Monday, January 25, 2010

2010's Top 5 Most Intriguing Upcoming Films!

While perusing this list, you might find your blood-pressure rising an iota, your mind heatedly asking “Where’s Iron Man 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 or Free Willy 4: Escape from Pirate Cove?!! How could they possibly be excluded? I demand to know who wrote this tripe!”

Well, that’s because these five selections constitute the most intriguing projects on the horizon; films with little advertising presence or explicit advance buzz. Movies that are question marks, as opposed to exclamation marks.

The aforementioned three, er two biggies — plus Alice in Wonderland, The A-Team, Tron: Legacy and the like — lack the mystery and creative innovativeness to make this particular list. As exciting as they seem, there’s precious little uncertainty to lay awake pondering and speculating over.

Rather, these five choices are the films I’m most eager to see unleashed onto audiences in 2010. They may be disasters or they could prove to be masterpieces, but either way there’s an irresistible air of secrecy and uniqueness around them that has me impatient to uncover whatever hidden genius may be burning within.

So, on that note, enjoy.

5. THE RUNAWAYS (March 19, 2010 – limited): This rock biopic of the famous titular ’70s teen band is based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s memoir Neon Angel and bears all the markings of being a rivetingly authentic, down ‘n dirty journey through the alternately glitzy and soul-killingly cruel music industry meat-grinder. Packed with a number of Hollywood It! Girls — including Dakota Fanning as Currie, Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Halloween’s Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford — The Runaways could provide a spectacularly raw showcase for these actresses to wow audiences turned off by their previous less-than-stellar genre-based work. Directed by Floria Sigismondi – who helmed two of Marilyn Manson’s most visually inventive and influential videos in “The Beautiful People” and “Tourniquet” – and backed by a no-doubt killer soundtrack, this flick packs serious Devil Horn-waving potential.

Check out the short teaser here.

4. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (March 26, 2010 – limited): Although Jim Carrey has yet to receive many accolades for his dramatic work, his output has been exceedingly strong – minus The Number 23 – so I’m really eager to see this quirky homosexual love story pairing him against the always reliable Ewan McGregor. Walking a fine line between comedy and heartfelt drama, Phillip Morris chronicles the true-life tale of a happily married southern policeman who — following a fateful tragic accident — considerably alters the course of his life, switching teams, as it were, and living life on a the wild side. After meeting McGregor’s character in a prison stint, Carey’s Steven Russell becomes obsessed with breaking his newfound love out of the clink, and a game of twisty conman-ship begins. The film has supposedly been stuck on the shelf for a while, with the studio unsure of how to market a project filled with unabashedly gay material, but, personally, I can’t wait to see what the rubber-faced funny-man can do with such a challenging role. Who knows, if it clicks, it may even earn him his first long-awaited Oscar nomination. Time will tell.

Open your eyes to the first full-length international trailer here. (Caution: It’s a tad risqué, so I’m gonna label it NSFW.)

3. BLACK SWAN (2010): What in the name of One-Eyed Odin is Darren Aronofsky up to with this supernatural ballet thriller? You can read a little more about my thoughts — and some character details — regarding the project in a past news story I did for It’s Just Movies, but let me add that I’m truly fascinated by whatever it is the crafty director is up to. I’m also desperately hoping that Aronofsky can really launch Mila Kunis – a ridiculously charismatic A-list talent in the making – into the stratosphere while also weaving another character-driven cinematic tapestry worthy of deep contemplation and critical analysis. Maybe Black Swan can also give the director’s sadly underwhelming box-office reputation a much-needed boost. The promise of Kunis and Natalie Portman in tights can’t hurt too much.

2. THE FIGHTER (2010): Helmed by notoriously combustible auteur David O. Russell, this based-on-true-events drama details the burgeoning early career of “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer on his way to the light welterweight-level pros with the help of his recovering drug addict half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). With supporting assistance from Academy Award-nominees Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, this project has all the bearings and prestige of being a 2010 Oscar dark-horse. Besides the appeal of the gritty underdog story, what really has me drooling in anticipation over The Fighter is the early buzz surrounding Bale’s go-for-broke performance, wherein he apparently disappears under the wounded skin of his emotionally-damaged character. Early spy pics reveal an emaciated shell of a man – a welcome departure from the gruff, tormented heroes he’s specialized in as of late – which will hopefully remind forgetful critics and ticket-buyers of the actor’s chameleon-like ability to distort and manipulate his own image when required. If Russell can hold the whole shebang together, we may have a serious contender on our hands.

1. INCEPTION (July 16, 2010): Do you even have to ask why? This is Christopher Nolan’s big dice-roll; a chance to parlay his gargantuan Dark Knight success into an epic-sized $200-million-dollar passion project largely free of studio interference and outside input. Whatever the results, Inception promises to be Nolan 100 percent unfiltered, exploring his own obsessions (identity confusion, perhaps?) on the biggest canvas with the biggest, most talented stars — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard — possible. What is it about? I don’t want to know until I walk out of the midnight advance showing. However, after such glorious mind-f***’s as Memento and The Prestige, my expectations are mighty high. Fortunately, Mr. Nolan — one of the most dependable directors currently toiling in the biz of show — is thus far seemingly incapable of producing work that doesn’t surprise and leave us begging for more.

You can try to unlock Inception's latest trailer here.


Even the greatest film directors occasionally meet a cinematic nut they can’t crack; an ambitious tighwire walk of a project that ultimately culminates in a glorious mess of inappropriate stylistic tics, confused storytelling, and misspent good intentions. Steven Spielberg had 1941. Martin Scorsese had New York, New York. Tim Burton had Planet of the Apes. And now Peter Jackson, the visionary mastermind behind The Lord of the Rings and the flawed (but sweeping) King Kong remake, has The Lovely Bones, a perfect storm of gross artistic overindulgence and narrative carelessness.

Too bad, because it’s not as if Alice Sebold’s best-selling 2002 novel, which traced, in heartstring-pulling detail, the life and untimely death of 14-year-old Susie Salmon (“Like the fish!”), was devoid of rich material. As portrayed in the film version by gifted young actress Saoirse Ronan — an Oscar-nominee for 2007’s Atonement — Susie is a sprightly, shy, and cheerful middle-child, adored by her loving middle-class parents Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), as well as her boozy, vampy grandmother Lynn (Susan Sarandon), and hopelessly enamoured with her dreamy British classmate Ray (Reece Ritchie). As cruel fate would have it, however, shortly after her nervous first interaction with the object of her unbridled affection, Susie is lured to her doom by her creepy neighbour Mr. Harvey (a sinister and barely recognizable Stanley Tucci), a cunning sexual predator who hides behind a deceptively placid demeanour of nerdy shlubbiness.

Spirited away from our earthly domain, the girl awakens in the “In-between,” a heavenly surrealistic world of lush green gardens, bobbing lighthouses, crystalline ocean, and ornately-designed gazebos, where she is able to observe first-hand the shattering after-effects of her grim demise upon the people she loves. While her anguished father becomes consumed with the need for closure — an obsession which causes a dreadful rift between the two Salmon parents — and Grandma Lynn is forced to take dominance over the broken household, Susie’s inquisitive older sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) begins to stir animalistic cravings within Mr. Harvey’s unhinged mind. Eager for revenge against her killer and desperately yearning for her family to heal, Susie becomes stuck in limbo, unable to move onto the next stage of the afterlife until she can find solace in her present situation and leave her cherished former life behind.

In its earliest stages, prior to Susie’s regrettable exit, Jackson’s direction feels confident and restrained, carefully drawing the viewer into the immaculately-recreated 1970s-period setting and allowing us to settle comfortably into the wholly ordinary — yet ominously foreboding — daily life of the Salmon clan. He makes us genuinely care for these people, for their modest hopes and dreams, and understands exactly how to twinge our fragile human sympathies when necessary. Indeed, when Tucci’s perverted killer makes his presence fully known, casually convincing Susie to step into his underground hide-out, it’s akin to being locked in an emotional vice, unable to turn away from the unavoidable tragedy chillingly taking place on-screen.

Unfortunately, it’s at this crucial point that the crippling limitations of the patchwork screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, rear their ugly head and The Lovely Bones scatters in multiple directions at once. Although the story is ostensibly intended to be an intimate study of a family in turmoil, the script unforgivably condenses the Salmons’ poignant journey into a superficial series of un-involving bullet-points (Weisz’ character, in particular, feels criminally short-changed) with the occasional inappropriate comedic montage tossed in to alleviate the gloom. It’s perhaps a sign of the film’s borderline cynical nature that the unsavoury murderer is given a more satisfying and well-developed character arc than Susie’s mourning loved ones.

The Lovely Bones’ biggest bungle, though, is in how Jackson chooses to portray Susie’s psychedelic, prog-rock album cover-esque trip through the magical “In-between” zone. Exploiting the potential of gaudy CGI to its fullest, the director creates a fantasy-land which, more often than not, comes across like Ronan standing in front of a splashy demo-reel. These dreary segments, which constitute a large chunk of the film’s run-time, feel utterly disconnected from the rest of the work and lead to numerous jarring edits when the story bounces clumsily between its two contrasting realms.

If there is an upside to this often disastrous — yet bizarrely watchable — work, it’s that Jackson’s inherent brilliance as a filmmaker does manage to make itself known from time-to-time, such as during a nail-bitingly tense house investigation sequence. Sure, these moments are quickly overshadowed by the flick’s insufferably inept storytelling, or unintentionally hilarious bits (don’t even get me started on the inexplicably dragged-out climax involving a safe that seems to take upwards of an hour to move 10 feet), but they act as a pleasant oasis in the middle of an otherwise barren entertainment desert. Still, for the good of Peter Jackson’s otherwise-impeccable filmography and future, I propose that The Lovely Bones be swiftly buried in a shallow grave, preferably unmarked.
2 out of 5
*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Jan 25th, 2010.

The Worst Films of 2009!

Before delving into my Top 10 Worst Films of 2009, I’d like to make clear that this list is not without its glaring omissions. I never subjected myself to All about Steve, Old Dogs or The Hottie and the Nottie. I avoided Bride Wars and Miss March like the plague. I also made sure to not buy a ticket to Planet 51.

I did see New Moon and Transformers 2 but they fell more into the “forgettably mediocre” category than the “unwatchable” one.

So, basically, this list really represents the most unbearable movie-watching experience I did end up enduring this year, the films that either caught me by complete, horrified surprise, or I went in gritting my teeth for.

Anyhoo, onto the list!

1) HALLOWEEN II If Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 original was uninspired and hackneyed, his sequel is an utterly embarrassing catastrophe; a wildly miscalculated attempt at creating an artsy slasher film through hokey pop-psychology, tin-eared humour, migraine-inducing surrealism and chaotically-edited, emotionless brutality. Despite the best efforts of a game, if stiff, cast, the once-promising director drags this project through the sordid muck and grime every chance he gets, producing an excruciatingly ugly exercise in banal cruelty without momentum or a glimmer of intelligence. Halloween II proves that even the formidable Michael Myers is no match for a crazed Zombie.

2) SORORITY ROW I personally guarantee that viewing this mean-spirited slasher picture will leave you desiring a shower well before the drawn-out, tawdry conclusion. Director Stewart Hendler has created a truly hateful, sleazy slice of nasty misogyny with Sorority Row, a mind-numbing murder mystery featuring a band of repulsive, racist, venom-tongued, alcoholic super-sluts attempting to figure out the identity of a cloaked, tire-iron-wielding executioner. Making up his female cast like Hastings Street hookers and eagerly searching for new methods of degrading them, the pervy helmer ignores building intensity or terror in favour of killing their dignities on-screen in as gruesome a fashion as possible.

3) THE UNBORN Intended to be a Jewish variation of The Exorcist, the relentlessly dour and dull The Unborn, written and directed by David S. Goyer, feels like a potpourri of out-dated, recycled ideas. Creepy-crawly bugs? Check. Spooky, wide-eyed children? Check. Nightmarish nocturnal visions of sinister animals? Check. Twitching, sputtering victims of demonic possession? Check. A frequently underwear-clad young woman (possible Real Doll© Odette Yustman) with a mysterious past? You know it. The fact that none of these venerable-if-ill-fitting elements add up to a single memorable moment of genuine fright? Now, THAT’S scary!

4) GAMER Not content to stick to their absurd Crank franchise, creative duo Neveldine/Taylor instead turned their ADD-riddled attentions to this fractured and thin attempt at social commentary, which would be laughable if it weren’t so damn grating. Pulling from their now-tired bag of tricks – which includes random blasts of graphic sex and nudity, dripping gore, epilepsy-triggering action, and general perversity – the directorial dunderheads attempt to viciously criticize their general fan-base while alternately following the adventures of Gerard Butler’s character, a prisoner taking part in a real-life video-game. Light on excitement and fun, long on deafening obnoxiousness, Gamer’s plug should have been pulled during the script-phase.

5) UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS A stale prequel to 2003’s clunky vampires vs. werewolves smack-down extravaganza Underworld, Rise of the Lycans attempts to mine dramatic gold from the Jesus Christ-like sufferings of wolf-leader Lucian (a pay-check cashing Michael Sheen), but draws only snores and the listless eye-rolls. Seemingly shot on a single, small, under-dressed soundstage, the film is a tacky-looking, talky supernatural groaner that forsakes any attempts at creativity in favour of half-heartedly aping Spartacus, Gladiator and Braveheart. By the way: that sucking noise you hear isn’t coming from the movie’s vampires. Nope, it’s the sound of Screen Gems pictures draining every last possible cent from their insipid flat-lining franchise.

6) NINJA ASSASSIN Following the release of 2005’s sophisticated and thrilling V for Vendetta, director James McTeigue looked like a rising star to be reckoned with; a virtuoso talent with genuine action chops and a flair for epic dramatic storytelling. However, after enduring his sophomore effort Ninja Assassin, I think we may need to start re-evaluating our expectations. By attaching his once-respectable name to such an irritatingly humourless, inert martial arts pot-boiler, populated by stony one-dimensional characters engaging in drearily incomprehensible CG-addled fight scenes, McTeigue has committed what can only be described as film career seppuku.

7) STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI It takes a pretty major debacle to make 1994’s Jean-Claude Van Damme-led Street Fighter: The Movie look good by comparison, but "The Legend of Chun-Li" does just that. Starring Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk as the titular Chinese(!) ass-kicker, the film pilfers most of its key scenes and crucial plot-points from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, but strips them of technique and emotional resonance. Filled with unintentionally comic dialogue, robotic acting – minus Chris Klein’s side-splittingly atrocious performance as swaggering cop Charlie Nash – and wooden martial arts battles, this second Street Fighter is yet another sluggish video-game adaptation in desperate need of a creative power-up.

8) OBSESSED The biggest sin committed by this trashy hit is that it completely misunderstands the appeal of its inspiration Fatal Attraction. By removing all moral greyness and egotism from male lead Idris Elba, we’re left with a soppy victimized nonentity, devoid of complexity, guilt or inner-conflict, forced to sit impotently on the sidelines while his no-nonsense lioness wife (Beyonce Knowles) heroically saves him - through gloriously campy cat-fight fisticuffs – from sultry, 95-pound stalker Ali Larter. Director Steve Shill also eradicates all erotic charge from the lurid premise, making Obsessed feel as limp as its emasculated protagonist.

9) YEAR ONE Is there anything funnier than seeing Michael Cera and Jack Black stand listlessly around in animal-print loin clothes? Not in Year One, that’s for sure. Apparently written over a weekend by The Office scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, along with director Harold Ramis, the flick feels like an inane artefact of the early 80s; an expensive, high-concept comedicus stupidicus boasting a hard-working, but visibly mortified, cast of improv all-stars (Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt and David Cross, to name a few) frantically attempting to draw the audience’s attention away from their silly costumes. Fortunately, with this pathetic, laugh-free clinker stumbling at the box-office, any chances of Year Two occurring are completely extinct...

10) X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE Yikes, even Wolvie’s enhanced healing powers may be helpless to restore his box-office vitality after the heavy blow dealt by Origins, a clumsy not-so-superhero blockbuster-in-name-only. Costing $150 million, but boasting bargain-basement CG effects, paper-thin supporting mutants and a script comprised of plot-holes so gaping that the X-Jet could soar through them, the Clawed One’s first solo adventure was so hopelessly bungled that it’ll take more than an amnesia bullet to wipe its crappiness from movie-goers’ minds.