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Non-Oscar movie news

As I write this the announcement of the 2010 Academy Award nominations is literally only a few hours away — and I’ll most certainly be discussing them tomorrow — but this late bird has some other worms to catch, starting with goings on up in Park City.

* Yes, Kevin Smith and the premiere of his long planned “Red State” is the talk of the geek movie blogosphere today. Sundance can be a real circus and Smith was, I gather, both ringmaster and clown as he jokingly joined the protest staged by the detestable, publicity loving, Westboro Baptist Church who apparently noticed that Smith was attacking them. That was followed by a 26 minute pre-screening talkathon — which I’ve yet to bring myself to watch, though I’ve read the highlights — in which he announced his plans to distribute the film himself.

As for the response to the movie goes, the reviews have been extremely interesting. The fact of the matter is that Smith has so gone on out of his way to attack film critics, it’s kind of hard for any of us to have an opinion of one of his films that isn’t colored by the silliness at this point. No surprise, then, that reaction has been dramatically mixed. Not everyone even agrees if it’s actually a horror film or a religious-themed thriller. Sort of a more violent and bloody, less musical, version of the 1973 “The Wicker Man.”

Avatar* Speaking of talented makers of entertaining but highly imperfect films whose need to communicate can often place them at cross-purposes with themselves, James Cameron has told Entertainment Weekly that he’s working on the screenplays for two “Avatar” sequels with the intent of releasing them over Christmas of 2014 and 2015. To his credit, I think, Cameron says he’ll donate some portion of films’ grosses to environmental charities, who can use all the help they can get, considering our planet seems to be melting right at the moment.

* And speaking of directors who at times have worked at cross-purposes with themselves, no one has ever done so in grander fashion than the late Orson Welles. It’s starting to look like his legendary unfinished 1970s project, “The Other Side of the Wind,” may finally get a release of some sort. Because Welles never edited most of it, there’s a school of thought that the film should be released only in unedited form. This is one of the more stupid schools of thought I’ve encountered. Thank goodness, DVDs can make the unedited rushes available to anyone who wants to imagine how the man might have edited the film itself, but rushes are not a movie.

As far as other “lost” Welles films, Kevin Jagernauth mentions a miraculous restoration of his badly truncated, “The Magnificent Ambersons.” I’d settle for a decent restoration/re-release of his Shakespearian opus, “Chimes at Midnight.”

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* Chris Hemsworth — aka Mighty Thor, God of Thunder — has seen the Avengers script by Joss Whedon and, guess what, he thinks its “incredible.” Ordinarily, I’d be skeptical of a star’s good opinion of his own movie, but this Browncoat needs it to be incredible. It better be incredible. No pressure, though.

* Another Sundance sale. For what sounds like a small but intense love story, “Like Crazy” fetched a relatively big price.

* Sam Raimi is still chatting up the possibility of some kind “Evil Dead” reboot.

* An item left over from last week relating to another kind of evil dead: Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles’ “The Dictator” based on a novel claimed by an obscure author you might have heard named Saddam Hussein. This is one movie I really have to see.

* I really enjoyed interviewing Morgan Spurlock and he was as nice as could be, but he failed to mention anything about his latest, very clever sounding stunt-documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” which has been getting great press at Sundance. Jerkface.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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RIP Blake Edwards

This week’s box office preview has been canceled both by some hopefully not at all serious health-related family tasks I’m handling today and also by the death of a truly notable filmmaker.  Aside from being both extremely talented and extremely inconsistent, he was a sort of bridge between the classic Hollywood era and post-”Bonnie and Clyde” era of film school auteurs that arrived just his career faced its first major crisis.  He was a little too hip and raunchy for the old school crowd and a little too old school for the hip crowd, and I think that was Blake Edwards’ most interesting quality.

Excessive consistency was not one of Edwards hobgoblins. I have to admit there are a number of his films — mostly from his later career — that I haven’t seen primarily because their reputation isn’t so good. I’ve probably forgotten a couple that I have seen by an act of will. At his best, though, there are very few Hollywood directors who could claim anything half as marvelous as “The Days of Wine and Roses,” the brilliant slapstick set-pieces of “Return of the Pink Panther” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” and, most of all, 1982′s “Victor/Victoria,” a film that was both aggressively old-fashioned and easily the most bold pro-gay, pro-tolerance film ever to be made by mainstream Hollywood to that point. It was also simply topnotch entertainment, a work of hilarious compassion, and a joy forever.

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Of course, that’s merely scratching the surface of Edwards’ films. Some of his less perfect pieces are nevertheless hugely entertaining and, in their own way, fascinating documents of their time. Prolific as a writer, producer and director from the 1950s until the 1990s, he had a career that supposedly went back to helping Orson Welles write the 1939 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast when he was still a young teenager and continued into television in the fifties, so there’s quite a lot to go through. The assertively naive-yet-sophisticated silliness of “The Great Race,” a childhood favorite of mine from numerous TV viewings, still holds up, and looks better in widescreen than those panned-and-scanned TV prints I grew up with. “S.O.B.” is famous as the film in which Julie Andrews’ naked breasts all but received top billing; they certainly got a stars’ entrance. It’s also is a fascinating case study in how Edwards got caught in the crossfire of the Hollywood generational wars and is one of the most interesting anti-Hollywood films made in Hollywood. (I’d love it if you took a look at my 2008 thumbsucker about “S.O.B.” over my currently dormant blog.)

Largely because of Audrey Hepburn’s lingering fame and greatness, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a lot of people’s favorite movie and it’s not hard to see why. It can be breathtakingly wistful. Because of Mickey Rooney’s over-the-top godawful portrayal of a sex-crazed Japanese neighbor, it’s also not hard to see why none of those people are Asian. Bert Kwouk’s far more human, relatively competent and hilarious Kato in “The Pink Panther” series is a small consolation, but still a consolation.

Blake Edwards really was a hugely contradictory director. Deeply cynical, terribly romantic, a champion of tolerance and capable of creating stereotypes so vicious they stand-out even among films of their day, lacking in an obvious “style” but nevertheless a notable auteur in his versatile way, Edwards was just weird enough to be, maybe, truly great.

As usual, David Hudson over at MUBI has much, much more.

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Midweek movie news, the Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard memorial edition

Comic-Con’s been over for a week and a half and the geek news is flying.

* Mike Fleming is claiming a Finke “Toldja!” for the news that Disney and “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski are going ahead with a film version of the comic book, “Oblivion.” I’m not familiar with the book so, should I be more excited about this than I am? Of course, having recently rewatched the original “Tron” I’m even less excited about his other movie. I’m sorry, but it’s got to be one of the thinnest excuses for a piece of entertainment I’ve ever seen. A few interesting visuals aside, it’s easily one of the weakest efforts Disney has ever been associated with as far as I can see. It’s lingering appeal is a complete mystery to me.

* As rumors of the day go, I find this one even less believable than most. That idea is that Quentin Tarantino may be “attached” to what had previously been Sam Raimi’s new version of William Gibson’s influential pulp character, the Shadow — who became best known via a popular thirties radio show starring a very young Orson Welles.  I’m a fan of the character and of Tarantino, so I certainly wouldn’t mind this being true. It just feels significantly off from Mr. Tarantino’s many obsessions, though considering his delving into thirties and forties cinema for “Inglourious Basterds,” you never know.

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Hurried and harried midweek movie news

I’m blogging tonight from the Gower Gulch Starbucks, right in the heart of deepest darkest Hollywood, and as I said in the post right below this, seriously pressed for time tonight. A bunch of work still to be done ,a studio screening, plus a bunch of other stuff that won’t interest you. Also, there’s a guy behind me conducting an impromptu revival service for an audience of none, which is a little distracting.

So, that Comic-Con thumb-sucker will just have to wait as I present only a few selected items of movie news to nourish your spirits.

* Speaking of Comic-Con, in terms of innovation, influence, and ability to tell a simple story very well, Will Eisner was pretty much the D.W. Griffith, John Ford, and Billy Wilder of comic books all rolled into one, but few people who aren’t serious comics fans even know his name. 2008′s despicable “The Spirit” most certainly did not help with his memory or in terms of encouraging a younger generation to check out his work. (I’m glad the movie did horribly because if kids had liked the hyperviolent and mean-spirited film, they would have had no time for the humanistic original.).

Now, via /Film’s Russ Fischer, we hear that an appropriately low budget/indie film version of Eisner’s groundbreaking non-genre comic, “A Contract with God,” is in the works. Among other points of interest, it was the book that caused Eisner to come up with the term “graphic novel” when he was led to believe the publisher wouldn’t want to be involved with a mere “comic book.” Ironically enough, it’s actually a collection of related short stories and the term “graphic novel” actually may predate the incident, so Fischer isn’t  wrong when he says it’s not the first graphic novel. I truly hope this turns out well and makes everyone forget that other movie. It was nice that this was announced at the awards named for Eisner, who died in 2005, at Comic-Con.

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* In the here-we-go-again file, it looks like Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is being delayed for the millionth time, says the Playlist. And check out that graphic making Gilliam look a bit like a certain Mr. Orson Welles, who also struggled for years to make his vision of Cervantes’ classic delusional non-knight-errant.

* Another Deadline story: Kudos to writer Phil Johnston and Zack Galifianakis for taking on the deadly scourge that is the “Reply All” button. The children must be warned.

* The Jack Sparrow comparison will come easily to many with news of Russell Brand’s possible swashbuckling debut, but any excuse for swordfighting comedies that might actually be good works for me. (Actually, the character as described reminds me more than a bit of George MacDonald Fraser’s “Royal Flash,” portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell. Never read the book(s) or saw the movie, but since it was directed by the great Richard Lester, I really need to.)

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A press day chat with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of “Micmacs”

Jean-Pierre JeunetIf you’re even a halfway serious film fan, you may have noticed that directors like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino do not make movies set on Planet Earth, they make movies set on Planets Anderson, Burton, and Tarantino. I’m a bit less of an expert on France’s extremely popular Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but it’s obvious that, even when his films are set in Paris, they’re really set on Planet Jeunet. His films have their own look and exist in their own reality.

As with Tim Burton, Jeunet’s roots are in animation. Together with his early collaborator, cartoonist Marc Caro, he made two films that pretty much destroyed the idea of France as a land where all movies were gritty examinations of the lives of depressed intellectuals (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Dystopic but decidedly non-realistic, “Delicatessen” and, to a much greater extent, 1995′s “The City of Lost Children” broke through internationally, with the latter becoming a popular midnight selection and attracting a geek audience that might have ordinarily rejected subtitled films. That was followed by his first solo production and also his first and, so far, only American film. 1997′s “Alien: Resurrection” was a domestic commercial disappointment that generated mixed reviews and more than a little fan hate in the U.S. — even its screenwriter, fan-master Joss Whedon, has entirely disowned it — but it was nevertheless an international success which is still warmly embraced by its jovial director. After that, Jeunet broke through even bigger with the worldwide success of “Amelie” in 2001, easily one of the most widely seen French films in the United States of the last couple of decades — so much so that it was simply referenced as “the French movie” in last year’s “Up in the Air.”

Dany Boon in Now, Jeunet is back with his first film since his worldwide box office and critical hit, 2005′s “A Very Long Engagement,” with his own take on Chaplinesque/Keatonesque comedy with just a dash of Rube Goldberg not-quite-sci-fi. “Micmacs” stars comic Dany Boon (“My Best Friend”) as the hapless Bazil, whose father was killed by a landmine and whose health and livelihood was ruined by a bullet — each produced by a ruthless arms manufacturer. Homeless, he is befriended by a ragtag assortment of seven eccentrics with various unique skills. Bazil enlists their aid in avenging himself against the two firms.

The film has done reasonably well in its initial New York opening, and will be expanding to more theaters this Friday. It’s generally also been a hit with critics, very definitely including PH’s own Jason Zingale.

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A chat with Alex Gibney

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There’s no doubt that Alex Gibney is on a historic roll as a documentarian. Within only a few years, he’s been involved with probably the largest number of popular and influential documentaries of any single human being not named Michael Moore. Those works would include the outstanding “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and the equally strong, and Oscar winning, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American use of torture in the “war on terror.” Gibney has also made his share of more historically themed documentaries, including “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” He was also involved as a producer in two of the other most important and controversial documentaries of recent years, the Iraq-war expose, “No End in Sight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

If Gibney’s past output is hugely impressive, however, his upcoming list of films is dizzying. At the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he premiered as a “work in progress,” a new and apparently very revealing, look at former New York state governor, attorney general, and Wall Street watchdog Eliot Spitzer and the sex scandal that drove him from office. He also has a segment in the upcoming film version of the super-hot bestseller, Freakonomics, as well as new films about two very different cultural legends: bicyclist Lance Armstrong and author/super-hippie Ken Kesey of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Merry Pranksters fame.

There’s also the recently completed “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and the film Gibney was promoting at his publicist’s L.A. office one recent afternoon, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” It’s a work of amazing journalistic detail that also works very hard to be lively and accessible.

Jack Abramoff is

 

Even if I felt that Gibney didn’t quite master that “accessible and lively” aspect too consistently this time around, his “Casino Jack” reviews so far have been great overall. He’s certainly a filmmaker to be reckoned with and one with an outstanding body of work behind him and much, much more to come. Not my idea of a lazy person.

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Orson Welles at 95

Okay, so he’s been off this mortal coil for 25 years now, today would have been his 95th birthday, which means it’s been nearly seventy years since he made “Citizen Kane.”

First, you shall know him through his parodies.

Oh, here’s a bit from the real thing. Notice aside from the still-striking angles and use of deep focus and some never-before-seen camera tricks, that both of these short scenes are largely one take.

After the flip, Welles discusses working with his “Kane” cinematographer, Gregg Toland, who was arguably as important a person in film history as Welles himself, and also just what he thought of “Rosebud.” (He wasn’t overly fond of it.)

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One good entrance deserves another

You might have seen it elsewhere by now, but in case you haven’t, here’s a very cool little clip from “Iron Man 2″ entitled “Making an Entrance.” (H/t Darren Franch.) It definitely makes the second film look like it will be as much fun as the first.

Any how, since dramatic entrances are always fun, I’ve got a couple more that weren’t so bad, right after the jump.

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Your end of week movie news dump

A ton has happened since my last of these posts and I’m sure I’m missing plenty, but here are just a few of the interesting things going on in the movie world as this rather loony week finally ends.

* Bryan Singer will be producing, not directing, the next “X-Men” prequel. He’ll be directing “Jack, the Giant Killer” instead. And another Mike Fleming story, an exclusive this time: “Paranormal Activity 2″ has a director. He’s Tod Williams, best known for “The Door in the Floor.” Sounds to me like Paramount is keeping things modest, wisely.

* The very ill Dennis Hopper got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today.  Amy Kaufman has video of the ceremony which included Hopper rather gently chiding the paparazzi for an incident which caused him to fall. The video itself ends with photographers yelling “Viggo!” and “Jack!”

* Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” with Russell Crowe as Robin will be opening Cannes this year. The plot description put me somewhat in mind of the angle the great director Richard Lester and writer James Goldman took on the legend in a film I’m quite partial to, “Robin and Marian,” which starred Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.

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Yet another Friday night movie news dump

Really not that much to say, except…

* Summit has acquired the North American rights to distribute “The Ghost Writer,” a political thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. And why is this the top item? The director is Roman Polanski. Wait for this film to benefit from a lot of free publicity generated by people who think it’s wrong to see any movie in which someone involved with it once did a very bad thing. If you follow that rule, you’ll miss a lot of movies.

* Not too surprisingly, that report I mentioned on Wednesday that James Cameron‘s next movie is going to be an outer space redo or homage or what have you of The Seven Samurai was all wet. Instead, quoth the Playlist, he’s producing, but not directing, a remake of the not-so-great (at least as far as I can remember it) sixties sci-fi hit, “Fantastic Voyage.” It could work and will probably be at least a little bit fun in 3-D.

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* Speaking of Cameron, it’s a bit weighted towards the geek press at this moment, but reviews have been leaking all over the place for “Avatar” and, guess what, the critics seem to think there’s something to the hype. At the very least the film is guaranteed to get a bunch of technical nominations and probably win them. Throw some Oscars into the marketing mix of James Cameron’s latest, and a genuinely gigantic hit with massive legs could brewing.

How long before the inevitable backlash? Well, Michael Phillips‘ review encompasses both frontlash and backlash. Putting on her critic hat, Anne Thompson writes a prose poem. She says all us cinephiles are going to have to see it multiple times. Well, I’m sure some of us will disagree there. Contrarians, skeptics, and extra-tough critics, start your engines.

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