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Celluloid Heroes: My Favorite Posters of the Decade

With all the different ways that studios can market a movie these days, it’s nice to see that movie posters haven’t completely fallen by the wayside. Sometimes, a single image can make or break my interest in a film, and though trailers speak louder than posters, it certainly helps when you’ve got a kick-ass one to display in movie theaters. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, here are some of my favorite posters from the last decade. You’ll probably notice that a good percentage of them come from the last two years, and while that may be representative of studios having to be more creative than ever, I think it’s more just a result of my constantly evolving taste.

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“Antichrist” (2009)

Lars von Trier’s latest film has been stirring up controversy ever since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. I still haven’t seen it myself (and I’m guessing I’ll probably hate it when I do), but this poster is great nonetheless. It’s both beautiful and ugly in its marriage of eroticism and nature, and the chaotic lettering crudely written across the image gives you a pretty good idea that you’re not about to see just any ordinary film.

“Cold Souls” (2009)

Paul Giamatti has a great face, so it only makes this Matryoshka doll concept that much more interesting. When viewed in context of the movie’s plot – about a suffering artist (Giamatti playing a fictional version of himself à la “Being John Malkovich”) who stores his soul for safe keeping – it also says everything without really saying anything at all.

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“Grace” (2009)

In terms of sheer grotesqueness, the indie horror film, “Grace,” takes the cake for its simplistic blood-in-a-baby-bottle. The fly perched on top is also a nice touch. Still, there’s something quite alluring about the image in that it doesn’t so much make you sick (like the posters for Eli Roth’s “Hostel: Part II”) as it does curious about the movie.

“Moon” (2009)

There’s certainly not a lot going on in the official poster to Duncan Jones’ directorial debut, but it mimics the quiet tone of the film perfectly. That trippy stereoscopic sphere stationed behind Sam Rockwell steals my attention every time, and that’s all you can really ask for from a poster.

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Celluloid Heroes: Eight Musicals of the 21st Century

A funny thing happened this decade — the once dying genre of live-action movie musicals seems to have returned to the movie repertoire. As the decade closes, I can think of exactly two major westerns, but I keep remembering musicals that I should consider for this piece (including the mostly well-regarded French musical “Love Songs,” which I forgot to see before writing this, je suis désolé).

As a lifelong fan and a nearly lifelong tough critic of musicals, I love most of these films. However, this list is not so much a traditional “best of” and I’ve included one choice I definitely don’t like. (It won’t be hard to guess which.) These are musicals that I think contributed to the development of this polarizing and hard to pull off genre. They don’t hark back to times gone by or try to recapture a past glory that will never return, but actually take us into the future. That’s important now that musicals seem to have a future.

“Dancer in the Dark” (2000)

Earlier this year, the brilliant but often irritating Danish director Lars von Trier shocked hard-to-shock European festival audiences with graphic sexual violence in “Antichrist.” Back in 2000, all he needed to divide audiences was some really intense melodrama and an approach to making dark musicals partially borrowed from TV creator Dennis Potter (“Pennies from Heaven,” “The Singing Detective”).

Featuring a literally once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by singer-songwriter Björk as a young mother ready to sacrifice everything to save her son’s failing eyesight, “Dancer in the Dark” is maybe the most emotionally potent story of parental love I’ve ever seen. As a musical, it’s strange and arresting.

Like the Potter television shows and movies and “Chicago,” further down the list, the musical numbers take place in the mind of the lead character. In this case, however, it is particularly poignant as our heroine is a fan of musicals who, though she is gradually going blind, is attempting to appear in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” Below, she musically confesses her situation to a smitten Peter Stormare (yes, the guy from “Fargo”). Lumberjacks or not, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” sure seems like a long time ago.

Moulin Rouge” (2001)
As the non-musical Pixar films became the dominant template for animation and the musical form lost its last apparent movie bastion, big studios began to experiment with musicals starring humans. Unfortunately for me, the first and still one of the most popular of this decade’s high profile film musicals was Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully shot, amazingly designed, dull-witted, and over-edited “Moulin Rouge.”

Yes, this musical fan is not a fan of the musical that’s been credited with resurrecting the genre. Why? A couple of sequences work, but on the whole I expect the funny parts of a movie to make me laugh and, even more important, I like to see the movies I’m seeing. As far as I can tell, Luhrmann simply doesn’t have the confidence in this film to allow us time to view the arresting images he’s worked so hard to craft, nor does he permit time to actually see the hard work his dancers and actors put in. Editor Jil Bilcock is expected to do all the performing instead.

As for what Luhrmann and his arrangers did with the various classic songs they threw into a musical Cuisinart, the less I say about it the better. At the risk of sounding like a fogey (or a member of an 18th century Austrian court), too many notes. Way, way, way, too many notes. See if you disagree.

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Chills win as the “Paranormal” phenomenon grows

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It was a weekend of surprises at the box office. The most pleasant for those of us who prefer a chill up the spine to a gag reflex was the outstanding performance of “Paranormal Activity,” which handily defeated the dismemberment sweepstakes of “Saw VI” despite being in over a thousand fewer theaters than its horrific competitor.

As documented by Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and the bean counters of Box Office Mojo, Paramount’s extremely wise ultra-ultra-ultra-low-budget paranormal pick-up earned an estimated $22 million as it expanded to 1,945 screens this week with a outstanding per screen average of $11,321. That’s compared to an estimated $14.8 million for the latest “Saw” entry (two more are still scheduled, including the inevitable 3-D installment) with a per screen average of $4,875, less than half of its spooky competitor.

The irony in all this is that, now that critics have had to paid their shekels to see the unscreened “Saw VI,” not only has it gotten better reviews than the last few entries — which is, of course, not the same thing as getting good reviews — it turns out to have at least an attempt at political content with a plot that involves both the sub-prime mortgage and health care debacles.

Seems to me that Lions Gate really had nothing to lose by screening this for critics and the political angle might have generated a bit more interest. “‘Sicko‘ for real sickos! ‘Capitalism: A Hate Story’! says Geekboy Moonraker of ‘Ain’t it Bloody Disgusting’” might have at least captured a bit more attention. Though, reading Owen Gleiberman‘s highly negative review, it’s interesting to note that both “Zombieland” and “Saw VI” do call attention to our nation’s obesity epidemic.

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Gore v. chills at the box office

I keep reading that the studios are reducing their outputs and that we’ll be seeing fewer new movies, but there’s sure no sign of it lately as we have another complicated week where, at least in theory, anything can happen. Still, the prognosticators agree that the latest entry in the first and longest running franchise in the sub-genre of torture-heavy horror, “Saw VI,” will likely win the week for Lionsgate.

On the other hand, there is also a consensus that the low-violence yet entirely potent chills of “Paranormal Activity” will be cutting into the Saw-bucks some also. Obviously, there is some audience crossover but, just as obviously, the most jaded gore hounds may find it beyond tame. I’ve already noted online the start of an inevitable backlash. I doubt this reaction will have the same angry potency that afflicted “The Blair Witch Project” so many moons ago. In that case, Lionsgate’s attempt to persuade less-savvy audiences that it might actually be real probably backfired later on, as did the over-hype of some of the early write-ups.

This time, Paramount has been more cleverly circumspect than the “Blair Witch” marketers, simply making the case that the modest video-movie can really scare the bejesus out of an audience. I’m here to tell you it can, even though I feel sure that not a single person I saw it with was under any delusion that what we were watching was not staged. Still, you see the violence-loving fanboys complaining at certain sites. I mean, how can a movie be scary if it lets you imagine the worst of it? How is that ever going to work?

It’s probably pretty obvious by now, especially from my post just before this one, that I prefer the “Paranormal” approach and will be rooting for it but, despite the still growing excitement around the movie, it’s the definite underdog as “Saw VI” will be opening in 3,036 theaters, while it’s competitor will be expanding to a mere 1,900. However, the outstanding per-screen averages that the film has been nailing could compensate if some horror audiences find the prospect of yet another ultra-brutality fest less than ultra-appealing.

Though it’s yet another family-friendly CGI animated film, this one based on a property at least some of us remember from our childhoods, hopes are not all that astronomically high for the next film. Summit’s “Astro Boy” is based on the best known creation of Japan’s “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, who basically invented both manga and anime as we now know them and who created some of the best comic books for adults that I’ve ever read. Of course, you’d never know from the horrendously lame gag at the end of the trailer or the often ugly CGI animation that ruins the beautiful 2-D (black and white, too!) of the early Tezuka cartoons as scene in the trailer. This appears to be another case of a studio adapting a property and missing what made the original work.

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Some travelling music…

Just a few quick thoughts to keep you busy as I make my way on the long, long journey from Orange County to San Diego for Comic-Con (well, it can feel long).

* Lars von Trier is enjoying the hub-bub around “Antichrist” (soon to have it’s second coming). What part of “provocateur” didn’t we understand?

* Karina has only one thing she’ll miss about the con. (Warning — don’t click while eating unless you find a fake ultra-bloodied Lloyd Kaufman palatable.)

* Also from THR: Michael Jackson’s flirtations with filmmaking. The big surprise — it could have been weirder. Even his meeting with Mel Gibson was apparently not incredibly strange, though Mel hugged a pillow.

* I’ve been reading articles like this for decades. The fact that they’re more or less true doesn’t make them less their inaccuracies/shallowness less annoying. Women have been getting more interested in geek stuff for a very long time. That’s a good thing. Personally, I didn’t notice a humongous “Twilight” contingent last year, but perhaps I’m sheltered.

* And now a clip that will be running through my mind as I approach the convention center.

I’ve never been good at avoiding silly places, obviously.

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