Friday, November 27, 2009

Rumpelstiltskin and the ogre return for the last: 'Shrek Forever After'

SHOOT: This ought to be good.
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Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) in Shrek Forever After. Rumpelstiltskin returns for the final film after making brief pop-ups in Shrek 2 and 3.

The premise is the Brothers Grimm meetIt's a Wonderful Life: After rescuing a princess, getting hitched and fathering triplets, Shrek is feeling over-domesticated. "He has lost his roar," says director Mike Mitchell (Sky High, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo). "It used to send villagers running away in terror. Now they run to him and ask him to sign their pitchforks and torches."

To regain his ogre mojo, he strikes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, the wee troublemaker who popped up briefly in Shrek 2 and 3.

Shrek must confront what life would be like in Far Far Away if he had never existed. That translates into Donkey being forced into cart-pulling duty, fat and lazy Puss in Boots trading his sword for a pink bow and the underhanded Rumpelstiltskin ruling the kingdom.

So does Shrek Forever After wrap up with everyone living happily ever after? "I hate to give away the ending," Mitchell says, "but yes."

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Monday, November 23, 2009

"New Moon" opened to $274.9 million, the sixth-highest worldwide debut of all time

SHOOT: I think it's opening weekend, or opening night, was the biggest in history. Sorry but I'd prefer The Dark Knight to remain #1.
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Summit Entertainment underestimated the film's worldwide ticket sales by $16.1 million. The latest opening-weekend total is $274.9 million, but overseas box office figures are still trickling in.

Summit Entertainment's estimates of how many filmgoers outside North America saw "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" was low. Way low.
Its new opening weekend overseas total, $132.1 million, is $14 million, or 12%, higher than its estimate Sunday morning of $118.1 million. Combined with the newly updated domestic total of $142.8 million, which is $2.1 million higher than Summit's Sunday morning estimate, it turns out that "New Moon" opened to $274.9 million, the sixth-highest worldwide debut of all time.
Foreign countries where the movie opened big include Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Italy, Mexico, Russia and Spain.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

New Moon Review: "Jacob has secrets of his own that soon emerge, first in the form of some massive biceps. My, what big muscles you have, Bella tells him, nicely exposing her inner wolf"

SHOOT: Thought you might be interested in this NYT review.

Edward saves Bella, but soon decides to split town. Dead or alive, men can be brutes (authors too): he also tells her that she’s not good for him, leaving her bereft. This act of cruelty throws her into a long depression that the director Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass,” “About a Boy”), having taken the filmmaking reins from the sloppier if more energetic Catherine Hardwicke, tries to translate into cinematic terms, mostly by circling Bella with the camera as the months melt away. Ms. Stewart’s darkly brooding looks are convincing, but her lonely-girl blues soon grow wearisome, as does the spinning camera.
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The Twilight Saga:  New Moon

The big tease turns into the long goodbye in “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” the juiceless, near bloodless sequel about a teenage girl and the sparkly vampire she, like, totally loves. When last we saw Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her pretty dead guy, Edward (Robert Pattinson), in “Twilight” — the series hadn’t been saga-fied yet — the two had pledged their troth, a chaste commitment solidified during moody walks in the woods, some exhilarating treetop scrambling and a knockdown fight with a pack of vamping vampires.

The problem, already evident in the first movie, is that a vampire who doesn’t ravish young virgins or at least scarily nuzzle their flesh isn’t much of a vampire or much of an interesting character, which initially makes Edward’s abrupt and extended disappearance from the second film seem like a good idea. “New Moon” opens with a seemingly content Bella turning 18, a happy occasion that takes a frightening turn during a party at Edward’s house.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Movie Meat Reviews: Twilight New Moon

Bee stung lips, Bare chests and Broken promises – by Nick van der Leek

And blood from paper cuts of course. Brace yourself because the next installment of the 'Twilight' Saga is the same animal as the first, just deeper, darker, fiercer, and more grown-up. The attention to detail and faithfulness to the spirit of Stephenie Meyer’s stories was preserved - you'll be happy to hear - through the entire production process. And it's because you really do sense Meyer's quintessential depth-of-detail that fans will love ‘New Moon’. Compared to ‘Twilight’ there’s more action – lots more – more anguished depression and, phew, more excitement in ‘New Moon’, if that makes sense.

If it doesn’t, not to worry, there are plenty of bare naked male torsos onscreen for the girls. For the guys, well, two words: Kirsten Stewart. Sean Penn, who directed her in ‘Into The Wild’ says, “She is a real force with terrific instincts.” The kicker is we know now exactly what he means. In ‘New Moon’ she’s as soulful as ever, and that innocent but not too innocent sensuality is there for the taking, or so it seems. Bella’s booty is behind, once again, what the vampiric fussing and fighting is all about.

Females with a crush on Edward [Robert Pattinson] get teased in the beginning, but will be disappointed to hear that for vast chunks of this flick they have to go without Mr. Pale-and-Sensitive. The ladies are in for a treat though, because while Pattinson is on leave, a pack of wolves is running around. Personally I found the amount of screen time devoted to abs, biceps and bare chests quite amusing. More on that in a moment.

The Saga is a success, and so is this episode, because everyone involved understands how powerful and important subtlety is when mixed with vapid melodrama. It’s in the delicate details, the nuanced acting, the colors and hues, that ‘Twilight’ transforms into something special beyond what would otherwise be an insipid and almost nonsensical plot. Think about it: ordinary high school girl falls in love with a sensitive vegetarian vampire. In ‘New Moon’ we visit the more advanced complications in Bella’s plight with the Cullen vampires.

Director Chris Weitz [‘The Golden Compass’] delivers on every level: his color palette is immaculate, his werewolves credibly incredible [I loved the close-up fairy-tale quality of Bella shining in the wolf’s eye.] Even the music is both haunting and soothing. Rolling Stone describes the music on ‘New Moon’ as “living up to the story because it captures the day-to-day bleakness, along with the sexual obsessions seething under the surface.”

Director Weitz soars most of all by tapping into that most subtle of virtues, the essence of these sagas, which the balancing of that melodrama. There’s just enough melodrama to almost satisfy deep-seated teenage angst, just too little to keep bloodthirsty teenagers hungry for more. And if you’re older, prepare to have forgotten memories surface. If you’re one of those people who has seen the first installment over and over again, you’ll be pleased to hear that ‘New Moon’ also has those simple but exquisite touches mixed into deeply layered and darkly impenetrable plots. What are they thinking? Why do they make the decisions they make? Why must they resist? But then what could be simpler than a girl turning eighteen and saying this to her boyfriend:

Bella Swan: It's my birthday, can I ask for something? Kiss me.

‘New Moon’ is riveting because the cast are skilled and watchable. For the guys, besides Kirsten, there’s Edward’s sister Alice [the darkly delicious Ashley Greene] while ladies get to salivate over Jacob [hunky Taylor Lautner] who spends most of the film in a state of undress. Lautner has described the amount of passion surrounding Twilight as “not normal.” Of course, ‘New Moon’ offers plenty of new characters to feast hungry eyes upon.

While the vampires have gifts ranging from mind reading to reading the future, in ‘New Moon’ the focus falls on an entirely different place: a pack of hounds with a different set of gifts. They excel at brute force, at speed, and loyalty, and savagery, but they falter in that they are less sophisticated, less capable of reigning in their own passions. Love can be blind when you’re not trying to hold back on your desires. Even so, there is something puppy-like and grounded about the wolf pack – they’re warmer and easier to affiliate with than their cold and prudish, but elegant counterparts.

While vampires are chosen by design [their own one would imagine], the werewolves are chosen by fate. The werewolves are more children of nature, children of the forest than the lunar-skinned vampires, who somehow seem more terrifying, more abominable, despite their civilized exterior. So where do the werewolves come into it?

A gene is activated by the presence of vampires straying onto the ancient territories of a tribe known as the Quileute. These ancient people evolved as protection against vampires. The gene manifests in a particular group of young men [all Native Americans] when vampires begin to stray onto their lands, in violation of a treaty.

The gene has the rather nasty side-effect of creating an insatiable desire to have long locks cut off, but this is offset by being unable to resist tearing shirts off. The wolves in ‘New Moon’ are a combination of Native American peoples, including Sioux and Cree. Their presence, it must be said, adds an authentic animus quality to the series, a dimension that both deepens and broadens the mythology in a meaningful way.

The Battle on Facebook

On Facebook, two opposing groups have started, a Team Edward group, and a Team Jacob group. Author Stephenie Meyer says, “The whole Team Jacob/Team Edward thing is based on the type of boy that an individual is interested in. If I were for a team,” Meyer enthuses, “I’d probably be for Team Jacob. That’s more my style. If you believe you can develop a deep friendship and then all of a sudden fall in love later on, then you should be in Team Jacob.” What about Team Edward? “If you believe in love at first sight and seeing the mysterious man in the corner, then all right, join Team Edward.”

The overcast weather, stormy seas and dark forest settings feel consistently damp… and something else. The outdoors feels very real. The sea is a rough, heaving backdrop, so is the bruised, unsettled sky. Then there is Bella’s red truck, school, snaking wet roads, modern timber and glass houses, inner sanctums [also known as bedrooms], even the soil always feels rich and moist, like wet cake. None of that unreal, commercialized, postcard sunnyness lives here.

I believe the power in this saga is wrapped up in the many metaphors, both visual and contextual, that remain sensibly coherent, and as such, ring true. It’s compelling because it’s these symbols that stir something up inside most of us. Memories and longing, but mostly longing.

Bella Swan: The absence of him is everywhere I look. It is like a big hole has been punched through my chest.

The longing remains sharp, painful and dangerous throughout, and it is this perhaps more than anything else that resonates. Because in ‘New Moon’ the longing is haunting and especially beautiful.

Beyond the ordinary

People who only catch glimpses of this flick might wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, isn’t the ‘Twilight Saga’ interchangeable with any other series out there? Isn’t it just Smallville-goes-ghoulish or the rural teenage version of Desperate Housewives? ‘Twilight’, like many other dramas out there, accentuates the ordinary. But let’s face it, teenagers lives, even when they’re ordinary, don’t feel that way.

Think of the experience of teenage love and infatuation, the secret keeping, the awkward alliances, the unspoken loyalties, the addictions [blood in this case rather than heroin] the sometimes deadly experiments, the silliness, the shifts in status quo that are sometimes impossible to fathom even though their realness is never in dispute. We can all identify with the potency of those first feelings, which is why ‘Twilight’ is such a triumph. Teenage angst trumps what we’ll feel for the remainder of our lives.

Bella [Kristen Stewart in fine form] epitomizes in ‘New Moon’ an idealized teenage existence, even the longing is idealized. The ever-distant and inward-looking Edward appears to her in ‘New Moon’ as a protective ghost. He’s there even when he is absent. Bella’s vampire-lover admits, helplessly, that his very existence is because of her.

Edward Cullen: [to Bella] You're my only reason to stay... alive. If that's what I am.

A gay reviewer sitting a few seats from me crossed and uncrossed his legs each time male flesh appeared, so much so that eventually his seat in the cinema might have become a bicycle he was pedaling. Put it this way: I think I understand what girls must feel like watching movies filled with mostly naked women, where breasts are the fulcrum of attention. In ‘New Moon’, there are no boobs in sight, but plenty of knuckled abs shining in the rain. Do I hear cheering?

In the real world these guys would be suffering from hypothermia, and Edward would be arrested for being too cheesy, or at a minimum, labeled a laughable stalker, a lovesick loser, a pathetic poepol, because when you grow up you realize that anyone who thinks you are their entire universe really does have some growing up to do. You know this because once upon a time your entire universe laughed at you for being so naive and lost in your emotions.

But then Edward isn’t your average teenager in the ‘Twilight’ mythos. He’s allowed to be cheesy because he’s not helpless or weak, or even juvenile, but quite the opposite. He’d very old, and dangerously strong. Bella loves the combination of his incredible vulnerability towards her coupled with his strength. Bella’s great hold over him, and all the other vampires, is her mystery. They can’t read her mind, but despite the threat posed by their uncertainty of her thoughts, her mortal love for them,and Edward in particular, is obvious.

Edward Cullen: Happy birthday
Bella Swan: Don't annoy me.
Edward Cullen: Bella your birthday is definitely something to celebrate.
Bella Swan: But my age is not.

Many adult reviewers may finger ‘New Moon’s’ narcissism, but then it’s not a movie directed at adults. In the same way ‘Harry Potter’ has a specific audience in mind, and ‘Star Wars’ is meant to be a fairy tale, so too is the mythos of ‘New Moon’ meant to inspire not real love but idealized love.

Loving the Shakespeare way

Why else do we see an opening scene of Bella with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on her pillow? These idealizations remind us of the furious flame of passion and the intense icicles of hurt that are part and parcel of first experiences at intimacy. The vampire mythos does nothing to detract from the reality of those feelings. The more exotic settings, the forests, the wolves, the damsel, the castle, the kings on their thrones, the jousting; all these agents powerfully collaborate on a symbolic level to extract the very potions and poison that heat and chill our blood.

‘New Moon’ is perfectly paced, and wonderfully poised; it brushes large swathes of credible emotion interspersed with iris tickling fantasy scenes. Director Weitz’ inclusion of special effects is appropriately elegant; they seamlessly flow through the film tapestry like stars in moonbeams.

What I found strangely enjoyable was how, towards the final third of the flick, the audience, especially the ladies [who obviously appreciated the generous displays of abs] began to giggle and chortle. The sweeping promises begin to wear thin towards the end, as we must know they will. How can we promise to love someone forever when – as a teenager –tomorrow the world may be a completely different place?

I think it’s difficult not to appreciate that if you’re Bella, having entire clans warring over you, having search parties patrolling the forests at your service, well, all this has got to be quite flattering. It’s every little girls dream. And what’s wrong with retreating into your inner child once in a while? Well, mark these words, ‘New Moon’s’ ending is likely to remedy such childish notions.

Score: 8.5/10 [For teens and Twi-hards a solid 9]

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to shoot nudity and keep it sexy

SHOOT: Natalie Portman is a beautiful actress, and respected. How doyou shoot her in a nude scene and keep it both sexy and respectable. Watch the video [click on the link below] and you'll see how it's done. You have to have a mixture of tension and keeping your audience guessing. This technique allows your imagination to fill in the missing pieces.
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We reported earlier this month that Natalie Portman [photosNatalie Portman photos] appears nude in Wes Anderson's short film 'Hotel Chevalier'.
Well, the short film has finally been released to the public. It stars Jason Schartzman and Natalie Portman and was supposed to be shown as a prologue to 'The Darjeeling Limited' but Fox Searchlight didn't go ahead with the idea and it will likely only be shown at festival screenings, and be included on the DVD.
But in any case, the scene features Natalie Portman nude, with the actress baring her bottom in the much talked about scene, while strategically covering up the rest of her. It's been described as 'the sexiest thing that Wes Anderson has ever done' by UK publication 'Timeout London'.
Natalie Portman Nude Hotel Chevalier
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If (500) Days of Summer is not a date movie, then it is because of the risk of the date being dumped for the movie.

AO Scott: “(500) Days” finds just the right scale and tone, neither trivializing nor melodramatically overstating the delicate feelings it explores.

SHOOT: This look like a refreshingly worthwhile movie. I get to see a preview on Friday.
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(500) Days of Summer
The print advertisements qualify his words, describing this slight, charming and refreshingly candid little picture as “a story about love.” Which it is: a story about how love can be confusing, contingent and asymmetrical, and about how love can fail. Given all this, it’s somewhat remarkable that “(500) Days,” the feature directing debut of the music video auteur Marc Webb, is neither depressing nor French.
The governing commercial calculus these days seems to be that dudes want smut, ladies want weddings, and a picture (like “The Hangover,” say) that delivers both will make the audience happy and the studios rich.
Anatomy of a Scene: '(500) Days of Summer'
So a winsome, accessible movie about more-or-less recognizable young people navigating the murky waters of post-sexual-revolutionary, midrecessionary heterosexual attraction has a novelty and a measure of bravery working in its favor, whatever its shortcomings.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Movie Meat Reviews: The Stoning of Soraya M.

Need a good reason to hate Iranians? by Nick van der Leek

Feminists will love this film, so will politicians bent on invading Iran on the premise of more weapons of mass destruction. The weapons of mass destruction is an interesting metaphor, because in 'SORAYA', those with the most sin, cast the most stones.

The New York Times provides a brilliant summary of what this film is about. STEPHEN HOLDEN writes:

“The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.

On second thoughts if you've not watched a frame of this flick, that may not mean much to you. So here's a suggestion to get you into the ballpark. It's like an Iranian version of the crucifixion, and in this, Jesus is a woman, Soraya [sensitively portrayed by Mozhan Marnò]. The crucifixion - whether you think it's fiction or not - uses wood and nails. The 'SORAYA' story uses stones. For some reason the story transported me back to Gibson's PASSION OF THE CHRIST. The reason is unpleasant to dredge up, but I believe it is the troubling and absolute dehumanising of a human body by a community that these stories have in common. It's bloody and it is difficult to endure.

In a sense 'SORAYA' is an important film for South African audiences to see. One of its themes is male lust and misogyny, and while those terms may sound dull and politically loaded, the reality is that South Africa is rife with troubling levels of abuse against women, cover-ups, and stressed communities that are easily incited. Having said that, the film doesn't feel like a sermon in a church. It does that most vital public service which is that it reminds us what a community must be, and what we owe to each other to bring this about. And very simply, what we owe to one other is simply our honesty. And manners.

It's also importantto note that in Soraya almost all the men are wicked and controlling. STEPHEN HOLDEN again:

With the exception of the mayor (David Diaan), who has qualms about the execution, and Mr. Caviezel’s reporter, who appears only briefly at the beginning and end of the movie, the men are fiendishly villainous.

There are many stories out there about murder and death and dying, but few that give you a sense of the inescapable and painful inevitability of death. 'SORAYA' does that, and I noticed in the dark of the cinema, while I was watching, that other journalists and reviewers had their hands over their mouths. I did too. The actual stoning is particularly hard to watch. It is easy to like Soraya and to understand her frustration, her sense of helplessness and finally, her terrible but not self-pitying despair. It isn't sentimental, but it is realistic. It is difficult not to leave the cinema having borne witness to such an atrocity - based on true events - and have a sense of not wanting to add to the aches and pains that we have inflicted upon ourselves in this world.

'SORAYA' is a foreign film, with subtitles, and a foreign cast. There is a little English in the flick, thanks to the performance by an almost unrecognisable James Caviezel as Freidoune Sahebjam, a French-Iranian journalist. The Iranian scenes are a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood fare. Cyrus Nowrasteh the director has bases his story in the rocky, mournfully beautiful rural town setting of Kupayeh, in southwestern Iran. The actual filming is elsewhere, an unidentified location. While the actual event occurred in August 1986, stonings continue today, sanctioned by Islamic law.

The violence in 'SORAYA' is extreme, and people who generally enjoy gore are unlikely to enjoy this. The two sons of Soraya show the poignant change from theoretical violence as the reality of the process of what and who is involved in taking someones life. The corrupt relationship between the prison guard [Soraya's controlling husband] and the former prisoner, now mullah [an Iranian clergyman or priest, essentially a local leader of the community] is enlightening. It demonstrates to what extent power and religion can be used to manipulate simple people. For me, the most disturbing scene was the children collecting rocks for the stoning. Like murder, or killing, is a children's game in Iran. The town having a party after such blood-curdling activities asks us to probe our own conventions wherever we live.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Mr. Caviezel played Jesus in Passion of the Christ, since both stories evoke in such detail, the unspoken horrors of the human condition. Is it helpful to have this film come out in 2009? I wouldn't be surprised if this film stirs up powerful resentments against Islam, and Iran. Whether these resentments are deserved is a different question entirely. Because the shining star in this story, the Mary Magdalene, is the powerful performance of Zahra[Shohreh Aghdashloo]. It is in her that we see signs of hope and meaning for the human condition, and any chance of redemption.

Let us hope that people like her are the future of Iran, and that in our communities, there are enough Zahra's to maintain the white wedding gown fabric of honest cohesion, compassion and ultimately, common sense and common decency.

'The Stoning of Soraya M.' is a new release to the national cinema circuit in South Africa.

Score: 8/10
Running Time: 116 min