Thursday, July 28, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

"Cowboys and Aliens" - Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
In the Old West, a group of cowboys find themselves besieged by an army of aliens. The key to their salvation lies in the hands of a mysterious stranger (Craig) who happens to have an alien weapon attached to his arm. I think "Cowboys" to be a classic case of over exposure. When the trailers started rolling out last year, I was THOROUGHLY on board but the more I see of the film, the more nervous I get. It has an outstanding pedigree with an excellent cast, a proven action director (Jon Favreau), and a killer writing team (Damon Lindelof and the rest of the "Lost" team) but you start to wonder if there's really much you can do with the premise. Early reviews have been fairly spotty and I'm really not sure what to expect at this point. Hoping (cautiously) for good things.

Value: $7 I can't, with any certainty, say this'll be worth the full price of a theatrical admission but it's impossible for me to ignore the potential of a raucous summer blockbuster like this. Plus, if nothing else, it won't look as good on your home TV as it will on screen.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." - Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone
A middle aged family man (Carell) has his world rocked when his wife (Moore) leaves him for another man (Kevin Bacon). Distraught and unsure of himself, he reenters the dating world with the help of a younger playboy (Gosling) who happens to be having his own problems with a new girl (Stone). I've been looking forward to "CSL" for a while now. I'm a big fan of dark-tinted comedies but on top of that, there are very, very few actors in this world who can bring real, genuine heart to a comedy like Steve Carell can. I was also very intrigued by the fact that apparently Carell demanded that Gosling be his co-star; such a different and original pairing. With a "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm probably more excited about this than I am "Cowboys and Aliens."

Value: $10 for me, probably $7 for you I'm a pretty self-aware guy so I recognize that it's likely that I'm more interested in this film than the average person. Still, I'd be willing to bet this is worth your time.

"The Smurfs" - Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays
When the Smurfs invade the life of a hip New Yorker (NPH), the 86 minute runtime turns into a Saturday morning cartoon on CGI steroids. I'm not going to say one bad word about this "film"; instead, I'd just like to present you with the collected works of director Raja Gosnell and let you make your own decisions: "Home Alone 3"; "Never Been Kissed"; "Big Momma's House"; "Scooby-Doo"; "Scooby Doo 2"; "Yours, Mine, and Ours"; "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." If you've successfully sat through more than two of those movies without attempting suicide in "Airplane" fashion, you're a better man than I.

Value: $0 If you end up seeing this, you're either high or you have kids who aren't old enough to see "Captain America." Either way, the theater should probably be forced to give you some sort of compensation for watching this mess.

"Attack the Block" - John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost (limited)
A gang of British teenagers defends their housing project against a group of invading aliens. It's a big week for odd alien encounters. Brought to you by the producers of "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead", "Attack the Block" is absolutely tearing it up in the critical review department. It's very interesting, too, because this sucker kind of came out of nowhere; it really didn't do much in the festival circuit until South By Southwest and hit the release calendar very late (as in, last week). Personally, this looks like a blast. It'll open up in wider release in a couple of weeks and you can bet I'll be there.

Value: $10 I'm going out on a limb here given how very little I really know about this film, but it's "Certified Fresh" 92% rating is enough for me to expect big things.

"The Devil's Double - Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier (limited)
After becoming a body double for Uday Hussein, a man (Cooper) gives a voyeuristic view of the life and times (and atrocities) of Saddam Hussein. Cooper's performance has drawn some acclaim but the whole product hasn't been as well received.

Value: $2 This is the type of movie that I would add to my Netflix Instant Queue and then forget about for months.

"The Guard" - Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle
A black comedy that pairs a screw up beat cop (Gleeson) with a by-the-book FBI agent (Cheadle). To call this a cross between "In Bruges" and "Hot Fuzz" seems too easy but that's exactly what I've gleaned from the information I've seen. Gleeson and Cheadle are both fantastic actors who have proven comedic timing and Gleeson is getting a TON of well deserved pub for his role.

Value: $5 Whether you rent it, Netflix it, or whatever other method you have of procuring movies in your home, I would definitely take a chance on "The Guard."

Movie News Today

JJ Abrams has finally turned his attention to the "Star Trek" sequel and production could get underway in the near future. The film has, however, been moved from its summer 2012 date and no one's exactly sure where it'll end up at this point. Can't wait for this movie but at the same time I like that they're going to take their time and get it right.

This came down a couple of days ago but Frank Darabont has stepped away from AMC's "The Walking Dead." Shocking, potentially terrible news. "Dead" is half way through shooting of its follow up to the surprisingly great first season and Darabont was the perfect guy for the job.

If, like me, you missed out on Comic Con last week, check out IEF's 5 Biggest Stories from Comic Con and Flix Chatter's recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 and Day 2 Part 2.

Top 10 films provides a list of the 10 best poker movies. Personally I'd put "Rounders" much higher but good to see "The Sting", one of my 10 favorite movies, get the love it deserves.

Tom Clift provides a nice editorial on 3D. Check it out!

Exterminate All Rational Thought delivers an excellent review of Wim Wenders' absolutely brilliant film, "Wings of Desire." Must see and must read.

The trailer for Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam documentary arrived this week. So stinking stoked about this.

State of the Soap Box Address

When I started The Soap Box Office in April, 2010 I considered it first and foremost to be a labor of love. I love movies more than just about anyone I know and I love writing. It just made sense to put the two together. I have tried to craft TSBO to be a place where the movie buff and the average moviegoer alike can get movie news, intelligent movie coverage, and if nothing else, a time waster during a stressful day. I've very proud of the modest success this site has had so far (13,000+ hits in a little over a year) and I look forward to whatever the future holds for this place.

Movie reviewing has been a hobby for me, make no mistake, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that held out hope that someday, there'd be more to this thing than just a Blogger blog. I have tried to make TSBO as professional as I can, taught myself the cruder elements of website design, and spent numerous hours writing when I really didn't feel like writing. In short, for the most part, TSBO has been a second job for me. At times, when I published a review I was especially proud of and got little response, I considered taking a break or walking away altogether. Movie blogs are a dime a dozen and they come and go on an hourly basis;  there was not necessarily anything wrong with letting mine go by the wayside, too. I haven't read near as much over the last 18 months as I did before and my Playstation 3 has become nothing more than a Blu Ray player; sometimes I really miss those things. But in the end, I really enjoy this movie reviewing thing and I've held out for the possibility that at some point, it might pay off a bit.

Two weeks ago I received a comment on my "Mission Statement" blog, the very first piece I wrote when I transitioned over to this site, asking if I might be interested in writing for a new movie site. After a few days of correspondence, I decided this was a great opportunity for me. I am happy to announce that beginning this week, I have been added as the editor in chief for I Eat Films. A couple of my reviews have already been posted and over the next few weeks, our content will go up and up both in quantity and quality. We're new and, just like this blog, we're one small fish in a very large pond but we're very optimistic about where this thing will take us. Regardless of what happens, I look at this as a chance to get some more exposure for my content, further my audience, and maybe even take some of the pressure off myself by splitting up the big movies with other talented writers.

What this means for The Soap Box Office is very simple: almost nothing. All of my content will still make it's way here one way or another. I'll still be here wasting too many words on bad movies, linking to news items and blog entries, and hating John Travolta with every ounce of my being. I'll just be doing that on a bigger site (a .com, no less) as well. On the bigger theatrical reviews, I'll probably post a link back to IEF but most DVD reviews, Movie News Today, and assorted theatrical reviews will be found here. I will, however, ask you, nay, IMPLORE you, to check out ieatfilms.com. Follow us on Twitter @ieatfilms (follow me @TXBDG) or find us on Facebook but most importantly, come to the site and check us out. Click on our dumb ads, run up our page views, and join our community. The overwhelming odds are that we'll never see a dollar out of all this mess but we've got to start somewhere, don't we?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Captain America"

I always have and always will stand in support of the summer blockbuster. Heady dramas, witty comedies, and hard-hitting documentaries will generally be considered more significant, more meaningful, of course, and rightly so. But I believe the core of the movie industry is entertainment and no film quite embraces the idea of entertainment like a good summer blockbuster. By that logic, I very much enjoy comic book and superhero films. Excluding the rare and horrible outlier (read: “Green Lantern”), I am almost always entertained by the superhero genre and after all, that’s what I really want in July when it’s 129 degrees outside. So keep that nerdy bias toward superheroes in mind as we delve into “Captain America.”

Set during World War II, “Captain America” opens on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) who has all the makings of a great soldier locked away inside a frail, 90 pound body. When a government scientist named Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) offers him a chance to join the fight, Rogers jumps at the chance and becomes Erskine’s guinea pig for an experimental program that would create an army of super soldiers. After successfully transforming Rogers into a muscly, athletic beast, Erskine is killed when a Nazi spy sabotages the laboratory and steals the formula. Unsure of the results, Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) turns Rogers over to a senator who uses him as a propaganda tool to sell war bonds. Feeling a new level of uselessness while on a USO trip to the front, Rogers, now known across the country as Captain America, becomes aware of Hydra, a secret Nazi organization run by Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who once worked with Erskine. After a daring rescue of a group of POWs that includes Bucky, Colonel Phillips sends Captain American and his team of commandos on a blitzkrieg across Europe, forcing a final confrontation with Red Skull that could determine the outcome of the war.

Coming in, I questioned whether or not Chris Evans could headline a film but that tentative uncertainty was stowed away quite early in this film’s runtime. Given what a make-or-break film this is for Evans I would have been willing to forgive some overacting as he tried to prove he belonged but there’s none of that in “Captain.” I’m not sure that Evans has the charisma of, say, Ryan Reynolds and yet he seems wholly comfortable within the role, as if it comes naturally. This version of Captain America (I know very little of the comics) is an unassuming and humble hero, the kind of guy who is willing to do incredible things because he is capable of such acts, not because he needs to do them. Evans embodies and exemplifies these personality traits well and this makes Captain America as relatable as a scientifically engineered super freak can be. Make no mistake about it, this is a career changing performance that will keep Evans away from horrifying romantic comedies (like “What’s Your Number” which he co-stars in this fall) for years to come.

His supporting cast, though, should not be overlooked. As special agent Peggy Carter who works with Colonel Phillips, Hayley Atwell is charming and strong enough on her own to make you overlook the fact that she’s a British woman who has somehow become a major player in the American military. In short, she does everything that Natalie Portman could not do in “Thor.” While her screen time is limited, this is the kind of strong female character that Hollywood desperately needs in their action movies. The inevitable romantic dynamic between Carter and Rogers is far more natural than you might expect and treads lightly upon the love interest clich├ęs that run rampant through many blockbusters. Weaving, meanwhile, is sufficiently menacing and intimidating, a worthy villain for a superhero of Captain America’s stature. And then there’s ol’ Tommy, one of the great American actors that you sometimes forget about. Christie Lemire said in her review for “Ebert Presents” that this is the kind of role Tommy Lee Jones could play in his sleep and I whole heartedly agree. There is an ease with which Jones works that creates an overwhelmingly fun and thoroughly entertaining environment and that carries over to the rest of the cast and the audience.

The action sequences in “Captain America” are slightly more subdued than what you’d find in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” but they’re no less powerful and engrossing. The script, put together by a collaborative host of writers, is lively and quite humorous in places. None of it is new, really, and much of the dialogue is easy but sometimes easy fits well and this is one of those situations. “Captain” is also a beautifully shot and colored film. Director Joe Johnston went with a sepia tint that truly works with the film’s nostalgic ideals and concepts. It’s a nice finishing touch that only adds to the overall fun of the film.

There are, of course, some flaws within “Captain America” that I can’t completely pass over. We are treated to a tired montage (similar to the ones found in “X-Men: First Class”) that needed a fresh take and a voice over sequence illustrating how Schmidt became the Red Skull that plays out like a bad horror flick. There are also a few moments in which the nostalgic wholesomeness of both the film and the leading character jump over the kitschy fence and roam freely in the Land of Cheese, all of which I could have done without. But on the whole, “Captain America” is everything you could ask for in a summer blockbuster. If you’re not a fan of superhero movies, this one isn’t going to change your mind. But being the nerdy guy that I am, I believe I’ll have to make room for it on my personal list of favorite comic book films.

Grade: A-

Can’t wait for “The Avengers”,
Brian

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DVD Roundup - 7/26

Source Code (2011) - Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
After a terrorist attack on a Chicago train, an experimental government technology (called the Source Code) allows for an army staff sergeant (Gyllenhaal) to take over the body of a man who died on the train during the last eight minutes of his life. He is tasked with discovering the terrorist in order to prevent future attacks but the deeper he delves into the situation, the more questions arise as to his own existence and who he's really working for. This is director Duncan Jones' follow up to 2009's "Moon" which is, in my mind, the best piece of pure sci-fi from the last decade; absolutely brilliant. "Source Code" isn't quite as good but I still found it to be a highly intelligent sci-fi thriller that keeps you guessing without getting overly convoluted.

In Home Viewing Recommendation: Definitely worth a rent if you haven't seen it and probably one of those films that gets better the second time around, anyway. Rent it!

Trust (2010) - Liana Liberato, Clive Owen, Katherine Keener
A teenage girl (Liberato) engages in an online relationship with a boyfriend whom she soon discovers is a middle aged man. The revelation rips her family life apart and turns her into a pariah at school. Roger Ebert picked this as one of his six favorite films from the first half of the year and director David Schwimmer has received critical acclaim from numerous outlets. It's not my type of film but looks to have some real value in a down year.

IHVR: Possibly worth a rent, definitely worth looking up on Netflix Instant.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010) - Brandon Routh, Anita Briem, Sam Huntington
Superman-alum Routh steps into another iconic role, this time an Italian anti-hero from a graphic novel. Dylan Dog is, apparently, a debonair hunter of the undead and mythical who roams the Louisiana bayous in search of monsters. I expect this character will show up on "True Blood" any time now except he'll be naked.

IHVR: From a quality film standpoint, there's no way this is good. But from a, "This Movie Popped up at Midnight on HBO and I've Already Watched Sportscenter" standpoint...you could probably do worse. Movies like this are the reason that HBO/Starz exists.

Ironclad (2011) - James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Kate Mara
A group of knights templar take on a tyrannical king in the 13th century. Let me give you three reasons to stay away from "Ironclad." 1.) Anytime the term "knights templar" is thrown out there, you should run. 2.) Paul Giamatti possibly swinging a sword is just wrong. 3.) The tagline from the film's poster is, "Heavy Metal Goes Medieval."

IHVR: Probably best to just skip this altogether.

Blu Ray Pick of the Week
It's a John Belushi pick 'em this week, all dependent on your preference.
Animal House (1978) - John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen
The classic frat boy comedy, "Animal House" is all about the Delta House, Faber College's group of outcasts who run amok across campus. A huge hit ($140+ million in theaters), "AH" is usually mentioned in the group of elite comedies and definitely displayed Belushi's incredible abilities as a physical comedy. For me, however, this movie has always seemed dated, the kind of film you love and hold on to if you saw it when it came out but don't really get if you came along later. I've seen it once, maybe twice, and that's enough for me personally.

Blues Brothers (1980) - John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher
"Blues Brothers", on the other hand, holds up brilliantly 30 years later. Recently released from prison, Jake Elwood (Belushi) and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) embark on a literal mission from God to put their old band back together and generate enough money to save the orphanage they grew up in. Everything about this movie is genius, from the stone faced characters to the over-the-top action sequences (read: "car chases") to the awesome music. In my book, "Blue Brothers" is the very best of Belushi and one of the five funniest movies of all time.

New to Blu
Dante's Peak (1997) - Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton (the volcano disaster film that does NOT have Tommy Lee Jones in it)
Red Planet (2000) - Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore (the Mars-based movie that does NOT have Tim Robbins in it and is NOT based on the Robert Heinlein book of the same name)
Soldier (1998) - Kurt Russell, Connie Nielsen, Jason Isaacs

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie News Today

Neil Burger, director of "Limitless", will helm the production of a new take on "Bonnie and Clyde" that will apparently be much darker. Could be interested but I guess I should first get through the entirety of the original.

The character posters for next year's "Avengers" have been released and Empire provides a look the lot of them.

Because I can't get enough of "Harry Potter", Reelz Channel writes an open letter to JK Rowling. Co-signed.

Castor over at Anomalous Material presents his 20 funniest movies of all time. While I certainly don't agree overall, he took the time to make a list like this which I can never bring myself to do so check it out!

A Life in Equinox finishes up the "Greater Good" series in which a few bloggers picked a film that they'd wipe off the face of the earth in order to make the film industry better. Very cool idea.

On a sad note, it was announced today that Gordon and the Whale will shut down at the end of next month. Based right here in Texas, GATW has been one of my daily stops for movie news and reviews for the last year or two. They've also been responsible for my attendance at more than a few movie screenings and more importantly, they've made it seem possible for a joker like me to find a way to make something out of this movie writing thing. Good luck to all the writers and editors from GATW; your collaborative efforts of the last few years will be sorely missed around here.

Blu Ray Review - "The Eagle"

At the height of the Roman Empire, young up-and-comer Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is given his choice of assignments. Surprisingly, he picks a remote garrison in Great Britain, a short distance from where his father, along with a legion of 5,000 men and a golden eagle representing the Empire's power, went missing 20 years before. Soon after, he is injured in battle and is given his discharge from the army. Lost and purposeless, his uncle (Donald Sutherland) purchases a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell) for him and the two become constant companions. When word of the lost legion reaches Marcus, he and Esca set out for the great unknown beyond Hadrian's Wall in an effort to discover the fate of the legion and reclaim the lost eagle.

Here are the top three reasons why "The Eagle" sucks.

1. Channing Tatum is horrendous. I've been wondering aloud for some time now as to what in the name of Jason Statham it is that Channing Tatum brings to the table (beyond the obligatory looks). "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" is literally the only thing I've seen him in that that didn't cause me to begin plotting his murder. Just an awful actor. But I don't really blame him for "The Eagle" because he should have never been cast in the first place. Whoever thought it was a good idea to cast a muscly, hair gelled, American jock type as a hardened Roman commander should be dragged through the streets and locked in the stocks in a place that other casting directors can come and throw rotten vegetables at him/her. Here's a guy who struggles with the subtle nuances of "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" so what would make anyone think that he could handle a role like this? There is no way that ANYONE could watch "The Eagle" and take Tatum seriously as a garrison commander. To make it worse, Tatum seems to know this himself and so he tries oh so hard to seem Roman and the result is rigid overacting at its absolute worst.

2. The entire narrative of "The Eagle" could have been compressed into a 15 minute short film. There are approximately three plot points and they're all repeated over and over again. And even the film's main focus, the reclamation of the eagle, is kind of pointless. No one in the whole of the Roman Empire gives a rip whether or not the eagle ever shows up again except Marcus himself and that, in turn, prompted me to not care whether or not the eagle ever shows up again. Perhaps it's Tatum's terrible acting or maybe the script is just crap; I don't know. But I know that there was not one second during the journey of Marcus and Esca that I cared if they found the eagle or, for that matter, if they lived or died.

3. The historical inaccuracies within "The Eagle" are bountiful and egregious. The book it is based upon is referred to as "historical fiction" and I think that's putting it rather nicely. Much has been made about the American accents that each of the actors display but that doesn't really bother me. That never really bothers me, honestly; if you cast American actors, I'd rather them speak normally rather than force a bad accent. No, what absolutely killed me was the manner of historical indifference with which "The Eagle" operates. From the Romans not having any archers in their garrison (dumb) to the honorable discharge (that's the exact terminology) that Marcus is issued after his injury, virtually nothing within this film fits the time period. I'm FAR from a history scholar and I rarely get up in arms about inaccuracies as a whole. But "The Eagle" is so blatant about its disregard for the time period. If you changed costumes to military fatigues, weapons from swords to guns, and the setting from ancient Rome to, say, post-war Europe, you could literally take this script and make it a modern day "find the lost soldiers" film. The dialogue, the terminology, and the events are pretty much what would happen in your average American war movie. It is offensively dismissive of the time period in which it chooses to operate.

Beyond some decent action scenes and quality cinematography, there's almost nothing to like about "The Eagle." It's a complete waste of time that only furthers the negative stereotypes concerning American actors and films.

Grade: C-

Movie News Today

Apologies to any of you who tried to check out The Soap Box Office at the end of last week and couldn't. After repeated issues, I made the switch to Google Chrome and apparently in the process my privacy settings got reset. Thanks for sticking around.

Harrison Ford will play Wyatt Earp in "Black Hats" which is based upon a graphic novel by the author of "Road to Perdition." Oh, how I root for Ford to be relevant again. Sounds very interesting.

Steven Spielberg has confirmed that "Jurassic Park 4" is in the works and will see theaters in the next couple of years. Look, I'll readily admit that the last two "Park" films were disappointing and borderline awful, respectively. But the original is one of my all time favorite action movies and it holds up STUNNINGLY well for being 18 years old. Count me in.

Movie Muse asks, will any franchise ever top "Harry Potter" at the box office?

Fandango Groovers continues his series on watching the "Potter" series for the first time. Check out his look at "The Chamber of Secrets."

Weekend Box Office Returns
1. "Captain America" - $65.8 million
2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" - $48.6M ($274.2 million total)
3. "Friends with Benefits" - $18.5M
4. "Tranformers: Dark of the Moon" - $12M ($325.8M)
5. "Horrible Bosses" - $11.7M ($82.4M)
6. "Zookeeper" - $8.7M ($59.2M)
7. "Cars 2" - $5.7M ($176.4M)
8. "Winnie the Pooh" - $5.1M ($17.6M)
9. "Bad Teacher" - $2.6M ($94.3M)
10. "Midnight in Paris" - $1.9M ($44.9M)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

"Captain America: The First Avenger" - Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
During World War II, a young weakling named Steve Rogers (Evans) volunteers to be the test subject for a radical experiment involving the creation of super soldiers. The results are magnificent and Rogers soon dons the moniker of Captain America as he leads his own group of commandos against a secret Nazi organization known as Hydra and their leader, Red Skull (Weaving). There were plenty of other summer movies I was more excited about coming into this year but few that were more intriguing than "Captain America." Despite being a key figure in the Marvel comic world (and in next year's "The Avengers"), Captain America has been kind of a dud in the realm of movies and TV. He is, by his very nature, an antiquated and old fashioned beacon of everything good and right, but does that make him irrelevant in today's society? Also, Chris Evans is right on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged star but there's still legitimate questions as to whether or not he can carry a film. Could be a very interesting weekend for Marvel. Because I'm really cool, I'll be at a midnight showing of "Captain America" with a review to come next week.

"Friends with Benefits" - Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson
Two longtime friends (Timberlake and Kunis) coming off of bad breakups decide to disprove the Hollywood cliches about friendships, sex, and relationships. Yes, this is virtually the exact same premise that we were treated to earlier this year in "No Strings Attached" which was, by the way, atrocious. Here's why "FWB" could be different (read: "better"). One, Timberlake and Kunis are both more naturally funny than Ashton Kutcher or Natalie Portman. I actually expect this pair to have comedic chemistry which was not the case in "NSA." Two, director Will Gluck knows how to take a relatively limited, straight-forward concept and make it seem fresh and smart, like he did with "Easy A." Three, the surrounding cast, including Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, and Patricia Clarkson, are all hilarious in their own right. Only one actor in the cast of "NSA", Mindy Kaling from "The Office", was someone I'd consider truly funny. Not saying I'm running out to see this tomorrow but I expect it to be much better than "No Strings."

"Another Earth" - Brit Marling, William Mapother (limited)
A high concept blend of sci-fi and family drama, "Another Earth" focuses on a tragic accident on the night that we discover a parallel planet complete with duplicates of ourselves. High concept is always dangerous but the buzz surrounding this film has been pretty solid. As a huge fan of low budget, high quality sci-fi, I'm pretty excited about this and hope the combination of two genres doesn't result in a disconnect.

"Sarah's Key" - Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Aidan Quinn (limited)
Obsessed with tracking down the full story of a French atrocity during World War II, a reporter (Scott Thomas) finds her life unraveling as she attempts to bring a broken Jewish family back togther. This is clearly Oscar bait of the highest order but that's not always a bad thing. Scott Thomas is an underrated dramatic actor even if she is partly responsible for "The English Patient" which was for me 162 minutes that I'll never get back. I'm also always intrigued by Holocaust-related films so I could see myself rolling through this on Netflix someday.

"The Myth of the American Sleepover" - Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer (limited)
This little Indie coming of age drama, about the adolescent pursuit of love on the final day of summer, has made quite an impact in the festival circuit this year. "Myth" is the first film for director David Robert Mitchell as well as many members of his young cast. It has an extremely limited opening (New York only) but could end up being a hit on Netflix if the attention stays positive.

Movie News Today

The new Superman movie, "Man of Steel", will vacate its 2012 date and move back to 2013. Still unsure as to what to expect from this film so I guess go ahead and take the extra time to make it awesome. Or not. Whatever. I don't believe in Zack Snyder.

Peter Jackson has posted another "Hobbit" video diary. Follow the links or search on Facebook.

Wired asks, "will "The Hobbit" get kids interested in reading?" Good read here and an interesting question. "The Hobbit" is my all-time favorite book and I would hope that once trailers and posters start getting released that kids will pick up the book.

Empire gives us seven "Star Wars" characters that could use their own spin off. Please make a Chewbacca film, George. Please.

Comic Con is happening in San Diego right now and I would give anywhere to be there. But since I'm not, Player Affinity has a solid recap of each day's news and events.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Cars 2"

When “Toy Story” opened in 1995, I was 12 years old and fully entrenched in the, “I’m too cool for cartoons” phase of life. “Toy Story” rocked my world and it was only the tip of the Pixar iceberg. Over the last 15 years, Pixar has put together perhaps the greatest track record of any studio in the industry. They simply haven’t missed. They craft visually stunning, intelligent, and hilarious films that kids love and adults appreciate even more. The real genius, though, is in their ability to take seemingly inhuman characters, such as toys, bugs, and robots, and make them so remarkably human. No matter what type of being the central characters are, Pixar always finds a way to make them and the stories they work within relevant and connectible. I’ve often said that Pixar’s slogan should be, “Making Grown Men Cry Since 1995.” Very rarely can I sit through a Pixar film without tearing up and some of the films, like “Toy Story 3”, manage to bring me to the brink of openly weeping no matter how many times I see them. With that in mind, I guess I can’t fault them too much for the misfire that is “Cars 2.”

“Cars 2” takes us back to Radiator Springs with famous racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returning home after winning his fourth consecutive Piston Cup. After briefly reuniting with his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), McQueen accepts a challenge to participate in an international race to promote a new form of fuel. There are greater things at stake, however, than a trophy. British spy car Fin McMissile (Michael Caine) has discovered that a syndicate of lemon cars (Gremlins, Pintos, etc.) have conspired to sabotage the race. McMissile and his colleague, Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), mistake Mater for an American spy and soon incorporate him into their plan to counteract that of the lemons. Shenanigans ensue as the trio tries to unravel the lemon’s plot before they are able to get to McQueen.

First of all, there’s really nothing inherently wrong with “Cars 2.” It is a perfectly acceptable children’s movie. The negative press that this film has gotten is based solely on the fact that it is a Pixar film and you expect more from Pixar than quality children’s entertainment. And that’s exactly what it is: quality children’s entertainment. If you have a kid, you’d be thrilled if he/she got attached to “Cars 2” instead of, say, “Alpha and Omega” or “Hoodwinked 2.” But it simply doesn’t come anywhere close to measuring up to the strength of its Pixar brothers.

For one thing, there’s too much Mater. WAY too much Mater. Mater is designed for plucky comic relief not a starring role and his extended screen time gets old pretty quickly. There’s also just not a whole lot to build upon from the previous entry in the franchise. “Ratatouille” is my least favorite Pixar film but I think “Cars” is probably the weakest overall. The characters are the least relatable and the story is the least compelling. Moreover, the real strength of “Cars” is in the personification of Smalltown, USA and the loss of its simplicity. When you take the “Cars” characters away from that setting, they really lose all importance.

The real issue with “Cars 2”, though, is that none of this matters on any sort of emotional level. That’s what I want and have come to expect from Pixar films: strong stories that are allegories or illustrations of bigger issues that bring about genuine connection and elicit emotion. We get none of that in “Cars 2.” Instead, it plays out like a children’s rendition of a James Bond film. Only one scene, a tribute to the great Paul Newman who voiced the Hudson Hornet in the first film, is accessible from an emotional standpoint. Again, there’s nothing wrong with creating a fun kid’s movie but Pixar has always seemed above that. In truth, this is basically Pixar’s version of a straight-to-DVD film that was really only made because it is a passion project of Disney/Pixar chief John Lasseter.

All of that said if you’re a parent, you could do a lot worse than “Cars 2” (“Zookeeper” comes to mind). It is rich visually, has a handful of laughs, and the kids will undoubtedly enjoy it. But if you go in expecting the typical Pixar magic, you will be sorely disappointed.

Grade: B

I’d like to be done with Larry the Cable Guy now,
Brian

Movie News Today

The cast for "The Lone Ranger" is coming together nicely and since you all know what a Barry Pepper fan I am, of course I'm going to pass on the news that he's involved.

John Lasseter sat down with Empire and discussed "Brave" and "Monsters University." Can't wait for either one!

Shia LaBeouf has joined the cast of "The Company You Keep" where he will play opposite Robert Redford, who'll also direct. Could be a good branching out for LaBeouf and I'm always excited to see Redford take the screen.

The Uncool discusses music and film with Cameron Crowe who is one of my very favorite directors. Good stuff!

Cinema Blend delivers a solid primer on the world of Captain America in preparation for Friday's new film. Check it out.

Matt over at Cinema Slants continues his Summer of Spielberg project with a look at Spielberg's love of aliens. Definitely worth a read.

It's already been a great week for trailers and today added to the awesomeness with the arrival of the first look at "The Amazing Spider Man." Yay!



Blu Ray Review - "The Next Three Days"

What begins as an average weekday morning for John Brennan (Russell Crowe) suddenly changes dramatically when police officers burst into his house and arrest his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks). Accused of murdering her boss, Lara's trial and subsequent appeals go quickly against her and it becomes apparent that she will spend the next 25 years in jail. This is too much for John, a community college professor, to handle and as his desperation sinks in, he begins to plot a jail break. He speaks with Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a prison break expert of sorts who puts John on the "right" track. During his visits to see Lara at the county jail, John begins formulating his plan with extreme caution until his hand is forced by the news that his wife will be moved to a larger facility in only three days time.

"The Next Three Days" is half a great movie. The twists and turns that take place throughout the final act are exciting and tense and the fact that most of the action is done through the use of good old fashioned stunts rather than CGI is a plus in my book. The ideas that John comes up, both to execute his plan and to avoid being caught afterward, are often fresh and unique which is always a tricky task to pull off in a prison break film. And I really enjoyed the fact that the question of whether or not Lara is guilty doesn't get settled until late into the film. That last aspect creates a very different atmosphere from the traditional prison break narrative because it asks the audience to trust that the hero, John, is correct in believing that his wife is innocent when all the evidence says otherwise.

The other half of "The Next Three Days", however, would have trouble getting ratings on a Sunday night during the summer. The "keep the audience guessing" motto is taken far too seriously in the early going as the movie jumps from scene to scene, creating a horribly choppy experience that begs for editing. There is no flow to the first two acts and I actually had to rewind twice to properly put together what had just happened. "Days" plays out like a film that was cut down to fit a 100 minute runtime yet it stretches on and on for well over two hours. It is also surprisingly boring in places. I think writer/director Paul Haggis tried to make this film an homage to the slow-but-intense thrillers of the 60s and 70s but instead it just plays out like a bit of a knockoff, at least through the first two acts. Beyond the choppy story telling, the real culprit for this dullness is the absolute lack of compelling characters. Both of the Brennans, their child, John's parents, the cops, the lady that John becomes friends with, etc. are robotic, dreadfully boring people that I didn't care about one bit. In truth, there are no characters in "The Next Three Days", only character types, robotic roles in the story that never really touch on humanism. Only Liam Neeson's career criminal has any sort of depth and he's in the movie for five minutes.

Basically, Haggis puts the final dynamic act and some genuinely well-thought-out concepts up against a poorly edited story and characters that are fundamentally disconnected from the audience and hopes you won't notice the holes. Immediately after seeing "Three Days" I was fairly positive about the finished product because I really did enjoy the final 30 minutes. But the more I thought about it and the further out from my viewing that I got, the more the holes bothered me. It's a frustrating movie, really, because I can't stand when good concepts are wasted on films that don't warrant them. If you come across "The Next Three Days" on HBO and can skip directly to the final 30 minutes, it's worth a viewing, but otherwise I can't say that I'd ever want to see this film again.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New DVD Tuesday

Slim pickins this week, friends.

Limitless (2011) - Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
A down on his luck writer (Cooper) is given a pill that allows his to access his entire brain. Soon he's raking in the cash and traveling the world until he discovers that the pill comes at a price. Definitely in the running, along with "The Lincoln Lawyer" for "The Shockingly Better Than You Might Think" movie of the year. I like Cooper; he's charismatic and appealing and I rarely dislike what he does. And anyone who's spent a few minutes on this site knows I have genuine love for De Niro and desperately plead for a career renewal. I'll be seeing this at some point in the near future.

Take Me Home Tonight (2011) - Topher Grace, Dan Fogler, Anna Faris
An 80s throwback about...you know what, no one liked this movie. NO ONE. It tanked miserably and has a 28% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm not overly in love with the films of the 80s but if you want an 80s flashback, "Hot Tub Time Machine" would suffice. Or better yet, just skip the middle man and watch an 80s movie!

New to Blu
Amelie (2001) - Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Chocolat (2000) - Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench
Boyz 'N the Hood (1991) - Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lawrence Fishburne
Bridget Jones Diary (2001) - Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) - Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis

Also New
Doctor Who: Season 6, Part 1 (2011)

Movie News Today

"Captain America" director Joe Johnston says he'd like to take a shot directing a Boba Fett movie. Um...please let this happen.

Universal has shut down production on it's "Dark Towers" adaptation that would have been helmed by Ron Howard. Very disappointed in this.

NPR delivers a fitting farewell for the "Potter" series. Because I know you haven't had enough of Potter just yet.

The great Nathan Fillion discusses Comic Con with The Hollywood Reporter.

Looks like Emma Watson will take her first non-"Potter" related role with a(nother) "Beauty and the Beast" film. Can't say I'm interested in Beauty and the Beast but I'm excited for Watson. Smartest thing she and the rest of that young cast can do is grab roles right now and work against the getting type cast.

Kevin Costner will join the cast of Tarantino's "Django Unchained" as a sadistic villain. I've stated before that I have an irrational love for Costner. This could be a career changing role.

It's here! It's here! It's here! The first trailer for the final Christopher Nolan Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises", has finally arrived. Check it out!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II"

As I sat down for my midnight showing of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II”, I was struck by the realization that never again would I bear witness to a new entry into the “Potter” canon. 1050 minutes of film, 4100 pages of reading, a dozen or so beloved character deaths, approximately 100 trillion worldwide blog posts, and at least 30, “I’m not crying, I just have allergies that happen to only pop up when I watch these films or read these books” moments from this guy led to the final chapter of an incredible saga that amazingly felt much shorter than I would have liked. I could easily have taken on another three or four films and a dozen more books if JK Rowling had desired to extend the series. Harry Potter has been a part of my life for 10 years now with six of those years counting toward a type of total, all-encompassing devotion that is usually reserved for religious zealots and Trekkies. To know when the lights go down that, as the promotional posters read, “It All Ends” in just two short hours is an odd sensation; a mix of excitement for the story to be brought to life and of sadness that I won’t be sitting in this same seat a year from now, ready for the next chapter. After it’s all said and done, I’m left with the task of summing up a worldwide phenomenon in a thousand words or less and knowing that I could never do it justice. With that in mind, I ask for the forgiveness of non-Potter fans for the foolish blathering that is about to take place and from fellow Potterites for what will surely be an unfitting send off for the series that we have loved so much. Accio review.

“Deathly Hallows 2” literally opens right where “Part 1” left off with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) staying at the home of Bill and Fleur Weasley. Their time is spent plotting their next step on the road to finding and destroying all of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Horcruxes, thereby making him mortal once more. (For the uninitiated, a Horcrux is an item that contains a piece of ones’ soul which would allow a person to return to life after death.) What starts as a simple break-in to the heavily secured Gringotts Bank turns into a haphazard and death-defying escape on the back of dragon, followed by the discovery that Voldemort knows of their plot. After racing to Hogwarts, the school they once called home and the location of a Horcrux, Harry and his friends find themselves confronted by the great villain himself, resulting in an all-out war that ultimately risks the balance of good and evil in the wizarding world.

For my money there is but one knock against “DH2”: because it is a “part two”, the opening sequences are tough to get a grasp of. There is absolutely no lead up in this film; there’s not even a set of opening credits. The Warner Brothers logo comes on screen and five seconds later we see the gravestone of Dobby the house elf and then jump directly into Harry planning the break-in at Gringotts. You don’t get the set-up that is so expertly crafted both in Rowling’s novels and in the other film adaptations. It takes a few minutes to feel comfortable in “DH2”, even for a hardened fan of the series who knows exactly what has happened and what is yet to come. This discomfort isn’t a matter of bad execution or poor storytelling; it’s just the inherent nature of essentially taking a long film and cutting it in two.

This is, however, an extremely minor and inconsequential issue that will be forgotten in the years ahead. In my mind, I know I will combine “Deathly Hallows” into one movie, just like the book, and will likely always watch part two immediately after part one, just like I do with the extended cuts of the “Lord of the Rings” films. Nearly everything else about this film is perfect. This is what I hoped for when I read “Deathly Hallows”, an action packed, emotionally charged epic that brings to life the very best of the heroes and the very worst of the villains. With Harry gone, Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) assumes the position of leader, Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) steps up to display her true powers, and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) proves to be far wiser than anyone would have imagined. Likewise, the desperation and frustration of Voldemort makes him even more terrifying than before, the years of self-conflict have worn the face of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and the deep deceptions of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) run just under the surface of his skin, dying to burst forth. The two sides push and prod each other to their highest levels of magical skill. Never in the “Potter” universe has that been more apparent than in the full-scale battle that overtakes the grounds of Hogwarts. To be sure, this is a mesmerizing and fantastic action sequence that combines FX and stunts with flair.
By this point, all of these young actors, Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, and their supporters, have become real actors capable of carrying their individual moments and completely selling the drama and tension of the situations they continually find themselves in. The veteran actors around them, who make up what I have championed in the past as the greatest cast ever assembled, all display the true brilliance of the characters they were provided, working seamlessly to become their parts rather than mere actors playing a role. Just as has been the case throughout the eight films in this series, you don’t watch Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, or the rest up on that screen, but rather Severus Snape, Sirius Black, Minerva McGonagall, and their cohorts. Never, however, has this been more apparent, more genuine, than in “DH2.”

These magnificent characters and esteemed actors are supplemented and highlighted by the geniuses behind the camera. David Yates and Steve Kloves prove once and for all that producer David Heyman was correct in giving the director-writer team the final three chapters of this epic. Kloves wrote a killer screenplay, one that implements every major facet of a huge book in beautiful fashion while adding a comedic undertone through witty banter and solid physical comedy. The combination creates a certain playfulness that has been building throughout the last few “Potter” films but matures spectacularly here. Yates, meanwhile, routinely puts his actors in the right place to succeed. He never asks too much, nor does he cut too early. There is real power in this story, in these relationships, and I think of all the “Potter” directors, Yates did the best when it comes to fleshing those factors out. There are a few differences between the book and the film but they are mostly cosmetic, save for the one involving Snape which, without giving anything away, actually adds to the already spectacular character that he is. This is Snape’s shining moment, the final opportunity for redemption, and Rickman sells the scene with heartbreaking intensity. Of all the great actors in this series, it is perhaps Rickman who most deserves award consideration.

As a general rule, we need our pop culture icons to end well. We want “Return of King”, the third season of “Arrested Development”, and Michael Jordan’s final championship winning shot with the Bulls. Our favorite things should always end on a high. Too often, though, we are treated to “Matrix Revolutions”, the ninth season of “Scrubs”, and Michael Jordan returning with the Washington Wizards. Words cannot express my joy at being able to say that “Deathly Hallows Part II” belongs in the first category, a fitting, compelling, and emotionally ripe end to an era. But to recommend this film isn’t enough. If you haven’t before, I implore you to read these books and see these movies. Take the opportunity now that it’s all over because there are millions of us who would give anything to start fresh and do the whole thing over again.

Grade: A+

My nerdiness obviously knows no bounds,
Brian

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie News Today

Richard Armitage will play Thoren Oakenshield in "The Hobbit. Empire/The One True Ring provides a look at him and TotalFilm provides an interview.

The Awl takes a look at the history of the Muppets with an eye to the upcoming revamp.

I promised a few weeks back that I wasn't going to talk about either of the upcoming "Snow White" films until they were about to open. But it appears that Sean Bean has been added to cast of one of them and I can't help myself when it comes to Sean Bean; I just have to pass it on. I love the guy.

Marshall and the Movies turns his F.I.L.M. of the Week segment over to "Galaxy Quest" this week. Possibly Alan Rickman's third best performance ever ("Die Hard" and "Harry Potter", duh) and a personal favorite of mine. Check it out.

Fandango Groovers turns his "Great Idea, Terrible Movie" attention to comic book film. Fun list.

Dog Ate My Wookie bids a fitting farewell to Harry Potter and gives the top 10 magical moments in the Potter series. Great posts, the both of them.

Weekend Box Office Results
It is fitting, at the end of a week that we (read: "I") dedicated almost entirely to the wizarding world of Harry Potter that the final chapter of the epic story broke pretty much every box office record in its path. $43 million at midnight screenings, $92 million by the end of the day Friday, and finally $168 million total, beating "The Dark Knight" by over $10 million for the highest grossing opening weekend ever. Thanks for the memories, Harry.

1. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" - $168.6 million
2. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" - $21.3M ($302.8 million total)
3. "Horrible Bosses" - $17.6M ($60M)
4. "Zookeeper" - $12.3M ($42.4M)
5. "Cars 2" - $8.3M ($165.3M)
6. "Winnie the Pooh" - $8M
7. "Bad Teacher" - $5.2M ($88.5M)
8. "Larry Crowne" - $2.6M ($31.6M)
9. "Super 8" - $1.9M ($122.2M)
10. "Midnight in Paris" - $1.9M ($41.8M)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter Retrospective Part VII - "The Deathly Hallows Part I"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

"The Deathly Hallows Part I"

I can't even begin to describe to you, dear readers, how happy I was with Warner Brothers' decision to cut the final "Potter" book into two parts. Some who didn't read the books complained that it was just a gimmick designed to bring the studio an extra $800 million (I'm sure that factor didn't hurt). But fans of Rowling's tremendous series were thrilled because, not only did it mean an extension of the Potter experience, it meant more of the book could make it to the film. Personally, I would have been happy to have "Order of the Phoenix" and "Half-Blood Prince" cut into two films each as well if it meant properly conveying more of the book's story. I stood in line for approximately four hours outside a local theater, braving the cold and annoying teenagers in order to be one of the first to see the "DH Part 1" and I was oh so glad I did.

My experience with the "Deathly Hallows" book was a new one. It was the first book that I read "live", so to speak. Volumes 1-6 were already available (in paperback form, no less) when I started reading them after the "Goblet of Fire" film opened. "Hallows" was my first opportunity to revel in the nerdery of a midnight book release and reading along with everyone else in the world. It is also the only book that I didn't plow through in a matter of days. This isn't because of lesser content but because I wanted to extend my "Potter" experience, to savor every page. I didn't let myself read more than a chapter or two at a time and I was almost sad when I realized I had only a couple hundred pages left before there would be no more new "Potter" stories. I genuinely wished I had gotten on board with the series from the very beginning. Curse my refusal to fall in line with the crowd!

I do think that "Hallows" has some flaws, whereas "Prince", "Phoenix", and "Azkaban" are almost perfect. The length of time that Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend alone in a tent, Apparating from place to place is overwhelming. It's not that I find it boring, I just think it's a bit redundant and it leads to a rushed feeling when the trio goes from doing very little for 400 pages and then suddenly break into a bank, free a dragon, and head to Hogwarts within 50 pages. Likewise, the scene in which Harry ostensibly dies and ends up speaking with Dumbledore in a sort-of Purgatory is a little unsatisfying for me. I'm honestly not sure what I expected from that moment but I didn't love it upon first reading. But these flaws are minimal in the grand scheme of things and I truly love the way in which Rowling wrapped up her series.

With all that in mind, in my opinion there's no question that, at least from an adaptation standpoint, "DH1" is the best of the films thus far. Having the same director-writer team for the first time since films one and two absolutely makes for a cohesive storytelling experience. Yates and Kloves are, quite simply, in a serious groove throughout "DH1." It feels comfortable and I think that lends itself to brilliant moviemaking. Chopping the book in half did exactly what all fans of the series had hoped in that it allowed for SO MUCH MORE of Rowling's content to make it to the screen. "DH1" is almost an abridged version of the book rather than an adaptation of it.

Better than in any of the previous installments, this film fully and wonderfully brings the scenes from the book and reimagines them onto the screen. One of the best scenes in the entire series is the shadow theater that is used to illustrate the story of the Deathly Hallows as Hermione reads it. Inspired. Elements as large as the opening chase sequence between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters and Harry and Ron's fight against the Horcrux down to the details of the Lovegood residence and the Weasley wedding are all exquisitely put together, near perfect illustrations of the words from Rowling's page. Likewise, the tones of "Hallows" (a theme I've harped on endlessly in this series) are so gloriously brought forth to the film. Ron's jealousy and general grumpiness, the haughty attitude of Minister of Magic Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), and the pain that Harry feels while visiting the graves of his parents are all brought forth with precision. In addition, the loneliness and hopelessness our heroes feel while on the run, such a huge part of the book (to the point of redundancy as noted before), becomes a hallmark of the film; you genuinely feel lost, just like the characters on screen.

One of the best aspects of the film, though, is in its ability to elicit emotion and connection from the viewer just like the book did. The world in which Harry now lives is full of darkness, death, and evil but it is also overflowing with love and sacrifice. Hermione erasing from her parents' minds the memories of their own child, Xenophilius Lovegood's (Rhys Ifans) conflict over having to turn Harry over in order to save his daughter, the sacrifices of Hedwig and Moody, and even the look of fear and regret on Draco's face when Harry is brought to the Malfoy estate all force the audience to relate to what's happening on screen. And the final scenes, in which Dobby reappears at the time of greatest need and sacrifices himself in the process are heartbreaking and BEAUTIFULLY put together. In my "Chamber" review I called Dobby the Jar Jar Binks of these films. I never felt that way while reading the books but his on screen persona was so annoying that the existence of house elves is almost completely cut out of the films between "Chamber" and "DH1." To bring that character back five films later and put him into a moment that has the power to absolutely BREAK the viewer is a masterstroke of great writing and directing.

In short, I love this "DH1", both as a film and as an adaptation, above all the rest. I fervently hope that part two of "Deathly Hallows" is the best of the series; it should be, given the source material, and I think the rapid fan base deserves an outstanding ending. But even if it isn't, the decision to break the book up into two parts is fully and completely justified by the incredible entry that is "DH1."

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 1st of 7

Movie News Today

I'll not be doing a New Movie Friday this week as the only two movies opening wide are "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" which I've covered fairly extensively this week and the new "Winnie the Pooh" film.

Empire has an excellent interview with "Potter" scribe Steve Kloves as well as directors Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, and Mike Newell. Thank you, Empire!

David Yates may cash in his "Harry Potter" chips to take a shot at an adaptation of Stephen King's "The Stand."

A Life in Equinox writes an open letter to Christopher Nolan with advice on how to avoid the next Batman film from becoming a disappointment.

Marshall and the Movies does his own "Harry Potter" rankings. His are a bit different than mine so check out the second opinion.

The first teaser trailer for "John Carter" arrived today. Gotta say I'm pretty excited for this one.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter Retrospective Part VI - "The Half-Blood Prince"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and possibly the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

SPOILERS AHEAD

"The Half -Blood Prince"

When "Prince" was moved from a late 2008 release date to one in the middle of the 2009 summer, I was furious. Furious, I tell you. One of my fellow Potterites sent out an email on the original release date lamenting the fact that instead of dragging into work that morning after seeing a midnight viewing, she was well rested and better prepared to teach her students. I agreed wholeheartedly. On the flip side, however, the push back allowed "Prince" to be the bookend for my glorious experiment known as The Summer of the Nerd. And what a great bookend it was.

After "Order of the Phoenix", "Half-Blood Prince" is my favorite of Rowling's books. I love the flashbacks, the filling in of Voldemort's past, and the piecing together of the whole Horcrux thing. More importantly, "Prince" fully fleshes out the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore and I truly appreciate that payoff. I think Rowling danced around the dynamic between these two for five books, giving us only a few moments of them actually interacting and leaving us wanting more. With the loss of Sirius, however, Harry is searching out a new father figure and so this book lends itself to the exploration of that pairing. "Prince" jumps directly into that storyline and it is magnificent. It also makes Dumbledore's murder all the more heart-breaking. It's not just about the loss of a great hero which in and of itself would be tough; it's also another thing entirely when you factor in yet another loss for poor Harry who has now experienced the death of his parents, his godfather/surrogate father, and now his mentor and counselor. It is a necessary death; Harry has to be on his own without a safety net in order to take on Voldemort. But you feel the loss and the betrayal in the pages of Rowling's book and that comes through quite well in the film.

In many ways, "Prince" is the best film of the series and it laid the groundwork for the final double volume. David Yates became the first director since Chris Columbus to direct a second "Potter" film and I think that consistency served it well. Cast and crew were also reunited with Steve Kloves after a one-film hiatus that didn't go so well in many ways. Yates and Kloves seemed to work well together and the strength of that partnership only grew in "Deathly Hallows 1" (and I can only assume it will grow further in number two). The overtones again grew darker along with the plot line, giving the proper depth to the subject matter. I find the green wash of the film to be a brilliant touch, allowing Yates to subtly highlight important elements and bringing genuine creepiness to many of the settings. All of the young actors had fully matured by this point and the strength that Radcliffe showed in "Phoenix", practically carrying the movie in places, carries over to "Prince." Even Tom Felton, maybe the worst actor of the main cast, does an excellent job of displaying the extreme duress that Malfoy was under throughout this entire story.

Through strong writing and even stronger acting, "Prince" is able to embrace the atmosphere and emotions of the book. This is, in my opinion, an upgrade in this department from the other films. Harry's isolation turned into hopeful connection with Dumbledore is wonderfully illustrated; the infuriating relationship between Ron and Lavender, and by proxy the relationship between Ron and Hermione is delightful; and Dumbledore's death at the hand of Snape is exactly the gut-punch that it was in the book. Gambon has been ridiculed at times for his portrayal of Dumbledore but between the excruciating scene where he is forced to drink a poison to his simple, "Please" before his execution makes his final 20 minutes of screen time his best in the series. I absolutely love the way "Prince" brought the book to life.

My only complaint is the treatment the rest of the characters get in the final sequences. As I've stated before, I completely understand that when you're adapting a 700 page book, some things must be cut. I get that. What I don't get is cutting scenes that completely change the tone of the film. It INFURIATES me that when Harry and Dumbledore arrive back at Hogwarts, Harry remains hidden from view and doesn't intervene to save his mentor when he has the capability to do so. In the book, Dumbledore petrifies him and prevents him from coming to his aid. That is a much more satisfactory conclusion than having Harry cower in a corner, an action that five films worth of content would suggest he'd never do. Likewise, the exclusion of the battle within the castle between Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters is frustrating. Rowling used this scene to illustrate the strength of her other characters, to display that even without Dumbledore and Sirius, Harry was not alone. Leaving this battle out seems out especially when you consider that an entirely new scene, in which Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback attack the Wealey home, is fabricated out of thin air, ostensibly to add a little action to the movie. It's never made any sense to me that Kloves drew up a new scene and then cut out such a dramatic, important sequence from the book.

These issues are the only things that hold "Prince" back from being the best in the series (so far). The acting is outstanding and again the cast improved with the addition of Jim Broadbent; the chemistry between Ron and Hermione develops naturally (and much better than that of Harry and Ginny, by the way); and there are numerous moments of legitimate humor, further proving that these kids have a grasp on comedy and Kloves' ability to write toward that. It is a visually compelling film and it is extremely rewatchable on its own whether you watch the other films before it or not. But man, it's tough to get past those deviations from the book!

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 2nd of 7

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movie News Today

David Goyer, who has written the story for all of Nolan's "Batman" movies, will pen the new "Godzilla" reboot. Because what the world really needs is another Godzilla.

Empire polled its readers and presents the results in the form of the top 25 characters from "Harry Potter." Of course, I wouldn't rank them all accordingly but this is a really well done list worth checking out.

The trailer for "Contagion" just landed today. This made my "Top 10 most aniticipated films" for the rest of the year and the reason for that is the INCREDIBLE cast. Check it out.

Harry Potter Retrospective Part V - "The Order of the Phoenix"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and possibly the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

SPOILERS AHEAD

"The Order of the Phoenix"

"Phoenix" is the first "Potter" film that I watched after having read the books. When I got out of "Goblet of Fire" the year before, I drove directly to the nearest Barnes and Noble and picked up the first book. Within a few short weeks I had rolled through all six. In the spring of 2007, I reread through "Half Blood Prince" in preparation for the release of "Deathly Hallows" and that coincided with the open of "Phoenix." It was a radically different experience seeing the vision of the book put to the screen and as such, I have an odd love/hate relationship with this film.

As such, I should apologize up front for the roller coaster-like tone I'm sure this Retrospective post is bound to take. "Order of the Phoenix" is my favorite book in this series. It speaks to me, and to many other male readers, in ways that perhaps the other books do not. The tones and the subject matter are those that men and boys can relate to. The first half is all about growing up, feeling isolated, and balancing the need for acceptance with the "lone wolf" spirit of wanderlust. The second half is all about the very traditionally manly act of doing something; of seeing a wrong, becoming fed up with it, and deciding to act. And no "Phoenix" discussion is complete without touching on the death of Sirius Black, to this day one of the most heartbreaking events of my life (that sounds a lot sadder than it should). Other characters had died in the Potter universe but none as important or emotionally relevant as Black. The pages leading up to and following his death are gut-wrenching. I read this book a few months ago, at least my third time through, and I dripped tears over about 50 pages. I'm not even ashamed to admit that. There is REAL pain within this plot point and I truly loved that character. More importantly, Rowling respects that character (and many others) enough to give him the time he deserves, even in killing him off. I love this book. And for the first (and thus far, only) time during my experience with these films, I have always had real trouble enjoying the film as a film and not holding against it the many times it deviates from the page.

From a purely film standpoint, there is nothing wrong with "Phoenix." In fact, I think it's quite good and perhaps equal to "Azkaban" which was the standard for the series at the time of this opening. New director David Yates fell in line with the tone and atmosphere that Cuaron and Newell had created before him and continued down that path. I love the way that "Phoenix" is shot; the coloring is beautiful, both muted and bright at the same time. (I wish I had the film school knowledge to better express what I mean here but alas, my degree is in kinesiology.) The camera is also used quite well to show the separation that Harry feels from his friends and the connection he has with Sirius: darkness here, light there; wide shot here, close up there. Likewise, the personification of Voldemort again evolves as he becomes genuinely creepy and menacing. The shots of him inside the train station dressed all in black are terrifying and brilliant. And as I've touched on numerous times now, Heyman again got the best talent money could to fill the new role, this time Helena Bonham Carter who is a perfect Bellatrix Lestrange. It all makes for a very good film...

Except that it totally misfires on almost every level from an adaptation standpoint. "Phoenix" is the longest book and yet it is the shortest film. There's very little filler in the book in my perspective so you have to ask, what gives with the shortened runtime? The first answer is that this is the only film in the series that wasn't written by Steve Kloves. The decision to move on without him stands as the worst one that Heyman and company made during the course of this ten year journey. Maybe the only decision that was worse was the choice to replace him with Michael Goldenberg, who is also responsible for the craptastic script that hamstrung "Green Lantern" right out of the gate. As I said before, this is a good film so I can't really say that Goldenberg can't write but he clearly can't adapt. The groove that Kloves had developed to this point, the knowledge that he'd gained in regards to what to keep and what to cut, is obviously and painfully lacking in "Phoenix." Major plot points are missed, tones are overlooked, the bonds of several relationships are missed completely, and the entire film feels choppy and rushed. I'm getting a little mad just thinking about it.

All that said, three factors still allow me to watch and enjoy "Phoenix" without getting too caught up in the feeling of, "how dare you butcher this story!!!" First, for the first time, Radcliffe is really asked to carry a lot of the movie and he does so very well. That may or may not happen with a better script to work with. Second, the final battle sequence which pitches the students against a group of Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries is a quality fight scene; maybe the best in the series. Third, Imelda Staunton is masterful in the role of Dolores Umbridge and Umbridge is a tremendously difficult character to play correctly. Of all the wicked, evil characters that live in Rowling's world, Umbridge is without question the most hate able. You root against her throughout the course of "Phoenix", both on screen and in the book, with more vigor than you ever root against Voldemort. You want Voldemort to be defeated but you want Umbridge to be killed in Tarantino-esque fashion and that makes her a compelling and vital character. What makes her so difficult to play is the fact that Umbridge is vile and fully evil but she thinks she's good. That's such a tough balance to find and Staunton more than stands up to the task. 2007 was a down year for award caliber films but I personally felt like her performance was worthy of an Oscar nomination. All of this makes "Phoenix" very hard to judge properly and calls into question the "don't judge a movie based on the book" philosophy I live by. I love it for what it is and hate it for what it's not so while that drops it in the "Potter" rank, it's still a solid film overall.

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 5th of 7

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Movie News Today

How do you get me interested in a "Bourne" movie that doesn't involve Matt Damon? First you cast Jeremy Renner as Jason Bourne. Then you pull in Edward Norton as his enemy. So incredibly in.

Will Forte joins the cast of the ever changing "Rock of Ages." I love Forte, a lot, but I'm going to have to actually see some footage from this movie before I invest.

Movie Muse delivers his most surprising and disappointing movies of the year thus far. Check it out!

Matt over at Cinema Slants continues his "Summer of Spielberg" series with part two, which is all about blockbusters. I don't think I ever linked to part one which is also excellent.

Marshall and the Movies has seen the final "Harry Potter" film. I didn't really read this as I'm already bursting with excitement/emotion as it is but he seems pretty stoked with the final product.

The trailer for "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" is in and it looks delightful.

New DVD Tuesday

Rango (2011) - Johnny Depp, Ned Beatty, Isla Fisher
A gecko (Depp) who dreams of big adventure suddenly finds himself in an Old West-like town where water is at a premium. Sensing an opportunity to change his stripes, he creates a persona named Rango who talks a much tougher game than he actually possesses and before long, he's looked to as the town's savior. "Rango" didn't make near as much money, I think, as its backers had expected and I think that's because it has no target audience. I found it to be too immature for adults and too intense for kids. Not a fan, though I wanted to be.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) - Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillipe, Marisa Tomei
Based on a book by Michael Connelly, "Lincoln" centers around a brash and slimy defense attorney (McConaughey) whose defend-at-all-costs is put to the test when he takes the case of a rich hot shot (Phillipe) becomes entangled with his own life. There are VERY few McConaughey movies that I can even stand to sit through but this one got decent reviews and actually had a rather long run in theaters. I might have to give it a shot.

Insidious (2010) - Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins
Another "family in the grips of demons" horror flick that features a husband (Wilson) and wife (Byrne) trying to save their comatose son from an evil spirit. I don't watch horror films so I'm out either way but the divide in critical reception for this film has been really interesting. Some critics who I really trust absolutely TRASHED it but others who are normally harsh on flicks of this nature fell in love with it. I've even seen a critic or two calling "Insidious" the best film of the year so far. Again, I'm not interested and the trailer was enough to thoroughly creep me out but the differences in opinion is pretty dramatic.

Arthur (2011) - Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner
Yet another 80s remake, this version of "Arthur" finds the title character (Brand) as a Billy Madison-like man child whose issues are much more related to immaturity than they are to alcoholism, which I believe was the premise of the Dudley Moore version. I don't get Russell Brand. He was fun in "Get Him to the Greek" but then again, I'm not sure he was acting so much as just being himself in front of a camera. I've tried to like him and my understanding is that he's a truly, genuinely nice and cool dude off the screen but I don't get it.

New to Blu
Brazil (1985) - Robert De Niro, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm
Naked (1993) - David Thewlis, Katrin Cartlidge, Lesley Sharp

Also New
Damages: Season 3 (2010) - Glenn Close, Rose Byrne
Entourage: Season 7 (2010) - Adrien Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly
Miral (2010) - Frida Pinto, Willem Dafoe
E.R.: Season 15 (2009)
Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie News Today

Again, my apologies to News fans. There just hasn't been a whole lot worth linking to lately. We'll get back into the swing of things this week. I'm also taking a day off from the Potter retrospective because it's been a while since I've seen "Order of the Phoenix" and I'm watching it with some other nerds tomorrow.

Here's the first teaser poster for "The Dark Knight Rises." Soooooo excited.

In "worth reporting but not worthy of its own item" casting news, Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") will play the villain in a new Jason Statham movie called "Parker", Chris Hemsworth will play a racer car driver in "Rush", and Walton Goggins (also of "The Shield" and one of my favorite "no one knows who this guy is but he's awesome" actors) has joined Spielberg's Abe Lincoln biopic. Awesome all around.

Spike Lee has been confirmed as the director for a remake of the cult classic "Oldboy."

Peter Jackson has posted a new video diary from the set of "The Hobbit" on the film's Facebook page. You can find a link from Empire here.

The great Alan Rickman has written a brief farewell from the set of "Harry Potter" that will be in Empire's next issue. Gotta say, this gave me some goosebumps.

The Independent asks what will replace Harry Potter? Very, VERY big shoes to fill for a lot of would-be franchises out there.

Marshall and the Movies' F.I.L.M. of the week is one of my favorite documentaries, "King of Kong." Check out his thoughts.

1. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" $47.1 million ($261.08 million total)
2. "Horrible Bosses" $28.3
3. "Zookeeper" $20.07
4. "Cars 2" $15.21 ($148.83)
5. "Bad Teacher" $8.91 ($78.67)
6. "Larry Crowne" $5.93 ($26.19)
7. "Super 8" $4.84 ($118.07)
8. "Monte Carlo" $3.8 ($16.13)
9. "Mr. Popper's Penguins" $3.15 ($58.05)
10. "Green Lantern" $3.15 ($109.73)