Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 in Hindsight

Ciaran Hinds is a great actor.

With a bitchin' 'stache.

 He was the only thing saving the dull-as-Bronte 1997 adaptation of Jane Eyre, in the role of a mustachioed Mr. Rochester, doomed to snog a lethargic Samantha Morton in under-lit rooms as a generic score listlessly played on. (Gemma Jones was pretty good, too, but Mrs. Fairfax is pretty awesome always) In camp masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera, his hoarse singing voice and big hair endeared him to me; in Munich, his performance as Carl, the bespectacled assassin we find ourselves warming to, made a strong case for an Oscar nomination. He didn't get it, and that sucks, because he was so much better than most of that lineup.

Either way, it cemented me as a fan for life. Which can be a bit of a double-edged sword, really, because the Irish-born actor has become a "That Guy", meaning he's cast frequently but rarely given things to do. Much as I love Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I was disappointed in how small his role really is. If you see the trailer, there's not much more to his performance, give or take a "Mr. Wu the Window Cleaner". Same goes for In Bruges; pivotal role, whole performance is in the trailer. Unrecognizable and all-too-brief in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. And don't even get me started on The Debt. One has to really seek out his more substantial roles, too; thank God for Netflix.


Still, I am a fan. So imagine my joy when I realized that 2012 would basically begin with Ciaran Hinds: The Woman in Black in February, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in later February, and John Carter in March. You better believe I caught all these films on the big screen (motto: "Where Hinds' Face Belongs!"), but there were, as always, mixed results. Sometimes it was the film; sometimes, it was the lack of Ciaran Hinds. Let's take a look.

First is The Woman in Black, from the rejuvenated Hammer Studios, about a young, widowed lawyer who goes to a small village that's being terrorized by the titular ghost. A chilling opener establishes this malevolent spirit as one who targets children, and does so not directly, but by convincing them to off themselves. It's quite creepy, prepping us for the scarefest sure to it's somewhat disappointing when we have to do the whole village bit. Yeah, yeah, stranger in town, the locals lock themselves up, nobody trusts nobody, everyone acts skittish. It'd be fine if the acting weren't so all over the place. Master thesps share scenes with amateurish hams, so that's annoying. Can we hurry up and get to the house?

Oh, shit, never mind RUN.

We do, and for what feels like fifteen or twenty minutes (it's probably ten, I don't know), we get a full night of Daniel Radcliffe being haunted. The scares are effective, creepy, building up slowly instead of jumping out of a corner and shouting "BOO!" The score and cinematography are masterful throughout this sequence, and I can't help but wish that this was the bulk of the film. It's certainly stronger than all the village stuff.

Unfortunately, the film has an ending that I absolutely despise in all ghost flicks. THE SPOILER IS AHEAD DON'T READ IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THAT I just cannot abide the idea that a life as a ghost is somehow this magical "better" place for you and your child. Radcliffe and his six-year-old son wind up crushed by a train, but IT'S OK because now they can be with the dead wife. Um, no. END OF SPOILER

Aw, yeah...

Ciaran Hinds plays the only one in town who isn't superstitious and cray-cray. At one point, when Radcliffe BELIEVES, he shouts at Hinds, "Why didn't you tell me? You just didn't want to believe it!" and Hinds kinds of shrugs it off with a, "Well, would you?" And it's great. He's the main support of the flick, acting as Radcliffe's protector and sidekick, even getting to help battle the ghost. It's a performance full of strength, denial, pain, and love (his son is dead and his wife went mad), and he's selling it. Would that his performance were in the hands of a stronger director (or screenplay, maybe), but it's still pretty high-five worthy. The man gives pretty good scare face.


Even Ciaran Hinds bows to Ciaran Hinds

Then there was Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the fun sequel to the dire Ghost Rider. Hinds plays the devil this time around, and he is having the time of his life, hamming it up with bizarre faces and an accent that's got a cotton-mouthed twang to it. Actually, everyone seems to be having a good time, from Idris Elba as a French whisky priest to Christopher Lambert as a tattooed monk. Editorial choices are Neveldine and Taylor are continuing their streak of fun films. It's a throwaway film, you'll probably forget about it in another month, but in the moment it is AWESOME. Also, Satanic rituals. Those are kind of my bread and butter.


Finally, Disney's John Carter, the first major bomb of the year.

Seriously, I blame the Andrew Stanton for that. Why in the world would you cut off the most interesting part of a movie called John Carter of Mars? MARS! The following are facts: one of my friend heard the title and thought it was a biopic of some obscure writer/politician/something; one of my customers saw the poster and thought it took place in a kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, like Book of Eli or Beyond Thunderdome. Most people I know didn't want to see it because they didn't know what the fuck it was, and they weren't interested. Yeah, yeah, the movie's an "origin story", where he has to become "John Carter of Mars", but that's...that's just pretentious. Someone should have looked him in the eye and said, "No. Stop trying to kill your movie."

And it's a shame, because that's the only reason I can think of that it would bomb. That's the only mistake Stanton made with this film. Because John Carter is the berries, the tits, the Real McCoy.

All signs point to a MASTERPIECE
I traveled alongside John Carter as he was swept off to another world, and we both came to love what we saw. I laughed when he discovered his "powers" on a planet with different gravity. I cheered when he fought against the White Apes in the Arena. I cried when he remembered what he left behind on Earth (while kicking ass on Mars, I might add). And I got the vapors when he and Dejah got all sweaty and close in Temple. Hubba-hubba.

Like Tinker Tailor, it's gotten some heat for being confusing. Like Tinker Tailor, all I have to say about that is: pay attention. They really do spell things out for you. There's a Civil War. Dominic West's guys are consuming the planet's resources. There are Higher Beings that manipulating things. Tribe chieftains (or kings, or whatever) are called Jedaks. This shit gets repeated multiple times, like the Mark Strong in Turkey sequence in Tinker Tailor. If you can't follow, it's not the movie's fault.

And what do I regard as the movie's strength? Its fabulous art direction? Its epic score by Michael Giacchino? Its visual effects, both dazzling and realistic, so that you see every speck of dirt on an alien's face, every strand of fur on a White Ape?

It's this.

It's probably Lynn Collins, actually, the beautiful lead actress who conveys enough strength, intelligence and humor to ground the story. Taylor Kitsch is great and all (no, really, he's great in this), but Collins is the real heart of the piece. She's a woman trying to save her planet from destruction, and she stubbornly, courageously, fights off those who threaten it, even though peace may be obtained through her acquiescence to marriage. Never did I doubt that she was a scientist, an intellectual, an independent woman, a fighter; and she's pretty easy on the eyes, too. She not only shares great chemistry with Kitsch, either. Her relationship with her on-screen father is believably sketched out for us in a single, all-too-brief scene.

You already know who her dad is, right?

Don't blink, you'll miss it!

Yes, Hinds is the Jadek of the Intellectual Crowd, but he only really gets a few scenes. One is at the beginning, where he fights to get his daughter to marry the villain, for it may be the only way to obtain peace. There is such remorse in his shoulders and regret in his eyes that it breaks your heart, though it's clear he's more telling himself this is a good idea. Then there are a few scenes where he's just kind of there, then the Final Big Battle scene where he gets to kick ass. Ciaran Hinds wielding big-ass alien weaponry in an epic fight? Things are happening every day, Fairy Godmother! Still, wish we could have seen more of him; as it is, it's more a glorified cameo than anything else.


What does all this mean? If you want some quality movie-watching, then sci-fi bomb John Carter is the place to be. If you want some quality Hinds-sight, then action toss-off Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is where to look. Most especially, it means that the movies are always surprising me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm Back; So Is Oscar

Is it time for that alfready? Of course it is. Nathaniel Rogers was the first to establish April Fool's Day as the start of Oscar predictions for the coming year, for what could be more follish than to try to guess the finalists eight months in advance? Well, he waved the green flag, so it's a go for all of us.

Last year, I did "eh" on my predictions, as per usual. It's difficult, sometimes, to see things like Midnight in Paris or The Artist coming -- especially since no one knew about the Hazanavicius until Cannes. But these were never about my predicting prowess. This is mainly about looking forward to the year ahead, much like my Top 25 Anticipated. There are films as yet unknown that will fill some of these spots; there are films seen here that will crash and burn. It happens. Until then, a guy can dream, can't he?


The Gangster Squad
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Master
Les Miserables
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
The Silver Linings Playbook
The Great Gatsby

Because of that rule change, I've had to clarify my predictions here. Remember, it's five at the least, ten at the most, and everything in between, depending on how voting goes. Still, those first five are safe either way. The next five are ranked in order of likelihood, not to be taken seriously since it's only April. We are fools, aren't we?

Last year: 2/10 - The Tree of Life, War Horse


Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby
Ruben Fleischer, The Gangster Squad
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

God, 2012 is looking to be such a strong year for my favorite filmmakers. I'm taking a chance and saying Luhrmann becomes the first director ever to be honored for Gatsby. Fleischer's probably the wildest card here, since his previous films are action-comedies: Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less. Will Hooper score again? Will Anderson finally get his?

Last year: 1/5 - Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life


Elizabeth Banks, People Like Us
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Meryl Streep, Great Hope Springs

Despite that clunky-looking trailer, People Like Us boasts a central female role that attracted such Academy darlings as Amy Adams and Hilary Swank -- expect eventual star Banks to reap the rewards. Knightley and director Joe Wright are a superb combo, and I can only imagine the camp wonder that Kidman's femme fatale could bring to a Lee Daniels film. I'm less confident in my predictions for Bullock and Streep, and am half-tempted to throw in Seyfried for Lovelace...but I can't quite decide who to kick out for her. We'll see...

Last year: 3/5 - Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn


Bradley Cooper, The Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Surrogate
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Early buzz says John Hawkes is a shoo-in, and as Demian Bechir can attest, sometimes it's good to come out early. Day-Lewis as Lincoln seems as obvious a get as Morgan Freeman as Mandela. If ever this was going to happen for Jackman, it would have to be for a lead role in a musical -- if not now, when? Cooper's more or less my shot in the dark, yet I have a good feeling about it. And Hoffman as a charismatic religious leader for PTA....the only threat to his win (calm down, Walter, it's only April) is Hugh Jackman!

Last year: 2/5 - George Clooney, The Descendants; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


Amy Adams, The Master
Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Surrogate
Emma Stone, The Gangster Squad

Isn't Stone at the right age for an Oscar nom? You know they love 'em young... Speaking of, newcomer Barks will probably fill that STAR IS BORN slot, with a role as ripe for rewards as, say, Effie White? I'm following Surrogate buzz to include Hunt, and logic to include Adams -- she's their favorite supporting actress, it seems. Hathaway will probably win an Oscar someday, though I'm not going to declare it for Fantine just yet. Still, a nomination for Les Mis is a step in the right direction.

Last year: 0/5 - predicted Chastain for Tree of Life instead of The Help


Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
James Gandolfini, Not Fade Away
John Goodman, Argo
Sean Penn, The Gangster Squad

Penn as Jewish mobster Mickey Cohen? Crowe as Inspector Javert? DiCaprio in a Tarantino flick? You'd be mad not to assume these three, at the very least, are getting in. Ben Affleck has gotten nominations for Amy Ryan and Jeremy Renner, so you know someone's getting in from Argo -- perhaps the never-nominated, always-beloved John Goodman? If the movie's any good, Gandolfini could get in for his New Jersey father whose son starts a rock band in the 60s. I admit, though, he's probably my least certain choice.

Last year: 1/5 - Christopher Plummer, Beginners


Brave - Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi
Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino
The Master - Paul Thomas Anderson
Not Fade Away - David Chase
The Surrogate - Ben Lewin

Pixar returns triumphant after Cars 2, Tarantino's words work their magic, Lewin for the indie slot, David Chase is welcomed (partly for The Sopranos, let's be real), and director Anderson takes it.

Last year: 0/5 - this bodes well


Anna Karenina - Tom Stoppard
The Gangster Squad - Will Beall
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Les Miserables - William Nicholson
The Silver Linings Playbook - David O. Russell

Best Picture nominees, plus Anna Karenina!

Last year: 1/5 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If there's one question mark, it's Inside Llewyn Davis, scheduled for a tentative 2013 release which could turn into a late 2012. We'll see.