Dear Marvel studios…

Dear Marvel studios, bravo on Winter Soldier! What an incredible film!!! However, please realize that 3D has never helped your films, it has only ever hurt them. It is a bad habit and even though you use it with, I’m sure, only the best intentions, it has enhanced my enjoyment of your movies exactly never.
I remain a huge fan of your studio, its boundless creativity and increasingly fearless genre-hopping tendencies.
Your pal and your fan,

Simon Panneton

Movies of 2013

I won’t do a top ten movies of the year this year because a) my opinions are meaningless and b) I just missed too many movies. Here are movies I have not seen that look amazing :

  • Blue is the warmest color
  • Her
  • The wolf of Wallstreet
  • Captain Philips
  • Upstream colors
  • 12 years a slave
  • Blue Jasmine
  • Before Midnight
  • Stories we tell
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • The Grandmaster
  • American Hustle
  • Snowpiercer
  • All is lost
  • To the wonder
  • The act of killing
  • Spring breakers
  • Only God forgives
  • Frozen
  • Charlie Countryman
  • Nebraska
  • The punk singer
  • A.C.O.D.
  • Rush
  • Don Jon
  • The spectacular now
  • In a world…
  • Ain’t them bodies saints
  • Short term 12
  • I declare war
  • Fruitvale Station
  • Sightseers
  • Stoker
  • Mama
  • John dies at the end

That is a lot of movies. What kind of an asshole would I be to make a top ten list when my movie-watching year has so many holes in it? I would not be a good kind of an asshole, I’ll tell you that.

Anyways, I did see some movies this year, and I did love some unabashedly. I’ll share five of those titles with you. This is not a top movies of the year, clearly, just movies I really loved for one reason or another.

Gravity is maybe my favorite movie-going experience this year. It is riveting. Me and my friends walked out after the end credits and we were on clouds, talking about everything we loved about it. I don’t care that it doesn’t get all the science right, I care that it gets just enough right to make me believe in the whole thing. On a technical level it is perfect. The acting is flawless. The script is perfectly paced. Movie magic is alive and well and beats into the heart of this movie with every pulse.

Edgar Wright might be the director I am most in tune with in terms of what I love seeing in movies. This is his third collaboration with Simon Pegg (they co-wrote this, as well as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both modern classics in my opinion) and it’s possibly their best movie together. The film is funny, perfectly paced and packs an emotional punch that their other collaboration did not (at least not as much). It’s a movie written by guys who have matured since their previous efforts. Also, it has the best bar brawl ever commited to celluloid. Oh, and Simon Pegg has never been better (and that guy is always good). Like all their movies, this is one that will survive multiple viewings easily.

I like my horror movies fun. You’re Next is just that. It’s clever, violent, funny, surprising, has a killer music score and has a fucking great female protagonist. I saw this at the Fantasia Film Festival and the crowd cheered multiple times during the great screening. It succeeds in every way.

Guillermo Del Toro made a hopeful, cynicism-free, balls-to-the-wall sci-fy actioneer that delivers on it’s promise. The promise? Giant monsters fighting giant robots. The point was never to make a deep, layered movie about the human condition. It’s robots and monsters having it out. It’s fucking perfect. The effects are jaw-dropping, the cinematography is gorgeous, the scale is awe-inspiring. This is a movie for the ten year old in you. Be a kid again, allow yourself to bask at the victorious glory that is Pacific Rim.

After the awful Iron-Man 2 I was ready to hate Tony Stark, but then Joss Whedon did a thing in The Avengers where he made the guy likeable again . Then Marvel did a thing where they hired Shane Black to (co) write and direct Iron-Man 3 and there I was, back on board the Stark train. It’s a good thing, too, because Iron-Man 3 is the best movie in the series. It’s funny, has amazing action sequences, hilarious dialogue, and great closure for the Tony Stark character. If this was the last Iron-Man movie ever (doubtful) that would be more than fine. As far as superhero movies go, this was the best of the year and a great example of how not every fucking superhero movie needs to be dark and brooding and moody and blue (so, to look like a Christopher Nolan film) (in fact, the fewer the better).

 

Speed racer

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I’m writing about Speed Racer, five years after its initial release, because one of my favorite guy-who-writes-about-movies (filmcritHulk) did it too earlier this week (read his piece over at badass digest) and it seemed like a good idea. I haven’t written about movies in a long time so I decided what the hell. Also: not nearly enough has been written about Speed Racer.

I saw Speed Racer opening weekend back in 2008. I was very excited about the movie even though I don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire episode of the cartoons. This was a Wachowski movie and as such it was an event. I’m a huge fan of theirs. They are filmmakers with guts. You can spit all you want on the Matrix sequels (I like them both a lot) but they are very courageous movies that make bold choices. Anyways, that’s another discussion. As soon as the trailers for Speed Racer were released I just lost it. I thought it looked AMAZING. I was sad that people weren’t talking about it more. Look at that shot above. It’s the anti-Matrix. Colourful, vibrant, playful. That shot was in the second trailer. It’s one of a dozen crammed into that minute and a half that promised an experience unlike any other that Summer.

So, opening weekend, I dragged a few friends and my sister to the movie theater. I could hardly contain my anticipation. The lights dimmed and the trailers came and went and soon enough the logos appeared. The logos. Holy shit. What have they done to the logos????!!!! The Warner Bros, Village Roadshow and Silver Pictures logos were all drenched in gloriously psychedelic, kaleidoscopic animation. It was beautiful and ballsy and it made a promise. Right there in the first seconds, literally, or the movie it made you a promise about what was to come. Buckle up.

The first twenty minutes of the movie set up the universe, the rules of this world and the - sometimes tragic - history of the Racer familly. It is perfect storytelling. We travel to and fro in time (sometimes without the camera even cutting), there is action and romance and drama and comedy, all overlapping and supported by Michael Giacchino’s truly fantastic score. In the openning of their movie, the Wachowski threw the gauntlet at every other movie coming in that Summer; Beat that. (btw: no one did).

Here is what happens every Summer (disclaimer: I LOVE Summer tentpoles. I love superhero movies and bigger than life movies. I love awe. Summer movies try to give me awe and whether they succeed or not, I love them for trying). Every Summer I am told “In our movie, you are going to see something you’ve never seen before!” And everytime they are, technically, right. The explosion is bigger than the last time. The superhero jumps higher, punches harder. The hero fight more adversaries. The car chase is longer and more stuff gets destroyed. An entire city is levelled, instead of just a neighborehood. 

That’s fine. Cool. Thanks for the effort. 

Then here comes Speed Racer. The movie shows me things that not only have I never seen, but things I have never even imagined. Seriously, I can imagine a lot. What the Wachowskis lovingly refer to as Car-Fu, where the cars are literally fighting eachother on the race tracks, is so visceral and imaginative it’s just beyond me. The way they play with light traces (the lines that lights leave behind when you take a picture with long exposure), the innovative cutting techniques they use, the way the lanscapes morph like waves in the background as the cars speed ever forward (see the desert race scene). In terms of filmmaking that movie was next level in 2008 and it’s still next level today.

And it could be just that: dazzling eye candy (I don’t think the term “eye candy” has ever been more on point than when describing the visuals of Speed Racer). But it isn’t.

Speed Racer is devoid of cynicism. It is an optimistic, loving, pure-hearted movie. In the age of Dark Knight gloom and Man Of Steel angst, it is unbelievably refreshing. It’s characters are not multi-dimentional and that’s okay. They are archetypes. They have very defined roles to play in the story and they don’t deviate from those roles. This is not a short-coming, it’s a prowess. It’s something to be admired. Clear simplicity is much harder to achieve than you might think. Deep and multi-arched characters can be great, but you don’t want Han Solo to have an extensial crisis or else the machine breaks down and your Starwars movie stops working. Han Solo is an archetype and that’s why he works so well (just like Luke, Lea, Yoda…)  

The entrie movie is a love letter to the importance of the familly unit. And not just blood relatives. Trixie and and Sparky are not related to the Racer familly but they are very much a part of it. The movie asks to what lengths you would go in order to protect your familly, and some of the characters go very far (or fast - zing!) indeed. 

In essence: it’s a very beautiful movie. It’s silly, funny, at times a little broad (monkey poo!), has ninjas and vikings and pinguins and wrestling and there is a law-inforcement character named Inspector Detector (that is the best name ever) and yet at the end of the day it manages to be heart-breakingly earnest. 

I’ll do you one more: it has the most moving, gorgeous, tear-inducing action set-piece ever put to film. The last half of the balls-to-the-wall final race sequence of the movie never fails to make me tear up. It does everything right. It is stunning. Visually, emotionally, viscerally. It gives me the best gift that a movie can: awe. Lots and lots of awe.

It’s about time people discovered the insanity/joy/magic of the Wachowski’s SPEED RACER. Get to it.

(And next Summer let’s all get together and go see the Wachowski’s next scifi epic: Jupiter Ascending) (WOOOHOOO!)

This friday is the best movie day of the year

Did you know?

It is, it’s unbelievable. This Friday sees a celebration of all the great things that cinema can do, so I’m going to briefly guide you through it. Click in the film title to see a trailer.

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We have a beautiful little drama in the shape of Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 coming out. This is one I have not seen yet but word from SXSW was extremely positive and I will definitely see it.

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We have Edgar Wright’s The world’s end for a good dose of comedy and sci-fi fisticuffs. everybody is raving about this one and, having seen it, I can say it deserves every praise.

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We have a fantastic horror movie, too: Adam Wingard’s You’re next. This movie is an absolute blast. No horror fan should miss it.

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Finally, how about a kick-ass, beautifully shot kung-fu film from master-filmmaker Wong Kar Wai? The Grandmaster comes out on limited release this Friday as well. I haven’t seen it so I can’t vouch for it, but it looks gorgeous and super bad ass.

August 23rd 2013: The best movie day of the year.

This fills me with awe. What a lovely montage…

Enjoy!

Here is a fantastic trailer for Edgar Wright’s THE WORLD’S END. Personally I don’t need to see anything else in terms of trailers, just the whole damn thing please.

Michale Mohan’s SAVE THE DATE looks utterly lovely and is available today at the iTune store and various other On Demand outlets. It’ll be in theaters later this year. I’ll be watching it tonight. Please do things right and don’t download this small independent film illegally, because you’re not a complete douchebag.

The trailer for Wong Kar Wai’s five years in the making kung fu epic The Grandmasters delivers on it’s promise. This looks great!

Fascinating interview by David Poland with the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. It’s so great to hear those guys open up about their work. There is a segment where Lana Wachowski (incredibly articulate and intelligent woman) talks about, for her, the meaning behind the Matrix movies, and it’s really great to hear her perspective on them. A great watch!

Cloud Atlas

I don’t know where to start. 

It is funny that, earlier this week, I saw Leos Carax’s brilliant HOLY MOTORS and tonight I have seen Cloud Atlas. They are both movies that refuse to adhere to the conventions of classic film narrative. And yet, in there own way, they are linear. I did not find it hard at all to follow Holy Motors, only fascinating, and I can say the same about Cloud Atlas. Now I should stop drawing parallels between the two movies because in all truths they are very different, and I have covered Holy Motors a little right HERE, so let’s shine the spotlight on Cloud Atlas, shall we?

I don’t know where to start.

Cloud Atlas is magnificent. It’s a symphony. It’s a spralling, thrilling, intimate, funny, harrowing epic about the beauty, bravery and consequences of the choices we make. And it is epic. The scope here is almost limitless. The movie tells six disparate stories, each belonging to a different time period, some past, some present and some future. All the stories are good. They differ in tone and that could have created a mess of a movie but it does not. The cuts from one story to another are calculated. This movie is a marvel of editing, in fact. The movie flows beautifully, cutting from hundreds of years into the future to a conspiracy mystery in the 70s without betraying either storyline’s scenes and how they are meant to resonate with the audience. The crowd I saw this with laughed at all the right moments (some parts of this movie are incredibly funny) and remained silently enthralled exactly when they were meant to. The movie clocks in at about 2hours and 40mins, I was not bored for one minute of it.

The actors are all having a field day here. Each are playing multiple roles, sometimes villains, sometimes heroes, sometimes females, sometimes males, sometimes black, sometimes white. It is a brilliant device just in terms of tying the stories together but it’s also a fabulous opportunity to see some great actors really strech their wings. Jim Broadbent is astonishing in this movie, and Tom Hanks has not felt this relevent since Saving Private Ryan (not that he hasn’t been good since, but this is different, this showcases everything this guy can do, which is a lot). Halle Berry, who has not had much luck with some of the projects she’s attached herself to over the years, shines here. She has no problems holding her own with Mr Hanks. I could list all the actors and sing their virtues but really, there isn’t a sour note in the bunch and one of the great joys of this movie is that you get so much bang for your buck if your a fan of any one of them (Hugo Weaving as a mean nurse is worth the price of admission, trust me).

The movie is directed by a trio of talented directors. Andy and Lana Wachowski, who brought us Bound, the Matrix trilogy, and 2008’s amazing and criminally underrated Speed Racer, and Tom Tykwer, who gave us the now-cult Run Lola Run, the beautiful Heaven, the somehow hated by some but loved by me Perfume as well as many others. I am less familiar with Tykwer than I am the Wachowskis, whom I absolutely love. They are risk takers and have without a doubt some of the most original voices in Hollywood right now. No one takes chances like these two. The first twenty minutes of Speed Racer are a masterful feat of storytelling. There are very few truly artistic voices who have managed to work within the studio system, which is a true shame, but there they are, pushing and pushing to take the artform to places it’s never been. And Cloud Atlas, while not as showy as The Matrix movies or Speed Racer, sees the directors (I’m including Tykwer here) allowing the possibilities of narrative story-telling to stretch and take us to such fresh territories it’s invigorating. Six stories, interwoven on a huge canvas like a kaleidoscopic tapestry, and yet it’s cohesive, it makes sense, and it never sacrifices tone or emation for the sake of a good editing choice or a clever transition.

People bemoan the state of cinema these days, what with all the sequels and remakes and television show adaptations and videogame movies. People say there are no original movies anymore. This, in a year where we got The Cabin in the woods, The Raid, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the southern wild, Looper, Holy Motors and now Cloud Atlas.

The great movies are out there, passionate artists with exciting visions are working hard to make them, and all that is required of us, our only duty as film lovers, is to see these works of art. That’s it. If you want more good movies, all you have to do is see good movies. How great is that? Just let the money people know that you like it when visionaries are taking the wheel and doing something new. 

Go see Cloud Atlas this weekend. There are a hundred reasons to see this movie and I would list them all for you, but I don’t know where to start. 

Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN is about men, in rooms, talking. It has, seemingly, every good actor ever, and one of the greatest american directors alive today, one of the best composers in the business, a cinematographer at the top of his game, and a fantastic script. And it’s about men in rooms talking.

I didn’T repeat that last bit to discourage you from seeing the movie. I loved the movie. It has one great dialogue scene followed by another, for two hours. And what’s more, the stakes are high. These dialogues matter. Great men are talking, and their words will shape history. It’s riveting.

It’s also a beautifully shot movie. Janusz Kaminski has been Spielberg’s director of photography for well over a decade now, and I understand with the beard refuses to let him go. Since there was not much in the way of artificial lighting in 1865, Kaminski uses natural light whenever he can and what results is often absolutely beautiful. 

Spielberg is all subtlety in his camera work here. It just flows with the dialogues, pushing in slightly when needed, panning softly accross a room to find a specific reaction, often just standing almost still, almost, like a child listening to every word of a wonderful story.

John William’s score is also very subdued. If a lonely piano echoing a few perfect notes to accentuate a moment is all that is needed, this is what Williams will go for. No imperial march to be found here.

All of this in the service of the words. Words given to today’s most capable actors. There isn’t a sour note in the bunch, of course, and it would take days to list all the great performances, but I have to mention that, as expected, Daniel Day Lewis makes an astonishing Lincoln. From his posture to his frail yet powerful voice, to his conviction and his incredible charm, to his weariness, this is another performance for the books by this incredible performer. And wouldn’t you know it, Tommy Lee Jones shows up and steals every scene he’s in. He is fantastic and his character (Thaddeus Stevens) is so well written I found myself eagerly anticipating when he would show up next, and giddy whenever he did.

LINCOLN is a long movie, but it kept me engaged and I found pleasure in every scene, just spying on these great men trying their damndest to change their nation for the better, while lesser, but no less capable men try their damndest to stop them. It makes for great cinema.

Absolutely lovely deleted scene from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. I love the character of Steve Rogers (Captain America) so it’s really nice to see this.

Embed courtesy of Latinoreview.

Here is a trailer for Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

It looks fucking great.