Thursday, October 25, 2007

Holiday Movie Preview 2007 (Part 1)

A healthy dose of family-friendly pics and Oscar-aspiring selections dot the cinematic landscape for November. Big stars such as Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep are featured, along with animated movies coming from at least one unlikely source (Jerry Seinfeld). So here’s a look at some of the highlights for the month.

“American Gangster”

Starring Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ojiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin
Directed by Ridley Scott

A powerhouse acting duo headline a movie that has got Oscar aspirations written all over it. The two leads, director (Scott) and screenwriter (Steven Zaillian) have all won Academy Awards before. In this crime drama, Washington plays real-life 1970 drug lord Frank Lucas, while Crowe portrays the obsessed detective intent on catching him. (Nov. 2)
Official Web site

“Bee Movie”
Starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman and Chris Rock
Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith

Joining in on the seemingly ever-growing CG animated animal craze, Seinfeld plays a bee despondent over the lack of career choices for him. He then decides to sue the human race in an attempt to obtain honey profits. With a standout vocal cast at his disposal and several veteran “Seinfeld” writers on board, this comedy should be one of the can’t-miss films of the season. (Nov. 2)
Official Web site

“Lions for Lambs”
Starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena, Andrew Garfield and Derek Luke
Directed by Robert Redford

Wearing its political leanings on its sleeve, “Lions for Lambs” takes a topical look at the war against terror, featuring three storylines that eventually are tied together. Redford heads up one of the stories, while Streep and Cruise face off as a journalist and Republican senator, respectively, in another. The movie also marks the first release from the Cruise-run United Artists production studio. (Nov. 9)
Official Web site

“Fred Claus”
Starring Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates
Directed by David Dobkin

Reuniting with Dobkin, his “Wedding Crashers” director, Vaughn will be aiming at a more family-oriented audience with this PG-rated flick, that features him as the ne’er-do-well brother of Santa Claus (Giamatti). He arrives at the North Pole to visit Old Saint Nick, only to shake things up, much to the dismay of his normally jolly brother. (Nov. 9)
Official Web site

“No Country for Old Men”
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

Adapting a novel by Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brothers also share a directing credit on this crime drama that debuted to rave reviews at the Cannes film festival earlier this year. Brolin plays a hunter who stumbles upon $2 million in drug money and decides to keep it. Hot on his trail is a remorseless killer (Bardem) intent on getting the money back, with Jones as a sheriff dealing with the crimes being left in the wake. The Coens certainly have a good track history of crime dramas (“Fargo,” “Blood Simple”). (Nov. 9, limited)
Official Web site

Starring Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Making use of the motion-capture technology he used for “The Polar Express” in 2004, director Zemeckis has crafted an action-filled epic that is supposed to be a departure from the “Beowulf” you likely read in high school. Still, it’s PG-13 rating should still allow students a chance to get the basics of the story, just in case they can’t find time to read the book before the big exam. (Nov. 16)
Official Web site

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Zach Mills
Directed by Zach Helm

Making his directorial debut, Helm has certainly not started out small with this tale of a eccentric and really old (we’re talking 243 years old) toy-store owner (Hoffman) who selects his store manager (Portman) to take over as his successor. The cast is definitely an attraction for the film, which seems heavily influenced by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” (Nov. 16)
Official Web site

Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Rachel Covey and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Kevin Lima

Disney’s ambitious holiday feature is actually a mix of animation and live-action (mostly live-action) with Adams playing a princess banished from her animated kingdom, landing in New York City, of all places. Dempsey plays a divorce lawyer who falls for the princess. However, she’s soon followed to the Big Apple by her lovestruck prince (Marsden) and an evil queen (Sarandon). Disney’s had a pretty good track record with fairy tale movies, but this one might be its riskiest yet. Still, failure seems highly unlikely. (Nov. 21)
Official Web site

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Box Office Report: Oct. 12-14

While the fall movie season’s more adult-themed movies are starting to make their way into theaters, they were only able to make a small dent in the box office charts, with newcomers “We Own the Night,” “Michael Clayton” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” all failing to take the top spot. That belonged to the latest Tyler Perry movie, he of the “Madea” movies. Not having seen any of his movies, I’ll reserve judgment on their quality. But does he really need to be putting his own name in the titles of the films? If that’s the trend, maybe “George Clooney’s Michael Clayton” would have performed better. Or perhaps “Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg Own the Night” was the way to go?

1. “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married”
(Weekend domestic gross - $21.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $21.4 million)
(Budget - N/A)
2. “The Game Plan”
(Weekend domestic gross - $11.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $59.0 million)
(Budget - N/A)
3. “We Own the Night”
(Weekend domestic gross - $10.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $10.8 million)
(Budget - $21 million)
4. “Michael Clayton”
(Weekend domestic gross - $10.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $15.9 million)
(Budget - N/A)
5. “The Heartbreak Kid”
(Weekend domestic gross - $7.3 million)
(Worldwide gross - $39.8 million)
(Budget - N/A)
6. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
(Weekend domestic gross - $6.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $6.2 million)
(Budget - N/A)
7. “The Kingdom”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $50.2 million)
(Budget - $70 million)
8. “Across the Universe”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.8 million)
(Worldwide gross - $12.9 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “Resident Evil: Extinction”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $77.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)
10. “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $7.9 million)
(Budget - N/A)

2007 Year-To-Date
1. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”

(Worldwide gross - $961.0 million)
(Budget - $300 million)
2. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
(Worldwide gross - $936.2 million)
(Budget - $150 million)
3. “Spider-Man 3”
(Worldwide gross - $890.5 million)
(Budget - $258 million)
4. “Shrek the Third”
(Worldwide gross - $791.7 million)
(Budget - $160 million)
5. “Transformers”
(Worldwide gross - $700.8 million)
(Budget - $150 million)
6. “The Simpsons Movie”
(Worldwide gross - $521.9 million)
(Budget - $75 million)
7. “300”
(Worldwide gross - $456.1 million)
(Budget - $65 million)
8. “Ratatouille”
(Worldwide gross - $450.3 million)
(Budget - $150 million)
9. “The Bourne Ultimatum”
(Worldwide gross - $404.0 million)
(Budget - $110 million)
10. “Live Free or Die Hard”
(Worldwide gross - $372.5 million)
(Budget - $110 million)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Movie Review: "Death Proof"

Starring Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Tracie Thoms, Sydney Poitier, Rose McGowan
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Official Web site

When “Grindhouse” hit theaters this past spring, it certainly sounded like a can’t-miss prospect – two popular and respected directors (Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) helming a double feature filled with fake trailers for other movies in between. But while critical response was largely positive, audiences generally stayed away, with “Grindhouse” pulling in only around $25 million at the box office – a notable and surprising flop.

The two films that made up “Grindhouse” have been split up for release on DVD with “Death Proof,” directed by Tarantino, the first out of the gate. While it certainly falls short of some of his classic previous work (“Pulp Fiction”), it does demonstrate his ability to capture the feel of a genre, as well as making the film stand on its own merits.

Tarantino is a well-documented movie geek who has a particular affinity for 1970s exploitation movies, generally the very kind that would play as double features back then. So with “Death Proof,” Tarantino is paying homage to the slasher horror movies that regularly put women in peril, while also providing a revenge fantasy in the film’s third act.

Granted, films such as those cheesy ones from the ‘70s, would never be able to reel in an attractive cast such as the one in “Death Proof,” nor have dialogue as entertaining to hear. One thing that most any viewer of a Tarantino movie can agree with is that the man likes to write dialogue. Most would also say he’s very good at it, too.

Such is the case with “Death Proof,” which if it’s fair to bill the movie as a horror flick, is easily the most talkative one ever filmed. It’s almost two different films in one. The first half follows one group of girls (featuring Rose McGowan, Vanessa Ferlito and Sydney Poitier) as they enjoy a raucous night on the town in Austin, Texas, only to cross paths with a mysterious stranger named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell in a great performance). His vehicle (and subsequently, weapon) of choice is a 1970 Dodge Charger, which he uses to chase down and kill his victims.

The second half picks up 14 months later when Mike comes across a new group of female targets who are in a Tennessee town to film a movie. He begins stalking them, only to realize that these “victims” might not be as powerless and scared as he had hoped.

Eschewing the use of CGI, Tarantino films his car chases, including a wildly intense concluding action sequence, using old-fashioned stuntwork and creative camerawork. These are real cars featuring real people, including stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell (in a standout role) performing some amazing physical feats on the hood of a vehicle.

The movie does meander some in pacing, and Tarantino is maybe a bit too enamored with his dialogue from time to time, but it does deliver some quoteworthy moments, too. Plus, it produces some amazing car crashes and a villain in Stuntman Mike that allows Russell to really get in touch with his emotions. That’s fun to see, and so too is “Death Proof.”
Grade: B+
(Unrated, but contains violent content and adult language.)