Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why is Pixar doing sequels?

Is there any studio that has more successfully merged creativity and financial success than Pixar? Each year they seem to top themselves. The Incredibles. Ratatouille. Wall-E. Up.

I can understand the pull to do Toy Story 3, but I am disappointed that rather than continue with original stories, Pixar is doing Cars 2 and Monsters Inc 2. Both were good movies, but I'd put them in the bottom half of Pixar's output, and now they both gets sequels? Why?

No studio has the brand-name trust of Pixar. So why not keep pushing creativity? I'm excited for upcoming projects like Brave and Newt. I'll see anything Pixar does, and I'm sure they'll be good. But why Cars 2 and Monsters Inc 2?

And if they must, why not The Incredibles 2 instead?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Douthat on South Park controversy

Islam is the only place where we draw lines in the sand at all.

FX's Damages ends 3rd season

The third season was no different than the first two, in that it featured great acting, surprising twists, and a final episode that seemed to wrap things up a little too conveniently.

I would hope FX gives this a fourth season but won't be too bummed if they don't. At this point, I don't know what else Ellen (Rose Byrne) can get from Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). I'm more interested in seeing what Martin Short plans to do next. He stole the show as the duplicious lawyer of the Tobin family.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Summer Box-Office Predictions

Last summer fifteen movies made it past the $100 million mark, with five of those passing $200 million. This summer has some obvious pre-packaged hits, but after the first handfull, it gets dicier guessing what will actually do well.

Before I give my box-office predictions, I'll say last year I underestimated the box-office potential of Transformers 2, The Hangover, G.I. Joe, District 9 and Inglourious Basterds, I overestimated where Night at the Museum 2, Land of the Lost, Year One, Funny People, and Julie & Julia would land, and I was about on the money with Star Trek, Wolverine, G-Force, The Ugly Truth and Terminator Salvation.

1. IRON MAN 2 - $310 million - Tough to pick what'll be the biggest hit this year. Last year it was fairly obvious it was between Transformers 2 and Harry Potter 6. This year I'm a lot less confident. The preview looks pretty good. At least it doesn't look like a let-down. (May 7)

2. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE - $300 million - Far be it from me to underestimate the power of this franchise. Bella, Edward and Jacob will be back, and the brooding continues. The story's supposed to be a little more forward-moving than New Moon too. (July 2)

3. INCEPTION - $280 million - I'm banking purely on director Christopher Nolan here. Leonardo DiCaprio's post-Titanic career hasn't yielded any movie above $150 million, until now. (July 16)

4. TOY STORY 3 - $260 million - Pixar is king, but this sequel feels like it should've happened about eight years ago. Andy has moved on to college, so his toys gets donated to the local daycare center. Hijinks ensue. (June 18)

5. KNIGHT & DAY - $200 million - The first preview looked bad, but the second one looked pretty good and has had among the most positive reactions from audiences I've heard at the last few movies I saw. Tom Cruise is still a movie star, and I like reteaming him with Cameron Diaz for something that should be more fun than Vanilla Sky. (June 25)

6. SHREK FOREVER AFTER - $175 million - I hated the third one, but I figure this is one where I'm not like the masses, and this will still bring out big crowds. DreamWorks swears this is the last Shrek movie though. They promise. (May 21)

7. THE A-TEAM - $170 million - Probably the most kick-butt trailer for summer films. The nostalgia factor's there, the stunts are there, the likeable cast, a decent director (Joe Carnahan). Should be a good time. (June 11)

8. THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE - $160 million - Nicolas Cage, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turtletaub are a reliable box-office team, and it looks like that while it does open against Inception, that shouldn't harm it. (July 16)

9. SEX & THE CITY 2 - $145 million - The gaudy sequel should do about as well as the first one. I never watched the series, but I saw the first movie and I still don't get how they're all so rich. (May 28)

10. SALT - $125 million - Angelina Jolie tends to do well in butt-kicking roles (Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith). (July 23)

11. DESPICABLE ME - $120 million - I don't underestimate animated movies in the summer, and this one had a pretty good teaser. Steve Carell voices the lead, a fellow named Gru who wants to steal the world's treasures. (July 9)

12. THE OTHER GUYS - $115 million - Will Ferrell's had some misses lately, but with support from Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton, he may be back on course here. (Aug 6)

13. GROWN UPS - $112 million - Adam Sandler may have stumbled last year with the 2-1/2 hour Funny People last year, but this one looks more mainstream, more dumbed-down, PG-13. Should do well. (June 25)

14. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME - $110 million - I have no idea why this'll do well, but I think it will. It looks like another Mummy movie, but Mike Newell's the director. (May 28)

15. THE LAST AIRBENDER - $104 million - M. Night Shyamalan has a chance to prove he can make a movie that doesn't rely on thrills, and to stop his trend of his next movie always being worse than the previous one. (July 2)

16. MARMADUKE - $100 million - A talking dog movie, it gets the beneift of hitting theaters before Cats & Dogs 2. The plot doesn't look any different than the Beethoven movies, but beethoven was a St. Bernard, and he didn't talk. (June 4)

17. PREDATORS - $90 million - If this is as bad as the Aliens vs. Predator movies, all bets are off, but this is the only real creature feature of note for the summer, and it has a decent cast. Plus it's not on Earth. (July 9)

18. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS - $85 million - Steve Carell's comedic success streak should continue with this. (July 23)

19. THE EXPENDABLES - $80 million - It won't do Inglourious Basterds numbers, but Sly Stallone's ultimate action flick (where the preview includes the Arnie & Bruce cameos) will put a dent into August. (August 13)

20. ROBIN HOOD - $75 million - I don't know anyone excited for this. Curious, maybe, but when you talk of summer movies, many forget this is even coming. Perhaps it's because it looks like Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott are trying too hard to recpature their Gladiator glory. it actually wouldn't surprise me if Letters to Juliet, opening the same day, outperforms this.

Dark Horses:

LETTERS TO JULIET (May 14) - Amanda Seyfried's become the unlikeliest of movie stars.

JONAH HEX (June 18) - Hasn't had much publicity yet, but it doesn't have much competition for its weekend.

RAMONA & BEEZUS (July 23) - Mothers & daughters may rule this weekend after all, now that beverly Cleary beloved characters are finally getting the big-screen treatment.

BEASTLY (July 30) - This high-school reimagining of Beauty & the Beast may strike a chord, plus it has Neil Patrick Harris.

EAT PRAY LOVE (August 13) - I don't know how much star-power Julia Roberts still has, but she should be able to squeeze some out as she stars int he adaptation of this best-seller.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (August 13) - The preview got some good laughs int he crowd I saw it with. This is Michael Cera's chance to make up for Year One.


MACGRUBER - More SNL skit movies die than live.

KILLERS - Katherine Heigl finally strikes out.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK - An R-rated comedy that looks more determined to be gross than funny.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU - Matt Damon's no longer a star.

PIRANHA 3D - 3-D's being way overdone.

Other releases: Cats & Dogs 2, Just Wright, Step Up 3D, Nanny McPhee 2, Takers, Lottery Ticket, Middlemen, Going the Distance.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hit Girl's the real star

Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonseca, Michael Rispoli and Clark Duke.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.


A friend who saw this before me described it as Watchmen meets Mystery Men and he was exactly right. Of course, you have throw in a little Kill Bill in the end.

This violent escapist fare follows the graphic novel about an ordinary guy named Dave who decides to dress up like a superhero and fight crime. Naturally his first attempt doesn't go well, but some broken bones later, he gets better at it, and when he takes on three guys at once and people record it on their cellphones, he becomes a viral sensation.

Then two real buttkickers come along in Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). While Dave is content to just beat bad guys up, BD and HG slice and dice the competition in deliriously bloody fashion. None of this sits well with the unfriendly neighborhood crime-boss (Sherlock Holmes's Mark Strong).

The real star here is Hit Girl. Moretz (500 Days of Summer) keeps the playfulness of her age while engaging the psychotic slaughtering of goons and bad guys in ways that'd that's make the Bride proud. I enjoyed Cage's Big Daddy too, who talks with Adam West cadence when he's in costume.

Johnson's a little too wimpy as Dave. His character is grounded realism, BD and HG are martial-arts escapism, and then physics-wise all bets are off in Act III.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jon Stewart defends Comedy Central

First, the people who run Comedy Central are cowards and hypocrites. They caved to a threat from an Islamic radical site and censored a South Park episode referring to Mohammad. Now in years past, they've been fine with South Park blasting every single other way of life in every offensive way possible. But they censored the Mohammad one. They're basically sending the signal that other religions and philosophies should be more violent if they don't want to get mocked.

Then Jon Stewart came out and gave a defense of the network (booo!) but that turned into a segment against the Islamic extremists. Stewart thanked everyone else for "taking it so well" and then played a highlight reel of the mockings Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, etc., that the Daily Show's done over the years. He then pointed out while he may have disagreements with folks like Fox News, Jim Kramer, etc., "they are not the enemy." These Islamic extremists, he made clear, are the enemy. And then he led a choir in song to tell that group to go f*** themselves.

NBC's Community a must-see

Remember Must See TV? The quality is there on NBC Thursday if the ratings aren't what they used to be. This week's Community was hilarious. Any show that make a GoodFellas parody out of community college cafeteria politics has something going on.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

This is one of those good-deed shows that I'm glad exists. I can't say I'm compelled to watch a second episode, but I hope it lasts long enough that he's able to do this from town to town to town.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are - DVD Review


Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo and the voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano.
Directed by Spike Jonze.

A movie about childhood, probably more for adults, as it really gets into the melancholy mood-swings kids can have. It's like watching what would happen in a kid's imaginary world if his stuffed animals achieved sentience, but still based on the personalities he'd given them. The movie does not offer escapism so much as a meditation on how powerful childhood was.

Sherlock Holmes - DVD Review


Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan and James Fox.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.

When I first heard they were going to beef up Sherlock Holmes in a more actiony way, I was worried they'd dumb it down too much, but I'm pleased Sherlock still has his eye for detail, in savant fashion. Downey's the perfect choice for the intrepid investigator, and Jude Law's the ideal second banana as Dr. Watson. Rachel McAdams tends to elevate whatever she's in, so I was glad to see her show up as the love interest / femme fatale (as fatale as Victorian England allows a lady). So interested is Ritchie in character interaction and exciting action sequences that the central mystery is secondary. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but in the inevitable sequel, I'd like to see Sherlock get stumped.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Date Night - Movie Review


Starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner, Leighton Meester and JB Smoove.
Directed by Shawn Levy.

This movie could have been as bad as The Out-of-Towners, but it had more in common with Adventures in Babysitting for my taste, and it is really buoyed by the chemistry of its two leads. Not since Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore teamed has there been an equal partnership of funny in a married couple.

Weelll, maybe that's overstating it; I'll think on that some more, but it's clear from the outtakes that Carell & Fey brought a lot to the table of a script that serves as an excuse to lurch them from one scene to another so hijinks can ensue.

Carell & Fey are Phil & Claire Foster, a New Jersey 40-ish couple with the drab upper-middle-class careers and cute kids. They get a wake-up call when they learn their best friends (Kristen Wiig & Mark Ruffalo) are getting divorced, and they decide they're going to try spicing things up, for one night. They go to a snooty downtown Manhattan restaurant and since it's fully booked a month in advance, they take the reservation of the Tripplehorns when those two are a no-show. Unfortunately the Tripplehorns are being hunted by two corrupt cops on the payroll of a mob boss that said Tripplehorns are trying to blackmail. A few gunshots later, Phil & Claire are running for their lives. Remember those previosuly referred to hijinks? They indeed ensue.

The script is a mediocre meshing of half a dozen fish-out-of-water movies, primarily After Hours and the ones I already mentioned. Director Shawn Levy (Anger Management) doesn't really have many surprises either. (An extended car chase? Really?) Sitting down for NBC's hour of Office and 30 Rock will likely yield more clever laughs, but Carell and Fey together make a great couple, and if someone wanted to revive Nick & Nora, here you go.

Stay for the outtakes, too.

Side note: The movie gets a gag or two out of how blind Claire is without her glasses. Then she goes through the rest of the movie just fine without them. Did I miss a scene where she put in contacts?

The Gathering Storm - Book Review

Book 12 in the Wheel of Time series
by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

I started reading this series around 1996. Book 7 (A Crown of Swords) had just come out and by the time I made it through the series, it would be over. Heh heh.

So around October, when I saw that Book 12 was about to hit, and that Sanderson had promised Book 13 would hit November 2010 and Book 14, the final installment, would hit November 2011, I figured I could reread the whole series and be okay with the wait.

The frustrations I had with Books 7-10 went away doing the rereads. The frustrations were mainly with waiting over two years and then reading a 700-page book where not a lot happens. A lot does happen, but it's more strategy and intrigue, and there are so many characters by now that may of them get short-changed. Book 11, Knife of Dreams, had more action, and we've been set up nicely for the promise of Book 12 since 2005.

Book 12 was everything I hoped it would be.

Spoilers ahead.

Certain storylines reach their conclusions. I was glad to see Faile kill Masema right off the bat. The madman's been creating havoc for too long. I really enjoyed the showdown with Elaida and Egwene. I enjoyed the Semirhage breaking, rescue, and balefiring, and it was cool to see Moridin's plan of betraying his Chosen all to make Rand harder and therefore crazier. I liked seeing the ruthless way Rand outsmarted Graendal, even if we didn't get one last scene from her POV. I liked Rand standing up to Cadsuane for failing him and seeing her reeling for once. I loved reintroducing Tam into the main plot, and Tam calling out Cadsuane.

Cadsuane was a character I hated the first time she was introduced. In many ways she epitomized what I dislike about the entire Aes Sedai structure and mindset. Pride, pride, pride, and treating everyone around them like fools who should bend to their will. Rereading this time, I just pictured her as really old, with Mary Wickes' voice, and she was easier to read. I still get satisfaction every time she's knocked down a peg and she's one I hope dies or gets her come-uppance somehow. Rand's exiling her was satisfying, but she still bullies everyone around her.

Nynaeve is a character that bothered me early on, but she's really grown on me. She's never mastered the Aes Sedai art of keeping her emotions in check, and the deeper into the series, the more I appreciate it. She's had her humbling events, from apologizing to Mat, to Moghedien going after her, to realizing she's the Aes Sedai Rand trusts most, to letting her husband go off to what will likely be his death, to being stuck with Cadsuane.

After all the court politics in Book 11, I did not miss Elayne, although I do miss her Warder Birgitte and Mat getting drunk together. With everything going in Book 12, I'm okay with putting her story on hold so we can delve into these others.

I was glad to see Tuon back among her people. It's solidifying my theory that Mat is going to wipe out the Seanchan race. It's prophesied he will lose half the light of the world to save it. We know from one of Min's viewings he's going to lose an eye, but I think his impact is going to be about as big as Rand's once it's done. Looking forward to Mat and Thom rescuing Moiraine. And I'm looking forward to Moiraine confronting Cadsuane. I kinda liked the poetic justice of Elaida being captured as a damane, but it's such an evil part of Seanchan culture that I'm still hoping they get wiped out.

I loved the revelation of what Verin's been up to all this time. Can't wait to see what her letter to Mat said. Loved the exposure of the Black Ajah and the execution of Sheriam, although I felt sorry for her in the end.

I'm glad they brought Hurin back, who was such a big part of Book 2, even if it was just for a page or two to illustrate just how dark Rand had become.

I liked Min having the awkward conversation of trying to get to know Aviendha. It's probably between Min and Faile who my favorite female character is, and it's probably not a coincidence that neither of them can channel.

We only have two books to go, and I'm hoping among other things we get to see:

-- Logain have some kick-butt scenes where he achieves the glory Min keeps seeing.
-- A satisfying end for Padan Fain. I keep wondering if his insanity is going to backfire on the Dark One, the way Trashcan Man ultimately screwed Flagg's plans in The Stand.
-- Egwene as Amyrlin realizing and teaching that the Aes Sedai can't keep pushing everyone around. She made some progress among the eyebrow-archers in Book 12.
-- Just desserts for Demandred, Mesaana, Moghedien, Moridin, Cyndane, and Aran'gar, the only living Forsaken left.
-- Mat and Thom rescue Moiraine in Book 13, so she has plenty of time to do what she needs to in Book 14.
-- Min get some enjoyable Rand time, now that he's learned to laugh again. And Aviendha, now that she's a Wise One.
-- Some good Galad scenes. I liked it when he killed Valda. Bring on more Galad! And have him hook up with Leane.
-- The Empress formerly known as Tuon realizing just how bad the repercussions are going to be for sanctioning an attack on the White Tower. And one scene where she realizes she loves Mat.
-- Most of the couples living happily ever after. I get the feeling Lan's going to die and then Nynaeve's going to martyr herself, but Perrin & Faile, Egwene & Gawyn, Suian & Bryne, Thom & Moiraine, and Rand & the three women. Hm, Mat may be toast as well... or he could hook up with Birgitte.
-- A little better explanation why the Creator is absent but the Dark One's allowed to wreak havoc.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TV Viewing Audiences

Turns out that while Broadcast TV audiences have been shrinking, TV viewing in general has not gone down.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Brothers - DVD Review


Starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Clifton Collins Jr., Jenny Wade, Patrick Flueger, Ethan Suplee and Carey Mulligan.
Directed by Jim Sheridan.

For every five war movies that come along to make the US worse than Saddam or the Taliban, one comes along that just deals with the war. This is one such movie, and it really feels like an adaptation of a stage play.

Tobey Maguire plays against type as a dedicated soldier going back for his fourth tour in Afghanistan. His brother, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, has just got out of jail. Two different brothers from two different worlds. While in Afghanistan, Maguire is mistakenly declared dead when he's actually been kidnapped by terrorists.

Back home, the other brother comforts the grieving widow (Natalie Portman) and her two daughters, and they grow close. Meanwhile Maguire is subjected to all the horrors of being a prisoner of terrorists.

Maguire makes it back home halfway through the movie, and it really then becomes a study of PTSD. How can he be a normal person again after what he went through? It's an acting showcase for Maguire, although I was more impressed by Gyllenhaal's subtle supporting work.

Side note: Jim Sheridan has proven between this and In America that he is the absolute best director at getting natural performances out of little girls, even when some of their lines are impossible.

Second side note: Mare Winningham is old enough to be Tobey Maguire's mother?! She was 16 when he was born.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Informant! - DVD Review


Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Tom Papa, Clancy Brown, Tony Hale and Ann Cusack.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Matt Damon has a heck of a fun time as the title character. I imagine when ADM learned this movie was being made, about the whistle-blower on their international price-gouging scheme, this was not the type of movie they were expecting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Product Placement in Films Increasing

I thought it was bad when I saw Austin Powers in Goldmember, but apparently it's going to get worse.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Clash of the Titans - Movie Review


Starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen, Alexa Davalos, Jason Flemyng, Pete Postlethwaite, Polly Walker, Hans Matheson and Liam Cunningham.
Directed by Louis Leterrier.

First I'll address the 3-D. This movie was not filmed for 3-D, and whatever process they applied afterwards, it didn't work. It was dark, it wasn't textured right, it just looked messy, almost as bad as the old 3-D with one blue lense and one red lense. I came out wishing I'd just seen it in 2-D.

In fact, there were previews for two movies that WERE filmed in 3-D, and neither of them looked good. Piranha 3-D looks bad, where you can barely tell what the fish look like, and Step Up 3-D just looks cheesy. Does anyone have a pressing need to see dancing in 3-D? I'll just wait for the next season of America's Best Dance Crew.

Okay, back to the movie. I've seen the 1981 version at least three times, so my experience was going to be colored by that. Let me address the gods next. Liam Neeson was a fine Zeus. Can't top Laurence Olivier's, but this Zeus is different. He draws his powers from man's prayers. He's a little more Yahweh than the lecherous Zeus from actual Greek mythology. Hades, meanwhile, draws his power from man's fears. He proposes to Zeus to let him unleash some havoc on the world to humble man, and Zeus agrees. There are other gods up there, but they might as well not be there. It's the Zeus & Hades show. Why cast Danny Huston as Poseidon if he's only going to have one line? I remember interaction with Hera, Aphrodite and Thetis in the original, but I'm pretty sure only one goddess has one line here.

Meanwhile on Earth, Perseus, son of Zeus, grew up not knowing his demi-god status. An angry Hades kills Perseus's family, collateral damage when he's actually killing soldiers who dared cut down a statue of Zeus.

The movie still retains many of the trappings that made the first one fun. Medusa still has the lower body of a giant serpent. Humans are still figures on Olympus to be moved around the board. The giant scorpions are there, the Kraken is ten times bigger and with slashing tentacles, and even Bubo the mechanical owl makes a cameo. I loved that Polly Walker of HBO's Rome was cast as Cassiopeia, even if her role is brief.

One dynamic I did not like was Perseus's stubborn refusal to use the gifts Zeus would send to help him on his way. Perseus's pride caused the deaths of many Argonaut soldiers, and I was waiting for Draco, leader of the Argonauts, to slap some sense into Perseus.

If you haven't seen the original, maybe you'll get some enjoyment out of it, and for those, I recommend saving yourself some money and going the 2-D route.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Armored - DVD Review


Starring Matt Dillon, Columbus Short, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, Skeet Ulrich, Fred Ward and Milo Ventimiglia.
Directed by Nimrod Antel.

A pet peeve of mine is when the lurching forward of the plot requires some main characters to be really, really stupid. Now I can accept first-time criminals being stupid on their first attempt, but there are so many lapses in judgment and observation that I couldn't suspend my disbelief. It plays like a very-watered-down, dumbed down Reservoir Dogs.

A group of six armored-truck drivers decide to rob their own truck and claim they were jacked. But as they unload the money in an abandoned warehouse (of course), a homeless man sees them. When they argue about what to do, one of them just shoots the guy. That crosses the line for the Iraq War vet (Columbus Short) of the bunch, who locks himself in one of the trucks and hopes to stay secure until cops or help can arrive.

That set-up gets us to the 45-minute mark, and with all that time, it doesn't really do much to establish characterization. It relies on the recognizable faces to carry the day I guess. But while the other five guards have the armored truck surrounded, they never notice the two or three times he sneaks out. Every time he sets up a distraction, the guards stare at it until it's too late to stop him.

Closing credits start at the 83-minute mark.
I'm not going to complain it was too short.