Oscar season kicks into high gear this week as two of the year’s most talked-about films finally open here: Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.
Our largely uneventful summer movie season gets a kick in the ass this week with the arrival of not only one of the best films of 2009 — Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker — but also the third annual Oxford International Film Festival (OIFF), which moves to Cincinnati this year.
As planet Earth drew closer and closer to the new millennium, the American cinema scene started to see a decline in a genre that was born here: The Western. That’s not to say there haven’t been any new Western films released — there have been quite a few. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven was a hit in 1992 and even won Best Picture at the Oscars that year. But before that, in 1985, Lawrence Kasdan directed, co-wrote and produced a Western that deserves to be viewed in celebration of its 30th anniversary. That movie is Silverado.
Some of you are probably tilting your head at the name Lawrence Kasdan and wondering who he is. Well, he is responsible for movies like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist and for co-writing the screenplays for a couple films you might know of, like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He is also the co-writer of the upcoming seventh Star Wars film. Basically, this man’s work should be a delight for anyone to watch.
Silverado tells the story of four roaming misfits who come together to battle elements of each other’s past in the small Western town of — you guessed it — Silverado. There’s the mysterious gunslinger Paden (Kevin Kline) trying to escape his past; Mal (Danny Glover), a prodigal son trying to rebuild his family’s farm; and Emmett and Jake (Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner, respectively), two brothers who do what it takes to protect their loved ones from a cattle baron (Ray Baker) that’s avenging the death of his father at the hands of Emmett.
While each plotline works wonderfully and ties perfectly into one other, for me the strongest of them is the one involving Paden. While it doesn’t fully expose everything about Paden and his past, you get just the right amount of information to stay invested in him, and you want to continue with him and see where he goes.
When Paden is first introduced, he’s left for dead with nothing but his long johns. As the film progresses, you get clues to his past and what may have happened to him. The biggest hints are in the form of an acquaintance of Paden and Silverado’s corrupt Sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy). Cobb tries to lure Paden into joining his posse and every time he rejects or tries to stop the wrongdoing, Cobb knows what buttons to push. He continually makes threats regarding Paden’s new friend Stella (Linda Hunt), the owner of the local saloon.
Stella is also an incredibly strong aspect of the film. She’s a strong and fierce woman who helps Paden on his journey to redemption. One of her best moments is when she becomes fully aware of Cobb using her, and she hates it. “So good people are being hurt because of me,” she says. “That makes me mad. Some people think because they're stronger or meaner, that they can push you around. I've seen a lot of that. But it's only true if you let it be.”
This film is also a real spectacle when it comes technical aspects. It features marvelous cinematography with gives the audience shots that add so much more to the story and offer great symbolism. It also features a great music score by Bruce Broughton that is very reminiscent of the works of Elmer Bernstein and the stuff he composed for Westerns.
The film was only nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Sound. The sound work done for the film is brilliant. The one thing that stands out is the sound design for the guns’ sound effects. Each gun is given a distinct sound that is only associated with that particular piece. Mal’s Henry rifle sounds booming and powerful over the regular rifles of the villains. And Jake’s dual nickel-plated pistol’s sound is quick and short to show how fast he is on the draw.
Silverado is a real treat full of great characters, great set pieces and a great sense of adventure. And if none of this sold you on the film, then maybe this will: Monty Python’s John Cleese plays a Western Sheriff. Yes, you read that correctly.
The Harry Potter movie series comes to a close this week with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which, if I'm not mistaken, represents the eighth movie adaptation of J.K. Rowling's wildly successful book series.
I confess: I've never watched a Harry Potter movie. I've caught a few minutes here and there on HBO or at a friend's or family member's house, but for some reason I've never been compelled enough to sit down and take in the entirety of even one of the series' movies.
Underneath Cincinnati has undergone a number of behind-the-scenes changes in its 10 years of existence (members of the Southern Ohio Film Association now guide it), but its mission has largely remained the same — to showcase and support area independent filmmakers.
The Sundance Film Festival announced its 2011 lineup today. The festival, which invades the small ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, Jan. 20-30, will include 115 films from 28 different countries. Befitting a fest known for its nurturing of fresh talent (40 of the 115 are from first-time filmmakers), the 32 films in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary (16 in each category) include a bunch of new names as well as a few familiar faces.
Back in August of last year, Paramount Pictures announced that it was moving Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the anticipated follow-up to the director’s Oscar-winning The Departed, from an Oct. 2 release date to February 2010. The move was perplexing for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which was the presence of an Oscar-bait director like Scorsese and an equally lauded A-list actor like Leonardo DiCaprio. Such a shift — especially one that moves a film from the fall awards season to the Land of Misfit Movies known as February — is typically a sign that it’s expected to disappoint for one reason or another.
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