Jonah Hill and James Franco get at the ‘True Story’ (Fox Searchlight)
It isn’t every day that you see Jonah Hill and James Franco in a film and neither one of them is mugging up a storm. True Story is a long-gestating true-crime piece opening this week in which Hill plays a reporter and Franco a (maybe) murderer.
My review is at Film Racket:
Between the cold-case podcast Serial and Robert Durst’s wink-wink tease on The Jinx, true crime stories in the did-he-or-didn’t-he vein are having what they call a cultural moment. So it would seem time to tell the real story of journalist Michael Finkel’s borderline disturbing relationship with accused family murderer Christian Longo. If you can do it with movie stars, all the better. But the tentative and moody True Story doesn’t have the synapse-sparking fizz that marks the best true crime stories. It squanders more of the opportunities packed into this tale of worlds colliding than it takes advantage of…
Here is the trailer:
Brad Pitt tries to save his family in ‘World War Z’
In case you missed the last zombie apocalypse to come running into theaters with bloody abandon, World War Z is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and all other home viewing media.
My review of the summer’s surprise hit (all that talk of reshoots and budget problems), Brad Pitt vs. the Flesh-Eating Undead, can be found at Film Journal International; here’s part:
Zombies are people, too. That’s one truth understood by the better stories in the genre, from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. At no moment in Marc Forster’s churning and unfocused World War Z are the rampaging CGI hordes of the undead made to appear like anything more than swarming bits of computer code. Many of the human actors don’t fare much better…
The rather vague ending left a gaping opening for a sequel, which is apparently being planned right now but has not been officially greenlit yet.
Here’s the trailer:
Saorise Ronan deals with bloody eternity in ‘Byzantium’
It’s been a while since Neil Jordan tried his hand at the vampire game. With his newest, Byzantium, he is working on a smaller and more intimate scale than in Interview with the Vampire (Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton inside of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise). It’s gloomy and capital “R” Romantic; Keats, not Meyer), which could explain the limited distribution.
Byzantium opened in limited release Friday. My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part:
Just when werewolf armies, zombie hordes, and Stephenie Meyer’s affectless prose seemed to have done in the poor old vampire film, along comes this gloomy, glossy little oddity about the deathless from Neil Jordan. Like in his elegant take on Interview with the Vampire, Jordan’s vampires are a study in dichotomy; either happy to bury themselves in the bloody necessities of their survival or morally indecisive. In the meantime, they have eternity to deal with, and not a whole lot of money or options for living it…
You can watch the trailer here:
When zombies attack.
Hard as it might be for viewers of the new World War Z to believe, the book that it was based on was neither meant to be tongue-in-cheek or horror. Its author, Max Brooks (the very lucky son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), intended for the book to examine some extremely real concerns about pandemics and modern society, just as its predecessor The Zombie Survival Guide was inspired by the world’s long inattention to the AIDS plague.
In this profile for the New York Times magazine, Brooks lays out a few things that he believes differentiates himself from your run of the mill zombie writer. For one, his zombies are slow (not like in the very loosely adapted Brad Pitt film): “Brooks is an ardent believer in slow zombies. He doesn’t even want to try to comprehend how we’d deal with fast ones.” Also, he’s just normally a very scared person:
What he can’t understand is the horror fans.
“I’m not a horror fan,” he said. “I’m an anti-horror fan. I think horror fans feel deep down in the pit of their souls, they feel safe, and therefore bored. And therefore they want to be scared. I already have a baseline level of just anxiety about the world I live in,” he continued, metaphorically pushing the horror genre away from him on the table. “I don’t need to go seeking it out.”
No, his books aren’t horror, and he’s relieved that his books aren’t in the horror section. But he’s miffed that they’re in the humor section. “I would have put it in self-help. Or how-to.” He shakes his head. “I can’t think of anything less funny than dying in a zombie attack.”
The lesson here for aspiring writers of horror, zombie or otherwise, could be this: Try to terrify yourself first with what already scares you about everyday life. Don’t go looking for something absurd and unbelievable. Then worry about scaring your audience.
It’s only about a week to go before the Oscar Awards broadcast. In and of themselves, they don’t matter, even for serious movie fans. Not a bit. Given the wild richness that can be found in just one year’s worth of American studio and indie (for whatever that distinction is still worth making), identifying one particular film or performer as the “best” is an exercise in futility.
So why do we care? If nothing else, the Oscars (like the Golden Globes) serve as an excuse to look over a year’s worth of cinema and determine what was most noteworthy about it. Or, more commonly, to argue about what those out-of-touch types in the Academy foolishly considered the best.
To help continue that argument, we offer for your consideration: Eyes Wide Open 2012: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst). It’s a compilation of some 100-odd pages’ worth of material that I wrote over the past year (as well as some new pieces written for this book) about the films of 2012—the good, the bad, the preposterous, and the utterly forgettable.
In addition to the best and worst lists (The Hobbit made one list, and Cloud Atlas made the other; try guessing which), there’s also some essays, DVD reviews, and even some awards lists of my own (because, why should the Oscars have all the fun?). It covers everything from the strange genius of the late Tony Scott to the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The Avengers and the stark political attack contained in Brad Pitt’s Killing Them Softly.
You can get the ebook here and here; there’s also a print-on-demand paperback here.
If this works out, it might become an annual thing. Let me know what you think.
Although the biggest earner at the box office in 2012 was the tidy teamwork adventure of The Avengers, the year’s films were by and large afflicted with a grimmer worldview. This was as true of blockbusters like The Hunger Games to star vehicles like Killing Them Softly and micro-indies like Compliance.
My end-of-year wrap-up is at PopMatters:
The year’s most brutal indictment of this system comes in Killing Them Softly. Andrew Dominick’s chilly, vaguely over-satisfied crime film is based on George V. Higgins’ profane novel of life and talk (and talk, and talk) amongst the underworld demimonde. Some hack crooks knock off a card game for what they think is easy money. Word gets back to the organization in charge of the game and Jackie (Brad Pitt), a hitman with a soft touch, is dispatched to relieve a few people of their lives….
The film’s steady march towards execution plays out against the sturm and drang of the 2008 US presidential election. A skittery title sequence jumbles up shots of a trash-strewn tunnel with audio of Obama’s soaring rhetoric—a road to nowhere. Asked whether he has room for friendships or loyalties, Jackie can only scoff, “Don’t make me laugh.” He nearly snarls the film’s last line, briefly agitated rather than utterly smoothly professional, as he’s been to this point. Now, he lays it out: “I’m living in America, and in America, you’re on your own.”