Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Fall is not only just a change of season but it also a time where cinema begins to change colors and moods as we begin to see films that offer darker subject-matter, unconventional plots and exciting new works by respected and admired filmmakers. Lighter fare that is more commonly seen during the warmer months will most certainly continue to pop-up here and there but now we will have more opportunities to see rich, thought-provoking cinema that will stimulate, challenge and inspire.

Here are a small collection of films coming out over the next few months that I am highly anticipating. As always, the U.S. release dates for these films are subject to change:


"WUTHERING HEIGHTS"

Release date: October 12, 2012

A radical reworking of the classic British novel by Emily Bronte, "Wuthering Heights" now tells the story of  a young black child taken in by a farmer where he develops a relationship with his young daughter. James Howson and Kaya Scodelario play Heathcliff and Cathy as adults in this film written and directed by Andrea Arnold who won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2005. Although it's now just hitting our shores but the film has been screened at several film festivals (where it won Best Cinematography at the 2011 Venice Film Festival) and released theatrically in the U.K. last year to great acclaim.



"THE SESSIONS"

Release date: October 26, 2012

"The Sessions" premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival where the film won the Audience Award for Best Feature as well as a Jury Prize for Best Acting Ensemble. Oscar-winner, Helen Hunt returns in her first lead in a film role in quite awhile as a sex surrogate hired by a paralyzed poet (John Hawkes) with his fortieth birthday approaching and deciding he wants to lose his virginity. William H. Macy also stars.



"CLOUD ATLAS"

Release date: October 26, 2012

Billed as "the most expensive independent film of all-time" with a budget of one hundred million dollars, "Cloud Atlas" is an all-star, sci-fi drama directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and Andy and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix" trilogy). Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the film follows different people from the past, present and future and how their actions effect the world through each of the following generations. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon headline the large cast with each actor playing multiple characters.



"LINCOLN"

Release date: November 9, 2012

Director, Steven Spielberg is taking on the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln in this film which focuses on the last four months of the life of this great American with a screenplay written by the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, Tony Kushner. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the President and Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd. Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes and David Strathairm are just a few of the actors rounding out the large, impressive cast of "Lincoln".



"ANNA KARENINA"

Release date: November 16, 2012

Keira Knightley and director, Joe Wright have teamed-up again for the third time in another retelling of the classic Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, "Anna Karenina". The story of a nineteenth century married socialite (Knightley) who falls in love with a Count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) remains the same but this version is a glossy and heavily stylized drama set almost entirely in a theatrical setting. Jude Law, Emily Watson and Kelly Macdonald (TV's "Boardwalk Empire") also star.



"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"

Release date: November 21, 2012

"Silver Linings Playbook" just took home the prize as the People's Choice Award at the just recently ended Toronto Film Festival. This is a good sign of things to come for this film by the talented but difficult writer/director, David O. Russell which is the follow-up to his Oscar-winning film from 2010,"The Fighter". This comedy-drama stars Bradley Cooper as a former teacher just released from a mental institution in to the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). He has difficulty trying to readjust to life when he meets a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who has some serious issues of her own. After being away for quite awhile, comedian, Chris Tucker makes his long-awaited return in this film.



"ZERO DARK THIRTY"

Release date: December 19, 2012

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a term from military time which means "thirty minutes after midnight" and it is also the title of the new film by the team of director, Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter, Mark Boal who both won Oscars with their last collaboration on the 2009 Best Picture winner, "The Hurt Locker". This story focuses on how after the September 11th attack on America, a top team, made-up of intelligence and military, was assembled with only one mission; to track down and terminate the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong star in this dramatic action-thriller.



"ON THE ROAD"

Release date: December 21, 2012

It has taken quite a long time but Jack Kerouac's classic 1957 novel, "On The Road" has finally been turned in to a film. The story was a fictional take on Kerouac's actual travels with his soon-to-be influential friends (like writers, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs) across the U.S. in the 1940's with Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. "On The Road" is directed by Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), produced by Francis Ford Coppola and features Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

COSMOPOLIS (2012)

Written & Directed by David Cronenberg


Where & When: Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. September 10, 2012  3:50PM



"Cosmopolis", David Cronenberg's confounding and plodding new film focuses on a day in the life of a highly stressed-out, obscenely wealthy one perecenter who feels his world crushing in on him due to a possible devastating, personal financial crisis, the rising revolt by the other ninety-nine percent and the potential threat by an unstable stalker.

Set in the not too distant future, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a twenty-something, Manhattan billionaire who is burdened with too much time and money on his hands, has one simple goal for the day; to get a haircut from a specific barber across town.What should have been a simple ride is now complicated due to a visit by the President which has caused traffic to grind down to a crawl. While this could become a potentially unbearable situation for the average citizen but Packer is fortunate enough to be able to travel in style in the back of his luxurious stretch limousine. This state of the art machine serves more than one purpose as it's his home away from home that is highly comfortable and lined with all of the conveniences of modern technology.

Throughout his slow drive, a bevy of employees, associates, family and friends arrive in the limo to discuss various events and situations in the life of Eric Packer. The visitors include his tech guy (Jay Baruchel), the art consultant (Juliette Binoche), the chief advisor (Samantha Morton), a rap performer (K'naan), Elise (Sarah Gadon), the new wife who refuses to have sex with her husband and the doctor who performs his daily physical all under the watchful eye of his head of security (Kevin Durand).

As Packer moves closer to his destination, he becomes more erratic and unstable, committing shocking acts of violence before finally confronting the man that has been making threats against him, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), a former disgruntled employee.

Mr. Cronenberg's work tend to be either readily accessible ("The Fly", "Eastern Promises", "A Dangerous Method") or highly enigmatic ("Naked Lunch",  "eXistenZ", "Spider") with very little that falls in between with the possible exception of his 1996 controversial film, "Crash". This clearly makes him one of the most consistently fascinating filmmakers working today. Over the course of his career, the writer/director has adapted several seemingly unfilmable novels in to films with wildly mixed results but "Cosmopolis", based on the novel by Don DeLillo, was clearly misguided. This timely story which touches on this country's current financial crisis had clear potential but the execution of the film is what mainly brings this work down. Allowing most of the action to remain in the confines of the limo without giving the characters much more to do than simply talk (and talk) grows monotonous quite quickly with the uninspired attempts at humor and the largely, incomprehensible dialogue not helping matters.

The other problem was the casting of Mr. Pattinson. What was needed was a performer with some heft who would be able to draw you in to this dense material and could portray the dark inner life of this complex and unappealing character but unfortunately, the young actor is not quite up to the challenge. Perhaps his work playing an undead vampire in the "Twilight" saga seemed like he could be the right man for the job but all he seemed to expertly provide is the lifeless dimension of this character (and quite well I should add) but not much else. It didn't seem to matter what he was saying, Pattinson delivered each sentence with the same flat, monotone voice as his pained face still gave no clear indication of what his character was actually feeling. The only performers who managed to make any real impression were the much too brief appearances by Ms Binoche and Ms Morton, two very appealing character actresses who each manage to bring a spark of much needed life to these bleak proceedings.

"Cosmopolis" is another surreal vision by a passionate filmmaker with a eye for challenging, unconventional stories. While this is quite admirable and greatly appreciated but regrettably, his latest work lacks a pulse. There is a plot that could be taken straight from today's headlines but the film lacks persuasive emotion or outrage and there are plenty of eloquent words spoken but not nearly enough feeling behind them.

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

LAWLESS (2012)

Written by Nick Cave


Directed by John Hillcoat


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. September 2, 2012  4:15PM


I'm sure it's hard to imagine but there was a time, not so long ago, where it was actually illegal to sell alcohol in the United States. The ban went in to effect in 1920 and for thirteen long years before the repeal, America was supposed to remain bone dry but this certainly didn't stop people from getting their hands on booze. This spurred the creation of an underground industry of homemade liquor that was run and largely distributed by the mob.

"Lawless", based on the actual events covered in the novel, "The Wettest County In The World", a film about the Bondurant brothers, a trio of small-time bootleggers from Franklin County in Virginia who uses a diner as their front.  The brooding, Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the brains of the family operation who uses his words economically as his grunts clearly expresses exactly what he means. Wild-eyed and unpredictable, Howard (Jason Clarke) will gladly handle any opportunity that requires brute force. Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest who is probably much too sensitive for this line of work but determined to show that he can handle any of the dangers that come their way.

The country was in the middle of the depression as these simple, backwoods men discretely provide booze to the local area to help make some sort of decent living. The law enforcement, who receive liquor in exchange, turned a blind eye to the transactions. The tranquility is soon disrupted, first by the arrival of a mobster (Gary Oldman) out of Chicago who makes his presence felt by gunning down a rival in the middle of the town in broad daylight. Jack witnesses the murder, impressed and wishing he could be as bold and fearless.

Maggie (Jessica Chastain) a striking redhead clearly not from this part of town, enters the Bondurant bar looking for work and seemingly wanting to distance herself from her past. Forrest hires the mysterious lady as a waitress although the reason appears to be less about her skills as a server.

Finally, Special Agent Rakes (Guy Pierce) has been sent by the District Attorney to collect a cut from all of the bootleggers in the county but Forrest firmly refuses. Although Rakes arrives scented and looking quite the dandy, the man is sadistic, psychotic and more than ready to kill anyone who stands in his way of the completion of his assignment. A battle rages as much blood is spilled and the body count rises until a final showdown between the Bondurants and the agent reaches a deadly climax.

The Australians, director, Hillcoat and Nick Cave, who briefly put aside his day job as a rock musician to write this impressive screenplay, helped the film greatly by not feeling any strong obligation to go down any predictable road that is closely associated with this very American gangster genre. There is plenty of graphic, brutal violence to be found which is to be expected but what is unexpected is the amount of emotion which is not usually found with this type of film. The personal relationships and romantic encounters feel authentic and, at times, actually quite touching. "Lawless" is visually stunning thanks to the work of  cinematographer, Benoit Delhomme as he provides a rich and dusty palette as well as the picture perfect details of the costumes and production design by Margot Wilson and Chris Kennedy respectively.

A strong cast has been brought together including Mia Wasikowska as the daughter of a preacher that Jack is attracted to but highly improbable that her father would ever approve. His childish antics off-screen has warranted more attention than any of his previous work in any of the Hollywood blockbusters he has made but as the conflicted John, Mr. LaBeouf takes on a more mature part and does a fine job to show that he is capable of much more than what he has shown to date.  The British actor, Tom Hardy continues to impress in his varied roles in film with his most recent appearance as Bane in the final film of the Batman saga, "The Dark Knight Rises" as the actor was able to portray such intimating menace despite most of his face being covered by a mask. In "Lawless", Mr. Hardy has his whole, handsome face to work with as the prickly, indestructible brother as he quietly commands each moment he's on screen while Ms Chastain, another impressive rising star, also provides a poignant performance in her supporting role.

It appears that all of the right elements were in place and yet as the closing credits began to roll, it still felt that "Lawless" seemed to have just missed the mark of  being considered completely satisfying. Although this engaging work was inspired by the adventures of the real-life brothers, most of the events in "Lawless" plays too much like an overdone urban legend than anything close to an actual re-enactment of their colorful lives. However, despite this minor shortfall, this highly entertaining film should not be missed.

 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

As the second oldest festival of cinema in North America, The New York Film Film Festival celebrates it's fiftieth year with an impressive slate of film premieres, special events and appearances. The festival will be held on September 28th thru October 14th.

"Life of Pi", based on the best-selling novel, will kick-off this year's NYFF with the film being screened in 3D (a first for the festival) and directed by Ang Lee:



The centerpiece is "Not Fade Away", the feature film debut of David Chase, the acclaimed creator of the Emmy award winning television program, "The Sopranos":

The closing night film will be "Flight", directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Melissa Leo:



Some of the exciting events include a tribute to Oscar-winner, Nicole Kidman which will include a coversation with the actress as well as a screening of her latest film, "The Paperboy", directed by Lee Daniels;



A presentation of the digital restoration of David Lean's 1962 Academy-Award winner for Best Picture, "Lawrence of Arabia", The 25th anniversary screening of "The Princess Bride" which will include a cast reunion with director, Rob Reiner and a salute to Richard Pena, the program director of the NYFF for the past twenty-five years who is leaving his position at the end of the year.

I'm actually going to be in New York during the festival this time, so I am certainly going to try to see as much as I can.

For a complete listing of films and events, please go to: NYFF 2012