Friday, December 31, 2010

"Tron: Legacy"

Once upon a time there was a movie called “Tron.” For all intents and purposes, “Tron” was at best mediocre and at worst relatively horrible. It did have amazing graphics for the time period, however, and a generation obsessed with arcade games came to embrace “Tron” despite its relative horribleness. For reasons no one can quite understand, Disney, the studio that owned “Tron,” decided to wait 28 years before releasing a sequel to the cult hit. “Tron: Legacy” cost about $300 million to produce and when it opened, a great number of fools (such as yours truly) went to see it. The end. That is easily the strangest intro I’ve ever written for a column but it seemed fitting.

“Legacy” opens with our introduction to Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the 26 year-old son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the man who invented the technology to enter the digital world in the original film. Sam is a disenfranchised rich kid whose net worth is several hundred million dollars but who would rather break into his own company’s headquarters to release its new software to the general public for free. When a mysterious page comes from his father’s old arcade, Sam discovers a hidden room where he, too, is digitized and sent into the alternate universe of sorts that his father is trapped in. Sam enters a world that is ruled by Clu (young Jeff Bridges), who strives to break into our universe to rid the world of “imperfection” (aka: humans). Only Kevin and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) stand in his way, a duo that Sam joins in a fight to preserve humanity.

There is no questioning the visual brilliance of “Tron: Legacy.” Even in the 2D format I chose (as is my custom), the vehicles, costumes, and graphics jump off the screen. It is a beautiful if sterile world that “Legacy” operates in. Special effects and CGI took up the bulk of this movie’s budget and that truly shows in almost every frame. The action sequences are bold and dynamic, sometimes moving so fast as to seem a blur on the canvas. Clu is also a stunning achievement. Played by Jeff Bridges, CGI is used to create a drastically younger face. It is the most lifelike CGI I’ve ever seen and for all but the very briefest of moments here and there, I don’t think the average audience member could tell that his appearance had been digitally altered. I suspect the work on this aspect of the film will have a tremendous impact on the industry as a whole.

The other components of the film, however, lag behind the computer work. In truth, everything else takes a backseat to the FX department. Rookie director Joseph Kosinski shows his inexperience by allowing his film to rely almost exclusively on the work added in post-production instead of drawing the most out of his cast. Hedlund plays his part well-enough but my feeling is he didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Sam is a bit stale and primal, displaying only the most basic of emotions and behaviors. Bridges is almost wasted as Kevin, coming off too often like a futuristic knockoff of The Dude (“The Big Lebowski”). When you have Jeff Bridges at your disposal, you highlight Jeff Bridges, not the CGI copy of Jeff Bridges. Honestly, it’s a bit of a lazy effort from the guy who won an Academy Award last year (“Crazy Heart”) and should probably win another this year (“True Grit”). Then we come to Wilde who, quite simply, cannot act, or at least I have yet to see her act. Quorra is one of the most one-dimensional characters I have ever seen and Wilde does absolutely nothing to help that disability. Meanwhile the story is overly complex and yet at the same time horribly underdeveloped, a combination I didn’t think was possible until now. In short, “Tron: Legacy” is a Michael Bay fantasy: tremendous style, very little substance.

I went into “Legacy” with tempered expectations and to be honest, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fun, eye-pleasing ride that I really enjoyed. Obviously that’s the goal of the film’s backers and on some level, you have to applaud decision makers who know their target audience and go after them whole hog. Still, with a $300 million budget and a marketing campaign that has lasted the better part of two years, you’d like to think that a decent script and layered characters wouldn’t be too much to ask.

Grade: B-

Olivia Wilde is making me question “Cowboys and Aliens,”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

DVD Review - The Boys Are Back

When his wife unexpectedly takes ill and dies, Australian sports writer Joe Warr (Clive Owen) is suddenly left to raise his young son (Nicholas McAnulty) on his own. His life is further turned upside down when Harry (George MacKay), his teenage son from a previous marriage, comes to live with them. Joe's easy-breezy brand of discipline comes into question as he attempts to balance fatherhood, his career, and a potential love with another single parent.

There's not just a whole lot to say about "The Boys Are Back" other than a whole hearted, "Meh." The thing about this plotline, the "widowed spouse tries to cope with loss and learn how to be a parent" concept, is that there isn't much of anywhere to go. If you don't have great acting or an intriguing addition twist (like "Sleepless in Seattle") then the audience pretty much knows the drill. Owen gives a satisfactory performance but it's far from inspired or heartfelt and he, like the film he's operating in, simply goes through the motions. It's not boring per se, it's just that nothing much happens. The scenes are a bit choppy and I never felt like the characters or the story itself had room for development. Save for a scene or two, Joe doesn't really deal with his grief and we don't get a whole lot of bonding between father and son. Joe's form of parenting seems to be to let his boys do pretty much whatever they want up to and including riding on the hood of his Land Rover while he drives down a beach. I think the movie wants us to see how a carefree, fun dad learns to be a more well-rounded father figure but again, there's not much of a transition. It's not that "Boys" is a bad film, it's just simply not that good.

Grade: C+

It's never a good sign when I use "just" that many times in one post,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


As a kid I was raised on two very crucial symbols of pop culture: “Star Wars” and Disney movies (with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles following close behind). My family didn’t really watch network TV, I was musically retarded until college, and sports didn’t take over my life until later on, so for a long time I knew a great deal about only two things and you certainly didn’t want to question my authority on those two subjects. We didn’t go to the movies that often so it was a big deal when a Disney movie debuted and subsequently when it came out on VHS. (VHS was a precursor to DVD. It was way bigger and much lower in quality and now I try to pretend they never existed.) I don’t think we ever missed a Disney movie between 1985 and 1995. My little brother’s first theater experience was a re-release of “Snow White.” We watched “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Lion King,” and “Robin Hood” (still my all-time favorite animated feature) over and over again until our tapes were worn out. In short, a Disney movie used to mean something; its debut was significant. I’m not sure exactly when that allure disappeared but I think Pixar is more than partially to blame. Who cares about standard animation when Pixar can make a cartoon cowboy look so real and lifelike? The last Disney cartoon that made any sort of impact on me (and the rest of the world) was 2000’s “Emperor’s New Groove” and even that wavered at the Box Office. “Treasure Planet,” “Home on the Range,” “Meet the Robinsons,” etc. all came and went with little fanfare, leaving an entire generation that doesn’t know that a Disney animated feature used to be an important event. That all ends, however, with “Tangled.”

The re-imagining of the classic “Rapunzel” story, “Tangled” centers as much around the outlaw Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) as it does the princess (Mandy Moore). On the run after a high-priced theft, Rider climbs into a hidden tower where he is ambushed by Rapunzel. Locked away in the tower for 18 years by Gothel (Donna Murphy), the woman she believes to be her mother, Rapunzel is eager to get out and explore the world she has been denied access to. The two strike a deal in which Rider will take Rapunzel to see the thousands of floating lantern the king and queen release on the birthday of their missing princess and Rapunzel will return Rider’s stolen property. Needing Rapunzel to stay young/alive, Mother Gothel sets out to reclaim her prize resulting in a twist-and-turn sequence of events that brings the lost princess ever closer to her family.

From its first moments, you can tell that “Tangled” is a different kind of Disney movie, a return to the old ways that made the company what it is today. It isn’t just in the stronger-than-expected dialogue, the fitting musical numbers, or the much more meticulously crafted plot than their recent animated features. There’s a sort of confidence on display here and try as I might, I can’t think of a better way to term that. It’s like watching a basketball player who’s on fire and seeing him nail shot after shot when he knows he can’t miss. Recent Disney offerings have come across as a bit desperate, begging the audience to remember the good times when “Aladdin” was rocking their faces off and give the studio a pass on “Chicken Little.” In contrast, “Tangled” has a full-on swagger, with every detail controlled and passionately crafted. It’s a fast paced ride that contains a great deal of fun and an extra dose of heart without venturing into cheesy or cliché territory.

Levi and Moore work seamlessly together and if there’s one thing Disney has done right over the last decade it’s allowing their big name voices to work within the framework of the film instead of overshadowing it (unlike Dreamworks). Rider is the classic cartoon hero, the “outlaw with a heart of gold” whose makeup balances his suave outward appearance with a host of internal insecurities. Rapunzel is wide eyed and naïve but her unbridled enthusiasm and sunshiny outlook on the world is endearing to everyone, including the audience. These two carry the film but they are provided with outstanding work from a lesser-known-but-no-less-talented supporting cast including Murphy, Ron Pearlman, and Jeffrey Tambor. Mother Gothel takes a page out of Ursula’s (“The Little Mermaid”) villainous handbook and provides a strong antagonist to bind the story together. Add to this some of that classic Disney magic (such as the flight of the lanterns) and a few of the old standbys, including a witty and unexpected stop for a tough-guys-sing-a-song moment that was truly a nostalgic touch, and you have an inspired animated feature.

You would never guess that “Tangled” underwent an extreme makeover in the last two years as almost every aspect was shifted and recut to focus more on the male-friendly Rider. Perhaps that forced rethinking made “Tangled” what it is but regardless, it is a magnificent departure from what Disney has done lately and a reminder of how great these movies once were. In a year that featured “Toy Story 3” and Dreamworks’ breakthrough “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Tangled” is likely to get lost in the animated shuffle but its ability to regain the allure of Disney is a serious achievement in my book.

Grade: A

Hollywood needs more Zachary Levi,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blu Ray Review - "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

In 1999, young Dave (Jay Baruchel) stumbles into an antique shop owned by the centuries-old wizard Balthazar (Nicholas Cage). In a moment of confusion, Dave accidentally frees Horvath (Alfred Molina), an evil warlock, and subsequently both magicians are (for reasons I didn't quite catch) get locked in a vase which doesn't open for 12 years. When it does reopen, both Balthazar and Horvath pursue Dave, looking for a lost article he took from the shop that holds unspeakable power. Balthazar tells Dave that he is (of course) this film's version of the ever-popular "chosen one" and quickly teaches Dave how to tap into his magical prowess. A showdown ensues, the events of which you can pretty much guess.

By now we all know what to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, especially when he's paired with director Jon Turteltaub. You're going to get a lot of flair, some great special effects/stunts, a few well placed jokes, an inattention to anything that could be considered "acting," and a story that lacks all but the most basic of plot points. Consequently, there's really nothing wrong with a Bruckheimer action film while at the same time there's very little right about it. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is what it is: mildly fun, reasonably enjoyable, and entirely forgettable. Cage long ago ceased to be a good actor but in his defense, he's found a niche with Bruckheimer wherein he doesn't have to stretch himself too far and as a result, the audience isn't subjected to anywhere near the amount of punch-in-the-stomach-terrible-acting moments that have plagued him over the last two decades. He actually doesn't suck the life out of this movie the way I've come to expect. Baruchel, who had a HUGE year, does a good-enough job performing in a magnificently limited, two-dimensional role. As usual, "Apprentice" delivers some FX-heavy scenes that are almost entirely overshadowed by miserably cliched twists and turns and one of the worst soundtracks a movie has ever had. Altogether it's another notch on the "Truly Average and Unmemorable" belt for Bruckheimer (and Cage) that's just right for late night background viewing.

Grade: B-

New DVD Tuesday

The American (2010) - George Clooney
An aging hitman (Clooney) begrudgingly takes on one final assignment. While falling in love with an Italian prostitute and forming a bond with a local priest, his paranoia reaches an all time high as he suspects his employer is trying to kill him. Though decent enough, the best words I can think of to describe "The American" are dull and forgettable.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) - Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller
The fourth movie in this video game-inspired series, I honestly have no idea what this one is about because, let's be honest, it doesn't matter. If you're going to see this movie, you're going to see it even if the plot centers around an underground figure skating competition. For reasons I myself can't quite understand, I've seen all three of the previous installments and all of them ranged between "outstandingly mediocre" and "down right awful." I think I've reached my limit on this series.

New to Blu Ray
Derailed (2005) - Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel
I only highlight this movie because we're getting such slim pickin's this week. I DESPISE "Derailed." It is easily one of my ten least favorite movies of all time. It was my lowest rated movie of 2005 and let's not forget that 2005 included such pooptastic fare as "Must Love Dogs" and "Four Brothers." I just wanted to mention it here so that no one makes the mistake of renting, buying, or reading the back cover of this piece of crap. Consider yourself warned.

Movie News Today

I spent the Christmas holiday at my grandparents' house in the Absolute Middle of Nowhere, Texas. I always love my time out there and it's awful hard to find stress in that setting but it's hell on the blog. Thankfully very little happens in Hollywood around Christmas and it doesn't look like I missed too much.

Ron Howard says Viggo Mortensen could be in for his adaptation of Stephen King's epic "Dark Tower" stories. As a excited if uncommitted fan of these stories, I don't think you could ask for a better lead in this case.

Christian Bale has signed on to star in "Nanjing Heroes," the "Schindler's List"-like events of a pre-WWII Chinese massacre at the hands of Japan. I know a tiny, TINY bit about this story and I must say, I'm a bit surprised it's taken this long to get a dramatization. Bale has to be an early favorite for Best Actor whenever this debuts.

The wonderful Natalie Portman is engaged and pregnant. I have always had a great admiration for Portman (not to mention a bit of a crush) and wish her all the best in this new phase of life. In other news, my pal Richard is currently in agony as Portman is officially off the market. Sorry, bro.

My friend at A Life in Equinox asks, "What Type of Film Critic Are You?" I believe I'm squarely in between option 1 and 2.

Marshall and the Movies his excellent "10 for '10" series with a look at his favorite film bloggers of the year. An excellent list for anyone looking to get deeper into movie blogging.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Little Fockers" - $45.08 million
2. "True Grit" - $24.85 ($36.07 million total)
3. "Tron Legacy" - $19.15 ($87.37)
4. "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - $9.48 ($62.59)
5. "Yogi Bear" - $7.84 ($35.82)
6. "The Fighter" - $7.61 ($26.68)
7. "Tangled" - $6.42 ($143.69)
8. "Gulliver's Travels" - $6.31
9. "Black Swan" - $6.25 ($28.69)
10. "The Tourist" - $5.4 ($40.88)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Five Favorite Christmas Movies

One of the many traditions associated with the holiday season is the viewing of Christmas movies. Who doesn't love a good Christmas movie, right? I've got a group of friends who get together every Monday leading up to the big day to watch a few of the classics. I, however, find that while most people enjoy my favorite Christmas movies, I don't always love the legendary holiday films. "It's a Wonderful Life" for example, has been THE Christmas movie for 60 years and maybe that's why I generally find it to be less than enticing. "White Christmas" is one of my wife's favorites but that's a lot of singing for a guy who hates musicals. And "A Christmas Story" has just never done much for me. With that in mind, I present to you my top five Christmas movies of all time. (I omitted "Die Hard," unquestionably the best holiday film ever, because some people don't consider it a true Christmas movie. Jerks.)

5. Christmas Vacation (1989)
For me this is the very best of the "Vacation" franchise. It has some of the best elements of the other films in the series added in with the stress of the holidays and the tension that comes with a big family. Clark Griswold's continual failure leads to a magnificent break from reality and one of the best "yeah, he should be in jail now but we'll let it slide this time" moments you'll ever see. Plus, the cat getting fried cracks me up every time.

4. Love Actually (2003)
An outstanding romantic-comedy with a Christmas background, "Love Actually" also qualifies as one of my favorite chick-flicks of all time. The interweaving of the lives of the ensemble cast is excellent and the realistic good feeling of the movie allows you to look past any far-fetched connections. We get some stellar performances as well, particularly from perpetually overlooked Liam Neeson. And there's always something awesome about an almost all British cast.

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Am I correct in assuming that no one doesn't like the Muppets? There's no one out there with a secret vendetta against Kermit or Fozzy, right? Because no matter how old I get, the Muppets still hold some awesomeness for me. While all the Muppet movies are good, "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is, in my opinion, the crowning achievement of the franchise. It's a wonderful blend of music, classic literature, and general silliness capped off by a surprisingly strong performance by Michael Caine. Caine, who's been known to take a paycheck and mail in a performance a few times, plays Ebenezer Scrooge like he's in a big time stage adaptation of Dickens' novel. Just absolutely goes all in for a kid's movie starring a puppet and you gotta love that.

2. Elf (2003)
Here's how great "Elf" is: I know lots of older adults (some family members included) who hate Will Ferrell. HATE him. To a man, those haters will happily sit and watch "Elf" any time it comes on TV. Likewise, lifelong Ferrell that I am, I would call "Elf" my second favorite Ferrell movie behind only "Anchorman." Just like Caine in "The Muppet Christmas Carol," Ferrell absolutely goes ALL OUT for his role in a children's movie and that performance makes the film. The movie is just straight up hilarious. I very, very rarely watch even part of a movie that I own on DVD/Blu-Ray. If I want to watch it, I'll pop it in. But I'll almost always watch a few minutes of "Elf" if given the chance. 

1. Home Alone (1989)
Absolutely no question in my mind that this is the best holiday movie of all time. If I see a Christmas movie list like this and it doesn't contain "Home Alone" I scoff in anger and immediately disregard its validity. That's like making a best sci-fi list and not including "Star Wars." Please. Whether watching alone or with a group, there are numerous moments that make me laugh out loud despite the fact that I've seen this movie upwards of 50 times. I LOVE it. "Home Alone" is INSANELY quotable, too, with a litany of lines that I can and do quote in every day life. As I've gotten older my viewing of "Home Alone" has changed some. For instance, I've realized that Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci could never have lived through the beating Macaulay Culkin delivers them. These days the Wet Bandits would probably sue the McCallister's if they ever came out of the coma that a paint can to the face could inflict. But one thing that still holds up to me is the absolute plausibility of how Kevin McAllister comes to be home alone in the first place. With no cell phones or Internet, this setup could totally happen and I love that fact. And if nothing else, it's always great to see John Candy in his element.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to stop by The Soap Box Office this year. I think we've got some big things coming in 2011 but I will always appreciate the support I've experienced here over the first year. May you all have a blessed Christmas and a relaxing holiday season!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New DVD Tuesday

Salt (2010) - Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber
A CIA agent (Jolie) goes rogue when she is accused of being a foreign spy. Her mission to clear her name involves disguises, gun play, and general mayhem. I'm no Jolie fan but for some reason I find myself intrigued by "Salt." Not enough to pay theater money to see it, obviously, but a rental is definitely in my future.

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps - Michael Douglas, Shia Lebeouf, Carey Milligan
A sequel 22 years in the making that no one cares about except Oliver Stone. This one finds Gordon Gecko (Douglas) out of prison and reinventing himself with the help of his soon-to-be son-in-law (Labeouf) but things aren't always what they appear to be. The original "Wall Street" is a very good movie but a sequel this late in the game? No thanks.

Easy A (2010) - Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church
An unpopular girl (Stone) lets her friend tell the school of their fictitious fling. When the story creates an uproar, she embraces her new found reputation and the fame/infamy it brings with it. A modern day "Scarlet Letter," "Easy A" is an extremely smart and funny film and Stone absolutely shines (as I've come to expect). The film knows its role, too, and doesn't try to be more than it is which leads to a highly enjoyable experience with a touch of "think about it."

Step Up 3-D (2010) - some dancers
Some people dance. And it's in 3D. That's it.

Devil (2010) - Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine
A group of strangers find themselves trapped in an elevator with the devil. Produced and written by M. Night Shyamalan, this is a glimpse into his future after the absolute awfulness he's put on screen in his last two films. The reviews were fairly good which would suggest Shyamalan still has something left in the tank as long as he's monitored. Still, this didn't exactly set the world on fire so maybe my Shyamalan expectations have just been significantly lowered.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DVD Review - "I'm Still Here"

In 2008, Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was retiring from acting and would be focusing on his rap career. The strange story took hold of the media and culminated in one of the weirdest interviews in the history of the medium with Phoenix appearing blitzed out of his mind and disinterested and a clearly perturbed David Letterman going out of his way to poke fun at his guest. Shortly thereafter it came to light to Phoenix's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, was filming his career transition for a documentary that would come to be titled "I'm Still Here." The bumbling attempt at hip-hop, however, takes a backseat to the no-holds-barred depiction of the chaotic and drug-fueled lifestyle that Phoenix lives. Soon after its release, Affleck let slip the fact that "I'm Still Here" was actually not a documentary but instead an insanely personal look at method acting. Where the truth actually lies is anyone's guess but there's no denying how fascinating this film is in its best moments.

In some ways the prior knowledge gained from Affleck's admission takes away from the impact of the film. At the same time, however, it leads the viewer down a dark path as you find yourself wondering how much of this is real and how much is just for show. This is one of the most authentic performances I've ever seen and whether all of "I'm Still Here" was done just for the camera or if Affleck's statement itself was a lie to protect Phoenix, there is some measure of reality to Phoenix's behavior. Let's not forget that Phoenix's brother, River, had serious issues adjusting to life in the spotlight and ended up dead from a drug overdose in front of an LA nightclub. The most telling moment of the entire film comes early on when Phoenix admits that he's tired of playing his most tiring role, that being the actor Joaquin Phoenix. It's a statement that wreaks of honesty, a truly sober moment amidst a drug-addled rant that goes on for several minutes. I'm left feeling unsure as to which parts of "I'm Still Here" should be taken as fiction and which parts hit too close to the mark to be anything but truth. That question, along with a few scenes that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor, distract from the would-be power of the film. Ultimately, "I'm Still Here" is a flawed and profoundly sad film that is highlighted by one of the most engrossing but hard-to-watch performances you'll ever see.

Grade: B+

Movie News Today

Dreamworks has picked up the rights to a comic book series called "Maintenance." The concept centers around a pair of janitors who work at a corporation that specializes in mayhem-inducing technology, like time machines and evil beasts. Think "Monsters, Inc." plus "Megamind." If done right, this could be extremely entertaining.

I would call myself a fan of Tim Burton. I don't blindly accept everything he's ever done (see: "Planet of the Apes") but I generally enjoy his take on things. That said, if there was ever proof that Burton has a niche and should stay entrenched within it, have a look at these costume designs for a now defunct adaptation of "Superman" he worked on recently. Yikes.

If you watch much TV at all and you're not into "Burn Notice," you're seriously missing out. It's insane how good this show is. Here's an interview with series creator Matt Nix that might whet your appetite.

My friend over at A Life in Equinox delivers the best and worst taglines of 2010. Well done, sir.

I hesitate to even link to this story since it'll only bring a little more attention to some absolute jackwagons, but the Council of Conservative Citizens is calling for a boycott of "Thor" because a black actor (Idris Elba) has been cast in the role of a traditionally white character. I just don't even know what to say anymore. Beating. For his part, in the same link Elba responds BEAUTIFULLY.

Weekend Box Office Returns
How do you know that your movie is doomed? A.) Your budget balloons to a reported $160 million for a romantic comedy; B.) You fail to earn ANY significant award nominations in a year when "The Tourist" garnered several Golden Globes; and C.) Your $160 million movie makes a whopping $7.6 million on opening weekend. That, my friends, is the very definition of "epic fail."

1. "Tron: Legacy" - $43.6 million
2. "Yogi Bear" - $16.7
3. "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - $12.4 ($42.76 million total)
4. "The Fighter" - $12.2 ($12.63)
5. "The Tourist" - $8.7 ($30.79)
6. "Tangled" - $8.78 ($127.82)
7. "Black Swan" - $8.3 ($15.71)
8. "How Do You Know" - $7.6
9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" - $4.85 ($265.55)
10. "Unstoppable" - $1.8 ($77.34)

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Movie Friday

*Sigh* I really hate 2010. In years past, the last few weeks of December brought a host of blockbuster cinema experiences and festival darlings and it was up to me to choose which ones I wanted to see most and which ones would have to wait for DVD. But not this year. Just end already, 2010. Just crawl into your hole and die.

"Tron: Legacy" - Garret Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde
A sequel 30 years in the waiting, "Legacy" centers on the son (Hudlund) of Kevin Flynn (Bridges) who joins his father in a digital world to race against evil. No one else is saying it so I'm going to. The original "Tron" sucked. The special effects were, for the time, mind blowing but hey, Michael Bay does some great effects, too. Now, to be fair, it's been years and years since I've seen "Tron" so maybe my memories of it are a bit vague. I tried to check it out last week but Netflix doesn't even make it available for rental (that's got to be a bad sign, right?). That's not to say I'm not interested in this movie because I am. Visually, it looks stunning and I quite like both Bridges and the "good-when-given-direction" Hedlund. I'm just saying, though, there's a great chance that this is all style, no substance.

"The Fighter" - Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
A look at the life of boxer Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and the brother (Bale) who helped him become a legend. Now this, this is something I'm excited to see. It debuted last week in limited release to critical applause and has subsequently garnered numerous award nominations from both the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. This looks to be absolutely magnificent and I cannot wait to check it out.

"Yogi Bear" - Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cavanaugh
The big screen adaptation of the "classic" (?) Saturday morning cartoon that everyone (?) loves. Seriously, I think "Yogi Bear" might be the embodiment of what's wrong with 2010. There is NO STINKING WAY that this movie could be anything but TERRIBLE. And maybe even more to the point, why cast Justin Timberlake when he's A.) not appearing on screen and B.) doing a voice that makes his own, distinct voice almost unrecognizable? Stupid. Just stupid.

"How Do You Know" - Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
The story of a love triangle involving Wilson, Witherspoon, and Rudd. James L. Brooks is a tremendous writer and director whom I trust. But the truth is, I cannot shake the feeling that this is going to be miserably mediocre. I also have no idea how in the world a romantic comedy that just barely avoided an R-rating gets approved for a $160 million budget. That is just BEGGING for a complete and utter disaster. We'll see how it goes but I'm not optimistic.

"Rabbit Hole (limited release) - Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
A couple tries to deal with the death of their son. A festival flick that got a lot of love and attention early on, "Rabbit Hole" is faltering a bit in the first round of award nominations. By some accounts this is the performance of a lifetime for Kidman but that's not saying a whole lot for me given how robotic and lifeless I've always found her to be.

"Casino Jack" (limited release) - Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz
A biographical film about infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Spacey) and his fall from grace. (Not to be confused with "Casino Jack and the United States of Money," a documentary on the same subject from earlier this year). Since I despise politics almost as much as John Travolta, I usually steer clear of all politically charged films. Still, though, this one is getting Oscar buzz for Spacey and Pepper is one of my very favorite actors. If this popped up on Instant View, I might be inclined to add it to my queue.

Movie News Today

Well we all knew it was bound to happen but "Inception" finds itself on the outside looking in for another set of awards, this one the SAG Awards. Sigh.

This article from Indiewire is more than a bit convoluted but it's still a very interesting behind-the-scenes look at how a movie like "The Fighter" gets made.

George Clooney will play the lead male role in Alphonso Cuaron's sci-fi drama "Gravity." Hey, if you have to replace Robert Downey, Jr., you could do a lot worse than Clooney.

Robert De Niro has confirmed he'll be on board for a Martin Scorsese directed mobster flick called "The Irishman." I want good things for you, Bob, so I'm going to allow for cautious optimism at this point.

Fox has rejected the first script for a "24" movie, meaning I'll most likely have to go at least 2 years without Jack Bauer beating the spit out of someone or barely avoiding a nuclear crisis. Curse you, Fox!

Since I saw this movie while handicapped and couldn't type a review, please enjoy Marshall and the Movies spot on critique of "The Expendables." Well said, Marshall.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blu Ray Review: "The Last Airbender"

The world of "The Last Airbender" is divided into clans that represent the elements: fire, water, earth, and air. Each clan has members who can manipulate one of the elements but since everyone knows fire is the dominant element and is symbolic of evil, the Fire Clan gets to be the bad guys. The only person who can maintain a balance between the clans is known as the Avatar who can use all four elements. Unfortunately, the Avatar has been gone for 100 years and so the Fire Clan rules the world and maintains an oppressive control over the other clans. When the Avatar suddenly reappears as a young boy with an understanding of only the Air element, he must master the others before the Fire Clan subjects his people to slavery.

Look, I knew that "The Last Airbender" was going to suck. I had no delusions of grandeur going in as this was definitely the type of crappy action movie I try desperately to avoid. I saw all the scathing reviews, I cringed throughout the trailer, and most importantly, I watched "The Happening" last year and confirmed that director M. Night Shyamalan has no idea what he's doing anymore. Still, though, I had to see for myself. Like Travis taking the musket to his beloved dog Ol' Yeller, I needed, on my own accord, to see that my old friend had indeed gone mad.

This was the first Shyamalan movie I didn't see in theaters. But after the abortion that was "The Happening," what other option did I really have? I love Shyamalan's first four films. "The Sixth Sense" may have ruined the suspense genre in the long run but wow, what a fantastic experience that movie was. "Unbreakable" is HIGHLY underrated in my book and I consider it to be one of the better superhero movies ever. "Signs" is one of my 25 favorite movies of all time and I still contend that if you don't like it, you're not watching it correctly. "The Village," while imperfect, is a more than reasonable thriller with a genius twist that gets a little lost in translation. Even "Lady in the Water" isn't horrible. But "The Happening" is, in fact, horrible. I'm still at a loss for words as to how that piece of crap ever saw the light of day. That movie confirmed to me, a hardened and stubborn Shyamalan fan and apologist, that the guy had lost it. When I saw the trailer for "Airbender" for the first time, I wanted to cry. There was never any question that this movie was going to kill his career once and for all. And darnit if I wasn't right.

On to the film. Terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE acting. Every time I see a movie that features child actors so prominently I'm reminded of just how good the "Harry Potter" series really is because, even in their worst early moments, none of those kids make you want to choke a puppy. Pretty much every kid in "Airbender" made me want to do just that. At times the action scenes are dynamic but more often than not, they're done just for the sake of showing the audience cool karate moves regardless of whether or not it fits into the story. And the story is a jumble of cliches and poorly developed plot points that takes the most painfully direct route to the inevitable sequel setup that you'll ever see. All in all, I would say there is about 15 minutes of a decent movie in here somewhere, surrounded by an hour and a half of truly painful moments. It's not the worst movie I've ever seen but it might have a place in the discussion.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put a figurative musket ball in M. Night Shyamalan's figurative head.

Grade: D

Tremendous Trailer Thursday

"Tree of Life" - I'm not sure I really love his films but you know what you're getting with director Terrence Malick: a painstakingly detailed, methodical, well crafted film. Not sure what this one is about, however.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - The first "Pirates" films is one of the most rewatchable action movies of the decade. The second and third installment fall somwhere between slightly above average and relatively good. This one looks like it could get back to what made this series so dynamic (i.e. Johnny Depp).

"Thor" - Oh, 2011, how I cannot wait for you to get here and remove the stench of 2010 from my nostrils! "Thor" isn't my favorite superhero of all time but this is a pretty solid teaser trailer. Also, Natalie Portman is in this movie. Who knew? Because I didn't. I follow this stuff pretty closely and I had no idea Portman was involved in this thing. Bonus, as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie News Today

The Golden Globe Nominations were announced today and while the voters gave six nods to the critical failure "The Tourist," they some how managed to bypass "True Grit" altogether. In other news, the Golden Globes suck. Also, "Alice in Wonderland" is neither a comedy nor a musical. Just needed to put that on the record.

The New York Times sat down with the brilliant Coen brothers to discuss "True Grit." Great read. delivers a guide to geeky Christmas programs. Any list that includes the "Star Wars" Christmas special and "Gremlins" is alright in my book.

John Favreau will not direct "Iron Man 3." Just a warning, kids: this is the type of thing that sends a solid franchise into a free fall. Not saying "Iron Man 3" will suck but it's just so difficult to maintain the spirit of previous films when you bring in a new guy to helm the project.

Adam Sandler has two new projects in the works and both sound like they could be really funny or truly awful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New DVD Tuesday

This week's DVD haul is like the greatest hits of 2010. Sure, 2010 sucked but still, this is quite the cornucopia of Christmas gift goodness.

Despicable Me (2010) - Steve Carell, Jason Segal
Would-be evil super villain Gru (Carell) adopts three orphans to help him steal a weapon from his nemesis (Segal). Highly entertaining if a bit up and down, I didn't love "Despicable Me" as much as many others did but it's still unquestionably a worthwhile viewing.

The Town (2010) - Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, John Hamm
Affleck and Renner head a team of Boston area bank robbers who draw the attention of Hamm, an FBI agent. The real action begins, though, when Affleck starts dating a girl the crew took hostage during one of their heists. This was the closest thing to the magnificence of "Heat" in the last 15 years and displayed the extreme talent of Affleck both in front of and behind the camera. Excellent, excellent film.

The A-Team (2010) - Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel
The big screen adaptation of the cheesy 80s action show that features an excellent cast and wide range of wacky, over the top action sequences. Riddled with explosions and "there's no way that could happen" ridiculousness (like flying a tank), "The A-Team" is about as much fun as I've had at the theater all year. It's absurd but man, what a fun filled ride.

The Other Guys (2010) - Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes
When the two biggest NYPD cops are killed in a hilariously shocking moment of stupidity, the city turns to a pair of unlikely partners (Ferrell and Wahlberg) who leave their desk jobs for a shot at becoming heroes. There are some utterly brilliant moments in Adam McKay's take on action-comedy but too much of the rest is muddled and off key. Ferrell truly shines but he seems like the only member of the cast who really knows how to work under McKay. Funny but not life altering.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole (2010) - Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill
Another one of the strong animated choices from 2010, this one involves a tribe of talking owls whose fate is left up to a young dreamer (Sturgess). Not sure if it was just the magic of a SWEET trailer backed by a 30 Seconds to Mars song or if I really want to see this but I've actually had a great desire to check this thing out. Will definitely be picking it up on my vacation.

24: Season 8 (2010) - Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Freddie Prinze, Jr.
The final year of my favorite drama series of all time was everything "24" should be. Jack Bauer (Sutherland) was allowed to be at his absolute, Bauer-y best with even less ramifications than normal. From a story standpoint, it wasn't the best "24" season but from an enjoyment, you just could not ask for more. A truly satisfying end to a great series.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I’ve made no bones about my disdain for the movie calendar of 2010. Week in and week out, I peruse the local show times on Moviefone and week in and week out, I come away disappointed. 2010 has been Hollywood’s dumping ground for lackluster, underperforming material that would be drowned out in a typical year but that must now be highlighted because, well, what the heck else are you going to see? One area, though, where 2010 has excelled is in the quality of its animated films. “How to Train Your Dragon” was a landmark film for Dreamworks. “Toy Story 3” will likely receive a nomination for Best Picture. Disney’s “Tangled” is currently taking the box office by storm. Even “Despicable Me,” which I didn’t love but certainly enjoyed, was a tremendous success both critically and monetarily. In short, it’s been a banner year for animated features and “Megamind” falls right in line.

When his galaxy collapses, Megamind (Will Ferrell), a blue skinned Martian baby with a giant head, is jettisoned to planet Earth at the same time as Metro Man (Brad Pitt), a Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman wannabe. Whereas Metro Man falls into the lap of luxury and is embraced by the city of Metro City, Megamind is an outcast and quickly learns that the only way to be noticed is to become Metro Man’s super villain rival. A battle wages between the two until the day that one of Megamind’s evil schemes actually works and Metro City is left without its hero. It’s a glorious but fleeting moment for Megamind who soon discovers that it’s no fun to run amok with no one to oppose you. With this thought in mind he turns a normal geek (Jonah Hill) into a would-be super hero named Titan and trains him to fight. Unfortunately his plan goes awry and Titan becomes more than he can handle, leading to a change of heart for Megamind and an epic fight that puts everyone in jeopardy, including his new love, Roxanne (Tina Fey).

“Megamind” is a smart comedy that is part-spoof, part-original concept but wholly entertaining from start to finish. The assembled voice talent is strong and for the most part the actors mesh well together. While Pitt is the biggest name on the bill, Metro Man is on screen for only a small portion of the run time, leaving the film in the capable hands of “Saturday Night Live” buddies Ferrell and Fey. I’m a huge fan of Ferrell and have always been quick to his defense. Like him or not, you cannot deny that the man understands comedy and what makes people laugh. He’s not perfect but his range as a comedian is much larger than he’s often given credit for. “Megamind” allows for the display of that range as he must rely on his voice talent and comedic timing instead of falling back on the physical humor he is known for. Fey, meanwhile, follows Ferrell’s lead and delivers a quality if unspectacular character whose chemistry with Megamind is undeniable. And when the two leads need a hand it is usually given them by David Cross (“Arrested Development”), one of the very best supporting men in the comedy game today.

“Megamind” strikes a similar tone to the standard Dreamworks animated production: fun premise, moments of adult humor, and a bit lacking in the heart department as compared to Pixar/Disney. It is playful and endearing but its more meaningful scenes come across as somewhat hollow. It does bring a solid chunk of wit to the table, however, and some devious moments of dark comedy that are sold beautifully by Ferrell and Cross. In the end, “Megamind” doesn’t match up to the near-impossibly high standard set by the Pixar Universe or “How to Train Your Dragon” but it is an overwhelmingly enjoyable, fun, and fast paced superhero romp that carries on the legacy of 2010 animation.

I don’t really get Jonah Hill,

Movie News Today

A company called Prima is planning to offer a service that makes it possible to watch brand new movies in your home the same day they debut in theaters. The price? $20,000 plus $500 per film. Which begs the question, what's the matter with the theater? Hey, the dude in the next row over sucking popcorn butter off of his fingers annoys me, too, but it's not a $20,000 annoyance.

Last week we heard rumblings of "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp and star Sharlto Copley were reuniting to a film called "Elysium." Now it appears Matt Damon is working to join the party. If I wasn't already super interested, I certainly am now.

JJ Abrams, aka the Man of a Thousand Projects, admits that there's still no script for "Star Trek 2." Getting a bit lazy, isn't he?

Weekend Box Office Returns
Wow. If ANYONE needed further proof of how bad 2010 is, look no further than this weekend's returns. I meagerly predicted poor returns for "Narnia" and "The Tourist" but even I didn't think it would be this bad. The "Narnia" franchise is in serious jeopardy at this point, friends.

1. "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - $24.5 million
2. "The Tourist" - $17
3. "Tangled" - $14.56 ($115.62 million total)
4. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" - $8.5 ($257.69)
5. "Unstoppable" - $3.75 ($74.27)
6. "Black Swan" - $3.33 ($5.61)
7. "Burlesque" - $3.2 ($32.57)
8. "Love and Other Drugs" - $3 ($27.65)
9. "Due Date" - $2.55 ($94.88)
10. "Megamind" - $2.51 ($140.2)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New Movie Friday

"The Chronicles of Narnia - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - Ben Barnes, Skander Keynes, Georgie Henley
The third chapter in C.S. Lewis' epic masterpiece finds Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) journeying back to the land of Narnia without their older siblings. I quite liked "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" but "Prince Caspian" missed the boat on just about every single level. Blerg. "Dawn Treader" takes the franchise to the Fox studio and has a new director and it'll be very interesting to see how the material translates under new leadership. If this film makes a healthy chunk of money, you can expect to see a few more "Narnia" films. If it doesn't, however, this could be the end especially considering the fact that, of the four remaining volumes, only one ("The Silver Chair") really lends itself to the screen. We'll see.

"The Tourist" - Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany
An unwitting traveler (Depp) finds himself dragged into an international man hunt when he becomes involved with a beautiful but dangerous woman (Jolie). So apparently this is getting at least passing mention in Award Show discussion but every time I've seen the trailer I've been thoroughly unimpressed. I mean, sure, there are some outstanding actors here but this just doesn't seem like something I (or the average 18-35 year old) is going to care about. Perhaps I'm wrong but I'm not rushing to the theater.

"The Tempest" - Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou
Based on a Shakespearean play, "The Tempest" finds a duchess (Mirren) exiled to a remote island where she begins a fight with a slave (Hounsou). I would say I follow the movie calendar pretty closely and spend a chunk of time every night looking at various film-related websites. But I have never heard of this movie. Ever. Apparently it's not getting good press and it's not the kind of movie I invest my money in but still, I'm shocked that this late in the year, I see NOTHING about a film until the day before it opens. Wow.

Tremendous Trailer Thursday

"Transformers 3 - Dark Side of the Moon" I'm not going to say that Michael Bay makes a good movie. I'm also not going to say, however, that I'm not intrigued by the trailer for his third "Transformers" film.

"The Beaver" One way or another, I think this is Mel Gibson's last chance. If he can keep himself out of trouble, get some therapy, and find some success at the box office, his career could be on the upswing. Not sure if this will do the trick but I'm interested.

"Source Code" I really can't stand Jake Gyllenhaal. It's not that he's not a good actor, I just hate virtually every movie he's ever been in and there's something slightly off-putting about him that bothers me. That said, one of the highlights of 2009 was Duncan Jones' "Moon" which was a retro piece of sci-fi that really made an impact. So now the anti-Gyllenhaal portion of my brain is warring against the pro-Jones portion and after watching this trailer, Jones is winning.

HBO Special - "Adam"

Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy) is a 30 year old man with Asberger's Syndrome. Having recently lost his father and his job, Adam's life is thrown into the kind of flux anyone would struggle with. Things begin to change for Adam, however, when Beth (Rose Byrne), a socialite from a wealthy background, moves into his apartment building. The unlikely pair strike up a friendship that quickly evolves into a romance that neither of them (or Beth's family) are quite prepared for.

My life outside of The Soap Box, my real life if you will, has almost always involved working with kids in some capacity. Often times those kids fell somewhere on the Autism spectrum and I've taken a special interest in those kiddos. Some of them have been insanely difficult and frustrating to manage but many of the most memorable kids I've had ever the chance to work with. I have a special place in my heart for those with Autism, Asperger's, and the like. Very rarely, however, do you see the reality of these afflictions properly displayed in a movie. More often than not an autistic character just leaves me shaking my head.

Thankfully, "Adam" is one of those rare films. Dancy captures the essence of what it means to have high functioning Asperger's in his speech, mannerisms, and behaviors and gives the syndrome a likable if tortured face. Most importantly, Adam never crosses the line between Asperger's and retardation. Perhaps that's an indistinguishable difference for some people but anyone who's ever known an Aspy can tell you what a distinct difference it really is. Adam's affliction is more of a learning disability (really, more of a different way of learning for many) combined with severe social anxiety and an inability to read social cues. Dancy combines these traits wonderfully and his performance truly carries the film.

If the other characters surrounding Adam or the story in which he finds himself were half as well crafted as the title character, this movie would have soared into my "Favorites" list. But while Adam is a near perfect picture of a very complicated sect of the population, the rest of the characters are extremely two dimensional. Byrne and the rest of the cast all do a serviceable job of bringing life to the screen but unfortunately there just isn't a great deal to work with. The story starts out strong but as the film progresses, it begins to falter and finally finds itself trudging through the Land of Generic, resting on the obligatory "disapproving parent" plot line that's been done a million times. It's unfortunate that the surrounding parts of the movie can't match up to Dancy's brilliance but that said, it's still an outstanding look at an often misunderstood disability and more than worth a viewing.

Grade: B+

Movie News Today

Ridley Scott has titled his first "Alien" prequel film "Paradise" and is now looking for a cast.

Because idiots like me went to see "Clash of the Titans", there is now a sequel in the work and Liam Neeson will return as Zeus. Beating.

Yesterday it was Cate Blanchett and today it's Orlando Bloom returning to the Peter Jackson fold to work on "The Hobbit." And again I say, these movies cannot get here fast enough.

Anomalous Material gives us 8 actors who deserve better roles. The list includes the great Barry Pepper and the even greater Nathan Fillion so, yeah, I'm going to pass it on.

I'm not entirely sure why I can't get excited for Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" but A Life in Equinox has and his review pushes me closer to wanting to see it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Movie News Today

Director DJ Caruso ("Disturbia") talks about his upcoming sci-fi effort "I Am Number Four." Can't decide if this is going to fall more in line with "Terminator 2" (for teens) or "Aeon Flux."

The Wachowski's ("The Matrix") are working on a modern day version of Robin Hood. Look, kids, I love Robin Hood. LOVE him. The classic story is one of my all time favorites. But it seems like there's a new Hood project in the works every six months and they very rarely work out. Let's give Robin a break, okay?

Cate Blanchett has officially signed on to reprise her role of Galadriel in "The Hobbit" movies. Can't December of 2012 get here, already?!

Michael Mann's last couple of efforts may not have been his best (see: "Public Enemies") but he's still one of the very best directors around. His next project will center around a real-life mob boss and will be written by "Up in the Air" scribe Sheldon Turner.

Metro gives us the top 5 Christmas movie villains of all time. Don't know how they missed the Grinch but any list that includes "Die Hard" as a Christmas movie is good with me.

I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of "Tron" lately to get ready for the upcoming sequel but neither Netflix or Blockbuster keep it in stock. Marshall and the Movies tells me I'm better off for this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New DVD Tuesday!

The holiday shopping season is upon us and the studios will be putting anything and everything on the market for you gift procrastinators like myself. Enjoy a rich selection this week!

Inception (2010) - Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt
It's a shame that this movie had to come out in the summer. By the time award season roles around, I'm afraid its greatness will be all but forgotten. If it's not the best movie I've seen this year, it's the second best and it will undeniably have a major impact on the movie industry for years to come. Truly a masterful film.

Shrek Forever After (2010) - Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy
The final movie in a so-so franchise that has made an absurd amount of money, this installment takes a page from "It's a Wonderful Life" and explores the kingdom of far, far away if Shrek never existed. Certainly better than "Shrek the Third" but not nearly as strong as "Shrek 2," it's a fitting if shallow end to the series.

ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary Series - Volume 1 (2009-2010)
To commemorate its 30th anniversary, ESPN commissioned 30 separate documentaries to highlight some of the best sports stories that have occurred since the network's inception. I have seen 14 of the first 15 and all of them are outstanding pieces of filmmaking. Could not ask for better Christmas gift for a sports fan.

Boy Meets World Season Four - Ben Savage, Rider Strong, Danielle Fishel
FINALLY!!! Not sure if I've written much about my absolute obsession with "Boy Meets World" but trust me when I say that it is a very real and more than a little sad fascination. This was without question my favorite show growing up and I'm not ashamed to say that my DVR is set to record two episodes a day at 6 am. I've even got hand signals with a couple of my fellow "Worlders" to signify our shared love. Despite its worldwide popularity, Disney has never released any seasons of this series past number 3 until now and I can't tell you how thrilled I am with their decision. Thanks, Disney!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Movie News Today

I love this post from IO9 if for no other reason than its title: A Guide to Holiday Lightsaber Shopping. Awesome.

The great Dandy Don Meredith died today and while that may seem like a sports note more than anything else, his impact on culture through Monday Night Football is undeniable. Rest in peace, Don.

After the huge success of last year's "District 9", director Neill Blomkamp will reunite with star Sharlto Copley for a new sci-fi movie. "District 9" was a tremendous achievement so you won't get any argument about this pairing from me.

I always loved the Chronicles of Narnia book series. The first movie adaptation was very good in my opinion, the second (also my favorite of the books) was miserable. You can understand my hesitation with the third. However, Marshall at the Movies has seen it and gives it a solid review.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I"

As with each of the previous “Harry Potter” films, I find myself having difficulty finding the proper words for my review. Oh, how I love the Harry Potter universe, both in book and film form. In fact, I would go so far as to say I love it more than any other realm (real or fictitious) that doesn’t involve wookiees or a galaxy far, far away. That fact combined with my propensity for hyperbole makes it nearly impossible to deliver to you, dear readers, a fair and unbiased review. Allow me my moment of wizard-oriented nerdiness and I promise to return to my standard formula next time around.

“Deathly Hallows” drops us rather firmly back into the Harry Potter world, a world that is at war. Having struck a critical blow to their enemies at the end of the preceding film, uber-baddie Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) force of dark wizards grows ever stronger. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), soon find themselves on the run, half hiding, half searching for horcruxs, magical items that allow Voldemort to remain virtually invincible. Meanwhile, Voldemort himself is searching for a set of magical items called the Deathly Hallows which would slant the balance of power even further toward him in his inevitable and final battle with Harry. There is no conclusion to the drama, however, as this is mostly a set up for the ultimate fight that is to come in part two of this film.

I have thought long and hard about this film since taking it in at midnight on opening day. (Nerd, I know.) I have tried to find holes in the finished product and to temper my enthusiasm but truthfully I think any issue a fan of these stories might have would be nitpicking at best. “Deathly Hallows” is, for my money, the best yet in a series of films that has brought me an enormous amount of enjoyment. Every aspect of this film is refined, as if producer David Heyman, director David Yates, and the rest have taken what is great about the first six installments and improved what was lacking.

In no area is this better highlighted than in the display of legitimate skill of the three lead actors. Even in the 2001 debut of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” you could tell Daniel Radcliffe had “it.” Allowing for the fact that he was, after all, an inexperienced child actor, I always felt he would end up being a capable actor if not more. Rupert Grint was somewhere below Radcliffe on the “bankable skill” chart but still, I felt fairly confident in his ability to act when it was all said and done. I had no such confidence, however, in Watson. While far from a bad child actor (see: Jake Lloyd), Watson was easily the leader in wince inducing moments among the trio. As the films progressed, so, too, the maturity and range of these three young stars but Watson still lagged behind the others. Well, no more. Much of the material and subject matter of “Deathly Hallows” requires strong, hardened performances from these actors and all three deliver time and time again. Watson holds her own in a way she never has before, truly illustrating the time and effort that has been put into this series from the very beginning. Though, if you spend 10 years hanging out with a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, and the rest of these outstanding actors, you’re bound to up your game.

“Deathly Hallows” also excels in bringing some of the, well, magic of the books back to the screen. As the films have gotten longer and more involved in the maturation and development of the characters (and their relationships), I’ve felt that some of the wonderment of the first few films has been lost. As a tremendous fan of J.K. Rowling’s books, part of the joy of these movies has been the personification of so many wonderful and inventive pieces of fantasy brought to life. That magic is somewhat buried beneath layers of story and drama (and rightly so) in the last two chapters of this series but is wholly recaptured here. Telling the story of the “Deathly Hallows” (a well-known fairytale in this world) through the use of animated shadow theater was an especially nice touch. The spirit of the book, both the ups and the tremendous downs, is gloriously encapsulated in this film and reminded me of why I fell in love with this story in the first place.

The end result is an engrossing, brilliant adaptation that does nothing if not whet the appetite of the viewer for the next and final installment. Breaking up the book into two parts is clearly the right way to go as it allows for a pace that the last few films just weren’t allowed to find. In fact, I was left to wonder how much better these already-strong films could have been if they’d been given the Peter Jackson treatment with an extended cut for DVD/blu-ray. Regardless, it’s a magnificent ride and leaves me hopeful that the last chapter will be the best one of the bunch.

Grade: A

I will now resume my traditional cynical and sarcastic nature,

Movie News Today

Famed vampire writer Anne Rice wants Robert Downey, Jr. to play the lead in a remake of "Interview with the Vampire" and its sequels. In a related story, everyone wants Robert Downey, Jr. to play the lead in every movie ever.

"The Company Man," which had been getting a bit of Oscar buzz, has been bumped to January. Never, ever a good sign.

The makes of the controversial "documentary" "Catfish" will be pulled into court soon over a copyright issue which could determine once and for all whether or not this was a documentary or the retched, awful prank most people believe it to be.

Will Ferrll and Zach Galifianakis will play rival presidential candidates in a 2012 comedy. In.

Finally, while I was on my writing vacation (aka selling my life to work), two extremely notable deaths took place:

The New York Times provides us with a obituary for the great Leslie Nielsen who made a huge impact on my life (and many, many others) as Dr. Rumack in "Airplane!" Easily one of the 10 (or 5) funniest movies of all time, it is Nielsen's character that holds the movie together and I will be forever grateful for the many, many laughs I have had and will have from his performance. Hollywood Reporter delivers a similar column about the much less celebrated but no less brilliant Irvin Kershner, director of "The Empire Strikes Back." If you've read just about anything on this site, you have to know what a tremendous "Star Wars" geek I am. Kershner is a HUGE part of the success of that franchise. In fact, without Kershner's work, there is a very good chance that "Star Wars: A New Hope" would go down in history as a singularly spectacular film followed by a cheap sequel or two that never measured up. Instead, "Empire" took the "Star Wars" universe to new heights and allowed it to become the international phenomenon that it has become. I cannot begin to express how much Kershner's work meant to me personally. His influence on Hollywood will be sorely missed.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Tangled" - $21.5 million ($96.46 million total)
2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I" - $16.74 ($244.24)
3. "Burlesque" - $6.1 ($26.96)
4. "Unstoppable" - $6.1 ($68.89)
5. "Love and Other Drugs" - $5.7 ($22.62)
6. "Megamind" - $5.03 ($136.7)
7. "Due Date" - $4.21 ($90.96)
8. "Faster" - $3.83 ($18.11)
9. "The Warrior's Way" - $3.05
10. "The Next Three Days" - $2.65 ($18.38)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taking a Break

Well "readers" this past week and the upcoming one are the busiest of the year for me. I'm spending 14 hours a day working at my computer and don't have the time nor the energy to spend a few more hours working on the blog. I'm getting ready for a bigger launch for the Soap Box Office at the beginning of the year as it is. So with all that in mind, I'm taking a short breather. Hoping to be back next week and pick up the pace as we approach 2011. As an apology for my abandonment, please enjoy nicest-guy-in-the-NFL Andre Johnson absolutely WRECKING SHOP on dirtiest-player-in-the-NFL Cortland Finnegan. Love it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New DVD Tuesday

The Expendables (2010) - Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, et al
The most ridiculous, over the top action movie in the history of mankind revolves around a group of hardened mercenaries who take on a no-win mission to bring freedom to a city in Mexico. Like "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" I saw this right before I essentially put my arm in a chipper and wasn't able to write a review. Simply put, this is the stupidest movie I've ever thoroughly enjoyed. I think the entire movie can be summed up by my brother's statement regarding a particularly ridiculous moment in the film's final battle. As a river of gasoline that for some reason runs right through the middle of the enemy camp goes up in flames, my brother said, "Wait what in know what, I don't care." That's how I felt throughout. Nothing made the least bit of sense but I didn't care, it was too much fun. Totally worth a viewing.

Eat Pray Love (2010) - Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem
A middle aged woman (Roberts) goes on year long journey around the world to rediscover her zest for life. I have always loved Julia so I'm sure I'll check this out at some point. The subject matter, however, doesn't really interest me. Guess that proves that, at least for this guy, big name movie stars still have some appeal.

Flipped (2010) - Callan McAuliffe, Aidan Quinn
A boy (McAuliffe) and girl in the early 60s go through the ups and downs of first love. Totally uninterested if not for the fact that the director is Rob Reiner. What I like most about Reiner is his distinctiveness. If you flip to a movie on a Saturday afternoon, you will know immediately if it's a Reiner film just because of the dialogue. If this pops up on Instant View, I might give it a whirl.

I'm Still Here (2010) - Joaquin Phoenix
The pseudo-documentary by Casey Affleck that follows the life of Phoenix as he transitions from movie superstar to would-be underground rapper. Affleck let lose that this was in fact a bit and not an actual career change but still, the work Phoenix put into this role is remarkable. So looking forward to checking this out.

New to Blu Ray
Beauty and the Beast (1991) - Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson
The classic Disney film that really set the stage for "Toy Story 3," "Up," and the like as far as taking animated films seriously goes. I'm not in love with this movie by any means but there's absolutely no denying its legacy.

Deadwood: The Complete Series (2004) - Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Garrett Dillahunt, John Hawkes
A realistic look at life in a Frontier town of the Old West, "Deadwood" is one of the best TV series ever in my opinion. You could convince me that it's the best drama series ever. I'm not saying it is, but you could convince me. It's also one of the ROUGHEST shows around and is certainly not for everyone (really, it's not for about 95% of people). That said, you will very rarely see as strong a cast as "Deadwood" put together nor a better example of actors feeding off of each other. In its entire three year run, never once did the show miss the target and never once did a performance fail to inspire. Seriously outstanding piece of work.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DVD Review - "Winter's Bone"

At age 17, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is the de facto head of her backwoods, Ozark mountains household. She hunts, cooks, and cares for her two younger siblings and her drugged out mother. Hard times get worse when Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt) informs her that her meth head father has skipped bail for which he put up the family's house and property as collateral. If he doesn't show up for court, Ree and her family will be thrown out on the street. Being the provider that she is, Ree sets out across the county in search for her father, leading her down a dark, dangerous path.

"Winter's Bone" tore up the festival circuit earlier this year, garnering several award nominations and a few wins. It is hauntingly authentic and captures the desperate and sad reality of the the meth trade. Writer-director Debra Granik knows her subject matter and uses the harsh landscape to set her main character up beautifully. As Ree searches for her father, she uncovers layer after layer of secrecy and gets wrapped up in the unwritten rules of a drug society. Lawrence brings perfect balance to Ree. She is strengthened and prematurely hardened by her time as the bread winner and her determination is mixed with the hint of naivety that even the most world weary 17 year old would still exhibit. It is, for my money, the best female performance of the year. Her supporting actors all take on the attitudes, behaviors, and speech of an Ozark meth community with brilliance. Particular attention should be paid to John Hawkes ("Deadwood") whose turn as local enforcer Teardrop is magnificent. Hawkes (along with Dillahunt) is one of my very favorite character actors; a man who takes his craft extremely seriously and deeply invests himself in his character no matter how small the role. Teardrop would undoubtedly steal the show from Ree were Lawrence's performance not so strong. All in all this is a seriously depressing, dark film that is hard to watch. Still, however, it is exceedingly worthwhile and significant and should play a big part in Award Season this year.

Grade: A