Growing up in rural Wisconsin, filmmaker Hunter Adams knows what makes small town living unique and how tight-knit communities behave. With that in mind, he knew Marion, Illinois was the perfect place to shoot his new thriller Dig Two Graves, which premieres on I-Tunes March 24th. "To tell you the truth, we came to Illinois for the tax incentives they offer to filmmakers," the director said in a recent interview, "and we ended up finding something really special."
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I knew exactly what to expect with Nancy Myers’ "The Intern" and while there can be some comfort in having your expectations met (the idea they might be exceeded should never enter your mind with a movie of this sort), I couldn’t help but hope for some out of left field spanner to be thrown into the works of this gentle, predictable production.
Since giving up on California politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen has failed to generate the sort of box office success his earlier work had. Cameos in Sylvester Stallone’s geriatric action franchise The Expendables and features such as The Last Stand and Escape Plan failed to break any new ground where his persona was concerned. So, before returning to The Terminator franchise for a huge paycheck and what is as close to a sure thing at the box office as possible, the actor made a low-budget horror film for which he took no salary but served as one of its producers.
Do we really need another version of Cinderella? I didn’t think so until I saw Kenneth Branagh’s ravishing new rendition that’s buoyed by a reverent approach, perfect casting and a sumptuous production design that manages to create a magical kingdom that effortlessly straddles the line between fairy tale frills and realistic anxieties.
All that trouble for this…I’m sure I’m not the only one who was hoping that Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan’s The Interview would be, if not a groundbreaking classic, at the very least a film that took chances. Surely the movie would justify the international turmoil it had generated. Alas, maybe there’s some irony to be found in the fact that the film is a run-of-the-mill comedic exercise, one that occasionally catches fire thanks to the inspired, lunatic performance of James Franco, but often as not becomes mired in gags that suffer from reaching for an obvious end or simply aren’t carried through to an inspired punch line.
Building awareness about a mid-budget film is a tricky thing in today’s Hollywood (upsetting a nation leading to a cyber-attack that puts your own country on high alert is one such method…but I digress). Often publicity departments err in generating hype so large that the film in question can’t live up to it. Such is the case with Chris Rock’s Top Five a good comedy that Paramount Pictures has been hyping as one of the best movies of the year. How desperate were they to build awareness of the film? Well, I received a letter, as other members of the Broadcast Film Critics did, from the head of the studio Scott Rudin in which he stated that he is as proud of this film as any others he had produced (keep in mind, he’s been behind The Truman Show, and No Country for Old Men, among many others) and that I should expect a copy of it in the mail in days to come. Sure to his word, it arrived one week before it hit theaters with a special message from Rock himself tacked to the beginning of it, thanking critics like me for taking the time to watch it. Needless to say, this is a unique approach.
There are many ways that Jean-Marie Vallee’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild could have gone wrong. A story anchored more by internal struggles than external conflict this is the sort of insular story that’s often difficult to present in a film with directors often falling back on melodramatic methods when all else fails. Fortunately, Vallee is better than that as he stays true to the spirit of Strayed’s book, never resorting to a maudlin approach or manipulative moments, resulting in a delicate tale, powerfully told.
I’ve often wondered why directors attempt to follow in the steps of Alfred Hitchcock. Having nearly singlehandedly created the paranoid thriller, modern filmmakers unwisely invite comparisons to the master’s work and they usually come out on the losing end, unable to build the sort of suspense or use the kind of intelligence found in such films as Notorious, Rope or Psycho. Rowan Joffe’s Before I Go To Sleep is a case in point, a would-be thriller with an intriguing premise that winds up not being nearly as clever as it wants to be, becoming far too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
Having lost 30 pounds before filming Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal has a reptilian appearance in the film. It suits his character well as Lou Bloom is as coldblooded as they come. A product of the alienating factors that are part-and-parcel of big cities, he’s fallen victim to his own worse qualities, becoming a sociopath, unable to function in the company of others, insular in behavior, without feeling or empathy.
We’ve all had them, those days when, not only do things go badly, but circumstances occur that are so outlandish, so catastrophic that we can’t possibly understand how they came to be. These are the days where you not only wish you’d never gotten out of bed but when you start thinking back on past sins, wondering just what it was you did to deserve the awful fate that’s befallen you.
When director Leo McCarey was awarded the Academy Award for Best Director in 1938 for his film The Awful Truth, he said in his acceptance speech that he was getting the Oscar for the wrong movie. He was referring to his other 1937 effort Make Way for Tomorrow, a heartbreaking examination of the vagaries of getting old in which we witness how the marriage of an elderly couple comes to a tragic end as they are forced to live separately due to economic concerns, shuffled from one family member’s home to another until they ultimately forced to stay apart permanently.
To say that Ari Folman’s The Congress has an axe to grind is an understatement of titanic proportions. A film that’s literally brimming with ideas, it’s a production that’s as timely as they come as the director, in adapting the novel by Stanislaw Lem, looks at how technology is causing the intersection between reality and fantasy to blur far too easily.
There’s definitely a retro vibe at play in Fred Schepisi’s Words and Pictures, a film that comes off as a Hepburn-Tracy romance with a bit of a modern update. Without question, the formula of opposites initially clashing only to ultimately fall in love has been done to death and the only reason to venture into this well-worn territory is if you happen to have two performers you want to throw together on screen to see if they have any chemistry.
Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves is the sort of movie that slowly eats away at you, particularly after the credits roll. Though flawed in execution, its noble intent and realistic look at the futility of fighting big business and soulless government admirably goes against the grain of the usual Hollywood cookie cutter product, adapting deliberate pace and focusing on characters that are misguided at best, unlikable at worst.
One of the better films to come out of Australia in the last five years, David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010), which airs at 1:50 pm on the Encore Suspense Channel, is a taut coming-of-age tale about a 17 year-old named Josh whose forced to live with Smurf (Jacki Weaver), his grandmother who, unbeknownst to him, pulls all the strings in their criminal family.
Having now sat through three Expendables movies, I can safely say that this is the most predictable franchise in film history. Nothing, and I mean nothing comes as a surprise in Sylvester Stallone’s series for geriatric action heroes, as each movie’s plot marches lockstep through a pattern that’s as expected as it is tiresome. Old mercenaries get together, they blow stuff up real good, crack wise along the way and kill the bad guy in a gruesome manner. The credits roll, the guys in the audience walk out satisfied, their wives or girlfriends who’ve been drug along wonder what the hell they ever saw in them, and Stallone and company live to film another day. And while this sort of surety is part of the appeal of this franchise, that’s also it’s biggest problem. For a group called "The Expendables" none of them are ever expended, as it were. Oh, one of them may get injured along the way and, in their martyrdom serve as their colleague’s motivation but rest assured, they will recover and all will be raising a glass at the local watering hole to celebrate their victory in the end.
If waiting until Valentine’s Day for the release of the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey seems like an eternity, Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur may be just the thing to tide you over as it delves into much the same arena as E.L. James’ best-selling novels do, albeit from a distinctly different point of view.