Wednesday, August 1, 2012

High Concepts and Nazi Moon Bases

Movies: Tony Nunes previews the high concept brilliance of "Iron Sky"

In 1945, just prior to the Nuremberg Trials, a number of Nazi's evaded prosecution by fleeing to the Moon. Yes, you heard right, at the tail end of WWII a secret Nazi space program packed up and built a secret (Swastika shaped) base on the dark side of the moon. At least that's the back-story of "Iron Sky," an ambitious new science fiction film from Finnish director Timo Vuorensola.

First, a little historical context to sum up my excitement about "Iron Sky." In 1980's Hollywood, "high concept" was a genre defining term used to describe unique and original films. Movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Empire Strikes Back" touched on well tested genres with new and innovative storytelling and audience attracting awe. High concept meant big ideas, fantastic settings and often quirky plot devices. Nowadays high concept movies are a rarity in this landscape of sequels and remakes, yet here is as zany a concept as any before it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'God Bless' Hypocrisy

Movies: Editor Tony Nunes reviews the society reviewing "God Bless America" 

Frank is a curmudgeon of a man trapped in the irony of his seething hatred for modern society. He has a million complaints about a million different things. If he were to look at the unrelenting pedestal he's always perched upon from a third person perspective he might very well begin to hate himself as well. As each societal diatribe is launched by Frank I found myself hoping that he'd catch on to his own hypocrisy. Sadly, he did not, and I fear that filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait also failed to catch on to the mixed messages he conveys in "God Bless America."

"God Bless America" is a condemning and cynical bit of film that begins funny and familiar and ends with a road trip of violent invective. As Frank, Joel Murray (Mad Men regular and brother of Bill) plays a chubby loner with a constant chip on his shoulder. There's nothing that doesn't annoy Frank. At first his casual rants about the reality TV sub-culture are relatable and valid. Frank condemns fictional versions of real shows like American Idol, Jackass, and My Super Sweet Sixteen while aiming equaled vitriol at representations of Fox News, jock radio and the Tea Party. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Avengers" Perfect the Comic Book Genre

Movies: Tony Nunes reviews "The Avengers"  

When it comes to comic book movies I tend to prefer adventurous fun over dark realism. I prefer the whimsy of Burton’s Batman over the gloom of Nolan‘s (though I still really appreciate those films). I’m a fan, not a hater of the Peter Parker Emo dance from "Spiderman 3." I think that superhero movies should remain in the range of the demographic comic books were and always have been targeted to. The perfect comic book movie should appeal equally to the 10-year-old as well as the 30-year-old fan. Superheroes should be flashy, witty, and sometimes arrogant. In the purest of comic-book adaptations I should be able to laugh, grip my seat and loudly cheer at the screen. "The Avengers" made me do just that, which makes it, dare I say, the most nearly perfect comic book movie I've seen yet.

This certainly doesn’t mean that "The Avengers" is a perfect movie, just that its action and tone are closer than most to what the genre should be. By film standards, "The Avengers" shouldn’t work. Putting four of the most singularly spectacular superheroes ever created together in one film is a setup for a collision in storytelling. But here, Marvel has cultivated a film universe that has surprisingly maintained most of its continuity over the course of five films. Keeping with that cohesion, "The Avengers" are called together by the threat of the ominous Tesseract cube, an artifact of unlimited power first used in 2011’s Captain America film. Loki, brother of Thor steals the cube from S.H.E.I.L.D., the agency overseeing the Avengers Initiative. While the plot-lines can seem a bit derivative at times, the dedication of the writers, producers and director Joss Whedon to tie everything together really adds to the experience. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Killing the Tropes of Horror with "Cabin In the Woods"

Movies: Tony Nunes reviews the game-changing horror of "Cabin In the Woods"

Everyone has a favorite horror movie. Most people even have a preference for the kinds of horror they are drawn to. I happen to have an affinity for zombie movies. Horror is a genre that traditionally exists in tropes, scenarios that come up again and again film after film. That’s not to say the genre is unoriginal. Most genres exist in tropes, horror just happens to have some of the most characteristically recognizable of all. Within these tropes however have bred an abundance of clichéd character types and scenarios that have systemically watered down the originality of the scare factory. Mainstream horror as of late has become just that, an unvaried assembly line. Is horror in need of a change?

It’s one thing to redefine a genre, but to take that genre, flip it upside down, inside out and shake away it’s demons is something else entirely. That is precisely what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have done with “Cabin In the Woods.” Here is a movie that quite literally makes us confront these tropes and clichés and question why they exist in the first place. “Cabin In the Woods” is the most inspired horror film in over a decade. What is setup and sold as straight cabin/teenager/redneck/kill horror turns out to be an experience that is at once funny, scary, smart, biting and entertaining. This is a movie to experience without preconceptions beyond your inner compendium of horror. If you have yet to see the movie I implore you to hold off on reading the rest of this review until you do. Spoilers ahead…

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Learning To Trust the 'Kid With A Bike'

Movies: Tony Nunes reviews the Daedenne bothers "Kid With A Bike" 

Abandonment is something we all fear. Its a rational fear, as it could come at any time from the death of a loved one, a severed relationship, or a cowardly throw-in of the towel by someone we trust. It’s the latter example that may cut the deepest. In “Kid With A Bike,” 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Douret) is abandoned by his cold and self-absorbed father who gives up on him without even a hint of remorse. At 11-years-old this is a hard fact for Cyril to accept. Really though, how could anyone, at any age accept such cowardly betrayal?

Cyril is not challenged with acceptance so much as he is with the burden of moving on. In his foster home he acts out, churning with denial and the consuming urge to escape. During one of these escapes he takes the bus back to his father’s former home with the naïve and adolescent hope that they’d reunite and this difficult period would end. When his guardians find him he acts out once more in a fit of rage. These fits come often and on this particular one he hugs onto a young woman in a last ditch attempt to avoid capture. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Jokes on Us, Or Is It? 2012's Top April Fools Pranks

Movies: Tony Nunes shares some of this years best April Fool's Pranks, and some real news that is too absurd to accept as reality.

Last Sunday was April Fools Day, the one day of the year when gullible people across the globe fall victim to some of the strangest news online. The entertainment world loves this stuff, and this year loads of news sites, blogs and companies latched onto the day, pulling their own pranks and releasing their own faux news items to a surprisingly trusting audience. As often happens on the world wide web, a few of these items, one in particular, were picked up and rehashed around the interwebs like true pieces of breaking news. Don't people know not to trust anything on April Fools Day? 

There were a number of notable pranks this year, but the best of the best were all TV and movie related. You may not believe it, but Film nerds tend to get overexcited at times, and Sunday proved no different. However, amidst all the faux news, two movie news items came out this week that had all the makings of a prank, but were sadly true. The joke was on us as Universal and Montecito Pictures announced that they have a sequel to the 1988 Ivan Reitman hit "Twins" in the works. The sequel, to be called "Triplets" will again star Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twin brothers Vincent and Julius, only now they find out they have a third brother to be played by Eddie Murphy. Yeah, that's no joke. The other ridiculous item came with the release of the trailer for "Ted," the upcoming Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) directed film starring Mark Wahlberg as a Bostonian with a vulgar teddy bear best friend voiced by MacFarlane. The trailer, released on 4/1 seemed so bizarre that it had to be a joke right? Nope. 

Check out my three favorite April Fools pranks from Sunday after the jump. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Skyping through the 'Last Day on Earth'

Movies: Tony Nunes reviews Abel Ferrara's "4:44 Last Day on Earth" 

As end of the world tales go, “4:44 Last Day on Earth” is one of the more subtle entries in a genre known for crazed panic and grand apocalyptic set-pieces. It might even be a little too subtle. As the world prepares for its final hours, a New York couple sit at home in their large loft apartment going about the day like it was any other. Their day is spent in a tangle of love-making and personal conflicts with interludes of Buddhist meditation and TV reports weaved throughout. The end, it’s said, will come at 4:44 am, the result of a massive hole in the ozone.

William Dafoe plays Cisco, a former addict who spends his last hours trying to figure out what identity he wants to die with. Throughout the hours his behavior becomes more and more sporadic as he anticipates the end. He can’t sit still. Midway through a meditation with his girlfriend Skye (Shanyn Leigh) Cisco stands up impatiently, pacing over every inch of his loft and rooftop walkout.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Katniss Everdeen Is Your Panem Idol

Movies: Brandon Kirby reviews the newest blockbuster franchise, "The Hunger Games"

Breathe easy, everyone. "The Hunger Games" is not the next "Twilight," not even close. Don't even utter that title -- think more along the lines of the "Harry Potter" series. Suzanne Collins' post-apocalyptic tale that has thrilled millions of readers is now affirmed worthy of being the next big screen literary phenomenon. It's an accomplished, strong and unflinching adaptation that lives up entirely to the source material and even to the hype surrounding it. And with that, the next big franchise begins. 

Director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville," "Seabiscuit") does a superb job of establishing Collins' vision of her futuristic Panem, what was once North America. The bleak opening alone effortlessly displays the tension between the gaudy, colorful luxuries of the Capitol and the twelve districts that lie below in desperation and desolation. It was seventy-four years ago when the districts rebelled, and as a punishing reminder the morally-corrupted Capitol hosts the annual Hunger Games. Each district must offer up one boy and one girl as tributes to compete in a fight to the death between 24 children and teens with only one emerging victor. Not only that, the competition is a widely celebrated national media event within the Capitol while every district is forced to watch loved ones fight for their lives. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Unofficial Bridesmaids Reunion

Movies: Brandon Kirby reviews Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids marks the first movie since Bridesmaids to continue that same brand of humor -- a female-driven comedy with just the right levels of raunch, wit and heart. It's the proof that Academy Award-nominated Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo truly started something. It's even more fitting that Friends With Kids also serves as an unofficial reunion of the Bridesmaids cast.

Jessica Westfeldt -- who co-wrote and starred in 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein -- goes solo this time writing, directing and starring in this candid look at adult relationships; ones affected by that tricky life obstacle we call having kids. The movie looks like any other rom-com you've seen set in bustling New York with sleek nightlife and nifty apartments. Setting it apart, though, is Westfeldt's screenplay full of sharp dialogue which brings up smart observations giving her characters more to chew on. Westfeldt, 42, clearly knows raising children is no easy feat, and her intensity on the topic shows. The movie's cynicism and harsh, biting humor is off-putting at first, but it eventually eases into a bittersweet balance.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Recap of the 84th Academy Awards

Movies: Brandon Kirby recaps the 84th Academy Awards.

Last night's Oscar telecast went (pretty much) as expected. "The Artist" walked away with the top awards, but not before "Hugo" picked up a slew of awards earlier in the evening. Both films act as a reverie to the golden age of Hollywood, so it was fitting they went home with five awards each considering the theme of this year's ceremony.

The entire telecast revolved around feelings of appreciation and nostalgia for the art of filmmaking with interludes of actors revealing favorite movie moments of their past. The stage was even set up to replicate an old fashioned movie theater. So, it was as if the show was purposely modeled after the films the producers knew would take the most awards -- and with the show's renewed sense for a love of cinema, it felt fitting.

Not to mention the return of veteran host Billy Crystal who, with nothing too exciting to tweet about or real jokes to remember, was congenial enough and kept the night moving along. He opened with a medley introducing the nine Best Picture nominees, and while it was rushed and awkward it worked fine. Not only as a moderate distraction but as a reminder to the Academy to just cut it back down to the usual five nominees already. Besides, his old shtick fit right in with the evening's theme of film throwback. Hey look, it's the Oscar host from the early 90s!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Academy Imposes Sanctions on The Dictator

Movies: Tony Nunes ponders what motivated the Academy to ban Sacha Baron Cohen from the Oscars, only to change their mind 24 hours later

Come on Academy, don’t you guys know by now that nothing leads to better press than controversy? News that Sacha Baron Cohen’s ticket to this Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards had been pulled by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences led to a day and a half of the best press Cohen’s new movie The Dictator could ever dream of. After 24 hours of bad press for the Oscars itself, it looks like now, the Academy may be changing its tune. We’ll see come Sunday, but for now I can’t help but question the out-of-touch, conservative scruples of the Academy at a time when even they themselves are trying to court a younger fan-base. 

It all started when the Academy caught wind of Cohen’s plan to walk the red carpet in character as Dictator Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, the newest Cohen persona and focus of his upcoming film. Cohen is the king of satirical devotion, and as we saw with both Borat and Bruno, once he commits to introducing a character to the world, he carries that persona with him everywhere until the films release. The Dictator is no different.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Dialect of Drama

Movies: Thomas Dunn explores Shakespeare in film by looking at the new film Coriolanus.

Shakespeare adaptations are always an interesting event, particularly if you’re a film fan who also happens to enjoy a bit of the bard. Troublesome questions are posed to a potential director from the outset; blank verse or modern English? Historically rooted, fantastical, or re-fitted as contemporary allegory? Shakespearean stage interpreters, or Hollywood camera muggers – what is one to do? Ironically, many of these issues lie at the heart of most Shakespeare performances today; indeed, only the issue of blank verse is left sacred on stage. No, the real interest in cinematic Shakespeare adaptations lies in how they allow for a moment of greater, cross-cultural exposure than a typical RSC production might, and the responses this garners as a result.

Take, for example, Matt Bochenski’s review of Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus, for Little White Lies. We’ll come to Coriolanus shortly, but there’s more pressing issues present in Little White Lies’ article that must be addressed beforehand. Bochenski’s review isn’t so much a critique of this latest silver screen outing for old Will as it is a violent savaging of the bard’s work at large. Clearly alienated by Fiennes’ decision to retain the blank-verse of the original play, Bochenski’s review regards the film as “mealy mouthed” to the point of incomprehensibility, using Coriolanus as a case study for his rather simply put conclusion: “there’s no place for William Shakespeare in cinema.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2011; Tony's Picks

Movies: DG Editor Tony Nunes ends our look back at 2011's best, with his picks for the top 10 films of last year

2011 was quite the interesting year in film. Fantasy and recollection seemed to be what audiences craved as a means to momentarily escape from these hard economic times. Directors like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Michel Hazanavicius took us back to a time when movies and art were truly magic. They knew we needed to be reminded of the simple pleasures of imagination as this generation is far too caught up in technological narcissism. Where Melies and Chaplin once dazzled with simple magic, today's film audiences have sadly grown cold to the wonder. Or have they? Turns out we were all waiting for the magic to return, and last year it did.

Making a top ten list is tough, and there's always some internal debate on what stays and what goes. The films of 2011 that nearly but not quite made my cut were just as diverse as my top ten. The great bank crisis saga Margin Call was a close contender for its strong cast led by Zachary Quinto. The dark post-apocalyptic indie Belleflower showed how original a true low-budget film can be while the incredibly fun Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol proved that super budget action epics can be smartly entertaining. Ridley Scott's documentary compilation Life In a Day gave us strange and real beauty from across the globe as Take Shelter showed us our darkest fears in one of the years most compelling psychological thrillers. Finally, Captain America: The First Avenger did the superhero genre some justice but the movies that truly saved 2011 are the ten listed below.

Here are my picks for the top 10 flicks of 2011.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Top Films of 2011; Brandon's Picks

Movies: Brandon Kirby chooses 2011's best films as part of our final day (albeit late) looking back at 2011's best

It was a year that started out slow but gained last-minute momentum come time for December. Before that, though, was summer which gave us welcome surprise hits such as "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and "The Help" along with the best comedy of the year, "Bridesmaids."

It was also a year reflecting on the magic of cinema. J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" reminisced about the old Amblin films of Steven Spielberg, and then the year closed out with a reverie to old-fashioned filmmaking from the director himself with "War Horse." Martin Scorsese directed his first children's film, "Hugo," but it was really only under the guise of a children's film. More a reflection on cinema's early history, his film merely skirted the surface of what Michel Hazanivicius' glorious black and white silent film achieved with "The Artist." A gimmick gone right.

And then there's Alexander Payne who, after seven years, gave us a rare treat starring George Clooney. It was certainly his and Ryan Gosling's year with Gosling's turns in "Drive," "Crazy, Stupid, Love." and the Clooney-directed "Ides of March." It was also a year of girl power with strong female casts in both "Bridesmaids" and "The Help" not to mention an American reincarnation of power hacker Lisbeth Salander from Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's Oscar Nomination Day

Movies: Brandon Kirby on this years Oscar nominations

It's as if the Academy knew we became tired of being able to predict all the nominations because this year things are definitely shaken up. The announcement this morning for the 84th Annual Academy Award nominations provided a hefty number of surprises most notably when the Best Picture nominee title cards flipped over to show a symmetrical eight...and then a ninth. So there you have it: the first year not five, not ten, but nine films have been nominated for Best Picture.

The only thing not surprising was "Hugo" leading the nominations with 11 closely followed by "The Artist" with ten, then "Moneyball" and "War Horse" tied at six, "The Descendants" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" tied at five and finally "The Help" with four.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recap of the 69th Golden Globe Awards

Movies: Brandon Kirby on the 69th Golden Globe Award Winners 

I guess when Ricky Gervais was surprisingly invited back to host the Golden Globes, it was under the condition that he would do his opening monologue and then disappear for the rest of the evening -- because that's exactly what happened. His opening zingers were actually great and not too harsh or cynical like last year. Bashes toward Kim Kardashian were a must, and Gervais was smart about knocking the HFPA itself as opposed to his celebrity spectators.

A quick hit on first presenter Johnny Depp was perfect allowing Gervais to pick up right where he left off last year. "Have you seen 'The Tourist' yet?" he asked Depp.

And then he jabbed, "The Golden Globes are just like the Oscars but without all the esteem." It also was two-and-a-half hours before he got bleeped, and that was right around the time Meryl Streep warranted herself a bleep. Penis jokes were aplenty most notably during George Clooney's speech when he gave a shout out to Michael Fassbender's full nudity in "Shame."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winners of This Years Critics Choice Awards

Movies: Brandon Kirby on this years Critics Choice Awards  
While the award show itself was painful to sit through to say the least, the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards did a fine job of attempting to exactly mirror who we'll see winning at the Oscars come February. This year they'll probably do an even better job than the Golden Globes this Sunday which gets a hindrance due to its, for once, distracting Drama/Comedy division of awards.

Although "The Artist" began its fast track to Oscar gold with wins for Best Director and Picture, in my opinion the big winner of the night was definitely "The Help" with wins for Octavia Spencer in Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis in Best Actress and the entire cast for Best Ensemble. And speaking of Viola Davis, her eloquent and beautiful speech single-handedly revived an otherwise stale evening. Her speech alone makes her worthy of an Oscar acceptance.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fincher's Goth Murder Mystery

Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Brandon Kirby

David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" begins with an opening credit sequence that's a jolt to the senses. Karen O's menacing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" plays to figures dripping in black, disturbing yet provocative images of evil, a psychedelic and haunting anthem for the film's start. This opening gives Fincher's adaptation of the first entry in Stieg Larsson's internationally bestselling "Millenium Trilogy" a signature mark from a master director -- the one detail the 2009 Swedish original from director Niels Arden Opev lacked.

Neither version is better than the other, but each one definitely has a different feel. Fincher has an artistic eye behind the camera, an apparent love for all things grunge and gritty. This marks the director's return to pulpy crime noir such as "Zodiac" and "Se7en" after the likes of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Social Network." And it's a clearly welcome return as Fincher infuses the already established story with his own style and cinematic flourishes. The movie is better looking than the Swedish original thanks to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth who also worked on "The Social Network." But it's more than that -- Fincher and his screenwriter Steven Zaillian don't try to copy the original or reinvent it, and they certainly don't ignore it. They take an already established framework and add nuances both visually and emotionally.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Queen Bitch Is Back In Town

Movie Review: Young Adult by Brandon Kirby

The re-teaming of screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman proves "Juno" was no fluke. Their collaboration with "Young Adult" is inspired, a scalding black comedy about the queen bitch in high school and everyone's worst nightmare -- except now she's 37 and returning to her hometown. The movie is cynical and goes down like a sour shot, but it's the year's most unexpected surprise by breaking every rule in conventional Hollywood storytelling.

Mavis Gary is played by Charlize Theron in a ferocious and raw performance. She is a protagonist that is completely unlikable and unsympathetic. She is unpleasant, cruel, condescending, delusional and fueled by a keen sense of self-destruction. Yet what's so remarkable is the way Theron ever so casually makes us -- with the help of Cody's fearless writing -- feel for Mavis.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dream of the Movies

Movie Review: Hugo by Brandon Kirby

Martin Scorsese has given us the best-looking live action 3-D movie of this generation comparable to the prowess of James Cameron's "Avatar." Scorsese knows how to properly take advantage of the technology, and if nothing else his newest film -- the greatest departure from anything else he's made before -- demonstrates how to use 3-D to its utmost potential. The film is packed with bouts of visual trickery and flourishes that astound. In a most breathtaking opening sequence, we're shown the life of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives among the ticking clockwork and mechanisms within the walls of an elaborate 1930s Parisian train station. The swirling, intricate panoramic views and angles of the train station are just a taste of this magical world Scorsese constructs.

Hugo's life at the train station is made difficult by a cranky toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and the limping train station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who's always chasing Hugo through crowds of travelers. Hugo is an orphan forced to live off thievery as he scurries around hiding himself in a maze of ladders and walkways winding all the clocks making sure they run exactly on time. Hugo bases his life around machinery and making sure things are fixed and working right. His labor of love is an old automaton found by his father (Jude Law), seen in flashbacks. If fixed properly, the automaton should be able to write a message -- one that Hugo is convinced his father left for him. He's a genius when it comes to finding all the right screws and gears for the project, but there's one puzzle piece left. It's a key hole in the shape of a heart, and Hugo's journey takes him to find that heart-shaped key to fit the lock.

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