Monday, August 31, 2009

QT's return to form

(Movie Review)


Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Mike Myers, BJ Novak and the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

QT's best movie since Pulp Fiction. I admit I was wavering on Quentin lately. Death Proof was okay, but he let his ego stretch Grindhouse to a 3-hour 15-minute movie which not enough people felt like sitting through. I really enjoyed the setup in Kill Bill Vol. 1 only to feel let down by the execution of Kill Bill Vol. 2. Jackie Brown was good, not great. Wow, has he done anything else? Four Rooms? One scene from Sin City...

Anyway, I'm glad he's back behind the camera. He pays homage to every movie style imaginable and makes it his own. He elevates pulp to art through sheer enthusiasm. He also knows that crisp dialogue and subtext can be more suspenseful than gore, though he ain't shy about his gore.

Sergio Leone's been one of his biggest influences, and the opening chapter "Once Upon a Time ... in Nazi-Occupied France" is a clear nod. But it's also a Leone-esque scene, one that would do the spaghetti-western maestro proud. It kicks off with SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a self-absorbed "Jew Hunter" who loves his job and knows how to break down his prey's defenses with Chessire-grinned chatter. We see him come from a long way off. We feel his danger thanks to the eyes of those to whom he speaks, and yet he converses as though he's as harmless as a butterfly.

Chapter Two brings us to the basterds. Brad Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine, a gruff Tennessean who's found eight Jewish-Americans to help him hunt down and kill as many Nazis as they can. Their methods are not civil, as one specializes in beating them to death with a baseball bat.

This subplot was the only one that bugged me. Not one basterd at any time shows any remorse or disgust or even hesitation that what they're doing is dehumanizing or sick or anything. Yes, Nazis are example #1 of an evil army, but I felt sorry for the Nazis after a while. QT has rewritten history to turn Jews into Nazis and Nazis into Jews. There's historical reports of Nazis killing Jews in brutal fashion, of Nazis locking Jews into buildings and burning them alive, of Nazis carving Stars of David into Jewish foreheads. Here it's the Nazis dying in brutal fashion, Nazis being burned alive, Nazis having swastikas carved into their foreheads. When I think of Aldo and his eight Jews, of the ones that survive, I pondered what kind of lives they could possibly live back home after the war when they were one-note monsters during it.

The basterds don't have as big a role as I thought they would. It wouldn't surprise me to learn if one or two of them didn't have any lines in the movie.

The other subplot involved Shoshana Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish young woman whose family was killed by the Nazis, and she's now reinvented herself as a French cinema owner. When the Reich decides to premier Joseph Goebbels' latest propaganda film at her place, she develops a plan to get revenge.

Acting-wise, the stand-outs for me were Waltz and Laurent. QT has a history of making stars out of unknowns and reviving the careers of those considered past their prime. (Travolta was on his last Look Who's Talking sequel before Pulp Fiction came along). I see long careers ahead of these two.

And I reckon we'll hear from that Brad Pitt feller fer a spell as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My 'District 9' Review

To start, we had previews for Halloween 2, Sorority Row, The Fourth Kind, Legion, 9, Law Abiding Citizen, (at which point my wife was begging for a comedy trailer), and Zombieland. (Whew!) If they're going to have that many previews, they need to mix it up a little more. When you see too many horror flick trailers in a row, they all blend together.

(Movie Review)


Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp.

To see a special-effects-laden summer movie with hard-hitting originality is truly something to treasure. "Laden" is maybe too strong. The special effects are never the show; they are only there to advance the story, not be it. It helps to have the multi-millionaire clout of Peter Jackson as your producer to get soemthing like this made.

Among the refreshing aspects of this movie:

- There are no stars so I have no preconceived notions about anyone, but Sharlto Copley makes one heck of a feature-film debut.
- I didn't know where it was going. It was dark enough that I genuinely had no idea.
- It takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. How many alien movies can you name set there?

It does offer a very bleak view of humanity, and it does have some gross parts, but it's a satisfying journey.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekend Box Office

1. Inglourious Basterds - $37.6 million - 1 wk (Wein)
3165 screens / $11,881 per screen
2. District 9 - $18.9 ($73.49) - 2 wks (Tri) -49.4%
3050 / $6197
3. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra - $12.5 ($120.53) - 3 wks (Par) -44%
3953 / $3162
4. The Time Traveler's Wife - $10.03 ($37.45) - 2 wks (WB) -46.2%
2988 / $3355
5. Julie & Julia - $9 ($59.29) - 3 wks (Sony) -25.3%
2463 / $3654
6. Shorts - $6.6 - 1 wk (WB)
3105 / $2126
7. G-Force - $4.21 ($107.32) - 5 wks (BV) -39.2%
2561 / $1642
8. Harry Potter & Half-Blood Prince - $3.52 ($290.28) - 6 wks (WB) -31.6%
1936 / $1816
9. The Ugly Truth - $2.85 ($82.89) - 5 wks (Sony) -35.9%
1971 / $1446
10. Post Grad - $2.8 - 1 wk (Fox)
1959 / $1429
11. The Goods - $2.65 ($11.19) - 2 wks (PV) -53%
1849 / $1433
12. Ponyo - $2.43 ($8.14) - 2 wks (BV) -32.3%
927 / $2620
13. 500 Days of Summer - $2.38 ($22.17) - 6 wks (FS) -20%
988 / $2404
14. The Hangover - $1.51 ($268.31) - 12 wks (WB) -24.3%
848 / $1775
15. Transformers 2 - $.97 ($398.44) - 9 wks (Par) -39.9%
740 / $1304

X-Games 3-D opened on 1399 screens to a miserable $572-per.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Love You, Man - DVD Review


Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, JK Simmons, Andy Samburg, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Thomas Lennon, Aziz Ansari and Lou Ferrigno.
Directed by John Hamburg.

There is a trend that Judd Apatow started that has inspired spawns and spin-offs, and the world of comedy is better off for it. The bromance is turning into one of the most reliable genre comedies the past couple years. Now here comes one where an awkward ladies man (Paul Rudd) realizes he has no male friends, and he sets out to find one so he can have a best man for his wedding. But how does a guy in his 30's find new male friends?

Rudd's been good ever since his breakout role as Alicia Silverstone's stepbrother in 1995's Clueless, and here his painful attempts to be a dude rank up there with Nathan Lane's efforts to play it straight in The Birdcage. Jason Segel, who was behind the very funny Forgetting Sarah Marshall, plays the normal(ish) guy Rudd meets and tries to befriend.

Director John Hamburg was behind the rather unfunny Along Came Polly, but I guess it just shows that many directors can thrive if given the right material.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Shutter Island delayed

This is one of the dumbest moves I've seen a studio do in a while. Shutter Island had October 2 to itself for wide releases. Leonardo DiCaprio. Martin Scorsese. And they push it back to February? To what, save money on Oscar campaining? Ridiculous.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cable TV Ratings

Viewership primetime rankings for the cable channels overall last week:

1. USA - 3,456,000 viewers average
2. Fox News Channel - 2,447,000
3. TNT - 2,338,000
4. Nick at Nite - 2,065,000
5. ESPN - 1,734,000
6. TBS - 1,727,000
7. HGTV - 1,349,000
8. ABC Family - 1,340,000
9. A&E - 1,330,000
10. Lifetime - 1,296,000
11. Food - 1,231,000
12. Syfy - 1,226,000
13. Cartoon Network - 1,173,000
14. The History Channel - 1,158,000
15. FX - 1,157,000
16. TLC - 1,153,000
17. TruTV - 1,077,000
18. Discovery Channel - 1,074,000
19. Spike TV - 1,024,000
20. AMC - 938,000
21. Bravo - 915,000
22. The Hallmark Channel - 859,000
23. Comedy Central - 838,000
24. MSNBC - 820,000
25. MTV - 723,000
26. CNN - 698,000
27. BET - 673,000
28. E! - 645,000
29. LMH - 594,000
30. VH1 - 592,000


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New in Town - DVD Review


Starring Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., JK Simmons, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, and Frances Conroy.
Directed by Jonas Elmer.

Predictable from opening credits to closing, but it succeeds on more levels than it deserves to. There are a couple early good gags, and the supporting cast, once you get past the Fargo stereotypes, bring warmth to their "youbetcha" Minnesoootans. Zellweger plays an ambitious corporate executive in Miami who's sent to oversee the downsizing of a Minnesota plant, but the longer she's there, the more attached she gets to the locals.

The Mutant Chronicles - DVD Review


Starring Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Devon Aoki, Sean Pertwee, Beno Furmann and John Malkovich.
Directed by Simon Hunter.

This low-budget sci-fi flick has a few guilty pleasures buried in it. For one thing, it's not worse than The Chronicles of Riddick, but I can't say it's better, and that is the movie it most reminded me of. For another, when John Malkovich is feeling really lazy, he can give hilariously self-parodic performances, and his extended cameo here is a prime example of that. Unfortunately it's only an extended cameo.

Former action-star-wannabe Thomas Jane leads the tough-guy charge in this new 28th-century Earth. Mankind was destroyed and then rebuilt and now we're in a world where four corporations control everything. A machine buried in the Earth has been loosed during one of the wars, and it's unleashed zombie-like guys with a giant pincher prod where their right arm should be. Makes it easy to kill people. Something like that.

The second half gets boring, as Jane and company just keeping shooting mutants, like watching someone else play a videogame.

Alien Trespass - DVD Review


Starring Eric McCormack, Jenni Baird, Dan Lauria, Robert Patrick, Jody Thompson, Aaron Brooks and Sarah Smyth.
Directed by R.W. Goodwin.

When it comes to sci-fi spoofs, I prefer The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra for low-budgets and Mars Attacks for high-budgets. This movie is somewhere in between. This movie recreates the bad acting, bad dialogue, bad use of green-screen from sci-fi of old, but then it's filmed in bright living color with CGI special effects. It's all set-up with no punchline.

Pigs. Guinea Pigs.

(Movie review)


Starring Zach Galifianakis, Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Kelli Garner, Neicy Nash, and the voices of Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Penelope Cruz, Jon Favreau, Tracy Morgan and Steve Buscemi.
Directed by Hoyt Yeatman.

Saw this with my kids, and they loved seeing their first 3-D movie. And for something this simplistic, 3-D is the only reason to watch it. Lots of things fly at the screen, and there's this weird Transformers-esque third act, but bottom line is it should be funny, and it never is. It's also downright uncomfortable to see Zach Galifianakis, who was allowed to spread his comic wings in The Hangover, have to get dewey-eyed at the end for the happy ending with his talking guinea pigs.

The Soloist - DVD Review


Starring Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Nelsan Ellis, Rachael Harris, Stephen Root, Tom Hollander, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Jena Malone.
Directed by Joe Wright.

Two great performances carried me through most of the movie, but it couldn't quite drag me across the finish line.

Based on a true story, Robert Downey Jr. plays LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, who encounters a homeless man (Jamie Foxx) one day who's quite the talented violinist. The more Lopez tries to help him, the more troubled he sees the man is. Is he schitzophrenic?

Downey holds our attention in every scene he's in. Foxx has a chance to showcase, but it feels like the same thing Geoffrey Rush did in Shine. This feels like an Academy-bait movie that got pushed out of December and dumped in April.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Hurt Locker review

(Movie review)


Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

The best fictional Iraq War movie up to this point, I would argue, was The Kingdom, an actioner with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner. Most Hollywood movies that tried to deal with it just used it as a platform to slam Bush or portray the Americans as the real bad guys, and not just focus on the troops at war. The Hurt Locker is now the best Iraq War movie thus far, as it respects the soldiers in their impossible situation and just chooses to focus on one guy who's a wee bit crazy. And I never knew where it was going but I was always in suspense.

Jeremy Renner, who's been serviceable in a few movies (S.W.A.T. comes to mind), gives a break-out performance here as Sgt. Will James, a specialist in defusing bombs who doesn't seem to mind he's risking his life every day. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, two more actors who've been fine in previous movies but really shine here, play his support squad, and they really mind putting their life on the line.

Director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days) winds up being the ideal guide for this story. She knows how to stage action and more importantly, suspense. I predict the rare nomination of a female for Best Director in about six months. The farther away I get from this, the more it grows on me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

The King of 1980's teen movies is dead.

Long live the king.

This death bums me out more than any other celeb this year. I remember watching The Breakfast Club five times within a two-week span. I've seen many of his movies many times. He only directed eight himself, and the first five are all 1980's classics (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Planes Trains & Automobiles). He also wrote Mr. Mom, the Vacation movies, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful. In the 1990's he got more into kid comedies, with Home Alone, Beethoven, Dennis the Menace, 101 Dalmatians, and Flubber. He seemed to fall out of favor with Hollywood the past few years. Most recently he had "story by" credits on Maid in Manhattan and Drillbit Taylor.

Ali Larter be crazy

(DVD Review)


Starring Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Jerry O'Connell, Christine Lahti, Bruce McGill, Matthew Humphries and Scout Taylor-Compton.
Directed by Steve Shill.

The main problem with this Fatal Attraction rip-off is that Ali Larter does not play a real person. Even a crazy person has some modicum of reality to them. She plays every scene and delivers every line like she can hear the creepy music in the background for her. And I don't blame Larter. I don't think anyone could have made this role believable.

The twist to this stalker thriller is that it crosses racial lines. Idris Elba is the bossman, Larter is the temp, and Beyonce Knowles is the dutiful wife who spends the first hour of the movie staying at home wondering if there's a movie going on without her. Larter doesn't play her girl as damaged goods, as someone truly deranged. There's always a hint in her eye that she planned on destroying his life from the second she sees him.

And they don't even have sex. How's that fair?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spielberg on Harvey

Steven Spielberg is still one of the only directors who can do whatever he wants, so why is remaking Harvey? As a power-player he could use his clout to do original stories. He took a risk on A.I.

Risk, Steven! Riiiisk!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dragonball Evolution - DVD Review


Starring Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Marsters, Joon Park, Randall Duk Kim and Ernie Hudson.
Directed by James Wong.

It really is like watching a US dubbing of a Japanese kids cartoon come to life. I've never watched the show, but my son said this movie butchered that aspect of it. Justin Chatwin (The Invisible) is okay as Goku, our hero who must track down the seven dragonballs before the evil green alien King Piccolo does, and Chow Yun-Fat seems to be having fun as the mentor. He even laughs like he's dubbing a Japanese kids cartoon. It's very silly, flashy, so-bad-it's-good in some ways. Tons of wire fu, but none of it exciting. I also really thought Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera) would amount to more than this.

I gave up though when Goku turned into a werewolf.

So does this mean a live-action Yu-Gi-Oh movie is coming? Probably not.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

At least Sandler's good...

(Movie review)


Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Reiser, Andy Dick and Eminem.
Directed by Judd Apatow.

There is a very, very good movie buried within here. I mean a moving, funny three-and-a-half star film just dying to come out, one which would garner Adam Sandler a Golden Globe nomination. I'm not kidding; it's his best performance to date. Some could sneer at that, considering they thought the Zohan was the apex of his stretching, but he also did Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish and Reign Over Me, and Sandler has finally found a vehicle that lets him balance comedy and drama and be a real human being.

He plays George Simmons, a successful stand-up comic who has since become a multimillionaire icon, star of such movies as My Best Friend Is A Robot and Merman (like Splash, but with a guy). George has a sprawling palace of a house on the beach, posters of all his movies on the wall, and yet, he just learned he has cancer. And George realizes that he's all alone.

He hires a promising, struggling young comic named Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to write some jokes for him as he takes his private jet from gig to gig. But even though George is dying, he doesn't really seem to learn much.

This movie's a reflection on just how unhappy many comedians are. No surprise there. My main two problems with this movie revolve around 1) a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, and 2) more male-organ jokes than any movie in cinematic history.

Judd Apatow did The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and this movie had the potential to be his best movie to date, but he refuses to grow up. The film meanders and sags, and really there is such a thing as too many genitalia jokes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Friday's Box Office

Friday's box-office is showing that Funny People will win the weekend, though I wonder if the studio considers it a disappointment it's not going to open as high as Step Brothers.

1. Funny People - $8.63 million - 1 day
2. G-Force - $5.75 ($55.15) - 8 days
3. Harry Potter 6 - $5.41 ($243.17) - 17 days
4. The Ugly Truth - $4.45 ($45.93) - 8 days
5. Aliens in the Attic - $2.88 - 1 day