Category: The Docket

The Docket, 4-2-2010

By , April 2, 2010 10:05 am

Hot Tub Time Machine review is on its way soon, y’all.  Yes, it’s awesome.  The pitch is 2 Better Off Dead + 2 The Hangover = 4 Hot Tub Time Machine.

Clash of the Titans:  This trailer reminds me of my love/hate relationship with Troy.  On the one hand, it’s a big dumb stupid Cliff’s Notesing of The Iliad.  On the other hand, I admired that Wolfgang Peterson, a talented director with a couple duds on his CV, attempted to make a atheistic mythology—the gods in Troy are nothing but false idols whose palaces crumble during savage warfare.  Troy turned Achilles into a raging amoral psychopath, and the wussification of Orlando Bloom and his dirt-stache probably killed his career.  Whatever else you can say about Troy, it had ideas and ambition.  And a real actor at its center; give Eric Bana credit for embodying the contradictions of loyalty that tear Hector apart.  Clash of the Titans looks like it wants to be Troy-esque, but louder and stupider—like it wants to turn Perseus into the Scorpion King.  Liam Neeson may bring some badass to Zeus, but what about Ralph Fiennes?  Outside of a bit role in The Hurt Locker, it seems like he’s pretty much in nothing but Harry Potter movies and Nanny McPhee since…Maid in Manhattan?

The Last Song:  If you’re interested in wagering on the current graduating class of Disney Channel Stars, here’s why the smart money is on Zac Efron over Miley Cyrus.  Efron’s post-HSM  projects have been Hairspray, a can’t-miss commercial vehicle that played to his strengths while minimizing the risk.  Efron was the teenage heartthrob; he sang some songs, acted cool…basically, he was Zac Efron.  The movie’s success certainly didn’t hinge on him; the buzz surrounded John Travolta’s cross-dressing role, and Efron was surrounded by names like Walken, Pfeiffer, Latifah, and Janney.  His first star vehicle was 17 Again, a time-change comedy where, again, he put himself in safe hands.  The director, Burr Steers, directed the superb indie comedy Igby Goes Down, and he was surrounded by decent comedic talent:  Leslie (Mrs. Apatow) Mann, Matthew Perry, and “Buffy” vet Michelle Trachetenberg.  This winter, Efron starred in his first “serious” movie, Me and Orson Welles, directed by indie god Richard Linklater.  Again, Efron surrounded himself with talent; here, not only Linklater, but a criminally underappreciated performance by Christian McKay as Orson Welles.  The role played to Efron’s strengths (he has to charm his way into the role of the song-playing servant of Brutus), but he also had to act.  Efron acquits himself as the naïve love interest of the luminous and mature Claire Danes.  Far from embarrassment, Efron seems poised to grow into…perhaps not stardom, but certainly a credible actor with a long career.

Miss Cyrus, on the other hand, put her trust in first-time movie director Julie Ann Robinson.  Worse, she’s expected to carry a Nicholas Sparks script.  Any Sparksian enterprise requires the leads to find emotional depth where only treacle exists; thus, the most successful Sparks adaptation is The Notebook, featuring decent performances by future­-Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.  Because so much rides on the leads, all your flaws as an actor will be exposed.  When you have to spend ninety minutes of the film emoting, Sparks doesn’t let you hide—especially when you’re sharing the screen with something called Liam HemsworthDear John exposed Channing Tatum, the meathead from G.I. Joe, as a A&F model who caught some breaks.  Apparently, The Last Song exposes Cyrus as a “singularly charmless teenage performer” who may have just short-circuited her post-Disney career.  Not even Greg Kinnear saves her.  This choice of material seems so short-sighted, especially when compared to the Efron’s.  There is a lot to be said for having a good agent. 

Why Did I Get Married Too?:  Apparently Tyler Perry doesn’t feature Tyler Perry’s name as prominently in the title of Tyler Perry movies even Tyler Perry thinks might not be that good.

New on DVD:  An Education.

The Docket, 3-19-2010

By , March 18, 2010 8:58 pm

He's not going to give you your two dollars.

Since I haven’t done one of these in a while, let’s just take a look at what’s in theaters and out on video.  Really, there’s nothing this weekend, and you’re probably watching the tournament anyway.

Hot Tub Time Machine:  Ladies and gentlemen, one of the perks of KCFCC membership is sneak previews.  I can honestly say that I have anticipated no sneak preview more highly than this.  The premise is so weird, the cast is so inspired…and what the hell is John Cusack doing in this movie?  I get why Darrell from “The Office” and a bunch of former “Daily Show” correspondents are in this movie, but—and I realize the Cusack has long lost his indie cred—this doesn’t make any sense.  Unless Cusack runs into some kid on the slopes who wants his two dollars, I don’t get it.  Also:  Crispin Glover(!?!) and Chevy Chase.   

She’s Out of My League:  Why not cast McLovin instead? 

Green Zone:  I really like Paul Greengrass (the Bourne films, United 93), and this looks to be one of the better Iraq War films.  I’d like to Jason Bourne do kung fu in one of those Hurt Locker suits. 

Cop Out:  Doesn’t this look like it should be the Tracy Jordan movie poster next to Who Dat Ninja?

Alice in Wonderland:  This was probably a bridge too far for Burton and Depp.  As with Leo and Marty, perhaps it’s time to give it a break for a movie or two.

The Docket, 2-8-2010

By , February 9, 2010 8:41 pm

Sorry I missed last week, y’all.  Some of you have been asking for my opinion on the Oscar nominations, especially the ten Best Picture nominees.  I actually like it, and here’s why.  With the five spots, the way it’s broken down, more or less, the last few years, is to reserve one for the Weinstein Prestige Picture, one for an upstart indie, and three for studio “independent” movies.  Now, you’ve got room for the deserving Pixar movie, more independents, and Hollywood can reward good blockbusters—hopefully encouraging more The Dark Knights and fewer Transformers 2s.  I will have a rundown of the Best Picture nominees closer to Oscar time.  For now, here’s what’s on the Docket for your movie week.

Dear John:  What happened to Lasse Hallstrom?  Lasse used to be Bob and Harvey’s go-to guy for Oscar Bait:  The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, The Shipping News.  The problem is that his movies are, in the immortal words of Mel Gibson, boring as a dog’s ass.  So, rather than comparing Golden Globes gift bags with Johnny Depp and Michael Caine, Lasse’s been reduced to opening Nicholas Sparks adaptation in February.  Starring GI Joe and the chick that made out with Megan Fox in that one movie that nobody cares about except for the fact that Megan Fox made out with some chick in it.

Valentine’s Day:  Or, Valentine’s Day, Actually.  Or maybe She’s Just Not That In To Valentine’s Day.  This one is brought to you by the unabashedly estrogized Garry Marshall, who made prostitution adorable in Pretty Woman.  At least Richard Curtis’ Love, Actually had some Altman-esque ambitions to its sprawling, multi-story structure—including a memorable performance by Billy Nighy as Billy Mack, the depressed Jagger-lipped popstar who scores an unexpected Christmas hit, and Billy Bob Thornton as the POTUS who gropes Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s secretary.  I suspect that Marshall just wants to throw some stars at housewives five minutes at a time.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians:  The Lightning Thief: I don’t mean to be such a downer this week, but here’s how you know this is going to suck:  Chris Columbus.  Not the genocide guy with the national holiday, but the hack director of Home Alone, some unspeakably crappy Robin Williams movies—and, most relevant for our purposes, the two worst Harry Potter movies.  Columbus fell in love the special effects arsenal Warner Bros. put at his disposal, developing none of the characters and flattening the story.  Expect the same with poor Percy.   

The Wolfman:  Looks like a classier version of Van Helsing, doesn’t it?  But with Benicio Del Toro in a high-tech The Howling.  Unfortunately, almost all big budget films with starpower released in February are deeply flawed.  That’s why they’re released in February.

The Docket, 1-28-2010

By , January 28, 2010 4:48 pm

When in Rome:  Do you think that Kristen Bell might be the next Reese Witherspoon?  You kinda like Ryan Reynolds and Joshua Gordon-Levitt, but prefer someone without the comedic skills and charm?  Maybe with a slightly Carson-Daly’s-dopey-brother look to him?  Here’s Josh Duhamel!  Craving some C-list comic relief like Dax Shepard and Will Arnett?  Wonder what’s happened to Don Johnson?  Like stupid high-concepts?  Thinking about how bad it must be for Angelica Huston right now?  Think tiny European cars are funny?  Then the director of Ghost Rider and Daredevil has got the movie for you! 

Edge of Darkness:  Since Mel stupidly got divorced after The Passion of the Christ, he’s got to unretire from acting and dust off the script for some standard-issue revenge thriller.  Personally, I’m Ready To Root For the Bad Guy all over again, so why not just make a sequel to Payback?   

Recommendation for Video this Week:  This Is It.  I’ve actually reviewed this one!

The Docket, 1-22-2010

By , January 22, 2010 3:45 pm

On the Supreme Court front this week, I’ll post separately about yesterday’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, one of the most inexplicable cases of judicial activism in the history of the Court.  If anything, the Roberts Court has proven that if anybody in D.C. has “audacity,” its the current Supreme Court majority.  In four short years, they’ve become the 1970’s Oakland Raiders of government, with Chief Justice Roberts as Al Davis.  Congress might pass its laws, but this outlaw Court doesn’t give a damn what Congress thinks.  In an institution that values stability and decorum and incremental action, Roberts’ court breaks all the unwritten rules of stare decisis and judicial deference and constitutional ripenessCitizens United does to campaign finance reform what Jack Tatum did to Sammy White in Super Bowl XI.  

On the movie front, here’s what we’ve got in theaters this weekend:

Legion:  Let’s see if we can sort out the theological stance of this one, shall we?  God has lost faith with humanity, presumably because we’re unrepentant sinners.  Fair enough.  So He sends a plague of angels to destroy us.  But, doesn’t this mean that if we fight the angels, we’re fighting the will of God?  That puts Dennis Quaid on the wrong side of God, right?  But wait—there’s this Last Hope Of Humanity Baby that’s going to save us.  If this baby is the Second Coming, then why is God trying to destroy us?  I mean, that would defeat the whole point of the Second Coming, wouldn’t it?  And if the baby is going to save us, why are we blasting God’s angels with automatic weapons?  Isn’t that going to just make Him more mad?  And—wouldn’t this movie be much better if Paul Bettany played this guy again, and these two guys squared off against Gabriel?  I think it would

The Tooth Fairy:  Memo to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman:  Sign The Rock to be the Toronto Maple Leafs’ enforcer.  The Yankees of hockey haven’t been an interesting franchise since Tie Domi retired, and the NHL desperately needs more of this.  Dwayne’s good for it, and I can’t imagine that this niche he’s carved out as Disney’s muscle-y enlarged heart of gold can be satisfying for much longer.  Cross-promote it with Vince McMahon, and this is how you’ll finally crack the Southern market:  Bring rasslin’ fans into the mix.  ‘Roided up meatheads throwing their bodies with reckless abandon into glass, cutting themselves and knocking out teeth…why wouldn’t WWE fans love hockey? If you’re going to get back on ESPN, you’ve got to think outside the box, Gary.  The fact that I’ve rambled on this long about some crazy hockey/wrestling synergy tells you everything I think about the prospects for this movie. 

Extraordinary Measures:  Dr. Indiana Jones tries to cure Monkeybone’s daughters, or something like that.  The highlight of the trailer is Harrison Ford delivering the line, “Nobody is going to tell me how to run my lab!” just like the President in Air Force One.

The Docket, 1-12-2010

By , January 12, 2010 9:53 pm

New readers, welcome to The Docket:  My weekly rundown of what you need to know about in the world of movies and lawyer-tainment.  If you saw John “Torture Memo” Yoo last night on “The Daily Show,” you were probably disappointed (because you’re likely a John Stewart rather than John Yoo groupie) that Yoo was allowed to simply explain away all the legal and moral questions about his role in the War on Terror.  Essentially, Yoo did to Stewart what Nixon did to Frost:  Bog the conversation down in legalistic pseudo-distinctions to run out the clock.  Yoo took about three minutes to define his role in the narrowest terms possible:  I was asked to define torture, which “our country” had never contemplated.  Yoo’s slipperiness with John Stewart, who has several times shown himself a formidable opponent, is exactly the reason he was chosen to write that memo.  But make no mistake, this guy isn’t just a simple government lawyer asked by his president during a time of war to advise him on the Constitution.  In 2004, I saw John Yoo speak at the Dole Institute for Politics at the University of Kansas, and for about a half an hour he talked about the history of Rome, justifying the “extreme measures” of dictators that held the empire together.  So when he said that the Supreme Court and Congress can check the power of the President, he’s lying to you about what he believes.  Don’t take my word for it—read the memo.

Also on the legal front, on Monday the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of the 9th Circuit’s plan to youtube the huge gay marriage trial in California.  I’ll have some thoughts as the transcripts become available, but this New Yorker article comprehensively covers Perry v. Schwarzeneggar.  The youtube issue involves some intricate questions about who gets to make the rules about court conduct, but what you need to know is this:  The pro-gay marriage side wins if the trial is broadcast because incredibly sympathetic plaintiffs will, presumably, help win in the court of public opinion—the opinion that often really matters.  The stay ends at 4:00, so they’ll be some big development today.

On the movie front, this week’s big DVD release is The Hurt Locker, which has topped several critics top ten lists and is a favorite for Best Picture and Best Director.  If anything, rent The Hurt Locker to boost the odds of a ex-spouses Oscar smackdown between The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow and Avatar HMFIC James Cameron.

If you’re looking for a War on Terror comedy, In the Loop is your choice. This political satire is filmed in the faux-documentary style, basically positing that inside the corridors of power in London and Washington lies Gervaisian incompetence.  

Welcome to Movie Day at the Court!

By , January 7, 2010 12:05 pm

fargo

If you’re anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line today, you’re not doing anything at work, if you made it to work at all.  If today were Fargo, your productivity would be the dead North Dakota highway patrolman, and Marge Gunderson would be your boss, trying to figure out what the hell happened to your workday.  Let me be an accomplice to the crime.  Many of you are old friends and readers of mine and James Owen’s previous film review site, Filmsnobs.  Some of you may know me from the brilliant, august publication that was Flak Magazine.  Some of you may stumble here on accident (thank you, Google Overlords!), and some of you have only been my friends (I.E., in my email contact list or in my Facebook feed) since, oh, 2004 or so, when the productivity of my online film criticism began to decline.  For those of you who don’t know, I don’t know how to put this, but, Filmsnobs was once kind of a big deal.    People knew us.  We were very important…in the development of online film criticism.  We had many leather-bound blogposts about Three Kings and Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Robert Altman that smelled of rich mahogany.

So, I’m just going to throw this out there.  If you like it you can take it, if you don’t, you can send it right back.  This is my new website.  I want you to be on it.  If you click on the “Philosophy of Criticism” link on the toolbar above, I explain where I’m coming from and why my site has a picture of the 1973 Supreme Court wearing 3-D glasses.  I’ll update it once a week or so, and if you become a fan of Movie Day at the Court on Facebook or follow the site on Twitter, you’ll get an update and a link every time there’s a new post.  I’ll be doing weekly previews of what’s new in theaters and on DVD, film reviews, commentary on my town of Kansas City, and…wait for it…snarky Supreme Court commentary.  Honestly, the Supreme Court is really funny, and not just when Scalia is flipping off law students. 

In addition to the top-notch content you’ll find below (including my review of the Kansas City Chiefs’ bizarre “The Office” and “30 Rock” parodies–seriously!), in the coming weeks expect a rest-of-the-term Supreme Court preview and two articles in which I call out breathtakingly stupid Yale Law Review articles.  Also, there will be reviews of the rest of the Oscar favorites.  In my spring Kansas City Royals preview, I’ll explain how AL Cy Young winner Zach Greinke and Brian Bannister are baseball’s version of Sheldon and Leonard from “The Big Bang Theory.”  Also, I’ve got ideas in the works for podcasts and other cool techmo-gizmo interwebs thingies.  For now, though, here’s my advice on how to spend the weekend in movieland:

New in theaters is Youth in Revolt.  Michael Cera is nerdy trailer trash (he’s too clean, right?) who, in attempt to woo the hot trailer-neighbor girl next door, dons a dirt stache and invents an “supplementary” a-hole persona to get her in the sack.  The premise seems inspired, but for me, the shine is coming off of Michael Cera.  I thought Year One might be a satire of fundamentalist ideas, but Cera and Jack Black played their brand-name personas in wacky animal skin costumes.   Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist also disappointed–the movie wants to be the aught’s Graduate with the musical taste of Cameron Crowe, but the writing lacks subtlety.  Another scene involves an orgasm accidentally broadcast over studio speakers–um, we get it, it’s a big deal.  Playlist wants so badly to capture teen spirit that it becomes self-dramatizing, but without any of the energy and wit of say, Cera’s rendition of “These Eyes” in Superbad

May I suggest that you stay home and set your Netflix stream to a film that you probably missed from March:  Adventureland.  This is, without the condescending qualifier “for a comedy,” one of the best films of the year.  Jesse Eisenberg plays the Cera-esque James Brenner, a lit-school graduate spending the summer at home because a degree in comparative literature is, apparently, not all that marketable in 1987.  Yes, he’s also a Benjamin Braddock, but the Brenner character does something else:  it draws the contrast between the “pretend” world of philosophy and the “real” world in which one gets a job, which Eisenberg manically, desperately develops into a full-blown existential crisis. 

Over Bella Swan!  I mean, Kristin Stewart!  If you thought she sucked in Twilight (she does), her repressed goth act works well here.  There’s also great supporting performances from non-name brand actors, and it has some of Ryan Reynolds’ best work.  Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader show up as the carnival owners, but this doesn’t turn out like it sounds.  Yes, they’re funny, but the film doesn’t seem them as jokes; in the end, they become dignfied, as much as a life of supervising teenagers cleaning up corndog puke can be dignified. Greg Mottola’s film doesn’t see the 80’s as a joke, either:  He turns superficial 80’s songs into ironically profound statements about life, not by romanticizing your early twenties, but by contrasting their simple truths with the pretentious existential philosophizing of Eisenberg and depressive dork Martin Starr.  It’s telling that Mottola, who directed Superbad, didn’t choose Cera for this role.  He lacks the range of Jesse Eisenberg, which would have turned this movie into, well, Nick and Nora with INXS on the soundtrack.   Instead, Adventureland is one of the year’s most literate films–it turns a rusty summer carnival in Pittsburgh into a symbol of the American empire, but with virgin jokes. 

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