Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall 2012 Movie Preview

I've been seeing this storyline from critics, over and over, of how TV has displaced the movies as the top dog in our visual kennel.  Generally, I don't buy it--there is more crap than ever on TV, and a higher percentage of it, too, though I will admit that there are more interesting dramatic series than previously (but less good situation comedy, variety, or live performance).  And don't even get me started about "reality" TV or the surfeit of forensic crime shows!

 I see this fall as being an extremely exciting season for film, as the good stuff comes out.   We start with a couple of supergroup-type productions with superb stories to tell.

Five Films I'm Eager to See

1)  Lincoln, (release date 11/9)- Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis, in the story of America's greatest President, screenplay by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Over-under on the Academy Awards is seven. Not just that, though:  Something like this has the potential to do more than just entertain us for a couple of hours (the most one could've hoped from last year's Best Picture, The Artist).  The last days of President Lincoln is a story for the ages (ours included), one that few, if any,  have dared to dramatize.

Gala looking at the Mediterranean Sea which at a distance of 20 meters is transformed into the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko) by Salvador Dali (in the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla.) courtesy of a money bomb email from Alan Grayson.

Step back from your screen a few meters and try it.

2) Cloud Atlas - (10/26) - based on one of my absolute favorite novels of the last 20 years (and one of the pillars of this blog) by David Mitchell, starring Tom Hanks (in about six roles), Halle Berry, directed by Tom Twyker (of Run Lola Run fame) .  Produced by the Wachowskis (of Matrix fame).

To be honest, this is one that might be done better as a miniseries on TV (six-part); the stories span  hundreds of years of history, something resembling the present, and the near and distant future.  It could be a big mess, confusing even to those who already know the stories.  At least the Wachowskis won't skimp on the budget.

On the other hand, this movie may animate something along the lines of the novel's aspiration--nothing less than a change in human nature and in the way the world operates, bringing understanding to the causes, the nature, and the ultimately self-destructive result of the exploitation of others. 

3) Argo - (10/12) - A story so outrageous, it couldn't be invented, but it's one I'd never heard until word of this movie started getting out.  Six US staff and family members escaped the Iranian Embassy that day in 1979 when the militants "took America hostage".  The six were sheltered by the Canadian mission in Tehran  (note:  recently closed) ; this is the story, directed and starring Ben Affleck, of their rescue.  Lots of amazing late-'70's hair.

4)  Anna Karenina - (11/16) - OK, I saw a terrible review of it (from the previews being given for many of these movies in the Toronto Film Festival) , but I don't care--I like the idea of a remake, done as a stage treatment for film, with Keira Knightley and Jude Law.  Like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I'm drawn to it even if I'm not thinking I will like it, and it will be a much more efficient use of my time to watch it then reading it could ever be. 

5) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - (12/14)  - Some returning favorites from Lord of the Rings, like Ian McKellern as Gandalf and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Peter Jackson driving the bus, and the return of the spectacular New Zealand fantasy landscapes.  What I don't like much is that Jackson is going to take three movies to tell the story (with some incidents from other Tolkien work thrown in somehow). 

....And Ten More That I'm at Least Curious About

Hyde Park on the Hudson - (10/7) - Bill Murray dares to take on the role of FDR, with the return of the stuttering English king from The King's Speech.  Might not be great, but I want to see it; I saw the preview, and Murray's FDR-like appearance is startlingly good.

Life of Pi - (11/21) - Ang Lee dares to take on the best-selling story of a young man, a boat, and a Bengal tiger.

Django Unchained - (12/25) -  I'm not as enchanted with everything Quentin Tarantino does as some are, but Jamie Foxx in a genre-busting Western does appeal--in theory.

The Master (12/21) - There is a lot of buzz about this one; someone in Hollywood (Paul Thomas Anderson, no less) dares to bring forth a story of a Scientology-like mind-controller (someone like L.Ron Hubbard, played by the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the post-WWII milieu in which Hubbard first made his mark.

On the Road (12/21) -  The Jack Kerouac novel, beatniks in the US in the '50's.  You can't tell me that this has never been covered before!

This Must Be the Place (11/2) - A major Sean Penn dramatic role, a retired Irish rocker coming to America on a voyage of discovery.  It's been too long since we've seen Sean challenged by a role (Milk, I'd say).

Lay the Favorite (12/7) - this is one that could be great or awful.  It's about sports betting--an excellent subject for drama--and apparently from the point of view of some women (Catherine Zeta-Jones being one, Rebecca Hall another) who meet up with a team of obsessed gamblers (Bruce Willis being one of them).  I may wait and look for more buzz before deciding to invest in a cinema ticket (as opposed to waiting and seeing it for free, which I will definitely want to do at some point, no matter how bad it may be).

West of Memphis (12/25) - I am a little reluctant to wade into this documentary, sponsored by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame), which analyzes a notorious case of apparent injustice in a murder trial of three individuals in Arkansas.  The case is controversial, also the movie, which has a backstory of some feuding with another series of documentaries on the subject called Paradise Lost, and I don't want to go there, but I do want to understand the case and have it presented in an interesting way--which is what I hear of this film.

Looper (9/28) -  I think the premise is ridiculous (time traveler who must go in the future to kill his future self):  theoretically impossible (to go into the future and come back), and why would you do it (kill your future self)?  But (from the preview I saw), it seems to introduce a rather profound theme:  what our older self would advise our younger self, if only we could. 

Silver Linings Playbook (11/21) - An offbeat comedy by David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, the underrated Three Kings) and starring Jennifer Lawrence.  I will give it a try, no matter what others may say.


Chin Shih Tang said...

9/22 I will try to write reviews for these as I see them--wrote this for (1000 character limit) about "The Master" (now in limited release)--

Hardly what I expected, as the focus was not so much on "The Cause" (the Scientology-like movement headed by the charismatic P.Seymour Hoffmann as the L. Ron Hubbard like character), but on one erratic sometime follower, played by Joaquin Phoenix. One has to wonder, afterwards, what the point of it was--it was not critique or support of the movement or its leader--maybe something about how hard it is to make your own path (Phoenix's char. being more successful)?

The movie was briliantly, obsessively shot, with lots of lengthy close-ups. I would say I got a little tired of looking at Phoenix's lopsided face and Hoffmann's sunburnt features. Amy Adams was welcome eye candy from that point of view.

I think there could be some Oscar nominations for the lead actors and Adams, the cinematography, and the screenplay, by director P.T. Anderson (intense dialiogue throughout). A top 10 movie that may not win many Oscars, though a serious effort, to be sure.

Rated "R", deservedly!

Chin Shih Tang said...

"Argo" - Great story, a bit too Hollywood-ized. But, of course, it is a story, in part, of Hollywood.

Highest marks for the script, and I thought the introductory part set the story up extremely well. I haven't decided whether to give it an 8 or 9 on I certainly wish it well, though the preview for "Cloud Atlas" really has me charged up to see it in two weeks.

Chin Shih Tang said...

10/27 - Saw "Cloud Atlas" - I will review the movie in more detail in a dedicated blog posting. Suffice now to say that it was a legitimate effort to capture the story on film--something none too easy to do--and I appreciate that. Hardly perfect, but degree of difficulty moves it to a 9 out of 10 for me. For those who have not read the book, probably a lower rating, as I think the movie could have made more effort, especially in the early sequences, to be less confusing.

Chin Shih Tang said...

"Silver Linings Playbook" - I give it a 7 out of 10, which may be a bit stingy. Several good-to-excellent performances: Bradley Cooper--I didn't know he had it in him--plays the leading man convincingly, Jennifer Lawrence, from whom we have come to expect quite a bit, and Robert DeNiro, perhaps with his most engaged performance in a decade.

Some good dialogue, certainly. I can't say that the portrayal of bipolar behavior (both Cooper's and Lawrence's characters) was either too helpful for our understanding of the specific condition or of something more general. So, it ends up being a comedy about crazy people, which, although sympathetic and not demeaning, doesn't quite rate as high as previous movies by the director such as "I Heart Huckabees" or "The Three Kings".

Chin Shih Tang said...

"The Hobbit" - I saw it in 2D, not the new-fangled 48 frames per second. It was a good trip down memory lane to see the spectacular New Zealand scenery again, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee (unjustified, as Galadriel and Saruman were not in the book), Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellern, Ian Holm, and Elijah Wood (probably also not justified). And Andy Serkis, as Gollum (and Jerry Mathers, as The Beaver--oops, wrong show). The sets were great--loved Bag End on The Hill in the Shire.
The battle in the mines was definitely too long, as were the chase scenes of the orcs. But the Eagles--ah, the Eagles!

Borderline between a 7 and an 8--I'll round down and see whether the following episodes are better.