sweet new picture from this sure-to-be-trippy film. It hits theaters October 3, 2008.




Tuesday, December 11, 2007

REVIEW: SOUTHLAND TALES (**1/2)

SOUTHLAND TALES (**1/2)
How can one accurately “review” Richard Kelly’s mind-bendingly asinine new film SOUTHLAND TALES? Kelly, who’s first film was the cult classic (and quite enjoyable) DONNIE DARKO, has stumbled with his second directorial effort, but he gets points for trying. A sprawling, semi-coherent, Los Angeles-based, head-trip of a film, SOUTHLAND TALES feels like one of the most expensive experimental films ever made. It’s a maddening sit, and at two-and-a-half-hours, it feels its length, especially during the film’s rambling mid-section. However, it’s impossible to completely dismiss this film as some critics have; while flawed, it’s a surreal, distinct vision that could only have come from a filmmaker with some serious talent. It’s an over-indulgent mess of a story that takes elements of political satire, post-apocalyptic nightmare, science-fiction fantasy, romantic drama, and movie-musical and throws them all into a blender and swirls them all up into a wacky smoothie of a movie, one that is only partially digestible.

It’s an impossible movie to dissect, but let me try. The film starts off in 2005, at a backyard, Fourth of July barbecue in Texas. Home video camera footage shows families playing with sparklers and eating hot dogs. Then, the unthinkable—a mushroom cloud can be seen in the horizon. An atomic bomb has been dropped in Abilene. The world is forever changed. We then jump three years into the future to Los Angeles; again, it’s July 4, 2008, but the world we knew is gone. Society stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. A fascist government is in control; big brother is lurking everywhere. Boxer Santaros (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. He crosses paths with a conniving porn star named Krysta Now (a sadly fully clothed Sara Michelle Geller), who, among other things, is developing her own reality television project. The two of them concoct a movie idea that has Boxer set to play a cop. Meanwhile, good-guy cop Ronald Taverner (an excellent Sean William Scott), agrees to allow Santaros to shadow him so he can get the feel for police life. But, it turns out that Taverner may hold the key to a vast conspiracy that nobody is ready to comprehend. There’s a lot more to SOUTHLAND TALES than that. Radicals are stirring up a political uprising, using Venice beach and Santa Monica as their home base; much of Los Angeles has been reduced to a DMZ. Armed soldiers monitor the beaches and streets with itchy trigger fingers. Then there’s the finale with two Roland Taverners, time-portals that open up into new dimensions, a floating ice cream truck, rocket launchers, and an exploding, futuristic zeppelin. There’s more…much more…but I’m at a loss to know how to summarize all of it.

Making all of these disparate threads add up to a cohesive whole is just one problem that Kelly encounters. Clearly, he’s bitten off well more than he can chew, but I have to hand it to him—while flawed in many respects, his film is never boring and is fascinating on many levels. One of the key problems with SOUTHLAND TALES is that Kelly is satirizing a world that doesn’t exist; its one thing to reference the work of Stanley Kubrick and other surrealist filmmakers, but Kelly doesn’t have a grip of his material. Sure, he’s created a frightening political and social landscape, one that in fact may not be too far away for all of us in reality. But by not basing his vision in any sort of realistic setting, the audience isn’t in on the joke like Kelly; he’s poking fun at a world that is so far removed from our own that his satire holds no weight. It might all make sense to him, but it doesn’t add up for the audience. The performances are broad, and in many respects, way over-played. “The Rock” has been effective in a few action flicks (check out Peter Berg’s underrated THE RUNDOWN) but here, he never fits into Kelly’s idiosyncratic groove. Geller, while still sexy, is over-eager in her role, and by the end, a bit of an annoyance. However, Sean William Scott, still best known for his immortal role of Stifler in the AMERICAN PIE franchise, is terrific; granted, his character (much like the audience) spends most of the film in a fog of confusion, but the charm and ease that he brings to this silly movie is effective and almost too good for the film in general.

This is the sort of film that feels like it’s been made by a bunch of stoners with tons of ideas and no sure way of expressing themselves. SOUTHLAND TALES lurches towards its fiery climax, and it’s only then that the movie takes off; the last 30 minutes are actually pretty awesome in a deranged, Terry Gilliam, chuck-it-all abandon that makes for some delirious fun. But if you asked me what the point of the film was, I wouldn’t know. And if you asked me what happened to every character (and more importantly why) I wouldn’t be able to answer. Kelly worked on this film extensively after he was booed at the Cannes Film Festival after he screened an almost three hour cut of the film. He snipped about 30 minutes from the run time, got rid of entire characters, added some special effects, but was still unable to create a tangible sense of purpose with SOUTHLAND TALES. Again, a film this creative, unique, and brazen could only come from an individual with an enormous imagination. And in today’s cookie-cutter Hollywood landscape, he deserves points for making a film as out there as this one. Too bad he couldn’t bring it all together to form something truly special, as SOUTHLAND TALES threatens to become. As is, SOUTHLAND TALES is an ambitious failure, one that I had some fun watching, have had more fun thinking about in the days after watching it, and should serve as a precedent for Kelly—next time, relax, and tell one story, not twelve.

Monday, December 10, 2007

BEST OF 2007

Here is my full list for the best and worst of 2007, in groups of 10:

Julian Schnabel’s THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
David Fincher’s ZODIAC
Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON

Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300
Paul Greengrass’ THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS
Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT
Jason Reitman’s JUNO

Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE
Kevin Lima’s ENCHANTED
Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE
Dan Klores’ CRAZY LOVE
James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT
Paul Haggis’ IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Gavin Hood’s RENDITION
Gore Verbinski’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
Billy Ray’s BREACH

Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
Peter Hedges’ DAN IN REAL LIFE
Michael Moore’s SICKO
Charles Ferguson’s NO END IN SIGHT
Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED
David Silverman’s THE SIMPSONS: THE MOVIE
Adrienne Shelly’s WAITRESS
Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES
Brian De Palma’s REDACTED
David Von Ancken’s SERAPHIM FALLS

Mike Binder’s REIGN OVER ME
Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST
Joe Carnahan’s SMOKIN’ ACES
DJ Caruso’s DISTURBIA
Michael Winterbottom’s A MIGHTY HEART
Steven Soderbergh’s OCEANS 13
Craig Brewer’s BLACK SNAKE MOAN
Terry George’s RESERVATION ROAD
Zoe Cassavettes’ BROKEN ENGLISH
Michael Davis’ SHOOT ‘EM UP

Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT
Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408
Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD
Robert Zemeckis’ BEOWULF (IMAX 3-D)
Jonathan Kasdan’s IN THE LAND OF WOMEN
Luc Besson’s ANGEL-A
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini’s THE NANNY DIARIES
William Friedkin’s BUG
Mark Polish’s THE ASTRONAUT FARMER
Will Speck & Josh Gordon’s BLADES OF GLORY

Antoine Fuqua’s SHOOTER
Curtis Hanson’s LUCKY YOU
Gregory Hoblit’s FRACTURE
Nick Cassavettes’ ALPHA DOG
Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ
Nimrod Attal’s VACANCY
Akiva Schaffer’s HOT ROD
Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s GRINDHOUSE
Sam Raimi’s SPIDERMAN 3
Bruce Evans’ MR. BROOKS

Len Wiseman’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Walt Becker’s WILD HOGS
Dennis Dugan’s I KNOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY
Joel Schumacher’s THE NUMBER 23
James Foley’s PERFECT STRANGER
Dave Meyer’s THE HITCHER

Sunday, December 9, 2007

TWO MORE EXCELLENT FILMS

ATONEMENT and JUNO, two very different movies, were both excellent. JUNO is a fast, razor sharp comedy that is surprisingly well observed. And ATONEMENT is a classic, sweeping, beautifully photographed romantic epic. More to come this week on both.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

ASTONISHING

Julian Schnabel's masterpiece THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY was an overwhelming experience to view on the big screen. Certainly one of the best films of the year (if not the best...), it's an emotionally shattering work of art, with some of the greatest camerawork and visual storytelling that I have ever seen. I have not digested this amazing picture fully, but let me just say that if you live in a city where this film is playing and you don't see it, you're doing a disservice to yourself. I will not lie--this is a tough picture to watch at times, and while never agonizingly graphic, it's a film that will invade your mind, and take full control of your emotions.

Friday, December 7, 2007

THIS WEEKEND AT THE MOVIES

I plan on seeing THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY on Saturday and both JUNO and ATONEMENT on Sunday; should be an excellent weekend at the theaters!

REVIEW: BEOWULF

BEOWULF **

Robert Zemeckis’ BEOWULF is one of the great disappointments of the year. Even after seeing it in the much hyped 3-D IMAX format, I was left completely underwhelmed. Sure, the technology is cool and the movie has some fun moments, but overall, it’s boring, cheesy, campy, and repetitive. Zemeckis’ passion for and reliance on his much discussed motion-capture CGI technique has started to overshadow his wonderful storytelling abilities. True, BEOWULF offers some simple pleasures: you get to see Angelina Jolie mostly nude, there are some nice fight sequences, and the great Ray Winstone is a true man’s-man. But the exciting moments are few and far between, and the story’s repetitious structure becomes a slog, especially after the one hour mark. Having never read the epic poem that screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have adapted for the screen, I wasn’t comparing the film to its source material; I was at the IMAX theater for pure spectacle. And it just didn’t pop the way I thought it would.

Winstone is Beowulf, the mighty monster slayer who is brought to a Dutch village by King Hrothgar (a de-aged Anthony Hopkins) that is being terrorized by a sadistic creature named Grendel (a disgustingly rendered, motion-captured Crispin Glover). Grendel gets upset when the king and his villagers throw drunken parties; it gives him a headache. Or something to that effect. So Grendel makes it a habit of party crashing, usually with the goal of slaughtering everyone in the vicinity. After an inexplicably nude Beowulf takes on Grendel in a one on one fight to the death, Beowulf realizes a much greater danger lays in wait for him: mommy. Grendel’s seductive and evil mother (the otherworldly sexy Jolie) makes him an offer he can’t refuse and the plot thickens. Beowulf becomes a king and fights a massive dragon, all the while still contending with his actions stemming from his encounter with Grendel’s mother. The message of the film is simple and timeless: hot women can’t be trusted.

I pretty much hate the motion-capture process when it’s used exclusively to tell a story. The entire film looked like a Playstation video game and while the 3-D elements were at times striking, the overall effect had an artificial and numbing quality to the images. When director Gore Verbinski and the geniuses at ILM created the motion-capture character of Davy Jones in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, they chose to create the character as a motion-capture CGI creation. But the reason why that worked so well was because the rest of the film was shot live action combined with real actors on real sets in real time. The overall effect of seeing so many computer effects in BEOWULF completely detaches the viewer from the viewing experience. Fine, some of the renderings were amazing. Jolie looked even hotter than she does in real life, and Winstone looked pretty cool. But the other female characters were soft and gauzy looking, and there’s something so strange about looking at a younger, almost alien looking Anthony Hopkins. The process was never consistent and it just grew irritating. And while the 3-D was snazzy in fits and starts, it all started to feel like the world’s most expensive pop-up book.

BEOWULF makes a huge step back for Zemeckis, a filmmaker I have loved without reservation for many years. I found his last 3-D motion-capture film, THE POLAR EXPRESS, to be a truly thrilling cinematic experience. Some of the enjoyment that I got from that film was on a purely sentimental level; the novel was read by my father every year at Christmas. The motion-capture IMAX 3-D experience of THE POLAR EXPRESS was infinitely more enjoyable when compared to what’s on display in BEOWULF. In THE POLAR EXPRESS, you're on that gigantic train as it skids over that frozen lake and winds through the snow-capped mountains. I never got that visceral rush once while watching BEOWULF. Zemeckis seems to have lost interest in making real films. Much like James Cameron, Zemeckis has become an innovator first, filmmaker second. And I am disappointed by that. I loved BACK TO THE FUTURE 1-3, CAST AWAY, FORREST GUMP, CONTACT, and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (where Zemeckis was innovating AND telling a great story). The way that Zemeckis, in the past, has blended his special effects into live action shooting is nothing short of trendsetting and remarkable. But again, in movies past, the special effects served the story, rather than becoming the story. I maintain that if Zemeckis had mounted a live-action $150 million version of BEOWULF with a few motion-captured characters (Grendel, the dragon), the overall result would have been much, much better. Actually, it probably would have been amazing. Imagine BRAVEHEART in 3-D. GLADIATOR in 3-D. Now we’re talking. Creating an entire film in motion-capture is silly and childish. Why we’re treated to a glimpse of Hopkins’ digitally smoothed-over naked rear-end as he plays a younger version of himself is just the tip of the ice berg.

I wanted to enjoy BEOWULF. I had every reason to believe that I would love it. But I didn't. And I had a nagging sense during almost the entire film that Zemeckis was more interested in playing around with whatever the latest technology was/is, and that he lost sight of telling a rip-roaring action adventure story. When I initially heard that Zemeckis was going to make this film, I was very excited. The prospect of a 3-D IMAX action film on a scale like this was something to be excited for. And even though I wasn't a huge fan of the motion-capture process, I had faith in Zemeckis as I've never truly been let down by one of his films. Alas, BEOWULF turned out to be just that—a major league let down.

I LOVE THIS POSTER

M. Night gets R rated. Can't wait.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

THE WACHOWSKI'S ARE AT IT AGAIN


Wow. If this is what SPEED RACER is going to look like then sign me up right now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

AWARDS SEASON BEGINS -- NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW

Here are the various winners from the National Board of Review for 2007 (my comments are below) :

BEST FILM: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

TOP 10 FILMS OF THE YEAR (excluding NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN):

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
ATONEMENT
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
THE BUCKET LIST
INTO THE WILD
JUNO
THE KITE RUNNER
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
MICHAEL CLAYTON
SWEENEY TODD

DIRECTOR: TIM BURTON for SWEENEY TODD

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

ACTOR: GEORGE CLOONEY for MICHAEL CLAYTON

ACTRESS: JULIE CHRISTIE for AWAY FROM HER

SUPPORTING ACTOR: CASEY AFFLECK for JESSE JAMES

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: AMY RYAN for GONE BABY GONE

DOCUMENTARY: BODY OF WAR

ANIMATED FEATURE: RATATOUILLE

ENSEMBLE CAST: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR: EMILE HIRSCH for INTO THE WILD

BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS: ELLEN PAGE for JUNO

DIRECTORIAL DEBUT: BEN AFFLECK for GONE BABY GONE

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (tie): DIABLO CODY for JUNO and NANCY OLIVER for LARS AND THE REAL GIRL

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: JOEL & ETHAN COEN for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


Comments:

Right off the bat, I am very pleased to see some love for JESSE JAMES and INTO THE WILD. Obviously, the best picture win for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is terrific, as it's classic crime film already. AMERICAN GANGSTER, ZODIAC, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, ONCE, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, and EASTERN PROMISES all got snubbed, which is a shame as those are some of the best films of the year. Though I have only seen the trailer for THE BUCKET LIST, I can't honestly say that I think it will be as good as any of those films I just listed above; it looks like Hollywood polished crap with two solid actors anchoring a mountain of cliches. Again, haven't seen it, but something tells me that ZODIAC is a better film. Just a hunch. I haven't seen ATONEMENT or JUNO either but the advance buzz has been phenomenal for both. Also haven't seen THE KITE RUNNER (I'm hearing solid buzz but not masterpiece level) so I can't say anything on that. It's nice to see an action movie on the list with THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM; it was certainly excellent, a true four-star action picture. I pretty much hated the script to LARS AND THE REAL GIRL so I never went to see it. Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which won't open until Christmas, has gotten some of the best reivews of any year, yet it went unnoticed. The early word on SWEENEY TODD is excellent, so I'm not surprised that Burton picked up best director. The fact of the matter is that this year has been an embarrassment of riches at the movies, and there are so many outstanding films out there that picking a top ten list or 5 best picture candidates is going to be virtually impossible. While I loved MICHAEL CLAYTON and thought George Clooney gave an excellent movie-star performance, there is no way that his work was better than Benicio Del Toro in THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE or Emile Hirsch in INTO THE WILD. Ben Affleck did a terrific job with GONE BABY GONE, and I was super excited to see that Amy Ryan picked up best supporting actress for that film; not only was she incredible in Affleck's film, she was also excellent in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD and DAN IN REAL LIFE; what a year for her. I am very anxious to see THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY (planning on seeing it this weekend) but it strikes me as weird that it's being called a foreign film. Granted, the dialogue is spoken in French, but it was financed with American money so....doesn't make sense to me. I haven't seen BODY OF WAR, but for it to have beaten CRAZY LOVE as best documentary means that it must be a masterwork of some kind. I haven't seen AWAY FROM HER, but I have heard nothing but remarkable things about the film, and Julie Christie's performance. All in all, a solid group of films and decisions by the National Board of Review. 2007 has been an amazing year for American cinema, and it's going to be all over the place for the rest of awards season with all the various critics groups and top 10 lists.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

LOVE THIS POSTER

Next July can't get here soon enough. The smart and stylish filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who directed BATMAN BEGINS (as well as MEMENTO, INSOMNIA, and THE PRESTIGE), is back on board as helmer on THE DARK KNIGHT. Christian Bale is back in the bat suit and Heath Ledger is the new Joker. It's almost unfair that we all have to wait for next July to see this bad-boy! I have heard that the first 6-7 minutes of the film will be shown infront of prints of I AM LEGEND on IMAX screens next week when the Will Smith action flick opens nationwide.

RANDOM BITS

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END, the third installment in the PIRATES franchise, got released today on DVD. I had a blast watching it in the theaters and look forward to my second viewing; that last act battle during the hurricane was something else.

Ben Kingsley has joined Leo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND, a 1950's Boston set crime saga, that will no doubt be a masterwork of some sort.

The Hollywood Reporter is saying that Johnny Depp may be teaming up with director Michael Mann (HEAT, COLLATERAL, THE INSIDER, MIAMI VICE) for a Depression-era crime film based on Brian Burrough's book "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34" for Universal. Depp and Mann have never made a film together and this one sounds like it would be a perfect match for star and filmmaker.

Jason Reitman's JUNO, his follow up to the excellent satire THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, gets released tomorrow and is getting nearly universal acclaim from the critics. I'm looking forward to it very much.

Russell Crowe has replaced Brad Pitt in STATE OF PLAY, a new political thriller to be directed by Kevin McDonald (LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, TOUCHING THE VOID). Crowe joins the already cast Ed Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, and Robin Wright Penn. What a cast.

Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD has screened for big-gun critics and both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter gave it terrific reviews; can't wait for that one. The trailers have been sensational and I love the near monochromatic look that Burton and his amazing cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, have brought to the picture. Looks pretty stunning. And what a trip to see Depp singing and slicing throats open!

Monday, December 3, 2007

THE SURPRISE OF THE YEAR

ENCHANTED is the biggest movie surprise of 2007. A blast from start to finish, it's a clever, funny, whimsical fantasy that's as much of a movie for adults as it is for kids. The incredibly talented and extremely engaging Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of the year, and has to be considered for a best actress nomination at the Oscars. My full review will appear soon, but let me just say that if you want a delightful movie to see with your family or significant other, ENCHANTED is the ticket to buy. Funny, fast-moving, stylish and warm, I was won over by its charms immediately.

Reviews on deck for this week include: ENCHANTED (***1/2), I'M NOT THERE (***1/2), BEOWULF (**), and SOUTHLAND TALES (**).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

QUICK COMMENTS ON BEOWULF

I didn't like BEOWULF, even after seeing it in the much hyped 3-D IMAX format. Sure, the technology is cool and the movie has a lot of fun moments, but I thought it was boring, cheesy and campy at times and not in good ways (like some of 300), and just not all that much fun. I'd give it two stars. You get to see Angelina Jolie naked (sans nipples) and her character is one of the best parts aspects of the movie but she's in it for like 5 minutes. I know that the filmmakers are basing the film on the poem, but c'mon...she's one of the coolest, sexiest, trippiest images in the piece and she's barely in it. I pretty much hate motion-capture. It looks like Playstation graphics. Sorry. Some of the renderings were amazing, I will say, but it was never consistent, and it just grew irratating. And while the 3-D was cool, it all started to feel like a pop-up book come to life and at times, looked childish and phony. The story was uninvolving, the film nice to look at on occasion, but overall, it just went nowhere. A huge step back for Robert Zemeckis, a filmmaker I have loved without reservation for many years. I found his last 3-D motion capture film, THE POLAR EXPRESS, be a truly thrilling cinematic experiene. You're positively on that gigantic train as it skids over that frozen lake, a feeling I never got once while watching BEOWULF. Zemeckis seems to have lost interest in making films...he's becoming an innovator, much like James Cameron, and I am disappointed by that. I love BACK TO THE FUTURE 1-3, CAST AWAY, FORREST GUMP, CONTACT (minus the McConahaey sp? stuff), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (where Zemeckis was innovating AND telling a great fucking story). WHAT LIES BENEATH was cool but flawed, but at least it was stylish and human in a Hitchcockian way at times. But Zemeckis now seems more interested in figuring out new ways to film stuff, rather than advancing the art of storytelling. Imagine this: Zemeckis directing a $150 million BEOWULF movie in LIVE ACTION, and THEN it's put into the 3-D process. That would be utterly amazing. Imagine BRAVEHEART in 3-D. GLADIATOR in 3-D. Now were talking. Motion-capture is bullshit--why the fuck do we need to see Tony Hopkins's digitally smoothed over naked ass as he plays a younger version of himself? I just didn't get it.

Off to see ENCHANTED, looking forward.