Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer Box-Office Results

At the start of the summer I made my predictions for what would be the top 10 money-makers for the season. Now that summer has come to a close, it's time to look at the results. While these won't be the final numbers for some of the films, the overall standings should stay about the same. (The #10 spot could very well be overtaken eventually.)

First, my predictions from the end of April:

Toy Story 3 – 425
Iron Man 2 – 375
Twilight: Eclipse – 300
Shrek Forever After – 250
Inception – 175
Salt – 160
The Last Airbender – 155
The A-Team – 150
Prince of Persia – 145
Robin Hood – 130

Top 10 as of Sep. 7:
Toy Story 3 - 408
Iron Man 2 - 312
Twilight: Eclipse - 298
Inception - 278
Despicable Me - 241
Shrek Forever After - 238
The Karate Kid - 176
Grown Ups - 160
The Last Airbender - 131
Salt - 115

So, as of now, I guessed 7 out of the 10. Not bad for a first-time try. The biggest surprise for me was the success of The Karate Kid. I really didn't expect it to come near 100 million, much less 176. I'm not sure why I thought Robin Hood would perform well. It didn't really cater to the typical summer audience, instead aiming a little older. I'm more surprised that The A-Team didn't perform better. I guess most teenagers aren't that familiar with the TV show, so they didn't care about it (?). Despicable Me really should have been on my prediction list. It's animated, made for all ages, and has many celebrity voices. Hindsight is 20/20.

As far as accuracy goes, it's pretty hit or miss. Going into the summer, the biggest question mark on my list was Inception. I really wasn't sure how mainstream it would turn out, so I took a wild guess for its total. Iron Man 2, while doing well, didn't follow the usual pattern of sequels. Usually when a blockbuster is considered solid, the sequel earns more. Iron Man 2 essentially equaled the first film's gross. On the plus side, I'm right on the money for a few films. Who knew I would be such an expert at guessing the spending habits of the Twilight fanbase? Weird.

Overall, this was an interesting experiment and one that I may do again next year.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Horizons

I'm excited to say that I've recently had the opportunity to do some writing at www.filmjunk.com - a site that I consider a favorite. While it's an honor to contribute to that site, it also means that this blog will probably be taking a back seat for the foreseeable future. That doesn't mean I'm giving up This is Cinerama; it just means that posts will be few and far between. So, if can't get enough of my writing, then I suggest you check out Film Junk.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Woody Gets a Full Cast for Latest Film

The full cast list was released for Woody Allen's next project, titled Midnight in Paris. The cast includes Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, and Owen Wilson. It looks like a good variety of performers as usual and I look forward to Allen hopefully having a return to form with this film. Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy that follows a family travelling to the city for business. The party includes a young engaged couple that has their lives transformed throughout the journey. The film celebrates a young man’s great love for Paris, and simultaneously explores the illusion people have that a life different from their own is better.

The film will begin production this summer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Forbidden Few

While I pride myself on exploring many different types of films, even I have my limits on what I'll spend my time watching. I looked through a list of films for the first half of the year and picked out the titles that I can comfortably say I'll never watch unless strapped down A Clockwork Orange-style and forced to view them.

Here's the list:
The Back-up Plan
Furry Vengeance
The Last Song
Why Did I Get Married Too?
Remember Me
The Bounty Hunter
Dear John
Leap Year
The Spy Next Door
Tooth Fairy
When in Rome

I think the key element these films share is laziness. In one way or another these films represent (to me, anyway) the most lazy, pandering, lowest common denominator projects being produced these days. I'm aware that films are both products and art, but when movies such as these come along, the scale tips so far on the side of product that I lose all interest.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

American Psycho: A Look Back

American Consumer

American Psycho (2000), a film directed by Marry Harron, truly shows the dark side of the American dream. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is a rich young man who appears to have no personal identity. Patrick explains that “there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory.... I simply am not there;” he even remains at his job because he “wants to fit in.” He has everything that anyone could possibly desire: an expensive apartment, fine clothes, and many other top-of-the-line products. These possessions he has accumulated mean little to him other than the high social status they help ascribe him. There is a theory that Newitz calls economic identity which is “the ability to produce efficiently, but more notably… the ability to consume” (70). Since these products are all that Bateman knows how to relate to, he becomes the ultimate consumer in this satire on American culture.

A competition of sorts takes place between Bateman and his co-workers, at least from Bateman’s point-of-view. If one of the co-workers has a better apartment or a better suit than he has, then Bateman grows immediately envious. On one occasion he nearly kills one of his co-workers for having the same kind of business card that he does. Fittingly, the film is set in the 1980’s when materialism and greed defined the times. The ability to consume and produce efficiently has been called “homo economicus” or economic man by Newitz (70). Newitz says, “The most important personality trait of homo economicus is that he can never be satiated” (70). Bateman displays this feature to the maximum degree.

Everything is about surface for Bateman. He is a completely self-absorbed character. Giving specific details of his entire morning routine, Bateman describes all of the products he uses to get ready for the day. He does not devote any time thinking about what someone else wants. The goal for him is to get what he desires as soon as possible. Bateman is in peak physical shape, doing exercises every day. He judges his associates on how well they dress or how good an apartment they have. When he sees a bum sitting in an alley, he does not see a person, but a burden or failure of society. According to Grant these people “represent the horror of career failure he fears most” (27). As a result of these fears, Bateman kills the man and walks away. Patrick has no ethical depth to him whatsoever. He does not feel sorry about any of his killings.

Bateman shares no real connections with anyone, even his fiancé. He spends time with his fellow workers, but only because he wants to fit in with the crowd. Sometimes he will feign an interest in what someone is saying, but not much more. Most of the time, he is merely going through the motions. Even with his sexual encounters, Bateman has no real emotion involved. Grant says, “Bateman’s sexuality and desire, like everything else about him, is thoroughly determined by consumer culture” (31). He does not care about the women that he is with; he just uses them for his own pleasure. Thus, the women resemble more merchandise that Bateman makes use of. When he videotapes his sexual encounters, the focus is completely on him. He looks into the mirror and poses for himself while flexing his muscles. This facilitates him to achieve what he witnesses on television and what is promoted by the culture. When he is finished, he disposes of the bodies as he would an old product that has been outdated.

A theme that runs throughout the film is that Bateman’s colleagues confuse each other for someone else. Grant remarks that, “Ironically, nobody notices that the people Bateman has killed are missing because they are all virtually interchangeable” (30), as so many products often are. Bateman gets out of trouble more than once because of this confusion. Also, people seem to misunderstand Bateman at times, such as when he insults people and they seem not to notice or think he meant something else. At times Bateman reveals his homicidal tendencies, “I'm into... well murders and executions mostly.” Only the people around him hear “mergers and acquisitions” instead, because the room is crowded and loud.

American Psycho does not take place in a Gothic setting like most serial killer films, but in traditional homes, restaurants, night clubs, and office buildings. Grant says that it “provides the perfect touchtone for a contemporary consideration of general representations of violence” (25). By bringing the action closer to commonplace areas, the film comments on society the way most thrillers could not. People are familiar with these surroundings either directly or indirectly, so the message can resonate quite well.

American Psycho can be easily compared and contrasted to Fight Club, another film about consumerism and society. Both films are about young men who are dissatisfied with their lives and try to fill the void with violence. While American Psycho tries to consume as much as possible, Fight Club tries to break down the whole process of consumerism. Despite having entirely opposite motives, each of the main characters feels that they have to use violence to get what they want. The American dream has evaded these people for so long that they feel as if they must take matters into their own hands. When events start to go awry, both of the protagonists panic and confess what they have done. They run through a surreal world that they can no longer control.

The same way that Patrick describes the products he uses in the morning, he talks about different music artists he enjoys listening. He offers his thoughts on certain CDs before killing his victims; probably quoting from some reviews that he has read. This happens several times throughout the film with several other types of products. These are the times when Bateman gets to show off just how savvy a consumer he has become. After he is finished proving that point, he effectively “consumes” his victims by killing them. Later in the film, he even admits to eating a few of the victims and trying to cook one as well. At that point, Bateman has proved that he is willing to go to any lengths to achieve his needs.

Many viewers have been desensitized to violent films, especially in recent years. In the same way that desensitized viewers experience violence on screen, sometimes Bateman carries out his murders in a way that shows little reaction. At times he simply kills and walks down the street, thinking nothing about it, except getting caught.

In the end, American Psycho proves to be a scathing social commentary about America’s obsession with consumerism. Like Bateman, sometimes we cannot help ourselves from consuming too much. Patrick shows the ultimate consumer can never be satisfied with what they have. He is a completely hollow individual who can never have enough and only envies those who possess more.

Works Cited
Grant, Barry Keith. “American Psycho/sis: The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media. Ed. Christopher Sharrett. Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spielberg Chooses Next Project

Courtesy of Hollywood Insider:

"Finally, Steven Spielberg has chosen his next project: War Horse, the World War I story about a friendship between a boy and a horse. It’s been two years since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bowed, and audiences worldwide have been waiting for Spielberg to choose his next movie. (Yes, he’s been working on the Tintin series with Peter Jackson but that film won’t bow until Christmas 2011.)

In the meantime, Spielberg has turned his sights to War Horse. The project is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo that was published in Great Britain back in 1982. The adapted screenplay has been written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually). The film, produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Revel Guest will be produced by Dreamworks and released by Disney Studios on August 10, 2011."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Summer Box-Office Predictions

I'm tossing my hat into the ring and presenting my official predictions for the summer box-office season. Although I'm far from an expert, I thought I'd take a stab at it and see how close (or far off) I come to the actual totals. Just to clarify, I'm counting any film released from May - August eligable as "summer" material.

Here's my top 10: (all totals in millions)

Toy Story 3 – 425
Iron Man 2 – 375
Twilight: Eclipse – 300
Shrek Forever After – 250
Inception – 175
Salt – 160
The Last Airbender – 155
The A-Team – 150
Prince of Persia – 145
Robin Hood – 130

Monday, April 26, 2010

Metropolis: Complete at Last

For years film historians hoped to find the missing footage to Fritz Lang's science-fiction epic Metropolis with no success... until recently, that is. An additional 25 minutes of lost footage was found in a museum in Buenos Aires, making the film the most complete since its release back in 1927. Now a new cut of the film has its North American premiere at Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, and will expand to other theatres in the coming weeks. By November, the film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The prospect of seeing a complete cut of Metropolis gets me very excited. I've watched the film before, in which still photos are used in place of missing scenes, and even in its incomplete state, the film can still be labeled a masterpiece. I really envy anyone who has the opportunity to catch this restored film in a theater setting. If I thought a theater anywhere near me would be showing it, I'd be there in a heartbeat. Alas, living in the middle of nowhere prevents me from yet another cinematic event.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Here Come the Men In Black...Again

After several months of speculation, both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have signed on to another Men In Black film. Returning director Barry Sonnenfeld confirmed the casting news. There's no word on any other returnng cast members or plot information, but it was revealed that the film is planned for a Memorial Day, 2011 release. Oh, and of course the film will be in 3-D just as any other major blockbuster these days.

This seems like an odd choice for Will Smith to return to this series at this point, especially since so much time has passed after the second film. He's arguably the biggest, most successful actor in Hollywood who has his choice of any high-profile project he wants. I'm sure he could easily sign on to an equally mainstream film and do his usual in it intead. I guess brand awareness wins again, though.

Monday, April 19, 2010

James Bond Delayed Indefinately

Bad news for Bond fans, I'm afraid. Due to financial woes, the franchise will be postponed until further notice. Producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have jointly stated, “Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on BOND 23 indefinitely. We do not know when development will resume and do not have a date for the release of BOND 23.” Ouch. This could mean big trouble depending on how long this situation lasts. The talent behind the project will have to move on at some point and there's no telling who will be left to steer the reigns. It's sad to think that Hollywood's longest-running franchise (not to mention one of the most profitable) is having this much trouble getting financing. Oh well, I'm sure one way or another, we'll get our next Bond film eventually.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cannes Film Festival Line-Up

About a month from now the Cannes Film Festival will be upon us once again and, as usual, many big names in world cinema will be in attendance. Today a full list of films, both in and out of competition was released. I'm always interested in seeing which films come out on top in this festival since it typically features some great choices. Tim Burton heads the jury this year ... so we'll see what comes of that.

Opening film
Ridley Scott – ROBIN HOOD (Out of Competition)

In Competition
Mathieu Amalric – TOURNÉE
Rachid Bouchareb – HORS LA LOI
Alejandro González Iñárritu – BIUTIFUL
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun – UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A Screaming Man)
Abbas Kiarostami – COPIE CONFORME
Takeshi Kitano – OUTRAGE
Lee Chang-dong – POETRY
Doug Liman – FAIR GAME
Sergei Loznitsa – YOU. MY JOY
Daniele Luchetti – LA NOSTRA VITA
Apichatpong Weerasethakul – LOONG BOONMEE RALEUK CHAAT
(Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

Un Certain Regard
Derek Cianfrance – BLUE VALENTINE (1st film)
Manoel De Oliveira – O ESTRANHO CASO DE ANGÉLICA (Angelica)
Xavier Dolan – LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (Heartbeats)
Ivan Fund, Santiago Loza – LOS LABIOS
Fabrice Gobert – SIMON WERNER A DISPARU… (1st film)
Christoph Hochhäusler – UNTER DIR DIE STADT (The City Below)
Ágnes Kocsis – PÁL ADRIENN (Adrienn Pál)
Vikramaditya Motwane – UDAAN (1st film)
Radu Muntean – MARTI, DUPA CRACIUN (Tuesday, After Christmas)
Hideo Nakata – CHATROOM
Cristi Puiu – AURORA (Aurora)
Hong Sangsoo – HA HA HA
Oliver Schmitz – LIFE ABOVE ALL
Daniel Vega – OCTUBRE (1st film)
David Verbeek – R U THERE
Xiaoshuai Wang – RIZHAO CHONGQING (Chongqing Blues)

Out of Competition
Stephen Frears – TAMARA DREWE

Midnight Screenings
Gregg Araki – KABOOM
Gilles Marchand – L'AUTRE MONDE (Blackhole)

Special Screenings
Charles Ferguson – INSIDE JOB
Patricio Guzman – NOSTALGIA DE LA LUZ (Nostalgia For The Light)
Otar Iosseliani – CHANTRAPAS
Diego Luna – ABEL (1st film)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Mr. Hulot's Holiday

In 1953, director Jacques Tati unleashed his now-iconic character Mr. Hulot upon the world in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. The character and the resulting film come across as old-fashioned, even for its time, and intentionally so. Indeed, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday easily shares more in common with silent-era cinema than any other influence. Anyone who watches the film would have to admit that the plot could be summed up by the title itself and nothing more. The structure ambles along from one bit to the next; in no hurry to get anywhere. And the curious Mr. Hulot, our main character, goes through no traditional arc whatsoever. (What is this – a Charlie Chaplin film? Buster Keaton, perhaps?) In modern mainstream filmmaking terms, this movie would never get made, let alone considered for production. That’s a shame, because Mr. Hulot’s Holiday represents one of those charming films that I think more people should see.

Our story begins as various visitors arrive at a beachside hotel in France where they all long for some rest and relaxation. Then Mr. Hulot arrives. From his first entrance, in which he lets in a howling wind into the hotel, disrupting an otherwise peaceful day, we know he will only create trouble for the rest of the guests and staff. Mr. Hulot may be well-intentioned, but calamity seems to follow him everywhere. While that premise may not excite many people, consider these words from Roger Ebert: “It's not what a movie is about but how it's about it.” That logic certainly applies to Mr. Hulot’s Holiday as the film goes about its business in a unique and delightful way.

As stated above, the film’s use of silent film aesthetics provides the main source for comedy, but it’s the way these aesthetics are used that make the film worthwhile. For example, Tati shoots scenes unlike most any director I’ve seen in regards to mise-en-scene. As opposed to staging one particular joke, Tati fills the frame with various happenings occurring simultaneously. One group plays a game of cards while a businessman makes phone call to work as he tries to vacation, and at the same time a teenager attempts (unsuccessfully) to impress a girl. And while all this activity transpires, Tati does not tell you where you should be looking; he simply allows the audience to roam wherever their eyes want. That’s a bold move for anyone to even attempt, much less accomplish. This style certainly takes some getting used to and a second or third viewing becomes almost unavoidable if people want to catch everything that occurs.

Ultimately, this film will not suit everyone’s taste. But for those who keep an open mind, there’s a lot to enjoy here. I can see this style of filmmaking influencing performers like Rowan Atkinson or Peter Sellers in their work. Mr. Hulot endears himself to audiences the same way Mr. Bean and Inspector Clouseau do. Even though they cause a great amount of grief to those around them, they also possess a certain kind of magic. Their unique way of moving through life allows us to laugh at ourselves and that condition known as being human.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Recent Viewings: April '10

Uncle Buck
John Candy had one of those personalities that instantly wins me over, and this film exemplifies that extremely well. Although the film itself isn't anything great, it contains quite a few moments of pure charm (Giant pancakes, anyone?).

The Informant!
Matt Damon gives a great performance in this satire on Corporate America. His voice-over alone delivers some great laughs. The supporting cast also shines. I'm sure repeat viewings would only enhance the experience.

Man Hunt
This WWII film made during the war itself delivers some great thrills with an intriguing story to boot. Director Fritz Lang provides the film with a great visual style.

White Hunter, Black Heart
This Clint Eastwood film features the actor-director in some different territory has he portrays an ego-maniacal filmmaker who obsesses over a hunting conquest instead of his next film. It's an intriguing character study and covers some worthwhile themes.

Fantastic Voyage
Richard Fleischer directed this effects-driven film about a team of scientist who are shrunk down and injected into the body of a colleague in order to repair a life-threatening blood clot. It's still a fun ride, but pretty formulaic.

The Man from Laramie
The fifth and final collaboration between director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart results in another solid western. As usual, the story is heavy with themes of revenge and justice. Stewart again proves his range as he plays a fairly menacing guy at times.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ford Joins Cowboys and Aliens

Director Jon Favreau announced via twitter yesterday that Harrison Ford has signed on to his next feature, Cowboys and Aliens. Ford has had some rough years in his career recently, so hopefully this project will bounce him back into the spotlight. The concept is simple enough: what if aliens were to invade 19th century America? Would they be able to take over? Cowboys and Aliens is based on a graphic novel by Andrew Foley and Fred Van Lente with artwork by Luciano Lima. The film also stars Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde and it's already scheduled for a July 29, 2011 release.

I have to say that I like the concept and really do hope that it turns out to be a success for everyone involved.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Viewing Notes: 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

Rather than writing a full-blown review, I've decided to simply share some notes I made regarding my viewing of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

Although Kirk Douglas isn't known for his singing or dancing abilities, here he puts on quite a performance in the film's one and only musical number.

The film features some great effects work. The giant squid fight holds up surprisingly well, I thought.

Despite being a big-budget spectacle, the film actually contains a message. I wish I could say the same for some of today's blockbusters.

The underwater photography looked great and seemed innovative for the time.

Paul Lukas, playing essentially the main character since it's his narration we follow, gets overshadowed by Douglas and James Mason. Mason's Captain Nemo is more intricate and Douglas' Ned Land handles the more comic and adventurous aspects of the film.

Director Richard Fleischer makes good use of the widescreen aspect ratio, a relatively new process at the time.

The film captures a sense of adventure and wonder that fit just right for the material.

Although live-action, the film manages to incorporate a couple moments of animation, both of which added a nice touch to the scenes involved.

Like most Disney films, there has to be to some kind of animal prominently featured. This time it's a seal; used for comic relief.

Overall, I'd say it's a fun adventure flick that holds up pretty well. It's something that families can enjoy together.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Best Picture Challenge

Some might call me a completist when it comes to cinema - I just prefer to call myself well-rounded (at least that's my aim). With that in mind, I recently researched which of the Best Picture Academy Award winners I'd seen and which I hadn't. As it turns out, I've watched 61 out of the 82 films, a respectful 74%. Of course, my new goal is to view the remaining 21 unseen films. I'm giving myself until the end of the year to complete this task; plenty of time, I'm sure. Hopefully along the way I'll give some updates on where I stand in my movie countdown and provide a few thoughts on the films in question.

The Unseen List:
The Broadway Melody
Grand Hotel
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Great Ziegfeld
The Life of Emile Zola
Going My Way
Gentleman's Agreement
The Greatest Show on Earth
Around the World in Eighty Days
Tom Jones
My Fair Lady
Chariots of Fire
The Last Emperor
The English Patient

Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Remembering Brando

Marlon Brando was truly one of cinema's greatest actors. So today, what would have been his 86th birthday, I've decided to pay tribute to the man who gave us so many memborable moments, both in film and in life.

At the 1973 Academy Awards, Brando refused his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, instead sending a Native American woman to the show to give a speech on Natives rights. I can't imagine anyone doing this today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QUacU0I4yU

This scene from On the Waterfront is one of the most famous scenes ever filmed. It's iconic status is well deserved. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeVq1e6JKlw

Brando created another iconic performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. This video shows his famous cry of "Stella!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1A0p0F_iH8

One of the most haunting performances in film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BqloFdNq2Y

Larry King had a famous interview with Brando in the 1990's, mainly due to its bizarre nature. Here's the final part of the interview in which Larry and Marlon close the show by singing a duet and share a kiss. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvWMB7YFMXw He led a strange life.

Brando sings again - this time in Guys and Dolls. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVlQXvrWC_A

Finally, a rare screentest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2lRdkNGDcY

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

All Things Walken

In honor of his birthday today, I've gathered together a few of my personal favorite Christopher Walken moments, courtesy of YouTube. Mr. Walken has proved his talent time and time again through his lengthy career. Whether he's acting in a hardcore drama like The Deer Hunter or poking fun at himself on SNL, the man is instantly captivating in his own unique way. Any time he appears in a film, it brings a smile to my face. So happy birthday, Mr. Walken. Keep on doing your thing.

Poker Face – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy5JwYOlgvY
Weapon of Choice – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Ky5R-vxns
Cooking with Walken – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43VjLCRqKNk
Puss in Boots – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEjKmsMkPKQ
More Cowbell – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyV2cPLuFuA
Pulp Fiction Scene – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kngBtoylIVM
“The Walken Thing” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmR-2nnt3Ps

Monday, March 29, 2010

Favorite Final Shots: Modern Times

Modern Times marked the final film in which Charlie Chaplin played his signature character of the Tramp. It’s a magnificent send-off for the little guy as he struggles against, well, modern times. Chaplin was a master of social commentary and this film certainly doesn’t hold back. Here he takes on the mechanical age and its dehumanizing effect as machines take over jobs and generally give the Tramp a tough time. But, along the way he finds a kindred spirit in a girl simply referred to as the Gamin who struggles along in society as well. By the film’s end, the pair have failed at integrating into society and are on their own in the world. Although down on their luck, the Tramp and the Gamin resolve to continue onward, determined to discover what’s around the bend. The sense of hope portrayed in this moment is perfectly captured as the two walk down the road, off to live their lives as best they can. It's a beautiful picture.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dreamworks Animation Stepping Up

For the first time in a while, it looks as if Dreamworks Animation has produced something that isn't middle-of-the-road with their latest film How to Train Your Dragon. At RottenTomatoes.com the film has received the best score of the year so far, sitting at a staggering 97% as of this writing. And it appears that it will easily win the weekend box office race - although that was to be expected. The quality of Dreamworks' films has been hit or miss with me, so this critical praise comes as a pleasant surprise, especially after watching the trailer earlier this year and thinking, "Meh." I'd like to see what all the fuss is about, although I still doubt I'll see it in theaters. I'd rather watch the film in glorious 2-D in the comfort of my home. There is one question that I have from this situation. With Pixar still maintaining the "gold standard" for animation, I wonder if How to Train Your Dragon will provide some decent competition?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Balcony Is Closed: At the Movies Gets Canceled

News hit today that ABC and Disney have made the decision to cancel the iconic, long-running movie review show At the Movies. As I'm sure everyone knows, the show was started with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in the reviewer's seats, quickly becoming the world's most famous film critics. The duo's popular thumbs up/thumbs down has become a lasting image of pop culture; being constantly referenced and spoofed. After Siskel passed away in 1999, Richard Roeper was brought on to fill his seat. While the show continued on just fine, you couldn't help but think that some of the magic was gone. The pairing of Siskel and Ebert were such a great fit that anything else, no matter how good, could compare. The shows current hosts, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, have performed admirably in maintaining the show's legacy, but sadly, due to a lack of ratings, the plug has been pulled.

Looking back on it, At the Movies has meant quite a bit to me. It was the first show of its kind that I was able to watch and it opened my eyes to the world of film. Not only did they say whether they liked or disliked a film, they articulated points and had an actual discussion. That's something I feel like most people don't care much about. The average movie-goer seems content to simply say, "That was cool" or "That sucked" and leave it at that. But for someone who grew into being a film junkie, it meant a lot to have people who genuinely had a passion for film talking about some slightly more nuanced aspects of the craft. It's sad that there's no room on television for a show like this anymore. Perhaps the advent of online film criticism has simply made the show outdated. I know I get the majority of my film news/reviews in podcast form these days and I'm sure many others would say the same.

It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for this type of programming. I hear Ebert is developing a new show, although who knows if that will catch on. Until the next big thing, there's always plenty of old YouTube clips to keep fans happy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yet Another List: Most Films by Composer

Just for fun, I've tabulated a list of composers whose work I've heard in the most number of films. There aren't really any surprises here; just the big names you'd expect too see. Naturally, John Williams takes the top spot, although by a narrower margin than I thought. With any list like this, the most prolific artists will emerge on top, so it's not an indicator of quality (although I do enjoy these composers) as much as quantity.

Here's my top 10:

John Williams – 45
Jerry Goldsmith – 42
Hans Zimmer – 33
Danny Elfman – 32
Howard Shore – 28
Elmer Bernstein – 28
Carter Burwell – 26
James Horner – 25
James Newton Howard – 24
Alan Silvestri – 20

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Retro Hitchcock

I recently stumbled upon some fan-made posters from one of my favorite director's works and just had to highlight them here. Artist Laz Marquez has designed four original posters that both pay tribute to older poster styles and provide their own unique look. Maybe my favorite aspect of these is the minimalist style. Though simplistic, they communicate the spirit of each film. I run into fan-made art all over the internet and these pieces really stand out. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Set Your DVR, It's Kurosawa Time

On March 23, TCM will be programing only films from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in honor of what would be his 100th birthday. I'd say anyone with an interest in cinema should devote some time to Kurosawa. I've been trying to catch up with some of these films lately as I've only seen seven of this master filmmaker's work thus far. Films scheduled to show include Seven Samuri, Yojimbo, Stray Dog, Drunken Angel, No Regrets for Our Youth, Rashomon, and Sanjuro among others. There's really no going wrong as to which films you watch, as far as I can tell. So, if your looking to improve your knowledge of foreign films and cinema in general, TCM has provided the perfect opportunity.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Movie Haikus

Well, I'm back with another round of haikus. It's pretty fun to come up with these things as they take some amount of tinkering before fitting just right. I hope you enjoy them.

The Thin Blue Line
An innocent man
Swallowed up by the system
Is our justice blind?

The Apostle
A Troubled preacher
Sincerely spreads word of God
What a complex world

Take the Money and Run
Allen attempts crime
Although the heists are sketchy
Slapstick gold ensues

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hoffman Turns Director

In the long line of actors-turned-directors, Dustin Hoffman's name can now be added to the list. After a lengthy acting career, Hoffman has decided to try his talents behind the camera to direct Quartet. The film revolves around a trio of retired opera singers now in a retirement home. Actors Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Albert Finney are set to play the singers. Other than that, not much is known about the project at this stage.

This news comes as a pleasant surprise to me. I say surprise because, usually if an actor decides to direct, they've done it by this point in their career. Hoffman, now 72, seems to be jumping in late in the game, but more power to him. There have been many successful actor-directors and here's hoping that Hoffman becomes one of them. Quartet begins filming later this year.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mini-Review: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

“Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.” – Lotte Reiniger

Still in its infancy in 1926, animation took a leap forward when Lotte Reiniger revealed her latest creation to the world. The film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was unlike anything audiences had seen before and, in many cases, since. Using thousands of cut-out silhouette figures, Reiniger created a beautiful world populated by fairy tale characters. This work holds a special distinction in the world of cinema as it represents what most historians consider the first feature-length animated film.

The story revolves around (you guessed it) Prince Achmed and his efforts to rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Along the way he visits strange lands, befriends a witch, and battles demons, among other things. The film essentially contains all the typical archetypes you would expect to find in a fairy tale; all of which are used to great effect.

While the style and storyline undoubtedly seem basic, the results are pretty fantastic. In fact, the most impressive thing about the film is its effectiveness. Although the film features subtitles, viewers really don’t even need them to follow what’s happening. Instead, they can simply read the character’s body language and actions to determine the progression of the story. It’s surprising how much detail comes from even the slightest of gestures. The film reminded me of an intricate ballet in this way.

I think the silhouette figures work on a level that no other animated film – or film in general – has accomplished. The blank figures allow the audience to envision their own imagery which allows for a unique experience to anyone watching. Of course, when looking at it this way, you get what you are willing to put into it.

The DVD I watched featured a documentary on Lotte Reiniger and her career that’s also worth watching. She managed to carve out a niche for herself and stuck with it her entire career. The doc illustrates just how much time and effort the process took and the patience and precision it required to complete a film like The Adventures of Prince Achmed. So, for any animation enthusiasts or film buffs out there, check this one out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eastwood Sets Up Hoover Project

Clint Eastwood continues to stay a busy man; setting up film after film. Seriously, I'm not sure how he does it. The 79 year-old director already has Hereafter to be released later this year and now there's word on his next potential film. It's been reported that Eastwood now wants to helm a bio-pic of FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover. A script has already been written by Milk screenwriter Lance Black and producer Brian Grazer is reportedly on board as well. The film would likely follow Hoover's life as he set up the bureau through his death in 1972.

Bio-pics usually don't do too much for me, honestly. By-and-large they simply follow a straightforward pattern in an attempt to "sum up" a person's life. This project sounds somewhat interesting, though, since Hoover seems like an interesting topic. Right now, the project is still without a studio, although Warner Bros. will probably get first crack at it since Eastwood works there nearly every time out.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Aftermath

The Oscars have come and gone once again, so now it's time for a few reflections on the big night.

First of all, the hosts: I didn't think Martin and Baldwin worked together as well as they could have. They just seemed to lack the chemistry that was necessary to carry the show. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed some of the bits. The Paranormal Activity video was funny and the cut to the two of them in a Snuggie worked well too, I thought. Overall, I was left kind of underwhelmed, though.

I was happy to see Christoph Waltz win a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor award. He actually had one of my favorite lines of the night: "That's an uber-bingo!" I just wish that Inglourious Basterds had been given more recognition.

What was with the John Hughes memorial? Not to take anything away from Hughes, but in all the years I've watched the Academy Awards, I've never seen an entire segment of the show dedicted to a single deceased filmmaker. The whole thing seemed odd to me.

As far as my annual Oscar predictions, I went 17 for 24 this time out. That counts as a personal best for me (pretty good considering a usually get about half right most years).

Seeing Jeff Bridges win for Best Actor brought a smile to my face. The man has maintained a solid career for many years now and just seems like a really down-to-earth kind of guy.

While The Hurt Locker wasn't my absolute favorite film of the year, I was glad it won Best Picture. It's ironic that one of the lowest grossing films won in a year when the Academy was clearly trying to broaden its audience with the expansion of the Best Picture category.

Why was a horror montage included? It seemed pretty tacked-on.
One of the easiest awards to predict was for Best Animated Feature, which Pixar naturally won with Up. Honestly, I was hoping Fantastic Mr. Fox would pull out an upset, even though I knew there was no way it could happen.
I can live with Avatar winning three awards. It certainly deserved some recognition...just not too much.

The memorium montage had some notables missing: Farrah Fawcett, Henry Gibson, Dan O'Bannon, and Bea Arthur.

I'm still not sure what to think about the whole Sandra Bullock thing. Of course, I haven't seen The Blindside, so I shouldn't judge, but it just doesn't seem right that she should win for that film. I mean, what could it have hurt to give Streep another Oscar, right?

Many of the top categories were easy to predict this year - a little too easy. Next year, I'll hope to see some close races.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Recent Viewings

The Long Hot Summer (1958)
This film was the first to pair Paul Newman and future wife Joanne Woodward together and the chemistry between the two really stands out. Newman plays Ben Quick, a drifter who disrupts the lives of a rich small-town family. Orson Welles gives a delightfully over-the-top performance as the head of the family who will stop at nothing to ensure his name continues on in importance.

Seven Men from Now (1956)
Randolph Scott stars in this low-budget western that is at once simple and complex. I say simple because the story and style are straightforward enough, but I also say complex because of the ideas explored. Lee Marvin also stars as a charismatic heavy.

A Serious Man (2009)
The latest Coen brothers film delivers like no other film could. After watching it for the first time, I ended up watching it again the very same day. There's certainly a lot to chew on in this dark comedy about a man faced with a series of unfortunate events. It's probably the most personal film the Coens have made.

Trees Lounge (1996)
Character actor Steve Buscemi's directorial debut centers on a man who stands at a crossroads in his life. He turns to alcohol at the local bar to soften the blow of a disappointing life. This film was a engaging slice-of-life type of story, helped along by a cast of great supporting players.

Bloody Sunday (2002)
If you've seen a Paul Greengrass film in the past few years, this one follows the same shooting style. The film portrays the fateful 1972 Irish civil rights protest march and the subsequent massacre that took place. Much like United 93, the film is shot in an essentially documentary style; all handheld and with many unknown or non-actors.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Watch Alice in Wonderland (1903)

The story of Alice in Wonderland has been through many iterations over the years. Since Tim Burton's take on the material premieres tomorrow, I thought it would be fitting to view the earliest cinematic adaptation. The 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland has been restored by the British Film Institute and it's really something to see. Although the footage is still rough despite the restoration, there's a lot of creativity on display.
Check out the film on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeIXfdogJbA

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Allen's Latest Picked Up by Sony

Woody Allen continues to stay a busy man (it's kind of amazing that he still churns out a movie per year) as his latest film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, has been bought by Sony Picture Classics for domestic distribution. Although Allen's work has been hit or miss over the past decade or so, I still hope for the best when it comes to his projects. Another Match Point could be right around the corner, after all. As usual, not much is known about this latest effort other than a brief plot description: “[the film] revolves around different members of a family, their tangled love lives and their attempts to try to solve their problems." That seems like well-traveled territory for Allen, but, then again, you really can't discern too much from that vague of a description. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, and Naomi Watts among others - all first-timers for an Allen film, I believe. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger has a planned release in September.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Oscar Predictions

With the Academy Awards only a week away, I thought I'd formulate my predictions for this year's winners. Most of the main categories seem fairly easy to predict this year, but you never can tell for sure. As usual, the further down this list goes, the more I'm just throwing out guesses. So, for better or worse, here are my picks. (* = prediction of winner)

Best Motion Picture

James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers

"The Blind Side"
Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Producers

"District 9"
Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers

"An Education"
Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers

*"The Hurt Locker"
Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro, Producers

"Inglourious Basterds"
Lawrence Bender, Producer

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers

"A Serious Man"
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers

Jonas Rivera, Producer

"Up in the Air"
Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Achievement in Directing

"Avatar" James Cameron

*"The Hurt Locker" Kathryn Bigelow

"Inglourious Basterds" Quentin Tarantino

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Lee Daniels

"Up in the Air" Jason Reitman

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

*Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"

George Clooney in "Up in the Air"

Colin Firth in "A Single Man"

Morgan Freeman in "Invictus"

Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker"

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon in "Invictus"

Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger"

Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station"

Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones"

*Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds"

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

*Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side"

Helen Mirren in "The Last Station"

Carey Mulligan in "An Education"

Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia"

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz in "Nine"

Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air"

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart"

Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air"

*Mo'Nique in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Adapted screenplay

"District 9" Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

"An Education" Screenplay by Nick Hornby

"In the Loop" Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher

*"Up in the Air" Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Original screenplay

"The Hurt Locker" Written by Mark Boal

*"Inglourious Basterds" Written by Quentin Tarantino

"The Messenger" Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

"A Serious Man" Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

"Up" Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Best Animated Feature Film

"Coraline" Henry Selick

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" Wes Anderson

"The Princess and the Frog" John Musker and Ron Clements

"The Secret of Kells" Tomm Moore

*"Up" Pete Docter

Achievement in Art Direction

*"Avatar" Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg
Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro
Set Decoration: Caroline Smith

"Nine" Art Direction: John Myhre
Set Decoration: Gordon Sim

"Sherlock Holmes" Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood
Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

"The Young Victoria" Art Direction: Patrice Vermette
Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Achievement in Cinematography

*"Avatar" Mauro Fiore

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" Bruno Delbonnel

"The Hurt Locker" Barry Ackroyd

"Inglourious Basterds" Robert Richardson

"The White Ribbon" Christian Berger

Achievement in Costume Design

"Bright Star" (Apparition) Janet Patterson

"Coco before Chanel" Catherine Leterrier

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Monique Prudhomme

"Nine" Colleen Atwood

*"The Young Victoria" Sandy Powell

Achievement in Film Editing

"Avatar" Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron

"District 9" Julian Clarke

*"The Hurt Locker" Bob Murawski and Chris Innis

"Inglourious Basterds" Sally Menke

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Joe Klotz

Best Foreign Language Film

An Inosan Production Israel

"El Secreto de Sus Ojos"
A Haddock Films Production Argentina

"The Milk of Sorrow"
A Wanda Visión/Oberon Cinematogràfica/Vela Production Peru

"Un Prophète"
A Why Not/Page 114/Chic Films Production France

*"The White Ribbon"
An X Filme Creative Pool/Wega Film/Les Films du Losange/Lucky Red Production Germany

Achievement in Makeup
"Il Divo" Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano

*"Star Trek" Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow

"The Young Victoria" Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

Achievement for Best Original Score

"Avatar" James Horner

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" Alexandre Desplat

"The Hurt Locker" Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

"Sherlock Holmes" Hans Zimmer

*"Up" Michael Giacchino

Best Original Song

"Almost There" from "The Princess and the Frog" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Down in New Orleans" from "The Princess and the Frog" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36" Music by Reinhardt Wagner
Lyric by Frank Thomas

"Take It All" from "Nine" Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston

*"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart" Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Achievement in Sound Editing

*"Avatar" Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle

"The Hurt Locker" Paul N.J. Ottosson

"Inglourious Basterds" Wylie Stateman

"Star Trek" Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin

"Up" Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Achievement in Sound Mixing

*"Avatar" Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson

"The Hurt Locker" Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett

"Inglourious Basterds" Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano

"Star Trek" Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Achievement in Visual Effects

*"Avatar" Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones

"District 9" Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken

"Star Trek" Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

Best Documentary Feature

"Burma VJ"
A Magic Hour Films Production Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller

*"The Cove"
An Oceanic Preservation Society Production Nominees to be determined

"Food, Inc."
A Robert Kenner Films Production Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein

"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
A Kovno Communications Production Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith

"Which Way Home"
A Mr. Mudd Production Rebecca Cammisa

Best Documentary Short Subject

"China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province"
A Downtown Community Television Center Production Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill

"The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner"
A Just Media Production Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher

*"The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"
A Community Media Production Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert

"Music by Prudence"
An iThemba Production Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett

"Rabbit à la Berlin"
An MS Films Production Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra

Best Animated Short Film

"French Roast"
A Pumpkin Factory/Bibo Films Production Fabrice O. Joubert

"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty"
A Brown Bag Films Production Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell

"The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)"
A Kandor Graphics and Green Moon Production Javier Recio Gracia

"Logorama" (Autour de Minuit)
An Autour de Minuit Production Nicolas Schmerkin

*"A Matter of Loaf and Death"
An Aardman Animations Production Nick Park

Best Live Action Short Film

"The Door"
An Octagon Films Production Juanita Wilson and James Flynn

"Instead of Abracadabra"
A Directörn & Fabrikörn Production Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström

A Gregg Helvey Production Gregg Helvey

"Miracle Fish"
A Druid Films Production Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey

*"The New Tenants"
A Park Pictures and M & M Production Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tackling IMDb's 250

Today I was searching through IMDb as per usual when I decided to check out the site's Top 250 films as voted by the users. I can remember a time when I hadn't seen half of the films on the list (which constantly changes due to user voting), but as of today I've seen 241 of the titles listed. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Perhaps at some point I can claim to have seen all 250 on a given day. But I bring this topic up not to gloat so much as inform. Anyone with an increasing interest in cinema really should check out IMDb's list as a good starting point since it includes a diverse enough number of films that you are bound to make many discoveries. I know I have over the years. Check out the site and see how many films you've watched from the list.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Against the Grain: Inspired Casting

When people describe Grace Kelly, words such as glamorous or elegant usually come to mind. And why shouldn’t they? After all, she was Hollywood royalty and later on a real-life princess. Her most iconic roles in films like Rear Window and To Catch A Thief showcase her beauty, charm, and refinement. But the role for which she earned her Academy Award lacks the qualities Kelly typically attributed to her work. Instead, her character could be described as a buttoned-down, hostile, decidedly unglamorous woman. The film is The Country Girl; the role is Georgie Elgin.

It’s a brave performance by Kelly, playing the wife of a struggling actor. I say brave because her character isn’t necessarily the most likable or appealing person when we first meet her. She comes off as harsh towards her husband, not to mention the director who tries to give him a break in a new play. As the film moves along, we begin to see the complexity between Georgie and her husband and come to understand her position. Kelly proves she can handle a character who doesn’t automatically exude charisma and instead dig deep into a role that may not appeal to everyone.

If you get the chance, give The Country Girl a watch. The film also stars William Holden and Bing Crosby, both of whom also deliver great performances.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coens Find Their Lead For True Grit

After an extensive search, the Coen brothers have found the lead for their latest film, a western called True Grit. The central character of Mattie, a fourteen year-old girl who seeks vengeance after the death of her father, will be played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. She joins a cast of heavyweights such as Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. Steinfeld should have quite a challenge ahead of her as her character drives the story and provides the audience a point of entry. If she pulls it off, this could easily become a star-making role. The Coens have traditionally been spot-on with their casting, so I'm very hopeful about their choice. True Grit begins shooting soon for a planned Christmas day release. As usual, I'll be highly anticipating whatever the Coens deliver.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Sampling of Morricone

It's no secret that Ennio Morricone is one of my favorite composers of all-time. With iconic scores such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, how could he not be one of the greats? His body of work has spanned many decades now and the man still works steadily. As a result, there's a wealth of material to discover. On occasion, I'll do just that - discover some previously unknown piece from Morricone's past. Of course YouTube helps quite a bit with these endeavors as there are hundreds of videos dedicated to Morricone's music. For those not as familiar with his work, I've put together a sampling of tracks below. Feel free to explore other titles that you find since the ones I've listed only cover the tip of the iceberg!

Mystic and Severe – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqD6gHLDqYc
The Big Gundown – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6IJKSsJVds
Rabbia E Tarantella – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMKYAqxiZBM
Un Amico – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkvXsLGAxqY
The Surrender (La Resa) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjOjN9VVf0I
L'incontro con la figlia – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtlTD5rRkYM
The Verdict – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnwdscQeoIw
Battle of Algiers – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i746s_056eA
Il Mercenario Represa – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDUR3MhNkKY
Giu’ la Testa – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3K63RUaQIw
My Name Is Nobody – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BXy1W7R13g
The Trio – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWo__6Xn6Qs&feature=related
A Fistful of Dollars – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpZjvbSC9_M
Valmont’s GoGo Pad – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUk0DFHCmfA
Navajo Joe – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN1bJqU50iA
Once Upon a Time in the West - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j_MT9AcfAc
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQGGQ-FCe_w

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rate This: Kevin Smith Films

With Kevin Smith's new film Cop Out opening next week, I thought I'd start a new feature where I rank a certain group of films in order from best to worst. This feature will probably surface every now and then to tie in with new releases or whenever I think of something special to highlight.

I'll label myself a fan of Kevin Smith, although I'd say my enjoyment of his films has waned over the past few years. Maybe Cop Out will bring a welcome return to form, although I have my doubts. As of now, here's my take on the man's filmography:

1. Clerks
2. Chasing Amy
3. Dogma
4. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
5. Clerks 2
6. Mallrats
7. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
8. Jersey Girl

Feel free to make your own ranking or discuss Smith's work in the comments.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tarantino Goes West?

Recently Quentin Tarantino has mused that he'd like to tackle a western for his next film. Not only would the film be a western, but one focused on the issue of slavery. Tarantino said he wants to start writing the script as soon as possible, but that could mean anything really. Inglourious Basterds was talked about for a decade before finally being made. Tarantino has talked about many projects over the years, but only a few have seen the light of day. Hopefully he's serious about this one.

When I first heard this news, I thought it only made sense for Tarantino. He's included elements of westerns in his past films, so it's fitting that he would finally go for a full-blown effort in the genre. Setting the film during a time of slavery definately departs from most westerns, as they are usually set post-Civil War. Whatever the final product (if there is, indeed, a final product), I'm sure Tarantino will put his own special style to the genre and I will be in line to see it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Preview: February - April

Well, I’ve held off on writing any type of movie preview for the year, mostly because it’s slim pickings at the cinema during January. So, now that we're well into February, here’s a list of some notable films coming out between the remainder of this month through April.

Shutter Island
I’ve been ready for this one a long time now. Martin Scorsese’s latest reteams him with Leonardo DiCaprio for a full-on horror/thriller, territory the filmmaker hasn't really covered since Cape Fear. The story follows two detectives investigate the disappearance of a woman at an insane asylum. The excellent supporting cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley among others. The trailers have promised a scary-good time and I for one cannot wait.

Cop Out
This latest film from Kevin Smith has me apprehensive to say the least. The promotional material I’ve seen for this buddy cop film has been somewhat underwhelming, although I’ll still give it a chance. Plus, Smith is testing some new ground with this project (for him), so I give him credit for that.

Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton seems like a perfect fit for this material. I’m somewhat surprised that he’s embraced CG as much as he has with this film since he typically prefers to keep things at least partially practical. The film has an interesting look though and I certainly can’t argue with the casting.

Brooklyn’s Finest
This new cop thriller from the director of Training Day (Antoine Fuqua) garnered some buzz at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and now finally receives its theatrical release. Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes star in a story of three policemen who lead very different careers, but somehow end up “at the same deadly location.” It seems like a solid time.

Green Zone
When I first heard about this project, all I knew was that Matt Damon starred and Paul Greengrass was directing. That combination was enough for me based on their collaborations on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Here’s plot description via IMDb: “Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region.” That sounds good to me.

The Runaways
This one gathered a sizable amount of buzz from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so I’m curious to see what the fuss is all about. The film stars Dakota Fanning and Kristin Stewart and chronicles the band The Runaways and the relationship between two of its members, Joan Jett and Cherie Curry.

This latest from Noah Baumbach stars Ben Stiller as an unemployed man who moves to Los Angeles to house-sit for a relative while he attempts to figure out his life. From the trailer you get the typical Baumbach humor which mostly plays well, I thought. If nothing else, it’s nice to see Stiller doing something other than generic family comedies for a change. As far as the director’s previous work, I’m hoping that this film hits more like The Squid and the Whale than Margot at the Wedding, but only time will tell.

Hot Tub Time Machine
This just looks stupidly funny to me.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor star in this comedy that made a pretty big splash last year at film festivals, but is only now getting distribution. A plot description from IMDb say, “On his second go-round behind bars, scam artist Steven Russell (Carrey) commits the ultimate con in order to break out and win back the heart of Phillip Morris (McGregor), with whom he fell in love during his first prison sentence.” It’s too bad that this film has struggled to find commercial opportunities (no doubt because of its gay themes). Hopefully it won’t fall through the cracks when released in late March.

A subversive super-hero film that has received a lot of buzz from people who have seen footage from it; Kick-Ass intrigues me. Once again, a plot description from IMDb: “Despite the fact that he has zero superpowers, teenage fanboy Dave Lizewski looks to reincarnate himself as a crime-fighting superhero named Kick-Ass, a decision that will inspire a subculture of copy cats, put his life in danger, and unite him with a similarly minded father-daughter duo.” The budget for this film was raised independently by its director Matthew Vaughn because no major studio was interested in the hyper-violent story. After footage was screened at Comic-Con last year, an immediate sensation was born as people responded ecstatically. Lionsgate then picked up the film for distribution. Now we’ll see what’s in store for us in April.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone has returned to old territory here, continuing the story of Gordon Gecko as he leaves prison and navigates through America’s corporate world in the 21st century. At first, I thought this seemed like a bad idea, but now I’m starting to see some potential in it. Stone may make some heavy-handed points through his films, but when he on, he’s very effective. It will be interesting to see what commentary Stone places on America and the current state of the economy. (Oh, I still hate the subtitle though.)

That's about it for now. Next up will be a summer movie guide. I'm sure it'll be here before we know it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lists Continue: Most Films by Actor

Continuing my trend of lists, I've decided to share my list of actors who I've seen in the most amount of films. As I stated in my directors list, I'm not sure how much you can read into this, but it gives some indication of my preferences and viewing habits.

Top 10:
Robert De Niro – 32
Samuel L. Jackson – 29
James Stewart – 28
John Wayne – 28
Tom Hanks – 27
Bruce Willis – 26
Steve Buscemi – 25
Bill Murray – 25
Sean Connery – 24
Dustin Hoffman – 24

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nolan to "Mentor" Superman

According to Deadline Hollywood, Warner Bros. has hired Christopher Nolan to oversee a new Superman film. By "oversee" it's not meant that he will write or direct, but rather develop the project, mentoring the process along. The new film will have nothing to do with Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns, but instead will be a reboot of the franchise. As you might guess, the project is only in the early stages of development and will probably stay that way for awhile since Nolan's still finishing up work on his latest film, Inception.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this news. Does the character of Superman really fit with Nolan's style? I doesn't seem like it. He tends to go for dark and brooding instead of fantastical, but that might not factor into the final product much, anyway. Whatever the outcome, this seems like an interesting idea to place Nolan in this position. The more important question to ask would be: do we really need another reboot of Superman? Smells like a cash-grab to me, especially since the rights to the character will return to the creator's families in the near future. Oh well, the studios have to make money somehow, I guess. I just wish they would take a few more chances on some new properties.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top Ten Films of the Decade

Well, here it is at last. After spending hours sorting through the hundreds of films I’ve watched over the past ten years, I’ve come to my decisions. It’s no easy task to assemble a Best of Decade list since so many films seem worthy of recognition. Plus, there’s always the question of how to approach such a list. Do you choose based on your personal favorite films or attempt a more “objective” method and consider what the most important or influential films have been? Well, in this case I’ve attempted to walk a line between the two approaches, although I leaned more towards making this a personal list. Each of these films means something to me and have influenced the way I look at the medium to some degree. Ultimately, though, I feel like this list could change depending on my mood. So I like to think of these films as just ten of my favorites, knowing that many others could potentially take a place here. Still, for now, this is my list and I’ll stick by it.

10. City of God (2002)
A true example of bravura filmmaking, City of God packs a punch of frenetic energy that you won’t soon forget. Taking place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the story centers on a group of impoverished kids as they grow up facing a seemingly endless cycle of drugs, violence, and destruction. They have little choice in whether they should engage in these activities; it simply comes down to a matter of survival. Within this backdrop, the film plays out as not only a great crime drama, but a story about overcoming the odds as one boy, Rocket, attempts to break out of the slum life. We follow him, along with many others, as they navigate their way through this rough-and-tumble world, knowing that danger comes in all shapes and sizes. The distinctive visual style of the film assaults its viewers with rapid cuts and intricate camera moves. What’s most impressive about the style is that it doesn’t come off as flashy, but expertly applied to illustrate the story of an out-of-control world.

9. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
After establishing himself with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, Wes Anderson was allowed to broaden his unique world once again; this time focusing on a dysfunctional family of geniuses who live in a storybook version of New York. At the core, it’s a film about a group of outsiders attempting to cope with each other and themselves as they search for a place to belong. With an all-star cast headed by Gene Hackman, Anderson weaved a story filled with equal amounts of melancholy, heartache, romance, whimsy, and triumph together into a true work of art. Every aspect of the film is meticulously crafted to create a fully realized world, from the Dalmatian mice to the hand-drawn wallpaper. No one makes films quite like Anderson does, although many imitators have cropped up in recent years. There’s something about his sensibilities that resonate with me more than most any filmmaker working today. One last note: I can’t think about this film without thinking of the music. The score by Mark Mothersbaugh ranks as one of my favorites, and, as usual, Anderson’s impeccable song choices become an integral part of the experience.

8. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
I was a bit wary of including a film released only last year since it hasn’t had the time to settle in my mind the way earlier films have. But in the case of Inglourious Basterds, a film I’ve seen several times now, any trepidation on my part has been put at ease. Quentin Tarantino represents one of the finest directors of our time, so a list like this certainly deserves his work represented. I considered the Kill Bill films instead, but something kept drawing me back to Basterds. It’s a more mature, nuanced work than I had expected. With each viewing, new, subtle details emerge. The film concentrates on themes of reputation, mythmaking, and the power of cinema. In addition to its thematic weight, the film boasts some powerhouse performances, especially from Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in quite some time. The tone of the film is expertly handled, transitioning from moments of humor to horror effortlessly. Any other film would be rushing to get to the next plot point or action sequence, but here scenes are allowed to play out naturally, building up the tension bit by bit until the audience almost bursts from anticipation. Above all, Tarantino’s love of cinema constantly shines through. There’s such care taken for every aspect of the film (and such reverence placed on film itself) that I simply can’t help but admire it.

7. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan has proven himself over and over again as one of the most talented directors at blending complex ideas into mainstream entertainment, so I thought it appropriate to include the film that launched his name and left a distinctive mark on the cinema landscape. Like most of Nolan’s films, Memento centers on the workings of the mind. The backwards narrative of a man with short-term memory attempting to avenge the murder of his wife revolutionized the way people looked at story structure and conventions. What may have been a gimmick in a lesser film, Memento uses as an integral component in telling its story as well as fitting in thematically. The film functions like a puzzle we aren’t supposed to solve so much as experience. While that may sound frustrating to some, I welcome any film that explores its topics as deeply and as compellingly as Memento.

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
This spot represents my only choice for some full-blown blockbuster films. It’s difficult to ignore the monumental task that Peter Jackson and crew undertook when bringing these films to the screen. The locales created by these films are so well realized and given an authenticity that it becomes easy to accept the fantasy world as its own reality. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in the coziness of the Shire after watching these films? There’s really something for everyone to enjoy in this epic tale. On one hand, the battle scenes are edge-of-your-seat sequences. However, if that’s not your style, the love story between Aragorn and Arwen may compel you. Either way, the main characters are so memorable and immensely likable that you gladly follow them on their long journey. On a technical level, I appreciated the combination of older special effects and camera tricks, such as the use of miniatures or forced perspective, mixed with the latest CGI technology. Too many films rely completely on CGI as a crutch and it comes off as lazy. Luckily, Jackson proved to be the right creative force to take care of such decisions. His endless passion for the material translates onto the screen and I couldn’t help but become caught up in it. These films are crowd-pleasers in the best possible sense.

5. 25th Hour (2002)
Few films capture the spirit or mood of a specific time the way that Spike Lee’s 25th Hour encapsulates life in the months of post-9/11 haze. What’s even more impressive about the film is that the story isn’t even overtly about that. The time and location only act as a backdrop for the story of convicted drug-dealer Monty (Edward Norton) as he spends his last day of freedom with friends and family before departing to prison for seven years. During this time Monty examines his life and what went wrong. Along with Norton, the film also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox, who all give outstanding performances. There’s one monologue in particular that ranks among the best in film. Lee filters some of his usual themes into the proceedings, but in a fresh way. Primarily, the film functions as an examination of the decisions we make and how they affect our lives. It’s one that more people should watch or reexamine.

4. Adaptation (2002)
Although some imitators might try, no one writes a screenplay quite like Charlie Kaufman. For this film he and director Spike Jonze essentially break down the screenwriting process until it’s turned on its head. Nicolas Cage delivers his greatest performance(s) as twin brothers Charlie and Donald, both writers with varying degrees of success. As the high-minded Charlie struggles to adapt a book into the screenplay of his dreams, Donald, a complete novice, breezes through an absurd script of his own. This film closely examines the creative process in a way I haven’t seen from any other film. Even though the basic storyline might seem too “inside Hollywood” for some, Adaptation contains very relatable topics. The film essentially boils down to how we handle our ambitions vs. our reality, something I think everyone struggles with at some point. And, interestingly enough, it’s also about failure and how we manage it. The themes are treated with such depth and in such an entertaining way that I had to include it on this list. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? It’s very funny.

3. Lost in Translation (2003)
With Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed a personal, delicate story of two people who cross paths during similar times in their lives. This insightful film contains some of the purest scenes of emotion between two characters that I have ever seen. The story focuses on middle-aged actor Bob Harris who has arrived in Japan to make some quick cash by shooting a whiskey commercial. Meanwhile Charlotte spends time in the country while her photographer husband busies himself with work. Bob and Charlotte meet at a hotel bar and strike up a friendship. Though separated by many years, both Bob and Charlotte share the same existential questions about their lives. Roger Ebert observes that their conversations represent the kind that only strangers can have with each other: “We all need to talk about metaphysics, but those who know us well want details and specifics; strangers allow us to operate more vaguely on a cosmic scale.” Through their time together, Bob and Charlotte help each other in some profound way. Even though their problems may not be solved, they know now that there’s someone out there who understands them. The performances by the two leads captured something special on screen. Bill Murray deserved every bit of praise for his performance and Scarlet Johansson established herself as a prominent screen presence. It’s such a specific film and so well realized.

2. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Arguably the best film of 2007, a year that, in my opinion, was crowded with greats. P. T. Anderson showed his growth as a filmmaker by tossing aside many of his usual stylistic choices in favor of a more subdued aesthetic. Every element of this film is worth praising. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance has been deservedly discussed and praised to death. He has created one of the most memorable characters in recent years and one that will be remembered for many years to come. And if Paul Dano can continue work of this caliber, he could easily become one of his generation’s leading actors. I’ve heard some people complain that the film features no redemption or consequences for its lead character; that it’s simply too dark. While I would agree the film maintains a high level of cynicism, I object to the idea that its morally bankrupt. To me, There Will Be Blood represents a cautionary tale. Yes, Daniel Plainview gets exactly what he wants by the film’s end, but at what cost? We see what he’s become and, in a way, pity him for the life he’s chosen. The message seems pretty clear: this is the result of greed when taken to its extreme. Between the weight of its themes and the precision with which it was made, There Will Be Blood deserves to be labeled a classic.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
On a pure emotional level, this film affected me more than just about anything I’ve seen. The snapshots into the character’s lives are so rich and full of detail that you feel as if you are interrupting a private conversation by watching them. The story follows the beleaguered Joel Barish, who, after realizing his ex-girlfriend Clementine has undergone a procedure to remove all her memories of him, decides to undergo the same procedure. However, half way through, Joel decides his memories are worth saving and attempts to keep them. Through this premise, the film illustrates a simple, yet profound truth: we are the sum total of our experiences. To ignore portions of our lives would be to deny who we are and possibly doom ourselves into repeating past mistakes. I would be hard-pressed to find a film that exemplifies this lesson more effectively. With a background in music videos, director Michel Gondry brings a visual flare to the film that heightens its themes to the next level. The scenes within Joel’s mind represent the best techniques I’ve seen at illustrating the subjective nature of memories. From blurring elements out, to removing them, to blending memories together, Gondry uses his extensive creativity to portray this surreal experience. These in-camera effects are both impressive and charming. In addition, the score by Jon Brion creates just the right mood to accompany each scene. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has so much to say about relationships, memory, identity, and simply being human that I couldn’t ignore it.

Honorable Mentions:
The Departed, No Country for Old Men, United 93, The Squid and the Whale, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Synecdoche, New York, Punch-Drunk Love, Zodiac, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Dark Knight, Capturing the Friedmans, Little Children, American Splendor, and many others…

Lastly, I should mention some films that I've yet to see. Even though I probably watch more than most people, a few films will always fall through the cracks.
Not Seen: Milk, Che, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Class, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, The Visitor, Lust, Caution, Away from Her, The Sea Inside, No Man's Land, In the Mood for Love, and many from last year

So, what do you think? Offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Williams and Rogen to Star in Polley's Latest

Actress Sarah Polley has led an interesting career which now balances directing and writing with her acting jobs. I haven't seen her in the most amount of films, but whenever I do in things like The Sweet Hereafter, Go, or Dawn of the Dead, I've been impressed. She rarely appears in mainstream films, preferring independent projects. I've always meant to check out her directorial debut Away From Her, which garnered a lot of praise. It's currently residing on my DVR until further notice. Now Polley's ready for her sophomore effort with Take This Waltz, a film from from her own original screenplay. The film will be a romantic comedy centering on a love triangle in which a woman struggles with infidelity. Recently Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen have signed on to star. The other lead has yet to be cast, but based soley on these people involved, I'm intrigued. Williams has always chosen interesting projects to be involved in and Seth Rogen seems to be branching out more and more these days. The project is still in the early stages of development, so it will be awhile before we see any other big news on it. Until then, let's hope this proves to be a worthwhile effort.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Most Films Seen by a Director

I've had movie lists on my mind lately while I compile my Best of the Decade list, so I thought I would share a different list while that one remains in development. I have an on-going tally of directors whose films I've seen the highest number of (which shows you how obsessive I am) and the current results look something like this:

Top 10
Alfred Hitchcock - 24
Steven Spielberg – 20
Woody Allen – 20
Martin Scorsese – 15
Tim Burton – 13
Howard Hawks – 13
Sidney Lumet – 13
Clint Eastwood – 13
Coen Brothers – 12
Sam Peckinpah – 12

I think this shows a pretty good variety of filmmakers covering different eras and styles. I'm not sure how much you can tell about a person's taste in films from a list like this, since most people will probably come up with the most popular directors who are firmly established. Still, it's an interesting way to look at your viewing habits and preferences. Try it out yourself and see who comes out on top!