Here’s The Trailer For Spider In The Web!


Is Gordon Cole having another one of his Monica Bellucci dreams?

Well, we can always hope.  However, the upcoming film Spider In The Web appears to be an espionage thriller that has little do with the Black Lodge or JUDY.  Instead, it features Ben Kingsley as an aging spy who is apparently seeking some sort of redemption.  To be honest, I’m not sure what this is about but Ben Kingsley’s a good actor who really doesn’t get as as many decent roles as he deserves.

This one is coming out on August 30th, in select theaters and VOD.

Quick Review: Disney’s The Jungle Book (dir. by Jon Favreau)


THE JUNGLE BOOK

Without giving away the film, I haven’t much to say about Disney’s The Jungle Book other than I enjoyed it. Granted, it’s one that’s been done a number of times. 

When the trailer for Disney’s The Jungle Book was released, I was happy for it. It was good to see Jon Favreau back to directing bigger productions. After the misstep of Cowboys & Aliens and the success of Chef , it seems like he’s really back on track in a big way. That was my reason for seeing the film this past weekend.

Note that I’ve never seen the Disney Animated Version of The Jungle Book. I can’t really make any comparisons, other than the music, having listened to songs as a kid.

The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a young boy who lives in the jungle and is raised by both a pack of wolves (lead by Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito) & a Panther named Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley). Evil rears its ugly head in the form of a Tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who wishes to have Mowgli killed because he knows how dangerous he can become once grown. Can the pack protect him, or will have have to find a way to save himself? That is pretty much what you need to know about the plot. I felt the movie had a number of comparisons to the Lion King (and even one reference to Return of the Jedi). Still, it manages to move at a good pace. Unlike Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes or counting the minutes until a bathroom break appeared. 

Casting in the Jungle Book is pretty good. There’s hardly a cast member out of place, though not everyone is given a great deal of screen time. It is Mowgli’s story, after all. Idris Elba is menacing as Shere Khan. Scarlett Johannson (Chef, Iron Man 2)  plays Kaa the Snake and has a song on the score. Bill Murray’s Baloo is cute and cuddly, but the biggest casting surprise has to be Christopher Walken as Big Louie. The film even manages to contain a few musical numbers, though I don’t know if it could be classified as a musical. Those moments are few and far between.

Visually, The Jungle Book is downright beautiful. The animals are rendered so well (in some cases) that one might suspect they had actual animals on hand for a reference or at least some on set. It’s still early, but this is a movie I’d tuck away until the next awards season, at least where the Visual Effects are concerned. The 3-D version of the film has some great moments, but I wouldn’t consider it a requirement to actually see it in this format.

Some elements early in the film may be frightening for the youngest of viewers. Tigers are meant to be scary, so Shere Khan definitely worked for me. The same goes with Kaa and with Louie. Overall, The Jungle Book is set to be a major hit and it’s nice to see Favreau with a directorial win.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gandhi (dir by Richard Attenborough)


Gandhi-poster

I just finished watching the 1982 best picture winner Gandhi on TCM.  This is going to be a tough movie to review.

Why?

Well, first off, there’s the subject matter.  Gandhi is an epic biopic of Mohandas Gandhi (played, very well, by Ben Kingsley).  It starts with Gandhi as a 23 year-old attorney in South Africa who, after getting tossed out of a first class train compartment because of the color of his skin, leads a non-violent protest for the rights of all Indians in South Africa.  He gets arrested several times and, at one point, is threatened by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his screen debut as a young racist.  However, eventually, Gandhi’s protest draws international attention and pressure.  South Africa finally changes the law to give Indians a few rights.

Gandhi then returns to his native India, where he leads a similar campaign of non-violence in support of the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire.  For every violent act on the part of the British, Gandhi responds with humility and nonviolence.  After World War II, India gains its independence and Gandhi becomes the leader of the nation.  When India threatens to collapse as a result of violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi fasts and announces that he will allow himself to starve to death unless the violence ends.  Gandhi brings peace to his country and is admired the world over.  And then, like almost all great leaders, he’s assassinated.

Gandhi tells the story of a great leader but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great movie.  In order to really examine Gandhi as a film, you have to be willing to accept that criticizing the movie is not the same as criticizing what (or who) the movie is about.

As I watched Gandhi, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  Reportedly, Gandhi was a passion project for director Richard Attenborough.  An admirer of Gandhi’s and a lifelong equality activist, Attenborough spent over 20 years trying to raise the money to bring Gandhi’s life to the big screen.  Once he finally did, it appears that Attenbrough didn’t want to leave out a single detail.  Gandhi runs three and a half hours and, because certain scenes drag, it feels ever longer.

My other thought, as I watched Gandhi, was that it had to be one of the least cinematic films that I’ve ever seen.  Bless Attenborough for the nobility of his intentions but there’s not a single interesting visual to be found in the entire film.  I imagine that, even in 1982, Gandhi felt like a very old-fashioned movie.  In the end, it feels more like something you would see on PBS than in a theater.

The film is full of familiar faces, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.  For instance, Gandhi’s British opponents are played by a virtual army of familiar character actors.  Every few minutes, someone like John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, John Mills, or Nigel Hawthorne will pop up and wonder why Gandhi always has to be so troublesome.  The British character actors all do a pretty good job and contribute to the film without allowing their familiar faces to become a distraction.

But then, a few American actors show up.  Martin Sheen plays a reporter who interview Gandhi.  Candice Bergen shows up as a famous photographer.  And, unlike their British equivalents, neither Sheen nor Bergen really seem to fit into the film.  Both of them end up overacting.  (Sheen, in particular, delivers every line as if he’s scared that we’re going to forget that we’re watching a movie about an important figure in history.)  They both become distractions.

I guess the best thing that you can say about Gandhi, as a film, is that it features Ben Kingsley in the leading role.  He gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Gandhi, making him human even when the film insists on portraying him as a saint.  He won an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi and he deserved one.

As for Gandhi‘s award for best picture … well, let’s consider the films that it beat: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, and Missing.  And then, consider some of the films from 1982 that weren’t even nominated: Blade Runner, Burden of Dreams, Class of 1984, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Favorite Year, Poltergeist, Tenebrae, Vice Squad, Fanny and Alexander…

When you look at the competition, it’s clear that the Academy’s main motive in honoring Gandhi the film was to honor Gandhi the man.  In the end, Gandhi is a good example of a film that, good intentions aside, did not deserve its Oscar.

The Jungle Book Super Bowl Trailer


The Jungle Book

A month before we marvel at Captain America: Civil War we shall be treated to the latest film adaptation of Disney’s animated film The Jungle Book which itself is an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling of the same name.

This film has such an impressive pedigree. In the director’s chair is Jon Favreau who is the man who help begin the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. The cast is a who’s who of some of the most recognizable actors working today: Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupito Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito and Bill Murray.

The Jungle Book is being touted as the next step in visual effects in filmmaking with everything except the young Mowgli being computer-generated. The film’s sizzle reel trailer wowed everyone at this past summer San Diego Comic-Con and this Super Bowl trailer does everything to help make that sizzle turn into a full-blown firestorm of hype.

The Jungle Book is set to come out on April 15, 2016.

Here Are The Very Confusing SAG Nominations!


Spotlight

The nominees for the SAG Awards were announced earlier today!  The SAG Awards are usually one of the more accurate of the various Oscar precursors.  Because so many members of the Academy are also members of the Screen Actors Guild, the SAG Awards are usually a pretty good indication of what films are on the Academy’s radar and which ones aren’t.  Occasionally, an actor will be nominated by SAG and then snubbed by the Academy.  Last year, for instance, SAG nominated Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler, Jennifer Aniston for Cake, and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent.  None of those three received any love from the Academy.  But, for the most part, SAG is one of the most reliable precursors out there.

And that’s why so many of us are in shock today!  The SAG Awards in no way resembled what many of us were expecting.  Other than Spotlight, none of the film’s that many of us expected to be nominated for best ensemble (the SAG’s equivalent of the Academy’s best picture) were nominated (and even Spotlight only received one other nomination, for Rachel McAdams who, up to this point, hasn’t really figured into the Oscar discussion).  The Martian was not nominated for best ensemble or anything else for that matter.  Creed was totally snubbed.  Brooklyn was nominated for actress but not ensemble.  Mad Mad: Fury Road was nominated for its stunt work and nothing else.  Helen Mirren received two nominations, for films that hardly anyone (outside of the SAG, obviously) was really paying any attention to.  Sarah Silverman received a best actress nomination for I Smile Back, which I hadn’t even heard of until about a week ago.  It’s an unexpected and strange group of nominees.

Keep in mind, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the nominees are unexpected.  Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton will both receive deserved boosts in their hunt for Oscar gold.  At the same time, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy to see either The Big Short or Trumbo nominated for best ensemble because I know I’m going to feel obligated to see them and they both look so freaking tedious and blandly political!  But consider this: if The Big Short and Trumbo are both huge Oscar contenders, we may face a situation where both Jay Roach and Adam McKay are nominated for best director in the same year.  I think that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse and, at this point, I’m kind of ready to welcome the end of the world.

Anyway, here are the SAG nominations!  Look them over and, after the Golden Globe nominations are announced tomorrow, update your Oscar predictions accordingly.

Best Performance by a Cast Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Helen Mirren – Woman in Gold
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
  • Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
  • Helen Mirren – Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

  • Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
  • Jon Hamm – Mad Men
  • Rami Malek – Mr. Robot
  • Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
  • Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

  • Claire Danes – Homeland
  • Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder
  • Julianna Marguilles – The Good Wife
  • Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey
  • Robin Wright – House of Cards

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Key and Peele
  • Modern Family
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Transparent
  • Veep

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Ty Burrell – Modern Family
  • Louis CK – Louie
  • William H. Macy – Shameless
  • Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
  • Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
  • Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
  • Ellie Kemper – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
  • Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

  • Idris Elba – Luther
  • Ben Kingsley – Tut
  • Ray Liotta — Texas Rising
  • Bill Murray – A Very Murray Christmas
  • Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

  • Blacklist
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • Marvel’s Daredevil
  • The Walking Dead

Film Review: The Walk (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


The_Walk_(2015_film)_poster

If you didn’t get a chance to see Robert Zemeckis’s latest film, The Walk, in a theater and, at the very least, in 3D, you really missed out.

In fact, I’m actually a bit surprised that The Walk hasn’t gotten more attention than it has.  Over the past year, whenever I would see the trailer play before another movie, it always seemed like a palpable sense of excitement descended over the theater.  Then, The Walk was released, it got wonderful reviews, and …. nothing.  Down here in Dallas, it played in theaters for three weeks and then it went away.  Since I was on vacation for two of those weeks, I nearly missed it!

But I’m glad that I didn’t miss it.  I say this despite the fact that I’m beyond terrified of heights and The Walk is all about creating the experience of balancing on a wire that’s been suspended between two of the tallest buildings in the world.  As I watched the film, there were many times when I struggled to catch my breath.  I had to put my hands over my mismatched eyes a few times.  But I’m still glad that I saw the film.

The Walk is based on a true story.  In 1974, French street performer Philippe Patet (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is even more adorable here than usual if that’s possible) and a group of accomplices manage to suspend a high wire between the twin towers of the just constructed World Trade Center. High above New York City, Philippe walked across the wire a total of six times.  In the film, Philippe narrates the story while standing on top of the Statue of Liberty.  From the minute that we see Gordon-Levitt and he starts to speak in a theatrical (but never implausible) French accent, we immediately like and relate to Philippe.  By the end of the film, his triumph is our triumph.

At the same time, we also feel his sadness.  Up until the film’s final line, when Philippe makes a subtle reference to it, 9-11 is never explicitly mentioned in The Walk but the shadow of that monstrous attack still looms over frame of the film.  By recreating both Philippe’s act of daring and the Twin Towers themselves, Zemeckis attempts to reclaim the legacy of the World Trade Center from the asshole terrorists who destroyed it.

And The Walk really does put you right there on that wire.  If ever there’s been a film that you must simply see in 3D, it’s The Walk.  Just be prepared to watch some of the movie through your fingers.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #119: Shutter Island (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Shutter IslandThe 2010 film Shutter Island finds the great director Martin Scorsese at his most playful.

Taking place in 1954, Shutter Island tells the story of two detectives, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving an excellent performance that, in many ways, feels like a test run for his role in Inception) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, also excellent), who take a boat out to the Ashecliffe Hospital for The Criminal Insane, which is located on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor.  They are investigating the disappearance of inmate Rachel Solando, who has been incarcerated for drowning her three children.

Ashecliffe is one of those permanently gray locations, the type of place where the lights always seem to be burned out and the inmates move about like ghostly visions of sins brought to life.  It’s the type of place that, had this movie been made in the 50s or 60s, would have been run by either Vincent Price or Peter Cushing.  In this case, the Cushing role of the cold and imperious lead psychiatrist is taken by Ben Kingsley.  Max Von Sydow, meanwhile, plays a more flamboyantly sinister doctor, the role that would have been played by Vincent Price.

When a storm strands Teddy and Chuck on the island, they quickly discover that neither the staff nor the patients are willing to be of any help when it comes to tracking down Rachel.  As Teddy continues to investigate, he finds himself stricken by migraines and haunted by disturbing images.  He continually sees a mysterious little girl.  He has visions of his dead wife (Michelle Williams).  A horribly scarred patient in solitary confinement (Jackie Earle Haley) tells him that patients are regularly taken to a lighthouse where they are lobotomized.  When Teddy explores more of the island, he comes across a mysterious woman living in a cave and she tells him of even more sinister activity at Ashecliffe.  Meanwhile, Chuck alternates between pragmatic skepticism and flights of paranoia.

And I’m not going to share anymore of the plot because it would be a crime to spoil Shutter Island.  This is a film that you must see and experience for yourself.

This is one of Martin Scorsese’s most entertaining films, an unapologetic celebration of B-movie history. He knows that he’s telling a faintly ludicrous story here and, wisely, he embraces the melodrama.  Too many directors would try to bring some sort of credibility to Shutter Island by downplaying the film’s more melodramatic moments.  Scorsese, however, shows no fear of going over the top.  He understands that this is not the time to be subtle.  This is the time to go a little crazy and that’s what he does.

Good for him.