Sunday, December 30, 2012

THIS IS 40 (2012)

Written & Directed by Judd Apatow


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 22, 2012  8:15PM



There was a time when turning thirty used to be the age filled with anxiety and panic as it seemed you were soon on the verge of requiring a walker and spending the rest of your days playing bingo. Now, because of healthy living and medical advancements, the age has been pushed back to forty as the new time in a person's life that brings fear, dread and the first sign of noticeable wrinkles.

"This Is Forty" is the latest raunchy comedy laced with heart by writer/director, Judd Apatow that tackles the subject of the many difficulties of aging in the modern world. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (otherwise known as Mrs. Apatow) reprise their supporting roles in Mr. Apatow's 2007 film, "Knocked-Up" as a long married L.A. couple both approaching middle-age with their two daughters; Sadie, a difficult and complicated teenager and her younger sister, Charlotte who are played once again by the film maker's children, Maude and Iris Apatow. While there should be plenty of comic gold to be found about growing older, the film tends to focus on the quick, cheap laugh of youth instead of pursuing the introspective humor of a mature adult. Since this was clearly made with grown folks in mind, it relies much too heavily on vulgar, comedic antics that feels too juvenile. However, Mr. Rudd and Ms Mann make an appealing team and bring out the best in each other.

Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) are both turning forty a few days apart and while Pete has accepted the fact and is having a party to celebrate, his wife is miserable about the idea and wants no part of the party they usually share. The couple has bigger problems, however, as Pete left a major record label to start his own music label, sinking much of his money in to producing a record for a musician that he loves; 70's rocker, Graham Parker. With his PR team (which include Lena Dunham of HBO's "Girls" and "Bridesmaids" star, Chris O'Dowd), they are trying to figure out how to generate some serious sales for this album that few modern audiences seem interested in, otherwise he might lose his house. Pete suffers another financial drain as he secretly continues to give money to his father, Larry (Albert Brooks) against Debbie's wishes. With a younger wife and a set of triplet toddlers he can't tell apart,  Larry has no problem laying a guilt-trip on his son until he gives in to helping out his old man.

Meanwhile, Debbie has opened a clothing boutique but has discovered that a significant sum of money is missing. She has two employees with one, Jodi (Charlyne Yi) confiding to Debbie that she thinks that Desi (Megan Fox) is the one stealing mainly because she recently purchased some expensive goods and she's very attractive. Debbie's relationship with her icy father (John Lithgow) has remained strained and uncomfortable that it's managed to spill over in to her marriage in unexpected ways. In between all of their personal stress, the couple has to deal with their teenage daughter's irrational meltdowns, dramatic outbursts and the pangs of her first school crush.

Mr. Apatow has achieved great success by finding great humor in uncomfortably, crude situations, crass language and bodily functions while somehow managing to give it an air of intelligence and sophistication but with "This Is Forty", the thread-bare plot has much more in common with a teen comedy like "American Pie" than the original film this sort-of-sequel follows. Although the director's script is smart, filled with insightful thoughts and hilarious zingers but the film feels haphazardly thrown together and unnecessarily lengthy. This is not helped by allowing his talented cast to veer the story off course with them improvising wildly. While they deliver some very funny bits, it ends up with some strange behavior and inappropriate dialogue that their characters would not believably do.

With this collection of top-notch comedians on screen, it would be difficult for any one performer to stand out but in this case there are actually two; one that is not quite surprising and the other is very unexpected. Melissa McCarthy, (who also stole the show in "Bridesmaids") manages to steal the film in her over-the-top, brief appearance as the uptight mother of the boy that Sadie has a crush on while Ms Fox, the beauty best known for her dramatic moments in the "Transformers" flicks, displays some serious comedic chops. Apatow cast her based on her very funny appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and it proves to be no fluke as the actress is fearless, willing to look completely ridiculous for a laugh.

While it dazzles with an impressive ensemble and shining moments of clever humor, "This Is Forty" feels fairly conventional and uninspired as it lacks that sparkle that made Mr Apatow's previous work so entertainingly funny. The film actually makes forty feel old, deranged and not exactly a wonderful time in some one's life.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress has selected twenty-five American films that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and will be preserved for future generations. The films range from the oldest; the 1897 document which chronicles the famed boxing match between "Gentleman Jim" and Bob Fitzgerald held on St Patrick's Day to the first filmed version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to the Audrey Hepburn classic, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" to the iconic 1971 Clint Eastwood film, "Dirty Harry" to the sci-fi thriller, "The Matrix".

The Librarian makes the annual selections to the registry after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and conferring with library film curators and members of the National Film Preservation Board. This year's selections bring the number of films in the registry to 600 since the program began in 1989.

These are the following films selected to the 2012 National Film Registry:

"The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight" (1897)

"The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England" (1914)

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1914)

"Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests" (1922)

"The Augustas" (1930s-1950s)

"The Kidnappers Foil" (1930s-1950s)

"Sons of the Desert" (1933)

"The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair" (1939)

"Born Yesterday" (1950)



"3:10 to Yuma" (1957)

"Anatomy of a Murder" (1959)

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)



"Parable" (1964)

"They Call It Pro Football" (1967)

"Dirty Harry" (1971)



"Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971)



"The Spook Who Sat by the Door" (1973)

"Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2" (1980-82)

"A Christmas Story" (1983)

"The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984)



"Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia" (1990)

"Slacker" (1991)



"A League of Their Own" (1992)



"One Survivor Remembers" (1995)

"The Matrix" (1999)





Thursday, December 13, 2012

HITCHCOCK (2012)


Written by John J. McLaughlin


Directed by Sacha Gervasi


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  December 1, 2012  7:10 PM



It has been said that behind every man is a good woman and that is proven in "Hitchcock", an old-fashioned, Technicolor love story about the "Master of Suspense", Alfred Hitchcock and his struggle to bring to the screen the 1960 horror classic, "Psycho". The film makes it clear that this now classic probably would not have happened at all without the invaluable assistance of his devoted wife, Alma Reville. British acting royalty and Oscar winners, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren bring the couple to cinematic life in this glossy but stilted bio-pic that could only happen in Hollywood

We first meet Hitchcock (Hopkins) after the success of his latest film, "North By Northwest" and his foray in to the new medium, television which has made him a household name. After his assistant, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette) gives him the new book, "Psycho" by Robert Bloch which was loosely based on the Wisconsin murderer, Ed Gein, Hitchcock decides this story will be his next film. Although he owes Paramount Pictures another film, the executives refuse to finance the project. Undeterred, Hitchcock makes a deal to self-produce the movie if the studio will distribute it. However, he has to convince his wife (Mirren) to mortgage their home to help pay for this movie. Alma is far from thrilled as her husband is breaking Hollywood's golden rule not to ever use your own money but she has faith in his talent as a film maker.

Using his TV crew and hiring two movie stars, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Hopkins (James D'Arcy), "Hitch" (minus the "cock", as he likes to say) only has minimum amount of time and limited funds to complete his risky film. The shoot is made even more complicated due to Hitchcock's battle with the censor board over how much of Ms Leigh's skin will be shown during the infamous shower scene, health issues involving his expansive waistline and growing concern that Alma's relationship with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a screenwriter (who wrote Hitchcock's "Strangers On A Train") that she's working on a script with, is getting too close for comfort.

Mr. Gervasi, who began his career as a screenwriter (most notably "The Terminal", the 2004 Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg clunker) before directing an acclaimed documentary, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" about a Canadian heavy metal outfit, has done a competent but unremarkable job with "Hitchcock", his first feature. Based on Stephen Rebello's "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho", the director has managed to re-create a believable atmosphere on a Hollywood sound stage but is less successful in creating a credible world off-camera. For even after Hitchcock yells "cut", it still feels like the actors are continuing to recite lines while simply performing for a smaller audience. The film looks great thanks to the fine work of cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth ("The Social Network" and the U.S. version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" which he received Oscar nominations for both) and the sensational costumes by Julie Weiss.

Since we are fully aware of the eventual outcome of  "Psycho" as it becomes one of the director's most popular films and the marriage of the Hitchcocks endured until his death in 1980, this behind-the-scenes look might be fascinating to a hardcore film buff (like myself) but to the casual fan, it's a little thin as there's not nearly enough dramatic tension to any of the challenges presented to hold much interest.

Despite the elaborate make-up (which is quite good but distracting at times) and a great effort to mimic the distinct vocal affectations of the famed director, Mr. Hopkins is no dead ringer and his voice waivers like he doesn't have the stamina to keep it up. But it's still clear who the actor is doing with his bold performance admirable but not particularly memorable. Since little is known publicly about Lady Hitchcock, we'll have to assume that Ms Mirren is at least giving us the essence of this modest, fiercely independent woman behind the larger-than-life man. Although it matters little as the alluring actress is always endlessly fascinating to watch work her magic. Seen only briefly, Mr.D'Arcy is a passable Perkins but Ms Johansson and Jessica Biel (who plays co-star Vera Miles) have much more screen time, rely heavily on their own personal star wattage as their performances seem based on research done from old, Hollywood fan magazines.

"Hitchcock" is a quaint, lightweight entertainment with the main reason to see this film is to witness the always reliable gifts of Sir Anthony Hopkins and, most especially, Dame Helen Mirren.
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Monday, December 10, 2012

AFI & LA FILM CRITICS ANNOUNCE THEIR PICKS

More awards have been given out; first by the Los Angeles Film Critics who selected on December 9th their winners and the American Film Institute announced their picks for the ten best films of 2012 today.

Although the L.A. critics selected Michael Haneke's "Amour" as the Best Film but they have put "The Master" back in the game by awarding the controversial film four awards including Paul Thomas Anderson for Best Director and Joaquin Phoenix as Best Actor.  Another surprise was first-time actor, Dwight Henry's win for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Beasts of The Southern Wild" and the rare tie for Best Actress between eighty-five year old, Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour' and the twenty-two, Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook"

The AFI have probably selected most of the films that will round out the Best Picture category for this year's Oscars although I'm sure a few might lose their spot to either a foreign-language film, an indie or to a complete surprise nomination.


The complete list of the Los Angeles Film Critics winners:

Best Film: "Amour"

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, "The Master"

Best Screenplay: Chris Terrio, "Argo"

Best Actress (tie): Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour" and Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"

Best Supporting Actor: Dwight Henry, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "The Master"

Best Editing: Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, "Skyfall"

Best Score: Benh Zeitlin & Dan Romer, Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Production Design: Jack Fisk, "The Master"

Best Animated Film: "Frankenweenie"

Best Documentary: "The Gatekeepers"

Best Foreign Language Film: "Holy Motors"

New Generation Award: Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"


AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR 

"ARGO"

"BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD"

"THE DARK KNIGHT RISES"

"DJANGO UNCHAINED"

"LES MIS√ČRABLES"

"LIFE OF PI"

"LINCOLN"

"MOONRISE KINGDOM"

"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"

"ZERO DARK THIRTY"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"ZERO DARK THIRTY" WINS BIG

'Tis the season of award giving with two film groups agreeing on the same film as the best of this year. "Zero Dark Thirty" was named along with it's director, Kathyrn Bigelow by the New York Film Critics Circle on Monday and the National Board of Review today. This will certainly create some buzz for this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden which is due in U.S. theaters on December 19th.

There were a few notable surprises such as Rachel Weisz being recognized for her great performance in a mediocre film, "The Deep Blue Sea" and Best Supporting Actress winner, Ann Dowd for the little-seen indie film, "Compliance" which should bring much-needed attention to both these films as well as Bradley Cooper's unexpected win by the NBR for "Silver Linings Playbook". Although Mr. Cooper was certainly good and he should be a contender, I don't know if it was exactly the best male acting performance of the year.




Here is a list of the 2012 winners from the New York Film Critics Circle:

Best Picture: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Screenplay: Tony Kushner, "Lincoln"

Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, "The Deep Blue Sea"

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field, "Lincoln"

Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey, "Bernie", "Magic Mike"

Best Cinematographer: Greig Fraser, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Animated Film: "Frankenweenie"

Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary) "The Central Park Five"

Best Foreign Film: "Amour"

Best First Film: David France, "How to Survive a Plague"


This is a partial listing of the selections from the National Board of Review:

Best Film:  "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Django Unchained"

Best Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, "Compliance"

Best Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson, "Looper"

Best Adapted Screenplay: David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Animated Feature: "Wreck-It Ralph"

Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Ben Affleck, "Argo"

Breakthrough Actor: Tom Holland, "The Impossible"

Breakthrough Actress: Quvenzhan√© Wallis,  "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Directorial Debut: Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Best Foreign Language Film:  "Amour"

Best Documentary: William K. Everson  "Searching for Sugarman"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ANNA KARENINA (2012)

Written by Tom Stoppard


Directed by Joe Wright


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 24, 2012  7:05PM


"Anna Karenina", the nineteenth century Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, has been adapted for the screen several times over the years. The latest is by Joe Wright who has teamed up with the highly honored playwright, Tom Stoppard to write the screenplay and Keira Knightley, previously working with the director on some of her best film roles in "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement", to play the title character. Together, they have created a daring new version that has this tale of passion, infidelity and tragedy told in a theatrical setting while incorporating sweeping cinematic flourishes to enhance and heighten the action. While the film certainly stands out from the previous interpretations as it's breathtakingly beautiful with some solid performances but this approach feels more like a gimmick as we see the characters glide backstage across one set on to another which proves to be a distraction that pulls you out of the story at times.

The plot basically remains the same but for those unfamiliar, Anna (Knightley) is the younger, aristocratic wife of Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), a government official in St. Petersberg. After her arrival at the train station in Moscow to visit her brother, Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) is when she first locks eyes with the handsome military officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Their attraction is immediate and intense but Anna desperately tries to resist her desires. Her brother's pregnant wife, Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) is distraught after discovering that he had an affair with their governess but Anna is able to comfort her, advising to remain with her husband.

Dolly's younger sister, Kitty (Alicia Vikander) has also come to visit with the hope that the eligible, Vronsky, who she has been casually seeing, will ask for her hand in marriage during the debutante ball. However, an acquaintance, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) who is a modest landowner, surprises her by asking instead. Kitty rejects his offer but devastated as Vronsky spends the entire evening dancing with the married, Anna. Whispers had begun long before they actually consummated their affair but once it begins, the couple is passionately consumed with each other as the very thought of not being linked eternally is unbearable and unimaginable.

Although he had been suspicious but even after the truth is revealed, the remote Karenin is willing to look past her indiscretion but Anna is incapable and unwilling to give Vromsky up. Her husband, in turn, refuses to grant a divorce and threatens to take away their son but soon wants nothing more to do with her once she tells him that she is pregnant. Willing to sacrifice everything for true love, Anna soon learns that scandal is not tolerated in her rarefied, upper-class society. Unfairly, the consequences only apply to her gender, and she pays a heavy, tragic price for her social misstep.

With only five films under his belt, Mr. Wright has earned the reputation of an adventurous film maker with a bold visual style. He has shown to like the challenge of shaking the dust off of classic material, (as he did with his impressive take of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice")  and to deliver a fresh perspective while retaining the spirit of the novel. He has certainly worked his magic with "Anna Karenina" and while the idea is inventive and inspiring, the effect also drew attention away from allowing a true emotional connection to take hold. As we witness each set changing, it kept bringing to mind an opera, with the performers seeming to be on the verge of breaking out in an aria, which would be fine if that was the director's intent. As the film goes on, the backstage action lessens and we breakthrough to the actual outdoors during Levin's part of the story as he sadly tries to forget Kitty by building a farm on his estate.

Fortunately, the actors remain grounded despite the use of the stage as a backdrop. Ms Knightley seems fond of strapping herself in to a corset for period dramas as she has done on numerous occasions in many of the films she has made to date but it just doesn't always feel that she completely shakes her contemporary ticks. But the actress is a mesmerizing presence as she looks simply amazing in her gorgeous costumes (thanks to the great work by Jacqueline Durran) and perfectly conveys Anna's frenzied pursuit of a true love, no matter what she must sacrifice. Emotionally vacant but desperate to express his deep passion for his wife while needing to hang on to his last bit of dignity, Mr. Law expertly captures the anguish and frustration of a man at a complete loss. However, Mr. Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky is just a little too blonde and too much of a fop to be convincing as this irresistible catch.

Despite my criticism of a few of Mr. Wright's artistic choices, I actually found "Anna Karenina" to be a superbly rendered, enchanting and confident work. This may not be the definitive version of this classic but it is most certainly one of the most imaginative and ambitious to have ever been made.