TIFF 2011 Preview #4

9 08 2011

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Salmon Fishing In Yemn

What’s It About: A fisheries scientist is tasked with the responsibility of bringing Salmon fishing to the highlands of Yemen.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Could be a charming film since it has a nice cast including Ewan McGregor, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Emily Blunt but I expect this to go the way of many of McGregor’s projects; good but falls to the wayside.

Shame

What’s It About: When his sister moves in with him, Brandon must confront his sexual compulsions as well as her self-destructing nature.

Chances At Top Prize: High. It has two fantastic leads (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan) and a talented up-and-coming director at the helm (Steve McQueen) exploring what could be a very dramatic story. I don’t know what’s not to like.

A Simple Life

What’s It About: A drama about the relationship between a family servant and a young man.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. A fairly unknown film, “A Simple Life” has a great actor in Andy Lau starring and a capable director at the helm so it shouldn’t be counted out yet I also wouldn’t bet on it.

The Skin I Live In

What’s It About: A talented plastic surgeon creates a synthetic skin capable of withstanding any damage. He decides to use this on the object of his obsession.

Chances At Top Prize: High. The name Pedro Almodovar is enough to create buzz but throw in Antonio Banderas and the haunting premise could make this his best film since “Talk To Her”

Sleepless Night

What’s It About: After his son gets kidnapped, a police officer must navigate the nightlife, corrupt cops, and drug dealers in an attempt to find him.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. People love a good crime thriller and France has produced a few good ones recently making me think this could be in the mix. It will most likely get lost in the shuffle but if director Frederic Jardin gets the tension right it could be a surprise hit.

Smuggler

What’s It About: I’ll just quote the TIFF website here: “In this wacky and shocking comedy, a failed actor is forced to work smuggling dead bodies and contraband in a world full of underground bankers and crazed fashionista yakuza killers.”

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. It may be a little too wacky for audiences but Katsuhito Ishii (Taste of Cherry) is a talented director and frankly the movie sounds  awesome so I really hope it turns out great.

Snowtown

What’s It About: A 16 year old boy is taken under the wing of his mother’s new boyfriend, a ruthless man who involves him in torture and murder. Based on a true story

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. The story reminds me of Australia’s 2010 crime drama “Animal Kingdom” which I have praised heavily before. So if this movie comes close to what David Michod did last year, “Snowtown” could be a great film. Unfortunately it may just be a little too unknown to get the proper hype to form.

The Stones:

What’s It About: This movie maps the distance between two people as well as between two neighborhoods: urban Buenos Aires and Parana Delta.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Low based on the fact that it is a director’s debut film and still a giant unknown.

The Student

What’s It About: A student of the University of Buenos Aires enters the, apparently, murky world of student politics. A microcosm for the world at large, he must use his new found talents in the field to seduce and manipulate his way around.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. The premise sound fascinating but it all depends on execution, and a first time film-maker may be prone to some mistakes that hold it down.

Take Shelter

What’s It About: A Man begins to have visions of an upcoming apocalypse and begins frantically building a storm shelter. His community then begins to lash out towards his erratic behavior.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Michael Shannon is a very under-rated actor and Jessica Chastain continues her breakout year in what is being called an excellent, powerful drama.

Take This Waltz

What’s It About: In this bittersweet comedy, a woman struggles to choose between her husband and a man she just met.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. I have a strong feeling this will be a hit at the TIFF, Sarah Polley is an excellent Canadian director and the film features a very funny cast including Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan, and Sarah Silverman. Although it’ll most likely be good I don’t think it will get the acclaim to win the Audience Award.

Ten Year

What’s It About: A group of friends re-unite at their high-school reunion and discover what has and hasn’t changed about themselves.

Chances At Top Prize: Zero. Although it has no chance this could be an intriguing film due to the fairly solid cast including Kate Mara, Justin Long, Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Anthony Mackie. One to keep your eye on, but don’t expect greatness.

Trishna

What’s It About: The complicated relationship that arises when the son of a property developer seduces the daughter of an auto rickshaw owner.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Not too much is known about the film aside from the source material, but Michael Winterbottom is directing making it a true wildcard. It could be absolutely fantastic or a potential trainwreck.

Twixt

What’s It About: A struggling mystery writer ends up in a small town where he teams up with a local to begrudgingly write another novel about the supernatural. This time though it is based upon events which happened right there.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Francis Ford Coppola directing will be enough to draw a crowd and given who is involved and the premise I think it could be great. Yet parts it may be a little too out there for some audiences so top prize may be pushing it.

Tyrannosaur

What’s It About: A constantly violent man full of rage sees a way out of this spiral when a chance relationship begins with Hanah, a christian charity worker.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Although the early reviews have been great, this has been a movie described as violent and difficult to sit through. Not the biggest endorsements for an audience award.

Vaquero

What’s It About: The story or a fringe Argentinian actor who attempts to boost his career by landing a role in a Hollywood western that has come to Argentina to shoot

Chances At Top Prize: Low. It is a very unheralded movie so I am giving it low odds. If the comedy portions hit home then it could be a surprising crowd-pleaser.

W.E.

What’s It About: Two romances spanning decades take place; one between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson and a modern one between a married woman and a Russian security guard

Chances At Top Prize: Low. It sounds better than Madonna’s first foray into directing, which was terrible, but this kind of leap in quality shouldn’t be expected.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

What’s It About: A mother deals with her guilt after her son goes on a killing spree at his high school.

Chances At Top Prize: Very High. Tilda Swinton is already being praised for her work in this movie and the lead opposite of her, John C. Reilly, is another excellent actor. I believe the film will have the emotional depth to resonate with the crowd despite the controversial subject matter.

Where Do We Go Now

What’s It About: When tensions rise between Christians and Muslims in a Lebanese village, a group of women band together try and ease the pending conflict.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. It has a good director in Nadine Labaki and deals with a serious subject matter in a light way. This could be something that really appeals to western audiences as most emphatic movies do.

The Woman In The Fifth

What’s It About: An american writer moves to Paris to reunite with his estranged wife and daughter. Things do not go as planned as he comes upon hard times and is forced to work a security job to make ends meet. His life suddenly takes a turn when he begins a relationship with a beautiful stranger.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. I won’t go any higher than that until I know more about the film but a thriller in Paris with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas certainly is piquing my interest.

The Year of the Tiger

What’s It About: The 2011 Chilean earthquake turns a prisoner into a fugitive as he begins to search for loved ones among the devastation. What he does find is a caged tiger washed up on shore, freeing it he soon realizes than neither of them has much chance of survival.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. It sounds like it could be good, but with only that as a guideline who knows how it will be received

You’re Next

What’s It About: A family reunion spirals out of control when a group of people in animal masks lay siege to them in this horror film from Adam Wingard.

Chances At Top Prize: Very low. Wingard may be one of the great up-and-coming horror directors but this film has a much better chance of succeeding as a genre film than an overall film.





TIFF 2011 Preview #3

31 07 2011

Part 1 and Part 2

Habemus Papem 

What’s It About: The relationship between a therapist and a newly elected Pope who is having trouble with his new position.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Nanni Moretti is an excellent director and this film may draw an audience due to the success of a somewhat similar film in “The King’s Speech” but I don’t like it’s chances if, what will most likely be a dialogue heavy film, is more like “The Son’s Room” than his comedic work in tone.

A Happy Event

What’s It About: A young, carefree couple has their life turned upside down with the birth of their first child.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. If director Remi Bezancon can perfectly balance humor and drama this film could very well be the surprise of the festival. I’m not sold on Louise Bourgoin but other than that all the elements are here for an audience favorite.

Headhunters

What’s It About: A headhunter who steals artwork from his targets will risk everything for a particularly valuable piece.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Could be a fun film but I don’t know if it’ll have depth to capture those attending.

Hick

What’s It About: A Nebraskan girl gets more than she bargained for when she sets out for the big city.

Chances At Top Prize: Very Low. It supports a great comedic cast including Chloe Moretz, Juliette Lewis, Blake Lively, and Alec Baldwin but at the same time I don’t believe they can provide the gravity of a winner.

The Hunter                                

What’s It About: A European mercenary is hired by a biotech company to go and capture the last Tasmanian Tiger.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. With Willem Dafoe in the lead this could turn into a really good movie and it is being produced by those who made “Animal Kingdom” which was my number one movie of 2010. Hopefully this is another big step forward for Australian cinema but the director is still a question mark and Dafoe has a hit or miss reputation with his projects.

The Ides of March

What’s It About: A staff member on a presidential campaign has his idealistic nature tested when he gets introduced to the dark side of the campaign trail.

Chances At Top Prize: Very high. One of the favorites in my opinion to take home the Audience Award. It has an exceptional cast including Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, and George Clooney who also directs. His last directing effort was the exceptional “Good Night and Good Luck” and this looks to be even better.

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

What’s It About: When he leaves his house on a seemingly banal errand for his disgruntled mother, Jeff discovers that the universe might be sending him signals about the nature of his destiny.

Chances At Top Prize: None. Won’t have the dramatic depth required but with a cast featuring Jason Segal, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon it will likely be quite an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Killer Joe

What’s It About: When his debts become to high, Chris Smith decides to put out a hit on his mother to collect the insurance money.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. I won’t count it out completely because there is a lot to like. The cast features some great actors such as Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple, and Matthew McConaughey coming off his best performance in a long time in “The Lincoln Lawyer”. The film also directed by William Friedkin who although he hasn’t made a good movie recently could definitely pull something out of his hat.

The Lady

What’s It About: The true story of an activist couple who have their relationship and happiness trusted due to the consequences of their ideals.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Another directed who hasn’t made a hit in a long time in Luc Bresson is at the helm and he has two intriguing leads: Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis. Both capable actors but I have a hard time picturing them together. The fact it is a true story will, for some reason, play in it’s favor but I see it going the way of”Love and Other Drugs”; there is a very interesting story (The boon of the drug business/Burmese democracy movement) that is going to get overshadowed by the love story which won’t be nearly as interesting.

Like Crazy

What’s It About: A British student comes goes to LA and falls for an American but is banned from the US for overstaying her Visa.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and features a likable, talented group of up-and-comers in Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence. It looks to have the charm and depth that will capture audiences (relatively) young and old.

Machine Gun Preacher

What’s It About: The true story of Sam Childers, a drug dealing biker who turns his life around and became a crusader for Sudanese child soldiers.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Reading that above sentence should scream one thing at you: “Oscar bait!”. A true story about redemption and poor Sundanese children. it’s almost too obvious. So obviously it has a shot. I think Gerard Butler, who plays the lead, is a better actor than some of his recent work would suggest but this just looks too much middling movie with potentially big appeal.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

What’s It About: A damaged woman flees a cult and attempts to re assimilate with her family.

Chances At Top Prize: High. It features a unheralded (except perhaps for John Hawkes) yet strong cast and has received very favorable early reviews. If one indie film can capture the harrowing sentimentality that “Winter’s Bone” did last year (which also featured John Hawkes) it will be “Martha Marcy May Marlene”.

Melancholia

What’s It About: A family drama triggered by the impending doom of another planet on course to crash into Earth.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Lars Von Trier is a polarizing figure, as are his movies, so I doubt it will get the unanimous support of the audience. That said it features a great cast including a reinvigorated Kristen Dunst and will probably be an outstanding film in some regard.

Moneyball

What’s It About: The biographic film about Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics manager who had to come up with a statistical method to drafting players due to the financial constrictions of the team.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. If there is a sports film to watch out for this year, this is it. The director of “Capote” back with Phillip Seymour Hoffan and Brad Pitt in the lead could turn this into… ugh I can’t believe I’m going to use this phrase but “the feel good movie of the year” with the depth to go with it.

The Oranges

What’s It About: A guy falls in love with the daughter of a family friend causing complications between the two families.

Chances At Top Prize: Zero. A comedy featuring many actors who have way more misses than hits doesn’t bode well. Director Julian Farino has a good TV pedigree but I expect this movie to barely stay afloat.

Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding

What’s It About: After divorcing her husband, a woman takes her two teenage daughters to visit their estranged grandmother.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. It has a cast headlined by Catherine Keener who is usually picks good movies and with her is Jane Fonda, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Olsen who also stars in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and must be a candidate for the breakout actress of the year. Nevertheless I don’t see anything too new to get really excited about.

Rampart

What’s It About: A dirty cop tries to navigate his personal life and staying out of the corruption scandal taking place.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Woody Harrelson plays the lead and is on a roll so it wouldn’t be wise to doubt this movie’s potential especially with an excellent supporting cast.

 





TIFF 2011 Preview #2

28 07 2011

Continuing from Preview #1

A Better Life (Une Vie Meilleure)

What’s It About: Not to be confused with a certain film about a man and his truck, this French film revolves around a trained chef who although confident finds it difficult to navigate the waters of the Parisian restaurant industry.

Chances At Top Prize: Very low. If the lead, Guillaume Canet, can charm the audiences this film may have a small shot but it seems destined to be caught up in the mix despite restauranting in Paris being an often underexplored subject.

Burning Man

What’s It About: An English chef with a son attempts to put his life back together while surrounded by women.

Chances At Top Prize: Zero. I’m a fan of Matthew Goode but director Jonathan Teplitzky doesn’t have a great track record and the rest of the cast aren’t exactly standouts. Could surprise into a fun sentimental flick but I don’t think it has a chance at the Audience Award

Butter

What’s It About: A comedy about an adopted girl in the mid-west that finds out she has a talent for butter carving and enters a cutthroat competition in her town.

Chances At Top Prize: Very Low. This movie supports a tremendous cast including Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Kristen Schaal, and Robb Corddry as well as a couple TV standouts like Phyllis Smith (The Office) and Ty Burrell (Modern Family). This will be a hilarious film yet pure comedies rarely win and this one has a first-time director.

Chicken With Plums

What’s It About: Coming from the directors of the animated hit “Persepolis” comes the story of a musician who breaks his tar and when he cannot find a replacement vows to die, and in 8 days he does. The final week of this life is depicted in this film as well as flashbacks and flashforwards to his past life and his children’s futures.

Chances At Top Prize: Very High. “Persepolis” was a great film and with two leads like Mathieu Amalric and Isabella Rossellini this will most likely be great as well. It sounds profound and potentially heartbreaking, the TIFF has often given the People’s Choice Award to foreign films and this looks to fit that mold.

Coriolanus

What’s It About: Based off a Shakespeare play that actually hasn’t hit the silver screen until now tells the story of banished Roman who allies himself with a sworn enemy so he can take revenge upon the city.

Chances At Top Prize: High. This a a very tepid high as there are some great things to like and some to not. Ralph Fiennes is directing and acting alongside Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, and Vanessa Redgrave. Jessica Chastain also stars for those of you who have seen “The Tree of Life” and John Logan (“Gladiator” among many other things) adapts the script. This could be an amazing drama but I’m not convinced it will show the audiences something new enough to bring home the prize.

Countdown

What’s It About: … I don’t know. It’s from a first time director with at least one very good cast member. It seems to be a crime drama/thriller but the details are very fuzzy.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate? I can’t give you a assured statement but South Korea is turning into one of the finest producers of cinema and that alone is enough to get me excited.

A Dangerous Method

What’s It About: The relationship between Sigmond Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as they attempt to treat a troubled patient (Kiera Knightley).

Chances At Top Prize: Very High. Audiences awarded Cronenberg the People’s Choice Award in 2007 for “Eastern Promises” and this film adds a tremendous actor in Michael Fassbender to the already great combo of Mortensen and Cronenberg.

Dark Horse

What’s It About: A romance that blooms between two thirty-somethings; one a toy collector and the other the dark horse of the family.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. I have yet to figure out of much of it will lean towards dark comedy and how much will be a drama and that usually makes a difference at TIFF. Todd Solondz is a talented writer/director so he may be due for a bigger breakthrough here and that chance will keep me interested in this film.

The Deep Blue Sea

What’s It About: A Woman who’s obsessive love gets her caught up in an affair with a Royal Air Force pilot.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Based off a highly regarded play and featuring a solid cast with Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston could turn this into a surprise hit. Directed by Terence Davies.

The Descendents

What’s It About: George Clooney plays the lead in this “dramedy” about a man who’s life comes crashing down around him and his family after a series of events.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Clooney has a lots public appeal and putting him at the front of an Alexander Payne (Sideways) movie could strike gold

Drive

What’s It About: A Hollywood stunt-man who moonlights as a getaway driver eventually gets caught up in that world when a new woman comes into his life.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Nicolas Winding Refn took home Best Director at Cannes for this film and has an outstanding actor and actress to work with in Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. This movie will be crazy, whether it is a one that will get everyone talking or turn some off is still to be seen.

Elles

What’s It About: Anne, an investigative writer for ‘Elle’, meets with two well-adjusted young women for her article about student prostitution. What they reveal forces her to change her outlook on family, love, and money.

Chances At Top Prize: High. Although I know nothing of the director, Juliette Binoche plays the lead and that, along with the subject matter, is enough for me as she is coming off the best performance of her career in “Certified Copy”.

Eye of the Storm

What’s It About: An aging matriarch, who has decided everything in her life, decides when she should die.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. Geoffrey Rush’s name is enough to make me interested but this is the type of film that either needs outstanding performances by the entire cast or really do something new to get noticed and I haven’t heard enough about it to make that distinction.

Friends With Kids

What’s It About: When a group of close friends start to have kids it begins to have an impact on everyone.

Chances At Top Prize: Zero. Supports a good cast with members of “Bridesmaids” reuniting like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolf, and John Hamm and brings up an interesting subject but with an inexperienced writer/director this could be one of the major disappointments of the festival.





TIFF 2011 Preview #1

28 07 2011

The Toronto International Film Festival released the first batch of movies to be played this past week and it looks to be a great lot. Although Sundance is a fantastic festival, the TIFF tends to bring a more international flavor and has the big North American films trying to start up the hype for a potential Oscar run. One unique aspect of the TIFF is that there is no jury prize, instead an audience award is the highest honor. In fact the last three winners went on to the Academy Awards for a combined 13 wins and 27 nominations with all three up for Best Picture while two took it home, so this may be your first glance at this years winner as well. I’ll countdown the recent releases and my opinion of their chances of taking the People’s Choice Award.

11 Flowers

What’s It About: Frankly, I don’t really know. It is described as a boy’s encounter with an outlaw during the cultural revolution in China based on director Wang Xiaoshuai own biography and off that it has me intrigued. I’ve never seen any of the director’s work but the premise and the personal nature could make it something to watch out for.

Chances At Top Prize: Moderate. It has the elements of a surprise hit but without knowing more I can’t give it any more credit than that.

360

What’s It About: The new film from “City of God” director Fernando Meirelles spans several countries about sexual transgressions across class. It supports a top notch cast including Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and Ben Foster.

Chances At Top Prize: High. “City of God” is a well regarded audience favorite, so Meirelles name should bring some hype in addition to the cast involved. On the downside it is a large and ambitious film that could have problems being kept together, not to mention the subject matter may turn some off.

50/50

What’s It About: A dark comedy about a nice guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Seth Rogan and Anna Kendrick help round out the cast.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. This will be a good film, between Joseph Gorgon-Levitt and Seth Rogan it is almost guaranteed to be a funny, touching comedy. Director Jonathan Levine is at the helm who previously did “The Wackness” which I enjoyed although didn’t love. It will be a crowd-pleaser but I just don’t see it taking home top-honors.

Albert Nobbs

What’s It About: An Irishwoman disguises herself as a man to work as a butler in 19th century England.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. I love the cast, it includes two of my favorite up-and-comers in Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson as well as Jonathan Rhys Meyers and veterans like Glenn Close (who also co-wrote) and Brendan Gleason. Despite how great that sounds, Rodrigo Garcia is directing who has never made an exceptionally well received movie so my expectations are somewhat limited.

Americano

What’s It About: After the death of his mother, a young man returns home to settle her estate when he discovers that she was fond of another woman whom she planned to leave her house to. He then sets off to Tijuana to try and find her.

Chances At Top Prize: Low. Having long-time actor but first-time director Mathieu Demy heading it is a wildcard but casting the adorable Geraldine Chaplin is not, she is simply great. It has the story to be an endearing hit and although a long-shot I wouldn’t count it out completely.

Anonymous

What’s It About: “Anonymous” is a political thriller revolving around Edward De Vere, investigating the idea that it was he who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Chances At Top Prize: Very low. It is a very interesting concept that could be a great film but it is being directed by Roland Emmerich and includes a fairly low-profile cast as much as I like Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave.

The Artist

What’s It About: In this silent, black and white film a silent film star struggles with the industry’s change to ‘talkies’.

Chances At Top Prize: Very high. This film was a hit at Cannes and the infectious nature of it should make it the same in Toronto.





New Release Tuesday: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

26 07 2011

The summer of comic book movies continued this past weekend with the fourth major superhero release in “Captain America: The First Avenger”. Unless the title didn’t tip you off, yes this is a set up movie for the much-anticipated “Avengers” film but nevertheless it stands on it’s own quite nicely since it takes place 70 years in the past. So we begin during World War 2 and young, slight, and sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) feels the need to join the army and after attempting to join five different times he gets noticed by a German scientist come over to America. Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) chooses Steve for the Super Soldier program because of his pure determination and spirit. Steven Rogers is transformed into a larger man of supernatural strength and uses this new-found ability to… sell war bonds. Yes the beginnings of Captain America weren’t that glamorous, he wasn’t allowed on the front line so he became a symbol back home. On an trip to Italy to visit the troops he learns that his best friend ‘Bucky’ Barnes is missing in combat, so Cap, with the aid of the lovely Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), breaks in and rescues the prisoners. Along the way he runs into Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who was in charge of the base and after he escapes creates a unit dedicated to destroying Schmidt’s various bases set up throughout Europe. Once Schmidt’s diabolical plan to destroy the world is stopped Captain America crashes into ice and is frozen in time for over 70 years until he is thawed out and recruited by Nick Fury. This giant origin story is all put together quite well; the acting is good and effects are excellent, the film has a great old time atmosphere, and it is all paced quite well. Outside of the action this is one of the best Marvel movies, unfortunately the action isn’t up the standards of the other Avengers.

“Your task will not be easy. Your enemy is not what he appears…”

The primary problem with the action of the film is that it simply lacked tension. This is because of two reasons; one is that we all know Cap’ survives and two is that once he gets his shield he basically becomes invincible. He blocks any attack directed at him and can hurl it at any enemy to take him out. The first is an easy problem to get around because it is less that the hero survives (big surprise there) and more about how he survives and while Steve has his shield he is rarely in any form of danger. In fact a rare blast of tension is formed when he suddenly gets himself thrown out of a plane without his shield and has to find a way to survive. This is the most exciting part of the movie. Luckily this occurs during the final climax, giving it strength right when it needed it.

“Why someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power…”

I mentioned the film does many other things right and these are mostly in the character interactions and the atmosphere produced. In fact all the character are exactly as they should be: simple and effective. There is no great character depth in “Captain America; The First Avenger” but these fairly one-note people play that note very well. Peggy Atwell is charming and strong, Steve Rogers is courageous and noble, and Bucky is the perfect right-hand man. Simple characters are fine in movies, especially action films, as long as they are done well and most of the primary characters here do just that and play off one another very nicely too. Atmosphere in any movie taking part in another time period should be one of, if not the most, important part of the film. “Captain America: The First Avenger” captures it quite well, sneakily well in fact. They have the costumes, music, and general attitude down but it does something . It never feels like the 40’s fully, in fact it feels more like a movie from the 40’s. It has a certain glamor that doesn’t produce the right amount of grit to feel fully realistic but it worked in a sense. I didn’t know how much it actually worked until the final scene of the movie; Steve Rogers is awakened and notices something is wrong causing him to run out into the streets of modern day New York and see how the world has suddenly changed. For me this was an extremely effective scene as the filmmakers made modern day look like the future by slowly drilling the past into our heads for almost two hours. This small scene may have actually been my favorite of the entire movie as it set up the character’s particular viewpoint perfectly in his future endeavors.

I’d like to call “Captain America: The First Avenger” the Anti-“Thor”. “Thor had visceral action that was intermediated by poor character development and an awkward central relationship. Instead we have mediocre action, perhaps the worst parts of the movie, that separates a fairly engaging story and characters. It isn’t breaking any boundaries but that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t a fun summer movie that I found quite enjoyable.

Score: 73/100





Comedy Monday: Manhattan (1979)

25 07 2011

In 1977 Woody Allen directed the comedy classic “Annie Hall” and following up such a movie would be a daunting task. Of course in 1978 he released “Interiors” which went in a slightly different direction but a year later he would come out with the, spiritually closer, film “Manhattan” which is much less a film as a love letter to New York. In it Allen plays Isaac, a 42 year old writer, twice divorced and dating a 17 year old girl. His married friend Yale (Michael Murphy) begins to have an affair with the lovely and smart Mary played unsurprisingly by Diane Keaton. As this relationship begins to unravel due to it’s complexity Isaac and Mary start to form one of their own. The dialogue comes fast and witty as only Woody Allen can make it and the cinematography highlights the iconic setting of Manhattan. Although Isaac is your classic neurotic lead his character arc is not as substantial as in “Annie Hall” yet everything else is so great that it more than makes up for it.

“Chapter One. He adored New York City.”

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, of Woody Allen’s films set in New York, but it is definitely one of his films that best exemplifies the city. In the first lines of the film Isaac has an monologue stating his very personal feelings for it and throughout the film simple parts like Isaac and Mary enjoyment of walks, his outright refusal of the concept to go to London, and the several locations visited of art and culture show aspects that he adores the most . Never overly upfront yet Allen constantly peppers in these odes to the city he idealizes and frames it wonderfully.

“It’s an interesting group of people, your friends are.”

Idealization and escapism are two key concepts in cinema and it can be created in several different ways. Woody Allen does it in his dialogue, he creates distinct, interesting, and strangely likeable characters. Although they all live fucked up lives and have more problems than junkie on a bender, you like them, you want to be friends with them, and heck you may even want to be them. Woody Allen’s characters are funny, insightful, intelligent to some degree, and while they may drive you crazy in real life, on screen they are delightful.

“Manhattan” is a fantastic film, Woody Allen’s wonderful dialogue and endearing cinematography make this really a picture to remember. I would have to say it isn’t quite as good as “Annie Hall”, but very close to nonetheless. It is a comedy to remember, delightful in its presentation and containing plenty of laughs, it is unique in nature as even 32 years later the closest thing to it is perhaps Allen’s latest; “Midnight in Paris”. Truly no one can make these types of movies nearly as good as he can.

Score: 96/100





Foreign Language Thursday: Battleship Potemkin (1925)

20 07 2011

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece remains as one of the most influential films ever made. It tells the simple, yet powerful, story of the Russian naval mutiny which led to protests onshore. It is based on a true event and that comes through in the very natural progression of the films events. This classic is quite well deserving of it’s constant high regard due to its intense nature, flowing construction, and iconic scenes.

Many dramatic films of the silent era are enhanced by an orchestrated soundtrack that goes along with them and “Battleship Potemkin” is perhaps supported the best by it’s. Music often highlights atmosphere and tone within a scene but here is helps to parallel to actual film. “Battleship Potemkin” plays out like an operatic piece with sweeping highs and tip-toeing intermediary scenes. This gives the film great flow and unravels like a story from another age, partially because it is.

“Battleship Potemkin” has several standout scenes and these parts are truly the highlights of the film. The mutiny, the scene along the steps, and the finale are all outstanding pieces of cinema. They are intense, wonderfully shot, and full of emotion. These are moments that are not just amazing achievement by themselves but stress the effectiveness of the entire film that Eisenstein was able to create. With a runtime of just 75 minutes, to build up these scenes in such a short period of time is nothing more than exceptional.

This will be a short review because “Battleship Potemkin” is a complex work that should be studied. Consequently I do not feel the urge to go too in-depth since that will be a long and arduous rabbit hole that I don’t care to put to paper right now. Nevertheless it is a tremendous work that is nothing short of essential to any lover of cinema

Score: 96/100