Thursday, November 29, 2012

Life of Pi & a pretty convincing argument for 3D.

One of my favorite things about the proliferation of movie trailers on the internet is that so many studios are releasing production diaries and interview clips as part of their online marketing campaigns.

Previously only available as extras on DVD releases, these behind the scenes snippets and on camera comments from filmmakers are now readily available without purchasing a thing. By glimpsing a portion of what the key creative contributors saw from the inception of the project through its release, you can go along for the free ride and gain a bit of insight on the journey.

Life of Pi is a fascinating and curious film to look at this way. A quiet novel that earned global best seller attention, but was widely deemed an impossible task for cinema. The movie not only got made, but made by an Oscar winning director. And in 3D.

This video features both Ang Lee and James Cameron, who's 3D camera systems were used in filming, offering a very solid argument for seeing Life of Pi in 3 dimensions.

After you watch the video, let us know if you donned 3D shades to see the film.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three on the Outside. Limiting long shots outside of Hollywood.

There are a couple of tastes every movie lover should work to acquire, subtitled foreign films and Independent limited releases. Both categories present their own unique challenge.

Foreign films deserve to be heard in their native language. Aside from the fact that you won't get distracted by voices that don't match facial movement or a vocal tone that seems to be resonating from a different body (which it is), there is a rhythm and cadence to speech that, in any language, adds meaning.

Though you don't understand the words, you'll find yourself grasping intent, need, desire and any number of nuances from delivery. Then consider that these are trained actors you are watching, and give credit to their performances to adjust pronunciation, pitch and tonality to add meaning to their words. All elements that are doomed to be mismatched in a dubbed film. Trust me, you'll get used to reading the text and not miss anything in the story far more quickly than you may think.

Future posts on Moviedozer will feature new foreign films and documentaries. The category we'll spotlight today is Independent limited releases.

A constantly blurring and evolving label, "Independent" reflects films that may be made by a band of renegade film students, a scrappy shoe-string budget start-up, or a billionaire's vanity project in a portfolio of content ownership investments (we're talking about you Mark Cuban). The commonality to all of these sources of Independent films is that they can be hard to see. Seems crazy that entertainment media designed for consumption, and judged as successful or unsuccessful by the numbers of tickets it sells, can be so damn difficult to find in a theater. But unless you have access to LA's or NYC's streets on a regular basis (or a small handful of other international cities), seeking out and appreciating independent film on a real movie theater screen is at best a challenging scavenger hunt. Be forever thankful for the proliferation of home video and digital downloads.

Now and then on the pages of Moviedozer, I'll feature a few independents on the horizon that may or may not be worth finding. Whether at your favorite independent movie house or a more sophisticated multiplex, finding independent releases can also be a true treasure hunt. This will be the first of a series of posts called "Three on the Outside", highlighting three current films that aren't in the mainstream of Hollywood, but offer a hint of potential or stir a bit of curiosity. Here are three that have my attention...

Hitchcock (Fox Searchlight Pictures, directed by Sacha Gervasi) An inside glimpse at the famous director seems like a movie that should have already been made. The interesting angle employed here is to focus on Hitchcock while he was making, and fighting to get made, one of his legendary classics, Psycho. Independent films often tread the line of being big hollywood films without the benefit of mega budgets and splashy ad campaigns. The benefit to the film maker is the small "art film" appeal for the actors. Thus Hitchcock boasts an A-list roster of talent including Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, Helen Mirren (as Mrs. Hitchcock), and Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Big studios likely thought box-office appeal might be limited to fans of the director and his films, but this release also has awards consideration written all over it. Currently in limited release.

In Our Nature (Cinedigm, directed by Brian Savelson) Independent films often pull together casts that feel more like a repertory company than a one-shot group of movie actors. When the chemistry is right, simple stories can be elevated to storytelling art. Limited shooting locations, small scale sets and a focus on dialogue rather than action become assets rather than limitations. These modest productions can also become a place for directors, writers and actors to stretch. Subsequently, the moviegoer may be treated to a group of artists in exactly the right environment to hone their craft. The trailer for In Our Nature suggests that those elements are used to great effect. A charged story presents itself in a confined location that forces confrontation. The cast is free to work with pointed, yet natural dialogue toward revelations about each of their characters. Led here by the very appealing John Slattery (of Mad Men fame) with support from Jena Malone, Zach Gilford and Gabrielle Union, In Our Nature points out the inherent nature of Independent film to present the potential for great ensemble performances. Scheduled limited release on December 7th.

Any Day Now (Music Box Films, directed by Travis Fine) A hallmark of Independent films is often a great story that, because of its subject, may limit its broad appeal. Some of the best are inspired by real life, as is the case with Any Day Now. These are often small, personal stories that are emotionally gripping and sometimes controversial. That combination can add up to a real strength in independent film, a stellar star performance by a lead or supporting actor. In this case, that performance looks to be coming from Alan Cummings who plays one half of a gay couple fighting to adopt an abandoned teen with Down syndrome. Supporting roles feel strong in the trailer sequences as well, particularly Garret Dillahunt and Isaac Leyva as the Down syndrome teen. Fortunately, these are perfect films to catch on video if first run theaters aren't nearby. They also are often the films that will stay with you long after watching, and that you may find yourself recommending to other movie loving friends. Scheduled limited release on December 14th.

Broadening your exposure to movies you might not usually see can add immensely to understanding and enjoying cinematic art. As in discovering a favorite wine, a willingness to sample the unfamiliar and the hard to find may open doors to movies you might have otherwise missed completely. A shame as there may very well be a few true treasures out there. Let us know if you find one.

All release dates are for the US. Poster art is curtesy of their respective studios with thanks to

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman 1931-2012

I grew up in the sixties, so of course there was a time when I wanted to be Larry Hagman. It was a time when I was captivated by NASA and the space program, and on NBC television, Larry Hagman was playing astronaut Anthony Nelson. Along with total access to rockets and space capsules, Nelson was constantly in the arms of a  gorgeous blonde genie in a bottle, played by Barbara Eden, who Hagman once called "the most beautiful girl in the world". Now that's what I call a role model.

But as much as I was enthralled by I Dream of Jeannie, it would be a late night showing of a hollywood classic political thriller that I would come to appreciate, elevating my respect for Larry Hagman, the actor. In that film, Hagman played Buck, the President's translator, called in to interpret the meaning and nuances of a conversation between the US President and his Russian counterpart during a series of hotline calls that would be the last chance at tipping the two countries away from nuclear war. The film was 1964's Fail Safe and Hagman held his own beautifully in the intense scenes he shared with a brilliant performance by Henry Fonda playing the President.

Larry Hagman as Presidential Interpreter Buck in 1964's Fail Safe
from Columbia Pictures.

Fail Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet, made the most of big stars and included unforgettable performances from Fonda, Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy and others. Yet it would be Larry Hagman that would be stamped into my memory. I never watched an I Dream of Jeannie rerun, or the series that would create a genre of primetime soaps, Dallas, without thinking of the measured and staccato performance in Fail Safe that made the tension of those hotline calls so realistically plausible.

Larry Hagman did other Hollywood films as well. 1964's Ensign Pulver and 1965's In Harms Way were standouts and a funny turn in 1976's comedy Mother, Juggs and Speed, stay with me. With a long and storied television career, Larry Hagman made a working actor's life look like a noble profession.

To his fans, his friends and his family, we wish all peace and comfort in this time of loss.

Top photo by Peter Larsen for WireImage, courtesy of

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The fall push for Awards and Blockbusters. Hollywood hype season is in full swing.

It's the middle of November, so while the political world unwinds from a Presidential election and the retail world gears up for the last surge of holiday shopping, the movie marketing world is knee deep in a double barrel marketing push that studios engage in every autumn.

From the first barrel are the self-aggrandizing multi-million dollar campaigns to win over Academy Awards voters. Like it or not, the Oscar is still the only movie award that really matters, regardless of its near meaninglessness among average moviegoers. The second barrel fires off the monumental marketing effort to launch first strike trailers designed to lay claim to summer blockbuster fortunes. An endeavor that has come to have far more financial impact than printing gold statuettes on re-release and DVD posters.

For movie fans around the world, the result is a not entirely unwelcome barrage of advertising and hype that will likely set our ticket buying expectations through the end of the year, and well into next summer. In that spirit, here's a look at what's being heavily hyped for Oscar and what's already being banked on for next Summer. Though everyone has their opinions and predictions, Moviedozer is keeping it to personal expectations.

Here's a random sample of three major releases I expect to see on Oscar night. For those already counting days, will be presented on February 24, 2013, with announcements for nominations on January 15. Then three more I expect will set the summer ticket sales bar. Blockbuster season, for all intents and purposes, kicks off on May 3 with Iron Man 3 from Disney's Marvel Studios.

The Academy will likely be brushing Oscar gold on...

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (Touchstone/DreamWorks Pictures). There's no surer bet that in the ungodly hour of the morning that these things are announced, Oscar's nomination announcements will include the names Lincoln and Daniel Day Lewis. If not, I'll close up shop here and start writing a scrapbooking blog. This was a film shelved by Spielberg specifically because his one and only choice for the lead, Daniel Day Lewis, said no the first time. And even after some convincing, the all powerful director was willing to wait an extra year for the actor to get comfortable with the role. Making this film wouldn't be an easy task on anyone's to do list, but you have to believe that kind of commitment pays off. Everything about this movie is about what makes a great movie immortal. Meaning, if they got this right, they've got the big awards in the bag. It's that kind of project and likely the one movie you should absolutely see before February 24th.

Ang Lee's Life of Pi (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp). In 2011 Martin Scorsese furthered the legitimization of 3D as a tool for cinematic storytelling with Academy Award winner and best picture nominee Hugo. That legitimacy as a storytelling tool may again be refined (and defined) by Ang Lee's much talked about adaptation of the Yann Martel novel. The story of Life of Pi swirls around a young man named Pi Patel and a tiger named Richard Parker, who may or may not be a manifestation of young Pi's fears and imagination. That particular aspect of the book created an opportunity to tell a story through spectacular and fantastic visuals, perfectly and naturally suited to 3D. Having James Cameron's company, PACE, as technical consultants surely won't hurt. Though I wouldn't throw any chips on the table for best picture or acting honors, I expect to see Life of Pi dominate those technical award categories and perhaps even net Mr. Lee a nod as Pi's director.

Katherine Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia Pictures). Just to go a little off the already beaten path, I'm expecting Oscar winning director Katherine Bigelow (honored in 2010 for The Hurt Locker), to be recognized for director with her historically accurate telling of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Rather than focus on the overnight raid itself, the film spans ten years of intelligence work that led to the final Seal Team Six mission. With solid casting and a perspective that hasn't already been exhausted by cable channel specials, there's a chance to unwind a sharp, smart narrative. Though Zero Dark Thirty doesn't promise to be a favorite, or even an eventual winner, I'll be surprised if it doesn't claim a presence. The most interesting story that follows may be what Katherine Bigelow does next, after exhaustively researching two high profile, military themed projects.

And as for those blockbusters? Seems far easier to pick money winners than award winners. Where I'd caveat the picks above as educated guesses, the three films below are all but guaranteed to score major box-office worldwide. If Vegas had a movie betting window, these three would be booking at even money...

Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios). Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man suit may as well be made of solid gold. The third outing of this franchise will build on last summer's Avengers success and may well become the most successful of the series.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Disney). While I think this one is a little bit more of a gamble, the incredibly wide demographic this film could appeal to is undeniably an enormous target audience. I may not be the first to point this out, but I promise that if Disney feels they've gotten this right, they're also betting that they've grabbed a property that could become a franchise. A take anywhere in the range of $200 million domestic and $300 foreign will pave the yellow brick road with a least a sequel or two.

World War Z (Paramount). The first trailer for this film so impressed me that it spurred the resurgence of this very blog. Brad Pitt is going to ride this film to action hero status and zombie movies are about to get "Twilighted". That's to say that what the Twilight series did for vampire movie production values is about to happen to Zombie movies. World War Z's effect on the genre will be as cataclysmic as the title of the movie suggests. A change I look forward to, and one that will welcome in a new caliber of talent and story quality to a genre previously mostly known for "B" level productions.

Fall's a great time to be heading to your local movie theaters. The bonus for movie fans is the avalanche of advertising and promotion that has turned Awards Season into Hype Season. Just more fun for us. Have a great weekend at the movies.

Poster art courtesy of their respective studios with thanks to

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Art of the Trailer: Treading on classic territory in the land of Oz.

The road to Oz. Treacherous ground for Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow. But forget the yellow brick road, the road to the Emerald City has an even more dangerous route - the silver screen. And any studio crazy enough to venture into the classic territory of the land of Oz has to be very certain of where its spinning house (or in this case, the wizard's infamous hot air balloon), is going to land.

Disney is that studio. The studio has decided its success with Pixar, Marvel, and its recent acquisition of Lucasfilm, along with its film franchise empire, Star Wars, has emboldened it to go where most studios with any sense would steer a course wide and clear. To be fair, Disney isn't trying to pull off a remake of The Wizard of OZ, but rather an origins story of sorts, drawn from Frank L. Baum's literary classics. And remember, this is the studio who is about to bring you Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger. What's a few munchkins and witches to worry about?

Which brings us to admitting our admiration for what is increasingly rare in a risk averse Hollywood these days, the guts to trust both your instincts and the creative assets you can bring to bear on a very risky project. Made obvious by the teaser trailer released in the summer, and evident even in the poster art (a sample of which we showcased on these pages just days ago), is a creative sense of reinvention, while still paying homage to the original source material and one of the truly timeless classics of movie making. To greatly understate the risks, not an easy task.

Yet, with yesterday's release of the new full length feature trailer, Disney is looking more and more like a studio who's ability to bet large piles of money on their movie projects can be matched equally to their confidence in their ability to tell great stories. It is that confidence that may be their latest and greatest resource.

I'm definitely taken by what I see here. More impressive than images of Johnny Depp made up as the Mad Hatter for a bold retelling of Alice in Wonderland a couple of years ago. Here, there is both foreboding and a gentle charm that hints at a true sense of wonderment in what this Oz may hold.

The art of the trailer is here best described in terms of the art of the moviemakers. Through the eyes of director Sam Raimi, a cast that includes James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, music by Danny Elfman and a slew of first class production personnel, Oz the Great and Powerful shows off Disney as masters of some of the finest technical and production wizards of the day. (Does a scene showing Franco's wizard mending a broken toy doll suggest some oversight by John Lasseter?) And they also show themselves off as one of the most daring and risk embracing studios in the business. If there is, indeed, real magic in this OZ, we will definitely be paying attention to the studio behind the curtain.

Here then, the latest trailer for Oz, the Great and Powerful. Let us know what you think by sharing a comment below.

Title graphic:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Need a new TV? Go Big. Go Bold. Go Bond.

With an opening box-office take a brush under 90 million stateside and triple that internationally, 007 has certainly proven he can still sell movie tickets. And if you're a Bond fan, you know you want the champagne, the cars and the women.

You can probably tap a credit card and pick up a nice bottle of bubbly, though running across a vintage Aston Martin DB5 may be a bit more of a secret agent challenge. As for the women, well we've run across a toy that couldn't help but impress the ladies. Or the next store neighbors for that matter.

If you've got a nice outdoor space, say over by the pool cabana, here's just the thing for some outdoor entertainment. And if you happen to install one of these, you can help answer a question we posed here some time ago... just what kind of wine does go well with buttered popcorn?

There may be another Bond tie-in here as well. Although price isn't mentioned in the video, we have a sneaking suspicion that the C'Seed people may also have a license to kill - your bank account.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oz the cool and colorful.

If I were 11 years old I'd be driving my parents nuts to take me to this. Here's Disney's latest defense against charges of sacrilege - the latest poster for director Sam Raimi's Oz, the Great and Powerful, scheduled for release from the mouse, Spring 2013.

Friday, November 9, 2012

All it took to get us to write a new post was World War Z!

Let's start with a disclaimer. I don't like zombie movies. Yeah, fine, Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead is the exception, mostly because I saw it at this amazing little dump theater just a block from the Seaside Heights, NJ boardwalk when I was like 14. It was a midnight show when midnight shows were a NEW marketing gimmick and the screening was complete with people yelling at the actors and doll parts being thrown around the audience.

Well the Seaside Heights boardwalk is a mess since Hurricane Sandy smashed into it two weeks ago and, for me, Zombie movies have become as tiresome as... wait for it... vampires. God, I hate vampire movies. Teen novels have ruined so much of the classic stuff of horror.

Perhaps until now.

Someone's finally come up with a massive and dazzling spectacle of a zombie movie and plopped Brad Pitt right in the middle of it. The trailer debuted two days ago and it was enough to make us reach for the touch pad and breath a little afterlife into Moviedozer Dailies.

So here ya go, the first trailer from Paramount Pictures' June 2013 release: World War Z.

 Thanks to all of you who have stuck with us through our "quiet" years. Our efforts at SparxLab Projects have resulted in a resurgence of our Satire is Reason blog being refreshed and reenergized, so please click through and check that out. If you leave some comments and we see some page hits, we'll take a long look at kicking things up back here as well.