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Archive for July, 2011

B-Movies Go A-List.

In the trailer bin of late:

  • If Contagion wasn’t enough for 2011, Steven Soderbergh has assembled an impressive cast for some straight-to-video-ish action in the new trailer for Haywire, with Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas. It doesn’t look all that great, but with Soderbergh and that cast, you never know.

  • Speaking of A-list casts down for some B-movie action, Ryan Gosling is a stunt driver by day and wheelman by nightin the red band trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, also with Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks. This got great reviews at Cannes, and, like Haywire, I’m intrigued by the personnel involved. But Oldboy has already cornered the market on hammer shenanigans.

  • In the not-too-distant future, Justin Timberlake has time on his side — or does he? — in the Comic-con trailer of Andrew Niccol’s In Time, also with Cillian Murphy, Amanda Seyfriend, Olivia Wilde, and Vincent Kartheiser. The timestamp thing is rather goofy, but Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show) is usually good for a smart sci-fi premise. I’m in.

  • Luke constructs a lightsaber, Han shoots up a shield generator, and wampas and sandstorms attack in this preview of the Star Wars Original Trilogy deleted scenes, coming soon to a Blu-Ray player near you. Sorry, I think you have to buy the prequels as well to get these.

  • And, not a movie trailer per se, but Rick Grimes and the gang are as ready as they’ll ever be for another round of the zombie apocalypse in the new trailer for Season 2 of The Walking Dead. I’m more excited about S2 of Game of Thrones personally, but this’ll do until the trouble gets here.

Like Martin Luther Zen.

Next up on the review docket: Mike Mills’ indie slice-of-life Beginners, about a Los Angeles man (Ewan MacGregor) grappling with both the recent death of his father (Christopher Plummer) and a budding romance with a free-spirited but damaged French actress (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds.) In short, Beginners is well-made and moderately diverting for most of its run, but it was also a little too self-consciously quirky for my taste. If you wait for IFC or Netflix on this one, no harm, no foul.

Walking out of the theater after Beginners, the film that most sprung to mind was Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know. So I was surprised to discover soon thereafter that July and Mills are actually married. (It’s a good match — they definitely share a worldview.) Here, as in Me and You, Beginners is occasionally charming and soulful in its off-kilter way. But it also too often flirts dangerously with twee to feel really resonant. At least for me, the story would have more power if the characers — particularly its two lovebirds — were less affected.

The more interesting and successful part of Beginners involves the main character — Oliver — remembering his recently deceased father Hal, and the way Hal, after the death of his wife, consciously reinvented his life to be happy. After forty-four years of marriage, he comes out, finds a boyfriend (ER’s Goran Visnjic) and a new social circle, gets active in politics and gay liberation, and takes on new hobbies like house music, movie nights and lighting fireworks. And even when Hal is ultimately diagnosed with terminal cancer, he chooses to maintain his late-in-life joie de vivre. Because for Hal, quite frankly, life’s too short not to be happy.

By contrast, Oliver-in-the-present is paralyzed — with loneliness and self-doubt, with the weight of carrying other people’s problems, with the burden of, as he puts it, historical consciousness, and, with well, general sadness. He can’t break out of his funk and be happy, even when happiness — in the form of Melanie Laurent’s Anna — is staring him in the face. The grief over Hal’s demise is debilitating enough, but in fact Oliver’s such a sensitive soul that he can’t even bring himself to leave his dad’s Jack Russell, Arthur (who “speaks” in subtitles and more often then not steals his scenes), alone at home. Can Oliver find a way to overcome his emotional obstacles, take a page from his father (and free-wheeling mom (Mary Page Keller), whom we meet in flashback), and grab the reins of his life? Let’s hope so. Neither love nor pixieish yet similarly depressive significant others tend to come round every day.

This relationship side is where Beginners started to rankle. MacGregor and Laurent make for a cute couple (and Ewan’s been working on his American accent — he sounds much better than usual.) But, even allowing for the traditional meet-cute (in this case, at a costume party — he’s Sigmund Freud, she’s a mute Charlie Chaplin), far too many of their interactions together are based on outright quirkiness. When they get in the car, she points, and he drives wherever she has bidden. When they get back to her place, they keep up the “she’s a mute” pretense long after it would have gotten annoying. When the phone rings, they pretend to be each other so we can have portentous revelations about her father (a suicidal depressive, in keeping with the happy/sad theme here.)

Perhaps we’re supposed to take from all this that these are two rare and beautiful flowers who are lucky to have found each other, or that they are both such damaged souls that they can only relate to each other through these distancing mechanisms. But, to me, all of this self-conscious artifice in their dealings just made these two characters seem overdrawn and fake. (At the very least, being these two seems like it’d be exhausting.) The same goes for Oliver’s occasional voice-overs, when, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, he notes the different times he’s discussing with establishing pictures of ex-presidents and shots from LIFE magazine and such. It’s all very pretty, but what do these vignettes have to do with the rest of the tale being told? They feel like an art exercise rather than something emerging organically from the film.

In short, when dwelling on the father-son story, Beginners occasionally finds a few moments of quiet emotional truth. But I found the love story and framing devices here too crufted over with bric-a-brac to be as engaging. So, one part good, one part not-so-good — Fortunately, for Beginners, tie goes to the talking dog.

Yossarian Begins.

He told one British journalist that ‘conversations with two friends…influenced me. Each of them had been wounded in the war, one of them very seriously The first one told some very funny stories about his war experiences, but the second one was unable to understand how any humour could be associated with the horror of war. They didn’t know each other and I tried to explain the first one’s point of view to the second. He recognized that traditionally there had been lots of graveyard humour, but he could not reconcile it with what he had seen of war. It was after that discussion that the opening of Catch-22 and many incidents in it came to me.‘”

By way of Ed Champion at Reluctant Habits, Joseph Heller biographer Tracy Daugherty recounts the origins of Catch-22 in Vanity Fair. “I’ve got the perfect number. Twenty-two, it’s funnier than eighteen.

25 Faces of Clarence.

With that (methoughts) a legion of foul fiends environed me, and howled in mine ears: By way of The Daily What, witness a rather amazing impressionist — Jim Meskimen — deliver Clarence’s monologue from Richard III using 24 different celebrity voices, including Morgan Freeman, George Clooney, Richard Burton, and Woody Allen. I linked to Kevin Spacey doing impressions the other day on Twitter, but this fellow blows him out of the water.

La Violette Rose du Paris.

He’s had some hits in recent years. (Match Point,
Vicky Christina Barcelona.) And he’s definitely had some misses. (Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream.) But, if you haven’t caught it yet, Woody Allen’s ex-pat trifle Midnight in Paris is more than just the Woodster’s most profitable movie ever. It’s the best film he’s put out in at least a decade, and I suspect it’ll probably be one of the Best Picture contenders come Oscar time next spring.

Much like Manhattan, this film begins with a love letter, in the form of a languid montage, to its setting. While (naturally) a jazz ditty plays, we spend the first five minutes or so of the film ambling through the streets, parks, and cafes of the City of Lights, soaking up the Parisian ambience. (This is one of the many reasons I could see Midnight In Paris making a great double bill with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, which opened similarly.) As it happens, wandering aimlessly around this city is a favorite hobby of our protagonist, Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter looking to find inspiration for his first novel in the old corners of gay Paree. Unfortunately, his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) doesn’t share this proclivity: She prefers cabs, shopping, and expensive jewelry. (If that doesn’t tell you what to expect from her character, her tea party parents — Kurt Fuller and In the Loop‘s Mimi Kennedy — should close the deal.)

And so it is that one night, while Inez is out dancing with a know-it-all acquaintance (Michael Sheen), Gil happens to hitch a ride in a vintage automobile and finds himself at what appears to be a costume party. The thing is, the guy on the piano (Yyves Heck) looks exactly like Cole Porter, the couple he falls in with — the Fitzgeralds of New York — just happen to be called Scott (Tom “Loki” Hiddleston) and Zelda (Allison Pill), and the gruff guy at the coffee shop (Corey Stoll) they take him to is the spitting image, in word and deed, of Ernest Hemingway. Apparently in Paris, the past isn’t even past… or at least once it’s past midnight.

So, yes, somehow the Lost Generation has been found, and soon enough Gil is relishing the movable feast: He’s getting book tips from Hemingway and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), talking rhinos with Dali (Adrien Brody), running movie ideas by Bunuel (Adrien de Van), and falling in love with one of Picasso’s muses, the lovely Adrianna (Marion Cotillard). All the while, Gil begins to ignore his “real” life in the 21st century as too humdrum and mundane. After all, how you gonna keep Gil on the screenwriting farm after he’s seen Gay Paree? But, if the 21st century isn’t good enough for Gil, why should those madcap 1920’s be good enough for Adrianna? Nostalgia infects us no matter what our time, and so we beat on, borne back ceaselessly into the past…

As Allen’s fans have already figured out by the second reel, Woody is repeating himself here somewhat. (After a career as long and prolific as his, it’s to be expected!) Replace nostalgia with love of the cinema, and Gil’s time-traveling to the era he idolizes isn’t too far afield from Mia Farrow’s romance with matinee idol Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo. (For that matter, everything involving Michael Sheen’s pompous academic is set-up for another variation of the Marshall McLuhan joke from Annie Hall.) And Allen has always been one for high-culture namedropping in his writing and films. It’s just that this time, the likes of T.S. Eliot, Man Ray, Josephine Baker, and Alice B. Toklas are actual cameos rather than just allusions.

So, yes, Allen may have trod this ground before, but Midnight in Paris nonetheless works, for several reasons. For one, Owen Wilson — an actor I’ve never really felt one way or the other about — is one of the best Allen analogues to come down the pike in awhile. He manages to capture Woody’s usual collection of neuroses while coming across as more charming and self-effacing then Allen really can anymore. For another, the movie doesn’t aspire to deep philosophical truths about relationships and/or the meaning of life (like, say, the existentialism pervading Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors). It has some insightful things to say about the nature of nostalgia, and otherwise just aims to show us a good time. As they say in the closest thing we’ve got to Paris stateside, NYC notwithstanding, laissez les bons temps rouler.

From Mars to the Arctic (to your hands), Life.

In the trailer bin of late (along with the Bat, the Spider, and the Forelock):

  • Gwyneth Paltrow has more than just a few Coldplay albums to answer for in the scary-impressive trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, also with Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Enrico Colantoni, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, John Hawkes, and Elliot Gould. This goes right next to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as one of my most-anticipated films of the fall.

  • Taylor Kitsch braves the deserts of Mars, Peter Gabriel by way of Arcade Fire, and some of the earliest fanboys going in the teaser for Andrew Stanton’s John Carter (formerly of Mars), with Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, with Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe. That’s a great cast, and I like the period look on Earth, if nothing else.

  • Real-life couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz discover their new family home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in the trailer for Jim Sheridan’s Dream House, also with Naomi Watts. With such an A-list director and cast, this film probably deserved a trailer that didn’t give away a key plot point — I suggest not clicking through here if you’re one to avoid spoilage.

  • Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law reunite for a second installment of Holmesian shenanigans in the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, with Noomi Rapace tagging in for Rachel McAdams and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty. This looks…pretty bad, but the first one turned out better than expected, so who knows?

  • Jude Law also takes time to disappear, and thus set up a grand adventure of magic and self-discovery for his son, in the the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, with Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Sasha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Michael Stuhlbarg, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Frances De La Tour, Helen McCrory, and Emily Mortimer. Like Dream House, I’m more interested in the pedigree than this trailer. But we’ll see.

  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead really never should have gotten involved in this particular Norwegian research project in the trailer for Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing, also with Joel Edgerton, Jonathan Lloyd Walker, Ulrich Thomsen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Unlike most fan-folk, I’m perfectly fine with a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film, just because it’s one of the scarier horror premises going. Let’s hope van Heijningen makes the most of his shot.

When Their Hearts Grew Cold.

Gilbert, Morris and Sumner look back on their career and see just as much humour – sometimes deliberate, sometimes unintentional – as Hook does (“Joy Division? Four tossers from Salford,” is how he remembers that most mythologised of bands), which only makes their current, Pink Floyd-style impasse all the more unfortunate. ‘When you get in a band you never consider the day it’ll all just stop,’ Morris says, looking suddenly a little lost.

They’ve walked away, but not in silence: The Guardian‘s Rob Fitzpatrick checks in on the unfortunate demise of New Order. “There’s no future for New Order. It’s hard to draw a line under everything, but I think we have.

King Under the Mountain.

Far over the misty mountains cold, to dungeons deep and caverns old, we must away ere break of day to seek the pale enchanted gold. After revealing the rest of the dwarven company, Peter Jackson & co release a pic of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Looks younger than I’ve imagined, but it’s hard to disentangle my vision of Thorin from the Rankin/Bass cartoon at this late date.

Update: If you have a hankering to see these dwarves in action, PJ has released another fun production video, below.

Players Two, Game On.

This can mean only one thing — invasion. Game of Thrones Season 2 reloads with Liam Cunningham (Clash of the Titans) as Davos, the Onion Knight, Natalie Dormer (The Tudors) as Margaery Tyrell, Gwendoline Christie (The Imagnarium of Dr. Parnassus) as Brienne of Tarth, Carice Van Houten (Valkryie, Black Book) as Melisandre, Stephen Dillane (44 Inch Chest, John Adams‘s Jefferson) as Stannis Baratheon, and Oliver Ford Davies (The Phantom Menace‘s Sio Bibble) as Maester Cressen.

For now, I’m keeping with my plan to not read ahead of the show, so the only characters I’m even a little familiar with are Stannis and Margaery, and that’s only via foreshadowing in the first book. But I’m willing to bet Dillane is a great fit, just because, as far as I’ve seen, Dillane is a great fit in just about anything.

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