Tuesday, April 30, 2013

40 Sparkly Artists

     Today's viewing list includes a comedic quasi-sequel, a cheesy remake & a documentary about the "grandmother of performance art"...two out of three ain't bad...

  Sparkle - Remember that magical moment in Dream Girls when Jennifer Hudson sang "I Am Telling You" and just for a second you thought that maybe history would prove American Idol to be a great star maker after all?  Let's all just bask in the joy of that moment for a second...and then let's talk about Sparkle.
     I'm sorry to report that director Salim Akil has taken a serious step backwards from his debut feature Jumping the Broom.  This remake of the 1976 camp classic is yet another example of why some films don't need to be remade, even if it is a good excuse to help fill the admittedly shameful vacuum of significant roles available in Hollywood for black actresses.  This kind of career assistance they don't need.
     As for the acting, it might still be too soon to speak ill of the dead, so let's talk about Jordin Sparks.  The poor girl just looked lost.  She either seemed to be making a face: "angry", "happy", "intrigued", "frightened", or vapidly staring off into space trying to remember which face her acting coach had said to make in the particular scene.
     The rest of the cast is either under-utilized, burdened by bad dialogue or just underwhelming in general.  Even a cameo by Cee-Lo Green (who usually makes me smile no matter how he is utilized) failed to muster much enthusiasm on my part.  The only member of the ensemble to stand out in a positive way is Carmen Ejogo in the role of Sister.  While her performance definitely stands high above the rest, it is sadly not enough to salvage the production as a whole...1 1/2 of 5 stars.

  This Is 40 - I'm not sure how many reviews I've prefaced with the confession that I am pretty tough on comedy.  I don't know why, but I'm a hard egg to crack in this regard and it is the rare film that gets me to actually laugh out loud with much gusto.  I'm happy to report that This Is 40 did. Repeatedly. I shouldn't really be all that surprised.  Writer/director Judd Apatow has been carving a real niche for himself making films with a superb blend of humor, heart, and intelligence, and that is exactly the sort of movie that he has created here.
     This is 40 is a quasi-sequel, focusing on the lives of supporting characters from his previous film, Knocked Up.  Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann return in the roles that they created and both do exceptional work.  If I have one complaint it is that the caustic humor that is central to the characterization of both members of the couple becomes a LITTLE excessive at times, pushing the boundaries of character likability.  In one scene, Ms. Mann's character Debbie chastises a boy who has insulted her daughter on-line so viciously that I actually became a bit uncomfortable.
     Overall, though, this is a very small complaint about a very funny movie.  Melissa McCarthy made me absolutely GUFFAW and I will NEVER get the image of young Iris Apatow shouting "No Technology" into her smart phone out of my head.  I highly recommend watching this picture, and insist that you stick around for the out takes with Ms. McCarthy during the credits...4 of 5 stars.

  Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present - You know, I vaguely remember a paragraph or so about Marina Abrimovic's work from Art History when I was in college but I never really got the point of performance art.  However, seeing her prepare for an exhibit and hearing her speak in this biographical documentary, I think I begin to get it.  I can only imagine what the experience of seeing one of her exhibits live would be like.  There is a presence and an energy about the woman (even over video) that simply defies explanation with mere words.
     Director Matthew Akers does not go in for a lot of flair in his storytelling style or structure, wisely allowing the charisma of his subject to speak for itself.  Which it does marvellously.  The Artist is Present is an insightful and entertaining meditation on art, love, the passage of time, and humanity.  Highly recommended viewing...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Great Gay Film Festival of 2011

     There were also several films with gay themes of note that I failed to catch back in 2011, so I put three of them together to make this post.  Why the hell not?
     Today's "colors in the homo rainbow" include a teen transsexual, a man so far in the closet he's in Narnia, and a sci-fi thriller about sexual coming of age.  I am happy to report that this batch of movies was MUCH better than the 2012 version of the festival.  Less snark, more recommended viewing!

    Gun Hill Road - Believe it or not, this one was already on my viewing list and it JUST released on DVD earlier this month.  I believe it first came within range of my radar due to young star Harmony Santana's Gotham Award nomination for the Breakthrough Award which the young transsexual actress deserved in spades.  As Michael/Vanessa she gives a performance that is nuanced and pained, yet demonstrates a confidence and understanding of exactly who the character is.  No doubt many points in the film mirror experiences and feelings in her own life, but she creates a character that is far more than a stock personality.
     I also have to take a moment to compliment actress Judy Reyes, who plays Michael/Vanessa's mother.  Rarely has a performance captured such unconditional love of a parent for a child, or such yearning for a closeness to one's husband that seems just beyond the character's grasp.  The actress certainly proves that she has dramatic chops that go far beyond the comedic stylings of SCRUBS.
     Unfortunately, actor Esai Morales's performance seems slightly forced by comparison as the conflicted father.  We definitely get his frustration and confusion, and they ring true for the most part.  However, some of his scenes seem to degenerate into a stereotypical, macho "But he's my boy" litany that could have been played with a little more variety.
     This is the first feature for writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, and I hope that the limited commercial success of Gun Hill Road does not hinder his ability to make another.  The script is written with intelligence and sensitivity to ALL of the parties involved and his direction indicates an ability to draw truth from the performances of his actors.  I definitely recommend this film, especially for the parents and families of children whose sexual identity may fall outside of the norm...4 of 5 stars.

  Beauty - Winner of the 2011 Queer Palme at Cannes, Beauty is a South African film that tells the story of Francois van Heerden, a man in his mid-40's who enjoys sex with men (unknown to his wife and family), but hates "faggots" (which should be clear to anyone around him).  Francois is played brilliantly by actor Deon Lotz, who manages to make the character both horrifying and oddly sympathetic.  Excellent supporting turns are provided by actors Charlie Keegan (as the young man he develops feelings for) and Michelle Scott (as the unsuspecting wife), but make no mistake, this is largely a one-man show.
     Writers Oliver Hermanus and Didier Costet were previously unknown to me, but they have crafted a tale that lends real irony to the film's title.  Francois's inability to accept his own attraction to "beauty" leads him to live a life full of bitterness and ugliness.  It is a marvelous example of how living in the closet (or in any other form of denial) can turn a man into a monster.  Hermanus also directs, and he pulls together a tightly knit and expertly handled production.  Beauty is not an easy film to watch, but it is well worth the effort and discomfort...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Kaboom - In my experience, the work of writer/director Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation) is always trippy and surreal, but I don't think I've ever seen him have so much fun with a film.  Kaboom is one part sexual awakening tale, one part sci-fi thriller, and one part farce.  Somehow all of these disparate parts stew together into a wholly unique movie that is improbably cohesive in tone.
     The ensemble cast as a whole is great, but the film belongs (acting wise) to Thomas Dekker, who plays Smith.  It took me most of the film to remember where I had seen the young actor before I remembered that he played John Conner in TV's Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  This is a very different role, one that enables Mr. Dekker to show an acting range that lies well outside the previous one.  He does so marvelously, aided by one of the most hypnotic [pairs of eyes ever put on the big screen.
     Mr. Araki wisely understands the confusion and alienation experienced by college age kids who are just beginning to understand themselves and their bodies.  Smith's feeling that he is "alien" in some way and caught up in forces beyond his control is something of a metaphor for how everyone feels as a young adult.  This is the "serious" thematic core of the piece.  The fact that, in his case, there are external forces to justify said feelings only adds to the general hilarity and mystery. The ending is a LITTLE disappointing, but I can largely forgive the film maker because I had so much fun getting there...4 of 5 stars.

     Related Articles: The Great Gay Film Festival of 2012

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 Awards Preview - Postscript: Predictions

     Of course, nobody knows anything yet, but I can't resist doing this just for fun.  I haven't even started tracking 86th Oscar Buzz in any significant way yet.  This is just going with my gut. That being said, five of the eventual Best Picture nominees from last year were in my preview series predictions top ten and I made those a couple of weeks earlier.  Three of the other four were in my alternates.  Amour is the only possibility that seemed to really escape me, but how often does a non-English language film actually crack the Best Picture category?  Let's see if I can do any better this year.  Bear in mind, the last couple of alternate slots in any category are usually going to be things I would LIKE to see happen.  Some are a little wild...

  Best Picture
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Twelve Years a Slave
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Nebraska
5. Fruitvale Station
6. The Monuments Men
7. Elysium
8. Before Midnight (ala Toy Story 3 and the expanded field effect)
9. The Butler
10. The Counselor

11. American Hustle
12. The Zero Theorem
13. The Immigrant
14. The Great Gatsby
15. Labor Day
16. The Rover
17. The Young and Prodigious Spivet
18. To The Wonder
19. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
20. The East
  But don't rule out: All Is Lost, August: Osage County, Captain Phillips, The Fifth Estate, Foxcatcher, Grace of Monico, Gravity, Her, Kill Your Darlings, Midnight's Children, Mud, Only God Forgives, The Place Beyond the Pines, Serena, Snowpiercer, Trance, World War Z

  Best Director
1. Steve McQueen - Twelve Years a Slave
2. Martin Scorcese - The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Alexander Payne - Nebraska
4. Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station'
5. The Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis

6. Neil Blomkamp - Elysium
7. Lee Daniels - The Butler
8. George Clooney - The Monuments Men
9. Richard Linklater - Before Midnight
10. Terence Malick - To The Wonder
  Other possibilities: David O Russell - American Hustle, Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips, Ridley Scott - The Couselor, Bill Condon - The Fifth Estate, Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher, Baz Luhrman - The Great Gatsby, James Grey - The Immigrant, Jason Reitman - Labor Day, Deepa Mehta - Midnight's Children, Jeff Nichols - Mud, Nicholas Winding Refn - Only God Forgives, David Michod - The Rover, Susanne Bier - Serena, Jean-Pierre Juenet - The Young and Prodigious Spivet, Terry Gillem - The Zero Theorem

  Best Actor
1. Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station
2. Michael Fassbender - The Counselor
3. Chiawatel Ejiofor - Twelve Years a Slave
4. Robert Redford - All Is Lost
5. Bruce Dern - Nebraska

6. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis
8. Forest Whitaker - The Butler
9. Matthew MacConaughey - Mud
10. Christoph Waltz - The Zero Theorem
  Or...Casey Affleck - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Bradley Cooper - American Hustle, Dennis Quaid - At Any Price, Ethan Hawke - Before Midnight, Toby Jones - Berberian Sound Studio, Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips, Matt Damon - Elysium, Bradley Cooper - The Fifth Estate, Mads Mickelson - The Hunt, Jeremy Renner - The Immigrant, Daniel Radcliffe - Kill Your Darlings, Ryan Gosling - Only God Forgives, Leonardo DiCaprio - The Great Gatsby, Joaquin Phoenix - Her, Idris Elba - Mandela: TheLong Walk To Freedom, Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines, Christian Bale - Out of the Furnace, Colin Firth - The Railway Man, Guy Pearce - The Rover, Tom Hanks - Saving Mr. Banks

  Best Actress
1. Nicole Kidman - Grace of Monaco
2. Jessica Chastain - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers
3. Oprah Winfrey - The Butler
4. Carey Mulligan - The Great Gatsby
5. Rooney Mara - Ain't Them Bodies Saints

6. Naomie Watts - Diana
7. Sandra Bullock - Gravity
8. Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant
9. Julie Delpy - Before Midnight
10. Susan Sarandan - The Company You Keep
     I also thought about: Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle, Meryl Streep - August: Osage County, Rooney Mara - Her, Saoirse Ronan - How I Live Now, Mia Wasikowska - Madame Bovary, Naomi Harris - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Shaillene Woodley - The Spectacular Now

  Best Supporting Actor
1. John Goodman - Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Robert DeNiro - American Hustle
3. Brad Pitt - The Counselor
4. Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
5. Ewan McGregor - August: Osage County

6. Michael Fassbender - Twelve Years a Slave
7. Robin Williams - The Butler
8. Matthew MacConaughey - The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Will Forte - Nebraska
10. Ezra Miller - Madame Bovary
  Also: Ben Foster - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Jeremy Renner - American Hustle, Chris Cooper - August: Osage County, Benedict Cumberbatch - August: Osage County, John Cusack - The Butler, Michael Fassbender - Frank, Tim Roth - Grace of Monaco, Tobey McGuire - The Great Gatsby, Joachin Phoenix - The Immigrant, Justin Timberlake - Inside Llewyn Davis, Matt Damon - The Monuments Men, Jean Dujardin - The Monuments Men, John Goodman - The Monuments Men, Casey Affleck - Out of the Furnace, Bradley Cooper - The Place Beyond the Pines, Scoot McNairy - The Rover, Robert Pattinson - The Rover, Paul Giamatti - Twelve Years a Slave, Brad Pitt - Twelve Years a Slave, Ben Whishaw - The Zero Theorem

  Best Supporting Actress
1. Jane Fonda - The Butler
2. Viola Davis - The Disappearence of Eleanor Rigby: Hers or His, not sure which
3. Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
4. Cate Blanchett - The Monuments Men
5. Alfre Woodard - Twelve Years a Slave

6. Amy Adams - American Hustle
7. Octavia Spencer - Fruitvale Station
8. Catherine Keener - Captain Phillips
9. Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Ellen Page - The East
  And then you have: Juliette Lewis - August: Osage County, Melissa Leo - The Butler, Parker Posey - Grace of Monaco, Samantha Morten - Her, Michelle Pfeiffer - Malavita, Kristen Scott Thomas - Only God Forgives, Zoe Saldana - Out of the Furnace, Quvenzhane Wallis - Twelve Years a Slave, Judy Davis - The Young and Prodigious Spivet

  Adapted Screenplay
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Before Midnight
3. The Butler
4. The Monuments Men
5. Much Ado About Nothing

6. The Great Gatsby
7. Prince Avalanche
8. Midnight's Children
9. Snowpiercer
10. Man of Steel
  In the running: The Fifth Estate, The Spectacular Now, Two Faces of January

  Original Screenplay
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Twelve Years a Slave
3. Fruitvale Station
4. Nebraska
5. The Immigrant

6. The Counselor
7. Elysium
8. American Hustler
9. The Zero Theorem
10. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
  Also keeping an eye on: All Is Lost, Captain Phillips, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His and/or Hers, The East, Foxcatcher, Frank, Grace of Monaco, Kill Your Darlings, Mud, Only God Forgives, Her, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Rover, Trance, The Young and Prodigious Spivet, World War Z

  Best Cinematography
1. The Monuments Men
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
4. Nebraska
5. To The Wonder

6. Elysium
7. The Zero Theorem
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. All Is Lost
10. Only God Forgives

  Best Editing
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Twelve Years a Slave
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Elysium
5. The Monuments Men

6. Fruitvale Station
7. The Butler
8. Man of Steel
9. The East
10. The Counselor

  Best Production Design
1. The Monuments Men
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Elysium
4. Twelve Years a Slave
5. The Butler

6. Oblivion
7. Grace of Monaco
8. Kill Your Darlings
9. The Young and Prodigious Spivet
10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  Best Costume Design
1. The Great Gatsby
2. Grace of Monaco
3. The Butler
4. Oz the Great and Powerful
5. The Immigrant

6. Diana
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. Twelve Years a Slave
9. The Monuments Men
10. The Rover

  Best Make-Up and Hairstyling
1. The Butler
2. Oz the Great and Powerful
3. World War Z

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
5. Grace of Monaco
6. Only God Forgives

  Best Original Score
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Man of Steel
3. The Monuments Men
4. World War Z
5. Oldboy

6. Oz the Great and Powerful
7. Snowpiercer
8. The Young and Prodigious Spivet
9. Elysium
10. The Zero Theorem

  Best Original Song
1. Was there an Original Song in Sapphires?
2. Planes
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Oz the Great and Powerful
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  Best Sound Editing
1. Elysium
2. Man of Steel
3. The Monuments Men
4. All is Lost
5. Only God Forgives

6. World War Z
7. Oz the Great and Powerful
8. Snowpiercer
9. Twelve Years a Slave
10. Captain Phillips

  Best Sound Mixing
1. The Monuments Men
2. Man of Steel
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Elysium
5. World War Z

6. Only God Forgives
7. All is Lost
8. Twelve Years a Slave
9. The Wolf of Wall Street
10. Captain Phillips

  Best Visual Effects
1. Elysium
2. Man of Steel
3. World War Z
4. Snowpiercer
5. The Europa Report

6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
7. Gravity
8. The Great Gatsby
9. All is Lost
10. Oblivion

  Best Documentary Feature
1. Stories We Tell
2. The Act of Killing
3. Blood Brother
4. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
5. Room 237

  Best Foreign Language Film
1. Child's Pose
2. The Hunt
3. Gloria
4. The Past
5. Le Grande Bellazza

6. Closed Curtain
7. Venus in Fur
8. Goodbye to Language
9. Attilla Marcel
10. Mood Indigo

  Best Animated Feature
1. Frozen
2. Planes
3. The Wind Rises
4. Monsters University
5. Hell and Back

6. Epic
7. Ernest and Celestine
8. Leo the Lion
9. Despicable Me Too
10. The Croods

     Related Articles:  Upcoming 2013 Award Season PreviewPart One: Pulpy PlayersPart Two: Specialties That Might SpellbindPart Three: Little Pics That Might CouldPart Four: The Usual SuspectsPart 5 - Because I Said So2012 Preview Postscript - Predictions

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Great Gay Film Festival of 2012

     So, my associate here at TheMovieFrog...who gets a kick out of me calling him The Social Media Salamander...recently chastised me for not covering more films with gay themes since I have this forum in which to give them exposure.  I took it to heart and (with the help of a recently published list on one of my favorite sites: Awards Daily) decided to do just that.  I've got a few more films that I added into my list from 2012 that will be scattered in among my normal reviews, but I figured I might as well lump the first three in together.
     Oh, and about the Salamander...if you discovered this site through Google+, Pinterest, Discus, TheMovieFrog Facebook fanpage, or just about anywhere else on the web, you have him to thank for it.  His participation in TheMovieFrog has increased my readership exponentially, and I would just like to take a moment to thank him myself.  He has been my partner in many things for many years now, but I had no idea when I started this blog a year and a half ago that he would end up playing such an integral role.  Thanks baby.
     Now, without further ado....

  Gayby - This film actually got a little bit of critical attention culminating in an Independent Spirit Best First Screenplay nomination for writer/director Jonathen Lisecki.  Unfortunately, I can't say that I quite agree with the hype.  I myself found the screenplay, and the movie, fairly unexceptional.  It tells the story of two best friends, a gay man and a straight woman, who decide to have a baby together.  Hence the title.  The rest of the film is just as much of a groaner.
     The whole thing plays sort of like a lost season of Will & Grace.  The main character (Matt) is sort of a neutered version of a gay man, a lot like Will on the show.  He is dating, but he only wants to cuddle.  I felt like his whole existence as a sexual being was diluted into something palatable for a straight audience, which might be why it got more mainstream attention than gay themed films often do.  He even has a flaming buffoon of a gay best friend, much like Jack on the television show.  The only thing missing from the Will & Grace formula was a Karen, who was the only character from the show that I found engaging.
     The acting stand out was actually the straight best friend, played by Jenn Harris.  In fact, rather than a film that raised awareness of the gay lifestyle, this film seemed to relegate gay men into the same old two stereotypical groups: lisping sissies straights can feel superior to and asexual butch guys who would be happier if they just realized that they were in love with their (female) best friends all along.  Just like Will & Grace, except in this movie he actually has sex with her...2 of 5 stars.

  Farewell, My Queen - This is my first exposure to the work of writer/director Benoit Jacquot (A Single Girl).  I found the movie to be a stylish period piece that was a little lacking in substance.  It tells the story of Sidonie (Lea Seydoux), the official reader to Marie Antoinette (Dianne Kruger) and the questionably sapphic devotion she holds for her regent.  The Queen herself is in love with the newly appointed Duchess (Virginie Ledoyen).  The French Revolution begins and that is pretty much the storyline.
     Despite the lack of much narrative structure, the picture is elevated immensely by two strong lead performances from international stars Seydoux and Kruger.  Kruger (who American audiences probably know best from Inglorious Basterds) is equally charming and detestable as the Regent: spoiled, stylish, and slightly sinister.  Seydoux (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) has her own unique screen charisma, and her performance makes Sidonie completely accessible to the audience as she slowly comes to see her monarch for what she truly is.
     I should take a moment to commend the production team, as this was a very well crafted costume drama.    This is of course the perfect segue to start off with the work of costume designers Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux who created some truly sumptuous outfits.  They played nicely against the ornate production design of Katie Wyszkop.  Cinematographer Romain Winding also did a very nice job of capturing the palace in all of its opulent excess.
     I enjoyed Farewell, My Queen, but found it a little lacking in substance or thrills to justify a second viewing.  However, it was a well made and well performed film...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  A Perfect Ending - So, when I was in my teens and twenties I remember that one of the main stereotypes used by Conservatives (what an ironic name when the last Republican to do anything about conservation was Teddy Roosevelt) to try and demonize homosexuals was that we were always trying to recruit poor innocent heterosexuals into our lives of debauchery.  We used to laugh about that.  So when I see a film, like A Perfect Ending, that seems to be a lesbian propaganda film aimed at recruitment, it bothers me a little bit.  Okay, one part recruitment propaganda, one part soft porn.
      Now, don't get me wrong.  It was a well written and very well acted movie.  Star Barbara Niven, in particular, is really pretty fantastic.  The chemistry between her and young co-star Jessica Clark is electric and their love scenes definitely convey the passion that can exist between two women.  I just wish that film maker Nicole Conn didn't seem to feel that she had to portray all men as either philandering and neglectful (the husband) or vapid, inept, and comparably undeserving (the sons) to drive the point home.  I don't know where this stereotype of man-haters comes from...2 1/2 of 5 stars.

     Well, unfortunately, the Great Gay Film Festival of 2012 was not so great.  I am happy to report that the Great Gay Film Festival of 2011 (coming shortly) bore much more impressive fruit.  Look for it soon...

     Related Articles: Muppet Impossible: Life or Deat Protocol (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol review)

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 Awards Season Preview - Part 5: Because I Said So

     Below is my fifth and final set of films for the 2013-2014 Awards season, titled Because I Said So.  Each article in this series has presented a group of upcoming releases that are currently on my watch list.  I divided the articles up to each represent the strengths found in cinema in one of the last four years (with 2013 as an unknown wild card for this fifth post). We have no idea what 2013 will bring.  In its honor, I present this set of films that don't fit any of the other four categories that Oscar usually draws from (and a few that I just forgot in those categories).  This category can contain any genre, but comedies, super hero fare and fantasy form the majority.
     On a side note, no awards season will ever be mostly about these kinds of films.  Generally speaking, the Academy ignores them almost entirely.  Maybe an odd tech, acting or screenplay nod, but that's it.  It is almost certain that none of these films will make the Best Picture list.  However, that doesn't mean that there are no films in this group that SHOULD.
      The movies that already have release dates are presented in chronological order.  The films that have not received such dates are listed alphabetically afterward.  The fifteen films (that have not already been released) that I am most excited about seeing appear in bold with short descriptions of why.  Do not be surprised if we see some of these get pushed back until 2014.  I will be surprised if we don't.  Still, for now, the films I'm covering in 2013 just Because I Said So are...

  01/11 - Gangster Squad (yeah, rough reviews, but Gosling & Penn keep it in my DVD que anyway)
               Struck By Lightning (Glee's Chris Colfer wrote and stars in this high school comedy)
  01/25 - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
  02/01 - Warm Bodies (zombie in love story from writer/director Jonathen Levine)
  02/14 - Beautiful Creatures (Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis & teen witches)
  03/01 - Jack the Giant Slayer (directed by Bryan Singer)
  03/08 - Oz, the Great and Powerful (James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz & Michelle Williams)
  03/15 - The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Magicians #1: Carrell, Buscemi, Carrey, Arkin, Gandolfini...)
  04/05 - Upstream Color
  04/12 - The Angel's Share (directed by Ken Loach)
  05/03 - Iron Man 3
  06/07 - Much Ado About Nothing: Joss Whedon follows up Marvel's Avengers with...a Shakespeare adaptation?  No, seriously, and the trailer looks fantastic.  Stars Whedon mainstays Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof.
               Now You See Me: Director Louis Letterier brings us magicians #2 (and this one looks much better).  Stars Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Dave Franco & Melanie Laurent
  06/14 - Man of Steel: Zack Snyder may be directing, but Christopher Nolan is producing and contributing on the story, so I'm hoping it's going to do for Superman what The Dark Knight trilogy did for Batman. Early promotionals are VERY promising.  Even the casting of Kevin Costner as Pa Kent couldn't chase me away from this.  Also stars Henry Cavill (Clark), Amy Adams (Lois), Russel Crowe (Jor-El), Dianne Lane (Martha Kent), Michael Shannon (Zod) & Laurence Fishburne (Perry White).
               This Is The End:  Fourth wall bending apocalypse comedy about a party at James Franco's house from directors Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg.  If that isn't bizarre enough to get your attention, the film stars the three gentlemen listed above as well as Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Paul Rudd, Emma Watson, Jason Segal, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, and Kevin Hart.
  06/21 - World War Z: What can be done with zombie flicks that hasn't already been done?  THIS!!!  Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) directs, Brad Pitt stars, and the effects team is probably going to the Oscars!!!
  06/28 - White House Down (stars Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx & Maggie Gyllenhall)
  07/05 - The Way, Way Back (written & directed by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash with Carell & Collette)
  07/19 - R.I.P.D. (undead cops starring Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon & Mary Louise Parker)
  07/26 - Wolverine (Hugh Jackman returns, hopefully the second time is the charm)
  08/02 - The Spectacular Now: Director James Ponsoldt's follow up to Smashed is an off-beat high school romance about living in the present versus living in the future.  Stars Shaillene Woodley, Miles Teller, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkirk, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Kyle Chandler.
  08/16 - Kick-Ass 2 (the first chapter survived Cage, can this one survive Carey?)
               Thanks For Sharing (stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo & Tim Robbins)
  08/23 - The Grandmaster (directed by Kar Wai Wong)
               Mortal Instruments: The City of Bone: This might be terrible, but the trailer looks like GREAT fun.  Director Harold Zwart DID manage to exceed my expectations roundly with the Karate Kid remake, so who knows how he'll handle a movie about teen-age demon hunters?  Stars Lena Headey, Lily Collins & Aiden Turner with Jonathen Rhys-Meyers and Jean-Pierre Jeunet mainstay Robert Maillet in supporting.
               World's End (Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright with Martin Freeman & Rosamund Pike)
  10/04 - Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (would be highlighted if it weren't a sequel)
  10/18 - Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut)
              Seventh Son (Family fantasy starring Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges)
  11/08 - Thor: The Dark World (no Branagh direction, but Hemsworth and Portman return)
  11/22 - Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  11/27 - Black Nativity: Ok, so an all black musical version of the Christmas story sounds like it could be uber-cheesy, BUT...the film stars Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassette, Jennifer Hudson & Mary J. it could also be brilliant...or at least have some brilliant acting.
  TBA -   Almost Christmas (comedy starring Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti & Sally Hawkins)
               Big Wedding: Ok, so a comedy of errors about two families coming together for a wedding has been done to DEATH as a story concept, I admit.  Debut director Justin Zackham is completely untried, I grant you.  However, I WILL be watching any film that stars Susan Sarandan, Dianne Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Katherine Heigl & Topher Grace.  This one does.
               Drinking Buddies (with Anna Kendrick & Olivia Wilde)
               Filth (crime drama with McAvoy, Bell & Poots)
               Frank: Michael Fassbender plays a mysterious band leader in a comedy that also features Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, & Scoot McNairy.
               The Harvest (horror flick with Michael Shannon, Samantha Morton & Peter Fonda)
               The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman: This debut feature from director Fredrik Bond is a twisted tale of love and crime.  It stars Shia LaBeouf, Mads Mickelson, Melissa Leo, John Hurt, Rupert Grint, Evan Rachel Wood & Vincent D'Onofrio.
               Prince Avalanche: The latest comedy from director David Gordon Green tells a story of two highway workers played by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
               The Rover: Animal Kingdom director David Michod brings us a Western with an Australian accent starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson & Scoot McNairy.  Michod co-wrote the script with Joel Edgerton.
                Tar (James Franco, Mila Kunis, Henry Hopper, Jessica Chastain, Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell...)
                Third Person: Paul Haggis directs a tale of three interlocking love stories starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Kim Bassinger, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody & Liam Neeson.
                 Two Mothers (reviews from the festival circuit were not great, but I can't resist)
                 Untitled Nicole Holofcener Project
                 Winter's Tale: Director Akiva Goldsman bring high concept fantasy starring Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly, Colin Farrell & William Hurt.
                 Zulu (Orlando Bloom & Forrest Whitaker)

     And that concludes The Movie Frog's viewing agenda (as of now) for 2013 releases.  I can't resist doing a post script edition where I make some totally unsubstantiated stabs in the dark about possible Oscar nominations.  Look for it in a couple of days.  Until then...

     Related Articles: Upcoming 2013 Award Season PreviewPart One: Pulpy PlayersPart Two: Specialties That Might SpellbindPart Three: Little Pics That Might CouldPart Four: The Usual SuspectsThe Dark Knight Transcends

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Late Rise of the Intouchables

     Today's wave of at home viewing options washes ashore a drama about string players, the French film that had the highest non-English language box office in the U.S. and worldwide in 2012, and an animated film about protecting childhood.  Let's sift through the sand....

  The Intouchables - This is not the first feature that Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have written and directed together, but it is the first to break out internationally on this scale.  The Intouchables did great box office and was also picked as France's official submission to the Oscars last year, although it failed to make the final five.  Many criticized France for choosing this film over Jaques Audiard's Rust and Bone.  I can understand their resistance, this film is not nearly the equal of that masterpiece.  However, The Intouchables is a very good film on its own: touching, poignant, and fun to watch.
     The Intouchables' greatest strength lies in its two lead acting performances from Francois Cluzet (Little White Lies) and Omar Sy (Micmacs).  On the surface it would appear that Cluzet has the more difficult role. It undoubtedly has its challenges.  His character is stuck in a wheelchair and he is limited to what he can express on his face.  He meets every limitation inherent to his performance head on and does a tremendous job in this movie.  Omar Sy, however, may actually outshine him.  Omar has to be ALL of the movement in what basically amounts to a two man show and his physicality never lets you get bored.  He is also gifted with this amazing, shining on-screen charisma that comes across brilliantly in ANY language.
     The story itself has certainly been told before: unconventional caregiver brings new life to invalid patient.  It has rarely been told with this much heart, however.  The script could perhaps have been a little more innovative, but the directors chose to focus on the characters.  Judging by the performances of the leads, this was probably the correct decision...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Rise of the Guardians - Early on in 2012, I had a hunch that this film might wind up being the one to beat for Animated Feature at the Oscars this year.  I wound up being really wrong, as it didn't even secure a nomination.  Chock it up to the Academy's aversion to films with a holiday theme.  This bias kept Arthur Christmas out of the running the year before and it was FAR superior to most of the 2011 animated fare.  I personally found rise of the Guardians to be a very good movie, taking a topic loaded with cheese potential and crafting a tale that was full of adventure, excitement, and a childlike sense of wonder, hope, and fun.
     This film is a far cry from Rabbit Hole (even though it has a rabbit), screen writer David Lindsay-Abaire's most well known previous work, but its not his first animated film (he also wrote Robots).  I have not read the source material, but from that position of ignorance, this story seems fresh and very well told.  This was the first directorial effort from successful Art Director Peter Ramsey, but he handles the job like a seasoned professional.
     The cast is full of great voice talent.  Alec Baldwin's voice is unrecognizable under a flawless Russian accent as Santa.  Hugh Jackman is alternately sternly disapproving and, well, warm and fuzzy as The Easter Bunny.  Isla Fischler makes an adorable tooth fairy.  Chris Pine would actually steal the show as Jack Frost if not for the villainous delight with which Jude Law portrays the Boogey Man.  The animators should also be congratulated for giving the silent Sandman as much personality as any of them.
     If you have REALLY little ones, some parts MIGHT be a little scary.  Otherwise, whether you have kids yourself, or just like to indulge your own inner child every now and then, this one is well worth a couple of hours of viewing time...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  A Late Quartet - This is the debut narrative feature from writer/director Yaron Zilberman who had previously directed the documentary Water Marks.  He seems to handle the job fairly deftly.  There is nothing all that ground breaking about the story itself or the composition of the film, but he does manage to pull the acting ensemble together in perfect harmony.
     Of course, we may have to wait until Mr. Zilberman's next film to discover how much of the credit he deserves, and how much of the finished product resulted from the excellent casting.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken all function like the peerless professionals that they are. Working alongside these three it would be easy to get lost in the mix, but Mark Ivanir holds his own with style and confidence.  Imogen Poots and the always delightful Wallace Shawn lend able support.
     In many ways, A Late Quartet is a pretty standard indie drama.  It IS a well told and believable one, however, with an outstanding acting ensemble that works together flawlessly.  If you are a fan of classical music you are in for a real treat as the film is replete with beautifully performed pieces...4 of 5 stars.

     Related Articles: Down With Sinister Lies! (Little White Lies review)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Awards Preview - Part 4: The Usual Suspects

    Below is my fourth set of films for the 2013-2014 Awards season, titled The Usual Suspects.  Each article in this series will present a group of upcoming releases that are currently on my watch list.  I divided the articles up to each represent the strengths found in cinema in one of the last four years (with 2013 as an unknown wild card for the fifth post). This post is in honor of the year 2012, when the movies that were SUPPOSED to be the big awards players mostly lived up to the hype.  In its honor, I present this set of films that due to their director, stars and/or subject matter, can truly be termed pure Oscar Bait.  This category can contain many genres, but epics, costume dramas, and war films often make up the bulk.
     On a side note, any year can turn out to be a year in which The Usual Suspects shine through.  It all depends on how satisfactorily the talent involved lives up to the high expectations that come with their names.  A year like 2013, that has new films from Scorcese, Soderburgh, Payne, Miller, Reitman, Howard, Cianfrance, Daniels, McQueen, and Russell on the horizon (just to name a few, honestly) is rife with opportunity to do just that.  However things pan out, expect at least five of your Best Picture nominees to come from this bunch of choices.
      The movies that already have release dates are presented in chronological order.  The films that have not received such dates are listed alphabetically afterward.  The twenty films (that have not already been released, and that I did not cover last year, ahem, Gatsby and Gravity, ahem) that I am most excited about seeing appear in bold with short descriptions of why.  Do not be surprised if we see some of these get pushed back until 2014.  I will be surprised if we don't.  Still, for now, the Usual Suspects of 2013 are...

  01/07 - Great Expectations (Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham!!!)
  02/08 - Side Effects (Soderburgh's final film? With Mara, Law, Zeta-Jones & Tatum)
  03/29 - The Place Beyond the Pines (Dir: Derek Cianfrance, starring Gosling, Cooper & Mendes)
  04/05 - The Company You Keep (Dir: Robert Redford, starring Redford, Marling, Sarandan, LaBouf...)
               Trance (this might be too trippy for Oscar, but Slumdog and 127 Hours leave Boyle 2 for 2)
  04/12 - 42 (now holds the honor of having the top Box Office premiere ever for a baseball flick)
               To The Wonder (Dir: Terence Malick, stars Ben Affleck, Benecio del Toro & Rachel McAdams)
  04/26 - At Any Price (with Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron)
              Midnight's Children (Directed by Deepa Mehta)
  05/10 - The Great Gatsby (Luhrman in 3D!!! Stars DiCaprio, Mulligan, McGuire & Edgerton)
  05/24 - Before Midnight: I normally avoid threequels at all costs but this is director Richard Linklater's next episode in the Before series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset) and the quality didn't slide from Part 1 to Part 2, so...stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
  08/30 - Diana: The latest from director Oliver Hirschbiegel (who's been too busy with TV's the Borgias to come out with a new film for the last couple of years) chronicles the last two years in the life of Princess Diana.  Oscar loves biopics about the British royals and Naomi Watts (in the title role) seems well primed to be a Best Actress contender.
  09/20 - Rush (car racing drama from Ron Howard starring Chris Hemsworth)
  09/27 - Serena: Susanne Bier (director of the Foreign Language Film Oscar winner In a Better World) tries her hand at English language cinema with this depression era drama about a barren woman.  Stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (deja vu part 1).
  10/04 - Gravity (I covered this in last year's preview. Cuaron directs Bullock in one woman spacewalk.)
               Out of the Furnace: Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Get Low) returns with a crime drama about two brothers.  Stars Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, Casey Affleck & Sam Shepard.
  10/18 - The Butler: Lee Daniels (Precious) directs this true story of a White House butler who served under every administration from Kennedy to Reagan!  Stars (prepare yourself) Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Melissa Leo, Alex Petyfer, James Marsden, Alan Rickman, Liev Shrieber, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redrave, Lenny Kravitz & Mariah Carey.
              Her: The always creative Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich) returns with this story of man and machine starring Olivia Wilde, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Samantha Morten.
  11/08 - August: Osage County: It's hard to go wrong with a cast starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard & Margo Martindale.  The picture is adapted by Tracy Letts from her own play and directed by John Wells (The Company Men).
              Inside Llewyn Davis: NEVER discount the Coen Brothers.  This tale of the 1960's New York music scene stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund and F. Murray Abraham.
  11/15 - The Fifth Estate: Bill Condon goes from directing teen-age vampires to the story of the founding of WikiLeaks.  Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Carice van Houten, Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney, David Thewliss & Alicia Vikander.
               The Wolf of Wall Street: The legendary Martin Scorcese reteams with star Leonardo DiCaprio for this tale of stock market intrigue.  Also stars Matthew MacConaughey, Jonah Hill, John Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Julie Andrews, Rob Reiner & Jean Dujardin.
  11/29 - A Most Wanted Man: Director Anton Corbjin (The American) directs this tale of an innocent Muslim who gets caught up in the War on Terror.  The cast includes Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe & Daniel Bruhl.
  12/13 - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  12/18 - The Monuments Men: George Clooney wrote, directed and stars in this film of art historians trying to save timeless works from the Nazis.  Maybe the most Oscar-baity film of the year also stars Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman & Jean Dujardin.
  12/20 - Saving Mr. Banks (The Blind Side's John Lee Hancock directs Hanks, Thompson, Giamatti...)
  12/25 - Untitled David O Russell Abscam Project: It may not have a title yet, but it surely has buzz.  Can Russell make it three Picture and Director nominations in a row (after The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook)?  The cast reunites Cooper, Lawrence & DeNiro (deja vu part 2) and also includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Louis CK & Michael Pena.
  12/27 - Grace of Monaco: Director Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose won Marion Cotillard an Oscar and it wasn't even in English.  Can the Academy possibly ignore him directing Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly during her transition from movie star to royalty?  I have my doubts.  The movie also stars Milo Ventimiglia (Peter from TV's Heroes), Tim Roth, Parker Posey, Frank Langella & Derek Jacobi.
               Twelve Years a Slave: Shame was a true masterpiece but a little too edgy for Oscar.  Writer/director Steve McQueen's follow up should be a little more palatable to the AMPAS.  Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Paul Dano, Quvenzhane Wallis, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard & Dwight Henry.
  TBA - All is Lost (writer/director JC Chandor's follow up to Margin Call stars Redford in one man show)
             Foxcatcher: Moneyball got Bennett Miller into the Best Picture race last time at bat.  Can he repeat with this true story of a paranoid schizophrenic starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Sienna Miller, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Michael Hall & Vanessa Redgrave?  At this point, I'm not going to bet AGAINST it.
             Hedda Gabler
             How I Live Now: Director Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) tells a story of young girl caught up in war.  Stars Saoirse Ronan and The Impossible's Tom Holland.
             Labor Day: Jason Reitman has a great track record with the Academy and he adapted and directed this picture which should show the film maker's more serious side.  It stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet & Tobey Maguire.
             Last of Robin Hood (probably 2014, but this could pull a Hitchcock)
             Maps to the Stars (ditto)
             Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight: Director Stephen Frears brings you the story of the epic Supreme Court case.  Starring Christopher Plummer, Danny Glover, Frank Langella, Barry Levinson, Bob Balaban & Ed Begley, Jr.
             Nebraska: It seems appropriate to wind down an article on the year's Oscar bait with a film from Alexandre Payne who is usually quirkier than one should be when trying to catch the Academy's eye but does so anyway.  Could this year be the Scorcese/Payne show down that The Artist prevented from happening in 2011?  Bruce Dern and Will Forte star in a father/son cross country road trip.
             Untitled Terence Malick Project (2013?  I'll believe it when I see it.)

     Related Articles: Upcoming 2013 Award Season PreviewPart One: Pulpy PlayersPart Two: Specialties That Might Spellbind, Part Three: Little Pics That Might CouldDark Clouds Beautify "Silver Linings"Innkeepers of Blood and Shame (Shame review), "Impossible"y Well Crafted

Monday, April 15, 2013

Side Smashed by Bully

     In today's clump of at home viewing options we cover a film about film (and video), an addiction drama, and a documentary about mean kids.  And with a flick of my distended tongue...

  Side By Side - This documentary delves into the debate among film makers over the digital revolution in film making.  As movies are being shot more and more often using digital technology, the industry has faced a backlash from film makers who believe that the photochemical process of recording images on film will always result in a superior product.  Meanwhile, camera makers have stopped development of new film cameras, signalling that the day is quickly approaching when video may become the ONLY medium upon which movies are shot.
     Even to a film buff like me, it sounds a little bit dry.  Surprisingly, it wasn't at all.  This blend of informative back story, clips of extraordinary camera work in both mediums and interviews with master film makers and cinematographers actually moved at a perfect pace to keep Side By Side engaging throughout.  Even narrator Keanu Reeves did a great job of stepping back just enough to keep the piece from ever becoming about him.  He wisely allowed the footage and responses of the interviewees to tell the story for him.
     If you have NO interest in the work that goes into film making behind the scenes, then this documentary is probably NOT for you.  This is the only reason that I do not give this debut effort from director Christopher Kenneally a perfect score.  If you DO have ANY interest in such subjects, then I would highly recommend giving the picture a try.  It's almost impossible for any real cinephile to feel disappointed by an opportunity to hear opinions on the craft from masters such as Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, David Lynch, The Wachowski siblings, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, George Lucas, Wally Pfister, Steven Soderburgh, Lars von Trier...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Smashed - I have not seen writer/director James Ponsoldt's one previous feature, Off the Black, and I'm sorry to say that viewing Smashed is not going to send me scrambling to correct this.  This relationship/addiction drama was a little too pat in storyline and a little too lackluster in general execution.  I WILL give the director credit, however, for pulling some FANTASTIC acting out of the superb cast.
     Praise for the acting must begin and end with star Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  In a film whose tone is seriously subdued, she manages to pull multiple extremes out of her character (Kate) without ever coming across as too much or ever breaking said tone.  We have seen MANY actresses play the role of a good woman who is also an alcoholic, but rarely have we seen an actress capture the multiple personalities that a person with addiction begins to develop with quite so much insight.  If you know someone with addiction, there is a point of rising intoxication in which they just flip (and a corresponding point on the way down, when the third persona comes out).  You can see the second that the change happens in their eyes.  I saw that moment in Ms. Winstead's. Every time.
     The supporting cast is also unanimously strong.  Aaron Paul has the most sizable role as Kate's husband.  The part is not that far of a cry from his character in Breaking Bad in many ways, but he plays it deftly.  Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mulally, and Mary Kay Place also shine in smaller roles.  These performers keep the film more than watchable, even if it does fail somewhat to say anything new about its topic...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Bully - High school bullying seems to be the new college hazing in American culture.  It has become a major topic of concern among educators and parents and has come to be regarded as one of the major causes of teen-age suicide attempts.  Many, of course, scoff at all the hoopla, saying kids will be kids, and that is just a part of growing up.  However you feel about the subject of bullying, I dare you to watch this documentary and not feel something for the kids affected by it.
     It has been almost ten years since Amandla!, the first and last previous documentary from film maker Lee Hirsch, but his skills don't seem to have gotten too rusty.  While there is nothing extraordinary about the structure or style of this piece, it does tell some touching and horrifying stories.  In viewing the film, I certainly was moved to empathy for the victims.  You expect when watching such a movie to remember times when you felt bullied.  The triumph of Bully, however is that the perspective it provides is well rounded enough to lead the viewer to remember themselves in the opposite role as well, and confront the Bully within themselves.  There is some degree of course language, but this is still a great one to watch WITH your kids and talk about afterwards...4 of 5 stars. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Awards Preview - Part 3: Little Pics That Might Could

    Below is my third list of films for the 2013-2014 Awards season, titled Little Pics That Might Could.  Each article in this series will present a group of upcoming releases that are currently on my watch list.  I divided the articles up to each represent the strengths found in cinema in one of the last four years (with 2013 as an unknown wild card for the fifth post). This post is in honor of the year 2011, when the little art house film (most too small for Oscar to notice) ruled the day.  In its honor, I present this set of films destined for limited release and crossed fingers.  This category can contain many genres, but it is mainly the stomping ground of dramas and dramedies.
     On a side note, 2013 is showing early signs of a strong art house year already.  Films like Mud, Fruitvale & Ain't Them Bodies Saints are already tearing up the festival circuit and we still have films from Jeunet and Gillam coming down the pike.
      The movies that already have release dates are presented in chronological order.  The films that have not received such dates are listed alphabetically afterward.  The fifteen films (that have not already been released) that I am most excited about seeing appear in bold with short descriptions of why.  Do not be surprised if we see some of these get pushed back until 2014.  I will be surprised if we don't.  Still, for now, the Little Pics That Might Could in 2013 are...

  01/11 - Quartet (stars Maggie Smith)
  03/15 - Better Mus Come
              Ginger & Rosa (Elle Fanning is supposed to be amazing)
  03/22 - My Brother the Devil (gay themes and Islam collide in Great Britain)
               The Sapphires (the 2012 festival sensation finally makes it stateside)
  04/26 - Mud: So, director Jeff Nichols blew me away with Take Shelter in 2011 and Michael Shannon (my #1 lead male performance of 2011 for Shelter) is reunited with the film maker for this picture.  This film has received almost universal praise on the festival circuit.  Oh, and for those who feel Matthew McConaughey was unduly snubbed for his work in Magic Mike last year, this is supposedly the best work of his career.  Also features Reese Witherspoon.
               The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  05/03 - What Maisie Knew (Julianne Moore & Alexander Skarsgard & the trailer looks GREAT)
  05/17 - The English Teacher (Julianne Moore again)
  05/31 - Shadow Dancer (Andrea Riseborough's lead performance has received near universal acclaim)
  06/07 - Passion (Brian De Palma directs a sapphic thriller starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams)
  06/14 - Bling Ring (director Sophia Coppola's follow up to Somewhere looks far less drowsy)
  06/21 - Unfinished Song (Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave)
  07/19 - Girl Most Likely (Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon)
  07/26 - Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen's latest)
               Fruitvale: This film already won writer/director Ryan Coogler both the Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award at Sundance before being picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Co.  I don't know how your math adds up, but that sounds like a potential awards player to me.  Star Michael B. Jordan is also generating buzz.  Octavia Spencer supports.
  08/16 - Ain't Them Bodies Saints: This one won the Cinematography award at Sundance and David Lowery won the Directors To Watch award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.  With a cast that includes Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster, this one could also be a major player.
  TBA -   Austenland
               Berberian Sound Studio: This little horror film cleaned up at last year's British Independent Film Awards as well as with the London Film Critics Circle last year.  Lead actor Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has also won a lot of acclaim. Now if it would just get a U.S. release date...
               Breathe In (writer/director Drake Doremus's follow up to Martha Marcy Mae Marlene)
               Calvary (writer/director John Michael McDonaugh's follow up to The Guard)
               Dallas Buyer's Club: Matthew McConaughey may have the best year ever in 2013.  He stars in this tale of a homophobic man infected with HIV in the mid-80's who founds a smuggling ring to get unapproved meds into this country.  Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria, Cafe de Flore) directs and Jennifer Garner co-stars.
               The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers
               The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His: Two films that tell the same story from two different perspectives.  This will be the debut feature from writer/director Ned Benson but he managed to attract a cast that includes Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Ciaran Hinds, William Hurt and Viola Davis.
               Effie:  Emma Thompson penned this one and has a meaty supporting turn.  Oh, and it stars Dakota Fanning.
               Francis Ha (Noah Brumbaugh and Greta Gerwig's follow up to Greenberg)
               Gambit (script by the Coen Brothers)
               Jayne Mansfield's Car (written & directed by Billy Bob Thornton)
               Kill Your Darlings: Writer/director John Krokidas's debut feature is a thriller set in the world of the beat generation.  The film stars (get ready) Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall, Elizabeth Olsen, Ben Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgewick & Dane Dehaan.  Krokidas was cited as a director to watch at the Palm Springs film festival.
               Laurence Anyways: Winner of the Queer Palme at 2012 Cannes, this film from director Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother) follows a transexual's relationship with her lover as she changes.  Actress Suzanne Clement also was awarded Un Certain Regard.
               The Look of Love (from Michael Winterbottom, director of 24 Hour Party People)
               Madame Bovary: This latest adaptation from director Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls) is being kept fairly quiet at the moment.  However, any film that stars Ezra Miller, Mia Wasikowska & Paul Giamatti has my interest.
               Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: The Weinstein Company has already picked up this latest from director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), which always boosts a film's chances at recognition. The film stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as the Mandelas.
                Mother of George
                Night Moves (Jesse Eisenberg & Dakota Fanning)
                Nymphomaniac: Writer/director Lars von Trier is both a genius and a madman, his films both amazing and disturbing.  This follow up to the masterpiece Melancholia stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, and Willem Dafoe.
                Parkland (Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, Jackie Earle Hayley...)
                The Railway Man: Oscar loves movies tied to World War II and true stories and this is both.  More than that it stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, and War Horse star Jeremy Irvine.
                Sunlight, Jr. (Naomi Watts & Matt Dillon)
                Touchy Feely
                You Can't Win
                The Young and Prodigious Spivet: Writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's work (Amelie, City of Lost Children, Micmacs) is always creative, playful, dark and wondrous simultaneously.  This time he's working in English with Helena Bonham Carter, Rober Maillet (a usual suspect), Callum Keith Rennie and Judy Davis.
                Zero Theorem: Terry Gillam has got to be one of the most pivotal directors of the last several decades to have never received a Best Director nomination (although he did get a screenwriting nod for Brazil).  Granted, his work is usually VERY bizarre, but surely the Academy has to recognize what a unique cinematic voice the man has.  Oh, well, they'll probably ignore this one too, and I'll probably love it.  The cast features Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, David Thewliss & Melanie Thierry.
        And that does it for the Little Pics That Might Could in the coming year.  Two more sets of films remain.  Next up: "The Usual Suspects" covers the true Oscar Bait.  Hop aboard my lily pad and take a look.

  Related Articles: Upcoming 2013 Award Season PreviewPart One: Pulpy Players, Part Two: Specialties That Might SpellbindSenna, Take 13 (Take Shelter review), Where Did the Magic Spider Go? (Magic Mike review), Martha's Certified Method (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene review), WE Guard Rum (The
Guard review), Beautiful Melancholy Conspirator (Melancholia review)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Simply the Favorite Man

     Today's clump of at home viewing options include a modern Kung-fu flick, a comedy that goes with or against the odds and a drama about ageing from Hong Kong.   Don't just wade, dive in...

  Lay the Favorite - Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Once upon a time, director Stephen Frears crafted films like the 1988 costume drama classic Dangerous Liasons.  There was a time when screen writer D.V. DiVicentis penned a notable little indie called High Fidelity.  In 2012, this creative team brought you a Las Vegas set comedy about a call girl who tries to start a new life as a personal assistant to a professional gambler called Lay the Favorite...sigh.
     What can I say?  The script and film were cliched, predictable, and a little insipid.  The film did have a lot of potential in the cast, but most of them fall well shy of their capabilities.  Bruce Willis phones in his usual Williscisms (such a far cry from his excellent work in Looper) as the gambler. Vince Vaughan is cloying and cartoonish as a rival gambler.  However, Catherine Zeta-Jones does show us a new trick or two, disappearing far enough into her role as Willis's wife that she becomes almost unrecognizable.
     The only thing that really keeps this pic at all watchable is Rebecca Hall in the lead role of Beth.  Beth is everything you would expect from her character bio, ALMOST cartoonishly so.  In Ms. Hall's talented hands, though, the character gains much greater depth and evinces many more sides to her personality than I ever expected at the film's inception.  Beth ends up being laughably childlike, shrewdly capable, and utterly charming all at the same time.  If you are a fan of the young actress's work, I wouldn't miss her here.  Beyond that...2 1/2 of 5 stars.

  The Man With the Iron Fists - RZA wants to break into films in a big way, and making a highly stylized quasi-Kung-Fu flick with archetypal overtones like this is certainly one way to do it.  This film marks his debut as a director and screen writer, although he got an assist on the script from Eli Roth.  Quentin Tarantino produced the film and there IS something of a Kill Bill vibe going on.   "Fists" is painted in far broader strokes than "Bill" was, however, and none of the characters demonstrate the sort of subtle depth that Uma Thurman accomplished with "The Bride".
     It DOES work pretty well in a "style over substance" kind of way, though.  The fight sequences are impressive, amusing, and ridiculous. The production design by Drew Boughton (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is phenomenal, coupling splendidly with Thomas Chong's (Fearless) delightfully gaudy costuming.  The Make-Up and Hair Design team of Jake Garber, Aileen Seaton, and Erin Ayanian complete the visual picture nicely and cinematographer Chi Ying Chan (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame) captures it all very effectively.  The only real technical flaw here, for me, was that some of the sound track choices seemed like odd ones for the scenes in which they were used.
     There are also some laudable performances in the movie despite the fact that most of the actors are playing "stock" characters.  When given a caricature to portray, the best thing to do is just go big and no one does that as consistently well as actress Lucy Liu.  She's as good here as you would hope.  Russell Crowe also shines.  It's too bad that this film didn't come out AFTER Les Miserables.  It could have been a minor redemption.  RZA plays the understated contrast of his role to decent effect.  He's still getting his sea legs as an actor, but he's definitely giving it his best effort.  Even Dave Bautista gives a strong turn, but hey, professional wrestling's tone and sensibilities are not ALL that dissimilar to the movie's.
     Now, while I did say there was a Kill Bill tone to this, don't go in expecting a Tarantino flick.  There is a sort of (possibly unconscious) inspiration to that man's work that this picture cannot touch.  It IS entertaining, but not too much more than that.  I enjoyed it, and I'm open to checking out RZA's future projects IF they catch my interest, but I'm not planning a repeat viewing...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  A Simple Life - Both director Ann Hui and screen writer Susan Chan have several films to their credit, but neither has broken out in the international critical community before the way that they have with this picture.  Maybe co-scripter Yan-lam Lee (on her first movie) gave them the little creative push that they needed.  It's hard to say.  What I can say is that, in A Simple Life, they have created a film that is touching, poignant, and very well put together.
     The movie tells the story of an ageing maid (played brilliantly by Deannie Yip) and the family she has toiled to take care of for fifty years.  When the maid has a stroke, the member that she currently resides with (played by Andy Lau from House of Flying Daggers) turns the tables and begins to take care of her.  Both of the leads do excellent jobs and the film is a vivid portrait of the frustrations felt by capable people as they begin to decline.  I would HIGHLY recommend checking it out...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: Twist Until You Are Loopey! (Looper review), Les MostlyAbles (Les Miserables review)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Awards Preview - Part 2: Specialties That Might Spellbind

    Below is my second list of films for the 2013-2014 Awards season, titled Specialties That Might Spellbind.  Each article in this series will present a group of upcoming releases that are currently on my watch list.  I divided the articles up to each represent the strengths found in cinema in one of the last four years (with 2013 as an unknown wild card for the fifth post). This post is in honor of the year 2010, perhaps the most innovative year for documentaries ever.  In its honor, I present films in the genres that Oscar divides off into their own categories: Documentaries, Foreign Language Films and Animated Features.
     On a side note, 2013 seems poised to be a real banner year for Foreign Films.  With offerings from Almodovar, Goddard, Panahi, Vallee, Vinterburg, Farhadi and Polanski in the mix, there have to be a few gems hidden in this soil.
      The movies that already have release dates are presented in chronological order.  The films that have not received such dates are listed alphabetically afterward.  The fifteen films (that have not already been released) that I am most excited about seeing appear in bold with short descriptions of why.  Do not be surprised if we see some of these get pushed back until 2014.  I will be surprised if we don't.  Still, for now, the Specialties That Might Spellbind in 2013 are...

  01/04 - 56 Up (now the kids from the early 60's doc 7 Up are 56)
  01/25 - Yossi (the sequel to the gay classic Yossi and Jagger)
  02/08 - Lore (Australia's celebrated submission to last year's Oscars)
  03/08 - Beyond the Hills (and Romania's)
  03/15 - From Up On Poppy Hill (from Japan's Studio Ghibli animation house)
  03/25 - Blancanieves (Spain's silent black and white Snow White adaptation, trailer looks great!)
               Room 237 (Documentary than ruminates on hidden meanings in Kubrick's The Shining)
  05/12 - Epic
  05/17 - Populaire
               Stories We Tell: Director Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz) brings us a very personal story of subjectivity and family secrets.   The movie won Best Documentary and Best Canadian Film at Toronto in 2012.
  05/24 - Fill the Void (Israel's submission to last year's Oscars)
              We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (from director Alex Gibney of Taxi to the Dark Side)
  06/21 - Monsters University
  06/28 - I'm So Excited: Celebrated Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In, All About My Mother) assembles a host of classic characters from his films on a plane.  Cast includes Antonio Banderes and Penelope Cruz.
  07/03 - Despicable Me 2
  07/12 - The Hunt: Director Thomas Vinterburg won glory at Cannes with this film LAST year but it was released in Denmark too late to compete with A Royal Affair to be last year's Oscar submission.  It now seems like a likely choice for this year.  Can Denmark go two for two?  Stars international sensation Mads Mickelson.
  08/16 - Haute Cuisine
  TBA - Abus de Fablesse (stars Isabelle Huppert)
             The Act of Killing: This unusual documentary won critics over in droves at Sundance this year.  In it leaders of Indonesian death squads are invited to re-enact their real life mass killings in whatever movie genre they wish.  One is even a musical.  It's a macabre and fascinating concept to say the least.
             After Lucia (Mexico's submission to last year's Oscars)
             Atilla Marcel:  Director Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist, The Triplets of Bellevue) has delighted us for years with his French language ANIMATED pieces.  This will be his first attempt at crafting a live-action feature.
             Bambi (NOT the Disney cartoon)
             Blood Brother: Documentary that follows Rocky Braat (an American tourist in India) on a journey that changes his life when he meets a group of HIV positive children.  The film premiered at Sundance where it won an Audience Award and the documentary Grande Jury Prize.
             Blue Is The Warmest Color
             Bwakaw (The Phillipines 2012 Oscar submission, still awaiting US release)
             Call Me Kuchu (documentary about the first openly gay man in Uganda)
             Camille Claudel, 1915 (stars the amazing Juliette Binoche)
             Child's Pose: This film won multiple prizes at Berlin, putting it in an excellent position to secure a slot as Romania's submission to the Oscars this year.  Only time will tell...
              Closed Curtain: Jafar Panahi's follow up to This Is Not a Film returns the director to narrative fiction.  The film won a screenplay award at Sundance and MIGHT be a contender for the Oscars if the temperamental Iranians choose to submit this year.
              Continental (A documentary about the infamous NYC bath house)
              Dau (Biographical film about the scientist Lev Landau)
              The Deep (Iceland's submission to last year's Oscars)
              Ernest & Celestine (well reviewed French animated feature about a bear and a mouse)
              Gloria: Can Chile get two nominations in a row?  The film already won three prizes at Berlin including a Silver Bear for actress Pauline Garcia.
              Goodbye to Language:  It seems like every year now some "serious" director tries their hand at 3-D.  This year we appear to have two: Baz Luhrman gives us Great Gatsby and living legend Jaques Godard gives us Goodbye to Language.  Will this be a major comeback by a master film maker?
              Le Grande Belazza (Il Divo director Paolo Sorrentino's return to Italian cinema)
              Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg (this Latvian film got weak reviews, but the premise still has me)
              Hell & Back: A modern animated riff on the Orpheus legend from the creators of Robot Chicken?  Starring the voice talents of Susan Sarandan, Mila Kunis, Danny McBride, Michael Pena and Jennifer Coolidge?  I'm so in.
              Irwin & Fran (Biographical documentary of Professor Irwin Corey and his wife)
              Jeune et Jolie (stars Charlotte Rampling & Frederic Pierrot)
              Jimmy Picard (stars Benicio del Toro)
              Manto Acuifero
              Mixed Kebab: Gay drama from Israel, looks fantastic!
              Mood Indigo (Belgian production from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind director Gondry)
              Paradise: Hope
              Paris-Manhattan (French ode to all things Woody Allen)
              The Past: Iranian film maker Asghar Farhadi follows up Oscar winner A Separation with another story of a troubled family.  Stars Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet)
              Praia do Futuro (Could this be Brazil's submission this year?)
              Les Salauds
              Les Tableau (this French animated flick got a qualifying run last year but is still awaiting US release)
              Twice Born (stars Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch)
              Venus in Fur: It's been a little while since master director Roman Polanski (I know, I know, but the man is UBER-talented) made a film not in the English language.  This play has been adapted for film a few times already, but with Polanski at the helm, it's sure to be something special.
              Waste Land (stars Matthias Schoenaerts)\
              The Wind Rises: Legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki tackles a very serious subject for a cartoon: the biography of the man who designed the World War II fighter planes for Japan.

       And that does it for the Specialties that might Spellbind you in the coming year.  Only three sets of films left to go.  Next up: "Little Pics That Might Could" covering mostly indie dramas and dramedies with a chance to break through into the big time.  Join us here in the cinematic swamp for Part Three, and watch out for quicksand. Okay?

     Related Articles:  Upcoming 2013 Awards Season Preview2013 Awards Preview Part One: Pulpy PlayersImmortal Skin, Forgotten Dreams (The Skin I Live In review), To Royal Effect (A Royal Affair review), These Are Not the Loneliest Word (This Is Not a Film review)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

These Are Not the Loneliest Words

     Today's at home viewing reviews include Bradley Cooper's OTHER 2012 vehicle, an unusual documentary from one of Iran's greatest narrative film makers and a critically acclaimed but painfully slow indie drama.  Might as well hop in...

  This Is Not a Film - This movie definitely gets the "most interesting back-story" award for the year.  Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi was punished for producing films that the government of his home land found objectionable with a sentence of six years in jail and a twenty year ban on the writing, directing, and/or production of films.  While at home on bail awaiting the ruling of the appeals court, he began looking for ways around this.  He already had one unproduced screenplay that he had written before the ban, which technically did not him from acting or reading screenplays that were already completed.  He invited a friend who was a camera man over to tape him reading from (and to some extent, acting out) said screenplay.  Technically, he was not disobeying the court order and technically "This (Was) Not a Film".  Of course, these technicalities did not deter the film maker from cautiously smuggling the picture out of the country in a birthday cake before its release on the film festival circuit.
      What starts out as a mere reading of the completed script ends up being a meditation on art, film-making, Iranian culture, and many other things.  For fans of the director, it is an intriguing look into the mind of a master of his craft.  For general audiences, it may be a little dry.  I found it to be not only an interesting look into Panahi's thought processes, but into the plight of a film maker who loves his people but finds the constraints pf the oppressive government that rules them to be too constricting to allow the artistic process to flourish.  Furthermore, it is a look into how any artist MUST struggle to express themselves no matter how difficult their current circumstances have made that task.  If any of these themes sound particularly intriguing, by all means check the film out.  If it doesn't sound like your particular cup of I said, a little dry...4 out of 5 stars.

  The Loneliest Planet - The sophomore effort from writer/director Julia Loktev, this film follows a young American couple as they take a trek through the man's ancestral homeland in Georgia (the nation, not the state)'s Caucus mountains.  I am unfamiliar with the director's previous effort (2006's Day Night Day Night) but regret to say that The Loneliest Planet did not really inspire me to seek her earlier work out.  The problem lies primarily with the screenplay, especially the first hour, which plays more like high quality excerpts from someone's vacation video than like a narrative picture.  NOTHING happens.  Okay, that's an exaggeration, there are a FEW bits of characterization and foreshadowing that lend to the storyline.  However, with a run time of an hour and fifty odd minutes, the movie's first seventy-five could easily have been cut to thirty without detracting from the (minimal) story that the script sets out to tell.  Without the lovely cinematography contributed by Inti Briones, the first half of the film would be practically unwatchable.
     Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Hani Furstenberg (Yossi and Jagger) do respectable jobs as the vacationing couple, but are not really given enough dialogue or activity to really show us what they are capable of.  First time actor Bidzina Gujabidze actually outshines them both as their tour guide, his "local color" helping to bridge some of the more debilitatingly slow passages of the film, but even he is fighting an uphill battle.  I can appreciate the point of Loktev's story, but it just didn't constitute a two hour movie.  It might have made a nice short film...2 1/2 of 5 stars.

  The Words - This movie had a long road to The Movie Frog.  It was on my 2012 viewing list for a while, then fell off as it became obvious that Bradley Cooper's awards play this year was definitely going to come from Silver Linings Playbook.  Then I saw a great preview a few weeks ago, and back on the list it went.  The Words is the premeire feature from co-directors (and writers) Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (who had previously written the rather disappointing Tron Legacy together).  It was a somewhat mixed bag of a film.  I don't feel angry about the hour and a half of my life that I spent watching it, but I don't feel that my coverage of this year's best films would have lost out much if I had skipped it, either.
     The picture had an interesting premise, but the script becomes a bit of a mess.  We're dealing with three (sorta four) different time periods that create fictions within fictions.  The narrative structure is further confused by flashbacks within these different levels of fact and fiction and it all becomes very confusing.  Thematically, this is done to an extent on purpose, as the film tries to explore the nature of the thin line between fantasy and reality, especially as it applies to the life (lives?) of a writer.  It's meant to make you work at cohesion, but for this viewer, the film's truths became ambiguous to the point of inaccessibility.
     The film making pair DID seem to fair better as directors than as writers, however, and got some admirable performances out of their cast.  Bradley Cooper continues to prove himself as a leading man of great depth and range, highly deserving of his newly elevated status among his peers.  Dennis Quaid also reminds us clearly of why he used to be such a big star.  Jeremy Irons's stern eyes and crisp diction are put to excellent use.  The women's roles provide a little less meat to chew, but Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde still manage to turn in respectable performances as well.
     Like the Loneliest Planet, The Words was a great concept thematically, but didn't quite translate into a great movie.  Unlike the other film, The Words is packed with enough memorable moments and strong acting turns to keep it watchable, if a little incomprehensible in places...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: Dark Clouds Beautify "Silver Linings"

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Awards Preview - Part One: Pulpy Players

     Below is my first list of films for the 2013-2014 Awards season, titled Pulpy Players.  Each article in this series will present a group of upcoming releases that are currently on my watch list.  I divided them up to each represent the strengths found in cinema in each of the last four years (with 2013 as an unknown wild card for the fifth post). This post is in honor of the year 2009, which was one of the best years in science-fiction ever.  In its honor, I present films in the genres that Oscar flirts with occasionally, but hardly ever follows home: Horror, Science Fiction, Action flicks, Thrillers, Mysteries & Westerns.
     On a side note, this might be the year that unseats 2009 as the best year for sci-fi in the twenty-first century.  There are no less than nine pictures in that genre on my watch list.  If even half of them live up to their hype, it would be a banner year indeed.
      The movies that already have release dates are presented in chronological order.  The films that have not received such dates are listed alphabetically afterward.  The fifteen films (that have not already been released) that I am most excited about seeing appear in bold with short descriptions of why.  Do not be surprised if we see some of these get pushed back until 2014.  I will be surprised if we don't.  Still, for now, the Pulpy Players of 2013 are...

  01/18 - Mama (stars Jessica Chastain)

  03/01 - Stoker (Kidman and Wasikowska)

  03/08 - Dead Man Down

  03/15 - The Call
              Upside Down (mixed reviews, but Kirsten Dunst!)

  04/05 - 6 Souls (stars Julianne Moore)

  04/19 - Oblivion (Cruise and Freeman, maybe cheese, maybe more)

  05/03 - The Iceman:  This picture may have gotten mixed reviews on the festival circuit, but Michael Shannon's performance was universally lauded.  Films like Take Shelter have proven what kind of tour-de-force work the man is capable of delivering.  The movie is directed by Ariel Vromen, and stars Shannon as a family man who must become a hired killer to provide for his loved ones. Along the way, he discovers he has a real talent for his vocation.  James Franco, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer & Stephan Dorff round out the cast.

  05/15 - Star Trek: Into Darkness (would have been highlighted, if I thought you needed a preview)

  05/31 - The East:  This will be the third film written by and starring Brit Marling.  She had a great start with Another Earth, took it to a whole other level with Sound of My Voice, and it looks like (going on the trailer, early critical response and my own hopes) she may surpass herself again with The East. The films stars writer Marling as an agent trying to track down a terrorist group called The East who have set out to punish the corporate giants who are sucking America dry.  Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard also star. Sound of My Voice director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij returns. I can't wait.

  06/07 - After Earth (surely Shyamalan will get it right again one day???)

  06/28 - Byzantium: This little quasi-horror flick is directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and adapted by Moira Buffini from her own stage play.  It tells of two mysterious women (Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) who settle in a small town that quickly becomes curious about what the pair are hiding.  Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller round out the cast, but they had me at Saoirse.

  08/09 - Elysium: Back in 2009, South African writer/director Neil Blomkamp's District 9 raised the bar on low-budget science fiction forevermore.  Now it's 2013, he's got a much bigger budget, and he's returning with Elysium, a futuristic tale in which the 1% live in a lavish space station while the 99% inhabit a ruined planet Earth.  Class conflict with a sci-fi twist seems to be the man's forte.  Let's see if he can do it again.  Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and District 9 star Sharlto Copley lead the cast.

  09/13 - I, Frankenstein (I'm dubious, but it stars Aaron Eckhart & Bill Nighy)

  09/20 - Prisoners: French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve blew me away a couple of years ago with Foreign Language film nominee Incendies.  Now he's been recruited by Hollywood for English language films beginning with Prisoners: the story of a man trying to locate his missing daughter by any means necessary.  The AMAZING cast includes Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Terrence Howard.

  10/04 - Paranoia (Hemsworth, Oldman, and Ford)

  10/11 - Oldboy: Intrigue, mystery and suspense are the keywords in this remake of the Korean classic.  Director Spike Lee may have failed to "wow" with last year's Red Hook Summer, but I know he still has genius within him.  Perhaps something way outside of his normal wheelhouse is just the sort of palate cleanser needed to let it shine through again.  Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli, Richard Portnow, Sharlto Copley, and Lance Reddick star.
               Captain Phillips: Director Paul Greengrass has already managed to pull one unlikely Best Director nod out of the action thriller genre with United 93.  Can he snag another one for this biopic about the captain who faced the hijacking of the first U.S. cargo ship by Somali pirates?  Having Tom Hanks in the title role with Catherine Keener as his wife can't hurt.

  10/18 - Carrie (I'm not sure we need another either, but it stars Moretz with Julianne Moore as Mom)
               Malavita: Leon, The Professional (one of the best action flicks EVER, for this Movie Frog's money) certainly proved that Luc Besson can direct a taut thriller and having a cast led by two of last year's Best Supporting Actor nominees (DeNiro and Jones) is certainly a step in the right direction.  Michelle Pfeiffer also stars, and if anyone needs/deserves a career relaunch, it's her.

  11/01 - Ender's Game (another one I almost highlighted, starring Hugo's Asa Butterfield)

  11/15 - The Counselor: A thriller about a lawyer who end up on the wrong side of the law doesn't sound THAT exciting.  If it's directed by Ridley Scott, I'll give it a chance.  If it stars Pitt, Fassbender, Bardem, Dormer, Diaz, Cruz, and Leguizamo, I'm stoked.  This one does.  Just saying.

  12/25 - Jack Ryan (If Pine can fill Shatner's shoes, why not Ford's?)

  TBA - Blood Ties: This crime family story set in 1970's New York is from talented French director Guillaume Canet (Little White Lies) and has a fantastic cast.  After Rust and Bone, I'd watch Cotillard and Schoenaerts team up in a Smurfs sequel.  Also stars Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, James Caan, Noah Emmerich and nineties indie queen Lili Taylor.
             Blue Caprice
             The Congress (more sci-fi with Wright, Giamatti & Keitel)
             Dead Man's Burden (might be the only 2013 Western of note)
             Devil's Knot (dramatization of West Memphis 3 from Atom Egoyan with Firth and Witherspoon)
             Empire State (fairly standard sounding actioner, but Hemsworth & Johnson might make good team)
             Ends of the Earth
             Europa Report (sci-fi with Sharlto Copley of District 9 & Michael Nyqvist of Millennium Trilogy)
             Horns (considered highlighting this one: Daniel Radcliffe in a bizarre horror tale)
             Kissing Darkness (in a twist on traditional horror set-up group of gay college pals go camping)
             Last Days On Mars
             The Loft
             Lowlife: Director James Gray has a highly unique mystery premise to work with and a STELLAR cast involved: Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotillard, and Joaquin Phoenix.  Believe me, this is one to WATCH!
             Non-Stop (stars Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore)
             Only God Fogives: Drive (directed by Nicholas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling) made #2 on my Best Picture list for 2011.  Only God Forgives is Refn's follow-up...also starring Gosling...hmmm. I had to watch the recently dropped trailer three times before I stopped drooling.
             Only Lovers Left Alive: Quirky director Jim Jarmusch tries his hand at a vampire flick.  Good news.  Better news?  It stars Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt.  Sometimes my inner fan-boy gets a little gift from the universe and the kind of movies I loved as a pre-teen actually get made well.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
             Simple Moves
             A Single Shot (crime thriller with William H Macy and Sam Rockwell)
             Snowpiercer: The director of 5 star Korean thriller Madeo (Joon-ho Bong) tries his hand at English language science fiction in this piece about a train that carries the last living humans across the planet.  Starring...wait for it...Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer.
             Still of Night (starring Susan Sarandan)
             Therese (between Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Olsen the scenery should be chewed to bits)
             Two Faces of January: Hossein Amini, scribe of such diverse fare as Drive, Wings of the Dove, and Snow White and the Huntsman brings this thriller of escape to the table for his first directing gig.  With Amini also handling the adaptation and stars Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac on board, my anticipation is running high.
             Under the Skin
             Violet & Daisy (Precious penner Geoffrey Fletcher debuts as a director, starring Sasirse Ronan)
             White Bird in a Blizzard (Doom Generation director Gregg Araki is sure to make an odd thriller)

     And that, my friends, is your list of Pulpy pics for 2013.  We covered a lot of ground today, but we have four more sets of films still to come.  Look for Part 2: Specialties That Might Spellbound later this week.  In it, we'll be covering Documentaries, Animated Features, and non English language movies that MIGHT (and it's more iffy in this category than most) make it to U.S. theaters in the coming year.  We'll be watching for you (and flies, always watching for flies).

     Related Articles: Senna, Take 13 (Take Shelter review), Another Young Project (Another Earth review),
The Sound Hope Sparks (Sound of My Voice review), Sister's Summer Sleepwalk (Red Hook Summer review), Down With Sinister Lies (Little White Lies review), Rent and Honed (Rust and Bone review), Best of 2011 - Best Picture (concluded)