September 2012 Archives
I have to admit, I was very excited to see Pitch Perfect. I love musicals, all thing musical theater and the movie Camp (which also had Anna Kendrick) and am still upset that The Sing-Off has been cancelled because there is just something about well-executed a capella music that impresses me. And I don't mean the silly show choir overproduced stuff they put together on Glee. However, the commercials heavily feature Rebel Wilson, and since a little of Rebel goes a long way, I was worried that she was going to overpower the film. I was also a bit concerned that while ostensibly a comedy, the movie might take the subject matter too seriously, like how every time the word Regionals is uttered on Glee as if it loftiest goal in the entire world, which makes me die a little on the inside. So I was excited but with trepidations as I headed into the theater... and after five minutes, I was laughing out loud (along with the rest of the audience) and having a really good time at one of the most fun movies of the year.
In general, there are two main approaches filmmakers can take to a time travel story. The first is to dive headlong into the logistics and consequences of trips back and forth in time, merrily twisting the audience's mind into knots by piling potential paradox on top of potential paradox (see movies like Primer, Back to the Future, Part II and the sorely underseen Spanish import Timecrimes). The other is to use time travel as a device to set the story in motion and introduce potential plot complications without sweating the details too much (see Back to the Future parts 1 and 3, Time Bandits and Midnight in Paris). In its early scenes, Rian Johnson's new action picture Looper seems like it's going to be the first kind of time travel yarn, but then switches over to the second. Since I'm the odd soul that prefers Back to the Future, Part II over the original -- few would probably rank the third one as their favorite -- I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Looper's change of heart. But credit where credit's due: Johnson has crafted a smart, inventive piece of mainstream entertainment that will likely find the kind of wide audience more cultish time travel movies like Primer didn't.
Won't Back Down belongs to a new genre of horror movie, aimed directly at parents of small kids, known as "Education Nightmares." Past examples of this peculiar breed include the documentaries The Lottery and Waiting for Superman, which, like this loosely dramatized version of real events, seek to terrify adults about the troubled state of American public education. And it's true that there are a myriad of problems confronting public schools in America, but those issues deserve better treatment than these fear-mongering features are willing to give them. With its melodramatic flourishes, simplistic black-and-white moralizing and general aura of studied manipulation, Won't Back Down is part of the problem rather than the solution.
The New York Film Festival turns 50 this year and is appropriately throwing itself one heck of a birthday bash. The golden anniversary celebration kicks off tonight with the world premiere of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, an adaptation of the best-selling novel that ranks among the fall season's big Oscar hopefuls. Over the next two weeks (the festival runs from September 28 to October 14) a plethora of big-ticket films and events will be unspooling at the festival's headquarters at Lincoln Center on New York's Upper West Side. You can visit the official NYFF website for the full schedule and ticket information. In the meantime, we've gone through the festival line-up (and have even seen a few of the movies) to highlight some of this year's key titles.
Setting a Philip Marlowe-like detective story, complete with pulpy dialogue and a twist-laden narrative, in high school sounds like a recipe for disaster. But writer/director Rian Johnson somehow pulled it off in his 2005 breakthrough Brick, a movie that's acquired a devoted cult following in the seven years since its release. Johnson himself has gone on to acquire a significant fanbase as well, through his work on movies like The Brothers Bloom and two terrific episodes of Breaking Bad, Season 3's "Fly" and Season 5's "Fifty-One." His latest feature Looper, which opens on Friday, reunited Johnson with his Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Joe, a hitman living in a near-future where time travel is used by the Mob to get rid of any undesirables. These assassins -- or "loopers" -- are tasked with killing the people their bosses send back in time, a job that Joe carries out with relish... that is until he discovers that his next target is none other than his future self (Bruce Willis). On a recent publicity tour though New York, Johnson sat down to talk with us about time travel movies, whether he'll ever revisit Brick and if he'll be directing one of the finale eight episodes of Breaking Bad.
Captain America and Thor survey the summer box office damage left in the wake of The Avengers.
It's understandable if your reaction to the news that a new Judge Dredd movie was coming out would be "Why?" followed by "Wait... who?" After all, it's not like most stateside audiences have been readily exposed the titular futuristic lawman/executioner, who has been a star on the British comics scene since his introduction in 1977. And practically nobody remembers Hollywood's first attempt to turn the comic into a cross-platform property, the 1995 flop Judge Dredd, which paired a scowling Sylvester Stallone with a hyperactive Rob Schneider. With all that apathy working against it, this franchise reboot -- simply titled Dredd -- seems doomed from the get-go, a movie that a majority of moviegoers neither demanded nor needed.
If you are looking for a movie to take your dad to see (or a dad looking for something to see this weekend), this is it. It has sports and Clint Eastwood, is completely inoffensive and well-acted and is a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours. But while that may make for a fine bonding experience, it doesn't really make for a memorable movie.
Much like adolescence itself, the new coming-of-age drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower contains moments of beauty and insight drifting in a sea of melodrama. Adapted by author Stephen Chbosky from his 1999 YA novel of the same name (a book I must confess I haven't read), this is the kind of movie that my 14-year-old self probably would have fallen head over heels for, as it effectively transplants the '80s John Hughes model of teenagers with more heart than good sense talking endlessly about their problems to my old stomping ground in the early '90s. Twenty years removed from that time period (not to mention that version of myself), it's still easy to be pulled into the movie by the tug of nostalgia, but I can also see through the story's cracks more clearly, in the same way that whenever I re-watch The Breakfast Club nowadays, I actually find myself sympathizing with Assistant Principal Vernon for having to waste a whole Saturday babysitting a bunch of naval-gazing, back-talking teenagers.
Now that the found footage aesthetic has become an accepted staple of horror movies, there appears to be a concentrated effort to apply it to other genres as well. This past February, for example, saw the release of the surprisingly terrific Chronicle, an inventive superhero picture told from the perspective of a Peter Parker-like outcast who acquires great power, but ignores his responsibilities. The following month, Project X depicted the ultimate high school house party where images of extreme debauchery and destruction were recorded for posterity by one very lucky teen. Now here comes End of Watch, a street-level Los Angeles-based police drama from writer/director David Ayer where the action is supposedly being filmed as it happens by the two men caught up in it -- good cops and even better buddies Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña).