Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2011 Part II

Every year in January, I write a column pinpointing the 10 films I'm most looking forward to in the next 12 months. This year I changed it up and split the column into January through June and July through December. This was done in part because after the abortion that was the 2010 movie calendar, I was overly excited about pretty much everything that was to open this year and in part because in January, no one really knows for sure what Award Season will bring. I'm certain there will be a "King's Speech" somewhere along the line, an indie-type film I hadn't really heard of comes along late and sets the world on fire so this list is far from the authority. But still, I know much more about what to expect from the latter months now, at the end of June, than I did at the beginning of January. So without further adieu, and bearing in mind my propensity for getting worked up over sci-fi, superheroes, and general nerdery, I give you my top 10 most anticipated films for the rest of the year.

Honorable Mention:
Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22) - Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
Despite the fact that it doesn't quite crack the Top Ten, I'll definitely be in line at midnight for the "Captain" and I'm digging the visuals in the trailer. Not sure I trust Evans, though.

Another Earth (July 22) - Brit Marling, William Mapother
High concept sci-fi mixed with a tragic love story. I've been back and forth on what my level of interest is here but I saw a trailer earlier this week and my interest is supremely piqued. Doesn't make the list because it'll probably be limited which means I won't see it until February. Blerg.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 23) - Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer
Could be the biggest hit of the season though it's always hard to tell with an R rated film. The book is excellent; an incredible read and a smashing success that just about every human read. That said, however, the book was disturbingly heavy for me. After finishing, I wanted to begin the sequel immediately but my mind needed a break. That break has now lasted six months and approximately ten books. Can't imagine that the film will be any less engrossing and disturbing.

10. Apollo 18 (September 2)
A fauxumentary (don't like calling these films mockumentaries as they're not funny and therefore not mocking) in the vein of "Blair Witch Project" that focuses on the Apollo 18 mission to the moon that didn't happen but for the sake of this movie did happen and the crew was attacked by aliens. I'm really enjoying this run of low budget, high concept sci-fi films that we're getting these days as a result of the success of films like "District 9." Totally in for this.

9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (December 16) - Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner
Look, I know I probably shouldn't be excited about a fourth "Mission Impossible" film but the trailer has reignited the odd affection I have for this franchise (except the second one which deserves to have all copies rounded up and burned "Fahrenheit 451" style). They're ridiculous, of course, but they're fun and relatively intelligent while being ridiculous and I can get into that. And I'm very interested to see if director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles", "Up") can bring it in a live action film like he can in an animated one.

8. Contagion (September 9) - Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law
This is the part of the column where I get excited about a drama no one knows much about and by the time it actually opens, I don't care anymore. I just can't change my ways. "Contagion" is about (duh) the outbreak of a terrible disease and the team of doctors that are brought in to fight it. Aside from the Damon connection (who ALWAYS gets me to the theater no matter what), this film has a dynamic director (Steven Soderbergh) and a killer cast (John Hawkes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Bryan Cranston in addition to those listed above) and I'm really intrigued.

7. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (July 29) - Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone
After his wife leaves him, a middle age man (Carrell) seeks the counsel of a womanizing dating expert (Gosling) who has problems of his own. This has a great cast and seems to bring a healthy amount of dark humor to a tough narrative. I also really like that Carrell apparently insisted upon bringing in Gosling despite his relative lack of experience in the comedic realm. Could be an awesome combo.

6. Cowboys and Aliens (July 29) - Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
It's an action movie that and aliens. Do you need another reason to enjoy this movie? Yes? How about a director (Jon Favreau) who is on the cusp of earning my unending trust? I'm sure this will be insanely over the top but I'm really, really excited about it.

5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16) - Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
I know nothing of the plot and I don't want that to change. I looovvvvvveeee the first "Holmes" film. The chemistry between RDJ and director Guy Ritchie is exquisite and the mix of action, caper, and action movie fun is absolutely brilliant in my mind. ("Biggest Celebrity Crush of my Life" Rachel McAdams doesn't hurt, either.) I'm a little worried that this was rushed considering a sequel wasn't definite until after the original became a smash hit and I'm slightly disappointed that the villain, Moriarty, isn't being played by a bigger name (Jared Harris) but that won't keep me away.

4. We Bought a Zoo (December 23) - Matt Damon, Scarlette Johansson, Elle Fanning
The first film (excluding the Pearl Jam doc that's also due later this year) from Cameron Crowe in six years, "Zoo" focuses on a family that purchases and reopens a shoddy zoo. I've already spoke of my love for Damon so let me now say that Crowe is an immediate draw for me. Aside from "Vanilla Sky" (horrible and overambitious) I like every single thing the guy has ever done. If there was no such thing as "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Star Wars," there's a chance that "Almost Famous" would be my favorite film of all time. I also may be the only person besides Cameron himself who actually likes "Elizabethtown." In a year that (so far) finds itself lacking in Academy Award level films, this screams "Awards!" and I'm extremely excited about it.

3. The Muppets (November 23) - Jason Segal, Amy Adams
Even without the AWESOME fake-trailer marketing campaign "Muppets" has undergone, I would be chomping at the bit to see this. If you don't like muppets you're not human. Period.

2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (November 18) - Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong
During the Cold War, an aging spy (Oldman) is called out of retirement to track down a Soviet mole within MI6. I'm not familiar with the book nor the British TV series this is based off of but if the plotline and the awesome surrounding cast wasn't enough to get me interested, Oldman in a starring role is a surefire way to get me to the theater. Throughout this column I have resisted the urge to refer to RDJ and Matt Damon as my favorite actor because, while both of them are incredible and I value their contributions to film, when he's on his game and in a worthy role, NO ONE is better than Oldman. Absolutely cannot wait for this one.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (July 15) - Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Never really any doubt as to where this one would rank on the anticipation scale. I've already bought tickets for a midnight screening and my little group of nerds and I are currently working our way through the ultimate Blu Ray editions of each film. No fictional universe aside from "Star Wars" has ever sucked me in the way the Potter world has, not even Tolkein's. I love these books and these films more than I love some family members. The only question is whether or not I'll be able to control my emotions or if I'll end up weeping like a small child by the end. 

That about does it. I'm looking forward to the surprises that will no doubt pop up along the way but these are the ones that have my attention right now. Feel free to share your own choices!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DVD Review - "Cedar Rapids"

Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is an equally loveable and naive insurance salesman from the tiny town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. After the death of his company's top salesman, Tim is sent to his first insurance convention in the thriving metropolis of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At this convention he is to deliver a speech which will earn his company the coveted Two Diamond Award and thereby secure his own job and the jobs of his coworkers. Cedar Rapids, however, turns out to be a much more distracting place than Tim could have ever imagined and soon he is engaging in all manner of shenanigans with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), the notorious black sheep of the Midwestern insurance game. Can Tim get his act together in time to save his company or will the temptations of life on the road get the better of him?

At its very core, "Cedar Rapids" is basically a coming of age film that focuses on the middle years of life rather than the formative teen years. It's quite quirky as well and as such, the comedy is less laugh-out-loud funny and more snicker to oneself. That's not necessarily a bad thing by any means, it just caught me off guard.  I expected this film to run closer to "The 40 Year Old Virgin" than anything else; instead, it's much more like "Up in the Air" done as a comedy. Helms does a good job of creating a relatively realistic vision of Tim Lippe. He's slightly overdone at times but for the most part, you can believe that a 35 year old who'd never left Brown Valley, Wisconsin would act the way he does when exposed to the great, wide world. Helms is always charming in his very dorky, unassuming way and this is no exception. His surrounding cast, particularly Reilly (always great in my book) and a much-more-appealing-than-ever-before Anne Heche, play off of his charm to create an entertaining crew of characters that I enjoyed watching.

What keeps "Cedar Rapids" from being a high quality indie comedy is its lack of heart. I've railed on and on in the past about heart and emotion in film so I won't go too far here. But the truth is, there's not a whole lot to connect the audience to the characters in this film. It's a fun story and I enjoyed the quirks but "Rapids" could have been, and probably should have been, more heartfelt. At the same time, it doesn't have the comedic teeth of other recent R rated comedies. As a result, this film doesn't really have a true identity and struggles to keep its own pace throughout the whole runtime. In short, it is flawed but worth a viewing.

Grade: B

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie News Today

Steven Spielberg has recruited David Strathairn to play William Steward in his Abraham Lincoln biopic. That has to be the highest "name to other words" ratio I've ever had in a sentence.

Tom Hanks spoke with NPR this week and discussed his new film "Larry Crowne" and the inspiration behind it. I must say, the trailer isn't all that appealing but the truth is, Hanks on screen in something that isn't related to "The Da Vinci Code" is always, ALWAYS, a treat.

For once, I'm not at a summer movie at midnight this evening so I haven't yet seen "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Marshall and the Movies has, however, and he's...ah...not so thrilled with the product.

Flix Chatter has a list of the best Quentin Tarantino films. Worth a read!

The first trailer for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" has been released. I admit, I'm intrigued.

New DVD Tuesday

Sucker Punch (2011) - Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
A super CGI-y creation from the mind of Zack Snyder ("300") focuses on a group of girls who use fantasy (or dreams?) to plot an escape from the institution they've been thrown into. I didn't see "Sucker Punch" in theaters but the general consensus was the visual landscape is incredible, the story...not so much. I will see this and here's why: since "300", Snyder has done nothing to make me feel good about him directing the next "Superman" reboot. "Watchmen" was, for me, good the first time but got worse every time I happened to catch 10 minutes of it on HBO. "Legend of the Guardians" was a mess. I need to see good things in "Sucker Punch" to ease my fears about "Man of Steel." We'll see.

Season of the Witch (2011) - Nicholas Cage, Ron Pearlman
During the Black Plague, two knights (Cage, Pearlman) are charged with taking a captured witch to a group of priests. And then she kills everyone. Except probably Nicholas Cage. Also, Cage probably has a weird accent that he can't pull off. So...this is clearly a horrible, horrible movie.

Beastly (2011) - Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgins
A modern twist on the "Beauty and the Beast" story finds a cocky high schooler (Pettyfer) who is cursed by a witch and must find true love with a former classmate (Hudgins) before the curse becomes permanent. Terrible teen actors plus a tired storyline equals no interest from this guy.

The Warrior's Way (2010) - Dong-gun Jong, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush
Ninjas meet cowboys and fight. The end.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition (2001, 2002, 2003) - Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, et al
The day is here, dear nerds! The second greatest fantasy trilogy of all time is FINALLY available in BRD format in their true form. I'm really not one of those snobs who insists that the director's cut is better than the original film; there's usually a good reason the fat gets trimmed. This is one of the few times, however, where there's simply no question that Peter Jackson's extended cut is "The Lord of the Rings." I won't even watch the theatrical cuts because, while those are excellent films, they're just not the same movies. I've preordered the set and will pick it up in the morning, after which I might completely nerd out and watch the entire thing in one sitting. I love science.

New to Blu
Jumangi (1995) - Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt
Zathura (aka Jumangi in Space) (2005) Josh Hutcherson, Kristen Stewart, Dax Shephard
Also New
Barney's Version (2010) - Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike
Rizzoli and Isles: Season 1 (2010) - Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander
Warehouse 13: Season 2 (2010) - Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek

Sunday, June 26, 2011

DVD Review - "The Company Men"

As the recession deepens, GTX, primarily a recreational company, finds itself on the precipice of falling apart. To keep themselves afloat (read: keep the CEO rich), they begin laying off employees. First, we see Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a sales executive, get the axe. Then Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a man who worked his way up from the factory floor. And finally, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), who was once the second most important person in the company. "Company Men" displays each man's struggle to put their lives back together in a job pool filled with overqualified competitors.

"Company Men" obviously tells a highly relevant story. The problem is in the way the story is told. It's not that it's poorly made or even boring as I thought it might end up being. But there's no power or emotional connection within the movie; it simply is. "Up in the Air" illustrated how heartbreaking and real a film about job less can be. I didn't expect "Company Men" to be up to that standard (because "Up in the Air" is an incredible film in my book) but I did expect it to make an attempt to suck me into the narrative. Even a cheesy or cliche emotional pull would have been nice in some ways because at least then the struggle of the characters would have mattered to me on some level. All of the performances are solid, especially that of Jones, but their characters are all weak or underdeveloped. I just didn't root for Walker or Woodward the way that I honestly thought I would. "Company Men" is also a bit too long and drags in places. There's a valid, worthwhile movie in here somewhere but unfortunately it just can't quite come to the surface as presently constructed.

Grade: B-

Movie News Today

As you probably know by now, Peter Falk passed away over the weekend. A suave and cool actor for many years, for me, like many others, Falk will always be remembered for his role in "Princess Bride." A legend. Rest in peace, Peter.

In "Weekend Casting Decisions That Should be Noted but Aren't Worth a Full Note" news, Ben Barnes will play Jeff Bridges' apprentice in the fantasy pic "The Seventh Son", Chris Meloni will play an undefined role in "Man of Steel", and Jon Goodman has been added to Ben Affleck's "Argo."

Vin Diesel has announced that the sixth "Fast and Furious" film will open Memorial Day weekend, 2013. So if you're keeping track at home, "Fast and Furious" warrants it's own note, Jon Goodman doesn't. That's how my world works.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Cars 2" - $68 million
2. "Bad Teacher" - $31
3. "Green Lanter" - $18.35 ($89.31 million total)
4. "Super 8" - $12.1 ($95.19)
5. "Mr. Popper's Penguins" - $10.3 ($39.45)
6. "X-Men: First Class" - $6.6 ($132.82)
7. "The Hangover Part II" - $5.87 ($243.94)
8. "Bridesmaids" - $5.37 ($146.66)
9. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - $4.7 ($229.06)
10. "Midnight in Paris" - $4.48 ($28.58)

Friday, June 24, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Cars 2" - Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine
The sequel (duh) to the 2006 hit, "Cars 2" finds Lightning McQueen (Wilson) and Mater (Guy) working as spies during a big race overseas. Let's be honest, kids. I love Pixar. I own all but one ("Ratatouille") of their films and I watch them probably more than any grown man who doesn't have children should. But other than the aforementioned "Ratatouille", "Cars" is my least favorite. I think it gets a bad rap because from a film standpoint, it's excellent, and many reputable critics/film lovers hate on it. But it's far less entertaining than the others. it doesn't hold up to a dozen rewatches like "Toy Story", "The Incredibles", or the always forgotten "Bug's Life." That in mind, I don't think I've ever been less excited about a Pixar film than I am with "Cars 2." I think I'll still see it because, hey, it is Pixar and you never know. But this concept sounds much more like a straight-to-DVD Disney feature than a standard Pixar release and the review have been pretty bad. Hope I'm wrong.

"Bad Teacher" - Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal, Justin Timberlake
All about a crappy teacher (Diaz) whose slacker ways are put to the test when she tries to woo the new guy in school (Timberlake). I've got friends that are highly interested in this and I admit the trailer has shown some potential. But for one, I'm not sure there's room for another R-rated comedy right now with "Bridesmaids" and "Hangover 2" still in theaters. And two, Cameron Diaz does NOTHING for me. I estimate I'd be 22% more interested in this if it was almost any other big name actress in the leading role. I do not get her appeal.

"Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" - Conan O'Brien
A documentary that followed Coco on his comedy tour of America following his firing from the Tonight Show. I absolutely cannot wait to see this film. It's been on my radar for some time and I'm completely and fully intrigued to check it out. Will it open anywhere near me is the question. Fingers crossed.

Movie News Today

Jason Patric will star in FX's new series "Powers" based upon a comic book about a community of superheroes. FX being on board for this gets me interested even if the superhero thing is starting to wear people out.

Collider has a great interview with Jason Segal from the set of the new "Muppet" movie. Can't wait!

Joel Courtney, fresh off his outstanding turn in "Super 8", will play Tom Sawyer in a new adaptation of the classic Twain book. This kid's career is about to BOOM.

Tarantino has picked Jamie Foxx as the lead in his spaghetti western "Django Unchained." I like Foxx but I admit, I was really digging the idea of Will Smith in this role.

Julia Ormond ("Dan in Real Life") is in talks to join Russell Crowe as the other half of Superman's parents in "Man of Steel." Interesting.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Super 8"

There are very few names in Hollywood that garner my attention like Steven Spielberg. It doesn’t matter that his last film (“Indiana Jones and the Murder of My Childhood”) was stunningly bad or that he’s attached his seal of approval to lackluster blockbusters (“Transformers”). In my mind, he will forever be the guy who brought me “Jaws”, “E.T.”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Saving Private Ryan” among a whole host of other excellent films. I imagine I will always buy stock in what he’s selling. Over the last couple of years, J.J. Abrams has been rapidly working his way toward Spielbergian territory. The work he did in the early seasons of “Lost,” his devotion to attention in “Star Trek” and a number of other high quality projects have led me to trust Abrams almost unconditionally. I love the guy and maybe more importantly, I love what he represents: at his core, Abrams is a nerd who likes nerdy things; he just happens to have millions of dollars at his disposal to bring his nerdy ideas to life. With those thoughts in mind, you can probably guess my level of interest in “Super 8”, a movie produced by Spielberg and directed by Abrams.

In the summer of 1979, a group of young teenagers gather at the edge of their small Ohio town to create a horror film. Shooting with a handheld 8mm camera at a nearby train depot to add some “production value” to their film, the kids suddenly find themselves in the middle of a harrowing accident when a truck derails a heavily loaded train. They consider themselves lucky but then strange things begin happening. Pets run away; the government floods the area with super secretive soldiers; power outages become routine; and then people start disappearing. All of this comes to a head when two members of the group, Joe (Joel Courtney) and Charles (Riley Griffiths), review the footage shot on that fateful night and catch glimpse of an alien predator that was locked away inside the train. With their neighborhood a war zone and one of their number missing, our young heroes must find a way to save their town, and a few lives in the process.

“Super 8” is like a great recipe that comes together to create an incredible sci-fi entrée. Take one cup of “Stand By Me” and mix it with a cup of “E.T.” if E.T. wanted to rip your throat out and eat your dog. Stir in a tablespoon of “The Goonies” and season with a dash of “Cloverfield.” Top it off with just a hint of “District 9” and then, if you’re really brave, add a touch of early Shyamalan. As a friend of mine said, even if you didn’t know who made “Super 8”, you would guess that it is the love child of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. That assessment is spot on as this film draws liberally from the great sci-fi and coming of age films of that past. In no way, however, do I mean that as a negative. Abrams displays great respect and undying affection for these films, making “Super 8” a terrific homage to his influences rather than a rip-off.

Everything about “Super 8” is a throwback, in its own way a slap in the face to the Michael Bays of the world. It is simple but refined, all about the little things, rather than the spectacle and yet the train derailment will undoubtedly end up being one of the very best FX sequences of the year. Camera angles are used to simultaneously hide the alien and hammer home the terror that our characters are going through with an excellent mix of wide shots and close ups. The use of light and natural sounds add organic atmosphere to the film in a Coen-esque way. Prop placement, too, adds ambiance in a subtle, smart way; it isn’t overdone but there’s more than enough to keep nerds like me happy. Abrams’ vision is wide and “Super 8” takes on a number of different (but cooperative) storylines but he, and therefore his film, never loses sight of the end goal. He captures the respective essences of the formative teen years and the duality of suspense and thrill that you get in the best alien/monster films. “Super 8” never suffers from an identity crisis and the blending of its two branches is nearly seamless.

All of that work would be wasted, however, without a great cast which fortunately (and perhaps surprisingly), “Super 8” has. There are no real names associated with this cast but as I imagine Abrams planned, that only heightens the realistic feel of the film. I am always nervous about a film that puts child actors in important roles (Jake Lloyd, anybody?). This particular group assuaged those fears almost immediately. As Joe, son of the town deputy and the glue that holds the group together, Joel Courtney is delightfully honest and compelling. He seems like a real kid, not an adult playing a kid and not a kid playing adult. Elle Fanning, forever connected to Joe through tragic circumstances, commands attention in every scene and displays her true potential. Riley Griffiths, the obligatory tubby kid with a foul mouth, is somehow refreshingly unique despite taking up perhaps the most cliché role in the film. These kids have excellent chemistry with one another in a way that truly reminded me of “Stand By Me.” In addition, the adults surrounding them really compliment the kids. Ron Eldard is one of those actors who never get big roles but whom I always gravitate to when he appears on screen. (I call this group the Barry Pepper All Stars.) Kyle Chandler is perhaps the most recognizable face and in a way, he’s just playing his character from the “Friday Night Lights” TV show, only he’s got a gun and a badge instead of a whistle and a ball. During the few scenes that he’s asked to carry, particularly one in which he exquisitely displays the pressure he is under both at work and at home, and another in which he offers simple and genuine forgiveness to Eldard’s character provide sincere weight and depth to the film’s more dramatic moments. These are understated, excellent performances across the board.

The final 20 minutes of “Super 8” and the reveal of the alien are a bit off; the last act doesn’t quite measure up to the expectations laid out in the first two. But for me that’s a small issue when put up against the serious awesomeness puts on the table to that point. “Super 8” is gloriously entertaining and as honest as sci-fi can be. It is nostalgic brilliance that I absolutely LOVED and I for the first time in a while, I can’t wait to get back into the theater and see it again.

Grade: A

Spielbergian will be a word by 2025,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

DVD Review: - "Catfish"

In 2007, New York photographer Nev Schulman began receiving paintings of his pictures done by a young girl named Abby who lived in Minnesota. Nev begins an odd friendship with Abby, her mother Angela, and eventually Abby's sister, Megan, communicating by email, Facebook, and phone. Angela claims Abby's paintings have made her a local celebrity and the partnership Nev and Abby have seems to be potentially profitable for both of them. Before long, Nev is in a long distance relationship with Megan and fully integrated into the life of this little family. Some strange events, however, lead him to believe that this family isn't all they claim to be and he begins to dig into the stories they've told him, all while his roommate and filmmaker Rel Schulman rolls tape.


When Nev and Rel get to Minnesota, they find Angela to be a lonely woman who lives vicariously through many fake identities on Facebook. She has a daughter named Abby but Abby shows no indication of any interest in painting. She also has a husband, two stepsons with severe handicaps, and a step daughter named Megan who is somehow estranged from the family. Unable to handle the mediocre circumstances of her real life, Angela created an entirely new world with multiple cell phones, stolen pictures, and a host of Facebook profiles. It is one of the saddest existences that you can imagine in our modern age.

I don't really know how to classify "Catfish" or how to evaluate it. I guess I could include it in the Documentary Project but I don't believe it to be a true documentary. How much of this film is real and how much is fallacy is truthfully known only to the filmmakers but there's no question in my mind that some, if not most, of "Catfish" is play for the camera. From a film standpoint, it's more than a decent effort. The camerawork is good and the narrative is undeniably compelling and entertaining. But documentaries are held to a different standard than other films; they must also provide the truth (or at least some version of the truth) of a real life story. And where "Catfish" ceases to be truth is unclear.

Here's what I believe. I believe that at some point before the cameras started rolling, Angela took a liking to Nev and his photos and sent him a painting or two, posing as Abby. I believe Nev was intrigued by this family and began a correspondence with them. And I believe within a matter of days he guessed what was happening and decided he was sitting on a goldmine. Perhaps he and Rel discovered the full truth before the camera was turned on or perhaps they really did uncover new facts as they went along, but regardless, this guy knew what was happening long before they set out to make a "documentary." There are far too many holes in their story to believe that two seemingly intelligent and technologically savvy New Yorkers did absolutely no research, no background checks on Angela's story, despite the fact that Nev was entering into a relationship with Megan. It doesn't hold up, at least not in this day and age; maybe at the beginning of the internet era but not in 2007, not in the Google age, and certainly not for these guys.

And in my opinion, the way that they exposed this poor woman, the sly way in which they simultaneously humiliated and flattered her, makes Nev and Rel utterly repulsive human beings. "Catfish" is exploitation of the highest order. I think the worst part is a scene in which, after confirming their suspicions about the family, Nev, Rel, and their pal Henry put on a show for the camera (or perhaps their own consciences) talking about how they felt the need to confront Angela about her lies "for her own good" but to do so in a way that wouldn't humiliate her. The slick, shrewd manner in which they play these lines off positively oozes with a demented tone of getting away with something, of pulling a fast one on a parent or teacher. It's a twisted, even sadistic game Nev and Rel play in "Catfish" and it was enough to make my stomach turn. I must give them credit for making their film so engrossing as to keep me (and I would guess many others) around despite the nausea their actions created, but at the end of the day, these guys would be ashamed of themselves if they weren't arrogant, soulless jackholes.

Grade If Authentic: B+
Grade As Is: F

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

It's been some time since a New DVD Tuesday brought multiple movies that I had more than a passing interest in seeing. Way to go, June 21st, 2011!

Unknown (2011) - Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diana Kruger
A man (Neeson) wakes up from a coma to discover that his identity has been stolen and all memory of him has been wiped away, even in the mind of his wife. And then he gets mad. The obvious comparison to "Taken" is probably pretty accurate but I HIGHLY enjoyed "Taken" so of course, I'm pretty excited to see this sometime this week. Call it the Power of Neeson.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) - Matt Damon, Emily Blunt
Based upon a Philip K. Dick story, "Bureau" centers around a politician (Damon) and a dancer (Blunt) whose mutual attraction is constantly cut off by a group of mysterious men in fedoras. This movie received generally positive reviews but I personally loved it. It is an old fashioned film and one that might be a bit too hokey for some viewers, but I really dig the love story that can be found within the sci-fi webbing.

The Eagle (2011) - Channing Tatum, Jamey Bell, Mark Strong
Set during the age of the Roman Empire, an important soldier (Tatum) is sent to track down a lost legion of men, accompanied by a slave (Bell). I don't get the fascination with Channing Tatum beyond the obvious physical attributes. I've yet to see him deliver a performance that is anything above "Meh" worthy. That said, "Eagle" somehow got decent reviews and I'm always up for a good sword fight so I expect a viewing in my near future.

Cedar Rapids (2011) - Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Ann Heche
A rowdy comedy about a naive insurance salesman (Helms) who discovers the wild world of middle America insurance conventions. This got great reviews and I genuinely like Helms. It might be my "Office" bias but he is, to me, wholly appealing and likable. You root for the guy's success and by proxy, his characters. Interested.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (2011) - Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron
The sequel to last year's modest hit and based on some bestselling books, "Rodrick Rules" somehow won the box office in its opening week and made more money than I would have ever thought possible. I accidentally caught about seven minutes of the first film on HBO not too long ago and, while I really like kid's movies in general, let me just say that was one of the most painful seven minute stretches of my life. No thanks.

Happythankyoumoreplease (2010) - Josh Radnor, Malin Ackerman, Kate Mara
Six New Yorkers try to come to grips with the responsibilities that come with being adults. I've seen almost no middle ground on this as far as reviews go. Either it's an indie smash that everyone should see or it's a poor attempt at something profound. Radnor, of "How I Met Your Mother" fame, directed this film and put together a solid cast and I find myself intrigued.

New to Blu
The Island (2005) - Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou
Set in a futuristic society that develops clones as part of hardcore insurance coverage, "Island" centers around two clones (McGregor and Johansson) who discover the truth of their Utopian existence and set out to escape and alert the world to their plight. Will you stop reading this blog if I tell you that I own and actually quite enjoy "The Island?" It's a pretty awful movie (what else would you expect from Michael Bay?) but for some reason I've always liked it. It's a serious guilty pleasure of mine. My apologies for letting you all down.

Also New
The Closer: Season 6 (2010) - Kyra Sedgwick, JK Simmons
Medium: Season 7 (2010) - Rosanna Arquette, Miguel Sandoval
Louis: Season 1 (2010) - Louis C.K.

Movie News Today

Evangeline Lilly of "Lost" fame will play an elf in "The Hobbit." I'm a Lilly fan so I'm excited about this and anyway, this is a pretty natural choice considering she looks like a elf in real life.

Pixar has added an as-yet untitled, unknown movie to the calendar for late 2013. For those of you keeping score at home, that means "Brave" (a fairytale with a female protaganist) will open in 2012, followed by "Monster's University" ("Monster's Inc." sequel) will hit sometime in early summer of 2013, and now followed by this mystery project. Do I even need to say that, knowing absolutely nothing about this beyond the fact that it's Pixar, I am in?

Fritz and the Oscars has finished his trip through (and subsequent ranking of) the Best Picture Oscar winners and while I don't agree with the order, this is still a great project that I've enjoyed following. I believe he's going to start the Best Actress winners next. Check it out.

Movie Muse provides the top 10 reasons penguin movies are popular. As a fan of penguins in general, I approve this list.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Green Lantern"

If you go to the theater as often as I do, you develop a sixth sense called Trailer Interpretation. For me, trailer watching is more than just good or bad, see it or skip it; each three minute preview is an opportunity to determine what type of expectations I should have for a given film. I look for faces I recognize beyond the third or fourth billed actor, names in the credits who I trust or distrust, jokes that come from more than one person, and whether action sequences fall more into the gritty, realistic camp or the CGI, over-the-top camp. I’ve turned Trailer Interpretation into a personal art form, allowing it to become a voice in the back of my head that only talks during the ten minutes leading up to a new movie. As Jiminy Cricket is to Pinocchio, so this voice is to me and the voice is rarely wrong. Sometimes, however, I refuse to listen to the voice. I make excuses based on an actor I like or mythology that interests me or even just the fact that I like a certain genre of film (in this case, the comic book/superhero genre) and I ignore the warnings that the voice so desperately whispers in my ear. And that, dear readers, is why I occasionally find myself in a theater at midnight, watching a pile of rubbish like “Green Lantern” and expecting something good when I should have known better.

“Green Lantern” tells the story of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a hotshot test pilot with a scarred psyche and a history of screwing up anything good that comes his way. After ruining a new jet and infuriating his boss/childhood pal/former girlfriend Carol (Blake Lively), Hal is suddenly enveloped by a green light and whisked a hundred miles away to an alien crash site. There he meets Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), a mighty warrior and member of the intergalactic peace keeping core known as the Green Lanterns, who happens to be on the verge of death after an encounter with a serious enemy known as Parallax (Clancy Brown). Abin Sur gives Hal his magical ring just before he dies. Shortly afterward, he finds himself on the distant planet of Oa, the home of the Lanterns, where he learns that the ring can essentially form anything that he can imagine. He is trained briefly by Sinestro (Mark Strong) before deciding that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Lantern. Meanwhile back on earth, biology professor Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) has discovered Abin Sur’s body and has been possessed by the essence of Parallax, forcing Hal to reconsider his rejection of the Lantern Core and fight to save his home planet.

There is a great deal more to the plot of this film but it is so convoluted and jumbled together that I honestly didn’t even know what to include in my summary and what to keep out. “Green Lantern” tries to cover way too much ground in one film and yet at the same time, it fails to really go anywhere. It’s like the on screen personification of buying a big, expensive off road vehicle and then getting it stuck in the first mud pit you come across; sure, your ride looks nice and all but you’re still stuck in the mud spinning your wheels. It’s quite a mess, really. “Lantern” is written like an over-extended TV pilot which makes a lot of sense considering the lead screenwriters (Greg Berlanti and Michael Green) have spent their careers writing for low rent TV shows. The settings jump from place to place with great abruptness, there are plot holes roughly the size of 18 wheelers, and a miserable flashback that is supposed to illustrates Hal’s haunted past but really does nothing more than make the audience groan. “Lantern” is RIPE with clichés and its predictability is only bested by the cringe-worthy dialogue. Gems like, “The superhero always gets the girl!” and, “The mask thing is pretty cool” litter the landscape of this film. Berlanti and Green should never be allowed near a film again. Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) does nothing to help the situation, continually allowing the movie to drift aimlessly through its thoroughly uninspiring narrative. I had hoped Campbell would bring some grit to the film and keep it from becoming overly kitschy but that hope turned out to be ill advised. This movie doesn’t even have the decency to be campy; it treads so heavily as to become cheesy, one step up (or down) from a Saturday morning cartoon.

From an acting standpoint, “Lantern” is a wreck. It’s all about Reynolds, obviously, but he struggles to hold on to the spotlight. I’m a huge fan of Reynolds and last year’s “Buried” proves that his range of talent stretches far beyond comedic roles. But in what should have been his finest hour, Reynolds comes across as unappealing and lacking in charisma, a combination I didn’t think was possible going in. His counterparts, meanwhile, are given next to nothing to work with and all of them end up with performances that they’ll wish they could leave off their resumes. These are all fine actors but if you’d never heard of any of them and I showed you this film, first you’d say they were all community theater actors, and then you’d punch me in the face for making you watch “Green Lantern.” The poor use of this cast and the apparent lack of motivation falls squarely on the shoulders of Campbell. Even Sarsgaard, one of the most professional actors of his generation, seems completely out of sync and wholly un-invested. His “villain” may be the worst aspect of this entire film. As any superhero movie fan will tell you, a compelling villain is just as important, if not more important, than a compelling protagonist.

All of that brings us to the CGI and the special effects which are, in all truthfulness, horrid. HORRID. “Lantern” looks like a video game and in no way do I intend that to be a compliment. It appeared to me that many of the effects were done simply to show off the technology that Campbell had at his disposal with no thought given as to whether or not it should be done. CGI should be used as an aid to the movie making process, a supplement when a filmmaker’s imagination dreams up something that can’t be done in real life. It should NOT be used in place of stunts, costumes, and camerawork. Even the suit is needlessly computer generated and it looks bloody awful on top of that. “Lantern” reminded me all too much of “Phantom Menace” which threw out all of the incredible work George Lucas had done in the first three “Star Wars” films in favor of lifeless CGI. And that’s exactly what “Lantern” is: lifeless. There is so much to work with, so much that could have been, but instead the end product belongs in the pantheon of bad superhero films along with “Daredevil,” “HULK,” and “Spiderman 3.”

Grade: D


Movie News Today

Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler") will direct the pilot for HBO's new series "Hobgoblin," an alternative history drama that follows a group of con men who fight against Hitler. I'm in.

In "Weird Casting Choices" news of the day, Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") has been added to Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim" about a group of soldiers who fight alien invaders with the aid of giant robots. Odd choice.

Empire presents the top 10 ten father figures in film history. Co-sign.

The viral marketing for the new "Muppet" movie continues with this awesome little teaser trailer. Love it.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Green Lantern" - $52.69 million
2. "Super 8" - $21.25 ($72.78 million total)
3. "Mr. Popper's Penguins" - $18.2
4. "X-Men: First Class" - $11.5 ($119.93)
5. "The Hangover Part II" - $9.64 ($232.67)
6. "Kung Fu Panda 2" - $8.7 ($143.34)
7. "Bridesmaids" - $7.49 ($136.84)
8. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - $6.24 ($220.34)
9. "Midnight in Paris" - $5.24 ($21.79)
10. "Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" - $2.24 ($11.17)

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Green Lantern" - Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
Perhaps one of the lesser-known superheroes in the DC Comics universe, the Green Lanterns are a group of intergalactic guardians who are powered by mystical rings that allow them to bring forth anything they can imagine. In this film, hotshot pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is chosen by one of the rings just before earth is attacked by a dangerous foe. Oh, how I want this to be good. I'm even taking in a midnight showing. And yet, I'm almost certain it's going to let me down. The trailer is really, really awful and I'm losing more and more faith by the minute. Not good.

"Mr. Popper's Penguins" - Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Clark Gregg
Based on a beloved children's book, "Popper" centers around a grumpy businessman (Carrey) whose priorities are changed when he inherits a half dozen penguins. Hopefully there's a healthy amount of family fun involved here because the trailers and early press have been pretty bad. More importantly, if you're Jim Carrey's agent, isn't it time you put together a plan for how to get this guy back on top (or somewhere near it)? I believe in Carrey's talent and his comedic value but it seems like forever since he's done something that mattered. This probably won't change that.

"The Art of Getting By" - Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano (limited)
An intelligent high school slacker (Highmore) reassess his life when he befriends a popular coed (Roberts). I feel like I should be interested in this given my fondness for "It's Kind of a Funny Story"-type films but each time I've seen the trailer or read a blurb about this, I get less and less interested. I also have a hard time taking Highmore seriously as a high school senior even though he's 19 years old. He'll always be Charlie to Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Movie News Today

Apologies, again, for the lack of content the last couple of weeks. Work this week has kept me out until midnight, don't have as much energy and time to get stuff done that I normally do. I've also been putting a lot of time towards a 7,000 word Dallas Mavericks column that no one is ever going to read. Ah, well. I'll be back to normal next week for sure.

Steven Spielberg is brainstorming, spit balling really, a concept for another "Jurassic Park" film. The last two films in this franchise were average at best but I will NEVER forget the awesomeness of that first movie. Never. So if this happens, I'm in.

Looks like Russell Crowe is going to play Jor-El (Superman's dad) in next year's Man of Steel reboot. Big shoes to fill for Crowe but that's another solid casting choice.

James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma") will direct the next "Wolverine" movie. Thoroughly unimpressed by this choice.

Meanwhile, Simon West will direct the second installment of "The Expendables." I'm still not so sure that this movie needs a sequel but West, fresh off the much-better-than-you'd-expect "The Mechanic" is a solid choice.

Disney/Pixar has released a poster for next year's "John Carter of Mars." There are a lot of movies I'm looking forward to in 2012 and "JCM" is up there. Very excited.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Movie News Today

Ben Affleck is asking his actors to go "method" for his upcoming film "Argo" about the crazy story of the Iranian kidnappings in 1979. The stories that come from this could be very interesting.

Ed Harris and Matthew Fox are both in talks to join the production of "World War Z." I'm a big, big fan of this book and that's saying something considering that I'm not a zombie nerd by any means. It is basically an oral history of a sickness that takes over the world in the not so distant future. Very well written, very well designed. Really hoping for good things from the film.

Jamie Foxx is now the leading candidate to play the lead in Tarantino's "Django Unchained" opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. Foxx is great and all but I confess I was more excited about Will Smith. Too bad I guess.

A week or two ago it was reported that George Lucas was preparing a live action "Star Wars" TV show. Now it appears that, yes, this will happen but it's at least 3-5 years away. As I said before, a part of me yearns for the added "Star Wars" experience this series would provide but another part relishes the though of having 3-5 more years to hang on to my fond memories before this series completely obliterates them.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau both appeared at the Hero Complex Film Festival and discussed "Iron Man 3."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

Battle: Los Angeles (2011) - Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena
An alien force invades earth with a full scale assault and it's up to a small group of Marines and their soon-to-be-retired leader (Eckhart) to hold down the fort. I'm still surprised by the fervent backlash "BLA" received from critics. It's far from a masterpiece but I would again say that as far as mindless, action-packed entertainment goes, it fulfills its promise.

Red Riding Hood (2011) - Amanda Seyfried, Lukas Haas, Gary Oldman
A modern-day retelling of the whole "little girl visiting her grandmother is attacked by a sneaky wolf" as directed by the woman who brought you "Twilight." So, needless to say, I'm uninterested. Even Gary Oldman can't get me to rent this sucker. Sorry, Gary, our understanding only goes so far.

Hall Pass (2011) - Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate
Two buddies (Wilson and Sudeikis) are given a week off from marriage by their respective wives (Fischer and Applegate). Shenanigans ensue. Love Wilson and Sudeikis but the Farrelly Brother's brand of humor hasn't aged well for me nor has it really changed. I was completely uninterested in this film when it opened a few months ago and that feeling hasn't changed.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (2011) - Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson
You know what, I'm not even going to summarize this one. I do my best, dear readers, not to slip into Film Snobbery. The movie industry is, after all, entertainment at its very core. But "films" like this...well, I just don't have any patience for a second sequel to an original movie that sucked in the first place. No thanks.

New to Bluray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) Ultimate Editions - Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
If you're a fan of this series, this series is the best Special Edition package since the "Lord of the Rings" boxsets. Tons of extras, extended and deleted scenes, and a host of documentaries. Just awesome stuff. You can (read: "I have") spend hours and hours on each film and still want more. I pre-ordered them both, hope to have them in my possession tomorrow.

New to Blu
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) - Steve McQueen, Ann Margaret, Karl Malden
Point Break (1991) - Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey

Also New
Kill the Irishman (2011) - Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken
The Glades: Season 1 (2010) - Matt Passmore, Alexis Windsor
Haven: Season 1 (2010) - Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, Nicholas Campbell
Jackass 3.5 (2011) - Johnny Knoxville

Monday, June 13, 2011

"X-Men: First Class"

Like most kids, I was a big fan of superheroes growing up. Batman was my favorite but I had admiration for all the standard comic book legends and had the action figures to prove it. My superhero fascination kicked into high gear, however, when FOX started running a Saturday morning cartoon called “X-Men.” It was a life changing series for a kid who loved superheroes but had never really read a comic book. Much more mature and well-written than the average cartoon, it was the thin note of darkness that made “X-Men” so engrossing for me. These guys ran in a much more complex world than Superman or Batman did at the time and it was certainly a far cry from the cheesiness of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I quickly kicked “TMNT” to the curb (sorry, Raphael) and dove full boar into the “X-Men” universe. As such, I love the first two films, tolerate the third because I can’t bring myself to hate it, and was more than a little upset by “Wolverine.” I confess that last entry dulled my interest in the franchise and I really only gave “First Class” a passing glance every now and then as news of its production hit the internet. But as the film’s debut got closer and closer, I found myself unable to forgo my typical anticipation and expecting a great deal. I wasn’t disappointed.

“First Class” is an origin film that tells the story of how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), aka Professor X and Magneto, came to be the almost unwilling enemies they are in the other “X-Men” films. Set in the early 60s, we are first introduced to the radically different worlds that Charles and Eric inhabit. Charles, an intellectual prodigy who uses his abilities to further his career, is a product of unending prosperity and opportunity. Eric, meanwhile, developed his abilities under the pressure of Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), whose sick methods fueled the rage and pain that already ran through a young victim of the Holocaust. While teaming with the US government to track down Shaw, Charles and his pseudo-sister Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) come in contact with Eric who had just been foiled in his attempt to kill Shaw who has become a highly powerful mutant even compared to Charles and Eric. The two men become fast friends and with the help of a mutant-tracking invention designed by Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), who will later become Beast, they begin recruiting and training a team of young mutants. Their solidarity, however, is constantly tested as Charles pushes for peace and integration into the human society while Eric would have the group head off another Holocaust by exerting their dominance now. These differences are briefly put aside when the team learns that Shaw is pushing the US and the USSR into nuclear war via the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the two nations head toward World War III, Charles and Eric take on a joint mission to stop the planet’s destruction and kill Shaw.

There is a TON to like about “First Class” but let’s get two small complaints out of the way up front. First, if you’re an “X-Men” comic book lover, you’re probably not going to be a fan of this movie’s narrative. I don’t know all there is to know about the comics but my brother does and he was more than a little hacked off concerning the disregard for the already-established storyline. Second, there is a real clash of attitudes within “First Class.” It is at times disturbingly dark and at others almost overly campy. In one of the opening scenes we see Shaw murder Eric’s mother right in front of him. Later on, we get not one but two 80s-style montage scenes and another in which the young X-Men come up with their hero names. As a friend of mine said, it’s like director Matthew Vaughn went for a fun, campy comic book movie then realized what a goldmine of intense, dark action he had when he got into editing. I would argue that the real attempt was to illustrate the difference between the worldview’s of Charles and Eric but there’s no question that the clash is a bit of a detriment to the overall flow of the film. It’s less an identity crisis and more the on-screen personification of two roommates whose differences boil slightly under the surface but who like each other too much to let the conflict leak out.

That said, whether you’re looking from an action, comic book, or prequel standpoint, “First Class” is an extremely high-quality piece of work. Each of the actors do an admirable job of conveying the mixed emotions these mutants would go through. McAvoy and Fassbender are the keys, obviously, (more to come on these two), but most of the others, including Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee), and Lucas Till (Havok), do their part as well. Bacon and Lawrence, meanwhile, are both magnificent. Shaw has to be the embodiment of abject evil in order for Magneto to become who we know he is in the later films and while that’s not an easy task, Bacon comes through with one of his best performances in years. Likewise, Lawrence is stunningly brilliant. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: no matter what she’s doing, no matter how important or unimportant her place is in a scene, Lawrence ALWAYS manages to draw your eyes to her, even when she’s masked in a CGI blue scaly skin. In many ways Mystique is the starting point for the battle between Charles and Eric and Lawrence displays the weight of that battle with pinpoint accuracy. I cannot wait to see what this girl does in “The Hunger Games” films.

The mix of fiction and history is inspired and brings just enough realism so that surface objections to the alternative history can be satisfied but not so much as to delve into the obvious absurdity of a bunch of mutants preventing the escalation of the Cold War. (There’s a stroke of genius in that mix that might go unnoticed but I was highly impressed.) The dialogue is all at once simple and yet very smart and witty. It is a balance that should make “First Class” approachable to kids and adults alike which can be a big key for summer blockbusters. And the action sequences are dynamic and completely satisfying. One scene in particular, when Shaw and his cronies attack the mutant complex, is incredible.

But as I said above, the real meat of “First Class” is in the performances of McAvoy and Fassbender. I’m not a big fan of McAvoy and I admit I was truly disappointed when he was cast as Professor X. I’ve just never understood his charm. I do now. Xavier from “First Class” begins s a much less serious, intense character than he does in the original “X-Men” movies and McAvoy embraces that beautifully. The gradual change in his demeanor from carefree would-be ladies’ man to begrudging leader of a mutant resistance is much more harrowing and painful than you might expect and McAvoy absolutely nails it. Even more impressive, however, is the powerful performance that Fassbender puts out. Eric (or Magneto) is the PERFECT example of the tiny differences between a hero and villain. A different choice here or there and Magneto would be a great asset on Xavier’s team. Instead, the torment he underwent as a child and the anger that has burned through his soul leads him down a darker path. But the thing with Magneto is, he thinks he’s right, that he’s doing what needs to be done to preserve his race. That’s absolutely crucial to this story. If Fassbender plays Magneto as evil or if he doesn’t seem conflicted, this entire franchise falls apart. Magneto has to be torn by his actions, he has to struggle with morality, and he has to hate himself for fighting against his best friend. Fassbender displays all of that and then some, creating an unforgettable on-screen experience. In the pantheon of great comic book film characters, this version of Magneto is right up there with Downey’s Tony Stark, Ledger’s Joker, and any other superstar you can think of. It may not have started out this way but by the end of “First Class”, it is clear that this movie belongs to Fassbender. He almost singlehandedly propels the film to greatness when it probably should have been just “pretty good.”

The finished product is a proud achievement in the canon of superhero/comic book films. “First Class” wipes the palate of the less-than-stellar “Wolverine” (though Hugh Jackman does have an AWESOME cameo) and sets the stage wonderfully for whatever the franchise has in store for us in the future. It’s a film that nerds and casual movie goers of all ages should enjoy and represents the standard that we can only hope the rest of this summer’s movies can follow.

Grade: A-

Gambit was always my favorite X-man,

Movie News Today

Forgive the brevity. As a lifelong Dallas Mavericks fan, the last few hours have been both the most exciting and exhausting of my life. I am completely worn out and yet totally WIRED. Not in any condition to write much. Also, expect a long winded review of this victory in the next couple of days. I apologize in advance to those of you who could care less about sports. Hopefully you can forgive once-a-year forays into the world of sports.

Robert Zemeckis is looking to team with Tom Hanks for "Major Matt Mason." Interested.

Movieline has the 10 best voiceovers in animated film history.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Super 8" - $37 million
2. "X-Men: First Class" - $25 ($98.89 million total)
3. "The Hangover Part II" - $18.5 ($216.56)
4. "Kung Fu Panda 2" - $16.63 ($126.9)
5. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - $10.85 ($208.77)
6. "Bridesmaids" - $10.15 ($123.9)
7. "Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" - $6.27
8. "Midnight in Paris" - $6.15 ($14.23)
9. "Thor" - $2.37 ($173.6)
10. "Fast Five" - $1.71 ($205.08)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "The Switch"

Wally (Jason Bateman) and Cassidy (Jennifer Aniston) are best friends with a brief dating history in their distant past. With their younger days waning, Cassidy decides she's going to have a baby through artificial insemination and evens asks for Wally's help in picking the donor, a guy named Roland (Patrick Wilson). At the insemination party (I'm not making that up), Wally gets drunk and accidentally flushes the sample and makes the brash decision to replace it with his own. He, of course, forgets that this happened and goes on with his life after Cassidy and her newborn move to Minnesota. A few years later, however, she moves home and Wally begins to see similarities between himself and the child, Sebastian (Bryce Robinson), and this forces an awkward confrontation between old friends.

"The Switch" essentially comes down to a clash between the what happens on screen and what takes place behind the camera. Off screen, this movie is an absolute, unmitigated disaster. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory") and writer Allan Loeb ("Just Go With It") hamstring "The Switch" from the get go with a pointless, antiquated voiceover narration that never pays off. I'm not against narration as a principle but it can definitely be the first sign of bad things to come. This one is one of the most worthless I can remember. On top of that, "The Switch" has no idea whether it is supposed to be a romantic comedy with heart of a slapstick comedy. The concept in and of itself seems like a Farrelly Brothers-like comedy but either Gordon and Speck don't know how to make this kind of film or they don't have the stones to go as far down the "stupid funny" road as you have to make it work. Even the characters themselves are up-and-down and unbalanced, particularly Bateman's Wally, who has almost no consistency throughout the first half of the film. The supporting characters are also painfully cliche or one note.

With that said, and I'm as shocked by this as you are, the chemistry between Aniston, Bateman, and even Robinson is excellent. I would not have believed that statement had I not said it myself. I love Bateman (who doesn't?) but let's be frank, he often takes the shotgun approach. That is to say, he'll make three, four, five movies in a year and hope that one hits the mark. He's not exactly trustworthy. Meanwhile, Aniston's career failures have been well documented though, I guess out of sympathy more than anything else, most of us tend to continue rooting for her. My point is, you wouldn't think that these two (and the kid who brings them together) would be able to completely and totally hold a movie together. But they really do. Their relationship is remarkably natural in a film that is WHOLLY unnatural and absurd. In addition, the dynamic between Bateman and Robinson is a quirky take on the father-son relationship. All of these actors truly give "The Switch" their all which is both highly respectable and sad considering what an awful film they're working with. The chemistry isn't enough to make this a "good" movie but it's certainly enough to turn a world class atrocity into a reasonably decent effort.

Grade: C+

Movie News Today

Sorry for the lack of News this week. Busy at work and exhausted by the Mavs playing in the Finals. Sometimes you only have time for one hobby and the Mavs are rocking my free time right now.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in talks for the role of the villain in Tarantino's upcoming spaghetti western "Django." Now if only Will Smith would definitely join the project!

The new "Daredevil" project has a writer who will base his script on a Frank Miller storyline and hopefully make us all forget Ben Affleck's turn as the title hero.

Film Girl Interrupted takes a look back at a true foreign language marvel, "Pan's Labyrinth." In other news, I almost never spell "labyrinth" correctly the first time around.

Cinema Slants discusses Roger Ebert and asks whether the famed film critic has lost some of his passion for the industry. Well written, excellent read.

Virgin Media provides a guide to the Marvel universe for all you would-be nerds out there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

True Grit (2010) - Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Halee Steinfeld
The remake of the John Wayne classic, the Coen Brother's version of "True Grit" is much more faithful to the book and features one of the better adolescent performances in recent memory. I love love love this movie. It is honest, delightfully witty, and incredibly shot. It's possible that I overrated its place in the 2010 rankings but still, if you haven't seen "True Grit" I recommend doing so immediately.

Just Go With It (2011) - Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker
A plastic surgeon (Sandler) who uses a fake wedding ring to seduce women suddenly finds himself stuck in his biggest lie yet when he's forced to take on a Hawaiian vacation with his new flame (Decker) and his assistant (Aniston) who poses as his ex-wife. This movie got completely DESTROYED by critics and yet I must remain honest when I repeat my relative enjoyment. Perhaps it's all about expectations since I was convinced "Just Go With It" would be one of the five worst movie ever but you could do a LOT worse when it comes to throw-away comedies.

The Company Men (2010) - Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner
"Company" takes a look at the lives of several men who are laid off unexpectedly. I can't quite explain my interest in this film beyond the desire to see how Affleck follows "The Town" and my irrational appreciation for Costner, but I expect I'll rent this sometime soon. The reviews weren't overly positive but I'm still intrigued nonetheless.

Burn Notice: Season 4 (2010) - Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar
I should state up front that, due to a host of DVR problems (thanks a bunch, Uverse), I missed the final 3 episodes of Season 4. But that said, seriously, there are very, VERY few TV shows that are better than "Burn Notice." I know, I was sceptical as well. The promos are cheesy, the concept seems tired, and honestly, who has faith in the USA Network when it comes to creating their own content? Stick to reruns of "Law and Order," USA! All of those thoughts have been proven false over the last 4 years. The stories are fun and usually fresh, the action is satisfying, and the acting is EXCELLENT and each character contains just a hint of self-awareness which works brilliantly. You know you have nothing to watch this summer so just do yourself a favor and check this show out.

Breaking Bad: Season 3 (2010) - Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul
Once I've wrapped up the NBA Finals (seriously crushing my free time right now; dominated my consciousness at all times), I'm catching up on "Mad Men." After "Mad Men," it's on the "Breaking Bad." So I've actually never seen a episode of this show but the word-of-mouth has been amazing.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like Picking One
61* (2001) - Barry Pepper, Thomas Jane, Bruce McGill, Anthony Michael Hall
An HBO movie directed by Billy Crystal, "61*" is, perhaps strangely, my favorite sports movie of all time. Telling the story of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and their quest for Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961, both Pepper (a favorite here at TSBO) and Jane are remarkable. Several moments bring out a sports tear every single time I watch this movie. Check. This. Out!

New to Blu
Superman: The Anthology Collection - Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, Gene Hackman
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) - Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Chief Dan George
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) - Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer
The Stunt Man (1980) - Peter O'Toole, Barbara Hershey

Also New
Another Year (2010) - Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville
Sanctum (2011) - Richard Roxbrough, Ioan Gruffudd
White Collar: Season 2 (2010) - Matthew Bomer, Tim Dekay
Leverage: Season 3 (2010) - Timothy Hutton, Christian Kane, Gina Bellman
Pretty Little Liars: Season 1 (2011) - Holly Marie Combs, Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson
The Big C: Season 1 (2010) - Laura Linney, Oliver Platt

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "The Mechanic"

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is a hitman. Working for an international organization that matches him up with potential hits, Bishop finishes his assignments with detached efficiency. The only real relationship in his life is the one he has with his handler, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), who treats him almost like a son. When Bishop is presented with evidence of McKenna's treachery, he puts his mentor down himself but takes no pride in what he was forced to do. Soon after, McKenna's son, Steve (Ben Foster), shows up and asks Bishop to take him on as a pseudo-apprentice. The pair work together successfully until Bishop learns that Harry was set up by the agency that employed them both while Steve begins to become suspicious of Bishop's involvement in his father's death.

A remake of a Charles Bronson flick, "The Mechanic" has the classic Jason Statham flare mixed with a touch of old school action. You can't call this a full-on homage to the Bronson era but you can see it was a major influence in the film's production. I, for one, quite enjoyed the combination. I've bagged on Statham in the past for being a one trick pony and for making occasionally awful films ("In the Name of the King", anyone?) but at the same time, you have to appreciate a man who gets the most out of his one skill and manages to provide passable entertainment more often than not. I mean, if you were given the option of seeing a Statham film or a Nic Cage film, is there any question that Statham would be the choice? This film plays well with Statham's sensibilities and is chock full of explosions, shootouts, and various action stunts.

"The Mechanic" is also, however, much smarter than I would have expected going in. It's not rocket science, mind you, and Christopher Nolan certainly didn't write the script. But it does progress with more sophistication than the average hitman action movie and that keeps the plot from bogging down or becoming tiresome. The only real issues I have with "Mechanic" are the ending (unfitting to the rest of the narrative and unsatisfying) and the dynamic between Statham and Foster. I get the casting choice. Statham is smooth and debonair, almost care free while Foster's intensity always burns to near homicidal levels. (Seriously, if you met Foster in a bar, wouldn't you be scared of him?) On paper that combination sounds good but for me, the two contrast so much that it almost feels like a fight to see who's style will win out. It's not awful chemistry but it doesn't consistently push the film along on the right path. Still, "The Mechanic" is high quality entertainment and contains excellent action sequences that should satisfy your jonesing for explosions and gunplay.

Grade: B

Friday, June 3, 2011

New Movie Friday

"X-Men: First Class" - James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon
No one seems to want to challenge the mighty X-men as this is the only movie opening in wide release today. Having seen some of the reviews, I can't say I blame them. An origin story set in the 60s, "First Class" displays the formation of Professor Charles Xavier's (McAvoy) group of mutant superheroes and the rival mutants they will come to fight, led by Magneto (Fassbender). I confess I wasn't too excited about the casting choices as they came out. I love Fassbender and I am enthralled by Lawrence. But I've never been a fan of McAvoy or Bacon and the rest of the cast is relatively unknown and/or uninspiring (no offense to Rose Byrne or January Jones). That said, my level of interest has grown and grown throughout the last few months as each poster and trailer made its way to the Internet. At this point I'm essentially busting at the seams to check this sucker out and by the time you see this, dear readers, I'll have already finished my midnight viewing. Can't wait.

"Beginners" - Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent (limited)
An aging father (Plummed) tells his son (McGregor) that he is both dying of cancer and gay. Not really in for a movie of this depth during the summer but "Beginners" is getting excellent reviews. Plummer and Laurent, also, are a magnificent 1-2 punch.

"Beautiful Boy" - Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Kyle Gallner
A husband (Sheen) and wife (Bello) are thrown together when their son (Gallner) goes on a Columbine-esque shooting spree. "Rabbit Hole" failed to find an audience and I suspect "Boy" will have to accept the same fate. Tough subject matter to be sure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movie News Today

Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, and a host of other filmmakers have banded together to openly protest DirecTV's new premium on demand service that allows viewers to watch new movies in their own homes just two months after they open. The cost? $29.95 each. I get where these guys are coming from but honestly, I think it's somewhat of a waste of time. The number of people who will pay that much money to see a movie that they A.) could have seen in theaters for $10 and B.) will be able to get on Blu Ray in another month is pretty small from my perspective. If it was $30 a month for unlimited viewing or something similar, that would be a different story.

Thompson on Hollywood takes a brief look at Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam documentary which I absolutely CANNOT wait to see.

Celluloid Zombie discusses his love for "Doctor Who" and gives a brief primer while he's at it. I believe I'm going to take a shot at one of this show's incarnations this summer and this post definitely has me excited.

PT Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") has added a few faces, including Amy Adams, to the cast of his Scientology-based project. Very interested in this.

And finally, because it's a slow day in the movie industry, a brief sports item. Shaquille O'neal, one of the greatest centers to ever play basketball and at one time the most dominant player in the league, retired today after 19 seasons in the NBA. His usefulness as a player probably expired a year or two ago but Shaq was always good for a laugh and a good time. His legacy will be one of the strangest of the generation. Despite his physical dominance over just about everyone in the league, he always struggled down the stretch of tight games because he famously couldn't make a danged free throw to save his life. It was also a constant question as to just how much work the Big Aristotle was actually willing to put in. He won four championships, three finals MVPs, and one regular season MVP, was named an All-Star 15 times, and led the league in shooting 10 times and scoring twice. Imagine what he could have done if he'd been as dedicated as some of his peers! Maybe more importantly to me, Shaq had an actual sense of humor, a quick wit, and a willingness to turn anything into a joke. He brought fun to a group of people (professional athletes in general and NBA players in particular) who are, on the whole, completely unwilling or unable to have a little well-thought fun. The time was more than right for the big fella to step away but he was a dynamic figure and he will be missed.