Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point in the last few years, Fanboys have taken over the world. It used to be (or it seemed like it, at least) that nerd-friendly movies and TV shows were being made by suits just looking for an audience to cash in on. That’s different now. An entire generation of nerds grew up to be Head Nerds or Nerds with Power and they’ve created a catalog of films made by nerds, for nerds. Because of this, Fanboys have gone from the target audience to the focus of several films themselves. Whether it’s a character sporting a “Star Wars” t-shirt or an entire TV episode revolving around the music of Rush, nerd culture has become a viable market in and of itself. With that in mind, let us turn our attention to “Paul,” a movie written by and starring two well-known nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and directed by an even bigger nerd (Greg Mottola).

At the open, we find Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), a sci-fi writer-illustrator team, making the rounds at Comic Con. After meeting their hero, Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), the pair sets out on an RV road trip to visit the UFO hotspots across the southwestern United States. Things get a bit too real, however, when a car crash brings them into contact with Paul (Seth Rogen), a crass alien who asks for their help in avoiding recapture. Paul has been on Earth since a crash landing 60 years ago and has stayed willingly, providing technological insight for the government and advice for sci-fi loving filmmakers (including Spielberg himself). He broke out of his prison, however, when he discovers that “The Big Guy” (no spoiler) planned to have him killed so that his alien skills, including the ability to heal, could be further examined. With a ship on its way to rescue him, Paul persuades Graeme and Clive to escort him to the rendezvous point, all the while remaining one small step ahead of an FBI agent (Jason Bateman) intent on bringing Paul back in.

The first half of “Paul” is nerdy genius at its best. What you can expect in Fanboy-made movies are inside jokes, a litany of movie references, and a genuine connection to the subject matter with which they work within. “Paul” is ripe with each of these characteristics, at times to the point of overkill. It starts strong, bringing us into the world of two extremely likeable characters. Graeme and Clive are everynerds, so to speak, the type of guy that any nerd would want to hang out with. They are endearing and the chemistry between Pegg and Frost, which has been illustrated so well in their other joint ventures (“Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”), shines through yet again here. Paul himself is quite funny, if crude and immature, and in the beginning the pieces of pop culture he is attached to, from the traditional look of extra-terrestrials to the use of his ideas in movies, are smart and easily accepted. Some of the sci-fi references are brilliant, peaking when the crew enters a Wyoming bar in which the band is playing the theme from the Mos Eisley Cantina.

After a while, though, the allure wears off. The rest of the characters are less enjoyable and more one dimensional than I would have liked. Each supporting actor, including Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Blythe Danner in addition to the aforementioned Bateman, have their moments and certainly provide a laugh (or three) but none are as well refined as Graeme, Clive, or Paul (to a lesser extent). I found this to be a detriment to the movie as a whole, as if these characters held the protagonists back. The writing as a whole isn’t as solid as the Pegg/Frost scripts for “Shaun” or “Fuzz.” And while the references seem fresh and fun in the beginning, after a while they become heavy-handed. Not everything needs to be a tribute to another film and the sheer number of pop culture items that are attributed to Paul is astounding. “Paul” starts to feel like a nerd version of “Forrest Gump” and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s all a bit tiresome, really. Mottola has a problem with ending his films, in my opinion, as I found myself once again ready for the conclusion about 20 minutes before it rolled around. All of this takes away from the overall strength of the movie and dampers the fun. I still enjoyed the majority of my time spent with “Paul” and if you’re a sci-fi/comic book nerd, there is no questioning this film’s appeal. But a tweak here and there, a shorter runtime, and fewer forced references could have made it a Fanboy smash.

Grade: B-

Quick side note: In the row in front of my viewing party and I, there sat a single twenty-something co-ed. After approximately 50 minutes of the movie, during which she almost never stopped looking at her smart phone, one of my buddies leaned over, I assumed, to ask her to kindly stop blinding us. He pulled up short, however, and the phone use continued. After the movie ended and the girl left, my friend told us that when he had leaned over to ask her to knock it off, he noticed that she was surfing eHarmony. So here sat a reasonably attractive young female, alone, on a Friday night, at a showing of a nerdy movie, rolling through eHarmony on her phone. At this moment I was griped with both a genuine sense of “ah, sad” for the girl and an IMMEDIATE need to bust my friend’s chops for not seizing the moment and hitting on said girl. He will never live this moment down. Ever.

I could not make that story up,

Care for another opinion? Check out Film Girl Interrupted's less-annoyed take on the fun that is "Paul."

Movie News Today

In Super Confusing/Is This Necessary? news of the day, Warner Brothers apparently plans to reboot the "Batman" franchise almost immediately following Christopher Nolan's closing chapter. Look I love Batman as much if not more than the next guy, but doesn't an immediate reboot cheapen what could be considered the best super hero series ever? I'll still see it, though, so I guess I'm partly responsible for this.

Greg Mottola ("Paul," "Adventureland") will direct the pilot for Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series. EXTREMELY interesting pairing.

Paramount's Jack Ryan reboot has been postponed indefinitely and may lose star Chris Pine. As a big fan of the first three Ryan movies (particularly "Patriot Games"), I'd prefer they take the time to make sure they get it right this time around, even if it means losing Pine, and avoid another "Sum of All Fears" incident.

Pixar has officially titled their "Monsters Inc." sequel, "Monsters University." Good call in my book. Can't wait for this one, quite frankly. After "Toy Story" and "Incredibles," this is my favorite Pixar film, as strange as that might seem.

Den of Geek explores the troubled production of the "Red Dawn" remake. Excellent summary.

New DVD Tuesday

Tangled (2010) - Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi
A revamped version of Rapunzel, "Tangled" revolves around a kidnapped princess (Moore) and the golden hearted thief (Levi) who shows her the adventure she's always dreamed of. This is without question the best product Disney Animation has put out in 10 or 15 years and brought back the magic the studio has been sorely lacking. It really surprised me how much I liked this movie. Might even be buyable.

Black Swan (2010) - Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
This psychological thriller centers on a naive young ballerina (Portman) who is given the role of a lifetime but finds it difficult to adjust to the demands being placed upon her. Director Darren Aronofsky essentially screws with your mind for an hour and a half and asks you to decide for yourself if what you see on screen was real or not. Portman won her first Oscar for this role, which was well deserved, but the overall movie was only better than average for me.

Mad Men: Season 4 (2010) - Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks
AMC's smash hit about an advertising agency in the 50s is up next on my To Watch list. Seasons 1-3 are sitting on my TV stand just waiting to be viewed. Can't wait.

New to Blu
Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), and Scream 3 (2000) - Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette
I never saw "Scream 2" and for reasons unknown even to me, I saw "Scream 3" at least 3 times in the theater. It was terrible. But the original "Scream" could be considered the premiere horror movie of its time period. Now, I don't see many horrors; not a fan. But "Scream" jacked with me. It's the first scary movie I ever saw that (SPOILER ALERT) has two villains. Up until that point, you could always just run from the knife wielding psycho and if you were fast enough, you could get away. But if he's got a knife-wielding psycho accomplice? Nothing you can do, man.

Teen Wolf (1985) - Michael J. Fox
Okay, so "Teen Wolf" doesn't exactly hold up. I saw part of it recently and wow, it's kind of awful in an incredible well. But come on, who doesn't love MJF and how can you not enjoy him in his Alex P. Keaton prime playing basketball as a mutant wolf?! And how has this not been given the remake treatment? Surely Zac Efron would be up for this.

Also New to Blu
All Good Things (2010) - Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst
Awakenings (1990) - Robert De Niro, Robin Williams
All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) - Dom DeLuise, Burt Reynolds

Also New
Fair Game (2010) - Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
Treme: Season One (2010) - John Goodman, Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown
Dogtooth (2009)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie News Today

Pixar today released some concept art for their 2012 movie, "Brave." I love everything Pixar has ever done (minus "Ratatouille" which is still pretty good) but I'm really excited to see them get away from the sequel circuit.

Lauren Shuler Donner, the producer behind the "X-Men" universe, sat down with Empire and discussed the upcoming "Wolverine" sequel and the "Deadpool" spinoff. I'm nerding out for both of these movies, my friends.

There's some discussion that Will Ferrell's 4 episode arc on "The Office" could become a full time gig. I stinking love Ferrell and I love "The Office" but for me, the combination works better in a part time setting. We'll see once the episodes actually start airing but I'm betting this is something that would get old at some point.

The Wrap takes a look at Nerd Hero Nathan Fillion and the upcoming roles that could vault him to the A-list. There aren't many guys in Hollywood that seem more deserving of a big break than Fillion. Hoping for some big things for the dude in the near future.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles"

Every once in a while I feel like the mainstream critics get caught up in mob mentality regarding a given movie. While most popcorn flicks come and go with little more than a “meh” from the average critic, occasionally said movie receives such a vehemently vicious as to become the proverbial ginger stepchild. One critic voices a strong disdain and is soon joined by another and another until you get the feeling that a blood thirsty band of Roger Eberts might be roving around theater parking lots, bullying anyone who would dare to enjoy this movie. 2011’s early leader to become the unassuming wimp to the critic’s ‘roided up jock is “Battle: Los Angeles.”

There’s very little build up in “BLA.” We are introduced to Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a career Marine whose last tour of duty resulted in some casualties. Nantz has filed his discharge paperwork and is essentially on his way out the door when the invasion begins. Landing offshore all around the world, what were at first thought to be meteorites turn out to be alien spacecraft and soon our shores are swarming with hostiles. Assigned to a new squadron, Nantz is forced to rally his young troops when it becomes clear that they are America’s last line of defense.

I won’t sit here and tell you that “BLA” is a great action movie. It isn’t. There’s almost no storyline, most of the characters often come across as caricatures of other war/action movie characters, and the aliens themselves are fairly mundane. You won’t find a well-developed backstory or any social commentary here and if you’re expecting that, just go rent “District 9” again. Some reviews I’ve ready would have you believe this entire movie is a metaphor for the United States’ attitude toward immigration. To those people I say, either stop watching CNN or stop watching cheesy action flicks; you’re giving the makers of “BLA” way too much credit. There’s no depth to “BLA” and there doesn’t need to be. There’s no identity crisis, no bloated sense of importance, and no ambition to become anything more than it is. And I, for one, appreciate that.

“BLA” knows its place in the world and it is better for that. It’s all action, all the time and for my money, there’s some merit in that. The Marines are under constant attack and director Jonathan Liebesman does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of tension. These Marines are faced with an unknown enemy and the confusion and chaos that causes comes screaming through as they scramble to develop a strategy. The dialogue, though cliché, isn’t bad and the inevitable moments of artificial emotion/sentimentality work relatively well. There’s something about a group of soldiers marching stoically into the face of certain death for the betterment of the masses that gets me even when it’s done in such an obvious and over-the-top manner as it is in “BLA.” There is definitely a video game feel to “BLA.” In fact, as we walked out, my viewing partner and I both expressed a desire to play a game based on what we’d just seen. I completely understand if that turns some viewers off. More often than not I use “video game feel” as a criticism. This time around, however, it worked for me. It might be mindless entertainment but it’s still fun and at the end of the day, that’s all I wanted it to be.

All that brings me back around to the critical backlash that “BLA” has taken over the last couple of weeks and has been met with a slew of “D” and “F” grades. It has been described as “noisy and violent” to which my response is, uh, DUUUUHHH. Have you ever seen an action/war movie before? Even Roger Ebert himself, usually less harsh in his criticism than most, essentially called any fan of this movie an idiot and encouraged all friends and family members to disassociate from said idiot. It’s odd to me, with all the terrible action movies that have opened in the last couple of years, that Ebert (and everyone else) picked this one to get all hot and bothered about. It’s not great by any means and I’m not running out to see “BLA” again but I’m certainly not complaining, either. There’s something to be said for an action flick that sticks to its guns and doesn’t stray from the identity it creates for itself and you could do a heck of a lot worse with your movie dollar.

Grade: B-

I should have worked “lambasted” into this review somewhere,

Care for another take? Check out John Likes Movies.

Movie News Today

Amy Adams will play Lois Lane in Zack Snyder's upcoming production of "Superman." I'm a huge Adams fan and I have to say, as unimpressed as I was with the casting of Henry Caville as Man of Steel himself, I'm getting excited about the supporting cast.

Armie Hammer will follow up his breakout success in "The Social Network" by playing the prince in one of the two upcoming "Snow White" projects. I'm not really sure which of the two movies is which anymore but good for Armie.

And to tie both of these two news blurbs together, Viggo Mortensen has officially exited from contention for a leading role in the other Snow White movie because he may soon sign on to play the villain in "Superman." This is a weird news day.

"Oz, the Great and Powerful" has locked in Mila Kunis as Theodora who later becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. In other news, I've completely lost interest in this movie. Nothing against Mila but we've now gone from Robert Downey, Jr. and a litany of A-list actresses (including the aforementioned Adams) to James Franco and Knuis. Meh.

Will Smith will still lead the way for a remake of "Uptown Saturday Night" though it is currently undergoing rewrites. I throw this in not because I'm all that excited about the movie but because it's been forever since Big Will has been in a stinking movie and dadgumit, I miss the guy!

Weekend Box Office Returns
Wow. Under no circumstances did I think it would even be possible for "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2" could take the box office this week. After having caught 10 minutes of the first "Wimpy Kid" movie on HBO last week and seeing what an AWFUL film it truly was, you could not have paid me to sit in for the sequel. Man was I wrong. Also, are we done with Zack Snyder yet? He's now followed "300" with "Watchmen" (failure), "Legend of the Guardians" (failure), and now this (looking like a failure). At this point you have to feel like the guy is lucky that Christopher Nolan is supporting him right now because otherwise...

1. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" - $24 million
2. "Sucker Punch" - $19.01
3. "Limitless" - $15.23 ($41.28 million total)
4. "The Lincoln Lawyer" - $11 ($28.97)
5. "Rango" - $9.8 ($106.36)
6. "Battle: Los Angeles" - $7.6 ($72.58)
7. "Paul" - $7.51 ($4.61)
8. "Red Riding Hood" - $4.34 ($32.45)
9. "The Adjustment Bureau" - $4.25 ($54.87)
10. "Mars Needs Moms" - $2.19 ($19.15)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Documentary Project: Volume 5 - "The Fab Five"

Note: Most of the documentaries I will be watching for this project revolve around subject matter that I don't know just a whole lot about. Because of my love for sports (and basketball in particular) and my knowledge of these events, however, I cannot write a review that sticks exclusively to the content of the film without dipping a toe into the sports side of this movie-sports equation. My apologies in advance. I'm also a Duke fan, so...

In 1991, the University of Michigan changed the face of college basketball. A program with a proud tradition, Michigan at the time was in a down period despite having recently won a national title. In an effort to rejuvenate his squad, head coach Steve Fischer hit the recruiting trails harder than ever before and managed to secure commitments from 5 highly touted players from across the country. Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson all made their way to Ann Arbor in the fall of 1991, nicknaming themselves "The Fab Five." While Webber was the prize recruit, it was Rose who galvanized the young group, bringing with him the brash swagger that he picked up playing in the projects of Detroit. As a group, the Fab Five was a shock to the sensibilities of the average college basketball fan. They wore baggy shorts and black shoes, talked trash the entire game, and finished off dramatic plays with screams and taunts. They also experienced an incredible amount of success for such a young squad and this factor, combined with their appearance, made them a cultural sensation. "The Fab Five," an ESPN documentary produced by Rose, explores the impact of the group, both on and off the court, and the eventual letdown that this era was to the university.

There's no questioning the entertainment value of "The Fab Five." The follow up to ESPN's acclaimed 30 for 30 series from last year (HIGHLY recommended for any sports fan, by the way), very few full length sports documentaries can hold your attention the way this one does. Shots and recaps of those two "magical" years are interspersed with interviews with the members of the squad (minus Webber). From a personal standpoint, it was great fun to relive the moments of those seasons because these were the formative years for my love of basketball and particularly for the hated Duke Blue Devils (a Michigan rival of sorts).

That said, this isn't in any way, shape, or form what you'd call a "fair and balanced" documentary. There's no questioning the impact of the Fab Five; they were a cultural phenomenon. But Jalen Rose would have you believe they were THE cultural phenomenon in sports, THE group that changed everything from fashion to style of play. That's simply untrue. In many ways the Fab Five were the little brothers of the University of Miami's football team in the 80s, a squad that polarized a nation of sports fans. Even more current to the rise of the Fab Five, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels had won a title only the year before this crew took to the floor and had garnered extensive attention while playing with the same style and swagger that the Fab Five "invented." Even the baggy shorts look (a style I'm extremely grateful for as a skinny white kid with a less than formidable lower body that would look terrible in the short-shorts of the 70s and 80s), which Rose takes credit for, had already been brought to the forefront by none other than Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever. College basketball may have been lagging behind the playground but the insinuation that the Fab Five started the baggy shorts trend is absurd.

In addition, the on court success of the Fab Five was, quite frankly, a bit of a disappointment considering the end result. They reached two Championship games in their first two seasons together but got crushed by Duke in 92 and watched Chris Webber call a timeout his team did not have in 93, costing his team a shot at the win. The next year, after Webber left for the NBA, Rose and Howard led them back to the Elite 8 but again they lost to the eventual champion, Arkansas. Not a bad run by any means but when you consider the attention the group brought upon themselves as they entered college, you have to feel that anything short of a title is a letdown. And at the end of the day, Chris Webber's involvement with a less than reputable "business man" during this time ultimately led to Michigan vacating the wins accumulated during the Fab Five run and cost coach Fisher his job. "The Fab Five" touches on these subjects but, as you might imagine, paints the events in a much more favorable light that they appear to outsiders. The result is the feeling that this group of guys, while significant, is much more important in their own minds than they are to the rest of the world.

We are also treated to what amounts to jealousy and name calling, as Rose and King call out their Duke counterparts, referring to vaunted Duke hero Grant Hill as an "uncle Tom." Coming from a tough background, Rose tells the camera that he felt any black man who went to Duke was selling out his race. Looking past the extremely offensive and unfair terminology, I found it more than slightly ironic that Rose and King attacked Duke though they went to Michigan, which is essentially the Duke of the Big 10, an upper class school full of upper class kids. Rose has since attempted to clarify his statement by saying this was how he felt as a teenager but wouldn't go so far as to say he didn't feel that way now. I would take great umbrage with this statement but I feel Grant Hill settled the matter much more eloquently than I ever could.

The documentary fails to touch on the most important part of the Fab Five's impact on college basketball. Their real significance was the way in which their success changed recruiting. Up until that point, very few freshmen were expected to do much in their first year on campus. Freshmen, no matter how highly recruited, generally rode the bench along with the walk-ons and were expected to wait their turn. The Fab Five forced college basketball coaches across the country to change their tactics. The ante was raised, essentially, and coaches soon found themselves working harder to bring in not one or two player but an entire class of highly touted recruits and doing anything they could to see that through. Already a dirty game in college football, recruiting became a big, nasty business in basketball and that is due in large part to the Fab Five. This part of the equation was bypassed in the film in favor of the sexy, flashy half-truths that dominate the narrative. The absence of Webber, too, takes some punch out of "The Fab Five." He comes across as petty and false, a middle class kid who preened and posed and played a thug on TV but was really much more spoiled than he'd ever have you believe. His side of the events displayed in this movie could have brought some real substance. But then again, his refusal to participate is a microcosm of his entire basketball career: disappointing. Very few players did less with more than Webber and in a way, that sums up the era of the Fab Five and the documentary about them: lots of style, very little true substance.

Grade: B

Movie News Today

Paramount has given up on remaking "Dune" and walked away from the acclaimed sci-fi series. Confession: despite my love for sci-fi, I must say that I think "Dune" sucks. The book itself is unreadable in my opinion. I've tried multiple times to fight through it and have never gotten further than 75 pages in. It's terrible. I've seen the original film and see the appeal of a remake: there are some excellent concepts therein. But seriously, there's a reason why it has been tossed about for decades now without making any headway towards production: unreadable books turn into unwatchable films.

Jeff Daniels has joined the cast of Aaron Sorkin's as-yet-untitled new HBO series revolving around a CNN-like network. I absolutely cannot wait for this show to debut.

Fritz and the Oscars reviews "Forrest Gump" and shares my opinion that this movie sucks. By the way, Fritz is working through every Best Picture winner right now and each entry is entertaining. Check it out.

Should I See It delivers a scathing review of "Red Riding Hood" and since I'm never going to see this, I figure his word is better than mine. Love this site, by the way.

Suspend Your Disbelief gives us his 5 favorite Gary Oldman bad guys. AWESOME.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

The Tourist (2010) - Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany
A heart broken American (Depp) stumbles upon a startling beauty (Jolie) while in Italy. But things aren't what they seem to be and soon he's caught up in an international chase. The reviews for "The Tourist" were very mediocre and I confess it looked incredibly boring to me. I love Depp but Jolie generally does nothing for me. Probably won't make it onto my queue.

How Do You Know (2010) - Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson
This movie finds a (random much?) professional softball player (Witherspoon) caught in a love triangle with a corporate dude (Rudd) on the verge of indictment and an aging baseball player (Wilson). How in the world a romantic comedy of questionable appeal got approved for a $100-120 million budget is beyond me. This sucker had "gigantic flop" written all over it before it even opened. Not sure what's going on with James L. Brooks these days.

Skyline (2010) - Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison
Part "District 9," part "War of the Worlds" this low budget sci-fi flick finds a group of people rebelling against an alien force that draws humans to their death like a moth to a flame. OK, I know for a FACT that this is AWFUL. But there's no way the "hey, I like alien movies!" voice inside my head will get overruled by the "hey, this has a 4.6 rating on IMDB, you idiot" voice. I'm sure I'll report the sad findings soon.

Yogi Bear (2010) - Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cavanaugh
You know, because everyone has just been DYING for more Yogi action over the last 30 years. Easily one of the dumbest ideas Hollywood had last year. And that's saying something.

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One
Stand By Me (1986) - River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman
The classic tale, based on a Stephen King story, about a group of boys in the 50s who travel cross county to see a dead body. There are people who would say that overall, this movie features the best acting by a group of kids ever. I would not argue with those people. An absolutely outstanding movie.

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One Part II
Sandlot (1993) - Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Chauncey Leopardi
The story of another awesome group of kids, this time in the 1960s, who spend one glorious summer together doing nothing but playing baseball, going to the public swimming pool, and dipping chewing tobacco while riding carnival rides. Oh, how I love "The Sandlot." Then again, who DOESN'T love "The Sandlot?" I would be willing to bet that if you polled 1,000 film watchers from my generation, 999 of them would support this film whole heartedly. And the other person would be an idiot. You will soon be mine, Blu Ray "Sandlot."

Also New to Blu
Anastasia (1997) - Meg Ryan, John Cusack
Robots (2005) - Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams
The Riddick Collection: Pitch Black (1999) and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) - Vin Disel (I love these movies. I'm not ashamed even if I should be.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "Buried"

When Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) awakens, he finds himself in total darkness. Frantic, he locates a Zippo and, lighting it, discovers that he is trapped inside a coffin. An American truck driver in Iraq, Conroy realizes that his convoy was attacked and that he has been imprisoned by insurgents. Shortly thereafter, a phone rings and a dark voice on the other end informs him that he has only a few hours to secure a $10 million ransom or he will be left to die. What follows is an intense race to determine his own whereabouts and those of his captors before his grave becomes permanent.

"Buried" is an outstanding concept that depends half on the atmosphere of the coffin and half on the performance of the man trapped within it. Shot entirely in one location (a coffin) with essentially only one actor on screen (Reynolds), it's easy to understand why the film's production budget ($3 million) was so low. The shots are tight, giving the viewer the appropriate feel for the claustrophobic conditions. Reynolds fulfills his part of the bargain admirably. Conroy fluctuates between moments of panic and those of decided action, making every call he can think of to try to bring aid. Reynolds excels in this role, displaying a brilliant mix of frustration, fear, and determination. As usual, he brings a certain charisma to his character and that is what makes the difference for "Buried." The situation in and of itself, while tragic, is not necessarily enough to keep an audience invested for the 95 minute run time; you need a compelling and sympathetic character to root for and Reynolds provides it.

Some films, though, don't translate as well from the big screen to a living room TV set and "Buried" is one of them. I think some of the power of "Buried" was probably stripped away because I didn't see it in a theater and the drama of the film's environment was watered down a bit for me. That said, the back and forth between hope and failure (not to mention a twist that works well) creates palpable tension and a movie that is well worth a viewing.

Grade: B+

Movie News Today

Some footage from the final chapter of the "Harry Potter" saga hit the web yesterday. Being the Potter nerd that I am, I want to know as little about the film as possible so I'm avoiding the knowledge this video might give me. Nerd.

Speaking of nerd, shooting for "The Hobbit" started this weekend. Happy Hobbit day, nerds! I think I'm going to start re-reading the book today in honor of this historic event.

Celluloid Zombie gives a list of the top 10 directorial debuts and provides some truly inspired (and maybe even a bit unique) choices. Check it out.

Matt at Cinema Slants breaks down the critic backlash against "Battle: Los Angeles" (my review to come later this week).

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Limitless" - $19 million
2. "Rango" - $15.32 ($92.58 million total)
3. "Battle: Los Angeles" - $14.6 ($60.6)
4. "The Lincoln Lawyer" - $13.4
5. "Paul" - $13.16
6. "Red Riding Hood" - $7.26 ($25.96)
7. "The Adjustment Bureau" - $5.93 ($48.78)
8. "Mars Needs Moms" - $5.32 ($15.4)
9. "Beastly" - $3.26 ($22.25)
10. "Hall Pass" - $2.6 ($39.59)

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Limitless" - Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
A penniless writer (Cooper) begins taking a drug that allows him to access his brain's full capacity. Suddenly a wealthy and powerful man, he soon attracts the attention of a baddie (De Niro) who wants to use these new powers for his own purposes. I'm rooting for both Cooper and De Niro here but I'm guessing this will have a hard time finding an audience. It's kind of a concept film and those don't usually go over well. I'll check it out at some point, though.

"Paul" - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Two comic book nerds (Pegg and Frost) stumble on an alien (Rogen) outside of Area 51 and embark on a race to get their new friend to safety. Director Greg Mottola ("Scott Pilgrim," "Adventureland") is great at mixing juvenile, slapstick humor with witty banter having cut his teeth on "Undeclared" (underrated) and "Arrested Development" (best TV show ever). The trailer, while stupid, looks pretty funny, too, and I'm always up for nerd humor. Alas, the busy weekend ahead will keep me away.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" - Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei
Based on a Michael Connelly novel, McConaughey plays a sleezy lawyer who takes on a client (Phillippe) who calls his practices into question. So far, my favorite thing about this movie is the trailer in which some media outlet is quoted as saying this is the "best McConaughey performance in years." Which is AWESOME because it's kind of like saying one bout of hemorrhoids is better than another.

"Win Win" (limited) - Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor
A struggling attorney (Giamatti) takes a second job as a wrestling coach and somehow becomes the guardian of an elderly friend (Tambor). Then some other shenanigans happen. I'll never question the skill of Giamatti. He's a FINE actor. But he's almost an immediate out for me. Are there others of you out there who get really excited about a Giamatti picture? Am I just out of the target demographic? Because this is getting strong reviews but I can't muster up a single ounce of anticipation for a movie starring Giamatti. Sorry, Paul.

Movie News Today

It's official: Jennifer Lawrence has been tabbed as Katniss for the "Hunger Games" series. As I said a couple of days ago, Lawrence doesn't fit the mold of Katniss as described in the book. However, I'm going to go the positive route on this choice and believe that the aging up of the characters will allow for the spirit and tone of the book to come through in a PG-13 setting. I'm not sure that would be possible with a group of minors. On top of that, Lawrence is an EXCELLENT actress and I kind of like that the filmmakers went with the best performer instead of the girl who fits the description best.

Darren Arnofsky will not direct the "Wolverine" sequel, saying that the project would keep him away from his family for too long. I wondered how this odd pairing was going to work out. Now I guess we'll never find out.

Liam Neeson will reprise his interpretation of Jack Bauer in "Taken 2" which will start filming later this year. Sure, he could probably make better quality movies but I am personally loving this popcorn flick run he's been on lately. I'm definitely in for this.

One day I'll stop caring about Val Kilmer and I won't inundate you dear readers with news of his dreadful career. But today is not that day. Iceman will take a turn as Wyatt Earp in a new Western that will surely suck but still might draw me in. I may need some sort of intervention.

The AV Club has a nice interview with Tom Colicchio and gives a behind the scenes look at "Top Chef." Big fan of the show and Colicchio himself and this is worth a read if you're in the same boat.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DVD Review - "It's Kind of a Funny Story"

When his depression deepens and casual suicidal thoughts turn to near-action, teen-aged Craig (Keir Gilcrest) decides to take the situation out of his own hands and checks himself into a mental institute. Hoping for a quick fix to his problems, he soon finds himself locked away for a week inside the adult wing of the hospital while the teen side is remodeled. While undergoing the therapy he hoped to avoid, Craig begins to make new friends, including Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a gentle soul who can't seem to adjust to the realities of the outside world, and Noelle (Emma Roberts), another teen whose suicidal thoughts have taken on more drastic measures than his own. Through these new bonds, Craig seems to bloom, to become a real person instead of the obligatory well behaved, overachieving adolescent he's always felt he had to be. Confronting the expectations that have been innocently placed upon him by his parents, his friends, and his own mind, Craig fights to discover his real identity.

I cannot recommend "It's Kind of a Funny Story" highly enough. Writer, director, and cast all come together for a near seamless coming-of-age comedy that dwells in the quirky but never heavy handedly. It is a pleasant mix of "Garden State" and "500 Days of Summer" centered around a slightly younger crowd. Writer/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck penned a brilliant script that puts each of the cast in a position to shine. The film moves well, never lingering excessively but also without passing anything over. Each issue is handled with grace, which prevents "Funny Story" from becoming bitter or sad. Craig's parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan) are shown to be caring, loving people who share in the blame for their son's current situation only through accident, instead laying the blame at the feet of a society that expects too much of its children. Gilcrist, meanwhile, is exceedingly likable, an actor/character you immediately and genuinely gravitate toward. And while each of the supporting cast have their moments, Galifianakis shines the brightest, delivering an honest portrayal that gives the story an added layer of depth. Though perhaps a bit shallow at times, "Funny Story" is a huge success, a warm, heartfelt, and even fun movie that holds its own with the very best quirky comedies.

Grade: A

Movie News Today

David Slade ("Twlight: Eclipse") is developing a new "Daredevil" project, though it's unclear as to whether this would be a sequel to the 2003 utter disaster or a reboot. Please reboot. Please have absolutely nothing to do with the Ben Affleck version that slightly crushed my soul. Please, I beg of you.

Tom Hanks is in talks to portray the captain of the Maersk Alabama, the ship that was taken by Somali pirates a couple of years ago. Honestly I'm just thrilled to see Hanks on screen in any capacity that doesn't involve "The Da Vinci Code." I've missed the guy.

With "Battle: Los Angeles" sitting atop the box office, Movie Muse takes a look at the genesis and evolution of Hollywood's alien invasion fascination.

Flix Chatter reviews "Miller's Crossing," a movie I don't love and "Road to Perdition," a movie I do love.

Nathan Adams and the Temple of Reviews provides a fun take on "Drive" and/or the insanity of Nicholas Cage. Definitely worth a read.

New DVD Tuesday

The Fighter (2010) - Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
The real life story of Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a Boston boxer who battled his own family to achieve his dream. One of the best acted movies of the year, I personally felt the performances overshadowed the film as a whole. Still excellent, still worth seeing but ultimately a bit cliche and forgettable. In five years I think people will remember how incredible Bale was but I don't think they'll remember much about the movie itself.

Hereafter (2010) - Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr
Clint Eastwood's take on "Crash" finds several storylines intersecting around the powers of retired psychic (Damon). You would think an Eastwood-Damon pairing would bring positive reviews by the truck load but I've heard very few good things. Still, being the Damon fan that I am, I'll check it out at some point. Interesting concept.

The Switch (2010) - Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman
A lonely and single fortysomething (Aniston) decides to have a child through articifical insemination but the sample is accidentally switched with that of a close friend (Bateman). Ugh. I'm one of the few people out there who's still rooting for Aniston. I feel like she deserves good things. But good gracious, every awful movie like this makes that harder and harder to believe. Get a grip, Jen! Not even the brilliant Bateman could save this, I'm sure.

And...that's about it. Good thing I haven't had time to head to my local video store over the last couple of weeks because if these were my only options...yikes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie News Today

The great character actor JK Simmons will provide a voice over for director Jason Reitman's newest film "Young Adult." Simmons has appeared in each of Reitman's movies and of course brings excellence to each role he undertakes. Love that guy.

Speculation concerning the lead in "The Hunger Games" continues to be bandied about with several outlets confirming Jennifer Lawrence to be the leading candidate. This news causes me to think two things: 1. Lawrence, while a tremendously talented and beautiful actress, is a woman. Katniss Everdeen (the main character in this series for the uninitiated) is a girl. If the filmmakers intend to stick to the narrative of the book, Lawrence doesn't fit. 2. I have wondered quite often how this book will translate to the screen. Often brutal and gruesome, I'm not sure you can properly attain the spirit of the book in a PG-13 movie starring actual children (aka Hailee Steinfeld of "True Grit"). It would seem to me that if Lawrence is the choice, director Gary Ross intends to raise the age of cast a bit, thereby making the content less shocking. And I can't really fault him for that.

I've kind of become obsessed with "The Adjustment Bureau" over the last week. So here's a review from Things That Don't Suck that adds some wood to the positive comments fire.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Battle: Los Angeles" - $36 million
2. "Rango" - $23.05 ($68.65 million total)
3. "Red Riding Hood" - $14.14
4. "The Adjustment Bureau" - $11.46 ($38.45)
5. "Mars Needs Moms" - $6.8
6. "Hall Pass" - $5.11 ($34.94)
7. "Beastly" - $5.09 ($16.98)
8. "Just Go With It" - $4 (93.98)
9. "The King's Speech" - $3.63 ($126.06)
10. "Gnomeo and Juliet" - $3.55 ($89.03)

Blu Ray Review - "127 Hours"

Note: I usually do my very best to avoid any sort of spoiler in my reviews, even, at times, softening or weakening my statements to steer clear of anything that might ruin the suspense of a film. In this circumstance, however, I find it impossible to write a proper review without alluding to the conclusion. As this is based on real events that many people followed when they happened, I feel like I'm in the clear in terms of "to spoil or not to spoil." With that said, if you've never heard of Aron Ralston or his story, I'd advise you to move on to something else.

At the outset of "127 Hours," Aron Ralston (James Franco), an adventurous young mountaineer, sets out for a weekend climb through a well known canyon in Utah. Ralston is what you would call an amateur-expert, a weekender who knows a lot more than the average thrill seeker. This knowledge and his comfort level with the task at hand probably works against him, however, as it makes him a bit cocky and allows him to break the number one rule of wilderness adventure: always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back. Skipping this important step becomes a serious issue when Ralston takes a bad step and finds himself trapped in a crevice with his arm pinned between the rough rock wall and a boulder. Based on real life events, "127 Hours" focuses on the days that follow as Ralston's will is pushed to the limits, leading him to make a gut wrenching decision.

I avoided "Hours" for some time for two reasons: 1.) having followed these events when they were brought to life in 2003, I knew the eventual outcome. I'm fine with biographical films or the "based on a true story" tag line but at times events that are as fresh as these make it tough for me to enjoy the movie. 2.) more importantly, I was not sure I could take the visualization of the gruesome choices Ralston was forced to make. I'm not overly squeamish; I can handle battle scenes, even graphic ones, without pause but anything surgical gets to me. For example: I'm fine with the opening 15 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" but when the squad tries to fix up Giovanni Ribisi after he takes a bullet storming the machine gun turret...I nearly pass out every time. Inevitably, however, the power of Danny Boyle won me over.

Boyle's pulsating, frenetic style runs through the very heart of "Hours." The splashes of color and quick cuts bring flash to a narrative that quite frankly could have become boring without it. Flashbacks and hallucinations allow for a break from the potential monotony of a guy hanging alone in a desert cave and add depth to the Ralston character. Still, though, "Hours" rests almost entirely on the shoulders of Franco. The "solitary man" role is extremely risky for even the best actors in the world. Tom Hanks himself, perhaps the most likable actor of his generation, had a hard time conquering this role in "Cast Away." (Yes, that film made a ton of money but no, it was not nearly as universally appealing as most of Hanks' work was.) Franco, though, handles the pressure wonderfully, giving the performance of his life (naturally, given his Oscar nomination) and displaying an immense range that I personally wasn't sure he had. A scene in which he films himself essentially saying goodbye to his parents is sobering, heartbreaking, and perfectly genuine. Rumor has it that Franco got hold of the actual tape Ralston filmed while stuck and this scene in particular speaks to that idea. It's a palpable portrayal that carries the film.

And that brings us to the cringe-worthy finale, as Ralston is forced to choose between cutting his own arm off with a dull stocking stuffer utility knife or dying alone and dehydrated. If you have knowledge of the events, you know the choice he makes. And let me say, this is one of the most painful moments in film history. Boyle pulls no punches and in fact calls attention to Ralston's actions through the score and aforementioned shot selections. It is gruesome and bloody and I confess I had to turn away from the screen on multiple occasions. But by the same token, I didn't find it to be gratuitous. I mean, the dude is forced to cut his own arm off. It would be an injustice to Ralston and his story to shy away from the gory details. And because of the tension that Boyle and Franco build throughout the minutes that lead up to this event, the final cut feels less like a horrific loss and more like the attainment of freedom, as you would imagine it did in real life. It isn't easy to watch and I wouldn't recommend "127 Hours" to everyone but it is unquestionably an excellent film that showcases the ability of its lead beautifully.

Grade: A

Friday, March 11, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau"

I have a theory that Matt Damon and I would be friends. Like if I was hanging out in Boston one day and I bumped into the guy, we’d hit it off and before long you’d see me sitting with him courtside at a basketball game and the paparazzi would be wondering, “Who is the mystery man who’s always hanging out with Damon?” I base this theory on several factors. First, you always get the impression that Damon is a cool dude. Maybe more than any other A-lister, Damon gives off an air of genuine coolness. Second, in keeping with the cool factor, Damon doesn’t take himself too seriously. He takes his craft seriously, of course, but you have to love a guy who’s willing to show up as Tina Fey’s boyfriend on “30 Rock” or a punk rocker in “Eurotrip.” Third, his sense of humor comes out through his characters and it falls in line with my own. Just trust me, Matt and I would be tight if he knew me. I tell you all of this because I lost my notes on “The Adjustment Bureau” and I had some space to fill. Sue me.

Based on a short story by the esteemed Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” drops us into the life of David Norris (Damon), a brash, young politician running for the New York senate. When a late-breaking tabloid report ruins his chances, his disappointment is quickly squashed when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a charming dancer who inspires him to make a charismatic and honest concession speech. (I swear I would vote for this guy.) A month later he bumps into Elise again and is immediately reminded of the oddly strong attraction he felt toward her. He soon discovers, however, that this budding relationship isn’t the in the cards as he is made aware of the Adjustment Bureau, a group of beings (perhaps angels) who are tasked with the job of keeping everyone on the right path. He is told that in order for his political ambitions to come to fruition, he can never see Elise again. Saddened, he moves on with his life but never stops a quiet search for the girl who so impressed him. When he finally does find her, the Adjustment Bureau jumps into action in an effort to push the pair apart, causing a city wide cat-and-mouse game that pits love against reason.

Given my love for smart science fiction and Matt Damon, I’m sure no one will be shocked to hear that I highly enjoyed “Bureau.” It plays out as one part “Serendipity,” one part “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and one part “The Matrix” and the final combination works well. That may seem a bit complicated but the presentation is simple and to the point. This is a love story and all the surrounding complexity is used solely to drive our two stars together. It is antiquated in a way and at times hokey but I found this combination to be quite charming. There’s a certain nostalgic value to “Bureau,” a throwback to the cinematic endeavors of the 50s and 60s.

As it is a romance, the film’s success rests squarely on the chemistry between Damon and Blunt, neither of whom shy away from the pressure. The pair works wonderfully together, exhibiting a natural, enjoyable relationship that doesn’t take itself too seriously but at the same time proves to be worth fighting for. I can’t say this is Damon’s best work ever but then again, Damon’s B+ game is better than most people’s A+. I always find Blunt to be magnificent and her work here is no exception. Much like her role in “Sunshine Cleaning,” she demonstrates a certain indescribable quality that draws your attention and glues your eyes to every scene. It takes a supreme talent to match up with Damon and Blunt holds her own. The supporting actors, notably John Slattery and Anthony Mackie, all have their moments but as I said, “Bureau” depends entirely on Damon and Blunt.

For all the endearing charm of the first 97 minutes of “Bureau,” the final two minutes are a let-down. It’s a safe, moralistic ending that drops in on you much quicker than expected. It is, quite frankly, a cop-out. I will say, however, that while my distaste for this was palpable, I can’t for the life of me think of a stronger conclusion that isn’t overly dark. “Bureau” is at no time dark or gritty. In fact, the contrast between the harsh landscape and the light, vulnerable relationship the leads display is a point of strength for the film. To end on a dark note would have been a betrayal of the rest of the movie. Still, though, it’s a weak finale that could have used a reworking. This flaw, though, doesn’t keep “Bureau” from being very good. I would venture to call this my favorite romance since "500 Days of Summer," an excellent date movie with a smart concept and old school sentimentalities.

Grade: A-

If anyone knows Matt Damon, have him email me,

Care for another take? Check out John Likes Movies review, which includes some excellent points that I had forgotten due to the cursed loss of my notes. I'm getting old.

New Movie Friday

My apologies for the lack of movie news and links this week. I'm in my busy season at work and I'm lucky to have any time to write at all right now. It'll all clear up soon and I can get back to the exceedingly mediocre content you've come to expect from me.

"Battle: Los Angeles" - Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan
A group of elite Marines takes on an alien army that has come to colonize earth. This is without question the event movie of the spring. That both excites and frightens me. It looks like an absolute blockbuster blast but if it's really got the kind of legs you hope for, why is it being released now instead of summer? Still, I've loved the trailers and I'll try to fit in a screening this weekend.

"Mars Needs Moms" - Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Tom Everett Scott
Continuing the alien theme, a young boy is made aware of how important his mother (Cusack) is after she is taken away by a group of martians. Perhaps no movie has fallen off my "Anticipation Radar" faster than "Mars." Coming off of the success of "Tangled", I was all about the Disney movie this Winter and looked forward to the follow up. And then the trailer hit. Oh dear Lord, this looks abysmal. Add in the news that Seth Green, a premiere voice talent, had been completely cut from the final production? No thanks.

"Jane Eyre" - Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fessbender, Jamie Bell
The literary classic by Charlotte Bronte about a young governess who discovers a dark truth about her employer receives yet another adaptation. I read this book in, I believe, sophomore English class and hated it to the point that I'm almost certain I never bothered to finish. The early reviews from people I trust have been resoundingly positive but honestly, this isn't for me. I hope some of you will enjoy it, though.

"Red Riding Hood" - Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas
A modern take on the classic tale only played up and romanticized to appeal to the "Twilight" crowd. It's even directed by the lady who made the first "Twilight." So you know it's good. Being the Oldman freak that I am, I used to think I'd see any movie the man made simply because of his involvement. And now this has happened. So much for that.

There are also a number of interesting limited release films this week if you happen to be so "lucky" as to live in New York or LA. But I believe I will wait to cover them until they hit DVD shelves.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I’m not very easily offended. When it comes to content in film, there are things I don’t like, things I don’t approve of, things I won’t watch but there’s not just a whole lot that literally offends me. I have strong moral sensibilities but I don’t expect filmmakers and more importantly, film characters, to fall in line with my beliefs or preferences. One of the things that does grind my gears, however, are children’s movies, cartoons, that load up on adult content and innuendo. It bugs me. An adult-oriented joke here and there is fine; you have to give the grown-ups in the audience something to hold on to. But a steady stream of inappropriate statements, curse words, and the like in a PG cartoon is unacceptable to me. Maybe that’s because of my background or the fact that I work with kids but regardless, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth and makes it difficult for me to be unbiased in my review. So keep that in mind as we delve into “Rango.”

“Rango” opens on our title character (Johnny Depp), a pet lizard with visions of grandeur whose existence is thrown out of whack when he is unceremoniously dropped into the Mohave Desert. Wondering through the desolate landscape, he stumbles upon Beans (Isla Fisher), a fellow reptile who takes him to an Old West-style town inhabited by turtles, rabbits, moles, and the like. Like any good college freshman, Rango realizes that this is a chance for a new identity and a fresh start; he can be anyone he wants to be in a town where no one knows him. He quickly develops for himself a rough and tumble background story and paints himself to be quite the gunslinger. His reputation in town only grows when he kills a menacing hawk through a series of fortunate events similar to those that helped Buzz Lightyear demonstrate his ability to fly. He is quickly made sheriff and even quicker, his mettle is put to the test when he stumbles into a conspiracy that threatens to rid the land of its water and force the townspeople to leave.

The animated debut of director Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), “Rango” is visually STUNNING. The depth to the detail of each character is magnificent and use of color is exquisite. Verbinski had his cast act out the scenes from the movie and used their movements to map out the characters. The result is an incredibly lifelike, realistic feel. You almost forget, in some ways, that you’re watching a collection of desert creatures because of how human the characters seem. The animation is to the quality of Pixar which is unquestionably the best compliment one could possibly give. I also quite enjoyed the Western elements of “Rango.” You won’t find many Westerns in my personal DVD collection but I greatly appreciate the western influence. It is richly represented here which makes the film’s shortcomings all the more frustrating.

To be short, “Rango” is inappropriate for children. Far too much of the content is aimed at the adults in the audience and so many of these lines of dialogue and actions are too thinly veiled as to go over the head of most seven year olds. The argument could be (and has been) made that “Rango”s target audience is, in fact, the adults it so keenly panders to throughout. If this was indeed Verbinski’s goal (which would be perfectly acceptable), then in my opinion he should have gone full bore and taken aim at the PG-13 rating. Some parents will have no problem with the content and that’s fine; I cast no judgment in their direction. But those who will (and I think these parents will be greater in number) are being put into a bad position. If they don’t read a review going in, they’re likely to believe “Rango” is family friendly, kid’s fare and why shouldn’t they given its rating and marketing campaign aimed at children? And while I know so many of the family movies from my youth were packed with content I didn’t understand until later in life, animated features should be held to a different standard in my book. . While none of the content was anywhere near as rough or potentially objectionable as, say, the average episode of “Family Guy,” the difference is the little box at the top of the screen that says, “TV14.” Parents can choose whether or not to put any stock into that warning but at least the warning has been laid out.

“Rango” also suffers from an overall lack of humor. The dialogue is well written and fairly quick witted but to be honest, I very rarely laughed. The jokes seemed heavy handed at times while at other times they simply weren’t funny. So while much of the content is overly adult-themed, the humor didn't really work for this adult. This leaves “Rango” with an identity crisis that it struggles with throughout. There are some truly fun moments and as I said the visuals are unmatched in quality. But the lack of flow or identity left me feeling as if my time had been wasted, something I very rarely experience in a theater.

Grade: C+

I fear I sound super conservative today,

Care for another take? Check out Cinema Slant's slightly more glowing review.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

Morning Glory (2010) - Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Patrick Wilson
A young TV producer (McAdams) takes on a job with a once-great, now-fledgling morning show. I was so incredibly disappointed to see the reviews for "Morning Glory" when it opened last fall. I badly wanted this to be the smart date movie the Lady of the Box Office and I have been waiting for. Alas, that doesn't seem to be. That won't stop me from renting this, however, as my celebrity crush on Rachel McAdams knows not the boundaries of crappy movies.

The Next Three Days (2010) - Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson
When his wife (Banks) is falsely convicted of murder, a man (Crowe) resorts to Jack Bauer-like tactics and busts her out with the help of a friend (Neeson). Two things about this movie. 1.) This got absolutely no support from the studio. Considering the number of positive reviews it received, "Three Days" had almost no advance press and was then released against "Harry Potter" last November. Set up for failure. 2.) I like to think there's a reality or alternate universe where Liam Neeson does nothing but rescue his own family members or help his friends do the same. He's got such a knack for doing it in film, surely the skills translate to real life. I mean, if (God forbid) my wife is ever kidnapped, I would have to really consider whether I would rather contact the FBI or Liam Neeson. I'm just sayin'.

Inside Job (2010) - Matt Damon
A documentary look at the current bank and financial crisis the US finds itself in. I'm a big fan of docs but I tend to shy away from anything politically charged. It's not that I'm not interested in the truth (I am), I just don't feel like I can trust the pundits, researchers, and commentators (and that goes for both sides of the issue). I'll be passing on this, I guess.

Jackass 3D (2010) - Johnny Knoxville
No summary needed. I say with great shame that no matter how hard I might fight the urge, I find myself chuckling childishly every single time an ad for this movie graces my vision. I might need a psych exam.

The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2010) - Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies
A small town police officer awakes in a hospital to discover that the world around him has gotten zombiefied. He then embarks on a mission to find his family and get his group of survivors to a safe haven. Please hear me when I say: I am not a zombie freak. Despite my allegiance to All Things Nerd, I really don't give a rip about the zombiepocalypse. So when I tell you that I looovvvved "The Walking Dead", please understand that I'm not a biased commentator. If anything, I'm predisposed against this show given my dislike of the zombie trend and the fact that AMC, the channel that runs this series, doesn't come in HD in my area, something I fight adamantly against. There are some truly awful actors on this show but the story is excellent. A great, gritty series that feels much more real than the average zombie fodder.

A Film Unfinished (2010)
Produced by Beastie Boy Adam Yaunch (greatness), this documentary uses footage shot by Nazis in a Warsaw ghetto for a propaganda campaign. Now this is the documentary I'm really interested in this week. I've been wanting to check this out for some time now and I'm hoping to get a chance soon.

New to Blu
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) - Banksy

Movie News Today

Neddih Yllausiv remembers the magnificent John Candy, who died 17 years ago today. One of the most genuinely funny dudes to ever grace the screen, there's no question that all of our lives have been slightly less awesome due to his absence.

The Blu Ray extended cuts of the "Lord of the Rings" series is finally up for preorder on Amazon, with a release date set for later this year or early next. My guess is this is available in time for Christmas. Any fan of this franchise knows: the theatrical version of these movies (released on Blu Ray last year) just doesn't cut it. They're really not even the same movies. Other than "Star Wars", no set of films needs the full Blu Ray experience more than "LOTR", at least in the mind of this nerd.

Guillermo Del Toro's latest project, "At the Mountains of Madness", has been delayed so the visionary director may now turn to "Pacific Rim" in the mean time. I'm not sure anyone jumps from one interesting project to the next more than Del Toro.

John Cusack will star in "Dictablanda", a movie he also wrote and will produce. Oh, how I love John Cusack and oh, what terrible movies he tends to make. No one tries harder and acts better in a bad movie than Cusack but wow, there's usually a lot to overcome.

The Movie Brothers review "The Man Who Wasn't There", which is, I believe, the only Coen brother film I haven't seen. (Except, of course, "The Ladykillers", which, let's face it, no one should be forced to see.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blu Ray Review - "Predators"

"Predators" opens up on Royce (Adrien Brody), a soldier of fortune who awakens to find himself falling from the sky and only just manages to pull a parachute. His fellow refugees, including a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), a KGB agent (Oleg Taktarov), and a Colombian guerrilla (Alice Braga) seem to be just as dangerous as he is. Banding together out of necessity, the group soon discovers they are on an alien planet, a game preserve of sorts, and that they are not alone. The famed aliens that once pushed Arnold Schwarzenegger to the limit are now tracking them down and picking them off one by one, pushing each of the human killers to their limits.

"Predators" is about 2/3rds of a really solid sci-fi action flick. It has an excellent premise and a fun concept, even if it has been done about 100 billion times. It's good to see the Predator universe returned to normalcy, too, after the disastrous "Alien Versus Predator" series. For anyone my age, there's something cool about the reappearance of the Predator on screen, a bit of nostalgia that allows you to forget that "Predator" really doesn't hold up very well these days because dude, was it AWESOME in its day. The action is well-paced and exciting and the 107 minute runtime is just about right for a movie like this. Sure, the scenes play out like a check list of Action Movie Musts (a traitor: check; someone who knows more than they should: check; someone who sacrifices himself for the group: check; an anti-hero who changes his stripes: check) but what did you really expect from "Predators," anyway?

My only real problem with this movie is casting and the use of said cast. Goggins is a magnificent actor who plays a villain beautifully. He, along with Braga and a few others, are relegated to one-dimensional supporting roles that don't have an ounce of depth. And then there's Adrien Brody, who I just don't buy as a tough guy. When you consider that the Predator took Arnie to his limit at the height of his power, the dude from "The Pianist" doesn't seem to stand much of a chance. Perhaps that's an idiotic way to look at things but that thought kept running through my mind throughout this movie. Likewise, another actor/character (who shall remain nameless to avoid a spoiler) seems so out of place that you KNOW a twist is bound to come. Yet when it does, you're left wondering what there was for this character to gain at that point. A few tweaks and some better casting choices could have made "Predators" a sci-fi flick to remember but these issues don't stop it from being a perfectly acceptable piece of entertainment that should work for any fan of this franchise.

Grade: B-

Movie News Today

Empire provides a guide to each of Disney's animated features. Pretty cool.

In TV news, "How I Met Your Mother" has been renewed for 2 more years. As a big fan of the show, I'm honestly a little disappointed in this. Sometimes enough is enough and this show has about run its course. One more season to give us the answer to the question posed in the title would be enough.

Film Girl Interrupted gives us her favorite soundtracks of all time. Excellent, eclectic choices.

Flix Chatter discusses two works by Stephen King and their upcoming film adaptations.

Movie Muse delivers five directors who should try their hand at animation. Cosign.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Rango" - $38 million
2. "The Adjustment Bureau" - $20.95
3. "Beastly" - $10.12
4. "Hall Pass" - $9.02 ($27 million total)
5. "Gnomeo and Juliet" - $6.91 ($83.69)
6. "Unknown" - $6.62 ($53.13)
7. "The King's Speech" - $6.5 ($123.82)
8. "Just Go With It" - $6.5 ($88.2)
9. "I Am Number Four" - $5.7 ($46.44)
10. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" - $4.33 ($68.88)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

3 for March

January was pretty sparse. February got the ball rolling a bit but was underwhelming overall. But now we're into March and March is where 2011 starts to build some momentum. Y'all (it's alright for me to say that on Texas Independence Day, right?), I am REALLY excited about what the next few months are going to bring and March is just the appetizer.

3. "Rango" - Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant
Gore Verbinski's foray into animated features brings us Depp in the form of a cowardly lizard who takes on villainous animals in an Old West setting. The studio has been pushing this pretty hard (beginning last summer) which makes me a bit nervous. But the assemblage of voice talent is impressive and it just looks cool for lack of a better term.

2. "Battle: Los Angeles" - Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena
This combination of "Independence Day" and "District 9" finds a group of Marines making a last stand against alien invaders in Los Angeles. I'm expecting heavy action, little story but you never know and anyway, the footage from the trailer looks INCREDIBLE. Plus, neither Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer is involved so that's always a plus.

1. "The Adjustment Bureau" - Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery
Based on a Philip K. Dick story, this movie follows Matt Damon as a politician and his ballerina lover, Blunt, as they try to stay one step ahead of a secret society of powerful men whose job it is to read the future and keep everyone on the right track. This was supposed to open last fall and I've been dying to see it for several months. Smart sci-fi is a big seller around here. Smart sci-fi with Matt Damon mixed in is almost too much to hope for.

Blu Ray Review: "The Princess and the Frog"

During the Jazz Age, a young New Orleans waitress Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) finds herself caught up in a battle between a voodoo witch doctor, Facilier (Keith David), and a foreign prince, Naveen (Bruno Campos). When both Tiana and Naveen are turned into frogs, they must fight through the dangers of the bayou and reclaim their true forms before the clock runs out and they are stuck in their amphibian bodies.

Once such a proud American tradition, Disney movies had completely lost their appeal to me over the last decade. As I've said before, that has very little to do with my age. I love animated films and am unashamed to sit in on a kid's movie on opening day if it interests me enough. My disinterest in Disney has everything to do with quality. Between 2000's "Emperor's New Groove" and last year's "Tangled", not a single Disney cartoon held any sort of appeal to me, with the minor exception of "Lilo and Stitch" which I only mildly enjoyed. For all intents and purposes, the studio completely lost its way and stopped living up to the standard it set for itself over the previous 60 years. Disney animation regained my attention with the aforementioned "Tangled." Put simply, I loved it. it was one of the more fun experiences of 2010 and resembled some of the magic Disney used to be so famous for. With that in mind, I decided to give "Princess and the Frog" a try.

Let's just say I'm hoping this is less a sign of things to come and more an example of just how far the studio had fallen before "Tangled." A decent-enough story and great music aren't nearly enough to save "Princess" from a host of problems. The script is weak and the voice actors don't do much to flesh it out. You don't have to have big names to make an animated feature work but you do need talent and while this group may be able to sing, the delivery of the non-musical lines is almost unanimously bland. Likewise, the animation itself seemed sloppy to me. Some of the characters looked like something from the Disney knockoffs that were so popular when I was a kid. But worst of all, "Princess" is just plain boring, a cardinal sin in a children's movie. Within 20 minutes of the opening credits, I found myself messing around on my laptop and later sorted my laundry and if not for those activities, I probably could have fallen asleep. There are some fun moments but overall "Princess" is a forgettable film that just feels like a waste of time.

Grade: C+

Movie News Today

Alcon ("The Blind Side") has acquired the rights to "Blade Runner," with an eye on making sequels, prequels, and maybe even a TV show. The nerd in me is excited by the proposition of expanding upon perhaps the second most influential sci-fi film of the last 35 years. The realist in me, however, has a feeling these projects will SUCK.

The Wall Street Journal has an interview with Amy Poehler...'s parents. Kind of fun.

Get Your Film Fix gives a compelling argument for why you should care that video stores are dying out. I'm in the vast minority these days, but there is still nothing quite like going to a rental store. I gave up on Blockbuster and their busted business model some time ago but the Family Video around the corner from me has become a weekly stop on my way home. Netflix is great and will be even greater if they ever figure out how to make some decent freaking movies available to us. But it just doesn't compare to the potpourri-feel of a video store.

Diane Lane will play Martha Kent in the upcoming "Superman" re-start. Not sure why, but I strongly dislike Lane. Oh well.

A Life in Equinox has a cool post on the movie quotes that stick with you and the words/events that set them off in your brain. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DVD Review: "Paper Man"

On the verge of separation from his wife and crippled by harrowing writer's block, Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) settles himself into a friend's summer cottage to work on his second novel. His only companion is Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), a Superman-like superhero who exists only in Richard's mind. Solitude doesn't seem to do the trick, however, and he soon finds himself looking for ways to procrastinate. On a trip into town, he meets and befriends Abby (Emma Stone), a local teenager with a haunted past and only one real friend, a strange boy named Christopher (Kieran Culkin). The two become an unlikely pair and begin to spend more time with each other against the advice of both Captain Excellent and Christopher. Soon Richard is forced to question his life, his relationships, and his profession.

This is a difficult movie to sum up. In essence, "Paper Man" is all about relationships and human interaction, though that may seem difficult to comprehend given that one of the characters is a figment of another's imagination. And yet the interconnecting relationships of Richard and Excellent, Abby and Christopher, and Richard and Abby serve as an illustration of human needs and co-dependence. None of the main characters are complete persons and as such, each needs the other. Directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney give us carefully crafted, well-honed characters that rarely stray from their tendencies as they grow together and therefore, apart. Likewise, all of the leads give outstanding performances and fit their roles perfectly. Daniels and Stone display a natural chemistry that embraces the oddness of their relationship. For perhaps the first time ever, Richard and Abby are allowed to be themselves in each other's company and that comes through beautifully. Stone, in particular, is perhaps more vulnerable and authentic here than in any other movie she's been a part of. Only Lisa Kudrow feels out of place as Richard's overachieving wife, a one-dimensional character who at times fits a tired cliché than she does embrace real humanity. That's more than a bit of a disappointment given than none of the other characters or their interactions stray into the cliché abyss. "Paper Man" is quirky and original with dark overtones that give it depth and edge and a tremendous collection of talent that doesn't go to waste. Quite frankly, I loved this movie and found myself drawn to it with more intensity than just about any film I've seen recently.

Grade: A

Movie News Today

Tim Burton and Josh Brolin are working in conjunction on a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" project. I'm one of the rare moviegoers in this world who neither loves nor hates Burton's work arbitrarily. Some of his stuff is excellent, some awful. But regardless, one thing I will give the man: I am ALWAYS interested to see what he'll do next. An extremely interesting dude all around.

Will Smith will star in "Joe," a modern-day, potentially comedic take on the Biblical book of Job. It's been a LOOOOOONG time since we've been treated to a Will Smith performance and as an unabashed fan of the guy, I see a ton of promise in this project, if it's done right.

Despite drawing influences from the genre, Quentin Tarantino has never made a full on Western...until now.

Hailee Steinfeld is in contention for the lead role of Catniss in the upcoming "Hunger Games" film adaptation. I loved the first book in the series and enjoyed the last two. In my mind, a young actress who can hold her own in a room that also contains Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon would be a perfect choice here. Make it so.

For a nice recap of the Oscars, check out Marshall and the Movies' Live Blog.

Movie Muse ranks the films of the Farrelly Brothers and I whole-heartedly agree, though I'd swap numbers one and two. Very little beats the brilliant stupidity of "Dumb and Dumber."

New DVD Tuesday

I apologize in advance for this, the most Weak Sauce of entries I've ever written. So stinking busy right now. After this weekend things will open up a bit and I'll finally get a chance to write all the things I've wanted to send out recently. Thanks for your patience.

127 Hours (2010) - James Franco - Can't wait to finally see this. Hoping to carve out a couple of hours in the next two days to check this out. I may have to use a sick day in the near future...

Burlesque (2010) - Christina Aguilera, Cher - Blerg.

Love and Other Drugs (2010) - Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway - There might not be a better romantic pairing than Gyllenhaal and Hathaway if your goal is to keep me away from a film.

Faster (2010) - The Rock - Not a Rock fan (and refuse to call him Dwayne Johnson) but I'll probably give into this at some point.

New to Blu
Bambi (1942)
The Cable Guy (1996) - Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller
Out of Sight (1998) - George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames