Sunday, August 23, 2009

Your Favorite Films in Context

In a new post,
( breaks down classic films into well, the truth.

My favs include:

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF: Amoral narcissist makes world dance for his amusement.

: Girl is negligent baby-sitter

: Southern musicians encounter massive flooding and government incompetence.

: American military-industrial complex ruins first contact with alien life.

: Disgruntled veteran protests taxes.

: Over-sexed officer routinely places crew in danger.

: Meglomaniac can’t let go of past glory, drives successor to suicide.

: Boys plan date-rape, sleep together.
Image courtesy

Love: Inglourious Basterds

Two things I feel I should divulge at the outset: 1. I've never met a Quentin Tarantino film I haven't liked (yes, I even champion Death Proof like I'm working for Cahiers du Cinema). 2. I, sir, am ridiculously hard to please when it comes to Hollywood war epics.  Apart from a few special cases (Apocalypse Now, for example), it takes a lot for me to have any desire to want to watch your standard military drama. Sure, most are perfectly acceptable pieces of film making, I just happen to find them frequently tedious and without anything new to present outside of the realm of improved effects. World War II, for me, is one of the worst offenders. 95% of the time, films dealing with WWII and the Holocaust feel like the studios playing the Oscar bait card, the same old story dressed up and starring a naked Kate Winslet with a German accent.  Piffle. 

Anyhow, with that out of the way, I can tell you that Inglourious Basterds is, hands down, the most satisfying non-musical Nazi movie that I have ever seen.
The reason? Good old revisionist history, of course. In Basterds, Tarantino doesn't bother with incidents as they occurred, but instead presents them the way we wish they'd occurred. The result is a cathartic saga that manages, by the by,  to say as much about the tyrannical injustices of the SS as Spielberg ever has on the matter, while at the same time creating an experience that delivers what the truth never can: pure, unadulterated vengeance.  If all you've ever really wanted from a war film was to see the Third Reich bludgeoned to a pulp and gleefully dismembered...your wish has been granted. Fuck your facts, figures, names and dates, I'll take Tarantino's military strategy, thank you very much.
While I have no doubt that in the days to come I will meet a fair share of those with split views on the eye for an eye brutality of the story, for cinephiles, this is a rare and irresistible film that effectively blends Tarantino's genre-hodgepodge with a thrilling, bloodlusting frenzy and the inspired thematic use of cinema as backbone. While Brad Pitt is the stand-out celebrity presence in the film, his character: Lt. Aldo Raine, the hillbilly Clark Gable-esque leader of a team of Nazi-destroying covert G.I.'s, is hardly the story's protagonist. In traditional Tarantino style, the story is a split narrative that artfully ties together multiple chapters, jumping between stories involving the Basterds, the Germans, and a Jewish theater owner named Shosanna. While Raine and his Basterds act as a power generator for the subtitled slow burn of the other plots, their actions are obstructed from hero status by moral complications. The stand-out hero here is actually Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish woman whose family was killed mercilessly by "The Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) when she was just a teenager.
Waltz is a formidable villain with an unsettling charisma.  Actually, he's better than merely formidable, he's the best screen villain possibly of this decade.  Landa is vile and smarmy, prone to maniacal outbursts while smirking like a James Bond megalomaniac. You can't help but eagerly await the moment he encounters the American troops and hope that Eli Roth's baseball bat wielding "Bear Jew" comes loping along to detach his smug skull from his spinal column. Clear off. With the unmistakably heavy sound of blunt force connecting with flesh running simultaneously with cracking bone...that's how you know the villain is effective, when the audience grows to hate him that much.  But, ahem, enough about that. Back to the subject at hand.
Inglourious Basterds is a complicated film whose issues are comparatively small.  There are, as with Kill Bill, a few points where the editing becomes jumpy or the music cuts off in a way that makes for an unsatisfactory transition.  Every once in awhile, the action feels encroached upon by outside elements of a mysterious source. Certain characters are poorly developed while others are presented to us in excess. We don't get enough of the titular band of brothers, though their efforts are the film's main veined adrenaline shot.
Ultimately, Basterds is still an exploitation style film that shoots for cheap thrills even as it delivers haunting, beautifully effective images. Yet, unlike other war actioners (last year's absurd Valkyrie, anyone?), Tarantino is a mature enough filmmaker to know how to mask tiny issues with cues taken from earlier works of successful cinema. The film may be loosely influenced by an Italian B-movie from 1978, but as far as i can tell, it owes very little to that obscure reference apart from the title. Sergio Leone has a presence here, but the French and German scenes (notably delivered in actual French and German, for once, instead of accented English) speak to an obvious understanding of the canon from Jean Renoir to Leni Riefenstahl to Fassbinder effectively assimilated and incorporated into something consumable and accessible.
 The film's greatest success is that in the midst rampant sadism, it creates something quite moving.  Inglourious Basterds is a beautiful piece of work because it taps directly into our imagination and creates something that feels real, feels righteous, even as it gives us the postmodern non-diegetic elements that seek to perpetually remind the viewer this is a work of, well, pulp fiction. The film triggers a primal catharsis in its audience, at least it did in me, an immediate empathy with its vigilantes and a frenzied desire for swift retribution. It's wholly engrossing and impressive in its scope and relentless bravura, retaining the smart meandering dialogue of Tarantino co-mingled with with a foreign blend of Wagnerian epic poetry. A delight speckled in brain matter and with real crimson blood coursing through its veins. Trust me, i'll be seeing this again. Several times.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Late Night Trailers: Avatar

Late Night Trailers: Wolfman

Under 250: Julia

Julia is a sprawling, twisted tale of intrigue and alcoholism starring the one and only Tilda Swinton in a remarkably transcendent performance. Swinton plays the titular character, a morally decrepit woman who drifts from night to night under the influence and who finds herself wrapped up in a kidnapping and extortion scheme proposed by her desperate neighbor (Kate del Castillo). Hungover one morning, Julia goes for it, and winds up dragging a young boy (Aidan Gould) on a perilous trip of uncertainty. The story progresses with a believably boozy logic, jumping with the illogical progression and dangerous recklessness of someone with nothing much to lose. French director Erick Zonca does a wonderful job helming this smartly paced narrative, and seems to have a knack for slipping characters into environments and situations that feel nothing if not natural. Julia is an engrossing film that dazzles even as it appalls, and is the perfect point of argument for proving that Swinton is being underused (to the extreme) in her high-profile Hollywood roles. This is a little film with an epic scope, and one that's accessible and accolade worthy. I have no idea why it didn't receive a wide theatrical release. Seriously. I could rave for hours about Tilda Swinton's iconoclastic acting skills and how much i basically adore her, but i suggest you watch for yourself.

5 out of 5.

Julia, dir. Erick Zonca, stars: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould, rated R, Running Time: 144 min.

Under 250: The Class (Entre les Murs)

Real-life Parisian teacher Francois Begandeau stars as a version of himself in The Class, a sprawling work of cinema-vérité chronicling the highs and lows over an entire school year within a racially mixed city classroom. If it sounds like another uplifting school teacher story, forget it. This ain't no Freedom Writers. In fact, Marin and director Laurent Cantet seem to go to great lengths to retain a certain level of moral ambiguity on both sides of the teacher/student relationship. No one is clearly 'in the right' here, and conflict runs rampant. The kids are riveting to watch, and every argument rings with an element of familiar adolescent truth. Behind the scenes, we're given a second level of drama in teacher conferences and conduct panels as they discuss the well-being of the students and debate their placement and development within the educational system. Frequently surprising and consistently spot-on, The Class transcends its language barriers and presents a fully formed portrait of the educational construct. Be forewarned, though, this isn't a quick and breezy movie, it's a long haul, like the school year itself.

4 out of 5.

The Class, dir. Laurence Cantet, stars: Francois Begandeau, rated PG-13, Running Time: 128 min.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Under 250: Choke

Deliciously perverse, poignant, and unique, Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald, and Angelica Huston bring humanity and realness to Choke, the film version of Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name. Victor Mancini is a sex addict and early America theme park worker seeking to reach out to his mentally and physically ill mother. As she slips further and further into dementia and closer to death, Victor delves deeper into his own fantasies as he attempts to cure both her and himself, and uncover his real father (one of the greatest aspects of the story).

Clark Gregg (you know him as the mousy S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Iron Man) does a stunning directing job here, weaving the fantastical elements of the story together expertly and with undeniable realism, without sacrificing the fantasy, heart, and hilarity of insanity and Palahniuk's original work. The film is often hard and uncomfortable to watch, not unlike the source material, making it all the more intriguing.

4.5 out of 5

Love: Ponyo

When it comes to artistry in animation, Hayao Miyazaki can't really fail. The Japanese anime master can work wonders with 2D in an age where Pixar reigns supreme and Disney tends to veer further and further away from their heyday under Walt.  His latest export is Ponyo, a fish-story retelling of the Little Mermaid chock full of childlike wonder and exuberant joy. The titular Ponyo (voiced by Miley's 9-year old sister Noah Cyrus) is a sort of human-faced goldfish princess who is saved by a little boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas, naturally). They form a bond in her brief time as a captured pet on land, and upon being retrieved by her magical father, Ponyo rebelliously upsets the natural order by using her own latent magical properties to  become a human girl and escape to be with her new playmate. So long as you can keep your doubting adult in check, Ponyo is a beautiful, innocent little story that manages to be relentlessly cheerful and retain its optimism even in its bleakest moments.
Of course, if you look for it, there's a lot of tragedy in the story. Reality and imagination, as with all Miyazaki's work, run parallel courses, and Ponyo's exuberant liberation is tied directly to chaos and loss. When nature is disrupted, destruction inevitably follows. A child watching the film, however, would never notice this as there are enough bright colors, adorable moments, and humorous lines to keep chaos at bay. This unflinching sense of wonder is where the film is perhaps most magical. Miyazaki's other works frequently dip into a darker terrain. In fact, they're frequently quite dark; haunted by a nightmarish unpredictability like Alice's bad trip. Even My Neighbor Totoro is plagued by the horrifying incomprehension of children grappling with a mother's illness and conjuring up giant beasts in the dark. Ponyo is, without a doubt, the brightest, most child-specific of Miyazaki's works. There are no real villains, no true threats, only the restraint of a cautious wizard father (Liam Neeson). At the core of the story is a test of love and the bright, effervescence of Sosuke's point of view. He sees things more clearly than the adults, and considers them without judgment. There is a simplicity and wisdom in the interactions between the children that makes them simultaneously remarkable and believable.
While Ponyo put a smile on my face and delivered a few lines i will be repeating in excess over the next few weeks ("HAAAAMMMMM!"), I will own up to feeling just the slightest twinge of self-serving disappointment.  This is a film best suited for small children.  Though there's something for everyone, the bright palette and cutesy high-pitched characters seem like a sort of Miyazaki primer for those not yet mature enough for the thematic depth and winding labyrinths of films like Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. It's like watching Sesame Street after you've fully comprehended the Muppets: you'll still see the humor, but the content just isn't meant for you. I couldn't help but take note of the oddly timed laughter of the small children in the vicinity, or feel that the film didn't hold a candle to what I loved so intensely about Princess Mononoke. That's not to say you shouldn't watch it. No, no, please do. If you're already a devoted Miyazaki fan, or if you're a newcomer with a young ward, this is a must-see gem of a film with an overall positive vibe and a remarkably infectious theme song. Just, you know, don't drag your friend or relative who's stubbornly convinced cartoons are just for kids...this won't help your case.

Tarantino's Top 20

Quentin Tarantino counts down his top 20 films of the last 17 years (since he himself became a filmmaker), an interesting list, though at times i wish he had gone into detail. Personally, i found Battle Royale a tremendous disappointment given the rollicking subject matter. Extended cut?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Like: GI Joe

GI Joe
is totally ridiculous, weaving together a mix of tales that go from serious war drama and early 1600’s European politics, to a plot line straight out of the villainy of Inspector Gadget. The concepts, CGI, dialog and outfits are so over the top you sometimes feel like your watching a last minute circus. But unlike the disastrous Hasbro offering of the recent Transformers, the cast and crew of GI Joe take their lack of seriousness about the film very seriously, transforming the blockbuster from a waste of time to a delightful summer diversion.

The movie follows war buddies Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) as they stumble into the corrupt dealings of arms giant MARS industries and the world of the elite special opts group GI Joe. Brought into the thick of the secret military organization due to his incredible intelligence and physical prowess, Duke’s past comes to haunt him in the form of the evil Baroness (Sienna Miller), his one time fiancé and true love. Four years prior, their relationship was seemingly forever sundered when Duke ventured to war in East Africa with the Baroness’ little brother Rex Lewis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), only to watch him presumably murdered by friendly fire caused by Duke’s own orders. Now horribly disfigured and going by “Cobra Commander” (the chief villain in Joe cannon), Rex has made full use of his potential and developed a variety of nano-particle horrors to torture the Joes and the world, his sister and MARS founder McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) now his minions. Good vs. Evil, lot’s of action, and romance ensues.

This is not a work of art, yet it is saved by self-realization. There is no pandering to the public who all know that this movie is going to be bad. There is no over analysis of the arcs and motivations of the characters. Channing Tatum’s Duke is clearing having childlike revenge fun, while Miller’s sexy Baroness struts in her heels and strange 80’s throwback glasses with gusto. Wayans is strangely more subdued than normal and delivers his lines with just enough feints to make you take him seriously and laugh out loud. The ninja battles between Storm Shadow and rival Snake Eyes are straight out a 70’s kung-fu movie, a fact both actors embrace and play up. Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of the evil Cobra Commander is clearly the best, the glee in his eyes unmistakable as he wields a variety of needles and delivers lines like “I’ll get you next time Duke,” in a deep, cracking baritone. I’m positive he was laughing the entire time beneath that mask.

The film (if you can call it that) is not meant to be great. Any attempt to “Dark Knight-ize” it would have failed miserably and I'm not sure we need too many more of these 80's toy re-imaginings. But if you take it at it’s B-movie face value and child-like hilarity as the actors do, it’s a fun time, perfect for pizza and beer, or a five year old rediscovering the toys that defined an entire generation of his forefathers.

4 out of 5 (that's on a summer/B-movie scale)
Read more from M @ Bubbly.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Late Night Trailers: The Fourth Kind

Creepy alien horror asks you to believe.

Love: District 9

District 9 is not the movie you think it is. This isn't a horror film, it's not your standard alien invasion tale, there is no struggle for mankind, and it's just too effective to be a camp creature feature. Instead, traditional science fiction roles are reversed and South African director Neill Blomkamp delivers a strikingly human Apartheid/war crime allegory the emotional depth of which will totally blow your mind.
An alien race, derogatorily referred to as "Prawns" arrives over Johannesburg and becomes stranded on Earth. The Prawns are malnourished and suffering, so humans step in to set up a refugee camp for them, which soon becomes the shanty town District 9. Twenty years later, the Prawns are still residing in their camp and a private corporation called Multi-National United oversees the creatures in an attempt to steal the alien's biotechnologically advanced weaponry. MNU is, of course, completely uninterested the welfare of the Prawns, and the aliens subsequently live in squalor as their friends and loved ones are taken hostage for top secret experimentation. The film is structured as a loose documentary that mixes interviews and news footage with the events of the actual story. This sort of journalistic narrative structure works. Blomkamp's attention to detail is phenomenal. After an extended stay amongst humans, the Prawns are essentially grasshopper slum bunnies. Their mannerisms and interactions with the MNU agents assigned to evict them from District 9 and transport them to the death camp District 10 are remarkably believable. They're morally reprehensible and ugly, but it's easy to envision the Prawns as a subspecies of human, particularly as our protagonist, vainglorious chicken-shit Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), heads up the MNU task force, serving up heaping helpings of injustice everywhere he goes.
There are a lot of twists in District 9, and the brilliantly rendered opening scenes of life out of balance flow easily into an action packed, straight sci-fi second act. Wikus, you see, accidentally stumbles upon something he shouldn't have, and so begins a chain of events that has him turning his deep "racism" into understanding. For some, the film will fall into a gray area. It is, as previously stated, far too fully realized and smart to be a brainless good time, yet, it's too invested in rollicking action to necessarily capture the Oscar-bait victims who might be more inclined to fully appreciate it. The comical scenes are juxtaposed with familiar strains of human tragedy, and as the story continues its emotional intensity becomes more and more severe.

As we are brought further and further into the going-ons of District 9, we find ourselves invested in the well-being of a Prawn named Christopher Johnson and his young son. Christopher is highly intelligent, much moreso than the humans who restrain him. He's worked diligently for two decades attempting to find a way to fly back up to the hovering mothership, fix the missing pieces, and return home while his peers barter for cat food and engage in interspecies prostitution. In Christopher's seamless integration, Blomkamp triumphs. The turning points are natural, the human qualities are flawlessly realized. It's rare to find a sci-fi film that delivers this sort of poignant blend of tragedy and drama while never losing its machine gun stride. If you don't become upset and militantly political in the course of watching this movie, you should really check to make sure you aren't a cyborg. Seriously. Make a neat incision somewhere and start looking for wires.
District 9 is a low-budget triumph in a summer dominated by overbudget, ham-fisted achievements in mediocrity. As sci-fi films go, this is the real deal. It's a brilliant film that reveals much about our world. Don't judge based solely on appearances, still waters and alien exoskeletons run deep.

Late Night Trailers: Dorian Gray

Not sure how I managed to miss a film remake of one of my favorite books of all time, but apparently I did, and apparently it is going to be out this fall, in apparently less than a month's time (at least in Europe). I'm pretty damn excited to see what someone new does with this story, our last glimpse of this literary classic in the fun but ultimately disposable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Under 250: 17 Again

Admit it: for a teen idol, Zac Efron’s got what it takes to pass through the fire and maintain a pretty solid career. Looks, skills, comic timing, the Zefron has all the magical powers of an A-list leading man-child. If you were left with doubts after the self-aware camp of High School Musical 3, perhaps you should try the rather successful body-swap comedy of 17 Again. Efron plays the youthful incarnation of Matthew Perry’s Mike O’Donnell, a man with a lot of regrets. Mike’s a man approaching 40 with a wife (Leslie Mann) who wants a divorce, teenage children who can’t stand him, a dead end job, and who’s stuck living with his ubergeek best friend (Thomas Lennon), a man with a collection of replica weaponry and a land speeder bed. Things happen and Mike finds himself magically as he was at age 17, convinced that this time around he has a lesson to learn and wisdom to impart on his kids. This is no great achievemetn, to be sure, but it manages to pull away from being a pale reverse imitation of Big and to find its light-hearted footing. There are a surprising amount of clever lines and awkward laughs sprinkled throughout the film. And it should be said: Zac Efron makes a more convincing middle aged dad than Matthew Perry. His lectures and attempted seductions of Mann are oddly believable. Fluffy and saccharine, it’s a pleasant diversion and a charming sort of 80’s redux.

3 out of 5.

17 Again, dir. Burr Steers, stars: Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Matthew Perry, Michelle Trachtenberg, Thomas Perry, Melora Hardin, rated PG-13, Running Time: 102 min.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Under 250 Words: The Soloist

Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx tackle mental illness and the decline of print media in director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) The Soloist. Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musician plagued by schizophrenia and sentenced to a life wandering the streets and tunnels of Los Angeles with his shopping cart. His performance is a stellar reminder of why he won an Oscar, it’s nuanced and precise until Wright restrains him with movie trickery that gives us a glimpse we could have gotten from the man himself. RDJ’s work here is solid as well, as he takes on the role of a conflicted columnist unsure of how to handle his budding entanglement with an unstable individual. Pedigree alone pushes the film towards Oscar bait territory, and while the story is involved and Wright (in trademark style) manages to glean something beautiful from a decrepit landscape, ultimately The Soloist doesn’t take the risks it needs to in order to rake in the awards. Something about the film and the way it approaches its subjects feels expected and canned, a little too much like a smartly paced human interest piece, but as a DVD/Blu-Ray rental, if you’re looking for a solid emotional drama, you can’t miss. Better than expected.

3.5 out of 5

The Soloist, dir. Joe Wright, Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, Nelson Ellis, rated PG-13, Running time: 117

Late Night Trailers: Legion, Where the Wild Things Are, The Vampire's Assistant, Dust

Michael vs. Gabriel? Angels with guns? Truck stops with clever names? YES!

This second trailer looks even more promising than the first. I'm in danger of finally giving my heart over to this one.

Not what I expected...but could be fun.

This film has been under my radar, but looks haunting and beautiful, while retaining its originality. Not your average apocalypse fare.

DUST Trailer from Dust Trailer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wilde.Dash's Most Anticipated

It's like an event calendar. Plan your weekends accordingly.

Ponyo (August 14, 2009)
I'll tell you the truth: for me, it would be damn near impossible for Hayao Miyazaki to top Princess Mononoke and the dark majesty of Spirited Away. So, while i'm pretty positive this tale of a 5-year old boy who befriends a goldfish princess won't slip in at the top of the Miyazaki ouvre, I can just about guarantee that this fantastical tale will still remain a 2D animated masterpiece far surpassing anything Dreamworks animation has ever done with CGI. That's right Shrek, ya burnt. (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki English voice stars include Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White)

Inglourious Basterds (August 21, 2009)
Though the initial response at Cannes was a little lackluster, I've never met a Quentin Tarantino film i didn't like. Plus, I've been waiting for this film for years. Basterds seems a departure from his usual terrain. This time, instead of integrating past decades into the present, it's a solid period piece. Brad Pitt killing Nazis? Where do I sign up? (Dir. Quentin Tarantino Stars Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Mike Myers)

Jennifer's Body (September 18, 2009)
Say what you will about Megan Fox, but if you appreciate high school horror movies this Diablo Cody penned flick looks like an awesome little throwback. Early word of mouth says it's as entertaining as its premise: teen mean girl gets possessed by a demonic spirit, goes from catty evil to seriously deranged instantaneously. Killer. (Dir. Karyn Kusama Stars Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, Amy Sedaris)

Where the Wild Things Are (October 16, 2009)
It's a pretty obvious choice for a lot of reasons. Namely, perhaps, that it's one of the most anticipated films in several years, as Spike Jonze's adaptation of the timeless children's book has been rumored for just about forever. Author Maurice Sendak has wholeheartedly endorsed the film, and the trailers indicate a work of sprawling imagination and captured innocence. (Dir. Spike Jonze, Stars Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano)

Antichrist (Limited release: October 23, 2009)
If you've read my other blog, you might already know that I'm carrying a growing morbid fascination with Antichrist. Purported to be an on screen sign of total mental breakdown by Danish director Lars Von Trier, the Cannes crowd didn't know how to react to this tale of a marriage troubled by much more than grief. Supposedly horrifying, superbly twisted, and near pornographic, for people who enjoy getting their mind blown by film this just screams: watch me!
(Dir. Lars Von Trier, Stars Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (November 13, 2009)
The fantastic Mr. Wes Anderson's next film is a stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book featuring a who's who of vocal talent and quirky 70's style stop motion animation. What's not to like? (Dir. Wes Anderson, Voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston, Owen Wilson)

Nine (November 25, 2009)

What I really can't wait for is the fallout of this film. I want to see all the people who dig the soundtrack run out and rent 8 1/2, the Fellini classic upon which Nine is based. Call me elitist, but it's safe to say 85% of the population will be a little confused. Nothing can beat the original, but Nine isn't going to try. It's a star studded musical version with Daniel Day-Lewis balancing the surplus of women in his life with his professional goals. (Dir. Rob Marshall , Stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Fergie, Sophia Loren)

The Princess and the Frog (December 11, 2009)
The return of a Disney, 2D, animated musical. True to form, it's based on a classic fairy tale. Princesses, talking animals, it's all here! After years without a really solid timeless piece, here's hoping this New Orleans twist overcomes initial obstacles and delivers something that feels like a return to form. (Voice talents of Terrence Howard, Keith David, John Goodman, Oprah, and Anika Noni Rose).

Avatar (December 18, 2009)

James Cameron claims he's going to redefine moviemaking forever with this massive budget sci-fi film still shrouded in mystery. Then again, this is the dude who accepted an Oscar by screaming about how he was the "king of the world". Do we trust him? I have no blind faith.

Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (December 25, 2009)
Terry Gilliam's newest completed cursed film. Heath Ledger's partial final performance. Supposedly a return to form for the too-visionary-for-his-own-good Gilliam, Imaginarium is about a fantastical traveling theater company and promises to be a spectacle. (Dir. Terry Gilliam Stars Johnny Depp, Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Verne Troyer, Jude Law, Tom Waits, Lily Cole)

Alice in Wonderland (March 5, 2010)
Some people live their life according to sacred texts like the Bible or the Qur'an. That's all well and good, but for me, the two stories that have had the greatest impact on my outlook since age 3 are J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Lewis Carroll's Alice books (this, in turn, should speak volumes as to my mental age). That said, i'm always thrilled by the possibility of a worthy reading of either of these visions. Tim Burton has proven in the past that he's more than capable when working with dark children's tales, and thus i'm totally psyched. Yet, at the same time, some of the content in the trailer seems a We'll see.

Iron Man 2 (May 7, 2010)
I mean, come on. I've only met one person who really didn't like the first one. What's not to like? Robert Downey Jr. suits up for a second go at playing Tony Stark, this time with a whole line-up of promising villains. Let's hope ScarJo puts in a better performance than she did in The Spirit. (Dir. Jon Favreau, Stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson)

Tron Legacy (TBA, 2010)
I thoroughly enjoyed the geek tech fantasy of Tron when i was a child, and still appreciate its 80's cult value. So really, are you surprised that i'd throw this on my most anticipated list? You shouldn't be. Also, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, i'd like to state for the record that i am not sponsored by the Disney corporation. What can i say? They're just really on a roll when it comes to targeting my inner child this year...

Others that sound promising:
Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, Julie Taymor's The Tempest, Sally Potter's Rage, Drew Barrymore's Whip It!, Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, Marty's Shutter Island, Coen's A Serious Man, Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces, Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes (this one, i'm quite sure, will either be great, or a British version of Wild Wild West)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

M's Most Anticipated: The Exciting End of 2009

Never fear! Although the movie scene has slowed a bit this summer, the rest of the year and into 2010 promises to pack a punch with a multitude of new work from classic directors. Here’s what I can’t wait to see.

(July 31st 2009)
Soaked in blood and religious imagery, the latest vampire offering from Oldboy’s Park Chan-wook, will no doubt spark a great debate over which is the best vampire movie of late, it or Let the Right One In. Please release this somewhere in the Midwest! (Dir. Chan-wook Park. Stars Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim).

Ponyo (August 14th, 2009)
“The Little Mermaid,” Miyazaki style, looks as enchanting and beautiful as his other work, again showing us the little eccentricities and surrealism that can take a familiar story and make it entirely new. (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki. English voice stars include Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White).

Splice (September 18th, 2009)
A modern science/horror movie along the lines of Frankenstein and the Island of Dr. Moreau, the released stills look elegant and beautiful. Hopefully after all this time, the film will learn from its influences and produce something haunting instead of cheesy. (Dir. Vincenzo Natali. Stars Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley).

Surrogates (September 25th, 2009)

The classic graphic novel gets what appears to be an excellent screen update with the ever gruff yet engaging Bruce Willis. (Dir. Jonathan Mostow. Stars Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike, and Radha Mitchell).

Shutter Island (October 2nd, 2009)
I can’t really stand Leonardo DiCaprio, especially when he’s doing his Scorsese period piece accent, but for some unknowable reason, I always come out of those movies really impressed despite myself. With its lush, surreal graphics and frightening setting, I can’t wait to see the Scorsese /Leo bromance play out against a late 50’s insane asylum backdrop. (Dir. Martin Scorsese. Stars Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer).

The Princess and the Frog (December 11th, 2009)
We’ve been without a solid animated Disney movie for a long time, and finally they’ve resurfaced with one that sounds intriguing. It not only has the first African-American lead but also takes place in one of America’s richest cities in terms of history and mystery, New Orleans. By turning the typical tale of the Princess and the Frog on its head, it seems like it will make for another classic, barring the racial sensitivity issues surrounding the film that even forced it into reshoots. Here's hoping Disney will figure it out! (Stars voice talents of Terrence Howard, Keith David, John Goodman, Oprah, and Anika Noni Rose).

Avatar (December 18th, 2009)
Who isn’t anticipating this movie? I think James Cameron may disappoint me again, but who knows. He did give us Terminator and Dark Angel and no one can doubt the beauty and scale of Titantic. (Dir. James Cameron. Stars Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi).

Sherlock Holmes (December 25th, 2009)
As a history major that studied mostly British history in college and has a soft spot for both the time period between 1892-1930 and stylized movie takes on said time period, I’m rather interested to see this. Throw in Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr., and stories based on the antics of some of the best characters in literature, and I’ll be waiting in line at midnight. (Dir. Guy Ritchie. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams).

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
(December 25th, 2009)
Heath Ledger’s last film. Johnny Depp among others chosen to replace some of his scenes with a mind trip straight from the cursed genius of Terry Gilliam. Starring Georg Von Trapp himself. Enough said. (Dir. Terry Gilliam. Stars Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer).


Legion (January 22nd, 2010)
This “road trip apocalypse” film stars Paul Bettany as the Angel Gabriel sent to Earth during the apocalypse to kill off humanity. Angel that he is, he bonds with a group of humans trying to survive at a road stop and becomes their champion. Sounds like a great mix of the comic book “Preacher” and the best parts of movies like “The Mist,” “Near Dark,” and even “Constantine.” (Dir. Scott Stewart. Stars Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, Kevin Durand, Kate Walsh, Tyrese Gibson).

Robin Hood
(May 14th, 2010)

One can argue that we’ve never really had a quality modern Robin Hood movie other than the Disney version or “Men in Tights,” which despite my love, leave me a bit lacking in my old age. Leave it to Russel Crowe and the incredible Ridley Scott to deliver a well-acted, promisingly beautiful version. (Dir. Ridley Scott. Stars Russell Crow, Cate Blanchett, Matthew Macfadyen).

(May 20th, 2011)

Despite my love of comic books and ancient mythology, I’ve never been into the concept of Thor as a modern superhero or a film. But the more I hear about Kenneth Branaugh’s new film version, the more excited I get. It will be incredibly interesting to see what the oft-Shakespearean director does with it. If anyone can pull it off, I think he can. (Dir. Kenneth Branaugh. Stars Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth.)

Read more from M @ Bubbly.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Love: Funny People

It's hard to believe that Funny People is only the third film to actually be directed by producer/screenwriter extraordinaire Judd Apatow (40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). After all, his name seems to be attached to everything these days and has become something of a comedy brand. Yet, here it is: number three.  For his junior effort, Apatow has shot a tremendously long, winding, All That Jazz-esque bromantic epic linked with Adam Sandler, another comedy brand.  As someone who has never been an Adam Sandler fan, I can tell you immediately and without hesitation that for me, this is probably the best acting I've ever seen him do (short of Punch Drunk Love, but this is a tad lighter). Funny People is actually funny, not consistently so, but what it lacks in its 2 1/2 hour run time it makes up for with actual story, no gimmicks.
Sandler plays George Simmons, a stand-up comedian turned ridiculous high-concept Hollywood star. George receives his death knell early on in the film; he has a rare form of leukemia. Without close friends or family, all of whom he shed with his increasing fame, Simmons starts taking experimental medication and sinking deeper and deeper into depressive narcissism. On a whim, he jumps back on the stand-up circuit and meets struggling, starstruck comedian Ira Wright (a slimmed down Seth Rogen), who he picks up as assistant and hired confidante. For the first half of the film, we are shown the growth of an accidental friendship between the two as Simmons attempts to come to terms with his own mortality and Wright deals with being a little fish suddenly confronted with tremendous opportunity. The interactions are a humorous blend of Sandler/Apatow comedy that works surprisingly well. There's a whole lotta scatological crudity and Sandler theatrics that manage to find tolerable footing in something very real and human.
This is the half of the film that works the best. The progression is steady, the writing is sharp, the characters are well-drawn portraits of actor folk trying their damndest at every level. Everyone Ira knows is working on becoming famous. His roommates, two guys who go out of their way to remind Ira of their marginal success (mostly on an unbearable sitcom called Yo, Teach!), are played believably by an especially smug Jason Schwartzman and a toned-down Jonah Hill. The girl Ira has a crush on (the amusingly dry Aubrey Plaza) is a stand-up comic girl next door. Everyone's an actor, everyone is flailing, everyone's got a sense of entitlement. No one is particularly likeable, but that's where the comedy comes from. Simmons is, for the most part, capable of being an unapologetic asshole at any time. He admits it. He takes the money, the swag, and the women who throw themselves at him. We're reminded of this on multiple occasions, the most memorable perhaps being a scene in which puppy dog Ira sits on the couch at George's house, watching TV, while just down the hall, a groupie who minutes earlier claimed she had a boyfriend takes it from behind. There are several points where, even if we know otherwise, George reminds Ira that he's an employee, not a friend. But that's the point, isn't it? Comedy is hard. Being 'on' all the time is tough. Funny people aren't so funny when you're the one dealing with their under pressure egos. George, as he learns he's got a fair shot at recovery, doesn't become a magically better person....just a more determined one.
This is where, for some, the film's issues will begin. The first and second halves of Funny People could essentially belong to two different movies. The first covers the struggles of friendship in Hollywood, the second we have a desperate attempt on George's part to recover the former love of his life, Laura (Leslie Mann, aka, Mrs. Apatow). The problem? Laura's a married woman with two children (played by Apatow and Mann's daughters). The plot thickens. Basically, if you were wary of George's personality issues before, the second act will have that cleared up for you in a jiffy. Moral complexity aside, each scene remains entertaining and deftly rendered. Laura's Aussie husband is played by a delightfully comic Eric Bana, and the girls have clearly learned a thing or two about being precocious from their parents.  Problem is, it's just a little hard to escape that feeling that maybe the film never had to wander back to Laura in the first place. After extended periods of stand-up and industry insight, the weight of melodramatic affairs and marital disruptions brings with it something starkly unpleasant. For people accustomed to the brightness of Sandler's slapstick, this is something of an unwelcome turn of events that seems imperfect in the world of happy endings.
Yet, ultimately, that's what makes Funny People a different kind of risky comedy.  The story is on the tiresome side, but as a dramedy, it works. Funny People is about just that. Its hilarity is human and occasionally painful, but it succeeds in capturing the trial and error involved with actually struggling to be a 'funny person'.  The laughs don't come for free, it's a process, and there's something very real about the script, even as it's hitting you with joke after joke about masturbation and male genitalia. Each actor turns in a solid and believable performance, no matter how small the role. Every cameo (and there are dozens) is a success, the laughs rarely miss, and Sandler has never been better in a comedic role. So while the run time is daunting, think of it as getting more for your money.

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