Sunday, September 23, 2012

THINK 2012 IS A BAD MOVIE YEAR? NOT SO FAST...


2012 has not been a great year for movies…so far. The first half was one of the worst in memory. However, I can list 20 things I’m looking forward to in the next few months. How about you?

1.) Anthony Hopkins plays Alfred Hitchcock in HITCHCOCK.

Apparently this film is so good, it’s been readied for the Oscars this year. If the cheeky poster is any indication, they may be onto something.

2.) Daniel Day-Lewis is playing the 16th president in LINCOLN.
And he’s not doing the stoic, crusty, wise sage stereotype of ol’ Abe, the way we’re all used to from Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. He’s playing him more accurately, as Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote in her Lincoln biography Team of Rivals: intense, full of worry and frustration, even high-pitched in voice. (Here’s the link to the trailer: http://bit.ly/R0lJQM) With Steven Spielberg directing and Tony Kushner writing, this one could be just what the election year needed – a reminder of how hard it is for a good man to win over divided constituencies when your rivals were determined to see you fail from the moment you took office. 

3.) The new James Bond movie SKYFALL opens everywhere November 9th.


And the buzz is good. Really good. (BTW…I’ll be writing about 50 years of Bond in coming weeks, complete with multiple caricatures, so watch for that here @ The Establishing Shot.)

4.) Jennifer Lawrence is fulfilling her promise.



Loved her intensity in WINTER’S BONE, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET…and she looks funny as hell in the new David O. Russell comedy SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

5.) The David O. Russell comedy SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

And it opens here soon! With the aforementioned Miss Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, the trailer got more laughs than I’ve heard for a preview in the Cineplex for ages. It looks both mean and sweet. How appropriate for a movie about bipolar disorder, eh? (Here’s the link to that trailer: (http://bit.ly/PVkbYT)

6.) TO ROME WITH LOVE will be out on DVD soon.


Woody Allen's gem wasn't in theaters terribly long this past spring, so see it on DVD. It’s hilarious, romantic, and has Penelope Cruz in a tight red dress the whole picture. Bellissimo!

7.) Uggie the dog from THE ARTIST has a biography due October 16th.


It’s called Uggie: My Story and I’m sure it will (bow) wow us fans of the Oscar winning Best Picture.

8.) There’s a lot of scary fun for kids.

Horror seems to be making a big play for children with the release of the computer animated FRANKENWEENIE (Speaking of dogs) and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA due this Halloweenie. Er uh, I mean Halloween.








9.) The TAKEN sequel opens October 5th.

The first thriller with Liam Neeson was so bad it was good. And this sequel looks like just as much ridiculously violent fun.

10.) Keira Knightley plays ANNA KARENINA.



And if the film is as provocative as this image we’re in for a treat.

11.) I only have to review one more TWILIGHT movie.

I’m the Horror Movie Critic for the Chicago Examiner. (http://exm.nr/SN3ij5) And the only truly horrific part of that job is reviewing such utterly silly schlock.

12.) ARGO opens and it’s already an Oscar front-runner.



Roger Ebert has already predicted it to win the Academy's top prize. He’s seen it. I haven’t. Thus, it’s the film I’m most anxious to see this fall.

13.) I don’t know much about SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS but I love the line-up!
14.) Brad Pitt is in Andrew Dominik's KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

Dominik wrote and directed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD starring Pitt and they made what I thought was the best movie of 2007.Thus, I have very high hopes for this one.

15.) Robert Zemeckis returns to live action with FLIGHT.



FORREST GUMP. BACK TO THE FUTURE. CAST AWAY. Great films from Zemeckis, but over the last decade he’s been mostly spearheading the onslaught of “motion capture” computer animation in movies. Now he returns to directing actors on film with this dramatic character study of a pilot (Denzel Washington) who crash lands a plane and the fallout from his celebrity. Welcome back to the real world, Mr. Z. 

16.) THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

Peter Jackson returns to the shire with this prequel to his stunning LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Fan boys everywhere are holding their collective breaths. Breathe, guys. I’m sure it will be wonderful.

17.) Kathryn Bigelow chases down Osama Bin Laden.

ZERO DARK THIRTY, Bigelow’s new film, promises to be a white knuckle thriller, rendered all the more incredible because it’s the true story about how American forces hunted down the world’s # 1 terrorist. It’s due December 17th. (I’ll bet President Obama was wishing this one got released the weekend before the national election.)

18.) Bill Murray plays FDR.

Speaking of politics, Murray seems like an odd casting choice for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON but the buzz is very strong. Will this win him the Oscar that many thought he should have gotten for LOST IN TRANSLATION? We shall see.

19.) Quentin Tarantino remakes another kitschy thriller with DJANGO UNCHAINED.

This time Franco Nero isn’t Django. It’s Jamie Foxx. And he’s playing a slave helping bounty hunter Christoph Waltz in what promises to do for westerns what INGLORIOUS BASTERDS did for WWII epics. I’ll bet it’s got as many laughs as bullets.

20.) LES MISERABLES is finally making it to the big screen.

And director Tom Hooper (THE KING’S SPEECH Oscar winner) not only has cast Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway (pictured above), Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter in the key roles, he’s made them all sing live on set, with no playback. That should lend a raw authenticity to the whole shebang. As you can see in this behind-the-scenes trailer (http://bit.ly/Q1NPPo) the venture certainly looks compelling, mais non?

That’s what I’m looking forward to in the next few months. And an Oscar season that will see nominations announced a week into the New Year too. I’m excited. So tell me, what are you excited to see? Please share your thoughts here and let’s keep up the excitement and the anticipation.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

IS CLINT EASTWOOD NUTS? AND OTHER QUESTIONS PLAGUING HOLLYWOOD


Since the early days of silent pictures, Hollywood has always been a land that sees things in black & white. Too often it’s an industry that practices in extremism. If one zombie movie does well, why not make five more? If Jim Carrey can get 20 million for one movie, why can’t every superstar? If one studio’s making a movie about an asteroid, why shouldn’t the competition make one too and release it at the same time? It seems that there is seldom subtlety or nuance in the town’s approach to anything.

In the last weeks, there have been some utterly ridiculous examples of Hollywood extremism and they’re dominating the narrative coming out of Tinseltown. These stories continue to show how extreme Hollywood can be, and they also contribute to an awful film year thus far. One that is as baffling and disturbing a year as any I’ve encountered. Here’s my take on the extreme stories dominating the town right now:
Protestors in the street in Libya.


Did a movie really cause the current Middle East riots?

The unrest in that region of the world has been brewing for years. And the violence was planned, as we now know. But a portion of blame can easily be placed at the doorstep of the troubling new movie THE INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS. Its overt anti-Muslim posturing has at the very least fanned the fire. And its narrative is a terrible embarrassment and insulting to the Muslim religion. Now, what’s the solution to avoiding such horrors in the future? Well, you can’t stop free speech. But the least Hollywood could do is to do a better job of checking out who you’re renting your sound stages and crews to. If they’d known the film being made would be such utterly tasteless propaganda, perhaps it would never have been enabled.
Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in the new thriller ARGO.


Why did Roger Ebert already predict ARGO would win the Best Picture Oscar?

The Oscar predicting business has become a lucrative cottage industry. And critics like Ebert and blogs like Awards Daily (http://bit.ly/OY6GX) or In Contention (http://bit.ly/QAcuK5) are getting lots of revenue and attention for such early forecasts. Then there’s the Toronto International Film Festival that lately has become quite the predictor of Oscar gold. The audience and critical reactions to TIFF’s premieres of THE KING’S SPEECH and THE ARTIST in past years started their path to the top prize. Still, Oscar prognosticators like Ebert & company are going out on limbs with such soothsaying about ARGO before it’s even opened nationally or before they’ve seen everything else that remains to be released this year. Is that good journalism? Heck, I’m not sure that’s even journalism, merely opinion. And those who feel the need to rush to judgment strike me as more than a bit desperate.

Is Clint Eastwood nuts?

No. He’s just angry, frustrated, and driven by a lifelong Libertarian philosophy with GOP leanings around the edges. Still, he got a lot of his facts about Obama and the last four years completely wrong. And his stand-up routine with the empty chair was insulting to the office of the Presidency, the GOP and the political process. Those who should have their heads examined are the party idiots who thought it was a good idea to put ol’ Clint on without checking his speech. Especially an hour before Romney’s big one. They thought “Dirty Harry” was on their side and would make their day. Instead, his debacle has really damaged Romney’s chances and Eastwood remains unforgiven. (Assess the damage yourself on the clip here.)

 Why are movies so terrible this year?

Last night the Creative Emmy Awards were held and a number of shows like GAME OF THRONES, MAD MEN, DOWNTON ABBEY, BREAKING BAD, BOARDWALK EMPIRE and MAD MEN did very, very well. Those superior dramas are all up for Best Drama Series (What a category!) and they prove week in and week out that small screen fare trumps big screen fare these days. I don’t think there has been a big screen drama yet this year as good as any of them. None are as good as TV movies GAME CHANGE or SHERLOCK: A SCANDAL IN BELGRAVIA either. Now, upcoming movies like THE MASTER, ARGO and LINCOLN look very promising. But there should be 20 such films a year, rather than a mere handful.
Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th POTUS in the soon to be released LINCOLN.
But hey, there’s a fifth RESIDENT EVIL movie that Hollywood put out this weekend that just had to be made! It’s about more zombies. As brain dead as some studio heads, no doubt. I realize that studios want to make money. It is called show business after all, not show art. But the TV series up for Emmy’s Best Drama are both art and business. They’re critically heralded and ratings winners. If you build it, they will come. The movie folks should take a page from the TV playbook and start making smarter, fresher, more involving entertainments for the big screen. Not every movie has to be about comic book heroes or paranormal activity. (Even the zombies on TV are better. Geez!)
Why does Kim Kardashian make utterly foolish statements?

And why are we paying attention to her? Her comparison this week equating her bad marriage to cancer proved how utterly self-absorbed she is. She's been bellyaching about that break-up forever and needs to get over it. And her constant presence on TV and the tabloids is a continuing insult to worthy stories in the entertainment industry. Especially when you consider that there are literally a thousand women in town just as beautiful and sexy, and eminently more talented. Kim's 15 minutes were up a long time ago. (And wasn't that about how long that sex tape of hers lasted anyway?)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"HOMELAND" IS HOLLYWOOD'S BEST TAKE ON THE 9-11 TRAGEDY


History needs perspective. And Hollywood, despite wanting to stay forever on the cutting edge, seldom rushes to tell stories based on the more horrific events in history. Thus, the tragedy of 9-11 hasn’t wielded a ton from the entertainment world. (Perhaps the terms entertainment and 9-11 are too obviously at odds.) However, one TV show not only daringly puts the tragedy into its narrative every week, it also has the audacity to comment on how the nation is still reeling from it. That program is HOMELAND on premium cable’s Showtime network. (Find out about the show at their site: http://bit.ly/HgrDcl)
My original caricature of the cast of HOMELAND, from left to right, Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin,
Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis. (copyright 2012 Jeff York)
The premise of the show revolves around a cat & mouse game between its two lead characters. Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is an Iraq POW who’s returned to the States after being imprisoned by Al-Qaeda for almost a decade. Everyone greets him as a hero except for CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). She’s been tipped off that the terrorists have turned an American soldier and she believes that Brody is the traitor in our midst. The show is essentially THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE for modern times. (If you haven’t seen HOMELAND you can catch the first season on DVD. And its second season starts Sunday, September 30th.)

Carrie’s character motivation is guilt. She missed crucial intelligence that foreshadowed the terrorist attacks on America that fateful autumn day a decade ago and now she’s bent on retribution. She’ll bend the rules and illegally bug Brody’s home if it means she might gleam some insight from spying on his secret self. She blithely watches him make love to his estranged wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin, doing more with her soulful eyes than most actors do with pages of dialogue). And Carrie cuts corners left and right, never clueing in her by-the-book boss David Estes (David Harewood, the personification of a stuffed shirt) or her mentor/colleague Saul Berenson (a gruff and wily Mandy Patinkin).


It’s not by accident that Carrie’s desperation matches a lot of the overt protection measures, illegal though some may be, that the US government has put into place since 9-11. She is nothing if not a symbol of our very nation and its overreach and overreaction to the tragedy. Yes, we were caught with our pants down that day, and now because of it, Carrie/America will do anything to prevent it from happening again. And ugly terms like rendition and acceptable torture are perfectly viable words in her vocabulary and ours today.

Carrie has all sorts of boundary issues, not just with how she approaches cracking down on terrorism, but also in how she handles her personal life. She’s had a past sexual relationship with her boss David. She’s promiscuous, even missing crucial staff meetings because of her late night peccadilloes. And she’s bipolar but doesn’t stay on her meds. Still, we root for her despite all of those flaws because she’s trying to save us. And Claire Danes’ vivid portrayal not only draws us to the flame, but makes us root for her to succeed even if it means we’re watching her lose her soul or her mind to do so.
Morena Baccarin as Jessica, Sgt. Brody's long-suffering wife, in HOMELAND.




Carrie literally represents the bipolarity of America post 9-11, with our morality so often at odds with our need for safety. And the Brody character is a perfect mirror of that conflict too. For the first half of the season last year, we were kept in the dark as to Brody’s true motivations. Was he an Al-Qaeda operative turned by torture, or was the real torturing being done at home, by a zealous CIA hounding him to hell? One of the brilliant things about the show is how it kept us guessing from scene to scene what Brody’s true motivations were, and empathizing with him the whole way.

(SPOILER WARNING: This next paragraph will address the truth of Brody, so if you have yet to see the series, buy the DVD or rent it, but skip the next paragraph to avoid narrative spoilers.)
Mandy Patinkin is the wily and gruff Saul, mentor to Carrie at the CIA in HOMELAND.

The truth about Brody was that he was both. Not only was Brody turned by Al-Qaeda, but he was also a victim of a CIA doing whatever it took to get him, even if it meant hurting his family and friends. In Iraq, he was tortured, brainwashed, and made to do horrible things to survive. And here in America, he was deceived, lied to and hounded by a CIA agent that presumed his guilt from the get-go. Oh, and did I mention that Carrie ended up having an affair with him too? Like I said, she has boundary issues!

Damian Lewis deserves an Emmy when they’re handed out on September 23rd for his riveting and nuanced work as Brody, a very tricky role to play as he has to be enigmatic yet remain sympathetic even when at his worst. (Lewis and the show are up for 9 Emmy’s, which you can read about here: http://bit.ly/nakgzU) His character is no longer at home even in his own country, or skin for that matter.

The most amazing thing about this show is that it gets us pulling for both these tragically flawed characters. Both Carrie and Brody are sides of post 9-11 America. We too have become overtly paranoid, partisan and reactionary. And yet, we are also trying to move on from those events, find peace and stave off the demons that have haunted us since.
Claire Danes has won many awards for her complex portrayal of Carrie in HOMELAND.



 It's not often that I write about TV here on my movie blog, but this series deserves merit, particularly in lieu of the 9-11 anniversary this coming week. It's one of Hollywood's best entertainments, on any screen. And as a scary movie buff, I can tell you that I've written about few films with as many horrors portrayed as in this sublime TV series. It shows, week in and week out, that man is always the greatest monster. And 9-11 and terrorism have wielded more villainy than humanly imaginable. The brilliant HOMELAND proves that point. It’s television at its best, showing a nation and a world, so often at its very worst.