Saturday, May 31, 2008

SEX IS FUN

SEX AND THE CITY was a fun movie. It was exactly what I expected it to be for the most part, but certainly better than you'd imagine given some of the nastier (and quite sexist) reviews from the nation's "critics." If you were a fan of the show, there's pretty much no way that you won't be satisfied with the movie. And if the reaction from our sold out crowd is any indication, word of mouth on this chick-flick will be HUGE. It opened to roughly $26 million yesterday, so an opening in the high 60's for the weekend is expected. And good for all involved. Writer/director Michael Patrick King delivered precisely the kind of entertainment that a fan of the original show could ever want. And even at two hours and twenty minutes, the movie breezed by with no lagging. My full review will be posted soon but I will say that I enjoyed it, I laughed, and my fiancee is ready to get back in line to see it again.

Friday, May 30, 2008

INTRIGUING POSTER


MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Tomorrow is SEX AND THE CITY. My fiancee is beyond excited. As I was a fan of the show when it aired on HBO, I'm looking forward to it as well. Early word is that box office receipts for opening day are through-the-f'ing-roof. Reviews have been mixed overall but it sounds like if you enjoyed the show you'll enjoy the flick.

Sunday I am planning on seeing THE FALL, from the filmmaker Tarsem (THE CELL). It's only playing in select cities at the moment, and I doubt that it will ever get a wide release. The film looks amazing (judging from its trailer) and sounds extremely interesting. A link to Roger Ebert's four star review can be found here:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/articleAID=/20080529/REVIEWS/805290301

Thursday, May 29, 2008

HACK RATNER ABOUT TO MESS UP COP


Variety is reporting that producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (TRANSFORMERS 1 & 2 and next summer's big-budget G.I. JOE movie) is bringing back Axel Foley for another BEVERLY HILLS COP film. Apparently, ultra-hack Brett Ratner (X-MEN 3, RUSH HOUR 1-3), is in negotiations to direct (nooooo!). Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the first two installments of the lucrative franchise, is not working on the new film. He wasn't involved either with the John Landis-directed COP 3, which was pretty much a fiasco. No writer is aboard the project yet according to Variety.

In theory, I am not opposed to another COP movie. But it would have to be rated R and it would have to be directed by someone other than Hackner...sorry...I mean Ratner. This guy epitomizes soulless action movie-making and all he'll do is bring his mediocrity with him to this franchise, just as he did with Hannibal Lectre in RED DRAGON and the mutants in X-MEN 3. They should have re-enlisted Bruckheimer, gone R-rated, and hired Tony Scott to direct. Axel Foley can't get neutered like the way John McClane was de-balled in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, which was pretty much feces on film. I want to root for this project but in it's current state, I'd say that the chance for success with this one is slim to none.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MINI REVIEW: RECOUNT (****)

Love him or hate him, there's no denying that our current President, George W. Bush, stole the 2000 election, from Al Gore. You're delusional if you don't think this is true, and if you can't accept this fact, then don't bother reading this review or seeking out the excellent new HBO film RECOUNT (****). Directed by Jay Roach (MEET THE PARENTS, AUSTIN POWERS) and written by newcomer Danny Strong, RECOUNT is an endlessly fascinating and often hilarious look at the back-stage wrangling and maneuvering that went on in the Bush and Gore camps during the Florida recount back in 2000. The film has a phenomenal ensemble cast, led by Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Denis Leary, Bob Balaban, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Ed Begley, Jr., John Hurt, Laura Dern, and just about every single character-actor or "face" (as my father likes to call them) that are working in Hollywood. Strong's apolitical script lays the facts out, much in the vein of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and ZODIAC. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are given equal screen time and both are shown for what they are: two passionate political parties that wanted their candidate to win. It's just that the trickery and deceit practiced by Team Bush and his cronies in Florida is despicable to the point of nausea. I don't consider myself a very political person (I have voted once in my life, for Kerry) and this year's onslaught of Presidential politics leading up to the November election has left me tired and numb to all of the stories (good and bad) about our current Presidential choices. Nobody has said or done anything that I feel is truly remarkable or life-changing so I am not really sure where my next vote will land. But one thing I do know: Bush is a liar and a cheat and he's acted like this on more than one occasion. RECOUNT, in sobering, detailed fashion, makes it perfectly clear what really went down in Florida roughly eight years ago, and it's appalling that an injustice like that could actually transpire in this day and age in America. Again, I applaud the filmmakers for not making RECOUNT into some sort of liberal fantasy or anti-Bush propaganda piece. RECOUNT is a work of investigative journalism (similar to THE INSIDER) posing as cinematic entertainment, and it succeeds on many levels. The choice of Roach as director is a little curious; he's a big-budget comedy guy who has never once stepped out of his wheel house. And granted, Strong's script is so damn sharp that anybody could have pointed a camera and just shot the footage. It's the swift pace, satirical tone, and comedic ease that the film possesses that can be traced back to Roach, who stepped in for the recently deceased Sydney Pollack as director. Spacey, in a performance that could be considered a "comeback" of sorts, is tough as nails and extremely captivating as Ron Klain, Gore's head campaign strategist. He's met with equal vigor by Wilkinson, who portrays Bush team leader James Baker with just the right amount of intelligence and shiftiness. Leary gets some great foul-mouthed lines of dialogue as Michael Wouley, another Gore staffer. There isn't a bum performance in the entire lot. It's too bad that American audiences, by and large, have shunned any sort of entertainment that depicts current politics. Had RECOUNT gone to the big screen, it probably would have bombed. People can't be bothered to learn while they're being entertained. They can't seem (or don't want) to make room for the possibility that knowledge and entertainment can co-exist. Thank God for HBO. They still seem to want to explore our current societal landscape and provide thought provoking works of entertainment. RECOUNT is one of the best films I've seen this year.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

MINI REVIEW: BROTHERS (***1/2)

BROTHERS (***1/2), the 2004 film from director Susanne Bier (AFTER THE WEDDING, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE), is another dramatically powerful story from the filmmaker. It's a dark film that explores tough themes and while it wasn't as uplifting as Bier's other films that I've seen, it's still certainly worth watching. Utilizing an almost exclusive hand-held shooting style and mostly eschewing a traditional musical score, BROTHERS tells the devastating story about how the lives of two brothers are changed when one is sent off to war. Again getting tremendous performances from her actors, the film stars Ulrich Thomsen as Michael, a married soldier who receives orders that he'll be shipping out to Afghanistan. His wife, Sarah (Connie Nielsen), is obviously scared and upset that her husband will be taking off for war; their children are too young to truly understand what's going on around them. Michael tells his sloppy brother, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), to keep an eye on Sarah and their kids while he's gone, and to look after them if he doesn't make it back from battle. Not long after his deployment, Michael's helicopter is shot down and he's presumed dead. Sarah is visited by some military-types who tell her and Jannik that Michael has been killed in action. However, Michael is not dead; he's been injured and taken captive by terrorists. It's what happens during his POW-experience that changes him forever. Meanwhile, Jannik and Sarah develop an interesting bond now that they think Michael is dead. And without spoiling anything, I will say that the way Bier casually subverts your expectations of what might happen in a story like this is just one of the many reasons that BROTHERS is an excellent movie. Michael comes home, but he's a changed person, and not for the better. Something terrible happened when he was being held as a prisoner, and it has psychological ramifications that nobody knows how to deal with, least of which Michael. BROTHERS is Bier's darkest and angriest film yet (or that I've seen) and it was interesting to see how she avoided some of the inherent sentimentality that a story like this possesses. Again, the acting, especially that of Thomsen, was superb, and the writing was honest, clear, and focused. The relationship between Jannik and Sarah was complex without becoming trite, and the film really explodes during its last section. This is a commanding film from Bier, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite current filmmakers.

TOP 12 OF 2008

David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Jay Roach’s RECOUNT (****)
Steven Spielberg’s INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (***1/2)
Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN (***1/2)
Adam Brooks’ DEFINITELY, MAYBE (***1/2)
Nick Stoller’s FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (***)
Kent Alterman’s SEMI-PRO (**1/2)

Monday, May 26, 2008

TWO TV MOVIES & TWO PILOTS

HBO's RECOUNT was phenomenal; one of the best movies I've seen all year.

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, an A&E movie produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, was just OK.

The CBS pilot THE EX-LIST was very stupid.

The CBS pilot 11th HOUR, from exec producer Jerry Bruckheimer, was competent but unspectacular. It's basically CSI with a science twist.

A full review for RECOUNT will be up soon.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

SUSANNE BIER IS A HELLUVA FILMMAKER


Just finished watching BROTHERS, a film by Susanne Bier (AFTER THE WEDDING, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE). It's excellent; she's really one of the best storytellers working right now. My full review will be up soon, but it's another deeply dramatic and heartfelt character study that while not being as uplifting as her other films, still is worth seeing. Very tough subject matter at times. Great performances. It will be interesting to see how good the upcoming remake will be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

**SPOILERS** INDY IS BACK...**SPOLIERS**

And I loved it. My full review will be posted soon (with many spoilers so don't read if you haven't seen the film yet), but I will say that while not perfect, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL did the precise thing I wanted it to: make me smile and have fun.

**Note: do not read the comments to this entry if you don't want the movie spoiled.**

Thursday, May 22, 2008

PILOT REVIEW: FRINGE (**1/2)

I expected more from FRINGE (**1/2), the latest big-budget TV series from LOST and ALIAS mastermind J.J. Abrams, who developed the series and wrote the pilot script with TRANSFORMERS writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for FOX. Directed by TV vet Alex Graves (THE NINE, WEST WING, SPORTS NIGHT, JOURNEYMAN), this extended episode (82 minutes) felt less like a true pilot and more of a middle-of-the-season-episode. The series revolves around a cute, blonde FBI agent named Olivia (Anna Torv) who is forced to work with a supposedly insane scientist named Bishop (John Noble) and his genius son Peter (Joshua Jackson) in order to solve weird and strange crimes that go beyond the normal call of duty. Basically, it's a new attempt at an X-FILES-ish type procedural with a paranomal twist. It's just that most of it felt stale and tired. The opening 10 minutes were the best. A plane full of people are going through a severe electical storm at 35,000 feet. One of the passengers looks extremely sick and starts moving around the shaking plane cabin. All of a sudden, his skin begins melting right off his body and before long, he's infected everyone on the plane; everyone is melting and falling apart. It's all fairly gross and pretty exciting. Thanks to the plane's newly installed "automatic landing system," the plane lands in Boston and the Feds are called in. What happened? Was it bio-terrorism? Or something else? It's a nice set-up but sadly, the show went nowhere exciting. There is a late-in-the-episode twist and one or two surprises along the way but most of FRINGE felt routine and pedestrian. The dialogue is average and the pacing was a bit lethargic; they should cut this down to a brisk hour instead of running it as a "two-hour special event," as FOX will no doubt bill it as. There was a nice, movie-style car-flip during a climactic chase which was nice to see in a television show. And the "super-titles" that tell the viewer where the action is taking place (i.e. Boston, MA or airport or stock yard) are extremely stylish. It adds nothing to the story but they are cool to look at nonetheless. But you never really got to know the characters so you're rooting for them out of the normal desire to root for the heroes. And on TV, it's all about the characters. Sadly, these people are no Mulder and Scully. Far from it. Also, it must be pointed out that the show's creators totally stole a major plot device from the movie THE CELL for FRINGE; if you've seen THE CELL you will laugh out loud when a certain plot device is introduced in FRINGE. CBS has a similarily themed show coming out this fall called 11th HOUR, which was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and based on a hit British show about paranormal investigations. Hopefully that one turns out better than FRINGE did. I might check out the second and third episodes of FRINGE later this fall, but it's off my radar as "appointment TV."

RANDOM BITS

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL opened in theaters today. It's so cool just saying that. It's been met with generally positive critical notices (81% overall at Rottentomatoes with a 66% cream of the crop rating). But honestly -- reviews schmeviews on this one. I could care-fucking-less what critics have to say about the latest Indiana Jones adventure. I loved, loved, loved all three of the previous films without any reservations. They're all action-adventure masterpieces as far as I'm concerned. I will be seeing INDY 4 this weekend and I can't wait to report back with my thoughts.

Jake Gyllenhaal has climbed aboard Jerry Bruckheimer's mega-budget PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, a LOTR-type fantasy actioner which is based on a popular video game series. Mike Newell, a director with an eclectic resume (DONNIE BRASCO, HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE, PUSHING TIN), is helming from a script by the team of Jordan Mechner (the game's creator) and Jeffrey Nachmanoff (THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW). However, knowing what I know about the Bruck, there have been (and will be) tons of rewrites with everyone in town taking a stab and getting some dollars. Future Bond-girl Gemma Arterton is also starring as Gyllenhaal's love interest. The film has something to do with a prince who has to fight some bad guys with his sword and rescue a princess and blah-blah-blah. To be honest, these type of fantasy action flicks (LOTS, NARNIA, ERAGON, etc) don't do anything for me. I am a big fan of Bruckheimer so hopefully this is closer to the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise than that of the Hobbits.

Richard Dreyfuss, who's friends probably get to call him "Dick," has signed on to play another Dick of sorts -- Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's upcoming George Bush biopic W. He joins Josh Brolin (Bush), Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush), Ioan Gruffudd (Tony Blair), Thandie Newton (Condoleeza Rice), Rob Corddry (Ari Fleischer), Scott Glenn (Donald Rumsfeld), Ellen Burstyn (Barbara Bush), George Comwell (George Bush Sr.), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell), and Toby Jones (Karl Rove). That's ONE HELLUVA CAST. I have been a massive Oliver Stone fan for years so I am eagerly anticipating this film. Stone co-wrote the script with his WALL STREET co-scenarist Stanley Weiser. The great Phedon Papamichael is the cinematographer; he shot 3:10 TO YUMA, WALK THE LINE, THE WEATHER MAN, and SIDEWAYS.

The Cannes Film Festival has been happening this past week and lots of big news is coming out of the screenings. Steven Soderbergh screened a 4 hour 20 minute cut of his film CHE, which stars Benicio Del Toro as the Cuban revolutionary. Apparently, CHE is really two different films; one called GUERILLA once called THE ARGENTINE. The original plan was to release the two films separately. Critical reaction has been wildly mixed; some are calling it a masterpiece and others have been panning it. From what I have read, it sounds like Soderbergh has made a deliberately non-commercial and non-traditional biopic in a Terrence Malick-esque style. Personally, I can't wait to see this film(s) whenever they get released. Also recently screened at Cannes was the latest from Clint Eastwood -- CHANGELING. It's a kidnapped-child drama starring Angelina Jolie and taking place in Los Angeles during the 1920's. Reviews have been ecstatic, with many predicting that the film could win best picture and/or best director. Jolie has also received strong reviews for her performance. Todd McCarthy, the lead critic at Variety, said that CHANGELING is in the same class as other L.A. crime noirs as CHINATOWN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. That's very, very promising...

There's a slick and spiffy new teaser trailer out for EAGLE EYE, a big-budget political action thriller from director DJ Caruso (DISTURBIA) and starring Shia LeBeouf, Billy Bob Thorton, and Michelle Monaghan. Here's the link: http://www.eagleeyemovie.com/

Christian Bale has signed up for three new TERMINATOR movies; he'll be playing the role of John Connor. Production on the first film has begun and it's slated for release next year. McG (CHARLIE'S ANGELS) is directing from a script by John Brancato and Mike Ferris (TERMINATOR 3, David Fincher's THE GAME). I detest the fact that the producers have wimped out and softened this R-rated franchise with PG-13 ratings for each of the new films. I love Bale but I am personally shocked that he's agreed to do another franchise (he is Batman, after all). But they probably dangled a hefty pay check in front of his face...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I LIKE BOTH OF THESE POSTERS




FIRST PHOTO: THE ROAD


While reading some stuff over at http://www.joblo.com/ I followed a link to http://www.rowthree.com/?s=The+Road which had the first shot (above) from John Hillcoat's THE ROAD, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Hillcoat, who previously directed the unflinchingly dark and completely brilliant Australian western THE PROPOSITION, is a surpremely talented director and I'm very excited for this new film. THE PROPOSITION is a true ass-kicker of a movie, and the story of THE ROAD, one of a post-apocalyptic future with a father and son on the run from deranged mutants, is loaded with potential. Add to that the casting of Viggo Mortensen (above), Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce and the film is looking even better. Joe Penall, who wrote the diabolical screenplay for ENDURING LOVE, is credited with the adaptation. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who both collaborated on the musical scores to THE PROPOSITION and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, are composing the music. THE ROAD is scheduled for release on November 26, 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

GERMAN POSTER: THE HAPPENING


I am hearing a lot of mixed buzz on M. Night's latest, THE HAPPENING, which hits theaters on Friday, June 13th (ha-ha). This is the first M. Night thriller to get an R-rating. I've been a fan ever since THE SIXTH SENSE. My favorite film of his is still UNBREAKABLE. I liked SIGNS a lot as well. THE VILLAGE was clever but flawed. LADY IN THE WATER was one of the worst movies I've seen this decade (possibly ever). I'm hoping that THE HAPPENING is a nasty thriller that delivers the goods...we'll see...but I do like this German poster quite a bit.


J.J. ABRAMS STRIKES AGAIN

RANDOM BITS

Last night I watched Martin Scorsese's masterwork THE AVIATOR (****) for probably the 10th time; that film is exceptional. I love it. Every second of it. My fiancee had never seen it, and we had just gotten back from the Hearst Castle (looks like Hughes made a few appearances up there), so we were in a California/nostalgic mood. She loved the film. I find it to be such a fascinating and entertaining movie that the long run time (close to three hours) never bothers me. Robert Richardson's cinematography is exquisite, the production design is phenomenal, and Leo Di Caprio was terrific as Howard Hughes. Great dialogue from John Logan as well.

Here's a link to the hysterical red-band (R-rated) trailer for Ben Stiller's upcoming action-comedy TROPIC THUNDER: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/tropicthunder/ This film looks priceless...

INDY 4 screened at Cannes yesterday and all over the Paramount lot yesterday for critics/journalists and the early word is very positive...not that I expected anything less from Spielberg and Ford. I am so excited to see INDY 4 this weekend that it's bordering on a joke at this point...

It looks like writer/director Noah Baumbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING) has enlisted the super-cute Amy Adams (ENCHANTED) and one of my favorite actors, Mark Ruffalo (ZODIAC, RESERVATION ROAD), in his latest comedy. It's being described as a "dysfunctional romantic comedy." I'd expect nothing less at this point from Baumbach. I loved, loved, loved THE SQUID AND THE WHALE but MARGOT AT THE WEDDING was a little disappointing. Hopefully he rebounds with a great new flick.

Here's a link to the first teaser for Baz Luhrman's mega-budget historical drama AUSTRALIA, which stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, and is set for release this November:
http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/australia/ I think it looks pretty awesome, with some stunning on-location cinematography.

Variety is reporting that producer Mark Gordon (10,000 BC) is mounting a new epic called OLYMPIA, which has been written by Robert Rodat (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) and Gavin Hood (TSOTSI, RENDITION, X-MEN: WOLVERINE). The film is being described as: "set against the backdrop of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece as war waged between Athens and Sparta." Asger Leth (GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL) is attached to direct. Could be very cool...

Screenwriter David Franzoni (GLADIATOR) is working on a new Blackbeard/pirate epic for Dreamworks. No director is attached yet. Franzoni is a cool dude and an excellent historical writer. I met him when I was working for Jerry Bruckheimer Films and I'll always remember how nice he was to me every time I went up to his ridiculously beautiful Malibu mansion to pick up the latest drafts of KING ARTHUR, which was one of many Bruckheimer films he helped create, and was pretty underrated in my honest opinion. Love that battle on the cracking frozen lake.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

THE BRIEFEST OF REVIEWS: HITMAN (*)

My friend is a teacher, and he once described one of his students as being "MMR," which in lay-person's terms means "mildly mentally retarded." That's how I'd describe the screenplay, written by Skip Woods (SWORDFISH), for director Xavier Gens' action film HITMAN (*), which unsurprisingly, was based on a video game. This film (and I use the term "film" loosely) is so beyond stupid, so inanely plotted, and so carelessly thought out, that I lasted only 60 minutes before watching the rest on fast forward. The only redeeming aspect of the entire production is the fact that future Bond girl Olga Kurylenko got fully naked on numerous occasions. That was nice to see. However, beyond that and a handful of stylish action-movie money-shots, HITMAN is running on empty. The film has something to do with an bar-code tattooed assassin (a woefully miscast Timothy Olyphant, a long way from DEADWOOD) who has been trained to kill since birth. Some Interpol agent (Dougray Scott) is trying to track him down for some unknown reason. And other assassins are after Olyphant as well for underdeveloped reasons. After about ten minutes I thought the opening reel was missing. Nothing is explained, the movie is on autopilot right from the beginning, and there is no attempt at even creating a coherent narrative. Sure, individual shots are nice looking and there is a Euro-trash sexiness that permeates the picture. Gens, a heavily-hyped French genre specialist who's extreme horror movie FRONTIER(S) made a splash last year at film festivals (haven't seen it yet), demonstrates zero ability at creating a sustained pace or tone. The action scenes are absurdly violent and while I applaud the idea of making a hard-core R-rated action film complete with blood-filled squibbs and outlandish fight sequences, you have to care about the characters and HITMAN never even gives you the chance. This is a dumb, dumb movie that I rented from Netflix hoping for a quick, fun blast of visceral action excitement. Avoid this clunker at all costs.

THE JOKER



I have a feeling THE DARK KNIGHT is going to be a masterwork.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

MINI REVIEW: AFTER THE WEDDING (****)

Susanne Bier's powerful film AFTER THE WEDDING (****) now cements her in my mind as one of the major filmmakers currently working. This is only the second film by her that I have seen (the other being last year's fantastic drama THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE) but I know talent when I see it, and Bier's got a ton of it. After finishing AFTER THE WEDDING, I added the rest of her available filmography into my Netflix queue; I can't wait to see what else she's done. AFTER THE WEDDING, which was technically considered a 2006 release but actually made it to U.S. movie screens in March of 2007, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007 and I'm not surprised. It's a brilliant, funny, sad, and ultimately touching domestic drama that is frequently unpredictable and overwhelmingly honest in its emotions. The sneaky narrative sometimes makes you feel like the film is about to fly off the rails but it never does. By the end of the film, the script's complexities completely reveal themselves and it's then that you realize how deep the film has cut. Sometimes the phrase "melodrama" can suggest that a film is sappy or cliche, and while the beats and plot points of AFTER THE WEDDING might be considered "melodramatic," the film never teeters over the edge into cheesy sentimentality, which it could have in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. In fact, the way that Bier upends your expectations and toys with the cliches of the "domestic drama" genre is one of the big reasons why AFTER THE WEDDING ends up in the realm of masterpiece.

Working with co-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, Bier's story pivots on a Danish man named Jacob (the great Mads Mikkelsen), who's working in India at a children's orphanage that's desperately in need of financial help. He receives word from Denmark (he hasn't been back in almost 20 years) that a billionaire businessman named Jorgen (Rolf Laasgard, in a tour de force performance) is interested in donating a sizable sum of money to Jacob's orphanage. Jacob heads back to his homeland and meets with Jorgen, showing him a video of how poor the kids are in India. Jorgen seems like he's ready to commit to helping, but he tells Jacob that he needs some more time to figure out if the orphanage is the charitable cause that he'd like to help. Jorgen then unexpectedly invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding, which is set to happen the very next day. Jacob reluctantly accepts the invite and the next day, shows up at Jorgen's palatial estate for the ceremony. Once there, Jacob recognizes a pretty woman named Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen, very strong), who happens to be married to Jorgen. And, as the title suggests, some interesting things occur after the wedding. From here, I am hesitant to divulge any more plot information. AFTER THE WEDDING constantly surprised me with the direction of its story and I could never have predicted how it would all turn out, even though the pieces were right in front of me.

Bier and Jensen's tight script packs twist after twist and reveal after reveal into a neatly coiled chain of events. Bier's eclectic directorial style, replete with extreme close-ups and shots that linger for an extra second or two, amps up the tension; the hand-held cinematography by lenser Morten Soborg really brings the viewer into the film, allowing you to get as close to the characters as possible. The film has a ragged yet beautiful visual design, complemented by a beautifully subtle musical score by the composer Johan Soderqvist and lush production design by Soren Skjaer, especially during the scenes in India. All of the performances are, in a word, remarkable. Mikkelsen is glum but compassionate, and a very interesting choice for the main character (he and Bier have worked together in the past). There is a tender, quiet quality that he exudes that isn't normally seen in the work of most Hollywood superstars. As I mentioned earlier, Laasgard, who is the film's trickiest character, is extraordinary; his ability to have you loving and hating him at the same time is a testament not only to the carefully layered writing but to Laasgard's sensitive depiction of a man in the middle of a serious personal crisis. AFTER THE WEDDING builds an impressive head of steam as it patiently moves towards its emotionally shattering conclusion. By the time that all of the plot threads have worked themselves out, there will be no way that you haven't been emotionally moved by the proceedings. This is a great film, and I look forward to catching up with the rest of Bier's work.

CANNES TEASER POSTER



Just saw this up at www.joblo.com Still blown away that Herzog is doing a remake of BAD LIEUTENANT. In any event, here's the teaser/announcement poster. Looks appropriately gritty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FIGHTING ROBOTS IN...


3-D. That's right. Michael Bay has announced that TRANSFORMERS 2 is planning on being released not only in standard formats next summer, but also in the 3-D format. One would presume that an IMAX 3-D release is in the cards as well.
This will be just utterly insane.

BRUCKHEIMER INVADING IRAN

Variety just posted an article about a new David Ignatius novel called THE INCREMENT that Jerry Bruckheimer has just bought. It's being described as "a geopolitical thriller," which will be published by WW Norton next year. Apparently, the title "refers to a shadowy, elite group of British undercover intelligence operatives who are conscripted by a CIA agent to help a weapons scientist defect from Iran." Sounds very cool. What's even better is that insiders claim that the novel is "very dark" and involves an invasion of Iran. Ignatius, who is a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote the 2007 novel BODY OF LIES, which was recently adapted by William Monahan (THE DEPARTED). Ridley Scott just finished directing the thriller, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Warner Brothers releases the film this October. I wonder what the tone of this film will be? Bruckheimer is known more for his bombastic, over-the-top style. Will this be more like THE ROCK or BLACK HAWK DOWN? ENEMY OF THE STATE, another political thriller that he produced back in 1998, was a nifty political potboiler as well. No screenwriter has been signed to adapt the novel and no director is attached yet either. This project has some serious potential.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

HERZOG DOING A REMAKE?

I am just blown away by this news. Floored to be honest. Variety is reporting that crazy filmmaker Werner Herzog (GRIZZLY MAN, AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD) is remaking Abel Ferrara's masterpiece BAD LIEUTENANT with Nic Cage taking over the role made famous by Harvey Keitel in the original film. Here's Variety's story:

"Nicolas Cage will star in an updated version of 1992's "Bad Lieutenant" with Werner Herzog directing, Edward R. Pressman producing and Avi Lerner's Nu Image/Millenium Films financing. Project, also called "Bad Lieutenant," is due to be announced at Cannes. Production will start in late summer. The original pic, also produced by Pressman, starred Harvey Keitel and was directed by Abel Ferrara from a screenplay by Ferrara and Zoe Lund. That pic received an NC-17 rating with the depraved title character heavily involved in drugs, gambling, sex and stealing while a New York police officer. The new script's penned by Billy Finkelstein, a TV writer with credits on "Murder One," "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue." Stephen Belafonte, who brought Finkelstein to the project, is also producing while development was financed by producers Alan and Gabe Polsky. Along with Lerner, Nu Image/Millennium's Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short and Boaz Davidson will exec produce along with Elliot Rosenblatt, Alessandro Camon and Randall Emmet. Cage's Saturn Films is also producing. Cage is currently filming "Knowing" in Australia for director Alex Proyas. Herzog's expected to follow "The Bad Lieutenant" with "The Piano Tuner" for Focus in late 2008."


I don't know what to think about this development. Lots of mixed feelings here. I'll start by saying that I've never seen a Herzog film that I didn't think was worthy of four stars or that I didn't find interesting and/or brilliant on at least one level. The man is a genius, a specific type of genius, and simply put, there's nobody quite like him in the world of cinema. The idea of Herzog tackling a remake, especially a remake along the lines of BAD LIEUTENANT, is almost too weird for words; I didn't even know that Herzog knew what the word "remake" meant. This is about as far-removed of a project as he's ever committed too. I have complete faith that he'll turn out an excellent film, however, this is all just too strange for me to fully process at this point.
Cage, one of my all-time favorites, has been alternating between amazing performances in terrific films and horrendous performances in cheesy films throughout his entire career. His fantastic work in films such as LEAVING LAS VEGAS, ADAPTATION, MATCHSTICK MEN, LORD OF WAR, THE WEATHER MAN, THE ROCK, MOONSTRUCK, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, RAISING ARIZONA, RED ROCK WEST, FACE/OFF, WORLD TRADE CENTER, and WILD AT HEART is proof that there is an amazing artist inside of him. It's just a shame that recent performances in shitfests such as THE WICKER MAN, GHOST RIDER, and NEXT have tainted his reputation. When the material is right, there's nobody better for the role than Cage. But when he hams it up, look out -- the results are laughable. As for him stepping into Keitel's shoes, well, all I will say is that he'll have his work cut out for him. Keitel gave one of the most intense, most searing performances that I've ever seen in the original BAD LIEUTENANT.
However, one thing that is deeply troubling about this project is who is producing it. Avi Lerner, a producer based out of Europe, is one of the biggest hacks to ever get involved with the motion picture business. Seriously. Just look at his credits: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0503592/
It's more or less one piece of shit after another. This scares me, as Herzog is the sort of filmmaker who doesn't get a lot of high-profile projects thrown his way; does he view this as a strictly "gun-for-hire" project, a grab-the-cash job so that he can finance another one of his amazing documentaries? The writer attached to the project does have a nifty background writing numerous cop shows for the small-screen, so maybe the project will have some juice...or maybe not....
This could either be a grand slam or a complete swing-and-miss...only time will tell. Personally, I wanted to see THE PIANO TUNER first, but if Herzog's gotta do one picture before that one, well, I won't complain; it just means that there will be a new Herzog film out sooner than later.

Monday, May 12, 2008

RANDOM BITS

So SPEED RACER is the first big ole bomb of summer 2008; it's $20 million opening doesn't even cover half of the film's P&A (prints and advertising) budget. A major disaster. Of course, international box office will help the film and you could make the assumption that it will have some traction on DVD later this year. I know I'm skipping it in the theater but will check it out on DVD; it'll sell lots of BLU-RAY copies I am betting. IRON MAN (***1/2) finished extremely close to my $51 million second weekend prediction; the studio is saying $50.5 million. WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS made more money than it should have, and is now destined to be profitable. There are no major releases coming out till INDY 4 on 5/22 that are catching my eye; if I can, I am gonna check out Tarsem's THE FALL this weekend (on Sunday probably because I am going away this Friday and Saturday).

Over the weekend I re-watched the BACK TO THE FUTURE (****) trilogy. All three are four star films as far as I'm concerned. But what struck me this time around was how brilliant Part 2 was; I don't think there's ever been a sequel quite like it. The first one is a classic, one of my all-time favorites, and one of the best "popcorn movies" of all time. But there was a crazy, wild exuberance to the first sequel, and the film's mind-bendingly complex yet still coherent time-travel plot-lines are hysterical and incredibly ingenious. And Part 3, which took place in the old West, is just as fun as the first two but in completely different ways. I loved these films when I was a kid, and re-watching them just re-affirms my love for the work that Zemeckis, Gale, and Spielberg brought to the table with this series; it's pure movie magic.

I also watched (for the second time) Justin Lin's excellent debut film BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (***1/2). I had seen the film a few years ago but wanted to re-watch it and the local library provided me with a free way of doing so. Set in southern California among overachieving, overprivileged Asian-American high school students, the film is a stylish and occasionally dark look at the shenanigans that occur between a group of friends and how their choices leave lasting effects on their lives. The acting is strong, the directing is tight and on-target, and the writing seethes with knowledge and intelligence. Some of the plot twists might be a little over the top, but hey, just read the newspaper from time to time and you'll see real-life stories that closely emulate what happens in BETTER LUCK TOMORROW's forceful narrative. But what's strange is that the film's director, Lin, has gone on to direct one piece of Hollywood bull-shit after another; post BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (which one a handful of festival awards including a big one at Sundance) Lin has directed ANNAPOLIS (which is easily one of the lamest movies ever) and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 3 (which totally sucked). Next up is the fourth installment of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise; why is he wasting his time with dreck?

I also re-watched HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (***1/2) which is utterly hysterical. It's definitely got a retarded streak running through it (as any good stoner movie should) but some of the jokes are so pointed and so well observed that the film's more idiotic moments are balanced off with something of some weight and credibility. The lead performances from Kal Penn and John Cho are instant classics and some of the individual scenes are worth their weight in gold. I am looking forward to catching up with the sequel, which is currently in theaters (I will check it out on DVD).

Some interesting movie news is that Steven Spielberg has finally committed to directing his long gestating Abe Lincoln biopic, with Liam Neeson still attached to play honest Abe. The script is by Tony Kushner (ANGELS IN AMERICA, MUNICH). This would be the next film for The Beard after he finishes work on TINTIN. Shooting begins, tentatively, in 2009, for a 2010 release date (I bet November or December).

The Cannes Film Festival starts up at the beginning of next week; looking forward to hearing about some of the bigger titles that are debuting over there, including Charlie Kaufmann's SYNECHODE, NY; Steven Soderbergh's four-and-a-half-hour CHE; James Gray's TWO LOVERS; Fernando Meirelles' BLINDNESS; Woody Allen's VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA; Clint Eastwood's THE CHANGELING; and of course, Spielberg's INDY 4 (which is having it's world premiere).

Aint-it-cool-news has a link to the awesome looking new trailer for this summer's THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (love the title). Here's the link: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/36716

Friday, May 9, 2008

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Sadly, I'm probably not gonna get to the theaters this weekend. SPEED RACER is the big new opener, and I was never all that interested in it, and I am less interested in it now that it's been utterly destroyed by almost every critic. Currently, it's at 35% overall at Rottentomatoes, with a 27% rating from the cream of the crop. Box office is likely to be weak as well; I think it will be one of the summer's bigger underpreformers amongst the big-budget entries.

The dreadful looking rom-com WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, starring ass-clown extraordinaire Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, opens this weeked as well. To semi-quote from Tony Scott's THE FAN, I'd rather nail my penis to a burning building than watch WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS; the ads are beyond shrill and ugly looking, and I hope it completely flops with audiences as it has with critics (27% overall at Rottentomatoes with a 31% cream of the crop.) If you want a good Friday laugh, read Manohla Dargis' review at the New York Times:

http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/05/09/movies/09vega.html?ref=movies


The only film opening this weekend that holds any interest for me is David Mamet's typically well-reviewed martial-arts thriller RED BELT, which has a 69% overall rating at Rottentomatoes, with a 76% cream of the crop rating. I am a big Mamet fan and even though I have no use for MMA (mixed martial arts), I will still check out this new flick, if not in the theaters, then certainly on DVD.

From Netflix I will have HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE; I have only seen the film once and wanted to check it out again. I missed the sequel, which was released at the end of this past April, and I look forward to catching up with it on DVD in a few months.

I imagine that IRON MAN will take the box office crown once again. Here are my estimates:

1. IRON MAN $51 million
2. SPEED RACER $29 million
3. WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS $18 million
4. MADE OF HONOR $9 million
5. BABY MAMA $6 million
6. HAROLD & KUMAR 2 $4 million
7. FORGETTING SARA MARSHALL $4 million

POLISH MOVIE POSTERS

Frequent commenter "Wayne" alerted me yesterday to a phenomenal website that sells Polish movie posters. Here's the link: http://www.polishposter.com/

Below are some of my personal favorites.


Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN


John Carpenter's STARMAN


William Deer's HARRY & THE HENDERSONS


Brian De Palma's BODY DOUBLE


Tony Scott's THE HUNGER





Thursday, May 8, 2008

MINI REVIEW: P.S. I LOVE YOU (***)

P.S. I LOVE YOU (***), last December's romantic dramedy with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, was a much different (and better) film than what people were led to expect based on its trailers. The film was a success at the box office despite a fair share of negative reviews, and I think the reason for its success was due to positive word of mouth after people got a chance to see how much better this film is than many other entries in the genre. Rom-coms are a lot like action movies; you basically know what to expect at every turn but occasionally, the filmmakers up the ante a bit, and create something a little out of the ordinary when put up against the other 20 entries that year in the genre. And I almost hesitate to call P.S. I LOVE YOU a "romantic-comedy," though at times, it is romantic, and it is funny; the film is more about the grieving process and how one woman overcomes serious issues of loss and heartache with the help of her dead husband. And before you think, wait, I've seen this movie before (GHOST), there are no ghostly apparitions of any kind in this slightly flawed but nonetheless enjoyable excursion into the human heart.

Swank is Holly, a cute NYC chick with job-security issues and a playful Irish husband named Gerry (Gerard Butler, last seen cutting down evil Persians in 300). In the startling opening moments, the audience is introduced to these two characters mid-fight; it's rare that a frothy movie like this would open with such an abrasive beginning. But that was the first clue to me that the film might be better than I was expecting. After the fight and obligatory make-up-sex, we cut forward in time, to Gerry's funeral (!). It seems that off screen, Gerry developed a brain tumor, and passed away. Holly is lost; Gerry was her everything -- her first real boyfriend, the first (and only) man she slept with, and most importantly, her best friend. Her mother (Kathy Bates) and her closest friends (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon) urge her to get out and meet new people in an effort to move on. But she's not ready to move on, which is something that Gerry must've sensed before he expired. In an effort to help heal her pain, Gerry has arranged for different letters to show up for Holly, in various ways, with each one giving her something to go out and do or accomplish. True, it's a vigorously contrived way of setting up the film's plot dynamics, and some of the coincidences are far-fetched, but I bought into it. Soon enough, Holly is off to Ireland with her gal pals, hanging out with a local hunk (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan with a weak Irish accent), and getting a chance to relive her relationship with Gerry all over again. Harry Connick Jr. is also along for the ride as a bartender-friend of Holly's who secretly wishes he could be more than just her platonic buddy.

The writer/director of P.S. I LOVE YOU is Richard LaGravenese, who has some excellent writing credits under his belt (THE FISHER KING, THE REF, A LITTLE PRINCESS), and was also responsible for directing the underrated LIVING OUT LOUD and the terrific documentary A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. He's a big-money studio guy who typically infuses his work with a serious undercurrent of emotion and poignancy, two elements he brings to P.S. I LOVE YOU by the truck load. Some of the physical comedy is cheesy rather than funny, and again, the contrived nature of the narrative is at times a bit much to accept, but the appealing performances from Swank, Butler, and Connick Jr. carry the picture over the finish line. The film might be a tad too sentimental in spots and its eagerness to pluck the heart-strings is a tad obvious at times, but sometimes a movie like this can win me over and this one did for whatever reason. It doesn't transcend the genre and there aren't any huge surprises to be had. But what a film like P.S. I LOVE YOU has to offer is the reminder that a good-looking Hollywood rom-com (this one was shot by Terry Stacey, a master of the genre, who also shot IN HER SHOES and FRIENDS WITH MONEY) can also be surprisingly heartfelt, honest, and thoughtful.

SNAZZY NEW POSTERS

The Polish poster for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Very sexy looking.


A fittingly glamorous international poster for SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE.



A typically stylish poster from Taiwan for JUNO; love the burger phone getting some advertising love.

Don't know jack-shite about this film, AUGUST, but I love the poster. Very eye-catching.










Wednesday, May 7, 2008

MINI REVIEW: ILS (THEM) (***)

The French have a nasty taste for horror movies. The genre has received a shot in the arm recently from European filmmakers seemingly bent on pummeling the audience with unrelenting terror and shock-tactics. Co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud had a big hit in their home country in 2006 with ILS (THEM) (***), a scarily atmospheric home-invasion film that for roughly 75 minutes, holds the viewer in a vice-like grip of nervous energy. Since the film is barely over an hour long, characterization and back-story are kept to a bare minimum. Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) is a substitute teacher living in Bucharest with her wannabe author boyfriend, Lucas (Michael Cohen), in an old, creaky house in the middle of the woods. One night after getting ready for bed, they are rudely awakened by strange sounds and the eerie feeling that something isn't right. Sure enough and rather quickly, they realize that their house is under siege, but from who exactly? That's the neat trick that Moreau and Palud play with the audience; ILS is more about what you don't see than what you do see. It's clear that the attackers are human, but since you never get to see any of their faces, your imagination works overtime. There isn't much in the way of blood and gore, which again, forces the audience to internally visualize some of the nastier moments. And nasty moments there are aplenty. The acting from Bonamy and Cohen is solid and about what you'd expect from a film like this where dialogue and plot are kept simple in favor of extremely visceral action scenes. Axel Cosnefroy's doc-styled cinematography effectively borrows from the BLAIR WITCH hand-held aesthetic while also becoming something all it's own: an almost exclusive subjective-camera nightmare. The way that Moreau, Palud, and Cosnefroy toy with the audience in the way that each shot has been executed is perverse in its own right. Nicolas Sarkissian's razor sharp editing is also a stand out tech contribution; the pace is unrelenting. And the positively chilling denouement re-enforces the cold-blooded nature of the tale. ILS may be short on character development but it's got more than enough jolts, shocks, and scares which will have all but the most jaded of viewers pinned to their seat.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

REVIEW: IRON MAN (***1/2)


IRON MAN (***1/2), as directed by Jon Favreau (MADE, ELF, ZATHURA), is about as good as a superhero origin movie is gonna get at this point. By now, audiences have been introduced to a multitude of big-screen superheroes and crime fighters, and by and large, the first installments in any of these franchises are very similar. Introduce you to the superhero, learn a little background info on him or her, watch the character have a crisis of conscience or develop super powers, watch the superhero train with or adjust to their powers/abilities, and then conclude with some sort of climactic battle with an insane villain. The story trajectory of IRON MAN, which was written by two separate teams of writers (Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway) who's scripts were then merged together by Favreau and Marvel Comics execs, follows that rough outline but adds enough fresh juice to the proceedings to make the film soar. Favreau, a filmmaker who's interested in character first and action sequences second, here tackles his largest and most ambitious project to date, and aside from a few minor shortcomings, has provided audiences with the first blockbuster of 2008's summer movie season (the film earned roughly $103 million in its opening weekend).

IRON MAN works as well as it does primarily due to its wonderful cast of character actors getting a chance to shine in a big budget popcorn flick. The excellently smug Robert Downey Jr. gives a live-wire performance as Tony Stark, a genius, billionaire weapons manufacturer by day and booze-schwilling, womanizing playboy by night. He's got a hot assistant with a cute name (Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts), a noble best friend in the military (Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes), and a shady business partner with an ominous name (Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane). While in Afghanistan giving a demonstration to U.S. troops of his latest and greatest weapon (a missile that separates in mid-air giving way to lots and lots of mini-missiles), Stark is captured by Arab terrorists who force him to build them a weapon of mass destruction. Holed up in a cave and with the help of another scientist, Stark gets to work, but not on a weapon for the jihadists; rather, he builds a suit or armor in an effort to escape from the baddies. He's also got a heart condition to worry about. Some shrapnel has found its way into his chest, but thanks to a radically redesigned chest cavity and heart device, Stark is able to live on. After blasting his way out of captivity in a rock 'n roll flavored action sequence, Stark is rescued by U.S. troops and heads back for his compound in Malibu, CA.

Once back, he decides that he's done with weapons manufacturing; seeing his products in the hands of evil-doers has given him a change of heart (no pun intended). He hunkers down in his laboratory-basement and begins constructing a new suit of armor, one that he hopes will give him the ability to be a one-man crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, his greedy business partner Stane, has no use for the company's new moral direction; he's the kind of guy who'd sell a pistol to an eight year old for lunch money. Bridges, getting a chance to be a maniacal bad guy for the first time, rips into his role with glee. But as much fun as it was to see him in a film like this, it will forever be impossible for me to separate him from his legendary role as Jeffrey Lebowski, aka "The Dude," in the Coen brothers' masterpiece THE BIG LEBOWSKI. But I digress...back to comic-book world. Stark completes his suit or armor, and Iron Man is officially born. The scenes of Stark testing out his suit are some of the best the movie has to offer, and the child-like enthusiasm that Downey Jr. brings to the role is positively infectious. Stark/Iron Man heads back over to the middle-east to exact some patriotic terrorist ass-kickings in another one of the film's stand out set-pieces, has a wild encounter with two F-18 fighter jets, and then has a one-on-one smack down with Stane, who has created his own suit of armor that may or may not equal that of Stark's.

The script is mostly predictable but that's fine; I don't go to these types of films for award winning screenplays and ingenious plotting. However, it would have been nice to have one big surprise. Favreau isn't an action stylist in the vein of a Michael Bay or Sam Raimi just yet, and he doesn't have the directorial grace or elegance that Christopher Nolan brought to BATMAN BEGINS (which for me, is the best superhero movie ever made). But what he does have is an enthusiastic sense of the characters, Iron Man's comic mythology, and a relaxed yet stylish aesthetic which seamlessly bridges CGI and practical effects into a cohesive whole. He also clearly enjoys a great, big, old-fashioned explosion, which always puts a smile on my face; there are some huge fire-balls in this movie. The battle at the finale is a little rushed and would have been more effective had it taken place during the day, but it's still solid geeky fun to see Iron Man battling Iron Monger with sparks flying everywhere. One nifty bit glimpsed in the trailer has an occupied SUV being thrown back and forth like a basketball; how do they do this stuff?!

I do wish that there had been a better musical theme incorporated into the score; every superhero needs a rousing theme and surprisingly, Ramin Dajawadi's music is extremely forgettable. The music that Danny Elfman composed for Tim Burton's BATMAN films and Sam Raimi's first two SPIDERMAN films as well as John Williams' breathless original score to Dick Donner's SUPERMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE and Hans Zimmer and James Newtown Howard's brooding music in BATMAN BEGINS all helped solidify those pictures' dramatic intentions. Favreau turns up some AC/DC in one sequence and generally works in a rough-and-tumble fashion; he should have gone all out and given IRON MAN a kick-ass hard-rock anthem. Maybe next time.

But overall, IRON MAN works splendidly thanks to the terrific cast and the zippy pace maintained by Favreau and editor Dan Lebental, who worked with Favreau on ELF and ZATHURA. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, INSIDE MAN) doesn't over-do anything or needlessly complicate his visual palette; the film has a strong, vibrant look which comes off as a cross between the candy-colored images of the SPIDERMAN series and a little bit of the doom and gloom from the BATMAN films. But the one edgy thing that really stood out in IRON MAN was the fact that Iron Man is a superhero who actually kills the bad guys. I mean clear-cut kills people. Not apprehend them and take them to jail like Superman or subdue them and wait for the cops to grab them like Batman or Spiderman. Stark is a man who can't escape death (his bombs and weapons have been killing people and now his suit allows him the ability to take out the trash -- permanently) and that should make for juicy character shadings in the upcoming sequels. Also, in the comics, Stark's alcoholism is a major character trait/flaw that got explored and I hope that the filmmakers delve into that in the next film.

IRON MAN is the kind of smart-enough blockbuster that will satisfy people of all ages. The kiddies will love the fights, the women will love the buffed-up Downey Jr. and his lavish house, and the guys will love just about everything that the film has to offer. Well written, well produced, and well directed, IRON MAN is a great start to this new franchise. I have a feeling that the sequel, now that all of the introductions have been made, will be absolutely spectacular.

BRUCK, BAY, & COKE


Two of my favorite collaborators, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay (THE ROCK, BAD BOYS 1 & 2), are apparently in negotiations with HBO to produce a mini-series based on Billy Corben's kick-ass documentary COCAINE COWBOYS, which revolved around the early drug running efforts of the Colombian cartels in Miami during the early '80's. No word on whether or not Bay would direct any of the episodes, and no writer has been attached yet to the project.

It's weird not to have a summer movie season with an entry from Bay or Bruckheimer, but this year, that's the deal. Bruckheimer has three projects set for release in 2009; the CG-kid flick G-FORCE, the rom-com SHOPAHOLIC with Isla Fisher, and the epic action-adventure THE PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME, which sounds like JB's attempt to milk the fantasy genre for a few more bucks. Bay is currently in production on TRANSFORMERS 2, which hits theaters next summer.




Monday, May 5, 2008

MINI REVIEW: REVOLVER (*1/2)


What the hell happened to Guy Ritchie? *Cough* Madonna *Cough.* Ritchie was at one point one of the hottest young filmmakers in the world; the one-two punch of LOCK, STOCK, & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH was a sensational way to start a filmmaking career. Then he did a snazzy entry in the BMW films series, which happened to star his very famous wife. Then, the debacle that was SWEPT AWAY; never before have a I seen a film that seemed so out of step with a filmmaker's style and range. A travesty on pretty much all levels, the film has sort of served as a GIGLI-esque reminder for Ritchie that with one massive flop, a director's career can be cut short (Marty Brest, where are ya?). Ritchie's most recent film, REVOLVER (*1/2), was released in the UK in 2006 and never had a proper theatrical release in the United States. Having now seen it, I can see why. The film has just been released on DVD so I checked it out, hoping that it would be a return to form for the stylish filmmaker. Sadly, REVOLVER feels like a retread of spare parts from LOCK, STOCK and SNATCH and just about every other low-budget British gangster thriller from the past few years. A cool, sturdy, manly cast including Ritchie-regular Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, and Andre Benjamin is mostly wasted in this tired tale of card sharks, gangsters, henchmen, and guns. Statham is an ex-con looking to exact revenge on a gangster, played by Liotta, who has killed his sister-in-law and damaged his thug life. There are double-crosses, mysterious characters who appear, disappear, and reappear throughout the film, and an ending that wasn't nearly as satisfying as it could have been. As self-consciously reflexive yet nowhere near as thrilling as Tony Scott's deconstructionist action-movie masterwork DOMINO, REVOLVER wants to have its cake and eat it too. The film has pent-up energy and flashes of mad-dog intensity but in service of nothing new, exciting, or remotely coherent. REVOLVER dips into Tony Scott world with flash-forwards and jump-cuts and flashbacks and hyper-edits, but all of it adds up to exactly nothing in the end. It's yet another flashy, heavily-stylized shoot 'em up with nothing fresh to add to the genre. Unless you're going to go all-out ala RUNNING SCARED or decimate the genre through an ingenious screenplay as in DOMINO or make fun of the genre as in CRANK or SHOOT 'EM UP, there isn't much left to this style of storytelling. Ritchie needs to try something new, but maybe that's the problem. When he tried something new, like SWEPT AWAY, he failed miserably. Now that he's struck out in the genre he was once a master of, what's left? Another trip to the well apparently, as his new British crime flick ROCK 'N ROLLA is due for release next year. Maybe REVOLVER was a minor slip before he settles back into his groove. I hope so. I'd like to see Ritchie kick my ass with a crime caper like he has in the past.

TRAILER REVIEWS

One of the best parts of the summer movie season are the trailers you see in front of each blockbuster that gets released. I am going to post my reactions to all of the trailers I see during the summer movie season. This past weekend, in front of IRON MAN, there were four trailers:

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

http://www.apple.com/trailers/universal/theincrediblehulk/large.html

I just don't think this looks any good. The CGI is bad, the action looks weak, and as much as I like Ed Norton and Tim Roth, this just seems like a second-rate effort. All of the major action set-pieces look like they are straight out of a video game. I'm now thinking that this will be one of the bigger bombs of the summer. There was zero audience reaction from the sold-out crowd in Hollywood.

THE LOVE GURU

http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/theloveguru/large_trailer.html

Quite possibly one of my least favorite trailers ever. This movie looks like a total piece of shit. Absolutely nothing looks funny in this "comedy." Any movie with Jessica Alba AND Justin Timberlake in it is bound to suck big-time. Mike Myers looks like he's totally lost it. If I have to sit through this trailer again I will just close my eyes for two minutes. The audience wasn't exactly in stitches, though there was more laughter than there should have been.

THE DARK KNIGHT

http://www.whysoserious.com/happytrails/trailer.htm

This film looks like a masterpiece. And to be honest, at this point, from what I've heard about the film and what I've read about the film, it will be a disappointment (and sort of a shock), if THE DARK KNIGHT isn't one of the best (if not the best) superhero movies ever made. This trailer is gorgeous, iconic, and beautifully cut together. The final shot of Batman gliding over Gotham at night is simply glorious. I am extremely excited for this film, and judging from the round of applause the trailer received at its conclusion, lots of other people are as well.

INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

http://www.indianajones.com/site/ij4-hidef-720.php?tourPath=http://downloads.paramount.com/mp/indianajones/trlr2/Indy_KOTCS_Trailer2_720p.mov

This film is going to be huuuuge. I predict it will be the one and only summer movie from 2008 to gross over $300 million domestic, though anything's possible as I never thought IRON MAN would open to over $100 million this past weekend (it's a lock for $250 million domestic at the very least...) There was continuous applause during this trailer, with big outbursts when Shia Lebeouf made his appearance, and at the finale of the trailer. People are f'ing pumped to see this film, at least people who go to the movies in the Dome at the Arclight. The film itself looks like a grand-slam, but I am getting the impression that Speilberg and Lucas aren't showing a lot of the bigger moments from the film. And if that's the case, I am very pleased because it will be nice not to have everything spoiled for the audience before the film finally opens. One thing is for certain: hearing that John Williams score sends shivers down my spine. And Harrison Ford looks like he's right at home. Very excited for this one, May 22 will be here sooner than later!

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS

Throughout the last six years of living in Hell-A, a.k.a. Los Angeles, I've had numerous run-ins with celebrities, either as a result of being in the right place at the right time, or as a result of the various jobs I've held in the industry. However, this past weekend, the fiancee and I had two rather intense celebrity encounters.


We saw John Malkovich (DANGEROUS LIASONS, CON AIR, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) on Pico Blvd in West Los Angeles, eating Red Mango frozen yogurt in front of the Red Mango shop across from the Landmark movie theater. He was pacing up and down the street, eating his frozen treat (which had berries on it if I recall correctly), and peering into the various newspaper vendor boxes; like he was scanning all of the headlines. He looked slightly disheveled; baggy jeans, white sneakers, a cotton sport jacket that was a little too big. He finished his yogurt, used the trash can for his refuse, and then walked across a busy street, not in the cross-walk, and got into a red Pontiac (rental car?). We were waiting for one of our friends to join us for Red Mango yogurt as well, so while she was parking, we were treated to this extended celebrity sighting, which to be honest, was pretty f'ing strange. Malkovich seems like an odd guy; at one point he was walking repeatedly back-and-forth directly in front of us, almost waiting for us to say something to him. Actors...


Then, on Sunday in Malibu....


The Governator showed up at the Malibu Kitchen/shopping complex with the family (Maria Shriver and some of the kids were there as well). We were eating at one of the tables in front of the Malibu Country Kitchen (best bbq pulled-pork with slaw sandwich ever) and he and his 5-point security detail waltzed past us. The voice was unmistakable. He went into the Shabby Chic home store for about 30 minutes as we finished eating. He walked past us on his way back to his car (a loaded Mercedes SUV) while about 15 paparazzi's snapped away. It was absolutely surreal. We were as close as 2 feet from him at one point. He was very leathery/plasticy looking with a day-glo orange tan. Very short as well. It was quite intense.








Sunday, May 4, 2008

SUMMER MOVIE SEASON IS HERE

IRON MAN was a kick-ass start to the new summer movie season. Full review will be up soon. Loved it. It's not perfect, but it's awesome nonetheless.

Friday, May 2, 2008

JUST CAN'T WAIT FOR THIS

THIS WEEKEND

Very excited to see IRON MAN. Got my tickets for tomorrow at 5:30pm in the Dome at the Arclight in Hollywood. The first big movie of summer 2008. It's gotten virtually flawless reviews from the nation's critics; currently it's the best reviewed movie of the year at Rottentomatoes with a 95% overall rating (122 fresh; 7 rotten) and a 90% cream of the crop rating. My expectations are very high.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

MINI REVIEW: LARS & THE REAL GIRL (*1/2)

Now here's a film with a story I just couldn't buy into. Cloyingly written by SIX FEET UNDER scribe Nancy Oliver (who inexplicably received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay) and directed with zero personality by Craig Gillespie (MR. WOODCOCK), LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (*1/2) is an extremely well acted dramedy with a farcical edge that must've seemed a lot funnier on paper than it ended up becoming on screen. But only it wasn't. I read Oliver's script a few years ago while interviewing to work for Sam Raimi. I was given three scripts (LARS, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, and THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE) to read and provide "coverage" on. "Coverage," for anyone out there not working in the industry and reading this, is a roughly 2 page summary and critique of a script that a junior development exec or assistant provides for their boss so they don't actually have to do the script reading themselves. The people at Raimi's company asked me to read those three scripts and provide coverage as a way of seeing my writing style. Well, I loved the script for THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (it's one of the single best I've ever read) and I really enjoyed CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (it was a better, darker script than finished film but I still enjoyed the film). 20 pages into reading LARS & THE REAL GIRL, I was actively hating it. And 20 minutes into watching the film, I was lamenting that there was still another 90 minutes to go. Not that the actors don't give it their all; there is terrific work on display from Ryan Gosling, Paul Schneider, and Emily Mortimer. It's just that the story, that of a painfully repressed, depressed, and suppressed guy named Lars (Gosling, in a rigorously mannered performance) striking up a "relationship" with an anatomically correct blow-up doll (given the name of Bianca) while living in the garage of his brother's house, seemed artificial from the very begining. Oliver, who must've been aiming for a blend of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE-styled idiosyncracies along with the sweetness of a Capra film, never finds an honest tone in which to work. Lars is clearly mentally deranged, and sadly, the entire town he lives in comes off that way too, as they all accept Bianca as a real person and go along with Lars's wishes as a way of accepting him and making him feel comfortable. Aww. A'int that sweet. Delude the mentally damaged guy even further. I know, I know, it's not supposed to be real, it's supposed to be funny. Well, the problem is that it's not funny enough, and what does pass as funny, stems from the performances rather than the writing. There's a half-hearted romantic subplot for Lars with one of his co-workers but it never goes anywhere remotely interesting or surprising. Oliver's perverse blow-up doll set-up never picks up any sexual traction either, as Lars refuses (out of religious beliefs) not to sleep in the same bed with his new companion. Instead, this creepy film carries a strange, off-putting vibe that is the exact opposite of whimsical, which is what I think Oliver had intended. Not helping matters is Gillespie's sloppy directorial style. His confused direction shuffles back and forth between a phony Wes Anderson impersonation and edgy, hand-held camera, indie-inspired aesthetic (just because king of hand-held camera Peter Berg was one of the 10 executive producers doesn't mean you should half-assedly rip off his shooting style). You either go with it all the way or don't try it at all. True, there are a few nice compositions of wintry middle America and again, Gosling's performance is indeed very watchable. But when you can't accept the specific reality set up by the filmmakers it's virtually impossible to enjoy what you're watching. Some people really, really loved this film (it stands at Rottentomatoes with a 80% fresh rating) but I can definitely say that I'm not one of them. I guess since I hated the original script I was destined to dislike the final film. I gave it a chance because I am a fan of Gosling and Schneider. The two of them were dependably solid with their performances; everything else around them was a lame joke.

TRANSFORMERS 2 ADDS CAST

Jonah Hill from SUPERBAD, KNOCKED UP, and FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is in negotiations to take a co-starring role in Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS 2, which hits theaters next summer. Word is that the role he's up for is that of Shia Lebeouf's college buddy who runs a conspiracy theory website. I've been a big fan of Hill so far so this is good news to me.


Teresa Palmer, who's credits include WOLF CREEK & THE GRUDGE 2, is also in talks to join the mega-budget rampaging robot sequel, presumably as LeBeouf's love interest. Don't know much about her acting abilities but she's certainly hot in that specific Michael Bay way.