Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bullet to the Head

by Tony Dayoub

Conceptually, the idea of director Walter Hill's return to cinema with a movie starring Sylvester Stallone is an appealing one, especially for this fan. Before serving an undeserved, decade-long sentence in movie jail, Hill was best known for re-inventing the action film with the prototypical buddy flick 48 Hours (1982). Though based on the graphic novel Du plomb dans la tête, Hill's newest, Bullet to the Head, might as well be a twisted spiritual sequel to the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte cop thriller. The mismatched duo here are New Orleans hitman Jimmy "Bobo" Bonomo (Stallone) and D.C. cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang). The two team up to find out who hired Bobo to execute Kwon's ex-partner (Holt McCallany), before double-crossing the button man himself and killing his fellow assassin (Jon Seda).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Why Side Effects (2013) is the Quintessential Soderbergh Movie

by Tony Dayoub

If Side Effects is the final theatrical film for Steven Soderbergh—even if only for a shorter period than the "forever" he originally implied—then what a movie to bow out with. There are all kinds of reasons even the most attentive moviegoer might have had cause to think otherwise. One could start with its generic title or its below-the-title ensemble cast or the fact that it's being released at a time of year studios usually reserve for dumping their most problematic films. But why not look at the way he's constructed the film itself. Side Effects is the kind of movie in which any review must be written carefully in order to preserve its effect on a first-time viewer, a promise I'll keep in my own brief assessment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best of 2012: The 14 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

Sorry I'm running my "Best of" list a bit late this time. Normally, I like to post it before Oscar nominations are announced. However, in my defense, the Oscar calendar is running far earlier than normal. Plus, as you may know, my wife and I opened a bake shop this year. Understandably, that took away a considerable amount of my moviewatching time. Notable films I didn't see are far greater in number than in past years, so I won't bore you with the lengthy list. What that means, though, is that if I don't address a film you expected to see listed, it likely means I just didn't see it. As usual, leave a comment with your thoughts on my selections or simply to propose some of your own.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not Your Father's Camelot

More than thirty years after its theatrical release, John Boorman’s Excalibur is still an outrageously galvanic depiction of Arthurian legend

by Tony Dayoub

"...Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha. Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha..."
- Merlin, reciting the charm of making

On the occasion of director John Boorman's 80th birthday, I call attention to my personal favorite of his films. Boorman's bloody, erotic, violent and ultimately enchanting Excalibur (1981) is the definitive motion picture version of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. There have been many notable film adaptations, each focusing on a different aspect of the legend: Knights of the Round Table (1953) centers on the friendship between Arthur and his best knight, Lancelot of the Lake; Disney's animated The Sword in the Stone (1963) adapts the T.H. White version of the story, a humorous look at Arthur's magical upbringing by the wizard Merlin and the events leading to Arthur's coronation; and 1967's Camelot (adapted from the musical of the same name) riffs on White's later stories about the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Queen Guenevere. Excalibur's strength lies in the way its story, told in a short 140 minutes, encompasses all of the other films' themes while still introducing its own central motif. Boorman's film most resembles Knights of the Round Table because both share Malory's tale as a primary source; such iconic imagery as a meeting of the knights at Stonehenge, or a floating, shimmering Holy Grail appearing in a vision to the brave knight Perceval (Paul Geoffrey in Boorman’s version) are important to both films. Excalibur also integrates the playful relationship between Arthur (Nigel Terry) and his mystical mentor central to Sword in the Stone, and the idea of the king's betrayal by his closest loved ones as the root cause for the kingdom's destruction (as touched upon in Camelot). Yet Boorman also brings an auteurial component missing from previous filmic endeavors.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Star's Soulfulness Lends Some Weight to LUV

by Tony Dayoub

Opening tomorrow in a limited number of theaters is LUV, an indie crime thriller that far outpaces the studio release I reviewed yesterday. Like with Broken City, a powerhouse cast led by Common (Smokin' Aces) and Dennis Haysbert (Heat) bring a soulfulness and gravitas to what otherwise might have been your average urban noir. But despite some minor flaws in its structure, LUV is able to transcend its modest budget to become something greater. Without ever falling into empty preachiness, LUV seems to possess a social consciousness that eludes the other film.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Slumming It Lumet-Style in Broken City

by Tony Dayoub

Private detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is a brittle shell encasing a multitude of failings. Jealous, obsessive and paranoid, he tells his soon to be ex-wife Natalie (Natalie Martinez), an actress on the verge of overnight success, that she can't fool him. "I'm a detective. You couldn't if you tried." So, into the mix that makes up Taggart, you can also add a certain measure of arrogance characteristic of some who "uphold" the law. Taggart's hubris is a strong indicator that he is headed for a big fall. With such a perfect noir set-up, why then does Broken City feel so prosaic?

Monday, January 14, 2013

TV Directors at the Movies: Les Misérables (2012) and Not Fade Away (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

I skipped the Golden Globes last night. Instead I had a wonderful night out with my wife. Without the kids. We ate at a romantic restaurant on the river, had drinks without straws sticking out of them and everything. Of course, maturity went out the window once we made it to the main event, a wonderful one-man show starring my childhood hero, William Shatner. Anyway, talk of his TV days, coupled with the awards won by Les Misérables last night, put me in the mindframe of looking at two TV directors and their approach to the recent theatrical releases they helmed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nominations for the 85th Academy Awards (and Brief Analysis)

by Tony Dayoub

So, besides an annoying, halting delivery of the nomination announcements by the grating Seth McFarlane (Family Guy) and the wittier Emma Stone, the Oscar nominations were among the more conventional we've had in some time (which is saying something considering the last few years). If there were any surprises, they were in how conventional they truly decided to go. The punishment Paul Thomas Anderson and The Master received for even daring to portray Hollywood's Scientology community in even an allusory, wink-wink sort of way is something significant.

Here's a list of nominees and, when I have something to say, my thoughts (in italics).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Live Stream of Oscar Nominations Announcement Tomorrow, at 8:30 a.m. EST

Tomorrow morning, join me here at 8:30 a.m. to watch a live stream of the Oscar nomination announcements in the YouTube frame above. Feel free to leave comments below. You can start now and chime in with Oscar nomination predictions and movie award discussion of any kind. Or you can wait and talk about the nominations here tomorrow, after the announcement.

Monday, January 7, 2013

2012 Online Film Critics Society Awards Announced

by Tony Dayoub

From the Online Film Critics Society (of which I am a member):

Ben Affleck’s film Argo, about the fake film shoot that was used as a cover to extract six Americans from Iran during the Iran Hostage Crisis, was named by the organization as the Best Picture of the 2012. The film was also recognized for its screenplay by Chris Terrio based on an article by Joshuah Bearman.

The year’s most nominated film, The Master, received two prizes including the Best Director prize for Paul Thomas Anderson and the award for Best Supporting Actor given to Philip Seymour Hoffman. The other acting winners were Daniel Day-Lewis who received his third award for Best Actor from the OFCS for his work as the 16th president of the United States, Abramah Lincoln; for Best Actress in the film Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain; and Anne Hathaway receiving the Best Supporting Actress award for Les Misérables
The full list of winners of the 16th Annual Online Film Critics Society Awards:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Shackling of Django Unchained (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

The last time I discussed Quentin Tarantino's films at length here was a little over 3 years ago when I got into it with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, defending Inglourious Basterds (20009) as more than just a "film that seems morally akin to Holocaust denial." Frankly, I didn't find the revisionism in Basterds—particularly the blatant recasting of Hitler's death as part of a gory massacre in a locked theater auditorium—to be offensive or even problematic. Basterds' climax was characteristic of the propaganda-like take on the American war films of the 40s that Tarantino was riffing on, movies in which Americans were clearly the "white hats" and the Axis were not only their opposite number; they were racially stereotypical, incompetent goons. Besides which, the violent death of Hitler, and not by his own hand, seemed like the kind of wish-fulfillment narrative few would admit finding unsatisfying on at least a primal level. Django Unchained is more of a mixed bag, another revisionist take on history by Tarantino, one that finds the director losing the thread of the conversation he himself instigates. And in this case, it's difficult to ignore his inclination to overindulge.