Thursday, May 31, 2012

Awards Season: Will "traditional studio fare" trump more artistically ambitious films again this year?

2011 showed a lot of things to me, in the film world. Let me start by re-hashing into my top 20 of 2011:

1. The Tree of Life
2. The Skin I Live In
3. Drive
4. The Adventures of Tintin
5. Moneyball
6. Hugo

7. Shame
8. Bridesmaids
9. Beginners
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

11. The Descendants
12. Contagion
13. X-Men: First Class
14. Margin Call
15. The Muppets
16. The Artist
17. The Ides of March
18. Source Code
19. 50/50
20. Win Win

Now what do you see in the top 10? Tree of Life, Skin I Live In, Drive... they were each either artistically ambitious or featured a strong singular vision from its director. Go further down to Hugo, Shame, and Beginners... more personal and ambitious films from their filmmakers. Hugo was personal and yet intended to be a family 3D adventure type film. Needless to say, it kinda went limp with audiences. In fact, none of the films in my top 10 did particularly well with audiences, as a whole. Moneyball is probably an exception. Moneyball and Bridesmaids were successful studio films with the right combination of writers, directors, and performers. But the majority of the films on my top 10 are the works of visionaries who had a vision and stuck with it. 

What happened during awards season? Well, as they were divisive with audiences, the Academy were cool on them as well and they gave the big awards to my 16th favorite film of 2011, The Artist. You can say The Artist was ambitious in its approach, but aside from it being silent, it wasn't challenging. It only challenged the audience to watch people not talk for 100 minutes. It's a funny film, an engaging film, but it's not hard to see why Oscar voters ate it up. 

Moneyball and The Descendants just didn't have the box office push that could've taken the spotlight from The Artist which made The Artist such an easy victory for the Oscars. This was different from 2010 when The King's Speech won despite very strong critical backing and impressive box office numbers from The Social Network. And The Social Network is as "studio movie" as it gets, it just happened to be superb as well because David Fincher is the master at making great studio films.

So what of 2012? Will there be another disconnect between what audiences like and what the Oscars like? Will audiences see challenging films from Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), or Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) or will they see more typical Oscar-y fare like Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, Hyde Park on Hudson or The Great Gatsby? I'm not trying to pigeonhole any of those films quite yet, but there definitely seems as if there's going to be a split like that in the months to come.

I see the ambitious films sitting well with critics, the costume dramas/musicals sitting well with the Oscars... what will audiences do? 

I mean, in December, the only big blockbuster film is The Hobbit. Will it dominate December and everything in its path? Or can Quentin Tarantino strike gold again with another big success like he had with Inglourious Basterds?

There are a lot of interesting films coming out in September-December, and the release schedule isn't 100% yet. We could still have a game-changer get strong buzz from Venice, Toronto, or Telluride Film Festivals and then run away with the whole thing. Can a big budget film like The Dark Knight Rises or The Hobbit gain serious traction with the Academy? And shit, we can't forget about Steven Speilberg's "Lincoln" which, judging by on-set pics, will feature another masterful performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

This year, we're gonna have a little bit of everything as we wind down through the year. The serious Oscar baity dramas, the ambitious director-driven films, and the epic blockbuster films... it will be interesting to see what type of films the critics ultimately embrace, along with the audience, and with the Oscars.

It's not that it's frustrating to watch the Oscars because there feels like a disconnect between them and audiences, I don't give a shit about that. It just feels like the Oscars are going back to preferring such a specific type of film that it deserves its own genre. They want a film set in the past, a costume drama, not too light and not too heavy, with some strong performances (preferably by its lead male), and with direction that isn't too flashy. That's not even to call films like The King's Speech or The Artist bad... it's just, it wasn't hard in retrospect to see why the Oscars picked those films. I just wonder if that's a road they'll keep going down, or will more ambitious, thought-provoking films get a chance this year too?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Films of Wes Anderson, a film-by-film analysis

The Films of Wes Anderson


In March, it was the Duplass Brothers; April - Whit Stillman; now this month I've decided to delve a little deeper into the rest of Wes Anderson's filmography. Watching Moonrise Kingdom has made me want to watch his other films again, but I actually haven't. Still, I've seen the rest of his films at least twice now so I feel I have a good handle on the man. Considering the three filmmakers I've done specials on this year, you'd think I have a special affinity for niche American directors - that may be true, at least with some of them.

The truth is Wes Anderson was the beginning of "serious" filmmaking for me. It's not that I'm saying that Wes Anderson should be taken really seriously as a filmmaker, but at age 14, seeing "Rushmore" for the first time was a bit of a revelation to me. And I had the fortune of being able to see that and "The Royal Tenenbaums" almost back to back and it was really the first instance where I realized that the people behind the films have a specific style. I mean, I knew who the Farrelly Brothers are and what kind of films they made. I knew Kingpin, Dumb & Dumber, There's Something About Mary were all made by the same guys. I knew Steven Spielberg made Jaws, Jurassic Park, etc... but Wes Anderson was the first to really make me think about directors in terms of style. He's a good filmmaker to start off with. You start with him or Tarantino, and then you work your way to the classics. After all, nearly all of Anderson's films are in the Criterion Collection and that label alone introduced me to hundreds of classics. Wes Anderson was that gateway for me, albeit indirectly.

So having said that, I have a special place in my heart for the guy and I actively anticipate his films when I know they're about to come out. I wouldn't call him one of my all-time favorites, but he was the gateway to my favorites. Among his generation, I personally prefer some of the other guys like Tarantino or PT Anderson and I think it's because I feel they have made masterpieces in their filmographies. If that's too much, I would at least say they've made films that truly solidify their standing as master filmmakers. Moonrise Kingdom was close to being truly representative of Wes Anderson's style, but it's not an A+ film. He hasn't made an A+ film yet in my opinion. But for the most part, he's remarkably consistent as I will explain better by going through film after film.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

I can understand the shrugs that audiences came away with after seeing this movie when it came out and even with some critics. But the film gets better with repeated viewings and in retrospect, it's great to watch as you get to see Wes Anderson before his style was 100% realized. All we have here is a funny little gem about three criminal friends who ultimately try to pull off a big robbery together. Like I said, at the time, it may have been seen as a minor, quirky crime comedy, but repeated viewings really gives you a great introduction into the comic sensibilities that Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson have without the extreme OCD-like precise production design that Wes Anderson would later continue to explore with his subsequent films. Bottle Rocket is a cute little gem of a movie. Grade: B+

Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore officially marks the birth of an auteur. Martin Scorsese loved Bottle Rocket so much that he listed it among his top 10 movies of the '90s, but I'm surprised he prefers that over this. Rushmore easily improved upon Bottle Rocket. It has wonderful performances from Jason Schwartzman (his first film) and Bill Murray. This film also re-launched Bill Murray's career and he's been working with Wes Anderson ever since. Rushmore is a wonderful comedy about a 15 year old student at a prep school who falls in love with a teacher and the odd friendship he makes with an aging, rich father of twin boys who also go to the school. What follows is a highly unlikely love triangle and rivalry that leads to a lot of humorous moments. But what sets this apart from other films and makes it a great Wes Anderson film is the remarkable craftsmanship and the heart. That's what makes it such a welcoming film to Wes Anderson newcomers. Grade: A-

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

A part of me wants to consider Moonrise Kingdom to be Wes Anderson's best film, but there's something about "The Royal Tenenbaums" that really makes it stand out. With Tenenbaums, the writing of Anderson and Owen Wilson started to enter darker territory with this story of a wealthy, yet unsuccessful and emotionally empty family and their series of problems. There's quite a bit of comedy in this film, but there's an overall aura of sadness to it that actually makes me feel more connected to the material than normal. I feel like Wes Anderson was really going for something deeper here and there are certain scenes that really trigger emotions from me. It definitely doesn't help that Richie Tenenbaum's attempted suicide scene happens while now-deceased Elliott Smith's song "Needle in the Hay" plays in the background (who killed himself two years later by stabbing himself in the chest... yeah). This is a film that isn't afraid to go to some pretty dark places, but it also has Wes's typical dry humor that keeps it from getting too heavy-handed. Gene Hackman also gives one of his last great performances before he decided to retire as an actor. This is still probably my favorite film from Wes Anderson. Grade: A

 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

So two things happened with this film: Owen Wilson didn't co-write it, Noah Baumbach co-wrote it instead. The other thing is that this is where Wes Anderson started to really fall in love with production designs. The house that the Tenenbaums lived in was quite detailed, but the Bellefonte ship that's used in The Life Aquatic really took things to another level. So while the production design in this film is second-to-none, the story is just not that engrossing. There was a time where I thought there was perhaps more to this film than initially met the eye and while I like the film a little more now than I used to, it's still quite disappointing. The story of Steve Zissou hunting for the jaguar shark that killed his best friend is just not as fun of an adventure as it should've been. I think a large part of the problem is that I think they made the dramatic parts too dramatic. It's like Wes Anderson liked the dark direction that The Royal Tenenbaums went to, but this could've been a fun adventure film with some drama, the tone just feels off. Maybe some of it had to do with the combination of Baumbach and Anderson's writing styles. I like both filmmakers and they got it right with Mr. Fox, but I think they missed the mark when it came to establishing the tone of this film. That being said, there's some highlights: Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe were fun in their small roles, Bill Murray was fine as Steve Zissou and would've been better if his character wasn't so dour. Also, the Portuguese renditions of David Bowie songs somehow made perfect sense. And there are some really fun comedic moments and some good dramatic moments. The scene where we finally see the Jaguar Shark was quite touching, but would've really knocked it out of the park if the writers allowed us to care more. But Zissou is a little too self involving, the film takes a little too long to really get going, and the whole "Steve Zissou might be Ned Plimpton's father" storyline just never really feels right. An interesting misstep, but a misstep nonetheless. Grade: C+

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

This film penned by the trio of Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman may feel a little too much like a "film for them, not for us." Nothing wrong with making a film for yourself if you can allow it to resonate with your audience too, but this story of three brothers going to India to find their mother just didn't resonate at all. I've watched the film three times and I really find it hard to care about their journey. They have some funny little moments, but the dryness just doesn't jive too well with the naturally warm and frantic cinematography that makes India look amazing. Wes Anderson succeeded in making a film in India and it's wonderful to look at, Anderson also began to increase the sophistication of the camera movement here. Overall, The Darjeeling Limited is far from a bad film and I actually thought Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson had good chemistry together that lead to some fun moments. Also, once again, the production design absolutely stands out. Wes Anderson showed us what he could do with a ship, but here he films on a moving train and it's outstanding work. There's no doubt Wes Anderson is a great craftsman, it's just a shame that the story doesn't connect. Grade: B-

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

If you ever wondered what it would look like if Wes Anderson directed an animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox definitely answers that question. I would say that this marks as a return to form, but keep in mind that he started work on this before The Darjeeling Limited. Another collaboration between Wes and Noah Baumbach, this time they're able to adapt a Roald Dahl children's book and make it their own while leaving the heart of the story in tact. Is it still very Wes Anderson-esque? YES. This is Wes Anderson getting all wrapped up into himself and it's glorious. It just seems like Wes just really wants to take us into a completely new and different world with each of his films, this time he actually creates this world. It's a wonderful look inside the imagination of Wes Anderson and it's aided by Roald Dahl's wonderful story. The stop-motion animation made the characters look life-like and more relate-able. Honestly, I feel that this may be the ultimate children's film if today's parents thought better of their children and if most children today didn't have ADD. Even if they did, the film's pace is extremely brisk and it wastes no time going from plot point to plot point. Thankfully, it still manages to add enough details and personalities to the characters that it makes you care about them, including Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney). I wouldn't quite call this a classic, but it's a wonderful little film. Grade: A-

So there you have it. Add my review of Moonrise Kingdom and you get a full glimpse of what I think of Wes Anderson's films. I didn't really explain the plot of Fantastic Mr. Fox, but hopefully, you get the gist. Some may think I'm too easy on Wes and on Darjeeling Limited. It could easily be a C+ too, but I actually was really taken by how gorgeous India looked in the film, much more than how The Life Aquatic attempted to explore the vast oceans.

Wes Anderson said in one of his many Cannes interviews that this is the only way he knows how to make films. He found his niche, his way to make films, and he's not about to change. Will he 10 years from now? 20 years from now? Will his tastes evolve over time? Or will his specific, idiosyncratic style always be present in his work? What Moonrise Kingdom showed me though is that, his style was never the problem and has never hindered his films. In fact, he's still been able to expand on it. The problem with some of his lesser films is the lack of care and attention paid to the characters and the story. Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited are nice to look at, but they're kind of shallow.

On the other hand, Moonrise Kingdom has the superb production design and sophisticated camera movement but it also gave us a story that we care about and that resonates. It's funny almost all throughout and it's delightfully cute. It's Wes Anderson at his best, not because it shows just what a master craftsman he is, but because he shows what true care and heart he can put into his characters. Let's hope he continues down that road.

He's only 43. Scorsese is about 70, Woody Allen is 77, Clint Eastwood is 82... none of those guys look close to slowing down. So we could have another 35+ years of Wes Anderson films. When you look at it that way, he's barely cracked the surface. I just hope that he has way more interesting stories to tell us. Judging from "Moonrise Kingdom," I would say he most definitely does.

By the way, I haven't forgotten. I previously included Bottle Rocket (99) and Rushmore (58) in my top 100 films of the 1990s. I also included Fantastic Mr. Fox (66) and The Royal Tenenbaums (45) in my Top 100 films of the 2000s. These lists were from two years ago but I still think they deserve to be on the list. I may be updating both lists as, since then, I've seen more films from those decades that I feel deserve to be included as well. I'll probably re-visit those lists later this year.

In other news...

New Django Unchained photos:
 More can be found here on AwardsDaily

Also, there are rumors floating around that a teaser for Django Unchained may appear before Prometheus when it comes to theaters on June 8th. Let's hope that's true!

Recent Palme D'or winner "Amour" directed by Michael Haneke has two new posters, you can view the other one here.

Tom Cruise apparently has seen Paul Thomas Anderson's new film "The Master" and has "issues" with it. (via The Wrap)

Speaking of posters, Dark Knight Rises has a few new ones, you can see the rest here. (via Coming Soon)

Director Lynne Ramsay has quietly established herself quite well first with 1999's "Ratcatcher" which is as brilliant a film about childhood and poverty as it is heartbreaking. Her latest was the just-as-disturbing "We Need to Talk About Kevin" which I still need to see. Now, apparently she's teaming up with Natalie Portman on a new film called "Jane Got a Gun." Check out the details. (Hollywood Reporter)

In release news, Ang Lee's new film "Life of Pi" has moved to November 21st.

Rob Pattinson and David Cronenberg are apparently gonna be the next director/actor duo to make multiple films together. After making Cosmopolis this past year that just premiered in Cannes, they reportedly are already making another film together. (RPLife)

Andrew Dominik took seven years between his first and second films and five years between his second and third. Well, after "Killing Them Softly" just premiered at Cannes, it looks like he's already planning on making his next film. A film about Marilyn Monroe. (The Playlist)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom is pure cinematic delight

America has a pretty solid amount of great filmmakers who have a strong sense of style and unfortunately, it feels like mainstream audiences just never have been able to fully embrace some of them. Wes Anderson has a strong core of fans, but he also has a steady group of detractors who view him as a filmmaker who can't escape his style. But it's undeniable to me that Wes Anderson is one of America's greatest auteurs. In production design, he's unmatched. And he continues to get more sophisticated and stylish when it comes to the cinematography in his films. Mainstream America just hasn't been ready to embrace his style of humor, but I hope that can change with Moonrise Kingdom. In fact, I think Moonrise Kingdom has crossover potential and it's the most "Wes Anderson" of Wes Anderson films.

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes at the height of his powers, without a doubt. If Fantastic Mr. Fox was an unashamedly animated recreation of his style, Moonrise Kingdom goes even further. But you know what? It works. It works because the film has an engrossing enough story that's simple enough to follow along with and its main characters are absolutely adorable and fun to watch.

The film's set on the fictional island of New Penzance where two 12 year old kids attempt to run away together. The boy, Sam Shakusky, is a member of the Khaki Boy Scouts Club of America (think I got that right) and is away at camp; he's considered the least popular among the scouts. Suzy Bishop is just a bored girl, misunderstood by her parents, prone to bursts of rage, and a general outcast. The movie starts a year after they had first met and they have been planning an escape the entire time. When they finally do, the head scout (Ed Norton) is beside himself, Suzy's parents are upset and confused (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). The island's only policeman (Bruce Willis) is just incompetent in general.

Yes, one of the film's great ironies is that the kids are more mature and adult-like than the parents. This may be typical Wes Anderson, but it also makes for a film that... if it's not cute and fun to watch, then it's just downright funny. It's not only that, the amount of creativity that he puts forth into this film is just awe-inspiring to me; how he's able to create this entirely fictional world set in 1965 with funny, memorable characters and still have time to make the story between Sam and Suzy feel sweet and natural. It's a brilliantly made film about childhood romance.

Wes Anderson may never give up his style but Moonrise Kingdom proves that he can still expand and improve on it in a big way. Part of the problems with The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were that they were a bit too full of themselves for there to be any real emotional resonance. Moonrise Kingdom has a lot of sweet, endearing moments and a lot of funny moments and it's great example of how the Texan filmmaker is able to translate his style into big laughs.

There's so much jam-packed in this 94 minute movie that perhaps my only complaint is that I wish the film had some room to breathe. As it is, this is Wes Anderson firing on all cylinders, completely in control of his craft, reminding us all why he's a director that deserves to be on top of the list when we rank the great directors of this current generation. I loved this film.

Grade: A

Cannes results

Palme d’Or:
Grand Prix:
Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director):
Director: POST TENEBRAS LUX by Carlos Reygadas
Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress):
Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor):
Prix du Scenario (best screenplay):
Camera d’Or (best first feature):
Prix du Jury (jury prize):
Palme d’Or (short film):

Haneke wins the Palme D'or a second time for his film "Amour." Seemed like it was getting great reviews across the board. Have only seen a couple of Haneke's films but he's definitely a director who demands your attention with his films. I'm looking forward to this one.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cannes roundup: Cosmopolis, The Paperboy, Killing Them Softly, On the Road


David Cronenberg, at his best, is a critic-divider. He's recently made some crowd-pleasers that have been critically acclaimed, starting with "A History of Violence." But "Cosmopolis" is him sorta going back to his old, more divisive style. And it stars Robert Pattinson. And it's dividing critics. On the positive side, they're calling it among one of his best works. The negative side, they're saying it lacks substance. Check it out:

Toronto Star
Time Out
The Playlist

The Guardian UK 
Film School Rejects
Entertainment Weekly
Hollywood Reporter

The Paperboy
If you were to judge this film based solely on The Playlist's James Rocchi's review, you would think this is the worst POS ever. But this Lee Daniels film (last film, Precious) actually has its fair share of defenders. Starring Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman. The negative reviews are pretty damn negative.

Film School Rejects
AV Club
Time Out
Emanuel Levy
The Playlist
Guardian UK
Daily Telegraph

The Hollywood Reporter
The List
The Guardian UK

Note: The Guardian UK reviews are from different critics.

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly seems to be getting great reviews pretty much across the board. Andrew Dominik's third film starring Brad Pitt may be another difficult film for a potential American audience to swallow, but it looks like he's hit another home run. His last film was Assassination of Jesse James, which was in my top 20 of my 100 films of the 2000s list. Some of the reviews for Killing Them Softly are more positive than others:

Entertainment Weekly
Hollywood Reporter
The List
The Independent
Digital Spy
The Guardian UK

On the Road
It's kinda sad, but Walter Salles's adaptation of On the Road doesn't seem to be getting the type of positive reviews that I expected. Seems like the critics wished for more of a cinematic experience, other critics just seem perplexed by the idea of this being made into a movie, praising Jack Kerouac's prose and lamenting that they couldn't feel that presence in this film. So yeah, while there's a couple of positive reviews here and there, they're mostly negative.

Hollywood Reporter
The List
This is London
The Playlist

NY Times
Entertainment Weekly
Emanuel Levy
Time Out Chicago
Film School Rejects
The Guardian UK

Well, Cannes is almost over. I've been having tons of fun covering the festival... from my apartment in Brooklyn. Yeah, not as fun when you're not actually there but it's still interesting to see some what the critics think about some of the year's most anticipated films. The winners of Cannes should be announced soon. I didn't get to all of the Cannes films, "Mud" was screened today and the reviews haven't come in just yet. There's a few, but not enough to make a post about. I can get to that later.  I also know that Leos Carax's Holy Motors was getting some rave reviews, I'll get to that later as well.

Either way, consider the Cannes chapter of awards season to have officially come to a close once the Palme D'or is announced. Cannes and Sundance are more like preseason when it comes to awards season. There might be some positive buzz, but it means nothing awards-wise unless critics single those films out at the end of the year. We'll see if any of these Cannes films have staying power.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Great Gatsby trailer

Anachronistic music, lavish visuals... Baz Luhrmann has really done a number on F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." You either love Baz Luhrmann or you hate him, I'm kind of on the latter side. And really, using "No Church in the Wild" to open the trailer of the film... really? I'm kinda getting tired of anachronistic music in period films. Gangster Squad had it, now this. It's one thing when Quentin Tarantino does it like his use of David Bowie in "Inglourious Basterds." It's normally not a big deal to me, but come on, what is Baz doing with this novel? You know, the novel often cited as one of the "Great American novels" of all-time?

But it does look amazing, I'll give you that. Also, the poster looks pretty awesome.

Monday, May 21, 2012

In other news...

Like I did a few days ago, this is gonna be come a regular feature on Kenoncinema. Wonder what's been going on in the world of cinema? Just check into my site every few days and I'll give you a nice little round-up about what's going on.

Well this should be interesting. Bill Murray playing FDR? Looks like he's going straight for the Oscars this upcoming year. Let's hope he's not in over his head. I can't really gauge how I feel about his performance yet judging from this trailer. Here's a little plot outline from its IMDB page:
"The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York. "

And there are more trailers to show you! Check out the teaser trailer for the next Bond film "Skyfall":

Andrew Dominik's film "Killing Them Softly" starring Brad Pitt has gotten a pretty cool looking poster although it's not the official one yet. Check it out (via ThePlaylist):

Check out the very teaser-y teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 which comes out in 2013:

In some pretty awesome turn of events at Cannes Film Festival, The Weinstein Company showed previews to Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," and David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook." Check out what Sasha Stone from Awards Daily had to say about the footage.

Remember the last "In other news..." when I mentioned that Wes Anderson was half-way done with his next screenplay? Well, the first draft is finished (at the very least) and it looks like he'll definitely be re-teaming with Owen Wilson who is absent from "Moonrise Kingdom." (via The Playlist and FilmStage)

Another filmmaker whose current film is playing at Cannes is John Hillcoat. His film "Lawless" is playing out to pretty good reviews in France and it looks like his next film is already underway. It's called "Triple Nine" and Shia LaBeouf will be attached to star. (via ThePlaylist again)

Finally, a filmmaker who has been out of the game for too long: Todd Field. You may remember him for such films as "In the Bedroom" and "Little Children." Well, his last one Little Children came out in 2006 and he's been kinda quiet ever since. But it looks like his next film "The Creed of Violence" will start shooting early next year thanks to Cross Creek Pictures, they have decided to fund the film. I'm sure more details will be on its way as it gets closer to 2013. Can it be shot, edited, and released in the same year? Let's hope so. That'll just add to what's shaping up to be an impressive film slate for next year. (via Chicago Tribune).

Cannes: Like Someone in Love, Laurence Anyways, Beyond the HIlls, Reality

Looking into the more foreign affair of Cannes, after all Cannes celebrates film from all over the world and often showcase the best filmmakers from their respective countries. Let's take a look at what critics are saying about the films made by these stand-out filmmakers (an Iranian, a Romanian, a Canadian, and an Italian!)

Like Someone in Love
directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami's last film "Ceritified Copy" was his first film made outside of Iran and it was among his most acclaimed works A seasoned filmmaker heading into his seventies, Kiarostami is back in Cannes two years later with this Japanese-French production. So far? Looks like it's getting a rather mixed response from critics. Here's a select few:

The Playlist
AV Club
The Guardian UK
Hollywood Reporter

Laurence Anyways
directed by Xavier Dolan

23 year-old Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is already a veteran to Cannes. He's had all three of his films play there with Laurence Anyways perhaps being his most ambitious. A 159-minute film about a couple trying to maintain a relationship while the man undergoes an operation to become a woman. Dolan's only 23 but he has a very strong sense of style which a lot of critics seem to admire, for Laurence Anyways, they seem to acknowledge that. Some may also feel, though, that this 2 1/2 hour film kinda lays it on a bit too thick. Still, it's very interesting to see this young filmmaker develop year after year.

AV Club
Hollywood Reporter
The Playlist
Village Voice

directed by Matteo Garrone

Matteo Garrone's last film "Gomorrah" is definitely a film I have to revisit. It was a critically acclaimed crime film and it looked incredibly authentic, but I just wasn't in the mood to watch it when I had it in my DVD player. It's a film you have to pay 100% attention to and I just wasn't having it. Come to think of it, I should add it on my netflix queue right now.

"Reality" is his follow-up film and it's a drastic change in tone but it's a story told in a similar style as Gomorrah. It has some comedic elements to it and is more-or-less about the unreality of reality television. It has gotten some positive reviews, but has its fair share of detractors.

On the more positive side:
AV Club
Daily Telegraph
Time Out

Hollywood Reporter
The Playlist

Beyond the Hills
directed by Cristian Mungiu

You may not be familiar with Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, but his last feature-length film was "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" which won the Palme D'or back in 2007. So his follow-up would definitely garner some attention. For the most part, it seems like "Beyond the Hills" delivers... although the reviews aren't exactly glowing either.

The Playlist
The Daily Telegraph
Hollywood Reporter

Teaser Trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's new film "The Master"

Any footage from PT Anderson's next movie is huge news for me as it's been nearly 5 years since There Will Be Blood. What can be said about this little teaser trailer? Well it kinda gives you a sense of the tone of what The Master will be like and we get to see how Joaquin Phoenix's character fits into this story a little bit. I gotta tell you, even though it was just 1 minute and 40 seconds, I can already tell Joaquin's performance is going to be outta sight. Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn't featured in this teaser so his performance is yet to be seen, but yeah, hopefully this means a regular trailer for the movie is coming out soon.

 Comes out October 12th.

 This teaser kinda reminds me of the little teaser for There Will Be Blood that came out a few months before the movie. It was also kinda cryptic and vague and just gave you a sense of what the movie is gonna be like. Seems like a cool way to officially get people interested.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cannes roundup: Amour, Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Michael Haneke's film "Amour" screened today at Cannes and it's gotten a very positive reaction from critics.

The Hollywood Reporter
Press Play
The Guardian (UK): Five-star review
The Playlist

Other than The Playlist's B+ review, everyone else seems to be raving about it. Palme D'or favorite at this point? Maybe. Sasha Stone from AwardsDaily thinks it's a shoo-in for Best Foreign Language Film at next
year's Oscars and said it's already one of the year's best films. It's about an elderly woman who has a stroke and the man who deeply cares about her who takes care of her no matter what. There apparently wasn't a dry eye at the Cannes premiere. If you can make even the critics cry, you know you did something right.

John Hillcoat's "Lawless" has gotten more of a mixed response. Most of the positive reviews just say it's above-average entertainment whereas the negative reviews think the film is ultimately empty and without a point. We'll be able to decide for ourselves when it comes out on August 31st. I'm still excited for it.

The Playlist
Hollywood Reporter
Daily Telegraph
Guardian UK

Beasts of the Southern Wild

A movie that's apparently stealing the show and the hearts of France is Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut film from 25-year-old Benh Zeitlin. I'll just let the reviews speak for themselves, they're very positive.


Just an article about the praise it's been getting: USA Today

There's plenty more to come at Cannes and I'll surely be keeping my eye out. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Dictator is silly, light fun

If "The Dictator" felt a little slight to you, well don't worry, I felt the same. After all this film barely cracked 80 minutes. Still, there were plenty of hilarious moments packed in this tightly-knit film with such outrageousness that would feel out of place anywhere else but a Sacha Baron Cohen film. Somehow, he manages to mix the right amount of raunchiness and downright filthy low-brow humor with an actual story and he's so into his character that it all works. I think that's the biggest difference. Sacha is perhaps the only comedian out there right now who completely loses himself in the characters that he plays, a big reason why he's so brilliant and why his movies work.

Of course, there was only so far he could go with the mockumentary formulas of Borat and Bruno. This time he decided to go the conventional narrative route which disappointed a few, I suppose, but I personally think that The Dictator kind of helped breathe new life into the comedy genre. 21 Jump Street was another straight-up comedy that proved to be a hit with everyone, but The Dictator was perhaps an even tougher sell. Sacha Baron Cohen has to keep topping himself with character after character. Some think his characters have become less and less funny, but I really think he's been just as funny throughout. The only difference now is that he's not new anymore. We know who he is, we know what kind humorist he is, so what he does won't really shock us into laughter like it did before. The fact that The Dictator manages to be low brow and hilariously offensive without insulting anybody's intelligence should be considered an achievement compared to other comedies (Adam Sandler, I'm looking at you).

So Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, Sir Ben Kingsley plays his accomplice and right-hand man Tamir who turns out to be conspiring against the Supreme Leader this whole time. Aladeen goes to USA to make a speech in front of the UN but one of Aladeen's "body guards" (played by John C. Reilly) attempts to torture and kill him. Aladeen manages to escape the torturing, but not until after the hitman cut off his beard.

Now without his beard, he blends into the NYC crowd much more. When he tries to get back into the UN to make his speech he finds that his body double has replaced him. When he tries to jump the fence to get inside, he's hosed down which is when feminist activist Zoey (Anna Faris) finds him and takes him in.

What's fun about the movie is how it sticks to the plot formula but manages to pack in plenty of jokes no matter where the movie goes. When Aladeen finds himself falling for Zoey, it actually manages to stay funny without feeling like a typical romance subplot. In fact, there are plenty of ways this film could've gone wrong but due to strong writing and Sacha Baron Cohen's committed acting, it's always fresh and fun to watch.

It's also fun to watch just for how ridiculous the film gets at times with its low-brow humor. Amazingly, Cohen and his writers manage to come up with new and clever ways to add poop, dick, and sex jokes. Is this mind-bending, ground-breaking stuff? No, of course not, it's just funny.

If you go into The Dictator with measured expectations, you will have a great time. If you're expecting high-brow political humor, you're not necessarily going to get it. Although, there is a pretty inspired, hilarious speech Aladeen makes at the end of the film that actually made an audience member clap in the theater I was at. The Dictator definitely has a mix of all types of humor and, for the most part, it works. It may be a bit too short, it may be disappointing to see Sacha Baron Cohen in a formulaic comedy. But you know what? It's funny.

Grade: B

In other news...

Here are just a few snippets of news that has caught my attention over the last few days...

Terrence Malick's next film is now titled "To The Wonder" and has been given an R rating. Does this mean it'll be getting a 2012 release? That hasn't been made clear yet.

Robert Rodriguez is shooting Machete Kills right now and is slated to shoot Sin City: A Dame to Kill For later this year. If that's not enough, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For already has a release date (October 4th, 2013).

Will Edgar Wright be shooting parts of Ant-Man and The World's End this year?

Wes Anderson had a long break in live-action films between Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, but according to Harper's Bazaar, he's already halfway done with his next script and it apparently will be set in Paris.

Kenneth Lonergan's film "Margaret" to get a 3-hour cut released on DVD this July.

Alexander Payne has picked out his two main male leads for his next film, "Nebraska."

Gangster Squad's release date pushed to September 7th

Lastly, there's already a teaser poster for the Anchorman sequel (below):

Moonrise Kingdom, Rust and Bone, The We & The I

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom opened the Cannes Film Festival and the reviews coming out are quite positive. Some of it is faint praise "Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson" while other reviews are even more positive.

 Here are a few select reviews coming out of Cannes:
 Emanuel Levy
  box office magazine
  Sasha Stone from Awards Daily
James Rocchi from The Playlist

Rust and Bone

A French film which has definitely, and officially, entered my radar for this year is "Rust and Bone," a film by Jacques Audiard whose previous film "A Prophet" was incredible, one of the best films of 2009. It looks like his next film is just as good. Rust and Bone stars Marion Cotillard and well, I'll let the reviewers do the rest of the talking.

 Rave reviews from UK critics:
 The Guardian UK
  This Is London

 And from US critics/bloggers:
 Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter
 Sasha Stone from AD
 Kevin Jagernauth from The Playlist

The We & The I

Michel Gondry's new film coming out of the Director's Fortnight portion of Cannes is called "The We and The I" which follows a group of kids in a Bronx school bus. Gondry's style over substance has often lead to mixed reviews to his films, since the universally praised Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "The We & The I"  seems like it's no different. I only managed to find three reviews of the film in my google search, but they're pretty divided. The Playlist review is probably the harshest.

The Playlist
The Hollywood Reporter

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cannes Film Festival kicks off tomorrow

Moonrise Kingdom will be the opening film premiering at Cannes tomorrow and the festival lasts til May 27th. I had always given brief run downs of the news coming from Cannes. This time, I'm gonna have more news about the films coming out and what critics at Cannes have been saying.

Remember, last year's Cannes was where Nicolas Refn's "Drive' came out to rave reviews, as well as Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and Malick's "The Tree of Life" both confused and enthralled the critics (and wound up winning the Palme D'or). Cannes is a make-or-break festival. It can ruin films, or it can give films life it never thought it could have like this past year's Best Picture winner at the Oscars, The Artist. Last year, The Artist got rave reviews from across the board, who knew that this little silent French film would wind up being an Oscar juggernaut?

There can be some Oscar faves coming out this year or there could be none. Either way, there'll be great films and usually a handful of clunkers. I'm really holding out hope that Moonrise Kingdom from Wes Anderson will go over well with critics. I dig the trailer and a lot of the promotional material coming from the film is just adorable. I'm glad Wes went with Focus Features on this one as his films could use more promotions. I feel like Fox Searchlight and its parent studio kinda dropped the ball on both The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I hope Moonrise Kingdom can wind up becoming the indie hit of the summer.

Down below are a handful of films premiering at Cannes that I'm really looking forward to hearing about and then below that are some mini-featurettes for Moonrise Kingdom.

"Rust & Bone" (dir. Jacques Audiard)

Audiard's follow-up to "A Prophet" which was easily one of the best films of 2009.

"On The Road" (dir. Walter Salles)

This is a film that's been in the making for almost 40 years. Francis Ford Coppola had wanted to tackle this for a long time, but never got the chance. Walter Salles was an inspired choice for this though as proven by 2004's Motorcycle Diaries which he also directed.

"Lawless" (dir. John Hillcoat)

One of two Weinstein Company films that I'm interested in for this festival. You may have seen the trailer for the film before. I think I posted it late last month. *checks* Yup, I did. Good word from Cannes will help this film out tons which has to deal with a rather lame August 31st release date in the States. 

"Killing Them Softly" (dir. Andrew Dominik)

The second Weinstein Company film that I'm interesting in hearing about. Dominik's long-awaited follow-up to Assassination of Jess James also stars Brad Pitt and he ventures into more modern day crime-drama territory (like with 2000's Chopper). It will be interesting to see his approach with this film and hopefully it'll get more love upon release unlike Assassination which people kinda dismissed at first as being overlong. Of course that film turned out to be one of the best of the decade.

"Cosmopolis" (dir. David Cronenberg)

This film looks like Cronenberg at his vintage best judging by the trailers. Robert Pattinson actually looks good for the role and hopefully, if it's good enough, it will finally give Cronenberg some box office clout. We'll see how the critics and French audience take to the film first though. I don't even think the film has an American release date yet.

"Amour" (dir. Michael Haneke)

Another interesting follow-up from the director of "The White Ribbon." That film won the Palme D'or in 2009, can Haneke do it again?

Moonrise Kingdom featurettes:

Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity pushed back to 2013

Alfonso Cuaron's new sci-fi film "Gravity" had its released pushed back to some point in 2013. It was originally slated for November 2012, but apparently the effects are still a long way from being finished so Warner Bros will push it back a few months. There had been some worries that poor test screenings made WB nervous about releasing this 3D film in the midst of the holiday season which makes sense since it's a brand new film and idea, it's not a brand name or a franchise. Even though it has Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, it doesn't matter how cool the movie winds up being, people may wind up skipping it over anyway. Is there a possibility it may not be that good? Impossible to tell at this point as the film is supposedly largely CGI and the test screening audience saw a very early version of the film. It makes you wonder why you would even bother showing such an early version when you know a lot of work needs to be done.

At any rate, it kinda sucks to see this pushed back as it made 2012 look like a really kick-ass year for film, but at least it'll help make 2013 even stronger. Honestly, knowing that the film is relying so heavily on CGI and was shot on 3D... I would rather the best, most finished version of the film come out than to have it rushed it and it winds up being not as good. Take your time, Mr. Cuaron, I'll be waiting for the film either way.

The Campaign trailer

Running for office (or any office, like a North Carolinian congressman) has loads of comic potential. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiankis have decided to tackle it with their film "The Campaign" directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents trilogy). Looks pretty funny. I'm sure a poster will arrive soon enough.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost back together for "The World's End"

Good news!

Edgar Wright's been awfully quiet since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but it looks like he'll back behind the camera this September to lens the next collaboration between himself and the two leads from his first two movies (those movies are Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, of course).

Logline: "20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World’s End. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but humankind’s. Reaching The World’s End is the least of their worries."

More details here.

Credit goes to Deadline for breaking this story.

Gangster Squad trailer

This looks to be more of a period action entertainment flick than a movie with serious awards potential. Still, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Josh Brolin (among others) in a gangster crime film is just awesome. The third film from Ruben Fleischer whose first two flicks were both comedies, but highly-stylized ones. It's nice to see him both expanding on his style and entering into more dramatic territory. It should be really exciting to see how it all turns out. Sean Penn finally looks like he's having fun, it's been awhile since we've seen the more colorful side of Sean Penn come out on screen.

Comes out October 19th, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Argo Trailer

New trailer for Ben Affleck's new movie "Argo."

 The tone seems kinda jumbled, but it's hard to make a good trailer of a movie of a genre like this. Not quite thriller, elements of war, drama, a little comedy perhaps. Nevertheless, Ben Affleck is really getting into some interesting territory here. Let's hope Argo winds up being a successful step forward for him after two very solid movies (Gone Baby Gone, The Town).

Comes out on October 12th

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers is just what you hoped it would be

The moment many people were waiting for happened yesterday when The Avengers was finally released worldwide. This can be seen by just how big the film has been for the box office. It's just busting on through, already hauling in $300 mill around the world (excluding the US). It's interesting though because while having Iron Man, Capt. America, Thor, and the Hulk in the same movie would draw in a wide amount of interest anyway, to make a bad film with all these characters would be unforgivable. Luckily, Marvel Studios knew this and brought someone in who can successfully write for characters with big personalities.

Joss Whedon, known primarily for his TV work, has quite the cult following. It's a rabid fanbase who defend Joss Whedon whenever they deem it necessary. I'm not quite as enamored with him primarily because he has never been involved with something that had really interested me before. I'm sorry but I could never get into the Firefly/Serenity thing. Still, my ears did perk up when I heard he was going to be writing and directing The Avengers movie. I knew he probably could do a good job writing the script, I was not expecting him to be able to handle the film from a cinematic perspective.

It's not that Joss Whedon has suddenly turned into a cinematic director, but he definitely can direct action. It's tough when you're dealing with a lot of things going on at once with big monsters and flying objects and everything's going haywire. It's easy to get lost in it all and everything could easily turn into one big clusterfuck. Kenneth Branagh, who directed the Thor movie, could not direct action. It just wasn't his strongsuit. Jon Favreau did ok with it, but I often found the big action finales in the Iron Man movies to be the weakest parts of those films.

The big action finale in The Avengers does not disappoint. Sure, it's set in midtown Manhattan and that's not exactly an original setting. I'm pretty sure the Chrysler Building has been blown up and/or taken apart in at least ten different movies in the past twenty years. Nevertheless, what was so exhilarating about the sequence was just how fluid it all felt. Joss Whedon was able to seamlessly switch from Iron Man to Thor to Capt. America to Hulk to Hawkeye... with no struggle whatsoever. He had total and complete grasp of every situation that was happening during the sequence and it made for a very thrilling watch.

Let's backtrack, however. Thor's brother Loki winds up on Earth, ready to enslave the human race and obtain possession of the Tesseract, which is a cube-shaped energy source with unknown potential. When Loki appears at SHIELD's facility and takes the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., decides he has no choice but to assemble the Avengers. Along with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), they ultimately manage to get every together relatively quickly.

The main highlight of the film, for me, was the interaction between these superheroes. The strength of all the Marvel movies has been how well-characterized each superhero has been (with the exception of Hawkeye who still really hasn't had a truly solo moment). Watching Tony Stark get into verbal spars with Steve Rogers, fighting with Thor, or bonding with Bruce Banner just made me smile.

In fact, I was smiling a lot throughout this movie, I couldn't help myself. Joss Whedon did such an excellent job with these characters that when they finally band together and fight together, it's completely satisfying. It also helped to see this movie with a large audience. How can you not cheer when Bruce Banner arrives in Manhattan to help the rest of the Avengers out, finally seeing him unleash the Hulk and use him for good. Each superhero gets their moment to shine.

What was most surprising to me was how good and fitting Loki was into all of this. While I still feel like he's a villain that can't quite hold his own, he was definitely way more menacing and badass than he was in Thor. I can do without his creepy smile, but his relentless bad behavior is exactly what the film needed. I still feel like it's a bit too obvious that Loki was outmatched compared to the Avengers. He definitely put up quite a fight and used a whole army to do so, but Loki simply isn't that clever of a villain. Brutal? Yes. But he was often outsmarted in the film, which you cannot blame him for, these are six brilliant superheroes. How can you really compete?

Tom Hiddleston definitely stepped his game up for this film and I have to commend him for how handled himself opposite such larger-than-life characters. Mark Ruffalo also did a great job filling in Edward Norton's shoes, maybe I'm a bit biased because I'm a Mark Ruffalo fan, but I thought he did just fine. Of course Downey, Hemsworth, and Chris Evans were just fine, feeling extremely comfortable in their roles. That's what has been so great about all these Marvel movies. Even though not all of them were slam dunks, you can definitely see the benefits of having nearly all the actors come back to reprise their roles. That Mark Ruffalo was able to fit right in with them was most impressive.

Lastly, Samuel L. Jackson was finally able to spread his wings a little bit as Nick Fury. After being stuck with bit parts and cameos in the other Marvel films, you got to really see who Nick Fury was. And while Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) were clearly at a disadvantage when it came to getting a lot of screen time, they definitely were able to hold their own when they were called upon.

Once again though, a lot of the credit has to go to Joss Whedon. A bad Avengers movie would've almost completely rendered all previous Marvel Universe movies completely useless. Everything that Marvel had been doing the past four years was leading to this and Whedon nailed it. While there is another big superhero movie this summer that's still to come, it's hard to imagine any other movie this year will be as purely fun to watch as The Avengers.

Grade: A

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Five Year Engagement Review

The Five-Year Engagement starts out being very funny and then just barely grazes the finish line towards the end. Obviously with a title like "The Five-Year Engagement," there's going to be some ups and downs in the relationship, but man this movie meanders. It's not that it stops being funny as there are still a decent amount of jokes to be had all throughout. This is mainly due to a great supporting cast which includes Chris Pratt, Allison Brie, and Brian Posehn. The problem is that the movie just takes way too long to get to its inevitable conclusion.

The leads, Emily Blunt who plays Violet and Jason Segel who plays Tom, have great chemistry together. Tom and Violet decide to postpone their wedding after a year of planning because Violet just got into the University of Michigan's post-doctorate program which lasts two years (they moved there from San Francisco). Honestly though, I thought the reasoning for them not getting married was quite contrived. It was literally, "let's just hold the wedding off" even though the move doesn't really seem to necessitate holding off the wedding.

Violet enjoys the move to Michigan as her career advances further, but Tom's a chef and he turned down a head chef job back in San Francisco. The best he can seem to do in Ann Arbor, Michigan is to work at a sandwich shop. His lack of career success frustrates him but he tries his best to put on a happy face for Violet. The second act kinda drags on for quite some time turning this into a two hour movie. The Apatow crew really pressed their luck doing this with Bridesmaids, but Bridesmaids was long because the funny scenes lasted longer. Five-Year Engagement just feels stuck in its own contrivances.

I've gone over this before with other movies: when you know the movie is going to end one way and it takes so long to get to that point, it's a problem. A goal for a movie like this is to make you forget that you know how it's going to end, funny scenes help that. You know Tom and Violet will finally get things right and be married in the end, I get the struggle of the five-year engagement but the reasons for the postponement are just too weak. This makes for a very frustrating watch.

I'm generally a fan of the Apatow brand as well as Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. I still think they overdo it with the gratuitous sex scenes that always seem to delay the third act of their R-rated movies (this includes Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek). Five-Year Engagement is mostly a successful movie, but as a classic romantic comedy, it comes up short.

Rated: B-