Friday, June 29, 2012

In Home Viewings: "The Woman in Black"

When his wife died during childbirth, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) sank into a deep depression that results in a distance from his young son and the derailment of his law career. Given one last chance to regain his footing within his fim, Arthur is sent to a remote village to sort through the personal papers of a dead woman and sell her house. It is a simple job designed to get his life back on track. But when he arrives, he discovers that the house has a dark history in which he soon finds himself engulfed. An evil presence runs roughshod through the very fabric of the town and threatens not only Arthur’s life but also the life of his son.

The Woman in Black is a very straight-forward, simple film that tells a concise but worthwhile story in just the right amount of time. One of its strengths is the implementation of a very limited cast. This is basically a two man show, with Radcliffe either working alone or opposite Ciaran Hinds, who fits his part perfectly. The two work well together and by keeping the importance of the supporting parts to a minimum, director James Watkins prevents his film from falling into the cringe-inducing, “How does that person have a SAG card?!” performances that plague most horror movies. Much is put on the shoulders of Radcliffe, then, and as such, I’d call this a modest success for the young actor. This role is enough of a departure from his days as Harry Potter and yet familiar enough as to seem comfortable. It isn’t a stunning performance by any means but it is strong enough to hold water. The next two or three roles will be even more important for Radcliffe in terms of preventing himself from being type cast but this is a step in the right direction.

Watkins also succeeds in creating a terse tone from the very beginning of the film and carrying that through to the very end. The Woman in Black rarely holds back as the thrills and chills start early and come often. As a result, most of twists feel very natural, though the final turn seems a bit forced to me. I was legitimately freaked out at times and Watkins does a great jump of bringing the obligatory jumps and more drawn-out terror together into a mix that never really lets the audience get settled in.

I don’t much care for scary movies of either the spooky ghost or psycho killer variety and as such, I rarely enjoy them. When I do have a good experience with this sort of film, it’s usually one that features decent acting, manages to create a genuinely tense atmosphere, and relies on consistent terror over gore or cheesy jumps. The Woman in Black hits each of these marks and delivers a satisfying if unspectacular product that is filled to the brim with suspense. There’s nothing great or even entirely unique at play here but this film is good on many levels and that was enough to win me over.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trailer Spotlight: Monsters University, Taken 2, and much more

Programming note: This post, along with another one, were scheduled to drop earlier this week while I was out of town and away from Internet connectivity. Since Blogger is just the worst, that didn't happen. Apologies for the lack of content. The move to Wordpress (in the offing) cannot come soon enough...

It's been a while since we've had a trailer worth getting excited about and last week Hollywood decided to make up for that. Wow! I can scarcely remember a week that brought us so many trailers, including several first looks at movies headed to theaters later this year. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Monsters University (June 21) - Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
In my mind, Monsters, Inc. is one of Pixar's most underrated films. I honestly think it is one of the studio's more ingenious concepts and the voice talent is impeccable. So while this first look is only a mere teaser trailer, I'm incredibly stoked. Let's just hope University follows in the footsteps of Toy Story 3, not Cars 2.

Hotel Transylvania (September 21) - Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez
I'm not in any way saying that Hotel Transylvania is going to be any good. I am saying that given how miserable Adam Sandler's movies have been, it can't hurt to try something just a little bit different. If nothing else, I think this is a decent idea and that, too, is a departure from the typical Sandler movie.

Taken 2 (October 5) - Liam Neeson, Framke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Hey, you know what's awesome? Liam Neeson beating people up. I'm surprised that hasn't been turned into a Netflix genre. "Netflix recommends 'Liam Neeson Beating People Up Movies' based on your interest in everything that is awesome." The first Taken took Neeson to all new heights of bossery and it remains one of the more enjoyable films I have ever seen in a theater. I expect this sequel to crank that fun up about 19 notches and that expectation has been confirmed with two lines of dialogue from this trailer. Just watch it. You'll know what I'm talking about.

Dredd (September 21) - Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby
There are a large number of people out there who swear by the Judge Dredd comic and desperately want a good big screen adaptation. I'm not so sure this is it. I like Urban but this trailer gives off the decisive stench of a movie that takes itself far too seriously. If it was played more like Taken or The Expendables, I'd be more optimistic. As is...not buying it.

Anna Karenina (November 9) - Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson
Here's what I think about director Joe Wright: he makes beautiful, well-acted, painstakingly crafted films. But he does not make films for me. Hanna was the his best chance to hook me and despite the many people who loved that film, I found it to be obnoxious and misguided. Anna Karenina falls right in line with Atonement and Pride and Prejudice in that I understand the appeal but it doesn't do anything for me. Looks pretty but I won't be anxiously waiting in line.

The Master (October 12) - Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Paul Thomas Anderson gave us a brief look at his first film since 2007's There Will Be Blood a couple of weeks ago and this second teaser trailer is no lengthier nor explanatory than its predecessor. It does, however, introduce us to PSH's religious cult leader who resides at the heart of the film. This could be a tremendous film.

The Dark Knight (July 20) - Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
Finally, here's the last look at The Dark Knight Rises before it opens in theaters in less than a month. I don't really need to say anything about this one. Can't wait.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: "Brave"

Over the last 17 years, Pixar has provided the world with some of the very best animated films that the genre has to offer. From Toy Story to The Incredibles to Up, the studio has put together a ridiculously impressive stable of films and basically didn’t miss between 1995 and 2011. Cars 2, though, was a huge disappointment and at the same time, only served to highlight just how good this studio has been over the years. If that film had been a DreamWorks or Sony Animation release, it would be considered a decent-enough throw away family film and no one would think twice about it. But because Pixar has set its standards so incredibly high, it seemed like a tremendous flop because it didn’t have the strength to match up against everything else these people have ever given us. Essentially, Pixar has become an entity that is judged more by its failures than by its successes. So the question is, to which side of that equation does Brave fall?

For lack of a better term, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a tomboy. The heiress to a kingdom within the Scottish Highlands, Merida has little patience for the duties of a princess and prefers to spend her time riding horses, climbing mountains, and shooting arrows. When her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) arrange for a competition among the suitors of the kingdom to win the princess’ hand, Merida takes her rebelliousness to a whole new level and upsets the careful balance of power her father resides over. Anxious to prevent the arranged marriage, she sneaks away into the forest and stumbles across a witch (Julie Waters) who creates a spell to change Queen Elinor’s mind and thereby Merida’s fate. But when the princess delivers the spell, Elinor is transformed into a bear, leading to a desperate race to find a cure before the queen is left a bear for eternity.

Brave is by far the most traditional film Pixar has made to date. From talking toys to a robot love story, this studio has always stayed away from fairy tales and the like instead choosing to push wholly unique visions that consistently hit the mark. As such, it took me a few minutes to adjust to Brave, which is much closer to a Disney movie than one from Pixar. That’s not a bad thing, mind you; Brave would fit nicely alongside Tangled and the current Disney animation style. It isn’t, however, what you expect when heading into a Pixar movie and requires the viewer to adjust accordingly. Once I accepted what I was being presented with, my initial sense of disappointed faded away and I enjoyed myself immensely. And while Brave doesn’t quite stack up to most of the other films from the Pixar universe, it is still an excellent, if not entirely fresh, take on the fairy tale.

As always with a Pixar film, the visuals presented within Brave are stunning. There is less realism to the human characters than what we’ve seen in the past (that the studio could make Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest look so incredibly REAL in 1995 is still uncanny to me), the work done on the bears, which play an increasingly important role in this film, is impeccable. There is no animal that fascinates me more than the bear (nerd alert, I know) and at times I was absolutely blown away by the lifelikeness of the creatures presented in Brave. It is a beautiful film with an impressive and subtle score that highlights the emotions of the film’s subjects wonderfully. The choice of setting, too, is a big check mark in the film’s favor, though perhaps I’m a bit biased toward the awesomeness of Scotland. There’s just something cool about the accents, music, and what have you. Behind the camera, Macdonald, Connolly, Thompson, and the rest of the cast provide a steady if underwhelming hand at the wheel of the film. None of the voice actors deliver a particularly stellar performance but all do their part to effectively balance the humor and seriousness required by the film.

Really all Brave lacks is the patented magic that I usually anticipate from Pixar and which the studio almost always delivers on. It seems to me that the filmmakers may have backed themselves into a corner from which they could not create a unique world in which to operate. There has been pressure for quite some time now for the studio to make a film with a female protagonist and I think perhaps that pressure forced their respective hands a bit, resulting in a storyline that really didn’t have as much range as the ones contained within the other Pixar films. In addition, there’s no novelty to Brave and I feel that hindered the development of both narrative and characters some. In The Incredibles for example, just by building a world in which superheroes are real and have been outlawed, you create a reason for serious development and for the audience to pay close attention and Brave doesn’t quite have that quality. Still, though, it is a strong entry into the genre and plays almost as a throwback or homage to the Disney films of the past, such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"

For someone who does not have any kids of his own, I end up watching quite a few animated films every year. I generally don’t expect much from these films (not including Pixar’s entries into the field) but as much as I love the complex, deeper movies the world has to offer, sometimes I like watching something that’s easy to follow and wraps up quickly. Madagascar, however, is one that surprised me and turned out to be much more entertaining than I would have guessed. As such, the third installment of the franchise holds a little more weight for me than the average DreamWorks animated feature and while it doesn’t quite measure up to the original, Europe’s Most Wanted provides a solid family adventure that everyone can enjoy.

With his homesickness deepening, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) and his old chums Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) decide to head to Monte Carlo to track down their friends the penguins and make their way back to New York. Upon arrival, the group is pursued by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), an overzealous animal control officer, who wrecks Alex’s escape plan and forces the animals to stow away aboard a train transporting a raggedy circus. With an audition for an American circus promoter on the horizon, Alex and his friends seize the opportunity and set about creating a new act that will impress the scout and buy their passage back to New York. But with Captain DuBois hot on their trail and time running short, Alex and his friends are forced to question the meaning of the word “home.”

The best thing about Europe’s Most Wanted (and the other Madagascar movies as well) is that it moves at a brisk pace. No time is wasted in filling in the details of ridiculous plot points, such as how the animals swim from Africa to Monte Carlo. The filmmakers behind this franchise embrace the fact that their concept is absurd so there’s no point in trying to come up with a perfect narrative. Perhaps that sounds silly but often times I run into children’s movies that spend an inordinate amount of time working through a logical plot progression when the movie itself is about talking birds or a sword fighting cat. Everything about Europe’s Most Wanted is quick, easy, and breezy and never bogs down. Obviously that’s important for the attention span of the film’s target audience but it’s also vitally important for people like me who just want a 90 minute break from thinking.

This film also succeeds in keeping the premise fresh, always a tricky feat for a sequel to a sequel. At some point even (modest) fans of this franchise like myself will become tired of Alex and the rest of the gang but at least up to through this installment, the filmmakers have managed to keep things from becoming overly repetitive. Likewise, there’s still a fair amount of heart displayed by these characters and while you can see the change in attitude coming from miles away, it’s still a satisfying occurrence to watch Alex and company evolve. The additions to the cast of characters are all worthwhile and the assembled voice talent is even more impressive. Moreover, the focus is actually placed on the new characters, not on the actors who voice them. I have frequently complained that DreamWorks animation often falls into the trap of highlighting the men and women behind the characters at the expense of the characters themselves. But here, the new cast members, including Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, and the immortal Martin Short, all blend in seamlessly and provide some excellent moments in their own right.

There are some definite flaws here and there and Europe’s Most Wanted certainly isn’t reinventing the animated wheel, but the film hits all of the applicable marks and I think it delivers the movie most will expect it to be. If nothing else, it is an acceptable bookend on a series that might not be beloved but certainly serves as quality family entertainment. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 6/18

Jonah Hill has joined the always morphing cast of Django Unchained. They may be adding pieces to this movie in December.

The troubled production of The Lone Ranger (seeming more and more like a bad idea) is again over budget. This has some serious John Carter potential.

Speaking of troubled productions, check out this piece on World War Z which has already moved from December to next June and may not see the light of day even then. I've said before that there was a way to make WWZ an incredible film and a way to make a mess of it. I fear the latter.

JJ Abrams, already the owner of a crowded plate these days, has added a small budget sci-fi film called The God Particle to his schedule, though he'll only produce this one.

Check out this brilliantly written piece that delves DEEP into the theological undertones of Prometheus. Not sure that I agree with everything here but it is an incredibly interesting column.

Nick Prigge has an interesting read concerning the evolution, or lack there of, of Adam Sandler. Check it out.

My colleague Mark Hobin gives us an open letter to the people behind Rock of Ages in lieu of a traditional review. Well done, Mark. I'll try not to hold your affinity for that terrible music against you!

Weekend Box Office Results
A few weeks ago I would not have guessed that Madagascar 3 would own the box office for not one but two weekends in a row. I honestly thought Prometheus was going to be bigger and up until the last few days, I thought Rock of Ages would be the type of film that kills it in its first week and then drops off the face of the earth. So much for that. While the studio behind That’s My Boy are probably happy with its paltry fifth place finish, the brains backing Rock of Ages have to be disappointed with the reception it received both critically and at the box office. With such a poor showing, it’s likely to be knocked out of first release theaters within a couple of weeks and I would guess it will have a bit of trouble finding an audience overseas.

1. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - $35.5M ($120.45M)
2. Prometheus - $20.2M ($88.85M)
3. Rock of Ages - $15.06M
4. Snow White and the Huntsman - $13.8M ($122.6M)
5. That’s My Boy - $13M
6. Men in Black 3 - $10M ($152.67M)
7. The Avengers - $8.84M ($586.73M)
8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - $2.2M ($35.13M)
9. Moonrise Kingdom - $2.18M ($6.77M)
10. What to Expect When You’re Expecting - $1.33M ($38.76M)

What I’ll Be Renting This Week
Jeff, Who Lives at Home – Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
The Duplass Brothers (Mark and Jay) have become indie darlings over the last few years with each of their efforts gaining more and more acclaim. Jeff brought in their biggest collection of talent yet and while it didn’t do so well at the box office, it did draw attention from critics. I didn’t get a chance to catch it in theaters so I’m looking forward to an in-home viewing.

What I’ve Seen So You Don’t Have To
Wanderlust – Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux
I gave Wanderlust two and a half stars in my initial review but the more I’ve thought about, the more I’ve come around to the idea that this movie is terrible. Thinking back, some of the things that irked me then now make me truly angry and some of the things I sort-of liked seem stupid. Basically, Rudd and Aniston are enough to make this movie barely passable but that’s as far as it gets. Not a fan.

What’s Better Than You Might Expect
Franklin and Bash: Season 1 – Mark Paul Gosselar, Breckin Meyer
I admit I was skeptical. None of TNT’s previous original efforts have worked for me and I really didn’t expect Franklin and Bash to bring much in the way of legitimate comedy. But amazingly enough, this is a show that has some very funny moments tied together with a light, lively procedural narrative that carries well from week to week. The second season kicked off a couple of weeks ago and it, too, seems to be quality summer entertainment.

Also New
Big Miracle – Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Tim Blake Nelson
Project X – Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown
Seeking Justice – Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones
Wilfred: Season 1 – Elijah Wood, Jason Gann
Louie: Season 2 – Louis C.K., Hadley Delany

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Newsies (1992) – Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall
It probably will not surprise you to read that I am not a fan of musicals. They do not float my movie boat. To date, there are two (non-animated) exceptions to this rule: Little Shop of Horrors and Newsies. I can’t exactly explain to you, dear reader, why I love this film so but I do nonetheless and I’ve watched it far more times than I’d like to admit. There’s really no reason for me to replace my DVD copy but…

Also New to Blu
Evita (1996) – Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce
Sister Act 1 and 2 (1992, 1993) – Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy

Coming to a Theater Near You
I am shocked to my very core to report that That’s My Boy was not pulverized by the national media. With a 23% fresh rating (versus my 4% prediction), it certainly didn’t set the world on fire but compared to Adam Sandler’s recent list of accomplishments, 23% sounds pretty good. It also leaves me wondering if the Rotten Tomatoes algorithm that determines a films score was broken over the weekend because there is no possible way that this movie was better than 10% fresh. Rock of Ages didn’t find much love either, topping out at 43% (51% prediction) and most of the positive reviews included some truly horrendous lines stolen directly from the lyrics of the evil songs personified in the film. So these people cannot be trusted.

This week brings with it a trio of choices, one of which I’m very, very excited about.

Brave – Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
A young and headstrong Scottish princess (Macdonald) gets herself and her kingdom into a good bit of trouble while trying to assert her freedom. I live by the following rule: if Pixar makes a movie, I will go and see that movie. Only once in the last 17 years has the studio let me down (Cars 2, of course) and while I admit Brave looks a little closer to Disney than Pixar, I’m still in all the way. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 75%

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper
A pre-presidential Abe Lincoln (Walker) takes it upon himself to rid the United States of the vampires that are plotting to overrun the country. Everyone who has read this book seems to be priming with excitement for the big screen adaptation. I have not read the book and I have three major concerns for this film:
1.) Vampires are dumb. Thanks to Twilight and the litany of Twilight wannabes, I’m pretty much out on anything involving a vampire.
2.) Director Timur Bekmambetov is not to be trusted. I guess his foreign films have created a following but his one major US release, Wanted, is a piece of crap.
3.) The R rating is confusing. Summer blockbusters, which Vampire Hunter is clearly trying to be, are rarely rated R and this one in particular seems like it would be better served as a PG-13 venture.
I remain unconvinced. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 45%

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melinda Dillon
With a giant asteroid approaching earth, a lonely man (Carell) travels cross-country with his neurotic neighbor (Knightley) in pursuit of his high school sweetheart. If it hits the mark as a blend of sci-fi, romance, and comedy, Seeking a Friend could be incredible. It could also be a ho-hum mismatch but this seems like a role Carell will hammer home. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 72%

Also New: Woody Allen’s newest ensemble, To Rome with Love, tells the respective love stories of several couples. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: "Prometheus"

Between unending trailers, viral marketing, social media, and the abundance of movie-centric blogs, you almost have to deliberately stick your head in the virtual sand in order to avoid prior knowledge of a given film. I myself appreciate this for the most part; I like to know what I'm getting myself into before I step into a theater and spend my (relatively) hard earned money. On the flip side, however, the plethora of media sources leads to at least one nasty side effect: the Disease of Expectation. With each passing year, it becomes more and more difficult to enter into a movie theater without bringing in prior expectations and as a result, too many films fail to live up to the standard we set out for them in our heads months before the opening credits roll. Prometheus could be described as the poster child for the Disease of Expectation and I'd like to take a stand against this affliction right here and now.

In the year 2089, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover the last in a series of primitive cave paintings that point towards a distant star as the point of origin for our species. Their find leads to the commissioning of an intergalactic expedition on the scientific spaceship Prometheus, paid for by the Weyland Corporation. Along with a crew that includes Captain Janek (Idris Elba), Weyland Corp. representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and a robot called David (Michael Fassbender), the doctors awaken from hyper sleep with the planet they believe holds the key to human life on the horizon. But when they arrive on the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that "the Engineers" (as the doctors call our would-be creators) aren't who they thought they were and the planet holds far more dangerous secrets than the crew could have ever imagined.

In many ways, Prometheus is the greatest sci-fi TV pilot of all time, and that is both its greatest strength and weakness. It's almost impossible to put this film in a box and title it unequivocally as a prequel or as a stand-alone film. It contains elements of both without ever completely drifting to one side of the coin or the other and depending on your interpretation of what's happening, this mix will either infuriate or transfix you. By the very nature of basing his film within the familiar landscape of the Alien films without forcing it to occupy the limited space of a direct prequel, Scott has, I think brilliantly, set himself up for what could become an addictive franchise. While it feels like an introductory course at times, Scott has essentially opened up the Alien universe to the creepy Pandora's Box within his mind and established the rules and mythology for a much more complex world than Alien ever aspired to dwell in. The most important thing I took away from this film is that the possibilities are literally endless for what can be done from here, whether in film, TV, or written form. As such, I think this is an incredibly ambitious piece of filmmaking that goes far beyond the somewhat limited reach of Prometheus itself.

That's not to say that there isn't anything to appreciate about the film on its own. The set pieces, both CGI and real, are gorgeous, drenched in a dark tone that perfectly suits the atmosphere of the film. A talented, if under-utilized group of actors all give quality performances, though they all could have been relied upon more heavily (more on this in a moment). Rapace brings a truly compelling nature to her character, reminding American audiences that she is in fact a legitimate movie star even if her body of work isn't as familiar on these shores. Fassbender, though, is the man of the hour as he absolutely nails his performance, bringing technical perfection and eerie hollowness to the role. To think that the average moviegoer (myself included) had no idea who this guy was three years ago is remarkable as he continues to make his mark as one of the very best actors Hollywood has to offer. Prometheus itself is a well-designed ship that harkens back to Serenity from the Firefly series. And of course, there are a host of CGI creatures that range from terrifying to just plain cool. I imagine a great deal of this film's budget was set aside for this department and that was money well spent.

But let's be honest now: there are some definite issues with Prometheus. The script comes across as choppy at times and the dialogue isn't anything to write home about. Basically all of the characters make poor choices at some point or another which inevitably leads to an escalation of the film's horrific events. Perhaps most egregious, Scott doesn't take much time to craft, evolve, and develop his characters and as a result there is a definite detachment between the audience and what happens on screen. In my mind, however, none of these issues come close to overshadowing the overall "good-to-great" feeling this film gives off otherwise. These certainly aren't issues that should draw the fierce, venomous vitriol that Prometheus has inspired across the ranks of fanboys and critics alike. And that's where we come to the problem with expectations: almost every decidedly negative review I've glanced through has come down, whether consciously or not, to the reviewers not getting what they expected to get from a movie that they thought was going to be an earth-shattering, game-changing film, which this simply isn't. 

I'd like to invite all of the haters (yes, I just used haters in what has otherwise been a fairly professional piece) to kindly jump off a cliff. To clarify: if you can honestly sit through Prometheus, judge it on its own merits, and tell me that you think it's a bad film, then I disagree with you but that's fine. My problem is with those of you who have picked this film apart based on the expectations you had going in. The fact that Prometheus isn't an epic achievement that inhabits the space set aside for the very best the sci-fi genre has to offer doesn't mean it isn't a quality film in its own right. Furthermore, if you're really this upset about the horror movie-like choices our characters make throughout the film, then I encourage you to go back and watch AlienAliens, and just about every other sci-fi movie of any substance and have a look at the miserable life choices the characters in those films make on a routine basis. This isn't a new phenomenon so let's all stop pretending that today's films aren't as smart as the ones we remember with fond nostalgia. 

All of that to say, I found Prometheus to be a bold and wholly engrossing film that had me riveted throughout despite its issues. I also firmly believe that the director's cut, rumored to be at least 20 minutes longer, will address some of these flaws and will end up being a much better film. Regardless, I woke up on the morning following my viewing thinking about this film and haven't been able to get it out of my head since and years from now, I think we'll be discussing the way in which a spectacular franchise got off to such an inauspicious start. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 6/11

In "Really Not Sure What to Make of That" news, Joe and Anthony Russo, producers of NBC's Community have been hired to direct the Captain America sequel. So...okay, I guess? 

Zachary Levi has been offered the role of Fandral, one of Thor's sidekicks, in Thor 2. I'm guessing that means the role will be beefed up compared to what it was in the first film. 

Be sure to check out the newest video diary from the set of The Hobbit

Kristy Putchko at CinemaBlend gives us "Why We Need to Stop Hating on Prequels", a sentiment I am fully on board with. 

I'm in a hurry this week with vacation right around the corner. Apologies if I missed something important!

Weekend Box Office Results
For the first time in what seems like ages, this weekend we were treated to a legitimate box office battle, with family-friendly Madagascar 3 dueling it out with the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Madagascar brought home the victory and came very close to matching the total the previous film in the series made in its opening weekend but was received with more enthusiasm than its big brother. Prometheus, meanwhile, may have lost the battle but it still comes in with the tenth highest opening weekend total for an R-rated film. I saw Prometheus (review coming tomorrow) and I liked it a whole heck of a lot; Madagascar is on tap for today. In other news, Moonrise Kingdom expanded to more screens this week and saw a dramatic uptick in its receipts. I still have no idea why this was given a limited release in the first place.

1. Madagascar 3 - $60.35M
2. Prometheus - $50M
3. Snow White and the Huntsman - $23.02M ($98.5M)
4. Men in Black 3 - $13.5M ($135.5M)
5. The Avengers - $10.8M ($571.86M)
6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - $3.23M ($31M)
7. What to Expect When You’re Expecting - $2.71M ($35.74M)
8. Battleship – $2.28M ($59.83M)
9. The Dictator - $2.15M ($55.18M)
10. Moonrise Kingdom - $1.57M ($3.75M)

New to DVD
What I’ve Seen and You Should Too
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
I did not enjoy this sequel as much as I enjoyed 2009’s initial installment. That said, I REALLY dig the first one so it’s not exactly fair to hold Game of Shadows to that standard. If you were a fan of RDJ’s first foray into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s intellectual hero, then there’s no reason why you won’t appreciate this one and I do believe it’s one that is made better by repeat viewings.

What No One Should Ever See
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Nicholas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba
Do I really even have to type anything here? If you’re suddenly possessed by an evil spirit that encourages you to rent this film, just remember that in the trailer Ghost Rider urinates a stream of flame. That should be enough to exorcise the demon.

Also New
Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds – Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union
A Little Bit of Heaven – Kate Hudson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kathy Bates
Thin Ice – Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin
Entourage: Season 8 – Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven
Scandal: Season 1 – Kerry Washington, Henry Ian Cusick
The Missing: Season 1 – Ashley Judd, Sean Bean
GCB: Season 1 – Leslie Bibb, Kristin Chenoweth
Episodes: Season 1 – Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan
Meatballs (1979) – Bill Murray, Harvey Atkin (New to Blu)

Coming to a Theater Near You
My predictions weren’t so bad last week. Prometheus slightly underperformed (74% versus 77%), though I must be honest and say I’m not sure why those scores weren’t much higher; I loved this movie. Madagascar 3 did better than expected (76% versus 63%) and topped anything the franchise has put out thus far. This week we get the two films I’m probably least interested in seeing for the entire summer. So that’s fun, right?

Rock of Ages – Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin
During the heyday of ‘80s hair metal, a pair of young newcomers find love on the streets of LA. I will say one thing positive about this film: I think Tom Cruise is going to absolutely KILL IT in this role. No one tries harder than Cruise so giving him a character that requires a heavy dose of over-the-top performance value is likely to result in a spectacular showing. As a longtime Cruise fan, then, it bums me out that I’ll never see this performance because absolutely nothing else about this movie holds any appeal for me whatsoever. There are very, VERY few things I hate more than ‘80s hair metal. Sitting through a musical about the worst period of music EVER…not my cup of tea. On the flip side, I have no idea what to expect from critics. There could definitely be enough nostalgic value here to get critics to buy in. Shot in the dark: Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 51%

That’s My Boy – Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester
When his financial situation reaches a critical standpoint, a moronic party guy (Sandler) seeks out the successful son (Samberg) he fathered as a young teenager. I abandoned the friendly confines of the Sandler comedy in 2009 after Grown Ups and with each movie he kindly reaffirms that decision. This will end up being one of the worst films of the year, unquestionably. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 4%

Also New: A disgraced professor (Ethan Hawke) falls for a potential murderer (Kristen Scott Thomas) in The Woman in the Fifth…and a grieving man (Mark Duplass) becomes involved with the sister (Emily Blunt) of his close friend (Rosemarie Dewitt) in My Sister’s Sister.

Friday, June 8, 2012

TV Sidetrack Part Two: Summer Viewing List

In just about every way, summer runs laps around the other seasons. Summer means no school, vacations, better weather (at least for a hot weather guy like myself), blockbusters, and improved dispositions for the average person. The only area in which summer lags behind is, of course, the weekly TV schedule. As we saw last week, I watch a lot of television and getting through the warmer months can be quite a challenge. With extended cable packages, there are now a few more choices than there used to be. I’ll happily invest in Burn Notice, The Newsroom, and Falling Skies but that’s about all I’ll be partaking in this year (though the pilot for Longmire wasn’t bad). To help get me through, every summer I pick out a few shows I’ve missed out or fallen behind on and use the TV downtime to play catch up. In years past, I’ve devoured every episode from shows like Mad Men and The Big Bang Theory and slogged through the last three seasons of Scrubs and this rapid-fire brand of viewing has become something I really look forward to each year. This time around, I have grand plans to work my way through a number of series’, some of which are shows I’ve watched in the past but missed this year and some of which have been on my to-watch list for years. Have a look at my list and let me know if there’s something I’m missing out on!

Friday Night Lights (Seasons 4 and 5)
I picked up bits and pieces of FNL last year and then started watching it from the beginning late last year. It was incredible but I couldn’t finish it all before the fall shows got started. I picked up my viewing this week and continue to be blown away by the overall quality of the show and the ridiculously engaging characters. Not going to lie, I’ve already shed many tears over this one and I’m planning a full recap when I finish this sucker off.

Burn Notice (Season 5)
Burn Notice was on my summer viewing list two years ago and I liked it so much that I dove right into the new episodes when it began its fourth season. This is a show that has an uncanny ability to combine smart plot points with absurd, sly action which makes it one of the more fun shows on television. I lost the second half of the season to a DVR screw-up so, with season six on the horizon, I’m in quick catch-up mode this summer.

Sons of Anarchy (Season 4)
Just like Burn Notice, SOA occupied this list two years ago and quickly became my go-to pick for Best Show on TV. FX knows how to create fantastic dramatic television and while Justified is perhaps more enjoyable and The Shield was a total game changer, I think SOA is their crowning achievement. Unfortunately my DVR betrayed me during season four and I finally got so far behind that I had to cut bait and wait for the summer.

Chuck (Seasons 4 and 5)
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Chuck is the PERFECT summer show. It is light and breezy and you can roll through numerous episodes while doing other things around the house and it’s easily digested; you don’t have to think about Chuck and I mean that in the best way possible. I think it would have been better served all along if it would have been cut to 13 episodes per season and used exclusively as a mid-season replacement.

Sherlock (Seasons 1 and 2)
This seems to be the series that everyone and their mother is talking about. All of my friends and colleagues who have partaken in the Sherlock fever speak of it with the same reverential, “you must watch this now” fervor that I once spoke with concerning Parks and Recreation when no one was watching. I will admit I was skeptical as I’ve had a hard time getting into other British shows with cult followings (see: Doctor Who) but Benedict Cumberbatch is such a boss that I believe I have no choice to buy in.

The following programs are on the docket but will depend on how quickly I get through the previous entries and whether or not they catch my interest early on.

Castle (Season 1)
At first I resisted Castle because I didn’t think there was any way it would last for an entire season. Nathan Fillion seems to be cursed in that way. After that I didn’t watch Castle because ABC has been disappointing me across the board over the last few years and I don’t trust them. But now I have enough friends who swear by this show (plus the obligatory love for Fillion) that I feel like I have to make a go of it.

The Killing (Season 1)
I intended to make The Killing part of my Summer Viewing List last year. The buzz was great, the concept was hot, and several critics that I trust were fully on board…and then all anyone talked about for literally weeks was how terrible the season finale was. So I nixed it. But now it seems to have gotten on track again and since it’s easily accessible thanks to the magic of Netflix, I may give it a go.

The West Wing (Seasons 1-7)
I know for a fact that I will thoroughly enjoy The West Wing. The cast is too strong and Sorkin is too ridiculously good at what he does for me to not enjoy it. I have continually put it off, however, because of the sheer number of episodes. Most of the shows that land on my Summer Viewing List have shorter seasons (extended cable) or I’m only a season behind. Plowing through 154 episodes is a daunting task. Nevertheless, I think the wife and I are going to delve into it this time around.

Well, that’s my plan. Looks like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and a handful of other TV shows that I’ve continually put off will have to wait for another summer when there’s not so much competition. If you’re playing TV catch-up this summer, what are some shows you’re planning on watching and what egregious error did I make on my list?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trailer Spotlight: Flight, Wreck-It Ralph, and Django Unchained

Flight (November 2) - Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
It's been over a decade since Robert Zemeckis made a live-action movie and frankly, I'm happy to see him return to this medium. He's spent 12 years trying to develop motion capture technology without seeing much of a return on his effort. By teaming here with Denzel (a near guarantee at the box office), Zemeckis gets an opportunity to reassert himself as a top notch filmmaker and Flight looks like it could be pretty interesting.

Wreck-It Ralph (November 2) - John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman
You never know what to expect from Disney these days. Fresh off the smashing success of Tangled, the studio promptly delivered its biggest animated bomb in quite some time with the misguided Mars Needs Moms. Wreck-It Ralph appears to be an ambitious project that could be a major achievement if done correctly. I wasn't sure what to expect from this one but the first trailer is outstanding and I think Reilly is the perfect choice to voice this character.

Django Unchained (December 25) - Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz
The Internet has been waiting for this one for quite some time now. While I still don't understand what the studio is thinking opening this film on Christmas Day, I cannot in any way deny that Django Unchained looks amazing. Great trailer for what we're all expecting to be a great film. I fully expect DiCaprio to absolutely kill it in this role.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Into the Abyss"

In Conroe, Texas, 2001, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett broke into the home of an acquaintance, Jason Stotler, in the hopes of stealing a new car. When their plan began to unravel, Perry shot and killed Stotler’s mother. After dumping the body, they then killed Stotler and another friend in order to regain access to the house inside of a gated community they had been locked out of. Shortly thereafter, the duo was arrested after a haphazard shootout and brought to justice. Perry was sentenced to death, Burkett to life in prison. With Perry’s execution right around the corner, filmmaker Werner Herzog journeyed to the maximum security prison in Huntsville, Texas in order to interview the culprits, get the details of the case, and have a look at the concept of the death penalty.

Perhaps the preeminent voice in documentary filmmaking, Herzog has spent the majority of his illustrious career crafting his approach and that shines through once again here. What I love about Herzog’s documentaries is that there’s never any question as to how he feels about his subject matter and yet you never feel as if he’s forcing it down his throat. At the outset of Into the Abyss he states (off-camera) that he is against the death penalty and at times you can tell that his film is sliding toward his side of the argument. A very compelling portion of the film involves Herzog’s discussions with a man who spent his entire career strapping the condemned to a gurney until a series of events led him to jump to the other side of the argument. Still, however, Herzog allows the audience to judge for themselves, choosing to let the camera roll while laying out the facts. My impression is that Herzog would like to start a dialogue concerning the matter rather than shame proponents of the death penalty into submission.

At the same time, Into the Abyss pulls no punches in its portrayal of both Perry and Burkett. While both profess their innocence, Herzog quietly points out the holes in their respective stories and makes it clear that there is virtually no evidence to support their claims. These two were morons with a history of bad and violent behavior who finally escalated their actions. Perhaps their greatest mistake was being so stupid as to believe they could get away with their crimes when clearly neither one of them had the mental capacity to outsmart a brain damaged dog, let alone a team of police detectives. The film uses splices of the videos investigators shot at the crime scene and accentuates the footage with interviews with the detective in charge of the case and the family members of the victims. It is a dark light that is shed on Perry and Burkett and Herzog makes no attempt to turn them into the martyrs they would have you believe they are.

The only real issue I had with Into the Abyss is that it simultaneously tries to cover too much ground and doesn’t reach quite far enough. Herzog takes the time to highlight a fairly extensive interview with Burkett’s father, himself in prison, in an effort to illuminate Burkett’s difficult childhood but then doesn’t do anything with this information. It seems as if the film goes halfway toward building a bit of sympathy for at least Burkett, if not Perry, and then abandons the idea. There are also a handful of interviews that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. At the same time, because of the nature of how Herzog shot the film, his “turn on the cameras and see what happens” style, there are times when Into the Abyss seems a bit purposeless. There’s no great statement made and again, while I appreciate that he didn’t take to the heavy-handed preaching tactic used too often in these documentaries, this leaves the film devoid of a lasting impression. It’s a good film and one that is certainly worth watching if for no other reason than the conversation it could lead to but it lacks the punch that I would have expected it to display.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: "Snow White and the Huntsman"

For many of us, the first time we were allowed to venture into the deep end of the pool stands out as a hallmark of our youth, a rite of passage if you will. We spend years engaging in harmless fun in the kiddie pool but that trip to the deep end requires preparation and hard work. The summer movie season is much the same. The warmer months provide endless opportunity for the meaningless, throw-away fun of popcorn films that occupy the shallow end and I personally enjoy these films. But much more attention must be paid to the preparation of a film that aspires to go beyond the standard blockbuster into the more mature territory of epic adventure. Snow White and the Huntsman misses the mark on some key elements and is therefore forced to don water wings in order to stay afloat in the deeper waters.

Shortly after the death of his beloved queen, a heavy-hearted king (Noah Huntley) falls for the unending beauty of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a newcomer to his kingdom with a murky past and a connection to the dark arts. On their wedding night, Ravenna kills the king, allows her army inside the city gates to overthrow the kingdom, and locks the king’s only daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), away in a castle tower. After 15 years, Snow White is able to escape to the dark forest. Needing the young girl’s heart in order to preserve her eternal youth, Ravenna sends a brave but troubled man known only as The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to fetch Snow White. But when the Huntsman finally tracks the princess down, he is swayed by her story and agrees to aid her in her quest to overthrow Ravenna and assert her claim to the throne.

On paper, there is an awful lot to like about Snow White and the Huntsman. The (much) bleaker take on the classic fairy tale was enough to pique my interest in the beginning and that inherent darkness embodies much of what works in this film. At times it appears to borrow heavily from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro and I mean that in the best way possible. Visually speaking, Snow White is often stunning, adding stylish but natural special effects to a vivid color wash that serves the film appropriately. It contains favorable elements of Willow and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe while still managing to differentiate itself enough to stand on its own two feet. And with the exception of Stewart (more on this in a moment), the cast is superb. Hemsworth brings the requisite brash toughness to his role and yet again displays why he is a superstar in the making. Each of the seven dwarves is brought to life through a combination of great CGI and the liveliness of stellar actors such as Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Bob Hoskins. Overshadowing them all, however, is Theron, who completely owns every minute of her screen time, giving us a fantastic overall performance.

Unfortunately, the strengths of Snow White are undone by its glaring weaknesses. Stewart is the most readily apparent weak spot but this isn’t entirely her fault. I wouldn’t call Stewart a good actress but I believe she could be decent in the right role (see: Into the Wild). She is horribly miscast here, however. She’s far too wooden for the part and while she gives a valiant effort (I really mean this; you can tell that she’s trying to be good), her lack of charisma leaves a gaping hole in the film. Snow White simply doesn’t exude the charm or inspire followers the way the role is designed. Too much pressure is placed on Stewart and she just doesn’t have it in her to muster the strength to carry the load.

But I would say that Stewart is not so much the cause of the film’s issues but rather a symptom of a bigger issue. For a film that is all about romance, the power of the human will, and the triumph of good over evil, Snow White displays a startling and embarrassing lack of heart. Never is the audience given a reason to invest in the film and as a result, it seems to drag on and on. It isn’t boring so much as it is just an exercise in subpar writing. Everything is stated rather than felt and development of both characters and narrative is stale to say the least. First-time director Rupert Sanders seems content to letting his film tell a story rather than engaging the audience within the story, a pre-requisite for this sort of film. Snow White fails to show even an ounce of emotion and as such its beautiful appearance is wasted on its hollow, empty interior.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 6/4

Armie Hammer, Taylor Kitsch, and Garrett Hedlund are all in contention to play Finnick in Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Hammer is perhaps the obvious choice and I believe Hedlund is a better actor than he gets credit for. But Kitsch would be killer in that role. On the other hand, Robert Pattinson has confirmed that he is NOT in line to for the role so we can all breathe a sigh of relief. What a miserable choice that would have been.

With an Indiana Jones set coming in time for Christmas and Jaws dropping in August, we already knew this would be a big year for Spielberg films on Blu-Ray. Add another hallmark to the list as E.T. will debut on Blu in October. Can't. Stinking. Wait. 

Christina Applegate has officially joined the cast of Anchorman 2. It wouldn't have been a deal breaker if she'd skipped out but I like that Adam McKay is reassembling the whole news team. 

The long-awaited Fraggle Rock movie now has a pair of writers. No idea what to expect from this but I'm excited. 

Sequels to both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: First Class have been scheduled for the summer of 2014. 

New details have emerged about Pixar's upcoming dinosaur film (Summer 2014)'re awesome.

Guy Ritchie is expected to take on the adaptation of Treasure Island, a film which is intended to launch a new franchise. 

Catherine Tate will return to the cast of The Office next season which is just the absolute worst thing for that show. Boooooooooo. 

CinemaBlend gives us the 10 most crucial cast changes in the history of Saturday Night Live. Well done. 

Weekend Box Office Results
Well it didn’t exactly win over the critics (46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) but Snow White and the Huntsman did find a robust if unspectacular audience this weekend. I had trouble getting tickets to the showing I wanted to attend which was somewhat unexpected. It did not, however, make much of a splash overseas which may indicate the trouble it will have recouping its $170 million budget. My review will go up tomorrow but I’ll tell you now I wasn’t all that impressed. MIB3 grabbed a solid chunk of cash in its second week of release and of course, did even better overseas. (Man, Europeans love Will Smith.) And in keeping with the overseas theme, Battleship may be flopping miserably on these shores but it’s playing like gangbusters around the world which, of course, was the studio’s plan all along. Finally, The Avengers passed yet another milestone by jumping past The Dark Knight to become the third highest-grossing film of all time. Wow.

1. Snow White and the Huntsman - $56.25M
2. Men in Black 3 - $29.3M ($112.3M)
3. The Avengers - $20.27M ($552.73M)
4. Battleship - $4.81M ($55.12M)
5. The Dictator - $4.72M ($50.83M)
6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - $4.6M ($25.49M)
7. What to Expect When You’re Expecting - $4.43M ($30.72M)
8. Dark Shadows - $3.86M ($70.83M)
9. Chernobyl Diaries - $3.04M ($14.41M)
10. For Greater Glory - $1.8M

New to DVD
What I’ve Seen and Really Isn’t That Bad…Really
John Carter – Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong
If you’re so inclined, you can find any number of negative reviews for John Carter without much effort. While I agree the entire project amounted to one massive screw up after another, the movie itself really and truly isn’t so bad. That’s not exactly a rousing endorsement but special effects are grand, the movie has an underlying sense of humor, and Taylor Kitsch is solid (though my love for Friday Night Lights makes mine a biased opinion). All I’m saying is, if you’re looking for something to watch on a lazy Friday night, you could do much, much worse than this.

What I’ve Seen and You Should, Too
Safe House – Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson
Falling Skies: Season 1 – Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy
For a more action-y rental choice, go with Safe House which is basically just Denzel being Denzel for two hours. It isn’t up to par with, say, Training Day but it is loads better than, say, John Q. It’s also a solid showing for Reynolds which he sorely needed. Meanwhile, Falling Skies is a perfect show for the summer and with Season 2 debuting this week, it’s worth your time to catch up on if you’re a sci-fi nerd.

What I’ll Be Renting This Week
Machine Gun Preacher – Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
The reviews for this one were not good but several people I trust were much more forgiving in their reviews. And I must admit the story intrigues me. With very few rental options on the horizon, I’m betting I’ll get around to this one shortly.

What I’m Looking Forward to Catching Up On
Burn Notice: Season 5 – Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar
If, like me, you assumed there was no way a summertime USA TV show like Burn Notice could be any good, then allow me to inform you that you were wrong. I came late to the party (just before Season 4) but thoroughly enjoyed the catch-up. It is much smarter and much more entertaining than I would have ever imagined. I missed the back half of Season 5 due to a DVR malfunction and with Season 6 beginning next week, I’m very much looking forward to finishing this season. The first four seasons are on Netflix and I highly recommend a viewing.

Also New
Act of Valor – Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – The Rock, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens
Breaking Bad: Season 4 – Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 8 – Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines
White Collar: Season 3 – Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Willie Garson
In Plain Sight: Season 4 – Mary McCormack, Frederick Waller, Paul Ben-Victor
Necessary Roughness: Season 1 – Callie Thorne, Patrick Johnson
Fairly Legal: Season 1 – Sarah Shahi, Michael Trucco, Baron Vaughn

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
The Sting (1973) – Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw
There are a number of Best Picture winners from the ‘60s and ‘70s (and every other decade for that matter) that don’t hold up so well these days. The Sting isn’t one of them. A brilliantly written and superbly acted film, it is a MUST SEE for anyone has missed out thus far and ranks as one of my ten favorite films.

Two More Solid Blu-Ray Picks
US Marshals (1998) – Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr
A Perfect World (1993) – Kevin Costner, TJ Lowther, Clint Eastwood
I wouldn’t call either of these movies great but both have their own merits and both are worth watching if you’ve missed out thus far. US Marshals is pure ‘90s cop-related action with a fun cast and a solid twist or two. Plus it’s always fun to look back on RDJ during his drug days and see how great he was even then though almost in spite of himself. A Perfect World on the other hand has one of the better father-son dynamics from any film of the time, even though Costner and Lowther aren’t actually father and son. I’ve always thought this movie is seriously underrated. Check it out.

Also New to Blu
Yellow Submarine (1968) – The Beatles
Hondo (1953) – John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond
The Color of Money (1986) – Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine
Ransom (1996) – Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise
Cocktail (1988) – Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue
Bloodwork (2002) – Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston

Coming to a Theater Near You
I wasn’t able to do my customary Rotten Tomatoes score prediction last week and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t. I really expected more from Snow White and the Huntsman. This week, we’re treated to two wide releases at opposite end of the spectrum and a surprisingly large number of films debuting in limited release.

Prometheus – Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender
A group of explorers travel to the far reaches of the galaxy to uncover the origins of mankind. What they find might be mankind’s undoing. Prometheus marks Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi though how much this movie will have to do with the Alien series is still uncertain. The early reviews haven’t been as overwhelmingly positive as I might have guessed but that hasn’t squelched my enthusiasm in the least. I am RIDICULOUSLY stoked about this movie. Can’t wait to check it out. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 77%

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer
In their continuing effort to return to New York, four former zoo animals join a traveling circus as they cross through Europe. I really enjoyed the first Madagascar. And I honestly can’t tell you whether or not I’ve even seen the sequel. It seems like something I would have seen at some point but even after reading the IMDB synopsis, I can’t remember a thing about it. I’m not sure I really need another sequel, therefore, but these movies make serious cash and there really aren’t many family movies in theaters right now so it is probably in for a decent haul. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 63%

Also New: A man (Mark Duplass) places a wanted ad for a companion to accompany him on a time traveling adventure in Safety Not Guaranteed…a newly single woman (Greta Gerwig) attempts to come to grips with her relationship status in Lola Versus…an influential young newcomer (Robert Pattinson) created waves in the Paris power structure in Bel Ami…and a mom (Catherine Keener) and her two daughters (Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff) take a much needed vacation in Peace Love and Misunderstanding.

Friday, June 1, 2012

TV Recap Part One: End of Year Report Card

I don’t devote too much time around here to television analysis. This is, after all, a movie site. But if truth be told, I probably spend more time each week watching TV than I do movies and if you count sports then the balance is definitely shifted in the favor of TV. I’m somewhat picky about my television selections, though. I’ll watch a bad movie (see: The Sitter) if I think it’ll make for a good review or if there’s just nothing better to watch but I will not tolerate bad TV shows. I’ve been known to bail on a show mid-episode if it isn’t holding water and there have been many times that I’ve come very close to abandoning shows I’ve watched for years when they take bad turns (see: Lost). But good TV…that I can watch all day.

Today’s feature is part one of a two part series, the second of which will run next Friday. With the school year coming to an end and the vast wasteland of summer programming on the horizon, I felt it only fair to grade the shows I watched religiously each week, report card style, and next week we’ll take a look at the shows I plan to catch up on through the summer.

NOTE: Mad Men and Game of Thrones have not had their finales yet so despite the fact that they’re probably the best two shows on television, they will not be included in this entry.

Community (Season 3)
Someday someone will write an incredible expose on Community and how it managed to almost completely avoid a relevant audience while simultaneously serving as television’s smartest, boldest sitcom. Season 3 was a triumph on virtually every level. While the first two seasons often fluctuated between sly successes and near misses, this year’s offering was the most cohesive, reliably brilliant season yet. It’s just too bad no one watches it. There should be a place in this world for a show that can do a multiple universe episode, a self-aware Glee knock-off episode, and a Ken Burns Civil War spoof in the same season.
Grade: A+

Justified (Season 3)
I would contend that Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy are all better shows than Justified. But other than Don Draper, no show on television has a better lead character than Raylan Givens. Season 3 was like a smorgasbord of Raylan being Raylan and that, right there, makes for a fantastic year of television. Justified is an insanely likeable show and one that is seriously rewatchable, which isn’t always a quality you find in hour-long dramas.
Grade: A

Parks and Recreation (Season 4)
If Community is the smartest sitcom on TV (and it is) then Parks and Rec is still my favorite. I’ve been championing this show from the beginning and I’m thrilled that it’s been given an opportunity to grow and evolve. There were a handful of episodes this year that weren’t up to par from a comedic standpoint but where Parks continues to excel is in the development of its characters. I care about Leslie Knope and her cohorts more than I expect to when watching a sitcom. The campaign storyline that took over the show for the final few episodes was excellent as well. Also, Ron Swanson is the greatest character in the history of sitcoms. Mark it down.
Grade: A

Saturday Night Live (Season 37)
I must tell you, dear friends, I think this was the best season SNL has put forth in years. (And before you even start, I won’t have any of that “Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good for decades” nonsense. In fact it has been quite good again for quite some time now, only it’s become hip to bash on it no matter what.) The young talents Lorne Michaels added over the last few years have begun to flourish (particularly Taran Killam) and the show attracted a killer set of hosts that thrived for the most part. The season finale, hosted by Mick Jagger, was one of the best all-around episodes the show has put together in the last decade. Seriously, friends, this season was fantastic.
Grade: A
New Girl (Season 1)
I must admit, I despised the first two and a half episodes of New Girl. And I really mean “despised.” I was stoked about the show and ready to jump in head first. But that pilot…yuck. I very nearly gave up. But about half-way through that third episode, the dynamic began to shift and before long, I’m not sure I wasn’t looking forward to New Girl more than any other sitcom each week. It was genuinely hilarious week in and week out. Even more impressive, I started watching the show because I love Zooey Deschanel but by the end of the season, her character was probably the third or fourth most important to me in terms of investment. Can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.
Grade: A-

30 Rock (Season 6)
If there was a “Comeback Show of the Year” award for television, 30 Rock would be a unanimous winner. When a sitcom begins to show signs of decline, it rarely recovers. Usually we’re treated to a year, maybe two, of lackluster programming while the given show slowly wanders toward the light. Make no mistake: Season 5 of 30 Rock was really bad. The front half was solid but the final 10 episodes or so were borderline unwatchable. This time around, however, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and the rest came back with a bang and put together a glorious season that fits right in with the previous seasons with great, ridiculous plot points and the fresh comedy that marked the show’s early years.
Grade: A-

Big Bang Theory (Season 5)
It’s still shocking to me that this show found a home on CBS. A network propagated almost entirely by weak, gutless programs that shy away from higher intelligence somehow stumbled across one of the smarter shows on TV and allowed it to flourish. Big Bang isn’t nearly as brave as Community nor does it deliver the highs that Parks and Rec does but it is just about as consistently funny as a sitcom can get. The evolution of Sheldon has also been fascinating.
Grade: A-

Boardwalk Empire (Season 2)
In virtually every way, Boardwalk Empire is a magnificent show. It features impeccable acting, incredible dialogue, powerful plots, and gorgeous sets. The only thing it doesn’t feature is excitement. It’s just so boring. It’s not a painful boredom, mind you, it’s just that I have trouble getting pumped up for the next episode when the previous installment seemed so very long. It is a wonderfully well-made show, though, and one that deserves all the attention it gets. I just wish it would quicken the pace from time to time.
Grade: A-

How I Met Your Mother (Season 7)
The evolution of HIMYM is fascinating to me. It’s never been a continuously brilliant show in my opinion. Most seasons, you’re going to get 18 consistently good episodes highlighted by 5 hilarious and/or genius episodes that stand out above all the rest. This season there weren’t really any stand out episodes. At the same time, however, the tone of the series overall has become much more serious and while many of my friends who have watched the show don’t like the new direction, I actually really dig the more mature narrative. That said, if we don’t figure out whom Ted’s wife is within the first 10 episodes of Season 8, I’m going to lose it.
Grade: B+

Modern Family (Season 3)
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point, Modern Family ceased to be outrageously funny. To be fair, it has always strayed closer to a family comedy than a cutting edge sitcom aimed at younger demographics but some of the earlier episodes were packed with quality laughs. But at the same time, while it isn’t nearly as funny as most of the other sitcoms I watch, I must say that the characters are still great and I still really enjoy each new episode. It does suffer from too much Claire, though. Less Claire, more Phil.
Grade: B+

The River (Season 1)
The fact that The River couldn’t find an audience is a real bummer to me. It wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t in love with it on the whole, but it was different and intriguing and probably the closest we’ve come yet to replacing Lost. On the other hand, it wrapped itself up nicely and stands as a solid choice for a quick viewing if you’re ever looking for a short summer viewing.
Grade: B+

Suburgatory (Season 1)
Much like New Girl, I didn’t really love the first few episodes of Suburgatory. But as the supporting characters came into their respective own, I thought the show really took off and found a nice groove for itself. This was also a show that probably wasn’t allowed to take many chances as it had to prove itself to ABC and its audience before being allowed much slack (whereas New Girl had the familiarity and likability of Zooey to use as currency until it found its stride). I wasn’t in love with the final few episodes but I think this is a show that has a great deal of potential moving forward.
Grade: B

Grimm (Season 1)
If there’s a guilty pleasure selection on this list then Grimm is the prime suspect. I tuned in to the pilot episode because I’m a nerd and the concept reached out to my nerdier tendencies. But I really didn’t expect much. Maybe it was because of these low expectations but if truth be told, I genuinely enjoyed the show’s freshman season. As far as procedurals go, you could a whole heck of a lot worse than what Grimm brings to the table and I think NBC is smart to bring it back in late summer.
Grade: B

Alcatraz (Season 1)
Alcatraz is a perfect example of what happens when a show takes a killer idea and then tries to set itself up for a five season run instead of making Season 1 so good that it earns a five season run. This could have been a GREAT show if only it would have worked to keep an audience rather than attempting to string everyone along. It was also inconsistent and while I think it’d be an excellent pickup for Netflix, Hulu, or another non-traditional television source, it doomed itself on network TV with an uneven approach to its opening season.
Grade: B-

Bones (Season 8)
I can’t exactly tell you why I watch Bones. I’m not really into procedurals and more often than not it doesn’t bring just a whole to the table in terms of quality story telling or character development. But it is a fun show and I guess that counts for something. This season wasn’t as consistently decent as the show has been in the past but it did provide some solid highlights and the truncated nature of the production schedule probably didn’t help it out. I’m coming back for another season but I will need that season to get it together quickly in order to keep me around.
Grade: B-

Raising Hope (Season 2)
About halfway through this season, I began to fear that Raising Hope had already peaked. That fear was realized even further in the two-part finale which was one of the worst hours of television I saw this year. Show creator has a history of pushing his shows into jump-the-shark moments and I’m very much afraid that finale was it for Hope. In truth, even before that debacle the sophomore season wasn’t up to the standard set by the outstanding first run and I don’t have a whole lot of hope moving forward.
Grade: B-

Parenthood (Season 3)
Here’s the thing about Parenthood: If you picked out every element (story, writing, characters, acting, etc.) of the show one by one and classified it as either “good” or “bad”, it would basically result in a 50-50 split. I love about half of the characters and I hate the other half; I think about half of the plot points are fantastic and the other half are painful; I enjoy about 20 minutes of every episode and the other 20 minutes makes me want to punch a puppy. Over the course of this season I probably told my wife that I was going to quit watching the show at least a dozen times. It is probably the most frustrating show on television and I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be back for Season 4.
Grade: B-

The Office (Season 8)
*Sigh* For years, The Office was my favorite show on television and it wasn’t even close. Then it hit a rough patch. And then it had an eighth season. I don’t think this season was horrible as much as it was misguided. That said, it is definitely a show that I watched because I’ve watched it for seven years and I’m not quite willing to stop. I do believe that it can be fixed (ditching James Spader is a good start and completely nixing Catherine Tate would be a massive step in the right direction) but it has a lot of ground to make up at this point.
Grade: C+