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Man On Wire (#110 of 12)

Poster Lab: Before Midnight

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Poster Lab: <em>Before Midnight</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Before Midnight</em>

The supposed capper to a richly rewarding trilogy, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight already has plenty of critics buzzing, standing out as an early favorite for year-end top 10 lists. So it’s more than a little unsavory that of all the beguiled reviewers to turn to for poster quotes (and there are plenty), Sony Pictures Classics tapped the inescapable Peter Travers, a guy perpetually in line with the just-north-of-populist taste of awards bodies. On the film’s just-released poster, Travers’s praise reads as follows: “Before Midnight is one of the year’s best movies. Full to the brim with humor, heartbreak, and ravishing romance. Richard Linklater directs with ardor and artistry. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shine brilliantly. Heads up, Oscar. This one’s a keeper.” Now, anyone who knows anything about film publicity will quickly gather that the strategy here can be traced straight to that keyword: “Oscar.” Travers has long been known as an utterly shameless blurb whore, filling his reviews with Academy-courting nuggets, and that FYC turn of phrase surely landed him prime real estate here. But, really, Sony Pictures Classics should know better than to resort to such—in laughably alliterative, Travers-esque terms—baldfaced buffoonery. This is an exceedingly classy film with a handsome poster to boot. And since Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke netted an Original Screenplay nod for 2004’s Before Sunset, surely their next installment is already on the Academy’s radar. Couldn’t a more articulate endorsement have been chosen to grace the ad for this ultra-articulate movie?

Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

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Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods
Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

There wasn’t much to say about the initial poster for The Cabin in the Woods that wasn’t as plain as day in the image itself: “Oh, look at that. The house is twisted like a Rubik’s Cube. There must be puzzles afoot.” Nevertheless, the design proved to be one not easily forgotten, and highly amenable to, say, 3-D cardboard stand-ups for cineplex lobbies. Now, Lionsgate has wisely taken ownership of the image, as evidenced by the new one-sheet, recently revealed. Thanks to passerby double-takes and a swelling sea of buzz, that house is an emblem that can even work as a hollow shape, and while it may not be as iconic as The Blair Witch Project’s stickman, the powers that be are seeing to it that it’s on its way.

A heavy hitter on the festival circuit and overseas, The Cabin in the Woods has been met with a mess of early critical praise, which, given the cryptic plot details and banal TV spots, is thus far the most intriguing thing about it. The fire is then stoked with the new poster’s central detail—a jam-packed collection of more than 20 quoted raves. History has certainly shown that madness lies the way of trusting pithy blurbs stamped on film paraphernalia, but it’s exciting to see such enthusiasm emerge about a scary movie. Though largely drawn from London outlets, the quotes aren’t simply those of horror and genre gurus, who often give passes to titles that fail to grab a broader audience. The response suggests a widespread appeal, and it underscores an apparent mix of fright and comedy reminiscent of, as noted, The Evil Dead and Scream.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Documentary

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

In recent years, Academy members have repeatedly favored the most high-profile, buzzed-about doc in this category, from The Cove to Man on Wire to March of the Penguins. For a break in the trend, you’d have to go back to 2005, when Born Into Brothels bested Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s suffering-for-art experiment that had people thinking twice about McDonald’s, at least for a few months. With expected hopefuls like Project Nim left out of this season’s race, 2012 could prove the bookend of the category’s seven-year populist itch, as the most-discussed nominee is probably Wim Wenders’s Pina, an offbeat film that really only looks like a winner on paper.

An Interview with Project Nim Director James Marsh

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An Interview with Project Nim Director James Marsh
An Interview with Project Nim Director James Marsh

With Project Nim, James Marsh has created a documentary that feels more like a biopic—and one that avoids the genre’s usual pitfalls. He follows the life of a chimp named Nim, who was brought up to live with a human family to see whether chimps could communicate as people do. However, Nim soon showed an aggressive side; in one instance, he ripped open a woman’s face. He’s shuffled from family to institution, including a spell at a lab that tests hepatitis vaccines. As in his previous documentaries, Marsh uses fictional recreations to fill in the gaps in the available footage. The results tell a lot about both animal and human nature.

What are the differences between domesticated animals like dogs and Nim? [Note: I asked this question because a dog was roaming around the office where I interviewed Marsh.]

A dog has been bred for thousand years to live with us. Domestic animals are very different from wild animals. That’s a small footnote to Project Nim, but I found that out when I was making the film.

True/False Film Fest 2011: Hula and Natan, The Interrupters, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, & Project Nim

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True/False Film Fest 2011: <em>Hula and Natan</em>, <em>The Interrupters</em>, <em>The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975</em>, & <em>Project Nim</em>
True/False Film Fest 2011: <em>Hula and Natan</em>, <em>The Interrupters</em>, <em>The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975</em>, & <em>Project Nim</em>

One of a few True/False features so amusingly foul-mouthed it becomes, in part, a study in the art of the comedic argument, Robby Elmaliah’s Hula and Natan is a suitably absurdist portrait of two middle-aged brothers who run a small junkyard in Sderot, an Israeli town on the Gaza border. Beginning on Israeli Independence Day 2008, and ending the same day in 2009, the brothers spend much of their time dwelling in fatalism rather than freedom. Some zingers typical of the duo: “We’re alive just waiting to die”; “All our neighbors are dead…The one who complained about us, died”; “This whole country is full of bastards”; and, after a rocket lands within earshot of Hula, “I think they’re giving me back all the iron I sold them.”

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions Documentary

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

When Waiting for Superman surprisingly but rightfully got Oscar’s cold shoulder, the hunt for the documentary feature prize suddenly became a wide open one. Four of the nominated films lean hard on pressing social issues, always a plus, and no two overlap in subject matter, but the best documentary in this category, Lucy Walker’s Waste Land, doesn’t lean hard on our social issues. While that hasn’t stopped previous films from scoring wins here, the last time I thought the Academy would go for a film about people living in and around landfills, surviving off the detritus they find there (2006’s Documentary Short Subject nominee Recycled Life), I lost an Oscar pool. Significant though it may be, Walker’s documentary approach may be too objective for a group that typically favors films that give them the warm and fuzzies or safely, sometimes cheaply, stroke their righteous indignation—though you could say its acclaimed competitors Restrepo and Inside Job suffer from a similar problem.

Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions

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Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2009 Academy Awards.

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Directing: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Actress in a Supporting Role: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Original Screenplay: Milk
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Foreign Language Film: The Class
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Animated Feature Film: WALL-E
Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Animated Short: La Maison en Petits Cubes
Live Action Short: Toyland
Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design: The Duchess
Makeup: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Song: “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 

Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions Documentary

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Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Documentary
Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Documentary

In case you weren’t paying attention, given Sally Hawkins’s egregious snub and all, Werner Herzog is now an Oscar nominee—and not a moment too soon. Now it remains to be seen if an adventurous cameramen will pick out the maverick director out of the Oscar crowd and lock on to the man’s eternally and blissfully blazed face—assuming, that is, Herzog even shows up. We can’t imagine Herzog expects to win this one, even if he probably has the vote of every academy member who counts Aguirre, Wrath of God as one of their favorite movies. On paper, the excellent Katrina doc Trouble the Water screams a winner, but this enraged examination of social injustice is possibly headier than even Encounters at the End of the World. Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath’s acclaimed The Betrayal and Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s The Garden bring to mind past winners in this category, but this one seems like a knockout punch for Man on Wire, especially with Standard Operating Procedure out of the running. As big a crowd-pleaser as Slumdog Millionaire, Man on Wire has won almost as many awards since the start of the Oscar season, connecting with people first as a thrilling exaltation of high-wire artiste Philippe Petit’s chutzpah, then as a memorial to the similarly superhuman daring responsible for building the stage the man walked across on the morning of August 7th, 1974.

Man on Borrowed Piano Wire: Follow-Up

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Man on Borrowed Piano Wire: Follow-Up
Man on Borrowed Piano Wire: Follow-Up

While this is intended to respond to several comments about my earlier post concerning Man on Wire, I would like to start by thanking James Marsh for his genial and interesting responses. He obviously got the spirit of the debate my post was meant provoke. His clarifications prompt me to make some of my own, beginning with a couple about the context in which I wrote my piece.

Strange Duality: An Interview with Man on Wire‘s Philippe Petit and James Marsh

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Strange Duality: An Interview with Man on Wire’s Philippe Petit and James Marsh
Strange Duality: An Interview with Man on Wire’s Philippe Petit and James Marsh

“I wish I’d known you were going to interview him—I’d love to learn if he’s still in touch with my friend Barbara Remington who had the albino skunk.” This was my original downtown bohemian pal Rose’s reaction when she found out I’d just spent twenty minutes at the offices of Magnolia Pictures doing a beat-the-clock interview with Philippe Petit, the only person to ever dance across a high-wire between the Twin Towers, and filmmaker James Marsh, who profiled the legendary Frenchman and his “artistic crime of the century” in his appropriately uplifting documentary Man On Wire. Though we discussed everything from spirituality to positive con artistry to A Clockwork Orange, the subject of living in Chelsea with an albino skunk never came up. (Sorry, Rose.) Here’s what did…