I thought I'd start a general movie discussion similar to the "Wala Lang" and "Politikahan" threads in this main Forum board.
This came about because I just remembered that there are two movies that are a little bitin.
First, "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with Sean Connery in the lead, and secondly "Hellboy" starring Ron Pearlman.
"League" ended with Connery's character, the legendary hunter Allan Quartermain, dead and buried in his beloved Africa. But a local Shaman was casting some sort of spell to apparently bring him back from the dead. I hope to see a sequel soon.
Speaking of sequels, "Hellboy" had two movies and the last one, good as it was in my opinion, needs to have a bookend to complete a trilogy. After all, a prediction was made in "The Golden Army" that Hellboy would either die or fulfill the demonic prophecy about him and end this world. The producers and directors should end this properly. If Pearlman no longer wants the lead, they can always tap Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo to the Game of Thrones fans).
So there, a new thread to end the year in movie entertainment. You can also post movie reviews here, fellas.
From the NY Times, more on the business side of the movies ___
A Year of Disappointment at the Movie Box Office
By BROOKS BARNES
With five days left in 2011, ticket sales in North America are running about $500 million behind last year — despite higher prices — prompting a round of soul searching by studios trying to determine what went wrong and how best to proceed.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” from Warner Brothers, was 2011’s No. 1 release with $381 million in domestic ticket sales.
Movies are a cyclical business and analysts say that 2010 benefited mightily from holdover sales for “Avatar,” which was released late in 2009 and became one of the most popular movies of all time. A decline of hundreds of millions of dollars is not catastrophic when weighed against the size of the industry. Over all, North American ticket revenue for 2011 is projected to be about $10.1 billion, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box-office data.
That is only a 4.5 percent falloff from 2010. But studio executives are alarmed by the downturn nonetheless, in part because the real picture is worse than the raw revenue numbers suggest.
Revenue, for instance, has been propped up by a glut of 3-D films, which cost $3 to $5 more per ticket. Studios made 40 pictures in 3-D in the last 12 months, up from 24 last year, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, a movie database. Theaters have also continued to increase prices for standard tickets; moviegoers now pay an average of $7.89 each, up 1 percent over last year.
Attendance for 2011 is expected to drop 5.3 percent, to 1.27 billion, continuing a slide. Attendance declined 6 percent in 2010.
Hopes that a group of major releases would supercharge the Christmas box office fizzled over the weekend. Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” was a solid No. 1, taking in $26.5 million in its second weekend for a total of about $59 million. But “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (Warner Brothers) was a softer-than-expected second, with $17.8 million in ticket sales, lifting its two-week total to $76.6 million.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” (20th Century Fox) continued to struggle in third place, taking in about $13.3 million for a two-week total of $50.3 million. Three heavily promoted new entries had tepid results. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony), was fourth, taking in $13 million for the weekend and $21.4 million since opening last Wednesday. Steven Spielberg’s “Adventures of Tintin” (Paramount) was fifth with about $9.1 million ($22.3 million since opening last Wednesday). Fox’s “We Bought a Zoo” came in sixth, taking in a lackluster $7.8 million in its opening weekend.
What has gone wrong? Plenty, say studio distribution executives, who point to competition for leisure dollars, particularly among financially pressed young people (the movie industry’s most coveted demographic); too many family movies; and the continued erosion of star power.
One more thing: “You have to go back and look at the content,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Brothers. “Good movies always rise to the occasion. Bad ones, not so much.”
Young people, defined by studios as teenagers and people in their 20s, certainly helped power some of the biggest movies of 2011, including Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the year’s No. 1 release with $381 million in domestic ticket sales. (Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” was second with more than $352 million, and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1” from Summit Entertainment was third with more than $269 million.)
But a spate of smaller movies aimed at younger audiences bombed, including “Prom” from Walt Disney, “Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie” from 20th Century Fox, Warner’s “Sucker Punch,” Lionsgate’s “Conan the Barbarian” and “Your Highness,” a drug-oriented comedy from Universal. The horror genre struggled as an entire category, with lemons like “Fright Night” (DreamWorks Studios), “The Thing” (Universal) and “Priest” (Sony).
“As bad as the economy is for adults, it’s worse for teenagers,” said Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, by way of an explanation. “Because they have less disposable income and because they are more plugged in to audience reaction on Facebook and Twitter, the teenage audience is becoming picky,” he added. “That’s a nightmare for studios that are used to pushing lowest-common-denominator films.”
Mr. Fellman said he had seen evidence that younger consumers were choosing other leisure activities over movies.
“There may be a correlation to the recent strength of video game sales,” he said. “You look at a game like the new ‘Call of Duty’ selling $400 million in its first 24 hours and say, ‘What? How is that even possible?’ ”
On the other hand, several movies aimed squarely at older audiences attracted stronger-than-expected revenue, “The Help” was the prime example. That period drama cost DreamWorks about $25 million to make and took in more than $169 million in North America. “We definitely benefited from coming out at the end of summer, when women are sick of going with their husbands and boyfriends to nothing but robot and superhero movies,” said Brunson Green, a producer of the film.
The R-rated “Bridesmaids” (Universal) also clicked with older moviegoers, who perhaps responded, distribution executives said, to a premise that seemed fresh: women behaving as badly as the guys of “The Hangover Part II” (Warner), which was a smash with $255 million. “Bridesmaids” cost about $33 million and took in $169 million, causing a race in Hollywood to develop copycat films.
Too much of anything, however, can produce a hangover and studios started to feel one with family films, which have been among the most reliable moneymakers in recent years.
Some new entries delivered solid results, “Rio” from Fox, “The Smurfs” from Sony, but a number of them stumbled in North America. Those include Sony’s “Arthur Christmas,” DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 2” and Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms,” which was by some measures the biggest flop of 2011, costing at least $150 million and taking in about $21 million.
Even Pixar had trouble. The Disney-owned animation studio had a hit in “Cars 2,” with more than $191 million in domestic ticket sales, but that total was Pixar’s worst single result, after adjusting for inflation.
Star power, or a lack thereof, was again a negative factor at the box office in 2011. There were bright spots, of course: Tom Cruise appears to be regaining momentum with the latest “Mission: Impossible” film; Johnny Depp charmed audiences once more with “The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which took in $241 million for Disney (and exceeded $1 billion globally); Cameron Diaz earned her keep in “Bad Teacher,” which took in more than $100 million for Sony.
But it was wreckage for most marquee names: Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig disappointed in the DreamWorks and Universal release “Cowboys & Aliens;” Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller landed with a thud in “Tower Heist,” a Universal film; Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks bombed in the independently financed “Larry Crowne.” “New Year’s Eve,” essentially a string of star cameos, has been essentially ignored.
More troubling, studio executives say, were failed efforts by some younger stars to become bigger box-office draws. Ryan Reynolds never took off as “Green Lantern” and Jonah Hill, praised for a supporting role in “Moneyball,” flopped as the main attraction in “The Sitter.” Russell Brand missed in a remake of “Arthur,” as did Taylor Lautner in “Abduction.” Amanda Seyfried struggled in “Red Riding Hood.”
Two exceptions were Chris Hemsworth as “Thor” and Chris Evans as “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Both of those newcomers, helped by their superhero tights, found substantial audiences.
The good news for Hollywood is that the first quarter of 2012 looks much stronger than the same period this year, when studios had little to generate audience excitement.
Warner has two sequels — “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “Wrath of the Titans,” while Sony has a prominent remake in “21 Jump Street.” Disney will re-release “Beauty and the Beast” in 3-D, followed by Fox’s 3-D re-release of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” And Lionsgate will weigh in with its highly anticipated “The Hunger Games.”
“It’s an extremely strong hand for the industry to play,” Mr. Fellman said.
EARLY in Dee Rees’s film “Pariah” it journeys into a Brooklyn strip club where scantily clad young black women gyrate to a sexy, foul-mouthed rap song. Lascivious customers leer, toss money and revel in their own unbridled lust. It is a scene that could have been in any of “the hood movies” that once proliferated or even a Tyler Perry melodrama in which Christian values would be affirmed after this bit of titillation.
But in “Pariah” the gaze of desire doesn’t emanate from predatory males but A.G.’s, that is aggressive lesbians, who, in a safe space where they enjoy the fellowship of peers, can be true to themselves. Other films have depicted this particular black alternative life (as did a couple of memorable characters in HBO’s masterly series “The Wire”), but no film made by a black lesbian about being a black lesbian has ever received the kind of attention showered on Ms. Rees’s film. It was a major success at the Sundance Festival in January and, even before its limited release on Wednesday, has entered the conversation as a long shot Oscar contender courtesy of the aggressive folks at NBC Universal’s specialty arm, Focus Features.
Ms. Rees, a slight, boyish 34-year-old with a shy demeanor, was recently named breakthrough director of the year at the Gotham Awards, and the film received two Spirit Award nominations, acknowledgements of good will toward the picture in the independent film world. But “Pariah” is important, not simply as a promising directorial debut, but also as the most visible example of the mini-movement of young black filmmakers telling stories that complicate assumptions about what “black film” can be by embracing thorny issues of identity, alienation and sexuality.
In addition to “Pariah” these features include Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Gun Hill Road,” Andrew Dosunmu’s “Restless City,” Alrick Brown’s “Kinyarwanda” and Victoria Mahoney’s “Yelling to the Sky.” The first four made their premieres at Sundance in January, while Ms. Mahoney’s effort appeared at the Berlin Film Festival in February. (Two other films that should also be added to this group: Barry Jenkins’s “Medicine for Melancholy,” from 2008, a day in the life of two black bohemians wandering the streets of San Francisco, and Qasim Basir’s “Mooz-lum” (2011), a character study of a Muslim teenager in the Midwest.)
Along with their festival pedigrees these films and filmmakers share a number of connections. Ms. Rees, Mr. Green and Mr. Brown all attended New York University and received guidance from a professor named Spike Lee. ”Pariah” and “Restless City” were both shot by Bradford Young, a brilliant young director of photography who won the excellence in cinematography award at Sundance.
Most important, the points of view of the films expand the palette of images for black American filmmakers. Mr. Green’s “Gun Hill Road” is set in the Bronx and looks at the tension among a Latino ex-con father, his transgender son and the son’s black lover. Mr. Brown’s film, shot in Central Africa, uses multiple story arcs to dive into the moral abyss of the Rwandan genocide. Mr. Dosunmu captures the hustles and hardships of African immigrants working in and around Canal Street in Manhattan. Ms. Mahoney presents an autobiographical look at a family of a young woman growing up black and Irish in a quasi-suburban, quasi-hood section of Queens. Ms. Rees’s film, though clearly a coming-out story, is also about the ethical evasions affecting all members of a seemingly stable African-American family.
I use African-American, as opposed to black, very specifically in describing the drama at the heart of “Pariah,” since African-American means descendants of African slaves brought to America. Black, however, casts a wider net in dealing with works that depict the lives of people from the entire African diaspora. Mr. Green, who is black and Puerto Rican, and Ms. Mahoney, who is black-Irish, tap into both sides of their ethnicity in their films, just as Ms. Rees looks at herself as both black and lesbian, reconciling the two in her work just as her protagonist does in the film. The African-American Alrick Brown’s journey into the thickets of a brutal African experience and the Nigerian Andrew Dosunmu’s vision of life for Africans in America represent a much needed, unromantic dialogue between blacks on both sides of the Atlantic.
Traditionally films made for, and often by, African-Americans have fallen within a very narrow definition of our experience. Forty years ago the notorious blaxploitation era was in full stride with crime melodramas its stock and trade. Though there was plenty of hack filmmaking then, some gifted directors (Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, Gordon Parks Jr.) helped create a worthwhile canon of films in which “the brother man” consistently trumped “the other man” (white authority). Many of the accompanying soundtracks (Isaac Hayes’s “Shaft,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly,” Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”) were more artful than the images they supported.
Twenty years later, in 1991, 16 films were released theatrically that were directed, produced or written by African-Americans, a historic year that was documented in a cover article in The New York Times Magazine. (I was part of that wave. My screenwriting credits include the 1991 comedy “Strictly Business.”) In retrospect the films of 1991 were really quite varied: a tale of Afrocentric feminism (“Daughters of the Dust”), interracial love drama (“Jungle Fever”), soul era nostalgia (“The Five Heartbeats”). But it was hood movies that grossed the most at the box office (“Boyz N the Hood,” “New Jack City”) and defined that period.
If there is any historical precedent for this emerging 21st-century movement, it is a collective of black filmmakers who attended the University of California, Los Angeles, in the ’70s, making films that existed under the commercial radar and addressed subjects from neo-realism to pan-Africanism. Among the standout writer-directors in this loose collective were Haile Gerima, Julie Dash and Charles Burnett, whose 1977 masterpiece, “Killer of Sheep,” has been inducted in the National Film Registry.
The desire to identify a new generation of black filmmakers is as important for American cinema as it is for filmmakers and audiences. Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Regina King and Nia Long are among the Oscar nominees, leading men and women, and television regulars who were given their first major exposure in films written, produced and directed by African-Americans. A generation of household faces came out of these films, faces that would otherwise never have had star-making opportunities to carry a film. That these actors crossed over, often to colorblind roles in mainstream entertainment, is a testament to both their skills and the underappreciated role black filmmakers have played as talent scouts.
The acclaim for the previously unknown Adepero Oduye’s performance as the young lesbian Alike in “Pariah” is typical of how black film spotlights otherwise marginalized actors. And there is a very human desire to see people on screen who resemble you, but are better looking, stronger and larger than life. It is the power of movies at their most elemental.
This current mini-movement has none of the certainty about black identity that defined previous periods. Identity — the search for it, the limitations of it, its fluidity — is at the core of all these dramas. Such themes speak to a sophistication that previous generations of filmmakers didn’t possess or rejected since rigid definitions of racial identity are much easier to market. Then again, none of these films have made a substantial dent at the box office.
So a lot rides on the reception for “Pariah,” both as the introduction of Ms. Rees as a major filmmaker and a symbol of this incipient new wave. Certainly some of the excitement surrounding it was ignited by “Precious” in 2009. Both films are small dramas about sexual issues confronting young African-American women in New York City. “Precious,” Lee Daniels’s gothic take on Sapphire’s novel, made $63 million worldwide (on a budget of $10 million), won the screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher an Oscar for his bold adaptation, and was anointed by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as executive producers. The film played well to mainstream as well as black audiences, which may have emboldened Mr. Perry to direct “For Colored Girls” (2010), an adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s feminist play, and surely factored into the marketing strategy for this year’s black-women-theme blockbuster, “The Help.”
That’s not to suggest that ”Pariah” subscribes to any kind of formula. There is a gentle, almost tentative quality to the journey of Alike (subtly played by Ms. Oduye) that is very much a reflection of Ms. Rees’s personality. This highly autobiographical film began as a feature script in 2005, became a much-lauded short and was expanded back into a feature, with the support of a bevy of executive producers and independent film institutions (Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, IFP, Film Independent). It was shot in 19 days in and around Brooklyn.
While attending New York University from 2003 to 2007 Ms. Rees worked as an intern on Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke,” and his Denzel Washington vehicle, “Inside Man.” Mr. Lee, who has been the artistic director of N.Y.U.’s graduate film program for nearly a decade, critiqued drafts of the script and advised Ms. Rees and her producer, Nekisa Cooper, on fund-raising.
At N.Y.U. Ms. Rees came in contact with Mr. Brown, Mr. Green and several other emerging talents, including Seith Mann, a graduate who has built a successful career directing television dramas like “Dexter.”
“During Seith’s time a lot of the black students began calling themselves ‘the League,’ ” Ms. Rees told me, a reference to the all-black baseball league that ended in the ’50s. The shorthand speaks to a sense of camaraderie that is shared by many of the black students there. If there’s a thread connecting their work, it is that “none of us have reductive views” of black identity, she said. “There are different ways to be. There is no monolithic black identity. My film is less about coming out than becoming into who you are and how to be that person. I think we want an extreme diversity of images and voices. And it is not enough to have a lot of films in one year, but to have an ongoing supply of films.”
Mr. Lee, who taught Ms. Rees, Mr. Green and Mr. Brown in his third-year directing class, is cautious about too much talk of a new wave, noting that very few of the directors who emerged in ’91 are still making features. Still, Mr. Lee, whose own feature “Red Hook Summer” will have its debut at Sundance, is “optimistic about the talent out there and the work being done,” he said in an interview. “But I told Alrick, Dee and Ernesto all the same thing: You got one done, but you can’t rest on your laurels. Don’t make one film and then travel with that one print to film festivals. You need to get the next one going and the one after that. The idea is to build a body of work.”
Ms. Rees has been busy doing just that since Sundance, writing an HBO pilot, another film for Focus and a spec script about an insurance adjuster, all featuring lesbian or bisexual characters. “Sexuality is not an issue” in these scripts, Ms. Rees cautioned. And in a comment that could refer to racial identity as well, she added, “They are people, and that’s just part of who they are.”
WHAT do you do after turning yourself into Julia Child, a bold, occasionally bossy woman who changed the way people think about food? You turn yourself into Margaret Thatcher, of course, an even bolder and bossier one, who changed the way people think about Britain. This is what Meryl Streep does in “The Iron Lady,” which opens Friday in New York. In yet another of her miraculous impersonations, which has already been nominated for a Golden Globe award, she seems even more Thatcher-like than Mrs. Thatcher, so that after the movie if you go back and look at photographs of Mrs. Thatcher in her prime, you can’t help feeling that they’re a little off. She no longer looks like herself.
Sitting over tea recently at the Waldorf Astoria with Phyllida Lloyd, the film’s director, Ms. Streep said that she had been hoping to make a movie about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and that Ms. Lloyd told her sarcastically, “Yeah, that will pack them in.” But when offered the role of Mrs. Thatcher, Ms. Streep didn’t hesitate. “You have to imagine yourself as a 62-year-old actress getting a phone call asking you to play the first female leader in the Western world elected on her own merits and not on the coattails of her husband,” she said. “To say, ‘No, I’m not interested’ would just be ridiculous. There is no other opportunity like it.”
Ms. Streep researched her part carefully enough to learn even what Mrs. Thatcher carried in her handbag: 3-by-5 cards with adages by Kipling, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Disraeli. She also realized, she said, that Mrs. Thatcher, who is now 86 and in ill health, was herself an impersonation of sorts, a woman who allowed herself to be made over by Tory strategists and even changed her way of speaking. In the movie Ms. Streep effortlessly imitates those burnished, sometimes strident, declamatory tones, the one the novelist Angela Carter once said were reminiscent “not of real toffs but of Wodehouse aunts.”
Ms. Lloyd said: “Meryl just has an ear. There’s a Margaret Thatcher voice that British impersonators — men in drag — like to do, and it’s a frightful parody. But nobody has really gone inside it the way Meryl has.”
Ms. Streep also captures Mrs. Thatcher’s icy imperiousness, especially toward the end of her career, when she enjoyed humiliating her ministers, and even the hint of sexiness that kept so many of those ministers in thrall for so long. In one scene Ms. Streep is in an evening gown, having a button sewn on before an important Tory function, and when the seamstress is through she hoists her bosom, like Queen Boadicea putting on her breastplate, before going out to challenge a roomful of men.
But “The Iron Lady” is not, everyone involved keeps insisting, a conventional biopic, one that follows the career of some exalted personage step by step and ends with him or her in triumph. It’s not even an especially political film. The movie begins in the present, with the Thatcher character old and frail, a little dotty and paranoid, and hallucinating the presence of her dead husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). She appears that way for almost half the film, revisiting her great days only in memory, so that “The Iron Lady” is a movie as much about decline as about a rise to power. The great events of Mrs. Thatcher’s career — the miners’ strike, the Falklands war, her meetings with Brezhnev (who gave her the Iron Lady nickname) — are touched on only briefly and sketchily.
The movie has provoked strong but mixed reactions in Britain, where some have seen it as a mean-spirited attack on Mrs. Thatcher’s sacred memory, while others have applauded its warmth and humanity. Some Conservative M.P.’s have even called for a House of Commons debate over whether the film shows sufficient good taste and respect.
“There have been people who have seen the movie and were fully aghast, who would have liked it to be a triumphalist saga,” Ms. Streep said. “Some in the distribution arm of our own enterprise here were saying, ‘Why can’t we go out on a high?’ ” She changed her voice to sound like an old-fashioned movie mogul. “My God, for 40 percent of the picture she’s an old lady!” She paused for a moment and then changed back to Streep: “That’s the point, you dodo.”
Ms. Streep and Ms. Lloyd (who also directed her in “Mamma Mia”) have by now perfected a kind of “Stage Door” routine together, with Ms. Lloyd — polished, thoughtful — in the Katharine Hepburn part and Ms. Streep in the funny, irreverent Ginger Rogers role. Ms. Streep loves to laugh and also to surprise. At one point, mostly just for the fun of it, she began speaking in the clipped, unnatural voice of a 1930s film star.
“The Iron Lady” was written by Abi Morgan, a British screenwriter greatly in demand these days. She wrote “The Hour,” the “Mad Men”-like BBC serial about television in the ’50s, and together with Steve McQueen, its director, she wrote “Shame,” the new film about sex addiction that despite copious amounts of nudity, male and female, is bleak enough to put most viewers off sex for a couple of days at least. Ms. Morgan said she was initially reluctant to take on the “Iron Lady” project. There had been at least four made-for-TV Thatcher movies fairly recently, she explained — including the well-regarded “Long Walk to Finchley” — and she didn’t think she had much to add.
Then she happened to read a magazine article by Mrs. Thatcher’s daughter, Carol, about the moment she realized that her mother’s memory was beginning to slip, and that gave Ms. Morgan the idea of writing about a woman who is starting to fail and at the same time looking back on her life. “What would it be like? I wondered. You’re a woman who was on the world stage and had access to some of the most important decisions in the country, and now to a certain extent you’ve become invisible.” She added: “I really think we will all die while washing up the teacups. Whether you’re Obama or the man in the street, we all die doing those domestic things that we do.”
Ms. Lloyd, who is probably better known as a stage director than a filmmaker, said she sometimes thought of “The Iron Lady” as “ ‘King Lear’ for girls.” “Here is this mighty leader reduced to nothing,” she added. “No, not to nothing — to a reckoning with herself.”
Ms. Streep said, laughing: “We’re not interested in King Lear’s politics. We’re not saying we would have voted for him.” She added: “What interested me was the part of someone who does monstrous things maybe, or misguided things. Where do they come from? How do those formulations begin, how do they solidify, calcify, become deficits? How do a person’s strengths become weaknesses? Look at me. I tend to go on too long. I’m a little dogmatic, and that could get really awful over time. If you are self-aware, as actors are, you let these things go into your pores, including criticism. I hate being criticized.”
Ms. Lloyd said: “So did Margaret Thatcher. But that’s understandable. She couldn’t show weakness. Imagine what the men would have said.” She added: “In parts of England now it’s a transgression even to consider her as a human being. She’s that monster woman, the she-devil. For me the point of the film was to find the human side.” And though hardly a Tory, she said she vividly recalled the moment when Mrs. Thatcher came to power. “Just as I remember not voting for her, I remember sitting in my room at university when the radio announced that she had been asked to form a government, and I went ‘Yes!’ It felt like one for our team.”
Ms. Streep nodded and said: “I did the same thing. We all thought if it can happen in England, class bound, socially rigid, homophobic — if they can elect a female leader over there, then it’s just seconds away in America.”
Eventually, it seems, every senseless waste of life gets its own gauzy tear-jerker. That’s about the only way to justify “The Flowers of War,” in which the veteran Chinese director Zhang Yimou revisits the Nanjing massacre of 1937 by making something resembling a backstage musical, with breaks for the occasional ghastly murder or rape.
There’s nothing that says the atrocity blockbuster has to be a disaster in its own right; films like “Gone With the Wind” and “Gallipoli” have their good points. But long before its two and a half hours are up, “The Flowers of War” is sunk by the disproportion between the events being portrayed and Mr. Zhang’s distanced, strangely frivolous treatment of them — in essence, his refusal to take a point of view on one of the most gruesome chapters in Chinese history.
“Flowers” has received bountiful publicity for being expensive, state-approved and Oscar-submitted, buzz that got louder last week when the film’s British star, Christian Bale, was forcibly prevented from visiting a Chinese activist lawyer being held under house arrest.
But fears that Mr. Zhang would take a one-dimensional, patriotic approach to the Japanese invasion and occupation of Nanjing (formerly Nanking), while not entirely unfounded, are misplaced. Other recent Chinese films have displayed more sentimental nationalism, jingoism and demonization of the Japanese enemy.
His real approach to the events of 1937 is to use them as a backdrop for the kind of deluxe, Hollywood-inspired melodrama that has made him an art-house favorite. In the process he fails to deliver on most of the elements — grandeur, historical sweep, genuine pathos — that would have made the film worthwhile.
Given the right story, as in “Raise the Red Lantern” or “House of the Flying Daggers,” Mr. Zhang’s almost clinical attention to pretty surfaces and soap-opera mechanics can have entertaining results. In “Flowers,” though, you can feel him at war with his material, never settling on a tone or a compelling or even coherent narrative. (The screenplay is by Liu Heng and Geling Yan, based on a novel by Ms. Yan.)
Mr. Zhang’s distance from the larger story of the massacre is embodied in his decision to set most of the film within the compound of a fictional European church. The result is an artificial, back-lot atmosphere; the opening scenes, set in the streets, take place in an actual fog of war, with smoke (and at one point the dust from a large mound of flour) isolating the characters from the real world of Nanjing.
Mr. Bale plays John Miller, a disreputable American vagabond who happens to be a mortician; as the film begins he is making his way through the fighting toward the church, where he is to be paid to conduct a burial. Also on the move are two groups of a dozen or so young women, the flowers of the title. They are, as a matter of production design if not credible history, visually coded: convent students in severe blue jackets and prostitutes in seductive, rainbow-hued silken dresses.
All of these parties take refuge in the church, with Miller, who dons the robes of a dead priest, bridging the Manichaean divide between the suspicious students upstairs and the contemptuous, defensive prostitutes hiding in the basement. (They quickly transform their cellar into a seraglio; you can practically smell the perfume.) It’s a contrived, hothouse state of affairs, summed up in a scene Mr. Zhang likes so much that he repeats it: the laughing prostitutes sashaying across the churchyard in slow motion, oblivious to the impending tragedy.
There will be tragedy, of course, though when it comes it takes a weirdly oblique form. One group eventually performs what appears to be an ultimate sacrifice, full of sexual and social overtones, but this happens off-camera, if it happens at all. The coyness can be explained, perhaps, in terms of the film’s structure — the story is narrated by one of the students, and what we see may correspond to her selective, romanticized memories — but it cannot really be excused.
On-screen, meanwhile, the camera ventures into the outside world in occasional scenes that seem timed to goose the action and remind us that we’re watching a war movie. In one of Mr. Zhang’s few outright concessions to the notion of Chinese supremacism, a lone officer (Tong Dawai) draws a contingent of Japanese soldiers away from the church in an act of hyperbolic heroism. Later, in a surrender to gross sentimentality, two prostitutes leave the church on the sort of insane mercy mission that happens only in movies, with particularly disturbing consequences. Aside from that sequence Mr. Zhang is restrained in his depictions of Japanese brutality, which mostly take the form of threats and intimidation.
Mr. Bale, turning in a respectable if oddly chipper performance under the circumstances, has the unfortunate task of playing a character who doesn’t really add up. Miller’s conversion from opportunist to savior may be another stock element of this sort of movie, but the scene meant to showcase his transformation is rushed and ineffective. Having made an American the central figure in his film, Mr. Zhang reduces him to wrangling flocks of nubile women, like Cary Grant in a much more violent “Father Goose.”
“The Flowers of War” suffers greatly in comparison to several far superior, less hyped movies about the Nanjing massacre, including the harrowing drama “City of Life and Death,” directed by Lu Chuan, and the documentary “Nanking,” by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman. Those filmmakers came armed with points of view. Mr. Zhang, retreating into the mists of old movies, has declined to take the field.
In a Fractured Society, Ethnic War Kindles Both Hatred and Desire
By MANOHLA DARGIS
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” tells the story of two acquaintances who become enemies, lovers and each other’s mirror during the Bosnian war. The movie opens in 1992 right before the fighting started and soon after Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), an artist and a Muslim, goes on a date with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a cop and a Bosnian Serb. Recently acquainted, the two meet up at a club, where they fall into each other’s arms, dance and flirt, nestled in an exuberant, raucous humanity, a communion that abruptly ends when a bomb detonates inside the club. The old world falls away and in its place there is dust, blood and Ajla and Danijel staggering toward their newly divided worlds.
The war comes fast and the director, Angelina Jolie, sets its terms ruthlessly. Ajla, along with several dozen other Muslim women, is grabbed by Serbian soldiers and put on a bus. It’s a short, hellish ride — from the bus, one of the soldiers guns down a passerby as casually as if he were skeet shooting — that ends when the convoy arrives at a military base. The women are lined up and stripped of their possessions, and a soldier asks if any can cook. A few nervously raise their hands, making anxious bargains for their lives. One woman says she’s a doctor while another says she can sew. The soldier asks the second woman about her sexual abilities instead and then grabs her and rapes her in front of the others.
The scene is, in one obvious respect, something of a didactic illustration of rape as an instrument of war, but it’s also undeniably and rightly disturbing. It rattles the movie and you along with it, and it also introduces the idea that war is very much about the violent domination of women and not just about nation-states, ethnic conflicts, historical grudges and men killing men. Ms. Jolie literalizes this theme by bringing Ajla and Danijel together again at the military camp, where he is a commander. He sees her shortly after the other woman is raped, saving Ajla from being similarly assaulted, a decision that has the quality of a moral choice but may in fact be purely mercenary.
The question of whether Danijel saves Ajla because he is fundamentally good or because circumstances have made him essentially selfish colors everything that comes after. In a perverse twist made believable by the surrealism of war and by the persuasiveness of the lead performances, Danijel takes Ajla as his lover. He saves her, but doesn’t shield her entirely from the terrors of imprisonment. Time slips away amid small cruelties, brutal assaults and a harrowing passage in which the soldiers use the women as shields during a raid on a Muslim enclave. In this scene, with her cinematographer, Dean Semler, Ms. Jolie manages the tricky feat of creating a chaotically violent vision, in which the focus remains intently on those who, in many war movies, are often an afterthought: the women.
This is Ms. Jolie’s directing debut — she also wrote and co-produced the movie — and there’s a somewhat awkward instructional, at times almost proselytizing aspect to the story that seems of a piece with her laudable humanitarian work. That’s especially true in the scenes in which Ms. Jolie switches into full-on expository mode, putting dry, plodding words into the characters’ mouths that would work better in the kind of on-screen textual explanations, with their snippets of history and politics, that open and close the movie. When, for instance, in an early scene, Danijel’s father, a Serbian general (Rade Serbedzija), instructs his son on military matters, he also provides a short history lesson on the region that’s clearly meant for the benefit of those watching the movie.
Moments like these pull the movie down and you temporarily out of it. For the most part, though, it moves briskly and easily holds your attention, largely through a perverse love story that doesn’t suffer for being such an obvious metaphor for the larger battle raging beyond Ajla and Danijel’s relationship. Both Ms. Marjanovic and Mr. Kostic are very fine (like the rest of the cast they deliver their dialogue in Bosnian) and they navigate the contradictions of their characters’ feelings, the flashes of hate, the surrender to desire, with delicacy. There’s madness in this relationship. But as the glimpses of the outside world show, particularly in some tough scenes involving Ajla’s sister, Lejla (Vanesa Glodjo), there is madness everywhere.
There is no combat in the early scenes of “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s sweeping adaptation of the popular stage spectacle, but the film opens with a cinematic assault as audacious and unsparing as the Normandy landing in “Saving Private Ryan.” With widescreen, pastoral vistas dappled in golden sunlight and washed in music (by John Williams) that is somehow both grand and folksy, Mr. Spielberg lays siege to your cynicism, bombarding you with strong and simple appeals to feeling.
You may find yourself resisting this sentimental pageant of early-20th-century rural English life, replete with verdant fields, muddy tweeds and damp turnips, but my strong advice is to surrender. Allow your sped-up, modern, movie-going metabolism, accelerated by a diet of frantic digital confections — including Mr. Spielberg’s just-released “Adventures of Tintin” — to calm down a bit. Suppress your instinctive impatience, quiet the snarky voice in your head and allow yourself to recall, or perhaps to discover, the deep pleasures of sincerity.
If you can fake that, the old Hollywood adage goes, you’ve got it made. But while “War Horse” is, like so many of Mr. Spielberg’s films, a work of supreme artifice, it is also a self-conscious attempt to revive and pay tribute to a glorious tradition of honest, emotionally direct storytelling. Shot the old-fashioned way, on actual film stock (the cinematographer is Mr. Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Janusz Kaminski), the picture has a dark, velvety luster capable of imparting a measure of movie-palace magic to the impersonal cavern of your local multiplex. An Interview With the “War Horse” Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
The story, in its early chapters, also takes you back to an older — you may well say cornier — style of entertainment. Joey, the fleet-footed, headstrong half-Thoroughbred of the title, is purchased at auction by Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), a proud and grouchy Devon farmer with a tendency to drink too much. His household includes a loving, scolding wife, Rosie (Emily Watson); a cantankerous goose; and a strapping lad named Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who forms an immediate and unbreakable bond with Joey. The teenage boy trains the horse to pull a plow and together they ride through the stunning scenery.
But this pastoral is darkened by memories of war — Ted fought the Boers in South Africa, an experience so terrible he cannot speak of it to his son — and by social divisions. The Narracotts are tenant farmers at the mercy of their landlord (David Thewlis), and if “War Horse” pays tribute to solid British virtues of decency and discipline it also, like a Thomas Hardy novel, exposes the snobbery and economic oppression that are, if anything, even more deeply rooted in that nation’s history.
So it is not entirely a simpler, more innocent world that is swept away by the war but rather a way of life whose contradictions are as emphatically presented as its charms. And what follows, as Joey is taken across the English Channel to the battlefields and trenches of Flanders and France, is a nightmare of cruelty that is not without its own sinister magic. Like most movies with an antiwar message, “War Horse” cannot help but be enthralled by the epic scale and transformative power of military conflict. “The war has taken everything from everyone” — the truth of this reckoning, uttered more than once by characters on screen, is self-evident, but it is complicated by the visceral charge and cathartic relief that an effective war movie gives to its audience.
The extreme violence of the slaughter in World War I is implied rather than graphically depicted. Mr. Spielberg steps back from the bloody, chaotic naturalism of “Saving Private Ryan” — this is an animal fable for children, after all, with echoes of “E. T.” and Carroll Ballard’s “Black Stallion” — but his ability to infuse action sequences with emotional gravity has hardly diminished.
An early battle scene dramatizes the modernization of warfare with remarkable and haunting efficiency. A British cavalry unit attacks a German encampment, charging through the enemy ranks with swords in what appears to be a clean and devastating rout. But then, at the edge of the field, the German machine guns begin to fire, and the British horses crash into the forest, suddenly riderless and instantly obsolete. Joey, who of course never sought out heroism in the first place, is relegated to a life of brutal labor that seems fated to end in an ignoble death.
He is kept alive by instinct, human kindness and the companionship of a regal black horse named Topthorn. Joey’s episodic journey takes him from British to German hands and back again, with a sojourn on a French farm owned by an elderly jam-maker (Niels Arestrup) and his young granddaughter (Celine Buckens).
Albert, meanwhile, makes his own way to the war, and his and Joey’s parallel experiences — harrowing escapes, the loss of friends, the terror and deprivation brightened by flickers of tenderness or high spirits — give the story texture and momentum, as well as giving Mr. Spielberg an opportunity to show off, once again, his unmatched skill at cross-cutting. (The large cast, mostly British and almost entirely male, acquits itself admirably, with a few moments of maudlin overacting and many more of heartbreaking understatement.)
Mr. Spielberg and the screenwriters, Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, have wisely avoided attempting to reproduce the atmosphere and effects of the stage production, in which Joey and the other horses are portrayed by huge puppets. He prefers to translate the tale, which originates in a novel by Michael Morpurgo, into a fully cinematic idiom. And “War Horse” turns out to have a central Spielbergian theme — perhaps the dominant idea in this director’s body of work — namely the fraught and fascinating relationship between the human and the nonhuman. An Interview With Steven Spielberg
What do they — sharks, horses, aliens, dinosaurs, intelligent machines — mean to us? What are we supposed to do with them? The boundary can be hard to maintain: sometimes, as in “E. T.” and “A. I.,” nonhuman beings are virtually impossible to distinguish from humans; at other times, as in “Amistad” and “Schindler’s List,” self-evidently human beings are denied that status. Sometimes the nonhuman is a threat, at other times a comfort, but it always presents a profound ethical challenge based in a stark existential mystery: Who are we?
Mr. Spielberg’s answers to this question tend to be hopeful, and his taste for happy, or at least redemptive endings is frequently criticized. But his ruthless optimism, while it has helped to make him an enormously successful showman, is also crucial to his identity as an artist, and is more complicated than many of his detractors realize. “War Horse” registers the loss and horror of a gruesomely irrational episode in history, a convulsion that can still seem like an invitation to despair. To refuse that, to choose compassion and consolation, requires a measure of obstinacy, a muscular and brutish willfulness that is also an authentic kind of grace.
What Do ‘Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Iron Lady’ Have in Common? Ask the Grousers
By MELENA RYZIK
It’s time for the holidays and, as ever, it’s time for eggnog recipes and disgruntlement over holiday movies.
First up, The Wall Street Journal reports that Margaret Thatcher’s biographers are unhappy with her portrayal – by no less a grande dame than Meryl Streep — in “The Iron Lady.”
“I was strongly against the film depicting a living person with dementia,” Charles Moore, Ms. Thatcher’s authorized biographer, told Julie Steinberg of The Journal. He added that it was upsetting for those close to Ms. Thatcher, who, as her daughter revealed in a 2008 memoir, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. “It’s an extremely unkind thing to do,” he said. (Mr. Moore’s book will be published only upon Ms. Thatcher’s death.)
Some members of Parliament even called for a House of Commons debate about the movie. Rob Wilson, a Conservative member who is also a parliamentary private secretary to Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, called for the debate on “respect, good manners and good taste,” the BBC reported. Mr. Wilson, the BBC reported, saw the film at a private screening – it is to open in Britain next month – and said it was “well made” and “brilliantly acted” but wondered why it had to focus so much on Ms. Thatcher’s frailties.
Eva Gabrielsson has issues with “Dragon Tattoo” tie-ins.“It left me wondering about the humanity of the filmmakers who are very subtly denigrating someone who was a great prime minister,” he told the BBC.
In other anger news, Eva Gabrielsson, the longtime companion of Stieg Larsson, author of the Lisbeth Salander series, said he wouldn’t have approved of marketing tie-ins to David Fincher’s adaptation of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” The film, which stars Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, has spawned a clothing line at H&M, created by Trish Summerville, the movie’s costume designer, among other tie-ins.
“We would never have sold any rights for merchandising,” Ms. Gabrielsson told The Associated Press in Stockholm. “It has nothing to do with books.”
Ms. Gabrielsson and Larsson, who died in 2004, were together for more than 30 years but never married; his father and brother inherited the rights to his best-selling series. Ms. Gabrielsson worried that English translations and Hollywood remakes minimized the point that her feminist partner wanted to make, about the prevalence of violence against women. “The oppression of women exists everywhere, this incomprehensible discrimination,” she told The AP. (Fans may know that the Swedish title of the first book in the series translated to “Men Who Hate Women.”)
Some rape survivors, too, have taken issue with the H&M line. Natalie Karneef posted an open letter to the retailer, accusing it of “putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.”
H&M responded with an apology, posted at Fashionista, which read, in part: “We do not view this collection as provocative — it contains pieces that are staples in many people’s wardrobes: jeans, biker jackets and T-shirts. It’s all about how you wear them.”
I thought the last Mission Impossible was really good, full of action and lots of cool gadgets plus great locations. Probably my 2nd favorite in the MI series after MI3.
Sam - I really felt like there were not a lot of good movies this year because I could recall only a handful that I watched in the cinema. People are more into downloading movies now which is great because its free. You can download HD films and with a good size TV that should be enough. The drawback there is that when people stop paying to watch movies, producers wont have the money to produce great movies or even come up with the movie itself. For me, it if its a movie that's highly anticipated (like Dark Knight Rises) then I dont mind shelling out a few hundred pesos for IMAX to watch it.
From the LA Times, about as close to Hollywood as one can get ___
Oscar nominations race to pit power players against underdogs
Imagine, if you will, a Hollywood version of fantasy football pitting the likes of Margaret Thatcher, J. Edgar Hoover, Marilyn Monroe and F. Scott Fitzgerald in a head-to-head battle with, well, a bunch of nobodies.
Daunting, to say the least. Yet these powerful, iconic, often historical figures are likely to be doing just that this film award season, in a competition that squares them off against such characters as a nebbishy lawyer and an illegal immigrant gardener.
It seems evident from the start just who will come out on top: Anecdotally, audiences and voters seem to naturally gravitate toward big-screen portrayals of the powerful, the movers and the shakers, and celebrity types. Last year, both groups were moved to put "The King's Speech" up on top at the Academy Awards and at the box office, with a $427.3-million worldwide gross.
"'King's Speech' was a double-whammy," says Chris Weitz, director of "A Better Life," which features a man on the lower end of the totem pole — that gardener just mentioned (played by Mexican actor Demián Bichir, who did just pull in a SAG lead actor nomination last week, so perhaps the tide is shifting). "Grand stuff with lovely vistas, nice rooms for people to walk through and big historical events, and a guy who's at a disadvantage. That, as well as Colin [Firth's] amazing performance. You may ask why did he win for that and not 'A Single Man' [the year before]. Well, it has something to do with scale."
There are a number of factors that go into the desire to watch the powerful strut their stuff on the screen; Abi Morgan, screenwriter of "The Iron Lady" (the Thatcher story), says there's a voyeuristic appeal on some levels. "It's fascinating to see any historical or public figure off-camera, when they don't know they're being watched," she says. "A good film gives us the sense that we're seeing someone we think we know behind the scenes."
Actors leap at these kinds of roles too, says "J. Edgar" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who won a 2009 Oscar for "Milk," about another kind of powerful historical figure), because the roles tend to emphasize character over extensive plot: "Any big biopics or stories about great men or great women focus on character rather than story," he says. "It allows the actor to get incredibly specific — there's a focus on them that they don't get in fictional pieces."
Does that mean the little guy (or girl) in a film that features an original character in ordinary situations has no chance this time? There's no clear trend: Just two Oscars have gone to films focusing on powerful or real-life individuals since 2000 ("A Beautiful Mind" and "King's Speech"), while the "little guy" pops up in such winners as "Slumdog Millionaire," "Crash" and "American Beauty" in recent years. Actors fare about the same — for every "Speech" (Firth) or "Capote" (Philip Seymour Hoffman) biographical performance winner there's a "Crazy Heart" (Jeff Bridges) and "There Will Be Blood" (Daniel Day-Lewis) fictional role that is honored; actresses do slightly better proportionately in recent years when playing famous or powerful figures, such as "The Queen" (Helen Mirren) and "La Vie en Rose" (Marion Cotillard portraying singer Edith Piaf).
One advantage the little, powerless guy may have this year could come from the headlines, which have made much of the 1% versus the 99% in tough economic times. In this climate, it would seem the doors may widen for an undocumented gardener, the "invisible man in America," as Weitz puts it — or even for Paul Giamatti's underdog lawyer in "Win Win."
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"I think the little guys have a fighting chance more and more," says "Win" director-writer Thomas McCarthy. "Who are the 99%? What are their stories? But the question now is does anyone want to see them?"
Still, films about the big guys come with advantages that are hard to overcome with sheer earnest storytelling. "My Week With Marilyn" director Simon Curtis says, "Audiences come with expectations to films [like "Marilyn"], feeling they've already done the first bit of work by knowing the history behind some of these stories."
Such a shortcut, hazards Morgan, is actually a potential problem: "People can think they 'own' a historical character. You have to be able to allow someone [else] to unpack those assumptions for a while."
But Letty Aronson, producer of "Midnight in Paris" — which features a bevy of famous literary and artistic greats — points out one reason that could make the whole 99% factor irrelevant: "The people who vote are the 1%," she says with a chuckle. "People are usually attracted to something they identify with in their own lives."
Next year may be different, says Black. "We're probably lagging behind just a touch; films next year may speak to those issues. But in troubled economic times like these, people are looking for people to grab the reins and create order. Right now, it's about escapism and finding something larger than us."
Either way, whatever films end up in the Oscar nomination hopper, they all have a common theme: Finding the big person in the little guy's story, or the little guy in the big person's history. Regardless of what history — powerful or insignificant — is being told, a script without that layering isn't likely to move voters or audiences.
"We're always going to be interested in the little guy because the little guy is us," Morgan says. "If you can't find the little guy in the powerful figure, there's no point in writing. You have to find some basic human connection. That's what we're looking for in a film — everything else is marketing really."