28 April 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II Trailer

The culmination of all things magic is quickly approaching. Reserve your tickets early.

27 April 2011

10 Words or Less: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Eli gets a crude awakening.

26 April 2011

Review: Casino Jack (**1/2)

Though drastically uneven, and consistently struggles to find a stagnant tone, Casino Jack is a well acted and entertaining picture directed by the late George Hickenlooper. The film casts Kevin Spacey as Jack Abramoff, a notorious and dubious lobbyist from Washington DC. With the film being based on true events it must evidently document Abramoff’s rise and fall (in the films case it shows this period over a span of two years). By now most of you know that he was sent to jail for reasons ranging from fraud to tax evasion, and director Hickenlooper does a good job of showing those consequences without a political agenda.

Spacey gives one of his best performances in recent memory, as he somehow makes this truly unlikable character, sympathetic. And though what Abramoff did in real life could never be condoned, Spacey’s character most certainly could. Barry Peppers does a solid job playing in the films words “Abramoff’s evil twin”. Kelly Preston as well, gives a nice supporting role as the wife who reminds Jack not to get in too deep with these crook deals (he should’ve listen, eh?). Still, the great performances that add some nice emotional and comical flourishes, can’t save the films inevitable incoherent and sporadic tone as the picture spirals out of control, trying to infuse serious melo-drama with parodies of other films.

Casino Jack, through thick and thin, has a hard time figuring out its purpose. As an entertaining bit of escapism, it works. As a bio-picture of this unethical though rather interesting man, it misses the mark. This is a perfect example of a film that contains brilliance, but somehow ends up nowhere near it. Kevin Spacey’s performance is truly special and that alone is worth the watch. Sadly, the pictures plot structure, and inconsistent political narrative, drags down the final product. Conclusively only one statement could truly be justified (and or fit) for this film: Casino Jack, unlike its protagonist, should’ve taken more risks, in almost every considerable area.

25 April 2011

Review: Super (**)

Written and directed by James Gunn, Super casts Rainn Wilson as Frank; a happy and kind fellow up until his wife leaves him for a scummy drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon. This devastating loss for Frank puts his personality at a standstill. However, time passes and the only way he believes he can save his wife is to transform himself into a superhero. The name? The Crimson Bolt. Frank soon realizes that balancing fighting crime and maintaining a steady normal life is not as easy it may appear. Though, with a little help from a cute teenager, played by the always-welcomed Ellen Page, his initial goal of claiming back his wife seems eminent.

Sadly, in the midst of Super is a lost and often underwritten story. Gunn, who wrote the screenplay for Dawn of the Dead back in 2004, tries to infuse the over-the-top action sequences that Kick Ass! contained, with the underlining political and eternal messages that Nolan’s 'Dark Knight' projected so well. Unlike those two rather successful pictures (especially the latter), Super results in a muddled, and inconsistent picture. 

Still, despite the films flaws Gunn’s newest effort does embody some shining attributes. In particular Rainn Wilson who finally gets to show off some of his acting range here. I’m still not completely sold that Wilson can be the lead of a successful picture, but Super will put no dent on his resume. Ellen Page’s persona is flamboyant in the picture. Her character feels rather forced, and overly campy (and that’s saying something considering the overall nature of the film). As for Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, and Andre Royo, well their characters are used more for plot points than intricate pieces of the story.

When it’s all said and done Super bogs down to a chaotic and overly sentimental 96-minute picture. The performers are entertaining here, and some dramatic scenes (and boy are there plenty) actually connect. But for the most part, Super is too uneven and underdeveloped to be considered anything other than a moderately entertaining, and periodically engrossing endeavor.

'Bourne' Again

Apparently, Joel Edgerton isn't a big enough name draw for The Bourne Legacy so they've casted the next face of the Mission Impossible series, Jeremy Renner. The choice seems like an oddity considering his workload for the next few years - The Avengers, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the aforementioned Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Renner is an Oscar nominee and a proven actor, it just doesn't seem like a great idea to cast an actor with that much on his plate (was Jmes Franco unavailable?), especially when that plate includes your main spy-film competition.

I wonder when Hollywood will realize that if you don't give little-known talents like Edgerton shots, then Jeremy Renner isn't around at all.

21 April 2011

30 Minutes or Less Trailer

Finally, a movie worth watching over my birthday weekend.

20 April 2011

Tim Hetherington Killed in Libya

Restrepo director and journalistic photographer Tim Hetherington was killed documenting the rebel effort in Libya today.

His last Twitter feed read:
In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.

18 April 2011

10 Words or Less: In Bruges (2008)

Hit-men make the worst tourists.

17 April 2011

Review: Win Win

Life is a fluid thing. You may keep above the water, but for the most part you just try to keep with the waves. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is currently doggy paddling. Every time he turns around there is an expense for a few thousand dollars, his practice is currently stalling, the tree in the front of the yard needs to be removed and the high school wrestling team he coaches is terrible. Mike is in serious need of a win.

That opportunity comes along in the form of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a former businessman who is currently suffering from dementia. The state is about to put him in a home, but Mike can become his guardian and make $1,500 a month in the process. His gut tells him it's wrong, but no one gets hurt and $1,500 a month could solve a lot of problems.

Just as Mike has thought he pulled out a victory, fate appears in the form of Leo's grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer, who masters the one-word response mentality of this generation). Mike finds Kyle sitting on a door stoop, blonde mop and all, trying to find his grandfather. Kyle's mother is in rehab and he could use a place to stay.

To Mike and Jackie's (Amy Ryan) delight, not only is Kyle a decent house guest, but he also is a natural wrestler. Things seem to be turning up again for Mike, money isn't an issue, Kyle is dominating his league, and the family dynamic seems to benefit from Kyle's addition. Yet things can never be that easy, so in comes the crest of the wave as Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) the mother from hell comes in and decides to play house.

Win Win is about finding the few opportunities in life to do the right thing and the thing that helps the most. What's most refreshing about the film is it presents a picture all to familiar in today's economy. One of the reasons why Tom McCarthy's film is such a pleasure to watch is the genuine interactions between the actors. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan are exactly the type of people you would expect to be a married couple in a blue collar New Jersey town.

A comedy that can make people laugh without resorting to monkeys smoking cigarettes is truly something worth smiling about. Tom McCarthy is the humanist that cinema needs.

***1/2 out of ****

15 April 2011

Nestor Carbonell Re-Joins 'Dark Knight Rises'

Apparently Gothamites didn't get the memo that incumbents are out. Variety reports that Nestor Carbonell will be appearing as The Mayor again for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.

(Courtesy: Variety)

Cowboys & Aliens Theatrical Trailer

14 April 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Trailer

WETA has outdone themselves again! I don't know why I doubted whether or not they could pull it off. The only unease that could come from this project may be from James Franco over-exposure.

The Vault: Petrified Forest (1936)

A hitch-hiking intellectual treads through the desert, a hopeless waitress tends tables, and a gangster sits in a car deliberating whether or not he should head down to the border. Arthur (Leslie Howard) doesn't believe in the meaning of life anymore. After becoming a published writer everything has lost its value for him. Gabby has dreams of reuniting with her mother in France and escaping the dreary hell of fending off advances every day from schmoes in the Arizona desert. 

The two meet cute and Gabby thinks she may have found true love. The two share a love for poetry and the  Arthur has found a cause worth dying for. With his life insurance settlement he can make Gabby a more enlightened being. 

Duke Mantee is about to walk into their lives and potentially end all of their dreams. He has killed people before and he won't mind doing it again to save his skin, but he is not a monster. He knows to respect his elders and slaps Half-back around when he doesn't. Half-drunk on whiskey Arthur pieces together a scheme to bring Gabby halfway around the world.

This is the film that set the Humphrey Bogart star into the world and it is all due to Leslie Howard's refusal to do the film without him.

13 April 2011

'Shaun' in 60 Seconds

If Shaun of the Dead were drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley

12 April 2011

The 'Green Lantern' Conundrum

Much work has been put into the appearance of Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern but most of the feedback has been, "The suit looks too fake." Which seems odd considering it is an alien suit. The first trailer was released to little fanfare and - in my theatre anyway - was met with derision.

Sinestro's head is too large, the other Green Lanterns are too weird, and the trailer is too cheesy for its own good, were all common complaints. Since then Warner Bros. has released footage from the film leaps and bounds better than the first trailer. But there are still obstacles for the filmmakers. So will you be seeing Green Lantern when it debuts June 17th?

09 April 2011

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Sidney Lumet, the director of such immortal films as 12 Angry Men, Network, and Dog Day Afternoon, has passed away today. Though he is not celebrated as much as Scorsese, Coppola, or Kubrick, Lumet was prolific in his own right directing into his 80's. His most recent work is Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and he completed over 40 films during his career. Goodbye, Mr. Lumet, you will be missed.

08 April 2011

Review: Hanna

Hanna is the story of a girl raised in complete isolation with her father Erik (Eric Bana), who is training her to be the perfect killing machine. Elsewhere, ruthless CIA operative, Marissa (Cate Blanchette, doing her best Dixie) is tracking Hanna and her father down, with what seems like an endless supply of agents to send after them.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, proving herself with each new role) was trained her entire life for this, but it is an entirely different scenario when she is left on her own and then the isolation and danger becomes shockingly real. Erik and Hanna represent an inordinate threat to the United States, no amount of money or minions is too high to neutralize the father/daughter duo.

If the plot seems familiar, it’s because it is: The Bourne Identity, Salt and countless other action films have used it before. The promise of Hanna lies in deconstructing that concept. Joe Wright is not the type to make mindless, shaky-cam, actioners (he is known for period pieces like Pride and Prejudice) and because of that one assumes the big appeal of directing Hanna was actively seeking to blow up the genre. That said, he knows how to make a stylish film, the muted aesthetic and rhythmic score by the Chemical Brothers blends quite nicely.

Sure, audiences love action films – they love them a lot, take a look at the final box office numbers of any given year and at least half of the top ten will be action films – but will moviegoers still be drawn in when you swap out Matt Damon/Tom Cruise/etc. with an innocent looking blue-eyed teenage girl, fresh as the new fallen snow?

Oddly enough, the last two years have been quite the year for female protagonists throwing their weight around. All of these flicks feature small girls as assassins, but where Chloe Moretz launches off into the deep end Saoirse Ronan takes it all in with her eyes and makes Hanna a true character profile. Sucker Punch also went for the same market, but where Zack Snyder failed was thinking he made a girl power film, when really he made a nice music video. Emily Browning‘s Baby Doll knew how to handle a weapon, but she never knew how to handle herself outside of being in a man’s grasp. The sexualization of the characters rendered the feminism aspect of Sucker Punch useless. Fortunately, Hanna avoids all these pratfalls.

By taking a standard formula and turning it on its head, Wright has done what few other directors have: make the lone man – in this case girl – against the giant bureaucracy relevant again. Hanna is ostensibly about loving gun-toting and kicking ass, but as Hanna discovers her own humanity in the midst of such violence, the real story comes clear.


Crazy, Stupid Love Trailer

Cal (Steve Carell) is finding out that his wife (Julianne Moore) is falling out of love with him. Enter Jacob Palmer, lothario and general super-stud, to show Cal how to get his wife back. Crazy, Stupid Love is from the directors of I Love You Phillip Morris and features an awesome cast featuring Carell, Moore and Gosling as well as Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon.

06 April 2011

2011 Summer's Most Anticipated

The Beaver
Mel Gibson has pretty much killed whatever success this dramedy was going to have. Maybe down the road the film will have better luck, but count me in for the ride regardless. 

Super 8
Not much is known about JJ Abram's latest, but this looks like one of those summer films you can't miss and not expect to be called crazy.

X-Men: First Class
Say what you will about Ratner's X-3 and the Wolverine prequel. This cast has two magnetic (forgive the pun) leads in James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And best yet, no Brett Ratner.

Cowboys & Aliens
Daniel Craig? Cowboys? Harrison Ford? Sold.

Tree of Life
The trailer that debuted several months ago was gorgeous. Though if you thought that Super 8 was being deliberately coy in hiding plot points you will have conniptions with trying to figure out Tree of Life. This will either be the front-runner for the rest of award's season, or end up a stain of Malick's filmography. Considering Pitt and Penn's involvement I'll go with the former.

10 Words or Less: Monster's Inc. (2001)

The stuff that nightmares are made of.

04 April 2011

The Vault: It (1927)

It's pretty entertaining, and an interesting view on what has and hasn't changed in society in the past 80ish years. Society is still pretty sexist and classist; the film makes some criticisms of these tendencies, but given the time it was made (1927), they aren't too sharp.

The film stars Clara Bow as the original and titular "It Girl."

The "It" that the film revolves around is the quality of being desirable without being self-conscious of the fact. The heroine exploits her it quality to wrap her rich boss all the way around her little finger, all while bending to his every whim. There's a bit of dissonance between who's actually pulling the strings in the relationship, but it's made clear that she wants to marry a rich man and live a life of leisure. So the film is not exactly civil rights movement material.

In fact, the whole production is reminiscent of the theory of the male gaze.

So there's enough going on in the film to get this socially conscious critic's non-existent back hairs to stand up, but it's still quite enjoyable. The film is buoyed by the charming performances of the lead actress and of the supporting cast.

It's also tremendously culturally significant, and fascinating inasmuch as you could take the exact same plot and transplant it into the 70s or 80s without changing a plot point and it would all fit. To demonstrate, it was pointed out to me that 16 Candles borrows heavily from It.

It is worth seeing, both as a light-hearted, if somewhat dated, comedy, and as a fascinating bit of cultural anthropology.

02 April 2011

Your Thoughts on 'Source Code'

Duncan Jones's anticipated follow-up to Moon is out. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between? Leave your take in the comments below.

01 April 2011

Black Swan Sequel Announced

Darren Aronofsky let it slip yesterday in an interview with Vanity Fair that production of Black Swan 2: White Swan Rising is in the early stages. When asked about his reasons for making the film, he cited the fact that the first film left, in his words "so many unanswered questions." Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis will reportedly reprise their roles in the sequel. Spike Jonze is rumoured to be working on a script that expands on the psycho-sexual themes of the original; when reached for comment, he said only "I cannot confirm or deny the rumour that the closing act of the first film was just a dream."