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‘Editorials’ Articles

Summer Blockbuster Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir Marc Webb, released July 4th)

LA: Fuck it is all I can say. Fuck it.

DC: In Spider-Man there was a fruitcake. In Spider-Man 2 there was a chocolate cake. No cake in part 3, part of the problem. This new one, for all the flaws of the third film, could and should have brought back the original creative talent. I strongly dislike it when series undo all the goodwill built up around a cast and crew. They’d spent three films establishing a world and establishing Maguire and Dunst as the leads, the Raimi aesthetic, JK Simmons…the whole thing. There was still enough momentum to push through to a fourth, fifth, sixth film. It seems a real shame that one instalment with some mixed reviews, a film that nonetheless made almost $900 million that you’d go back to basics and reboot it.

LA: It’s annoying because one day John Malkovich was set as the villain, the next day they were scrapping the project to move forwards with a remake.

DC: I heard they had James Vanderbilt simultaneously writing treatments for a fourth, fifth and a reboot. Why didn’t Sony push forward with a fourth film with Raimi? I know the rumours are that he left of his own accord, but the impression I’ve got is that it was primarily the studio treading on his feet again; absolutely the main problem they encountered during the production of the previous film. Fobbing off a second villain that nobody on the creative side wanted to see, all that shit aside, he still turned over a film that made a killing at the box office. Now they come out afterwards and say they’re going to make a leaner, meaner, tighter, cheaper Spidey that’ll take things back to highschool and ape the Twilight model. Why then cast an actor who is almost thirty? Why reboot it in a way that seems to beat-by-beat rip-off the first Raimi film? I’m not necessarily going to judge Marc Webb as a choice of director, I’m sure he’s capable of turning in a good Spider-Man film, I’m just frustrated that a series with mileage left in it has been abandoned in favour of what is, effectively, a remake. I enjoyed the approach in the nineties with the Burton Batman series. You can ditch a director, you can even ditch a lead actor but keep the supporting cast and the wider world intact. Don’t press the reboot button and remake the first film immediately. How can $900 million worldwide for the third film not be enough to warrant chaining Maguire and Dunst to the franchise for another few years, even if they canned Raimi? It’s not like they have anything better to do! I don’t doubt Webb’s Spider-Man will make a lot of money, I don’t even doubt it’ll have some great qualities, but it just seems a real shame Sony feel a radical re-think is in order. Where does it end? Rebooting again in about 2017 with yet another remake of the 2002 film?

LA: Spider-Man 3 was no Batman & Robin. By no stretch of the imagination. It had a lot of flaws and there’re a lot of things wrong with it, but I look back on it in the same way I look back on Alien3. The fact he made Spider-Man 2, which in my opinion is up there with The Dark Knight as the best of the best…

DC: It’s still the best! As an all-rounder it’s the best comicbook film made.

LA: The reason I get so angry about it, three things, firstly Raimi had proven he could make a great, successful Spider-Man film when given the breathing room. Secondly – the Andrew Garfield thing. He doesn’t look sixteen. He looks like a man in his late twenties. If you’re going to reboot and bring it back to the teenage years, cast an age-appropriate actor or don’t bother. Thirdly, it’s rebooting the franchise so, so soon after the third film.

DC: Spider-Man only came out ten years ago. Spider-Man 3 only came out five years ago. I understand there’s a business argument for pushing out another film as soon as possible, probably the rights revert to Marvel after a period of inactivity, but it’s just annoying that a lot of people don’t seem to feel the same way. People are getting excited about the trailers and the pre-release material, and I really don’t see why. It isn’t clicking with me. I’ve watched all that material and I fail to see it. Also…sigh…predictably; it’s in fucking 3D. God what a surprise.

LA: When I saw the teaser trailer it was in 3D. When it went into the first-person mode I thought it resembled a computer game more than it resembled a movie. That sort of shot reminds you what a gimmick the technique is, and how little it adds to the experience.

DC: It looks worse in 3D. It disorientates. It hurts the eyes. It confuses. On anything other than an IMAX screen with clean transitions, good lighting and long-takes it’s a physically unpleasant experience.

LA: I agree.

DC: I’ll give The Amazing Spider-Man some credit. The cast is quite good.

LA: Denis Leary!

DC: I’m sure some quarters were criticising Batman in the same way when Chris Nolan took over, though that franchise had of course disappeared over a much steeper cliff than Spider-Man, and Begins bares little relation to any previous Batman film. Maybe on July 4th we’ll be apologising for having such issues…

LA: And maybe we’ll be looking forward to 2014s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Venom.

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about The Dark Knight Rises!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: GI Joe: Retaliation (dir John Chu, released June 22nd)

DC: They seem to have gone some way to distance themselves from the first film. The impression I’ve gotten from the trailers is that they kill off the entire cast, Channing Tatum and everyone, about five minutes in, and move forward with The Rock and Bruce Willis running around with massive guns. Probably the movie they should have made the first time.

LA: I really like the first GI Joe. Honestly, for me, it offered exactly what I wanted from trash. It was a really quite fun summer blockbuster that kind of brought Stephen Sommers back after the shitstorm of Van Helsing.

DC: I’m not going to go as far as to say it ‘brought him back’, but it’s certainly an improvement. I caught about ten minutes on tv recently having not seen it since the cinema, and its perfectly silly, harmless nonsense. They throw excess and noise at you with these characters who walk and talk like the action figures they are. Things popping out and people firing missiles out of their arms, all very, very straight-faced. It’s the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Ten minutes was sufficient.

LA: He treads a fine line with stupidity. It can be charming and energetic with The Mummy, or like being buggered by a studded dildo with Van Helsing. When I say he’s been brought back, I don’t mean he’s redeemed himself as some sort of great director, but just that he’s remembered that if you’re going to be dumb you have to compensate in other areas. GI Joe pushed as close as possible to the unbearable Van Helsing, but just held off enough to be watchable. It treads the line and does the job.

DC: Van Helsing’s biggest failure was wasting a really quite exciting premise with good franchise potential. Nobody will have been disappointed in the same way with GI Joe, the expectation of quality just can’t have been there. I mean, it’s a film based on a Hasbro toy series with guns, bombs and ninja sword fights. Nobody will have been disappointed. You’re either not watching it, it’s as shit as you expect, or it’s a passable ninety minutes that you forget about as you leave the cinema. I’m willing to give the sequel a chance. Dwayne and Bruce. The trailer was ridiculous, like one of the sillier Roger Moore Bond films, Moonraker and stuff. The Rock has a gun as long as a car. I’m on board with that. I’ll put on my fake moustache and glasses set and creep into the cinema to watch it from the back.

LA: When I saw the trailer with Bruce Willis rocking up at the end and firing off a machine gun, it reminded me a bit of Fast Five, which of course also starred The Rock. With Fast Five I felt he was the only member of the cast that completely understood he was starring in the fifth movie of a series that has long since lost all credibility, and played it for what it is. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were walking around deadly serious, acting as though they were starring in a legitimately great movie.

DC: We all remember the Vin Diesel Oscar talk. I think it really has a chance!

LA: Channing Tatum was trying to act his way through the original, and it always cracks me up. Bruce Willis in the new film, much as with Planet Terror and a lot of the other stuff he’s done recently, he knows it’s stupid! He knows it’s trashy!

DC: I think Fast Five’s a brilliant action film, but I do agree that part of the thing I like about it is the seriousness with which Vin Diesel and some of the others take it. They’re so dedicated and invested in their characters, it’s impossible not to laugh. When Vin contemplates the scene where he finally confronts The Rock for sweaty man-fight, he does so with consummate professionalism and a crazy level of focus. The Rock clearly thinks the whole thing is just hilarious. It’s that contrast layered over the crunchy car crashes and heist setpieces that makes the film a winner. A fourth sequel should never be as good as Fast Five. It never, ever happens. The series has become a whole different beast since they tossed in The Rock. If he can franchise-hijack GI Joe to the same effect, we might be in for a treat. He’s a guy that really deserves his own series. You can only run off with other peoples so many times! Where’s our Dwayne Johnson action trilogy!

LA: Maybe if he had his own franchise he’d turn into the next Vin Diesel and start taking it a bit too seriously? He’s just not particularly fussy. He takes jobs and shows up in things and tends to be the best thing in them.

DC: I like that The Rock is the magic ingredient you call to come in and fix your series. He’s the guy you call to come in and make your fifth Fast and the Furious film a half-billion dollar hit. You dump him in Journey 2 it’s an enormous hit. You dump him in GI Joe 2 and…well…we’ll see.

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about The Amazing Spider-Man!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (dir Rupert Sanders, released June 1st)

DC: Well, it’s opening the same day as Prometheus. Dangerous. Two Charlize Theron movies on the same day.

LA: This is the one with Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart, not the dodgy Tarsem one?

DC: Yeah, there’s Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh’s version with Julia Roberts. It looks awful. Like an even more juvenile Alice in Wonderland with an embarrassed Armie Hammer. Poor guy. He’s got the successive bombs of J Edgar, this and The Lone Ranger on his conscience. Shame, the guy could be a moviestar. I think this Snow White story looks a lot better. The dwarf cast is good. Mirror Mirror used real dwarfs that can’t act. A digitally shrunken Bob Hoskins beats that.

LA: This one has been totally off my radar. It shows how little impression it’s made so far if I’m getting it confused with fucking Mirror Mirror.

DC: Why doesn’t one studio flinch and not make their Snow White film?

LA: Pixar did that with Newt when they found out how similar Rio was. They got rid of it entirely rather than releasing a rival project.

DC: I think the guy directing it, this Rupert Sanders, has done a few adverts and bits. The scope of it is impressive. I was surprised by how stylish the trailer was. I don’t know whether there’s much beyond that, but I’m interested to see Hemsworth branch out beyond Thor. I’m looking forward to that Ron Howard racing movie.

LA: Kristen Stewart’s immediately going to attract the Twilight crowd.

DC: I respect her for trying to carve out a career beyond that series, though if this is just a quick weekend pull and then disappears, I won’t be particularly happy. Between this and On The Road she has a real chance to break away from the vampires. With a debut director…it could be a real surprise…maybe two years from now we’ll be sitting down to watch the second Snow White/Huntsman film. The trailer went a long way to convincing me.

LA: It’s funny how you keep mentioning the ‘unknown quantity’ thing regarding this summers set, because those can end up being the biggest surprises. I didn’t like Chronicle anywhere near as much as others, but I sat there pleasantly surprised, especially considering the surplus of found footage films floating around. It really takes something exceptional to rise above the shit, and it did a fairly good job despite the shake.

DC: One of my favourite films of last year was Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

LA: Brilliant film.

DC: I’m not saying Snow White and the Huntsman will be of the same quality, but Apes really, really surprised people despite all the preconceptions. Maybe this’ll be a great fantasy spectacle and we’ll all fall headfirst into the universe they’ve created. The release date worries me a little. I know it’s a busy summer, but surely it’d be wiser to put it a week after or against GI Joe or something. Maybe its counter programming? If it skews younger and Prometheus gets the harder rating, it could pull in the family crowds.

LA: If they use the R rated cut of Prometheus, that’s not going to attract the Twihard crowd.

DC: You’re right about that crowd following Stewart. Like Dan Radcliffe with The Woman in Black, no doubt that crowd was packed with Potter fans.

LA: It helped that The Woman in Black was an excellent movie.

DC: I had a good deal of faith in James Watkins. I thought Eden Lake was fantastic.

LA: Tough. Very, very tough.

DC: He’s a really good director. He’s made two horror films that’re incredibly different.

LA: Eden Lake’s an ordeal, The Woman in Black is very old fashioned, I mean…it’s a Hammer film.

DC: It’s an ordeal in its own right. My brother couldn’t believe it’s a 12A. He’s right.

LA: I can’t believe it’s a 12A.

DC: It’s incredibly frightening.

LA: As a huge fan of the stageplay I had a few issues, but that 20 minute section where he’s stuck in the house my twin brother was shitting bricks. Radcliffe did a good job of distancing himself from Harry Potter. The thing I worry about with Snow White and the Huntsman is that it might end up veering just a little too close to Twilight. I know the story is totally different, but I worry they might end up a little too similar in some regards.

DC: If it ends up with Stewart basically playing Bella from Twilight and Hemsworth basically playing a Scottish version of Thor, we might be in danger territory. It could all end up feeling a little derivative, especially opening a couple of months after a direct Snow White competitor.

LA: It’s interesting that a film like this is out in the middle of the summer. It looks as though it would play better later in the year.

DC: It looks more suited to the Harry Potter November slot. Dripping with fantasy creatures, big sets, nice location work. Why June? Fucking Universal…

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about GI Joe: Retaliation.

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Prometheus (dir Ridley Scott, released June 1st)

Since this recording, Fox have pumped out a couple of new Prometheus trailers, boosted the viral marketing sites and dumped online a long WonderCon panel interview with Ridley Scott & Damon Lindelof. The film continues to fascinate and excite with striking imagery and tantalising hints as to its direct connection to the original franchise. As a lifelong Alien fan, this is pretty much like winning the lottery.

DC: Fox’s marketing up until now has been masterful. I hope they’re not foolish enough to start dropping significant plot points into future trailers and ads. I love that some semblance of mystery remains. It’s so cloak and dagger. Even with a few more money shots and a bigger indication as to the scale of the thing, I hope the theatrical trailer doesn’t spoil the good work so far. I want to go in with some blindspots. I’ve loved the stuff they’ve put online thus far, especially the Guy Pearce TED talk.

LA: I haven’t seen that yet.

DC: It’s a mock-up of those technology talks with Guy Pearce’s character laying some of the groundwork for the movie. It’s set fifty or sixty years before the bulk of Prometheus, a century before Alien and a few years after the AvP company stuff, with Pearce as a Weyland family member talking up his aspirations for the company through the years ahead. It’s not material that’s in the film. It’s just a fun fan thing they’ve thrown together that Ridley Scott’s son shot. I think Pearce is aged up with makeup in the movie itself. It’s basically the sort of shit that fandom thrives on. We live for this shit.  It builds hype, it gives an idea that they’re not aiming small.

LA: In terms of summer releases, my anticipation for this, the marketing and sheer intrigue, it’s second only to The Dark Knight Rises.

DC: Both of them, part of the reason that the anticipation is still there is because they’ve done such a good job holding their cards close to their chest. They haven’t given the game away. They’re unknown quantities. For such enormous entries in such enormous franchises, its remarkable how little is known and how little we can predict. You can still go in fairly blind, though its been clear for a while that all that shit about this not being a prequel to Alien is basically bollocks. It is. It’s firmly grounded in the same universe. You can’t watch a frame of that trailer without seeing the connections. They show the derelict crashing for fucks sake! Having bought the Alien anthology on BluRay late last year, my excitement’s at fever pitch. I love them, especially the first two films. There aren’t many series out there quite like it. In light of Fincher’s later successes, even Alien3 is having a reappraisal of late. Nightmare production and all, it’s an interesting project and its history is endlessly fascinating. If it wasn’t for Alien3 and all the studio interference, Fincher the perfectionist and uncompromising genius we know and love might not exist in the same way. The way it shaped his character, his obsession with final cut and his refusal to tread the studio line, the controlling element. His experiences with the Alien franchise is the cause of all that. Back to Prometheus though, just as a franchise geek, getting another entry that delves into the mythology a bit more…it’s what we’ve been waiting for our entire lives!

LA: It’s interesting, the reason the teaser works isn’t just seeing the derelict and the Space Jockey and these sorts of things, it’s hearing the same music track and having the font come up in the same way, it gets you going. The whole thing about it not being a prequel is rubbish. Even if the xenomorph doesn’t feature at all, it’s intrinsically linked.

DC: You see the fucking derelict crash in the trailer! Any shit about it not being linked is a lie. There are significant locations and incidents from Alien mythology that pop up in Prometheus.

LA: It’s interesting to see how it works. I’ve read a brief synopsis, I’m not sure if it’s genuine, that talks about the Space Jockey’s terraforming Earth.

DC: I’ve read that one too. There’s another suggesting a time travel element. There’s a lot of shit out there, so it’s hard to tell for sure. I haven’t read the script. Beyond the immediate marketing stuff, it might be best to ignore any rumours and try to go in with some uncertainty.

LA: It’s really commendable that films like Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises haven’t let the cat out of the bag. They’ve basically said ‘fuck you’, and aren’t afraid to keep some big secrets until opening day.

DC: It reminds me of Inception. Obviously a fantastic film, but part of the excitement came from it being an unknown quantity. Big secrets until release. All the surprises still there on that first viewing. You really didn’t know what to expect. We were bombarded with some great images, but there wasn’t a great deal beyond some rudimentary plot points. It’s the same with this. You know it has this giant cast, but you don’t know exactly what happens in the fucking movie! What is it!

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about Snow White and the Huntsman.

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Men in Black III (dir Barry Sonnenfeld, released May 25th)

DC: Only a month or so into summer and we’re still fighting off aliens from all angles. John Carter hanging out with aliens, The Avengers fighting aliens, Will Smith saying one-liners to aliens. Aliens Aliens Aliens. Men in Black III, yet again, another summer movie likely to have an astronomical budget significantly higher than the figure Sony Columbia state. An expensive star, a nightmarish production. It’s hell. Men in Black once had the potential to be a great family franchise. The first is a decent action comedy that helped launch the career of the biggest moviestar in the world. It works. Fifteen years later it still really works. MIBII got caught with its script being scribbled in pencil during strike season, they went into it with a mangled treatment and consequently it doesn’t work at all. I’ve only seen it once and I hated it. Men in Black III, ten years later, I don’t blame the gang involved for taking another crack at the series, especially someone like Will Smith who is in the process of crawling back to his core franchises after a quiet few years. I believe everyone involved has the desire to make a film that improves upon the awful second, but seemingly they’ve had just as difficult a time this time around. David Koepp doing emergency re-writes last spring when they had that break during shooting, Big Will being a grade-A prima donna and demanding weird shit like the rebuilding of sets to his specification, all the shit figuring out the mechanics of the time travel premise half way through shooting the film. It stinks of a project that’s going to be racked with plot holes and issues. The trailer didn’t impress me much. It doesn’t look very funny, it’s in predictable 3D, Big Will seems to be pulling the same shtick he was doing fifteen years ago. Maybe it’s too much to expect any better from such a lightweight summer comedy, least of all a second sequel, but there’s something about it all that sits very uncomfortably with me. I’ll be surprised if it’s anything other than mediocre.

LA: Ultimately, my opinion on the film will come down to one major question, and this is all I have to ask of the movie; does the world really need a Men in Black III?

DC: No.

LA: There’s no purpose. Unless it does something to justify its existence, which I doubt, everything until now suggests something totally uninspiring. It’s had just as troubled a shoot as the second film, and we all know how that turned out, Barry Sonnenfeld hasn’t made a good movie in years.

DC: Since Men in Black. Everyone comes crawling back to the franchise in tired desperation. It’s the same situation as the potential Ghostbusters 3 you hear about. Same situation as this, the second film didn’t work, and now you have a big gap between that and a third. Ivan Reitman hasn’t made a good film in years either. People seem to think it’s a good idea, but when they really stop and think about it they realise it’s just not. There’s a reason it hasn’t been made before now. There isn’t a film there.

LA: Men in Black III just doesn’t interest me. It’s been, what, ten years?

DC: 2002. Ten years.

LA: Five years between the first and second was too long, and this is even longer still. I just don’t think the demand is there. Will Smith’s a big enough star that it’ll make money, but I mean…

DC: Why wait fifteen years between the first and third? There was enough goodwill from the first film to possibly justify pumping out a third film by about 2004, but the whole sordid process has been spread out over a decade and a half when they should have had a whole trilogy packed up on DVD by about 2001. We’re practically in reboot territory by Hollywood standards. It looks like Big Willy is going to crawl from this into another Bad Boys, possibly, another Independence Day or fucking Hancock 2. Why in his mid-forties is he crawling back to these big hits he made years ago? Why isn’t he creating new franchises?

LA: He’s the most successful actor of all time. He’s overtaking the likes of Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise as this massive, untouchable machine. Why does he feel the need to make this shit?

DC: Why revitalise a career that’s stagnated by growing that ridiculous fucking moustache for Men in Black III and doing it back-to-back with an M.Night Shyamalan film? Big Will is a talented actor and a genuine moviestar. He could do anything!

LA: He can do anything he wants, and he crawls back to Men in Black. It just doesn’t seem logical.

DC: Or if you do crawl back, don’t fudge the production in the way they seem to have. I’d say the studio was pushy with a release date and everyone was rushed off their feet, but they started this thing in like winter 2010. That’s a long fucking time to get the thing right. Plenty of time. It feels like the sort of trainwreck where the stories that emerge about the production in a few years will be much more interesting than the film itself. The MIBII shoot is way more interesting than the shitty film itself, which is dull beyond belief.

LA: When you hear about troubled productions like this, the person that springs to mind who stands almost alone in his ability to operate inside total chaos is James Cameron.

DC: He revels in chaos. I think he has such a clear vision of what he wants a film to be; he can keep true to that vision even if the production is collapsing around him. Cast and crew are just props to be used as he sees fit. It’s all in his head. I really respect that about him, even when I have problems with the final product. Even Avatar, a film with tremendous issues, I respect the singularity and focus Cameron brings. He’s one of a kind.

LA: I know you quite liked Scream IV, but when you hear the problems they had with that, it’s a big repeat of the mistakes they made with the third. What are we supposed to make of that? As it stands I hated the film, I thought it was a detestable piece of shit.

DC: Nobody ever seems to learn any lessons. Wes Craven has to have some responsibility, I’m not sure if it’s that he won’t stand up to his producers, but he’s had troubled production after troubled production. It’s like he sleeps in and comes in three hours late every morning. He seems such a nice guy, too!

LA: I like how the filmmakers try and say “oh it’s not troubled, we’re just honing the final product by tuning up the script a bit”, which is nearly always total rubbish. They just realise the script is shit, it isn’t filming well, and they try a last-gasp recovery way, way too late.

DC: When you’ve grown up following blockbuster trends as we have, you end up able to smell a troubled production a mile off. The timing of the pre-release material, the openness and confidence of the crew to speak out about the project. Once in a while a supposedly smooth production has a few nasty stories leak out afterwards, but normally it’s something you can see coming a good few months in advance.  I could have told you a year ago that the guys shooting Men in Black III were going to have a hell of a time producing something worth watching. Maybe, in spite of all this, it’ll be the exception to the rule and they’ll hand in some choppy, frothy fun? Jurassic Park III had the production from hell and they cobbled together a great, scrappy B-movie worthy of the title it holds. Sometimes a lot of heart goes a long way to make up for shortfalls in other areas. That’s not a sign of support for MIB, but who knows…

LA: If you’re going into a movie, you have to go in with as open a mind as possible. You might go into the new Michael Bay movie and find he’s made Citizen Kane.

DC: His next film is called Pain and Gain. It sounds like it could be affiliated with Citizen Kane. You could watch them as a double bill. Citizen Kane Pain and Gain. Followed by GI Jane. I’ll email the Prince Charles.

LA: For something like Men in Black III, I’ll try to be as open as possible, but it’s just really hard to feel anything positive.

DC: I’ll judge it on its own merits. I hope to be entertained. If something with such low aspirations fails to even achieve a fun, throwaway ninety minutes than it’s next to worthless.

LA: It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean IV. Expectations are so diminished that you come out just drained by how painfully average it all is. So mediocre.

DC: Pirates IV is the worst sort of anything. Thinking about it hurts my brain.

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Dark Shadows (dir Tim Burton, released May 11th)

Post-recording thoughts on the trailer for Dark Shadows: It plays up the comedic elements more than I expected. I like that the ‘future’ the vampire character awakens into appears to be a kitschy, retro 70s setting. Burton seems to be playing heavily on the ‘fish out of water’ stuff. With little to no knowledge of the original TV series, consider me intrigued…

DC: By the time this is up the trailer should be online. I think it goes live Thursday.

LA: Okay.

DC: Very close to release. Dark Shadows comes out on May 11th, and they’ve released hardly any material up until now. A few photos but not a frame of footage so it remains a bit of an unknown quantity. What I will say, is that for someone who has gone so far in betraying all the years of love and investment I’ve placed in his career, Tim Burton has somehow…

LA: …he’s become a bit of a hack.

DC: …somehow, managed to maintain my interest with his two projects this year. If he fluffs it with Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie, than I really do think he might be dead to me. I can’t express how much I loathed Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland. His career’s been on a downward trajectory since Planet of the Apes and the beginning of his relationship with Bonham Carter. I don’t think anything he’s done in the last decade has anywhere near the charm of the sorts of films he was making twenty years ago. It doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, these sorts of the movies. That said, I think Dark Shadows might be right up his alley. It intrigues me. I’ll have to get a better idea of the tone of the thing before I jump in and pledge my unyielding support to the project. I’ve softened slightly since I really enjoyed the trailer for Frankenweenie earlier this year. I’ve always liked the short it’s adapted from, the stop motion is looking sharp and there’s no Depp in sight. That’s appealing, but I remain dubious about pretty much anything Burton does at the moment until given reason to feel otherwise. I’m convinced he still has good work left in him though…

LA: I’ve never been an enormous fan of Tim Burton. I’ve admired some of his stuff, but my favourite of his movies are the ones nobody would consider his best in a million years. Big Fish, I really, really dug Sweeney Todd, though I know you like it less and less as time goes on. I’m in agreement though that Alice in Wonderland is utter drivel. It’s the sort of movie that makes you doubt it’s the same man that made Edward Scissorhands.

DC: He’s become so production-design-centric. Moving into the digital age hasn’t helped him in the slightest. There’s a wonderful papier-mâché, handmade quality to the effects work on Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, and an incredibly big, incredibly well expressed auteurial vision to his two Batman films. No other filmmaker could have made those two quite the way he did, which is why I continue to hold them in high esteem even after the Nolan films have supplanted them totally in the affections of many people. Burton had a real vision and those two efforts in the Batman universe are absolutely as relevant and impactful as the Nolan entries. I find it genuinely sad that the last Burton film I’ve loved was Sleepy Hollow in the late nineties. I liked Big Fish, though it’s somewhat flawed. I liked elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though I don’t think it holds up to repeat viewings and I never forgave them for not going full-musical and using the songs from the Gene Wilder film. Everything else he’s done in recent years though, Planet of the Apes, Corpse Bride I didn’t like at all, Sweeney Todd then culminating in Alice in Wonderland. He’s become, dare I use the phrase, a parody of himself. He needs to take a journey of rediscovery as a visual artist. The problem with Dark Shadows is that he seems to be falling back into the same bad habits. John August worked on the script, Danny Elfman scored it, the same old crew, Depp and Bonham Carter in the cast. It’s so fucking predictable. Since he moved to London and hooked up with Bonham Carter, it’s all gone balls up. He needs to do what Sam Raimi did with Drag me to Hell and remember what people originally liked about his films. Ditch the collaborators if necessary, they’re not helping. Rediscover what made those early films work.

LA: If you look at that ten year period between the late eighties and late nineties, I have some problems with his two Batman movies, but there’s no denying that they are clearly Tim Burton movies. He’s carried on that production-design-centric attitude, as you say, I think that’s been consistent, but with that earlier work he never lost focus on the story element. Even something like Ed Wood that could easily have been quite indistinctive, his fingerprints are clearly all over it. He seemed more invested in the film as an all-round product rather than just obsessing over the aesthetics. Though I liked Big Fish and Sweeney Todd, he really has become ‘the hack’ you dread someone like Darren Aronofsky becoming if he’d ended up doing Robocop or Wolverine. Someone who has made very interesting quite challenging films like that, you fear for what they could become if they get stuck in the studio cycle.

DC: Burton, perhaps more than any other filmmaker, epitomises that trend of getting stuck in a vicious circle of dross. I loved his independent, singular voice working inside of the studio system on Batman and Mars Attacks, but since Apes he’s fully assimilated into that system and any semblance of an edgy, relevant voice has been softened to the point where he’s just become Burton ‘the brand’.

LA: I agree.

DC: Maybe it’s that I’ve grown up out of his style, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I still feel just as strongly about the early ones. I don’t think its mere nostalgia; I just think he’s performing on a much lower level than the younger Burton. I can’t help but think the relationship is to blame. He’s a settled family man with two young children and a long-term partner. It’s killed him creatively. He’s sold out enough to get pretty much anything he wants financed. I don’t think any of this helps him on a creative level. As a businessman, he’s a greater success than he’s ever been, but as someone making films of any artistic relevance he’s dived off the talent cliff.

LA: The funny thing is that it’s very similar to my opinions on Quentin Tarantino. I started having issues with Tarantino around the time I first started getting into Mark Kermode. My opinions on Tarantino, unsurprisingly, ended up mirroring Mark’s. As far as I’m concerned, Jackie Brown was his apex. I know everyone still rates Pulp Fiction as his best film…

DC: Apart from me, I think Inglourious Basterds is his best film.

LA: Jackie Brown is my favourite. After reading the book I realised what a mature step it was for him as a writer/director. It was everything that personified Tarantino but open enough to appeal to a new audience.

DC: It speaks volumes for how good Tarantino is that, at the time, some people were slagging it off for not being as good as his first two. You’re in a pretty good place if you’re being criticised for a film as good as Jackie Brown.

LA: After that he did Kill Bill, which I still quite like, but I have a few issues with it. Then he went and made Death Proof, which, I know you quite liked, but I really couldn’t stand.

DC: I like it. It’s junk. I don’t think much of it as a feature film in its own right, I think of it exclusively as part of the Grindhouse package with Planet Terror and the trailers. It might have been better if they’d trimmed it down a little bit more and stuck to the original intention of a shorter double feature. I think Kill Bill parts 1 & 2 are wonderful, as for Death Proof I can understand some of the problems people have with it, but simply by the quality of its strengths, the amazing, practical car chases and Kurt Russell being Kurt Russell. It’s so exciting and propulsive and stylish, and even if it hadn’t worked, any ill will towards QT was blown away by the masterful Inglourious Basterds – far and away the best film he’s made in fifteen years.

LA: Inglourious Basterds frustrated me as much as I admired it. I won’t compare it to Alice in Wonderland….Alice in Wonderland just frustrates me fullstop, but there’s a lot of things in Basterds, like Alice that are quintessentially what you would expect from their director, but the problem with Alice that we have to extend to Basterds is that both highlight all the things I don’t like so much about either director these days. As you say with Burton, he’s become this Hollywood brand pumping out mediocre movies. With Tarantino, he has the same issue with these stylish tics and habits that are beyond predictable now. The Basterd characters themselves I thought were just horrible, horrible people. I hated them.

DC: I can understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare something as provocative as Inglourious Basterds with something as sanitised and vacuous and dull and bloated as Alice in Wonderland. I’m looking forward to Django Unchained. The script read extremely well and I’m looking forward to seeing him work with a star as big as DiCaprio.

LA: It says it all about Tim Burton’s shitty last decade that we veered off topic so quickly…

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about the dreaded Men in Black III!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: The Avengers (dir Joss Whedon, released April 27th)

DC: If they did a slimmed down, cheaper version of this, I think The Hulk would be played by a green painted Dwayne Johnson with Danny Trejo as Iron Man.

LA: The Avengers comes out on my birthday. I watched the trailer the other day and, you know, I’m oddly excited about it. You’ve got The Dark Knight Rises which is obviously the big boy in DCs canon, but with The Avengers you’ve got the excitement of every movie which has been made since Iron Man building up to this moment. A four-year process leading up to it. If it doesn’t deliver, I’m sure there’s going to be an outcry amongst the Marvel fandom, so I reckon it’s a fairly good bet they haven’t fucked it up. It’s Joss Whedon. I’m not a massive fan of Joss Whedon, but the guy knows his stuff, he’s written comic books as well. I think he’s written plots for Marvel Civil War and stuff. Do you know about that?

DC: I know nothing about anything.

LA: It’s basically Iron Man and Captain America leading up either side in some sort of civil war between superheroes. I think he’s had a hand in that. It’s the anticipation of it, you know, you can’t get away with what Battleship is doing and throw money at the problem, you’ve got all the major characters from all their own movies. It’s not like when Warner Bros were trying to do the fucking Justice League movie and start from scratch.

DC: That was horrendous.

LA: I mean, it’s been building up to this point for a long, long time.

DC: On an industrial level, I really admire what Marvel has done. It’s good business to bed down several films worth of marketing over several years across all your tent pole flicks, and I think it gives the fans a real thrill. They’re bulletproofed. It’s almost guaranteed to be profitable. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk both made decent enough money, Thor and Iron Man 1 & 2 even more so, and coming into this film, with all the leg-work already done establishing a proven brand and successful characters, they can afford to spend their money with a guaranteed return. It’s the anti-Battleship. It’ll open at the end of next month and I expect the Disney execs to be fighting with giant piles of cash, wiping their asses on 100 notes.

LA: *laughs*

DC: As for the quality of the film itself, the jury is still out. It’s been testing well.

LA: I find all the films so far, including The Incredible Hulk, which I found the weakest of the lot; they’ve all managed to be entertaining in their own way. They’re all also flawed in their own, strange way…but they’ve never been less than enjoyable.

DC: There isn’t a film there that’s in any way remarkable, but there’s a series of very, very solid, good, enjoyable superhero films that become more than the sum of their parts as a result of this wonderful continuity between them. I know some people have criticised the way they’ve manhandled in certain things in the lead up to the cross-over film, but I really like that there’s a design to the sum of Marvel’s output that’s leading to something greater than each individual part. It makes the whole thing feel worthwhile. When all is said and done, you’ll be able to watch The Avengers on BluRay along with a film-a-piece for its numerous component parts. If this had happened when I was 11 years old, I would’ve been insanely excited. It’s teenage fantasy stuff.

LA: I don’t think I’ve seen a project as audacious. I know you say it’s bulletproof, but they’ve also placed some risky bets in pulling it together over the years. If the film doesn’t deliver after all this hype, they’re fucked! If it’s as light hearted, fun and ultimately unremarkable as Captain America or Iron Man 2, it’ll still be fine, but it might not be enough. I mean, I came out of Captain America thinking I’d seen a very typical, old school Joe Johnston, but it by no means blew me away.

DC: It did what it needed to do; it launched Chris Evans as the character, there were some decent action sequences, it left the character in a position where he’s ready to step up for this film. I don’t think it works anywhere near as well as an all-rounder as Thor or the first Iron Man. They’ve got several workable parts, now it just requires Joss Whedon to shape them into something that works on its own merits. As soon as he got the job, it was noted again and again that one of his biggest strengths is balancing ensembles, and as long as he’s subbed out the bigger setpieces to a more capable second unit, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to deliver good work. I think the marketing has been alright. Dodgy photoshop on the poster aside, audiences who enjoyed the other movies should be sold on this one. It’ll be a hit. A popcorn and diet-coke 2 hours.

LA: Diet coke?

DC: …and Tom Hiddleston!

LA: With an army. But it’s okay because they have a Hulk.

DC: Hiddleston made too much of an impact in Thor not to be used again. You could hardly have them all fighting Mickey Rourke’s electric whip man.

LA: We must remember it’s not called The Avengers in this country anymore.

DC: The atrociously titled Marvel’s Avengers Assemble.

LA: Avengers Assemble. *laughs*

DC: A lot of people, self-included, have whined incessantly about the awful marketing campaign for John Carter. This title change is almost as annoying! Do they think we’re stupid enough to confuse it with the sixties tv show? Nobody is going to get confused and ask why Tony Stark isn’t wearing a bowler hat.

LA: The funny thing is, the core audience doesn’t know what The Avengers tv show is. They don’t have that frame of reference. They don’t even know the shitty Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman film. Is it really going to be detrimental to its chances to leave it with that title in Britain? There are pictures of Iron Man and Captain America on the posters for Christ’s sake!

DC: The best thing about having a child would be seeing how excited they’d be by stuff like this. It’s the antithesis of the Nolan Batman, released in the same summer, but sugary and silly and family friendly in a way that film is highly unlikely to be.

LA: We’ll talk about The Amazing Spider-Man in a bit, but…

DC: ….Fuck that….

LA: *laughs*, did you hear that he might be in The Avengers in a cameo.

DC: It’s got to be bullshit.

LA: It would be cool though.

DC: Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man. There’s no way they’d lend him out. So many different studios own different elements of the Marvel universe. It’s diced a hundred ways. I think we’re in a position now where Marvel has the rights to The Punisher again, so in theory you could hire Ray Stephenson to blow somebody up in mid-air with a rocket launcher. That won’t happen though, because nobody liked Punisher: Warzone except for me.

LA: As far as I’m concerned, the summer starts with The Avengers. That’s the film that kicks it all off.

DC: How fucked would it be if at the end of the film Nic Cage showed up as a flaming skeleton and asked to join for the sequel? The problem is, they’ve expended a lot of time and effort building up these characters so you don’t want someone stepping in from a weaker franchise. It’s the same issue DC and Warner Bros have with Justice League. You don’t want Ryan Reynolds walking in from Green Lantern and trying to share screentime with Bale’s Batman. You’d just scream at him to fuck off and die.

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Battleship (dir Peter Berg, released April 11th)

The summer creeps back every year. Give it another decade and we’ll need to add extra months in order to fit all these films in. Enormous projects like Disneys John Carter, The Hunger Games adaptation, Wrath of the Titans – all out over March, and there are some consistently enormous bits and pieces popping up every weekend during autumn and into the Christmas period.

Though big American films dominate each of the 52 weeks, traditional blockbuster season still tends to begin officially with Easter and run through to August bank holiday.

Between now and the end of the month, I’ll be putting out a few thoughts on the biggest dozen, starting right now with Universal’s Battleship. I’d like to thank Luke Allen of Movie Farm for joining me in discussion.

LA: There was a trailer when I saw Ghost Rider II, Dexter turned to me and said, “that looks like a Transformers IV”. That pretty much sums it up. Maybe Peter Berg, who I have a little bit of a soft spot for, maybe Liam Neeson bringing the acting chops…but basically it looks like a Transformers film.

DC: Peter Berg has made some interesting films. He seems a hell of a nice guy. I liked him in Collateral. I’m looking forward to hearing Liam Neeson say “you sunk my battleship”. I’m surprised they haven’t squeezed it into a trailer yet. Everyone’ll burst into cheers and applaud in the audience on opening night. I’ve enough goodwill towards Berg to see it, but the ad campaign hasn’t got me convinced in the slightest. I’m not necessarily opposed to adapting the Battleship boardgame into a film series, sillier things have been done, but as you say it just looks like a Transformers sequel with Rhianna. The special effects look quite computery; none of the effects shots in the trailer seem to have any weight to them. If they’d shot a few navel ships smacking torpedoes at each other as Neeson shouted shit, I think I’d be okay with it. I object to them inserting another alien invasion into a summer tent pole. We’re saturated with fucking aliens. Men in Black, Prometheus and The Avengers. Fucking aliens everywhere. How many aliens are there out there? Why do they keep invading summer 2012? Why do they look just like the aliens that invaded in Transformers? What the hell is going on!

LA: When you have the springboard of something like Battleship, a board game, it’s like making a movie out of Cluedo.

DC: They did that! It had Tim Curry and 3 endings!

LA: It’s the 80s again. Everybody’s in on it at the end! I digress, it has the potential to be a springboard to be something that’s trashy Hollywood fun, but I’m sitting there watching the trailers and failing to remember any aliens in the Battleship game when I was a kid. I don’t remember the alien part at all. Surely make it about some random world tension. Fucking aliens coming out of the sea and blowing shit up.

DC: There’s a missed opportunity to do some sort of cold war paranoia thing. It doesn’t seem to really be about ships. I think I only saw the one in the trailer, Eric the vampire from True Blood and Taylor Kitsch running around on board fighting aliens. It’s very confusing. Incidentally, I feel sorry for Kitsch that two months back-to-back, he’s in the two of the most expensive films of the summer – John Carter this month and Battleship in April – both unknown quantities that’re looking likely to lose a lot of money. Battleship has to pull in something like $500 million worldwide in order to turn a profit and see a further film. This poor guy has, forgive the pun, jumped onto two ships that’re sinking faster than Liam Neeson can shout about it.

LA: He was Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

DC: Did he work with Berg on Friday Night Lights?

LA: He was one of the main guys in that series. I haven’t seen John Carter, so I can’t say what he’s like, but based solely on Wolverine – a terrible film – the guy seems to be having a rough time and isn’t picking the best of projects. The hassle with the title for John Carter, shortening it to make it more ‘accessible’, then it bombing anyway, now Battleship.

DC: They don’t want people to know he’s in it! He doesn’t seem to be in the most recent trailer all that much after John Carter. They’re probably shitting themselves over at Universal since it crashed-and-burned. Again, the issue is an over-spend. You can give $200 million to some filmmakers, but Peter Berg making a Battleship film without any major movie stars strikes me as being economic suicide. Maybe if you get into sequel territory you can start throwing around those numbers. At least with John Carter, maddeningly inflated budget and all, there’s some sort of grand world-building going on. I don’t think it was $250 million of lavish, but I can understand that significant sums of money are required for the mo-cap, the full CG characters and the sheer scale of Andrew Stanton’s vision. Where’re the big money-shots in the Battleship trailer? I can’t see them.

LA: It’s funny, John Carter seems as though it has the same world-building gimmick that Avatar made such a big thing of, and probably cost about the same amount as Avatar. Well…maybe not actually. That was like $500 million, right?

DC: So much investment in technologies for years and years, Cameron’s little pet projects and hobby innovations that led to that film being realised. Impossible to pin a number on it. Unofficial figures are flouted all over the place, but the real numbers you hear cited are always in the $300-400 million range. Its leagues ahead of anything else we know about in terms of price.

LA: It’s like it’s reaching its apex. It’s quite acceptable to have a blockbuster topping $200 million. Back in 2008 you had Quantum of Solace having a $200 million budget. Where! Where was the money!

DC: I don’t understand how a James Bond film could ever cost that much. You can surely plug them out for $80 million.

LA: It’s ridiculous.

DC: Is Daniel Craig computer-fucking-animated in it? How did they spend so much!

LA: It’s the animation of his chiselled body.

DC: He didn’t even exercise.

LA: On Kermode’s recent blog he mentions that blockbusters don’t really fail these days. They just ‘underperform’. Movies don’t seem to flat-out bomb as badly as they used to. There’re almost diminished expectations. In a world where Transformers III can make over a billion dollars, it just seems to be a safe bet that if you throw a fortune at a movie it’ll make its money back somehow.

DC: Even something like John Carter, which has bombed according to some commentators, by the time you factor in the international grosses and the DVD sales, it’ll turn a profit a few years down the road. Maybe not enough to see another film, but I don’t think they are making any redundancies over it. Except in the marketing department, perhaps. Fire every one of those pricks.

LA: With budgets, and with box-office as well, I remember back four years ago when The Dark Knight came out, it was quite impressive to see it being only the fourth film in history to make a billion dollars. Now it’s something like the tenth most successful. In just four years.

DC: There’s an inflationary element to that though, not to mention the impact of the 3D surcharge on nearly every film to top the billion mark since.

LA: I don’t think movies are getting any bigger, it just seems like those budgets are bloated out.

DC: It used to be a movie star that stretched out the budget. Terminator III spent $30 million on Schwarzenegger. You get to Battleship and John Carter and probably the whole cast didn’t cost that.

LA: Who’s the most recognisable person in John Carter? Ciarán Hinds?

DC: Mark Strong, Dominic West. Good cast. There’s nobody expensive there. Willem Dafoe’s in it, he’s probably the biggest name.

LA: Who does he play?

DC: He plays an alien.

See you tomorrow to chat about Marvel’s The Avengers!

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‘Hellraiser I-IV’ (Various dir, 1987-1996)

I think the first four parts of Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ franchise, if only for the striking design, have an enormous amount of worth. Sure, the series may never have hit the commercial heights or pop-culture crossover appeal of comparable long-runners ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Halloween’, but the opening foursome of Barker’s Cenobite saga track through the full, formulaic range of horror sequel expectations.

 

Much as with my beloved ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ and that whole wonderful series, ‘Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth’ is by far my favourite instalment. There’s something gloriously self-indulgent about the sequel sweet spot where the studio first shoves their fandom-friendly antagonist to the forefront. For about one films worth of material – usually part 2 or 3 – a Freddie Krueger or Leatherface is rammed into practically every scene and allowed to let rip with some splat friendly 18-rated violence, urinating over the first films legacy whilst carving out a fresh new path into eventual stodgy exploitation. I love that 1-film window!

 

If a series is going to construct an enduring mythology that continues to grow and develop, than a jump into nuttiness at some stage isn’t necessarily undesirable. I’m not surprised ‘Hellraiser’ has such a dedicated following from its diehard legion of fans. Fandom loves a franchise that continues to evolve, even if it’s away from murky, supernatural horror and into explosively silly kill-rampage land. ‘Hell on Earth’ understands this better than most sequels.

 

Ramped up death count aside, like those earlier examples, ‘Hellraiser’ is guilty of failing to maintain much in the way of narrative consistency as the series progresses. The third and fourth entry don’t go as far as to hit the ret-con button, however the release of backstory in the fourth films prequel elements is somewhat perplexing considering the changes in the Pinhead character that occur after ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’; most especially in regards to uncertainty surrounding the motivation and nature of the Cenobites. Are they amoral explorers, as implied by those first two films, or literal demons from hell as directly stated in the latter two? I’d be interested in watching some of the later DTV films to see if they clarify the situation further.

 

Despite the supposed rubbishness, part V ‘Inferno’ is from ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ director Scott Derrickson, which is pretty cool. I’d like to see whether his interpretation ties back more to the original, or riffs off the sparkier, killtastic Pinhead of III and IV. I doubt it has Cenobites in space though – which marks IV alongside such noted luminaries as ‘Jason X’, ‘Critters IV’ and the mighty Leprechaun 4: In Space. Gotta love space. 

  

My favourite kill comes in pt III, about 2 minutes into this clip:

 

Hellraiser II Club Scene

 

The DJ later returns as a CD-throwing demon. This might be the greatest thing ever.

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84th Academy Awards – Final Predictions!

Final thoughts, The Artist to take at least five awards, including the key three categories, then to be forgotten about forever by about July as we ruminate on the memorable films excluded from the ceremony (cough Drive etc). The Help to take the two actress categories lead/support and Hugo several technical bits. I wouldn’t rule out Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse being blocked from all categories despite being my favourite three films in the running. Disinterest with a side of bitterness to follow tomorrow morning…

    Should Win

Picture – War Horse/The Tree of Life
Director – Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Actor – Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Actress – Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Supporting Actor – Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Supporting Actress – Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
Art Direction – Stuart Craig (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt2)
Editing – Wall & Baxter (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Original Score – John Williams (War Horse)
Best Original Screenplay – Kristen Wiig/Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids)
Best Adapted Screenplay – O’Connor/Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

    Will Win

Picture – The Artist
Director – Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Actor – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Actress – Viola Davis (The Help)
Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Cinematography – Robert Richardson (Hugo)
Art Direction – Dante Ferretti (Hugo)
Editing – Bion/Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Original Score – Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
Best Original Screenplay – Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Best Adapted Screenplay – Alexander Payne (The Descendents)

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