Expect this to be a huge hit next February, given how insanely popular the books were. I don't know, it looks kinda cheesy to me. I do like Jamie Dornan (he plays the creepy serial killer on The Fall), but here he just looks a million times tamer. You probably think that's a good thing, since he's actually not supposed to be a killer in this one, but he is supposed to have an intimidating, more dangerous look about him. I don't see it in this. Also, the whole touch of having Beyonce's re-mixed version of "Crazy in Love" playing over the trailer makes it seem extra marketed. This is just phony sensuality for a broad audience, not true eroticism (which actually makes it pretty close to the books I guess, given how trashy they were).
Finally, the movie that got the biggest reaction out of Sundance has a trailer out, and is set for release on October 10th. Have to say, it does look pretty great. Whiplash also stirred up Oscar buzz way back in January for J.K. Simmons as the sadistic music teacher you see here. Miles Teller looks good too as the student (his most significant performance so far was in last year's teen drama The Spectacular Now). Can't wait to see this one.
One of the great courtroom drama mysteries is out on blu-ray this week. This is a Billy Wilder essential (one of my all time favorite directors) with an all-star cast consisting of Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power. With that much star power on the screen you've got to check it out, right? Based on an Agatha Christie story (usually considered the best ever film adaptation of one of her works) and featuring the great Marlene Dietrich's best ever performance, this is a can't miss classic from the 1950's.
Original 1957 Trailer:
Another Sundance hit, from newcomer Justin Simien, who wrote and directed this satire about racial politics in the present day (which already makes it a refreshing take on the topic, since most movies about racism stay squarely focused on the long ago past). It got great reviews out of the festival and is coming out October 17th, so keep an eye out for this one, which is bound to garner a lot of press in the fall, be it due to controversy or praise.
A new picture has been released from the next Hobbit movie, coming out December 17th. As you've probably noticed by now, the release of pictures and posters usually means a trailer is right around the corner, so I'm guessing we can expect it sometime this week or next. For now, here's Gandalf and Bard from (supposed) last film in the forced trilogy made out of one book, The Battle of the Five Armies.
The newly resurrected Godzilla is an oddly frustrating filmgoing experience. Directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards (who made the indie hit Monsters) with a clear reverence for and knowledge of the material, there are flashes of artistic vision and major filmmaking talent here- but very, very little of what people are paying to see in a movie called Godzilla. Namely, the title character.
Normally, this might be a good thing, as all film buffs are familiar with the old monster movie rule that too much of it spoils the magic, and glimpses of the shark in Jaws worked to extraordinary effect, better than seeing it all the time possibly could have, as the sequels subsequently proved. Edwards is very clearly of that particular school of thought, but he seems beholden by it to an unbearably maddening degree. In this new Godzilla, The King of the Monsters is probably on screen for less than 25% of the entire film, and whenever he is, he looks amazing- a gigantic CGI-created pre-historic beast that stomps through the city, breathes fire, and does battle with other dinosaur like creatures. But far, far too much of this movie chooses to deliberately cut away from Godzilla after glimpsing him for about ten seconds, to instead spend all of our time following the random military soldiers as they go about the business of pointlessly attempting to stop the beast, when the audience, and even some of the other characters in the movie, know full well there's nothing they can do.
A huge problem with this film lies in the human characters, all of whom are deathly boring and lack a single shred of audience investment in their plights. When what we want to see is Godzilla, and instead are ripped away from him every time he shows up, the stuff you're cutting away to better be good, or at least interesting enough to keep us from wishing we were watching something else. That is not the case in this film, as far too many scenes are wasted with the military soldiers and commanders, running to and from various buildings, telling each other what's happening and where the monsters are headed (instead of letting the audience see it for themselves), and watching the destruction on a tiny television screen, where again, we cannot see what's actually happening, even if they can.
Bryan Cranston starts the film off as an engineer who works in a power plant in Japan, where one day in 1999, the radiation levels were off the charts, leading to a disastrous explosion that killed his wife (Juliette Binoche). We then cut to 15 years later and our new protagonist has become Cranston and Binoche's adult son, a beefed up Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose role is so underwritten he may as well be a literal GI Joe. He's married to Elizabeth Olsen and they have a son of their own, but when Cranston dies after having been proven right about his theories over what's been hiding under the surface of the radiation site (Godzilla of course), there is no longer any reason to spend any time with Johnson, who spends the rest of the movie occasionally trying to work with the military to do something futile, occasionally staring up at the sky, and occasionally worrying about getting back to his wife and kid. Olsen's role is even worse, as her scenes are even less urgent and more plentiful, as unlikely as that seems.
What action involving monsters in the movie that we do get includes a lot of scenes of other pre-historic beasts that came out of the ground as a result of nuclear bomb testing in the 50's- mechanical bending insect beasts known as MUTO's. The two MUTOS in the movie serve as the villains who go around tearing up San Francisco and Las Vegas, and Godzilla, our alpha predator, is the one that must confront and destroy them. Ken Watanabe, a Japanese scientist who knows the nature of the monster, states somewhere in the middle of the film that this is what must happen, so we all know that's where this is headed. And yet we still spend almost no time with Godzilla, way too much time with the boring humans who we've just been told cannot do anything to defeat these creatures, and seemingly to hold us over, Edwards lingers on long shots of the MUTOS (who are not nearly as visually interesting as he seems to think) as if they can compensate for the lack of Godzilla action we're getting. They cannot.
Despite the artful manner in which action scenes are set up (although when I say artful I don't mean original- so many sequences from this movie are ripped frame by frame from Jurassic Park that Spielberg should be paid royalties), the experience as a whole is too unsatisfying to recommend. If you want to get your money's worth of giant fighting creatures without having to suffer through a Michael Bay movie, a much better film overall is last year's Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro had a better understanding of what it is that audiences want in a movie like this, and what it is that's pointless to spend too much time on. Here's hoping Edwards gets the balance right in the sequel.
Another potential Oscar player this year has a trailer out. This movie tells the story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician and inventor of the world's first computer, who was credited for cracking the German enigma code during WWII. He was then castrated by the British government for being gay, which was illegal at the time. Benedict Cumberbatch plays him here, and he looks to be surrounded by a great cast, all of whom wanted to be a part of telling the story of one of WWII's most unsung heroes. Morten Tyldum directed it- a Norwegian director whose last movie was the 2011 thriller Headhunters (which was really good), so this looks promising. The Imitation Game's coming out November 21st, and will probably premiere at one of the fall film festivals (my guess is Toronto).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rallied Saturday against the big Friday night showing of The Purge: Anarchy, to retake the No. 1 slot this weekend, pulling in $36 million for a very good hold from last week (better than quite a few other blockbusters have had this year). The Purge earned $28 million over the weekend, a couple million under the last movie's opening last year, but got just a "B" Cinemascore. As always though, these cheaply made horror movies make all their money back and more on the opening weekend, so expect it to vanish in a week but still be considered a hit, like most of the forgettable horror films that have come out in the last few years.
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel's Sex Tape, meanwhile, ended Diaz's hot streak at the box office, coming in fourth with just $15 million and a terrible "C+" from audiences. Looks like the Bad Teacher combo didn't quite hit twice. Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue came in third with $18 million, which is actually very low for a family audience movie, but I can't imagine there are too many die hard fans of this particular spin-off series from the Cars universe in the first place. It did get an "A" from audiences, so perhaps it'll hold well. Transformers rounded out the top five with another $10 million.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes- $36 million
- The Purge: Anarchy- $28 million
- Planes: Fire & Rescue- $18 million
- Sex Tape- $15 million
- Transformers: Age of Extinction- $10 million
In limited release news, Zach Braff's Kickstarter-funded vanity project Wish I Was Here opened in 68 theaters for a $495k total, while Boyhood continued to shine, pulling in $1.1 million on just 34 screens, indicating it will probably have a quite successful theatrical run, with the best per-screen-average of any other film this weekend. But you never know with limited release movies- it could suffer as it expands wide, or word of mouth could help it genuinely cross over. We''ll have to wait and see. Well, that's it for this week, as next week brings a couple more action movies (hopefully one of them will have good reviews, as every new release this week was rotten), when Lucy and Hercules square off.
Some sad news late tonight, as it was just reported that James Garner passed away at the age of 86. A television legend who starred in two iconic series, Maverick (1957-62) and The Rockford Files (1974-80), along with a very successful film career that spanned over five decades. Some of Garner's most notable roles included movies like The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Victor/Victoria (1982), Murphy's Romance (1985), for which he received an Oscar nomination, and The Notebook (2004). But he will always be best known and remembered for his iconic character Bret Maverick in the comedy western television series, which he starred on from 1957 to 1960, a role that he reprised in a supporting part in the 1994 film remake. Series creator Roy Huggins even reworked the premise into The Rockford Files in the 1970's, with Garner playing Jim Rockford, essentially Maverick as a modern day private investigator, and finally winning an Emmy for the role in 1977. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1990 and received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Jonathan Glazer's strange and haunting Under the Skin is a triumph of visual storytelling, like few films since the silent era have been able to accomplish. It's filled with moments of spellbinding wonder, and if you are open-minded enough to let it wash over you and experience the film as a series of images, you will be in for a rare cinematic treat.
This is not a film that bothers to set up a conventional narrative, to go from Point A to Point B, although when it's over, you can think back on it and realize that it actually does tell a story, but it does so with mostly images and sounds (rarely the sounds of dialogue, which is spare). What little setup there is involves Scarlett Johansson, perfectly cast as this literal otherworldly being, who for unexplained reasons has set herself up in the mountainous towns of a very scenic Scotland, where she has taken the place of her predecessor to go about the wearying task of hunting down young single men and leading them back to her apartment. What happens to them then is for you to experience (or try to interpret) for yourself, as those eery moments inside her house are some of the movie's most strikingly memorable. None of this "plot," is really explained however, leaving it up to the viewer to piece together what's going on, and if you're as entranced by the mood and atmosphere of the film as I was, you'll realize that you truly can start to follow the events, just by watching this externally perfect female alien as she goes about her long, not entirely aimless days.
Scarlett Johansson's never been particularly known for her acting talent, her image having been more or less entirely absorbed by her voluptuous looks and sensuality. But here, cast as a surreal creature not of this world or any other, it seems to suit her screen presence like no role she's had since perhaps Lost in Translation. Standing apart from humanity in a body she doesn't understand would of course turn out to be the perfect part for someone who's always seemed a little out of this world anyway. As the predator who preys on men for some vague, arbitrary assignment we're not fully aware of and can never comprehend, I was reminded at times in this movie of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, another science fiction story that had to be experienced rather than simply seen. Glazer creates some lasting moments of awe and visual splendor in this film that I will not soon forget, and as an audience member the pictures wash over you in ways that are more felt than observed. There's the sequence of Johansson dragging a body from the rocks of the ocean's waves while disregarding a crying baby on the shore, or the shocking fates of the various men who meet their doom in Scarlett's apartment that recall the vivd imagination of David Lynch's worst nightmares in Eraserhead (another clear influence on parts of this film).
Finally, just when you've grabbed hold of the concept at play and are wondering how far this premise can sustain itself, the unnamed being undergoes a sudden change of heart, and the story shifts from being one of dreamlike horror to one of self-discovery and lost meaning. We begin to not just observe but question her thoughts and shifting emotions, a feat even more impressive considering the near silent performance that Johansson gives until the movie's unforgettable and startling conclusion. At this point we're so enshrined in her headspace that we are starting to sympathize, if not identify, with her still unknowable predicament. It's a gradual shift, but it happens in strange and serendipitous fashion. Under the Skin is bound to confound a lot of people, but as a piece of visual filmmaking, it's a hypnotic achievement and a must see for serious moviegoers.
* * * 1/2
Another summer romance completes our picks for summer movies this week. In this dance movie classic that became a cultural phenomenon in 1987, Jennifer Grey (who was 27 but looked 12) stars as the teenage Baby, who travels to the Catskills with her family in the summer of 1963, and falls in with the crowd of dancers who work as the hired help and occasionally sleep with the stuffy rich guests who spend their vacations there. She meets the sexy, older Johnny, (real life dancer Patrick Swayze), who teaches her how to move...in all kinds of ways. A swoony summer fling ensues (set to a classic '80's soundtrack) and an all time guilty pleasure was born. It's the perfect cap to our week of summer time flicks, so maybe collect all five and do a binge over the weekend, or sometime before the summer's out. It'll be worth it.
Original 1987 Trailer:
Here are a couple of red band clips of ScarJo kicking ass as the superhuman Lucy, who makes the most of the myth about human beings only being able to use 10% of their brain. When a journalist asked Luc Besson if he was aware that that "statistic" was actually completely untrue, he just laughed it off and said he knew that, but it'd be cool if it was. That perfectly describes Besson's attitude towards the action movies he makes, which can be way over the top and usually hit and miss (his best are Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element), but maybe this one will work, as thanks to the Avengers movies, people are used to seeing Johansson as an action heroine now (it does kind of suit her stoic acting style to have to be so cool and unemotional). Lucy comes out next Friday.