First Impressions: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd (2007) - One Sheet, Johnny DeppI’ve been sitting here trying to decide whether Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is Oscar material or not, but then I realized it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that Tim Burton, one of the more interesting (if not always completely successful) filmmakers working today, has made one of his best movies in a long time. Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol musical is material that Burton seems born to bring to the screen.

Too often, Burton’s meticulously designed gothic fantasies threaten to bury his sometimes scattershot stories. The weaker ones crumble under the weight, looking beautiful, but unable to stand up for themselves. They’re lovely to look at, but sometimes seem empty inside. In Sweeney Todd however, Burton has found a story not only appropriate to his visual aesthetic, but also weighty enough to keep from being overwhelmed by his style. There’s also a strong emotional undercurrent that gives the movie a surprising gravity and resonance. The feeling is never lost in the production design. Continue reading

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Fall/Winter Part 4: December

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007). Movie of the year?

This is the fourth and final look at some of what is coming to theaters during the Season of Quality when the studios unveil all of their prestige projects and awards hopefuls. I intended to do this a few weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by the here and now. As always, I’ve starred my picks for the month.

December 5

Juno. I was befuddled by the popularity of Enchanted and Juno might prove to be the second movie in a row I’ve completely missed the boat on. Early buzz on this comedy starring Ellen Page as a pregnant teen who chooses to give her baby up for adoption has been strong, but I was underwhelmed when I saw it at AFI. Some folks are even looking at this as being an Oscar contender. I don’t think it is, but when I’m ultimately proven wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. Of course, if I’m right I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. That Nelson voice you hear saying “Haw haw, Juno sucks!”? That’ll be me. Also with Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. (Opens in NY & LA) Trailer

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Desperately Seeking Indie

Michael Pitt and Steve Buscemi in Tom DiCillo’s Delirious (2007)
Michael Pitt and Steve Buscemi in Tom DiCillo’s Delirious (2007)

I didn’t see Tom DiCillo’s new film Delirious, and the odds are neither did you. Starring Steve Buscemi as a paparazzo who takes Michael Pitt under his wing, it came out last August to good reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, the New Yorker and Salon. It got a solid 84% Cream of the Crop rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Despite all this and despite DiCillo’s solid reputation from highly regarded films like Living in Oblivion, Delirious went on to a limited release and made a dismal $200,000.

Michael Bay just farted and it made $200,000. And that doesn’t count the inevitable DVD release or the sequel.

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First Impressions: Charlie Wilson’s War

Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War Charlie Wilson’s War, the new movie from Mike Nichols starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, tells the true story of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks), a hard drinking womanizer who helps fund a covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the early 80s. Over the course of a few hours, I had three distinct opinions of it.

Going in, I had a bad feeling. I don’t know why, but maybe it was because of the buzz that seemed to insist this was some kind of presumptive Oscar favorite long before anyone had even seen it. More than anything though, I think it was the tepid trailer stuffed to the gills with obvious pop tunes. The whole thing just felt flat.

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Weekend Forecast: 11/30/07

Laura Linney and Philip Bosco in Tamara Jenkins' The Savages
Laura Linney and Philip Bosco in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages

Kind of a weird week for movies. The fine citizens of New York and Los Angeles have a couple of interesting new releases to look forward to. If you live elsewhere, take this opportunity to go see No Country for Old Men (again or for the first time) or find I’m Not There.

First the interesting:

  • The Savages (Opened Wed. 11/28). One of my favorite movies of the year. Kind of like life, it’s both funny and heart wrenching. I hesitate to call it a comedy/drama because that seems to belittle it, but it’s better than the godawful tag ‘dramedy’. Brother Philip Seymour Hoffman and sister Laura Linney are forced together to deal with their father who is suffering from dementia. It sounds like a massive downer, I know, but it’s terrific. The cast is superb and the ease with which writer/director Tamara Jenkins bounces between comedy and tragedy is amazing. Much much better than the other sibling rivalry comedy/drama Margot at the Wedding.
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. How do you tell the story of a man who can’t move or speak? Somehow, Julian Schnabel has done it. This is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the Elle France editor who was paralyzed by stroke leaving his mind intact. Despite only being able to blink one eyelid, Bauby managed to dictate his remarkable memoir. If you’re a cynic like me, it sounds like boring Oscar bait, another celebration of the resiliency of the human spirit and all that. It is such a celebration, but one that is uncommonly well done. Check it out.

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Into the Wild Strikes First Awards Gold

Emile Hirsch in Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”

Ok, there’s no denying it now. It really is Awards Season once again as the first prizes were handed out last night at the IFP’s 17th Annual Gotham Awards. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a long season.

Sean Penn’s terrific Into the Wild (which cost too much to be nominated for the Spirit Awards) won for Best Feature. Michael Moore’s Sicko won Best Documentary Feature. Ellen Page won the breakthrough actor award for Juno and Great Wall of Sound‘s Craig Zobel earned a trophy for Best Breakthrough Director. Zobel’s film about talent scout scams in the music industry had just been nominated yesterday morning for the Spirit Award for Best First Feature. It’s one of those little movies I heard great things about, but managed to miss. I hope to check it out soon.

Rounding out the awards, the casts of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Talk to Me tied for Best Ensemble and Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland won for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.

The 29-year-old IFP (Independent Feature Project) boasts a membership of more than 10,000 filmmakers and industry professionals who support the independent film community.

And Spirit Award Nominees Are…

Film Independent Spirit Awards Logo

Selected from 200 films by 45 nominating members, here are the nominees for the 2008 Spirit Awards:

Best Feature

  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Kilik
  • I’m Not There
    Producers: Christine Vachon, John Sloss, John Goldwyn, James D. Stern
  • Juno
    Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick, Russell Smith
  • A Mighty Heart
    Producers: Dede Gardner, Andrew Eaton, Brad Pitt
  • Paranoid Park
    Producers: Neil Kopp, David Cress

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