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Watch This Now: Paperman

Disney Animation is certainly holding its own against sibling Pixar, and nothing proves that better than the short Paperman, which preceded Wreck-It Ralph in theatres and is now available online. I may have only seen four animated features this year (but I’m fairly confident those four were among the best American animated features of the year, and not just because they all got Oscar noms), but I’m pretty sure Paperman is better than all of them.

Watch for yourself:

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The Roundup: January 28

[A semi-regular column pointing out what I've been enjoying reading on the web recently - mostly film-related stuff, but music/gaming/etc, may slip in from time to time]

Featured Links

To the Wonder: I Write on Water the Things I Dare Not Speak by Bilge Ebiri at They Live By Night

I won’t get a chance to see Terrence Malick’s latest film To the Wonder until its theatrical release in April, but the reviews out of TIFF were decidedly mixed – has Malick finally gone off the narrative deep end? Bilge Ebiri argues instead that Malick has embraced an aesthetic of dance in everyday life, a prospect which excites me very much, since it was that sense of dance-like movement among the Native Americans that first made me fall in love with The New World.

Top 15 Opening Credit Sequences by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins

A great opening credit sequence can really set the mood for the film that comes, and are often works of art in and of themselves – it’s disappointing that so many films these days eschew them all together. But Alex has pulled together a top-notch set of opening credits both current and classic, complete with video and commentary on why they’re so great. A lot of variety in here, from Saul Bass to David Fincher, and from titles that seem pretty basic but have a ton going on to in-your-face aesthetic assaults.

What’s on TCM: February 2013 by Angela at Hollywood Revue

What’s on TCM in February is their annual 31 Days of Oscar celebration, during which every movie they air has at least been nominated for an Oscar in some category. This lets in, like, stuff that was nominated for Art Direction in 1937, but hey. February is always filled with a ton of great classics. It can be kind of an uninteresting month for avid TCM watchers, but if you just want to watch or rewatch some great films, or share them with friends and family, it’s a good time to get on board. Angela’s got the rundown of what to look out for during February.

This Week in the Death of Cinema: Damn Your Ironic Detachment! by Cory Atad at The Movie Mezzanine

Classic movie fans lucky enough to live in a place where classic films are screened for audiences (or who have ever taken a film appreciation course in high school or college) are likely all too familiar with the scenario in which youthful audiences spend the entire film laughing at the wrong parts, jeering at elements they perceive as dated. Cory Atad recently had this happen at Vertigo, which happens to be one of my (and his) favorite films of all time, and I feel his frustration. Oh, and by the way, if you’re not already reading Movie Mezzanine, you must start – it’s a relatively new collective formed by some of the best film bloggers out there, and they’ve already got some fantastic series going on all sorts of film-related things.

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The Roundup: January 21

Definitely been a while since I managed to put one of these together! But I’m settling back into my blog-reading routine now and finding things I want to share, so I’m going to try to get this series back on track a bit. Can’t guarantee how steady, comprehensive or long-lasting it’ll be, but I shall try to be optimistic.

Featured Links

A Hobbit is Chubby, But is He Off-Balance? by Kristin Thompson at Observations on Film Art

Kristin Thompson, who has written a whole book already about the Lord of the Rings films from a marketing and merchandising standpoint (The Frodo Franchise) and is currently in the middle of writing a book about Tolkein in general, gives an astute look at the additions made to Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. She stands pretty much where I do in terms of appreciating the additions and the way Jackson has molded The Hobbit to fit with his LotR trilogy, but she does bring up some good points regarding the balance of the film in terms of action scenes vs. quiet scenes and how the Azog subplot potentially affects that.

Danny Kaye at 100 by Terry Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts

Danny Kaye’s 100th birthday would’ve been just a few days ago, and Terry Towles Canote takes the opportunity to celebrate this consummate entertainer – as accomplished at singing and dancing as he was at comedy, and even able to turn in solid dramatic performances as needed. There are several Kaye films I love (especially The Court Jester, White Christmas, and Hans Christian Andersen), but there are more I need to see, for sure, and Canote takes us briskly through his life and career.

Marilyn, The Master, and Melancholia by Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun

Kim Morgan writes about Marilyn Monroe better than almost anyone else I’ve ever read, and here she ties Marilyn in with The Master a little bit, but largely with Melancholia, identifying a deep affinity between Marilyn’s struggle with depression and self-worth with that of Justine in Lars von Trier’s film. I’ve heard many people, especially women, denounce von Trier for his treatment of women in his film, but I find myself much more attuned to Morgan’s viewpoint, which is that von Trier is hardly a sadistic misogynist, but is rather one of the greatest directors of women the world of cinema has ever seen. But she expresses it much better than I do.

Top 15 Ten Male and Female Performances of 2012 by Alex Withrow of And So It Begins

Alex runs down his Top 15 performances from both men and women this year, and they’re both really solid lists. Several of the films I still need to catch up with (Rust and Bone most obviously – especially since I’m a huge Marion Cotillard fan), but of the films I have seen, I can hardly disagree with any of his picks.

Scandal on Film: Illicit, Forbidden, and Baby Face by Lara of Backlots

Lara takes on three Barbara Stanwyck Pre-Code films, one from 1931, one from 1932, and one from 1933, and charts the attempts to censor them in the days before the Hollywood Production Code was enforced – who raised outcries and against what specific content. She also looks at each film in and of itself and Stanwyck’s roles. I’ve see Baby Face, but still need to catch up with the other two. Maybe this will spur me to get on with that.

The Most Anticipated Films of 2013 Lists

A ton of these lists have been showing up recently, and so far every one has pointed out films that I didn’t even know were in the works! So my own list of most-anticipated will have to wait until I process some of these other, better-informed ones. It looks like it could be a very good year. Of course, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I will not be able to see most 2013 films in the theatre, my preferred way of viewing, but I hope to have a solid DVD year eventually at home with baby by my side. Here’s a few lists I’ve enjoyed so far:
Love & Squalor’s 35 Most Anticipated Films of 2103 (Part 1 and Part 2)
Kevyn Knox’s 25 or So Most Anticipated Films of 2013
The Playlist’s Most Anticipated of 2013
Indiewire’s 50 Indie Films We Want to See in 2013
Film School Reject’s 52 Most Anticipated Movies of 2013
David Hudson’s Most Promising Films of 2013, which also includes links to many other such lists

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Watch This, Then That: Gangster Squad/The Untouchables

In this series, I will take a look at a film releasing in theatres this week and recommend an older/classic film either as a double feature companion (if the new release looks to be worth watching) or a substitute (if it looks like the new release is of the skippable variety).

New Release: Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad

A misfit squad of cops going after gangster Mickey Cohen’s empire in 1940s Los Angeles? Yeah, sign me up for that. I’ve been interested in this since I heard about it, especially due to the presence of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the cast, but I’m ultimately glad it got delayed from September to January. Once the trailers started coming out, it was fairly clear this wasn’t going to be a good movie in the sense of a The Departed or a Godfather, but an over-the-top fun genre flick, and that fits the post-Oscar-hopeful January moviegoing season perfectly.

I went to see it yesterday, and enjoyed it quite well for what it is – there are some plot holes that I didn’t feel like bothering either rationalizing or criticizing, because it’s a fun, rollicking ride. It manages that handily, with Sean Penn hamming it up as Cohen and the other cast hitting their admittedly single-faceted character notes with game aplomb. Its glossy look never quite approaches anything that actually feels like a lived-in Los Angeles, but it looks stylish and the fight scenes are well-choreographed – it’s a good look for the film, which never pretends to be realistic, but maxes out on the glamor of nostalgia. Don’t expect too much out of this, and you’ll likely have a fun time. Then come home and watch one of the major influences on Gangster Squad, 1987′s The Untouchables.

Double Feature: Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables

Funnily enough, I chose The Untouchables to double-feature with Gangster Squad early in the week, before I’d seen or even read reviews of Gangster Squad. I mean, it’s a fairly obvious pairing even with only superficial knowledge – they’re both about a somewhat unlikely squad of men going after a crime boss (Al Capone in this case) in the early-to-mid 20th century. Watching Gangster Squad put me even more in mind of The Untouchables with a climax centered on a set of hotel steps that reminded me of The Untouchables’ famous sequence in Union Station (itself an homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkim), but it had been long enough since I watched The Untouchables that I didn’t even realize how very many things Gangster Squad stole from DePalma’s film.

Rewatching it last night after seeing Gangster Squad reminded me pretty quickly, though. There are a TON of similarities in plotting, character setup, settings, etc. So if you’ve already seen The Untouchables and you’re a stickler for originality, you’ll likely be irritated at how much Gangster Squad cribs from the earlier film. I still think both are worth watching, but The Untouchables remains the vastly superior film. The stories are pretty similar, and Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen is actually more menacing than Robert De Niro’s Al Capone, but The Untouchables showcases the best of Brian DePalma’s showy style, with some extremely well-done and effective camera movement, and a refreshing tendency to follow people with the camera to create solid in-depth compositions rather than just cutting back and forth, as Gangster Squad tends to do.

The emotional beats hit home more strongly, too, with Sean Connery impressing both comedically and tragically (he won a deserved Best Supporting Oscar for the film), and the various losses on the squad feeling much more meaningful than the similar losses do in Gangster Squad. DePalma also knows how to take his time, as in the long waiting period for the action to start in the train station sequence – a segment which ratchets up tension beautifully; Gangster Squad takes little time to build sequences like this, though it definitely has its own moments that remain effective.

In short, Gangster Squad can’t come near the quality of The Untouchables, but it is a fun genre ride in the midst of a fairly uninteresting January release schedule. So go watch it and enjoy it for what it is, then remind yourself of what films like this CAN be with a first watch or rewatch of The Untouchables.

The Untouchables is available from Netflix via both Instant Watch and DVD, or as a $2.99 rental from Amazon Instant.

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Scorecard: November-December 2012

Usually November is a huge movie-watching month for me thanks to maxing out on AFI Fest (last year I think I saw upwards of 15-20 films at the festival), but I cut back significantly this year, skipping midnights and not planning more than two programs per day, which also included a number of shorts programs. So I only ended up with six features from the fest, which was a much more manageable number for me this year. I’ve largely used the same brief reviews I posted earlier on Row Three (some slightly condensed, but not much), but you can also read rundowns of the shorts programs over there if you’re so inclined. Then I was typically late getting all this together, and since I watched relatively few films in December as well, decided to throw those into the same post.

What I Loved

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I saw the 2D version, in 24fps, and I’m glad I did, so I wouldn’t be distracted/thinking about tech things instead of the story itself. I really enjoyed the film, at least as much if not more than the LOTR films. I was worried about the length, given the snappiness of the book, and they’re definitely giving it a more epic feeling than the novel, but it works. The added and adapted stuff from the LOTR appendices fits well, and ties the story closer to LOTR in nice ways, while still keeping some of the lighter, more humorous tone of The Hobbit. The pacing is much better than I expected, with only a bit of padding/repetitiveness toward the beginning causing me any doubts at all. (NOTE: We went back to see the 48fps version later, and I don’t want to get into here, but you can see my reaction specifically to the technical aspects on Letterboxd.)

2012 USA/New Zealand. Director: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Stephen Fry, Hugo Weaving.
Seen December 15 at The Rave.

Django Unchained

Any new Tarantino movie is automatically near the top of my anticipated list, and this one was no different. It didn’t disappoint. With Christoph Waltz in his meatiest role since, well, Inglourious Bastards, as a bounty hunter joining forces with freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to take down some bounty targets and eventually get Django’s wife back, it’s a Southern-style spaghetti western revenge tale that was bound to tickle my fancy. Everyone is having gleeful fun with this, right down to Leonardo diCaprio’s slimy Southern aristocrat. Tarantino doesn’t shy away from the subject either, with some brutality is sometimes quite difficult to watch (though there’s plenty of the cool kind of violence as well), and just wait until you see what role he’s got for Samuel L. Jackson. The whole cast gives it their all, whether heroes or villains, and though there’s plenty of Tarantino’s signature dialogue and scene-making, it also moves rather faster and seems less self-indulgent on the script side than often is the case. I don’t think it’s the masterpiece that Inglourious Bastards is, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and there’s no arguing that.

2012 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo diCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.
Seen December 26 at The Rave.

Wrong

I was a pretty big fan of Quentin Dupieux’s previous film Rubber, and I may have loved Wrong even more, with its full-blown absurdity bolstered by an ever-so-slightly more substantial story. Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to find his beloved dog missing, an event that sends his already spiraling life even more out of control. Other things he’s dealing with: his workplace is constantly raining (yes, inside the office), his coworkers seem very intent that he doesn’t belong there, his neighbor and seemingly only friend leaves suddenly on a driving trip to find himself or something, the girl at the pizza place seems to have developed an obsession with him, and what’s more, the palm tree in his backyard has mysteriously turned into a pine tree. “There shouldn’t be a pine tree here. It doesn’t make sense.” No, it doesn’t, and neither does anything else in the film – except, as true absurdity should, it sort of does, right down to the eventually-revealed reason for the dog’s disappearance. Everything in the film is wrong, from obvious things like it raining indoors and trees randomly changing types to the ways people interact with each other. It’s a perfect storm of the awkward and nonsensical, and thanks to the deadpan script and actors’ perfect timing throughout, it’s absolutely hilarious even as you feel bad for these people who can’t quite manage to get along in any way that even resembles normalcy. It’s definitely getting my vote for funniest film I’ve seen this year, and I think it’s safe to say that Dupieux is perfectly tapped into my sense of humor.

2012 France. Director: Quentin Dupieux. Starring: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, William Fichtner, Regan Burns, Mark Burnham.
Seen November 2 at AFI Fest, Chinese Theatres.

Anna Karenina

I went into this knowing next to nothing about the story of Anna Karenina except that it’s about a scandalous affair in 19th century Russia, and Anna’s fate. I’ve never been particularly interested in the story before, as it sounded dreary and depressing (i.e., stereotypically Russian), but I’ve loved every Joe Wright film I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them all except The Soloist. I figured it would at least be a spectacle worth seeing, and I was sure right about that. Between the sets, costumes, score, and camerawork, I was mesmerized for the entire film. I have no idea how close it is to the novel – I hear people complaining that Wright left Tolstoy behind in making the film, but you know what? I don’t care. This is a gorgeous movie that manages to get across its points about a decadent society and its focus on appearances, the contrast between selfish and selfless love, and the gender inequality of the time while never failing to be visually sumptuous. I was worried about the conceit of having everything on a single set, but it worked completely for me – the long takes sometimes taking us from one place to a completely different place without ever cutting are virtuosic and when the film DOES take a break from the stage-bound set, it’s for good thematic reasons. To me, this is possibly Wright’s best adaptation, because it doesn’t feel so stiflingly bound to the book as Atonement, but rather takes flight with Wright’s imagination, and that’s what I want to see in an adaptation – the director’s vision of what the source material could be cinematically.

2012 UK. Director: Joe Wright. Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery.
Seen November 18 at Arclight Hollywood.

Les Miserables

I think I may be enough biased towards this story and music that it would’ve been hard for Tom Hooper to screw it up to the point where I wouldn’t like it. I mean, the version I’ve seen the most is the Royal Albert Hall concert version which isn’t even staged, and it still affects me greatly. But the good news is that Hooper didn’t actually screw it up at all. It’s easy to nitpick if you want (they cut out parts of songs and moved them around; they filmed in intense close-up and shallow focus most of the time; not all the singers are as good as the Broadway counterparts, etc etc etc.), but I’d rather not. Russell Crowe is the weak link voice-wise, and it’s noticeable on his two solos, but he’s actually quite good when interacting with the rest of the cast, even while singing. Amanda Seyfried managed to make me care more about Cosette than I ever have before. Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne ran off with the film, making the most of Hooper’s closeups to put pure raw emotion on screen. Samantha Barks brought the same humanity and expansiveness to Eponine that she did on Broadway. The shooting style is aggressively close-up, but intentionally so – it focuses in on the pain of these people, and their joys, and when a wide shot is needed, Hooper uses them. I was fully moved and taken with the story yet again, and I was quite satisfied.

2012 USA. Director: Tom Hooper. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter.
Seen December 29 at The Rave.

The Driver

I’d heard that Drive (one of my favorite films of 2011) called back to this film especially among its 1970s and 1980s influences, and that’s absolutely true. The character of The Driver is pretty similar – laconic guy who’s an amazing getaway driver but has to get his hands dirty when a job turns out to be a set-up – plus the opening sequence of Drive is clearly modeled on the opening sequence here. The Driver doesn’t have near the stylistic overload that Drive does, but that’s okay – the aesthetics of this film work for it. Most of the car chases (which are fantastic – it’s amazing to me this film isn’t always mentioned in the company of Bullitt, The French Connection, Ronin, etc., when talking about great car chase movies) are done without music, it’s got a pretty toned down visual style, and pretty straight-forward character dynamics. But yeah, it all works, does what it sets out to do, and is quite satisfying.

1978 USA. Director: Walter Hill. Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Dern.
Seen December 9 at home.

In Another Country

The last three AFI Fests have all included films from South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, and it’s a trend I certainly hope continues, because though he’s virtually unknown here aside from avid festival-goers, his films are consistently delightful and refreshing. In Another Country has a framing device of a young Korean girl writing three versions of a story, each involving a Frenchwoman (Isabelle Huppert) visiting the same Korean seaside town; each time she’s a slightly different character in different circumstances, but with many similar experiences. Hong’s previous film The Day He Arrives was also interested in repetition with variation, but In Another Country feels more finished and polished than that film did. It’s also more broadly funny, with Hong exploiting the language barrier for all its worth (all the characters speak English with each other, as neither French nor Korean is a shared language), but never cheaply or meanly. It’s an utterly charming film that uses character interactions and conversations to drive its ever-so-slight plot (or plots), and Hong’s mastery of conversation-driven scripting is second-to-none. Also, having Huppert on board is never a bad thing. She brings a slight melancholy to her three characters, each of whom is in Korea for a different but not necessarily happy reason, and inquiring curiosity about the folk around her. Even though we’re only with each one of her characters for about twenty minutes, it’s impossible not to be drawn right into her story each time. Meanwhile, the Korean actor who plays the lifeguard matches her in charisma, his upbeat cheerfulness and interest in her overcoming the linguistic and cultural barriers between them. Not a whole lot happens in the film beyond a lot of eating, drinking, and conversation, but it’s never less than enthralling.

2012 South Korea. Director: Hong Sang-Soo. Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Kwon Hye Hyo, Jung Yu Mi, So-ri Moon, Moon Sung Keun.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Chinese Theatres.

Rewatches

One Week (1920; rewatched December 25) – Popped this one in to check the transfer on the Buster Keaton Blu-ray set my wonderful husband gave me for Christmas, and it looks gorgeous. Also, the film is hilarious, with Keaton and his new bride trying to set up a proto-Ikea do-it-yourself house.
Shadow of a Doubt (1942; rewatched December 31) – Of all the films in the Hitchcock Blu-ray set, this is the one I most wanted Jonathan to watch, so we did on the last night of the year. Still great, and the crisp B&W fairly pops out of the screen on Blu-ray.
A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992; rewatched December 25) – One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, and I haven’t had the chance to watch it in a few years, so we made sure to make time for it this Christmas.

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