Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Documentary Project - Volume 4: "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"

Whatever your opinion of her may be, you cannot deny the universal fame of Joan Rivers. One of, if not the, most recognizable female comedian the world has to offer, Rivers had been thrusting herself into the spotlight for the better part of the 50 years. And whether a rabid fan, an adamant hater, or somewhere in between, everyone knows Joan. Her sharp wit and wickedly crass material have been overshadowed by her commitment to plastic surgery and unfortunate career choices but at the same time, you have to credit her for still having a career at all this far into the game. On the verge of turning 75, "Piece of Work" details the life and times of Rivers from the highs to the lows and her rise to budding superstar and fall to Indian casino bookings.

First of all it should be noted that I really wasn't interested in this movie. Obviously I love a good documentary but the thought of sitting through an hour and a half of Joan Rivers sounded only slightly less ominous than wearing Lady Gaga's famed meat suit into shark infested waters. My introduction to Joan Rivers came as a child when she appeared as an over-the-top makeup saleswoman in "The Muppets Take Manhattan," an appearance that left me shell-shocked for the last 25 years. That was enough for me. But when this doc popped up on my bi-weekly search for anything new worth watching on Netflix Instant, I figured it wouldn't hurt to add it to the queue even if I never watched it. (Note to movie studios: this is not the first time this has happened. Netflix Instant is a serious boon to your industry. Embrace it.) And then the weather and AT&T became allies and launched a dual-front attack against my house a couple of weeks ago, knocking out my cable while simultaneously making it impossible for me to leave my house. So when the Lady of the Box Office refused to be party to any of the movies I suggested (who doesn't want to have a "Star Wars" marathon on a snow day?!), we turned to "Piece of Work."

Secondly, I was completely taken aback by how compelling I found this documentary to be. It provides not only a look at a comedian's creative process but also an insight into crippling insecurity. The preparation that this woman puts into her craft (comedy) and the seriousness with which she approaches it are remarkable. A wall full of card catalogues house a record of every joke Rivers has ever told and I found her editing methods to be fascinating. At the same time, the need for approval, for fame, for love (essentially) is the overwhelming message of the film. In many ways, Rivers has carved out for herself a remarkable legacy and yet all she can focus on are the rejections and the fragile state of her acting career. It's heart breaking, really, to listen to Rivers as she delves into the depths of her lack of overall confidence, something you'd never pick up for her act. "Piece of Work" also displays a strong if understated caring side to Rivers, particularly in scenes describing her kindness toward past and present employees and the continual badgering of her daughter, Melissa, concerning her smoking. Of course, being the rough-around-the-edges person that she is, her concern comes across as condescending but for me, that made these moments all the more genuine. "Piece of Work" allows the audience to view Joan Rivers as a human when most in my generation have only known her as a caricature-like presence. That humanism is where the movie makes its mark, really, and what sets it apart from other celebrity bio-docs I've seen in the past.

Grade: B+

Brief Oscar Thoughts and Weekend Box Office

The 83rd Academy Awards were this evening and the festivities were relatively uneventful and as predicted. My quick thoughts on the evening:

- The opening sequence got the ball rolling in the right direction but also set the hosts up for failure. I didn't feel like they attained anything close to the same chemistry throughout the rest of the show;

- James Franco ran circles around Anne Hathaway throughout the night. Franco assumed his usual level of calm and comfort while Hathaway seemed just the opposite all night. I go back and forth on whether I like Hathaway or not and tonight definitely didn't help her cause;

- I've seen a lot of reports citing Kirk Douglas' presentation of Best Supporting Actress as the moment of the show. I found it to be painful, similar to the way Dick Clark makes me cringe whenever he appears on his New Year's Rockin' Eve these days. It's great that he's still willing and able to get out there and all, but it just felt awkward to me;

- Melissa Leo, really? The "I'm so shocked that I just said one of the seven words you can't say on TV" bit would have seemed much more genuine if she hadn't also acted just as surprised (and weird) at the Golden Globes. Also, not to be a naysayer, but of the four main performances in "The Fighter," I found Leo's to be the least authentic and the most cliche/over-the-top. I'm just sayin';

- The speeches of Bale, Portman, and Firth in particular all had touching moments. Firth was classy, composed, and organically funny, too. The best speech of the night, though, might have been the dude from "Toy Story 3" (I unfortunately forgot to make note of who it was). A well-thought-out speech that hit on everything important in a concise manner;

- It felt more than a little conciliatory but as a hardened supporter of "Inception", it was good to see it pick up as many technical awards as it did;

- If Trent Reznor hadn't won Best Score, I might have gone "Office Space" on the TV. This would have been doubly painful for me as I was watching a friend's house and would not have enjoyed buying him a new TV. Still, best score I've heard in years;

- Randy Newman now officially falls into the same category as Meryl Streep: we should just name the Best Original Song "The Newman" and stop nominated him every time he works on a soundtrack. I get it, he's awesome. After 19 nominations, maybe we just say "the top five original songs that weren't written by Randy Newman." I call this the "Michael Jordan Theorem";

- SHOCKED that Lena Horne was the final person shown in the Memoriam segment. They turned it into a cool moment but I would have put good money on Dennis Hopper;

- Having Francis Ford Coppola and Eli Wallach on stage at the same time to accept Lifetime Achievement Awards was awesome. Of all the magnificent work Wallach has done, it is his appearance on an episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" that sticks with me the most. Outstanding;

- I think it's now fair to say the Academy hates Christopher Nolan (said in only half jest);

- Biggest Mistake for me: Tom Hooper over David Fincher for Best Director. I'm okay with "King's Speech" beating out "Social Network" for Best Picture, though I wouldn't have voted that way myself and I don't think it will hold up the way "Social" will in five or ten years. But while I'm sure Hooper did a great job on "King", the work that Fincher did on "Social" is mind boggling. He created essentially a perfect film. I had resigned myself to the fact that Nolan wouldn't win but I truly expected Fincher to come away with the trophy.

Weekend Box Office Results
Dear Nicholas Cage,
You know you've had it when: your newest film's opening weekend BARELY cracks the top 10 in a week where a non-Pixar/Disney animated film that has never been number one tops the charts in its third week of release. Please stop.
1. "Gnomeo and Juliet" - $14.21 million ($75.15 million total)
2. "Hall Pass" - $13.42
3. "Unknown" - $12.44 ($42.84)
4. "Just Go With It" - $11.1 ($79.36)
5. "I Am Number Four" - $11.04 ($37.74)
6. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" - $9.2 ($62.78)
7. "The King's Speech" - $7.62 ($114.51)
8. "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" - $7.55 ($28.57)
9. "Drive Angry 3D" - $5.13
10. "The Roommate" - $2.05 ($35.93)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Movie Friday

It was really nice of Hollywood to provide us with the worst movie release weekend of the year during the week when I am at my very most busy. (That sentence doesn't sound right but I'm too tired to fix it.) I'd ask the studios for a full apology for the following films but I'm kind of thrilled I don't have to pontificate much right now.

"Drive Angry 3D" - Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fitchner
A deceased criminal (Cage) shoots his way out of hell (that's not a typo) in order to save his granddaughter from a cult. You know when you can be sure that a movie is truly awesome? When it has "3D" as part of the title. Not "in 3D," mind you, but a portion of the actual title. (See: "Saw 3D".) Here's what I love/hate about Nicholas Cage: as bad as his movies are now, just think about how much worse they're going to get as his debts grow bigger. He's never, ever had any idea how to properly choose a role and now that he's bankrupt, think about the absolute crap he'll be forced to delve into now. We're three years away from Cage entering Val Kilmer territory.

"Hall Pass" - Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate
Two best buds (Wilson and Sudeikis) each get receive a week off from marriage and attempt to relive their glory days. I love Wilson, Fischer, and especially Sudeikis. Love them. But nothing about this seems inspired. More to the point, what the heck happened to the Farrelly brothers? Their first three films were "Dumb and Dumber" (one of my favorite comedies of all time), "Kingpin" (truly underrated genius in its own right), and "There's Something About Mary" (my personal introduction to smart comedy). If you'd told me in 1998, fresh off the heels of "Mary", that 13 years later, I'd still be waiting for the next significant Farrelly Brothers movie, I'd have slapped you in public (I won't tolerate liars). And yet, that's exactly the world I find myself in now. Weird.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Just Go With It"

Last year, in my review of “Dinner for Schmucks,” I wrote about that rare occasion when I find myself nervously voicing my approval for a hated film. It really doesn’t happen often. I mean, sure, perhaps I give a film a “B+” when the general consensus is more in the “B” range or something similar. But rarely do the opinions of other smart movies goers differ significantly from my own. That’s kind of my bit, really. I write reviews for regular people who like movies. At least when it comes to mainstream releases, generally speaking, if I hate a movie, you will, too, and if I love it, chances are you’ll enjoy yourself as well. So it is with great trepidation that I step into the shark infested, chum-filled waters of a positive review for “Just Go With It.”

Adam Sandler plays Danny, a womanizing plastic surgeon who had his heart broken in the 80s and has never allowed himself to be put in that situation again. As a result, he uses a fake wedding ring as his prop for picking up women that are far out of his league. His assistant, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), scoffs at his lifestyle but that doesn’t keep her from being his confidant. Danny’s walls are put to the test, however, when he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), a young teacher (yeah, right) for whom he creates a fake ex-wife and kids. For the right price, Katherine and her children pose as the fake family. The shenanigans get even zanier when the whole troop, along with Danny’s cousin Eddie (Nick Swardson), heads out on a twisted family vacation to Hawaii, where a series of events cause Danny to question his life and his attachments to both Palmer and Katherine.

Going into “Just Go With It”, I was 99 percent ready to hate my life. If I hadn’t picked up complimentary screening passes, I wouldn’t have ventured into this movie in the first place. While I’ve been a lifelong fan of Sandler, last year’s “Grown Ups” made me actually want to die and forced me to consider the possibility that I’ve outgrown Sandler’s hijinks. Yet, as the opening moments of “Just Go” unfolded, I found myself legitimately laughing out loud more often than not. I was literally shocked. I laughed more and more as the film went along and actually had a moment where I turned to my wife to say, “This is funny, right?” The jokes are easy but plentiful and Sandler seems to actually work with the material rather than against it like he has in the recent past. Director Dennis Dugan, the Adam McKay to Sandler’s Will Ferrell, has punched me in the gut numerous times over the last decade but for once he seems to have learned from his failures. One of the things that made “Grown Ups” so incredibly painful were the overly-long scenes that crushed any form of momentum the movie might have had. Instead, what you get with “Just Go” are quick cuts that don’t allow you to focus on the ludicrousness of what you’ve just been presented with. As much as I usually hate a movie that jumps from scene to scene, it works well in this situation.

Now that isn’t to say this movie is without flaws. In fact, it’s riddled with them the way Jack Bauer’s SUV is almost always filled with bullet holes by the end of an episode of “24.” No one would ever make the decisions that these characters do, for one thing. For another, Brooklyn Decker, for all our physical attributes, is by no means an actor. She’s one of the worst fake-actors ever. Swardson also doesn’t add much to the equation. And the usual host of cameos that plague a Sandler/Dugan production fall short again here, most notably that of Nicole Kidman who seems completely lost and rigidly one dimensional. But the element that allowed me to overlook these extreme issues is the chemistry between Sandler and Aniston. Given how rarely these actors have delivered in the recent past, it was more than a bit surprising to see how well they complemented each other here and how relatively naturally their characters blend. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an organic pairing but it certainly isn’t forced which is exactly what I expected.

By no means do I feel that any of the life choices made in this film are reasonable, realistic, or even remotely possible. Any number of “plot twists” could have been avoided entirely by a single character simply saying, “Wait a minute, there is no way we’re doing that.” BAM! Movie over. But where’s the fun in that? And for that matter, how many of the great movies we’ve come to know and love could have been DOA if a character would have simply made the logical choice? Comedies, as a whole, are almost always predicated on an absurd action or behavior. So I chose to embrace the ridiculousness and my evening was much more fun than I could have ever predicted. Maybe the theater pumped weapons-grade laughing gas into the room (it was a screening, after all) and maybe any future viewings will make me race to my computer to change my review, but whatever the case may be, I laughed a lot. And that is, after all, the point of a comedy. So my apologies if this review leads any of you astray down a dark and dangerous path.

Grade: B

You may now begin lambasting me,

Care for another (possibly more sane) take on "Just Go With It?" Head on over to Cinema Slants.

Movie News and Links Today

Just not a whole lot going on right now, either in the industry or within the blogosphere. Hollywood sits in anticipation of Sunday's Academy Awards, of course, and perhaps the rest of my fellow bloggers are experiencing an excess of busyness like myself. Kuddos to those of you who are still rolling right along.

A Life in Equinox presents his top ten films from 2010. Pretty solid.

Yesterday brought news of Steve Carell's next movie role which is a bit more serious than his typical fare. Row Three asks whether or not Carell is up to the task. For me, there's no question. Carell has a magnificent range that we've caught glimpse of in movies like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Dan in Real Life." There's no better time, either, as he's coming straight out of his incredible run on "The Office" and moving straight into a dark, dramatic role.

Dark of the Matinee and Movie Reviews by Tom Clift team up to discuss Clift's first viewing of "Ghostbusters." I've been on a "Ghostbusters" kick lately and while I don't agree with Clift's thoughts on it, I think the project as a whole is pretty cool. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DVD Review - "Cyrus"

John (John C. Reilly) hasn't ever completely recovered from his divorce. A nice guy without any confidence, his life takes an interesting turn when he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at his ex-wife's engagement party. John and Molly hit it off but after a few dates, John begins to feel like Molly is keeping something from him. He follows her home one night (stalker much?) and discovers that her adult son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), still lives at home. At first Cyrus seems to embrace his mother's new relationship but John soon finds that things aren't what they seem to be. Molly and Cyrus have an unnaturally close relationship and despite his objections to the contrary, Cyrus wants nothing to get in the way with that. Cyrus comically undermines everything John does, causing John to stoop to his level and force a showdown between the two.

"Cyrus" is an interesting little film. Directing brothers Jay and Mark Duplass provide a well written screenplay and a bit of fresh life for a concept that's been used more than once. The characters in "Cyrus" are much more human than one might expect. John, in particular, is a very authentic "divorce broke my soul" kind of guy and Reilly gives depth to the character. Even Cyrus, who's more over-the-top than John, still has moments of realness when it would have been very easy to allow him to become a robotic generalization. "Cyrus" is labeled as a comedy and at times revels in the (slightly) absurd but at its core it's a blended family drama with real heart. As weird as it sounds, you kind-of understand why Cyrus would steal John's shoes and that's saying something. My only real criticism of the film is the final 10 minutes, in which John and Cyrus attempt to work through their differences. While the majority of the film is fresh and vibrant, the finale is much more cliche, a cookie-cutter comedy ending. It doesn't fall apart so much as it just comes across as a cop out. Still, the Duplasses have crafted a heartfelt, organically funny movie that should provide them with a ticket to the mainstream.

Grade: B+

Movie News and Links Today

Cinema Slants reviews Liam Neeson's newest action film, "Unknown", and makes me wish even more that I had even 20 minutes of free time this weekend. Blerg.

FlixChatter reviews one of my favorite underrated movies, "Unbreakable", and reminds me yet again of just how far Shyamalan has fallen. So sad.

Knowing what a nerd I am, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely love "Firefly." Well clearly I'm not alone, as io9 reports, because a group of Browncoats have started a campaign to raise the money to buy the rights to the show so that star Nathan Fillion can begin making new episodes. Love it!

David O. Russell is working with Mark Wahlberg to get another one of the actor's pet projects, "Cocaine Cowboys" into production. About a group of drug runners who rules Miami in the 70s and 80s, the documentary of the same title is one of the most fascinating docs I've ever seen. A truly compelling story that could make an excellent film. 

And in "Crazy Person Says What?" news of the day, Charlie Sheen is trying to assemble all the parts for a fourth "Major League" film. There's no denying the greatness of "Major League." One of the best sports movies ever, if a bit ridiculous (hey, it was the 80s after all). The sequel was moderately entertaining but nowhere near the level of the first. The third was an absolute atrocity. So why, exactly, would be need a fourth installment, especially one that would feature a 57-year old Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) who just spent the last decade playing the President of the United States? No thanks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

Megamind (2010) - Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt
A play on the "Superman" story line starts out with our hero (Ferrell) as a slightly incompetent alien who is always overshadowed by his goodie-two-shoe nemesis (Pitt). I found "Megamind" to be extremely funny and wildly entertaining. The voice work, too, is superb. Not quite up to the level of Pixar but then again, what is? Definitely worth a viewing.

Due Date (2010) - Robert Downey, Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx
Director Todd Phillips' follow up to "The Hangover" finds a stressed out businessman (RDJ) trying to get home to see the birth of his child. Everything goes awry, however, and he ends traveling cross country with a nutbag (Galifianakis) heading to LA to become an actor. Far from a perfect comedy (which "Hangover" almost was), "Due Date" still has hilarious moments even if it does take liberally from "Planes Trains and Automobiles." It does, however, lack flow so it seems like a bunch of crazy sequences that don't really come together. By 2010 standards, it's still relatively solid.

Get Low (2010) - Robert Duvall, Bill Murray
A crotchedy old hermit (Duvall) throws a funeral party for himself and brings in his quirky friends. Here, dear readers, is the movie I'm most excited about this week. I tried; I mean, I REALLY tried to catch this during the one week it was showing in my area. I even took a day off to work in a viewing. And then a monsoon hit DFW and I could barely get out of my house. Hoping to catch this one soon.

Also New
Nurse Jackie: Season 2 (2010) - Edie Falco, Eve Best
Weeds: Season Six (2010) - Mary Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon

New to Blu
The Last Unicorn (1982) - Jeff Bridges, Faye Dunaway, Angela Lansbury
48 Hrs. (1982) - Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte

Movie News Today

Kevin Costner has been asked to join the cast of "Superman" in which he would play Pa Kent. As I've said before, I have an unhealthy obsession with Costner and this could be a brilliant pairing.

GQ discusses the cowardice of movie studios and puts a final bow on the stink-fest that was 2010.

To contrast GQ, the LA Times presents a compelling case for the future of film, citing the large number of smart movies that made a ton of money AND were nominated for awards. It may take a couple of years to come around but I think the Times is spot on. Films like "Inception" and "Social Network" respect their audiences as much if not more than their subject matter and it shows in both the box office numbers and the reviews. Bravo.

SplitSider gives us 26 roles turned down by Bill Murray and discusses the impact on the films. I saw "Ghostbusters" in a theater last week; one of those Retro Viewing things. Because of how sporadic and quirky his film choices are, I sometimes forget how incredible Murray really is. Cool article.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Movie News Today

Hailee Steinfeld, the breakout star of "True Grit", will return to the screen in an adapatation of "Forgotten," a sci-fi-like story about a girl who can see the future but can't remember anything about the past.

I'm not a big fan of Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") but "The Great Gatsby" is one of my favorite books of all time. So I'm not sure what side of the "will I see it or won't I" argument concerning Luhrmann's production of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. What might make the difference? The inclusion of 3D. Meh.

In other news, Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Sky High") has officially joined "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"; Mila Kunis may play the Wicked Witch in "Oz, The Great and Powerful" which unfortunately won't star Robert Downey, Jr.; and Guillermo Del Toro's take on "Pinocchio" will soon begin production. I've missed a lot this weekend.

The trailer for "Apollo 18" just hit and while it might be a little more horror and a little less sci-fi than I'd personally like, this is a seriously cool idea. Check it out.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Unknown" - $21.77 million
2. "I Am Number Four" - $19.5
3. "Gnomeo and Juliet" - $19.4 ($50.42 million total)
4. "Just Go With It" - $18.2 ($60.76)
5. "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" - $17
6. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" - $13.6 ($48.47)
7. "The King's Speech" - $6.57 ($103.29)
8. "The Roommate" - $4.1 ($32.69)
9. "The Eagle" - $3.56 ($15.04)
10. "No Strings Attached" - $3.12 ($66.03)

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Movie Friday

"I Am Number Four" - Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Timothy Olyphant
A group of aliens who have come to earth are hunted down one by one by their former enemies. Number Four (Pettyfer) seems to be the key to fighting the exterminators. I really want to think that "I Am Number Four" will be good but all the early reviews I've seen have been less than complimentary. It certainly looks stylish in the trailer but perhaps too stylish? I do have great love for Timothy Olyphant, however. Someone tell me something good about this thing!

"Unknown" - Liam Neeson, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Diane Kruger
When a man (Neeson) wakes up from a coma, he discovers that his identity has been stolen and that his wife doesn't seem to have any recollection of him. Then he wages war against all of Europe. Who, I ask you, doesn't love Liam Neeson in butt kicking mode? Easily one of the most likable actors in the business, I almost always find myself forgiving his film's faults and jumping head first into crazy, over-the-top action. "Taken" was THE guilty pleasure movie of 2009. "Unknown" seems like a surefire contender for that title this year.

"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" - Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson
Lawrence reprises his HILARIOUS (heavy on the sarcasm) role as a detective who goes undercover as a fat granny. This time his stepson (Jackson) joins him. This seems like something that should have opened in 2010, the worst movie year ever. Seriously, though, the worst thing about a third "Big Momma" movie is that clearly Martin Lawrence needs the money. Once a promising, entertaining, smart comedian with a bright future, he's now now appears to need this film 5 years after the sequel and 11 after the original. Sad.

"Vanishing on 7th Street" (limited) - Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizomo
A blackout spawns a darkness-monster-thing of some sort that vanishes any human it catches. A small group of survivors bands together inside a diner. Here's the question of the day: is there any actor that provides an instant death nail to a film better than Hayden Christensen? The concept behind "7th Street" seems cool and I was totally with the trailer...until I noticed Christensen's mug starring out at me...and I'm out. I hate John Travolta more than any other actor but even Travolta doesn't immediately turn me off from a film as quickly Christensen. The whining combined with his part in ruining the second "Star Wars" trilogy is just too much to over come. Sorry, Hayden. Please whine elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Movie News and Links Today

You ever have one of those days where you think you're going to get a whole lot done and instead, you end up accomplishing about half as much as you normally would but in twice the time? That's what my whole week has been like. Everything, from my morning shower up to my nightly wind down with a book (re-reading the "Harry Potter" series right now because, hey, I'm a nerd), has just taken ridiculously long compared to usual. I've got 4 film reviews to write but can't get enough time to get through any of them right now. It's a good thing I used Snow Day from last week to can a couple of articles. Please forgive the lack of exciting content this week, I promise I'll get back on to it next week.

Wonder Woman will make a TV comeback starring Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights" TV) and written by David E. Kelly ("The Practice"). My only question is, will this help or hinder a potential big screen adaptation?

Too-smart-for-America super genius Mitch Hurwitz gives a tongue-in-cheek guide to getting a TV show cancelled. Oh, how I miss "Arrested Development."

FlixChatter delivers their top directors in the industry today. Could not have said it better myself.

The Canadian Cinephile reviews the Disney classic "Peter Pan" and establishes himself as the only person I know who shares my dislike for this movie. One of Disney's worst from the "classics" era.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Documentary Project - Volume 3: "Assault in the Ring"

On a summer night in 1983, two welterweight boxers met at center ring in front of a large Madison Square Garden crowd. The boxers were on different levels, with Billy Collins having been pegged for stardom and Luis Resto considered by most to be a tune-up fighter, though one with a solid reputation. The battle lasted ten rounds before Resto was named the winner. What should have been a career-making victory for Resto turned out to be short lived as almost immediately it was discovered that Resto's gloves had been tampered with. The padding had been removed from the gloves, essentially allowing Resto to pummel Collins with bare knuckles (see the photo below). For Resto, this meant the end of his boxing career, a stint in jail, and a haunted past. The fight was even more harmful for Collins, who never fully recovered from the beating which, combined with his already dark disposition, led him down a rough path toward a tragic death. 25 years later director Eric Drath follows Resto as he attempts to come to grips with the results of the fight.

Considering the damage he inflicted on Collins (and his family), Resto is an exceedingly sympathetic figure. A poor immigrant from Puerto Rico, Resto found not only a livelihood but also significance when he showed some talent in the ring. He had a chance to better his life and the lives of his family members and he worked extremely hard to make that happen. He learned early on, however, that you never question the men in your corner and that would ultimately lead to his undoing. He didn't remove the padding from the gloves himself but as he reluctantly admits about halfway through the film, he knew something wasn't right. Resto buried himself under a mountain of guilt not only because of the impact the fight had on Collins but because of the way he had disrespected his sport. His grief is written all over his face. By all accounts, this fight ended two lives with Resto holding on as a shell of a man, estranged from friends and family and unable to find redemption.

Drath offers just that, redemption, with a whirl-wind tour to the homes of all those affected by the fight. Resto is given the opportunity to confront his former trainer, Mario Costa, the man ultimately responsible for the customized gloves. While Resto spent two years in prison, Costa was simply stripped of his trainer's license due to a chain of custody issue that resulted in his court case being thrown out. Upon their first on-screen meeting, I was immediately struck by how much power Costa still held over Resto. Here stood the man responsible for Resto's troubles and yet he could not even look him in the eye. When questioned about the events of that night, Costa denies and feigns offense but in later footage he makes it abundantly clear that he would never admit his wrongdoing. It is abundantly clear that while Resto may have known something wasn't right when he stepped into the ring, Costa knew exactly what the game plan was. Drath also sheds a little light on the New York Athletic Commission, leading one to wonder what kind of shady business was conducted behind closed doors and under grimy tables on the way to that night's infamous events. In this sense, Drath allows "Assault" to illustrate what a shady business professional boxing truly is.

If Resto's confrontation with Costa is somewhat unsatisfying, his other meetings pick up the slack. He finally confesses his (limited) knowledge of the tampered gloves with his ex-wife and grown sons and you can see the relief wash over him. He weeps quietly when receiving forgiveness from Collins' widow and is even reunited with his mother and sister. It isn't a picture perfect ending, of course. Collins' father refused Resto's apologies and Costa provides no comfort for his former protege. Still, Drath's simple and understated film finds a poignant groove and stays within in, capturing the essence of a man who has paid for his mistakes a thousand times over without hope of reprieve, almost as much a victim as the man he sparred with on that fateful night.

Grade: A-

New DVD Tuesday

Unstoppable (2010) - Denzel Washington, Chris Pine
Based on a true story, the most recent thrill ride from Tony Scott pits old school conductor Washington and his new trainee Pine against a runaway train loaded with volatile chemicals speeding toward a populated area. Does anyone else feel like Washington's devotion to Tony Scott is getting in the way of an even better career? Scott's movies are fine and generally entertaining but they don't exactly ask a lot from the headlining actors. Also, I'm kind of against this movie just because of the part of the trailer where a battalion of soldiers armed with M-16s open fire on the train. Why? I mean, seriously, why are they shooting at a train?

Waiting for Superman (2010)
A documentary by the Davis Guggenheim, the man behind "It Might Get Loud" (my top movie of 2009), "Superman" focuses on private and charter schools across the country and the heavy competition that takes place to get a spot in these schools. I've not decided whether I intend to add it to the list for the Documentary Project or not. On the surface, it sounds like an outstanding choice. But the recent revelation that some (if not many) of the scenes were re-shot for dramatic effect and many of the facts presented herein were erroneous. I may have to dig a little deeper.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One
Rain Man (1988) - Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman
Who doesn't appreciate this touching drama about a brash hustler (Cruise) who returns home after his father's death to discover that he has an older brother with autism (Hoffman)? It's an absolute classic and one that truly deserves the Blu-Ray treatment. Hoffman's performance is brilliant (obviously, considering his Best Actor win) but it is Cruise's journey to self-discovery and responsibility that really makes "Rain Man" work in my book. Great film.

Also New
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) - Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts

New to Blu
Moonstruck (1987) - Cher, Nicholas Cage
Last Tango in Paris (1972) - Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider
Network (1976) - Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Beatrice Straight
All the President's Men (1976) - Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman
Mr. Deeds (2002) - Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder, Peter Gallagher
Big Daddy (1999) - Adam Sandler, John Stewart, Joey Lauren Adams

Movie News Today

Director Dean DeBlois spoke with Empire recently and discussed the sequel to last year's smash hit "How to Train Your Dragon."

Roland Emmerich is planning a sequel to "Independence Day" and discusses the project with Empire. I like almost nothing Emmerich has ever done...except "ID4" which might be one of my 20 favorite movies of all time. After "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park," "ID4" is probably the most memorable theater experience I had as a kid and despite its absurdity, I will stand by it to the end. So, yeah, I'm in for a sequel.

The cast for "Dark Knight Rises" continues to grow with the addition of Marion Cotillard ("Inception"). Great choice here but then again, what else should we expect from Christopher Nolan?

Cinema Slants ranks the 10 films nominated for Best Picture based on the likelihood of attaining "immortality." Smart rankings and a smart column overall.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

DVD Review - "Animal Kingdom"

When Joshua "J" Cody's (James Frecheville) mother dies of a drug overdose, you would think that his life couldn't get much worse. And you would be wrong. J goes to live with Janine (Jacki Weaver), the grandmother his mom had sought to keep him away from, and his uncles, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford). Just before J came to stay with them, the Cody boys and their partner Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) committed a string of high-profile armed robberies that caused Pope to go into hiding and brought a lot of attention from the crooked cops running the city's Armed Robbery Division. Too soon, however, the powder keg that is this battle between cops and robbers is set off with the murder of one of the boys and their subsequent retaliation against the police. While J attempts to keep some distance between himself and his uncle's war, detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) senses J to be the weak link in the family tree and puts pressure on him to turn against his uncles. With Pope on a rampage and the cops closing in, J is forced to fend for himself, employing a plan that puts him in danger from both sides.

"Animal Kingdom" is an Australian movie featuring an all-Australian cast of primarily unknown actors (with the exception of Pearce). When you add the "unknown factor" to the sheer strength of the well-defined characters, you almost feel like "Animal Kingdom" is a documentary, with the film's director getting the most in-depth look at illicit activities that anyone has ever been granted. That is to say, this is a character driven drama that you can almost confuse with real life. Pope is a complete sociopath who only just manages to keep his murderous impulses hidden under a thin veil of laughter which dies away as his desperation grows. J, on the other hand, is stoic and conflicted; a kid who just wants to have a normal life but always seems to find himself in jacked up situations into which he brings everyone around him (see: girlfriend). An entirely sympathetic figure, I found myself torn between wanting to see J rise above the stench of his family while at the same time hoping he'd be able to exact his revenge for the harm that is inflicted on him over the course of the film.

And then there's Janine, the sugary-sweet grandmother on the surface who controls her boy's criminal enterprise in the vein of Laura Linney's character in "Mystic River." She's a dark, twisted character who will stop at nothing to protect her children, even if it means sacrificing her grandson. Weaver earned a Best Supporting Actress nod for her role here and the merits of her nomination fully come to light. The acting is tremendous across the board, with Frechville earning a "Keep An Eye On This Kid" mark in my mind. "Animal Kingdom's" shortcomings are minimal and almost exclusively revolve around accent confusion (please excuse my American incompetence) and a few overly complex plot points that were difficult to follow. Regardless, it is an intense, hard film that doesn't pull any punches and absolutely glues the viewer to the screen.

Grade: A

Want a second opinion? See Marshall and the Movies take here: "Animal Kingdom"

Movie News Today

"Die Hard 5" has a director and it seems Bruce Willis is likely to sign on next. I may completely alone in this but I highly enjoyed the last "Die Hard" chapter and would be happy to ride along with John McClane any time.

Charlize Theron will co-star with Michael Fessbender on Ridley Scott's "I Swear, It ISN'T An 'Alien' Prequel" project, "Prometheus." Stoked about this movie, y'all, regardless of whether it's an "Alien" prequel or not.

Just in time for Valentine' Day, Celluloid Zombie provides his list of the top 10 movie couples ever and provides another reminder of how incredibly incredible (yeah, I said it) "Wall*E" really is.

Film Girl Interrupted gives us a list of film's most unreliable narrators. Very creative.

Movie Muse reviews "The Eagle" and as I'm unlikely to get around to this movie any time soon, I let him speak in my stead.

Suspend Your Disbelief profiles the incomparable Gary Oldman. If you don't like Gary, I don't like you and I'm only sort-of kidding.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Just Go With It" - $31 million
2. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" - $30.26
3. "Gnomeo and Juliet" - $25.5
4. "The Eagle" - $8.59
5. "The Roommate" - $8.4 ($26.05 million total)
6. "The King's Speech" - $7.41 ($93.86)
7. "No Strings Attached" - $5.65 ($59.87)
8. "Sanctum" - $5.13 ($17.51)
9. "True Grit" - $3.77 ($160.34)
10. "The Green Hornet" - $3.6 ($92.33)

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Gnomeo and Juliet" - James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Maggie Smith
An animated take on "Romeo and Juliet" that finds our star crossed lovers depicted as garden gnomes in rival yards. Is it weird that I really want to see this? I can't exactly explain why, it just looks like a fun time and the theaters have sorely missed fun times lately.

"Just Go With It" - Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nick Swardson, Brooklyn Decker
A womanizing plastic surgeon with a heart of gold (Sandler) uses the children of his trusted assistant (Aniston) to unscrupulously seduce a naive beauty (Decker). I went to a screening of this movie tonight and I am absolutely shocked to report that it was actually good. After the debacle that was "Grown Ups" I'd about written Sandler off for good but "Just Go With It" is really quite funny and displays good chemistry between the leads. I fully expected this to be TERRIBLE. That whole book and its cover thing comes into play yet again.

"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" - Justin Bieber
Answer: $1 million. Question: What amount of money would it take to get you to see this movie? $1 million. And even then, I'd hate myself for it. I could handle the concept of a Bieber concert movie or whatever. To each his own. But to present a biopic-concert film about a 13 year old who's barely made a mark on the music industry is an insult to every musician in the world. And the nerve it takes to title this movie "Never Say Never" like Bieber is some dude from the projects who has changed the world for the better...die.

"The Eagle" - Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland
A Roman solider (Tatum) and his slave (Bell) set out across the Empire to track down a missing legion of soldiers. An epic action-adventure like this should not be opening in February; at least not if it's any good. I also don't really get the appeal of Channing Tatum (beyond the obvious physical attributes). It's not that he's a terrible actor, he's just always come across as incredibly stiff and one dimensional. I'll wait for DVD.

"Cedar Rapids" (Limited) - Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche
A naive insurance salesman (Helms) is sent to a convention where he cuts loose for the first time in his life while under the guidance of a wild and wily convention veteran (Reilly). This has had some pretty positive buzz and the idea of Helms and Reilly teaming up is enticing. I've got passes to see this next week and it just might be intriguing enough to get me out to Dallas again. But man, how I hate driving to Dallas.

Movie News and Links Today

Ryan Gosling continues his reign as Leading Man Who Chooses the Strangest, But Good, Roles by signing on for the remake of "Logan's Run."

Christopher Nolan's magnificent "Memento" will be re-released in theaters for one day later this month, just before the release of a 10th anniversary Blu-Ray edition. Outstanding movie that has had a major impact on the action-thriller genre.

Nerds unite! The first picture of "The Hobbit" cast has been released!

The first trailer for "X-Men: First Class" was released today and let me just say, it's perfect. Doesn't give away too much and ties into the original trilogy with flair. Love it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "Monsters"

Opening in Central America six years in the future, "Monsters" drops us into a reality in which most of Mexico has been overrun by alien monsters, the result of NASA probe that crashed while carrying martian samples. Mexico is termed the "Infected Zone" and each year, the aliens, which look like giant octopuses (octopi?), undergo a migration, causing some of the border towns in both Central America and the U.S. to be abandoned for a season. In the middle of all this is Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a cynical photo journalist looking for a shot of a live alien, who is forced to escort his bosses' daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), back to safety. Things go awry when Andrew fails to get Samantha onto a ferry and the pair is forced to travel over land and through the Infected Zone which results in a fight for survival and challenges Andrew's overall outlook on life.

"District 9" and "Moon", both part of the vaunted class of 2009, set the standard for low budget, high quality sci-fi and reignited Hollywood's interest in the genre as a whole. "Monsters" takes the "low budget" to a new level. Whereas "District 9" was made for around $30 million and "Moon" was done for $5 million, "Monsters" came in at a shockingly low $800,000. The entire cast consists of McNairy and Able and locals who were paid $20 to appear in a movie. Gareth Edwards, now regarded as a hot up-and-coming filmmaker, wrote, directed, edited, and shot this film himself. When you consider all of that, "Monsters" is an absurd achievement.

"Monsters" has an excellent story to tell and some very cool concepts that will undoubtedly lend themselves to a big-budgeted sequel in the near future. The special effects are a bit lacking but only in that the aliens don't appear on screen as much as I would have liked. Then again, given the money spent on this film, it seems to me that Edwards made the very responsible decision to limit the CGI shots and make them good rather than load the film with schlocky, B movie aliens. Kudos for that. The suspense is well built, too, and I got the feeling that if I'd seen this in a dark theater instead of my living room I would have been on edge. "Monsters" is perhaps over-ambitious at times: the inevitable twist is somewhat convoluted and forced me to go back and review some of the early shots. (That could be on me, though, as I was ADDing all over the place last week.) The final reveal of the aliens is cool but not quite as impactful as I would have hoped. And the actors, particularly Able, are only adequate though about what you would expect for what they were paid. All that said, however, doesn't erase the fact that Edwards crafted a quality sci-fi flick for the cost of catering on a blockbuster set. A good movie and a worthwhile viewing.

Grade: B+

Movie News and Links Today

Jon Favreau won't be directing "Iron Man 3" and Marvel is in talks with Shane Black to take over. Black only has one directing credit but that credit is "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," one of my favorite films you've never seen that is partly responsible for Robert Downey, Jr.'s resurgence. I'm on board.

DJ Caruso ("Disturbia" and the upcoming "I Am Number Four") is eying his next project, "Beat the Reaper", a story about a mob assassin turned ER doctor. The rights to the novel are owned by Leonardo DiCaprio so it's reasonable to think Leo would play the lead. Interested...

Prohibition is becoming popular again so John Hillcoat ("The Road") is developing "Wettest County in the World", a movie about a family of bootleggers. He's already attracted Shia LaBeof and Tom Hardy (solid) and has now brought on Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, and, best of all, Gary Oldman.

Christian Bale, a favorite around The Soap Box Office, is close to reteaming with Brad Anderson for "Concrete Island." The last collaboration between these two was "The Machinist", one of the first movies that comes to mind when considering the word "mind bending." Again, interested.

IFC has a list of three rules for movie quoting. I'll co-sign this, being the movie quote savant that I am.

Film Girl Interrupted gives us her list of the 15 best movie dance scenes. If forced to choose, I'd vote "Napoleon Dynamite" and "The Addam's Family" as 1 and 1a but they're all good.

The Documentary Project - Volume 2: "Made in America: Crips and Blood"

"Made in America" centers around the inception and subsequent development of the Los Angeles gang culture. Director Stacy Peralta immersed himself in the gang neighborhoods of L.A. and spent months getting to know the members themselves before even turning the camera on his subjects. Peralta begins with interviewing the founders of both the Bloods and the Crips (the most notorious of American gangs) to provide a background for how the gangs came about. As the documentary progresses, Peralta and narrator Forrest Whitaker push further into the current gang scene and allow the viewer a glimpse into what it's like in the highly volatile and bloody war.

I'm not completely sure when the war between the Bloods and the Crips took hold of America but pretty much everyone my age (27) was inundated with news on this phenomenon as children. Other gangs may have been just as prevalent in terms of membership and overall damage to society, but none of them had the impact of these two groups and that reach of influence spread across the country by the time I was in grade school. When I was in the third grade I knew more about the Bloods and the Crips than I did about the American system of government. We had school programs about the dangers not just of gangs but of the Bloods and the Crips specifically on what seemed like a weekly basis. By high school that influence seemed to have waned a bit but the lasting impression of the gang lifestyle was left in my psyche so you can imagine my interest in "Made in America."

Unfortunately, "Made in America" is a flawed documentary. As opposed to "Bigger Stronger Faster" which gave time to both sides of the argument, "MIA" works entirely from the perspective of the gang members without any regard to what other opinions might be. That is to say, if you watch "MIA", prepare for a steady stream of blame directed at the White Man and the government. Right or wrong, the opinion of the founders of the Bloods and Crips would have you believe that the formation of their gangs was the result of extreme prejudice and the only solution they had at the time. The other side of that argument is never presented. In addition, we get no delving into the money side of the gang war, the drugs and guns, which would have been an extremely interesting segment.

Still, "MIA" does provide a valuable insight that we rarely get and the fact that Peralta was able to get this amount of access is incredible. More often than not, real life looks at gang members feature covered faces and auto-tuned voices whereas "MIA" gets you up close and personal with the gang leaders. The increased level of violence and brutality that gangs have seen over the decades was of particular interest. When originally founded, the L.A. gangs served as a sort of social club for black youths who had nowhere else to turn. The fights between the gangs usually involved pugilism and rarely resulted in a serious injury or fatality. The introduction of guns into this battle, however, forever changed the face of the rivalry and pushed the gang war into the American consciousness. It is a sobering and cautionary piece of storytelling. Peralta puts the finishing touches on "MIA" by giving the mothers of gang violence victims some face time and allowing the impact of such a senseless and futile battle to sink in. "Made in America" is not a great documentary and could have given us more, but it is nonetheless, it illustrates a compelling and significant history.

Grade: B

Movie Links and News Today

I'm not sure why but Tuesday always seems to be a dull day in Hollywood. Sure, there's some news out there but nothing I really feel compelled to share. And it seems like every Tuesday I search high and low for news to pass along and end up drawing a blank. No different this week, really, so I'll skip the news portion altogether and head straight to the links.

Marshall and the Movies continues his excellent Know Your Nominees series with a look at "Inception." Head over and reacquaint yourself with the awesomeness.

Fandango Groovers lists 5 cancelled TV shows that would make great movies. Co-sign.

Random Ramblings of a Demented Mind reviews one of my 10 favorite movies ever in the history of ever, "The Sting."

The Audient tells the quirky tale known all too well to DVDphiles like myself, the long return of a loaned movie.

Screen Insight continues his series on the origins of the DVDs in his collection and discusses "Bridge on the River Kwai." Perfect summary.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

I feel like the Year in Film that is 2011 needs a kick start. 2011 is like a guy transitioning out of a long, rough relationship (aka 2010) who still hasn't found his groove yet, so to speak. And it's up to me, somehow, to get 2011 back in gear. Like, "Come on '11! You gotta get back out there and meet new movies that will rock your face off! You're a swell guy, '11! Let's get this thing going, dude! Have a Red Bull!" Well, 2011 is trying. He's trying, people. Give him a break. The breakup with 2010 was rough and we should just be happy he's showing some signs of life. Because when he does get his act together, man, 2011 is going to be AWESOME.

Life As We Know It (2010) - Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas
Two opposite singles (Heigl and Duhamel) are named the guardians of their best friends' daughter and must learn to work with each other to raise a kid. So basically "Raising Helen" but with Katherine Heigl. We've potentially got some new readers around this joint this week so I'll try to keep my Heigl hatred secret until our new friends have gotten to know me a bit better. But yeah, I hate Katherine Heigl. I could probably get into the sentiment of "Life As We Know It" and the trailer actually wasn't too over-the-top clicheish, but I think Katherine and I should just agree to stay away from each other.

You Again (2010) - Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White
A successful twenty-something (Bell) returns home for her brother's wedding, only to find that his fiance was her high school nemesis. Things get even wackier when it's soon discovered that the couple's mothers (Weaver and Curtis) were also high school enemies. And then there's Betty White. Look, I'm not going to judge or bash "You Again" because I'm clearly not the demographic this film is aiming for. I'm sure this is a good time if you're in for a Girls Night Out kind of thing. But I'm guessing not even the greatness of Kristen Bell and the ever magnificent Betty White could get me through this unharmed.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) - Brian Boland, Katie Featherstone
The not-quite-as-successful-sequel to the mega-smash hit from 2009 that centers around surveillance videos of the "real" spooky happenings in one family's home. Movie Related Facts about me: I don't watch horror movies because they gross me out (and I hate bad acting); I don't watch ghost movies because they scare the living crap out of me. "Blair Witch", "Paranormal Activity", and the like, doesn't matter how dumb they are or how obvious the fakeness of the reality is, it jacks with my head. No thanks.

For Colored Girls (2010) - Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson
Per IMDB: "Each of the women portray one of the characters represented in the collection of twenty poems, revealing different issues that impact women in general and women of color in particular." Also, this is brought to you by Tyler Perry so--- wait, don't exit the page! I'll stop talking about this movie right now, I promise!

It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010) - Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis
An over-stressed teenager (Gilchrist) checks into a mental institute only to be placed in the adult wing where he bonds with the other crazies and a girl his age (Roberts). While some of the movies mentioned above will be the big sellers at Blockbuster (like that even exists anymore) this week, "Funny Story" is the one I'm interested in. I was completely drawn in by the trailer and since this movie never got a wide release near me, this is my first chance at a viewing. I'm definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

My Soul to Take (2010) - Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker
From the twisted (and potentially senile) mind of West Craven comes an urban legend-like tale of a serial killer who comes back from the dead to haunt his home town 16 years after his demise. Did I mention I'm not into horror movies? Just don't do it for me. Still, Craven at one point was THE name in mainstream horror and now he's been reduced to this? Sad.

New to Blu
Uncle Buck (1989) - John Candy, Jean Louisa Kelly, Macaulay Culkin
Maybe the most underrated of all John Hughes' films, "Uncle Buck" is an absolute comedic classic in my book. Maybe not as funny as "Planes Trains and Automobiles" but still stinking hilarious. Hughes let John Candy loose in this one and it works from beginning to end.

Legends of the Fall (1995) - Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas
Also known as the movie that launched Brad Pitt's career. OK, maybe launched his career as a sex symbol in conjunction with "Interview with a Vampire" that opened just a couple months prior to "Legends." Before this movie he did some great work, especially "A River Runs Through It", but this was the turning point I think. Middle school girls in my hometown were carrying around magazine ads for this R-rated movie about the affect that World War I had on the lives of three brothers. That's an entirely different playing field than the respect her garnered for "A River." Just sayin'.

A River Runs Through It (1992) - Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Craig Sheffer
A father-son-son classic revolving around fly fishing in Montana. No question that "River" is a bit slower than you'd like but that doesn't keep this movie from being tremendous. I watched bits and pieces of it here and there as a kid and when I finally sat and watched the whole movie as a teenager, I was completely WRECKED. So great but man, what a punch in the gut it is.

Also Available
Ong Bak 3 (2010) - Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong
Middle Men (2010) - Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi
Tamara Drewe (2010) - Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans
The Romantics (2010) - Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin

New to Blu
The River Wild (1994) - Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David StrathairnMeet the Robinsons (2007) - Matthew Josten, Angela Bassett
Chicken Little (2005) - Zach Braff, Steve Zahn, Patrick Stewart
Dinosaur (2000) - DB Sweeney, Alfre Woodard
Flipper (1996) - Paul Hogan, Elijah Wood

Movie News Today

My registration with the LAMBs (Large Association of Movie Blogs) finally went through. I'm thrilled to be joining the most respected group of movie bloggers in the industry. I'll be updating the Blog List on the right side of the page with a few new blogs I've come in contact with recently and I encourage you all to check those pages out. There's some incredible movie content out there and the LAMBs represent that wonderfully.

Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") has signed on to direct the remake of "Fantastic Voyage", a sci-fi classic about a ship and its captain that are miniaturized and put into the body of a bigwig so that they can fight a blood clot. (Not to be confused with "Inner Space.") It's produced by James Cameron so it's gotta be good...right?

My Nerd Dream will officially begin to come true on March 21 when Peter Jackson begins shooting "The Hobbit." I love science! (Conan O'Brien voice)

The Pork Chop Express has an early review of "The Adjustment Bureau" and the news is good. Cannot wait for this one.

Yeah, OK, it happened last week and sure, it has nothing to do with movies. But it's my blog and I'll post what I want, dadgumit! Things That Don't Suck provides an ironic tribute to something that does indeed suck very much, the official breakup of The White Stripes. I'm seriously bummed by this but enjoyed the refreshing look at some of their better videos.

And while we're off the subject of movies briefly, let's talk about commercials. It was a pretty lackluster Super Bowl as far as great commercials are concerned but this one...well, come on, how am I not going to gravitate toward the "Star Wars" themed ad? My Nerdar went NUTS when Mini Darth Vader/Dark Helmet came on screen. Every commercial should have a "Star Wars" character in it. I'd be less inclined to fast-forward were that the case. Anyway, here's the longer version of the Darth Vader VW spot for your enjoyment.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Documentary Project - Volume 1: "Bigger Stronger Faster"

Like many men his age, growing up Chris Bell idolized the muscle stars of the 80s like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Hulk Hogan. He dreamed of becoming a professional bodybuilder and working out at Gold's Gym with his heroes. He was devastated, therefore, when he realized these men were juiced up and that their message was fraudulent. Chris reluctantly accepted that to truly compete in the sport he loved he would have to turn to steroids and ultimately rejected the drugs. His brothers, Mike and Mark, couldn't make the same choice. "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" explores the controversy that is the steroid industry and the American obsession with being just what the film's title describes.

"BSF" is what you would call a balanced documentary, or to purists, a "true" documentary. Chris explores both sides of the argument over steroids and does his best to leave the final decision of whether or not steroids have been overly vilified up to the audience. There is a certain amount of reluctance to the narrative that Chris provides and you can sense the conflict within himself as he takes us through this journey. On the one hand, he believes the drugs to be morally wrong. On the other, he knows he can't compete without them and proponents of steroids (featured prominently throughout "BSF") make a compelling case for their usage. Chris is a human face for the battle against steroids, a sympathetic figure who really sums up the issues that so many athletes face these days.

Unlike some of the reviews I've read, "BSF" is NOT a pro-steroid documentary. Those who would push for the legalization of the juice are given an opportunity to express their beliefs and discuss the scientific tests that would support their assertions. But I found this to be more in the interest of the aforementioned balance rather than portions of a propaganda piece for 'roids. The classic side effects of steroids (acne, uncontrollable anger, loss of fertility, etc.) are not only discussed but clearly displayed by the drug's defenders even as they argue against these afflictions. When Chris quietly challenges some of the assertions of anti-steroid campaigners, notably Congressman Henry Waxman, it is done with respect and genuine interest in the factual basis for some of the widely-held beliefs about steroids. Through these questions, Chris shows that the issue of just how destructive these drugs are is not as clear-cut as we tend to think. Whether right or wrong, you can find studies that will support your claims either way.

Chris brings the point home, however, when he turns the camera on his own family as he peers into the lives of his brothers, both of whom use steroids regularly and both of whom have been negatively impacted by their habits. It is a truly compelling moment when Chris' dad tells him point-blank that he expects Mike to turn up dead sooner rather than later. It's even more hard-hitting when you know that just a few months after the filming of "Bigger, Stronger, Faster", Mike did die at the age of 37. A longtime steroid user who would have done anything to break into the world of big time wrestling, Mike's early demise serves as this documentary's lasting impact and perhaps the final point to swing the balance of the film's debate.

Grade: A

Movie News Today

First Robert Downey, Jr., then Johnny Depp, and now James Franco. That's the chain of actors who have been attached to play the Wizard in "The Great and Powerful Oz." No offense to Franco but I feel like we're getting the worse end of this deal.

Looks like Ralph Fiennes could be joining Javier Bardem on the set of the new James Bond movie. I say we go ahead and add Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman for the greatest collection of villains EVER. It'll be like the opposite of "The Expendables."

Friday it looked like Morena Baccarin was the frontrunner for a role as the assistant to Samuel L. Jackson in the upcoming "Avengers" movie. Now it seems "How I Met Your Mother"'s (I never can figure out how to do that whole apostrophe thing when it comes to a movie/show title) Colbie Smulders. Love Baccarin but Smulders is an equally solid choice.

If you fast forwarded through the Super Bowl commercials tonight (shame on you) then you missed the teaser trailer for "Captain America." No need to worry, I've provided it for you. Gotta say, looks AWESOME.

And if you've missed "The Social Network" so far, here's an inside look at the score and composer Trent Reznor's process. Great video, INCREDIBLE score.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "The Roommate" - $15.6 million
2. "Sanctum" - $9.23
3. "No Strings Attached" - $8.4 ($51.79 million total)
4. "The King's Speech" - $8.31 ($84.13)
5. "The Green Hornet" - $6.1 ($87.220
6. "The Rite" - $5.57 ($23.68)
7. "The Mechanic" - $5.37 ($20.08)
8. "True Grit" - $4.75 ($155.01)
9. "The Dilemma" - $3.45 ($45.74)
10. "Black Swan" - $3.4 ($95.89)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Sanctum" - Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield
Semi-based on a true story, "Sanctum" finds a group of divers and spelunkers trapped inside a giant hole in the earth during a freak weather event. I won passes to a screening of this movie but ironically, Fort Worth has been completely shut down by its own weather event and the screening was cancelled. Ah well, wasn't that excited anyway. I know, judging a movie by its trailer is like judging a book by its cover but I do both of those things all the time so, yeah, the dialogue in the trailer was ROUGH. Maybe a DVD rental at some point.

"The Roommate" - Minka Kelly, Leighton Meester
A college student (Kelly) begins to suspect her new roommate (Meester) of undertaking some sketchy actions, including but not limited to, stalking, stealing her identity, and attacking her other friends in the shower. This is so "Single White Female" that I'm shocked it's not a Lifetime Movie Network weekend special. The Lady of the Box Office is into this type (see: "terrible") of movie but I've been assured she won't drag me to see it. It's better for both of us that way, really.

"The Other Woman" (limited) - Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow, Scott Cohen
The second of five Natalie Portman movies in 2011, this one finds Queen Amidala herself as a new wife and step mother whose life is turned upside down after some sort of tragedy (I'm guessing the husband dies). This is also sure to be the least-seen Portman movie of the year. Meh.

Movie News Today

"Ivanhoe," the literary classic that apparently everyone except me had to read in school, is being turned into an $80 million action-epic.

Yesterday it was Jackie Earle Haley joining Johnny Depp for "Dark Shadows," today it's Eva Green.

"The Avengers" is about to get underway and director Joss Whedon is looking for a sidekick for Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson). The possibilities include: Morena Baccarin ("Firefly"), Colbie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother"), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Scott Pilgrim"). That is a great list but being the "Firefly" nerd that I am, I'm rooting for Baccarin. 

John Likes Movies ranks the 15 Coen Brothers movies and while I don't agree with the rankings ("Raising Arizona" is MAGNIFICENT), any attention paid to the Coens is always a plus in my book.

And just to continue the theme, Hollywood Reporter has a very nice interview with the Coen brothers.

The 2011 Documentary Project

I have a great love for documentaries, always have been. A well-made documentary sheds light on a lesser known story or a strange segment of the population and gives that event or those people the 90 minutes of fame it deserves. I truly cannot resist a great story. When done correctly, documentaries climb high on "favorites" list (see: "It Might Get Loud") and leave a lasting impression. Unfortunately, however, documentaries have, at times, been some of the most difficult films to track down. When you don't live near an art house theater (or when the closest one is in Dallas, a city that I despise like every good Fort Worthian should), it can be tough to get a viewing of a documentary because they rarely come to "a theater near you" and more often than not, they get passed over at rental locations. Netflix, however, has proven to me an amazing source for documentary selection, providing a bounty of choices on its instant queue service and the requisite endless possibilities through the mail. With that in mind, I have declared 2011 the Year of the Documentary here at The Soap Box Office and will work through the list below. Some are docs from the last year or two, some are older choices that I've never gotten around to, and some I'd never heard of before searching through Netflix. I hope you'll enjoy the Year of the Documentary and join in the conversation throughout the next few months.

A Film Unfinished
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
A Player to be Named
Art and Copy
A Small Act
Assault in the Ring/Cornered: A Life Caught in the Ring
Best Worst Movie
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Born Into Brothels
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Fall From Grace
Grizzly Man
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Lord Save Us From Your Followers
Lost in La Mancha
Made in America: Bloods and Crips
Man on Wire
Monster Camp
More Than a Game
My Flesh and Blood
One Day in September
Paper Clips
The Pixar Story
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
Shine a Light
Tales From the Script
Up for Grabs
Waiting for Superman
Waking Sleeping Beauty
We Live in Public
When You're Strange
Who is Harry Nilsson?
Winnebago Man
Young at Heart

Movie News Today

So apparently there are two Snow White projects in the works right now. Kristen Stewart is attached to one, Julia Roberts to the other. I'll let you guess which one I'm more excited about.

Jackie Earle Haley is in talks to join a cinematic adaptation of the "Dark Shadows" TV show, the brainchild of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Somehow I feel Haley belongs in this company.

Paramount still can't come up with an acceptable script for the Jack Ryan reboot (starring Chris Pine) and have given Steve Zaillian ("Schindler's List") a shot at a rewrite.

It was rumored some time ago that the villain for "Dark Knight Rises" would be the Riddler and that he would be played by Christopher Nolan favorite Joseph Gordon Levitt. Well now we know the baddies will be Catwoman and Bane and yet Levitt will still be part of the cast in an as-yet undefined role. Very interesting.

With Henry Caville cast as Superman earlier this week, the list of actresses in line for the part of Lois Lane is expanding daily and now includes both Rachel McAdams and Mila Kunis. Nothing wrong with Kunis but I'll ALWAYS be rooting for McAdams.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 For February

Well, I warned you about January. I saw only one 2011 movie last month despite numerous occasions to head to the theater. February, though, is the jump start for this year. There's nothing great headed our way in my mind, but there are enough interesting and fun movies to keep us afloat through the Academy Awards.

3. "Gnomeo and Juliet," February 11 - James McAvoy, Emily Blunt
Obviously a loose adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet", this one finds our star crossed lovers taking the form of garden gnomes in rival yards. On the down side, this was bounced from development at Disney when John Lassiter took over. On the plus side, I like animated movies and this trailer cracked me up for reasons I can't quite explain. I'm not expecting Pixar quality but I'm hoping for a fun night out if nothing else.

2. "I Am Number Four," February 18 - Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron
Nine survivors from an alien planet take refuge on earth only to find that their enemies have tracked them down. Being the sci-fi dork that I am, how am I not going to get a little excited about this? Timothy Olyphant is a dynamite villain, which is what he'll play here, and while I can't say the rest of the cast does much to get me going, I'm happy to give them a chance. Director DJ Caruso is on the short list for Great Director of the Future and what he did with "Disturbia" got my attention. I'm cautiously optimistic.

1. "Unknown," February 18 - Liam Neeson, January Jones, Aidan Quinn
I went back and forth on which of these three films would top the list and finally went with the one that has the best chance of being a legitimately GOOD film rather than just entertainment. Liam Neeson plays a doctor who, after a car crash, wakes up in a hospital and finds that his life has been hijacked. The obvious comparison to 2009's "Taken" is fair but the added psychological element takes it to a whole new level. And if nothing else, I'm not sure any movie star has a better time on screen than Neeson these days.

New DVD Tuesday

Let Me In (2010) - Kodi-Smit McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins
The English remake of a Swedish film about a young vampire (Moretz) who becomes friends with her new neighbor (McPhee). I've heard only good things about "Let the Right One In" (The Swedish version) but haven't seen it due to my dislike of horror films. This one seemed to be a bit more split in terms of how people felt about it. Still not my type of movie so I'm skipping it regardless.

Monsters (2010) - Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
Now this is my type of movie. In a "District 9"-like future, "Monsters" finds a journalist and a tourist trying to make their way back to the safety of the U.S. border after Mexico is quarantined in an effort to contain an alien invasion. Um, yes please! I never got a chance to see "Monsters" because it literally never came to a theater near me. Curses! There's a distinct possibility of a Snow Day here in the Metroplex tomorrow. If that occurs, you can bet I'll make it out to Family Video for this little gem. Stoked.

Never Let Me Go (2010) - Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan
Even after reading the summary for this movie on IMDB, I'm not exactly sure what it's about. I believe it involves a group of young men and women who are bred and raised to be organ donors but who fall in love and must fight for their survival. I think. The reviews I've seen have almost completely fallen on one end of the spectrum or the other: either the viewer LOVED this or DESPISED it. You can see why it's struggled to find an audience. Such a sci-fi premise thrown into what is supposed to be a seriously touching love story is kind of asking for trouble. I find myself mildly interested, however. Maybe Netflix Instant will get ahold of this.

Conviction (2010) - Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell
The true-life story of a woman (Swank) who goes to law school just so she can represent her falsely imprisoned brother (Rockwell). You know, if the main role was played by just about anyone else, I could probably get into this. But I just absolutely cannot stand Hilary Swank. I'm not entirely sure why (as is sometimes the case with my random dislikings) but I am filled with angst anytime she comes on screen. Apparently people like her but I really do not. Sue me.

New to Blu Ray
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
The Disney classic that helped bring this classic story into the mainstream. I do not care for "Alice." In truth, I don't much care for the entire "Alice" story, Disney version or not. Even as a kid it didn't make a bit of sense to me. It seems so ridiculous and over the top, I've just never known what to make of it. Still, it is considered a classic and I'm sure lots of people are stoked about a blu ray release.

You've Got Mail (1998) - Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
Confession: I love "You've Got Mail." It is currently my third or fourth favorite chick flick ever (behind "When Harry Met Sally", "Serendipity", and "Notting Hill") and I would bet I've watched it more times than any other rom-com. My apologies if that makes you look down upon me. We're all about honesty around here.

Pleasantville (1998) - Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen
You know, I was shocked to see that this movie has a 7.5/10 rating on IMDB. I don't know a single person who really likes "Pleasantville." Everyone always talks about how excited they were to see it and then how disappointed the final product was. The use of color is solid, I would say, but the rest is magnificently dull. Ah well.

An Affair to Remember (1957) - Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr
Confession: I've never seen "AATR." That's due mostly to the fact that I feel like "Sleepless in Seattle" has effectively summed it up for me. As opposed to "Pleasantville", however, I know tons of people who swear by this. Maybe I'll get around to a viewing at some point.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Almost Famous (2000) - Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand
I LOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEE "Almost Famous." It's easily one of the my ten favorite movies of all time. I love it so much that it takes up residence along with the likes of "The Shawshank Redemption" on the list of films that I feel EVERYONE should appreciate. It kind of offends me when I talk to someone who has seen and doesn't like "Almost Famous", like you just insulted my family's honor. This is a Best Buy exclusive release and I can't begin to describe how excited I am to pick it up. An exquisite film.