<p>How does a man make a living being punched in the face and still end up looking like this?&nbsp; It's not fair, I&nbsp;tells ya.</p>

How does a man make a living being punched in the face and still end up looking like this?  It's not fair, I tells ya.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Sugar Ray Leonard discusses robot boxing on set of 'Real Steel"

The boxing legend helped Shawn Levy teach machines to fight

Sugar Ray Leonard has been a legend as long as I've been conscious of pop culture.  One of the reasons I am constantly amazed that I am paid actual money to do what I do is because so much of what I do involves satisfying deeply personal desires.  The fact that I get paid is almost incidental.

When I was growing up in the '70s, boxing was very different in terms of the way it was handled by the media, and Sugar Ray Leonard was a superstar.  When I was first told that he was involved in "Real Steel," that was the first reason I was willing to go to the set.  I wanted to see what it meant to have someone like Leonard involved in a big-budget movie where CGI robots beat the crap out of each other.  What I saw on-set was an ambitious new step in performance capture technology, and I ended up sitting down with Leonard to talk about his role in that process.

Read Full Post
<p>Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in one of the few light moments in Steve McQueen's powerful new 'Shame'</p>

Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in one of the few light moments in Steve McQueen's powerful new 'Shame'

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Review: Michael Fassbender gives amazing performance in piercing 'Shame'

HitFix
A
Readers
A
Carey Mulligan also lays herself bare in mesmerizing sex addiction film

Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are building a body of work together that is demanding, intellectually rigorous, and deeply felt, and if they continue, I feel like it will be a privilege to watch what they produce as collaborators.  Their new film "Shame" is incredibly potent, a disturbing and visceral film about the ways we cope with the things that drive us, and the ways we destroy ourselves for who we are.  It is one of the year's very best films, and a major artistic accomplishment.

Much of what drives the characters in the film is unspoken, and yet "Shame" manages to communicate volumes with its silence.  McQueen is a master of subtext, and from the very beginning of the film, he's asking you to pay close attention, to connect the dots, and if you are willing to do that, it's a wrenching experience.  I love that the film doesn't explain everything to you, because it's all in there.  It is also a formally impressive piece of film craft, and I think McQueen is one of those guys we need to watch closely.  He's building these films to endure, and they are rewarding because of just how much he's layered into them.

Read Full Post
<p>Paul Williams was iconic in the '70s, but has faded from public life since, and the new documentary 'Paul Williams Still Alive' examines where he is today</p>

Paul Williams was iconic in the '70s, but has faded from public life since, and the new documentary 'Paul Williams Still Alive' examines where he is today

Credit: 3W Films

Review: 'Paul Williams Still Alive' offers affectionate, insightful look at '70s icon

HitFix
A
Readers
A+
Documentary is often very funny, but with real emotional edge

Paul Williams was at his most famous when I was still a little kid.  I remember seeing him on variety shows, in "Smokey & The Bandit," as an orangutan in one of the "Planet Of The Apes" sequels, and above all, I remember his omnipresence as a singer/songwriter.  Even if I didn't know those were his songs at the time, my childhood was largely underscored by the work of Paul Williams. 

As I've gotten older, I've learned a great appreciation for his body of work, and there are some high points that mean quite a bit to me.  I think "Phantom Of The Paradise" is fantastic, and the songs in that film are almost always on my iPod when I travel.  His song for the original "Muppet Movie," the heartbreaking "The Rainbow Connection," is one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano as a kid.  And well before its critical rehabilitation began, I was a huge fan of the work he did for "Ishtar," a hilarious goof on the very art of songwriting.

Read Full Post
<p>'The Oranges' makes good use of its ensemble cast and wins some big laughs as a result</p>

'The Oranges' makes good use of its ensemble cast and wins some big laughs as a result

Credit: Likely Story/Olympus Pictures

Review: Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester headline sharp suburban comedy 'The Oranges'

HitFix
B+
Readers
A+
Great ensemble cast finds big laughs in 'American Beauty' country

The notion of suburban malaise is nothing new, and it's been well-mined in plenty of novels and movies and TV shows already.  Wisely, "The Oranges" is not trying to blow the lid off the notion that marriages sometimes crumble or that suburbia frequently hides secrets behind its white picket fences. 

Instead, the script by Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer is a no-apologies comedy, and it gives the large ensemble cast some juicy material to play, allowing them to really run wild.  Director Julian Farino, making his feature debut, has a great sense of character and timing, and the result is a movie that some distributor is going to make good money with, as long as they cut the right trailer.

After all, look at their cast.  You've got Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Leighton Meester, Alia Shawkat, and Adam Brody, and they're all very good in the film.  It's a true ensemble comedy, too.  Shawkat's character Vanessa is the narrator of the film and the daughter of David (Laurie) and Paige (Keener).  They live across the street from their best friends, Carol (Janney) and Terry (Platt), and their kids all grew up together.  They do everything as a group, and at the start of the film, Vanessa talks about how she has two families.  She used to be just as tight with Nina, the daughter of Carol and Terry, but Nina wanted to see the world, and as soon as she could leave West Orange, New Jersey, she did, and she never looked back.  Vanessa is one of those people who wants a career and a life, but is held back by fear and inertia, and so her resentment of Nina is very specific.  It's not just that they fell out as friends; Nina is living the life Vanessa wanted, but could never really manage.

Read Full Post
 First Look: 'Attack the Block' home video release and box art

First Look: 'Attack the Block' home video release and box art

Joe Cornish's inventive alien invasion can now be see by even more people

Sony announced the DVD and Blu-Ray release of the little movie that could, "Attack the Block." and were nice enough to send HitFix a first look at the box and some details about the extras as well as a good idea on how they're going to market it.

 

The inner city Alien invasion movie features a group of rough and tumble teenagers who find themselves deending their housing project from an invasion of jet black aliens, as well as maneuvering their way around other dangers such as drug dealers and the police.

 

In an interesting departure from the early days (March of this year) in which the thick working class london accents and slang of the main characters was thought to be a major barrier to releasing the film in the US, it now looks as if they are embracing said accent as an asset instead of a liability.

 

From the press release:

 

“It’s an alien invasion, bruv – believe it” and it’s coming to you from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  “Trust, fam!” 

 

Awesome.

 

Click through for DVD details and box art.

Read Full Post
<p>Gerard Butler is fighting the urge to bellow 'THIS... IS...&nbsp;AFRICA!' with every fiber of his being.</p>

Gerard Butler is fighting the urge to bellow 'THIS... IS... AFRICA!' with every fiber of his being.

Credit: Relativity Media

Review: Gerard Butler headlines the strange and overly sincere 'Machine Gun Preacher'

HitFix
C
Readers
B+
Based on a true story film means well, but that's just not enough

What a weird movie.

Have you ever seen or heard of the movie "The Cross and the Switchblade" with Pat Boone starring in it?  Total Godsploitation.  It's about a hip young priest reaching out to some inner-city gang hoods and winning them over with some tough-talking Bible study and a few well-applied fists.  It's based on a true story by a guy named David Wilkerson, and I couldn't help but think of that film when I was watching Marc Forster's new film "Machine Gun Preacher."  Like that one, this is based on a true story, and like that one, it seems to want to be an exciting, violent movie that is ultimately about faith.  That's just such a weird hybrid of goals that I have trouble getting a handle on tone, a problem that Forster seems to share.

Read Full Post
<p>Anna Kendrick tries to help Joseph Gordon-Levitt deal with the idea of dying young in '50/50'</p>

Anna Kendrick tries to help Joseph Gordon-Levitt deal with the idea of dying young in '50/50'

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Review: Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in affecting, understated '50/50'

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
True-life story makes for a simple, affecting film

Jonathan Levine's been working in a minor key so far as a filmmaker. 

His first film is the still unreleased "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane," a determined twist on slasher formula and iconography, and he followed that up with the coming-of-age story "The Wackness," and in both cases, I've got a solid case of like.  I think he's interesting, and it feels to me like he's warming up.  That's not an insult, either.  I think Rian Johnson is still warming up.  I like "Brick," and I really like "The Brothers Bloom," but those aren't the movies he'll be known for.  Those are still ahead.  He's a guy who is going to keep getting better.  You can see it in the way he grows from first to second film, and in the ambition of what he's doing.  Levine is that kind of filmmaker.  I look at his movies, and I can see that he's smart, that he thinks about what he's shooting, that there's a real heart in there.  Those movies are genuinely told, sincerely meant, and even if I don't love them, I like what they represent, a filmmaker who's working towards something.

Read Full Post
<p>This pretty much sums up Andrea Arnold's entire approach to adapting Bronte's classic novel 'Wuthering Heights'</p>

This pretty much sums up Andrea Arnold's entire approach to adapting Bronte's classic novel 'Wuthering Heights'

Credit: Film 4/HanWay Films

Review: Andrea Arnold's 'Wuthering Heights' is beautiful, but disappointing

HitFix
C
Readers
D
Dramatically inert, it's more of a photo exhibit than a film

Andrea Arnold has only made a few films so far, but both "Red Road" and "Fish Tank" demonstrate a clear sense of voice and style.  She's got a great visual sense, and she is very good at creating a sense of dramatic tension, drawn out in some cases to the point where it's almost unbearable.  I would have happily gone to see anything she brought to the festival this year, but the notion of her tackling a piece of material like "Wuthering Heights" was particularly appealing.  It seemed like a strong dramatic place for her to start, and I had no doubt she would find a way to make it her own.

Having now seen the film, I'm not surprised that the Venice Film Festival gave a special award to the cinematography by Robbie Ryan, who also shot her two previous films.  His work here is spectacular, and there is a tactile quality to the film that goes beyond anything 3D could offer.  The problem is that aside from the cinematography and that sensual quality it lends to the film, there's nothing else about "Wuthering Heights" that I can recommend.  You might as well re-title the picture "Andrea Arnold's Photography Exhibit On Themes From 'Wuthering Heights'," because this is a still life.  It's a non-motion picture.  It is dramatically inert, and almost baffling in the way it misses the mark.

Read Full Post
<p>Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen play dress-up in the oddly unsatisfying 'A Dangerous Method'</p>

Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen play dress-up in the oddly unsatisfying 'A Dangerous Method'

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: David Cronenberg's oddly restrained 'A Dangerous Method' never quite connects

HitFix
C+
Readers
A+
For a film about the men who defined kink, the film lacks heat

David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors of all time.  His body of work, and I use that word knowing full well it has a double meaning when you're referring to Cronenberg, is one of the most demanding and rigorously intellectual of anyone in any genre.  He has long been fascinated by the relationship we have with the bodies we occupy, and he successfully made the jump from overt horror to adult-minded drama, something not every filmmaker is able to accomplish.

Yes, Wes Craven, we all still remember "Music Of The Heart."

When Cronenberg signed on for "A Dangerous Method," it sounded like a perfect match between filmmaker and material.  After all, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were two of the men who helped define the vocabulary we still use to discuss sexual psychology, and Cronenerg is, after all, the guy who made "Crash."  Not the silly "racism is bad" one, but the "hey, I could always use that hole" version.  This is a man who knows kink.  This is a man who has pushed boundaries so hard they've crumbled.  Who else would think to put a VHS-eating vagina in James Woods's chest?  I walked into "A Dangerous Method" wide open and ready for anything.

Read Full Post
<p>Oh, sure, he's just relaxing here, but give this man a hammer, and suddenly 'Drive' becomes flat-out terrifying</p>

Oh, sure, he's just relaxing here, but give this man a hammer, and suddenly 'Drive' becomes flat-out terrifying

Credit: Film District

Review: Ryan Gosling cranks up the cool in Refn's remarkable thriller 'Drive'

HitFix
A-
Readers
A
Plus Albert Brooks is scary... who knew?

Nicolas Winding Refn seems like an unlikely artist to be the guy who is making a career for himself as the pre-eminent bard of movie machismo, but that appears to be the case. 

His "Pusher" trilogy is a marvel of soap opera plotting and bad guy behavior, and he made Kim Bodina feel like the world's greatest unknown movie star, a Danish Tony Soprano.  His film "Bleeder" is about the rejection of comfort and love, with violence shown to be this seductive, necessary piece of some people's chemical make-up.  His big breakthrough moment seemed to be "Bronson," which I reviewed in the very early days of this site, and that movie is all about transforming yourself into a giant battle-hardened beast and then punching your way through life.  "Drive" is, aesthetically speaking, an early Michael Mann movie.  It's a small doomed little character piece, with Ryan Gosling giving a great movie star performance, self-aware and stylized to an extreme. 

Read Full Post