Saturday, March 22, 2014

TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM - VIDEO REVIEW

Friday, March 21, 2014

MUPPETS MOST WANTED - REVIEW

Muppets Most Wanted
March 21, 2014
113 min
United States (English)

Directed by James Bobin
Written by James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller


Muppets Most Wanted is an improved sequel reminiscent of music-filled Muppet favorites of yore!

Muppets Most Wanted begins with the end. Literally. Fireworks spelling out "The End" sparkle over Hollywood and fans will immediately recognize this as the final shot from 2011's The Muppets. The story picks up precisely where that one left off. It was three years ago that successful reboot kicked new life into the long-beloved and never-forgotten show and film series put on by Jim Henson and company. It was a love letter to the Muppets, one of the most creative demonstrations of fan service in filmdom, and now they're back to do it all again.

Without missing a beat Kermit begins the film's first musical number, "We're Doing a Sequel." The Muppets have always been known for their keen ability to seen through the fourth wall and provide punny commentary on the show itself. Perhaps none of the Muppets demonstrate this more than Statler and Waldorf, the two stingy old men who are essentially the group's muses and very own meta-critics. Their secret to longevity is the ability to make themselves laugh. It's true for all of the Muppets. I always have a good time because they always have a good time, especially when its able to skip over getting everyone aboard again because it is a sequel. "That's what we do in Hollywood. And everyone knows that the sequel in never quite as good." I mean it when I say I've never seen a sequel have a better beginning. Okay, maybe The Godfather: Part II.

They tell use themselves that all they need now is a half-decent plot and they've got it. Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog, has escaped a high security Russian prison (where Tina Fey plays a GULAG officer to great effect). Luckily for Constantine he looks a helluva lot like Kermit. Unfortunately for Kermit and the gang Constantine's right-hand man, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), has just fooled them into thinking he's their manager for their newly resurrected act on the road. Gervais convinces the felt-faced dopes that his name is pronounced "Badgy." Of course, they take his word for it. The Muppets was tasked with the harder job of setting the stage for a new generation so that subsequent films could play on it. In spiritual succession this one dances around The Great Muppet Caper.

If it's a musical you're after, welcome aboard! This just might have more numbers than any previous Muppets film to date (and this marks the eighth time they've torn up the big screen). Constantine's "I'll Get What You Want" is destined for a Greatest Hits album while the Tine Fey-led song about the prison ("The Big House") feels like something right out a Broadway play. Film references? Yes, from The Seventh Seal to The Shawshank Redemption. Celebrity cameos? Check. While most last mere seconds, denoting an afternoon booking for each, they're scattered evenly throughout, from Lady Gaga to Danny Trejo. (Wow, we haven't seen the like of them since, well, last year's Machete Kills.)

But the reason all of this works have and always will be the Muppets themselves. They occupy a middle realm between the screen and the audience. It's their inherent disconnect that excuses their bad jokes and promises their self-awareness. Practically the whole cast is here, including a surprisingly big role by Sam Eagle who works alongside an Interpol inspector (Ty Burrell) to track down who has been swiping valuable relics across the globe. These two provide us with the "Interrogation Song," possibly my favorite number in the film. It pushes the story along in lieu of a montage or exposition, gives many of our favorite Muppets a chance to hilariously defend themselves and lets us listen to Burrell's outrageous French accent set to melody.

I have little to no gripes about Muppets Most Wanted. It has everything fans could want in a Muppets movie. I will admit to taking frustrated note at what I assumed could only be CG-doctored shots. There's an early moment where Constantine frog-kicks his way down a hallways of GULAG goons. It's closer to something in Oldboy than anything we've seen in the Muppet universe. I later learned that while yes, a blue screen (a green screen wouldn't really work well for Kermit) was used for several of the more complex shots involving full physical action, there were always puppeteers responsible for his movements. Sometimes one assigned to each limb. There's these technical additions that I feel will wear worse with age than the timelessness of puppetry. It's a gripe that this fan is willing to overlook if not forget. Despite the line from the show-stopping (starting) opening number, this is a sequel that's as good as 2011's The Muppets, if not better.

“It’s not easy being mean...”
- Constantine


Curator's Note: Currently playing in theaters!

CONTENT: some mild action and some crude humor

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 27 - FEBRUARY 2, 2014

(2013)



The titular character keeps his/her name despite the decade long journey of changing gender all while attempting to maintain a relationship with a single woman. It’s Melvil Poupaud who carries us through the ten year tenure. It’s Suzanne Clément who is our emotionally ravaged muse during the same time. It’s Yves Bélanger (also responsible for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club) who shoots this in color-popping 1.33 : 1. It’s writer/director Xavier Dolan who turns 25 next month and is already proving himself to be one of the top filmmakers to watch. And hell, this might just be his Citizen Kane.

★★★★½


* * *


(2013)



I recently heard Mark Kermode’s review on this film. He acknowledges the great performances all around but criticized the utter lack of performance on director John Wells’ part. Call my tastes old-fashioned, but I think it takes remarkable direction to know when to pull back the curtains and simply let your thespians chew the script to pieces, and boy, what a script it is (adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play). This is an ensemble for the keeping cast in an unfortunate family reunion in a sweltering Oklahoma country home. Simply, it’s one of the best Meryl Streep performances I’ve ever seen.

★★★★½


* * *


(2014)



Hirokazu Koreeda continues to be the Yasujiro Ozu of our day while tackling the impossibly difficult scenario of two sets of parents learning their 8-year-old sons were switched at birth. Conversations of nature vs. nurture indirectly come into play but the case study before us is a swaying verdict. Not a child rings false, nor a parent without fault. It’s truths like these, played out in simple scenes, that give his films an invitation to all, though you’ll notice an occasional pushing camera where Koreeda would’ve remained locked down before. Time is always drifting away from us in his films, but its never felt as much as a race against the clock as it does here. The older man sitting next to me in the theater would scoff at any such description. He found it slower than molasses in Alaska.

★★★★★


* * *


(2013)



Joss Whedon and friends embarked on this “homemade film” after shooting The Avengers and you couldn’t find two related projects further away in terms of budget and production value. After hosting Shakespeare readings for years, Whedon and his troupe prove their adoration of this comedy by sticking to the original text despite a modern setting. It’s odd at first, but the choice t0 shoot in black-and-white establishes a disconnect that we grow to accept. Nathan Fillion shines as Dogberry.

★★★★


* * *


(1974)



Leave it to Brian De Palma to take on Phantom of the Opera and Faust in the context of a rock palace. This batty comedy/fantasy/horror/musical contains an unforgettable Paul Williams and defining role for William Finley. Is it a mess you don’t want to look away from or an endlessly watchable ballad of madness? Probably a little bit of both. A rehearsal number covered in two split-screened long takes that manages to pay tribute to Welles’ Touch of Evil is one of my favorite shots De Palma has ever given us. Phantom of the Paradise celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year.

★★★★


* * *


Seen any of these films? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!



Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

86TH OSCARS RECAP

With the 86th Oscars well behind us now and the Awards Season has closed its doors. As one last look back I thought I’d get around to *briefly* recapping the Oscars:


I felt the ceremony itself  was just fine. Ellen was rather tame as a host and her product-placement gags not only stretched on and had very little to do with the year in film. One of the highlights of the night was definitely John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem,” now a universally recognized meme. Was that why Menzel somewhat choked while singing the Oscar-winning original song?


The Wind Rises (2013)

As big a fan as I am of Frozen, the Best Animated Movie should have gone to Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. I’m only saying that because it’s quite possible the best animated film since his own Spirited Away. Another upset was The Act of Killing losing out to Twenty Feet from Stardom for Best Documentary Feature. The latter is a nice, little,  inspiring movie that nobody will be talking about in a year from now, the former is literally changing the world (let alone it’s impact on individuals). Those differences aside I was happy with most of the other winners, especially 12 Years a Slave and The Great Beauty (for Best Foreign Language Film). It’s rare that the Academy seems to get it so right. Ryan, Sam and I recap some of the night’s acceptance speeches and more in the video below. Look for the complete list of winners after the video:



Best Picture
12 Years a Slave


Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine


Best Actor
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club


Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club


Best Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave


Best Costume Design
The Great Gatsby


Best Makeup
Dallas Buyer’s Club


Best Animated Short
Mr. Hublot


Best Animated Movie
Frozen


Best Visual Effects
Gravity


Best Live Action Short Film
Helium


Best Documentary Short
The Lady In Number 6


Best Documentary Film
20 Feet From Stardom


Best Foreign Language Film
The Great Beauty


Best Sound Mixing
Gravity


Best Sound Editing
Gravity


Best Cinematography
Gravity


Best Editing
Gravity


Best Production Design
The Great Gatsby


Best Original Score
Gravity


Best Original Song
“Let it Go” from Frozen


Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave


Best Original Screenplay
Spike Jonze, Her

The Act of Killing (2013)

I set a personal best in Oscar predictions this year with 22/24 . (See my previously posted “86th Oscars: Predictions & Submissions.”) In hindsight, I should not have thought the Academy would embrace the challenging and surreal likes of The Act of Killing when a glowing look at some unsung legends in the entertainment industry was also in the running. The only other one I failed to foree was Mr. Hublot winning Best Animated Short, which was anybody’s guess. I thought it’d go to Get a Horse!, which does for the history of animated shorts what The Artist (a recent Oscar darling) does for live-action features. That was a particularly strong category this year and it could have gone to any of the five.

How did you fare in your Oscar predictions? What did you think of the winners? Any particular upsets? And what did you think of the Awards as a whole? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

TOP 5 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS AT 2014 SWSW

South by Southwest (SXSW) kicked off this weekend: a week of music, film and interactive art under the Texan sun! I’ve never been and won’t be going this year, but that’s not stopping me from sharing the top 5 movies I would be most excited to see if I were there. Here’s the a video countdown that we at MOVIECLIPS have put together, curated and hosted by yours truly:


Have you checked out this year’s lineup? What films are you most excited to see? Comment below or on video itself over on YouTube. There's plenty more festivals to cover in the coming months. I’ll be sure to cover those as they arrive here on The Film Tome and for MOVIECLIPS. Be sure to subscribe to our Film Festivals and Indie Films channel for all the hottest and under-the-radar trailers!



TRAILER ROUND-UP: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

Instant Trailer Review or True Detective Season 2?

Back when I listed my most anticipated films of 2013 I was sure to included Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The film didn’t even start shooting until last year and the release date was (understandably) pushed back to this year. And again, it made my list of the most anticipated films of 2014. I actually think it is going to happen this time. The best vote of confidence for its release came earlier this week in the form of the first teaser trailer. Here David and I look it over and talk it over for in our first-ever black-and-white Instant Trailer Review for MOVIECLIPS:


As I mentioned in the video, this is a most belated release. Sin City hit theaters back in 2005 and a sequel should have come a couple years after, three at the most. I remember hearing about it for years but it got pushed back further and further. Late is better than never, for fans, but it might not be for the studios behind. Odd too that 300 (2006), another Frank Miller adaptation, also got a very late prequel in 300: Rise of an Empire. It’s new in theaters this week. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hits theaters on August 22nd. Did you see the first film? What do you think about this late follow-up? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

THE 13 BEST FILMS OF 2013

Curator’s Note: Ever since December of 2012 I’ve wanted to do this. That was when I first saw David Ehrlich’s video countdown honoring the 25 best films of the year. I told myself I would try to do something like that for 2013 and now I have. Below is my own countdown of The 13 Best Films of 2013. These "films" are strictly of the dramatic/scripted variety. I have a separate list for documentaries. Enjoy! (I strongly recommend watching this video over on Vimeo to access HD.)




This is a video countdown of the best films of 2013, curated and cut by yours truly. All video and music came from 2013 films, full lists of both are included below. The idea for this project was sparked, inspired and downright taken from David Ehrlich's annual countdown video (see his take on 2013 here: http://vimeo.com/80862133). This project also served as a chance for me to get my feet wet in Final Cut X.

Curator's Note: These "films" are strictly of the dramatic/scripted variety. I have a separate list for documentaries.

The 13 Best Films of 2013:
13. New World
12. The Wolf of Wall Street
11. Her
10. Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Only God Forgives
8. Beyond the Hills
7. Reality
6. The Place Beyond the Pines
5. Before Midnight
4. A Touch of Sin
3. The Wind Rises
2. 12 Years a Slave
1. The Great Beauty

Chapter Timecodes:
Intro = 00:00
13. New World = 00:17
12. The Wolf of Wall Street = 01:05
11. Her = 01:40
10. Inside Llewyn Davis = 02:16
9. Only God Forgives = 02:47
8. Beyond the Hills = 03:33
7. Reality = 03:58
6. The Place Beyond the Pines = 04:24
5. Before Midnight = 05:30
4. A Touch of Sin = 06:21
3. The Wind Rises = 06:57
2. 12 Years a Slave = 07:30
1. The Great Beauty = 08:29
Outro/Credits = 09:57

Honorable Mentions:

American Hustle
Blue is the Warmest Color
Captain Phillips
Drug War
The Hunt
Laurence Anyways
Like Someone in Love
Museum Hours
Nebraska
Paradise: Love
The Past
Thérèse
Wadjda

Music:
00:00 - 00:17 = "You're My Dream" by PROUD / Only God Forgives
00:20 - 01:11 = "Finale" by Hans Zimmer / The Lone Ranger
01:40 - 02:46 = "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" by Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford / Inside Llewyn Davis
02:50 - 03:57 = "The Snow Angel" by Mike Patton / The Place Beyond the Pines
03:57 - 04:24 = "Gloria" by Umberto Tozzi / Gloria (Also: The Wolf of Wall Street)
04:24 - 06:20 = "Gates of Tomorrow" by Abel Korzeniowski / Escape From Tomorrow
06:22 - 06:56 = "Wanna Fight" by Cliff Martinez / Only God Forgives
06:57 - 07:30 = "Let It Go" by Idina Menzel / Frozen
07:30 - 08:37 = "I Lie" by David Lang / The Great Beauty
08:37 - 09:16 = "Far L'Amore (Club Mix)" by Bob Sinclair / The Great Beauty
09:25 - 11:02 = "The Lamb" by Tenebrae Choir / The Great Beauty

Thumbnail and Opening Shot:
A Touch of Sin

Special Thanks:
Nancy Lewis
Zack Edison
Sam Booker
Jimmy Johenning
David Coscarelli
Ryan Coutu
Andy Langdon
Alex Barker

*This video is non-profit project and not aimed at breaking any copyright laws whatsoever and the audio/video used is the copyright and ownership of its respected owners. I claim protection of Fair Use for both artistic and educational purposes.*