Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie News Today

Check out this sweet new poster for John Carter of Mars and the first (?) one for Men in Black 3. Love the look of the JCM poster, not so much the MIB.

The Chronicles of Riddick sequel has officially received the needed funding and will restart production shortly. I know I'm in the vast minority here but I'm pretty stoked about the return of Riddick.

Cinema Blend has obtained a copy of playlist Cameron Crowe used to woo Matt Damon into working with him on We Bought a Zoo. Crowe is one of those celebrities that I'd like to be friends with, if for no other reason that he would absolutely KILL the playlist at awesome parties.

Steven Spielberg has tapped Jared Harris to play Ulysses S. Grant in his Abraham Lincoln biopic, scheduled to hit next Christmas. Love this choice and Lincoln is shaping up nicely.

The first trailer for The Hobbit will be attached to The Adventures of Tin Tin for American audiences. I've been debating whether or not I'd be seeing Tin Tin and this news has settled the matter.

The nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards (for movies with budgets under $20 million) were announced today and they look pretty good across the board. My big complaint? No Best Actor nomination for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's work in 50/50. Really, ISA? I expect he'll get shut out at the Academy Awards but how does he get left out here? Boooo.

Harrison Ford is being courted to play a major role in the upcoming Ender's Game adaptation which will star Asa Butterfield from Hugo. Love Ford, would enjoy seeing him return to space, but I have to be honest: I'm still not sure how Ender's Game can translate to the screen and still be good. I'm concerned.

Marshall and the Movies gives us his early Oscar nomination predictions. I'll have my own in a couple of weeks but check out his in the meantime. As a side note, if Gary Oldman doesn't get a nod this year, I will absolutely lose it. Let that be a warning, Academy.

Matt over at Cinema Slants takes a look back at the first three Muppet movies and gives his thoughts on them as a whole. Definitely worth a read.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review - "The Muppets"

I live my life by a simple creed that has worked fairly well for me over the years: anything that involves the Muppets is better than it would be without the Muppets. It’s just that simple. If you have a concept, whether it is a film, TV show, or life plan, just add Kermit and I would say your concept will be bettered by a solid 21 percent. Case in point: Muppet Babies: better than regular babies. Babies cry, sleep, and poop all day (says the guy who’s a little bit afraid of babies); Muppet Babies, on the other hand, sing, dance, and create glorious imaginary dreamscapes in which they take the form of Star Wars characters. This is a no brainer. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the Muppets. I don’t trust people who don’t like the Muppets because, honestly, how is that possible? Like, what happened in your life that you’ve now become incapable of being entertained by a singing frog and a menopausal pig? This seems un-American. I mean, if you don’t like the Muppets, I’d expect you’re also not such a big fan of apple pie, baseball, and, you know, constitutionalized freedoms. You’re dead to me, person who doesn’t like the Muppets. Please go away. *Waits* I mean it. *Waits* Okay, now that we’ve rid ourselves of those joy-stealers, on with the review of what will surely by my favorite movie of the year.

Walter and Gary (Jason Segel) are as close as brothers can be despite their obvious differences. Gary is a near lummox of a man while Walter is a Muppet. (How these two came to be brothers is never explained and I, for one, love this fact.) Growing up, Walter is obsessed with the Muppets and whenever things get tough, Gary always cheers up his little brother by watching the famous TV show with him. When Gary plans a trip to Los Angeles with his fiancĂ©e Mary (Amy Adams), he invites Walter along for a tour of the Muppet Studios. But when they get to their destination, Walter finds the studios to be in severe disrepair and completely devoid of Muppets. To make matters worse, he overhears a conversation involving oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) describing his plot to take over the studio and tear it to the ground. Distraught, Walter and Gary track down Kermit the Frog to warn him of the studio’s impending doom. With limited funds available, the trio must get the old band back together in order to put together a Muppet telethon to save the studio.

From start to finish, The Muppets is about as much fun as you could possibly ask for in a movie. Segel’s script (along with the help of Nick Stoller) is a delightfully nostalgic piece of work that not only pays homage to the Muppet way of old but revels in it, making the decidedly retro feel of the film’s humor seem like a breath of fresh air. I love sarcasm as much as the next guy but to come across a movie that is genuinely funny without becoming snarky or mean-spirited in the slightest is a rarity these days. At the same time, the vast majority of the bits and jokes aren’t near as easy as I thought they might be. Instead, when confronted with low-hanging fruit, the dialogue takes the road less traveled to the betterment of the film as a whole. Very little within The Muppets is what you would call witty but that doesn’t mean it isn’t smart; it is just straightforward comedy that should appeal to both adults and children without any problem.

The story itself is a simple one as the tale of getting the Muppets back together and putting on one big show takes up the majority of the film’s narrative and isn’t in and of itself exceedingly original. But as a Muppet fan, it is a narrative that I greatly appreciated and I would imagine that’s exactly how Segel felt as he wrote it. I would love for the Muppets to get back together and become relevant again and that’s an overriding theme throughout the movie. Segel and director Jason Bobin know that this is somewhat of a last chance for the Muppets as a whole; if this movie succeeds, we’ll soon be talking about sequels and a rejuvenation of the Muppet brand; if it fails, Kermit and the gang will be reduced to nothing more than a fond memory that may never again capture the imagination of a generation. This leads to a sort of self-awareness, making The Muppets almost a movie within a movie and that element is one that brought me absolute joy and leads to a number of hilarious moments that had me and the entire audience cackling.

In addition, there’s an extreme liveliness to The Muppets that I would say bests anything done in the previous Muppet films. As Kermit gets the group back together, we get to see the Muppets at their worst: Fozzy is playing in a cover band (called The Moopets) in Reno, Gonzo has put away the childishness of youth and become a toilet businessman, and Animal is no longer allowed to drum because it triggers his rage. It’s cool to see the Muppets in a different setting than we’re used to and it makes their final production all the more special. And speaking of the music, each and every number, from the delightful “Man or Muppet” to the shocking-but-hilarious rap song to the inevitable but no less satisfying singing of “The Rainbow Connection”, are all exquisite. Bret McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords) did a masterful job of constructing smart, entertaining songs that both progress the film and stand alone as fun and addicting tunes that will almost certainly pop up on my iPod from time to time.

The finished product plays as a Pixar-like version of the Muppets with a little bit of Flight of the Conchords mixed in for good measure (this ingredient should come as no surprise since both Bobin and McKenzie made their names through that show). The Muppets is riotous, uproarious fun and thoroughly refreshing and balances the perfect amount of heart and comedy. It is, in many ways, a passion project and that excitement oozes through in every wonderfully constructed scene. It stands as my favorite film of the year thus far and holds up against any non-animated family film of the last decade (or more).

Grade: A

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be

I'm always looking for ways to keep TSBO from becoming stale or boring. This space is always, if nothing else, an organized work in progress. Lately, I've become less and less interested in (and therefore committed to) writing the DVD Roundup and Weekend Movie Guide. I've never been entirely happy with those columns to be quite frank; they were started as a way to fill the site with content and bring hits (success on both fronts) but I have always had the intention of reworking them to fit my style, something that I still haven't gotten right. All that to say, I'm going to knock off DVD Roundup altogether for the time being and the Weekend Movie Guide is going to be stripped down a bit. In place of those columns, I'm going to start something called "The Week That Was and The Week That Will Be" wherein I'll go over any exciting news from the weekend, take a more in depth look at the Box Office totals, and make a pick or two regarding upcoming DVD releases and weekend movies. This will also give me a space to throw out any personal notes that need to be made such as this very paragraph. We'll give this a go for a month and see how it works and reconsider at the beginning of the new year. You'll also notice a few formatting changes that I will discuss in the future once I figure out if I like them or not. Now on with the show.

Christian Bale has confirmed that The Dark Knight Rises will be the last Batman film for himself and director Christopher Nolan.

The good news: Star Trek 2 has officially been slated for May, 2013 and it's about stinking time. The bad news: JJ Abrams has confirmed that it will be in 3D.

The Red Dawn remake has finally been picked up and given a release date, three years after its production was finished.

Empire Online has a sweet feature on the 33 Best Best Friends in cinema. Great list!

Weekend Box Office Results
Breaking Dawn experienced a drop-off rate of almost 70% this week, which was pretty much to be expected. Everyone who wanted to see it was in line for a midnight showing and I'd bet good money that most of its take this week was made up of repeat viewers. Still, I cannot tell you how much it pains me to see Breaking Dawn beat out The Muppets which will almost certainly go down as my favorite movie of the year (review coming tomorrow). I'm also more than a little disappointed in the relatively weak reception that Hugo received. The glut of family-oriented movies didn't help I'm sure. However, $10+ million was spent on Jack and Jill this weekend. That's $10+ million that should have been devoted to either The Muppets or Hugo. Curse you, America.

1. Breaking Dawn - $42 million ($221.3 million total)
2. The Muppets - $42M
3. Happy Feet Two - $13.4M ($43.77M)
4. Arthur Christmas - $17M
5. Hugo - $15.38M
6. Jack and Jill - $10.3M ($57.42M)
7. Immortals - $8.8M ($68.63M)
8. Puss in Boots - $7.45M ($135.36M)
9. Tower Heist - $7.32M ($65.38M)
10. The Descendants - $7.2M ($10.74M)

New to DVD
Each week, I plan on highlighting a couple of new DVDs/Blu-Rays and focusing my attention (either positive or negative) on them, rather than doing a full run down of each and every new release. The next couple of weeks would be big for your local Blockbuster if Blockbuster still existed as we'll see the debut of a number of late summer/early fall hits that the studios hope you'll want to put under your Christmas tree.

What I'll Be Renting This Week
You know the old bit where an angel pops up on one shoulder and a devil appears on the other? That's what I'll be going through this week. I know I should rent...
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) - Werner Herzog
This documentary film takes the cameras inside the Chauvet caves in the south of France, home to the world's oldest known human drawings. Herzog is a master with the camera and Forgotten Dreams has received outstanding reviews from pretty much everyone who has seen it. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to see it on the big screen, though, as I'm sure it would be much more powerful. Still, I fully intend to check this out. On the other hand we have...
30 Minutes or Less (2011) - Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride
A slacker pizza delivery guy is kidnapped and strapped to a bomb, then forced to rob a bank in order to save his life. Shenanigans abound. I know this is mediocre at best (and maybe that's shooting too high) but I have trouble resisting this sort of comedy. Also, Aziz Ansari is one of the five funniest men alive and that's a scientific fact.

What I've Seen So You Won't Have To
Our Idiot Brother (2011) - Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott
There are those who liked this underplayed stoner comedy about a naive hippie whose family can't embrace his carefree lifestyle. I am not one of them. You will not be either. Rudd is fine and his interactions with Scott are humorous. But every other character in the cast is more or less a miserable, whiny person and by the end of the film, my will to accept their changes had been drained out of me, as had my ability to laugh. (For the record, Friends With Benefits falls into this category as well.)

What I Haven't Seen and Neither Should You
The Smurfs (2011) - Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays
I really don't feel like I should even have to say this but seeing as how this film made enough money to warrant a sequel, I guess I do: if you are not, A.) a child under the age of nine; B.) an '80s pothead; or C.) an adult accompanied by someone in either of the previous two categories, you have no excuse for seeing this film. (Also for the record, One Day works here, too.)

Also New
Another Earth (2011) - Brit Marling, William Mapother
One Day (2011) - Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess
Friends with Benefits (2011) - Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis
The Art of Getting By (2011) - Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) - Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine
Seven Days in Utopia (2011) - Lucas Black, Robert Duvall
30 Rock: Season 5 (2010) - Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin
Smallville: Season 10 (2010) - Tom Welling

Coming to a Theater Near You
Usually, I'll spend a minute highlighting the films that will open in the coming weekend and discuss what type of response (critics and audiences) we can expect. This week, however, is a tough one to start off with. The week between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the real December holiday season is usually weak and this is no exception. If I make it to the theater this weekend, it will undoubtedly be for a repeat viewing of something instead of any of these choices:

Shame (2011) - Michael Fassbender, Carey Milligan (Limited)
Sleeping Beauty (2011) - Emily Browning, Rachel Blake, Ewen Leslie
Outrage (2010) - Takeshi Kitano, Kippei Shiina (Limited)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Terri"

Terri (Jacob Wysocki) has been dealt a rough hand. A heavy-set teenager with more than a touch of social anxiety, Terri finds school to be a hellhole where he goes unnoticed (when he’s lucky). His home life is not much better. He doesn’t know where either of his parents are and he lives with his uncle (Creed Batton) who is slipping further and further into dementia. When he gets in trouble for firing back at one of his many mockers, the school’s principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), sees a kid who desperately needs a friend. He sets up weekly meetings with Terri and attempts to take the boy under his wing. But the many years of loneliness have taken a toll on Terri and despite the influence of Mr. Fitzgerald, transitioning into a fully functioning member of high school society proves more difficult than originally thought.

There is serious promise to be found within Terri. Up-and-coming director Azazel Jacobs has a firm handle on his subject matter and he works hard to show Terri for the good hearted boy that he is. It is a very simple and understated film (more on this in a minute) as Jacobs lets his protagonist move at his own pace. You can see why so many respected critics have identified Jacobs as a name to watch in the future. Wysocki himself gives an honest performance and displays solid chops for a kid who has almost no acting experience. He makes it easy to identify with Terri and that brings about a sense of natural empathy that is essential to the film’s success. Likewise, Reilly is a perfect choice for the would-be-cool principal who tries extremely hard to be relevant and accessible to his students but can’t quite make it work. The relationship between Terri and Fitzgerald is poignant and heartfelt and without question their shared scenes are the best of the film.

When Terri diverts from its main storyline, however, it tends to bog down. What starts out as sympathy for Terri eventually turns into near depression as his narrative struggles to find an upswing. His interactions with his friends Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) are tenuous and never fully realize the potential they have together resulting in a choppy feel that I never could quite shake. Jacobs adds very little in the way of production value, too, and while I can appreciate that sort of simplicity, in this case a pronounced soundtrack and the like would have added to the experience. I found myself growing bored with Terri and had a hard time staying invested when Terri and Fitzgerald weren’t on screen together. That’s a real shame because I really wanted to care about Terri’s relationships with Chad, Heather, and his uncle but Jacobs story didn’t quite give me enough reason to get there. With a little more focus, Terri would be a touching and possibly even uplifting coming-of-age vision based around the Terri-Fitzgerald dynamic. Instead, it becomes too dull and convoluted for my tastes and limited my ability to stay connected.

Grade: C+

Monday, November 21, 2011

Movie News Today

Looks like X-MEN FIRST CLASS 2 will feature an Xavier-heavy storyline, which seems appropriate.

The next issue of Empire will feature an in-depth story on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and more details are leaking out. Of particular interest is the fact that this film will pick up 8 years after the end of THE DARK KNIGHT. That seems fitting since it feels like it's been 8 years since the movie came out.

 Cinema Blend has a great interview with ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT alum Judy Greer whose turn in THE DESCENDANTS could be career changing. Check it out!

Aaron Sorkin is looking into penning a Steve Jobs biopic and may I just say, that's a great decision, Aaron. Let's do this.

Ron Howard and Akiva Goldman are teaming up to put together a new Western series for HBO which will focus on Doc Holliday. I have long been enamored with the Doc Holliday character/history/fake history and  this idea sounds absolutely incredible. I'm in.

AOLTV has an excellent open letter to NBC concerning the prospective cancellation of COMMUNITY. Bravo.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review - "Tower Heist"

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the type of employee that you want running your business. A tireless worker, Josh has pulled himself up from the ground floor to become the assistant manager of the prestigious Tower apartment building in New York. Josh knows everything there is to know about each and every one of the tenants and he serves as a trusted advisor for all of his employees. His most prominent tenant is billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a proud New Yorker who Josh has developed a friendship with. But when Shaw is indicted for fraud and accused of bilking his clients out of hundreds of millions of dollars, Josh is forced to tell his employees that their pensions accounted for some of the stolen funds. With desperation seeping in, Josh learns that Shaw has a $20 million “security blanket” tucked away somewhere and becomes convinced that it’s hidden inside The Tower. Josh puts together a rag-tag team that includes his brother-in-law (Casey Affleck), a DeVry drop out (Michael Pena), a former stock broker (Matthew Broderick), and a small time crook (Eddie Murphy) and formulates a plan to reclaim the cash and provide justice for those who Shaw wronged.

There are moments within Tower Heist in which you almost (ALMOST) find cause to get on board and enjoy the ride. Stiller gives a quality, understated performance that probably deserves a little more attention than it’s going to receive. He gives Josh a little more authenticity than I expected and that serves his character well. Likewise, you can never go wrong with Affleck, who always manages to steal just about any scene he’s in. The plot is timely and interesting and that shines through from time to time, illustrating why the very talented cast signed on in the first place. And there is an undeniably fun energy that runs through Tower Heist which continually tries (unsuccessfully) to keep the movie’s pulse high while encouraging the audience to get involved with the storyline.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stop. In fact, for my money, Tower Heist is the true definition of sloppy filmmaking. But then again, what else should I expect from director Bret Ratner? Throughout his time in Hollywood, Ratner has spent far more time making a fool of himself than he’s ever spent actually working on his craft. He’s a guy who enjoys being famous far more than he does making movies. None of his movies are particularly good and most of them are downright awful and despite the fact that he usually works within the action-comedy genre, he’s still unable to figure out how to carve out any sort of a positive niche for himself within said genre. Even Michael Bay has perfected the special effects shot, creating occasional moments of visual brilliance in each of his films and giving audiences a reason to come back for more despite the fact that he has no understanding of dialogue, plotlines, or casting. Ratner can’t even do that; instead, all of his movies are a hodge-podge of haphazard stupidity.

Every aspect of Tower Heist reeks of indifference and laziness. Plot holes abound, ridiculous actions are accepted as totally reasonable, and the dialogue is often to the level of a fourth grader. Basically, Ratner doesn’t know how to effectively tell his story and so any part of it that you might enjoy is painted over by absurdities and general stupidity. He routinely traps his actors in corners that they can’t get out of and thereby wastes their talents. Murphy in particular seems like he’s stuck in glass box acting out his greatest hits from his former glory years, almost like a caricature of himself. Is he funny? I guess, but not in the laugh-out-loud way that he’s trying to be. That doesn’t stop with Murphy, however. There are shockingly few truly humorous moments within Tower Heist and that leaves it feeling overly long and even dull at times. It’s as if Ratner was under orders to shoot, edit, and ship this movie in 30 days and paid no attention to little details like, you know, a cohesive storyline and jokes that actually make the audience laugh. All of this makes Tower Heist a disappointing, waste of time.

Grade: C+

Movie News Today

Steven Soderberg has walked away from his MAN FROM UNCLE film adaptation, probably because he was down to considering Channing Tatum for the lead.

SEVEN writer Andrew Kevin Walker will re-team with director David Fincher for Fincher's Disney sponsored 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. I think it's really weird that Fincher is helming this movie in the first place but okay.

I, FRANKENSTEIN continues to put together an impressive cast with Bill Nighy and Yvonne Strahovski joining in on the genre-blending fun.

Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow in HBO's GAME OF THRONES, will play one of the leads (most likely Arthur) in another telling of the classic tale, ARTHUR & LANCELOT. Good to see Harington getting some roles as I think the kid has some real chops.

Top 10 Films lists the top 10 characters from LORD OF THE RINGS. Totally agreed with the top 3 but I'd have Boromir higher personally.

Weekend Box Office Returns
Now, before we all get up in arms about the newest TWILIGHT breaking all sorts of records and becoming the highest grossing film of all-time or anything close it, let's take a second and remember: historically, these films experience TREMENDOUS drop-off from week 1 to week 2. Like, 65% drops or more. Everyone who wants to see the newest TWILIGHT film goes to see it opening week and then the rest of the take is made up by repeat viewings and old women who mistakenly stumble in the wrong theater. Just hold your horses.

1. BREAKING DAWN: PART 1 - $139.5 million
2. HAPPY FEET 2 - $22.03M
3. IMMORTALS - $12.25M ($52.98 million total)
4. JACK AND JILL - $12M ($41.03M)
5. PUSS IN BOOTS - $10.73M ($122.31M)
6. TOWER HEIST - $7M ($53.43M)
7. J. EDGAR - $5.9M ($20.69M)
9. IN TIME - $1.68M ($33.42M)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Blitz"

Detective Tom Brant (Jason Statham) isn’t exactly what you’d call a “by the book” cop. A no nonsense type of guy, Brant is an alcoholic whose consumption is only bested by his affection for violence and propensity for thrashing criminals who don’t have the good sense to cow down in his presence. While under investigation for assaulting a gang of petty thieves, Brant takes on a case involving a serial cop killer known as The Blitz (Aidan Gillen). He teams with Detective Nash (Paddy Considine), an outcast copper who isn’t quite as brazen about crossing the line but shares Brant’s willingness to use any means necessary to take down bad guys. Together, Brant and Nash must find a way to catch up to The Blitz and put an end to his killing spree.

Every time a new Jason Statham movie opens (usually three or four times a year), I find myself going through what I call “The Statham Cycle”:

Step 1: The trailer debuts and I tell myself, “Good gracious, that looks awful.”
Step 2: Said trailer rolls for approximately the 37th time and I catch myself smiling reluctantly and immediately chastise myself.
Step 3: I forget about the movie until it shows up on this week’s DVD Roundup in which I type, “There’s no way this is any good.”
Step 4: Each time I walk past the movie in my local video store or bypass it on Netflix Instant, my resolve weakens just a bit.
Step 5: With more than a little self-loathing, I rent the movie and watch it on a night when there’s nothing happening in the world of sports and I’m too tired to watch, you know, a good movie.
Step 6: I kind-of-sort-of enjoy myself while watching the movie.
Step 7: Overwhelmed by a sense of shame, I vow never to watch a Statham epic again and feel better about myself. And then the cycle repeats itself.

In these situations when my inner Neanderthal gets the best of me, I feel like I almost always write something to the effect of, “You could do a lot worse.” Blitz is no exception. A smaller film that was released straight to DVD on these shores, I came across it during one of my many trips to Family Video and after forcing myself to ignore it for weeks on end, it finally popped up on Netflix giving me an excuse to watch it without directly paying for it. And you know what? It’s not that bad. It is ripe with plot holes and an overly convoluted storyline that tries to cover way too much ground. And, of course, you don’t go to Statham for a Clooney-like performance. But beyond these facts, Blitz provides solid entertainment and allows Statham to do what he does best: beat the crap out of bad guys and say cool things that you know you shouldn’t think are cool but nevertheless cause you to smirk and nod in agreement. Seriously, how far away are we from an action movie in which Statham actually acknowledges the camera and talks directly to the audience? Tell me that wouldn’t sell some tickets. (If this has already happened and I somehow missed it, I’m going to need you to tell me about it NOW.) Considine is a quality compliment to Statham and sets him up with plenty of opportunities to show off his array of skills. He’s like the straight man to Statham’s over-the-top man child and their dynamic works well. The action sequences within Blitz are acceptable as well and overall, the film creates an easy if unoriginal environment that is hard to dislike. And after all, that’s about as good as it gets for The Statham Cycle.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Brave" Official Trailer

Big week for trailers, huh? For the first time ever, I think Pixar needs a hit after the absolute dud that was Cars 2. Well, doesn't look like we'll have to wait too long. Opening in June of next year, Brave tells the story of a Scottish princess who'd rather be out hunting bears than being courted. Basically, she's the animated Arya Stark. (Nerds unite!) Disney/Pixar put out a teaser trailer for Brave a few weeks back but today we get the first full trailer. Looks outstanding!

Review: "The Descendants"

I’m not entirely sure where George Clooney ends up if you ranked all living and active actors in the industry today but I know he’d be high up the list. I’m of the opinion that, from a performance standpoint, there is nothing the man cannot do. Comedy, drama, voice work, or sheer power, Clooney delivers no matter what his assignment might be. One thing we haven’t seen from him, however, is vulnerability. He’s had a few sobering moments to be sure, like the gut wrenching moment of truth in Up in the Air, but never a wholly open performance. I would guess that’s by design and that Clooney’s roles take a cue from his real life wherein he is usually extremely smooth and enviably cool while remaining private and somewhat mysterious. With The Descendants, however, Clooney shows off another side of his abilities and further establishes his dominating presence in the pantheon of great American actors.

Matt King (George Clooney) is by his own admission, “the back-up parent.” As the heir to a massive tract of Hawaiian land, he spends most of his time working on a huge deal that will make him and his cousins all filthy rich while simultaneously juggling the needs of his law firm. His life is put into perspective, however, when his wife is involved in a boating accident that results in a deep coma which doctors fear she will not come out of. When dealing with the antics of his youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), proves more than he is capable of handling, Matt brings his oldest daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), home from boarding school. Alexandra, though, has her own set of issues and soon informs Matt that his wife was cheating on him, leading to the conflict between mother and daughter. Frantic and torn between his ever-increasing responsibilities, Matt takes his daughters, along with Alexandra’s friend Sid (Nick Krause), on a short vacation that conveniently serves as an opportunity to track down and confront his wife’s lover.

Written and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), The Descendants serves as a master class in storytelling. The opening scene pulls you in and engrosses you in a supremely compelling narrative that refuses to let go until the closing credits roll. Matt’s relationships are often complicated and far from perfect but Payne paints a picture in which you are able to see the heart of the man beyond his flaws, which is for me a key to this film’s success. Nothing about The Descendants is especially easy or comfortable (as you can probably tell from the summary) but the story is crafted so well that you can’t help but play along through the many awkward situations Matt finds himself in. Moreover, Payne manages to find real and genuine humor within what should be tragic circumstances and his actors bring that to life tremendously. At the same time, the humor never becomes disrespectful or foolish but rather sensitive and mature. The drama-comedy blend is near seamless, making the truly funny moments laugh-out-loud worthy and the more serious scenes all the more impactful.

All of this brilliant behind-the-camera work would be for naught, however, without an outstanding cast which thankfully The Descendants has. As he always does, Clooney nails his part, bringing a sense of fragility to Matt while still exhibiting that calm and easy manner that makes him so appealing. Multiple times he takes Matt to the brink of breaking down then pulls himself back together in time to save face in front of his daughters. I’m not sure it is his absolute best portrayal (I think his work in Up in the Air is slightly better), but it is a powerhouse performance that will undoubtedly earn some major award nominations. This isn’t all about Clooney, however, which is what I expected. Each actor that comes on screen brings something to the table, leaving their own marks on the film as a whole. Krause and Miller are both better than I could have hoped given their respective lack of experience and Judy Greer gives a turn that I didn’t know she was capable of. Then there’s Woodley who goes toe-to-toe with Clooney on a number of occasions and more than holds her own. This is a girl who starred on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, one of the worst TV shows in recent memory and yet in this setting, she is outstanding. Alexandra is foul-mouthed and harsh but Woodley brings a sense of humanity to the part and makes you feel as if this is exactly how this character should be. The dynamic between Alexandra and Matt is exquisite, at times the driving force behind the film. There is a remarkable chemistry that exists between each member of the cast and I think that’s partly due to Clooney’s easy manner and partly due to Payne’s efforts to have his actors grow together long before the cameras rolled.

To top it all off, the gorgeousness of the Hawaiian backdrop along with a native-themed soundtrack helps set the tone for The Descendants and adds a “trouble in paradise” theme that only deepens the drama-comedy blend. In a sense, Hawaii itself is a supporting actor and just like the rest of the cast, it carries its weight with flair. While it isn’t perfect (there’s a certain lack of connection with the audience despite the film’s excellence), I walked out of The Descendants under the impression that I had just seen the eventual Best Picture winner and its award aspirations should not end there.

Grade: A

"Mirror Mirror" Official Trailer

For reasons unknown, 2012 will bring us two (drastically) different looks at the classic story of Snow White. Last week the first trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman debuted and displayed a darker tone that left me much more intrigued in the project than I had been previously. Today we get Mirror Mirror which brings about the exact opposite reaction: this looks HORRIBLE. I guess if done right it could be clever fun but...I mean...can you really get that from this trailer? I feel bad for everyone involved. The Huntsman is going to slaughter this mess. See for yourself.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Summarizing the NBA Lockout or "Why You Shouldn't Blame the Players"

NOTE: There are very few subjects in which I would consider myself an expert. Basketball (and the NBA in particular) is one of them. By “expert” I mean, of all the people you know in real life, I know more about basketball and the NBA than 99% of them. That’s not meant to be bragging but rather as an illustration of my general lack of a life. I love basketball and I love the NBA and I happen to have a brain built for stats, facts, and meaningless trivia. Hence, “expert.” Having assembled all of this (useless) knowledge, it really bothers me to see so many people blaming this whole mess on the players when in fact I’d say it’s at least 80% the fault of the owners. But it should be noted that while I am presenting several facts in this piece, my opinion as to what all of this means may differ from your own. I just want people to be informed before they start throwing around blame.

On Monday, the NBA Players Association voted to reject the owner’s latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, a move which will extend the already infuriating lockout and will likely cost us the entire season. In these situations (which have become far too frequent for anyone’s taste), the average fan almost always blames the players. It doesn’t matter where it’s baseball, basketball, football, or whatever else, if games are lost, everyone jumps on the players and accuses them of being greedy. In some cases, those accusers are right: the blame for the 1994 MLB strike should be placed firmly at the feet of the players who chose to prove a point rather than participate in America’s pastime. It took several years and a steroid-infused home run race to get many fans back on board. In many cases, however, the players are at the mercy of power hungry and selfish owners who happen to be much better at playing the public relations game than the players. This is one of those occasions.

First, at no time have the players asked for a single penny more than what they earned last year. (Bear in mind, we’re coming off a season in which the NBA had better ratings than had been experienced in years.) In fact, they’ve been quite willing to accept the need to cut their salaries. Without delving too far into the economics of the situation, the players currently receive 57% of all Basketball Related Income that makes its way into the NBA’s coffers in a given year. Ticket sales, merchandise, and (most importantly) TV money all add up to create the league’s BRI. The players came to the negotiating table and offered to cut that figure to 54%, then came down to 52.5%, and as of the final negotiation session, they’d dropped their requirement to 50%. The last proposal that the players made to Commissioner David Stern would have saved the owners (read: “billionaires”) three billion dollars over the course of the deal. Let that sink in for a minute: these “greedy” players came to the table willing to give up THREE BILLION DOLLARS.

To put that into perspective, imagine that you are a teacher who makes $45,000 a year. When Rick Perry screws your school district over (as he’s prone to doing), your superintendent comes to the teachers and demands all of you to take a 7% pay cut. That’s $3150 less than what you made the year before. How much of an impact would that make on your life? I know, it doesn’t seem fair to compare the wages of a group of millionaires to that of working class professionals but from a purely financial standpoint, this is what we’re talking about. (And hey, I make less than $45,000 a year and if I’m willing to accept this analogy, I would hope others would as well.)

Second, at no time have the owners offered anything of value in exchange for the $3 billion the players have offered to give up. Sure, Stern would have you believe that his constituents have significantly and graciously brought up the terms of their initial offer and indeed they have. However, keep in mind that their initial offer was ABSURD. Instead of the 57-43% BRI split that players currently have or the 50-50 split the two sides have come to currently, the owners started off with a proposal that would shift the BRI to 54-46 in favor of the owners. That’s an 11% shift in favor of the owners. In addition, the initial “hardline” proposal would have made player movement (i.e. trades, free agency, etc.) nearly impossible and cut the opportunity for raises to next to nothing. It was an offensive, inflammatory offer that did nothing but infuriate the players and gives Stern something to point to when he talked about, “how far the owners have come.” Stern has also been incredibly disparaging toward the players, engaging in a PR blitzkrieg that demeans the players in ways that would prompt fines and perhaps suspensions if the tables were turned. He’s been exceptionally threatening in his tone from the very beginning and treated the players as underlings which hasn’t helped this situation in the slightest.

To put this into perspective, imagine that you’re planning on buying a brand new car. You do your research on your vehicle of choice and determine that $33,000 is a fair price for said car and you might even be willing to go as high as $35,000. When you get to the lot, the sticker price on the car is for $38,000, a reasonable number that you believe is within a fair negotiating range. But when the dealer comes to chat you up, he quotes the price of the car at $100,000, which undoubtedly sends you back to your car, furious about the time you’ve just wasted. When that same dealer calls you the next week and offers you the car at $35,000, a figure you would have accepted in the beginning, are you going to accept that deal as if nothing happened? Or, like me, would the principal of the matter infuriate you so that you’d curse the dealer for a conman and refuse to have any further dealings with him?

That’s how the “negotiations” have gone to this point. The owners started with an extremely low-ball offer that everyone knew would NEVER get passed, and then played it off as if they were giving up significant ground in these negotiations. Now that the players have walked away from the table, Stern has accused the players of failing to negotiate in good faith which is, in fact, EXACTLY what the owners have been doing this whole time. The current deal, which the players turned down today, was not rejected over money but over the NBA’s demands regarding player movement. The owners who spend more money (read: “winners”) would be extremely limited in their ability to acquire new talent either in free agency or through trades, making it very difficult (if not impossible) to build a dynasty (Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, etc.) and forcing many players to stay in bad situations with teams that have no chance of winning (often times a product of crappy ownership).

Let’s go back to the teacher analogy. Again, you make $45,000 a year and your superintendent demands that you take a 7% pay cut. But then he comes back in and declares that not only must you accept the financial hit, you’ll also not be allowed to go out and look for a new job with a district that is willing to pay more or at the very least, provides a quality work environment. To top it all off, the superintendent then threatens you and your coworkers with a MASSIVE and slanderous press campaign that will paint you all in a negative light and kill your chances of finding work elsewhere. That’s what the owners are forcing upon the players right now. “Sign this deal that will seriously cut into your pay, prevent you from seeking out a better job, and make us BILLIONS in the process or else we’ll stop your pay altogether and make you look like greedy thugs in the press.”

Third, this entire lockout is based on the fact that several owners have lost money over the last few years. Forget, for a moment, that these are supposed to be some of the brightest business men the world has to offer. The bigger issues with this sentiment are as follows:

1.)    The NBA has refused to turn over all of its books to the players while standing behind the statement that “many” teams are losing money. If this is so cut and dry, why not show the books?
2.)    As Deadspin so expertly pointed out, it is EXTREMELY easy to make a team’s finances show a loss when in fact, the owner of said team is making bank through team-related revenue that doesn’t get accounted for in the bottom line.
3.)    Stern would like all of us to ignore the fact that the NBA’s current TV deal will expire in four years. When that happens, they will undoubtedly sign a new contract that will bring in billions of dollars to these teams that are currently “losing money.” Do you think the owners will be willing to renegotiate the CBA when that money comes in? No chance.
4.)    While on the surface this lockout pits players against owners, the reality is that many of the problems are actually owner-vs.-owner. The big market teams are making more money while the smaller market teams are falling behind. Instead of a negotiating a proper revenue split between themselves, Stern has used the lockout as a convenient fix for a problem that really has nothing to do with the players.
5.)    Most importantly, owning a sports franchise isn’t inherently SUPPOSED to be profitable. As Malcolm Gladwell said, sports franchises should be treated as art collecting: a hobby and a long term investment that may or may not pan out, not as a typical business. The best NBA owners (Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, etc.) don’t concern themselves with the day-to-day and year-to-year bottom and line and yet their teams succeed and generally pull in a ton of revenue.

And that brings us to the biggest issue within this entire, jacked up situation and one that David Stern doesn’t want you to think about: many of the owners he’s brought on over the last decade have no business owning an NBA franchise. Of the 30 teams in the league, at least ten (Charlotte, Phoenix, Los Angeles (Clippers), Sacramento, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Toronto) are owned by men who have very little in the way of liquid assets and even less knowledge of how to run a sports team. These owners, plus a few whose teams reside in smaller markets (San Antonio, Portland), represent the group that has pushed for an excessively hard stance towards the players in negotiations and some of whom are on record as saying they’d be happy to miss games because it would save them money.

There is a sentiment among some writers that Stern is at the mercy of his constituents who forced his hand into demanding a deal that the players would never accept. Consider, however, that these owners, many of whom bought their franchise recently, came in at the behest of Stern himself. Robert Sarver (Phoenix), the Maloof Brothers (Sacramento), and their ilk should never have been allowed to purchase franchises in the first place. Whereas the NFL and Major League Baseball are exclusive (almost to a flaw in baseball) in whom they allow into their fraternity of owners, the NBA has basically accepted whoever could come up with the most money on paper, regardless of interest in the game or ability to, you know, actually spend any of that money. This is a STAGGERING misstep that is privately biting Stern in the butt at this moment but one that he’s done a good job of covering over with the average fan. If you’re a fan of the Suns, you should be furious that your franchise was sold to a man who has no money to spend and who cost your team several chances at a championship because he was too cheap to put forth the cash it takes to build a true championship contender. Instead, Stern would have you blame Amare Stoudemire for leaving Phoenix for the greener pastures of the New York Knicks, whose owner has actual money in the bank. Add in the fact that Stern, overly concerned with his global legacy, has over-extended the league as a whole, resulting in a 30 team league that really can only support 26 to 28 teams. If New Orleans, Charlotte, Sacramento, and Memphis were never given franchises, the league would be MUCH healthier.  

Stern’s failure to properly control his owners seems even more egregious when you consider all of the crap Donald Sterling has been able to get away with while maintaining his ownership of the LA Clippers. What should be a premier NBA franchise has instead become an absolute wasteland because Sterling has figured out that, at least in LA, he can make big money without striving to put a winner on the floor. (It’s the same formula that Tom Hicks discovered with the Texas Rangers.) More important is Sterling’s reputation as a human which is somehow even worse than his reputation as an owner (widely regarded as the worst in all of sports). Sterling is a proven racist who refuses to rent his properties to African Americans, who has been sued by at least two former employees in the last year, and who refused to pay the insurance premiums for a long-time coach who contracted cancer, prompting players to take up a collection for the man. Add in the fact that Sterling has been known to heckle his own players from the stands (you can’t make this stuff up) and it’s a marvel that ANY free agent has EVER had the stupidity to sign with the Clippers. And yet, Sterling’s ownership has never been challenged by Stern. Is there any business in America that would allow this sort of moral reprehensibility in one of its key members with no ramifications whatsoever? Kind of makes the rants of Mark Cuban seem pretty harmless, doesn’t it?

Now, there is a portion of the fault for this situation that should be attributed to the players, but most of it has to do with the complete lack of leadership the NBAPA has demonstrated. From the beginning, it has seemed as if chief negotiator Billy Hunter hasn’t had a clear path to follow and the union’s president, Derek Fisher, is unquestionably in over his head. Today’s move to decertify the union should have been made in July when the NBA first imposed the lockout. Had it been done then, the NBAPA would have some had some leverage in their negotiations early on when it mattered. At this point, we’ll be lucky if the courts rule on whether or not the decertification will be allowed before February, meaning there is almost no chance of a season taking place. If Hunter makes this move in the summer (which many players were in favor of), we’re probably done with this whole thing by now. This is a tremendous mistake that should (and probably will) result in Hunter losing his job.

Likewise, Fisher, by all accounts a nice guy who’s carved out a solid career, didn’t have the requisite credibility to make firm decisions for the players and neither did he have the respect of Stern and the owners. This is a major issue within the NBAPA and it doesn’t just stop at Fisher. The NBAPA Executive Committee includes guys like James Jones, Roger Mason, Jr., and Keyon Dooling. If you’ve never heard any of those names, you’re not in the minority. Leadership with the NBAPA used to be a desirable post but as AdrianWojnarowski reported, recently it’s become almost a form of punishment for young players and journeyman veterans. What this group really needed was a killer in the room, a guy who Stern wouldn’t be so quick to cross and demean. Essentially, they needed Kobe Bryant. (Bryant is the Lakers' team representative but is not on the executive committee.) If Bryant is the NBAPA’s president, I think we’re potentially looking at a much different outcome. In addition, there's more than a little speculation out there that if the decision of whether or not to accept this deal was put to a vote of all players rather than only the 30 representatives, they might have accepted. But Fisher, Hunter, and the rest of the committee have struggled from the get go in terms of understanding the desires of their constituents. That lack of leadership is on the players.

At the end of the day, simply put, this whole thing sucks. Coming off of a banner year, the owner’s lockout combined with the player’s incredible lack of leadership and negotiating skill have combined to do what could be irreparable harm to the league’s brand and left a billion fans worldwide with nothing to look forward to. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that this lockout went into effect July 1st and yet almost no serious negotiations were conducted until October. This shortsightedness should result in the loss of jobs for both Stern and Hunter and definitely WILL damage Stern’s enduring legacy. A league that never missed a game due to lockout or strike before 1998 is now likely to lose the entire season, making Stern responsible for the loss of 112 games during his run as commissioner. But before you start blaming the players for their greed, consider applying that same sentiment to the billionaire owners who would rather lose games and fire employees than pay their players (you know, the people we go to games in order to see) their cut of the profits.

DVD Roundup - 11/15

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane
Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is caught in the middle of a race to find the Fountain of Youth between Britain and Spain. But when it comes to choosing between his own life and that of others, which side of his personality will win out? On Stranger Tides became available for download a couple of weeks ago so read the full recap here. 

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

Larry Crowne (2011) - Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Roxana Ortega
When he is fired from his longtime job at a discount superstore because of a lack of education, Larry (Hanks) enrolls in classes at community college where he learns a lot about life, love, and most of all, himself. There's a stretch of approximately eight minutes somewhere within the third act of Larry Crowne that is somewhat good. The rest of the 90 minute runtime is an atrocity, making this one of the more obnoxious and poorly made films of the year. I did not think it was possible to make Tom Hanks unappealing but Larry Crowne does its best.

IHVR: Please do not see this movie. I'm begging you.

Beginners (2011) - Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent
An aging father (Plummer) shocks his son (McGregor) by telling him that he has terminal cancer and simultaneously revealing his homosexuality. Most reviews for Beginners were overwhelmingly positive and in a down year for award-caliber films, I think you can count this as a dark horse for some award show attention.

IHVR: High scores on Rotten Tomatoes and what looks to be an outstanding performance by Plummer could make this a viable viewing.

Bellflower (2011) - Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman
Two friends (Glodell and Dawson) have their plans of preparing for the coming apocalypse (by developing WMDs) thrown off by the introduction of a woman (Wiseman) into their lives. As with most concept films, the idea probably sounds more interesting than the movie actually is but reviews have been good and many have pegged Glodell as a director to watch in the future.

IHVR: I'm hoping Bellflower makes its way to Netflix Instant before too long.

Griff the Invisible (2010) - Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody, Marshall Napier
A wannabe superhero (Kwanten) finds his life changed when he meets a scientist (Dermody) who aids him in his noble quest. Very few people saw this film (and probably for good reason) but I'd say there's a slight chance Griff has some quirky goodness to it.

IHVR: Netflix, Netflix, Netflix.

New to Blu Pick of the Week
Tom Cruise Blu-Ray Collection - Collateral, Days of Thunder, Minority Report, Top Gun, War of the Worlds
Okay, so most of these movies are already available on Blu Ray but come on, that's a solid collection of blockbuster awesomeness, right? Unlike many of you, I haven't soured on ol' Tom Cruise. Sure, the guy's a nutbag but his movies are smashing fun and really that's all I'm looking for in a movie star. I've never seen all of Days of Thunder and War of the Worlds is somewhat disappointing but the rest of this collection is great. Collateral gets better with every viewing, Minority Report is the rare piece of sci-fi that actually feels significant, and Top Gun is...well...Top Gun, the ultimate popcorn flick.

Also New
West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition (1961) - Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris (Blu-Ray)
I haven't seen West Side Story for two reason: 1.) I dislike musicals and 2.) I feel like I have seen it since it gets parodied and referenced all the time. But hey, you can't go wrong with a film that won ten Oscars, right?

My Fair Lady (1964) - Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison (Blu-Ray)
Evil Dead 2 (1987) - Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks (Blu-Ray)
Farscape: The Complete Series (1999-2003) - Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe (Blu-Ray)
The Prophecy (1995) - Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Viggo Mortensen (Blu-Ray)
Lion King (1994) - Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones (DVD Edition)
Being Human: Season 1 (2011) - Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath, Sam Huntington
Main Street (2011) - Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson
Turtle: The Incredible Journey (2009) - Miranda Richardson

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie News Today

David Yates, leader of the last four Harry Potter films, will direct a Doctor Who film adaptation. Sounds good to me.

Barry Pepper, one of my favorite actors and (obviously) captain of the "Barry Pepper All-Stars", has added two films to his schedule: Broken City with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe and Snitch which features The Rock. One of these movies will be good.

io9 brings us a rundown of several upcoming found footage films and I have to admit, as much as I've tired of this genre, some of these look pretty good.

NBC announced its spring season today and (possibly) shockingly, the outstanding comedy Community is not on it, while Whitney has received a full season pickup. Two thoughts. 1.) This doesn't necessarily mean the show is cancelled. It'll be held onto as a replacement for whichever terrible new show NBC forces down our throats bombs first. (My money is on Are You There, Chelsea.) I expect it'll come back for at least a few episodes. 2.) Everyone has been quick to blame NBC and while I think the network could have worked harder to boost the show's ratings, the blame falls to America. The ratings for Community have been bad to quite bad throughout its entire run; no one watches the show. Unfortunately, people do watch Whitney. I can't figure out why because I've never been able to make it further than 90 seconds into an episode of that show but somehow it draws decent enough ratings. So if you're a Community fan, don't put all the blame on NBC; blame the idiots you know who help pieces of crap like Whitney and Two and a Half Men on the air.

The Hunger Games trailer broke today and I introduced it here so be sure to check it out. But we've also been introduced to Being Flynn which looks...good? Surprisingly good? Cautiously surprisingly good? If nothing else, it's a step in the right direction for Robert De Niro whom I desperately wish to be relevant again. Check it out.

"The Hunger Games" Official Trailer

When the doldrums of 2011 are finally over, 2012 hopes to bring us a host of promising and exciting movies that are sure to break the bank. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and the first chapter of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit will all find us in the next calendar year and I personally can't wait for them. But beyond those films (and the final Twilight movie), there's a good chance nothing else will out gross The Hunger Games which opens in March. We were treated to a teaser trailer a few months back but today the first full trailer for this film debuted. Have a look for yourself at the potential blockbuster, smash hit that is The Hunger Games.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Home Viewings - "Scream 4"

Ten years since her last deadly encounter, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns home to Woodsboro to do a signing for her bestselling book. Having worked hard to put herself back together after the three (count 'em, three) runs of serial killing that ruined her teenage years, Sidney is happy to reunite with her old friends Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox). Unfortunately, another old friend, Ghost Face, is back in town, too, and soon Sidney is forced to jump back into the old habit of, you know, trying not to die and all.

The original Scream made my top 10 list of best/favorite scary movies. I wouldn't say it's a classic but it caused me more than a few sleepless nights as a teenager and it gets credit for shifting the genre. I've never seen Scream 2Scream 3 is one of those films that I know is pretty bad but for some reason I've seen numerous times. I even watched part of it fairly recently and if I'm being honest, I didn't hate my life while watching. Given my disdain for horror films, all of this makes Scream a franchise that I'd be willing to call a "quality" series and there aren't many of those in my book. As such, while I wasn't excited about seeing Scre4m (that's actually the title, not Scream 4) and while I'm never stoked for a sequel that debuts ten years after the last installment, I thought this could very well be a positive endeavor.

I was wrong.

I was really wrong.

I assume you're all familiar with the phrase, "like shooting fish in a barrel." (I also assume that it is, indeed, easy to shoot fish in a barrel because I've clearly never tried it and surely someone knows better than me.) To pinpoint all of the negatives in Scream 4 would be like shooting fish in a barrel...if the gun was a machine gun...and if the fish were the size of sea lions...and if those sea lion-sized fish were retarded. It just wouldn't be fair and frankly, I've got better things to do. Like maybe getting punched in the stomach or something.

Instead, let me simply say this: to date, I have seen 59 movies that were released in the calendar year 2011. It hasn't been a great movie year and I've seen some pretty sub-par stuff. I would re-watch any one of them before I would put myself through Scream 4 again. Priest? Sure. Larry Crowne? No problem. Green Lantern? *Gulp* Done. I will not go so far as to call this movie the worst of the year because I pride myself on my ability to avoid awful films and that title undoubtedly belongs to Bucky Larson. But it's definitely the worst movie I've seen this year. Scream 4 is sickeningly campy, ripe with atrocious dialogue, and laden with more groan-inducing "plot" points than I care to remember. There's also an air of desperation that works its way into every facet of the film which drowns out any cheese-tastic fun there might be had. Arquette in particular seemed to me to be pleading with the audience, " about me again." (We never did, David. We never did.) Everything that made Scream a trendsetter has become so terribly old, ESPECIALLY the confounded self-awareness that seemed edgy in the original but has been done a thousand times over in the last 15 years. There's not a single positive thing I can say about this movie and I'm amazed at the number of relatively positive reviews this piece of junk received. Vomit.

Grade: D

Movie News Today

Sasha Baron Cohen has joined the already amazing cast of Tarantino's Django Unchained which could be a very interesting turn for him.

Speaking of interesting turns, Colin Firth has been approached to play the villain in Spike Lee's Oldboy remake. Hmm...

With Eddie Murphy (foolishly) pulling out as host of the Oscars, Billy Crystal has been brought on as a replacement. Terrible choice by Murphy, good save by the Academy. It'll be good to see Crystal back on stage again and Cinema Blend brings us the top moments from his other Oscar appearances.

Steve Carell will star in Lunatics which is based on a Dave Barry novel. Surely it'll be better than Big Trouble, the last movie based on a Dave Barry book.

The first trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman (which, for the uninitiated, is one of two Snow White films on tap next year) is in and it looks much different (and better) than I had imagined.

Weekend Box Office Returns
There was a LOT of money spent at the box office this weekend, especially considering the relatively weak slate of films. Could be an indicator of a big holiday season at the movies.

1. Immortals - $32 million
2. Jack and Jill - $26M
3. Puss in Boots - $25.5M ($108.81 million total)
4. Tower Heist - $13.2M ($43.9M)
5. J. Edgar - $11.47M
6. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas - $5.9M ($23.22M)
7. In Time - $4.15M ($30.67M)
8. Paranormal Activity 3 - $3.63M ($100.82M)
9. Footloose - $2.73M ($48.88M)
10. Real Steel - $2M ($81.75M)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weekend Movie Guide

"Immortals" - Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt
A mortal man (Cavill) is tasked by the gods with stopping a powerful warrior (Rourke) and saving the world. A cross between 300 and Clash of the Titans, Immortals has received a massive advertising campaign with the trailer running for the better part of a year and the title plastered across anything and everything that would accept the studio's money. There are a number of people whose opinions I respect that are excited about Immortals looks horrible to me as it comes across as total style over substance. I'm slightly intrigued on the basis of wanting to see Cavill, whom I know very little about, in a major role before the new Superman film opens in 2013 but that's really about it.

Value: $4 It looks like this film will be visually compelling but I think it's going to struggle to find an audience, at least in the US, and the early reviews have been disparaging.

"J. Edgar" - Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts
A controversial biographical look at FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio). You cannot ask for a better pedigree than the one enjoyed by J. Edgar and yet I've smelled a rat, so to speak, from the beginning. There is just something off in the trailer and while I can't quite put my finger on it, it left me feeling like this film wouldn't measure up to its potential. More than anything, I think J. Edgar wreaks of dissatisfaction and I can't really sum it up any other way. DiCaprio is ALWAYS great, of course, but most reviews I've seen pinpoint his performance as the one real bright spot. I think I'll pass.

Value: $4 Given a rough Rotten Tomatoes score (40%), I think we can safely say this is the first real bust of Awards Season.

"Jack and Jill" - Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes
When his annoying sister (Sandler) comes for an extended visit, a commercial director (also Sandler) seizes the opportunity to get a celebrity (Pacino) to work with him. Here's what I don't get about Sandler: he's still funny. When I see him on talk shows or in various other interviews, he still makes me laugh. Then he routinely turns out crap like this and I'm left to wonder if it's not some sort of sick joke he's playing on all of us. At the end of the year, I can guarantee you that he'll have had a hand in at least two of the five worst reviewed movies of the year (this one and Bucky Larson) and both Zookeeper and Just Go With It have an outside shot at the top ten. That's a ROUGH year. And yet, he'll make serious money off of all of them (except Bucky Larson) and despite the pile of rubbish he's been a part of over the last few years, Rotten Tomatoes reports that 75% of voters are still want to see this movie. There has to be some sort of voodoo at work here, no?

Value: $0 If you are over the age of 13 and you want to see this movie, I'm going to kindly ask that you stop reading the content of this site. It's not for you.

"Melancholia" - Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbrough (Limited)
As another planet threatens to crash into our own, two sisters (Dunst, Gainsbrough) struggle to maintain civility during one's wedding. I'm torn on this one. I dislike the films of Lars von Trier and I think find him personally to be an artsy version of Brett Ratner. But Meloncholia is getting extremely strong reviews, this cast is incredible, and I'm digging the sci-fi-mixed-with-drama trend that's making its way through the indie circuit right now. Plus, there are so very few meaningful female performances these days and by all accounts Dunst gives one here.

Value: $7 Can't get behind it wholeheartedly but I'm hopeful. Also, if you have HDNet, I believe Melancholia will be available to you this weekend. 

"London Boulevard" - Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone (Limited)
An ex-con (Farrell) finds that his relationship with an actress (Knightley) has caused more trouble than he'd bargained for. With an excellent cast and a potential-laden new director (William Monahan who wrote The Departed), I thought London Boulevard might be worth a shot. Alas, most reviews have been quite harsh and this looks like another failed attempt to follow in the footsteps of Guy Ritchie.

Value: $1 Maybe on Netflix but nothing else. 

"Into the Abyss" (Limited)
Director Werner Herzog delivers a powerful documentary made up of interviews with Texas death row inmate Michael Perry and a look at the death penalty itself. Regardless of your position on this issue, Into the Abyss promises to give an honest look at our system and opens up a very serious discussion. Plus, Herzog knows how to make a documentary (see: Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams).

Value: $8 Definitely worth a look again, no matter what your stance might be.

"11-11-11" - Timothy Gibbs, Michael Landes, Brendan Price
From the guy who brought you three of the Saw films, comes the obligatory horror film related to the unique numbering on the calendar. I'm just not even going to bother summing this one up because let's be honest: if you're going to see 11-11-11, you're going to see it regardless of what I say here and if you're not, nothing I say here will convince you to check it out. It is what it is.

Value: $2 I'm just guessing here as I have no idea if 11-11-11 has any chance of being worthwhile. I supposed a hundred million horror movie fans can't be wrong about the genre as a whole but I'll pass.

In Home Viewings: "Arthur"

Arthur (Russell Brand) is your typical man-child. A twenty (or thirty) something, he acts more like an eight year old and everyone treats him accordingly. The only difference between Arthur and the typical Will Ferrell character is that Arthur is filthy rich, the heir to a business conglomerate and the fortune that comes with it. He lives in a New York high rise with his chauffeur/friend, Bitterman (Luis Gonzalez) and his nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren), and spends his days terrorizing the police in his Batmobile and buying ridiculous things at auction (like the suit Abraham Lincoln died in, which he then wears). His carefree life is put to the test, however, when his mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James) decides she's had it with his embarrassments. She offers Arthur a choice: marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), an ambitious woman who Arthur hates or lose his claim to the family money. Complicating his decision is Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a lower class free spirit that Arthur has become infatuated with. With limited time available, Arthur must grow up quickly and figure out what it is that truly makes him happy.

Arthur had three strikes against it going in:

1. The trailer is horrendous, the type of "advertisement" that sandbags its intended beneficiary before viewers even step into a theater. It's almost as if the studio purposefully picked out the most annoying parts of the movie to include in the trailer. Ouch.

2. I'm not a fan of Brand and I've never understood his charm. To be fair, Get Him to the Greek (and his performance in particular) grows on me every time I happen to catch a part of it on HBO but everything else he's ever done has left me unimpressed.

3. I, like almost everyone else in the world who does not work in Hollywood, am against unnecessary remakes. No one wanted a new Arthur. NO ONE.

But for all the negatives coming in, I confess I quite enjoyed my time with Arthur. The entire movie is one absurdity after another, to be sure, but I had fun regardless. Arthur operates within a vacuum in which it creates its own environment and sets its own rules(a New York in which everyone treats Arthur the way a small town would treat a pre-teen in the 1950s) almost like you'd see in a fantasy or sci-fi film. More importantly, the film holds to that environment and those rules and this sort of total escapism serves it well. From a comedy standpoint, too, you could do a lot worse than Arthur. It's all very juvenile, of course, but when you're in the right mood and the jokes are plentiful, sometimes easy jokes are the best kind. Arthur is filled to the brim with those and I laughed more than I would have ever dreamed coming in.

As far as the performances go, I suppose you couldn't really call what Brand does "acting" since he is basically portraying a cartoon-like version of himself. But what he manages to do with Arthur as opposed to some of his other characters is to make him extremely likeable and sympathetic, much more so than I would have thought possible given that he is a selfish, wealthy, immature man-child. I did not expect to root for Arthur but I did, in large part due to the healthy amount of heart that Brand infuses him with. Arthur is a good person who just doesn't really know how to be a good person and while his redemption isn't the same as what you might get from a drunk (like the original Arthur), it is nonetheless appreciated. Mirren, too, is solid. Now, I have no idea why in the name of The Queen she took this role but since she does bring an element of respectability to Arthur that the film definitely benefits from. She and Brand develop a fun relationship throughout the course of the film and she serves as a quality straight man to Brand's ridiculousness. Their underplayed dynamic is what makes Arthur work and what keeps it from becoming the disaster that I anticipated at the outset.

Grade: B