Friday, August 31, 2012

Moving on to the next season

When I started this blog, or rather, when I turned into a movie blog, I did it partly because I wanted to find out who I was as a moviewatcher. You know, watching films is a big part of my life. So big that I now count how many movies I see in a year. Why? Because it interests me to see my patterns in movie watching. I want my passion for film to continue to grow and I want to sustain the relationship I have with film.

I noticed that I tend not to go to the movies very often in the 2nd half of July and for the most of August. Part of that has to do with the bad movies that come out during those times, at least in my opinion. But this year there were a couple of interesting films to come out at the end of the summer like Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, or even The Bourne Legacy. Certainly, that's worth a look, right? Heck, even the Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle Premium Rush received good reviews. Now I do plan on seeing Lawless tomorrow, but still, why do I tend to avoid the movies during these weeks?

Hard to say, but I do make up for it by watching a shitload in the last few months of the year. This year should prove to be very enticing for me. I got Lawless tomorrow, and later there's The Master, Looper, and maybe I'll see Trouble with the Curve too. Then in October, I got Seven Psychopaths, Argo, and Killing Them Softly.

I love the fall. It gives me a lot of good new movies to watch. I wish others felt the same way but they seem to care more about the summer movies. But, I've been thinking about it. Sure, I loved The Dark Knight Rises and the Avengers, but with so many people wondering about their chances come Oscar season, I started to wonder... is it really a big deal if they don't get nominated?

Of course not and I never understood people who get caught up in this debate. Who cares? Most importantly, again, as much as I love those films, I would personally rather more original films to enter the discussion of potential awards-getters instead of seeing The Avengers winning Best Picture. The Avengers is great entertainment, but isn't it sad the type of movies now that wind up being one of the highest grossing films of all-time? It has to be a comic book film that had five other comic book films leading up to it. It lived up to its promise and I consider it a good movie, but that's beside the point. Why can't movies like Argo, Killing Them Softly, The Master be hugely popular? Why don't we care about seeing these types of movies? Great blockbuster films like The Avengers and TDKR don't come out every year. But, every year we DO get great movies. Sometimes those great movies wind up doing huge business in the box office like with Black Swan and True Grit in 2010. But last year, the more serious, adult films mostly did terribly in the box office. It's a complete toss-up.

It's stupid, I know, to care about stuff like this. Honestly, these things don't bother me all that much, I just wish there were more people out there who got excited about films that look challenging, made by great directors, and having great actors.

I mean, people have talked about the fall of Hollywood A-list actors who can draw big business in the box office. It's crazy to me how few actors out there can get people's asses in the seats. Who's left out there that can do it? Brad Pitt, sometimes. Leonardo Dicaprio seems to have built a sturdy fanbase. Then there's maybe Will Smith, but that's about it.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of great up-and-coming actors who seem to star in good films on a yearly basis. Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and lately it looks like Joaquin Phoenix has officially put his hat back in the ring. Why can't these guys' movies draw big box office numbers? They're great actors in great movies. Now Tom Hardy is still a bit new to the game and we'll see how a film like Lawless does. Do people just not care that much anymore?

It's sad when even Steven Spielberg isn't the hot draw that he used to be. Let's face it, War Horse and Tintin had really disappointing numbers in the US box office last year. Now he's got Daniel Day-Lewis starring in an Abraham Lincoln biopic. Seriously, if that can't put asses in the seats, then there's something wrong with the American people.

In the '70s, '80s, '90s, people did see more serious films in the movie theaters. Maybe the marketing was better. Maybe there were fewer distractions. All I know is that whenever fall movie season comes up, it seems less and less people really care or are even aware of what movies are being released. The English Patient made a ton of money in 1996, won best picture, and became subject of a Seinfeld episode. Imagine if that movie came out now? A three hour romantic drama? Forget it.

I don't mean to be hating on the American public nor do I want to sound too complainy. The big thing is that I'm excited. There seems to be potentially a lot of great and interesting films coming out in the next few months and I can't wait. Let's hope they make money so that more great and interesting films can come out every year.

Lastly, the complete Telluride Film Festival lineup

  • THE ACT OF KILLING (d. Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, 2012)
  • AMOUR (d. Michael Haneke, Austria, 2012)
  • AT ANY PRICE (d. Ramin Bahrani, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ATTACK (d. Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon-France, 2012)
  • BARBARA (d. Christian Petzold, Germany, 2012)
  • THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (d. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon, U.S., 2012)
  • EVERYDAY (d. Michael Winterbottom, U.K., 2012)
  • FRANCES HA (d. Noah Baumbach, U.S., 2012)
  • THE GATEKEEPERS (d. Dror Moreh, Israel, 2012)
  • GINGER AND ROSA (d. Sally Potter, England, 2012)
  • THE HUNT (d. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2012)
  • HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (d. Roger Michell, U.S., 2012)
  • THE ICEMAN (d. Ariel Vromen, U.S., 2012)
  • LOVE, MARILYN (d. Liz Garbus, U.S., 2012)
  • MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (d. Deepa Mehta, Canada-Sri Lanka, 2012)
  • NO (Pablo Larraín, Chile, 2012)
  • PARADISE: LOVE (d. Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2012)
  • PIAZZA FONTANA (d. Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy, 2012)
  • A ROYAL AFFAIR (d. Nikolaj Arcel, Denmark, 2012)
  • RUST & BONE (d. Jacques Audiard, France, 2012)
  • THE SAPPHIRES (d. Wayne Blair, Australia, 2012)
  • STORIES WE TELL (d. Sarah Polley, Canada, 2012)
  • SUPERSTAR (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2012)
  • WADJDA (d. Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia, 2012)
  • WHAT IS THIS FILM CALLED LOVE? (d. Mark Cousins, Ireland-Mexico, 2012)

Aside from the New York Film Festival later in September, that pretty much covers all the festivals. It's a good time of the year even if you can't go to any of them because you can still see what critics are saying about certain films here and there. 

The best of the Toronto Film Festival line-up...

So what about Toronto?

Toronto International Film Festival (September 6th-16th)

selected films list:

Amour, Michael Haneke

Anna Karenina, Joe Wright

Argo, Ben Affleck

Cloud Atlas, Watchowskis/Tom Tykwer

The Company You Keep, Robert Redford

Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

Hyde Park on Hudson, Roger Michell

Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

Looper, Rian Johnson

The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

Seven Psycopaths, Martin McDonagh

Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas

To the Wonder, Terrence Malick

Toronto always brings out the goods, it is a serious rival to Cannes Film Festival as there's a good blend of serious films that may have awards implications, more experimental/artistic smaller scale films, and occasionally some good ol' fashioned genre fare like with Rian Johnson's Looper. I wish I could be there, but I can't.

Fall Festival season is closing in (part 1)

Let's take a look at what movies are playing where...

Venice Film Festival, August 29th-September 8th

selected movies list: (movie, director)
"Something in the Air," Olivier Assayas

After Summer Hours and Carlos, Olivier Assayas seems to have entered his prime. He's one of the most interesting foreign directors out there right now so it'll be interesting to see what he has to offer with this film.

"At Any Price," Ramin Bahrani

Some have called Ramin Bahrani one of the best and most original American directors out there right now. At Any Price is a drama starring Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid. It'll be interesting to see how his style meshes with these actors.

"The Master" Paul Thomas Anderson

If you've read the blog you should know I am very much looking forward to this one coming out in theaters. Ever since it was announced back in 2009, I have been waiting eagerly. Now we're so close to having it screened at a festival and then merely weeks later, we'll finally get to see it. I don't even know if I'll want to read the reviews coming out of the festivals (it's showing at TIFF as well), I've been avoiding all the early reviews coming out of the surprise screenings so far.

"Passion" Brian De Palma

Is De Palma back? I mean, he's been making films at a consistent rate all this time but he's lost his touch over the past two decades. The little teaser trailer that just came out isn't very overwhelming either, but it's a sexy erotic thriller from the legendary filmmaker. It could either be a welcome return to form or another dud.

"To the Wonder" Terrence Malick

After years of reclusiveness and then years of films coming out sporadically, it now seems like he's gonna have a movie coming out once a year. "To the Wonder" will be Malick's second film in two years and he's in the midst of shooting "Knight of Cups" and then he has yet another film he's planning on shooting later this year. To the Wonder might not come out in theaters until 2013 so it'll be interesting to hear what critics have to say about it when it hits Venice and TIFF.

There's also Harmony Korine's next film "Spring Breakers" but those five up there are the ones I'll be interested in hearing about coming out of Venice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Looking back and moving forward with the "Rebels"

The book came out about seven years ago but here I am just talking about now. The book is Rebels on the Backlot which was written by Sharon Waxman. It dabbles into the worlds of six indie filmmakers who garnered a lot of attention in the '90s and wound up working with major or mid-major studios. Those filmmakers included Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, and David Fincher.

I had avoided the book for some time after it came out. I was very much aware of its existence in 2005 but I was just started to really become a fan of filmmakers like QT and PT Anderson. I've liked Tarantino since I remember watching grownup films on a more regular basis which was probably around 11 or 12. I think I had seen Pulp Fiction when I was around 7 or 8 as it was on pay-per-view (don't ask how I was able to see ppv channels back then, if you grew up during that era you know exactly how). But around 2004/2005 when this book came out, that was when I really started to pay attention. I was 16/17 and re-discovering Tarantino as a late-teen was one thing... discovering PT Anderson soon after was a revelation. When I heard Rebels on the Backlot didn't exactly show those filmmakers in a positive light, I knew I wasn't ready to hear dissenting words from filmmakers who I now consider heroes of mine. Now though, after joyously reading Easy Riders Raging Bulls from Peter Biskind a few months ago, I couldn't resist the urge to read Rebels. So I did.

This isn't a review though. This is more an overview of the book and the changes from the filmmakers then and now.

For me, Rebels didn't really tell me anything I didn't know, but it did dive deeper into the filmmakers relationships with the studios that tried desperately to get along with them. The good lot of them were a young, cocky bunch. Soderbergh refusing to go Hollywood for a decade until he sucked it up and made Out of Sight in 1998. David O. Russell who became a critical success with his first two films (Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster) was now having to answer to the pressures of a major studio in Warner Brothers as well as getting into fist fights with George Clooney for the movie Three Kings which came out in 1999.

It was also quite fun to read about Spike Jonze's completely lack of awareness of pop culture before the Gen-X era as well as the fact that he was so far from being well-read that it took a few times to get through Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich script... he ended up being enthralled enough to want to make it. On the same note, it's fun to read about how that script circulated Hollywood for years with everyone saying "this is fantastic, but no one will ever make it." A testament to just how shitty Hollywood can be especially since the film finally came out in 1999 and is now a contemporary classic as far as I'm concerned. In fact, it's funny to think of it as being a '90s film since that and Fincher's Fight Club seem to fit right in with the 2000s.

 There's just something about those two films in particular that seem to be talking exactly about that generation in that point in time. It was that awkward pre-9/11 period of 1999-2001 where technology was moving at a breakneck pace and everyone was feeling perhaps a little too cynical. Things just seemed a bit looser then too... and then a great tragedy occurred and it woke a lot of people up. I don't mean that in a good way either. 9/11 was a deeply tragic event that I'll never forget, but the looming American mentality since 9/11 has been forever changed. It was nice, for a brief time, to remind ourselves why we lived in America and why our country is so great, but that nationalism and patriotism went too far into some people's heads. Now we're at the point where everyone has their own opinion of what being an American means and what the American way is, I really feel like we've gone too far to the other side compared to our mentality in the late '90s. For awhile, we had a happy balance, and now as a collective whole, we pretty much have gone insane. American politics has become a joke, our 24 hour news networks constantly pump into our brains all kinds of misinformation. We've gotten fatter, we consume more and more, we're still at war, women's issues have become a hot button topic yet again. There's a whole side of this country that have gone so far to the right on social issues that it really feels like we've lost sight over what it is we need to fix in this country.

So it's interesting to watch Fight Club or Being John Malkovich or even Three Kings and be reminded of that era just before 9/11. Another film that was talked about often was Soderbergh's Traffic which is brilliant from both a technical and story point of view. Soderbergh opened up the discussion of the drug war that's been going on between America and countries in Central America. Again, once 9/11 happened, the War on Drugs suddenly took a backseat and the War on Terror had begun leaving the issues that are presented in Traffic to remain more-or-less the same as they were back then.

Of course though, PT Anderson and Quentin Tarantino were the stars of Rebels on the Backlot. The book talks about how QT came to make Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction as well as PT Anderson's start into becoming the wunderkind of the late '90s with Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia coming out in quick succession. It wasn't easy for any of those filmmakers even for the young Anderson who constantly battled with the studios in order to keep his vision in those films in tact.

What's interesting now is that all six filmmakers seemed to have grown up a lot since then. Most of them are in their 40s, some have already entered their 50s. Soderbergh is reaching the end of his filmmaking career, or so he claims. Spike Jonze has been taking forever in between projects, but showed with Where the Wild Things Are that he can make a good film without a Charlie Kaufman script (although, it's not as great as Malkovich or Adaptation).

David O. Russell took a long time between Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees and an even longer time to finally come out with The Fighter. He made a film in between Huckabees and The Fighter called Nailed which seems to be forever stuck in movie jail. There's high doubt that we'll ever see that film, it had one day of filming left and that day was to film the most crucial part of the movie. In 2007, Russell's antics on film sets became a topic yet again when video of him lambasting Lily Tomlin on the set of Huckabees had surfaced. It was some pretty intense stuff and gave off the impression that Russell is quite the hothead. Still, he seemed to have redeemed himself in a big way with The Fighter in 2010 which won two Oscars and earned him a Best Director nomination.

In fact, aside from Spike Jonze, all five other directors have managed to get nominated for Best Director. Tarantino had already been nominated for Pulp Fiction, but got the nom yet again for Inglourious Basterds. Fincher was nominated twice in '08 and '10. O. Russell for The Fighter in 2010. PT Anderson was finally nominated for Best Director in '07 with There Will Be Blood. Soderbergh won the award in 2000 for Traffic. It seems that these directors have come full circle and have earned the respect and adulation of both fans, critics, and of Hollywood.

At the end of the book, Waxman kinda took a dismissive tone towards Paul Thomas Anderson's film Punch-Drunk Love which was the last film he made before the book came out. She seemed to have something against the man as she wrote that film off considering it always had favorable reviews from the critics, even at the time. It even won Best Director at Cannes in 2002. It's even funnier now though since that film is now held in high regard and he followed that up with There Will Be Blood which many consider to be among the greatest films of the last decade. The book paints PT as a diva, a drug user, and self-indulgent who perhaps was losing his spark. We know now of course that's not true. PT Anderson's new film The Master is about to be released to much anticipation and the few reviews that have come about regarding the film have been either overwhelmingly positive or positive with some reservations. It's clear now that the man can't do any wrong except that he takes a long time between projects.

Quentin Tarantino had made Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown within 5 years from each other but then took six years to make the Kill Bill films. Judging from Basterds, I'd say he's more mature and has grown a lot as an artist since those early films. His new film Django Unchained sees him boldly tackling a subject that few filmmakers would dare to go near, that is slavery in America.

David Fincher's filmmaking oeuvre has been greatly bolstered after a five year break when Panic Room came out in 2002. Since then he's made Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He's proven himself to be one of the best studio filmmakers and perhaps the best director-for-hire that is out there currently. He may have been prickly and tough to talk to when Fight Club came out in '99 and, you know, it appears as though not much has changed since then when it comes to his attitude towards studios. Still, he has had enough success over the past few years that should never stop him from making great studio films for the rest of his career. The Social Network has so far been the peak of his critical and awards success and it was the most profitable. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in many ways felt like a stylistic companion to The Social Network and it demonstrated David Fincher's firm grip on his style. He's at the top of his game now and even though he has no films currently on his slate (he's working on a tv show for Netflix right now), can't help but get the feeling that the best is yet to come for him.

After David O. Russell made The Fighter, he went right back at it and now his next film is coming out in November, The Silver Linings Playbook starring Bradley Cooper and Robert Deniro. The film's finished and Russell is already in the midst of working on yet another film which is tentatively titled American Bullshit (which will change before it comes out, for sure). But it seems as if The Fighter has really marked a new phase in Russell's career. He wrote the screenplay for The Silver Linings Playbook but not for The Fighter or American Bullshit. The Fighter proved he can handle material that isn't his own pretty well. It'll be interesting to see what kinda career he winds up ultimately cultivating for himself because right now his filmography looks really eccentric, in a good way.

With Soderbergh, he seems to be tapping out after he makes the Liberace film with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. He already finished shooting "The Bitter Pill" which is to come out early in 2013 with the Liberace film to come out in either late 2013 or early 2014. Will he really retire or will he just take longer between projects? I have a feeling he will come back to filmmaking before the decade is over. Too many actors want to work with him. He seems to have struck a great friendship and rapport with Channing Tatum who got him to make Magic Mike. What has been great with Soderbergh since his retirement announcement is the fact that we've been able to get Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike, The Bitter Pill, and then the Liberace film all within quick successions of each other. While Haywire and Magic Mike may have ultimately felt a bit slight and Haywire was kind of a flop, Soderbergh has been the type of filmmaker that has been completely unafraid to try everything. I don't know if he has a true bonafide masterpiece in his filmography but Traffic and, to a lesser extent, Che come pretty close. Che may have been a bit too uneven but Soderbergh's approach to making Che was definitely an epic undertaking. Overall, with an Oscar win, a couple of big hits in his career, and some interesting experiments, you can't really complain about Soderbergh's impending retirement. He seems to be bored with the craft and it shows a little bit with Haywire and Magic Mike. Conversely, I thought Contagion was his all around best film since Traffic. At the very least, he's been uneven. Uneven, but always interesting and always a filmmaker worth watching. If he's serious about retirement I hope he's able to find a way to get excited about filmmaking again. If he ever comes back to the world of film, it should be because he wants to and not because he's forced back into it.

Spike Jonze, in hindsight, may have been a poor choice for Sharon Waxman to talk about even if his story in the book is pretty interesting. Right now he's doing a film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara but I feel like Alexander Payne or Wes Anderson would have been better since they both were rebels, more-or-less, and were coming up at the same time. Payne took awhile between Sideways and The Descendants and the latter film may have been his weakest (still great though), but he's a filmmaker that in any other era, the "indie films" he's making would be major works from Hollywood. He consistently makes great comedy-dramas and he makes well-crafted films. Wes Anderson's films are so distinct that I wouldn't even call them films, I'd call them worlds. You watch a Wes Anderson film and you are once again entering into the quirky precocious mind that is Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom was his strongest film yet and he looks to be wasting no time with his next film The Grant Budapest Hotel.

One last person mentioned in the book that's worth commenting on is Charlie Kaufman. Man, Charlie Kaufman from 1999-2004 was a force to be reckoned with. Writing the scripts for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He had his own fanbase and brought the best out of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. Then he spent years sculpting his first directorial project, the overly ambitious Synecdoche, New York which demands to be seen more than once but is definitely a chore to sit through the first time. A good film and perhaps it's better than I currently think it is, but Kaufman has seriously slowed down his work output over the years and it's frustrating. Here was one of America's most promising screenwriters and probably was the best among his peers. He seemed to have delved too far into the abstract after Eternal Sunshine. Jonze and Gondry appear to be a bit lost without him (Jonze less so). Gondry keeps making visually interesting films with dull stories. While the Jonze/Kaufman relationship was great and inspired and we need to see more collaborations from them, the Gondry/Kaufman combo was fantastic and produced something so beyond anything else in the 2000s that a third collaboration between the two is a must (their first was on Human Nature which came out in 2001). The tone regarding Kaufman was understandably optimistic when Waxman wrote the book, it's funny to think that Kaufman almost feels like an afterthought when reading the book in 2012. That's not to put the man down, that's just a call to Charlie Kaufman to start making films at a faster rate!

It's interesting to delve into these filmmakers pasts and see how they continue to measure up since those early times. But the most interesting part has yet to come. These are still young filmmakers and they could potentially make enough films in the next 20 years that surpass the first few or maybe eventually they'll be considered has-beens. Who knows? All I know is that along with Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky, those nine filmmakers that I mentioned including the six chronicled in Rebels on the Backlot are now the leaders. We have yet to see a new generation of filmmakers to take Hollywood and the rest of America by storm so all we have are these guys who all seem to be entering a new and interesting phase of their already-long careers. The quality of Hollywood films and films in general may have degraded over the past few years, but as long as those guys are out there making films, we won't be in bad shape.

The first one sheet for Lincoln

So what exactly will we get from Steven Spielberg's newest film "Lincoln" which comes out on November 9th? We only have one poster (above) and a sneaking suspicion that Daniel Day-Lewis will once again wow us all with an amazing performance. But what tone will Spielberg take with it? How will it look? Nearly two months away and they've given us nothing. It seems like Spielberg wants to keep his cards close to his chest this time around. Will this be a serious awards contender or will it just get a few courtesy nominations and then be forgotten? That has been the case with Munich and War Horse, but this time around Spielberg's got Daniel Day-Lewis leading the way and it's a film about a President that is highly regarded by many historians. Reports indicate that this film will be about the last months or so over Lincoln's life. While not as high on my anticipated film list for the fall, I gotta say, the lack of trailer at this point has really gotten me intrigued. For sure, I will see the film when it comes out if just to see what will surely be a powerhouse performance, but I can be hot and cold with Spielberg when it comes down to it. We all know he's a Hollywood legend in many ways... can he strike gold yet again?

Killing Them Softly trailer; Andrew Dominik

The trailer for Killing Them Softly was released earlier this month. Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, it's about time we had a really badass crime film come out. Killing Them Softly comes out on October 19th and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. This will be interesting as Dominik's last film was what I consider an unsung classic from the 2000s, "The Assassination of Jesse James." It's not even about the fact that the film was underrated and under-appreciated. It was one of the greatest American films of the last decade and its stature shall only grow over time. Killing Them Softly is Dominik's third film and it's a bit of a change of pace from Jesse James. He's been around for 12 years now, but the lack of a real oeuvre kinda makes it hard to predict what an Andrew Dominik film is. He's still very much a filmmaker trying to make a name for himself. If he can churn another great film here, with only three films under his belt, he will be one of those filmmakers for me. Kinda like Steve McQueen who also has only directed two films so far. I'll see McQueen's "Twelve Years a Slave" on opening day because after just two films he's made his talent abundantly clear to me. With Dominik, this film would be the one that would put him over the top for me as a filmmaker. I'm excited to say the least.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reflecting on Nolan's Batman

Photo taken from Slant Magazine

If Christopher Nolan's filmography was just this: Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Inception (let's say he somehow managed to make the big-budgeted Inception after four relatively small films), I would bet you that serious cineastes would find it easier to embrace him. As much as fans of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies insist that those films should be judged as serious films, there are a lot of people out there who will just refuse to accept that idea. The fact that nearly all blockbuster films in the current era aren't being made by writer/directors, but rather, a team of writers and a director-for-hire makes it even more difficult for a writer/director with a singular vision like Christopher Nolan working with the same budgets to be taken seriously as a filmmaker in a lot of different film circles.

It'd be difficult to call his films art though they may have a degree of artistic quality. His films aren't art films, to me, they're thoughtful but ultimately are made to entertain. To me, a work of art would be the product of someone who makes something that pleases him first and foremost before the person even thinks about everyone else. Now that doesn't mean that Christopher Nolan doesn't make great films. For me, he is a maker of great entertainment and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I feel that films can come in all different sizes. They can be made with the purpose to confuse, excite, thrill, shock, alienate, depress... you name it. Lars Von Trier doesn't make films to entertain you, he's trying everything he can to make the average moviegoer not want to see his films. There is absolutely room in the film world for that sentiment.

As there is room in the film world for Christopher Nolan. I embrace the blockbuster films of the '80s and some in the '90s because the best ones were made by filmmakers who had a vision that was made to entertain and they succeeded. Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, etc... there came a point where big, loud, and explosive wound up taking over and big budgeted films with engrossing stories and lively characters went by the wayside. I put Nolan's Batman films on the same platform of those aforementioned movies. Do the plot points always work out and make sense? Not really. You can pick apart any of the great blockbuster films the '80s or Jaws or Star Wars. That's not what makes them great movies and they're not great simply because of the special effects and visuals, it's a healthy combination of that and story plus entertaining characters.

I think because Christopher Nolan came to prominence during an era of those big, loud, empty special effects films, he somehow wound up lumped into the same category of those filmmakers responsible for that garbage. How many negative reviews of Nolan films allude to Michael Bay's films when they talk about Nolan? Having said that, I do agree that Nolan wasn't always a great director of action though he's been getting better and better in that criteria. What makes him special is that despite whether or not some plot points in the Batman films don't always add up, they do ultimately amount to satisfying and thrilling conclusions. Also, the films have strong thematic and cinematic elements to them. Batman Begins works great as an origin story, The Dark Knight can work perfectly as an epic crime film alone, and The Dark Knight Rises is an apocalyptic war film in many ways. He brings a different and fascinating approach to each film and he somewhat makes it all work juggling all these characters, making them interesting and memorable, even giving Batman plenty moments to shine when previously many people have felt that the villains always seem to get more screentime than the caped crusader. Nolan fixed that.

Are the Batman films serious films? Do they deserve to be taken seriously and held in high regard as major works of film or just exceptional entertainment? I choose the latter. Because, no matter what, all superhero films have to go through the same general motions in order to reach satisfying conclusions. No matter how difficult and seemingly impossible the situations are, it's expected and a given that Batman will come and save the day. He has to, that's how the genre works. The Nolan films are effective because they work in many different ways, but they always have to maintain that foundation. When Bane breaks Batman's back, you know that's not the end of Batman. When Batman's plane explodes, you know that's not the end of Batman or Bruce Wayne. That degree of expectation is what keeps the Batman films in the "entertainment" category. Great films? Sure, but because they're so entertaining not because they're works of art.

My argument is that we should be able to make that distinction, acknowledge it, and accept it. Movies don't need to all be done the same way. There's bad blockbuster films out there but not all of them are bad. Fewer and fewer are great, but they're not all bad. And when you have a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan who sees his productions all the way through to the end, you're going to get a final product that's a cut above the usual blockbuster fare. Add on the fact that Warner Brothers essentially lets Nolan do whatever he wants with those films and you have yourself a filmmaker with a lot of freedom to make films that align within his vision. That type of power within the studio system should be celebrated not ridiculed because as long as we have someone like Christopher Nolan we won't have to lose faith in Hollywood altogether.

His Batman trilogy was a true landmark. It was a perfect marriage of personal and blockbuster filmmaking. But they are what they are. When Nolan's not directing the Batman films, he's making great visionary films like The Prestige and Inception. The whole world can be used as his canvas and Warner Brothers will throw as much money at him as he demands because he has proven consecutively that he can use their money effectively. He wants to entertain but he also wants to challenge his audience. Maybe not too much, but enough to make them want to see his films repeatedly. They see them repeatedly and find more to like from the film. That's why Nolan's fans love him so much. They know he's going to give them what they want, but they'll never realize just what it was they wanted until after they see his films.

So I'm hoping now that his Batman trilogy is over and Nolan goes back to more original work that his detractors will begin to see what makes him a great filmmaker in the first place. Until his next film comes out though, it's hard not to sit back and marvel at what he has already accomplished at the young age of 42.  Let's hope that he has at least another 30 years of high level filmmaking ahead of him.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty teaser; Kathryn Bigelow

Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming film due to come out December 19th. Could this be the start of a mid-late career renaissance for Bigelow? Or did the magic stop with The Hurt Locker? Good signs include the risky subject matter, the return of screenwriter Mark Boal, but this isn't an under the radar indie. All eyes will be on this film, can Kathryn Bigelow deliver?

The Hurt Locker put her firmly back on the map of directors to be taken seriously. She had a string of above-average to good action films in the late '80s through to the mid '90s with Point Break and Strange Days being creative highs. But then she started to fade into obscurity with a string of flops until The Hurt Locker came out in 2009 and subsequently won critics' hearts and a bunch of Oscars.

This was not for no reason. The Hurt Locker showcased Kathryn Bigelow's talents in a big way. Talents that have been there all along but never quite fully realized, perhaps, until that film. The fact that she has a very tight handle on her craft, can deliver thrills and suspense, and can direct action better than most... the strong performances and story finally gave Kathryn Bigelow a film that could fully utilize her talents.

So this'll be a big moment in Bigelow's career, bigger than her winning Best Director (first woman to ever do so). That was a huge moment, but if she can follow through with another great film, then we may have to brace ourselves for a fully reinvigorated veteran craftsman, ready for the next stage of her career. It's an exciting prospect, but at this point, just an idea.

As it is, the teaser Zero Dark Thirty doesn't leave all that much to be desired. Here's hoping a trailer will soon be released that can really give us something to wrap our minds around.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Seven Psychopaths trailer

This looks like a fun movie. From the director of In Bruges. You got Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson... I mean, come on.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Campaign review

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiankis star as opposing candidates to represent North Carolina’s 14th Congressional District in the new comedy “The Campaign” directed by Jay Roach. Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, the incumbent, who is going after his fifth consecutive term and is running unopposed… once again. That’s until Marty Huggins comes along (Zach) who, with the help of two corrupt businesmen, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), winds up running on the Republican ticket. Marty is rather simple minded with no background in politics. The Motch brothers, with an interest in insourcing Chinese labor into America, have spearheaded Huggins’s campaign leading Cam Brady to make a number of gaffes that would be political suicide for any regular politician. In this outrageous comedy, however, the ridiculousness never ends. Between Huggins’s effeminate charm and Cam Brady’s emptyheaded-ness, it’s kind of surprising to see such great comedic talent kinda phoning it in. Meanwhile, the stakes don't necessarily raise as the movie gets on, they just get weirder.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t funny, it does have its laughs. And perhaps my expectations have been raised a bit too much given that this was directed by Jay Roach who seems to have a keen interest in dissecting politics. Two of his last three films, Recount and Game Change, are both excellent HBO dramas that work almost as docudramas as they closely document the 2000 and 2008 elections, respectively. With The Campaign, the comedy is much, much broader. In a way, the broad comedy still manages to expose a lot of the problems that inevitably arise in modern day campaigns, but after awhile, it feels too much like the film is trying to condemn those pesky Motch brothers. Two men closely resembling the real-life Koch brothers who are portrayed as conniving, evil businessmen.

And sure, the film is on point in its depiction of corruption, but it's approach is almost too broad to be convincing or satisfying. Plus, Cam Brady and Marty Huggins aren't as funny as Ferrell and Galifiankis think they are. They produce quite a few laughs, but these actors are practically old pros at this point. They can play these characters in their sleep. We've seen Ferrell play this persona before as George W. Bush on SNL and we've seen Zach play a similar character... his alter-ego Seth Galifiankis.

Anyway, I don't mean to hate on them too much. They do a decent enough job. At 85-minutes, The Campaign goes at a brisk enough pace, getting through all the jokes, never too dull of a moment. Unfortunately, there's just nothing particularly memorable about it except for some cheap jokes, like punching a baby... or a dog. And yes, it's funny in the exact way you would think it's funny, but if that's what the writers had to resort to in order to get the film's biggest laughs, it just shows a lack of confidence in the overall material. The Campaign offers quite a few laughs, but not much else.

Grade: C+

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lists, lists, lists....

Quite a lot of fuss has been made in the film world about Sight & Sound's top 50 films of all time list. Since 1952, Sight and Sound has published a top 10 list once every ten years. They poll hundreds of critics from all over the world, they also have been doing a directors' version of the poll since 1992. The lists give you a pretty revealing and interesting look at how critics' tastes have evolved over time, same goes for the directors lists. Sight and Sound also publishes every director's top 10 list. So you get to see what Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, etc... think are the top 10 films of all-time. It's fun to see because it really gives you a taste of what movies really inspires those directors.

From 1962-2002, the critics poll has always placed Citizen Kane at the top of the S&S list. This time, Vertigo was number one. There has been a lot of talk about the poll, more now because of the abundance of internet blogs that are around now compared to back in 2002. Is Vertigo really that good? Is Citizen Kane's drop warranted? Does it really matter? Why is there only one female director represented in the top 50? Lots of questions have been asked about the poll.

But yes, it does matter. The placings of the films on the list do not matter to me, but this is a poll only done once every ten years. And there's often a good amount of consistency with each poll. I've seen some deriders and some complaints about it, but really, people will complain about everything these days. What matters is that it puts all those films back on the national stage. A film like Tokyo Story or Man with a Movie Camera may otherwise never get exposure if not for lists like that. Could it be more diverse? Who's to say? We always beg for diversity when it comes to anything and quite frankly I'm getting tired of that conversation. It's not that the conversation isn't valid, but no critic is making a top 10 list while purposely and knowingly leaving out a film by a female/black/etc director. I think it's kinda ridiculous to ask a prestigious list such as that to have an equal amount of films made by directors of all races and both genders. It's just not going to happen like that. Unfortunately, the films that have gotten the most international exposure happen to be directed by white men. I'd rather films like Do the Right Thing or Cleo From 5 to 7 get on the list organically.

Anyway, I think it's great that people are talking about Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, etc... because of the list. For every cynical, sarcastic anonymous internet person who dismisses any list that doesn't coincide with their opinions, there's a genuinely curious person out there who will see those films and discover a whole new cinematic world. These aren't just "films only old white people like," there's a reason why they wind up on the top 10 list. I may not put some of the films on the S&S top 10 on MY top 10, but I still understand and respect the list.

I feel like I didn't really say much or add anything interesting to the conversation so I'll just post S&S's top 10 and leave it at that.

The Critics:
The Critics’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
  • Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
  • Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
  • 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
The Directors’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
  • Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
  • Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
  • Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
  • The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
  • Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
  • Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
I will say this though....

 It's interesting to me that on the critics' list, the newest film was made in 1968. There have been some grumblings about that as well. Should a film made in the 2000s be on that list? or the '90s, '80s, '70s? The Directors' list has plenty of '70s films.

Let's look at previous lists from the critics:


01. Citizen Kane (46 mentions)
02. Vertigo (41 mentions)
03. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (30 mentions)
04. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (23 mentions)
05. Tokyo Story (22 mentions)
06. 2001: A Space Odyssey (21 mentions)
07. Battleship Potemkin (19 mentions)
07. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (19 mentions)
09. (18 mentions)
10. Singin' in the Rain (17 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (43 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (32 mentions)
03. Tokyo Story (22 mentions)
04. Vertigo (18 mentions)
05. The Searchers (17 mentions)
06. L'Atalante (15 mentions)
06. The Passion of Joan of Arc (15 mentions)
06. Pather Panchali (15 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (15 mentions)
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (14 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (45 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (31 mentions)
03. Seven Samurai (15 mentions)
04. Singin' in the Rain (15 mentions)
05. (14 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (13 mentions)
07. L'avventura (12 mentions)
07. The Magnificent Ambersons (12 mentions)
07. Vertigo (12 mentions)
10. The General (11 mentions)
10. The Searchers (11 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (32 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (28 mentions)
03. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
04. (15 mentions)
05. L'avventura (12 mentions)
05. Persona (12 mentions)
07. The Passion of Joan of Arc (11 mentions)
08. The General (10 mentions)
08. The Magnificent Ambersons (10 mentions)
10. Ugetsu Monogatari (9 mentions)
10. Wild Strawberries (9 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (22 mentions)
02. L'avventura (20 mentions)
03. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (19 mentions)
04. Greed (17 mentions)
04. Ugetsu Monogatari (17 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
07. Bicycle Thieves (16 mentions)
07. Ivan the Terrible (16 mentions)
09. La terra trema (14 mentions)
10. L'Atalante (13 mentions)


01. Bicycle Thieves (25 mentions)
02. City Lights (19 mentions)
02. The Gold Rush (19 mentions)
04. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
05. Intolerance (12 mentions)
05. Louisiana Story (12 mentions)
07. Greed (11 mentions)
07. Le Jour se leve (11 mentions)
07. The Passion of Joan of Arc (11 mentions)
10. Brief Encounter (10 mentions)
10. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (10 mentions)
10. Le Million (10 mentions)
What's interesting is seeing how newer films stopped entering the list by 1982. The only '70s films to make the critics' list before have been the first two Godfather movies in 2002. But if you notice in 1962, Michelangelo Antoinini's L'avventura shot up to first place roughly a year after it came out.  By 1992, the film was off the list. Bicycle Thieves also seemed to benefit from immediate universal praise at around 1952 when it was voted the greatest film, four years after it came out.

I always wondered about that because I feel that it's hard to judge a new film against nearly 100 years of film history. L'avventura is still considered a classic despite its absence on the S&S list of the last 20 years. If you think about films made in the '90s and the '00s, was there ever film that came out that could be considered the greatest ever as soon as it came out? I'd say no. Films like City of God, Yi-yi, In the Mood for Love took time to build near-universal respect. But I don't think we'll ever see a film come out and jump into one of these top 10 lists just like that. There's just too many films now. I think, back in the day, the unavailability of older films allowed newer films to jump onto the list. But now that almost every classic film (keyword: ALMOST) is on DVD and easily made available to watch for everyone, it's a lot harder for a newer film to make a lasting impression like that.

So much happened in the world of cinema from the 1920s to the 1960s. Although American film was probably at its best in the 1970s, in my opinion, you can't deny just how many great films/classics Hollywood had to offer back in the day. Back when Hollywood cared about making great films. I think the foreign film market has been getting better than ever and it's nice to see when a film from Iran or South Africa or Romania wind up getting praise. I feel like there hasn't been a more interesting or fruitful period for world cinema than now. I don't think we'll ever get another movement like French New Wave, New German Cinema, Italian Neo-Realism, etc... but more great films are being made by more and more diverse groups of countries around the world. I'd say, if there were to ever be a instant classic that winds up being universally praised by all critics and winds up on the next S&S list, I think it'll be coming from places like South Korea, Denmark, Brazil, or maybe Thailand. There's a lot more freedom, it seems, to make great films in countries like that or even typically great foreign film counties like France. Great films are still being made in the US, there's no doubt about that, but there are just so many countries out there no matter how small or how different, that are coming out with some great films.

Overall though, the only value I see in lists are that it gives a lot of great films exposure. That's why I do lists myself. I look at the S&S poll as a celebration of great cinema not some piece of elitist BS. These aren't academy voters just voting for the next flash in the pan. With films like Man with a Movie Camera and Sunrise making the list, I feel that these critics really are being honest with us about their decisions. There's really no reason to think otherwise.