Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Fast Five" - Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, The Rock
The (obvious) fifth installment of the super stylish, super fun, super stupid series, "Fast Five" finds our heroes on the run in Brazil while being chased by a cop (Rock). Are these good movies? No, that's ridiculous. Do they have any cinematic value? Not so much. But will I be seeing (and enjoying) this movie in less than 24 hours? Yes, yes I will. In fact, I would have been at a midnight showing if not for an important Mavericks game tonight. I've got a soft spot for Vin Diesel and it even allows me to ignore the awfulness of Paul Walker.

"Prom" - a bunch of kids no one has ever heard of
Per IMDB: "Follow a group of high school students as they get ready for their prom." And we're done.

"Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil" - Hayden Panettiere, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton
The follow up to the relatively successful 2005 film that played off classic fairy tales with a spy twist. I guess it'll be more of the same. Three questions. 1.) Has anyone been just dying for this sequel? I work with a lot of kids and I know not one who is all about "Hoodwinked." 2.) How many play on words do we really need in one movie's title? I would say two is overkill. 3.) What's up with the animation in this thing? I've seen the previews a couple of times and it looks like something that was copied off of a drive-in screen with a handheld camera in 1975. No thanks.

"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" - Brandon Routh, Anita Briem, Sam Huntington
Routh plays a private eye who specializes in investigations of the undead and finds himself trying to prevent a war between zombies, werewolves, vampires, and post-midnight gremlins. (I added the gremlins part because, hey, why not?) Based on an Italian comic book, this has campy cult classic written all over it.

Movie News Today

Is there a hotter name in Hollywood than Jeremy Renner? I think not. The "Hurt Locker" star is working on a Steve McQueen biopic which would be AWESOME in my book.

With "Dark Tower" on the horizon, Ron Howard has snatched up a script called "Amnesty" which has been labeled as "Lord of the Rings" meets Jason Bourne. You know, Howard doesn't always make great movies ("The Dilemma", anyone?) but very few directors get my attention as quickly as he does. I always expect great things.

Elizabeth Banks has joined the cast of "The Hunger Games" and will play the role of Effie. Inspired casting in my opinion.

GraphJam gives us a breakdown of which cast members provide the various voices on "The Simpsons." This show is long past its prime and no longer must-see viewing for me. But every once in a while I fly by it and still, to this day, find a lot to like. There's a great deal to be said for still being funny after 20+ years on TV.

Tonight's episode of "The Office" was the last for show leader Steve Carell (Michael Scott). (Great ep, by the way, if you're an "Office" fan but haven't seen it yet.) Below is a short farewell shot in Carell's trailer.


And finally, what I know you've all been waiting for: please enjoy the first trailer for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II." *tears*

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blu Ray Review - "Hereafter"

Following the "Crash" method, "Hereafter" tells its story in three parts, three vignettes about death that ultimately tie together. The first story concerns a French reporter named Marie (Cecile De France). While on vacation on a tropical island, Marie very nearly dies during a tsunami. After being rescued at the very last possible moment, she remembers the visions that she had while underwater and believes that she has touched the void, an experience that obviously changes her. The second story follows Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), twin boys with a drugged-out mother. After being sent on an errand, Jason is chased by a gang of teenagers and ends up running into traffic where a truck hits and kills him. The loss throws Marcus into a tail spin and he spends the majority of his subsequent screen time looking for answers about death. The third story revolves around George (Matt Damon), a man blessed (or cursed) with a genuine psychic ability. After years of dealing with death, George has abandoned his calling and works at a factory to the chagrin of his brother, Billy (Jay Mohr). After Billy talks him into rediscovering his ability, George skips town and comes in contact with our other two protagonists, bringing the stories together.

While it positions itself as part character study, part exploration into the realm of spirituality, "Hereafter" leans much more heavily upon the character side of that equation, requiring a lot of its actors. I'm not sure the majority of the cast was up for this. Damon is strong as always. George's battle between his own desire to keep his talent hidden and the constant push to the contrary of almost everyone around him is the most emotionally relevant portion of the movie. I was far more invested in Damon's vignette than I was the others, though I am an unabashed Damon fan and may not be entirely unbiased. For her part, France provides a fairly compelling performance but one that doesn't truly connect with the viewer. Perhaps she wasn't given a lot to work with as I found Peter Morgan's script to be lacking, but regardless, Marie comes across as somewhat hollow. And then we have the McLaren twins. I doubt you will ever see me bash on a child actor for being a bad actor. They're kids, most of them aren't so great as of yet. That said, I will never understand a seasoned, established director casting children who simply cannot act to play important roles. These poor kids are kind of awful and they suck the momentum out of every scene that they're in. Near the conclusion, what should be the most riveting and touching scene of the movie is instead cut down by a kid trying to be an actor and falling miserably short. The McLarens try hard, bless them, but in all honesty, their involvement robs "Hereafter" of its best storyline.

"Hereafter" is a strange departure from the norm for director Clint Eastwood and it kind of leaves you wondering what was going on in his own life when he decided to make this film. There's a definite sense of questioning within the very fabric of the movie's makeup which could have been drawn upon with more intensity and significance than it ultimately is. The special effects are good, the shot selection and use of color is excellent, resulting in what is, at times, a technically beautiful film, yet it lacks the heart needed to live up to its promise. "Hereafter" is a bit shallow when it's all said and done. It is a surface exploration into the Unknown that leaves the viewer feeling dissatisfied.

Grade: B-

Movie News Today

After Ryan Gosling turned down the masked roll in "The Lone Ranger," Disney has now turned its attention to Armie Hammer of "Social Network" fame. Smart move; dude can flat out act.

German actress Antje Traue has been added to the cast of "Superman" as a second villain named Faora. I really and truly have no idea what to expect from this movie. But I'm so intrigued.

Undy a Hundy applies his unique brand of reviewing to the Coen Brother classic, "Fargo."

Anomalous Material has a list of the 10 most awesome movie cars. Check it out!

Netflix Instant Review - "Eight Met Out"

The concept of cheating in sports is nothing new or even that shocking anymore. Point shaving scandals pop up in basketball every now and then, baseball was riddled with steroids for a decade, and you basically can't run a clean college football program anymore. But in an era that has been desensitized by revelations of athletic misconduct, the idea of throwing games, and more importantly, almost an entire team participating in the throw, is shocking and almost unheard of in American professional sports. That is, with the exception of the infamous Black Sox scandal, the events of which are illustrated in "Eight Men Out." 1n 1919, at least eight members of the Chicago White Sox, disgruntled by the unfair treatment they received from the team's owner and money being scarse, took $10,000 apiece to do the unthinkable. Led by Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker) and Eddie Cicotte (David Straithairn), the Sox threw the World Series, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to take home the title and prompting an investigation that in some ways would revolutionize the game of baseball and all other professional sports leagues in America.

The real heart (and tragedy) of "Eight Men Out" lies in the stories of Shoeless Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney) and Buck Weaver (John Cusack). The film (and the book upon which it is based) shows Weaver taking part in the initial meeting with his teammates but reneging on his decision to help throw the games. Weaver, in fact, had an outstanding World Series for himself. Jackson, meanwhile, is depicted as having never participated in the fix, though he knew what his teammates were up to. A simple man who couldn't even read, Jackson seemed an unlikely type to throw a game and historically speaking, each of the players involved in the Black Sox scandal professed Jackson's innocense. Still, however, Jackson and Weaver were grouped with the rest of the cheaters and while a jury found the White Sox innocent, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis (John Anderson), the first commissioner of baseball, eventually handed out lifetime bans to all of the players involved, including Jackson and Weaver. To this day, Jackson, considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, is not in the Hall of Fame because of the events of "Eight Men Out."

That's a longer summary than I usually like to give but I actually knew a bit about this story to begin with and have always been slightly enamored with these events. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to see this film for myself. From a movie standpoint, you could do a LOT worse than "Eight Men Out." The cast is excellent with a number of recognizable faces playing even small parts throughout. Cusack and Sweeney are both convincing in their sympathetic positions (even if I am weirded out by how similar those two looked in 1988; seriously, they could be brothers). Maybe more importantly, though, the rest of the cast do an excellent job of conveying the various emotions and situations that led to the players' decisions to throw the Series. Some are natural gamblers, some know their time on the field is nearing its conclusion, some, like Straithairn's Cicotte, just need some financial stability that the franchise isn't providing. This isn't a black-and-white issue as it seems at first glance and the John Sayles script allows the actors a lot of room to operate within the gray. (Sayles also directed and plays a very important part.)

There is a definite hint of over-the-top ridiculousness that plagued the 80s and the baseball action itself is, at times, somewhat lame. I also have no idea how accurate the movie is (though it is based on the 1965 book that is considered to be the definitive authority on the events) and I think you can certainly pick out some moments that have the Hollywood feel to them. But none of this takes away from the overall entertaining and thoroughly engrossing tale of "Eight Men Out."

Grade: B+

Movie News Today

Arnie is back in the role of the "Terminator" in a project that will be directed by "Fast Five" honcho Justin Lin. My thought: savvy move teaming these two together. You know exactly what to expect from both and I would bet they bring out the best in each other.

Apparently Fox is planning a "Zorro" of the future project. Does that not seem a bit "Gilligan's Island" meets the Harlem Globetrotters?

AMC will show the extended cuts of all three "Lord of the Rings" movies in their theaters in June. Can you say, "AWESOME"?!?! These movies are incredible any way you see them but the fact is, the extended cuts make up an almost completely different series than the theatrical set.

Flix Chatter has a guest post regarding alternative endings for four films. Very informative.

Film Girl Interrupted provides a review of the great "Willow." Oh, how I love "Willow." Classic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Movie News Today

Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Ultimatum") may join Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of "Travis McGee" about a private eye who doubles as a treasure hunter. In.

Mireille Enos has been added to the cast of "World War Z" and may play Brad Pitt's wife. I'm not a zombie nerd (shocking, I know) but I love the "WWZ" novel. It's spectacular. I'm incredibly nervous about the film, however. To make this movie any way other than the narrative laid out in the book would be to simply make another zombie movie. The book deserves better. I'm counting on you, Brad.

Hollywood Reporter has a look into the daily life of Saturday Night Live head honcho Lorne Michaels. Genius dude.

Pork Chop Express has a review of "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," a film I'm still excited about seeing if ever it opens around here.

BTW, you'll notice that there is no New DVD Tuesday today. That's because Hollywood decided to release absolutely nothing that the average moviegoer is going to care about. Seriously, I can't ever remember seeing such an odd collection of DVDs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blu Ray Review - "Skyline"

In Los Angeles for his best friend's (Donald Faison) birthday party, Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) awaken to a whole new world. Aliens have come to earth, dropping floating beams of electric blue lights that draws humans in like a moth to flame. They watch as people in the streets are literally sucked up into the light and disappear inside the various alien craft that now litter the skies of Los Angeles. Foiled in their attempts to escape (and losing members of their group along the way), the friends hole up inside a luxury condo and watch as the world they knew comes crashing down.

If that summary made "Skyline" sound even remotely appealing, please accept my profuse apology and give serious attention to the following paragraph.

I see a lot of movies, dear readers. Way more than the average person. And my love for science fiction has been well documented. I've willingly rewatched "Starship Troopers" and recently at that. So take that into consideration when I say "Skyline" is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Under no circumstances should ANYONE see this movie and I feel like the cast of this atrocity would probably agree with me. When trying to decide whether a bad movie is simply that or if it belongs in the "worst I've ever seen" category, I look for only one thing: were there ten good/enjoyable minutes somewhere in said movie's runtime? Just ten short minutes that didn't make me want to scratch my own eyeballs out. The answer here is a resounding "no". Every single aspect of "Skyline" is abysmal.

Let's start with the casting. What is Donald Faison doing in this movie?! His scenes (which are SPOILER ALERT mercifully cut short) play out as if he thought he was working on a sci-fi spoof and no one on set had the heart to tell him otherwise. I'm a Faison fan but gracious, his screen time is almost unbearable. The other actors, while more fitting of their characters, do not, for one scene, give you the feeling that any of them have acted before. Ever. ANYWHERE. Like Faison, I actually quite like Balfour and think he's got something to offer as a supporting actor. But I would hope he doesn't even put this on his resume. He appears lost and unconvincing, though I guess I can't really blame him (or anyone else) given the source material they had to work with. Directing partners the Brothers Strauss continually put their characters in dumb, cliche, and even at times boring situations that do little to impress. The dialogue is oppressive, the character interactions are meaningless, and the special effects are clunky and super CGI-y.

Then we come to the aliens that, for lack of a better term, suck. Their major weapon is bascially a human-sized bug zapper. Weaksauce. There's no backstory as to why they're here, setting the stage for what I can only guess was supposed to be a shocking reveal that (SPOILER ALERT) they're only here to harvest our brains. I think. Honestly, I'm not even sure that's the point, that was just what I could glean in between sticking forks in my eyes and ears. I completely checked out when our hero, full of adrenaline, punches an alien to death. Mind you, this scene came after we witnessed aliens not only surviving but thriving while being hacked with an axe, rammed with a Cadillac Escalade, and thumped with a NUCLEAR BOMB. So, yeah, of course they would be susceptible to fisticuffs. It absolutely shocks me that trustworthy critics went so fervently after "Battle: Los Angeles" and for all intents and purposes, left this train wreck alone by just calling it a bad movie. It's not a bad movie. It's a TERRIBLE movie! I would rather watch "The Last Airbender" again over sitting through another viewing of this heap of garbage, which is without question the worst movie I've seen from 2010. I implore all of you to stay away from "Skyline."

Grade: F

Movie News Today

John C. Reilly has been offered the role of Haymitch in "The Hunger Games." I love me some Reilly but...honestly not sure how I feel about this. This is the most important role in the movie outside of the lead and this is definitely not the path I would expect. Interesting.

In today's "Hobbit" news, one of the dwarfs dropped out (sad) but Ian Holm has officially been added as an older Bilbo. Yay!

In other "Hobbit" news, Peter Jackson has written a Facebook note regarding the writing of the script. Awesome.

Movie Critical has an early review of "Thor." Can't wait for this myself, though less because of the movie itself and more because its debut means the beginning of the end that was the nuclear winter of 2010's movie calendar and the after effects that have lasted till now. Check it out!

Weekend Box Office Returns
1. "Rio" - $26.8 million ($81.26 million total)
2. "Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family" - $25.75
3. "Water for Elephants" - $17.5
4. "Hop" - $12.46 ($100.5)
5. "Scream 4" - $7.15 ($31.16)
6. "African Cats" - $6.4
7. "Soul Surfer" - $5.6 ($28.66)
8. "Insidious" - $5.38 ($44.18)
9. "Hanna" - $5.28 ($31.72)
10. "Source Code" - $5.06 ($44.66)

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Movie Friday

"Water for Elephants" - Robert Pattinson, Reese Weatherspoon, Hal Holbrook, Christoph Waltz
Based on the bestselling book of the same name, "Elephants" follows a love triangle set against the backdrop of a traveling circus during the Depression era. True or false: I'd be more interested in this if it didn't involve Robert Pattinson. The correct answer is "Super True." I don't believe the guy can act. Can anyone who isn't a "Twilight" freak inform me otherwise? 'Cause I kind-of-sort-of find myself a little interested in this because of Waltz and the amazing Holbrook but I'm not sure it's even possible to get over the Pattinson curse.

"Madea's Big Happy Family" - Tyler Perry
I will not sum this up. In fact, I will waste only 23 more words on this movie: Twenty five thousand. That's the amount of money it would take to get me to watch this or any other Tyler Perry movie.

"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" - Morgan Spurlock (limited)
Perhaps the most commercially recognizable documentarian, Spurlock's latest feature focuses on product placement in films...while being entirely financed through his film's subject matter. Genius. Given my love for documentaries (check out the beginning of the Documentary Project), I very much look forward to an opportunity to check this sucker out.

"African Cats" - Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Disney's third installment of its Earth Day series, "Cats" follows a group of, naturally, African lions. I'm not exactly an environmentalist but you can always talk me into a good nature program.

Movie News Today

Jeremy Renner has been offered the lead role in the upcoming "Bourne" movie. I've been kind of down on the Damon-less "Bourne" idea but Renner...that's a pretty awesome replacement.

Likewise, Kate Beckingsale has been offered the Sharon Stone role in the upcoming "Total Recall" remake. Which begs the question, are they beefing this role up or is Kate Beckinsale really down for 10 minutes of screen time? Wait, that's wrong. It begs the question, why do we need a remake of "Total Recall" in the first place?

Vanity Fair provides a profile of deceased filmmaker Tim Heatherington. A fitting send off.

Slow day. That's all I got.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Hanna"

There are times in life when it becomes readily apparent that your opinion is not the widely held view. Whether it is politics and religion or something less serious but no less important like sports or movies, you know that, for good or bad, when you speak your opinion, it will be unpopular. I’m not unfamiliar with this phenomenon (I’m a born and raised Texan and I hate the Cowboys) but it’s rare that it happens to me in the movie realm. That is, after all, the point of The Soap Box Office: to deliver movie reviews for the average movie fan, written by the average movie fan. Sure, I often disagree with the hardened, disillusioned critics but I usually expect, relatively speaking, to agree with the majority of my friends around the blogosphere and the average moviegoer who comes across this platform. That is not the case this time around. But I believe that there’s no point in having an opinion if you’re not going to defend it (and isn’t that what blogging is all about, anyway?) so let’s just go ahead and get everything out in the open: I hated “Hanna.”

Up to the outset of “Hanna”, the title character (Saoirse Ronan) has spent her entire life living an amenity-free lifestyle in a shack near the Arctic Circle with her father, ex-superspy Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Hanna is just your typical 16 year old girl. Her hobbies include speaking multiple languages, hunting elk with a bow, and learning new ways to kill a man. Heller has been preparing her for a fight with CIA bigwig Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who is responsible for the little family’s forced hibernation. Soon, Hanna feels she is ready for her challenge and Heller allows Wiegler to be alerted to her presence. After being captured, Hanna’s true abilities are put on display when she kills a Wiegler impersonator and escapes from a high-security holding facility, going on the run to meet back up with Heller. Wiegler pursues and her goon, Isaacs (Tom Hollander), pursue, however, and the result is a tension-filled chase through some of the seedier areas across Eurasia.

I can’t ever remember fighting with more vigor to like a movie I ended up not liking than I did with “Hanna.” Going in, I expected to come out with a positive review and I tried really, really hard to make that happen. Alas, it just wasn’t to be. I should note, first of all, that Ronan gives a tremendous performance. A fine actress to begin with, this could be one of those defining roles that dictates a higher-quality of offers as her career progresses. She brings the appropriate mix of creepiness and na├»ve curiosity that you would expect from a teenage killing machine who, for the first time, has been given an ounce of freedom. Her portrayal is award worthy. I also appreciate what director Joe Wright is trying to do here and there’s no denying he knows how to create a scene. Some of the scenes in “Hanna” are magnificent, particularly the action sequences which mesh a bit of the stylized flash of the “Bourne” series with the more traditional look of older action flicks.

But those great scenes are part of my problem with “Hanna.” For me, they are almost stand-alone moments of greatness that don’t connect; there’s no fluidity from one scene to the next. In fact, I often felt that each sequence had a completely different tone than the next, almost like reading a book by two different authors who took turns penning alternating chapters. I get that Wright and his screenwriters (Seth Lochhead and David Farr) tried to capture the conflict between Hanna’s training and the undeniable desire to just be a teenage girl but there’s a real struggle to establish the balance between those two concepts, creating an identity crisis or at least an unsteady tone. It comes across as if Jason Bourne and Nell had a socially retarded love child which is frustrating given, again, how much Ronan gives to the role. In addition, I had a great deal of trouble connecting with any of the characters (outside of Hanna). They weren’t so much caricatures as they were simply inhuman. The hippie parents Hanna comes across during her escape, the strange ally who resides inside a defunct amusement park, and the vicious bad guy who is certainly creepy but only to the extent of a CBS procedural…none of them are relatable. Wright brings to the audience’s attention more creeps and weirdos than have been seen on screen since “Freaks.” That would be fine if they were compelling or even disturbing characters. Instead, they are just confusing and distracting, which brings me to the score.

Never in my life have I been more distracted by a score than I was throughout “Hanna.” Let me clarify: I quite liked the score and I’m generally a fan of the techno/progressive score that has become popular lately. When used correctly, I think there’s no questioning the asset a score like this one (done by the Chemical Brothers) can be for a film. It’s just used horribly. Really, it’s not just the score. It’s the shot selection, lighting, and various production elements combined with the score that completely ruined “Hanna” for me. Wright doesn’t use the score to drive his film; instead, he blows your eardrums out with it and even makes a point of highlighting it. One scene in particular, when Hanna escapes from her prison, feels like it was designed with the specific intention of playing to the score rather than the other way around. The overwhelmingly loud sound mix is obnoxious and the flashing lights/scene cuts are to the level of inducing a seizure. Maybe I’m just getting old but I’m not kidding when I say my head was pounding upon leaving the theater. These were huge missteps in my opinions, not to mention exceedingly distracting.

In the end, “Hanna” is, to quote the Bard, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I can’t call it a bad movie; not with Ronan’s fine acting performance and some truly awesome scenes (not to mention the positive reviews of many people whom I trust). I just hate it. It has a strong story and an excellent concept, to be sure, but the execution is porous in my book and I could not get over the potholes in the road it travels.

Grade: C

I’m a little ticked at myself for not liking this,
Brian

Care for a second opinion? Check out Cinema Slants much more positive (and probably more accurate, given the buzz around my favorite blogs) review here.

Movie News Today

Tim Heatherington, director of the acclaimed documentary "Restrepo" (next up on the Documentary Project queue) was killed in an attack in Libya today, where he was shooting footage for another gritty film. Shows you exactly what kind of risks some filmmakers are taking to get the real story. RIP, Tim.

Flix Chatter wishes the great Andy Serkis a happy birthday.

John Likes Movies reviews one of the all time classics, "12 Angry Men." Check it out.

Dog Ate My Wookiee has an early review of "Fast Five," a movie that I'm ashamed to say I kind of can't wait for. Curse you, Vin Diesel!

A Life in Equinox gives us his 5 unconventional laws of movies. Love it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Documentary Project - Volume 6: "Exit Through the Gift Shop"

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" is sort of a documentary within a documentary. Or at least that's what it positions itself as, which is indeed a big part of its intrigue. We begin with Thierry Guetta, a French businessman whose feels his Los Angeles lifestyle isn't complete without a video camera in his hands. He films everything from normal, every day occurrences to the big events of his family. Upon a visit to France, Thierry meets a cousin of his who goes by the name Space Invader and is a well known figure in the underground street art world (read: "graffiti"). Fascinated by Invader's work, Thierry begins following him and his compatriots around at night, filming their exploits and soon becomes a fixture of the street art world himself. Thierry sets his sights higher, though, and uses his connections to get an introduction to Banksy, the world's preeminent street artist. Thierry does several projects with Banksy, all the while shooting footage for a film that doesn't really exist. When Banksy asks Thierry to show him his documentary, Theirry puts together a hasty, haphazard film that alerts Banksy to the fact that his would-be biographer (as it were) is simply a determined fan. Intrigued, Banksy flips the script and turns the camera on Thierry, tasking him with developing his own brand of street art and documenting the results for the viewer.

I can hardly think of a film that has caused me more writer's block than "Gift Shop." I've had a devil of a time trying to frame my thoughts into words and more importantly, to pinpoint what exactly there is to analyze. In truth, there's not a whole lot of content in this movie to critique or discuss. That's not to say it's a bad movie. In fact it is extremely well made and wholly compelling. I rarely sit and watch a movie without at least flipping through Twitter on my phone or doing a bit of work on my laptop. That's just what I do. Otherwise the ADD takes over and I can't concentrate on the film. With "Gift Shop", however, I sat staring at the screen for 87 minutes, my brow furrowed and my arms crossed, trying to decipher what in the world I was watching. It is clear (whether you've followed the movie's backstory to this point or simply come across it on Netflix Instant) that the goal of "Gift Shop" is to mess with your head first and inform (read: "advertise") second.

Banksy is a shrouded figure, his face un-shown and his voice auto tuned. Yet it becomes readily apparent that the relationship between himself and Thierry is much closer than documenter and subject (even after they switch places). I'm not sure exactly what that relationship is and I suppose that's the point. It seems easy to me to say that Banksy and Thierry are the same person or at least are working together to display Banksy's work and heighten his notoriety. But that feels overly simple and the presentation is so obvious as to leave me wondering if that isn't exactly what Banksy/Thierry/whoever the freak this guy is wanted me to think. The mind game would be quite annoying, honestly, if it weren't so darn interesting. In the days following my "Gift Shop" viewing, I routinely found myself absentmindedly thinking about the film, trying to figure out what my own personal conclusion is. And to be frank, dear readers, I'm still not sure. It's a weird, twisted, even frustrating documentary (if it can even be called a documentary which I'm not sure it really qualifies for) that you should honestly just see for yourself so that you, too, can be confused and maddeningly intrigued.

Grade: B+

Movie News Today

Warner Brothers has announced the official addition of Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the cast of "Dark Knight Rises" and given some details as to their roles. I love the actor tree that Christopher Nolan has grown around him and his projects. Awesome stuff.

Isla Fisher has been added to the cast of "The Great Gatsby." If only Baz Luhrmann had nothing to do with this project. I'd be so excited. Ah well.

Director Gary Ross has added four relatively unknown actors to fill key roles in his "Hunger Games" adaptation. There's really only one important part left, that being Haymitch, the coach (as it were) for our hero. To me, outside of the lead character, Haymitch is the most important part. Must get that right to have this succeed.

Get Your Film Fix gives us the ten movie technologies they'd like to have. Co-sign.

M. Carter at the Movies reviews one of the more riveting documentaries I've ever seen, "Jesus Camp." Check it out. (Note: yes, this post was from several weeks ago but I haven't been over to M. Carter world lately and it was new to me. Sue me.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

The King's Speech (2010) - Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture (and maybe one or thirty other awards, too), "The King's Speech" follows the path of King George VI (Firth) who battled and overcame a serious stammer during his nation's most trying time. Truly loved this movie but I would have never guessed that it would make the kind of money that it did. Not sure that it deserved Best Picture but still, it's success leaves some hope for the future of smart, mature cinema.

Rabbit Hole (2010) - Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
Follows the interactions of a married couple after they lose their son to a heartbreaking accident. Sure to be one of the more depressing films of the year but I'm mildly interested in checking it out at some point. It received strong reviews and a great deal of award press for Kidman.

Gulliver's Travels (2010) - Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segal
A modern retelling of the classic book series that completely crashed and burned at the box office this part Holiday season. And thank goodness for that. Maybe studios will look at "Gulliver" as an example of why they shouldn't think of their audience as stupid. Black has officially reached "automatic out" status with me anytime he's the lead in a film ("Kung Fu Panda" excluded). His bit is just not funny. And it actually pained me to type Emily Blunt's name in conjunction with this catastrophe.

The Way Back (2010) - Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell
Based on a true story, this movie follows a group of prisoners who escape their Russian captors and walk 4000 miles to their freedom in India. I'm actually quite interested in this but know not a single person who has seen it. Anyone know what I can honestly expect here?

Somewhere (2010) - Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
An actor (Dorff) whose lifestyle has become a sad cycle of booze-soaked nights and confusion-filled mornings starts to rethink his life during a visit from his daughter (Fanning). I saw a trailer for this a few days ago and it reminded me of the film's existence, piqued my interest a bit. For a while it looking like "Somewhere" or at least Dorff might have a place during Award Season and then everything came crashing in around it with a litany of poor reviews from important people. I've always thought that Dorff had more to offer as an actor than he's shown thus far, which leaves me wondering if this might be a worthwhile time investment for me.

New to Blu
Mortal Combat (1995) - Christopher Lambert, Brigette Wilson, Robin Shou
Short Circuit (1986) - Fisher Stevens, Ally Sheedy, Steve Gutttenberg
Short Circuit 2 (1988) - Fisher Stevens, Michael McKean

Also New
American Dad: Volume 6 (2009-2010) - Seth McFarlane

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Source Code"

I came by my love for science fiction honestly. My dad was a part-time sci-fi writer for the first few years of my life and took me to his writer’s club meetings once a week. My parents spent weekends playing Dungeons and Dragons with their group of friends and I was running my own adventures by age 7. In the month prior to my birth, “Star Wars” made its cable debut and my mom, laid up on bed rest, claims to have watched it two dozen times. I didn’t stand a chance; I was born to love sci-fi. I will be the first to admit, however, that good sci-fi has proven hard to come by. For every “Star Wars” there are three “Starship Troopers” (seriously, there are at least three of them); for every “Firefly”, there’s the Friday night movie on the SyFy channel. There is some cheesy, absurd fun to be had with this type of offerings, sure, but no one will argue they’re good movies. It can be hard to defend sci-fi as a whole when non-fans have so much ammunition from which to choose. So when a visionary, smart sci-fi director jumps onto the scene the way Duncan Jones did with 2009’s “Moon,” you can bet I’m touting the guy’s genius as long as he keeps putting out smart sci-fi, which is exactly what “Source Code” is.

When Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens, he finds himself aboard a commuter train in the company of a beautiful woman named Christina (Michelle Moynahan) whom he doesn’t know but seems to know him. His disorientation is cut short, though, when a bomb goes off, eviscerating everything around him. He wakes up again, however, this time strapped into an odd seat inside of a metal capsule surrounded by electronic equipment. His confusion is only deepened when Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears on a monitor and informs him that he is in the Source Code. Through a complicated equation of quantum physics (or mechanics or something that I didn’t really understand because I dropped out of high school) and in-depth neurology, Source Code allows someone else (namely, Captain Stevens) to inhabit the mind and body of a person in his last eight minutes of life. In this case, that person is Sean Fentress, a teacher who died in the train explosion which turned out to be only the lead up to a much bigger terrorist attack on Chicago. It isn’t exactly time travel that he’s been gifted with but rather a glance into the past that could allow him to pinpoint the bomber and therefore prevent future attacks. Bewildered and certain that he isn’t being given all the information about his situation, Stevens undertakes the task at hand with tenacity but takes it upon himself to change not only the future but also the past.

From a sci-fi perspective, “Source Code” isn’t quite to the level of “Moon” which is, for my money, the best true sci-fi film of the last decade (if not more). On the flip side, however, it’s much more across-the-board accessible than its predecessor. Whereas my wife would attempt to destroy our TV if I forced her to watch “Moon”, Sci-fi fans and haters alike should be able to find a great deal worth celebrating here. From the casting choices on down to the very layout of the narrative, every aspect of “Source Code” is expertly crafted. Gyllenhaal (whom I’ve never been a fan of) was a stumbling block for me in the beginning but as the film progresses, Stevens proves to be tougher, smarter, and more determined than either his superiors or the audience would have imagined at the outset. His on-screen presence grows as the tension rushes toward its peak which leaves the viewer with a feeling of authenticity. It is a fine performance that could be put up against any of his other roles (though again, I’ve never been much of a fan). The other actors, namely Moynahan, Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright, aren’t given much opportunity to develop into anything more than Gyllenhaal’s backup band, but each fills their respective role admirably.

Meanwhile, Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley don’t waste a single scene, the starting point for any potentially great film. Each minute, each scene, does nothing but add fuel to the fire of the film’s momentum. Likewise, virtually no time at all is spent on explaining the science of Source Code, nor its origins. We are told what Stevens is experiencing but not how. That’s a brilliant stroke, in my opinion, because it keeps the film from bogging down in convoluted and hypothetical (read: “bull crap”) science that the average Friday night moviegoer isn’t going to understand, anyway (read: “me”). Instead, we are presented with the concept and simply asked to buy in while simultaneously providing such a lively film as to make it almost impossible to remain un-invested.

The sheer length of my summary paragraph should give you a hint into just how complicated the concepts behind “Source Code” truly are. But like Christopher Nolan, Jones treats his audience with respect. In that I mean, he accepts that those who sit down to watch his movies are, in fact, capable of following a complex, intelligent plot line and used special effects and explosions as a side dish, not the main course. That is a refreshing attitude in the action movie/sci-fi industry that is overrun by the Michael Bays and Jerry Bruckheimers of the world. Mindless explosions and stereotypical alien invasions can be fun and entertaining but I’m not an idiot and it’s nice to have a filmmaker treat me accordingly without stepping into an art house theater. It also doesn’t hurt Jones’ love for significant science fiction is clearly evident in just about every scene. The combination of traditional sci-fi sentimentalities along with an adult-approved atmosphere, some classic action film elements, and a hint of romance creates an intense and highly enjoyable thrill ride.

Grade: A-

Curse you SyFy channel,
Brian

Care for a second opinion? Check out A Life in Equinox's take, which highlights a small flaw I didn't have room for.

Movie News Today

I'm back, I've seen a couple of movies, and I'm ready to get back to the level of production that I'm used to. Thanks for allowing me a week to catch my breath. I'm sure it'll happen again, but hopefully not for a while, anyway.

Ryan Gosling appears ready to go on a Mainstream Movie Binge, adding "The Lone Ranger" to his list of upcoming non-Indie projects. Odd choice on some level but the guy is an excellent actor that I think has the chops to do just about anything.

Peter Jackson has delivered a video from the inside of Hobbiton, the first real look at the set of "The Hobbit." Nerds, unite!

NPR provides an interview with funniest-woman-in-the-world Tina Fey. Greatness.

While I was out, Chris Dorr at the Tribeca Film Festival's blog wrote about the high cost of going to the theater and how a Netflix business model could benefit everyone. I love this idea though I'm not sure $10 would quite do it. Great read, though.

John Likes Movies gives a list of his top 10 remakes. Give it a read.

Movie Muse has a list of the top 10 movie-deaths-by-explosion. Love it.

Weekend Box Office Results
1. "Rio" - $40 million
2. "Scream 4" - $19.28
3. "Hop" - $11.17 ($82.61 million total)
4. "Soul Surfer" - $7.4 ($19.99)
5. "Hanna" - $7.32 ($23.33)
6. "Arthur" - $6.94 ($22.35)
7. "Insidious" - $6.86 ($35.98)
8. "Source Code" - $6.3 ($36.99)
9. "The Conspirator" - $3.92
10. "Your Highness" - $3.89 ($15.95)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Short Hiatus

I'm not very good at doing things half way. I'm sort of an "all or nothing" sort of guy. This past month (and really the entirety of 2011) I have been working nonstop at my day job. I'm blessed to have a job that simply requires me to get the job done. Sometimes that means late starts, early finishes, and plenty leisure time. Sometimes, though, it means 3 months of 80 hour work weeks and never quite getting ahead. That's how 2011 has been and the last 3 weeks have been even worse. I've tried to keep up with the blogosphere during that time but haven't had as much success lately. I haven't even had much chance to watch and pay attention to movies lately, which is incredibly unlike me. I haven't had the time, even, to keep up with my normal columns like Movie News Today and New Movie Friday. The lack of content drives me crazy as I hate not putting out the amount of work that I'm used to around here.

Anyway, I say all that to say, I'm taking a short break. My work schedule should be slower for a while and as much as I want to dump all of that extra time into writing, I need to decompress for a bit. Plus, I need to watch some freaking movies so I have a little content to bring to the table! I plan to make a Bruce Willis-like comeback next Monday with a renewed vigor and energy for the blog. I hope you guys will allow me a short hiatus and head back to the Soap Box Office in a week or so.

- Brian

Monday, April 4, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

Tron: Legacy (2010) - Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde
The much anticipated sequel to the 1982 cult classic that found Kevin Flynn's (Bridges) son Sam (Hedlund) sucked into the game that trapped his father so many years before. The visual effects are awesome and Hedlund himself was pretty solid. Bridges, though, seemed overly cheesy to me, a sci-fi caricature of The Dude and in all honesty there isn't much of a cohesive story here. It was fun but only some fun as opposed to tons of fun in my opinion. You can also get the original "Tron" this week for the first time on Blu Ray and the first time on DVD in quite some time.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) - Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Ben Barnes
The third installment of this treasured book series, "Dawn Treader" finds two of the four siblings from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" (minus the older two) on an adventure to the end of the world with their annoying cousin. I very much liked the first movie and very much hated the second. I'm fine with a movie being different from the book but "Prince Caspian" was a travesty. Just awful. That bad experience soured me on the series and apparently I wasn't alone as this film lost a lot of money domestically. There's a good chance this will be the final film in the series which is a real bummer given the great subject matter they still have to draw from. Ah, well.

Little Fockers (2010) - Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro
Because "Meet the Fockers" was so awesome, we're now treated to a third Fockers movie, this one about Greg (Stiller) and his kids. Look, I quite like "Meet the Parents." It may not be smart or sophisticated, but it's funny. "Meet the Parents," though, is a classic example of what happens when a movie performs well above expectations and a sequel is hastily thrown together to capitalize. It's dreadful. The only thing it has going for it is that a friend of mine was on set as an extra during the wedding scene and I get endless enjoyment out of poking fun at him over this. But he's not in this one so, needless to say, I'm out.

New to Blu
Raging Bull (1980) - Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
The boxing classic that won De Niro his second Oscar. Confession: never seen "Raging Bull." I've caught moments of it here and there but never the whole thing. This will be rectified soon, dear readers.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971) - Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey
The musical that almost every human on the planet has seen or at least heard of. I hate "Fiddler on the Roof" though I'm sure my mom is stoked about the Blu ray release. Still, it's FASCINATING to me that this movie was such a huge success. It made a stinking ton of money upon its release and has made a strong name for itself. If I had been blogging back in 1971, there's no way that I would have thought this thing could become such a big deal. So on some level, despite my personal feelings about the film, I have to tip my cap to the filmmakers.

A.I: Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt
Spielberg's fittingly Kubrickian sci-fi epic about an android boy (Osment) who is bought to replace a dead child but whom finds himself drifting among the outcasts of the world. This is getting a second viewing from me. I watched/tried to watch when it first came to DVD and couldn't make it through. So slow. But, I'm older and at least slightly wiser now and I think, given my love of sci-fi, that I owe "A.I." another shot.

Also New to Blu
Arthur 1 and 2 (1981 and 1988) - Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli (Just wanted to note that "Arthur 2" has a 3.8 rating on IMDB. That's easily the lowest rating I've come across since starting this blog. Check that, "Mannequin 2" has a 3.2. Ah, the 80s/early 90s sequels.)
Babe (1995) - James Cromwell, Christine Cavanaugh
Mystic Pizza (1988) - Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts
Benny and Joon (1993) - Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Julianne Moore
Lars and the Real Girl (2007) - Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer

Also New
Friday Night Lights: Season 5 (2010) - Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton
I Love You Philip Morris (2009) - Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor
Casino Jack (2010) - Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper

Movie News Today

In 2002, if you'd told me that Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan were teaming up for a movie, I'd have peed myself with joy. Now? I'm scared. Big Will and his son, Jaden, (who is a cringe-worthy actor even for a kid) will team with the director who brought you "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender."I love Will Smith. LOVE him. But this is a bad decision, dude.

Pixar continues to shuffle things up and pushes "Monsters University" from a late 2012 date to a summer 2013 opening. Noooooo!!!

Warner Brothers has brought on a Wyatt Earp-themed Western called "Wild Guns." I know nothing more about this other than it's been described as a cross between "Tombstone" and "Sherlock Holmes." Call me crazy but that...sounds...AWESOME! Count me in, Warner Brothers.

Both Liam Hemsworth (brother of Chris, aka "Thor") and Josh Hutcherson ("The Kids Are Alright") have signed on for the lead male roles in "The Hunger Games." Solid choices in my mind.

Fear.net presents 10 PG/PG-13 scary movies that don't suck. I steer clear of horror in general so I'm far from an expert. But the exclusion of "The Sixth Sense" and "The Ring" is a mistake. Still, though, solid list. Plus, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" scared the crap out of me as a kid. SUPER creepy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blu Ray Review: "Unstoppable"

"Unstoppable" begins innocently enough when a bumbling railroad employee (Ethan Suplee) jumps out of a half-mile long train to throw a rail switch, only to discover that he hadn't properly applied the brake. Soon this train, with cars packed with a highly explosive chemical, is roaring unmanned down the tracks at speeds approaching 70 miles per hour. When all attempts to derail what one railway employee (Rosario Dawson) describes as "a missile the size of the Chrysler building" come up short, the job is left two a young conductor (Chris Pine) and his veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) to pull off a desperate gambit to save a lot of lives and money.

Loosely based on real life events from a 2001 incident, "Unstoppable" is almost exactly what we've all come to expect from director Tony Scott. His special effects, settings, grainy imagery, and action sequences are awesome; the rest of the movie...well, it's kind of up to you as to whether or not you're going to get on board. Sometimes the concept draws me in ("Deja Vu"), sometimes not so much ("Pelham 123"). He's nowhere near the all-style-no-substance level of Michael Bay but "Unstoppable" brings him a step closer.

Considering that my recent review for "Battle: Los Angeles" I made a case for allowing an action movie to be nothing more than entertainment, I'm not going to turn around and cast stones here for the same thing. There's nothing inherently wrong with "Unstoppable." It is what it is. But that doesn't mean there's just a whole lot that's right, either. Quite frankly, I was bored throughout much of the run time. With no real villain (an unmanned train doesn't really count, does it?) you need compelling heroes or at least hard-hitting, continuous action to keep you from thinking about the fact that there are no compelling heroes. Washington and Pine are both excellent actors but they are both put into limited, supporting roles opposite The Train as the leading man. This simply didn't work for me. Pine, in particular, could have been anyone which leads me to ask, why cast Chris Pine (or any Hollywood rising star) if you're going to give him a marginal back story and minimal screen time with which to work with? The rest of the movie is straight out of the Jerry Bruckheimer handbook which is fine, I guess, but uninspiring. In an effort to find a villain, Scott resorts to beating you across the head with corporate executive Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn), whose "all I care about is money!!!" mantra is so threadbare as to become painful. All of this I could have handled, I think, if not for the constant reliance on TV news reports to further the story and, I guess, add "real drama" to the action. It is incessant, over-the-top, and irritating. I swear that if I had to sit through one more "how will these brave men make it out of this terrible situation?!" moment, I would have put my foot through the TV. An AWFUL finishing touch that, for me, tainted the entire production. "Unstoppable" plays out with great predictability and very little to get excited about.

Grade: C+

As a quick side note, I'd like to take a moment to talk directly to Denzel Washington because I know he's reading. Denzel, you're awesome. Seriously, one of the best actors to ever grace the screen. But your movie choices of late have been lackluster. Not bad, just safe and boring. Please, I beg you, take some chances. Go after roles that will actually allow you to showcase your incredible abilities, to stretch yourself. Look at what's happened to Robert De Niro and learn from his mistakes! No more Tony Scott movies. I'm just looking out for you.

Movie News Today

Leonard Nimoy will voice a Transformer in the upcoming third installment of Michael Bay's series. That's one way to get a bunch of nerds on your side. Another way is to actually make a good movie.

Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds will provide the voice of a snail in Dreamworks' "Turbo." True potential there in my opinion.

And in still more Voice Related news, Geoffrey Rush has added his talent to the soon-to-be-released "Green Lantern." I always have love for Rush but it's a bit strange to add such a big name to the cast of a film that's literally right around the corner.

"Iron Man 3" has finally secured a writer in Drew Pearce, a guy I've honestly never heard of. Alright then.

This whole Batman-Superman-Justice League thing keeps getting more and more convoluted with Zack Snyder saying that his version of "Superman" will not necessarily be involved with the "Justice League" production that is tentatively scheduled to open in 2013. I'll pretty much see any comic book movie that doesn't involve the Punisher but I've already got Tired Head from trying to figure this mess out. The double-dipping is a bad idea from my perspective.

Weekend Box Office Returns
1. "Hop" - $38.12 million
2. "Source Dode" - $15.05
3. "Insidious" - $13.5
4. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2" - $10.2 ($38.36 million total)
5. "Limitless" - $9.4 ($55.6)
6. "The Lincoln Lawyer" - $7.05 ($39.64)
7. "Sucker Punch" - $6.09 ($29.88)
8. "Rango" - $4.56 ($113.78)
9. "Paul" - $4.34 ($31.93)
10. "Battle: Los Angeles" - $3.5 ($78.47)