Benedict Cumberbatch faces the world's first computer in the poster for The Imitation Game, coming out Nov 21st:
In 1977 a woman named Robyn Davidson decided to trek more than 6,000 miles across the Australian desert. A massive undertaking to be sure, and she brought along just four camels and a dog as company. Her ensuing adventure was turned into a magazine article and eventually a bestselling memoir, and now director John Curran has put the story on film, starring Mia Wasikowska in the lead role.
It's a good movie, accurately and deliberately tracing the steps Robyn took as she set out on this journey, and Wasikowska continues her streak of playing understated, cold, internal characters, as Robyn was not exactly a people person (she seems to vastly prefer the company of animals) and seems to want more than anything to get away from the people and life that surrounds her as she goes on this epic voyage. The movie is partly a character study, but doesn't dwell very deeply on Robyn's internal stresses and mostly sticks to the story as written. It's a very straightforward narrative (Robyn decides she wants to go, works for the money, saddles up the camels and takes off) and to be honest, the actual journey itself seemed to be mostly uneventful. When Robyn treks into the desert alone she is always on the verge of heading into territory rumored to be dangerous, but she always makes it through seemingly without incident. There's a risk here of treading on dull ground, as you probably read that sentence and thought, well what's the point, then? Since the movie isn't meditative enough to ever qualify as a deep, penetrating character study of Robyn's psyche as she evolved over this trip (she doesn't really seem to do much evolving), then the question becomes, is the trip entertaining enough on its own to sustain a whole film about it? I'd say yes, but just barely.
The Australian desert landscapes are gorgeous, and the scope of the trip is intimidating enough to keep you in a state of prolonged suspense, even though you know she does eventually make it to the finish line. And crucially, there is another character in the movie that we spend a significant amount of time with, a photographer for National Geographic (who sponsored Robyn's trip) played by Adam Driver, who meets up with Robyn once a month to take pictures to be published with the eventual article. Driver has a natural charismatic and unique aura that ultimately wears down Robyn's defenses, and we look forward to seeing him as he makes his periodic appearances throughout the film. Robyn herself is so prickly and cold that she might be too unpleasant to spend the entire film with if it wasn't for his occasional goofy and inviting presence. Wasikowska has so far proven to be an actress with interesting taste, although I'm not quite sure if she's got the chops to be a chameleon in the vein of Meryl Streep or Jessica Chastain. She specializes in subtlety and understatement, but in the roles she's taken on so far, she's tended to strike the same note in every one of them- which has worked for the individual films, but with this one riding almost entirely on her performance, there's an element of flatness that is conveyed at times.
Still, Tracks is good movie, and despite its relative uneventfulness, the fact of a twentysomething woman crossing a mass desert alone is a monumental achievement that begs admiration from anyone who hears about it. Not every person can or would want to do such a thing, and as a testament of personal strength, it stands as an existential victory for Robyn, both as a woman and a damaged individual struggling to overcome grievances in her past (which is only touched on in the movie, but nonetheless serves as a primary factor for those looking to suss out her motivations). It's a trip worth taking.
* * *
Here we go with the full length trailer for Tim Burton's Big Eyes, coming out on Christmas Day. It actually looks better than I was expecting, although Christoph Waltz is starting to get on my nerves a little bit with his same old schtick in every movie (he looks like another scene stealer here, but after Django Unchained I'm starting to think he plays the same guy in everything). Amy Adams does look great as always though, and I bet it is going to be Oscar nomination #6 for her, which is crazy. Maybe it's turning into a good year for actresses after all.
The teaser for J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year has finally dropped. Starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in what looks like a gritty, period piece crime thriller set in New York City of the early 1980's. It's been described from early reports as being in the vein of a Sidney Lumet kind of film (Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City), and it looks pretty good from this brief look. It's set to come out on Dec. 31st, in a qualifying run for the Oscars before expanding in January, so we'll see. I wasn't a fan of Chandor's last movie, All is Lost, but with Margin Call before that, he's an up and coming director who doesn't appear to want to make the same kind of film twice.
The first poster for Disney's Into the Woods showcases Meryl Streep up close and personal as the Witch. The movie's set to come out on Christmas, but was plagued earlier this year by reports of mass re-shoots, so I wonder how it's going to turn out. With Rob Marshall directing, it's a bit of a crapshoot, since his only good movie was Chicago, 12 years ago. Since then he's done Nine, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Memoirs of a Geisha. So yeah, not a lot of confidence there.
Luc Besson's movies for me have always been the definition of a "guilty pleasure." They're usually big, loud, implausible action-packed adventures, often with a kick-ass heroine in a leading role (Natalie Portman in The Professional, Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita, Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element). Now we can add Scarlett Johansson's Lucy to that list, although as far as B-movies go, Lucy pushes the limit pretty damn far.
It starts off in Taiwan, with Lucy as a naive college student who's being tricked by a guy she's been partying with for a week into delivering a mysterious metal case into the hands of some Taiwanese gangsters. So far so good, as this early part of the movie plays into the skeazy, underground, semi-exploitative tone that characterized the great trashy films in Besson's resume like The Professional and Nikita. He knows how to play it so that we know this is trash and he knows that it's trash, so we can all relax and experience the thrill that goes with secretly enjoying something that qualifies as pulp material. Where the nuttiness comes into play is the pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook (this is one time where I feel that term is more than appropriate) that takes over the second half of the movie, and it's so insane and at the same time ludicrously detailed, that I can't tell whether Besson really believes what's going on here or not.
See, the film is premised on the myth that humans use only 10% of their brain, so what happens if we were somehow able to channel 100%? A straight-faced Morgan Freeman (I guess there's really no other kind) plays a professor who's spent his entire career developing a theory about this notion (what an amazing waste of a career that is), but since humans actually don't use just 10% of their brain (I hope everyone reading this knows that), we're operating in the realm of total fantasy right off the bat anyway. But okay, Besson wants have fun with this and say "what if," so I'm on board with it. When Lucy hands over the case in the violent exploitation part of the first half, it turns out to be filled with bags of blue powder, and she's kidnapped by the bad guys and forced to become a drug mule, one of the bags inserted into her stomach in order to smuggle the drugs into Europe. Of course, this drug spills inside her body, and turns her into a superhuman, as it opens up her cerebral capacity and she starts to access more and more of her brain powers, becoming nothing less than a combination of Jedi/goddess/witch who can do literally anything, at least before she suffers from the all consuming fate of her powers, meeting a similar end to her operating system character in Her, believe it or not.
Scarlett Johansson is the perfect person to play this role, as she's been labeled as a kind of superwoman in everything she appears in lately (couple this with Her and Under the Skin and it could be a "Scarlett rules the universe" movie marathon night). As soon as Lucy undergoes her transformation she becomes robotic and unemotional, embodying the familiar ScarJo screen presence that she seems to be most comfortable with of late. But even though the movie's never really boring (it's too consistently over the top to be that) it does suffer from an inherent lack of conflict after Lucy becomes all powerful. Apparently these bad guys are still after her as she tracks down the other drug mules (she needs the blue stuff to sustain herself), killing everyone in her path along the way and showing up at Professor Freeman's house for help, but there's just no way that anyone can possibly stop her and so narratively, there's no real suspense to maintain. Despite this it does manage to hold your interest because Besson still wants to wade into the waters of philosophical explanation about the origins of the universe and man's inability, I suppose, to appreciate and contemplate all that we are in this world. Lucy can do this though, however briefly, and there are scenes in this movie that seem to want to rival The Tree of Life as she takes on the dawn of man and literally comes face to face with her namesake, the first Lucy (yes that one).
Some of the scientific explanations are so intricate and yet so ridiculous that you wonder how much intelligence was harnessed simply in coming up with passages of dialogue that mean so little and run so deep. That in itself is mind-boggling in its stupidity and at the same time, refreshingly original. Is this a film that can accurately be called a great bad movie? Maybe so. I can't quite recommend it and yet I sort of admire the audacity it takes to go so out there in such an unapologetic way. Perhaps you should just see it for yourself.
* * 1/2
Another new poster for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was released today, as the film inches a little bit closer to release (though there's still a ways to go, it's coming out November 7th). The early buzz on the movie is that it's Nolan's masterpiece, but to be fair, a lot of people said the same thing about Inception. I am looking forward to it though- I just wonder if it will be getting a lot of comparisons to last year's space epic, Gravity.
Yeah, you read that right. After years of speculation and denials, even ones as recent as a couple of months ago, it's now been confirmed by Deadline that Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, the duo who practically reinvented the action movie for the 2000's, will be returning for the fifth installment of the Bourne franchise, set to come out in July of 2016. This will be their third Bourne collaboration (Doug Liman directed the original film, but Greengrass is the one who defined the series). So what happens to poor Jeremy Renner, who starred in the last Bourne movie, the lackluster Bourne Legacy? Well, he kinda gets kicked to the curb, as Universal has stated that that entry has been delayed indefinitely. Better luck next time, Hawkeye. This is pretty exciting news though, as I admit to being a pretty big fan of the original trilogy. I just hope it wasn't primarily money that prompted these two to return when they claimed they'd never do another- it'd be nice if they could make one that matches up to the quality of the second and third Bourne movies, which remain pretty awesome, even now. I'm thinking Bourne Again for the title- what do you think? Too obvious?
Now here's a neat choice for those who like something a little twisted and different. Eraserhead is the movie that introduced everyone to the nightmares of one Mr. David Lynch, and to this day remains one of his most creepy, unsettling, purely visceral experiences. No real plot to speak of, just some crisp black and white photography over images of various dreamlike monsters, circus freaks, and alien inhabitants. An unforgettably freakish little movie, which will haunt you for hours after it's over...unless you hate it from beginning to end, which is an entirely plausible reaction. Lynch is always a polarizing experience, but he remains one of a kind, still influential today, as you can see in a movie like Under the Skin. Check this one out if you dare.
Original 1977 Teaser Trailer:
Here's a really good TIFF interview with the two stars of The Imitation Game. It's better than the usual press conferences, because they're both pretty into not just the film, but current events as they relate to the story of Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch was practically accosted by crazy fans at the Q&A after the Toronto premiere of the movie, so here he's able to actually talk about it in more detail. And he and Keira are pretty funny together too.
I was okay with Tom Hanks getting the Kennedy Center Honors, because his body of work goes back the early 80's, but this is way too early. George Clooney has been announced as this year's recipient of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Cecil B. DeMille award, which is normally their trophy for lifetime achievement. Yes, Jodie Foster got it last year, but at least she's been working since she was a kid. This just screams like the HFPA's usual attempt to get a big star like Clooney to show up at their party in a year where he doesn't even have a movie out. Lame. Expect him to to be the target of jokes all night about his upcoming wedding. The Globes are on January 11th, 2015.
Ok, so finally we have the official trailer for the first part of the last installment of the Hunger Games franchise. This one promises an epic battle and shows us Jennifer Lawrence back in stoic mode as the teen hero Katniss. Eh. It looks alright I guess (apart from Donald Sutherland's creepy looking giant head). I can tell you right now there was no need at all to divide this last book into two parts, but I'm sure the kids this is aimed at will eat it up as always.