Wednesday Round-Up: Zod, Pixar, Critic-Bashing, and Brigitte Nielsen (of course)

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If you’re searching for film-related articles this week there’s a very good chance you’re reading about “Man of Steel,” which opens in theaters this Friday. And that’s where we kick off this week’s round-up:

  • The great Playlist ranks the Superman films from worst to best, and it’s hard to disagree with their list. I’ve pondered watching “Superman Returns” again one of these days, since I recall not hating it, in fact, rather liking. But I feel as if I cannot remember a single scene, and that means … something. (It could just mean I’m losing brain cells as I age.) It will be interesting to see where we’ll all rank “Man of Steel” on this list, and whether or not it will breathe new life into Krypton’s favorite son.
  • Incidentally, I am most intrigued by “Man of Steel”’s villain, Zod, played by the great Michael Shannon. I am dying to see his take on the iconic character; when I interviewed him for The Playlist back in 2011, he discussed his take on the Zod, and his respect for actor Terrence Stamp: “I found his performance so powerful that I would be overwhelmed by it if I tried to incorporate it into what I’m doing. There’s no reason to try and replicate it, because it’s perfect the way it is. I’m just trying to go down a different road with it; the script’s a little bit different than the original script. It’s going to have a different look and feel to it, visually. I’m looking forward to really settling into it, and playing with it.”
  • I could probably make these Wednesday round-ups include only Indiewire articles; every week, I’m impressed by the sheer number of interesting articles posted on the network of sites. Here is one from a favorite of mine, Eric Kohn, on Pixar’s upcoming “Monsters University.” I’ve spent a lot of time on Pixar lately, since my son’s favorite movie (today, at least) is “Toy Story 2.” I have not seen “Brave,” yet, but it certainly does seem as if Pixar is in a bit of a rut.
  • And one more from Indiewire, a pretty fascinating look at “critic bashing.”
  • If you follow movie news sites closely, you know Nikki Finke, and this is the latest news on … Well, I’m not sure what’s going on.
  • Life magazine features vintage photos of American drive-ins.
  • Will a film featuring an, um, wildly diverse cast that includes the late David Carradine, Brigitte Nielsen, Kerry Washington, Jeff Fahey, Steve Guttenberg, and Michael Madsen, and narrated by Peter O’Toole ever get released? And should we care?
  • I’ve been meaning to put together an “Upstream Color” feature for weeks, and I will, soon. Here is one of many insightful looks at the film, from the L.A. Review of Books.
  • Lastly, one of my favorite writers on film, and one who lives and works in Buffalo, Girish Shambu, takes on the concept of “vulgar auteurism.” Great comments here, too.

As always, these links are more can be found on my Twitter page, Twitter.com/FilmSwoon.
Michael Shannon photo from Warner Bros.’ “Man of Steel,” found on tgdaily.com.

Weekend Preview: Forget “Earth” — There’s “Something in the Air”

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Tomorrow is one of the oddest movie-opening Fridays of the summer, truly. It’s also one of the most boring.

There are few summer releases that look less alluring to me than the Will Smith-Jaden Smith vehicle “After Earth.” In fact, perhaps the only element to pique my interest is the invisibility of director M. Night Shyamalan in the film’s ad campaign. Considering “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender,” that’s probably wise, but I’m not sure what impact it will have at the box office. I’d expect this one to open in the low-thirties, probably ending up making a bit more than the similarly-themed “Oblivion” when all is said and done.

The real question is whether it will hit No. 1 this weekend. I would expect “Fast 6” to maintain its hold, and it is even possible (if unlikely — this is a Will Smith movie, after all) that “Earth” will come in behind “Epic” and “Star Trek.”

Coming in behind all those should be the magicians-robbing-banks thriller “Now You See Me.” The trailers are fun, but if this was directed by anyone other than Louis Leterrier (“Clash of the Titans”), I’d be a heckuva lot more excited. Look at that cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and one of my favorite actresses, the incandescent Mélanie Laurent. Good reviews could make this a modest success, and it is worth noting that Leterrier directed two of the enjoyable “Transporter” films.

In the world of indies: I saw “Something in the Air” at TIFF 2012, and my initial response, for Buffalo Spree, was muted, at best: “One notable miss was Olivier Assayas’s autobiographical film. This look at students in Paris continuing the struggles of post-May ’68 life is handsomely made but pretty vacant.” But I seemed to sense the tide could turn: “Of course, time often changes my opinions. Seeing Sarah Polley’s ‘Take This Waltz’ at TIFF 2011, I was horribly disappointed. Watching it again months later, outside the pomp and circumstance of the festival setting, I adored it. There’s hope for you yet, ‘Something.’”

This was indeed the case. The more I’ve pondered “Something in the Air,” the stronger it has seemed. Film fest fatigue played a role, I think, in my response; it was the last film, at 9 or 10 p.m., after a long day of walking and watching. And it directly followed the overwhelming emotional experience that is “Amour,” so it certainly seemed rather anonymous, in terms of character and emotion, by comparison. My earlier criticisms are valid, I think. It is hard to find a compelling character here — blah is the most intriguing, but she’s not really the star — yet the mood, the vibe, and the surroundings are so right that it works more often than not. I look forward to seeing it again.

It’s ironic that “Kon-Tiki” is opening today, since yesterday brought major news for its directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg: The duo will helm the fifth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, once more starring starring Johnny Depp. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Feature, the well-reviewed “Kon-Tiki” looks like a visual stunner, and, perhaps, a big-screen must-see.

Michael Shannon makes any film more interesting, and it will be especially fun to see him tackle the meaty villain role in “Man of Steel.” Hitman drama “The Iceman” has a heckuva cast — Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, James Franco (of course), David Schwimmer (?), Stephen Dorff — but carries the whiff of we’ve-seen-it-all-before. Still, it’s a nice alternative to “The Hangover,” and I’ll catch up with it at some point.

Local filmmaker alert: Cheers to Peter McGennis, the native son director of “Queen City,” which opens tomorrow at the North Park. Taking place and shot in Buffalo, it stars Vivica A. Fox and features a talented lineup including Susan Tedeschi, Allen Toussaint, Maria Muldaur, and Sharon Jones. I did not get a chance to attend its fall screening or see McGennis’s “Buffalo Bushido,” but it’s always nice to help promote an ambitious local filmmaker.

Incidentally, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is moving to the Movieland 8, and “Renoir” and “Mud” are still hanging around, too. Also note that “The Place Beyond the Pines” is showing at both the Movieland and McKinley Mall.

Last but not least, Joss Whedon fans in Western New York should note that “Serenity” is showing at the Screening Room tonight, part of a double-bill with sci-fi oldie “Rocketship X-M.”

Coming soon from me are some thoughts on this strange summer, which features a long lineup of dull blockbusters but some truly stunning smaller films. One of these, “Frances Ha,” opens next Friday. You’re going to love it.

Weekend Preview: “Star Trek” Sold Out? Dive Into “Mud” With McConaugheyyyyyyy

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The big new release of the week is obviously “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” but one other major story, I think, is the continued success of a movie that has been showing in Buffalo now for several weeks, and has become something of an indie hit: “Mud.”

In fact, “Mud” — which I have not had a chance to see yet — is now showing at the Dipson Amherst and the Regal Quaker Crossing (it opened there last week) after an initial run at the Dipson Eastern Hills (where it is still showing). Directed by Jeff Nichols, who blew me away at TIFF 2011 with “Take Shelter,” “Mud” has drawn raves ever since showing at Cannes last year. I was surprised the fugitive drama did not make its way to TIFF 2012, and wondered if perhaps its exclusion would lead to poor buzz. Happily, that was not the case.

The film, which stars the on-fire Matthew McConaughey (I call him McConaugheyyyyyy), and co-stars the suddenly fiery Reese Witherspoon, has made almost $10 million, and for a small release, that’s a jackpot. It demonstrates once again that there can be room for smaller films to squeak into the top 10, even during the blockbuster-crazed early summer.

Congrats to Jeff Nichols, who just sold a script to Warner Bros. Oh, my friend Michael Shannon (Zod!) is in “Mud,” and will be in the next Nichols project.

A quick box office preview: “Star Trek” will be huge, of course; if it does not hit $100 million for the weekend, it should be close. It will be interesting to see how “Gatsby” fares. I think it will hold up strong as a nice bit of counter-programming.

Poster courtesy of Roadside Attractions