Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review | "A Separation"

In an age of heightened tension in the Middle East, with constant threats of new sanctions and saber-rattling to be heard in regards to Iran, a film like Asghar Farhadi's A Separation is especially refreshing. It's easy, in times of conflict, to imagine other cultures as alien and different, to paint the citizens whose governments we disagree with with the same brush as their leaders.

In A Separation, a film born out of Iran, we see no oppressive mullahs, the visage of President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad is nowhere to be found, you'll find no religious or political propaganda or grandstanding of any kind. Everything about the film seems to casually flout the current political narrative simply by not being political at all. A Separation is a family drama about a normal family who finds themselves in extraordinary circumstances. What makes the film so remarkable is that it is so very universal. Audiences may balk at the idea of watching something so seemingly exotic as an Iranian film, but they would be missing out on something wholly identifiable and breathtakingly honest. These people could be from anywhere in any country, and that is one of the film's strongest assets.

Leila Hatami as Simin and Peyman Moadi as Nader in A SEPARATION.
Photo by Habib Madjidi ©, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
The couple at the center of A Separation is as normal a couple as they can be. Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) bear little resemblance to the egregious Muslim stereoptype of overbearing patriarchal households beholden to Sharia law we often see depicted in American film. Nader is a typical working father just trying to keep his family together, while Simin wants to move out of the country to pursue a better life with her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Nader refuses to leave behind his elderly father, an Alzheimer's patient who is still living at home. The only option left to them is a divorce, which Nader is willing to grant despite his love for his wife. Faced with the breakup of his family, Nader must do the best he can to keep going and providing for his daughter. With Simin gone, he hires a housekeeper, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) to help take care of his quickly deteriorating father.

Hodjat is taken aback by the task she is saddled with, not expecting the amount of work that would be involved and the true condition of Nader's father. A deeply religious woman, she is embarrassed by his inability to use the bathroom on his own and frets whether or not being placed in a situation where she may see his genitals is a sin. Then one day, Nader returns to find his father tied to the bed, and Hodjat nowhere to be found. When she returns, he confronts her about leaving him alone, accuses her of theft, and forcibly ejects her from his home, and in the ensuing altercation in which she falls out of his door she accuses him of causing her miscarriage and therefore the murder of her unborn son. Nader soon finds himself entangled in a legal battle with seemingly no end in sight, as she accuses him of murder and he accuses her of theft and elder abuse. As the mire threatens to engulf them all, justice seems to drift farther and farther out of reach.

Peyman Moadi as Nader and Sarina Farhadi as Termeh in A SEPARATION. 
Photo by Habib Madjidi ©, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
It is that idea of justice that permeates every frame of A Separation. As each character's motives slowly become clearer, the idea of justice becomes even more muddled. Farhadi examines ideas of justice in a world colored in shades of gray, set against a backdrop of family turmoil and a legal system for whom people are just numbers. All the while Nader's family becomes even more broken under the strain, and his daughter is eventually posed with an impossible choice. Farhadi closes his film one of the most haunting notes of uncertainty of the year, offering no answers but hinting at the familial divide to come. The screenplay, written by Farhadi himself, is a marvel of restrained emotion and rapidly changing undercurrents, while the performances rival Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret as the strongest ensemble acting of the year. Shabab Hosseini is especially heartbreaking as Hodjat, a woman caught in a web of lies who keeps digging herself deeper and deeper into an inescapable mess.

There are no heroes or villain's in Farhadi's disarmingly naturalistic world; just people trying to do the best they can for the people they love whose motives occasionally run afoul of each other. It's like watching a train wreck, frustratingly inevitable and yet unblinkingly gripping. "Lies may lead to truth" reads the incisively cryptic tagline, presciently summing up the film's lasting impact. In a world where white lies spin out of control and threaten to destroy lives, Farhadi discovers simple yet deeply human truths - that the divides that so often separate us can seem so impossibly wide are never quite as far as we imagine.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

A SEPARATION
 | Directed by Asghar Farhadi | Stars Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi | Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material | In Farsi w/English subtitles | Now playing in select cities.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Review | "The Flowers of War"

War is hell. Anyone who has ever been to one or seen a movie about one can attest to that. But in Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, war is not hell. In fact it's downright gorgeous. And therein lies the problem with the mixture of Zhang's trademark visual beauty and a story of such pain and horror as World War II's Rape of Nanking.

Zhang certainly tries to paint war as brutal and tragic; there is blood, death, and tragedy aplenty to be found in The Flowers of War. But like in most of Zhang's other films, it's all just so breathtakingly beautiful that it seems incongruous with the action actually taking place on screen. A woman is tied to a bed, raped, then stabbed in the heart with a bayonet by a Japanese soldier, and Zhang films the ensuing spray of arterial blood across the wall as if he was filming Jackson Pollock create one of his splattered masterpieces. There is something wrong, and almost indecent about the way Zhang seemingly fetishizes and exploits such atrocities, trivializing and reducing the Rape of Nanking to a series of poetic sacrifices and over the top images.


There are undeniably some powerful moments here. Zhang's prowess for creating memorable imagery doesn't completely overwhelm the film, and his frequent use of a massive stained glass window to create some interesting lighting is often quite striking. But the story is simplistic and the script is weak. The film centers around an American mortician named John Miller (Christian Bale) who is called to a Catholic church in the Chinese city of Nanking, which is under a brutal Japanese occupation, to bury the resident priest. When he arrives, he finds a group of young girls under the care of a similarly young boy, lost and frightened amid a bloody war with no one to care for them. A drunken lout, all Miller cares about is getting paid and getting out of there as quickly as possible, but the safety of the church is too attractive, so he takes up residence there with the children in hopes of one day being paid for his services.

Circumstances change, however, when a group of prostitutes show up at the mission seeking refuge from the occupation. Excited and intrigued by their presence, Miller seems more interested in carousing than helping, despite being begged to help them escape from Nanking. But when Japanese soldiers converge on the church looking to rape and pillage, Miller is forced to sober up and take responsibility for his young charges, who come to call him "Father John." And the man who once had no vested interest in the conflict must do everything he can to save his newfound family by any means possible.


The story of Nanking remains a point of contention between China and Japan to this day, as evidenced by the release of Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death earlier this year. Despite being a Chinese production, Chuan's film dared to challenge the established narrative of the Rape of Nanking, portraying atrocities and humanities on both sides of the conflict. It was a less black and white take on the events (despite actually being shot in black and white), especially in comparison to Zhang's schmaltzy melodrama. City of Life and Death is undeniably beautiful, filled with searing black and white images that haunt and linger in the memory, but it is grimly beautiful. Chuan uses his poetic imagery to enhance his narrative rather than overwhelm it. It is beautiful in the same sense that Schindler's List was beautiful. It honors the sacrifices whereas The Flowers of War seems determined to exploit it for cheap emotional gain.

Christian Bale gives a strong performance, however, despite his character being saddled with a somewhat cheap and truncated arc, going from self absorbed jerk to saintly hero in almost a split second. And it's hard to deny that the cinematography, despite being somewhat problematic in context, is spectacular, not to mention Qigang Chen's lovely score, featuring violin solos by Joshua Bell and some truly gorgeous choral work. In the end, however, it all feels a bit like emotional pandering. I much prefer Zhang's more understated work in films like the hugely under-appreciated Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, where he is able to take an essentially sentimental ending and embue it with a deep sense of humanity. In The Flowers of War, Zhang's visual sensibilities stand in stark contrast to the atrocities being displayed on screen, making for an often uncomfortable viewing experience. Zhang clearly isn't trying to glorify war, but he certainly comes close. It has a very Chinese sensibility of sacrifice and honor, but the end result seems to border on crassness. As a melodrama it's passable, solidly crafted entertainment, but one can't escape the nagging feeling that perhaps such ghastly atrocities shouldn't go down this easy.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

THE FLOWERS OF WAR | Directed by Zhang Yimou | Stars Christian Bale, Paul Schneider, Zinyi Zhang, Shigeo Kobayashi, Ni Ni, Atsurô Watabe, Bai Xue, Takashi Yamanaka, Kefan Cao | Rated R for strong war violence including a sexual assault, disturbing images, and brief strong language | In Chinese (Nanking dialect), Mandarin Japanese, & English w/English subtitles | Now playing in New York and Los Angeles.

Cinema 2011

A lovely tribute to the films of 2011. It was a great year.

Review | "Pariah"

"Pariah [puh-rahy-uh] noun - 1. A person without status. 2. A rejected member of society. 3. An outcast."

Writer/director Dee Rees' Pariah establishes its main character right from the start - the title itself seemingly a one word summation of her entire character. Adepero Oduye's Alike is no victim, however. She is a girl assured of her identity but adrift in a world that isn't ready to accept her, not as a black teenager as one might expect from a film like this, but as a lesbian. Unlike many coming of age dramas, Alike understands and accepts her sexuality. She isn't ashamed of who she is. She frequents gay bars, hits on pretty girls in the school hallway, and walks with a masculine swagger one would expect of a teenage male rather than a teenage girl.

Alike is one of the first strong gay teenage characters who is completely comfortable with her own sexuality. And unlike characters in TV shows like Glee (as positive as they may be) that border on caricature, her sexuality does not define who she is. She knows who she is and she isn't afraid to express herself.

Aasha Davis and Adepero Oduye in writer/director Dee Rees' PARIAH, a Focus Features release. 
Photo courtesy of Focus Features
The problem isn't with who she is, it's who her parents think she is, or rather who they want her to be. Alike's parents are both conservative Christians, but not conservative Christians in the typical Hollywood sense. Rees is far too smart for that. She deftly avoids the typical Bible-thumping, hellfire and brimstone cartoons that often populate such films and paints Alike's parents as living breathing human beings. The conflict springs not from their hatred of homosexuality, but out of genuine concern for their daughter. These aren't bigoted monsters, they're concerned parents who truly love their daughter, and worry about the path she has chosen more out of ignorance than hatred. It is a world they do not understand, and as such are not ready to accept.

Alike's father, Arthur (Charles Parnell), a stern but affable policeman, treats his daughter's masculinity with an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. He is denial personified. Her mother, Audrey, however, knows deep down that her daughter is different. It's clear from the way she is constantly trying to get her to wear more feminine clothes, its clear in her distrust of Alike's even more butch friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), and it's clear in the heartbreak behind her eyes every time she looks at her. As Alike's struggle to find love and come out to family that isn't ready to accept the truth threatens to tear her family down, a new, wiser, more confident person is born.

Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye in writer/director Dee Rees' PARIAH, a Focus Features release. 
Photo courtesy of Focus Features
It would be arrogant of me to suggest that my own homosexuality puts me in a better position to judge this film than some of the heterosexual critics who have found it problematic, but looking at Pariah from a gay perspective certainly reveals certain aspects that straight critics may overlook. I've been there. I've seen those looks in parents' eyes. I've felt that fear and trepidation at the prospect of emerging from the comfort of the dark closet into the blinding light of public view. And I think what Rees has created here is remarkable. It's one of the most moving and honest portrayals of a teenager's struggle to come out of the closet that I have ever seen. Rees pulls no punches, Pariah is a tough film filled with pain and heartache. But it's ultimately a redemptive and cathartic experience, even if Rees wisely refuses to tie her package up with a nice, neat little bow. When Alike looks at her mother with tears in her eyes and says "I love you Mom," only to be greeted with an aching, pregnant silence followed by "I'll be praying for you," we know we're on deeply personal ground here.

There is something vibrant and immediate about Pariah that is hard to shake. From the pulsing opening to the wrenching poetry reading at its finale, Pariah is never anything less than piercing and incisive. Rees and Oduye are both blazing new talents to watch. So assured is the film and so true is Oduye's performance that it's hard to believe that both director and actor aren't already established artists. This is one of the most raw and powerful depictions of budding teenage sexuality I've ever seen, told universal resonance and emotional appeal. It turns out that Alike is aptly named, because there is a little of her in all of us, and Rees imbues her with a haunting and memorable voice in a year when the suicides of gay teenagers all across the country left a scar on our collective hearts. "It gets better" you can hear her say. It's not easy, but in Pariah, one girl's coming out becomes the story of a generation who just want to love and be loved in return still fighting for acceptance. This is her story. This is our story.  This is your story. Straight, gay, or still undecided, Pariah gives voice to all those young people still trying to find themselves in a world that sometimes seems uncaring.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

PARIAH | Directed by Dee Rees | Stars Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mellesse, Kim Wayans | Rated R for sexual content and language | Now playing in select cities.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Top Ten Films of 2011

1
THE TREE OF LIFE 
(Terrence Malick, USA)
"No other film this year was as bold or ambitious as Terrence Malick’s magnum opus, “The Tree of Life.” Even in a year of such great films, “The Tree of Life” stands apart as such a towering achievement that it immediately belongs in the pantheon of the great works of cinema."

2
LE QUATTRO VOLTE
(Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)
"Elegant in its simplicity, Frammartino nearly equals the sheer spiritual weight of “The Tree of Life” without ever speaking a word."

 3
POETRY
(Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)
"A lyrical, vibrant, and deeply moving film, “Poetry” is a powerhouse, a masterful evocation of a free spirit torn down by the fog of age and tragedy."

4
A SEPARATION
(Asghar Farhadi, Iran)
"Gripping and devastating, the film examines ideals of justice in a world colored in shades of gray."

5
HUGO
(Martin Scorsese, USA)
"One of the year’s most joyous and rapturous cinematic experiences."

6
MARGARET
(Kenneth Lonergan, USA)
"A brilliantly written and deeply felt emotional depth charge of a film."

7
MYSTERIES OF LISBON
(Raul Ruiz, Portugal)
"A sprawling and grand literary feast of exotic characters and locales, masterfully directed by Portuguese director Raul Ruiz." 

8
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
(Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
"Metaphysical manifestations of past lives show up like fragments of dreams in this transcendent and wholly unique work of art." 

 9
DRIVE
(Nicholas Winding Refn, USA)
"A brutal, finely tuned thrill machine...expertly crafted on all levels."

10
CERTIFIED COPY
(Abbas Kiarostami, France)
"A deeply felt and intelligent exploration of individual perceptions, both in art and in human relationships... one of 2011’s most bewitching and delicious mysteries."


HONORABLE MENTIONS
ARMADILLO (Janus Metz, Denmark), TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Tomas Alfredson, UK), CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (Lu Chuan, China), OF GODS AND MEN (Xavier Beauvois, France), LE HAVRE (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland), TO DIE LIKE A MAN (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal), HOUSE OF PLEASURES (Bertrand Bonello, France), TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (Radu Muntean, Romania), MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Woody Allen, USA), J. EDGAR (Clint Eastwood, USA), THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (David Robert Mitchell, USA).

To read the full write up in The Dispatch, click here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

15th Annual Online Film Critics Society Nominations

The Tree of Life led the 15th annual Online Film Critics Society nominations today with seven mentions, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay,  Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain).

Brad Pitt and Laramie Eppler in the Tree of Life.
PHOTO BY: MERIE WALLACE TM, © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The group, of which I am a voting member, will announce the winners on Monday, January 2nd. Here is the full list of nominations:

Best Picture:
The Artist
The Descendants
Drive
Hugo
The Tree of Life


Best Animated Feature:
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Kung Fu Panda 2
Rango
Winnie the Pooh


Best Director:
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Lars von Trier - Melancholia

Best Lead Actor:
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
Michael Shannon - Take Shelter

Best Lead Actress:
Kirsten Dunst - Melancholia
Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor:
Albert Brooks - Drive
John Hawkes - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life
Christopher Plummer - Beginners

Best Supporting Actress:
Jessica Chastain - The Tree of Life
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Carey Mulligan - Shame
Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay:
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Midnight in Paris
A Separation
The Tree of Life
Win Win


Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Descendants
Drive
Moneyball
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
We Need to Talk About Kevin


Best Editing:
Drive
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Tree of Life
We Need to Talk About Kevin


Best Cinematography:
The Artist
Drive
Hugo
Melancholia
The Tree of Life


Best Film Not in the English Language:
13 Assassins
Certified Copy
A Separation
The Skin I Live In
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives


Best Documentary:
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Interrupters
Into the Abyss
Project Nim
Tabloid


Special Awards
To Jessica Chastain, the breakout performer of the year
To Martin Scorsese in honor of his work and dedication to the pursuit of film preservation

Thursday, December 22, 2011

97 Original Scores Compete for Oscar Nominations

AMPAS announced the list of 97 original scores that have qualified for Oscar consideration. My money is on The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and perhaps either Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Drive, or Hugo. I wouldn't be surprised if Moneyball showed up in there though, or one of Albert Iglesias' 2011 efforts - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Skin I Live In. Here is the complete list of eligible scores:


  • "The Adjustment Bureau," Thomas Newman, composer
  • "The Adventures of Tintin," John Williams, composer
  • "African Cats," Nicholas Hooper, composer
  • "Albert Nobbs," Brian Byrne, composer
  • "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," Mark Mothersbaugh, composer
  • "Anonymous," Thomas Wander and Harald Kloser, composers
  • "Another Earth," Phil Mossman and Will Bates, composers
  • "Answers to Nothing," Craig Richey, composer
  • "Arthur Christmas," Harry Gregson-Williams, composer
  • "The Artist," Ludovic Bource, composer
  • "@urFRENZ," Lisbeth Scott, composer
  • "Atlas Shrugged Part 1," Elia Cmiral, composer
  • "Battle: Los Angeles," Brian Tyler, composer
  • "Beastly," Marcelo Zarvos, composer
  • "The Big Year," Theodore Shapiro, composer
  • "Captain America: The First Avenger," Alan Silvestri, composer
  • "Cars 2," Michael Giacchino, composer
  • "Cedar Rapids," Christophe Beck, composer
  • "Conan the Barbarian," Tyler Bates, composer
  • "The Conspirator," Mark Isham, composer
  • "Contagion," Cliff Martinez, composer
  • "Coriolanus," Ilan Eshkeri, composer
  • "DAM999," Ousepachan, composer
  • "The Darkest Hour," Tyler Bates, composer
  • "The Debt," Thomas Newman, composer
  • "Dolphin Tale," Mark Isham, composer
  • "Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark," Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, composers
  • "Dream House," John Debney, composer
  • "The Eagle," Atli Orvarsson, composer
  • "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," Alexandre Desplat, composer
  • "Fast Five," Brian Tyler, composer
  • "The First Grader," Alex Heffes, composer
  • "The Flowers of War," Qigang Chen, composer
  • "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, composers
  • "The Greatest Miracle," Mark McKenzie, composer
  • "Green Lantern," James Newton Howard, composer
  • "Hanna," Tom Rowlands, composer
  • "Happy Feet Two," John Powell, composer
  • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2," Alexandre Desplat, composer
  • "The Help," Thomas Newman, composer
  • "Hop," Christopher Lennertz, composer
  • "Hugo," Howard Shore, composer
  • "I Don’t Know How She Does It," Aaron Zigman, composer
  • "The Ides of March," Alexandre Desplat, composer
  • "Immortals," Trevor Morris, composer
  • "In Search of God," Rupam Sarmah, composer
  • "In the Land of Blood and Honey," Gabriel Yared, composer
  • "In Time," Craig Armstrong, composer
  • "Insidious," Joseph Bishara, composer
  • "The Iron Lady," Thomas Newman, composer
  • "J. Edgar," Clint Eastwood, composer
  • "Jane Eyre," Dario Marianelli, composer
  • "The Lady," Eric Serra, composer
  • "Like Crazy," Dustin O’Halloran, composer
  • "Margaret," Nico Muhly, composer
  • "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol," Michael Giacchino, composer
  • "Mr. Popper’s Penguins," Rolfe Kent, composer
  • "Moneyball," Mychael Danna, composer
  • "Monte Carlo," Michael Giacchino, composer
  • "New Year’s Eve," John Debney, composer
  • "Norman," Andrew Bird, composer
  • "One Day," Rachel Portman, composer
  • "Puss in Boots," Henry Jackman, composer
  • "Rampart," Dickon Hinchliffe, composer
  • "Real Steel," Danny Elfman, composer
  • "Rebirth," Philip Glass, composer
  • "Red Riding Hood," Alex Heffes and Brian Reitzell, composers
  • "Restless," Danny Elfman, composer
  • "Rio," John Powell, composer
  • "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Patrick Doyle, composer
  • "The Rite," Alex Heffes, composer
  • "The Rum Diary," Christopher Young, composer
  • "Sanctum," David Hirschfelder, composer
  • "Sarah’s Key," Max Richter, composer
  • "Senna," Antonio Pinto, composer
  • "Shame," Harry Escott, composer
  • "The Skin I Live In," Alberto Iglesias, composer
  • "The Smurfs," Heitor Pereira, composer
  • "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," Rachel Portman, composer
  • "Super 8," Michael Giacchino, composer
  • "Take Shelter," David Wingo, composer
  • "The Thing," Marco Beltrami, composer
  • "Thor," Patrick Doyle, composer
  • "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," Alberto Iglesias, composer
  • "Tower Heist," Christophe Beck, composer
  • "W.E.," Abel Korzeniowski, composer
  • "War Horse," John Williams, composer
  • "Warrior," Mark Isham, composer
  • "Water for Elephants," James Newton Howard, composer
  • "The Way," Tyler Bates, composer
  • "We Bought a Zoo," Jon Thor Birgisson, composer
  • "We Need to Talk about Kevin," Jonny Greenwood, composer
  • "Win Win," Lyle Workman, composer
  • "Winnie the Pooh," Henry Jackman, composer
  • "X-Men: First Class," Henry Jackman, composer
  • "Young Adult," Rolfe Kent, composer
  • "Your Highness," Steve Jablonsky, composer
The nominations will be announced on January 24, 2012.

The Cue Sheet - 12/21/11

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (composed by John Williams)

Coming on the heels of his other 2011 score for War Horse, John Williams' The Adventures of Tintin has some mighty big shoes to fill. As someone who prefer's Williams' meatier dramatic works, I was surprised to discover that Tintin is actually the stronger of the two scores. War Horse is great when viewed as a standalone composition, but it stands out in the film so much that it's almost distracting. It's as overbearing as the film's hamfisted emotions. Tintin, on the otherhand, while perhaps lacking the strong central identity of Williams' classic adventure scores, is still great fun, and demonstrates the maestro's mastery of complex and smartly crafted action music.

Williams kicks things off with the jazzy opening number, "The Adventures of Tintin," which accompanies the opening credits sequence and sets the tone for the zippy adventure to follow. From there on out, much like the film, the score zips along at a breakneck pace. Williams wastes no time introducing his main themes in the tracks "Snowy's Theme," a playful tune for Tintin's faithful dog, and "The Secret of the Scrolls," a dark and mysterious theme for the Unicorn and its cargo that recalls "Irina's Theme" from  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the iconic Ark theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark (and receives a wonderfully grand performance in "Sir Francis and the Unicorn"). "Introducing the Thompsons and Snowy's Chase" introduces a jaunty motif for the hapless detectives played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but isn't until the 8th track, "Captain Haddock Takes the Oars," that Williams unleashes one of the score's primary identities for the drunken sea dog, Captain Haddock. At first a soused and wobbly theme for tuba that staggers and meanders like a drunken sailor, the theme matures and "sobers up" over the course of the score until a full heroic statement near the end.

Williams can weave themes into a tapestry like no other, and in The Adventures of Tintin, the themes and motifs come flying fast and furious. While none have the strong, instantly recognizable theme one comes to expect from a Williams score, the amount of intelligent thematic writing here is staggering. It's only weakness is that it lacks a defining personality of its own, as it often relies heavily on tried and true "Williams-isms." Still, especially for a man pushing 80, no one has more creative energy pulsing through their music like Williams does, and he really outdoes himself here. It's a pleasure to have the maestro back, and Tintin will prove to be a feast for fans and newcomers alike.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THE ARTIST (composed by Ludovic Bource)

It can arguably be said that music played no greater role in any other film this year than in Michel Hazanvicius' highly acclaimed silent film The Artist, and as such is the most likely front runner to win Best Original Score at the Academy Awards early next year. And I won't say it doesn't deserve it. A meticulous recreation of Golden Age scores and music from early silent films, Bource's score, much like the film it accompanies, is a nearly endless delight.

As what is often the sole sound in the film, the music becomes its sole voice and aural personality, and therefore plays a hugely pivotal role in the film. The score starts off in grand fashion with "The Artist Overture," which calls to mind the grand style of Old Hollywood. That's really my only complaint with The Artist is that its influences are all over the timeline, not necessarily sticking to the music of the era the film is meant to evoke. However the fact that the film takes place at the end of the silent era just as sound was beginning to take over, using some of that big sound make sense somewhat.

My favorite theme of the score makes its first appearance in "George Valentin." It's a jaunty, comedic piece for Jean Dujardin's silent film star that is reminiscent of the music that Charlie Chaplin wrote for his own films. That's where The Artist really gets the most points from me, in its evocation of Chaplin. While I almost wish Bource had stuck primarily with a more authentic sound of silent film accompaniment (like what we hear in the track "1927: A Russian Affair," that is meant as a source cue of sorts of a live orchestra accompanying a silent film), the score's jazzy personality is almost irresistible, even when it dips into darker territory in later cues like "My Suicide (Dedicated to 03.29.1967)." It also takes on a more romantic flavor in beautiful piano driven cues like "Comme Une Rosée De Larmes" (one of the score's highlights). There are a lot of source cues as well, which may betray the film's silent conceit, but add period flavor, if not particularly any value to the score itself.

Bource may be mostly unfamiliar to American filmgoers, but suffice it to say that such a bold and stunningly crafted score will most certainly put him on the map, and the almost inevitable Academy Award win won't hurt it either (barring a win by Cliff Martinez's Drive or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, each excellent works in their own right). While the film itself may be slight and overpraised, the score deserves every award it can win. It's charm goes beyond its nostalgic trappings and becomes something much more impressive. It's far and away one of the scores of the year.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse"


From The Dispatch:
As is typical with Spielberg, both films should be seen on the biggest screen possible, but while "War Horse" is an almost certain Oscar nominee (which it basically seems tailor made to be), "Tintin" is far and away the better film. It harkens back to the good old days of high adventure and reintroduces us to the Spielberg we all know and love, whereas "War Horse" seems to be every problem I've ever had with a Spielberg film wrapped into one gooey package.
Click here to read my full reviews.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Trailer: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

When I was a child, The Hobbit was very special to me, even more so than The Lord of the Rings. This was my story. And seeing this trailer gave me chills. I can't wait to journey back into Middle Earth, and especially for this tale in the hands of Peter Jackson.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens December 14, 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Trailer: "The Dark Knight Rises"

It's finally here. After months of teasing glimpses and leaked set photos being splayed across the internet, here is our official look at Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.


The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20, 2012.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review | "My Week with Marilyn"

It would be easy to dismiss Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn as a simple piece of Hollywood nostalgia, a peek behind the curtain at a legendary figure who wasn't at all what the public perceived her to be. It's not a new concept. Showbiz tell-alls have been a Hollywood staple for decades. But there's something decidedly innocent about My Week with Marilyn that makes it enourmously appealing. This isn't a salacious piece of tabloid journalism, it's a light and lovely look at one of Hollywood's great icons from a different point of view.

Based on the memoirs "The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me" and "My Week with Marilyn" by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the film recounts one week in 23 year old Colin's life as he was working as the third assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on the film, The Prince and the Showgirl during the summer of 1956. Its star was a 30 year old Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who desperately wants to be seen as a serious actress rather than just a sex symbol.


She is constantly accompanied by a gaggle of handlers who spend most of their time shielding her from reality, but for Olivier the biggest pain is her acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). In her attempts to fashion herself into a serious actress, Monroe became devoted "the Method" and the teachings of Stanislavski (which Olivier rejected), with Strasberg insisted everyone else work around Marilyn's strange new work ethic. Often egregiously late to the set and under the influence of a multitude of medications, Marilyn was airy, aloof, and easily rattled, a fragile creature in need of a knight in shining armor. That's where Colin comes in. A starstruck young fan pursuing a lifelong dream of a life in the pictures, Colin is instantly drawn to Marilyn, despite his feelings for a young costumer (Emma Watson).

In Colin, Marilyn discovers a sure and steady confidant, someone outside her coterie of yes men and a respite from her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, with whom she has a strained relationship. Colin becomes her constant companion, much to the chagrin of her handlers and the delight of Olivier, who comes to view Colin as his inside man. But as Colin and Marilyn grow closer, Colin risks losing his heart. Is Marilyn truly in love with him? Or is he just another toy in her game of life?


It would be easy to question the veracity of Colin's story, and how this 23 year old 3rd assistant director carried on a week long love affair with one of the most beautiful women of all time. But the story, and the film, lack the sensationalistic qualities one would expect from such a story. The Marilyn of the story isn't a smoldering temptress, she's almost like a lost little girl in way over her head. Neither is Colin portrayed as a heroic savior. Instead, Marilyn is just  lonely woman looking for a connection, and Colin is a starstruck boy too naive to realize he's out of his depth. It's an honest, emotionally truthful connection that never feels cloying or manufactured, despite an occasionally clunky script by Adrian Hodges.

The real highlight here, however, are the performances, especially Williams' Marilyn and Branagh's Olivier. Williams not only channels the iconic persona of Marilyn Monroe that we all recognize, but seems more than anything to embody Norma Jean, the sad, overwhelmed girl beneath the legendary Marilyn veneer. This woman we see is not Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe is a figment of someone else's imagination that Norma spent a lifetime trying to live up to, which eventually led to the overdose that caused her death. Branagh as Olivier steals scenes left and right, while Judi Dench shows up occasionally to do that Judi Dench thing she does so well. And while it's hardly revelatory, the film itself is something both lovely and consistently engaging. It's an instantly entrancing romance that will be a delight for both fans of Marilyn and lovers of old Hollywood, for its behind the scenes look at the filmmaking process of the time is wholly entertaining. It is as if Norma Jean somehow lives on through Williams, and while in the end she remains something of an enigma, the glimpse of the human behind the legend is enough to make us appreciate who she was even more.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN  | Directed by Simon Curtis | Stars Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond | Rated R some language | Now playing in select theaters.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Apollo 18" Swag

The folks at Anchor Bay sent over an advanced copy of the Apollo 18 blu-ray today along with a packet of freeze dried ice cream.


Apollo 18 remains my worst film of the year, but I thought the freeze dried ice cream was a pretty neat (if a bit odd) promotional item.

Apollo 18 will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 12/27.

69th Annual Golden Globe Nominations

As usual the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has focused mainly on stars rather than the year's best films (they nominated Ryan Gosling twice!), although the nominations are mostly by the book. The biggest exception is the inclusion of George Clooney's The Ides of March, which has been completely absent from the awards race thus far. The exclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is also surprising, which I would have thought would have played very well with the HFPA. I still expect it to have a big impact on Oscar voters. Its exclusion here doesn't necessarily negate its Oscar chances.

Here are the nominations in the film categories. For a complete list visit Awards Daily.


1. BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. THE DESCENDANTS
Ad Hominem Enterprises; Fox Searchlight Pictures
b. THE HELP
DreamWorks Pictures, Participant Media; Touchstone Pictures
c. HUGO
Paramount Pictures presents a GK Films Production; Paramount Pictures
d. THE IDES OF MARCH
Columbia Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures, Exclusive Media Group, Crystal City
Entertainment; Sony Pictures Releasing
e. MONEYBALL
Columbia Pictures; Sony Pictures Releasing International
f. WAR HORSE
DreamWorks Pictures; Touchstone Pictures


2. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. GLENN CLOSE ALBERT NOBBS
b. VIOLA DAVIS THE HELP
c. ROONEY MARA THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
d. MERYL STREEP THE IRON LADY
e. TILDA SWINTON WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN


3. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. GEORGE CLOONEY THE DESCENDANTS
b. LEONARDO DICAPRIO J. EDGAR
c. MICHAEL FASSBENDER SHAME
d. RYAN GOSLING THE IDES OF MARCH
e. BRAD PITT MONEYBALL

4. BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a. 50/50
Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures; Summit Entertainment
b. THE ARTIST
a La Petite Reine – Studio 37 – La Classe Americaine – JD Prod- France3 Cinema -
Jouror Production-uFilms coproduction; The Weinstein Company
c. BRIDESMAIDS
Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Apatow Productions; Universal Pictures
d. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
A Mediapro, Versatil Cinema & Gravier Production; Sony Pictures Classics
e. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
The Weinstein Company; The Weinstein Company

5. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR
MUSICAL
a. JODIE FOSTER CARNAGE
b. CHARLIZE THERON YOUNG ADULT
c. KRISTEN WIIG BRIDESMAIDS
d. MICHELLE WILLIAMS MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
e. KATE WINSLET CARNAGE

6. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY
OR MUSICAL
a. JEAN DUJARDIN THE ARTIST
b. BRENDAN GLEESON THE GUARD
c. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT 50/50
d. RYAN GOSLING CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.
e. OWEN WILSON MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

7. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
a. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
b. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS
c. CARS 2
d. PUSS IN BOOTS
e. RANGO


 8. BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
a. THE FLOWERS OF WAR (CHINA) 
(Jing Ling Shi San Chai) 
b. IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (USA)
c. THE KID WITH A BIKE (BELGIUM) 
(Le Gamin au Velo) 
d. A SEPARATION (IRAN) 
(Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) 
e. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (SPAIN) 
(La piel que habito)

9. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A
MOTION PICTURE
a. BERENICE BEJO THE ARTIST
b. JESSICA CHASTAIN THE HELP
c. JANET MCTEER ALBERT NOBBS
d. OCTAVIA SPENCER THE HELP
e. SHAILENE WOODLEY THE DESCENDANTS

10. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A
MOTION PICTURE
a. KENNETH BRANAGH MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
b. ALBERT BROOKS DRIVE
c. JONAH HILL MONEYBALL
d. VIGGO MORTENSEN A DANGEROUS METHOD
e. CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER BEGINNERS
11. BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
a. WOODY ALLEN MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
b. GEORGE CLOONEY THE IDES OF MARCH
c. MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS THE ARTIST
d. ALEXANDER PAYNE THE DESCENDANTS
e. MARTIN SCORSESE HUGO
12. BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
a. WOODY ALLEN MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
b. GEORGE CLOONEY, GRANT HESLOV, BEAU WILLIMON, THE IDES OF MARCH
c. MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS THE ARTIST
d. ALEXANDER PAYNE, NAT FAXON, JIM RASH, THE DESCENDANTS
e. STEVEN ZAILLIAN, AARON SORKIN, MONEYBALL
13. BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
a. LUDOVIC BOURCE THE ARTIST
b. ABEL KORZENIOWSKI W.E.
c. TRENT REZNOR, ATTICUS ROSS, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
d. HOWARD SHORE HUGO
e. JOHN WILLIAMS WAR HORSE
14. BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
a. “HELLO HELLO” — GNOMEO & JULIET
Music by: Elton John
Lyrics by: Bernie Taupin
b. “THE KEEPER” — MACHINE GUN PREACHER
Music & Lyrics by: Chris Cornell
c. “LAY YOUR HEAD DOWN” — ALBERT NOBBS
Music by: Brian Byrne
Lyrics by: Glenn Close
d. “THE LIVING PROOF” — THE HELP
Music by: Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason, Jr.
Lyrics by: Mary J. Blige, Harvey Mason, Jr., Damon Thomas
e. “MASTERPIECE” — W.E.
Music & Lyrics by: Madonna, Julie Frost, Jimmy Harry

2011 SAG Nominations

The SAG Award nominations were announced this morning. I'll spare the commentary, although I will say that I am thrilled for A Better Life's Demian Bichir. I hope this leads to some more buzz for him.
 

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
DEMIÁN BICHIR / Carlos Galindo - “A BETTER LIFE” (Summit Entertainment)
GEORGE CLOONEY / Matt King - "THE DESCENDANTS” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO / J. Edgar Hoover - "J. EDGAR" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
JEAN DUJARDIN / George - "THE ARTIST" (The Weinstein Company)
BRAD PITT / Billy Beane - "MONEYBALL" (Columbia Pictures)
 
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
GLENN CLOSE / Albert Nobbs - "ALBERT NOBBS” (Roadside Attractions)
VIOLA DAVIS / Aibileen Clark - “THE HELP” (DreamWorks Pictures / Touchstone Pictures)
MERYL STREEP / Margaret Thatcher - “THE IRON LADY” (The Weinstein Company)
TILDA SWINTON / Eva - “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
MICHELLE WILLIAMS / Marilyn Monroe - “MY WEEK WITH MARILYN” (The Weinstein Company)
 
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
KENNETH BRANAGH / Sir Laurence Olivier - “MY WEEK WITH MARILYN” (The Weinstein Company)
ARMIE HAMMER / Clyde Tolson - "J. EDGAR" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
JONAH HILL / Peter Brand - "MONEYBALL" (Columbia Pictures)
NICK NOLTE / Paddy Conlon - “WARRIOR” (Lionsgate)
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER / Hal - “BEGINNERS” (Focus Features)
 
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
BÉRÉNICE BEJO / Peppy - "THE ARTIST" (The Weinstein Company)
JESSICA CHASTAIN / Celia Foote - “THE HELP” (DreamWorks Pictures / Touchstone Pictures)
MELISSA McCARTHY / Megan - “BRIDESMAIDS” (Universal Pictures)
JANET McTEER / Hubert Page - "ALBERT NOBBS” (Roadside Attractions)
OCTAVIA SPENCER / Minny Jackson - “THE HELP” (DreamWorks Pictures / Touchstone Pictures)
 
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
THE ARTIST (The Weinstein Company)
BRIDESMAIDS (Universal Pictures)
THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
THE HELP (DreamWorks Pictures / Touchstone Pictures)
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Sony Pictures Classics) 
 
Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (Universal Pictures)
COWBOYS & ALIENS (Universal Picturess)
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (Warner Bros. Pictures)
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (Paramount Pictures)
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (20th Century Fox)
 
To see the full list (including television categories), visit Awards Daily.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in Columbia Pictures' 'THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.' Photo by Merrick Morton. © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
From The Dispatch:
The film itself, though, is overlong and unwieldy, wrapping up its story then plodding on for 30 more minutes, essentially setting up the next installment of the trilogy, "The Girl who Played with Fire" (the Swedish version of which I actually liked better than the original "Dragon Tattoo"). There are certainly many terrific elements in Fincher's film — Mara's performance, the icy cinematography, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' chilling score, but the elements never really add up to a satisfying whole. 
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Critics Choice Award Nominations

The Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their annual Critics Choice Award nominations, which went pretty much exactly according to script. But then again the BFCA has never really been known for adventurous choices. The complete absence of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a bit disconcerting, even bing ignored in the Art Direction and Cinematography races, which I think is an egregious oversight. This is the first appearance of Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which I think we'll be hearing a lot more about as the Oscars approach. I have seen the film, but am still under embargo, but in regards to these nominations, I expect it to play a big factor in the race later on.

THOMAS HORN as Oskar Schell and TOM HANKS as Thomas Schell in Warner Bros. Pictures' drama EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE.
Here is the complete list of nominations:

BEST PICTURE
The Artist
The Descendants
Drive
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

BEST ACTOR
George Clooney – “The Descendants”
Leonardo DiCaprio – “J. Edgar”
Jean Dujardin – “The Artist”
Michael Fassbender – “Shame”
Ryan Gosling – “Drive”
Brad Pitt – “Moneyball”

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis – “The Help”
Elizabeth Olsen – “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Meryl Streep – “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton – “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Charlize Theron – “Young Adult”
Michelle Williams – “My Week With Marilyn”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh – “My Week With Marilyn”
Albert Brooks – “Drive”
Nick Nolte – “Warrior”
Patton Oswalt – “Young Adult”
Christopher Plummer – “Beginners”
Andrew Serkis – “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo – “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain – “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy – “Bridesmaids”
Carey Mulligan – “Shame”
Octavia Spencer – “The Help”
Shailene Woodley – “The Descendants”

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Asa Butterfield – “Hugo”
Elle Fanning – “Super 8”
Thomas Horn – “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Ezra Miller – “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Saoirse Ronan – “Hanna”
Shailene Woodley – “The Descendants”

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
The Artist
Bridesmaids
The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March

BEST DIRECTOR
Stephen Daldry – “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Michel Hazanavicius – “The Artist”
Alexander Payne – “The Descendants”
Nicolas Winding Refn – “Drive”
Martin Scorsese – “Hugo”
Steven Spielberg – “War Horse”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“The Artist” – Michel Hazanavicius
“50/50” – Will Reiser
“Midnight in Paris” – Woody Allen
“Win Win” – Screenplay by Tom McCarthy, Story by Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni
“Young Adult” – Diablo Cody

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“The Descendants” – Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – Eric Roth
“The Help” – Tate Taylor
“Hugo” – John Logan
“Moneyball” – Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Story by Stan Chervin

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
“The Artist” – Guillaume Schiffman
“Drive” – Newton Thomas Sigel
“Hugo” – Robert Richardson
“The Tree of Life” – Emmanuel Lubezki
“War Horse” – Janusz Kaminski

BEST ART DIRECTION
“The Artist” – Production Designer: Laurence Bennett, Art Director: Gregory S. Hooper
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” – Production Designer: Stuart Craig, Set Decorator: Stephenie McMillan
“Hugo” – Production Designer: Dante Ferretti, Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo
“The Tree of Life” – Production Designer: Jack Fisk, Art Director: David Crank
“War Horse” – Production Designer: Rick Carter, Set Decorator: Lee Sandales

BEST EDITING
“The Artist” – Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion
“Drive” – Matthew Newman
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“Hugo” – Thelma Schoonmaker
“War Horse” – Michael Kahn

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
“The Artist” – Mark Bridges
“The Help” – Sharen Davis
“Hugo” – Sandy Powell
“Jane Eyre” – Michael O’Connor
“My Week With Marilyn” – Jill Taylor

BEST MAKEUP
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady
J. Edgar
My Week With Marilyn

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
The Tree of Life

BEST SOUND
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Super 8
The Tree of Life
War Horse

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Drive
Fast Five
Hanna
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8

BEST COMEDY
Bridesmaids
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Horrible Bosses
Midnight in Paris
The Muppets

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
In Darkness
Le Havre
A Separation
The Skin I Live In
Where Do We Go Now

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Buck
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Project Nim
Undefeated

BEST SONG
“Hello Hello” – performed by Elton John and Lady Gaga/written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin – Gnomeo & Juliet
“Life’s a Happy Song” – performed by Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Walter/written by Bret McKenzie – The Muppets
“The Living Proof” – performed by Mary J. Blige/written by Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman and Harvey Mason, Jr. – The Help
“Man or Muppet” – performed by Jason Segel and Walter/written by Bret McKenzie – The Muppets
“Pictures in My Head” – performed by Kermit and the Muppets/written by Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis and Chen Neeman – The Muppets

BEST SCORE
“The Artist” – Ludovic Bource
“Drive” – Cliff Martinez
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“Hugo” – Howard Shore
“War Horse” – John Williams

Thanks as always to Awards Daily for compiling the list of nominations.

Trailer: "Men in Black 3"

The 90s are over...but I don't mind going back for a visit every now and then. I'll admit, Josh Brolin's appearance at the end made me laugh out loud. Perfect casting as a young Tommy Lee Jones.



Men in Black 3 opens May 25, 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blu-ray Review | "Seven Chances"

On top of having a banner year for theatrical releases (having distributed Le Quattro Volte, Poetry, City of Life and Death and more), Kino Lorber has also had a banner year for blu-ray and DVD releases, steadily releasing Buster Keaton's considerable catalogue in impressive new hi-def editions.

Having already released his most well known work, as well a tremendous collection of his short films, Kino Classics has moved on to some of his lesser known films like Go West and Battling Butler. While some of these are more obscure for a reason, there are also some hidden gems amongst Keaton's films that now have the opportunity for a second chance.

One such diamond in the rough is Seven Chances. While still a minor film when compared with Keaton's towering, iconic work in films such as The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr., Seven Chances showcases Keaton at his most effortlessly charming, and is also one of his few sole directing credits.


While it may lack the consistent slapstick that often characterize Keaton's stronger works, Seven Chances remains an endlessly clever and endearing work. Based on the play by Rai Cooper Megrue, Seven Chances stars Keaton as James Shannon, a financial broker who is quickly running out of money. His luck changes, however, when his grandfather passes away and leaves him $7 million on the condition that he get married by a certain date. The problem is the date happens to be the same day Shannon receives the will. So he sets out to find himself a bride by 7:00, and hilarity, of course, ensues. None of the candidates he finds seem to be suitable, so he runs an ad in the paper explaining his situation - leading to one of the largest gatherings of brides in one room the cinema has ever seen. The climax of Seven Chances is one of  Keaton's best, a whirlwind of action and visual gags as Shannon finds himself chased through the streets by a horde of angry would-be brides.

Of all the Keaton films Kino has released on blu-ray, Seven Chances is perhaps their most pristine and stunning transfer.  The image is often flawless, which is especially impressive considering the film is 86 years old. The film also features an early two-color Technicolor sequence which has been lovingly restored by film historian Eric Grayson, and is utterly gorgeous on blu-ray, making Seven Chances one of Kino's finest restorations yet.


The set also includes two short films - How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Personal Columns, a 1904 Edison short directed by Edwin S. Porter, who is perhaps best known for 1903's The Great Train Robbery, about a man who places a personal ad in the paper and gets chased down by a flock of brides, and A Brideless Groom, a 1947 Three Stooges short co-written by Keaton collaborator Clyde Bruckman, who co-directed many of Keaton's best films. A Brideless Groom finds Shemp coming into a large inheritance provided he gets married by that evening and is clearly inspired by Seven Chances, demonstrating just how influential Keaton was on future comedians., and it also serves to demonstrate just how inferior the Stooges were to the great slapstick artists like Keaton, Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy who came before them.

It's hard not to fall in love with Keaton's films, and following Kino's blu-ray re-releases of his work over the past year has been a real pleasure. While he certainly made better films than Seven Chances, it's still a showcase of the man's boundless genius. Keaton had a knack for finding comedy in the most mundane situations, turning them into large scale epics of misfortune continue to amuse and delight audiences today. With renewed interest in silent films from contemporary works like Hugo (which directly references Keaton) and The Artist, which are currently in theaters, films like Seven Chances are a perfect example of the best of silent comedy. Modern comedy owes a great debt of gratitude to Keaton, and this is why.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

SEVEN CHANCES | Directed by Buster Keaton | Stars Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edward, Ruth Dwyer, Frances Raymond | Not rated | On Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, 12/13.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Critics Groups Announce En Masse

The Los Angeles Film Critics Society, Boston Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Online, and the American Film Institute all decided to announce their year end awards today. While the AFI, NYFCO and BSFC went mostly according to the script (with a few exceptions), the LAFCA really thought outside the box with many of their choices, and provided the most inspired groups of critics award winners yet, including my personal favorite win of the day - Yun Jung-hee for Best Actress in Lee Chang Dong's Poetry, and Asghar Farhadi for Best Screenplay for A Separation.

Yun Jung-hee in POETRY. 
Courtesy of Kino International.

Here is the complete rundown:

AFI Top Ten
Bridesmaids

The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help

J. Edgar

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse


Brad Pitt in MONEYBALL.

Boston Society of Film Critics
Best Picture  -  The Artist
Best Actor -  Brad Pitt for Moneyball
Best Actress - Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn
Best Supporting Actor -  Albert Brooks for Drive
Best Supporting Actress -  Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
Best Director -  Martin Scorsese for Hugo
Best Screenplay -  Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin for Moneyball
Best Cinematography - Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life
Best Documentary -  Project Nim
Best Foreign-Language Film -  Incendies
Best Animated Film -  Rango
Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer) - Christian Marclay for The Clock
Best New Filmmaker (awarded in memory of David Brudnoy) -  Sean Durkin for Martha Marcy May Marlene
Best Ensemble Cast -  Carnage
Best Use of Music in a Film  -  Tie: Drive and The Artist
 
Nick Krause, Amara Miller, Shailene Woodley,  and George Clooney in THE DESCENDANTS.

Los Angeles Film Critics
Best Picture - The Descendants
Best Director -  Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. Runner-Up: Martin Scorsese, Hugo.
Best Actor, Winner: Michael Fassbender, A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class. Runner-Up: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter.
Best Actress - Winner: Yun Jung-hee, Poetry. Runner-Up: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia.
Best Supporting Actress - Winner: Jessica Chastain, Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, The Tree of Life. Runner-Up: Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs.
Best Supporting Actor - Winner: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. Runner-Up: Patton Oswalt, Young Adult.
Best Screenplay - Asghar Farhadi, A Separation.
Best Music/Score:  The Chemical Brothers, Hanna.  Runner-Up: Cliff Martinez, Drive.

Best Production Design: Winner: Dante Ferretti, Hugo.  Runner-Up: Maria Djurkovic, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Best Cinematography - Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life.

Best Documentary/Nonfiction - Cave of Forgotten DreamsBest Foreign Language Film - City of Life and Death

 

Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi in A SEPARATION.
New York Film Critics Online
Film - The Artist  
Actor - Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Actress - Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Director - Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Supporting Actor - Albert Brooks, Drive
Supporting Actress - Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Breakthrough Performer - Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, Texas Killing Fields
Debut Director - Joe Cornish,  Attack the Block
Ensemble Cast - Bridesmaids 
Screenplay - Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendant
Documentary - Cave of Forgotten Dreams 
Foreign Language - A Separation 
Animated - The Adventures of Tintin
Cinematography - Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
Use of Music -Ludovic Bource, The Artist

Thanks to Sasha Stone at Awards Daily for compiling this list.