Sunday, September 28, 2008

"I was born under unusual circumstances"

Here is the link to the film I am most looking forward to this fall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, featuring Brad Pitt as a man aging backward from elderly to newborn.

Director David Fincher is a visionary filmmaker, always pushing the boundaries of whatever genre in which he finds himself working, using bleeding-edge technology and perfectionist focus to make cinematic miracles happen.  After being fired by the studio on Alien 3, Fincher made the definitive serial killer film with Se7EN, a movie whose popularity seems to continue to secure him financing for projects that don't seem quite commercial enough to warrant the budgets he manages to get.  The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, and last year's masterpiece Zodiac (my favorite film of 2007) were artistic triumphs but didn't quite connect during their theatrical run (although DVD has likely pushed all well into profitability).

Benjamin Button looks to be a turning point for Fincher, a film that's all heart (at least judging by the trailer), still using amazing visual effects but to move forward an unconventional epic love story rather than a comment on the human condition.  The wife finds Fincher's films technically enjoyable but lacking in warmth, so I hope this'll be the one that changes her mind.

If you can, watch the trailer in HD - it's well worth the wait for the download.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Writer/director Neil Marshall, who was noticed by genre fans in 2002 with Dog Soldiers, really cemented himself as a talent to watch with the taut, almost unbearably tense horror/suspense film The Descent, easily one of the most frightening and original horror flicks I've seen.

So I was looking forward to his follow-up, and even though the trailers were less than stellar, I expected to wholeheartedly enjoy Doomsday.

Unfortunately, the movie's a bit of a mess.

Doomsday wears its influences on its sleeve: its storyline is not only inspired by John Carpenter's classic Escape From New York, but marshall fashions the rudimentary computer graphics in the prologue and the font in the titles directly after that picture.  Other movies directly cribbed from include The Road Warrior, Aliens, and The Warriors.  Which is fine - one of my favorite flicks of recent years, the brilliant Hot Fuzz, make an art out of recycling elements from popular action movies.  But where Marshall stumbles with Doomsday is tone.  

At first, we think this is going to be a fun ride, with the heroine plucking out her fake eye to peer around corners, and mustache-twirling villains plotting the way they can destroy British and Scottish citizens.  Then a character gets cooked and eaten, and suddenly things aren't so much fun anymore.  

The movie struggles to erase the mean-spiritedness of this sequence with subsequent explosions, gunfire, and chase scenes, not to mention a bizarre trip to a feudal castle with everyone dressed in armor (absolutely the most original turn of events in the film), but despite some good action and copious amounts of in-your-face gore, overall Doomsday makes me wonder if The Descent's greatness was a fluke.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Go big or go home.

Further to my note about the sheer awesomeness of The Dark Knight in IMAX, check out this fascinating interview with editor Lee Smith for the Editors' Guild.  Some is a little/a lot technical for the uninitiated, but it provides lots of great info on how the movie incorporated both IMAX 70mm film, VistaVision footage (VistaVision is a format that runs the film horizontally, like IMAX, but uwith a smaller camera, giving a higher resolution image with less grain than standard anamorphic or Super 35 shooting techniques.  It was used for entire films for a time, including White Christmas and Vertigo, but now is only pulled out every once in a while for special effects shots, as the lack of grain makes up for the multiple generations used to composite effects), and standard 35.

Especially interesting, to me anyway, is Smith's remark that the switching aspect ratios in the IMAX version were jarring on the first test, until they projected it on a big screen, when it became apparent that it would often be noticed only subconsciously as viewers would be looking at the middle of the screen.  That was my experience, and I was actively paying attention to the aspect ratios to see when it changed - a few times I missed the change.

The Blu-Ray version will reportedly contain this aspect-shifting version. 

"The French don't have a word for entrepreneur."

The latest trailer for Oliver Stone's upcoming George W. Bush biopic W. is now available here, both streaming or downloadable for HD goodness.

I am all kinds of excited about this flick - as a big Oliver Stone fan, it's great to see him return to the political arena where he's done his best work (Nixon and JFK are both astonishing pieces of work), and the casting looks pitch perfect.  Instead of an indictment, this looks to be a story of a man over his head, receiving some very poor advice and acting on it, which by some accounts is exactly the situation in which Dubya found himself.  I'm a little disappointed that Stone didn't write the screenplay himself, as his relentless research and labyrinthine plotting are a perfect fit for this type of material (I've got his annotated screenplay for Nixon, and swear it's got to be close to 1000 pages, with copies of watergate documents, transcripts of interviews, and footnotes for every second line of dialogue).  Nonetheless, this is high on a crowded 'must see' list for this fall.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Have you seen The Ruins?  Never has foliage been so frightening.  Seriously.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads!

You've got to love pre-Austin Powers James Bond films.

I just finished License to Kill, one of my favorite 007 outings (I think the Timothy Dalton entries are highly underrated).  In it, evil drug kingpin Robert Davi decides to maim one of Bond's colleagues, setting in motion the revenge-propelled machinations of the plot.  So how does he do it?  With a gun?  With a knife?  No, Mr. Bad Guy fashions an elaborate pulley system with a side of beef on one end and Bond's friend on the other.  A push of a button opens a trap door, under which is a water tank inhabited by a hungry great white shark (of course).  The meat falls in the water, but once the fearsome creature has eaten a good portion of it away, the unfortunate fellow takes its place.  So awesome.

The 'realistic' Bond adventures starting with the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, and continuing with the modestly named Quantum of Solace later this year, are the best way to relaunch the series - don't get me wrong - but sometimes I long for the utter ludicrousness of movies past.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The bright light of The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is an artistic triumph, a relentlessly grim tale that stays true to the realistic Caped Crusader from graphic novels like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, but also sneaks in a surprisingly conservative - even Republican - political message: plot points touch on illegal wiretapping, torture for vital information, and doing what needs to be done to deliver justice even as the casualties add up.  Of course, you don't have to agree with the film's political leanings to thoroughly enjoy it (thank goodness), but Nolan and co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer ensure there's no mistaking where it falls on the left-right scale.

The Dark Knight is a meaty, ambitious, undiluted work of vision that asks tough questions between its astoundingly creative set-pieces.  But, with it already the second-highest grossing film of all time, you probably know all this because you've probably seen it.

But unless you've caught it in IMAX, you're missing the full scope of The Dark Knight's grandeur.

I did just that yesterday, after several earlier attempts that were thwarted by sold-out screenings, marking the second time I saw the movie.  And it was like a new film, like a theme park ride.  This is one of the only mainstream narrative films to use actual IMAX cameras during filming, quite a feat in itself given how large and cumbersome the equipment is, and how quickly it runs out of film (see Wikipedia for a good primer on the technology).  A handful of whole sequences were shot using the 70 mm IMAX film stock, along with many of the establishing helicopter shots, and when you see the movie in IMAX, it switches from its Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio to the taller 1.44:1 ratio that fills the entire screen - a moviegoing experience unlike any I've seen before.  Wally Pfister's naturalistic photography is starkly beautiful, and shooting raucous action scenes with bulky IMAX cameras has the unexpected result of most shots being solid, cautiously composed, and moving slowly and deliberately, injecting an antidote to the increasingly overused shaky-cam that masks lazy action staging (not that all shaky-cam is bad - the Bourne films were almost uncomprehensible at times but were always stylistically appropriate).

I know I'm a little late to the party with this post, but have been too busy to update the blog thanks to the convergence of finally moving into my new condo while simultaneously becoming hooked on Battlestar Galactica (I'm relieved we've finally made it through all available seasons on DVD, as I could use a fracking break).