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Hidden Netflix Gems – Red Road

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

After taking home the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2005 for Wasp, Andrea Arnold made her stunningly assured feature film debut with Red Road, another grim, realistic portrait of unfortunate souls. Fair warning: this is definitely not a feel-good movie. However, if you’re in the mood for something dark, sad and challenging, you could scarcely do better.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a single woman working as a closed-circuit surveillance operator in Glasgow, Scotland, where there are apparently cameras on nearly every street corner. Jackie’s rather creepy and mostly dull job is to watch the monitors and report any criminal acts or emergencies to the proper authorities. For a good portion of the film’s beginning, we are thrust into the tediousness of Jackie’s everyday life with little dialogue and no exposition, a refreshing departure from the average movie’s need to explain everything right away. Red Road has rightly been compared to the work of Michael Haneke in this regard, and the element of voyeurism at work here especially recalls two of his best films – Funny Games and Cache – but Arnold has more empathy for her characters and, seemingly, less nihilism in her heart than the great and revered Austrian filmmaker.

The inciting incident of Jackie’s story comes when she glimpses the face of Clyde (Tony Curran), a man who has apparently wronged her in the past, for which mysterious act he has been imprisoned until now. After doing a bit of research, Jackie finds that Clyde has been released early and is now living on the titular “Red Road,” which houses a preponderance of ex-cons looking for a second chance. The idea of redemption for past wrongs is, in fact, the central theme of the film, along with the necessity of moving forward in life, as beautifully illustrated in the final scene.

As the film progresses, though, Arnold wisely leaves the audience guessing as to the exact nature of its protagonists’ shared history. Jackie becomes immediately obsessed with Clyde, to the point that she neglects her duties on the job in order to stalk him from afar, leading to a violent attack she might have prevented if not preoccupied. At first, the red herring we are given to believe is that perhaps Clyde raped Jackie at some point, but as they begin to actually interact in person, he shows no signs of recognizing or remembering her. This central mystery unfolds perfectly, with just the right amount of intrigue to hold the audience in suspense without ever resorting to predictable cliches.

Red Road is truly a remarkable and complex film that eschews easy black-and-white morality in favor of a more nuanced and intelligent approach to its characters and story. When Clyde’s past offense is finally revealed, it is suitably awful and impossible for Jackie to ever completely forgive, yet he is never made out to be a simple villain; likewise, while Jackie has every right to be as self-destructively angry and vengeful as she is, we are never invited to view her as a saint, or her mission as a morally righteous one. The result is a bold and uncompromising film that may not be for everyone, but is nonetheless one of the very best debut features of the past decade.

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News flash from Hollywood — it’s raining!

We Southern Californian’s are easily freaked out by this occasional phenomenon where water inexplicably falls from the skies. It’s a good thing so many of us like to ski or snowboard up at Big Bear or Tahoe, or there’d be a vast wave of weather-related depression unsettling the entire area. Of course, those of us who live on hillsides have something to worry about, but since L.A.-area seasons are basically labeled as “fire” and “flood,” it’s not like this is a surprise. Still, a good chunk of the town is going off to Park City, Utah for Sundance and its sisters festivals, where you actually need boots and overcoats and stuff like that.

20061021180826-singin-rain-3

And now, here’s the big movie news, assuming this half of the state doesn’t simply slide into the ocean or anything overnight.

* Jolly Carl DiOrio writes on THR’s Heat Vision blog that Warner Brothers is trying to decide whether or not to do a 3-D retrofit on Louis Leterrier’s upcoming version of “Clash of the Titans.” This 3-D madness for genre films has been spreading. Some months back, “The Cabin in the Woods,” a collaboration between TV cult king Joss Whedon and his one-time staff writer, Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield“), was delayed from February 2010 to January 2011 to three dimensionalize the meta-horror film — and perhaps help stabilize Universal’s depleted coffers by delaying the marketing costs for eleven months.

* Despite some of the setbacks the Weinstein Company has been suffering lately with a number of commercial disappointments and too few hits and some layoffs, they’re still bringing in new people for acquisitions prior to tomorrow’s Sundance kick-off, writes La Finke.

* Meanwhile, over at CinemaBlend, Josh Tyler contemplates the possible 3-D status of “Ghostbusters 3.”

Johnny Depp
* In case you haven’t heard it already, no, Johnny Depp will not be starring in Terry Gilliam’s upcoming second attempt at filming his “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”

* The Oscar’s announced their nine film short list for the foreign language film category today. It’s basically a bunch of movies you have almost no chance of having seen, or even heard all that much about, if you’re not a pretty serious film festival goer — and Michael Haneke’s Golden Globe winning dark period drama, “The White Ribbon.” Even the folks at The Playlist had only seen “Ribbon” and were only familiar with a total of three of the films.

If an outstanding foreign film you’ve seen recently is not on the list and you’re wondering why, you can likely blame the extremely byzantine and highly politicized rules in this category, which involves countries selecting official entries, which often exclude seemingly obvious choices. Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” was an extraordinary work that recently made it to the top of many Best Of lists for the entire past decade. It was not nominated last year, — along with two other widely acclaimed non-English-speaking movies of 2007, “Volver” and “Persepolis.” At least the latter film was nominated in the animation category.

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Golden Globe movie wrap-up: It’s an “Avatar,” “The Hangover” kind of a crazy, mixed-up night

First of all, I would like to thank my DVR for allowing me to watch a three hour telecast in less than 115 minutes. Also, Will Harris, you crazy Golden Globes Premium Hollywood TV live blogger, put down the Maker’s Mark and go to bed!

But, before I get carried away with paraphrasing Sandra Bullock‘s Best Actress in a Drama acceptance speech tonight, first of all let me make clear that I’m not going to attempt to one-up Mr. Harris’s live-blog extravaganza. No, I’ll simply start by linking to a complete list of tonight’s results and some (I’m thinking relatively brief) thoughts on the cinematic goings on tonight.

Okay, so here’s that link to the results courtesy of /Film and now on to the bloggy/thinky portion of tonight’s festivities.

Big deals: Clearly, the film headlines tonight are the awards that went to James Cameron’s ultimate-big-deal of a movie called “Avatar” and this year’s ultimate mega-successful modestly budget comedy, “The Hangover“. It’s the kind of comedy that never gets nominated for, much less wins, awards no matter how well constructed, and this was one incredibly well-constructed comedy. I’m delighted to see it get this kind of recognition. I truly couldn’t imagine a better movie with that premise and its success shows that you can make a male-oriented farce that respects its viewers’ intelligence and better natures. As for “Avatar,” does anyone even care what I think? It is what it is. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Biggest non-surprises of the night: The supporting actor twosome Mo’Nique from “Precious” and Christoph Waltz from “Inglourious Basterds” won, yet again, and seem about as big a lock for Oscars as you ever get. Both are sure getting a lot of practice at the art of acceptance speeches. Mo’Nique’s speech was both king of moving and way over-the-top in that actory way some folks (like Drew Barrymore, who praised it one of her typically overwhelmed acceptance speeches) just eat up with a fork. Waltz, who really does seem to be a pretty humble guy, was a bit more low key with a nice riff on the international nature of the Hollywood Foreign Press’s awards. I think we’ve got a buddy-cop movie, possibly directed by Michael Bay, with Waltz and Mo’Nique in our collective futures. “Bad Goys”?

Jeff Bridges Best Actor award is starting to edge into the same kind of category and he’s starting to look like a gigantic Oscar shoe-in. It’s as if everyone suddenly remembered how great he’s been in countless movies all at the same time. “You’re really screwing up my under appreciated status here,” he said. As well they should.

Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s a slow day; your reward: “The Making of the Avatar Bootleg”

It really is embarrassingly slow in the movie blogosphere this week. I mean, I could link up to some stuff being generated out in the movie news blogosphere, but it’s just pretty much marking time, especially now that the deadline for movies to be eligible for 2009 Oscar consideration is almost here. Cinephile bloggers are generally just posting holiday greetings. It’s time to watch movies more and write about them less.

In fact, according to Box Office Mojo, there is only one Wednesday release slipping in under the 2009 wire for Oscar consideration tomorrow — and it’s Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.” Since the acclaimed dark drama from noted feel-bad director Haneke is Germany’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar anyhow, I’m not sure it even matters. (Some foreign film nominees are often not released in the U.S. until well after the Oscars.)

Also, it appears that the studios aren’t even bothering to release anything new on Friday/New Year’s Day.  A good weekend for catching up, which I certainly hope to be doing.

So, let’s make jokes poking fun at James Cameron and self-promoting DVD extras. Via Devin at CHUD.

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More awards news

Yesterday’s critics’ awards were (relatively) big news, but the statue and plaque beat goes on.

Brad Pitt and Eli Roth in

*  The nominees are in for the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, which also includes some online writers as well, I understand. The event is better known as the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which airs annually on VH-1. The most nominations went to “Inglourious Basterds” and “Nine,” with few other surprises. “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Up in the Air” all got their share. Anne Thompson has the complete list and some good context.

* The Best Foreign Film Oscar is usually fairly unpredictable, and also has a somewhat screwed up eligibility process that I’m still figuring out after I don’t know how many years. (Individual nations get to submit exactly one film, a process that, as you might guess, is often highly politicized and sometimes eliminates highly charged films from consideration.) Nevertheless, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is really starting to look like an early favorite. However, Haneke isn’t exactly the most audience friendly director.

Ed Helms and friend in
* The American Film Institute (AFI) has put out their top 10 film and TV show list. It’s a bit different from some of the others. The most un-awardy inclusion is “The Hangover.” It might not be the most beautifully made example of the cinematic art I’ve ever seen, but it certainly provides exactly the movie you (or I, anyway) want to see when you/I want to see a movie about a bachelor party gone awry, so why not?

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Weekend at the Multiplex, Pt. II: The Power of Family Defeats Robot Rehash + the Palm Goes to…. (Updated)

The long holiday weekend is barely halfway through here on the west coast, but the numbers gurus have already spoken. Both Variety and megablogger Nikki Finke report that “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” outgrossed “Terminator Salavation” by 53.5 to 43 million smackers, proving once again the power of family films and that I am, at best, a very mediocre prognosticator. It also indicates that McG’s name and talents may not be pure box office gold.

In other news, in what turned out to be a battle of movie bad boys of various types, the coveted Palme D’Or (that’s Golden Palm to you and moi), has been awarded at Cannes after a week of some very divided audience and critical responses. Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” elicited reactions ranging from reasonably positive to angrily disappointed. “Antichrist,” the new horror film/domestic drama from the personally disliked but often genius-level brilliant Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark”) crossed some deep psychological lines in terms of graphic violence and human genitals, leading to a raucous screening and deeply appalling many while eliciting some truly unusual, often more positive, reactions from writers. (Roger Ebert’s take, for one, is certainly worth a look.)

Not too surprisingly, the winner was another overage enfant terrible entirely. Ironically enough, he himself has been simultaneously applauded and despised for the first version of “Funny Games.” The second, English-language, version was mostly just despised for its manipulations and made Bullz-Eyer David Medskar talk of punching its maker in the face, which I’m sure he intended as a metaphor.

That winner would be Austria’s 67 year-old Michael Haneke — often regarded as the world class director most in need of a hug, as well as a punch. He picked up the Palm for “The White Ribbon” a dark (of course!) black and white pre-World War I drama. Haneke has had some out-and-out success apart from “Funny Games” with 2005′s genuinely compelling and thoughtfully upsetting “Caché,” which Ron Howard once considered remaking but, perhaps fearing David’s reaction, choose to make the movie version of “Arrested Development” instead. Probably a wise move, in any case.


UPDATE: Brandon Grey of Box Office Mojo has the final figures “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithinsonian” raked in $70 million on 7,000 screens and “Terminator Salvation” earned $53.8 million on about six-hundred fewer screens. Also, NPR’s hourly newscast this morning suggested that some of T4′s weakness, especially here in Southern Cal, might be related to the ongoing NBA play-offs. Could be, I suppose. That’s what I get for being a guy who writes for an online men’s mag who’s also a complete ignoramus about sports.

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