February 2009 Archives

dark-knight-opening-shot.jpgIt appears that Scanners’ Jim Emerson has a renewed interest in his fantastic Opening Shots Project, after a hiatus of more than a year for the series. In February he’s published entries on Shotgun Stories, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and The Producers,

These short essays, with their microscopic attention to detail and narrow scope, are always insightful and instructive, and they’re generally more enlightening than the vast majority of film criticism.

I’ve even tried a few myself, including on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Bleu, Atom Egoyan’s Calendar, and Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

A Quest for Joy

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vic-chesnutt.jpgOn the 1996 benefit album Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation, the songs of Vic Chesnutt were covered by everybody from Madonna to R.E.M. to the Smashing Pumpkins to the Indigo Girls. Early in his career, the singer/songwriter was championed by Michael Stipe, who produced Chesnutt’s first two records, released in 1990 and 1991. PBS aired a documentary titled Speed Racer about his life. He had a small part in Sling Blade.

He has collaborated with a diverse slate of artists from Widespread Panic to jazz guitarist Bill Frisell to the Cowboy Junkies to members of Fugazi and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Chesnutt’s latest partnership is with the psychedelic-pop group Elf Power, part of the Georgia collective that spawned The Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. Chesnutt and Elf Power will be among the performers at a March 18 R.E.M. tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, at which they’ll perform “Everybody Hurts.”

I start with the résumé because even if you’ve heard Chesnutt’s name, he’s not exactly famous. He has an immense reputation but a relatively small audience.

friday-13th.jpgCoraline won our Box Office Power Rankings for the past two weekends, and its success forces me to make two confessions: (1) I felt a touch ashamed and flawed for not adoring Henry Selick’s two previous stop-motion features (The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach), and (2) I loved his live-action/animation hybrid Monkeybone. My memories of those three movies are too faded to justify or explain myself, and I haven’t seen Coraline, but my conscience is now clear.

Let’s move on.

What could possible explain Friday the 13th’s $43.6-million holiday-weekend take? Let’s be honest: The first one sucked — yes, I have seen it as an adult — and the movies didn’t exactly improve as the franchise progressed. The series proper (1980’s first installment through 2002’s Jason in Space [I know, I know]) has gotten less popular as it’s gone on, with its domestic gross shrinking in spite of inflation. (The order, from highest box office to lowest, is 1, 3, 4, 5, 2, 6, 7, 9, 8, 10.) Sure, Freddy Vs. Jason opened with $36.4 million in 2003, but it’s a special case of synergy.

To the surprise of no one, a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is in pre-production. So what’s next on the 1970s/’80s horror/sci-fi list? Poltergeist? RoboCop?

I’m generally not bothered by remakes/reboots/re-imaginings, and I certainly believe fresh eyes and contexts can find new uses for recycled material. But Friday the 13th was a threadbare knock-off of a movie that skated by (quite well, admittedly) on technique over originality.

And audiences reward this shit by showing up.

Incidentally, Monkeybone barely made $5 million in theaters in the United States — about $8 million less than the lowest-grossing Friday the 13th. But I’m not bitter.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

‘Battlestar Galactica S1’ - After the brisk miniseries, this was a long haul with an admittedly superior cliffhanger. Tigh must die -- now.

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‘Encounters at the End of the World’ - By turns tedious and fascinating, Herzog’s doc resembles the doomed penguin walking to the mountains.

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‘Zodiac’ - Subtly but thoroughly subversive and odd, Fincher’s procedural is radical in construction but goes down easily. A quiet triumph.

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Part of the “LAMB Devours the Oscars” series at the Large Association of Movie Blogs.

maisoncube.jpgI’ll start with an admonition: You have no reason not to have a horse in the short-film categories for the Oscars.

These should be your favorite races, because they require relatively small investments of time. If you see and hate The Reader, you’ve lost 124 minutes of your life. If you see and hate Lavatory - Lovestory, you’re out 10 minutes. And the chances of you hating Lavatory - Lovestory are much smaller.

Alas, each has about the same chance of winning the top prize in its category.

My point is this: In 20 minutes, you can see all five nominees in the Animated Short Film category — three in full, one trailer, and one excerpt. On the plus side, it doesn’t appear that there are any stinkers here. On the down side, the movies that seem to be the most interesting are the ones that you can’t see in their entireties.

Here’s another reason to watch these movies: Given the high level of prognosticator consensus in major categories, your best chance of winning your Oscar pool is to make smart picks in the minor categories.

I present the Best Animated Short Film nominees from least likely to win to most likely.

Poll

I offer you Slumdog Millionaire, and I would get the remainder of the Best Picture field. What stakes would make you say "no"?

Voting is now closed for this poll, but here are the results:

Total votes: 25

‘The Strangers’ - Expert, brutal, pointless, and a good student of its elders. 77 minutes, and 70 pass before the creeps commit bodily harm.

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renee-zellweger.jpgRotten Tomatoes has a feature called “Average Tomatometer by Year,” and the default screen for Renée Zellweger looks grim. From 2005 to 2009, her score drops for two years (from 80 to 52), recovers a little (to 64), and falls off a cliff (to 19).

This is completely meaningless, of course. If you expand the time frame, the line jumps up and down mercilessly. If you’ve ever heard of the trouble with a “small sample size,” this is prime evidence, with most actors being in one or two movies a year. And Renée is but one person in movies containing (and made by) multitudes.

Still, there’s the sneaking suspicion that Ms. Zellweger is on a downward trajectory. Her latest, the romantic comedy New in Town, finished in last place in our Box Office Power Rankings (won by Slumdog Millionaire), and new releases only landed in that spot eight other times over the past year. Entertainment Weekly’s recent “Recall the Gold” survey wanted to steal her Oscar for 2003’s Cold Mountain.

Has the world soured on the ... errrr ... unique charms of Ren´┐Że Zellweger? She has arguably been asked to “carry” four movies, and the combined Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores for those are 146 (2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary [$71.5 million in domestic box office]), 70 (2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason [$40.2 million]), 123 (2006’s Miss Potter [$3.0 million]), and now 48 with New in Town ($6.7 million after one weekend). It’s hard to call it a trend, but those numbers don’t portend good things for her career.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

‘Planet Terror’ - Not nearly bad enough to be a true homage; despite the charming scratches etc., it’s far too polished and winking to work.

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