Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "Morning Glory"

After losing her job at an early morning New Jersey talk show, Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) finds her life at an impasse. Desperate for a break, she accepts a job as the executive producer for Daybreak, once a hallmark of the IBS network that has now all but vanished from the public consciousness. With one host position filled by Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), Becky exploits a contract loophole to force longtime newsman and current curmudgeon Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to fill the open seat. Peck and Pomeroy do not click and before too long, Daybreak is on the verge of being cancelled. With one last shot, Becky galvanizes her show with quirky ideas and out of the box thinking, topped off by a Pomeroy news piece that puts the show back on the map. But will her new found success take Becky off to bigger and better things or will the little family she created at Daybreak be enough to hold her in place?

I rooted long and hard for "Morning Glory." I wanted it to be great and in fact, there are several truly strong elements in play here. The tone is refreshingly light and easy; there's very little depth or darkness to the film and I mean that as a compliment. Some movies aren't meant for deeper pools (storylines) and this is one of them. It is colorful and bright which makes Ford's cranky, bitter Pomeroy all the more apparent. McAdams, meanwhile, fits the film's overtones perfectly. She is frantic and all over the place, but overwhelmingly sunny and determined. Perhaps this makes Becky a bit less likable than McAdams' normal character but for me this wasn't so much a detriment to my enjoyment of the film as it was an indication of her ability to create a fitting character, ala Kate Hudson in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." In other words, Becky is supposed to be slightly obnoxious and overbearing. (Admittedly, however, the integrity of this point is in question as my unabashed love for McAdams could definitely overwhelm my sense of reason.) Even Ford, while somewhat wooden (as he has been prone to for the last fifteen years or so), seems to invest in his performance in a way that he hasn't in some time. It's not great, mind you, but at least he's trying.

What holds "Morning Glory" back is its script (written by Aline Brosh McKenna) and director Roger Mitchell's use of said script. Honestly, this movie is a script away from being an excellent film instead of just ho-hum pretty good. The dialogue is often weak; other times it's downright oppressive, severely limiting anything that the actors might be able to do. And while I didn't find "Glory" to be overly cliche, many of the more important scenes and emotional moments are just hollow. The movie moves far too fast, too, jumping from scene to scene with very little to hold it together. It plays out as if Brosh McKenna wrote her script then ripped out every third page and that's what they took into production. It is impossible to connect with the characters or to revel in what should have been witty banter and that robs "Glory" of its real impact. Fun and entertaining, this movie is worth a viewing, to be sure, but it misses out on being the powerhouse it should have been.

Grade: B-

Movie News Today

Forgive the brevity. I'm in a deep funk due to the Mavs losing to the Heat tonight. This funk is likely to take over for the next week or two. Be warned.

Donald Sutherland has been added to the cast of "The Hunger Games" as President Snow, the film's main baddie. Very interesting.

Peter Jackson has officially announced the titles for his "Hobbit" movies. Christmas 2012 could not possibly get here fast enough.

The Independent has an article about the life and work of Terrence Malick.

Flix Chatter has a list of 5 reasons why "X-Men: First Class" should be seen on opening day.

New DVD Tuesday

Drive Angry (2011) - Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner
A former baddie (Cage) breaks out of hell in order to avenge the death of his daughter and rescue his granddaughter (Heard). Yup, that's actually a movie. One of the great questions in life is how Nicholas Cage still gets semi-legit roles (meaning the movies actually see a theater) and Val Kilmer has to do straight-to-DVD five times a year. Brutal.

Biutiful (2010) - Javier Bardem
This foreign language film follows a man (Bardem) who can commune with the dead and beyond that, I'm not exactly sure what the heck is going on here. Even the summaries and reviews on IMDB are remarkably convoluted. Bardem scored an Oscar nod for this role but most critics seemed to be much more appreciative of his performance than the film as a whole.

Passion Play (2010) - Megan Fox, Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray
Usually I would skip a film like this completely, but this time around the IMDB summary is just too funny to pass up: "An angel under the thumb of a ruthless gangster is saved by a trumpet player down on his luck." And that's not even half the ridiculousness. Two statements/questions about this project. 1.) What terrible thing act did someone catch Bill Murray in to force him into doing this movie? 2.) THIS MOVIE ACTUALLY GOT MADE!!! I'm not a screenwriter but I have to believe that every time a clunker like "Passion Play" gets the green light, 25 writers move back to Iowa.

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One
American Graffiti (1973) - Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Charles Martin Smith
A true American classic. This is one of those films that should be set aside and preserved for future civilizations to illustrate just what life was like during this time period. It should also be used to make it clear that at one time, George Lucas wasn't crazy. It's been years since I've seen "Graffiti" but man, I love it.

Also New to Blu
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson
One of these days I need to get around to seeing the Leon collection. Blu Ray definitely helps.

Legend (1985) - Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry
Easily one of the weirdest "kids" movies ever. It falls right in line with "Labyrinth" and only slightly behind "Something Wicked This Way Comes" in terms of, "What in the freak were people thinking gearing this towards children?!" FREAKING creepy.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Malcom McDowell, Warren Clarke, Patrick Magee
Big Jake (1971) - John Wayne (I'm pretty sure this is my mom's favorite John Wayne movie. Just so you know.)
Rio Lobo (1970) - John Wayne

Also New
True Blood: Season 3 (2010) - Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Anna Paquin
Psych: Season 5 (2010) - James Roday, Dule Hill

And since it's such a down week for DVDs, may I recommend you spend your money on music as Eddie Vedder, My Morning Jacket, and Death Cab for Cutie all have new albums out today. Epic win for music this time around. I'm just sayin'.  

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Documentary Project - Volume 7: "Restrepo"

Throughout 2007, filmmakers Tim Heatherington and Sebastian Junger followed The Men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. During their tour of Afghanistan, this group of soldiers were assigned the task of taking and holding the Korangal Valley, one of the most dangerous battlefields in the world. "Restrepo" takes an in depth look at the lives of these courageous men throughout the length of their tour.

I'm not sure I'll ever write a shorter review for a film as stirring as "Restrepo" is. The kind of access that Heatherington and Junger got to shoot this film is unheard of and you see why early on when the camera winds up basically down and in the dirt after the platoon is ambushed along a mountain road. Soon after, the soldiers establish Camp Restrepo (named for the first man in their company who was killed in action) atop a large hill and find themselves caught between the horrifying violence that takes place in the Korangal Valley and the almost-as-bad boredom that sets in between battles. Mixing the footage shot during the tour and interviews done after they returned stateside, Heatherington and Junger do a magnificent job of literally putting the audience into the shoes of these men and displaying just what sort of hell they've been put through. They also manage to pull no punches (including a harrowing scene in which the men are attacked and one of their number dies just off camera) without glorifying the awfulness of war. And in addition to all of that, perhaps the greatest stroke of genius lies in the fact that "Restrepo" is completely void of politics. From the first moment to the last, this film is about the men and nothing else and regardless of your political leaning, it presents a message that we can all get behind.

"Restrepo" is a tough, gritty, REAL look at war and as such, is not for the faint of heart. But if you can muster up the stomach to sit through it, then I highly recommend a viewing. Incredible film.

Grade: A

Movie News Today

The Telegraph provides an interview with "X-Men: First Class" (and the upcoming "Hunger Games" films) actress Jennifer Lawrence.

George Lucas recently talked about a potential "Star Wars" TV show that would take place between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope." I'm both thoroughly excited and immensely depressed by this. If only I had faith that it would be good!

Man I Love Films takes a look at Christian Bale's top 5 performances. Check it out!

Rail of Tomorrow gives us an exhaustive review of "Tree of Life" which only adds to my frustration that it won't be available to me for weeks. Great review.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "The Hangover Part 2" - $86.48 million
2. "Kung Fu Panda 2" - $48
3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - $39.32 ($152.92 million total)
4. "Bridesmaids" - $16.37 ($84.98)
5. "Thor" - $9.37 ($159.71)
6. "Fast Five" - $6.62 ($196.03)
7. "Midnight in Paris" - $1.92 ($2.82)
8. "Jumping the Broom" - $1.9 ($34.18)
9. "Something Borrowed" - $1.84 ($34.76)
10. "Rio" - $1.78 ($134.82)

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Movie Friday

"The Hangover Part 2" - Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
The sequel to 2009's SMASH HIT (highest grossing R-rated comedy ever), "Part 2" finds the boys reliving their nightmare, this time in Bangkok. "Hangover" made absolute stars out of these guys but "Part 2" plays out more like a paycheck film than anything else. And that's fine. You gotta pay the bills, after all. But there was never much doubt that this couldn't be as good (or original) as the first one. Having already seen it, my expectations were met: funny but not anywhere close to the level of the last one. Meh.

"Kung Fu Panda 2" - Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan
Another sequel to a big summer hit, "Panda" centers around Po (Black) and his Furious Five fighting a battle in China and discovering the secrets to Po's past. I quite liked the first "Panda" but didn't see it until it hit cable. I found it to be fun and at least half smart which is about all you can expect from a non-Pixar animated film these days. In some ways, I think it laid the groundwork for "How to Train Your Dragon" which is, for me, Dreamworks Animation's greatest achievement. I'm interested in seeing this but I imagine that, like its predecessor, I'll wait for a home viewing.

"Tree of Life" - Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain (limited)
According to IMDB, this centers around a man (Penn), his upbringing in the 50s, his relationship with his father (Pitt), and his search for the meaning of life. But given that this is a Terrence Malick film, there's really no telling what it's about until you've actually seen it and even then, you might be grasping at straws. Malick isn't my favorite director but there's no questioning his brilliance and his vision. He makes the films he wants to make and doesn't worry about making them accessible, which is part of his genius. The wide range of reviews and grades seems appropriate and I definitely hope I get a shot to see this before too long. Curse you, Limited Release!

Movie News Today

Looks like Zach Braff has joined the cast of "Oz, the Great and Powerful." Remember when Braff was a major name in Hollywood? I've always been a fan of the guy and I think he's got skill. But man his career has hit a wall. Hopefully this will invigorate him.

David O. Russell ("The Fighter") has pulled out of the video game movie adapation "Uncharted." Bit of an odd movie as, at one time, his "Fighter" star Mark Wahlberg was set to play the lead. Maybe this means they'll hand the role over to Nathan Fillion after all.

Empire has an interview with JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg as they discuss "Super 8." Other than "Harry Potter," I'm not sure there's a summer movie I'm looking forward to more than this one right now. Everytime I see the trailer I get a little more stoked.

In honor of ESPN's incredible 30 for 30 documentary series reaching DVD last week, IFC gives us five sports stories that they'd like to see discussed in a doc. Love it.

FlixChatter takes a look at the career of Kevin Costner, a guy I've sheepishly admitted to being fascinated with despite his long string of awful movies. I'm only half ashamed to admit that if "The Postman" or "Waterworld" are on TV, there's a 75% chance I'll stop in for a while.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "I Am Number Four"

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is an alien. A refugee hiding out on planet earth and on the run from a vicious rival species that destroyed his world, John moves from town to town with his only friend, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). a warrior from his planet who serves as his guardian and poses as his father. There are nine refugees on earth and the enemy race (called Mogadorians) is systematically tracking them down one by one. John, naturally, is Number Four and knows he's next on the list. After moving into a small town in Ohio, John meets Sam (Callan McAuliffe), his first true friend in years, and falls for Sarah (Dianna Agron). His relative happiness, however, is quickly unraveled with the Mogadorians show up and force a dynamic battle in which he is joined by Number Six (Teresa Palmer) to create an unstoppable team.
The big problem with "I Am Number Four" is readily apparent after the first two scenes. Scene one involves the nighttime attack and subsequent murder of a pre-adolescent alien (Number Two). Scene two shows John and his Florida buddies riding jet skis while a Kings of Leon track blares in the background. This movie has no identity. It is all at once a teen drama, a sci-fi thriller, and a horror/suspense film with a coming-of-age-in-the-Midwest undercurrent. Each scene seems to combat with the one before and the one after and no middle ground is ever established. I quite like the work of director DJ Caruso ("Disturbia") in many ways but he has an absolute mess on his hands here and the constant mix of genres is like drinking a Suicide, that mix of soda that you make at a pizza buffet when you're 10. It's awesome when you're a kid, not so much when you're 28. Is it "Twilight," "Star Trek," or "Hancock" because it can't be all three.

This convoluted mix really frustrates me, too, because, nerd that I am, there are some really cool sci-fi ideas on display here. It bums me out that these concepts are wasted on a movie that plays out like an episode of "One Tree Hill." Olyphant is solid even if he isn't given much to work with script-wise and Agron brings the charm she exhibits on "Glee" to the big screen with relative ease. I would also go so far as to say that the relationship between John and Sarah is, shockingly, not that bad. Plus, the soundtrack is killer, even if it is a bit too hip for its own good.

None of that is enough, however, to even come close to overshadow the nails-on-a-chalkboard acting of the rest of the cast. I'll stop short of calling Pettyfer a bad actor; he's just unseasoned. This is one of only nine credits to his name and obviously he's gotten where he is based on looks, not ability. In my mind, there's no question that he has some talent; it'll just be up to him (and the roles he takes) to determine if that talent can be brought out or not. McAuliffe, meanwhile, is as one-note as they come and Palmer is just...I mean, awful. Since this script was obviously not well written, perhaps I should give her the benefit of the doubt but seriously, her limited lines are by far the worst moments of the film, only challenged by any scene that involves any of the supporting/background characters from smalltown Ohio. Painful. I tried to find the good in "I Am Number Four" but there just wasn't enough to grasp hold of as I slipped further and further into the void of worthlessness.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Back in 2003, I was caught completely off guard by the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I wasn’t quite so in touch with the movie industry back then and I certainly didn’t have an awesome blog or anything like Movie News Today (shameless plug). I simply walked into a half-full theater with a couple of friends expecting to see a throwaway summer action film. Instead, I was introduced to a cultural phenomenon that made a ridiculous sum of money, garnered an Oscar nomination for one of the more unique characters of the decade, and spawned two of the most financially successful sequels ever. Who would have thought all of that could come from a rather mediocre amusement park ride? With “Stranger Tides,” the franchise is back from a four year hiatus with a few changes to the cast and crew and a stripped down plotline that will only marginally pacify the average “Pirates” fan.

We open on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) up to his normal shenanigans, this time breaking out of the custody of a British duke and looking for a ship with which to sail forth to find the mythical Fountain of Youth. Soon afterward, he runs into Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an old flame who has been posing as Sparrow to draw a crew for a very similar quest. After being drugged, Jack awakens to find himself aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a treacherous ship helmed by the famed pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who turns out to be Angelica’s father. Having recently heard a prophesy concerning his own death, Blackbeard is hard on the trail of the Fountain of Youth, only just ahead of the Spanish who wish to claim the Fountain for their own uses. Just behind the Spanish is a British ship, captained by Jack’s old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). With three potential enemies closing in on his prey, Jack must think fast and come with a scheme that (per usual) calls for multiple double crosses and the pitting of each group against the others.

It’s clear from the outset that director Rob Marshall was given the directive to simplify his first venture into “Pirate” territory. One of the staples of the first three films is an overdone, convoluted plot that twists and turns so many times that it causes the viewer to simply fish or cut bait; you end up just saying, “yeah, sure” or “this is stupid and I’m out” pretty early on. This is especially prevalent in the sequels. That confusion is at the same time genius in that it covers up a multitude of plot holes and frustrating in that you spend half your time trying to figure out who just double crossed who (and more importantly why) and that ultimately takes away from your enjoyment. Or so I thought, anyway. As it turns out, the simplification of the plot results in what boils down to a pair of meaningless, shallow love stories that do their very best to stop the momentum of the film at every single turn. While the on-again-off-again, “maybe we’ll just kill each other, no wait, let’s make out instead” fling between Jack and Angelica is at least relevant to the story, the budding relationship between a young priest (Sam Claflin) and a captured mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) registers as nothing but noise and time filler. Their chemistry makes the connection between Thor and Doctor Jane Foster seem comparable to that of Harry and Sally. These wasted scenes combined with one of the biggest plot holes ever in the history of action movies (spoiler free version: pretty much everything to do with the Spanish) really detract from the value and enjoyableness of “Stranger Tides.”

That’s not to say it’s all bad. For one thing, I would say the fight scenes here are better (and even, dare I say, slightly more realistic) than in any of the previous “Pirates” films. Excellent, well-staged sword work abounds. In addition, the sets and settings are incredible. I expected this as each of the previous films, even at their worst, featured dynamic effects, sets, and landscapes and “Strangers Tides” certainly doesn’t disappoint. And all three of the leading men each have moments of brilliance. McShane, one of my very favorite actors and a menacing presence even in such lowbrow fare as “Hotrod,” is excellent as Blackbeard. Rush, meanwhile, does what he does best which is steal scenes with style and flair. In my mind, Barbossa is the most underrated part of this franchise as a whole. And then there’s Jack who I found to be a slightly more progressed version of himself here as opposed to when we last saw him in 2007. I felt that these new elements of (slight) maturity and morality complimented his usual quirky, jester-like persona. I’ve seen some reviews who have criticized Jack’s new sense of reality and the extra attention that he receives without Orlando Bloom or Kiera Knightley around to draw the camera away and I quite understand those points. At the end of the day, however, I think the majority of people who go to see “Stranger Tides” are doing so because they want to see Jack Sparrow and he doesn’t disappoint.

“Stranger Tides” definitely has some fantastic moments, though most take place in the first 30 minutes. In the end, I’m not sure how much better or worse this movie is than its two predecessors, quite honestly (though it’s clearly not in the same league as the original). It is meant to be nothing more than summer fun and yet its entertainment value is hampered by the missteps that keep it from ever getting traction. The end result is decent enough but not overwhelmingly enjoyable as it could have been.

Grade: B-

Pointless love stories are my nemesis,

Care for a second opinion? Check out Marshall and the Movies slightly less positive take.

Movie News Today

Den Of Geek gives us some of Hollywood's most interesting flops from the past 25 years. Always love these kinds of posts.

The sequel to 2009's smash hit "Star Trek" may get pushed from its late June (2012) release date back to December. This movie has seen quite a few delays to this point so, as much as I'd like to see it in the summer so that I can fully dedicate December 2012 to "The Hobbit," getting it right is much more important. Take your time.

Vin Diesel and I have something in common: we're apparently the only members of the Riddick fan club. "Pitch Black" is a sci-fi horror homage of great value and I actually really like "Chronicles of Riddick" which is definitely not a favorite among most movie buffs. Diesel said today that the third film in this series will begin production in the summer. I'm totally in.

Toby Jones and (wait, what?) Lenny Kravitz have been added to the cast of "The Hunger Games." Really with the Lenny Kravtiz nonsense? Foolish, in my opinion, to take a cast of relatively unknown, young actors and add in a rock star for good measure. Blerg.

And finally, please enjoy the following trailer which is maybe the best one in recent memory. Genius. Just genius.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

I Am Number Four (2011) - Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Timothy Olyphant
A refugee alien (Pettyfer) comes to earth only to find that his former jailers have followed him. Obviously I'm a sci-fi nerd so I'll be seeing this soon I'm sure but I know it's terrible. It's easily one of the worst reviewed movies of the year. Too bad as it's got a solid pedigree (director DJ Caruso has flashes of brilliance) but I guess there's only so much Olyphant can do to make up for bad scripts.

Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) - James McAvoy, Emily Blunt
The retelling of the Shakespearean classic from the point of view of garden gnomes from rival yards. Is it weird that I actually want to see this? I can't explain why but I admit I laughed a bit during the trailers. I may check this out this week, too.

A Small Act (2010)
This documentary centers around a Swedish woman who sponsored the entire education of a Kenyan boy through one of those 25 cent a day programs. As a result, the boy goes on to track her down to thank her and starts his own scholarship program in her honor. Ebert was very complimentary of this film and I generally fall in line with him on this sort of thing. It's also available on Netflix Instant and I'll be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.

New to Blu
Gettysburg (1993) - Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang
Gods and Generals (2003) - Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall
Platoon (1986) - Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe
The Great Dictator (1940) - Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Papillon (1973) - Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blu Ray Review - "The Way Back"

In 1941, a small group of prisoners escape from a Soviet gulag with the intention of making it to freedom across the Mongolian border. Led by a falsely imprisoned Pole named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) and an American soldier known only as Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), the crew braves the treacherous Siberian weather and battles starvation before reaching the lake they plan to follow to salvation. Along the way they add a member to their group, a "gypsy" girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan) who raises the spirits of the men and proves to be a hardy survivalist. Upon reaching the border, their celebrations are cut short when they realize that Mongolia, too, has come under the influence of Communism. With few choices, Janusz leads his friends further overland in an attempt to make it to India, some 4,000 miles from where they originally started.

With a great cast and a compelling storyline, "The Way Back" should be a lot better than it is. The performances are all admirable if underwhelming and each actor holds his own within what they're given to work with. Harris is a calming influence over the whole film, Sturgess is good as the quiet-yet-strong man with the plan, and Ronan sufficiently provides a little bit of sunshine to the darkness. The cinematography is INCREDIBLE. From the Siberian forests to the Gobi desert, the landscape shots are plentiful and magnificent, perfectly embodying the vast and desolate settings the group continually finds themselves in.

Yet for all its merits, "The Way Back" is surprisingly void of emotion or at least it was for me. I liked all the characters and wanted them to survive (naturally) but it wasn't painful to watch them struggle or inevitably succumb to nature. Director Peter Weir simply tells a story rather than pulling you into the narrative and the movie suffers drastically because of this. You get the feeling that there was so much to this story (which is based on a supposedly non-fiction book) that Weir and his writing partners had to trim a lot of fat to bring the runtime down and in doing so, they cut out all connection and exposition. It's like reading a rather long magazine article on these events rather than taking in an epic, two hour story of survival. "The Way Back" is still worth a viewing and I certainly didn't hate my life while watching, but it is a case of what you get when "what could have been" is a great deal more than "what actually is."

Grade: B-

Movie News Today

Still haven't gotten my posts back or a response from Blogger. I'm a bit pissed. I backup all my longer posts but DVD Reviews and Movie News columns are exclusive to Blogger. Good to see my trust was in the right place. In any event, the show must go on, I guess, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was considering a move to Wordpress or something similar. We'll see what happens. Sorry for missing a week in your lives, hope you guys have stuck it out with me.

Christopher Nolan has added Matthew Modine to the cast of "The Dark Knight Rises." Not sure what Modine has been up to recently but Nolan is gold: if he casts you, you're right for the part.

Vin Diesel will produce and star in "The Machine," which sounds a bit like "Soldier" crossed with "E.T." I'm a huge (if slightly ashamed) Diesel fan so even though I'm sure this will be awful, I'll probably see it.

The Independent and Johnny Depp discuss Captain Jack Sparrow.

A Life in Equinox writes about 5 actors who deserve better roles. I completely concur on four of them but could care less about Toni Collette. Good read!

Richard over at Celluloid Zombie delivers an AWESOME list of the top 10 best fight scenes. I. Love. This. List.

My friend over at Marshall and the Movies is back with a review of "Bridesmaids."

"Titanic" will be re-released in 3D in April of next year. It's possible that I hate "Titanic" more than any other "good" movie that's ever been made. I'm not sure, I haven't put together a ranking, but I hate it an awful lot. Maybe the apocalypse guy was off by 10 months or so and it'll take place before this gets released. Blerg.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - $90.1 million
2. "Bridesmaids" - $21.1 ($59.52 million total)
3. "Thor" - $15.5 ($145.41)
4. "Fast Five" - $10.63 ($186.22)
5. "Rio" - $4.65 ($131.65)
6. "Priest" - $4.6 ($23.68)
7. "Jumping the Broom" - $3.7 ($31.32)
8. "Something Borrowed" - $3.45 (31.43)
9. "Water for Elephants" - $2.15 ($52.43)
10. "Tyler Perry's No One Who's Smart Cares" - $990k ($51.76)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Grrr Blogger

Contrary to popular belief, I haven't suffered some Tarantino-esque fate. Like many of you out there, I was seriously messed over by Blogger's recent technical issue. Though they continue to tell me that "almost all posts have been restored," all of mine, including a couple of reviews that I had canned and unpublished, have yet to reappear. I am hesitant to put any time into this until I'm sure as to whether my posts will be coming back or not. I guess I'll probably start again next week regardless of what happens but I'm trying to give Blogger time to get this mess squared away. From a blogging standpoint, the only thing more frustrating than losing content would be re-writing said content only to have it reappear the next day. So please forgive the quiet of the last week.

Some Brief Reviews since it kind of kills me these days to see a movie without writing about them:

"Restrepo" - Wow. Just...wow. Kind of glad that my review got wiped away, honestly, because I struggled coming up with words to summarize this documentary and feel I can do better the second time around. Tough viewing.

"Get Low" - Good performances and a cool story but "slow" is an understatement. Just not a whole lot happens. Grade: B

"Bridesmaids" - The female "Hangover" had me laughing as hard if not harder than virtually any movie of the last few years. Kristen Wiig is outstanding. A few extended scenes that should have been shortened and a missed plot point here and there held it back for me but only slightly. Grade: B+

"The Way Back" - During WWII, a group of prisoners in a Siberian gulag walk over 4,000 miles to freedom in India. Solid acting and an interesting story but the virtual lack of anything resembling emotional connection really keeps it from reaching its potential. Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


For me, the beginning of summer isn’t signified by the length of daylight or the end of the school year since that has zero impact on me these days. It’s certainly not a change in the weather. I live in Texas; it’s been hot enough to count as summer for a month. No, the beginning of summer is fluid; it changes year-to-year and it’s based on one thing and one thing alone: when does the first real summer blockbuster open? With that in mind, dear readers, let me officially tell you it’s time to break out the flip flops and swimsuits, crank up the AC, and fire up the grill. “Thor” is here and it’s brought summer with it.

The son of the great Norse god Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an arrogant, brutish king-in-waiting within the kingdom of Asgard. Already strong, Thor is emboldened by the power of a mighty hammer with which he seeks war and destruction. After inciting a battle with an ancient foe (frost giants), Thor is stripped of his power and banished to earth along with the hammer he so cherishes. Stumbling through a dark New Mexico desert, Thor is struck by a van carrying scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her pair of companions (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who take him in and help him acclimate to his new surroundings. After failing to remove the hammer from its resting place (while it is being watched and examined by our old friends S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that pops up throughout the Marvel universe), Thor resigns himself to a mortal life. At the same time, however, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the throne in Asgard and given into his darker nature, causing a ton of trouble that only Thor can stop.

There is an awful lot to like about “Thor.” Kenneth Branagh seemed an odd choice to direct such an FX-heavy, comic book flick. I mean, I love Stan Lee but he’s no Shakespeare. Surprisingly, Branagh seems a natural. The scene structure, backgrounds, and cinematography are all brilliant, not to mention the stunning special effects which are truly awesome. Branagh (and a host of screenwriters) also does an excellent job of giving us the basic information about Thor and the world he lives in without bogging the film down in an extensive origin story. There are a lot of nerds out there who have grown weary of origin films and while I’m not sure I’m in that camp, I can understand the discontent. What you get here is really a crash course in the mythology of one of Marvel’s lesser known superstars. (I know several people who only knew of Thor as he relates to “Adventures in Babysitting.”) There’s no doubt “Thor” is a setup for sequels and “The Avengers” movie next year, and at times that thinness shows through, but for the most part that’s easy to overlook and a light hearted, brighter superhero movie is kind of refreshing these days.

From an acting standpoint, I think “Thor” comes down directly to the writing. Some of the actors were given good source material to work with and their characters shine through. Some were not and these characters are flat and underdeveloped. Hemsworth embodies the attitude, physique, and behavior of Thor magnificently. Much like Robert Downey, Jr. was the perfect choice to play Tony Stark, Hemsworth gives you the impression that he is Thor in a way. He seems comfortable in what amounts to his first leading role and the film feeds off of his confidence. Hopkins, meanwhile, gives a performance that temporarily makes you forget the laughable career choices he’s made over the past decade. He even has a few moments that harken back to his former glory wherein he commands your attention. I honestly can’t remember the last time he was able to do that. Skarsgard and Clark Gregg (reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson) also chime in with flair and Skarsgard even shows a hint of comedic timing. And as the gatekeeper who makes it possible for the Asgardians to cross into their other realms, Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in. I would watch an entire movie just about that guy.

On the flip side, the rest of the supporting cast is seriously hamstrung by corny dialogue and weak plot points. Loki, for one, is poorly developed. His mischievous nature and fascination with the gray parts of morality is more stated than illustrated which takes away from his impact. Hiddleston does an admirable job but the character is just too threadbare to allow for much surprise when he does turn the corner toward evil. Thor’s warriors (led by Ray Stevenson) are all horribly cliché and left me wincing more than once. Likewise, as an intern to Dr. Foster, Dennings is neither humorous nor relevant to the film in any way. She could have been cut out without “Thor” missing a beat. Personally, I’ve yet to enjoy Dennings in anything. I don’t get her appeal and this character did nothing to enhance that view.

More importantly, Portman’s Dr. Foster is an extremely monotone, one dimensional character. Unlike her intern, Foster is important to both this film and the inevitable sequels and yet Portman is given next to nothing to work with which I don’t understand on any level. If you’re going to write a throwaway female character, then save some money and cast Megan Fox or someone similar. In no way am I saying I want to see someone like Fox playing a genius scientist (remember Denise Richards in “The World Is Not Enough”?). I’m just saying it doesn’t make sense to cast someone as talented as Portman and give her a mindless character that borders on damsel-in-distress foolishness. This simply isn’t a well-rounded script and in no area is that on display more than in the shallow love story shared by Thor and Foster. The pair knows each other for approximately 48 hours before Thor goes off to save the world and yet somehow their connection somehow transcends the vast universe. Weaksauce.

I don’t wish to sound overly critical of “Thor.” For the most part, it is a great deal of fun and a more than solid introduction to the hero himself and continuation of the “Avengers” series. I just wanted a little more from the story and more quality material for the outstanding cast to work within. Still, “Thor” is at times magical and gives Hemsworth a chance to literally burst into the mainstream consciousness. And if nothing else, it is exactly the type of movie you crave to jumpstart the summer and get this year’s movie calendar moving in the right direction.

Grade: B+

I can’t be alone in my dislike of Kat Dennings,

NOTE: If you’re a true nerd, make sure you stay through the ending credits for a sneak peak of things to come.

Care for another take? Check out Movie Muse's eerily similar opinion. (Every once in a while it's nice to link to someone who just about agrees with me.)

Movie News Today

Woody Harrelson has completed the cast of "The Hunger Games" and will play Haymitch, the mentor for our two heroes. I've been racking my brain for weeks trying to come up with the right guy for Haymitch and I can't think of anyone better than Harrelson.

"Men in Black" director Barry Sonnenfeld is looking to adapt a graphic novel that pits dinosaurs against aliens. That seems like a really strange concept but Sonnenfeld is one of the best at creating fun, quirky atmospheres. Could be cool.

Kiefer Sutherland has joined the cast of "Sleight of Hand," a heist thriller. Jack Bauer in a heist flick? Yes please!

The AV Club interviews the GREAT Garret Dillahunt and discusses his eclectic career.

M. Carter reviews and destroys "Something Borrowed." Hopefully this will help many of you make the right decision and skip this sucker.

New DVD Tuesday

No Strings Attached (2011) - Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher
Two best friends (Portman and Kutcher) enter into a simple, commitment free relationship that turns out to be far more complex than they ever dreamed. I saw some positive reviews but most fell into the "meh" category. I can't take Kutcher seriously, anyway.

Blue Valentine (2010) - Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
A couple's happy past and depressing present are compared and contrasted throughout a film that a LOT of people really loved. So basically the exact opposite of "No Strings Attached." I've been in a really good mood lately so I'm not sure I'll take in this buzz kill anytime soon but it will find its way into my DVD player at some point.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011)

New to Blu
Alien (1979) - Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt
This one belongs on the Mount Rushmore of sci-fi films. True classic and a game changer. And maybe its most important legacy is the diner scene in "Spaceballs." I'm only half kidding.

Aliens (1986) - Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn
The rare sequel that MIGHT be better than the original. (Very similar to the "Godfather"/"Godfather 2" debate.) I'm going to be honest. I watched all of the "Alien" movies basically back-to-back-to-back-to-back a couple of years ago because I'd never seen them all the way through. And because of that, they all kind of blend together. I may have to reacquaint myself.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Equilibrium (2002) - Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Sean Bean
A mix of "The Matrix" and "Fahrenheit 451," Bale plays a law enforcer in a futuristic society that has banned emotion, art, music, etc. He also happens to be able to go Keanu on you in a fight. A very cool, underrated sci-fi flick that not a lot of people have seen. Highly recommended.

Also New
Black Death (2010) - Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne (I'd be okay with my life is Sean Bean just never played a character that didn't have him wielding a sword. So awesome.)
The Illusionist (2010)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Movie News Today

Charlie Hunnam has signed on to star in Guillermo Del Toro's sea monster adventure "Pacific Rim." Love this. Hunnam is excellent in "Sons of Anarchy" which might just be the best show on TV.

Michael Cera will join "Magic, Magic," an indie drama that I don't know much about. I hope, though, that it's an actual drama, not a dramadey. I think it's time to see if Cera has anything else in his bag beyond the quirky, funny, underdog that he's played in basically every role.

"The Hunger Games" cast nears completion with the casting of Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickerman. Excellent choice for my money.

Cinema Slants takes down the ridiculousness that is Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" remake. Awful film. AWFUL.

Yesterday I linked to the A Life in Movies project hosted by Fandango Groovers. Here are a couple of my favorite beyond those which have already been linked. Enjoy. Movie Reviews by Tom Clift, Gman Reviews, and I Luv Cinema.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Movie News Today

Michael Fassbender continues his run as one of Hollywood's hottest names, having entered into talks to join Danny Boyle's newest project, "Trance."

Matt Damon may star and debut as director for "Father Daughter Time." It's about time he stepped behind the camera. Slacker.

A week or two ago, I was pretty intrigued by the idea of a Tarantino spaghetti western. That intrigue has been redoubled by the news that Tarantino is after Will Smith to star.

Steven Spielberg is working on the completion of the cast for his upcoming Abraham Lincoln biopic and what a cast it is: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, John Hawkes, and many more. Wow.

Celluloid Zombie reposts a column he did a year ago to honor Star Wars Day. I'm always happy to pass along a "Star Wars" link even if it is a repost!

Fandango Groovers Movie Blog presents A Life in Movies. Very cool. Check it out.

Weekend Box Office Results
Big money for "Thor" but maybe not quite what was expected. My midnight showing was about half empty. I did love, however, how at least one national media outlet reported that this movie, "beat out Mel Gibson" for the weekend lead. Really? Considering "The Beaver" was extremely limited and obviously nowhere near the top 10, maybe it's a little much to say "Thor" "edged it out." Dumb. Also, my thoughts on the "Hoodwinked" sequel being completely and totally unnecessary and unwanted were clearly true. Epic failure.

1. "Thor" - $66 million
2. "Fast Five" - $32.52 ($139.85 million total)
3. "Jumping the Broom" - $13.7
4. "Something Borrowed" - $13.16
5. "Rio" - $8.2 ($114.9)
6. "Water for Elephants" - $5.6 ($41.61)
7. "Tyler Perry's Whatever" - $3.9 ($46.81)
8. "Prom" - $2.43 ($7.8)
9. "Soul Surfer" - $2.1 ($36.68)
10. "Hoodwinked Too!" - $1.88 ($6.71)

A Life In Movies

Fandango Groovers Movie Blog is hosting an event called "A Life in Movies" this weekend. The idea is to list your favorite film from each year of your life. This is my entry and I encourage you all to head over to Groovers and check out the full project. Some pretty cool lists out there.

1983 - "Return of the Jedi" - Easiest choice on the list. If I'd been alive in 1977 or 1980, "Star Wars" and "Empire" would top those years as well.

1984 - "Ghostbusters" - Not a great year for movies all around but "Ghostbusters" is still a comedic classic and probably has my favorite Bill Murray performance.

1985 - "The Goonies" - Tough call between "Goonies" and "Back to the Future" but I had to go with my heart. Goonies R Good Enough, after all.

1986 - "Stand by Me" - The quintessential coming of age film in my opinion.

1987 - "The Untouchables" - Sure, it's a bit over the top at times but "Untouchables" has two or three of my all time favorite scenes. The train station shootout...amazing.

1988 - "Die Hard" - Greatest action movie ever. 'Nuff said.

1989 - "When Harry Met Sally" - Debated between this and "Batman." In the end, "WHMS" is my favorite romance ever and "Batman" is slightly overshadowed by "Dark Knight."

1990 - "Home Alone" - The most quotable film of my lifetime until "Anchorman."

1991 - "Terminator 2" - Not a lot of choices for '91 but this is definitely one of the best sci-fi action movies ever. Arnie's best?

1992 - "Patriot Games" - There's just something awesome about Harrison Ford and Sean Bean trying to kill each other.

1993 - "Jurassic Park" and "Tombstone" - This was a "Sophie's Choice" situation that I just couldn't handle. Both of these are in my top 10 favorite movies ever. I can't choose and you can't make me.

1994 - "The Shawshank Redemption" - There are some GREAT movies from 1994 ("Forrest Gump" is not one of them, by the way) but "Shawshank" is my continual choice for "Best Movie Of All Time" and I imagine I will argue that to my grave.

1995 - "Heat" - Tough three way race here between "Heat," "Braveheart," and "Toy Story." "Heat" is almost a perfect movie, though, hard to go against.

1996 - "Independence Day" - Hey, this list is "favorite movies" not "best movies." This was the first real summer blockbuster that I was a part of.

1997 - "LA Confidential" - Noir classic that's exceedingly rewatchable.

1998 - "Saving Private Ryan" - Best war movie ever in my book. Each viewing brings me a new respect for this film and a renewed hatred for "Shakespeare in Love."

1999 - "Office Space" - A cult classic and one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

2000 - "Almost Famous" - Gets almost no love anymore but very few movies make me happier than "AF." Top 10 favorite movie. Simply glorious.

2001 - "Ocean's 11" - I would wager that since I started purchasing DVDs about a decade ago, I haven't watched any movie as many times as I have "O11."

2002 - "Signs" - Totally underrated film that I still argue about with friends and family.

2003 - "Lord of the Rings" - I'm combining all three chapters of LOTR because really, they're all one giant, epic film, and anyway it wouldn't have been fun to list "Fellowship" in '01, "Towers" in '02, and "King" in '03, which is what I'd have to do otherwise.

2004 - "Anchorman" - Tough call between this and "The Incredibles," I just couldn't make a list of favorite movies without listing "Anchorman." The most rewatchable film of the decade.

2005 - "Serenity" - Sci-fi nerdiness aside, "Serenity" would be a really good action-comedy in its own right. Then you add in the "Firefly" mythos...so good.

2006 - "Casino Royale" - Not my favorite year in film but "Casino Royale" will always hold a special place in my heart for reinvigorating a stale James Bond series. Second place goes to "The Departed."

2007 - "Into the Wild" - Based upon what is probably my favorite non-fiction book, "Into the Wild" manages to crush me every time I watch it. Honorable mention to "No Country For Old Men," the Coen's masterpiece.

2008 - "Dark Knight" - Greatest superhero movie of all time.

2009 - "It Might Get Loud" - The only documentary to make the list, I am completely enthralled by "Loud" every time I watch. It just doesn't get much better than Jack White and Jimmy Page in the same room. Could have gone with "Star Trek" here, too, though.

2010 - "Inception" -  I don't think I will ever forget the feeling I had after seeing "Inception" for the first time. Complete and total genius.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Thor" - Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
A brash Norse god (Hemsworth) is punished with a banishment to earth, where he falls in love with a scientist (Portman) and ultimately engages in a battle to save us all. I'm really stoked for "Thor." How stoked? By the time you read this I will have already seen it. This is the official kickoff of summer for me, which means midnight showings and gatherings with all my nerds. STOKED.

"Something Borrowed" - Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, John Krasinski
An often walked-upon twentysomething (Goodwin) begins to discover her backbone when she falls for the fiance of her best friend (Hudson). I'm not the audience here so I'll not cast stones, other than to say, "Really, John? Really? You couldn't find anything better to do with your yearly time off from "The Office" than this? Come on, man."

"Jumping the Broom" - Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Angela Bassett
Two black families are brought contentiously together through a wedding. Again, I'm not the audience. The trailer was terrifyingly awful.

"The Beaver" - Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence (Limited)
An angry and depressed man (Gibson), having been essentially shunned by his family, finds a stuffed beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and begins using the beaver as a means to communicate. I find myself more and more interested in this movie. Despite his MANY short comings, I am, at the end of the day, a Gibson fan and since this is probably his last chance to turn himself around, I'm truly intrigued as to how this turns out. It's limited so I probably won't see it for a while but I'm hoping for good things.

"Last Night" - Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes (Limited)
A couple's relationship is put to the test when the man (Worthington) goes on a business trip with an attractive colleague (Mendes) while his wife (Knightley) comes in contact with an ex. Not interested in the movie itself but I will be paying attention to reviews concerning how Worthington goes in his first non-action movie since breaking out.

"Hobo with a Shotgun" - Rutger Hauer (Limited)
The title kind of says it all. "Hobo" has been getting a lot of buzz but it seems to be the kind of buzz that usually surrounds a movie that will achieve "cult" status not necessarily "good" status.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

HBO Special - "Bram Stoker's Dracula"

A supposedly-accurate retelling of the literary classic, "Dracula" begins with the creation of the great vampire (Gary Oldman) himself and the events which led to his decision. Some years later, a young law clerk named Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent to Dracula's Translyvanian estate to investigate the man who has bough up a chunk of property in London. Dracula soon realizes that Harker's fiance, Mina, is the reincarnation of his lost love. Imprisoning Harker, Dracula makes haste to London where he first bites and enslaves Mina's best friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost), drawing upon her life and making himself appear young again, a trait which allows him to seduce Mina. All of these strange events draw the attention of Doctor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), who soon realizes that the king of all vampires is on the loose and setting the stage for a dramatic battle between good and evil.

I found "Dracula" to be a bit of a roller coaster. There are some truly inspired moments and then some that completely fall flat. The very idea of Gary Oldman as a classic villain is, of course, magnificent and Oldman holds up his end of the bargain. If there's a better actor than Oldman, I don't know who it is. His Dracula is menacing but alluring, a perfect balance for the role. Likewise, director Francis Ford Coppola creates a dark, tension-filled atmosphere for his characters to work within and that suits "Dracula" well. The shot selection and scene setting is excellent, even if the scenes don't always flow together brilliantly. There's also a natural vein of fear that runs through this movie and I imagine some of the scenes would be quite scary if I was viewing in a dark theater instead of my home TV during the middle of the day. And I, for one, felt the film's open ended conclusion is glorious and fitting, a point I know other viewers might dispute.

On the down side, "Dracula" suffers from 80s hangover wherein it occasionally falls into unnecessary moments of over-the-top absurdity. Some of the more "frightening" moments are hindered by ridiculous, cliche dialogue and some of the special effects seem like they belong in a Stephen King made-for-TV movie, not a $50 million dollar horror epic. There's also a scene or two that I understand are based upon the novel but probably should have been left on the book stand. And then we come to Keanu Reeves. Good gracious. What an incredible drain he is on this movie. Every time he spoke I felt myself slip closer and closer to a coma and was only revived by Oldman ripping the place apart with awesomeness. Reeves has a place in Hollywood (see: "Matrix" and "Bill and Ted's") but this isn't it. He is horribly miscast and the only saving grace concerning this decision is that his role is fairly limited; otherwise, I'm not sure I could have made it through. Just...I mean...what were you thinking, FFC?! Painful. These missteps don't completely overshadow an excellent performance from Oldman or the glorious, appealingly dark overtones of "Dracula" as a whole but they do take away from the overall impact and left me wanting more.

Grade: B

Movie News Today

Forgive the brevity. I spent the evening at an engagement party and only just calmed down from a GLORIOUS Mavericks win over the hated Lakers. I'm whipped.

Danny Boyle's next film will be an art heist movie called "Trance." Absolutely in, no questions asked.

Bradley Cooper will play the Lucifer role in an adaptation of Milton's classic "Paradise Lost."

The "Star Wars" films will debut on Blu Ray in September and today Lucas released details of the box set. I'm still unsure if I'll buy or not and it pisses me off that Lucas won't put both the special edition and the original version into this set. We all know they'll both hit Blu Ray eventually, why give me cause for concern as to whether to buy or not? Stupid. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Fast Five"

I went into “Fast Five” in the company of two guys who had never seen any of the previous films in the series. After giving them a brief primer on the extensive storyline that they were about to walk into, we sat down for what proved to be a gloriously absurd open that fits beautifully. Only a minute or two in, one of my friends gave me the, “that’s not possible” look and began to register an appropriate complaint. I quickly cut him off and said simply, “Either set your sense of reality aside for the next two hours or leave right now.” He obliged and darnit if he didn’t have himself a stinking good time. And that’s the key to “Fast Five” or any action film like it: either get on board for the fast paced ridiculousness that’s about to unfold or stay out of its path altogether. If you do that, you’re almost bound to enjoy yourself because man, this movie is a blast.

Starting where its predecessor left off, “Fast Five” opens on Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) breaking Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of a prison bus and immediately going on the run to Rio De Janeiro. Soon the trio has joined a crew undertaking a risky heist at the behest of Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a crime boss with a vast influence in Brazil. Inevitably, the job goes awry and garners the attention of the American feds who send special agent Hobbs (The Rock) and his team to track our heroes down. While being pursued by both Reyes and Hobbs, O’Connor and the Torettos assemble a crack team of fellow thieves to take on a huge job which has very little chance of success.

At times “Fast Five” plays out more like a sequel to “The Italian Job” than another entry in the “FF” series. The fact that it’s set in Brazil only adds to that “Italian Job” feel. (For the uninitiated, the oft-rumored, oft-denied “Italian Job” sequel was supposed to be set in Brazil and would be titled, obviously, “The Brazilian Job.”) There are far fewer car races and chases than in the other “FF” movies and much more attention is made to the story element, something that this franchise has been known to ignore at times in the past. “Fast Five” is a heist movie first, car movie second and for me, the combination works. It isn’t a great story, mind you; rather, it’s not a perfectly executed story. There are an ABUNDANCE of plot holes that are covered over by one character or another saying something to the effect of, “Just trust me” or “You don’t want to know.” The first time this happened I was annoyed but the subsequent instances just added to the “yes, we know this is ridiculous” vibe that the entire movie (and really the entire franchise) relishes in. “Fast Five” embraces the spirit of “Italian Job” and the “Ocean’s” movies but lacks some of the wit and intelligence that those films displayed.

On the flip side, whereas those movies tread lightly (relatively speaking) on the more ridiculous elements of their storylines, “Fast Five” throws the throttle back and runs right through all rules of realism. In short, I feel like the makers of “Italian Job” would have you believe that most of the events of that movie could happen whereas the geniuses behind “Fast Five” want to make sure you know that they know that none of this could ever happen. This fact gives the viewer complete freedom to ignore the laws of physics and gravity and simply enjoy the ride. I, for one, really appreciate this because the action sequences are dynamic and wholly entertaining and it would be a shame to take away from these with the restrictions of reality. The final sequence alone is one of the most insane, ridiculous, and deliciously satisfying action scenes I’ve ever seen and demonstrates exactly why director Justin Lin is fast becoming a go-to guy in the industry.

Performance wise, “Fast Five” gives you exactly what you expect. Walker is kind of an awful actor in my book but he fits O’Conner well, a quality that allows him a comfort zone wherein you don’t notice how bad he sucks (like Keanu Reeves with Ted Logan). Diesel, meanwhile, is his usual menacing, baller self. I’m a big fan of Diesel and if I’m being honest, I would wish for him more meaningful roles that Dom Toretto. But at the end of the day, you have to take what work you can get and if he’s not going to get superstar roles, I would much prefer to see Diesel at his cool and head-cracking best here than in “Babylon A.D.” or the like. In an action movie, the next best thing to hiring great actors is hiring actors who have great chemistry and this cast has that in bunches. The supporting actors, including Tyrese Gibson and Chris (Ludacris) Bridges, all work seamlessly within the framework of the movie. In all honesty, The Rock is the only actor who doesn’t quite fit in with the others, at least in the beginning. Granted, he is given next to nothing to work with from a dialogue standpoint. But while Diesel and Walker thrive in the tongue-in-cheek, fun atmosphere that Lin creates, The Rock struggles mightily to find his tone. He seems to take his role too seriously and as a result, his lines are painfully flat. As the movie progresses, he works his way into a groove but seriously, some of his early scenes are ROUGH.

As I said in the opening paragraph, chances are your level of enjoyment when it comes to “Fast Five” will depend directly on your ability (see: “willingness”) to ignore that nagging voice that says, “you can’t jump out of a fast moving car into a river 100 feet below and live to tell the tale.” Again I say, if you can’t do that, there are other movies for you to see. I myself, though, had no qualms about leaving the baggage of reality at the door and what a rockin’ awesome time I had because of it. The heist plotline, even if it is done a bit shoddily, adds an exciting element to “Fast Five” and makes it perhaps the best of the franchise.

Grade: B+

Vin Diesel has to be the best stage name ever,

Monday, May 2, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

The Green Hornet (2011) - Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz
The year's first superhero film follows a slacker heir (Rogen) to a vast media empire who suddenly begins to take life (somewhat) seriously after the murder of his father. For all its faults, I quite enjoyed "Green Hornet", a sentiment almost nobody shares with me. I'm not much of a Rogen fan but I he did a good-enough job bridging the gap between stoner and unconventional superhero and there were some really funny moments throughout. Worth a rental, anyway.

The Dilemma (2011) - Vince Vaughn, Kevin James
A Chicago businessman (Vaughn) discovers that the wife of his best friend and business partner (James) is cheating on him. I guess the rest of the film revolves around the guy struggling over whether to tell his pal or not. Answer: yes, you tell your pal. Movie over.

Boy Meets World: Season Five (1997) - Ben Savage, Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong
Very, very few things in this world make me happier than BMW. It is THE defining TV show of my childhood (and maybe my life). I love it and I'm so glad Disney has gotten on board with FINALLY putting this show on DVD.

New to Blu
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) - George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Salma Hayek
What Dreams May Come (1998) - Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Annabella Sciorra
Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe
H20 (1998) - Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J
Taps (1981) - Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise, George C. Scott
All the Right Moves (1983) - Tom Cruise, Lea Thompson, Craig T. Nelson

Also New
From Prada to Nada (2011) - Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega
According to Jim: Season 3 (2003) - James Belushi, Courtney Thorne-Smith

Movie News Today

Chris Hemsworth is the latest big name to be rumored for the lead male role in "Snow White and the Huntsman."  I promise this will be the last time I write anything about this movie until it actually comes out.

Guy Pearce, who is rapidly rising up my list of favorites, has officially joined "Prometheus," the sci-fi thriller that started out as an "Alien" prequel. Good on ya.

Given the news of yesterday, I'm quite interested to see what happens with "Kill Bin Laden," the Kathryn Bigelow ("Hurt Locker") project which just entered pre-production and centers around a special force unit that is tasked with, you guessed it, killing Bin Laden.

Both Film Girl Interrupted and Big Thoughts From a Small Mind have posted their entries for Fandango Groovers Movie Blog's "A Life in Film" series. I'll also be participating in this series and both of these lists are quite good.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blu Ray Review - "Faster"

Immediately following his release from prison, a convict (The Rock) known only as "Driver" walks into an office building and shoots a cubicle-dwelling employee (Courtney Gains). When a detective named Cicero (Carla Gugino) and an aging officer referred to as "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton) pick up the case, they soon discover that Driver was once the driver (shocking, I know) for a crew led by his brother (Matt Gerald). After their last heist, which put Driver in jail, they were ambushed by another group who stole their ill-gotten goods, slit the brother's throat, and put a bullet in the back of Driver's head, an injury from which he miraculously lived through. Now armed with a list of all those involved with his brother's death, Driver is out for vengeance, two steps ahead of the cops and only one step ahead of a hired killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) intent on bringing him down.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of The Rock. I'm learning, however, that my dislike for the guy has more to do with the roles that he gets shoehorned into. If he's asked to be just an action star, I can dig him. If he's asked to make me laugh, however, I want out immediately. So in essence, "Faster" is the perfect movie for him. I mean, his character doesn't even have a name! How could he not excel in that setting? The result is a perfectly reasonable, "It's late and I still have some work to do and I've already watched Sportscenter twice so I'll watch this" action movie. I actually enjoyed it and I didn't really expect to. It's absurd, of course, and contains a fair number of action movie cliches that were beaten into the ground long before 2010 rolled around. But as far as action sequences go, "Faster" brings the goods and even implements a few unexpected touches (Killer, in particular, is a cool concept in theory) that add to the experience.

What keeps this from being a "B" or "B-" in my book is the use of the aforementioned Killer. An exceedingly interesting character who has made billions in the technology industry and takes only $1 for each of his hits, Killer is never developed properly. He and his girlfriend, Lily (Maggie Grace), take up a prominent side plot in "Faster" but ultimately do nothing but allow time for Driver to get from one victim to the next, like a bad "SNL" bit that sits between two elaborate (and better) sketches. I was left to want either more or less of Killer; either leave him in the shadows and allow him to stay a mysterious figure or fully flesh out his character in a manner that is more fitting of his potential awesomeness. Instead we get the middle ground which was a real bummer for me. Still, though, if you're looking for an adrenaline-filled 98 minutes, you could do a lot worse than "Faster."

Grade: C+

Movie News Today

Quentin Tarantino's next film will be "Django Unchained," an homage to the spaghetti western. Um, yes.

Lee Pace has joined the cast of "The Hobbit" and will play the Elven King. Potentially great casting here. Pace was excellent in the short lived "Pushing Daisies" series.

David Koepp, writer of "Jurassic Park" among several other great scripts, is taking a crack at the newest Jack Ryan screenplay. Koepp is at least the sixth writer involved with the project. So...good luck with all that.

Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob looks back on the directorial career of the great Frank Oz.

StarWars.com has a rolling countdown to May 4th, when Lucas will release the details for the Blu Ray release of my favorite film series. Just a little over two days until I find out exactly what I'll be getting in my pre-order. Please don't betray me again, George...

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Fast Five" - $83.63
2. "Rio" - $14.4 ($103.63 million total)
3. Tyler Perry Crapfest of the Quarter - $10.05 ($41.08)
4. "Water for Elephants" - $9.13 ($32.62)
5. "Prom" - $5
6. "Hoodwinked Too!" - $4.14
7. "Soul Surfer" - $3.3 ($33.78)
8. "Insidious" - $2.69 ($48.31)
9. "Hop" - $2.56 ($105.28)
10. "Source Code" - $2.53 ($48.91)