Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Despite flashes of inspiration, this sequel to the unexpectedly compelling Maleficent can't seem to get out of its own way.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
A review of Netflix's new martial arts series Wu Assassins, which premiere on August 8.
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Hollywood is actually regressing on Latino issues. As the industry continues to make progress in its depiction of black America, what we need now is a Spanish Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander Huls argues blockbusters been reduced to giant CGI toy sets for directors. How did that happen?
Marie writes: Behold an ivy covered house in Düsseldorf, Germany and the power of plants to transform stone, brick and mortar into a hotel for millions of spiders. To view an amazing collection of such images and showcasing a variety of buildings from around the world, visit The Most Colorful Houses Engulfed in Vegetation at io9.com.
The biggest taboo in American cinema may be the direct-to-video (DTV) market. Director John Hyams was dropped by his agent after making the DTV "Universal Soldier: Regeneration." Fellow director Isaac Florentine has said "I discovered that being a straight to DVD director is…worse than saying you have malaria." To some extent, one can understand why DTV films have such a bad reputation: just watch the SyFy channel on Saturday night, or Cinemax at 2 am any night. Yet there's a certain freedom in making genre films without the budget to use extravagant CGI effects, and Hyams and Florentine have put it to good use. Over the past few years, a handful of critics, like ex-con Steven-Seagal-expert Vern and RogerEbert.com contributor Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, have championed their work. As the concept of vulgar auteurism has become a hot topic among the cinephile blogopshere recently, something's gotten lost in all the debate about whether Michael Bay and Tony Scott should be taken seriously. At heart, what seems worthwhile to me about vulgar auteurism is its championing of the best DTV genre films. Most 1950s intellectuals would have been horrified by the notion of taking Edgar G. Ulmer's "Detour" or Sam Fuller's "The Steel Helmet" seriously, and today they're considered essential. Isaac Florentine's "Undisputed III: Redemption" (2010) suffers from a surface cheesiness that manifests itself in several ways. The most obvious is the fact that the cast seems to have been assembled as much for its fighting ability as its acting talent. However, that turns out to be a strength in the end. Vin Diesel, pumped-up muscles and all, is no longer so convincing as a tough guy. Scott Adkins, who has teamed up with Florentine six times, is thoroughly believable as a man who's spent years in jail, and the rest of the actors who play prisoners look equally rough. Adkins plays Boyka, a Russian boxer forced to compete in a contest where eight prisoners fight each other for the amusement of depraved gamblers and jailers; the winner supposedly gets his freedom."Ninja "(2009) is the other consensus favorite in Florentine's filmography. While less reliant on long takes than "Undisputed III: Redemption"—apart from one breathtaking swordfight caught in a single take—it also uses zooms heavily and conveys a sense of the actors' genuine athleticism. However, it ventures further into fantasyland. Casey (Adkins) is an American raised at a Japanese martial arts dojo and sent to New York to safeguard a cache of weapons from a rogue assassin. The film is marked by an enjoyable goofiness, expressed through subplots like the one involving secret cult rituals staged by a huge corporation. John Woo seems to be a prime influence: the action mixes guns, swords and the body itself. There's a dubious Orientalism around the whole project: While it gives lots of screen time to Asians and creates a Japanese villain who turns out to be more charismatic than Casey, its story ultimately depends on Casey rescuing the Japanese from themselves. Also, his Japanese girlfriend is basically an object to be rescued. (That's a common trope in DTV films, unfortunately.) Despite these flaws, it's extremely entertaining, on a lighter note than "Undisputed III: Redemption", and the sequel will be Florentine's next film.Dutch-born director Roel Reine has landed one film on Jack Lehtonen's "official" vulgar auteurist top 20 list: "The Marine 2" (2009). While I'm less enthusiastic about it than Lehtonen, "The Marine 2" shows the marks of a distinctive stylist. Reine only shoots close-ups when the narrative really requires him to. He prefers long shots, sometimes taken from a vast distance. He also seems to have more of a special effects budget than Florentine, as the film contains a number of CGI explosions. However, it suffers from a formulaic script that transplants the narrative of "Die Hard" to a tropical island and a protagonist—a Marine (wrestler Ted DiBiase) on vacation with his wife—who has all-American good looks going for him but suffers from an overriding blandness. The film has one astonishingly choreographed fight scene, shot in a 30-second take with a pirouetting camera. I'd love to see what Reine could do with a satisfying script.Reine's latest film, "12 Rounds 2: Reloaded" (2013), suggests a marked improvement in his work. This time around, he's working with a script by David Benullo that suggests the David Fincher of "Seven" and "The Game": paramedic Nick (wrestler Randy Orton) is called by a vigilante (Brian Markinson) and forced to play a bizarre round of games connected to an event in their pasts. Stylistically, it's less reliant on long shots than "The Marine 2," but doesn't shy away from them. The nocturnal cinematography is quite beautiful at times. Despite the requisite ass-kicking, it feels more like a film noir than an action movie: The narrative turns out to be surprisingly complex and willing to shift focus from character to character. This impression is enhanced by Reine's tendency to film light streaming through venetian blinds. The movie concentrates on the plot with admirable economy and breakneck pacing. It only spends a few scenes setting up Nick's home life, and as soon as the game is over, the story ends, too. Without endorsing vigilantism, "12 Rounds 2: Reloaded" understands populist anger at a two-tiered justice system that tends to spare the privileged. The film's only major flaw is a stiff performance from Orton, who's called upon to do more than just fight.John Hyams' reputation rests on his two "Universal Soldier" sequels: "Regeneration" (2009) and "Day of Reckoning" (2012). In "Regeneration," a terrorist with an android "universal soldier" (Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski) has seized a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. Luc (Jean-Claude van Damme), a decommissioned universal soldier, is sent to stop him, but once there, he discovers that he must fight Andrew (Dolph Lundgren), another soldier. The two face off in an epic fight that lasts about fifteen minutes."Regeneration" plays with fantasies of invulnerability, only to constantly remind us of aging and bodily decay. By casting middle-aged actors with lined faces—and, in van Damme's case, a perpetually depressed expression—it undercuts the notion of unstoppable force. Luc never indulges in one-liners à la Schwarzenegger. When he prepares for battle, he doesn't become a cool badass, but a machine that must be constantly tuned up with booster shots. (The title of Hyams' documentary "The Smashing Machine," about boxer Mark Karr, seems relevant here.) I'm not sure where the film was shot, but one can practically smell the odor of industrial decay. Cinematographer Peter Hyams, the director's father and an accomplished director in his own right, livens up the film, particularly its fight scenes, with an array of blue, red, gray and gold filters. Rarely does "Regeneration" look naturalistic—it creates its own world, with a distinctive and unique feel. Like Florentine, Hyams avoids CGI, apart from blood-splatter effects."Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" brings back van Damme, Lundgren and Arlovski, and introduces Scott Adkins to the "Universal Soldier" world, yet it feels very different from "Regeneration". It begins with the murder of John's (Adkins) wife and daughter by a group of thugs led by Luc. He falls into a coma and wakes up after nine months, but he seems to be suffering from mental problems. "Day of Reckoning" shows off Hyams' cinephilia, drawing first-person camerawork from Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void," ominous walks down corridors from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and a boat trip down a swamp from Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." It's slightly less stylized than "Regeneration"; shot in Baton Rouge, its images sometimes resemble the real world, but that only makes John's psychological collapse more disturbing. Dozens of sci-fi films have drawn from Philip K. Dick's novels over the past thirty years; "Day of Reckoning" is one of the few to get his sense that everyday life could turn into a hallucination at any moment."Day of Reckoning" relies on the notion of living and dealing with implanted memories for its emotional charge. But what is cinema if not the art of implanting false memories? The film's DVD box features two separate quotes touting its brutal nature, and it is indeed startlingly violent. (Hyams himself describes the NC-17 cut as an endurance test.) Yet there's more to the violence than meets the eye. In an interview with Sara Freeman for the website MUBI, Hyams shows that he's thought seriously about the ethics of depicting bloodshed. "Day of Reckoning" takes place in a world where life is spectacularly cheap due to the proliferation of clones. This technology allows it to bring back a character who died in "Regeneration." Its ending shows a man dying and immediately being replaced by his clone. Both in its treatment of violence and the theme of memory, "Day of Reckoning" evokes the visceral power of good fiction and its ultimate artificiality. It's not cynical: its final scenes affirm the force of emotion, even if separated from real life.Hyams, Reine and Florentine's work seems at once part of a Hollywood tradition—their fight scenes look like Raoul Walsh or Allan Dwan compared to the chaotic blur of mega-budgeted blockbusters like "World War Z"—and hyper-modern. Beyond the genre tropes, they capture the physical and psychological pressures of the world we're living in. Florentine and Reine's films are less ambitious, but "Undisputed 3: Redemption" and "12 Rounds 2: Reloaded" evoke the same kind of weight as Hyams' "Universal Soldier" films. They may be working in the DTV ghetto—technically, "Day of Reckoning" played for one week in a New York theater last year—but they're describing the same world as a more prestigious filmmaker like Olivier Assayas. (Without making a big deal of it, Florentine uses casts drawn from all over the world.) I can't say that I've been impressed by the entire vulgar auteurist canon, but in the DTV arena, its critics have made some real discoveries.
Marie writes: Ever intrepid, club member Sandy Kahn has submitted an intriguing quartet of finds involving a series of Hollywood auctions set to begin at the end of July 2013. Sandy has shared similar things in the past and as before, club members are invited to freely explore the wide variety of collectibles & memorabilia being auctioned LIVE by "Profiles in History". Note: founded in 1985 by Joseph Maddalena, Profiles in History is the nation’s leading dealer in guaranteed-authentic original historical autographs, letters, documents, vintage signed photographs and manuscripts.
Marie writes: There was a time when Animation was done by slaves with a brush in one hand and a beer in the other. Gary Larson's "Tales From the Far Side" (1994) was such a project. I should know; I worked on it. Produced by Marv Newland at his Vancouver studio "International Rocketship", it first aired as a CBS Halloween special (Larson threw a party for the crew at the Pan Pacific Hotel where we watched the film on a big screen) and was later entered into the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It spawned a sequel "Tales From the Far Side II" (1997) - I worked on that too. Here it is, below.
"As film exhibition in North America crowds itself ever more narrowly into predictable commercial fodder for an undemanding audience, we applaud those brave, free spirits who still hold faith with the unlimited potential of the cinema." - Roger
Craig D. Lindsey is on the warpath against jerk cinema, in which arrogant heroes trample all over everybody and the film celebrates them as righteously awesome. Whatever happened to charm?
Marie writes: Now this is really neat. It made TIME's top 25 best blogs for 2012 and with good reason. Behold artist and photographer Gustaf Mantel's Tumblr blog "If we don't, remember me" - a collection of animated GIFs based on classic films. Only part of the image moves and in a single loop; they're sometimes called cinemagraphs. The results can be surprisingly moving. They also can't be embedded so you have to watch them on his blog. I already picked my favorite. :-)
Marie writes: If I have a favorite festival, it's SXSW and which is actually a convergence of film, music and emerging technologies. However it's the festival's penchant for screening "quirky" Indie movies which really sets my heart pounding and in anticipation of seeing the next Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman. So from now until March, I'll be tracking down the best with the zeal of a Jack Russell terrier! Especially since learning that Joss Whedon's modern B/W take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" is set to screen at SXSW 2013 in advance of its June 21st US release date; they'll cut an official trailer soon, rubbing hands together!
From Jeffrey DeRego:
Marie writes: Ever since he was a boy, photographer John Hallmén has been fascinated by insects. And he's become well-known for photographing the creatures he finds in the Nackareservatet nature reserve not far from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. Hallmén uses various methods to capture his subjects and the results are remarkable. Bugs can be creepy, to be sure, but they can also be astonishingly beautiful...
Blue Damsel Fly [click to enlarge photos]
Sidney Lumet was one of the finest craftsmen and warmest humanitarians among all film directors. He was not only a great artist but a much-loved man. When the news of his death at 86 arrived on Saturday, it came as a shock, because he had continued so long to be so productive.
Latest Contrarian Week News:
In his New York Observer year-end wrap-up (and ten-best list), Andrew Sarris attempts to steal the thunder of one of his New York "alternative weekly" rivals.
Sarris writes: Fortunately, modern technology makes it almost impossible for a good movie to get “lost” because of end-of-the-year mental exhaustion. So, with the proviso that I still have a great deal of catching up to do, here are my considered choices for the various 10-best categories, and one of my patented 10-worst lists under the provocative heading of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t.” I am not at all deterred in dishing out my annual supply of negativity by the correspondent who informed me last year that he preferred all the films on my 10-worst list to all the films on my 10-best list. I have long ago become resigned to my fate as a reviled revisionist ever since my first column in The Village Voice in 1960 hailed Alfred Hitchcock as a major artist for "Psycho," and inspired more hate mail than any Voice column had received up to that time. That clinched my job at the ever-contrarian Voice, and I have simply gone on from there.So, how contrarian is the "reviled revisionist" 46 years later? Let's see:
"The Departed" as best film of the year. (Only in New York!)
"Blood Diamond" as #5.
Best Supporting Actresses: 1) Jennifer Connelly, "Blood Diamond" 2) Gong Li, "Miami Vice" 3) Maggie Gyllenhaal, "World Trade Center"
And then there's this: Other striking male performances were provided by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Anderson in The Departed; Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber and Toby Jones in The Painted Veil; Wim Willaert in When the Sea Rises; Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths in Venus; Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Inside Man; Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura in Letters from Iwo Jima; Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine; Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist; Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman and Ty Simpkins in Little Children; Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer and Dylan Walsh in The Lake House; Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena and Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center; Tim Blake Nelson, Pat Corley, Jeffrey Donovan, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in Come Early Morning; Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson; Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Danny Huston in Marie Antoinette; Matt Damon, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Ivanir and Joe Pesci in The Good Shepherd; Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones and Ben Foster in X-Men: The Last Stand; Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Tobias Menzies in Casino Royale; Ebru Ceylan and Mehmet Eryilmaz in Climates; Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins in Hollywoodland; Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Hinton Battle in Dreamgirls; Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Trevor Fehrman, Kevin Smith and Jason Lee in Clerks II; Justin Kirk and Jamie Harrold in Flannel Pajamas; Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada; Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hulce in Stranger Than Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Sam Jones III and Brian Presley in Home of the Brave; Harris Yulin, Ty Burrell and Boris McGiver in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore and Nick Swardson in Art School Confidential; Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin in Running with Scissors; Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Ciarán Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar and John Ortiz in Miami Vice; Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Tim McMullan in The Queen; Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Anthony Mackie, Marlon Sherman and Clarke Peters in Freedomland; Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Raul Esparza in Find Me Guilty; Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin; Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, Tony Yalda, Sam Golzari and Willem Dafoe in American Dreamz; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly; Adam Beach, Ryan A. Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, Jon Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Robert Patrick in Flags of Our Fathers; Chow Yun-Fat in Curse of the Golden Flower; Sergi López, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo and Federico Luppi in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal.Take that, A----- W----!