Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Style trumps substance in "Drive," "Contagion"


directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks

IN A NUTSHELL: Possibly the most seductively shot film I've seen all year; stylistically, Michael Mann meets Wong Kar-Wai, without quite the depth of either. Warning: considerable brutal violence - not for the faint of heart.

GRADE: pending, but at least a B+, no higher than an A-


directed by Steven Soderbergh
starring a large ensemble including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, etc.

IN A NUTSHELL: Soderbergh is a prodigiously skilled director, but there's a certain coolness about his work - an almost clinical detachment that can sometimes make his films seem more superficial than they actually are. "Contagion" suffers a little from this tendency, and from the ambitiousness of its scope. At its best it's reminiscent of Soderbergh's "Traffic"; at worst, it has the overworked feel of a Gonzalez Inarritu film (e.g., "Babel"), though (thankfully) with far less histrionics.


Full reviews coming soon

Also saw:


directed by John Madden
starring Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Marton Czokas, Jesper Christensen

IN A NUTSHELL: I think I have a girl crush on Jessica Chastain.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Fall Movie Preview

The end of summer may induce melancholy in some, but not me—at least not since I moved back to the East Coast from California and became reacquainted with the four seasons. Fall has always been my favorite time of year, not just because of the cooler, crisper weather but because the arts and culture scene wakes up from its summer slumber. Nowhere is this truer than in movieland, where Hollywood starts hustling its high-quality wares, even if it keeps back its most anticipated items until December for maximum Oscars potential.

But this fall isn’t all about Oscars bait for me. Of far more interest is the return of no fewer than three directors who each made at least one of my all-time favorite films but haven’t released anything in quite a while, as well as other, more prolific directors I admire. Cameron Crowe, Kenneth Lonergan, Andrew Niccol, two Stevens (Soderbergh and Spielberg) and two Davids (Cronenberg and Fincher)—is it any wonder I’m excited?

In order of release date, these are the ten films I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas:

As a borderline-OCD germophobe, I probably shouldn’t see this film, which just seems like a more serious, better-crafted version of “Outbreak.” But with that cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston, others I’m probably forgetting), and more importantly, with Steven Soderbergh directing, it could be terrifying—in a good way.

DRIVE (Sept. 16)
Ryan Gosling stars as a getaway driver who falls for Carey Mulligan and learns a hit’s been put on him. This film had tremendous buzz at Cannes and is supposed to be absolutely riveting. Plus, Gosling’s on a hot streak now, which makes just about anything he does these days worth checking out. Also stars Albert Brooks as the heavy(!), Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and Bryan Cranston.

MARGARET (Sept. 30)
Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to the sublime “You Can Count on Me” has been in limbo for over five years; rumor has it that the film was too long, Lonergan refused to make cuts, and early test screenings received dismal responses. None of these are encouraging signs, to say the least; but after YCCoM, I’m willing to give Lonergan the benefit of the doubt. The film centers on a young girl (Anna Paquin) who witnesses a bus crash and must deal with the consequences. Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo co-star.

George Clooney has proven an able director in the past, and his latest effort cannily capitalizes on the current political zeitgeist—specifically, cynicism and disillusionment with political candidates who once inspired our most fanatical devotion. (Nope, not talking about me; I never drank the Obama ’08 Kool-Aid, even though I voted for him.) Clooney looks well cast as the candidate who’s poised to take a fall; Ryan Gosling’s even better cast as the former true believer who turns on his guy. Also co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood. Heavyweight Oscar contender right here, although initial reception at the Toronto Film Festival was surprisingly tepid.

IN TIME (Oct. 28)
Writer-director Andrew Niccol’s never quite lived up to the promise of his 1997 debut film “Gattaca” (or his script for Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show”), but I dig his continued interest in humanity’s propensity for engineering society. In this one, humans don’t age past 25, but they’re also not allowed to live any longer unless they can literally buy extra time. Justin Timberlake plays a man who unexpectedly inherits a huge windfall of time but then has to go on the run when he’s falsely accused of murder. A better, less campy “Logan’s Run”? I’ll give it a chance unless reviews are abysmal. Co-stars Amanda Seyfried, and Olivia Wilde; Cillian Murphy and “Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser also appear.

David Cronenberg’s take on Freud, Jung, and the (apocryphal?) female patient who came between them is bound to be dark and erotically twisted. The movie’s trailer unfortunately reminds me that Keira Knightly can be really grating—but either Viggo Mortensen or Michael Fassbender (who, by the way, could totally play brothers) alone would be enough to get me into a movie theater any day. Besides, Cronenberg’s done superb work with Viggo in the past (“A History of Violence,” “Eastern Promises”).

THE ARTIST (Nov. 23)
Who’d have thought a black and white silent film—about a silent film star on the verge of obsolesence with the rise of “talkies”—would be such a hit at Cannes? Its success may be mostly nostalgia-fueled, but the film’s apparently delightful. Count me intrigued.

Haven’t read the books (nor do I particularly want to) or seen the original Swedish film adaptations, but the combination of director David Fincher, the casting of Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, and Christopher Plummer, and the übercool trailer definitely piqued my interest in the American version.

I’m not wild about the choice of capture-animation technique, but as a HUGE Tintin fan and a more temperate Spielberg fan, I can’t not see this. A little worried that the film will flop in the U.S. (where Tintin doesn’t seem to have much name recognition), but I expect it’ll score decent international box office, especially in Europe.

Two words: CAMERON CROWE. Now don’t eff it up like you did last time with “Elizabethtown,” Cam—no one’s better than you when you’re on your game. Matt Damon plays a widower with a young family who, yep, buys a zoo after his wife’s death. Based on a book. Scarlett Johansson plays the love interest; despite that, I’ll still see it.

Other films I may check out this fall if the reviews are good:

MONEYBALL (Sept. 23): Haven’t read the book, unconvinced it will make a watchable movie, but mildly curious to see if it proves me wrong. However, I’m rather turned off by the presence of Jonah Hill.

LIKE CRAZY (Oct. 28): This bittersweet tale of two lovers who try (and, I think, fail) to make a long-distance relationship work was a hit at Sundance; the subject matter resonates with me for personal reasons.

J EDGAR (Nov. 9): Clint directs Leo in this biopic about the FBI’s notorious first director. I’m tired of seeing Leo clench his jaw and furrow his brow to convey suppressed anguish (kid, can you do a comedy for a change, please? You were quite charming in “Catch Me If You Can”), but I have some interest in what Dustin Lance Black (screenwriter for the excellent “Milk”) did with the script—and with the longstanding rumors of Hoover’s closeted homosexuality.

CORIOLANUS (Dec. 2): Ralph Fiennes does Shakespeare - stars and directs. I'm almost sold, except that I’ve never read Coriolanus.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL” (Dec. 21): Wasn’t remotely interested until I saw that Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “The Iron Giant”) was directing. Can he breathe new life into a wheezing franchise? We’ll see…