Thursday, January 31, 2008

I LIKE MY GANGSTERS UNRATED AND EXTENDED


Thanks to Jeff Wells @ hollywood-elsewhere for the posting of this image.

Street date is 2/19/08.

174 minutes as opposed to the 157 minute theatrical cut.

Gotta love Sir Ridley!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CLOVERFIELD 2

Not surprised by this. Very pleased as well.

Per Variety:

"Matt Reeves is in early talks with Paramount to direct a "Cloverfield" sequel, and he has also made a deal with GreeneStreet Films to direct "The Invisible Woman." Timing of the projects will depend on how quickly Paramount can complete discussions with Reeves, producer J.J. Abrams and scribe Drew Goddard to scare up another monster tale for the "Cloverfield" sequel. There's a good chance the sequel will be Reeves' next film, in which case he will direct "The Invisible Woman" afterward. "Woman" is a Hitchcock-style thriller that probes the mind of a former beauty queen who turns to a life of crime to protect her family. Reeves wrote the script and will produce with Abrams and GreeneStreet's John Penotti, Fisher Stevens and Tim Williams. "Matt has created a truly original and compelling character and story," said GreeneStreet's Penotti. GreeneStreet will finance "The Invisible Woman," and GreeneStreet Intl. will sell overseas territories. With a $25 million budget, a strong concept and cast of unknowns, "Cloverfield" scored a $46 million opening frame, which was a record for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Paramount gave away almost no first-dollar gross, making the film a bargain for the studio. GreeneStreet recently completed two films: the John Polson-directed "Tenderness," starring Russell Crowe, which was just set for distribution at Lionsgate, and "Bill," directed by Melisa Wallack and Bernie Goldmann, whichwill be distributed by First Look Studios."

REVIEW: CLOVERFIELD (****)

There was a while when I thought that CLOVERFIELD might turn out to be another SNAKES ON A PLANE; that it would turn out to be a success of clever, inspired marketing and audience-teasing, leading up to a big pile of nothing. Ever since the cryptic teaser debuted in front of TRANSFORMERS last summer, the speculation as to what exactly CLOVERFIELD was all about has been running wild. Movie websites were abuzz with rumors and ideas; the filmmakers and marketing team created a viral marketing campaign that rivaled the efforts of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, giving out small bits of info but withholding all crucial information. But would the film live up to the hype? For me it did. Big time. CLOVERFIELD heralds the return of the monster movie, and demonstrates that a group of creative filmmakers can make an epic, exciting action film on a limited budget ($25 million is the number being thrown around) and with no major stars (the cast is a bunch of unknowns, for now at least). The team of producer JJ Abrams, writer Drew Goddard, and director Matt Reeves have tapped into the current, tech-savvy, twenty-something mindset and given moviegoers the chance to return to one of the oldest genres, this time with a fresh, visceral twist.

If you’ve seen the ads, you basically know what to expect. A monster has emerged from the waters just off of New York City and is extremely irritated. We don’t know where it came from. We don’t know why it’s here. We don’t know anything at all except that it’s torn off the head of the Statue of Liberty and used it as a bowling ball; NYC’s skyscrapers are the pins. But to up the ante, CLOVERFIELD resembles a home video. On the night of the monsters attach, we’re introduced to a group of good-looking, successful young adults at a going-away party for a guy named Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Rob is headed to Japan (ha-ha) to work as some sort of Vice President; it’s not important. His brother Jason (Mike Vogel) asks their likable friend Hud (T.J. Miller) to record a series of good-byes from all of Rob’s friends. Meanwhile, Rob’s ex-flame Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up at the party with a new boyfriend, much to Rob’s chagrin. Hud hits on the pretty Marlena (Lizzy Chapman) but with little luck. But before anyone has enough time to throw back their third drink of the night, a deafening boom is heard and power goes out for a split second. They head up to the roof of the apartment complex and are witness to a second massive explosion which sends flaming debris towards them and the rest of the city. Hud keeps filming, and essentially never stops for the next 65 minutes.

CLOVERFIELD is, at its heart, a goofy B-movie from the 50’s, souped up with modern technology and playing off of the smarts of well-movie-educated audiences. Our group of characters runs through a flaming cityscape that recalls both 9/11 (the image of a city street engulfed with smoke and debris is eerie to see) and every disaster movie since the dawn of celluloid. It’s all incredibly outlandish and completely preposterous at times…but you know what…it’s a monster movie! Suspension of disbelief is required virtually every time you venture into a movie theater; with CLOVERFIELD, however, some people might need a crane. But what separated CLOVERFIELD from almost all of the other movies in this genre was its execution. The viewer is never ahead of the characters; whatever info the characters have, the audience has. The “this-is-happening-now-and-you-are-in-the-middle-of-it” quality that CLOVERFIELD possess is as much inspired by the aesthetic of Paul Greengrass as it is of a young Steven Spielberg. There is a wide-eyed awe that accompanies many of the scenes, both for the characters and for the audience. The gritty, hand-held shooting style will make some people sick; others, like me, will love it. Abrams and Goddard are both two of the masterminds behind the television show LOST, and the influence of that show can be felt at numerous times during CLOVERFIELD. Reeves, a director whose credits include episodes of Abrams’ FELICITY and the romantic comedy THE PALLBEARER, immediately catapults himself to the top of the list of upcoming filmmakers. I was simply not prepared for the intensity, the thrills, and the nihilistic pulse that this film has, and I credit Reeves for never backing down at any point. It’s like BLACK HAWK DOWN meets GODZILLA mixed with a little pinch of angel dust.

I have purposefully avoided discussing many of the specific scenes of monster-rampage-destruction, the design of the monster itself, and the fate of the various characters. One sequence, involving a semi-collapsed apartment high-rise, gave me vertigo (in a good way). But here I am, starting to get into specifics. I don’t want to be a spoil-sport; you should discover this film for yourself. CLOVERFIELD is a breathless action film that runs under 90 minutes; even the most ADD-afflicted moviegoer won’t be checking their watch. I loved this film. And it could have easily been a massive disappointment. I loved its intent, its desires, its style, and its attitude. Just when you thought that nobody could ever make a monster movie scary or exciting again, Abrams, Goddard, and Reeves sucker punch that smile off your face and have delivered an awesome movie to kick off the New Year.

INDY LOVES HIS BAZOOKA


I saw this picture at Empireonline.com. Very snazzy. They also had this info to report:
"This picture is locked," producer Frank Marshall told us of the current progress. "Steven's pretty much done editing. And we're going into the phase with John Williams where he starts scoring the movie. He's really writing now and then we'll start scoring in February". When asked where this movie sits tonally with the rest of the series, Marshall said: "I would say it's closest to the third one (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). It's all adults. I mean, you have the sidekick in Shia (LaBeouf), but you don't have a Short Round and I think the banter between the characters is as fun as it was in the third movie."
I am so excited to see Indiana Jones back in action and all of the publicity stills that have been released suggest that Speilberg and Co. haven't missed a beat. If the new movie is half as good/fun as LAST CRUSADE I will be very pleased. But I get the sense that it's going to be even better.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NEWS OF THE DAY

Director Mark Romanek (ONE HOUR PHOTO) has dropped out of the director's chair on the $100 million WOLFMAN for Universal Pictures. Benicio Del Toro is the wolfman and Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt lend support. No replacement director has been named as of yet, but something tells me the seat won't be empty for very long. The script was written by SEVEN screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. I was a big fan of ONE HOUR PHOTO so I am disappointed that Romanek has left this project; now go out and get Sam Raimi or David Cronenberg to direct this flick.

Michael Bay's horror production company Platinum Dunes is set to remake both FRIDAY THE 13th and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I personally have no use for either of these remakes and wish that Bay would just concentrate on what he knows best -- blowing shit up on film.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are both set to star in the fourth installment of THE FAST & THE FURIOUS franchise. Do they need work/money that bad?

Channing Tatum and Dennis Quaid have joined the cast of GI JOE for director Stephen Sommers (THE MUMMY, VAN HELSING). I am willing to bet that this movie will be monumentally brain dead but might feature some cool action sequences.

The extremely talented director Guillermo Del Toro (PAN'S LABRYNITH, HELLBOY) is about to start wasting his time under producer Peter Jackson by directing back-to-back THE HOBBIT films. I was not a LOTR fan so these movies are about as exciting to me as having a root canal.

There is talk that wild-man director Terry Gilliam is going to re-evaluate his latest fantasy film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARSANUSS, which Heath Ledger was starring in, so that the film can actually be finished.

And just a reminder--next Tuesday, one of last year's finest films, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, will hit DVD.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

MICHAEL MANN'S PUBLIC ENEMIES IS TAKING SHAPE

This is all awesome news. Per Variety:

Director Michael Mann has set Marion Cotillard to join Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in "Public Enemies." The Depression-era crime drama gets under way in Chicago on March 10 for Universal Pictures. Channing Tatum, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff and Jason Clarke are also joining the cast. The Oscar-nominated "La Vie en rose" star Cotillard will play Billie Frechette, the lover of the country's most notorious gangster, John Dillinger (Depp). Tatum will play outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, Ribisi will play Alvin Karpis, Dorff is near a deal to play Homer Van Meter, and Clarke will play John "Red" Hamilton. That quartet repped a Dillinger gang that knocked off banks all over the Midwest during the Depression. Bale plays Melvin Purvis, who was tapped by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to lead a manhunt that established the FBI as the country's first federal police force after the G-Men killed Dillinger outside the Biograph Theater in 1934. The shooting script was written by Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman and Mann. Mann will produce with Kevin Misher. Jane Rosenthal is exec producer. U, Mann and Misher spent several years developing the film, which came together quickly after the postponement of Depp's expected spring slot, the Warner Bros. drama "Shantaram." Cotillard is available because the Weinstein Co. postponed "Nine," the Rob Marshall-directed musical she is still expected to star in with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Sophia Loren. Moving that project forward was a key reason TWC signed an interim deal with the Writer's Guild of America. Tatum was available after United Artists halted the Oliver Stone-directed "Pinkville." Ribisi has been shooting the James Cameron-directed "Avatar," and Clarke most recently wrapped the Jada Pinkett Smith-directed "The Human Contract" as well as the Paul W.S. Anderson-directed "Death Race."

ANOTHER TRIP TO THE MONSTER

I love the new monster movie CLOVERFIELD. Love it. My second viewing of the film today really cemented my feelings for this insane little creature feature. I had the pleasure of watching CLOVERFIELD on the Paramount lot, in one of the sickest theaters I've ever been in. It was essentially an Arclight-style presentation, but the sound system easily surpassed anything I've ever experienced theatrically. I could tell something special was going on as the IRON MAN trailer unspooled; the gorgeous shots of Iron Man flying through the clouds, racing fighter jets, and then blasting off in supersonic speed all sounded beyond loud--yet fully descriptive. When CLOVERFIELD began, those initial bass blasts during the Paramount logo--I could feel them reverberating through my entire body. And then the film began. The set-up whizzed by, and the beast showed itself. And then detroyed lots of shit. There are moments of action in this film that make me giddy. Yep...giddy. I get a headrush with some of it. CLOVERFIELD, much like last summer's TRANSFORMERS, brings out the 10 year old in me. Just awesome, unpretentious fun. Let me repeat: I love this film. I love its conceit, its style, its attitude, and its balls. Running a brisk, incredibly intense 80 minutes, director Matt Reeves hooks the viewer immediately, and then takes them on a ride they'll never forget. My full review will be posted very soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

MY RESPONSE TO OSCAR

Overall I was pleased with the way the 2007 Oscar nominations panned out. While I don't ever agree in full with the Academy, they made some great picks this year. But in the end, I can't help but feel that they missed the boat on some of the truly exceptional films that were released last year. Here's a breakdown of what was nominated, who I feel will win, and who I think the nominees should have been (along with my personal picks):

BEST PICTURE

ATONEMENT
JUNO
MICHAEL CLAYTON
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Probable winner: JUNO
Upset: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Comments: Considering last year's best picutre winner (THE DEPARTED), I don't see the Academy giving their top award to another dark, violent picture (NO COUNTRY or THERE WILL BE BLOOD). JUNO is critically acclaimed, on a roll at the box office, and has become a true crowd-pleaser. However, it's also becoming a tad overrated and it will piss me off to no end if this film wins best picture. Don't get me wrong--I liked the film a lot. But there were 20 other films this year that were better. Same goes for ATONEMENT; another excellent, classy piece of filmmaking with Oscar pedigree all over it. But there were a slew of movies that exceeded its greatness. MICHAEL CLAYTON represents old-school Hollywood movie making; big name star (Clooney), smart filmmaker (Tony Gilroy), and important subject matter. And it was extremely entertaining. So I am not surprised that it's gotten the love that it has. But again, best picture material? I don't think so. I loved it but there were a handful of better films.

My personal picks:

THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
ZODIAC

My personal winner: THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY


BEST DIRECTOR

Julian Schnabel, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
Jason Reitman, JUNO
Tony Gilroy, MICHAEL CLAYTON
Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY OLD MEN
Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Probable winner: Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: Julian Schnabel, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY

Comments: The Coen Brothers have been winning almost every best director award throughout the award season. If it hasn't been them, it's been Julian Schnabel winning. Reitman's nomination is a head scratcher to me -- over David Fincher (ZODIAC), Sean Penn (INTO THE WILD) or Andrew Dominik (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES) or Sidney Lumet (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD) ?! JUNO is all about the script and the acting; sure, it's well directed and paced, but c'mon...I don't know...it feels like a minor effort compared to others. Paul Thomas Anderson got a well-deserved nomination for THERE WILL BE BLOOD; it's ambitious, unique filmmaking that challenges the audience. Gilroy did a smooth, solid job with MICHAEL CLAYTON (his directorial debut) but again, I question the nomination a bit. It'll be the Coens who take it; their film might not win best picture (and I hate it when the best picture and director awards don't link up...) but they've been nominated in the past and the film is virtually flawless.

My personal picks:

Julian Schnabel, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
Andrew Dominik, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
David Fincher, ZODIAC

My personal winner: Julian Schnabel, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY


BEST ACTOR

George Clooney, MICHAEL CLAYTON
Daniel Day Lewis, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Johnny Depp, SWEENEY TODD
Tommy Lee Jones, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Viggo Mortensen, EASTERN PROMISES

Probable winner: Daniel Day Lewis, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Upset: Johnny Depp, SWEENEY TODD

Comments: The big surprise of the category is Tommy Lee Jones for IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, not that he wasn't amazing in it (he was), but that the film had completely flat-lined at the box office and seemed forgotten about as early as a month after its release. But combined with his terrific supporting turn in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Jones couldn't be ignored. But there will be no stopping Daniel Day Lewis; his towering performance is being hailed as one of the finest of the decade. He's won pretty much every single best actor trophy throughout award season. I drink your milkshake! Clooney always exudes class and distinction and his work in MICHAEL CLAYTON might be the best of his career; Oscar will reward him down the line. Depp could upset; who knew the guy could sing too?! He was marvelous in SWEENEY TODD but the rivers of blood might make some Academy members squeamish. And Mortensen, who had probably the trickiest role out of the entire group, is in a mean, nasty, dark thriller that is still seen as too "genre" by most people. However, I'd argue that his in-the-nude fight scene, which upon repeated viewing has established itself as one of the finest movie fights of all time, is reason enough to give him the best actor statue. Mortensen is another actor who will be rewarded down the line, but not this year. It's Lewis all the way.

My personal picks:

Daniel Day Lews, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Benicio Del Toro, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
Johnny Depp, SWEENEY TODD
Viggo Mortensen, EASTERN PROMISES
Gordon Pinset, AWAY FROM HER

My personal winner: Daniel Day Lewis, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
Julie Christie, AWAY FROM HER
Marion Cotillard, LA VIE EN ROSE
Laura Linney, THE SAVAGES
Ellen Page, JUNO

Probable winner: Julie Christie, AWAY FROM HER
Upset: Marion Cotillard, LA VIE EN ROSE
Super-upset: Ellen Page, JUNO

Comments: I was thrilled to see Laura Linney got a nom for her work in THE SAVAGES; she's consistently great no matter what film she's in, but with THE SAVAGES, she delivered what's probably her best performance. Considering the terrible reviews/box office for ELIZABETH 2, I was shocked to see Blanchett getting a nom (especially considering her shoo-in nom in the supporting category for I'M NOT THERE). If you saw Ellen Page in 2006's HARD CANDY than you'd already know that she can bring it as an actress; her work in JUNO was also first-rate and wthout her snappiness, the film wouldn't work the way it does. Marion Cotillard delivered a bravura performance in LA VIE EN ROSE but I don't think it will be enough to beat Julie Christie, who's heartbreaking portrayal of a woman battling Alzheimer's disease in AWAY FROM HER was unforgettably tragic.

My personal picks:

Julie Christie, AWAY FROM HER
Laura Linney, THE SAVAGES
Amy Adams, ENCHANTED
Ellen Page, JUNO
Marion Cotillard, LA VIE EN ROSE

My personal winner: Laura Linney, THE SAVAGES


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Javier Bardem, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Casey Affleck, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Philip Seymour Hoffman, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
Hal Holbrook, INTO THE WILD
Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON

Probable winner: Javier Bardem, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: Hal Holbrook, INTO THE WILD

Comments: Javier Bardem's performance as Anton Chiguhr in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is one of the big-screen's most menacing villains. Ever. He's been on a roll during award season and his performance is the most critically acclaimed from the film. My money is on him. The sentimental favorite is Hal Holbrook, who at age 83, was given his first nomination for his tender work in INTO THE WILD. Casey Affleck totally disappeared into his role of Robert Ford in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES but his character was so mysterious (not to mention despicable) that it will be hard for him to win the award. Phil Hoffman, who had an utterly amazing year giving three tour de force performances in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, THE SAVAGES, and CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, would win the award in any other year. He'll get his due soon enough. And Tom Wilkinson, who's performance in MICHAEL CLAYTON anchors the film in its morally murky waters, shouldn't be underestimated.

My personal picks:

Casey Affleck, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
JAvier Bardem, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Hal Holbrook, INTO THE WILD
Philip Seymour Hoffman, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Mark Ruffalo, ZODIAC

My personal winner: Casey Affleck, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, I'M NOT THERE
Ruby Dee, AMERICAN GANGSTER
Saoirse Ronan, ATONEMENT
Amy Ryan, GONE BABY GONE
Tilda Swinton, MICHAEL CLAYTON

Probable winner: Amy Ryan, GONE BABY GONE
Upset: Cate Blanchett, I'M NOT THERE

Comments: Amy Ryan was riveting in GONE BABY GONE and she's won more awards than any other actor throughout award season; I will be shocked if she doesn't snag the Oscar. Blanchett, who won an supporting actress Oscar for her work as Katherine Hepburn in THE AVIATOR, was in deed amazing in I'M NOT THERE, but I don't see her winning again, especially considering she's playing another real life figure. Swinton, in any other year, might be the winner, as her work in MICHAEL CLAYTON deines the phrase "scene stealing." Ruby Dee is a sentimental pick (she's also 83 years old) and Saoirse Ronan doesn't have a chance at the gold but can go home knowing that she's one of the best young actresses in the business.

My personal picks:

Amy Ryan, GONE BABY GONE
Cate Blanchett, I'M NOT THERE
Saoirse Ronan, ATONEMENT
Emanuelle Seigner, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
Tilda Swinton, MICHAEL CLAYTON

My personal winner: Amy Ryan, GONE BABY GONE


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Diablo Cody, JUNO
Nancy Oliver, LARS & THE REAL GIRL
Brad Bird, RATATOUILLE
Tony Gilroy, MICHAEL CLAYTON
Tamara Jenkins, THE SAVAGES

Probable winner: Diablo Cody, JUNO
Upset: Tony Gilroy, MICHAEL CLAYTON

Comments: I hated the screenplay to LARS & THE REAL GIRL so I am not pleased with its inclusion on this list. Diablo Cody has the award all wrapped up; she just has to show up and collect. Tony Gilroy, a long time writer (BOURNE 1-3, DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, PROOF OF LIFE), delivered a brainy, adult legal thriller that connects on a cerebral level. The pathos and dark humor of THE SAVAGES was startling so it's no surprise to see Tamara Jenkins on the list of nominees; I'd love to see her sneak out a win. Brad Bird did a wonderful job with RATATOUILLE but it's an animated film so it doesn't have a chance to win.

My personal picks:

Tamara Jenkins, THE SAVAGES
Diablo Cody, JUNO
Steven Knight, EASTERN PROMISES
Kelly Masterson, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy, MICHAEL CLAYTON

My personal winner: Steven Knight, EASTERN PROMISES


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Christopher Hampton, ATONEMENT
Sarah Polley, AWAY FROM HER
Ronald Harwood, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Probable winner: Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Comments: The Coen Brothers will more than likely snatch this one up too, but if there is an upset waiting in the wings, it goes to Paul Thomas Anderson. Ronald Harwood, a screenplay winner for his work on THE PIANIST, had an extremely tough book to adapt with THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY and the way that he crafted the screenplay was a thing of beauty. Christopher Hampton also had a tall oder in adapting ATONEMENT for the big screen and Sarah Polley expanded on a short story for her feature length script for AWAY FROM HER. This is an extremely competitive category; anything could happen.

My personal picks:

Joel & Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Andrew Dominik, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Ronald Harwood, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
James Vanderbilt, ZODIAC
Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

My personal winner: James Vanderbilt, ZODIAC


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Roger Deakins, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Robert Elswit, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Seamus McGarvey, ATONEMENT
Janusz Kaminski, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY

Probable winner: Roger Deakins, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Upset: Janusz Kaminski, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY

Comments: Hands down the most competitive category this year. The work done by all of these guys is extraordinary; singling just one film out from this list just seems unfair. And that's not to mention all of the other amazing cinematographers who did exquisite, un-nominated work this year: Eric Gautier (INTO THE WILD), Harris Savides (AMERICAN GANGSTER and ZODIAC!), and Dariusz Wolski (SWEENEY TODD) just to name a few. But with multiple noms in the past, and two this year, it will be hard for Roger Deakins to lose; the question is what film will he win for? I'd bet on NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN but his artsy, unbelieveably controlled work in JESSE JAMES was the stuff of instant legend. Robert Elswit, who also shot MICHAEL CLAYTON as well as THERE WILL BE BLOOD, has been one of the best cinematographers in the business for at least a decade now. His time will come. Seamus McGarvey, who last shot WORLD TRADE CENTER before moving on to ATONEMENT, has to be considered a serious contender; that six minute tracking shot during ATONEMENT is already being studied by critics and scholars. And last but not least, watch out for Kaminski (he's won twice in the past for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and SCHINDLER'S LIST), who took subjective camerawork to new heights in THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY; pure art on display in that film.

My personal picks:

Roger Deakins, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Roger Deakins, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Janusz Kaminski, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
Harris Savides, ZODIAC
Robert Elswit, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

My personal winner: Roger Deakins, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES

CAN TERRY GILLIAM EVER GET A BREAK?

This guy has more bad filammking luck than anyone else I can think of. Per Variety:

LONDON — The future of Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” has been thrown into question following the sudden death of its star Heath Ledger. The $30 million indie pic wrapped the London leg of its shoot last Saturday. The production team has moved to Vancouver, Canada, where blue-screen work was due to start next week and continue until early March. The producers have yet to issue any statement about how or whether they plan to proceed without Ledger. Ledger was the biggest name in an ensemble cast including Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole and Tom Waits. It’s the story of an ancient travelling show which arrives in modern London with a magical mirror that can transport its audience into fantastical realms of the imagination. Plummer plays the impresario Doctor Parnassus, and Ledger took the role of a mysterious outsider who joins the troupe on a quest through parallel worlds to save the doctor’s daughter (Cole) from the clutches of the devil (Waits). The movie is produced by Samuel Hadida, Bill Vince and Amy Gilliam, and largely financed through Hadida’s Paris-based Davis Film. Ledger’s involvement in the project was a key factor in raising the finance. He had a strong relationship with Gilliam from their last pic together, “Brothers Grimm.” In November 2000, Gilliam was forced to abandon his $32 million indie project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” after just a week of shooting, when his star Jean Rochefort was too ill to continue. Ledger’s death also came as he was working on what would have been his feature directing debut, an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel “The Queen’s Gambit,” with British writer/producer Allan Scott. The leading role of a young female chess prodigy had been offered to Oscar nominee Ellen Page. Ledger, himself a highly rated chess player, was due to play a supporting role. In an interview last month, a few days after shooting started on “Doctor Parnassus,” Gilliam said, “Heath is extraordinary. He’s just so good, and he’s going to be a film director. He’s watching everything, and he’s going to be a much better director than I will ever be.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

PRICELESS

This is sloppy.

http://www.breitbart.tv/html/33364.html

Messy. Very questionable.

GEORGE W. BUSH: MEET OLIVER STONE

WOW. Fucking A. Per Variety:

"Oliver Stone has set his sights on his next directing project, "Bush," a film focusing on the life and presidency of George W. Bush, and attached Josh Brolin to play the title role. The director has begun quietly shopping a script by his "Wall Street" co-writer Stanley Weiser. Pic will be produced by Moritz Borman, who teamed with Stone on "World Trade Center" and "Alexander," and Jon Kilik, a producer of "Alexander" as well as "Pinkville," the pre-strike project about the Army's investigation of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that Stone expected to direct until United Artists pulled the plug late last year. Borman said Weiser's script was completed before the WGA strike and was ready to shoot and that many of Stone's "Pinkville" crew jumped right into "Bush." If financing materializes quickly enough, the film could start production by April and could be in theaters for the election or the inauguration. One need only Google the words "Stone" and "Bush" to find plenty of the director's critical comments about the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. Despite that, the director said he's not looking to make an anti-Bush polemic. His goal is to use seminal events in Bush's life to explain how he came to power, using a structure comparable to "The Queen." "It's a behind-the-scenes approach, similar to 'Nixon,' to give a sense of what it's like to be in his skin," Stone told Daily Variety. "But if 'Nixon' was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece, and not as dark in tone. People have turned my political ideas into a cliche, but that is superficial. I'm a dramatist who is interested in people, and I have empathy for Bush as a human being, much the same as I did for Castro, Nixon, Jim Morrison, Jim Garrison and Alexander the Great." Stone declined to give his personal opinion of the president. "I can't give you that, because the filmmaker has to hide in the work," Stone said. "Here, I'm the referee, and I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It's like Frank Capra territory on one hand, but I'll also cover the demons in his private life, his bouts with his dad and his conversion to Christianity, which explains a lot of where he is coming from. It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, preemptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors." Stone said his NYU classmate Weiser did a lot of research as they worked for more than a year on the project before setting the script aside when Stone committed to "Pinkville." While UA partners Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise said they pulled the plug on that movie because of the WGA strike, Stone seemed to support widespread speculation that the strike was an excuse to kill another war-themed movie that UA was wary of making after its first release, "Lions for Lambs," flopped. "On 'Pinkville,' I had a great script and one of the best casts on any of my films, with 40 young actors and Bruce Willis," Stone said. "It's a shame they lost faith in the film, and that they unemployed 500 people right before Christmas. We were three weeks from shooting." Stone hopes to get his script back so he can revive "Pinkville" down the line.
Stone, Weiser and Borman had kept the "Bush" script under tight wraps, developing it under "POTUS" (President of the United States) and "Misunderestimated." Now they're aiming for a quick ramp-up to production, though both Stone and Borman believe the project will remain viable even after the presidential election. "We've just gone out with it, and April is just around the corner," Borman said. "If we can get it done as an independent or with a studio, we can do it quickly, but nobody really knows what is happening with the SAG situation. We've found locations in Louisiana, but we will have to build sets, especially the White House. We could do it later, because it's not a film that has to be timed with the election; it's a character study of a man." Stone looked carefully at actors before setting his sights on Brolin, whose career has drawn recent traction from memorable roles in "No Country for Old Men" and "American Gangster." Brolin just began work on the Gus Van Sant-directed "Milk," playing Dan White, the San Francisco pol who gunned down Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. While Brolin won't make a formal deal until financing is sealed, he can be ready for an April start. "Josh is actually better looking than Bush but has the same drive and charisma that Americans identify with Bush, who has some of that old-time movie-star swagger," Stone said."

Oliver Stone has always been one of my absolute favorite filmmakers. A NIXON style film based on George W. Bush should be something else. Can't wait.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

WOW

CLOVERFIELD is an experience. Wild, insane, totally absurd, and completely incredible. I loved this film; it's the true product of a new filmmaking generation, and wham-bam action aside, it acts as a sly comment on the twenty-something culture in today's society. I am not suggesting that CLOVERFIELD is some deep, thoughtful examination of the modern psyche or anything like that; it's just better and richer than some people have suggested. But for what it wants to do, which is to throw the viewer directly into ground zero during a truly epic battle with a giant monster, well, this movie totally nails it. My full review will be up soon. A crazy, crazy flick.

Friday, January 18, 2008

PETER BERG & THE COCAINE COWBOYS

This will more than likely be incredible. Per Variety:

"Paramount has set Mark Wahlberg to star in and Peter Berg to direct an untitled film based on the life of international drug dealer Jon Roberts, whose rise and fall was chronicled in the documentary "Cocaine Cowboys." Film 44's Berg and Sarah Aubrey will produce with Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson, both of whom are exec producers of HBO's "Entourage." Roberts' rights are part of the package, and a writer will be set once the strike ends. After returning from Vietnam as a decorated soldier, Roberts headed to Miami in the late '70s and formed a relationship with the Medellin drug cartel, distributing cocaine worth billions of dollars. Wahlberg will play Roberts, who was turned in by a cohort and served a decade in jail for his crimes.
The actor is currently filming Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" and will next work for Paramount when he stars with Brad Pitt in the Darren Aronofsky-directed "The Fighter." Wahlberg will next be seen toplining M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," which Fox releases June 13. Aside from "Entourage," Wahlberg and Levinson are exec producers of the new HBO series "In Treatment." Berg, who last directed "The Kingdom," is in post-production on "Hancock," which stars Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Sony releases the film July 2."


I loved the documentary COCAINE COWBOYS; have seen it a few times actually. It's extremely entertaining and highly informative. Berg knocked my socks off with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (both the film and tv show) and THE KINGDOM. His next film, HANCOCK, doesn't look like your normal big-budget summer movie...looks like something potentially edgy is going on there. So, the idea of Berg tackling and international drug ring movie...well...that makes me very excited.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

REVIEW: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

Julian Schnabel’s extraordinary film THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (****) is the crowning achievement in filmmaking for 2007. No film captured me the way this film did, and that’s saying a lot; 2007 was a landmark year for cinema. Movies like THERE WILL BE BLOOD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN challenged their genres and defied conventions; THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, ZODIAC, and INTO THE WILD were all incredibly evocative films, populated with exceptional acting, production values, and themes. But what Schnabel and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) have done is create an impressionistic painting inside of their camera; this is art-as-cinema, utterly exquisite in every visual way. Rarely have I ever encountered a film of such ravishing beauty; Juliette Welfling’s brilliant film editing also adds to the film’s distinct rhythm. The screenwriter Ronald Harwood (THE PIANIST) has adapted Jean-Dominique Bauby’s poignant memoir with grace and elegance and never a hint of condescension. This is a powerful film with a uniquely powerful story at its center, and the lead performance by Mathieu Amalric is nothing short of astonishing. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is one of those movies that you might not want to watch, but you owe it to yourself to see.

Amalric is Bauby, the French editor of Elle magazine, who suffered a near-fatal stroke while on a routine drive with his son. A healthy guy for the most part, it was the sort of tragedy that comes without warning or reason. Paralyzed from head to toe and confined to his hospital bed or wheel chair, Bauby, as one could imagine, was helpless. Except for one thing: he could blink his right eye (his left eye had to be sewn shut due to health concerns, the depiction of which will stay with me forever). Bauby was stricken with “locked-in” syndrome. Essentially, he was aware of his surroundings, his brain activity was adequate, and he could hear and understand what people were saying. But he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t walk, couldn’t eat, etc. Obviously wealthy, Bauby was able to afford top-notch treatment at the best available hospitals in France. A team of impossibly patient (not to mention stunningly beautiful) nurses and therapists were there to help Bauby recover as best as possible; given his situation the doctors didn’t promise much, but hoped for the best. Then, in a stroke of genius, one of the therapists devised a way to communicate with Bauby. She would sit with him and read him each individual letter of the alphabet; it would be up to Bauby to blink with his right eye when she read the correct letter that he wanted to use to form a word. Initially resistant to this routine, Bauby didn’t want to feel like science experiment. But he soon realized that this was the only way he could continue being a human. Bauby and his therapists worked for months, and in the end, Bauby wrote a book, a slender memoir detailing his experiences with “locked-in” syndrome, his life before the stroke, and his vivid dreams and imagination. All of this is brought to life by Schnabel in such a lyrical, poetic way that the depressing aspects of the film are softened, bringing the audience fully into Bauby’s life. Bauby’s ex-wife Celine, the wonderful (and gorgeous) actress Emmanuelle Seigner, was also by his side, even in moments of extreme difficulty.

So, as you can see from the above story description, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS this movie isn’t. It’s a scary film, scary in a way that most horror movies don’t even begin to approach. The situation faced by Bauby is something that could happen to anyone, at any time, and at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, as I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but feel lucky. This is the sort of movie that reminds you how lucky you, and the ones you love, really are. You realize that your problems pale in comparison to those of other people; if a movie can provide some sort of realistic perspective on life than you know that you’re experiencing something special. The way that Harwood weaves Bauby’s interior monologue (Amalric provides a sobering voice-over narration) throughout the story and overlapping with the dialogue from the other characters is nothing short of remarkable; the film exists, and succeeds, on multiple levels all at once. The film’s opening 30 minutes, shot entirely with subjective camerawork and replete with visual distortions which convey Bauby’s mental and physical state are some of the most emotionally intense sequences I’ve ever seen. When you do finally see what Bauby looks like, it’s a relief for the audience to be able to put face with voice.

Amalric, a French actor who was terrific in a dynamic supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s MUNICH, is devastating as Bauby, if for no other reason than he really depicts how tough living life like this would be. Bauby, not the most sympathetic of people, was a lady’s man throughout his marriage, and isn’t the most likable character. Living life in the fast lane, gallavanting around Europe with models and driving sports cars, Bauby was emblematic of his industry, and as a result, was probably not as good of a father as he might have liked to have been. The relationship that he has with his own dad, played perfectly by Max Von Sydow, is layered and complicated; in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the film, Bauby gives his ailing father a shave, and they discuss the kinds of men that they have become. Painful, honest, and funny, all at once, this scene transcends the “hallmark-moment” nature of its fine details, and becomes a moment of catharsis for Bauby, and the audience. There is a sense of relief that this scene provides that the film is not able to offer up in many other places. Amalric, confined to a bed or wheelchair for almost the entire performance, is able to elicit sympathy from the audience in unique ways; his lust for life, shown in vivid flashbacks, showcases a man in love with many people (including himself) and a man in love with the possibilities that life has to offer. Watch for a splendid sequence late in the film that has Bauby and a female companion sucking down oysters and caviar and champagne; drunk on the joys of life, Amalric is able to convey the intoxication one feels when surrounded with such glorious edible pleasures. And the dedication he puts into learning the new communication system, which while monumentally challenging, is inspirational to say the least. It’s almost impossible for me to utter the phrase “I can’t do that” without almost feeling guilty.

Schnabel, a filmmaker with a painter’s background, directs in brush strokes, giving THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY a surreal quality from the opening sequences. The motif of Bauby trapped inside of an old-school scuba outfit is as lyrical as it is frightening; there’s no doubt that Bauby must have felt like that—trapped and isolated and alone. Schnabel’s ability to bring the audience extremely close to this feeling of helplessness is truly staggering, and Kaminski’s ever probing camerawork never relents. The way that they have designed THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY creates an uneasy mood that eventually brightens up as the story progresses. Schnabel, who’s previous films BASQUAIT and BEFORE NIGHT FALLS also centered on fractured souls, has an innate gift with texture, light, and composition; working with a cinematographer as gifted as Kaminski can only be seen as a match made in heaven. The visual storytelling displayed in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a remarkable feat.

So, if you claim to love film, or if you fashion yourself as a true movie buff, there is simply no way you can afford to miss THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. You can’t brush it off because it’s an “art film” or because it has subtitles. The lack of familiar actors should not act as a deterrent. Bottom line: if you care about the importance and relevance of filmmaking in today’s society, than it’s downright laughable if you aren’t able to find time to see this masterpiece of storytelling. It’s a film that will make you cry, make you laugh, and remind you of why life needs to be lived to the fullest at all times. This is pure cinema, and easily the best and most profound movie of the year.

UPDATED: 50 BEFORE YOU'RE 30

Here's an updated list for my project 50 MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE YOU'RE 30. I am still taking suggestions...

CASABLANCA
CITIZEN KANE
BRAVEHEART
FIGHT CLUB
SOME LIKE IT HOT
BLACK HAWK DOWN
DOUBLE INDEMNITY
2001
THE SEARCHERS
GOODFELLAS
PULP FICTION
BACK TO THE FUTURE: PART 1
AIRPLANE
TOP GUN
HEAT
TAXI DRIVER
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
BLADERUNNER
RASHOMON
RAGING BULL
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
SEVEN
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
THE THIN RED LINE
THE GODFATHER: PART 1
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
BLOW UP
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
THE NEW WORLD
THE LOST WEEKEND
JAWS
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID
SIN CITY
12 ANGRY MEN
JFK
CHINATOWN
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
THE BICYCLE THIEF
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD
FITZCARRALDO
CINEMA PARADISO
M
THE CABINET OF DR. CALLAGARI
THE WAGES OF FEAR

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

POSTER: SEMI PRO

I heard this flick is rated R. It could be seriously funny. We all know it will be asinine. Woody Harrelson in this flick makes it even more of a must-see.

JLA IS NOT HAPPENING...YET

I am not happy to report that George (HAPPY FEET/THE ROAD WARRIOR) Miller's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA movie is not immediately moving forward. Warner's pulled the plug today. Per Variety:

"'Justice League' is no longer moving faster than a speeding bullet. Warner Bros. has let the options lapse on the young cast that director George Miller chose to play DC superhero staples. The move made it clear that the project is no longer eyeing a spring start. It most likely won't get underway until late summer or fall at the earliest. Cast members were informed late Tuesday that their options would not be exercised, but they were also told that the studio is determined to make the film, with them in it. Unfortunately, there were insurmountable problems that made a delay the best option. The studio's reasons included not getting the official response it needed on tax breaks from shooting in Australia. And while WB execs like the script they got from Kieran and Michele Mulroney, it would benefit from a little more work, something that isn't possible because of the writer's strike. Some were surprised that the studio didn't exercise cast options anyway. The deals gave WB the flexibility to exercise the deals immediately, or in July, and the actors will be making salaries in the low six-figure range. While Adam Brody, cast as The Flash, has a track record, most of the cast is comprised of newcomers like Armie Hammer Jr., who plays Batman, and Megan Gale, who will play Wonder Woman.
The studio now risks losing them to other film jobs. But it is likely most if not all of the cast will make sure to be available starting late summer and fall, just in case. That's because of the starmaking potential of 'Justice League.' Studio had set this week as the deadline to greenlight the superhero tentpole, which it was racing to get into production for 2009 release. That was always considered a dicey proposition, particularly when the writers went on strike, and because the film needs to be completed before the SAG deal expires in June. With 'Justice League' on indefinite hold, the studio has a superhero gap on its 2009 slate, for the status of the next 'Superman' pic is also uncertain."

So...JLA will happen at some point down the road...but not as fast as some of us would like. I have always wanted to see all of these superheroes together on the big screen. But I'd rather wait for them to have a better script than shoot something that is only OK.

WILL IT KICK ASS?


Reviews of CLOVERFIELD are trickling in and it looks like it will be a 50/50 split from the critics...you're either down for an 80 minute monster-attacks-NYC movie or you're not. I have been extremely anxious to see this film ever since that amazing teaser debuted last summer infront of TRANSFORMERS. Judging solely from the full trailer and the many tv spots, this film is going to be an intense, hectic thrill-ride. I plan on seeing it this coming Saturday and will offer up my thoughts as soon as possible. I am still curious about how big it will be at the box office. I can see this film going either way -- REALLY big or REALLY moderate. We'll just have to wait and see...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

POSTER: THE BANK JOB



I love Jason Statham. The guy is just a great cinematic bad ass. His work in THE TRANSPORTER, CRANK, and LOCK STOCK/SNATCH all brim with machismo and energy. His new film, THE BANK JOB, which opens in early March, sounds like a gritty, low-budget ($20 million apparently), 70's style action flick. The director is the hit-or-miss Roger Donaldson (13 DAYS, SPECIES, NO WAY OUT, DANTE'S PEAK, THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN) and the writers are the team of Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (THE COMMITTMENTS, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE).

Per the IMDB, here's a synopsis:

"In September 1971, thieves tunneled into the vault of a bank in London's Baker Street and looted safe deposit boxes of cash and jewelry worth over three million pounds. None of it was recovered. Nobody was ever arrested. The robbery made headlines for a few days and then disappeared - the result of a 'D' Notice, gagging the press. This film reveals what was hidden for the first time. The story involves murder, corruption and a sex scandal with links to the Royal Family - a story in which the thieves were the most innocent people involved."

Sounds pretty cool to me. It's rated R, which is a step in the right direction, and the beautiful Saffron Burrows is Statham's romantic interest. And the poster gives off a leave-me-the-hell-alone vibe that I dig. Looking forward.

LOOKS LIKE INDY IS RIGHT WHERE WE LAST SAW HIM

Steven Spielberg's INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL hits theaters this Memorial Day. May can't get here soon enough....

Monday, January 14, 2008

CORMAC MCCARTHY'S THE ROAD COMING TO THE BIG SCREEN

This project sounds awesome in every way. Per Variety:

"Charlize Theron has signed on to join Viggo Mortensen in the bigscreen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bestselling novel "The Road" for 2929 Entertainment. Dimension Films will distribute domestically. Story centers on a man who embarks on a nightmarish road trip after a nuclear explosion in an attempt to transport his son to safety while fending off cannibals. Aussie helmer John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") is directing from a screenplay by Joe Penhall. Theron, who will play the wife of Mortensen's character, will be seen mostly in flashback. Although the role is small, Theron joined the project because she's a big fan of the book -- published by Knopf in 2006 -- and was eager to reteam with producer Nick Wechsler ("We Own the Night"), with whom she worked on 2000's "The Yards." Wechsler is producing alongside Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz. Shooting is set to begin next month. Theron is currently filming "The Burning Plain," also for 2929. She recently wrapped "Hancock" opposite Will Smith and the indie drama "Sleepwalking," which she also produced."


THE PROPOSITION was incredible and announced Hillcoat as a major filmmaker to watch. Hot off the recent success of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, McCarthy's next book-to-film adaptation will likely have a lot of buzz surrounding it. Mortensen, coming off career-best work in David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES, should be a suitably intense lead for this type of story and Theron, consistently underrated as an actress, will lend some sexiness to the project. I am very excited to see this flick.

QUICK REVIEW: JOSHUA

What happens when two people just can't make a normal kid? That's the problem that Brad and Abby Cairn have in co-writer/director George Ratliff's twisted thriller JOSHUA (***1/2). Brad, expertly played by the underrated Sam Rockwell, is a hot-shot NYC hedge fund manager living in a beautiful apartment hanging over Central Park. His plucky, pill-popping wife Abby, a manic Vera Farmiga, has just given birth to their second child. Their first, the strangely cold nine year old Joshua (the amazing Jacob Kogan) is a precocious lad; comfortable in a blazer, tie, and khakis and making it clear that he "doesn't like sports," Jacob spends his days preforming surgeries on his stuffed animals, reading about mummification, and sneaking up on his parents during the night. Jacob, an odd-duck to be sure, is also suspicious of his new baby sister. We learn that Joshua wasn't a baby from heaven; he cried exclusively upong leaving the hospital and was a basket case to raise. Looks like his new baby sister might be offering up more of the same; constantly crying (is Joshua secretly terrorizing her?) and never happy, the baby makes life even tougher for Abby, who slowly starts to unravel even more than she already has. Ratliff, eschewing the supernatural, spins a wicked tale of a child who is just not right; he's an early serial killer/sociopath (potentially...) and the dread that hangs over every scene of this unnerving little movie is palpable at every moment. It's an uncomfortable movie to watch at times, specifically because what you expect to happen doesn't necessarily come to pass. Brad and Abby's apartment is a wonder to behold and Benoit Deibe's deceptively beautiful cinematography is precise and stylized without ever calling attention to itself. Carefully framing people and objects within the cold, OCD-inspired mise en scene, Ratliff wants you to be aware of your surroundings yet also tricked by the normalcy of it all. The sinister musical score by Nico Muhly, aided by Joshua playing the piano throughout the film, adds a layer of suspense without resorting to cheap, musical scare-tactics. That's what sets JOSHUA apart from so many cliched horror thrillers; what you expect to happen to the characters never really happens and where the story ends up going is fairly unpredictable. This is a realistic chiller, and since it never dips into the supernatural like ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE OMEN, there is something genuinely scary about the film; kids like this are out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to become the monsters that they threaten to be. I wouldn't advise any couples with newborns to check out this nasty little film. One thing I'd like to add is that the ending, while devious to the extreme, requires a lot of things to fall into place for little Joshua. But by the end, Ratliff's focused storytelling and impressive ear for dialogue has cast its spell over the audience and you're left thinking...hey...are my kids A-OK?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

FINAL: THE BEST OF 2007

Here is my final breakdown for the entire year (2007). Best to worst. I still have two pending full reviews to post: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (**** and my #1 film of the year) and THERE WILL BE BLOOD (**** and my #3 of the year). I also plan on doing a year in review piece, highlighting the top 20 in brief form, and will also start posting my best guesses at this year's Academy Awards. But for now, here's my list:

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. Paul Thomas Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD
4. Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
5. David Fincher’s ZODIAC
6. Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
7. Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
8. David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
9. Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
10. Tim Burton’s SWEENEY TODD

11. Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
12. Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON
13. Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
14. Zack Snyder’s 300
15. Paul Greengrass’ THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
16. Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS
17. Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
18. Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
19. John Carney’s ONCE
20. Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN

21. Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT
22. Tamara Jenkins’ THE SAVAGES
23. Brad Bird’s RATATOUILLE
24. Sarah Polley’s AWAY FROM HER
25. Mike Nichols’ CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
26. Billy Ray’s BREACH
27. Jason Reitman’s JUNO
28. Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE
29. Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE
30. Kevin Lima’s ENCHANTED

31. Gore Verbinski’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
32. James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT
33. Dan Klores’ CRAZY LOVE
34. Charles Ferguson’s NO END IN SIGHT
35. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
36. Gavin Hood’s RENDITION
37. Paul Haggis’ IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
38. Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
39. Peter Hedges’ DAN IN REAL LIFE
40. Michael Moore’s SICKO

41. Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED
42. Joe Carnahan’s SMOKIN’ ACES
43. Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST
44. David Silverman’s THE SIMPSONS: THE MOVIE
45. Adrienne Shelly’s WAITRESS
46. DJ Caruso’s DISTURBIA
47. Steven Soderbergh’s OCEANS 13
48. Craig Brewer’s BLACK SNAKE MOAN
49. William Friedkin’s BUG
50. David Von Ancken’s SERAPHIM FALLS

51. Mike Binder’s REIGN OVER ME
52. Marc Forster’s THE KITE RUNNER
53. Danny Boyle’s SUNSHINE
54. Zoe Cassavettes’ BROKEN ENGLISH
55. Michael Davis’ SHOOT ‘EM UP
56. Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT
57. Ang Lee’s LUST, CAUTION
58. Michael Winterbottom’s A MIGHTY HEART
59. Terry George’s RESERVATION ROAD
60. Franics Lawrence’s I AM LEGEND

61. Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES
62. Brian De Palma’s REDACTED
63. Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408
64. Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD
65. Mark Polish’s THE ASTRONAUT FARMER
66. Will Speck & Josh Gordon’s BLADES OF GLORY
67. Jonathan Kasdan’s IN THE LAND OF WOMEN
68. Luc Besson’s ANGEL-A
69. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini’s THE NANNY DIARIES
70. Nick Cassavettes’ ALPHA DOG

71. Antoine Fuqua’s SHOOTER
72. Curtis Hanson’s LUCKY YOU
73. Gregory Hoblit’s FRACTURE
74. Robert Zemeckis’ BEOWULF (IMAX 3-D)
75. Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ
76. Nimrod Attal’s VACANCY
77. Akiva Schaffer’s HOT ROD
78. Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s GRINDHOUSE
79. Bruce Evans’ MR. BROOKS
80. Sam Raimi’s SPIDERMAN 3

81. Len Wiseman’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
82. Walt Becker’s WILD HOGS
83. James Foley’s PERFECT STRANGER
84. Joel Schumacher’s THE NUMBER 23
85. Dave Meyer’s THE HITCHER
86. Ken Kwapis’ LICENSE TO WED
87. Adam Shankman’s HAIRSPRAY
88. Dennis Dugan’s I KNOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY
89. Marcus Nispel’s PATHFINDER

QUICK COMMENTS: CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR

As I expected, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (***1/2), from director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, was a lot of fun. I read the script a few years ago, and while the final big-screen rendering is different in many respects to the draft that I read, it's a rollicking political comedy nonetheless. Sorkin's rat-a-tat dialogue is still firmly in place, and under Nichols' patient, undemanding direction, the film is breezy, smart, loose. The story of Charlie Wilson (a sly Tom Hanks), a hard-partying Texas congressman with numerous high-profile connections who personally jumpstarted the arming of Afghan soldiers during the Soviet invasion in the late 80's, is almost so crazy in its details that it feels like a tall-tale. As written by Sorkin, who's masterful blend of dense political jargon and stylized comedy writing is impossible to match, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is a history lesson that never feels academic. The film entertains well more than it preaches, and Nichols keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, never pausing for a dull moment. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the picture every time he's on screen with yet another incredible performance, this time as a beleagured CIA agent. It's another raging, intense, and criminally funny piece of acting from one of cinema's best talents. While I wished that the film had stuck closer to the original script that I read, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR registers as one of the best of the recent political films to hit movie screens over the last year.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

MICHAEL MANN. JOHNNY DEPP. CHRISTIAN BALE.

Say it again. Michael Mann. Johnny Depp. Christian Bale.

Per Variety:

"Christian Bale is in negotiations to join Johnny Depp in Michael Mann's upcoming 'Public Enemies.' According to a person familiar with the situation, Bale will play Melvin Purvis, the legendary FBI agent who led the manhunt for John Dillinger. Depp is starring as Dillinger in the pic, which is set up at Universal and is slated to begin production in March (Daily Variety, Dec. 6). Mann is producing via his Forward Pass banner, with Kevin Misher and his Misher Films. Jane Rosenthal of Tribeca is exec producing."


Holy shit. Are tickets available for sale yet?

QUICK REVIEW: SUNSHINE

Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE (***) starts off amazingly and then crashes and burns. I couldn't believe it to be honest. For the first 75 minutes of watching this film I was totally engrossed, in love with what I was seeing. Smart, reality-based science fiction is tough to come by these days and I was relieved to see a heady, low-budget take on a grand space idea that was thoroughly thought out and well developed. Then, the screenwriter Alex Garland (who also wrote Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER), decided to sabotage his script by adding a horror/monster element to an otherwise cerebral mix of space exploration and moral conflict. Why? Why did he do this? I just don't get it. SUNSHINE supposes that our sun is prematurely dying out. The US government had sent a ship (the Icarus I) up into space with the mission of re-igniting the sun via a nuclear bomb detonation. That ship lost contact with NASA; no word has been heard from them in a few years. So another ship, the Icarus II, blasts off for space, looking to complete the mission, while the earth below freezes in a new ice age. An attractive cast including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, and Hiroyuki Sanada are the astronauts of the Icarus II. But they are detoured when a radio signal from the Icarus I can be heard as they orbit Mercury; do they veer off course and head for the Icarus I, hopefully to find survivors? Or do they continue on their original mission to the sun? Some of the crew says yes, some of them say no. But it's decided that they will go check on the Icarus I to see if anyone is still alive, and also to retrieve the nuke on board that way they have an additional bomb incase one isn't enough to jumpstart the dying sun. So...we have a nice set up, a scary premise (no sun means no life on earth, duh!), and well written dialogue dealing with human relationships, ideas of mortality, and the importance of science. Also, Boyle, along with his talented cinematographer Alwin Kulcher, ups the visual ante with a variety of in-camera tricks, CGI, practical models, and old-school movie magic. The results are often spectacular. One sequence, imagining what it might be like to step outside of a space ship without a space suit, is freaky beyond belief; I got a shiver. The space ships have unique and interesting designs and the film's technology is a combination of the old and new. And the way Boyle and Kuchler play with color, especially gold, orange, green, and red, is utterly stunning; Kurbrick would have probably loved the palette. But just as the third act was about to kick into gear and I began to wonder where the film was headed, the script turned on a dime, and SUNSHINE degenerated into a monster-house type movie, with the crew being hunted by an otherworldly being (think an icky, mean, Nuclear-Man type villian). Who will survive, if anyone? Boyle, who with films like SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING, THE BEACH, MILLIONS, and 28 DAYS LATER, has always been a visual innovator, and SUNSHINE is in keeping with that tradition. The film looks stunning all throughout, and it amazes me that it only cost a reported $30 million. There's an epic scope yet intimate feeling that runs through SUNSHINE, and even as the proceedings get more and more looney tunes by the end, Boyle never lets up with his demanding aesthetic. I just wish that he, and Garland, had realized that the film wasn't supposed to end in the fashion that it does. This is a film that should have rationally dealt with the interesting ideas it asks during the first hour and 15 minutes; instead, sitting back on genre conventions, the film gets lazy and predictable. And the tacked-on last scene was completely unnecessary. I wrestled with giving this film ** 1/2 or ***. I settled on ***, thus giving it a slight reccomendation, because purely on a visual level, the film is a marvel and deserves to be seen. Just be ready for a shift in gears late in the film that robs it of its opening brilliance. As impressive as it was to watch, SUNSHINE didn't add up to the final result that it initially promised.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

QUICK REVIEW: THE KITE RUNNER

Marc Forster's THE KITE RUNNER (***) is a film that works well enough but might have been better had it been longer. It's a beautifully shot and produced film that aspires to greatness at nearly every turn but in the end it falls a little short. It's engaging without becoming fully engrossing, smart enough but a little heavy-handed, and a bit soapy in its story details. Based on the immensely popular best-selling novel, David Benioff's squarely imagined screenplay bounces back and forth between America, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, spanning over 20 years. Amir and Hassan are childhood friends in Afghanistan; Amir is the son of an influential businessman and Hassan is the son of the family servant. They spend their days flying kites (rather competitively) with the other children in their villiage. Truth be told, the most thrilling aspects of this relatively flat film are the kite flying sequences; dazzled up with some nifty CGI enhanced camera moves, the kite flying bits represent the only true artisitc and emotional triumph of the film. The boys, prisoners in their homeland, are able to use the kite flying as a spiritual form of escape, whether or not they even know it at first. Then, in a moment of pure cruelty and dramatic necessity, Hassan is raped, while Amir watches from a distance, never working up the courage to help his friend. Amir's father Baba, the excellent actor Homayoun Ershadi, has always instilled decency and moral value in his son; the guilt that Amir holds over not helping his friend is too much for him to bear. So he falsely accuses Hassan of theft, and Hassan and his father leave the house. We then abruptly shift to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, with Amir and Baba on the run to Pakistan as refugees. We then cut almost 20 years later, with a now adult Amir living in the San Francisco area. He meets a beautiful young Afghan woman named Soraya (Atossa Leoni) and he courts her. They marry and life is good. But then Amir receives a phone call from Afghanistan with news that compels him to go back to the Middle East. It's here where THE KITE RUNNER gets a little over-the-top in its rushed plotting and slightly implausible finale. This is why I think that the book was probably much better. The film runs a tight two hours, and at certain points along the way, I felt that the story seemed truncated and a bit underdeveloped. Had the film taken its time and not felt so forced it would have made for a better end result. The acting is solid across the board; the kids are natural and charming. And as I stated above, the physical qualities of the filmmaking are very assured. Shooting China for Afghanistan, Forster and his longtime cinematographer Roberto Schaefer drench the film in beautiful sunlight, period flavor and ethnic authenticity. Forster is an interesting filmmaker who has dabbled in a variety of genres. MONSTER'S BALL, a dark southern family drama, still stands as his best film to date. He followed that with the whimsical family film FINDING NEVERLAND and then moved into head-trip thriller territory with the stylish but muddled STAY (another film from writer Benioff). STRANGER THAN FICTION, last year's devilish comedy with Will Ferrell, was an impressive piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand. And now with THE KITE RUNNER, Forster has established himself as one of the better gun-for-hire directors working in the studio system. Next up is the latest James Bond saga (currently untitled). I'm looking forward to seeing how this cerebral yet confidently styled filmmaker handles the action film genre.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

REVIEW: SWEENEY TODD

SWEENEY TODD (****)
Tim Burton’s elegantly nasty adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s play SWEENEY TODD is a gloriously macabre achievement. Burton, ever the visual artist, has crafted one of the best films of his career, and one of the best films of the year with SWEENEY TODD. His sixth collaboration with Johnny Depp, the film is a horror-musical hybrid that boasts brooding cinematography, crisp editing, amazing production design, and terrific song lyrics as well as a rich story. Having seen the play once off Broadway and already a big fan of Burton’s previous work, I went into the screening expecting something fun and different; what I got was a perverse masterwork that sent me out of the theater singing and ready to experience it all again. And having seen the film twice now, I can say that it’s one of my favorite films of the year.

Depp is Benjamin Barker, an everyday barber living with his family in London. We learn, through colorful flashbacks, that Barker’s beautiful wife and child were stolen from him by the jealous Judge Turpin (the always awesome Alan Rickman) who fancied Barker’s wife. Sent away to an Australian prison, Barker illegally returns to London looking to exact his revenge on Turpin and his cronies. Once back on British soil, Barker is no more; Sweeney Todd is born. And he’s more than a little mad when he’s told that his wife has poisoned herself. Todd meets Mrs. Lovett (the underrated Helena Bonham Carter), the owner of a struggling meat-pie shop, and the two of them form a strange bond. Working again as a barber, Todd sets up shop above Lovett’s restaurant, and a unique partnership is formed. Todd needs practice killing people with his straight-edge razor and Lovett’s meat-pies are in need of a makeover. So, naturally, Todd’s victims become Lovett’s ingredients. Yum-yum. Meanwhile, Todd’s estranged daughter Joanna is being looked and lusted after by Turpin; he wants to marry her. Joanna catches the eye of an eager young sailor named Anthony (one of Todd’s shipmates) and he devises a plan to run away with her. Todd cuts his way to revenge, slicing and dicing people’s throats with glee and Lovett’s restaurant has a resurgence of business. The finale, which I dare not spoil, seals the fate of every character in a bloody pool of catharsis that the audience feels as well. And oh yeah, everyone sings. I almost forgot to mention that.

Starting with PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and continuing on with radical, surreal fantasies like BEETLEJUICE, BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, MARS ATTACKS!, SLEEPY HOLLOW, BIG FISH, and CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Burton has long been considered one of the premier visualists working in the business. Never a particularly violent filmmaker (SLEEPY HOLLOW notwithstanding), the Grand Guignol of SWEENEY TODD is impressive to say the least. And who knew he’d be as intuitively aware of the demands of the musical genre that he is. I’d expect something this macabre from a filmmaker like Brian De Palma but not necessarily from Burton. The over-the-top arterial sprays in SWEENEY TODD are a horror fan’s dream and a squeamish person’s nightmare. Burton is in complete control of his craft with SWEENEY TODD; it’s one of the best pieces of directing he’s ever done. The fabulous craftspeople that he’s assembled are all working at the top of their games as well. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who also shot all three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films with Depp, is a genius. Giving the film an intense, nearly monochromatic look and draining it of any bright colors (except during a few stunningly beautiful fantasy sequences), Wolski and Burton have created an imposingly mean looking film. Dante Ferretti’s richly detailed sets and Colleen Atwood’s perfect costumes also up the ante.

But in a musical, the performances can only be as good as the singing, and it’s here that SWEENEY TODD surprises the most. Depp absolutely nails the singing, and while it’s obvious that he’s not a classically trained crooner, he’s a natural. Coming off as an ultra-dark rock star, it’s one of Depp’s finest performances. Carter, for her part, is also excellent, and while at times a little shaky with the singing voice, her precise acting qualities serve her character well. These are nasty, murderous, and manipulative characters, and it’s a testament to the actors that I was rooting for them the entire time. Rickman is one of the screen’s classiest villains and can also carry a tune. Even Sascha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) shows up for a delicious cameo that sent both crowds into hysterics.

SWEENEY TODD is an ultra-bloody and ultra-beautiful film that will turn off as many people as it delights. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a film that is both ugly and gorgeous, both physically and spiritually, often at the same time. The depths of human despair that are explored in the narrative go all the way back to Shakespeare, and John Logan’s screenplay and lyrics crackle with authenticity and cynicism. And the film’s tragic finale and unforgettable final shots are pure movie magic, a celebration of death and re-birth. A vision like this could only come from a filmmaker as exacting as Burton. Exciting, ferocious, and oddly moving by the end, SWEENEY TODD is a masterful piece of filmmaking that ranks as one of the year’s best films.

AND THE 2007 DGA NOMINEES ARE

The Directors Guild of America announced their picks for directorial achievement in feature film. Nominations include:

Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood"

Joel and Ethan Coen for "No Country for Old Men"

Tony Gilroy for "Michael Clayton"

Sean Penn for "Into the Wild"

Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"


These are all excellent picks. In such a strong year, it had to have been tough to narrow down just five. But I like all of these choices, and I'm particularly happy for Tony Gilroy, who's directorial debut MICHAEL CLAYTON, is an incredible first effort.

HOW BIG WILL THIS FLICK BE?


TOP SELLING DVDS OF 2007

1. Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS 13.7 million units
2. George Miller's HAPPY FEET 13.5 million units
3. Gore Verbinski's PIRATES 3 13.2 million units
4. Zack Snyder's 300 12.9 million units
5. Shrek the Third 12.2 million units
6. Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE 12.0 million units
7. David Yates' HARRY POTTER: PHOENIX 10.1 million units
8. Marty Scorsese's THE DEPARTED 8.9 million units
9. Shawn Levy's NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 8.7 million units
10. Paul Greengrass' BOURNE ULTIMATUM 7.4 million units

THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR

Ever wondered what movie stars shot a role for a film and then were completely cut out? Here's an amazing article from ifc.com:

http://www.ifc.com/news/article?aId=21915

Monday, January 7, 2008

QUICK REVIEW: RATATOUILLE

Brad Bird's colorful, exuberant, and smart animated film RATATOUILLE (****) is more an animated film for adults than it is for kids. I'm not saying that there's anything innapropriate or objectionable about the story or the dialogue or even that it's a subversive family movie along the lines of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY or MONSTER HOUSE. The kiddies will certainly love the cute, talking rat and the wacky hijinks that he gets into. But adults (and anyone over the age of 13 to be honest) will be swept up by the story, the characters, and the bold animation that easily sets the standard as far as these things go. I have never been a big animated movie fan; there's something about watching animated characters that doesn't connect with me in the way that a live-action film does. Still, every once in a while, a movie like this or THE INCREDIBLES comes along (both were made by Bird), and I am reminded that there is room for a great animated tale. Remy, voiced by Patton Oswalt, is a clever little rat who loves to cook. He loves it so much that he infiltrates a fancy French restaurant in Paris and whips up a soup that blows everyone away. But...he's a rat. A sloppy young janitor with head-chef aspirations named Linguini happens to be in the right place at the right time and gets credit for the special soup. Trouble is...Linguini doesn't really know how to cook. And even though he knows that a rat is responsible for making such a lovely concoction, he knows he can't tell the truth. So Linguini teams up with Remy and the two of them whip up some tasty dishes, teach each other a little bit about themselves, and how to work together as a team. There's a nasty chef (voiced by Ian Holm) who wants to expose Linguini for the fraud that he is and take over the restaurant, and there's a snobby food critic (voiced by Peter O'Toole) that Remy and Linguini try to impress. RATATOUILLE is hardly the best film of the year but there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, either. It's fast paced, funny, clever, bright (both in design and spirit), and it's just a blast to watch. It'll also make you hungry.

QUICK REVIEW: AWAY FROM HER

Sarah Polley's devastating directorial debut AWAY FROM HER (****) is a quiet emotional powerhouse of a drama that most people will probably never see. A tough, honest, and sad film about growing old and losing one's sanity to Alzheimer's disease, AWAY FROM HER is perfectly written, acted, and directed. Already an accomplished actress, Polley confidently establishes herself as one of the best up and coming filmmakers working today. Her writing is sensitive yet never maudlin and her low-key, well-observed directing style has much in common with fellow Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (THE SWEET HEREAFTER), who serves as a producer on AWAY FROM HER. Julie Christie, in an astonishing performance, is Fiona, a sweet-natured wife who's world comes crashing down around her as the begining stages of Alzheimer's start to appear. Her loving but emotionally conflicted husband Grant (the amazing Gordon Pinsent) doesn't want to send his wife to a nursing home but knows that he can't take care of Fiona alone. They haven't spent more than a day away from each other in close to 45 years and one of the requirements of the hospital is that no patient receives visitors for the first 30 days. Once admitted, Fiona starts to lose herself to the disease even further; she develops a unique friendship with another patient that has ramifications on the lives of both Grant, and a set of their friends. The depth of the story and the tenderness of the writing lends AWAY FROM HER an edge over other stories dealing with similar conceits; Polley has a naturalistic way with her actors that clearly stems from her own effortless acting abilities. It's sort of a companion piece (though not nearly as funny) to this year's black comedy THE SAVAGES, a film that deals with old age and tough family decisions. But AWAY FROM HER works as an intimate drama more than anything else, with Christie tearing up the screen with reserved panache. She's almost a lock to win Best Actress at this year's Oscars. Pinsent, an actor who is new to me, registers just as strongly in a slow-burn performance filled with guilt, sadness, and finally, redemption. AWAY FROM HER is a frightening movie in many ways; you get the sense that this sort of story is happening right now, around the corner and down the block from your own house. Having just got engaged and now looking forward to the future with my fiance, AWAY FROM HER is the sort of film that reminds you to grab life by the horns and live it to the fullest. There are no guarantees. It's a great little film and a knock-out of a debut for Polley.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

QUICK REVIEW: I AM LEGEND

Will Smith's latest blockbuster I AM LEGEND (**1/2) was a'ight. Just a'ight. It's a got a great premise, solid direction, but a weak, plot-holed filled script (surprise, surprise; Akiva Goldsman is the writer). The film has its moments, some genuinely creepy sequences, and as usual, Smith delivers a confident, likable movie-star performance. It's a big-budget Hollywood action flick that does pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and even has a thoughtful, semi-surprising ending (which is sort of ruined by a tacked-on second ending). The special effects range from excellent to totally phony which is a bit of a let down; director Francis Lawrence (who also helmed the efficient but unspectacular CONSTANTINE) has a way with big action set-pieces but should be beaten for allowing pure CGI to be used for the villians. The film imagines a near-future that has been ravaged by a killer disease; the infected turn into mutant-zombie people who only come out at night and only want to kill. Will Smith is Robert Neville, a military scientist who was working on a cure for the virus before it went airborne; he's also immune (inexplicably) to the virus. He spends his days driving around a deserted, empty New York City (beautifully rendered by the way) in a GTO with his friendly German shepherd, hunting deer. To be honest, the opening 40 minutes or so are pretty awesome. Lawrence establishes a surreal nightmare dreamscape where nature retuns to rule, while Smith commands the screen in a Tom Hanks in CASTAWAY fashion. Alone, talking to his dog like it was a person, and emotionally devastated (his wife and child were killed in a scary evacuation of the city), Neville is literally the last person on earth. Until a woman and child mysteriously show up in the city, looking for way to Vermont (apparently safe haven awaits in the mountains). The mutants, knows as "the dark-seekers," make a final play for Neville and his new companions, and it's at this point where I AM LEGEND falls into a boring, overly computerized finale that echoes too many previous films. Why didn't the filmmakers opt for real people in nasty make-up for the dark-seekers; what purpose did it serve to make them entirely computer generated? If your bad-guys are figments of a computer, and poorly rendered in many instances, they can't be scary. For me, this is when I become utterly divorced from the reality that the film has established, and I start tuning out. When I AM LEGEND sticks to the small details, that's when it works the best. But the plot-holes start almost immediately. How does Neville still have running water if all social and city services have been disrupted? How is he immune to the virus? If the city has been isolated (the George Washington bridge is destroyed in a nice bit of explosion mayhem), how does the mysterious woman and child make it to the city? These are just a few of many head-scratchers. I know, I know, it's an action movie and you have to suspend your disbelief. It's just that sometimes, the laziness on the part of big-budget screenwriters becomes too apparent; it gets insulting. Still, in the end, I AM LEGEND is an entertaining way to spend a rainy afternoon. If you like Will Smith and you like zombie stuff, check it out. It works well enough. But it's not THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

Friday, January 4, 2008

LOOKING AT 2008

It's going to be next to impossible for 2008 to live up to the greatness that was on display in movie theaters in 2007; simply put, 2007 was the best year of movie-going of my life.

Here's a sampling of some of the films set for release between now and the end of the year that I'm looking forward to seeing:

CLOVERFIELD (1/18)
RAMBO (1/25)
BE KIND REWIND (1/25)
IN BRUGES (2/8)
JUMPER (2/14)
VANTAGE POINT (2/22)
SEMI PRO (2/29)
CITY OF MEN (2/29)
10,000 BC (3/7)
SNOW ANGELS (3/7)
PRIDE & GLORY (3/14)
FUNNY GAMES (3/14)
STOP LOSS (3/28)
LEATHERHEADS (4/4)
SHINE A LIGHT (4/4)
THE LIST (4/25)
HAROLD & KUMAR 2 (4/25)
IRON MAN (5/2)
SPEED RACER (5/9)
INDIANA JONES 4 (5/22)
SEX AND THE CITY (5/30)
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (6/13)
THE HAPPENING (6/13)
GET SMART (6/20)
WANTED (6/27)
HANCOCK (7/2)
TROPIC THUNDER (7/11)
HELLBOY 2 (7/11)
THE DARK KNIGHT (7/18)
STEP BROTHERS (7/25)
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (8/8)
EAGLE EYE (8/8)
THE INTERNATIONAL (8/15)
ROCKNROLLA (10/3)
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (10/3)
VALKYRIE (10/8)
BODY OF LIES (10/10)
THE CHANGELING (11/7)
BOND 22 (11/7)
THE WOLFMAN (11/14)
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (11/26)
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (12/19)
YES MAN (12/19)
STAR TREK (12/25)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

UPDATED: 50 TO SEE BEFORE YOU'RE 30

I am still taking ideas.

Here's my initial list:

Casablanca
Citizen Kane
Black Hawk Down
Fight Club
Double Indemnity
Braveheart
2001
No Country for Old Men
Fargo
Some Like it Hot
The Searchers
Goodfellas
Pulp Fiction
Back to the Future
Airplane
The Magnificent Ambersons
Rushmore
Traffic
Top Gun
Heat
Taxi Driver
A Clockwork Orange
Midnight Run
The Big Sleep
Bladerunner
Rashomon
Raging Bull
Leon
The Big Lebowski
Seven
The Passenger
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Thin Red Line
Superman: The Motion Picture
The Godfather Part 1
The Godfather Part 2
Irreversible
My Left Foot
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Blow Up
All The President’s Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Deer Hunter
The New World
The Lost Weekend
Jaws
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Amacord
The Insider
Major League


Here are some recent suggestions by readers and myself:

Ferris Bueller
The Breakfast Club
Donnie Darko
The French Connection
There Will Be Blood
Dumb & Dumber
The Sting
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
When Harry Met Sally
Witness
Reservoir Dogs
Sin City
300
Witness
The Fugitive
12 Angry Men
The Piano
The Remains of the Day
The Age of Innocence
JFK
The Natural
The Third Man
Chinatown
Barry Lyndon
The Good The Bad and The Ugly
Monster's Ball
Open Range
The Matrix Reloaded
Dazed and Confused
Meet The Parents
The Lives of Others
Real Genius
Minority Report
Buffalo 66
The Winslow Boy
Glengarry Glen Ross
The Last of the Mohicans
Annie Hall
The Empire Strikes Back


Well? Let's have at it...

THE LAST REVIEWS OF THE YEAR

The last three films from 2007 that I have yet to fully review are THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (****), SWEENEY TODD (****), and THERE WILL BE BLOOD (****). I will also have a mini-reivew for RATATOUILLE (****) coming up soon. And I still have yet to see CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, THE KITE RUNNER and I AM LEGEND, so there will be some stuff on those as well.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

BESTS OF 2007

Best film: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Runner up: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

Best director: JULIAN SCHNABEL (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY)
Runner up: ANDREW DOMINIK (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)

Best actor: DANIEL DAY LEWIS (THERE WILL BE BLOOD)
Runner up: (tie) BENICIO DEL TORO (THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE) and VIGGO MORTENSEN (EASTERN PROMISES)

Best actress: LAURA LINNEY (THE SAVAGES)
Runner up: (tie) AMY ADAMS (ENCHANTED) and ELLEN PAGE (JUNO)

Best supporting actor: CASEY AFFLECK (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
Runner up: JAVIER BARDEM (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)

Best supporting actress: AMY RYAN (GONE BABY GONE)
Runner up: TILDA SWINTON (MICHAEL CLAYTON)

Best original screenplay: STEVEN KNIGHT (EASTERN PROMISES)
Runner up: TONY GILROY (MICHAEL CLAYTON)

Best adapted screenplay: RONALD HARWOOD (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY)
Runner up: JOEL & ETHAN COEN (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)

Best cinematography: ROGER DEAKINS (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
Runner up: (TIE) JANUSZ KAMINSKI (THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY) and ROBERT ELSWIT (THERE WILL BE BLOOD and MICHAEL CLAYTON)

Best editing: RODERICK JAYNES (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
Runner up: JULIETTE WELFLING (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY)

Best costumes: PATRICIA NORRIS (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
Runner up: COLLEEN ATWOOD (SWEENEY TODD)

Best original score: NICK CAVE (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
Runner up: JOHNNY GREENWOOD (THERE WILL BE BLOOD)

Best production design: PATRICIA NORRIS (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
Runner up: JACK FISK (THERE WILL BE BLOOD)

Best visual effects: MICHAEL BAY'S TRANSFORMERS
Runner up: GORE VERBINSKI'S PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END

Most underrated movie of the year: DAVID VON ANCKEN'S SERAPHIM FALLS
Runner up: CRAIG BREWER'S BLACK SNAKE MOAN

Breakthrough of the year: CASEY AFFLECK (for his performances in JESSE JAMES and GONE BABY GONE)
Runner up: BEN AFFLECK (for directing and co-writing the adapted screenplay for GONE BABY GONE)

Best surprise of the year: KEVIN LIMA'S ENCHANTED
Runner up: ADRIENNE SHELLEY'S WAITRESS

Best small film: JOHN CARNEY'S ONCE
Runner up: JAKE KASDAN'S THE TV SET

Best fantasy action film: MICHAEL BAY'S TRANSFORMERS
Runner up: GORE VERBINSKI'S PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END

Best realistic action film: PETER BERG'S THE KINGDOM
Runner up: PAUL GREENGRASS' THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Best action seqence: the freeway fight and downtown smash 'em up in TRANSFORMERS
Runner up: the last 35 minutes of THE KINGDOM

Best car chase: the point-of-view camera in the back of Joaquin Phoenix's car during the rainstorm in JAMES GRAY'S WE OWN THE NIGHT
Runner up: the climactic NYC car chase in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Best sex scene: CLIVE OWEN and MONICA BELLUCCI in SHOOT 'EM UP
Runner up: KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and JAMES MACAVOY in JOE WRIGHT'S ATONEMENT

Best single shot: the tracking shot on the beach at Dunkirk in ATONEMENT
Runner up: the tracking shot of Daniel Day Lewis running towards a burning oil dereck in THERE WILL BE BLOOD

The one movie that was released too early in the year and has now been unfairly forgotten about: DAVID FINCHER'S ZODIAC

The one movie that shook the industry: ZACK SNYDER'S 300

The single worst film of the year: MARCUS NISPEL'S PATHFINDER
Runner up: Dennis Dugan's I KNOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY