Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Killer Elite"

After his last job goes badly, Danny (Jason Statham), a world renowned hitman, leaves the game and moves into isolation in Australia. His mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), keeps taking jobs and before long he gets himself into trouble with a Middle Eastern sheik. In order to win Hunter's freedom, Danny must take on that inevitable "one last job", a contract that will require him to kill three former SAS agents who were connected to the deaths of the sheik's sons during a military operation. Danny assembles a team and sets out to fulfill the contract, an easy any task for a man of his skills. He draws the attention, however, of Spike (Clive Owen), another former SAS agent and a member of a secret society known as The Feathermen, who takes it upon himself to prevent the hits from taking place and to bring Danny in for interrogation.

I didn't expect much from Killer Elite, a sentiment I attempt to take in with me whenever watching a Jason Statham movie. I assumed the plot would be thin and the dialogue would be to the level of a third grader and I was willing to accept that as long as the movie delivered quality action sequences and a general good time. In essence, I did my part by bringing a low standard and a good attitude to the table. Unfortunately, Killer Elite failed to carry its share of the load. This movie is so bad that I almost didn't write a review because I'd already wasted two hours of my life by watching it and didn't want to give up another hour or so to writing about it. I'm sad that I didn't see it earlier so that I could include it in my "Worst Movies of the Year" list because it DEFINITELY should own a place in the bottom five. Simply put, there is absolutely nothing to like about this film. Nothing.

Killer Elite manages to squeeze every action movie cliche you can think of into its plot. You've got the "one last job" element at play. You've got the mentor-mentee-bad-guy relationship thing happening. You've got the villain who's really not a bad guy and he shows it by shooting people in the knees (crippling them for life) instead of killing them. And the list goes on. It's embarrassing how unoriginal and completely uninspired Killer Elite really is. With a cast as talented as this one is, the least director Gary McKendry and writer Matt Sherring could do would be to create a plot and an atmosphere in which the actors could thrive. Clearly no one in the cast cared about making this movie. I've sadly come to expect that from De Niro in these settings (that's one of the most depressing statements I've ever made in this space) but even Statham seems completely disinterested, like a man who knows he's working on a doomed project. This is a guy who goes all out in Crank, a wretched film that only made it to theaters because Statham rocks it so hard; how bad does the on-set vibe have to be for that guy to not care?

None of this would make Killer Elite a "Worst Movie of the Year" candidate (probably) without the following issues:

1.) The plot is so overly complex that it's next to impossible to follow from a logical standpoint. By that I don't mean that it's "smart" or "over my head." I mean that it's a jumbled, convoluted mess that was structured poorly in the first place and probably edited poorly in re-writes. This is a bad, extremely thin plot that doesn't make a bloody bit of sense and in order to cover those holes, the writer(s) adds in a whole bunch of junk to make it look more complex than it really is. There are approximately 100,000 worthless plot twists and turns in this movie and I'm probably under valuing that number.

2.) More egregious in my book, pretty much every character in this film makes idiotic decision after idiotic decision and these decisions are the only way that the plot can keep moving. This is perhaps my least favorite movie trick ever; it's the main reason I hate horror movies. If your plot depends on your characters making decisions that no human with the IQ of a three-toed sloth would make, then it's a bad plot and you should stop making your movie. In Killer Elite, every character operates under the three-toed sloth line. Keep in mind, these are all highly trained, intelligent covert agents who have only lived as long as they have because they were, presumably, good at making decisions and keeping themselves alive. But that doesn't stop them from running off into the path of a large truck or not searching a known enemy for weapons. I'm pretty sure even my wife knows that if your adversary is strangling your colleague and they're close enough to touch noses, you probably shouldn't shoot said adversary in the back of the head with a high-caliber pistol because, gosh wouldn't you know it, the bullet is likely to go through and kill your friend, too. Unfortunately for one of the characters in this movie, another highly-trained, super-awesome special agent did not know this scientific fact.

Basically what I'm saying, dear reader(s), is that you absolutely should not see Killer Elite. I know it looks like it could be fun, I know it looks like the perfect, "It's Midnight and I've Already Watched Sportscenter and this Just Came on HBO" movie. But trust me, it isn't. Save yourself and stay away.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be

John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) will direct The Partner based on a John Grisham novel. Hancock is responsible for one of my favorite films, The Alamo, which no one else in the world cares for. And while the majority of films based on Grisham novels haven't been so great, The Partner is an excellent read with a little more to it than the author's typical product. I'm excited.

With The Grey opening this weekend, Cinema Blend gives us six great man vs. animal movie moments. Well done!

Details are slipping out about two (loosely?) Biblically-based films: Darren Arnofsky's Noah and Steven Spielberg's Gods and Kings (about Moses). Intrigued.

I discovered a new blog this week called In the Frame Film Reviews. Really like this guy's work especially his 100 Movies to See Before You Die post. Check it out.

And finally, here's absolute official word from Dean Lorey's website: the new season of Arrested Development is a go. I. Cannot. Wait.

Weekend Box Office Results
Much to my chagrin, I didn’t make it to the theater this weekend. I definitely wanted to as the idea of Liam Neeson destroying nature had me quite excited.  Alas, I was too busy with, you know, real life. Anyway, glad to see audiences embrace The Grey this weekend though the upcoming weekend will be the real test for this movie: with all the (possibly unexpected) positive reviews, The Grey could be looking at a long theatrical run, much like Taken enjoyed a few years ago. And here’s hoping One for the Money fades away as quickly as Katherine Heigl’s star appeal.

1. The Grey - $20M
2. Underworld: Awakening - $12.5M ($45.12M)
3. One for the Money - $11.75M
4. Red Tails - $10.4M ($33.78M)
5. Man on Ledge - $8.3M
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - $7.14M ($21.1M)
7. The Descendants - $6.55M ($58.84M)
8. Contraband - $6.5M ($56.4M)
9. Beauty and the Beast 3D - $5.35M ($41.14M)
10. Haywire - $4M ($15.27M)

New to DVD
What I’ve Seen and You Should, Too
Drive (2011) - Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks
New in Town (2012) - John Mulaney
This is my last chance to extoll the greatness of this film since the Academy, in all their infinite wisdom, decided to leave it out of Oscar consideration altogether. So allow me one last time to tell you that this is the best movie of 2011 and a film that is about one step away from “masterpiece” status. It’s not for everyone but if you can handle the hyper-violence, this is a must-see. New in Town is a stand-up comedy set by John Mulaney that debuted on Comedy Central this weekend. Mulaney is the head writer for Saturday Night Live and he’s one of the funniest dudes in the business. Check it out.

What I Know I Shouldn’t Watch But I’m Probably Going to Anyway
In Time (2011) - Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy
My colleague Matt Kraus pegged this as the worst film of 2011. I’ve seen other similar reviews and it currently has a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I know all of this and I expect to agree with the aforementioned assessments. But I also know myself and I know that I can’t resist a high-concept sci-fi flick like this one. So expect a scathing review in the near future.

Also New
The Thing (2011) - Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Texas Killing Fields (2011) - Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace Moretz
The Big Year (2011) - Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Jack Black
Dream House (2011) - Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts

New to Blu
To Kill a Mockingbird  50th Anniversary Edition (1962) - Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton (One of my favorite books ever and a cinematic classic.)
Shakespeare in Love (1998) - Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush (One of my least favorite movies and possibly the worst movie to ever win Best Picture. I’m not bitter or anything.)
Cold Mountain (2003) - Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger
The English Patient (1996) - Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas
Adaptation (2002) - Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
The Piano (1993) - Holly Hunter, Sam Neill, Harvey Keitel
Malcolm X (1992) - Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett
Frida (2002) - Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush
The Scout (1994) - Brendan Fraser, Albert Brooks, Dianne Wiest
Monkeybone (2001) - Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda
A Soldier’s Story (1984) - Howard E. Rollins, Adolph Caesar, Denzel Washington
Grand Canyon (1991) - Steve Martin, Danny Glover, Kevin Kline
Nothing in Common (1986) - Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason

Coming to a Theater Near You
Well, I was way off on my RT score predictions last week. Who knew The Grey would do so well (79% fresh) and both Man on Ledge (23% rotten) and One for the Money (3%) would tank so hard? I mean, I knew OFTM would be atrocious but 3%?! Wow. Hoping I can redeem myself this week.

Chronicle - Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Dane DeHaan
I’ve been cautiously optimistic about this found footage movie about three teenagers who are imbued with special powers after discovering an alien object. I’ve seen no reviews as of yet but the Twitter buzz has been far better than expected. Here’s hopin’! Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 70%

The Woman in Black - Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciaran Hinds
My dislike of horror movies is well established at this point. But this one looks intriguing. I think it’s a smart play for Radcliffe to jump into something different from Harry Potter but not entirely uncomfortable. Could be worth a look at some point. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 67%

The Innkeepers - Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Speaking of horror movies… This one has gotten really good reviews to this point but looks less interesting to me personally. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 70%

Big Miracle - John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Tim Blake Nelson
The obvious comparison for Big Miracle is Dolphin Tale which was well-received and scored an 83% fresh rating. But will Big Miracle be of the same quality and do critics (and moviegoers alike) have enough room for such a similar movie so soon? My guess is no to the first question, yes to the second. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 52%

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Home Viewings - "Pearl Jam 20"

When the grunge rock movement began in Seattle in the early ‘90s, filmmaker Cameron Crowe was living in the area and spent a good deal of time covering the music scene. At the forefront of the movement, which spread like wildfire across the globe, there were two bands: Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Yes, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and a number of other bands made significant marks but it was the aforementioned duo that made grunge the all-encompassing phenomenon that it was. If you’ve ever seen a Crowe film, you know he has a connection with Pearl Jam; I’m pretty sure at least one PJ song can be found in each of his films, including We Bought a Zoo, an addition that made no sense but was nonetheless awesome. Pearl Jam 20 serves as Crowe’s ode to his favorite band as he traces their origins back to the pre-Eddie Vedder days and follows them up through their most recent album, interspersing concert footage with intimate interviews and some home videos to create a portrait of what could be America’s last great rock band.

Much like Crowe himself, I am borderline obsessed with the grunge era. I think Nirvana saved music and you can’t convince me otherwise. Pearl Jam is probably my favorite band going right now and so for me, PJ20 was an outstanding way to spend two hours. This isn’t exactly the in-depth, investigative sort of documentary that many critics were hoping for. Rather, it’s almost a love letter to the band and the music of the era from a fan to the fans. And personally, I’m okay with that. It was thrilling to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the band and the history of how they came together. I’ve read some of this information before but it’s different to actually watch the band talk about themselves and about their music. The grunge era is such a fascinating, exciting subject and Crowe’s ability to weave together the various elements he uses to tell Pearl Jam’s story is incredible.

The early days of the band are of particular interest as Crowe examines the way in which the members of the group came together and the work that led to their breakout album, Ten. Through the various interviews and video clips, you are able to get a real feel for the brotherhood not just among the members of Pearl Jam but also among all members of the Seattle music scene, regardless of band affiliation. In one clip, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) stated that his musician friends from New York couldn’t believe how supportive each band was of the next; New York bands viewed themselves as competitors while the grunge acts saw themselves as parts of a whole. In many ways, that feeling of togetherness is representative of a movement that was embraced by millions of (young) people from different walks of life who felt disenfranchised by society in general, let alone the crap that dominated the airwaves at the time.

One of the more intriguing parts of the film is the way in which it displays the changes in the both the personalities of the band members and the music they put together. As PJ20 progresses, you witness the evolution of both band and individual. Front man Eddie Vedder is almost out of control in early footage, both on and off stage. There’s a sense of frustration, almost rage, that pours through in every song. Later concert footage and interviews show a much more controlled and mature man who has traded anger for political and social angst but one who still knows how to put on an incredible show and make fantastic music. It was engrossing for me to watch the changes take place over the course of 20 years and brought a new appreciation for some of the band’s music that I haven’t always been as impressed with.

If nothing else (and perhaps above all else), PJ20 offers up an enthralling anthology of Pearl Jam on stage. The concert footage is exquisitely cut and distributed throughout the runtime so that it never becomes a true concert film but also never allows the viewer to forget that these guys represent a powerhouse on the stage. The mix of early footage with more recent shots (including an IMPECCABLE performance of Release from a few years ago) provides a powerful sampling of the truly special body of work Pearl Jam has put together over the years. I would have loved for Crowe to delve deeper into the middle years of the band in which there was an apparent, if unspoken, conflict between the band members or give more insight into the origins of some of Pearl Jam’s more popular songs. But as it stands, PJ20 provides a beautiful and heartfelt look at one of the world’s most prolific rock bands.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oscar Nomination Reactions

I collaborated with news editor Jobe Close for an Oscar Reaction piece over at IEF. I expect it will be published sometime today or tomorrow. But in the meantime I'll post here in case you'd care to browse through my thoughts on the major awards. Overall, I thought the Academy did a decent job. There are some EGREGIOUS ommissions and a ridiculous nomination or two but with the exception of ignoring 50/50, Drive, and (to a lesser extent) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I thought they did a decent job of navigating a difficult sea of potential nominees. 

Three reactions to the other categories:
1.) The ommission of The Adventures of Tintin from the Best Animated Film category is as big of a snub as you will find on this year's lists. That film made a number of top 10 lists and was far and away the best animated film of the year in my book.
2.) Only two entries were nominated in the Best Song category. What's the point of having two nominees, Academy? Mary J. Blidge probably deserved a nod for her work on The Help but if nothing else, just fill up the category with other songs from The Muppets so that it at least looks like a legitimate category.
3.) I'm more than a little surprised that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol didn't pick up any nominations in the technical categories. I thought it featured an exquisite sound mix and some outstanding special effects. Somehow the Academy found room for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which received three nominations (if you're keeping track at home that's three for Transformers, none for Drive, and a slightly suicidal blogger), but not for MI4.

Best Original Screenplay
Michel Hazanavicus, The Artist
Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
JC Chandor, Margin Call
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Asgnar Farhadi, A Separation

More often than not, the Best Screenplay categories are used to throw a bone (as it were) to filmmakers whose films have been largely overlooked despite their merits. Still, I’m glad to see Bridesmaids get a nod here; a truly hilarious film that deserves some recognition.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, Moneyball
Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Two entries stand out in this category for me, one in a good way and one…not so much. I’m thrilled that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got an unexpected nod. One of my favorite films of the year, I think Straughan and O’Connor did a magnificent job of fleshing out a complicated and dense subject matter here and set up the outstanding cast for success. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of The Ides of March. The acting was great, sure, but the story is dull and reused. Why honor a film by nominating its worst element?

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

I’m shocked (along with most followers of Award Season) that Albert Brooks wasn’t nominated for his against-cast dark performance in Drive. I’d long ago lost hope in Ryan Gosling getting a nod for leading that film but thought for sure Brooks would get a, “sorry we didn’t care about your awesome movie” nomination. This is the one real snub that this year has to offer in my opinion. At the same time, Max Von Sydow was probably the last man in and despite the fact that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is mostly a hot mess (more on this later), MVS is excellent. This is usually the toughest category to whittle down and I’m guessing this year was no exception. (Then again, Drive was completely shut out by the Academy so maybe they didn’t care at all. Boo to them, in that case.) Last, the Academy is catching a lot of flack for the nomination of Hill. To my colleagues who have complained: back off on this one. I've never been a Jonah Hill fan and I'd love to see Brooks in this category but Hill was outstanding in Moneyball and absolutely deserves his nod. I wouldn't have nominated the film for Best Picture but it contains some great acting and Hill leads the way.

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

In many ways, it really doesn’t matter who else is nominated behind Spencer. She’s as close to a lock for a win as you can find this year. That said, I’m thrilled to see McCarthy pick up a nod and disappointed that Shaliene Woodley missed the cut. Yes, it’s early in her very young career but many a talented actor has crumbled under the pressure of going toe-to-toe with George Clooney while Woodley came through with shining colors.

Best Actor
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Demian Bechir, A Better Life

I spent the majority of 2011 telling anyone who would listen that this would be the year that Gary Oldman could FINALLY add “Academy Award Nominee” to his resume. But by the time I went to bed on Monday night, I had resigned myself to his being left out once again. When I heard that he had been nominated, I probably celebrated more than the man himself did. Sure, it would have been nice if Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ryan Gosling had received attention for their brilliant work in 50/50 and Drive, respectively. But I’m more than content to ignore these slights if it means the Great Chameleon gets his due. Now if he could just win…

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Viola Davis, The Help
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

This was a six woman race and I assume Close just beat out Tilda Swinton from We Need to Talk About Kevin. All I really have to say about this category is the following: if Viola Davis doesn’t take home the hardware, I will kill a drifter. Let that serve as a warning, Academy.

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicus, The Artist
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Terrence Malick, Tree of Life

For me, 2011 was a weak year for director; plenty of great films but not too many that set a high standard for work behind the camera. That said, that is quite the collection of Hollywood power players! Scorsese, Allen, Malick, etc…that’s a serious group right there. I’d have loved to see Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), or Jonathan Levine (50/50) score a nod but of course I knew none of those would happen. Great to see Malick recognized, though. No matter what you think of Tree of Life, you have to appreciate the boldness of the man’s vision.

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

This category brought the only real shocks of the day. Most experts anticipated six or possibly seven nominations and I don’t know anyone who expected nine. What this means is that there is no clear cut favorite to take home the award next month. Beyond the initial five nods, any film that receives a nomination has to have garnered at least five percent of the first place votes in the category. With nine nods on the board, that means at least 20% of the total first place votes belong to the bottom four contenders, making this a much tighter race than anyone might have expected. More shocking in my book, however, is the inclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film that has been bashed by most critics and which features the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating of any film EVER nominated for Best Picture. I wanted to love EL&IC but I found it to be a poorly executed mess of a film. I can think of at least 20 films which deserve a nomination more than EL&IC, a list that includes Warrior, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Muppets, and Thor. I'm serious.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: "Roadie"

After 20 years of lugging gear and setting up equipment for the Blue Oyster Cult, Jimmy (Ron Eldard) is unceremoniously fired and abandoned by the band members he considered to be friends. With no identity outside of his status as a roadie and no life plans, Jimmy ends up heading back home for the first time in a decade. After crashing in his old bedroom, Jimmy comes into contact with Randy (Bobby Cannavale), his high-school nemesis who happens to be married to Nikki (Jill Hennessey), an old flame he never really got over. With nothing to show for his time away from home, Jimmy begins making up stories and eventually draws Randy's ire, creating an uncomfortable situation that further messes with Jimmy's already fragile mental state.

Roadie is like a conflict between two mountain goats (I know that "bighorn sheep" would be a more scientifically correct title but "mountain goat" just sounds better): one goat represents the acting in this film, chiefly that of Eldard, and the other represents the storyline and general exposition of said storyline. The Acting Goat is an outstanding specimen. Eldard is one of my very favorite character actors, a guy who always draws my attention no matter how big or small his role in a given movie may be. (This makes him a member of the "Barry Pepper All-Stars", a list of actors I really need to write a piece about one of these days.) This is a rare leading role for Eldard and he shines brilliantly. Jimmy is easy to root for despite not really showing many qualities that usually make one likeable and that is due to Eldard's ability to convey a measure of truthfulness, or perhaps relevance, to his character. The lack of purpose and the search for meaning in his life work make Jimmy an appealing protagonist in this sort of slow-paced, character-driven drama. There is also an edge of genuine desperation to Jimmy and through this trait Eldard gives real weight to a character which otherwise might have been pointless. The supporting players around Eldard are all solid as well, though none quite measure up to the work of the leading man.

The Story Goat, however, is an equally impressive beast but one that works for evil instead of good. Simply put, the events of Roadie are about as bland as you can get. It isn't what I would call "boring" necessarily and yet nothing much happens. Jimmy comes into town, Jimmy pals around with some old friends, and then Jimmy threatens to leave town once more. That's about it. The settings that Roadie inhabits are uninteresting and the dialogue within is unimpressive. As a result, the story undermines Eldard's work and leaves him virtually trapped in a dull and somewhat meaningless world that serves as a stark contrast to the appealing lead character. In the end, neither the Acting Goat nor the Story Goat really win; instead, the two tire out and settle in for a nice nap, a genuine shame considering all that this film had going for it. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be

This was a SLOOOOOOWWWW weekend for movie news, my friends...

Check out Cinema Blend's link to "Star Wars Uncut", a fan-made project that compiles 15-second clips together to re-enact the whole of A New Hope. Won't say I've watched it all but what I did watch was really, really cool. I'd embed it here but I'm afraid of SOPA. 

The annual Sundance Film Festival is in full swing right now. For coverage of the films shown at Sundance, check out the constant updates from /Film

The Artist picked up yet another Best Picture award, this one from the Producer's Guild. *Sigh

Check out these alternative universe movie posters which are pretty sweet. Steve McQueen as The Terminator sounds awesome. 

NPR discusses the modern movie trailer.

Weekend Box Office Results
I’m not surprised that the newest installment from the Underworld franchise leads the pack this week. I am surprised, however, that Haywire had such a poor showing. I wasn’t very excited about it (looks like a renter to me) but the reviews were good and it had the look of a movie lots of people would be into, especially given the cinematic landscape in January. (If nothing else the burgeoning MMA crowd should have been behind that movie, right?) Regardless, it wasn’t a bad weekend for Hollywood considering the total haul. My money went to the ridiculously frustrating Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (review to come) but I imagine I’ll catch a few more of these films at one point or another.

1. Underworld: Awakening - $25.4M
2. Red Tails - $19.1M
3. Contraband - $12.2M ($46.1M)
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - $10.54M ($11.23M)
5. Haywire - $9M
6. Beauty and the Beast - $8.55M ($33.36M)
7. Joyful Noise - $6.07M ($21.9M)
8. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - $5.5M ($197.34M)
9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - $4.8M ($178.61M)
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - $3.75M ($94.77M)

Oscar Nomination Predictions
We’re going to cover the Academy Awards extensively both here and at I Eat Films as the ceremony gets closer. With the nominations due to be announced tomorrow, I thought it might be prudent to offer up my predictions for the chosen films and performances now and save all opinions (good and bad) for later next month. My predictions (in no particular order) for the major awards are as follows:

Best Actor
George Clooney, The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Viola Davis, The Help
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Nick Nolte, Warrior

(NOTE: As Oscar Guru Mark Harris noted in his Grantland column, this is the category that is most likely to deliver some sort of major shock. Someone like Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Alan Rickman (Harry Potter), Brad Pitt (Tree of Life), or even Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) will end up in the nominated five and it will be well deserved.)

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Best Director
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick, Tree of Life

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Tree of Life
War Horse

(NOTE: We don’t know how many films will be nominated for Best Picture. There’s a complicated formula in place now which determines how many films (if any) will be nominated past the first five. I’m guessing eight but the truth is, the list could definitely end at five and there’s virtually no chance ten movies make the final cut.)

DVD Roundup
What I’ll Be Renting This Week
Real Steel (2011) - Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo
Notice I didn’t write, “What I’ll Be Renting This Week Because I Think It Will Be Good.” I can’t tell you why, exactly, I intend to watch this in the relatively near future, I just know I’m kind-of-sort-of-a-little-bit excited about a true throw-away action movie to distract from me from work, weather, and the fact that Dirk Nowitzki is hurt right now. Bring on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots on Steroids!

What I’ve Seen and You Should See, Too
50/50 (2011) - Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
The third best movie I saw in 2011 and one that is destined to find a spot on my “Favorite Movies of All-Time” list. In my review I implored my readers to, “just see this movie.” I continue my plea here. This film contains some of the best authentic-but-comedic acting I’ve seen in quite some time. Absolutely in love with this film.

Also New
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) - Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith (Please stop seeing these movies, people. Please.)
The Whitleblower (2011) - Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave
The Lie (2011) - Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler

New to Blu
Stripes (1981) - Bill Murray, John Candy, Harold Ramis
Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Manhattan (1979) - Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Notorious (1949) - Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Rebecca (1940) - Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine
Spellbound (1945) - Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck
Stir Crazy (1980) - Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor
See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) - Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor
The Toy (1982) - Richard Pryor, Jackie Gleason
The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) - Dudley Moore

Coming to a Theater Near You
Last week’s Rotten Tomatoes predictions were spot on for Underworld (26% prediction, 27% actual) a bit off for Haywire (72% to 83%), and well off for Redtails (52% to 33%) though I’m betting George Lucas wishes I had been right. I’m doing pretty well this year if I do say so myself.

The Grey - Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
I have so much to say about The Grey but it all basically boils down to this: Liam Neeson is awesome and everyone likes to see him beat the spit out of humans so why wouldn’t they want to see him beat the spit out of wolves? Regardless of what the critics end up saying, this is very likely to be an absolute blast. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 51%

Man on Ledge - Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris
I feel bad for Ledge. It looks to be a perfectly reasonable off-season action movie with a decent cast and solid plot hook. But it’s going to be completely overshadowed by all the other off-season action movies that dominate the first two months of the year. If it had released this time last year, I’m probably there on opening weekend if for no other reason than I’m addicted to movies and there was nothing else worth even looking at. Same goes for September of last year. But this year? Between Contraband, Haywire, and maybe especially The Grey, there’s no room for it. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 45%

One for the Money - Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, John Leguizamo
I would rather eat glass than watch this movie. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 28%

Also look for wider expansions for We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton) and Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close), both of which will hope to bank off of the hypothetical Oscar nominations for their respective leading ladies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top 10 Anticipated Movies of 2012 (Part I)

Two quick primers on the list you're about to read/flip through absentmindedly:

1.) Last year I started breaking this list into two parts: January through June and July through December. That allows me to highlight ten more films, of course, but it also gives me more time to have a feel for what in the world I can expect from the year's later releases.

2.) This is FAR from a science. I pride myself on my ability to pick out bad movies and avoid them but my foresight has limits. I'm lucky if I've even seen a teaser trailer for anything scheduled for release later than mid-February, let alone the titles you'll see below that debut in the summer. This is a crapshoot. I looked back at last year's Part I and was embarrassed to see a couple of truly awful films made the list. But hey, that's how things go sometimes and I'm more than willing to stick my neck out one more time.

I firmly believe 2012 will be a great year for film but it is extremely bottom heavy. That is to say, most of its value will be found in the back half of the year while the front half is somewhat lackluster. So please bear that in mind as we delve into my Top 10 Anticipated Movies of 2012 (Part I).

Honorable Mention: Jeff Who Lives at Home - Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer
The only reason this film, about a thirtysomething who still lives in his mother's basement, didn't make the list is that it will receive a limited release (the bane of my moviegoing existence). That means I probably won't end up seeing it until it hits DVD shelves and if I'm not going to see it in theaters, then I don't feel good about giving it a spot here. That's too bad because I think this is going to be stinking funny.

10. Men in Black 3 - Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
I'm well aware that the trailer for MIB 3 is, shall we say, less than promising. I admit I'm nervous, especially taking into consideration the whole time-travel thing which is usually a bad sign. But here's the thing: I love Will Smith. Always have, always will. I wish the guy would take on more challenging roles from time to time (Django Unchained would have been PERFECT) but I almost always enjoy his movies and often times, I enjoy them quite a bit. Smith hasn't been in a movie in 3 years and as a result I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. I'll take my chances with a haphazard plot. Also, the idea of Josh Brolin playing Tommy Lee Jones sounds uber-appealing.

9. Dr. Suess' The Lorax - Zac Efron, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms
It is always smart to be at least somewhat suspicious of any animated film that isn't related to Pixar and Dr. Suess books haven't translated well the screen overall. But the visuals on The Lorax looks fantastic, this is one of my very favorite Suess books, and the studio busted out a Polyphonic Spree song for the trailer which is ALWAYS a smart move. So consider my interest piqued.

8. Chronicle - Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell
There will always be a spot for a low-budget sci-fi film on my list. Deal with it. This one, about three friends who are mysteriously given super powers, looks extra appealing even if it will, undoubtedly, touch on teenage angst a little more than I'd like. Looks like we'll be treated to solid special effects and what could be a compelling, if unoriginal, storyline. I'm also on the lookout for a quality performance from Jordan (of Parenthood and Friday Night Lights fame) who has the chops to be a hot name in Hollywood over the next couple of years.

7. M.S. One: Maximum Security - Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare
If you enjoyed Taken and are excited about Taken 2 (which will open later this year), then you will certainly appreciate MS One which is basically Taken 1.5. It centers on a falsely-convicted criminal who is given his freedom in exchange for rescuing the president's daughter from a prison colony on the moon and it is produced by Luc Besson. I can't tell you, dear readers, that this will be a "good" movie but I can tell you it will be a "ridiculously fun" movie that I will be in attendance for on opening weekend. I honestly can't wait. Also, I think it's high time that the world recognizes how boss Pearce really is and maybe his subbing in for Liam Neeson will make that happen.

6. The Five-Year Engagement - Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, A Whole Lot of Really Funny People
This R-rated comedy (title should be explanatory as far as the plot goes) reunites director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel who previously collaborrated on both The Muppets and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Stoller's other work, Get Him to the Greek, is one that grows on me every time I run across it on cable. These are just genuinely funny guys. Add in the Bridesmaids feel and the RIDICULOUS supporting cast (Chris Pratt, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Parnell to name a few) and you've got a potential smash hit.

5. Moonrise Kingdom - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray
One of my simple rules for picking good movies is this: if Wes Anderson directed it, it's good. Like I said, simple. Anderson's unique style is irresistible for me and I don't think the guy has ever made a bad movie. His last venture, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, MIGHT be his best (heresy, I know). Moonrise, about two pre-teens who run away together, sounded appealing enough sight unseen. Then the first trailer hit last week and I'm now completely on board. What a great cast! Really, really excited for this one.

4. Prometheus - Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace
Ridley Scott's "it's not an Alien prequel but yeah, it's an Alien prequel" sci-fi extravaganza will have been garnering serious Internet attention for the better part of two years by the time it actually opens in theaters.   With an incredible cast and an established fan base, I think we can bet on Prometheus bringing in a haul at the box office this summer. And that's good because, in all honesty, Scott could really use a hit. Since Gladiator brought him a Best Picture Oscar, he's been at the helm for Hannibal (awful), Black Hawk Down (critical success but not a huge winner at the box office), Matchstick Men (good, not great), Kingdom of Heaven (I love this movie, most people do not), A Good Year (beating), American Gangster (not the success it aspired to be), Body of Lies (bombed), and Robin Hood (one of the most disappointing movies of 2010). "Needs" a hit would be strong terminology but his return to space could provide a major boost.

3. The Avengers - Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
I have conflicting feelings about this one. The nerd in me is absolutely freaking out about seeing this many superheroes together at one time. (Add in the fact that Nerd King Joss Whedon is at the helm and it becomes almost too much to handle.) At the same time, however, I haven't been quite as enamored by the trailers as my fellow nerds have. I don't think there's any way this movie will be bad; I'm just nervous that it isn't going to be the world beater it needs to be in order to justify the unique way Marvel has built its programming toward this release. The task of blending all of these actors together is another hurdle in my mind. This isn't the same as the standard ensemble film. It's one thing to take a back seat to another actor when you're a part of a big cast working for a great director; it's another entirely to do so while also playing a character for which you are famous. Obviously I'm STOKED to see this movie but I've got a bit of anxiety regarding whether or not the idea of this movie is better than the movie itself.

2. The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
Three things about my experience with this franchise:
1.) I love the first book in the Hunger Games series (on which this movie is based);
2.) I think the two that follow are shoddily put together and repetitive;
3.) I have NO IDEA how well the book will translate to the screen. While reading I kept wondering how in the world Gary Ross would be able to maintain the book's harsh reality and keep it PG-13. I'm still not sure if it's possible.
The trailer for The Hunger Games, though, is outstanding. I love the look of the film and I am thoroughly excited to see Lawrence take on a role I believe she will excel in. And lest we forget, American Treasure Woody Harrelson is going to be GREAT in this movie. Expect this movie to make a RIDICULOUS sum of money this Spring.

1. Brave - Kelly Mcdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd
I debated what order this top three should end up in and settled on Brave at number one for two reasons:
1.) Pixar is the best film studio. Ever.
2.) Coming off of Cars 2, the studio's only miss in its 16 year history, I think Pixar is going to bring the thunder even more than usual. That is to say, I expect they've gone even further above and beyond to ensure that Brave is incredible.
This will be Pixar's first film that centers on a female character. I'm genuinely excited to see what they can do with that concept in mind and while the trailer doesn't give away much as to the plot, I think it looks amazing. Plus, can we all agree that it's just cool when a movie is based in Scotland? I mean, who doesn't love it when we have an excuse for Billy Connolly to show up? By the end of June, I imagine no one will even remember that Cars 2 was a thing.

Movie News Today

According to Chuck Norris, The Expendables 2 will be rated PG-13 due to Norris' request that all the "hardcore language" be erased from the script. Good for Norris, a man of principal. Not necessarily good for anyone over the age of 17 who intends to see this movie as your theater will certainly be JAM PACKED with young teenagers who have no idea who Sylvester Stallone is.

George Lucas did an interview with the New York Times in which he discussed Red Tails and says that he is planning to retire from blockbusters. I love Lucas and I believe I owe him a debt of gratitude for all the joy his (early) films have brought me. But it must be said: is anyone disappointed that he apparently won't be making big movies anymore? No and that's quite sad.

Note to Hollywood: Kristen Wiig does not want to write or star in a Bridesmaids sequel (probably because she saw The Hangover Part II) so please stop trying to make that movie. Let it be.

Joel Edgerton continues his run of success and has sold his first script, One Night Stand, to New Regency. In other scripting news, Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country For Old Men and The Road, has turned in his first screenplay which will focus on a lawyer who embraces a life of crime. Exciting new things for two very talented individuals.

I don't think I linked to this last week so make sure you check out Movie Muse's 2011 Year in Review. An excellent look back.

Make sure you check out the Focused Filmographer's Red Web Awards and cast your vote. Awesome stuff, T!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: "Contraband"

When I posted my Weekend Movie Guide last week, I wrote that Contraband had three things going for it: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, and a general look of “fun.” I figured the combination of a quality leading action actor, an exceptionally attractive lead actress, and a heist-related, energetic plot would make Contraband a “decent enough” flick. In the end, I guess I can say I was right about Wahlberg. The rest? Not so much.

At one time, Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) was a well-known second generation smuggler who made a hefty living bringing just about anything (except for drugs) into the country through the port of New Orleans.  Farraday got out of the game, however, in order to become a family man and he pulled his best friend and former partner, Sebastian (Ben Foster), out with him. But when Chris’ brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), gets tangled up with Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a vicious drug dealer, Chris finds himself taking on a major job in order to clear Andy of his debt and keep his family safe. Unfortunately for Chris, things don’t go quite according to plans.

Contraband is a remake of an Icelandic film that actually starred director Baltasar Kormakur. Kormakur has made a name for himself overseas but that potential has yet to manifest itself on these shores. This film is no exception as there are several moments that stand out as respectable action movie sequences which are lost in a sea of bad plot points and slow pacing. Too often Contraband attempts to make itself a “thinking man’s action movie” when it really lacks the narrative or script to be anything more than a throw away popcorn action romp. I think Contraband wants to be an unofficial sequel to The Italian Job when it would be better off as an over-the-top action flick. The goal of a film like Taken (the ultimate example of how to make a January action movie) is to have a riotous good time in the form of a movie. No one involved with that movie intended it to be a serious piece of cinematic art and therefore, it was easy to suspend reality and enjoy the ride. That’s what we all want from an early-in-the-year movie like this.

But that’s not the case with Contraband. Instead of being able to revel in the ridiculousness of a middle-aged man single handedly bringing an end to the entire population of Serbia or a group of misfits attempting to “fly” a tank, the audience is asked to pay attention to a litany of plot points that just don’t make any sense. At times this movie actually becomes boring as Farraday and his team try to put his plan into action, a plan which, by the way, would require everyone else in the world to be complete morons in order for it to succeed. Ocean’s 11 this is not. For long stretches of runtime, basically nothing happens, stalling and ultimately killing any momentum the film tries to create for itself. And when things actually do pick up, too many of the twists and turns can be seen from a mile away, making all the buildup seem even more tedious. In addition, the cuts back and forth between Farraday and his team out on their mission and Briggs stalking Farraday’s family back home distracts from the overall direction of the film. I applaud Kormakur’s attempts to make Beckinsale’s character more important than the standard “damsel in distress” that often plagues this sort of movie but it doesn’t work and these jumps in the narrative just serve to make Contraband overly long. 

I wouldn’t say this movie is a complete loss. Wahlberg is a favorite of mine and he does an admirable job of providing entertainment here even if he is sleepwalking through his role a bit. And when the action does pick up it is mostly satisfying. I just needed more action, more excitement, and more fun in order to truly enjoy Contraband.

Review: "The Adventures of Tintin"

I’d like to believe that everyone agrees in the following sentiment: the fourth Indiana Jones film is terrible. (Well, everyone except George Lucas.) Even Steven Spielberg seems to understand the train wreck he put on screen in 2008, though he won’t come out and say that in order to protect Lucas. That movie stands as one of the worst experiences of my cinematic life, a slap in the face of Phantom Menace proportions. But after having seen The Adventures of Tintin, I feel a little bit better. And I move that we officially strike Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from the record and name Tintin the fourth Indy film. Seconded?

Tintin (voice by Jamie Bell) is a young journalist with a knack for breaking major stories. When he comes across a model of a man-o-war ship known as The Unicorn, he senses a story and begins digging around into the history of the ship and its cargo. Soon he finds himself caught up in the midst of a generations-old battle between two seafaring families, the Haddocks and the Rackhams. After joining forces with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the last of his line who keeps an important secret buried beneath years of alcoholism, Tintin and his dog Snowy undertake a globetrotting trek to foil the plans of Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who wants to steal the Haddock birthright.

There aren’t a lot of animated movies that qualify as true adventure flicks but Tintin is one of them. From the dynamic opening credits until the conclusion, the film runs at full sprint, rarely stopping to take a breath. It is the very definition of a thrill ride as Tintin and his pals find themselves in one dangerous situation after another. At times it plays out like a video game, jumping from one level (as it were) to the next but in this case, I think that fits the story well. This is sheer fun and exhilaration and the quick shifts in setting and plot should make it easy for kiddos to follow along while parents dig into the Spielbergian adventure.

The characters within Tintin are strong if somewhat limited. Tintin himself is kind of a baby-faced Jack Bauer, a master of all trades from shooting guns to flying planes who always manages to stay one step ahead of his opponents. Haddock provides outstanding comedic relief and a touch of brute force to back Tintin’s brains. In fact, I think the film takes off when Haddock shows up. His presence provides a second gear to Tintin and his relative buffoonery allows for fun and outlandish plot points that keep the ball rolling. All of this begs the question: has any actor ever had a better year without actually appearing in person on camera than Andy Serkis has this year? He’s THE reason why Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked and he is easily the best part of this film in my book. If Tintin doesn’t quite measure up to Indy, Haddock is a better Sallah than John Rhys Davies ever was (heretical statement, I know). And while Sakharine isn’t exactly a pre-war Nazi, his power grows throughout the movie and he becomes a suitable villain.

The only real complaint I might voice about Tintin is the paper-thin plot. While the video game-like feel works overall, there are times when I might have preferred some exposition. There are a few interconnecting storylines that serve to advance the narrative and that’s good because there isn’t a whole lot of time devoted to character or plot development. Even still, at times it comes across as if the plot was picked out of a list of creative writing prompts, though the way Spielberg dives into said prompt is often deliciously entertaining. In addition, Tintin is to motion capture animation what Avatar was to 3D: it is the exception not the rule, the example of what the technology is capable of delivering in the right hands. Robert Zemeckis bankrupted a company trying to master the art of motion capture but in my mind, he never came close to achieving what Spielberg does here. Tintin is an absolutely gorgeous film that thrives on beautiful landscapes and exquisite details. Tintin may be light one plot but it is heavy on excitement and the visuals serve to deepen the experience, making this one of the more enjoyable films of the year.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be

The Golden Globes were last night. For a full list of the winners, check our our post over at IEF. Only real problem I had with the night (beyond the issues with who was and who was not nominated) was Meryl Streep taking home Best Actress for The Iron Lady over Viola Davis for The Help. Sorry Meryl, I'm sure you were great in a movie pretty much everyone agrees is lackluster, but Davis turned in one of the best performances by a female lead in years, maybe a decade. Absolutely ridiculous that she didn't take home this award.

Marvel is rebooting the Fantastic Four franchise and is considering Josh Trank for director. I'd like to see how Trank's upcoming film Chronicle turns out first but regardless, smart move for Marvel to start over on this series. The first two Fantastic Four movies were just horrible.

AMC has announced their schedule for the spring season which includes a two hour season premiere for Mad Men and a full 16 episode run for The Walking Dead. This will be my first live season of Mad Men as I just caught up on the previous episodes. Looking forward to it.

American Treasure Woody Harrelson spoke with the LA Times about The Hunger Games and discussed his character, Haymitch, who serves as a mentor for the main characters. For me, Haymitch is the most interesting character in the books and I can't wait to see Harrelson in that role.

Darren Lemke, who wrote the scripts for Shrek Forever After and the upcoming Jack the Giant Killer, has been brought on to pen a movie based on the Goosebumps book series. Pretty much everyone in my generation read RL Stine's "horror for kiddos" series growing up so while I'm probably not headed to a theater to see any of these movies, I'm hopeful that they can find a nice stride.

Steven Spielberg did a short interview with Collider and discussed his plans for his upcoming projects including the Tintin sequels, Jurassic Park 4, and Robopocalypse. The guy just never rests.

Weekend Box Office Results
The heavy marketing campaign for Contraband paid off in spades as the Marky Mark project brought in far more than expected, even reaching profitability in its first week of release (on a meager $25 million budget). I would not have expected that though I did chip in to its full take (review to come). Beauty and the Beast underperformed, however, making one wonder what to expect from the year's numerous 3D re-releases. And Mission Impossible continues its impressive run and solidifies itself as the year's best example of of the value of word-of-mouth.

1. Contraband - $24.1M
2. Beauty and the Beast 3D - $18.49M
3. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - $11.5M ($186.74M)
4. Joyful Noise - $11.34M
5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - $8.41M ($170M)
6. The Devil Inside - $7.9M ($46.24M)
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - $6.8M ($87.98M)
8. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked - $5.8M ($118.78M)
9. War Horse - $5.6M ($65.77M)
10. The Iron Lady - $5.38M ($5.97M)

New to DVD
What I've Seen and You Should, Too
Unguarded (2011) - Chris Herren
This is an extension of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series which is an amazing collection of films. This one centers on Chris Herrern, a top flight high school point guard from New England whose college and NBA career was derailed by drugs and alcohol. Herren has a remarkable story and his complete honesty makes Unguarded a heart-wrenching viewing. Check it out.

What I've Seen and I Guess You Might Want to See, Too
The Ides of March (2011) - Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman
March was a player at the Golden Globes this weekend and has an outside shot at scoring a little Oscar love. And that's fine because it is a good movie. It's just not the spectacular film that it could have been. There's nothing new here and nothing of serious substance. All of the performances are good, Gosling's in particular, but it isn't one of Clooney's best portrayals and even Gosling was better in Drive and Crazy Stupid Love. Worth seeing, not worth fawning over.

Also New
Courageous (2011) - Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Kevin Downes
Abduction (2011) - Taylor Lautner, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver
Dead Poets Society (1989) - Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke (Blu-Ray) (Haven't seen this movie in years and years so I'm interested to watch it again and see how it stands up.)
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) - Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Lithgow (Blu-Ray)
Good Morning Vietnam (1987) - Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker (Blu-Ray)
Traffic: The Criterion Collection (2000) - Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Benicio Del Toro (Incredible film. Seriously. Incredible.)
Dirty Girl (2011) - Juno Temple, Jeremy Dozier
Project X (1987) - Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt (Blu-Ray)
Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star (2011) - Nick Swardson, Don Johnson, Christina Ricci
The Color Purple (1985) - Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey (Blu-Ray)
Bad Girls (1994) - Madeline Stowe, Andie McDowell, Drew Barrymore (Blu-Ray)
Drive Me Crazy (1999) - Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Grenier (Blu-Ray)

Coming to a Theater Near You
I don't want to brag but I'm totally going to. Last week I tagged Contraband at 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and Joyful Noise at 35%. As of this writing, Contraband stands at 45% and Joyful is at 35%. BOOM. That's why you should tell your friends about my work.

Underworld: Awakening - Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea
The Underworld series is like the big brother to the Resident Evil series: they're both awful but Underworld is slightly less awful (and yet I've seen all of the movies from each of these franchises). Expect some decent stunts and special effects mixed up in a worthless plot. Also, my favorite thing about this movie is this poster, which clearly tells you all you need to know about the flick itself; that being, Kate Beckinsale is in it. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 26%

Haywire - Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender
I have no idea what to expect from this. Steven Soderbergh is a whiz behind the camera but he's also a guy who has been known to bite off a little more than he can chew from time to time. This year he seems hell bent on making non-actors (like MMA star Carano) and bad actors (he's got Channing Tatum in multiple films this year) into stars. Not sure it can work, though he has brought on a great cast. I just have to believe that if Haywire were any good, it wouldn't be getting released in January but early reviews have been good. I just don't know. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 72%

Red Tails - Nate Parker, Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo, Bryan Cranston
I wish I had faith that this would be good. But unfortunately, knowing that it's coming from George Lucas makes me less than optimistic. That statement in turn makes me quite sad. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: 52%

In addition to these features, we'll also be treated to three 2011 films that will receive wider releases: the super-disappointing-but-still-intriguing-to-me Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut Coriolanus, and Christian Bale's controversial Chinese film The Flowers of War.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Weekend Movie Guide

Joyful Noise - Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer
A church choir adds a touch of pop to their act in order to make an impact at a national competition. Look, if you see this movie and you enjoy it, more power to you. I get why Glee (and every other imitator) is popular. But man, this looks absolutely dreadful to me. You can bet on painful dialogue and a menial plot that is covered up by energetic musical numbers. Even that I could possibly get over. But add in Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton and I'm 100% out.

Contraband - Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckingsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster
A retired smuggler (Wahlberg) jumps back in the game when his brother-in-law gets in trouble with a nasty criminal (Ribisi). Here's what Contraband has going against it: 1.) The release date. Very rarely does a January release turn out well and action movies that find themselves stuck in the mix this early in the year are usually not so great. 2.) The director. Baltasar Kormakur has made several foreign films that most critics like. His English films, however, have been sub-par at best. This is a remake of an Icelandic film that Kormakur starred in and that's not usually a good thing. But here's what it has going for it: 1.) Marky Mark. Whatever you feel toward Wahlberg as an actor (put me in the camp that thinks he's pretty stinking good), he makes movies that are enjoyable. He'll throw out a stinker on you from time to time (Max Payne) but overall, I'll take Wahlberg's body of work over many other action stars. 2.) Kate Beckinsale. I'm not sure what she'll be doing in the movie but her presence can't hurt, right? 3.) It looks fun. Never underestimate the value of, "yes it was stupid but it was fun" in January. Our standards are so low that we as moviegoers will accept just about anything this month (example: The Devil Inside) if it engages our "fun" neurons. So count me in as cautiously optimistic that Contraband will be decent enough. Also, we need more movies about smugglers. Smugglers are cool. Case in point: Han Solo. BOOM.

Beauty and the Beast 3D - Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White
A Disney classic that will serve as an indicator on what to expect from the future of 3D re-releases. The Lion King brought in close to $100 million and stayed atop the charts for a couple of weeks during its release last fall. But is that the exception or the rule? We should know better after Beauty and the Beast debuts. I've never really loved this movie but you can't deny its overall value and impact.

The Divide - Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia
A group of neighbors hole up in their apartment's basement after a nuclear attack. Director Xavier Gens has had only one American release and that is the esteemed 2007 action flick Hitman (heavy sarcasm). So... I will say, I'm sort-of rooting for this in a way because I think the world needs Michael Biehn to be a semi-relevant actor. Love that guy.

ALSO NEW: A pickpocket has his life choices called into question in Loosies (Peter Facinelli, Michael Madsen)...a new friendship is threatened by an affair in Albatross (Felicity Jones, Jessica Brown Findlay, Julia Ormond)...Vincent D'Onofrio brings us yet another horror movie set in the forest with Don't Go in the Woods (Bo Biddie, Eric Bogosian)...and both The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly) both expand into wider release.