Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Carpetbagger takes on the divisive ending of No Country for Old Men:
Anne Thompson, writing in Variety, said that the refusal of the Coen Brothers to let good triumph over evil in “No Country for Old Men” is a subject of discussion that is showing up everywhere, including her book club. The ending hews closely to the book and the Bagger found it in keeping with a film that constructed its own moral universe. Others, though, aren’t so sure.
Interesting perspectives, and Nora Ephron's humorous take on it in The New Yorker is priceless. Warning - it contains spoilers.
This may seem a bit late to the game...but better late than never. Things don't open around here as quickly as I would like.

From The Dispatch:

There is something quintessentially American about this pitch-black Midwestern fable. Quaint Americana is turned on its head to expose an ugly underbelly, where decency gives way to disregard for life, peace gives way to violence, and history is slowly steamrolled into the barren, shrinking wastelands of the desert.

As the film opens, we hear a voice-over by Jones lamenting the old ways, when sheriffs before him didn't have to wear a gun. It is this new, chaotic, violent world that is the "no country for old men" of the title, and the Coen Brothers capture it with a masterful sense of time and place and a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue.

It is an unexpected sucker-punch of a movie - raw, gritty and deeply humanistic - that, love it or hate it, won't be easy to forget.

Click here to read the full review.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

From Variety:
"Into the Wild" won best feature honors Tuesday at the 17th Gotham Awards. The Gothams, given by the Independent Feature Project, go to winners in six categories. Small juries decide each winner.

"Sicko" took home the docu prize.

Ensemble cast award was shared by "Talk to Me" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."
This is great news - the best possible outcome in all categories. It's the first awards of the year and the horse I am backing took top prize. Just give me a second here...

YES!!!!!!!!!!!! *jumps up and down and does a little dance*

Okay I feel better now. Into the Wild is the year's most deeply felt and soul-searing film...I hope this bodes well for its future awards chances (i.e. Oscars...but right now it's still a dark horse). The last three recipients of this award were Half Nelson, Capote, and Sideways, with the latter two recieving Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards.

There's still a couple of major contenders I haven't seen yet (most notably Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood) but right now I'm supporting Into the Wild all the way.

Congratulations to Sean Penn and all involved in making this incredible film.
Here's what various critics and bloggers are saying after last night's press screening of Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War:

David Poland, MCN:
Charlie Wilson's War is another story well told that should have been a masterpiece ... and isn't. It could well be a $100 million movie for Universal and have a seriously competitive run for Phil Hoffman in Supporting and you never know, but in a year with so much that really does work, even with limitations ... tough sledding.

Kristopher Tapley, InContention:
"Charlie Wilson's War" is Mike Nichols on an off day. 97 minutes of keep-a-smile-on-your-face pleasantry, at best, but packing a hell of a performance from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the film left a number of Aaron Sorkin's best lines on the cutting room floor while coming off much more impotent than one might have expected from a reading of the 145-page script that made the rounds over the past two years. It might be too easy to call it in the "Primary Colors" wheelhouse, but even that is too much of a favor to extend.

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood-Elsewhere:
Charlie Wilson's War (Universal, 12.25) is a very good-but-not-great political dramedy with a very solid and settled Tom Hanks, an agreeably arch and brittle Julia Roberts (in the finest sense of that term) and a brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman...give this man a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and no jacking around...thank you!

It's not a monumental achievement but that's really is. It's a film aimed at the over-40 set and that's cool also. All right, feels a little too pat and tidy and perhaps a wee bit smug, but that's fine also. There is room for this kind of thing in our moviegoing culture. Charlie-o is not a Best Picture contender but then we knew that last week when Time's Richard Corliss called it -- the unkindest cut! -- "likable."

It seems that a consenus is forming that Charlie Wilson's War is a solid, good-but-not-great holiday prestige pic that isn't quite Oscar material, but might secure nominations for Aaron Sorkin's screenplay and especially Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, who now seems to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor (much more so than his dynamic performance in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, whose Oscar chances seem grim).
Thanks to AwardsDaily for the speedy upload:

BEST FEATURE (Award given to the Producer)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Kilik
I'm Not There
Producers: Christine Vachon, John Sloss, John Goldwyn, James D. Stern
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick, Russell Smith
A Mighty Heart
Producers: Dede Gardner, Andrew Eaton, Brad Pitt
Paranoid Park
Producers: Neil Kopp, David Cress

Todd Haynes, I'm Not There
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Gus Van Sant, Paranoid Park

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
2 Days in Paris
Director: Julie Delpy; Producers: Julie Delpy, Christophe Mazodier, Thierry Potok
Great World of Sound
Director: Craig Zobel; Producers: Melissa Palmer, David Gordon Green, Richard Wright, Craig Zobel
The Lookout
Director: Scott Frank; Producers: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Laurence Mark, Walter Parkes
Rocket Science
Director: Jeffrey Blitz; Producers: Effie T. Brown, Sean Welch
Director: Rajnesh Domalpalli; Producer: Latha R. Domalapalli\

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)
August Evening
Writer/Directpr: Chris Eska; Producers: Connie Hill, Jason Wehling
Owl and the Sparrow
Writer/Director: Stephane Gauger; Producers: Nguyen Van Quan, Doan Nhat Nam, Stephane Gauger
The Pool
Director: Chris Smith; Producer: Kate Noble; Writer: Chris Smith & Randy Russell
Quiet City
Director: Aaron Katz; Producers: Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler; Writers: Aaron Katz, Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau
Shotgun Stories
Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols; Producers: David Gordon Green, Lisa Muskat, Jeff Nichols

Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Fred Parnes & Andrew Wagner, Starting Out in the Evening
Adrienne Shelly, Waitress
Mike White, Year of the Dog

Jeffrey Blitz, Rocket Science
Zoe Cassavetes, Broken English
Diablo Cody, Juno
Kelly Masterson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
John Orloff, A Mighty Heart

Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Sienna Miller, Interview
Ellen Page, Juno
Parker Posey, Broken English
Tang Wei, Lust, Caution

Pedro Castaneda, August Evening
Don Cheadle, Talk To Me
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
Frank Langella, Starting Out in the Evening
Tony Leung, Lust, Caution

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Anna Kendrick, Rocket Science
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding
Tamara Podemski, Four Sheets to the Wind
Marisa Tomei, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Talk To Me
Marcus Carl Franklin, I'm Not There
Kene Holliday, Great World of Sound
Irrfan Khan, The Namesake
Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn

Mott Hupfel, The Savages
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Milton Kam, Vanaja
Mihai Malaimare, Jr., Youth Without Youth
Rodrigo Prieto, Lust, Caution

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)
Crazy Love
Director: Dan Klores
Lake of Fire
Director: Tony Kaye
Manufactured Landscapes
Director: Jennifer Baichwal
The Monastery
Director: Pernille Rose Grønkjær
The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair
Directors: Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker

BEST FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Director: Cristian Mungiu (Romania)
The Band's Visit
Director: Eran Kolirin (Israel)
Lady Chatterley
Director: Pascale Ferran (France)
Director: John Carney (Ireland)
Directors: Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi (France)

(Given to one film's director, casting director and its ensemble cast)
I'm Not There
Director: Todd Haynes
Casting Director: Laura Rosenthal
Ensemble Cast: Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood

Monday, November 26, 2007

From And the Winner Is:

Contrary to recent chart-shattering reports, I can now confirm that Cate Blanchett's performance in I'm Not There will remain under awards consideration for Best Supporting Actress, not Best Actress.
This is excellent news, not only for Blanchett but for Marion Cotillard as well. Best Supporting Actress is Blanchett's to lose.
There seems to be an unusally large amount of films with longer than usual titles released this year:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Things We Lost in the Fire, In the Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Private Fears in Public Places, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Love in the Time of Cholera...

I'm not saying it's a bad thing (I actually like titles, especially like the first seven listed, that give you a little more to chew on), just an interesting observation.
An amusing anecdote from Brian Kinsley at InContention about the Lord of the Rings director falling asleep in a screening of Beowulf.

I wouldn't read too much into it. I almost fell asleep in a screening of I'm Not There, not out of boredom (it wasn't bad, it was brilliant in fact), but because I was just dead tired. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, was full from having just eaten, and had already sat through Before the Devil Knows You're Dead not two hours previous.

It happens, even in the best films. Too bad I couldn't take the nap I wanted to during August Rush.
Quentin Tarantino once said that directing is a young man’s game. And over and over again he is proven wrong. Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Nashville) was still going strong until his death last year at 81. Clint Eastwood continues to churn out masterpiece after masterpiece at 77, last year coming out with the breathtaking double-whammy of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Now, Sidney Lumet (Network, Serpico), at 83 years young, has crafted a stunning new thriller that actually bears a passing resemblance to Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs.

In fact, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead does Reservoir Dogs one better. It is a taut, electrifying heist thriller that focuses on the physical, psychological, and emotional ramifications of a robbery gone wrong, and the dramatic ripple effect caused by bad choices.

Like Dogs, Devil tells its story from multiple points of view, tripping back and forth in time as we watch the characters’ collision course for disaster. There are the two brothers, Andy and Hank (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) who plot to rob their parents’ jewelry store in a seemingly victimless crime. But things go horribly wrong, and their lives spiral out of control as their father (Albert Finney) seeks out to find out who was behind the robbery.

It is a film of uncommon intensity, but there is surprisingly little action. The film’s power derives from the consequences of the characters actions, which become increasingly dire. Lumet directs with the energy and verve of a man a third of his age. It is an explosive work, filled with towering performances and razor sharp dialogue. Ethan Hawke, in particular, has never been this good before. His slow, guilt-wracked meltdown is nothing short of sensational, and Hoffman’s portrayal of a man whose sins have finally caught up with him is one of his most accomplished. This is the kind of impressive ensemble work that should warrant a Best Ensemble Cast category at the Oscars…until then I hope to see it nominated by SAG, I haven’t seen a better acted film all year.

It all adds up to one thundering cinematic work - an absorbing, intelligent drama of the highest order. Lumet hasn’t lost his edge, proving he is still one of the masters, and reminding us why he is a master to begin with. In Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, he shows great eye for detail, as well as a no-nonsense style that keeps the film tense and focused - this is a lean, mean piece of work, with all the edge and bite of a master with the maturity and experience of an old man, and the eye and energy of a young man.

I would say they don’t make them like this anymore, but that’s not true - some of them never stopped

GRADE - ****

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD; Directed by Sidney Lumet; Stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris; Rated R for a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language

Sunday, November 25, 2007

David Poland is reporting that the powers that be have decided to push Cate Blanchett's otherworldly performance in I'm Not There into the lead actress category instead of supporting, because of the critical and popular failure of Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

This is bad news on several fronts. 1) She had the Best Supporting Actress category in the bag if she wanted it, no one else even comes close. Now in Best Actress she faces much stiffer competition, namely in the form of Marion Cotillard's transcendent performance in La Vie En Rose. On top of that, it's not a lead performance.

2) Her lead performance in Elizabeth still had a strong shot at being nominated...until now. If she had been nominated in both categories, she would have lost lead but won supporting.

3) She has a greater chance of losing, as does Cotillard, both of whom deserve an award. Leave Cate in supporting, and everybody wins. Well...except the other contenders.
Weekend box office estimates:

1. Enchanted - $35,332,000
2. This Christmas - $18,600,000
3. Beowulf - $16,240,000
4. Hitman - $13,035,000
5. Bee Movie - $12,010,000
6. Fred Claus - $10,735,000
7. August Rush - $9,430,000
8. American Gangster - $9,207,000
9. The Mist - $9,062,000
10. No Country for Old Men - $8,112,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

5-day weekend estimates:

1. Enchanted - $50,048,000
2. This Christmas - $27,100,000
3. Beowulf - $23,315,000
4. Hitman - $21,000,000
5. Bee Movie - $15,988,000
6. Fred Claus - $15,135,000
7. August Rush - $13,330,000
8. The Mist - $13,012,000
9. American Gangster - $12,713,000
10. No Country for Old Men - $11,012,000
There once was a time when Disney ruled the market for animated and family films. Their classic fairytales and musicals were second to none, even scoring a historic Best Picture nomination for Beauty and the Beast in 1991. But after the disastrous Hercules sounded the death knell for the glory days of Disney, it was all downhill from there, with the studio getting by on direct-to-video sequels and substandard CG kiddie movies, with their only solid works coming from the films of Pixar. But after all that, all it took for redemption was for Disney to poke fun at itself, which is what makes its latest animated/live action venture Enchanted such an utter delight.

The film starts out in old fashioned, hand-drawn animation just like the Disney classics of old…and it looks and feels just like every one of them you’ve ever seen. We are introduced to Giselle (a luminous Amy Adams), a young woman who lives out in the forest with only her animal friends to keep her company, who dreams of one day falling in love with a handsome prince. Which happens, of course, when one rides into the forest to rescue her from an ogre. But the prince’s (James Marsden) evil mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon…clearly having the time of her life) fears for her throne, and banishes Giselle to the real world, where “there are no happy endings.” That’s when the film becomes live action and Giselle’s trouble really begins, adjusting from her incessantly optimistic and happy Disney kingdom of Andalasia to cynical modern day New York City.

It’s refreshing to see a studio mock its own formula so slyly and gamely, but it is done out of real affection for the Disney cartoons of old, with references to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, and probably some more that I missed. The animated sequences (purposefully cheesy as they are) reminded me of just how great Disney was at this, and still could be if it wanted to, as evidenced by Enchanted.

The entire cast commits to the premise earnestly and enthusiastically, especially Amy Adams who is an absolute vision. Their commitment keeps the film from becoming mean spirited - this is a loving send-up of a venerable institution, films we all grew up with.

Disney also made the right choice by bringing back composer Alan Menken, who composed music for most of the studio’s ever-popular run of musicals from the late 80s - 90s such as Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame - as well as lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who collaborated with Menken on several Disney musicals after the death of Menken’s previous collaborator, Howard Ashman. The music recaptures the perkiness of classic Disney show tunes.

To be honest, I haven’t seen a non-Pixar family film this joyous, this exuberant, and this thoroughly creative in a long time. Most of the film’s shortcomings seem almost nitpicky in retrospect (the talking dragon is too, well…pretty, and not nearly as menacing as Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, who inspired it).

Enchanted is a clever throwback to a bygone era that is very much a product of this one; a clash of past and present combining for something truly magical - a quality that has been sorely lacking from Disney’s recent output. It is, in a word, enchanting.

GRADE - *** (out of four)

ENCHANTED; Directed by Kevin Lima; Stars Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel; Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo
For all its shortcomings (and there are many), I will say one thing for August Rush - the music is marvelous. Especially the Impact Repertory Theatre of Harlem's "Raise it Up," which I would love to see nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, even if it's just to see young Jamia Simone Nash perform onstage, who is just about the highlight of an otherwise terrible film.

If only the album didn't ruin parts of Mark Mancina's score by covering it with snippets of the movie's insipid dialogue.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Four years ago, Jim Sheridan, with the help of his daughters and co-screenwriters Kirsten and Naomi Sheridan, made the autobiographical In America, a beautiful, poignant, and ultimately uplifting tale of a family of Irish immigrants trying to escape their tragic past and make a new life in 1980s America. The film was one of the best of the year, and struck a pitch-perfect balance between reality and sentimentality. It is that same balance that Kirsten tries to achieve in her directorial debut August Rush, and in doing so tries so hard she overshoots the mark completely.

The result is a maudlin, cloying mess of a film that never finds its footing or its tone. Freddie Highmore (who I would love to see get the chance to try something new...he’s been given the same performance for several films now, despite his clear talent) stars as Evan, a musical prodigy who runs away from the orphanage he has lived in his entire life in order to find the parents he has never met, who never even knew he was alive. Along the way he meets Max "Wizard" Wallace, a homeless musician who runs a kind of commune for musical children, who play for money on street corners and pool their money at the end of the day. Wizard changes Evan’s name to August Rush and takes him under his wing to develop his astonishing musical instincts, but his possessive nature soon hinders August’s ultimate goal of finding his parents.

This is where August Rush ceases to be about the wonder of music and turns deeply unpleasant. Not that the film had really captured music’s wonder outside of hoary, embarassingly overwrought greeting card sentiments up to that point anyway. It’s awkward and unsure of itself, trying its hardest to ram its way into the hearts of the audience. But it has all the subtlety of street preacher in a gay pride parade. Instead of sneaking into our hearts, it tries to shove and force its way in, ruining any natural emotion built by the already formulaic material. Even when the film finally begins to find its footing, it comes crashing down again by reintroducing Williams’ villainous character, which is by far the weakest part of the story.

The premise itself is not the problem. It’s the execution, which is manipulative in the extreme. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film with such potential turn out so shamelessly obvious and clichéd. You can see the ending coming from a mile away, as Sheridan continues to lay on the saccharine schmaltz in broad, simplistic layers. For a film about the grand beauty and mysteries of music, it is a true shame that the final result is so pandering and unsophisticated. It treats the audience like emotional adolescents, never earning any of the tears it tries so hard to generate. Instead it bludgeons us about the head with its blind mawkishness that’s more likely to cause a sugar-induced headache than tears of joy - unless it is joy that the film is finally over.

GRADE - *½ (out of four)

AUGUST RUSH; Directed by Kirsten Sheridan; Stars Freddie Highmore, Robin Williams, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Terrence Howard; Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I’ve seen my share of bad films this year. Most of them I had pretty low expectations for in the first place. Honestly, how good can you actually expect films like WAR or Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer to be? But when the stars align on a film like they did on Love in the Time of Cholera (directed by Mike Newell, screenplay by Ronald Harwood, starring Javier Bardem), one would expect a high standard of quality. However, in this case anyway, one would be wrong.

Love in the Time of Cholera is an embarrassing mess of a film from start to finish. After seeing Bardem’s wonderfully menacing turn in the Coen Brothers’ masterful No Country for Old Men, it is especially sad to see him surrounded by such jaw-dropping banality. Here, he stars as Florentino Ariza, a lowly telegram boy who falls for the daughter (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, in a very dull performance) of a wealthy man (John Leguizamo) in late 19th century South America, and ends up spending over 50 years pining away and waiting for her after she gets married to another man (Benjamin Bratt).

The movie spans all 53 of those years…and seems like it takes that long to do it, despite nearly constant, massive leaps in time that leave little room for emotional development, and create a rushed, episodic structure. The characters age along with the film, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the poor make-up effects, which have little to no old-age effect, and turn young Florentino into a younger Robert DeNiro from Raging Bull instead of a younger Javier Bardem.

One would expect this kind of ineptitude from lower rent, less experienced filmmakers. But Mike Newell’s last film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was a great success, and his Four Weddings and a Funeral garnered a Best Pictrue Oscar nomination. Ronald Harwood won an Academy Award just five years ago for his austere screenplay for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. But you would never be able to tell from this film’s laughable dialogue, which sounds like it was borrowed from a particularly cheesy Hallmark card.

In fact, the whole film has the feel of a cheap romance novel crossed with a Lifetime original movie; strange considering the pedigreed literary source that the film was adapted from.

I don’t remember ever wanting so strongly to walk out of a movie before (and twice in one day, after the cloying August Rush). I just didn’t care how this movie ended, it gave me no reason to. Nobody in the film is particularly likable, and the film’s central couple have no heat or chemistry whatsoever.

Love in the Time of Cholera is dull to the point of tedium, overlong and longwinded, and with very little point. It is a cinematic travesty of truly monumental proportions - a film that never finds its tone or its footing as it becomes more and more awkward. It’s not only a missed opportunity, but a miserable failure on all levels.

GRADE - * (out of four)

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA; Directed by Mike Newell; Stars Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo, Liev Schreiber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Fernanda Montenegro; Rated R for sexual content/nudity and brief language

I caught screenings of August Rush, No Country for Old Men, and Love in the Time of Cholera today. One of the best and two of the worst films I have seen this year...I'll leave you to guess which is which. Suffice it to say I saw them in that order and the best one was sandwiched between the clunkers.

Reviews to follow soon.
There are some really nice new ads over at AwardsDaily's FYC Gallery, but I am especially fond of this one for Into the Wild:

It not only highlights what I think is one of the film's most breathtaking moments, but also sums up the freewheeling spirit of the film as a whole, which remains my favorite so far this year. Although I'm still pulling for Roger Deakins' ethereal lensing of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to take home this award...and I doubt it can be beat, at least in my mind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Just three months ago, as filmmakers gathered at the Arclight Theatre in Los Angeles, the coming Oscar season seemed remarkably clear cut. There was already a front runner and a likely winner: David Sington's IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON.

In an ordinary year, the failure of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to name a film like SHADOW to its Shortlist would be a fairly major story. But this year, it's but one film from a long list of omissions. Singularly, each film is a head scratcher, perhaps even a shock. Yet, each is also probably something that you could dismiss with a single line and a shake of the head. "I can't believe THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK isn't on that list" or "I kind of thought they'd skip over KING OF KONG, but still...".

But as word began to leak last week about which films had not been named to the Academy Shortlist and, later, which films had, emails and text messages and phone conversations flew with words like "sad", "disgusted", "appalled" and "abomination". The feeling of anger and despair was not based in the exclusion of a single film but in a whole group of films, many of which pushed creative and stylistic boundaries or marked the arrival of a major new talent.

Click here to read the full entry.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Wow...I could see them mounting a campaign for the film's technical aspects like visual effects and sound, even editing or cinematography (although that was aided significantly by computer), but Best Picture? Can't they think of better things to spend their time on?

I guess it's appropriate though...seeing as to the film is about impossible odds and lost causes.

And you've got to love Richard Roeper's orgasmic blurb at the bottom proclaining 300 to be the "Citizen Kane of cinematic graphic novels." Hmmm...has he not seen Ghost World?

Okay, before someone points this out, I gave 300 a positive three-star review, which was probably a little too positive and half a star too many. It's not a bad film (neither is it a great one), and it's shamelessly entertaining and beautiful to look at, but Oscar material it is not.

Beverly Hills, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 80th Academy Awards®. Seventy pictures had originally qualified in the category. The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:

“Autism: The Musical”
“Body of War”
“For the Bible Tells Me So”
“Lake of Fire”
“No End in Sight”
“Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience”
“Please Vote for Me”
“The Price of Sugar”
“A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman”
“The Rape of Europa”
“Taxi to the Dark Side”
“White Light/Black Rain”

The Documentary Branch screening committee viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of votings. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

The 80th Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 22, 2008, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Two major documentaries failed to make the cut - the popular In the Shadow of the Moon and the Dafur doc The Devil Came on Horseback.
Mark Harris has posted an insightful and pretty spot-on how-to list for predicting the Oscars. Here are my personal favorite tidbits:
Don't trust any handicapper who's beating a drum too loudly. In the last few years, bloggers have blurred the line between Oscar prediction and advocacy — something that has had no discernible effect on the nominations, but has lowered their batting average. Nine out of 10 bad calls are made because you love or hate a movie so intensely you're blind to reason. Everybody relishes making an out-on-a-limb guess that pays off, but try to keep one foot on planet Earth: If you're the only one talking up Billy Bob Thornton for Mr. Woodcock, it's not because everybody else is an idiot.

Keep Internet noise in perspective. Remember that Oscar voters don't follow every who's-up/who's-down microtwitch; they're busy seeing (or making) movies. And bear in mind that some of those bloggers tend to get chest-thumpy about a certain type of (usually male, usually violent) film: This year, a lot of bluster is already massing around No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. They're contenders, but rhetoric doesn't equal votes.

Someone needs to show the one about beating the drum too loudly to Tom O'Neill. He's still beating the drum for Dreamgirls a year later. And I'm pretty sure Harris had Jeffrey Wells in mind when he wrote that last bit about No Country for Old Men.

Click here to read the full article.
Weekend box office estimates:

1. Beowulf - $28,100,000
2. Bee Movie - $14,300,000
3. American Gangster - $13,218,000
4. Fred Claus - $12,000,000
5. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - $10,025,000
6. Dan in Real Life - $4,511,000
7. No Country for Old Men - $3,098,000
8. Lions for Lambs - $2,904,000
9. Saw IV - $2,330,000
10. Love in the Time of Cholera - $1,915,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, November 17, 2007

This is a few days old but I felt the need to comment on it. The Envelope's Tom O'Neill said this in a recent article:

After months of breathless anticipation — Can Johnny Depp sing? Has director Tim Burton used Sweeney Todd's vile razor to cut out the heart and soul of a classic by gutting one hour of the original Broadway musical? — Burton finally unveiled a huge slice (17 minutes) of his film adaptation of a Broadway masterpiece to a screaming crowd at Lincoln Center Wednesday night.

The verdict based upon the crowd's riotous ovation at the end: "Sweeney Todd" is a serious contender to win the Oscar for best picture, just as I've been telling you for months.
I have two issues with this. 1) The clip O'Neill saw was only 17 minutes long. Even if your movie sucks you can still make it look pretty good by editing together 17 minutes of your best footage in a way that makes it look great...kind of like an extended trailer. 2) O'Neill said pretty much the same thing about Dreamgirls last year. In one of my very first entries on this blog last year I said:
Much ballyhoo is being made about Dreamgirls right now as being the Oscar front-runner. Here's the one has seen it yet. The Phantom of the Opera was touted as a frontrunner two years ago, as was Rent and The Producers last year. And let us not forget that before anyone had seen it, Alexander was the one to beat in 2004 (HA!). So it's still up in the air.

I ended up predicting Dreamgirls to be nominated after the buzz became impossible to ignore, but my initial misgivings about the film proved to be accurate. That film also debuted a 30-minute clip reel at Cannes to great reviews. It was touted as the Oscar frontrunner. But it wasn't nominated, replaced instead by Clint Eastwood's vastly superior Letters from Iwo Jima. This must be kept in mind when reading articles such as this. Is Mr. O'Neill trying to curse Sweeney? Or did he just not learn from last year's mistakes?

He's been telling us it's a serious contender to win for months, that much is true. But he did the same thing about Dreamgirls last year. He may be right this year, who knows. But I'm having a much harder time taking his word on this seriously this year.
From The Globe and Mail:
BRANTFORD, ONT. — Angry reaction from the tanning industry forced a film student from Brantford to cancel plans Thursday to shoot a comedy about a fictional illness dubbed tanorexia.Sarah Evans, a York University film major, had arranged to shoot portions of her short film “Stand 'N' Tan” at Michelle O'Brien's salon in Brantford.

However, film plans were scrapped after O'Brien received a flurry of angry and concerned telephone calls other tanning operators and even from the B.C.-based Joint Canadian Tanning Association.

Callers expressed dismay that tanning may be cast in an unflattering light in Evans's film.Evans was taken aback by the backlash over her film about a woman's addiction to excessive tanning.

She says it was blown way out of proportion.

The film “is a fantasy,” Evans said “It would never happen.”

That's ridiculous. What's the "tanning industry" afraid of I wonder? Is it that their products can cause cancer, I wonder? I would have made the film anyway out of sheer spite. Who are they to try to shut down a film like that? All kinds of issues and companies get lampooned, satirized, and critqued in movies all the time...what makes them think they are above it? And it's a STUDENT film of all things.

Matt to Joint Canadian Tanning Association, et al: suck it up and get over it.
The LA Times counts down cinema's 10 greatest creeps, as in actors who quite often give us the onscreen creeps like Crispen Glover and Christopher Walken.

My only question is Wes Bentley for P2? Really? Where's Peter Lorre's ultimate creep, the sympathetic child killer Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang's 1931 German masterpiece M? Or at the very least, Ted Levine's Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs? That man has the creepiest voice in showbusiness.

From Variety:

Studios and networks will resume negotiations with striking writers on Nov. 26.

The WGA remains on strike. The companies recently dropped their insistence that the strike had to stop, at least temporarily, as a condition of restarting negotiations.

The Friday night announcement came on the 12th day of the strike in the form of
a joint statement from the
Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Both sides have agreed to a news blackout.

"Leaders from the AMPTP and the WGA have mutually agreed to resume formal negotiations on November 26," the statement said. "No other details or press statements will be issued."

Click here to read the full story.

This is certainly good news, and the most promising sign we have seen so far of an agreeable resolution to the writers' strike. Especially with the current handwringing about what this year's awards shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes would be like if the writers were still on strike.

It wouldn't be pretty.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere says:
Brian DePalma's Redacted pretends to be a video verite account of some horrid homicidal behavior on the part of some U.S. troops (based on an actual incident) with a third-act stab at depicting the moral penalty for such deeds. I saw it as a sloppy film about a group of badly directed actors playing soldiers, and the hell of being surrounded by pretension gone wrong. I've never seen a worst-acted film by a major-league director in my life. DePalma has no ear -- no ear whatsoever -- and those who see Redacted will suffer because of this.

Brian De Palma's Redacted, his take on the current Iraq war, won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Best Director, and was nominated for the Golden Lion for Best Picture, despite some scathing reviews. Later, a huge controversy erupted over Magnolia Pictures asking De Palma to actually redact some controversial images of real war atrocities from the film.

And now, reviewers are either loving it or hating it, with the film inspiring just as much passionate praise as disgusted bile. Here's a quick example from MCN's Noah Forrest:

I was thinking about this when I watched Redacted the other night and couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Brian De Palma was really a Republican trying to make a polemic so one-sided and trite that it would turn off most liberals. This is a film that was so miscalculated from the get-go that it is almost brilliant in the way it stitches together every possible cliché and makes them even more uninteresting by using a movie within a movie and then a movie within that movie and vodcasts that seem to have little relation to the rest of the material.

And one from Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail, as posted by another Redacted fan, Ryan C. Adams at AwardsDaily:

The first fictional feature set directly in the Iraq battle zone, Brian De Palma's Redacted is essential viewing. Love it, hate it, but be sure to watch it, because this odd and disturbing picture is as different as the war it reflects, and that difference is vast enough to seem profound....

De Palma borrows heavily from the collective agenda of those doc makers. Like them, he offers a brutal perspective that has largely been omitted (redacted) from the mainstream media coverage. Like them, he's intent on de-mythologizing the war, demonstrating that the Bush administration's prosecuting rationales hold no water even with the troops on the ground. And, like them, he takes abundant advantage of the fact that, if Vietnam was the first war to be televised, this is the first to be videotaped. And everybody's doing it. U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians, insurgents, terrorists, journalists, bloggers – they all have cameras and they're all just a mouse click away from sharing their images with the world.

The film, which opened today on 13 screens, has yet to announce when it will begin its nationwide rollout. But if right wing bloggers got all up in arms about Lions for Lambs, it will be interesting to see how they react to Redacted, which from what I hear is a much more incendiary work.

2007 is the year of the Iraq war film...time will tell if any of them actually have any real impact.
The Guardian posted an interesting story today about the conservative blog Libertas, which is claiming that it, along with other members of the "alternative media" such as radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, brought down Robert Redford's decidedly left wing Lions for Lambs sight unseen, which resulted in its bombing at the box office.

The claim is, of course, like many claims made by such people, patently insane. Not to mention jaw droppingly self important.

As one of the film's few proponents, I still find it strange that the film was met with such harsh criticism.

In my review I said:

By the film's end we are left with no other choice than to ask ourselves where we stand and what we stand for. Few films have the power to inspire us, to wake us up to parts of ourselves we never knew or had forgotten about. "Lions for Lambs" is one such film. It is a film with much to offer and much to contemplate. I for one was left reeling, moved beyond words. It shook me and left me wondering what it would take to get people's heads out of the sand and away from the escapism just for an hour and a half to see this movie. An hour and a half can change your life and maybe inspire someone to change the world. If a film, flaws and all, can have that kind of power, then it is a truly special work indeed.
That's probably one of the most positive reviews you will read for Lions for Lambs. Which is sad, because people I have talked to who have seen it seem to have been genuinely moved by it.

But what makes the Libertas blog entry so ridiculous is its claim that the marketing for the film tried to pass it off as something it wasn't:

Lions For Lambs did everything it could to paint itself as a down-the-middle polemic both in its trailer and where it advertised. Many conservative websites have Lambs banner ads because Lambs clicked “conservative” in the “describe yourself” box to get on those sites. They also advertised for months during NFL football, probably the most heartland-watched and patriotic programming on television. In other words, they spent gajillions trying to get ahead of conservative critics to say, “No, we’re this!” But it didn’t work.
First of all, what's so patriotic about football? "Oh let's go watch a bunch of men tackle each other and chase a ball around a field to show how much I love my country!" Nothing is more American than violence, apparently.

Secondly, Lions for Lambs never tried to pass itself off as being neutral. Did they see the same trailers that I did? From what I saw it was very evident that it was going to be a liberal-minded, anti-war piece. And I live in staunchly red state, Bible belt country. However, from the trailers, I thought Tom Cruise was going to play his character as an evil, corrupt Republican caricature. But he didn't, his performance is much more layered than that. He plays Senator Irving as a man who truly believes he is doing the right thing for his country, but has become so hopelessly corrupted by politics and party loyalty that he can't see the damage he is doing.

As for the conservative media causing the film to tank, well, it takes some pretty big delusions of grandeur to really believe that. I think the failure of Lions for Lambs to catch on with audiences is three fold:

1) Subject matter. All movies dealing with the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict have underperformed. Rendition didn't make much of an impact at the box office, and the powerful In the Valley of Elah disappeared without a trace. Americans have made it clear they would rather A) stick their head in the sand, B) go to the movies to escape rather than be reminded of our current situation, or C) stay home and watch this on CNN.

2) Americans are tired of Tom Cruise and his Scientology antics. While I sympathize with this, that doesn't affect how I watch his films. Some people apparently can't separate actors from their real world personas.

3) Advertising. The trailers make it look very talky...which it is. But mainstream audiences are not going to sit in on a film that is essentially a filmed series of debates and in-depth discussions, not matter how fascinating or thought provoking they may be.

It's a sad series of factors, because Lions for Lambs really is a worthy, rewarding film, despite the critical ravaging it has recieved. It makes me wonder what they really have against it. There is a lot to chew on and contemplate in Redford's film. If you only take the time do so.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some of the most talked- about foreign films have been disqualified from a shot at the Oscars, infuriating film-makers and critics.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, has just disqualified Ang Lee's Golden Lion Award-winning controversial romance Lust, Caution, saying it was not made with enough Taiwanese talent to warrant being Taiwan's official entry. The Taiwanese had to hurriedly pick another film or forfeit a shot at an Oscar altogether – they chose a movie called Island Etude.

Ang Lee's producing partner James Schamus, furious at the exclusion, told The Hollywood Reporter: "I dare you to tell me how Lust, Caution is not eligible while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2001] not only was eligible but also won as best foreign film. We shot them in China, with almost the exact same crew. The whole thing is patently absurd." Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – a biopic about a former editor of Elle magazine who suffered a stroke so debilitating he could move only his left eye – will also be missing, despite winning the best director prize in Cannes.
That's a real shame, Lust, Caution was a shoo-in and would have been a strong contender. Looks like it will have to settle for tech acknowledgements (specifically for Alexandre Deslpat's beautiful score). Its Best Picture prospects seem to have faded.

Looks like the Best Foreign Language Film race just got a little more interesting.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

From The New York Times:

Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died today in Manhattan. He was 84.

He died of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital early this morning, his family said. Mr. Mailer burst on the scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead,” a partly autobiographical novel about World War II, and for the next six decades he was rarely far from the center stage. He published more than 30 books, including novels, biographies and works of nonfiction, and twice won the Pulitzer Prize: for “The Armies of the Night” (1968), which also won the National Book Award, and “The Executioner’s Song” (1979).

He also wrote, directed, and acted in several low-budget movies, helped found The Village Voice and for many years was a regular guest on television talk shows, where he could reliably be counted on to make oracular pronouncements and deliver provocative opinions, sometimes coherently and sometimes not.

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Bee Movie - $26,000,000
2. American Gangster - $24,319,000
3. Fred Claus - $19,225,000
4. Lions for Lambs - $6,710,000
5. Dan in Real Life - $5,872,000
6. Saw IV - $5,010,000
7. The Game Plan - $2,410,000
8. P2 - $2,200,000
9. 30 Days of Night - $2,100,000
10. Martian Child - $1,750,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

The family audience chose Seinfeld over Santa Claus this weekend as Bee Movie ascended to #1 at the box office in its second weekend, after being bested by Ridley Scott's American Gangster last weekend, which came in at #2. That's bad news for Warner Brothers' Fred Claus, which was expected to take the top spot this weekend, instead coming in at #3 behind last weekend's box office champs.

Robert Redford's excellent Lions for Lambs, debuted at #4 with only $6.7 million despite a cast that includes Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, partially due to inexplicably poor reviews and its Iraq/Afghanistan themes, which audiences have stayed away from in droves. Don't get me started on the fact that people are flocking to Bee Movie and letting a first rate think piece like Lions for Lambs die on the vine. That kind of apathy is exactly what the film is condemning...but it's falling on deaf ears. Although without question the best film in this week's top ten is American Gangster, which is still doing well.

This weekend's other wide release, P2, debuted as barely a blip on the radar, with a paltry $2.2 million gross.

However, the Coen Brothers' highly acclaimed No Country for Old Men opened on 28 screens and took in $1,202,000...that's a per screen average of $42,928, the highest of the weekend. It will definitely be one to watch when it goes wide on November 21.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The controversy over whether or not Robert Zemeckis' motion capture feature Beowulf would be eligible for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award was dispelled today as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of eligible films. The films are:

Alvin and the Chipmunks
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
Bee Movie
Meet the Robinsons
Shrek the Third
The Simpsons Movie
Surf’s Up

Since there are less than 16 on the list, according to Academy rules only 3 films can be nominated, and from the looks of that list the final three will be Ratatouille, Persepolis (which could also find itself nominated for Best Foreign Film as it is the official French entry in the category), and Beowulf...depending on how many Simpsons fans there are in the Academy.

With advancing technologies the line between live action and animation is becoming increasingly blurred, with Beowulf representing the epitome of this evolution up until this point. This decision shows the Academy is keeping an open mind about these new technologies, at least for now.