Jan 27, 2010

Avatar, the biggest film ever


Into the blue … Chinese moviegoers watch Avatar in a cinema in Hefei, in Anhui province. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

In the end, the only man capable of defeating James Cameron was James Cameron. Titanic, the film-maker's epic 1997 romance set on the doomed ocean liner, yesterday lost its crown as the top grossing movie of all time to Avatar, an epic 3D romance set on an Earth-like moon orbiting a distant star.

The science-fiction saga almost overtook its predecessor's record of $1.843bn at the weekend, after six weeks topping box-office charts around the globe. Twentieth Century Fox confirmed yesterday that the record had finally been broken.

Many pundits had predicted Titanic's record would never be beaten. Yet, early in Avatar's run it was clear it was repeating the pattern of multiple repeat viewings that had been the making of Cameron's previous film. Avatar also benefited from the higher price of tickets for 3D screenings, which have accounted for more than 80% of US earnings and 65% of those elsewhere. The film was so successfully hyped as the first must-see stereoscopic experience that few wanted to compromise with a 2D viewing. In addition, its record-breaking success in China and Russia, markets harder to crack back in 1997, certainly helped to lift its bottom line.

Avatar's box-office victory was, however, won without adjustment for inflation. Figures that do so show how far it's eclipsed by the likes of 1939's Gone With the Wind – that film grossed $400m worldwide, which equates to at least $6bn in today's money, more than three times Avatar's figure.

# Production year: 2009
# Country: USA
# Cert (UK): 12A
# Runtime: 161 mins
# Directors: James Cameron
# Cast: CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Zoe Saldana

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Jan 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Big Fun at the Movies


It was McManus from The Usual Suspects who said, "There is nothing that can't be done," and thus there's no reason stodgy old Sherlock Holmes can't come off as a vibrant and rollicking good time at the theater. Which it does. It reminds me of the solid parts of a Tim Burton film, the muted palette, the delving into the macabre -- but it avoids the Burton pitfalls, too (lack of story cohesion, a fascination with style). Sherlock Holmes feels like the start of a mega-franchise, a Pirates of the Caribbean-level foundation for Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law to build upon. Essentially, I dug it. If you get nothing else from this review then please get that.

It's the Victorian Age in England, and we can deduce it's the year 1887 based upon the character's mythology. Holmes and Watson are sharing a London apartment. Sherlock is the crackerjack sage, able to detect more than any other mortal using sight, sound, touch, smell, and his prodigious intellect. Watson is the ever-present sidekick; he's more socially capable and straightforward in speech and deed. The mystery of the film is launched immediately, no beginning credits, and Guy Ritchie's directorial touch can be felt right off the bat. Ritchie has always been the best "fight scene" guy in the business, and he adds a modern "tough fella" element to the foppish Holmes character. Oh, and Rachel McAdams! She's good here, and it's nice to see this side of her. She's devilish and resourceful as Irene Adler, the romantic interest and potential downfall of Sherlock.

The villain? Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood. He's a conjurer of expensive tricks, and he's out for blood after Sherlock and Watson foil one of his early plans. The film fluidly transitions from comedy to quasi-suspense (we're not talking Rear Window here) and moves quickly save for about 45 minutes in. Yes, the one flaw I can point to is that by starting quickly the film feels longish in the middle. It's the same phenomenon you feel when you're going 70 miles per hour in heavy traffic: you're moving at a nice clip, but you can't tell because you've been going that speed for too long.

Overall though, this is a nice win for Guy Ritchie and company. It's very fun, but not in the sanctimonious manner of the "this is all very important!" Avatar. It's just pure entertainment, something that's been sorely missing this year. I would heartily recommend this to people who like smart films, to audiences looking to get away, to folks who enjoy snappy dialogue and dynamic pacing. There's a scene early on where slo-mo is intermingled with voice-over, a method that would seem cheap and contrived if not for the prodigious talent involved. By putting you inside the head of Holmes, the film allows you to connect with the character early and often. That's the trick of Sherlock Holmes, taking older source material and infusing it with new life. You've got to sit back and enjoy a film that takes you away, to another era, while utilizing the best of modern techniques to stay relevant. Some will dismiss this as a "popcorn film" -- but I deem it a blessed escape. Enjoy Downey and Watson's interplay, the action, the comedy that unfurls in every scene. Why not? You've earned it. You've survived another year at the movies! So, what's stopping you? Buy a ticket. Let the good times roll. [source: www.film.com]

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Jan 2, 2010

Top Ten Movies of 2009


Il Divo, Sept. 5, 2008.* It was on my inaugural trip to the Toronto International Film Festival that I first saw this stylish Italian tragicomic political biography. Despite knowing nothing about Italian politics -- I barely know how American politics work -- I was riveted by Paolo Sorrentino's super-cool direction and Toni Servillo's grimly amusing central performance.

Humpday, Jan. 16. Sundance audiences were drawn in by the eyebrow-raising premise -- two straight male friends decide to make a sex tape -- but were won over by how plausible the outrageous scenario winds up being. That's because the writer/director, Lynn Shelton, and her actors, Joshua Leonard and Mark Duplass, play everything naturally. The result is a surprisingly insightful and funny look at male friendship, platonic love, and society's concept of masculinity.

Precious, Jan. 17. It was still called Push at Sundance -- that's the title of the novel it's based on -- and people were already making jokes about it getting mixed up with the other Push scheduled for 2009, starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning as ordinary people with superpowers. Distributors wisely changed this one's title to Precious, but the movie stayed the same: a stark, terrifying portrait of a Harlem girl in awful circumstances, bolstered in the end by a rush of hope and decency. Alarming but never exploitative, this is one of the most emotionally powerful films of the year.

500 Days of Summer500 Days of Summer, Jan. 18. Three days in a row of Sundance premieres that would eventually make the top 10 list! It was a good year for the festival. Check out the diversity, too: While Precious was harrowing, 500 Days of Summer was breezy, hilarious, and resonant, a near-perfect depiction of a failed romance that manages to be realistic (you'll see yourself in one or both of the main characters) as well as inventive and loopy.

Drag Me to HellDrag Me to Hell, March 15. Sam Raimi's return to his horror roots is the fun kind of scary, like a roller coaster or haunted house, not the kind that gives you nightmares afterward. That's my favorite kind of scary, and seeing it at midnight with an enthusiastic South by Southwest audience -- introduced in person by Raimi! -- was a memorable experience. I saw it again later in a more conventional setting and was just as delighted by its twisted imagination, macabre humor, and good old-fashioned thrills.

Star TrekStar Trek, May 2. A lucky audience in Austin got to see this well ahead of schedule when an Alamo Drafthouse screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was altered by two things: Leonard Nimoy made a surprise appearance, and he asked if everyone wouldn't rather watch the new film instead. (Those intent on seeing Wrath of Khan were, I guess, disappointed.) The place went nuts, and everyone loved the film. I was skeptical, though -- not because I had any reason to believe J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot might be lousy, but because it's hard to trust responses from a crazy premiere like that. You think you're seeing something else and get the brand-new Star Trek instead? A month early? Introduced by Spock himself?? The stunt was designed to produce giddy enthusiasm, so it was no surprise that giddy enthusiasm was the result. It was a relief, then, to see the film a few weeks later, at a regular ol' press screening, and find myself almost as wowed as that Austin audience had been. There had been no need to stack the deck to get a gracious response. Something this energetically funny, smart, and exciting was going to earn praise no matter where it was shown.

UpUp, May 26. This makes three summers in a row that Pixar has released an animated film that eventually made its way to my top 10. Every year I look forward to the studio's latest invention, and almost every year I am astonished at how they have managed to surprise me yet again. The dialogue-free segment near the beginning, showing Carl and Ellie's life together, is one of the most beautiful sequences of the year, not to mention one of the most concise, expressive, and well executed. What other cartoon would even dare to address the issue of Carl and Ellie's inability to have a baby, let alone pull it off so sublimely?

In the LoopIn the Loop, June 11. After hearing raves about this British political comedy at Sundance (where I missed it), I was eager to see it at CineVegas. Then I had to see it again six weeks later, at a local screening, to catch the lines I'd missed the first time because I was laughing (or because their British accents are sometimes a little indecipherable). Imagine a world where everyone speaks in a nonstop barrage of withering sarcasm and profane insults. To live there would be hell, but to view it from a safe distance, as in this film, is comedic bliss.

Serious ManA Serious Man, Sept. 21. Joel and Ethan Coen's films tend to be among my favorites, and this darkly funny story about a man seeking answers from the Almighty is right up there. It's a tough movie, though, one that required a lot of thought and scrutiny before I really "got" it. But once I got it, I got it good. Just like Pixar, the Coens always make whatever movie they want, no matter how bizarre or unorthodox, and they nearly always succeed.

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox, Nov. 9. Just before Christmas, when I was re-watching this with a friend who had not seen it before, he said, about 10 minutes into it, "I can't believe how Wes Anderson-y this is." And that's part of its delight: It's a typical Wes Anderson movie (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), only enacted by woodland creatures. This makes it funnier, of course; the fact that they come to life through stop-motion animation gives the film an extra boost of quaint whimsy. The film also teaches us that moles are good at seeing in the dark, rabbits are fast runners, and badgers are demolition experts. Good to know.


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