Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trailer Addict has posted some clips of the upcoming DVD bonus features for The Dark Knight, including this featurette with Hans Zimmer on the film's evocative score, which he co-composed with James Newton Howard.

Even though it has been deemed ineligible by the Academy for having too many composers, I still think it's one of the finest musical achievements of the year, despite what the film music fanboys may say.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Awards Daily is having an in house contest to predict the winners of the notoriously unpredictable (and unimaginative) National Board of Review.

Their only claim to fame is being first out of the gate every year, but these people aren't critics or industry insiders, just wealthy film buffs who are easily swayed by swag.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road

And, being first, there are no precursors, to help, just history.

They always release a top ten and a best picture, and I'm thinking they will give Best Picture to either Revolutionary Road, The Reader, or Frost/Nixon.

Previous winners include:

2007 - No Country for Old Men
2006 - Letters from Iwo Jima
2005 - Good Night, and Good Luck
2004 - Finding Neverland
2003 - Mystic River
2002 - The Hours
2001 - Moulin Rouge

The directors of four of those films have films in the running this year, and they've always had a thing for Edward Zwick, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Defiance on the top ten list. That's actually not a bad list of winners, their top tens are where they get weird, including films like The Bucket List and The Devil Wears Prada.

It is also important to note that every single one of those films has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but only one has won (No Country for Old Men). And they LOVE Clint Eastwood so I have a feeling Gran Torino and/or Changeling will be on there somewhere.

The NBR will announce their awards on Wednesday, December 3.

Click on over to Awards Daily and see what the commenters are saying over there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It has been several weeks now since I saw Charlie Kaufman's sprawling, borderline impenetrable directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. I've been letting the film gestate in my mind ever since, partially due to Sony's regional review embargo, and partially because, quite honestly, I just needed time.

This is not a film one can comprehensively review anyway, but to do this film justice in a quick, post screening review seems crass somehow.

Kaufman has always been known for the innovative complexity of his screenplays for films such as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But he chose his most ambitious and personal work yet to make his first film as a director.

Like Adaptation before it, Synecdoche, New York is a deeply introspective look into the artistic process. This time instead of a screenwriter, Synecdoche sets its sights on a theatrical director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has just completed a successful (if completely hollow and pretentious) production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Burnt out and stuck in a stagnant marriage to a self absorbed artist (Catherine Keener), he begins to see his career as an artistic sell out catering to blue haired suburbanite tourists. He is such a wreck and wash out (in his mind), that he is literally falling apart.

Caden wants more than the hand he has been dealt. He wants to find happiness with his wife, he wants to connect with his young daughter, and above all he wants to throw off his creative shackles and create a masterpiece that will capture the truth of life in a way no one has ever seen. But as life has a tendency to do, it refuses to make things any easier. His wife leaves him for an artistic tour of Germany, taking along his beloved daughter, Olive, who is no longer anymore than a stranger with an increasingly screwed up life. He begins to fall for a former ticket taker named Hazel (Samantha Morton), but ends up marrying an actress named Claire (Michelle Williams), who despite his (and her) best efforts, can never live up to Hazel.

When Caden receives a 'Genius Grant," he finally sets about to crafting his masterpiece. He buys a giant warehouse and begins to build a life size replica of New York, creating in detail every last place that is important in his life. He hires actors to play himself and everyone he comes in contact with, who follow their real life counterparts everywhere they go in order to better capture their essence on stage. His goal is to make his life a play, and find truth in his existence though theatre he has been unable to find on his own.

Caden's endless quest for verisimilitude leads the production to take on an ever increasing level of complexity. Soon he has actors playing the actors who are following the real people around in order to convey his new reality, which isn't really reality at all anymore but a life sized theatrical production that has consumed his entire life for years on end. It is a play with no audience and all actors, where the whole world really is, as Shakespeare once observed, a stage. "There are nearly thirteen million people in the world." He says. "None of those people is an extra. They're all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due."

Synecdoche, New York is, above all, about the search for meaning in one's life, and the desire to leave a lasting impression on the world when you're gone. But for Caden, his burning desire to convey the truth is the white whale he can never reach - it must either consume him or destroy him, and Kaufman's absurdly comic, achingly melancholy vision manages to be as universal and as all encompassing as the masterpiece that Caden can never finish.

Yes it's self indulgent, but I contend that it would be nearly impossible to convey the depth and breadth of the artistic journey without being so. Would it be fair to call Fellini's 8 1/2 self-indulgent? By the same token, Synecdoche opens up and allows the audience to find their own truth. It is a wildly sprawling work whose intricacies and symbolism will be studied by critics and film historians for years to come. I found nothing pretentious or arrogant about it, in fact there is a strange humility to be found in Kaufman's self conscious introspection. This is a portrait of a tortured artist that allows the audience to see themselves through its many dense layers. There is so much here to be reflected on and digested that multiple viewings will continue to divulge its myriad wonders.

Synecdoche, New York is a voyage of discovery all its own; a cerebral, labyrinthine Rorschach blot that offers those willing to take its journey the chance to discover some of the truth in their own lives. It would be difficult to describe the film as self-assured, because it isn't. It is a difficult, troubled, often deeply sad film. But the film, like its characters, is on a search for answers and meaning that aren't easy to find, and often are to be found in the journey itself. Kaufman may be on the same journey as his characters, but in many ways most of us are too, and perhaps somewhere deep in the heart of this miraculous, enrapturing film, lies a window into ourselves. All we have to do is look.

GRADE - **** (out of four)

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK; Directed by Charlie Kaufman; Stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan; Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From The Dispatch:
For my part, "Twilight" is not a massive failure, but it just doesn't work separate from the page. Anyone who has not read the book may find themselves bewildered, or at least a little confused, without some of the nuances of the book to fill it out. It will doubtless please the legions of fans who have devoured Meyers' novels. But discerning filmgoers may find that "Twilight" the movie leaves much to be desired.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

OK so here's the thing. I think it's safe to take Australia off the Best Picture lists. I think it's almost certain to be recognized in at least some of the art/tech categories, like Score, Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design...but it's just not Best Picture material.

I liked it, I really did. I was caught up in Luhrmann's glorious vision and I cried in all the appropriate places. Few other directors can make my heart swell like he can. But there are just too many problems here for me to ignore.

First (and most glaring), Australia is way too long. There is no way to justify its nearly 3 hour running time. Some films, yes. This one, no. Because it's basically two different films combined into one. The first is a Western about land disputes and cattle drives. The second is a historical war drama. The films are almost equally divided and complete with their own different tones. They work on their own terms, but don't really mesh together very well. It has almost as many endings as Return of the King...every time it feels like it's coming to a natural conclusion, it keeps going. Restraint isn't exactly something Luhrmann is known for, but Australia's extravagant length is its Achilles heel.

It also has trouble finding a tone at first, teetering between serious historical epic and absurdly comedic, threatening to veer into some of the more zany moments of Moulin Rouge, but thankfully it never does. Nothing against Moulin Rouge (it's one of my favorite films), but that would have been totally out of place here.

It is a grand tale against a sweeping backdrop, appropriately rousing and emotionally stirring. But the entire production feels bloated. A little bit of editorial (and screenwriting) restraint could have gone a long way into making Australia a truly great film.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For some reason these two reviews seem to have been lost in the Dispatch server change. Articles seem to have been appearing and disappearing at random, so they may pop back up, who knows?


At only 80 minutes long, "Hancock" feels more like an undeveloped concept than a fully fleshed-out film. The first half of the film or so is great fun, with Smith hugely likable as always as the ornery Hancock. But somewhere around the halfway point, the film begins to take itself too seriously and introduces a third-act twist that nearly derails the entire movie

FTFR DVD Pick of the Week

Allen finds beauty in their attempts at happiness, however, set amidst the sunny backdrop of Spain. Shot in lovely, warm tones by Javier Aguirresarobe, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a smooth, sexy valentine to Spain and all its rich beauty. There is a laid-back charm to it all, thanks in part to its attractive cast, that feels a bit like comfort food that's high in taste but low in nutritional value. It's a solidly crafted film, but it never fully explores the intricacies of the relationships it sets up.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Speaking as someone who read and enjoyed Stephenie Meyer's popular teen novel, Twilight, I found Catherine Hardwicke's film adaptation, that has been greeted with mass hysteria by teenage girls all over the country, to be somewhat lacking.

I've been an admirer of Hardwicke's work since Thirteen in 2003, and found quite a lot to like in her severely underrated Lords of Dogtown. But with her edgy sensibilities severely tempered in the dull The Nativity Story one of her biggest weaknesses started to become apparent - a weakness that Twilight has compounded. Hardwicke is a talented visual stylist, but in many ways a weak storyteller. There are some beautiful moments in Twilight, but they are often hampered by intrusive and inappropriate use of music and an overall lack of narrative movement. It just doesn't flow well. When you add that to the fact that many moments that seemed wondrous and magical on the page, seem hokey and contrived on the screen (Edward's supersonic running is especially laughable), then Twilight fails to live up to its full potential.

Not that there was much to begin with. Quite honestly I feel it's a story better suited to the page than the screen, or at least to a director whose storytelling skills match their visual prowess.

Twilight never had a strong narrative to begin with. It's filled with long passages of breathless, enraptured descriptions of Edward's beauty and Bella's burgeoning love for him. Hardwicke attempts to up the ante and keep things moving by pulling the film's villains that don't appear until the end of the novel into a series of interludes that keeps a sense of danger over the film and a semblance of a plot that really doesn't exist.

It doesn't really add anything to the film but its a commendable effort. But ultimately I just didn't feel it the way I did in the book, the deep sense of longing just isn't there, nor, strangely, is the sense of danger despite the strengthened efforts in that area.

I'll tap out a full review for The Dispatch for Thursday. Until then I'm left with a film I never expected to be good, that nevertheless has not hampered my enjoyment of an entertaining little piece of teen pulp fiction. But for now, I'm ready to put Twilight aside for a while. It passed critical mass on my overexposure meter a long time ago.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Awards Daily has a list of 11 films that they consider to be the only viable Best Picture contenders, and it's an admittedly weak group. Nothing like last year.
  • Milk
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Revolutionary Road
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Reader
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Doubt
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • Gran Torino
  • The Wrestler
As far as probability goes it's pretty solid, although I would swap out Rachel Getting Married for Australia. Rachel seems more destined for acting and writing nods (which it certainly deserves), despite what Roger Ebert's "Deep Vote" says. Also, WALL-E should at least be considered in the running, even if it doesn't really seem like a final five pick.

Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in a scene from Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire.

I think right now the strongest contenders are Slumdog Millionaire (which I see on Monday), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Revolutionary Road. Who gets the other two slots is anyone's guess. I've heard strong arguments for The Dark Knight (which I still don't buy, but am beginning to warm up to), Frost/Nixon, and Gran Torino, but each comes with caveats that are hard to ignore. Perhaps in a year like this there could be room for some left field surprises.

My guess is Milk will be among the final five, especially now that its subject is more topical than ever after the passing of Prop 8. That leaves one spot open...will they give it to the superhero flick that rose to become the second highest grossing film of all time? Will they give it to their perennial favorite Clint Eastwood? Or will they give it to a film that no one is even thinking about?

It's still a long way to go to nomination time. Anything could happen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Guillermo Del Toro, in conjunction with Universal Pictures, will be sponsoring the first ever live director's chat through Blu-ray hi-def this Sunday, November 23rd, at 6 PM Eastern time.

All participants have to do is login to, register for an account, and select the Directors Chat option, and submit up to three questions. Then connect your Blu-ray player to the internet and you're ready to go.

For those of you with Blu-ray players, this could be a great opportunity to chat with one of the most visionary directors working today.
The reviews for Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road are beginning to trickle in, and so far they have been glowing.

Jeff Wells says of the film:
Revolutionary Road is a corrosive and heartbreaking masterwork. Sam Mendes' best film yet is exquisitely cut, blended and calibrated with superb music by Thomas Newman and legendary performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Michael Shannon. It's the strongest heavyweight drama I've seen all year so far -- much more searing and moving than I expected.
While Variety's Todd McCarthy says:
"Revolutionary Road" is a very good bigscreen adaptation of an outstanding American novel -- faithful, intelligent, admirably acted, superbly shot. It also offers a near-perfect case study of the ways in which film is incapable of capturing certain crucial literary qualities, in this case the very things that elevate the book from being a merely insightful study of a deteriorating marriage into a remarkable one. Sam Mendes' fourth feature reps what many people look for in the realm of serious, grown-up, thoughtful film fare and, led by the powerful performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, teaming for the first time since "Titanic," Paramount Vantage should be able to push this sad tale to a potent commercial career among discriminating audiences.
And Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily is going ga-ga for it too.

Wells claims that Revolutionary Road is now the Oscar frontrunner, but it still has the much loved Slumdog Millionaire to contend with, as well as (although to a diminished capacity) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

At last this year's race is getting interesting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From The Dispatch:
There is less focus on high-tech gadgetry and more on character and action, and 007 himself is a fallible human being. But the Bond of "Quantum of Solace" is like a wounded animal, and as such is more dangerous than ever before. There is an overall lack of subtlety here. It's nonstop action, but Forster makes it count. This isn't a mindless blow-'em-up thriller, this is an intelligently crafted, superbly edited, lean, mean piece of work.
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mister Lonely is a film that exists squarely in its own peculiar reality, where the Queen of England sleeps with the Pope, eggs can sing, and nuns can fly. It is a world at once uplifting and sad, supporting and lonely, charming and frightening - but always deeply enchanting. It is a dark film, but one that even in its sadness finds a way of being oddly life affirming. For all of its surreal beauty, Mister Lonely is a feast of thematic symbolism just begging to be lost in. The question is whether or not you will ever want to find your way out again. Either way, it is a journey well worth taking.


Salvadori maintains a light touch throughout the film, keeping it from straying into clichéd "love overcomes all" territory, and there are enough farcical elements to keep the audience on its toes. The entire film has the feel of an American studio comedy from the 40s - classy, funny, with crisp dialogue and plenty of champagne, but with an unmistakably French sense of humor. The French's sense of comic timing and clever sight gags are impeccable, and the film's opening sequence with Jean walking hotel guests' dogs demonstrates this deft flare for sharp, subtle laughs.


Up the Yangtze is, first and foremost, a requiem for a China that is slowly being washed away, both in reality and metaphorically. The Three Gorges Dam was a pet project of Mao Tse Dong, and represents progress for the sake of progress. While some on the river praise it for its technical mastery (it is the largest dam in the world) and the glory it brings on the country, in reality it is destroying lives - the ultimate symbol of empty, useless progress. The people are powerless to stop it as it washes away their memories of a mythic past.

WALL-E (****)
FTFR DVD Pick of the Week

"WALL-E" is essentially a silent comedy, reminiscent of the works of Charles Chaplin and Jacques Tati, playing out like a mash-up of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "City Lights." There is precious little dialogue in the film, and Stanton makes the most of what little there is. Stanton is an extraordinary visual storyteller, and "WALL-E's" animation is nothing short of breathtaking. He paints on a grand canvas, making this not only Pixar's most epic film in terms of scope, but also one of its most intimate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Academy released the list of 15 documentary features today that will be vying for the coveted five nominations for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. They are:
  • “At the Death House Door”
  • “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
  • “Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh”
  • “Encounters at the End of the World”
  • “Fuel”
  • “The Garden”
  • “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts”
  • “I.O.U.S.A.”
  • “In a Dream”
  • “Made in America”
  • “Man on Wire”
  • “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”
  • “Standard Operating Procedure”
  • “They Killed Sister Dorothy”
  • “Trouble the Water”
Right now I think Man on Wire (review) is a lock (but then again I'm partial), with standard bearer Errol Morris' Standard Operation Procedure, Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, and Trouble the Water (review), in serious contention.

However, since the nominating committee must see all 15 films, any could be a threat, from the more high profile films like I.O.U.S.A. to the more obscure ones like The Betrayal (Nerakhoon).

My only regrets are not seeing Patti Smith: Dream of Life (review)'s still one of my very favorite films of the year, as well as the deeply affecting Up the Yangtze (review).

As always this will be an interesting race to watch.
Universal Pictures, in conjunction with MySpace, is sponsoring a contest that will allow one lucky reader to land a walk on role in Judd Apatow's new film, Funny People, starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, and Jason Schwartzman.

You can enter the contest by visiting the film's MySpace page.

The film is set to be released on July 31, 2009. I've loved Apatow's last two directorial efforts, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and I hope that Funny People lives up to their standard. The presence of Adam Sandler gives me pause, as I've never really been a fan of his films, but in Apatow's capable hands, this may work.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'll be writing a full review for The Dispatch soon, but I want to get my opinion out there just for the record.

I loved Quantum of Solace.

And I say this as someone who liked but never loved Casino Royale the way some people did. But this one bowled me over. Marc Forster's more lyrical sensibilities bring a fresh beauty the the action sequences (which are stunning), and at times breathtaking. It's non-stop action, but Forster makes it count. This isn't a mindless blow-em-up thriller, this is an intelligently crafted, superbly edited, lean, mean piece of work.

I love Daniel Craig's fallible, brute force Bond, with his carnal sexuality and smoldering, dangerous blue eyes. Movies like this don't usually do much for me, but Quantum of Solace really got my blood pumping. It's a strong effort all the way around.

I need to go back and watch Casino Royale again to see if I appreciate it any more now, as I haven't seen it since it was in theaters. As I said I liked it at the time, but this is the one that has really sold me on the new Bond.

I rarely use the words "kick-ass" to describe anything, because it calls to mind a lower, mouth breather sensibility...but with Quantum of Solace it just fits.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Not by name of course, but check out Ebert's list of rules for film critics, which comes after the uproar over his reviewing a film that he only saw eight minutes of (a controversy I have somehow managed to not hear about until now).

Ebert has several zingers aimed directly at Ben Lyons, who took over his spot on At the Movies, like this one:
Keep track of your praise. If you call a movie "one of the greatest movies ever made," you are honor-bound to include it in your annual Top Ten list. Likewise, for example, if you describe a film as "the most unique movie-going experience of a generation," and "one of the best films of 2007, and of the last 25 years," it's your duty to put it in the Top Ten of 2007. This is doubly true if you have published two separate lists naming 14 of the year's top 10 films.
Beware of verbal parallelism. Never make a statement such as, "I like women in real life, but I didn't like 'The Women'." Readers may write you sharing that they loved "JFK," but they fly out of O'Hare.
A trailer is not a movie. Thus, when urged to select your "picks of the week," you must never pick a trailer for an upcoming film. You must actually wait to see the film itself.
Each one being something Lyons actually did. Of course, Ebert is far too classy to call Lyons out by name, but the critique is direct, spot on, and razor sharp.

Lyons has become something of a joke and critical punching bag lately, but for the most part its entirely deserved. Erik Childress' Criticwatch has made a feature out of the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week, where you will find Lyons gems like:
“It’s really important to tell people to go out and see W. so they can talk about it and have an opinion about it and this freedom of speech of course that allows us to go and talk about a film about a current sitting president.”
“There wasn’t enough action in it for me. I wanna see a chase scene. I wanna see violence. I wanna see a gritty cop movie when you’re going to see something like Pride and Glory.”
No wonder film criticism is dying. Thank you Ebert for laying the smackdown as only you know how.
I'll admit, one of the things I was most excited about going into Quantum of Solace was the premier of the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. I've gotten into Star Trek quite a bit in the last year or so, and I've been looking forward to seeing the first real glimpse into what Abrams has come up with for his prequel of sorts.

And I came away completely underwhelmed.

I say this not as a lifelong megafan or a drooling fanboy, but as someone who appreciates the vision of Gene Roddenberry and the world he created. And by the looks of this trailer, this is not it.

Abrams has made it very clear in recent interviews that he has no respect for the fans that made Star Trek what it is, or the established universe he is working in. I can respect a decision to not bend over backwards to please the fans and to try to make something that appeals to non-fans as well, but Abrams has all but stuck up his middle finger and yelled "FUCK YOU" to all the fans of Star Trek, while apparently throwing the established canon in the garbage. On top of that, if this trailer is any indication, he has turned Star Trek into Star Wars, and that's the last thing it needs to be.

Roddenberry's idyllic vision of the future was about hope, wonder, and the promise of human ingenuity. Action was never at the forefront, even though it often figured in. To forget that would be disastrous. Roddenberry wanted each script to mean something, to have some kind of significance...Abrams seems as if he's more enamored with space battles and explosions.

The series has gone to the extremes of both directions over the course of its ten films, with the unfairly maligned Star Trek: The Motion Picture being a cerebral think piece akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the last film, Star Trek: Nemesis being a more action driven film, and subsequently becoming the worst entry into the series (yes, even worse than Star Trek V, which I love despite its shortcomings). I'm afraid if Abrams swings too far in the action direction, he's going to end up with something of the Nemesis variety, or he could find a healthy balance and end up with The Wrath of Khan...who knows?

It may have been different if the trailer had given a better idea of the plot, instead it's a bunch of quickly edited action shots with little cohesion and a totally out of place robot cop complete with hoverbike.

I'm still looking forward to this, but my expectations have been severely tempered. I'm just hoping that Abrams doesn't turn Star Trek into something it was never meant to be, and make into an exclusively Abrams project. Like it or not, there is a history here that cannot be ignored, and the vision and dream of a man named Roddenberry, whose name he should not forget.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Did anyone else find it interesting to see Tom Noonan, who played the original Frances Dolarhyde in Michael Mann's 1986 Manhunter, playing opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Dolarhyde victim (and recipient of the famous "do you see?" speech) Freddie Lounds in Brett Ratner's 2002 remake, Red Dragon, in Synecdoche, New York?

I don't know, it just struck me as interesting, seeing as how Noonan isn't seen on screen very often, and I just watched Red Dragon again this week.

"Do you see?"
From The Dispatch:
The interesting thing about the film is that while it begins as just another painfully unfunny comedy, the presence of the children, played by "Superbad's" McLovin' Christopher Mintz-Plasse as nerdy teenager Augie and the endearing Bobb'e J. Thompson as the streetwise 10-year-old Ronnie, injects the film with some much-needed energy. Indeed, the two of them are the highlight of the film and make the climactic "World of Warcraft"-esque battle of the nerds a surprisingly touching and funny scene. The problem is it only manages to bring the film up from "D" level to "C" level. There just isn't enough here to warrant spending two hours on, especially when it's all been done before, and better, somewhere else
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I just saw Charlie Kaufman's magisterial triptych Synecdoche, New York, and am going to work on hammering out some thoughts. But writing a cohesive review on this thing is going to be a daunting task. I think it's hands down one of the best films of the year (how high remains to be seen), but I haven't decided rather I'm going to publish the review here or in The Dispatch. I haven't gotten word from Sony about the local release dates here, but as soon as I know I'll make my decision. It may take me that long to write the review anyway.

In other news, I just found out that I will be unable to attend both my press screening of Australia and Milk thanks to a combination of class and a show I'm working on next week. Hopefully there will be more coming up in time for me to review them in a timely manner.

But for now I'm still processing Synecdoche...
The current state of the horror film isn't pretty. For years, the choices have been mostly between the torture porn genre of Saw and Hostel, or the Japanese remakes like The Ring and The Grudge. Only occasionally would something special like The Descent come along to shake things up a bit.

Well it's time for horror fans to rejoice, because now we have something completely different.

It's refreshing, after spending lots of blog and newspaper space bemoaning the death of originality in the face of Role Models, to sit down and watch something as new and stunningly original as the animated French horror anthology, Fear(s) of the Dark.

Fans of the gory side of horror may not warm up to Fear(s) of the Dark, and while the film (unlike so many horror films today) relies more on atmosphere and mood than blood and guts, this still isn't a pleasant wade into the kiddie pool, because the filmmakers behind this little gem aren't kidding around.

Concieved and created by six of the world's most respected graphic artists, Fear(s) of the Dark is an omnibus film unlike anything we have seen before. Unlike similar recent efforts such as Paris, Je T'aime and Chacun son Cinema, Fear(s) of the Dark takes its six segments and tells them in a non-linear, non-consecutive way, mixing them up for a more cohesive, more compelling experience.

Hand drawn in stunning black and white, each segment deals with innate human fears, be they as common and as deep seeded as a fear of the dark, or as mundane as the fear of offending someone different from you. They range from conventional narrative to avant-garde, from linear to surreal, each with a wholly unique take on its subject. There's the unnerving tale of the mysterious man seemingly hellbent on murdering everyone he encounters with his vicious dogs; the tale of a lonely young man whose encounter with a strange insect will change his life forever; a young girl's terrifying dreams that begin to manifest themselves after she moves to a new home; a boy whose odd friend seems to have a acute connection to a series of sinister disappearances; and a man's journey through his possibly haunted house.

Interspersed throughout the film are a series of bizarre ruminations by a woman who is seemingly afraid of everything, accompanied by swirling images that seem to have jumped out of a Dadaist short from the early part of the 20th century. With such a potentially scattershot nature one would expect Fear(s) of the Dark to fail in capturing a sustainable mood that is so integral to horror, but that is not the case at all. Each segment has its own rhythm and its own atmosphere, but a constant cloud of dread hangs over the entire film.

The directors understand the nature of fear, and drill right to the center of it, crawling underneath the skin of the audience with an almost unparalelled aplomb. You don't find this kind of creeping dread, this acute sense of danger mixed with an eerie, haunting beauty. The artists' mastery of light and shadow as well as dramatic tension make for a compelling, at times transfixing experience.

You won't find the typical "gotcha" style of scares here. What Fear(s) of the Dark achieves is much more subtle and elegant. It taps into something primal in human nature, something that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up and shivers run down the spine. It has an effect not unlike that of scary stories told in the dark around a campfire, where the imagination creates something far worse than any special effects can ever make, where the eye plays tricks on the mind and things go bump in the night, and where few movies ever succeed, or even dare to go.

GRADE - *** (out of four)

FEAR(S) OF THE DARK; Directed by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire; Voices of Guillaume Depardieu, Aure Atika, Nicole Garcia; Not Rated; In French w/English subtitles

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This is the kind of summer movie we need more of - a lush, intelligent spectacle that fuels the imagination and makes the impossible possible. It is a world of fairies, demons, angels, adventure, humor, unforgettable characters and unmitigated creativity. It's the best superhero movie we have seen so far this season (yes, even better than "Iron Man") and paves the way for del Toro's upcoming "The Hobbit." If there was ever any doubt about his ability to continue Peter Jackson's epic vision, then "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" erases it. This is summer filmmaking as it was meant to be.

FTFR DVD Pick of the Week

It's all so intoxicating, so effortlessly sexy, that it's easy to forgive the fact that it drags a bit in the middle section, but it quickly finds its footing again once the new love interest is introduced. I loved the fact that the movie dwells squarely in a world where love crosses the boundaries of gender and defies the labels of straight and gay. The idea that a person's soulmate could literally be anyone, be they male, female, or undecided is a universal one, and Love Songs handles that with a refreshing degree of normalcy. Love knows no bounds, and Honoré demonstrates that with beauty and grace, through Beaupain's lovely songs and the gorgeous cinematography by Rémy Chevrin.


Mister Foe isn't as moving or as emotionally probing as it could be, but it offers a beautifully unique window into the life of a decidedly odd teenager with enough issues to fill several psychology textbooks with a refreshingly uncynical eye. I may never be able to fully explain why it entertained me or why I cared so much about Hallam, but I think that's really the point. We watch, as Hallam does, for the sake of watching, and to find perhaps a window into our own world. And in Hallam we find a scarred soul with a heart of gold, whose curious charm we may not be able to articulate, but its effects won't be going anywhere anytime soon.


Clone Wars is strictly second rate territory, aimed directly and children and hardcore fans, who aren't even treated with enough dignity to be given a decent movie. Instead they get this laughable cartoon that doesn't even attempt to hide its soullessness. It's a sad indication of just how far Star Wars has fallen, because in The Clone Wars, the original magic is nowhere to be found.


Sukiyaki Western Django is a stylish and fun genre throwback that honors the films of the past while crafting a rip-roaring new experience with a gritty and clever verve.

Monday, November 10, 2008

AMPAS has released its list of 14 films that will be vying for the 2008 Best Animated Feature award at this year's Oscars. They are:
  1. “Bolt”
  2. “Delgo”
  3. “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”
  4. “Dragon Hunters”
  5. “Fly Me to the Moon”
  6. “Igor”
  7. “Kung Fu Panda”
  8. “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
  9. “$9.99”
  10. “The Sky Crawlers”
  11. “Sword of the Stranger”
  12. “The Tale of Despereaux”
  13. “WALL-E”
  14. “Waltz with Bashir”
According to the press release, Bolt, Delgo, Dragon Hunters, $9.99, The Sky Crawlers, The Tale of Despereaux, and Waltz with Bashir, have yet to fulfill their Los Angeles qualifying runs, so their eligibility could change, but Bolt and The Tale of Despereaux should definitely meet the requirements, barring another high profile delay, which the way this Oscar season is going so far wouldn't surprise me a bit.

Due to Academy rules, when there are less than 16 eligible films, only three can be nominated. Right now I'm betting on WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda, and Waltz with Bashir.
I just got out of Role Models and can't help but wonder how many times Hollywood can re-work Superbad before people get tired of it? Role Models is a reworking of Drillbit Taylor (which begs the question, why would anyone want to emulate Drillbit Taylor?), which itself was a reworking of Superbad.

Hell, even the poster is a rip-off of Big Daddy, which the film also shamelessly borrows from. Where's the originality?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the only people who didn't seem to understand the gravity of the situation was the United States Government. The category 3 storm made landfall in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, breaching the city's levees and flooding more than 80% of the city, killing thousands and displacing tens of thousands more. It was destruction on a Biblical scale, a disaster that we were woefully unprepared for. America sat glued to its television screens as one of its most venerable cities sank beneath the vengeful waters of Mother Nature.

But for all of the round the clock news footage and on the scene reports, there is one thing that the reporters consistently failed to capture - the personal side of the tragedy. No number of human interest stories can amount to the tale as told by the the people who lived it as it was happening, and that is just what Trouble the Water, the new documentary by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, does.

Culled from the home videos of Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott, two poverty-stricken, aspiring rap artists living in New Orleans, Trouble the Water paints a unique and deeply intimate portrait of a national disaster and the bureaucratic failure of the government to do anything about it.

Unable to afford transportation out of the city, Kim and Scott hold their ground, and end up trapped in their own home with their family and neighbors, surrounded by water and cut off from the rest of the world. Through Roberts' eyes we see the hurricane make landfall, and even more devastating we watch as they fall through the cracks of a system totally unprepared for a disaster of that magnitude. Kim puts a human face on the suffering of New Orleans, but also on its resilience as well. Her determination and her strength are a testament to the human spirit, even as we witness the height of human failure around her.

There are no words to accurately describe the kind of tragedy where elderly hospital patients are left behind to die, where governments do not use every resource at their disposal to evacuate its citizens from certain death, where displaced citizens are turned away from nearly empty military bases at the point of an M-16, and where incompetent leaders are rewarded for their efforts (disgraced FEMA chief Michael Brown, the credits inform us, is now a disaster management consultant and motivational speaker). I can't even begin to wrap my brain around what these people went through, and how grossly mishandled the situation was, and in many ways still is today. How do you justify rebuilding a city's ritzy tourist spots, when its poverty stricken areas are still in ruin three years later?

The filmmakers never try to answer that question, nor do they offer any solutions. Their goal instead is to place a human face on the tragedy rather than push for any agenda other than the fact that this cannot be allowed to happen again. It is impossible to watch this film and not feel some degree of outrage. The film itself tends to become unfocused in its later half, losing sight of the tragedy at hand and veering off into unnecessary explorations of Kim's burgeoning rap career (whose music can be a bit inappropriate for the desired mood), but that does not diminish the overwhelming power of its subject and its stark indictment of bureaucracy gone wrong.

Trouble the Water may not be the essential film about Katrina, it may not be the definitive statement of the horrors that befell New Orleans in August 2005, but there is something unique and indeed quite moving about seeing the tragedy from the perspective of those who survived it, who lived it and saw it for what it was. It invites us to step into the shoes of people who the government forgot, and demands that we refuse to do the same.

GRADE - *** (out of four)

TROUBLE THE WATER; Directed by Carl Deal, Tia Lessin; Featuring Kimberly Rivers Roberts, Scott Roberts; Not Rated
It's interesting that Robert Altman was thanked in the credits of Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, because the word that kept popping in my head as I watched the film was "Altman-eque."

The death of Robert Altman left a huge void in the landscape of American filmmaking, but it seems as if Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), who hasn't been a major player in years, is one of the many filmmakers rushing to fill that void.

Like all of Altman's films, Rachel Getting Married is an ensemble piece centering around Kym (Anne Hathaway), a troubled young drug addict just being released from rehab in time for her to go home for her sister Rachel's wedding. It is there where Kym's near pathological need for attention runs up against old grudges and deeply buried family issues, causing a lifetime's worth of problems to come bubbling to the surface against the idyllic backdrop of a storybook wedding.

First time screenwriter Jenny Lumet doesn't try to cram her screenplay with pat sentimentalism, nor does she wrap the problems up in Lifetime-ready solutions. Instead what she, along with Demme, give us isn't so much a film with a conventional plot, but a true slice of life in every sense of the word.

The film drops us right into the middle of the characters' lives and pulls us out just as suddenly. We are guests for the wedding of Rachel and Sydney, and Demme understands that it would be unwise for us to overstay our welcome. Using cinematographer Declan Quinn's handheld, digital camera work, Rachel Getting Married takes on a grainy, naturalistic beauty, almost as if the entire film were captured by Sydney's brother, whose camera never seems to leave his hand. It truly gives the audience the feeling of being a part of the film. Their sorrows are our sorrows, their happiness is our happiness. When Kym stands up to toast her sister at the rehearsal dinner, we really become nervous as to what she's about to say. For the entire running time of Rachel Getting Married, this is our family.

For her part, Anne Hathaway has never been better. She has always been an appealing screen presence, but has never been given the chance to shine in quite this way. Her character, however, is in no way likable. She is selfish, jealous, and borderline vindictive, but Hathaway gives her a vulnerability that allows us to see the wounded girl beneath that so many have trouble seeing. We feel for her and want her to succeed, even as her constant neediness threatens to overwhelm the wedding.

She is surrounded by an immensely talented supporting cast that makes up one of the finest ensembles of the year. The real standout among them, however, is Rosemary DeWitt, who gives Rachel an exasperated humanity, tied to both the past and future, between family and love, and manages to find a perfect balance of both.

Human frailty and the bonds of family are eternal, and in Rachel Getting Married we enter a family whose love for one another has been strained to the breaking point, only to be reunited and repaired by the ultimate act and symbol of love. It is in that atmosphere that all is forgiven. Demme refuses to allow his characters to take the easy way out, and indeed there are no simple solutions to be found here. But the old maxim that you can always come home is alive and well, and Rachel Getting Married, a moving and reassuring experience if ever there was one, feels like a warm welcome home.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED; Directed by Jonathan Demme; Stars Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Tunde Adebimpe, Debra Winger; Rated R for language and brief sexuality