Went to Harry’s (AICN) BNAT X over the weekend and with its dazzling display of 3D became one hell of a powerhouse and showcase for the future of cinema and the theatrical film going experience. I haven’t had much exposure at all to what animation has been cooking up with using 3D or horror films, but the overall take I have is that it will give film productions an incredible new palette to work with and very very exciting ways to capture and thrill audiences.
Coraline (www.coraline.com; try: moustachio, buttoneyes, stopmotion, puppetlove, sweaterxxs) – The animation here as realized in cinematic 3D form is some of the most exciting, beautiful and stunning imagery I’ve ever seen in my life. The online trailers and footage do not in the least do this film justice. Eye popping, jaw dropping, mind rocking all in one… the doors of cinema have just been blown wide open to unimaginable new heights with its visuals. The 3D and the story just perfectly work hand in hand as everything unravels versus the 3D ever feeling like a side gimmick, which to date most 3D films seem to be the variety that use it for gimmicks versus here where it’s used to push the boundaries. The only way to see and experience this is through 3D glasses and 3D projection. Several clips shown.
Monsters Vs. Aliens – Another 3D animated feature that started out incredibly corny until all hell breaks loose and the monsters start taking on the aliens. This certainly adds to the sails of what 3D can do to elevate and put the audience even more into films and their stories. With the world of animation the meshing of viewer to almost a new feeling that even more curtains have been ushered at to bring you even closer to what is going on onscreen. Two clips shown.
My Bloody Valentine 3D – Lions Gate has an absolute home run here with a film that delivers all the goods and more for horror film fans. This might easily be the biggest surprise for anyone that follows horror in 2009. The 3D template goes beyond the obvious to really take advantage of its palette and giving killing and carnage a wild realization that will scare the hell even more out of audiences and craving more. Rough around the edges, this thrill ride never lets up and far exceeds any and all expectations. With its template of horror mixed with 3D, you can easily see a new door has been open for horror cinema to come to follow and take even further. Remakes are supposed to suck and they easily do, thankfully this one defies that trend. Even better note is the 3D technology will takes lots of emphasis away from filmmakers over relying on loud jump noise scares. Full feature shown.
Watchmen – So it was only the opening 22 minutes, but this easily might be the best film of 2009. The fighting was downright pitch perfect and elating that it feels so damn intense. The director of 300 in just its opening 22 minutes alone show that he has progressed well past this previous effort. Gone are the complete reliance on green screens and in this outing you can tell the focus is to mix practical and digital as much as possible. It’s this effort to create a fully fleshed world versus the wall to wall CGI of 300, that makes Watchmen shine. The trailers only give the slightest tease of the tone and how this one plays out. The film itself unfolds very assured and seems to have a perfect flow early on, despite a very sprawling initial storyline. Exceeds the hype, wow!
Che – Four plus hours and this labor of love would seem to be an incredible challenge for IFC. The first part of Che feels so disengaging and detached that throughout most of its run time it felt like Soderbergh was trying to keep us the audience pushed back despite its in your face documentary style. The cross cutting of the first one never seems to find any voice or ryhtym, or at least I just failed to connect until about the last 30 minutes. From the last 30 minutes of part one until the very end of part two, Che had me engaged, though perhaps more on its technical merits and of special note the once in a lifetime performance by Benicio Del Toro. He certainly turns in a Che for the ages. The shootouts, locations, performances and visual sizzle carry this film where the story seems to get lost in the mud. Narrative wise its hard to ever get into the film, but as art Soderbergh and Del Toro have offered an uncompromising portrait that with time will probably become more and more appreciated. Challenging but ultimately rewarding it scales new heights for docu dramas.
Up – Forget Wall-E. Forget everything else Pixar has ever done… except maybe Toy Story 1 & 2. Pixar’s brand new feature Up, might very well be the best, brightest and most entertainingly buoyant film for 2009. Its first act pretty much comes close to having the entire audience in tears and then seems to feel like it might be the biggest misfire Pixar has ever done before out of nowhere its story surprisingly springs to life and for well over half an hour had me and everyone falling out of our chairs wildly laughing and so entertained we reached cinema nirvana again and again and again. Funny, touching, this one seems to have it all and makes Wall-E look dull and boring by comparison, which is really saying something.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – If you take out the overall story mechanism where we find characters in near modern day with Hurricane Katrina bearing down, I might have enjoyed this a lot more. It just didn’t feel right to me and took me out of the movie where I just wanted to be lost and immersed in its central character and story. Within its central story it offers up one of the most touching looks at making the most of your life that I’ve ever seen. Its moments of transcendence sparkle and fill the screen with hope and really ultimately offers up a mirror of our souls that while watching it makes us look into it and seeing death in one corner start to creep in… making me and perhaps many that see it a clear new lense to pack in the days with what matters most before deaths hands reach us.
Valkyrie – It’s digital look is surprisingly crisp, effective and well done. The kinetics packed into the action work flawlessly. Its score with ominous foreboding and riveting drums makes for one of the best, if not best scores of 2008. The film itself for those already familiar with its real life story plays out fairly well despite two big issues that at least for me completely undermined it. Issue one – All the details of the film realize the world we see as Germans in Germany. However, everyone speaks English. This felt completely odd when added into its world of lush details. There is even one point where we see a nightclub and a singer sings in German. I guess everyone speaks English but sings in German? The second issue is the climax of the film. For those familiar with the real life story then you know the complex falling of dominoes it has in its conclusion. Here the entire conclusion seems to get what feels like 10-15 minutes of run time. It feels way too incredibly condensed and gives for a very rushed and cold climax that should be a stark one where you real feel the hands of heroism and tragedy. Definitely worth a view but for me I just ultimately fail to connect with this telling of the story despite strong performances and technical merits.
White Dog – This Fuller film is staggeringly shocking but very well told. Once you get past its shock value the film itself works like one amazing drama. Incredibly unflinching, daring and provocative… and a damn shame this film rarely gets its due.
Sahara – This Bogart World War II film as seen in 35mm was a site to behold and though a very sparse and minimal setup and story to tell, it packs in bravado and patriotism with testosterone to spare. If you like war films put this at the top of your que. Highly recommended!
Viva Villa! (1934) – Sprawling to say the least and performances that are just pure gold, this mid 30’s film that I also saw in 35mm was a complete revelation. It has an over reliance on montage and from a high level perspective it feels like several hands made it, yet it works. The film feels barely stitched together and I really at certain points wondered how it worked as it seemed like it had so many disparate things shot and filmed. I can see where it had 3 directors attached all doing their own thing as the film certainly feels that way and the real Godsend of this film is whomever was able to edit everything into one pot together and churn out this joyous must see romp!
Terminator Salvation – With the director on hand to give us his perspective and assurance as to what was going on and a bit more on the conversation he had with James Cameron, new Terminator Salvation footage was unspooled. We learned that Cameron also felt he had similar obstacles with those unsure of him making a sequel to Alien and that Bale sits in the editing room offering his own creative advice on its cut. You can only imagine with so many people working on this that are dedicated to making it work that the end result will deliver. While I continue to be dazzled by all the footage, I’ve yet to really fully see how the CGI will be fully integrated with the film and just how much melodrama it will feature throughout its run time. This new footage certainly gave for a much more sprawling overview of its storyline than previously shown and so far so good.
I Love You, Man (2009) – This Paul Rudd indie man-flick (like chick flick but for men) will go down as one of the funniest films you will see next year. Really refreshing to get a nice contemporary melodrama with such vibrant prose and characterization. For those like me that also love Jon Favreau the actor, here he stills every single scene he is in with laugh out loud precision and makes you wish he acted a hell of a lot more! Of real special note to me in this film is stunning actress Rashida Jones who reminded me how great and talented she is. Her performance here while it could have easily just been all surface cute and artifice instead adds in depth and texture. I really hope she continues to get great roles like this one! Put this one on your calendar to see when it opens around March of 2009. This has all the bearings to be a huge cult hit and the romantic comedy hit for next year.
A bit more rambling than usual, but that happens on 25+ hours of non-stop cinema and even more hours without sleep.