Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Keira Knightley, No Bodice

In other news, Keira Knightley will also be appearing in a new film in which she is not decked out in period gear. To be fair, 9 out of Keira's 25 full-length, feature films have been contemporary roles, but the remaining 16, as well as her biggest hitters, have been period films. Not that they don't suit her.

In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Keira Knightley teams up with Steve Carrell to play neighbours on a road trip as an asteroid approaches earth. On the more serious side of comedy, then. Steve & Keira are an odd pairing that could bear dividends, or fall flat. Keira's comic abilities remain untested, but Carrell is pretty good at combining comedy & drama. An interesting outing for both stars, then. Let's hope for the best.

Joe Wright's Anna Karenina

Joe Wright reunites with Keira Knightley (&, less excitingly, Matthew MacFadyan) to adapt Leo Tolstoy's classic novel of infidelity & social shame in Tsarist Russia. It's a good thing, too, because Anna Karenina has only been brought to the screen 24 times before (17 times on the big screen, 7 times on the small) between 1910 & 2009 (spanning pretty much the entire history of cinema). Only a small handful of these have been successful adaptations, however, so perhaps there is merit in Wright revisiting the material.

Keira Knightly joins a distinguished & sizeable population of actresses to have filled the Karenina shoes (including Greta Garbo, twice, Vivien Leigh, Sophie Marceau, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen McCrory, Claire Bloom, Tatyana Drubich & Tatyana Samojlova), with a total of two major award nominations among them (both for Garbo).

It seems at once a good & predictable idea for Wright to return to period literary adaptations. With Keira Knightly. His Pride & Prejudice was fresh & - considering they whittled it down to 127 minutes - effective, while his Atonement was audacious & intoxicating. So, although his recent foray into stylised contemporary fight flicks leaves me wanting much more, it will be interesting to see what he does with Anna Karenina, and if Keira Knightly's on-going bid for a second Oscar nomination will finally pay off.

Plot-wise, Anna is the young wife of an older aristocrat who - when her husband (Jude Law) won't grant her a divorce - embarks on a scandalous affair with the young & wealthy Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson), changing both their social fates forever. Anna Karenina has recently adorned the burdensome title of "Best Novel Ever Written", although this is likely due more to Tolstoy's prose & style, which bridged the gap from realist to modernist novels (thanks, Wikipedia, for making me sound smart), than his  plot, so the trick for Wright will be translating it to the screen in a suitably beguiling visual language that is true to its source, but appealing to a modern audience. But that is what Wright is good at.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Julie Delpy is spending 2 Days in New York

Channeling both Woody Allen & the Richard Linklater films that made her famous, Julie Delpy is releasing the sequel to her 2007 writing / directing / producing mini-hit 2 Days in Paris. Different relationship, same character, same talky urban comedy. I like Delpy & I like that she is writing, & directing, producing & composing her own movies.

Teaser trailer for 2 Days in New York:

Refresher for 2 Days in Paris:

In between Paris & New York, Delpy wrote / directed / etc a very different kind of beast, a curious biographical costume horror that I would love to get my hands on. The Countess recounts the strange tale of Countess Bathory, a true-life villainous noble who tried to preserve her youth by bathing in the blood of young girls she had killed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Best of Depp + Burton

With eight collaborations under their collective belt, Johnny Depp & Tim Burton are one of cinema's most lucrative & stylistically successful actor-director pairings. Depp is an actor who so easily understands & communicates Burton's particular creative sensibilities & Burton is a director who always provides Depp with both opportunity & creative freedom to create a wide array of left-field characters. In honour of their upcoming Dark Shadows, let's look back at their best work together:

1. Edward Scissorhands
An artistic breakthrough for both star & director & the start a beautiful pairing. Burton's distinct visuals tell an effective modern fantasy. Disbelief is gladly suspended in order to share the quiet emotions of Edward's world. Depp makes a leap from bit parts & 21 Jump Street & introduces the eccentric sensibility that would ultimately bring him fame. Underappreciated at the time (nearly everyone but Depp got nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror), Depp's performance is a master class in silent film acting & iconic in & beyond the goth community. With Bo Welch's incredible sets, Colleen Atwood's iconic costumes & Danny Elfman's soaring, magical score on display, it's amazing that Stan Winston's (admittedly stand out) make-up was the only thing recognised by the Oscars.  

2. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 
 Seventeen years after Scissorhands, another blade wielding, pale faced outcast yielded the first & - to date - only Oscar nominated performance for a Depp / Burton collaboration. Far darker than any of their previous collaborations, Sweeny Todd is a very tricky proposition: a musical horror, with lines blurred between cringing, laughing & sing-along. It is to Depp's credit that he gets inside Todd's skin & maintains the emotion behind the singing & killing, but it is to Burton's considerable credit that he holds it all together. This time, the exceptional technical team was recognised alongside Depp, but Burton regrettably not.

3. Ed Wood
Another Ed is at the center of the pair's second collaboration, a strange & heartfelt biopic of the infamous & probably unfairly maligned "worst director of all time". Filled with eccentricities & style that celebrate its subject, Ed Wood is one of Burton's more serious (yet also sublimely silly) films. Depp's performance keeps things broad & light & unpredictable - never trying to explain or make fun of the man, but simply enjoying inhabiting his strange skin & world.

4. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
To reinvent a character already successfully brought to life by Gene Wilder, Depp takes a number of deliberate left turns (in his own words) & churns out a true oddball - an un-apologetically antisocial, creepy perfectionist with daddy issues & a bit of a vindictive streak. His Willy Wonka bears an eery resemblance to the ultimate eternal man-child himself: Michael Jackson & makes up in enticing unpredictability what he lacks in warm charisma. From Burton's side, the Chocolate Factory is hardly a stretch, but it is joyous eye candy of the highest order & still a film with Burton's distinctive fingerprint all over it.

5. Sleepy Hollow
It has a good story, but Burton's Sleepy Hollow is all about the evocative style & rich atmosphere. A gloomy retelling of the tale of headless horseman, with incredible sets & gorgeous cinematography doubling for Washington Irving's prose. Depp's Ichabod Crane is a predictably offbeat take on the classic literary investigator. Never one to take his character too seriously, his Ichabod is a decidedly reluctant hero; an often terrified & cowardly academic more interested in science than people. A stern, serious character played for well judged comic effect in a merrily gothic tale.

6. Corpse Bride
Who better than Depp to voice the shy, sensitive hero of Burton's first animation outing as Director (after producing the hugely influential & extremely Burton-esque The Nightmare Before Christmas for Henry Selick)? The story is slight but sweet, the animation is legendary & the voice actors do uniformly excellent work.   

7. Alice in Wonderland
With Depp beneath the cap, Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter was understandably promoted to lead character, but while Depp & Burton promised a truly mentally damaged Hatter, they delivered a brightly coloured, giddy cartoon. Depp's hatter is larger than life, entertaining & sweetly damaged, but ultimately more of an idea than an actual creation and, personally, the weakest of the pair's collaborations. Burton's film, meanwhile, is a technical & visual wonder, but quickly digested popcorn fare, story-wise. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prometheus - Full Trailer

Cannot. Wait. Ridley Scott returning to the iconic franchise he started back in 1979, with far more technology, budget & experience at his disposal; aliens vs humans & science vs faith in an epic battle for life & death; one heck of a hot cast. Cannot. Wait. It's good to see a proper Sci Fi outing for Charlize Theron (after, um, Aeon Flux & Hancock), and Michael Fassbender as, possibly, a pre-Ash-era android, but this movie is going to belong to Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Did I mention I. Cannot. Wait?

Tabu - Trailer

Purdy... There's nothing like good European cinema. Can't wait for Miguel Gomes' Berlin Film Festival Hit, Tabu:

TABU from o som e a fúria on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

21 Jump Street, A Little Bit of Heaven - Trailers

This is apparently quite funny, if a bit overlong:

I can't even express how bad this looks, made even worse by the fact that Gael Garcia Bernal somehow signed up for this... "It's okay to laugh." Ouch! I'm not ready to see Whoopi Goldberg play God:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dark Shadows - Trailer

The trailer for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows has dropped. It seems like quite a loose take on the source material, but apparently there's more horror melodrama than the trailer lets on.

Vampire vs witch in campy 70s, old world meets new(er) world, fish-out-of water finds new family... Dark Shadows may be Burton's first out & out comedy since Mars Attacks (or, arguably, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory). Kind of like War of the Roses meets Back to the Future meets The Witches of Eastwick. 

Burton's always impressive style sometimes overshadows his storytelling, but the good news here is that he seems more interested in his characters than their setting, so we should be in for a good ride. It's also great to see Eva Green in what seems to be a more central, and funny, role. The comic vixen part fits her like a glove.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hugo - Review

Scorsese's latest is a paradox: at once a departure from his distinguished body of work & the most personally significant film of his career.

Defying genre, Hugo is partly a children's fantasy, partly a cinephile's passionate essay on why we love movies so much. A far cry from the gritty streets and desperate men he has made a career bringing to life. The danger of his concept is that it could appeal to neither children nor adults, but the happy result is that it easily entrances both (at least based on a census of my own Hugo-watching-posse: a BBM-addicted 13-year-old, a highly energetic 8-year-old, my legal academic wife & myself. We all loved it. I cried.). Scorsese fills every frame with joyous cinematic detail & brings magic, wonder & an incredibly big heart to a simple story of a boy finding his place in a busy world.

His story is an adaptation of Brian Selznick's beloved graphic novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan literally watching the world from behind the walls of a 1930's Parisian train station & trying to piece together the mystery behind an inactive automaton left behind by his beloved late father. A series of encounters forces him to become a part of the world he has only ever watched from a distance & to question what he has to offer.

Technically, Hugo is a masterful achievement that hits all the right notes on every level. It's no surprise that it won 5 of its 11 Oscar nominations: the sound mixing is detailed & precise, drawing you into Hugo's world; Robert Richardson cinematography is distinctly magical, creating a Paris so enchanted & detailed you could stare at it for weeks; Thelma Schoonmaker's editing is as inventive as ever (notably in a station stampede sequence); both John Logan's adapted script & Howard Shore's score are restrained but effective; Dante Ferretti's sets are jaw-dropping and the visual effects team's pitch perfect trickery works brilliantly on multiple levels - from the intricate mechanics of the clocks & the automaton, to the intense dream sequences & - SPOILER ALERT - the insertion of a young Ben Kingsley & Helen McCrory into Georges Méliès' films.

From Méliès to Scorsese
The biggest achievement, however, is how seamlessly Scorsese makes it all fit together to tell his story & to present a cinematic vision that uses the latest, cutting edge technology to explore & celebrate the origins of cinema. Notably, 3D is a new frontier for Scorsese, Schoonmaker & Richardson and, predictably enough, their combined efforts turn it into a true new artform.

Scorsese's deep love for cinema is beautifully expressed in this quiet, gentle epic. The images he puts on screen are memorable, meaningful & precise. I recently had the pleasure of attending a big screen Georges Méliès retrospective & being able to compare Méliès' groundbreaking work to Scorsese's gorgeously crafted 3D visuals (for reasons best explained by watching the film) was uniquely thrilling.

Hugo is a love letter from one master & lover of cinema to another, filled with a poignant & heartfelt understanding of the new home forged by cinema for many orphan souls. A modern classic & the best film of 2011.

Georges Méliès' groundbreaking work, celebrated by groundbreaking work from Scorsese

On the Road - Trailer

Walter Salles' last road movie was Motorcycle Diaries, so there is every reason to be extremely excited about his adaptation of Jack Kerouac's cult classic novel, On the Road. 

Salles has always drawn particularly brilliant performances from his actors & he assembles a great cast for On the Road - Sam Reilly gave a knockout debut as Joy Division's doomed Ian Curtis in Control, Garrett Hedlund brought as much weight to Tron: Legacy as appropriate & Kristen Stewart - though mired by far too much Twilight-ness & tabloid exposure - has a very impressive trio of damaged young women on her resumé (Into the Wild, Adventureland & Welcome to the Rileys). Just for good measure, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams & Steve Buscemi come along for the ride.

Salles smartly retains Motorcycle Diaries writer (José Riviera), cinematographer (Eric Gautier) & composer (Gustavo Santaolalla).


What the Olsen sister did next

In the wake of her startling debut in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen's other psychological thriller from 2011, Silent House, is being marketed on the back of another great performance by Olsen (this one, seemingly, far more conventionally expressive) and the creative decision to film the horrific events that befall Olsen's distressed heroin in a single real-time take. Apparently inspired by real events. The film itself may not live up to its catchy gimmick, with critical & commercial response resoundingly lukewarm, but as horror goes, Silent House seems pretty entertaining.

She'll also appear opposite How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor in his sophomore writing / directing effort, Liberal Arts, as a 19 year-old college student generating existential angst for Radnor's 30-something graduate when a strong attraction sparks between them. Radnor's debut, Happythankyoumoreplease was as refreshingly honest as it was annoyingly pretentious, but his characters and actors were intriguing enough to justify a second helping.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Depp, Bruckheimer & Verbinski let The Lone Ranger ride again

Continuing his infatuation with Vintage American TV, Johnny Depp is also reviving 40s / 50s / 60s TV serial The Lone Ranger with his Pirates of the Caribbean collaborators, Jerry Bruckheimer & recent Oscar winner Gore Verbinski. In true Depp fashion, he insisted on playing Tonto, rather than the titular Ranger, to ensure the classic "sidekick" is not sidelined & stereotyped , & to explore his own part-American Indian heritage.

Depp's elaborate take on the classically single-feathered Tonto has been met with mixed reception, but his detailed make up & get up may be closer to reality, if you consider the reference pic below. And why have one feather when you could have a whole bird?

Ryan Gosling was briefly attached to fill the big shoes of the Lone Ranger, but that mantle has ultimately be-crested the shoulders of Armie Winkelvii Hammer. May the force be with him. There is no doubt that Depp's Tonto will take a more central role (he is, after all, the humble mastermind, while the Lone Ranger is the posturing jock...), but whether Bruckheimer & Verbinski will be able to create a blockbuster while staying true to the simple spirit of the TV show will be the real test.

Tonto & the Ranger - alone, together:

The Lone Ranger opening credits: 

After the cut - this chick is awesome & super excitable & tells the story far better than I can:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Depp & Burton resurrect Dark Shadows (again)

For Tim Burton's 2012 live action outing, he is reviving 60s Horror Soap Opera, Dark Shadows. Vampires, werewolves and witches cross paths with the upper class Collins family in their Maine mansion.. The show ran from 1966 - 1971, with Jonathan Frid as head vampire, Barnabas Collins.

The show was briefly revived in 1991 with Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins & Joseph Gordon-Levitt as David Collins.

Burton's take seems a touch cartoonish (Depp looks like he stepped out of the Dick Tracy movie, as a vampire), but Depp claims it is a return to "vampires who look like vampires", in the Nosferatu / Dracula vein. Depp & Burton have more brilliant collaborations than bland ones, and Dark Shadows combines juicy source material with a killer cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer (returning to the Burtonverse for the first time since Batman Returns), Chloe Grace Moretz, Eva Green, Johnny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter & Jackie Earle Haley.

And just because the internet can be a strange, strange place - a musical montage tribute to the loves of Barnabas Collins (one of several) after the cut:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RESULTS! The Best Best Picture of the 90s

Opinion was FAR more divided on the 90s, with almost all contenders getting a piece of the action. Were there more great movies & performances to choose from or were there just less clear standouts?

Whatever the reason, the early 90s reign supreme! Here are YOUR winners (unless you didn't vote in which case you suck, but you're forgiven) :

The Best Best Picture(s) 1990 - 1999 (TIE)
WHAT a pair!
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Forrest Gump (1994)

The Best Best Actress 1990 - 1999
Jodie Foster - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

(narrowly edging out Kathy Bates, Hilary Swank & Frances McDormand)

The Best Best Actor 1990 - 1999
Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
(by a significant lead)

The Best Best Director 1990 - 1999
Steven Spielberg - Schindler's List (1993)

RESULTS - The Best Best Picture of the 00s!

Voting has closed & the results are a landslide victory for 2007 (except Best Director). A great year for cinema indeed, and apparently a year where the Academy chose well. There was really no competition here.

The winners:

The Best Best Picture 2000 - 2009
No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Best Best Actor 2000 - 2009
Daniel Day Lewis - There Will Be Blood (2007)

The Best Best Actress 2000 - 2009
Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose (2007)

The Best Best Director(s) 2000 - 2009 (TIE)
Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Joel & Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men (2007)

Your vote counts in the Jameson Empire Awards

Cast your vote for the Jameson Empire Awards, where Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris & Attack the Block battle it out for Best Comedy; Troll Hunter, Paranormal Activity 3 & Attack the Block go head to head for Best Horror; Drive competes with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Best Thriller & there's an award for the Art of 3D! Not to mention their very fine line up for Best Actress line up. 

Have your say - click here to go to vote for the 2012 Empire Awards

Monday, March 5, 2012

ParaNorman - Trailer

And to demonstrate the extent of Tim Burton's influence - the puppet animation, the gothic look & feel, the gloomy content, the weirdo central character ("You can't be a hero by being normal"): Chris Butler & Sam Fell's Scooby Doo-influenced ParaNorman:

Kinda like an animated Sixth Sense. Not quite for kids then. It seems fun, but doesn't quite have the intimacy or artistic flair of vintage Burton, but nice puppet work, below. 

Frankenweenie: 1984 vs 2012




Frankenweenie - Trailer

Back in 1984, Tim Burton's live action short, Frankenweenie, about a boy who brings his beloved pet dog back to life, got him fired from Disney for "wasting company resources on a film far too dark for children".

Now, in 2012, and with billions behind his name for Alice in Wonderland, Disney has had Burton back to release Frankenweenie as a full length, black & white claymation feature. Frankenweenie is a full circle moment for Tim Burton and a true vindication for the trail blazer who stuck with his vision from obscurity & disapprovingly shaking heads all the way to creative & commercial success.

Frankenweenie continues many elements from Burton's body of work: the signature style animation developed from Nightmare Before Christmas to Corpse Bride; the loving black-and-white evoking the Vincent Price genre horrors he loves so much, as in Vincent, 1984 Frankenweenie Ed Wood; the themes - a well-meaning Dr Frankenstein, suburban outsiders - visual style - sunny, symmetrical suburbia meets ornate, dilapidated world of outcasts - and sweetly dark humour borrowed from Edward Scissorhands & the roughly sewn-together characters that showed up in Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns (Michelle Pfeiffer's classic costume, if not her character) & Mars Attacks! (Remember Sarah Jessica Parker & her dog?) makes a comeback in Sparky the dog. The doomed return from the dead is also a theme recurring in Beetlejuice (sort of), Corpse Bride & even Sleepy Hollow.

Prometheus - Guy Pearce's TED Talk

Interesting promo for Ridley Scott's Prometheus.