'The Avengers': Marvel's Prototypical Super-Franchise

Photo: Digital Trends

I'm sure that Marvel and Paramount are ecstatic (and relieved) that their $300 million-budgeted cash cow experiment was able to churn out a whopping and unprecedented $207 million at the box office in its very first weekend. Let's face it, this is the first movie of it's kind; a conglomeration of highly successful and marketable superhero franchises -- a super-franchise, really. It could've pulled in a mere $130 million (about the same as Iron Man 2) over the weekend and the studio heads would've been satisfied, I suspect, because given that the same audience that shows up in droves for the Iron Man movies -- Marvel's most marketable superhero franchise, thanks in large part to the recent emergence of R.D.J.'s unrivaled star power -- is presumably the same audience that shows up for Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, etc. (i.e., less profitable Marvel franchises), wouldn't it seem reasonable to assume that the fate of The Avengers would ride significantly on the brand equity of its charismatic and narrative centerpiece, Tony Stark?

As it was, The Avengers managed to surpass box-office juggernauts such as 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two (by about $37 million) and 2008's The Dark Knight (by nearly $50 million) to claim the top spot on the list of highest domestic weekend openings, ever. And it wasn't even close. It also just surpassed $700 million worldwide (as of 5/08), which puts it, oh, about $80 million above what Iron Man 2 was able to earn durings it entire theatrical run. It's unprecedented, and given the luxury of hindsight (I'm assuming at this point that the film will earn at least $450 million domestically... and that's pretty conservative) I'd say it's not only a fortuitous experiment, but also likely the way of the future, at least as far as Hollywood superhero franchising goes. (Mark my words: that Justice League movie will inevitably get made, despite any opposition from Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, or whoever else.)

More after the jump...


2011 IN REVIEW: 'The Ides of March'

Photo: Very Aware

The Ides of March is purely a showcase in acting and storytelling. It doesn't shine any relevatory light on political corruption, nor does it try to speak to any greater truths about politics. We know where it's going, and we have a sense of how it's going to get there. But while the film may fall short of expectations as far as ambition goes, it never fails to captivate.

The script, co-written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, is tight, gripping, and at times, pretty challenging; it's brought to life by a stellar ensemble cast (Clooney, Gosling, P.S. Hoffman, Giamatti, Tomei) and also Clooney's disciplined, aesthetically-sound directorial touch. But what's most impressive about Ides isn't any singular performance (they're all pretty great, though) or key scenes, or moments of catharsis; it's the manner in which the whole story unfolds -- the crescendo of corrupt political dealings that eventually desensitizes and dehumanizes a young, ethical, hard-working, un-tainted political advisor.

We, as the audience, are able to identify with the protagonist (Gosling) because our foreignness with the story-at-hand runs parallel with his own naivety. As the curtain slowly opens, revealing the transparency of all the key players, it truly becomes a test of moral fiber -- one that's experienced by both the protagonist and the viewing audience. The tone becomes overtly bitter and cynical as act three rolls around, because, as we learn, that's just the nature of the beast; you can't win if you don't play the game.

Again, this film doesn't really aim to enlighten. It's core audience is sophisticated enough to suspect -- or at least have been pre-disposed to -- many of the indictments presented here, but yet, is it entertaining? Check. Absorbing? Check. Hard-hitting? Check. At the end of the day, The Ides of March  doesn't really expose anything about ourselves or our country that hasn't already been presented; it'll have to settle for being a maturely crafted, wholly engaging, high-end, studio-churned political drama. It's intelligent and riveting enough to warrant serious thought, or at the very least, repeat viewings -- and for that, it's one of the better mainstream films of 2011.


The Films of Sidney Lumet: '12 Angry Men'

Photo: Maunet
A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.

1957's 12 Angry Men was Sidney Lumet's first foray into feature film directing, and what a way to begin. Heralded as an american classic, it's also a seminal film from the 1950s and maybe even Lumet's most universally praised and recognized work. It's also a film driven exclusively by the dialogue of twelve men in one small setting; aside from a few moments outside of the courthouse in the beginning and end of the film, the overwhelming majority takes place within a single jury room.

In 12 Angry Men, the path to justice is dissected, exposing all of its challenges and inhibitions. It also gradually showcases each jury member's personal prejudices, preconceptions and unwitting biases. Lumet's subtle camerawork slowly induces a sense of claustrophobia, creating a type of energy that comes from tension, body language and personality conflict. It's as talky as you would expect a film of it's nature to be, but it's superbly written, with great performances and equally great camerawork to keep the mood tense and the suspense potent.

More after the jump...

The Films Of Sidney Lumet: 'Prince Of The City'

Photo: Paul Davis On Crime
A New York City narcotics detective reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he's in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.

Released in 1981 and starring a young (and relatively unknown) Treat Williams, Prince of the City is one of Lumet's most overlooked and underrated gems and a film that's been cast in the shadow of Serpico, a less challenging but ultimately more iconic film from the era; both were directed by Lumet, and both contain striking similarities thematically, but Prince of the City offers a more stirring, profound portrait of crime and punishment.

Based on the real-life story of a New York City police officer and adapted from Robert Daley's 1978 book of the same name, Prince of the City is a quintessential crime drama that helped set the template for modernized television cop dramas (Homicide, Law & Order, etc.). Of course, with the perpetual banality that exists within that sub-genre, it's hardly a thing to boast; for this reason, the film hasn't aged incredibly well, but there's still plenty to enjoy.

More after the jump...

The Films of Brian De Palma: 'Sisters'

Photo: Montreal Film Journal
The Staten Island apartment of lovely model Danielle becomes the scene of a grisly murder that is witnessed by her neighbor, Grace, a reporter. But the police don't believe her story, so it's up to Grace to solve the murder mystery on her own.

It's impossible to talk about Sisters without first acknowledging it's Hitchcockian roots. De Palma, of course, was probably the most significant purveyor (or imitator, depending on your viewpoint) of the style that Hitchcock mastered. At the very least, this is true of De Palma's early works, and particularly the likes of Sisters, Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984). In some of these, De Palma's obsession with the craft of Hitchcock often triggered perverse narrative environments, compulsively frantic characters, and also more overt dabblings in the sociopolitcal realm.

Released in 1973, Sisters was De Palma's first distinguished foray into Hitchcockian horror-thriller-mystery territory; it's essentially his postmodern prototype. He wastes no time in setting the tone, with longtime Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann on board to compose the score that's featured extensively over the ominous title sequence. Hermann's score is unsettling and abrasive and altogether chilling, and it works as well here as it did for it's use in Hitchcock classics such as Vertigo and Psycho.

More after the jump...

In Retrospect: 'Sullivan's Travels'

Photo: Movie Goods
A director of escapist films goes on the road as a hobo to learn about life... which gives him a rude awakening.

Of all of the films that have inwardly examined Hollywood and the filmmaking process, few have shown the exuberant wit of Preston Sturges' 1941 screwball dramedy Sullivan's Travels. Aside from obvious parallels to the satirical 18th century novel Gulliver's Travels, Sturges' satire provides subtext that's weighty and sends a confusing, if not misunderstood message about comedy, Hollywood, pretentiousness, class disparity, etc. What follows is an attempt to piece together some of Sturges' strongest convictions within a work that's masked with screwball fluff.

Sullivan's Travels begins with the protagonist, John Sullivan, telling his studio boss that he's tired of making shallow, lifeless goofball comedies that lack any substance or cultural value; what he longs to do is explore the plight of the lower class and the impoverished. He wants to hold a mirror up to real life and make a real statement about the sorrows of humanity. Much to the dismay of his studio boss and a few close companions, he makes a boldly ambitious decision to take the road in full hobo disguise and experience the pathos of vagrancy himself.

More after the jump...


Film Retrospect's Top Ten Films of 2010

Honorable Mentions

1. The American

A euro-noir disguised as an assassin flick, and let there be no mistake: The American is geared more towards an arthouse audience than anything else.

It's minimalistic, understated, and sparse with dialogue -- but a mounting sense of tension and paranoia prevent it from becoming a snoozefest. George Clooney gives a mature, enigmatic performance that's full of subtlety and self-reflection. Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be the prevailing aesthetic here for Clooney and director Anton Corbijn.

A slow pace coupled with a european-laced style and backdrop, and also a distinct lack of any extravagent action or set-pieces (not enough explosions or transformers or Jason Stathams) likely baffled the hoi polloi, but the fact that it became such an afterthought this awards season is kind of surprising to me. It's a shame, because The American, I feel, is a deeply misunderstood film, and easily one of the more underrated gems of the year.

2. Never Let Me Go

This one begins as a familiar period drama, but eventually unfolds as a meditative, existential sci-fi romance-drama.

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go chronicles the lives of three childhood friends who must come to terms with the fact that they are clones being manufactured for their organs.

There's some serious soul searching going on here, and solid performances from Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan and Kiera Knightley help us feel the innocence and anguish of these characters. And though at times the sentiment may come across a bit forced, it never becomes too distracting, as Never Let Me Go is surely one of the most unique and emotionally affecting films of the year.

3. Greenberg

An atypical style of film for Ben Stiller, but the role itself suits him well.

Greenberg is the name of the film and the name of our protagonist, who's an eccentric, unlikeable middle-aged man in the midst of a generational crisis. He's in LA to housesit for his brother's family, and it's quickly learned that he once led a promising life in the City of Angels before strangely vanishing to New York.

This film is all about rediscovery. It's also a character study in the sense that Greenberg's delineation is far more important than plot (which there is little of). We, as the audience, are forced to follow this self-absorbed, bitter guy around, and it's not until he precariously falls into the developmental stages of love that we realize that there's an actual character arc at work. In the end, while we might not be able to truly feel for the character, we can at least identify with some of his issues as he attempts to revitalize his life.

Special nods to The Fighter, I Love You Phillip Morris and Animal Kingdom; all quality films.

My top ten of the year after the jump...


DGA Winner And New Oscar Frontrunner: 'The King's Speech'

Yes, Tom Hooper wins the coveted DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2010. This pretty much signifies that The King's Speech is now the film to beat at the Oscars, as DGA winners have also taken Best Director all but six times since the first DGA awarding in 1948. The film also took the top PGA prize, which, along with the DGA win, probably indicates a Best Picture/Best Director sweep. Is it game, set & match yet? Not necessarily, but it's getting close. The Social Network still has a shot, but ultimately it comes down to this: A Gen-Y film going up against crowd-pleasing British prestige -- the latter of which fits right in with the Academy's tastes. They're old and sentimental and are desensitized to the smell of innovation. How's that for a generalization?

Just two weeks ago, it seemed as if The Social Network was destined for greatness at the Oscars. It dominated the Critics' Choice Awards and Golden Globes on the same weekend, and was also the clear favorite among most critic groups. But the Academy is not comprised of critics, and the HFPA has lost much of its credibility, so all of these wins are impressive, but certainly not the most telling.

At this point in the Oscar race, there are three things that are most indicative of what film will win Best Picture: PGA results, DGA results, and the number of Oscar nominations a film receives. The King's Speech won the DGA and PGA awards, and leads the pack with twelve nominations -- four more than The Social Network. It's all but over.


Oscar Talk: Power Rankings, Snubs, Big Winners & Big Losers

My Power Rankings, Post-Nominations...

Best Picture
  1. The Social Network
  2. The King's Speech
  3. True Grit
  4. The Fighter
  5. 127 Hours
  6. Black Swan
  7. Inception
  8. Winter's Bone
  9. The Kids Are All Right
  10. Toy Story 3
Best Achievement in Direction
  1. David Fincher, The Social Network
  2. Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
  3. Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
  4. David O. Russell, The Fighter
  5. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Best Actor
  1. Colin Firth, The King's Speech
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  3. James Franco, 127 Hours
  4. Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  5. Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Best Actress
  1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  2. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  3. Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  4. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
  5. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Best Supporting Actor
  1. Christian Bale, The Fighter
  2. Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
  3. Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  4. John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
  5. Jeremy Renner, The Town
Best Supporting Actress
  1. Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  2. Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
  3. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  4. Amy Adams, The Fighter
  5. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Best Original Screenplay
  1. David Seidler, The King's Speech
  2. Stuart Blumberg & Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
  3. Paul Tamasy, Paul Silver & Eric Johnson, The Fighter
  4. Mike Leigh, Another Year
  5. Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Adapted Screenplay
  1. Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
  2. Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
  3. Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
  4. Debra Granik & Anne Rossellini, Winter's Bone
  5. Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3
Achievement in Art Direction
  1. The King's Speech
  2. Inception
  3. True Grit
  4. Alice in Wonderland
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One
Achievement in Cinematography
  1. Roger Deakins, True Grit
  2. Danny Cohen, The King's Speech
  3. Wally Pfister, Inception
  4. Jeff Cronenweth, The Social Network
  5. Matthew Libatique, Black Swan
Achievement in Costume Design
  1. Jenny Beaven, The King's Speech
  2. Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland
  3. Mary Zophres, True Grit
  4. Sandy Powell, The Tempest
  5. Antonella Cannarozzi, I Am Love
Achievement in Film Editing
  1. Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, The Social Network
  2. Tariq Anwar, The King's Speech
  3. Jon Harris, 127 Hours
  4. Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan
  5. Pamela Martin, The Fighter
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures
  1. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Social Network
  2. Hans Zimmer, Inception
  3. Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
  4. A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
  5. John Powell, How To Train Your Dragon
I'm too unfamiliar with the other categories to be able to do any rankings, but if you'd like to see all of the nominees in every category, follow the link. More on the Oscars after the jump...


'127 Hours' Star James Franco Slams 'The Social Network'

It seems as if 127 Hours star and Oscar co-host James Franco has taken one from Ricky Gervais' playbook with his unabashed slamming of The Social Network, 3D movies and conventional love stories. In an interview with Elvis Mitchell from Movieline, Franco makes such remarks all while sending praise to Danny Boyle's 127 Hours for its unparalleled innovation. He basically declares that The Social Network is classical filmmaking and not really the generational film that some make it out to be. I have to say that I both agree and disagree with what he's saying here.

For instance, The Social Network contains many thematic similarities to David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. I'm actually inclined to believe that it borrows ideas that were better executed and more fully realized in those films. I also believe, however, that the idea of social disconnect in a time of social and technological convergence is nicely crafted. But in addition to that, I also feel that its ideas are not as universally resonant as the "generational film" enthusiasts declare it to be.

Like Franco, however, I also contain a certain bias towards 127 Hours and Danny Boyle. I would definitely agree that 127 Hours is a more innovative film than The Social Network, and I basically outlined my reasoning for this previously. However, I don't necessarily agree with Franco's examples of "old, boring stuff", because I love films that are driven by dialogue.

I certainly admire Franco for letting loose and being brutally honest, though it does seem strange coming from the guy who will soon be co-hosting the Oscars, where The Social Network seems destined to reign supreme. Maybe he's just tired of all of the hype, as many people are (including me). For what it's worth, I will ultimately agree that The Social Network is as over-appreciated as 127 Hours is under-appreciated. What say you?

Check out the full video after the jump, and take notice of how strange the tone of this interview is. Elvis Mitchell is clearly amused/baffled by some of Franco's comments...


Oscar Talk: Final Predictions, PGA Implications, My Wish List & Preferential Vote Tallying

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) awarded The King's Speech over The Social Network last week, leaving a glimmer of hope for Firth, Hooper, the Weinsteins & Co., but probably not enough to start predicting a Best Picture spoiler... yet. A DGA (Directors Guild of America) upset would be a much more reassuring victory for The King's Speech, but the small bit of momentum it carries is probably too little, too late. It is interesting, however, that the PGA awarded The King's Speech, because I also feel that The Fighter is likely to win the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Best Ensemble award, which carries significance in its own right. One would think that The Social Network's dominance would be reflected in a sweep of the major guilds, but that doesn't seem to be happening. The DGA winner will be announced on Saturday, January 29. The Screen Actors Guild Awards will air on Sunday, January 30, and I believe you can catch that on TBS.

Oscar nominations are set to be announced tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM PT (8:30 AM ET). There will surely be a few snubs and surprises, as there always are, but I've got a feeling that consensus thinking is really going to leave its mark this year. The build-up towards nominations is probably as exciting as it gets for awards season, as there's always that glimmer of hope for movies that you'd really like to see make the cut.

Here's a list of some underdogs that I'd like to see grab a surprise nomination tomorrow morning...
  • 127 Hour's Danny Boyle for Best Director
  • The Ghost Writer for Best Picture
  • Biutiful's Javier Bardem for Best Actor
  • Shutter Island's Leonardo Dicaprio for Best Actor
  • Easy A's Emma Stone for Best Actress
  • Conviction's Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor
  • The Ghost Writer for Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Greenberg for Best Original Screenplay
  • Winter's Bone for Cinematography
Final Predictions in major categories after the jump...


BAFTA Award Nominees 2011: Has 'Social Network' Finally Met Its Match?

                                                                Photo: Indie Wire

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (or simply BAFTA) have announced the nominees for their annual awards ceremony, with The King's Speech leading the way in nominations -- 14 of them, to be exact.
The big question here is whether The Social Network can continue its dominance on British turf, as The King's Speech seems tailored to take home the top awards here. We shall see.

BAFTA announces its winners on Sunday, February 13.

Breakdown of major categories after the jump...