Wednesday, February 29, 2012

At the Movies – March 2012 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Being Flynn (Paul Weitz) – Drama – Mar 2 [limited]
Summary: Nick Flynn, a struggling writer, takes a job at a homeless shelter to gather ideas. At the shelter, he encounters his estranged father, a self-proclaimed poet. Nick senses trouble in his own life and battles with the notion of starting a new relationship with his father. Filmmakers: Writer-director Paul Weitz has done good work in the past (notably About a Boy), but in recent years has churned out three duds in a row. Hopefully, this will be his resurgence. He is working with composer Damon Gough (About a Boy), cinematographer Declan Quinn (The Lucky Ones) and production designer Sarah Knowles (Arthur). Cast: The film stars Robert De Niro and Paul Dano and features Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby and Lili Taylor in support. Expectations: Paul Weitz in the director chair is a bit of a red flag (at least for me), but this does have a great cast. If Weitz just shoots the film straightforward, allowing the performances to drive the narrative, it should turn out well. Trailer: Here.

Silent House (Chris Kentis & Laura Lau) – Horror – Mar 9 [limited]
Summary: Visiting her family’s lakeside house, Sarah is terrorized, trapped inside the house. Filmmakers: Writer-director-producer Laura Lau and writer-director Chris Kentis are the team behind Open Water. They are working with composer Nathan Larson (Margin Call), cinematographer Igor Martinovic (The Tillman Story) and production designer Roshelle Berliner (Precious). Cast: The film stars Elizabeth Olsen (and is sort of a tour de force for her). Expectations: The premise of this film is that it takes place in real-time; not a new concept but something that should work well within the horror/thriller genre. This is also on many people’s radar as it is Olsen’s first follow-up to her fantastic performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene (which was one of my favorite performances of 2011). While I do not think this film will be anywhere near as good as Martha Marcy May Marlene, I am intrigued to see Olsen’s performance in this as running around being scared is thought of as easy, but the quality of these sort of films often hinges on just how good the lead is. Trailer: Here.

The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) – Drama – Mar 16 [NYC]
Summary: Cyril, a young boy, is abandoned by his father and taken in by the state. Samantha, the town’s hairdresser, decides that she with foster the boy on the weekends in a random act of kindness. Filmmakers: The film is by the writer-director brothers from Belgium: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La Promesse and The Child are two of their better known films). They are working with cinematographer Alain Marcoen, who has shot most of their films. Cast: It stars newcomer Thomas Doret and Cecile De France (one of Belgium’s biggest international stars at present) with Jeremie Renier and Fabrizio Rongione in support. Expectations: It won the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Film, and was thought to be among the five Best Foreign Film nominees at the 2012 Oscars (though that did not happen). For those that like dramas and do not mind subtitles and relatively unknown actors (especially for viewers in the States), this should be well worth your time. Trailer: Here.

The Raid (Gareth Evans) – Action – Mar 23 [limited]
Summary: Responding to a call, a SWAT team finds themselves trapped inside a tenement owned by a mobster who unleashes droves of killers and thugs upon them. Now, they must fight to escape. Filmmakers: Welsh writer-director Gareth Evans returns to the genre of action with his new film (his last was Merantau). He is working with a trio of composers (Aria Prayogi, Joseph Trapanese and Fajar Yuskemal) and cinematographer Matt Flannery (who has shot all three of Evans’s films). Cast: It stars Indonesian martial arts champion Iko Uwais (who was discovered by Evans while Evans was making a documentary in 2007 – this is their second collaboration). Expectations: While Evans’s first two films were not successful, The Raid has been adored by anyone lucky enough to see it – even winning a Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award. It is an epic action film with countless fantastic sequences and stunts. It is an absolute must-see for martial arts style action fans. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Summary: Tim and Eric get a billion dollars to make a movie, but when production starts to go off-course they try to revitalize a failing shopping mall to make the money back (yes, it sounds ridiculous). Filmmakers: The film is by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the guys behind the HBO show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! They are working with producers Mark Cuban (probably where the money came from), Will Ferrell (who also has a cameo) and Adam McKay, as well as composer Davin Wood (who works on their show), cinematographer Rachel Morrison (The Hills) and production designer Rosie Sanders (who also works on their show). Cast: Along with Tim and Eric, there are a lot of celebrity cameos, including: A.D. Miles, Jeff Goldblum, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte, William Atherton, Ray Wise, Robert Loggia, and John C. Reilly. Expectations: This is pretty much exclusively made for fans of the show, but I assume there is hope that it will draw new fans to Tim and Eric’s stuff. The film is random and wacky (basically think of a live-action Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters). Trailer: Here.

Goon (Michael Dowse) – Sports Comedy – Mar 30
Summary: Doug Glatt, a bouncer, is an underachiever, especially when compared to his brainy family. However, Doug has a chance at glory when he joins an underperforming semi-pro hockey team as their enforcer. Filmmakers: Canadian director Michael Dowse has done funny work in Canada, but his first Hollywood film Take Me Home Tonight was fairly awful. Thankfully, Goon is a Canadian film, and he is working with a writing team made up very funny people: Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg. Dowse is also working with composer Ramachandra Borcar and cinematographer Bobby Shore (who he has worked with before). Cast: The film stars Seann William Scott and features Baruchel, Live Schreiber, Alison Pill, Kim Coates, and Eugene Levy in support, making up a great comedic group. Expectations: Goon opened in the U.K. in January and played to good reviews. It will also be available early via VOD in the States (Feb 24th). I think it looks funny, and as a hockey fan I am looking forward to a good hockey comedy (the last one was probably Slap Shot, which this seems to resemble quite a bit). I also find it interesting when juxtaposed to what is happening in the NHL with the decline of the ‘enforcer’ role, fighting even being discussed as no longer being a necessary part of the game (though, many would argue that and fans love it). Trailer: Here. Review.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wanderlust (2012) – Review

Review: Wanderlust is a crude comedy that is ultimately funny, but not well crafted. The film is about George and Linda, two New Yorkers who find themselves bankrupt when George loses his job. To get back on their feet, they move to Atlanta to stay with George’s horrible brother, stopping along the way at a commune to spend a night on the road. When George’s brother becomes too much to bare, they decide to give the commune a chance, having spent a wonderful night there. Writer-director David Wain and producer Judd Apatow sort of know what their intended audience wants: R-rated humor in a comedy with strong characters that actually connect with the audience. For most of their intended audience, they get the humor right. And really, this is the saving grace of the film. It is very funny at times, jokes originating from outlandish characters (and normal people, George and Linda, reacting to them) and explicit material (there is a lot of male and female nudity). Taken at face value, the jokes for the most part work well. However, the principal issue with this film is that it is not very well written both from a character standpoint and in terms of its narrative structure, in both cases holding it back from being a good comedy. The jokes do not have as much impact or meaning because the audience does not care about this characters (especially Linda – who is developed to be a foil for whatever is happing around her void of any real emotion of her own). The narrative structure (built by Wain to be a romantic comedy that only works as one when the plot has nowhere else to go) is not only hollow but also ends abruptly without any sense of real dramatic closure. It is as if the filmmakers did not quite know how to end it, so they played out the first moments of the third act and then cut straight to the prologue, hoping that it would wrap up the story enough for the audience (it does not – at least for those that care about story and are not just in it for the jokes). Even with the best jokes in the world (and this is for from having them), characters and story still need to come first (which seems to be a constant theme in Wain’s work: jokes before story and fully developed fleshed out characters). Wanderlust is going to work for some viewers looking to just have fun and laugh at R-rated Wain and Apatow style comedy (and that is fine), but held against the quality of work (especially from Apatow) we have come to expect from these filmmakers this film is quite disappointing.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Wain (as stated above) continues to struggle with getting all aspects of his films right. While Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten and this all have very funny moments, all three ultimately are underwhelming because they lack strong characters and good storytelling (though, for Wet Hot American Summer [being a spoof] and The Ten [being a series of shorts] the style of comedy also contributed to the difficulty in achieving developed characters and a well-done narrative). Role Models, however, is a comedy Wain got right, which made my expectations for Wanderlust higher (and is the reason I am more disappointed). Composer Craig Wedren and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain both do straight-forward work for the genre, but Aaron Osborne’s production design that stands out. His sets for the commune both feel exaggerated and funny, while still seeming real enough to accept. I also found his set for George’s brother’s house to be funny (there seems to be a TV playing somewhere in every shot). Wain incorporates many of his buddies from The State, and to mostly very good results. The supporting cast is good, highlighted by Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Ken Marino, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney, and especially Joe Lo Truglio. Leads Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are not really given much to work with character wise and thus Aniston just sort of does the same thing she always does in subpar comedies and Rudd tries his best to be funny as a likable goofy slightly weird and awkward guy. It works for Rudd, though he is much better when playing a fuller character (as any good actor would be) but Aniston just sort of takes up space.

Summary & score: Wanderlust is funny, very funny at times, but just not a very good film as a whole. 6/10

Monday, February 27, 2012

Movie of the Week – Roman Holiday

This week’s movie is Roman Holiday (1953).

The romantic comedy is about Princess Ann, who is on a tour of European capitals. She is tired of her structured and controlled life and decides to run away while in Rome where she encounters newspaperman Joe Bradley. It is produced and directed by William Wyler (the man behind classics such as: Ben-Hur, The Big Country, The Best Years of Our Lives, Mrs. Miniver, and The Little Foxes) and written by then blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Also working on the film were composer Georges Auric, cinematographers Henri Alekan and Franz Planer (a frequent collaborator with Wyler), art directors Hal Pereira and Walter H. Tyler, and legendary costume designer Edith Head. Audrey Hepburn (making her Hollywood debut) and Gregory Peck starred in the film with Eddie Albert in support. Roman Holiday was shot entirely in Rome, which was very uncommon for that time (studio backlots being so extensive). It is one of the great romance films, introducing the world to Audrey Hepburn who won the Best Actress Oscar for her work on the film (it won three Oscars in total; the other two being writing and costume design). It is the standard for which all future romantic comedies are set against, and a must-see for fans of the genre (and Wyler, Hepburn and/or Peck). Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paul Rudd – Movies Spotlight – March 2012

Paul Rudd, 42, is one of the best comedic actors working today. Probably best known for his work with Judd Apatow and David Wain, Rudd has recently become a potential comedy A-List leading man. This month he stars in a new film directed by Wain, produced by Apatow and co-starring Jennifer Aniston called Wanderlust. It is about two New Yorkers who leave the rat-race and move to a commune. Rudd has the unique ability to play both the straight-man and the ridiculous character in comedies, and has a strong capacity for drama as well, making him one of the great leading men today (and one of my personal favorites).

Early Career:

Rudd began his career in the early 1990s appearing in a few TV movies and on the shows Wild Oats and Sisters. In 1995, he got his first break taking a supporting, but important, role in Clueless playing Josh – a very likable guy. From there, Rudd got a supporting role in another huge teen hit – Romeo + Juliet, playing Paris. And then came the inevitable romantic comedies – his first paring was with Reese Witherspoon in Overnight Delivery (a film that I actually quite like for what it is). Next, he starred opposite Jennifer Aniston in The Object of My Affection (a film that is getting new life from their pairing in Wanderlust). Both rom-coms are decent to good, but neither was a big hit for Rudd. He got a part in the (terrible) Gen-X ensemble 200 Cigarettes and a small supporting role (that is mostly overlooked) in the Oscar nominated film The Cider House Rules. While Rudd had success in the teen market early in his career, he was not quite connecting as a leading man. Plus, his ability to do both comedy and drama well was actually somewhat working against him as he was not finding as many great film roles coming into the 2000s. And when he did, for example The Shape of Things (which was touted to be a big hit with thought-to-be future A-Listers Rachel Weisz and Gretchen Mol co-starring), the films never quite panned out into box office success (or critical success either). But then two things happened: first, he met David Wain; second, he went back to TV and got a big supporting role on Friends playing Phoebe’s future husband.

Working with David Wain:

In 2001, Rudd got a supporting role in David Wain’s first feature film Wet Hot American Summer (which Rudd steals most of the scenes he is in), a very funny satirical 1980s style summer camp movie (think of something like Meatballs, but totally ridiculous and aware of itself). The project also hooked him up with Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, and Michael Ian Black (and others) from The State (which David Wain also worked on). Leading to parts in The Baxter, Stella, The Ten (Wain’s second feature), Reno 911! and its feature film Reno 911!: Miami, and Wainy Days. Rudd has since become a viable comedic leading man again, and it was Wain who gave him his first big leading comedy role in Role Models. Rudd plays the straight-man to Seann William Scott, but it is Rudd’s dry humor and deep sadness behind his comedic front that makes the film great. The film’s success proved Rudd to be a bankable leading man.

Working with Judd Apatow:

With Friends coming to an end in 2004, Rudd had a chance to reinvent himself in the world of feature films – being known mostly as ‘the nice guy’. This opportunity came in the Judd Apatow produced Adam McKay directed Will Ferrell vehicle Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Rudd is hilarious as Brian Fantana (stealing a few scenes and moments). Next, he took a supporting role in Apatow’s feature directorial debut The 40 Year Old Virgin. Again, Rudd is brilliant (playing the emotionally damaged friend still stuck on a girl who dumped him). Apatow cast him again in his next feature Knocked Up. In a supporting role, Rudd masters the balance between humor and drama playing a husband/father who is not as happy as the situation would seem to otherwise dictate. The film is overall very funny, but Rudd’s character has the most emotional depth. He shows up in cameo roles in the Apatow produced comedies Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, playing John Lennon, and Year One (which is awful), playing Abel. He is very funny playing a surf instructor who has checked-out a bit in the Apotow produced Jason Segel film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. If you were to make a five-film box set for Rudd, at the minimum three would come from his collaborations with Apatow.

Other Notable Projects:

In addition to his work with Wain and Apatow (and the projects already discussed above), Rudd has featured in a few other good films, most notably: I Love You, Man which he co-starred with Jason Segel. Rudd plays a very goofy and awkward version of his nice-guy straight-man in it. In 2006 he took a small supporting role in Night at the Museum. He parlayed that into a supporting voice role in another broad comedy Monsters vs Aliens (one of three films that he has worked with Reese Witherspoon on – the others being Overnight Delivery, as mentioned above, and the letdown James L. Brooks film How Do You Know, though he is good in it). Continuing the trend of broad comedy, Rudd co-starred with Steve Carell in 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks (which, while mostly disliked by critics, I found to be enjoyable). Lastly, Rudd took on a character role with 2011’s Our Idiot Brother – a film that faltered mostly due to poor directing (Jesse Peretz’s other film is the horribly awful The Ex, though Rudd does have a funny cameo in it) and the audience not really knowing what to expect going in (i.e. they thought it would be an Apatow-style comedy but it is a character piece). TV wise, Rudd has worked with writer Rob Thomas twice, both to excellent results. First, he took a one-episode role in Veronica Mars. The episode is season three’s Debasement Tapes, in which Rudd plays a has-been genius songwriter who gets new life breathed into him after hanging out with one of his fans. It is among my ten favorite episodes of the series. After that, Rudd worked with Thomas again as one of the creators of Party Down – one of the best comedies on TV in the last twenty years.

Upcoming Projects:

Along with Wanderlust, Rudd has two other projects scheduled for distribution in 2012. First, he has a supporting role in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower about an introverted freshman, Charlie, who is exposed to the real world when two seniors take him under their wings. It has a brilliant young cast with Emma Watson, Nina Dobrev, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, and Reece Thompson. Rudd plays Bill, Charlie’s encouraging English teacher. Then, Rudd stars opposite Leslie Mann in Judd Apatow’s fourth film This is 40, a spinoff of Knocked Up focusing on Deb and Pete. Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks, Chris O’Dowd, and John Lithgow feature in support. It is scheduled to be released around Christmas. In 2013, Rudd has two projects on the books. Lucky Dog is about two French Canadian Christmas tree salesmen who go to New York to sell trees. It stars Paul Giamatti and Sally Hawkins in addition to Rudd. But, the more interesting of the two is Freezing People Is Easy. Directed by brilliant documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, to name but two), the film is about a man who experiments within the field of cryogenics during the 1960s. It is being described as a drama-comedy-horror, and has a fantastic cast with Rudd joining Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken.

Career Highlights:

1)      Clueless (1995) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
2)      Overnight Delivery (1998) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
3)      The Cider House Rules (1999) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
4)      Wet Hot American Summer (2001) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
5)      Friends (2002-2004) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
7)      The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
8)      Knocked Up (2007)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
9)      Veronica Mars: Debasement Tapes (2007) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
10)   Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
11)   Role Models (2008) – leading/writer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
12)   I Love You, Man (2009)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
13)   Party Down (2009-2010) – producer/writer (DVD, Streaming)
14)   Our Idiot Brother (2011) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Brother Ali – The Bite Marked Heart EP (2012) – Review

Brother Ali – The Bite Marked Heart
As a preview to his upcoming album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, the Minneapolis MC Brother Ali released this EP featuring Valentine’s Day themed tracks. Musically, the album is good, as Brother Ali works well with producers Ant (who produced his entire last album Us) and Jake One. Brother Ali lyrically is on his game, and his flow is fantastic. His words have power and real meaning (not all flash and boast). This is a good EP, and probably a must for fans of Brother Ali and the more ‘real’ hip hop sound, but it is not going to convert any new listeners. It works best as a preview to wet our appetites for his highly anticipated new album (especially after how good Us was). 3/5

Editor’s Essential Tracks:
1)      I Can’t Wait – Produced by Jake One
2)      Haunted Housebroken – Produced by Jake One, featuring Aby Wolf
3)      Shine On – Produced by Jake One, featuring Nikki Jean

Available on Digital Download

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie of the Week – The Royal Tenenbaums

This week’s movie is The Royal Tenebaums (2001).

The dramedy is about a family of child prodigies that has grown apart. When their estranged father pretends to have cancer in a veiled attempt to make amends for being an asshole his whole life, the family reunites. It is the third feature film from writer-director Wes Anderson, and it is co-written by Owen Wilson (who also co-wrote Rushmore and Bottle Rocket) – he also has a supporting role. Anderson has the same principal crew from his first two features with composer Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo), director of photography Robert D. Yeoman and production designer David Wasco. The film has a brilliant cast with Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, and Owen Wilson. Alec Baldwin serves as the narrator. Anderson’s style is at its apex with The Royal Tenenbaums, building off of Rushmore. Every frame has been specifically designed with no detail left unkempt (I love the paintings in Eli’s house, for example). Just from an artistic perspective, the film is marvelous – should you take the time to watch it multiple times paying attention to the background, how the camera moves and how the blocking is staged. Also, how the images flow with the great soundtrack. However, it is also very good from a comedy and drama perspective. The dry witty humor is wonderful, but the drama and characters are even more powerful. It is quite a sad film really. All these characters are damaged, and while there is reconciliation, many are still left with pain. This is a must-see for fans of Anderson’s work. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Peter Sellers – Hollywood Legends – February 2012

Peter Sellers is best known as a brilliant comedic actor, The Pink Panther series with director Blake Edwards probably his most famous work. He also had notable roles in films directed by Hal Ashby and Stanley Kubrick. Sellers starred in just over eighty films, creating some of the funniest and most memorable characters. He was an absolute chameleon with the ability to completely transform himself. While he does not often get the recognition outside the world of comedy (not to mention that a large portion of his career was spent making terrible films), Sellers is one of the most iconic and best actors of all-time.

Early Career:

Sellers got his start while serving as an airman in the Royal Air Force, having enlisted during World War II. He joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), which allowed him to hone his comedy and drumming skills. ENSA’s main focus was to boost morale of soldiers and factory workers. Sellers also occasionally impersonated superior officers, using mimicry and a false moustache, even bluffing his way into the Officer’s Mess. Once out of the RAF in 1948, Sellers made a living doing stand-up routines, but he wanted more. To get BBC radio producer Roy Speer on the phone, he called up and pretended to be Kenneth Horne, a radio star at the time. Speer was impressed and Sellers was given an audition resulting in his first radio job: Ray’s a Laugh with comedian Ted Ray. However, Sellers’s next radio project would make him a star of radio in Britain – The Goon Show, which he did with Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. He also made a short film with Milligan in 1960 called The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film. It was nominated for an Oscar. In the late 1950s, Sellers released two comedy records produced by George Martin, but wanted more. He began to audition for TV and films. In 1955, having featured in a few films and TV series, Sellers got his first break with a supporting role in the comedy The Ladykillers, which stars Alec Guinness. It was nominated for Best British Film at the 1956 BAFTA Awards.

Recognition and the Ability to Play Any Role:

In 1957, Sellers took a supporting role in The Smallest Show on Earth playing an elderly theatre projectionist, while he himself was only thirty-two. With the success of The Ladykillers, Sellers’s ability to play just about any character and his notoriety from The Goon Show, he got the lead in the 1959 war comedy The Mouse That Roared – a film in which Sellers plays three different principal roles: the elderly queen, the ambitious prime minister and the clumsy man selected to lead an invasion of the United States. When the film was released in the States, he received a lot of positive publicity for playing three parts. Next, Sellers starred with Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas and Richard Attenborough in I’m All Right Jack, directed by John Boulting. The very funny comedy won two BAFTA awards: Best British Screenplay and Best British Actor for Sellers. Now, he had some recognition for being not only a very funny comedian, but also a great actor. He continued to star in British comedies into the early 1960s, but again he wanted more – to go to Hollywood. His first major role came in 1962.

Working with Stanley Kubrick:

In 1962 Sellers’s first chance to work in Hollywood for a major director came when Stanley Kubrick approached him to take a supporting role in his new film Lolita, which starred James Mason, Sue Lyon and Shelley Winters. Kubrick had been a fan of Sellers’s earlier films and radio work and was intrigued by his range (here is an interview in which Sellers demonstrated the different accents within the U.K.). However, Sellers was nervous to take the role of Quilty at first. Kubrick eventually persuaded him. Sellers was highly encouraged to improvise throughout filming. Kubrick even shot his scenes with multiple camera set ups at the same time to allow Seller total freedom. Sellers remembers the experience as one of the most rewarding of his career, and he is particularly brilliant in the film. He worked again with Kubrick in 1964 on his next film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Sellers was cast as the lead, playing four characters: U.S. President Merkin Muffley, German physicist Dr. Strangelove, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF, and Major T.J. ‘King’ Kong. He initially had trouble getting the Texas accent just right, and had a heavy workload on the film was making it difficult for him to only focus on that character. Kubrick asked screenwriter Terry Southern (raised in Texas) to provide a tape to Sellers with the lines spoken in the correct accent. Sellers finally got the accent and began filming the role, but he injured his leg and could no longer fit in the cockpit set, and thus the part was recast with Slim Pickens. Kubrick again gave Sellers total freedom to improvise, creating one of Sellers’s greatest performances leading to his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor (I particularly like his scenes as Mandrake playing against Sterling Hayden’s Brigadier General Jack Ripper).

Working with Blake Edwards:

While Sellers’s work with Kubrick gave him two of his best performances and films, his collaborations with Blake Edwards would give him his most iconic and fruitful character – Inspector Jacques Clouseau. It all began with Edwards’s deciding to make a crime comedy starring David Niven as a charming cat burglar The Phantom in The Pink Panther, named for the famous diamond The Phantom is after. Sellers was cast as a bumbling yet bigheaded French inspector on The Phantom’s trail. Now, many think of this as Sellers’s film, but it was really Niven’s film when it was released – Peter Ustinov was even the producers’ first choice for Clouseau. Sellers was relatively unknown internationally at the time. However, Sellers completely stole the film. Thus, production for a sequel with Sellers at the center was hurried along and A Shot in the Dark came out only three months after The Pink Panther. While The Pink Panther is a fairly typical 1960s comedy (goofiness succeeding over content and quality to some degree), A Shot in the Dark is a brilliant comedy, and one of the best of the decade (if not ever). The films sent Sellers into probably the peak of his fame, along with his Kubrick films. However, Sellers took on many terrible projects for the next few years (even trying to play James Bond in Casino Royale, realizing that the filmmakers just wanted him to be goofy and quitting the film) and suffered a heart attack while filming Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid. In 1968 Sellers reconnected with Edwards to make The Party, a slapstick comedy centered on an Indian actor who is mistakenly invited to a swanky Hollywood party. Sellers plays the role like he was one of the great slapstick comedians (Charles Chaplin, Jacques Tati or Buster Keaton), wandering around the party getting himself into trouble with physical gags. It is a riot. From there, Sellers took on another slew of bad projects and found himself struggling as a ‘fallen star’. So, he once again returned to Edwards and the Pink Panther series making a trilogy from 1975-1978. The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again are both amazingly brilliant slapstick comedies with Sellers at the top of his game. The Revenge of the Pink Panther is funny, too, but not nearly as good.

One Last Brilliant Peformance:

Outside of his collaborations with Edwards, Sellers did not really have very many good films between 1965 and 1978. But, Hoffman and Murder by Death are two of them (and he did a great job hosting The Muppets). Sellers had for years been trying to get Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There made into a film, but he kept running into problems – first, Kosinski did not want it to be made into a film and second, outside of the Pink Panther films he was no longer a bankable star. He finally convinced Kosinski to let a film version happen in 1979 (nearly nine years after the novel had come out) when Hal Ashby joined to direct, providing that Kosinski wrote the script. Now that the film was to be made, Sellers spent most of his time preparing the character of Chance, particularly his voice and walk (for Sellers, the voice was always the most important and led to everything else). During filming, Sellers remained in character throughout, even when he went home, avoiding other actors and crew members and not giving any interviews to the press. The film came out to great success. Sellers’s performance was called his crowning achievement, garnering him his second Best Actor Oscar nomination (and it is a travesty that he did not win – some speculate it is due to the outtakes being included during the credits “breaking the spell” of the film, while other think it is due to Sellers essentially being blacklisted by Hollywood). While Being There was not his last film (as he had a second major heart attack that took his life in 1980), The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu taking that honor, Sellers gives what is his finest and most personal performance of his career.

Peter Sellers’s Career Highlights:

1)      The Ladykillers (1955) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
2)      I’m All Right Jack (1959) – supporting (DVD)
3)      The Mouse That Roared (1959) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
4)      Lolita (1962) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
5)      The Pink Panther (1963) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
6)      Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD)
7)      A Shot in the Dark (1964)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
8)      The Party (1968) – leading (DVD)
9)      Hoffman (1971) – leading (DVD)
10)   The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
11)   Murder by Death (1976) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
12)   The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)* – leading (DVD)
13)   Being There (1979)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Innkeepers (2012) – Review

Review: The Innkeepers is a good horror film made in the classic style, favoring slow building tension over gore, loud noises and impact cuts. The film is about two employees, Claire and Luke, working the last weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn before it closes for good (a real life place that is supposedly haunted; most of the filming was done onsite). The inn has a history of hauntings related to a suicide by a grief stricken bride years ago. Luke and Claire set out to find evidence of the hauntings, while killing time in the almost empty inn. Writer-director Ti West is not interested in making the typical gore centric or cheap thrill style horror film with this, as the film builds very slowly with almost no sign of the spirits (or ghosts) for most of the first half of the film. Rather, West relies on the classic tension building devices of a great creepy score, darkly lit corridors in which the camera lingers behind following the characters around each corner (the audience, influenced by the score, expecting something to jump out at any moment) and characters that the audience relates to who believe in the spirits (i.e. Claire). What is fantastic about this film is that West piles on the tension and suspense for almost the whole film before anything scary happens, but the tension gets to the point where it is almost too much for the audience to bare, completely captivating them emotionally – to varying degrees of release (I myself wanted to yell at the screen to tell Claire to get out of there). The expectation that West creates is where the fear comes from, not so much what the audience actually sees onscreen – and this is very rare in modern horror (which is too bad), be it due to shoddy filmmaking or audience demand (it is probably a little of each). Taken at face value, the spirits are not very scary. It is the buildup of tension that frightens us ultimately. West also makes the film have a mystery aspect to it (something that is easy to miss if you are not paying attention), which is often the case of the genre but West twists it enough to make it feel fresh (and well-written; though it seems that many viewers missed the reveal). However due to West building the tension slowly and the lack of thrills through most of the runtime (as it is not that kind of horror film), this is not going to work for everyone, especially those looking for the typical genre fare of late (Saw, Paranormal Activity, something gory in 3D). Also, and this is really an issue with the genre as a whole,  horror films are often predicated on their characters being overly curious, stupid and having an overall terrible decision-making ability, and this is no different almost to a frustrating degree. Claire just cannot get out of her own way (it is inevitable, I guess). The Innkeepers overall is one of the better horror films in recent years capitalizing on good storytelling, characters and directing instead of cheap thrills.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Ti West has created a good niche for himself making low-budget indie horror films (and I think this is his best to date, though The House of the Devil is good too). Though, I would like to see what he could do with a bigger budget and more established actors (not that it is completely up to him). Composer Jeff Grace’s score is one of the highlights of the film. It is spooky and sells the audience completely on the emotions they should be feeling at a given moment (here is a portion of it). It has the feel of the great classic horror scores. Eliot Rockett’s cinematography and Jade Healy’s production design plays into the realism that West wants to create for the film. Both the actors’ performances and the atmosphere are anchored in realism which allows West to so effectively build tension as the audience relates to the characters (and to some degree their choices; I however would have been gone at the first sign of ghosts, but I probably never would have gone looking for them in the first place). The Innkeepers’s success is reliant on the quality of its cast, and for the most part they are good. Kelly McGillis is okay in the film, but a strong performance in her role would have been better. Pat Healy is good as the nerdy guy who just wants to seem cool for the girl he likes (and I think one of the great things that West did with the film in making good characters was have a fun chemistry between his leads; two bored underachievers goofing off). Sara Paxton is very good in the film, carrying it well. She is willful yet pulls off being terrified superbly so that the audience is also nervous watching (I hope to see her get more starring roles in quality projects in the future).

Summary & score: The Innkeepers is a well-written, well-acted take on the classic horror thrillers of the 1970s. 7/10