Saturday, February 27, 2010

Casting Report

There have been numerous casting decisions made for some big movies in the past two weeks that deserve recognition:

First off, it was announced earlier this week that PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4: ON STRANGER TIDES has cast its villain. The man for the job - Ian McShane. The Pirates franchise has exceeded in picking out some decent villains in the past, but this might be the best one yet. McShane, like Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy is an older, revered actor, but I'd say he's even less of a marquee name, which makes the decision to cast him even more respectable. He is most well-known for playing the vicious, yet charismatic saloon operator, Al Swearengen, on HBO's "Deadwood". I feel someone working on pre-production for PIRATES 4 was just sitting around watching "Deadwood" dvds and thought "Let's try to get this guy!". "Deadwood" was fantastic for many reasons, but none of them more weighty than McShane's performance as Swearengen. In PIRATES 4: OST, he will be playing historical baddy Blackbeard, or Edward Teach. If he can bring even just a little of that Swearengen swagger to Blackbeard, it should make for a good performance, even though he'll (likely) be lacking his notoriously foul mouth. I wasn't so interested in seeing a fourth film, as I really didn't care for the 2nd or 3rd, but McShane's involvement has jump-started my interest.

This film is starting to come together nicely. Earlier this month it was announced that Penelope Cruz had been cast in some major role. I'm not a big fan of her's, but I can see her fitting in amongst the swashbucklers. There were also reports last year that Russell Brand might take on the role of Jack Sparrow's son. These reports have since died down and I hope they stay that way as Brand's charm has certainly worn off. There's a new director this time around too, Rob Marshall (CHICAGO, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). There was certainly nothing wrong with Gore Verbinski's direction, but the series could use a breath of fresh air. According to Johnny Depp, Marshall has a new vision in which to take the series. What such a vision could be is a mystery at the moment, but it's good to know that we wont be getting the same-old same-old. If you're looking for potential plot points, you might want to take a gander at Tim Powers' book "On Stranger Tides" as PIRATES 4 seems to be borrowing quite liberally from it (both feature Blackbeard and a search for the Fountain of Youth). Apparently, Disney owns the rights to Powers' book, so they might be using it as a template of sorts. The film's release is slotted for May of 2011.

The second casting report of interest is that Mark Strong will be taking on the role of Sinestro in THE GREEN LANTERN. This film has been coming together nicely too. Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE, CASINO ROYALE) is in the director's chair, Ryan Reynolds is the title character, Hal Jordan and Blake Lively - his love interest. It was reported last month that Peter Sarsgaard would be playing the film's primary antagonist, Hector Hammond, and his father would be portrayed by Tim Robbins. There was some subsequent concern that Sinestro had not been cast, him being Green Lantern's most well-known adversary. Early talk had Jackie Earl Haley as the only actor considered for the part, so Strong's casting was a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant surprise. Strong is much more suited for the role, just slap a little goatee thing on him and he is Sinestro. This guy is truly the go-to for villainy, he plays the antagonist in SUNSHINE, STARDUST, SHERLOCK HOLMES and in the upcoming KICK-ASS and ROBIN HOOD. THE GREEN LANTERN has a tentative release date of June 17, 2011.

The race to see who plays Captain America is also heating up. Marvel released the names of its early considerations at the end of the week and none of them are particularly exciting. On the list was a bevy of teen hearthrobs and WB/teenage drama stars. Most of them I didn't even recognize. I'm all for casting an "unknown", just make sure he's right for the role. I can't imagine any of these guys, many whom regularly portray teenagers, stepping into the lofty boots of Cap. Can any of them do period acting? Can any of them, who are such personifications of the age we live in, pretend that present day is alien to them. I would doubt it. John Krasinski was also on the list. I don't know why they would want to cast the before-picture of scrawny Steve Rogers. I'm not hating on Krasinski, I actually think he'd make a great Hank Pymm (Ant-Man), but he'd be an awful Cap. The only promising listed contender was Jensen Ackles of "Supernatural" fame. I wouldn't say he's my first choice, but he's the best potential option. Unfortunately though, Ackles couldn't screen test due to a scheduling conflict. I'm crossing my fingers hoping they're considering more actors than they divulged.

That's all for now, but I suspect casting is starting for both THE HOBBIT and the SPIDER-MAN reboot and news will be released in the coming months.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Best Films of the Decade

I'm getting a little lazy, I suppose, but the prospect of writing out 50 reviews for what I feel are the 50 best films of the decade is a bit daunting. The large task has deterred me from working on the list further, so I'm just going to have to simplify it. I won't be writing full essays for each film on the list, but I will continue to do so for some of them. It's also worth mentioning that I have not completed the final list as I am waiting to see a few 2009 films before I can feel comfortable wrapping it up. I will, however, start with 50-45 right now.

50. THE DESCENT (see previous post)

49. 28 DAYS LATER (see previous post)

48. SHAUN OF THE DEAD - Directed by Edgar Wright (2004)

SHAUN OF THE DEAD reflects zombie-film culture with a lot of class. You could call it a parody, but it doesn't deride the genre, it actually takes the subject quite seriously while providing a lot of laughs. This film allowed for the emergence of acting talent Simon Pegg and now much-demanded director, Edgar Wright, who also worked together on the only-slightly inferior HOT FUZZ.

Awards: Winner - Saturn Award for Best Horror, Winner - Empire Award for Best British Film, currently on IMDB Top 250 list, 91% on Rotten Tomatoes

47. AMERICAN PSYCHO - Directed by Mary Harron (2000)

I'm not going to add a trailer for AMERICAN PSYCHO because the ones I have found don't really capture the film as it truly is. I remember not paying attention very well during my first viewing of this film and not caring for it all that much. My second viewing was much different. Patrick Bateman's final revelation really makes this film and changes it from being about a sick serial-killer into a commentary on superficiality and excess. AMERICAN PSYCHO stars Christian Bale is one of his best performances.

Awards: Winner - International Horror Guild for Best Picture, Nominated - Empire Award for Best British Actor (Bale), AV Club - Top 50

46. CAPOTE - Directed by Bennett Miller (2005

CAPOTE is beautifully shot and acted. The film is actually less about the man himself, but more about his experiences while writing "In Cold Blood", but arguably, we learn more about him from this experience than we would from watching a bio-pic. His relationship with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) is both fascinating and disturbing. The film doesn't paint Truman Capote as a great human being, instead it shows him at a time when he's encountered with something very alien to him with which he struggles.

Awards: Winner - Academy Award/BAFTA/Golden Globe for Best Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Nominated - Academy Award for Best Directing (Miller), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Picture, 90% on Rotten Tomatoes

45. AMORES PERROS - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2000)

I don't even know what I can say about this film. I rented AMORES PERROS on a whim in high school and I saw it again in a class on Mexican and Cuban filmmakers. I was equally amazed by both viewings. This film is intense, vibrant, violent, and heartbreaking. The three interconnected stories each offer something different, but are all equally well-crafted.

Awards: Winner - Cannes Film Festival Critics Week Grand Prize, Winner - BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film, Nominated - Golden Globes/Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Currently on IMDB Top 250 list, 92% on Rotten Tomatoes

Most Anticipated Checklist - SHUTTER ISLAND

*This review contains spoilers*

Another weekend, another disappointment. As with THE WOLFMAN, SHUTTER ISLAND was a bit of a letdown. Despite its delays and lukewarm pre-release reviews, I still expected a lot out of this film, and I think reasonably so. With Scorsese behind the lens, some formidable talent on screen and a popular book as source material, this seemed like a home run. But the whole isn't always the sum of its parts.

SHUTTER ISLAND was billed as a horror or at least a scary thriller. The prospect of Scorsese doing a horror excited me very much because it's rare that such a high profile director takes on the genre. In reality, the film wasn't scary, frightening, or all that thrilling. There were some unsettling images in Teddy's (DiCaprio) dreams. As a veteran of WWII, a concentration camp liberator, and widower to a murdered wife, he has a troubled mind, which plays out quite effectively in his nightmares. These were probably the most well done pieces in the film. However, it seems as though he can't quite make up his mind about what bothers him more. I think the film could have benefited from a more focused point of disturbance for Teddy. I suppose the magnitude of various trauma in his life is important, but it isn't conducive to truly emotional storytelling, which this film lacked.

Being as the main characters in the film are detectives, one would expect SHUTTER ISLAND to work as a mystery. It does, but it's not a very mysterious mystery. Teddy is convinced that there's an evil conspiracy going on at the island/institution and much that is revealed throughout the film goes to support this, but something is obviously off about his whole situation there. Essentially, there are only two possible outcomes to the film: a) Teddy is right, Shutter Island is conducting secret experiments on its patients b) Teddy is crazy. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, red herrings, or false evidence and no other potential conclusions are even hinted at. Frankly, I would have been more surprised if something fishy was going on at the institution because the big reveal is telegraphed throughout the entire film; Teddy is crazy (and with good reason). The story of his breakdown is a bit more of a revelation and the most unsettling, emotional, and sad scene in the film.

The film's ending ties everything together nicely and makes up for some of the problematic storytelling, but that doesn't excuse its being an ineffective mystery, horror and thriller throughout. I had a hard time keeping myself engaged because there wasn't a whole lot to the majority of the film. SHUTTER ISLAND really warrants a second viewing in light of the end; knowing the details of Teddy's tragedy might make the movie more interesting, but I doubt it will change my feelings entirely.

Despite my criticisms of SHUTTER ISLAND, I still think that even a mediocre Scorsese film is better than the majority of movies out there, he's just held to a higher standard because of how great he can be. The man is allowed to make a less-than-perfect film now and then.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - IRON MAN 2

IRON MAN 2 - Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow - (5/7/10)

I remember when I first saw the trailers for IRON MAN a couple years back and I was completely surprised. I've never really followed the character, but what little I did know was only somewhat interesting. I knew that Robert Downey Jr. had been cast as Tony Stark and I was very happy that he was able to land such a big part considering his checkered past. I had figured I would probably see the film, but I wasn't all that jazzed about it as I was expending most of my excitement on the upcoming DARK KNIGHT film. However, the first trailer really caught my attention. It didn't give away too much, but it looked pretty badass and used the obvious but perfect "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath. My enthusiasm for the film continued through the coming months and past the end credits. It was a fantastic superhero film. I don't feel compelled to visit IRON MAN's source material as I'm content to let the films teach me about the character because they appear to be doing it right.

My education in Tony Stark's role in the Marvel Universe will continue on May 7th when I, barring major disaster, will make my way out for opening day (I don't do midnight showings anymore because they stress me out). I was excited to hear that they were speeding this film's production along since there isn't a lot of nerdy stuff coming out this summer. However, I was once again caught by surprise when I saw the film's trailer. My interest in the first movie had since waned and I just wasn't thinking a whole lot about the sequel, but the preview renewed my enthusiasm tenfold.

Downey Jr. appears to be back in all his glory and he's brought along a few new adversaries and allies. Mickey Rourke is my favorite thing about this preview. When I heard that he was going to be a villain in this film, I thought "that might be okay", but I just anticipated him being his typical, tough guy, Mickey Rourke self. I don't know why I underestimated the guy, he appears to have taken the role of Ivan Vanko quite seriously. He looks pretty frightening covered in Russian prison tattoos with whips in hand, even the accent sounds like it's pretty much there. Apparently he visited a Russian prison to prepare for the role and asked for more of his lines to be done in Russian. Stacking the odds even further against Stark is corporate rival Justin Hammer, seen briefly in the trailer, portrayed by Sam Rockwell. This might be Rockwell's biggest film to date and I really hope it helps him nab some more big profile roles as he is probably one of the greatest actors currently working (see MOON). Scarlett Johansson also stars as sometimes villainess Black Widow. The role originally went to Emily Blunt, but I think Johansson is a much better choice and more likely to steal the show. Samuel L. Jackson returns this time, but rumor has it that he has a much bigger part, which means SHIELD has a bigger part, which means that they're gearing up for the AVENGERS movie, which makes IRON MAN 2 even more interesting. Of all the films coming out in 2010, this might be the one I'm most excited for.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Most Anticipated Checklist - THE WOLFMAN

I saw THE WOLFMAN on opening night like I said I would. I went in excited despite the mostly negative reviews (holding at 30% give or take on RottenTomatoes) that surfaced in the few days prior. I didn't leave the theater feeling terribly disappointed, but I guess I didn't feel very much at all. The film was not disastrous and actually has to rank among the finest werewolf movies ever made, but considering its company in such a category, that doesn't exactly constitute a ringing endorsement.

There were many flaws in The WOLFMAN, but it also had a lot going for it. There was never any doubt that the makeup of Rick Baker would be outstanding. The classic wolfman design is often passed over in favor of a more animalistic creature these days, probably because it is more frightening and holds a greater potential for savagery. Baker was able to update the original monster to give it a more frightening appearance and some could argue that this was the most savage werewolf to date. Another triumph of Baker's is a staple of the genre in the transformation scene. Baker turned heads in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON with it's extremely uncomfortable transformation. In THE WOLFMAN he uses his expertise to create some very intense mutations that are effective, but still fall short of his previous work.

The film also looked very good, complete with great Victorian settings and foggy woodlands. The monster belongs to these times when superstitious notions still thrived amongst common people. This actually gives rise to one of the film's best scenes. When the townspeople come for Lawrence in the aftermath of his encounter with the beast, they are completely aware of what is going to happen to him. One of their horses gets too close to him, it bucks away as if it knows as well. A quick struggle ensues before the persecutors are driven away by Lawrence's father, Sir John Talbot, who turns out to be an interesting amendment to the character in the original THE WOLF MAN. Portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Sir John is a wicked man, whose true nature and motivations become clear fairly quick in the film (and should even be clear by watching the trailers). His interactions with his son are strong ones, but it's still a mystery why he is such a brute even to his own family. His telling of an encounter with a strange creature in the Hindu Kush is also a strong point of the film creatively.

These strong points, however, are not able to overshadow the many shortcomings of the film. This father vs. son element in the film is interesting and original, but going down such a route takes away from character development in Lawrence. I'd argue that we even know Sir John more than we know Lawrence. His trials and tribulations in anticipation of his inevitable change are muted and skipped over. I mentioned the scene above where the horse know his true nature, which is also supplemented by a scene where a dog stares him down. These types of scenes are few and far between. There needs to be more anticipation of his transformation. The month in between being bit and becoming the beast is relatively unimportant, when it could have been the most interesting part of the film. There are a few flashes in Lawrence's mind to hint at something troubling ahead for him, but he doesn't seem to struggle with it as one should. After becoming the werewolf, there is room for more character development in Lawrence, but that is also stifled. His time in the mental institution is reduced to a montage. When he breaks out, his main goal is getting back to Talbot Castle to face his father. I'd like to know how he's dealing with the monster he's become. There's also a romance in there somewhere with Emily Blunt's character, built on one encounter where the two skipped stones together.

Basically, the film was choppier that I would have liked. It felt short and could have taken its time better. It seemed like most of the film took place on nights of the full moon with little attention being paid to the in between. I didn't mind the gore and it was certainly done well, but that doesn't really frighten me and the rampages don't help me understand the characters any better. There's a spooky element to the whole curse aspect of the werewolf that never really comes to the surface because too much time is spent swimming in viscera. When the monster and Lawrence inevitably come to their tragic end, it doesn't feel all that tragic because we never really got to know him and the love he leaves behind had no logical reason for loving him anyway.

As far as werewolf films go, this only ranks behind the original THE WOLF MAN and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but I've never seen DOG SOLDIERS, which is highly regarded.

There are some sequel possibilities with this film despite its ending that could recall FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, which would really flesh out the character of Lawrence as the wolfman and make for a better film, but I doubt that will happen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - SHUTTER ISLAND

SHUTTER ISLAND - Directed by Martin Scorsese, Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earl Haley (2.19.10)

This film, like THE WOLFMAN, had its release pushed back from fall 2009 to February. The move shook my confidence in the film momentarily. Scorsese films are perennial Oscar contenders, so taking it out of the running seems to shed some doubt on the finished product's quality. However, from what I've heard, the issue was a time and editing issue. So, I suppose I'm glad they decided to take their time and make the best possible film they could.

It's very hard to imagine that this film will be bad. Since teaming up with Scorsese for GANGS OF NEW YORK in 2002, DiCaprio has made a very serious actor out of himself, only appearing in fairly successful films except Ridley Scott's disappointing BODY OF LIES. Scorsese has been on quite a tear himself lately. The man is a film legend, having directed some of the best films of all time, but not every work of his is so memorable. However, his last three non-documentary films have been nominated for Best Picture. He even won his long deserved Best Director award in 2008 for THE DEPARTED, which also won Best Picture. SHUTTER ISLAND is his non-documentary follow-up to that film.

Furthering this film's chances of success is the fact that it's based on a Dennis Lehane novel. His last two novels to be adapted, MYSTIC RIVER and GONE BABY GONE, were critically praised.

SHUTTER ISLAND certainly has a lot going for it. Apart from its marquee cast members, there's a lot of impressive support from the likes of Elias Koteas (of Ninja Turtles fame :)), Jackie Earl Haley (WATCHMEN) and screen legend Max Von Sydow (THE VIRGIN SPRING).

I find the fact that Scorsese is directing a period horror piece to be very exciting. He does very well with the period stuff, but it's rare that the upper echelon of directors wade into the murky depths of the genre. Horror is often misused to make cheap, unoriginal films, but the potential for greatness in it is second to none. That being said, I have very high hopes for this film. When I walk into the theater on February 19th, I'll be relaxed, almost certain that I'm about to watch something that's, at least, very good.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - THE WOLFMAN

We're about a month in to 2010 and amidst the wasteland of movie releases. Most people, myself included, are still catching up with the final important 2009 releases, but mostly ignoring anything that's been released in January. I had the misfortune of seeing DAYBREAKERS, but at least I just snuck into it after seeing SHERLOCK HOLMES. I've been procrastinating with this, but the first film on my list is just on the horizon, so I figured I better get down to it.

THE WOLFMAN - Directed by Joe Johnston, starring Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Hugo Weaving (2/12/10)

I've been looking forward to this film since its announcement nearly 3 years ago. The original release was supposed to be fall of 2008, then early 2009, then fall 2009, now finally early 2010. A lot of film snobs are likely to scoff at this remake of the classic monster movie, but I see no reason for this. The original is nearly 70 years old and, despite its greatness, only runs a little over an hour. The film could use a little updating and the story is certainly open for expansion, which seems like what has been done with this film.

There are so many reasons why this belongs on my list: Benicio Del Toro is almost too perfect for the role of Lawrence Talbot; The initial trailer for the film was definitely goosebump enducing; Walter Murch, a respected editing genius responsible for APOCALYPSE NOW, worked on the final cut of the film; Andrew Kevin Walker, a master of gruesome storytelling, worked on the screenplay and to put it quite plainly, I'm just excited to see a good werewolf film.

Out of the hundreds of movies ever made starring the titular beast, there might only be two good ones (THE WOLF MAN and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON). It's just really difficult to make a decent werewolf picture, which I feel has resulted in a loss of standing for the monster in pop culture. Post-UNDERWORLD (which didn't do the monster any good anyway), the only piece of popular fiction featuring werewolves these days is "Twilight" and such subsequent garbage. Werewolves cannot change at will and they certainly can't do it in the light of day without the aid of the full moon. If they can, then they have no right to be billed as such. I'm excited for the return of the wolf man as the bad guy or tortured good guy, whose loss of control elicits fears about our own beastly natures, in the stead of the modern wolf boy whose only purpose is to walk around shirtless and cause our IQ's to plummet.

I reserve a small amount of apprehension for the film because of its lengthy delays and reports of a troubled post-production. Also, more recent trailers have been less successful in building on my excitement than the first one, but a quick HBO First Look has reignited my anticipation. This film might not end up being the eternally great, but I have a strong feeling that it will at least be good, which is enough for me.

For info and trailers -

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Alright, I've just about had it with the Oscars. This yearly tradition that I always looked forward to with enthusiasm rivaling Christmas has done a good job of pissing me off these past two years. Last year, one of my favorite films in THE DARK KNIGHT got screwed out of a Best Picture nomination and this year it's STAR TREK. Yeah, these are two very nerdy, bug budget features, but they are also some of the best reviewed films of the decade. I could understand these snubs better if there were exceedingly deserving films nominated in their stead, but that just isn't the case. Last year, THE READER nabbed a Best Picture nomination despite relatively poor reviews and little fanfare. Nobody thought that it deserved to get nominated over THE DARK KNIGHT besides The Academy.

STAR TREK's omission is even more ridiculous when considering that there are 10 Best Picture nominees this year. I wouldn't be up in arms about it if this year was a regular 5-nominee Oscars, but, as I was lead to believe when this change was announced last year, more potential winners would allow nominations for more fan friendly films and hopefully increase viewership. However, instead of STAR TREK, THE BLIND SIDE was deemed more worthy of the prestigious Best Picture nomination. I'm okay with that film being an Oscar-vehicle for Sandra Bullock, despite her really not deserving it, but c'mon! It received OK reviews for being maudlin inspirational garbage, but no one was clamoring for Best Picture!

Why then was STAR TREK snubbed? I have no idea. Has the academy already reached their sci-fi quota with AVATAR and DISTRICT 9. Now, I liked DISTRICT 9 just fine. It was very original and interesting, but it wasn't a better film than STAR TREK, I'm not even sure I'd say it was in the top 15 movies of the year. I'll save my venom towards AVATAR for a different post, but I guess I get it. I understand why it was nominated, though I don't agree with it. It still wasn't nearly as good as J.J. Abrams' film and despite all the hubbub and hoopla surrounding it, it wasn't even as well reviewed.

STAR TREK was even cut out of other categories that it should have made an appearance in. It failed to garner respect in Best Editing, Best Costume, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography. Am I to believe that AVATAR had better editing and cinematography than STAR TREK because it most certainly didn't. It didn't even have good editing as made obvious by its serious pacing issues. It's as thought they don't really care what the award is actually for. Do the members of the academy truly sit in a room and dissect the editing of each film to determine who is best, or do they just see each film once and choose whichever ones are most popular? "Hey, AVATAR was a big film with lots of action and stuff, that means it had some of the best editing of the year, right?"

I'm starting to think that perhaps none of these nominations hold water and that these choices were made without any real insight into what each category asks of its nominations. Don't just nominate films because they are the most popular. Don't just nominate actors because they always get nominated. Don't omit films from a category because it already features other films of the same genre. The bottom line is: THE BLIND SIDE got nominated because of the ridiculous different strokes for different folks idea that the Oscars employ. Why don't you just try to nominate the films that were actually THE BEST. The Academy needs to get their heads out of their asses and go back to school.

Here's a pretty rad unofficial trailer: