Everyone’s a Critic

Olympus Has Fallen Poster - Gerard Butler

Portions of this post were originally included HERE

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this blog (and in several others elsewhere**), I’ve been following the progress ofAntoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen since March of 2012 when Millennium acquired the rights to the screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt and Gerard Butler signed on to star.  While it was briefly retitled White House Taken, it was always described as “’Die Hard in the White House’ that follows a down-on-his-luck ex-Secret Service (Butler) agent who becomes America’s only hope when 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is taken over by terrorists”.

That tag brought with it immediate recognition for most movie-goers, as well as some derision from quite a few who write about film.  Having just seen it, I can not only say the comparison was apt, but that it seems everyone else who’s actually seen it thus far would agree.  (What’s the Scottish equivalent of “Yippee Ki-yay Motherfucker”?)

Olympus Has Fallen seems to have decided that the best way to get the word out about their film and how good it is, is to actually show it to people. Not to critics or press necessarily, but to people interested in seeing movies for their own sake;  members of the ticket-buying public.  THIS, in my humble opinion, is the way it should be done – take it to the people and avoid self-important “critics” or at least side step them.

Last Wednesday night (3/13/13), as I waited in line for one such screening here in Boston, I passed the time talking to a couple of guys who had never been to a screening before, but Fandango had been offering passes and the movie looked “kind of cool. Plus it was free”.  Once inside the auditorium, we parted ways (because I like to sit in front), but after it was over, they waited for me outside.   Since I like to stay for the credits (not only does one learn a lot by doing it, I think we owe it to the hundreds of talented people it takes to make a movie, most of whom go “unsung”. But I’ve said all this before. And as usual, I digress.),  one of them even snagged me a souvenir, the official “Olympus Has Fallen” lapel pin, that they were handing out that I would otherwise have missed. They were both SO excited about the movie, they wanted to talk about it with me, but best of all, they planned to not only tell their friends about it, but wanted to come back with them and see it again. This is exactly what a screening is designed to do.

While the idea of free screenings is not a new one, Millennium Films, Film District and the producers of Olympus Has Fallen (Fuqua and Butler among them) are taking the game to the next level. Through the use of social media like Twitter and Facebook, coupled with the screenings, they are currently riding a wave of tremendous (and tremendously positive) buzz. What’s more they’ve done it in about six weeks. I know I lamented the lack of PR for Olympus Has Fallen when the first images from that other, similarly themed movie, White House Down, were released way back in November of last year. Despite the fact that a new, earlier release date was announced in December, the first trailer for Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t released until mid-January. Since then, however,  there has been a steady stream of posters, clips, and images leading up to a flurry of interviews, appearances, pre-press and a LOT of nationwide screenings.

To my knowledge there haven’t been any press screenings yet. The PR team is using social media to publicize the screenings and advertise the feedback ahead of giving the film to the usual outlets or websites. That’s not to say they don’t want favorable press or that write-ups by well-established reviewers won’t appear. They are, after all, also utilizing tv spots and releasing clips to some of those websites and the director and his cast have been hitting the press junket hard, including countless interviews. My point is that even if critics trash the movie or the press pans it, it won’t matter. The buzz is already too strong, word-of-mouth too favorable. With less than a week to go before general release here in the US, it would seem they’ve effectively neutralized any possible negativity. That’s probably a rosy-hued opinion, but this could become a new model for movie marketing.

Of course, this does all hinge on having a quality product to begin with and it is because the producers of Olympus Has Fallen believe so strongly in their film that they could go this route successfully.

According to the New York Times, when the special Cinema Society screening ended on Monday night (3/11/13) in New York “and the credits rolled, the audience cheered. ‘Wow,’ said Harvey Weinstein as he shook Mr. Butler’s hand with gusto; in the lobby, he accosted Antoine Fuqua, the director. ‘You’ll do a hundred-million-plus,’ he told him (box-office-speak for big).”  Have I mentioned this one has industry buzz as well? So not only did Harvey attend the screening of a movie he had nothing to do with, but he predicted it would be huge. HUGE!  (In Harvey we trust.)

Congrats G (and the rest of the producers)…oh, and suck it Ryan Kavanagh.

Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen features an all-star cast including Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Radha Mitchell, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser and Ashley Judd. It opens in the US on March 22 and in the UK on 17th April.

** Including the sadly defunct INeedMyFix.com
** Including the sadly defunct INeedMyFix.com

Olympus Has Fallen is One Wild Ride!

Olympus Has Fallen poster

Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is probably the wildest ride you’ll take since the last time you rode Space Mountain, the Cyclone or even Kingda Ka*.  Watching this action adventure is the equivalent of a turn on one of the world’s scariest roller coasters with a release of adrenaline and dopamine that makes us feel frightened, shocked,  giddy and intensely alive.  Whenever I get off a rollercoaster, I want to get right back on. I felt the same way after I saw this movie.

Gerard Butler stars, in what has been described as “Die Hard in the White House”. It follows a down-on-his-luck ex-Secret Service (Butler) agent who becomes America’s only hope when 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is taken over by terrorists.

When the White House (Secret Service Code: “Olympus”) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President and avert an even bigger crisis.

There have been a lot of screenings across the country in the past few weeks, building excitement for this this film. It’s practically a hit already and it hasn’t even opened yet. So just what can you expect when you finally get a chance to see it? We’ve all heard the term “edge-of-your-seat” thriller. If you’ve never actually been on the edge of your seat while watching a movie and thought that was just so much hyperbole, that is exactly the place from which you will watch most of this movie.

If you’ve seen a trailer or clip, you know that the relative calm with which the movie opens, a picture of a happy family that just happens to include the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart), won’t last. It’s like the clickety-clacking of that rollercoaster slowly making its way up to the first peak and then BAM!  We get a brief respite while we and the characters on screen recover. When the action starts again, it really starts and seldom lets up for the next hour and a half.

Director Antoine Fuqua’s pacing and the talented cast keep us from looking too closely for the zippers up the backs of the monsters. The plot moves so fast and the actors sell it so well, that we don’t have time to look for holes. (And I’m not saying I saw any, but when you’re biting your nails and dodging bullets you don’t have a moment to think about whether or not  “that would really happen”.)

Olympus Has Fallen Washington Monument

If you think the sight of the Washington monument moments after a plane hits it looks familiar, it’s supposed to. It evokes one of the defining moments of our country’s recent history for a reason. It’s designed to deliberately stir our patriotism precisely so that when the shooting stops, you understand the journey that the people who inhabit the United States on screen under President Asher (Aaron Eckhart, looking extremely Presidential I may add),  have just taken.  It neatly sidesteps jingoism by giving the bad guy (Rick Yune as Kang) a cause, but does not delve too deeply into his back story except to let us know that however just that cause may or may not be and how cool, calculated and brilliant he may appear, he took the train to Crazy Town long ago.

It avoids predictability by resolving one subplot in particular quickly, without dragging it out into cliché and also by not treating the hostages as “damsels-in-distress” waiting to be saved, but as tough patriots determined to go down swinging if that is their fate. Again, I have to stress the brilliant casting.

Without an actress of Oscar winner Melissa Leo’s caliber, we might not buy a female Secretary of Defense or what she undergoes in that bunker. The same could be said of Angela Bassett’s Director of the Secret Service. Her part was originally written for a man, since there has never been a female director. She is completely plausible and despite the fact that we never learn a single thing about her background, with Bassett’s performance we can understand how tough Lynn Jacobs would have to be to even be considered for the job.

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler

Can we talk about Gerard Butler now? I think readers of this blog know that I’m kinda partial and I’m not one who sees anything wrong with the fact that he mixes genres and continues to try new things, but if he was going to return to action/adventure, this was the movie to do it with.  Butler is more than credible as Agent Mike Banning, the head of the President’s protection detail, mentor and guardian of the President’s son, as well as Agent-in-Exile Mike Banning, with visible, barely contained anxiety stemming from his role in the death of the First Lady and the desire to get back “in”. G does “damaged hero” very well and this movie lets him play to those strengths. We absolutely buy him as an ex-special forces commando able to thin the enemy’s numbers single-handedly. We especially buy his banter. The many one-liners he gets off are hilarious and speak volumes about the man and how he handles himself under pressure. Credit the writers, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, as well as Butler.

Do I even have to tell you that Morgan Freeman was completely believable as the Speaker of the House who becomes the Acting President? We’ve seen him in charge before and we always believe him. In fact, there are factions in this country who think he’s so good at acting like the president that they think he should run for the real job. (Mr. Freeman, I’ve read, takes that as a compliment to his abilities, but has no plans to run.) Freeman’s very casting is almost a spoiler.  How could everything not turn out okay on his watch?

Speaking of spoilers, I’m trying not to divulge anything that is best left for viewing, for instance there are more than a few of those one liners of Banning’s that I’d love to quote, but I will refrain. (In some ways I think there have been too many clips of the film released. I will say this, it’s all about context.) I can tell you that the fight scenes you may have seen, as well as the battles and carnage, are but the tip of the iceberg. I am serious when I tell you this movie doesn’t let up until the last two minutes of screen time. I can also tell you that the audience I saw the movie with laughed, whooped and gasped at appropriate times and then erupted into cheers and applause when the bad guy finally bought it.

There will be people for whom this movie will be too much. Too much noise, too much blood, too much suspended disbelief, just too much. (For me there was a little too much kettle drum in the score.) This is a hard-R action movie. Lots of shit gets blowed up and the F-word is carpet bombed.  It won’t please everyone, nor should it. Those that like this sort of thing will love it. My first response to a friend after I saw the movie? “However good you THINK Olympus Has Fallen will be-multiply that by 10”.

The only nit I’ll pick was that I think there was probably originally more to Mike Banning’s relationship with his wife that didn’t make the final cut. Radha Mitchell is very good in her limited screen time and both she and Butler do convey a sense of the state of their relationship with very little, but I do believe we were denied a love scene. Just puttin’ that out there.

Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell, opens in the US on March 22 and 17th April in the UK.

So are you in or are you out? Have you already seen it? What did you think? Leave me a comment and we can discuss.

*The tallest coaster in the World, fastest in North America. 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds and catapulting you 45 stories into the sky.  Not for love nor money.

Dead Man Down Has a Lot of Life In It

 photo 4fab9c30-5246-4b0a-80e3-c3ffbd04cb90.jpg

Dead Man Down is a thriller slash action flick having a romance with an art-house film. I keep reading other reviewers who seem to be turning up their noses as if that’s a bad thing, but in truth, the idea that those elements are incompatible is a very American thing. Like Park Chan-wook (Stoker), another acclaimed international director who also just made his English language debut, director Niels Arden Oplev, is not American. Unlike Park, Oplev isn’t Korean either. He’s European. The Europeans are much more comfortable with the blurring of genre lines. (Case in point, Italian director Gabriele Muccino’s Playing for Keeps which had elements of romantic comedy, farce and melodrama. You either had a taste for the olio or you didn’t. Most American journalists clearly didn’t.)

I started following the progress of Dead Man Down in the spring of 2012 when filming began in Philadelphia (standing in for New York). Every pic from the set gave the impression that Oplev and company, which includes stars Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper and Isabelle Hupert, were crafting as cool a thriller as you’d expect from the director of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Check out the red-band trailer:

Film District’s official synopsis:

Following the cinematic phenomenon “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” acclaimed filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev and brooding beauty Noomi Rapace reunite for another thrilling tale of vengeance. Colin Farrell joins the prestigious team as brave enforcer Victor, right hand man to an underground crime lord in New York City. He seeks to avenge the death of his wife and daughter caused by his boss. When his employer is threatened by a mysterious killer, Victor also becomes detective. Victor is seduced and blackmailed by Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a victim turned avenger whose intense chemistry leads them spiraling into payback delivered in violent catharsis. From producer Neal Moritz (The Fast and the Furious franchise, I Am Legend) and Joel Wyman (Fringe, Keen Eddie) comes a triumphant action thriller, a powerful portrait of the relationship between two people caught in the crosshairs of revenge.

Film District picked up US distribution rights in Cannes last May. What surprised me when I saw the final result, however, was the WWE Studios logo. My first thought was “does that really have something to do with wrestling?” The answer is yes. WWE means World Wrestling Entertainment and they’ve been producing films since 2002. I just never noticed. Given the sort of entertainment that WWE is famous for, one would expect the name to be attached to a macho, action-heavy flick. What is surprising to me is that the WWE sensibility somehow melds cohesively with the human interest drama Oplev was aiming for, giving us a satisfying and well-rounded revenge thriller.

And revenge is the common goal of the couple at the center of the film. Victor (Farrell) is out to avenge the senseless deaths of his wife and daughter, while Beatrice (Rapace) wants the drunk driver, who caused the accident which left her face permanently disfigured, to pay. Victor has managed to not only worm his way into the mob responsible for his wife and child’s deaths, but has gotten close to the man in charge, Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). When the film opens, Hoyt has been receiving death threats, along with clues as to the sender’s identity, for months.

Beatrice and Victor are neighbors, both living on opposite sides of a New York City high-rise. We meet Beatrice as she stands on her balcony and waves at Victor on his. We don’t immediately see her scars and neither does he. What we see is the question running through his mind that is later voiced by Beatrice, “Who is she and how much does she know about me?”

If you’ve seen a tv spot or a clip for this movie then you know that what initially draws these two together is the answer to that question. She’s seen a lot and she wants to use it to her advantage. She wants Victor to kill the drunk driver for her.

While we may understand Victor’s reasoning for his actions and his thirst for revenge, and we may understand Beatrice’s as well, we know that the more he comes to care for her, the more he will try to save her from herself. At one point he asks her, “Do you know what it’s like to kill a man?” Of course she doesn’t, and he doesn’t want her to ever know.

The relationship between Beatrice and Victor is the heart of the story – in a movie full of surprises, this is something that is unexpectedly moving and complex. They are both deeply damaged characters who each see the other  as a way of repairing what’s broken, but they go about things in the most dangerous and turbulent ways possible.

Colin Farrell, another enormously talented actor whose career has always seemed to be overshadowed by his chaotic personal life, seems to have finally gotten his shit together.  His performance here is on a par with In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, two of my favorite films of the last few years. It’s subtle. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. We learn most of what he’s thinking and feeling by watching his face.  We see how damaged and tormented he is by looking at his eyes.

If Victor’s pain is internal, Beatrice carries hers on the outside. It’s a mistake to think that because she does not attempt to hide her scars that she is accepting of them, that they have not left her psyche as mutilated as her face.  She dresses provocatively, tying her shirts in knots to bare her midriff, wearing enormously high heels, in an effort to call attention to her body and away from her face, despite the fact that she “appears” to accept the scars, by tucking her hair behind her ears, by paying careful attention to her makeup, etc. But it’s with a “fake it til you make it” attitude, not genuine acceptance.

There’s a realization that happens between Victor and Beatrice that no matter what they want, and how many people they kill, there will still be a part of them both that is scarred. While Victor’s scars might be invisible, it’s the acceptance of those scars that will truly bring them peace.

Terrence Howard is an appropriately slimy villain and Dominic Cooper is very good at what amounts to be a sort of mild comic relief. The action sequences are thrilling and skillfully crafted. The final set piece begins with an act so outrageous and unexpected that the audience I saw it with gave out a collective, “Whoa!” But it is the chemistry between Rapace and Farrell that drives the movie. I think that it’s another that may suffer poor box office because it doesn’t fit into a neat little box. If it were not an American made film, if it were a foreign film directed by Oplev or even someone like Daniel Espinosa, I think the blend of romance, revenge and action might find an art house niche. But trying to sell it as straight action is a mistake.

Having said that, before the screening I saw started, I was worried that I was in for a lot of talking back to the screen, as it had been sponsored in part by an “urban” radio station, but the audience was rapt and there was even a smattering of applause at the end. Go figure.

TGIF! Thank GRIMM It’s Friday!

Sasha Roiz, David Giuntoli in Grimm

As I’ve said before, I don’t write a lot about television. But sometimes I just have to! A show you should be watching, but probably aren’t is NBC’s ‘fairy tales for the new millennium,’ “Grimm” which returns with episode, 2×13,  ‘Face-Off,’ tonight, Friday, March 8 at 9pm. It’s an episode that’s been a season and a half in the making! (“I’m so excited…” Sorry, I have that song in my head for some reason.) Here’s a preview of the hoped for showdown between Nick (David Giuntoli) and  his boss, Capt. Renard (Sasha Roiz). Who is some sort of Wesen royalty, it’s still not exactly clear. He’s also hitting on Nick’s girl because they’ve both been cursed.

Oh how I’ve missed this show! I need me some Monroemance (Monroe and Rosalee) and some Monroe-Bromance (Monroe and Nick). Silas Weir Mitchell rocks!

NBC’s “Grimm” revolves around Portland Homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt who, in the first episode got quite a surprise when his cancer stricken aunt Marie (Kate Burton) arrived at his home unexpectedly.  Though she only had weeks to live, she made the cross-country journey with her camper to tell Nick something important:  He’s a Grimm.  One of the few descendants of the Brothers Grimm, he has the ability (which only manifested itself once his aunt started to die) to see creatures and monsters that look human to everyone else.  It turns out that all the fairy tales that are told to children are true.  The original Grimms were just keeping a record of events that really happened.

As Aunt Marie informed Nick, it is now his inherited task to hunt down and kill these evil creatures.  The creatures are collectively known as Wesen. One thing the show’s writers do well and that’s make up fantastical names for the monsters and creatures Nick encounters as well as a backstory for each one.

Nick is lives with his veterinarian girlfriend Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch – Lakeview Terrace, The Artist), but he confided neither in her nor his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby -“Lincoln Heights”, “In Treatment”) – at first.  The only one who really knew that he’s a Grimm was Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell – “Prison Break”, “My Name is Earl”), a reformed Wider Blutbad (roughly translated as ‘Big Bad Wolf’).

Monroe, thanks to his vast knowledge of the Wesen became Nick’s somewhat relunctant partner in crime. The only other help he gets is from the chronicles of previous Grimms down through the centuries that are stored in Marie’s fantastical magical mystery emporium of a trailer.  Each week Nick is presented with another crime/mystery that’s somehow related to a fairy tale. (It ends up being a Monster-of-the-week kind of thing.) It’s not the smartest thing on tv, but it is good escapist fun and the show does have good production values.

Personally, I watch it for Silas Weir Mitchell, who steals every scene he’s in and he rocks.

As always there is lots of other great content on their official site, including those backstories I mentioned, as well as the last full episode, “Season of the Hexenbeast” in case you want to catch up.  For added fun, Bitsie Tulloch ( ) will be live-Tweeting the episode tonight @BitsieTulloch “Grimm” airs Fridays 9pm ET on NBC

Stoker: The Latest Hitchcock Homage

Stoker poster - Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode

In 2012 there were two movies based on the life of master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. The first was “The Girl”, a made-for-HBO flick that focused on Hitchcock’s relationship with Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds and later, Marnie. The second was simply titled, Hitchcock, and it focused more on the director’s relationship with his wife Alma Reveille during the making of Psycho.

Hitchcock, arguably one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his work continue to fascinate audiences and influence other movie makers nearly thirty-three years after his death.

The latest quasi-homage is Korean director Chan-wook Park’s  (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) long awaited English-language debut, the ultra-creepy Stoker, which bowed at Sundance at the end of January. Reactions seemed to be generally enthusiastic with little gray area. Screeners either loved it or hated it. Variety, for one, loved it, calling Stoker a  “…splendidly demented gumbo of Hitchcock thriller, American Gothic fairy tale and a contemporary kink all Park’s own…”  The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde however, calls it “silly melodrama” and “self-parody”.  Having just seen it for myself, I think that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Stoker is a tale of psychological as well as physical terror that follows India Stoker, played  by a brilliant Mia Wasikowska, an introverted young girl (woman?) whose personal and sexual awakening arrives with the unraveling of a macabre family mystery involving the death of her beloved father “by a cruel twist of fate” and the arrival of her seemingly charming uncle (Matthew Goode).  It’s a sort of Gothic version of “Hamlet” with India as both the Danish prince and Ophelia, since as soon as Charlie arrives he appears to start to romance her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman).

First-time screenwriter Wentworth Miller (yes, that Wentworth Miller), admits to having been influenced not only by  Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” but by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.  His script landed on the 2010 Black List*

Take a look at the first domestic  trailer:

Before we even see her, we hear Kidman’s sigh, followed by scenes of idyllic family life as she begins, “You know I’ve often wondered why it is we have children and the conclusion I’ve come to is we want someone to get it right this time. But not me.” Then we see her face, “Personally, speaking I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart,” That is one hell of a (terrifying) opening.

I think the UK trailer manages to outcreep that one.  If the domestic version made it seem like Kidman was the villainess, this one puts that into doubt and emphasizes how truly bizarre Wasikowska’s India actually is:

Park is known for gore, shocking twists and expressive visuals. A film maker as non-conventional as he is would appear to be taking a step toward the conventional with Stoker given the increased budget and big name Western cast, but it’s a baby step. The visuals, including the fast forward and stop-motion photography and the flashbacks that melt in and out of the present and the future, are impressive as well as expressive.  It’s rife with symbolism (flowers and India’s shoes, the spider that disappears under the hem of her skirt, the repeated close-ups of eggs) Park’s affinity for Hitchcock is obvious. He’s said that his interest in film making started with Vertigo. There can be no mistaking the references to not only Shadow of a Doubt, Goode’s character is “Uncle Charlie” after all, but he also bears physical resemblance to the star of Rope and Strangers on a Train, Farley Granger.  Costume designer’s Kurt & Bart had to have had not only the lanky build of both actors, but the sophisticated style of the costumes from both of those earlier films, in mind when clothing Goode. The movie looks at once modern and dated. It’s apparent that it’s set in the present, but is somehow askew. The people, places and things all seem like they come from an earlier time. The gorgeous (yet slightly crumbling) family manse is another character in the film and emphasizes the isolation and alienation of the people living in it.

There were all sorts of rumors surrounding the casting of this film. Every young actress in Hollywood was considered before Wasikowska got the role of India. At one time Clive Owen, Joel Edgerton and Michael Fassbender were attached as Charlie. Colin Firth was announced, but dropped out and Goode replaced him. I almost wish I didn’t know that as I watched the trailers. I couldn’t help but imagine what any of those actors would be like in the role. Watching the finished product however, none of them came to mind. Goode’s seductive Uncle Charlie more than made up for his lackluster Ozymandias (Watchmen). Kidman, no stranger to making eclectic films with some of the world’s most brilliant and controversial directors, beginning with Gus Van Sant (To Die For), Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady), Lars von Trier (Dogville) to Lee Daniels (Paperboy), plays Evie Stoker as wound tighter than a drum. But while you think you know her at the beginning of the film, your perceptions will be turned on their head by the end of it.

The supporting cast is steller as well. Dermot Mulroney appears as the deceased Stoker patriarch.  Jacki Weaver, Oscar nominated for Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook is ill-fated Aunt Gwen. Alden Ehrenreich, who can be seen in Beautiful Creatures and Lucas Till from X-Men: First Class also appear.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Aunt Gwen is “ill-fated” since that’s pretty much given away in the trailer, but I will say that this movie has a high body-count. Take a closer look at that poster up top. The three attractive actors look like a prettier version of the Addams Family. It certainly emphasizes the “American Gothic” aspect that Variety mentioned. (“Do N0t Disturb the Family”? How about the rest of us?) What saves a film chock full of images including blood-spattered wild flowers, ritualistic bonfires, clandestine burials and actors who all look like they are both driving someone and being driven mad, from tipping over into the land of either full-on gruesome or parody is the feeling they’re all in on the joke.  As the tension mounts and more of Charlie’s motivations as well as modus operandi are revealed along with India’s less than typical reactions to them, the film walks the tightrope between suspense and camp mostly by virtue of the terrific performances from the three leads.

In one of the film’s best and most powerful scenes, Uncle Charlie joins India at the piano. We’ve already seen him “playing with” her mother, tentatively. She thinks she’s “teaching him”.  Charlie and India, however, play a complex and hypnotic duet that is clearly meant to suggest something besides piano playing. (The duet composed by Philip Glass for the film is stunning. Wasikowska took three months of intensive lessons to believably play it onscreen.) The next thing we know she’s out trying to seduce the local bad boy. Their date does not go well. India ends up in the shower in a scene that dissolves from Hitchcockian to DePalma-esque.

Nothing ever happens exactly like you think it will (or like the trailers and tv spots have led you to believe that they will.) The characters aren’t exactly likeable so we never really root for anyone, although I did “like” the ending. I can understand how some viewers would think the whole thing adds up to a visually exciting mess, but I can also side with those who thought it was brilliant fun. Park Chan-wook isn’t going to be everyone’s cuppa in any language (I’m looking forward to seeing what Spike Lee does with the American remake of Oldboy). I don’t think Stoker is a film I need to add to my collection, but I did enjoy it while I was watching it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. While I don’t usually give a recommendation quite so ambivalent, I can recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of the original master, Alfred Hitchcock.

*An annual list of the best unproduced scripts circulating in Hollywood. See 2010’s here and marvel at how many you recognize as having been made since.

Winter is Coming! So is Season 3 of Game of Thrones!

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

I can’t believe we’re already talking about the third season for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. It seems like just yesterday we were all giddy with anticipation for the start of the series, way back when Bran could walk and Eddard could wear a hat.

As season three approaches, The Seven Kingdoms are still at war, new alliances are being formed and new characters are about to come onto the scene, which of course means new cast members have been added. The talented multinational cast is led by Peter Dinklage and  Lena Headey and includes Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Aiden Gillen, Iain Glen, Richard Madden, Charles Dance, Natalie Dormer, Jack Gleeson, Kit Harrington, James Cosmo, Rose Leslie, Liam Cunningham, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Stephan Dillane, Carice van Houten, Jerome Flynn, Oona Chaplin and Gwendoline Christie. Phew!

The new arrivals include the great Ciarán Hinds (yay!), Noah Taylor, Kerry Ingram, Tara Fitzgerald, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Iwan Rheon, Charlotte Hope, Clive Russell, Mackenzie Crook, Paul Kaye and Nathalie Emmanuel among others.

This season will be, appropriately enough, based on the third book in George R. R. Martin’s “Fire and Ice” series, “A Storm of Swords”. I think that title gives us a huge clue as to what we can expect for the upcoming ten episodes. I don’t know about you, but I’m nearly doing the poodle dance with the thought of more adventures in the Seven Kingdoms.

The Dothraki are finally crossing the narrow sea to Westeros with Dani and her dragons in tow! Who or what will feel the lick of their flaming tongues first?! What of Robb Stark and his army and his ill-fated love Talisa Maegyr? Will he forgive his mother, Catelyn? Speaking of ill-fated loves, what of Jon Snow and Ygritte? Ooo and I can’t wait to meet the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder!  Bring on Tyrion! How will he change after he’s nearly had his face cleaved in two? What horrors await little Arya? Will she ever make it back to Winterfell? And what of Sansa? How will she fare now that the despicable Joffrey has tossed her aside for the scheming  Margaery Tyrell. Will Joffrey ever get his comeuppance?? Oh the humanity!
The trailer below is called the “extended” version, but it is such a tease! While it does manage to give us glimpses all of the main players, most of whom get a memorable, if not downright ominous, line in the voice-over, if you’re as anxious as I am, it will leave you willing the quick passage of the next few weeks all the more!

“It’s been a long time my old friend.” – Lord Varys

“Death is coming for everyone and everything…the darkness that swallows the dawn.” – Melisandre

“The Night is dark and full of terror.” –Tyrion Lannister

“You’re not half as clever as you think you are.” –Cersei Lannister

“Still makes me more clever than you.” –Tyrion Lannister

“Show them how it feels to lose what they love” – Catelyn Stark

“I’m going to light the biggest fire the North has ever seen!” – Mance Rayder

“Everyone is mine to torment.” –Joffrey Baratheon

“There’s a beast in every man and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand” – Ser Jorah Mormont

“I want to fight for the side that fights for the living. Did I come to the right place?” –Jon Snow

“The revenge you want will be yours in time.” – Lord Varys

Check out the new character posters (They’re clickable).  The Starks and the Lannisters (and one lone Targaryen) look decidedly more world-weary than they did at the start of season one that’s for sure (especially Tyrion and Arya).  We’ll all be able to see the new season of HBO’s award-winning epic starting Sunday, March 31 in the US and 1st April on Sky Atlantic in the UK.

Tyrion - Peter DinklageBran - Isaac Hempstead-Wright Cersei - Lena Headey Daenerys - Emilia Clarke Jaime - Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Catelyn -Michelle Fairley Arya - Maisie Williams Joffrey - Jack Gleeson Sandor aka The Hound - Rory McCann Sansa - Sophie Turner Tyrion - Peter Dinklage Robb - Richard Madden Jon Snow - Kit Harington