The summer is here at the multiplex as Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" hits theaters this weekend. Midnight screenings are already letting out so it's time to hear what the public has to say (the US public, anyway, as it's already chugging along in 39 other countries). Did Marvel pull off the ambitious team-up? I'd say so. Drew certainly loved it. So what say you? Offer up your thoughts in the comments section below. (Oh, and the music video for Soundgarden's original song for the film dropped yesterday if you're interested.)
The director: Abbas Kiarostami (Iranian, 71 years old)
The talent: Kiarostami may have chosen a major international star to headline his foray into non-Iranian cinema two years ago, but for his second, he's taking the opposite tack. Rin Takanishi, his 23 year-old lead actress, is a relative newcomer, schooled mostly in Japanese television; her older co-star, Tadashi Okuno, may have a screen CV that dates back to the 1960s, but it's even briefer than Takanishi's. The most recognizable name here is Ryo Kase, whom you may remember from "Letters from Iwo Jima" and that godawful kamikaze-ghost role in last year's "Restless." Kiarostami sought Japanese talent below the line too: cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima is best-known for his work on Takeshi Kitano's films, as well as "Battle Royale." Kiarostami, as is his wont, wrote the original screenplay; he also produced alongside Frenchman Nathanael Karmitz, who also shpherded "Certified Copy" to the screen.
The Sight & Sound poll of filmmakers and critics picking the greatest films of all time is 10 years old. Many in the cinephile community are anxious to see the results of the latest questionaire, which will be revealed some time in August (I think). A few critics have revealed their own lists but that's just a drop in the bucket of what we'll get when the big collective is revealed.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert is one such critic. And I was a little surprised to see that Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," which was a formidable force on the awards circuit last year, managed to find itself among previous mainstays of the his list, which include "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," "Apocalypse Now," "Citizen Kane" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (four films that could register on my own list, which is why I've always liked Ebert's choices quite a bit).
The director: John Hillcoat (Australian, 50 years old)
The talent: You want names? You got 'em. Hillcoat's latest brings together a handful of the industry's brightest young things, including Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Mia Wasikowska and newly minted Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain. Burnishing the lineup a bit are older hands like Guy Pearce (who worked with Hillcoat on "The Proposition") and Gary Oldman, also fresh off his first tip of the hat from the Academy. Meanwhile, between Pearce and Wasikowska, plus fellow Aussies Noah Taylor and Jason Clarke in support, Hollywood immigrant Hillcoat remains committed to keeping his home flag flying.
Also making a very Australian affair of this all-American bootlegging tale is the fact that the screenplay is by rock icon Nick Cave -- his first since penning Hillcoat's 2005 breakout feature "The Proposition." Naturally, as has been the case with all Hillcoat's work, Cave (alongside regular collaborator Warren Ellis) is also responsible for the original score.
Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" opens Friday, but it doesn't merely signal the beginning of the summer movie season. It signals the start of a summer highlighted by comic-based tent pole filmmaking. Still to come are Sony's reboot, "The Amazing Spider-Man," and the denouement of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise, "The Dark Knight Rises" (the latter having dropped a new trailer last night).
So it makes sense to keep the lists going this week with something pegged to Marvel's big, inevitable event film. But who wants another "top 10 comic book movies" list, anyway? I couldn't go there. Narrow it down? Top 10 Marvel movies (stretching back to pre-Marvel Studios, of course)? I just don't like enough of them.
When I laid out my brief thoughts on "The Avengers" last week, I noted that, for me, what makes the film so special and work so well as a piece of entertainment is how organic the ensemble is. Everyone gels, major actors with major franchises coming together to make something greater. With that in mind, how about focusing on performances in comic book movies?
After some back and forth with CIM Group, commercial real estate owner of the theare (formerly known as the Kodak) at the Hollywood & Highland complex that has been home to the Oscars for the last decade, a new deal has been struck to keep the annual show there for another 20 years.
According to a press release, another deal was also struck, with Dolby Laboratories, Inc., to name the venue The Dolby Theatre. So it's goodbye Kodak, hello Dolby. And as Roth so pointedly noted a few weeks ago when these rumblings first began, it's somehow poetic and sad to see one of the last bastions and earliest creators of celluloid take its exit here as the company that created a digital 3D projection system steps in.
Of course, Dolby's major imprint has always been trailblazing in the world of audio. Indeed, further into the release it is noted that during the term of the agreement "Dolby will continue to update the theatre with innovative, world-class technologies to ensure that the theatre remains state-of-the-art, beginning with the immediate installation of its recently released Dolby® Atmos™ sound technology."
The director: Michael Haneke (German-Austrian, 70 years old)
The talent: After the low-profile ensemble of "The White Ribbon," Haneke returns here to the big names. Isabelle Huppert has a history with Haneke and Cannes: she won the festival's Best Actress award (her second) for "The Piano Teacher" in 2001, and headed the jury that handed him the Palme d'Or three years ago. This marks her third collaboration with him, and her first since 2003's "The Time of the Wolf," but she doesn't appear to be the primary focus this time: that'd be two veterans of the French New Wave, Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima, Mon Amour,") and Jean-Louis Trintignant ("Three Colors: Red" and "Z," for which he won Best Actor at Cannes in 1969). (Fun fact: Riva played the lead in Georges Franju's original film of "Thérèse Desqueyroux," Claude Miller's new adaptation of which is closing the festival.) Also on board: British opera baritone William Shimell, who made an impressive film debut opposite Juliette Binoche in 2010's "Certified Copy."
The director: Matteo Garrone (Italian, 43 years old)
The talent: You'd have to be pretty au fait with contemporary Italian cinema to recognize most of the cast members here: the biggest name on offer is Claudia Gerini, best known for supporting turns in Italian hits "Don't Move" and "The Other Woman," as well as minor appearances in "The Passion of the Christ" and "Under the Tuscan Sun." The young actor Ciro Petrone, who made an impression four years ago in Garrone's "Gomorrah" (if the image of a gangly youth in his underwear brandishing a gun comes to mind, you're there), reappears here -- as, on the evidence of some other cast members' CVs, does the director's partial affinity for inexperienced actors.
With apologies for yesterday's non-delivery.
The director: Andrew Dominik (Australian, 44 years old)
The talent: Ever heard of a guy called Brad Pitt? He's going places, I tell you. The star has, of course, worked with Dominik before. In 2007, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" won Pitt the Best Actor prize at Venice and effectively started a new, more studious chapter in his career: two leading Oscar nominations and the career peak of 2011 later, it'll be interesting to see what this reunion brings for him. (As he did on "Jesse James," Pitt also takes a producer credit here.) The supporting cast, meanwhile, could hardly be tastier, blending trustily weathered character actors like Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini, more ragged, unpredictable talents like Ray Liotta, Garret Dillahunt, a bristly relative newcomer in Scoot McNairy ("Monsters") and, most excitingly of all, Dominik's compatriot Ben Mendelsohn, who recently killed in "Animal Kingdom." Not a lot of room for the ladies here, mind.