Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

So in 2010, I decided to structure my blog about the first four months differently than in previous years. Realizing I still hadn’t really posted the distinctions between why one film gets a certain grade over another, I decided to use my annual blog for January-April to do so. Unfortunately, I’ve missed a great deal of theatrical releases this year, so this breakdown of my system isn’t quite as filled-out with representative movies as I’d like, but there are still some pretty fascinating choices here. You’ll also find the movies I’m looking forward to most this summer afterwards. I hope you enjoy!

Brian’s Grading System
=A+ (4 Stars out of 4)– Craft, story & storytelling merge to the highest levels of the art form. It doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to sweep one off their feet as they’re watching. The three films that were graded this high– “The Hunger Games”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, and the short film “Familiar” –are great examples of this level of filmmaking.

=A (3 1/2 Stars)– There’s not quite enough heft to stand up to the cream of the crop, but damn if films here don’t come awfully close. The eclectic group of films that made it to this level of excellence are: the powerful superpower teen film, “Chronicle”; the Studio Ghibli animated film, “The Secret World of Arrietty”; and Edgar Muniz’s drama, “From the Heart of the Crowd”.

=A- (3 Stars)– Artistic ambitions fall short here, but entertainment value is still high. If you find a film rated this on my favorites list, that shows how well it worked. I’m not sure whether any of the following films– “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”, “Her Heart Still Beats”, “Things I Don’t Understand”, “Bully”, “Get the Gringo”, “JT vs. the Good Guys”, “Wanderlust”, and “The Woman in Black” –will make it on that list when the year ends, but there are definitely a few that could sneak in there.

=B+ (3 Stars)– Still a lot of fun, which is very rarely enough to make my favorites’ list, but art this is not. Strictly entertainment. See the George Lucas-produced WWII action drama “Red Tails” and a couple of indie thrillers (“The Nocturnal Third” and “Dark of Winter”) I was sent for examples.

=B (2 1/2 Stars)– Has some entertainment value, but also a lot of flaws that you can’t really overlook. Still worth recommending, though. The “inspired by a true story” whale drama “Big Miracle” is the kind of just-above average movie this grade was created for.

=B- (2 1/2 Stars)– Slightly entertaining. Barely makes the grade. Almost not worth recommending. Almost. Tarsem’s opulent, sometimes engaging fantasy “Mirror Mirror” is the only film from 2012 that is this average so far.

=C+ (2 Stars)– Still has some intrigue, but overall too flawed to recommend. Case in point: the “found footage” comedy “Project X”. which has some insane laughs, but is overall, just too mediocre to recommend.

=C (2 Stars)– I have a soft spot for parts of it, but otherwise, not worth your time. The after-school special melodrama “October Baby” is a pretty clear-cut example of this sort of mediocrity.

=C- (2 Stars)– Still has some good left in it, but trust me, you can do better.

=D+ (1 1/2 Stars)– Barely below C- level; it might have something going for it, but still pretty bad. No movies here just yet.

=D (1 1/2 Stars)– Too bad to care that the soundtrack rocks it, or that T&A is ample. In the end, it’s just not worth thinking about. Unfortunately, I can’t stop thinking about the potential wasted in Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” since seeing it.

=D- (1 1/2 Stars)– Maybe one good thing here. The rest is dreadful. Thankfully, nothing has been this bad.

=F (1 Star)– The bottom of the barrel. The worst of the worst. Nothing but trash belongs here. So far, nothing I’ve seen rates this low. This summer might change that.

7 Movies to Watch This Summer
1. “Marvel’s The Avengers” (5/4)- Talk about swinging for the fences. For his first feature film as writer/director since the 2005 “Firefly” spin-off, “Serenity,” failed to take off in theaters, Joss Whedon is taking on the most ambitious project yet in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk team up to try and stop Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki, and his attempts to destroy Earth. The ensemble cast is an ideal fit for the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” and from the looks of the trailers, he hasn’t shied away from the technical challenges of this epic film. Can’t wait.

2. “The Dark Knight Rises” (7/20)- Just as Marvel begins a new phase of their comic book-turned-movie business, DC concludes one with the third and final film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. And from the looks of it, an aging Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) will have his hands full with the seductive Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and the brute force of Bane (Tom Hardy) bringing chaos to Gotham after years of peace. Will Nolan stick the landing, and maybe, finally be rewarded for long-elusive Oscar gold? We’ll see.

3. “Brave” (6/22)- A lesser studio would have been left for dead after a needless sequel like “Cars 2,” but honestly, you can’t keep Pixar down for long, and their next film looks like a beautiful Scottish epic following the maturation of a young princess, Pixar’s first female lead character. Yes, Pixar is going into parent company Disney’s turf, but hopefully, we’ll be getting something special along the lines of such original films “Wall-E” and “Up.”

4. “Prometheus” (6/8)- Ridley Scott has had a rough decade since his Oscar-winning epic, “Gladiator.” With the exception of his brilliant war film, “Black Hawk Down,” Scott hasn’t really reached that level of artistic success, although “Matchstick Men” and his 2005 movie, “Kingdom of Heaven,” were criminally underrated if you ask me. Still, between “Robin Hood,” “Body of Lies,” and “A Good Year,” you can understand why the director would agree to direct a prequel to his 1979 landmark, “Alien.” But “Prometheus” became something much grander, and if you have seen any of the trailers, you can feel the visionary excitement Scott is bringing to the material. Whether it’s successful or not, however, rests solely on Scott’s ability to channel the bold imagination he brought to “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

5. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (7/3)- Yes, five years after Sam Raimi’s woefully underrated “Spider-Man 3,” Sony is rebooting their web-slinging superhero by taking Peter Parker back to the beginning, with “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb filming in 3D. Still, everything we’ve seen from the trailers promises the same sense of fun and dramatic weight Raimi delivered, especially with a new cast featuring Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), Emma Stone (“Easy A”), and Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”) that brings a different energy to the material. I can’t wait to see it.

6. “Dark Shadows” (5/11)- On first glance, it’s easy for one to sigh at the potential of yet ANOTHER Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration for production designed silliness, especially after the 2010 smash, but critical disaster, “Alice in Wonderland.” I still think Burton and Depp need some time apart, but the trailers for this goofy dark comedy, based on the cult soap opera from the ’70s, promises some of the most subversive fun these two have had together since their 1994 classic, “Ed Wood.”

7. “The Bourne Legacy” (8/3)- With no Matt Damon starring and no Paul Greengrass directing, the idea of a fourth film in this spy franchise is kind of troubling. Still, with series stalwart Tony Gilroy, who wrote or co-wrote all three of the previous films, directing Jeremy Renner as another government-trained assassin who is having trouble escaping his past, I’m definitely curious to see where this franchise of Robert Ludlum’s best-selling series has to go.

Also on my radar: A lot of movies, as usual, but if it’s like the past couple of summers, I won’t have enough time to get to them all. Ones I’m definitely looking to get to, however, are: “Men in Black III” (5/25), a second sequel to the 1997 comic smash that no one was really asking for, but looks kind of fun with the same crew back; “The Dictator” (5/16), the latest bit of performance art comedy from the “Borat” team of Sascha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles– hopefully, it’ll be better than “Bruno” was; “Moonrise Kingdom” (5/25), the newest live-action offering from indie quirkmaster Wes Anderson, with a cast that promises bold laughs that catch in the throat; “Snow White and the Huntsman” (6/1), the second revisionist take on the Snow White fairy tale of the year, this time with Kristen Stewart as Snow White, and Charlize Theron as the evil queen; “Rock of Ages” (6/15), a new musical adaptation from “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman, with a cast including Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the decade of hair metal; “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (6/29), a sequel to the 2009 hit, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” with an energized cast including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis joining Channing Tatum and Ray Park, who are among the only people from “Cobra” coming back; “Seeking a Friend at the End of the World” (6/22), a promising drama-comedy starring Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley; “Savages” (7/6), a gritty piece of B-movie thriller filmmaking from director Oliver Stone, who will hopefully find his provocative energy again after a few less-than-compelling projects; and “Paranorman” (8/17), a stylized stop-motion animated film from the company responsible for 2009’s superb “Coraline” that looks to end the summer on a note of dark comedy and fun.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle

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