Will Ferrell takes a break from his usual comic shenanigans this week to star writer/director Dan Rush's feature debut, Everything Must Go, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. Ferrell in a Carver story, a story in which Ferrell's character is a listless, downtrodden “functioning alcoholic” with straying loins? Apparently. And, according to tt stern-enzi's positive review, apparently he does it well.
The fall movie season is off to a shaky start. Anticipated films like the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading, Clark Gregg’s Choke, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna and Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness have left critics (and most audiences) wanting.
Even the relatively well received Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist has its detractors (like me) — if you're hanging your entire premise on being knowing and hip, you'd better be knowing and hip, which N&N doesn't quite pull off. It's like a meld of 200 Cigarettes and Empire Records (come to think of it, that might sound good to some people) — glossy imitations of the real thing. N&N is much too conventional, which is somewhat surprising considering director Peter Sollett was the guy who gave us the perceptive teenage romance Raising Victor Vargas.
(Michael Cera and Kat Demmings contemplate what might have been in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist.)
Add this week’s two biggies — The Duchess and Body of Lies — to the list of disappointments. While each has its charms, neither is entirely satisfying. (See reviews below.)
Lucky for us, we have other options. The Contemporary Arts Center begins its “Historical/Horror Film Series” on Monday night (Oct. 13) with a double feature of John Huston’s Let There Be Light at 6:30 p.m. and Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr at 7:40 p.m.
Finally, and most curiously, the Esquire Theatre will present a Paul Newman Tribute with rotating screenings of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Verdict beginning today through Oct. 16. Go to www.esquiretheatre.com for times.
On to a complete list of this week's theatrical releases. As usual, several didn't screen for critics in advance, which means I'll have reviews up for them later this weekend.
Opening films (Oct. 17):
BODY OF LIES — While Ridley Scott's film strips away much of the fat from David Ignatius’ source novel, it also winds up frustratingly superficial. Body of Lies is a nuts-and-bolts action drama putting on the undercover persona of something with a message. Still, it's fairly successful as an action drama. (Read review here.) (Rated R.) Grade: C plus
CITY OF EMBER — Upstart British director Gil Kenan’s latest family-friendly fantasy finds an elaborate underground city in peril as its once powerful generator begins to fail. It’s up to a pair of teenagers (Soairse Ronan, so strong in Atonement, and Harry Treadway) to save the residents of Ember — including its curiously upbeat mayor (Bill Murray) — before it’s too late. The massive cast includes Tim Robbins, Mary Kay Place, Toby Jones and Martin Landau. (Rated PG.) Grade: Review coming soon
THE DUCHESS — Saul Dibb’s costume drama captures the look and feel of the period exquisitely but lacks the daring to provide greater context for its titular character's political activism. Stars Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. (Read review here.) (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C plus
THE EXPRESS —Dennis Quaid has a thing for sports flicks. The trend continues in this true-life story of Syracuse running back Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Quaid plays Ben Schwartzwalder, Davis' inspirational — and revolutionary — coach. Gary Fleder, the guy who once upon a time gave us the stylish, corrosive crime thriller Things Denver to Do in Denver When You're Dead, directs what looks to be yet another uplifting sports drama. (Rated PG.) Grade: Review coming soon
QUARANTINE — Quarantine might be a remake of Jaume Balaguero’s Spanish thriller [Rec], but, if the trailer is any indication, John Erick Dowdle’s big feature splash looks to suckle the creative teat of last year’s surprise success, Cloverfield. The plot centers on a television reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) who battle a mysterious adversary while trapped in an apartment building. (Rated R.) Grade: Review coming soon
Oscar nominations were announced this morning. At first glance, I have to admit that this year’s batch seems uncommonly competent.
The 10 Best Picture nominees are all worthwhile in one way or another, and four of them actually made my top 10 of 2010: The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. See, I told you they were competent.
The screen fills with a close-up of a military-issued boot marching along. Its owner, a grizzled and scarred commander, bellows, “You ain't in Kansas anymore.” So begins the preview footage of Avatar, the long-awaited and much ballyhooed sci-fi epic from James Cameron.
It's the filmmaker's first full-length feature project since Titanic made him the self-proclaimed “King of the World.”
There is another reason that I visit the theater maybe two or three times a year, and that is the price of tickets. My student status means what little money I have goes to more important needs. Going to see a movie should be an enjoyable event not a troublesome occasion that breaks your bank account. Tickets, dinner and movie snacks can get incredibly expensive which is why I’m glad there was still a little tax return money left when I went to see The Hunger Games. I know this is a little late in regards to the movie’s release, but better late than never.
With that being said, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the story, characters or setting. In some cases that is the best way to be introduced to a series. With a clean slate, that allows little room for disappointment. The only thing that I was really disappointed about was the use of the shaky camera, mainly in the opening and final scenes in the arena. Apparently director Gary Ross felt that using shaky cam work would help give a better portrayal of Katniss Everdeen’s point of view and gave a sense of urgency to the movie. My only advice is that if you get motion sickness, be careful with this one.
There was one thing that went unnoticed though. Peeta, played by Union, Ky., native Josh Hutcherson, turned into a wimp in the arena. A big deal was made of how much weight he could throw around, even showing him picking up a spiked metal ball and hurling it across the room. I was expecting him to throw a heavy boulder at someone Braveheart-style. Instead, we were shown that he all he could do was camouflage himself to look like a rock. At least in the book he killed someone.
The Twilight books are horribly written — I wasn’t able to get more than 20 pages into the first one before I had to stop — the English major in me came out again, rejoicing like the Wicked Witch was dead. Then the Twilight movies completely destroyed every bit of vampire lore ever created. Vampires don’t sparkle and they can’t go out in the sun. I guess I don’t get the appeal of Twilight because I’m not a teenage girl. The choice of actors/actresses was strange as well, mainly because they give the same performance in each movie they are in. Check out Taylor Lautner’s terrible action movie Abduction for a piece of wood with abs’ best impression of acting. With that, I think I need to stop with the Twilight comments before it gets out of hand.
In an effort to be as informative as possible to Tristate cinema geeks of every genre, political persuasion and religious affiliation, I thought I'd alert you to the coming presence of a movie that some have called “excellent,” “very worthwhile” and “absolutely dynamic.”
A teaser trailer of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which is still in production, has made its way to cyberspace. It’s being billed as his ensemble war flick/spaghetti western, and if the tone of this teaser is any indication, look for Basterds to lean toward the genre-pillaging frivolity of Death Proof and the Kill Bill films. (Personally, I was hoping for a return to Tarantino’s more emotionally satisfying heyday, especially the underrated Jackie Brown.)
The post-holiday/awards season dumping ground is upon us — just two films hit theaters this week, neither of which are likely to pique the interest of more discerning moviegoers.