Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zagat's got nuthin' on Steve's Top 20

By Steve Evans

Zagat is known for ranking restaurants, but recently got into the film-ranking bidness by releasing a top 20 list of rather predictable titles. The Godfather and its sequel, Part II, topped the Zagat list. Yawn.

These sorts of things are calculated to create buzz for Zagat out of nothing by sparking conversation and perhaps even controversy through the release of an arbitrary list built around a handful of opinions. Since theirs are no better than yours or mine, I'll let you in on a secret...pssst: wanna know the real top 20 films of all time? Ol’ Cinematic Cteve will tell you…

20. John Houston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Houston directed his dad Walter to an Oscar and gave Humphrey Bogart one of his best roles as the paranoid prospector Fred C. Dobbs, whose lust for gold elevates the plot beyond a mere western thriller with elements of noir. Greed, loyalty, madness and redemption are themes Houston explores in this dark window into the soul.

19. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Still an effective shocker half a century later, even when you realize what’s coming, as almost anyone past a certain age already knows. Pure filmmaking from a master. The ultimate in audience manipulation, as Hitch shifts our loyalties from one character to the next until we are spinning in a vortex toward the shocking reveal. Film critics fell over themselves studying this little tale of a boy and his mother.

18 Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient. Doomed love is still love – and better than no love at all in this film of contrasting stories set before and in the waning days of World War II. Exquisitely photographed with finely-detailed performances all around, this multiple Oscar-winning tale of love and regret features career-defining work from actors Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, who won an Oscar, with able support from Kristen Scott Thomas and Willem Dafoe. No matter how many times you see it, The English Patient will make you sob helplessly as the poor choices of these doomed characters lead inexorably to an inevitable conclusion.

17. Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim. If a Ménage à trios by definition must ultimately be doomed, the protagonists of Jules and Jim are damned as well. Luminous Jeanne Moreau serves as the troubled object of the title characters’ affections, although neither man ever really understands her appeal to their collective and everlasting regret. Jules and Jim is the archetype of the French nouvelle vague and one of the great classics of the second half of the 20th century.

16. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. A brilliant, chaotic, hallucinatory depiction of war and madness, each linked inextricably to the other. Coppola pushed his vision to the edge and almost fell over into the abyss as chronicled in the great documentary Hearts of Darkness, about the making of this film. This picture could serve as the textbook for a course on cinematography. Stunning set pieces, such as the unforgettable helicopter raid set to Wagner and Robert Duvall’s immortal speech about napalm.

15. Carol Reed’s The Third Man. “I remember old Vienna….” So begins this post-WW II noir as a low-rent writer of pulp Western novels arrives in Austria to meet a friend who, as it happens, is already dead. The novelist is always one step behind the weary cynics in devastated Vienna as he tries to solve the riddle of Harry Lime and his mysterious associates. Seldom have so many evil characters been portrayed with such disarming charm.

14. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. A finely-oiled machine built exclusively to terrorize, this film owes more to the Oscar-winning editing than anything a then-27-year-old Spielberg brought to the table in his sophomore directing effort.

13. Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. The Bolshevik Revolution altered the course of 20th century history. Potemkin changed the course of world cinema. While Team America spoofed the cliché of montage, Eisenstein showed how it was done and how this editing technique could be used for maximum effect.

12. Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game. The son of an Impressionist painter provoked outrage among the French bourgeois with the release of this fascinating look at class and society. Ambitious in scope, yet intimate in execution, this is a quietly devastating social commentary as relevant today as it was on release in 1939.

11. Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The picture that introduced Americans to the notion of art-house cinema is practically redolent with symbolic imagery. Max von Sydow famously plays a game of chess with Death, but oh, there’s so much more.

10. Henri Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. This sordid tale of four desperate men transporting nitroglycerin through the South American jungle may be the most suspenseful film ever made. It’s also one of the mostly sharply drawn portraits of the toll taken by American Imperialism on people who have no choice but to deal with the (lousy) hand of cards they are dealt.

9. Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! This supremely surreal allegory follows the rise, fall and redemption of one Mick Travis, coffee salesman (Malcolm McDowell), as he wrestles with greed, avarice and ambition. With the radiant Helen Mirren and keyboardist Alan Price, whose songs serve as a sort of Greek Chorus, commenting on the strange meanderings of the plot in this fantastic film.

8. Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance.” The picture is a highly stylized exploration of beautiful landscapes juxtaposed against the horrors of an urban existence. This provocative, mind-expanding and deeply disturbing film is perhaps more relevant today than it was on its release in 1983. Features the ultimate use of music by minimalist composer Philip Glass.

7. Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. Three friends go to Vietnam out of a sense of misplaced patriotic duty that lingers even after two of them return. Cimino paints a rich, vivid portrait of working-class life and simple American values, where no one questions government policy and the query of “why?” is always answered with “because.” Stunning. Heartbreaking. Unforgettable. The scene in the POW camp may deliver the 15 most unbearably tense minutes yet committed to film.

6. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. A masterpiece of pantomime and poignancy, with a heart-rending final scene. The Little Tramp contemplates economic struggle and saves a blind girl. Dare you not to cry.

5. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. One of the greatest of all action films, all the more so because it is driven by character first and mayhem second. We care about what happens to these warriors and the villagers they are paid to protect. Get the Criterion edition.

4. Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. De Niro’s greatest performance. A mesmerizing and tragic character study of a life twisted inside-out and left hollow by sadomasochism. It’s also a boxing picture for people who hate movies about boxing.

3. Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Individuality and iconoclasm clash with bureaucratic authority in this deceptively simple morality play set inside an Oregon asylum for the insane. As the unyielding Nurse Ratched, Louise Fletcher creates one of the most vile and ultimately dangerous characters in cinema history.

2. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Greatest cinematic satire of all time. This film will tell you everything you need to know about political power, class struggles and the disingenuous maneuverings behind government policy, with a spot-on examination of the human condition. “I’m singin’ in the rain….”

And the greatest film of all?

Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. One of the most purely enjoyable pictures ever made, this is a movie constructed like magic on a foundation of nothing. The plot collapses under close scrutiny, but why would you bother? It’s all such glorious fun. Cary Grant plays Cary Grant. James Mason embodies suave villainy. Eva Marie Saint is the woman they both want. Classic set pieces include the crop-dusting biplane chase and the desperate climb acrosss the faces of Mt. Rushmore to a literal cliff-hanger climax. The picture contains everything a movie lover could ask of the cinema, with the greatest double-entendre closing shot in the entire Hitchcock oeuvre.

Cinema Uprising copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Howls of Laughter: The Wolfman, Redux

By Steve Evans

Here's a Halloween rental idea for a flick that most people managed to miss when it hit theaters last winter after a delay of nearly two years. Take a looky at Benicio Del Toro's pet project, The Wolfman. Keep the volume at a moderate level for effective background texture at your Halloween party. Or crank it up for a laff.

Universal Studios had a hairy idea: take one of the lesser Universal monsters from the studio's cycle of classic horror movies from the 1940s, slick him up with digital effects and a handsome makeup job by the great Rick Baker, and turn loose a remake to see if it gets contemporary filmgoers barking with excitement. Who knows? Maybe they thought it would spark a revival of old horror films, the way Brendan Frasier kick-started the Mummy franchise 10 years ago. It certainly helps when you have two Oscar-winning stars on board (Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins), as well as a director (Joe Johnson) known for helming expensive, effects-laden productions (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III). It also doesn't hurt that Del Toro is an avowed fan of the original The Wolfman (1941) and had been trying for half a decade to bring an update to the screen.

Sad to say, this flea-bitten retelling of the old classic spurs more giggles than gasps. For all the guts, gore and green money on display in this new Wolfman, the project labors under the weight of living up to its inspiration. Trying too hard to pay homage to Lon Chaney Jr. in the not-bad original film, Del Toro as the titular wolfman looks more like a bloated Brad Pitt, licking his tongue inside his mouth as though trying to dislodge a bit of raw meat from between his teeth. Hopkins seems content to chew the (mostly computer-generated) scenery, delivering a carbon-copy of his performance as the syphilitic Dr. Van Helsing in Coppolla's 1992 Dracula movie. Pretty Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) has a devil of a time making any impression, since she's here only to make a fuss over Del Toro and help him fight through his lycanthropy, which must be inconvenient as hell on moonlit dates.

Fans of the original film will enjoy the inside jokes and nods to Wolfman lore peppered throughout the screenplay credited to Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), but extensively re-written, reportedly at the director's insistence late in pre-production. Really, though, this new Wolfman owes as much to John Landis' crazy cult classic An American Werewolf in London (1981) as to the old Universal Studios tropes that also inspired Landis. This new picture delivers a corker of a chase to enliven the film after way too much plot in Act 1, but the sequence pales in comparison to the virtually identical mayhem that Landis staged in Picadilly Circus for the climax of American Werewolf.

What's left is a terrific makeup job by Academy Award winner Baker (he won the first Oscar for makeup effects in American Werewolf), as well as two excruciating transformation sequences and a decapitation that's so amusing they reworked it into the climax so the gag could be used one more time. By then, The Wolfman has already lost a lot of blood and most of its bite.

As a double-bill with the original Wolfman this silly remake offers adequate Halloween chills. Just don't be disappointed if the picture comes off less like the Lon Chaney classic and more like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Cinema Uprising copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Loose Nuns of Black Narcissus

By Steve Evans

If you've never seen Black Narcissus, co-directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, indulge yourself in the glorious Criterion Collection edition, recently revamped and re-released last month. Deborah Kerr leads as a nun charged with starting a mission in the mountains of the Himalayas, where the exotic locale and sensuous locals gradually push the holy women over the edge of sanity.

Behind the scenes, Powell was conducting a torrid affair with actress Kathleen Byron, above, having only recently broken off an extramarital entanglement, yes, with co-star Kerr, who was married to producer Tony Bartley at the time. I mention this so you'll take close note of the interaction between Kerr and Byron while viewing Black Narcissus. I'm betting the off-screen shenanigans between the director and his leading ladies lent a certain tension to their thespian exertions on the set.

Black Narcissus is one of the great Technicolor achievements of the 1940s and an absorbing psychodrama that stands with the best of the Powell-Pressburger oveure, which includes The Red Shoes and A Canterbury Tale.


Cinema Uprising c 2010 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper dead at 74

By Steve Evans

Two-time Oscar nominee and legendary hellraiser Dennis Hopper died today of complications stemming from prostate cancer. The 74-year-old Hollywood iconoclast partied with James Dean, bedded Natalie Wood, smoked grass with Jack Nicholson and was once married to Michelle Phillips of Mamas and Papas fame for an entire seven days. Those aren't even the highlights of the man's life; just the side notes.

I shall miss Dennis Hopper and rue that his amazing career has reached a coda, probably much later than even he would have expected.

Perhaps best known for directing and starring in Easy Rider, Hopper was likewise renowned for his hard-partying ways and evidently gleeful embrace of madness, tempered only slightly by his advancing years and the illness that would ultimately take his life.

I could dwell on tales of Hopper's wild life of excess, his consumption of vodka, beer, and narcotics in quantities that could easily have killed seven strong men, his five turbulent marriages and chaotic career, all of which would be too easy, too obvious and ultimately pointless.

Dennis Hopper was an artist of uncompromising vision who let nothing and no one get in his way. His thirst for living was exceeded only by his dedication to cinematic craft, of which he was a master. No actor could have embodied Frank Booth in Blue Velvet with such total, chilling effectiveness as Hopper, whose performance in that seminal David Lynch film will lease permanent space in your mind and haunt you forever. You cannot avoid it. I dare you to even try.

It is said Hopper's cameo in Apocalypse Now is autobiographical, as he was allegedly so hopped up on cocaine that Francis Ford Coppolla merely had to point a camera at the actor and let him rip. Apocryphal though the tale may be, the performance lingers in the mind's eye as a near-effortless example of the ramped up mania and exuberance for which Hopper was justly famous, just as his brooding eccentricties could make audiences (and his many lovers) quake in fear.

Here was a man who stomped the earth on terms of his own choosing, reputation be damned. I could care less for the man's reputation, as that is merely the collective assessment of other people's opinions, which I don't care for, either. But I will always hold up Hopper's legacy and life in my admiration of the man's dedication to his principals, no matter who agrees with those principals.

Cue: Sid Vicious' cover of the old Sinatra chestnut, "My Way."

RIP, Dennis. We may not see your kind again. This rotten, boring culture seeks out and destroys men like you, if you don't destroy yourself first. And we are all the more diminished for your absence.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Corey Haim and Other Has-Beens of the Modern Age

By Steve Evans

Former teen actor Corey Haim died earlier this week at 38 of an apparent prescription drug overdose. While few people may remember, much less care about, Haim’s fleeting acting career, his passing got me to thinking about other actors who stubbornly fail to acknowledge their time is up, their careers are over, kaput. Would someone gently tell these top 10 has-beens, please, to go away?

Keanu Reeves. This wooden Indian actor hasn’t had a hit in the 11 years since The Matrix introduced the movie-going world to “bullet time” and transgender directors. I pose the question, by way of Dorothy Parker: if Keanu Reeves died, how could they tell?

Owen Wilson. He allegedly tried in 2007 to off himself, reportedly over a failed relationship with Goldie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson. We would do well to wonder if he wasn’t actually despondent, instead, over his mediocre career, the very existence of which is inexplicable.

Jennifer Garner. She married Ben Affleck. Game over. For the both of you.

Jim Carrey. Wasn’t funny 20 years ago. Still isn’t. A face of rubber. The talent of a spent condom, which is a different type of rubber altogether. Ick.

Angelina Jolie. Wanna bet the insides of her lips are tattooed with the instructions, “inflate to 32 psi”? This “actor” copped an Oscar 11 years ago for Girl, Interrupted, the story of a sad little rich girl (Winona Ryder) who gets committed to an asylum for disturbed chicks, Jolie ranking near the top of thehen house pecking order. From all accounts, very little acting was actually involved.

Robert De Niro. C’mon, Bobby. Stop desecrating the legacy of your work in Raging Bull, in Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter and Godfather Part II with these insipid comedies and lame police procedurals that wouldn’t cut it on the Lifetime Network. Go back to Tribeca and run your film festival. There ya go. Run along, now.

Liza Minnelli. Judy Garland’s little girl just turned 64. Rumor has it, she’s slated to play aging silent film start (and hopeless psychotic) Norma Desmond in a completely unnecessary and unwelcome remake of Sunset Boulevard. Liza. Sweetheart. Go back to the Cabaret, ol’ chum.

Michael Douglas. Son of Kirk. Zeitgeist of finger-on-the-pulse megahits from days gone by, such as Fatal Attraction and Disclosure. Word is, director Oliver Stone has completed a sequel to Wall Street with Douglas reprising his Oscar winning role as Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko. Word is, the release date has been delayed. Hmm. Now, why would a man of 65, with two Oscars under his belt (the first was for producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 35 years ago), want to toot around making moves when Catherine Zeta Jones is waiting for him at home? More importantly, who wants to see him?

Warren Beatty. Once upon a time the most notorious playboy in Hollywood, Beatty hasn’t seen a soundstage since Town and Country bombed in 2002. Don’t cry. He’s got plenty of money and Annette Bening to keep him warm at night. Did anyone really notice his eight-year absence from the silver screen?

Tom Cruise. What’s he waiting for? The comeback tour? The farewell show? Who cares? Nobody even wants to see pictures of Katie and Suri anymore. How’s Tom supposed to flash those dazzling porcelain veneers on cue when everyone is sitting in another theater down the hall? Not to fret, Tom. Travolta is still kicking around a sequel to Battlefield Earth, with plenty of casting opportunities for fellow believers.

Cinema Uprising copyright (c) 2010 by Cinematic Cteve. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wanna watch the Oscars? Don't Wait for Mickey Mouse

By Steve Evans

Millions of Cablevision customers will not be able to watch the annual Academy Awards ceremony tonight due to a pissing contest between Cablevision and the Walt Disney company, which owns the ABC network that broadcasts the Oscars.

Cablevision says Disney wants $40 million more annually to provide service to the cable system, while revealing that the company already pays the House of Mouse $200 million per year for its programming. The pinstripe suits over at Disney argue that Cablevision puts the touch on customers for $18 each per month for basic cable but doesn't kick up a tribute to Disney.

That leaves Oscar fans (and a dwindling number of ABC programming fans) in the dark.

What to do? Well, you could boot-scoot over to Radio Shack double quick and snag an antenna and a digital TV converter box, dropping about $75 in the process. ABC is still on the free-to-air list of broadcasting stations if you have an antenna and the right gear to connect it with. Then hook up the hardware and position the aerial so you can enjoy awkward speeches, overwrought dance numbers, and Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin trading scripted jokes.

Or just get a good night's sleep and take my word for it: "Up in the Air" will win Best Picture and Oscar nom Mo'Nique will wake up Monday morning as fat and coarse as ever. Check her out in "Beerfest" for an exercise in jaw-dropping incredulousness, then shag over to a nearby multiplex when you're ready for real cinema and scope out Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," which truly has something to say.

James Cameron's computer-generated cartoon "Avatar" and his ex-wife's (Kathryn Bigelow's) war flick "The Hurt Locker" are vying for Best Picture. Forget it. "Avatar" will cop a little anatomically incorrect gold man for special effects. Bigelow might waltz offstage with a Best Director Oscar, although my money is on either Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air" or Quentin Tarantino for his audacious, ridiculous and hugely entertaining World War II revenge-fantasy, "Inglourious Basterds," for which Cristoph Waltz will most assuredly win Best Supporting Actor. If there was an award for silliest Italian accent, Brad Pitt would also take home a prize for his amusing work in "Basterds."

A rather lame year for American movies, as it turns out. Where's the fun in pictures anymore? Where's the substance? The gravitas? Well, dear, it's parked firmly in the past, mostly in black and white. Italian neo-realism. German Expressionism. "The Third Man" and films noir. Hitchcock. Kubrick. Jean Renoir. And other dead heroes of mine whose visions transcend culture, time and space to achieve immortality.

Yes, watching the Oscars in 2010 is nothing more than an excuse to wolf down spinach and artichoke dip and chug mediocre Chardonnay or metallic-tasting American beer in aluminum cans while celebrating cinematic mediocrity in all its money-generating forms. Just like the Super Bowl.

Me? Tonight I'll be watching reruns of Penn & Teller's "Bullshit!" -- a show that has more to say about America than Upton Sinclair and the Founding Fathers before him could ever fathom. When it comes down to freedom of expression, I'll take a couple of sharp dudes calling dumb people "motherfuckers" and "assholes" over anything else passing itself off as popular entertainment today.


Cinema Uprising copyright (c) 2010 by Cinematic Cteve. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fox Studio Classics Presents: Orchestra Wives

By Steve Evans

"It's hep! It's hot! It's hilarious!" ~ From the promotional poster.

Opening shot
It's also the Big Band era, when the Glenn Miller Orchestra was such a phenom that 20th Century Fox developed a film project to capitalize on their popularity. Released in 1942, Orchestra Wives features the only original stereo recordings of Glenn Miller and his band. The film was Oscar nominated for Best Song, "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," which became a Glenn Miller standard along with "At Last" and "Serenade in Blue"—both written specifically for this featherweight romantic comedy. So what do we get? Great music, nice image, clean sound, mediocre story – it all adds up to an average film.

A Bit of Plot…
Small-town girl Ann Rutherford (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) falls in love with a swinging trumpeter, George Montgomery (Coney Island and dozens of westerns). They meet-cute and spend a pleasant evening together, after which he proposes on the spot. They marry and she joins the band on tour. But the life of an orchestra wife is rather dull between gigs. Soon she's gossiping with the other orchestra Wives and singers in the band. Misunderstandings lead to man trouble and a river of tears, but like every romantic comedy ever made, you know this one's gonna end happily, with finger-poppin' songs and swingin' dances.

Historical Context and Significance
Orchestra Wives is what I call a champagne flick: effervescent and mildly intoxicating with a certain sparkle that can be diverting, even delightful, when the mood is right. Frothy fun served up with some terrific jazz and a little élan is not a bad thing, but I don't believe this title belongs in the otherwise spectacular Studio Classics series by Fox. Yet here it is just the same: comedy-lite, with truly spectacular music from one of the legends of the Big Band era. There's fabulous tap-dancing on display, too.

The selling point here is rare footage of Glenn Miller and his band—a tight ensemble of swingin' cats who could wail like nobody's bidness. Miller gives his trombone a workout in this picture. And in Miller's case, there's poignancy in watching a musician who loves his work. No one could have guessed the great band leader would be dead within two years of making this film. Soon after Orchestra Wives was released, Miller disbanded his orchestra and joined the U.S. Air Force. He formed another big band and their music was broadcast to Allied troops in every theatre of World War II. Miller disappeared in a 1944 flight over the English Channel en route to Paris, possibly a casualty of German anti-aircraft fire, although the mystery of his death was never solved.

As a final testament to a brilliant musical career, Orchestra Wives plays best if we just enjoy the music, disregard the story, and star gaze. Yes, that's Jackie Gleason thumping the stand-up bass. Cesar Romero (he played The Joker on the 1960s television show Batman) co-stars as a Casanova piano player with a gal waiting in every town.

Disc extras include a commentary track by Rutherford and Fayard Nicholas, along with a photo gallery and trailers for this and other Fox films.

The Contrarian View…
The miscreants at Fox misspelled the name of a musical legend on the cover of the DVD case. For the love of all that's sacred and pure, it's Glenn Miller with two “n's” for God's Sake.

Serious jazz fans and movie lovers bent on completing their Studio Classics series need this disc (Spine #35 in the Fox set). Orchestra Wives includes the only known footage of the Glenn Miller Orchestra jamming in stereo. That alone makes this film a valuable artifact of the Big Band years.

Ignore the unbelievable plot and focus on some timeless, seriously cool music.

Copyright © 2010 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hot Tickets for 2010

By Steve Evans

It’s never too early to handicap the slate of pictures coming this year to a theater near you. Here are 11 films in order of release date that either look promising or promise to lure massive crowds. The ineviotable blockbusters can be found among one or two smaller pictures that I suspect will find an audience and become sleeper hits.

Edge of Darkness (Jan. 29) Mel Gibson makes his first appearance in front of a camera since the po’lice took his mug shot after the middle-aged Lethal Weapon was popped for drunken driving and making inappropriate remarks about Jews. In his upcoming thriller, Gibson plays a homicide detective investigating the murder of his daughter. He’s also looking on the chunky side these days. Screenplay by William Monahan, who penned The Departed for Martin Scorsese.

Shutter Island (Feb. 19) may be the most anticipated movie of 2009. That’s right, Martin Scorsese's new thriller from the Dennis Lehane novel was slated for an Oct. 2 release last year in time for Oscar season, but Paramount bumped the picture back 4 ½ months claiming the studio had no money for a proper promotional campaign. Whatever. Scorsese works for the fourth straight collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, as a U.S. Marshall sent to the titular island to investigate a missing person. Shutter Island is the home of Ashcliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane where DiCaprio and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) begin to suspect sinister psychiatric practices are underway. The perfect cast includes “Sir” Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams and Max Von Sydow. Helluva trailer for this one:

A Prophet (March 5) explores prison life in France by director Jacques Audiard ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped"). Expect a Foreign Film Oscar nomination. This film is reputedly so realistic and sobering in its portrayal of the French penal system that the government has responded with legislation to reform the country’s prisons.

Chloe (March 19) Director Atom Egoyan helms this adult drama about seemingly happy-loving couple Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson. When the wife develops a jealous streak, she tests her hubby’s love by placing him on a collision course with call-girl Chloe (doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried) to see if her husband can keep his pants cinched around his waist. This may not be the best pick for a first-date flick.

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (April 23) Director Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas reunite in this sequel to the 1987 paean to greed that won Douglas the Oscar for best actor. Love him or hate him, you gotta admire Oliver Stone’s timing. Here’s hoping he scores a direct hit on all the illegitimate MBA sonsofbitches roaming Noo Yawk’s financial district after the dismal failure of his last picture, W. Douglas returns as money obsessed Gordon Gekko, fresh from a prison stretch for playing shell games with arbitrage investments. He joins a young financial hotshot (Shia LaBeouf, to broaden the demographic for this picture) and together they try to warn The Street about a looming financial crisis. The plot clots when the younger man gets hot and heavy with Gekko’s daughter (Carey Mulligan from An Education). Despite the ridiculous subtitle, Wall Street 2 has all the right socio-economic conditions working in its favor.

Iron Man 2 (May 7) Okay, so Batman is too damn brooding, Superman too square and the Hulk is just a rambunctious pain in the ass. If the question is, “do we really need another summer superhero move?” the answer has got to be, yep, if it’s Iron Man 2, the eagerly awaited sequel to the 2008 hit. Robert Downey Jr. as alcoholic playboy/billionaire Tony Stark, who sometimes toots around in a metal exoskeleton, gets off some terrific hipster dialog without once making his audience impatient. Lots of explosions in the trailer, of course, but it’s Downey’s show all the way. Watch how he addresses a U.S. senator on a congressional committee that wants Iron Man to give up his military secrets, and you’ll be standing in line for a ticket, too. Gwyneth Paltrow returns; Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell give support. Mickey Rourke looks suitably menacing as main nemesis Whiplash. Check out the trailer:

Robin Hood (May 14) Russell Crowe won an Oscar for prancing around in a toga a decade ago in Gladiator and his work since then has been a mixed bag at best. No surprise, then, that the angry Aussie would pull on a pair of green leotards and take to Sherwood Forest for this umpteenth retelling of the English legend. Of course, Ridley Scott hasn’t had a hit since he directed Gladiator, so he’s reteamed with Crowe to helm this tale of a young Robin in the service of King Richard, the Lionheart. Cate Blanchett plays love interest Lady Marion.

Sex and the City 2 (May 28) Carrie and Mr. Big got married at the end of the last installment of this would-be franchise about the joys of sex and shopping (though not necessarily in that order). Expect Carrie and Mr. Big to get into a squabble so they can get back together again, since the plot demands it. Expect Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda to gab at length about shoes and skirts while sipping tall Cosmopolitans.

Toy Story 3 (June 18) Pixar returns to the well with Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the rest of the toy gang in a 3D computer-generated tale of loss, nostalgia and longing. Tim Allen and Tom Hanks return with principal voice-talent duties. Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton and Joan Cusack are in there somewhere as well.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Nov. 19) Warner Bros. plans to burn maximum mileage out of J.K Rowling’s final installment of the boy-wizard saga by splitting the film adaptation into two parts separated by a year. Harry, Hermone and Ron face ongoing peril from the Death Eaters and Ralph Fiennes without a nose shows up as malevolent Lord Voldemort, he whose name must not be spoken, but often is, anyway. This series delivers amazing special effects and endearing performances by the young actors, although the sense of wonder is waning with the increased emphasis on hormones and tiresome romantic subplots that bring the Potter pictures to a crashing halt until the magic picks up again.

The Tree of Life (No release date announced) Director Terrence (Badlands) Malick is about as prolific as the late Stanley Kubrick, but the five films he’s managed to release (in a career spanning nearly 40 years) are as analyzed, dissected and discussed as the work of the great Kubrick himself. Set in the 1950s, Tree of Life follows the split story of Midwestern family (Brad Pitt and newcomer Jessica Chastain), and some years later their adult son Sean Penn who (surprise!) is a tormented man. The film juxtaposes Penn’s childhood family life with his contemporary conundrums. Expect a stately, meditative film from the cerebral, wildly inconsistent and always-interesting Malick.

Copyright © 2010 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best Films of 2009

By Steve Evans

A trying year for most people failed to boost box office fortunes in 2009 as the economy knocked a dent in ticket sales, a counter-intuitive phenomeonon that shows movies are not always the escapist fare their promoters would have them be.

Or it could just be that 2009 was not a banner year for American cinema.


The Soloist
Robert Downey and Jamie Foxx acted their asses off in a beautifully filmed story of mental illness that unraveled in the final reel into a preachy diatribe about the plight of the homeless.

A Serious Man
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, average a picture a year. Their latest is a quiet comedy about a nobody contemplating a substantive life while awash in mediocrity, which most people can relate to if they are honest. Is there no genre the Coens are unable to make their own?

Inglourious Basterds
Blabbermouth director Quentin Tarantino rewrites World War II so a platoon of Jewish-American special operations soldiers can whack Hitler and top Nazis brass in a Parisian arthouse cinema. Brad Pitt got top billing, but Christoph Waltz will get the Oscar for his incredible performance as a ruthless Gestapo officer fluent in four languages and as charming as a viper in top hat and tails.

Copyright © 2010 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.