Friday, September 28, 2012

scratch that... lol

all koc activity will have to wait another week as I'll be vacationing in Florida this upcoming week, starting tomorrow. But, when I coke back, looper review will be coming. but I will let you know that I thought looper was fantastic, I'd give it an A-. Definitely one of the most fun movies I've seen this year, I'll tell you that much. In fact, though the avengers and tdkr are obviously more accomplished and ambitious, looper is big in its own way. More on that in a week. Tool then, see you in October. I write this on my smart phone so excuse some of the words there

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Still alive

At least two reviews should be posted by the end of the week. I hate to have long periods without posts, but that's how it is sometimes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever, a review

Rashida Jones plays Celeste, a 30-something career woman who's about to get divorced from her life-long best friend Jesse (Andy Samberg), an artist who appears to slack off more than anything else. Their friendship still binds them together even through the twilight of their marriage, but eventually events will occur that will drive a wedge between them that may keep them apart for good.

Celeste and Jesse Forever, written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (who plays Skillz in the movie), is a pleasant indie romantic comedy that unfortunately meanders a bit too much in the second half and ends with barely a whimper. Even at 92-minutes, the plot ultimately feels a bit too thin. It's almost as if they introduced the main plot detail too early and the writers were scrambling trying to figure out a way to draw things out and end this film on a fitting conclusion.

The conclusion itself is indeed fitting if only because it's inevitable, still Celeste and Jesse Forever does have quite a bit to say about love and divorce, figuring things out in the next phase of your life. It's about two close friends who may still be very much in love but the circumstances that transpire have forced them to part. It's a little melancholy, but that's life. The main strength of Celeste and Jesse, and part of what keeps it going, is its down-to-earth realness.

Another part of what keeps this film going is a strong performance from Rashida Jones. Andy Samberg is no slouch either and plays a very charming and likable character, but this is a Rashida Jones movie. Finally she's able to showcase her ability as both a comedic and dramatic performer. One thing I will say is that I feel like I've seen her play this type of character a bit too much. Whether it's Karen from the Office, or her character in Parks and Recreation, etc... She's definitely cultivated an on-screen persona for herself and she's enjoyable and charismatic enough to carry her movie. I just hope she eventually starts to try different things.

This is a well-made movie that just has a few too many pacing problems. It does get a bit too frustrating to watch Jesse manage to ease his way through relationships with women whereas Celeste never seems to get to have too much fun on screen. Another unfortunate aspect of the movie is the fact that the chemistry between Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones is actually off-the-charts. They are wonderful together. But, they wind up spending so much time apart on screen which kinda brings down the energy of the movie. Sure, the movie has a decent amount of laughs throughout, but they mostly come from when Celeste and Jesse are on screen together. I think it might have been better to see them together a little longer, as it is, we only really get a hint of what they're like when they're together.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a cute little romantic comedy that's also realistic. It's also got a great premise and the approach to otherwise standard material feels fresh and original. However, once the movie enters its second act, the movie struggles a bit too much to get back on its feet again. By the time the film is over, you'll be looking at your watch wondering how it's only been 90 minutes. The pacing of Celeste and Jesse just feels off. It's not necessarily a feel-good film but it's an earnest attempt at deconstructing a failed relationship and, for that, I think it deserves a fair amount of respect.

Grade: C+

The Master has arrived, a review

Are we humans really a part of the animal kingdom? Can we get to a point where our emotions never cloud our decision-making? Can you control someone who appears not to be ruled by anyone? Someone who abides by his own rules and refuses to repress his animalistic urges? The Master, aka Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is about to find out whether or not loner, drifter Freddie Quell can ever be saved. His wife (the always wonderful Amy Adams) has already decided that it's impossible. As for Freddie himself, perhaps he doesn't believe there's anything there to be saved.

Still, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) strikes a close friendship with Lancaster, albeit a short-lived one. Two men: master and apprentice, constantly at odds with each other yet amused by each other. The question isn't what Lancaster sees in Freddie, that's obvious: Freddie is someone Lancaster might be able to help, to completely justify his philosophical and religious teachings (The Cause, for which he is the leader of). Lancaster thinks he can tame Freddie's animalistic outbursts, that he can turn him into a perfect man. He tries this by a number of different methods, none of which prove to be particularly useful. Freddie confounds him and in many ways Lancaster is repelled by him, but it's those things that repel him that makes Freddie that much more attractive to him. Lancaster really does not want to give up on him, he feels a connection to him, he feels they've met before either in a past life or the present one.

But what does Freddie see in Lancaster, that's what I ask myself. Does he merely see him as a friend? Someone who can supply him with work? With Freddie, the relationship may be much simpler. Here is a directionless drifter, a former sailor and WWII veteran, unable to hold a job for any period of time. Freddie happens upon The Cause when he wanders onto their boat. Immediately, Lancaster thinks he can help Freddie. Freddie appears to merely go along for the ride. He participates in Lancaster's question-and-answer sessions for the fun of it. Perhaps he's flattered by the attention Lancaster provides him. Despite the fact that Freddie often questions Lancaster's philosophies and methods, he vehemently defends the man at every turn, unwilling to hear any dissenters.

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth film, is Anderson at his most dream-like and also at his most riskiest. I can't imagine another American filmmaker more willing to take the types of chances that PT takes with this film. Whether it's shooting in 65mm, or the subject matter, or the inevitable backlash that may come from it... PT goes for it. In many ways, this isn't really about Scientology at all. It really only is on basic terms. The film really boils down to its characters and ultimately the relationship between Lancaster and Freddie. Then again, the film does raise some interesting questions, not specific to Scientology either. There are those who are lost that claim to be saved by religion, but what about those who simply can never be saved? Or, better yet, what do they need to be saved from? Someone like Freddie, is he wrong for the way he acts? Can he change? My answer is yes. Freddie Quell can absolutely be changed. He's a static character only in this movie, but he can be changed. The only problem is that Lancaster Dodd can't help him. Dodd's strategies and methods could never work on Freddie. They're just not practical on someone like him. What Freddie responded to, when it came to Lancaster, was love.

Love is really what The Master is about. Freddie isn't searching for a master to rule over him, he wants to be loved. Whether it's through affection, through sex, Freddie's wild behavior really appears to boil down to him being deprived from sex. Here Lancaster Dodd is trying all these complex ways to try to heal to him, but Freddie's mind doesn't need to be healed. It's his soul, his heart. Freddie wants to love and be loved, that's what he longs for. The reason why Lancaster and Freddie could never continue their friendship is because Lancaster ultimately cannot accept Freddie for who he is no matter how much he interests him. For Freddie goes against everything Lancaster's been striving for... perfection. But alas, human beings can never be perfect. We aren't wired to be perfect, despite Lancaster's insistence on the opposite. Therefore, someone like Freddie who wears his flaws on his sleeves is simply too human for Lancaster.

For Joaquin Phoenix, this is a performance of a lifetime. Not having been in a feature film since 2008, he comes roaring back in The Master. He's completely sucked into this role, embodying Freddie Quell in every fathomable way. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also does a superb job as Lancaster Dodd, giving him humanity and charm, making it really hard for you to dislike the man even if you disagree with his philosophies. Lastly, Amy Adams nearly steals the show with her quiet intensity and there's a scene between her and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular that you will never forget.

Like There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again for me. This film has consumed my entire brain and it might be doing so in deeper ways than with There Will Be Blood. The Master doesn't have any answers. It defiantly remains devoid of answers. Because of that, it leaves me with so much to think about, to ruminate over, that this will be a film I'll need to go back to numerous times. I will happily do so also because The Master is so rich in so many areas. The acting, the cinematography, the shot composition... PT Anderson is in full force here. He has topped himself yet again. We often expect truly great films to end with an exclamation mark, but it's funny, they almost never do. The Master is relentlessly compelling and original. There won't be another film this year that will even come close to its audacity. I believe in The Master.

Grade: A+

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts about the new Lincoln trailer.

It has finally arrived. The trailer for the new Lincoln film was almost an event upon itself. Was it worth it? Eh...

On the bright side, Day-Lewis looks fantastic. He looks authentic. Furthermore the costume design and look of the supporting characters in the film look authentic as well. The trailer does a good job of not giving too much away but just giving you a taste. Unfortunately, the music is really, really cheesy and the combination of that and the approach of the trailer almost looks like it's tailor-made for Academy Awards.

I don't like to throw around the term "Oscar bait" because I do think most filmmakers simply want to make great films. With Spielberg, there's basically two sides to him when it comes to the serious dramas that he makes. There's one side that is clear, calculated audience manipulation. A director's job is to manipulate the audience, but a great director does it in a way the audience can't detect. Once the audience starts to feel you're pulling one over them, you lose them forever. Spielberg's lesser dramas have a habit of going that route, this includes War Horse with its John Williams score that's perhaps the most overbearing soundtrack in a film that I've heard in a long time.

Lincoln looks like it could go either way, but it was written by Tony Kushner who also wrote Munich which showcased Spielberg's other side. The other side of Spielberg is a guy who isn't as afraid to put it out there. His films may still have a typical Spielberg touch but the best Spielberg films (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, even Minority Report) have a relentlessness about them that make them work. They take many more chances and risks and you can tell Spielberg is really hitting on something different. Munich goes into some really dark places as does Schindler's List of course. I feel like Munich is in some ways Spielberg's most mature film as it doesn't feel the need to tie things up in a typical feel-good fashion that Spielberg has a habit of doing. Spielberg wants his characters to win, you can ultimately sense that he has a strong faith in humanity which is why he'd choose a story like Schindler's List despite the Holocaust setting.

I'm hoping Lincoln goes for a more envelope-pushing route. It's got the great cast, it looks beautiful, and it has a great screenwriter involved. I hope John Williams is able to keep from making the score sound too sugary and sweet and I also hope we really get to understand Lincoln as a human being.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Aw, come on: Killing Them Softly delayed - yet again

Deadline reports that Andrew Dominik's upcoming film "Killing Them Softly" is being delayed - again - from mid-October to November 30th. If you may remember, its original release date was Sept. 21st and now it's been pushed back a full two months, presumably, for maximum Oscar buzz (really?)

To me, Killing Them Softly looks more like a potentially superb genre film, but The Weinstein Company apparently want ALL of their films to have an endless amount of Oscar buzz. They want to go into Oscar season with potentially four films that could be nominated for Best Picture: The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, Killing Them Softly, and maybe even Django Unchained. Does it really make a difference if Killing Them Softly is released in October than if it's released in November?

On the other hand, I was wondering why there were essentially zero releases for the weekend of November 30th. But, I was hoping maybe one of the many Christmastime releases could wind up getting pushed forward to that weekend. I disagree with the Weinstein's move. Killing Them Softly is apparently a difficult film to swallow for some and so if you keep delaying the film's release, you're not giving it enough time to really resonate with critics when it comes time to hand out awards. Plus, you gotta bunch of films coming out mere weeks after November 30th that could drown out Killing's chances. I would think Killing Them Softly would need to be screened at New York Film Festival or something, in order to justify this push back. As it is, I don't really understand this move. Then again, I don't understand why there needs to be 20 films all waiting to be released around Christmas. That makes no sense either.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Terrence Malick's problem

Terrence Malick's first five films all achieved some sort of cult status over the years, The New World perhaps less so. Most of all, Malick has achieved near-legend status partly due to his reclusiveness and length of time between the release of his movies. Badlands came out in 1973, Days of Heaven in '78. Then there was a 20 year break before The Thin Red Line (1998) and the aforementioned The New World (2005).

Now he's looking to pump out a movie once per year. Since last year's The Tree of Life, he's already had his follow-up To the Wonder screened in Venice and Toronto. He's almost finished shooting Knight of Cups and then he's shooting another film right after. He can get any actor that he wants because they all know that being in a Malick film will pretty much make you forever remembered by people who care about film. Badlands and Days of Heaven grew in stature during the years Malick was absent from film and their stature continues to grow today.

Maybe there was something to that. Maybe making one film every decade, or half-decade, was easier for people to swallow. The thing is that, before, Malick's reclusiveness and film style seemed almost universally admired. The films may have been divisive upon original release, but it seemed more and more people grew to appreciate them over time. After all, they require multiple viewings.

His films have gotten more experimental, since the beginning, he's been insistent in using voice-overs over beautiful imagery to tell his story. The Tree of Life was one thing, but now word coming from To the Wonder is that it's even more experimental than Tree of Life. There were boos out of Cannes after Tree of Life screened in 2011, but it managed to win the Palme D'or. In Venice, the boos for To the Wonder were apparently louder, more vociferous. While there seems to still be positive reviews from critics who have seen these movies. His naysayers do seem to be getting louder and more determined in their dismissal of Terrence Malick's style and personality.

My feeling is that if Malick wants to keep making films as frequently as he does, he's gonna either have to change it up a little bit or at least come out of hiding and talk about his work a little bit. Leaving it up to interpretation works when you're not making film after film year after year. But with his output nowadays, if he keeps making these visual tone poems with narration, I have a feeling his films will continue to get marginalized. I feel like his style and personality was better suited for the long wait between the films. But I don't think you can be prolific and insist on the same style whilst staying in hiding the whole time. I read one reviewer who wrote "I'll never see another Terrence Malick film again unless my job [as a critic] forces me to."

It's sad because nobody makes films like Malick does. He has his own style. Oftentimes, people who complain about Terrence Malick will bemoan the fact that there's no originality in cinema. Terrence Malick is an original and his films do deserve to be taken seriously. But I must say that, at this point, he's kinda asking for it.

You heard about Sean Penn how he thought the script for The Tree of Life was wonderful and that there was much more to his story. Even though I admire Malick's style, I don't think it's necessary to insist upon making his films in the same exact style time after time. Trying to find the film in the editing room, taking out as much dialogue as possible, packing the film with enigmatic voice-over narration. Yeah, I could see that becoming more and more difficult for audiences to process. I think the main problem is that Malick's films increasingly become more serious. I will concede to the fact that aside from his films being visual delights and I personally thought The Tree of Life was easily the best film of 2011... I will admit that it takes work to watch Malick's films. It gets easier with subsequent viewings, but nobody seems to have much fun in a Terrence Malick film. The light moments are a bit too far apart from each other. His films seem to be getting more out there and in a way that's great, but in another way, they feel less grounded and down-to-earth.

It feels stupid to say these things because Malick should be able to do whatever he wants. If I have problems dealing with his style, that's one thing, but why should I tell him how he should make his films? Why should I want him to make his films more conventional?

There are quite a few similarities between Malick and Stanley Kubrick. Both valued the image over conventional storytelling, both were criticized for not placing more emphasis on their characters. But, I will say that I prefer Kubrick because despite his audacious approach to filmmaking, I actually find the stories in his films compelling they're just told in a different way. With Malick, his films are less about story and more about feeling, but the best Kubrick films are able to tell a story and make you feel something all at once while still placing emphasis on the story. Plus, Kubrick was able to take a genre and move it a hundred steps forward, changing everything we previously knew about said genre. Malick's films all kinda fall into the same tone poem genre.

So yeah, I feel it's worth saying that if you're gonna make four films in 5-6 years, that variety starts to become important. There's gotta be more to Malick than what he's shown us in five films. Something lighter, something more fun, something rich in character and story. We always hear how great his scripts are, why can't he trust himself as a storyteller? Why must he leave it all up to the editing room?

Because as serious as Kubrick's films could be, there was a great amount of humor, albeit dark, in Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and most obviously, Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick showed more of his personality in his films. It'd be great if we can see more out of Malick with the next few films that he makes.

I only made this as a reaction to some of the negative reactions I saw of To the Wonder. There were plenty of positive notices too. Perhaps the film is great and it's different enough than his previous work. Maybe the Malick dissenters just really have it out for the man. I have no problem with that, I just fear that if he insists upon this style of filmmaking for Knight of Cups and the as-of-yet untitled film previously called "Lawless," I fear that those dissenters will start to feel that their opinions are justified. And I love Terrence Malick's films, I think they're each cinematic events. At the same time, I could see myself feeling restless if he never intends on expanding on his style.

Image above courtesy of The Guardian.

Monday, September 10, 2012

More news...

Will the Star Trek sequel really be called "Star Trek Into Darkness"? Comingsoon has the scoop. Film comes out next summer.

Deadline reports that FilmDistrict will be distributing Spike Lee's Oldboy remake. Not that excited about this. I love you, Spike, but come on... Oldboy is a classic. Why is it that the only way for America to validate these classics is to remake them? If he does an interesting take on the material like with The Departed, that's one thing, but this just seems wholly unnecessary. Maybe he'll prove me wrong.

New Cloud Atlas poster:

and trailer:

BFI London Film Festival recently announced its lineup:

Official Competition
The inaugural Official Competition line-up, recognising inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking, includes four European premieres:

· Michael Winterbottom’s EVERYDAY
· Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa
· Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children
· Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths

Together with UK premieres of
· Michel Franco’s After Lucia
· David Ayer’s End of Watch
· Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void
· Daniele Ciprì’s It Was the Son
· François Ozon’s In the House
· Cate Shortland’s Lore
· Pablo Larraín’s No
· Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone

Titles in consideration for the First Feature Competition recognising an original and imaginative directorial debut are:

3 European premieres
· Masaaki Akahori’s The Samurai that Night
· Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus
· Barry Berk’s Sleeper’s Wake

and 9 UK premieres
· Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild
· Tom Shkolnik’s The Comedian
· Maja Miloš’ Clip
· Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die

· Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil
· Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighbouring Sounds
· Scott Graham’s Shell
· Andrey Gryazev’s Tomorrow
· Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda

In the Documentary Competition category, in partnership with the Grierson Trust, recognising documentaries with integrity, originality, and social or cultural significance, the Festival is screening:

4 World Premieres
· Charlie Paul’s For No Good Reason
· Nick Ryan’s The Summit
· Sarah Gavron’s Village at the End of the World
· Greg Olliver’s Turned Towards the Sun

1 International Premiere
· Sébastien Lifshitz’s Les Invisibles

4 European Premieres
· Jay Bulger’s Beware of Mr Baker
· Shola Lynch’s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
· Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
· Amy Berg’s West of Memphis

3 UK Premieres
· Katja Gauriloff’s Canned Dreams
· Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ The Central Park Five
· Ulises Rosell’s The Ethnographer

Closing the Awards section is the prize for Best British Newcomer, in partnership with Swarovski, which highlights new British talent and is presented to an emerging writer, actor, producer or director. The recipient of this prize will also receive a £5,000 bursary, courtesy of Swarovski.

And lastly, Richard Linklater has wrapped shooting a sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It's entitled "Before Midnight" and of course Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy will star. They also had a hand in writing the script. Other exciting news is that it was filmed in Greece so if you were a fan of the first two films, there's another thing to get excited about. [deadline]

In other news...

Finally, in other news..., is back! Let's get right to it.

Derek Cianfrance's new movie "The Place Beyond the Pines" was screened at the Toronto Film Fest this past week and it looks like a distributor for the film has been confirmed. Focus Features will be picking it up and it looks like the film will be aiming for a release at some point in 2013. Considering the positive buzz around the film, this will be a film Focus will definitely want to push for next year's Oscar race. [deadline]

Moonrise Kingdom was only released four months ago and looks to finally have bowed in the theaters raking up more than $40 million in the box office which marks it as one of Wes Anderson's biggest hits. Considering the film was made on a pretty small budget, it looks to be a very wise investment for the aforementioned Focus Features. So it comes as even better news to learn that The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's next film, is already underway. Filming starts in January and the casts features Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Adrien Brody. Um, yeah, count me in. Considering filming starts in January, could that mean we could get it in theaters by late 2013? Well, that's a much tougher call. At least we don't have to wait three years for another Wes Anderson film. [the playlist]

It looks like David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper have really become best buds. They just made Silver Linings Playbook which showed in Toronto and it has people considering it a major awards contender. They're about to tackle another project together, American Bullshit (likely to be retitled), and now there's yet another project on their plate called American Sniper. Sounds exciting, until you remember that David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg seemed like best buds too after The Fighter came out.

Oh and here's a poster for Silver Linings Playbook:

[the playlist]

I don't really like to do box office reports because I hate how the movie world revolves around those numbers so much. But, it is quite noteworthy to tell you that this past weekend marked one of the worst box office weekends in recent memory. [boxofficemojo]

You know what else is cool? The Master's TIFF Press Conference featuring PT Anderson, Amy Adams, and the producer JoAnne Sellar

Speaking of The Master, it won some awards at Venice.  Here's the complete list of Awards winners at the Venice Film Festival.

Golden Lion (Best Picture)
"Pieta," Kim-Ki Duk
Silver Lion (Best Director)
Paul Thomas Anderson - "The Master"
Volpi Cup - Best Actor
Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman - "The Master"
Volpi Cup - Best Actress
Hadas Yaron - "Fill The Void"
Special Jury Award
Ulrich Seidl - "Paradise: Faith"

Mastroianni Award - Best Young Actor
Fabrizio Falco - "Dormant Beauty," "It Was The Son"
Best Screenplay
Olivier Assayas - "Something In The Air"
Technical Achievement
Daniele Cipri - "Il Stato E Figlio,"
Luigi De Laurentiis Award (Best First Feature)
"Kuf: Mold," Ali Aydin

Orrizonti: Best Feature
"Three Sisters," Wang Bing
Orrizonti: Jury Prize
"Tango Libre," Frederic Fonteyne

FIPRESCI Award (Competition)
"The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson
FIPRESCI Award (Orizzonti/Critics' Week)
"The Interval," Leonardo Di Constanzo
"To the Wonder," Terrence Malick
SIGNIS Award (Special Mention)
"Fill the Void," Rama Burshtein

Audience Award (Critics' Week)
"Eat Sleep Die," Gabriela Pilcher

Label Europa Cinemas Award
"Crawl," Herve Lasgouttes

Leoncino d'Oro Agiscuola Award
"Pieta," Kim Ki-duk

Leoncino d'Oro Agiscuola Award (Cinema for UNICEF mention)
"It Was the Son," Daniele Cipri

Pasinetti Award
"The Interval," Leonardo Di Constanzo
Pasinetti Award (Documentary)
"The Human Cargo," Daniele Vicari

Pasinetti Award (Best Actor)
Valerio Mastandrea, "Gli Equilibristi"

Pasinetti Award (Special)
"Clarisse," Liliana Cavani

Brian Award
"Dormant Beauty," Marco Bellocchio

Queer Lion Award
"The Weight," Jeon Kyu-Hwan

Arca CinemaGiovani Award (Best Film of Venezia 69)
"The Fifth Season," Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth

Arca CinemaGiovani Award (Best Italian Film)
"The Ideal City," Luigi Lo Casco

Biografilm Lancia Award
"The Human Cargo," Daniele Vicari; "Bad 25," Spike Lee

CICT-UNESCO Enrico Fulchignoni Award
"The Interval," Leonardo Di Costanzo

"Wadjda," Haifaa Al Mansour

CinemaAvvenire Award (Best Film of Venezia 69)
"Paradise: Faith," Ulrich Seidl

CinemAvvenire Award (Diversity)
"Wadjda," Haifaa Al Mansour

"The Interval," Leonardo Di Costanzo

FEDIC Award (Special Mention)
"Bellas Mariposas," Salvatore Mereu

Mimmo Rotella Foundation Award
"Something in the Air," Olivier Assayas

Future Film Festival Digital Award
"Bad 25," Spike Lee

Future Film Festival Digital Award (Special Mention)
"Spring Breakers," Harmony Korine

P. Nazareno Taddei Award
"Pieta," Kim Ki-duk

P. Nazareno Taddei Award (Special Mention)
"Thy Womb," Brillante Mendoza

Magic Lantern Award
"The Interval," Leonardo Di Costanzo

Open Award
"The Company You Keep," Robert Redford

La Navicella-Venezia Cinema Award
"Thy Womb," Brillante Mendoza

Lina Mangiacapre Award
"Queen of Montreuil," Solveig Anspach

"The Interval," Leonardo Di Costanzo

Mouse d'Oro Award
"Pieta," Kim Ki-duk

Mouse d'Argento Award
"Anton's Right Here," Lyubov Arkus

UK-Italy Creative Industries Award
"The Interval," Leonardo Di Costanzo

Gillo Pontecorvo-Arcobaleno Latino Award
Laura Delli Colli

Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Award
"Low Tide," Roberto Minervini

Interfilm Award
"Wadjda," Haifaa Al Mansour

Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award
"The Company You Keep," Robert Redford

Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award (Special Mention)
Toni Servillo

Primio Cinematografico Award
"Terramatta," Costanza Quatriglio

Green Drop Award
"The Fifth Season," Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth

The thing with rottentomatoes, metacritic, and critics in general

I picked up the book "Inside Oscar" at the New York Public Library last week. It's about 1,000 pages long and goes into every single year of the Oscars (from the very first one in the late '20s to 1994) covering the movies that were released, what people thought of them, what precursor awards the movie won, and then, ultimately, it talks about the academy and the Oscar show itself. I've learned a lot from this book so far and it has really started to inform me regarding this Oscar year. Basically, it has confirmed what I already knew which is, there's always politics involved with the Academy Awards... even from the first few years of its existence. The other thing I've gotten from the book is just how often some critics get movies wrong.

By that I mean, films like Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho, 2001, Raging Bull, Blue Velvet... they all had as many detractors as they had people who were championing these films. Every film comes with a couple of detractors. There are very few films that come out that are able to get as universal of praise as The Godfather movies or Casablanca or Gone With the Wind... it takes time for films the ones I mentioned in the top of paragraph to earn the universal praise that it deserves. A film like The Tree of Life is already getting that type of treatment. It got glowing reviews from a select few when it came out, won the Palme D'or, but there are plenty of detractors of that film. Some who really, really dislike it. Some who scoff at Terrence Malick's style. When the Sight and Sound poll came out this year, The Tree of Life was one of the only movies cited from the past few years to be mentioned on some critics' "best of all-time" list. Best of all-time? Already? And that's just a year after it came out, what will people be saying five years from now? Ten?

Great films tend to get a good amount of praise. The Social Network got as close to universal praise as a movie can get in this day and age. The praise was so universal that some people who initially gave the film a glowing review starting looking for the flaws. And yes, if you really wanted to, you can look for flaws in the movie like with any other movie, I guess some people feel that there has to be some amount of balance between positive and negative.

But when you know that a film coming out, like The Tree of Life or like this year's The Master, is going to have its fair amount of detractors because they are divisive films, sites like Rottentomatoes or even metacritic are really sort of useless. I mean, nobody should ever take these websites too seriously in general, but when you know a movie may have mixed feelings and that it's going to take multiple viewings for someone to really understand and take to it, then reading a critic's first reaction ultimately means nothing.

It'd been said that Pauline Kael only ever saw movies one time. It's strange to think that someone could get everything from a movie after seeing it just once. The late Kael is now considered one of the most important American film critics of the last fifty years, but that's just ridiculous. A repeat viewing can not only enhance a film for someone, but it can also point out flaws that you didn't see before.

I know that I always have to take my own feelings and reactions towards a movie with a grain of salt. I often try to take a day before I do a write up on a film. I'd love to be able to see a movie twice before I start writing about it, but who has the time and money for that? The most important thing to me is being able to acknowledge that more viewings are needed.

Going back to the book I'm reading, this type of reaction to movies is also what drives the mentality of the Academy Awards. The Academy Awards are very much driven by people's first reactions towards movies. Some Academy members might watch a movie more than once, but not ALL the movies that are nominated. Especially if one of the movies provoked a strong reaction from them that they didn't like. It's sad to think that the people voting in the year's most prestigious awards don't really give their voting much thought. But why else would films like The King's Speech or Chicago or Crash wind up winning Best Picture? Because it elicited strong positive feelings the first time they watched it. It made them feel good, even a movie like Crash. It's so rare for a movie to come out and everyone automatically recognizes it as a masterpiece. Even then, it has to make them feel kinda good. The Social Network might have had that kind of praise from the critics, but is it a feel-good movie? No, not really. It followed the lead of such zeitgeist movies as All the President's Men and Network... did those movies win Best Picture? Nope.

Really the only time a feel-bad movie wins best picture is when the critics think the filmmaker involved is way overdue. The Departed has the Scorsese factor, No Country for Old Men had the Coen Bros factor (and all the '07 movies nominated were pretty much downers, except Juno which was too light to have a chance at winning best picture). The Hurt Locker had the Kathryn Bigelow factor. A filmmaker deserving to win an Oscar sometimes trumps that feel-good movie. That'll probably be the only way a movie by David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, or perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson will wind up winning the top prize. I'd hate to think they'd have to wait until they're in the late 50s/early 60s, but that's starting to look abundantly clear.

So if a movie you're highly anticipating is getting RT or metacritic scores that are lower than what you expected or if it winds up losing in the Academy Awards... don't fret. If the movie you like is actually good enough, people will come around to it eventually. If it's not, then start a cult following.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Intouchables, a review

Phillipe is a wealthy quadriplegic; Driss is a young man from the ghettos of Paris. Their worlds will inevitably collide as Phillipe hires Driss as his caretaker in this French comedy/drama which is a huge hit overseas but, so far, has had little fanfare in the US other than its showing in arthouse cinema. This is unfortunate considering The Intouchables is as fun, crowd-pleasing, and accessible as the best of what Hollywood has to offer. If this wasn't made in France and had subtitles, you would think of it as an above-average Hollywood production. That's pretty much what it is, but you know what? It's thoroughly entertaining and it doesn't pander. It doesn't force you to feel bad about Phillipe or to understand Driss's plight.

That being said, The Intouchables doesn't do anything too extraordinary nor does it tread too deep into these characters' lives. We know just enough to understand them, but not enough to feel them. We get relatable caricatures. The film tries so hard to go the soft, crowd-pleasing route and tries to avoid the tearjerking moments as much as possible. While I can admire the attempt to avoid the sentimental, I feel we lost some opportunities to really get to know these characters.

Driss is a really fun character though who not only brightens and enlivens Phillipe's life but does the same for the movie. This film's charm and energy is relied solely on Omar Sy who has a very spirited performance here.  Francois Cluzet, on the other hand, is like a charming French Dustin Hoffman. The film is peppered by a couple of supporting actors here and there, but it's really their show. Or, really, it's Omar Sy's show. It seems the producers were especially eager to showcase Omar Sy's talent considering this film is based on a true story and the person he's portraying is actually Arabic.

I guarantee you will enjoy The Intouchables unless you're an incredibly cynical person who is hard to please. I consider myself fairly cynical, but not quite as hard to please. I can dig a film like The Intouchables because I feel it never talks down to me. I feel it earnestly attempts to tell its story and I admire that. It reminds me of one of those rare Hollywood dramedies where everything seems to work like Rain Man. The Intouchables is a very accessible, light, warm-hearted French production; a film that's hard not to like, but if it wasn't so light, it may have been a film worth loving.

Grade: B

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Actor Profile: Joaquin Phoenix

(image courtesy of awardscircuit)

Take a look at Joaquin Phoenix's upcoming movies: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," and two upcoming movies from Spike Jonze and James Gray (one a piece, that is) that are coming out in 2013. After his absence from the big screen in 2008, Joaquin Phoenix went through a weird time in his career. He briefly "retired," grew a beard, started a rap career, made awkward appearances on David Letterman... all of this was found out to be an act for his 2010 documentary "I'm Still Here" which could either be called an interesting piece of performance art or a load of crap. Both opinions have been expressed by critics across the country.

What happened? That's what I want to know. Maybe Phoenix felt overworked or lost, maybe he was going through an early mid-life crisis. Whatever it was, he seems to have come back to the big screen in a big way playing the lead role in The Master. He really looks like he's sunk his teeth into this role. Before we were wondering what Phillip Seymour Hoffman was going to be like when the movie was first announced, but now it looks more like the Joaquin Phoenix show.

You know, I only really consider Joaquin Phoenix to be a good actor at this point. He's had some great roles such as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, his role as Commodus in Gladiator is especially memorable. There's also his roles in Signs, The Village, We Own the Night, Two Lovers. He's showed promise. Perhaps Walk the Line showed he could be great. But from what I've seen from The Master so far, he looks to be tapping into something bigger. Is it Paul Thomas Anderson's effect on these actors or is it a combination of the actor's commitment and PT Anderson's involvement? We all knew Daniel Day-Lewis was a great actor long before he was Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. But then again?

Tom Cruise gave his career best performance in Magnolia, Mark Wahlberg proved he can be taken seriously in Boogie Nights, Adam Sandler's performance in Punchdrunk Love forced critics to conclude that he can be a great actor. It definitely seems like PT Anderson brings something out of these actors that we would otherwise never get out of them and that seems to be true with Joaquin Phoenix as well.

Nevertheless, Phoenix is now working with Spike Jonze, he's collaborating with James Gray again, his acting career seems to have a new and inspired sense of purpose. His performance as Freddie Quell in The Master might mark as the turning point. Or, better yet, the beginning of phase two of Joaquin Phoenix's career where he goes from being a good actor to a great actor. The prospects are exciting and in ten days, when The Master gets a limited release in NY and LA, we could be seeing the restart of a promising career becoming fully realized. I'm looking forward to Joaquin Phoenix's golden years.

The First Oscar Predictions (Best Picture)

It's September. Right now, here's how I see the Best Picture lineup shaping up. I predict they'll settle on these eight films.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - Beasts will be the "token indie film" of the lineup. I think it's the best independent film of the last five years or so but I don't think that gives the film a chance to seriously compete for Best Picture. Still, I think it'll have enough muscle and it has a good studio in Fox Searchlight which has had successful Oscar campaigns in the past. Just think Tree of Life.

Moonrise Kingdom - Moonrise Kingdom gave Wes Anderson the best reviews of his career and it did pretty well in the box office considering its limited release. Again, I think it will get a slot in the lineup, but it won't have a shot at winning.

The Master - I think The Master will easily earn a slot in the Best Picture lineup. The question is, will it have a shot at winning? Depends. It seems to be getting great notices out of Venice. So what matters now are the critics awards. And what does the film have going for it though in other categories? Because, remember, the more possible nominations the film has a chance at earning, the better its prospects look. Well, the film was shot in 65mm, it's an original story, and features a performance from Joaquin Phoenix that many critics are saying is the best of his career. Basically that means The Master could be nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, and maybe even Supporting Actress (Amy Adams). That's eight possible nominations and I'm not even including Best Score and maybe Best Art Direction. That brings the number up to ten.

The problem for The Master will be whether or not the Academy actually likes the film. They may respect it enough to shower it with nominations, but there are couple of potential crowd pleasers that could steal its thunder.

Argo - Argo is one of those potential crowd-pleasers. The only thing that has going against it is that its studio (Warner Brothers) is not that strong when it comes to Oscar campaigns. The Academy, though, does have a history of loving a film especially when the lead actor had a hand in writing/producing and directing it. Think Robert Redford's Ordinary People, Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Argo is Ben Affleck's third film and he has already proved to be a promising filmmaker his first two times at bet. Judging from the notices coming out of Telluride, this could be the film that thrusts him back to Oscar glory (remember, he already has an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting).

Lincoln - But Lincoln is an entirely different beast. Spielberg. Day-Lewis. Biopic. Abraham Lincoln. Election Year. Yeah... I mean, there are so many things going for "Lincoln" that the only thing that could ruin its chances is the film being terrible or simply not that good (like Eastwood's J. Edgar last year). Nobody exactly loved War Horse last year (I hated it), but we knew it would get nominated for a slew of Oscars. But Lincoln's awards prospects feel even more inevitable and it could wind up with Daniel Day-Lewis winning his third Best Actor Oscar which has never happened in Oscar history. The lack of trailer or stills coming out of this movie makes it even more mysterious but all you got to remember is Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Abraham Lincoln... those three things alone will make "Lincoln" one of the most anticipated motion picture events of the year.

Les Miserables - I think Les Miserables can secure a spot on the BP lineup quite easily. I mean, it's got a great cast, the director's last movie won a bunch of Oscars including Best Picture (The King's Speech). It doesn't even have to be great, it just has to be adequate. I don't think it'll actually win BP though. I think the chances of that are quite slim given how soon it has been since Tom Hooper's last movie The King's Speech came out just two years ago. Les Miserables would actually have to be a great movie, in my opinion, for it to have a serious shot at winning it all.  But it only has to be a decent movie to get nominated.

Hyde Park on Hudson - I wonder if the familiar subject matter in Hyde Park on Hudson could actually go against the film. It has a very similar feel to The King's Speech and actually features King George as one of the main characters in the movie. Bill Murray as FDR is going to perk a lot of people's interest. Too bad for him, he's going against the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix. I'm actually not too entirely convinced that Hyde Park could make it but on paper it looks like a good bet.

Zero Dark Thirty - Kathryn Bigelow's long-awaited follow-up to The Hurt Locker has the timely subject matter and Bigelow's recent accolades on its side. I'm worried that its mid-December release won't give it enough time to resonate with Oscar voters (which is why I'm confident Django Unchained WON'T get nominated for Best Picture). Nevertheless, there's no doubt that once again, on paper, Zero Dark Thirty looks like a great prospect for a BP nomination.

Other than that, I think Anna Karenina also has a strong chance of making it on the BP list. I wonder if its style (it takes place entirely on a stage and makes no attempt to hide that) will keep it from being fully embraced from the Academy. Still, Anna has all the classic elements of being a BP contender and if Hyde Park or Zero Dark Thirty wind up faltering, I can easily see Anna Karenina take its spot.

Django Unchained just looks like it has too difficult a road to get on the Best Picture nominee list. Jaime Foxx may have a shot at a nomination, in fact, I hope he does. And Tarantino is pretty much guaranteed to be nominated for his script. Django would need great critical notices and perhaps a few precursor awards like the Golden Globes.

What's left? Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Flight, The Hobbit, eh... we'll see. For now though, those eight I have listed seem to have the best shot. For those films yet to be released, they just need to follow the right course and they'll do just fine.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lawless, while not groundbreaking in anyway, is a lot of fun to watch

If you're expecting a masterpiece or a serious piece of filmmaking, you're going to be disappointed by Lawless. With director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) and actors like Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Shia Labeouf, and Gary Oldman, some people may expect a serious film looking to grab some Oscars especially with its prohibition setting. What we get instead though is a film that's more interested in being entertaining than anything else. And you know what? It works.

John Hillcoat is a solid director but this is probably his most accessible work. Lawless is a story about the Bondurant brothers (Hardy, Labeouf, Jason Clarke) who, during the prohibition era, get into the dangerous bootlegging business. Their initial success is thwarted by Special Agent Rakes (Guy Pearce), who's both foppish and borderline psychotic. Rakes is looking to crack down on the bootlegging business in Franklin County which means being a rock in the shoe for the Bondurants.

You can tell Guy Pearce really had fun sinking his teeth into this character. He goes all in. Does he border on overacting at times? Maybe, but I find his performance to be very watchable and entertaining. Shia Labeouf does a serviceable job as well, at the very least, he was cast in the right role. He plays wide-eyed innocent, naive pretty well. Tom Hardy is more than solid as usual as the badass of the Bondurant brothers while Jason Clarke who is perhaps the most unpredictable of the brothers also gives a spirited performance.

This movie is good, fun entertainment but what keeps it from being forgettable is the fact that the actors involved really seemed to enjoy playing these characters. While the story is unique in that it's based on a true story, it kinda goes through very familiar motions. There's nothing about the film's story that's particularly surprising but that doesn't mean it can't be fun or, at times, thrilling to watch. One complaint I do have is that they got a talented actor in Gary Oldman and he's only in a handful of scenes. Criminally underused.

Overall though, Lawless is a good time. We'll see by the end of the year if it really matches up with the best of 2012. As is it though, I definitely had more fun watching this than a lot of other films I've seen this year.

Grade: B+