Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academy Award Winners!

The big night is over, and once again the Oscars handed out a mixed bag of mostly deserving statuettes.

Tom Hooper's The King's Speech and Christopher Nolan's Inception tied with the most wins of the night. The excellent period piece won best picture, director for relative newcomer Hooper, actor and original screenplay. Nolan's masterwork, the best film of the year by far, deservedly won cinematography, sound mixing and editing and visual effects.

David Fincher's good but overrated Social Network took adapted screenplay, film editing and original music score.

All four of the acting wins, for Firth, Portman, Bale and Leo were richly justified.

Tim Burton's fanciful, maligned Alice in Wonderland won art direction and costume design for its gothic kaleidoscopic creations.

The well made but stagnant Inside Job won Documentary Feature over the vastly more entertaining Exit Through the Giftshop and the rich, deeply moving Restrepo.

Surprises included the brilliant Susanna Bier's triumph in Foreign Language film for In a Better World over Biutiful and Incendies, Alexander Desplat's classic, sweeping King's Speech score losing to the more hip Social Network score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as master Coens lenser Roger Deakins losing yet again in Cinematography for True Grit to Wally Pfister for his gorgeous work on Inception.

Overall not as infuriating a year as past ones, but at least The King's Speech, if not as great as No Country For Old Men and The Hurt Locker, was better than most winners(Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, Crash and Slumdog Millionaire) in the last decade.

The new year is upon us, and I look past the increasing preposterousness of these once important awards, towards relishing more gems as life changing as the best of the best picture nominees this year, Inception and Winter's Bone.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards: Predictions!

The following are my predictions for who will win at the most renowned awards ceremony in the world:

Visual Effects: Inception
Sound Mixing: The King's Speech
Sound Editing: Inception
Makeup: The Wolfman
Art Direction: The King's Speech
Costume Design: The King's Speech (though they do like to give it to a random film, so Alice in Wonderland and The Tempest are dark horses)

Original Song: We Belong Together from Toy Story 3
Original Music Score: Alexandre Desplat will finally win for The King's Speech

Documentary Feature: Restrepo (though Inside Job has a chance)
Foreign Language Film: In a Better World(Denmark) (though Incendies is a dark horse)
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

Cinematography: Roger Deakins will finally win for True Grit

Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin
Original Screenplay: The King's Speech, David Seidler (though Nolan is a dark horse for Inception)

Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo in The Fighter (though Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit is a dark horse)
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale in The Fighter
Actress: Natalie Portman in Black Swan (though Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright is a dark horse)
Actor: Colin Firth in The King's Speech ( though Javier Bardem in Biutiful is a dark horse)

Film Editing: The King's Speech
Director: David Fincher for The Social Network (though Tom Hooper for The King's Speech is right there)
Picture: The King's Speech

We'll see tomorrow!!!!!

D.J. Caruso and Jaume Collet-Serra:The Crap Trap

The two most popular live action films in the nation right now are material proof that all facets of a motion picture must be in synch for the final product to succeed on all levels, not only monetarilly.

D.J. Caruso and Jaume Collet-Serra have proven themselves adept visionaries of the modern B picture as big budget studio product. Caruso rose from fantasy fluff television director to feature genre popcorn auteur with a number of visceral ventures(The Salton Sea,Taking Lives, Disturbia and Eagle Eye). His new "movie" I Am Number Four is a dismally hackneyed fusion of Twilight and Smallville, a wretched script brought to us with all the typical trimmings, boring actors (excepting Timothy Olyphant), eyesore CGI and all this entails. That the populace has eaten it up is no surprise. Hopefully his next film is a return to pulpy pop culture form.

Collet-Serra showed promise with the trashy fun of his teen slasher remake House of Wax, then delivered the goods with the creepy modernized killer child thriller Orphan. Unknown, the most seen film in our country right now, is a headache inducing thriller from a mediocre at best screenplay, playing off of Liam Neeson's success last year in the thriller Taken. That Neeson and company survive the boring wreckage attests to their proffessionalism.

These two filmmakers are perfect examples of interesting studio helmers getting caught up in the crap trap, which begins with an industry sanctioned screenplay that's been made a dozen times already.

Kevin MacDonald:The Golden Age of the Cineplex

 In yesteryears, things were so much less bulit up and predictable, today we crave the newest mindblowing technological innovation, mindless violence to numb the burdens and monotonies of our everyday existences. The medium of cinema should be an escape, a stimulant,  an invigorator, not an escape hatch, time killer or easy way out.
When a film like The Eagle comes along, unapologetically old fashioned, unfettered and joyously moving, people don't know how to take it. They feel cheated out of their explosions and CGI, the cheap thrills that make the business go round. Kevin MacDonald began his career as an intrepid documentarian, portraying to us the characteristics of daredevils at the edge of the world, making Herzog proud, I'm certain. He then moved on to narrative, crafting two fascinating films, The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, which moved freely and vibrantly and made us re-examine the way we looked at their respective genres.
Now he bravely crafts a sword and sandals adventure, in homage to all the Cinemascope Hollywood epics of the 50s, not to mention the 60s Eurosleaze classics.
The Eagle is a vigorous championing of all that was golden, all that has been lost in popular cinema. Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell are intriguing, fleshing out the homoerotic overtones of the Roman master-slave dynamic amid a catastrophic landscape of barbarous war on the British-Roman border. Anthony Dod Mantle's tenderized, fiery images capture the surreal shudder of MacDonald's montage.
What is left is an homage to the days when the Cineplex was pure, simple and golden.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pablo Trapero: When Worlds Collide

The genesis of the fourth wave of the New Argentine Cinema has spanned generations. Past masters Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Jose Martinez Suarez and Leonardo Favio, ignited like all Sixties cinematic movements by the French New Wave, gleaned what they would from the nickelodeon past, casting fertile eyes to the Cinemascope future.

In recent years, Lucrecia Martel and Lisandro Alonso have made their voices heard with a series of austere and cleansing works which herald a pure shift in the perspective of the liveliest art in that region. The Secret In Their Eyes was a hackwork of CSI monotony and third act shock tactics which not surprisingly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. That overbaked joke was not representative of a time and place as The Headless Woman, Liverpool and, now, Carancho, are.

Carancho (Vulture) proclaims the coming of an important new auteur to not only Argentine Cinema, but the world at large. Pablo Trapero's use of woozy hand-held cameras, location shooting and rippling streetlights and hospital lights culminates in a breathtaking patchwork of a modern city and its underbelly. His film is populated by ambulance chasing insurance agents, their mobsterish bosses, corrupt ambulance drivers, willing victims dying to be exploited for cash and a junkie doctor craving the warmth of a fix.

Ricardo Darin, his face etched in oak, deeply expressive, inhabits the being of Sosa with a lived in intensity of purpose that is truly awe inspiring. He was excellent in The Secret. . . ., but here has an honestly worthwhile film surrounding him, mooring his stunning performance. Sosa is the aforementioned insurance agent, who comes to realize, as the film progresses, the immensity of his acts and their effects on others.

Martina Gusman, as Lujan, the EMT who gets wrapped up in Sosa's life, also gives a galvanizing performance which builds as the film progresses.

Trapero weaves a wrenching love story around this bleak world he has created, and its effect is miraculous. The bravura climax is a tour de force to cap a movie which is a tour de force in and of itself. The collective piece, with it's smothering city of night and reckless bodies careening across the canvas, is reminiscent of Rossellini's culturally conflicted consciousness, and specifically Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), its moral questions in a landscape of sepia neon.

Trapero's fusion of neo-realism and film noir is a staggering work, proving along with literal and figurative collisions in his film, the purity and beauty that is possible when worlds collide.

Go Your Own Way

Dennis Dugan's newest assault on audience intelligence, Just Go With It, is as inept and benign as American "comedy" can get.

Adam Sandler is a silly man boy, as we all know, but has showed a more fascinating side in one unadulterated American masterpiece (P.T. Anderson's Punchdrunk Love), one underrated, excellent work (James L. Brooks' Spanglish) and one surprisingly adroit film (Judd Apatow's Funny People). But we all need to make a living, and, let's face it, those movies didn't pay the bills.

It's just unfortunate that Sandler, his writers and producers, can't find a happy medium to create comedies that are both raucous and good, that don't drag out the dead horses and beat them into oblivion. The entire crowd isn't eleven years old. He's made some decent comedies -Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer - but, unfortunately, Just Go With It, a pitiful remake of the 60's comedy Cactus Flower, joins the dung heap. Sandler and Aniston shamelessly mug, and the jokes are only intermittently chuckle worthy. Nick Swardson and Brooklyn Decker are the only casualties who emerge relatively unscathed.

Good American comedy is so hard to come by that when it does arrive, rejoice is mandatory. Just Go With It misses, sadistically, by miles.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Giorgos Lanthimos:Rotten Canines

The Greek film Dogtooth has openend quietly around the world but resounded with a cacophanous bang. Hellenic auteur Lanthimos' new film is provocative, offensive, monotonous, daring, mundane and explosive. It incites all these adjectives simultaneously, in it's deadpan, creepy take on experimental family dynamics, sexuality and fascism.

That it inspired a following of edge hungry hipsters on the East and West coasts is no surprise, really. It caters to the shockhouse artsnobs as well as the discerning intellectuals, the adventuresome xenocentric filmgoers and the random raincoat pervs. Any which way you look at it, Lanthimos has a fierce voice that cannot be ignored. He takes inspiration from the midnight movie shockhouse, paying pathological homage to both Michael Haneke and Harmony Korine.

Although it is populated with many scenes that drag and go nowhere, the sheer nastiness and unbroken awe of many of its images and sequences is undeniable. It's surprising that a film this outre made it into the final five Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film.

Whether it is a good film or a bad one is entirely up to you.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gregg Araki: This is How Pop Culture Ends

Gregg Araki has carved his initials into the collective consciousness that cries out for a taste of cinema madcap and unorthodox. From his New Queer Cinema beginnings to his Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy(The Living End, The Doom Generation, Nowhere) to his groundbreaking experiments in genre (Splendour, Mysterious Skin), Araki has made his voice heard helter skelter. Love or hate his kaleidoscopic palette, Godardian subversion and preoccupation with adolescence and sexuality, you must admit you've never seen anything quite like it.

Araki's newest excursion to America's darkside is a laudatory return to his roots, over the top, hilariously disturbing, a pastiche of our country's strafing death obsession.

Kaboom moves in phantastic ways, its structure and milieu redolent of his cult classic Nowhere with it's teenaged fetishism, slang and angst ridden core, but through the blood red glasses of an auteur who has matured and now looks upon the world much more objectively, albeit with his kinky free spirit intact.

The plot is almost beside the point, as an ambisexual, confused college student throbs through his days and dreams surrounded by crystallized cliches from all the teen shows and movies, the fag hag girlfriend, surf stud roommate, promiscuous party girl and sloe eyed boy crush, as a bizarre cult conspiracy seems to be responsible for the mysterious disappearances of his classmates.

The cast is talented and game, the laughs twisted and delightful, building to an apocalyptic climax that only underscores this groundbreaking satirist's jovial, joyous deconstruction of teen horror films and shallow American pop culture in general.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Junk

Common movie knowledge has it that the month of January is the "dumping ground" for all of the bad romantic comedies, ridiculous horror schlock and mind numbing action the big studios don't quite know what to do with the rest of the year. Hopeful that the masses are ready for some fresh trash after the onslaught of "quality" films that came begging for Oscar during the holidays, they unleash these tepid beasts into the new year multiplexes, usually to the sound of money.

Periodically come the January gems, such as The Green Hornet or The Dilemma. More often than not, we get stuck with No Strings Attached, The Rite and The Mechanic.

Simon West is a mercurial action director, adequate at what he does, with an eye for the fast pace and quick temper but nothing much beneath that. His films largely depend upon the strength of the screenplay he happens to be working from. In the case of Con Air and Lara Croft:Tomb Raider, he delivered the goods: fun, mindless Summer popcorn glory with a bit of subtext. His remake of When a Stranger Calls was an oddly engaging chiller heavily reliant on the curious performance of Camilla Belle.

His newest remake, The Mechanic, stars the reliably pokerfaced hunk Jason Statham in another standard actioner his fans should eat up. The script is by the numbers, the visual realization been there, done that. It takes a particularly skilled or talented director to shape a good Statham vehicle, and West is not that man. Aside from the always watchable Ben Foster as the sidekick, this remake of a great Charles Bronson film is far from good.

Mikael Hafstrom is the talented Swedish filmmaker who conjured the disturbing coming of age drama Evil early last decade, then emigrated to Tinseltown, where he crafted two fragile but fascinating genre films, Derailed and 1408. His newest, The Rite, is his first botch job, and not entirely his fault. The demonic possession film has been beaten to death, and working from a hackneyed screenplay doesn't help either. Visually interesting, the picture is pretty much DOA, not aided in the least by a miscast blah lead, a lost Alice Braga or an over the top Anthony Hopkins.

The month is over, and though there will be plenty of bores and overhypes, these two films have all the markings of a studio system desperately attempting to make some quick cash by flashing their January junk all over the country.