Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spielberg's latest take on war

There's the Steven Spielberg who makes cool fantasy movies - E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Indiana Jones series. And there's the Steven Spielberg who has given us thought-provoking movies about World War II - Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.

His knowledge of World War II is such that if you give him the circumstances, he can tell you what time a GI landed during the June 6, 1944, Normandy invasion. Yet he's never done a movie about World War I - until now.

In December, War Horse, based on the young-adult novel and Tony Award-winning play, comes to the screen, and if Spielberg is true to form, it should be up there with his other historical masterpieces.

"My dad fought in the Second World War, and all of my movies about war had been about that era," Spielberg said in a hotel suite in New York.

"Most of my period movies took place in the 30s and 40s: the Indiana Jones series and certainly my TV work on The Pacific and Band of Brothers. Yet World War I was a fascinating time. I wasn't an authority or even probably knew as much about it as the audience who hopefully will come to see War Horse. But I loved a lot about it quickly."

Spielberg decided to make War Horse after reading Michael Morpurgo's book and seeing the play adaptation by Nick Stafford in London's West End. The film tells the story of Joey - a horse raised in the English countryside, taken by the British army and sent into battle - and Albert, Joey's young owner, who struggles to find his beloved horse.

"I was knowledgeable about what Hollywood had done about that war, but to introduce a horse and a boy searching for him in the middle of this maelstrom was the most compelling journey I took, to try to figure out how to tell both stories," Spielberg said.

The play brings Joey to life by using puppetry with such expertise that playgoers are able to imagine they are watching real, flesh-and-blood horses.

But that wouldn't work for celluloid.

"A movie can automatically do something a stage play can't, and that's use the close-up," Spielberg said.

"When you get to see into the eyes of a horse, and when you get to see into the eyes of a soldier, it's a whole different experience."

Hundreds of horses were used in the making of the movie.

"We also had a number of horses for Joey," Spielberg said.

"We started out with seven, but as it always turns out, there was just one horse that beamed the essence of Joey."

Spielberg puts his heart and soul into his movies, devouring his subject matter in extensive research and focusing on meticulous detail. For War Horse, filmed in various locations in England, he enlisted screenwriters Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones's Diary) and composer John Williams.

Before filming Spielberg read many books, including Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, about the prelude to the war, and gained access to the backrooms of the Imperial War Museum in London. He also mentions the film All Quiet on the Western Front - which helped him prepare for Saving Private Ryan - as influential.

"For the most part, the kids who got involved in that war thought it was going to be over by Christmas," Spielberg said.

"So they delightfully marched off to war from hamlets and little villages in the countryside and all over Ireland and England and Scotland. That's why there are so many smiles on the faces of the boys as they march off with the band playing and parents happily waving - expecting all of them to come home."

More than 15 million lives were lost and 20 million people were wounded during the four-year war. According to Morpurgo, more than 10 million horses died before "the war to end all wars" was over in 1918. World War I changed forever how war was fought and how war would be seen in the eyes of those who went into battle.

"Look at how many millions of horses died during those four years and how the horse had met its end as the most useful beast of burden after hundreds of years of service all over the world," Spielberg said.

"And World War I was the changing of the guard: horsepower giving way to technology - ugly, angry technology."

Spielberg, who has been commended and unfairly criticised for the optimism in many of his movies - "I'm that glass-half-filled kind of guy, always have been, and that comes from my mom and dad" - brings his humanity into play with War Horse.

"I don't really see War Horse as a World War I movie," he said.

"I think it's a story about courage. And I think the theme of courage informs every inch of this experience. So this, to me, isn't a quintessential war movie or even my statement of the Great War. It really is about courage and tenacity, and in that sense I can expand the heart from some of the other war themes I've dealt with."

Steve Jobs movie strongly considered by Aaron Sorkin

Back in October we reported that Sony Pictures acquired the rights to make a movie out of the authorized biography of Steve Jobs, and there were speculations about the company getting Aaron Sorkin onboard to write the screenplay for the movie. According to the latest reports, the writer has been approached by Sony to write the screen play and he’s strongly considering it. Here’s what he had to say: “Sony has asked me to write the movie and it’s something I’m strongly considering. Right now I’m just in the thinking-about-it stages. … It’s a really big movie and it’s going to be a great movie no matter who writes it.”

For those of you not in the know, Sorkin is the screenplay writer behind critically acclaimed movies like The Social Network and Moneyball – recent bio pics from Sony Pictures as well. No other information about the movie has been released, but we’ll find out soon enough – assuming everything falls into place. What do you think of a Steve Jobs biopic? Too soon? Or are you already casting in your head who you want to play the role of Steve Jobs?

"The Muppets," "My Week with Marilyn," "INNI," and seven other new movies to consider this Thanksgiving weekend

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and with Christmas just a month from now, some of the most anticipated films of 2011 are starting to emerge. Typically Thanksgiving releases are ideal for families to go see in theaters after gorging themselves all day while watching football, and after football is over, theaters will be packed. Sometimes the hardest part once at the theater is deciding what everyone can see. Another option could be that the families that the kids/teenagers see something and the adults will see something—that way both parties are happy with their choice.
Opening Wednesday at local theaters are three big family releases: the new animated film Arthur Christmas; a new film from Martin Scorsese, Hugo; and a hopeful reboot of a treasured franchise, The Muppets, starring and co-written by, Jason Segal (CBS’s How I Met Your Mother).
Another three films open in limited release: My Week with Marilyn, starring Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine,Brokeback Mountain) portraying screen legend Marilyn Monroe, opening at the Lagoon Cinema; the German period piece Young Goethe in Love, opening at the Edina Cinema; and the latest downer by Danish auteur Lars von Trier (Anti-Christ, Breaking the Waves), Melancholia, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, and Kirsten Dunst, who won Best Actress at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, opening at the Uptown Theatre.
However, there are another four films opening this Friday. Three of them are music-related, and all three were screened earlier this year courtesy of Sound Unseen. Opening at the Lagoon Cinema is the punk rock father documentary The Other F Word, returning to the Twin Cities after having its Minnesota premiere last May. Opening at St. Anthony Main are Color Me Obsessed, the documentary about the Minneapolis rockers The Replacements and—after selling out its U.S. premiere screening at the Ritz Theater last month—the concert film starring Icelandic band Sigur Rós, INNI.  Also opening at St. Anthony Main is the narrative feature Another Happy Day, starring Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, and rising star Ezra Miller.
Having seen seven of the ten films opening this week, I can tell you they definitely feature a wide array of subjects and it's nothing short of a difficult decision if you’re looking to see something new to theaters. If you want to see a great performance in a mediocre film, I’d recommend going to see Michelle Williams dazzle in My Week with Marilyn, capturing the insecurities of Monroe off-screen, trying to become known as a serious actor rather than a beautiful face. Williams is a marvel to watch, even if the material is too corny and simplistic for my taste. But two other highlights in the film, despite its TV-movie feel script, are the work of costume designer Jill Taylor and production designer Donal Woods, bringing Williams and other cast members—including Kenneth Branagh playing Sir Laurence Oliver—to life decked out in retro clothes and creating a remarkable feel of 1950s England.
If you’re looking to rock out, look no further than INNI, a spectacular black-and-white grainy concert starring the hypnotic Icelandic band, Sigur Rós. If you’re looking to laugh, The Other F Word features hilarious interviews from punk legends talking about life on the road and then returning home to bring their kids to school after returning from a three-month tour; or better yet, if you missed Color Me Obsessed this past May and you're a Replacements fan, this is a must-see. Yes, it's true there is actually no music in the documentary, but it breathes more mystery into one of the greatest rock bands ever, and it doesn’t hurt that they are considered hometown heroes to many.
Thanksgiving Day really is about being with family, though, and you won’t go wrong bringing everyone to see The Muppets, a much-needed reboot of the franchise and an entertaining film for everyone. While I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I would, it does have some wonderful musically numbers, especially a rap number out of left field by Chris Cooper. The movie gives plenty of screen time to my personal favorite muppet Animal, has a number of cameos, and don’t be late in getting to the theater, otherwise you’ll miss what might be the funniest Pixar short yet, Small Fry, an eight-minute short that gives new meaning to "left behind" and "celebrity therapy."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

See the trailer to 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island'

Sometimes even bad movies can get a sequel.  Sometimes the sequel can end up being a good movie.  When I saw the remake of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with Brendan Fraser I walked out on it because it was that bad.  The trailer to “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” looks like it can be a fun romp with great visuals and 3D effects.  Click the video in the sidebar to judge for yourself.

The movie stars Josh Hutcherson, who is really starting to get a name for himself since co-staring in the original Journey movie.  In “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” he plays the lead as he goes on a quest to find his missing grandfather (Michael Caine) believed to be on an island that is not supposed to exist.  Coming along with him on the journey are Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Hudgens.  “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” opening this February.

A dozen DVDS that should be on your holiday shopping list

Let’s go to the movies... and not leave our big comfy couches!
Seems like films were making it to home video in record time this year, as many titles found themselves on Netflix and those fabulous Red Boxes (and retailer shelves) often within a few months of their theatrical release.
A big surprise this year was the increase in combo pack (DVD/Blu-ray/Digital) releases, which means a LOT of bang for your buck: you can keep one copy, give one (or more) as a gift, and download yet another if you want to eliminate the physical discs from your home altogether. Not a bad way to go especially when it comes to holiday spending in tough economic times.
There were so many hits and misses along the DVD/Blu-ray highway, and we all have our favorites. Choosing a dozen was nearly impossible, but here’s a look at 12 (plus one honorable mention) must-have DVDs of 2011 (in no particular order). Keep in mind, several Web retailers have great markdown prices on all, so don’t let the listed MSRP scare you off.
“Harry Potter — The Complete 8-Film Collection” (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video, $139.99). Before you can wave your magic wand at me in utter disdain, let me say that this set IS worth buying (the DVD version is about $40 less). No, this is not the definitive, penultimate box set that diehard Potter fans have been salivating for (that, according to the rumor mill will most likely arrive in time for next Christmas’ shopping season). But Warner Bros. has announced it will stop shipping all DVDs and Blu-rays of the “Potter” series after Dec. 29. (Yikes!), so I found that having all 8 films in one convenient pack THIS season was a godsend. I had a ball revisiting each film in its entirety, commercial-free, in chronological order, in full home theater surround sound. And for those who have missed one or two films in the saga, it’s a great way to reconnect. The transfers are pristine and the sound equally first-rate. The serious lack of palpable bonus features will not endear serious fans, but for the rest of us, this set is a must.
“Scarface” (Limited Edition, Blu-ray, Universal Home Video, $29.98). Yes it’s Blu-ray which means a substantial portion of the market won’t be able to enjoy this smartly packaged, nicely remastered edition of this cult classic hit. Al Pacino gave new meaning to f-bomb-dropping, sleazebag cocaine kingpins with his performance. This Blu-ray looks amazingly better (and sounds a whole lot better, too) than previous DVD releases. Extras are bountiful, including 10 art cards, a great mini-doc on the making of the film and subsequent video game, and a copy of the original 1932 “Scarface” starring Paul Muni as Tony Camonte and directed by the legendary Howard Hawks (The entire film takes place in Chicago and this time the vice is bootlegged alcohol, and the brutal violence is classic 1930s machine-gun mayhem. Look for Boris Karloff as an Irish gangster.) Watch the original first and you’ll find many similarities, almost homages, in Brian DePalma’s remake.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” (DVD/Blu-ray/Digital combo, Paramount, $42.99). Marvel Universe rolls right along in yet another big screen homage to its comic book pantheon (which already includes feature film versions of Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk and X-Men). The 3-disc set has everybody covered in terms of playback, even a 3-D Blu-ray version for those who insist on the latest techno-wizardry. I have to admit, the 2-D version is the way to go with this smart slice of Americana. Didn’t know what to expect from the film and its storyline, but the payoff is huge. Chris Evans is perfectly cast as the title character, a 1940s “man-made” superhero armed with an indestructible shield and his unparalleled love of country. The bonus features are very engaging, especially those dealing with the origins of the comic book hero and his famous costume. If you’ve got a home theater set-up, the Dolby surround sound will blow you away.

Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy Look to Write Another 'Before Sunrise' Film

Nearly two years ago, some surprise talks came from Ethan Hawke about the potential of another film in a surprising film series that started with Before Sunrise and continued with Before Sunset. At the time, Hawke had been kicking around some ideas with director Richard Linklater and co-star Julie Delpy (who both also wrote the film with Hawke) for a return to the romancing characters who spent an all-nighter in Vienna back in 1995. Now Hawke is stirring the pot again, but now it sounds like there's more potential for the film to come together with plans to start writing the sequel sometime before the end of the year.

In speaking with the French film outlet AlloCine (via Vulture), Hawke says, "All three of us have been having similar feelings that we're ready to revisit those characters. There's nine years between the first two movies and, if we made the film next summer, it would be nine years again so we've really started thinking that would be a good thing to do. We're going to try write it this year." The last film ended with Hawke's character Jesse missing his flight as Celine (Delpy) sweetly sang to him. It was an open ended conclusion that would allow for audiences to fill in their own ending, but now, nine years after the fact, we may find out where these characters have ended up yet again. The unlikely franchise contains some of the best written dialogue and most genuine performances to ever grace a romance, and getting Linklater, Hawke and Delpy back together for another go-round and possible end in a trilogy sounds fantastic. Thoughts?

Streep and Coen Discuss Foreign Film in China

It is rare that marquee international film events take place in China. That is in part because of the censorship imposed by the government. Then there are the tight limits on the importing and screening of foreign movies, which cast a shadow on attempts to bring new film experiences to China.

But last week’s arts and culture forum organized by the Asia Society and Aspen Institute sought to broaden the dialogue around films from the United States and China. The directors Joel Coen and Lu Chuan joined other filmmakers on a panel last Thursday at the National Center for the Performing Arts, better known by locals as the Egg. That evening, Mr. Coen answered questions after a screening of “True Grit” at the National Museum. Meryl Streep flew in on a Chinese businessman’s private jet the following day to take part in a panel discussion on acting. Fervent fans showed up to greet her, but she was upstaged by Ge You, the popular Chinese actor whose every utterance was met with laughter from the audience.

On Saturday, the director Robert Kenner showed his film, “Food Inc.,” the documentary on the evils of the American food industry that was an Oscar nominee last year, at a Qing Dynasty temple in central Beijing that has been converted into a restaurant and event space. After that screening, people rushed back to the National Museum to catch Ms. Streep in her latest role, as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” It was the first time the film had been shown to a mass audience, and Ms. Streep had looked at the print just a half-hour before the start time to ensure that the movie would be shown properly.

But it was that morning that perhaps the most interesting film event of the forum took place. Mr. Coen and Ms. Streep spoke to Chinese film students and reporters about their craft in a movie theater in the basement of a mall. Mark Danner, a writer for The New York Review of Books, moderated the talk.

“For me, filmmaking is a very personal investigation and an attempt to understand something about living and being alive,” Ms. Streep said.

Mr. Coen mused on the existential doubts that befall him and his brother, Ethan, when they are making a film: “There is a point in every production where you say, ‘I want to get into a warm tub and open up my veins.’”

Between the two of them, Mr. Coen and Ms. Streep covered a wide range of subjects: from adapting novels to playing an older woman to the influence of Roman Polanski. Here are some video clips that I shot at the talk. But do not become too enamored of these Hollywood figures. At one point, Mr. Coen cited Margaret Atwood on the dubious allure of artists and celebrities: “I think Margarent Atwood once said, ‘Wanting to meet an author because you like his books is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

'Arthur Christmas' Movie Reveals Christian Themes for the Whole Family

Just when it seemed as if holiday movies were taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, the latest children’s flick: “Arthur Christmas,” offers a glimpse of hope for the future.

From Aardman Aminations and Sony Pictures, “Arthur Christmas” is described as fun, cheesy, and perfect for the whole family.
It features the typical story of Santa Claus and his family, however it brings more than a few twists. The title character, voiced by James McAvoy, is the younger son of the current Santa Claus, voiced by Jim Broadbent. He and the eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie) are in charge of pumping up the high tech S1 sleigh and delivering Christmas cheer (and presents, of course) to children around the world.
Arthur’s only responsibility is to read the request letters children send to Santa. However, he desperately wishes to participate more actively in spreading the Christmas bliss.
It just so happens that as Santa and Steve are delivering gifts, one present to a young girl is left behind. Santa is completely consumed with the glory that comes with being Santa and Steve brushes it off as a harmless error. However, Arthur doesn’t think it fair to leave anyone out of a present on Christmas Eve.
Arthur is the only one in his family to remember this self-less heart of giving and sacrifice for another person’s happiness. He and Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) embark on the old-school reindeer sleigh in a thrilling adventure to save Christmas for one young girl.
Director, Sarah Smith, and co-writer, Peter Baynham offer and very different type of Santa Claus. He isn't the humble, jolly old man. Rather, he is imperfect and his family is disorderly and full of jealousy. There are no longer the wholesome Claus’s, but now they appear as an average family, filled with some dysfunction.
Fortunately, there is one who can see beyond his own problems and desires. Arthur has his heart in the right place. Even though he knows he is insufficient to fulfill this quest, his determination is enough for him to make an attempt.
This noble, self-less, attitude in a secular film is not seen often enough in Christmas films. Hopefully, more morally driven films can be made to teach children that Christmas is not about presents, but it is about emulating Christ and the sacrifice He made for all of us.
“Arthur Christmas” comes out in theatres on November 23. Check out the trailer below.