Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oscar nomination predictions 2010

The Oscar nominations come out Tuesday morning, so it's time to roll out my predictions. If my analysis seems half-hearted or just plain wrong-headed, I apologize, but I have fallen victim to an occupational hazard. As I type this, I am still lost in the haze created by a stupefyingly pretentious slog of a movie called A  Single Man. Oy.  When I got out I swore it was already 2012.

Anyway, on with the predix. Below-the-line categories are after the jump. I cannot claim to know enough about the foreign films, documentaries, or shorts to make predictions there. Any comments or questions on my analysis will be welcome.

BEST PICTURE
Avatar
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
Invictus
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Alternates

The Blind Side
Crazy Heart
(500) Days of Summer

The sure things here are Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious and Up in the Air. Those would be the five under the old system. With 10 nominees this year, Up is likely, as beloved as it is, the rest are shaky.


BEST DIRECTOR

Kathryn Bigleow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Alternates

Neill Blomkamp, District 9
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen A Serious Man
Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon


I'm pretty confident in this group, Daniels is the one I am least certain about. If the go for an old pro instead, they go for Eastwood. Or the could go auteur-y and go for Haneke


BEST ACTOR

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Alternates
Matt Damon, The Informant!
Tobey Maguire, Brothers

I'm very confident in this group. Any spoilers here are unlikely.


BEST ACTRESS

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Alternates

Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Saorise Ronan, The Lovely Bones

I'm even more confident in the actresses. I would be shocked if these were not the five.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Slightly tougher category to predict, but it's really immaterial. Waltz is walking away with this award.

Alternates
Matt Damon, Invictus
Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles
Alfred Molina, An Education

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Alternates
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Maggie Gyllenahaal, Crazy Heart

The Up in the Air ladies are locks, as is Mo'Nique. Kruger gets in on the strength of her film, and Moore gets in on reputation.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Ponyo
The Princess and the Frog
Up

Friday, January 29, 2010

Previews before reviews - in theaters 1/29/10

After a moribund showing last week, theatrical films bounce back a bit this week.

Crazy Heart: The film that will finally win Jeff Bridges his Oscar (and I say that with the utmost confidence) opens locally this week and is at the top of my to-see list. Now I'll finally be able to determine if this movie's appeal is all Bridges, or if there's something to the film as a whole.



Edge of Darkness: Mel Gibson steps out from behind the camera for the first time in a good long while, but me being more of a technical geek, I'm more interested in the director credit: Martin Campbell, who did a magnificent job rebooting Bond in Casino Royale. (He also directed the best of Brosnan's outings, Goldeneye.) Campbell, who with this film remakes a British miniseries he shot years ago,  is one of the more underrated action helmers out there, maybe because his style is more muscular than it is flashy. It also helps that one of the writers is William Monahan, who won an Oscar for The Departed. Mild concern: the reviews are soft.




When in Rome: I really like Kristen Bell, who absolutely radiates appeal, but I'm getting the funny feeling that this isn't the best vehicle for her talents. For one thing, the director is Mark Steven Johnson, who was last seen stinking up theaters with Ghost Rider. And for another, one review called it  "... a weak rehash of Love Potion No. 9, with Love Potion No. 9 replaced by crack." Where's my pipe?





Two outta three ain't bad.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TRAILER: Wall Street 2: Money never sleeps



I want to like this one, I really do. I quite liked the original Wall Street, and this sequel has a terrific cast which includes Carey Mulligan, who was luminous in An Education.

To be honest, though, if I didn't know Oliver Stone was directing this movie, I never would have guessed it from this trailer. If not for the cast, I would have guessed direct-to-DVD sequel. And I really could do without the RRRRRAAAAAAAAWWWWKK soundtrack.

Stone has been maddeningly inconsistent lately. World Trade Center aside, he hasn't made a great movie since Nixon. And (cinematographer geek moment here), Oliver's movies just haven't been as good since Robert Richardson quit shootin' em. Coincidence? Maybe not entirely.

(Explainer for non-cinematographer geeks: Richardson is the director of photography who worked with Stone from Salvador on through JFK [for which Richardson won on Oscar) and up through U-Turn. He has also shot The Aviator (second Oscar), Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds, among others, and in my opinion is the best American cinematographer working today) 

Then again, the trailer for World Trade Center was lousy too, and that turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year. I guess we'll see on April 23.

Our Favorite Movies: M.E.'s picks

Wow, everyone - I am impressed with and very grateful for the response to the Our Favorite Movies project so far! Some of you went even more all-out than I expected. Compared to a couple of the lists you submitted, my original 10 looks pretty measly now. Guess I better get  crackin' on No.s 11-20!

But that's for a future post. Now it's time to show how the other side of this works. It's time for me to start commenting on your lists. Two-way street, ya know. I'll take them in the order submitted.

First up to respond is a longtime friend and colleague of mine who goes by the name of M.E. (for short). She's quite well versed in movies, and I thank her for being first out of the gate. Her pic(k)s are:




The Philadelphia Story: Cary Grant. Katharine Hepburn. Jimmy Stewart. Does any movie without a large cast bost more potent star power? And yet, little Virginia Weidler came along and damn near stole the picture from the lot of 'em.



Some Like It Hot: Along with Singin' in the Rain, this is the movie I turn to most whenever I need a pick-me-up. No matter how many times I see it, Billy Wilder's comedy, the funniest movie ever made, never fails to asphyxiate me.

Modern Times: Outstanding Chaplin. As previously stated, my top choice is City Lights, but this might be my second or third favorite, depending on where I put The Great Dictator

Anatomy of a Murder: Very fine courtroom drama with an outstanding lead performance from Jimmy Stewart and a memorable turn from the always striking Lee Remick. As far as courtroom movies go, I personally prefer Twelve Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, but Ottto Premenger's drama is probably a close third. 

Rear Window: One of my very favorite Hitchcocks. Probably more so than any film he made, this one speaks the most to the pure visual power of the cinema, because so often, we are the camera. Oh, and it features this lovely entrance too. Ah, Grace ....




The Wizard of Oz: Indeed, there is no place like home.

The Sound of Music: A lot of people call this movie sappy, and it is, but that's part of it's charm. It's a little long for me, and has too much repetition of some of the numbers. When it comes to Robert Wise musicals, I gravitate to West Side Story, but on the whole, its charms are irresistible.

Casablanca: Yeah, I can hardly believe it didn't make my list either, but as sterling as this masterpiece is, I couldn't kick out any of the 10 for this one. This would probably be number 11, though.

To Have and Have Not: See this and witness Bogie and Bacall falling for each other. Great stuff, although my favorite B&B is The Big Sleep, as little sense as it makes.

Segueing to more modern choices:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Indeed, one of the greatest film achievements of the past decade, although I think the theatrical version of The Two Towers was cut too severely - it plays much better in the extended version.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Also my choice for the best of the Potter films.

No Country for Old Men: One of the Coen Brothers best, if not their best. It certainly has the most chilling villain of the past decade.

Poltergeist: You've heard of the Poltergeist curse, right? How very, very eerie that M.E, should pick this the very day it's announced that Zelda Rubinstein has died.

Toy Story 2: I consider this Pixar's greatest achievement. Well, either this or WALL-E, depending on what day you ask me.

Up: I sense a theme here. My second favorite movie of last year, and probably Pixar's third-greatest achievement. 

So that's how it works, folks. You list em, I opine on them, and we turn each other on to our favorites. Check here if you want to see my list and grasp the premise a little more.  We're off to a fine start. Submit MORE and let's keep the momentum going!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My favorite movies/Your favorite movies

"A favorite movies post, Eric? How unimaginative can you get? What IS this, a desperate ploy for traffic?"

Well, it certainly couldn't hurt. And I admit the idea is not all that original. Besides, my 10 favorite movies are listed on Facebook for all to see.

So what's the point? Well, here's what I hope this post will spark:  This won't just be me naming MY favorite movies. That will be the launchpad for you naming yours.

Over the past year or so, thanks largely to Facebook, I have met or reconnected with a number of friends. It occurred to me that many of them don't know my list. More importantly, it occurred to me that I don't know many of their favorite movies. In fact, I have some friends I've known for many years, and I'm not sure what their favorite movies are. Heck, I don't even know what the favorite movies are of many of my family members. Rather shameful for a movie maven like me. I always meant to do this on my original newspaper blog and to my regret, never got around to it.

So here's how this will work:  I will list my 10 favorite movies of all time below. Then in the comments, you tell me what your favorite movies are. Name as many or as few as you wish. Then, what I will do is I will devote a post to your favorite movies. And even if I don't like your favorite movie I promise I will be civil. Unless maybe your movie is directed by Michael Bay. And if your favorite movie is directed by Michael Bay, how in the WORLD did we ever get to be friends?

I jest. Sort of. But that's the game, and I'm really looking forward to it. And by the way, this game is not limited to people who know me. If you're a stranger and you've wandered in here, you can play too. And there's no time limit on this. This can go on for weeks or months.

Here are mine:




1. Vertigo (1958): Alfred Hitchcock combines dizzying camerawork (the views down the staircase alone are spine-tingling), an emotionally wrenching story  of love lost and won, superb performances by James Stewart and Kim Novak, and Bernard Herrmann’s achingly beautiful score to create a spellbinding, dream-like masterpiece.

2. A Hard Day's Night (1964) — The greatest rock n’ roll movie ever made, the Beatles’ first film cannot be topped for pure, frenzied fun. The music’s pretty OK too.

3. Citizen Kane (1941) — Oh, to be 25 having never made a movie before, and to hit it out of the park on your very first try. Orson Welles’ seminal film features a stunning array of cinematic innovations that tell the fascinating and poignant story of a man who found out the hard way that money can’t buy him love — or save Rosebud.

4. Singin' in the Rain (1952) — This is the movie I watch whenever I’ve had an awful day. For a shining 103 minutes, this movie washes my troubles away, and all is right with the world. Musical numbers don’t get more joyous — or more perfect — than when they have Gene Kelly, an umbrella and a lamppost.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — Stanley Kubrick may not have been very accurate in his predictions of the future, but this film remains a mesmerizing look at man’s journey beyond his earthly bounds. No edit in
cinema history speaks more volumes than the shots of the bone changing into  satellite.

6. Raging Bull (1980) — America’s greatest living director, Martin Scorsese, shows us an utterly despicable man, boxer Jake La Motta, and still makes his story electrifying through boundless filmmaking skill. De Niro’s work gets my vote for the best performance of all time.

7. Pinocchio (1940) — “Snow White” may have been first, but “Pinocchio” was better. The sheer beauty of the animation, combined with the story’s great gags and tremendous heart, makes this Disney’s masterwork.

8. The Wizard of Oz (1939) — It will remain eternally wonderful for Judy Garland’s performance alone.

9. Schindler's List (1993) — I will never forget going to see this movie in a packed theater in Cincinnati and marveling at how the audience was utterly silent at the end.

10. City Lights (1931) — Fall-down funny comedy and touching romance co-exist beautifully when Charlie Chaplin tries to raise money for the blind girl he loves. The ending is exquisitely moving.




So those are mine. Feel free to comment on my choices, and especially to list yours. Let the game begin. Maybe you could even invite your friends who don't know me to participate. We can learn something from each other - and have some great movie-watching to do. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Home (Re)Viewing/What Are You Watching?

Today I return to a hybrid of DVD reviews and short takes on some movies I've seen on the small screen. 


Today's DVDs




Michael Jackson: This is It:  The documentary assembled from hours of rehearsal footage for the Michael Jackson extravaganza that never was could have been exploitative. Instead, it's a fascinating glimpse that raveled the Michael of old was still very much there. He remained too hung up on slick bombast and gooey sentiment when he didn't need them - but he was also still one of the most magnetic performers of our age when he simply sang and/or danced. By it's very nature, this portrait is incomplete, but at its best, it's enthralling.  Full review - GRADE: B+

Saw VI: Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore.

Surrogates: This sci-fi actioner gets points for some inventive ideas and well-staged action scenes, but it failed to make me care about the characters very much. It's a little too robotic for its own good. Full review - GRADE: B-

Whip It: I was very disappointed that Drew Barrymore's scrappy, winning  directorial debut got precious little attention in theaters. Her chronicle of a girl (Ellen Page) who finds herself when she gets into roller derby is the sort of solid storytelling people keep saying is missing from movies - and then they don't go to see it when it arrives. I hope it finds the audience it deserves now. Full review - GRADE: A-

What are You Watching?

A Guy Named Joe: Having recently bought The Wizard of Oz on Blu-Ray, I decided to check out this movie also directed by Victor Fleming. I had always been curious to see it because Steven Spielberg remade it into the one film of his I can't recommend: the pallid Always. Is the original better? Yes, but not by that much. The soapy World War II story, about a deceased Spencer Tracy trying to guide his girl (Irene Dunne) and the hotshot flyer who loves her (Van Johnson), takes WAY too long to get going. As it settles into the third act, however, the superbly talented cast gives it their all, and the melodramatics got to me. I can see why Spielberg liked it - too bad even he couldn't improve upon it. GRADE: B

Moonlight Serenade: People who know me know well my penchant for Amy Adams and for girls who can sing. So since Amy sings in this film, it should be an automatic winner for me, right? Alas and alack, no, I am surprised to say. Naturally, it's fun to hear Amy croon the standards, but she's stuck with  a barely Lifetime-worthy plot, a washout of a male lead (Scott G. Anderson) and production values that aren't much slicker than those of Paranormal Activity. Never mind that it's not up to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - it ain't even Leap Year. GRADE: C

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The other movies of Sherlock Holmes - and bonus Billy Wilder

I often like to theme my movie viewing at home. . I tend to go on certain kinds of "kicks" - a Grace Kelly kick, an MGM musicals kick, a Scorsese kick (which I am permanently on) and so forth.

Sometimes these kicks happen organically. I didn't really mean to go on a Sherlock Holmes kick recently, but now I might as well be carrying around a pipe and playing a fiddle. I'm not really sharp at deductions unless it has to do with movies, but I am not gifted enough to find, say, the missing footage from The Magnificent Ambersons.

But I digress. My Holmes kick started when I watched the movie in theaters now. I found it passably entertaining, but really didn't think much of it.




Then came Disney's The Great Mouse Detective. I didn't mean to watch the movies so close together, but I had it in my Netflix queue because it was one of the few Disney animated features I had not seen, and it just happened to arrive not long after I saw the new Holmes. But I'm glad it did, because I found the film quite the delight. It's maybe a little shy on heart, and the songs are forgettable, but it's wonderfully clever in the way it synchs up the human Holmes with the mouse version. Two of the directors are Ron Clements and John Musker, who would later get credit for launching the Disney renaissance with The Little Mermaid, but Mouse Detective laid some very fine groundwork.




Since I was on a roll, I decided to make my next film a Holmes feature I had long wanted to see but had never gotten around to it: Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. And it's much more imaginative than the current Holmes could ever dream of being. (Billy Wilder trumping Guy Ritchie? Who knew?)

In a sense, it feels unlike most Wilder pics because of its British milieu, but it still bears Wilder's distinctive tone and voice as he and co-writer IAL Diamond concoct an "undiscovered" Holmes adventure that cuts into his legend. One of my favorite lines: "Some of us are cursed with memories like flypaper. Stuck there is a staggering amount of miscellaneous data, most of it useless."

Some would say that's true of my brain: But I think it better enables me to enjoy movies like that one.

Since I didn't have any more Holmes movies in my collection (or Netflix queue) I decided to go for another Wilder picture that was on TCM - The Major and the Minor, about the misadventures of Ginger Rogers when she tries to pass herself off as a 12-year-old so she can take a train trip home.




This was Wilder's directorial debut, but you'd never know it unless you were told - the movie bears none of the tentativeness of a typical first-timer. Wilder was assured right off the bat. The idea that Rogers could pass for a 12-year-old is preposterous - and Wilder knows it, getting great comic mileage out of it. The inclusion of a real teenager who sees right through Rogers' disguise off the bat gives the movie a sharp edge.

It's not one of the truly great Wilder movies, mainly because Ray Milland's male lead and love interest is a bland washout. But Rogers is an absolute hoot. When Wilder finds an excuse for her to do a little dance, it's comic gold.

Where will my movie viewing take me next? More Wilder? More Rogers? Whatever's coming from Netflix? Even I don't know just yet. But I'll post more when I do decide.

The Great Mouse Detective: B+
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes:  A-
The Major and the Minor:  B+

Friday, January 22, 2010

Previews Before Reviews - In theaters 1/22/10

January is usually a dumping ground for Hollywood's bottom of the barrel, but this month hadn't been so bad ...

... until this week, when we start to head over the falls. As is so often the case, one must turn to the arthouses to find appealing fare.

Broken Embraces: This opens in Dayton this week. I'm always up for Almodovar, even though acclaim for this hasn't been that high, because even his lesser films are always interesting.



Extraordinary Measures: It's appropriate that this is the first venture by CBS Films, because for all the world this looks like a TV disease-of-the-week movie that somehow escaped to theaters. And Harrison Ford - what in the world are YOU doing in this? Aren't there better projects floating around? I know people pick on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a lot, but even people who (unjustly) hate that movie admit you weren't the problem. C'mon, man!



Legion: This action flick with Biblical overtones sports a good cast including  Paul Bettany and  Dennis Quaid. But when I see the trailer, the only word that comes out of my mouth is "Meh."



The Tooth Fairy: As far as kid comedies go, this looks a heck of a lot more entertaining than last week's The Spy Next Door - not that that's saying much. Dwayne Johnson has proven himself with this kind of material, and it's always fun to see Julie Andrews, but it seems to be just this side of too sweet - maybe not to the point of a root canal, but a cavity is distinctly possible.



To Save a Life - TV movie that got a theatrical release take 2 AKA "Let's see if we can be a below-the-radar Christian hit like Fireproof."



If I see anything this weekend it will be the Almodovar. What say you?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

REVIEW: The Lovely Bones




The Lovely Bones was not as good as I hoped it would be - but it's still a lot better than most of my fellow critics have said it is.

After the reviews started tearing  Peter Jackson's film down, I smelled something suspicious. Too many of them carped that it didn't reflect Alice Sebold's highly acclaimed novel particularly well. I rolled my eyes at the reviewers' persistent refusal to acknowledge that movies are movies and novels are novels and rarely shall the twain meet.

I haven't read the novel, but I do know that many people have a fierce emotional attachment to it. That said,  sometimes fierce emotional attachments cloud judgment. (Some may accuse me of this in my previous review).

In such cases, people are unable or unwilling to recognize that books and movies don't have to match. In fact, they don't even have to strictly resemble each other. A filmmaker should worry about making a good movie first and being faithful to the text second. And reviewers should review the movie that's up there on the screen, not some preconceived vision they had dancing in their heads.

What I saw up on the screen was a visually resplendent if occasionally muddled movie about a young girl named Susie (Saoirse Ronan)  who was raped and murdered and who looked on from the afterlife as her family tried, often in vain, to pick up the pieces.  But it's not just Susie's family that struggles to move on - Susie herself does too. And how the movie visualizes that makes it fascinating, as the trouble at home seems to resonate in "the in-between," as the movie calls it.

The beginning of the film is especially effective as we meet the characters and director Peter Jackson's camera rushes headlong to capture the emotional tremors that so mark adolescence.  Then that camera moves nervously as the strange George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) tears everyone's world asunder with his horrible urges.

After Susie's death, the movie does not always hang together well, and it veers wildly in tone. Many of the afterlife sequences are beautiful and sobering, but then comic interludes on Earth, particularly via Susan Sarandon's dotty grandmother, threaten to throw it off the rails.

And the ending in particular is not wholly satisfying, and just might prove my point that sometimes being faithful to the book can be harmful to a film. A crucial third act climax plays much like it does in the book (according to Wikipedia) and yet it rings false onscreen. It feels too much like one of tie-it-up-with-a-bow endings that the old Hollywood Production Code used to enforce on movies to ensure every character got what they deserved.

Even with these mis-steps, two things hold the movie together: the outstanding performances of Ronan and Tucci. Tucci avoids the trap of making his character seem like a two-dimensional monster, but does not at all shy away from showing the layers of ugliness that fester beneath his genteel surface. Ronan is absolutely ideal as Susie, and the young actress proves that her Oscar nomination for Atonement wasn't a fluke. Susie runs the gamut of emotions from love to frustration to terror, and Ronan captures them all beautifully.

The Lovely Bones doesn't always work. But  it's such an ambitious film that sometimes it's even fascinating when it fails. And it's even better when it succeeds.


GRADE: B+

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

REVIEW: Leap Year



After I saw Leap Year with Amy Adams (yes, the structure of the sentence IS deliberate), I told a friend of mine I liked the movie and she said: "OK - would you have liked it if any other actress was in the lead?"

I thought about it for a second and said, half-kiddingly, "Probably not. Well, maybe if Zooey Deschanel or Rachel McAdams were in the lead."

She had a point in asking, though. Any person who reads my reviews with their eyes half-closed knows that I have something of a - thing for the divine Ms. Adams. My ebullience over her is about as well known as my Beatle and moviemania.

Does that make me biased? Does that mean that when Amy comes along, on go the rose-colored glasses? Yes, it does. And you know what? That's OK. As a teacher of mine told me a long time ago, it's OK for a critic to have these biases as long as he admits them. And when it comes to Amy I've been admitting it for years.

This is not to say I automatically like every movie she makes. One need only recall my disdain of last year's Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. I loved Amy's portrayal of Amelia Earhart and thought she was far and away the best thing about the movie. On the whole, however, I thought that film was typical sequelitis - long on visual whiz-bang but short on the kind of imagination it so claimed to cherish.

But Amy was a supporting player in that movie. In Leap Year, she is front and center, the undisputed lead of the film - and that goes a long way to overcoming the cliches that run rampant in this story about a girl who wants to propose to her fiance on Leap Day but ends up falling for the caustic sorta roughneck who gives her a lift to Dublin.

I knew full well how the story was going to play out. Heck, the trailer practically telegraphed the entire plot. And in the first half of the film, I sank in my seat because it just wasn't working. The sight of Amy and/or Matthew Goode running after their little car or shooing cows off the road just wasn't funny. This was the sort of thing Capra might have directed if he were on Quaaludes.

And yet, when the romance between Amy and Goode started to take hold, I bought it. They had good chemistry together, and I wanted to see them end up with each other, even when I knew they would no matter how many contrivances the script threw at them to keep them apart. It passed the basic romantic comedy test - even though I freely admit that with Amy, I grade on a curve.

GRADE: B-

What happens to DVD extras if we go to downloads?

Despite my doubts about the longevity of Blu-Ray, I have been greatly enjoying the format since I upgraded on Christmas Day. (Well, except for the fact that I can't hear two of my BR's at full sound quality since my receiver doesn't support DTS, but that's another story).

One of the reasons I have been most enjoying the format is the array of extras available. Out of all the discs I have seen so far, that has never been more apparent than on Disney's Blu-Ray of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 




The non-movie disc of the set is organized as an absolutely fascinating interactive tour through Disney's Hyperion studios, where most of its work through the 1930s was made. This includes several of the revolutionary shorts made there, such as Flowers and Trees (the first Technicolor cartoon), Steamboat Willie (the first sound cartoon, and the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be released), The Old Mill (the first to make use of the multiplane camera) and one of my all-time favorite cartoons, The Skeleton Dance.  Even though that  was made 81 years ago, its ingenutiy still blows me away.



Such is the storage capacity of Blu-Ray that each and every one of these shorts (and more) is on the disc at full length. And that got me to wondering ....

I have doubted Blu-Ray would last very long as a format because sooner or later, we would be watching movies at home not through physical media, but through downloading or streaming. Witness Netflix's increasing emphasis on its Instant Viewing feature.

And yet, if that does indeed happen, what happens to Blu-Ray/DVD extras as we have come to know and love them? What about deleted scenes? What about making-of documentaries that, all told, are sometimes longer than the movies themselves? What about audio commentaries? Where is the place for them in the download world? How would downloads handle the kind of extras we have now? Could they? It would have to be a pretty complex system to include everything that's on Snow White. And I want ALL that stuff.

What worries me is that those extras would diminish, since most people buy discs to watch the movie and not the extras. Still, even the most lowbrow movies have them. Sony spent money to put a commentary on Paul Blart: Mall Cop, for pity's sake, so demand for extras must be out there somewhere.

That supposed, what happens to extras when downloading/streaming becomes the dominant movie delivery format? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Home (Re) Viewing: Surrogates and other half-interesting titles

Bright Star: Abbie Cornish deserved every bit of praise she got for her performance as John Keats' muse. Too bad the rest of this underwhelming film didn't support her. Keats, as portrayed in this movie, is a real fop. I couldn't invest much in the film when I was rooting for only half the couple. Full review - GRADE: B-

Che: Steven Soderbergh's chronicle of the legendary rebel is ambitious - to a fault. The first half, which chronicles his rise in Cuba, is compelling, but the second half, which covers his long, slow demise in Bolivia, drains the film of most of its energy and interest. Benicio Del Toro's performance in the lead is outstanding and helps carry the movie through its lulls. GRADE: B

Gamer  - Over, man!

The Invention of Lying - Ricky Gervais' film starts with an intriguing and funny idea - a world where no one lies until Gervais comes up with the concept - and then devolves when it hits the religious satire a little too stridently. A little Gervais goes a long way.  Full review - GRADE: B-

Pandorum - I'm a sci-fi fan, and I could never summon up much interest for this one.

Smokin' Aces 2: *Cough Cough Cough Cough Retch HACK HACK HACK HACK Wheeeeeeeeze*. Sorry. I HATED the first Smokin' Aces. A 43rd Children of the Corn installment would actually make more sense to me.

Surrogates: This sci-fi actioner gets points for some inventive ideas and well-staged action scenes, but it failed to make me care about the characters very much. It's a little too robotic for its own good. Full review - GRADE: B-

Whiteout: HEE hee-hee-hee-heeeeeee, Wipeout!  (Cue the Safaris). What? You say the song has nothing to do with this flop about Kate Beckinsale in the snow?  And your point is?


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Live-blogging the Golden Globes

OK folks, I've decided to do this EW-style - one post for the whole show. To see the latest updates,  just keep hitting reload or refresh, or whatever your browser calls it.

Show and live-blog start in roughly ten minutes.

I am intentionally avoiding the red carpet stuff for this show, cos the Globes are funky enough as they are. That, and I value my brain cells.

Billy Bush --- ucch. My mind is going .... my mind is going ....

I heard beeping just as Gervais started. Turned out to be the local weather alert. I had been thinking "Wow, he's offending people already!"

Gervais - One thing that can't be bought is a Golden Globe - officially. -- OK, I like that line!

Plastic surgery joke. THAT's never been done before. Followed by dick jokes. I just don't find Gervais all that amusing.

 BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Tough to guess. I'm rooting for Kendrick, guessing Mo'nique. She wins the applause-o-meter, certainly.

And I and the applause are right. No problem here. She was great in the film, though  I know at least one of my friends strongly disagrees.

PS - I won't be commenting on TV awards much if at all, since I pay so little attention to TV.

Hey, words that get MY attention - Paul McCartney is next! (He's up for Best Song)

Using Yellow Submarine to introduce Sir Paul - interesting choice!


BEST ANIMATED FILM

This ought to be UP - the HFPA are big on Pixar, as they should be ....

... and they are! YAY!

Wow  - Pete Docter, a man I've met, getting an award from a man I hope to meet someday! My mind just blew a little. Maybe I should call Pete and ask if he can hook me up ....

Kate Hudson introduces NINE and personally BEGS people to see it so they can do more than recoup the craft services budget.

And now to snooze a bit while the HFPA head talkzzzzzzzzz ...

You know,  I really hate these montages they play when they present the nominated films. They're even less informative than trailers -  they tell you absolutely nothing about the movies and are a waste of time.


BEST SONG

I don't have a good guess here. Could be Sir Paul, could be the CRAZY HEART tune ...

... and it's the CRAZY HEART tune. Very anxious to see the film. Don't feel that bad for Paul - it's nit one of his better tunes. Yes, you just witnessed me say something semi-negative about a Beatle. Write down the date!

And that may be one of the strangest acceptance speeches I've seen.

BEST SCORE

Again, this ought to be UP, although I'll have no problem if THE INFORMANT wins.

And UP deservedly triumphs. Giacchino is one of the best composers working today. Just a few notes of Ellie's theme makes me tear up ...

Ah my dear pregnant (sniff) Amy Adams - presenting a TV award. Strange. Oh well. Always glad to see her. Will probably see LEAP YEAR Monday. 


BEST ACTRESS (Comedy)

Hmm. Bullock or Streep? I'll guess streep, since Sandy is likely to get drama, unless Meryl splits ...

... and she doesn't. Meryl for J&J - most deserved.

"I want to change my name to T-Bone Streep" - LOL! Entertaining as always.

Random thought - you know, if they're really so concerned about saving time on this show, they really ought to seat the nominees closer to the stage.

 TV COMMENT

I did see Drew Barrymore's perf in GRAY GARDENS - very impressive, especially if you see the documentary on which it was based. She nailed it.

BEST SCREENPLAY

This goes to either UP IN THE AIR ... I think ....

... and I think correctly. SUPERB screenplay. Absolutely outstanding. Reitman seems to be such a genuine guy. Nice speech. See the movie if you have not already.

And Sophia Loren gets a standing O JUST for being Sophia. There's a measure of success - when you can get a standing O just by walking in a room.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

THE WHITE RIBBON has the most acclaim  ... and has the Globe too.  No surprise there. Looks gorgeous. There seems to be a maxim here - the less famous you are, the quicker you get cut off.

TV COMMENT

You know, I've never seen BIG LOVE, but I gotta like any show that uses "God Only Knows" as a key song.

 SUPPORTING ACTOR

I think this is pretty clearly Christoph Waltz - and I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I  think that film is a bit overrated, but Waltz is absolutely the best thing about it.


CECIL B. DEMILLE

Presented to last year's presenter - Marty, AKA Mr. Scorsese, AKA The Man AKA The Greatest Living Director. Love that he's billed as a "preservationist." And is that the score for KUNDUN? Wow.
Montage is quite well done - gives you a good idea of his visual energy.

Immensely classy speech as ever - one that really drives home the point that movies are never truly "old" unless they fade from memory - and few, if any of his ever will.


BEST DIRECTOR

This is one of the exes - either Cameron or Bigelow, who used to be married to each other. I'll step put on a limb a bit and say Bigelow.

Ah, no, the other ex got it! He really did do revolutionary work. He gives Kathryn her due, as she so well deserves. And I have this sense that it really could win Best Picture - both here and at the Oscars. It's momentum is just too powerful.

TV COMMENT

Not at ALL surprised by GLEE's wiin. That show has been the phenomenon of the season. Very much enjoyed the one show I saw, with my 2nd favorite Broadway actress, Kristin Chenoweth.

 BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL

A month ago, I would have said NINE, but the film has fared so poorly at the box office. I'll guess JULIE AND JULIA ...

and WOW! THE HANGOVER gets it. That's a genuine surprise! Really funny movie, but I thought it too crass for the HFPA's taste. (Insert joke here about how the HFPA voters were plied with alcohol.)

BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA

I'll guess Sandy here, although I hope for Carey Mulligan ...

and most of my guesses have been good tonight. Very solid performance in a film that's a bit overrated but still affecting.


BEST ACTOR, COMEDY

I'll defer to the best perf here, Matt Damon in THE INFORMANT!

WHAT?????!!! DOWNEY??? For THAT film??? You have GOT to be kidding me! I enjoyed his work, but good grief - that wasn't that far removed from Tony Stark with a British accent and a violin. They BLEW that call!


BEST ACTOR DRAMA

Bridges could well get this, but so could Clooney ...

And Bridges got it! He is absolutely UNSTOPPABLE for the Oscar now. I just don't see anyone beating him.

BEST PICTURE, DRAMA

So am I right that AVATAR has too much momentum? ...

Yep, sure am! I'm getting closer to predicting it for the Oscar.

I've been sitting here for three-some hours now and I'm getting keyboard weary, so I will save my review of the underrated THE LOVELY BONES for later - though I just dropped y'all a hint.

For now, what did you think of the show and the winners?
 

How to live-blog the Golden Globes?

Everyone,

The Golden Globes are on Conan O'Brien's favorite network at 8 p.m. tonight, so I thought I'd ask my readers a question.

I was going to try to live-blog them like I have done for the Oscars in the past. In other words, I'll post to the blog as the awards are handed out and offer insightful and sarcastic commentary.

But how best to do it? Should I do it all in one post and refresh it, like EW does for their live blogs, or should I do separate posts for each category, as I have done in the past? What method do you think is better?






Friday, January 15, 2010

Previews before reviews - in theaters 1/15/10

New wrinkle this week: Hyperlinks of the titles go their entries on Metacritic, which I find a much more accurate barometer of critical taste than Rotten Tomatoes.

The Book of Eli: The Hughes Brothers return to theaters after a long absence (their last film was the strange if underrated thriller From Hell, nine years ago) and buzz is decidedly mixed. Even the best reviews are only B-range. I'll probably catch it at some point,  but I still need to see Leap Year. Amy comes first.



The Lovely Bones: I know critical word on this has been unenthusiastic - so much so the film has all but disappeared from Oscar contention, Stanley Tucci's performance aside. But I have to say I'm suspicious of the the reviews - too many of them read, "Waaaah - it's not the book!" The movie may be great, it may not, but I wish some critics would review the movie that's up there on the screen rather than the one they have filmed in their heads. It's Peter Jackson - even if it's a miss, it's bound to be an interesting one.



The Spy Next Door: Jackie Chan is a gifted physical comedian, but I doubt even he can make a movie work when the director is Brian Levant, the maestro behind such classic family fare as both Flintstones movies, Jingle All the Way and Are We There Yet? My answer to that last question? No.



Thursday, January 14, 2010

Are these your most anticipated films of 2010?




Metacritic, the review aggregate site, has come up with a list of what they think are the most anticipated films of 2010. I will go down the list, offer my commentary, then pick some titles I think they missed.

1. Inception - Christopher Nolan directs. That's all I need to know and I'm sold.  But it helps that the trailers have some absolutely breathtaking shots. - July 16.





2. Iron Man 2 - I wasn't quite so high on the first Iron Man as a lot of people were, mainly because I didn't think Jeff Bridges was a great villain. Mickey Rourke, though? That just might be another matter altogether. - May 7.





3. Toy Story 3 - Duh. I'd kick this even higher still. - June 18



4. Robin Hood - You know, I'm kind of surprised to find myself not that excited about this one, even after watching the trailer. Sure, it might be great, but it feels disturbingly like a return to the well for both director Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. We'll see. - May 14




5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1  - I'm always up for this series. This is coming up faster than I thought. I was going to read the book before seeing it, but I don't like to read the books RIGHT before I see the films.  Given that some people I know said they were glad they didn't re-read Half Blood Prince before seeing that film, and the same team made this movie, maybe I should lay off.  - Nov. 19.



6. The Green Hornet - Don't know if I would place it this high, but I can't help but be intrigued with Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directing. - Dec. 22


7. The Expendables - Can't put that this high. I was never a huge Stallone fan, although Rocky Balboa came off better than I thought it would. - Aug. 13


8. Tron Legacy - I was really into Tron when I was 12. I'm there. - Dec. 17




9. Alice in Wonderland - Color me curioser and curioser. - March 5




10. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - I didn't even get around to New Moon yet. - June 30

11. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Don't know much about this one, but I do know Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame is the director. That's enough to spark my interest. - TBD

12. The A-Team - No. I thought the show was stupid when I was a teenager. And the trailer does nothing to make me look forward to it. Adding to the poison is director Joe Carnahan, whose last film, Smokin' Aces, was putrid. - June 11




13. Kick-Ass: This flick feels like the sort of thing the geek crowd overrates, but I admit it could work, and Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) is a talented director. But will this be Sin City or Watchmen?




14. Shutter Island: Higher, higher! Scorsese's latest was number one on my list when it was supposed to come out last year - and so it must be number one again this year.- The all too far-away date of Feb. 19.




15. Predators - Hey, it's gotta be better than those Alien vs. Predator bores, doesn't it? Well, doesn't it? - July 7

16. Johnah Hex - Pixar animator Justin Hayward directs a Western based on a comic book. Hmmm. But Megan Fox is in it. Hmph. - June 18

17. Sex and the City 2 - I liked the first movie fine, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit for the sequel. And what's the deal with the camel in the trailer anyway? Who does director Michael Patrick King think he is, David Lean? - May 28

18. Shrek Forever After - Interesting that this is down this low. After the lazy and limp Shrek the Third, is anybody above the age of 9 really anxious to see this? - May 21





19. A Nightmare on Elm Street - I liked the original, but has even ONE of these Platinum Dunes remakes been worth a damn? Jackie Earle Haley is an inspired choice to play Freddy, but I still can't bring myself to care. - April 30




20. The Last Airbender - As regrettable as M. Night Shyamalan's movies have been of late, I'm not ready to write him off yet. Besides, a "niece" of mine wants to see this, so I'm in. - July 2



MY ADDITIONS


The Fighter: Amy Adams .... aw, c'mon, do I really need to provide any other explanation? OK, David O. Russell directing a boxing drama is interesting too. TBD

The Green Zone: Like Christopher Nolan, Paul Greengrass (United 93, the Bournes Supremacy and Ultimatum) has become a director whose films I will see no matter what they're about. - March 12





How to Train Your Dragon - I'm not a great fan of DreamWorks' animated movies, but I am cruous about this one because it's directed by Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, who defected from Disney, where they made the wonderful Lilo & Stitch. I'm hoping they bring much-needed heart to the studio's oeuvre.- March 26




Rapunzel: Having just succeeded grandly with The Princess and the Frog, Disney serves up another fairy tale. I hope it still looks as gorgeous as it does in this test footage. - Nov. 12



You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Don't know what it's about, but I do know it's Woody Allen directing Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin and Antonio Banderas. Good enough for me. -TBD

Your Highness - Natalie Portman AND Zooey Deschanel star in a film directed by David Gordon Green? One ticket sold! - Oct. 1

Untitled James L. Brooks movie - Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good as it Gets) is always interesting, and so are his casts. The three leads are Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. - Dec. 17

What movies are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home (Re)Viewing: The Hurt Locker and more

The Brothers Bloom: This was released to on-demand feeds months ago, and only today gets a disc release. It tries a little too hard to be stylish and off-kilter, but it's charm of this oddball heist picture is still endearing, especially whenever Rachel Weisz is onscreen. GRADE: B+ 

Departures: Won the best Foreign Language film Oscar. Did it deserve it?

Fame: I watched the original last year and quite liked it. Something tells me I don't need to see a glossy, sanitized remake.

Halloween II: I hated the first one, or the ninth one, or the 219th one, or whatever the hell number it was. Rob Zombie may have some technical skill as a director, but as a storyteller, he's worthless.

The Hurt Locker: Talk about going from one extreme to the other! That said, I'm not quite as sky-high on tis Iraq war movie  as many critics are, because, in a way, the film is almost TOO good. It does such an amazing job of putting the viewer in the desert with the troops and ratcheting up the tension, that when the movie makes a homefront detour, it loses steam. I suppose that's partly the point, but I didn't need to see the homefront to know the lead character feels out of place there. It felt like a superfluous deleted scene. On the whole however, the movie is excellently acted, especially by lead Jeremy Renner, and brlliantly directed by Kathryn Bigelow. GRADE: A




I Can Do Bad All By Myself: As has been stated before, Tyler Perry does not engage my interest.

In the Loop: This got some acclaim on some best-of lists last year; I will be checking it out.

Moon: Absolutely fascinating take on isolation and identity with a sterling performance by Sam Rockwell as a moon explorer who meets his double. It cribs perhaps a little too obviously from 2001, but it's still an impressive debut by director Duncan Jones - son of one David Bowie. GRADE: A-

Post Grad: Too bad Alexis Bledel can't find better vehicles than this, I always thought she was pretty cute - maybe that's just because I saw her from a distance on the Gilmore Girls set on the WB lot years ago.

Spider Man 4? Spider-Man 1.2?






So today comes the news that both Tobey Magure and Sam Raimi have bailed on Spider-Man 4, with the studio planning to "reboot"  Spidey with a new, younger actor and a new director.

In a way, I'm not all that surprised. From what I've read, Raimi and his folks couldn't whip the screenplay into shape in time. Perhaps they smelled signs of the troubles that dogged Spider-Man 3, which made it a not-so-spectacular step down from the first two. Raimi was clearly burnt out on that film, which was way it was so nice to see him regain his energy with Drag Me to Hell. Spider-Man 4 seemed like an inevitable step backward.

On the other hand, I am suspicious of Sony's motives of wanting to put Peter Parker back in high school. That smells like a transparent attempt to appeal to "the kids." I've already heard people grumbling about Spidey going the way of Twilight.

I'm not quite THAT alarmed yet. I'm in a wait-and-see mode until they announce the new star and director. I can't think of anybody offhand who would be good for Spidey, but I like the idea that David Poland floats on the Hot Blog - Neill Blomkmap, director of District 9.

For now, picture me with one raised eyebrow and a bunch of squiggly lines around my head ... what do you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010

REVIEW: The Fox and the Hound

Being on something of a Disney kick of late, I decided to start catching up with some of the animated features I'd never seen.




Well - I'm not really sure I'd never seen The Fox and the Hound. Watching it Sunday night, it felt vaguely familiar to me, as if I had seen it years ago and then forgotten about it - which is odd, because The Fox and the Hound came out in 1981, and I have much clearer memories of The Rescuers, which was released in 1977. Perhaps the difference is that I know I saw The Rescuers in a theater, and I did not see The Fox and the Hound until some years later on TV, if indeed, I saw at all.

But I have clear memories of The Fox and the Hound now, and they're mostly fond ones, even if they are rather ... recent, shall we say.

The movie actually starts somewhat shakily. The early scenes, with Todd and Copper as kids, are just this side of too cute, even for this sentimentalist. The sidekicks Boomer the woodpecker and Dinky the finch are neither particularly funny nor memorable. And "The Best of Friends" aside, the songs and score are indistinct at best.

However, the core characters are very strong, and the ending, with its frightening bear attack, is just about as efffective as anything in Bambi. Because that central friendship is so solid, I got caught up emotionally in it, to the point where this sentimentalist got misty-eyed, as he so often does with Disney movies.

The DVD has a featurette  about how this film marked a turning point in Disney animation. The legendary "Nine Old Men," from Walt's era,  including Wolfgang Reitherman, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston started the picture, then  the new generation of animators finished it, including Glen Keane (Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin) and John Musker and Ron Clements (The Littler Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog) finished it. The featurette runs a mere 10 minutes, I would have loved to see something at least a little more in-depth, considering the film was so pivotal.

 I rate the film just slightly below The Rescuers, if only because of the nostalgia that film carries for me, but The Fox and the Hound recalls both the glories of Disney's past - and points the way to the renaissance of the then-future.


GRADE: B+

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wyler, Dodsworth and The Heiress - An Appreciation

Thinking back on the lists of Holllywood's greatest directors that pop up every now and again, one name that doesn't appear on enough of those lists is that of William Wyler.

On the one hand, it's amazing if you think about it. Just look at the man's filmography. Dodsworth. Jezebel. These Three. The Little Foxes. Mrs. Miniver. The Letter. The Heiress. The Big Country. The Best Years of Our Lives. Roman Holiday. The Children's Hour. Ben-Hur.  All, at the very least, superior films if not excellent. Even Funny Girl, which I'm not a great fan of (because I've never been a big Streisand freak), rates a B+.

On the other hand, I see why he gets overlooked. He's not a visual stylist like Alfred Hitchcock or Vincente Minnelli, nor was he a writer-director like Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, who carved out distinctive narrative voices for themselves. 

Which is not to say it's RIGHT that Wyler gets overlooked. I saw two films of his over the weekend that reaffirmed my belief that he deserves a place among Hollywood's greatest: Dodsworth and The Heiress.

Wyler's strength has always been directing actors.  He still holds the record for directing the most Oscar-nominated performances - an astounding 35. And 14 of those - also a record - won the Oscar.  One of those was Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress.

Time Warner Cable's ever-so-detailed plot summary described the film, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square, thusly: "Fortune hunter pursues unattractive woman."

My first reaction was "On what planet is Olivia de Havilland supposed to be unattractive?"

Watching the film at first, I remained mystified. De Havilland was playing a spinster, to be sure, but in the early scenes, she didn't look unattractive to me at all - still quite pretty, if not exactly a glamor girl. I especially loved how she looked when Montgomery Clift was romancing her - her eyes - no, her whole being - lit up.
 



When her fortunes turn late in the film, though, the transformation is stunning. De Havilland becomes icy cold and austere.




No other director could have played that scene as effectively as Wyler, I believe.

The cast of the earlier Dodsworth is also stellar. Walter Huston (father of John) excels playing an automaker who retires and finds that he wasn't as close to his wife as he thought.

Wyler was never known for memorable shots. Ironically, I think his most visual film, Ben-Hur, is one of his less interesting movies, and the justly legendary chariot race was actually shot by someone else - second unit director Andrew Marton.

And yet Wyler had a way with subtle but striking shots. The opening of Dodsworth (seen in the clip below) starts with a slow push-in on Huston as he looks out the window of his auto plant, with the name DODSWORTH gradually becoming larger in the frame - suggesting how his name overshadows his personality.




Both films are excellent - and both prove that Wyler was one of the best storytellers we've ever had - in any medium.

Dodsworth: A (A slightly pat ending robs it of an A+)
The Heiress: A+







Saturday, January 09, 2010

REVIEW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus




The standard rap on director Terry Gilliam is that he has "a bountiful imagination, but little control over it," a critic once wrote.

I don't quite agree. Gilliam's imagination is his best asset, and the wilder he runs with it, the better his films tend to be. His problem is that his narrative skills are not as strong as his visual ones, and sometimes his visual skills are so powerful, they tend to overwhelm his story and characters. Such is the case with his latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Gilliam had been one of my favorite directors, and from Time Bandits through to Twelve Monkeys, every film he made was at the least, very good. But after Twelve Monkeys, he hit a cold streak. I've heard a lot of people say they like his film of Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I believe you have to have been drunk or stoned at least once in your life to appreciate that film; I have been neither. The Brothers Grimm had its moments but was hampered by studio interference (an old story for Gilliam). The word on Tideland was so noxious, I avoided it altogether.

So when I saw the trailers for Parnassus, I was encouraged. The visuals dazzled me, and the movie looked like a return to form for Gilliam. And it is - sort of.

Wild fantasy sequences abound, and this is when the film is at its best. Indeed, the visual style here is most reminiscent of his animation for Monty Python's Flying Circus. I particularly loved one sequence in which a winding road morphed into a long tongue. And there was one especially imaginative scene with the female lead (Lilly Cole) running while mirrors zip around her, with the mirrors showing different images. It's like the mirror scene from Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai on acid - or at least what I imagine acid to be like, since I've never done that kind of tripping.

You may notice I haven't said much of anything about the story, and there's a reason for that - I had a little trouble doping it out. Near as I could figure, Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) gained immortality through a deal with the devil (Tom Waits), but put his daughter at risk in the process.

The even worse problem was that the movie didn't really make me care enough about the plot to try harder to figure it out. I wasn't particularly moved by any of the characters' plights. There are a lot of interesting ideas at play - perhaps too many. Gilliam and co-writer Charles McKeon stuff the narrative with everything from a juanty musical number about police brutality to a skewering of overly earnest charities. Some of these vignettes are funny, but the film bites off more than it can chew. When the movie came back into the real world, I wanted to go back to the fantasy.

Regardless of all these points, the movie will still be most famous as the film Heath Ledger was working on when he died. His performance is solid, but it's not one of his more memorable characters. Circumstance made the character more interesting when Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell took Ledger's place in the special effects sequences that Ledger had yet to film.

So it's appropriate, then, that the titles label Parnassus as "A movie from Heath Ledger and friends." Is the film all it could be? No. But it's a fun piece of candy your eyes can taste for a couple of hours.

GRADE: B

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Previews before reviews - In theaters 1/8/10

It's a ways till Easter yet, but nevertheless, today I resurrect a feature from my newspaper blog: A look at what's opening in theaters each week. Despite the rhyming post title, I cannot review every movie out there, and now that this blog is entirely my own domain, I am no longer obliged to critique certain titles. (Mr. Bay, that means you.)

Even so, I will preview as many of them as I can. My selections will always be based on the Dayton market, your selections may vary.

Daybreakers: I was going to say I'm so over the vampire thing, but then again, I was never that much into the vampire thing at all, unless it was Kate Beckinsale in tight leather. I'm also over films directed by brothers I'll probably never hear from again.




The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: I plan to see this Saturday and am very much looking forward to tt. Terry Gilliam had been one of my favorite directors, but has been on a cold streak post-Twelve Monkeys. I have a feeling this represents a return to form. 



Leap Year: Um, I kinda hafta. It's Amy.




Youth in Revolt: The trailer looks amusing enough, but not gotta-see-it now enough - even though I have liked Michael Cera and director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) in the past.



Anything catch your interest?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Best Films of 2009

A number of other critics have called 2009 a weak year for movies. Not when it came to these titles. (Standard disclaimer - I must restrict my list to movies that appeared in the Dayton market in 2009, which merits the inclusion of titles released elsewhere the previous year).

The top 10 titles link to my original reviews.

10. District 9 - One of the most inventive and ingeniously made sci-fi tales of recent years. I've heard people say after seeing it that it wasn't at all what they expected - and they meant that in a good way. - On DVD.

9. The Informant! - Matt Damon gives a career-best performance as an inept corporate whistle-blower in this engrossing look at mental illness that dares - successfully - to be funny. On DVD Feb. 23

8. The Princess and the Frog - The film that proved Disney can make 'em like they used to - and the movie that made me smile the most. In theaters now.

7. The Wrestler - Yes, Sean Penn was excellent in Milk, but Mickey Rourke was even better in this wrenching tale of redemption that moved even people like me who have absolutely no interest in wrestling. On DVD.

6. Coraline - It was a banner year for animation, and Henry Selick made a film that is even better than his justly famous The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sometimes this tale of a girl that finds a wild parallel world is frightening, sometimes it's strange, and all the while it's wondrous. On DVD.

5. Avatar - Is it the greatest story ever told? No. But as Roger Ebert so wisely says, "It's not WHAT a movie is about, it's HOW it's about it." As sheer sensory experience, it's breathtaking.  In theaters. If you wait for DVD on this one, you will have missed out - badly. It is a must-see in 3D on the largest screen possible.

4. 500 Days of Summer - "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you,  Jenny Beckman." I won't completely spoil the best opening of any film last year, but suffice it to say this ode to the wonders and frustrations offers more than its share of imagination and surprises. On DVD.

3. A Serious Man - I can put it no better than Lisa Schwarzbaum did in Entertainment Weekly. "...(it) begins with a Yiddish old country fable and ends with an American apocalypse. Seriously. On DVD Feb. 9

2. Up - When a film can move me to tears before it's 10 minutes old, it's doing something very, very right. One of Pixar's three greatest films, along with WALL-E and Toy Story 2. On DVD.




1. Up in the Air - Yes, it is beautifully written, performed to perfection, and sharply observed, just as most people say it is. However, the reason above all others that this film tops my list is that no other movie hit me harder personally. Just as George Clooney's character does, I once thought I was content to be alone - then realized that was only an illusion. Up in the Air's most valuable asset is how it bursts the bubble we sometimes live in - and reminds us just how valuable the connections in our lives are. In theaters.

Runners up - in alphabetical order:

Adventureland: The best John Hughes movie John Hughes never made.

An Education: Like so many, I am smitten with Carey Mulligan.   

The Fantastic Mr Fox: Like I said, banner year for animation.

Every Little Step: Terrifically entertaining documentary about the origins and revival of the landmark musical A Chorus Line.

Frost/Nixon: Yes, the leads were outstanding, but the film owes just as much of its success too the terminally undervalued Ron Howard and his sure-footed direction.
  
The Hurt Locker: The homefront ending jarred me a bit too much for me to rate it as highly as my critical brethren have, but its you-are-there verisimilitude is stunning nonetheless.

Ponyo: It was such a good year for animation, a film by master animator Hayao Miyazaki can only make my second ten.

Precious: Again, I wasn't quite as high on this as many film buffs were, but the power of the performances is undeniable.

Revolutionary Road: Might be the most unfairly maligned film of the year. Kate Winslet should have won the Oscar for this film, and not the insufferable The Reader.

Star Trek: An absolute blast of pure fun. JUST missed making the 10. Yes, it's that good.

 What were YOUR favorite films of the year?