Wednesday, June 15, 2011


No, not because MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS or THE GREEN LANTERN are opening. The former may be a delightful kids movie, but why is Jim Carrey making Eddie Murphy movies now? As for the latest superhero extravaganza, well, all that CGI does look impressive in the trailer but whether or not the story is up to snuff remains to be seen. (I will tell you, the buzz is bad.) Instead, I’ve got 10 terrific recommendations for you that I’ve experienced and I think you should too. 

Christopher Plummer is 80 and yet he's still doing some of the most amazing work of his long and sterling career. (And today he’s as handsome and trim as he was when he played Captain Von Trapp in ’65.) In this charming new film from writer/director Mike Mills, Plummer plays Hal, a man who comes out of the closet at the ripe old age of 75, after his wife of 40 years dies. It’s a complex performance, full of glee as he discovers a whole new lifestyle, but also layered with melancholy as Hal comes to terms with having incurable cancer. It's a wonderful film with great performances from Ewan McGregor as the befuddled son Oliver and Melanie Laurent as Oliver’s new girlfriend. All three characters come to realize that whatever time they have left they must always strive to be happy. It’s never too late to begin again. You can begin your weekend in a lovely way by checking out this special film.
Christopher Plummer in BEGINNERS
Can every shot in a movie be a work of art? It can if the film is THE TREE OF LIFE. I was absolutely blown away by the pure artistry of Terrence Malick’s newest film and in particular, the extraordinary camerawork of his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s easy to make costume dramas look sumptuous but I’ve never seen everyday life – brothers horsing around in the backyard, a father marveling at his newborn’s feet, a young mother hosing fresh cut grass off her toes in the summertime – shot with such grace and attention. This movie illustrates how precious life is: always moving, always evolving, and if we accept the good and the bad then we can thrive. That beautiful lesson is illustrated, literally, in every single shot. Lubezki's lens finds remarkable detail and humanity at every corner. It’s one gorgeous achievement. (Check out the trailer below and you’ll see what I mean.)

Recently, a patron at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Austin, Texas was tossed out of the theater for texting during the movie. Bravo! To my thinking, and that of the Drafthouse Theater, there is no room for talking, texting, or crying babies at the movies. Stay home and watch Netflix if you can't help yourself, but treat the movie house experience with more respect. 

Is this French dazzler the most luminous actress working today? Yes. Is she one of the most talented too, capable of playing historical figures (LA VIE EN ROSE) and femme fatales (INCEPTION) and even the girl next door (A GOOD YEAR)? Even if the next door is in Provence, France. Oui. And does she give another wondrous performance in Woody Allen’s terrific new comedy MIDNIGHT IN PARIS? But of course. And a star that ethereal is only done justice by as big a venue as possible. 

Marion Cotillard in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
The AMC theater chain has started offering a bag of goodies called AMC Smart MovieSnacks. The pack contains Chiquita fruit chips, a bottle of Dasani water, PopCorners popped corn chips and an Odwalla trail mix bar. It’s quite good. No, not as delicious as a Toll House ice cream sandwich at the movies. But I will tell you that the Smart MovieSnack is a better choice than that stale popcorn drenched in greasy, fake butter you'll share with your grubby handed friend. (Yeesh, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little just thinking about that.)
AMC's Smart MovieSnacks snack pack
Technically, Digital Cinema Projection is a method replacing traditional film with an electronic copy stored on a high-capacity hard drive and server. Instead of projecting light through film, digital cinema utilizes technologies such as DLP and LCOS to accomplish the task. What does that mean? Quite simply it means clearer, crisper, more vivid viewing. Sort of like HD television. Believe me, your eyes will never be happier when the lights go down.

Oh, what 2007’s GRINDHOUSE wrought! Directed by Jason Eisener, HOBO WITH A SHOT GUN was initially a fake trailer made for an international contest to promote the release of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ exploitation double feature. It won the contest and has now been turned into a feature-length version. It is gory, cheaply made, badly acted…oh, and did I mention, hilarious? It’s now showing in various markets like The Music Box in Chicago where it has a midnight screening this Saturday, June 18th. How perfect. If sleazy features are your cup o’ bile, check it out. It is a hoot!

The poster for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN recalls exploitation film posters from the 60's and 70's
 Okay, it’s a bit of a cheat, but some of the best movies that you should see are being done by HBO. Currently in its channel rotation is the darkly comic TOO BIG TO FAIL. You may think that the 2008 Wall Street bailout is too complicated to understand or too depressing to find entertaining. You’re wrong on both counts. This movie is easy to follow and easy to laugh at. It plays practically like a comedy of manners, a BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES for our troubled times. Here the bankers are portrayed like Bond villains as much as bond villains. And William Hurt works slow-burning wonders in his key role as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, President Bush's cabinet member who did his damnedest to keep the country from collapsing into financial ruin. He almost comes off as sympathetic. Almost. 
William Hurt in HBO's  TV-movie TOO BIG TO FAIL

Being parents with small children doesn’t mean you have to wait for NetFlix to see the hottest theatrical releases. On Demand releases some movies on cable the same day as in theaters. Two of note? The superior Kung Fu action picture13 ASSASSINS and the indie romance LAST NIGHT starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington & Eva Mendes. Hollywood continues to experiment with how to release films to reach the most people. For parents, big screen TV aficionados and agoraphobes, On Demand was made for you.

The poster for the independent feature LAST NIGHT

It remains to be seen whether or not David Fincher’s take on the Stieg Larsson bestseller can best the popular Swedish film with the amazing Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. But if you catch the trailer, which is currently showing in theaters, I think you'll be quite hopeful. It looks tense, nasty and fun. And you gotta love a movie that has enough self-awareness of its pulp origins to describe itself as “the feel bad movie this Christmas.” I know I'll be there on opening day. (And in case you can't wait to see the trailer on the big screen I've embedded it here for you.)

So experience the movies this weekend and tell me what impressed you. And as always, thanks for following.


  1. Thanks for another great post Jeff. However, it would be great to modify the title of the post to read: 10 Reasons To See a Movie This Weekend AT YOUR LOCAL ART HOUSE. For many of the reasons that you note (competition from VOD, HBO, and shrinking home video release windows), the neighborhood art house may become a relic of the past. Strangely enough, it might be the growth of digital cinema that will be the final nail in the coffin. The estimated cost of a digital projector is $150,000. A separate projector is required for each screen in the complex, so a small 3 screen theatre would require an investment of $450,000. Under the current arrangement, the studios will pay half that fee, leaving the theatre to fork out the remaining $225,000. Now the studios are allowed to pay their portion of the fee over the next 10 years; however, the theatres are responsible for paying their entire fee up front. That is a lot of popcorn to sell. To make matters worse, unless the theatre converts to digital cinema before the fall of 2012, the studio will no longer pay 50% of the fee. That makes the economy of maintaining a small theatre almost impossible. I do worry that if the local art houses are shuttered, the end of experimental or independent film won't be far behind.

    I now relinquish my soap box.

  2. David, thanks for your post! Great commentary. I too worry about arthouse theaters going away, hence I focus on a lot of the films that show at such places. I do hope that the digital projectors come down in cost so all theater patrons can enjoy the superior viewing. I think they will because despite the fact that some chains like AMC are very good about showing indies and smaller films (For example, THE TREE OF LIFE is showing at many AMC theaters here in Chicago.) there have to be outlets for the smaller films and revivals in markets that don't have as many options. At least I hope that's how the film community regards such issues.

  3. Finally in this summer of film franchise sequels spawned from the ever-lengthening Hollywood gravy train ( at last came two original films. Truly two films worth getting out to see. One exceeded my expectations and the other did not, but I did learn something from it.

    MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: Easily, for me, the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. The heart and soul of this term of endearment for Paris and the great artists of the past was Owen Wilson. Which surprised and delighted me, because before I had seen it, I feared he would be its biggest liability. Why would Woody cast such a lightweight, comedic actor I wondered. I soon saw what Woody saw in him as he effortlessly portrayed a tender-hearted, nostalgic screenwriter (and would-be novelist) who desperately yearned for more enlightened times. Not unlike some of Woody’s own past film characters, Owen’s Gil tolerates the boorish snobs who inhabit his world and struggles against the restraints they cast upon him. The period details and “golden era” artists and writers were depicted in a loving and reverent way by a writer/director who I’ll bet wouldn’t have minded living this dream himself. One thing about Woody Allen movies, the more I watch the more I learn about the man himself.

    THE TREE OF LIFE: I eagerly anticipated this one as the trailer was so visually enticing. In terms of visuals, the film did not disappoint. Absolutely stunning. In terms of storyline it did, I have to admit. The problem for me was the disconnection between the loving yet fractious father-son relationships, which were beautifully fleshed out, and the bigger picture, iconic images of creation and nature and, well, God. The fact that Sean Penn had no on-screen dialogue left me frustrated, so curious was I to know more about how his childhood affected him decades later. After all, don’t so many of us have issues from our own childhoods? So much was left unsaid. And that’s what I learned about myself. My own mother (who was similar to Pitt’s character) has been deceased for almost a decade now. When it comes to reflecting on my own childhood, too much was left unsaid, and perhaps its up to me to figure it all out on my own. Those answers don’t come easily to any of us.

  4. Fan With No Name, I agree about MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. And others think it's awesome too as it is apparently on its way to being Woody Allen's biggest financial hit in his career. Good for him! And Owen Wilson is marvelous in it. Hope he's remembered come awards season. He's one of the best comic actors working today. And he can do drama so well too as evidenced by his work in MARLEY & ME.

    As for THE TREE OF LIFE, well, I am sorry that you were disappointed by its somewhat obtuse narrative structure and the thin Sean Penn bookends of the movie. Still, we agreed upon the stunning visuals and I think you'd agree that we'd rather have more movies like this than say THE GREEN LANTERN.