Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

I don’t know what it was about July and August that made me so, for lack of a better word, lazy about going to the movies. I worked a lot of day shifts at the theatre, so going to a movie after work should have been a no-brainer. However, after a relatively strong start in May, and a decent June, I basically petered off, save for a couple of spurts. I think a lot of it had to do with just wanting to relax after work, and as the summer wore on, and got closer and closer to this week’s Dragon*Con convention, my drive to see as much as possible slowed down.

You’ll notice a lot of films missing; unfortunately, some are ones I really want to see. That’s the way of things with me right now, though. That said, my schedule should free up some soon, and I’ll be getting to those movies, as well as the ones coming up this Fall. The format is the same as it has been for a while now, so I’ll just get to it. I hope you enjoy!

Brian Skutle

End-of Summer Best/Worst/Oscar-Worthy:
Best Film: “Moonrise Kingdom” (A+); Despite the ridiculous blend of art and entertainment found in “The Avengers,” “Brave,” and smaller gems like two thrillers, “Starla” and “The Night Never Sleeps”; an irreverent comedy such as “disOrientation”; or a criminally underrated dramatic comedy like “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” no film matched the warmth and depth of purpose that Wes Anderson achieved in his latest, and best, film, as two young people move across an island after finding a connection in one another, turning the adults around them into worried messes, showing how fragile all of them are, regardless of how old they are.

Best Entertainment: “Marvel’s The Avengers” (A+); In reality, “Moonrise Kingdom” would normally occupy this space as well, except for the fact that Joss Whedon’s epic culmination of Marvel’s “Phase One” in bringing their characters to the screen is just too damn fun to not win out. Seriously, folks– no superhero movie has ever been this INTENTIONALLY funny. That’s all Whedon.

Worst Film: “Men in Black 3” (F); Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and director Barry Sonnenfeld return to the sci-fi comedy franchise that made them all very, very wealthy in 1997 and 2002, and bring Josh Brolin along for the ride. Unfortunately, they seem really disinterested in doing so. Smith has a great rapport with Brolin as the young K, but the rest of the film feels too much like “been there, done that, why are we back here?”. Films like this are why people think Hollywood is fresh out of original ideas.

Worst Disappointment: “The Amazing Spider-Man” (B); Okay, now, this isn’t a BAD movie, this five-years-removed reboot of Marvel’s web-slinging superhero. In fact, there’s a lot that this film does well, especially when it comes to the casting of the film, and franchise, as it prepares for future installments. Unfortunately, the talented writers and director fumbled the ball when it came to the story, and by trying to reinvent the franchise in ways that didn’t need to happen, they made fans of the Sam Raimi’s films worried of what might happen as the stories of Peter Parker continue with Andrew Garfield in the role.

Biggest Laughs: “The Watch” (A-); In all honesty, this title really belongs to either “Moonrise Kingdom” or “Marvel’s The Avengers,” but I’m going with the critical, and financial, bomb that was “The Watch.” Why? Well, for one reason, it WAS the most absurdly funny comedy of the year. (Sorry, “Ted” fans.) For another, my interest in watching it was tempered after it underwent deeper scrutiny, and a name change (from “Neighborhood Watch”), in light of the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by a member of a Florida community’s neighborhood watch…and yet, the story of four neighborhood watch friends who are hunting aliens in the suburbs made me laugh longer, and harder, than any comedy I’ve seen in theatres this year. To those who laid low at the box-office, I say, simply, that you don’t know what you’re missing.

Biggest Surprise: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (B+); In reality, this shouldn’t be a surprise. True, the 3D was pretty worthless, but the bat-shit insanity producer Tim Burton and director Timur Bekmambetov bring to this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, which turns the life of our greatest president into a work of speculative fiction, in which Honest Abe is recruited early in life to hunt and kill vampires. No, I don’t believe a minute of it as history, but I’d be lying if the performances by Benjamin Walker (as Abe), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as Mary Lincoln), and Anthony Mackie (as Lincoln’s valet, friend, and cohort in his fights with the undead) didn’t, ahem, suck me into this wild and crazy horror thriller.

Biggest Dud: “That’s My Boy” (F); Adam Sandler and Andy Sandberg, two of SNL’s most popular stars of past and present, should have been box-office gold in this R-rated farce about a deadbeat father (Sandler) who tries to reconnect with his son (Sandberg). But the film’s juvenile sense of humor is exactly what undoes the film, which fared even worse than Sandler’s Razzie-sweeping “Jack & Jill” at the box-office. My advice to Sandler? Focus less on the man-child antics of the forthcoming “Grown Ups 2,” and try to find something on-par with the criminally-undervalued “Punch-Drunk Love,” which commented on the persona you’ve built for yourself, but didn’t allow you to take the easy way out through cheap, forced “humor.”

Most Gratuitous Cash-In: “Men in Black 3” (F). Nothing else fits the bill, really. Is there a reason BESIDES money that this movie was made? Not if you saw it.

Favorite Performances: Instead of trying to come up with something to write about each performance/character, I’m just gonna be running them down for you: Jared Gilman, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Kara Hayward, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Steve Carell, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”; Kiera Knightley, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”; Russ Camarda, “The Night Never Sleeps”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”; Tom Cruise, “Rock of Ages”; Nancy Mitchell, “Starla”; Seth McFarland, “Ted”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marvel’s The Avengers”; Will Farrell, “The Campaign”; Zack Galifianakis, “The Campaign”; Mark Ruffalo, “Marvel’s The Avengers”; Edward Norton, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Tom Wilkinson, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”; Anne Hathaway, “The Dark Knight Rises”; Robert Downey Jr., “Marvel’s The Avengers”; Benjamin Walker, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”; Emma Stone, “The Amazing Spider-Man”; Anna Kendrick, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; and Anthony Mackie, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Oscar-Worthy Mentions:
In a break from my usual practice, I’m just gonna go with the ones I’d most like to see nominated (and so far occupy slots in my own Oscar ballot) rather than listing everything.

Best Picture: “Moonrise Kingdom”; “Marvel’s The Avengers”; “Brave”; “Starla”; “The Night Never Sleeps”; “Hope Springs”; “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

Best Director: Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Joss Whedon, “Marvel’s The Avengers”; Lorene Scafaria, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”; David Frankel, “Hope Springs”

Best Actor: Jared Gilman, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Steve Carell, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”; Tommy Lee Jones, “Hope Springs”

Best Actress: Kara Hayward, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Kiera Knightley, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”; Meryl Streep, “Hope Springs”; Nancy Mitchell, “Starla”

Best Supporting Actor: Russ Camarda, “The Night Never Sleeps”; Tom Wilkinson, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”; Tom Cruise, “Rock of Ages”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”; Edward Norton, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Steve Carrell, “Hope Springs”

Best Supporting Actress: Frances McDormond, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Judi Dench, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”; Sally Field, “The Amazing Spider-Man”; Maggie Smith, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Best Original Screenplay: “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola); “Seeking a Friend at the End of the World” (Lorene Scafaria); “Hope Springs” (Vanessa Taylor)

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Joss Whedon, Zak Penn); “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Ol Parker)

Best Original Score: “Moonrise Kingdom” (Alexandre Desplat); “The Dark Knight Rises” (Hans Zimmer); “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Alan Silvestri); “Brave” (Patrick Doyle)

Best Original Song: TBA

Technical Oscars Run-Down: “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design); “The Dark Knight Rises” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design); “Moonrise Kingdom” (Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design); “Dark Shadows” (Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Costume Design); “Prometheus” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography); “The Amazing Spider-Man” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography); “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Costume Design); “Chernobyl Diaries” (Best Cinematography)

Summer 2012: The Complete Moviewatching List:
The A’s: “Moonrise Kingdom” (A+); “Marvel’s The Avengers” (A+); “Brave” (A+); “Starla” (A); “What You Need” (A); “The Night Never Sleeps” (A); “Hope Springs” (A); “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (A); “disOrientation” (A); “Prometheus” (A); “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (A-); “The Dark Knight Rises” (A-); “Ted” (A-); “Bolero” (A-); “The Watch” (A-)

The B’s: “Dark Shadows” (B+); “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (B+); “The Campaign” (B+); “New Guy in Town” (B+); “Total Recall” (B); “Snow White and the Huntsman” (B); “Premium Rush” (B); “The Amazing Spider-Man” (B); “The Dictator” (B-); “Chernobyl Diaries” (B-)

The C’s: “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (C+); “Rock of Ages” (C+)

The D’s: “2016: Obama’s America” (D)

The F’s: “That’s My Boy” (F); “Men in Black 3” (F)

Brian’s 10 “Must-See” Movies of Fall 2012
1. “Lincoln” (11/9)- At long last, Steven Spielberg has finally found a way to fit his much-anticipated biopic on America’s greatest President, based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, into his always-busy schedule. With two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe (their first collaboration), Sally Field as his wife, and an all-star cast that also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earl Haley, and many, many others, how could I NOT have Spielberg’s epic film at the top of my “musts” for this Fall?

2. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (12/14)- Oh yeah, I forgot that Peter Jackson had finally returned to Middle Earth to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “prequel” to The Lord of the Rings to the big-screen. I’m not sure how I feel about the story being split into two more films (to be released in December 2013 and Summer 2014); I’ve read the book, and a solid 3-hour epic should suffice. But when it comes to Tolkien, I trust Jackson, so naturally, I’m excited to see how he pulls it off.

3. “The Master” (9/14)- Ten years ago, you couldn’t have convinced me that I might anticipate a Paul Thomas Anderson film more than I would a Tarantino film, or a Tim Burton film. Credit “Punch-Drunk Love” and “There Will Be Blood” for helping me appreciate P.T. Anderson after the bloated, derivative epics, “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” It’s not just my new passion for Anderson’s work, though; this examination of the relationship between a powerful, mesmerizing spiritual leader (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a follower of his (Joaquin Phoenix, returning to REAL acting after the 2010 high-wire act, “I’m Still Here”) has enough heft and potential provocation to be the movie event of the awards season. Will Anderson FINALLY win his first Oscar? With the Weinstein Company distributing, I’d say things look promising.

4. “Django Unchained” (12/25)- There’s a lot of potential for film controversy this fall, which is part of what is making it so damn intriguing for film fans. “The Master” will probably get the most ink for much of the fall, but I’m betting “Django Unchained,” the latest genre mash-up by Quentin Tarantino, is going to force writers to reload all the way ’til Oscar season ends. (You heard it hear first.) Here, QT had Jamie Foxx playing a slave named Django, who is tutored by a white man (“Inglourious Bastards” Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) in the ways of bounty hunting, and sets off on a mission to find the plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio, in his one chance for Oscar this Fall after “The Great Gatsby” moved to next summer) who kidnapped his wife, and left him for dead. The last time Tarantino combined heavy subjects with his irreverant, whacked out sensibility, the result (“Bastards”) was his most acclaimed and popular film since “Pulp Fiction.” Slavery’s still a bit too close for comfort in this country for some to appreciate another QT revenge story, but anyone who’s up for it, will no doubt have a wild time.

5. “Zero Dark Thirty” (12/21)- You know how I said a spot up how “The Master” was going to get the most ink during the fall? I’ve changed my mind; this military thriller from the Oscar-winning director and screenwriter of 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” is going to get more. In a way, it already has, with bloggers and conspiracy theorists looking into just how much latitude writer Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow got from the Obama administration when it comes to discussing the details of Seal Team Six, and their decade-long hunt of Osama bin Laden, which came to a dramatic conclusion last May. I can’t wait to see what Boal and Bigelow, who were already at the top of their respective games in “Hurt Locker,” have done with this riveting true story.

6. “Rise of the Guardians” (1/21)- In all honesty, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Dreamworks animated film in a good, long while. (Even more than I was “How to Train Your Dragon,” and THAT ended up being the best film they’ve ever released.) True, the tale– based on a best-selling children’s fantasy –about a group of iconic children’s characters (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, et al) actually being guardians of humanity’s young feels like a slight retread of the “Hoodwinked” films, but with a great cast (including Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, and others), and a true visionary as one of the executive producers (Guillermo del Toro, who knows exactly how to delve into the dark corners of fantasy filmmaking), this is a film not to be missed.

7. “Skyfall” (11/9)- It’s been four, long years since 007 graced the big screen, and yes, it was in the less-than-stellar “Quantum of Solace,” but that didn’t make the prolonged absence (due to MGM’s financial woes) any less difficult. That said, it looks like Daniel Craig’s James Bond is bag in fighting form, with a story of espionage and franchise-reinvention that makes Craig’s first Bond film in 2006 look like child’s play. And with Oscar winner Sam Mendes directing, not to mention a cast including Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes (as well as a kick-ass trailer), “Skyfall” could be one of the most successful outings in Bond’s 50-year career.

8. “Frankenweenie” (10/5)- On the surface, the idea of Tim Burton revisiting his famous short film about a boy who brings his recently-desceased pooch back to life begs the question, “Is Tim Burton so bereft of original ideas?” But one look at the trailer for this feature-length, black-and-white, stop-motion animated feature, and the more one feels like Burton might be starting to get his devilishly original mojo back. Even with the financial failure of “Dark Shadows,” you sense that the iconoclastic visionary is finding things to say again.

9. “Wreck-It Ralph” (11/2)- Disney’s first, in-house animated feature since its 2010 instant classic, “Tangled,” is a doozy. It comes from the mind of animation director Rich Moore. A veteran of shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” Moore is imagining a story of an 8-bit, arcade game bad guy named Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) who is sick of being a villain. He wants to be the hero. His support group, which includes Bowser from Super Mario Bros. and a ghost from Pac-Man, can’t believe its ears, but nothing can diminish Ralph’s determination. The inclusion of iconic video game characters alone should make this a must-see for any geek, but the draw for me is Moore. Like another “Simpsons” vet whose made a splash on the big screen (“The Incredibles’s” Brad Bird), Moore has the subversive wit and warm heart to make an outcast into a classic character. I can’t wait.

10. “Cloud Atlas” (10/26)- I have no clue what this movie is about…and I’ve seen the 5 1/2 minute extended trailer Warner Bros. put out for this sci-fi epic from the Wachowskis, making their first film since the criminally underrated “Speed Racer,” and director Tom Tykwer, an equally ambitious filmmaker best known for “Run Lola Run” and “Perfume.” All I know is who made it, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry top-line it, and the movie seems beautifully fitting in with everyone’s visionary styles that are involved. I can’t wait.

Other Fall Films to Be on the Lookout For:
A closer look at this Fall reveals a lot of interesting projects on the horizon, both high-brow and low. Among the selections are: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (9/14), a quirky period dramedy about growing up, co-starring Emma Watson; “Killing Them Softly” (10/19), a bloody reunion between star Brad Pitt and his “The Assassination of Jesse James” writer-director Andrew Dominick– it’s true that I wasn’t a huge fan of that film, but I definitely want to see what they have next; “Looper” (9/28), another reunion film, this time in a sci-fi thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as a hitman who finds his older self, played by Bruce Willis, ending up a target) for his “Brick” director, Rian Johnson; “House at the End of the Street” (9/21), a spooky-looking suspense/horror movie starring “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence– shouldn’t she be past these types of roles by now?; “Pitch Perfect” (10/5), a silly comedy about an all-girls choir– trust me, the main draw for me is “Up in the Air’s” Anna Kendrick; “The Paperboy” (10/5), director Lee Daniels’s first film since his devastating, Oscar-winning “Precious,” with Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack, among others; “Argo” (10/12), Ben Affleck’s third film behind the camera, this time recounting an amazing true story about the American government’s unorthodox methods for trying to save Iranian hostages; “Flight” (11/2), a thriller from Robert Zemeckis (his first since 2000’s atrocious “What Lies Beneath”) with Denzel Washington as a pilot who isn’t sure how he made an improbably landing; “Anna Karenina” (11/9), Joe Wright’s elegant-looking prestige adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel, starring Wright’s muse, Kiera Knightley; “Life of Pi” (11/21), a ponderous, potentially polarizing new film from Ang Lee; and “This is 40” (12/21), Judd Apatow’s sort-of sequel to “Knocked Up,” this time focusing on Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s frazzled parents.

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