Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mass for Cinephile Shut Ins: Part One

Far more exciting than any 'Best of' lists are those detailing movies any of us have yet to see -- feeding the deep-seated yearning to discover what's yet to come from our favorite directors, writers, and most beloved actors. With each new minuscule plot detail and late-in-the-game title change comes the potential for new surprises, new discoveries, new possibilities. They build our expectations and validate our eventual disappointment. Let us commune over all this vague pre-publicity so as to garner faith and hope for a bright cinematic future. And let us also pass invalid judgment.

This is Part One.

Lethal Weapon 5
Buddy comedy has never been this racially insensitive!

directed by: Jodie Foster
written by: Kyle Killen
starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster

Basically: A CEO with a down-and-out family life turns a beaver puppet he recovers from the trash into a tool for of self-therapy.

And We Should Care Because: Jodie Foster returns to directing after 15 years since Home for the Holidays, another family-centric film steeped in neuroses. Knowing Jodie Foster's personal life gives extra immature chuckles to the film's title, The Beaver, while Mel Gibson takes advantage of his personal life in using a beaver puppet to spout his offenses. Jodie Foster also gives herself a long overdue central role as the wife, while Gibson will get to play up his comedic chops and gain forgiveness for his last attempt at such, 2000's What Women Want. Do beaver puppets breed dangerously indie quirk? Perhaps, but Jodie Foster's attachment and directorial return breed promise.

Status: Curious

Iñárritu enunciates the title of his new film, Biutiful.

directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo, Nicolás Giacobone
starring: Javier Bardem, Blanca Portillo

Basically: A man involved in illegal dealing is reunited with a childhood friend, now a policeman.

And We Should Care Because: Iñárritu's mixing it up it would seem. He's not using his trademark style of separate stories as means of interconnectedness, nor an inexplicable accident to center the action, as was the case in Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Nevertheless he's holding strong his glimpse into human darkness and the power of cause and effect. Whatever your opinions on the approach, Iñárritu has a gift for creating intrigue and heightened drama with just the right blend of naturalism and visual flourish. He has also done right in stealing from Almodóvar's repertoire with the likes of Javier Bardem and Blanca Portillo. Chances are it will be a little bit miserablist and a whole lot biutiful.

Status: Curious

Natalie Portman really can work a pole (see: Closer).
Even when set to Swan Lake.
directed by: Darren Aronofsky
written by: Darren Aronofsky, Mark Heyman
starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Kassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey

Basically: A tale of psychological horror about a veteran ballerina's new rival, who could very well be a ghost or figment of her imagination.

And We Should Care Because: Darren Aronofsky is four for four, one of the great directorial talents working today. With a female-centric premise, dark psychological and sexual overtones (a rumored lesbian scene is getting most of the press), and a genuinely remarkable and underused cast, it looks to be another creative burst and change of tone for Aronofsky. Performance meets a psychological split -- could this be Aronofsky's Opening Night? Its ballet setting and moody underpinnings could make for a very stylish, surreal affair - all the more likely aided by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and possibly another entranced score by Clint Mansell. Perhaps a blend of the low-key naturalism of The Wrestler with the dazzling headspace of The Fountain?

Status: Can't Miss

Are you 'avin a laugh?
Is anyone in this working-class town 'avin a laugh?

directed and written by: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
starring: Ralph Fiennes, Ricky Gervais, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson

Basically: 1970's England serves as backdrop for this story of young working-class friends seeking a life change.

And We Should Care Because: The genius duo behind TV's The Office and Extras reunite for their first big-screen collaboration, and their gift for mining painfully funny truths out of everyday misery seems to bode well for this personalized period piece. Ricky's first feature, The Invention of Lying, may have suffered a forced ending, but its anti-religious satire and high-wire farce served the screen well. Also keep in mind that episodes of The Office were miraculously adept at mixing powerful laughs with unexpected poignancy, likely the tone this film is gearing toward. Picture Slough in the 1970's, populated this time by the stifled passions of youth. Bonus points: A Karl Pilkington cameo!

"I could eat a knob at night."

Status: Can't Miss

Arthouse Egoyan meets the Poison Ivy franchise?
directed by: Atom Egoyan
written by: Erin Cressida Wilson
starring: Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson

Basically: A wife suspecting of her husband's infidelities hires an escort, Chloe, to test his faithfulness. She soon finds herself orchestrating their sordid, escalating encounters, and rediscovering her own sensuality.

And We Should Care Because: Atom Egoyan makes arthouse fare that's seductive and devastating, both of which are encapsulated in this film's enticing premise. Erin Cressida Wilson also wrote the script for Secretary, and this one promises even more erotic (and explicit) encounters. Julianne Moore continues to marvel in edgy material, remarkably still drawn to sexually ambiguous extremes (2008's Savage Grace) and innovative auteurs.

Status: Can't Miss

Jason Alexander, Joe Pesci, Mickey Rourke, John C. Reilly...
Marisa Tomei is THE dreamy woman for not-so-dreamy men.

directed and written by: Jay and Mark Duplass
starring: Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, John C. Reilly

Basically: Divorced boy meets girl... meets her attached son.

And We Should Care Because: Mumblecore innovators Jay and Mark Duplass crafted The Puffy Chair and Baghead, as well as being involved in the 2009 surprise Humpday, all of which earned their charms from their no frills attitude and devotion to character. Things have changed drastically, and yet not really at all. Where once were the faces of complete unknowns now reside Oscar winners and box-office champs. The dynamite talents of Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener in particular still seem in keeping with the indie world, but promise to garner the film and its makers a lot more attention upon its release.

Status: Can't Miss

Eat, pray, love. But only after getting approval from Oprah.

directed by: Ryan Murphy
written by: Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt, Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir)
starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis

Basically: A woman with a seemingly complete life decides to divorce her husband and set out on a personal journey around the world.

And We Should Care Because: Julia Roberts gets another deserved showcase despite the film's seemingly disposable summary, title, and ties to Oprah's Book Club. Not since Erin Brockovich has Roberts been given such a spotlight, and with a startling supporting cast, it's enticing to think the film will blend her comic and dramatic chops together with enough awards-charged gusto. Ryan Murphy's cinematic prowess only extends to one other memoir adaptation, the disappointingly received Running with Scissors, but then he's also the mind behind uneven but admirable TV hits Nip/Tuck and Glee. Still holding out hope that Julia can hit Sandra Bullock in her Blind Side and steal back her title as box office queen.

Status: Mild Intrigue

What happens in Tokyo stays in Tokyo.
Especially if you're dead.

directed and written by: Gaspar Noé
starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Emily Alyn Lind, Cyril Roy

Basically: A man caught in a hallucinatory afterlife observes the effects of his own demise after a drug deal goes awry in a Tokyo bar.

And We Should Care Because: Unlike Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, which imagines the afterlife to be a vibrant desktop screensaver, Gaspar Noé's film imagines it as a psychedelic headtrip to rival 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film's lengthy runtime of nearly three hours promises a full on cinematic immersion, rumored to include plenty of the arty and extreme sex and violence that's Noé's specialty. After notorious shockers I Stand Alone and Irréversible, Noé's rep is to combine innovative technique with mindblowing, and possibly mind-scarring, moments. Early reviews criticize it as overlong and containing of a few underwhelming performances, but quickly counter that by commending the film's bold visual and auditory scope, and all-encompassing experience to be welcomed alongside stoner classics such as 2001 and Fantasia.

Status: Can't Miss

Two teasers for the film here: Floating and Strobing. They're not for the easily disoriented, those prone to seizures or, god forbid, anyone who's sober.

Part Two soon.

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