Saturday, November 6, 2010

What's Ahead in 2011

I chuckled at a recent online quote from Iron Man director Jon Favreau about next summer's movie prospects. Favreau is prepping a new popcorn epic called Cowboys and Aliens, with Harrison Ford. I give Favreau credit for not jumping on the sequel bandwagon, which happens every summer. Anyway, Favreau is worried about his film's chances in the middle of next summer's genre avalanche. Favreau said, "It's gonna be Omaha Beach. There's going to be blood on the carpet and teeth on the floor just about every weekend next summer." Meaning: the slate is so crowded that something's going to get buried. Maybe a lot of somethings.

So I was inspired to take an early look at what's ahead in 2011. I usually save this column for January, but this time I couldn't resist. I found a lot of retreads, a lot of superheroes, and some interesting gems in the mess. See what you think:


THE GREEN HORNET. Seth Rogen lost some serious weight to get this role, so husky guys like me should probably give him the benefit of the doubt.
THE RITE. Did you know there's a real exorcism school lodged within the Vatican? Neither did I. Interested? Me neither. But it's Anthony Hopkins, back in genre mode!


SANCTUM. I saw the trailer for this one, and it looked nice. Producer James Cameron supplied the same 3D technology he used for Avatar to make the film, about a deep-trench expedition (I think) trapped far underground.
DRIVE ANGRY 3D. Nicolas Cage plays a dead guy who escapes from Hell to get revenge on the cultists who murdered his daughter. Evidently he drives really, really fast to do this. Hence the title.


BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. This one is being promoted as a cross between Cloverfield and Black Hawk Down. Aggghhhhh! Shaky-cam alert! Shaky-cam alert!!
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Yet another film based on a Philip K. Dick property (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, you name it) with Matt Damon as a Senate hopeful who bucks Fate by falling in love. No, seriously, Fate is majorly pissed; Fate is actually a bunch of men in dark suits who chase you down if you don't turn the right corner, push the right button, etc, etc.
SUCKER PUNCH. Zack Snyder, who made Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, ramps it up again with this live action comic book about hot-looking babes fighting monsters, ninjas, giant robots, indoor plumbing...okay, I made that last one up.


SCREAM 4. After ten years, Ghostface is back. Maybe this time it'll be Courtney Cox under the mask, and she'll go after her ex. Fool around on me, huh? We'll see about that! Eat THIS! Slash...slash...
THE THING. This is a prequel to the John Carpenter classic, relating the events at the Norwegian outpost. I predict the dog gets away at the end.


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES. Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, looking for the Fountain of Youth with Penelope Cruz. Wouldn't we all.
THOR. Marvel Comics is back with another superhero, and Anthony Hopkins plays Odin. No-name Chris Hemsworth sure looks the part in the pictures.
KUNG FU PANDA: THE KABOOM OF DOOM. I only listed this one because I love the title.


X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. The Marvel onslaught continues with this prequel to the earlier X-Men movies. We get James McEvoy as a young Charles Xavier and Michael "Inglourious Basterds" Fassbinder as a young Magneto. I'm still cheesed they didn't sign McEvoy to play Bilbo in The Hobbit, but you can't have everything, I guess.
GREEN LANTERN. Ryan Reynolds fills the emerald tights as one of DC Comics' most popular heroes. What, you thought it was all about the Bat at DC?
RISE OF THE APES. Yet another prequel, this one from Fox, in a loose remake of the long-ago Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, with James Franco as a present-day scientist working with highly-evolved monkeys, or something like that. Isn't it cool how I can get away with such long sentence fragments? Just keep adding commas!
CARS 2. I only mention it because it's Pixar's 2011 model. No car pun intended.


TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. Which is where I wish all those big-ass robots would just go away to live, and leave the rest of us alone. And take Shia LeBoeuf with you, please.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2. Remember Favreau's comment about Omaha Beach? This is the cruise missile that will probably do the most damage. I give Marvel Comics props for having the cajones to bring out their Captain America flick the following week.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. I'm still hoping they move the date on this, because I'd love to see it, but I have a feeling that the boy wizard will eat it for breakfast and spit it out for lunch. A big thumbs up, though, for deciding to film it as a World War II period piece.
COWBOYS AND ALIENS. Guess what, Favreau? You're probably right; those are your teeth on the floor.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Definition of Gratuitous

There is absolutely nothing in the new film Piranha 3D that could be called "socially redeeming." It doesn't have a message. It doesn't teach a lesson. It doesn't preach. It doesn't get all artsy with its camerawork. It doesn't even have much of a story, clocking in at a very brief 82 minutes.

But those 82 minutes are entertaining.

Director Alexandre Aja, who filmed one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade, Haute Tension, knew exactly what type of movie he was making, and he delivered: the most cheerfully gratuitous major studio film in a long time (maybe ever). There are scenes in this film that have no real business being in the movie other than to deliver a shock, a scare, or just to titillate. How else to describe the slow motion nude underwater ballet (I'm not kidding) between two lovely ladies? Or the chomped-off privates of a cast member, floating directly toward you in all their 3D glory? Or Eli Roth's cameo as the emcee of a wet t-shirt contest?

But wait, there's more. Any self-respecting fan of movies will grin from ear to ear at the opening scene, with a big-name actor sending up a famous role by singing several bars of a well-known song from his big-name film. (The character's name was just icing on the cake.) How can you not laugh out loud at a movie like this? And not maliciously, either.

Piranha 3D doesn't take itself seriously at all, which makes it a guilty pleasure of the highest order. The story, something about prehistoric piranha unleashed on an unsuspecting spring break crowd, is merely setup for one of the single most eye-popping displays of special effects bloodwork ever seen on screen. And now we're back to the definition of gratuitous. But I'm in full complimentary mode, folks. Really.

This will be a hard movie to defend. All I can say is, it's fast, fun, and in your face. Leave your brain at the door and you'll have a good time. Don't forget to pick it up afterward. 9 out of 10 stars.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ah-nuld Would Be Proud

I went into the first showing of PREDATORS this morning with fingers crossed and a prayer on my lips -- that some way, somehow, Robert Rodriguez would be able to restore some of the bloody sheen to a pretty tarnished genre legacy, and maybe, just maybe, bring some much-needed relief to a pretty crappy movie summer.

My prayers were answered, kids.

As a lover of action movies in general, and action-oriented sci-fi in particular, ALIENS and the original PREDATOR have always ranked pretty high on my list. (I'll put PREDATOR next to T2 as my absolute favorite Schwarzenegger pictures.) I was actually deluded into thinking (once upon a time) that melding the two franchises was a pretty good idea. Then the first AVP movie snared a PG-13 rating with some watered-down action, cheesy FX, and lousy performances. Ugh. The last one, AVP: REQUIEM, was basically a teen slasher film tricked out to look tougher than it was. That didn't leave me with much hope for (or interest in) another sequel.

Then word got around that Robert Rodriguez had dusted off an old treatment of the PREDATOR franchise with the intention of filming something closer to the tone of the original blockbuster. I was encouraged, even after I heard that Rodriguez would only be producing the film, not directing it; he would put someone named Nimrod Antal in the director's chair. I wasn't worried. Thinking Rodriguez wouldn't have some kind of input in PREDATORS is like thinking Spielberg had nothing to do with POLTERGEIST and it was all Tobe Hooper's doing. Uh huh.

This movie kicks righteous ass, f0lks. For starters, the ubiquitous CGI has been dialed waaaay down (with one snazzy exception, a "big reveal" shot about a third of the way in that any genre fans in the crowd with half a brain stem probably already saw coming) and the old-school creature FX/makeup work of the KNB group has been dialed waaaay up. Second, the cast has been populated with some pretty solid actors, starting with Adrien Brody (an Oscar winner, for Pete's sake) in the de facto Arnold part. If you thought Brody held his own as the hero in KING KONG, then you ain't seen nothing yet.

Brody's one of a group of 8 who find themselves mysteriously dropped into an unknown jungle locale; the common factor is that they all come from violent backgrounds. Pretty soon, things start to happen, their numbers start dwindling, and the survivors are fighting for their lives. (I'm trying to keep the plot in general terms for newbies, but you vets get the drift.)

One of the things I loved about PREDATORS is that it gives more than a few nods to its original predecessor. One of the characters is armed with the same type of portable gatling gun that Governor Ventura sported in the first movie, and what song do you think plays over the closing credits? I'll give you a hint -- it was blasting from Ventura's boombox at the beginning of the original. Nice!

PREDATORS was a fun ride, definitely worth a ticket, and I look forward to seeing it again. Give it a solid 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do You Hear That Gurgling Sound?

It's the sound of 2010, the first half of the year in movies, being flushed down the proverbial toilet. Talk about your disappointments.

As of July 5th, I've seen exactly 17 movies in the theaters thus far this year. That's roughly on a par with past years, although there have been opportunities this year in which I could have very easily gone to a show; I've simply passed them up. Nothing will ever again approach the halcyon days of 1986, the first year I began keeping track of my movie-going; by early July of that year, I had seen 66 movies. I would end the year with 102. You might ask: How did you find the time? My answer: I was unemployed. The obvious follow-up: Where did you find the money? My answer: I went to a lot of matinees. And ate a lot of Lance Nip-Chee Cracker packs for my meals. (That's a diehard movie fan for ya, folks.)

But I digress. What's up with 2010? To put it bluntly, it sucks. Nothing appeals to me. The reasons I've passed up a lot of films can be boiled down to these: The movies are bad, the movies are unappealing, the movies are getting terrible reviews, the movies have been dumbed down, lousy 3D rendering has gutted several decent ideas, and when an interesting idea does rear its inviting head, I can't get to it. Case in point: there's a new one out there called "Cyrus," a quirky indie comedy with good buzz, but its only available screen in the Baltimore metro area is the Landmark downtown, so I guess I'll wait until it hits On Demand or Netflix.

I've seen exactly two movies so far this year that I've flat-out loved: TOY STORY 3 and KICK-ASS. That's 2 out of 17. Only two movies that I would love to watch again, only two that I ever plan to add to my personal collection. That's a pretty crappy average, folks.

Oh, sure, there have been a few nice time-wasters. I liked HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, although its raunchy humor got a little predictable by the end. I liked IRON MAN 2, as far as sequels go, but it didn't have the same thrill as the original. I even liked GROWN UPS, which I saw last week with my wife and son. As Adam Sandler movies go, it was pretty good. Which is faint praise, I assure you.

But the disappointments have outnumbered the good ones, which is pretty surprising, considering how picky we are these days when it comes to spending our monthly mortgage payments on a night out at the movies. THE WOLFMAN was a major letdown, full of sound and fury and signifying exactly nada. CLASH OF THE TITANS was the first of what has turned out to be a truly distressing trend -- the bandwagon approach of redoing already-filmed prints with 3D effects. Trust me, they didn't help the movie at all. KNIGHT AND DAY (speaking of sound and fury signifying nothing) was a nasty sign that Tom Cruise's days as a blockbuster star may be numbered. And A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET -- well, the less said about that one, the better.

Where does that leave us for the rest of 2010? Well, if you're an Oscars buff, you're probably wondering where in hell they're going to come up with 10 Best Picture nominees. (The only one thus far that merits serious consideration would be TOY STORY 3. ) If you're a Christopher Nolan fan (or just a fan of movies in general), then you've got your fingers crossed for INCEPTION, opening July 16. If you're a Harry Potter fan, then you're waiting for November, when the first part of the Deathly Hallows finale hits screens. If you're worried that the rest of the year is going to follow the first half down the ol' Port-a-John (no relation), then you're probably already closing your eyes at that godawful trailer showing Jack Black's take on Gulliver's Travels.

Me, I'll be in line for INCEPTION. In the meantime, I'm reading a great book. (The Passage, by Justin Cronin) What a novel concept. (No pun intended.)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Ridin' Easy Into the Sunset

Dennis Hopper has died. That fact shouldn't be a surprise to the many movie fans who have followed Hopper's career, especially recently, when he looked so sick in public. I was shocked at his appearance, and figured it was only a matter of time before he passed on. It seemed like a good time to reflect on the milestones of his career, for which there were many.

Hopper acted in a lot of TV through the '50s and early '60s. A quick scan through his IMDb listing showed credits for just about any program you could name back then, from The Twilight Zone to Bonanza to The Big Valley to Combat! I think that kept his face in front of a lot of producers and agents. I first noticed him as the son of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in GIANT. He showed a rebellious streak even then, playing a scion of a Texas millionaire who married a Mexican. I'll always remember the moment when his wife is denied service at a beauty salon; Hopper flips out and goes after James Dean for the slight.

Later on, he hitched a ride with John Wayne, playing the weak-willed son of bad guy James Gregory in Wayne's '60s classic, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER. But it was four years later that he scored a double play to end them all: writing, directing, and starring in EASY RIDER, the ultimate counter-culture classic, while simultaneously nailing a small but memorable part in conservative Wayne's Oscar winner, TRUE GRIT. I watched that scene again the other night, and noticed how Hopper's long hair is tied back in a ponytail in the scene. I thought how funny it would be that the Duke might not have had a clue what Hopper was doing on his own in Hollywood at the time. It's possible that Wayne knew about Hopper's tastes and politics and overlooked them, but somehow I kinda doubt it.

Hopper's career went into a long, slow decline after that memorable year, but he enjoyed a career resurgence in the late '80s similar to John Travolta's in the '90s. I loved his supporting performance as the drunken father in HOOSIERS, as well as his villainous role in SPEED. He had a very small part in Tony Scott's Tarantino-penned TRUE ROMANCE as Christian Slater's father, going toe-to-toe with crime boss Christopher Walken in a scene that was an actor's clinic. And he had one more notable TV role, too, as the villainous Victor Drazen on the first season of 24.

Here are my top Hoppers, in order of preference.

1. HOOSIERS (1986)
2. EASY RIDER (1969)
3. SPEED (1994)
4. 24 - Season One (2001-2002)
5. TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
6. GIANT (1956)
7. TRUE GRIT (1969)
9. BLUE VELVET (1986)

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Nightmare to Sit Through

I went to see the new remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street for Jackie Earle Haley. No, not because I owed him a favor or anything, but because I thought his casting as Freddy Krueger, stepping into Robert Englund's iconic finger-blades, was dead-on. I loved Haley as Rorschach in Watchmen -- he was the best thing in the movie -- and I've enjoyed him as the computer geek sidekick in the Fox drama Human Target. So I figured, what's not to like?

How about the fact that he barely registers under all that melted-cheese-pizza makeup and pitched-way-down-to-here gravel pit of a voice? How about that none of the "high schoolers" (and I use that term very loosely) look like they've seen the business end of a hall pass in about ten years? How about that the movie is so crammed with music stings and jump cuts -- the cheapest, laziest way to get a scream out of the horror film audience -- that you're bored inside of about 30 minutes?

This movie was designed to cash in on the horror remake craze quickly and get out of Dodge, which it seems to have done, taking the box office for one weekend before the Iron Man 2 juggernaut rolls into town. It's probably going to make back its investment, and a nice, tidy profit besides, which means we'll likely see Haley pull on the finger blades one more time. Well, somebody will. But not me, brother. This nightmare is over.

Give the new Nightmare 3 out of 10 stars. An early candidate for the Allie of 2010.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Clap for the Wolfman? Maybe a Little...

I'll say it up front: I hadn't anticipated a movie this much since INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Unfortunately, more often than not, the reality doesn't live up to the dream. THE WOLFMAN, twice postponed (a red flag right there), opened Friday, and considering it was an R-rated horror movie opening on the no. 1 date weekend of the year, $30 mil at the box office wasn't too bad. But I digress. I liked some of it; not enough to give it a big rave, but I think horror fans will be able to enjoy it.

This movie was championed by Benicio Del Toro; he starred in it, stuck by it when the first director dropped out and the release date was pushed back, even got a producer's credit for his efforts. And he turned out to be one of the best things in the movie. Del Toro does "tortured soul" very well, and he even bears a passing resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr, although I might be pushing that a bit. I liked what he brought to the tragic character of Lawrence Talbot, prodigal son returned just in time to take on the most iconic of all horror film curses. I liked the British actress Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe, the love interest. The two had a nice chemistry together. I was less enamored of Anthony Hopkins, chewing the scenery in the Claude Rains role as Del Toro' s father, Sir John. He was short, squat, looked like Louis Pasteur, and opened the door on a plot point that really sent the movie off the rails.

Which is a shame, because for a while there I really enjoyed myself. The look of THE WOLFMAN was spectacular; the production designer deserves some kind of award for the film. (Even though I knew much of what I was seeing, especially the long range shots of the mansion, was pure CGI.)

And speaking of CGI -- the transformation scenes (what you were allowed to see, anyway) were less than impressive. Rick Baker's legendary expertise was limited to close-up head shots of the creature; second-choice director Joe Johnston decided to forego a time-consuming transformation process a la Baker's masterpiece, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. He chose instead to let the computers run wild, and once again, we're presented with a gallery of faked CGI numbers that truly underwhelm. Let's face it; when you see the Wolfman leaping across city rooftops on all fours like a hungry husky, you kinda know you're not watching flesh and blood.

I'll give the film a qualified thumb's up for a good show from Del Toro, Blunt, and Baker. It's worth about 7 out of 10 stars. But purists of the 1941 film -- prepare to scream foul when that little plot point I mentioned earlier rears its ugly head. You'll want to take screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (SE7EN) and kick him in the nards. Because, after all, the wolfman has nards. Remember?