Synopsis: A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.
Release Date: August 31, 2012
Thoughts: Yeah, yeah, I know that you’re tired of spooky possession movies (see the trailers for Sinisterand The Apparition). To some extent, I am too and yet I find myself looking forward to these scare-fests as the fall rolls around. Arriving right at the end of the summer months, The Possession has a strong producer credit going for it which does catch my interest. That credit is Sam Raimi and if the guy that made The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell is involved…consider me on board. Another strong selling point is director Ole Bornedal, a Danish director who has never quite caught on in the US though he delivered the spooky Nightwatch in 1994 and it’s US remake in 1997.
Synopsis: In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she’s alive.
Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Richard Linklater
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: In reviewing the trailer for Bernie, I noted that the promotional material indicated that this was the ‘best performance of Jack Black’s career” which I didn’t feel was saying much. Known for his remedial stooge-like work in unfortunate box office successes, Black has headlined a pile of flops recently which has damaged his star cred so I’m sure he jumped at the title role in Linklater’s Texas set black comedy. Linklater and Black had found success with 2003’s School of Rock and the genial relationship between the two is evident as they navigate a true life tale of murder in a small town.
Based off of an article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Skip Hollandsworth (who teamed with Linklater for the screenplay), Bernie plays quite well as a light murder-comedy that skimps on the morals but is filled with so much good-natured local color that you can’t help but be drawn into it. The movie is low-budget, no doubt, and has a bit of a TV movie of the week feel to it which goes along with Linklater’s laid-back directorial style. I can imagine that had this team not been involved we would have seen the same story appearing on Oxygen or Lifetime before the year was out.
If Bernie doesn’t have the most cutting edge material, Linklater is wise to populate every frame of the film with authenticity be it in the production design or the casting. With three stars headlining the picture you’d expect that they would be in the driver’s seat but in truth Black, MacLaine, and McConaughey take the backseat to a parade of local extras (some involved with the real life case) who provide commentary/narration for much of the film. With its documentary-like structure the frank and funny townspeople can let their hair down and say what is really on their mind – which is frequently on-the-nose and hysterical. Their observances of our title character and his unlikely developing relationship with the town meanie are definite highlights of a breezy film. Even when the film moves from courtship to murder to media frenzied trial the tone is bright, spending little time on the finer (read: grisly) details of the case.
As the town DA, McConaughey draws on his Texan roots to fill in the blanks that the script provides for his character. I’m not sure how much of his performance was scripted but McConaughey thrives in roles that allow him to get a little unhinged. While his work in Bernie doesn’t come close to the over-the-top commitment he displayed in June’s gross Magic Mike, McConaughey doesn’t operate at anything less than 100% even in a part that’s a glorified cameo.
MacLaine could play this type of old biddy in her sleep…and she looks half asleep for much of the film. A comic I’m coming to enjoy, Julie Klausner, refers to her as Old Lizard Eyes and that’s an accurate way to describe MacLaine here as she tackles yet another curmudgeon. The relationship she creates with Black does ring true and I appreciated that the film shows them first as friends, then as companions, then as dependants. It’s pretty clear that the woman MacLaine is playing wasn’t well-liked nor sorely missed but the film doesn’t try to justify the murder and it only works because MacLaine brings her right to the edge of hatefulness without making her irredeemable.
Black is still a sticking point for me here. Is it one of his better roles? I think so. Still, I’m not sold on Black’s antics and too much of the film he has the wide-eyed standard Black look that gives off the impression he’s performing a character rather than simply acting. Even if the real Bernie was effeminate I could have done without Black’s wispy/lispy dialogue and his gait that screams “light in the loafers”. Also, Black is allowed to sing more than ten songs in the movie, explained away because of his work with the church…but for my money they could have done without several of them to help the movie keep its pace.
As far as comedies go, Bernie was a nice surprise that is buoyed by a wonderfully perfect cast of townspeople (even the jurors for Bernie’s eventual trial have been picked to perfection) and typically strong direction by fellow Texan Linklater. I feel a lot of love was put into the movie and that really radiates outward into the audience. The subject matter could be a turnoff in lesser hands but ultimately this is a winning jaunt that plays well and flies by.
Synopsis: Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Release Date: November 9, 2012
Thoughts: A Bond fan since birth, I’ve enjoyed watching 007 evolve over the years. The sleek secret agent that Sean Connery gave life to gradually became campy in the Roger Moore years and then more than slightly aloof with Timothy Dalton’s short reign. Pierce Brosnan brought Bond out of the Cold War in swell fashion and now Daniel Craig is suiting up for his third outing as the man who likes things shaken, not stirred. I really loved Craig in Casino Royale, grew to appreciate Quantum of Solace in repeated viewings but with Skyfall I feel that Craig is going to prove just why he’s one of the best Bonds. Granted, a film studio with this much money riding on the success of Bond’s 23rd adventure could edit the trailer to make it look any way they wanted…but the action sequences, villians, and assembled A-Listers give the feeling that Skyfall will be an important film in the Bond canon. Now that The Dark Knight has risen I’m counting down the days until Bond’s Skyfall.
Oh, and yes, I realize I left out George Lazenby who took over Bond in one movie…but I actually liked him too!
Synopsis: Two rival North Carolina politicians with presidential aspirations tangle with one another.
Release Date: August 10, 2012
Thoughts: I’m of the camp that thinks a little Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis goes a long way…both are proven comedians with strong box office numbers behind them. Still, their shtick can wear pretty thin pretty fast and lock the audience into an endurance test of will. The previews for The Campaign are, admittedly, pretty dang funny but I’m just hoping that the main joke of the film isn’t played out by the time we finally see the movie. Director Jay Roach has graduated from the Austin Powers films to political satires so he’s probably a smart choice for the blending of two genres. With the political climate heating up in recent weeks I’m sure that audiences will be ready to laugh a bit when The Campaign is released in August.
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
Release Date: November 9, 2012
Thoughts: I’m torn on this one. Director Joe Wright has helmed some masterfully shot films like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice but the drawback is that they’ve all been made with Leno jaw-ed Keira Knightly as his leading lady. Clearly the two are mining a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp-esque working relationship and their third time together is a re-telling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel. Knightly may actually be a decent choice for the role though her last attempt at playing Russian in A Dangerous Method yielded some disastrous results. Visuals look on par with Wright’s previous work and as someone not well versed in the source material, I’m interested in taking this new adaptation in.
Synopsis: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Thoughts: For all of you out there that can’t sleep at night because you are wondering what became of Helen Hunt, the trailer for The Sessions should calm you down. I still hold a grudge toward Hunt for winning an Oscar for As Good As It Gets…but time does heal all wounds and I’m almost whole. Hunt teams with character actor John Hawkes in a comedy(?) that is nothing if not original in concept. I’m not sure how many laughs can be mined out of a middle-aged iron lung-ed man who comes to sex surrogate Hunt to lose his virginity…but it’s possible the yuk-yuks could spring naturally from the circumstances.
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Thoughts: The latest endeavor from The Wachowski Siblings (The Matrix, Bound, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) seems to cover all the bases of movie genres according to the nearly six-minute extended trailer you can view above. Halle Berry and Tom Hanks seem like unlikely stars of this epic but then again the creators are a strange crew themselves. Several of the scenes included here are pretty breathtaking examples of visual effects and advanced camera technology – get a load of Berry in a car careening off a bridge. The film is fully finished and waiting for release in October – it’s lengthy running time (164 minutes) and challenging narrative may turn off some but it might just be the rewarding experience it looks to be.
Synopsis: A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.
Release Date: August 24, 2012
Thoughts: I’ve seen star Mike Birbiglia make the rounds on the talk show circuit when his off-Broadway show of Sleepwalk With Me opened and was an unexpected hit. What I gathered from his interviews and bit of the show that were featured is that he’s a natural storyteller with good presence. While not every show is easily adaptable to the stage, Birbiglia’s easy-going delivery and structured show could be one of the rare examples that would probably translate well to the silver screen. Gathering a nice ensemble of familiar faces this might be a nice, um, sleeper hit if the festival circuit buzz is to be believed.
Synopsis: Julian makes a lucrative living as an escort to older women in the Los Angeles area. When a client is murdered, Julian begins to suspect he’s being framed.
Stars: Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo, Bill Duke
Director: Paul Schrader
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Barely a month into the new decade that heralded an atmospheric shift in culture, American Gigolo caused a stir with its frank approach to taboo topics. True, the concept of male escorts (gigolos) wasn’t exactly new having been explored in the Oscar winning Midnight Cowboy but what sets American Gigolo apart was its unapologetic embrace, examination, and eventual casting off of its main character. At the same time, the film introduced audiences to people, music, and clothing that would come to symbolize the eighties in all their glory.
Writer-director Schrader had already caught Hollywood’s attention for writing the gritty Taxi Driver at the time he crafted the film and he would close out the year with Raging Bull. Working from his own script, Schrader places the action in a Los Angeles grounded in reality whether filming in the high hills or in seedy clubs. You can tell that in blending two very different scenes that Schrader wants us to know he sees no difference between the country club set and those that have an affinity for the nightlife of Hollywood and Vine.
The titular character (Gere in a role originally offered to John Travlota and Christopher Reeve) moves easily among any crowd with his chameleon like nature – he can spot what people want and adjusts his approach to any situation. Up to this point in film male hustlers/escorts were usually portrayed as flaming gays that you wouldn’t believe anyone would pay money for. While the film does have a slightly homophobic slant (be it in the writing or directing), it’s not too concerned with sexual orientation because it can change depending on the clients that are calling.
Catering mostly to wealthy mature females, Julian is a top earner in the Los Angeles escort scene. The women love him, the men envy him and he knows it. Care is taken to show that this is clearly a job for Julian and that he’s in it for the money and only that – he’s become used to the high rolling lifestyle and that’s more seductive to him than any woman. Well…until Hutton’s character catches his eye one evening and everything goes to hell.
While Gere is well cast in his role it’s really Hutton that fascinates as a married woman that can’t quite get Julian off of her mind. Though Michelle is initially curious about what it would be like to be with him, she soon struggles with wanting to save him from the anonymous life he’s comfortable living. Moments between the two have an awkward sincerity about them – both actors have a heat that is hard to deny but the scenes with their clothes on have more spark than anything that happens between the sheets. Looking at the film now, I believe this was intentional to show contrast with the sort of relationships that Julian is used to.
The film delves into a murder-mystery subplot that is barely fleshed out and only exists to create conflict between Michelle and Julian as he becomes the target of a frame-up. With Elizondo as a cop on the case and Duke as Julian’s pimp, the two characters feel like intruders in a film that up to that point had our two leads as the central focus. As the doors that used to be open to him start to close, he’s forced to consider a life without money, Michelle, or freedom. All things considered, the thrust of the film is metaphorically very much about the values Americans had in the transition from the 70’s to the 80’s.
At nearly two hours, I think American Gigolo is about twenty minutes too long for its own good. Schrader includes many extraneous dialogue scenes that just restate what the previous scene had summed up about the scene before it. It’s not a boring film but one that probably was a little ahead of its time in its execution.
While not a huge hit for Paramount Pictures, American Gigolo did put Gere on the map as a hot commodity. Enjoying a successful career even today, Gere did have a chance to turn the tables a bit ten years later with Pretty Woman. Also introduced here was designer Calvin Klein who contributes much of Gere’s wardrobe and the clean-cut style of Klein hasn’t changed much in the resulting three decades. Oscar winning composer Giorgio Moroder provides a perfect score for the film with its heavy use of synth and pulsating rhythms. Most significant, Moroder and punk band Blondie collaborated on the now-classic “Call Me” and it’s featured heavily throughout the film.
All of the elements I’ve mentioned so far have made American Gigolo more of a time capsule than any kind of example of classic cinema. It’s a fairly straightforward depiction of a cross section of society in 1980 and there’s value in revisiting that time and place. Good performances and a stylish attention to detail under a solid director help push this into the recommended aisle for those looking for a sleek ride down memory lane.
Synopsis: Wren’s plan to attend a huge Halloween party thrown by the guy she likes goes awry when she’s put in charge of her oddball little brother, who quickly wanders off on his own.
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Thoughts: Hello, my name is Joe and I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies that ride the fence between teenybopper cinema and more adult comedy. When the preview began and the Nickelodeon logo appeared I anticipated yet another sigh and release sort of effort that I’d pass on in the theaters/Redbox. Surprisingly, this looks to be a vehicle clearly made for the tween crowd but one I wouldn’t mind taking a further look at. Having Johnny Knoxville and Chelsea Handler in the mix also raised my critical eyebrow – known for their adult comedy there had to have been something that attracted them to the project. Additionally, the trailer has a nice share of laughs and the film seems to be made with a crisp shine to it. I’m sure the overall effect of Fun Size will be just that…small and forgettable but it might just be satiating enough for October audiences.