A self-professed fangirl's foray into the work of the man behind the blockbuster
Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” was released in U.S. theaters last weekend and is already breaking records, having usurped the all-time opening weekend crown held by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” with $700 million worldwide already in the bank. Many predicted the final culmination of the seeds Marvel has been planting the past four years would be a success, but few foresaw the magnitude of the appeal.
Of course, Whedon has had a loyal cult following for years, but “The Avengers” in particular seems to have tapped into something audiences have been craving in their summer blockbuster fare. If we look at the films of a similar ilk that have enjoyed this level of success, they are often expansive visually and strike at one or two simple but resonant archetypal themes. Joss infuses the film with the addition of an infectious sense of humor.
The film hits theaters today
Tim Burton is back in the multiplex this weekend for the first time since 2010's "Alice in Wonderland" raked in a billion dollars worldwide. Will "Dark Shadows" be such a hit? Uh...no. But now that the film has moseyed on into theaters, it's time to hear what you thought. I'll say it was amusing and harmless enough until a third act that is deplorable. Not that the rest of the script is that much better. It's actually awful and repetitive, but at least it has great art direction (natch). If/when you get around to seeing it, rifle off your thoughts in the comments section below.
The long-gestating adaptation is adopted ahead of its Cannes premiere
The Cannes Film Festival unveiled its screening schedule today, and I'm both pleased and surprised to see that this year's edition is playing the long game. While it's often the case that most of the big-ticket premieres are spilled in the early stages of the fest, this year's programmers have stored up a number of the lineup's most eagerly-awaited English-language titles for the closing days: Jeff Nichols's "Mud" unspools on the last day of Competition, David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" on the penultimate day, and Lee Daniels's "The Paperboy" one day before that.
It's a pointed rejoinder to the many American journalists (HitFix's own Drew McWeeny among them) who have already planned to leave town days before the festival finishes, countering the accepted wisdom that the festival peters out toward the end. As in 2008, when "The Class" was the final Competition film screened and took many off-guard by winning the Palme d'Or, the message appears to be that, at Cannes, every day counts.
Continuing our series of Cannes competition previews
The director: Jeff Nichols (American, 33 years old)
The talent: Matthew McConaughey's career rehabilitation continues apace: not long after popping up in Venice with "Killer Joe," he's hitting the Croisette in two Competition films. Unlike "The Paperboy," "Mud" (in which he plays the title role) is a lead showcase for him, though he's by no means the only star involved. Reese Witherspoon, another name you wouldn't immediately associate with Cannes, is also on board, hopefully triggering her own reversal of fortune.
Also present: Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson (who recently hit peak form in "Martha Marcy May Marlene") and Michael Shannon, who, of course, excelled in both the director's previous features, "Take Shelter" and "Shotgun Stories." Taking a prominent role, too, is teenaged actor Tye Sheridan, who featured as one of the young brothers in last year's Palme d'Or winner, "The Tree of Life."
Continuing our series of Cannes competition previews
The director: Yousry Nasrallah (Egyptian, 59 years old)
The talent: I admit defeat. After scouring the internet for details of the cast and crew of this one, all I can tell you is that it stars Nahed El Sebaï (one of the lead actresses from Egyptian feminist drama "678," which netted a number of prizes on the smaller festival circuit last year), Bassem Samra (a longstanding collaborator of Nasrallah, acclaimed for his turn in his laureled 1999 film "El Medina") and Menna Shalabi (whose 12-year filmography contains, I confess, no titles I recognize). I can't even locate a screenplay credit for the film: Nasrallah has written much of his past work, though past collaborators in this regard have included Claire Denis.
The pitch: Though his films have never really crossed over on the international arthouse circuit, Nasrallah has been a quiet contributor to the revival and conscientization of North African cinema since the 1980s, working under Egypt's leading filmmaker, the late Youssef Chahine, as an assistant director in his earlier years.
With 'Dark Shadows' on the way, we look at the director's work through the prism of art direction
Friday brings the second weekend of the summer movie season and Tim Burton's latest, "Dark Shadows." The film is…unfortunate. My thoughts line up a bit with Drew McWeeny's: it almost gets by on laughs but the whole time all I could wonder was, "Why?" It starts with the script, folks. And this film could use one.
Anyway, we're not talking about scripts today. We're bringing the focus, as we like to do, back around to the below-the-line talent in the film industry, and a rather specific installment of The Lists this week: production design in Tim Burton films. "Dark Shadows" keeps the filmmaker's dark and decadent tradition alive, yet another reminder of his penchant for design elements.
This has been his trademark, and across a wide spectrum of collaborators, one ought to add. Burton typically grows his art department heads from within, so there's a natural consistency at work, but he's brought Oscars for Best Art Direction to four different production designers in his time. That's impressive.
The Soundworks Collection's latest profile reveals the film's aural design
I caught "The Avengers" for a second time earlier this week. It's still a barrel of fun but don't try to think about that script too much. It shatters under modest consideration. And I felt the length a bit more this time around. Nevertheless, I still love the movie.
Something I was paying particular attention to this time, though, was the sound elements. The only Marvel Studios film to grab a nomination in the sound categories so far was "Iron Man," which got in for Best Sound Editing in 2008. But with Oscar-winners like Christopher Boyes and Lora Hirschberg on board, I wonder if the team-up actioner can find its way to one or both fields this year.
For a film as busy visually as this one is, it's a big accomplishment that it's so delicately balanced aurally, yet so dynamic on the editorial side of things. Boyes, who was interviewed for the SoundWork's Collection's latest sound profile on the film, worked on the "Iron Man" films, so he had some things in place for "The Avengers." And naturally he brought in elements provided by the teams of Richard King ("Thor") and Stephen Hunter Flick ("Captain America: The First Avenger") to "honor the original signature sounds, which was Marvel's desire," he says.
Okay, I'll join the fun
There's a lot of talk about lists lately. Just the other day we chewed on Roger Ebert's inclusion of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" in his personal top 10 films of all time as part of the 2012 Sight & Sound critics and filmmakers poll (which Guy is agonizing over currently as he was asked to participate this time around -- Friday's the deadline).
Meanwhile, HitFix's own Drew McWeeny offered up his personal list of 20 last night as a lead-in to a feature Film School Rejects managing editor Scott Beggs (aka Cole Abaius) has been working through for a few days now. I was also asked to participate in that poll, which was largely net-based in focus and therefore younger in demographic. So I might as well offer up some extended thoughts, too.
I've been doing this in one form or another for 12 years, going back to college and, really, my teens. I'm 30 now. And one question I've been asked frequently over that span of time is, "Hey, what are your top 10 films of all time?"
Continuing our series of Cannes competition previews
The director: Cristian Mungiu (Romanian, 44 years old)
The talent: A number of first-time actresses pepper the cast list of Mungiu's latest, including his two leads, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. Keen followers of the Romanian New Wave may recognize (if not necessarily be able to name) the odd face in support, including a number of bit players from "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." The biggest name here, relatively speaking? Luminita Gheorghiu, who won an LA Critics' award a few years back for "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu."
Mungiu wrote and produced the film himself. It's interesting, however, to see Belgian brothers (and two-time Palme d'Or winners) Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne on the list of co-producers, just in case its Croisette cred needed any beefing up. "4 Months" cinematographer Oleg Mutu is also, invaluably, back on board -- as mentioned yesterday, this is one of two Competition entries this year shot by him. That film's production designer Mihaela Poenaru returns, joined by Calin Papura, who did some striking work on Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth." Editor Mircea Olteanu (who also doubles as sound editor) makes his feature debut here.
In celebration of incomparable performer's 100th birthday
The AMPAS is set to honor Gene Kelly, the icon of the golden age of the elaborate Hollywood musical, in a two-night celebration hosted by his widow, Patricia Ward Kelly. The event will feature film clips, personal remembrances and a look at the radical impact Kelly had on the way dance was filmed.
Kelly's on-screen presence as a singer/dancer and behind-the-scenes work as a director and choreographer altered how musical numbers were conceived and executed both in his day and beyond. He is remembered for his indelible self-directed performances in films such as "An American in Paris" and "Singin’ in the Rain," and his innovative use of settings such as rain-soaked sidewalks and props ranging from umbrellas to mops to sheets of newspaper and roller skates invigorated the expansive musicals of the day.
Kelly was buoyant, muscular and full of vibrant charm. He was the quintessential 1950s archetype of what the United States wanted people outside and inside its boundaries to believe Americans were: attractive, confident and good-natured, with a witty sense of play.