24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Scott Sandell

'The Whistleblower': Poster child for the middlebrow?

August 13, 2011 |  6:00 am

Rachel Weisz in 'The Whistleblower'
When "The Whistleblower" opened last week, the Rachel Weisz-starring drama about a United Nations peacekeeper who uncovers a sex-trafficking ring in the Balkans received mixed reviews from the critics. Could that be because of an aversion to the middlebrow?

Unlike highbrow art films and lowbrow gross-out comedies, middlebrow fare such as "The Whistleblower" and "The Help" is finding fewer champions these days, according to Stephen Farber, a film critic for the Hollywood Reporter.

Although Farber finds "The Whistleblower" to be a "potent drama ... anchored by a brilliant performance by Rachel Weisz," others are not so pleased. Writing in The Times, Mark Olsen calls the film "too well-intentioned for its own good." Stephen Holden in the New York Times decries its "choppy, fumbling screenplay ... that lurches between shrill editorializing and vagueness while sorting through more characters than it can comfortably handle or even readily identify." And the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern minces no words in labeling the film "clumsily didactic and flat."

So what's really at play here -- less-than-adequate filmmaking or a case of reviewers predisposed to not like a film that is neither high art nor low humor, but something that aspires to mere goodness?

Let us know what you think in the comments, some of which will be included in next Sunday's L.A. Times.


Middlebrow, eh? Well, more please

Movie review: 'The Whistleblower'

'The Whistleblower': [Exclusive clip]

-- Scott Sandell

Photo: Rachel Weisz in "The Whistleblower." Credit: Sophie Giraud / Samuel Goldwyn Films

Critical Mass: Chris Evans saves 'Captain America'

July 22, 2011 |  5:03 pm

Chris Evans in "Captain America"
In "Captain America: The First Avenger," Chris Evans is looking pretty darn studly.

That's only partly due to his shirtlessness in director Joe Johnston's film. What's more, the critics are generally enjoying his performance as a 98-pound weakling who wants to fight the Nazis and ends up in a super-secret program that pumps him up to Ahnold-like proportions -- even if they're slightly more mixed about the film.

This year, after all, has been filled with superhero films, including "Thor," "X-Men: First Class" and "Green Lantern." For some, the expectations surrounding "Captain America" were low or filled with ennui.

But, as The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, this film "does have something the others do not: Chris Evans in the title role.... As Steve Rogers, a weak young man who gets turned into the husky Captain America by a dose of Super-Soldier Serum, this part brings out an appealing earnestness and humility in the actor that is certainly not business as usual in the comic book superhero genre."

Continue reading »

Carmageddon: Traffic jams are more fun on film

July 15, 2011 |  8:00 am

Deep Impact -- Carmageddon
With "Carmageddon" approaching fast (or slowly) upon Los Angeles, it is time to ponder: Is it better to be stuck in an enormous traffic jam or struck dead by a giant meteor? Although the 1998 disaster film "Deep Impact" was not exactly framed that way, it is a natural question as Southern Californians face a weekend of traffic woes thanks to the temporary shutting down of the 405 Freeway.

Fall-galleryIndeed, there's something truly cinematic about the doomsday hype surrounding the closure, which has included movie stars tweeting to stay ... off ... the ... road! and led some to wonder whether Carmageddon would steamroll "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" at the box office. (Short answer: It won't. Duh.)

Movies, of course, have long used traffic jam scenes for various purposes. Some heighten the dramatic tension -- what could be worse than trying to escape mortal disaster and get stuck behind that IDIOT in front of you who is leaving that HUGE gap with the car in front of him?

Some are for less tense but more complex, such as the famous eight-minute tracking shot in Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film "Week End," in which a couple navigate a French highway jam that serves as a commentary on the human condition. The behavior ranges from the absurd to the sublime, with ball-playing children, caged animals that include a llama, overturned cars, a man unfurling a sailboat's flag and ultimately the reason for all the honking, which puts the preceding machinations in a whole new context.

Watch the "Week End" scene below, then click on the photos above for a gallery of some other famous traffic jams on film.



Complete Times coverage of Carmageddon

Carmageddon, something we can all agree on

Carmageddon: L.A.'s cultural institutions plan to hunker down

-- Scott Sandell

Photo: A scene from "Deep Impact." Credit: Myles Aronowitz / Paramount Pictures

Critical Mass: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2' is 'satisfying,' guaranteed

July 14, 2011 |  3:42 pm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" is a "satisfying" end to the franchise. How do we know this? Because that very word, "satisfying," is the adjective du jour in reviews from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Time magazine, Entertainment Weekly, the Hollywood Reporter, USA Today — well, you get the idea.

Why are the critics all using this particular S-word (other than them being part of a vast media conspiracy)? They're enjoying pure "Potter" satisfaction thanks to the film's craftsmanship, its fidelity to its source material and the undeniably avuncular feeling the audience gets in having watched stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up on film.

The Times' Kenneth Turan, who was not a huge fan of Part 1, says Part 2 provides a storybook ending to the eight-movie epic: "The Harry Potter films, like the boy wizard himself, have had their creative ups and downs, so it's especially satisfying that this final film, ungainly title and all, has been worth the wait. Though no expense has been spared in its production, it succeeds because it brings us back to the combination of magic, adventure and emotion that created the books' popularity in the first place."

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Critical Mass: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' gets thrashed (who knew?)

July 1, 2011 |  7:30 am

The reviews for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" prove that there are actually three certainties in life: death, taxes and the reality that critics hate "Transformers" movies. So it's not saying much that the film also known as "Transformers 3" is probably getting the best reviews in franchise history -- or that they may contain more positives than the notices for the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts dud "Larry Crowne."

Some damn Michael Bay's film about Autobots and Decepticons with faint praise or backhanded compliments; others with good old-fashioned fulminations. At least one, Marshall Fine, decided it wasn't even worth the time to watch and put pixels to screen. But perhaps that was too hasty, considering how much fun some reviewers are having in chopping up the bots.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey delivers one of the more positive assessments, praising -- at some level -- the use of 3-D, star Shia LaBeouf and the film's humorous touches. "Don't get me wrong, the franchise remains as much an endurance test as a movie," she writes, "but at least a better Bay has delivered a leaner, meaner, cleaner 3-D rage against the machines."

Continue reading »

Sports films: Pick your champions

June 29, 2011 |  7:30 am

Baseball had the Great Bambino. Hockey had the Great One. Boxing had the Greatest. All were singular athletes who defined their sport for generations. But when it comes to sports movies, how do you measure greatness?

Sure, there are statistics such as box-office dollars, but every number might as well have an asterisk next to it à la the mythical one next to Roger Maris' onetime home run record. Quite simply, inflation and the ways films are distributed make the playing field too uneven.

Poll Picking the best sports films really comes down to opinion. And that's where you come in.

We've narrowed the choices to five top films in 10 sports -- baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf, hockey, boxing, horse racing, soccer and surfing. Click here or on one of the images to register your votes for the champ in each genre. Or write in your picks in the comments.

So, let the games begin. The ball's in your court. It's gut-check time. Step up to the plate. And don't pull any punches.


Gerard Butler begins playing the (soccer) field

Hockey movies: The Stanley Cup meets Hollywood

A Formula One movie steps on the accelerator with Ron Howard

-- Scott Sandell

Photos, from left: "The Fighter" (Jojo Whilden / Fighter, LLC), "Bend It Like Beckham (Christine Parry / Fox Searchlight Pictures), "Remember the Titans" (Buena Vista Pictures)

Hockey movies: The Stanley Cup meets Hollywood

June 15, 2011 |  4:47 pm


Hollywood and hockey have a relationship as complex as this year's battle between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup championship, which will culminate in Game 7 on Wednesday after a series filled with injury-inducing hits, spectacular offensive plays, verbal taunts and a biting incident. (Sounds like a typical day in the movies blogosphere, if you ask us.)

Though the industry is full of hockey fanatics -- Hockey-promoproducers Jerry Bruckheimer and David E. Kelley, filmmaker Kevin Smith and actors such as Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers and Cuba Gooding Jr., to name a handful -- there aren't many high-profile hockey movies. The projects that are well-known, such as 1977's "Slap Shot" starring Paul Newman and the "Mighty Ducks" movies of the 1990s, can inspire mixed feelings among hockey and movie aficionados alike. Somehow, the action on film never quite matches up with its on-ice inspiration.

And yet, there are more hockey-related movies than one might think: "Miracle." "Mystery, Alaska." "Sudden Death." "Wayne's World" features Stan Mikita's Donuts, named in homage to the Chicago Blackhawks great, and a cop named Officer Koharski, a sly reference to onetime National Hockey League referee Don Koharski, who was once assailed by a coach screaming at him, "... you fat pig. Have another doughnut!" John Wayne even starred in a hockey film, 1937's "Idol of the Crowds," in which he is coaxed into playing in the NHL to pay for an expansion of his chicken farm.

To see a gallery of memorable hockey movies, click on one of the images above. And to see the Duke himself take some awkward steps on the ice, watch the video below.



Hockey movies: Our Stanley Cup runneth over

What if you went to a film premiere and a hockey musical broke out?

Kevin Smith talks 'Red State,' Wayne Gretzky and why he's ready to leave filmmaking

-- Scott Sandell

Photo: Michael Ontkean, left, and Paul Newman in the movie "Slap Shot." Credit: Universal Pictures.


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