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Box Office Rap The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

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Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise
Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

While DC and Warner Bros. stole headlines this past weekend with plans to integrate Batman into Man of Steel 2 (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman, or vice versa, as writer David S. Goyer confirmed), it’s Marvel and 20th Century Fox that look to immediately capitalize on all the geekdom hoopla this weekend with The Wolverine, the second standalone film for Hugh Jackman’s titular X-Man, which has made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. What’s changed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just four years ago? For starters, it appears that Fox has abandoned plans to make standalone films for each of their comic-book properties, instead offering X-Men: First Class as a means to reboot the entire franchise, while anchoring Wolverine on his own for two films until…wait for it…X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will finally bring all of our favorite mutants together again, marking four X-Men films in just six years.

Sinful Cinema Swordfish

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Sinful Cinema: Swordfish
Sinful Cinema: Swordfish

At the dawn of the 2000s, Warner Bros., Joel Silver, and Village Roadshow Pictures had to do something to keep their Matrix momentum going. So, while waiting for the Wachowski siblings to form and polish their tech triumph’s sequels, neither of which would arrive until 2003, the studio bigwigs developed Swordfish, a tacky, brazen knockoff they undoubtedly saw as the next best thing. Even opening, pointlessly, with a familiar, pixelated-screen aesthetic before adjusting to 35mm, this risible techno thriller fires so much aww-shit “coolness” at its viewers that, upon its June 2001 release, few likely realized they were being hit with hollow shells. It’s all an unwitting realization of the “misdirection” philosophy so reiterated by cyber-villain Gabriel (John Travolta), who talks about Houdini and Dog Day Afternoon like he’s a cultural sage with blonde highlights (also rocking berets and traipsing around his LA-nightclub pad, Gabriel trumps Edna Turnblad as Travolta’s gayest role). You see, Swordfish thinks it’s one heady affair flecked with nifty booms and stunts, but its ideas are as goofily slim as its action is often needless, and director Dominic Sena and writer Skip Woods seem blissfully blind to it all. Their film has all the stylized convolution of The Matrix, but virtually none of the coherence or cerebral stimuli.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

The larger-than-life aura that Daniel Day-Lewis breathes into the characters he portrays seems also to have in recent years extended to the actor himself, whose notorious choosiness about selecting roles only buoys the virtually mythical status he carries in the acting world. So when the announcement came in 2010 that Day-Lewis was set to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited film about our 16th president, few of us doubted that the extolled actor would go on to claim his third Oscar. With the preeminent voice of modern acting playing one of the most revered figures in American history in a film from the world’s most famous filmmaker, the performance was embedded with an air of inevitability long before production photos or clips surfaced. But what’s most intriguing about Day-Lewis’s depiction of Lincoln is how toned down he is in the role. His performance resounds through quieter timbres and softer movements than we’re accustomed to from the actor. Moreover, Day-Lewis reveals a human side of Lincoln that deepens the president’s legendary standing while offering a window into his tortured soul. That his performance is exactly the kind of commanding portrait we’ve come to expect from Day-Lewis, but also acutely nuanced in ways he rarely expresses, only solidifies his imminent victory.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

Whether the reason boils down to Oscar politics or an overall lack of enthusiasm, it certainly looks like Joaquin Phoenix is about to be snubbed for his work in The Master, despite the mind-boggling excellence of his performance as Freddie Quell. From stature to facial contortions, Phoenix startlingly became someone else while tackling the film’s lead role, in a manner beyond the typical transformative acting that annually courts hyperbole. Without looking all that different beyond considerable weight loss, Phoenix adopted a whole new aura as the spiritually starved WWII vet, and spoke his lines with barks and snarls that seemed uncannily natural, as if a pit bull just happened to don Phoenix’s skin. The actor’s now-infamous dis of the Oscar process couldn’t have helped his chances, but it seems Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has, in general, lost steam, its lack of a PGA nod being the most recent evidence. The man most likely to benefit from Phoenix’s misfortune is Bradley Cooper, whose turn in Silver Linings Playbook is frothy by comparison, but just the sort of crowd-pleasing lead performance Oscar loves. A likable actor, Cooper’s bound to be seen as triumphant for stretching beyond Hangover territory, and with the Academy increasingly honoring flexible comic stars (think Jonah Hill and Melissa McCarthy), his nomination should in fact be an easy get.

Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

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Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables
Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

With its Oscar clout and inevitable crowd-pleasing matched by widespread critical ire, Les Misérables is easily the year’s most divisive awards contender. The film does have its champions, like the oft-snarky New York Post critic Kyle Smith, who gave it the top spot on his 2012 top 10 list, but by and large, Les Mis has endured ample lashings from reviewers, as diverse as David Edelstein, Richard Corliss, and our own Calum Marsh. The divide between journos and tearful devotees has become one of the season’s buzziest narratives, most recently prompting helmer Tom Hooper to “respond to his critics,” whose qualms, as expected, couldn’t stop the musical from squashing the box-office competition on Christmas Day (the movie raked in $18.2 million, history’s second-largest holiday opening). What does it all mean for the movie’s Oscar fate? To be honest, probably not much. It seems unfathomable that Les Misérables won’t end up on the Best Picture shortlist, an outcome that was in the cards before a frame of footage was seen (or, arguably, before a frame of footage was shot).

Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

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Oscar Prospects: The Impossible
Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

If there’s a film this season that’s poised to nab Oscar’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close vote, joining a generously wide Best Picture field for its cloying take on a recent tragedy, it’s definitely J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible, a markedly odd prestige picture with enough capital-A acting and capital-I issues to distract from its dire mix of sentiment and insensitivity. Charting one family’s struggle to survive amid the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this epic, fact-based tearjerker is already raking in critical acclaim, despite its pedestrian retooling of the disaster-movie formula. On this site alone, venom has been spat regarding the central family’s ethnicity, which was changed from Spanish to British in a move that reeks of commercial compromise. The contentious racial topic may well miff some Academy members of color (and the astute ballot-casters who love them), but likely not enough to quell the movie’s apparent wave of supporters. (Get it?) One should hope that savvier voters will simply dismiss the film for reasons more foundational than whitewashing, for The Impossible is essentially a topical twist on a Roland Emmerich deathfest, wherein viewers are subjected to endless weather-fueled carnage, with the salvation of the core cast serving as self-satisfied consolation. Indeed, this is all inspired by a true story (as an emboldened pre-film title card is sure to hammer home), but, true or not, the strength of a story is in the telling, and what’s peddled here is the convenient eminence of folks to whom, in comparison, all other survivors pale.

15 Famous Vampire Hunters

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15 Famous Vampire Hunters
15 Famous Vampire Hunters

For high-concept, lowbrow thrills, your hot ticket this weekend is surely Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Timor Bekmambetov’s visualization of Seth Grahame-Smith’s why-the-hell-not novel, which reimagines that most benevolent president as a part-time vamp vanquisher. The revisionist actioner may not be bound for the bloodsucker canon, but its lead character proudly continues a surprisingly prevalent filmic trend: that of the hero whose key duty is to pound a proverbial stake through the heart of evil. From Blade to Buffy, we’ve always needed fearless soldiers to battle creatures of the night, and to make sure that the only thing Dracula and company are biting is the dust.

An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain

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An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s <em>The Fountain</em>
An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s <em>The Fountain</em>

Part sci-fi head trip, part swoony romance and part pop-philosophical manifesto, The Fountain is a gusher of poetic imagery, extravagant yet controlled. Hugh Jackman plays three incarnations of a hero: a conquistador trying to find the Fountain of Youth, a present-day cancer researcher who’s in denial over his wife’s impending death, and a 26th century astronaut piloting a translucent starship into a disintegrating nebula believed to be the gateway to the afterlife. But because the tales are not merely intercut, but densely interwoven—with images from one section being quoted, alluded to or expanded upon in another—The Fountain feels less like an anthology of thematically similar short stories than variations of the same narrative developed on parallel planes. When the movie cuts away from one period, you feel as though the story is still moving forward even though you’re not there to see it. Every scene—indeed, every shot—has been composed, designed, blocked and lit for maximum aesthetic oomph. You can envision the storyboards pinned on a production office wall, each drawing accompanied by a typewritten sheet explaining why every creative touch, however seemingly small, is integral to the film’s vision.