Sunday, October 7, 2012

Upcoming (and Current) Films of 2012, part II

A few weeks ago, I posted a list of some of the movies out this fall (and a few I missed so far this year) that I have an interest in seeing. The following is an updated list of said films, as well as others that many people are looking forward to, or are wondering or debating about.

It should be noted that my opinions or thoughts about some of these films do not necessarily mean I may recommend them or make any kind of endorsement for their worldviews (whatever they may be). Rather, these are films, I believe, that will create discussion and debate among several viewers.

*** 

Argo (in theaters October 12) 
Star Ben Affleck returns to the director's chair (after 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town) with this intense, true story of the rescue of six American hostages in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck plays a CIA specialist who comes up with a plan to rescue said hostages, where he and his colleagues pose as a film crew. I was intrigued by the trailers, and by its mending of real-life events and Hollywood satire. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild (still in select theaters)
I've been hearing a lot of interesting things about this Sundance sensation of a film. Set in a fictional Louisiana location known as the Bathtub, a young girl called Hushpuppy (played by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) goes on a search for her lost mother after her hot-tempered father develops a mysterious illness. 



Cloud Atlas (opens October 26)
If you thought last year's "The Tree of Life" was ambitious, wait until you see the nearly-six-minute preview of this sci-fi-genre-bending epic from the Wackowski siblings (the "Matrix" trilogy), along with co-director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"). (Check out the second trailer as well, and determine which one you're more convinced by.) A summary of the film would consist of interconnections and actions of individual lives in the past, present and future, combining science-fiction, drama, action, and complex storytelling. But I'll let the trailers speak for themselves. Stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and Wackowski-regular Hugo Weaving, among others. 


Flight (November 2)
Robert Zemeckis ("Cast Away," "Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future") directs his first live-action feature in over a decade, with Denzel Washington as a pilot who saves a group of passengers from a near plane crash, but is put on investigation for alcohol-related issues involved. A promising cast also includes John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, and Bruce Greenwood. 



Frankenweenie (now in theaters) 
Tim Burton returns to his roots with this stop-motion animated update of his 1984 original live-action short film, about a young boy who brings his deceased canine friend back to life. Shot in black-&-white, and featuring a cast of quirky and eerie characters, the film is an homage to classic monster/horror movies, as only Burton could achieve. He also does what he does best: bringing audiences into a bizarre, imaginative, and unexpectedly moving experience.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (opens December 14) 
Director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-Earth in this adaptation (reportedly the first part of a planned trilogy) of J.R.R. Tolkien's unforgettable prequel to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, centered on the backstory and journey of Bilbo Baggins. That should be enough to persuade moviegoers (especially fans of the books and the original film trilogy) that this will be a film not to miss this holiday season.
Teaser trailer
Theatrical Trailer 


The Impossible (Opening in Spain October 11; expected to be released in the U.S. in December) 
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a married couple whose family is separated in the 2004 Tsunami. I first heard about this film through a friend, and I have no doubt it will be a powerful experience, especially for the survivors and families. 


The Intouchables (Now playing in select theaters) 

French drama about the growing friendship between a quadriplegic aristocrat and the young man from the projects he hires to be his caretaker. The film looks moving and resonant. 

Life of Pi (November 21)
I was amazed at director Ang Lee's ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Brokeback Mountain") visual and visceral storytelling when I saw the trailer for this. Based on the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" tells the story of a zookeeper's son who finds himself in the company of a group of zoo animals after a shipwreck leaves them stranded in the Pacific Ocean. The trailer alone recalls the emotional quality of such films as "Whale Rider" and "Slumdog Millionaire," and I have no doubt this will be one of the year's best. Deeply astounding. 


Lincoln (November 16)
Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day-Lewis (Oscar-winner for "There Will Be Blood") in this biopic of the sixteenth president of the United States, during the last four years of his life. The three already-published photos (including a teaser poster, as well as Day-Lewis on set) already suggest this will be brilliant. Also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, Jackie Earle Haley, and David Strathairn. Written by Tony Kushner ("Angels in America," "Munich"). 

The Master (September 21)
Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia," "Punch-Drunk Love," "There Will Be Blood") returns to the director's chair with his script about what is being speculated as the birth of a religion. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the leader of this newfound organization, taking Joaquin Phoenix under his wing. Will definitely challenge many filmgoers this season. Also stars Amy Adams and Laura Dern. 


Moonrise Kingdom (still in select theaters)
Wes Anderson's ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Fantastic Mr. Fox") throwback to 1960s childhood innocence and angst has made some impressive marks at the Cannes Film Festival and with critics and audiences since then. The story is about two young lovers who run away together, but are soon followed by a local search party (including Bruce Willis as the town sheriff, Edward Norton as a scout master, and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the young girl's parents). Along that same note, the film has also been said to contain some very adult-related issues and themes regarding romance, relationships and character. Looks terrific, well-made, and intriguing (with discernment) nonetheless. 


Rise of the Guardians (opens November 21) 

Just about every holiday character - from Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny to Jack Frost - gets a bizarre re-imagining in this fantasy-adventure, based on William Joyce's book series, "The Guardians of Childhood." I thought the trailers were just weird - although I was convinced by the portrayal of Jack Frost. Features the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, and Ilsa Fisher. Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") serves as executive producer.

Ruby Sparks (still in select theaters)
"Little Miss Sunshine" veterans Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct this intriguing romantic comedy about a novelist (Paul Dano, another "Sunshine" veteran), suffering from writer's block, who creates a female character that comes to life. Also stars Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the script). 


Safety Not Guaranteed (still in select theaters)
Three newspaper writers (including Aubrey Plaza of "Parks and Recreation") go on a quest to find the story and person (mumblecore expert Mark Duplass) behind a classified ad involving time travel. This low-budget indie flick looks quirky, deadpan, sophisticated, and intriguing, and may remind viewers that the smallest films can create the greatest effects. 


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (on Blu-ray and DVD)
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt play a fisheries expert and consultant, respectfully, in this dramedy about fulfilling a sheik's dream of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert. Critics and audiences have called this a "feel-good" and enlightening movie. Written by Simon Beaufoy (Oscar-winner for "Slumdog Millionaire"), based on the novel by Paul Torday. 


Samsara (Now playing in select theaters) 

An international effort that was shot on 70mm film over a period of five years, in twenty-five countries on five continents. Like "Cloud Atlas," I'll let the trailer speak for itself. 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (still in theaters)
Steve Carell and Kiera Knightly headline this apocalyptic comedy-drama about two strangers on a quest to find the former's old high school flame as an asteroid heads toward earth. Also stars Patton Oswalt ("Ratatouille," "Young Adult"). Directorial debut of Lorene Scafaria (screenwriter for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"). 


The Silver Linings Playbook (November 21)
This may be one of the most impressive and promising trailers I've seen this year. Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover," "Limitless") plays a former school teacher who moves in with his parents after returning from an eight-month stint in a mental institution and hopes to get his life back on track, including reuniting with his ex-wife. Things get complicated when he meets a mysterious woman (Jennifer Lawrence, who's had an impressive resume since "Winter's Bone") with problems of her own. Yet, the trailer suggests unexpected bonds and promises. Co-starring Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver (Oscar-nominee for "Animal Kingdom") as Cooper's parents, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker. Written and directed by David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees," "The Fighter"). 


Trouble With the Curve (Now Playing) 

Clint Eastwood returns to the screen after a four-year hiatus (his last acting gig being 2008's "Gran Torino"), as a baseball scout trying to prove what he's still made of. Amy Adams plays his estranged daughter who decides to help him out during a scouting gig. Also stars Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. 


Won't Back Down (now playing) 

Already a controversial film with the education system, this true-story drama is about two determined mothers (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis) who decide to transform the inner city school system, and to make a difference in their childrens' future education. 

Wreck-It Ralph (November 2)
A video-game villain gets tired of his role and wants to be the good guy. That's the basic premise of this latest Disney offering, sure to unite Comic-Con fans, video-game lovers, and children and adults of all ages. (Watch for cameos from classic arcade villains in this clever and funny teaser trailer.) Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jake McBrayer. 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Upcoming (and Current) Films of 2012

I know I've been way behind in putting up lists of films I'm interested in seeing this year. But, since it's still 2012 (and to make up for it), I've decided to culminate a list of films, consisting of those that have come out so far this year and those that have yet to be released. (I don't know very many people who do this, other than at the end of the year, for retrospect reasons.) But I hope you enjoy, and are intrigued.

First, here are a few basic and general lists to give you an idea of what's still in theaters, what's coming soon to theaters, and what's now on video.

Now on (or coming soon to) Blu-ray and DVD:
Haywire
Red Tails
Chronicle
Safe House
Undefeated
The Secret World of Arriety
Act of Valor
Being Flynn
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
21 Jump Street
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Movie 43

In theaters:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
The Avengers
Moonrise Kingdom
Safety Not Guaranteed
Prometheus
Your Sister's Sister
The Amazing Spider-Man
Brave
The Dark Knight Rises
The Bourne Legacy
Total Recall
Ruby Sparks
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
The Expendables 2
ParaNorman
Sparkle

Coming to theaters:
Hotel Transylvania
Frankenweenie
Skyfall
Gravity
Parental Guidance
Rise of the Guardians
The Master
The Silver Linings Playbook
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Flight
Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Cloud Atlas
Django Unchained
The Great Gatsby
Lincoln


***
Films I want to see from this year:

Beasts of the Southern Wild (still in select theaters)
I've been hearing a lot of interesting things about this Sundance sensation of a film. Set in a fictional Louisiana location known as the Bathtub, a young girl called Hushpuppy (played by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) goes on a search for her lost mother after her hot-tempered father develops a mysterious illness.

Chronicle (on Blu-ray and DVD)
What seems like another gimmick of the found-footage sub-genre (a la Blair Witch) actually looks to be an intriguing take on the superhero genre. Three high school friends each develop superhuman-like powers (as well as darker personalities) after being exposed to an underground substance.

Cloud Atlas (October 26)
If you thought last year's "The Tree of Life" was ambitious, wait until you see the nearly-six-minute preview of this sci-fi-genre-bending epic from the creators of the "Matrix" trilogy, along with director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"). A summary of the film would consist of interconnections and actions of individual lives in the past, present and future, combining science-fiction, drama, action, and complex storytelling. But I'll let the trailer speak for itself. Stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and Wackowski-regular Hugo Weaving, among others.

Flight (November 2)
Robert Zemeckis ("Cast Away," "Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future") directs his first live-action feature in over a decade, with Denzel Washington as a pilot who saves a group of passengers from a near plane crash, but is put on investigation for supposedly-illegal issues involved. A promising cast also includes John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, and Bruce Greenwood.

Life of Pi (November 21)
I was amazed at director Ang Lee's ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Brokeback Mountain") visual and visceral storytelling when I saw the trailer for this. Based on the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" tells the story of a zookeeper's son who finds himself in the company of a group of zoo animals after a shipwreck leaves them stranded in the Pacific Ocean. The trailer alone recalls the emotional quality of such films as "Whale Rider" and "Slumdog Millionare," and I have no doubt this will be one of the year's best. Deeply astounding.

Lincoln (November 16)
Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day-Lewis (Oscar-winner for "There Will Be Blood") in this biopic of the sixteenth president of the United States. Although there are no trailers released yet, the three already-published photos (including a newly-released poster, as well as Day-Lewis on set) suggest this will be brilliant. Also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, and David Strathairn. Written by Tony Kushner ("Angels in America," "Munich").

The Master (September 21)
Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia," "Punch-Drunk Love," "There Will Be Blood") returns to the director's chair with his script about what is being speculated as the birth of a religion. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the leader of this newfound organization, taking Joaquin Phoenix under his wing. Will definitely challenge many filmgoers this season. Also stars Amy Adams and Laura Dern.

Moonrise Kingdom (still in select theaters)
Wes Anderson's ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Fantastic Mr. Fox") throwback to 60s childhood innocence and angst has made some impressive marks at the Cannes Film Festival and with audiences since then. The story is about two young lovers who run away together, but are soon followed by a local search party (including Bruce Willis as a local officer, Edward Norton as a scout master, and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the young girl's parents). Along that same note, the film has also been said to contain some very adult-related issues and themes regarding romance, relationships and character. Looks terrific, well-made, and intriguing (with discernment) nonetheless.

Ruby Sparks (still in select theaters)
"Little Miss Sunshine" veterans Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct this intriguing romantic comedy about a novelist (Paul Dano, another "Sunshine" veteran), suffering from writer's block, who creates a female character that comes to life. Also stars Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the script).

Safety Not Guaranteed (still in select theaters)
Three newspaper writers (including Aubrey Plaza of "Parks and Recreation") go on a quest to find the story and person (mumblecore expert Mark Duplass) behind a classified ad involving time travel. This low-budget indie flick looks quirky, deadpan, sophisticated, and intriguing, and may remind viewers that the smallest films can create the greatest effects.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (on Blu-ray and DVD)
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt play a fisheries expert and consultant, respectfully, in this dramedy about fulfilling a sheik's dream of bringing the sport of sfly-fishing to the desert. Critics and audiences have called this a "feel-good" and enlightening movie. Written by Simon Beaufoy (Oscar-winner for "Slumdog Millionaire"), based on the novel by Paul Torday.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (still in theaters)
Steve Carell and Kiera Knightly headline this apocalyptic comedy-drama about two strangers on a quest to find the former's old high school flame as an asteroid heads toward earth. Also stars Patton Oswalt ("Ratatouille," "Young Adult"). Directorial debut of Lorene Scafaria (screenwriter for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist").

The Silver Linings Playbook (November 21)
This may be one of the most impressive and promising trailers I've seen this year. Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover," "Limitless") plays a former school teacher who moves in with his parents after returning from an eight-month stint in a mental intitution and hopes to get his life back on track, including reuniting with his ex-wife. Things get complicated when he meets a mysterious woman (Jennifer Lawrence, who's had an impressive resume since "Winter's Bone") with problems of her own. Yet, the trailer suggests unexpected bonds and promises. Co-starring Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver (Oscar-nominee for "Animal Kingdom") as Cooper's parents, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker. Written and directed by David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees," "The Fighter").

Wreck-It Ralph (November 2)
A video-game villain gets tired of his role and wants to be the good guy. That's the basic premise of this latest Disney offering, sure to unite Comic-Con fans, video-game lovers, and children and adults of all ages. (Watch for cameos from classic arcade villains in this clever and funny teaser trailer.) Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jake McBrayer.

Your Sister's Sister (still in select theaters)
Mumblecore expert Mark Duplass (who's been making films with his brother, Jay, for a few years now, including "Cyrus" and this year's "Jeff, Who Lives at Home") headlines this romantic dramedy as a man who's invited by his friend (the always amazing Emily Blunt) to stay at a remote cabin after the death of his brother. He soon meets his friend's sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), and things get complicated from there. Another promising low-budget feature.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Films of 2010: "Inception"


Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi/action-thriller creates an entirely original universe that transitions back and forth between reality and dreams (not to mention dreams-within-dreams, as well as dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, and so forth). It is a highly-complex maze of drama, particularly in the case of the relationship(s) and conflict(s) between reality and dreams.

It is also a rare film that stylistically and cleverly culminates notions of ideas, including their essence, their power, and their purpose (economically, globally, and personally).

“An idea is like a virus, resilient,” says the film’s main character Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Such is the case with the story’s illustrations of manipulation (by means of a heist). There are also illustrations of an idea’s control and effect (e.g., messing with physics), how it can grow on us, challenge our sense of responsibility, or even lead us to a sense of guilt or death. In addition, the blur between reality and fantasy challenges what we know and what we feel, and how our mind perceives time. There is also the notion of creating worlds, including what we choose as our reality.

With that in mind, the underlying theme of Inceptioninvolves the question of what ideas are based on, and how they are motivated. Should they be based on what webelieve they should be or have the potential to be, or should they be based on what others believe they should be or have potential to be? What effects do they have on our lives, on our jobs, on our relationships?

Note the notion of hidden dreams/secrets, and how that effects said relationships and emotions. “These are memories and regrets I have to change,” Cobb says at one point, regarding his wife (Marion Cotillard) “A prison of memories,” as the architect character Ariadne (Ellen Page) calls it. She is the most identifiable character in the whole movie, as we learn what she learns and understand the process as she does.

I’ve noted a similarity between this film and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), in terms of how the story is supposedly about one primary thing (e.g., the notion of coincidences), and also about another (e.g., the effects of past sins on a later generation). For Inception, the “one thing” on the surface (as already mentioned) is the notion of ideas and their worth (including economy). The “other” thing deals with one’s effects on ideas, particularly in the case of Cobb’s character, his expertise, his ambitions, and his conflictions.


As with all of his films, Nolan assembles a brilliant, exceptional cast with an equally brilliant, exceptional script. Add to that crisp editing and an electrifying score by the always-amazing Hans Zimmer. The actors really inhabit their roles intellectually, emotionally, and believably. The action is intense and on-the-edge-of-your-seat (with the street/train and air-fight sequences as stand outs), and the sophisticated and seamless visuals help set a new bar in filmmaking, as well as in the science-fiction genre a la The Matrix. An especially noteworthy aspect is how things and actions in the real world have effects on the dream world, and how each of the actors senses it and distinguishes whether they're dreaming or in the real world.

On this same note, I should mention that as a viewer, this movie requires a much attention, more than one viewing, obviously (or, in my case, notetaking), just to keep up with what's going on, where everybody is, and what's at stake. DiCaprio described the whole film this way. ". . . [I]t's Chris Nolan delving into dream psychoanalysis and also making a high octane, action-filled, surreal film that is all spawned from his mind. He wrote the entire thing, and it all made sense to him. It didn't make much sense to us when we were doing it, and we had to do a ton of detective work to try to figure out what the movie was and what we were doing from day to day, but, thank God, we had somebody who knew what he was doing" (IMDb). 

Written June 19 and July 17, 2011
Updated January 8 and April 24, 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Films of 2011: "The Descendants"


“What is it that makes the women in my life want to destroy themselves?” wonders Matt King, regarding his wife’s current health, as well as his teenage daughter’s current rebellious attitude. Indeed, what triggered such separations and angst between Matt and his wife, and between him and his daughter? These themes, along with the roles and dysfunctions in family relationships, are tested and examined in Alexander Payne’s latest dramedy The Descendants. George Clooney gives a worthy nominated performance as Matt, a Hawaiian real estate lawyer whose wife is currently in a coma after suffering from an unexpected boating accident. Matt is determined to set things straight and to be a better father-figure for the sake of his wife and two daughters (“I’m ready to talk, ready to change, just please wake up”).

Only after explaining the situation to his oldest daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, in an impressive debut role), does he learn (from Alex) of his wife’s unsuspecting infidelity. The obvious proceeding objective would be to figure out who the man is (which the film’s plot does proceed with), but The Descendants does so much more than that. Soon enough, the whole family heads on a trip to find this man, and to get him to come see Matt’s wife before her impending death.

Payne, along with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, have crafted a story that helps us understand and empathize (and even get surprised) with the characters and their current situations. Even more, they manage to carry the film with quite a heavy amount of emotion, with a few comedic laughs thrown in. One key moment (as seen in the film’s trailer) involves Matt running down the street in his sandals, which suggests a certain kind of comedy or amusement. But it’s a kind that’s grounded in reality, like everything else in the story. And it is this grounded notion that gives the story and characters reality, intensity, and sure enough, empathy.


The notions and illustrations of real estate. Matt mentions through narration about his family’s history and legacy in this field, and the roles his ancestors and their descendants played in said history (which may be where the film gets part of its title). This includes remembering and honoring a legacy they are a part of. “This is a part of your great-great-great-grandmother’s inheritance," Matt tells his daughters as they overview some of the land and beaches of said property. Other themes and ideas consist of negative influences on children (such as disrespect for authority), the damaging and potential consequences of one’s actions on others, trying to get through situations in a positive light (“I’m just trying to keep my head above water,” Matt tells one of his relatives), forgiving (regardless of what people do or who they are), and getting through said situations as a family. It is this latter theme that makes The Descendants one of the most thoughtful and surprisingly-understanding movies of the year.