Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review - "Our Idiot Brother"

I am, if nothing else, a planner. I think ahead, do my research, and put together an agenda, whether in my head or in written form, for just about anything. It doesn’t really matter if what I’m planning for is something life altering (like a career move) or something as frivolous as seeing a film. If I’m going to the movies, I plan ahead and figure out the what, when, and where just like I would if I was trying to determine a course of action regarding a major medical procedure. And when my plan gets derailed, I’m starting to believe that whenever possible, it’s better to just go home, reboot, and come up with another plan rather than forge ahead. In other words, the next time I head to the theater to see “The Help” and it’s sold out, I’m headed home to watch “24” reruns rather than going to see “Our Idiot Brother” instead.

“Our Idiot Brother” begins with Ned (Paul Rudd), a genuinely nice, simpleminded hippie making the unfortunate mistake of selling weed to a (uniformed) police officer. Eight months later, after being release from prison on good behavior, Ned finds that in his absence, his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has left him and taken control of all his possessions, leaving him homeless and dog-less. Unsure of what to do with his life, Ned begins jumping from couch to couch, crashing with his sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, and Zooey Deschanel) and intruding on their assorted social and professional lives. Despite his good heart, Ned manages to wear out his welcome with each of his sisters and likewise, each of his sisters manage to let him down in some way or another, forcing Ned to come to grips with reality and make some tough choices.

On paper, the makers of “Our Idiot Brother” did a number of things right. They assembled an outstanding and diverse cast. It doesn’t seem possible that a film that features Rudd, Deschanel, Banks, and Adam Scott could fail. Rudd, while not what I would call a movie star, has shown the ability to carry a film and has wide ranging appeal. They kept the production budget extremely low ($5 million) keeping monetary expectations low. And they cut a set of outstanding trailers that pegged “Brother” as a fun but sensitive R-rated comedy that could be a breath of fresh air in a summer so heavily packed with less sophisticated comedies.

Would you trust this guy with the direction of your film?
Unfortunately, movies aren’t made by what you see on the IMDB profile. If you will allow me a generic sports metaphor, “that’s why they play the game.” From the outset, “Our Idiot Brother” is one uncomfortable misfire after another. Outside of Ned, none of the characters are likeable or relatable in the slightest, creating an immediate and awkward disconnect with the audience. They are also uncommonly shallow and one-dimensional and their relationships with one another reflect that, especially when the sisters are involved. The actors almost across the board seem somewhat lost and aimless which is (clearly) an indictment of director Jesse Peretz, best known for his work on “The Ex” (yikes). Rudd is able to create passable chemistry with a number of supporting actors (especially Scott and T.J. Miller), but his interactions with Banks, Deschanel, Mortimer, and Rashida Jones (who plays the girlfriend of Deschanel) range from unsatisfying to downright depressing. The way in which Ned is treated by his family occasionally strays into the territory of being cruel. Even so, the inevitable change, when Ned’s sisters realize how poorly they’ve treated him is too easy and too sudden to hit home, leaving the distinct taste of underdevelopment in the audience’s mouth.

Still, the greatest crime “Our Idiot Brother” commits is its overall lack of humor. I must be honest: I’m an easy laugh. I like dark comedy, physical comedy, witty comedy, and stupid comedy. I’m the guy you want in the room when you’re telling a joke because the odds are stacked in your favor in terms of getting a laugh. So I think it’s a bad sign when I can sit through a comedy without having a good hearty laugh or two and “Our Idiot Brother” didn’t provide that. I wasn’t alone in my laughlessness, either. I cannot remember seeing a true comedy that elicited less laughs from the audience as this one did. It was almost silent in my theater as one “joke” after another failed to land. It was a truly uncomfortable situation for us all and I felt like everyone in the room had the same thought: “So…when is this going to get funny?”

Without question, Paul Rudd is the best part of “Our Idiot Brother” and his performance is solid enough. But the film falls apart around him scene by scene. In the end, you’re just left to wonder what the point of all this is in the first place. I really wanted to like this film but it simply is not smart, is not funny, and is not quirky enough to recommend.

Grade: C

I just created the word “laughlessness”,

Movie News Today

Josh Brolin will take the lead in Spike Lee's "Oldboy" remake instead of Christian Bale. Not quite a lateral move in my mind but Brolin is pretty excellent in his own right.

Dan Aykroyd is now shopping a "Blues Brothers" TV script. Are you guys getting the impression that Aykroyd needs money? Yeah, me too.

Justin Lin (the genius behind the last few "Fast and Furious" films) talked with Empire about his upcoming "Terminator" feature. I have great hopes that Lin will turn that franchise around.

Indiewire sums up the summer's winners and losers. Well done.

Movie Muse provides a list of the top 5 breakout stars from the summer. Excellent work here.

Finally, the first teaser trailer for "The Hunger Games" debuted yesterday and while it shows you absolutely nothing, I'm pretty excited about this film so here it is!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DVD Roundup - 8/30

Um...this is awkward. There is not a single major studio release of note heading to DVD this week. That makes my job a bit tough so we're going to skip the new movie release circuit altogether and jump straight into the TV to DVD and Blu Ray features.

Sons of Anarchy: Season 3 (2010) - Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Katie Segal
The FX original series centering around a gun running biker gang in Charming, California. They're not so much "outlaws with hearts of gold" as they are "outlaws with a very refined sense of principle and justice." "Sons" is not for everyone (very harsh and dark at times...okay, almost all the time) but if you're into gritty dramas and you haven't been watching this show then you are seriously doing yourself a disservice. Simply put, this is the best show currently airing on television and there's nothing anyone could say to sway my opinion. I love "Mad Men", I'm sure "Breaking Bad" is great, and everything HBO is amazing (minus "True Blood" which I really don't get) but "Sons" trumps them all. Season 3 is an example of TV done right as it featured a mature, winding narrative that moved slow and yet covered a TON of ground in each episode. The characters are perfectly defined and the plot line is always fascinating and ALWAYS delivers a payoff. Incredible show.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: Again, not for everyone but if you enjoy the other shows on FX, AMC, or HBO, you should watch this show. The first two seasons are on Netflix Instant and you can catch up in no time at all.

Parenthood: Season 2 (2010) - Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Craig T. Nelson
An ensemble that focuses on the many members of the Braverman family, NBC's "comedy that's really a family drama with a few laughs" had a solid sophomore season. As with most network ensembles, the storylines are a mixed bag: some are really enjoyable and engrossing, some you just sit through so you can get to the characters you really care about. The writers just can't keep themselves from straying into "Generic TV Drama" territory every now and then but on the whole, I've found "Parenthood" to be a reasonable show that touches on family realities. And, it usually features excellent music.

IHVR: "Parenthood" is definitely targeted at an older audience but it gets the seal of approval from me. Worth a look.

House, M.D.: Season 7 (2010) - Hugh Laurie, Olivia Wilde, Robert Sean Leonard
Brilliant and cantankerous Doctor House (Laurie) continues to peddle his strange and experimental methods of healing. I know a lot of people whose opinions I respect who love "House" but I can't stand it. I hate the characters. All of them. To each his own, no judgment here, I just can't get on board for a show that continually pushes me toward punching my TV.

IHVR: I really do believe this is a good show so if you can watch it without bursting into a Hulk-like figure and smashing your living room furniture, then go for it.

Detroit 187: Season 1 (2010) - Michael Imperioli, James McDaniel, Aisha Hinds
Initially designed as a "Cops"-like drama, "Detroit 187" had to switch formats after a death on an actual cop reality show based in Detroit. The result is a fairly -by-the-numbers cop prodecural that has its moments but never gave me a reason to invest. Imperioli is an excellent actor but his character is pretty "meh" and "187" was usually the last thing I watched from my DVR each week. Still, it's better than most of the other cop shows out there these days and could make for an enjoyable experience.

IHVR: If you like cop dramas and this pops up on Netflix Instant, it's worth a shot. The rest of you should be watching "Sons of Anarchy" by now.

New to Blu Ray Pick of the Week
"Raising Arizona" (1987) - Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
After he and his wife (Hunter) can't conceive, a petty criminal (Cage) steals a baby from a local businessman. The second film from the Coen Brothers, "Raising Arizona" is a hilarious indication of where this gifted writer-director team was headed. Dark and over-the-top but balanced and excellently paced, in my opinion this is the funniest Coen film. Not the best, mind you; "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men" can duke it out for the title. But for sheer laughs and for a reminder of the fact that Nicholas Cage wasn't always an incredible hack, "Raising Arizona" is your movie.

Also New to Blu
"Blood Simple" (1984) - John Getz, Dan Hedaya, Frances McDormand
A man (Hedaya) hires a hitman (Getz) to kill his cheating wife (McDormand). The first film from the Coens is super dark even for their tastes and not all that well refined but it's still solid and holds up fairly well considering it was made on a shoestring budget 27 years ago.

"Fargo" (1995) - William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buschemi
Do I even need to sum this one up? In my mind, "No Country for Old Men" is the crowning achievement of the Coens. It's a masterpiece. But if you were to argue that "Fargo" is the best...well...I'm not sure I could argue too heavily against it. In a thousand years when the aliens that take over our planet look back on our history, they'll look up the term "dark comedy" and "Fargo" will be the example given.

"Miller's Crossing" (1990) - Gabriel Bryne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
A Prohibition-era drama that gets dark and bloody really fast. I think the storyline in "Crossing" is fairly weak for the Coens but the performances therein are top notch. Bryne is one of the more underrated actors the world has to offer.

(All of the Coen films this week are also available in a box set which is probably pretty awesome.)

Also New
Vampire Diaries: Season 2 (2010) - Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder
Desperate Housewives: Season 7 (2010) - Evan Longoria, Felicity Huffman
Cougar Town: Season 2 (2010) - Courtney Cox, Busy Phillips
Nikita: Season 1 (2010) - Maggie Q, Shane West
90210: Season 3 (2010) - Shenae Grimes, Tristan Wilds
Running Wilde: The Complete Series (2010) - Will Arnett, Kerri Russell
Perfect Host (2011) - David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford
Prom (2011) - Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell
Skateland (2011) - Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene
Madea's Big Happy Family (2011) - Tyler Perry

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie News Today

Ben Ripley, writer of "Source Code", has been pegged to write a remake of the "hit" thriller "Flatliners." I said it on Twitter this weekend but with all these awesome reboots and origin projects, how has "Robocop" been left out? That's a movie that could actually use a big money makeover. Come on, Hollywood!

Despite the fact that Billy Murray has repeatedly said he won't be in the film, Dan Aykroyd continues to shop his "Ghostbusters 3" script and insists the movie will happen. Here's the thing, Dan: Bill Murray IS "Ghostbusters." No one wants to see you a movie about Ray, Egon, and Winston and we CERTAINLY don't want a second generation "Ghostbusters" rip off. Either get Murray on board or let it go.

Flix Chatter gives an "Upcoming Flix Spotlight" to "Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy" which I again will only refer to as "The Movie Which Will Win Gary Oldman an Oscar." Have a look for a very nice primer.

Steven over at Movie Muse has a look at the best and worst of summer.

Matt at Cinema Slants finishes his Summer of Spielberg series. Excellent readings all summer.

I read two reviews this weekend that expounded upon the feelings and issues I had with a pair of films: Fast Film Reviews (a blog I just discovered) has a look at "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and A Life in Equinox takes "Limitless" to task. Check them out!

Weekend Box Office Results
This weekend the Lady of the Box Office and I went to the theater on Saturday. It was a "well we don't have anything else to do so why not" sort of drop in rather than the usual planned excursion. We decided to see "Our Idiot Brother" (review to come this week but SPOILER ALERT: it's bad) but I was SHOCKED to see a sign posted on the box office window saying that "The Help" was sold out. Despite not winning its own weekend, this film is still selling out screenings in its third week in release and took home a second straight box office win this week. I still haven't had a chance to check it out but of all the positive signs that a film can have going for it, selling out on its third week (albeit with limited competition) is about as good as it gets.

1. "The Help" - $14.33 million ($96.63 million total)
2. "Colombiana" - $10.3M
3. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" - $8.69M
4. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" - $8.65M ($148.46M)
5. "Our Idiot Brother" - $6.59M
6. "Spy Kids 4" - $5.73M ($21.71M)
7. "The Smurfs" - $4.8M ($125.99M)
8. "Conan the Barbarian" - $3.1M ($16.58M)
9. "Fright Night" - $3.03M ($14.21M)
10. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" - $2.91M ($69.53M)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

And you thought last week was rough. Things will pick up soon, dear readers, but this week...this week probably isn't going to help much with the summer doldrums.

"Our Idiot Brother" - Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer
Three sisters (Banks, Deschanel, Mortimer) take turns allowing their simple-minded, hippie brother (Rudd) to crash in their houses after he returns from a jail stint to find himself homeless. Yes, another R-rated comedy. The trailers for "Brother" tried to play the film off as kindhearted and even sweet but that can go wrong quite quickly. Reviews have been mediocre but one thing "Brother" has going for it is an all-star cast, especially Rudd who is almost always good even in a bad movie.

Value: $5 I'm right on the fence with this one. I was optimistic in the early going but reviews from critics I trust have me leaning toward calling this a bust. But it's still Paul Rudd so...

"Colombiana" - Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Michael Vartan
A highly trained assassin (Saldana) looks to avenge the death of her family at the hands of a Colombian drug cartel. On the plus side, this is produced by Luc Besson who knows how to make an entertaining action film. I always enjoy a good explosion. On the down side, I don't think Saldana is capable of carrying a film on her own and this is a pretty sparse supporting cast around here. Also, the trailer is horrible and confusing which does nothing to help sell the film.

Value: $3 HBO: Yes. Theater: No thanks.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" - Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison
After moving in with her father (Pearce) and step-mother (Holmes), a girl (Madison) discovers a group of creatures who torment her at every turn and hope to bring her into their world. A remake of the 1973 "classic" and produced by Guillermo del Toro, "Afraid of the Dark" seemed like a solid bet earlier this year but the press has been bad and I find it's always best to be wary of any film that puts Katie Holmes in a starring role. I'm seriously creeped out by the trailer which is no surprise sense I'm seriously creeped out by all horror movies but early reviews have labeled it a dud.

Value: $3 If you're a horror fan, you're about to enter your favorite time of year and "Afraid of the Dark" could be a nice primer. Otherwise...Katie Holmes.

"Higher Ground" - Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk (limited)
A woman (Farmiga) causes a stir within her highly devout community when she begins to struggle with her faith. The directorial debut of Farmiga, "Higher Ground" has earned extremely positive buzz for its honest but fair portrayal of Christianity and wrestling with one's faith. Farmiga is a favorite of mine and the subject matter is quite intriguing so I'd be running out to see this one if only it was available somewhere near me.

Value: $5 "Higher Ground" probably won't be coming to a theater near you but there's a good chance it will pop up on Netflix Instant before too long.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

I have mixed feelings about the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. The 1968 original is one of my favorite sci-fi films. In spite, or perhaps because, of the cheesiness and ridiculousness of that film, it brings joy to my heart every time I catch a few minutes of it on TV. In high school, because we were really cool, two of my best friends and I once rented every “Apes” film Blockbuster had in stock and watched them all back-to-back. We probably should have tried to find dates instead but oh well. I loved this franchise. Then the summer of 2001 came and brought with it Tim Burton’s reimagining of “Planet of the Apes.” It’s a terrible film. Just terrible. Honestly I get a little angry every time I even think about it. In general I have a pretty open mind as far as what films others like and dislike; it’s all subjective. But I judge harshly anyone who actually likes Burton’s “Apes”; that movie sucks, plain and simple. The 2001 version left a bad taste in my mouth and took away some of my zeal for the “Ape” universe. I couldn’t muster up any excitement for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” when the trailer started running and I just wasn’t up for throwing my support behind another reimagining. But the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding this movie finally wore me down and I was able to step into the theater with guarded optimism.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is an elite geneticist on the verge of a cure for Alzheimer’s through his experimentation with a group of apes. Just as he is ready to present his findings to his company’s board of directors, something goes horribly wrong and an ape on Rodman’s drug gets loose and causes havoc before being killed. With his findings rejected and the rest of his apes put down, Will’s life is changed when he is given charge of a newborn ape (the offspring of the ape who went mad) who becomes an unlikely companion for his father, Charles (John Lithgow), who is slipping further and further into the darkness of the disease Will had hoped to eradicate. The ape, named Caesar, is far from ordinary, however, and soon Will finds that Caesar’s cognitive abilities were enhanced through the drug that was given to the ape’s mother during her pregnancy. Will uses these findings to create a new, better drug that works wonders on Charles and transforms him back into the person he once was. Their happy new life is threatened when Caesar, now a full grown beast, attacks a neighbor and is locked away in a shelter. Here Caesar discovers his true power and stages an uprising that will eventually change the face of the world and lead to Charlton Heston’s horrible discovery.

I must say I didn’t love “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as much as many of my colleagues did. We’ll get into the reasoning for this in a bit. But what “Apes” does exceptionally well, however, is provide an example to Hollywood of how to make a quality summer blockbuster without breaking the bank. “Cowboys and Aliens” was tagged with the “bust” label last month but it certainly wasn’t alone in failing to perform relative to the budget. “Apes” has a much more reasonable budget ($90 million) than many of the other blockbusters despite the fact that it has a brand and a history to rely upon, making it easier for the film to turn a profit in a shorter amount of time. (With overseas returns and DVD sales, “Cowboys and Aliens” will probably break even eventually but that won’t stop it from being considered a huge bust. Part of the issue is the engorged budget that “Apes” avoided.) In addition, the success of “Apes” wasn’t pinned on a single actor or pair of actors. We live in an age that is lacking in movie stars and more importantly, research will tell you that actors don’t draw audiences anymore, at least not the way they used to. Banking on the star power of a given actor or actress, especially when you throw in a huge budget, has become a risky proposition. I’ll be honest and tell you that I am still extremely actor oriented; there are many actors and actresses who can and will get me to a theater based solely on their involvement with a film. But I am by far in the minority these days. Franchises and brands (“Harry Potter”, “Twilight”, etc.) replaced actors in the hierarchy of Hollywood power some years ago and now we’re seeing that story, director, and good old fashioned word of mouth (read: “this blog”) are taking more and more pull away from this or that actor. “Apes” features a solid, well respected cast but almost all of the press and attention was smartly directed at the branding and the amazing special effects.

And make no mistake, the special effects of “Apes” is truly amazing. Andy Serkis, best known for his work as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” films, provided the movements and facial expressions of Caesar and several of the other apes and his work is breathtaking. I’m not sure exactly what award he should be nominated for as I’m not certain you can nominate a guy for Best Supporting Actor if he never actually appears on screen but he deserves some attention when Award Season rolls around. The blend of CGI with the actors and sets is seamless and the apes move effortlessly. It’s quite beautiful, really. Given how extensive the CGI work is on this film, it’s almost unbelievable that this is the film that had a lower budget than most of its compatriots. Director Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) is relatively new to the scene but the structure of this film is that of a seasoned pro. Wyatt has earned himself a major pay raise on his next project. Franco gives an understated and honest portrayal that I appreciated very much. I never know what to expect with Franco and I think he takes the “quantity over quality” approach to choosing his roles. But as “127 Hours” showed, when he’s on, he’s an outstanding actor. Lithgow, too, is excellent and steals almost every scene he’s in. And like any good origin film, “Apes” gives the fanboys a few quality references to the source material it draws upon which I greatly appreciate.

The rest of the cast, however, fails to deliver. I think Bryan Cox is an outstanding actor when he’s asked to stretch himself but as the owner of the “ape refuge” that Caesar is sent to, he’s just Bryan Coxing all over the place, playing a caricature of the same character he plays in every movie. Frieda Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) provides the inevitable love interest for Will but unfortunately the character is completely and totally worthless. A note to Hollywood: if you don’t invest in a romantic relationship then neither will we. Many of the side characters (the hothead neighbor, the cravenly ape attendant, etc.) are all painfully over-the-top and take away from the more centered, balanced personas of the main characters. All of these issues are nothing, however, in comparison to the cringe-inducing performance of Tom Felton. I thought Felton was probably the worst actor in the “Harry Potter” cast (Draco Malfoy) and after having seen “Apes”, I would guess that his best days are behind him. As the angry and power hungry lead handler in the ape shelter, Felton’s character is so paint-by-number that I actually let out an audible groan at one point and it infuriates me that this was the character given the opportunity to repeat Heston’s trademark “Apes” line. He may have single handedly knocked this film down a grade.

My real problem with “Apes”, though, is the mediocre script that plays out too much like a horror movie for my liking. The supporting characters do things they would never do and too much of the plot is driven by a chain of events that would have to happen exactly as they happen in the film’s narrative or else it would never work. For example, in the opening scenes an experienced, supposed world-class ape handler leaves the door to the rest of the facility (where Will is conducting his meeting with the board of directors) open while trying to essentially capture an ape that he knows to be hostile and ready to attack. I realize this is a small complaint but there are dozens of issues like this and it makes for a plotline that is too easy to poke holes through. “Apes” deserves better than the lackluster script it was given.

Overall, I found “Apes” to be a frustrating but worthwhile film. Its strengths are impressive and engrossing, particularly the relationship between Will and Caesar and the development of Caesar’s power. But its weaknesses make it impossible for me to recommend wholeheartedly. If nothing else, though, “Apes” has helped erase some of my memories of Burton’s version and might just help with my ape-related anger management issues.

Grade: B

Keep your stinking paws off me,

Movie News Today

Christian Bale is considering the lead in Spike Lee's remake of "Oldboy." In. So in.

Looks like the "Wolverine" sequel may delay its production until spring 2012. Fine with me, just get it right.

Empire presents 36 actors playing younger. Fun times!

Anomalous Material gives us the top 10 Brad Pitt performances. I pretty much wholeheartedly agree, though I'd bump up his work in the "Ocean's" movies.

AM also delivers the top 10 movie voices which is a great list as long as you count Kiefer Sutherland as a TV voice guy's voice is KILLER.

And in keeping with the "10" theme, my friends at IEF present 10 films to watch this fall. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Priest"

After generations of battles between mankind and vampires, the humans introduce a new weapon into war: a group of super warriors called priests. Their skills allow for the defeat of the vampires, the remainder of which are placed on reservations in the desolate land that has become the earth. Some years later, vampires begin ransacking desert settlements and take captive the niece of one of the best priests (Paul Bettany). Against the wishes of the church/government, Priest sets out to track down his niece with the aid of a local sheriff (Cam Gigandet). What he finds, however, could signify the end of mankind altogether.

Here's a sample of a conversation I had with a buddy of mine concerning "Priest."

Me: "So I watched "Priest" last night."
Buddy: "I've been seeing commercials for that. What's that about?"
Me: "It's a post-apocalyptic deal. Vampires but not "Twilight" vampires, like big monstery vampires."
Buddy: "Oh, cool. Who's in that?"
Me: "Paul Bettany."
Buddy: "Wait, are you sure you're not talking about "Legion?"
***Awkward Silence While I Think About It***
Me: "No, I think "Legion" was about angels, not vampires."
Buddy: "Oh, right. So...basically, "Legion" but with vampires instead of angels?"
Me: "Yup."

Beyond the vampire-angel conundrum, the only difference between "Priest" and "Legion" is that I actually finished watching "Priest" whereas "Legion" now resides on the very short list of movies I sought out (theater, rental, DVR, etc.) and didn't bother finishing. I have a feeling I would consider "Legion" to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen if I'd been able to sit through the whole movie. "Priest", meanwhile, is just another pretty awful post-apocalyptic vision of the future that does nothing to distinguish itself from every other post-apocalyptic vision of the future. I keep coming back to this type of movie despite the fact that I know 99 percent of them are horrible and I can't seem to make myself stop. If you've ever seen the intervention episode of "How I Met Your Mother", know that I fully expect my friends and family to hold a similar event for me and ask me to stop post-apocalypting myself. But in the end I'd just reject post-apocalyptic rehab. "I'm not addicted! I can quit when I want!" (he quietly sobs while settling in to watch the newest "Resident Evil" movie). 

But if I'm in need of an intervention, then what do we need to do for Paul Bettany? He's an incredibly talented and respected actor with some very strong performances on his resume. But almost all of his films are terrible and lately he seems hellbent on running his career into the ground. He's better than "Priest" and he's certainly better than "Legion" but how much longer can we say that he's better than these roles? Two more bad movies? Three? At some point he'll no longer be considered a good actor who chooses roles poorly, he'll just be a bad actor who only does bad movies. This is what happened to Val Kilmer and he's now making straight-to-DVD flicks for $50,000 apiece. Make no mistake: "Priest" is a bad movie. The base concept is somewhat entertaining and I guess the action scenes are decent enough. But everything else about this film is just bad. The acting is bad, the story is porous, and the dialogue is painful. With that said, I can half-way enjoy a bad action movie as long as I'm not distracted by good actors wasting their lives away. If Jason Statham replaced Paul Bettany, I wouldn't bat an eye. This is what Jason Statham is supposed to do: show up in three or four action movies every year, kick some tail, and hope that one of the three or four is pretty good. That's his role in Hollywood and he's incredibly good at it. Bettany, though, is a real actor, not just an action movie guy but he doesn't seem to be aware of this fact. Maybe he just has low self-esteem or perhaps his agent owes a lot of money to the mob and the mob hates Paul Bettany so they keep insisting he show up in movies that make one want to kick a puppy. Either way, this needs to stop before Bettany is forced to appear in "Firewall 2" with Beau Bridges.

Everyone else in the cast and crew of "Priest" gets a pass from me except for Gigandet. I don't know how to put this nicely so I'm just going to come out and say it: this guy should never, EVER, be allowed to show up in a major studio release again. In the conversation I noted above, I asked my buddy to think of the worst actor he'd ever seen in a real movie...and then multiply that by five. That's how bad this guy is. I've seen him in another role or two here or there ("Easy A") but he was generally able to blend into the background. This time around, however, he announces his presence to the world in such a way as to make even his mother shudder. His forced delivery of EVERY SINGLE LINE almost caused me to turn "Priest" off in favor of a "Golden Girls" rerun. Do yourself a favor and stay away from "Priest." In fact, for future reference, stay away from all post-apocalyptic films and just come here for the inevitably negative review.

Grade: D

Movie News Today

Ben Affleck will star in "Line of Sight", an action movie filmed in the vein of a first person shooter video game. Not so sure about this one.

io9 gives us some "Monsters University" concept art. Can't wait for this movie.

Sean Penn is unhappy with Terrence Malick over the final version of "Tree of Life." I'm shocked by this as Sean Penn is NEVER disgruntled or prone to lashing out. Wait...

The Morning Buffalo explores the issues with the recent Netflix price increase.

The Audient takes a look at Michael Apted's "Up" documentary series, one of the coolest "franchises" you'll ever see. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DVD Roundup - 8/23

Tough sledding this week, friends. In the days to come we'll be getting a steady stream of TV-to-DVD releases but the first wave (this week) is always the worst. Hang in there!

The Beaver (2011) - Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin
After watching his family self-destruct, an angry business man (Gibson) finds a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and uses it as a strange form of therapy. I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this film. I love Mel Gibson. If that makes me a horrible person well...then so be it. Do I want to hang out with Mel Gibson in a pub? No thanks. But do I watch and enjoy most of his movies? Yes, yes I do. It remains to be seen whether "The Beaver" can resurrect Gibson's career but the reviews were mostly positive and for me, there are few actors who can command the screen when they're on their game the way Gibson can.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: If, like me, you're generally capable of putting an actor's personal issues aside when watching a film, you should see this one. If watching Mel Gibson is just going to make you angry then why bother?

Win Win (2011) - Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor
A shady lawyer (Giamatti) who also serves as a high school wrestling coach sees his life's fortune change with the discovery of an athletic prodigy but soon finds that he's bitten off more than he can choose. With outstanding reviews and hearty support, "Win Win" has an outside shot at some award attention when that time of the year rolls around. But here's the thing: Paul Giamatti doesn't make films for me. I've said it many times before: the guy is an outstanding actor but I almost never really want to see anything he's in. If I was 10 years older, maybe. If I was thoroughly discontent with my life, maybe. But as a 28 year old dude who generally likes his place in life and also enjoys a good fart joke now and then? I just can't relate to the guy.

INVR: Honestly, you should see this movie. Everything I hear tells me it's really quite good. For me, however, it's exactly the type of film that I put into my Netflix Instant queue and then never watch because I don't have anytime to watch both it and "Resident Evil 18" and how am I not going to watch "Resident Evil 18"?! (This is my cry for help.)

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011) - Morgan Spurlock
Documentarian Morgan Spurlock sets out to make a film financed solely through the utilization of product placement. I dig documentaries and Spurlock might be the most recognizable name in the documentary industry. He makes fun, relatively insightful films that are (probably) grounded in fact (I think) and he picks interesting subjects.

INVR: Probably worth a rental but I imagine "TGMES" will show up on your Netflix Instant sooner rather than later.

New to Blu Ray Pick of the Week
Rounders (1998) - Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich
A card shark (Damon) working his way through law school gets sucked back into the world of underground poker after his buddy (Norton) is released from jail. Before the big poke boom of the mid-2000s, there was "Rounders", the film that introduced most of us to the game Texas Hold 'Em. This is one of my favorite films and one that I consider to be HIGHLY underrated. You've got a young Matt Damon who's just about to come into his prime, Norton in a villainous-like role, and what I would consider to be Malkovich's best performance. If you've never seen "Rounders" I highly recommend a viewing. Lots of fun mixed with a healthy amount of tension and a great storyline.

Also New to Blu

Swingers (1996) - Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Heather Graham
A decent enough comedy that has really gotten more respect than it deserves.

Bambi II (2006) - Patrick Stewart, Alexander Gould
What are the odds that one of Bambi Junior's parents don't die within the first 15 minutes?

Hostage (2005) - Bruce Willis, Ben Foster, Kevin Pollack
Great concept, poor execution. Not one of Bruce's better films.

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985) - William Katt, Sean Young
If you've never seen "Baby" then you probably weren't born in America between 1980 and 1988. Also, you're probably better off than the rest of us that were born between 1980 and 1988.

Play it to the Bone (1999) - Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas
I like to call these "the lost years" for Harrelson.

Also New
NCIS: Season 8 (2010) - Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly
Gossip Girl: Season 4 (2010) - Blake Lively, Leighton Meester
Brothers and Sisters: Season 5 (2010) - Sally Field, Calista Flockhart
NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1 (2010) - LL Cool J, Chris O'Donnell
The Event: Complete Series (2010) - Jason Ritter, Blair Underwood
Troll Hunter (2010) - Otto Jerspersen, Robert Stoltenberg
Blitz (2011) - Jason Statham, Paddie Considine, Luke Evans

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review - "The Guard"

Despite the fact that I live in a bustling metropolis, all of the theaters that show smaller films are somewhere between 30 and 50 miles away. In “Dallas Traffic Time”, that translates to somewhere between 90 minutes and 16 days. As a result, I don’t get time to see many of these films until they come to DVD, if at all. In my experience, art house films are often the most difficult to write about and even more difficult to properly judge, particularly in the summer. When almost everything I’ve watched in the last three months has involved superheroes, aliens, or jokes related to bodily functions, I have a tough time transitioning to more mature and cinematic endeavors. So it is with “The Guard, a film entirely unlike anything else I saw this summer.

Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is an off-the-wall, somewhat crotchety veteran police officer who patrols a small Irish town. Shortly after beginning an investigation into a peculiar murder, Boyle discovers that his case is related to a major drug ring that is currently being hunted by FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). As straight-laced as they come, Everett is an odd pair for Boyle but the two are forced to work together to take down the cartel. When the case pulls Boyle in deeper than he would have ever imagined he is forced to reexamine his life’s work and turn himself into an unlikely hero.

If that synopsis makes “The Guard” sound wholly serious, bear in mind that it is completely and totally a comedy. A dark comedy to be sure but a comedy nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered what “Hot Fuzz” would be like if it was subtle and less over-the-top, “The Guard” fits the bill. This is writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s first full length film but I would never have guessed it if not for the magic of IMDB. It is a witty, well-written film that makes its tone clear from the first scene. The pacing isn’t exactly what I would call slow but instead calculatedly casual; it knows where it intends to go and it makes its way with balanced determination. This is a film that knows its own identity and doesn’t stray from the dark comedy path more than a time or two. Its humor is smart and lively. Even with the thick accents (which probably caused me to miss a joke or two) “The Guard” is filled with exquisite dialogue and understated jokes that brought more laughs than anything from all but the very best big budget comedies this year has brought.

The plot of “The Guard” is simple but refined and that pushes all of the attention onto the characters and the actors who portray them. Cheadle is a solid straight man and as he always does, he makes the absolute most of every scene he is given. As one of the ringleaders of the drug ring, Mark Strong’s character is straight out of a Guy Ritchie film, a role Strong is great at playing. Please Mr. Strong: stick to these films and stay away from popcorn crap like “Green Lantern.” But despite all of the excellent actors around him, “The Guard” is all about Gleeson. His work in 2008’s “In Bruges” (coincidentally directed by McDonagh’s brother Martin) finally brought him the attention he deserves, but Gleeson has always been a favorite of mine, a magnificent actor who never fails to impress no matter how little screen time he is given. Boyle is a without a doubt a curmudgeon (and a slightly racist one at that) but Gleeson makes him exceedingly likeable. He is a wild card, the type of guy who does the right thing when you’re absolutely sure he’s going to continue to disgrace himself and Gleeson pulls this off perfectly. Moreover, he once again exhibits the brilliant comedic timing that has made him one of the best and most versatile actors Ireland has to offer. I’m not saying it’s his best performance but rather another in a long string of quality portrayals that illustrate just how undervalued this guy really is.

Fun, intelligent, and genuinely hilarious, “The Guard” is an excellent departure from my typical fare this time of year. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I really like summer blockbusters. I love them, in fact. But when a movie like “The Guard” comes along in the midst of the “Conan the Barbarians” of the world, it serves as an incredibly refreshing reminder of what we have to hope for in the coming months.

Grade: B+

I think we need a conversion chart for “Dallas Traffic Time”,

Movie News Today

This weekend Disney announced their next two Pixar projects, one concerning dinosaurs (yay!) and one that will take a look inside the human mind. Whatever that means. Honestly, if Pixar announced that their next two films would concern the production of sunscreen and the history of concrete, wouldn't you watch them?

Disney also had their annual expo this weekend and unveiled details on "John Carter of Mars", "Brave", "Monsters University", and "The Muppets." I'm going to have to go to this thing someday.

If you're a true nerd and you're visiting Montana, aren't you going to stay at this Hobbit house? Duh.

In light of the new "Conan" movie, Cinema Blend gives us the 13 best low IQ heroes. Very fun list.

Univarn from A Life in Equinox asks, Does Tom Hanks Still Act? Interesting thoughts.

Weekend Box Office Results
Wow. Not a good week to have a new movie in theaters this weekend. "Spy Kids", "Fright Night", and even "One Day" all got less-than-expected returns but "Conan"...ouch. Looked terrible to me so I was staying away regardless but I thought more people would be fooled. That $90 million budget is looking really high right now. On the plus side, "The Help" actually rose from second place last week to first this time around, riding the wave of strong word of mouth. The movie stardom of Emma Stone is coming into full bloom.

1. "The Help" - $20.48 million ($71.8 million total)
2. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" - $16.3M ($133.76M)
3. "Spy Kids 4" - $12.02M
4. "Conan the Barbarian" - $10M
5. "The Smurfs" - $8M ($117.74M)
6. "Fright Night" - $7.9M
7. "Final Destination 5" - $7.71M ($32.33M)
8. "30 Minutes or Less" - $6.3M ($25.76M)
9. "One Day" - $5.13M
10. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" - $4.95M ($64.42M)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

"Conan the Barbarian" - Jason Mamoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang
A fearsome and muscled-up warrior (Mamoa) looks to avenge the destruction of his village. This remake of the Arnie "classic" hasn't gotten quite the attention that I'm guessing the studio anticipated. Action movies don't have to necessarily be good to be fun and entertaining (see: "The Expendables") but even the action movie buffs I've talked to aren't all that excited about "Conan." This is the first big screen role for Mamoa who was in my mind the least impressive part of HBO's "Game of Thrones" from this Spring and it remains to be seen if this will boost up his credibility as an actor. Add in that director Marcus Nispel is best known for the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake've been warned.

Value: $5 "Conan" will probably look much better on the big screen than your home TV but the reviews have been bad. I can't imagine it'll be worth the price of theater admission.

"One Day" - Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess
After spending one glorious night together, the life events of a young pair (Hathaway, Sturgess) are shown each year on the anniversary of that first date. Does that sound like an odd combination of "One Fine Day" and "The Lake House" to you? Yeah, me too. Director Lone Scherfig's follow-up to "An Education" isn't doing so well with the critics and looks to have a lackluster opening weekend at the box office. I'm a fan of neither Hathaway nor Sturgess and find both of them to be a bit off-putting. I can't quite put my finger on what it is that bothers me about them but it's there nonetheless. Pairing them together sounds like a polite form of torture.

Value: $3 If you're just desperate for a date movie, I guess you could talk yourself into this one.

"Fright Night" - Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant
After becoming convinced that his new neighbor (Farrell) is a vampire, a small town teenager (Yelchin) enlists the help of a vampire expert (Tennant) to take down the menace. I was totally on board for "Fright Night"...until I saw the trailer. Yikes. As a tongue-in-cheek cross between "The Lost Boys" and "Disturbia" I think there was a place for this film. But now I feel like this is closer to a spoof that takes itself too seriously and that's something I just cannot abide by. The reviews have been fairly positive, though, and I think in the right roles Farrell can be excellent so I'm ready to be proven wrong...I just don't think I will be.

Value: $5 Definitely a rental in my book, not worth the price of admission otherwise.

"Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D" - Jessica Alba, Joel McHale, Jeremy Piven
A big time spy (Alba) and her two unsuspecting step children join forces to prevent a mad villain (Piven) from taking over the world. Or something like that. Honestly, has ANYONE seen a "Spy Kids" movie since the original? I mean, I don't have kids but I work with kids and I've never once heard a kid say, "Oh, "Spy Kids 3" is the best!" Also, what does 4D mean? Will the theater be filled with the smell of sweaty kids who've been running around chasing bad guys? Or will the audience actually be able to feel Joel McHale's pain as he participates in the destruction of his career?

Value: $2 I can't imagine this is worth anything unless you've got kids who just love the "Spy Kids" canon.

"Griff the Invisible" - Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody, Marshall Napier
A wannabe superhero (Kwanten) finds his life changed when he meets a scientist (Dermody) who aids him in his noble quest. Because what we really need is another homemade superhero film.

Value: $2 There could be something interesting here if "Griff" pops up on Netflix Instant.

"Amigo" - Joel Torre, Chris Cooper, Garrett Dillahunt
During the Philippine-American war, a local leader (Torre) struggles to keep the peace within his settlement as an American colonel (Cooper) tries to take over. Director John Sayles has a cult following and always manages to grab a top notch cast to work in his low budget, often controversial films. I'm more interested in this because of Dillahunt, one of the most underrated actors in the industry and an absolute favorite of mine.

Value: $4 No one outside of LA and New York will get a chance to see this in theaters but I'll keep it on my radar should it pop up on Netflix or HBO.

Movie News Today

Apologies for the lack of MNT entries this week. A combination of busyness and a lack of interest in most of the news that's come my way. I'll try to pick it up next week.

The Scotts have been busy lately. Ridley has apparently started work on a "Blade Runner" reboot/sequel. If he is somehow able to get Harrison Ford involved, I'm in without question. Otherwise...not sure this needs to be done. Meanwhile, Tony is also planning a "Wild Bunch" reboot which could be a lot of fun.

Robert Downey, Jr. will produce (and possibly star in?) a biopic about the aftermath of the attack on the USS Indianapolis in World War II, one of the most interesting and terrifying stories of the War. Sounds good to me.

Be sure to check out the latest Summer of Spielberg entry at Cinema Slants.

And since I haven't been keeping up lately, I'll give you two trailers today.

The first is for the Sam Worthington flick "Texas Killing Fields":

And this one is for "Machine Gun Preacher" which is sure to be quite awful:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Home Viewing: "Limitless"

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer whose life hasn't gone the way he thought it was. His girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) leaves him, his publisher won't read his material, and he's about to get kicked out of his shack of an apartment. All that changes when he runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his ex-brother-in-law and a known drug dealer. Vernon gives Eddie a pill that he accepts as FDA approved (the first in a long list of plot holes) and which he is told will allow him to use 100 percent of his brain. Upon taking it, he discovers that with that much brain capacity he can basically do anything. He turns a few bucks into big money, reunites with his girlfriend, and is soon working for a Wall Street bigwig named Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Soon, though, the drugs side effects become painfully obvious and he is forced to fight for survival while being pressed upon from all sides.

Occasionally I dislike a film so much that I can't come up with the words to sum up my dislike. So it is with "Limitless." I saw this movie two weeks ago and I've been struggling with how to write a constructive criticism ever since. Well, I can't. I hate this movie. I won't even go so far as to say this is necessarily a "bad" movie; I'll just say that I absolutely hate it. I've seen a few bad films this year but I'd rather watch almost all of them again before taking in a re-viewing of "Limitless."

First and foremost, I hated Cooper's character and I cared not if he lived or died. Cooper is good at playing unlikable characters ("Wedding Crashers") but I don't think that was the goal here. His transition from near-homeless writer to Wall Street baller is pathetic and stupid. It's like in a teen film when the "ugly nerd" cuts her hair and loses her glasses and suddenly becomes the new hottie. Actually, it's EXACTLY like that minus the glasses. Laughable. The narrative itself is ripe with plot holes and inconsistencies and it makes you wonder if the script was unfinished when director Neil Burger said, "Screw it, we're shooting" and off they went. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conclusion which literally feels like Burger called everyone together a week before the film's release because, "wouldn't you know, we forgot to put an ending on this thing, hahaha!" It's terrible. There's a very Philip K. Dick-esque story somewhere in here but it's so convoluted as to become embarrassing. None of the cast is used effectively. Cooper becomes obnoxious, Cornish is as one-dimensional as they come, and De Niro isn't even trying. (To be fair, if I'm De Niro, I probably wouldn't try here, either. As Michael Caine said, sometimes it's just about the pay check.)

If all of that wasn't enough, the production value behind "Limitless" is worthless. The "opening sequence in the future then flash back to the beginning" bit is tired. Only the best-told stories need to be told this way and yet we continually get average to below average films running blindly down this path. Add in a voiceover that probably could have been avoided through clever writing and you get a bundle of clich├ęs that fail to impress on every level. Worst of all, "Limitless" wants desperately to be smart but doesn't have the brains to figure out that it simply isn't. It is like the "C+" student who is accidentally placed in the "honors" class but instead of pointing out the error in the office, he heads straight to the front of the class and writes out a jumbled equation that leaves everyone in the room scratching their heads and wondering if the "C+" student is actually a bit slow. I hate "Limitless" and now that I've written this review, I think I'm more willing to just say it's bad and be done with it.

Grade: C-

DVD Roundup - 8/16

Priest (2011) - Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Karl Urban
Set in a future society after a long battle with some form of vampires, a priest (Bettany) which are more like warrior monks realizes the vampires are back and sets off to hunt them down against the wishes of the church. Okay, here's the deal. This has got to be terrible. I know it's terrible. But I just can't seem to stay away from post-apocalyptic action films. I've tried but I can't do it on my own. I'm afraid therapy may be in order. I'm also oddly attracted to Paul Bettany films even though very few of them are worth the price of admission. So this is sort of a perfect storm of terribleness for me and I'm sure a lackluster review will be on the way shortly.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: "Priest" has a 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Leave the waste of a $4 rental to me and save yourself the trouble.

Something Borrowed (2011) - Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, John Krasinski
When the push-over girl-next-door (Goodwin) learns that the guy she has a crush on has gotten engaged to her hot best friend (Hudson), friendships are put to the test. Goodwin's first real starring role is one of the worst reviewed movies of the year. I expect this type of thing from Hudson but Goodwin had some real promise coming off of her acclaimed performance in HBO's "Big Love." If nothing else, Krasinski is always fun but you get the impression that even he recognizes this to be a mess.

IHVR: I know not a single person who enjoyed this film and I know some people who liked "Valentine's Day." If you're desperate for a romantic comedy, go see "Crazy Stupid Love" or re-watch "500 Days of Summer." Stay away.

The Conspirator (2010) - James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkerson
Based on a true story, "The Conspirator" centers around Mary Surratt (Wright), the only woman accused of having a role in the Lincoln assassination and the lawyer (McAvoy) who was tasked with defending her. Directed by Robert Redford (a favorite of mine though probably more for nostalgic reasons than anything else) and featuring an all-star cast, "The Conspirator" failed to find either a critical or general audience. Period pieces are a tough sell for jackwagons like me and the fact that it wasn't given a significant release until after Award Season had passed probably speaks to its overall measure.

IHVR: If you're into historical dramas, this probably delivers. Otherwise, it could be good for an HBO or Netflix Instant viewing.

Jane Eyre (2011) - Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell
Another re-telling of Charlotte Bronte's literary classic, "Jane Eyre" tells the story of a young governess (Wasikowska) who discovers a terrible secret concerning her employer and love interest (Fassbender). I'm pretty sure I had to read "Jane Eyre" at some point during high school but I couldn't tell you a thing about it (big shout out to Spark Notes for getting me through junior English). Fassbender is quickly jumping into the category of actors who can get me to see anything they're in based on their names alone...except films based upon the novels of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte. I just don't have any interest. To be fair, I've heard excellent things about this film and if this is your thing then more power to you. But I believe I have a previous engagement with a terrible post-apocalyptic Paul Bettany movie.

IHVR: Fans of period pieces and Victorian England should definitely rent this one.

The Ward (2011) - Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker
From the mind of John Carpenter comes a wholly original horror flick about a girl (Heard) who is placed in a mental institution where she is terrorized by a ghost. So basically "Gothika" without Halle Berry or a "my career is over" Robert Downey, Jr. I don't like horror movies and I generally try not to judge them but this one seemed particularly bad.

IHVR: Watch at your own risk, horror fans.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (2011) - Hayden Panettiere, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton
Because what kids were really dying for six years after the original, "Too" (kill me) rejoins the fairy tale gang for another wacky adventure. I don't think I've ever seen a current film that had worse animation than the previews for "Too" displayed. The trailer literally looked like it had been pirated. Also, no one cared about the first "Hoodwinked"; we DEFINITELY did not need a sequel.

IHVR: There are hundreds of better kid's movie rental options; stay far, far away.

New to Blu Pick of the Week
The Big Lebowski (1998) - Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
This might not be the Coen Brothers' best film nor my personal favorite but it is iconic nonetheless. The Dude (Bridges) himself is spectacular, a singular character that is not easily forgotten. I've always found "Lebowski" to be one of those films that gets better with more viewings. I didn't really like it the first time through but I enjoyed it more the second time and by the third viewing, I was convinced of its genius. Check it out again if you weren't sold the first time around.

Also New to Blu
The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and Muppets in Space (1999) - Frank Oz, Jim Henson, Dave Goelz
Like most people from my generation, the Muppets were a HUGE part of my childhood. I've seen them all recently and "Manhattan" holds up; still great. "Space", though, is probably the worst of the bunch. In many ways, however, the Muppets laid the ground work for Pixar and Dreamworks in that they created smart, visually engaging (for the time) kid's films that provided a great deal of content to the adults in the audience.

Cobra (1986) - Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen
Demolition Man (1993) - Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes

The Specialist (1994) - Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone
Assassins (1995) - Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas
Also known as the "Sly Stone B-Side Collection." I've not seen "Cobra", "Assassins" is mediocre, and "Specialist" is bad. But "Demolition Man"...well, it's pretty awful, too, but in the best way possible. So over the top, so stupid, so poorly acted and yet it's a lot of fun.

Also New
Dexter: Season 5 (2010) - Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter
Spin City: Season 5 (2001) - Charlie Sheen, Heather Locklear
The Grace Card (2010) - Michael Joiner, Louis Gossett Jr. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: "Attack the Block"

Occasionally I am fortunate enough to draw passes to a screening of a film before it opens in wide release. It’s always a bit of a thrill because I feel like an actual member of the press and it’s cool to have someone else pay for my movie obsession. I never know, however, what kind of crowd I’m going to encounter at one of these screenings. I have been to screenings in which the number of critics, paid or unpaid, far outnumber the casual moviegoers. Other screenings, though, have brought out the craziest collection of movie watchers the world has ever seen. I’ve had some of my best film going experiences in a screening and some of my worst. Unfortunately the screening for “Attack the Block” fell into the latter category. Never in my life have I been surrounded by a bigger group of loudmouthed, foul smelling, obnoxious toolbags in a setting that didn’t involve the DMV or a Nickleback concert. I’m not above telling someone to shut it or to stop texting during a movie but in this case, I, the considerate movie goer, was in the vast minority so I just had to grin (read: “grit my teeth and mutter curses under my breath”) and bear it. Because of this, my attention was placed only half on the screen and half on the laughing buffoon next to me who smelled more of booze than anyone who is not currently homeless. Therefore, should you see “Attack the Block” and disagree with my review, I ask that all of the blame be placed upon Cinemark 17 on Webb Chapel and the brutally distracting crowd they assembled.

While a group of young London thugs are in the midst of a robbery, a mysterious object crashes into a nearby car. Upon further investigation, Moses (John Boyega), the group’s leader, is attacked by a strange animal. After chasing it down and beating it to death, the group realizes that they have an alien on their hands. Juiced up from their triumph, Moses and his crew take the alien creature back to their apartment building (a low-rent complex that borders on a slum) and store the body in the pot room of the building’s drug dealer. Shortly thereafter, they begin to see more falling balls of fire and their neighborhood is soon infested with vicious, eyeless gorilla-bear creatures that seem to find Moses and his gang wherever they go. With no one else to help, the young crew is forced to battle against the extraterrestrial beasts with an assortment of fireworks, kitchen knives, and a showpiece samurai sword.

“ATB” falls right in line with the better works of executive producer Edgar Wright, such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” It is an alien invasion-comedy that transitions into more of a horror-comedy as the action unfolds. These three aspects come together beautifully and at no point does “ATB” become too bogged down in one genre or the other. Meaning, it isn’t overly funny to the point of becoming an out-and-out comedy but neither does it delve too deeply into a heavy sci-fi plotline or a gory blood fest. The blending of the different genres in a movie like this is always the tough part (see: “Cowboys and Aliens”) and writer/director Joe Cornish displays a sly ability to do just that and makes “ATB” a film that should appeal to a wide range of nerdy fanboys. The well-crafted story is wild fun, easily engaging, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it witty, it is much smarter than you might think.

Our young heroes (or anti-heroes if you prefer) are, for the most part, highly enjoyable. Their thick accents and un-Americanized lingo is at times hard to understand but generally quite engrossing. You have to pay close attention to the dialogue or you’ll miss the better jokes (the would-be hobo next to me probably forced me to miss about 15 percent of these utterances) and “ATB” is the better for this. Boyega, in particular, shows some real promise and does a good job of displaying the depth of his character without allowing his portrayal to become overly cumbersome. There is very little backstory or character development within this film but that shouldn’t be construed as a negative. In fact, I found this to be very refreshing; Cornish throws you head first into the alien invasion pool and simply asks you to swim along. This move also takes a TON of pressure off of these young, inexperienced actors in that they are rarely asked to do much beyond crack a few jokes, swear a little, and kick alien butt.

There is no pretense to “ATB” and that may be its stroke of genius. Whereas “Cowboys and Aliens” leads with a simple and bold title but bogs down in an overly complex and burdensome plot, this film avoids complexity to the extreme. It’s just teenagers fighting aliens, plain and simple. Even the explanation for the aliens coming to London is simple and sufficient, enough to create a plausible reason for making the film in the first place but it doesn’t lead “ATB” off into an abyss of sci-fi mythos. In short, it’s a great time at the movie theater, or at least it will be if the pair behind you isn’t arguing about the merits of their favorite respective Disney films: “Shrek” and “Ice Age.” I could not make that up.

Grade: A- 

“Shrek” is clearly a better “Disney” movie than “Ice Age”,

Movie News Today

Mike Myers has signed on for "Austin Powers 4" because, you know, that's what the world's been demanding.

The Hollywood Reporter describes the tension on the set of "The Walking Dead" which led to Frank Darabont's firing. AMC is an enigma. On the one hand, they feature three of the best, riskiest shows on TV and yet they seem to have no idea how to manage the talent that puts those shows together. Very skeptical about "Walking Dead" season 2.

Movie Muse delivers the top 10 dumbest movie criminals. Nicely done.

Fandango Groovers finishes his first viewing of the Harry Potter series.

Two new trailers broke over the last few days: Steve Spielberg's "War Horse":

And the modern day take on Shakespeare's "Coriolanus":

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" - $27.5 million ($104.88 million total)
2. "The Help" - $25.52M ($35.4M)
3. "Final Destination 5" - $18.4M
4. "The Smurfs" - $13.5M ($101.55M)
5. "30 Minutes or Less" - $13M
6. "Cowboys and Aliens" - $7.61M ($81.48M)
7. "Captain America" - $7.13M ($156.88M)
8. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" - $6.93M ($55.4M)
9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" - $6.87M ($356.96M)
10. "The Change-Up" - $6.22M ($25.75M)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

"The Help" - Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard
Based on the bestseller of the same name, "The Help" is the story of a young journalist (Stone) who chronicles the lives of the black housekeepers who work within her socialite community in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. With a built-in fan base, "The Help" will get an extra boost from Stone who is rapidly becoming a go-to movie star. This is not your typical summer film but then again, August is often the hodge-podge month of the season and I think it's fair to expect a solid opening considering the good press it's currently getting.

Value: $7 This is going to be a big player for girl's night out-type gatherings but I think it has much more gender-crossover potential than, say, "Sex and the City." I'm pretty interested in checking it out myself.

"30 Minutes or Less" - Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson
A lazy pizza delivery man (Eisenberg) is forced to don a bomb and rob a bank by a pair of dumb crooks (McBride, Swardson). To carry out the heist, he enlists the help of his best friend (Ansari) who tells a lot of jokes in the process. Yet another R-rated comedy, "30 Minutes" seems to have a better pedigree than "The Change-Up" but the reviews have been less than stellar. From a personal standpoint, I'm torn. I love Aziz Ansari. For my money, he is probably the best comedian going right now and even though he usually plays the exact same character, I love that character. He is a definite draw for me here. On the other hand, Eisenberg is an enigma. He's an excellent actor but I find him disconnected and unengaging in anything other than "Zombieland" ("The Social Network" is a totally different animal). I just don't really look forward to his films. Plus, I don't understand the appeal of Swardson whatsoever.

Value: $5 I'm riding the fence here. Might be worth a matinee price if you're in a really good mood, might be better served as a rental. For that matter, it might not be worth seeing at all.

"Final Destination 5" - Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Arlen Escarpeta
I hoped that when the makers of these films titled the previous entry "THE Final Destination" that we were mercifully seeing the end of these films. Alas, much like the subject matter it revolves around, the "Final Destination" series continues to cheat death. I don't do horror films so my opinion really doesn't matter here. But if it did, I'd plead with America to please, please, PLEASE stop seeing these movies.

Value: $2 If you're a fan of this series, God help you. Kidding. Seriously, if you're a fan of these films I can't imagine that you wouldn't enjoy this one as well. I, however, will continue to pretend that these movies do not exist.

"Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" - Cory Montieth, Dianna Agron, Lea Michele
A concert documentary in the vein of "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" and the "Miley Cyrus" movie from a couple of years ago. I watched the first year of "Glee" and I dig some of the music (I'm a fan of cover songs in general) but around the beginning of the second season, I realized that the writing is terrible, the plot virtually starts over every single episode, and many of the characters are thoroughly unlikable. At the same time, you have to respect the incredible popularity and influence the show (and now the movie) have had over the last couple of years.

Value: $2 Much like "Final Destination 5", if you're into this series and/or you're under the age of 15, you're probably going to enjoy this movie. If not...I mean...there's got to be some preseason football on TV, right?

"Senna" - Aryton Senna (limited)
This is a documentary about Formula 1 driver Aryton Senna, a Brazilian who took the racing world by storm before his untimely death at the wheel of his car. Already a huge hit in the UK, "Senna" will look to capitalize the numerous heralds it earned over the course of its festival circuit run.

Value: $4 I would hazard a guess that this is definitely worth your time as a rental or Netflix Instant viewing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: "Crazy, Stupid, Love"

It’s not often that I pull out the, “Just See This Movie” card. I half-way did it with the most recent “Harry Potter” film but that was as much a plea to read the books as it was see the movie so I don’t think it counts. I allot myself no more than two “Just See This Movie” cards a year though many years I pass on playing one altogether. Movies are subjective and interpretive by their very nature; what works for me may not work for you and vice versa and I try to keep that in mind when I review a film (unless it’s a particularly bad one; I’ll smash on those films with no regard to differences in opinions). Therefore, I want to say upfront that I’m playing a “Just See This Movie” card on “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” I’m not going to promise you’ll love it; I won’t even promise you’ll like it. But I have a feeling that in five years I’m going to be the only person who remembers this film and it’s too intriguing to be forgotten. So…just see this movie.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” presents the audience with no build up. We are introduced to the Weavers right as Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal (Steve Carell) that after having cheated on him with a coworker (Kevin Bacon), she wants a divorce. Within minutes of screen time, Cal is forced to move out and starts trying to figure out what exactly happened to the life he spent 25 years creating. Lonely and depressed, Cal begins to frequent a bar where he notices Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a ladies man in the vein of Barney Stinson (“How I Met Your Mother”). To Cal’s surprise, Jacob takes an interest in him and begins mentoring him on the finer points of single life and picking up women. Cal is nervously but sufficiently transformed and regains some of his former strength under Jacob’s tutelage. The only question is whether or not he’d rather start anew or find a way to work things out with his wife. At the same time, Jacob finds himself enthralled by Hannah (Emma Stone), a would-be conquest who initially rejects him before embracing the spontaneity that Jacob symbolizes, a relationship that throws them both for a loop. All of this, along with another love-related story line or two, creates a skillfully designed yet unrefined look at the highs and lows of love.

It’s not often that we talk about the technical or behind-the-scenes work done on a romantic comedy. If anything, you might hear that the dialogue is well written but that’s usually about it. “CSL” is an exception to this rule. The directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and up-and-coming screenwriter Dan Fogelman made every effort to position this film as much more than a simple date movie. For one thing, the shot selection and camera work is exquisite. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that about a rom-com before but it must be noted. Angles, close-ups, and fades are used to simply and subtly enhance the tone of a given scene in a way that is usually reserved (or at least noticeable to an average filmgoer like myself) for Oscar bait. The story (or many stories) told within “CSL” is extremely intelligent and one that treats the audience with respect. The characters are multi-dimensional, the story isn’t black-and-white, and the film doesn’t superficially tug at your heartstrings, rather allowing the organic elements of the narrative to do that on their own. It is also gloriously self-aware, a cherry on top of the already appealing sundae.

That’s not to say “CSL” is a perfectly made film. The various plotlines don’t all come together for quite some time and that gets slightly annoying and puts a lot of pressure on the conclusion (which thankfully handles the pressure very well). Just when you really get into a particular story, the scene cuts and you’re taken back to another set of characters. Fogelman’s script is complex and the dialogue therein is even more so, requiring the actors to talk in bursts in a way that is similar to an Aaron Sorkin film. I’m a huge Sorkin fan so that didn’t bother me in the slightest but it can be difficult to keep up. Even some of the character relationships seem odd at times; not bad, mind you, but simply a bit awkward. (Though when you consider the differences in the characters and the situations they’re put into, it should be awkward.) In addition, this is not a seamless blend of drama and comedy. Many of the tougher, more impactful scenes pull back and allow for a tension-breaking joke when I might prefer the directors to take it a step further.

For me, however, “CSL” is better for its flaws. I can relate to flawed characters and situations that aren’t ideal and that relevance is where “CSL” excels. All of these characters are human; exaggerative examples of humans, sure, but human nonetheless. And each and every member of the cast (with the exception of Marisa Tomei who really isn’t given ANYTHING to work with) grabs hold of that humanity and runs with it. I’ve always been fairly lukewarm on Ryan Gosling fan but his performance here has won me over for good. “Womanizing hot guy with a dark past” is a tired, often overdone role but Gosling brings incredible depth to Jacob Palmer. At his heart he is a good person and Gosling makes that believable whereas other characters of this type seem only to be “good” in theory alone. He also shows a distinctly humorous side that I didn’t know he had. The story goes that when he took the role, Steve Carell essentially demanded Gosling be his co-star, a decision which seemed strange at the time but is proven wise time and time again throughout this film.

Speaking of Carell, I don’t think there is an actor in Hollywood who is able to blend comedy and real, genuine heart like he does. He elicits sympathy from the audience without becoming pathetic and his timing as far as well-placed jokes go is uncanny. Meanwhile, Emma Stone continues to assert herself as a legitimate movie star. She’s had bigger and perhaps better performances in the recent past (“Easy A”) comes to mind but I don’t think she has shown the depth or versatility that she does her. Funny as always, she adds an element of mystique that makes it easy to believe that Jacob would leave his wayward ways to chase after her. Moore, Bacon, and even relative newcomers Jonah Bobo (who plays the Weaver’s son) and Analeigh Tipton (love-struck babysitter) all carry their weight as well, making this a well-rounded ensemble worthy of the many storylines the script weaves together. And the chemistry between the involved parties of each storyline (Carell-Gosling, Gosling-Stone, Carell-Bobo, etc.) ties “CSL” together wonderfully.

“CSL” is a sometimes jumbled collection of interconnecting stories, all of which stand well on their own and all of which are hell bent on exploring the truth about love. It is frustratingly beautiful, flawed but whole, hilarious at times and heartbreakingly harsh at others. Most of all, though, it is honest and that is what makes it such a worthwhile viewing. Consider the “Just See This Movie” card played and act accordingly.

Grade: A

Emma Stone is seriously close to stealing me away from Rachel McAdams,

For a much less sunny take, check out the review at Anomalous Material.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Animated Disney Films

Yesterday in the weekly DVD Roundup, I chose "The Fox and Hound" as my New to Blu Pick of the Week and even went so far as to call it a top 5 animated Disney film of all time. That statement set the blogosphere ablaze (no it didn't) and numerous readers clamored to their keyboards (no they didn't) to lodge complaints. This (fictional) outrage has forced me to do two things: 1.) Revise my statement to be, "top 5 favorite Disney animated films of all time" and 2.) Make a list. I love lists and I don't do nearly enough of them. So today I present to you my Top 10 Favorite Animated Disney Films of All Time. (Pixar obviously does not count.)

10. "Sleeping Beauty" - 1959
This one is somewhat of a departure from the majority of the other films on this list in that it's all about a princess. Still, you have to appreciate a "chick flick" (so to speak) that features a totally wicked dragon. Of all Disney's princess films, "Sleeping Beauty" is the one I've always liked the most.

9. "Tarzan" - 1999
I'm going to be honest here: the reason this film makes the list is the killer soundtrack. As a hardened fan of rock and folk, I know that I should dislike Phil Collins but I have found this to be an impossible principle to live up to. "Tarzan" is a quality piece of children's entertainment but Collins' musical backing pushes it over the edge towards excellence.

8. "The Emperor's New Groove" - 2000
Also known as the last really good film Disney made before "Tangled." "Groove" is fun, it's lively, and the voice talent (David Spade, John Goodman) is solid. This is one of those films that probably no one will remember in 10 years (or maybe right now for that matter) but the rewatchability of "Groove" is incredibly high.

7. "Tangled" - 2010
In my mind, Disney spent the 10 years between "Emperor's New Groove" and "Tangled" building new theme park attractions and riding the coattails of Pixar with little attention paid to the animated films coming from their own studio. You could perhaps get me to watch "Lilo and Stitch" again but every other film from the decade is awful. I had low expectations for "Tangled" but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film recaptured the Disney magic that had been lost for so long. It is also an excellent example of how to create a kid's movie that appeals to both genders.

6. "The Sword in the Stone" - 1963
Often forgotten when considering the great Disney films, "Stone" reached out to a group of young viewers (read: "boys") who had been placed on the backburner during the preceding three films ("Lady and the Tramp", "Sleeping Beauty", "101 Dalmatians"). King Arthur is always interesting to guys  (with the exception of "The Once and Future King", the "literary classic" that ruined my life during the summer before my sophomore year) and this is a great introduction to legend. Also, Archimedes is awesome.

5. "The Jungle Book" - 1967
Has any orphan EVER had a cooler life than Mowgli? He gets protected by a rockin' panther (Bagheera), pals around the jungle with a fun-loving bear (Baloo), and learns some of the catchiest songs in animated movie history. What a life! It's probably been 15 years (at least) since I've seen "Jungle" but I can still blow through the lyrics of "Bear Necessities" with ease.

4. "Aladdin" - 1992
At one time this was probably my second favorite Disney film. But then I had to take choir in the 6th grade and my teacher forced us to sing "Never Had a Friend like Me" every day for an entire semester. (That woman would probably get some hateful Facebook messages if I could remember her name.) Still, the narrative in "Aladdin" appeals to both genders and they managed to grab Robin Williams when he was still funny and put him in a role that was perfect for him. Great film.

3. "The Fox and the Hound" - 1981
And you thought I might back off my "top five" statement from yesterday. Well, you should know better by now. I love "Fox and Hound" so much that I should probably be its official spokesman. It seems like no one remembers this film and that fact gives me great pains. I can tell you right now, when I have kids they will either love or hate "Fox and Hound" due to the number of times I make them watch it but they will definitely remember it.

2. "The Lion King" - 1994
This is the bookend to what you could argue is the best five film run in Disney's history. Think about it: "The Little Mermaid" (rebooted the studio, much like "Tangled" last year), "The Rescuers Down Under" (the low point in this run), "Beauty and the Beast" (won a pair of Oscars), "Aladdin" (another pair of Oscars and a TON of money), and then "The Lion King." Wow. This is nearly a perfect film; beautifully animated, well-voiced, magnificent soundtrack, and an awesome storyline. "King" also gets bonus points for spawning a hit Broadway show and several re-releases, including a 3D version that'll open next month.

1. "Robin Hood" - 1973
If you put a gun to my head and asked me what the best animated Disney film is, I would probably say "The Lion King." But my favorite? "Robin Hood" by a mile. I absolutely wore this VHS out as a kid so we re-taped it (back then it wasn't considered piracy somehow), and I wore that one out. I love this film so much that as a college freshman my mother gave me a DVD copy for my birthday and I was totally stoked. A COLLEGE FRESHMAN. I've always been enamored by the Robin Hood story so that's a plus but even beyond that, the characters are wildly entertaining and that soundtrack...if you were a guest in my house, there's a pretty solid chance that at some point you'd catch my humming or whistling one of the songs from "Robin Hood." I love this film. In fact, I'm going to watch it now.

That's my top ten. What films would make your list?