Friday, August 31, 2012

Trailer Spotlight - 8/31

It's been a few weeks since I've had the chance to do a Trailer Spotlight. We'll be playing a bit of catch up with some of the trailers I've missed recently but in order to keep this from getting too far out of hand I'm going to cap this session at five. For a complete recap of what we've missed lately, head over to The Focused Filmographer and browse through his Trailer Time Thursday posts. Great stuff there!

Red Dawn (November 21) - Chris Hemsworth, Adrienne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson
If you haven't tracked the troubled history of Red Dawn over what seems like the last decade, you may not be as surprised as I am that this is finally finding its way to theaters. It was announced in 2008, began production in 2009, and was scheduled for release in 2010 before MGM ran into financial issues. It's been sitting on a shelf ever since, though n post production the baddies were changed from the Chinese to the North Koreans. This release date kind of came out of nowhere, too, as the studio backers felt (rightly so) that this was a weak Thanksgiving market and that Red Dawn could find some favor. The first trailer is in and I must admit it looks much better than I would have expected.

Zero Dark Thirty (December 19) - Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton
It definitely won't be the only movie related to the events of Seal Team 6 and the killing of Osama Bin Laden but Kathryn Bigelow gets credit for being the first to put the story on the screen. I love what Bigelow did with The Hurt Locker and this cast is outstanding, even if it does lack a bankable star. We're not given much here but just from a patriotic standpoint, Zero Dark Thirty is likely to be a big hit.

Seven Psychopaths (October 12) - Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
If you're a fan of dark comedies and you haven't seen Martin McDonagh's In Bruges then you're doing things wrong. It's outstanding and it gets better upon further viewings. McDonagh re-teams with Farrell here and man, does this look good. And what a cast he's assembled this time around! PREDICTION: Tom Waits will steal the show in this film. Mark it down.

The Company You Keep (TBD) - Shia LaBeouf, Robert Redford, Anna Kendrick
Wait. So you're telling me there are TWO movies this year in which a thoroughly undeserving Shia LaBeouf is being backed by a tremendous cast of much better actors? What's your deal, 2012? It's been over a decade since Redford has done much of anything worthwhile but at the end of the day, he's still Robert Redford and he can still get me to a theater just on the off chance that he nails it. The Company You Keep looks to have some potential but as with Lawless, it will probably come down to whether or not LaBeouf can not stink.

The Last Stand (January 18) - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Genesis Rodriguez, Forest Whitaker
Oh boy, did I save the best for last. And by "best", I mean "really bad even for January." Having just come off of my Expendables 2 viewing, I have to say that Arnie was the worst part of the movie (beyond the actual writing, of course). I expected some rust given his long hiatus but it was more than that. His flat, painful deliveries were indicative of an aging pitcher who has lost his fastball. The Last Stand looks pretty miserable my friends.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: "The Expendables 2"

In this day and age of prequels and sequels, there is one important question every studio or filmmaker must be prepared to ask when they produce a hit: “How do we make the next one bigger and better?” If you’re Sylvester Stallone and your hit is The Expendables, the answer to that question is simple: just add Chuck Norris. BOOM. Your sequel is immediately and appreciably better.

The Expendables 2 finds Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew of mercenaries still running roughshod over third world baddies and taking on the jobs that no one else will. Given a mission by CIA agent Church (Bruce Willis) that will ostensibly settle their debt to the agency, the Expendables head to China in order to track down and bring home a mysterious box with the help of Maggie (Nan Yu). But upon retrieving the box, the team is ambushed by the notorious Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who steals the box and does the group an irreparable harm. With revenge squarely on his mind, Ross, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and the rest of the gang take on perhaps their toughest challenge yet in order to apprehend Villain and prevent him from executing his diabolical plan.

As it pertains to movie criticism, for me there is nothing harder than rating and reviewing a film like Expendables. How do you judge a movie that is rife with blatantly bad dialogue, displays absolutely no character development, and values style over any semblance of substance? You’d say that movie is pretty bad, right? But what if that same movie is also an unhealthy amount of fun, makes up for its lack of story with tremendous doses of absurdly violent action, and creates an environment that is unquestionably perfect for its content? That would be a pretty good film, right? In almost every way in which we as a society value and grade movies, Expendables is an abomination. And yet, after about 30 minutes, this film (even more so than its predecessor) has a way of winning you over, even if you went in dead set on hating it. As strange as it may sound, there is a certain charm about Expendables that transcends the ridiculous action sequences and the beat you over the head with an iron rod approach to storytelling.

For me, the specific charm that Expendables (and other films like it) utilizes is the understanding between the audience and everyone involved in the production that none of what transpires in this film should be taken with even the slightest hint of seriousness. From the very beginning and over and over throughout the course of the film, Expendables extends to the audience a sly wink or, if you prefer, a knowing nod, that allows you to completely dispense with the silly notion of “reality.” It’s as if the movie opens with a scrolling note, Star Wars-style, that simply reads, “Hey, you know how stressful work was this week? Well, you can forget about all that, little buddy. For the next two hours all we’re going to do is blow crap up and make some jokes that are so bad you can’t help but laugh. And when it’s all over and we’ve killed approximately 100 million Russians, you’ll feel a little better about that glass ceiling. So sit back, relax, maybe inject some testosterone into your veins, and enjoy. Later ‘brah.” Every ounce of Expendables is easily comprehended (duh) and once you’ve accepted the mindless but undoubtedly awesome brand of entertainment, director Simon West wastes no opportunity to make each stunt more ridiculous than the last.

Moreover, every single member of the cast (with the exception of Dolph Lundgren who might not actually be alive) completely buys in to the sheer absurdity of their film and “acts” accordingly. Stallone will never get the credit he deserves for realizing exactly what he is today and exploiting that to the best of his ability. There’s a genius to the creation of this franchise and its execution that is due almost entirely to Stallone and his ability to pull in virtually every washed up action star to actually make Expendables live up to what it sets out to be is paramount to the success of this film. West does a great job, too, of hiding the members of the cast who really can’t act in the background and propping them up with hilariously bad one-liners. The cast outside of the actual members of the Expendables represent perhaps the best of the movie. Sure, the action scenes are great but getting to see Bruce Willis smirk through every TERRIBLE piece of dialogue he’s given to work with is a treat to behold. I am shocked to report that Van Damme is actually good in his role as the over-the-top villain (seriously, his name is Villain!!!) and gets my vote for “Best Performance in a Horribly Acted But Nonetheless Great” action movie. And then there’s Norris who appears in the movie for all of three minutes, delivers perhaps five lines, and yet somehow completely steals the show. His first appearance marks the moment when Expendables 2 outreaches its predecessor and the joke surrounding his entrance is worth the price of admission in and of itself. (I won’t spoil it but rest assured that keeping it quiet is KILLING me.)

I could spend hours pointing out all of the plot holes, bad acting, and willfully bad writing that comes into play in Expendables. Virtually everything about this movie is completely detached from reality, except for the number of rounds a gun can hold which for some reason seems to be a real bugaboo that no one is allowed to violate. But at the end of the day, Expendables is EXACTLY what it is supposed to do and hits the mark on every level that an awful movie like this could ever be expected to aim for.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Casa de mi Padre"

The son of a wealthy Mexican landowner, Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) is a simple man who is only entrusted with small tasks around the ranch. When his brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with a plan to bring in more money, Armando is initially excited about the proposition despite his jealousy over Raul’s new fiancé, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Raul’s plan involves the drug trade, drawing unwanted interest from both the local cartel leader Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a corrupt DEA agent (Nick Offerman). With the family’s legacy in danger and his own life on the land, Armando must become the man neither he nor his father thought he could ever be.

Told entirely in Spanish, Casa de mi Padre plays out exactly the way it is intended, as a mix of Spanish telenovela melodrama and Will Ferrell’s manchild foolishness. There are few surprises here and at times this film becomes tiresome but then again, there’s something to be said for committing to a bit and sticking with it religiously, and in this way Casa is a success. I half expected Casa to turn into a Scary Movie-like parody but instead Ferrell and the rest take great pains to approach the subject matter with a seriousness that it really doesn’t deserve. In doing so, Ferrell sells the movie enough to make one buy in, at least enough to stay relatively interested in a low budget, low expectation movie. If Casa were a car and Ferrell the dealer, you wouldn’t buy it as a brand new, turbo charged Mustang but you could grab onto it as a used Camry with reasonable mileage. And really, that’s all one should expect from a $6 million indie film built around the idea of Will Ferrell speaking Spanish, no?

The actors surrounding Ferrell are adequate in their roles, though none are asked to do much of anything. Rodriguez fits the bill as the beautiful but troubled love interest and she, better than anyone else in the cast, seems to roll with Ferrell’s antics. A scene in which Armando and Sonia become, shall we say, romantically entwined, the lead-up to and execution of which is so absurd as to bring about laughter even though I should know better. Here Rodriguez is an excellent muse for Ferrell. At the end of the day, though, Casa is virtually a one man show, a platform for Ferrell to do something different while still staying in a comfortable place. In comparison to his other films (of which I am a great and lifelong fan), Casa is fairly weak but if nothing else Ferrell should get credit for thinking outside the box and doing something a bit risky. There’s more to like here than I anticipated, included the blatantly fake backdrops and at least one scene that is ripped from the pages of a Monty Python sketch, making Casa a modest success in my book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Battleship"

Dear Reader(s),

By day’s end, there are likely to be many reasons to remember August 28th, 2012. Perhaps a well-known celebrity will be arrested, a small earthquake will be detected in Arizona, John Mayer will pop up with a new gal pal (you stay away from Rachel McAdams, John), or another newsworthy event will take place, cementing this day in our memories forever. But as for me and my house, today will be remembered as the day that Battleship came out on Blu-Ray, making it readily available for multiple, shameless viewings in the vein of The A-Team and Fast Five.

I cannot blame you, dear reader(s), if Battleship has somehow slipped your memory after its less-than-stellar premiere in May. Based upon the board game of the same title, Battleship recounts the heroic tale of a group of Navy sailors, led by a troublemaking lieutenant (Taylor Kitsch), who stand as the only thing between an alien force and the total annihilation of the human race. When their more advanced weapon systems are knocked out, the sailors resort to the use of a World War II era battleship and basic sonar plotting to target and take down the alien crafts while buying time for a larger force to join the fray. It is part sci-fi, part popcorn action flick, part naval recruitment video, and all AWESOME.

And yet, very few viewers on these shores saw Battleship and even fewer gave it praise. Its theatrical run was incredibly short for a movie with a hefty budget ($200 million) and most critics hammered it as a tremendous flop belonging in the same category as Cutthroat Island and Waterworld. If you were to scan through reviews for Battleship, some of the descriptors you would find would include: “noisy”, “cliché”, “stupid”, “shameless”, “one of the dumbest ideas for a movie…ever” and on and on. I cannot, in good conscience, combat any of these adjectives nor will I try. In fact, I quite agree with just about all of them. Battleship is unquestionably noisy, cliché, stupid, shameless, and one of the dumbest ideas for a movie ever. How it ever got the green light in the first place is beyond me, though it does give you a hint at just how important the foreign market is to the future of blockbusters, as this film made (if you will excuse the pun) a boatload of money overseas.

And yet, one thing most of the reviews for Battleship have neglected to mention is that in spite of being stupid, shameless, noisy, etc., this movie is also an absurd amount of fun in ways I cannot truly justify nor elaborate on. There may not be a single scene, line, or character that I can point to as an illustration of what works in Battleship; I can only tell you that throughout the course of its obscenely long 130 minute runtime, never once did I hate my life. Okay, maybe once or twice when Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker were struggling to read their lines effectively I hated my life. But otherwise, I laughed a lot despite the obvious jokes, I rooted for the characters despite their shallowness, and I fully embraced the, “Yay for veterans!” attitude that ran through every ounce of the movie despite its blatant and obvious nature.

The biggest mistake in the making of Battleship is the fact that the studio ever acknowledged it was based on the ruddy board game. Had they kept Hasbro’s involvement in the dark, there’s a chance this movie would have garnered at least a marginally more positive reception from critics. As it is, though, I believe the idea that a movie could be developed out of a simple and outdated board game such as this clouded the minds of just about everyone who saw it, causing most viewers to go with a negative perception that is only deepened by the movie’s brazen foolishness. But there is a certain “don’t take this so seriously” slyness instilled in Battleship by director Peter Berg that is lost in all the negativity and that, “how could this possibly be good?!” mindset that accompanied virtually every critic into the theater door. The answer is Battleship CAN’T possibly be good and accepting that paves the way for a rollicking good time the likes of which we didn’t see enough of this summer.

I cannot and will not tell you, dear reader(s), that Battleship is good or that you should see it. If viewed without the proper mindset, there’s a chance this movie could actually make you stupider by approximately 17 percent. But as for me, August 28th, 2012 stands as a banner day in the world of absurd, “I can’t help but love this” entertainment and I can’t wait to watch this hunk of junk again.


P.S. Peter Berg, if you’re reading this, I already spent $10 on this film. Seeing as how I may be the only person who actually bought a ticket, I don’t think it would be too much to ask for a free Blu-Ray copy. Email me for my address. I see what you did here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 8/27

My apologies for the lack of content over the last two weeks. Moving is just one of the worst things ever created and moving after not moving for three years sucked the life force and creativity right out of me. But I made it and I'm ever so thankful for the new digs. This week I'll have a couple of reviews and a MONSTER Trailer Spotlight and I expect to announce a few exciting changes around here soon. So thanks for sticking around. I promise I will (or won't, whichever) make it worth your while.

If you were thinking this was the sort of site where you wouldn't get constant and obnoxious fanboy-esque updates on the status of the upcoming fourth Arrested Development season (and subsequent movie), then either you're new around here or you just haven't been paying attention. The aforementioned fourth season of America's greatest "sitcom" ever will debut in the spring of 2013 and will be 13 glorious episodes instead of only 10. I may die from the anticipation.

Anna Kendrick is reportedly in the lead for the female role in the upcoming Captain America sequel. I'm of the opinion that the more we get to see of Kendrick in non-Twilight related films, the better.

Fresh off the success of The Hunger Games, director Gary Ross plans to move on to a prequel to the Peter Pan story which I must say sounds far more interesting than the actual Peter Pan ever has been (not a fan).

It's been rumored for a while now but show runner Greg Daniels has confirmed that this will indeed be the final season of The Office. I'll be sad to see it go (and will undoubtedly devote some space to a full recap of the series that no one will read) but really, it's past time.

Cinema Blend gives us a list of 11 big name/likable actors and actresses who've had a miserable movie we'd all just assume overlook. Can't agree with all of them (nothing wrong with You've Got Mail and does Channing Tatum belong on this list?) but it's a run read. Check it out.

Weekend Box Office Report
There are few things sadder (in terms of First World Pains) than the weekend that marks the conclusion of the summer movie season. In theory, the season should last one more week with Lawless headed to screens this weekend. But when the number one film of a given week brings in under $15 million…that’s all she wrote. “Sorry kids, the August movie schedule has seriously underperformed, you’ve got to go back to school now.” I plan on catching up with Expendables 2 this week but I suspect the studio is a little disappointed with its haul to this point despite its 2 week stay at the top spot. Speaking of disappointing, I did catch up on Bourne Legacy this week and all of you were right: it’s “meh” at best. That’s a missed opportunity right there. Premium Rush found substantial critical appeal but didn’t register with audiences (probably because the marketing was painfully bad) and Hit and Run just stuck its toe into the top 10 despite being an undoubtedly miserable film. Meanwhile an anti-Obama documentary took in almost $10 million over the course of its 10 day run. So that’s awesome.

1. The Expendables 2 - $13.5M ($52.31M)
2. The Bourne Legacy - $9.3M ($85.5M)
3. ParaNorman - $8.54M ($28.27M)
4. The Campaign - $7.44M ($64.54M)
5. The Dark Knight Rises - $7.15M ($422.18M)
6. The Odd Life of Timothy Green - $7.12M ($27.08M)
7. Premium Rush - $6.3M
8. 2016 Obama’s America - $6.23M ($9.07M)
9. Hope Springs - $6M ($45M)
10. Hit and Run - $4.67M ($5.86M)

What I’ve Seen and Really Isn’t So Bad
Battleship – Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna
Actually the descriptor “isn’t so bad” might not be strong enough. All cards on the table, I kind of love Battleship. It is popcorn film foolishness of the highest order and features moments of spectacularly bad acting (mostly from Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker) and yet it is absurdly enjoyable. I never wrote a review back when I saw it due to time constraints but I expect to put one out this week, for which I will be chastised by my fellow bloggers. But I care not, this one is just plain fun.

What I’ll Be Catching Up On – TV Edition
The Walking Dead: Season 2 – Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies
Once Upon a Time: Season 1 – Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle
Despite my self-professed nerdiness, I’ve never been on the zombie bandwagon. As such, The Walking Dead took some selling from trustworthy sources in order for me to buy in. I did just that in season one and loved it despite some serious flaws. I did not love the first half of season two and missed the back half entirely. How those remaining 6 or so episodes turn out will dictate my involvement with the show moving forward. Once Upon a Time is a show that looked like it could be interesting and one that several of my friends enjoy. But when it debuted around the same time as Grimm last season, I picked Grimm as my network TV fantasy procedural of choice and now will have to catch up on this one. I’ve heard good things.

What I’ve Seen and You Should Too…Maybe
Homeland: Season 1 – Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Mandy Pankin
Sons of Anarchy: Season 4 – Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Katey Segal
Boardwalk Empire: Season 2 – Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald
What we have here are three of the five best dramas that television has to offer, all of which are outstanding in their own ways and all of which are most assuredly worth catching up on…if you can handle the serious, graphic content.

Sons is probably my favorite hour long show on TV and season four stands as an excellent illustration of how to reenergize a show on the fly after season three wrapped up almost all of the conflicts that had been laid out over three years.

Homeland came out of nowhere last year to be one of the more intense shows on television and stands as the only reason to subscribe to Showtime.

And Boardwalk…well Boardwalk is a strange beast, a show that is exquisitely written, acted, and put together and that works magnificently as a cohesive 10 episode whole, and yet drags endlessly from week to week. It is my least favorite of these three shows and yet it might be the best of the bunch. I’m sure this analysis was completely useless. You’re welcome.

Also New
Think Like a Man – Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart
The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven
Darling Companion – Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne West
The Lucky Ones – Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner
In Plain Sight: Season 5 – Mary McCormack, Fred Weller

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Jurassic Park (1993) – Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Someday I’ll write a full piece on Jurassic Park and give it the full attention it truly deserves. But for now, let me just say that this is one of my 10 favorite films of all time and one that left an indelible mark upon me as a kid when I first saw it in a theater. It’s a movie that unquestionably reminds me of why I love movies and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it on this format for some time now. (NOTE: Jurassic Park was released on Blu-Ray last year as part of a trilogy pack but let’s be honest, the sequels in this franchise are horrid and I like to pretend they don’t exist.)

Also New to Blu
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Atonement (2007) – Keira Knightley, James McAvoy
Universal continues its 100th anniversary celebration with an extensive list of Blu-Ray releases including: Airport (1970), Harvey (1950), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963), Scarface (1983), Out of Africa (1985), and Double Indemnity (1944).

Coming to a Theater Near You
I’m glad I missed out on writing this column last week because I would have missed badly on both of the major releases. I thought Hit & Run (Rotten, 45%) would end up under the 20% threshold because, let’s be honest, that looked HORRID; somehow, though, it found favor with some respected critics. Meanwhile, Premium Rush had the feel of a movie shot and stuck on a shelf four years ago only to be released to bank off of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s newfound star status but is apparently good (Fresh, 75%). I don’t know what to do with that to be honest. Do I have to go see Premium Rush now? This week marks the end of the summer season and the transition into the lesser popcorn flicks and not-quite-award-caliber dramas. *Sigh*

Lawless – Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce
A gang of Depression-era bootleggers (Hardy, LaBeouf) have their livelihoods threatened by the arrival of a new lawman (Pearce) and a fight with a hardened criminal (Oldman). Lawless looks incredible and I’ve been looking forward to it for months. The cast alone (minus LaBeouf whom I think we can all agree needs to be stopped) was enough to get me to the theater and adding in the bootlegging/Prohibition element, a fascination of mine thanks in no small part to The Untouchables, has had me counting down the days to this release. That said, director John Hillcoat is not for everyone; his style is a very deliberate, patient, and even dry blend that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a summer blockbuster. My gut tells me this will be the classic example of a film that you either love or hate and may not be what audiences expect it to be. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 73%

The Possession – Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick
A young girl (Calis) is possessed by an evil spirit residing in an antique box found at a garage sale. Creepiness abounds. Hey, you know how you can insure that I absolutely will not see your movie? Have a kid get possessed by Satan or one of his subsidiaries. I can’t even handle the trailer. No thanks. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 47%

For a Good Time, Call… - Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long
Per IMDB: “Former college frenemies Lauren and Katie move into fabulous Gramercy Park apartment, and in order to make ends meet, the unlikely pair start a phone sex line together.” Hey, you know how you can insure that I absolutely will not see your movie? Include the term “frenemies” in the basis of the plot. Also, am I missing something on Ari Graynor? I don’t get it. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 55%

Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Break

Good day, dear reader(s)! Thanks for stopping by. As you may have noticed, there's not a lot happening around here these days. That's because I'm moving. No, I'm not talking about moving the site (though that is in the offing as well), I mean actually, physically packing up all of my valuables (read: "junk") and moving them to another location where I am now in the process of unpacking all those valuables. If you've ever moved before you know what an absolute, soul-sucking, energy-draining process it really is. I had intended to be back to writing this week but with a lack of Internet until very recently and a need to make the new house a livable space (not to mention buying groceries and having a meal that doesn't come with a styrofoam cup), I'm not ready to come back yet. More importantly, anything I do write this week would undoubtedly be even further below average than my usual content. All that to say, I'm taking the week off but promise to come back with at least some renewed vigor. Or something. I'm pretty much running on fumes at this point. I couldn't even come up with a clever title or picture to put in this space. Sue me. Anyway, thanks for sticking around, hope to see you all next week.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 8/13

For me, the biggest news of the week was the confirmation that Joss Whedon will write and direct the sequel to The Avengers. It didn't make any sense, of course, for Marvel and Whedon to part ways after the ridiculous success of the first film but then again, Marvel has been known to be stingy with their profits so it was far from a done deal before now. In other news, it appears Whedon is also developing a live-action Marvel TV series. So there's that. 

DC Comics countered all the Whedon-related news by offering their prospective Justice League film to Ben Affleck as director. That's a weird rumor right there. CinemaBlend sums up what we know so far about the Justice League movie

Robert Zemeckis continues his resurgence with news that he will develop and possibly direct a movie about the Barefoot Bandit. If you don't know who the Barefoot Bandit is, it's worth Googling. Very interesting story. 

Will Ferrell and Steve Carell will re-team for Justin Theroux's comedy Swear to God. Anything good enough for those two is good enough for me. 

The long-rumored third film in the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure saga has officially been given the green light. So that's...exciting? 

In light of the collective "meh" critics and audiences issued in the direction of Total Recall, Player Affinity gives us 10 sci-fi movies that should be remade. Check it out!

Programming note: I will be moving this week into a newly purchased home (yay for real jobs, I guess). There's a good chance this will result in little to no content making its way to this space during the week. My apologies. 

Weekend Box Office Results
Well it took solid openings for three different films but The Dark Knight Rises has been bumped off the top spot after perching there for three weeks. The Bourne Legacy probably underperformed a bit thanks for less than stellar early reviews but I’m sure Universal isn’t worried considering how well the film will undoubtedly do overseas. The Campaign performed above expectations with both critics and audiences and took in a respectable second place finish. And Hope Springs did well with the geriatric crowd it was so readily targeted toward. Not to be forgotten, however, The Dark Knight Rises moved into 15th place on the all-time domestic box office list. If its trending patterns hold, it will probably find up somewhere between 9th and 12th all-time when it’s all said and done. Not too shabby, though perhaps not the worldwide sensation we might have expected earlier this year.

1. The Bourne Legacy - $40.26M
2. The Campaign - $27.44M
3. The Dark Knight Rises - $19.54M ($390.14M)
4. Hope Springs - $15.6M
5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days - $8.2M ($30.55M)
6. Total Recall - $8.1M ($44.18M)
7. Ice Age: Continental Drift - $6.75M ($144.06M)
8. Ted - $3.29M ($209.91M)
9. Step Up Revolution - $2.85M ($30.16M)
10. The Amazing Spider-Man - $2.2M ($255.54M)

What I’ve Seen and You Should Too
The Hunger Games – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
I won’t spend much time writing on this one since pretty much everyone, including many of your deceased relatives, has already seen The Hunger Games. I am interested, though, to see how it holds up with multiple viewings as it has gained a bit of steam within my own head since its release. In that time I’ve become more and more convinced that film version of The Hunger Games is much better than the book, which I’ve browsed through again since my viewing. Hoping I’m right because I’m not as sold on the book as I used to be.

What I’ve Seen and You Should Too – TV Edition
Community: Season 3 – Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Donald Glover
Hey, you know what was the best sitcom on television last year? That’s right, friends, the answer is Community! Don’t believe me? Well, read this very scientific column and then go check it out for yourself. Seriously, the progression of Community from a somewhat middling comedy half way through its freshman year to one of the greatest seasons in recent sitcom history in season three has been fascinating to watch. If you’re a fan of Arrested Development and for some reason you haven’t been watching Community then you’re doing it wrong.

Also New
The Raid – Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory – Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, Jason Baldwin
Kill List – Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson
Hick – Chloe Grace Moretz, Blake Lively, Eddie Redmayne
Glee: Season 3 – Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch
Dexter: Season 4 – Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington
Happy Endings: Seasons 1 and 2 – Eliza Coupe, Zachary Knighton, Elisha Cuthbert

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Jaws (1975) – Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
The original summer blockbuster FINALLY makes its way onto blu-ray. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while now as Spielberg continues his ingenious and maddening method of releasing his bigger hits in this format with all the hurry of a turtle trying to cross a busy highway. Jaws is one of the greatest blockbusters of all time, has some of the best acting you’ll ever see in this sort of film, and represents the rare horror flick that has the ability to genuinely scare the crap out of people. This is an incredible film that I can’t wait to relive in full HD.

Also New to Blu
Fallen (1998) – Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland
Royal Tenenbaums: Criterion Collection Edition (2001) – Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray
New Jack City (1991) – Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Chris Rock
Shaft (1971) – Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi

Coming to a Theater Near You
Well I feel sheepish. It is unlikely that I could have screwed up last week’s Rotten Tomatoes predictions any worse than I did. Critics didn’t care for The Bourne Legacy (Rotten, 54% actual versus Fresh, 80% prediction), they weren’t quite as bullish on Hope Springs as I expected (74% actual versus 84% predicted), and somehow The Campaign was a billion times better than it looked (Fresh, 67% actual versus Rotten, 25% predicted). These mistakes have kept me up at night (no they haven’t), I am deeply sorry for the misinformation I have fed you (no I’m not), and I will strive to put in the appropriate research to make sure that this never happens again (highly unlikely). This week represents the dumping ground for the summer, the weekend on which every studio drops off their movie that wasn’t quite up to challenging the big boys on the summer block but won’t fit in with the typical fare of the fall.

Expendables 2 – Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Every other action star ever
The world’s greatest group of mercenaries reassembles for what should be an easy paycheck on a job that turns out to be far more dangerous than they originally thought. The Expendables was the PERFECT end of summer film: it was absolutely absurd, an incredible amount of fun, and 100 percent forgettable as soon as you left the theater. For me, it doesn’t have any of the reviewing value that other action films (or comedy-action mashups like the unmatchable MacGruber) but for two hours, it was bloody good fun. I expect this sequel will be up to par and perhaps surpass the original. Beefed up roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger and the addition of Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme give The Expendables 2 a little extra juice and I expect it will be nearly impossible to watch without smiling. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 53%

ParaNorman – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck
A nerdy kid (KSM) with an ability to see ghosts must bring a hodge-podge team together in order to save his town from a curse. This will be the first of several kid-targeted films that focus on the supernatural in the back half of this year and in truth, I have no idea what to expect from it. I will say two things about ParaNorman: 1.) This is an inventive concept for which I give the studio credit for and 2.) I’m so excited for this film to open simply so I don’t have to see another trailer for it. Good grief, talk about overkill. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 61%

Sparkle – Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Carmen Ejogo
A trio of sisters becomes a Motown sensation in the 1960s. My question about Sparkle is simply this: would anyone care about this film if not for it being Whitney Houston’s final film? Dreamgirls, which holds many similarities to this movie, made a chunk of money when it opened in 2006 but then again, it was expected to make waves with award shows in ways that Sparkle is not. Personally I’m not interested but it will be intriguing to see how many people are. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 70%

The Odd Life of Timothy Green – Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams
After failing to conceive, a couple (Garner, Edgerton) literally buries their hopes for their future child in the garden as a form of therapy. They are surprised, then, to find that a rainstorm has grown an elementary aged boy (Adams) from their box of hopes. Well, it’s an interesting idea. So interesting that I’m shocked it isn’t based upon a book. The problem is, it’s such a weird concept that I don’t know what to expect, I think other viewers don’t know what to expect, and therefore, I think the box office return is going to be bad, though it could find favor with critics. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 65%

Also New: Robert Pattinson tries to shy away from Twilight in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis…an ex-jewel thief (Frank Langella) and his futuristic robot companion attempt a heist in Robot & Frank…a hoax-exposer (Rebecca Hall) has her world turned upside down in The Awakening…and a son’s (Jesse Eisenberg) attempt to check his mother (Melissa Leo) into rehab results in some serious shenanigans in Why Stop Now

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: "Total Recall"

Allow me a moment to break down my review writing process.

1. See a movie;
2. Discuss that movie with whoever I saw said movie with or, if I saw said movie alone, engage in a Gollum-like solo discussion;
3. Spend one to two days decompressing to allow myself to fully grasp the film and settle in on an opinion;
4. Write the review.

It is the third portion of this equation that can cause me problems. I’m an opinionated guy and sometimes breaking those opinions down into a well-reasoned statement. On the other hand, this section of the writing process proves equally challenging when a movie like Total Recall comes along and leaves me almost entirely devoid of opinion whatsoever, prompting me to give the very vague summary of, “Well, it certainly was a movie.”

In the future, the world has been ravaged by the inevitable nuclear war. As a result, only two countries remain: The United Federation of Britain which consists of a chunk of Western Europe and The Colony, formerly known as Australia. Each day, lower income workers from The Colony travel through the earth’s core in a super subway known as The Fall to work in the UFB. Like many of his contemporaries, Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is unhappy with the life he shares with his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). On a whim, Doug pays a visit to Rekall, a company that inserts memories into the brain, giving one the feeling of having done something fun, adventurous, or dangerous at a fraction of the cost. But when Doug is strapped into a chair, his real memories are accessed and a host of UFB troops besiege him, claiming that he is a spy. His reflexes take over and he quickly dispatches the troops in a manner that he would have never dreamed possible. Forced to go on the run to discover the truth about his identity, Doug comes in contact with Melina (Jessica Biel), an old friend who insists that he plays a vital role in the fight between the UFB’s Chancellor Cohaggen (Bryan Cranston) and the rebels from the colony.

“Adequate” is the word that comes to mind most often when trying to describe Total Recall. A remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger “classic” (depending on your use of that word), this version was intended to come closer to the original book written by Phillip K. Dick. Instead, it sort of bridges the gap between the two while attempting to balance the need to remain similar to the 1990 film while still finding ways to strike out on its own. I actually liked the abandonment of the Mars storyline that was central to the 1990 version and the concept of The Fall and the way in which that giant piece of machinery symbolized the struggle between the classes. Other changes, however, didn’t make as much sense and in the end, the helpless need for director Len Wiseman and his crew to pay homage to the original became distracting and at times disjointed. There are at least a handful of scenes within this Total Recall that would leave the viewer very perplexed if he/she had never seen the first one. The storyline, too, doesn’t measure up to the film’s concept and though it isn’t a bad narrative, it is certainly bland.

From an acting standpoint, Total Recall is marginally above average. Farrell throws himself into his character and does his best to flesh out his feelings and emotions even if there’s not much there to work with. You could make the case that his performance is better than Schwarzenegger’s was but the character lacks the magnetism, as it were, that Arnie’s version had. Biel and Cranston, as well as Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Bill Nighy are neither asked to do much nor given much to do and as such, they serve their respective mediocre, not-good-but-not-bad purposes. Without question, the star of the film is Beckinsale who has a keen knack for bringing life and glorious power to relatively meaningless characters and films. The Underworld films, for example, are all fairly awful but Beckinsale’s fierce charisma makes them worth watching. This role in the original was the jumping off point for Sharon Stone’s career but took to the screen for only a few brief moments. Here, Beckinsale chases Farrell from place to place, providing both our lead character and the audience with a tangible adversary while Quaid deals with all the unseen questions about his life. I hope that someday Beckinsale is given an opportunity to play a meaningful role in an actual good film but for the time being, she’s pretty great at what she does.

All of this makes Total Recall a decent but thoroughly underwhelming action movie that leans heavily on the action but falls short of making any sort of impact. Had Wiseman gone for a more mysterious, ambiguous conclusion, it could have reached higher but then it might have been too risky in terms of reaching the average summer blockbuster viewer. I can’t pick out a single element that is inherently wrong with Total Recall but then again, I can’t pick out something that is supremely right, either. It is, at its best, cheap, decent, borderline meaningless entertainment that should probably be reserved for a sick day on the couch rather than a trip to the theater.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Machine Gun Preacher"

After a well-deserved stint in prison, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) returns home to discover that his wife, Lynn (Michelle Moynahan), has found religion and hopes to see him change his wayward ways. Sam vehemently rejects this course of action and immediately returns to his lifestyle: drugs, alcohol, and pulling robberies with his pal, Donnie (Michael Shannon). His hardened persona takes a hit, however, when he nearly kills a homeless man, forcing him to examine the mess he has made of his life. Sam begins going to church with his family and before long he has turned his life around. Several years down the road, Sam meets a missionary from Africa who turns him on to the plight of orphans in Rwanda. After a visit that tugs at his heartstrings, Sam becomes obsessed with helping these kids and puts everything he has into building a safe place for those who are at the very center of a brutal civil war. But when his peaceful ways do little to deter the murderous ways of those who run the country, Sam reverts back to violence of his past, this time in defense of the orphans he would protect, who come to call him the Machine Gun Preacher.

Oh, how I wanted to like this movie. I was intrigued from the moment I saw the first trailer and while the reviews from last year weren’t good (at all), I still felt like there was a decent enough chance that I could at least enjoy this movie for what it is. If nothing else the concept, based on a true story, holds some value for me and I must admit, I’m a fan of vigilantism, as deranged as that may sound. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing positive within Machine Gun Preacher that I could latch onto. In fact, it’s almost like the makers of this film were going out of the way to alienate me and I would guess just about anyone else who happened to sit down for a viewing.

First and foremost, director Marc Forster displays absolutely no aptitude for subtlety; think of a method in which a movie can attempt to manipulate one’s emotions and Machine Gun Preacher probably employs that method. Watching this film is like being beaten over the head with a hammer; a soft, velvety hammer to be sure but a hammer nonetheless. I’ve never been one to get up in arms about a movie trying to invoke emotions but man, a little more respect for the viewer’s ability to follow along and connect would have been appreciated. Second, the characters are all horribly one-dimensional and robotic. At times Sam breaks out of his cage but these moments are few and far between and most of the time all of the main characters remain rigidly bound to the overly-simplistic, paper-thin guidelines set out in what I’m assuming is a miserable script. Third, the performances within MGP are really, really bad. I’m not sure whether the acting is hamstrung by the wretched characters or if the characters never get a chance to expand because of the bad acting, but regardless, these are not portrayals that this cast will wish to bring up in the future. Even Michael Shannon, one of the greatest, most underrated actors of his generation, seems completely lost in a role that perhaps he regretted taking. It’s been quite a run for Shannon of late so I won’t get up in arms about one lesser performance, especially considering how much better he is than the lead.

Let it be known that I do like Gerard Butler. I hate (repeat: HATE) most of the movies he has made since 2007’s 300 but I’ve been willing to cut him some slack based on the fact that it took him many years to catch his big break and I can’t blame him for taking a few paycheck roles afterwards. That said, his performance in MGP makes it very hard to defend him. Much like Forster’s work behind the camera (and perhaps because of it), Butler seems to be dead set on FORCING the viewer to relate rather than letting the audience make that choice on their own. To describe his acting as “award pandering” might be a little strong but it’s not far from the truth. Moreover (and much more importantly in my book), his accent is legitimately among the worst I have ever heard. In the beginning of the film, I couldn’t decide if he was supposed to be American (he is) or if the real-life Sam Childers was actually Scottish (he isn’t). The accent jumps back and forth, though always tinted with a twinge of a foreign accent. I could probably forgive that. But things got much, much worse in the second act when Butler flipped a switch and went into a BRUTAL southern accent, complete with the dialogue you might expect to get from an episode of Hee-Haw. Childers is from Pennsylvania, not the deep south, and even if Butler had mastered the accent, the dialogue would have still proven unbearable. I’m of the opinion that if you can’t do the accent, then you just don’t do it. Tom Cruise took flack for his role in Valkyrie in which he made no attempt at a German accent but I would much prefer that to trying an accent and butchering it. Later on Butler seems to have gotten this memo as he reverts back to the “is he American or not” accent on display earlier on.

If all of that isn’t enough to keep you from seeing MGP, let me also tell you that the movie decisively lacks an audience. Often it feels like an overtly Christian film, brought to you by the studio who gave us Facing the Giants and Fireproof (films which I have previously expressed a distaste for despite the shared beliefs I have with the filmmakers). But then it goes out of its way to separate itself from those films by allowing Butler to fly off the handle with a flurry of words that insure MGP will earn its R-rating. I can’t imagine many of those I go to church with embracing this film because of the unnecessarily graphic handling of the subject matter; similarly, I would expect non-churchgoers to bail out based on the cheesy, Kirk Cameron-y way in which the film is laid out. At the end of the day, this is just simply a bad movie that does nothing with its worthwhile central story and actually gets worse the more I think about it. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Week That Was and The Week That Will Be - 8/6

Emma Stone has signed on to star in Cameron Crowe's next film, rumored to be titled Deep Tiki. Um, Cameron, have you been reading my diary? (Note: I stole the gist of this joke from comedian Gary Gulman, whose 2004 album Conversations with Inanimate Objects is the best comedy album of the last decade. iTunes that sucker.) 

The showrunners of How I Met Your Mother seem to believe that this coming season could be the show's last. As a day one fan of the show, I've got to say that this would please me greatly. It's been great and I actually think the last season was one of its strongest but the bit has run its course. Introduce us to the mom and let Ted ride off happily into the sunset. 

Ridley Scott has confirmed that a sequel to Prometheus is in the offing. Sounds great to me. 

The Hollywood Reporter's cover story this week is on Steve Carell and the column is excellent. Gotta love Carell. Good guy, honest, hardworking, and refreshingly un-cynical. 

It's not exactly the Chewbacca movie I've always dreamed of but Kyle Newman, director of Fanboys, will bring us a bio-pic on Peter Mayhew's life as the man behind the mask during the filming of Star Wars. I'm already nerding out on this one. 

For some reason, the Ghostbusters 3 disaster in the making keeps resurfacing despite the absence of Bill Murray. Knock it off, Aykroyd.

In the wake of the Total Recall remake, CinemaBlend gives us six '90s movies that should be rebooted. I agree with half of these. 

My friend Marshall at Marshall at the Movies delivers his first Oscar prediction column of the year. Stop by and check out his choices, always fun to keep track throughout the year. 

And with the fifth of the month now behind us, Ruth over at Flixchatter gives us this month's installment of Five For the Fifth. Check it out!

Weekend Box Office Results
While it doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor or The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises continues to dominate the box office, bringing home the top spot for the third straight week and becoming the third-fastest film to reach the $350 million mark domestically. It has more than doubled that total overseas, having totaled out at $733 million total thus far. While it got my money this weekend, Total Recall didn’t do much to hinder the success of TDKR, a disappointing opening that could have been much worse considering Universal moved The Bourne Legacy off of the same date only a few weeks ago. Competing with both TDKR and Bourne could have been catastrophic to the film. As it is, Total Recall will bank heavily on a strong overseas pull. Meanwhile, The Watch continues its horrific run, dropping over half of its total from last week’s supremely poor open. There’s a decent chance this movie drops out of the top ten in just its third week of a release and having handed over $7.50 to see it myself this week, I can certainly see why. It’s easily the worst movie I’ve seen this year.

1. The Dark Knight Rises - $36.44M ($354.63M)
2. Total Recall - $26M
3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days - $14.7M
4. Ice Age: Continental Drift - $8.4M ($131.86M)
5. The Watch - $6.35M ($25.36M)
6. Ted - $5.47M ($203.41M)
7. Step Up Revolution - $5.3M ($23.09M)
8. The Amazing Spider-Man - $4.3M ($250.64M)
9. Brave - $2.89M ($223.32M0
10. Magic Mike - $1.38M ($110.89M)

New to DVD
What I’ve Seen and Your Kids Will LOVE
Dr. Seuss’ The LoraxEd Helms, Zach Efron, Danny Devito
Everyone, including the ghost of Dr. Seuss, was shocked at the insane amount of money The Lorax brought in at the box office. I think most involved would have been thrilled with a $35 million opening and a $100 million total haul domestically and instead the movie brought in roughly twice that. Critics weren’t overly kind to it (Rotten, 55% on Rotten Tomatoes) and many adult viewers who need to take a Xanax and chill out railed against it for its “politically charged agenda.” (Keep in mind: Fox News attacked The Muppets for the same reason.) But really, The Lorax is a harmless, relatively entertaining, visually impressive movie that you probably won’t love but your kids will adore.

What I’ve Seen and is Actually Pretty Good
Grimm: Season 1 – David Giuntoli, Silas Weir Mitchell, Russell Hornsby
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing really great about Grimm. That said, each episode is a fun watch and I think it got better from week to week. This is a fairly standard procedural which I’m usually not a big fan of but the concept (a detective can see the perpetrators and victims of his cases for what they are, which is usually some sort of mythical creature) is relatively addictive. Season 2 will begin right after the Olympics come to a close and if you’re inclined towards sci-fi material, Grimm would make for a quality viewing.

What I’ve Seen and I’m Growing Tired Of
Parenthood: Season 3 – Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepherd
I love approximately one half of the characters and storylines contained within Parenthood. It’s a relatively realistic family drama, a genre that is almost extinct these days, and the leads of the ensemble are wholly engrossing. At the same time, however, the other half of this show drives me absolutely crazy to the point that every week over the last three seasons I’ve gotten closer and closer to bailing out. It’s almost like the writers have divided up the cast and only write about their given characters which is not the end of the world except that at least one writer is going through a horrible breakup and has no way to deal with his/her emotions than to pour them into a set of characters. Season 4 will probably be the last one for Parenthood and the jury is still out on whether or not I’ll stick with it throughout.

Also New
Marley – Bob Marley
Bel Ami – Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas
Blue Like Jazz – Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde
Strike Back: Season 1 – Richard Armitage, Philip Winchester, Rhashan Stone

New to Blu
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) – John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd
Clue (1985) – Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn
Adventures in Babysitting (1987) – Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan
High Fidelity (2000) – John Cusack, Jack Black, Iben Hjejle
Rio Grande (1950) – John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara
Spaceballs 25th Anniversary Edition (1987) – Bill Pullman, John Candy, Rick Moranis
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) – Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, Janeane Garofalo
Full Metal Jacket 25th Anniversary Edition (1987) – Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio
Evan Almighty (2007) – Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman
Blues Brothers 2000 (1988) – Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman
The Preacher’s Wife (1996) – Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance

Coming to a Theater Near You
Neither of last week’s mainstream releases found much favor with the critics, though made me look smarter than the other. Total Recall only pleased 31% of critics (versus my 47% prediction) but the newest installment of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series came in right on the money at my 50% prediction.

This week we get three new films of varying levels of interest.

The Bourne Legacy – Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
In the aftermath of The Bourne Ultimatum, a series of events is hastily set in motion to eradicate the secret agents trained by Treadstone. One agent (Renner), however, proves difficult to dispose of. I am very, very excited about this film. I love the original Bourne series, the rare franchise that got better as it went. And while rebooting/rebranding so soon after the conclusion of the last film is risky, I think the casting of Renner is perfect and I’m fully intrigued by the way in which director Tony Gilroy is tying Legacy to the other films in the series. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 80%

The Campaign – Will Ferrell, Zack Galifianakis, Jason Sudiekis
Long-time congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) who usually runs unopposed is shocked to discover that he has competition in the form of soft-spoken, naïve Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). As an avowed and committed Ferrell fan, I will see The Campaign no matter what. As a would-be film critic, however, I can tell you that there is a three percent chance that this movie is any good whatsoever. Jay Roach’s prime as a director passed him by quite some time ago, Galifianakis (while very funny) is assuredly hit or miss, and there is a distinct Blades of Glory feel about this trailer. I’ll see it but I don’t expect much. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 25%

Hope Springs – Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
An aging couple (Streep, TLJ) seek guidance from a well-known counselor (Carell) in order to reinvigorate their marriage. Carell’s involvement with a film is usually an automatic “in” for me but… I mean, let’s just be honest: there is a sum of money that exists that one could pay me to see Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones talk about sex for two hours but it’s far more than any of you have to give me. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 84%

Also New: A couple (Julie Delpy, Chris Rock) find their family dynamic upturned by the arrival of relatives in 2 Days in New York…and an Atlanta boy has his world outlook changed after spending the summer with his Brooklyn-based grandfather in Red Hook Summer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Being Flynn"

Like many men of his generation, Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is defined by his relationship, or lack thereof, with his father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro). Jonathan is a racist, a homophobe, and a drunk and he abandoned Nick and his mother (Julianne Moore) when Nick was only a small boy, communicating with his son only through letters. The only bonds these two share are blood and a preoccupation with writing. But despite his disgust for the man, Nick never can quite shake the need to live up to his father’s image, even if that image is completely fabricated. After nearly twenty years of silence, Jonathan reaches out to Nick in need of a favor and almost out of curiosity more than anything else, Nick lends a hand and suddenly finds himself interacting with a man he both hardly knows and knows all too well. Before long, Jonathan has been forced to take up residence in the homeless in which Nick works, forcing the younger Flynn to take a long and painful trip down the path to internal peace with both his father and himself.

Being Flynn is based on the memoir of the real-life Nick Flynn, who worked as a social worker in a Boston homeless shelter in the late ’80s where he ended up under the same roof as his father. The tale of the Flynns is a complex one to say the least and it is presented here in a style that pulls no punches. Indeed, Being Flynn is much more difficult to watch that I expected going in. Jonathan Flynn is, for lack of a better, family-friendly term, a miserable old coot, a holdover from a different time who has never adjusted to the world around him. On top of his vocal racism and homophobia, he is thoroughly arrogant in the worst way possible: he’s never accomplished anything with his life and yet he expects others to treat him as if he has. In Jonathan’s mind, there have only been three great American writers and he is one of them, despite never having had a work published. Worse yet, a life of poor choices and weighty entitlement have only aided in the speed with which his brain is deteriorating, leading Jonathan to lash out violently in both word and action. In short, he is an impossible character to love and even to feel pity for him proves difficult. In the midst of this stands Nick, torn between the childhood need for a father and the adult reason that tells him to kick the man to the curb. He simultaneously hates his father and desires his approval. This dynamic creates a tense, painful atmosphere that made it a challenge for me to sit still without squirming. To be honest with you, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

On the one hand, it could be argued that director Paul Weitz’s goal is to stick the viewer squarely in the middle of the awkward and terse central relationship and force the audience to engage. In this way, Being Flynn is a great success. But on the other hand, being this close to the fray, so to speak, also forces the viewer to react to Jonathan in a personal nature. For me, this led to the overwhelming feeling that Jonathan would deserve whatever fate befell him and stripped me of any emotional attachment I might have had to his plight. Being Flynn should be relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with his or her relationship with a parent but instead I found myself sympathizing some for Nick and feeling nothing beyond “good riddance” for Jonathan.

That’s a shame, too, because this is without question the most significant role De Niro has taken on in well over a decade. This might be his best performance since 1996’s Sleepers and it is a fantastic, hopeful sight to see him go back to something worthwhile. Despite nearly 15 years of utter mediocrity, I am still of the opinion that when given a reason to invest, De Niro is one of the five best actors in the industry, only he keeps taking awful role after awful role. He does an excellent job of fully committing to Jonathan, creating a memorable character, even if it is memorable for being a wretched human. Likewise, Dano is very good in his role and brings a lot of realism to the part. In the hands of another director (not necessarily better hands, just different), Being Flynn might have turned into a showcase piece for Dano, for which I could see a world in which he would garner award attention. As it is, however, De Niro overshadows him and perhaps this keeps Dano (and Nick) from reaching his full potential. Being Flynn is an interesting film and one that is almost as tough to grade as it is to watch. At times it makes a push to point itself toward “great” but more often than not I felt it floundered despite the best efforts of cast and crew. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Wrath of the Titans"

Some years after Perseus (Sam Worthington) saved the human race from the fury of the gods, a new threat surfaces that requires Perseus’ attention. Hungry for redemption and revenge, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) have struck a deal to free Kronas, the father of the gods, leading to the death of Poseidon (Danny Huston) and the capture of Zeus (Liam Neeson). But shockingly enough, Kronas isn’t quite as predictable as Hades thought he would be and soon the worlds of both men and gods is on the verge of destruction, it is left to Perseus and a small team of combatants to free Zeus and stop Kronas before it is too late.

I have stated many times before that the goal of most mainstream films, especially comedies and big action flicks, is simply to entertain and nothing more and that these films should be held to that standard and that standard alone. Meaning, it is unfair to bash on Wrath of the Titans because it does not aspire to be an Academy Award winning film. Sometimes, however, even I must violate this rule because otherwise, what in the name of Michael Bay would I write about this film otherwise?

All in all, Wrath of the Titans is one of the more rotten film experiences I’ve had this year. It trumps its predecessor, 2009’s Clash of the Titans, in only two ways. First, the visual presentation is much better. That’s not exactly saying a whole lot, though, given that the crude post-production transition to 3D displayed in the first film resulted in some of the worst visuals I have ever seen in an effects-driven film. It’s better this time around, though it’s far from noteworthy. Two, the “plot” is much less videogamey than the one presented in Clash, which basically moved from one enemy to the next for the entirety of the runtime as if the viewer was working through several levels of an early ‘90s arcade game. Wrath has designs on moving with more meaning, though it still fails to bring much to the table in terms of narrative.

In every other way, Wrath is worse, and sometimes significantly worse, than Clash. And let me remind you, Clash was pretty stinking bad in its own right. Above all else, though, what Clash had at its core was a sense of fun. The action was cheesy but it was fun; the acting was weak but it was presented in a fun way; and the storyline was paper thin but it was still fun. This quality made the film come across as almost tongue-in-cheek, as if everyone involved was in on the joke, except Sam Worthington who may or may not understand jokes. Wrath is seriously lacking in the fun department and that bleeds away any enjoyment I or another viewer might be able to take from the film as a whole. I couldn’t decide whether Wrath took itself too seriously where Clash didn’t or if everyone involved just mailed it in but in the end I decided I just didn’t care, which is probably a sentiment shared by the actors and producers of the movie. The central plot seems half-baked and the exposition is truly painful. I found myself becoming depressed that so many great actors like Fiennes, Neeson, and Huston were being subjected to such a mess and convincing myself that each of them were offered so much money that they couldn’t turn it down.

More than anything else, though, the failure of Wrath boils down to the lead actor and his character. We could debate the merits of Worthington as an actor and I would say that while he has a bit of charisma and isn’t a complete hack, outside of The Debt (and Avatar, depending on how you feel about it) most of his films have been mediocre at best. My guess is that, given his relative inexperience, he’s a guy who needs a strong director and a worthwhile character in order to succeed, which he clearly does not have here. Simply put, Perseus sucks. He sucked in Clash but he sucks even worse here. He’s boring, he’s somewhat dumb and worst of all, he’s weak. I thought Perseus was kind of a beating in Clash but he’s SO MUCH WORSE after a few years of sitting around, apparently doing nothing but fishing. Essentially what I’m saying is, if the survival of the human race is ever left to the defense of a guy like Perseus, all of us had better get right with God. He is completely and totally ineffective as a hero and whatever strengths Wrath might have had are stripped away by its basis on such a worthless character. Here’s hoping that this is the last film in an ill-conceived series.