Features

The Notable Films of 2013: Volume G Part 2

By Garth Franklin Thursday December 27th 2012 11:59PM

In this volume I look at Wong-Kar Wai's long-delayed and forever in production martial arts epic, a high-concept action film set around a piano, a re-release of one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, Baz Luhrmann's re-imagination of one of the literary world's greatest works, a new take on a Charles Dickens classic, a sequel to a comedy that no-one liked, and a tribute to the late and great Jeff Buckley.

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The Grandmaster
Opens: 2013
Cast: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Song Hye-kyo, Chang Chen, Julian Cheung
Director: Wong Kar Wai

Analysis: AT LAST it's here. It took nearly a decade to get going, and years to complete, but the latest work from acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar Wai ("In the Mood for Love," "Chungking Express") is finally arriving a full six years after his previous effort "My Blueberry Nights".

This $25 million Mandarin-language biopic of Yip Man, a grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and master of the legendary Bruce Lee, began shooting back in December 2009. However, Wong's attention to even the tiniest detail meant it has stopped and started again numerous times with the delays frustrating many. Yuen Woo-ping is handling the fighting and choreography, an odd choice for the material some would say.

One factor not working in its favor is the over exposure of Yip Man himself in rival projects which managed to make it through production and into cinemas while this take was stuck in development hell. In the past four years there's been both "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2" which starred Donnie Yen, not to mention the unrelated "The Legend is Born - Ip Man" with Dennis To - all three exploring different times in the man's life. It's confusing to casual viewers in regard to which version is which, so much so one wonders how many will think this is either a copycat of the franchise or even an "Ip Man 3".

Trailers so far have shown some startling and wondrous imagery, fantastical shot compositions with luscious use of slow motion and a more physical sense than we've come to expect from the filmmaker. The movie will have its world premiere on January 8th in China, ahead of an international festival debut mid-February at Berlinale.

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Grand Piano
Opens: 2013
Cast: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Dee Wallace, Allen Leech
Director: Eugenio Mira

Analysis: "'Speed' at a piano" is the basic premise for this high-concept psychological thriller from "The Birthday" and "Agnosia" director Eugenio Mira. Despite being in English and starring both Elijah Wood and John Cusack, this is actually a Spanish production (from the producers of "Buried") that was shot in both Chicago and Alicante this Fall. The concept itself is one of those simple ones that makes you wish you had thought of it.

Wood plays a famed concert pianist, a virtuoso who was forced into early retirement because of crippling stage fright. Five years later he returns to the stage for a comeback performance. Moments before he begins to play, he discovers a note written on his music sheet - he must not stop playing, if he does both he and his wife will be killed. Somehow he has to find a way to alert someone to his predicament and save two lives - all whilst stuck in the one place giving a performance.

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The Grand Seduction
Opens: 2013
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent, Anna Hopkins
Director: Don McKellar

Analysis: Shot earlier this Fall in eastern Newfoundland, Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch star in this English-language remake of the 2003 Quebec movie hit "La Grand Seduction" (aka. "Seducing Dr. Lewis"). The original film's writer/director Ken Scott was originally slated to direct it, but opted instead to direct a remake of his more recent comedy "Starbuck" at Dreamworks.

As a result, actor turned filmmaker Don McKellar ("Last Night") took over the helm with "Goon" scribes Scott and Michael Dowse penning the script. Gleeson plays a resident in a tiny fishing village where the locals are promised a new factory to boost the economy. The only condition? They have to get a doctor to take up a full-time residency on the island. The villagers soon devise a scheme to convince a visiting young doctor (Kitsch) to become a local.

The trouble is the doctor has seen a good bit of the world, so the rustic surroundings aren't exactly to his liking. Kitsch is coming off an intense year of three high-profile films he had the lead role in that flopped, two of them famously so. With this and "Lone Survivor," the actor is returning to lower-key and more grounded roles which actually suit him better. Even so, it'll be interesting to see how he will go with an outright comedy like this.

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Grave of the Fireflies
Opens: 2013
Cast: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi
Director: Isao Takahata

Analysis: Last month GKids acquired the North American theatrical rights to Isao Takahata and Studio Ghibli's 1988 animated classic "Grave of the Fireflies". To celebrate the film's 25th anniversary, the distributor is planning a limited theatrical re-release in the United States. The story deals with the devastation of Japan during the final months of WWII as seen through the eyes of two children.

'Grave' is considered by many film critics and historians as one of the single greatest and most powerful war films ever made. Certainly there is not much else like it - an adult film about children that, despite its animated form, is deeply affecting and highly emotional. It's an incredibly hard film to watch as it's essentially about two kids, one extremely young, slowly dying from malnutrition.

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Gravity
Opens: October 18th 2013
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Analysis: There were real struggles to get this 3D epic sci-fi action survival thriller off the ground with numerous casting changes, financial issues and behind-the-scenes kerfuffles. Finally, after much back and forth, filming got under way on a project that even James Cameron was too scared to touch because it was so ambitious and frankly insane. The challenges, however, haven't fazed "Children of Men" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" director Alfonso Cuaron.

The story follows brilliant medical engineer (Bullock) on her first shuttle mission, along with a veteran astronaut (Clooney). The pair are the sole survivors when debris destroys their space station. Their only chance of survival is to reach rescue before they run out of air. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, with one left alone and having to essentially hopscotch from satellites to vessels to floating debris - all the time facing hazards of all sorts.

It's an intense experience, little to no dialogue and essentially a one person feature for much of its runtime. Cuaron is trying to be as realistic as possible with the film, so much so that the actors won't be donning any kind of make-up which should prove interesting. In fact, the only live-action element we see for almost the entire film is the actor's faces in their fishbowl helmets.

The majority of the movie is completely CG animated, which has reportedly allowed for Cuaron to do some pretty astonishing things in terms of filmmaking (such as some REALLY long single takes). At least one of the effects houses that worked on the film called it the hardest project they have ever undertaken. Due to the amount of post-production on this, there's been some real confusion as to when we will see it. Those few who have seen it at test screenings have been reportedly quite startled and amazed. However, it's going to be a tricky project to market.

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Great Expectations
Opens: 2013
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane
Director: Mike Newell

Analysis: This god-knows-what adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic boasts a strong cast of English actors with young pouty "War Horse" lead Irvine playing the new Pip, Fiennes as the escaped convict Magwitch, and Carter as the reclusive Miss Havisham.

For those who have never read or seen the story, it follows an orphan named Pip who falls for the adopted daughter of a wealthy spinster. He soon becomes a distinguished gentleman of society thanks to an anonymous benefactor. The big question of course is what new elements will "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" director Mike Newell and writer David Nicholls ("One Day") bring to this version to make it stand out.

Many have struggled to adapt Dickens in contemporary times, but it was 2005's BBC series take on "Bleak House" which succeeded in an unexpected way. That production kept the setting, but stripped it of the author's trademark sentimentality - resulting in a dark, gripping soap opera of a kind that made the material seem fresh. This adaptation's key point of difference is the focus on the love story between Pip (Irvine) and Estella (Holliday Grainger).

Hitting the UK the other month, shortly after a new BBC mini-series version with Douglas Booth and Vanessa Kirby arrived on small screens, reviews haven't been great. While some have praised the performances and called it easily accessible, others label it as a superfluous version that doesn't bring anything new. In fact, it's claimed that it extracts some of the meat and humor from the story. We'll see for ourselves when it opens internationally early in 2013.

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The Great Gatsby
Opens: May 11th 2013
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
Director: Baz Luhrmann

Analysis: Here you have one of the most thematically dense novels of the 20th century, one stuffed with symbolism and allegory - a work so literary that none of the three previous cinematic adaptations ever did it anything close to justice. Yet the person to crack it this time is Baz Luhrmann, a filmmaker who is essentially all surface and a devout believer of the "more is more" approach?

Granted, in some ways the "Moulin Rouge" and "Romeo + Juliet" director is perfect for the material. With his meticulous attention to detail in regards to costumes, make-up, art direction, production design and score, his films are visual and auditory feasts brimming over with spectacular sets, sumptuous clothes, anachronistic music and lavish indulgences.

That's combined with a story showcasing the spectacle of America's roaring 20's, and the indulgent excesses of the wealthy and their hangers on. It was one the single greatest time periods for fashion and design, giving the flapper dresses and art deco architecture a more contemporary and immediate energy is what he'll be great at.

More concerning is whether he and co-writer Craig Pearce can adapt the material without chucking all the subtlety out the window. Portraying the disillusionment of Nick, the hollowness of high society, and the overall disintegration of the American dream is a tricky and demanding task for even the most disciplined of filmmakers. Will Baz be able to curb his operatic excesses to deliver a meaningful take on the material?

The trailers released thus far answered that question loud and clear. Rather than trying a different and more grounded approach, Luhrmann has doubled down on his strengths to deliver a highly stylised and melodramatic take with awkward line deliveries and a lot of green screen. It has drawn comparisons to "Sucker Punch" of all things, yet it's also oddly compelling and I have found myself re-watching them a lot more than I expected.

Mulligan and Edgerton in particular look well-suited for the project (Maguire not so much), and one has to consider that an 'out there' approach like this might have more success adapting Fitzgerald's novel than the failed straightforward adaptations thus far. Over budget, over time and over produced, it's certainly a film with commercial rather than critical ambitions which explains its half-year delay from this Christmas to early Summer. Some will call it a fresh spin on a classic and others a pile of glittering garbage, I can't wait to see which side of the line I fall.

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Greetings from Tim Buckley
Opens: 2013
Cast: Penn Badgley, Imogen Poots, William Sadler, Frank Wood, Ben Rosenfield
Director: Daniel Algrant

Analysis: Back in 2011, two competing biopics about the late, great musician Jeff Buckley were in the works. The first, "Mystery White Boy," had the blessing of the Buckley estate and was to be produced by Orian Williams. In the past two years, no real progress on that film seems to have been made. The second was developed, filmed, and screened this past September at the Toronto Film Festival where it scored very good reviews - especially for actor Penn Badgley's performance as Jeff.

Dan Algrant ("People I Know," "Naked in New York") penned and directs the project which didn't have the rights to use any of Jeff Buckley's back catalogue. They did, however, score the rights to the music of Jeff's father Tim. As a result, the film was crafted to cover Jeff's career launch - in the days leading up to his 1991 performance at his father's tribute concert at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn.

In the film, Jeff shares a romance with a young woman (Imogen Poots) working at the concert, ultimately learning to embrace all of his feelings toward the father who abandoned him. This leads to a cathartic performance of his father's most famous songs. Deliberately described as low-key, the narrative is also said to be fairly "freewheeling" and deals as much with the atmosphere in the lead-up to the concert as it does Jeff himself.

As a result there's an episodic feel to it all, with a number of key sequences scoring raves such as a serenade in an indie record shop. Badgley, who does most of his own singing in the film, is said to truly shine with a performance that will be difficult to match. Frequently cited as less effective are the flashback sequences of Tim himself. Tribeca Film scored the U.S. distribution rights to the movie and are likely to give it a limited run in the first half of the year.

ALSO OPENING:

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Graceland
Drafthouse Films is releasing this "High and Low"-esque thriller from filmmaker Ron Morales about a Filipino politician's chauffeur named Marlon (Arnold Reyes) who gets no respect from his boss. One day a kidnapper pulls the car over and demands Marlon act as a go-between if either he or the politician want to see their daughters again. Marlon himself is soon the prime suspect in the eyes of the cops. Playing the Asian film festival circuit over the Fall, reviews were pretty good and called it a surprisingly relentless thriller with a message about the way justice is treated in this economically unequal world. Expect a limited theatrical and VOD release.

The Green Blade Rises
Best known for his work in different capacities on three different Terrence Malick films, AJ Edwards makes his directorial debut on this project which Malick is producing. The film is described as the "untold story" of the early years of Abraham Lincoln's life. From his abandonment by his father in the harsh winter wilderness, to a tragedy that marked him forever, and the two women who guided him into becoming one of the most influential U.S. Presidents in history. It's presently not known who is playing the role of Lincoln himself, but Diane Kruger, Jason Clarke, Brit Marling and Wes Bentley all have key roles as family members or mentor figures. Shot in October in just a few weeks, it's likely headed for a Fall festival run.

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A Green Story
Indican Pictures is releasing Nika Agiashvili's indie biopic of Van Vlahakis around April. Ed O’Ross, Shannon Elizabeth, Annabella Sciorra, George Finn, Malcolm McDowell and Billy Zane star in this story of a Greek immigrant who arrived in America with only $22 in his pocket and eventually founded the multi-million dollar green company Earth Friendly Products. Playing earlier this year at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, the few early reviews so far seem surprisingly divided with the unfortunate specter of partisan politics overshadowing proper criticism of the film itself.

Growing Up (and Other Lies)
SNL's Taran Killam plays an artist from New York City who heads back home to Ohio to recruit his three oldest friends to retrace their greatest adventure in the Big Apple: walking the entire, 260-block length of the island of Manhattan in one day. Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs ("Humboldt County") penned and directed this male coming-of-age comedy which also stars Adam Brody, Wyatt Cenac, Danny Jacobs, Josh Lawson, Amber Tamblyn and Lauren Miller.

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Grown Ups 2
2010's "Grown Ups" was a buddy comedy, and I use the term loosely, that somehow managed a $271 million worldwide haul despite an absolute critical drubbing. As a result, Sony Pictures green lit a sequel with the four key guys back including Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider. This time out the guys find themselves facing off against a group of "Fraternity Brothers" in an all-epic basketball school tournament. Said brothers are played by Taylor Lautner, Milo Ventimiglia, Patrick Schwarzenegger, David Henrie and Jared Sandler. The project also mark the first ever sequel to one of Sandler's projects, hopefully it's the last too.

The Complete Notable Films of 2013 Guide

Volume 0-9: 2 Guns, 21 and Over, 33 dias, 42, 47 Ronin, 300: Rise of An Empire, 7500

Volume A: The ABC's of Death, About Last Night, About Time, Admission, A.C.O.D., Adult World, After Earth, Afternoon Delight, Aftershock, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, All Is Lost, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, Angry Little God, Are We Officially Dating?, As I Lay Dying, Ass Backwards, At Any Price, August: Osage County, Austenland

Volume B: Backmask, Baggage Claim, Bailout: The Age of Greed, Battle of the Year, Beautiful Creatures, Before Midnight, Belle, The Best Offer, Better Living Through Chemistry, Beyond The Hills, Big Sur, The Big Wedding, Black Dog Red Dog, The Black Marks, Bling Ring, Blood Ties, The Brass Teapot, Breathe In, Broken City, Bullet to the Head, The Butler, Byzantium

Volume C: The Call, Can a Song Save Your Life?, The Canyons, Captain Phillips, Carol, Carrie, A Case of You, Cavalry, CBGB, Chavez, Child of God, Chinese Zodiac, Closed Circuit, Closer to the Moon, Cloudy 2: Revenge of the Leftovers, C.O.G., The Colony, Come Out and Play, The Company You Keep, The Congress, Concussion, The Counselor, The Coup, The Croods, Crystal Fairy

Volume D: Dallas Buyers Club, Dark Blood, Dark Skies, Dead Man Down, Decoding Annie Parker, The Deep, Delivery Man, Despicable Me 2, Devil’s Knot, The Devil's Rapture, Diana, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His & Hers, Disconnect, Dom Hemingway, Don Jon's Addiction, Dorothy of Oz, The Double, Drift, Drinking Buddies, Driven

Volume E: The East, Eden, Elsa and Fred, Elysium, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, Emperor, Empire State, Empires of the Deep, Ender's Game, The English Teacher, Epic, Errors of the Human Body, Escape From Planet Earth, The Europa Report, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, Everything Will Be Fine, Evil Dead

Volume F: Fading Gigolo, Fast Six, Fellini Black and White, Felony, A Field in England, Fill the Void, Filth, Foxcatcher, Foxfire, From Up On Poppy Hill, Frozen, Fruitvale, The Frozen Ground

Volume G: Part 1: Gambit, Gangster Squad, The Gatekeepers, Get a Job, Getaway, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Ginger and Rosa, Girls Against Boys, Girl Most Likely, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Gods Behaving Badly, A Good Day to Die Hard

Volume G: Part 2: Graceland, The Grand Masters, Grand Piano, The Grand Seduction, Grave of the Fireflies, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, The Green Blade Rises, A Green Story, Greetings from Tim Buckley, Growing Up (and Other Lies), Grown Ups 2

Volume H: The Hangover Part III, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, The Heat, Hell and Back, Hell Baby, Her, Hidden, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Homefront, Horns, The Host, The Host 2, How I Live Now, Hummingbird, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunt

Volume I: I Frankenstein, The Identical, Identity Thief, I'm So Excited, In a World, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, In Fear, Inside Llewyn Davis, Insidious Chapter Two, Interior Leather Bar, The Internship, In the Blood, The Invisible Woman, Iron Man 3

Volume J-K: Jack Ryan, Jack the Giant Slayer, Java Heat, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, Jimmy Picard, jOBS, Jurassic Park 3D, Justin and the Knights of Valour, K-11, Kick-Ass 2, Kid Cannabis, Kill Your Darlings, Kiss of the Damned, Kon-Tiki, Knight of Cups

Volume L: Part 1: Labor Day, The Last Days On Mars, The Last Exorcism: Part II, The Last Stand, Last Vegas, Laurence Anyways, Leo the Lion, Leviathan, Le Weekend, Libertador, The Lifeguard, Like Someone in Love, The Little Mermaid 3D, The Loft

Volume L: Part 2: London Project, The Lone Ranger, Lone Survivor, The Longest Week, Long Time Gone, A Long Way Down, The Look of Love, The Lords of Salem, Lore, Love and Honor, Love is All You Need, Lovelace, Lowlife, Lullaby, Luv

Volume M: Part 1: Machete Kills, Magic Magic, Malavita, Mama, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Maniac, Man of Steel, Man of Tai Chi, The Man Who Sold the World, A Many Splintered Thing, Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box, Mary Mother Of Christ, May in the Summer, McCanick, Meet Me In Montenegro, Milo

Volume M: Part 2: Mindscape, Mobius, Mockingbird, Molly Moon: The Incredible Hypnotist, Monsters University, The Monuments Men, Mood Indigo, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, A Most Wanted Man, Mother of George, Movie 43, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Much Ado About Nothing, Mud, Mystery Road

Volume N: Nebraska, The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, Night Moves, Nina, No, No One Lives, No Place on Earth, Non-Stop, Northern Soul, Not Safe for Work, Now You See Me, The Numbers Station, Nymphomaniac

Volume O-P: Part 1: Oblivion, Oculus, Odd Thomas, Oldboy, Olympus Has Fallen, One Direction Concert Movie, One Square Mile, Only God Forgives, Only Lovers Left Alive, Open Windows, Out of the Furnace, Oz: The Great and Powerful, Pacific Rim, Pain and Gain, The Paradise Trilogy, Paranoia, Parker, Parkland, Passion, The Past, The Patience Stone

Volume P: Part 2: Pawn, Pawn Shop Chronicles, Penthouse North, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Phantom, The Physician, Pieta, The Place Beyond The Pines, Planes, Plastic Jesus, The Playroom, Plush, Post Tenebras Lux, Prince Avalanche, Prisoners, The Prophet, The Purge

Volume Q-R: The Quiet Ones, The Railway Man, The Rambler, Random, Reality, RED 2, Red Light Winter, Red Machine, Red Wing, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Reykjavik, R.I.P.D., Riddick, The Rover, Runner Runner, Rush

Volume S: Part 1: S-V/H/S, The Sacrament, Safe Haven, Saving Mr. Banks, Scary Movie 5, The Scribbler, The Sea, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Serena, The Seventh Son, Side Effects, Sightseers, Simon Killer, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, A Single Shot, Small Apartments, Small Time, The Smurfs 2

Volume S: Part 2: Snitch, Snowpiercer, Someone Marry Barry, Something in the Air, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, Space Warriors, The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Starbuck, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: Episode II & III 3D, Still Life, Stoker, Stories We Tell, Sweetwater, Syrup

Volume T: Part 1: Tar, Tarzan 3D, A Teacher, Thanks for Sharing, Therese Desqueyroux, Therese, They Came Together, They Die by Dawn, Third Person, This Is The End, Thor: The Dark World, A Thousand Times Good Night, Three Days To Kill, Three Worlds, The To Do List, Tom a la ferme, The Tomb, Tomorrow You're Gone

Volume T: Part 2: To The Wonder, Too Late, Touchy Feely, Toy’s House, Tracks, Trance, The Trials of Cate McCall, Trust Me, Turbo, Twelve Years A Slave, Twenty Feet From Stardom, Twice Born, Two Night Stand, The Two Faces of January, Two Mothers, Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry Presents: We The Peeples

Volume U-W: Part 1: Under the Skin, Unforgiven, Untitled David O. Russell Project, Untitled Nicole Holofcener Project, Untitled Terrence Malick Film, Upstream Color, Venus in Fur, Very Good Girls, Virtually Heroes, Wadjda, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, War Witch, Warm Bodies, The Way Way Back, We Are What We Are, We're the Millers, Welcome to the Jungle, Welcome to the Punch, What Maisie Knew

Volume W: Part 2-Z: White Bird in a Blizzard, White House Down, The Wilderness of James, Winter Rose, Winter's Tale, Wish You Well, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Wolverine, Wolves, Words with Gods, World War Z, The World's End, You Are Here, You Can't Win, You're Next, You're Not You, The Young and Prodigious Spivet, The Zero Theorem

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