Thursday, January 29, 2009

Current Summer 2009 Release Dates

Here's how the summer's shaping up.


The big month. Last year you had the hits Iron Man and Indiana Jones 4, surprise-hit Sex & the City, underperforming Prince Caspian, flat-out bomb Speed Racer, and decent successes of What Happens in Vegas and The Strangers.

This month looks even bigger.

May 1 sees the opening of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, a prequel that will see Logan deal with Gambit and Deadpool and battle with Sabretooth, who is now a foot shorter in the body of Liev Schreiber. It also has GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST, a counter-programming romantic comedy starring himbo Matthew McConaughey.

May 8 is when JJ Abrams STAR TREK launches, and I know it will not suffer Speed Racer's fate. Right now, I expect it to beat Wolverine box-office wise. Nia Vardalos will parlay her Big Fat Greek Wedding karma into MY LIFE IN RUINS; Emma Roberts continues her slew of kid movies with WILD CHILD, and Mos Def and Mike Epps team up for NEXT DAY AIR.

May 15 is when the Da Vinci Code sequel ANGELS & DEMONS opens. (I know the book is a prequel but they made adjustments). Tom Hanks and Ron Howard re-unite, and A&D is a slightly better story than Da Vinci, so this has a chance to be okay. Also, Sacha Baron Cohen's BRUNO was scheduled to open here, but I think I read recently it was going tob e moved back to July.

May 22 is the site of the first blockbuster showdown. In this corner is Christian Bale in TERMINATOR: SALVATION, which hopes to be the first of a trilogy. In this corner is Ben Stiller returning for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2, with Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart.

May 29 has the next Pixar movie UP. I predict a handful of reviews whining that Wall-E was better. Also, Sam Raimi's horror flick DRAG ME TO HELL opens here, taking advantage of The Strangers' old opening spot.


Last year this month featured two CG-animated movies that passed $200 million each, three more movies that crossed $130 million (The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, Get Smart), an okay Sandler outing with You Don't Mess with the Zohan, and Razzie nominees The Happening and The Love Guru.

This summer has some questions marks.

June 5 will have LAND OF THE LOST, with the classic Krofft series getting the Will Ferrell treatment. So far it looks like it's being marketed as Jurassic Park: The Comedy.

June 12 has THE PROPOSAL, where Sandra Bullock bribes her employee (Ryan Reynolds) into getting engaged to her so she won't get deported. John Travolta's the bad guy that Denzel Washington is trying to stop in the remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3. Eddie Murphy goes for family comedy again with IMAGINE THAT, and there's the potential comedy sleeper THE HANGOVER with Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms.

June 19 has the prehistoric comedy THE YEAR ONE, starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, who aspire to be at least funnier than Ringo Starr and Dennis Quaid in Caveman. There's also the PG-13 horror flick THE HAUNTING OF CONNECTICUT starring Virginia Madsen.

June 26 answers the question "Where are the sequels?" with TRANSFORMERS 2. Also, the cloning drama MY SISTER'S KEEPER opens, with Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin.


Last year this month had The Dark Knight. Opening the same day, Mamma Mia! found a way to get its own $143 million. That month also featured Hancock ($227.9), Journey to the Center of the Earth ($100.8), Step brothers ($100.4) and Hellboy II ($75.8) , which did a little better than its predecessor. It also saw the bombs Meet Dave, Space Chimps, and The X-Files 2.

July 1 will have a showdown between family-friendly ICE AGE 3, and Michael Mann's period gangster movie PUBLIC ENEMIES with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. (Bale's poised to have another good summer.)

July 10 so far only has the romantic comedy I LOVE YOU BETH COOPER, starring Heroes' Hayden Panetierre. it wouldn't surprise me if something else moves here soon. Maybe this is where Bruno's going.

July 17 will launch HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE in The Dark Knight's old spot Looking at this month, this has the potential to be one of the highest-grossing Potter flicks yet. Order of the Phoenix did pretty good and it was the weakest book in the series.

July 24 has a lot of question marks. There's G-FORCE, which is different than the Gatchaman movie also coming soon. This is an animated film about commando guinea pigs. Katherine Heigl returns to rom-com territory for THE UGLY TRUTH, as she takes the slovenly advice of Gerard Butler on how to win a guy. There's also the rom-com 500 DAYS OF SUMMER with the more indie-oriented cast of Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. There's also ALL GOOD THINGS with Ryan Gosling, and ORPHAN with Peter Sarsgaard but those could wind up being limited releases.

July 31's big movie is Judd Apatow's FUNNY PEOPLE, with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen as stand-up comics, but this movie plans to be as dramatic as it is comedic. There's also the High School Musical alum showdown with the thriller THEY CAME FROM UPSTAIRS with Ashley Tisdale, and the competitive BANDSLAM with Vanessa Hudgens.


The first half of this month is still summer; the second half is when the dross is released. Last year two movies from this month passed $100 million (Tropic Thunder, The Mummy 3), and Pineapple Express did pretty good too. This is also the month that saw Swing Vote, Mirrors, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Death Race, The Rocker, The Longshots, Babylon A.D., Disaster Movie, College, etc. That's what you get when August has five Fridays.

August 7 will feature the big-screen G.I. JOE movie, which did not get good buzz when its trailer debuted. This one's smelled for months. It also has JULIE & JULIA, a comedy with Amy Adams working her way through Julia Child's cookbook, with Meryl Streep as the ghost o' Ms. Child. This is the chick flick I can see being a hit. Hm, not a lot of chick flicks coming this summer; is the lesson of Sex & the City and Mamma Mia! so quickly forgotten? There's also the ensemble comedy SHORTS, reuniting Pretty in Pink co-stars Jon Cryer and James Spader.

August 14 has DANCE FLICK, a dance-movie parody from the Wayans family. POST GRAD, which I think is a coming-of-age comedy with Alexis Bledel and Carol Burnett. Then there's DISTRICT 9, which sounds like a horror flick.

August 21 will see Quentin Tarantino's 2-1/2 hour WWII comedy INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS starring Brad Pitt. It'll be interesting to see what Pitt does in QT Land. There's also FINAL DESTINATION: DEATH TRIP, the fourth and hopefully last in the series. Still on the schedule is THE GOODS: THE DON READY STORY starring Jeremy Piven as a character that what-do-you-bet has a lot in common with Ari Gold. GIVE 'EM HELL MALONE was penciled in here at one point, a revenge flick with Thomas Jane, but I think it's been since yanked.

August 28 welcomes H2, sequel to Rob Zombie's Halloween. I guess Zombie needs the money. There's also a movie here called MAX'S MARDI GRAS, which hopes to do better here than College did last year.

That's the current slate for summer. Some may move out, and new ones may move in (maybe the roller-derby comedy Whip It! with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore).

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Academy Award Predictions

Here's where I see the race now. This isn't necessarily who I want to win, but who I think will actually win.

Best Picture
1. Slumdog Millionaire
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3. Milk
4. Frost/Nixon
5. The Reader

Best Director
1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2. Gus Van Sant, Milk
3. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
4. Stephen Daldry, The Reader
5. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Best Actor
1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
2. Sean Penn, Milk
3. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
4. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
5. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Actress
1. Kate Winslet, The Reader
2. Meryl Streep, Doubt
3. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
4. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
5. Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Best Supporting Actor
1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2. Josh Brolin, Milk
3. Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
5. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actress
1. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2. Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3. Viola Davis, Doubt
4. Amy Adams, Doubt
5. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Best Original Screenplay
1. Milk
3. Happy Go Lucky
4. Frozen River
5. In Bruges

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Slumdog Millionaire
2. Frost/Nixon
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
4. Doubt
5. The Reader

I think the closest race is between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke for Best Actor. There've been a few years where movies will landslide all awards (Titanic, Return of the King, etc.) but I see this as a wealth-spreading year, where Slumdog gets Picture/Director, and then Milk gets screenplay here, The Reader gets Actress there, Ben Button and Dark Knight split the technicals, and so on.

If Ben Button had less than 9 nominations, I'd rank it third in Best Picture odds, but since it has 13 nominations, that might be a signal.

I still haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire but I plan to this week.

Ghost Town - DVD Review

GHOST TOWN (***) - Starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Billy Campbell, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Wiig, Alan Ruck and Dana Ivey.
Directed by David Koepp.

The right star can elevate an average script into a good movie. I could see any number of mid-level comedians starring in this and failing, but Ricky Gervais specializes in playing characters like this, which makes it work. He's a dentist who doesn't really care for people, but after he "dies" in the dentist chair for six minutes, he can see dead people.

It is definitely similar to supernatural comedies you've seen before, but Gervais is such an insecure grump that it's a hoot to watch. Greg Kinnear is the main ghost who convinces Gervais to get his widow to break up with her new boyfriend. Naturally the more Gervais gets to know her, the more he falls for her, and the more he realizes he needs to give up his selfish ways.

This flopped in theaters, likely due to Gervais not being a real A-list star, but it deserves to be discovered on DVD.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Frost/Nixon - Movie Review

FROST/NIXON (***) - Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfayden, Rebecca Hall and Toby Jones.
Directed by Ron Howard.

This movie is okay but I found it very underwhelming. I'm trying to separate the hype around it from what it actually is. At the center is two men in an interview, with good acting from both sides, with two actors ill-served by the framing devices thrust upon them. The boxing metaphor for their verbal pugilism is hammered home repeatedly. Ron Howard's device of interviewing supporting players like this is a documentary reeked of narrative laziness. As for history, well, the more I read on it, the more I see how much dramatic license the filmmakers took.

Maybe I'm jaded, but after living through sixteen years of (fairly or unfairly) presidential scandals every other month, what Nixon did doesn't seem like that big a deal. His crime is that he tried covering it up and got caught. I know it's more than that, and I appreciated how this movie illuminated that Watergate was really the second offense. Nixon's main crime seemed to be how he managed Vietnam. The movie's argument, from bitter leftie James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) is that JFK and LBJ got us into Vietnam but RMN made it worse.

For me the star of the show was Michael Sheen as David Frost. Frost is portrayed as a lightweight talk-show host who dabbles in journalism, a man who puts his personal fortune on the line for the big story. Frank Langella's Nixon was fine, but sometimes he's sympathetic and sometimes he's a boogeyman gargoyle.

There's a key scene late in the movie, when a drunken Nixon calls Frost. That call never happened, but it's the dramatic thrust that makes Frost dig in on his research and hammer at Nixon for the fourth of four interviews.

I did enjoy the war of words, the dance of discussions, between Frost and Nixon. The power of conversation is becoming a lost art in our dumbed-down text-message society, and it was interesting to see how wily Nixon could be. This didn't feel like an adapted stage play, and that's a credit to Peter Morgan, who wrote the play and screenplay.

When it comes to Nixon movies, I prefer Oliver Stone's Nixon. Forget that it's nominated for all these awards. It's a decent movie, but it's far from great and wouldn't make my top 20. I wavered between two-and-a-half stars and three, but had I seen this five months ago before awards season, it would have been three. So...

Dark Knight snubbed

The Dark Knight was the biggest movie of the year and scored higher on critics' top-ten lists than any other movie this year besides WALL-E, yet no Best Picture or Director nomination. I don't think I've ever been this bugged that a movie missed out on a Best Picture nomination. To say Frost/Nixon or The Reader is a better movie is a joke to me.

Academy Award Nominatons

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Class
Waltz with Bashir

Kung Fu Panda

Frozen River
Happy Go Lucky
In Bruges

The Curious Case of Benajmin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Igor - DVD Review

IGOR (**1/2) - Starring the voices of John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, John Cleese, James Lipton, Arsenio Hall and Christian Slater.
Directed by Tony Leondis.

This movie was just funny enough that it disappointed me it couldn't figure out how to be funnier, if that makes sense.

Plot: In the kingdom of Malaria, dark clouds constantly encompass the sky. The king's idea to save the economy is to have his best evil scientists create inventions of destruction, and then blackmail neighboring countries to pay them to not unleash them. Also in this kingdom, if you're born with a hunchback, you are an igor. Apparently all igors are named Igor, and they train to be helpers of mad scientists. Said help usually amounts to pulling the switch when the mad scientist commands it.

Our Igor, voiced by John Cusack, happens to be smart and dreams of becoming a mad scientist. After his master suffers an accident, Igor does what no one else in Malaria has ever done - he creates life, putting together a Bride-of-Frankenstein creation. Only problem is, she's not evil. She's actually nice.

Pros: Steve Buscemi voices Scamper, a rabbit that Igor made immortal. This rabbit hates his life and wishes he were dead, but he can't die. Scamper has all the funny lines and the best sight gags. The other sidekick is Brain, a not-too-smart brain in a jar, voiced by Sean Hayes, and he gets some smiles in his own right.

Cons: The look borrows heavily - heavily! - from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The king here is a doppleganger for TNBC's mayor. The soundtrack relies way too much on oldies' tunes. The humor is Shrekian, with a couple vulgar gags and a lot of self-aware pop-culture humor. Where is this magical kingdom where their TV reception can pick up Inside the Actors Studio?

So there we are. I enjoyed Scamper and wanted him to have even more lines. The rest of it's fairly forgettable.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Swing Vote - DVD Review

SWING VOTE (**) - Starring Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, Madeline Carroll, George Lopez, Judge Reinhold, Willie Nelson, Mare Winningham, Chip Esten, Mark Moses and Nana Visitor.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern.

I watched this hours after Barack Obama gave his inauguration speech. Oh, how dated it has already become.

Kevin Costner plays a moron named Bud, a redneck hayseed unemployed bum who seems borderline mentally disabled. The relationship between him and his daughter was somewhere between Homer & Lisa Simpson and I Am Sam's Sean Penn & Dakota Fanning.

The parts of the movie where I laughed came from the Republican president (Kelsey Grammer) and his campaign manager (Stanley Tucci) and the Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) and his campaign manager (Nathan Lane) compromising everything they believe in to win Bud's vote. It turns out that the electoral college is in limbo over New Mexico's vote, and New Mexico came down to a tie, except Bud's vote didn't count. New Mexico law allows Bud to recast his vote in ten days, and so in that time, both parties pull no punches in trying to persuade Bud to vote their way.

Except Bud is such a loser and his daughter is civic-minded enough that while Bud was passed out drunk, his daughter snuck in and cast his vote for him. You'd think this was a Larry the Cable Guy vehicle where the studio said, "Naw, we can do better than that."

Just as the movie was starting to win me over, it ends in a cop-out. Not as jarringly terrible as Rat Race, but a cop-out nonetheless.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Death Race - DVD Review

DEATH RACE (**) - Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Joan Allen, Jason Clarke, Max Ryan, Jacob Vargas, Natalie Martinez and Robin Shou.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

I can't believe Jason Statham worked with Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson in the same year. If he signs on for an Aaron Seltzer-Jason Friedberg parody movie, his trifecta of the worst working directors will be complete.

This movie isn't that bad. I actually rented it because it made Stephen King's top-ten list. King ain't the most trustworthy movie critic, but I figured there had to be something to it. I haven't seen the original so I can't comment on that, but what we have here is a fairly generic slightly-futuristic prisoners-fight-to-the-death movie, except they do it in cars. It reminded me more of The Running Man than anything else, and maybe that is why King liked it so much.

Jason Statham is our hero, wrongfully accused of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison. This is the future however, (not too far, maybe twenty years), where prisons are run by corporations for profit, and one way this prison makes money is Pay-Per-Viewing of their death races, where prisoners race in tricked-up cars and try to kill each other before they cross the finish line. If you win five times, you get your freedom. No one has ever lived long enough to win five times.

Now the slight-future can create great movies (Blade Runner), great pulp movies (RoboCop) or absolute junk (the Rollerball remake). This is far from great, but I give it a leg above Rollerball. For one thing, the rules make sense, even when they're being broken. The driving sequences are well-choreographed, like watching a Fast & Furious sequel where everyone drives their version of the Batmobile. The set-up is perfunctory, the characters are stock, and I kept wondering what the heck Joan Allen is doing here. Her character is written like a comic-book villain, but Joan performs her like she might be a real person. Never worked for me. Richard Dawson's Killian was better.

I got a kick out of seeing Deadwood's Ian McShane as the wise old mechanic, and Brotherhood's Jason Clarke here as a toadie guard. Paychecks for everyone!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pro-Wrestling Deaths

PRO-WRESTLING DEATHS - Just a few of note I found online.
Name (age) - cause of death

Brian "Crush" Adams (44) - drug overdose
Adrian Adonis (34) - auto accident
Rodney "Yokozuna" Anoia (34) - heart attack
Mike Awesome (42) - suicide
Chris Benoit (40) - suicide
Nancy "Woman" Benoit (43) - murdered
Bam Bam Bigelow (45) - drug overdose
Dino Bravo (44) - murdered
Haystack Calhoun (55) - diabetes
Big Dick Dudley (34) - kidney failure
Bobby Duncum Jr. (34) - drug overdose
Eddie Gilbert (33) - heart attack
Terry Gordy (40) - heart attack
Eddie Guerrero (38) - heart failure
Owen Hart (33) - accidental fall
Road Warrior Hawk (46) - heart attack
"Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig (44) - drug overdose
Hercules Hernandez (45) - heart attack
Miss Elizabeth (42) - drug overdose
Shane Shamrock (23) - shot by police
Mephisto Lephanto (31) - heart attack in ring
Mike "Crash Holly" Lockwood (32) - asphyxiation
"Sensational" Sherri Martel (49) - drug overdose
Ted "Rocco Rock" Petty (49) - heart attack
Brian Pillman (35) - heart disease
Sylvester "Junkyard Dog" Ritter (45) - auto accident
"Andre the Giant" Rousimoff (46) - heart failure
"Ravishing" Rick Rude (41) - heart attack
Big E. Sleaze (22) - suicide
"British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith (39) - heart attack
Louie Spiccoli (27) - drug overdose
Big John Studd (46) - Hodgkins disease
"Earthquake" John Tenta (42) - bladder cancer
Ray "Big Bossman" Traylor (42) - heart attack
Jerry "Malice" Tuite (36) - heart attack
Chris Von Erich (21) - suicide
David Von Erich (25) - enteritis
Kerry Von Erich (32) - suicide
Mike Von Erich (23) - suicide
"Renegade" Rick Williams (23) - suicide

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Wrestler - Movie Review

THE WRESTLER (***1/2) - Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Judah Friedlander and Ernest Miller.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

In 1999, there was this documentary called Beyond the Mat. It gave behind-the-scenes access to pro-wrestling like never before. It followed guys like Mick Foley and The Rock, but there was this detour the movie took when it caught up to Jake"The Snake" Roberts, whose personal demons had consumed him and he was now living out a tragedy.

I thought of Jake "The Snake" over and over as I watched the story unfold of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Robinson typifies the wrestling-icon of the 1980's whose career fizzled out in the 1990's. Now he's reduced to wrestling local matches in gyms with audiences of a few dozen people. He goes to an autograph signing where only a handful of people show up. He plays 20-year-old video games of himself. He's a man who relies on his body for a living and his body is breaking down, and still he has to scrape by working at the local grocery store just to be able to afford rent on his trailer.

Randy befriends local stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a 40-ish woman who relies on her body for a living, but her years make her less desirable than her younger co-workers. The two of them suffer the indignities of aging, of being washed up with plenty of decades of them, but no future.

After suffering a heart attack, Randy decides to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). It's also probably the weakest element of the movie. Rourke's very good at conveying the pain of a father who's too late in trying to make amends, but every estranged-daughter cliche is there, and nothing ever surprised me with that supbplot.

This is Rourke's movie. I thought his comeback would be ushered along quicker when he stole the show in Sin City, but now he's truly back on the map. There's a maturity he didn't have in his glory days, and while Sean Penn was great in Milk, and Brad Pitt did well in Benjamin Button, this is the performance of 2008.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Babylon A.D. - DVD Review

BABYLON A.D. (*) - Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Lambert Wilson and Mark Strong.
Directed by Matheiu Kassovitz.

I love futuristic movies. Even if done wrong, they can be atrociously entertaining. This movie creates a future that is a cross between The Children of Men, The Fifth Element, and any random 1970's sci-fi TV-movie starring Jack Palance wearing a tin-foil space suit.

What stinks about this one is it's so dull. Vin Diesel has rarely looked less interested in being there on-screen, and even some of his line reads feel like in his head he's saying, "Do you I really have to say this?"

The plot is murky at best. He's some sort of bounty hunter / bodyguard / smuggler type who gets a job of moving a girl from futureRussia to futureAmerica. There's something special about her, and it might be that she carries within her a biological weapon.

Talented folks have signed on for supporting roles, though their first tip-off to this being a disaster was that Vin Diesel got the lead. The director, Mathieu Kassovitz, publicly disowned the movie the week before it opened, and my guess is the script he signed on for wound up being butchered. As bad as The Chronicles of Riddick was, it was still a better movie than this.

And it has one of the lamest last lines of a movie in years.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Globe Winners

BEST DRAMA - Slumdog Millionaire
BEST COMEDY - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
BEST DIRECTOR - Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Colin Farrell, In Bruges
BEST ACTRESS COMEDY - Sally Hawkins, Happy Go Lucky
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Kate Winslet, The Reader
BEST FOREIGN FILM - Waltz with Bashir
BEST SCREENPLAY - Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
BEST SONG - "The Wrestler" by Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler

BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Anna Paquin, True Blood
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Tom Wilkinson, John Adams

CECIL B. DeMILLE AWARD - Steven Spielberg

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Movie Review

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (****) - Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng and Jared Harris.
Directed by David Fincher.

This emotional epic, the type of movie that doesn't get made too often in Hollywood because it's too risky, is a triumph of the marriage of technical advancements with old-school Hollywood sentiment. I'm amazed someone greenlit this budget but I'm glad they did.

It's the story of a man who is born old and ages backward throughout his life. This "what if" premise must start us on the journey with a wrinkled old baby, a creature his father can't love, so Mr. Button abandons the child at an old-folks home, where he is found by the sympathetic Queenie (Hustle & Flow's Taraji P. Henson). Turns out this is the perfect place for Benjamin to grow up.

While there he befreidns a little girl named Daisy. As Benjamin goes from an inform to a merely elderly man, Daisy grows up, and their lives intertwine through the decades until they eventually meet in the middle, when their bodies are the same age.

The movie has plenty of time to ponder the choices we make in life, with a running time of 165 minutes. And while it might seem great to go through a difficult youth trapped in that body to be able to grow younger as an adult, eventually Benjamin's trajectory becomes a curse to pursuing a normal life.

Pitt's been a good actor for a long time, and while it might be easy to forget he's a good actor when he cashes paychecks for fare like Troy, he's able to demonstrate his skills here, with the makeup and CG-enhancement helping rather than distracting.

So, yeah, I'll be adjusting my top-ten list.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous - DVD Review

BANGKOK DANGEROUS (*1/2) - Starring Nicolas Cage and Chakrit Yamnarm.
Directed by the Pang Brothers.

This generic fading-hitman movie wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it is in no way, shape or form good. It has flashes of originality, hints of potential, but Nicolas Cage is a glum, burned out assassin who isn't that interesting to follow.

Other countries learning about the US from its movies must think we have as many hitmen as we do accountants. Here, Cage plays Joe, a guy with bad hair who knows he doesn't have too many more kills in him. He goes to Bangkok, where he knows he has four marks. These will be his last four.

While staying in the city, he finds a young man to train in his killer ways, and a deaf girl to fall for.

More often than not, it reminded me of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, and that can't be a good thing, with the poor lighting and the uninspired fight sequences.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Top Ten Movies for 2008

I've seen 151 titles now in theaters and on DVD with copyright 2008. I'm sure my top ten will shift around and change over the next few weeks. I still haven't seen Oscar bait movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road, Rachel Getting Married, Gran Torino, etc., but of what I've seen, these were the best.

Honorable Mentions:

Comedy - They didn't make my top ten, but I laughed a lot during FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, GET SMART, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and TROPIC THUNDER, all for different reasons.

Animation - BOLT & KUNG FU PANDA are tied for me for second best animated movie of the year. If you have kids, rent them both and watch it with them. HORTON HEARS A WHO and THE TALE OF DESPERAUX were also good.

Documentaries - MAN ON WIRE was true to an artist's vision, about a little Frenchman who did something no one had ever done or ever will again. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? was like The War on Terror for Dummies, entertaining in its own right thanks to Super-Size Me's Morgan Spurlock as our host through the third world.

I also liked Baby Mama, The Band's Visit, Burn After Reading, Encounters at the End of the World, Hancock, Snow Angels, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Transsiberian, Valkyrie, The Visitor, and Wanted.

Eleventh Place: APPALOOSA - This movie would have made my top ten if it weren't for Renee Zellweger. But Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen form the best cowboy partnership since, well, Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner in Open Range, and Harris's direction makes this Western relevant for today's times.

And now...

... My Top Ten Movies for 2008.

10. CHANGELING - Clint Eastwood directed this period piece with the same care he gives everything else, and he's a must-see artist. This true story takes some disturbing turns, starring Angelina Jolie as a woman whose son is kidnapped, and when the police return the wrong boy to her, they have her committed rather than trying to find her real son.

9. THE COUNTERFEITERS - It won Best Foreign Film in 2007, but it didn't actually hit US theaters until 2008. And it's a really good movie. I'm not sure why well-made Holocaust movies never get old. This one explores a little weasel who gets caught by the Germans, but they keep him alive to use his counterfeiting skills to flood the markets of their enemies with fake money, thus to hurt their economies and weaken them in the war. We see every emotion on his sweaty face as he struggles with where his line might be between staying alive and helping an evil regime win the war.

8. IN BRUGES - Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson shine in this buddy crime-comedy as two hitman hiding out in Bruges, mocking tourists and waiting for their fate, and Ralph Fiennes gives a scary-funny performance as their unhappy boss who eventually shows up.

7. MILK - Sean Penn gives what may be his best performance of his already prolific career as the first openly gay man elected to major public office, and the flourishes Gus Van Sant adds may be his most focussed directing job yet.

6. AMERICAN TEEN - I can't think of a better teen movie from the past few years. This documentary follows four teens from different walks of life in the same school, where we see their hopes and dreams and pressures and pitfalls, and I was rooting for each one to just come out of graduation a good person.

5. IRON MAN - He's always been one of the lesser Marvel heroes to me. He's there, sure, but he's behind the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Daredevil, and Thor. So nice to see him made relevant and contemporary. Robert Downey Jr. makes a wonderful comeback as ethically-challenged Tony Stark, who has a change of heart (heh) when he gets an eye-witness account of what his weapons have done to the world.

4. BIGGER STRONGER FASTER - The best documentary I saw last year. Chris Bell makes a movie about his own family, as his two brothers are on steroids, and he expands it to what steroids really mean to America. He explores the hypocrisy and grandstanding of different leaders and asks a lot of thought-provoking questions about winning at all costs. On a side note, Chris's older brother Mike died just a few weeks ago, adding some pathos to his sad subplot of a muscle-clad wannabe struggling in obscurity.

3. THE BANK JOB - The most genuinely exciting heist movie in years. Jason Statham leads a gang of regular guys in 1971 to a bank robbery that winds up being more dangerous than they'd anticipated. That it's based on a true story gives it a real kick.

2. WALL-E - A lyrical, contemplative tale about true love amongst artificial intelligence, as well as a satire of our consuming society, this movie scores best by creating a junky little robot with a heart. The subtle physical humor is great, and it's just another example of how story is everything and how Pixar can do no wrong.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT - I saw it in theaters and again on DVD. This movie deserved to come thisclose to beating Titanic for all-time box-office grosser. It took the story of Batman vs. Joker and raised it to the level of crime drama reminiscent of Heat or The Untouchables, and the trajectory of Harvey Dent was darn near Greek tragedy. It had parallels to the war on terror with no easy questions or answers. And while the cast was uniformly good, Heath Ledger stood above them all, in the performance of his career. It's not just sad that we won't see Joker in Batman 3; it's sad that save for his footage in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, we won't see Heath surprise us again in anything else ever.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Milk - Movie Review

MILK (***3/4) - Starring Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Victor Garber and Denis O'Hare.
Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Sean Penn... just when I thought this actor couldn't get any more self-serious, along comes a movie where he completely reinvents himself. It helps that he had a real-life person he could study and mimic but he goes deeper, which is good, because the script leaves him somewhat enigmatic/saintlike, but Penn is able to make Harvey Milk a full-blooded human being.

Gus Van Sant, whose style can be frustrating for me, uses what he's figured out from his last four cinematical experiments to create a skillful, conventional biopic that wisely focusses on just the last few years of Harvey's life. We don't need to see him as a child; we don't need to see him closeted in his twenties. We meet him the night before his 40th birthday, when he hooks up with Scott Smith (James Franco), and the two go west to San Francisco, to live life in the open.

Frustrated with the police brutality he sees, Harvey decides to run for public office. He fails, and fails, and fails again, putting a strain on his relationship with Scott. After a fortuitous redistricting, Harvey's able to win, and he is elected the same time as Dan White (Josh Brolin), a man who ran on ridding the city of "social degenerates" but says he meant druggies, now that he has to work with the openly gay Harvey Milk.

I thought the movie was pretty fair to Dan White. We see his aggravation build as Harvey keeps breaking his promises to him, that suppressed rage pushed further down, ready to explode if Dan gets pushed too far, and Brolin does a really good job here. The real villain of the movie is Anita Bryant, and like Good Night and Good Luck with Joe McCarthy, the movie only uses real footage of her, as she campaigns against these homosexuals who want to destroy America, supporting laws in states that would ban gays from teaching in public schools, and making it legal to fire someone from any job over their sexual orientation.

But the star of the show is Penn, and if he didn't already have an Oscar for Mystic River, he'd be the absolute front-runner for Best Actor here. His mannerisms, his giddyness, his friendliness, all of this is representative of how different it is from the usual Penn. When Harvey's giving political speeches, I thought about the same speeches Penn gave in the All the King's Men remake. Completely different.

It makes me want to see Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler that much more to see what his competition is.

An American Carol - DVD Review

AN AMERICAN CAROL (**) - Starring Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer, Trace Adkins, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Davi, Geoffrey Arend, Gail O'Grady, Chriss Anglin, Dennis Hopper, James Woods, Jon Voight, David Alan Grier, Kevin Sorbo and Bill O'Reilly.
Directed by David Zucker.

Well, it's interesting to see a wacky comedy from a conservative perspective, but rule number one in comedy is that you have to be funny, and I can't say it earned any more than half-smiles from me.

David Zucker's made some good comedies in the past, and his level of parody is still better than most of the other wannabe-spoofers out there, but yeah, this one misses the mark as it tries to preach in between sight gags.

Kevin Farley, brother of Chris, plays Michael Malone, a documentarian who looks an awful lot like Michael Moore. Malone is the proud maker of films like Die You American Pig and his next movie is going to be about abolishing the 4th of July. Following the old Scrooge format, Malone is visited by three ghosts to show him the errors of his anti-American ways. There's JFK in the Marley role, Gen. Patton in the Christmas Past role, George Washington as Present, and Trace Adkins as Future.

Everyone in the movie seems to hate Michael Malone. There's a bombardment of jokes about his weight, his body odor, his bad breath, and his intelligence, and he's constantly slapped by various people. I can see why Laura Ingraham found it funny, and why Bill O'Reilly shows up as himself (and gets in a slap of his own). Eventually though it just comes off as mean-spirited.

I also tried picturing a liberal comedy with the same story, say, if it was Rush Limbaugh being visited by three ghosts to convince him he was wrong to support the war in Iraq. I can't see that movie being any funnier or less mean-spirited, but I could see Al Franken finding it funny and Keith Olbermann showing up as himself.

Michael Moore's style is ripe for parody (I like the YouTube short of Moore covering the war in Lord of the Rings), and there are occasional good ideas in here mixed with some bad ones. But the bottom line is that it just wasn't that funny.

The Reader - Movie Review

THE READER (***) - Starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin and Bruno Ganz.
Directed by Stephen Daldry.

From the writer/director team who brought us The Hours, a movie that taught me that all women are secretly suicidal, bisexual manic-depressives. Now comes a movie that isn't any healthier with its characters, but it is more engrossing than I found that other movie to be.

We first meet Michael in 1995, embodied by Ralph Fiennes. We can tell from the sour, longing look on his face we're about to get a flashback, and so we do. We go back to 1958, when Michael was 15. He has an encounter with 34-year-old Hannah (Kate Winslet), a woman of strange abruptness who helps him clean the puke off his shoes when he gets sick in the rain. He goes back to her apartment to thank her later, one thing leads to another, and Michael loses his virginity.

Their summer romance goes on, with her insisting he read to her before they make love (including lots of gratuitous nudity). And then one day, she's gone.

We see the devastating impact she has on his life when years later, he sees her again, and he learns the truth of who she is.

I kept thinking to myself, "What if this were a story of a 34-year-old man deflowering a 15-year-old girl?" The movie is sympathetic to Hannah, even though she pretty much ruins Michael's chance at a normal life.

That said, there's a full-force campaign to get the multi-nominated Kate Winslet her first Academy Award in Supporting Actress, and I think this is the role that will do the trick. She shows all the torn emotions within Hannah, and there's never a false moment with her. David Kross is really good as young Michael, and Fiennes is his reliable self as the bookended older Michael. I also really liked Bruno Ganz as a college professor. There are things he does when he's just listening to young Michael that I loved, subtle things.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Traitor - DVD Review

TRAITOR (**1/2) - Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Said Taghmaoui, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Alvy Khan and Archie Panjabi.
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff.

If you missed the first season of Showtime's Sleeper Cell, this is pretty much that show encapsulated into one movie, albeit with some casting upgrades. Don Cheadle is an ex-Special Forces guy named Samir, who is either deep, deep undercover, or now a traitor to the Unites States, and we're halfway through the movie before we find out the truth.

It is nice to see an action-oriented movie that isn't dead-set on lecturing its audience in its complicity in the War on Terror. It does point out how futile it can be when there are over a billion Muslims in the world, and only 20% of them are Arabs. How do you weed out the terrorist needles in such haystacks?

The movie came down to the end for me, and the ending cheats a bit. Cheats quite a bit actually. It felt like something 24 would do if the writers all ran out of ideas at the same at the end of Hour 21. "Oh crap, how were we going to get Jack out of this predicament again?"

Cheadle's his solid, reliable self, and Pearce does nice work as the guy on his trail. For post-9/11 movies I enjoyed it more than Rendition or some of these other lecture movies, but not as much as The Kingdom.