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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

There’s a great little article by Christopher Orr over at The New Republic that pretty much nails my own feelings about the “Avatar phenomenon” and how it will almost certainly translate into Oscar gold for the film.  The argument is that while Avatar is almost certainly not deserving best picture, there is an overwhelming possibility that it will be the last movie standing on Oscar Sunday for two reasons; Academy politics and money.  Orr writes the following:

Again, the issue is not merely, nor even primarily, that Avatar made so much money; it’s that The Hurt Locker made so little. The all-time lowest-grossing Best Picture winner to date (adjusted for inflation) is Crash, which made $55 million in 2005—more than five times Hurt Locker’s adjusted box office. About half as many people saw Bigelow’s picture in its entire theatrical run as saw Cameron’s on its opening day. For the Academy to elevate so small a picture over one so big would be wildly out of keeping both with its recent, much-discussed desire to keep the Oscars “relevant” to a mass audience, and with its lifelong prejudice in favor of films that succeed commercially.

I find his points to be pretty compelling.  Orr also aptly points out that while Sean Penn was probably not the most deserving nominated best actor last year (a suggestion that I happen to also agree with), he took the home the award for his performance in Milk.  He cites a possible explanation for this was the Academy looking to rebuke claims that they were out of touch with the gay community after Brokeback Mountain lost its own best picture race to the less celebrated Crash a couple of years prior.  The mere fact that this argument holds water and is in anyway credible in itself highlights what’s wrong with the Academy Awards.  They are so very much about politics and campaigning and so little about actually rewarding quality.

Now, I don’t have the same venom for Avatar that Orr does.  While he hated the film, I merely found it to be so-so and highly overrated.  I do think that the idea of that movie being celebrated as the best of the year, though, would be nothing short of ludicrous.  Like Orr, I’m of the belief that Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was by far and away the best film of the year, regardless of how many people saw it.  However, at the same time I’m aware of the fact that regardless of how the Oscar race shakes out, the film is already something of a big winner.  The mere fact that it has been nominated and crowned as the front-runner has probably sent millions more viewers rushing to the television to watch it than would have experienced it otherwise.  As a (relatively) low-budget Iraq-war movie, it was never going to attract the viewers that a big, dumb, action movie like Avatar was.  But while even a best picture win will likely do little to expand upon Avatar‘s essentially maxed-out fanbase, even just a nomination has done exactly that for The Hurt Locker.

Cinema fans will have to take their victories where they can get them, I suppose.

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Okay, so speaking of trade paperbacks that are coming out…  If you went to some place that happens to sell comic books today, you probably saw the hardcover for Mark Millar’s much-ballyhooed Kick-Ass prominently displayed on the shelves.  The book, which in full disclosure I have never read a single frame of, has become something of a phenomenon.  Millar’s work has always been on the flashier side.  His work in Marvel’s Civil War, Wanted, Ultimate X-Men, and Old Man Logan were all pretty much “event” series that demanded the attention of even casual fans, so perhaps it was only a natural that this latest series practically left fans foaming at the mouth.  In fact, the book even spawned a film adaptation before the first volume was even finished from underrated director Matthew Vaughn (who you might have noticed previously adapted Neil Gaiman’s Stardust).

The series, which features art from John Romita Jr, is supposedly a Millar book through-and-through, as it combines hyper-violent action pieces with more everyday characters and some wickedly profane humor.  If you somehow, like me, haven’t read it yet… well, it’s basically almost mandatory that you go out and do so.  The book is now available in hardcover volume one form everywhere.  If you would like to find out a little more beyond what I’ve told you, the best places for such investigation are Mark Millar’s official website, or the official website for the book’s publisher Icon, which is a division of Marvel.  Oh yeah, and in case you haven’t seen it yet (and don’t mind some minor spoilers), below is the trailer for the upcoming Kick-Ass film.  Enjoy both.

UPDATE: Perhaps after I’ve read the trade I bought today, I’ll post some thoughts in the comments section.

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So I’m probably the very last person in the world to put this trailer up (it dropped last week, and was kind of a big deal), but I’m going to post the new trailer for the upcoming “A-Team” movie anyway.  Now, I never watched the show, and don’t really have even the slightest of nostalgic connections to material, but I am intrigued enough by the parts involved where I find it to be curiously interesting.  For starts, Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, and “Rampage” Jackson is a bizzare cast no matter how you shake it.  Toss in one of my favorite directors in Joe Carnahan (Oh, why did “White Jazz” have to fall apart?  Why!?) and I just can’t look away.  I’m pretty convinced that even a by-the-numbers TV adaptation from Carnahan would be better than 90% of the summer movies that get trucked out each year, so it’s going to take a lot to dissuade me from being optimistic about this one.

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“Cop Out” Trailer

In a true case of life imitates art imitates life, Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis are starring in a buddy-cop movie. Don’t tell me that whoever came up with Tracy Jordan’s Black Cop, White Cop posters for 30 Rock doesn’t deserve a little cheddar for this baby. Putting that aside though, it looks pretty funny, and you can consider me on board for anything that contributes to the all out career resurrection of Tracy Morgan. Oh yeah, did I mention that it’s directed by Kevin Smith? It’s like somebody took all of my mixed feelings about directors, actors, and film premises, and put them all into a big blender and this is what came out. Watch it for yourself and see what you think.

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LIST: Top 10 Films of 2009

I have repeatedly parroted that for the world of music, 2009 was an outstanding year.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for film.  Blame it on the terrible sequel blockbusters that crowded the box office (I’m looking at you New Moon, Transformers, and the Angels and Demons) not only in the summer, but during all quarters of the year.  Blame it on the economic recession.  Or, like me, blame it on the 2008 writer’s strike.  But whatever the reason, the quality of film in the year, on the whole.

However, despite this fact, there were still a number of flicks that rose to the top of the pack and blew audiences’ minds. With the lack of high-profile prestige pictures, the door was opened for a number of smaller films to take the spotlight, and with the WGA strike the year before, there were some commercially difficult films that normally would have sat in development, that found themselves green lit.  So even in a year that turned into a banner success for Sandra Bullock, there were still some very bright spots for film fans.  As the dawn breaks on 2010, we (read: me) here at Hollering Into the Void want to take a moment to celebrate cinematic excellence in 2009.

(more…)

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IN REVIEW (Film): The Road

“The book was better.”  This is an extremely popular (and often justified) phrase when assessing the quality of a film.  However, it’s also a phrase that can just as often mean very different things.  To say that the film version of John Hillcoat’s “The Road” was inferior to Cormac McCarthy’s amazing book is far less damning than, say, complaining that the recent smash hit “New Moon” was inferior to its written counterpart.  You see, one is arguably a classic piece of modern literature, while the other arguably a diverting piece of adolescent entertainment.  What’s my point?  That not all books are created equal.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will admit that “The Road” is not as good as the book.  There, I said it.  However, that does not mean that the film is unable to succeed on its own merits.  John Hillcoat remains (for the most part) remarkably true to the source material as he tells the tale of a man and his boy traveling on a road across America at the end of the world.  I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read McCarthy’s fabulous story yet, but things aren’t particularly cheery.  In this sense, Hillcoat pretty much sticks to the script.  “The Road” is a bit of a downer, things start bleak and only seem to get bleaker as Hillcoat explores what the end of the world would be like if humans lost their humanity.  Aside from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the man and his boy, there is seldom another likable character to grace the screen (and sometimes you have to worry about Mortensen).  It really is just a steady diet of depressing.

You may wonder how something this consistently dreary can be any kind of emotionally affecting over the course of an entire feature film, the answer is that it’s due to some shrewd direction and wonderful acting. Mortensen is his usual reliable self in the movie’s lead role.  He plays the main character with a heavy sense of dread, regret, and misery, without compromising any of the love that the character is supposed to project onto his son.  When everything has been stripped away from him, and he is at his most primitive, Mortensen comes off like a predator instinctually protecting his young, there’s a slight glint of insanity that peaks out from the edges of his performance that suggest a man who has lost all but one very important thing to live for.  Due to the lukewarm reception of the film, Mortensen will most likely be ignored when it comes Oscar time, and that is a true shame, because it’s a very good performance.  Smit-McPhee, meanwhile, does a surprisingly good job despite his lack of years and experience.  I may not have been as impressed with the performance as I was with the young Max Records in another recent autumn release, but he rarely even borders on cringe-worthy.  As a matter of fact, when Smit-McPhee is really able to hit his characters’ notes of sadness and terror, it is probably when the film manages to be at its most heartbreaking.  Additionally, the bit appearances from Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Michael K. Williams, and Garret Dillahunt, were none-too-shabby themselves.

Now, I mentioned Hillcoat’s direction earlier, and that’s because it too is worthy of some praise.  I won’t be quite so hyperbolic as to say that the tone is pitch-perfect, but I will say that any director that’s able to leave you as depressed as Hillcoat does is doing something right.  The biggest strike that I can pose against him is that he’s a bit inconsistent.  When the he’s at his best, he’s able to really make you squirm in your seat (I’m not exaggerating when I say that a couple of the scenes are some of the most genuinely disturbing that I’ve seen in quite some time, and that they’ve stayed with me for a while afterwards), but there are also long periods of time where things kind of drag a bit.  Part of that is because this is literally two hours of a man and his son wandering down a deserted road in a ruined wasteland, they’re quiet, and most of the time they’re alone , and Hillcoat doesn’t have the benefit of Cormac McCarthy’s lean but heart-wrenching prose to take you inside their minds.  In this sense, adapting “The Road” must have been a truly thankless task, because no matter how good a job one did in realizing McCarthy’s vision, the source material just wasn’t the most film-friendly work out there, and it never would be.  I have heard some complaints that Hillcoat pulled his punches a bit when making the film (the most notable being the absence of a certain half-cooked fetus), but I found such complaints to largely be unwarranted.  I think that the imagination is always to conjure images far more horrific than anything on celluloid, but what was most important is that the director made the viewer feel something, feel the disappointment and deep sadness of the film’s characters, and judging from the sobbing girls in the row next to me as the credits rolled, I would say that he largely succeeded.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the softball ending which, despite not diverging all too dramatically from McCarthy’s work, nonetheless softened the blow just a bit too much for my liking.

Perhaps the single greatest attribute of “The Road,” though, is the cinematography.  It absolutely amazed me how Hillcoat and his cinematographer, Javier Aquirresarobe, were able to create such beautiful images amongst the all of the ashy grey skies and barren, leafless, forests.  It was fitting that the film should be released at the height of economic recession in America as it portrayed the country at its most desolate.  The washed ashore tankers and flooded cities recalled Katrina and New Orleans, the broken cityscapes and demolished sky scrapers reminded of post 9/11 New York, the dying forests alluded to the worst of natural disasters, and the bombed-out highways resembled a war-zone.  The end of the world was ambiguous, but the settings were truly the worst of all things.  Yet even in the face of ultimate doom and disaster, the two men were able to find a simple and almost zen-like beauty to even the most punishing of environments.  There was not a single frame that wasn’t full of stories and a sadness of its very own.

At the end of the day, “The Road” is an uneven but extremely affecting film.  When the movie is really clicking, it’s downright excellent, and when it’s misfiring, it’s still pretty good (I mean, anything scored by Nick Cave is okay by me).  The only real disappointment is that you can sense that John Hillcoat was just this close to pulling of a classic piece of cinema.  Most of the elements were there, but in the end the material proved to be a little too sparse to quite pull all the pieces together into one complete package.  The finished product is still one very good, albeit emotionally draining, piece of filmmaking.

SCORE: 3.7 out of 5.0

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“Green Zone” Trailer

Paul Greengrass has been on a real roll his last few times out of the gate.  He took over the helm of the Bourne franchise from Doug Liman and tweaked the winning formula for big returns with the Bourne Supremacy.  Then he turned his lens to real-life events and despite cries of “too soon,” he crafted an anguishing and artful film with United 93.  Last time out, surpassed his first Jason Bourne movie with the super popular (originally supposed to be last) Bourne Ultimatum.  Well, based on what I see out of this Green Zone trailer, the director is still operating in peak form.  Now, anytime Greengrass and Matt Damon get together, it’s bound to be some entertaining film, but doesn’t this look to be a particularly special brand of kickass?

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