Monday, August 29, 2011

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 42



NEW IN THEATERS



  • Apollo 18
  • Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame* / 89%
  • Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life* / 85%
  • Shark Night 3D
* = limited release

NEW IN STORES



  • In a Better World / 78%
  • Orpheus CC / 100%
  • The Perfect Host / 36%
  • Prom / 34%
  • Skateland / 42%
CC = Criterion Collection
% from Rotten Tomatoes

* * *

TRAILER ROUND-UP





"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. "Blackthorn" would make a good follow-up for Western double-feature. The synopsis explains how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a standoff with the Bolivian army back in 1908. However, it claims that is unsubstantiated and that Butch Cassidy actually escaped from that scrap and went on to live a quiet life under the name of James Blackthorn in a Bolivian village. Well, at least a quiet life up until the events depicted in this new film. I'm hopeful that Westerns are back and this one has all the right settings and trimmings for an epic adventure. Butch Cassidy rides again




Daniel Radcliffe (who we will forever know as Harry Potter) plays a young lawyer who visits a sleepy village which seems to bear some terrible past. In a recent episode of Filmspotting, guest host Alison Wilmore had the original "The Woman in Black" (a made-for-TV horror film that is apparently pretty hard to find) in her "Top 5 Haunted Houses." Radcliffe is seen exploring a house that seems to become an island of its own with the changing tides. Why is he there and what will he learn? I for one am fascinated to find out. The film has a great look about it and feels like a careful period piece. Tell me, why are dolls so freakin' freaky?! Look for "The Woman in Black" if you dare in theaters next February the 3rd.




With the curtains finally drawn on the "Harry Potter" series it is only natural that a new one would spring up in its place. An anticipated preview for "The Hunger Games" was showcased at the MTV VGAs over the weekend and we got our first glimpse of Katniss (as played Jennifer Lawrence) in motion. This is really only a teaser and doesn't show us much more than her running through the forest (no doubt already during the game), avoiding obstacles, and shooting an arrow, which she does oh-so well. The advisable voice-over must be that of her good friend and hunting buddy Gale. Also, I really dig the four-note tune at the end of the trailer, which seems destined to become an iconic sound bit for the series. Look forward to a richer trailer later this year and put March 23rd on your calenders now.

Let me pour you a glass partner, I reckon it's time for the Trailer Round-Up Awards:

The Head-Scratcher:




Take "Deliverance" (though have the guys brings some girls along) but make the hillbillies more silly and zany than perverse and creepy and you can get an idea for the feel of "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." The film is played for a straight-up comedy and it certainly looks to be a lot of fun. What impressed me most was actually the camera work. From clever shot compositions to chasing the characters with the action, I see a lot of skill and imagination brewing herein. This is the first feature film from Eli Craig who with his crew seem to be enjoying the craft. Tucker and Dale are funny in the trailer, but will their naive knack for horrible situations stretch thin over the 89 minute running time? Crude comedies are far from my favorite thing and I hope this film can turn down its raunchiness so I can enjoy it with others. This film is currently available on iTunes (welcome to the digital age) and hits select theaters on September 30th.

Toss of the Week:




"The Artist" made a splash at Festival de Cannes earlier this year and I was completely taken by some of those early snippets. This is a silent black and white film, a royal tribute to early cinema, and I am absolutely amazed at the result. How they made it seem so like films of the very era it depicts (Hollywood circa 1927) is a feat. The effect is a timeless project that manages to convince us that the glory days are not so far away, they can be now if we just make it so! If one could buy stock in a film, I would be dipping into my wallet and bank account to invest in "The Artist." Well, I'm not sure that it will be a big money maker, but I sense that a critical success is imminent. I await the day I can see this film! 

* * *

ENLISTED




With the recent East Coast quake The Hollywood Reporter put together a short list of "5 Over-the-Top Hollywood Portrayals."




Entertainment Weekly has put together a gallery of "25 Fall Movies We Can't Wait to See." 2011 has already been a roaring year for films and I am looking forward to most of the ones they mention! Cameron Crowe's new film "We Bought A Zoo" was a pleasant discovery. How about you?

* * *

CAST AWAY



Maybe I should just make a Leonardo DiCaprio segment for "The Film Tome"... Last week we got our official first glimpse of Leo as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's upcoming bio-pic, "J. Edgar." /Film provides some commentary on the image and the film itself due in theaters on November 11th. Expect a trailer soon!

* * *

THE GOOD




Legendary Pictures has opened a branch across the Pacific in Hong Kong called Legendary East, which will primarily be the studio behind film projects in Asia. The new addition's first film will be a period piece entitled "The Great Wall" from director Edward Zwick ("The Last Samurai"). The Hollywood Reporter has the details.

* * *

THE BAD



Scott Mendleson cites "The A-Team" among other films that took their advertising a little too far in one of his most recent opinionated memos, "Modern Movie Marketing Campaigns That Didn't Know Where to Stop."

* * *

AND THE WEIRD



As /Film reported last week, Dan Akroyd says that "Ghostbusters 3" is going to happen and they're hoping Bill Murray will join the cause as well. What do you think about revisiting that franchise? The original is beloved and, quite honestly, somewhat of a masterpiece. The sequel perhaps we could have done without. Will numero tres be better than "Ghostbusters 2" or at least be better than what happened with "Indiana Jones 4"?

 * * *

OR THE COOL

Simple question: Can you find Wall-E?





* * *


KEEPIN' IT SHORT





"Portal: No Escape" by Dan Thrachtenberg


Valve's "Portal" is one of the most refreshing video games in recent memory. Gamers get to use a "portal gun" that shoots one orange portal and one blue portal (onto floors, walls, and ceilings) and then have free access from one to the other. It is neat concept that is best experienced visually. This impressive short film is set in the game world and while it will appeal most to those familiar with the game will no doubt impress any who watch it. 

* * *

COWBOYS & ALIENS - REVIEW

Cowboys & Aliens
July 29, 2011
118 min
United States (English)

Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Mark Fergus, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Hawk Ostby



"Cowboys & Aliens" commences as a promising Western, but winds up being a middling science-fiction affair (a somewhat bewildering one at that). Still, the fact that we are receiving such a mad mixture is pretty awesome! Beyond the gripes there is enough to enjoy herein, especially Harrison Ford's performance.


MASHUPS & HYBRIDS

Yeah, John Ford is probably rolling in his grave right now. John Wayne could have never foreseen such a thing happening to his beloved stage. And I wonder if Clint Eastwood went to see this. It is probably not far off, but certainly not as personal, from how the late Jane Austen must've felt when Seth Grahame-Smith released "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." (Quick anecdote: I remember when I first saw that book at Costco. I was there with my sister who had read "Pride and Prejudice." I picked up the novel with its ghastly cover and excitedly asked my sister, "Have you heard of this? 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'!" I was surprised when another woman answered, a stranger. "Yes, I have!" she highly declared. "And I am disgusted!" With that she pushed her shopping cart elsewhere and I was left a little bewildered, but thoroughly entertained.)

When you take a pre-existing text and add whatever your creative mind desires they call it a mashup. While "Cowboys & Western" is not specifically based on any one Wild West tale, it takes the Western genre, lassos many of its semantics (in Altman terminology) and tropes, and turns it on its head... and then rips it inside out. (Hopefully that painted a graphic image in your mind's eye.) Yes, you could say it goes "Alien" on us and has a creature from space burst forth from the very gut of Westerns. When you braid two vastly different genres in this manner you have yourself a hybrid, a Frankensteinian composition that clerks at a video store will likely argue over which section and shelf to put it under. Westerns have been injected with several foreign elements before. I recently highlighted a list in "The Film Tome Report" by Brian Warmoth over at IFC entitled "The 10 Least Realistic Cowboy Movies of All-Time." While "Cowboys & Aliens" came in at number 7 on his list, I probably would have ranked it higher. Then again, I've yet to see "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula."

COWBOYS & ALIENS

Daniel Craig plays our unnamed hero (an immediate homage to "The Man With No Name" trilogy) who wakes up with a start to find himself alone in the desert with a strange metal device attached to his left wrist. The opening sequence plays wonderfully and lasts well until he enters the town of Absolution and meets the colorful residents there including a doctor/preacher (wow, he can heal your body and your soul) named Meacham (played by Clancy Brown), a young and foolish trouble maker named Percy Dolarhyde (played by the young and great Paul Dano), and a mysterious yet beautiful woman named Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde). We also learn that our unknown protagonist is a wanted outlaw named Jake Lonergan, even if he doesn't know it. Before long Percy's father, Woodrow Dolarhyde (played by the man, the legend, Harrison Ford), shows up and wants Lonergan. He has his reasons. However, also before long the aliens show up and change everything.

Let me take a quick aside and comment on the set design being so spot-on. Just look (the picture above) at the shambled town the characters find themselves standing in after the initial spaceship attack and abduction. The filmmakers and storytellers involved (namely the director, production designer, art director, and set decorator) have crafted a visually spectacular setting.

After the aliens blow up half of Absolution and take half the townspeople (this man's wife, that boy's grandfather, and even Dolarhyde's son, Percy) the opposing humans reevaluate their situation. Dolarhyde and Lonergan join forces. I greatly enjoyed this twist of the yarn. The fight is not long between lone hero vs. town tyrant, there be extraterrestrials involved. (I was surprised by how much we actually see of the aliens. I have to say I really dug their concept and design. They have one particularly memorable anatomy feature that I won't spoil here. You'll know when you see it and it'll probably gross you out like any good creature would. Check out what Ebert wrote about it in his review after you see the film.)

WRITER & WRITER

Jon Favreau, fresh off the sequel to "Iron Man" (which he also directed and which really put him on the map) spearheaded the onscreen vision for this film, which is really one of the primary roles of every director. However, the film's origins go further back than Favreau taking the reigns. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this is based on a comic book of the same name penned by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. "Cowboys & Aliens" was actually first purchased by DreamWorks and Universal Pictures in 1997 after Rosenberg first pitched the concept.

They say too many cooks spoil the broth. Well, I also believe too many writers can spoil the screenplay. There are five men with screenwriter credit on this film, another two with story credit if you count Rosenberg. I had the opportunity to catch a special early screening (yeah, I caught it a whole hour before our friends on the East Coast) of the film at the LA Film School. It was part of "The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith" series wherein we all watch a film after which Jeff holds a question-and-answer session with the screenwriters of watched film. Mark Fergus and Roberto Orci (2/5) were there and generously spent an hour or so answering Jeff's questions and then a few from the crowd. I highly recommend giving that episode a listen after you've seen the film (just search for it in iTunes). Fergus and Orci were nice guys and I am a fan of some of their previous work. Fergus even helped with the writing for the 2006 film, "Children of Men," which had the same amount of writers and proves to be an exception to what I have just been lamenting. With "Cowboys & Aliens" it seems that they were too busy coming up with cool ideas to spend time providing explanations. Saying "Cowboys & Aliens" is ridiculous might sound a little ridiculous. Of course it is! Nonetheless, I am trip at the plot holes and grimace at the deus ex machinas. At one point Jeff asked them, "Why did the alien remove his gauntlet?" (This is the alien weaponry that Craig's character has around his wrist). Mark jokingly responded, "It was really uncomfortable."

There is a massive upturned riverboat they come across in the desert (Fergus and Orci were quite to cite it as a direct influence from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") that the posse spends the night at. Two of my favorite moments take place therein: 1) The hardened Woodrow who can't help his fatherly tendencies and gives a young boy some of his food. 2) Said boy has an encounter with an alien who we only see glimpses and parts of. The young boy is Noah Ringer, who played Aang in "The Last Airbender" and is much better here, but some may say that is not saying anything. He looked familiar, but I did not even realize it was the star of Shyamalan's latest until after the fact. I found his performance fine enough. (The role? Well, that's another story...) Still, as far as child actors go, this is still far from the likes of Hunter McCracken who you can and should see in "The Tree of Life").  I quite liked those instances and applaud the writers and the crew who brought it to life.

THE GOOD & THE BAD

When the first trailer emerged for this film I could not have been more excited. It looked beyond promising. Even my folks thought it looked good. As it turns out, that trailer is initially a 90-second version of the film's first half-hour, which is absolutely golden. The second trailer was disappointing enough and probably put me in the right position to see the film. That and hearing not-so-glowing words about it out of ComicCon gave me a rightful dose of under-selling so that I was able to both brace for some of the bumps (though certainly not all of them) and enjoy the ride.

Daniel Craig is really good as the lead, but I kept looking forward to any time Harrison Ford was onscreen. He growls his lines as Woodrow Dolarhyde like a natural. Seriously, this guy should have a rich career ahead of him in Westerns! Besides the comedic likes of 1979's "The Frisco Kid," Ford has never been in a Western. And still, he has yet to be in a "true" Western. I am reminded of something that Roger Ebert wrote about Tommy Lee Jones in his review of "In the Valley of Elah." Wrote he, "Look at the lines around his eyes. He looks concerned, under pressure from himself, a man who has felt pain. Look at his face. It seems to conceal hurtful emotion. He doesn't smile a lot, but when he does, it's like clouds are lifting. Listen to his voice, filled with authority and hard experience. Notice when he speaks that he passes out words as if they were money he can't afford. Whether these characteristics are true of the private man, I have no way of knowing." While those vivid descriptions are specific for Mr. Jones, I feel the Mr. Ford also aged like a fine wine, albeit with wrinkles aplenty. The character of Woodrow Dolarhyde holds many roles in this film, but perhaps the most important is that of a father. There is even an interesting reveal later on with a Native American who runs in his gang.

I didn't care for the flashbacks that Lonergan experiences. I was learning more about him, but somehow wasn't caring. The relationhip between him Olivia Wilde's character has no convincing sense of development. Some of the action is pretty lackluster. There is a sequence in which a character is guarding a passageway and he simply remains rooted in place while enemies come storming towards him. He blasts them away again and again and again. It is far from exciting and we wonder why the baddies don't try another tactic. If it didn't work the first dozen times that might be a good indicator to draw up a new plan of action. Such a situation is unfortunately a rusty staple in video games that I've begrudgingly accepted at times. In games it is simply uninspired. In films it is downright unintelligent.

All these quibbles troubled to the end and after... Then you get a scene where our gang, intent on getting back their loved ones and townspeople, plant dynamite to blast a hole into a spaceship's hull and you can't help but smile at the very concept. "'Cowboys & Aliens,'" I would say to myself, "This is actually happening." It is what it is and in the end the West was won.

★★★

CONTENT: several violent scenes, partial nudity, and some language

Monday, August 22, 2011

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 41



Author's Note:

It was almost exactly a year ago that I began AllMoPs and the "All Manner of Plugs" recommendation email. As part of that first issue, I included a segment entitled "The Film Tome Report." That portion is the only part of that weekly labor that has endured. Why? Probably because I am so passionate about film. The other segments were fun and fascinating to me, but as I said in a previous explanation, until someone finds a way to obtain 25 hours in a day (or better yet, more!), I simply don't have the time. In any case, "The Film Tome Report" is not going anywhere and I am proud to present this 1-year anniversary issue.

As with the wonderful banner for The Film Tome (seen at the top of my blog), I must thank my dear sister, Mandy, for crafting a logo for "The Film Tome Report" (seen at the top of this post). It is now the image you can associate with all future issues from this point onward.

The past two weeks have been busier than usual for me and were void of issues for "The Film Tome Report." I could have made time to get them together, but alas, I did not. I am doing my best to make this issue, and hopefully all that follow, the best they can be. This includes a revival of the beloved segment (well, at least beloved by me) Keepin' it Short and ensuring all the ones that have been around feature enough content to satisfy. You may have noticed that The Good, The Bad, And the Weird (along with Or the Cool) have sometimes been MIA in previous issues. That was either due to lack of finding or lack of time. By working on the issue earlier and over several days (instead of one crammed session on one day) I believe "The Film Tome Report" will be able to report on each area and provide readers with plenty of material. Please comment below if you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns. Thank you and as always, enjoy the issue!

-J.S. Lewis 



NEW IN THEATERS



  • Brighton Rock* / 57%
  • Circumstance* / 63%
  • Colombiana
  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark / 67%
  • Our Idiot Brother / 90%
* = limited release

NEW IN STORES


  • The Beaver / 62%
  • Henry's Crime / 40%
  • POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold / 70%
  • Secret Sunshine CC / 93%
  • TrollHunter / 79%
  • Win Win / 94%
CC = Criterion Collection
% from Rotten Tomatoes

* * *

TRAILER ROUND-UP*


*Sure, I'm only covering two trailers this issue, but I still managed to fit them into their respective award categories. :)

The Head-Scratcher:


Aliens are the new vampires, which were the new zombies (though I guess there is still plenty of each that have recently appeared on the horizon). Film equation time: "Cloverfield" - "found footage" element % Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" + Moscow = "The Darkest Hour." This invasion flick comes to us from director Chris Gorak who's "Wanted" looked pretty cool, but I never got around to seeing. The trailer for "The Darkest Hour" has some cool visuals, especially the "turning into dust effect" (which was pretty remarkable in the aforementioned "War of the Worlds") that the victims endure. What is most exceptional about this movie is the aliens. All we seem to see of them is this lightning-esque matter. However, over at /Film it appears there is more than might meet the eye at first glance. See for yourself on December 23rd.

Toss of the Week:


From director Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bronson" and the "Pusher" trilogy) comes "Drive." Ryan Gosling plays a stunt driver for the movies by day and a getaway driver for L.A. crooks by night; he seems to be good at what he does. Carey Mulligan, who is one of the fasting rising stars right now, plays his love interest. No doubt things will get complicated when she learns what he does for work (day and night). Albert Brooks plays the villain with dirty hands, Ron Perlman plays his thug. This trailer promises some insane car chases and a sense of style that Refn is known for. He won best director at Festival de Cannes earlier this year for this very film. Fasten your seatbelt, this one is driving into theaters on September 16th. 

* * *

ENLISTED


Christy Lemire, a writer for the Associated Press and one of the hosts of Ebert Presents, shares her "Top 5 Harrison Ford Performances." I have been ranting and raving over Ford's recent portrayal of Woodrow Dolarhyde in "Cowboys & Aliens." While Lemire's list does not include either of the man's most iconic roles (Indiana Jones and Han Solo - do you think either should've?), it does serve as a good reminder of films some of us need to check out. I for one still haven't seen "The Mosquito Coast," all of "Witness" or "Working Girl," and would be wise to revisit Ridley Scott's much-acclaimed "Blade Runner."



In honor of "The Change-Up" (though it probably doesn't deserve much), which is currently in theaters, Rotten Tomatoes published their "Top 10 Body Switching Movies" in a one of their Total Recall segments. The list includes one film that has a whomping 0% on the Tomatometer. Garnering no love from any critics, that's quite a feat. We've seen a couple of great ones as of late ("Avatar" and "Source Code"), but they also dive into cinema's past for some of their other choices. What was that Disney channel film about the two opposite sisters who switch places? Something like "Wish Upon A Star"... Can you think of any other body swaps? Oh, look what I just found on CNN Entertainment, "Gallery: Best of the Body-Swap Movies." And what do you know, "Wish Upon a Star" makes their list!

* * *

CAST AWAY


The LA Times reported that Leonardo DiCaprio, who already has a pretty full slate with at least three upcoming films, might star in the Western, "The Creed of Violence." Leo is also slated to be onboard for Tarantino's upcoming Western (which many are calling a Southern) wherein he plays the notorious Calvin Candie. Fun fact: Leo played Kid in Sam Raimi's Western, "The Quick and the Dead."


* * *

THE GOOD


Prepare to feel my bias! Werner Herzog's new documentary, "Into the Abyss," has recently released some photos and videos. Click over to /Film to see the pictures and video clips. This film takes us into death row where Herzog interviews inmates convicted of some pretty heinous crimes. What's more, he takes us into the homes of their families and their victims. "Into the Abyss" will premier at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, where Herzog first screened his excellent "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" last year (let's hope it all goes without a snag this time).

* * *

THE BAD


Earlier today the Rolling Stone posted a video of their team's outspoken film critic, Peter Travers. The man has a new rant for his "*** You Hollywood" segment, this one entitled, "Too Many Awful Movies." In short, he tells certain Hollywood studios (i.e. those behind "Spy Kids 4D," "Conan the Barbarian," and "One Day") that the reason their movies didn't rake in the anticipated dough this last weekend was because their movies sucked.


In Issue 39 of "The film Tome Report" I was delighted to share the recent casting news for the upcoming Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp Western, "The Lone Ranger." However, earlier this month we learned that Disney decided to shut the project down. Word on that street is that with the likes of "John Carter" (a $250 million project) and "Oz the Great and Powerful" (the upcoming "Wizard of Oz" prequel that can't be cheap) left Disney's money pool rather dry. There have been reports that Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckhiemer, and team requested over $200 million for the project. Has there ever been a Western that cost that much to make? It is very surprising they wanted that much for it, but unfortunate Disney vetoed the project. I was even going to start watching the original series (the entire first season is currently available on Netflix Instant if I ain't mistook) in anticipation and preparation for the blockbuster film. Here is the Hollywood Reporter's coverage of the somber news.

* * *

AND THE WEIRD


Here's a pretty lame news story, but proves the old adage that there are indeed two sides to every tale. A man pulls his cell phone out during a movie at the theater. The woman makes taps/shoves (depending on which side you believe) the man and asks/tells (again) him to put his phone away. The man runs out of the theater and gets someone to call the cops. The woman is fined $260. JoBlo has more details, a commentary, and additional links

 * * *

OR THE COOL


First image for "Man of Steel," the Zack Snyder-directed reboot of the Superman series has been released. Germain Lussier over at /Film discusses this official image release versus all the not-so-official image releases that "The Dark Knight Rises" has been experiencing. I think the image looks pretty awesome. Snyder's films have always borne a stylish aesthetic, almost as if he has studied the way to make things look cool, and it certainly shows here. I've yet to see any "Superman" movies, even though I tried watching the original just last month (yeah, I guess I need to try harder). If you had to decide to see a film based on one image, I would definitely choose to see this one.


Guess what! Now there has been an officially released image for "The Dark Knight Rises." This time we get a first glimpse of Catwoman as played by Anne Hathaway. There is some speculation as to whether that photo is Hathaway herself or her stunt double, read JoBlo for more.




A "Classics From the Vault" special on Ebert Presents this past weekend takes us into of "Siskel and Ebert at the Movies." In this informative feature we join world's most famous film critic duo and learn what it is like for them to see a movie (albeit, what it was like for critics in the '80s). Please enjoy "Going to Movies with a Critic."

* * *

KEEPIN' IT SHORT



I recently saw caught this charmingly morbid short at a film festival for the Santa Monica Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I helped out some with the preparations and cleaning up of the event. There was a great spread of shorts shown there. One of my favorites was "Amore Morto." Enjoy!

* * *

TV TOO


Maybe Westerns really are coming back? (Then again, look at what I just discussed above in The Bad...). In an earlier issue I covered the trailer for the upcoming Western series for AMC, "Hell on Wheels." I can ensure you that it has a very promising pilot that went far beyond my expectations and delivered more than enough substance for someone hungry for new Western servings. (It is scheduled to premier on November 6th). Last week, Entertainment Weekly informed us Bruce C. McKenna, the man who penned the scripts for "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" (two World War II series that I've heard excellent things about, but have yet to catch up with) is developing a Western for TNT called "Gateway." Here is the synopsis provided: "'Gateway' is about an action/adventure set in a town of the same name in Colorado in the 1880s. The story chronicles three brothers who step up to save their town when their sheriff father is murdered, pitting them against a corrupt cattle baron determined to make the town his own." Can you say, "Yeehaw!"?

* * *

Updated 8.25.11