Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Preparing for Malick's new film

After reading some initial reactions to early screenings of Terrence Malick's long-awaited upcoming "Tree of Life," it dawned on me that this will probably be the most high profile Terrence Malick release since "Thin Red Line" and I don't remember what that was like... at all. Plus, since then Malick has only grown in stature as a filmmaker and his four films (Badlands, Days of Heaven, Thin Red Line, and The New World) are all considered masterpieces in their own rights (The New World not as much, but it has plenty of proponents, including me).

I watched all of Malick's films at some point while I was in college so I was far enough removed from initial reactions that I can discover his films and share my enjoyment with other fans. Considering, however, that The Tree of Life will be starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, that undoubtedly means that Terrence Malick will be reaching a whole new audience; a modern audience that is most definitely not ready to experience what Terrence Malick is going to give them. And, from what I've been gathering, the reactions will be all over the board. Critics may love it but audiences will most likely not embrace it. Ok, there's about a 75% chance they won't. This will be another Malick film that is met with general audience confusion, at first, but earns praise and gains respect as the years go on. The only difference is that this will be the first time that newer Malick fans will be making the same initial reactions. Sure, we made our own judgments when we saw his other films for the first time, but chances are, unless your friends are all Malick fans or unless you go see the film yourself, you're either going to prepare to defend your love for the movie or you may be swayed into thinking what your friends think about the film. Either way, I expect there to be a lot of fuss surrounding this movie for months to come and we can only hope that its May release and inevitable October/November DVD and Blu-Ray release will help the film earn more appreciation.

Because Malick fans all know that it takes more than one viewing to fully grasp and fall in love with his film. Malick fans are familiar with his visual poetic style, his dream-like narrations, and his striking imagery. We will come into The Tree of Life with considerably different expectations than people who are merely interested in seeing a Brad Pitt-starring film. Perhaps, however, we should have no expectations and just let Terrence Malick blow us away with the visuals. Personally, I will be focusing on the visuals the first time I see the film. I know for a fact that I won't be able to grasp the whole thing on the first viewing so I will see The Tree of Life on the big screen for the visuals because that's what I've always looked forward to about watching a Malick film on the big screen.

So those who aren't familiar with Malick or are just curious, either watch his other four films right now or come into The Tree of Life with no expectations at all. Just let Malick do his magic for 2 hours and 18 minutes, let it wash over you, think about it, then come back to me. Don't expect me, however, to try to tell you what it all means... because I'm sure I won't know the answers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Win Win review

Tom McCarthy isn't the type of filmmaker who will blow you away with his films. What are good about them however is that they are solid on all levels, contain great acting, and they're consistently watchable. The best of his three films probably is his first film, The Metro Station, which narrowly missed my top 2000s list. He followed that film with The Visitor which contains a great performance from character actor Richard Jenkins (who wound up getting an Oscar nod). His latest film, Win Win, is perhaps his most accessible and crowd-pleasing of the bunch.

You see the trailer and you think you know how the film will play out, but the magic of McCarthy's films is its realism. Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty in the film. Mike is a lawyer with a firm that is struggling, a coach of a terrible wrestling team, and he's been suffering with the stress of running out of money. He's anchored by his wife, Jackie, played beautifully by Amy Ryan who plays the New Jersey mother quite convincingly (with a very nuanced and down-to-earth performance).

Through a series of events of which I do not care to describe because I'm tired, Mike decides to take care of an old man whose estranged grandson Kyle unexpectedly shows up into Mike's life. Kyle, who turns out to be quite a gifted wrestler, is also a troubled teen who has problems with his neglectful mother (probably because she's neglectful). Mike and his family decide to take him in and Kyle suddenly has a newfound focus in wrestling.

Win Win manages to be heartwarming yet realistic. It's funny in its own down-to-earth way and has great performances across the board. I wouldn't say there is anything about Win Win that will blow you away but if you like a good domestic comedy-drama, then you will like this film. One of the better films of the early year so far, hopefully Fox Searchlight gives it an actual wide release before its forgotten amongst all the summer blockbusters.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, April 7, 2011

top 10 upcoming summer films (and more)

10. Green Lantern
directed by Martin Campbell
starring Ryan Reynolds
comes out June 17th

I don't know about you but I have become utterly bored by superhero films. I'm still looking forward to the third Batman film and the Avengers film intrigues me, but other than that, enough is enough already. That being said, this film along with Thor and X-Men First Class are still on my list despite being superhero films. Partly because, well, there are so many superhero films coming out that at least a couple of them have to be good. I honestly never cared for Captain America which is why it didn't make my list. Green Lantern, however, I sort of care about. Ryan Reynolds is playing Green Lantern and even though I really don't care for Ryan Reynolds, he looks like he can do a pretty good job with this role. I still approach Ryan Reynold-starred films cautiously because he tends to star in bad films. Martin Campbell (directed Goldeneye and Casino Royale) has made two of the better Bond films of the past 20 years so maybe he can make a good film out of this.

9. Crazy Stupid Love
directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei
comes out July 29th

As the summer has turned into a season dominated by superhero films, it's nice to see some grown up affair coming out towards the middle of it. The trailer for this film came out yesterday and I must say, despite the unoriginal subject matter, the impressive array of actors has perked my interest. I really like Steve Carell and think he's one of the few comedians who actually thrives on comedy-drama type material. I also want to see more of Ryan Gosling who has shown a lot of promise over the years and hasn't really worked in comedy before. But Gosling has this really down-to-earth laid back style to his acting that seems suited for this type of film. Apart from the stupid title which is too similar to "Eat, Pray, Love," I like pretty much everything that this film has to offer.

8. Bad Teacher
directed by Jake Kasdan
starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake
comes out June 24th

I'm actually really looking forward to seeing how this film turns out and here's why: Cameron Diaz in a rated R, politically incorrect comedy. I dig it. I really do. Plus, she looks hot in this film. I love the off-color tone to the trailer of Bad Teacher and hope that the film continues to go into that direction. I know a lot of people hate Justin Timberlake and thinks he shouldn't act, but I dug him in the Social Network and he definitely has a lot of charisma. We'll see how he works in a film like this. Of the Apatow crew, I've always found Jason Segel to be the most interesting actor. James Franco has been the breakout star, but Jason Segel has a lot of range (watch Freaks & Geeks if you disagree) so I'm always looking forward to seeing him in any film. Trust me, I was surprised by how good the trailer to this film looked. It might suck for all I know. As it stands now, it's definitely on my list of films to see.

7. The Hangover Part II
directed by Todd Phillips
starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis
comes out May 26th

The rather unimpressive trailer knocked this film down a few pegs. Otherwise, it'd probably be in my top five. The Hangover was a blast, in my opinion. Sure, its humor is based a lot off of the unexpected which means it doesn't quite hold up on third or fourth viewings, but at least it's hilarious the first two times you watch it. Almost everybody is back for part two and I'm hoping even crazier **** will happen in this film. I don't really like how the plot is almost exactly the same, but if they manage to pull off the jokes, it could be funny still. Expectations are really high for this film and it may be nearly impossible to match, I'll try to maintain my expectations going into the film.

6 Thor
directed by Kenneth Branagh
starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman
comes out May 6th

Its placing at number six, for me, is moreso me hoping that this will turn out good as opposed to me actually thinking it will be good. Honestly, I'm not too entirely sure. Kenneth Branagh, however, is a highly respectable actor who usually only directs films based on Shakespeare plays (watch his version of Hamlet, it's great). I'm wondering just how different his take on the superhero genre will be than with other directors. Is this just him trying to get a big paycheck or does he legitimately find something interesting about the material? If it's the latter and if this film turns out to be good, I think it could be a real enjoyable ride.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II
directed by David Yates
starring every actor who lives in the UK
comes out July 15th

I'm basically just glad that the Harry Potter saga will finally end. Let's face it, the films have been going on for ten years now and quite frankly, I've become bored with the whole thing. That said, since Part I kinda sucked, then Part II has to be pretty awesome, right? It just has to be.

I don't think there's an official trailer for this one yet.

4. X-Men: First Class
directed by Matthew Vaughn
starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence
comes out June 3rd

I stopped caring about the X-Men franchise about 7-8 years ago. However, Matthew Vaughn is a solid filmmaker and this cast is very interesting. Michael Fassbender is just one of those actors out there right now who is poised to become huge in Hollywood. He's the most interesting actor out there right now. The combination of Fassbender and Matthew Vaughn has made me sit up and take notice of this film. The rest of the cast is also quite good so I must say, I'm actually pretty psyched about this.

3. Cowboys & Aliens
directed by Jon Favreau
starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig
comes out July 29th

This is just one of those films that could be anything, really, but that's why it's high on this list. Iron Man 2 wasn't very good, and honestly, the action in both Iron Man films leave something to be desired. So I'm interested in seeing what Jon Favreau does with this film, action-wise and if the film will wind up being worth our time. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig is like a double dose of badassness and the combination of sci-fi and the western genres is also pretty intriguing. It would suck if this film turned out crappy. Here's hoping that it won't.

2. Super 8
directed by JJ Abrams
starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning
comes out June 10th

Ok, the recent trailer of Super 8 is just awesome and the word I'm hearing about the film is that it's an homage to old school Spielberg (think Close Encounters, ET). Give JJ Abrams credit, he's at least trying to create an intelligent family blockbuster film. His heart is most definitely in the right place. Plus, his last film Star Trek surprised many, including me. The fact that Super 8 was both written and directed by JJ Abrams also makes me excited. I'm really interested in seeing what kinda voice he has with his own original material. This could be the film that turns JJ Abrams from a decent big budget blockbuster-type filmmaker to highly respectable, serious filmmaker who happens to work in big budget films (which by the way, Super 8 was only made with a $40-50 million budget which is pretty tame by today's standards)

1. The Tree of Life
directed by Terrence Malick
starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
comes out May 27th

I totally understand if you don't really care about this film. Terrence Malick has made four films in 37 years and I don't expect most of you guys to have seen or like his films. His films are meditative, poetic, always with perfect cinematography, but you either love them or you don't. I, for one, love his films and have been anticipating this film for a long time. I'm very interested in seeing Brad Pitt in this as apparently, he's supposed to be quite unlikable in this film. Overall, Malick hasn't disappointed me yet and from everything I've seen and heard about this film, it looks like this won't either. I hope that you guys see the film as well and become Malick fans in the process (if you aren't one already).

Honorable mentions:
Captain America: The First Avenger - This film doesn't come out until after Thor, X-men, and Green Lantern. It's from the director of Wolfman and I'm not a big Captain America fan. I'll be 100% burnt out on superhero films by the time this comes out. Unless it turns out to be THE film of the summer, I doubt I'll want to see this.

Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen's batting average has been subpar for the past ten years and it stars Owen Wilson... but I love Woody Allen when he's at his best and I always hope that the next Woody Allen film will be great.

Beginners - This is an indie film starring Ewan Mcgregor and Christopher Plummer. I don't really know much about this film but it has a really charming trailer and it could be another one of those breakout indie hits.

Bridesmaids - I'm interested in the prospect of a Judd Apatow produced film with a predominantly female cast. Kristen Wiig the actress has always impressed me more than Kristen Wiig the SNL cast member. It's sort of on my radar, but unless there's some pretty good buzz, I won't be rushing out to see it.

Cars 2 - I think I am of the majority when I say that Cars was the weakest of the Pixar movies. But who knows, maybe the sequel is a vast improvement?

Horrible Bosses - This might actually turn out to a good comedy. It stars Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland, Charlie Day, Julie Bowen, Jason Sudeikis, and Kevin Spacey. But there's no trailer for the film yet or anything so I really can't measure my anticipation for it.

None of the films coming out in August interest me. Transformers 3, Zookeeper, and the Smurfs look awful. You couldn't pay me to see any of those films.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Source Code review

Before I start off this review, let me make this clear: in no way do I view Source Code as a model of originality. There have been plenty of movies like Source Code in the past, in fact the premise shares a lot of similarities to Quantum Leap (although when you see the movie, that's not entirely the case). So why should you see this movie and why is it good?

Because Source Code happens to be a very well-made Sci-Fi Thriller with more emphasis on Thriller. The movie gives off a very Hitchcockian vibe. The premise of the film is very simple: Captain Colter Stevens is being used in a "Source Code" experiment where he is sent back in time for 8 minutes as a train passenger in order to figure out who was responsible for bombing the train. There are no crazy twists just some good old fashion suspense. Throughout the film you get to know Colter Stevens and by the end, you care about him. This is a film that cares about its characters. Director Duncan Jones has succeeded in finding the human element to what could have been a very standard Sci-Fi film. Fact of the matter is that Source Code is simply a very entertaining thriller featuring a strong cast and helmed by a great up-and-coming director.

Like with his first film, Moon, Duncan Jones manages to succeed in selling you the science fiction universe that the movie decides to explore and at the same time, it's very character-driven. Or, it's as much character-driven as it is plot driven. When he does this, it raises the stakes, heightens the suspense, and it makes the movie that much better. And again, Moon wasn't exactly a highly original film, but it was still a great film. Source Code is the same way even if it may be a notch below Moon.

The reason for that may be its somewhat weak script. While Duncan Jones does the best he can with the material he's working with, the script is very standard and only touches upon things that go beyond its premise. But a movie like this shows you what can happen when a very good director works with an average script: the result is still way above par.

Overall though, Source Code is a winner. It doesn't break any new ground, but it's one of the better time travel films out there and Jake Gyllenhaal shows that he can carry a film by himself when given the right material. The rest of the solid cast includes Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright. This is a fun film, a smart film with a romantic subplot that ISN'T too sentimental or sappy. It gets all those elements 100% right. It's a film that would normally be a winner with audiences, but judging the box office intake so far, it looks like audiences are choosing to see a film where a rabbit poops jelly beans.


Rating: 8/10