June 2012 posts
Well All Star Break is rapidly approaching, and much like baseball, the movie theaters are in their second half of the summer season before the lull that is the beginning of school. So far we have seen hits in the Avengers, Brave, and Men in Black III. We have had big numbers but mixed reviews about Prometheus and Snow White, and of course the failures that are Rock of Ages and That’s My Boy. As we attempt to get the auto-tuned versions of Classic Rock staples, as done by an older cast of Glee, we look … to… the… FUTURE!
The Amazing Spiderman: This reboot, which did not make our redo list previously this year, looks good; has the teen heart throbs that actually look as if they fit the comic mold better than the previous stars. However, while the cast looks decent enough, it is going to be interesting to see if the director can top Sam Rami. That job falling to Marc Webb, most recently known for 500 Days of Summer. However, you know kids and nerds will be talking about it in some way the day after it opens.
The Dark Knight Rises: I would love to launch into a lengthy explanation for this movie, but simply if you have not seen the first two then go watch them and then you will know why I need not say much to hype this up. There has been some debate over the villains and other characters in this last Nolan installment, but Nolan has not failed us so far (please don’t fail us).
The Bourne Legacy: Straight from our reboot list, this is a new take on the Jason Bourne Franchise. This time the hero is played by Jeremy Renner, but he is not playing Jason Bourne, an assassin names Aaron Cross. This is a film that takes place in the universe of Jason Bourne that presumably picks up after the previous three Bourne films. Tony Gilory steps out from behind his writing desk to direct this one, and he should be capable enough. This is a sure thing because Renner is hot right now coming off of the Avengers, and if this works out he could be settling into two movie franchises.
The Watch: This is a dark horse but is a recommended comedy. After all of the action movies you might want to see Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill pretend to be bad asses. If the movie is half as good as the preview, then it will be another hit for Stiller (although the preview dictating success is not a given, but a bad one can secure failure…see Rock of Ages).
Ice Age- Continental Drift: Yes they made another. I know you ask why, but here is the simple truth…kids love these movies. The first one was a nice change of pace from Pixar. However, now this franchise is getting almost as annoying as Shrek. This is a great one that kids will love and you can get out of the heat. And you never know, there might be two or three funny lines.
Total Recall: We are still not sold on this one. Even though the previews look great, there is still doubt that it can match the cult status of the old one. However, all of us will be seeing it to see how it stacks up. Therefore, this could be great or just be ok.
The Campaign: How can you go wrong with Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis in the same movie? On star power you can’t. Galifianakis is becoming the comic go to guy, while Ferrell is the veteran. The only thing that I can see keeping this from a comedy hit is the director Jay Roach. While he is not stranger to hits (Meet the Parents), he can also show his political leanings with his films (Recount and Game Change).
Expendables 2: Liam Hemsworth, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture. If that cast works for you then you will enjoy this love letter to explosions and one liners. If not, have fun with your girlfriends.
Savages: Ah Oliver Stone. Couldn’t stay away. This film about gorgeous twenty somethings that share a model girlfriend that get mixed up in the marijuana/mexico drug trade just reeks of Stone’s ego. While this could be the one that gets him a new audience with some younger viewers, this looks to go the way of Alexander. He gets the casts and has good stories, but something always goes wrong. This best bet is that this movie will go wrong.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012/IN THEATERS) You may never have heard of this little movie but it has already won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival screenwriting award (given to writer Derek Connolly) and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize there as well. Plus it holds a 93% Top Critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Wow! So how have we all missed it? Well…maybe it’s the weird plot. The story focuses on jaded Seattle magazine staff writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) who proposes to research a story about the person who placed a seriously crazy sounding ad in a local underground newspaper—here’s the ad text: “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.” (Note: In real life, someone actually did place that ad!) Jeff chooses two interns to help him—Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza aka April Ludgate on Parks and Rec), a loner who lives at home with her dad, and Amau (Karan Soni), a 21-year-old nerdy looking Indian-American who wants to broaden his resume. Together, the three head north to find their suspect, who turns out to be Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a mad scientist of sorts who believes he has solved the challenge of time travel and is looking for a partner to join him on his next voyage. Darius plays the part and soon she and Kenneth are getting close to one another. Meanwhile, Jeff reveals the real reason for his “research” which has nothing to do with the ad. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, this film will keep you totally engaged and leave you satisfied by the end. As Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone says “Sometimes a movie comes out of nowhere and wins you over.” So true.
P.S. Mark Duplass is having a big 2012. He’s also in “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Darling Companion” and “People Like Us,” and has a directing credit (with his brother Jay) for this year’s “Jeff Who Lives at Home.”
ROCK OF AGES (2012/IN THEATERS) My favorite song from this fun but very uneven musical comes late in the flick. It’s “We Built This City (on Rock ‘n Roll, of course!), performed as a battle in the street between the foes of Rock, led by Catherine Zeta-Jones playing the prim and proper Patricia Whitemore, wife of the mayor of LA, versus the FANS of Rock led by Russell Brand, who is pitch perfect as Lenny, Assistant Manager of The Bourbon, the movie’s stand-in for the legendary Whiskey A Go Go. In this one piece, I felt the movie finally “got its groove.” Based on a musical which originated in Hollywood and is still playing in New York City, Rock of Ages is set in 1987 and offers the audience a lovely sampling of 80s cover tunes from Def Leppard, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, and more. It tells the tried but true story of young blonde Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arriving on the bus from Oklahoma and hoping to hit it big as a singer in LA. She meets Drew (young Diego Boneta) and falls in love with him instantly when he tries to stop a robber who steals her precious vinyl record collection. Drew is also a singer (surprise!) who works as a waiter at The Bourbon and soon they are working together, living life together and singing together–about five too many love songs IMHO. Naturally, as these things go, they fall out of love and must learn life-lessons before they can find each other again—OK, enough of that, right? The other storyline centers around Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the on-screen embodiment of Axyl Rose, who has abandoned his band and become a “solo” act and who is needed by Alec Baldwin, the aging hippie owner of The Bourbon, for a money-making performance in order to pay the back-taxes owed by The Bourbon. And there’s also Zeta-Jones in her crusading anti-Rock roll (loosely based on Tipper Gore’s similar real-life campaign in the 80s). Paul Giamatii is spot on as Jaxx’s sleazy manager and Mary J. Blige shows her acting and singing chops as the owner of a “gentleman’s entertainment” strip club. Altogether a strong cast but they can’t quite save the movie. Directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, the movie) a native of LA who is a former dancer and also choreographed the film, it just doesn’t quite work. But there are plenty of fun spots and the songs will stick in your head. So head to the movie, if you’re a true fan of 80s pop. And P.S. Who knew Tom Cruise could sing so well??!!
JANE EYRE (2011/DVD) We really didn’t need yet another version of Jane Eyre– Charlotte Bronte’s novel has been filmed 18 times already! But let’s give credit where credit is due: director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) have delivered a visually sumptuous film featuring Oscar nominated costumes and strong performances. Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right, Alice in Wonderland) is excellent in the title role of Jane Eyre, who, in keeping with the book, needs to appear physically small and withdrawn yet must show unusual strength of character and directness–no small feat for an actress. Her counterpart in this gothic romance, Mr. Rochester, should be dark and moody, yet fascinating and attractive, with an air of hidden secrets about him–and Michael Fassbender delivers all of that in his role. There are other good performances as well, including Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, Rochester’s longtime housekeeper at his remote country estate and castle. The movie chooses to open with Jane fleeing from the castle across the moors. Soon we learn all through a series of flashbacks that reveal her painful upbringing and rejection as a young girl all the way through to her position as governess for Rochester’s young French ward. The story is more than familiar but yet remains compelling. For Fassbender, who is on screens now as David the Android in Prometheus, this film was part of his unbelievable slate of movies in 2011, including X-Men: First Class where he is Erik (who becomes Magneto by the movie’s end); A Dangerous Method where he plays Carl Jung; Soderbergh’s Haywire where he is the spy Paul; and most importantly Shame where he is the lead character Brandon, a role which brought him numerous Best Actor awards including the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Awards. Incredible and there’s more to come from this actor for sure. So…if like me, you’re looking for a little more of him, be sure to stream or rent Jane Eyre and enjoy Mr. Fassbender in period dress–you won’t be disappointed.
PROMETHEUS (2012/IN THEATERS) The build up for director Ridley Scott’s Alien “prequel” was terrific—I loved all the trailers (so creepy) and especially loved the viral video of Guy Pearce and his character Peter Waylund’s “change the world” speech which appeared this past spring (if you missed it, click here to see it). So, even though I am not an Alien geek, I was looking forward to seeing Prometheus in the theater. The movie is certainly gorgeous to look at, with stunning visual effects and at least a couple “gotcha” moments. The premise of the film is big, with a mysterious opening sequence, ala 2001: A Space Odyssey, focused on the questions of the origin of the human race. Our protagonists here are two archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), scientist lovers who have discovered clues in numerous caves to what they refer to as the “engineers” who created us. The movie cuts from their latest discovery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland to the space vessel Prometheus, a few years later, which is heading to an unknown moon following those clues. On board, the crew are cryonically frozen but they have a marvelous caretaker in the form of David (Michael Fassbender), who is as charming an android as you’ll ever meet. David is like a walking version of 2001’s HAL (marvelous as he watches Lawrence of Arabia and styles himself after Peter O’Toole) and is busy learning ancient languages so that he can fulfill his mission when the ship arrives at its destination. As the crew awakens, we meet Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) as the representative of Waylund Enterprises which we are told has funded the full cost of this mission—why? We will learn later. With all crewmembers now awake, a hologram of Peter Waylund welcomes the group to its destination. Once landed, a small group, at the behest of Ms. Shaw, impulsively hastens toward an obvious “hillock” which is hollow and possibly is the center for the “engineers.” Sending out clever probes, the group soon discovers a central chamber, complete with a large humanoid carving surrounded by murals and mysterious vessels oozing black goo—interesting. Thanks to David, who can read and manipulate the symbols on the wall, the crew also discovers bodies and holographs of dead men. Wow. From here, the plot takes some individuals back to the ship, but leaves two behind. They’re doomed, right?? Right! Several sub-plots take off, in a somewhat scattered fashion, and there’s at least one horrific scene involving a creature growing inside of a human, recalling John Hurt’s awful death in Alien. I won’t dwell on the plot but will say that many big-time Alien fans are very disappointed with the film and fault co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof for its unanswered questions and plot holes. Lindelof famously wrote more episodes of Lost than anyone else and is credited with the finale of that series, which people either loved or hated (count me in the hated crowd). Nevertheless, the movie is captivating and definitely worth seeing for sci-fi fans and others. The special effects alone are worth the price of admission. As for the performances, they are good on the whole. And I absolutely loved Fassbender’s David—a tour de force IMHO. Did the movie live up to its trailers and viral videos? Not really, but let’s face it–they set the bar very high.
MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012/IN SELECT THEATERS) If you are a fan (like me) of Wes Anderson and all his films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox), you are in for a big treat with his latest, semi-autobiographical movie about young love, rebellion and adventure. Written by Anderson and Roman Coppola and set on the fictional East Coast island of New Penzance during the summer of 1965, the story centers around two 12-year old misfits, Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky (played by fabulous newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman). Sam and Suzy plot their escape from their respective lives through a series of “pen pal” style letters. Sam, “resigning” from Camp Ivanhoe, is a well-trained Khaki Scout, pursued by his earnest Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) as well as by the Island’s laid-back Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Suzy is the “troubled child” of eccentric married battling lawyers Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand—both perfect of course), whose family also includes three younger triplets (boys). Making appearances in smaller roles are no less than Harvey Keitel as the Scout Commander, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services,” Jason Schwartzman as “Cousin Ben,” and Bob Balaban as the Weatherman/Narrator. Add to this fabulous ensemble Sam’s fellow Khaki Scouts (with wonderful names like “Lazy Eye”), picture perfect settings and incredible music, and you have a wild and crazy movie that is something of a cross between Peter Pan and the Royal Tenenbaums. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to run out to see it again. Don’t miss this one!
BTW: Both books and music play a big part in the film. Be sure to stay for the end credits to hear an “Introduction to the Orchestra” interpretation of Alexandre Desplat’s score. And watch for artwork credit behind the fictional books read by Suzy in the film.
LONESOME DOVE (1989/TV MINI-SERIES) You know it’s a good week when you stumble onto one of the all-time great TV mini-series! Though I already own Lonesome Dove (on VHS–yuck!) I couldn’t resist watching the first two two-hour parts (of four, each two hours in length) which aired this week on Reelz Channel. Of course, now I’m hooked and am DVRing the rest–can’t wait to watch ‘em. If you never saw this series, or if it’s been years since you did, be sure to check out the multiple showings which Reelz is running all this week. What an all-star cast!—with unforgettable performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, Angelica Huston, Diane Lane (so young!), Robert Urich, Chris Cooper, Danny Glover, Ricky Schroder and even Steve Buscemi. This is one mini-series that really does the book credit–and that’s saying alot since this book is in a league by itself. Check out your Reelz Channel listings, get your DVR set and get ready for an 8 hour treat that’s worth every minute.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012/IN THEATERS) There’s plenty of debate about which of this year’s two “Snow White” movies is better. Most are on the side of this film–vs. the campy “Mirror Mirror” which hit theaters a few months ago–but just barely. Rotten Tomatoes gives both films low critical ratings: 50% to Mirror Mirror; 46% to this much darker and more serious telling of the classic Snow White tale. Here we have Charlize Theron as the Wicked Queen Ravenna, complete with a back story (!) explaining how she became powerful and cursed—in a word, it’s because of men. Theron is very convincing in her role (and of course she is as gorgeous as ever) as is Chris Hemsworth (“Thor” in The Avengers) as the conflicted Huntsman, a manly man reduced to sorrow and drink by the death of his wife. Like the earlier movie, the opening 15 minutes of the film introduce us to Snow White as a child and to her beautiful mother, who dies, leading the broken-hearted King to fall for the wicked Ravenna, only to be killed by her on their wedding day. Snow White is locked in the tower until her 18th birthday and the kingdom turns dark and deadly. Escaping her fate, young Snow White (grown now and played by Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” fame) runs into the “dark forest” where the trees turn into ghouls and the branches into snakes. This scene and one other featuring a magical fairyland are beautifully rendered tributes to the classic 1937 Disney animated version of Snow White, which is still my all time favorite. In the classic, Snow White is set free by the Huntsman and is then discovered and sheltered by the Seven Dwarves until the handsome prince finds and saves her. In this version the Huntsman finds her, chooses reluctantly to become her protector and eventually teaches her the art of self-defense and war. Much more plot ensues (too much IMHO) and we do eventually meet the dwarves, played by no less than Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost and Bob Hoskins, all shrunk down to dwarf size. The plot keeps moving forward until the final scenes (already shown in numerous trailers for the movie) in which Snow White, now dressed as Joan of Arc, leads an army against the Queen—riding down the beaches toward the castle. Beautiful filmmaking and some fabulous special effects, but overall the movie is too long and slow for the shallow storyline. Hemsworth and Theron do their best, but they are not helped by Stewart who is given very few lines and also not allowed to show much expression. Is this because she can’t act? Or is this what the director wanted? Who knows. This film is a first time effort from Rupert Sanders who is better known for his work in commercials. Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone calls it “a missed opportunity.” Well said. Catch it for the cinematography, visual effects and costuming, but otherwise, don’t get your hopes too high.
P.S. Personally, I like Kristen Stewart and I think she can be a terrific actress; however, she appears to be strongest in smallet films. Keep your eye out for “On the Road,” where she is rumored to be excellent (and nude!). This film version of the famous Jack Kerouac beat novel from Walter Salles (“Motorcycle Diaries”) just premiered at Cannes to mixed but mostly favorable reviews. No release date for the U.S. yet, but hopefully before year’s end.