Sacha Baron Cohen punks Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet at the Oscars in February.
Sacha Baron Cohen punks Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet at the Oscars in February.
Credit: E!

With Sacha Baron Cohen's 'The Dictator' on the way, let's not forget poor Ryan Seacrest

Plus: The prankster talks the Oscars and awards shows on Howard Stern

"Oh yeah. 'The Artist.'" Cheap shot but that crossed my mind the other day. It wasn't until a press release hit earlier this week announcing a theatrical re-release for the film* that I gave much thought to the season we just concluded in February. It's interesting, sometimes, to note the quick burn-off takeaway...if there is one.

But with Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" (all 75 minutes of it) making its way to theaters next weekend, I can't help but recall poor Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet -- covered in the "ashes" of Kim Jong-il. I might have mentioned it while live-blogging that night (ugh), but I don't think we ever posted it, so we might as well now.

Meanwhile, Cohen was on Howard Stern earlier this week promoting the film, touting it as one of few out-of-character interviews he's done. In true Stern fashion it was a fantastic interview and covered a wide range of topics (including the since oft-reported news break that the actor is no longer a part of Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained.")

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<p>Joss Whedon at the Los Angeles premiere of &quot;The Avengers&quot;</p>

Joss Whedon at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Avengers"

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

‘The Avengers’ director Joss Whedon is a contemporary pop mythologist

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.

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<p>Johnny&nbsp;Depp in &quot;Dark&nbsp;Shadows&quot;</p>

Johnny Depp in "Dark Shadows"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tell us what you thought of 'Dark Shadows'

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.

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<p>Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund in &quot;On the Road.&quot;</p>

Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund in "On the Road."

Credit: IFC/Sundance Selects

IFC Films and Sundance Selects ready 'On the Road' for the journey

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' "Mud" unspools on the last day of Competition, David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" on the penultimate day, and Lee Daniels' "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.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey in &quot;Mud.&quot;</p>

Matthew McConaughey in "Mud."

Credit: Everest/FilmNation

Cannes Check: Jeff Nichols' 'Mud'

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."

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<p>A scene from Yousry Nasrallah's 'After the Battle.'</p>

A scene from Yousry Nasrallah's 'After the Battle.'

Credit: MK2 Productions

Cannes Check: Yousry Nasrallah's 'After the Battle'

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.

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<p>Johnny&nbsp;Depp in 2007's &quot;Sweeney Todd:&nbsp;The Demon&nbsp;Barber of Fleet Street,&quot;&nbsp;Oscar winner for Best Art Direction</p>

Johnny Depp in 2007's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Oscar winner for Best Art Direction

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Lists: The top 10 best-designed Tim Burton productions

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.

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<p>The Incredible Hulk is all out of bubble gum.</p>

The Incredible Hulk is all out of bubble gum.

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Tech Support: See (or hear) how Lou Ferrigno lives on as part of the Hulk in 'The Avengers'

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.

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A scene from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"
A scene from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"
Credit: Paramount Pictures

The 10 greatest films of all time (well, mine, anyway)

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?"

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<p>A scene from Cristian Mungiu's &quot;Beyond the Hills.&quot;</p>

A scene from Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills."

Credit: Sundance Selects

Cannes Check: Cristian Mungiu's 'Beyond the Hills'

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.

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