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 clich├ęs 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.)