Is it just me or does Daniel Craig, with each passing Bond film, look more and more like the William Shatner mask worn by Michael Myers in Halloween? For me, the biggest problem with the Craig Bond Era has been Craig…he showed a promising range initially but was never quite right for the role. But I digress. He does fine here (I guess) in his fourth outing. So apart from Craig saddled with being Craig and a snooze-inducing Sam Smith Bond theme (man, what a step down from Adele who knocked it out of the park with Skyfall!), let’s inspect all the good stuff in Spectre…because, boy, there’s a lot of it. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
The third Daniel Craig headlining Bond flick, Skyfall, opens up like many Bond films of yore with a spectacular chase sequence that involves motorcycles atop Istanbul’s famous market and a fist-fight atop a moving train that ends with Bond getting accidentally shot by another agent trying to take out his combatant. And as he falls into the river below, the traditional Bond credit sequence begins with Adele’s superb theme song recalling Shirley Bassey’s iconic Goldfinger.
It seems we were in for more of the same, but did they just kill Bond…even if only symbolically? During the credits you are reminded of the masterstroke of hiring cinematographer Roger Deakins (arguably the best in the biz today) and his frequent cohort, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes as their names come up in that comfortably familiar Bond credit sequence font. Never before has a Bond film been given such behind-the-scenes pedigree, and armed with a sharper than normal script – the dynamic duo pay homage, deconstruct, and resurrect from one amazing set piece to the next the entire Bond oeuvre. Continue reading
Just six months after introducing us to one of the most unlikable and miserable movie couples viewers had ever seen in Revolutionary Road, director Sam Mendes takes us on a little detour from his usual style/genre and allows us to meet one of the most likable on-screen pairings in recent years with Away We Go.
TV’s John Krasinski is the amiable goof-ball and insurance-futures’ salesman Burt and SNL alum Maya Rudolph (in a quietly revelatory performance built on her gift of perfectly timed facial expressions) is his long-time girlfriend Verona who does illustrations for medical textbooks. Suddenly they find themselves pregnant and searching for a real home in this semi-autobiographical tale from scribes Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The pair, untethered to their current situations, decide to travel all over North America visiting family and friends so that they might find that perfect spot to lay down roots. Fans of Eggers’ books should be pleased that the screenplay is imbued with his popular brand of sharp humor mixed with diluted sentimentality. The tale of these two thirty-somethings trying to do the right thing not only for themselves but for their daughter-to-be is filled with humor, warmth and a subdued pathos that allows us to relate to the both the chaos around the characters and their desire to shield their baby from it.
Under Mendes surprisingly laid-back director’s hand, the material and the performances rise above the clichés of the “she’s having a baby!” sub-genre of dramedies while successfully interweaving elements of “discovering yourself on a road trip” indie flicks. Episodic and sometimes meandering in nature, the film’s acts range from laugh-out-loud hilarious (including a scene-stealing Allison Janney making a bid for worst mother of the year in grand comedic style) to laughably absurd (witness Maggie Gyllenhaal as a self-righteous alterna-mom with an unfounded hatred towards strollers) to unexpectedly poignant (in an unexpected side-trip to Miami to help Burt’s brother through a crisis). You won’t find any screamingly awful delivery room scenes here, and while there is some semi-crude sexual humor, it’s reality-based instead of raunchy and never overshadows the film’s heart.
As with any Mendes’ production, the cinematography (this time from Ellen Kuras) is artistically sound and serves as the perfect place for Mendes to paint his details. When the director uses a steady tracking shot moving through the passengers on a plane in mid-flight to focus in on the sun’s hazy golden light coming through the windows highlighting the faces of our two stars sitting side-by-side, you can see Burt and Verona unified in a yearning pensive loneliness that makes you instantly root for their success. The promise of that scene is wonderfully fulfilled in the closing act (the details of which I will not divulge) which is probably the most hopeful denouement — beautifully understated and with minimal dialogue — you will ever find in a Mendes’ film. As with anything in life, even in the most hopeful of atmospheres there is still some uncertainty, but if we’re lucky, we’ll see the talented Maya Rudolph in more lead roles and Sam Mendes will take time for more pleasant detours such as this.
With last week’s unnecessary X-Men sequel? prequel? reboot? oh who cares?—and this week’s Star Trek hullabaloo, someone like me is left to wonder when will it be safe to venture back into the darkness of the movie theaters? Thankfully the summer movie season has become a refuge for some decent counter-programming ignored by most feasting on Hollywood’s fatty products, but even better, it’s a good time to start checking out the early trailers and buzz for the gilded autumnal slate of films reeking of prestige.
Here’s my list of the most anticipated films for Summer 2009 and beyond ordered chronologically by alleged release date. No sequels or franchises allowed beyond this point!
Drag Me to Hell: (5/29/09) This is that horror flick from guru Sam Raimi for those who enjoyed The Evil Dead trilogy over his Spiderman trilogy. It looks kinda goofy, kinda ghouly and kinda fun with a smoking hot Alison Lohman playing a mortgage broker who gets damned to hell after turning down a little old lady’s application for an extension–how timely! My only concerns are why this thing isn’t rated R and where the heck is Bruce Campbell? Check out the trailer or go to hell.
If this one cops-out on the gore, be sure to check out the Norwegian zombie Nazi romp Dead Snow due to infect art-houses in June.
Away We Go: (6/5/09, limited) After giving us one of the most depressing films of recent memory with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes goes all quirky dramedy on us with this one featuring a surprisingly likable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expecting couple re-examining their life together. Let’s hope this doesn’t suffer the same unfair fate of Sunshine Cleaning, which was mostly ignored by mainstream audiences due to a bad marketing campaign that endlessly compared it to other (and lesser) quirky dramedies. Novelist/memoirist du-jour Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay. Check out the trailer or go away.
Public Enemies: (7/1/09) This is an A-lister all the way and promises to be the thinking person’s summer event flick. Michael Mann, who has proven that both filming in digital doesn’t mean things have to be shaky and grainy and that Depression era films need not be saturated in sepia tones, has crafted what looks to be a crackling period gangster flick inspired by true events featuring a swaggering Johnny Depp, an always brooding Christian Bale and a seductively demure Marion Cotillard. This thing looks like a real brick that is about to be thrown through everyone’s window. Check out the trailer or go to jail. I reckon I won’t be all alone when I take that ride come July.
District 9: (8/14/09) It’s so rare these days to see a non-franchised non-comic book based sci-fi flick come out during the summer. It’s even cooler when that sci-fi film is presented by Peter Jackson, has been kept mostly under wraps, and is just now releasing the early stages of an ultra-clever viral marketing campaign. The trailer for this one is wickedly deceptive (it looks like some political documentary) and reveals just enough of the “alien…shall we say, invasion?” plotline to tantalize viewers. This one has some major potential for social commentary, satire and some kick-ass alien action as it blends elements from V, Alien Nation and Starship Troopers. Check out the humorous mock-site Maths from Outer Space, or better yet, check out the hella-cool trailer.
Antichrist: (Unknown) The only thing more interesting to watch than an established director attempting to go back to his roots (see Sam Raimi above) is watching a controversial auteur go off the deep end with something he’s never attempted before. Here, Great Dane Lars Von Trier (last seen directing people acting on minimalist chalk-lined stages in Dogville and Manderlay) goes the psychological horror route with this tale of an emotionally crippled couple seeking refuge at their cabin in the woods and perhaps coming in contact with…Satan? Guaranteed to be his most stylistic film since Zentropa (aka Europa), Antichrist‘s reception at this month’s Cannes Film Festival will go a long way in determining its potential success in the States. Look for a limited Fall release and prepared to be disturbed.
Shutter Island: (10/2/09) Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a Martin Scrosese adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel. Need I say more? Added bonus for me: my favorite underrated actress Emily Mortimer co-stars. I was in line for this before I even knew it was being made.
Where the Wild Things Are: (10/19/09) Any doubts about this Malkovich-less Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book should be wiped away by what is hands down one of the most infectiously appealing trailers ever crafted. The versatile Eggers appears again as co-scripter. Go ahead, get wild and check it out.
Amelia: (10/23/09) Will Indian born Mira Nair finally achieve a massive cross-over hit with this bio-pic of Amelia Earhart, or will this be another well intentioned and glossy miscalculation like Vanity Fair? If Nair can inject the emotional connection she so effortlessly achieved with Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake into the still unsolved mystery surrounding the famed female pilot, then we should be in for something special, and watch out for Hilary Swank in the lead role to nab her third Oscar nod.
Tree of Life: (Unknown, potentially 2010) Having once allowed two decades to pass between films, legendary auteur Terrence Malick has now adopted a more Kubrickian five to ten year span between projects. Given his notoriously long post-production process, this one might not find its way into theaters until the end of 2010 even though principle photography has been completed for some time. Though this Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama has been kept tightly under wraps, the advanced buzz surrounding a potential IMAX companion piece and a special effects team working on the “dino shots” make it clear this will be more than just some dreamily poetic coming-of-age mood piece. For the first time, we might witness Malick go whole-hog. As such, film purists should be waiting with baited breath.
Other potential films of interest include Quentin Tarantino’s spelling and good-taste-be-damned WWII flick Inglourious Basterds (to be released in August) and James Cameron’s uber-secretive sci-fi epic Avatar (to be released around Christmas) that will either be the biggest bomb or hit of the holiday season.
What films are you most looking forward to? Leave your top pics in the comment form!
Written by David H. Schleicher
They’ll Never Have Paris, 3 January 2009
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
In one of the classiest pieces of stunt casting in recent years, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes reunites his wife, Kate Winslet, with her Titanic shipmate Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Wheelers in his screen adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road. It adds an appealing accessibility to an otherwise depressing tale.
The film opens boldly enough, spending just a few fleeting moments showing us how the Wheelers met before throwing us head first into their disaster of a marriage. April (Winslet) always had dreams of being an actress and Frank (DiCaprio), well, Frank always had some vague idea of living in Paris. The film chronicles their sad story. The Wheelers are meant to represent the post WWII generation who during the prosperous 1950’s created suffocating lives due to dreams deferred in exchange for chasing the so-called “American Dream” that they never really believed in. Everyone else in the film is in some sort of love with the Wheelers and their picture perfect lives, but the Wheelers hate themselves, each other, their neighbors, and what they have become. It’s a damning little portrait that has been painted before in literature and film, but never quite so acutely.
I haven’t read Richard Yates’ novel, but I am currently reading his collection of short stories which address many of the same themes and bear his hallmarks present here: cutting dialog, keen insights into the psyche of his sometimes despicable or just plain sad characters, and obsessive attention to details of time and place. In terms of the tone of Yates’ writing, Mendes is successful in his translation. However, that tone that worked so well on the page doesn’t always work on screen. We’re never sure if we’re meant to sympathize with the Wheelers or if Mendes wants us to view it as a dark comedy where we watch in sick delight as the popular kids who always thought they were more interesting than everyone else grow up to be horribly dysfunctional and cripplingly normal. Much of the audience I saw the film with laughed to break the tension during some of Mendes’ trademarked “uncomfortable dinner table scenes”, but we all watched in horror as the film spun out of control into its downer of a climax.
Ultimately one sits through a film like this for the acting, and it doesn’t disappoint on that level. Taking a line from the film, DiCaprio is a “cracker jack” playing for the first time a husband, a father, and a hopelessly average Joe. Winslet is on more familiar ground, but never has she been given so much range to roam, and her director husband lets her run wild and free. It’s a neurotic, brave, and sometimes questionable performance that is a rare sight to behold. At times it seems as if Mendes is directing a stage-play rather than a film, and he lets the whole cast scream and holler against his finely detailed period backdrops, but it’s still entertaining for those who enjoy watching polished professionals (including Michael Shannon portraying a man on leave from an insane asylum in a perfect pitch) stretch their acting muscles.
One watches the grim dissolution of this marriage wondering if there isn’t some subtext to explore with regards to Winslet and Mendes’ own seemingly perfect Hollywood marriage. And as unlikable as they are at times, and no matter how much we would rather laugh at then relate to another human being, one can’t escape the sickening feeling that there might be a little bit of Frank and April Wheeler in all of us.
Check out my reviews of Sam Mendes’ previous films:
SPOILER ALERT: Her hair does catch on fire!
With the debates and baseball playoffs still holding most of my attention, films have had to take a backseat. So I’m eschewing my traditional review format here for the moderately successful The Duchess. Saul Dibb’s “inspired by a true story” costume drama about the Duchess of Devonshire is a fairly entertaining run-of-the-mill feminist bodice-ripper. It’s one of those movies impeccably shot, full of costumes and pageantry, and featuring A-class acting that is hard to dislike, but just doesn’t have that special “it” due to our familiarity with this stereotypical story of a woman of immense wealth and power who is forced to chose between her true feelings and what society demands of her. In the titular role, Keira Knightley acts the hell out of her part, and for the first time, seems to fully inhabit that old-school “Movie Star” mold. Ralph Fiennes, as the Duke, delivers a master-class in the portrayal of an elitist creep. It’s another classic turn from the chameleon-like British thespian who really should have had an Oscar on the mantle a long time ago. Featuring hearty doses of smarmy satire and stuffy 18th-century social mores, The Duchess is no Barry Lyndon, but it fits the bill as an HBO-style production of Masterpiece Theater.
However, I couldn’t help but think the best things about this recent trip to the cinema were the trailers, and thoughts of the film teasers oddly plagued my devouring of the main course. Yes, there was the preview for Oliver Stone’s inexplicable W (opening next week) which looks funnier and funnier with each new TV spot. But there were also two subtly thrilling trailers for some prime-time Oscar bait: In one corner, we have what looks to be a stunning film adaptation of a controversial stage-play that touches on the Catholic abuse scandals among other heady topics starring a habited Meryl Streep, a frocked Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a perfectly cast Amy Adams as a naive nun. I have faith no art-house film buff will want to miss Doubt. In the other corner is Sam Mendes seemingly stirring and evocative adaptation of Richard Yate’s novel, Revolutionary Road, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a young couple on the brink of emotional ruin in a 1950’s suburban purgatory. The cinematography and the acting in this, as in Doubt, looks to be amazing. While a perfectly adequate The Duchess will quickly fade from memory, these two films, based on their trailers and pedigree, look to be the type that viewers and critics will write home about at the end of the year. I can’t wait.
To watch the trailers, visit:
Revolutionary Road: http://www.revolutionaryroadmovie.com/
CAPTION: Thank god we’re off that sinking ship!
CAPTION: Ghengis Khan is all up in this yurt.
So last week I saw that flick Mongol, you know, the new epic about Ghengis Khan made by a Russian director (Sergei Bodrov), starring a Japanese dude (Tadonubo Asano), nominated for an Oscar, and inexplicably released stateside in the middle of the summer movie season. It was a pretty good movie that held my interest for two hours by exposing me to a culture I know little about and featuring a well played out historical epic story arc complete with requisite kick-ass battle scenes. Sitting there getting frosty in the air-conditioned theater while the heat and humidity raged outside, I couldn’t help thinking this was a movie better suited for the prestigious autumnal season. With the most gluttonous of film seasons in full swing (is The Dark Knight out yet?), I decided to take a look ahead at my favorite season in film and weather.
Here I present my list of most anticipated movies for Fall 2008:
1. The Miracle at St. Anna (scheduled release date: 9/26)
The Director: Spike Lee
The Stars: Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, James Gandolfini, Joseph Gordon Levitt, some cute Italian kid, Alexandra Maria Lara, and a boatload of other people and familiar faces
The Scoop: Okay, so I will admit it right here, right now. I love Spike Lee. I even liked She Hate Me. He’s a cunning provocateur who’s had numerous peaks and valleys in his career but just won’t stop no matter what and always seems to get his name in the papers–witness Clint Eastwood telling him recently to “shut his face”. Spike is coming off the most commercially successful film of his long career with Inside Man. With this adaptation of the novel by James McBride about a group of African-American soldiers trapped in Tuscany during WWII, he’s giving us his first epic since Malcom X. The trailer for this film is a smashing success that manages to sell the film as both a murder mystery and a searing Saving Private Ryan style WWII drama. This latest Spike Lee Joint has so many great things going for it: an auteur on the precipice of a personal artistic and commercial Renaissance (much like the one Scorsese recently went through with The Aviator and The Departed); a great storyline that has the potential to provoke discussions of history, race, religion and politics in a historic Presidential election year; and a multi-ethnic cast that includes a cute Italian kid, and as a special bonus for me, the devastatingly seductive Alexandra Maria Lara, whose beauty alone made Francis Ford Coppola’s recent debacle Youth Without Youth worth watching.
Watch the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3941007641/
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (scheduled release date: 12/19)
The Director: David Fincher
The Stars: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond
The Scoop: This is the fantastic case of a gimmick film (it tells the not so simple story of a man who ages backwards, folks) with a literary pedigree (adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I first saw the trailer for this in front of the latest Indiana Jones flick, and the packed house was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Its epic scope appears to be a complete departure for director Fincher, and its unique story and images sweep over you in the masterfully crafted trailer-much kudos thus far to the marketing team. This film has the potential to be monumentally huge or just another curiosity grabbing for Oscar gold at Christmastime. Will Fincher (robbed of an Oscar nod for Zodiac last year) and uber-star Pitt (robbed last year for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) finally get their due?
CAPTION: Two Oscars please, my good man! Oscars for me and the Finch!
Watch the trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/thecuriouscaseofbenjaminbutton/
Official Site: http://www.benjaminbutton.com/
3. Australia (scheduled release date: 11/14)
The Director: Baz Luhrmann
The Stars: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Australia!
The Scoop: Baz the Spazz changes gears completely with this big historical epic depicting heroism and romance against the backdrop of a Japanese attack on Australia during WWII. The trailer sells the imagery and scope of the film very well, making it look Gone with the Wind Down Under, though the frame story of Kidman telling a fairy tale to the Aborigine girl seems a bit strained (and remarkably similar to Tarsem’s The Fall.) Luhrmann appears to have abandoned his hyper kinetic style for the dreadful sumptuousness that always seems to sell tickets during the big holidays at the end of the year. Kidman and Jackman certainly look the parts, and lord knows they could both use a big hit. Will critics be eager to embrace the new Luhrmann after a seven year hiatus? More than any other film, I think critics have the chance to make or break this one.
Watch the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2917663001/
Official Site: http://www.australiamovie.com/
4. The Soloist (scheduled release date: 11/21)
The Director: Joe Wright
The Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx
The Scoop: Brit Joe Wright atones for his period pieces by making this American set musical biopic. Downey Jr. is back on the A-list, the director is taking on a genre held in high favor in recent years, and playing a schizophrenic musical genius seems right up Foxx’s alley. There are no trailers or official sites yet, but I can’t wait to see what kind of tracking long shots Wright cooks up for this one–I’m picturing a shot the begins with an overhead dolly and travels down and through the crowd and orchestra at a grand concert hall.
5. Revolutionary Road (scheduled release date: 12/26)
The Director: Sam Mendes
The Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
The Scoop: I have to admit, the plot of this one (from a novel by Richard Yates) sounds like a snore-fest: a young couple in 1950’s Connecticut deal with problems and such. However, Mendes has yet to make a bad film, suburban dystopia is his bread and butter (American Beauty, anyone?), and the reunion of Titanic stars Leo and Kate in a Christmastime release give this film some palpable buzz. No trailers or official site have appeared yet.
Other Films of Interest:
Changeling: 10/31. The latest from Clint Eastwood has some mixed buzz coming from its Cannes’ premier. This 1920’s set psychological thriller about a mother who begins to doubt the identity of her young son who has been returned to her after going missing will have a hard line to tow while it tries to convince people it’s not a remake of a horror film with the same name and is instead a prestigious Oscar bid for its uber-star Angelina Jolie.
Defiance: 12/2. Yet another WWII epic, this one is based on a true story and staring Daniel Craig. Directed by Edward Zwick, the film of course reeks of quality, and the trailer has been getting some good buzz (at least amongst my friends and family), but it looks nobly cliched to me. If that new Spike Lee Joint strikes a cord, this runs the risk of being overshadowed as the later release.
Watch the trailer for Defiance: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2008154393/
Oh, yeah, there’s also a new James Bond flick (Craig again) idiotically entitled Quantum of Solace (11/7), and a wacky crime caper from Oscar darlings the Coen Brothers zanily called Burn After Reading (9/12) and staring, you guessed it, Brad Pitt.
Watch the Quantum of Solace trailer: http://www.moviefone.com/movie/quantum-of-solace/26922/trailer?trailerId=2150289
Written by David H. Schleicher