Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Batman Reboot: When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object

For those of you in the dark, Warner Bros. is now planning a Batman reboot in conjunction with a planned answer to The Avengers Justice League movie.  It won't be helmed by current franchise director Christopher Nolan either, but Nolan will remain on as producer.  The oddest part of this amalgam of superheros poised to save the day in Justice League is that none of the notable characters--Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman--will be a continuation off current projects featuring said characters.  No Wonder Woman from her yet-to-premier NBC show.  No Superman from Zack Snyder's upcoming film.  And most importantly, no Christian Bale as Batman.  That's right, the actor and hero that saved a genre is being rebooted at the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises.

It's the unstoppable force of the studio meeting the immovable object of creative integrity.  It's clear: the studio wants more and Nolan is walking away after film #3.  Can't really blame him, lest he forever be known as the director of Batman.  He's young, can do anything he wants right now in his career, and he have proven he can make his films both bankable at the box office and the Oscars.  Plus, a director returning for the fourth film in a franchise can only be as ill-fated as Indiana Jones 4, right?  Thankfully, WB is keeping Nolan on (or, possibly, Nolan is choosing to stay on) as producer of Justice League and the Batman reboot, which makes us assume he'll still have creative control.  But does he really want creative control outside of the world you created?  Nolan has the chance to close out a trilogy the right way, and not Warner Bros. wants to say "thank you, but no," to the reputation and respect he has injected not only into Batman, but superhero films in general. 

When an unstoppable force
meets an immovable object
Now, I have a slight problem with that.  For starters, The Dark Knight Rises isn't even out yet.  Not only is it not even out, but they haven't even begun principle photography!  Why is Warner Bros. giving up on Nolan's vision of the caped crusader already?  Could Batman be that potential of a cash cow that they think people will pour in to see the character no matter what creative team or actor is on board?  One can attribute the financial success of 2008's The Dark Knight to many things: the high quality of the film, the high-grossing superhero genre, and the recent passing (and brilliant performance) of Heath Ledger.  One of those elements returns, with a second one hopeful for The Dark Knight Rises.

I think what is most notable with the prematurely announced reboot (that is, a reboot before the franchise is even done booting) is that Warner Bros. is doing it less out of greed and more out of necessity.  Why reboot a blockbuster franchise staring an Oscar-winner unless you absolutely have to?  Perhaps the immovable object of creative integrity isn't as immovable as we'd hoped: it's being trampled, in fact.  I'm thinking, momentarily at least (and probably reading too much into this announcement), that Nolan is killing off our watchful protector.  A dead hero means you'll have to reboot.  Maybe I'm just being a little too...serious.


REVIEW: La Dolce Vita

(dir. Federico Fellini, 1961)

Over and over again, La Dolce Vita has been vetted as a masterpiece and as Fellini's most outstanding work.  Entertainment Weekly thought so much of it, that Dolce landed at #6 on their list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, behind the likes of Raging Bull, Chinatown, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather.  Pretty good company, huh?

It stars Marcello Mastroianni, one of Italy's great actors and the recognizable face from Fellini's equally famous follow-up, 8 1/2, as journalist and Man About Town Marcello Rubini.  The film is broken down into a series of 7 days complete with dawn, afternoon, and night; often, and most interestingly, the blurry line between the transition of these times is jumped.  In true Fellini fashion, the audience is told to accept the minute magical elements, and trust that it's part of the theme.  The most wonderful of these moments feature Mastroianni and Swedish-cum-Marilyn Monroe look-a-like Anita Ekberg (as film superstar, paparazzi magnet, and resident life-loving bimbo Sylvia) wading in the Trevi Fountain in the middle of the night.  Sylvia seemingly christens Marcello with a trickle of water, and boom suddenly we go from night to dawn.

Pixar announces title for 'Monsters Inc." prequel

Word just dropped here about Pixar's much rumored follow-up to their 2001 film, Monsters Inc.  Turns out, however, that the Film Formally Known As Monster Inc. 2 will henceforth be called Monster University and follow the comic exploits of Mike and Sulley as they build their friendship.

Of course, what with all origin stories about best of friends, Mike and Sulley weren't always the best of friends.  Says Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive VP of worldwide distribution, "From the moment they met at university, they could not stand each other. This story takes you through the ups and downs, and how they overcame their own differences."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Strangers on a Train: RIP Farley Granger

Farley Granger (1925-2011)
Sixty years ago, Farley Granger blessed us with what is probably his most famous and memorable role, that of the innocent stranger to Robert Walker's psychotic stranger who met each other on a train in Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 thriller   aptly titled   Strangers on a Train.  Though one must admit, Walker walks away with the film, Granger nevertheless mastered the stoic hero role with grace and precision.  It's the sort of invisible role which Christian Bale praised Mark Walhberg for doing in The Fighter, and that Bale himself has done numerous times.  In Hollywood, unfortunately, such strong roles aren't given much praise, but Granger never seemed to bore of them.

Granger with the
Master of Suspense
It's certainly sad when a celebrity dies, sadder more when most general film-goers don't know the name.  But I find whenever a star like Granger passes, it reminds me how much quality work they've done, and I inevitably begin returning to their work and discovering hidden gems.  I can only hope I get the opportunity to do this with Granger (I've embarrassingly never seen the likes of Rope or Senso, but now they've turned into priorities).

If anything, maybe Granger's passing will get people to discover his work, and especially Strangers on a Train, which is far and away one of Hitchcock's most underrated works (sure, people recognize it, but sadly not on the level of Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, Rebecca, or North by Northwest).  It's a brilliant film, his most suspenseful and complete with a circus-inspired climax only rivaled in the Hitchcock cannon to Vera Miles de-wigging a rotting corpse.


REVIEW: Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *

*But Were Too Afraid To Ask
(dir. Woody Allen, 1972)

It's always a treat to see the early work of a famous artist.  Be it Blood Simple by the Coens, Mean Streets by Martin Scorsese, or Following by Christopher Nolan, it manages to show the greatness that lay ahead (or in many cases, the shock that the person who would later make this could have ever made that).  And this is what brings me to Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Too Afraid To Ask, Woody Allen's 1972 vignette comedy about all things sexual.

Based loosely--and by loosely I mean they share a title and the theme of sex--on David Reuben's advise book, this work of Allen's foreshadows decades of self-conscious penis references, nebbish men nabbing hot girls, and askew takes on everyday predicaments.  I'm actually quite fond of Allen pre-Annie Hall work (which is saying something, since said films are few and hard to come by) with Play It Again, Sam being one of my favorite movies of all time.  It panders not only to Allen fans, but Casablanca fans as well.

But back to Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Too Afraid To Ask. It opens with a somewhat overall weak vignette with Allen as a court jester in Medieval England.  Anthony Quale makes a hilarious cameo as a sex-crazed king, which allows Allen himself to shine as the horrible fool of court.  His deadpan delivery is as priceless in 1972 as it is in 1986, for I often wonder if anyone can deliver a bad joke as well as Allen, and only because he also knows it's bad!  Here, Allen makes awful jokes seem like zingers to the viewer, as we giggle at just how awful the joke is.  Not to mention, he compares Lynn Redgrave's chest to a pair of "tomatoes."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Midnight in Paris trailer drops

Or as non-dorks call it, another Woody Allen film.  But this Woody Allen film is the one slated to open Cannes in a few month's time.  Sure, the last few Allen projects have been bumpier than not, what with Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona being the standouts amongst some of his career-worst efforts like Whatever Works and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.  But here's a toast to not judging a book by its cover and hoping that Allen has found his groove in Paris that he seemingly lost in London last summer.  Anyone else excited for Michael Sheen in a full-on beard?  Prime Minister say what?

This film's BEAUTIFUL poster after the cut ...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oscars, Oscars, Oscars, ACK!

This is my attempt to sound as not pretentious as possible.  Not to claim that I'm in any position to criticize the Oscars, or to criticize those who criticize the Oscar, because I'm not sure anyone is.  When we judge the Oscars, praise or bash winners, I feel people sometimes forget just what the Oscars are: a bunch of people who vote with their hearts not their head.  And you want to know the trick?--that's perfectly okay.

I don't think the Oscars voters think like critics, and they really shouldn't.  Critically praised films have their own way of lasting in the ether, especially if they're fortunate enough to lose the Oscar for Best Picture (more on that later).  The voters cast their ballots with their heart, what movie they love the most.  This year it was The King's Speech, not my favorite film of the year but a fine win nevertheless.  Is it up to the caliber of The Social Network?   Well that's everyone's personal opinion.  The general bash-loving consensus wills us to believe that The Social Network is better, but apparently it wasn't.

Setting Sail

For a while now I've wanted to start a film blog. For an even longer while, I made excuses as to why I wasn't starting one: not enough time, too many blogs, "no one is going to read it," and now a momentary pause as I figure out just what to write for my first post on Sam Watches Movies.

And so here is the introduction! Again, if you missed the banner beneath the blog title, my name is Sam. I'm what is widely considered a film buff, I watch movies as much as possible with a focus on trying to see new movies. New to me, that is, not necessarily the newest movies of the year. Because to me, a classic movie isn't a classic if you haven't seen it before.

My taste in film is part populist (The Dark Knight, Love Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ghost, Back to the Future, Anchorman, Toy Story 3) and part respected drama or comedy (Casablanca, The Silence of the Lambs, Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, American Beauty). Separating the two entities is impossible. To me, your favorite movies are the best movies; the movies you love are the ones you'll remember forever, not just because they're well-written, well-acted, or considered important but because you connect to them.

Also, I'll be writing in-depth Awards Season coverage when the time comes and retrospective commentary of Oscars past, in addition to film reviews (new and old), and general articles focusing on performances, directors, actors, and craftsmen.

Buckle your seatbelts, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.