Sunday, November 09, 2008

Holiday Movie Preview (Part 2)

The movie release schedule looks to be packed as the year ends, with lots of options vying for your money. This following list doesn’t even cover it all, as there are that many movies set to unspool in theaters in December, particularly at Christmastime.

Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones
Directed by Ron Howard

Based on the play by Peter Morgan, this film dramatizes the series of post-Watergate interviews conducted with Richard Nixon by TV talk show host David Frost. Langella and Sheen both reprise their roles from the stage production, with Oscar-winner Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) as director. This movie would seem custom made for awards, at least in the acting categories. (Dec. 5, limited)
Official Web site

Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Directed by John Patrick Shanley

Can I say ditto from the prior entry? “Doubt” is also based on a play (a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less) and looks to feature a lot of acting standouts. A priest (Hoffman) is accused of abusing a young boy and must defend himself against the suspicions of a Catholic school principal (Streep). Director Shanley was also the writer of the Broadway play, so he certainly knows the material. (Dec. 12, limited)
Official Web site

“The Day the Earth Stood Still”
Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates
Directed by Scott Derrickson

Reeves is back in familiar sci-fi territory, starring as Klaatu, an alien messenger sent to warn Earth of its potentially eminent demise, much to the skepticism and chagrin of its citizens. Could do big box office, but seems to be a remake of the classic 1951 film that no one was seeking. (Dec. 12)
Official Web site

“Seven Pounds”
Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy
Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Reteaming with his “The Pursuit of Happyness” director, Smith stars as a suicidal man who finds himself involved in changing lives of several people he befriends. The story is largely being kept quiet, but Smith seems to be box office gold with pretty much anything. (Dec. 19)
Official Web site

“Yes Man”
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Sasha
Alexander, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp
Directed by Peyton Reed

It seems like it’s been a long time since Carrey has starred in a big budget comedy (2003’s “Bruce Almighty” would have been the last), but the trailer would seem to indicate he’s in a comfort zone here. Carrying a movie on his shoulders is nothing new, and this is one of the few outright comedies coming out this month, which bodes well for the movie’s prospects. (Dec. 19)
Official Web site

“Marley and Me”
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Haley Bennett, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane
Directed by David Frankel

Aniston and Wilson were romantically linked (which has since ended, evidently) during the filming of this movie, based on the best-selling book about a family and their lovable, yet constantly misbehaving dog. Should be an ideal holiday draw for families. (Dec. 25)
Official Web site

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond
Directed by David Fincher

Adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, “Benjamin Button” is the remarkable tale of a man (Pitt) who is aging backwards and obviously has to deal with life in a different way. A unique movie such as this could be something magical or a disaster. The early word and trailer indicates the former. This marks the third (and most ambitious) collaboration for Pitt and Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club”) (Dec. 25)
Official Web site

Starring Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by Brian Singer

This project about the plan of a group of German colonels to assassinate Adolf Hitler during World War II is based on actual events and has had a troubled journey to the screen. Numerous changes to the release date have occured, but there is a curiosity factor here to see if Cruise and director Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) can pull this risky film off. (Dec. 26)
Official Web site

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Holiday Movie Preview 2008 (Part 1)

Apologies for the long delay in updates. Was a busy October that honestly wasn't filled with much movie watching. Hard to believe, I know. But here's the holiday movie preview below, which hopefully will go a little ways to letting you know about some of the big end-of-year releases coming soon to a theater near you.

As Halloween has passed and the holiday season is beginning in earnest, Hollywood will be rolling out its big end of year films. Some will be big money earners, while others will be contending for various awards. A select few will have a chance to do both. The following is a rundown of some of November’s notable films. Release dates are subject to change, as usual.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
Starring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

A follow-up to the 2005 hit animated film, the gang of animals are attempting to get back to their former home in New York City, only to find themselves stranded in Africa. The first film’s success was a bit of a surprise, but with an ideal pre-Thanksgiving release date, this sequel would seem to have hit written all over it. (Nov. 7)
Official Web site

“Role Models”
Starring Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson
Directed by David Wain

A pair of immature salesmen (Rudd and Scott) are forced to participate in a court-ordered Big Brother program with troubled youths. This R-rated comedy comes from the makers of the former cult MTV show, “The State.” (Nov. 7)
Official Web site

“Quantum of Solace”
Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench
Directed by Marc Forster

Never mind the puzzling title, Craig proved more than worthy to fill the shoes of 007, with “Casino Royale” a hugely popular relaunch of the franchise. This sequel’s story picks up right where the previous film left off, with Bond in a rather sour mood and seeking revenge. (Nov. 14)
Official Web site

Starring the voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton
Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams

Well, what do you know? Another animated talking animal movie, with this one featuring Travolta voicing the title character, a showbiz dog who gets separated from his home and family. He must find his way back with the help of some new friends. Doesn’t this storyline sound overly familiar? (Nov. 21)
Official Web site

Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

This adaptation of the very popular book series by Stephenie Meyers is what the filmmakers hope is the beginning of an equally popular film franchise. The movie, about a budding romance between a couple of teens – one of whom happens to be a vampire – was moved up from its December release date after the latest “Harry Potter” film was pushed back to 2009. (Nov. 21)
Official Web site

“Four Christmases”
Starring Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight
Directed by Seth Gordon

As Christmas approaches, you can count on holiday-themed romantic comedies, and this year is no exception. Vaughn and Witherspoon play a married couple forced to endure the holiday with their divorced parents’ four families. Expect lots of stressed out family interaction, probably just like many of our holiday gatherings. (Nov. 26)
Official Web site

Starring Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Bruce Spence, Bryan Brown
Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Pre-World War II Austrailia is the setting for this drama that will likely feature a lot of romance and prove to be the best kind of free advertising a country’s tourist bureau could have. Kidman reunites with her “Moulin Rouge” director as an English aristocrat who inherits property that is protected by a tough rancher (Jackman). (Nov. 26)
Official Web site

Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Diego Luna, Alison Pill
Directed by Gus Van Sant

After spending the last few years making lower-profile and little seen films (“Elephant,” “Paranoid Park”), Van Sant directs what might be his most notable since “Good Will Hunting.” To be sure, Penn will be a strong contender come Oscar time, as he portrays the real-life Harvey Milk, an openly gay San Francisco activist who builds up a huge following in his bid to serve in public office during the 1970s. While this true story likely has a narrow appeal, the solid cast could help. (Nov. 26, limited)
Official Web site

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Legend Is Gone

Paul Newman, one of the silver screen's legendary actors, who carved out an indelible career that reached far beyond Hollywood, passed away Sept. 26 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 83. The actor, whose career spanned more than 50 years, was also a noted activist, entrepreneur and race car driver.

Easily one of the most respected and charismatic actors of his or any generation, Newman's list of movie credits are substantial and impressive. Consider some of these career highlights by decade: (1950s) – "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; (1960s) – "The Hustler," "Cool Hand Luke," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"; (1970s) – "The Sting," "Slap Shot"; (1980s) – "The Verdict," "The Color of Money" (1990s) – "Nobody's Fool"; (2000s) – "Road to Perdition," "Cars."

A 10-time Oscar nominee, Newman only won the award once, for 1986's "The Color of Money," when he reprised his role as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson. The role was originated in 1961's "The Hustler." Ironically, he was given an honorary Oscar for his outstanding body of work in 1986 – the same year he took the role in Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money," starring alongside Tom Cruise, fresh off his star-making role in "Top Gun." He would receive a second honorary Oscar in 1994, recognizing his charitable work.

Aside from his substantial amount of time and effort committed to various charities over the years, Newman also launched Newman's Own in 1982, which consisted of a line of food products covering everything from microwave popcorn to salad dressing. The products have expanded over the years to include salsa, lemonade and more, with many of them lining the shelves at your local grocery store.

His passing is best summed up by his most notable co-star and longtime friend Robert Redford: "There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life and this country is better for his being in it."

Movie Review: "Baby Mama"

Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Martin
Directed by Michael McCullers

Official Web site

Performing together for several years on “Saturday Night Live,” Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have proven to have sharp comedic skills and chemistry that served them well as co-anchors of “Weekend Update” on the long-running comedy show.

Their chemistry on that program would seem to make for a natural and obvious progression to performing together on the big screen. And while “Baby Mama” is far from a comedic masterpiece, it does provide a solid storyline that keeps the two actresses front and center for the entire film. That, in and of itself, is a rarity for big studio comedies.

In the film, Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman for a large grocery store (think something like Whole Foods) who begins to hear her biological clock ticking very loudly. After some unsuccessful dealings with sperm banks, she turns to a surrogacy firm run by Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver, in a good comic turn).

Kate is matched up with Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), a generally unmotivated woman saddled with a selfish and constantly scheming husband (Dax Shepard). But for the whopping fee of $100,000, she gladly signs on to become a surrogate. Regarding the ridiculously high fee, Kate comments, “It costs more to have someone born than to have someone killed.” To which Bicknell responds, “It takes longer.”

Most of the movie’s humor stems from the developing friendship between the two seemingly wildly different women. Kate is straight-laced (some would say uptight), while Angie is much more free-spirited (some would say irresponsible). Naturally, the two begin to find they might have more in common than they first thought, as they begin to bond during the course of Angie’s pregnancy.

Adding to the impending baby situation is a developing relationship that Kate strikes with Rob Ackerman, a small business owner in a neighborhood where the grocery store is building a new location. The script by Michael McCullers, who also directed the film, has problems developing the romantic relationship, with Kinnear’s character mostly underdeveloped. With the film placing much of its focus on the Kate/Angie relationship, the budding romance mostly plays as an afterthought.

The surprises in “Baby Mama” are fairly mild, but the laughs do come consistently enough to keep audiences interested. The winning pairing of Poehler and Fey plays a large part in that. However, Steve Martin, in a small role, steals a lot of laughs as Kate’s kind of spacy boss. He’s very big on eye contact, seeing it as a kind of reward to give his fellow employees.

So while the film’s comedic possibilities are never fully realized, “Baby Mama” provides proof that with the right script, Poehler and Fey have got what it takes to become the next great comedic duo.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a drug reference.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fall 2008 Movie Preview (Part 2)

October’s releases usually follow a more Academy Award-friendly path, with some Halloween-themed movies thrown into the mix. The following is a rundown of the month's more notable releases. Release dates are subject to change.

“Flash of Genius”
Starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda
Directed by Marc Abraham

Based on a true story, this film follows Robert Kearns (Kinnear) and his battle against the auto industry over intermittent windshield wipers, a technology he invented and unsuccesfully attempted to sell to the automakers. David vs. Goliath tales are certainly popular in Hollywood, and they don’t get much bigger than this. But, hopefully the film doesn’t get too bogged down in discussions about windshield wipers. (Oct. 3)
Official Web site

“The Express”
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Clancy Brown and Charles S. Dutton
Directed by Gary Fleder

Another fact-based story hits theaters, this one about Ernie Davis, the first African American to win college football’s Heisman Trophy. Quaid, a veteran of sports movies, plays Davis’ coach. As the college football season will be in full swing when this is released, the timing to be a sleeper hit could be right. (Oct. 10)
Official Web site

“Body of Lies”
Starring Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney
Directed by Ridley Scott

Lots of ads have already been plugging this movie, which is the fourth collaboration for Crowe and director Scott, with the star power of DiCaprio on board this time out. Taking on the timely issue of terrorism, DiCaprio plays an ex-journalist following a hot lead in Jordan, with a determined CIA agent (Crowe) as his handler. (Oct. 10)
Official Web site

“Max Payne”
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Donal Logue, Chris O’Donnell
Directed by John Moore

Based on a video game isn’t always the best recipe for success (I’ll spare unspooling the list of failed attempts here), but the story of a DEA agent (Wahlberg) out to avenge the death of his family looks better than most of the past attempts. That might be faint praise, however. But the game was good, for whatever that’s worth. (Oct. 17)
Official Web site

Starring Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Scott Glenn, Thandie Newton
Directed by Oliver Stone

Don’t think for a second that the release date of this biopic about the current President of the United States isn’t meant to have any influence on Election Day. Writer-director Stone has said he had every intention of getting the film out before November. Obviously, the film will be polarizing, but can it still be entertaining? The cast certainly holds interest, as they do in most of Stone’s films. (Oct. 17, limited)
Official Web site

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year”
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu
Directed by Kenny Ortega

The third film in the movie musical franchise (if you can call it that) leaps from its Disney Channel beginnings to the big screen. While it’s uncertain how many of its generally young audience will pay for what they saw for free the past two times, there’s not going to be any similar material competing with it in October. (Oct. 24)
Official Web site

Starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Colm Feore
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Eastwood directing Jolie could be an intriguing collaboration, and early word from its debut earlier this year at the Cannes film festival, is that this is one to watch out for at awards time. Not that big a surprise based on the recent track record of Eastwood. Jolie plays a mom reunited with her missing son in 1920s Los Angeles, who begins to have serious doubts about his identity. (Oct. 24, limited)
No official Web site

“Synecdoche, New York”
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson
Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Having made a solid career of writing unusual, yet highly original screenplays (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) Kaufman makes his directorial debut with Oscar-winner Hoffman playing Caden Cotard, a theater director strugging with his work, not to mention the women in his life. And in a true Kaufman-esque touch, Cotard’s also constructing a giant replica of New York in a warehouse, as part of his new play. (Oct. 24, limited)
No official Web site

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fall 2008 Movie Preview (Part 1)

Summer at the movies was largely dominated by heroes, super and otherwise, as Batman, Iron Man and Indiana Jones all spent time owning the top of the box-office charts. What will the fall movie season bring? Well, likely not any big moneymakers like those three. But a fair amount of solid hits and possible Oscar contenders could emerge, come early next year.

The following is a rundown of some of the releases coming this month, with October’s roster to follow next week. As always, release dates are subject to change.

“The Women”
Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith
Directed by Diane English

A remake of the 1939 film of the same name, this movie would love nothing more than capture the recent box-office success of “Sex and the City.” But there’s no doubt that, based on the heavily female cast, most men will probably be sitting this one out – if given a choice by their significant other, that is. (Sept. 12)
Official Web site

“Burn After Reading”
Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

The Coen brothers’ follow-up to their Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men” ventures back into much more comedic territory, with a great cast on hand, as usual. A pair of fitness center employees (McDormand and Pitt) get their hands on the unpublished memoirs of a CIA agent (Malkovich), which gets them into hot water. This might not be Oscar caliber work this time out for the Coens, but still should be worth a look. (Sept. 12)
Official Web site

“Righteous Kill”
Starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Curtis Jackson, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy and John Leguizamo
Directed by Jon Avnet

Having shared the screen briefly in 1995’s great crime drama, “Heat,” DeNiro and Pacino spend a lot more time together in this film about a pair of cops investigating a serial vigilante. While it’s great to have the two acting legends paired up, did it have to be as cops? There’s certainly a “been there, done that” feel here. Hopefully, they can lift the seemingly overdone material. (Sept. 12)
Official Web site

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons
Directed by Ed Harris

This film marks the second directing effort from Harris (“Pollack” being the other), who also co-stars with Mortensen as lawmen who come to clean up a crime-riddled town. Westerns have a spotty track record making money over the past couple of decades, but this one could be a sleeper, if marketed right. (Sept. 17, limited)
Official Web site

“Ghost Town”
Starring Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig, Dana Ivey
Directed by David Koepp

In his first starring role on the big screen, Gervais plays a dentist with a sour disposition. But after briefly dying during a medical procedure and being revived, he realizes he now has the ability to communicate with the dead – something he finds really annoying. OK, the premise is borderline bad sitcom by description, but hopefully Gervais, who has shown a comic gift on TV (the original “The Office” and “Extras”) can work some movie magic. (Sept. 19)
Official Web site

Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga
Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Adapted from the acclaimed 1998 novel, “Blindness” tells the tale of an epidemic that strikes a city, leaving everyone blind, save for one woman (Moore). She then helps a small group of people survive, while humanity breaks down around them. This film, from the director of “The Constant Gardener,” is certainly intriguing material, but may prove to be a bit too bleak for most audiences. (Sept. 26)
Official Web site

“Miracle at St. Anna”
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller
Directed by Spike Lee

Writer-director Lee makes the first war movie of his career, focusing on a real-life segregated World War II infantry unit of the U.S. Army. Part of the unit becomes separated during a battle and is forced to await their orders in an Italian village, while behind enemy lines. This looks like Lee’s best shot at an Oscar to come along in years. But WWII-era movies are certainly not an easy sell to audiences. (Sept. 26)
Official Web site

“Eagle Eye”
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie and Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by D.J. Caruso

Two strangers (LaBeouf and Monaghan) are thrown together by extreme circumstances in the form of a caller on their cell phones who seems to know their every move. The caller puts them into a cat-and-mouse situation, with their lives on the line and FBI authorities (led by Thornton) in hot pursuit This high-concept, yet seemingly improbable thriller could prove to be a hit, if the promise of its clever trailer is realized. (Sept. 26)
Official Web site

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hang on

Well, I've been slacking here a bit, haven't I? I'll admit, movie watching kind of took a backseat these past couple of weeks. Blame the Olympics, as I became a bit of a junkie with my viewing habits. I know some sleep was sacrificed to see some events live – and my life is all the better for it. Well, maybe not.

But rest assured that I'll be getting back to the ol' movie blog here real soon. Be expecting a fall movie preview (likely in two parts) coming at you by the weekend. Until then ...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight"

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Official Web site

Having been able to successfully relaunch the franchise in 2005 with the stellar “Batman Begins,” director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, “The Dark Knight,” is one of those rare sequels that is able to top the impressive accomplishments reached by its predecessor. It’s a lengthy, dark journey that is filled with a few surprises, which includes the contemplation of ethical dilemmas. A thinking person’s superhero movie? This sure isn’t your typical brain-dead summer offering that Hollywood tends to favor throwing at audiences.

The script, co-written by Nolan with his brother, Christopher, captures the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) at a time when crime is down and citizens are feeling safer and more confident than they have in years. Not that it’s all sunshine and happiness for Gotham City, as the criminal element is still a presence in town, albeit a more muted one. Corruption still exists, but devoted, hardworking crime fighters can still be found, such as police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, very good in a tricky role), the fearless and aggressive district attorney.

But when a new morally unbound criminal, called The Joker (Heath Ledger) begins causing trouble for everyone, the carefully built confidence of the city threatens to completely collapse. Batman, Gordon and Dent form an alliance to try and deal with the aftermath of the Joker’s criminal schemes. Yet, as the Joker himself makes known to anyone who will listen, he doesn’t really have a master plan. He’s not served by petty self-interests or a hidden agenda. He just wants to bring chaos to town.

Obviously, a ton has been said and written about the tragic death of Ledger earlier this year, which threatened to become a bigger story than the film itself. But as the movie plays out over its lengthy 152-minute running time, you forget that you’re even watching Ledger on screen. His performance is that transformative and chilling. As good as Jack Nicholson was portraying the Joker in 1989’s “Batman,” you never forgot who you were seeing. But Ledger’s Joker is quite a dark departure from previous incarnations of the character, as he’s played as an obviously intelligent, yet mentally unstable man who probably has some very large skeletons in his closet.

But, in what turns out to be an inspired decision, the movie doesn’t sidetrack into “Joker Begins,” as no back story is provided to the villain. Not much more about him is known at the end of the film than when he first appears on screen. And while he is the most memorable character in the film, the Joker isn’t overused, as Nolan makes sure the entire main cast (a most impressive one) is given moments to shine. Returning is Michael Caine as Alfred, the loyal butler to Bruce Wayne, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, who heads up Wayne’s business interests (not to mention his ability to create exceptional crimefighting gadgets for Batman). Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over for Katie Holmes to good effect as Rachel Dawes, the assistant DA and love interest for Dent.

As the Joker continues to stay at least one step ahead of his pursuers, characters are forced to make difficult decisions – some with life-or-death consequences. Batman and Dent especially are put through the wringer by the Joker, who delights in seeing heroic people brought down to his level of behavior. He sees the stakes in the battle with Batman as nothing short of Gotham City’s soul.

Much like he did in the previous film, Bale shows a steely determination as Wayne/Batman, while capturing the internal conflict of not knowing who exactly he is in his own heart or the hearts of those he protects. His performance is exactly what it needs to be for the story, but is almost certainly to be overshadowed by the flashier work by Ledger, which will likely garner an Oscar nomination.

The film should also receive award consideration on a number of technical fronts, and might be remembered for some major ones come next year. It’s a credit to Nolan’s ambition that “The Dark Knight” isn’t simply a going-through-the-motions sequel, content to ride on the long cape of its previous superhero tale. This sequel is an adult, and I reiterate adult, examination of two troubled men who have chosen wildly different paths in life. One has accepted who he has become, while the other is maybe still searching.

Grade: A
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Movie Review: "The Savages"

Starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, Cara Seymour
Directed by Tamara Jenkins

Official Web site

After a standout debut in 1998 with the darkly humorous “Slums of Beverly Hills,” writer-director Tamara Jenkins seemingly disappeared from the Hollywood scene, only to reemerge late last year with the release of “The Savages.” It’s a bit of a shame to have to wait nine years for something this good, but better late than never.

“The Savages” pairs Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, two of their generation’s finest actors, as unhappy siblings forced to deal with the declining health of their father, Lenny (Philip Bosco). Wendy and Jon Savage both live in New York, far from their father, who lives in Arizona. And with the occasional hints of their crummy childhoods growing up with the short-tempered and foul-mouthed Lenny, their distance from him seems intentional.

But once Lenny starts acting out (in a way I won’t describe here) due to the onset of dementia and his live-in girlfriend passes away, Wendy and Jon are forced to reestablish connections with their father and bring him back to New York. It’s there they look to find a new home for him in an assisted living facility – a pursuit made particularly more difficult for Jon, who can barely hide his dislike for his father.

Aside from their problems with Lenny, Wendy and Jon are hardly happy, well adjusted people themselves. Wendy’s in the midst of an affair with a married man, with no hopes of it ever turning into something more, while Jon is unwilling to marry a longtime Polish girlfriend, even though her deportation to Poland is pending. He even openly weeps about his situation on occasion, yet seems emotionally incapable of dealing with marriage.

While the above description might make it sound like “The Savages” is one seriously downbeat movie, it’s to Jenkins’ credit that there’s plenty of dark humor to be found here too. As she did with “Slums of Beverly Hills,” Jenkins shows the ability to illicit laughter from less than humorous circumstances. Some of the laughs come from the frequent bickering between Wendy and Jon, who pick apart each other’s lives. But despite their arguments, it’s apparent that the two genuinely seem to care for one another. Dealing with an end of life issue with their father forces them to look closer at the direction of their own lives.

Hoffman and Linney (in an Oscar-nominated performance) are both excellent and have a chemistry that makes them very believable as brother and sister. Bosco also has some good moments as the irascible father who’s struggling to cope with the unwanted changes in his life.

The movie, while a fictional tale, has a definite air of reality to it. It’s filled with scenes that feel genuine, sometimes uncomfortably so. Case in point is a well written scene outside a picturesque nursing home that unleashes some brutal truths that are hardly comfortable to talk about. But it’s those kind of perceptive observations that helps “The Savages” extend beyond what could have been, in lesser hands, a boring and predictable study of unlikeable characters. The fact that you end up caring about these people at all is a testament to the care invested by Jenkins and the actors. That said, spending time with the Savages makes me a little more thankful for the family I have.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for some sexuality and language.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No laughing matter

There have been a number of well known personalities passing away in the news and entertainment business lately, and now, sadly, George Carlin can be added to the list. Due to heart failure on Monday, Carlin, 71, (fill in your own dying euphemism here – George had a ton of ‘em).

The comedian made his big breakthrough in the business back in the 1970s, and had been consistently working in TV, film and stand-up comedy ever since. His last HBO special (one of a staggering 14 he did with the network) premiered in March. Incidentally, a mini-marathon of his specials will be airing on HBO2 over the next few days. NBC is set to air the debut episode of “Saturday Night Live” on Saturday, featuring Carlin as the host.

There definitely won’t ever be another comedian quite like him coming along. Obviously, I’m not the only one to think so. Here’s what Jerry Seinfeld had to say in the New York Times.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Special-effects pioneer dies

Stan Winston, one of the most influential and oft-employed special-effects experts working in the movie business, passed away Sunday at his home in Malibu, Calif., at 62. He had been battling multiple myeloma for several years, but had been consistently working throughout his illness, including on May’s smash hit, “Iron Man.” Among his long list of credits includes “The Terminator,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Aliens,” and “Jurassic Park.” On the latter two films he won Oscars, with later Academy Awards coming for his groundbreaking work on “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Movie Review: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent and Shia LaBeouf
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Official Web site

Nearly two decades have passed since Indiana Jones hung up his fedora and whip, for what was thought to be the last time. But consistent urging from fans (and no doubt, executives at Paramount Pictures, the studio that has released the entire series) has brought Indiana Jones out of storage and reunited star Harrison Ford with director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas. Having long struggled to find a script suitable enough that the entire creative team could agree upon eventually led to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” And while the fourth installment in the series is a welcome return to the big screen, it’s also the least satisfying of the quartet.

That’s not to say that the movie is a dud. Quite the contrary, as “Crystal Skull” features another winning performance from Ford as the history professor/archaeologist, along with a suitably wicked turn by Cate Blanchett as the primary villain this go around. There’s plenty of action set pieces on display here, with the opening sequence inside and out of a giant warehouse in the Nevada desert a particular winner. Spielberg even manages to find time to interject some humor into the early going, as Indy finds himself unknowingly seeking refuge from the Russians by hiding out at a nuclear testing site.

In fact, the first 20 minutes are generally so enjoyable that the remainder of the movie struggles to maintain that energy level, once the central story is unspooled. The script by David Koepp is, at times, overly convoluted, as it involves the search for a crystal skull that will give untold power to its possessor, along with the discovery of an ancient city in South America made of gold guarded by the undead (no, not zombies), and assorted otherworldly mumbo jumbo.

Set in 1957, the story tends to bog down whenever the characters have to stop to explain to each other (and by extension, the audience) what is going on and/or what they are attempting to do. After having spent the previous three films seeking out the Ark of the Covenant, a mystical stone taken from a peaceful village, and the Holy Grail, maybe Indy’s simply running out of interesting artifacts to find. But the crystal skull introduces an extraterrestrial element to the story that seems out of place in the Indiana Jones universe.

The movie fares much better with the interaction of its characters, including the introduction of Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a young biker who handles his comb as much as his switchblade. He comes to Indy with the request that he help him find his mother and Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt), who turns out to have been a mentor for both men. Oxley disappeared while seeking the crystal skull, and Mutt’s mother also went missing after going to find him. The Russians, led by the icy villainess Irina Spalko (Blanchett), have tracked Indy down after being foiled by him in the desert, and are also in pursuit of the skull.

Making their way to South America, the heroes eventually find Oxley and Mutt’s mother, Marion (Karen Allen, clearly having fun with her role), who both have been captured by the Russians. It’s fun to see Ford and Allen back together after their good chemistry in “Raiders,” but there’s not as much interplay between the two as there should have been. The action sequences in the script largely push that aspect into the background, especially by the busy and overly CGI-reliant third act. It’s no secret that Lucas is a big proponent of CGI, but the movie makes too much use of it, rather than the old-fashioned stuntwork that was such a big part of the earlier films.

There’s still plenty to like in the fourth (and not necessarily final) installment of the series, as the story has no qualms about making cracks at the age of Indy, and this was certainly not an example of rich men going through the motions to collect a big paycheck. But approaching the film with tempered expectations would be advised. In interviews leading up to the film’s opening, Spielberg and Lucas had even said so, in a roundabout way. Still, it’s a bit of a pity they had to be right this time.

Grade: B-
(Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Movie Review: "I'm Not There"

Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Directed by Todd Haynes

Official Web site

No one can ever deny the enigmatic nature of Bob Dylan. He is perhaps the most perplexing, hard to understand (in a literal and figurative sense) presence to ever come along in music history. That might help explain a little bit more about writer-director Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” a film that is much more interested in capturing the essence of Dylan, rather than a biographical look at the man himself.

Featuring six actors cast as Dylan (or at least some approximation of him) is a bold decision – and not an altogether successful one. That’s not to say there isn’t good acting on display here; it just makes for a disjointed narrative. That, and the movie’s lengthy running time can make the mind wander a bit on occasion.

In the film, Dylan’s six incarnations are the following: a young African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) claiming to be Woody Guthrie; Robbie (Heath Ledger), who meets a woman on a Hollywood film, marries her and becomes a parent; Jack, a Greenwich Village folk singer (Christian Bale); Jude (Cate Blanchett), a rebellious presence who alienates fans by switching from acoustic to electric guitar; as a young man (Ben Whishaw) seemingly being interrogated about his career; and as an actor (Richard Gere) appearing in a Western about Billy the Kid.

Some of the sequences work better than others, with Gere’s portion of the film a general bore. It would have been better served to have been excised. Faring best is Blanchett, who, in an Oscar-nominated turn, makes you forget you’re watching a woman portray a man.

That said, none of the actors are doing a straight out impersonation of Dylan (Blanchett’s role would likely be the closest), as that would have probably moved the film closer to a near parody of the singer-songwriter. Clearly, Haynes (who has been silent since 2002’s great “Far From Heaven”) doesn’t have designs on a typical bio-pic such as recent hits “Ray” or “Walk the Line.” For that matter, it’s difficult to imagine Dylan ever being satisfied with someone attempting to do so.

But he at least seemed pleased with Haynes’ take on the film, giving approval to use his own music and have the actors also do their own interpretations of some of it.

Admittedly not counting myself as much of a Dylan fan, there’s probably a fair amount of semi-biographical information here that I missed, which might have diminished my enjoyment of the movie. But love him, hate him or something in between, “I’m Not There” is still a fairly entertaining, albeit a little scattershot examination of the elusive nature of an artist (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, by the way) who refuses to fit into any easy-to-define category.

Grade: B-
(Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Technical Difficulties

Sorry for the lack of updates here over the past couple of weeks. I've had some DSL issues to deal with, meaning my Internet connection had been operating lately at a speed slower than dial-up. (Remember dial-up? Yeeesh!) But I finally got AT&T to fix the problem (I hope), so expect some more activity on here later in the week – namely, the overdue "Indiana Jones" review, among other items.
Stay tuned ...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Movie Review: "There Will Be Blood"

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Official Web site

Having only acted in three movies since 1997, Daniel Day-Lewis has certainly made the most of his rare on-screen appearances, having pulled in a total of four Academy Award nominations in his career and, counting his riveting performance in “There Will Be Blood,” two Oscar wins.

Taking on the role as a heartless oil prospector in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s unconventional, yet outstanding drama, Day-Lewis commands the screen. His performance is so focused and mesmerizing, you occasionally forget that there’s a story to be told here.

“Blood” spans three decades in the life of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), who is introduced in a sequence of scenes that only feature one single line of dialogue, along with the atmospheric and eerie film score by Jonny Greenwood (better known as the guitarist for Radiohead). It’s one of many bold and ambitious decisions in the film by Anderson, who is in territory significantly different from his stellar work on “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.”

Plainview, as his name might imply, is of a singular vision – he wants to get rich and doesn’t care who he hurts or exploits in the attempt to do so. He makes seductive pitches to landowners in oil-rich Texas, assuring them that his is a family-operated business. His adopted young son, H.W. (Dillion Freasier), is frequently by his side and acts as a friendly face to counter Daniel’s aggressive business tactics.

Slowly building his wealth and power, Plainview runs into an obstacle when he attempts to buy land owned by the family of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young, but passionate preacher. It’s obvious from the first negotiation between Plainview and Eli, who is a stronger presence in the household than his soft-spoken father (David Willis), that these two will never become friends.

Plainview sees Sunday, like most people in his life, as an adversary that must be conquered. In fact, the bitter oilman later makes clear, in a well-written scene, his general disdain of people and desire to escape from them. Near the conclusion of the movie, when Plainview has seemingly made good on his wish, few would believe that the price paid for the life he has carved out was worth the effort.

Some will argue that having to follow such a contemptible character around for the film’s nearly 2 hour and 40 minute running time is too much. But few characters as intriguing and villainous as this ever grace the screen, which makes Plainview a character you clearly will never love, but will also find hard to get out of your head. For that matter, the same can easily be said about the movie itself.

Grade: A
(Rated R for violence.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indy & Co. survive Cannes

From left: Actors Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas attend the “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” photocall at the Palais des Festivals during the Cannes film festival on May 18 in Cannes, France.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Putting themselves before the critics at the Cannes film festival in France, the makers of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” look like they’ve managed to acquit themselves with nary a piece of rotten fruit hurled at them. The early reviews from the festival are beginning to pour in, and the response is largely positive.

Let’s face it: the reviews, be it from me or any notable critic, will be irrelevant to whether or not you go see this movie. This film is as clear example of being critic-proof as you can get. But don’t think that the cast and crew of the movie don’t care what people think. You don’t get together after 19 years apart to get torn apart by bad reviews. I’ll weigh in with my two cents probably after the upcoming holiday weekend.

- MC

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Movie Review: "Iron Man"

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by Jon Favreau

Official Web site

When news first broke last year that troubled movie star Robert Downey Jr. would be playing the title character in the big-budgeted summer movie, “Iron Man,” more than a few eyebrows were raised, not to mention the blood pressure of executives at Paramount, the studio distributing the film. But audiences and executives can breathe easy, as this adaptation of the popular Marvel comic book franchise has almost certainly got a film franchise on its hands – thanks in no small part to Downey’s wonderfully crowd-pleasing work.

Playing Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who has made his fortune on weapons manufacturing and sales, Downey captures the cockiness and fast-talking brashness of a man not used to being told no. But when he’s kidnapped by a group of brutal rebels while on a sales pitch in Afghanistan, he quickly realizes he’s no longer in control. Being forced to build a bomb he had just demonstrated to the U.S. military, Stark manages to instead spend his time constructing a metal suit that secures his freedom.

Taking on a series of modifications to the template of the suit once he returns home, Stark doesn’t set out to be a superhero that will thwart evildoers wherever they may roam. Instead, his main goal is to destroy the very weapons on which he and his company have made a fortune. Naturally, not everyone in the company shares Stark’s newfound sense of purpose.

Origin films, particularly with comic books, can tend to drag on occasion, as there is usually so much exposition required to introduce the characters and their various motivations. But the solidly written script (save for a less-than-satisfactory third act final battle) and good direction by Jon Favreau (in quite the departure from “Elf” and “Swingers”) keeps the action moving along at a fairly brisk pace. Plus, the casting is particularly noteworthy, as the four leads (Downey, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow) all do good work here. It’s pretty amazing to have a comic book movie filled at the top with actors who have all been nominated for an Oscar (and, in Paltrow’s case, won the award).

While a few months ago, people might have thought it a bit hard to believe Downey as a superhero, few have ever questioned his acting ability. It’s been all that off-the-set stuff that has usually caused him problems. But after witnessing him get harnessed into the sleek two-toned suit, deftly dropping self-deprecating one-liners along the way, any lingering doubt should easily disappear.

Grade: B+
(Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Summer 2008 Movie Preview, Part 2

The second half of the summer schedule is typically filled with a heavy dose of escapist fare, with July particularly targeted by movie studios for their big-budget releases. But, August usually manages to unearth some sleeper hits, as the dog days of the season wind down.
Here’s a look at some of the notable releases set to hit theaters in the latter half of the summer.

Starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron
Directed by Peter Berg

Playing a superhero who’s a bit less than heroic, Smith looks like he has another hit on his hands. Having previously had huge Fourth of July weekend movies, he is one of the few movie stars that can draw in big crowds, no matter what film genre he appears in. Having Oscar-winner Theron on board, portraying a possible love interest, sure can’t hurt. (July 2)
Official Web site

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, James Dodd
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

The first movie in this adaptation of the comic book became a big hit on DVD, which led to Universal Pictures taking on the sequel. Clearly, it’s a big boost to have Guillermo del Toro still very much involved in the franchise, as he’s become a big-time director since the first film, following the success of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” (July 11)
Official Web site

“The Dark Knight”
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Nolan’s successful relaunch of the franchise in 2005’s “Batman Begins” led to this even darker looking sequel, which has unfortunately been overshadowed to some extent by the tragic death of Ledger earlier this year. In this one, Batman (Bale) has to deal with a devious and twisted bank robber (Ledger), who becomes known as The Joker. (July 18)
Official Web site

“Step Brothers”
Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins
Directed by Adam McKay

From the same goofballs that brought you “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman” comes the latest Ferrell vehicle, with him and Reilly playing a pair of competitive guys who are forced to live together after their formerly single parents get married. There likely won’t be too many surprises for those who have seen previous comedies from Ferrell and his collaborators. But then again, if it makes you laugh, it’s hard to complain too much. Gotta love that poster, too. (July 25)
Official Web site

“The X-Files: I Want to Believe”
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Mitch Pileggi
Directed by Chris Carter

Ten years have past since the first “X-Files” movie, with many fans possibly having given up hope that a sequel would ever be made. The first film was a hit, but because so much time has passed, it’s uncertain what kind of success the follow-up will have. But agents Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson) are both back, as is creator Carter, who is also serving as writer and director. (July 25)
Official Web site

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Luke Ford, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Rob Cohen

Well, look here, it’s another sequel! Cohen takes over for Stephen Sommers as director, while Fraser is the only major player from the previous two “Mummy” films to return. But Li is on board as a mummy, who will probably be a bit more nimble than the slow-walking stereotypes that were popular in the early years of monster movies. Still, how much more gas could this franchise still have in the tank? (Aug. 1)
Official Web site

“Pineapple Express”
Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride
Directed by David Gordon Green

The comedic reach of Judd Apatow seems unlimited nowadays, as he is producing this action-comedy written by the team that released last summer’s hit “Superbad.” Rogen stars as a pot-loving process server who is forced to go on the run with his drug dealer buddy after he witnesses a cop-related murder. The trailer shows the promise of a really good movie, and the calendar slot looks to be just about right to produce a hit. (Aug. 8)
Official Web site

“Tropic Thunder”
Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte
Directed by Ben Stiller

Stiller stars and steps behind the camera for the first time since 2001’s “Zoolander” in this action-packed comedy about a group of actors who think they’re shooting a big budget war movie. However, when complications ensue, the actors find themselves having to become the very soldiers they’re portraying (which includes Downey as you’ve never seen him before). Go seek out the trailer to see what I mean. (Aug. 15)
Official Web site

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Summer 2008 Movie Preview, Part 1

As temperatures are starting to rise with the approach of summer, so too is the competition at movie theaters, as the Hollywood studios parade out their big releases. Plenty of options are available over the next few months – so much, in fact, that the following is a fairly truncated list of the new flicks coming soon. First up are releases for May and June, followed next week by July and August. Remember, release dates are subject to change.

“Iron Man”
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by Jon Favreau

Taking on the early-May slot that the “Spider-Man” franchise has gotten rich from, another comic book hero takes to the screen, with an unlikely Downey in the metal suit of the title character. Plenty of promotion has gone into this, and big money should follow. Just not “Spider-Man”-sized money. (May 2)
Official Web site

“Made of Honor”
Starring Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd
Directed by Paul Weiland

The best friend of a woman agrees to be her man of honor at her pending wedding. Trouble is, he realizes he loves her now and tries to find a way to express his feelings before her big day. The other trouble is this movie sounds quite familiar. Anybody else thinking “My Best Friend’s Wedding” here? Still, this is Dempsey’s best chance yet to become a movie star on top of his TV star status with “Grey’s Anatomy.” (May 2)
Official Web site

“Speed Racer”
Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox
Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

In their first directorial effort since “The Matrix” trilogy, the Wachowski brothers are tackling a cult classic Japanese animated TV show as a live-action feature. Sure, the dazzling visuals appear to be there, but is there enough of a built-in audience for this to truly become a hit? (May 9)
Official Web site

“What Happens In Vegas”
Starring Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Lake Bell, Dennis Farina
Directed by Tom Vaughn

Diaz and Kutcher star as a couple of down on their luck people who get drunk, then marry in Las Vegas – only to regret the decision the next morning. Throw in a $3 million win on a slot machine and the two find a reason to try to stick together, as both want the money and a divorce. A judge forces them to try to make the marriage work and freezes the money in the process. Wow, even for a Hollywood romantic comedy, this premise is a little shaky. (May 9)
Official Web site

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”
Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell
Directed by Andrew Adamson

As the first sequel in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, most everyone is back that helped make the 2005 film a big hit. A third film in the series is already being filmed, with a 2009 release scheduled. Guess the filmmakers are betting this one will do well at the box office – a safe bet, to be sure. (May 16)
Official Web site

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone and Shia LaBeouf
Directed by Steven Spielberg

After the completion of the third “Indiana Jones” film in 1989, it was assumed that was the end of the series. But fast forward nearly 20 years later, and here we go again. This film looks to be sticking to the old-fashioned action, stunts and humor that made the first three successful. The success of this one should be easy to predict. It’s only a matter of how much money it makes and how fast it’s earned. (May 23)
Official Web site

“Sex and the City: The Movie”
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Chris Noth
Directed by Michael Patrick King

The hit HBO series has made it to the big screen after numerous attempts, and picks up four years later with the four leading ladies, as Carrie (Parker) prepares to get married. This one might be defined as the “chick flick” of the year. Certainly a good counter-programming effort to “Indiana Jones.” (May 30)
Official Web site

“Kung Fu Panda”
Starring the voices of Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen
Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Well, what would summer be without another animated talking animal movie? This one features a panda bear recruited by Kung Fu masters (who also happen to be animals) to protect their homeland from an evil leopard. Kids will probably love this, but the tolerance level for adults might be tested. Still, a good cast is providing voices here, which might help. (June 6)
Official Web site

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”
Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider
Directed by Dennis Dugan

While it would be nice to see Sandler operate outside his comfort zone more, such as in “Punch-Drunk Love,” this script is actually an interesting collaboration between Sandler, Robert Smigel and the omnipresent Judd Apatow. Sandler plays a Mossad agent who fakes his death to emerge in New York as – wait for it – a hairdresser. Did I mention this is a comedy? (June 6)
Official Web site

“The Incredible Hulk”
Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Directed by Louis Leterrier

Forget the 2003 film directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly. That’s what the makers of this movie relaunch of the comic book character are wanting you to do. It helps having Norton on board, who also reportedly contributed to the script under an alias. The action will also be much more ramped up, which should appeal to a wider audience. (June 13)
Official Web site

“The Happening”
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Having taken a critical and box office beating for his last film, “Lady in the Water,” Shyamalan is in need of a hit. Sure, the trailer to this one looks good, making allusions to an impending deadly force arriving in a city. But one begins to wonder if the writer-director is willing or able to make any other kind of movie beyond atmospheric thrillers. (June 13)
Official Web site

“The Love Guru”
Starring Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Romany Malco, Meagan Good
Directed by Marco Schnabel

Having taken a fairly long break from movies, Myers returns as the title character in this comedy, playing another outrageous character with an accent. As a love expert, he’s employed to help a star hockey player win back his wife. Myers, who also co-wrote the movie, could seemingly play these kind of characters in his sleep. Hopefully, this won’t be too much of a retread of past successes. (June 20)
Official Web site

“Get Smart”
Starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp
Directed by Peter Segal

Still looking for a movie that might launch him as a film star, it’s questionable that a big-screen adaptation of a 1960s TV show will do the trick for “Get Smart” star Carell. After all, most of the audience going to see this will probably have never seen the small screen version. But Carell as a bumbling action star does have its appeal. (June 20)
Official Web site

Starring the voices of Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy
Directed by Andrew Stanton

Disney and Pixar Animation have collaborated on a futuristic film involving an inquisitive robot and its adventures in space. OK, so that’s a kind of vague description of the story, but it’s from the same director of “Finding Nemo” and Pixar hasn’t made a bad film yet. So it’s hard to imagine this won’t be worth seeing. (June 27)
Official Web site

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Delayed again

“Valkyrie,” based on a true story of Nazi soldiers plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler, won’t see the light of day until 2009. This marks the second such delay of the Tom Cruise-starring thriller, directed by Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “The Usual Suspects”). Originally, the film was set for a summer release, with a trailer released announcing so. Then it was pushed to October and now to Feb. 13, 2009, coinciding with President’s Day weekend. It’s also close to Valentine’s Day, so all you lovebirds, make your plans now.

These schedule shifts usually point to problems, but there will plenty of time to make judgments on the movie, with such a long period before its release. But the fact that you’ve got Cruise and British actors such as Kenneth Branaugh and Terence Stamp speaking in their normal voices as Nazi soldiers doesn’t exactly bolster confidence on the film’s desire for realism.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Movie Review: "Shine a Light"

Starring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Official Web site

The Rolling Stones have carved out a musical career unsurpassed in rock ‘n’ roll history that couldn’t be done justice in attempting to cover in a two-hour documentary. Director Martin Scorsese recognized that – even saying in a recent interview that the band would likely need a 10- to 12-hour feature to do them justice. That’s clearly not the aim of “Shine a Light,” an expertly crafted and musically powerful concert film that also weaves in documentary footage about the band, which marked 40 years together earlier this decade.

The film opens as Scorsese and his team of cameramen (consisting of numerous Oscar winners and Oscar nominees) are planning out the logistics of filming in the Beacon Theatre, an historic New York City venue, where the Stones are set to play two nights during their “A Bigger Bang” world tour in 2006. Humorously fretting over not knowing the band’s set list and the desire to have swooping cameras in use (to frontman Mick Jagger’s concern), Scorsese doesn’t waste much time getting to the concert. Tightly edited between the band’s two-night performance, which also consisted of a benefit show and birthday party for President Bill Clinton, the band looks to clearly be having a good time here.

Having endured a seemingly endless number of jokes about their age over, say, the past 20 years, many might have forgotten just how good the Stones can actually be in concert. “Shine a Light,” if nothing else, should prove to audiences that these old men can still rock. Featuring guest appearances by Jack White (of The White Stripes), Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy (getting much respect from the Stones, especially from guitarist Keith Richards), the band isn’t at a point in their career where too many surprises take place on stage.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that a rock ‘n’ roll band has been able to stick together for more than four decades, while still performing to sold-out audiences all over the world. With the numerous cameras on hand capturing the proceedings from practically all angles, this is likely the best-filmed concert of the band there has been, or ever will be. While the rest of the band doesn’t have the physical energy of Jagger (who is a still a veritable dynamo in his 60s), their musical chops are in fine form here, as Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts show that age is not a factor. Sure, the band has probably embraced the cold calculation of corporate rock more than they should have over the past couple of decades. But stripped of all that pretense in “Shine a Light,” for those couple of hours, you can clearly believe that (to paraphrase the Stones) time is on their side.

Grade: A-
(Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, drug references and smoking.)

Heston passes away

Charlton Heston, an Oscar-winning actor who memorably portrayed characters in big screen spectacles such as “Ben-Hur” and “The 10 Commandments,” passed away Saturday night at the age of 84.

More known in his later years for his political activism, namely in his role as president of the National Rifle Association, Heston carved out a movie career that spanned six decades. Aside from his Oscar-winning turn as the title character in “Ben-Hur” and his part as Moses in “The 10 Commandments,” Heston was also well-known for movies such as “Planet of the Apes,” “Julius Caesar” and “Touch of Evil.”

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Movie Review: "Michael Clayton"

Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack
Directed by Tony Gilroy

Official Web site

In recent years, George Clooney has carved out a strong career playing cool and confident characters. And on the surface, it would look like his title character in "Michael Clayton" is of the same ilk. But look closer and you'll see a man barely keeping his head above water.

It's a smart career move for Clooney, giving him a great character in an intelligent and suspenseful screenplay from writer and first-time director Tony Gilroy. The story focuses on the apparent breakdown of a powerful attorney in a large corporate New York-based law firm, and Clayton's task of trying to contain the situation.

Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, in a great performance) is the chief litigator for the firm in a class action lawsuit, defending U/North, an agrochemical company. He's also manic depressive and decides, under what he deems as a moment of clarity, to go off his medication, strip down during a deposition, and go running out into the streets. He knows the company is guilty and is simply tired of trying to defend them. This is clearly bad news for U/North, its in-house chief counsel (Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton) and Clayton's firm, which sends him in to try and reign in his longtime friend.

Performances are outstanding across the board, with the movie resisting the temptation to fall into clichés or offer easy answers. It requires attention, and chooses to not paint its characters with broad brushstrokes. Clooney's character is particularly memorable, as a man struggling in debt and knowing that he's basically nothing more than the firm's "janitor," meaning he cleans up messes its clients make. But he also understands that as long as he's good at it, his job, for better or worse, will always be needed.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for language, including some sexual dialogue.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Casting the Bushes

It looks like Dubya is about to find his first lady. Elizabeth Banks (“Definitely, Maybe”) is very close to signing up as Laura Bush in “W,” director Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic of George W. Bush. Filming is set to begin in a a few weeks with Josh Brolin (“No Country For Old Men”) already on board as the president.

Stone is also a co-writer on the script, which focuses on some of George’s wilder days of youth, along with his relationship with his father, George G.W. Bush. This marks Stone’s third film to center on events involving a presidency (“Nixon” and “JFK” are the other two). This film could be a fascinating portrait of a polarizing political figure. But it could also be fascinating in the way that a car wreck is to some people. Can’t imagine the Bushes would have Stone on their list of people to document their lives on the big screen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Movie Review: "Bee Movie"

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

Official Web site

Animated movies with animals have been a long favored genre in family-friendly movies over the years. But one begins to wonder with the seemingly constant stream of them over the past decade if there has been an oversaturation point met. That’s not to say that films, such as “Bee Movie,” an eminently watchable, yet somewhat creatively limited offering, can’t deliver solid entertainment. Still, it would be nice to see today’s animation releases try to divert resources to creating movies that don’t deal with talking animals. (I’ll give a pass to Pixar Animation, which has crafted a very impressive body of work in a short amount of time.)

Granted, I’m getting off the topic here, as “Bee Movie” does have something that no other animated movie has in the past – Jerry Seinfeld, who is the star and a co-writer on the film. Seinfeld voices Barry B. Benson, a recent school graduate who is about to enter into the workforce. Problem is, Barry isn’t ready to settle into a life of performing a repetitive task for the remainder of his life. He wants to get out and see the world, which is a veritable no-no in the bee culture. Unless, of course, you’re a pollen jock – tough bees that fly out of the hive to retrieve pollen. Barry sneaks along on one of the jocks’ outside excursions and, naturally, gets separated from the pack.

Finding himself saved by Vanessa (voiced by Renée Zellweger), a friendly florist, Barry decides to break another rule of the bee society, by actually speaking to a human. This sparks a friendship (with a kind of odd undertone of romance) between the two, as Barry continues to see Vanessa, to the dismay of his parents (Barry Levinson and Kathy Bates) and best friend, Adam (Matthew Broderick).

A bigger problem arises, however, when Barry realizes that all the hard work of making honey by the bees is going into creating products of consumption for humans. The fact that the insects who produce the honey are seeing no financial benefit from their work leads him to sue the human race. This leads to some amusing courtroom antics involving Barry, a melodramatic lawyer (John Goodman) and actor Ray Liotta (voiced by, well, Ray Liotta). Still, the end result of the trial and subsequent scenes that follow make for a weakened third act.

The script, concocted by Seinfeld and several scribes from his hit TV show, generates some laughs, but not as many as it probably should have. Unlike most episodes of his series, Seinfeld and his co-writers have to actually drive a plot for its 90-minute running time. And it’s in this area that the film sags a bit, as there doesn’t quite seem to be enough quality material to sustain it for the entire length.

The voice work by the A-list cast is good, and the animation is also notable, but falls short of excellent. Taken purely on a standalone basis, “Bee Movie” is entertaining, but nothing exceptional. And in an animation subgenre where animals speak, such as in great movies like “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Nemo” (both Pixar films), the bar should be set high when a talent like Seinfeld gets involved.

Grade: B-
(Rated PG for mild suggestive humor, and a brief depiction of smoking.)

Here's the update ...

OK, I’ll admit it – I’ve been slacking at updating the movie blog lately (with lately being defined as the last few months). I could throw out any number of excuses at you, but when it comes down to it, you probably wouldn’t care. You just want updates, damnit! Well, here you go, first with a movie review (ahh, remember those?). Yes, believe it or not, I still have been watching movies from time to time. I just haven’t been writing about them. I also plan to start getting back to more movie news updates, at least on a weekly (or weakly) basis.

I’m also going to start incorporating some capsule reviews of movies (both new and older releases), with the occasional expanded review to appear. The capsule reviews will be more succinct, and hopefully, not as time consuming for me. The expanded reviews will normally be tied in with the ones I write from time to time at my regular newspaper job.

Hopefully, this will satiate the hunger that my devoted visitors to the blog (of which I’m sure there are at least more than one) have for more reviews.

We’ll see how long this newly committed me sticks around, as I dutifully try to fend off the endless distractions that life throws my way. But for now, let the updates commence!

- MC

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Spring 2008 Movie Preview, Part 2

Judging by the schedule of releases for April, Hollywood is betting on audiences being ready to laugh, as comedies dominate the landscape for the month. Some of the comedies might be a little less cerebral than others (hello, Harold and Kumar!), but if they make you laugh, then who cares?
Here’s an overview of the films coming to theaters in April, keeping in mind release dates are subject to change.

Starring George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by George Clooney

Having been pushed back from a 2007 release, this comedy about a ragtag football team has a winning cast in the lead roles, plus Clooney is directing and coming off of tons of recognition for “Michael Clayton.” The timing of this would seem to be about perfect – if only it were football season. (April 4)
Official Web site

“Shine A Light”
Starring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Filmed over a two-night appearance at the Beacon Theater in New York City during the Rolling Stones’ most recent tour, Oscar-winning director Scorsese looks to capture some of the seemingly endless musical energy of the legendary rock band in this documentary. The film is set for release in standard and IMAX movie theaters.(April 4)
Official Web site

“Nim’s Island”
Starring Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin

With Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) getting top billing here, it looks like young girls are an obvious target audience in this adventure film. Breslin plays a girl seeking help from her favorite author (Foster) when her island home becomes threatened by outsiders. Foster should help bring in adults, plus it’s nice to see the two-time Oscar winner playing a rare comic role. (April 4)
Official Web site

“Smart People”
Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church
Directed by Noam Murro

A widowed English professor (Quaid) finds a new love come into his life, even as he has to deal with a rebellious daughter (Page) and the arrival of his ne’er-do-well brother (Church). Having picked up some strong notice at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie also benefits from having a red-hot Page in the cast, fresh off of “Juno.” (April 11)
Official Web site

“Street Kings”
Starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Common, The Game
Directed by David Ayer

It seems to be getting difficult to put different spins on cop movies nowadays, but the people involved in this one might just make it worth a look. Director Ayer was the writer of “Training Day,” while the script was co-written by noted crime novelist James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”). Reeves stars as a cop that has to prove his innocence in the death of a fellow police officer. (April 11)
Official Web site

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, Mila Kunis, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Written and starring Segal, he plays the ex-boyfriend of the title character, an actress who dumps him for another guy. He heads to Hawaii to try and mend his broken heart, only to run into the new couple there. The movie is co-produced by Judd Apatow (who you might have heard of), and features several of his regulars in supporting roles. Billed as the “ultimate romantic disaster movie,” can Apatow and Co. strike box office gold again? (April 18)
Official Web site

“Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”
Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garcés, Roger Bart and Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Scholssberg

Never mind the fact this sequel is coming out four years later after the original, this “Harold and Kumar” adventure picks up on the same day the last movie ended. The duo decide to head to Amsterdam to pursue Harold’s new love (Garcés), but when Kumar is mistaken as a terrorist and some paraphernalia (such as a bong) is found in their possession, they are diverted to Guantanamo Bay. And yes, Neil Patrick Harris is back to hilariously skewer his image once again. (April 25)
Official Web site

“Baby Mama”
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by Michael McCullers

A career driven woman (Fey) decides it’s time to have a child in her life. But the low odds of her ever successfully conceiving leads her to select a surrogate mother (Poehler), a rough around the edges working girl. The pairing of Fey and Poehler, who formerly worked together as co-anchors on “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” should be comedic gold and Fey’s stellar work on “30 Rock” has her poised to make a hit crossover into movies. (April 25)
Official Web site

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Spring 2008 Movie Preview, Part 1

OK, so the writer’s strike is over and some new episodes of your favorite shows are soon going to be hitting the television airwaves in the coming weeks.
That doesn’t mean you have to forget about the movies that will be making their way into theaters as spring finally arrives. March and April usually have a mix of films that are veritable blockbusters, along with others that Hollywood studios just don’t quite feel are right for the summer.
Below is a glance at new releases for March, with April to follow soon.

“College Road Trip”
Starring Martin Lawrence, Raven-Symoné, Donny Osmond
Directed by Roger Kumble

Comedian/actor Martin Lawrence has certainly never been one to favor subtlety in his movie selections, but it looks like he’s fully embracing toothless comedies nowadays. In this one, he’s an overprotective father escorting his daughter (Raven-Symoné) as she checks out prospective universities. Remember, Martin, this one’s rated G, so watch your mouth! (March 7)
Official Web site

“10,000 B.C.”
Starring Stephen Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis
Directed by Roland Emmerich

A prehistoric action picture from the director of “Independence Day” faces the challenge of a huge budget with no stars and lots of special effects. But its obvious Warner Bros. has some hopes for the movie, as they are positioning the movie in much the same way they did “300” last year – and that turned out to be a smart move. (March 7)
Official Web site

Starring Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester and Malcom McDowell
Directed by Neil Marshall

A country is placed under quarantine by authorities after a deadly virus spreads, forcing an elite group of specialists to be deployed to retrieve a cure. If “28 Days Later” and “Mad Max” were meshed together, it might look a little bit like this movie’s trailer. (March 14)
Official Web site

“Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears a Who!”
Starring the voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Josh Flitter, Will Arnett
Directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino

Thankfully, we’re being spared a live-action version of the Dr. Suess classic here. Instead, a CG animated flick from the makers of the “Ice Age” series is being released, with some top notch comic vocal talent to boot. With sparse competition in the family-oriented field for March, Horton and the Whos should be sitting on a blockbuster. (March 14)
Official Web site

“Drillbit Taylor”
Starring Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Danny McBride, Josh Peck
Directed by Steven Brill

Threatened by a bully, a couple of teens hire a low-rent bodyguard (Wilson) for protection and to toughen them up. Wilson (in his first movie since his much publicized suicide attempt) looks to be playing his umpteenth variation on the lazy, easygoing beach bum character here. Still, Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) is producing, so it could be better than at first glance. (March 21)
Official Web site

“Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns”
Starring Angela Bassett, Jenifer Lewis, David Mann, Tyler Perry, Rick Fox
Directed by Tyler Perry

A single mother (Bassett) heads to the funeral of their father, taking her family in tow to meet her extended family. This film doesn’t look to be messing with Perry’s formula of mixing comedy with some drama, with his fan favorite character of Madea appearing in a cameo role. (March 21)
Official Web site

Starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey
Directed by Robert Luketic

This thriller is based on a best-selling book about a group of MIT students who become expert blackjack players by counting cards, and with the help of their math professor (Spacey), look to take on Las Vegas casinos. Sturgess and Bosworth play a couple of the brainy students who soon find themselves in over their head. (March 28)
Official Web site

Starring Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by Kimberly Peirce

Taking a mere nine years since her last movie (“Boys Don’t Cry”) director Kimberly Peirce returns with yet another film focusing on the Iraq war. Phillippe stars as a soldier who returns to his small town after competing a tour of duty, only to be told by the Army they want him to go back to Iraq. He refuses to go, setting up a controversial situation that his friends and family are forced to deal with. Movies dealing with Iraq have struggled mightily at the box office and this one could be facing a similar fate. (March 28)
Official Web site