Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Aug. 31)

“The Evil Dead” (NC-17)

Starring Bruce Campbell, Eilen Sandweiss, Hal Dierich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

Directed by Sam Raimi

“Harry Brown” (R)

Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed Miles, David Bradley, Iain Glen, Sean Harris and Liam Cunningham

Directed by Daniel Barber

“Marmaduke” (PG)

Starring the voice of Owen Wilson, Lee Pace, Judy Greer and William H. Macy

Directed by Tom Dey

“Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?” (PG-13)

Starring Janet Jackson, Jill Scott, Sharon Leal, Malik Yoba, Richard T. Jones, Tasha Smith, Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson and Tyler Perry

Directed by Tyler Perry

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Movie rewind

It’s winding down on the dog days of summer, when late August releases try to pick up that last bit of summer movie business. The majority of the blockbusters have typically long since been released, with a few sleepers hoping to break through with audiences. It’s been that way for a long time in Hollywood, and so here’s a look at some of the releases from years past in theaters on the last week of August – this time focusing on 1980, 1990 and 2000.


“Smokey and the Bandit II” (PG)

After the successful business the first “Smokey and the Bandit” did, it seemed inevitable that a sequel would come along. That’s not to say there were a bunch of unanswered questions at the end of the 1977 film, but I’m sure for Universal (the studio releasing the movie) it felt like easy money. But the story involving the “Bandit” (Burt Reynolds, seemingly on cruise control) and the “Snowman” (Jerry Reed) transporting an elephant from Florida to Texas (does the reason really matter?), is strained. It’s essentially just a set-up for a lot of high-speed chases, car crashes, corny jokes and exasperated looks from Jackie Gleason (one had to wonder if he was really acting here). It’s passable entertainment; not nearly as much as the first one and not nearly as bad as the third one. I guess that’s faint praise.

Grade: B-


“Men at Work” (PG-13)

If you had ever dreamed of seeing real-life brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen co-starring in a movie together as garbagemen, then you’re in luck here. In the sporadically funny, yet almost cartoonish comedy, “Men at Work” the brothers are sanitation engineers (and lazy ones, to boot) who get caught up in a murder cover-up after discovering a dead body on one of their routes. Bumbling policemen and hit men get involved in the pursuit of the duo, who are joined in their exploits by an aggravated supervisor (Keith David). Estevez also wrote and directed the movie, which manages to generate a few laughs along the way. Still, most of the comedy is predictable and tired, with lots of dead body jokes thrown in. (Didn’t “Weekend at Bernie’s” pretty much run this premise into the ground?)

Grade: C


“The Cell” (R)

After seeing “The Cell,” there’s no denying that it’s director, Tarsem Singh, has a unique visual style. However, his storytelling prowess leaves something to be desired. For one, the screenplay by Mark Protosevich is a rather gruesome and unpleasant trip into the mind of a serial killer. This film also came out about the time that the serial killer genre was in oversaturation. Jennifer Lopez plays a psychotherapist recruited by the FBI to employ a new experimental technique she has developed on comatose serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio in an over-the-top performance). She will enter his mind with the hopes of finding one of his kidnapped victims who is still alive, but in danger of drowning in a well slowly filling with water. The visuals are definitely the best part of the film, but are also overdone and, at times, just plain grotesque. Singh’s career certainly never took off after this film, having only directed one movie that has been released since, 2006’s little seen “The Fall.”

Grade: D+

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fall Movie Preview (September 2010)

Although there is one high-profile sequel in the month, a mere 23 years after its original (“Wall Street”), the release schedule for September is a bit scattershot, with a wide variety of genres being represented. However, no certain hits appear to be present, but some could be sleepers.

“The American”

Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli
Directed by Anton Corbijin

The story of a hitman taking on a final job before getting out of the “business” is an overdone premise, but Clooney has selected his material well in recent years. Giving him the benefit of a doubt would seem logical. He’s heading up an international cast for this Italian-set movie that will depend on Clooney’s star power to generate much business. (Sept. 1)

Starring Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson
Directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

In what has to be the first-ever movie based on a trailer (which appeared in theaters as part of “Grindhouse,”), the sure-to-be action-packed and violent “Machete” hits the screen. Co-director and co-writer Robert Rodriguez always seems to have fun with his casting choices and assembled quite the unusual collection of actors for a story involving an ex-Federale (Trejo) looking for payback against those who betrayed him. (Sept. 3)

“Resident Evil: Afterlife”
Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe and Wentworth Miller
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Who could have imagined that a movie based on a video game could have spawned three sequels? The “Resident Evil” franchise continues to drive along, leaving a high body count in its wake, as a group of survivors continue to wage battle against the undead. They head to Los Angeles, hoping to find refuge there. L.A., really? Silly humans. (Sept. 10)

“Never Let Me Go”
Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling
Directed by Mark Romanek

Three children have grown up together in a prestigious English boarding school. But as they grow into young adults, they find themselves preparing to face uncertain futures as they leave the school. The film is adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”). While unlikely to be a box-office hit, this is the type of film that will seek out end-of-year awards. It would seem a bit of an unexpected choice from director Romanek, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2002’s dark “One Hour Photo.” (Sept. 15, limited)

“The Town”
Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper
Directed by Ben Affleck

A bank robber (Affleck) who is very good at committing crimes finds himself in a bit of crisis of conscience when he falls for a bank manager (Hall) involved as a hostage in a prior robbery of his gang. Naturally, this makes the rest of the gang nervous, as law enforcement begins to close in. A good cast heads up this crime drama that is also directed and co-written by Affleck. This marks Affleck’s second stint behind the camera after his impressive debut with 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone.” (Sept. 17)

Starring Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine
Directed by Drew and John Erick Dowdle

The concept behind this thriller is a seemingly simple one – five people get trapped in an elevator. The bigger problem, however, is that one of them is ... wait for it – Satan! Talk about a bad situation made worse. The story concept is from M. Night Shyamalan, but he isn’t directing the action. Clearly, with no big names in the cast, this film’s success will all depend on execution and making the most of a confined space. (Sept. 17)

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella
Directed by Oliver Stone

The sequel that few would have ever expected (or possibly wanted) has arrived, as former hotshot stockbroker Gordon Gekko (Douglas) gets out of prison and tries to rebuild his life. Naturally, the lure of money drives him back to seeking out more wheeling and dealing in the business world, with another young protege (LeBeouf) along for the ride. But this young man could also become family, as he’s engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter (Mulligan). (Sept. 24)

“You Again”
Starring Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, Odette Yustman, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber and Betty White
Directed by Andy Fickman

Old rivalries are renewed when a woman (Bell) heads home for her brother’s wedding, only to discover he’s marrying her high school nemesis (Yustman). Her problem is complicated even more when it’s discovered her mom (Curtis) and the fiancee’s aunt (Weaver) were also high school rivals. This has got to be one of those “only in the movies” kind of concepts. Still, perhaps the finished product will be better than its somewhat labored premise. (Sept. 24)

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Aug. 24)

“The Back-Up Plan” (PG-13)
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Laughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Anthony Anderson and Linda Lavin
Directed by Alan Poul

“City Island” (PG-13)
Starring Andy Garcia, Julianna Marguiles, Steven Strait, Alan Arkin and Emily Mortimer
Directed by Raymond De Felitta

“Time Bandits” (PG)
Starring John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Ralph Richardson, Peter Vaughan, David Warner
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Movie rewind

When it comes to movies (and much of entertainment, for that matter), it becomes remarkable to observe how much time can pass since some were released into theaters. For example, it’s been 20 years (!) since “Home Alone” became the box-office champ of 1990 and launched the career of Macauley Culkin. I bet he thinks that was a really long time ago.
Still, I felt it was worth taking note of the passage of time in movies, and will periodically include a brief flashback review from releases in the current week of 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years ago. And no, these won’t always be fond looks back, as some dreck might have surfaced during these time periods. But don’t those deserve some attention too? After all, good, bad and in between all make up the cinematic landscape that we walk through.
So yeah, this feature is kind of arbitrary and a bit random. But then again, aren’t a lot of things in life? Ponder on that a moment, won’t you?
On that note, here’s the first look back for the third week of August.
This will cover 1985, 1995 and 2005.

“Better Off Dead” (PG-13) - This spring’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” reminded viewers of the early years of John Cusack’s career, when it was filled with teen-oriented comedies. This one was arguably his most popular during that ‘80s time period. It’s certainly an oft-quoted movie from the decade filled with obnoxious neighbors, clueless parents, stuck-up girlfriends and yes, a doggedly determined paperboy.
The film was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, making his big-screen debut. (Oddly enough, Savage is without quotes on imdb.com. There’s probably a story behind that, but I’ll leave it a mystery here.) His movie making career largely dried up in the ‘80s, but still writes and directs TV from time to time.
Still, “Better Off Dead” has grown to have a cult following in the years since, after flopping at the box office. Cusack, who went on to make another film with Holland the following year (“One Crazy Summer”), has also managed to squeak out a career for himself. If anything, his return to comedy this year only reminded people how good he was in the ‘80s in the genre.
Grade: B+

“Mortal Combat” (PG-13) - Harken back to the days when video games were adapted into movies. Oh wait, that happens all the time now. Well, maybe harken back to when they were made into good movies. Well, that doesn’t apply here either. But they sure tried hard!
Actually, I don’t have any proof of that either. I remember spending many hours (days, weeks, etc.) playing that video game, trying all the different finishing moves. (Sub-Zero was my favorite, in case you were wondering. And I’m sure you were.) But I wouldn’t have ever imagined when whiling away my life with the game that it would translate into a good movie. Pity the filmmakers didn’t think the same thing.
Granted, it’s not terrible. It’s perfectly watchable and the special effects (for their time) are pretty good. It’s just that these characters didn’t have any real personality to begin with, beyond their fighting prowess. And the actors cast to play them (Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Sota, etc.) do nothing to change that perception. Director Paul W.S. Anderson has made a career out of being involved with movie adaptations of video games, including the fourth “Resident Evil” film coming out in September. But he’ll always look back fondly on this one, as it was his first. Well, fondly might be too kind of a word.
Grade: D+

“Red Eye” (PG-13) - A short, quick-moving thriller helmed by Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream”), “Red Eye” is a high concept movie that is dependent upon pacing and the believability of its stars to succeed. Luckily, stars Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy are both up to the task, while Craven ratchets up the tension aboard an airplane – a classic confined space for a thriller. With Murphy a charmer at first, then cooly menacing later, the movie works best on board the plane, as he threatens to kill the father of hotel manager Lisa Reisert (McAdams), unless she helps him get access to assassinate a government official staying at her hotel.
The realism of the story begins to seep out as the action lands on the ground, with Lisa transforming a bit too much into an action heroine. But McAdams, whose star was on the rise with her role in “The Notebook,” demonstrates herself capable of considerably different material. And Murphy continued his summer of villainy, having portrayed the Scarecrow a couple of months earlier in “Batman Begins.”
Grade: B

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Roundup III

Rooney Mara is 'The Girl'
With the announcement of Rooney Mara being cast as Lisbeth Salander in director David Fincher's 2011 adaptation of the worldwide bestseller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the major casting choices in the first film of the expected trilogy are complete. Joining Mara will be Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Robin Wright as Erika Berger and Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger.
So, who is Rooney Mara, you may ask? Good question, as she's largely an unknown in the public eye. Or at least she was until now. Her biggest role to date has been one of the leads in this year's remake of "Nightmare on Elm Street." And no, she wasn't Freddy Krueger.
She has a supporting role in Fincher's upcoming film about Facebook's beginnings, called "The Social Network." That likely gave her a boost in the casting process, which Fincher had insisted the role should go to a lesser known name.
Regardless of the casting decisions, which seem good, Mara will be hard pressed to top Noomi Rapace's exceptional performance in the Swedish version of the film. That film (which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray and worth seeing, if you can stomach the sordid material) is quite good overall and will be a challenge for Fincher to top. I'd be rather skeptical of his chances, if not for his body of work, which includes very good films dealing with just this kind of subject matter ("Zodiac," "Se7en"). Plus, the screenwriter is Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian, who has adapted screenplays for "Schindler's List" and "A Civil Action," among others.
Incidentally, the second Swedish film in the trilogy, "The Girl Who Played with Fire," is now out in selected cities and will be on DVD and Blu-ray in late October.

Ladies, Marilyn Manson is back on market
For what is apparently the third time, rock star (and I use that term loosely) Marilyn Manson and actress Evan Rachel Wood have broken up, according to People magazine. The two had actually been engaged since January, but now it looks like the wedding of the year (just behind Chelsea Clinton's nuptials) is off.
But on the positive side, Manson is once again untethered in the dating world for all those looking to hook up with a weirdly ugly musician who has long since faded from the popular music scene.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Aug. 17)

“Furry Vengeance” (PG)
Starring Brendan Fraser, Brooke Shields, Ken Jeong
Directed by Roger Kimble

“The Good, The Bad, The Weird” (R)
Starring Song Kang-Ho, Lee Byung-Hun and Jung Woo-Song
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

“The Last Song” (PG)
Starring Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Bobby Coleman, Kelly Preston and Greg Kinnear
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson

“Nanny McPhee” (PG)
Starring Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury
Directed by Kirk Jones

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Roundup II

‘Star Wars’ coming to Blu-ray
In what may have been the most eagerly anticipated Blu-ray release announcement since the adoption of the high definition format, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas has announced that all six films in the movie franchise will be coming to Blu-ray in 2011. In an interview with the New York Times, Lucas said had had been waiting for the format to be widely accepted by consumers before taking the plunge. However, those who were hoping to have both the original and the special editions would be included in the six-disc set will be disappointed; only the special editions will be included. Still, for a format that has the best possible audio and video capabilities, this will be the best way yet to enjoy the series at home. Look for a likely fall 2011 release, just in time for the holiday season.

‘Toy Story’ is tops
Proving it has had some serious staying power in a highly competitive summer movie season, “Toy Story 3” just surpassed “Shrek 2” to become the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. Granted, there is inflated 3D ticket prices to factor into that total, but it’s still an exceptional achievement. And it’s another feather in the cap of the truly impressive roster of films released by Pixar, with the company’s next film to be another sequel, “Cars 2,” set for June 2011.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Roundup I

The Roundup is a brand new offering I'm going to start rolling out here on what I hope will be a regular basis. It'll cover a range of news in the entertainment world, be it movies, TV, music or miscellaneous. These will be mostly bite-size nuggets complete with some sure to be insightful and sarcastic commentary from myself. This will by no means be a thorough overview of all things entertainment (who has time for that anyway?). But it will be a random assortment of items big and small, significant and insignificant, that I feel like commenting on.

So, without further delay, steel yourself for what should be an exciting and enlightening ride (or a trip into tedium and frivolousness). I can't really make up my mind yet.

Look out for that bus
With "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" set to hit theaters this weekend, the film's stars have been busy with promotion all over the U.S. Case in point: Check out this clip of Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman on "Good Day Atlanta," as the pair deals with the challenge of presenting the weather to viewers. This probably won't be a back-up career for the two, but it is amusing, nonetheless.

'Glee' grabs Britney
With "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy getting attention for his directing the new Julia Roberts movie adaptation of the bestseller "Eat Pray Love," he recently revealed in an interview with Ryan Seacrest that Britney Spears will be appearing on the hit show as part of a Britney-centered episode, set for Sept. 28. While Britney is far from the superstar status that she had several years ago, a comeback would seem imminent, as is the trend in show business.

Netflix streaming to grow
Those of you who have discovered the joy of Netflix's streaming service (as I did several months ago) will be pleased to know that the company will be expanding its offerings, beginning next month. Landing a deal with the young cable channel Epix, similar to its deal with Starz, Netflix will soon begin offering films from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM. (The current Starz deal allows Netflix access to Disney and Sony movies.) That means the volume of films in the company's streaming library will be growing almost exponentially in the next few months. The one caveat of the deal will be a three-month window before new releases to DVD and Blu-ray (and Epix) will appear on Netflix streaming. So those of you hoping to stream "Iron Man 2" when it's released to DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 28 will have to wait until just after Christmas.

Monday, August 09, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Aug. 10)

“Date Night” (PG-13)
Starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Common and Mark Wahlberg
Directed by Shawn Levy

While this frantic, fast-paced comedy doesn’t have much originality on its side, it does have two of TV’s most popular comic actors headlining the proceedings. That helps immeasurably, as much of the remainder of the cast is largely wasted. But Carell and Fey have good chemistry on screen, portraying Phil and Claire Foster, a longtime married couple hoping a date night in New York City will provide them with a brief romantic getaway. But a case of mistaken identity finds the pair dealing with much more than they anticipated, as their lives become endangered. Surprises are few in “Date Night,” but the film moves quickly (clocking in at just under 90 minutes) and the trailer actually doesn’t spoil all the jokes.
Grade: B

Other releases:
“Death at a Funeral” (R)
Starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Zoe Saldana, Regina Hall, Tracy Morgan, Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, James Marsden, Luke Wilson
Directed by Neil LaBute

“The Joneses” (R)
Starring David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Ben Hollingsworth
Directed by Derrick Borte

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Summer Movie Preview (August 2010)

As the summer movie season continues, August has the potential to produce a few hits. However, few are believed to be the kind of blockbusters that will be up to the box-office production of earlier movies in the season, such as “Eclipse,” “Toy Story 3” and “Iron Man 2.”

“The Other Guys”

Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan and Dwayne Johnson
Directed by Adam McKay

After last summer’s all-around disappointment of “Land of the Lost,” Ferrell looks to rebound with an all-star cast in tow for an action-comedy that pairs him with Wahlberg. They play detectives looking for a little respect, as they work in the shadows of a pair of well-known cops (Jackson and Johnson) in their own department. It seems hard to imagine the premise and cast won’t be able to at least make the proceedings mildly enjoyable. (Aug. 6)
Official Web site

“Eat Pray Love”
Starring Julia Roberts, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup and Javier Bardem
Directed by Ryan Murphy

The bestselling memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert gets the big-screen treatment with Roberts portraying the author, who seeks out a new life for herself by traveling on a quest for self-discovery. The book has a pretty big following, and while Roberts isn’t the box-office superstar that she once was, this late summer release has the potential to be a decent-sized hit. (Aug. 13)
Official Web site

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Edgar Wright

A young man (Cera) performing in a rock band becomes enamored with a woman (Winstead), but finds a challenge standing before him in order to get involved with her. He must defeat her evil seven exes, one by one, to win her over. An interesting concept, to be sure, with talented director Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) at the helm. (Aug. 13)
Official Web site

“The Expendables”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

One look at the cast and it’s easy to see the appeal of this film. A seemingly endless number of action movies fill the resumes of the actors, who are all brought together by Stallone (who also co-wrote the screenplay) as a group of mercenaries on a mission to overthrow a dictator. With so many aging action stars in one place, will this film be a case of testosterone overload? This will likely be some brain dead fun or just brain dead. (Aug. 13)
Official Web site

“Nanny McPhee Returns”
Starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans and Maggie Smith
Directed by Susanna White

A sequel to the surprise 2005 hit comedy, Thompson reprises her role as the titular nanny, who is put in charge of a new group of children, helping out a stressed out young mother (Gyllenhaal). Like the previous film, Thompson is also doubling as the screenwriter for the sequel, one of the few in the month aimed at families. (Aug. 20)
Official Web site

“The Switch”
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck

The likeable pairing of Aniston and Bateman heads up this romantic comedy built on a premise involving artificial insemination, of all things. Aniston is a single mother who reunites with her best friend (Bateman). He happens to be sitting on a secret that he replaced a sperm sample meant for her seven years back with his own. While the story sounds like something you’d see in a bad sitcom, hopefully the filmmakers (who were behind “Blades of Glory”) and cast can raise the quality of the material. (Aug. 20)
Official Web site

“Going the Distance”
Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate
Directed by Nanette Burstein

Real-life on-again, off-again couple Barrymore and Long play a pair of young professionals trying to keep their relationship alive while traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles. Barrymore has carved out a solid career on romantic comedies, and since Long is someone she’s been in a relationship with, you would think on-screen chemistry won’t be difficult to achieve. Of course, that doesn’t equate to an enjoyable movie. But it can’t hurt. (Aug. 27)
Official Web site