Monday, January 17, 2011

Jumpcut Junkies Ep. 24: Another Year

Another Year

Hope you all read our respective lists of most anticipated films of 2011.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #1

1. Contagion/Haywire

Steven Soderbergh has confirmed the worst possible news: the versatile auteur behind some of the most pleasurable and unpredictable cinematic experiences of the last twenty years is retiring. He claims he has two more films left in him, which means 2012's "Liberace" with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." an adaptation of the sixties television show with George Clooney.

Fortunately, that means he's doubled up on 2011. In springtime, we can look forward to "Haywire," which he shot (and extensively reshot) with a script by his collaborator on "The Limey," Lem Dobbs. It's exciting enough that Soderbergh is continuing to work with the man who helped him bring forth "The Limey," a super slick, funny crime noir from '99 that I must have seen eighty times by now. This is also supposed to be sort of a low budget actioner from the filmmaker, dealing with an kickboxing undercover CIA agent who finds out she's been targeted. Sodberbergh cast MMA fighter Gina Carano in the lead, suggesting the fisticuffs will be as believable as possible.

"Haywire" is also notable for a star-studded cast that includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum. Also with a collection of superstars is "Contagion," Soderbergh's winter release. This is a bit bigger in scale, a globe-hopping suspense thriller about a killer virus that reportedly resembles "Outbreak" as filtered through the lens of "Traffic."

Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne and Sanaa Lathan are among those getting the virus treatment, and rumors persist that this currently-shooting project is a 3D movie (though I've heard it's not). It's the end of our of our great directors, and one hopes he goes out in style.

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #2

After 9/11, playwright Kenneth Lonergan was motivated to channel his sense of loss and tragedy into the script for "Margaret." He began shooting in 2005 with a stellar cast that included Anna Pacquin, Matt Damon, Jean Reno, Matthew Broderick, Olivia Thirlby, Mark Ruffalo and Allison Janney. Pacquin played a high schooler struggling to overcome the ramifications of a bus accident she witnessed, a trial that would force her to encounter her own mortality.

This movie never saw the light of day. Lonergan, who last directed "You Can Count On Me," kept writing and shooting, writing and shooting, resulting in hours and hours of footage, and a rough cut approaching four (some say six) hours. People sued, other people counter-sued, all the while Lonergan struggled in the editing room trying to cut the film to a reasonable length. In the meantime, Fox Searchlight, which released a few stills for the film in '06, has wondered if they still want to distribute this monstrosity.

There's no official word, but some say that the film will finally see the light of day in 2011. We can only hope.

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #3

In one corner - Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst and expert on ideas of the repressed. In another corner, his mentor, Carl Jung, pioneer in dream analysis and founder of analytical psychology. Stuck in the middle? The woman that LOVED THEM BOTH. OOoooooooOOOOooh, FIREWORKS. Though Christopher Hampton's stage play "The Talking Cure" takes great liberty with its subjects, completely inventing the character of Sabina Spielrein who comes between the two men.

Did I mention this was David Cronenberg, one of the world's best filmmakers, tackling this subject? He's got old collaborator Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as the philosophers, and since there are British accents and a WWI setting, Keira Knightley is contractually obligated to appear as well. The concept of a Freud/Jung tete-a-tete is fascinating enough, but when you get three phenomenal actors, some great facial hair and one of the world's great filmmakers, fresh off a big studio sabbatical where he flirted with a number of high profile projects? Hells yeah, sign me up.

Also, where does the penguin come in?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #4


Based on a James Sallis novel, this crime story concerns a stuntman turned getaway driver for a group of bank robbers who finds himself targeted by the mob. It was originally supposed to be a Neil Marshall car chase fest with Hugh Jackman (which would have been awesome) but instead it's something else with Ryan Gosling, from "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising" director/madman Nicholas Winding Refn.

I expected kind of a tough guy collection of faces to people this film, but instead the cast is quite eclectic, with Ron Perlman, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Bobbi Starr amongst the colorful names climbing aboard this film. Considering Refn's work so far, this is shaping up to be something just south of conventional. Psyched.

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #5

Wong Kar-Wai returns. He's working with the story of the Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee in his early days, but there's a lot I don't know about this story. I plan on mainlining Donnie Yen's two "Ip Man" features this weekend, but it doesn't really matter, as I'm always ready for a Wong Kar-Wai experience. Maybe the world's most sensual filmmaker.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #6


Okay, what is this movie?

"Moneyball" is a nonfiction book about how the Oakland A's used a new technique called sabermetrics to evaluate their on-field personnel using unconventional stats. White sabermetrics have caught on with most baseball teams as a way to suss out potential stars and winning players, the A's played only a couple of years under the Moneyball style, winning a couple of division titles, but never advancing past the first round of the playoffs. Moneyball, by and large, didn't work.

The movie was supposed to be a Steven Soderbergh joint, where he was going to mix real life players and coaches with actors seamlessly, but at the eleventh hour, through a sea of rewrites, he was fired, and with "Capote" director Bennett Miller came a raft of actual actors in the roles. How much Soderbergh is left in this? And who, among Steve Zallian, Aaron Sorkin and others, is taking credit for the screenplay? And how is the story of a not-that-great team going to be compelling?

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #7

Okay, stay with me here.

In interviews and public appearances, Van Damme is a changed man. He is no longer the young, flexible braggart. A career falling from grace, followed by a brush with the arthouse in "JCVD" has revitalized him.

In "JCVD," he played a humble version of himself, a disgraced martial artist who feels that he probably deserves every indignity piled onto him. He is broke, ravaged by years of drug use, and his self-esteem is at an all-time low, especially as he loses a role to Steven Seagal. The scene in the film that grabs everyone, however, is when Van Damme breaks the fourth wall, the set visibly rotating around him as he turns to the camera, breaking down crying as he talks about all the ways he failed to live up to his potential and threw his life away with fast cars, drugs and women.

It was the most honest moment in Van Damme's career, and its clear he knew it. In the last few years, his efforts have involved him in more of a dramatic capacity, as his extensive martial arts skills have taken a backseat to this new skill at emoting. And from the information released, it appears that has carried over to his directorial debut. Originally titled "Full Love," this actioner, currently being re-edited from an unwieldy (or brilliant?) three hour length concerns a taxi driver in Asia who falls for a fare just as she's kidnapped by criminals. The film played the puzzled audiences in Cannes, and reports are the film in extremely experimental, ending with a "2001"-like montage concerning life and death. I have to say, I am ready for JCVD to get experimental. This could be awesome.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #8


Let me state this right off the bat - I don't think David Koepp is much of a filmmaker at all. The blockbuster writer behind "Spider-Man," "War of the Worlds" and a load of other blockbusters (that were probably gang-written) branched into directing with middlebrow stuff like "Secret Window" and "Ghost Town" but he hasn't yet developed a distinct rhythm or visual storytelling skill.

But this is a different beast. "Premium Rush," a hot script around town for a long time, concerns the adventures of a NYC bike messenger being pursued by a dirty cop. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the bicyclist, and the cop is Michael Shannon, and apparently the script is heavy on the chase sequences.

I consider myself a leading member of the "movie chase" club. I love love LOVE a good movie chase. I think the basic concept of a movie chase scene should have the DNA of what makes great cinema, and I really think there need to be more films that are just non-stop race sequences. In all my scripts I've written or outlined so far, they ALL have a major chase scene. Once I moved to New York City a couple of years ago, I had to rely on public transportation, but I knew I'd be spending a lot of time on my feet getting from place to place, hitting multiple locations, sometimes against the clock. When you live a life of cinema, it's hard to not imagine yourself in a cinematic situation when you've got to get from 55th and Park to Lincoln Center with tense music playing in your IPod.

I do hope "Premium Rush" delivers on this aspect. Don't even have the characters talk, just have them RACE.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #9


Earlier this year, I saw "Modus Operandi," a batshit insane no-budget Super-8 film mixing the aesthetics of blaxploitation and European art film. I saw it between "Black Dynamite" and "Machete" and it blew both films away in how it captured that style of filmmaking without winks or nods. Of course, playing this sort of drama about a retired agent and the myriad of thieves and criminals that surround him is funnier played straight, though I will forgive the film the AWESOME indulgence of having Danny Trejo impale the President's eye with a stick of dynamite.

That sort of attitude should be prevalent throughout "Skinny Dip," the next film from director Frankie Latina. The film is being described as a "revenge picture" (of course) dealing with the accidental murder of a cop, with appearances by Danny Trejo, Sasha Grey and Michelle Rodriguez. It's like the Gods are trying to tell me that someone finally made a movie just for me. If it's half-insane as "Modus Operandi," it should remain a contender for movie of the year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #1

1. Tree of Life

If you've made it to my number one spot, you've probably noticed that a movie's director is a big deciding factor in my wanting to see something. I have mixed feelings on the auteur feeling, but it's undeniable that some people just make movies differently than anyone else. Most directors use the medium to make statements about ourselves, about themselves, and about the world. Some talk and talk and won't shut up even though they don't have anything to say (Brett Ratner) and some speak so rarely that when they open their mouths, you quiet down because you know you're about to hear something important. In a time of instant video, brought on by youtube, Hulu, Netflix streaming and the like, we're thankful when Terrence Malick decides to make two movies in a decade. We don't whine and cry because we want it now -- we're just glad we don't have to wait twenty years.

If you haven't seen any of his other work, it's not hard to catch up -- he made Kubrick look like Takashi Miike. Since 1973 he's made Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World, all four of which are masterpieces. He takes time with his films, and directly proportional to this, time is kind to his films. There is nothing frivolous or cursory about his work; he knows exactly what he wants, and if he doesn't, he will work at it until he does. Every frame in everything he makes has been pored over and been given every ounce of his energy and attention. He's a philosophical man, and his beautiful compositions, use of light, use of voiceover, and studied pacing, Malick tries to make you feel his movies, bringing you to some kind of truth or larger sense of the world.

Tree of Life seems no different, even though no one really knows what it's about (and I have avoided the trailer online, preferring to wait until I can catch it in theaters), other than being set in the 1950s and starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. According to various rumors over the past few years, it may or may not deal with the cosmos, it may or may not have dinosaurs in it, it may or may not be in Imax, and it may or may not deal with the meaning of life. Even if it has none of these things, I will probably love it, because this man knows what he is doing. And besides, we might get dinosaurs in the already announced untitled follow-up set for 2012. Two Malick's in as many years. I hope this won't spoil us.

(no relation)

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #2

2. John Dies at the End

Speaking of distinctive horror directors, Don Coscarelli returns to making movies after a nine-year absence (discounting his Masters of Horror episode). He's shown he has a particular knack for idiosyncratic horror with his Phantasm series, which he built his reputation on, and he also showed he can do comedy with a distinctive horror bent with Bruce Campbell cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep.

"John" is about a drug that brings its users through some sort of time rift, which has also allowed a monster to come back to this world, and two slackers are the only things that can save the world, or something, so Coscarelli's sensibilities seem tailor-made for this type of yarn. In addition, Paul Giamatti's in it, along with Doug Jones, Clancy Brown, and the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm. It's based on a novel by David Wong, and it must be pretty good if you can spoil it in the title and still make a movie out of it. Despite working in several different genres (kids' movie in Kenny & Company, adventure in Beastmaster, survivalism (?) in Survival Quest), he's never gained the fame or steady work of fellow directors who started out in low-budget horror, such as Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson, and while I don't think this film will change that, it's good to see him back in the director's seat.

No, not this John. Not at the end. Not ever.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #3

3. The Innkeepers

One of the most distinctive horror directors working today is Ti West. He understands that blood and jump scares aren't to be liberally sprinkled around a movie, but used sparingly and in the right places. At this, he excels, so that after watching 20-30 minutes of nothing happening, your sense of complacency is suddenly and unexpectedly shattered in an explosive act of violence and you're shaken from your comfort zone, in a way that's more horrific than the torture porn peddled so gleefully to dating teens and bored mallrats. West makes you feel the world the character inhabits, making it that much more of an impact when things start to go south: In House of the Devil, he creates this impeccable 80s atmosphere (enhanced, if you shelled out the extra cash for the VHS edition) and lets you breathe it in, waiting with Samantha, the babysitter, exploring the big, empty house and opening doors and drawers, finding…nothing; in Trigger Man, the handheld DV camera becomes the fourth member of a hunting party in the woods, walking around, drinking, waiting, feeling the disappointment of finding no prey, until, in both films something terrible happens out of the blue, and you know the characters' worlds are changed forever, and you kinda wish you could go back to being bored. The Innkeepers is about a haunted hotel going out of business, and with Ti West attached, I don't care about anything else (if you want to raise a complaint based on Cabin Fever 2, don't: much of the movie was reshot and edited without his involvement and he has since disowned it).

The conflict arises after the ghosts smoke in their room and lose the $50 security deposit.

Most Anticipated Films Of 2011: Gabe's #10

I've never been a HUGE fan of Pedro Almodovar, but from a distance, I can appreciate his skill with narrative and shot composition. Almodovar's films rest on intense emotionality and his intoxicating use of color, and I focus on those elements more than the central melodramas. I haven't seen an Almodovar film for awhile, though in the back of my mind, I always felt like I knew what to expect with his work.

That feeling isn't a part of my thoughts regarding "The Skin I Live In." I first heard about this project at the beginning of the decade, when Almodovar had purchased the source material, a book called "Tarantula." This might be translators screwing with things, because I've heard vastly different interpretations of what the film might be. At the time, I had heard that the story was to be a freakish nightmare, revolving around a surgeon who captures his wife's rapist and sexually mutilates him to the point where he becomes an entirely new freak of nature, which the surgeon would then fall for. Among the many different interpretations, the one I'm familiar with now still involves Cronenbergian body horror, but it involves the surgeon caring for his wife after a horrible attack by trying to surgically develop a new skin for her.

Either premise, or a marriage of the two, certainly skeeves me out, and seeing Almodovar exit his comfort zone to create something like this certainly intrigues me. Can't wait.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #4

4. Carancho

Hey, do you remember the last winner for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film? No? How quickly you people forget when Roberto Benigni's not involved. Well, El Secreto de sus Ojos was a taut, tightly controlled decades-spanning Argentine murder mystery/romance, featuring a celebrated long take as the two main cops chase the perp through a crowded soccer stadium (and trust me, a packed Argentine soccer stadium during a normal game has about 15 times the energy and people of, say the Superbowl). This complex, ostentatious shot, in the midst of a mostly low-key procedural, is the apex of Argentine crime cinema. I have no small amount of national pride (thanks, dad) when I say that the second largest South American country has been quietly honing the crime thriller over the past decade to the point where it has now become its own national genre, reflecting the economic, social and political instability they've suffered for decades. While reconciling its past of the government disappearing dissidents, new challenges have risen up in the late 90s to confront it, with a quick succession of presidents insted then ousted (it's fine, I'm sure they're both words), the steady decline of the peso, joblessness, and civil unrest, it felt its bottom slipping out from under it. As a result, the 2000's were fertile with films of thieves, con men, detectives, gamblers and murderers, all with shifting or unclear allegiances.

In the past few years, Argentina has been regaining its foothold, while the US has been in decline and the Oscar win shows that only now are we beginning to appreciate what that nation to the south has been through. At the same time, its recent spate of crime films climaxed with the aforementioned shot announcing "we know a thing or two about this." Carancho stars Ricardo Darín (he's been in almost all of Argentina's crime films of the past twelve years, playing the investigative protagonist of "Secreto" and many others) as an ambulance-chasing lawyer who falls for a doctor as he cruises the ERs. Not sure what else will happen, but you can be sure someone gets in over his/her head and bad things happen. Pablo Trapero directs, who had nothing to do with El Secreto de sus Ojos, but did make Mundo Grúa (Crane World), which was a fascinating study of a middle-aged man in suburban Buenos Aires trying to make a living in a new crane operating job and finding love by reliving past glories (his band was a one-hit wonder in the 80s). Hopefully Trapero can transpose some of that loneliness to the crime world and show that Argentine cinema still has some juice left in it.

If you don't speak Spanish, I'm sure you at least speak blood, guns and sex fairly fluently.

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #5

5. Captain America/Thor

OK, I cheated, but I couldn't really separate these two, considering the franchising Marvel is doing in preparation for the Avengers. Marvel's made some interesting directorial choices with their movies so far: Cap's most recent foray onto the big screen will be brought to us this time by journeyman Joe Johnston and Thor will be directed by Kenneth Branagh, more used to adapting literature of a different kind (Frankenstein, a whole buncha Shakespeare). Johnston can make a fun adventure movie, given the right material and the Rocketeer particularly sticks in memory as an enjoyable normal-guy-becomes-superhero-during-WWII-to-fight-Nazis actioner, which is exactly what Captain America should be. Cap is one of my favorite Marvel characters because of his patriotism and sense of duty, but not in a Jingoistic sort of way. His worldview is truly democratic, having faith in and seeing the value of all people. He firmly believes in the values of the US, but is not always in agreement with the powers-that-be on the issues of foreign and domestic policy, or the ways in which he is wielded, and has given up the shield at least once in the comics. If the film can convey that and not just make a flag-waving monument to the greatest generation, they'll have something. Oh, and for God's sake, keep the Red Skull red in this one. Meanwhile, only knowing Thor through guest appearances in other titles, I'm not too familiar with the character, nor am I with the main actor, having only seen Chris Hemsworth briefly as Kirk's dad in Star Trek, but Branagh knows actors and how to bring out the best in them. He also knows visual grandeur, useful in bringing an epic comic book story to the screen. As for Stan Lee's cameo, I'm hoping for FDR in the former and a Norse God in the latter (too on the nose?).

Thor hammering Captain America. A slashfic genre is born.

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #6

6. Immortals

Tarsem Singh directs Mickey Rourke in a movie about a Greek warrior going up against the Gods, rendering Louis Leterrier's recent apology for Clash of the Titans moot.

Leaked concept art (unconfirmed)

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #7

Before I get to the post proper, I wanted to say that I noticed we seem to have regular viewers in Sweden. Who the hell are you people? I'm glad we've got you, it's only that I am curious (yellow) where you came from. After the US, Sweden is a distant second for number of views, so I guess we'll have to make a stop there on our JJ 2011 world tour. Thanks, Sweden, and here's hoping for another Bergman sometime soon!

7. Your Highness

Not being a drug user, I have a hard time getting onboard with stoner movies. I'm not judging; I'm just not part of the culture and most pot comedies tend to skew toward, not just those familiar with the lifestyle, but those who fetishize it, not giving me much of an entryway. David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express was able to bridge the gap, throwing buddy movie, action movie, romance, cop thriller, and of course, stoner movie against the wall, and at least a few of those stuck for me. It was one of the funniest films of 2008 and introduced me to Danny McBride, who managed to steal the show from Seth Rogen and James Franco (the movie also gets extra points for bringing Huey Lewis out of retirement for the theme song). Since then, McBride has given us one of the most complex characters in modern sitcomdom with Eastbound and Down's Kenny Powers. Like a Will Ferrell character, the humor and tragedy lay in Powers' blind confidence and arrogance, despite his fall from grace, and the effects they have on himself and those who are still close to him. McBride's portrayal of the former baseball playing id is more than just a caricature: on some level he realizes his failings and on occasion emerges from his oblivious self-absorption to attempt (in his own way) to connect more deeply with friends and family, only to find out they're less self-aware or more self-absorbed than himself. I'm not saying Your Highness, a Medieval marijuana adventure tale co-starring Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman, is going to net McBride an Oscar nod, but, hey maybe next year he'll get the lead in a Charlie Daniels biopic directed by James Mangold or Taylor Hackford.

Future Oscar winner trailed by two future O'Malley's Bar & Grill Trivia Night winners

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #8

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Reading this described as the story of a mother dealing with her son's high school killing spree, it could easily come off as a self-important PSA disguised as Oscarbait, half-weepy, half-sensationalist, but director Lynne Ramsay is adept at showing the outlines of deep emotions, and how they affect people in the day-to-day, without ever resorting to glycerine tears. In her debut feature, Ratcatcher, the filth, violence and broken dreams that pervade the Scottish suburb during the 1970s garbage worker strike are rendered matter-of-factly through the eyes of children in a stark, assured film that, despite being steeped in depression, never approaches maudlin and manipulative. As much as I liked Elephant, Gus Van Sant was perhaps too detached in his presentation of a school shooting, and it's Ramsay's delicate touch that would do the subject justice.

Yeah, he's in this.

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #9

9. Certified Copy

Just when you thought Abbas Kiarostami was going to live out the rest of his cinematic career shooting low-grade DV of people in cars, he surprises us with a romantic comedy (gasp!) set in Paris starring a name actress (double gasp!), in this case Juliette Binoche. Glibness aside, I love Kiarostami's highly personal style that he's carefully developed over the course of a decades-long career and am especially fond of "Five", a plotless, wordless rorschach test of a film, composed of five long takes on and around a beach that give the patient viewer time to meditate and reflect on life, nature, beauty, time, the universe and God (I realize opponents could say they could just as easily do this at home with their cellphone turned off). Given Kiarostami's ability to make grand statements with essentially nothing (Five was made on a minimal budget, shot on a digital camcorder), he comes closest to the French concept of the auteur, using his camera as if it were a pen, and any film from such a unique artist is worth paying attention to.

His "pen" for this one is the Red One Camera. Just sayin'.

Most Anticipated Films of 2011: Nick's #10

Welcome to 2011. Gabe and I are listing off our top picks for the coming cinematic year, so here I go, starting with 10:

10. The Woman in Black

Back in the 50s and 60s Hammer revived the stale horror genre with Technicolor gore and sex appeal, while still maintaining a level of class and seriousness commensurate with the talent involved. I would argue that Peter Cushion's Frankenstein is the best screen portrayal of the demented doctor, lending an understanding of the character and a sense of single-minded purpose in his experiments, neither condemning nor celebrating his pursuit of unholy knowledge. In the late 60s and into the 70s, Hammer couldn't (or wouldn't) keep up with trends in the genre and while young whippersnappers like Romero, Polanski, Craven, Hooper and Carpenter were rewriting the rules, Hammer was making cash-ins like The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (basically, Dracula in a kung fu film). After years of laying dormant, Hammer returned (in name only; most of the people involved with Hammer's heyday are gone, except of course for the immortal Christopher Lee) with Let Me In, a superior vampire film, showcasing the old studio's sense of wit, intelligence, purposefully used gore and ambiguously portrayed characters. This year's The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, a gothic ghost story based on the novel of the same name, will hopefully continue to update what the original studio's horror cycle represented.

Can someone who knows more about Harry Potter please wittily caption this?