Trailer: Atomic Blonde

I have little doubt that this Charlize Theron action vehicle will be anything less than excellent. You can see it right there with the single-take, medium-wide shot quality in the first minute of this trailer.

But folks, we have to talk about trailer cutting. This one is a hot mess. First the cliche ‘slowed down pop song cover’ here New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. Second the ensuing heavy-voice over montage is just a sloppy collage of scenes to a second song, this the original version of Queen’s Killer Queen. For a movie that is no doubt stylish, a lady version John Wick if you will: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. With high caliber talent – supporting Theron is John Goodman, Toby Jones, James McAvoy and Algeria’s Sophia Boutella – one would think they could have a little discipline and coherence in the marketing.

But fair enough to all this criticism of form, my butts in the seat when Atomic Blonde comes out.

VOD Review: Dark Places

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Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key, Walled In, UV)
Novel: Gillian Flynn
Producers: Azim Bolkiah, A.J. Dix, Matt Jackson, Beth Kono, Stéphane Marsil, Matthew Rhodes, Cathy Schulman, Charlize Theron
Starring: Charlize Theron, Sterling Jerins, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 113 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 
For an alternate take, Kurt’s festival review of the film can be found here.


After Gillian Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl, and its subsequent David Fincher film adaptation, took the world by storm, it was only a matter of time before her two previous works were adapted to the screen in one form or another. While her debut work, Sharp Objects, is still in the process of being turned into a television series, the film adaptation of middle child Dark Places has finally been released after having been shot almost two years ago, and the results are less than impressive. Often times writers aren’t usually the best option when it comes to translating their work from the page to the screen, but with Gone Girl Flynn demonstrated a ruthless pragmatism in terms of what needed to be altered and excised for the new medium. Her hands are sorely missed in Dark Places, as director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) takes on adapting duties as well, and misses the mark by a thousand miles.

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Dark Places tells the exceptionally bleak story of Libby Day (Charlize Theron), the survivor of the brutal massacre of her family decades earlier, for which her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) was convicted, largely based on her testimony. Libby has coasted through her life of squalor on the donations of people who felt sorry for the poor young girl ever since, as well as payment from a hokey tell-all that she’s never read, let alone had actually written. As her finances begin to dry up, she realizes that the only people left who even care about this old tragedy are those belonging to a seedy underground society called The Kill Club. Led by Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), this group of makeshift detectives is obsessed with grisly true crimes, with Lyle in particular leading a faction to try and discover what truly happened that night at Libby’s Kansas farm so many years ago. Desperate for cash, Libby agrees to help Lyle investigate the truth and see if they can help free the brother who she helped put away. If he’s truly innocent, that is.
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Trailer: Kubo and the Two Strings

As much as Inside Out was a full blown masterpiece for Pixar (and it was), it is clear to me that Laika is the animation house to pay attention to. Their latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings easily made my ‘most anticipated’ list for 2016 on the Cinecast, and this trailer does nothing but confirm my enthusiasm.

Set to a subtle, staying very much in the background, version of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and featuring an Interstellar sized tidal wave, E.T. frame-filling full-moons, animated origami bluebirds, warrior witches, and a host of 3D-printed stop-motion wonders, along with voice work from Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and Art Parkinson. So this is what Rickon Stark has been doing for the past couple seasons of Game of Thrones

Who wants to bother with Pixar’s underwater sequel, Finding Dory, when this is on offer. Kubo and the Two Strings is getting a wide release from Universal Studios on August 19th.

Kubo ekes out a humble living, telling fantastical stories to the people of his seaside town. His relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a mythical spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey and Beetle and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen – a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters.

Get Your Cast to Mars – Bonus Episode: Ridley Scott’s The Martian (And Prometheus)

Get Your Cast To Mars is a three part micro-podcast focusing on the planet Mars. In anticipation of Ridley Scott’s blockbuster spectacle The Martian, join Matthew Brown and Kurt Halfyard as they consider the red planet as an image, an idea, and a somewhat rare place visited in the cinema of the past 100 years.

BONUS EPISODE! We look at a stranded Matt Damon as he sciences the shit out of Mars, represented here as a logic-problem to be solved by a capable optimist. Because this is a bonus episode, we also compare and contrast The Martian to Ridley Scott’s previous, far more misunderstood, science fiction film, Prometheus. In both cases, the spacefaring crews land on new worlds but are not ready to meet their maker.

Viewing Syllabus: The Martian (2015) and Prometheus (2012).

All three episodes + the bonus episode are available for streaming (see table of contents below) directly from the site, or are a part of the RowThree podcast feed, ready for you to send them to whatever electronic device you prefer.

 

The complete adventures of Matt and Kurt go to Mars:

 
 

The Second Season:

 
 
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Fantasia 2015 Review: Dark Places

1985.

In a rural community of Kansas there was a young teenager Ben Day (Tye Sheridan channelling Ezra Miller) who was very into the punk rock outfit The Misfits. He filled his sketchbooks with inked antichrist art, and was accused of molesting several of the girls in his volunteer art class at the local primary school. Eventually he was convicted for the murder of his mother (Christina Hendricks), two of his sisters, and possibly his girlfriend (Chloë Grace Moretz) as part of a satanic ritual. The lynch-pin in the ensuing trial was Ben’s surviving sister Libby, who pointed the finger squarely at her bother (after heavy coaching from the prosecution) to tie neatly off the “Kansas Prairie Massacre.”

Emotionally engaging and effortlessly surprising, Dark Places is a narratively complex, fictional amalgamation of all the lessons learned from the so-called Satanic Panic of the 1980s. The film reunites Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult shortly after their very metal mega-adventure along George Miller’s Fury Road. Coincidentally enough, both actors are playing similar roles: that of tough-as-nails survivor (albeit Theron has all her limbs) and almost-innocent neophyte (albeit Hoult has hair) who is looking for truth in a broken world.

The actual events of this horrible evening (and the frazzled motivational strings that lead up to it) are given a measured reveal analogous (albeit cinematically polished) to the case of the West Memphis Three from the mid-1990s; where took decades of work and a plethora of news stories and documentary films to get even a misty picture of the truth. Ditto for the expensive and lengthy McMartin daycare trials of the 1980s and the facts coming to light in the influential auto-biography of Satanic Ritual Abuse, “Michelle Remembers”. In Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s (Sarah’s Key, Walled In) adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name which amalgamates of all these narratives into the type of tale now reserved for season-long prestige television along the lines of True Detective (fun fact: The first season’s story was based loosely events involving The Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana), thick real-crime books such as Errol Morris’s “A Wilderness of Error,” and investigative podcasts such as NPR’s Serial. It is a testament of the screenwriting, acting and editing here that it comes together so satisfyingly. It pleases me that in light of migrating to other media, this kind of filmmaking the investigative thriller, has not completely disappeared.

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Cinecast Episode 396 – Rated ‘R’ for Mood

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It has finally happened. Matt Gamble shows up and forces a co-host to say enough is enough and leave the room. In these parts, it is probably the best way to handle things until cooler heads prevail – which takes a few minutes. You might think is the grotesquery on display in Fury Road or the non-necessity of the Pitch Perfect sequel becoming this weekends box-office champ. But No. Appropriately it is the Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 6. If Beinioff and Weiss, HBO’s show-runners are looking for a reaction, they have gotten it… Things devolve into semantics, call it the “Daybreaker’s Effect.” But fear not, intrepid listener with ringing ears, we move on to happier, less controversial places created by Mike Judge, Neil Marshall and Alfred Hitchcock.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

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Review: Mad Max Fury Road

There and back again, a breeders tale.

When you boil all of the fireworks and prop-fetish out of the latest Mad Max film, Fury Road, you really have simplicity. The women are fed up with the men using them as chattel – literally, as seen in a human dairy farm made for the purposes of feeding the big-bad, Immorten Joe, and his mutant children, ‘mothers milk.’ The remaining, less tethered, women decide to leave, but then, given few options for emigration in a desert planet, decide to return. Vehicular mayhem of the likes never put up on screen in the history of cinema ensues. And there are consequences of upsetting the social order of things, mostly the crashing and burning of things, but a few lessons are learned along the way.

Mad Max, at least in the ever-increasing-in-budget sequels, has always been the iconic Ronin who wanders into town, tipping the scale of social order by his masculine independence. He is a symbol in a world of warlords and cowering, dirty plebian peasants.

In the rather muddled opening prologue seemingly run at 1.5x speed and laden with superfluous micro-flashbacks of the disappointed children who have taken root in Max’s subconscious, Max is captured by Immorten Joe’s ‘War Boys,’ stripped of his V8 Interceptor, and arrives at the Citadel to coincide with the younger women, those not tied to a milking apparatus, making their exodus. The gambit involves the outposts only female warrior, Charlize Theron here a hard-beaten alloy of Pris, Cherry Darling, Meredith Vickers, and Sarah Connor folded to steel and decorated in cosmetic axel-grease foundation. Imperator Furiosa has a plan to smuggle out the last of humanity’s corn-fed center-fold DNA to the mythical ‘green place,’ beyond the desert sandstorms under the guise of a regular gasoline and ammunition resupply run. Joe straps on his Vader-meets-Bane breathing apparatus and engages in pursuit. Max gets entangled.

Fury Road is essentially a remake of the (superior) template-setting 1981 sequel, The Road Warrior. It replaces gasoline with lady-flesh clad in fluttery white maternity wear, and aims to get way-the-fuck-beyond the Thunderdome. This is helped considerably by hundreds of millions of 21st century studio dollars. For George Miller nerds, there are enough callbacks to the original films (from actors to onscreen images) to fuel a good sized jerrycan. The wild practical stunts involving vehicles and men leaping from car to truck to monster-truck, or dangling from poles and any number of resulting slap-stick visual gags buried in a modern CGI spectacle reminded me more of the set-pieces in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger than George Miller’s previous desert chases. Perhaps this seeded the desire for the film to be about how we watch these kind of movies. Maybe it is.

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Final Fury Road Trailer

The final, Mad Max: Fury Road trailer popped up online yesterday. It features much of the wild tone and imagery of all the previous trailers, but this one exists more or less to communicate the actual story beats.

At this point, I’m not sure what Warner Brother’s feels they need to sell with the film, either people are chomping at the bit to see the promised insanity and over-the-top imagery, or they have decided it is not for them.

I’d argue that the marketing folks nailed everything there is to nail with the Comic-Con trailer last year, with its Clockwork Orange meets massive post-apocalyptic chase imagery, but if need to scratch the itch for a few new bits of Fury Road before the films May 15th release date, this trailer more than hits the spot.

Friday One Sheet: Dark Places

This French poster for Gilles Paquet-Brenner procedural thriller, Dark Places is so utterly simple one might be tempted to write it off as merely forgettable. But in a time of over-cluttered, floaty-head designs, simplicity (to to be confused with minimal) is often best. Charlize Theron lays down on a black background either at rest a near fetal position, or judging from the orientation of the photo, possibly ready to spring into action. This is for an adaptation of another Gillian Flynn novel (the poster makes note of this by mentioning Gone Girl in the upper corner.

Revisited: Aeon Flux

“It looks like nature found a way.” This line of dialogue, spoken late in the film is one of two perhaps unintentional Spielberg references in Aeon Flux, puts the film nicely in the sphere of the biological-minded science fiction. The novel cyberpunk aspect, biotech gone wild, is rather nicely ported over from the Peter Chung’s anarchic animated TV series. Scissor-like flesh-seeking blades of grass and fruit-on-the-vine capable of firing poison loaded darts at both a high rate and velocity offer interesting visual thrills and botanical challenge for Aeon as she tries to infultrate the sprawling lair of her arch-nemesis Trevor Goodchild. Accompanied by fellow state-terrorist (a welcome Sophie Okonedo) who was forward thinking to have her feet surgically replaced with hands for an acrobatic edge, they dance and dive their way through the most unique corporate greenscape ever committed to celluloid.

In the 10 episode TV series, there was never an attempt at narrative continuity either within a show or across the series. Each episode more or less had Aeon attempting to thwart one scheme or another of Bregnan scientist-dictator Trevor Goodchild, but at the same time dealing with her lust for him. The film does have the feel of an extended episode with the concession to mainstream multiplexes being a story is structured in a far more straightforward manner, somewhat amplified in stakes.

Elaborate, vaguely Asian architecture and costume design give you a very interesting world to look at. It was a smart move to set the film away from the Orwellian model of dark and dreary dystopia, even if the visual palette occasionally treads into Star Trek: The Next Generation territory. Aeon and her fellow feminine rebels-against-the-man, lead by fiery-haired and ghostly Frances MacDormand, do not need to meet in clandestine back alleys or bunkers, but rather take a pill and meet their leader in some sort of pharmacological state of being. Phones are implanted directly into the ear, video-email can be sent by spores in a glass of water. Production design reigns supreme.

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First Look: Mad Max Fury Road

madmax-magcover[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #a9a883;”] O [/dropcap]ut side of some kids’ films, the great George Miller hasn’t been behind a camera for nearly 20 years. What he has done has been slightly better than mediocre but I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’m ecstatic that he’s going back to his post-apocalyptic roots with more Mad Max in Mad Max: Fury Road ! Tom Hardy will be in the titular role and along for the sure-to-be high-octane ride is Charlize Theron (apparently with some sort of robotic, prosthetic arm), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicholas Hoult and Zoë Kravitz.

The closest we have come to visiting the Mad Max world on any kind of a budget was in 2007s (awesome) Doomsday from Neil Marshall. And if these pictures released in the July 4th issue of “Entertainment Weekly” are any indication, this going to be awesome; plain, simple and pure.

Take a look and tell me you’re not excited (so that I can ban you from the third row 😉 )

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