Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Profit's Tides

Sorry for the leave of absence, class, but sometimes real life gets in the way of one's writing life.

On the upside, this period of retreat has allowed for a mass surplus in movie news, so I'll have plenty to write about!

Let's just jump right on in, eh?  The water looks warm enough.

That's CAPTAIN Turn-A-Profit.

Don't get me wrong, I like the Pirates of the Caribbean series just fine.  The first one was really good!  Sure, the second and third movies were 'Meh' but the first one was good, and we'll always have that.


Here's a question I pose to you, dear reader: How many mediocre sequels does it take to screw in a lightbulb crash a franchise?

Now, I want as much as the next person to walk into the theatre and enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  I really do.  I mean, let's face facts: They cut the dead weight.  Sure Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were adorable in the first movie, but then their on-screen relationship became bloated and convuluted as the series carried on.  They just weren't that interesting anymore.

So, I was honestly a bit excited to see the franchise was supposed to be getting back to what we loved about the first three movies: Pirates.

Now, let's step back for a moment, shall we?  Remember the ending to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End?  Now, despite all the crap that was piled up in front of it (Including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) that was actually the perfect ending for that movie.

I know, we'll call the feather Macaroni.

It was the perfect ending for that series.  Jack Sparrow sailing off, having tricked Barbosa one last time, to go look for the Fountain of Youth?  Perfect ending!

Now, I haven't been following this movie all that closely, but I was actually excited when I found out that it would focus on Jack Sparrow and Barbosa.

Then I watched the trailer.

Ok, it looks like a fun movie, to be sure.  Ok, Barbosa has allied himself with the British Navy (didn't we already do that, once, with the squid-faced Bill Nighy?) and is hunting down Jack Sparrow.  Ok, Jack's wife from Blow is in the movie.  Ok, we're re-using the same tired jokes from the first three movies.  Ok, there's another young couple, surely to be star-crossed, in this movie.

All of those things are well and good, sure, but here's the thing: Nothing about it seems fresh.  Look at the things I've listed above.  Do any of them seem like new additions to the series?

You're right, Penelope Cruz wasn't in the other movies, but let's be honest: She's just playing the same part Keira Knightley played except with an accent.

Now, I don't want to diminish Cruz's talent, but that's the way this business works: You always have to have a beautiful woman.  Imagine if you will, for just a moment, that instead of Penelope Cruz the film featured Roseanne Barr, or that they had actually made Cruz look the part of a pirate woman, by using make-up.

Ok, now I want all the guys who WOULDN'T go to see that movie step to the left side of the room, please.

Though, honestly, I can forgive a lot of the re-using of plot points and jokes.  It's the two teenagers that are obviously replacements for Orlando and Keira that I cannot forgive.  I guess they figure that we need a star-crossed lovers storyline to make up for the shallow and under-developed main character?

How about this idea Disney: Make Jack Sparrow and Angelica (Penelope Cruz) be the star-crossed lovers.  Let's actually develop Sparrow into the three-dimensional character, instead of a one-line spouting cash cow.

But alas, it's too late for that.

Like I said, I truly hope that this movie ends up being really good.  Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are great writers, the movie is filled to the brim with talented actors, and Rob Marshall has a fairly strong, if short, resumé.  This movie could end up either making up for the last two movies, or end up tarnishing the the franchise even further.  Only time will tell.  However, even if the movie sucks, at least it's got a name that could easily be converted for a porn: My money is on Pirates of the Caribbean: On a Stranger's Thighs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Ring To Rule Them All?

Not to seem like I have a man-crush, but I am doing another article about a Ryan Reynolds movie.

Now, I've always been more of a Marvel fan myself, but I see merit in DC properties as well, and they've got themselves an excellent catalogue of heroes to make movies based on.  Outside of Superman and Batman, Green Lantern is probably one of the best known DC properties, and making a movie centered around the Hal Jordan incarnation makes perfect sense.

It's not like they'd make an Aquaman movie.

If you're familiar with who The Green Lantern is, or what the basis of the story is, then bear with me for a moment whilst I explain it for those who have no idea.

No, Van Wilder did not pledge to a fraternity.
In this movie, Ryan Reynolds is playing Hal Jordan, a test pilot who, when he has a chance encounter with alien sentry Abin Sur (played by Temuera Morrison, better known as Jango Fett), is drafted into The Green Lantern Corps.  The GLC is basically a group of aliens sworn to protecting the universe, each member being assigned a sector to watch over, using a ring of green energy to manifest their powers.  Think of it as a galactic police force, and Hal Jordan is the new recuit.  He's also the only human to have ever joined.

Ok, so now you're caught up.  Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

The more I look at the poster for The Green Lantern, the more I feel like something is wrong with it.  I have the feeling that it has something to do with the fact that if you photoshopped Ryan Reynolds out of the picture and replaced him with a unicorn, you could hang it on your little sister's wall and it would look perfectly natural.

Overall, it's really a fine poster.  On one hand, nothing about this poster excites me about the movie at all.  However, on the other hand, nothing about this poster is keeping me from wanting to see the movie either.

As far as the trailer goes, it does make the movie look fun, if nothing else.  It doesn't give any real clues as to what is going on in regards to the plot, but it does have some great action shots.  From a visual standpoint, the movie looks great.  The planet Oa (headquarters from the Corps) looks stunning in it's own right, and the aliens each look distinctive and interesting.  The trailer also shows off the impressive cast of The Green Lantern, giving each person a few seconds of screen time.

Now, it's no real secret that comic-book fans are, at the best of times, skeptical and distrusting of those who want to make movies out of their beloved characters.  You'll often hear criticism on everything from the actor chosen to play a role, to the shade of color used for a part of their costume.  The Green Lantern has been no exception, and I'm certain that it will garner plenty of criticisms from professional critics and fanboys alike.  I do think, however, that the movie will end up pleasing plenty of people at the box office, as it looks like it's aiming for more of an Iron Man tone than a Batman Begins (or even The Dark Knight) tone.  That's a good thing, as I don't think that The Green Lantern would be well served by anything so gritty.  Do I think that it will do as well as Iron Man did at the BO?  Well, we'll just have to wait and see, because it's too early to try and call it.

So, what do you guys think?  Am I crazy?  Do you still think that Ryan Reynolds should have stuck to one comic book character as opposed to three?  Do you anxiously await a Green Lantern/Superman cross-over movie?  Let me know and leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MYMNK: Chaos Theory

Firstly, let me apologize for the hiatus.  It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I am back to writing for your reading pleasure.  So, with that, I'd like to introduce a new series of articles: Movies You May Not Know, or MYMNK.  For the first of these new reviews, I'll be covering Chaos Theory, the indie film starring Ryan Reynolds.

The movie centers around Frank Allen (Ryan Reynolds) a motivational speaker specializing in time efficiency.  Frank leads a seemingly simple, satisfying life with his wife Susan (Emily Mortimer) and daughter Jessie.  On the morning of a presentation that could prove to be a huge boon for his career, Frank realizes that Susan accidently set the clock wrong.  Frank ends up running an hour late for his presentation which sets up the entire rest of the movie's plot, as that single hour throws Frank's life into complete chaos.

Frank ends up being rather angry with his wife for her mistake and ends up harmlessly flirting with Paula (Sarah Chalke, best known as Elliot Reed from TV's Scrubs) who gets Frank drunk and then attempts to take advantage of him by luring him up to his own hotel room.  Frank, being an honorable man, informs her that he loves his wife and leaves the room.  Through simple bad luck, that's the moment when Susan calls his hotel room and, of course, Paula decides to answer.  I'm sure you can imagine what happens from there, and I'd prefer not to give out too many spoilers.  Needless to say, Frank's life takes a sharp left at that moment.

What's shocking to me is that Chaos Theory only has a 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as reviewed by critics).  Granted, the audience rating is quite a bit higher at 61%, but the low rating still surprises me.

Overall, the film is a true dramedy in that it involves a rather serious, and tragic, subject matter spiked by bits of comedy.  What's great about the movie is that the comedy isn't intrusive on the overall story, but rather complimentary.  Most modern comedies allow the humor to come from set-ups, where a writer sits down and goes "Ok, so this is funny...", whereas Chaos Theory lets the humor simply flow, seeming more natural.  These aren't jokes written for the purpose of being funny (for the most part), but rather interactions that seem humorous to us as the audience.

I'll give an example:  There's a scene a bit over half-way through the film where a despondent Frank runs into Paula, the woman who can be held partially to blame for his life falling to shambles, in a bar.  She asks if he's still into time management and he immediately asks whether or not she's still a "home-wrecking bitch."

Now, of course, me typing the scenario out for you isn't nearly as funny as Reynolds delivery of the line, but I hope that you get my point about the comedy stemming from a naturalistic flow and realistic reactions.

None of this is to say that the movie is without it's flaws.  Overall, the performances are an average.  They aren't bad, but they aren't anything ground-breaking either.  I feel like the only person who really threw themselves into their role was Reynolds.  Throughout the movie you get a sense of the character's deepening depression and frustration with his complete loss of control over his life.  This is one of those movies that really proves that Reynolds has moved beyond his Van Wilder stage and is ready for the big-league.

Another complaint of mine, and I know that there are others who feel this way, is the ending.  The last twenty minutes of the main storyline just feel melodramatic to the point of bordering on soap opera territory.  It's certainly not the worst of endings, but it could have been better, a lot better.  You watch a movie for an hour and twenty minutes and you expect the ending to reflect the movie as a whole, but it seems that the filmmakers decided otherwise and left any trace of humor out of those scenes, which makes it feel hollow compared to the rest of the film.

I should note that the film is book-ended by scenes taking place years after the main storyline where Frank is talking to his soon to be son-in-law about the chaotic nature of love.  They're minor scenes, but they really frame the movie well and I thought they'd be worth mentioning.

I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone who's a fan of independent movies, Ryan Reynolds, or even just the dramedy genre as a whole.  So, "Check It Out" or "Pass It Up"?

Check It Out!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Believe In Christopher Nolan

I'm not going to lie; I was one of the people expecting to see The Riddler as the villain in Christopher Nolan's next Batman picture, now confirmed to be titled, The Dark Knight Rises.  In fact: I was hoping to see The Riddler.  The rumor mill was working hard, too, as people the 'net over speculated who would play the devious master of questions.

Well, Christopher Nolan didn't pull any punches when he put those rumors to rest during an Oct. 27th interview with Hero Complex.

“It won’t be the Riddler...”
It's ok kids, just take a deep breath, and we'll get past this.  Go grab a tissue if you need one, I'll be right here.

Alright, feeling better?  Let's move on.

So it's not going to be The Riddler.  Then who might Nolan, hot off the success of Inception, choose to be Batman's next greatest nemesis?  We know that it won't be Mr. Freeze, which is good, because I don't know how my fragile psyche would handle the memories of Arnold Schwarzenegger's turn as Freeze, in 1997's Batman & Robin, rushing back in the middle of a packed theater.  (Remember "Chill out!"?  I sadly do.)

Christopher Nolan
No Freeze.  No Riddler.  I think it's safe to say that we won't be getting a recast of Joker.  For one thing, Nolan seems to be a pretty classy guy, and I don't think he'd disrespect the late Heath Ledger by recasting his last (debatably greatest) role in a major studio production.

Personally, I'm in the camp that doesn't expect Two-Face to make a return.  The guy was pretty dead at the end of The Dark Knight, and as much as I enjoy the Jurassic Park books, I don't need to see Harvey Dent pull an Ian Malcolm and return because he was 'only mostly dead.'  The only way I'd accept seeing Dent return would be if Nolan could really do it justice by explaining it in a really believable way.

I think that Nolan is going to go in a new direction.  In Batman Begins, Ra's al Ghul tested Batman's readiness to protect Gotham.  In The Dark Knight, Joker tested Batman's resolve to protect Gotham.  The new villain will need to test Batman in another way in The Dark Knight Rises.

Having said that, my new draft pick is The Penguin.

Oh, I hear that groaning from here, you nay-sayers.  The Penguin isn't a threat to Batman?  No, he's really not.  He's a threat to Bruce Wayne though, and that's how I see the third movie going.  Ra's al Ghul and Joker are, basically, terrorists.  They're creative, theatrical terrorists, but terrorists all the same.  They create chaos to put their plans into motion.  What makes The Penguin different is that he is a business man.  He's a guy that, with minimal tweaking, represents corporate evil and greed at the extreme.

The next face of evil?
Now, despite this being purely speculation, I think I have a good bead on who would end up playing The Penguin, were he to be Nolan's choice for villain.

Philip Seymour Hoffman not only would be an appropriate actor from a physical standpoint, but would be more than capable of holding his own alongside actors of the caliber that Nolan has gathered for his Batman trilogy.

I'm not alone in this sentiment either.  A quick hop, skip, and Google search away and you'll see that other fans also think that Hoffman would be a top-notch addition to the cast of The Dark Knight Rises.

Let's stop there for a moment and talk about titles and the significance that they carry with them.

I'm not alone in thinking that The Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a weak title.  A lot of people, from what I've gathered, agree that the title is too close to that of it's predecessor.  Personally, I'd prefer something along the lines of 'The Caped Crusade', but I do see how 'Rises' makes perfectly clear what it's about.

So all in all, I'm really rather excited about this news.  For a film geek, like myself, half of the fun is speculating and anticipating what these little tidbits of information mean.  Hopefully, we'll be getting even more in the near future.

Any ideas on a new villain?  Do you love the title?  Do you hate the title?  Then leave a comment!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember, Remember, the 5th Of November...

Today is a day of monumental importance my friends.

Today marks the anniversary of an event that would change the course of history forever, all through one man's ingenuity and determination.

No, I'm not talking about that whole Guy Fawkes thing, because today happens to also be the anniversary of another important event.

It was 55 years ago today, in Hill Valley, California that Dr. Emmet Brown came up with the idea for the flux capacitor, after taking a fall in his home bathroom, and subsequently discovered time-travel.

Dr. Emmet Brown, the man who discovered time-travel.
Ok, so I'll restrain myself from getting any more meta with you guys, but I feel that today is an important day to mention Back to the Future.

I feel a certain level of shame (probably an appropriate level, actually) when I admit that I didn't see the movie until I was 19 years old.  I mean, it's easily one of the greatest movies ever made, so what took me so long?  What was it that kept me, an admitted film snob, from seeing a movie that is pretty much a right of passage for any self-respecting filmophile?

The answers, I'm afraid, elude me.

But this article isn't about how I was a shell of a man until I saw a DeLorean leave twin fire trails in a mall parking lot.  No, this article is about what makes Back to the Future a special movie, one that stands out against even some of the cream of the crop.

Firstly, the movie has some of the best characters to grace the screen in the last fifty years, played by actors that were born to play them.  There isn't one bit of off-kilter acting (for the 80's) that throws off the pacing, or a bit of dialogue that doesn't sound completely natural (for the 80's) coming from someone's mouth.

Secondly, everything about the production end of the movie is spot-on.  The effects, the writing, the direction, even the score - they are each superb in their respective fields.

Finally, and of equal importance, is the fact that BTTF is the first movie in a trilogy that may just be the greatest trilogy to ever grace the silver-screen.  Even though the third movie may be the weak link in the chain, it still stands strong against just about any trilogy ever made.  The Back to the Future trilogy is what The Godfather trilogy would have been, had The Godfather Part III not sucked.

It's 8:14pm...do you know when your kids are?
So if this movie is so wonderful (it is) and probably one of the greatest films ever made (it is), then why would there be rumors that big-wigs in Hollywood want to remake it?

Yes, class, it's true.  There are rumors of a Back to the Future remake in the works.  Worse yet, there are rumors on top of those rumors that Justin Bieber - that heartless little mop-top - would be the primary choice to take over the role of Marty McFly.

However, rumors are just that, and according to an interview Cinematical had with BTTF co-creator Bob Gale, fans may not have too much too worry about.

"I wouldn't support [a remake]", Gale told us in a firm, no-nonsense voice. "We don't want to do a remake, and we don't want to do a part four. We've seen franchises that go back too many times; they do one too many sequels, or remake something that should not have been remade. Bob [Zemeckis] and I are real happy with the way the movies are as they now exist, and we will do the opposite of what everyone else does and say leave well enough alone -- let's not tamper with the past."

So, hopefully Hollwood will take note of this and not tempt fate by dicking with one of the best films ever made.   However, Hollywood hasn't always been known for their good sense (or even their good intentions).

But, alas, let us not dwell on the evil that may some day be done, but rather reflect on the good that has already been done.

So, before I wrap this up and get this thing up to 88 mph, I'll say this: If you haven't seen BTTF, then you need to climb out from under that cozy little rock you've been living under and go watch it.  Now.  I'm not kidding. Right now.

If you have already seen it, then I encourage you to go grab your copy - whether it be the new 25th anniversary edition, or the older 20th anniversary edition, or even a dusty old VHS tape - and pop it in tonight to commemorate Doc Brown's discovery.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Decline Of Western Civilization

I hated Westerns as a kid.

I mean, I couldn't even sit through a Western if my dad was watching one.

I really didn't like them.

However, that's changed in recent years.

It's dawned on me as I've gotten older just how awesome Westerns really are.  I don't care if the guy is 10 for 110, part of him will always want to be a cowboy in the old west.

FACT: Every man secretly wants to be this man.
There's something very visceral about the way any good Western plays out.  It's a world filled with anti-heroes and hookers.  What's not to love?

The thing about Westerns, that I didn't realize until I was in my twenties, is that it's not about the action.  Much like the Japanese art of Ikebana, it's about the space between.  It's about the pacing and the tension.  It's about all the moments that lead up to the hero shooting down the line of bandits that have him cornered.

Maybe that's why Westerns don't get made anymore.  In today's fast-paced, gotta-get-it-now society, nobody takes the time to appreciate the moments in between the events.

Maybe it was simply the way of the world.  In today's cinema, Westerns have been replaced with Superhero movies, just as Westerns replaced Historical Epics.

Who knows?  Maybe ten years down the road Westerns will hit it big again.

Though for right now, it seems that we are in the moments between.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Separated At Birth: The Losers vs. The A-Team

Whoa.  Talk about déjà vu!

Two movies about government sponsored teams who get double-crossed and go out to clear their names.  Two movies featuring over-the-top action peppered with lighthearted humor.  Two movies which have their third acts take place at the port of Los Angeles.

Talk about déjà vu!

The Losers

Based on the comic book by Andy Dingle and Jock, The Losers wastes no time getting in your face with it's heavy dose of action-comedy.  Seriously.  Five minutes in and people are getting shot.

I'm not complaining though.  I knew what I was in for with this one, so I wasn't exactly expecting a thought-provoking film.  The movie is fun, and that's really all it tries to be, so I give the filmmakers credit for doing their job well.  I, personally, liked that there were little stylistic touches throughout the movie, telling the audience where the characters currently were.  It reminded me a lot of Zombieland, which is a good thing.  It works in a movie like this.

The cast is great to be honest, if not very well known.  Almost everyone knows who Chris Evans is these days, and I'm glad to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan coming up in the Hollywood hierarchy.  You may remember him best as the dead boyfriend from Grey's Anatomy, or the dead dad from Weeds, or the dead superhero from Watchmen.  The other actors are all fantastic as well, but these two steal most of the scenes they are in.

My biggest complaints on the movie are that slow-motion seems completely overused in the first half of the movie and that Eric Stoltz felt like a generic-brand Bond villain with an evil scheme, that rivaled the ridiculous plot of G.I. Joe, involving a super-bomb called a 'snuke' (all I could think of was an episode of South Park form a few years ago).

The A-Team

If you thought that The Losers took action to a new level of ridiculous, then you clearly have not seen Bradley Cooper fly a tank.

No, really, he flys a tank.

Based on the television show from the 1980's of the same name, The A-Team was released mere weeks after The Losers.  I would almost say that the two movies were based off the exact same premise.

The A-Team seems like the younger, more eager twin of The Losers, always trying to one-up it.  The Losers fly a helicopter?  Well, The A-Team flys a helicopter upside-down.  The Losers blow up a private jet?  The A-Team blows up an entire freighter.

Anything you can do, I can do bigger.

Being that The A-Team is based on a more well-known property, it of course landed more high-profile stars, and they work well together.  This is another one that I was shocked didn't do better in theaters.

Featuring a more interesting bad-guy (played by up-and-comer Patrick Wilson) and more intense action, it's hard to see where The A-Team may fall short.  Well, it falls short in a few areas.  Sometimes, the camera cuts can be a bit jarring, as if Mr. Michael Bay himself had done the editing, and it isn't hard to miss a bit of dialogue because you were so distracted by the fact that you have no idea what just happened.

The Decision

Honestly, I'd sit down with a cold beer and a couple of friends to watch either movie and be perfectly content.  They are both fine additions to the action genre, and I'd be more than happy to see a sequel to either one, seeing as both have endings left wide open for the sequel option.

In fact, I'd like to see both movies get a continuation, though I don't really expect either one will.

So, to be honest, neither movie is really superior to the other, as they both feel like opposite sides of the same double-headed coin.  I would recommend either one as a rental at least, that way if you don't dig The A-Team, at least you have a Plan B.

Cheesy, I know.

The Losers is currently out on DVD and Blu-Ray, and you'll be able to pick up The A-Team on December 14th.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The People vs. Sam Raimi: The Real Reason Spider-Man 3 Sucked

Ok, let's start off with a harsh truth: Spider-Man 3 wasn't very good.  It may have been acceptable, decent, or passable, but it wasn't good, and after the first two Spider-Man movies, fans were expecting not only something good, but something great.

So why wasn't it very good?  Why didn't it live up to the expectations of the fans from the first two films?  Was it the fact that James Franco was flying around on a snowboard?  Maybe.  That probably played a small role.  Was it the scene where Peter Parker dances around a piano bar looking like the lead singer from some local scene band that only plays house shows?  Yeah, that sucked quite a bit, and was incredibly awkward to watch.

However, if you bum around any film site long enough, you'll probably discover the root of most peoples' outrage: The handling of Venom.

Geeks the world over were pissed about the way Venom looked, the way Venom acted, even the way that Venom talked.  As most people would argue - it just wasn't Venom.

So the backlash came and most of it was targeted right for director Sam Raimi.  Here was a guy who had delivered two fantastic Spider-Man movies and then completely bungled the third, forever tarnishing what could have been a near-perfect trilogy.

Here's the kicker though: It wasn't Sam Raimi's fault.

The thing is, Sam Raimi outright said that he didn't want to include Venom in any of his Spider-Man movies.  The reasoning behind this was that he was making an homage to the Spider-Man that he grew up with in the 1960's, and really just didn't care for Venom as a character.

So, why did we end up getting a half-baked version of Venom, Spider-Man's antithesis, in Spider-Man 3 then?  Because we, the fans, demanded Venom.  The studio did what seemed to be the logical choice, from a financial perspective, and told Raimi that Venom was going to be in the third movie, whether or not he liked it.  They did exactly what the fans wanted.

Now, before I wrap this up, I know there are probably going to be a few people who don't know a great deal about the film industry who bring up the fact that directors are the people in charge of movies.  They are supposed to have final say.  Well, yes, that's true.  In theory, anyway.

However, if that were true in practice, why would we get DVD/Blu-Ray releases with the words 'Director's Cut' emblazoned on them?

Ever notice how the 'Director's Cut' is usually a better film?

There's a simple reason for that: Directors are in the business of making movies.  Studios are in the business of making money.

So, next time you happen upon someone complaining about how badly Sam Raimi screwed up Venom (you'll probably hear it at least once if you decide to see Sony's Spider-Man reboot in the theatre), kindly let them know that Spider-Man 3 didn't suck because of Sam Raimi.  Spider-Man 3 sucked despite Sam Raimi.

Your friendly neighborhood filmophile will thank you.