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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First Impression: The Iceman

Autumn means three things: Halloween, pumpkin everything, and film festival season. So many amazing films are being screened right now, which means that so many brilliant trailers are now hitting the web. My personal favorite trailer preview is for the hitman thriller The Iceman (directed by Ariel Vromen) starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, and James Franco. As usual, my buddy Stephanie of Classified Cinema Club joins me to discuss the trailer.
Jess: What intrigues me about The Iceman is that it seems to deal with mobs in a very serious way. Gangsters have been so sexy in the past few years (Sopranos, Mob Wives, etc.) that it's refreshing to see a truly terrifying take on gangs.

Stephanie: I completely agree with that, and it's what I find interesting about it too. It's not too slick and Hollywoodized, which is refreshing because it would have been so easy for them to go that route.
Jess: It's also really, really difficult to make a hitman sympathetic without romanticizing his story. They took the hard route by eliminating the sex appeal.
Stephanie: Absolutely. I'm really interested in seeing how they handle the family story lines. That is what sparks my interest the most. We've all seen mob movies millions of times, but showing the family life more would keep my attention.
Jess: In that regard, it reminds me of Abel Ferrara's The Funeral, which deals with close family ties, death, and gangs. The tone is also very similar: sad, sinister, and quiet while building to something greater.
Stephanie: Wow, nice reference. It's been a while since I've seen The Funeral, but I just think that diving into the man behind the hit man will make The Iceman stand out. Also, who doesn't love Michael Shannon?
Jess: There's something very haunting about his portrayal, something that beckons for repeat viewing. I've probably watched the trailer 5 times already because his characters are always so nuanced.
Stephanie: So nuanced. He is so utterly believable in this role, like all his roles, that you can't turn away from him onscreen. I'm interested to see Chris Evans pull off a grittier role, too. Hopefully he can pull it off well.
Jess: It's an absolute transformation to see him look like a gross 70's porn star, and I applaud him for it. It would be so easy to ride the Captain America wave, but he's really rebelling.
Stephanie: Agreed. He's taking a risk, and hopefully it pays off.
Jess: I'm also excited to see Mr. Goodfellas himself, Ray Liotta.
Stephanie: Totally. How do you feel about Winona and Franco?
Jess: Winona looks fantastic, but Franco is a real sticky wicket for me.
Stephanie: We've just been so oversaturated with Franco. I have a hard time taking him seriously anymore.
Jess: Absolutely. He's a caricature of himself at this point, so he really downgrades the film. If this were in the future when we've had more distance, that'd be a different story. It just makes me hope that Michael Shannon gets to kill him quickly.
Stephanie: I agree. I think he needs to take a break, completely focus on doing one thing really well. It's like he's always just phoning everything in.
Jess: There's also a smugness that's saturated his performances. It's like he's smirking all the time.
Stephanie: It's rather condescending. Like this is all a big joke, but we're not in on the joke.
Jess: Definitely agree. He hasn't taken a serious role in a while, and I'm not sure this was a great fit for him. I'd love to be proven wrong, though.
Stephanie: Me too. I'd love to see him blow it out of the water.

Needless to say, I anxiously await details of The Iceman's theatrical release. With its excellent cast, foreboding tone, and unique story, this film looks to be a much-needed addition to the gangster film dialogue. What do you think of the trailer? Are you excited to see The Iceman?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Liz & Dick: Schadenfreude Fail

It's no secret that bad things can be enjoyed in ironic, campy, or even malicious manners. I have been known to indulge in my time (after all, this is Film Fromage, not Film Great Taste). As such, I assumed that Lindsay Lohan's "comeback" TV movie, Liz & Dick, would be deliciously trashy. The trailer, released yesterday, proves just how wrong I was.

Frankly, these 30 seconds made me feel sad. Everything is absolutely wrong. Instead of being overly dramatic a la Showgirls or infusing some humor, the trailer's tone is rather earnest. Reminder: This is a Lifetime TV movie starring Lindsay Lohan. Capitalize on her scandalous image in connection with Elizabeth Taylor's not-so-girl-next-door antics instead of being so very literal. Nobody is watching this as a serious biopic, so make it enjoyable!

Despite its earnestness, the trailer has seemingly no content. Sure, sexy words like "scandalous" flash on the screen, but nothing feels daring or edgy or even interesting. There isn't enough dialogue to excite or enough acting to feel compelled to tune in. Surely, Lifetime was trying to lure us in with some mystery and intrigue, but all they delivered was empty buzzwords and a couple of costume changes.

But what's even more distracting is Lohan's face. I understand that not every actress will look identical to the person she is portraying (i.e., Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn). However, Lohan's face is painfully bloated, making her look downright comical. Not only does she not look like Taylor, she does not look like herself -- she's Lindsay Lohan pretending to be Lindsay Lohan portraying Elizabeth Taylor. Sadly, the only time she even remotely embodies Taylor is when wearing huge sunglasses and a salt and pepper wig from late in life. Thus, her image's downspin overpowers any possible content within the trailer.

Let's be clear: Lohan knew what she signed up for with this film, and Lifetime was happy to indulge. That doesn't make me feel any better watching a shadow of the former Lindsay Lohan struggle at something so mediocre. There is no schadenfreude to be found here, just sadness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why a Bad Box Office Isn't Bad for Viewers

It's no secret that this summer's box office had the lowest ticket sales since 1993, despite 2 blockbusters earning over $1 billion. It seems that moviegoers just weren't as interested in buying tickets, and who could blame them? Just because box office spending was down doesn't mean that cinephiles weren't get their fixes. Here are few reasons why customers have been avoiding theaters -- to the detriment of the box office but not their entertainment.

1. Really awful movies. Let's reflect on this summer's offerings: Dark Shadows, Battleship, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Rock of Ages, etc. As a cinema lover, I usually hit the theater every week or two for a show; I love the experience so much that I'm willing to pay for the experience, even if the movie is just decent. This summer I've gone weeks, sometimes more than a month without the big screen because I'm just not going to pay a premium for absolutely absurd movies. If I want to watch something terrible, I'll just watch Netflix, thank you very much.

2. Really amazing television. Cinema-quality television shows are becoming easier to access with subscription cable networks, Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand options. AMC sets the bar extraordinarily high with its popular shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. These shows shatter the traditional 3 camera set up, offering cinema-quality visuals with compelling story lines, excellent writing, and stellar performances. That means that television is filling the content void that a weak box office creates. When movie lovers have the option of staying home to watch Game of Thrones or going to a sub-par movie, chances are they'll choose the former.

3. 3-D fatigue. I enjoy my fair share of silly 3-D in campy horror films, but there's no reason movies like Men in Black III and Step Up Revolution need to be in 3-D. Viewers seem to be increasingly upset over the high cost of 3-D tickets, especially when the technology adds nothing to the film.

4. Nontraditional releases. Crafty distributors are finding lucrative opportunities to skip the expensive and complicated wide theater distribution in favor of alternative venues. Online rentals allow the distributor to generate excitement for a film; since the rental is for a limited time, the viewer still has to pay for repeat viewing after the rental expiration. For example, Bachelorette was released for rental on iTunes before a limited theater release. Likewise, some films (and television shows) are being released on subscription models like Netflix. The most notable example of this is the upcoming season of cult-favorite Arrested Development. The beauty of these models is that they provide a cheaper alternative to the theater experience. Because they are only accessible through a rental or subscription, they are not always available, which means the value of a purchased DVD or download is not diluted by these competitive media.

It's my (somewhat futile) hope that Hollywood seriously analyzes this summer to find the faults in the box office. As cinephiles, we want to buy tickets and see shows, but we won't stand for the pathetic offerings we've had to endure. We're voting with our dollars, and there are far too many amazing things out there for us to sit through another Bourne movie.