Wednesday, June 30, 2010

6/30: News Updates

Here are some news updates I've compiled over at The Film Stage during the past few weeks:
  • New Release Dates For 'The Night Chronicles: Devil,' 'Never Let Me Go,' & 'Red Riding Hood' [Click Here]
  • US  Trailer For Sundance Favorite 'Animal Kingdom' [Click Here]
  • International Trailer For Andrew Jarecki's 'All Good Things' [Click Here]
  • Jason Reitman Gets Rights To 'Elliot Allagash' [Click Here]
  • McAdams and Tatum To Star In 'The Vow' [Click Here]
  • Tom Hanks & Natalie Portman Among Stars Offered Roles In Tom Tykwer's 'Cloud Atlas' [Click Here]
  • Universal Releasing 'The Thing' In April 2011 [Click Here]

The only thing in The Book of Eli that should cause controversy among viewers is the ending. Some will buy it, others will not. People will surely argue its plausibility, but I accepted the ending because it reinforces the fact that this is an action film with real ideas. But let's forget the ending for a second and focus on the bigger picture: The first three-fourths of The Book of Eli is outstanding filmmaking, engineered by an appropriately haunting visual landscape and an irresistible star turn from Denzel Washington.

The Hughes Brothers, Albert and Allen, haven't directed a motion picture since 2001's From Hell. I am not sure why, but their newest film offers no reasons to suggest that their talent has diminished over the years. Their post-apocalyptic tale begins 30 years after "the war tore a hole in the sky." This is the explanation of Eli (Washington), a lonely wanderer who has been asked to travel West in an attempt to find the right place to deliver the last remaining copy of the Bible.

When Eli wakes up to realize that his battery his out of power, he winds up meeting with the engineer (Tom Waits) of a decrepit town run by the sinister Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie, thinking that attaining the Bible will give him the power needed to expand his empire, offers food, water, and a solid roof to a group of men so they will endlessly search for the book that is currently in Eli's hands. More often than not, they come back with a series of pulp novels. There is a humorous moment when one of the henchmen is disappointed to realize that a Dan Brown novel is not what Carnegie is looking for.

Carnegie is also able to bribe his workers with women. He keeps the blind Claudia (Jennifer Beals) for himself, but gleefully offers up Claudia's beautiful daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) when she can be of use. Such an instance comes in the form of Eli, who Carnegie believes he can bribe to stay by offering him Solara. Instead, Eli chooses to introduce the illiterate and unfamiliar woman to the power of praying. Unfortunately, this ends up backfiring on him, as Solara inadvertently reveals to Carnegie that Eli is in possession of the Bible.

Like any self-respecting disaster film, there is violence. But The Hughes Brothers stage their set pieces with remarkable panache and style. The first great action sequence, a showdown between Eli and a group of disgusting travelers, is put forth in silhouette form. Another highlight comes later in the film when Eli and Solara, traveling together at this point, come across the shabby home of George (Michael Gambon) and Martha (Frances de la Tour).

For this performance, Washington is asked to pull of a variety of things. He nails Eli's persona perfectly, which is an interesting mix of quietude and charisma. I don't think Eli ever raises his voice or makes any whimsical movements in the entire film, yet there is a fascinating quality to him that makes the character compulsively watchable. Some of this must be accredited to Washington's believable presence as an action hero, despite his aging appearance. The actor should also thank Eli's piercing, twenty-inch blade (give or take) for contributing to his formidable presence.

The other actors also fare quite well. Gary Oldman, one who has never shied away from a villainous role, is effective playing Carnegie because he knows how to make the character a certifiable psychopath without ever going too far. Mila Kunis is also able to hold her own, even though she shares most of her scenes with seasoned veterans more than twice her age.

One of the most admirable things about The Book of Eli - a mid-January release incorrectly billed as an ultra-violent action romp - is that it has a definitive message. Even more admirable is that it doesn't bombard you with this message in the final ten minutes, even if that is what some viewers may take away. The Hughes Brothers, working from an intelligent Gary Whitta screenplay, sprinkle their ideas and themes throughout the entire picture. If it ends up becoming too preachy, at least it presents itself as a film that wants to be about something more than just beautifully-staged set pieces. I can buy that.

There is no clear reason why the first 90 minutes of this film shouldn't please viewers beyond expectations. But because the film takes a leap with its ending - and because endings usually contribute so much to our opinion of a film - those who have trouble believing the final twists of Whitta's script may not care to remember how good most of this film really is. Here's my advice to those people: Don't let the sour taste in your mouth overpower the deliciousness of the first two-and-a-half acts.

Toy Story 3 succeeds not because it tries to outperform its two predecessors, but because it realizes how good those two films are, and makes a conscious decision to follow the same general formula. Like Toy Story and Toy Story 2, the film is primarily action-based. It introduces its conflict early, and it drags it out until the audience cannot wait for the final emotional touch any longer. And, not surprisingly, the ending note is truly poignant, which has become one of the more distinguishable staples for Pixar filmmaking.

The early promotions for David Fincher's The Social Network have me very interested. There was a poster released a few days ago, and the newly-discovered teaser trailer (embedded below, courtesy of Mashable) plays visually off of that poster, adding various bits of dialogue along the way. I think it is the dark tone that has me most curious. I wasn't sure whether this Aaron Sorkin-scripted film was going to have comedic undertones to it or not, and although it still may, everything so far suggests that the darkness will be more pervasive.

The film stars Jesse Eisenberg (Solitary Man), Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go), Justin Timberlake, and Rashida Jones. It is set to be released on October 1st.

Officially count me amongst the group of people who is watching any and every Inception clip/trailer/featurette that pops up around the web. Do I think this will compromise the experience I have at the movie theater? Simply stated, no. I remember watching each trailer for The Dark Knight multiple times, and when I finally saw the finished product on the IMAX screen, the experience was nothing like what the trailers led me to imagine it might be. I expect Christopher Nolan's Inception to end up similar form, regardless of how different the films may be in subject matter. The man behind it all is still the same.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Four Week Feature

Most Hollywood movies generally take about a month to shoot. There are obvious exceptions, but for the purpose of creating some perspective, let's say that the average amount of time it takes to shoot a feature length film is 30 days. Now take the Four Week Feature, a project recently launched by filmmakers Keith Boynton and Mike Lavoie, which plans to take 28 days to make an entire film. Writing, shooting, editing, creating a score, the whole thing. In less than a month.

Apple has released the first trailer for Tony Goldwyn's potential Oscar contender Conviction. With a great story and cast, it seems as though there are very few places in which Conviction might end up going wrong. Hilary Swank will star as working mother Betty Anne Waters who puts herself through law school in order to defend her brother (Sam Rockwell), who has been convicted of murder.

I've never been a fan of voice-overs in trailers; this one is no exception, but there is enough here to legitimize the Oscar potential. Fox Searchlight will release the film on October 15th.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Movie Review: Ondine (2010) - 2 stars

There is an odd charm to the romantic fantasy Ondine that makes it watchable for about half of its running time. Established writer-director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) is able to work well with cinematographer Christopher Doyle to create a film of visual entrancement. The problem here is that the story never takes off and, even worse, doesn't have much of an attention-getting quality to begin with.

Yet another trailer has been released for a potential Oscar contender; this time, it is Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go. The screenplay was adapted by Alex Garland (Sunshine) from Kazuo Ishiguro's celebrated 2005 novel. The central trio will be played in their older years by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Charlotte Rampling, who I recently saw in Swimming Pool, will have a supporting role.

The trailer can be seen embedded below, or via Apple. Fox Searchlight will release the film on October 1st.

Sofia Coppola, best known for writing and directing Lost in Translation, will have her next film, Somewhere, released on December 22 by Focus Features. A trailer has been released, which can be found embedded below or over at Apple. Stephen Dorff will star as Johnny Marco, a hot-shot Hollywood actor who must confront the issues of being visited by his 11-year-old daughter, who will be played by Elle Fanning. A glimpse of Michelle Monaghan can also be seen in the trailer. Along with The Kids Are All Right, Focus Features now has two potential Oscar favorites in their possession.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

6/13: News Updates

Here are some news updates I've compiled over at The Film Stage during the past few weeks:
  • [First Look] Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp In 'The Tourist' [Click Here]
  • 'Betty Anne Waters' Now Titled 'Conviction,' With Fall Release [Click Here]
  • Rachel Weisz In 'The Whistleblower' Trailer [Click Here]
  • Teaser For Sharlto Copley's Thriller 'Spoon' [Click Here]
  • 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World' TV Spot [Click Here]
  • Woody Allen Reveals Complete 'Midnight in Paris' Cast [Click Here]
  • [First Look] Christoph Waltz On The Set Of 'Water for Elephants' [Click Here
  • Orlando Bloom and James Corden Join 'The Three Musketeers' [Click Here]
  • Gary Oldman To Join Tomas Alfredson's 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' [Click Here]

Babel (2006) - 3 1/2 stars

After Amores Perros and 21 Grams, Babel is the third and final film in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Death Trilogy." Amores Perros I have not seen, but in comparison to 21 Grams, Babel is able to capture more lasting emotions, if sacrificing some of its narrative coherency. The film's multiple narrative threads never quite come together in the way we might expect them to, but that doesn't keep each of them from carrying a similarly strong emotional punch.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"You Ask Me for Inception"

Three more great TV spots have appeared online for Inception, courtesy of Warner Bros.' YouTube page. There are a handful of new lines in these spots, all of which will feed viewers' anticipation. The mixing up of the music is also bit refreshing, not to say that Zack Hemsey's custom track was anything short of great. Be sure to keep checking the Nolan Fans website for the most up-to-date developments in anticipation of the film's July 16th release.

Get Him to the Greek
is the second film by Nicholas Stoller, a sort of spin-off of his first film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Like that film,
Get Him to the Greek is able to deliver a steady amount of laughs (probably more, in fact) but it fails to achieve the dramatic notes it so desperately wants to reach. The film is produced, among others, by Judd Apatow, and this is yet another one of his projects - from Knocked Up to Funny People - that I have failed to connect with emotionally.

This weekend, I was able to watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for the first time. I really adored this film. While the cast was quite marvelous, cinematographer Roger Deakins seemed to be the star of the film. This is a slow-moving film - but not boring - in which Deakins has a great amount of responsibility. Although this marvel effort in photography was most likely tough to achieve, I can't help but think this is the type of opportunity cinematographers dream about. The average shot length in this film is probably exponentially higher than it is in most other films, and Deakins fills those shots with gorgeous images of snowy landscape and lantern-lit train robberies.

Splice begins with Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) successfully commingling the DNA of several different animals. The result is a creature with proteins that have the potential to cure a good number of today's most widespread diseases. When they are denied permission by their employers to begin splicing these animals' DNA with the DNA of humans - with the hopes of finding a cure for cancer - a conflict is created. Their bosses are interested in making money and keeping a sound moral image; Clive and Elsa want to advance the fields of science and medicine.

Please Give, the fourth film by writer-director Nicole Holofcener, is one of those movies which uses flawed, and at times, unlikeable characters to try and make moral and philosophical statements. The central couple of the film, played exquisitely by Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt, make their living by buying antique furniture from the recently deceased, and then selling those items at inflated prices. Leave it to the people of New York City to not only keep the couple's store in business, but to also give them enough profit to buy the apartment next door to theirs.

The premise behind Rosemary's Baby isn't as original now as it most likely was during its original release, but because it revolves around several staples of the horror genre - witchcraft, demons, and supernatural forces to name a few - it has an inherent potential to be scary. What separates it from other films that deal with these subjects is the combined skill of Roman Polanski behind the camera and the gripping performers in front of it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rough Cut of My Short Film 'Empty'

I have put together a somewhat coherent version of my short film Empty. I just created a YouTube account this afternoon, and considering this is my first time uploading, the film does have a few minor technical problems. The image quality is not nearly what I would like it to be and it tends to skip a bit when the camera moves. The audio is even off in a few places. But it is still, for the most part, watchable.

I was working on a pretty tight deadline - the entire thing was shot in two days - and if I had more time to work with, I probably would have gone back and done a few shots differently. But I think there is enough here to get the basic idea of what I was going for, and hopefully you will feel the same way. 

Any and all feedback is appreciated, so please leave your comments either below or on the film's YouTube page. I would recommend not watching it in the full screen format just so the image quality remains as crisp as possible, but have at it any way you like.

Without further ado, here is Empty, starring Brady Richter and Nadia Schmidt.

Last Thursday, I was able to attend an advanced screening of Will Gluck's upcoming comedy Easy A. Being somewhat new to these waters, I am not sure how much I can or cannot say, so I will play it safe and save my complete thoughts for when the film opens this fall. (If anyone is aware of the official embargo "regulations" then please let me know and I'd be happy to share my thoughts.)

It stars Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) as a clean-cut high school girl who has her life turned upside down when a false rumor begins to spread about her losing her virginity. Some of the more notable, and funny, co-stars include Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Stone's parents, Thomas Haden Church as Stone's English teacher, and Lisa Kudrow as one of the school's social workers.

Easy A will open on September 17th. Take a look at the trailer below.

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