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