Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone, but Clint Mansell has revealed that he will once again re-team with Darren Aronofsky and will score the director's upcoming supernatural thriller "Black Swan," starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
The film is currently shooting in New York and centers on a talented ballerina (Portman), in the New York City Ballet who is tormented by a rival (Kunis) who may or may not be a figment of the dancer's imagination.
Mansell further reveals that he and Aronofsky have already discussed plans for the potential score and want to develop a score heavily drawn from Tchaikovsky's 19th century ballet, "Swan Lake."
"Well it’s all really embryonic at the moment, one of the main ideas we’ve got is building the entire score out of elements from 'Swan Lake,'" Mansell told LittleWhiteLies. "I mean it would have to be vastly screwed with, but that’s a starting point. Sometimes we’ve had ideas in the past and you put them into practice and they just suck, so we’ll see. Darren only just started shooting so for now it’s about doing the nuts and bolts really and providing him just what he needs to shoot with and in January I’ll start to mess around with some of the things we’ve talked about."
We recently reviewed the script for "Black Swan" and described it as being loosely based on "Swan Lake" plus actress Kunis has also been describing the film as a "real life version of the third act of 'Swan Lake'" so it's a definite thematic fit. But to recap, potentially a Clint Mansell re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake' to back Aronofksy's "Black Swan"!? Yes, please.
"Black Swan" should see a release sometime (hopefully sooner rather than later) in 2010 through Fox Searchight.
Clint Mansell Scoring Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan,' Wants To Build Score Entirely From Elements Of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'
Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone, but Clint Mansell has revealed that he will once again re-team with Darren Aronofsky and will score the director's upcoming supernatural thriller "Black Swan," starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
It’s a bit racist to label a subgenre of awards-friendly movies White People Trauma cinema in that it trivializes the universal emotions of these films. And yet, because the critical and awards cognoscenti is comprised mostly of white males, these are the films that end up being celebrated by people who seem, themselves, mirrored in each narrative. Even when they do pay lip service to outside worlds it’s secondary to the lead character’s issues.
This comes up again in another seemingly White People Trauma movie, awards-hopeful “Up In The Air,” which perfectly illustrates why it’s harder to make movies with a social conscience in today’s climate than it was in the less-connected era of Billy Wilder, or even Hal Ashby. To encapsulate the American experience, you have to take into account an audience’s modern cynicism, but you shouldn’t be feeding it, like Jason Reitman’s third film does.
“Up In The Air” concerns Ryan Bingham, played with smug self-assurance by George Clooney. He’s hired by airport companies to fly first class to different departments across the country, by now programmed to sympathetically fire people face to face. He’s almost supernaturally dedicated to his job, and to the superficial comforts of the open air. Of course, the film’s central irony is that he’s in danger of falling into unemployment himself. The company, in an attempt to cut costs, is shredding the human connection by using cam-to-cam communication for their downsizing needs, a move pioneered by wet-behind-the-ears newbie Natalie (Anna Kendrick). When Ryan is ordered to take Natalie out on the road, the two come to realize how they complement each other fairly well, both shoring up each other’s shortcomings in ways that carry the narrative forward and deepen the characterizations these two actors create.
Natalie, as played by the whipsmart Kendrick, actually ends up being the film’s most relatable and interesting character. Clooney begins things in a pretty sour mode, using corporate sarcasm to bed equally cynical traveler Alex, played with a steely career-woman drive by Vera Farmiga. As he (needlessly) narrates his travel details, his luggage concerns, and his indifferent, decidedly moviestar refusal to commit (and this is nothing if not George Clooney’s version of a Judd Apatow part), we are repulsed by this open air charlatan, taking his dog-and-pony firing show to thrive off the misery of others. It’s a credit to Clooney’s career that only a few shades, intonations and acting decisions make this shark far more deplorable than any character he’s played yet, and that includes the maddog serial killer of “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Introducing Natalie opens the movie up after a weary, surface-level beginning. It’s difficult to understand why the film buries her introduction when she’s clearly the entry point for these white collar shenanigans. Not only is she surrounded by older white males, but she’s created a technology that is not only susceptible to her own human emotions, but also something capable of doing great harm. No doubt her naïve background trained her to believe this would be a profitable, exciting world, not one where she would be responsible for shepherding employees often twice her age to unemployment. Kendrick showcases the growing cracks in her façade, as she goes from being an unflappable businesswoman to someone who has to reassess her hopes and dreams in a rush.
And then, unfortunately, the film turns on her, and uses her as a mouthpiece for its themes. She goes from being a fully-formed character into one that is used primarily to serve the needs of our protagonist, and practically vanishes for the film‘s final half hour. Credit where credit’s due- this leads into a third act where Ryan tries to do the right thing for the people around him, only to discover, in some cases, that the rest of the world isn’t ready to slow down in order to appreciate his self-awakening. Without spoiling matters, it’s unfortunate to report that not only does the movie not pursue this further - it’s an American studio film, there needs to be SOME redemption - but Clooney can’t convincingly make you believe that this selfish, materialistic asshole has somehow learned how to treat people right. It’s a tough character arc, and Clooney doesn’t sell the sincere kindness as well as he does the smug, self-serving egotism.
When considering a movie’s impact, it’s probably best not to get hung up on outside factors, but its impossible to avoid this movie’s timeliness in the face of a rough economy. The film is littered with real life testimonials from people who have been fired in this climate, which feels a bit glib next to the narrative at hand. There’s no comparison to the stakes of the film, particularly for Ryan, who seems to have saved his earnings in lieu of job perks and, at this point, is probably well-loaded. The objective of the narrative seems to be that he has no family and no bills to worry about, which just makes one wonder why the testimonials are there in the first place. How are we supposed to feel about these fired individuals, who do have families and bills to worry about, as the film ends? The first actual onscreen firing, inappropriately enough, is of funnyman Zack Galifinakis, and it’s predictably played for broad "Simpsons"-y laughs.
Jason Reitman really fulfills what we've begun to notice as a common attribute of recent awards-friendly material- his direction is condescending, and even at some points a little stupid. Reitman is in love with the ironic close-ups, magnifying jokes and visual gags that are cheap and secondhand, and yet still are the focus of the frame, in what should be a mature story for and about adults. He also can’t resist having characters spout dialogue that underlines and italicizes the story and its themes. In the end, Ryan’s situation is so blindly obvious that a voiceover is superfluous. Further expository dialogue on this subject only exacerbates this problem, that he doesn’t trust us to pick up on Ryan’s empty life being filled with dull airports, baggage claims and unoccupied hotel rooms. Take out all the material talking down to the audience - Ryan’s sister emphasizing he doesn’t go out of his way to help, Ryan’s go-to metaphor of a piece of luggage representing your life - and this movie runs forty minutes long. Maybe that’s the problem with today’s empty awards-bait. Maybe these movies are just too damned long. [C]
It was sort of a given that Tom Ford, the visionary fashion designer who used to work for Gucci and now has his own worldwide brand, would give us a movie that was so visually ravishing. The surprise with "A Single Man" (based on the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name) is the emotional richness it displays as well.
In "A Single Man," Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a British college professor teaching literature in Los Angeles. The year is 1962, a time where there wasn't even a closet for a gay man to be in and right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But George is dealing with a crisis of his own, having recently lost his lover of 16 years (played in arty flashbacks, by Ozymandias himself, Matthew Goode) in an auto accident. George is lost, depressed, and comforted only by his boozy ex-pat friend Charley (Julianne Moore). There are also playful advances from a handsome student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, aka the little kid from "About a Boy").
At the beginning of the movie, we see George preparing a small handgun, ready for his own suicide. If there's any real motor to the movie it's what he's going to accomplish or finalize before he kills himself and if he will come to peace with his former love (and potential new relationship). The movie is somewhat shapeless, etched by vignette-like excursions to the bank (where he sees a neighbor and the neighbor's young son) and the liquor store (intercepted by a gigolo).
Everything in "A Single Man" is beautiful. George's house, his clothes, the way Ford arranges the frame. For a lot of the film, the colors are washed out, symbolic of George's hollowness. But when there's a really revelatory moment, one that is meant to pack an even bolder emotional punch, Ford turns up the color, heightening everything, and the effect will leave you absolutely breathless. It's a simple little trick, nothing fancy, but man does it leave its mark.
The movie is full of these small flourishes, which aren't overtly showy but add so much to the atmosphere and detail of the movie. At one point George pulls up to a building and the entire side of the building is an old movie poster (we won't say which one), an image that is altogether arresting.
The musical score, by Abel Korzeniowski and "In the Mood for Love's" Shigeru Umbeyashi, is similarly beautiful. Anyone who was swept up with "In the Mood for Love's" score will be similarly impressed by his work here. It's just as delicate and mournful as George himself.
But as gorgeous as the movie looks (and sounds), it's the lead performance that truly stands out. Colin Firth has been a solid actor in recent years, but he's often been cast in bland and characterless movies where he's forced to either fidget or charm (or both). As consistent as his performances are, he rarely makes an impact on a movie beyond doing his serviceable best. Here, he shines. If you aren't in love with him by the end of the picture, then there's something wrong with you. He conveys a man mourning a relationship (and a man) while also steadfastly holding onto desire. It may be the desire to end his life, or it may be the desire to reconnect and rejoin the living. But whatever it is, you can look at Firth's face and see the hole that the relationship has left in him.
And some credit should be given to Matthew Goode in this regard. The movie renders their flashback sequences as tidy, almost square examples of domestic bliss. They talk. They read. They go to the beach. And in between the dialogue and glances you can conjure the life that they live together, that they've built. Goode might be a tad too young for the role (if the relationship lasted sixteen years, then George was cruising the middle school), but he really does bring it to life. You can see, in Goode's performance, all that George is missing in the life without him.
Julianne Moore is great too, and has a spectacular sequence she shares with Firth, but her performance is the one in the movie that veers perilously close to camp. Thankfully, Nicholas Hoult is there, as the confused young student, to ground things.
"A Single Man" feels like the work of a veteran. It showcases a number of sure-handed stylistic notes that many directors struggle to master over a series of films. The fact that this is Tom Ford's first outing in the director's chair is nothing short of miraculous. And that the emotional content, one of aching loss, is just as powerful as anything that you actually SEE on screen is just as amazing. [A] - Drew Taylor
Quentino Tarantino Says Next Project Is 'Smaller, Less Epic' And Is In A 'Different Genre Entirely' To 'Basterds'
Looks like Quentin Tarantino has settled on what his next project may be, for now.
The director told Vulture that the"Inglourious Basterds" or "Kill Bill" prequels/sequels will have to wait (despite having completed 40 pages of the 'Basterds' prequel already) and that he is working on a project on a "smaller, less epic" scale that is in a "different genre entirely."
Tarantino adds that "he thinks he can finish [the project] in a five-to-six month period of intensive writing" which probably means it won't be ready for another year or two. With his plans to retire at the age of 60 and write novels and cinema literature, here's to hoping he stays on track with his plans.
Projects that are seemingly still on the cards and could be the aforementioned next project include his 1930s gangster picture, a spaghetti western, the southern KKK revenge tale and the adaptation of Len Deighton's British spy novels, potentially with Simon Pegg.
One project recently singled out by the director on Japanese television is his John Brown slavery film which was described by Tarantino as "definitely in the garden" but only "one of my roses" (and any kind of slavery or KKK film could easily be rolled up into this idea, as he'd probably veer off history ala 'Basterds'). Could it be that this is his next film? Could any of these aforementioned projects fit the bill? Hmm, none of them sound much smaller and less epic aside from perhaps the Len Deighton books, but our guess is he has something entirely new in the works. Or at least something so old and forgotten, it's practically new (here's a list of old Tarantino projects he once had in the works and are seemingly now all but dead).
Tarantino has already said, "Kill Bill 3" won't come next, but it could come after whatever it is he's cooking right now. At this point in his career, something akin to "Pulp Fiction," would be pretty small scale in comparison to the scope of the "Kill Bill" and "Inglourious Basterds" films. We suppose "Death Proof" is in that smaller vein as well.
David Cronenberg Recruits Keira Knightley, Christoph Waltz And Michael Fassbender For 'The Talking Cure'
David Cronenberg has evidently recruited the trio of Keira Knightley, Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender for his long-gestating adaptation of Christopher Hampton's "The Talking Cure," according to Australian distributor Hopscotch Films.
After his potential Tom Cruise-Denzel Washington-starrer "The Matarese Circle" died earlier this year when Cruise chose to star in James Mangold's "Knight & Day" instead, Cronenberg turned to an adaptation of Don DeLillo's "Cosmopolis" which was due to begin in 2010.
It's not known whether that project is still in the works but with rights to "The Talking Cure' already bought by the Australia distribution company, surely this project will be shooting first. The following synopsis was included in the acquisition announcement:
A beautiful young woman, driven mad by her past. An ambitious doctor on a mission to succeed. An esteemed mentor with a revolutionary cure. Let the mind games begin… Hampton's play follows the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and their complicated relationships with a brilliant and beautiful patient, Sabina Spielrein.
Cronenberg was first linked to the project in 2007, but word has been hush since the initial announcement two years ago, though /film did notice a hint in a Variety article last month that brought up the film in a piece about the financing and sales company behind it's production, Hanway Films.
Production was originally set to take place in Germany and, with Knightley, Waltz and Fassbender as the protagonising trio, a European shoot seems likely. Either way, it'll be fascinating to see what Cronenberg can conjur up after his last two films, the Viggo Mortensen led "A History Of Violence" and "Eastern Promises."
"The New Daughter" is the latest film from Kevin Costner, dipping his toes into supernatural waters for the first time since "Dragonfly." In the film, directed by "[Rec]" writer Luis Berdejo, Costner plays a widower who takes his two kids to stay at a farmhouse, where one child (Ivana Baquero of "Pan's Labyrinth") starts exhibiting spooky tendencies due to the influence of a nearby burial ground. The question hanging over this film from Anchor Bay, who just released "The Slammin' Salmon" to near-empty auditoriums, is, after "Mr. Brooks" and "Swing Vote," is Costner still a viable leading man?
Judging by the 22 theaters that quietly ran the film this weekend, the answer was a resounding, "What, are you fucking serious?" Without any promotion, posters, TV ads or other campaigning, "The New Daughter" was plucked off the shelf from Gold Circle Films and given what we'd guess is a contract-mandated theatrical release. We can't seem to find any numbers for the film, considering Box Office Mojo doesn't even know the movie exists, so we're going to go ahead and assume it didn't really light the box office on fire. "The New Daughter" has been discussed amongst the horror sites for a while now, but otherwise, this situation sounds a lot like the mysterious appearance of "Blood Creek," which earlier this year got a similarly unceremonious release. And like "Blood Creek," you can forget about seeing "Daughter" unless you live in a big city.
Bloody-disgusting.com has a full list of the theaters showing "The New Daughter." Anyone care to bite the bullet and tell us how it is?
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision blog, Bryan Singer spilled more details about his top-secret "X-Men: First Class" project. His long-awaited return to Fox and the X-Men franchise is still shrouded in some layers of secrecy (until it turns out so bad that Fox leaks it months before its release to cover their asses! D'OH!), but he was able to clarify some speculation regarding the project, especially in the wake of fellow X-projects like "Wolverine 2" (bad), "Deadpool" (worse) and "X-Men Origins: Magneto" (yeah, what?).
Singer says of the association with the "Magneto" prequel, "This story would probably utilize some of the Magneto story because it deals with a young Magneto, so it might supersede that because this would explore that relationship between a young energetic professor and a disenfranchised victim of the Holocaust." As if there were people NOT disenfranchised after the Holocaust, but whatever. Since he directed the Auschwitz-set prologue in "X-Men" that told you all you need to know about Magneto's past, and since Singer himself is a WWII movie vet with "Apt Pupil" and "Valkyrie," we're sure he's burnt out on the topic. But he does say the story he wants to tell is about the relationship between Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart?) and Erik Lensherr (Ian McKellen?). That's not necessarily the angle proposed by David Goyer, who was last attached to a "Magneto" movie as a superhero/villain story set during the Holocaust (!), so we don't want to say the movie is dead, but the thing's been floundering in development hell for a long enough time that we can feel confident Singer's project might make the Magneto origin (even more) redundant.
Singer is currently on pre-production for "Jack The Giant Killer," and when asked about "Avatar" he claims the film made him want to turn "Jack" into a 3D picture. He also claims that "Battlestar Galactica" and "Excalibur" remain in development, meaning that while he starts shooting "Jack The Giant Killer" in the new year, he still has options if "First Class" doesn't develop as he intends it to. Let's see how Singer reacts when Fox demands Wolverine be retconned into the early X-Men adventures.
Alright, the holidays begin for us today, so we might be a bit more intermittent than usual until around the 30th (you really never can tell). We'll see. Hopefully starting around then you'll get some more 2009 coverage out of us. Yes, the year will be over, but we like to spend the early part of January looking back and reflecting on the cinema that has passed, including Best Soundtracks of the Year, Best Films, etc. etc.
In the meantime, in case you somehow missed it, we spent the better half of December knee-deep in our Best of the Decade coverage which we figured we'd recap here unless you missed it. Our lists included:
- The Best Soundtracks Of The Decade
- The Best Scores Of The Decade
- The Best Music Documentaries Of The Decade
- The Best Documentaries Of The Decade
- The Best Films Of The Decade: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
"In The Mood For Love" - Wong Kar-Wai
"The Man Who Wasn't There" - The Coen Brothers
"Talk To Her" - Pedro Almodovar
"City of God" - Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund.
"Dogville" - Lars Von Trier
"Cache" - Michael Haneke
"Volver" - Pedro Almodovar
"There Will Be Blood" - Paul Thomas Anderson
"Che" - Steven Soderbergh
Again, that's only if you simply list out our #1s. It's not accurate, but it's interesting to look at. Obviously if we did a true decade list we wouldn't necessarily pick a film from each year; the lists themselves were never made on a voting system anyhow, so don't quibble or freak out too much. If anything, they would be closer to the EIC's personal list, but even then it would be off — surely posting this at all is opening a can of worms, but oh well... At the end of the day it should really only stimulate civil discussion.
And last but not least, here's one more plug for our old Playlist Soundtrack Series, which is an excellent mixtape Holiday present if you don't already have it for some reason.
Happy holidays to all and thanks for tuning in this year. We hope you'll do the same in 2010.
Most who saw "Avatar" this weekend were blindsided by a trailer for what's probably the most low-key Tom Cruise film in a decade, the James Mangold-directed "Knight & Day." In the punchy, blockbustery clip, Cruise is some sort of secret agent who bumps into duck-faced civilian Cameron Diaz while on some sort of mission (impossible!). Eventually, she realizes that this handsome if creepily youthful-looking (praise Xenu!) action hero is going to have to save her from some shady people (Peter Sarsgaard) in order to return to her normal, car-chase-free life.
The project, originally titled "Wichita," is one of a host of Cruise projects he's been eying during what's ended up being a pretty long hiatus from the screen. Among those were the David Cronenberg-directed "The Matarese Circle," the action thriller "Edwin A. Salt" (now "Salt" with Angelina Jolie) and the action-thriller "The Tourist" that may have Johnny Depp attached. We're curious about "Knight & Day," which, judging by its trailer, seems to play fast and loose with large action set pieces and broad dumb comedy. Mangold ("Copland") has been attached to the film for awhile, with Patrick O'Neill's original script being re-written by Frank and Dana Fox ("What Happens In Vegas"), and then punched up by Scott Frank ("Out of Sight"). Catch the trailer below.
Matthew Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" played to a deafeningly positive reaction at the recent Butt-Numb-A-Thon (the temperamental Devin Faraci at CHUD gave it a rare "10 out of 10") and the promotional rollout is just beginning for the rest of the nerds awaiting the film's April release date. As expected, that's begun with an Internet-exclusive red-band trailer focusing on one of the many colorful characters in the "Kick-Ass" story, the ten year old Hit Girl played by Chloe Moretz. The trailer showcases more of what the early promo art and (terrible) source material has promised: tone-deaf irony, improbably reckless violence and young kids firing off four-letter words. The presence of Nicolas Cage playing slightly-unhinged remains the only attractive element of the entire package, but the whole thing reeks of "Wanted" leftovers. We do want to be wrong about this.
For the record, this clip is locked behind an Age-Gate, which does nothing to grown adults with the mentality of a fifteen year old, but, hey, that's Hollywood.
When Jim Jarmusch showed his 1989 film, "Mystery Train" at the Criterion Collection curated screening room at the All Tomorrow's Parties indie-rock festival in New York earlier this year, we assumed this was a good sign.
And it turns out it was more than just wishful thinking on our side. Criterion has announced via Facebook that "Mystery Train" will indeed come to the collection next summer.
When we released Jim Jarmusch’s films Down by Law and Night on Earth, the supplement Ask Jim, in which he answered questions viewers wrote in about his films, was so popular that we’ve decided to do it again. We are currently working on the special edition of Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, and we are wondering what questions you would like answered about the film. We can’t guarantee he will answer all (or any) of your questions on the release, but please post them in the comments here. Thanks for participating and look out for Criterion’s edition of Mystery Train this summer!Jarmusch's oblique, Memphis-set "Mystery Train," focuses on three stories connected by a local hotel and the spirit of Elvis Presley and also features acting turns from the Clash's Joe Strummer and a pair of late R&B greats, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Rufus Thomas. The film is divided into three sections "Far From Yokohama" (which features the Asian couple Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh — more than a decade later she would appear in Jarmusch's "The Limits of Control"); "A Ghost" (starting Roberto Begnini's wife Nicoletta Braschi and Elizabeth Bracco) and the final story "Lost In Space" which stars Steve Buscemi, a drunken Joe Strummer and Rick Aviles in a botched robbery attempt.
Truthfully, and other Playlisters may disagree, this is actually this writer's least favorite Jarmusch film, but whatever, that's relative, the more the merrier really. All of his films should get that fine Criterion treatment.
Other recent Criterion confirmations on their Facebook include Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film, "Week End" — perhaps his last great '60s classic and upcoming films by Jacques Rivette. We would give our left nut if they would finally release his elliptical 3 hours-plus classic, "Celine and Julie Go Boating," but it sounds like some Rivette is eventually coming (though some are taking this post as confirmation of Rivette's 12 hour and 45 minute opus, "Out 1" but that's pretty flimsy confirmation in our book). As always, the Criterion forum has an excellent list of potential titles. If the unsourced listing seems dubious, you can rest assured that many of the titles are hints that come from Criterion insiders or associates, and further details for many of them can be found in the Rumors And News section of the forum.
Our belated "Invictus" review. We saw this before regular limited release, but in the end were so indifferent about the film it took a long time to finish it.
While manipulative and high on a sports feelgood sentiment, Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" is still an occasionally genuinely rousing piece of work despite some severely distracting flaws. But it's also, in the end, rather unremarkable and unmemorable with low, long-tail resonance.
Neither a biopic of Nelson Mandela nor a rugby film — which is evident in the Anthony Peckham script — instead, the picture is a portrait of what it takes to inspire and unite the human spirit after years of deep-seated bitterness via apartheid.
In that conceit obviously lie cliches, formulaic sports-worn maneuvers, but also some genuinely earned moments of triumph.
The mannered picture begins with Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) in 1994, essentially one day after he is elected president of South Africa and just after a prologue on the state of the nation — apartheid ended approximately four years earlier, but resent, bitterness, and mistrust still rule the nation. The white minority — who still control most of the economy and power — are either fearful of black reprisal or disgusted that a "terrorist" has taken office. The black majority are vengeful and eager to effect sweeping change within the country that eradicates many symbols of White South African pride.
Mandela, imprisoned for decades on the Robben Island prison, is all too aware of the national schism and sensing the growing discord — crime and unemployment begin to rise and the economy teeters with uncertainty — his first step in "healing the nation" is to do everything in his power to soothe racial frictions. His first appeals are to his own black Africans asking them to rise up and turn the other cheek — invoking a Gandhi-like mantra of not making the same mistakes in retribution.
Realizing his all-black security team is the most visible of his staff, one of his first acts — much to the chagrin of his existing security team — is to hire white members of the Special Branch forces that, in some cases, tried to threaten their lives in the past. Mandela also appeals to everyone in the white house staff, and former employees under President de Klerk, that they should not fear for their jobs — each white employee, many of them already half-packed, are asked to stay on board. "Your country needs you," is Mandela's plea and thus begins a healing which Mandela dubs "the rainbow nation."
While the presidential affairs keep him preoccupied, unity is constantly on his mind and the manner in which to bridge this divide. Evincing foresight that no one seems to understand at the time, Mandela makes a curious move when he intervenes within the affairs of the national rugby coalition who are aiming to not only change the name of the national Springbok team, but change their colors, as to blacks they are deep-rooted symbols of apartheid and oppression.
But keenly understanding that this move would only further divide the nation, Mandela decides to trump all decisions and keep the team and colors; essentially having a long-term plan to subvert and re-contextualize these symbols as emblems of unification and solidarity, but in these early days no one understands this plan. This is all of course the first act set-up and with his plan in place — fully aware that the ailing and underdog Springboks have been automatically entered into the World Cup because South Africa is the hosting nation — he seeks to bring the captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to his side in hopes of instilling some inspiration in his mediocre team.
And from there, "Invictus" becomes a fairly conventional and straight-forward sports drama. Mandela keeps impressing Pienaar with encouragement and illuminating words, the Captain slowly begins to understand what Mandela and blacks have gone through and begins to build a motivation and spark in his own team. The team is average, but gets better. The racial divide between the country — exemplified in Mandela's own warring security teams — is noxious, but gradually relationships become better over time. The film inches forward with these two concepts — an improving nation, an improving sports team, empowered by the soulful words of Mandela — and there are really very few surprises. It's not necessarily formulaic to the point of banality, but it's simply too foreseeable and kind of dull.
If there is one major tonal fault to the picture it's Eastwood's inability to balance mood. The first half is classic Eastwood; unsentimental, subtle to the point of missing key script moments (unless you've read it which we did) and no-nonsense craftsmanship. But his simple, forthright tone is disrupted at the midway point when over-amplified music cues, instructional, please-feel-this close-ups and slow-motion saturation begin to take hold and overwhelm. It's as if Eastwood decides to drop the subtle, mannered tenor half-way through in favor of manufactured arousal and emotional stirrings.
The accents are admittedly terrible and distracting. Matt Damon's is off, but at least he keeps an unwavering commitment to it (and overall, it's not that bad). Morgan Freeman on the other hand begins his sentences in the cadence of Nelson Mandela (a not great, but passable imitation), but then ends almost all of them sounding like himself. It's terribly distracting and takes you out of the picture often. And inexplicably, when Freeman reads the all-important "Invictus' poem that inspired the title of the film, he all but drops the accent in favor of his regular American voice. It's a very strange move.
Though Eastwood handles the story with his characteristically economic and staid, journeyman-like hand there are again, problems in that second half. While the use of music is spare initially the second half has some dubious choices including a cornball-ish track called "Color Blind" that arrives in a key scene where Mandela visits the Springboks team unannounced in a helicopter (coming down from the heavens to imbue them with spiritual elevation). Lyrically and sonically on-the-nose, the melodramatic anthem is far too obvious, it's a troublesome moment (that sort of nicely captures the problems that begin midway). While Damon is competent (and noticeably beefed up) in the role of the spiritually-moved rugby captain, Freeman doesn't inhabit the role of Mandela the way one would hope. Perhaps its because Mandela is one of the most well-known figures in the world (and again, Freeman's accent is very off), the suspension of disbelief is hard to achieve and the story is consequently that less engaging.
Eastwood's spare tone goes awry again in another significant moment when Pienaar and his team visit the grim Robben Island prison where Mandela was incarcerated for almost three decades and misfires with the ill-conceived choice of superimposing "memory" moments of Mandela in his prison garb while Pienaar solemnly reflects out the prison bars presumably thinking, "boy, we were major assholes to these people, I feel mighty guilty, maybe I should win the World Cup as a form of forgiveness."
Its too much (obviously), looks odd and again, as part of that second half, doesn't feel in keeping with the rest of the film's tenor, and you begin to care less and less.
Another small issue is the stadium moments where continuous shots of a 60,000 strong crowd are rendered in randomly programmed CGI moments that feel like you're in the middle of a FIFA '98 video game. While these complaints may sound like quibbles, it all adds up to a second half that dials up the energy and in some ways feels like its attempting to force-feed the audience the stirring feelings of inspiration.
"Invictus," the title coming from a poem of resolve written by William Ernest Henley that Mandela read to himself in times of darkness, can be genuinely stirring, but in part from all the trappings that come with sports movies cliches about teams banding together to come from behind to defy the odds. Add a racial element to it — a team that "heals a nation" — and you're treading on some dangerously thin and hokey, not to mention potentially insulting, ideological ice (it's not like South Africa is magically ok now, the country is still deeply burdened to this day with a major racial discordance).
Mandela's skeptical and opposing black and white security are at each others throats at the beginning of the picture and we're not mildly surprised when the at-odds forces are practically best-friends-forever at the end of the picture. "Invictus" is not a bad picture, though it does feature some lulls, its just one that in a year of pretty memorable pictures (despite all the weak ones, many of them mainstream films) becomes rather forgettable a day after the crowd-capacity noise and sweet celebratory victory fumes have died away.
Morgan Freeman appears to be a lock for a Best Actor nomination for "Invictus" which is a shame because it will bounce his buddy Damon out of the running; his turn as the bi-polar, unreliable narrator in Soderbergh's "The Informant" is infinitely more interesting and unique, but Freeman pretty much gets a pass for whatever he does, which is getting more than a little tired. Damon might be just average in "Invictus" (nominations should pass him by for it), but it's sad to see a bolder turn in another film get overlooked for this unremarkable performance. And "Invictus" itself will probably be nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, but why? It's such a mild effort overall. Something more deserving should certainly be there in its place. [B-]
Catching up on the catching up. Sundance has announced three last minute additions to their lineup. Sundance Director John Cooper explains their game time decision.
"When the opportunity to screen the latest films from three extremely innovative storytellers presented itself, we knew we could not deny our audiences. As an added bonus, all three are alumni of the Festival, so we are thrilled to be able to support them returning to Sundance with their newest work."The first addition is "It's A Wonderful Afterlife," from Kenyan/British director Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham," "Bride & Prejudice") and starring Sally Hawkins. 'Afterlife' is a horror/comedy about, "an Indian mother who takes her obsession with marriage into the world of serial murder." Next is the rom-com "The Romantics" starring Anna Paquin, Katie Holmes, Malin Akerman, Adam Brody, Elijah Wood, and Josh Duhamel (another first look to your right). Possibly not our cup o' tea but we'll see how Sundance audiences react as that is a very decent cast.
We've gotten a lot of flack from a certain contingent of Terry Gilliam fanboys for our supposed agenda against the director, but the truth is, we're not out for blood, and we certainly never want an inventive and unique filmmaker like Gilliam to fail. All that said, we review what's on the screen, not the guy who made it, and as much as we love him, "The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus" is a pretty major misfire.
As with most Gilliam films (especially lately), the story behind it has ended up being more intriguing than the resulting picture onscreen. Stalled, and then eventually rebooted after the death of Heath Ledger, Gilliam's film in every way feels like a picture made under duress. Oddly paced, with a narrative that seems to unfold in the most unnecessarily convoluted way possible, you practically hear the cogs of the plot creaking to accommodate working around Ledger's death. While the solution sort of works for most of the film, the final act of the film is seriously hampered by Ledger's absence, causing a dramatic shift in focus that doesn't quite make sense with the rest of the film (that already has a hard time trying to figure out who the protagonist is).
The film's opening twenty to thirty minutes are easily its worst and most lugubrious. Achingly slow and over-explained, the first quarter of the film, in exacting detail, sets up the characters and in particular shows us how Tony (Heath Ledger) joins Dr. Parnassus' (Christopher Plummer) merry band of travelers. A lot of the character set up here (sort of) pays off down the road, but there is nothing in the opening that couldn't easily be cut in half. Anyway, we learn here of Parnassus' deal with the devil aka Mr. Nick (played on autopilot by Tom Waits) where in exchange for everlasting life, his firstborn will become Nick's at the age of sixteen. If the trailer can explain this in twenty seconds, we're not sure why we needed a half-hour of needless background here.
The film doesn't really come to life until Tony, who is sort of a "chosen one" revamps Dr. Parnassus' wheezing sideshow for modern day London audiences who are allured by the razzle dazzle and the promise of something money can't buy. As the new show is launching, Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick renegotiate their deal so that the first one to "five souls" wins. Tony's sexier and flashier new show starts to bring the souls in, who get to live out their wildest fantasies by stepping through a funhouse mirror.
Guided by Tony on the other side (the fantasy sequences are largely where we get the scenes from the 11th hour additions of Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell), their dreams are made tangible (by some lackluster CGI) and they can explore and walk through the environment. Disappointingly, none of these dreamworlds are particularly memorable. One rich lady loves shoes, so when she walks through she's in a world of giant shoes....um, kind of funny but really? You're going to blow your special effects budget on big, fake looking shoes? So overwhelmed by what they've seen, the ladies (no men seem to want to go through the mirror, despite one of the spectacles of the show being a nude and comely Lily Cole) come out of the mirror and empty their purses into the donation bin. Things are going swimmingly until some gangsters (don't ask, its another subplot that's sort of important but ends up being forgotten) cause trouble and shut things down before Parnassus can get the last soul he needs.
From here, the film goes positively off the deep end. As we mentioned the film has a difficult time fixing itself on one character's journey and instead seems to want to focus on all of them. So we have Valentina's (Cole) coming of age; Dr. Parnassus' eternal struggle with the Devil and Tony's path to redemption (did we mention he's an amnesiac charity head that disappeared under a cloud of scandal? This is what we mean by convoluted) all vying for attention and all unsatisfactorily handled.
Earlier parts of the film where Valentina dreams of a normal life with a house and husband are left behind after she meets Tony; but Tony is sort of forgotten once the film begins to focus on the battle between Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick. Then there is Anton (Andrew Garfield) who is also vying for Valentina's affections but he seems to gum up the works whenever it seems convenient to add a few more minutes to the running time. Eventually, the plot ties itself up, sort of, with a cornball ending that leaves you wondering how much better the film would've been had Ledger survived to finish it.
The EIC reviewed the film after seeing it at TIFF, and we do agree with his final assessment that aside from strong performances by Cole, Farrell (and Ledger too) the film is really a third or fourth-rate Gilliam effort. While our EIC found the effects work to be lacking, we don't think it was that bad, and we've certainly seen far worse (on much higher budgets). The biggest fault of the CGI is that its just really not all that memorable or exciting.
We feel for Terry Gilliam, because there was probably a really good film in here, but once again, circumstances outside of the director's control forced him to greatly compromise his original concept. We just hope his next picture can make it from beginning to end without natural disasters, studio interference or acts of Gods getting in the way. [C]
Well, this is sort of weird news. In an interview with MTV, pop-punk band All Time Low (who we actually never heard until we were forced to hit their MySpace page to write this article - ugh - is this what kids listen to these days?) have written a song for Tim Burton's forthcoming "Alice In Wonderland."
The band (who seemingly never saw any other band do the tightie whitie press photo thing) says that the song was written specifically for the film, but isn't necessarily about a particular character or story, but does acknowledge it broadly. According to frontman, Alex Gaskarth, "The song definitely references ideas from the film and from the story, but I wouldn't say that it's obvious." The band was not able to see footage from the film, nor was even told where the song might be used. Needless to say, it's not a 100% done deal that the song will even appear.
But this revelation does give the film an intriguing aspect. While longtime Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman is scoring the soundtrack, is there going to be a mix of contemporary songs too? Or is there a "Music Inspired By" release in the works not unlike the "Nightmare Revisited" soundtrack that came out a couple of years ago, featuring new versions of songs from "A Nightmare Before Christmas"? We're going to guess the latter, and if All Time Low is indicative of the talent, it will probably be awful.
We'll have to wait to find out, but in the meantime, have a listen to Fiona Apple's take on "Sally's Song" which is one of the few songs worth mentioning from "Nightmare Revisited":
Crisp in rhythm, relatively clever, quick-footed and first and foremost entertaining, Warner Bros. has done an aces job of hiding what they actually have in "Sherlock Holmes" — a competently intelligent, dark and dynamic action thriller — and managed to sell it as a more-appealing adventure buddy comedy. And yes, while the film does contain elements of that — it's occasionally goofy — it's much more genuinely amusing and satisfying than we would have imagined (yes, we were wrong and happy to admit it, but hey, with a 7/11 Tacquitos tie-in, cornball trailers and terrible posters, you have to admit they hoodwinked us all).
If director Guy Ritchie's sly, premeditated plan was to reposition himself near the top of Hollywood's A-list with an above-action pulp thriller that should please critics and, especially, fans he's definitely succeeded. 'Holmes' is certainly his most successful front-to-back picture since "Snatch" in 2000 — everything in-between was either forgettable or terrible — and it accomplishes what it sets out to be: a taut crowdpleaser.
Adding strong actors to the mix — Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams are all quite good — and including some shadowy, credible aesthetics in the picture (dank, wet and cold London is captured exceedingly well), Ritchie takes average material and elevates it beyond potentially embarrassing levels (several possibly dubious elements from the original screenplay were wisely jettisoned in the final version).
While one doesn't want to throw around "The Dark Knight" comparisons too lightly, one could argue that "Sherlock Holmes" is a good synthesis of the elements that worked in "Batman Begins" and the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" picture.
Not wasting time setting events into motion, "Sherlock Holmes" kicks into gear minute one with the world famous detective and his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson putting a stop to a virginal ritual put on by the mysterious and macabre master of the dark arts, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). This is supposed to be the final case for Sherlock and Watson as the latter is engaged to be married, but unfinished business arises when Blackwood, thought to have been hanged for his crimes, is inexplicably and mystically raised from the dead. His resurrection causes widespread panic in London and a plot driven by fear — shades of war on terror tactics — is soon afoot. Holmes is naturally compelled to solve the riddle of how Blackwood has returned — using of course some logic, some fisticuffs and dismissing the supernatural worries — and Watson reluctantly follows suit. It's a facile set-up really, but it generally works.
While there are flawed and silly elements — the film's conclusion reveals a story simply in service of a sequel, the 'Matrix'-like, flash cuts of how Holmes' mind solves the riddles being rather ridiculous — the fact remains that the Ritchie picture is largely exciting, compelling and enjoyable.
The buddy elements — the much-discussed bromance if you will — are actually quite subtle, believable and well-balanced, thanks to the two actors who complement each other quite well. These components, and most facets of the picture are way less broad than you'd expect (again, the trailers was selling something much more comical and lame-brained).
Overly-stylish and on-the-nose moments do exist, but thankfully they're kept to a minimum. Holmes explaining to the audience how he will disarm an opponent methodically in slow-motion and then Holmes actually dispatching that victim via speed ramping— is one device utilized to convey how calculated and shrewd Holmes is, but by and large, Ritchie wisely keeps his stylistic tics mostly in check. And they do not overshadow the, ahem, story.
'Holmes' is bigger on relationships and interactions than it is on plot — catch the big bad satanic baddy (Strong) who has mysteriously risen from the dead and is now coveting world domination via fearmongering is essentially the complexity of the story, but it almost matters not. 'Holmes' is so quick-moving, witty and sharp (relatively of course, for a mainstream tent-pole) that it basically becomes an enlivening, pulpy and twisty detective story through the backstreets of London replete with assorted sundry types trying to thwart the duo.
The film's best narrative device is its friction between the two protagonists. Jude Law's Watson is about to be engaged and end his detective career and the brilliant, but boorish Holmes — prone to drinking, hermitude and late night fisticuffs to blow off steam — is a bit lost without his best friend. It's, ahem, an elementary internal conflict for the good guys, but it adds another layer and most importantly it feels genuine and works (there's a few moment of sorrow that RDJ evinces that are some surprisingly effective moments of acting too).
Likewise the tête-à-tête that Holmes and his adversary/paramour Irene Adler (McAdams) enjoy is charming and comical and their witty and contentious repartee is diverting.
If 'Holmes' suffers from a bit thin and convoluted narrative and its character super-deductive skills are far-fetched and somewhat ludicrous, it matters little as the film lives and dies on the strength of its two protagonists and the Downey Jr. and Law chemistry is rather magnetic.
Huge plaudits go to Hans Zimmer's score and he might be the picture's ace in the hole. Utilizing a dark, propulsive score not unlike his work in "The Dark Knight," Zimmer takes potentially placid moments and imbues them with a racing urgency and trembling electricity. If "Sherlock Holmes" is a terrific mystery thriller, a big part of that credit is due to Zimmer's brawny and sturdy compositions (okay the "clowny" sections employing a lot of accordion to convey the whimsical nature of Holmes leave a lot to be desired, but overall, a smaller quibble).
Kudos also go to Warners, Ritchie and even, yup, producer Joel Silver for wisely employing the dark super hero vibe displayed in recent "X-Men" and Batman films — the look and feel of 'Holmes' is admirably unprettyfied and therefore genuine — but knowing also how to perfectly calibrate that tone and effect to its best use and owning its own unique tenor that blends clowny whimsy with tense tautness (and isn't dark for the sake of it).
If "Avatar" wasn't around "Sherlock Holmes" would surely be the blockbuster of the winter and regardless, its dark, enjoyable escapist vibe should net a large audience and take a sizable cut out of James Cameron's second week box-office haul. Certainly 'Holmes' isn't brilliant, but next to the facile aspects of "Avatar," it feels rather sophisticated. [B]
We we first heard that that a remake of "Straw Dogs" was in the works, with James Marsden in the lead we were less than impressed. Frankly, we still think the whole exercise is a waste of time and judging by some recent comments by Alexander Skarsgård, our prediction that the original film's (controversially) sociological bite seems to be true.
In the original film, Dustin Hoffman played the lead role of man who is forced to violently reckon with his own masculinity after his wife is brutally raped and he must defend his home against the perpetrators. Sam Peckinpah's film is bracing and shocking - even by today's standards - not only by its graphic violence, but by the ideas - about female sexuality and masculine ideals - that is so forthrightly put on display.
The remake considerably downgrades the talent involved with Marsden and Rod Lurie, substituting for Hoffman and Peckinpah. Kate Bosworth plays the wife, while Skarsgård plays the wife's ex-boyfriend. In a recent interview with BlackBook, Skarsgård says that Rod Lurie's film is not a direct remake, and seems to play up the love triangle aspect of the original:
So that movie you were talking about in Shreveport was Straw Dogs. Tell me about that.From what we recall of the original, there was no "love triangle drama." The fact it seems to be played up here, points to a distinct reduction of the original's much more universal (and again, controversial) message about the nature of violence and men, into a personal issue. This is usually the part where we try to say something nice about the film, but we're not going to bother. It's a bad idea, that just seems to be getting worse the more we hear about it.
It’s a remake and it’s not. Rod Lurie wrote it and directed it, and you can’t just copy a Sam Peckinpah movie because there’s really no point in doing that. You have to add something and I think Rod did. What attracted me to it is that there’s also a love triangle drama there. My character had a history with Kate Bosworth’s character. They dated for many years, she leaves and she comes back ten years later with James Marsden’s character who’s a screenwriter from Hollywood. It’s a culture clash.
Skarsgård also talked briefly about "Thor," and reveals that he was "very close to getting it":
If I heard correctly, your dad was just cast in Thor and you were in the running for that title character, what did you think about that prospect?
I was very flattered. I know that they considered me for the part and I got, from what I understand, very close to getting it and that’s amazing because I know how many guys they look at for a part like that. I was very humbled by that. It was a great experience and you know you win some you lose some, of course I wanted to do that but…
Did you actually audition for it?
Oh yeah, many, many times.
So there you go. Eric from "True Blood," was very nearly "Thor". His dad, Stellan is in the film as Professor Andrew Ford, while the relatively untested Chris Hemsworth is going to wear the pointy hat.
Here is your first look at Peter Weir's upcoming WWII-prison-escape-epic "The Way Back," courtesy of Quiet Earth.
Starring the likes of Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan, the film is based on a true story and centers on a group of seven prisoners who escape a Siberian labor camp in 1940 and attempt to trek thousands of miles across hostile terrain to India and their freedom. The script reportedly draws from "The Long Walk," a book telling the real story of one of the trek's survivors, Slavomir Rawicz.
The film will be Weir's first since 2003's "Master And Commander" and sees Harris playing an American inmate, Farrell a bad-boy Russian, Sturgess a Polish prisoner and Ronan a young Russian on the run who meets up with the fugitives. Versatile Brit actor Mark Strong has evidently also joined the cast after the initial announcement.
"The Way Back" shot earlier this year in Bulgaria, Morocco and India and should see release sometime in 2010.