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Friday, November 14, 2014

AFI Fest presented by Audi 2014 Reviews

The Movie Report


  • Eden ** 1/2
  • Foxcatcher ***
  • The Homesman **
  • Inherent Vice ** 1/2
  • May Allah Bless France! (Qu'Allah Bénisse la France!) ***
  • A Most Violent Year *** 1/2
  • Run ***
  • Selma *** 1/2 Q&A with Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Common, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
  • '71 *** Q&A with Jack O'Connell, Yann Demange
  • Song of the Sea *** 1/2
  • Still Alice ***
  • Timbuktu *** Q&A with Abderrahmane Sissako
  • The Tribe ***
  • Tales of the Grim Sleeper ***
  • Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) ** 1/2

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Press Junket Potluck: Daniel Radcliffe locks Horns with Juno Temple

Film Flam Flummox


Ever since waving his wand as wizard Harry Potter for the final time in 2011, Daniel Radcliffe has never completely shied away from the fantasy genre, but the film projects he's tackled with such a bent have been as far removed tonally from that star-making blockbuster franchise as can be. First he ventured into the darker side of the fantastic with 2012's Hammer-style horror yarn The Woman in Black, and now he swerves into an even more tonally different direction with writer-director Alexandre Aja's adaptation of Joe Hill's novel Horns, often darkly comic supernatural mystery-thriller in which he plays Iggy, a murder suspect who mysteriously grows the titular demonic feature overnight--and with them developing a number of equally mysterious magical powers. Alongside co-star Juno Temple, who plays Iggy's lost love Merrin, whom he is suspected of killing; and author Hill, Radcliffe sat for a press conference in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 29, where the trio fielded questions about the film and various issues about navigating the more-treacherous-than-the-supernatural waters of Hollywood.

Horns opens in select cinemas and is available on demand on digital outlets beginning today, October 31, 2014, from Radius-TWC.

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(Special thanks to mPRm)

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Music Monday: Changing Der Glöckner von Notre Dame back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the U.S. stage

Film Flam Flummox


When it was announced earlier this year that stage version of Disney's underappreciated 1996 animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be making its much-belated, hotly anticipated U.S. premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse , speculation abounded as to whether it would more closely resemble director/librettist James Lapine's acclaimed hit German language adaptation Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, which ran in Berlin from 1999 to 2002; or the more family-friendly original film. Less than a week before its first preview performance set for Sunday, October 26, La Jolla Playhouse has provided some answers with a PDF file of the final official program posted on their official website, and it appears that what director Scott Schwartz, librettist Peter Parnell, and the returning musical team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are serving American premiere audiences is a third separate incarnation almost entirely different from its predecessors--a conclusion that can be gleaned from a mere glimpse at the song number listing. Below is that listing as it appears on the program (click for a larger view), and I'll go into some bullet points on the differences and what this definitely indicates and possibly suggests about this newest incarnation of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's tuneful take on Victor Hugo's classic novel. (Needless to say, spoilers abound for the Der Glöckner version and this new production, along with some pure speculation on the new version.)


  • Right off the bat, one can see that Parnell and director Schwartz have made one very significant alteration--one that Lapine reportedly wanted to make early in the development of his version but was ultimately convinced (forced?) to not go through with: removing reclusive cathedral bellringer Quasimodo's three comic relief gargoyle sidekicks. While Parnell has gone on record that gargoyles do remain in this production in some capacity, it's clear it is in a wildly diminished background one, for none are mentioned as taking part in any musical numbers either by character name or group. As such, their big number as featured in the film and Berlin incarnations, "A Guy Like You," is missing from the song list, and obviously the Berlin numbers in which they are featured that were retained for this production will have to have been reworked/rewritten.
  • The only song from the Disney film that won't be included is the aforementioned gargoyle showcase "A Guy Like You," for the late film number "The Court of Miracles," led by gypsy king Clopin, has been restored to its proper place, with its replacement in Germany, the instrumental dance number "Dance of the Gypsies," removed. A song that was originally cut from the film early in production and left out of Berlin, "In a Place of Miracles," a romantic number between Quasimodo's gypsy love Esmeralda and soldier Captain Phoebus, has been reinstated.
  • Speaking of film-cut songs that were reinstated, the incredible 11th hour number from Germany, "Someday," is indeed retained, as are these additions for the original German stage production: "Sanctuary," an expansion of Frollo's verses in "Out There"; "Rest and Relaxation," an introductory number for Phoebus; "Top of the World," a duet between Quasimodo and Esmeralda; the rousing act one closer "Esmeralda"; and Quasimodo's powerful late number "Made of Stone"...
  • ...which, in a change that makes me wonder, is now placed after "Someday" and before "Finale Ultimo." "Someday" seamlessly led into "Finale Ultimo" without an applause break in Berlin, making for relentless dramatic momentum to its powerful finish. Perhaps the removal of the gargoyles-as-characters (who were a major part of the song in Berlin) and whatever changes to the ending motivated the order swap.
  • Additions in Germany apparently jettisoned for the States: "Balancing Act," an early act 1 number that introduces the melody to the act 1 finale song "Esmeralda"; the choral-driven act 2 opener "City Under Siege", the act 2 Quasimodo/Phoebus duet "Out of Love"; and the aforementioned instrumental "Dance of the Gypsies."
  • All-new in La Jolla: "Rhythm of the Tambourine," which appears to be an extended introduction number for Esmeralda; "The Tavern Song," a number for Quasimodo's dastardly master Frollo and Esmeralda in the middle of act 1; and "Flight into Egypt," an act 2 number for Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
But most striking of all, which is reflected by the removal of the gargoyles, is the apparent "de-Disney-fying" of the entire piece, both in content and any materials related to this production. The company's familiar logo is nowhere to be found on the official poster (even the haunting, minimalist key art for that famously dark German production had it prominently featured), and the company's name only appears in the finest of print, as being part of a "special arrangement." But perhaps most telling of all is this official credit: "Based on the Victor Hugo novel with songs from the Disney film." Could it be that this Hunchback is a full-blown, twelve-hanky tearjerker on the level of a certain other Hugo-based stage musical, Les Misérables? I guess we'll all find out when the show runs from October 26 to December 14 at the La Jolla Playhouse . More information and ticket sales at the official website.


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Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: The Book of Life

The Movie Report



*** 1/2; Rated PG
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Despite the literally limitless possibilities it presents to filmmakers or, more precisely, artists, feature digital animation has largely been in an ironic visual lockstep the last 20 years, deviating very little, if at all, from the general design model Pixar introduced with Toy Story in 1995. While there's definitely nothing wrong with playing within that established and still-effective norm, it takes a work as strikingly stylized and completely out-of-the box visually as Jorge R. Gutierrez's The Book of Life to make one realize just how homogenized, and even lazy, mainstream animated features have become--and how genuinely exciting it is to witness an artist confidently shatter barriers and boldly break new ground.

The contrast is clearly one not lost on Gutierrez (nor his ever-visionary producer, Guillermo del Toro), beginning the film with a framing device rendered in that familiar, now-traditional computer animation style, as a group of kids arrive at a museum on a school field trip. There, a guide (voiced by Christina Applegate) proceeds to tell them a fantastical tale of love and adventure set in Mexico and taking place around the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The distinctly, unapologetically Latin subject matter and magical realist approach is already rather radical in Hollywood terms, but that's nothing compared to Gutierrez's even more idiosyncratic way of visually enacting the main story. The triangle between macho, mustachioed soldier Joaquin (Channing Tatum); sensitive musician/bullfighter Manolo (Diego Luna); and their spunky childhood friend Maria (Zoë Saldana) is first introduced by the museum guide through wooden figures--a motif that carries over as the film then largely shifts focus to a vision of Mexico where man, animal, and their surroundings alike look individually handcrafted by artisans. With that description comes all the "imperfections" such a description implies--and, thus, the painstaking and ironically perfectionist attention to detail that goes into creating, much less animating, such authentic looking figures. It would have been easy, and probably expected, to make the characters look literally polished, but that there are chips in the wood and the paint, and that the light reflects with a duller sheen rather than a pristine shine only begins to show just how dedicated Gutierrez (and character design collaborator Sandra Equihua, plus the artists and animators at Reel FX studios, making a quantum leap here over last year's harmless, but same-y, time-traveling turkey tale Free Birds) is to the unique flavor of his vision.

That distinctiveness grows even more dazzling so as the plot takes on increasingly fanciful directions. The visual influence of Mexican folk art first manifests in the literally otherworldly characters of the compassionate La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and the mischievous Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who make a playful bet over which of the two buddies ultimately wins Maria's affections. While clearly not made of anything close to wood, their more ornate and intricate designs are still very fluidly expressive in their animation, and that very much remains the case as Manolo's pursuit of Maria's love leads him away from his "real" world of wood and to and through La Muerte and Xibalba's respective deceased-dwelling domains of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten. From the vibrant colors and buoyant, eternal party-like designs of the former to the more stark and haunting latter, with the character designs (Manolo's included) growing even more intricate, the mystical settings then enable Gutierrez to let his visual imagination run truly, excitingly amok.

But that imagination and abandon also comes through beyond the visuals. The voice casting is similarly inspired. If Luna as a romantic, Saldana as a plucky heroine, and Perlman as a rascally type are playing to their established wheelhouses (and they reliably play those parts well here), there are also a number of more unexpected choices that pay off. It certainly would have been easy (and undoubtedly more studio-favored) to cast a more mainstream-known name as La Muerte, but the great del Castillo lends the same unmistakable allure and shades of complexity and mystery that characterizes her live action work. Tatum wouldn't be the first to come to mind as a paragon of Mexican machismo, but his ever self-effacing sense of humor lends Joaquin a uniquely obnoxious yet good-natured charm. Best of all, though, is the off-the-map choice for the Candlemaker, the god that serves as the mediator between La Muerte and Xibalba: Ice Cube, clearly relishing the chance to play way against type as a bit of a cosmic kook. His raucous energy steals just about every scene he's in, and notably without contributing to the film's music--which is another lively, lovely touch in the film, especially with the character of Manolo being a singer/guitarist. But Gutierrez and composer/soundtrack producer Gustavo Santaolalla go the extra mile here as well, with the actual voice actors offering renditions of original songs (co-written by Paul Williams) as well as covers of familiar tunes of all genres from all time periods--all with a Latin music twist.

Admittedly, the whole jukebox movie musical approach isn't exactly new, with Moulin Rouge! and, in the animated feature realm, Happy Feet having already gone there. The same can be applied to Gutierrez and co-writer Douglas Langdale's screenplay as a whole, whose various plot points, character types, and sometimes lines of dialogue often harken back to, and sometimes even directly call back to, other films. While this makes for a narrative whose originality lags behind that displayed in other areas, Gutierrez wears those influences with blatantly affectionate pride, paying homage to the wide spectrum of art that shaped his own--from Latin, pop, rock, and hip-hop music to folk art to the macabre stop-motion oeuvre of the likes of Henry Selick to Greek mythology to the campy yet earnest melodrama of the telenovela to evergreen childhood fave films like The Princess Bride. The resulting narrative melange is not unlike what Quentin Tarantino has made an entire career out of, mixing, blending, reconfiguring such diverse sources in a way that what could feel hopelessly derivative instead plays as something familiar yet uniquely its own. And married to the sumptuous audiovisual feast that is the hearty main course of The Book of Life, it makes for an exciting and fresh filmmaking voice that is uniquely that of one Jorge R. Gutierrez.

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Press Junket Potluck: Opening The Book of Life

Film Flam Flummox


A little over seven months after Fox first introduced the project to the media and the world at large with a splashy yet intimate and rather uncommon art show and live music event back in February, the promotional campaign for Reel FX Animation Studios' 3D animated musical/comedy/fantasy/adventure The Book of Life completed its full cycle with a more traditional ritual, the official pre-release press day. In a pair of press conferences held on Sunday, October 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez, producer Guillermo del Toro, and voice cast members Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, and Ron Perlman discussed a variety of topics relating to the Dia de los Muertos-set film, from the project's genesis to the quirky character design and characterizations to the music to the distinctly Latin flavor of the entire piece.

The Book of Life opens in cinemas nationwide today, Friday, October 17, from 20th Century Fox.

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(Special thanks to 20th Century Fox)

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Movie Report #789, October 10, 2014

The Movie Report

#789, October 10, 2014


MOVIES:
  • Addicted 1/2*
  • Alexander and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ***
  • Bang Bang! ***
  • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her/Him ***
  • Dracula Untold **
  • Evolution of a Criminal ***
  • Haider *** 1/2
  • I Am Ali *** 1/2
  • The Judge ***
  • Kill the Messenger *** 1/2
  • One Chance ***
  • St. Vincent ***
  • Whiplash ****
  • You're Not You ** 1/2

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