Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summit backstabs Lefevre

It sounds like Summit is engaging in the usual scummy behavior that makes Hollywood the stereotype of an ethics-free city.

Summit firing Rachelle Lefevre in favor of the more-famous Bryce Dallas Howard reminds of the same shenanigans when the producers of Iron Man 2 fired Terrence Howard for not agreeing to a pay cut, or when Addams Family Values dumped Judith Malina for Carol Kane to play Grandma.

Heroes ratings stunt: bi-curious Claire

Apparently NBC is hoping a lesbian kiss from Claire (Hayden Panetierre) will spike their sagging ratings. I really liked Season 1, but I think it'll take a lot more than this subplot to restore the show to its former glory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cameron Diaz in Green Hornet?

Cameron Diaz is a star who has made it this far without being in a superhero movie, so why would she make this movie the one she joins? With Seth Rogen in the lead, even though he insists it will be emphasizing action more than comedy, just how seriously is it going to take itself? With it have its own sense of humor, like Iron Man, or will it eat its own tail, like the Schumacher Batmans? And with Stephen Chow out, who's going to be Kato? Perhaps Tony Jaa? Maybe she's worried about her star power slipping, what with her recent resume being comprised of respectable, low-grossing fare like My Sister's Keeper. She wants her paychecks before she turns 40, which is a whole different age for actresses than it is for actors. Just ask Madeleine Stowe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Rene Russo, Elisabeth Shue, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Elizabeth Perkins, etc., etc.

I wonder if it's just a matter of time before Helen Hunt is starring in a new series for TNT or Showtime.

Something's Wrong with Esther

(movie review)


Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Margo Martindale and Karel Roden.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

Oh yes, there is something very wrong with Esther.

There is also something very right about a horror film that accomplishes its ultimate goal - to put the audience in suspense. Any flick can give you a good jumpscare, but actually putting you on the edge of your seat is a trickier proposition as moviegoers grow more and more savvy. Fortunately director Jaume Collet-Serra has fun with genre conventions. When the mother opens a refrigerator door at night, the music builds tightly so that you just know there's going to be someone holding a knife when she shuts the door. But no one's there and the music calms down. So each time it happens (opening the bathroom cabinet, slowly peering around the corner) we really don't know if anyone's going to be there or not.

The plot should do about as much good for adopting older children as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did for rural law enforcement. As an adopter of two kids myself, I'll just say it exploits fears and prejudices about adopting, but it's a horror flick, so I might as well gripe about the inaccurate jumping patterns of mutant spiders in Eight Legged Freaks.

Isabelle Fuhrman, who was 11 when this was made, plays Esther, and a lot of the success of the film rests on her shoulders, and she's up to the task. She goes past Bad Seed / Good Son territory here, and while there are only so many twists a horror movie can have (they're all dead! no wait, it's a split personality!), the third act reveal here is surprising, out of left field, and makes complete sense.

The terror here builds slowly. A little too slowly, as no horror movie should have more than a two-hour running time. The movie has its flaws. Pertinent information is withheld at convenient times, the psychologist is too easily fooled, and the last few minutes traipses through cliche-ville. But the cast here is really good, and I was really worried that many members of this otherwise very nice family weren't going to make it out alive. I guess what I'm saying is that I cared about the characters. How novel.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Brother 11 Power Rankings

1. Jesse - The muscle-headed idiot from Season 10 is playing a little smarter this time around, though he's not about to let Russell go soon, as he knows the longer Russ is in, the longer he's in. His ego's still there, but he's a lot better about hiding it this time around.

2. Casey - The "hip-hop" teacher, and the oldest guy in the house, is playing it smart. I see him and Jesse facing off in a few weeks, but meanwhile Jesse's going to try to get out the last of the Populars while Casey works on getting out Chima.

3. Natalie - She's hot-headed at times, cool at other times, like a good athlete. She's willing to give up on Jeff but sees that Russell is hurting her team, and the way she's going she could easily be the last Athlete standing.

4. Jeff - He won the PoV when he needed to, and half the house loves him. And his main enemies CAN'T put him up for eviction.

5. Michelle - She's flying under the radar right now and will be able to continue to do so for a while. I'd be shocked if she wasn't the last Brain standing.

6. Kevin - Kinda weak right now. He'll get far by staying in Lydia's shadow, in that he'll always be safe as long as she's there, because anyone who wants him out wants her out more.

7. Lydia - She's proven to be a fighter, and with her blow-up with Russell, it looks like she'll be able to play both sides for a bit.

8. Jordan - If she survives tonight's vote, this blonde'll be considered one of the weakest players in the house, and therefore could almost guarantee at least another month of survival.

9. Ronnie - The "rat" is proving true to what many players before him have done, at least the ones who think they're smart. He overthinks everything, started playing both sides before there were any clear dividing lines, and he doesn't have the charm of, say, Dr. Will or BB10's Dan to win back sympathy.

10. Chima - Her diva attitude won't get her far.

11. Russell - The house bully has everyone on edge. I don't see him making it to the jury.

12. Laura - She's smarter than her enhancement surgery would suggest, but methinks she won't be able to survive tonight's vote.

Isla elevates 'Confessions'

(DVD Review)


Starring Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leslie Bibb, Fred Armisen, Julie Hagerty and Krysten Ritter.
Directed by P.J. Hogan.

Here's a movie that shows the star power of Isla Fisher, the girl who broke onto the scene as the slightly crazy object fo Vince Vaughn's affections in Wedding Crashers. Fisher plays a selfish spend-freak who one day finds herself with all of her credit cards maxed out. Through a couple contrived incidents, she winds up at a financial magazine.

Now a charmless actress could have made this premise, and therefore most of the movie, insufferable. But we bounce along with it, pleasantly buoyed by Fisher's energy. And the cast is pretty deep. It's weird to see Joan Cusack kinda wasted as "the mother" but Joan's hit that magical age in Hollywood where only the Meryl Streeps get good roles. I'd wager in another year or two, we'll see Joan on a TV series.

The movie may or may not have been affected by its release - a movie that seems to be about the joys of excessive consumerism right as the economy's plummeting. But actually she hits the maxed-out skids fairly early, and the movie preaches against spending more than you have. Maybe Congress should watch this movie...

Keira's Dull 'Edge'

(DVD Review)


Starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys.
Directed by John Maybury.

This is like the anti-Atonement. It's a British film, a love story set with a World War II backdrop, starring Keira Knightley, but with vacuous characters that bounce around and sing while the air raid sirens blare. This movie is nostalgic for the good-old-days of careless, free-spirited bohemia. During war. And it's a true story, about the two women who loved poet Dylan Thomas, but he's a secondary character really.

The movie never builds to anything. It flashes artistic flourishes as though there was a narrative goal at one point. I've seen a hundred indie movies with this "plot" only with a fraction of the budget and set in a modern-day New York apartment by some mumbling twentysomethings who may or may not be employed.

Dull dull dull dull.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Movie Review


Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Robbie Coltrane, Timothy Spall, Julie Walters, David Bradley, Evanna Lynch, Jessie Cave and Warwick Davis.
Directed by David Yates.

Resist as I tried, this movie had me comparing more in my head to the book than any previous. Maybe it's because all of the stuff they've left out of previous movies that are still noticeable subplots in the book are starting to affect the over-arching plot. Maybe it's because all previous Potter moves are stand alone, whereas this 2-1/2 hour tale feels like Empire Strikes Back, a hammock movie designed to set up the final showdown. Empire Strikes Back ain't bad company.

The three kids are growing up. They're sixteen, well into hormonial times. Harry realizes he has a thing for Ginny Weasley, and Hermione realizes her caring for Ron Weasley is growing beyond friendship. This movie is more grounded in reality than any previous Potter flick, at least as far as emotions go. This is a high school angst flick. It just happens to have wizards.

This movie focusses more on the relationship with headmaster Dumbledore and the chosen one, Harry. Each year Harry ages, it becomes more clear that he and Lord Voldemort are destined for a final showdown.

Each year also tends to focus on a new quirky teacher, and this year it's Potions professor Horace Slugborn (Jim Broadbent), brought out of retirement by Dumbledore's personal urging, as he may have valuable information about a previous Hogwarts student named Tom Malvolo Riddle, the future Dark Lord. Broadbent's as welcome in Hogwarts' halls are previously memorable guests like Kenneth Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart or Brendan Gleeson's Mad-Eye Moody.

The tapestry of characters weaves thicker, and still, I got a real kick out of some of the line reads from been-here-the-whole-time pros like Alan Rickman's Snape and Maggie Smith's McGonagall.

Bring on Movie #7.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - Movie Review


Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck and Chris Wedge.

My family got to see it for free, so that was worth it. But if you're debating whether or not to spend the $20 or $50 or whatever it'd cost to take your whole family, I'd wait for the DVD. And even then...

It bugs me when not only does an animated kids movie slip in dirty jokes and innuendoes every once in a while, but when they do it every ten minutes, it's really annoying. I'm glad it all sailed above my 3-year-old's head, but here's an example: Sid the Sloth tries to sneak milk from a sleeping water-buffalo thing. He grabs something under there and squeezes, and the buffalo wakes up. Next shot is Sid running for his life while yelling "I thought you were female!"

Another example: Sid sees a baby and declares "It's a boy!" Diego says "That's its tail." To which Sid declares "It's a girl!"

What did I enjoy? Well, the lost world they find under the ice is gorgeous. The plot has Sid steal three eggs to raise as his own kids. Turns out they're T-Rexes. It appears dinosaurs aren't extinct after all. (The first Ice Age movie established humans were on Earth). So where'd these dinosaurs come from? Manny, Diego and Ellie trek to a lost world where T-Rexes and apatosauruses and pterodachyls still roam to find Sid, kidnapped by Mama T-Rex.

Along the way they find a survivalist weasel named Buck, played with gusto by Simon Pegg. Buck was my favorite character in the movie. (Good summer for Pegg, this.)

Does it leave it open for Ice Age 4? Absolutely. Do I want them to make an Ice Age 4? Not really, no.

Oh, but Scrat? Still funny. Blue Sky studios should ditch future Ice Age movies but still include Scrat shorts in front of their future films.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Unborn - DVD Review

THE UNBORN (*1/2) - Starring Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Cam Gigandet, Jane Alexander and Idris Elba.
Directed by David S. Goyer.

A more accurate title might have been Beware the Dibble, but how scary would that be.

I can see why class actors like Gary Oldman and Idris Elba would be involved. Whatever they were paid, I'm sure their scenes only took about a week to film. So if Oldman's Dark Knight screeenwriter buddy David Goyer said "I have this part, it'll take you six days to film your stuff, here's a million bucks, will you do it?" Gary was probably like "Sure." And Elba, between filming Obsessed and his stint on The Office, probably thought "Hm, four days of filming and I get $200,000 and all my scenes are with Gary Oldman" well, who wouldn't jump at that?

Does it matter if the movie sucked? Off-screen to all involved, probably not. Those who paid to see it might have a different opinion. As I just pay my monthly Blockbuster Online thing, I still found this movie to be pretty lame, in that the scares aren't scary and the name of the ghost-monster is a Dibble. Maybe I wasn't hearing it right, maybe it's diblet or a dibbert, but I don't care enough to look it up.

Good paycheck movie, Gary. Now pick a project or two worth seeing.

Che: Part Two - DVD Review

CHE: PART TWO (**) - Starring Benecio Del Toro, Joaquim de Almedia and Demian Bashir.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

After I saw this, glad for the end to be there, that Che finally died, I went online and read an interview with director Steven Soderbergh said he regreted making the movie. Apparently worldwide it only made half its money back, small wonder for a 4-1/2 hour movie all in Spanish. Benecio Del Toro's heart was clearly in this project (he's still really good), but it seems this somewhat broke Soderbergh's spirit.

This movie takes place in Bolivia, when Che was older and sicker than he was in Cuba. He seems to know this revolution isn't going to go as well as his previous efforts. It's about a bunch of guys in green carrying guns in the jungle, hoping to kill some Bolivian soldiers and policemen. I was glad when Che was finally killed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fired Up! - DVD Review


Starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, Sarah Roemer, Molly Sims, Philip Baker Hall and John Michael Higgins.
Directed by Will Gluck.

This is a bizarre exercise in the three-act formula. Two football studs who sleep with every babe in their high school get the idea to go to the summer's cheerleader camp to get even more tail. The gorgeous girls from their own school are on one of the worst cheerleading teams in the state, so the two eventually develop human emotion and try to, like, actually help the squad win.

Meanwhile we hit some standard plot signposts. The mean-girl rival cheer squad. The jerky boyfriend of the head cheerleader. The boys caught in a lie at the end of Act 2. The big competition. An insurmountable move that they, just somehow, surmount.

What am I rooting for again? Eh, in the grand tradition of Rob Morrow and Johnny Depp in 1984's Private Resort come these two. And lest it be accused of being a rip-off of Bring It On, there's a scene with the cheerleaders watching that movie, saying the lines with Kirsten Dunst and company.

And once again, it's one of those comedies where the outtakes during the closing credits are funnier than the actual movie.

The Pink Panther 2 - DVD Review


Starring Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, John Cleese, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Aishwarya Rai, Yuki Matsuzaki and Jeremy Irons.
Directed by Harald Zwart.

This might be amusing to nine-year-olds, but I think I cracked a smile once. Kevin Kline knew to bail, but somehow Steve Martin still got a talent around him to help him out, including getting the invaluable John Cleese to step in as Dreyfus. If you've ever wanted to see Andy Garcia and Alfred Molina engage in Three Stooges level gags (they do get their faces planted in cakes at one point) then this is your movie.

The plot has an international thief stealing the most valuable possessions in the world. The Shroud of Turin, the Imperial Sword, St. Peter's Ring, and of course, the Pink Panther. So inspectors from the around the world unite to find the thief. The inspectors are all fairly competant at their jobs and therefore come to view Clouseau as a fool. And who wouldn't.

Even Jeremy Irons shows up. Academy-Award winner Jeremy Irons as a reformed thief. I half-expected a third-act cameo from Michael Caine. Alas, it didn't happen.

If this movie was released forty years ago, it'd probably be a smash. But what's considered funny has evolved. Good comedy always comes from surprise, and this has none.

Optimus Past His Prime



Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Benjamin Hickey, and Kevin Dunn.
Directed by Michael Bay.

Ugh. This movie pretty much oblitherated everything I liked about the first one. Two and a half hours of crashes and explosions where the camera never stops moving, and not once at any point did I care about character on screen.

There's no real story here that I could discern beyond more Decepticons show up to destroy stuff, and the Autobots fight back. Some bits and pieces:

- About 20 minutes in, I decided to consciously watch for any shot where the camera doesn't move and the one scene lasts at least three seconds. I gave up after another 20 minutes. I actually felt a little dizzy during one scene where Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox kiss as the camera spins around them.

- You may have heard of the two Autobots that some are referring to as the Jar Jar Twins. They do across as characters Dave Chappelle might have done in a ghetto spoof. Beyond the annoying aspects of those two (one even has a gold tooth!) there's an old British transformer that shows up. Total Rudyard Kipling type. He even uses a cane. Why do the Transformers have such modern human behaviors and characteristics? Aren't they aliens?

- College apparently is a place full of horny supermodels just waiting to be overcome with lust for geeky students in the Shia LaBeouf mold or geeky professors in the Rainn Wilson mold.

- John Turturro was one of the most irritating characters from the first movie, but in doing the same thing surrounded by this movie, he comes out as the best thing this has going.

- There's one scene where Sam (Shia) accidentally finds a shard of the original Cube that's been sitting in his closet for two years. Right. And when he drops it, it eats through the floor and brings a bunch of their kitchen appliances to life as cackling little Decepticons. Reminded me exactly of what happens when you get a Mogwai wet.

- Remember the EPA jerk so memorably played by William Atherton in Ghostbusters? This movie has one of those, a bureaucrat sent by Pres. Obama who orders the Autobots to leave Earth (well, America, anyway) to see if the Decepticons will leave too. Since he was sent by Obama, I wondered if his title was Transformers Czar.

- You telling me that a tall temple in the middle of the Egyptian desert wouldn't have encouraged some archaelogists through the decades to look a little more closely at what might be behind that hollow wall?

- Ever watch NBC's Chuck? Shia LaBeouf does a decent impersonation of Chuck having a flash.

- I don't mind quick in-jokes, but a fifteen-second shot lingering on a guy's dorm-room wall where the Bad Boys II poster is displayed was really cheesy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

12 Rounds - DVD Review


Starring John Cena, Aiden Gillem, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris and Brian White.

A by-the-numbers actioner that would have starred Patrick Swayze or Jean-Claude Van Damme twenty years ago. John Cena has a good physical body but he's a terrible actor. A criminal sets up a series of booby traps like a D-grade Riddler and forces a cop (Cena) to solve the clues and go on his little scavenger hunt if he wants to see his kidnapped wife again. The action's not that exciting, the villain suffers from talking too much when he has plenty of opportunities to just kill the hero, and Cena is a black hole of charisma. I even liked The Marine more.

The Secret Life of Bees - DVD Review


Starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okenedo and Paul Bettany.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Consider it the Fried Green Tomatoes of 2008. Dakota Fanning is the little white girl who runs off from her abusive daddy. She's joined by her nanny, played by Jennifer Hudson, and the two share a Huck-and-Jim relationship. They eventually wind up where they want to, at a honey shop owned and run by African American sisters in the 1964 South.

Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okenedo play the three sisters, and with this cast, you'd think there'd be a scene where they burst into song, but no such luck. The movie takes a walk down a two-hanky path by a golden sunset, and I enjoyed the journey, not really knowing where it was going and being good with that.

Che: Part One - DVD Review


Starring Benecio Del Toro, Julia Ormond, Rodrigo Santoro, Demian Bichir, Oscar Isaac, Edgar Ramirez, Victor Rasuk, and Catalina Sandino Moreno.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Soderbergh is a great director. He can be experimental sometimes, glib other times, and here he's in more of an experimental phase, reminding more of Terrence Malick's Thin Red Line than anything else. This movie is about being along for the ride of a revolutionary who overthrows what might be an oppressive government, but it's about as informative as the Les Miz musical on French politics.

My history teacher told us how Che Guevara was a murderer who helped put Fidel Castro in power. The one portrayed here is more of the Robin Hood, T-shirt-inspiring antihero. It's not every insightful or informative, but it's beautiful to look at, and Benecio Del Toro gives a solid central performance. It didn't instill me with a desire to see Part Two.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - DVD Review


Starring Kristin Kreuk, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough, Michael Clarke Duncan, Moon Bloodgood and Robin Shou.
Directed by Andrezj Bartkowiak.

At least the 1994 Street Fighter movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia was campy from beginning to end. This movie is like a superhero origin story that takes itself way too seriously, then breaks into heavily-edited fight scenes. Kinda reminded me of Elektra more than anything, and Kristin Kreuk as 2009's sure made me miss 1994's Ming-Na.

The dialogue is atrocious, particularly with the two cops following Chun-Li.

Sample dialogue:
"We got orders, Nash. We're off the case."
"What orders?"
"Orders, Nash!"

The two cops are played by Chris Klein, who looked like after Election and American Pie he might have a career, and Moon Bloodgood (Apocalypto), who has a cool name but needs to find better material. There are really some stunningly incompetant scenes in this movie, where it seems like actors are pulling lines out of a cliche hat and then delivering them with no idea how it incorporates into the rest of the story. Klein just knows he needs to be tough. McDonough (as Bison) and Duncan (as Balrog) know they're evil. Kreuk knows she has daddy issues.

Ninety minutes of just playing one of the Street Fighter games would be far more entertaining.

The International - DVD Review


Starring Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen and Brian F. O'Byrne. Directed by Tom Tykwer.

This paranoid thriller might have been more enjoyable for me if the final 30 seconds of the movie weren't in the trailer. As is, it's an adequate time-killer, but with banks falling apart left and right all over the globe, its premise of an all-powerful bank murdering its competitors is a bit too preposterous to take seriously. Certain scenes, though, would have really cool flourishes to them, or crisp editing, and I'd think "Oh yeah, Tom Tykwer's directing."