Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied...:" The Avengers

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Cincuenta y Tres: The Avengers

The Avengers

I suppose that I should begin by pointing out the obvious. I am slightly late to the game on reviewing this film. Granted, if you saw the first trailers from this film and the stories about the film's post-production, you would have been apprehensive about the film as well. Couple the fact that Lady Funkowitz wanted to watch The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America and it is a small wonder that it took a couple weeks to work this film in. Thankfully, we did not screen Iron Man II or all of the momentum for this film would be lost. I would like to say that I was excited by the involvement of Joss Whedon in this project but I was only in the seat because of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Mark Ruffalo and the cinematic return of The Hulk. The devil take the rest of the cogs.

For the few remaining people who have not seen this film, The Avengers are a collection of superheros comprised by the most popular Marvel superheros that are not named Spiderman, Wolverine or Mr. Fantastic. In the cinematic universe, this team operates on behalf of the humanity (Cough Cough, covert American intelligence agency ran by Powers Booth) to protect mankind from any kind of threat that cannot be defeated by throwing a nuclear missile at it. This means an armed galactic force under the command of the Norse demigod and trickster, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Needless to say, without the foresight of one, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), you would be bending the knee.

Now, that you have an over-simplification of the plot (which was relatively spoiler free) and we can get to the proverbial meat. The Avengers is the best thing that Marvel (and its corporate parent, Walt Disney Pictures) has released. Now, this statement has little in the realm of cachet since practically every film is an improvement over its predecessor (Although, both Thor and Cap improved on repeat viewing, whereas Iron Man decreases in quality but I digress). This film also suffers from the same criticism that has been made about any other film based on a Marvel property, it makes little effort to break new ground (cinematic technique, story or characterization) and the overall feel of the film is too clean. This might come across as a heavy handed or vicious attack on the film (I have literally made this same comment since the first Spiderman film) but it is a small complaint of an otherwise enjoyable jaunt to the local cinema.

Honestly, The Avengers was a pleasant surprise as the marketing campaign failed in creating any sort of excitement for yours truly. I honestly thought that it was going to be a cinematic mess. Much of this credit belongs to Tom Hiddleston whose performance made Loki mulch-dimensional when compared to the gaggle of boy scouts trading one-liners. In many ways, my affinity for the world of Marvel Comics (whether it be the films or the comics themselves) has dulled with age (sorry... Hulk old chum) and DC appeals to my more grown up side (yes, I know that I am referring to comic books)... In spite of that, The Avengers was a means to re-connect with characters that I had enjoyed so much as a kid, which was something that I had not expected to experience when I entered the theater.

Rooney Rating:
Parting thoughts:
Mark Ruffalo really nailed Bruce Banner. As I mentioned earlier, I like the Norton version of the character but I think I would rather see Ruffalo in the big Green One's next cinematic foray.

Finally, I thought Natalie Portman was bad in Thor but Cobie Smulders is far worse (I really thought this was impossible. I would say don't quit your day job but you are one of the bad parts of How I met Your Mother. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Weekly Wish List 5/29 Kids and their parents

This summer season has me so amped. Next week sees the return of one of cinema's greatest science fiction directors. Until the. I'll probably be occupying my time with these.

Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes
Fiennes channels his inner Kenneth Branagh and takes on Shakespeare out of time on both the acting and directing side. Hopefully the performances are all as amazing as everyone says. With John Logan in tow as screenwriter and some proven badasses in Gerard Butler and Brian Cox this tale of banished countrymen and revenge could show an uncovered talent in Mr. Fiennes. Or it could suck.

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay
This made so many of my online peers top ten list I'm sad I never got around to it in the theater. Tilda Swinton plays the mother of Kevin, struggling against the truth that Kevin is indeed evil. Really excited to catch this one, Ramsay has such a unique voice hopefully we see more and soon.

In The Realms of The Unreal - Jessica Yu
I saw this film a few years back and remember being engrossed in this completely bizarre tale of a seemingly ordinary man who had composed a sprawling epic story thousands of pages long and fully illustrated. Henry Darher died in relative poverty working blue collar jobs and after his death this manuscript was discovered and Yu takes us through what we know about his life and where his inspiration came from. What we are left with is a story about artistic inspiration and potential present everywhere and in everyone. We see a man with dreams unable to achieve them for whatever reason and how he combatted that fact on an internal level. Intriguing film that is definitely worth a view of the bizarre and the extraordinary entice you.


One last thought - just buy it, it's totally worth it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Winter Movie UPDATE Haywire

Soderbergh has existed in a category all his own for most of his career. He's been able to blend the more mainstream fare such as Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11 with his more esoteric pieces such as The Limey and Schizopolis. Point is, the guy has always directed what he wants, and how he wants it. From picture to picture you see his moods change as a director and I love that. I love that whatever seems to intrigue comes across completely on the screen. Such as him playing with non professional actors in the experimental Bubble and Girlfriend Experience, which eventually evolved into him playing with real life people playing variations on their person on screen. Such as this film here, and the up and coming Magic Mike. Gina Carano plays a badass spy in the private sector who gets sold out after a job in Barcelona. The story follows her on the run as she begins to enact revenge on all those who wronged her. This is a straightforward film that never tries to be deeper than that. It's a simple story told with simple direction and the confidence with which he presents the film gives it a air of cool within every scene. This is an action film a seen through the eyes of Soderbergh.

Carano is an MMA athlete in real life, and Soderbergh makes sure to show off her skills any chance she can. She moves through the film tearing down any man that stands in her way. And yes the entire cast is men, except her and she destroys them all. Her first fight with Channing Tatum really sets the tone for how these fights will go down. They are raw and brutal. There is no quick camera work and no flash these are people brawling and using there surroundings. There is no booming music or adrenaline fueled techno in spathe background, Soderbergh is content with letting Carano tear through all who have wronged her. The camera barely moves and he captures all the action, letting you hear each grunt and bone break. They aren't stylistic by any means, and specifically the fight with Fassbender is extremely intense. The finale to the fight has been done a million times, but Soderbergh breathes some new life into the pillow silencer by not drawing any attention to it and simply letting the body lie there for the duration of the scene.

Aside from the fight scenes each scene is visually engrossing. Soderbergh doesn't necessarily paint beautiful vistas or cause you to imagine the beauty of a centuries old cobblestone road, but the whole story is told visually. There is deep thought put into each composition and he pulls you into the story through his camerawork giving you the sense you're being followed, or showing the lonely isolation of a beach. They are simple acts, but facets of film not always thought about. This is meticulous in its simplicity and for that I praise him.

I said at the beginning that this is an action film as seen through the eyes of Soderbergh. This never tries to be more than that, and with the help of a compelling score Soderbergh makes a cool escapist flick. It's well made and well thought out and of everyone treated film with the respect that Soderbergh does, then Hollywood would be a much different place. Not his best by any means, but an interesting diversion and proof that Soderbergh continues to experiment with film and what he's capable of. For my money I'd love to see Soderbergh take on the Fantastic Four, or The Flash.


One last thought - Ewan is so good. The guy does sleazy and self centered so well here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Movie Preview Extraordinaire

Let's be honest here. I could fill up all ten slots with The Dark Knight Rises. Well, I won't, there are some amazing films coming up this summer.

10. Safety Not Guaranteed - Colin Trevorrow
Indie comedies that have that "indie feeling" can be incredibly pretentious and self absorbed. Then there are the others that can overcome that and be charming and refreshing. This one has one ace up its sleeve, time travel. I frakking love time travel, and this story of an ad in the newspaper about a man who needs a partner to go back in time sounds like it could soar or fall flat on its face.

9. Magic Mike - Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh has been on here quite a bit lately, but this is by far his most unexpected film. A semi autobiographical story about Channing Tatum's stripper days? Why this would be his next choice is beyond me, but the trailer seems to promises some tongue in cheek humor with quite a bit of heart. I'm always curious to see what Soderbergh has up next, and this is just too strange to pass up.

8. The Brave - Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Pixar's hopeful return to grace. I think it's funny that this is about as far away from Cars as possible. This is an adventure yarn set in Scotland featuring the first female lead for a Pixar film. The reluctant princess seems determined to deviate from the path set out for her, I want this to have the magic and top notch storytelling we all love from the best section of the other House of Mouse.

7. Lawless - John Hillcoat
Hillcoat has been a master at modern westerns. Showing us dreary landscapes and desolate rural areas. Even The Road had a lonesome traveler sensibility to it. Now he brings us this film which seems to abandon the pessimism and brings us a balls to the wall crime film. This definitely feels like an appropriate evolution for Hillcoat and well, I'll watch just about anything with Tom Hardy.

5. Killer Joe - William Friedkin
Bug got a little too creepy crawly for me. Hopefully this turns that around. Friedkin is a great director and he knows how to take his characters through the ringer. This looks to be a dark and entertaining journey to the horrible depths we will go in desperation. McConaughey seems like a force of nature, a devil incarnate waltzing through the film with undeniable charisma and violence.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man - Marc Webb
This is getting lost in the shuffle for sure, but Spider-Man was one of my top tier favorites growing up. Still is. I loved Raimi's first two flicks, but seeing what Webb has done in the trailers I am so excited to see Garfield in this role. Webb did good work on 500 days, so hopefully he has that same focus on character and brings it to this big budget superhero story. This is one that I'm not too sure on, but I think has the potential to surprise everyone.

3. Extraterrestrial - Nacho Vigalondo
Time Crimes means I will watch anything this man does. This is a story about a love triangle set in an apartment complex, and oh yah there's aliens invading. I can't wait for this, the guys turned Time Travel on its ear and gave us real world implications of normal people caught in an amazing situation. This seems to take that theme and continue with it.

2. Prometheus - Ridley Scott
Alien or not it's Ridley Scott returning to epic science fiction. Any other year this would top my list for the summer. Blade Runner and Alien are high points for Scott's career and I can't wait to see Scott play in the sci fi wheelhouse again. The trailers show us a story with amazing scope and vision. I hope it delivers.

The Dark Knight Rises - Christopher Nolan
Was there ever any doubt? This is Nolan and company's summer. In case you didnt know how excited we are for bats there's articles here, here, and here.


One last thought - wouldn't it be crazy if this actually kicked ass? For now the best I can hope for is ludicrous and absurdist fun.

Sherlock puts CSI in their place.

I don't even mind the Guy Ritchie films, and love Jude and Robert working together. But as good as their chemistry is, Steven Moffat has created a better interpretation and brought Sherlock and Co into the modern age. The series rests on the shoulders of Freeman and Cumberbatch and the two pay respect to the source material as much as they are making it their own. This series takes some of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories and adapts them into the modern world. The series is at once reinventing and paying honor to Doyle's tradition. It is through this the combination of reverence and wit that we are gifted with an impeccably acted detective series full of more mystery and intrigue than any of the semen soaked bores of CSI. After a successful first series the show returned a few weeks ago for round 2. The show consists of a three episode season in which each episode adapts a single story into one 90 minute film. It's an unusual way to approach television but it allows the stories to truly develop and each stands alone as a great piece of television. I want to look at some of the highlights from the second season.

The first season was about building up the character of Sherlock, by giving him a partner and offering his first taste of success and popularity. We are introduced to the machinations of this world in which Sherlock uses a cell phone and a pocket magnifying glass. We also get our first interaction between Holmes and his arch nemesis Moriarty. The second season then took everything and began looking for cracks in his armor. He was untouchable in the first season, we see a bit of challenge from Moriarty, but for the most part Sherlock sails through with the typical confidence he is known for. Now in this second time around he has begun to build a rabid following thanks to Watson's blog in which he recounts their adventures. These three episodes are all about the failings of Sherlock. Each episode creates a sense of doubt within him, leading to the extremely emotional finale in which literally everything is put into question. It's an amazing character arc that Cumberbatch pulls off masterfully. After working so hard to make Sherlock a machine, he works equally as hard showing the humanity seep through more and more. It's a season in which he is broken down to his lowest part, and by then the audience is completely in awe of the journey and wondering what possibly could come next.

Moffat puts together an amazing cast and thanks to some stellar writing the cast all has plenty to bite into. Cumberbatch plays Holmes as a human computer. This isn't the insanity of Downey or the conservative Basil Rathbone. This Sherlock is incredibly confident, and almost devoid of emotion. They play with his addiction to the "game" quite a bit, but the real pleasure of the performance comes from Cumberbatch ever so slightly revealing Sherlock's flaws and actual feelings. The episode with Miss Adler offers up some amazing chemistry and you can see the joy on Sherlock's face as he goes toe to toe with "the woman." Here we have the first example of actual attraction(unless you want to take the homoerotic approach between him and Watson) and its a great way to start the season. It completely sets the tone for the rest of the season. We have Moriarty in the background plotting, and we see Sherlock challenged for the first time. There's even numerous metaphors about Sherlock going to "battle." Throughout the season we see the challenges come ever so close to breaking Sherlock down and here we see the beginnings of that challenge with playful competition, to the finale on which Sherlock realizes, he needs those around him in order to persevere.

What would Holmes be without Watson? I loved Freeman on The Office, and as charming as John Krasinski is, Freeman's Tim will always be my favorite iteration of the character. He brings with him that pitch perfect sense of timing and creates a world weary Watson that is finding a new lease on civilian life. Watson and Holmes always have a strained relationship, but beyond anything they are brothers and would do anything for the other. Here as frustrated as Watson gets, he never plays up the angle that he's tired of being his friend. Even in The Hound of Baskerville, when Sherlock experiences doubt and goes on a vicious verbal tirade, Watson never skips a beat and stays by his friend. I love that this version of Watson has just as much importance as Sherlock, Watson is Holmes' protector and we see that from the first episode of the series with his crackshot aim, to the present where he is there at every turn whether it's staging diversions, or protecting his feelings from the one woman he seems attracted to. His speech at the end of the finale is incredibly endearing. It's a great moment that shows even in the worst of circumstances Watson stands by his friend.

The show contains visual flourishes throughout representing the inner workings of Sherlock's head or the various electronic dialogue that goes on. Watson makes their success based off of his blog and I love the relation between text and the cases he solves, constantly coming up with some clever names popping up on screen as we see clips from many of his cases. We even get a tongue in cheek version of Sherlock in his trademark hat. When the show starts discussing Sherlock's mind palace it begins to be a bit much for me. The visual cues as to what Sherlock is thinking work great in their on the fly nature, having something so defined and explained it becomes less interesting and too gimmicky. It's a small complaint for an otherwise beautifully made show.

If you haven't yet discovered Sherlock you should start now. It's a well written, witty adaptation of a beloved character. With compelling storytelling and great acting the show elevates itself above any other modern day mystery show. Moffat has made an iconic interpretation and on that I hope we continue to see more of.


One last thought - Andrew Scott gives us a deranged and insane Moriarty, seemingly bored with existence and thus he decides to play games with people's lives. He is a great foil for Holmes and the most unique interpretation of the character I've seen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Flick Bits: The Master Teases Brilliance and two more to look forward to.

These three teasers were so good they deserved their own post. Teasers and trailers are such an interesting marketing tool. I wrote a piece about the marketing campaign for The Dark Knight Rises, and how well crafted the trailers for that film are. They are trailers that reveal new pieces of the puzzle and give you a sense of tone for the film. Nowadays there is the common complaint thy trailers for away too much, or on the case of comedies show all the funny parts in the trailer. This makes sense, since if your film is mediocre you need to sell it on the few moments that actually work. Then you have Battleship which just looks more mindless and idiotic that anything Bay has done.

These three teasers are the epitome of what a teaser should do. A teaser is the first trailer released and serves to give the audience the slightest taste of what is to come. A smart teaser will remain as mysterious as possible, and simply give the vaguest notion of plot. And honestly why do we need to know the plot? The teaser needs to entice with the power of filmmaking or the mastery of its emotion. The teaser for Batman gave us a quick rundown of the series up to this point coupled with a quick glimpse at our antagonist. So let's look at the first one. Click the titles to view each teaser.

Skyfall - Sam Mendes
Mendes doing Bond?! I don't even think he's perfect for the job, but the choice of him as director is incredibly inspired. We all know he can handle some raw violence and drama from Road to Perdition. Beyond that the man has a great eye and even without Conrad Hall he still continues to create compelling imagery coupled with raw emotion. Here we have a possible disgraced Bond doing some word association. The whole thing is moody and dark and completely represents what Craig has accomplished as Bond and that is that he's made Bond a badass. We see glimpses of the action pieces and it all appears to be beautifully well made and kinetic. Craig is doing some amazing work as Bond and I've enjoyed both films so far. With Mendes behind the lens I have some high hopes for this one, and this teaser has me itching to know what happens next for our favorite super spy(sorry Ethan)

Extraterrestrial - Nacho Vigalondo
Time Crimes is one of my favorite films from the past ten years. It's a small film dealing with the greatest paradox of all time TIME TRAVEL. I've showed the film to as many people a possible and now he returns to us with this story of aliens invading and a love triangle inside an apartment complex. Sounds like Skyline if it was made by competent directors with competent actors. This teaser shows us a much lighter tone than Time Crimes while keeping with his straight forward approach to filmmaking. Vigalondo let's the story take center stage and shoots his film as coherently as possible. Romantic comedy with Aliens? I'm sure Vigalondo won't disappoint.

The Master - Paul Thomas Anderson
Aronofsky and PTA are my favorite working directors. There are plenty of others who I really like, but these two guys make films that speak to my soul. As of now it looks like I'll be waiting for quite some time for Aronofsky's new film, but as long as PTA gets this to us as soon as possible it will be ok. Talk about a true teaser. You really get little sense of the plot, rather some amazing character work from Joaquin Phoenix and some more Johnny Greenwood setting an incredibly ominous uncomfortable mood with his score. No sign of Hoffman or even mention of "The Master" but the cinema on display is already blowing me away. PTA is a master of setting a complete mood. Whether its the downtrodden losers of a rain soaked Los Angeles, or the ignorant hope of the 70s that the good times will always last. Or even the incredibly violent and beautiful nature of love. Scientology or not Anderson has my attention like always and I need to see more of this film, Now.


One last thought - more Dark Knight Rises?

Why not?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekly Wish List 5/22 Criterion and Castles

I can't believe May is already coming to an end.

Certified Copy - Abbas Kiarostami
I remember watching Taste of Cherry in college and being surprised at how much was happening with such a simple story. Kiarostami makes grand comments on mortality and life with a few locations and minimal dialogue. Here we have his most accessible work, and what some are calling one of his best. Anchored by a great performance from the always reliable Juliette Binoche, this is a story of two people meeting and falling in love, or maybe they already know each other. Maybe they're married? Compelling and unique cinema from one of Iran's best.

Castle in the Sky - Hayao Miyazaki
Miyazaki creates living dreams with his wonderful animation. This is one of his earlier works inspired by Gulliver's Travels. Ponyo looks amazing on Blu Ray, hopefully this follows in suit.

Up All Night Eclipse Series: Robert Downey Sr.
I didn't know Iron Man's dad was a director until a few years back when Putney Swope was released on DVD. The film was a brilliant satire that I showed to everyone willing to watch it. Now he gets the criterion treatment in an Eclipse series boxset. I've only seen the one film so I can't wait to discover what other lightning in a bottle he has in store for us. Sadly this isn't in Blu but I still urge everyone to take a chance on this set. This is true independent rebellious cinema. It was enough to inspire PTA, sounds like the best endorsement I can think of.


One last thought - sorry Guy, but this is the best adaptation in recent years. This season blew me away by being even better than the first, I'll be back with more thoughts on this one.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spring Movie UPDATE Dark Shadows

This film is confused. From beginning to end it has no idea what it wants to be, so plots are started and then either forgotten about or shrugged off with a simple line in order to move on to the next underwritten scene. I had mentioned before that the trailers didn't give me hope for the film and now after seeing the film I kind of see what the marketing team was going for. First of all the movie in the trailer doesn't exist, sure those moments are in the film but it sets it up as some broad slapstick comedy, which it definitely isn't. The film is a collection of half baked plot points that moves from scene to scene in love with its characters but really no idea what to do with them. As such I feel the marketing team didn't know how to sell the film so they cut a trailer that at shows something people can latch onto, which is of course comedy. Thanks to some great performances and playfulness the film isn't a total loss, but this is still mediocre work from Burton.

So what did work? I actually liked Depp's classically inspired vampire performance. He takes cues from Bela Lugosi and Max Schreck for his mannerisms and most of his man out of time jokes are actually delivered quite well. He makes many jokes about Alice Cooper and they actually land pretty well(Burton is always tongue in cheek so if that humor isn't for you then there's nothing here for you). He has one line about kissing his ass which is groan worthy but aside from that he commands the screen as always and I like the performance better than Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter.

Chloe Grace Moretz is amazing, she plays angsty teen better than anyone on the tween networks. She is hilarious and completely in her role and continues to cement the fact that she is one of the best most versatile young actresses working today. Her "secret" however is horrible and ridiculous and completely worthy of a good eye roll. Her reveal might have been my least favorite scene in the movie.

Even the other actors do some solid work, but this script never lets them dive deep into anything. Johnny Lee Miller I wonderfully smarmy as the scheming brother, but they never know what to do with him so they send him away. Literally, Depp puts him in a cab and sends him away. This constant start ad stop of sub plots becomes so jarring that nothing ever feels worth anything. Then there are the scenes of slapstick from the trailer mixed in and the whole thing becomes a giant mess of a film.

It's obvious that Burton and Depp love these characters, and it appears as if they're having loads of fun. But they're so in love with this world that they tried to do so much. Soap operas have year and years to build up plots and subplots and twins and ghosts and lovers and secrets. This is a two hour film. There's no way they could have done everything they wanted to do. I know it sounds if I'm being harsh but I really do low when these two knock it out of the park. Ed Wood is really close to my top ten and Sleepy Hollow is a great example of these two weeding out and it ring successful. To have it go this long without capturing that same magic is frustrating. Sweeney was ok, but still not at the level of what both of these men are capable of. Still have hope for Frankenweenie.


One last thought - Mrs. Burton's surprise ending was ridiculous as well, but at least hers kind of made sense even though I didn't care.