Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring 2010 Movie Preview, Part 1

With spring just around the corner as the month begins, March usually holds some promise for movie studios to find a few hits in the mix. This month’s releases look to contain some fresh options, along with the overly familiar.

“Alice in Wonderland”
Starring Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas and Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Tim Burton

Director Burton has long been a very visual director, so his taking on the Lewis Carroll classic seems a no-brainer. Reteaming with his frequent star Depp (playing the Mad Hatter), coming out in 3D, “Alice” has hit written all over it. This film picks up several years after Alice’s first visit through the looking glass, as she teams up with her friends to try to take down the Red Queen (Carter). (March 5)
Official Web site

“Brooklyn’s Finest”
Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

This crime drama follows three policemen (Gere, Cheadle and Hawke) as they arrive at pivotal moments in their careers and lives. The cast and the director are certainly good here, but they’ve all certainly been down this road before. In fact, Hawke has played a cop before with Fuqua behind the camera, to great results (“Training Day”). (March 5)
Official Web site

“Green Zone”
Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla and Jason Isaacs
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Following the huge success of the “Bourne Identity” series, Damon and Greengrass team up once again in an action-thriller about a U.S. Army warrant officer looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, prior to the U.S. surge into the country. The film, while not crowd-pleasing subject matter, could be helped by the success of another Iraq-based film, “The Hurt Locker.” (March 12)
Official Web site

“The Bounty Hunter”
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Dorian Missick
Directed by Andy Tennant

An ex-couple, one a bounty hunter (Butler), the other a bail-jumping reporter (Aniston) looking into a murder case, are forced to depend on each other when their lives are threatened. But can the constantly bickering duo find that being on the run together might rekindle their romance? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you obviously haven’t seen many romantic comedies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. (March 19)
Official Web site

“Season of the Witch”
Starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy and Christopher Lee
Directed by Dominic Sena

The seemingly always working Cage stars as a 14th century knight looking to bring in a suspected witch to a monastery. The monks there believe she is responsible for the Black Plague and wish to put an end to their country’s misery. A movie set during the Black Plague probably isn’t going to generate much laughter, and it remains to be seen if this part is just another paycheck for Cage. He’s certainly been guilty of selecting quantity over quality in recent years. (March 19)
Official Web site

“Hot Tub Time Machine”
Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan and Chevy Chase
Directed by Steve Pink

This certainly is no high-concept movie, with the story of four guys unhappy with their lives finding themselves transported via a hot tub back to 1986 with the chance to rewrite history. But for those who grew up in the 1980s, there is some undeniable appeal here. Cusack himself starred in several comedies from the ‘80s, so it’s interesting to see him in another as an adult. Hopefully, this isn’t a case of the trailer revealing all the best jokes. (March 26)
Official Web site

“How to Train Your Dragon”
Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

DreamWorks Animation has had a good track record, and the makers of “Lilo and Stitch” are on board for a tale of an awkward teenage Viking who befriends a dragon that leads he and his village to reexamine their adversarial relationship with the winged creatures. Heavy publicity for this 3D movie will begin during the Winter Olympics, which should build anticipation. (March 26)
Official Web site

Sunday, February 07, 2010

What's New In Blu? (Week of Feb. 9)

“The Running Man” (R)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura
Directed by Paul Michael Glazer

OK, this 1987 Schwarzenegger flick is packed full of cheesy dialogue (some of it intentional), and certainly wouldn’t fall into the category of an action classic. But it has a likability to it, and some truly wild casting, including musicians Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa. As an unjustly imprisoned inmate, Arnie’s forced to compete in a highly-rated live “game show,” where the contestants are pursued by hunters out to kill. Loosely based on a short story by Richard Bachman (a pseudonym of Stephen King), some of the action seems fairly dated today, but the casting of an entertaining Richard Dawson (“Family Feud”) as the show’s host (and movie’s villain) was an inspired decision.
Grade: B

Other releases:
“Bronson” (R)
Starring Tom Hardy, Matt King, Amanda Burton, James Lance
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

“Couples Retreat” (PG-13)
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Malin Akerman, Kristen Davis, Jon Favreau
Directed by Peter Billingsley

“I Hate Valentine’s Day” (PG-13)
Starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Judah Friedlander, Zoe Kazan
Directed by Nia Vardalos

“The Phantom” (PG)
Starring Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta Jones, James Remar
Directed by Simon Wincer

“A Serious Man” (R)
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolf
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

“Serious Moonlight” (R)
Starring Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell, Justin Long
Directed by Cheryl Hines

“The Stepfather” (PG-13)
Starring Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard and Jon Tenney
Directed by Nelson McCormick

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” (PG-13)
Starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston
Directed by Robert Schwentke

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

And The Nominees Are

With television ratings always playing a consideration into its annual telecast, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the decision that its field of contenders for Best Picture would expand from five to 10 for the 2010 Academy Awards. This marks the first time since 1943 that so many contenders will vie for the top prize at the award show, set for March 7 on ABC.

Academy President Sid Ganis said last summer when the decision was made that expanding the field would allow Academy voters to recognize great movies that get nominated in other categories, but get squeezed out of the most prestigious category. But don’t think for a second that TV ratings weren’t on the Academy’s mind, as well.

The Oscars have seen relatively meager ratings for a number of years – hitting a record-low in 2008 – that getting more popular films competing for Best Picture seemed an easy decision. After all, “The Dark Knight” was shut out of the race last year, but would have certainly garnered a nomination if 10 candidates were allowed. As a huge box-office hit, its inclusion likely would have led to more viewers.

It’s a situation that the Academy won’t have to worry about this year, as it would appear to be in a similar position as it was heading into the 1998 Oscar telecast. In that one, “Titanic,” directed by James Cameron, had already become the highest-grossing film in history, and received an armful of nominations (14). That translated to record-high ratings (57 million people), with viewers witnessing the film take 11 Oscars home.

This year, “Avatar,” also directed by Cameron, has already surpassed “Titanic” as the highest-grossing movie ever, and received nine Oscar nominations, tying it for the most with “The Hurt Locker.” Ratings should be huge, and could possibly surpass 1998’s numbers, with the expanded field of Best Picture nominees including the hit films, “Up” and “The Blind Side.”

The following is a roundup of some of the major categories and a peek at the prospects for some of the nominees when the awards are announced March 7.

Best Picture
• “A Serious Man”
• “An Education”
• “Avatar”
• “The Blind Side”
• “District 9”
• “The Hurt Locker”
• “Inglourious Basterds”
• “Precious”
• “Up”
• “Up in the Air”
With so many nominees, it would seem possible that a dark horse might be lurking, but “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” are generally considered the top possibilities.

Best Director
• Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
• James Cameron, “Avatar”
• Lee Daniels, “Precious”
• Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
• Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
Cameron has won in this category before (“Titanic”), but Bigelow has had a lot of film critics and people within the movie industry rooting for her. She could make history here as the first female winner.

Best Actress
• Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
• Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
• Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
• Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
• Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
An Oscar would cap off the best year of Bullock’s career, but she’s got some stiff competition, most notably from Streep (with her truly impressive 16th Oscar nomination).

Best Actor
• Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
• George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
• Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
• Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
• Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”
With a career that has spanned four decades, Bridges has been pulling in a lot of awards leading up to the Oscars for his performance as a down-on-his-luck country singer. But, like in the Best Actress category, the competition is strong.

Best Supporting Actress
• Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
• Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
• Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
• Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
• Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Portraying a bitter, abusive mother of a pregnant teen in “Precious,” Mo’Nique has been cleaning up at pretty much every award show. This might be the best shot for the drama to pick up an Oscar in a major category.

Best Supporting Actor

• Matt Damon, “Invictus”
• Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
• Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
• Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
• Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
Like Mo’Nique, Waltz has been getting a lot of awards for his supporting work in the World War II film, making him the odds-on favorite. Anybody else getting the award in this category might serve as the biggest upset of the night.

Monday, February 01, 2010

What's New In Blu? (Week of Feb. 2)

“The Music Man” (G)
Starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Paul Ford
Directed by Morton DaCosta

Although it’s certainly old-fashioned by today’s standards, the big screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical is a thoroughly entertaining affair. Robert Preston (by no means the studio’s top choice – the thought was to go with a more recognizable name) recreates his onstage leading role as Prof. Harold Hill, a smooth-talking con man who arrives with his associate in River City, Iowa, with the intent of swindling the townsfolk out of money. But his plan is complicated when he falls for the town’s librarian. This is clearly Preston’s most memorable film role and Shirley Jones matches him scene for scene here. Look for a small, yet memorable supporting performance from a young Ron Howard.
Grade: A-

“Walk the Line” (PG-13)
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
Directed by James Mangold

It would be hard to not emerge a bit of a fan of the music of Johnny Cash, after watching this bio-pic about the Man in Black. The movie doesn’t really focus on the later years of his life, instead choosing to center on the beginning of his music career and his dogged determination to win the heart of fellow musical performer June Carter. Director James Mangold does a very good job capturing the music in the film (no doubt assisted in no small part by musician T-Bone Burnett). But it’s the performances of stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (who won an Oscar for Best Actress) that really distinguishes “Walk the Line” from the run-of-the-mill biography.
Grade: B+

Other releases:
“Amelia” (PG-13)
Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson
Directed by Mira Nair

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (R)
Starring Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro
Directed by Terry Gilliam

“The House of the Devil” (R)
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen and Dee Wallace
Directed by Ti West

“The Last King of Scotland” (R)
Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney and Gillian Anderson
Directed by Kevin Macdonald

“Love Happens” (PG-13)
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer, John Carroll Lynch and Martin Sheen
Directed by Brandon Camp

“Mystic River” (R)
Starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney
Directed by Clint Eastwood

“Ong Bak 2: The Beginning” (R)
Starring Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang
Directed by Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai

“Zombieland” (R)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Directed by Ruben Fleischer