New in Theaters: ‘Stalingrad’

'Stalingrad'
‘Stalingrad’: Nazis on the march

Decades ago, Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) planned to make an epic film about the battle of Stalingrad. Audiences today are instead treated to the dubious pleasures of Stalingrad, a 3D IMAX flag-waver that was unsurprisingly a huge hit over in Russia.

Stalingrad will be playing briefly in America for all those who prefer their war films as slo-mo 300-esque spectacle. My review is at Film Journal International:

One would expect Stalingrad to turn into some stouthearted celebration of Motherland pride that would befit a 3D IMAX spectacle released in time for the 70th anniversary of the battle’s grim conclusion. All of that is certainly there, from “Burn in hell, scum” dialogue to scene after scene of the scrappy and outnumbered Russians making mincemeat of their arrogant enemies…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Gravity’

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in 'Gravity'
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in ‘Gravity’

Gravity-posterThere are a lot of things to say about Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, but here’s what it boils down to: Go see it, in the theater, and make sure it’s 3D. Amazing film regardless but this is one experience it’s worth forking over the extra dollars for those big glasses; The Avengers 3D, it ain’t.

My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Even with all the James Cameron-level technical virtuosity on display in Alfonso Cuaron’s elegantly suspenseful lost-astronaut drama Gravity, it retains a welcome element of austerity. The story boils things down to basics. After all, floating hundreds of miles above the Earth helps a character reduce their worries to the essentials: Oxygen, shelter, getting back on the ground without becoming a meteoric cinder. Of course, resolving those worries in this situation is more complex; it’s akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube while blind and in freefall…

Here’s the trailer:

On Cinema: ‘Frances Ha’ in IMAX!

THRILL to Greta Gerwig's dancing in 'Frances Ha' in IMAX!
THRILL to Greta Gerwig’s dancing in ‘Frances Ha’ in IMAX!

It’s been nice to see The Onion spicing up their pages with the addition of some bold-faced names lately. Check out, for example, Joyce Carol Oates’ recent advice to aspiring young writers trying to get published (“A good writer should always be curious, constantly looking around for new and more powerful people to sleep with”).

Almost better, though is this satirical piece from director Noah Baumbach (or an Onion staffer doing a nice impersonation of his dry style that’s been used for a few “Shouts & Murmurs” essays in the New Yorker) about his new talky black-and-white micro-budget comedy, Frances Ha; now helpfully providing summer counter-programming for all those who don’t feel like seeing anything with The Rock in it. In short, Baumbach says, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this sucker in 3D:

I just went all out when I was writing it, tailoring every character and scene for maximum impact on a six-story IMAX screen in a 601-person amphitheater…. And the effect, to be honest, is simply stunning. Through the magic of IMAX, every social faux pas, every quiet epiphany, every dinner party, and every awkward conversational exchange practically jumps off the screen. You feel as though you can almost reach out and touch the glass of white wine that a character is drinking. Simply put, no celluloid version of Frances Ha could provide the same visceral impact as witnessing a 30-foot-tall Greta Gerwig towering above the audience as she negotiates her relationship with her best friend or tries to find an apartment, all displayed in vivid black-and-white.

Now, if only it were true; the possibilities are nearly endless.

Trailer Park: ‘Oz: the Great and Powerful’

Strangely, given both the rather towering presence that the film The Wizard of Oz holds in world cultural consciousness and the current mania for sequels and films based on proven properties, it’s been decades since anybody has tried to make another film based on the L. Frank Baum series. There’s over a dozen books there, filled with strange worlds and CGI-worthy beasties to turn into multiplex 3D and IMAX gold. The sour memory of Walter Murch’s then-failed but now 1985 cult classic Return to Oz  holds a powerful sway over studio heads, it seems.

But next spring, Disney (which holds film rights to the entire series) is getting back into the Oz business. Sam Raimi is at the helm of Oz: the Great and Powerful, with James Franco (who he directed in the Spider-man series) starring as the young Wizard, who gets swept away to Oz in a balloon years before young Dorothy is even born. There is some great potential here for a sweeping new kind of fantasy filmmaking, but also for an imagination-starved Tim Burton-esque detour into design and animation for its own sake.

Either way, the trailer is up now and shows that at least Raimi is borrowing the trick of using color stock for Oz and black-and-white for Kansas: