Saturday, February 27, 2010

March Movie Madness!

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious spring by flicks more awesome;

If January and February are when the studios "take out the trash," then March is when movies start to be cool again. Herein lie Hatters, rockers, dragons, and a hot tub time machine. Posting this before I get lost in Oscar week and forget all about it. :P


Alice in Wonderland - Sadly, I must start with the negative. There's been some staggeringly bad word-of-mouth about this so far. As someone who was quite fond of Burton's Wonka, however, I feel obligated to give this a shot and see for myself if it's really that horrible. Not in 3D, though. Speaking of which...

SPECIAL NOTE: I think it's well worth the Google search to find out if a film was actually shot in 3D (or IMAX, for that matter) or if it's been *converted* to 3D in post-production. If it's the latter, I'd strongly urge you to NOT see a film in 3D. It's a pitiful excuse to jack up the already exorbitant ticket price, and unless it's actually been photographed and has been intended as a 3D film from the beginning (see, Avatar), it adds NOTHING of value to the experience. Thanks to the aforementioned Avatar, of course, every single damned studio wants to release every damned movie they make in 3D, and it's ridiculous and moviegoers need to show them that we're not that gullible. Unless, of course, we are.

Alice in Wonderland, it must be said, was converted to 3D in post, NOT shot in 3D. Please do not see this in 3D.

*ahem* Moving on.

Brooklyn's Finest - Ethan Hawke reteams with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. I don't know, I usually have to be in a certain mood to want to see this kind of movie. Plus, it's Oscar weekend, and I'll have other stuff on my mind. :) This will probably be a rental, unless I hear some amazing things about it (which I haven't yet).

The Secret of Kells - (NY) I was wrong about The Blind Side - THIS was the biggest Oscar surprise on nomination morning, and good on the animation branch for recognizing a flick that most people hadn't even heard of. I've seen the trailer several times, and I'm really in love with the style of it. It doesn't hurt that the producers also brought the world the ingenious Triplets of Belleville.


Green Zone - Paul Greengrass is a fantastic filmmaker, and he made one of the greatest movies of the last decade, United 93. He also made some movies about a guy named Bourne, none of which I've seen. I'm slightly more likely to see this, though, because it doesn't require me to catch up on the Bourne franchise. On the other hand, what little I've heard about it is not terribly positive.

Remember Me - Both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have movies coming out this month, but Pattinson is treading somewhat familiar ground with this romantic drama. Also starring LOST's Emilie de Ravin, this is the one that was shot in New York where Pattinson was hit by a car running from shrieking fans. I kind of wonder how those same fans will take to seeing him fall in love with someone who's not Bella Clutzenhammer.

She's Out of My League - I've kind of been waiting for this one ever since falling for Jay Baruchel in Tropic Thunder. He's the last member of the Judd Apatow stable to get his own movie, after his real-life friends Seth Rogen and Jason Segel have all made their mark on the raunch-com. And unlike most of the entries in this sub-genre, this one actually seems to deal with the disparity in, errr, leagueyness, instead of just saying "Oh, of COURSE this totally beautiful girl would be all over this shlubby guy."

Our Family Wedding - Guess who's coming to dinner! Carlos Mencia. No thanks. Not even America Ferrera and Forest Whitaker can make up for that. Also, I think we need way fewer movies in this world about slapstick weddings. And racial stereotypes. Skipping it.

Mother - (LA/NY) This was South Korea's official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film, and it has gotten very good reviews. The trailer is intriguing, but this might just slip through the cracks. On the other hand, I just read a review that compared it to the work of Douglas Sirk and Sam Fuller. Thinking seriously about it.


The Bounty Hunter - I really like Jennifer Aniston. I really do. But I cannot bear to see her fritter her career away on crap movies like this. And it's not like it's her fault. I firmly believe she'd get better roles if the media narrative wasn't still so focused on her marriage that ended five freakin' years ago. Oh, and Gerard Butler should not be allowed to make any romantic comedies ever. It's even less his thing than it is Matthew McConaughey's. And that is saying something. In case you were wondering, I have no interest in seeing this. :P

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Is it weird that this is kind of the thing I most want to see out of this weekend? Seriously, the trailer is love. And it has Steve Zahn. And Chloe Moretz, who will officially take over the world next month when Kick-Ass hits theaters.

The Runaways - (LA/NY) Speaking of running away, here's Kristen Stewart running as far away from the sparkle nonsense as she possibly can, playing 1970s rock goddess Joan Jett. I heard good things and "eh" things out of Sundance. Looking forward to seeing which side of the fence I end up on. Seems I'll have to break my "No Dakota Fanning" rule.

Repo Men - You know, I loved this when it was a musical and starred Tony Head and Paris Hilton. I really did. It's a great concept, of course, and I know not everyone loved the Genetic Opera, but I'm not sure I'm ready to see this without the cheesy songs.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I understand this is freakishly popular elsewhere in the world, but I can't tell a darn thing about what it's about from the trailer. I suspect I should read the book on which it's based before actually seeing it. That might mean Netflix instead of a theater.

IMAX: Hubble 3-D - (Limited) Very tempting. I don't know if I'll get around to it, but this is the kind of movie both IMAX and 3D were built for.


How to Train Your Dragon - I love the trailer for this, can't wait to see it, and care not who knows it. Jay Baruchel, mentioned earlier as the star of She's Out of My League, voices the main character and my favorite late-night host Craig Ferguson also lends his voice to the tale. And speaking of the main character ... so much love for what I've seen thus far. It's like if Ron Weasley got his own movie. *squee*

Greenberg - I like the line at the end of the trailer about all those young people whose parents raised them too perfectly, but I'm not sure Baumbach is my thing. The Squid and the Whale nearly killed me from the smug, self-aware, better-than-thou misery. I don't think I can take another dose of that particular neurosis yet.

Chloe - (Limited) There's only one thing I need to convince me I need to see this - "directed by Atom Egoyan." The guy who brought us The Sweet Hereafter now gives us a tale of a wife who, convinced her husband is cheating, hires an "escort" to seduce him. With Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, and Liam Neeson.

Hot Tub Time Machine - That's the kind of title that either makes you want to see it or makes you not want to see it. I'm in the former camp. Add John Cusack, Craig Robinson (one of the best things about Pineapple Express), and Rob Corddry, PLUS crazy eighties nostalgia (check out the Cameo hair on Robinson's younger self - WORD UP!)? I'm so there!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski has had a varied career, but some of his best work has been the taut, tense adult thriller. I don't mean "adult" as in pornographic, but adult as in grown-up, with very few frills and toys that many lesser films use to distract you from their storytelling flaws. Films like Repulsion, Chinatown, Knife in the Water, Cul de Sac, and The Tenant set new standards for the genre, and The Ghost Writer is a fine addition to their ranks.

Ewan McGregor plays The Ghost - his character is never even given a proper name. He is a ghost writer, and a fairly successful one. He's a gifted writer in his own right, and could have a career as a "proper writer," but he seems to be content with where he is. His latest book, about a magician, is called "I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered."

The Ghost is hired to finish the memoirs of a former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a character apparently inspired by Tony Blair (I don't know enough about British politics to comment further on the comparison, I'm afraid). There is a draft of the book, but it's a mess, and it was written by Lang's assistant, who has mysteriously turned up dead in what is being called a suicide (but this is a thriller, so who wants odds on how true that is). The Ghost is told he has a month to finish the job - which is essentially rewriting the thing - and he's flown out to (I think) Martha's Vineyard, where Lang and his entourage are staying.

It's not long before The Ghost realizes that he's gotten himself in over his head. He drafts a statement of response when Lang is accused of war crimes, and Lang's wife Ruth (Dollhouse's Olivia Williams) calls him an "accomplice." This is only a little bit of a joke. The Ghost is originally put up in a nearby hotel, but when the press (not to mention protesters) get wind that Lang is in the area, he's brought to the compound to stay there, where he'll be safe and can avoid attention and awkward questions. The Ghost becomes rather close with Ruth while Lang is in Washington, and eventually finds some clues to the truth about Lang in the former assistant's personal effects. Against his better judgment, and despite the already murderous deadline for the book being brought up another two weeks, The Ghost follows these clues well past the point where he finds his life in danger.

I won't say more than that, plot-wise. It's probably impossible to completely divorce this film from the name Roman Polanski. There are some pretty blatant real-world parallels, and not just the Iraq aspects, but they don't feel forced (or at least they didn't to me, but perhaps my sympathies for Polanski get in the way there). There is a rather pointed scene dealing with Lang's inability to go back to England, and there's kind of a theme of missing the forest for the trees in this society that gives as much (if not more) news weight to celebrity sex scandals as it does to the wars we're involved in. But I feel Roland Pitt is doing here what all artists do, which is comment on the world around them. His observations are no less true, even if they do come from a prejudiced source.

The cast is exceptionally strong. Ewan McGregor holds the film together with his unassuming performance. Pierce Brosnan, who I've never really imagined had much of a range, is surprisingly menacing. Tom Wilkinson is excellent, as always, with the limited screen time he has. There's a cameo by Eli Wallach that's pretty cool as well. But the real jewel in the crown, in my opinion, is Olivia Williams. She's played several icy British women, none more memorable than Dollhouse head-bitch-in-charge Adelle DeWitt, but in The Ghost Writer her subtle and complex Ruth Lang makes the whole movie.

One reviewer called this movie "thin," as thrillers go, but I found it a refreshing throwback to good old meat-and-potatoes thrillers. It's not thin at all - there's plenty going on - it's just not hopped up on steroids like so many thrillers have become in the wake of movies like the Bourne series. There were, however, two flaws in my mind.

First, and I say this as someone who loves Kim Cattrall, she seems rather miscast here as Lang's ... well I'm not sure what she is - a secretary of sorts, I guess. At the very least, they could have let her be an American instead of asking her to try on an English accent. I don't have much of a problem with her performance or her character - though it seems kind of throwaway, as if the story decided it needed another sexy woman in the mix to spice things up. But the accent, which she never quite fully masters, just doesn't fit, even when she's not mangling it.

Second, I'm not sure who decided to go for a PG-13 rating come hell or high water, but it was very obvious that they'd dubbed over a handful of f-words. Sometimes to something silly like "freaking," sometimes to something like "bugger" that's just as offensive to Brits, as I understand, but less offensive to American audiences. I doubt that many people between the ages of 13 and 17 would be interested in this film to begin with, so I can't imagine it was worth the bother.

In any case, despite a couple of (in my opinion) minor flaws, it's a very strong movie. And it's good to know that Mr. Polanski, now in his seventies, still very much knows his way around a camera. I really hope he gets to keep making films.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Seriously, Oscars?

Oscar nominees told to prepare two speeches. Producers are suggesting that people use their 45 seconds on stage to talk about what winning means to them and save their specific "thank you"s for backstage, where they can record another speech on the Academy's Thank-You Cam, videos from which will go up on the Oscars website.

First of all, it's a bit presumptuous to tell people what they can and can't do with their time on stage. I say as long as they don't streak like Robert Opal in '73, they should be able to do whatever the hell they want. It's THEIR NIGHT, for crying out loud!

The second thing that's wrong with that is that the whole point of thanking individuals in your speech is THAT IT'S GOING OUT TO A WORLDWIDE AUDIENCE. No one cares about the clips on the website, unless they're clips of something you missed that actually happened on the broadcast. When Meryl Streep won in 1983 for Sophie's Choice, she said "I have a lot of people to thank, and I'm going to be one of those people who mentions a lot of names. Because I know that two seconds ago my mother and father went completely berserk, and I'd like to give some other mothers and fathers that opportunity." I don't care if it's boring. I would MUCH rather hear someone speak genuinely to at least some of the people who are responsible for them being up there than to blather on about themselves as if it's all their doing.

They give a similar admonition about laundry lists of names most years, and I'm pretty sure it's been several years since anyone - aside from the tech people who are not writers or actors and should not be expected to burst forth rhapsodic up there in front of Jack Nicholson and everybody - actually did one of those. I hope at least one of the winners this year, though, draws attention to how wrong it is to ask someone to cater their speech to the damned television audience.

Look, I think anyone who has watched the Oscars more than once knows that the ceremony is going to be four hours long. It just is. Sometimes you get a three-and-a-halfer, but that's lucky. So stop acting like the world's most self-congratulatory award show is really about all those shlubs watching at home with their box of wine. That's disingenuous, to say the least. And it's a slippery slope when you only allow certain people to be recognized on television. I fear that by the time I get to go to the Oscars, the writing awards will be relegated to the non-televised portion because they're boring.

Speaking of "boring," though ... who needs all these silly suggestions when you can just bring out Will Ferrell and Jack Black to drown out the droners? ;-)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The man in the mirror ... muahahahaha!

It's an oft-used device - a character stands in front of a mirror, opens the medicine cabinet to get something, and shuts it to find something behind them. Most of us have probably seen this so many times, we instinctively brace ourselves for a scare whenever a character looks into a mirror.

Well, someone was awesome enough to amass a nice collection of "mirror scares" from fairly recent, well-known movies. Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

I meant to make an Oscar nominations announcement post, and in fact did elsewhere, but I'll post more about the nominees as we get closer to March 7.

Should have done this earlier in the week, but between working and catching up on "Lost" it just didn't get done. A surprising amount of potentially quality stuff for February, but some of it is very limited release. Here goes it.

Dear John - Much as I belatedly enjoyed The Notebook, and much as I love just about everything Lasse Hallstrom does, these kinds of movies are just not the kind that I go out and see in a theater. I think I can only appreciate them in the comfort of my home, where I can munch on Ben and Jerry's and keep a box of Kleenex nearby.

From Paris With Love - Have heard some good things about this, but I *still* don't buy John Travolta as a bad guy. Jury's still out on this one.

Frozen - (Limited release) A smash hit at BNAT back in December, and even though the Minnesota crew called bull on a lot of the plot elements, it was definitely the one we all talked about the most (for better or ill) afterward. Yes, it's implausible as all get-out, but no more than Jaws, and like Jaws it's built on something that a lot of people are afraid of. This is one you MUST see with a big audience.

Banlieue 13: Ultimatum - (Limited release) I really loved the first Banlieue 13 when we saw it at BNAT 7, but I'm wary of the sequel.

Red Riding: 1974 - (Limited release) I've been waiting for this one for a while now. This is the first part of a trilogy (the other parts being 1980 and 1983) that originally aired last year on television in the UK and has been the talk of movieworld ever since. Three different directors tackle each of these films featuring fictionalized accounts of the investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper murders. It's been compared to David Fincher's Zodiac and has been described as "better than The Godfather" which seems a bit of a step-out, but I very much hope to see for myself this weekend. The IFC Center in NY is screening the entire trilogy for a special ticket price.

The Wolfman - Speaking of waiting for things for a while, this one has been pushed back a couple of times but will finally fit theaters next weekend. I'm giddy as heck for this one, as much to see Rick Baker's makeup work as anything else. I'll have to bone up and watch the original with Lon Chaney Jr. first, though. *makes note*

Valentine's Day - This strikes me very much as a cross between He's Just Not That Into You and Love, Actually, both of which I loved but both of which (especially the latter) kind of make me hate myself for no good reason. Probably not something I'd enjoy so near Valentine's Day, which I'm something of a humbug about anyway.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - I'm curious to see how Chris Columbus kickstarts another very similar franchise to that other one. His limitations as a filmmaker were not an obstacle to Harry Potter because he was starting with such a strong story and clung to it for dear life, not changing much of anything. But however good Percy Jackson is ... I doubt it's Harry Potter calibre.

Shutter Island - Yes. Yes. YES. Cannot wait to see this again. One of the biggest hits of BNAT last year and a more than worthy addition to Scorsese's ouevre. Not to mention what is literally (in my opinion) the finest work of DiCaprio's career. Brilliant, from start to finish.

The Ghost Writer - No matter what you think of his personal drama, Roman Polanski is one of the great artists of the moving image, and this seems to be exactly the kind of film he excels at. As many people who swore they'd never see another of his films last fall, I'll bet many, many more will flock to this because of the controversy.

The Crazies - I'm hesistant, because these slick, soulless remakes of classic horror films (and the moviegoers who don't know they're remakes - GAH) drive me INSANE. But part of me needs to see this, because the director's next project is a remake (grrr) of one of my favorite horror films, The Brood. All I can do is hope that this version of The Crazies doesn't rape Romero's original too badly. And I have to admit, the trailer (especially the use of "Mad World") is pretty cool.

Cop Out - The first Kevin Smith movie that was not also written by Smith. I'm very curious. Originally titled "A Couple of Dicks," the eventual ditching of that title was a huge red flag for how big a crap the studio was taking on Smith and his movie (in fact, I think the eventual title "Cop Out" was a subtle tongue-sticking-outing to the bigwigs on Smith's part). And the first trailer did not abate fears. However, the new red-band trailer makes it all too clear to me - marketing this film to a general audience is selling it way short. This is raunchy and hilarious, and I'm kind of psyched.

The Yellow Handkerchief - (NY and LA) The plot kind of reminds me of a little film called My First Mister, which I adore. This might be one that slips through the cracks, given that there's at least one other must-see out this weekend, but I'm interested.

A Prophet - (NY) I've heard almost nothing but raves for this film from the festival circuit (though some dislike its portrayal of Muslims), and I'm terribly excited to see it finally. It's now been nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and it will be nice to have seen at least a couple of the films in that category for once.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Nomination Eve!

With the Oscar nomination announcement just hours away, I'm going to throw out some last minute predictions for who's definitely in, who's probably in, who might squeak in, and who's so not in that I'll slap my grandmother if they actually are. [Note: I have no grandmother, so that claim is kind of empty. It sounds impressive nonetheless.]

Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) practically has his name engraved on the trophy, so no guesswork is needed there. I'll also be rather shocked if Woody Harrelson's name doesn't appear for his fine work in The Messenger. The rest of the field is not so clear. Likely fellow nominees are Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), for whom this would - amazingly - be a career-first nomination, Alfred Molina (An Education), and Stanley Tucci (I'm rooting for Julie & Julia, but his Lovely Bones performance is more likely - hmph). A possible wild card, who has been largely overlooked this season, is Anthony Mackie for The Hurt Locker. A nomination for The Hurt Locker means something else, too - a more general support for that film, which would seem to boost its chances for Best Picture.

Like Mr. Waltz, Mo'Nique (Precious) is a foregone conclusion. Also pretty much guaranteed to hear their names called are Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga (both for Up in the Air - if they only pick one, I'd say it's Kendrick). Julianne Moore (A Single Man) seems another safe bet. Given her SAG nomination, Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) is a strong possibility; less so (and criminally, in my opinion) is fellow Basterd Melanie Laurent, who might suffer from confusion over whether she belongs here or in the lead actresses' field. A wild card might show up here as well, in the form of Rosamund Pike (An Education), or Samantha Morton (The Messenger). Also, don't count out last year's winner in this category, Penelope Cruz (Nine).


At least three locks for this category - Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), and would-be-first-time nominee Colin Firth (A Single Man). Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) is also extremely likely, as is Morgan Freeman (Invictus). Spoilers here could be Matt Damon (The Informant!), Ben Foster (The Messenger), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), or Viggo Mortensen (The Road). In the "crazier things have happened" department, I wouldn't be that surprised to see Brad Pitt here as well for Inglourious Basterds. Another nomination that, like Mackie's, would indicate a general support for his film.

Each of these, if omitted, would be HUGE snubs at this point - Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Carey Mulligan (An Education), and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) - so I fully expect to hear all four of their names tomorrow. There are several options for the fifth slot, but the likeliest is Helen Mirren (The Last Station). Other possibilities include Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria), Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces), and *maybe* Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds). Again, there's category confusion for her, but she *ought* to be considered a lead. Sadly, probably the most deserving performance of the year - Tilda Swinton (Julia) - will likely be overlooked. I'd be overjoyed to be wrong. (It's also possible that her film is ineligible, but I'm not sure.)

I'd be shocked to not see The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, but the other slots are harder to predict. I'd be surprised not to see Up recognized here, as well as 500 Days of Summer and A Serious Man (not to be confused with the Colin Firth movie with a very similar title). And I'd say Avatar has a pretty good shot (as much as it might annoy some people). Another possibility - *sigh* - The Hangover. Look, I love it, but I'm boggled at the Oscar coverage it's gotten. It's like talking Oscars about Porky's, yanno?

Up in the Air, Precious, and An Education all seem like locks to me, and probably District 9 as well, I'd love - LOVE - to see In the Loop included. And Crazy Heart would be a good choice here, too.

I fully expect this to line up with the Directors' Guild nominees. Meaning Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Lee Daniels (Precious), James Cameron (Avatar), and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds). A possible wild card could be Lone Scherfig (An Education), who would make an unprecedented second woman in the directing race. In the "it'll never happen, but wouldn't it be awesome" department, I'd jump for joy if Pete Docter (Up) was honored here. Ain't gonna happen, but I can dream.

Oy, here we go. Okay, there's five titles you'll definitely hear - Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air. I'll be quite shocked if any of those are left out. The other five slots are a bit murkier, and the debate among prognosticators seems to be whether the expansion to ten nominees will favor more populist fare or indie stuff. My (ignorant) guess is a little of both. I'd be surprised not to see An Education show up. I'd also be surprised, not to mention very disappointed, to see the animation curse keep Up from being considered for the big prize, especially with twice as many slots. A Serious Man will probably be included, with many feeling it's the Coens' finest work since Fargo. District 9 is also quite a strong possibility. And despite its lukewarm reception from critics, the Academy's Eastwood-love could very well squeak Invictus onto the list. Other possibilities are Star Trek and The Messenger. In the "Winter Olympics in Hell" department, The Hangover. Seriously, just no. I'm not even going to bold the title for you. :P

So there we have it! Tune in tomorrow to find out how wrong I was!