Thursday, September 30, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2010) – Review

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (from now on being referred to as Red Riding: 1983) is the third part of the Red Riding Trilogy (see part 1 and part 2). The film is a detective-style mystery, again with motifs of corruption and literal corruption (and it is honestly going to be hard to delve too deep into the discussion of the use of corruption in the film without spoilers, but I will try my best). The police are corrupt, the township’s elite are corrupt – this is clearly shown (wonderfully summed up in the best line in the film “To the North – where we do what we bloody want!”), but how corruption of the soul affects the human element of the characters is different. In the first two films, the main characters were to an extent innocent at the beginning only to be corrupted and destroyed. Here, the main characters are within the system and begin to feel remorseful for what they have done or the way things are. And what is interesting about the narrative is that even though Maurice Jobson is very much a contributing factor to corruption apparent in Yorkshire the viewer is quick to align with him when guilt has his conscience looking for redemption. Is it because Jobson, while certainly a part of it, is not as bad as the really bad men, or are we, as humans, yearning to look for the good? John Piggott on the other hand has been diminished by the death of his father, yet given a chance to redeem himself and do something positive with his life – he is initially hesitant. It is not until something unmistakable happens that he is truly committed. These two characters fulfill the role of detective for the audience – Piggott the more traditional detective and similar to the first two main characters in the series, while Jobson serves more of an informational role in the narrative. His flashbacks and discoveries aid the viewer in uncovering the truth, but he does not seem to directly help Piggott. The flashbacks are really the most interesting parts of the film, and are all fantastically shot and staged. Since the viewer has gone through two films, knows the past, knows the characters, deeper insight into the characters and their motivations is a welcome device. However, the flashbacks are almost seamlessly cut with the present making it at times difficult to initially tell when and where characters are, but this is really only a minor issue. The character of BJ has an interesting transition throughout the series. Finally, in Red Riding: 1983 he, like the other main characters, is able to stand up and say enough and act to find his salvation and escape. The Wolf’s identity also plays heavily into the idea of the corruption of man juxtaposed to societal ideals for man, who and what should be the best of men. The most evil men in the series are those most trusted in society to do right and be right. Thus, the message of the series seems that even in the darkest corners of human corruption (I have used this word so many times across these three reviews), there is still salvation and escape possible for the good men – light in the dark if you will, which is echoed by the final shot (the whole series has been gloomy, but the final shot is sunny and bright). The series overall demands astute attention from its viewers or they will surely be lost and not catch everything that they need to fully understand the story. And yet, here is where the final part feels like a letdown. It is a good film, well made and acted, but it does not feel complete. For a series that did demand much from its audience, it seems to end very abruptly and with many lingering questions. The main narrative question is answered, rest assured, but the viewer is left to make assumptions on many seemingly key subplots and continuations of the main thread (aka, we find out who the Wolf is – but are left without any other definitive concrete actions to sum up the story). Despite this weakness (caused more by the narrative across the series rather than the film itself), Red Riding: 1983 is another good mystery film in the very good series.


Technical achievements: director Anand Tucker has apparent talent, which is on display in this film, but often is unable to make satisfyingly complete narratives. His use of the camera to alert viewers to details, scene blocking and ability to get good performances are his strengths, but he succeeds more at directing scenes than a full film that flows (though, this is his best film to date). David Higgs’s cinematography is very good, which it needed to be, as both the first two parts are remarkably shot (he used the Red One digital camera). The use of light in the flashbacks is aesthetically interesting and accomplished a “in the past” feel for those scenes. It is a subtle but nice touch. Alison Dominitz’s production design and Barrington Pheloung’s score are also on par with the previous films and fit the tone and atmosphere of the series. David Morrissey finally got to show his acting chops. He is able to be very emotive with his eyes which give his performance a nice layered journey. Mark Addy is also quite good in the film. He does a great job playing a damaged character. Daniel Mays, Peter Mullan and Robert Sheehan are the standouts among a good supporting cast. The series in general has been filled with very good performances and great work from the directors and crew – this film is no different.

Red Riding: 1983 is at its best as a mystery and character study of tarnished men, but does not seem to answer all the questions which would more effectively wrap up the series. 7/10

The Red Riding Trilogy is available on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon.com or stream Red Riding: 1983 on Netflix.com

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

David Fincher – Movies Spotlight – October 2010

David Fincher is known for his dark thrillers, often working with a saturated color palette. His use of fluid tracking shots, low camera angles, and low-key lighting along with the cold temperature colors has made his style one of the most recognizable – perfectly fitting the tone of his work. He has become one of Hollywood’s best auteur directors (and easily one of the top directors working today). His new film, The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg the creator of Facebook, is this month’s must see and a likely favorite in the 2011 Oscar Best Picture race.

Early Career:

Fincher started making films when he was eight years old using an 8 mm camera. Once of age, he decided not to go the film school route getting a job instead at Korty Films as a camera loader, among other odd jobs. From there he moved on to the famed Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in 1980, working on such films as Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But Fincher really wanted to direct films, so he left ILM to gain experience directing commercials. His first was for the American Cancer Society – it featured a fetus smoking a cigarette. The commercial got the attention of producers in LA and he was hired to direct his first film – the Rick Springfield 1985 documentary The Beat of the Live Drum. He then returned to commercials directing spots for such companies as Revlon, Converse, Nike, Pepsi, Sony, and Levi’s. With the birth of the more mainstream music video thanks to the success of MTV, Fincher saw them as a more interesting medium to pursue his directing.

Propaganda, Music Videos and Alien 3:

Fincher joined the video production company Propaganda Films, a company that by 1990 was producing almost a third of all music videos made in the US. Propaganda Films has a very impressive list of directors that went on to success in film including: Fincher, Michael Bay, John Dahl, Antoine Fuqua, Spike Jonze, Alex Proyas, and Mark Romanek. At Propaganda Films, Fincher made many iconic and well know music videos for artists Madonna (Express Yourself and Vogue), Billy Idol (Cradle of Love), Paula Abdul (Straight Up), Aerosmith (Janie’s Got a Gun), The Rolling Stones (Love Is Strong), Nine Inch Nails (Only), and Michael Jackson (Who Is It), among many others (and multiple videos for a few of the listed artists). After directing several highly praised music videos, he finally got his chance to do a feature film. 20th Century Fox hired him to do the next in the successful Alien series – Alien 3. But Fincher became entangled in disputes with the studio over the budget and script. He felt that Fox was not putting the necessary trust in him as a filmmaker (though remember this was his first feature, and on a higher profile film). When the film came out in 1992, it was met with poor reviews from critics and did not perform well with the general movie-going population either (he is not the only very talented director to produce an average film while working on the Alien franchise as Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection aka Alien 4 is considered the worst of the series and not a very good film in general). The experience was awful for Fincher and he went back to music videos working with The Rolling Stones (see above).

Brad Pitt and Settling into the Hollywood System:

In 1995, Fincher was dawn back into feature films by a great screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker called Se7en about two detectives tracking down a serial killer whose murders are based on the seven deadly sins. Again, he had issues with the studio, this time New Line Cinema, when they wanted him to shoot a new ending refusing to use the original one due to its disturbing and shocking climactic scene. But star Brad Pitt stepped in and said he would not be apart of the project if the ending was changed. The film opened with the original ending to acclaim from critics and fans alike. The film is widely regarded as one of the best of the decade. Fincher and cinematographer Darius Khondji’s use of the bleach-bypass process to create a dark look is heralded by filmmakers and often copied. Next he made The Game with Michael Douglas about an executive who is given an odd birthday present by his brother – a live-action game that begins to dominate his life. It also opened to good reviews from critics, but only mild box office success. He then cast Pitt in Fight Club, a film about an insomniac who starts a bare-knuckle fighting club that evolves into a cult-like group. Surprisingly, given the film’s almost unanimous love today, the film opened to bad reviews from critics and failed at the box office – though many of those same critics and fans changed their tunes, as the film appeared on many best of the year and best of the decade lists. Aside from Alien 3, Fincher started his career with three very good films and buckets of critical acclaim. So, for his next film he made the David Koepp scripted film (probably his first mistake was working with Koepp; sure he is famous and highly successful, but his scripts generally yield poorly structured and not great films) Panic Room. It is probably his most mainstream film (and also probably the worst of his career, not counting Alien 3). He then took a five year break developing Zodiac with screenwriter James Vanderbilt about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer. It was the first film he shot digitally (as digital is the growing medium now), aside from a few sequences that digital could not accommodate. Upon its release, it was one of the best received films of the year, but could not maintain its buzz and failed to garner a single Oscar nod and it struggled at the box office. Due to this, it is considered as one of the most underrated films of the decade (though I was not a huge fan). Up next Fincher decided to again work with Pitt on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button about a man who ages backwards. The film was beautifully done receiving an Oscar best picture nod and Fincher his first best director nod (and it is one of my favorites of the year). Fincher has a fantastic track record critically, with Panic Room being the only blemish on his resume (Alien 3 not being entirely his fault). Now with The Social Network, he is again primed to have an Oscar contender in a number of categories.

Future Projects:

Fincher is currently in the process of filming his next film, a remake of the Swedish crime-mystery (and first of the Millennium Trilogy) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher has a great crew on the film with a script from excellent screenwriter Steven Zaillian, his producer from The Social Network Scott Rudin, production designer Donald Graham Burt, who did his last three films, and newcomer cinematographer Fredrik Backar. The film will star Rooney Mara (poised for a breakout year; she is also in The Social Network), Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgard. Then, he is attached to direct the action film The Killer based on the French graphic novel by Matz. He is also producing the animated film The Goon starring Paul Giamatti based on the comic series by Eric Powell. Fincher is one of the best, and every film he makes has cinema fans eagerly awaiting its release.


David Fincher Selected Career Highlights:

1.)    Seven (1995)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
2.)    The Game (1997) – Director – available on DVD
3.)    Fight Club (1999)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
4.)    Zodiac (2007) – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
5.)    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
*editor’s picks
David Fincher’s Filmography is also available on Netflix.com to rent and stream

Monday, September 27, 2010

At the Movies – October 2010 – Part 3: Best of the Month


Best of the Month:

Must See of the Month:

The Social Network (David Fincher) – Drama – Oct 1
The film is about the founders of the social networking site Facebook, primarily Mark Zuckerberg. With director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, the film pretty much has the best of both worlds. Fincher is a top ten directing talent (currently working directors) and Sorkin has an outstanding track record with hits on TV and film. Not to mention that the film is being produced by Scott Rudin (one of the best). If you thought it could not get better…You were wrong – Atticus Ross (whose work on The Book of Eli was very good) and Trent Reznor are scoring the film, very talents DP Jeff Cronenweth is shooting it (he did Fight Club and One Hour Photo) and Donald Graham Burt is doing the production design (which is great because he did Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button too). The film also has a great young cast with Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara (star of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake) and Andrew Garfield (who was fabulous in Red Riding: 1974, and he is the new Spider-Man). This film is not only a Oscar best picture contender, it is also a must see for its cultural relevance. How often do we see art directly integrate with present real life social trends? And, Justin Timberlake is getting best supporting actor buzz (as is Garfield, with Eisenberg getting best leading actor praise) out of the festival screenings (this must be good right?). It is a Fincher film, so of course critic love it and cannot be fully trusted – but even so, this is the must see film of the month (and likely will be one of the ten best of the year). Check out the trailer.

Worth Checking Out (if not in theatres then at home):

Let Me In (Matt Reeves) – Horror – Oct 1
The film is a remake of the Swedish hit Let the Right One In about a young boy, Owen, who is bullied at school. He meets a young girl who moves into his apartment complex with her guardian, Abby, and the two become friends. But Abby has a secret. She is a vampire. Writer-director Matt Reeves came up through the J.J. Abrams system working on Felicity and directing Cloverfield. And a great benefit of that relationship is getting fantastic composer Michael Giacchino to score the film (he generally does all Abrams’ TV shows and films, and Pixar stuff too). Reeves also made savvy decisions bringing in cinematographer Greig Fraser (who masterfully shot last year’s Bright Star) and production designer Ford Wheeler, both of whose work is very naturalistic and organic feeling – which should fit the tone of this film beautifully. The film also has a fantastic cast with Kodi Smit-McPhee (from The Road), Chloe Grace Moretz (who we all love from Kick-Ass) and the very good Richard Jenkins. First, I just want to say: yes Hollywood, we get it, vampires are in. Second, the original is so good; did we really need this remake? But wait a minute; buzz has been very good from the festival circuit. Now, of course, there are those that dismiss the film out of hand, having not seen it, merely as it is a remake of a cult classic, one that came out last year in the U.S. no less, but critics are calling this just as good, some even calling it better. On thing is for sure, if you like vampires or thrillers this is a must see. Check out the trailer.

Stone (John Curran) – Drama – Oct 8
The film is about a convicted arsonist, Stone, who in an effort to gain parole early puts his beautiful wife on a path to intersect with his parole office. Director John Curran is coming off a very good film The Painted Veil, as is screenwriter Angus MacLachlan with the indy-hit Junebug. The film’s cinematographer Maryse Alberti was a judge at Sundance and has done fine work in the past (highlights include: Taxi to the Dark Side and The Wrestler), while production designer Tim Grimes is just getting into bigger films (he worked on many major films as art director; his first higher profile film as a production designer was The Wrester, so he has a good working relationship with the DP). The cast is very good on the film with the three co-leads being Edward Norton (who also starred in Curran’s last film), Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich. Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy has a supporting role as well as Enver Gjokaj (who was brilliant on Dollhouse; it is nice to see him get a film role in a good movie). While the film does not have much Oscar buzz, it has received great reviews out of the festivals. It looks to be a great character power-play drama. Check out the trailer.

Hereafter (Clint Eastwood) – Drama – Oct 22
The film is about a retired psychic, George, who is pulled back into the profession he left after three people are touched by death in different ways and come to him for answers. While director Clint Eastwood’s last feature was a bit flat, his track-record over the last decade has been really good (highlights include: Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River) cementing him as one of America’s top directors (though, his work in the Western genre probably already did that). To compliment Eastwood’s directing skill, the script is by Peter Morgan (who is probably the most sought after writer in Hollywood). Eastwood has the same team he had on his last four films with Tom Stern shooting it, James J. Murakami doing the production design and Eastwood scoring the film himself. Along with Morgan and himself, the film has a superstar production team with producer Kathleen Kennedy and executive producers Frank Marshall and Steven Spielberg. The film stars Matt Damon and co-stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile De France, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Jenifer Lewis, and Steve Schirripa (Bobby from The Sopranos). It is a pretty good cast. The film looks to be visually interesting and emotionally intense. The buzz is very good from early screenings. Damon’s name is being tossed around in best actor consideration (though not among the top), and it is a Clint Eastwood film – aside form the mystery of why Gran Torino was overlooked, his films are usually there on Oscar night. Check out the trailer.

At the Movies – October 2010 – Part 2: Hollywood Films


Hollywood Films:

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Life as We Know It (Greg Berlanti) – Romantic Comedy – Oct 8
The film is about Holly and Eric, two single adults who find each other irritating. But when their mutual best friends die in an accident, they are forced together to be co-caregivers to an orphaned toddler. Successful TV producer and writer, Greg Berlanti returns to directing after a decade absence to make his second film (question, this is the film that brings you back as a director? Really? And randomly, he wrote a draft of the forthcoming Green Lantern film). Berlanti has composer Blake Neely, who he has used on a number of his TV shows, to do the score. The film’s cinematographer Andrew Dunn and production designer Maher Ahmad are both coming off hit films from last year (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Zombieland respectively), while stars Katherine Heigl, also an executive producer, and Josh Duhamel are both coming off bad rom-coms (Killers and When in Rome respectively). Josh Lucas and Christina Hendricks highlight the supporting cast, which also features comedians Rob Huebel and Will Sasso. The film looks like a typical Katherine Heigl rom-com (not a good thing), but maybe it will rise above her past work (Knocked Up aside). Check out the trailer.

Serious Films:

Secretariat (Randall Wallace) – Biography – Oct 8
The film is based on the true story about the woman, Penny Chenery, who owned the Triple Crown winning racehorse Secretariat. Director Randall Wallace (who is probably more famous for his writing, which includes Braveheart, Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers, which he also directed) is back to helm his third film. Wallace is bringing back his principal crew from his last film, including production designer Thomas E. Sanders, DP Dean Semler and composer Nick Glennie-Smith, to make Mike Rich’s script (who is famous among film school writing students as he won a coveted spec script award, the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, for Finding Forrester, his first script, which then was promptly made launching his career). The film stars Diane Lane and features supporting work from John Malkovich, Scott Glen, James Cromwell, Dylan Walsh, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Kevin Connolly (who probably plays a jockey). The film has been receiving a lot of buzz as a best picture Oscar contender (though, to me, it looks like a super cheesy film along the lines of another super cheesy overrated racehorse movie: Seabiscuit), and even more positive buzz for Malkovich as a best supporting actor for his very quirky role (aka, he is just playing himself in multi-colored odd attire). Check out the trailer.

Conviction (Tony Goldwyn) – Biography – Oct 15
The film is based on the true story about a working mother, Betty Anne Waters, who in an effort to represent her brother puts herself through law school. Her brother has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has no legal means left available to him through public defenders to appeal his conviction. The film is director Tony Goldwyn’s fourth. He made three films early in his directorial career, but none were that great both from a directing standpoint and as overall films. So, he perfected his craft directing many TV episodes on a number of shows, like Dexter and Justified, and is now back to features with a new film. His crew features a great composer in Paul Cantelon (for an example of his work see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), a cinematographer making is Hollywood debut in Adriano Goldman, and a production designer who seems to get bigger and bigger films with each passing year in Mark Ricker. The cast of this film has it on the Oscar radar, especially with two time winner Hilary Swank starring; Sam Rockwell co-stars and there is supporting work from Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Clea DuVall, Ari Graynor, and Bailee Madison. The film has garnered a lot of good buzz as a great character drama with very strong performances from Swank and Rockwell, having made the festival rounds, and may be a contender come Oscar time, you know how Oscar voters love films ‘based on a true story’ (but I think it will probably be on the outside of the 10 nominations, there is just too much good stuff coming out this year, but Swank and Rockwell have decent shots at nods). Check out the trailer.

Fun Movies:

Case 39 (Christian Alvart) – Horror – Oct 1
The film is about a social worker, Emily Jenkins, who believes that a young girl is being abused by her parents, so she fights to save her and ultimately gains custody of the girl, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she could have ever imagined or believed. Director Christian Alvant finally will see the release of his first Hollywood film, which sat on the shelve here in the U.S., having been released everywhere else last year, due to his other Hollywood film, last year’s Pandorum, being a hit. Alvant is again working with composer Michl Britsch and very good cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski (he shot The Young Victoria and The Lives of Others), while horror veteran John Wilett will do the production design. The film stars Renee Zellweger and features supporting work from Ian McShane (Kings and Deadwood, see them), Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie (from BSG), and Jodelle Ferland. How good can the film be if it sat on the shelf for a year? International audiences gave it mixed reviews. It is the most high profile in terms of star power, but name wise it is lacking to many of the other horror films coming out this October – here is a quick list: Hatchet II, Chain Letter, Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take, I Spit on Your Grave, Paranormal Activity 2 (who else thinks this turns out just about as well as The Blair Witch Project 2), Monsters, and of course Saw 3D (which will be the last of the series). Buzz denotes Monsters (trailer) as the best of the bunch. Check out the trailer for Case 39.

Jackass 3-D (Jeff Tremaine) – Comedy – Oct 15
The film, being the 3rd in the series to be released theatrically, is about a bunch of guys goofing off, playing pranks, doing stunts, and challenging each other to disgusting feats. At its best, Johnny Knoxville and co. can be very funny and highly entertaining, of course assuming that you want to partake in this type of comedy, as this is a film particularly made for the Jackass audience. Director Jeff Termaine did the previous films as well and Spike Jonze returns as a producer. If you love Jackass, you fully know what to expect; if you don’t, this is not for you; and if you have never seen a Jackass film or TV episode, why not start with one in 3-D!!!! Check out the trailer.

Red (Robert Schwentke) – Action – Oct 15
Based on the graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner, the film is about a retired black-ops agent, Frank Moses, who resembles his old unit after a high-tech assassin comes after him. The action-comedy is directed by Robert Schwentke (his fourth film) who has yet to make a true action film, though the visuals in his last, The Time Traveler’s Wife, were quite well done and elevated the film overall. However, having not shot any true action films should not be a big deal as second unit director Gary Capo has worked on loads of them (including: The Incredible Hulk, Live Free or Die Hard and X2). Past collaborators of Schwentke production designer Alec Hammond and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (son of frequent Martin Scorsese cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus) return for the film. To capture both the comedy and action aspects of the film, the score is being done by both David Holmes (presumably for the action and drama) and Christophe Beck (well known for is comedy scores). What makes this exciting for action fans however is the awesome cast. Bruce Willis stars, with supporting work from Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker (who is super cool thanks to Weeds), John Malkovich (who finally got a real action film, ok fine, there is Con Air, but hopefully this will be, you know, good), Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, James Remar (Dexter’s father), Brian Cox, Julian McMahon, and even Ernest Borgnine – it is amazing that they got all these people. It is hard to imagine this not being fun and entertaining with all the star power and talent in front of the camera (but on a downer, the script is by Jon and Erich Hoeber who wrote Whiteout). Check out the trailer.

At the Movies – October 2010 – Part 1: Art-House Films


Art-House Watch:

The film is about the exploration of the hidden side of everything (basically a film version of the book by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner). The documentary is structured into four sections – 1) Pure Corruption directed by Alex Gibney (who made the amazing doc Eron: The Smartest Man in the Room), 2) A Roshanda by Any Other Name directed by Morgan Spurlock (who made the funny and very entertaining doc Super Size Me), 3) It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life directed by Eugene Jarecki (who made the very good history, war doc Why We Fight), and 4) Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed? directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (who made the fairly frightening doc Jesus Camp). Seth Gordon (who made the awesomely great doc The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) is providing the film with an introduction and transitional segments. Basically this film has a who’s who of famous, hip and good documentarians; it just needs Werner Herzog and Errol Morris to be complete. On paper the documentary sounds amazing, but will these segments each directed by filmmakers with a different style all meld together to produce a good film with a solid narrative? Check out the trailer.

Barry Munday (Chris D’Arienzo) – Comedy – Oct 1 [LA/NY]
The film is about Barry Munday, a man who one day wakes up after being attacked to find that he is missing his family jewels. And, if that were not enough, he is facing a paternity suit filed by a woman he does not even remember. Writer-director Chris D’Arienzo makes his feature debut with the film. Composer Jude Christodal is also making his feature debut, though he had worked in TV prior (TV credits include Rock of Love with Bret Michaels), while cinematographer Morgan Susser and production designer Paul Oberman have an indy-film background. However, the cast is much better known with leading roles played by Patrick Wilson and Judy Greer, and supporting work from Malcolm McDowell, Chloe Sevigny, Colin Hanks, and Cybill Shepherd among others. The buzz is so-so on the film, but it could make for an ok rental. Check out the trailer.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) – Comedy – Oct 8 [limited]
The film is about a clinically depressed teen, Craig, who decides to check himself into an adult psych ward, only to find a new start. Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have a certain charm to their indy-style films (critics enamored with their first two films Half Nelson and Sugar). They have done well with dramas so it will be interesting to see how they handle comedy – though from the look of the film it seems to be more of a dramedy than a comedy. They certainly have comedic talent to help them out with Zach Galifianakis and Jim Gaffigan in the film. The group Broken Social Scene is scoring the film (having also scored Half Nelson), and past collaborations cinematographer Andrij Parekh and production designer Beth Mickle return for their third go-round with the directors. Along with the comedy styling of Galigianakis and Gaffigan, the film has a strong supporting cast featuring Emma Roberts (ready to have a breakthrough role), Lauren Graham, Zoe Kravitz, Viola Davis, and Jeremy Davies (who we all know from Lost). However, the leading role is played by relative newcomer Keir Gilchrist (though he is quite good as a principal cast member in United States of Tara). The film looks to be pretty funny and probably dramatically engaging, but more geared towards an indy-film audience than the mainstream movie-goer. Check out the trailer.

Tamara Drewe (Stephen Frears) – Comedy – Oct 8 [LA/NY]
The film is about a young journalist, Tamara Drewe, who returns home to sell her recently deceased mother’s home. Having been away a while, and having changed her appearance (via a nose-job), the locals seem to marvel at her as she works to fix-up and sell the house she inherited (based on the comic strip by Posy Simmonds). Director Stephen Frears has been a bit up and down of late, with very good films like The Queen and Dirty Pretty Things, and less well received films like Cheri. But, over the course of his career he has established himself as one of the better British filmmakers. Working with him on the film he has Alexandre Desplat (the hardest working composer in show business), cinematographer Ben Davis (who has do great work for Matthew Vaughn) and production designer Alan MacDonald (who worked with Frears on The Queen). The film has a British cast (as it is a British film) headlined by 2010 breakout actress Gemma Arterton as the lead with Dominic Cooper and Luke Evans in supporting roles (among other British actors). Frears does his best work when directing dramas with thriller aspects, but as he proved with High Fidelity he can make great comedies too. Check out the trailer.

Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood) – Biography – Oct 8 [limited]
The film is about the early days of John Lennon – how he got into music, his first bands, first loves, and how he met the other members of and ultimately became a part of the Beatles. Director Sam Taylor-Wood makes her feature film debut (and in the process meets her fiancĂ© and film’s star Aaron Johnson). Taylor-Wood has an interesting crew on the film with very talented cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement and The Hours, yeah he is good), production designer Alice Normington (who did good work on Brideshead Revisited) and a score from British pop group Goldfrapp members Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. The film stars Aaron Johnson (best known as Kick-Ass to Americans) as John Lennon and features supporting work from Thmoas Sangster (as Paul), Sam Bell (as George), David Morrissey, Anne-Marie Duff, and Kristin Scott Thomas. The film was well received when it opened in the UK last year receiving four BAFTA nominations. It looks to be an interesting examination of how the young John Lennon became the John Lennon we all know and love (and probably a nice early-years companion piece to 1994’s Backbeat). Check out the trailer.

Legacy (Thomas Ikimi) – Thriller – Oct 15 [limited]
The film is about a back ops operative, Malcolm Gray, who returns home after a failed mission. He hides out in a Brooklyn motel room as he is being hunted down. Torn between thoughts of retribution and personal salvation, he begins to mentally unravel. Director Thomas Ikimi makes his second film with Legacy, but it is his first to receive distribution in the U.S. and his first to work with more well known actors. His crew is made up of relative newcomers, production designer Gordon Rogers and cinematographer Jonathan Harvey, and veteran action composer Mark Kilian (worked on Traitor and The Matrix Reloaded). The film starts the very talented Idris Elba, who is also an executive producer, and co-stars the excellent Eamonn Walker, Monique Gabriela Curnen, and Richard Brake. The buzz on the film is very mixed. However, the film has played very well for adult viewers and looks quite good based on its trailer. Check it out.

The Company Men (John Wells) – Drama – Oct 22 [LA/NY]
The film is about the affects of corporate downsizing by a major company on the communities and families of its employees – focusing on three men in particular. Director John Wells is a prolific film and TV producer (a few of his better projects are: One Hour Photo, Far From Heaven and The West Wing). He is also a successful writer having written many episodes of ER and The West Wing. This film marks his feature debut as a director (as he has done a number of ER episodes).  And to make him look good, he has director of photography Roger Deakins on the film (who is easily one of the top five cinematographers working today) and production designer David J. Bomba (who’s best work to date has been on Walk the Line). Along with the likely wonderful photography from Deakins, the potential highlight of the film is its cast, which is quite good and full of star power. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper star with supporting work from Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt and Craig T. Nelson.  The film received a lot of good buzz out of the festivals and is in contention for a number of Oscar races (Best Picture, Acting, Director, Screenplay), though probably on the outside looking in. It looks to be a good character based drama set perfectly to address the financial times currently affecting America (and elsewhere) much like last year’s Up in the Air. Check out the trailer.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Daniel Alfredson) – Crime/Drama – Oct 29 [limited]
The film is the third in the series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, being the most widely known). It is about Lisbeth who is awaiting trial for three counts of murder, recovering in the hospital and plotting revenge against those who put her in this situation. Meanwhile, Michael is trying to prove her innocence. While the first film of the series was made for a theatrical release, given more of a budget (and frankly a much better director and crew), the second and third were made merely for Swedish TV. Director Daniel Alfredson, who directed the second, returns at the helm. Series composer Jacob Groth also returns, as does the second film’s cinematographer Peter Mokrosinski. But most importantly, stars Noomi Rapace (who is making her Hollywood debut in next year’s Sherlock Holmes sequel) and Michael Nyqvist return. Much like the second, this film is not nearly as well received as the first of the series; but for fans, it is probably  still well worth a look (especially if you cannot wait for or are upset about the U.S. remakes on the way, the first will be by David Fincher). Check out the trailer.

Movie of the Week - Rushmore

This week’s movie is Rushmore (1998).

The comedy is about a boy, Max, whose whole life revolves around going to school at Rushmore Academy – so much so that he is the founder and participant in many clubs and activities at the school – but he is also one of the worst students they have. Max falls for a new young teacher and after hatching a grand scheme to win her affections is kicked out of Rushmore. He now must find himself and a new life outside the school. Directed by aesthetics aficionado and master Wes Anderson (who stages everything in every shot) based on the screenplay by himself and Owen Wilson (Anderson is college friends with the Wilsons), the film features Anderson’s directing at its best – shots and scenes are presented as if acts or scenes in a play (which is then taken even further by having plays acted out in the film). Anderson uses the same principal crew members for many of his films and Rushmore has essentially the same crew as his first feature Bottle Rocket. His collaboration with these people enables him to prefect his craft as a director and put out the film just how he wants it to be. His work with director of photography Robert D. Yeoman has always been excellent. Devo front-man Mark Mothersbaugh provides a really great score, accompanied by Anderson’s perfectly placed found music. Editor David Moritz and production designer David Wasco round out the principal group that made Rushmore one of the most aesthetically interesting and innovation films of the 90’s and helped Anderson establish a foothold in Hollywood as an auteur. The film has a great cast overall with good supporting characters, but it is the three leads that truly are wonderful – Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams. What makes this film great is its quirky comedy and filmmaking. It is certainly on of the best films of the decade (one of my top 25 favorite all-time films) and a must see of film fans. Check out the trailer.

Available on Criterion Collection and DVD on Amazon.com or to rent at Netflix.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2010) – Review

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (from now on being referred to as Red Riding: 1980) is the second part of the Red Riding Trilogy (see part 1’s review). Red Riding: 1980 continues the corruption motif from part one, but overall is a drastically different film, stylistically, tonally and structurally, which is beneficial to it as it has its own identity. It is a much more a straightforward detective style mystery – the plot to uncover the mystery drives the story, and not so much the emotional journey of the characters. Corruption in the first is an abstract force that consumes and ultimately destroys Edward. Here, corruption is a much more literal concept. It is clear that the Yorkshire police department is corrupt (as we have seen the first part) and that something is not right with the case that Peter Hunt is being brought in to solve, not to mention that he has bad history with the police department and is convinced that they were hiding something. Unlike Edward, Peter is not an innocent in the world. He tries so hard to expose the truth, but he is having an affair and is distant from his wife emotionally – truths that he cannot come to terms with internally. If the first was about the corruption of the innocent, then this film is about corruption as a fact of life. Seemingly ever character his damaged in the film. There is no salvation apparent here (though, I get the sense that the third will be about salvation). As much as Peter wants to expose the truth, there seems to be a naivety to him, which is ultimately his downfall. Clearly, everything is grey in the world of the film, but Peter tries to see it as black and white. Director James Marsh does an excellent job visually exploring the slow realization that Peter has that he in fact is not the shining white knight in to save the day. The narrative is structured as a detective mystery – the detective (and team) find clues, uncover the mystery and solve the case by the end. And as such, the plot compels the story forward, not the characters. While the characters do have emotional journeys, they are complimentary and serve the plot (for the most part), and thus are not the focus. The downside of this is that none of the characters are fully fleshed out. Thus, the audience does not have a full emotional connection to them and are therefore not themselves emotionally engaged in the journey and outcome for the characters. Rather, they are engaged by the story – to see how it turns out. There is nothing wrong with this, but emotional connection has a deeper lasting effect on the viewer, and truly caring about the outcome of the characters leads to a more fulfilling experience than just wanting to see what happens next. And this is really the only issue, but an important one holding it back from being a great film. The mystery itself is engaging and interesting, but the lack of true connection with the main character, especially, leaves the film feeling satisfying from a story standpoint just not completely fulfilling. Red Riding: 1980 has everything a good mystery film should, but is just missing a deeper layer of emotional connection.


Technical achievements: James Marsh working with director of photography Igor Martinovic (again) made a very interestingly shot film. On the outside it appears fairly straightforward, but scenes like Peter Hunt’s visit to the mining town (It is such a striking scene and one of the most interesting on the year), Marsh’s use of visual narrative clues and his camera placement denoting power in scenes beget a compelling aesthetic composition. Tom Burton’s production design, along with the cinematography, is no nearly as bleak and gloomy as part 1, but it still casts a dark cloud over the film. The color yellow is used as an interesting contrast in Peter Hunt’s hotel room (I am not sure what it means, but it is quite noticeable). Dickson Hinchliffe’s score is very fitting to the detective mystery style of the film. The film being more plot than character driven left lead Paddy Considine with more of a going from point A to B to C to solve the mystery type of role, rather than one with a lot of emotional heavy lifting, but there were a few scenes in which he did have to portray the failures in his character’s life and he did so well. Maxine Peake’s character is a bit of a mystery, in that the viewer is never sure what she is fully up to or about; though certainly has some internal trauma. She, like Considine, is good in her role, as is the cast overall. However, it is Sean Harris that has the most interesting character and gives the scene stealing performance of the film. He is fabulous, hiding true evil behind a mask of blunt incapacity that almost plays as innocence (though we already know him from the first), cracking at times revealing glimpses of complete hate. Like the first part, Red Riding: 1980 is a very well made and aesthetically engaging film.

Red Riding: 1980 is a simple detective mystery on the surface, with a little Hitchcock MacGuffin thrown in for good measure, but underneath it is another fine study of human corruption continuing the series. 7/10

Available on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon.com or watch it now streaming on Netflix.com