Friday, December 31, 2010

True Grit (2010) – Review

True Grit is brutal, silly and really just a great western (with a bunch of Coen Brothers’ style thrown in). Westerns seem to be a dying breed in cinema – not only are few made, but even fewer are good (I can only think of six good westerns, from the last decade: Open Range, The Proposition, Broken Trail, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and of course Deadwood). Thus, it is a real treat when a good one comes along. Writing-directing brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, have taken a classic western story – men hunting down others for retribution of some sort, as seen in The Searchers and many others – and infuse it with their particular style, most notably in the dialog and performances they garner. The movie is silly, but not in a bad way. The characters, through the use of words and timing, come off as quite funny, which is a nice juxtaposition against some of the more graphic elements in the film, like the gun violence and terrifying nature of Mattie Ross coming face to face with the man who killed her father. The strange array of side characters and interchanges in the film also feel very much like a Coen Brothers’ film, and yet the film also feels like a classic western. This is the skill of the Coen Brothers – to both make it their own and in their style, but also stay true to the exalted genre (which is an important touch for fans of the genre and cinema, I think). The violence is also a necessary instrument in the film, because it makes the danger and drama real and striking – absolutely needed given the large about of humor and playful spirit amongst many of the characters. And a good western needs its shootouts – this film has a number of very good and well staged gunfights. The Coen Brothers get the genre right, but it is the characters and performances that make the film great. The audience is completely connected with Mattie Ross, the protagonist. She was vital to the success of the film, even more so than Rooster Cogburn, and the performance by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is magnificent. However, the Coen Brother’s narrative style may confound some viewers, though it is nowhere near as prevalent (of exaggerated, if you will) as some of their other films. This does have a clear beginning and end, but the end has an escalating series of anticipated endings that may stymie the full impact and there is a epilogue that feels a bit unneeded, yet closes the characters well and rounds out the narration (plus the film has a beautifully short prologue with narration, it seems only right to have an epilogue, though the structure will not appeal to all). True Grit has all the elements of a classic western: the ugly bad guys, gunfights, campfires, heroes; but it is the Coens’ directing and performance that make this particular western special.

Technical and acting achievements: the Coen Brothers are among the best working directors. They use the same crew on every film, which enables them to have a clear overlapping style across their films. Their narrative style is unique, both enchanting fans and infuriating others. But certainly, cinema is better thanks to the Coen Brothers, and this is another great film in their catalogue. Their crew are also masters in their crafts – Carter Burwell’s score yet again compliments while standing out, Roger Deakins’s cinematography is beyond excellent in everything he shoots (the opening shot of the film is a clear case for how good he is) and Jess Gonchor’s production design is right on for the genre and story. The Coens and crew are always great, but with this story the characters and performances make the film. Barry Pepper has never been better in his supporting role and Josh Brolin is also very good in limited time creating a sort of bashful character, but terrifying in the same note. Matt Damon is really funny and charismatic and perfect in his role. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld are the leads and standouts in the film; both are strong, funny and completely embody their characters (two of the best performances of the year).

True Grit is a fabulous western with wonderful characters. 9/10

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The King’s Speech (2010) – Review

The King’s Speech is a well crafted film, hitting on all the right emotional notes. The performances by its principal cast are outstanding and the technical work is just as good. Director Tom Hooper displays a mastery of narrative structure as the film flows impeccably guiding the audience through the story. Hooper is able to take a specific story, which may on the outside seem to only appeal to a few, and present it in such a manner that it would surely enthrall any viewer (given that they give it a chance). He stays with his characters completely, not wooed away by bigger events of the time and place (and even bigger characters such as Winston Churchill), and the film greatly benefits as the viewer feels connected to these characters and takes stock in the outcome and wants to see them succeed (which is the key element to the best narratives). Here, the audience will laugh and cry and feel just as the characters do – completely connected. This is the true success of the film – Hooper’s ability to construct a narrative that engrosses the audience while garnering expert and pitch-perfect performances from his cast. Hooper also has an artistic flare. The framing in the film is quite interesting. Early on in many shots there is lots of empty space, the actor only occupying a portion of the frame, usually squeezed to one side. It is as if there is something missing. As the film progresses, this negative space is filled by another principal actor, suggesting that the friendship that develops between King George VI and Lionel Logue was something that both needed to make their lives more complete. It is a nice visual touch. Hooper also uses framing to exaggerate the visual effect of the agony, frustration and humiliation of King George’s stammer. The frame is skewed at an angle making the viewer uncomfortable, simulating the feeling with the character. If there is any issue with the film, it is that the narrative is almost too well structured leaving the film feeling a bit too “Hollywood”, but really this is a minor complaint. The King’s Speech features some of the year’s best performances, great directing and a wonderful presentation of an interesting story behind the scenes of the Royals.

Technical and acting achievements: Hooper seems to have mastered his craft with his third feature film. On The Damned United, he extracted fine performances from his cast, but the narrative structure was lacking. Here, he does both expertly. Hooper also secured the best work of both cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart’s careers; they both do fantastic work on the film – Stewart’s design for Logue’s office was genius while Cohen captured the look of wartime England. Alexandre Desplat’s score, like all his work, augments the emotional journey of the film. (Now it may have just been an error at the theatre, but) he even matches his score to the flow and stammer of King George VI, noticeable during the final speech scene. The whole cast was brilliant. Michael Gambon’s powerful King George V, Guy Pierce’s ghastly King Edward VII and Timothy Spall’s spot-on Winston Churchill highlight the supporting cast. But this is really more about the main three characters and performances. Helena Bonham Carter is refined, loving and funny (it is a great performance and probably my favorite of her career). Geoffrey Rush is also really good, but the star of the film is Colin Firth. Coming off the best performance of his career in A Single Man, (I had high expectations and) he delivers another grand (if not better) performance – though one that is tailored to his strengths.

The King’s Speech is an excellent film and story of bravery and triumph in trying times. 9/10 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Movie of the Week - High Fidelity

This week’s movie is High Fidelity (2000).

The music comedy/drama is about record store owner Rob Gordon who, in the midst of a breakup, recounts his past failures with previous lovers – his top five breakups. This film is directed by very good British filmmaker Stephen Frears (check out Dirty Pretty Things and The Grifters, also with John Cusack). The crew is fantastic on the film with composer Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Hours) and production designer Therese DePrez (Black Swan). The screenplay, based on the novel by awesome author Nick Hornby, is by Cusack, Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis – the group that also wrote (one of my favorite comedies) Grosse Pointe Blank. The film stars John Cusack (who is also a co-writer and producer on the film) and features a great supporting cast – Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, and introducing Jack Black to mainstream audiences. What makes the film great is the dialog. There is so many memorable line and conversations in the film that it will instantly become a classic for those that enjoy the art of dialog over action or other film elements. The characters are also very well drafted for the purpose of the story – it is not just another sappy rom-com, it feels more real while having plenty of humor (and heartbreak). It is a must see for John Cusack and Stephen Frears fans, as well as those looking for a great but unconventional comedy. Check out the trailer.

Available to buy on DVD from and to rent at 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fighter (2010) – Review

The Fighter is a feel-good story, full of fantastic performances, directing and scenes. At its heart, director David O. Russell has created a narrative about the triumph of spirit, structured around the complications of family dynamics – specifically focusing on the relationship of Mickey Ward with his brother Dicky Eklund and his mother. Mickey grew up in the shadow of his brother both within his family and in his neighborhood – yet Mickey still regards his brother as his hero and an essential part of his life and career as a boxer. The issue (and the driving force of the drama) is that Dicky is an unreliable crack head and their mother is in denial seemingly always taking Dicky’s side. This leaves Mickey with seemingly a lack of personality and the narrative with undefined roles (aka, who is the main character). Dicky, apparently like real life, steals the film and is the center of every scene he is in – Mickey relegated to an observer, yet this is his story, but also a little Dicky’s too. The camera does not exclusively stay with Mickey, nor does it only show his journey. Dicky’s progression is also shown and given significant narrative time. This hurts the film a little as Mickey is the character the audience is supposed to connect with and root for, and while that certainly happens by the end, for a large part of the film he is not charismatic especially with Dicky on-screen. This changes the film from a gripping narrative drama to an informative biography, in which the viewer watches to see the outcome to the “true” story and not because they care about Mickey (this is often the problem with true stories). Though at the same time, the film certainly does benefit from being based on a true story, as viewers are more sympathetic and feel that situations are more relatable when it is “true”. Thus, this both suffers and benefits from being about real people and real situations. David O. Russell is acutely aware of the power of the “true” story element, going so far as to shoot the boxing scenes as if the audience is watching them on TV at the time of their original airing and having the real Mickey and Dicky show up during the ending credits. The visual style of much of the film feels like a documentary as well. He is milking the story for all the emotional and inspirational potential it has. And he succeeds. The film is completely likable, relatable and engaging. By the end, the viewer is committed to these characters and is cheering just as much as the real people were when the events actually happened.  It is an interesting transition – from informative biography with a bland and a colorful character(s) to a film that conclusively has audience buy-in. The film is totally cliché, the supporting characters, outside the main four, are caricatures serving a purely narrative purpose and the audience is manipulated to emotionally flow with the film – yet the film does these things without feeling phony, a credit to David O. Russell and the performances. The main three supporting performances are all very good (one of them is amazing) and Mickey coming out of his shell only makes the ending more impactful. The Fighter by all accounts should be a Hollywood throwaway, but instead it is a great story that the audience is invested in culminating in a good film.

Technical and acting achievements: David O. Russell is already known as a good director, but this film elevates his career as his approach to what could have been an HBO special or TV-movie-of-the-week is remarkable. These were difficult characters and his direction elicits wonderful performances. The score by Michael Book is not overly memorable, but it did not need to be as the point of this film is the characters and the story. However, his score does work with the narrative making the emotional impact all the more moving. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and Judy Becker’s production design work very well with the visual style of the film, giving it an authentic and in-your-face feel. The minor supporting cast is good, while mostly serving a narrative purpose, but Jack McGee stands out. Melissa Leo is very good in a difficult role of being both a caring and loving mother but also playing the film’s villain in a sense. Amy Adams plays a strong personality (much like all the principal supporting characters) and is powerful (though is not given too much to do). Christian Bale is absolutely amazing in the film. He commands attention in every scene. He is not even an actor; he is Dicky Eklund. Mark Wahlberg has the impossible task of playing against not only three phenomenal performances but also three forceful personalities. It is a tall order, and he gets swallowed up a bit, but that is the character and it only makes his transformation all the more poignant. It is one of his better performances.

The Fighter is a good boxing film and drama with great direction and performances. 8/10

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TRON: Legacy (2010), in 3D – Review

TRON: Legacy is a lot of flash but without much substance. The score, design and cinematography are all beautifully done and striking. Director Joseph Kosinski has done justice to the world of TRON and the original film stylistically, as the film does look amazing. There is a colossal feel the landscapes and the set design is modern and minimalistic, which fits the cyber world (the grid).  However, the story is subpar, which is disappointing. The narrative structure also drags in a few areas making the film feel a bit tedious and longer than its playtime would indicate. For all the visual mastery and entertainment, the flaws in the narrative are what ultimately leave the film feeling a tad boring and underwhelming. All the great action set pieces – the games, light-cycles races, and so on – do charm and captivate viewers, but only to an extent. Emotional drama and audience connection with the characters, even before plot, are the necessary elements to make a film that works and authentically mesmerizes viewers. The characters here feel more like stand-in clichés than real people (or fully formed characters) – completely hollow and void of genuine emotion. Now, viewers do not go into a spectacle-film like TRON for the characters and emotionally connection. They go for the action, the visuals and the sheer magnitude of the adventure. But even for the film’s intended audience, connection is still essential to the film’s overall success, and it is lacking. The visual style is very cold with blacks and blues, accentuated with bright reds and oranges. It reminded me a bit of Bladerunner both visually (but a lot cleaner) and tonally. There is a subtle tone of depression and sadness behind the action – stemming for the film’s fairly serious past events, like a utopian façade obscuring the corruption of power. The film tells a story of best intentions for controlling society (be it The Grid or our world) that ultimately crumble due to the conflict of freewill versus regulation. Thus, the film takes on the feel of a sci-fi dystopian narrative in which civilization corrodes in the grip of best intentions. These big story elements work well. Rather, it is the specific narrative points and the characters that are shallow, underdeveloped and feel false. Characters and situations are just overused and too much like tons of other films, this play as clichés. TRON: Legacy has a lot of good and should be seen in theaters, it is just too bad that the narrative could not match the visual and sonic excellence.

Technical and acting achievements: Joseph Kosinski has real talent for exquisite visuals (and I am excited to see what he does next, with the hope that he can improve his handle on narrative structure and character development). Daft Punk’s score is mesmerizing and exciting – mixing their classic style of electronic beats with big orchestration (which reminded me of Hans Zimmer’s work on Inception and The Dark Knight). It brings a wonderful impact to the imagery on the screen. Claudio Miranda (who is one of the best) also does phenomenal work. His cinematography and the score are the real reasons to see this film, in light of the poor narrative. Relative newcomer to production design Darren Gilford’s set fit the world completely (I especially love his set for Kevin Flynn’s Grid home). Michael Sheen and James Frain are generally brilliant in their films (and TV), yet here their character’s were just placeholders, thus their talents were for not. Olivia Wilde, while also playing a commonplace sci-fi/action character, brings spunk to the role, distinguishing her performance and being one of the more interesting and entertaining characters in the film. Jeff Bridges’s character is really the only one with any development and he is good, but it seems as though too much of Bridges is in Flynn. Along with Bridges, Garrett Hedlund does have some emotional work to do in the film, but he is flat and one of the main reasons the connection with the audience never happens. He is not bad – he just does not demand attention or an investment in the film and character.

TRON: Legacy is fun, cinematic and aesthetically brilliant, but purely spectacle. 5/10

Monday, December 20, 2010

Movie of the Week - Frantic

This week’s movie is Frantic (1988).

The mystery is about Dr. Richard Walker and his wife who come to Paris, France, for a vacation/conference. They arrive at the hotel and Walker takes a shower after the long trip. When he emerges, he finds that his wife is gone, missing, disappeared. He begins to look for her and gets caught up in a world of intrigue, espionage, gangsters, drugs, and murder. The film is directed by one of the masters of crime and mystery filmmaking Roman Polanski (probably want to also check out his films Chinatown and The Pianist). Polanski has a stellar crew on the film with a score from legendary composer Ennio Morricone, cinematography by Polish D.P. Witold Sobocinski and production design by Pierre Guffroy. The film served as a breakthrough for French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, who is alluring and mysterious and perfect for the role. The star, however, is Harrison Ford playing the type of role that he plays best – against all odds. His career is full of iconic characters and performances, and this is one of the really good ones. What makes the film great is how Polanski weaves elements of crime drama, mystery and thriller together to make a very entertaining film, which is both full of action and suspense (and it does not hurt that it has Paris as the backdrop). This is a must for fans of Polanski or Ford and those looking for a great mystery-thriller. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from and to rent from

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Swan (2010) – Review

Black Swan is intense, enthralling and beautiful – yet jagged, fracturing and unique. The first thing that stands out about the film – Darren Aronofsky’s vision – is how fluid the camera work is, and how compelling the visual display is for the audience. The opening scene is powerful and seduces the audience completely – it is visually the epitome of the Black Swan (from the ballet), and thus the film announces itself as something special right off. Aronofsky’s narrative is interestingly layered with Nina’s story mirroring in the story of Swan Lake, which also happens to be the ballet she is performing. Her transformation –very visual and jarring, overwrought with tragic foreshadowing – pulls the audience in only to terrorize them with the nightmares of a crumbling perception. Nina’s story is one of achieving perfection, no matter the cost. Her journey is overrun by emotion and unabating stress, which oppresses and scalpts her while intriguing and menacing the viewer. The characters outside the ballet are all archetypes of characters from the ballet (for example Lily, the sexual seductive newcomer to the troupe is The Black Swan character) creating an interesting dichotomy. The viewer is led down an increasingly unreliable path, never sure what is real and what is imagined, and yet to the skill of Aronofsky the narrative is all the more gripping as it proceeds, despite being mostly false. Aronofsky’s style is also unflinching and graphic, which makes the film more shocking (when it needs to be) and more impactful. There is an emotional journey not only for the characters but for the audience as well. The aesthetics of the film, while beautiful and interesting, are employed not for artistic reasons alone, but to fully immerse the audience into the experience, which is what makes the film work so well. However, the narrative may alienate some viewers. This is not a story of perseverance in the feel-good sense (when it easily could have been, and maybe starts out that way a little). There is no happy ending (and did we expect there to be one?). This is a visceral experience. A film to be felt – to be interacted with – a film to let yourself be given over to – to accept the raw emotions and flow with it – much as the opening invites the audience to do. Black Swan plays off the viewer and succeeds to its highest degree when said viewer submits.

Technical and acting achievements: Aronofsky is a master of visual suspense, employing tragic and scary elements into his narrative that lure each viewer in, enthralling them with fine performances, deep characters and exquisite visuals, only to shock them with moments of sheer anxiety and panic. This film is some of his finest work (and my favorite of his films). Cinematographer Matthew Libatique is also a star of this film. His camerawork and lighting are amazing and beautiful (if not the best of the year with Eduardo Serra’s work in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). Clint Mansell’s score fits the narrative well. It captivates the audience, puts them on edge and ambushes them (and in many cases freaks them out accompanying the visuals and narrative tension). However, it is the music from Swan Lake that has the most emotional resonance and impact (I had forgotten how beautiful and tragic the pieces of music are from the ballet). The production design by Therese DePrez is also top-notch, being both minimalistic but specifically detailed to fit the characters. The acting in the film is exceptional. Mila Kunis, Barbara Hersey and especially Vincent Cassel are wonderful in their supporting roles. But, the film belongs to the performance of Natalie Portman. She is meek, shy and stiff only to explode with sexuality, hysteria and malice – it is quite a transformation.

Black Swan grabs the viewer, twists them until the strain is almost too much and then lets them go fading to white. 9/10

Monday, December 13, 2010

Movie of the Week - The Untouchables

This week’s movie is The Untouchables (1987).

The crime drama is about federal treasury agent Elliot Ness as he sets out to take down Al Capone. The film has some truth to it, as Ness and Capone are based on real people, but is highly fictionalized for cinematic effect. Directed by Brian De Palma (aka Brian the Hack De Palma), the film features a number of memorable scenes – The Battleship Potemkin scene, the Canadian raid scene and pretty much any scene with Sean Connery and/or Robert De Niro (and personally I think this is De Palma’s best film). It stars Kevin Costner, who is a bit bright-eyed and wholesome but it works for the role, and features Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson, and a wonderful Billy Drago, along with Connery and De Niro, in supporting roles. Ennio Morricone provides a classic score that stays with you and Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography is good as well. What makes the film great is its stylized set pieces which are both aesthetically interesting and entertaining and exciting. Plus, there is Connery giving an Oscar winning performance and De Niro as Capone, who has some great monologues – the script was written by David Mamet. I love films about this era’s gangsters, and this is one of my favorites. It is a must see for fans of Conner, Costner and/or De Niro and for fans of classic 80s cinema. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from and to rent from

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Most Anticipated Films of 2011 – Part 2: Prestige and Fun Films

The Most Anticipated Films of 2011 is a two part look at the movies that (I am most excited about, mainly) should be the biggest and best of the year to come. Part One is a look at the biggest, the Blockbusters and Part Two will focus on the film that should be among the most fun and best (not counting the Blockbusters) that details are known about at present.

Prestige Films:

Release: Spring or Fall
Genre: Drama
Plot: The film is about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and their relationship that lead to the birth of psychoanalysis.
Why It’s Anticipated: David Cronenberg is known for his intense and highly stylized films, often involving surreal elements. He has a committed cult following with fans eagerly awaiting anything he does. His last two films A History of Violence and Easter Promises, each starring Viggo Mortenson, appealed to more of a mainstream audience and found themselves on many best of the year lists. This film should certainly have a following on the festival circuit. There is a lot of potential to have one of 2011’s best films here.
Editor’s Thoughts: The cast is awesome. Knowing Cronenberg’s sort of warped style, I am looking forward to seeing what he does with the subject matter (dreams), as the possibilities seem endless for such a creative mind.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: December 21st
Genre: Thriller
Director: David Fincher
Plot: The film is about a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who teams up with a young computer savvy girl, Lisbeth Salander, to solve a forty-year-old missing person’s case, when new evidence comes to light.
Why It’s Anticipated: The books series (the Millennium Trilogy) by deceased Swedish author Stieg Larsson has had a huge following, and the Swedish film versions have all has release dates in the States. David Fincher is one of the top auteur directors working today, and thus his name brings with it prestige and fans, not to mention that his films more so than other auteur directors (in many cases) have a more mainstream Hollywood appeal. The film also stars James Bond himself Daniel Craig. This film will draw fans of the novels, cinema and those looking for the big winter releases.
Editor’s Thoughts: Having seen the original, there is certainly room for Fincher to add and make the story (and film) his own. That said, the Swedish version is by far the best of the series (the second two were made for TV and had smaller budgets) so there is a high standard to live up to. There is some speculation as to whether relative newcomer Rooney Mara can live up to the fine performance of Noomi Rapace. She worked with Fincher on The Social Network and he must have seen something special (she was great in the film, by the way) as every young actress in Hollywood wanted this role.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Title: Hanna
Release: April 8th
Genre: Action
Director: Joe Wright
Plot: The film is about a 14-year-old girl who is raised by her father to be an assassin with complete disregard for feelings and human life. However, she comes in contact with a family and they gain her trust. They help her to ease into a more conventional life.
Why It’s Anticipated: Aside from sounding pretty cool (especially with flashbacks of Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, though this will likely be much more serious in its approach), the film has an excellent cast with Saoirse Ronan ready to be a star (remember that she had her breakout role in Wright’s Atonement). This will be Wright’s fourth film – of the previous three, two are very good and one was disappointing, but there is no doubt that he is one of the best young filmmakers out there. Plus he has got a score from The Chemical Brothers and awesome cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler on the film.
Editor’s Thoughts: I am looking forward to this film for a few reasons: 1) Joe Wright is a very good director and his use of the camera fluidly moving through his worlds is wonderful, 2) the story sounds really intriguing (who does not want to see a well-made action adventure film) and 3) all five members of the principal cast are actors that I enjoy watching. This has the potential to be a standout film for the year both critically and at the box office (for an April release).

Title: Moneyball
Release: September
Genre: Drama
Director: Bennett Miller
Plot: Based on the novel by Michael Lewis, the film is about Oakland Athletics general manger Billy Beane, who used computer-generated analysis to draft his players and successfully put together a winning club on a budget.
Why It’s Anticipated: Director Bennett Miller’s first film was Capote, which was one of that year’s best and won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar. Miller’s new film will certainly draw critical analysis and likely praise. Hoffman is back along with a very good cast with some star power (Brad Pitt). The story has a lot of appeal as well – Lewis’s novel was a national bestseller and quite acclaimed.
Editor’s Thoughts: I am a sucker for sports movies and especially love baseball movies. This is not only about baseball, but also the behind the scenes action of fielding a club, not to mention a true story (what sports-fan is not already immensely interested?). Plus, the cast (as stated above) is great and Miller has the chops to be an auteur director. If this turns out to be as good as it has the potential to be, look for it to be pushed back to November or December for an Oscar bid.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: Fall
Genre: Thriller
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Plot: Based on the novel by John le Carre, the film is about espionage veteran George Smiley, who is forced out of retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6 during the bleak days of the Cold War.
Why It’s Anticipated: Three reasons say it all 1) the director, 2) the cast and 3) the story. Tomas Alfredson won himself loads of fans outside of his native Sweden with his last film Let the Right One In. Now he is back making (what sounds like an equally awesome film) his Hollywood debut (though it is more like British cinema debut). The film stars some of the best and brightest actors of British cinema (Strong makes the best villains, Oldman is amazing in everything, Hardy is coming off a breakthrough performance in Inception, and Firth has been wonderful in his films lately, plus he is probably winning an Oscar come February). Cold War spy films have been done tons of times (seen most of the James Bond films for reference), but when done well it is a very gratifying sub-genre.
Editor’s Thoughts: This is one of my top five most anticipated films for 2011. I really enjoyed Let the Right One In. That being said, I cannot wait to see what Alfredson does with this project. He has the cast and the platform to make not only a really enjoyable spy thriller but also a fantastic piece of cinema. And, I will see anything with Gary Oldman in it – he is starring in this. It is not often enough that you see a director, cast and project combo as awesome as this.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Fun Films:

Release: March 4th
Genre: Romance/Thriller
Director: George Nolfi
Plot: The film is about an affair between a politician and a ballerina and the mysterious forces that seem to be keeping them apart, based on a short-story by Philip K. Dick.
Why It’s Anticipated: The Jason Bourne series was a big hit among critics and fans alike. This film reunites Bourne star Matt Damon with the writer of The Bourne Ultimatum (the best reviewed of the series) George Nolfi, who is making his directorial debut. The film also has similar thriller aspects to it, but more romance and sci-fi implications too. The rest of the cast is also quite good with the lovely Emily Blunt and savvy casting additions in John Slattery (who everyone loves in Mad Men) and Anthony Mackie coming off a breakthrough performance in The Hurt Locker.
Editor’s Thoughts: For those that follow film and are worried about why this was push back from September of 2010 to March of 2011, it was done so based on the revenue model of Shutter Island (similarly pushed back), which did well at the box office and deemed to have a similar intended audience. Thus, the trade of September for March was done so for The Adjustment Bureau to be a bigger box office hit, which probably means Universal Pictures thinks they have a pretty good film on their hands. I was excited to see this in September and I am still excited to see this in March. The trailer however (see below) does not entice me so much as the cast and the film’s potential. I would call the trailer a bit of a letdown – hopefully the film will not be.

Title: Hugo
Release: December 9th
Genre: Mystery
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot: The film is about an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. But there is a secret about this orphan, one that is in jeopardy as he gets caught up in a mysterious adventure.
Why It’s Anticipated: It is a Martin Scorsese film…So yeah, people are going to go see this. Plus it is a family film and Scorsese’s first 3D feature (why!!!!). Family film + 3D generally equal cash money for studios, exhibitors and all involved. The film also has a fantastic cast with many great actors (see full list here). Just think, a Martin Scorsese film you can bring the whole family to.
Editor’s Thoughts: I want to see this because Scorsese (as well all know) is a wonderful filmmaker, I am a big fan of cinematographer Robert Richardson who is shooting it and (like many others enamored with her fabulous breakthrough performances in 2010, i.e. Kick-Ass and Let Me In) I am a newly huge fan of Chloe Grace Moretz (a Star to Watch). Despite a legend like Scorsese bowing to trend and making a 3D film, I still think it is somewhat of a fad, but as long as the money keeps piling in, 3D will still be a popular process. However, at least Scorsese had the good sense to shoot this in 3D and not add crumby effects after the fact (for reference of the difference see Avatar 3D vs. Clash of the Titans 3D).
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: Fall
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Woody Allen
Plot: The film is about a family traveling to Paris on business in the 1920s. They are forced to deal with a number of issues while in the French capital including confronting the illusion that a life other than their own is better.
Why It’s Anticipated: Woody Allen makes a film a year, some good, some not so much. As of late, he has been on a role with overall enjoyable films and a few great ones too (I especially like his Scarlett Johansson trilogy – Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona). For this comedy he has a great cast with fine actors (Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen have been amazing in their latest films) and funny comedians (assuming you like Owen Wilson and Gad Elmaleh), which should make his script all the more entertaining. Not to mention that Allen invented the romantic-comedy.
Editor’s Thoughts: Along with the main cast listed above, Allen also has a number of “cool” casting additions: Alison Pill, Lea Seydoux, French comedian Gad Elmaleh, Tom Hiddleston (who Kenneth Branagh says is amazing in Thor), and Carla Bruni (the wife of the current French President). Allen and the right cast make for really funny and sometimes moving films. His ventures to Europe in recent years have produced some of his best work (at least in the last two decades). This cast in particular is what has me excited to see Midnight in Paris. Oh, and Allen has cinematography legend Darius Khondji shooting a 1920s film set in my favorite city.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: November 23rd
Genre: Comedy
Director: James Bobin
Plot: The film, much like many of the Muppet films, is about Kermit the Frog and his pals putting on a show to save their old theatre.
Why It’s Anticipated: It’s the Muppets, which is enough really (for all those that grew up with and love them). However, the other ingredients in the film are just as good. Jason Segel, along with starring in the film, is co-writing it with Nicholas Stroller, who also made Forgetting Sarah Marshall together (my favorite comedy of 2008), a film which certainly proves Segel’s Muppet credentials (the Dracula musical…awesome). And on top of that, James Bobin director of The Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show is directing the film. Plus, Bret McKenzie is also part of the creative team (YES!!!!). Oh yeah, and the cast is pretty great too with tons of celebrity cameos (list here).
Editor’s Thoughts: I cannot think of a better creative team to handle this project. I am super excited for a Jason Segel-James Bobin Muppets movie and with cameos from the likes of Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais, and Jean-Claude Van Damme how could I not be?!!! I do wonder if Disney is going to overly market this film to kids, an audience that did not really grow up with the Muppets but does sell tickets, as I fear that they will push for a more kid friendly film – when this creative team’s talents are at their best when targeting their own age group. Hopefully there will be a happy medium that will work well for all viewers (like Pixar is generally able to achieve…oh right, Pixar was brought in as a story consultant, so I guess we are cool there too). After seeing Segel’s Dracula Musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and his other puppet work on Craig Ferrguson’s Late Late Show, I cannot wait to see this film.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: April 8th
Genre: Comedy/Adventure
Plot: The film is about two princes, Fabious and Thadeous. When Fabious’s bride is kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, they must go on an epic adventure to rescue her…only Thadeous is lazy and useless.
Why It’s Anticipated: Fans of Danny McBride and Ben Best’s work (Eastbound & Down and The Foot Fist Way) know that they will get a funny, random and probably offensive comedy, full of hysterical and awkward moments. David Gordon Green, director of many episodes of Eastbound & Down, is coming off a comedy hit in Pineapple Express, which starred James Franco and Danny McBride (and Seth Rogen). He was able to remind audiences how funny Franco can be with that film. Your Highness has a fantastic comedic cast with Toby Jones, Deschanel, Theroux, Lewis, and Portman co-starring. And the red-band trailer (see below) is ridiculous (sending many into fits of giggles) and features Portman looking quite good (sans clothing).
Editor’s Thoughts: This is either going to be really funny or just not work at all, there does not seem to be much middle ground with such an ambitious project. David Gordon Green claims that all of the dialog was improvised based only on a outline that Best and McBride drew up – but they certainly have a good cast for that though. I am interested to see how big a part Damian Lewis plays in the film as he is great in most everything I have seen him in. The film is also heavy on the special effects, which answers the why did Universal delay this from October 2010 to April 2011 – April is a better box office month for comedies. The trailer is probably funnier when reflecting back on it than while actually watching it, but some of the best comedies are that way. Whether this works or is an epic failure, I cannot wait to see it (and think it is going to be amazing).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Most Anticipated Films of 2011 – Part 1: Blockbusters

The Most Anticipated Films of 2011 is a two part look at the movies that (I am most excited about, mainly) should be the biggest and best of the year to come. Part One is a look at the biggest, the Blockbusters and Part Two will focus on the film that should be among the most fun and best (not counting the Blockbusters) that details are known about at present.


Release: June 22nd
Genre: Action/Adventure
Director: Joe Johnston
Plot: The film is about Steve Rogers, a dedicated soldier who volunteers for a top secret military research experiment regarding super-soldiers after being deemed unfit for service.
Why It’s Anticipated: The last prequel to The Avengers, this film tells the story behind many fans favorite Avenger. The cast is awesome (check out the full list here). Joss Whedon worked on the script and linked it with his Avengers film, coming next year. It is set during WWII (which is one of my favorite time periods both in historical context and style in cinema). It will have big action set pieces featuring Captain America fighting Nazis. What is not to love?
Editor’s Thoughts: My one big concern is director Joe Johnston and his less than stellar track record helming the film. But, I am willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt, as everything I have heard and seen has been good. And thus, I am eagerly awaiting its release. I mean, come-on, it is a film about Captain America. Of course I am going to see it.
Trailer (Not yet available, but here is the trailer for Thor, which looks kind of cool)

Title: Cars 2
Release: June 24th
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy/Animation
Director: John Lassater; co-director: Brad Lewis
Plot: The film follows racing star Lightning McQueen and his best friend Mater on an international adventure going up against the world’s fastest cars (and apparently spies too).
Why It’s Anticipated: It is Pixar (that is really all that needs to be said)…It is their third sequel – the first two: Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3  (so clearly they make good sequels too). Plus, Pixar’s annual installment is generally the best animated film of the year, if the last three or so years are any indication. Director John Lassater (and president of Walt Disney Animation Studios) has made some great films in the past like Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
Editor’s Thoughts: Being that I am not a huge fan of Cars, I am not overly excited that Pixar used their yearly film to make a sequel to one of their lesser movies. I much rather would have liked to have seen an original story. But again, it is Pixar and they generally make great stuff and I am sure this film will do well among younger viewers.

Release: July 29th
Genre: Sci-Fi/Action
Director: Jon Favreau
Plot: The film is about an outlaw Jake Lonergan and the man after him Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde. Lonergan is captured and brought forth for justice, but when a spaceship lays siege to the small town of Silver City, Arizona, the two must put aside their differences and fight a common enemy…Aliens.
Why It’s Anticipated: The film has a great cast (James Bond and Indiana Jones in the same movie!!!! And yes, I know this has happen before). Action director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) seems like the best fit to be at the helm. It is based on a very popular underground comic. The script is written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof (writers of projects like Star Trek, Fringe and Lost). Really, there is a lot to be excited about here.
Editor’s Thoughts: Aside from the almost postmodernly ironic title, as indeed the film literally features cowboys and aliens fighting each other, it should be a ton of fun. I did find the audience’s initial reactions to the trailer (see below) to be interesting – intrigued but taking it as a joke – thanks title. So, while the film while certainly have funny moments, Favreau’s approach to the material is to make a serious action sci-fi thriller – we shall see how that plays with general movie-going audiences.

Release: July 15th
Genre: Adventure
Director: David Yates
Plot: The finale of the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione as they battle the evil villainous Voldemort.
Why It’s Anticipated: Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was awesome and a great lead up to what should be an epic, action packed final chapter. This will likely be the biggest film of the year and a must see film for Potter fans. Director David Yates has done a fantastic job with his Potter films, blending humor in with the overall dark tone. Having the best British cast (possibly) ever assembled does not hurt either.
Editor’s Thoughts: If I could only see one film in theaters in 2011, this would be the one. Not that there will not be better movies, but in terms of excitement and theater experience, I am there opening night.
Trailer (trailer 1)

Release: December 16th
Genre: Action
Director: Brad Bird
Plot: Story details are not known, but it surely will involve Ethan Hunt and crew doing some action packed spy maneuvering.
Why It’s Anticipated: While Tom Cruise may have fallen out of favor with audiences (if Knight and Day was any indication), the Mission: Impossible series still holds a good place in the action spy genre – especially for those who loved J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III (like I did). Abrams is back as a producer and co-writer of the story. Brad Bird, who is making his live-action directorial debut, has made wonderful films in the past (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and I am very interested to see what he does with this film. The casting of series newcomers (much like with the last film) has been very savvy too: Renner, who is being groomed to take over the series from Cruise, coming off The Hurt Locker and a strong performance in The Town, Halloway being a fan favorite from Lost, Nyqvist being from the hugely popular cult phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Kapoor being memorable as the game show host in Slumdog Millionaire.
Editor’s Thoughts: I am really excited for this mainly because of Abrams’s involvement, as the last film was exceptional, and because Bird is directing. Though, I do hope Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Maggie Q show up at least for cameos to keep the continuity.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: May 20th
Genre: Adventure
Director: Rob Marshall
Plot: The film is about Jack Sparrow and Barbossa on an adventure that sees them embark to find the fountain of youth. However, Blackbeard and his daughter are after it as well.
Why It’s Anticipated: Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the biggest franchises of all-time and has a massive built-in audience. Plus with series star Depp and most of the cast (sans Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) coming back, there is a lot to be excited for. Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz are wonderful additions which immediately take the film out of the “potentially unneeded sequel” column and into the “ok, now I want to see this” column. Director Rob Marshall is an interesting and sort of bizarre choice to take over from the original trilogy director Gore Verbinski. Marshall is known for his big musical set pieces and stunning visual style, both of which could translate into a fine addition to the Pirates series.
Editor’s Thoughts: Marshall has not really directed action before, but really how different can it be from large scale choreographed dance numbers. I think he will do a great job, and he has most of the principal crew coming back as well – Hans Zimmer and Dariusz Wolski notably. At World’s End was a big complicated caricature of itself and a mess. Hopefully, Marshall can bring the series back to what makes it work – humor, action and great characters.

Title: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Release: December 16th
Genre: Action/Mystery
Director: Guy Ritchie
Plot: Story details are not known, but based on the end of the first film Holmes and Watson will likely be facing off with Professor Moriaty.
Why It’s Anticipated: Sherlock Holmes was a big hit last winter as it combined comedy and action quite well, and stars Downey Jr. and Law were perfect in their roles. The film set up for a sequel and everyone is back, including director Guy Ritchie, whose style seems to work well with both his cast and the tone of the film. Ritchie and the film’s producers have brought in excellent actors (and buzz worthy) for the sequel with the wonderful Frey and Harris and the much talked about co-star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Noomi Repace (exciting many fans on the internet for sure).
Editor’s Thoughts: Most fans will probably want more of the same from this film, but I hope Ritchie, cast and crew take it further and a little darker in tone (but of course keep some of the humor and quirkiness – as that is what worked so well in the first). He certainly has the talent to make a great film. And I hope Kelly Reilly has a slightly bigger role (if a role at all), as she is quite good.
Trailer (Not yet available)

Release: March 25th
Genre: Action
Director: Zack Snyder
Plot: The film is about a young girl, Baby Doll, who is institutionalized by her evil stepfather. As a coping mechanism, she creates an alternate reality, envisioning a grand plan for her escape from the facility. 
Why it’s Anticipated: First off, the film is by Zack Snyder director of 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead (the remake), and thus comes with an aesthetic style and fan base built in. Second, the trailer (see below) is epic, showing massive insane action sequences with Nazis, Samurais and other presumably cool stuff. And third, the film is essentially attractive young women playing out huge combat set pieces (and who, among this film’s intended audience, does not want to see that?).
Editor’s Thoughts: If you like Snyder’s other films, chances are you are going to like this one.

Title: Super 8
Release: June 10th
Genre: Sci-Fi
Director: J.J. Abrams
Plot: Story details unknown, but from the teaser trailer (see below) there appears to be some sort of monster or alien that will wreck havoc on some unsuspecting people.
Main Cast: Kyle Chandler and Elle Fanning.
Why It’s Anticipated: J.J. Abrams is a brand onto himself, and thus his name alone gets people interested and excited for his projects (I know it does for me). Add the fact that Steven Spielberg is producing and that it is some type of monster/alien film, fans will be lining up in droves (I imagine at least). Abrams decided to cast relatively unknown actors in the film, which balks at the Hollywood system a bit, but has worked for him in the past. That said, both Chandler and Fanning have done notable work in past film and TV projects (Chandler is very good in Friday Night Lights and Fanning is getting great reviews for her performance in Somewhere). Based on Abrams’s great track record, this will probably be a fun summer movie.
Editor’s Thoughts: I am interested to see how the average movie-goer reacts to this film, no stars and it is being sold mostly on the names of Abrams and Spielberg. For me, that is enough, but I wonder how it will do among those that do not watch everything, read constantly about movies and TV and memorize the names of their favorite actors and filmmakers like me. I guess I will see with the reaction to the first full trailer.

Release: June 3rd
Genre: Action/Adventure
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Plot: The film is a prequel (or reboot) to the X-Men trilogy and Wolverine film. Set in the 1960s, it focuses on Charles Xavier and Erik Lesherr (Professor X and Magneto respectively) before they were superheroes and villains – when they were young men discovering their powers and the social and political implications of such power(s).
Why It’s Anticipated: The X-Men trilogy is ok. None of the films is anywhere near as good as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. The finale of the trilogy and the Wolverine film were big letdowns. Thus when a new X-Men film was announced, it was met with mostly groans – and with Bryan Singer back in a creative role it seemed doomed for the same mediocre results. However since then, director Matthew Vaughn and his creative team including screenwriter Jane Goldman were hired and reworked the script. And, a fantastic group of actors have been cast. Now, this film has shot up the anticipation list for most fans. Vaughn’s Kick-Ass was a stylized and awesome superhero film. If he can do that with the X-Men, it should be amazing.
Editor’s Thoughts: I did not care about this film at all after the last two films in the X-Men film series. But like many others, Vaughn’s name immediately got me interested. He originally was set to direct X-Men: The Last Stand, but left the project due to disputes with the studio. Now, we finally get to see his X-Men film. I am also, again like many others, really excited with the cast – especially Lawrence (who is great in Winter’s Bone, see it), Jones, Fassbender, Rose Byrne, and Hoult. This is probably the blockbuster I am most looking forward to after Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
Trailer (Not yet available)