Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trailer peek: True Grit and more

When I went to see Hereafter the other day, it occured to me that for awhile I have disregarded the shortest movies that are out there - the trailers. Here's a look at the ones I saw in front of Clint Eastwood's new film.

Listed in roughly the order I saw them.

For Colored Girls

My best friend had this pretty nailed when he leaned over to me and said "This is when we find out if Tyler Perry is for real." Sure, he's been successful at the box office - but he doesn't have the broadest of bases. This film is clearly his attempt at something like Precious (which he co-produced) - something to show he can hook Oscar bait. Not saying it will happen - not saying it won't either. PROSPECT: B

The Rite

Blecch. Looks like an Exorcist rip-off, with Hopkins as the Merrin type. There's even the lame "Inspired by a true story" line, which is usually code for "We took one fact from history and just made the rest up." Welcome to January. The power of Christ does not compel me. PROSPECT: D


Liam Neeson's career has taken a strange turn lately. It seems instead of straight dramatic roles, it looks like he's going for paycheck parts in genre fare (The A-Team being the most egregious example.) Still, this looks like it could be good as far as genre fare goes. PROSPECT: B


Two names hooked me here: Gus Van Sant, who seems to be aiming somewhere his extremes of Oscar bait like Milk and indie indies like Paranoid Park. The other is that of Mia Wasikowska, who has become the latest Actress I Will Watch in Anything, following her stellar work in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids are All Right. PROSPECT: A

Black Swan

I would be interested in a Darren Aronofsky/Natalie Portman project no matter what it was, but the fact that this is an excellently cut trailer only whets my appetite. PROSPECT: A

True Grit

Never mind the decorations that are already starting to fill the stores - THIS is the best reason for Christmas to get here double-quick. Even if this isn't Oscar bait (and it may well be), I think this stands an excellent chance at being the Coens' biggest commercial hit. PROSPECT A

Sunday, October 24, 2010

REVIEW: Hereafter

I had planned to review Clint Eastwood's latest film, Hereafter, by debating other critics, who have been uncommonly soft on an Eastwood film. But then I realized - maybe that's why it worked so well for me.

Dealing as it does with questions about life after death, Hereafter isn't going to be everyone's cup of Clint. Some will be put off by the languid pacing. Others may react negatively to the intersecting stories, which rely a good deal on fate and contrivance. Still others will chafe at the mere subject matter.

I'm going to let them. The issue of an afterlife stirs about as many different reactions as there are people. Some reject it, others embrace it wholeheartedly. All I can do in that spectrum is say why it worked for me.

The screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) weaves three stories. The first is of a tough, probing journalist (Cecile de France) whose worldview is forever altered by her near death in a tsunami. The second is of a young boy (Frankie McLaren) who loses a family member in a terrible accident. The third is of a psychic, George Lonergan (Matt Damon), who views his otherworldly abilities as more a burden than a blessing. 

As is the case with most Eastwood films, the director's sure hand and his skill with actors are strengths. I particularly admired Matt Damon's balanced portrayal. He's maybe a little quirky and certainly sometimes morose, but Damon never overplays any of his hands. By combining all these qualities in unexpected ways, he creates someone who seems like a down to earth, relateable person, even with his extraordinary abilities. 

One of the best subplots of the film is a romance that begins to blossom between Damon and Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a woman who becomes his partner in an Italian cooking class. With a winsome performance by Howard, their relationship is touching, and I wanted to see more of it. That their storyline is somewhat abbreviated seemed like a flaw at first, but by the end of the film, it became a thoughtful counterbalance to Damon's character. I can't reveal more details without getting into spoilers. but it's the most affecting romance I've seen onscreen since Once

The heart of the film's success surprised me, and here's why. I am a practicing Catholic. I am a lector at my church. I believe in an afterlife. However, Hereafter only glancingly brings up God and the church - and I think that was a smart move by Morgan. Hereafter tells us that life after death isn't dependent on religion - it's dependent on the belief that something happens after we die - that we don't simply burn out like light bulbs at the end. 

The film obviously supports the idea - but also allows room for debate about it. That's what makes Hereafter so worth seeing - and so worth discussing.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pixar watch: Cars 2 Trailer/Brave

Pixar has seemed to be a little behind the cylinder when it came to promoting its next film, the sequel to Cars, due next summer. I was surprised not to see at least a teaser for it in front of Toy Story 3.

The studio has rectified that situation with the release of this ... well, doesn't even seem right to call it a teaser. More like a tease of  a teaser. Take a look-see:

Not what you expected, is it? But I can sorta see how it might fit, given that the sequel is supposed to be set on the overseas racing circuit. In any case, label me intrigued. Like many people, I believe that Cars is the least great of Pixar's movies, but it had great moments, and this teaser-teaser takes the Cars world for a fun little spin. I just now found out that Pixar guru John Lasseter, who directed the original picture, is now co-directing after so-called "creative problems."

That seems to be cropping up a lot at Pixar lately. First there was the cancellation of Newt, which was to be the first feature by sound maestro Gary Rydstrom, who made the short Lifted (about the alien taking the drivers' test). And now there comes news that the company has replaced the director of Brave (formerly titled The Bear and the Bow). That's notable because the director was Brenda Chapman, who was to be the first female to helm a Pixar movie. Her replacement is Mark Andrews, who made One Man Band, the short that preceded Cars.

The move has prompted some to call Pixar sexist. My gut tells me that accusation is more than a little churlish. It's a legitimate criticism that Pixar's stories have been male-centric, but it is also well known that Pixar doesn't make such drastic moves unless absolutely necessary. Same thing happened with Ratatouille, which Brad Bird retooled at the 11th hour, and it turned out pretty well. And it's worth noting that Disney's three great fairy tales of the late 1980s/early 90s were each directed by two men.

All us outsiders can do is sit and idle ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What I watched on my break

It's time once again to play catch-up, with various titles I've viewed since our last game. First, the titles new to the big screen. 

Buried: It's 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a coffin. While at one time, that would have been appealing in a cynical way, now it's the basis for a terrific film  The entire picture takes place inside the coffin buried underground, with Reynolds in it. Director Rodrigo Cortes keeps the film visually interesting with an impressive array of camera angles, editing techniques and other surprises, while Reynolds delivers an emotionally intense performance. Screw all that usual Halloween junk - this is the scariest film I've seen in quite some time. GRADE: A

Never Let Me Go: Some people proclaim this sci fi drama a stirring masterpiece. Others proclaim it cold and aloof.  As happens often in such debates, I identify with both sides. The pacing is a bit too stilted, and I felt the clinical storytelling kept me at arm's length from the film - and yet I can't get it out of my head. I think that's due primarily to the strong performances, particularly by the haunting Carey Mulligan. GRADE: B

Nowhere Boy: This biopic of John Lennon's teenage years covers territory familiar to most fans and is occasionally a bit maudlin, but it works surprisingly well thanks to the three key performances. Aaron Johnson  impresses as Lennon, particularly considering his last role was the title character in Kick-Ass. Anne-Marie Duff is lively and fetching as Lennon's ill-fated mother Julia, while Kristin Scott Thomas shows impressive range with her performance as the stern but loving Aunt Mimi. The other acting surprise? Thomas Sangster, Liam Neeson's son in Love, Actually, plays Paul McCartney. So much for his favorite Beatle being Ringo. GRADE: B+

Coming soon: The retro films I watched.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The scariest shots of all time?

My dear friend Kimberly Scampone (who runs her own film site here) came up with a freaky idea for a topic: The scariest movie shots of all time.

Her choice was certainly a good one: the shot of Jack frozen at the end of The Shining.

So the wheels/reels of my movie-mad mind started turning. What did I think were the scariest shots of all time? Here are a few of mine, in no particular order, save for the last.

The close-up of Janet Leigh's mouth in the shower scene of Psycho.

The subtle change in Anthony Perkins' visage at the tail end of the same film.

Raymond Burr's "death stare" directly into the camera when he realizes he's being watched in Rear Window.

The chilling shot of Robert Walker, all calm, cool and concentrated during the tennis match in Strangers on a Train.

The first track-in/zoom out in Vertigo

And lest people think all my choices are Hitch shots, I would also go for the blood pouring from the elevators in The Shining.

The shot of Michael Meyers verrry slowly rising in the background in Halloween.

The very first shot of Anthony Perkins in Silence of the Lambs.

The shot of blood spurting from Linda Blair during one of her medical procedures in The Exorcist.

The chest-burster baring its teeth in Alien.

And finally, the only shot that has ever made me scream out loud  - the chumming scene from Jaws.

This list cannot possibly be all inclusive, so I want to see LOTS  of comments on this. (Note: The selections do NOT have to be from horror movies.)  If I don't get them, I'm going to find you, clamp the Clockwork Orange device on your head and make you watch ALL these shots on an endless loop so that you'll have nightmares for the next 20 years!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Twelve + hours of fright: Ohio Horrorfest 2010

Last year I attended a horrorfest full of birds and zombies. This year's lineup in Yellow Springs was full of devils, trolls and hacks.

The second Ohio Horrorfest I attended kicked off with Best Worst Movie, a delightful documentary about the legendarily bad Troll 2, billed as "the worst movie ever made." What's particularly fun about the doc is the dichotomy it displays between the cast and the filmmakers. Most of the actors knew they were in a really stupid movie, and knew that they weren't very good in it, but enjoyed the ride anyway. They stand in sharp contrast to the behind the camera crew, especially the director, who actually still seems to believe he made something approaching art. Great fun. GRADE: A-

Troll 2: Well, what else could follow that? It is truly dumber than advertised. Not only is the acting below the bottom of the barrel, but the filmmaking is so slipshod, it results continuity gaffes that would make Ed Wood proud. It's the "so bad it's good" kind of movie that results in a rare GRADE: Z (It is worth noting, however, that Troll 2 no longer occupies the very bottom of the pile at IMDB. That dubious distinction goes to Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Somehow, I don't think that would play well in a horror marathon. For the record, Troll 2 now sits at a highly #64.)

Scream: Still very effective 14 (!) years later, and one of Wes Craven's best films, although my best friend pointed out, possibly correctly, that Craven's underrated New Nightmare may be even better. The sequels suffered diminishing returns but were at least good movies. I hope next spring's Scream 4 fits in. GRADE: A

The Brood: I can't review this one, as unfortunately, I fell asleep after about the first 20 minutes. As is the case with many David Cronenberg films, the pacing is too stately (that's a polite word for slow) to sustain consciousness at 4 in the morning. It sucked the energy out of the room; most people left after this. GRADE: zzzzzzzzz

The Evil Dead: I reawakened to catch most of Sam Raimi's ticket to the big time. It's a lot of fun, and well made, especially on such a limiteed budget, but I greatly prefer the sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. GRADE: B

Child's Play: I was pleasantly surprised by this one, although maybe I shouldn't have been. This series follows the pattern set by so many horror franchises: a first entry that's better than decent, followed by a long string of mostly worthless sequels. This one is imaginative and fun, and it made me sad to realize that director Tom Holland (who also made Fright Night) essentially gave up on filmmaking in the early 90s. GRADE: B+

The Exorcist: Still gets my vote as the scariest movie of all time. It absolutely kicks my ass with every viewing, even if it's "the version you've never seen" with the STUPID ending, which was shown here. (Actually, I liked most of the changes the recut made and believe the ideal version of the film would be most of the recut without the "happy" coda. GRADE: A (docked a plus for having the wrong ending).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

He said/She said: The Social Network review

They say that two heads are better than one, and that principle lies in a new blogging experience that begins with this post.

There is now not only one film buff working at Cox Media Group's southwest newspapers, there are two. Just as I maintain this film site, my colleague Hannah Porturalski maintains her film own site, One Chick's Take on Flicks.

From time to time, Hannah and I will co-review a film, each bringing our own perspectives to it and hopefully making our sites even more interesting to read. Since this is our first outing, and I am the chvalrous sort, I will let Hannah go first. Here's an excerpt from her review; mine follows after the jump.

"I never thought I would think of Jesse Eisenberg as a jerk, but man does he know how to play a neurotic ass, and well. He was the opposite type of character in 2009′s Zombieland when he played a soft-spoken sweetheart. The Social Network shed a lot of light on Mark Zuckerberg’s mindset and life. But you’ve got to take the unauthorized Facebook movie with a grain of salt, seeing as Zuckerberg has said, “It’s a movie, it’s fun.” It’s hard for me, the average viewer, to know how true it really rings.

"While the film was very entertaining it was also draining. Eisenberg as Zuckerberg was great at acting as a fast-talking, fast-thinking, fast-acting college student with nothing but time to waste. Zuckerberg was portrayed as a loner with insecurities as large as his ego. It was great though to watch the mind of a computer-obsessed guy just whiz by everyone else and dominate the Internet. These character flaws were effective at making the viewer jump between liking Zuckerberg and hating him. He was extremely intelligent and witty, but was almost bipolar because he’d switch to a cold, calculating jerk. Even when Zuckerberg tried to act sincere, i.e. the bar scene when he tries to apologize to Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), he does it in a condescending way that shows it isn’t sincere. Zuckerberg seemed to have a very hard time relating to people and the root of that problem never became apparent."

My review is after the jump.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

It's an alien! It's a spider! It's an agent!

So Superman and Spider-Man have both flown back into the headlines with news on their reboots. Superman has his director in Zack Snyder, Spider-Man has his girlfriend.

Superman's new director is Zack Snyder, the so-called "visionary" director of Watchmen, 300, and The Night of the Living Dead remake. Snyder is a very talented guy, and not many directors would veer from a zombie flick to an adrenalized Greek action epic to a comic book movie to an animated owl movie (Legend of the Guardians, now in theaters).  I'll say this for him, he's nothing if not ambitious. And he certainly knows his way around an action scene better than my favorite whipping boy, Michael Bay.

Still, with four big-budget action films under his belt, it concerns me that Snyder still seems underdeveloped as a storyteller. He's not really good at getting to the emotional core. Granted, Night of the Living Dead and 300 didn't suffer much for it, but Watchmen certainly did. And perhaps more than any superhero, you need a strong emotional core to make Superman fly. I'm not convinced Snyder is there, but this film will certainly be the ultimate test. I'm at least encouraged that Christopher Nolan is producing the project. I'll trust his judgment.

Then there's the  Spider-Man reboot. The fabulous Emma Stone, who proved with Easy A that she could carry a film with flair, will make a great Gwen Stacy (I guess because of her red hair, people assumed Mary Jane. Turned out not to be the case.)  Based on his very fine work  in The Social Network as the scorned creator of Facebook, I'm convinced Andrew Garfield has what it takes to play Peter Parker. The director, Marc Webb, made one of my favorite films from last year, 500 Days of Summer.

So why am I so iffy? I'm still not convinced of the whole reboot business. Spider-Man 3 was a mess, but it wasn't a Batman and Robin-level travesty that left the characters with nowhere to go.

My suggestion to both franchises? Forget the origin stories. Everyone knows them by now and telling them again will just slow things down. Suggestion two: Use villains that haven't been done yet. That means no more Luthor or Green Goblin. Superman can battle Braniac, maybe, and Spider-Man can go the James Bond route. Just as Judi Dench stayed as M, even when Bond himself changed, Spider-Man can keep Dylan Baker, who appeared in the previous films, and cast him as The Lizard. The solution is right under their noses. Let's just hope their Spidey senses are strong enough.

Somewhat lost in all this superhero business is the news that Jason Bourne is getting closer to coming up for air. The franchise seemed at a standstill when Paul Greengrass, who made 2 and 3, said he would not be back, and Matt Damon said he would not be back without Greengrass. However, it was announced that Tony Gilroy has almost signed on the dotted line to direct the fourth movie. Gilroy is a skilled director, having made the excellent Michael Clayton and the underrated Duplicity. And more to the point, he knows the series, having had a hand in writing all three films. And I'm willing to bet if Gilroy is on board, Damon will be too. And so will I.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A tribute to Tony Curtis, Shell oil and such

Forgive me for writing this Tony Curtis tribute somewhat belatedly, but to be honest, I struggled with it a little. 

Tony Curtis was a great talent. I greatly enjoyed his work in most every film I've seen of his. But I find myself coming up with caveats for them.

The Sweet Smell of Success? He was very good in that, but he was the straight man there. It's Burt Lancaster you remember.

Spartacus? Some of his Bronx-ish line readings were a little silly. And again, that's mainly Kirk Douglas' show.

The Great Race? Funny, but Natalie Wood was much cuter. 

Some Like It Hot? Unquestionably his best work. But even that has a caveat - his female voice was not his own - it was dubbed by voice-over actor Paul Frees, who was also the voice of The Haunted Mansion's ghost host, and, it should be noted, both John and George in the Beatles Saturday morning cartoons. 

And truthfully, I always felt much closer to Tony's former wife - quite literally so. 

And yet ... and yet ...

That IS Curtis doing the great faux Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot. (I imagine that must make watching Operation Petticoat, which came out the same year, 1959,  rather funny.) There is no question that, in his time, he was a star of the first rank. Perhaps I just haven't seen enough of that star. A little DVR-ing of TCM's Tony Curtis tribute Sunday will help take care of that. I'm especially anxious to see The Defiant Ones, which got him an Oscar nod. But even if I wouldn't rank him among my personal favorites, I can say he was still larger than life, even if he was a lower-tier star in the grand scheme of things.

So, forgive me, Tony. I'm not the best person to pay tribute to you. You are much better served by the writings of others more learned than I, particularly Leonard Maltin. But as a certain film of yours said ... nobody's perfect.