Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Movie Report Card 2015

“Mad Max: Fury Road” & “Inside Out”
Summer 2015 might very well be seen as the return of the classic summer blockbuster. Just like in 2008 when The Dark Knight and WALL-E blew audiences away as twin pinnacles of pop culture triumph, two movies this year have again changed the game in regard to action and animation. “Mad Max” ramped up the way action can be done, shaming every superhero movie in its path and creating a new language for the genre. “Inside Out” showed us that an animated film for kids could be visionary, trippy and audacious enough to inspire profound analytical essays. “Mad Max’s” nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, was very much George Miller’s personal triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brought to every frame was obsessively meticulous, as was the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as things now stand – deserves serious consideration for next year’s Film Editing Oscar. As the brainiest, trippiest movie Pixar has ever made, “Inside Out” is mandatory viewing for any psych student.
“Amy” & “The Look of Silence”
With respect to non-fiction films it’s impossible to choose between two drastically different documentaries. “Amy” is virtually the first of its kind, a tragic examination of the late singer’s life, composed entirely of footage shot by Amy and her friends and directed and assembled with immeasurable passion by Asif Kapadia. The late 27-year-old singer/songwriter was an unmatched talent but tormented by the most torturous inner demons imaginable. This compulsively watchable film exemplifies the next evolution in documentary, one in which each key milestone of a life is recorded with phone or camcorder by the subject herself, and then this wealth of first-hand material is shaped by a talented director into a touching portrait. Kapadia doesn’t show talking heads as they’re being interviewed; instead he lets us listen to the interviewee while Amy’s personal footage plays in counterpoint onscreen. Don’t be surprised if we get more of these kind of documentaries in the years to come, as we seem to be part of a generation that wants everything recorded and instantly mementoed.
“The Look of Silence” is Joshua Oppenheimer’s sequel to “The Act of Killing,” and he once again addresses the Indonesian genocide of the mid-1960s that killed millions. If the first film dealt with the perpetrators this one is about the victims, as a man who lost his brother in the killings tries to track down the perpetrators through research and in-your-face interviews. The truth isn’t easy and a final confrontation had me almost looking away, but the interviews are the highlights as they bring back a past that most of the perpetrators are in denial about. If there is a more important, contemplative, and meditative film about human nature this year, I sadly haven’t seen it. This isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an essential one. It represents one of the reasons I hope we all go to the movies — to face hard truths and cold facts that might otherwise be forgotten. Oppenheimer is quickly becoming a world-class filmmaker with these important films and the potential significance they bring to society is almost beyond words.
Paul Dano & Ian McKellen
Paul Dano embodies Brian Wilson so brilliantly in his performance that you may actually forget you are watching a movie. Giving us another memorable performance, his depiction of Wilson is that of a wide-eyed kid being slowly stripped of his innocence by obsessive artistic creativity. His absence is clearly felt whenever he’s not on screen, as is the freewheelin’ nature of the “Pet Sounds” recording sessions where the actor basically becomes Wilson: a man so possessed and infatuated with getting the perfect sound that it ultimately became the tool of his undoing.
Ian McKellen delivers an equally impressive performance as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in “Mr. Holmes.” Although the film itself may strike some as slight and is mostly focused on one character, McKellen understands how to make these aspects work to his advantage, creating a portrayal which is nothing short of mesmerizing. With his natural wrinkles serving as craggy foundation for the extra decades added by make-up magicians, 76-year-old McKellen portrays a Holmes suffering from a failing memory and a case that still haunts him to this day. No offense to Benedict Cumberbatch, always great as our modernized Holmes, but McKellen seems to inhabit this iconic character as perfectly as it’s ever been seen onscreen. Many of us still say to this day that he was robbed of the Best Actor prize back in 1999, when he broke our hearts in Bill Condon’s unforgettable “Gods and Monsters,” losing to Roberto Benigni. With Mr. Holmes, McKellan is in an excellent position to grab his third nomination.
Charlize Theron, “Mad Max Fury Road”
Charlize Theron & Lily Tomlin
All hail, Charlize Theron as the baddest of badasses. Proving that her win for “Monster” was no fluke, the 40-year-old actress owned George Miller’s action extravaganza as Imperator Furiosa. Despite the franchise title, the Fury Road wasn’t about Max, it was about her, and even in the quieter moments, not many of them, she found a way to say so much with so little dialogue. Her face weary and worn, but her spirit undiminished, she is an Ellen Ripley for the 21st century, a role model that we want follow anywhere she takes us and of course the empress of all things awesome. The feminist subtext of the film might have turned off a few too many fanboys, but isn’t that another reason to love this performance?
If I say that 75-year-old Lily Tomlin has never been better than in this phenomenal movie by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) would you be impressed? Well you should be, because Tomlin’s had a phenomenal career: “Nashville,” “The Late Show,” “9 to 5,” “All of Me,” and “Flirting With Disaster” have all had a little Tomlin-esque spiciness sprinkled at their core and all the better for it. What she does in “Grandma” is heartbreaking and nothing short of astounding. She brings the spiky, zesty nature she’s always been known for, but plays with our emotions until we reach a finale that seals the deal on the truly amazing quality of her work. I went into the movie not knowing much about it, so I’ll allow you the same benefit. But expect a torrent of awards love to come her way in the months to come. The film opens in theaters next Friday.
“Shaun of the Sheep” & “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation”
It’s almost not fair to ask another animated movie to contend with Pixar when the two are just a few months apart, but I will say that “Shaun of the Sheep” is well worth your time and features some of the best dialogue-free scenes in recent memory. In fact, the film has scarcely any dialogue at all. It relies on its visuals to entertain and does a a marvelous job at that. Some seriously Chaplin-esque stuff here, sure to please the kids, and some undeniably adult humor to be appreciated by grownups. The stop-motion animation is breathtakingly beautiful with layers of details in ever frame. I’d probably put this in an exclusive category of stop-motion classics such as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Chicken Run,” “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and of course “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
I’ll get this out of the way early: I honestly think Tom Cruise is a great actor. He’s passionate about the quality of his work and really works to bring the best product to his legions of fans. “Rogue Nation” has ridiculously good action sequences and exhilarating stunts performed by Cruise. Every detail is put together in such a professional, meticulously stylish way. This is the type of movie you go into expecting over-the-top action sequences, especially after seeing the great ones delivered in “Ghost Protocol,” and the movie definitely delivers by exceeding those expectations. The movie does not have the strong thematic undertones and production design of “Fury Road,” and — again — the plot is definitely the weak link, but it does have some of the best action sequences of the year. I wish more summer blockbusters had this much effort and artistry on display. The multiplex would be a much better place.
“The Gift”
The biggest surprise of the summer is, sadly, a movie that many people have not heard much about. With 108 reviews on RottenTomatoes “The Gift” has an outstanding RT rating of 93%. Its metascore on Metacritic stands at 79. So what happened between the critics and audience awareness? As with most mini-budget movies, the marketing was micro — but despite that unavoidable reality, it ranked #3 at the box-office when it premiered and since earned an impressive $28 million on a budget investment of $5 million. Directed by “Zero Dark Thirty” actor Joel Edgerton, “The Gift” is a tense, creepy psychological thriller that has so many twists and turns in its screenplay that you never know what’s coming next. Edgerton directed, produced, wrote and starred in a movie so inspired that it’s reminiscent of Hitchcock and “The Turn of the Screw.” Starring Jason Bateman and the vastly undervalued Rebecca Hall, “The Gift” is a razor-sharp dissection of marriage and friendship that reminds us how we can never escape our past secrets. Go in knowing as little as possible and come out knowing more than you were prepared to find out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dopest hip-hop movie "Straight Outta Compton"

Straight Outta Compton box office 10 Dope Movies About Hip Hop

Straight Outta Compton‘s success has stunned the industry as a whole. Its $60 million opening weekend defied all predictions and dethroned Mission: Impossible at the top of the box office. A wave of industry pros were left scratching their heads and rethinking what the winning formula of a summer blockbuster can be made of. Compton is 150 minutes long, has a mostly black cast and an R rating. Perhaps summer blockbusters can be more diverse than we previously thought?

Eazy-E, Dr.Dre and Ice Cube epitomized gangsta rap in the late ’80s as the West Coast gangsta rap group NWA. They brought it to the centerfold of the American conversation with songs such as “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. In this summer’s surprise hit movie, Straight Outta Compton, their story is told with such in-your-face vigor and bravado that it almost feels like a gangsta rap companion piece to Goodfellas. Directed by F. Gary Gray, who directed some of Ice Cube’s most famous ‘90s music videos, the film recounts the day when the trio we’re the talk of the nation, eluding questions about police brutality and black poverty.

Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) was the founder, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s son) was the lyricist and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) had the sick beats that nobody could touch. They eventually all went their separate ways, but not without making a mark in music forever. The centerpiece of the film is a concert in Detroit where the group is threatened by Detroit Police not to play “F*** Tha Police” under threat of arrest. Guess what they do?

Stop-Motion Animation & "Shaun the Sheep"

With the release of the well-received "Shaun the Sheep" out in theaters right now, we figured it would be a good time to look back at the very best that stop-motion animation had to offer us over the years. This isn't a new technique by any stretch of the imagination. There have been many examples and stories of the claymation art being used almost a century ago, most notably in 1933's King Kong, which had animator Willis O'Brien creating the aforementioned monster-sized ape via the stop-motion animation art. Here are five movies that made unequivocally beautiful art out of it.

Chicken Run (2000)

Chickens run amok! What better way to start this list than with the 2000 gem starring Mel Gibson as the leader of a flock of feathered birds trying to get out of the horrid conditions at their farm. If time runs out they're going to be chicken pie, which is actually what the farmers make out of these chickens. Yikes. It's The Great Escape poultry style, with an added dash of British wit. How can you go wrong with that? Gibson works up his charm and stop-motion animation filmmaker extraordinaires Peter Lord and Nick Park seem to be having a blast creating visual miracles with the animation.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

At the time of this movie's release, Wallace and Gromit were well-known in the U.K. for their kooky antics on TV, but mainstream American audiences were first introduced to the duo via The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a visually stunning and imaginative stop-motion Animation masterpiece. The tale of a cheery British man and his sly, silent, but surprisingly smart dog radiated the screen with enough genius and wit that it scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. In this adventure, the duo accidentally create a Frankenstein-like rabbit that terrorizes the town. The visual miracles that spring forth are splendidly devised, all thanks to Nick Park and Steve Box.

Shaun the Sheep (2015)

Now in theaters is Shaun the Sheep, which features some of the best dialogue-free scenes in recent memory. The film has scarcely any spoken words, as it just relies on its visuals to entertain us, and does a marvelous job at that. Clearly influenced by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton's physical screwball comedy, directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton have fashioned a classic out of such a simple story. A complete freak accident sends a farmer tumbling down the road to a bigger city where he loses all memory of his life and accidentally becomes a famous hairdresser for the celebrities. It's up to his flock of sheep to get him back to the farm, but not without going through the most insanely crafted screwball adventures imaginable. Just like Wallace and Gromit, the cast of characters were well known in the U.K. prior to the film's release, but if audience reaction and the deluge of rave reviews is any indication, this won't be the last we hear of them.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

When it comes to Christmas counter-programming on television during the holiday season, it's really hard to top Henry Selick's classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The story of Jack Skellington from Halloween Town who opens up a portal and discovers Christmas Town, a holiday which springs up new feelings and ideals in him, is an imaginative romp with the the most insanely designed characters imaginable. The musical numbers are inventive, especially the highlight "This is Halloween". Produced by Tim Burton, the film has the gothic, darkly humorous feel of a Burton production, right down to the spirit of the film, which is a sort of ode or love letter to dread, darkness, and holiday spirit. How much more Burton-esque can you get?

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson had just finished making The Darjeeling Limited when he embarked on an ambitious adventure: adapting Roald Dahl's classic The Fantastic Mr. Fox into a feature film. The decision to make it using stop-motion animation turned out to be an inspiring one. George Clooney voices the titular Fox, a character so ingrained in helping his family survive that he decides to go on one last heist, this one involving the three biggest farmers around. The pi├Ęce de resistance is the Apple Cider farm which ends the film on an exuberantly high note and features a chase scene worthy of any one I've seen in movies. The soundtrack is impeccable, the screenplay is witty and fun, and the voice acting is tremendous with a who's who of actors: the aforementioned Clooney, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, and Bill Murray as Clive Badger.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Top 10 movies destroyed by studio meddling

Alien 3 (1992)
After becoming a music video boy-genius David Fincher was a hot commodity for any major studio on Hollywood. His visual flair struck many as potentially game changing, but the project he decided to pick for his directorial debut has since become the only bad movie of his career. "Alien 3" had countless re-shoots and rewrites, most of which weren't Fincher's decision, even worse the creative differences Fincher faced with studio executives is now the stuff of legendary stories. It is then not very surprising that Fincher immediately disowned the film and has since released his own cut called "The Assembly Cut" which improved upon the original in terms of tying together plot holes amd character development, but still missed the spark that would ignite many of the eventual great movies he would eventually make in his career.
Blade Runner (1982)
Upon its release in 1982 "Blade Runner" had so much studio interference that its history is the stuff of legend. Receiving mixed reviews the film came and went upon release, but ended up receiving a cult following on home video - which got Scott amped up and screeing his own versions to audiences around the country for the next few years. There have been several versions of "Blade Runner", seven to be more specific, but the ultimate version will always be the "Final Cut" which got rid of the narration, left us with an extra final brilliant shot and fixed many of the plot holes present I'm the original.  It was the only time director Ridley Scott ever had total freedom in the editing room for the film and it would only come 25 years after its release.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
This might be the most butchered film by an American studio on the list. The original version ran for 229 minutes, an epic to say the least, and featured character development that got completely cut off and disjointed by the 139 minute American version. That's right, more than 1 hour and 30 minutes of footage gone. Some of the highlights of the original got completely cut off: A big chunk of the childhood scenes were not to be found, as was the famous garbage truck scene with Bailey which concludes the film on a more ambiguous, talked about note. Europeans got to see the final cut of Sergio Leone's classic, but Americans didn't. However,  time has been good to the film as most people now tend to seek the 4 hour version instead of the butchered 1984 version which is clearly and justifyingly hard to find.
Brazil (1986)
Terry Gilliam has never hidden the fact that he had problems with the studio while making 1985's "Brazil". His 142 minute cut, which Criterion released in beautiful pristine quality, is well known as a visionary sci-fi classic that paved the way and influenced a generation to come. Much of the problems had to do with the film's ending which Gilliam refused to change. The story goes that the fighting persisted throughout the year until Gilliam decided to screen his cut -in secrecy- for the L.A Film critics, which prompted them to name "Brazil" the Best Picture of 1985 and had audience and critics demanding its release. The studuo finally gave in and release the damn thing. The rest -ands they say- is history.
All The Pretty Horses (2000)
Billy Bob Thornton wanted to followup his directorial debut "Sling Blade" with an adaptation of "All the Pretty Horses", a Cromac McCarthy novel that many said was unfilmable. Thornton's original version ran nearly 4 hours, maybe the only way such a movie could have worked, but Harvey Weinstein quickly forced Thornton to cut it down to its eventual final cut of 116 minutes- Many say as payback for Thornton fighting and getting his version of "Sling Blade" released in 1996 despite Weinstein's disapproval.  That's more than half of "All The Pretty Horses" on the cutting room floor. Its star Matt Damon publicly came out and defended Thornton,  saying it wasn't fair that this much footage should be offed. Eventual efforts to get a director's cut on DVD have been tampered by the film's original music composer Daniel Lanois who refuses to have his score have anything to do with the movie. Yikes.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
The infamous movie that made United Artists declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood, "The Deer Hunter" cleaned up the Oscars and Cimino was thought to have had carte blanche for his next movie. Then "Heaven's Gate" happened. A monstrous failure who's backstage stories are the stuff of legend and of which we won't be able to get fully into here, maybe another list? One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn't interfere. His erratically insane behaviour concluded with a 5 hour and 25 minute cut of the film which Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 2 hour and 29 minute cut that was finally released in the fall of 1980 garnered terrible reviews.
Hancock (2008)
The studio meddling done with "Hancock" was brutally significant. The first directors cut tackled the title character played by Will Smith as more of an anti-hero with questionable behavior and an overall unpleasant demeanor. The studio obviously didn't respond well to this cut, which quickly sent the film to the cutting room floor and tried to make the character more likeable.  The film went on to eventually make millions at the box office, but was it because of the new cut? Or just Will Smith's star power?  Way after its initial release details have come out about the studio pressure director John Lee Hancock had to face. All these stories only make us want a director's cut even more.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Much has been made about director Josh Trank's problems with Fox over this film. The story goes that Fox was unsatisfied with Trank's cut of the film and decided to completely take over and re-shoot key scenes- Trank was obviously unhappy and took to Twitter to voice his disapproval saying that "A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would've received great reviews. You'll probably never see it. That's reality though." The film has been one of the worst reviewed Hollywood movies in recent memory, raising doubt over an already announced sequel and cementing it as movie that will forever live in infamy.
Magnificent Ambersens (1942)
Your name is Orson Welles, you're 27 years old and your first movie was "Citizen Kane". You would think that with your second movie the studio would give you carte blanche and all the freedom that you need to bring your vision onscreen. Not exactly. "The Magnificent Ambersons" is the granddaddy of all studio interfered movies. Cutting almost an hour of footage from the original cut? check. Changing the downer ending for a happier ending? check. A Bernard Herrmann score heavily edited by the studio? check. Welles was highly affected by the disastrous studio meddling of his beloved film, one which he believed could have truly marked his career. "They destroyed 'Ambersons,' and 'it' destroyed me." he later said.

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