Sunday, January 31, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 30: Midnight Cowboy, The Room

--> Episode 30: 01/31/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Tyler Drown, Brian Crawford, and Suman Allakki

Intro: 00:00
Discussion: 01:41
(Culturally Significant American Films)
Top 5: 14:21
I Can’t Believe You’ve Never Seen: 21:18
(“Midnight Cowboy”)
I Can’t Believe You’ve Seen: 29:33
(“The Room”)
Farce/Film Movie Round-up: 48:43
(“Gummo”, “Metropolitan”)
Events and Outro: 01:12:20

"The Room"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"The White Ribbon" Review

I'm not sure anyone knew exactly how to feel when the credits rolled and "The White Ribbon" ended. Standing outside the theater afterwards, a woman asked me for a supplementary opinion. I hesitated before replying, "It's one you have to sit on." She seemed disappointed, either in the film or my inelegant response, and shuffled down the sidewalk. A week later, I honestly still haven't made up my mind on Michael Haneke's latest, which leaves not on a moment of epiphany or quiet resolution but at the height of uncertainty. Perhaps appropriate, given its thematic wallpaper of suspicion and doubt, but unlike "A Serious Man," which last year made an ambiguous ending absolutely incendiary, "The White Ribbon" is never quite satisfying in its conclusion.

Still, its palpable atmosphere and methodic pacing yield countless small rewards. There's a simple craftsmanship to Christian Berger's crisp black and white photography that lends the rural setting a muted authenticity, and Haneke draws humble, earnest performances from his cast that transcend the coarseness of his plot. The film is set in Germany just before the onset of the first World War, and Haneke paints the rural village of Eichwald as a crucible for guilt and cruelty amidst a series of malicious and unresolved crimes that turn the town against itself.

The film boasts an impressive recreation of 1913 Germany on an aesthetic level, but Haneke's modern sensibility sometimes spoils the illusion that "The White Ribbon" is classic filmmaking. For one, his poor use of voiceover sticks out like a sore thumb. It feels pointlessly neurosurgical for him to dictate the plot to the level of transcribing what has, is, and will happen in narration, especially when his characters and images speak so strongly for themselves. Secondly, his film has an off-putting frankness exorcised by several harsh characters that are so staunchly unpleasant and 2010-era transgressive that they seem misplaced in a period drama and even now feel hyperbolic. From the widower doctor who sexually abuses his daughter to the anonymous pummeling of a retarded child, Haneke paints his Hell in broad strokes.

Mostly, however, "The White Ribbon" plays like a mix of moody whodunit and bleak parable, which unfortunately never quite add up to more than the sum of their parts. There have been better films about the suffering we inflict on one another, just one being Lars von Trier's controversial "Antichrist," which is certainly no more subtle, but impressed me at least with the emotional gravity it wields. The bleakness of Haneke's film feels forced and dishonest by comparison, shoehorned into every corner of Eichwald under the auspice of a greater looming threat. That Haneke never reveals the culprit of the crimes is, of course, the point, but it leaves the finished film feeling slightly unhinged.

What Haneke does achieve is a gorgeous, thoughtful, and well-paced mystery that's occasionally too cold and enigmatic for its own good. He plays with powerful concepts that he never quite tames, and they make their hurried dens in the wrong places as a result. "The White Ribbon" is absolutely uncompromising in its refusal to defer to audience expectation, even at its own expense in delivering a rounded narrative. On a technical level, its execution is all but flawless, but its content is sure to polarize those viewers who submit themselves to Haneke's bitter meditation on malice, and who probably won't know how to feel when it fades out.

It's one they’ll have to sit on.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

"An Education" Review

Right off the bat "An Education" surprised me. To briefly judge the movie by its poster, (which depicts a heavily airbrushed Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan lying side by side on a stone walkway, heads propped against the other's shoulder) the advertised film completely fails to distinguish itself. I came into the theater relying wholly on the positive critical consensus. Then the film kicked in with the thumping piano of Floyd Cramer's "On the Rebound," and any notion that I was in for another dry, art-house romance was instantly dispelled.

Danish director Lone Scherfig ("Italian for Beginners," "Wilber Wants to Kill Himself") follows that cue throughout, unfurling "An Education" with effortless charm and strong performances buoyed by the witty screenplay of English novelist, Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity"). What's most impressive about his script, however, is how nearly it adheres to coming-of-age drama convention, and how nimbly it jukes each potential cliche. "An Education" offers a smart, savvy, and admirably unpretentious spin on the May-December relationship film.

A triumph in partnership of pen and performance, Hornby has a way of writing characters that leap off the page, and Scherfig couldn't have asked for a better cast. Jenny (Mulligan) is rebellious, but her insubordination is backed by a genuine intelligence that makes her endearing rather than grating to watch, even when she's heading down the wrong path with her swanky suitor, David (Sarsgaard). Much has been made of Mulligan's stellar performance, but Sarsgaard deserves equal credit for humanizing his slippery character. Even when every red flag is raised, like Jenny, we want to believe David is a decent guy. His suave demeanor and honest eyes easily win us over.

He and his partner Danny (Dominic Cooper), and Danny's significant other, Helen (Rosamund Pike) whisk Jenny into a world of permanent vacation, a cocktail of high-class restaurants, concerts, hotels, and nightclubs. Cooper plays a stoic sidekick and Pike is hysterical as a perfect dolt. She has a wispy vacuity that makes her a mirror antithesis to Jenny and a reliable laugh for the audience. The ensemble is rounded out by Cara Seymour as Jenny's mother, and Alfred Molina, who breathes sardonic life into her consternated father. Olivia Williams also memorably stars as Jenny's proctor and mentor.

The characters and the writing only take the film to a discernable point, however, after which "An Education" grapples to recover from self-seriousness. The light, affable tone that makes the first three quarters of the film so memorable is all but forgotten when Jenny discovers the almost insultingly poorly concealed evidence of David's other life at the onset of the third act. Hornby spends so much time building up his characters as smart, believable people that the simplicity of David's mistake rings immediately false. Come on, the glove compartment that you've seen your girlfriend take cigarettes from isn't the place to keep relationship ruining secrets. Just sayin'. From there, Jenny's life spirals predictably down the toilet and though the drama works, the film never recovers its critical sense of humor.

So though "An Education" takes a major dive near its end in terms of comedy, the film on the whole works throughout, and Nick Hornby substitutes enough offbeat humor to more than compensate for the atonal ending, and still never succumbs to the stifling melodrama the genre is so often tainted by. I'll be surprised if the film doesn't pick up a best picture nomination next month, and while it would probably find a retroactive home somewhere in my 2009 top ten list, I think it falls just a hair shy of greatness. Nevertheless, it's a film with heart and a rare joviality that makes it a standout among its peers. Ignore the poster and enjoy.


FARCE/FILM Episode 29: A Town Called Panic, The White Ribbon

--> Episode 29: 01/24/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Tyler Drown, Sonic Kim, Jon Mauer

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 03:39
A Town Called Panic – 16:19
The White Ribbon – 38:06
Events, Discussion, Outro – 56:45
(“Strange Brew”, “Lost: Season 1”)

"A Town Called Panic"

"The White Ribbon"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' Underway

What’s that? I almost dozed off amidst all the talk of “Spider-Man” reboots and “Avatar” box-office milestones. According to /Film, something much more exciting is now under way, which believe it or not has nothing to do with comic books or James Cameron.

Rather news arrives that Alexander Payne has officially begun pre-production on his fifth feature film, “The Descendants,” which will be shot on location in Hawaii and has a tentative 2011 release date with George Clooney set to star. The story is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings about a “wryly introspective attorney” (a real stretch for Clooney) who travels from Oahu to Kauai with his two daughters to confront a real estate broker who had an affair with his now comatose wife.

The material sounds like a perfect fit for Payne’s droll sensibility, and Clooney will be joining the ranks of Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”), Jack Nicholson (“About Schmidt”), Matthew Broderick (“Election”), and Laura Dern (“Citizen Ruth”) in giving life to the director’s hilariously flawed comic protagonists.

Excluding his contributions to “Paris, je t’aime” and HBO’s “Hung,” "The Descendants" marks Payne's return to the director's chair after an almost six year absence. And it’s good to have him back.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 28: An Education, The Lovely Bones

--> Episode 28: 01/19/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Jon Mauer, Maxwell Lee Haddad

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 01:39
An Education (spoilers) – 08:21
The Lovely Bones - 24:42
Discussion – 40:40
(The 2009 Golden Globes)
Events and Outro – 59:21

"An Education"

"The Lovely Bones"

Burton gets 'Maleficient'

Perhaps it's merely further confirmation that Tim Burton has forever resigned himself to reimagining classic films, but news broke today that the prolific director, whose take on “Alice in Wonderland” is set to open this March, will be partnering with Disney once again to remake their seminal animated film “Sleeping Beauty,” with a potentially interesting twist--

Titled “Maleficent,” the film will allegedly go the “Wicked” route, bringing the evil queen to the forefront of the story, and thus relegating the slumbering princess and her suitor to the back-burner.

What isn’t clear yet is what this means for the backlog of other upcoming Tim Burton projects, including “Dark Shadows,” which is based on the Gothic sixties soap opera, and the feature-length adaptation of his short, “Frankenweenie.”

Personally, of the above, this is the project I’m most interested in seeing made, but conversely, the one I’m most apprehensive about Burton taking. After all, if “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the “Alice” trailer are any indication, “Maleficent” will be a heavily computer-animated eye-sore with characters as deep as the flat screen monitors they were born to.

But to be fair, Burton has won me over in the past, with thoughtful pieces
like “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood,” which manage to balance drama with his signature weirdness. In a perfect world, I’d love to see “Maleficent” handled in the stop-motion style of the Henry Selick/Burton collaboration, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” but I won't hold my breath.

Either way, we can no doubt look forward to seeing Burton branded “Maleficent” merchandise cluttering
our local “Hot Topic” soon.

Thanks to /Film.

"The Lovely Bones" Review

"The Lovely Bones" is a unique breed of failure. Where most bad films dress as bad films, with lousy direction and ugly camerawork, Peter Jackson's latest dons some impressive threads. His cinematography is tight and nuanced. He lines up fine performances and crafts sequences that independently excel; yet somehow the conglomerate film all but implodes. More often than not, Jackson flat-out misses the point.

His ideas are frankly juvenile and "Lovely Bones" lacks bite even given its PG-13 rating. The film is based on the novel by Alice Sebold, about fourteen year-old murder victim Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), who observes her healing family from the Heavenly equivalent of limbo while learning to come to terms with death herself. What feels as though it should be a solemn contemplation on loss is often punctuated by staunchly optimistic tonal aberrations. When Jackson has an underage driver and her asphyxiating brother on his hands, he somehow can't help but romanticize their spin in the family convertible. The kids blow by mom (Rachel Weisz) and dad (Mark Wahlberg), who shoot each other a clueless "couldn't be!" sort of look straight out of "Home Alone." Or later, there's a rockin' seventies montage where boozy grandma (Susan Sarandon) charmingly ruins dinner and botches the laundry, turning the washroom into a sudsy dance floor for she and her grandson. Really.

It's moments like these that underscore the weird dichotomy of "Lovely Bones." It's a movie about murder in which we never witness a murder, and a movie about grieving in which grieving, when explored at all, amounts to euphemistic cliche. Dad smashes his precious ship-in-a-bottle collection in a fit of rage; mom leaves home for California to pick oranges or something; Grandma lights another cigarette; Susie's siblings don't seem much bothered at all.

You'll have to bear with me if this next comparison seems inapt, but I've been watching a lot of "Twin Peaks," and the early-nineties TV series is a perfect counterpoint to Jackson's sentimentality. The premises are nearly identical, with murdered teens prompting police inquiry and family crises. Mark Frost and David Lynch's series, however, dredges its characters to the precarious edge of hell in their grief, reducing Laura Palmer's parents to shrieking, sobbing loons. By comparison, the Salmons are positively stoic. Their grief is never made palpable, and so our emotional investment in their story is compromised.

If this leads one to ask where the drama went, or what was pulling Peter Jackson's heartstrings in taking on the film, the answer is abundantly clear--it's the lavish effects sequences. I can imagine no other reason the project piqued his interest, and he makes his priorities known even at the expense of a more focused film. He easily loses himself in spherical digital meadows, bottled ship smattered oceans, and all manner of other vaguely surreal and uniformly irrelevant scenes.

The thesis of the film, that new life and new connections foster in death, that there is beauty even in unspeakable horror, I find compelling. It's probably the reason for Jackson's bleating optimism in sequences like those described above, misguided though it may be. He stretches for the positive, even when a downer is what we really need. Holding the audience at arms length, he spoon-feeds us everything except the part of the story that's actually important. It's sort of weird to show Susie Salmon frolicking in a pristine garden after her death; it undercuts the gravity of what's been done to her. To juxtapose heaven with hell on earth is really the only way for the film to work, and Jackson doesn't have the gall to honestly portray the wrenching emotion of the scenario. From an objective filmmaking standpoint, he makes an admirable jab, but he simply isn't making the right movie.


Friday, January 15, 2010

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Review

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" should have been a layup for director Terry Gilliam, who by narrative design essentially gave himself free reign to create the sort of incredible dark fantasy worlds he's known for, but the film is as rickety as the thousand year-old doctor himself, with flaws that reach above and beyond the loss of star Heath Ledger, who died halfway through the production. What really kills "Parnassus" is, ironically enough, a lack of imagination.

Maybe chalk it up to a folly of the digital age, but seeing Gilliam, who animated the charming collage sequences for "Monty Python's Flying Circus" way back when, and crafted the practical models, sets, and effects for "Brazil," resort to CGI feels flat out lazy. The truth is that the physical set design for Dr. Parnassus' circus trailer, a sort of large scale pop-up book, is far more imaginative than the world that exists on the other side of his magic mirror. These dreamscapes generally feel empty, with giant, computer-generated symbols of their visitor's subconscious floating desolately in a brightly colored vacuum. The environments lack tactility, giving everything the rounded, plastic look of recent Tim Burton films. Really the only thing that would have made the sequences interesting would be to have seen them achieved practically.

But what really makes "Parnassus" a disappointment is its plot, which begins subtle, minimalistic, and intriguing, and spirals into talky, convoluted, and boring. Gilliam structures the script not in the traditional arc, but rather in an upside-down pyramid, piling layer upon layer until the story can't help but topple. To begin, there's the traveling imaginarium, run by the titular Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), his barker Anton (Andrew Garfield), and the diminutive Percy (Verne Troyer). Then there's a romance between Valentina and Anton. Then Parnassus makes a wager with the devil (Tom Waits, in a standout performance). Then the gang comes upon the amnesiac Tony (Heath Ledger--though Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell complete his unfinished scenes). And that's only the first forty minutes. The plot lines coalesce into a volatile stew, eventually boiling to a fever pitch that all but sinks the movie.

As with even the greatest of Gilliam's failures, however, "Parnassus" offers something unexpected, which in itself can't be undervalued. The director's sense of ironic timing and bourgeois satire is still very much intact, and setting the film in present-day England makes for an often striking juxtaposition of skyscrapers, supermarkets, and sideshow chic. Gilliam opens strong, with a raucous fight scene between adolescent drunkards and the mysterious imaginarium crew. Unfortunately, the more he tells us about the characters, the less interesting they become.

The end result is a film that will be fortunate to find an appreciative audience. There were a few walk-outs during the screening I attended, and I honestly couldn't cast much blame. "Parnassus" is a film to recommend to Gilliam fans alone, only some of whom will likely come away with a positive impression. Like with 2005's "Tideland," the director alienates viewers from inception through his defiant strangeness, which is a welcome and unique trait compared with the marginal creativity of Blockbuster X, but only when backed by assured storytelling. Gilliam's writing has never been his strong suit, but his last two films in particular have felt under and overwritten, respectively.

It's tough to beat up on Gilliam though, whose repeated misfortunes and singular artistic voice make him a compelling underdog, and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" should not be outright dismissed for the risks it takes and successes it enjoys, equal as they may be to its failures. It's not brilliant, but it's different. And for some, that'll be enough.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Shots Fired During New Mexico Screening of 'Avatar'

It wasn’t long ago that Philadelphia was home to a shooting during a screening of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and now it seems an equally unlikely film has inspired gunfire in Albuquerque, New Mexico—James Cameron’s “Avatar.” The unidentified victim of the shooting was not fatally injured, and two suspects have been taken into police custody. The event was relayed to /Film by a reader, who offered this account:

“I went to go see Avatar last night at the Century Rio 24 theater in Albuquerque, NM. We sat in the upper-left of the theater. Midway through Avatar someone near the top of the theater was throwing those little Snap Pop fireworks into the crowd. I knew this because two did land near where my girlfriend, her son and I were sitting. Whoever was doing it stopped though, but I was still a little pissed that it could happen again. However, what happened next was something I would never expect I’d be a part of, and that’s a shooting in a theater!

Not long after the Hometree fell in the movie, I hear two LOUD pops and saw one of the flashes near the bottom left of the theater, near the ground floor. My initial reaction was the same A-Hole that was throwing those Snap Pops had decided to graduate to something bigger for a prank. I quickly realized that what I had heard sounded more like a gunshot than a firework. An audible, “Ahhhhhh….” that sounded like a whining was heard and I saw someone throw someones arm over their shoulder and half-run out the right side.

Not long after random people started getting up and running out, including my girlfriend, her son, and I. As we were running out I felt a panic start to set in. People were frantic and not being considerate. I was carrying my girl’s son, and she was running ahead and then it dawned on me that someone might have fired into the crowd and the gunman might still be near the doorway. I closed the distance and exited out the main entrance. This happened right when they removed the shoe of what looked like a teenage girl and a small dime-sized mark was visible on her sock. The girl said something like, “Oh my God! What is it, what happened to my foot?”

I knew what happened, she’d been shot. We made a hasty exit while theater managers and other employees ran towards the trouble but we had a small kid with us, we weren’t sticking around. As we hopped in the car I noticed my hands were shaking as we were pulling out of the parking lot. As the police cars passed (I counted about 12) I couldn’t help but think back to your podcast about which film watching experience was better: watching at home, or with a bunch of people at the theater. In this case I would have rather have been home, lol.

We tried to watch the news for more details but there was only a small mention of the incident on Channel 7.

Pretty crazy stuff. At first I was thinking it was probably someone who knew the girl who dropped a gun and it went off. But later as I thought more about what happened, I think someone just walked through the side and fired into the crowd. In either case, I’m glad no one was hurt. It was a wild night at the movies for sure, and Im still looking forward to seeing the ending to Avatar! :P”

If I were the detective in charge of this case, I’d be trying to figure out what exactly it is that “Benjamin Button” and “Avatar” have in common in prompting such violent responses, and which major Hollywood film will be the next.

My best guess is that the two films are the latest from directors David Fincher and James Cameron, responsible for the third and second installments in the “Aliens” franchise, respectively. Continuing in reverse chronological series order, we arrive at Ridley Scott, who, as chance may have it, has a film scheduled for this summer.

I’m no detective, but audiences for “Robin Hood” may want to be on their guard.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 27: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

--> Episode 27: 01/10/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Kevin Mauer, and Suman Allakki

Intro – 00:00:00
Top 5 – 00:01:23
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (spoilers) – 00:12:24
Discussion – 00:42:27
(The future of 3D)
Top 5 Anticipated Films of 2010 – 00:46:27
Events and Outro – 01:14:15

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

FARCE/FILM's Worst Films of 2009

Earlier this week I doled out my picks for the top films of 2009 and the decade, and today offer a far more dubious distinction. I saw sixty movies last year, and the below ten are the worst of the worst. Unsurprisingly, this list was easier to compile, but is accented by far more sour memories. Each pick includes a hyperlink to my original reviews where applicable. Grab a clothes pin and enjoy.

10. Public Enemies
I've never heard a film released with worse audio-editing. That the visuals are marked by ugly and overblown digital noise is the icing on the cake for this Michael Mann snoozer. I wasn't keeping track, but I think "Public Enemies" may hold a personal record for most sideways-phone-glances.

9. World's Greatest Dad
A hilariously dark premise is all but ruined by Bobcat Goldthwait's unfocused screenplay and amateurish direction. Like this year's "Observe and Report," some will call any transgressive comedy great based on gall alone, but "World's Greatest Dad" crescendos to a sappy ending that totally undercuts the tone.

8. Watchmen
This blisteringly over-long exercise in melodrama is further proof that Zack Snyder makes the world's least-articulate comic book films. I'll be the first to admit the opening montage is awesome, but the rest of the film is nigh indescipherable to anyone who hasn't read the novel. Fan service is one thing, directing a film is another.

7. The Hangover
I've waged war on this film ever since sitting through it stone-faced last June. It's popularity baffles and infuriates me. The premise gives the writers essentially free reign to write any comic scenario they choose, and they settle for half-baked celebrity cameos and animal gags.

6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
I remember probably a combined two minutes of this film.

5. Everybody's Fine
Even as tepid family dramas go, "Everybody's Fine" is bad. Its charcters are cardboard surrogates for human beings, and the only thing more laughable than their supposed 'problems' are the ridiculous lengths they go to cover them up. It's hard not to feel bad for the neutered shell of Robert DeNiro in the lead.

4. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
2009's dumbest summer blockbuster (if only by a hair), the second "Transformers" film seems to take every flaw of its predecessor and expand upon it, with bludgeoning action, transparent characters, and a plot that moves just slightly faster than the speed of logic.

3. Humpday
"Humpday" is an indie comedy built on "hilarious" performances and improvised "dialogue," but mostly succeeds in delivering an unintentionally dislikable protagonist and one of the most anticlimactic endings of all time.

2. Terminator Salvation
"Transformers" may have been the dumbest blockbuster of the summer, but "Terminator: Salvation" was the worst. The high-contrast look of the film saps not only the color from the franchise, but any and all traces of fun. I challenge anyone to explain to me who was doing what and why over the course of this pretentiously operatic, testosterone-drunk mess.

1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
I'd feel guilty about this choice if I hadn't actually sat through it. I know it seems like a fanboy gimme, but I can assure you first-hand that "Twilight: New Moon" is every bit as awful as you've heard. Objectively, there isn't an ounce of legitimate craftmanship on display in the film, which lies somewhere between an oozingly depressive highschool sob-circle and soft-core male pornography. I may not have bought a ticket, but I overpaid.

'Spider-Man 4' Delay A Catalyst for 2011 Scheduling Change-Up

Paramount isn’t missing a beat. With news of production potentially being delayed on Sony’s “Spider-Man 4,” another Marvel Comics tent-pole has been hammered into its now-uncertain May 6th, 2011 release slot—“Thor,” which was previously set to bow only two weeks later. Not to be outdone, Disney almost immediately hijacked the vacated May 20th spot, dating yet another ‘4,’ the fourth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “On Stranger Tides.”

The shuffle shapes what looks to be another bofo summer blockbuster season, even if the films in question have yet to prove themselves. The delay for Sam Raimi’s latest web-slinger, for instance, has reportedly been enacted due to issues with the script, a problem any patron of “Spider-Man 3” would likely concede is worth sorting out.

“Thor,” on the other hand, is an unproven live-action property directed by Kenneth Branagh, who’s previously been best known as a director of Shakespeare adaptations like “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Love’s Labor Lost.” His take on this Norse actioner could go the way of “Catwoman” or “Daredevil” just as easily as it could “Dark Knight” or “Iron Man.” Obviously Paramount is banking on the latter.

Lastly, the fourth “Pirates” film arrives without the veteran direction of Gore Verbinski, and it remains to be seen what effect his absence will have on the franchise, which many believe has overstayed its welcome as is.

But regardless of how 2011 compares to recent summers, this scheduling change-up may be moot if “Spider-Man” gets its act together. Marvel would be crazy to cannibalize ticket sales by releasing two competing films on the same weekend, and with “Pirates” so quick to gobble-up the May 20 slot, this Hollywood game of musical chairs would likely force “Thor” to move again.

Thanks to Variety.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"A Single Man" Review

"A Single Man" is your prototypical awards hound. It has rich atmosphere, assured performances, and not an ounce of originality. The debut of openly gay director Tom Ford, who previously made his name in fashion design, is a curiously impersonal film, a contented period drama about the loss of a partner, and a long hour and forty minutes. The storytelling is generally reserved and mature, but straightforward to a fault, packing shopworn scenarios and relationship dynamics that, while successful enough on their own merit, fail to elevate the material beyond each inherent cliche.

But one of the biggest reasons "A Single Man" never soars is that it suffers from some confusing and amateurish stylistic choices. Early in the film, for example, George Falconer (Colin Firth) peers out of his bathroom window. Through filter effects and desaturated imagery, we meet a family straight out of a sixties public service announcement. The actors address the camera, as though we might literally be watching some 8mm home movie. Surely these are George's memories. However, the scene, which spans multiple shots and angles, ends with a mother turning starkly to her side. We cut back to George, who ducks to avoid her gaze. Never mind that there's almost no way that she could literally have seen him through a fence, foliage, and into the dim interior of his bathroom, but the visual shorthand indicates we had moved in space and time. The perspectives from which we see of the family are totally incongruent with George's, but we're still led to believe that these two stylistically independent scenes are occurring simultaneously and within mere feet of one another.

And that series of misleading cuts is a minor gripe compared to a mistake made in the overall sequence of scenes. "A Single Man" begins with a dream in which George is beside Jim (Matthew Good), his dead lover, on a frozen river, a car overturned behind them. Jim is dead. The scene is undoubtedly the most visually striking in the film, but its placement completely undercuts the power of a following flashback, during which we witness George receiving the call informing him of Jim's demise. The scene might have been quite potent if we hadn't already been shown the body, but Ford relegates it to superfluous reiteration in showing it to us second. As a result, rather than carrying the emotional weight that it should, the scene feels languid, heavy-handed, and manipulatory.

Worse still is that Ford doesn't seem to understand his own protagonist. A contemplative discussion between George and a colleague is derailed by point-of-view shots of nearby shirtless male tennis players. The director uses close-ups and slow motion to add emphasis to each glowing Adonis, even though it doesn't makes sense for Firth's character. George is intellectual and collected, but harbors a deep sorrow, which is and should always be the root of the film. The loss of Jim weighs heavily on him, so to turn around and have him ogling others in a completely inappropriate context is beyond counter-productive; it's developmental sabotage. Had the same relationship been heterosexual, the close-ups thereby featuring women in sports bras glistening in motion, it would be clear our protagonist is an insincere pervert, which George clearly isn't. Ford employs a dangerous double standard in this imagery.

The bottom line is that "A Single Man" is a mediocre drama riding high on Oscar buzz in at best a middling awards season. The performances by Firth, Good, Nicholas Hoult, and Julianne Moore are opaque, but the content of their exchanges wants badly for substance. Their playbook passion undermines what could have been a deeply resonant human story, which is instead utterly neutered by pretension. There simply isn't one genuinely surprising or transgressive moment in the film, even in scenes that take a lighthearted approach to suicide and prostitution.

"A Single Man" may disguise itself well-enough through impressive art design as an awards-caliber film, but behind the slick veneer and A-list stars, this paint-by-numbers portrait of heartbreak is singularly underwhelming.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 26: A Single Man

--> Episode 26: 01/03/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Suman Allakki, Jonathan Mauer

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 01:45
A Single Man (spoilers) - 11:08
Discussion - 32:53
(Top 5 of '09)
Suman's Corner - 47:43
At-home Movie Round-up - 52:28
Events and Outro - 57:10

"A Single Man"

'ID4' Hits the Boards

The news may sound straight out of “Be Kind Rewind,” but a real-life team of students from the Savannah College of Art and Design have chosen Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” as the latest in a series of no-budget, tongue-in-cheek stage adaptations of Hollywood blockbusters. Under the name Old Murder House Theater, the group is spearheaded by Sam Edison, who writes and directs the shows.

Edison’s team is an offshoot of the Savannah fimmakers' War Room Collective, and has already brought Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and an auspicious double-billing of “The Lion King” and “Predator” to the boards, and that’s just act I of their creative endeavor.

Edison has plans to bring his low-fi versions of “Independence Day” and “Jurassic Park” from Murder House’s new home in Austin coast to coast, with stops in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and of course, Savannah. But Edison isn’t content to just rest on his laurels, either. “We’re going to Savannah in March to do ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Aladdin,’” he says.

With his clear affection for the nineties, the possibilites are rich for future Edison/Old Murder House Theater productions. I'm personally holding out hope for “Braveheart.”

You can check out a clip of Edison's "Independence Day" below. Thanks to cinematical.

ID4: Off Broadway from Samuel Eidson on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

FARCE/FILM's top movies of 2009 and the decade!

Happy new year! With another year and decade behind us, it's our obligation as web-savvy movie enthusiasts to clog the internet with "best of" lists. Below you'll find my top ten films of 2009, and my top twenty films of the decade, with hyperlinks to my original reviews where applicable. Enjoy, and feel free to tear my choices to shreds in the comments section.

Top 10 Films of 2009

10. Cold Souls
9. Where the Wild Things Are
8. Ponyo
7. Drag Me to Hell
6. The Princess and the Frog
5. Star Trek
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. Inglourious Basterds
2. Antichrist
1. A Serious Man

Top 20 Films of the Decade

20. Mulholland Drive
19. Kill Bill
18. Spirited Away
17. Borat
16. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
15. Let the Right One In
14. A Mighty Wind
13. WALL-E
12. Inglourious Basterds
11. Adaptation

10. Encounters at the End of the World
9. Ratatouille
8. Antichrist
7. Oldboy
6. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
5. Storytelling
4. A Serious Man
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
2. There Will Be Blood
1. Sideways

"Sherlock Holmes" Review

"Sherlock Holmes" by way of Guy Ritchie sounds about as good a pairing as Michael Bay and the Old Testament, but the director's mainstream sensibility and testosterone-infused filmography color a surprisingly inoffensive adaptation, thanks in large part to the charismatic performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, respectively. I have a hunch that longtime fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's intrepid detective may be put off by Ritchie's brawn over brains approach to the material, which paints its protagonist as ostensibly an Indiana Jones, but the film suffices as harmless fun if not a serious head scratcher.

Action invariably supersedes mystery, and unraveling Holmes' latest case leads to fisticuffs more often than not, but purists needn't worry that their hero has been stripped entirely of his intellect. Even in one of countless gratuitous fight sequences with "Matrix"-esque speed-ramping, Ritchie's Holmes is always portrayed as a thinker. He carefully calculates the impact of each of his blows, instantaneously deriving the quickest route to his enemy's defeat before its painful execution. The screenplay employs this method of doubling back on a scene to reveal the product of Holmes' clever schemes throughout, heightening sequences that might otherwise consist of purely expository dialogue.

Where I do take issue with the film, however, is in the mystery itself, which never packs the sort of revelations the genre typically needs to. The plot is centered on one Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), an occultist and murderer who is sentenced to death by hanging, only to return from grave shortly thereafter. Perhaps I pack my own skepticism in this interpretation, which is partly why I don't consider it a spoiler, but it was always clear to me that Blackwood was an illusionist. His feats of supposed magic don't seem incredible enough to not have a rational explanation, and as a result, the disclosure of their orchestration is less surprising than merely satisfactory. Fortunately, the sequence of events that lead Holmes to this predictable discovery is less transparent. In fact, often the contrary, though perhaps more due to staccato pacing and thick accents than legitimate intrigue, but it's nevertheless more fun to be one step behind Holmes than one in front.

Still, the film has plenty more going for it to make it worth a family or friendly outing. Hans Zimmer provides a memorable score, and the production design creates a surprisingly authentic turn-of-the-century London, especially in comparison to other big-budget period blunders like Peter Jackson's 2005 adaptation of "King Kong," which took at best a half-hearted approach to recreating the thirties. Ritchie's team impresses with moody interiors and muddy streets only occasionally blemished by over-indulgent CGI cityscapes. The chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law compensates for a disappointing script, and keeps the film from feeling like a slog.

"Sherlock Holmes" is neither a triumph nor a disaster, and while 2009 may have brought us plenty of better blockbusters, it delivered just as many worse. "Holmes" has enough charm and wit to recommend for an impromptu cineplex Saturday, especially heading into what looks like a tepid January. It turns out the world-class sleuth and Guy Ritchie make a decent pair after all, and with an ending that clearly assumes a sequel, the greatest mystery is not if they'll re-team, but when.