Category: Movie and TV News

Summer Movie Preview, July 2011

By , July 7, 2011 6:30 pm

"Look, I totally forgot about Sudekis' big charity fundraiser in Kansas City! He, Riggle, and Rudd get Nia Vardalos to show, and I'm supposed to be impressed by that?

July 1st

Transformers: Dark of the Moon:  Since this flick has been out a week, it ain’t much of a preview but there’s no need to preview Michael Bay’s epic re-telling of the first two Transformers films because you’ve already seen it. The first film had some nice moments of boy-meets-car that, if you squinted correctly, evoked an “American Graffiti” feel. The second film is a craven, hideous conglomeration of every awful blockbuster cliché you can imagine. Here is more of the same, with the dude who wrote “Scream 3” giving us some convoluted tale about the US teaming up with the Decepticons to retrieve something or another from the moon but the Autobots have to stop this alliance. Oh hey, would you notice Megan Fox was replaced by hot chick Rosie Huntington-Whiteley because Fox called the guy who gave her a big break “Hitler”? It also upset Spielberg, too, because he notoriously does not like Hitler. Oh, and as an added bonus, Frances McDormand joins John Turturro in the “The Coen Brothers’ actors need to pay their mortgage Players”. And hey…talking robots!—James Owen

Larry Crowne:

I’ve got the review for this one up already, and man, if you like scooters, this is your movie!  Personally, it made me yearn for a slimmer, less dorky, “Road to Perdition” Tom Hanks.—Stephen Himes

July 8th

Zookeeper: I know that Kevin James is the lame PG version of Chris Farley in the Sandler stable, but I’m not going to dismiss this one out of hand.  I enjoyed “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” not just as a “Die Hard” parody, but Kevin James really made me laugh with the effortless, deadpan way he maneuvered that Segway.  In fact, James turned the Segway into an extension of his character: he turned sheepishly when Blart was embarrassed, cut hard corners when he was pissed, and nonchalantly slow-rolled when he was trying to be cool.  I have no idea what he’ll do with animals, but I will give Kevin James the benefit of the doubt.—Stephen Himes

Horrible Bosses: This could be one of those insufferably, airless raunchy comedies the actors in this film (Bateman, Sudekis, et al) tend to make.  But the presence of Seth Gordon – who unleashed Billy Mitchell upon the world with “The King of Kong” –  makes this an interesting proposition. Then again, the gallery of titular characters is something worth checking out. Kevin Spacey seems to be reviving his role from 1995’s “Swimming with Sharks” in a way that reminds you of why he was better in supporting parts. Jennifer Aniston appears liberated by her sexed-up dentist role and, hey, Colin Ferrell just looks funny in a beard and a beer gut. Any Sunny fan has to take some comfort in a casting director putting Charlie Day in their summer release.—James Owen 

The Ward:  Whenever I think of Wes Craven co-writing the screenplay to the sequel to “The Hills Have Eyes” remake, I keep telling myself he earned the right to sell out. But John Carpenter never did. When he had a chance to make big movies, he made the anti-commercial and anti-material “They Live” that also happened to contain the best performance of Rowdy Roddy Piper’s career. So a career that began with creating the slasher film as we know ended with making movies like “Ghost of Mars”. Now, he returns to form with this film about a hot scream queen (Amber Heard) institutionalized (the old “snake pit” setting) that may…also…be…haunted? As long as it’s more like “Patrick” and less like “Gothika” we should be fine.—James Owen

Ironclad: Paul Giamatti plays King John in a twelve year old girl’s bob. John has already started reneging on the Magna Carta, so the rebels are out to exercise their 1215 version of the Second Amendment to stamp out tyranny. Brian Cox is running around, and the great Shakespearian Derek Jacobi is the unfortunately named Cornhill. The script, direction, and non-Giamatti acting will probably rank this one with, say, “Tristan and Isolde” (Wait, you forgot about that one.  Pre-hipster James Franco.).  But that’s not why you leave it on HBO while trying to fall asleep at 11:30 on a Tuesday night.  You want to see Giamatti chew up some scenery!  Chew it up real good, Paul!  That’s the stuff!—Stephen Himes

July 15th

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Ascension. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been ten years since I was completely convinced Chris Columbus had killed any chance this series had of any substance or integrity. Try as he did, with two chances, the JK Rowling adaptations were saved by Alfonso Cuaron with 2004’s “The Prisoner of Azkaban”. Since then, they’ve largely evolved into darker, richer stories. Granted, the first two novels were more geared towards kids and the series was to become more adult as it went along. But…Chris Columbus? Come on!

Here, Warner Brothers squeezes out another $12 for us to see the final segment of the Harry Potter in its full Joseph Campbell glory as Harry battles the nose-less Ralph Fiennes. This is the new generation’s Star Wars and, hey, at least this is based on a book and never had to resort to Ewoks.

Winnie the Pooh: Speaking of Ewoks, wouldn’t this movie be much more interesting if Pooh somehow ended up on Endor?  The only things of note here are the 69 minute run time and Craig Ferguson as Owl.—Stephen Himes

July 22nd

Captain America: The First Avenger: Perpetually bland lead Chris Evans teams up with perpetually bland director Joe Johnston (who gave us the third Jurassic Park and last year’s “The Wolfman”) for the story of this superhero who is committed to “American ideals”. What does that mean? I dunno…The Full Faith and Credit Clause? Congress’ right to regulate interstate commerce? I am sure Johnston will tamper down the nostalgic propaganda for more traditional thrills. If anyone can  remember “The Rocketeer”, it was Johnston’s second feature and was harmlessly fun if not a little corny. Expect a re-boot of that. Tommy Lee Jones barks a lot as a military guy and Hugo Weaving plays a sinister bad guy. Hey, nice work if you can get it.

Friends With Benefits: Yeah, I thought this movie came out in February too and it sucked them.  I guess we can safely call the Timberlake for Kutcher trade a net-positive, and you might say the same for the Kunis for Portman swap in a comedy. This one has Will Gluck (“Easy A”), which was lauded in a “Mean Girls,” “Freaky Friday” kind of way.  Gotta be better; why else would that have dumped “No Strings Attached” in the no man’s land of mid-winter while this gets the fully July treatment?—Stephen Himes   

July 29th

Cowboys and Aliens: Yep, we’re slicing and dicing genres and hoping something sticks. The Arizona territory town of Absolution (are there any Western towns in film that aren’t named after archaic Catholic traditions) braces itself for a stranger with no memory of where he has been (Daniel Craig, in his craggy sexiness) Harrison Ford (who could have beat up a version of myself from 15 years ago) plays one of the local town folk who have to take on these hyper-aggressive CGI creations. Director Jon Favreau, who is still banking capital from the first “Iron Man” despite co-scripting “Couple’s Retreat” and helming “Iron Men 2”. As long as the special effects do not create some sort of “Wild Wild West” retread, this flick could be a lot of fun.—James Owen

Crazy, Stupid, Love.: This one has buzz, a top-shelf cast, and a pair of interesting directors in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who gave you “Bad Santa” and the defiantly weird “I Love You, Phillip Morris.” Ryan Gosling teaches Steve Carell how to be a stud after divorcing Julianne Moore, until Gosling falls for Emma Stone.  Kevin Bacon plays the weird buddy, and Marisa Tomei is around the be 40 and hot.  I’m excited too, but I can’t quite shake the sinking feeling that this will disappoint: The screenwriter, Dan Fogelman, is responsible for the two worst Pixar scripts (“Cars” and “Cars 2”) and other bad animated films like “Tangled” and “Bolt”  And he wrote “Fred Claus”!

Summer Movie Preview, June 2011

By , June 3, 2011 12:49 pm

Hollywood's Vital Contribution to the Education Reform Debate?

June 3rd

X-Men: First Class

The first “X-Men” film, directed and co-written by Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”), framed the mythology of “mutants” as the Civil Rights movement; militant Magneto is the Malcolm X figure, with Professor Xavier as Dr. King.  Singer recruited two titans of the Shakespearian stage, Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, to embody the adult roles, which leant the film a certain gravity.  Singer’s ambition was to explore these lines of thought in a pop-psychology way, resulting in a blockbuster that the savvy filmgoer didn’t have to defend as a “guilty” pleasure.  The second “X-Men” was similarly ambitious, updating the theme to how nativist Americans see minorities: In “X2”, the mutants are ostracized because they’re different—not just different, mind you, but threatening because they aren’t understood. They’re a problem, so say the senators, and they must be dealt with by legislation like the Mutant Registration Act.  The next two “X-Men” films abandoned ambition entirely, so it’s exciting to see a director with ideas (Matthew Vaughn, “Kick-Ass,” “Layer Cake”) back at the helm.  This explains the odd framing of the X-Men’s origins around Kennedy voiceovers of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I’m not exactly sure where it’s going, but this franchise has a history of thoughtful popcorn films. –Stephen Himes

Beginners 

Ewan McGregor plays a man who learns two things about his seventy-something father (Christopher Plummer) concurrently: he has cancer and he’s now an uncloset-ed gay man. It’s billed as a comedy, and the trailer is wicked funny with McGregor imagining Plummer in a fashionably fitted purple silk V-neck sweater when he breaks the news.  It’s from Mike Mills, the guy who directed the vastly “Thumbsucker”, based on the experience he had with his own father.  Mills has a nice touch mixing the bitter and the sweet, and getting exceptional performances from actors of different generations.  Should make for a nice jaunt down to your local art house ghetto. –James Owen

Submarine

Speaking of art house fare, here’s another indie flick about a sensitive young genius who wants to lose his virginity and bring his divorced parents back together. Youthful angst much, sensitive young self-styled genius filmmaker? It’s British, so stereotypes will be easily explained away by talking about the tradition of English cinema; maybe throw in some Mike Leigh references, or drop Nick Hornby references to sound less stuffy. The trailer teases some twisted plot points and the gifted kid jumping into a cathartic pool (submarining himself, perhaps?) with a suit on. Speaking of twisted, it also stars Sally Hawkins and her smile. Hey-oh! Paddy Constantine plays the dad; over a decade now, and Isle filmmakers are still trying to figure out what to do with that guy. –James Owen
June 10th

Super 8

Can a geek like me not see writer-director JJ Abrams team up with producer Steven Spielberg and not get beyond excited? Perhaps a tad too much “Close Encounters”/”ET” nostalgia (a thriller version of Greg Molotta’s “Paul”?) might set the bar too high. A bunch of filmmaking kids (yes, another quasi-bio) witnesses a train wreck involving some sort of alien/beast/Abrams’ Macguffin. The trailer has a Abrams creepy vibe with enough Spielberg sunshine to indicate that the film will develop the kids’ characters. Looking at Abrams’ filmography, it’s rather obvious that he owes much to Spielberg.  An homage is approprie, but actually having Spielberg produce seems a bit indulgent. If the work is good, then I’m happy to let them indulge themselves. –James Owen

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

So this is how it went for Heather Graham.  From Rollergirl to the It Girl in “The Spy Who Shagged Me” to, well, according to her IMDB mini biography, “Her roles consisted of prostitutes, strippers, porn stars, and lesbians.”  Recently, Graham has starred in little-seen and often little-acclaimed indie movies, often in what are just short of Skinemax roles.  Now she’s crazy Aunt Opal driving a car through the neighbor’s yard.  It’s not quite Eddie Murphy as The Klumps, more like Vin Diesel in “The Pacifier.”  Either way, it’s bad, and Graham has no franchise to fall back on. –Stephen Himes 

 
The Trip

On the surface, a meta-movie with Steve Coogan as “Steve Coogan” and Rob Brydon as “Rob Brydon” on some sort of tour of ten restaurants.  The director, Michael Winterbottom, is one of films’ most…eclectic talents, so expect some sort of meta meta-iness.  These three filmed Tristram Shandy, which is like trying to take a swim in a sandbox. –Stephen Himes      

June 17th

The Green Lantern

It took me a good ten minutes to figure out Ryan Reynolds was not starring in an action hero film with Seth Rogan and to realize that The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern were two different characters. Here, our ripped wiseacre dons a mask with powers granted by some sort of alien force. He uses this power to battle Peter Sarsgard, who looks like he’s wearing Rocky Dennis’ face.  But it also puts him in with a league of superheroes…that are not The Avengers. It’s got Blake Lively (which is turning into a plus, surprisingly) and Geoffrey Rush doing voice work—which would have been better with a stuttering Colin Firth, right? Tim Robbins completely and totally unpredictably voices a smarmy politician.  It’s directed by Martin Campbell, who has made some pretty fun movies (decent Bond films and the not-bad Zorro movies), but this looks like some sort of sequel to “Battlefield Earth” if directed by Joel Schumacher. Hopefully, Reynolds has saved himself plenty of “leverage.”  –James  Owen
Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Jim Carey is a semi-successful New York professional person of some type whose apartment is infested with penguins.  In the 1938 kids book, Mr. Popper is a ne’er-do-well house painter who writes Admiral Drake, who responds by sending him a penguin in a box.  There’s a lot more to the story, but in part it’s about assimilation and exploitation.  Here, the film looks like a boilerplate Rich Successful City Person Learns to Care About the Little People movie.  Though, director Mark Waters has some movies on his resume, specifically “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls,” where he’s twisted the conventional into the unexpected.  Some kind of global warming or bed bugs metaphor, perhaps? –Stephen Himes

   
The Art of Getting By

Freddie Highmore, better known as the “Finding Neverland” kid, and Emma Roberts, better known as Julia’s niece, are high school weirdos who find each other.  It’s writer/director Gavin Wiesen’s debut, so no matter how well written the characters, expect some narrative clichés—the trailer gives away the Running To Tell Her Before It’s Too Late scene.  And maybe this is Emma Roberts’ last chance to master the Slightly Counter Culture Cool High School Chick so she can move on to her graduate courses in Slightly Awkward and Shy College Nerd Chick, and maybe get her PhD in Overworked Professional Women Who Just Needs to Let Loose in a time for Summer 2020. –Stephen Himes

Page One: Inside the New York Times

If you are a real nerd or want watch a newspaper hatch a bunch of liberal plots that keeps the “Lamestream Media” and the “Blame America First” crowd going, check out Andrew Rossi’s documentary on a year in the life of the Media Desk of the Grey Lady. Rossi gave similar treatment to Al Jazeera as a producer of 2004’s excellent “Control Room,” so hopefully this will be as introverted and wonky as a daily edition of Politico. Win the summer, nerds! –James Owen

June 24th

Cars 2

Pixar deserves a lot of slack just because their product is so consistently impressive; so consistent, in fact, that it’s easy to take for granted. “Cars” was a rare exception for me, a film Mr. Himes accurately described as woozily sentimental and unnecessarily nostalgic. Anyway, we’ve got the sequel now, subtracting Paul Newman but with the continued inclusion of Larry the Cable Guy, whose schtick will live on at august venues all through the South and the Bible Belt and…Maryland. This flick is directed by John Lasseter, which is like seeing a Mad Men episode directed by Matt Weiner.  Except in 3-D with earning potentials into the billions. –James Owen
Bad Teacher

Forget Davis Guggenheim’s propagandistic hero worship of Michelle Rheethis movie looks like the ultimate argument for Tenure Reform and Performance Pay.  Here’s the set-up:  Cameron Diaz plays the tenured don’t-give-a-damn teacher who decides that the only way out of her dead-end job is to marry a rich guy.  Enter Justin Timberlake.  Diaz needs a boob job she can’t afford, so she redoubles her efforts to win the cash bonus from the state for getting the highest test scores out of her students.  People, for all the high-falootin’ policy analysis you get from “thinkers” like Diane Ravitch and Matthew Yglesias, this is the underlying theory, right?  Teachers aren’t properly motivated to do their jobs because their pay isn’t tied to performance, and for the most part, they’ll never get fired as long as they don’t do something really bad.  So, you can motivate them with more money, which will in turn drive up test scores.  In the education community, this is a key flashpoint of the reform debate.  I patiently await Cameron Diaz’ contribution to the dialogue. –Stephen Himes

A Better Life

Chris Weitz leaves behind the blockbusters (“The Golden Compass,” “New Moon”) for what looks like an argument for the DREAM act.  An East L.A. landscaper tries to earn a good enough living to move him and his son out of a gang-ridden neighborhood.  Hopefully Weitz avoids angel-izing his hero to create a complex portrait of the immigrant experience in America.  He directed Hugh Grant’s finest performance in “About a Boy,” which explored the dark side of the Grant narcissism.  The touch is there, but can he wrap the personal around a social message without being preachy?  Weitz’ talents seem more suited to this kind of work rather than, say, filming Taylor Lautner with his shirt off a lot. –Stephen Himes

Summer Movie Preview, May 2011

By , May 2, 2011 9:41 pm

Will Ferrell's guest stint on "Hoarders" doesn't go well.

Summer Movie Preview

April 29th, Wide

Fast Five

The ads say this is THE “official start of the summer,” so why not start with this seminal series? “The Fast and Furious” series has the astonishing distinction of surviving the careers of both its initial stars who thought they were above such nonsense, and then had to go back because they determined they really weren’t above it. Auto porn of this quality will make money whether or not Vin Diesel or Paul Walker are involved. Once James Bond retires, James Bond can’t be James Bond anymore, and we likely won’t see Brandon Routh in any “Superman” reboots. 

Still, if these movies make money, even if the stars fade the series will go on.  “Furious” has outlasted three directors, about six or seven minor characters’ acting careers, the dignity of Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel’s tough-guy-in-Disney-movie phase.  That’s ten years and five films, people!  In the fourth installment, the cooler-titled, the-dropping “Fast and Furious” featured the original stars and brought in as much dough as ever.

What gives? Well, dude dig fast cars and chicks dig dudes who dig fast cars. Oh, and dudes dig lots of shots of women’s butts in tight skirts. Plus, Vin Diesel gives the guys a hunky role model and Walker gives the ladies a sensitive lad with a six-pack. Imagine if George Lucas directed “American Graffiti” with the skillful gravitas his production brought to “Howard the Duck.” But without the characters and with worse dialogue.

So, what’s the movie about? The $50 million worth of tickets sold the first weekend won’t care. Why should you? (James)

May 6th, Wide

Thor

What the hell happened to Kenneth Branagh?  I mean, this guy was the successor to Sir Laurence Olivier—heck, you could argue that as a director, as a visionary of Shakespeare, his first films bested Olivier.  The man made the only uncut, thoroughly kick-ass four-and-a-half hour Hamlet produced by a major studio.  Though mocked at the time, Branagh’s Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar may be the most deserved winner in the history of the category:  In the words of Boston Review critic and Harvard Law professor Alan Stone, Branagh’s “prodigious accomplishment” was in “interpreting in detailed stage directions every scene in a way that invites our understanding.”  In other words, Branagh made sense of the world’s most confounding work of art.  His Much Ado About Nothing with then-wife Emma Thompson featured cinema’s most artful and spirited verbal sparring since Burton and Taylor.  Branagh’s debut was no less impressive:  In his Henry V, Branagh created a specific counterpoint to Olivier’s jingoistic, post-World War II Churchillian ideal, embodying Henry W. L. Godshalk’s notion that Henry’s refusal to accept responsibility for mass death in the name of the crown makes him both the perfect Christian king and Machiavellian manipulator. 

How do you get from creating “nothing less than a monument to the highest art of the Western canon” to directing “Thor”?  Here’s my theory:  We all have a limited store of genius, so the process of creating Hamlet sapped Branagh of his remaining artistic strength while its success created an extraordinary hubris.  The result is a director who thinks he can turn Love’s Labour’s Lost (probably in the bottom five on the Shakespeare Power Rankings) into a 30’s-style musical with Alicia Silverstone and Mathew Lillard.  And that was it.  Rather than making sense of Shakespeare’s texts, Branagh now seems to think that “pushing the envelope” is artistic posture appropriate to his talents.  This is how you cast Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind and turn As You Like It into a dark war movie for HBO. 

So what’s the former great man’s idea for ThorThor is Henry V.  Yep, Henry…The…Fifth.  Branagh deserves our respect, so let’s hear him out:    

I think Henry V was an interesting example because, as a young man he was reckless and he kept bad company. People thought he’d make a terrible leader. His father was angry at him but he turned out to be a terrific leader. But he had to earn that privilege, earn that place by losing a lot of friends, losing power, losing family and making sacrifices. They’re both stories of how you find yourself. A rite of passage. Both are a good identity story and very relatable.

If you’re thinking, “My goodness, this sounds like a high school freshman’s C+ essay that he half-plagiarized from SparkNotes,” then you and I are on the same page.  Without diving too far into the Marvel myth, I’m not sure if Branagh means Loki to be the Earl of Cambridge and Jane Foster to be Catherine of Valois, but I’m interested to find out.  It may be that Branagh has entered his post-war Orson Welles phase, where the man who made film into high art got paid for turning Macbeth into a voodoo-influenced violent b-movie.  Imagine Hollywood throwing millions in special effects at Orson Welles to direct a ‘roided out Othello, and that may be the kind of insane and depressing spectacle we’ve got here. (Steve)

Something Borrowed

“Chic lit” is some concept that captures my attention only when I see a bunch of brightly-covered, thinly-paged pamphlets in the novel bin at Target. Perhaps it’s a form of masculine panic that I shudder at the thought of twenty-something women getting their heads filled by Candace Bushnell-snark masquerading as hardened observation.  Then again, how different is this from 19th Century British novels of manners, but minus the apple-tini references and tampon jokes?

Here, Rachel feels she might be falling for her friend’s (named Darcy, and no, I’m not kidding) fiance’.  Rachel’s always had a thing for him, and after a night of drinking and some regrettable decisions, what’s a hip, urbane, modern girl to do? First, be played in the movie by insufferable woman-child Gennifer Goodwin to play you, then get Kate Hudson to play the spurned gal pal. “Something Borrowed” also features John Krasinki pretending his film career is going to work. There’s no doc-camera to raise your eyebrows at, Jim.

But, hey, good counter-programming to “Thor”, Warner Brothers! (James)

Jumping the Broom

 “Jumping the broom” refers to the tradition (believed to have originated either in Africa or with Welsh gypsies) of having the couple jump over a decorated broom together after the wedding ceremony.  In Europe, the custom solemnizes unions not legally sanctioned by the state, and in United States, slaves used the tradition to legitimize marriages. Roots revived the practice in African-American weddings, with brooms passed like rings through generations.

This leads us to “Cute Looking Black Movie With Completely Non-Threatening Black Actors,” like Angela Bassett as the rich mom and Omar Epps as the working class dad.  As a thoroughly white-bread guy living in a white-bread neighborhood in the south-center part of a Midwestern city, I’m not sure what my appropriate response to these movies should be.  “Jumping the Broom” doesn’t strike me as a minstrel shows, and it seems to lack the moral hypocrisy and Madea-ization of Tyler Perry.  But I wouldn’t normally say, hey, let’s check out “Jumping the Broom” because, well, I’m not sure why.  Do they even want my nine dollars? 

Or is it because if I were to buy a ticket to the Friday 8:00 show at, say, the Cinemark on the Plaza here in Kansas City, odds are there’d by a 40-1 black-white ratio in the theater?  So does that make me one of those liberal racists Chinua Achebe talks about?  This blog has long documented that romantic comedies starring skinny white actresses are mostly terrible.  If I have the inclination to see a romantic comedy, “Jumping the Broom” seems interesting and a helluva lot better than this Kate Hudson/Ginnifer Goodwin trendy urbanite wedding porn. 

So why am I so hesitant to buy a ticket?  To my mind, even if I go to the same critics screening as Shawn Edwards, that doesn’t count.  In the end, labels shouldn’t matter—“jumping the broom” comes from both Africa and Wales, after all—so perhaps the right thing to do is drive down to the Plaza, walk up to the ticket window, and loudly declare to that uneasy mix of white yuppies and East KC teens in the lobby, “Two for ‘Jumping the Broom’, please!” 

As long as I’m not there during a flash mob. (Steve)

May 6th, Limited

The Beaver

Is it possible Jodie Foster is crazier than Mel Gibson? Looking at the trailer, I wonder why we are being subjected to another middle-aged identity crisis for some jerk who has to go through some spiritual awakening to realize that he’s ruining the lives of everyone around him. This time, the spiritual awakening comes in the form of a beaver puppet that becomes his main form of expression. Surely there’s a sexual subtext, but that would be too easy. Could it be as simple the path to successful adulthood is returning to some element of childhood? How’s that still working for Sandler? Or perhaps ask the leading actor who thinks it’s cool to beat his girlfriend (allegedly). Either way, surely something must have driven Foster out of semi-retirement. Or I could just watch “Little Man Tate” again and realize she’s a hack director. (James)

Everything Must Go 

Back in 2004, in my review of “Anchorman” I boldly predicted that Will Ferrell would someday score an Oscar nomination, probably a win.  The driving force of Ferrell’s comedy is white male panic and suburban emasculation, which could easily be harnessed into one of those “American Beauty” style “black comedies” (but not too black—still palatable for American multiplexers) that wins awards.  “Everything Must Go” probably isn’t that movie, but it points the way toward the eventual Bill Murray awardsification of Ferrell. 

In a way, a Raymond Carver short story about an alcoholic loser seems right for the guy who made his big screen splash as “Frank the Tank,” a guy who turned a beer bong into a rebellion against Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Done well, “Everything Must Go” can be a literary riff on the theme.   This is writer/director Dan Rush’s first feature film, so all the usual “curb your enthusiasm” disclaimers apply. (Steve)

Passion Play

Megan Fox plays an angel in this movie. Not a stripper or a porn star named “Angel,” but a real angel under the control of a mobster played by Bill Murray. She can only be saved by Mickey Rourke, who plays a trumpeter. Not Gabriel, the messenger of God, but Nate, which rhymes with “gate.”  Obviously, this movie takes its metaphors pretty literally. What it does not take literally is the criticism of its star, which he now takes back because Rourke didn’t want to be bothered at the premiere party for “Scre4m”. Or it could be that the writer of “Scrooged” and “The Recruit” might have made an oddly inconsistent film. (James)

May 13th, Wide

Bridesmaids

Judd Apatow developed a film for Kristin Wiig?  Must be comedic gold, right? Then, you watch the trailer. Is it the most laugh-less, pathetic thing you’ve ever watched? Is there anything funny about it? Lame rom-coms put their one good joke in the preview, but this could be Christopher Hitchens’ Exhibit A. Maybe the funny parts are too raunchy to have in a trailer? If that’s the case, I want a red-band trailer. This looks like a Katherine Heigel movie with a better pedigree and a fart joke. Plus, do you really want Wiig to lead one of these comedies? Her specialty is the dry supporting role—maybe she needs to consult Seth Rogen on how his leading man experiment is working out.  (James) 

Priest

The concept behind “Priest” seems to be this:  Let’s take Silas the evil albino Opus Dei priest and instead of whipping himself, have him whip some vampire ass.  I’m curious about the “disobeys church law” part of the official synopsis—by definition, if we’re all still here in a post-apocalyptic world, shouldn’t we feel free disobey all the church law we want?  At that point, it’s lost its credibility, right? (Steve)

May 20th, Wide

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

It was a sad spectacle to see Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp go from such impressive and elegant blockbuster storytelling with the first “Pirates” to such incomprehensible nonsense as the last two “Pirates.” Unless you’re a hyperattentive twelve year old boy, you can’t figure out what’s going on.  But I am not sure the fix is hiring Rob Marshall to helm the fourth in the series. Let’s say you liked “Chicago.”  I did, but that’s mostly because it embodies the worst of the Modern Musical. But, what in “Memoirs of a Geisha” or “Nine” made someone say: Put this guy in charge of a Big, Stupid Pirate Movie! Well, I the stunts will be nicely choreographed.

This time, Johnny Depp’s outrageously fey Jack Sparrow is on some sort of quest for the Fountain of Youth. Which is a plot never employed by desperate filmmakers. Since Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom are…busy(?) or “focusing on projects with more artistic merit,” we get a pretty feisty looking Penelope Cruz as an alternate. That might be to the audience’s gain, and we also have Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush and Keith Richards trying to chew the scenery right out of Depp’s hungry mouth. That’s the reason this franchise is still around, right? (Steve)

May 20th, Limited

Midnight in Paris

The conventional wisdom is that, with Owen Wilson, Woody Allen made such an odd choice for his alter ego that “Midnight” is destined to be another mediocre late-Woody bomb.  Fair enough, but let’s look again:  A young man breaks into Hollywood doing comedies, but fashions himself an artist, so he tries to stretch himself into “serious” roles.  He’s thoughtful but depressive, breaks down, and in middle age tries to rebuild himself by going back to what made him famous in the first place.  Maybe it’s me, but the trailer indicates that the mumbly Wilson thing might find new life in the dialogue of Woody Allen.  (Steve)

May 27th, Wide

The Hangover Part II

“The Hangover” is an exercise in comic virtuosity—a demonstration of technique, as if the director of “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch” took Viktor Shklovsky’s notion that the technique of art is to manipulate forms to create a prolonged aesthetic experience and turned it into a R-rated summer blockbuster comedy (he did a good job creating a steady flow of really funny set pieces).  The problem is, as Shklovsky would explain, if technique creates a feel, it can’t be replicated because the original is a unique experience. 

What can the revolution-era Russian formalists teach us about “The Hangover Part II”?  Some of the funniest parts of the original cannot appear in this film without severe plot manipulation, which would break apart the veneer of believability the story rests upon.  In other words, how do you get Ken Jeong and Mike Tyson back into the “Hangover” universe without straining the plot?  Because once you strain the plot (according to the rules of the universe you’ve created, where randomness predominates coincidence), then technique falters—which is the whole point of the exercise.  As Shklovsky observes, art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.  In other words, a naked Asian man jumping out of the trunk is not important, but how we experience him is.  I hope Todd Phillips figures out a way around this. (Steve)

Kung Fu Panda 2

A favorite Family Guy cutaway once cast Jack Black in “The Unconventional Butler,” which featured a stodgy old white person initially shocked but inevitably charmed by Black’s “unconventional” nature. I wonder what the unconventional butler would think of Black’s family movies of late—or, I wonder what the Jack Black from Tenacious D would think of this. I mean, is this what we’re going to see from Zach Galifianakis in six years? Or…perhaps two years ago?

Anyway, this is another one of those kid movies with enough cool actors (Angelina, Seth Rogan) that make it acceptable to take your children to and still feel like you haven’t completely wasted a trip to the movies. (James)  

May 27th, Limited

The Tree of Life

As any proper film critic, I hold Terence Malick in the highest esteem and have signed the online petition to ask 20th Century Fox to release the original six hour cut of “The Thin Red Line.”  And boy howdy, does this movie want to cover The Meaning of Life and all sorts of other Malickian things.  But it gives me a little Aronofsky “The Fountain” vibe, as if the ambition to make a film about All Things is too big for the medium and can only result in pseudo-intellectual pretention.  (Steve)

2011 Oscars Yuk-a-thon!

By , February 27, 2011 4:57 pm

Not Busy Enough During Christmas? Then Come Hang With Film Critics!

By , November 25, 2010 11:46 pm

Come see me and other KCFCC critics discuss the awards season movies at the Screenland Crown Center on Thursday, December 2nd!  They’ve got a bar!  I’ll be fruitlessly hawking Winter’s Bone for Best Picture.  Here’s the official press release:

CinemaKC Showcases Kansas City Film Critics Circle

December 2 at Screenland Crown CenterKANSAS CITY, MO – CinemaKC, a not-for-profit organization connecting film related groups in Kansas and Missouri, will host the Kansas City Film Critics Circle on Thursday, December 2 at the Screenland Crown Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by an informal mixer at 6:30 p.m. Kansas City Film Critics Circle members will be on hand to meet the public before and after the screening. The evening will include the screening of at least 17 film trailers for upcoming theatrical releases and Oscar predictions.

The Kansas City Film Critics Circle was founded in 1966 by the late Dr. James Loutzenhiser, and is the second oldest critics’ organization in the country, after the New York Film Critics Circle.  The KCFCC currently has 28 members, representing print, broadcast and online media. Learn more about this organization by visiting www.kcfcc.org.

John Shipp, founder of CinemaKC commented, “Our area is extremely fortunate to have such a strong base of nationally known and respected film critics, and this will be a great opportunity to meet many of them.” Loey Lockerby, president of Kansas City Film Critics Circle, and known from her reviews in The Kansas City Star and appearances on the Walt Bodine Show, will welcome the audience and introduce the evening’s entertainment. The critics will discuss the trailers throughout the screening period and have a Question and Answer session at the end.

Tickets for the event are $10, and are available at www.screenland.com or at the door.  Student tickets with ID are $5. CinemaKC is an initiative of the Film Society of Greater Kansas City, connecting with movie lovers since 1991. For more information contact John Shipp at 816-718-4337 or john@filmrow.com.

Summer Movie Preview, July 2010

By , June 4, 2010 7:43 am

We're going to be the most gorgeous couple in rehab after this whole vampire fad blows over.

July 2nd

The Last Airbender:  It looks like the Slumdog Millionaire guy does battle with a bald kid wearing a burlap hooded robe doing a Darth Maul impersonation with a kendo stick in a circle of candles.  M. Night Shyamalan tries to shed the “Twist Ending Guy Who Made a Great Movie Twelve Years Ago, But Has Only Done Crap Since” rap and remake his career as the director who…I don’t know, made a movie that looks a lot like Bulletproof Monk without Stifler?  Well, whatever we might say about Night (though nobody’s tossing this around anymore, are they?), he doesn’t make lazy movies.  Night believes he’s a great filmmaker, even if his ideas are half-baked Manicheaism wrapped around pseudo-profound modern mysticism.–Steve

Twelve:  Crap-teur Joel Schumacher heads to the Upper East Side for this Gossip Girly caution tale about a drug deal gone wrong.  Chase Crawford and Rory Caulkin are the rich white kids, 50 Cent deals them the drugs, and Emma Roberts tries to prove she’s Anne Hathaway by starring in cute tweener flicks, then skanking out to show that she’s a real actress.  It got hooted out of Sundance, but Ebert liked it, so there’s that.  An interesting alternative to…     –Steve

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse:   There’s plenty of things to hate on about the adaptations of Stephanie Meyers’ Mormon-infused retooling of the vampire mythology.  For instance, the absurd notion of making “nice” vampires who don’t have to suck the blood of their victims, which undermines the dangerous seductiveness of the entire vampire concept.  But there is also plenty to like: the appeal of the main performers (despite Kristin Stewart’s lockjaw) and the really impressive and distinctive visual style of each film—a believable portrait of small towns painted on an angst-dripping canvas, which makes this ridiculous story palatable.  I am sure this makes me a complete “tweener” ripe for your criticism. But standing in line for opening night (with my girlfriend, in case you were wondering), I felt like I was waiting for an estrogen-fueled version of “Star Wars”, suggesting a pop culture phenomenon deserving of examination rather than derision. Regardless, the new version features a blown-out war between vampires and werewolves (which sort of sounds like the unfortunate “Underworld” series) where Bella (Stewart) has to make that ultimate choice between Team Edward (embodied by emo-dreamy Robert Pattinson) and Team Jacob (embodied by the dreamy dud Taylor Lautner). Hey, that sounds like “New Moon” on a larger scale.–James

July 9th

Despicable Me:  An animated movie about the only guy in the ‘burbs with a dead lawn (Steve Carrell) who is going to attempt to steal the moon with equipment stashed in his underground lair.  Three orphans take kindly to this weirdo (probably because they’re the only ones whose property values he’s not destroying) and a crisis of conscience ensues.  This is the first offering from NBC/Universal’s new animation branch, which is headed by the former president of Fox Animation Studios.  This probably explains why the teaser trailer feels like the wordless teaser trailers with Scrat from Ice Age.  The voice cast is pretty impressive—not only James’ favorite Russell Brand, but the ubiquitous presences of Kristin Wiig and Ken Jeong, and Danny McBride, Will “Gob Bluth” Arnett, and Kenneth the Page and Mindy from “The Office” as “Tourist Parents.”–Steve

Predators: I am not totally 100% sure what producer/developer Robert Rodriguez is going for in this remake/sequel (that line is becoming so much harder to distinguish this days) where Oscar-winner Adrian Brody (?!) and Topher Grace (????!!!!) take the place of sensitive skinny boys like Arnold Schwarzenneggar and Jesse “The Mind of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory” Ventura. But throw Danny Trejo and Alice Braga into the mix and I’m in. This time, it appears that the typical group of ragtag mercenaries is tracked by at least more than one Predator. I mean, I can only guess that from the “s” at the end of the title.  Sadly, the alien won’t be here to follow the continuity of “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.” Which is too bad. Really. I mean I saw it and you didn’t, so you don’t really know, do you?.–James

July 16th

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: When the IRS comes a knockin’, it’s time to head back to the Jerry Bruckheimer teat for Nicolas Cage.  Yes, Cage has reteamed with the director of the “National Treasure” films (which easily ripped the lid off the whole Masons-really-run-the-country conspiracy) to do some sort of grand adventure that is really just trying to capitalize off of “Harry Potter” in some form or fashion. Specifically, Cage has to fight Alfred Molina and somehow must recruit Jay Baruchel in order for to really harness the power of good in order to defeat evil. Uh…did you see “She’s out of My League”? Yeah, me neither. But if buying a ticket for this gets Cage to work with Werner Herzog again for another “Bad Lieutenant” movie, then I will take five adult tickets, please.–James

Inception:  “What’s the most resilient parasite?  An idea.  A single idea from the human mind can build cities.  An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”  Look, I trust Christopher Nolan (the Batman films, Memento, Insomnia), but shouldn’t he have called for a rewrite?  Building cities, transforming the world, and rewriting the world doesn’t sound like parasitic behavior.  I get that the science-fictioniness of the movie is that an idea is like a living organism, but I still don’t get the parasite thing.  I also think Leo is underrated, but he seems very close to stepping off of Serious Actor Cliff and landing in Pretentious Schlock Ravine.–Steve    

July 23rd

Salt:  Agent Jolie flips out when a Russian gangster accuses her of being a Russian spy, so she goes rogue to prove her innocence to Important Guy Standing Behind a Computer Bank Looking at a Huge Screen Liev Scribner.  Salt colors her hair and starts kicking ass, as if Valerie Plame morphed into Lara Croft.  I guess that puts Scribner in the George Tenant role…anyway, Salt looks rather inconsequential, a return to The Saint and Clear and Present Danger movies for Phillip Noyce, after a series of somewhat successful serious films (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American, and Catch a Fire).  Perhaps this is the one for “them” before he does one for himself again.–Steve

Dinner for Schmucks:  The director of the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies brings us a Trading Places-like scenario with Paul Rudd as the handsome rich guy and Steve Carrell as the loser.  Well, at first it seems like Trading Places, but John Landis’ movie was about class, race, and elitism.  It was Wall Street as a comedy.  This movie, however, seems to be about making fun of weirdos.  In fact, that’s what the whole purpose of the Dinner for Schmucks.  Am I missing the point?–Steve   

Ramona and Beezus:  Beverly Cleary’s books describe the complex and difficult relationship issues children deal with as they grow from elementary school to teenagers.  This movie features a Disney-manufactured Selena Gomez telling her little sister that she’s “her own person.”–Steve    

July 30th

Charlie St. Cloud:  Burr Steers directs this adaptation of a Ben Sherwood novel that looks like it has a Sparksian sappiness (Playing catch with his little brother?  He gets killed on his way to the ballgame?).  Still, Steers directed a very good movie about a Northeast old money kid dealing with messed up family issues in Igby Goes Down, so there’s hope here.  Also, I’m cheering for Zac Efron for the reasons outlined in my review of Me and Orson Welles, his first “serious” film.  We’ve already confirmed that Miley is a bust, but Zac still has a fighting chance.  Even though it looks awful, I’ll give it a chance.–Steve 

Beastly:  A teenage American Psycho meets Dorian Gray who then runs into Beauty and the Beast.  The telling moment of the trailer is at the 2:04 mark when Neil Patrick Harris fake vomits in his mouth after Alex Pettyfer says something about making something beautiful from something ugly.  Or something like that.  Anyway, when the trailer gives you the impression that the film is aware of its own banality, perhaps that’s a red flag.–Steve

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore:  This might be pretty awesome if Kitty Galore is actually Mr. Bigglesworth playing Dr. Evil, perhaps some sort of Bond parody?  If anybody gets stuck taking the kids, email me and let me know.  Apparently I’m going to be at the Zac Efron movie that weekend (see above).–Steve

Summer Movie Preview, August 2010

By , June 1, 2010 7:00 pm

Hollywood has said the same thing, Sly.

August 6th

The Other Guys: After “Step-Brothers”, I am pretty sure I would never want to sit through another Will Ferrell/Adam McKay teaming. How do you lose your nerve after making two of the most perfectly absurd comedy blockbusters of the past ten years with “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights”?  But “Step Brothers” celebrated arrested development in a way that would make Adam Sandler blush and seemed to show that these two guys had nothing else in the tank. However, the idea of Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg playing a detective pair who becomes obsessed with being just like another duo played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson is too good to pass up. Plus, could this be the Michael Keaton comeback we’ve been hoping for since the disappointment of “Herbie: Fully Loaded”? Yes, probably.–James  

Step Up 3-D: Nothing says “awkward white guy” like sitting through the trailer for this very “urban” flick and yelling out, “That looks cooler than ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”! Yes, I really said that. But here’s a film that has no trouble telling you what it is with the title: Another dance competition where some talented youngster has to “step up”. This time, the studio gets to gouge you for another two bucks just so you can watch “mad hands” and animated squiggly lines come right off the screen. Rest assured everyone will learn about life, love, and wicked skills by the end of this mess.–James

August 13th

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Edgar Wright gets away from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to adapt this comic-book epic about a young man (Michael Cera) who falls for a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) only to learn he has to fight off all seven of her ex-boyfriends to win her heart. Expect lots of cool music, enough pop-cultures references to make Wright’s girlfriend Diablo Cody’s head spin, and lots of fast editing that simluates the paneling of the graphic novel. But don’t expect Wright to treat any of those things with the least bit of awe and wonder. There’ll be enough cynicism and snarkiness to be cool, but enough heart and depth to make the film a nifty little classic. Don’t give up on Cera…yet.–James 

The Expendables: Sylvester Stallone gets behind the camera again and—you can say whatever you want about the unhinged rebooting of “Rambo”—he always has some interesting ideas rolling around the seemingly thick skull of his. This time, he assembles a ragtag group of mercenaries (presumably not the same one from “Predators”) that includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren to overthrow a ruthless South American dictator (Please let it be a Hugo Chavez stand-in!). Of course, things don’t go as planned and all sorts of double-crossing and back-stabbing commence, all of which involves Eric Roberts and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Certainly Stallone will make a compelling flick with a dash of odd-ball international politics involved, the real trick will be figuring out how Bruce Willis and Ah-huld fit into all of this. They’re pretty prominent in the trailer but not so much on the cast sheet. Surely Stallone isn’t harboring some sort of mid-80’s Planet Hollywood resentment in an early plot rub-out. Or…is he?–James 

Eat Pray LoveInto the Wild for bored housewives.  Privileged American white woman goes on a journey to exotic lands to “work on herself” and “let the universe in” and be enlightened by Indian yoga and be moved spiritually by pasta.  To be fair, Elizabeth Gilbert is an engaging writer, even if her journey seems too self-conscious and, frankly, made up.  The problem here is that the funny and reflective Gilbert simply cannot be embodied by the sassy and angry Julia Roberts.  There is nothing about Julia Roberts that was, is, or ever will say “meditation.”  A classic casting misstep: assuming that if you throw a hit book at a megastar, it has to work.  See Hanks, Tom.–Steve

August 20th

Takers:  A cavalcade of former “it” guys thrown into a heist movie for no real discernible reason.  Or have you been clamoring for Paul Walker, Jay Hernandez, or Hayden Christensen since, oh, 2002?  Mix in some rappers and Matt Dillon as The Detective, and you’ve got yourself a $3 million dollar late August opening weekend.–Steve

Nanny McPhee Returns:  Oh, does she now?  There’s a lot of talent in this movie that’s boxing below their weight:  Oscar winner Emma Thompson as the crusty old nanny who acts mostly with a mole and a tooth, Dame Maggie Smith as her agent (she-pimp?), Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ewan McGregor as English pig farmers with a litter of kids, Ralph Fiennes as some sort of official-type person, and Rhys Ifans as “Uncle Phil.”  Then again, Mr. Magorium and his assistant have eight Oscar nomination and a slew of BAFTAs between them.–Steve   

The Switch:  This could be interesting.  Jennifer Aniston is getting a sperm donor; Jason Bateman is the best friend who can’t figure out why he’s not the one.  After a few too many at her “I’m Getting Pregnant!” party, Bateman switches the sperm cups…or does he?  This could land in annoying quirky rom-com territory, but there’s some top-shelf quirk here: not only Bateman, but Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, and Todd Luiso.  If Michael Cera were playing the wacky nephew, I’d be all-in.–Steve

Lottery Ticket:  Perhaps a PG riff on this Chappelle sketch (“I bought this whole truck of Kools!”).  I like Lil Bow Wow.  Roll Bounce is a very charming, if inconsequential, movie, largely on the likeability of its lead.  Here, Bow Wow wins the lottery, and the whole neighborhood wants a piece.  Looks like a wacky ensemble comedy for name-brand character actors like Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy, and Charlie Murphy—wait, did this movie get big-timed by Nick Cannon?!   Ice Cube appears to be cast as the elder statesman of the group, which begs the question:  Is Chi McBride busy?–Steve 

August 27th

Piranha 3-D: If nothing will turn you off to the 3-D phenomenon (which is never going to work as long as the technology is being tacked on in post-production), then give Alexander Aja’s take on the schlocky horror classic. Aja started out with some sort of nonsense ultra-gross avant garde piece of Eurotrash back with 2005’s “High Tension,” since becoming just as lazy as any backward-capped idiot Michael Bay would hire to wreck a perfectly good horror film. Here, a bunch of pretty (obnoxious) college kids get chewed up by some ancient fish with nasty choppers. Somehow, Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss (wearing on outfit that depressingly evokes Matt Hooper) get dragged into the bloody waters of Lake Victoria during an uncommonly stupid Spring Break. Watching nasty CGI fish prey upon hapless victims is a little more fun that watching some anonymous masked killer mercilessly butcher a hapless victim. But, honestly, these fish look pretty stupid. What else would you expect the last weekend of August?–James  

Going the Distance:  Justin Long and Drew Barrymore (Are they back on again?  I can’t keep up.) meet cute and end up in a long distance relationship.  Jason Sedekis and Christina Applegate are the advice dispensing BFFs.  This is documentarian Nanette Burstein’s first fiction piece; perhaps this is better than it looks on paper.  The trailer doesn’t feel as stupid and obvious as the usual rom-com; if John Hodgman makes an appearance as the TSA security guy at the airport, you’ll know you’re in good hands.–Steve

Summer Movie Preview, June 2010

By , May 19, 2010 7:31 am

Not the A-Team, no hot tub time machine

June 4th 

Killers:  Two pseudo-stars in a “marriage is like war, look we’re shooting at each other” movie.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith worked, if it did, because you had two genuine big stars with big personalities (Brad Pitt in non-romantic leads counts).  Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher simply don’t move the needle, no matter how much shooting and making out making out while their shooting they’re going to do in this movie.  The only hope is that Tom Selleck walks away with the movie in a supporting role as Heigl’s dad.  Who doesn’t want to watch Selleck give Ashton Kutcher the DeNiro/Stiller treatment, but with more hard-ass old-guy butt-stomping?–Steve

Marmaduke:  I understand that we should be sensitive about Owen Wilson and all, but looking back on Bottle Rocket, was there any clue that it would end up like this?  Owen trying to kill himself before playing the lead in Marmaduke, and a doughy Luke pitching cell phone coverage in sweat pants?–Steve   

Splice:  Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are rebellious (and hot) young scientists who splice together human and animal DNA.  It doesn’t go as planned.  Brody has been very questionable since The Pianist (his best work is probably struttin’ to Lyrics Born in this Michel Gondry-directed Diet Coke commercial), and Sarah Polley hasn’t had a role of note in years.  Still, I’ll give Splice the benefit of the doubt only because Polley directed, at the age of 28, the best film ever made about Alzheimer’s:  Away From Her, for which Julie Christie was nominated for an Oscar.  That hasn’t nothing to do with Splice, but hey, handing over your hard-earned cash for a movie is about trust, and I trust Sarah Polley.  What can I say?—Steve

Get Him to the Greek: Nothing made me hate Hollywood more than the rumor from a few years ago that MTV Films was going to “re-imagine (or suck the life out of) “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with Russell Brand in the Tim Curry role. Is there anything duller than a “cringe comedian” who thinks talking about heroine and his abs is shocking? Oh, I know: A film that presents such a comedian as daring and edgy is duller than that. “Get Him to the Greek” is (not) a sequel to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, a great film with some weaknesses. Like Russell Brand. Here Jonah Hill – who isn’t playing the same creepy loser from “Sarah Marshall” – plays a creepy loser who has to babysit some audacious rock star. With Judd Apatow’s star beginning to fade, hanging his hat on someone like Brand seems to be a good way to land a film where Leslie Mann is the biggest name. What I am saying is I hate Russell Brand.–James 

June 11th

The A-Team:  This was always going to happen, it was just a matter of finding the right B.A.  Thankfully, the emergence of MMA made that possible.  Alas, Joe Carnahan, who gave us the amoral shoot-em-up Smokin’ Aces, may not be the sophisticated ironist necessary to elevate The A-Team beyond forgettable one-weekend blockbuster.   You see, in Smokin’ Aces, the target of the hit men was named Aces, and they were trying to smoke him.  This premise requires a more refined sense of humor…somebody to convince Liam Neeson that the only way to play Hannibal is as if he’s really leading a reconnaissance squadron, and that Bradley Cooper needs to be so arrogant that his arrogance is charming.  For Murdock, I was hoping for the same kind of marriage to actor and role that Matthew Lillard brought to Shaggy.  The guy from District 9 doesn’t have a track record, so we’ll see.—Steve

The Karate Kid: Beware! Will Smith is starting to franchise. Little Jaden Smith takes over for Ralph Macchio (or perhaps for Hillary “The Next Karate Kid” Swank) as the fish-out-of-water who has to take on the Art of Jackie Chan in order to beat up the Mean Kids, be Popular, and to Learn Life’s Important Lessons. Like back-end profit sharing (Thanks, pops!). For all of you holding on to some sort of misplaced nostalgia, remember this: (1) The first one stunk so get over it. (2) This story has been done so many times anyway they could have called it “The Bad News Bears Step It Up While Suffering Varsity Blues” and no one would have cared. In fact, they could have called it “Karate Kid: The Next Generation” and made it a straight-to-video sequel without anyone complaining about remaking “classics”. (3) No one has a VCR to play their “Karate Kid” video tape anymore.  So just go see it already.–James 

June 18th

Toy Story 3:  This is the true test of 3-D.  I’m in the Ebert camp.  I don’t really care for it—I’m wowed by special effects when they help tell a story, not when they try to wow me with special effects.  If Pixar can’t pull off a decent “I-MAX 3-D Experience,” consider it a fad.–Steve

Jonah Hex:  A comic book movie western with Megan Fox as the saloon girl and John Malkovich as the bad guy.  Is there any way to redeem this, and if so, is the director of Horton Hears a Who the guy to do it?  Godspeed, Josh Brolin.  We won’t forget that you’re on an incredible run in your non-Megan Fox movies (Grindhouse, No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, W., and Milk).  If you’re interested in a Josh Brolin western, the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit is a much better bet.  I have a feeling that there may be less “upholding the rule of law” and more “the badge justifies vigilantism” in that one.  Oh, was I supposed to be talking about Jonah Hex?  Sorry about that.–Steve

June 25th

Grown Ups:  Since none of the Happy Madison crew can carry a film by themselves anymore, Sandler’s solution is to throw them all in a movie at once—as if ten thirty watt bulbs can light up a stage better than one klieg light.  Seriously, they’re all here, clear down to Colin Quinn.  I will admit that I’m cheering for Kevin James, who has been anointed the fat-guy replacement for Chris Farley.  Don’t get me wrong, Farley is Premiere League to James’ MLS, but Paul Blart’s grace on a Segway was something to behold.  Still, this movie has no hope—the majesty of Hot Tub Time Machine casts a long shadow.  They’re going to need more than a fat guy on a rope and Rob Schneider making out with old ladies.–Steve

Knight and Day: The summer’s second “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” rip-off.  Everyone who dismisses Tom Cruise as “crazy” forgets that anyone who pretends to be other people for a living can’t be totally “with it.” Whatever we may think of him, Cruise may have found a second, comedic wind with his explosive performance in “Tropic Thunder.” Cameron Diaz seems washed-up, though she has somehow developed a reputation as a “funny actress” (despite Sir Hitchens’ theory about the fairer sex) while remaining sexy and alluring. Plus, someone who was the lead in two films last year is hardly running on empty. As a couple, they will bat their eyes and flirt as they bounce around the globe and see things go “boom” around them. Hopefully writer-director James Mangold can give this enough weigh to keep it floating off the screen.  Oh…but the haters will still have their day.–James

Summer Movie Preview, May 2010

By , May 13, 2010 8:02 pm

 

Movie Fans, I’ve got a bunch of new material for you over the next week or so.  Reviews of the newest releases, a layman’s analysis of the Arizona Immigration Law, a breakdown of Elena Kagan’s softball stance, and my favorite thing all year:  The Summer Movie Preview.  For such a big occasion, I thought it might be fun to get the band back together.  That’s right–James Owen, my partner from the glorious and groundbreaking (yeah, why not) Filmsnobs.com is back in the fold!  He graciously offered to help dish out some trash talk on this summer’s newest remakes, reimaginings, sequels, and blowing-stuff-ups.  James will also be contributing to Movie Day at the Court, so you’ll be getting twice the content for the same low price of free.  And who says the internet is killing real journalism?  So, let’s get to the movies!

May 7th

Iron Man 2: I know…I know. You’ve already seen it. Even though, by Deadline Hollywood Daily standards, the $130 million it grossed opening weekend makes it a “disappointment”. Because these days, if you don’t gross “Avatar”’s global numbers by the Saturday matinees…your movie totally sucks! Anyway, what you already know is that Capitalism’s has an answer to the selfless, patriotic, not-for-profit Superman/Clark Kent hero.  His name is Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who returns to the heavy suit not to fight for world peace or to handle inner demons, but to struggle with Sam Rockwell over a defense contract and to deal with rote Daddy issues. Perhaps the infusion of a morally conflicted bad guy would have made the film as dynamic as the first. Instead, we get Mickey Rourke with his “moose and sqeerrel” routine and Scarlett Johansson as some ill-defined mystery woman whose interesting bits (easy there!) seems to be saved for “Iron Man 3”. At least this keeps director Jon Favreau away from teaming up with Vince Vaughn. Blech!–James

Babies:  Have you ever seen some funny YouTube video in an email sent by your weird aunt and thought: I wish this had better production values and I could spend eight dollars at the local art house to watch this while I drank overpriced mirco-brews? Well, “Babies” is the answer to your prayers! 
Oscar-hunting documentarians follow the first year of an infant’s life in various cultures around the globe.  But seriously, it is very cute and, if you didn’t take your mom to see this on Mother’s Day, you are a movie-hating Communist.–James

May 14th

Robin Hood: As though I’ve died and gone to Heaven, director Ridley Scott and leading man Russell Crowe have teamed up for another helping of epic craziness. We’ve gone a long way from Scott’s “Body of Lies” where fat ole Russell sat at his kid’s soccer game as he let Leonardo DiCaprio go into dangerous Middle East situations until he’s tortured as though he were living out a Mel Gibson fever dream. Whew! Excuse me. Anyway, our Dynamic Duo is back to do some sort of “origins” story about the famous bandit and Sheriff Nottingham’s dastardly plot to bring him down. Seemingly, when this was announced, this story was going to tell the legendary tale from Nottingham’s view. Perhaps the marketing is being sneaky but, in the AIG and Goldman Sachs era, even Ridley couldn’t make that work. Besides, this is the Robin Hood we’ve been waiting for since enduring Kevin Costner’s “accent”, Kevin Costner’s “mullet”, and Bryan Adams “singing” at the mall multiplex back twenty years ago or so. It also stars Cate Blanchett and that’s never a bad thing.–James  

May 21st

Shrek Forever After: Paramount, having pillaged the Dreamworks stable until there’s nothing left except for horse tears, goes back to the “Shrek” well to revisit our green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers who  is probably just relieved he hasn’t been dropped from the contract for being impossible to work with) trying to get back to being his normal self. But, after striking a nasty deal with Rumpelstiltskin, he somehow lands in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” scenario where he sees what Never, Never Land would look like if….oh has anyone really cared since “Shrek 2”? Did anyone really care about that except for Antonio Banderas channeling Zorro the Gay Blade into the voice of Garfield? I didn’t. But, hey, you’ve got kids and can’t take them to “The Human Centipede”.  (Please don’t take your children to “The Human Centipede”).–James

MacGruber: I must admit to being very intrigued.  If Lorne Michaels and crew go after some sort of combination Die Hard parody with MacGruber has Jack Bauer in an 80’s style vest, they could be onto something.  Really, if Cheney-ite Republicans insist that the ticking time bomb scenario justifies torture, then they deserve to have this idea mocked by Will Forte and Kristin Wiig.  If Val Kilmer waterboards Christopher Hitchens, I’ll nominate it for Best Picture at the KCFCC Awards in January.  And it’s got a bunch of non-The Rock wrestlers, including Chris Jericho, whose appearances on “I Love the 80’s” merit more mainstream tv time.–Steve

May 28th

Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time:  Nothing makes me laugh more than when people talk smack on the new Jerry Bruckheimer Awesome Machine © by saying it looks like a poor man’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Sure, because nothing trumps a movie based on a video game like a movie based on a THEME PARK RIDE! Yes, it’s loud and incoherent. But that never stopped anyone from seeing a movie on Memorial Day. What might stop them is any attempt to make Jake Gyllenhaal into an action star. That’s almost as crazy as attempts to make his sister Maggie attractive. Hey-o! Burned her!  But it’s the same wham-bam excitement you would expect from Mike Newell, the director of “Four Weddings and Funeral” and “Pushing Tin”. Oh and he also did one of the “Harry Potter” movies. So, no hate mail about how mis-accurate I am.–James

Sex and the City 2: So I figured Candace Bushnell’s tactic of taking placing crude, sexist stereotypes in trite situations with other cartoonish, under-developed characters, then spouting off “truisms” and “insight” that would make the characters in an 80’s sitcom groan, would have died out with the HBO finale. (I tend to think of “Sex and the City” like “Entourage” for women with no Ari Gold-type character keeping the proceedings from being a total, vapid bore.) But then, appletini-fueled audiences pushed the film version into blockbuster status, so those sassy gals Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Mae West (Kim Cattrell) all come together to obsess over irrelevant fashion and even more irrelevant men. I hear ladies say this doesn’t look as good as the first. How they can tell is beyond me.–James

Survival of the Dead: Maybe you’d prefer to spend this holiday getting another heaping of George A. Romero’s paranoia riffing on the military-industrial complex through blood and guts. This time, Romero drops his brain-loving zombies in the middle of a family feud that’s been going on decades. The trailer mixes period costumes and art direction suggesting some sort of historical or social ambition. But that’s really confusing, so let’s just say it’s about Afghanistan and the zombies are…Allied troops? Sure.   It stars no one and looks like it will be subjected to the art house ghetto. Summertime!–James

Movie Day at the Court 2010 Oscars LiveBlog!

By , March 3, 2010 11:02 pm

He'll have more fun than you on Sunday night...unless you participate in the Movie Day at the Court 2010 Oscars LiveBlog!

Big news, all!  Longtime Friends of the Blog will remember Filmsnobs.com, mine and James Owen’s website from 2001-2008.  Well, the Filmsnobs are reuniting on Sunday, March 7th at 6:45 for an Oscars LiveBlog!  James Owen will be making his glorious return to the web for 3+ hours of online snarkiness in all its snarky glory!  Join us during the Oscars by clicking at the link below.  We’re doing a Cover It Live event, so we’ll be able to field your questions, publish your comments, participate in our online polls, and basically have something else to do while you’re plowing through hours of awkward intros, weird dance numbers, the Debbie Downer “Who Died This Year” montage, and a bunch of shots of Drunk Nicholson in the front row.

Click Here to Enter the Movie Day at the Court 2010 Oscars LiveBlog!

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