Friday, September 23, 2011

Most Anticipated Movies of Fall 2011

10. My Week with Marilyn

What gets me so excited about this one is Michelle Williams playing the titular role of Marilyn Monroe. This performance will hopefully get her the recognition she has so long deserved, especially since she was overlooked for "Blue Valentine."

9. J. Edgar

Another heavy lead performance Oscar movie with Leonardo DiCaprio at its head. From the looks of the trailer, this latest outing from director Clint Eastwood is going to soar with critics as a rich biopic with a talented supporting cast. This is also no doubt DiCaprio's Best Actor vehicle, but I'd like to think it has more going for it than just that.

8. Paranormal Activity 3

I loved "Paranormal Activity" and although obviously lacking in originality, its sequel had even more effective scares. And so I can't help but get excited for the third installment from the directors of "Catfish." They basically promoted that viral pseudo-documentary as a horror flick, so just imagine them actually tackling one. That Bloody Mary part in the trailer alone had me peeking through my fingers.

7. The Rum Diary

I don't generally like Johnny Depp, but I sure did like him in this year's "Rango" -- even though he was voicing an animated lizard. And speaking of "Rango" with its undertones of Hunter S. Thompson, this latest starring Johnny Depp is actually an adaptation of a Thompson novel. The trailer is misleading at first, but then divulges what the film is really about: that substance-induced blurring between fantasy and reality. I'm intrigued.

6. Melancholia

Although I despised almost everything about Lars von Trier's "Antichrist," the director still has me roped in and anticipating his next feature. It seems much more subdued and contemplative than his last one, and Kirsten Dunst earned herself a Best Actress award at this year's Cannes. It's been getting underwhelming reviews, but with all that slow-motion and hoopla about the end of the world, I'm hooked.

5. War Horse

The teaser for Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" couldn't be any more of an announcement to the world that, hey, he's back in the game and going for an Oscar! But can you blame him? The movie looks magnificent. A sweeping historical piece as directed by the one and only Spielberg trumpeted by a resounding score from John Williams, and it's all just in time for Christmas.

4. Young Adult

After director Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," he's now reunited with screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno") for his next feature. It stars Charlize Theron, and the first image of her from the film has been released along with a poster -- but not much else. I'm anxious for a trailer to see if the tone is going to match up with the overly quirky "Juno," or if it'll be a little more down-to-earth. Here's to hoping for the latter.

3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

There has been almost nothing released about this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling novel. All we know is that it's directed by Stephen Daldry ("The Reader") with a screenplay by Eric Roth ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), and Tom Hanks is in it. I read the novel and fell in love with it, but it's also something that seems impossible to adapt for the screen. But don't they all? The film is also in talks of being the front-runner at this year's Oscars. Only time will tell.

2. The Descendants

Another Alexander Payne film, and his first in seven years? Well, count me in. Starring George Clooney, this film appears to be another Payne-ian look at human relationships à la "Sideways" and "About Schmidt." It received mixed critical reception from the festival at which it premiered -- some even called it Payne's worst effort -- but my hopes remain high.

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher's remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is easily my most anticipated movie of the fall. Ever since Rooney Mara's transformation into gothic bisexual hacker Lisbeth Salander graced the cover of magazines, I knew this adaptation of the Swedish novel would absolutely nail it. And then came the first teaser trailer with a rocking track from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the tagline, "The feel bad movie of Christmas" to hype up the anticipation. Not to mention that revealing initial poster with Rooney Mara and co-star Daniel Craig, and now the official trailer which perhaps runs a little long but still proves that Fincher definitely has a handle on the ideal tone for what this movie is all about. Gritty, grisly stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DRIVE Review

"Drive" (2011)

He is a driver and only a driver. He has no name to the men he works for and not even to us. He's the guy behind the wheel who will be there if you tell him when and where. He's the getaway driver and a man defined by what he does. We're introduced to this driver -- with his steely blue eyes and gloved hands gripping the steering wheel -- during a job. He's cool and collected even during a vehicular game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities. It's a sequence wrought with tension and suspense and one of the most expertly handled car chases I've seen. Eyes fixated on the road and not ever on the faces of the criminals he carts around, the driver doesn't commit the act; he only gets those doing so from point A to point B. "I drive," he says.

Albert Brooks, who's not at all funny here, plays a nasty man of business named Bernie in "Drive" from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bronson," "Valhalla Rising"). His character is a producer for the type of B-movies that the driver does car stunts for, which is the driver's day job when he's not a driver for hire by night. Bernie describes the movies he used to produce in the 80s as action thrillers lauded by critics. Some critics even called them European. But he thought his movies were shit. As a self-knowing nod, he could be describing the very movie he's in -- minus the part about being shit.

The modern soundtrack recalls 80s synth with titles presented in a retro pink cursive font like something out of "Miami Vice." A sleek, subdued and sophisticated European sentiment permeates the mood. It's an action thriller for the art house crowd but in no way pretentious. "Drive" provides the perfect elements of a genre flick in high fashion emphasizing the master of craft. While putting the pedal to the metal, there's respect for acting and writing. It plays on commercialism while becoming an exact rebuttal to convention.

As the driver Ryan Gosling sustains an impenetrable and indiscernible calm that's unnerving. He has the severe cool of a young George Clooney, and here he seems to be channeling him in "Michael Clayton" form. He's wordless and expresses a wide expanse of inner-thought through a shift in the brow or a twinge of the mouth. A master of nuance, Gosling gives us a brilliant work of existentialism through moments of idling silence before this mysterious wheel man slams on the accelerator. He's a man who's been around cars most his life mentored by a fatherly figure, a mechanic named Shannon (Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad"). The driver lives in an apartment complex and becomes close with his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan). She has a young son, Benecio (Kaden Leos), and a husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who's in jail. The driver and Irene grow fond of each other, but Standard returns home within the week. Once there he's not jealous of the driver but instead finds opportunity. He's in trouble -- the kind of trouble the driver can deal with.

Filling in the blanks of back story are characters' expressions and subtleties. The film doesn't wear its emotions on its sleeve but they do run deep. The script by Hossein Amini is minimal in dialogue, so reading between the lines is essential and it works. The driver's loyalty to Irene's family is obvious as he accepts a job with little to no benefit to himself. It's a heist that goes horribly wrong with bloodshed aplenty namely from Christina Hendricks of "Mad Men" who plays a sexy accomplice. With the smooth purr of seduction "Drive" offers filmgoers, it is a gradual and moody escalation with hyper-violent and ultra-stylized eruptions that fuels this beast's engine. It's a simple parable of fast cars and dangerous deeds involving men not defined by what they say but, instead, by their actions -- no matter the blood stains left in their wake.

Monday, September 5, 2011


"The Future" (2011)

Miranda July's "The Future" opens with a dopey couple planning to adopt a sick cat; it then eloquently evolves into a meditation on loneliness and mortality. The cat in question, named Paw-Paw, is precious and has a broken leg. We see only his little paws, one in a cast, during occasional monologues from the cat -- yes, the cat -- which is voiced by writer, director and star Miranda July. Much like her striking debut, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (2005), July crafts a unique and bold cinematic vision. She's no doubt polarizing in her construction of wonderment; that is, whether people are willing to open up to such free-flowing form and deadpan whimsy. But in taking the time to settle in, you'll experience one of the most original voices in American film today.

After learning that Paw-Paw can't come home with them for another month, Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) begin to panic. Sophie is a dancer but teaches dance for young kids while Jason wanted to be a world leader of some sort, but he supplies over-the-phone technical support instead. They've been spending their four years together loafing around a haphazardly furnished apartment going nowhere and getting used to each other's eccentricities. They figure since they're already in their mid-30s and the cat living up to five years in their care would take them into their 40s, they only have one month until their lives theoretically end. Time for drastic change. As a bohemian hipster couple, they are frustrating in their drift of a lifestyle. And as much as you want to shake them back into reality, the movie does it for us as we watch them lead themselves to their own undoing.

Jason decides on a whim to volunteer for an environmental organization going door-to-door selling trees. Meanwhile Sophie quits teaching dance and comes up with the concept of uploading 30 dances to Youtube over 30 days to receive Internet exposure. Does either of them follow through with their plan? No. Instead Sophie has an affair with a man named Marshall (David Warshofsky) while Jason starts to hang out with an old man named Joe (Joe Putterlik). The purpose of these side distractions is unclear. Perhaps just for the sake of Sophie being able to have an affair, and perhaps just for the sake of Jason meeting someone even more eccentric than him. The couple's relationship is at a crossroads, but it's hard to say if they even notice. They're too busy in their state of malaise waiting for something to happen, much like Paw-Paw anxiously waiting at the adoption center for a comfortable place to die. There lies July's profound knack for conveying difficult emotion -- here, the hope and pain of just waiting.

I would even go as far as to call it enchanting, especially in the way July blends the fantastical and supernatural with the everyday. There's a talking moon, a yellow security T-shirt that moves on its own and a young girl who likes to be buried in dirt. With all the cuteness there's a strange and unsettling mood that lingers giving hints to July's unnerving outlook on the cycle of life. It's all there in the title, "The Future," whether that refers to what someone plans on doing down the line or a more dauntingly abstract thought about the end of time itself. Jason even attempts to literally freeze time to avoid what's coming next revealing that, try as you might to ignore it, the world keeps spinning and life will go on with or without you.