30 December 2011

The Vault: High Fidelity (2000)

Top five lists, we're all guilty of making them, film enthusiasts more than others. Music, movies, break-ups: all are rich subjects for debate and reflection. We chose what we watch or listen to and who we make time to spend with. They reveal so much more about us than our hair and clothes, they define who we are and Rob is defined by his top five ex-girlfriends. Laura is about to join their ranks.

Rob (John Cusack) spends more flicking through albums on his living room floor than picking shirts out of his closet. He is the owner of a record store replete with two slackers with a taste for snide remarks toward customers. They were hired for three days a week, they show up for six. He is unhappy and not necessarily without cause. Laura (Iben Hjejle) is leaving Rob; he's in arrested development and she doesn't enjoy living life as an angst song on loop. Now he has to break himself down and stroll through the top five again, to see why he keeps getting left.

Through half-dates and refreshed memories Rob discovers that often he is what at fault, it was never meant to be and, "she's an idiot". Really Laura is the only one who ever meant a damn to him. The way she rubs her feet together when she sleeps, the little sounds she makes, how could he have been so damn stupid, he asks incredulously.

Rob very well may be Cusack's best performance. As a man contemplating where he has been and where he's going, Cusack connects on a level so personally with the audience it's hard not to feel his plight. We want him to find happiness, particularly with Laura.

High Fidelity doesn't choose sides in the battle of the sexes that occurs halfway through the film, but instead reminds us that relationships are a two-sided record. Both sides have to come together. And, yes, I promise, no more music references.

26 December 2011

Criterion Review: Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Balthazar is a service animal. Accordingly, he is beaten and burdened time and time again. His original caretaker Marie can relate: her life followed a similarly tragic path. As Balthazar is beaten by his owners, Marie is humiliated by a sadistic lover. Life is a cruel venture, Au Hasard Balthazar offers, and suffering through it with grace and dignity is seemingly the only way to transcend the brutality.

A tale of a donkey in rural France. Seemingly, nothing as compelling as the tale of a horse during the World War, but the message is the same. Balthazar's life is sequenced through his bucolic early days learning to take his first steps, all the way to his days of glory, finishing with his dying breath. We see life offered through the eyes of this animal, but never his   opinion of what transgressions occur. Too frequently animals on film are defined by a whinny, a trademark eye-roll, or clopping a hoof at a comedic time. Robert Bresson merely allows Balthazar to exist in front of us. Forcing the audience to intrepret events through his eyes pulls them from their chairs rather than unfolding chapter-by-chapter in front of them.

While films like Steven Spielberg's War Horse propose, though less gracefully, that through the eyes of animals humanity sees itself, few films have such a lasting impact. Nothing is given to us as the audience and we are forced to come to our own conclusions. Those conclusions sometimes suggest that this world uses us as its playthings. It is not an unique view; we all share those same feelings of sadness, isolation and helplessness, but through the eyes of this simple creature it all seems much more bearable. A sense of hope in a world where it is lacking.

Commentary: An hour long look into the legacy of Balthazar titled Un Metteur en Ordre: Robert Bresson combines discussions of Au Hasard Balthazar by such filmmaking legends like Jean-Luc Godard and Louis Malle. Every stitch that goes into the film is dissected by the panel. Subtitles for the film are also given an improved translation to ensure the words spoken are the ones intended by Bresson.

Visual: The blacks and whites of Au Hasard Balthazar are crisp and the definition of the digitally preserved celluloid looks fantastic. Grain is to a minimum.

Hard to watch to be certain, but one of history's greatest films. A must own for any cinephile.

24 December 2011

What I Want for Christmas

Is it too much to ask that Fight Club get the Criterion treatment? The fact that the film's presence is still felt more than ten years later should be enough. The film captured the zeitgeist of an era more solidly than anything else offered. Reward it.

Harrison Ford to stop pretending to care about acting and go back to the ranch. Look, I know you don't really care about doing films anymore and I don't care to sit through you mailing it in. You can't be bitter about audiences not going to see your films when you don't care enough to actually perform in them. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Better audience turnout. Granted, I understand that Jack and Jill absolutely commands your attention, but there were a lot of great, underperforming films out there: Drive, 50/50, and Take Shelter. And if that weren't enough to convince you, then let Guillermo Del Toro try, "When they ask why does Hollywood make such shitty movies it's because when they do make great ones, you don't f_cking show up!"

An Aaron Sorkin penned Steve Jobs biopic. I think this one speaks for itself.

Now, I would like to take a minute to be thankful for all of the good films coming in the next cinematic year: The Dark Knight Rises and Django Unchained, another effort from Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), and anything Terence Malick has to offer.

Happy Holidays to you all!

(Courtesy: Fake Criterions)

22 December 2011

'Prometheus' Teaser Trailer

That teaser packs a wallop and reveals nothing while doing so.

21 December 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin is a creation that has largely not made an impact on this side of the Atlantic, but the beloved creation of Hergé has been critiqued, studied, and read in Europe for the better part of several decades. In adapting the series into a new trilogy for modern times, the Holy Trinity of geek writers (Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat and Joe Cornish) have been brought in. The three very clearly hold the source material dear and what most moviegoers aren't familiar with could become a kid-Indy for future audiences.

After journalist, Tintin (Jamie Bell), purchases a model ship his life suffers a quick upheaval. His refusal to sell the ship to Sakharine (Daniel Craig doing his dastardly best) results in several murders and his kidnapping. Tintin awakens on a ship set for Morocco and finds that the ship that he has purchased is actually contained a map that could lead to untold fortune.

The crew of Captain Haddock (the inimitable Andy Serkis) have been paid handsomely to mutiny against Captain Haddock and his young boarders. Fortunately, Tintin's quick wit and talented dog Snowy manage to escape with Haddock in tow. As the two banter about Haddock's drinking and Tintin's slim resume on sailing, Haddock reveals to Tintin that his family shares history with the Sakharines. A combative history.

Over three hundred years ago Sir Francis Haddock was forced to abandon the Unicorn when attacked by a Sakharine, but before the ship was lost forever he managed to leave three scrolls throughout the world. If Tintin, Snowy and Haddock are to save the fortune and restore the Haddock family name, they must beat Sakharine to the locations of the three scrolls.

The trio's arrival in Morocco marks one of the most ingenious action sequences captured. It plays out like a Steven Spielberg Rube-Goldberg machine where wonder is freely flowing. This could never happen with the benefit of CGI or in a live-action film and it makes the one-shot all the more exciting.

A concern during pre-production of The Adventures of Tintin was the dead-eye that plagues all performance capture. Of course Spielberg and Peter Jackson addressed most concerns when Serkis was cast. A brilliant, if not mandatory, choice to play Haddock, hiring the most talented man in the field was a decision that must be made.

Fans of the source material may feel slighted as some of Tintin's characteristics are toned down to meet PG guidelines and series regulars like Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) aren't featured to a great extent in the film. That's okay given how little they provide to the stories they are featured in. Whether the story succeeds in the U.S. is anyone's guess, but for the gifted animation and skilled cast, Tintin more than meets expectations.


Review: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Since J.J. Abrams took the reins of the Mission: Impossible franchise, there has been a sense of fun and exhilaration unmatched by other action series. The tone for the films prior to the 2006 release was an evolving one: Mission: Impossible played it dark and had very little room for laughs of any kind, the sequel dialed back the seriousness, but not enough to translate to a good time. Placing Abrams in the director's chair was a good start to revitalizing the series and once it was announced the Pixar's Brad Bird would helm the fourth film, anticipation went sky-high.

Ghost Protocol opens with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) breaking out of a Russian prison to the tune of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”. From the opening on, the audience knows it is in the hands of a director who can compose action sequences cleanly and competently.

Newly named field agent Benji (Simon Pegg, one of two IMF holdovers from MI: 3) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) await Hunt outside the complex. An extremist with nuclear arms is intent on starting the world anew and Hunt has the inside track on catching him. The only problem? To the world it appears that Hunt, acting on behalf of the IMF, just blew up the Kremlin.

With the IMF shut down and the Secretary murdered, Hunt and his new team must act alone to clear their organization's name. With Jane, Benji and the reluctant William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Hunt must save the world one more time.

First and foremost, if possible, the Burj Khalifa sequence must be seen in IMAX format. The scene is a testament to the wonders of movie wizardry and what happens when a truly talented director is behind the camera. That Cruise was just as game to film climbing the world's largest tower himself adds to the visceral thrill of it all. Those who suffer from vertigo may just be best to close their eyes.

The hype reached fever pitched when trailers were released for Ghost Protocol and fortunately the finished product more than satisfies what the hype promised. The fourth installation of the Mission: Impossible franchise soars to new heights as director Brad Bird infuses the film with a spectacle that can usually only be found in animated features. If a season full of Oscar-bait leaves you a little bored, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol will gladly clear the doldrums.

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

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher doesn't need great source material to turn in celluloid excellence: The Social Network proved that if one does than something great will occur, but the original Dragon Tattoo novels are not such material.

The Swedish adaptation left me feeling cold back in 2009, but given Fincher's track record, I felt like I owed this film a shot. When the opening scene of the film opens with Vanger's phone call, I started to get antsy, is this going to be a shot-for-shot redux? No. No, it's not, the pulsing opening credits scored to Karen O's "The Immigrant Song" made me quite aware of that.

Harriet Vanger has been missing for the better part of forty years, given that piece of information the fact that Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) keeps receiving portraits from his niece is disconcerting. Enter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Facing a major libel suit and perhaps jail time, the last thing the journalist wants to do is add another opportunity to be wrong again.

Before Vanger hands the investigation over to Blomkvist to find out why Harriet may have disappeared—or who made her disappear—he needs to have the disgraced man thoroughly vetted. Enter Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Her collection of piercings, mohawk, and goth attire may suggest she is not capable of such a profession, but she is the most successful investigator of the firm.

Mara's Salander is entirely composed of scar tissue. Don't get too close, or the urge to run becomes too much for her to resist. When Blomkvist offers her a chance to catch a "killer of women" the layer of tissue is torn again, but this time she doesn't run. She fights.

Noomi Rapace was good, but without her the rest of that cast could effectively be used to move furniture. The problem with Rapace's turn as Lisbeth is we are left behind the curtain as her transformation is unfurled. Here she is playing the victim, but it never seems in Rapace's milieu. The transformation is easier to accept with Mara. Seemingly demure, when Lisbeth finally snaps it shakes the audience. Watching, you think to yourself, "I never thought Mara could be this woman!"

In Seven, Fincher keeps evil faceless as to suggest that around any rainy street could lie a psychopath. Sweden's landscapes may not provide an abundance of rain, but the eerie feeling is similar. Whoever killed Harriet Vanger could very well be mere steps behind Blomkvist or Lisbeth. Fincher is a man of craft and by this point of his career he knows exactly what gears to put in rotation as the haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gently invites your paranoia to take control.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo presents an antithesis of Fincher's last genre outing, Zodiac. That 2007 opus illuminated that no matter the lengths men go to search for answers, they appear forever out of reach. Here, the chilly atmosphere of muted Sweden would suggest that with any digging at all, the answers lie just below the surface of the ice.


19 December 2011

'The Dark Knight Rises' Theatrical Trailer


As with Shame, I won't be watching the trailers for the film. Enjoy!

The Vault: Juno (2007)

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) doesn't take anything off of anyone. Her befuddled father Mac (J.K. Simmons), her sometimes prickly stepmother Bren (Allison Janney), or the jive-talking convenience store clerk (Rainn Wilson). Her buddy Leah (Olivia Thirlby) is a girl turned on by corduroy jackets and bald patches. Her unique lifestyle implies a snarky teen, but the truth is much different, she's ironic but insecure.

Paulie (Michael Cera) is enlisted in an experiment involving a life experience and a comfy chair that, of course, results in Juno's pregnancy. Pondering her options of whether or not to keep the child, Juno visits to the local clinic and changes her mind about aborting the child (and keeps the movie rolling along).

With a full head of steam, Juno embarks on carrying the child and remain a full-time high school student. First things first, she needs to find adoptive parents for the child. Cue best friend Leah with a copy of the PennySaver and a quick comment to go along with it "desperately seeking spawn." Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) seem like the perfect couple to raise the child. Mark is the laidback composer for commercials and Vanessa is the career-oriented "adult" in the relationship. Her visits to the Loring household create fissures and things with Paulie have gotten more intense than she anticipated.

While the dialogue for teenagers and parents is distinctively "indie", but the characters are treated authentically as expected by Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. Juno's revelation to her parents that she is pregnant could have turned into a snipe match, but instead Simmons and Janney infuse the scene with warmth and some unexpected laughs.

The plot moves along as expected, but the real insight of Juno is the actress playing her. Ellen Page is a relative newcomer to lead parts (Hard Candy) and proves to be a lead with the comedic timing of an actress twice her age. Outside of the bravado she exhibits in her spit-fire retorts, she is still a teenager with child. Yet she proves that she is more grown up than most of those around her.

At the end of the day the casting of the unblinkingly naive Michael Cera, the snap, crackle and pop of Cody's original dialogue, or the opening music by Barry Louis Polisar all could have collaborated into a mix of disgust toward the film, but it all blends refreshingly well.

16 December 2011

Review: Carnage

Pleasantries are exchanged, food is offered, smiles are forced, secret resentments are harbored. No, this isn't an awards ceremony, this is a reconciling between the Longstreets and the Cowans. A school yard incident between their sons turns a meeting between parents in a New York City apartment into a summit of every conflict in the entire world.
Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) are the respective mothers of Ethan and Zachary. Zachary knocked out two of Ethan's teeth and rather than take things to court, these two couples are trying to handle things civilly. Tempers are near flaring, but Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) is trying to keep everything at an even-keel without pissing off the Cowans or his wife.  However, everyone is irritated that Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) doesn't bother to express any feelings at all. He is more concerned with Walter's news that there could be a potential lawsuit against his company.

An amicable sit-down turns vicious very quickly when conversation turns from their children to their careers, personal beliefs, and fears. At first the divisions are decided by couples, sex, religious views, politics, etc. Each argument prompted by the pauses are decidedly more strange and out of left-field. Vomiting, destruction of property and ideals are commonplace for this meeting of monsters. Every call by Walter resets the main players against each other, and the race to the bottom for the Longstreets and Cowans begins.

Changing the film's name from God of Carnage to Carnage was a curious choice as one questions during the repeated arguments why one of these couples doesn't simply leave. Whether or not they actually want to avoid this discord is entirely up to the audience.

Out of the main four players, Mr. Waltz comes out the winner of the bunch. Alan is initially judged as the worst of the parents when they meet, but very quickly it becomes apparent that Alan Cowan may be the most reasonable of them all. As Foster, Winslet and Reilly completely collapse under the weight of the situation, there is a perverse sense of delight to be had watching them. Grown adults tearing each other down for sport whilst claiming to hold the moral high-ground over two teenage boys who got into an altercation.

As fun as watching adults behaving badly is, Carnage is not a terribly cinematic adaptation. The story does not lend itself to any intriguing shots and the digs of Penelope and Michael Longstreet are as dull and conventional as every other penthouse in upper-class NYC. The cast lacks an upgrade over the original Broadway rendition and the script is again authored by Yasmina Reza. Perhaps Carnage should have remained a stage play, or at the very least set their sights higher.

**1/2 out of ****

15 December 2011

Golden Globes Nominations Announced

All right nominations for the criminally underrated Brendan Gleeson in The Guard and Kristen Wiig for Bridesmaids. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association may not always get it right, but surprises like that are always appreciated. That said still no love for Michael Shannon and his ground-shaking performance in Take Shelter.

The rest of 2011-2012 Golden Globe Nominees are:

Motion Picture, Drama
The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March
War Horse
Best Director – Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March 
Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist 
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo 
Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture  – Drama
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture – Drama
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
The Artist 
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn
Best Performance By An Actress in A Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult 
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winselt, Carnage
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
Jean DuJardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris
Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help 
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants 
Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture 
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn 
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method 
Christopher Plummer, Beginners 
Best Animated Feature Film
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots
Best Foreign Language Film
The Flowers of War (China)
In the Land of Blood and Honey (USA)
The Kid With A Bike (Belgium)
A Separation (Iran)
The Skin I Live In (Spain) 
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist 
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendants
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball
Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Abel Korzeniowski, W.E.
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, War Horse

13 December 2011

'Dark Knight Rises' Prologue Reaction

After retiring from a trip that saw a great deal of people dressed in cowls, joker make-up, and capes I am ready to report. You must see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. The experience is completely immersive. Given that a majority of the prologue's action takes place in planes at 10,000 feet in the air, you will appreciate the benefit of a larger screen. A few peeks were offered of Catwoman and the Tumbler, but the real treat was seeing Bane in action.

To address the elephant in the room, yes, Bane's voice is a little difficult to decipher at points, but it is synthesized and—I think—meant to emphasize his inhumane nature. Beyond that there is nothing to worry about on the villain front. The Joker may have been a master of psychological warfare, but Bane is all too willing to burn Gotham to the ground. A shot of him dropping Batman's shattered mask to the ground before the prologue ends is all we need to know. This is a monster of an entirely different sort.

Off to the 'Dark Knight' Prologue

If this seems like gloating, forgive me, I am just really excited. Thoughts will be posted after returning from the prologue screening. I would also like to thank Warner Bros. for hosting the event. Giving an advanced look at the most anticipated film-event of the year is always appreciated.

(Courtesy: Warner Bros.)

11 December 2011

Review: The Descendants

It's often said that if you don't like the weather in Hawai'i just wait ten minutes. What's more true of Alexander Payne's The Descendants is if you don't like the mood of the film just wait a scene. That's not to say that the film's transitions aren't enjoyed--because they are, immensely. Payne's previous effort, Sideways, was famed for within seconds flipping from heartbreaking to hilarity.

Hawai'i, the name alone conjures magical memories and images for most. Sandy beaches that spread as far as the eye can see, skirted dancers and pigs on a roast. What could be better than this paradise? To hear Matt King tell it, "Paradise can go fuck itself". Tourists never had to deal with the condescending parents of their children's friends. Paradise never had to deal with a wife in a coma.

Matt was the backup parent, now he is thrust into the duty of raising his daughters. His wife handled Alexandra and Scottie, in fact, she handled everything at home. He is the steward of an estate that could potentially make all of his cousins and extended relatives flush with cash, or release every pristine bit of the 25,000 acre beach back to Hawai'i. In the midst of this decision, he also has to also notify his family and friends of his wife's condition.

While Clooney's other role this year was about defending America's interest at the White House, Matt is trying to keep what is near and dear to him, his family, protected. His wife cannot offer him any solace for her trespasses in the state she is in. Her father is as most father-in-laws are--ornery. This task proves to be just as arduous as any other business transaction. And the scenes where Matt is confiding in and collaborating with Alexandra (welcome to the show Shailene Woodley) are some of the most entertaining of the film.

At the end of the day family is not who we are related to, but who we choose to spend time with. Eating ice cream on a couch with, arguing over what to watch on a Wednesday evening, who we keep close when the days become harder to bear. And with any luck Matt will discover what that means.

What makes one most appreciative of The Descendants is that Alexander Payne never takes any easy outs. No one is ever fully to blame, no one is as simple as they appear (even Sid), no one is that clear-cut. Greys are always the work of master artists and we have one here in Alexander Payne.

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

09 December 2011

'Amazing Spider-man' Poster

Impressive. Sony could have taken the status-quo marketing approach to the film, but they didn't. Good on them.

(Courtesy: Superhero Hype)

Get Tickets for The Dark Knight Rises' Prologue

Tickets are available for the 8 minute The Dark Knight Rises prologue and they are available here. Locations are few and far between in the U.S. so keep your fingers crossed.

08 December 2011

'Community' Pop Culture Showdown

We are down to the last episode of Community before it is put on hiatus--keep writing those letters!--and to see it off before it (hopefully) returns is a pop culture contest between the cast members.

07 December 2011

'Five-Year Engagement' Trailer

So this is why romantic comedies end after the guy proposes...

NY Times' Cinematic Villainy

If you ever wondered what Wall Street would be like with Michael Shannon as Gordon Gekko, A Clockwork Orange with Rooney Mara, or Brad Pitt in Eraserhead, wonder no more. The New York Times has answered all of these questions and more.

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

06 December 2011

THR's Actor Roundtable

I hope this proves to be as interesting as the director's roundtable that was released recently.

05 December 2011

'Django Unchained' Poster

Granted, neither of these posters will be the official poster, though they are still quite fine looking. Better than anything The Weinstein Company will put out in a year anyway.

(Courtesy: Federico Mancuso)

02 December 2011

The 8 Minute 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' Trailer and Soundtrack

It was mentioned online a few months ago, but we finally have it. The eight minute trailer for David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

In other 'Dragon Tattoo' news the Karen O cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" is available on iTunes and a 35 minute sampler of the soundtrack is below.

01 December 2011

NY/Boston Contest Winner

Well here we are a month later and the competition to win two tickets, courtesy of On Location Tours to sightsee either Boston or New York City has ended. And the winner is... Andrew! Front Room Cinema would have been the winner but the contest if for U.S. residents. Sorry.

FrontRoomCinema 12
Andrew 7
Dan 5
Rodney 5
Sliccy 3

Thanks again to On Location Tours for their partnership!