Monday, October 31, 2011

A Scary Movie Hater's Top 10 Scary Movies

In my review for The Thing last week, I made it clear that I have no love for horror movies. I'll never be able to shake the fear I felt watching Something Wicked This Way Comes in my elementary school library despite numerous efforts as a teenager to embrace the all-American tradition of late-night horror movie viewings. For some time now, I've taken the approach that since I know I won't enjoy these films, there's no point in bringing down the excitement of those who do enjoy them. Also, I rather like being able to sleep. There are some films within the genre, however, that appeal to me. I won't go so far as to call them "horror" movies because that word brings to mind the Saw films and Cabin Fever (which I hold up as the worst movie I've ever seen). But "scary" movies seems appropriate. With that in mind and in keeping with the Top 75 Horror Movie Countdown that Rotten Tomatoes posted last week, I have assembled a Scary Movie Hater's Top 10 Scary Movies. Please enjoy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I chose not to include horror-comedies (Zombieland), thrillers (Silence of the Lambs), or true sci-fi films that happen to come with some scares (Alien) as I don't consider them to be truly "scary." Rest assured that all of these films would find a home on this list if I had expanded it to include them. 

10. The Shining (1980)
I've never felt that The Shining is quite the classic that it is often made out to be. Perhaps it's because I didn't see it in a theater or watched it at midnight during a slumber party but it never really frightened me all that much. That said, the iconic scenes and their accompanying lines ("Here's Johnny!", "Red Rum", etc.) within this film are magnificent. 

9. The Ring (2002)
This is one of only two films on this list that I saw in a theater so perhaps that has something to do with the sheer terror this film caused me. In my adult life, I don't think I've ever been closer to soiling myself than I was near the end of The Ring. That little girl still haunts me from time to time and I'll never, NEVER, be able to remain calm if a TV suddenly goes to the fuzzy screen. Also, if you think my roommate and I didn't go back to our dorm and immediately call the girls we went to see this movie with to creepily say, "SEVEN DAYS!" then you've got another thing coming. 

8. Psycho (1960)
Much like The Shining, I think Psycho suffers in my book from having never seen it in a theater. It's always creeped me out a bit but I wouldn't say it necessarily scared me. On the other hand, from a strictly film standpoint, this could be the best entry on the list. So incredibly well-made. It does lose some points, though, for that horrible Gus Van Sant remake. I just can't shake the memory of Anne Heche sucking the life out of the film. 

7. Scream (1996)
I just watched Scream 4, one of the worst movies I have ever seen, so I'm already doubting where I placed the original film on this list. It's been a long time since I've seen it so maybe it's just as cheesy and horrible as the newest installment was. But regardless, Scream messed with my head in a major way. Up until this point, I had always operated under the assumption that, should I come face to face with a knife-wielding nutcase, I could at least run away. Then Scream came along and introduced me to the concept of serial killing teammates. My world has never been the same.

6. The Sixth Sense (1999)
I struggled with whether or not to include this film because part of me thinks it belongs more in the "thriller" category than "scary." But then I thought about the wave of terror that went through my body the first (and second...and third) times I saw Sixth Sense in the theater when Mischa Barton rips the sheet tent that poor little Haley Joel Osment set up for himself. It's easy to forget how stellar this film is given how M. Night Shyamalan had a mental breakdown and made two of the worst movies ever (The Happening and The Last Airbender) but it completely changed the genre (for better or worse).

5. 28 Days Later (2002)
In my mind, anyone who has profited from this whole Zombie Craze that has swept the world over the last half-decade should have to see a percentage of the proceeds to Danny Boyle. I can't remember anyone in my circle of nerds caring about anything zombie related (and certainly nothing current) until this film. The open of 28 Days Later is outstanding, the type of scene that immediately sucks you into the film's atmosphere and it doesn't let you go until the very end. And the zombies are horrifying.

4. The Thing (1982)
I saw The Thing for the first time only a couple of years ago but I really, really liked it more than I ever thought I would. It's probably due in part to its sci-fi leaning which I dig. I wouldn't say the story within The Thing is all that much better from your standard horror film but it tells it well. Solid special effects (for the time) help it, too, and when the creature starts shape shifting, I find it to be quite scary. 

3. The Exorcist (1973)
This film is the reason for my personal "no demons in movies" rule. The quintessential possession film, nothing could ever top The Exorcist in that realm and honestly, if it could, I'd probably never be able to sleep ever, ever again. I just can't handle this subject matter. I'd like to punch whoever it is that forced me to watch this film but I've blocked out all details of that fateful evening save for the film itself which I can't get out of my head. The second the opening credits begin to roll, you're on the edge of your seat and nothing about The Exorcist disappoints in the scare department. At the same time, it's one of the few films on this list that sees its scariness equaled by the quality of its acting. It truly is an exquisite film though I'll never see it again.

2. 30 Days of Night (2007)
This is admittedly a bit of an odd choice. You won't even find 30 Days of Night on Rotten Tomatoes' Top 75 List and I think that's a real shame. I've never been a fan of vampire movies (even before Twilight made it very easy and trendy to hate vampires) but this one is so appealing and tension-filled. The concept is brilliant and the setting is so incredibly creepy. Even more impressive is the performance of Danny Huston who brings more freakish, terrifying personality (as it were) to the animalistic-type of vampire than I would have ever imagined. When I saw this film, I really thought I might have just seen the best straight horror movie ever. I can't be alone in that, right?

1. Jaws (1975)
If you feel that Jaws does not belong on this list, I understand. I couldn't classify it as a true "horror" movie and I wouldn't expect anyone else to, either. But as far as "scary" movies go...I don't think Jaws can be topped. For one thing, it's an incredible film; acting, direction, shot selection,'s all fantastic. Some of the scenes are as iconic as any you'll find in a film from this list. More importantly, its impact is almost incalculable. It didn't simply change a genre; it both created a new genre (summer blockbusters) and changed the way millions of people thought. How many films, period, can say that, let alone scary films? Before Jaws, humans paddled willy-nilly about in the depths of the various oceans with little more caution than they might take when sinking into a bubble bath. Jaws made entire generations afraid to go into the water and really started a national (worldwide?) fascination with sharks. The Discovery Channel basically owes its existence to Steven Spielberg and Jaws. Every time I watch this film I become more hardened in my conviction that the ocean is not the place for me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide - 10/28

"Puss in Boots" - Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis
A spin-off-prequel of the Shrek films that tells the tale of how the sword fighting titular cat (Banderas) became a legend. I'm personally glad that the Shrek franchise has come to an end as I think it peaked at the first sequel. But of all the characters within that series, I think Puss in Boots is maybe the most entertaining. I don't know what it is but his appearance in Shrek 2 always cracks me up. Is he worth his own series? Probably not but it could be a whole lot worse. Given how many below average to just plain bad kid's movies that 2011 has brought us, I expect this will be a big hit and a welcome respite for parents who've grown weary of Hoodwinked Too and the like.

Value: $7 If I had kids, I think I'd find an excuse to take them to see this movie. Could be a big hit.

"In Time" - Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy
In the future, the common currency has become time; the wealthier you are, the more years of life you're given. When a blue-collar worker (Timberlake) is framed for murder, he decides to upend society in an attempt to bring about class equality. When she saw the trailer for this last week, my wife said, "That's gonna be really good, right?" Well... Here's the thing: I want In Time to be good and I think the trailer is outstanding. But this is the true definition of a concept film and that is a dangerous environment to work within. One misstep and this movie becomes a total failure. On the other hand, get it right and it could become a smash hit.

Value: $6 I'm nervously excited about In Time and hoping for the best.

"The Rum Diary" - Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi
Based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, a 1950s reporter (Depp) heads to Puerto Rico to start a calmer life but soon finds himself caught up in a love triangle that puts a real damper on his relaxation. There are two views on The Rum Diaries: there's the group that points to this film as a poetic tribute to Thompson that could be up for awards and there's the group that points to the fact that this film has been in the works for a decade, sat on a shelf for two years after production, and wreaks of, "let's just get this thing done already." I'm in the second group. I think The Rum Diaries is going to struggle to find an audience and will be a big disappointment when it's all said and done.

Value: $4 Thompson fans will probably like this no matter what, as will most Depp fans, but I'm quite wary.

"Anonymous" - Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis (Limited)
During the time of the Essex Rebellion, this period thriller expounds upon the idea that William Shakespeare was not the true author of all his works. I will give Roland Emmerich credit for taking a break from popcorn action films like Independence Day and 2012. At the same time, though, I can't help but think that this subject matter would fare better in the hands of someone who hasn't spent the last 20 years making loads of money off disaster flicks. The fact that Anonymous was just moved from wide distribution to limited release is very concerning, especially given the huge marketing campaign that this film has enjoyed for the last year. I just can't expect this to be good.

Value: $4 The concept itself holds enough intrigue for me to check this out when it hits DVD shelves but I can't imagine this is worth the price of admission. Back to work on Independence Day 2, Roland.

"Like Crazy" - Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones (Limited)
A relationship between a young American (Yelchin) and a British exchange student (Jones) is put to the test when they are separated by visa issues. Like Crazy killed the competition in a number of festivals this year and looks to be a career-maker for everyone involved. It looks a little melancholy for my tastes and I'm still working on whether I like Yelchin or not. Still, the reviews have been very positive, giving me hope that this could be a touching, realistic date movie.

Value: $6 I'm not completely convinced but I'm willing to give it chance.

"Janie Jones" - Abigail Breslin, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Shue (Limited)
A teenager (Breslin) tracks down her father (Nivola) who's music career is waning. Sounds decent enough but the reviews have been pretty bad. In truth, these types of indie films are a dime a dozen.

Value: $2 No point in rushing out to see this one as I'm sure it'll be available on Showtime within a couple of months.

"13" - Sam Riley, Jason Statham, Michael Shannon (Limited)
A man in desperate need of a paycheck (Riley) takes up with an underground group that bets on the lives (and deaths) of others. This is remake of a French film done by the same director and despite the outstanding cast, it has received next to no attention. I saw a trailer for it yesterday and...yeah, there's a reason it's receiving no attention. Looks awful.

Value: $1 For some reason, these survival games films always pique the interest of the guilty pleasure section of my brain but I think I'll be able to stay away.

"The Double" - Richard Gere, Topher Grace (Limited)
A pair of government agents (Gere, Grace) work to figure out the details of a senator's murder. I must be honest: I kind of forgot Richard Gere is a person until I saw his name attached to this film. Man, how far that guy has fallen. The Double is currently sitting at an 11 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and apparently the trailer gives away the entire film.

Value: $1 Let's all just stay away, shall we?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: "The Thing"

There are a number of reasons for my dislike of horror movies but they can all be summed up in three points:

1.)    I hate bad dialogue and stupid plot points and many (or most) scary movies depend on both of these weaknesses;
2.)    I’m not a fan of gore and superfluous blood and while I can accept it in a war movie or justify it as “real or gritty filmmaking”, I can’t handle it at the hands of Jigsaw or Stephen Dorff in Blade;
3.)    The combination of mild insomnia and ADD makes it hard enough for me to get to sleep at night without wondering if Freddy Krueger or the ghost from Paranormal Activity are waiting for me in my closet, thank you very much.

I’ve seen my fair share of scary movies, though, because that’s what you do when you’re hanging out with your friends on a Saturday night and you’re not cool enough to be invited to the raging party that you didn’t want to go to, anyway, so you’re glad you weren’t included. (No bitterness here in the least.) One of the horror movies that made its way into my viewing history somewhere along the line is John Carpenter’s The Thing which I hold up as one of the best the genre has to offer. The idea of a prequel/remake of that film (which is itself a remake of a 1951 version) appealed to me more than any horror movie has in a very long time and while it certainly doesn’t live up to its predecessor, I must say I don’t understand the heat The Thing has taken critically since its release.

In 1982, a near accident in Antarctica leads to a startling discovery: buried deep beneath the ice lays an alien space craft and the body of one extraterrestrial. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist with a friend connected to the discovery, is called in to examine the body and help with the excavation. It is a career-making find and one that brings great joy to all the inhabitants of the Norwegian research station where the thing is brought…until it reawakens from its slumber. As the creature creates havoc throughout the facility, Kate soon discovers that it spawns by eating its prey (human or otherwise) and pushing out a replicate copy, leading her to realize that not everyone within the small group is human. As a strong storm pushes in, Kate and American pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) must fight to destroy the thing before it can find its way to more populated areas.

 The Thing can’t decide whether it’s a remake or a prequel and that is both the concept that made it interesting to me in the first place and keeps it from reaching its potential once the opening credits roll. It struggles to find its own path while paying homage to a classic and seems stuck within said classic instead of creating new material to work with. As far as scares go, it is lackluster, relying entirely on special effects rather than tension to convey the horror. I think at least some of the blame for this, however, is due to the fact that we’ve become desynthesized. The terror within this version of The Thing is very similar to that within John Carpenter’s version and yet it falls flat at least in part because what scared us in 1982 doesn’t hold the same weight in 2011. I also think that this version is really more of a sci-fi film with a little horror mixed in while I consider the ’82 film to be the exact opposite, a horror movie with a sci-fi undercurrent. If director Mattijs van Heijningen would have delved into the more science fiction-y elements of his film, it could have created its own identity but again, I don’t think he was given the chance to differentiate from the ’82 version.  

That said, these issues don’t make The Thing a bad movie. It is a perfectly reasonable sci-fi-horror flick that creates a sufficiently dark and creepy landscape and some thrilling if unspectacular action sequences. The actors all perform admirably though like most scary movies, they are hamstrung by ho-hum dialogue and plot points that don’t provide many opportunities to really act. I’ve spoken often of my affection for Edgerton and Winstead is, in my mind, a star in the making. Neither will be able to point to this film as a career highlight on their respective resumes but neither will they need to dread the negative impact that more than a handful of talented up-and-comers have felt when appearing in a horror film. All told, this may not be the scare-fest some people had hoped for but I think it is of high enough quality to make it worth my Friday night investment.

Grade: B

Joel Edgerton will win a major film industry award at some point,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DVD Roundup - 10/25

Captain America (2011) - Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
Scrawny but brave Steve Rogers (Evans), the first and only super soldier created by a government experiment during World War II, is tasked with taking down evil Red Skull (Weaving) with the outcome of the war hanging in the balance. I wasn't sure about Captain America going in and even less sure about Evans as a bankable star. I was wrong. For my money, this is unquestionably the superhero movie of the year and one of the most enjoyable experiences of the summer. This film neither takes itself too seriously nor becomes too campy and that creates a fun, exciting atmosphere.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: My pick for the week. If you like comic book movies, definitely see this. Loads of fun.

Winnie the Pooh (2011) - Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson
In a new set of stories that bring Winnie and friends home to a new generation, the gang must gather together to find a new tail for Eyeore. On paper, a new Pooh movie makes sense. It has a built in audience because everyone knows these characters and it's relatively low cost ($30 million) should have made it easy to score a moderate summer hit. And then for some reason Disney decided to put it up against the final installment of the Harry Potter series. You know, only the number one grossing movie of the year. This might be the best Disney movie ever and no one would know it because EVERYONE got their Hogwarts on during the first two weeks of release. Stupid.

IHVR: I'd wager that this is a solid film for young families and if you've got a small kiddo, why wouldn't you want to introduce him/her to Tigger and the rest?

Attack the Block (2011) - John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
A group of London hooligans find themselves in the fight of their young lives when they are forced to protect their homes against an alien invasion. I had the fortune of catching Attack the Block at a preview screening and let me say it is an absolute blast. Produced by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), Attack the Block is very similar to his films but with a more manic energy that heightens the environment of the youngsters who would serve as our heroes. Could I understand all of the dialogue? Not so much. But did that hinder the experience? Absolutely not.

IHVR: Be aware that this is a sci-fi-horror combo so there's a fair bit of gore but if that doesn't bother you, Attack the Block is hilarious and extremely well-done.

The People vs. George Lucas (2010) - Mark A. Altman, John Barger
A documentary shot in the style of a courtroom exposition in which lifelong Star Wars fans examine the post-1990 career of George Lucas. I'm not sure how it's possible but I've never heard of this little film and now I feel like my life is incomplete having not seen it. Sounds a lot like my Open Letter to George Lucas. Totally in.

IHVR: Stay away if you're not a Star Wars dork (all 17 of you). Otherwise, check it out.

New to Blu Pick of the Week
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy (1993, 1997, 2001) - Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
All cards on the table: The Lost World is exceedingly mediocre and Jurassic Park 3 is downright awful. If I had a choice, I'd strike both of those films from the record. But despite how bad those films are, they in no way take away from the utter spectacularness of Jurassic Park. One of my ten favorite films, JP is also one of the three best, most memorable experiences I've ever had in a movie theater. I will never forget how incredible it was to see this film in a theater at the age of 10. It changed my world and I could probably put a significant amount of stock in this film being the reason that I'm writing this blog now. Love, love, love that film and can't wait until it gets an individual Blu-Ray release.

Also New
The Conversation (1974) - Gene Hackman, John Cazale (Blu-Ray)
Dazed and Confused (1993) - Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey (Blu-Ray Criterion Collection)
A Little Help (2010) - Jenna Fischer, Chris O'Donnell
Father of Invention (2010) - Kevin Spacey, Camilla Belle, Heather Graham

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Everything Must Go"

Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has had better days. After getting fired from the job he's barely been trying at for months, he comes home to find the locks on his house changed and all of his stuff on the front lawn. His wife won't answer the phone and so Nick does what any reasonable person would do: he gets drunk and passes out in the recliner under his tree. With the help of his cop friend and AA sponsor Frank (Michael Pena), Nick is given a few days to hold a garage sale and clear his eyesore of a yard. He pays a neighbor boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to assist in the sale but when it comes to actually closing a deal, he finds that he's unwilling to let go of the life that got away from him and therefore the items he's collected. And as he witnesses his new neighbor (Samantha) going through the same troubles that plagued his relationship with his wife, Nick begins to evaluate his life differently and accept responsibility for where he has ended up.

The thing that people don't always understand about Will Ferrell is that the guy is a very talented actor. Non-Ferrell fans see the "man-child" persona that he owns so incredibly well in his most popular films and they write him off as a buffoon who lacks the ability to do anything more advanced. But the man-child is only half the story and while Ricky Bobby and Buddy the Elf might be his more well-known characters (outside of Ron Burgundy, an entirely different kind of man-child), they don't properly display Ferrell's greatness. If you fixate on those characters, you might miss, for instance, his incredible straight-man performance in the lackluster film The Other Guys or the fact that almost everything he does is unscripted and off-the-cuff. He is quite possibly the most talented player that Saturday Night Live has ever had and what sets him apart is his extreme versatility, his ability to nail the physical side of comedy in one turn and then become a rigidly straight edge in the next. Dramatic (or dramedy) roles don't come Ferrell's way too often but when they do, I always look forward to his work and expect it will bring a few more people over to my side in recognizing his merit.

Everything Must Go is just this side of a one man show. Everyone around Ferrell is there only to push his character in one direction or another, to help him or hurt him or help him by hurting him (which is the most common narrative). Nick is at his heart a good person who simply got lost somewhere along the way, a sentiment many of us can understand. He has become so consumed by his own shortcomings that he can no longer believe that he is anything but a failure, completing a very sad but very common vicious cycle. Essentially, he just can't get out of his own way and he doesn't know who he is anymore. All of this comes across plain as day thanks to the depth of Ferrell's portrayal. I felt while watching that I knew this man despite his being a fictional creation and the fact that I'd only spent a few short minutes of screen time with him. Ferrell gives Nick enough of a sense of humor to keep the film from dragging but unlike many of his past characters, Nick is not inherently funny; neither, however, is he tragic. That's a tough row to hoe in my mind but in doing so, Ferrell makes Nick inherently likable, a character that you root for in a very organic manner. It's the type of performance that I would love to drag out and force Ferrell Haters to watch in order to show the man's range.

Unfortunately, almost everything else about EMG is unequal to the work of the star. As I said, it's a one man show so I am inclined to give the rest of the cast a break because they aren't given much to work with. Hall and Jordan Wallace get the most attention and both do well enough in their limited scenes but each are completely overshadowed by Ferrell at almost every turn. One scene in particular finds the nasty side of Nick, a lashing out of powerful proportions that should be a key moment in the film. Instead, it falls somewhat flat because Samantha simply doesn't seem to be up to the task of properly challenging Nick. EMG falls into some "curmudgeon-changes-his-tune" traps and contains more than a few cliches that really could have been avoided. More importantly, the other characters who knew Nick before his garage sale are all terrible people. From his boss to his wife, his neighbor to his friends, all of them come across as total jerks. I think the film, and Nick himself, would have been better served by supporting characters who appeared to be real humans (like Nick is) rather than miserable caricatures. That's more than a bit frustrating to me, a huge Ferrell fan, because while his performance is strong enough to draw attention to his skill, the film as a whole is somewhat forgettable. Altogether, EMG is worth watching but it isn't the reputation-changing film that it could have been.

Grade: B

Movie News Today

Warner Brothers wants Ben Affleck to direct a new adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand. In my opinion, The Town has earned Affleck a shot a big time production like this. Don't screw it up, Ben.

Drew Pearce, who wrote the upcoming Iron Man 3 script, has been brought on to pen Sherlock Holmes 3 as well. After that, it's Cars 3, Thor 3, and somewhere down the road the new Spiderman 3.

It's quite possible that the sixth and seventh installments of the Fast and Furious series will contain one continual plot and be shot back-to-back. I'm not ashamed: that sounds INCREDIBLE. Make it happen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in talks to join Tarantino's Django Unchained. What an incredible, well-deserved run this guy is on right now.

Weekend Box Office Returns
1. Paranormal Activity 3 - $54.02 million
2. Real Steel - $11.32M ($66.23 million total)
3. Footloose - $10.85M ($30.86M)
4. The Three Musketeers - $8.8M
5. The Ides of March - $4.9M ($29.16M)
6. Dolphin Tale - $4.2M ($64.39M)
7. Moneyball - $4.05M ($63.71M)
8. Johnny English Reborn - $3.8M
9. The Thing - $3.12M ($14.1M)
10. 50/50 - $2.8M ($28.8M)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide - 10/21

Um...sorry about this week, dear readers. October's calendar usually brings us a few more gems along with all the horror movies and summer blockbusters that weren't but this week is pretty rough from my view. A great time for you to catch up on all the stellar DVD releases that have hit shelves over the last few weeks. (Or to see 50/50 if you haven't. Seriously. See that movie.)

"Paranormal Activity 3" - Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicolas Smith
A found footage film that features a family's encounter with a household spirit during the late '80s. There are three reasons I won't be seeing this film. 1.) The trailer has been playing NON-STOP on late night TV and as someone who is easily creeped out by ghost-y stuff and horror movies, I could really do without it. 2.) I'm tired of the found footage genre. If it's more sci-fi than horror, you could probably talk me into it. But a straight found footage ghost movie? No thanks. 3.) The directors of PA3 are none other than Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who were behind Catfish, one of the most reprehensible and morally repugnant "documentaries" that I've ever seen. I want nothing positive to happen for these guys so I'm happy to sit this one out.

Value: $4 On the other hand, PA3 has been certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, pulling much higher praise than I would have imagined. I'd be surprised if it didn't win the Box Office Battle this weekend. But I hope we can all agree that we don't need a Paranormal Activity 4.

"Three Musketeers" - Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz
Another interpretation of the classic Dumas tale, this time with explosions! There's some real star power involved with this film but I am now fully convinced that no one and no thing can overcome the awfulness of director Paul W.S. Anderson. He can get away with directing schlocky action-horror films (the Resident Evil series, for example) but let's all be honest: those are bad movies. Can they be enjoyed? Yes. It's possible that I have the fourth Resident Evil film sitting on my shelf right now waiting to be watched though I know it will be terrible. But are they good? No, no they're not. I've no idea why he would be given the keys to a literary classic nor why the likes of Waltz would sign on to work with him but the fact remains, the best Three Musketeers can hope for his cheesy entertainment. Also, Logan Lerman is a terrible actor. Also, note to Christoph Waltz: you won an Oscar and we were all thrilled for you. You've earned the right to take some "paycheck" roles. But you've now played a villain in an under performing, poorly received film three times this year (Green Hornet, Water for Elephants, and this). Time to stop cashing checks and reclaim your reputation.

Value: $3 Anderson fans will see this and I guess it's worth a shot on HBO but I would say a $10 admission ticket would be a waste.

"Johnny English Reborn" - Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West
Bumbling British secret agent (Atkinson) returns from retirement to track down a group of terrorists. *Sigh* It's been eight years since the first Johnny English made America slightly stupider and I couldn't believe anyone was petitioning for a sequel. But apparently these films make sick money overseas. So I have a deal I'd like to make with "overseas." You know how some small British and other various independent films don't get much of a release over here and only have a short run in art house theaters that no one can get to? Okay, from now on, we get those for at least one week in the bigger theaters. And in return, we'll give you Johnny English, Gulliver's Travels, and a collection of other Razzie-caliber films that you all just seem to love and not only will we give them to you first, we won't even give them wide releases on American soil! It's really a win-win. Think about it, get back to me.

Value: $0 Please don't see this, people.

"Martha Macry May Marlene" - Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson (Limited)
After escaping from a cult, a young woman (Olsen) struggles to integrate herself back into family life. A Sundance Film Festival darling, MMMM has received critical acclaim from writers whose opinions I value. Olsen looks like an indie star and if I'm casting a drama, any drama, I'm finding a spot for John Hawkes somewhere no matter what. This is a very dark, harsh film but I'm willing to bet it is worth the effort if you can make it through.

Value: $5 Many of us won't get a chance to see it in theaters but I plan to seek this film out when it becomes available for an In Home Viewing.

"Margin Call" - Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci (Limited)
At the very beginning of the financial crisis, the employees of an investment bank scramble to keep control over their assets. "Financial thriller" is pretty much an automatic out for me. I can't explain this, especially considering that I'm almost always in for a political thriller. There's just something about a film based around finance and banks that makes me think of my high school economics teacher and how much I loathed his class. But that's just me. Margin Call currently sits at 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and most critics have lauded its appeal. So those of you who did not take Mr. Lewellen's econ class in the 12th grade might enjoy it.

Value: $4 It's limited so it may be hard to find but it could be worthwhile to those who wish to seek it out.

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" - Kevin Clash (Limited)
A documentary the centers on the man behind the famed Muppet, Elmo. Being Elmo has picked up a couple of festival awards (including one from Sundance) and promises to be a warm human interest film that reportedly stays on the surface of its subject matter.

Value: $3 My docket is full of documentaries right now but I could be talked into checking this out on Netflix Instant.

Movie News Today

Bradley Cooper could take over for George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh's Man From UNCLE film. Interesting.

The Battlestar Galactica film has a writer (John Orloff) to go along with its director (Bryan Singer). Cannot wait. Loved this TV series.

Sony has purchased the rights to the movie adaptation of popular video game Assassin's Creed. Because video game movies are always awesome.

Transformers 4 and 5 will happen (probably with Jason Statham) and they will be shot back-to-back. No chance Chicago makes it out of this in one place.

Matt Damon will make his directorial debut on a script written by John Krasinski of The Office. If they cast RDJ and Barry Pepper in this thing I'll just lose it.

Speaking of RDJ, he sat down and discussed his career with the LA Times. Awesome article.

Movie Muse gives us the five best and worst movie robots to have in a fight. I take exception to Johnny 5 making the list. Dude won more than his fair share of fights.

Scarlet Sp1der has a guest post that details ten defining horror movies. Good read! I've got a list of horror films coming out next week but check this one out in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Gnomeo and Juliet"

Recipe for gnome-related family fun:
Take William Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet;
Replace "Romeo" with "Gnomeo" (leave Juliet as it is) and turn our star-crossed lovers into garden gnomes;
Replace "Montagues" and "Capulets" with "blues" and "reds";
Add in some quality if unspectacular animation;
Change the disturbing finale to something a little more kid friendly;
Top it off with some killer music;
And voila, you've got a decent enough animated adventure to serve as your child's primer for the most depressing and seriously inappropriate piece of literature that their future high school English teachers are likely to shove down their throats! (Seriously, of all the great works that Shakespeare wrote, why is Romeo and Juliet the one that gets so much pub? Give me MacBeth or Julius Caesar any day.)

I don't have kids of my own but when I watch a kid's movie, one of the qualities I look for is a wide-ranging appeal. Meaning, if my hypothetical child demanded to see a given movie, would it make my soul scream to sit through it or would I be able to find some enjoyment? The best of the best, like everything from Pixar (minus Cars 2 which I think we can all agree should be stricken from the record), How to Train Your Dragon, and the better Disney films, are excellent films on their own accord; it just so happens that their target audience are youngsters. The worst of the worst, like Alpha and Omega and Hoodwinked Too (it hurt me to even type that title), are so bad that even smart toddlers bemoan their failures. Gnomeo and Juliet plants itself firmly in the middle ground and that's good enough in my book.

The people behind Gnomeo assembled quite a brood of voice actors, including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, and Michael Caine (though perhaps Caine shouldn't be included in that list as I'm pretty sure he would narrate my home movies if I could come up with a million dollars). Too often a big name cast like this ends up becoming a distraction in an animated film but in this case, each actor does a solid job of meshing with his or her persona. I also rather enjoyed the cameos that popped up throughout the film. Anytime you can cast Hulk Hogan as a monster lawnmower, I say go for it. The story is as lighthearted as a tale about two teenagers who destroy their families in the name of puppy love (I really don't like Romeo and Juliet if you couldn't tell) and the pace is quick enough to keep a kid entertained and an adult (I guess that would be me) from losing the will to live. Plus, a soundtrack that is heavy on Elton John never hurt anything, right?

There is a real lack of comedy in Gnomeo, however, and maybe that's what keeps it from becoming anything better than what it is. Sure, there are humorous moments but nothing that strives for "laugh-out-loud" funny or that would really get either kids or adults rolling in the aisles. Everything about this film is very safe, serving as a paint-by-numbers type of kid's film that isn't special because it never attempts to be special. And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. I'd much prefer a safe, straight-down-the-middle children's movie over one that tries to make the sexual reproduction of two mismatched wolves into a family outing. (Also, Marmaduke. Enough said.) Gnomeo and Juliet is mildly enjoyable and relatively entertaining for kids and adults alike and since that's clearly all it is striving to be, I'm willing to accept that.

Grade: B-

Monday, October 17, 2011

DVD Roundup - 10/18

Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush
Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is caught in the middle of a race to find the Fountain of Youth between Britain and Spain. But when it comes to choosing between his own life and that of others, which side of his personality will win out? Okay, the thing is, On Stranger Tides isn't exactly what I would call bad; it has some fun moments, Johnny Depp is always entertaining, and who doesn't enjoy a good sword fight? The issue with this movie is that it's just completely unnecessary. Neither of the previous Pirates films came anywhere close to measuring up to the first installment and this one really doesn't come close to the quality of the sequels, let alone the 2003 original. Simply put, On Stranger Tides represents a Disney (and Depp) money grab that worked out tremendously well, thanks to an absurd overseas take ($798 million). I guess it's too much to ask a studio to commission a decent script when putting up a $250 million production budget.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: If you liked the first three Pirates films, there's enough in this installment to make your DVD rental worthwhile. Just don't expect a lot.

Bad Teacher (2011) - Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake
A gold-digging elementary school teacher (Diaz) breaks every ethical and moral rule in the book in order to get what she wants before discovering that what she really wants was right in front of her the whole time. With movies like Bucky Larson and the up-coming Jack and Jill to consider, there's no way I could argue that Bad Teacher is the worst movie of 2011. So I won't do that. But I will say, of all the films I've seen this year (which fortunately does not include the aforementioned Larson), this is my least favorite. I HATE this movie and the more I've thought about it, the more I hate it. Not to get on a high horse, but I have a really hard time rooting for a miserable, disgusting, morally bankrupt character like the one Diaz portrays in this film which, by the way, offers no redemption while literally every life around her is ruined by her selfishness. Absolute crap.

IHVR: I am not easily offended by films but Bad Teacher was up to that challenge. Stay away.

A Better Life (2011) - Demian Bichir, Jose Julian
An illegal immigrant (Bichir) attempts to provide the opportunities he never had for a son (Julian) who slips closer and closer to gang involvement. The critical reception for A Better Life was mixed but what almost everyone agreed on was the strong heart that this film brings to the table. It seems like the type of film that misses the mark slightly but still provides some inspirational value. I haven't seen it but I anticipate seeking it out at some point.

IHVR: Would be great on Netflix Instant but could make a trip to your local Blockbuster (haha, like that's even a thing) worth your time.

V: Season 2 (2010) - Elizabeth Mitchell, Charles Mesure, Morena Baccarin
The final season of ABC's potential-laden-but-unsatisfying alien drama brought the human race closer to an all-out war with the Vs along with a few twists that made for interesting viewing. Somewhere within the 22 episodes of V, there's a really good show just dying to breakthrough; unfortunately, that good show was too often overshadowed by a number of classic network TV screw ups. The plot was too swollen with off-shoots that no one cared about (how many ridiculous love stories do we really need in a show about aliens taking over our planet and harvesting our bodies? I think one is enough, personally, but then again, I'm not a network executive at ABC.), the actors in the cast were too often stiff and robotic, and the writers clearly didn't know where they were going because the show sputtered and spun its wheels more than half the time. By the end, despite my love for sci-fi, I was openly rooting for the show's demise because I couldn't quite bring myself to stop watching new episodes. This long-winded paragraph just serves to remind me of my desire for HBO or AMC to take on a real sci-fi series because, man, V might have been great at one of those networks.

IHVR: If you're a sci-fi fan and V pops up on Netflix Instant, give it a whirl and try to enjoy it for what it is.

Now on to the documentary portion of this week's DVD release collection.

Pearl Jam 20 (2011) - Eddie Vedder, Cameron Crowe
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011) - David Carr, Tim Arango, Carl Bernstein
Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (2011) - Michael Rappaport, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg
I looovvveee documentaries and all three of these films have my interest. PJ20, directed by the great Cameron Crowe, intersperses concert scenes with interviews and little-seen backstage footage in celebration of Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary. Page One takes a behind-the-scenes look at The New York Times. And BRL documents the strange journey to stardom and the subsequent breakup of one of rap's most influential groups, A Tribe Called Quest. Documentary+Pearl Jam+Cameron Crowe=an immediate viewing for me but both of the other films will definitely make it on my TV screen at some point in the near future.

IHVR: I don't like to oversell anything I haven't seen yet but I hope a lot of you will check out one or more of these films because they all look outstanding.

New to Blu Pick of the Week
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Edition (1971) - Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson
99 percent of humans (made-up statistic) who have seen Willy Wonka fall into one of two categories: those who think this is a classic and really dig it (me) or those who are seriously creeped out by it. If you fall into that second category, that's okay, I can definitely see where you're coming from. But I've always had a real soft spot for this movie and there's something truly special about Gene Wilder in his element.

New to Blu
The Goonies (1985) - Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
99 percent of humans who have seen The Goonies fall into one of two categories: those who think this is a classic and really dig it (me) and those who are IDIOTS!!! (See what I did there?) Are you kidding me?! What is wrong with you?! The Goonies is the best! (Note: I don't really think you're an idiot if you don't like The Goonies; I just think you're misguided. However, I have found that, like many '80s films, if you didn't see this movie as a kid, you don't understand its greatness. Fair enough. Now back to the extremely biased ranting about how great The Goonies is.) I truly love this film. In fact, I'm headed to the Pacific Northwest next week for a vacation and if you think I'm not going to head to Astoria, Oregon where this movie was filmed to do a Lord of the Rings-like walking tour, you clearly didn't read the beginning of this paragraph. The only reason this isn't the Pick of the Week is that it was the Pick of the Week when the super-ridiculous-incredible-best-box-set-ever edition came out last year.

Also New
The Crow (1994) - Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling (Blu-ray)
Cape Fear (1991) - Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis (Blu-Ray)
Guns of Navarone (1961) - Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn (Blu-Ray)
Tomcats (2001) - Jerry O'Connell, Shannon Elizabeth (Blu-Ray)
Monte Carlo (2011) - Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester
Red State (2011) - Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Season 3 (2010) - Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: "Blackthorn"

If you're a guy and you haven't at some point had the dream of becoming an outlaw who takes down government banks and rolls with either a wicked car or a massive horse're weird. Let's just be honest: being an outlaw is just super cool. Robbing from the rich and corrupt, taking out bad guys (even though you're kind of a bad guy yourself), and living outside of the law are all exciting ideas and make for even more exciting men (and women). We gravitate toward those characters in movies because they are always charismatic, fun, and give off an air of freedom despite (and perhaps because of) always being just one step ahead of certain death at the hands of stodgy law makers and guys who don't have the stones to be outlaws themselves (I'm talking to you, Pinkertons!). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my very favorite films, the rare "classic" that plays just as well today as I imagine it did when it opened in 1969. The idea, then, of an alternative history in which Butch and Sundance escape the doom that awaited them at the end of that film (and in real life, I guess) is beyond interesting to me. I saw a blurb about Blackthorn a couple of months ago and immediately knew I would seek it out. I'm awfully glad I did.

20 years after the standoff in which he and the Sundance Kid supposedly died, an aging Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) still lives in Bolivia, laying low and breaking wild horses for wealthy riders. He has a good life but one that is a good deal quieter than he experienced in his outlaw days and that lack of action wears on him. So when he comes in contact with Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), a Spanish engineer with a plan to steal thousands from a mining company, he senses an opportunity not only to relive the glory days but to buy his way back home. The heist turns south, however, when it becomes clear that Noriega isn't who he says he is, forcing Cassidy into circumstances he may not be able to overcome.

Blackthorn (which is the name Cassidy goes by) is a slowburn that moves methodically through both the narrative and the Bolivian landscape, providing action in short, contained bursts rather than excessively throughout the run time. Part of the story is told in the form of flashbacks that fill in the blanks between BCSK and while these aren't the best parts of the film, they re-engage the audience with the Cassidy storyline and essentially create an immediate rooting interest in the character. This is a big part of what makes the film work. It progresses exactly the way a Western should when it concerns itself with an aging protagonist and that makes for a rich and intriguing narrative. (And by the way, can we please have more Westerns, Hollywood? They don't have to be big budget entries like Cowboys and Aliens, just simple little films like this and Meek's Cutoff. More of that please.) In addition, the behind-the-camera work on Blackthorn is excellent. The shot selection is simple yet purposeful and the settings are well-chosen. The cinematography is outstanding, highlighting the tremendous and beautiful geographical diversity of South America. The landscape is in many ways the premier supporting character.

But as you might expect, Blackthorn depends almost entirely on the performance of Shepard and the man delivers magnificently. Shepard is one of the greatest actors of his generation and yet he is often overlooked when that conversation comes up and I am one of the guilty who has too often neglected to mention his name. I can't think of a single actor who I would prefer to play the aging Cassidy and he completely lives up to that statement. I think it would have been very easy to play Cassidy as some sort of knock-off of Paul Newman's interpretation of the character. Instead, Shepard makes him wholly his own with just a hint of reminiscence for the iconic original. The years have taken their toll on Cassidy but Shepard never makes him come off as bitter or even overly tired so much as hardened and slightly more crotchety. Cassidy shows the physical rust that would accumulate during a 20 year hibernation but he displays the wits and reflexes that make men like himself so exciting. There are a few moments in which I found myself thinking, "The guy still has it!" the same way I would if I was watching an aging slugger take one monster swing that sends a ball 450 feet up into the stands. It's a powerful yet understated performance that has reminded me of Shepard's true greatness. I won't be forgetting his value again anytime soon and the same should be said for Blackthorn as a whole.

Grade: B+

I will forevermore believe that Butch and Sundance lived,

Movie News Today

The much "awaited" Three Stooges film from the Farrelly Brothers got a poster this weekend. Anybody remember when this was supposed to be Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Jim Carrey? Well, now it's Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso. So... Yikes.

Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame will direct the Twilight Zone film. Could be interesting.

One of the more interesting "casting" choices of the year, Dan Tractenberg, who's short based on the video game Portal became a YouTube sensation a couple of months ago, has been brought on for Universal's Crime of the Century. That's a pretty cool turn of events. Also, how has that story not been turned into a movie yet? The whole "YouTube video guy becomes a Hollywood sensation" sounds like a modern take on an 80s remake.

Oscar Isaac has landed the lead in the Coen Brothers' mysterious new project. I had never heard of Isaac until Drive. Big break for this guy.

GQ presents an interview with the great Adam Scott who is definitely not the actor from Boy Meets World that I'd have pegged as Most Likely to Succeed but who is awesome nonetheless.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. Real Steel - $16.3 million ($51.74 million total)
2. Footloose - $16.1M
3. The Thing - $8.7M
4. The Ides of March - $7.5M ($22.15M)
5. Dolphin Tale - $6.35M ($58.67M)
6. Moneyball - $5.5M ($57.71M)
7. 50/50 - $4.32M ($24.33M)
8. Courageous - $3.4M ($21.38M)
9. The Big Year - $3.33M
10. The Lion King - $2.71M ($90.45M)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

I know this is for the original but it's awesome.
"The Thing" - Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
The discovery of an alien space craft in the middle of the Antarctic wasteland throws a Norweign research facility into a frenzy of excitement. But what's inside the ship soon brings an end to all excitement. Somehow, with all of the trailers and news blurbs I've seen concerning The Thing, I never realized that it was a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 original and assumed it was a remake. A prequel somehow makes it even more interesting to me and I have to tell you, despite my general disposition against horror films, I've been pretty pumped about The Thing, possibly because the original is outstanding. I also think Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a potential superstar in the making and of course, Edgerton is a favorite. I'm very disappointed, then, to see that the early reviews for this film have been negative. Really thought we could be looking at something special.

Value: $5 I was prepared to give this a $7-$9 rating but Rotten Tomatoes has swayed me. Hoping it turns out better than it looks right now. Also, if you haven't seen the original, I recommend checking it out. And bear in mind, I hate most horror films so that's very high praise.

"Footloose" - Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid
A newcomer (Wormald) turns a small town upside down with his dancing and rock 'n roll. The original Footloose is considered a classic by people who think bad movies are great. I'm kidding. I hate the original Footloose and you would have to inflict bodily harm to get me to see this remake, but I get the appeal for youngsters and fans of Kevin Bacon looking to relive the glory days. At the same time, though, I'm SHOCKED at the number of decent to good reviews this thing has gotten so far. There are almost no real actors in the cast, dancing appears to take up at least three-fourths of the runtime, and even the covers of the original soundtrack sound terrible. And yet some well-respected critics are RAVING about it. So I won't argue. You win again, Rotten Tomatoes.

Value: $5 I cannot and will not recommend a movie that stars Dancing with the Stars' Julianne Hough but if this is your thing, then I say to each his own.

"The Big Year" - Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black
Three rival bird watchers compete to track down the rarest and most elusive birds in North America. looks terrible to everyone else, right? Before I saw a trailer I assumed this was going to be a quirk-fest. That would be the best use of the subject matter and the great cast. But once I saw the trailer I threw up and then immediately set it aside as the kind of family film that will make more than one father wish he'd taken his kids to Real Steel instead.

Value: $2 Martin alone should make Year slightly better than worst film of the year, this looks bad.

"Texas Killing Fields" - Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace Moretz (Limited)
Based on a true story, Texas Killing Fields follows a pair of detectives (Worthing, JDM) investigating a string of gruesome murders in their small Texas town. I'm slightly intrigued by TKF, mostly because the cast is outstanding. Plus, I think it would be a fun blog to rank and discect the 17 different films that Jessica Chastain was in this year (17 is only a slight exaggeration). Alas, the buzz is bad and the limited release will probably keep me away until I forget about this film altogether.

Value: $1 Exactly the type of film that goes on my Netflix Instant queue and never gets watched.

"Trespass" - Nicholas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Cam Giganet (Limited)
A husband (Cage) and wife (Kidman) fight for life after being kidnapped. Are you guys excited about Cage and Kidman working together? No? Hmm... What if I told you Joel Schumacher, the guy responsible for both Batman and Robin and Phone Booth, was directing? Oh, this is not 1991, you say? Hmm... What if I also added that Cam Giganet, my vote for worst actor of the year for his work in Priest is probably going to struggle to play the villain? No? Welp, I got nothing.

Value: $1 The only reason to watch Trespass is to laugh at how far Nic Cage has fallen and do some prep work for the Razzies.

"Father of Invention" - Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Johnny Knoxville (Limited)
A former infomercial guru (Spacey) tries to get back on top after a prison stint. Confession: I'd never even heard of Father of Invention until today. So there's that. At one time, just the presence of Spacey alone would pique my interest. But honestly, he's best served for supporting roles at this point and I think Hollywood knows it. Meh.

Value: $2 Could make for decent in home viewings but nothing here should have you running to the theater.

"Fireflies in the Garden" - Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson
A tragic accident leads to a new start for a family that has struggled to stay together for years. Right now you're saying, "I've never heard of this film." And you're not alone in that. Fireflies was finished way back in 2008 but due to a litany of production and studio issues, it is just now getting a US release, albeit a limited one. Despite the NUMEROUS warning signs, I'm interested in this film for two reasons: 1.) The cast is INCREDIBLE and 2.) I want to see if Roberts and Reynolds can pull off the mother-son relationship despite being only 9 years apart.

Value: $3 Have to believe this cast can get something done, even if it isn't great. And if it is a disaster, there's a definite "train wreck" value to this thing.

Review: "The Ides of March"

To say that I am apathetic towards politics would be somewhat of a misstatement. I hate politics; I hate the political system; I hate what politics do to otherwise intelligent humans; and if I must be honest, I generally hate politicians. But for some reason, political thrillers intrigue me. Maybe it’s because the majority of them are all about pointing out the same holes in the political system that bother me or maybe I just like seeing politicians, even fictitious ones, suffering. Whatever it is, I’m usually on board for a well-paced political thriller and as such, I was quite excited about The Ides of March. In hindsight, I probably could have tempered my enthusiasm a bit.

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is the type of presidential candidate that inspires young voters and scares the snot out of stodgy traditionalists. He is a fresh thinker, filled with the kind of ideas that you can only get away with in the movies, and a man who refuses to participate in the shady backroom dealings that plague the political system. His campaign is run by Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an experienced campaigner who has put numerous candidates in their rightful positions over the years. But Morris draws much of his campaign strength from Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic media whiz-kid who serves as second-in-command within the Morris campaign and will undoubtedly go on to an important post within the White House. Just as Stephen begins to think the presidential nomination is in the bag, everything begins to crash around him. A secret meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who manages Morris’ opponent, reveals that Stephen’s polls are wrong and the race is far from over. He then discovers that Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern with whom he has been cavorting, has a dark secret that threatens not only him but the campaign itself. With all of his hard work so close to coming to fruition, Stephen is forced to make decisions that go against his very nature and the beliefs on which the Morris campaign is built while attempting to stay one step ahead of the media and his political opponents.

The best thing that I can say about March is that it is a good film and a well-made one at that. As the writer and director, Clooney does an outstanding of painting an accurate picture of the political climate. Morris is an appealing candidate, the kind of guy you might truly consider worthy of a vote if he were not, in fact, a fictitious person. There is earnestness and a sense of realness to him which is exactly what he has to show in order to delve into the darker side of politics. The script isn’t great in the dialogue department (I move to make it a law that all political films must be written by Aaron Sorkin. Seconded?) but it succeeds in limiting the scope of the political sphere in which Stephens, Morris, and the rest operate; that is to say, it doesn’t bog the story down in all the detail that made your high school government class so painfully boring and thereby allows the audience to invest without having to remember too much about how this whole mess works. As someone who (as stated before) hates the political system and checks out at the words “delegate” and “lobbyist”, I appreciate this dedication to simplicity while remaining intelligent. All of the leading actors turn in good performances, though it would be a shock if any of them didn’t. March is mostly concerned with Gosling’s Stephen but the best moments belong to PSH and Giamatti, both of whom deliver with impassioned panache in their limited scenes. Shot selection, cinematography, and the dark contrast are all strengths and add to the overall “goodness” of the film.

What March isn’t is a great film. Clooney sets the table for a dramatic, genre changing (or at least defining) film and the trailers had me believing this would be an epic achievement. But in the end, there’s very little punch in March and not enough substance to fulfill its promise. The ground covered within the narrative is interesting but old; there’s nothing new or fresh about the twists and turns that take place and the final reveal(s) are simply not the powerful moments that I think they were designed to be. March simply isn’t special and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I think it’s fair to expect more from a film that has this kind of pedigree. Whether fair or not, if you tell me Clooney will direct and co-star along with Gosling, PSH, and Giamatti, I’m going to immediately start thinking “Oscar” and March doesn’t quite reach that vaunted mark. If, however, you can go in with managed expectations, you will be rewarded with a solid, quality, good political thriller that will keep you engrossed even if you’ve seen the twists a hundred times before.  

Grade: B+

I’d totally vote Clooney for president,

Movie News Today

I saw 50/50 again tonight. Seriously, guys. If you haven't seen this movie, I implore you to check it out. It probably only has another week in release so get out there soon. Might have enjoyed it more the second time around.

Splitsider has an entertaining profile of Will Forte (a favorite of mine) in their "Saturday Night's Children" series. Say what you will about Forte (actually, don't; I just said he was one of my favorites, jerk!) but very few people appeared to have as much fun on SNL as he did.

My friend Terrence over at ScarletSp1der gives us a nice look into the future of television with a preview of some upcoming shows that look pretty sweet. Nerds unite!

Flix Chatter has a guest post that looks at five big budget films that didn't quite meet expectations. It should be noted that this list includes The Alamo (2004), one of my very favorite films but one that I always say cannot possibly be enjoyed from beginning to end by anyone who is not a Texan.

Nick over at Anomalous Material writes a really solid piece on the value of the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." Check it out to see what I'm talking about. Well done, Nick!

Want to make me weep like a tiny child? Just put together a trailer that involves the parent-child relationship, 9/11, Tom Hanks in a clearly serious role, and a U2 song and BOOM! You've got a weepy Brian. If the studio hinted at the death of a beloved pet I'd be an absolute wreck right now. Enjoy the trailer for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which has a terrible title but looks devastatingly good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Movie News Today

For the three of you who still care, Johnny Depp's Lone Ranger film is back on track and will begin pre-production soon.

Don Johnson has joined the cast of Django Unchained, meaning Quentin Tarantino never saw a trailer for Bucky Larson.

The cast for Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, already quite strong, just jumped up another notch with the additions of Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, and Sam Elliot. Wow!

Jim Carrey and Steve Carell will reunite in Burt Wonderstone, a comedy about feuding magicians. Hollywood is funny; Carell got his real break as a scene-stealer in Carrey's Bruce Almighty and has since become a star while Carrey has fallen out of favor with both audiences and studios since then and now needs his former understudy (as it were) to get him back on track.

Javier Bardem has confirmed that he will play the villain in the upcoming James Bond film. Bardem is always a good choice for a villain, of course, but I especially think he and Daniel Craig will make outstanding rivals.

Hugh Jackman told MTV that they may shoot both PG-13 and R-rated versions to the Wolverine sequel. I doubt this will really happen but it does hint that the film will have a little more edge (think Dark Knight) than the previous X-Men films. That's a good thing in my mind.

If you're having trouble deciding which TV shows to watch this year, be sure to check out Matt Kraus' Fall TV Landscape piece over at I Eat Films.

The first full trailer for The Avengers dropped today. Yeah, I'll see that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

DVD Roundup - 10/11

Green Lantern (2011) - Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
A hot shot test pilot with a haunted past (Reynolds) stumbles upon the remains of an alien space craft and its dying occupant who gives him a mystical ring. Soon he is emboldened by immense powers but it is enough to save earth from a menacing force? Green Lantern had the ingredients for an excellent comic book movie, including a big name star with a lot of appeal, but the finished product is just terrible. TERRIBLE. I pride myself on being able to avoid truly awful films so my list is somewhat slanted; but this is the worst film of 2011 in my book. Bad dialogue, stupid plot points, weak acting, and video game-like special effects that cost a ton but look distractingly bad. I hate this film.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: I've made no bones about my love for popcorn films and summer blockbusters so when I tell you to stay away...please listen to me.

Horrible Bosses (2011) - Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston
Three buddies with (duh) horrible bosses take it upon themselves to make the world a better place and kill them all. Shenanigans abound. In a year that will be remembered for R-rated comedies, you could make the case that this is the best of the bunch (though Bridesmaids would have something to say about that). It is absurdist comedy but it has more humanity than you might expect and more importantly, it seems very organic. Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day work extremely well together and Aniston's against-type performance may very well rejuvenate her career.

IHVR: If you're into this sort of comedy, Horrible Bosses is definitely worth your time.

Tree of Life (2011) - Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn
On the surface, a story about a 1950s Texas family and the interactions between father (Pitt) and son. Under the surface, a story about EVERYTHING IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. The opinions on Tree of Life differ WILDLY from those who think this is the greatest film of all-time to those who find it pretentious on down to those who just flat out don't get it. Welcome to life with director Terrence Malick. This seems to be the most confusing (relatively) mainstream film in recent memory and I've been chomping at the bit to see it for several months now.

IHVR: The more people who see this film the better. That way we can just have a world wide discussion and come to some consensus as to what the heck this thing is all about.

Zookeeper (2011) - Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb
A slovenly zookeeper (James) discovers that his animals can talk and takes their advise on life and love. I should probably just stop after reporting that Zookeeper has a 13 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But I can't. I also must say that Kevin James is not funny. I really and truly do not understand his appeal on any level. He was fine in Hitch but I DESPISE The King of Queens and that's basically the trend for everything else he's ever been in. People always say he's good at physical comedy but I think that's an affront to John Belushi, Chris Farley, and all the other great physical comedians. What am I missing here?

IHVR: If you have a kiddo, I imagine you'll have to take one for the team. Otherwise...

Judy Moody and the NOT Summer Blues (2011) - Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham
An elementary-aged girl (Beatty) sets out to have the greatest summer of her life. Based on a well-known children's book, Judy didn't quite find the audience it expected and is only a percentage point higher (14%) than Zookeeper on Rotten Tomatoes. I'd like to point that one well-respected critic, Mr. Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News, gave this a fresh rating and called it, "a seriously perfect vacation destination." I generally stay away from mocking the reviews of others (unless it's Armond White) but...really, dude?! A 14 percent movie and you went with the word "perfect"?! Where do we gather to stone this guy? Also, to the editors of the New York Daily News: I'm available for interviews when you're ready to replace this guy.

IHVR: As with Zookeeper, parents may have to bite the bullet but hopefully the rest of us can stay away.

Terri (2011) - Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina
A tubby teenager (Wysocki) with low self-esteem develops a mentor-mentee relationship with his high school's principal (Reilly), himself a bit of an outcast. I missed Terri during its very brief stay in theaters but I'm excited about getting another chance to see it. Many critics whom I trust have pegged this as a film to watch and Reilly in a semi-serious role is always a sight to see.

IHVR: I'm hopeful that this is as good as it has been billed and that it finds an in-home audience.

Bones: Season 6 (2010) - Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz
I don't watch many true procedurals (which Bones definitely is) but I've always found this one to be quite appealing. It peaked, in my mind, a couple of seasons ago and I watch more because I've invested in over 100 episodes and less because it is thrilling week-to-week but it's still solid viewing and entertaining. The conclusion at the end of this season was a decent cliffhanger, too, and could push the show into new territory.

IHVR: The first five seasons are on Netflix Instant and it's definitely worth catching up on.

Chuck: Season 4 (2010) - Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski
A fine example of how Nerd Culture has infiltrated Hollywood, Chuck is, for me, a fine show but not one that I can't wait to see each week. In fact, I've never been able to get through a full season on TV; I always end up catching back up with it when it comes out on DVD. I intend to stick with season five since it is the last season but having not seen season four yet, I can't recommend one way or the other. I will say this: Chuck is at its best at the beginning and end of each season. The first and final four episodes are usually very, very good while everything in the middle is a bit hit or miss.

IHVR: This is a fun, smart show that would be a blast to catch up with on DVD. Give it a shot!

Also New
The Trip (2010) - Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Beautiful Boy (2010) - Michael Sheen, Maria Bello
Indian Summer (1993) - Alan Arkin, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton (Blu-Ray)
The Bad Seed (1956) - Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones
Camp Nowhere (1994) - Jonathan Jackson, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Scolari

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Movie News Today

Johnny Depp will play Dr. Seuss in an upcoming bio-pic which he'll also produce. Sounds interesting enough.

The Washington Post has an excellent article on the life of Steve Jobs with particular attention paid to his work with Pixar. Very cool.

Director Peter Travis has been kicked out of post-production work on his Judge Dredd film. So, basically, we can go ahead and write this one off a full year before it hits theaters.

John Likes Movies gives us five movie politicians worthy of your vote. Co-signed, though I'd add Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau to the list.

Weekend Box Office Returns
1. Real Steel - $27.3 million
2. The Ides of March - $10.4M
3. Dolphin Tale - $9.16M ($49.07 million total)
4. Moneyball - $7.5M ($49.25M)
5. 50/50 - $5.5M ($17.3M)
6. Courageous - $4.6M ($15.89M)
7. The Lion King - $4.55M ($85.96M)
8. Dream House - $4.5M ($14.5M)
9. What's Your Number? - $3.05M ($10.31M)
10. Abduction - $2.9M ($23.37M)

The trailer for next year's The Raven came out this weekend and it looks...yeesh...not so good. I want good things for you, John Cusak.