Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Box Office Report: Feb. 23-25

Managing to hold off all newcomers this past weekend, “Ghost Rider” maintained its grasp on the top spot at the box office, bringing in another $20 million. The movie can now be considered a bona fide hit for Nicolas Cage, having already surpassed its large budget in just its second week of release.

The modestly budgeted thriller, “The Number 23” managed to bring in nearly $15 million, good enough for second place. But with stronger competition on the horizon, it’s looking like the Jim Carrey vehicle will probably have a hard time holding its position next weekend. “Reno 911!: Miami” grabbed fourth place with over $10 million, recouping its budget in one weekend.

1. “Ghost Rider”
(Weekend domestic gross - $20.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $120.3 million)
(Budget - $110 million)
2. “The Number 23”
(Weekend domestic gross - $14.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $18.1 million)
(Budget - $30 million)
3. “Bridge to Terabithia”
(Weekend domestic gross - $14.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $47.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)
4. “Reno 911!: Miami”
(Weekend domestic gross - $10.3 million)
(Worldwide gross - $10.3 million)
(Budget - $10 million)
5. “Norbit”
(Weekend domestic gross - $9.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $80.8 million)
(Budget - $60 million)
6. “Music and Lyrics”
(Weekend domestic gross - $7.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $55.7 million)
(Budget - N/A)
7. “Breach”
(Weekend domestic gross - $6.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $20.7 million)
(Budget - N/A)
8. “Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $25.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “The Astronaut Farmer”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.5 million)
(Worldwide gross - $4.5 million)
(Budget - $13 million)
10. “Amazing Grace”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $4.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)

Spring 2007 Movie Preview

After what has been a less than lovely winter season for a lot of the country, which certainly includes these parts, it’s about time for the return of spring. And not a moment too soon, as my skin has been drying up like the Chicago Cubs’ chances of ever winning a World Series.

Never one to wait until the official changeover on the calendar, Hollywood makes it a point to always begin their movie seasons early. Thus, the spring movie season is set to be thrust upon us, beginning Friday. As usual, there will be some duds mixed in here, but there’s always some gems to be found, including the long awaited return to the director’s chair from a couple of acclaimed authors (David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino).

So sit back, grab some popcorn (or a healthier alternative) and prepare for the next couple of months in your movie going experiences. Once again, release dates are subject to change.

“Black Snake Moan”

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson
Directed by Craig Brewer

Following up the critically acclaimed success of his last feature, “Hustle and Flow,” director Craig Brewer has certainly crafted something different again, as a bluesman (Jackson) takes it upon himself to save a young woman (Ricci) from heading down a path of sin. How he does so is, let’s say a bit unorthodox.
(March 2)
Official Web site

“Wild Hogs”
Starring John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Jill Hennessey and Ray Liotta
Directed by Walt Becker

There’s always room for good comedies with a good cast, but the premise to this one (four middle-aged men deciding to take a motorcycle trip) looks a little tired. Still, there’s a lot of good acting talent here that might be able to lift the material beyond its somewhat tired sounding storyline. Anyway, isn’t it about time for another comeback for Travolta? (March 2)
Official Web site

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by David Fincher

Directing his first film since 2003’s “Panic Room,” director David Fincher remains in dark territory here, with a film based on the Robert Graysmith (played by Gyllenhaal) books about the Zodiac serial killer that tormented San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. Ruffalo and Edwards play police inspectors on the case, while Downey plays a newspaper crime reporter. Early buzz on this is very good, with some saying it’s Fincher’s best yet. That would be a significant accomplishment. (March 2)
Official Web site

Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham and Dominic West
Directed by Zack Snyder

Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (“Sin City”) comes a story depicting the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. that pitted a small group of Spartans against the Persian army. Snyder showed with his entertaining update of “Dawn of the Dead” that he has some skills. Plus, the visuals on this look outstanding. But can a hyperviolent action pic attract a wide enough audience for success? (March 9)
Official Web site

“I Think I Love My Wife”
Starring Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres and Steve Buscemi
Directed by Chris Rock

Rock is pulling down triple duty in this movie, co-writing, starring and directing a comedic tale of a man struggling to maintain the passion in his marriage. Further complicating matters is when he crosses paths of a beautiful woman (Washington) who used to be involved with his best friend. Having been involved in projects such as the TV show, “Everybody Hates Chris,” it’s good to see him return to the big screen in his first starring role since 2003. (March 16)
Official Web site

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra and Ned Beatty
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Wahlberg stars as an ex-Marine Corps sniper who is brought back into service to foil an assassination attempt. But when he’s double crossed and framed for the attempt, he works to uncover who was involved and why. The story of a wrongfully accused man seeking to expose a conspiracy is a tried and true formula for Hollywood. But whether or not this good cast and director Fuqua (“Training Day”) can bring anything new to the table remains to be seen. (March 16)
Official Web site

Starring Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Kate Nelligan, Amber Valletta and Peter Stormare
Directed by Mennan Yapo

A woman (Bullock) who seemingly has the life she’s dreamed of, finds it turned upside down when she receives news of her husband (McMahon) dying in a car crash. The next morning she awakens to find him alive, believing the news to be a very vivid dream. But signs start pointing to her that it was more than a dream. An interesting concept with an interesting star that might require more than a couple leaps in logic to make it all work. (March 16)
Official Web site

“The Hills Have Eyes 2”
Starring Michael McMillan, Jacob Vargas, Flex Alexander, Jessica Stroup
Directed by Martin Weisz

Keeping the seemingly never ending train of horror flicks churning out comes a quick sequel to the 2006 film, which was itself a remake of a Wes Craven film from the 1970s. The plot involves a group of National Guard trainees coming into contact with a band of mutants out in the desert. Their military training probably didn’t quite prepare them for this. (March 23)
Official Web site

“Reign Over Me”
Starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland, Mike Binder
Directed by Mike Binder

Finally following up on the dramatic promise he showed in “Punch-Drunk Love,” Sandler co-stars with Cheadle as former college roommates who meet up again years later in Manhattan, with both their lives seemingly going in very different directions. Charlie (Sandler) has shut out most everything in his life after suffering a tragic loss in 9/11, while Alan (Cheadle) is feeling overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities in his life. This marks writer/director Binder’s follow-up to the underrated “The Upside of Anger.” (March 23)
Official Web site

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
Starring the voices of James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley, Mitchell Whitfield, Nolan North, Mako, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Patrick Stewart
Directed by Kevin Munroe

Remember these guys? Well, they’re back, whether you wanted them or not. This time out, it’s an all-CGI affair for the foursome of fighting turtles against an army of ancient monsters. Just goes to show you that everything old can be new again. But that doesn’t necessarily equate to a good thing. (March 23)
Official Web site

“Are We Done Yet?”
Starring Ice Cube, Nia Long, John C. McGinley, Aleisha Allen, Philip Daniel Bolden
Directed by Steve Carr

It’s been two years since “Are We There Yet?,” the slight box office hit starring Ice Cube. Coming straight from the unnecessary sequel department is another “comedy” about a family moving into a “fixer upper” house, only to find it far from ideal when an eccentric contractor (McGinley) takes on the job. (April 4)
Official Web site

Starring Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino

Some may call it a brilliant marketing idea, while other might deem it as more of an ego trip, but longtime friends and directors Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) have decided to combine their talents into one big feature film that is actually broken into two unrelated action-filled horror segments. Rodriguez helms “Planet Terror,” while Tarantino is behind “Death Proof.” In between the two segments will be coming attractions to fake films. Clearly, the two are looking to indulge themselves a little, hoping audiences come along for what should be a fun ride. (April 6)
Official Web site

“The Reaping”
Starring Hilary Swank, David Morrisey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb
Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Oscar winner Swank stars as a former Christian missionary who has become an expert in disproving religious phenomena. But when she arrives in a small Louisiana town, the Biblical plagues that seem to be occurring prove to be her biggest challenge yet. This is a bit of a departure for Swank, but she seems believeable as a potential action hero. Still, whether she can help ground the story’s somewhat shaky premise may be another story. (April 6)
Official Web site

“Perfect Stranger”
Starring Bruce Willis, Halle Berry, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan
Directed by James Foley

Looking to find out the truth behind her friend’s murder, a reporter (Berry) goes undercover, leading her on the path to Harrison Hill (Willis), a multi-millionaire with some dark secrets. This psychological thriller looks somewhat interesting, but one still has to think that former Oscar winner Berry seems capable of more than this. And which actor is playing Balki in this? Oh wait, that’s “Perfect Strangers.” (April 13)
Official Web site

Starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer and Carrie-Anne Moss
Directed by D.J. Caruso

A troubled teen (LaBeouf) gets placed under house arrest, but finds his situation a precarious one upon becoming convinced his neighbor (Morse) is a serial killer. And no, this isn’t a remake of “Rear Window.” I mean, who could believe Jimmy Stewart ever being under house arrest, or a troubled teen for that matter?
(April 13)
Official Web site

“Hot Fuzz”
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent
Directed by Edgar Wright

From the same guys who created the darkly funny “Shaun of the Dead,” comes a high-octane action comedy about a standout cop (Pegg) getting transferred to a small town, only to discover himself in the midst of a series of suspicious deaths taking place. So it’s up to him and his witless partner (Frost) to solve the crimes. (April 20)
Official Web site

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Billy Burke, Rosalind Pike
Directed by Gregory Hoblit

Coming off his Oscar nominated turn for “Half-Nelson,” Gosling gets a chance to square off against an Oscar winner (Hopkins), playing a young assistant DA rising the career ladder. But complications set in when he takes on a case involving a man accused of shooting his wife. (April 20)
Official Web site

Starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel and Peter Falk
Directed by Lee Tamahori

Cage, starring in what might be his 20th movie in the past year, headlines as a man who can see into the future, thus capable of changing events before they happen. This makes him a target of a government organization looking to use him to help predict future terrorist acts. The trailer shows some good action, but Cage’s hair is definitely not his best look. But this wouldn’t be the first follically-challenged role he’s taken on. (April 27)
Official Web site

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DVD Releases - Feb. 20

“Babel” (R) - From the director of “21 Grams” comes another film with overlapping storylines, with this one featuring a pair of high profile supporting players in Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. However, it was Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi who both picked up Oscar nods for their performances, two of seven nominations the movie received.
Extras: Negative.
Official Web site

“Family Ties: Season 1” - Amazingly, its been 25 years since this hit NBC sitcom debuted on TV, launching the career of Michael J. Fox and introducing us to the unmistakeable talents of Tina Yothers. Gotta love those Keatons!.
Extras: Filled with 22 episodes, but not one extra. Thanks a lot, Paramount Home Video!
No official Web site.

“Flushed Away” (PG) - Yes, yes, it’s another film featuring animated animals. But this one is produced from the same animation studio that worked on “Wallace and Gromit” and “Chicken Run.” Plus, its got vocal talent from Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Kate Winslet. So that’s got to be considered a good thing.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, a behind the scenes interactive tour, numerous games, an animator’s gallery and more.
Official Web site

“For Your Consideration” (PG-13) - From the minds of satricial standouts Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy (“Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”) comes a comedy that pokes fun at the Academy Awards hype. Three actors in a crappy drama based in the 1940s begin hearing rumors their performances are generating Oscar buzz, setting off a feeding frenzy in and around the production. Breaking from his traditional mockumentary style of filming, Guest’s latest film received a mixed response in theaters.
Extras: Commentary with Guest and Levy, along with lots of deleted scenes and outtakes.
Official Web site

“Gandhi: 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (PG) - Taking home multiple Oscars in 1982, including Best Picture, this highly acclaimed film gets a worthy release. Ben Kingsley (who’s practically been slumming in movies lately) starred in a great, Oscar-winning performance as the title character.
Extras: The two-disc release includes many featurettes with a couple focusing on director Richard Attenborough’s work at getting the movie made, as well as Kingsley reflecting on Gandhi.
No official Web site.

“Man of the Year” (PG-13) - A comedy-drama starring a solid cast, including Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum, “Man of the Year” didn’t meet with great success in theaters. Director Barry Levinson (“Wag the Dog”) has covered some similar ground before in this slightly satirical look at an election ballot snafu (sound familiar?) that gets a talk-show host (Williams) elected as President of the United States.
Extras: A behind-the-scenes look at Williams, along with a making-of video diary.
Official Web site

“The Prestige” (PG-13) - The very busy Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as magicians who begin as friends, only to become bitter rivals, locked in a game of one-upsmanship. The equally busy Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine co-star for director Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”) in this satisfying thriller that earned two Academy Award nominations.
Extras: A ‘director’s notebook’ featurette and an art gallery of the movie.
Official Web site

“Shut Up and Sing” (PG-13) - In what certainly plays as fotuitous timing after their big night at this month’s Grammy Awards, the documentary on the Dixie Chicks hits DVD. The film follows the popular musical trio as they deal with the huge amount of attention and backlash they received after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush at a 2003 concert.
Extras: Surprisingly, nothing.
Official Web site

Monday, February 19, 2007

Box Office Report: Feb. 16-18

Last week it was audiences showing they still have an affinity for Eddie Murphy playing dress up, while this week they show that movies based on comic book characters can still bring ‘em in to the theaters. “Ghost Rider” starring Nicolas Cage was a big hit over the weekend, hauling in $45 million, making it the easy winner for the weekend. Last week’s number one, “Norbit,” dropped to number three. Family-oriented “Bridge to Terabithia” finished as the first runner-up, while “Music and Lyrics” was a bit of a surprise down in fourth place.

Incidentally, these numbers are based on the regular three-day weekend, leaving President’s Day out of the equation, as for most of us out there, this isn’t a holiday weekend.

1. “Ghost Rider”
(Weekend domestic gross - $45.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $45.0 million)
(Budget - $110 million)
2. “Bridge to Terabithia”
(Weekend domestic gross - $22.5 million)
(Worldwide gross - $22.5 million)
(Budget - N/A)
3. “Norbit”
(Weekend domestic gross - $16.9 million)
(Worldwide gross - $62.8 million)
(Budget - $60 million)
4. “Music and Lyrics”
(Weekend domestic gross - $13.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $35.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)
5. “Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls”
(Weekend domestic gross - $11.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $20.0 million)
(Budget - N/A)
6. “Breach”
(Weekend domestic gross - $10.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $10.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)
7. “Hannibal Rising”
(Weekend domestic gross - $5.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $34.3 million)
(Budget - N/A)
8. “Because I Said So”
(Weekend domestic gross - $5.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $34.2 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “The Messengers”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $31.1 million)
(Budget - $16 million)
10. “Night at the Museum”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.75 million)
(Worldwide gross - $471.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Movie Review: "Music and Lyrics"

Starring Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston and Campbell Scott
Directed by Marc Lawrence

Official Web site

Mixing a bit of musical satire with a highly unlikely “meet-cute” situation for its two main characters, and you’ve got the main thrust of “Music and Lyrics,” a slight but enjoyable romantic comedy. Starring that sub-genre’s main go-to guy, Hugh Grant, and the dependable Drew Barrymore, the pic gets a lot of mileage from the oddly inspired pairing of the two stars.

Reuniting with writer-director Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice”), Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, a former member of a 1980s pop music band called, appropriately enough, PoP!, who has seen his musical prospects practically disappear since one of the band members left to have a hugely successful solo career. (Any similarity to 80s band Wham! is quite likely intentional.)

But set 20-some years after the peak of his success, the movie finds Alex far from a bitter and depressed musician. In fact, he’s quite content to live in the past and practically embraces the label of “has-been.” Playing concerts at amusement parks, high school reunions and the like, Alex has seemingly long since settled into his downward career path. That is, until his manager (Brad Garrett) presents him with the opportunity to write a new song for red-hot young singer Cora Corman (Haley Bennett, seemingly playing a hybrid of Britney Spears, Shakira and Madonna). The problem is he only has a few days to do so, and while being a great writer of musical melodies, admits his lyric writing skills stink.

Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), his plant waterer (yes, you read that right) who happens to demonstrate some song writing ability one day in his apartment. Impressed and desperate, Alex eventually convinces Sophie to help him craft a song to get to Cora by the end of the week. Naturally, infatuation and then love starts sinking in as the duo spend the week together.

Even in the unlikely world of romantic comedies, the situation that Alex and Sophie find themselves is rather preposterous. But Grant and Barrymore are among the most affable movie stars performing today, which helps make the leaps of logic this story requires. Adding solid support is Garrett and Kristen Johnston, as Sophie’s older sister. Both Garrett and Johnston bring many years of sitcom experience to the film, which would certainly seem to be quite at home on a TV screen.

As the somewhat shallow but likable Alex, Grant proves that no one performs self-deprecating humor quite as well as he does. He’s practically made a career of it, yet this musician he is portraying here is quite distant from his portrayal of a one-hit wonder musician in the great “About a Boy.” Alex seems to harbor no real resentment of how his career has turned out. He just needs someone to shake him out of his complacency a little bit. Likewise, Sophie hasn’t really been living up to her full potential, as a painful college experience with a duplicitous professor has left her scared to pursue her passions.

Movies like this can sink or swim on the chemistry of the lead actors, with Grant and Barrymore’s mismatched characters proving to be a pretty good fit. Credit certainly has to go to the two stars, as well as the music of Adam Schlesinger (from the band Fountains of Wayne). There’s a number of catchy tunes in the film, particularly “PoP! Goes My Heart,” which is accompanied by a dead-on parody of 80s music videos. The vision of an overemoting Hugh Grant in pouffy hair while dancing in ridiculously tight clothing certainly shows an actor devoted to his craft, if nothing else. And just try to get that song out of your head after the end credits roll.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Box Office Report: Feb. 9-11

Proving audiences love watching Eddie Murphy play dress up, his latest comedy, “Norbit” cleaned up at the box office, taking in more than $34 million. It easily held off “Hannibal Rising,” the movie portraying the young Hannibal Lecter as a man just learning the delights of cannibalism and murder.

Although there are numerous challengers to the top spot next weekend, Murphy could potentially pull off the rare feat of having a number one movie and winning an Oscar in the same weekend, if next Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast goes smoothly for him. He’s the front runner in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role in “Dreamgirls.”

1. “Norbit”
(Weekend domestic gross - $34.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $34.2 million)
(Budget - $60 million)
2. “Hannibal Rising”
(Weekend domestic gross - $13.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $13.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
3. “Because I Said So”
(Weekend domestic gross - $9.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $26.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)
4. “The Messengers”
(Weekend domestic gross - $7.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $25.1 million)
(Budget - $16 million)
5. “Night at the Museum”
(Weekend domestic gross - $5.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $465.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)
6. “Epic Movie”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $45.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)
7. “Smokin’ Aces”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $42.4 million)
(Budget - $17 million)
8. “Pan’s Labyrinth”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $52.8 million)
(Budget - $19 million)
9. “Dreamgirls”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $111.2 million)
(Budget - N/A)
10. “The Queen”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $93.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

DVD Releases - Feb. 13

“All in the Family: Season 6” - Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) and the rest of his family are back in the sixth season of the landmark sitcom, featuring 24 episodes on three discs.
Extras: Unfortunately, no.
No official Web site.

“The Departed: Special Edition” (R) - Nominated for five Academy Awards, a great cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and more) have been assembled for director Martin Scorsese’s examination of cops versus the mob with moles in place on both sides.
Extras: Deleted scenes, a “Scorsese on Scorsese” profile, a look at the real-life gangster Nicholson’s character is based on, and a featurette about Little Italy’s influence on Scorsese’s films.
Official Web site

“Half Nelson” (R) - Flying under the radar at the box office, director Ryan Fleck’s drama about a drug addicted eighth grade history teacher (Ryan Gosling) at an inner-city Brooklyn school, received lots of critical praise and even an Oscar nomination for its star. Shareeka Epps co-stars as a student who discovers his secret, and strikes up a friendship with him.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, a music video, outtakes, deleted and extended scenes.
Official Web site

“Infamous” (R) - This drama had the misfortune of following in the wake of “Capote,” the great movie that starred Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, as it came and went in theaters with very little notice. But “Infamous” was well liked by critics and while sharing many of the same characters and story elements of “Capote,” its supposed to be a film that can stand on its own merits. Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig and Sigourney Weaver star.
Extras: Commentary with writer/director Douglas McGrath.
Official Web site

“Marie Antoinette” (PG-13) - As her follow-up to the acclaimed “Lost in Translation,” writer/director Sofia Coppola went in a bit of a surprising direction, choosing to put her own spin on a period piece about France’s ill-fated queen (Kirsten Dunst). The movie’s visual flair got the eye of the Academy Awards, garnering a couple a nod for costume design.
Extras: A making-of featurette, deleted scenes and “Cribs” with Louis XVI (a spoof on the MTV show).
Official Web site

“School for Scoundrels” (PG-13/Unrated) - Jon Heder stars as a nerdy parking meter reader who has confidence issues, thus enrolling in a top-secret class that is run by a possibly sadistic and definitely ultra-competitive teacher (Billy Bob Thornton). With a cast featuring David Cross, Horatio Sanz and Sarah Silverman, this movie from director Todd Phillips (“Old School”) should have been better.
Extras: Commentary from Phillips and writer Scott Armstrong, a gag reel, an alternate ending, and a “Making-Of You Didn’t See on TV” featurette (whatever that is).
Official Web site

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Show-Me's Festival Is Coming

Film festivals have really taken off for the motion picture industry, providing an outlet for filmmakers to show a wide range of material in one location over a concentrated period of time. Naturally, film industry personnel frequent these festivals, as there’s a ton of content out there just available for the right bidder. High-profile gatherings such as the Sundance Film Festival or the Toronto Film Festival snag most of the media attention as these locations are considered to be the trendy and influential places to see films and be seen.

Nowadays, there are more film festivals being held all over the world than one could possibly ever hope to attend. That’s certainly not to say that there are more than there should be, as there will probably never be enough outlets for established, burgeoning or first-time filmmakers to showcase their creations. So it’s good to see communities like Springfield, Mo., working to bring something new and exciting to town – namely the Show-Me Missouri International Film Festival – that could prove to be beneficial to so many inside and out of the film industry.

Hosted by the Missouri Film Alliance of Springfield, the Feb. 21-25 event will be primarily held in downtown Springfield with four locations (Gillioz Theatre, Moxie Cinema, MSU Plaster Student Union, and The Creamery) holding various festival screenings, workshops and forums. The festival is really a celebration of independent filmmaking and invites filmmakers from around the world to submit their entries in the following categories: feature, short narrative, documentary, animation, college and homegrown, which is aimed at films made in Missouri or by Missourians.

To be fair, this is actually the festival’s second year, but the first one for me to be completely aware of it. I’m not only aware of it this year, but I’m also involved, getting the pleasure of serving as one of the festival judges. This meant I got the opportunity to see some of the festival’s offerings weeks before they would be screened for audiences. That perk, in and of itself, made it an easy decision for me to participate. Now my intent was to try and screen all of the films I received (which was in the documentary category) in a timely manner, in an attempt to keep them all fresh in my head. I started off well in that regard for the first few, becoming increasingly impressed with the entries I received as I went along.

Then a little thing now known as the Ozarks Ice Storm 2007 came along, temporarily making it impossible to finish the screening process. Naturally, it wasn’t much of a priority either at that particular moment, as I was wondered if the giant tree limbs now covering the vast majority of my back yard would ever be cleared (they would) or if I would have the intestinal fortitude to hole up in a house that had dropped to an interior temperature of 35 degrees (I didn’t).

But after relocating for about six days (a relatively short amount of time compared to some of my friends), my electricity would be restored and I was able to finish watching the films. Now, I’m only one of the judges in the documentary category, so my results will only be a part of the greater whole. But if you get the chance to catch “Hello Again Everybody: The Harry Carey Story,” “A Place to Dance,” or “Waiting to Inhale,” during the festival’s run, I can definitely recommend any of those.

The first one listed is self-explanatory if you’ve ever heard of the famous baseball announcer, while the second one deals with New Orleans senior citizens and a band of musicians who have gathered for many years at a club, only to find themselves dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Using a clever play on the best-selling book title from Terry McMillan, “Waiting to Inhale” offers a quite thorough examination of the fight to legalize medical marijuana.

However, I must admit, there’s one documentary that will be featured at the festival that wasn’t included in those I screened, which would have actually ranked ahead of all the ones I saw. Having seen it several months ago, “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos,” is a great examination of the rapid rise and spectacular fall of the professional soccer team that achieved notoriety in the 1970s. It screens Feb. 24 at the newly restored Gillioz Theatre (a venue I can’t wait to view a film in) and is a must-see. The 7 p.m. show will be followed by a Meet the Filmmaker session with co-director Paul Crowder.

Aside from that special presentation, there will be three days worth of screenings (which include all of this year’s Oscar nominees for Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film), guest speakers, educational forums and workshops, leading up to the Feb. 25 awards ceremony at the Plaster Student Union on the campus of Missouri State University. Moving from one awards show to another, the festival will even be hosting an Academy Awards party at the University Plaza Hotel around 5 p.m., after wrapping up its ceremonies.

For a complete schedule and description of the film festival lineup, including ticket options and prices, go here. Or call the Missouri Film Alliance of Springfield at 417-862-2787, ext. 40.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Box Office Report: Feb. 2-4

As expected, the overall box office was down compared to recent weeks, as the Super Bowl likely ate up a lot of potential business on Sunday. But a low budget, rather lightly hyped horror film, “The Messengers” still was able to do very respectable business, taking the top spot. It’s already managed to take in close to its entire budget, pulling in nearly $15 million, holding off challenger and critically-lambasted comedy “Because I Said So.”

1. “The Messengers”
(Weekend domestic gross - $14.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $14.7 million)
(Budget - $16 million)
2. “Because I Said So”
(Weekend domestic gross - $13.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $13.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
3. “Epic Movie”
(Weekend domestic gross - $8.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $32.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
4. “Night at the Museum”
(Weekend domestic gross - $6.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $421.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
5. “Smokin’ Aces”
(Weekend domestic gross - $6.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $34.0 million)
(Budget - $17 million)
6. “Stomp the Yard”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $55.9 million)
(Budget - $13 million)
7. “Dreamgirls”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $102.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
8. “Pan’s Labyrinth”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $47.7 million)
(Budget - $19 million)
9. “The Pursuit of Happyness”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $228.3 million)
(Budget - $55 million)
10. “The Queen”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $86.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)

Monday, February 05, 2007

DVD Releases - Feb. 7

“Flags of Our Fathers” (R) - Director Clint Eastwood’s critically-acclaimed WWII drama examines the lives of the men involved in raising the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima, which served as a turning point in the war. Earlier in 2006, this was seen as the likely front-runner for Oscar success, but was later overshadowed by Eastwood’s other WWII drama, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which looks at the same battle from the Japanese perspective.
Extras: Sir, no Sir!
Official Web site

“Flicka” (PG) - This family-friendly movie is actually a remake of the 1947 film, “My Friend Flicka,” which itself was based on a best-selling novel. Alison Lohman (who’s a bit old to be playing a teenager; she’s 27), Tim McGraw and Maria Bello star for director Michael Mayer.
Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, a making of featurette and a music video from McGraw (naturally).
Official Web site

“A Good Year” (PG-13) - The reteaming of star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott seemed like a no-brainer hit movie, but “A Good Year” struggled at the box office. Crowe stars as a workaholic bonds trader who inherits his uncle’s French vineyard and estate. Initially looking to sell it for a big profit, he begins to have a change of heart amidst the beautiful southern France scenery.
Extras: Oui, oui! An audio commentary with Scott and a making of featurette.
Official Web site

“The Grudge 2” (PG-13/Unrated) - A sequel to the not-very-spooky horror flick from 2004 that itself was based on the Japanese release “Ju-on.” The first film’s star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, returns with the action in her story thread picking up not long after the events that led to her being hospitalized. Amber Tamblyn, Edison Chen and Jennifer Beals co-star in what has rapidly become a tired genre of its own – American adaptations of Japanese horror films.
Extras: Several featurettes and deleted scenes.
Official Web site

“Hollywoodland” (R) - A solid cast heads up this fact-based mystery surrounding the death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), who portrayed Superman in the 1950s TV show. Private eye Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) is hired to investigate the case, in order to determine whether the actor actually committed suicide as reported, or if something more sinister was involved. Diane Lane, Bob Hopkins and Robin Tunney also star in a movie that was largely overlooked in theaters.
Extras: Commentary with director Allen Coulter, deleted scenes and multiple featurettes.
Official Web site

“Running with Scissors” (R) - Headed up by a great cast that includes Annette Bening, Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin, this adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ best-selling memoir, really seemed to polarize critics and audiences when it hit theaters in the fall. Some raved about Bening and the quirky collection of people portrayed by the actors, while others found the film torturous to sit through.
Extras: Multiple featurettes, including one centered around Burroughs.
Official Web site

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Movie Review: "Little Miss Sunshine"

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Official Web site

Having taken the journey from darling of last year’s Sundance Film Festival to a modest hit in theater multiplexes, and now to its new role as Oscar hopeful, “Little Miss Sunshine” is a film that’s not quite as good as all its hype. Still, it’s a pretty great film that could easily walk away with a few Academy Awards when Feb. 25 comes and goes.

The screenplay from Michael Arndt is filled with interesting characters who are placed in one of Hollywood’s tried and true stories – a family bonding on a road trip. However, he makes this particular family far from a fully functioning unit, as there’s a greater fear that the Hoovers might be headed towards collapsing, rather than bonding.

The inquisitive and sensitive Olive, the 7-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) of Richard (Greg Kinnear) and Sheryl (Toni Collette), finds out early in the picture that she’s a finalist for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. This means the family will be heading to the pageant from New Mexico to California, taking their perpetually sullen teenage son Dwayne, gruff and foul-mouthed Grandpa (Alan Arkin) and Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), who is new to their home after a failed suicide attempt. So, yeah, it’s pretty far from The Brady Bunch.

Adding to the family’s less-than-ideal situation, the clutch to their banana yellow VW van (practically a character itself) goes out early on the trip, forcing the family to literally get out and push to get the vehicle’s forward motion started. It’s a running gag in the film that manages to produce laughs every time.

While there are certainly particular aspects of the storyline that hit predictable notes – including more than one that crib from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” – the development of the characters and the eventual payoff at the pageant keep the movie entertaining. Plus, the film isn’t afraid to throw dark twists into conventional situations. A scene where the family is pulled over by a highway patrolman mines comedy in unexpected ways, for example.

But it would be unfair to say that “Little Miss Sunshine” is just out to earn a few laughs along the way, as some of the fights and situations the family members find themselves in feel all too real. Case in point is a sudden story development with Dwayne that is almost jarring in its heavy emotional content, as it momentarily stops the laughter in its tracks. Olive’s handling of the situation speaks volumes, even as she says nothing.

The acting is pretty much exceptional across the board, with Carell and Kinnear as two particular standouts, along with Breslin, who is the heart of the movie. Hopefully, her Oscar nomination for the performance is just the beginning of a memorable career.

Some might criticize the film’s sometimes heavy cynical tone, but it comes off as realistic from these characters. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make it a point to not sugarcoat the pageant proceedings, which hardly could be associated with fun. It certainly makes you wonder why parents would subject their children to them, if this is any kind of example of what they’re like. There’s a bit of an uncomfortable feeling underscoring some of the pageant scenes, which makes Olive’s showstopping performance for the talent portion of the competition all the more welcome. You’ll certainly never listen to Rick James’ “Superfreak” the same way again.

Grade: B+
(Rated R for language, some sex and drug content.)