29 March 2013

Review: Stoker

Hollywood is running short on new talent. Imports have always been a large reason for the influx of rising stars and directors and this time the scouring net has landed upon the Pacific, specifically, South Korea and Park Chan-wook, its most celebrated director.

Stoker serves as the English-language debut of Park, most known for his unconventional works like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance (better known as the revenge trilogy). His films don't make for comfortable viewing because they ask when violence can be justified and then shows you devastating effects it can take afterward.

That Park uses Shadow of a Doubt for the inspiration of Stoker shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the director has stated that Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo made him decide to become a filmmaker. The script written by Wentworth Miller focuses on a seemingly perfect family is submerged in a layer of grime and filth impending sense of doom. Uncle Charlie is also the name of the main antagonist in Hitchcock’s classic, and his entrance is fairly similar.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is shocked by the sudden loss of her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a tragic car accident. More intrusive is the unannounced arrival of Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom India has never met before. Eve (an icy Nicole Kidman) takes Charlie in without hesitation and the two grow close, closer than India is comfortable with. Charlie has a way with the women in the Stoker clan, India suspects that this disarming man has ulterior motives beneath his polished surface. The suspicion doesn't lead to horror though, she becomes entranced by him.

Charlie's arrival does not come without consequence however, the peace and tranquility of the household is upended by other accidents. Aunt Gwendolyn appears for dinner and then disappears without word for the rest of her visit, the most senior staff at the Stoker house leaves without saying anything. It doesn't end there either, India's new influence in her life gives her the courage to render tormentors a run around of her own.

Stoker isn't as violent or bloodletting as Chan-wook’s earlier films, but it also less dour, meshing stylishness with Gothic fairy tale. The film has an absolutely sumptuous look to it, inviting viewers to lean in when they should be backing away. The camera, the music, and all the pure technique all totaling into a visually mesmerizing piece. Park creates innovative images that just aren't seen much anymore (watching a mane of Kidman's hair transition into a tall field of grass is just spectacular).

Kidman launches into her scenes with gusto and chews into scenery like a thick steak. Wasikowska does her level-best treading the line of sexual tension and darker desires as she grows into an adult. Now if only the script were up for rivaling the direction and acting in quality. As a cat-and-mouse thriller, Uncle Charlie never has the upper hand, which makes the thriller aspect a bit off, but the horror is there though, presenting a bloodline that finds killing as easy as breathing.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #22

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are currently 15 for 21. Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from:

"What's going on in this candy-coated heart of darkness."

27 March 2013

LAMMY FYC: Best Movie Reviewer

It's that time of year again folks, that's right, The LAMMYs! This year I have foolhardily decided to campaign for the Best Movie Reviewer award. There are many great options for this award, and I would greatly appreciate your vote (collection of reviews here).

Thank you and good luck to the rest of the contenders.

'Wolverine' Trailer

22 March 2013

Review: Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine isn't well known to the audiences that will potentially be watching Spring Breakers this weekend, the man best known for weird romps into fringe societies (Gummo and Trash Humpers) represents independent filmmaking at its most obscure. That's what makes all the television spots for his latest effort all the more confounding.

The glitzy trailer and Skrillex music may suggest a film that celebrates the mass of partying that is spring break, but if Mr. Korine and James Franco are to be believed, this is sly satire masquerading as the type of visceral thrill that fratboys love. Any hopes that the satire will puncture through the membrane is entirely dependent on the effort of the audience member.

Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are all life-long friends who live together in a boring college dorm and are looking for a blast this spring break. Awesome vacations don't come cheap though, they are a few grand short of their dream vacation, so they put their heads together and decide to pull a heist at a local restaurant. After the job goes wrong, the four spend the night in jail until they are bailed out by rapper Alien (James Franco). Alien promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they dreamed of, and with the help of the local drug/arms dealer, the girls are going to experience a spring break they will never forget.

Now in any other gangster movie, the rest of the running time would lead to Alien corrupting the girls and them realizing the error of their ways. Korine flips the dynamic with Candy, Brit and Cotty, entranced by the blood lust of Miami gangster life ratchet up the mayhem ten fold. Throw in some speedboats and AK-47s and the command to “act like you’re in a movie or something” and it becomes pretty apparent that Spring Breakers is making fun of its audience.

The film serves as a comment on how pop culture reduces women to sexed-up, offensive stereotypes by featuring female characters that are sexed-up stereotypes. Yet, Hudgens, Benson and Mrs. Korine all look and act exactly like girls straight out of a Girls Gone Wild video. The only real character with the depth expected in a satire is Franco's Alien. James Franco relishes the opportunity to embody an experimental piece through complete physical transformation constantly performing even when he isn't onscreen. Deconstructing the prototypical gangster and turning him into something much more entertaining.

That just makes not developing the girls as anything more than gun-crazed hooligans that much more disappointing.

Before critics celebrate the film for its biting wit, it is important to note that most of the subtext being discussed is brought by the viewer—if it isn't undercut by the displays of young flesh and Benoit Debie’s rich cinematography.

Satire is one of the most difficult forms of filmmaking and not every message is interpreted as a director would intend. Scarface was meant to be an indictment of capitalist/gangster culture and yet Tony Montana appears on the walls of rappers' homes on nearly every episode of Cribs. Spring Breakers wants to trigger some scathing comments in the back of your mind, but when the film engages in three ways, that satire becomes incompatible with what is displayed on the screen. Then this becomes no different from the smut Spring Breakers proclaims to tear down.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #21

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are currently 14 for 20. Last week stumped everyone (it was from Beginners). Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from:

"You really want to know? I'll tell you. A toon killed my brother."

20 March 2013

Iron Man 3 Imax Poster

There is just a little too much going on in this poster. Iron Man 3 looks as if it will prove to be Tony Stark's biggest personal challenge and it's no wonder given how he is being squeezed out of his own promotional materials. On the other hand, Ben Kingsley may be a perfect stand-in for the world's most interesting man.

16 March 2013

NMPF Received a Mystery Package

Two packages waited for me today, there was no sending address and I wasn't anticipating anything in the mail. Inside the first package was little box with a black ribbon wrapped around, once opened there was a key.

Confused, I grab the second parcel. Package number two was also a box, but what was enclosed was far more revealing. A pencil box with the visage of India (Mia Wasikowska) inside. The central protagonist of Chan-wook Park's Stoker is naturally grim and while we know the pencil comes into play during the film's nastier moments, the key is a mystery.

After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

I would like to thank Fox Searchlight for definitely one of the coolest moments I've experienced as head of Never Mind Pop Film. Very much appreciated.

Stoker hits theatres in wide release on March 22nd!

15 March 2013

The Hobbit Blu-ray Giveaway

Want to win a copy of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit? Simply take the Hobbit quiz in the app above and post your score (and email if possible) in the comments below. Scores will be tallied and the contest ends on April 8th.

Please feel free to share this contest via Twitter or Facebook.

UPDATE: The winner is Antony Bosch

Vastly Improved 'Place Beyond the Pines' Poster

Much, much better than the first poster put out for Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to Blue Valentine. No floating heads generally makes for a better piece of art. Eagerly awaiting this film, heading to theatres in limited release on March 29th.

12 March 2013

Muses and Maestros: Pitt and Fincher

Part of a continuing series about the most talented pairings of filmmakers today. On deck, Brad Pitt and David Fincher.

The players: David Fincher and Brad Pitt
The works: Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Remember when Brad Pitt was just "the good looking guy from Thelma and Louise"? David Fincher, known for tackling darker material, snapped him up and made him into one of the most talented, if underrated, leading men of his generation. Whether he's playing the enigmatic Tyler Durden, the head-strong Detective Mills or the understated Benjamin Button, Fincher is behind the scenes in some of Pitt's best performances.

Read more at GotchaMovies!

11 March 2013

Review: The Man Behind the Curtain (Oz The Great and Powerful)

Rapscallion and traveling magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco), you can call him Oz, performs acts for audiences across the dusty roads of Kansas. He's not happy with his place in life and a conflict presented in the form of a cuckolded strong man makes Oz's decision to escape all too easy.

A tornado whisks Oscar off to a foreign land where there are none of the problems that plague his life.

He is greeted on the shore by a woman who doesn't fit the general description of a witch. Theodora (a game Mila Kunis) explains to Oz that his arrival in their land is foretold by a prophecy and he will be the wizard to save the kingdom of vast riches. Without much hesitance, Oz tells Theodora that he is in fact the answer to their prayers.

Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) are the three powers that reside in Emerald City. The sisters are feuding and in order for Oz to claim the throne, he must defeat the wicked witch who slayed the previous King. Oz agrees to this condition while forgetting he isn't an actual wizard.

Sleight of hand won't save Oz if he wants to defeat the wicked witch and his habit of forming enemies with women he meets also poses challenges. Fortunately, he went have to do it alone, aid comes in the form of a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff), and a china doll (Joey King).

Selecting James Franco as the titular Oz was a curious choice, while Franco is a showman in most regards, he seems miscast for this role. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz requires a lead man with a sense of authority even if he questions himself. Oz needed a charismatic actor to pull it together.

Sam Raimi does what he can with this huge project (a few of his trademark scares), but there is only so much he can bring to a Disney tentpole. These flicks have been focus grouped and tested so that they appeal to as large an audience as possible. Tinkering with the formula is generally frowned upon, but Raimi knows where to hide some visual flourish.

There is a sense of too many endings before the film closes out, but it is a slight addition so the overall effect isn't lost, though franchise building is definitely felt.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is made up of too many moods to coalesce into a tonally consistent film. There are winks from Army of Darkness, candy-colored visuals from Alice in Wonderland and heartwarming moments from the original Oz. The tonal twist and turns are a little distracting and the lead feels too disingenuous to make it work entirely, but background characters like Finley and China girl (lovingly rendered pieces of SFX) present some warmth to a story that suffers a little too often from a post-modern sense of irony.

**1/2 out of ****

09 March 2013

Review: Dead Man Down

Victor (Colin Farrell) is the trusted right-hand man of one of New York's more unscrupulous land developers, Alphonse (Terrence Howard). Alphonse is receiving threats from an anonymous party and he will spare no expense in dispatching that threat.

When Victor isn't scouring the city for gangsters, he eats microwaveable noodles at home by himself. His neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) waves to him, but that is the extent of his communication with the world outside of work. His loss has severed him from life.

Beatrice is no stranger to tragedy herself, an accident has left her physically scarred permanently. Possessing a window into Victor's life, she finds out information that could make his life his infinitely worse, and that may just be her ticket to satisfying the need for revenge in her heart. Her ultimatum comes at a terrible time for Victor, who has his own scores to settle.

Forced into dealing with each other, soon they find kindred spirits in each other. Beatrice and Victor are the physical manifestations of wounded prey, they have been injured, but not killed, and there is nothing more dangerous than wounded prey.

Niels Arden Oplev proved he had the sensibilities of a revenge thriller director with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but his lead actor and the pulp material failed him ultimately. So for his English language debut, Oplev took his best asset (Rapace) and paired her with one of the more underrated actors working today.

Colin Farrell is past the stage of his career where he is forced into the typical Hollywood leading man mold, but he has found his niche with morally grey characters in more independent features.

Noomi Rapace takes what could largely be a thankless role in another film and offers a layered woman instead of the helpless victim portrayed so often in revenge flicks.

Dead Man Down works for the most part, which makes the decidely silly turn during its last act particularly hard to stomach. Thugs walking around with automatic weapons in broad daylight, plowing vehicles through buildings, and odd character motivations all rear their ugly heads when a film should be flourishing in its last stretch. All of these things invalidate the drama that came before.

That is a shame given Oplev had, up until that point, crafted an intimate portrayal of grief and the wrecking ball effect revenge takes on a life. Even with the flair Oplev employs during chase sequences and shoot-outs, the high is never recaptured.


08 March 2013

'Interstellar' To Hit Theatres Nov. 2014

Following another massive hit in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has already selected his next feature, Interstellar.

Directed and written by Academy Award-nominee Nolan (“INCEPTION,” “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”), “INTERSTELLAR” is based on a script by Jonathan Nolan. The film will be produced by Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan of Syncopy Films and Obst of Lynda Obst Productions. Kip Thorne will executive produce. The film will depict a heroic interstellar voyage to the furthest reaches of our scientific understanding.

Brad Grey, Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures said, “As a filmmaker and storyteller, Chris has continuously entertained the world with his extraordinary and unparalleled talents. I am pleased beyond measure to welcome him to the Paramount Pictures family. Partnering with Chris, Emma, Lynda and Warner Bros. to release this original idea next November is the perfect way to start the Thanksgiving and holiday movie season for audiences around the world.”

Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said, “Christopher Nolan is truly one of the great auteurs working in film today, and we’re extremely proud of our successful and ongoing collaboration with him and Emma Thomas.  We are excited to be teaming with Paramount, and look forward to working with the Nolans, and producer Lynda Obst, on this extraordinary new project.”

Interstellar arrives November 7, 2014, in theaters and IMAX®

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #20

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are currently 14 for 19. Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from:

"You point, I drive."

07 March 2013

Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing' Trailer

A geek dream, a genre skewer and a Shakespeare adaptation all within a year? Joss Whedon must be going for the cinematic Triple Crown.

Smashing through the Fourth Wall

Indiewire has posted a video that assembles every scene that breaks the fourth wall ranging from Blazing Saddles to Psycho. Enjoy.

06 March 2013

'Hangover III' Promises Finality

A visual nod to the final Harry Potter poster, The Hangover Part III promises to burn Vegas to the ground. When Todd Phillips said it would be the last sequel, he meant it.

05 March 2013

New 'To the Wonder' Poster

Courtesy of EW, this poster borrows a little from The Thin Red Line Criterion released a while back. The fold made sense for that film, but this one just seems curious. The church just off to the left is also an interesting visual cue.

To the Wonder hits theatres April 12th!

04 March 2013

Review: The Master

Freddie Quells (Joaquin Phoenix) is the textbook definition of a scoundrel. Contained on a vessel in the Pacific he could pass for normal, but only due to the distressed nature of war-time. He remains in company purely due to his innate ability as a mixologist. Still, his cocktails possess the kinds of contents that bootleggers would consider hazardous.

Following his naval tour, Freddie is a veteran who finds himself without a place. Jobs come in an erratic order and he finds himself out of them just as quickly. He looks as uneasy in the world physically as he is mentally. Perpetually hunched, Freddie makes everyone around him a little more uncomfortable. He has a convicts' eyes, constantly searching for exits.

When Freddie seeks a free ride boarding a yacht, he finds himself under the inquisitive gaze of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd takes Freddie in, for what reason is unknown, but he sees something in the feral cat of a man that no one else does. In the interest of science, Dodd must know what makes Freddie tick.

Dodd is the leader of The Cause, a group dedicated to returning to the perfection in man by finding our flaws in our past. To his detractors, Dodd preys on the willing belief that his audience offers, much like a magician. He offers solutions in a life that has few following the second World War. Peggy (an increasingly varied Amy Adams) appears to be the steady hand behind Lancaster, but she is a driving force. Where he is weak, she pushes him, the movement must not fall prey to outsiders or critics.

Freddie presents a major road block to legitimacy in Peggy's mind. Especially when naysayers start appearing in door wells of Cause gatherings. Some changes in language of "processing" does not ease the minds of benefactors. Dodd simply just dances around these questions with light jokes and casual asides, forever the showman.

L. Ron Hubbard is a reference, but nothing Paul Thomas Anderson nor Hoffman offers is reverent to the actual man. The Cause's expansion is hinted at, but never fully acknowledged. And Freddie, well, his enigma will forever remain unsolved.

As perfectly rendered as every technical aspect of The Master is (including the sumptuous 65mm print), the film's lack of emphasis on the story it tells is frustrating. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman embody the id and ego relationship that makes them both so interesting to watch, but ultimately it feels like it didn't mean anything. When two performances are as strong as Hoffman's at times charismatic and at others Dodd and Phoenix's total devolution into a madman, that is a shame.

Paul Thomas Anderson has slowly transitioned the structure of his pictures from ensemble pieces to character studies replacing the inherently likable with cast-outs like Daniel Plainview and Freddie Quell. One man learning to obey his master, the other forced to roam the world without one.

Is it an evolutionary leftover that plagues man to place such faith in alpha members of society? Anyone with a polished image of themselves and a confident message can become a prophet. Placing your faith in the hands of these men is a dangerous game and one that rarely ends without displeasure.

One can only characterize watching The Master as holding a match, watching the embers slowly burn their way down to your fingers, but you don't care because you are entranced by it, you will pay for staring into the fire, but you don't know it yet. Eventually the light of The Master is gone and the only thing that remains is a burn of lingering questions.

**1/2 out of ****

Blu-ray review at Film Annex

01 March 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #19

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are currently 13 for 18. Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from:

"You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means."