Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Top 13 films of the fall/Holiday season

As the mercury begins to drop, along with the leaves on the trees, the focus in Hollywood turns away from popcorn and more toward Oscars. So I scoured the fall/holiday movie release schedule and came up with 13 titles I’m particularly looking forward to seeing. Aren’t we lucky?

In order of release, with dates subject to change:  
Contagion: The “disease that kills everyone” movie has been made a number of times, but when Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon star, and Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) directs, I can only be intrigued.  (Sept. 9)

Moneyball: Although I like baseball, I can’t call myself a rabid fan. And I care even less about the world of finance. This movie, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, combines both. That sounds like it could be poison, but the story of how the Oakland As used computers to draft players sounds fascinating, even to a non sports/finance fan like me. Bennett Miller ("Capote") directs, and Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network") and Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List") write.  (Sept. 23)

The Ides of March: Even if George Clooney hadn’t shot his political drama at Miami University earlier this year, I would still want to see a movie with a cast that also includes Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei. Since he did shoot at Miami, and I didn’t get to see the filming, I’m all over this one. (Oct. 7)

 J. Edgar: Clint Eastwood directs Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the infamous FBI Chief. Good enough for me. (Nov. 9)

The Descendants: Yes, George Clooney stars in two movies I’m anxious to see this fall. In this one, he stars as a man trying to reconnect with his daughters and learns his wife was cheating on him. Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) directs for the first time in a too long while.  (Nov. 23)

Hugo: Yes, the director of such violent classics as “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” tries his hand at a family film, and shoots it in 3D to boot. Better yet, the very talented Chloe Moretz (“Let Me In”) stars. This could be either wonderful or a maddening misfire; any way you slice it, it has to be fascinating. (Nov. 23)

The Muppets: Here is the movie I am most looking forward to this fall. I’ve been a Muppets fan all my life, and it seems like they’re on the rebound after churning out subpar material like “Muppets from Space” and “Muppets Wizard of Oz.” That this co-stars my favorite actress, Amy Adams, only sweetens the deal. (Nov. 23)

The Artist: Here’s the arthouse film I most want to see: A modern-day silent and black and white movie about a silent film star facing the arrival of talking pictures.(Nov. 23)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I was a great fan of the foreign trilogy starring Noomi Rapace, and now “the feel-bad movie of Christmas” is being directed by David Fincher (“The Social Network”) Yes, please. (Dec. 21)

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol: Too many people scoff at this franchise and at Tom Cruise, but the trailer for this looks like loads of fun to me, and it’s shot partly in IMAX too, just like “The Dark Knight.” Brad Bird (“The Incredibles” - yes, he's moving from animation to live action) directs. (Dec. 21)

The Adventures of Tintin: I’ve not been a great fan of the motion-capture style of animation used in movies like “Beowulf” and the “Christmas Carol” with Jim Carrey, but when a master of visuals like Steven Spielberg is at the helm, I have to give it a chance. (Dec. 22)

We Bought a Zoo: Cameron Crowe hasn’t directed since the misguided “Elizabethtown” and hasn’t made a truly great movie since “Almost Famous.” I’d say he’s due. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson star.(Dec. 23) 

War Horse: Spielberg double dose! Having plumbed World War II several times, the director turns his atttenton to World War I and the story of a boy and his horse who serve in the trenches. The trailer looks gorgeous. (Dec. 28)

Monday, August 29, 2011

(The) Help! That dastardly Howard!

The Wicked Witch of the West. Darth Vader. Nurse Ratched. Hannibal Lecter. And now, joining their ranks, Hilly Holbrook from The Help!

(Trumpet flourishes, followed by crickets)

Wait, sweet little Bryce Dallas Howard played one of the most dastardly villains of all time?

Well, yes, I would argue she has. No, she's not quite up there with Margaret Hamilton just yet, but as millions of people who have seen The Help know, Howard filled her villainous heels quite well. Maybe a little TOO well.

I seriously cannot remember the last time I felt that much seething hatred for a female character. Hell, the last time I hate a male character that much, it was Will Ferrell in Bewitched - and he wasn't trying to be hateful, which only made me want to snap his neck that much harder.

And yet, now that I think about it, that's really the secret to what makes Hildy so awful. There's no doubt that this relentless social climber does some extraordinarily mean and spiteful things. But what makes them mean and spiteful is the fact that she's actually not always trying to be mean and spiteful. In a way, she can't help it.

Part of the problem is that Hildy's a product of her times. She's one of the worst kind of racists - one who doesn't think she is. She feels that because she gives them a good job in a nice house that's help enough to them. Doesn't matter that she treats them like dirt most of the time, she's doing them a FAVOR! She's like one of those hypocrites who goes to church week in and week out, acts all pious that day, and then acts like an ass the other six days of the week.

So yes, when Hildy gets her "just desserts" (you know exactly what I mean if you know the story) there's a certain gleeful satisfaction in her comeuppance. But what sells Howard's performance isn't outright villainy. It's the fact that Howard lets us see the cracks beneath the surface. She makes it readily apparent that Hilly is so hateful because she hates herself above everyone else. And that, in the end, is her tragedy.

When I came out of the film, I feared for Howard's safety. So palpable was her hatefulness that I was afraid irate women might try to whomp her over the head with their purses - or maybe with their cell phones. At first, Howard seemed destined to be typecast as the ethereal waif in the likes of The Village, or Clint Eastwood's Hereafter. Now she might be in danger of getting typecast as the bitch.

And you know what? That's still an upgrade for Howard. Even before she became an actress, she was cursed with the middle name of the city in which Opie conceived her. Now, she has something to sink her teeth into and is less likely to get lost as "the girl" in Spider-Man 3 or Terminator Salvation.

You've come a long way, Bryce - you're one of the best assets of this movie that fully deserves its status as a sleeper hit. Glad to see people are waking up to you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catching up on catching up - small screen viewing

And now, movies I've seen on the small screen, since I last blogged about such things:

Gasland A-
Kind of an EPA companion piece to Charles Ferguson's Inside Job - and more evidence that Big Money wins out over the little guy - even when the damage is quite clear and convincing. Its amateurish "who me" approach could have been a liability, but it actually works to the movie's benefit. 

The Next Three Days C+
Well-made decently acted thriller with an intriguing premise, but the execution simply strains credibility past the point of no return. Good performances by Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks deserve a better vehicle.

Soul Surfer B-
If I were grading this movie by its sincerity, it would definitely be in the A-range. And there can be no doubt that the story of a teen surfer who rebounded after losing her arm to a tiger shark is inspiring. Unfortunately, the movie pushes too many manipulative buttons to ring completely true. A strong performance by AnnaSophia Robb helps keep it afloat.

Ride the High Country B+
An early Sam Peckinpah western gets most of its juice from seeing two old-timers like Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott face off. The story occasionally lags and the ending is a bit abrupt, but it's fascinating to see the seeds of The Wild Bunch being planted here. 

Shock Corridor B+
Fascinating Sam Fuller pulp that I watched not long after revisiting One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The premise (reporter fakes being mentally ill to crack a murder case) requires more suspension of disbelief than I was willing to give. Still, the acting and the visuals are powerful, particularly when stock color sequences break up the black and white. 

Godspell B+
This was on the same night as Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar, and comparing the two pictures is very telling. Godspell is just as dated as Superstar, perhaps even more so with all those afros. But Godspell is a much livelier picture because A) The song score is considerably superior, and B) Godspell wasn't so ponderous, slackly paced and convinced of its own self-importance. Godspell is especially valuable as an NYC time capsule.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rise of the slumbering blogger: Catching up filmically

Saturday I cleaned up real cobwebs at my house. Today I clean off virtual cobwebs on this blog. Many distractions have set in that put me out of the swing of things. Now it's time to get back into the swing of things and not look back - except for this update on the big-screen movies I've seen since I've last posted. And I'm including films I've seen in the classic series in Dayton and Columbus.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest A+
One of three movies to win the top five Oscars of Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay. The writing of this film becomes all the more impressive once you realize the book was written from the point of view of the Chief

Winnie the Pooh B
Sweet, gentle fun - a very pleasant throwback to the Disney movies of old, with this entry being animated by the A-crew at the Mouse House. It rarely manages to be more than pleasant, but that seems appropriate for such an assuming character as Pooh. Eeyore (voiced by Pixar's Bud Luckey) provides most of the laughs.

Cowboys and Aliens C+

Indiana Jones and James Bond in the same movie. How can it miss? By being saddled with a confused script that manages to be overwrought and half-baked at the same time. It's fairly decent as a Western, but the more aliens there are, the more unfocused it gets. Very disappointing.

Beginners A
With its often whimsical tone and its scattered chronology, this picture could have gone wrong in all sorts of ways but holds steady, thanks mostly to strong performances by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent in a story about a man struggling to come to grips with his father coming out of the closet late in life. It's especially nice to see Laurent get a good vehicle after her breakout in Inglourious Basterds.

The Adventures of Robin Hood A+
You simply cannot fully appreciate this movie until you've seen it on the big screen with a crowd applauding Errol Flynn's every swashbuckle.

Crazy Stupid Love B+
A terrific cast including Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone powers this episodic ensemble piece about love lost and found in unlikely places. The performances help overcome some slightly ungainly writing, especially an icky subplot about a teenage girl's crush on a 40-something.

The Wizard of Oz A+
Once again, you simply cannot fully appreciate this movie unless you've seen on it on a big screen in a packed house with Technicolors that are practically blinding.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes A-
 What seemed like a misguided idea for a reboot has turned into the summer's most pleasant surprise. Special effects movies often fail because the effects are more interesting than the humans, but in this context, it's actually quite appropriate.  Terrific motion capture work by Andy Serkis (AKA Gollum AKA King Kong) and smartly choreographed action sequences make this trump not only the Tim Burton remake, but even the 1968 original as well.