Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At the Movies – June 2011 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Fun Movies:

Green Lantern (Martin Campbell) – Action/Adventure – Jun 17
Summary: The film based on the DC comic hero is about Hal Jordan, a test pilot who comes across a dying alien who bestows him with a mystical green ring giving him super powers (whatever he imagines the ring can do). The ring also brings with it membership in an intergalactic peace-keeping society. Hal must embrace his newfound power when a dangerous force threatens his home planet (Earth) and the universe. Filmmakers: Director Martin Campbell has made some very good action films (specifically Casino Royale, and maybe GoldenEye), some fun action films and a few ok ones (and a dud or two). That said, he is a great choice to tackle a comic book property (though, I would have guessed he would have been better suited for a character somewhat more grounded in reality). Campbell has a fantastic crew on the film with composer James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight), brilliant cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memories of a Geisha) and production designer Grant Major (Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Cast: Campbell, Warner Bros. and DC have also assembled a good cast. Having Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan brings an immediate charisma and comedic aspect to the film (mirroring what Marvel has down casting the leads in their recent film like Iron Man and Thor). The supporting cast features excellent actors Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard. Rising star Blake Lively plays the love interest for Jordan, while Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan have voice-acting roles and Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett have small roles. Expectations: The initial trailers played off the comedic and fun of Reynolds’s charisma, but made the film look only ok. Then DC and Warner Bros. changed their marketing strategy and focused more on the dramatic elements of the story while highlighting the fact that this is an epic adventure that takes place in space as well as on Earth. These new trailers make the film look a lot better. Comic book films to date have not really ventured into space (unlike the comics) aside from the Fantastic Four and Superman films, and really only briefly. It will be interesting to see how audiences embrace an intergalactic character. Check out the trailer. Review.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Mark Waters) – Comedy – Jun 17
Summary: The film is about Tom Popper, a businessman who begins to change after inheriting six penguins (yes, I have suspended my disbelief at this point and can continue) – transforming his apartment into a winter playground suitable for his new house guests. However, as a result his professional life starts to fall apart (and we have all realized that this only for children and big Jim Carrey fans). Filmmakers: Director Mark Waters has made his career on romantic comedies (Just Like Heaven) and Lindsay Lohan comedies (Freaky Friday and Mean Girls). However, his last rom-com was not overly successful (or good) so he is trying his hand again at family oriented material (having previously made the flop The Spiderwick Chronicles). Waters has a good crew for the genre with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (The Devil Wears Prada) and production designer Stuart Wurtzel (Marley & Me). Cast: Really the film is all about Carrey, who pretty much takes up all the energy in any scene, but the supporting cast has some good actors in it with Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Philip Baker Hall, and Madeline Carroll (who is a very good and promising young actress). Expectations: The film looks very silly and a little cute, which should make it great for kids. I just hope that it is funny and smart enough to engage the parents too. Check out the trailer.

Cars 2 (John Lasseter & Brad Lewis) – Adventure/Comedy – Jun 24
Summary: The film is about Lightning McQueen travelling abroad to race against the fastest cars internationally. He is accompanied by his friend Mater who is mistaken for a secret agent, pulling the pair into an espionage adventure. Filmmakers: Director John Lasseter has a great track record in animation; being a major part of Pixar and as the head of Disney Animation (he directed Cars, Toy Story 2, Toy Story, and A Bugs Life). His co-director on the film Brad Lewis is making his directorial debut, but he did work as a produced on Ratatouille and Antz. As with many recent Pixar hits (Up, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles), excellent composer Michael Giacchino is scoring the film. Cast: Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy return to voice the principal characters while the supporting characters are voiced by an impressive bunch, highlighted by: Michael Caine, Joe Mantegna, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger (of course), John Turturro, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Kretschmann, Bonnie Hunt, Emily Mortimer, Bruce Campbell, Tony Shalhoub, and Eddie Izzard. Additionally, a few celebrity drivers are lending their voices as well, like Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon. Expectations: With all the wonderful developed characters Pixar has, plus their knack of generating great new ideas and characters, I initially questioned their decision to make a sequel to Cars (a film I am not a huge fan of), but then thinking unselfishly I came to the understanding that the Cars franchise is an absolute boon among young viewers (especially in the ancillary markets). Plus, Pixar has a very good record with their two Toy Story sequels. So, more than likely this will be as good as the original (and expectantly better; but I hope Pixar does not follow suit and start churning out sequels summer after summer like every other studio and not original material – and at the same time, my most anticipated film of this year is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and for next year The Dark Knight Rises, so I guess I am a little hypocritical). Check out the trailer.

Bad Teacher (Jake Kasdan) – Comedy – Jun 24
Summary: The Film is about Elizabeth Halsey, an apathetic junior high teacher who longs to taken care of by a rich man. When she is dumped, she sets her sights on a new prospect in the form a new co-worker who she believes to be very wealthy. In an attempt to woo him (facing competition from another teacher interested in him), she takes an interest in her teaching duties (albeit in a shallow attempt to win money so she can get bigger breasts, as she believes her target to like that – and it probably plays out like this: only to realize that she does like teaching and the nice guy who likes her, because really we all know how this turns out already). Filmmakers: Director Jake Kasdan has made three previous films (the best of which is probably Zero Effect), but has a much stronger body of work in TV (especially his work on Freaks and Geeks). The film is written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, which for fans of The Office should get them excited until they remember that the pair’s previous (and only) film screenplay was Year One. Kasdan has a pretty good crew on the film with cinematographer Alar Kivilo (A Simple Plan) and comedy specialists composer Michael Andrews (scored Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story for Kasdan) and production designer Jefferson Sage (also worked on Walk Hard and Freeks and Geeks). Cast: The film stars Cameron Diaz (who is maybe looking to recapture the R rated comedy magic of There’s Something About Marry, and having a rejuvenating hit) and co-stars Justin Timberlake (in his first of two summer comedies), Lucy Punch and Jason Segel (who instantly makes this infinitely more interesting). Phyllis Smith and John Michael Higgins feature in supporting roles. Expectations: It is kind of funny that Diaz is playing a character trying to snag Timberlake’s given their past relationship history. The film looks ok, with both moments of potential hilarity and overdone genre clich├ęs. The red band trailer certainly makes it look funnier. Timberlake is coming off a great performance in The Social Network and Segel is generally really good, which makes this something I will definitely rent (but probably skip in the theatres). Check out the trailer.

Monday, May 30, 2011

At the Movies – June 2011 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Watch:

Beginners (Mike Mills) – Drama – Jun 3 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Oliver, a young man who is rocked by two pieces of news: first that his elderly father has terminal cancer and second also has a young male lover. And, he meets an interesting and quirky girl who he likes. Filmmakers: Writer-director Mike Mills makes his return to the world of feature films for his second after making a few documentaries (his first feature was Thumbsucker, which was generally liked by critics but not so much by me). Mills has an interesting crew on the film with three composers: Roger Neill (who scores King of the Hill), Dave Palmer (making his film debut) and Brian Reitzell (who is the drummer for the band Air and often works with Sofia Coppola as the music supervisor on her films). Danish cinematographer Kasper Tuxen is shooting the film and Shane Valentino (who worked in the art department on Batman Begins and Somewhere) is doing the production design.  Cast: (For me) however, it is the cast that makes the film the most intriguing. Ewan McGregor stars with Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent (who had her American breakthrough in Inglourious Basterds, but is also very good in Paris and has a brief but good scene in The Beat That My Heart Skipped) co-starring (as well as a Jack Russell Terrier that looks like my Mom’s), and Goran Visnjic features in a supporting role. Expectations: The film looks really good – both funny and sad, a bit like real life (not to mention that it has done well among critics on the festival circuit). Check out the trailer. Review.

Submarine (Richard Ayoade) – Romance – Jun 3 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old boy with two primary objectives: first (or second depending on the success of the other) to lose his virginity before turning sixteen and second (or first) to nix any chance of his mother getting back together with an ex-lover (who he does not like). Filmmakers: Writer-director Richard Ayoade is well loved as an actor on the UK Channel 4 series The IT Crowd. Submarine marks his feature film debut; he has directed on a few TV series, including a recent episode of Community. Coming from a TV background himself, Ayoade’s crew is composed of craftsmen who also primarily work on TV series with composer Andrew Hewitt, cinematographer Erik Wilson (who worked as a camera operator on Ayoades concert film Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo) and production designer Gary Williamson. Ben Stiller serves as the executive producer and makes a cameo in the film (assumingly as a producer he helped this small British film get distribution in the States). Cast: The cast is headlined by newcomer (at least for audiences in the States) Craig Roberts with Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins co-starring, and Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor and Gemma Chan featured in supporting roles. Expectations: The film looks like an artsy (in a good way) and quirky comedy (it reminds me a bit of a tonally darker Wes Anderson film with a little Sofia Coppila thrown in). Critics have liked it a lot on the festival circuit and during its British opening earlier this year. Check out the trailer.

The Troll Hunter (Andre Ovredal) – Adventure – Jun 10 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a group of students in Norway who embark on a mission to investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, only to learn that there are far more dangerous creatures afoot. They come across an enigmatic hunter and decide to follow him, discovering that he is actually hunting trolls (not a spoiler, as it is in the title and trailer). Expectations: (Being that I know little about Norwegian cinema, this director, his crew or the cast, we can skip the usual next section and just go on to) the film looks like it will either be brilliant (along the same lines as Gareth Edwards’s Monsters), B-movie fun or just sort of terrible (the trailer sort of suggests moments of all three). Critics have enjoyed it, but not universally. Check out the trailer.

The Trip (Michael Winterbottom) – Comedy – Jun 10 [limited]
Summary: Edited down from the 172 minutes BBC 2 TV series, the film (107 mins) is about Steve Coogan, who is asked by The Observer to tour U.K.’s finest restaurants. He first envisions a perfect getaway for his girlfriend and himself. But when she backs out, he is left with only his friend (and seemingly arch-nemesis) Rob Brydon to accompany him. Filmmakers: Director Michael Winterbottom (who is a frequent collaborator of Coogan, see 24 Hour Party People for a good example of their work together) is a perfect fit for this film, as it is a pseudo-documentary style comedy with Coogan and Brydon improvising almost all the dialog and scenes. He also directed A Cock and Bull Story, which features the two of them constantly going at each other yet still remaining good friends, it is really funny. Very good cinematographer Ben Smithard is shooting the film (he did excellent work on The Damned United). Expectations: The series is critically acclaimed and the film version has also been heavily praised (but not quite as much as the series; it would be nice if the DVD release has both). The film looks brilliant and hilarious, especially if you like the comedic bickering of Coogan and Brydon (which I do). Check out the trailer.

The Art of Getting By (Gavin Wiesen) – Dramedy – Jun 17 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a kid who never saw the benefit of putting effort into life. Then he meets a girl he likes, and realizes that love is not that easy. Filmmakers: Writer-director Gavin Wiesen makes his feature debut with the film. Wiesen has an indie crew with him featuring composer Alec Puro (who also worked on Wiesen’s short Kill the Day), cinematographer Ben Kutchins (Bomb the System) and production designer Kelly McGehee (Lymelife). Cast: The cast includes a fine array of actors with Freddie Highmore starring, making his debut in a more adult role. Emma Roberts and Michael Angarano co-star rounding out a solid young core, while Elizabeth Reaser, Alicia Silverstone (who needs a good movie on her CV, Clueless being all the way back in 1995), Blair Underwood, Sam Robards, and Rita Wilson highlight the supporting players. Expectations: It looks to be a coming-of-age/young romance story (both of which I am fond of), and a good one at that. New York always makes for a good setting for quirky characters and indie culture. The film received a lot of praise at Sundance among critics. Check out the trailer.

A Better Life (Chris Weitz) – Drama – Jun 24
Summary: The film is about a gardener in East L.A. who struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration while trying to provide a better life (wow, just used the movie title in the sentence, kudos). Filmmakers: Director Chris Weitz made About a Boy, a film I really like (co-directing with his brother Paul; together they also made American Pie and Down to Earth, both ok comedies). But since then, his last two outings (New Moon and The Golden Compass) have not been good at all (it sadly seems as though About a Boy might have been just a bright spot). The crew on the film however is excellent with (the hardest working man in Hollywood) composer Alexandre Desplat (who also scored Weitz’s New Moon), cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (also shot New Moon) and production designer Missy Stewart (Good Will Hunting). Cast: The film stars Demian Bichir (who you probably know from Weeds) and newcomer Jose Julian. Expectations: (Despite what I said about Weitz not making good movies above, other than About a Boy) this potentially looks quite good. Immigration from Mexico, Central and South America is a hot topic (especially in the Southwestern United States) and it will be interesting to see how this film plays to a broader audience. There are a number of films that tackle this subject (including a few great ones like Sin Nombre), but none have truly been breakout hits. Check out the trailer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Movie of the Week - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This week’s movie is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).

The third film in the series, this adventure finds Harry, Ron and Hermione faced with a new danger: Sirius Black, the recently escaped convict from Azkaban Prison. He is an accomplice in the murder of Harry’s parents and murderer himself. Now, he is after Harry. Director Chris Columbus did a good job with the first two Harry Potter films, but Warner Bros.’s decision to bring in Alfonso Cuaron and give him a large measure of control over the look and feel of the film was brilliant (it is nice to see a studio trusting in the talent they bring to a project, I wish it were more common). Cuaron takes what could have been just another series of films made for children/families and young adults (like the first two) and turned it into an artistically wonderful film for all, and bringing the series to a much darker, grittier and more character driven place. The series is far better thanks to this aesthetic change (and Cuaron is a big reason for the series being as good as it is, along with David Yates who has also done an amazing job with the material as well). Cuaron worked with series screenwriter Steve Kloves (who wrote all but one of the films), composer John Williams (who scored the first three), cinematographer Michael Seresin (who does probably the best work of his career to date on the film; he also shot Cuaron’s segment of Paris, Je T’Aime), and series production designer Stuart Craig on the film, making for a great crew. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (all three take huge acting bounds forward in the film) and features excellent supporting work from Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon and David Thewlis. What makes this film great is how well Cuaron structures the narrative. He garners brilliant performances from the cast, making it all the more emotionally compelling and satisfying to go with the character development. This film is not so much about the magic and mystery of the Harry Potter world (like the first two films), it is about the relationships between the characters and their growth (which for me made the series one of my favorites – this film, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows: Part 1 are all incredibly films and are the reason this particular series is so special on film). It is among my favorites of the decade and on the AFI 2007 Top 100 Films shortlist, making it a must see of fans of the series and the genre. Check out the trailer.


Available on Ultimate Edition Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and to Rent

Saturday, May 28, 2011

TV Series of the Month - The Shield

This month’s TV series is The Shield (2002-2008).

The series centers on an inner-city LA police precinct. Not all the cops are above board, with series star gang task-force head detective Vince Mackey not being afraid to skim and break the law to get what he wants. Mackey has a constant inner-turmoil between his desire to keep the streets safe and his self-interest and preservation, which leads to some dark places. The show also does an amazing job of developing the other characters in the precinct. The show was created by Shawn Ryan, who is one of the best TV writers (his two recent shows were both good, but never found an audience, at least a big enough one: Terriers and The Chicago Code, and he was the show runner for season two of Lie to Me and season two of Angel; he also worked on The Unit).  The cast on the show is incredible. Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey is just a deep and compelling character (he is a hero and villain at the same time, and we are all behind him regardless of the awful things he does).  The whole cast is great, but Catherine Dent, Michael Jace, Walton Goggins, and Jay Karnes are particularly good. The series also features so many great guests, including: Anthony Anderson, Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Pena. This is an intense show with lush stories and tragic characters spanning seven seasons. It is utterly compelling and will have you craving for more after every episode. Plus, how many shows can have their main character kill another cop (a good guy) and team member in the pilot and still be the hero of the show. This is a must see, because TV really does not get much better. Check out the trailer.


Available on DVD and to Rent

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Everything Must Go (2011) – Review

Review: Everything Must Go is sad and depressing, yet somewhat hopeful. It is a story of a life mired in destructive tendencies, but with the longing for redemption. First time writer-director Dan Rush approaches the disheartening story with a heavy tone (maybe too heavy), but the subject matter – a man whose life is crumbling around him due to his drinking – is burdensome and deserves a serious take. Rush uses humor (I mean, he has the talents of Will Ferrell after all), but there is not enough to dissipate the overall feeling of depression that accompanies the piece – which would be fine, though this is not a full on tragedy and not quite a comedy either. It fits in the indie film notch of being more like real life than typical Hollywood fair. The ending is fairly open ended; the individual viewer can take what they want from it, pinning a happy or unhappy ending on (beyond the narrative’s ending, which nicely closes the character’s journey for this story). Rush does a good job with his characters, as we get a sense of who all these people are (even with limited screen time, something that has been lacking in other films I have seen lately). And, the narrative structure is sound. The problem of the film arises from its tone. It is just slightly too melancholy for a dramedy (that having Farrell suggests the film to be). There are not enough light moments; and though there is a sense that the character is on the right path, the viewer is left with a sense that maybe it will not be ok (again playing into the indie realism style for narrative films). Having Farrell (with his strong comedy background) as the protagonist aligns the viewer’s expectations for a lighter tone, with funny moments. And while there is some humor, the film is not light. It tackles the topic and is unflinchingly honest about it, but Rush and Farrell approach the character of Nick from a non-violent angle (which is not common with alcoholics, and works well for this film). His behavior is just as destructive, but it is more heartbreaking, as he seems like an otherwise nice guy who has just been put upon. But Rush is wise not to let excuses overshadow and justify Nick’s behavior. All in all, Rush has made a good film – the tone is just too bleak given the lead and audience expectations that arise from the lead. A little more humor and a slightly lighter tone would have helped this film immensely. As it is, the tone slows down the narrative and seriousness of the story (which it probably needed to be despite what I think) detracts from the overall enjoyment of the film. Everything Must Go has just enough hope to let the audience off the hook and allow them to leave the film with some potential happiness, but not a lot.


Technical and acting achievements: Dan Rush shows with this film that he has the potential to be a very good director. He has the narrative storytelling tools. Everything Must Go is just a difficult first film tonally to get right. Aesthetically, the film has a very naturalistic look and feel to it, which goes hand-in-hand with the story and character’s realism. Cinematographer Michael Barrett uses natural light almost exclusively (and does very good work) and production designer Kara Lindstrom’s sets and design take advantage of the film’s locations (I also like the fact that the set design and props used in the scenes on Nick’s lawn tell a story about who he is).Composer David Torn’s score is low key and reinforces the disparaging tone. The cast is very good – each buying into the naturalist approach. No one is over acting or exaggerating their characters, even Will Farrell. Laura Dern and Michael Pena have small roles, but their good work helps shape the narrative. Christopher Jordan Wallace is very good in his first big role. His even and restrained manner and delivery play well off Ferrell. Rebecca Hall is a wonderful actress, and she continues to be amazing in almost everything she is in, including this. She is vulnerable, yet strong; funny, yet serious. She is able to engage the audience completely. Farrell does good work. He is fun at times, but is able to pull in his typical over the top hijinks and deliver a very believable performance, with just enough man-child to remind the viewer that it is still him.

Summary & score: Everything Must Go is maybe too real and too depressing, given that it stars Will Farrell, and thus lacking some entertainment, but it is still a good film. 6/10

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) – Review

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is entertaining and succeeds with its fans due to the world and characters created in the previous three films (basically, the unabated love of Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean world). The film fits the Pirates of the Caribbean Series with fun action scenes, humor, supernatural creatures, and a grand scale to the action and world (however, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Studios wanted to scale down the story aspect, after At World’s End was a little bit of a mess and all over the place). Director Rob Marshall is able to shoot very well done action scenes and gets the look of the world right, but does not develop the new character enough and continues the trend of turning Jack Sparrow and company into exaggerated caricatures of themselves (i.e. cartoon versions), which along with a messy story hurt the third film and hurts this one too. There are a few scenes that just seem out of place and odd (even for Jack Sparrow), as if they were a spoof on the series and film (for example: the scene with the King of England), only to see the film return to its playful but serious tone. Marshall is unable to establish a keep the tone consistent throughout the film, which undermines the dramatic effect of the characters and story elements, thus hurting the film immensely in its ability to fully engage its audience. The narrative structure is lacking in character development among new characters. Blackbeard, the film’s villain, is never set up to be the menacing pirate that all pirates fear, thus the audience never believes he is a real threat and therefore his confrontation with Sparrow is debilitated, never garnering the emotional impact needed. Angelica, Sparrow’s potential and only real love, is not given too much to do dramatically, rather deriving character from stereotyping easily translatable Hollywood archetypes. Plus, she does not really have very much chemistry with Sparrow (which is maybe on Marshall, Bruckheimer and the casting department), which lessens the viewer’s stake in their relationship (you cannot just cast stars and great actors like Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane and think that is enough to make a good character; the characters still need to be well written!). Philip and Syrena (the religious man and mermaid) are not given enough dramatic work either, as their relationship is forced and thrown together quickly (though Sam Claflin gives a good performance which helps). The main issue with the film is that Marshall and the writers (who need to be replaced for any potential sequels as they, being the writes, have clearly lost their magic and have fallen too in love with their witty, if not whimsical dialog and character elements and have turned Sparrow into a soulless cartoon version of himself) do not care enough about the characters and their interrelationships, as that is where the film suffers the most. That being said, fans of the series are still going to probably like this installment as it is exciting and entertaining and there are brilliant moments for Sparrow and Barbossa (and the actors, even without much true dramatic weight given, do good work). On Stranger Tides is the weakest of the series, but still provides enough fun and commitment to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean to make for an enjoyable (but disappointing) addition to the series.


Technical and acting achievements: Rob Marshall comes from a musical and choreography background, which is evident in his ability to stage well done action sequences. But his last few films have lacked character development (Chicago working because the songs and theatrical aspect carry the film, and the characters are well written in the musical without much adaption needed for the film version), and it is becoming more evident with each film that he is a very good visual director, though without a strong storytelling ability (despite having excellent actors to work with), impairing the quality of his films. Hans Zimmer delivers another great score (but what else would you expect; I particularly like this piece of music). The same can be said for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s work. Both have contributed wonderful stuff to the series and this film. New to the series, production designer John Myhre does great work as well (I really liked his set for The Fountain of Youth, and the costumes designed by Penny Rose). Although their characters are underwritten, Ian McShane (who could play an excellent villain in his sleep, I suspect) and Sam Claflin are both very good. Penelope Cruz is a great actress, but does not work well in her role and against Johnny Depp’s Sparrow. Newcomer Astrid Berges-Frisbey is good playing against Claflin, even in spite of having almost no character development. Geoffrey Rush and Depp however are the stars of the film. Both reprising their roles marvelously, they know and love their characters and are the best part of the film (now if only the writers would give them something worthwhile).

Summary & score: On Stranger Tides has a lot to like, but even more to be disappointed in. 6/10

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bridesmaids (2011) – Review

Bridesmaids is funny (very funny at times), but lacks a strong narrative structure and developed characters. Directed Paul Feig and writer/star Kristen Wiig are able to create a number of hilarious bits on par with the best comedies (male oriented or otherwise). There are a number of scenes (of course depending on your comedy preferences) that will find you laughing, giggling or otherwise occupied with fits of hilarity. There is no questioning this film’s ability to be funny and entertain, because it is and it does. The issues arise more from its pacing, characters and overall narrative structure. The funny scenes are held together by an underdeveloped story centering on Wiig’s Annie (the best friend of the bride who feels threated by another seemingly more successful bridesmaid, as she fears losing her friend). Annie may not be an overly likable character (but comedic protagonists do not have to be likable), but Feig does a good job with her character (she may even be overdeveloped, with a few unnecessary character scenes undermining the forward momentum of the narrative). However, all the other characters for the most part are one-note jokes, caricatures or narrative stereotypes and not fleshed out characters (leaving the audience with only Annie to relate to and connect with). Thus, the stakes of Annie’s journey are not as impactful, leaving only the humor to carry the film (which it does for the most part; though, the best comedies have funny jokes and great characters we can connect with). The film feels hollow without developed characters regardless of how funny some of the scenes and characters are. An even bigger problem is the terrible pacing. The film feels longer than it is, losing momentum (and the audience) a number of times, which directly relates to the weak narrative and trivial characters. As funny and enjoyable as moments of Bridesmaids are, overall it is disappointing given the poor structure.


Technical and acting achievements: Director Paul Feig has an excellent resume for comedy on TV (The Office, Freak and Greeks and many others), but he needs to refine and improve his feature narrative storytelling, as it is by far the weakest part of this film (and really stops it from being something special). He is able to garner very funny work from his actors, and his filmmaking style is suitable for standard comedies (he does not have much of an artistic style, more of a straightforward Hollywood style). Character development among co-starring and supporting characters is also an area that needs improvement for future feature films, but this is also the case for writers Wiig and Annie Mumolo (this being their first feature as well). The score by Michael Andrews, the cinematography by Robert Yeoman and the production design by Jefferson Sage are all good and fitting, but nothing more – the performances taking center stage. The supporting cast features a number of very amusing bit parts, highlight by performances from: Jon Hamm, Ellie Kemper and Rebel Wilson. Jill Clayburgh is quite good as Annie’s mom, both sweet and caring, but strong and challenging. Rose Byrne is good, but Melissa McCarthy steals much of the comedy (and scenes) awarded to the supporting cast and Chris O’Dowd provides a needed break from the exaggerated bit humor, with more personal and heartfelt scenes (and also providing some laughs; if only his character had more development and screen time). Wiig is very funny and proves she is deserving of more leading roles in comedies as she certainly can carry a film and deliver the laughs.

Bridesmaids is funnier than the score may suggest, but as a narrative film it is not quite good enough. 7/10

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie of the Week - Raiders of the Lost Ark

This week’s movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

The first in the Indiana Jones Series, the film is about Indiana Jones, an archeologist tasked with the mission of finding the Lost Ark of the Covenant in 1936 before the Nazis, as it might be a powerful weapon. The creative team of director Steven Spielberg, writer Lawrence Kasdan and producer George Lucas (Kasdan and Lucas also did The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi together as writer and producer respectively) is the equivalent to an early 80s’ dream team of adventure talent. On the film, Spielberg has composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn (both of whom pretty much work on everything he does), classically brilliant cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (who shot the first three in the series, Last Crusade being the last film of his career) and production designer Norman Reynolds (who like Kasdan and Lucas, also worked on Empire and Jedi). Adding another iconic character to his resume, Harrison Ford stars, with Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Ronald Lacey, and George Harris in support (and look out of Alfred Molina during the opening sequence). What makes this film great is how much fun it is. Indiana Jones incorporates all the best things about blockbuster moviemaking: excitement, great action, laughs, locations, drama, and wonderful characters. Plus, the aesthetics of the film are top notch as well. Who does not recognize Williams’s score instantly? The film taps into our childlike wonder (and for me has a ton of nostalgic appeal, as it is one of the films I grew up with). Ford is utterly fantastic as Jones (playing the character a lot like Hans Solo, but who cares, both are great). This is one of the best adventure films, blockbusters, and straight up films of all-time. It is a must see for everyone. Check out the trailer.


Available on DVD, Trilogy DVD Box Set and to Rent

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy (2011) – Review

Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy (U.S. release)
In 2010, Tinie Tempah (the London based pop artist) blew up the U.K. charts with fun lyrics and infectious beats. Much like Ellie Goulding (who also features on the album) and Adele, Tinie Tempah’s massive pop success in Brittan meant that it was only a matter of time before he was ready to tackle the States. While Goulding’s U.S. re-release combined the best stuff off her U.K. release of Lights and Bright Lights EP, Tinie Tempah decided to take the best tracks off his U.K. release and added a number of new tracks, working with bigger producers like StarGate, Boi-1da and Alex da Kid for his U.S. re-release. He also added features from Wiz Khalifa, Bei Maejor and Ester Dean. The U.K. version has a much more dance club feel with production from Labrinth, iShi, Al Shux, and Diplo, while the new songs appeal more to the U.S. pop anthem crowd (which generally seem to be the biggest hits), thus it was probably a smart move (though my favorite song on the album is still Wonderman featuring Ellie Goulding, which is such a great track). The first single Till I’m Gone with Wiz Khalifa is destined to be a hit, and Khalifa delivers a great hook. Tinie Tempah is sure to have success in the States, as his music incorporates a fun pop/hip hop mentality with positive and sometimes personal lyrics. The new British pop invasion is on, and Tinie Tempah is certainly a star leading the way. 3/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      Wonderman – Featuring Ellie Goulding and produced by Labrinth
2)      Till I’m Gone – Featuring Wiz Khalifa and produced by StarGate
3)      Written in the Stars – Featuring Eric Turner and produced by iSHi

Available on CD and Digital Download

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tyler, The Creator – Goblin (2011) – Review

Tyler, The Creator – Goblin
The album from the L.A. MC is raw, personal and infectious. Tyler, The Creator has no intention of making an album (or music in general) that appeals to the mainstream, seemingly to go out of his way on Goblin to alienate any crossover listeners that heard Yonkers after Kanye West tweeted that it was the video of 2011. This is for his fans (and himself and Odd Future crew only). Many will be put off, even horrified by the language and lyrical content of the album (but really it is no worse than stuff Eminem has done). But getting past the face value of the lyrics, there is a deeper resonance that connects with many listeners. Tyler is not rapping about money, woman and cars – he is delving into his own personal feelings, fears and wants making the album very intimate (and endearing to his fans). The production on the album is also very interesting. It does not sound anything like current hip hop, rather taking maybe some influence from The Neptunes and The Cool Kids and creating very atmospheric, dark and hypnotic tracks. At times, it sounds a bit like an electronic soundtrack to a horror film. They fit Tyler’s flow and lyrics very well (as they should, being that he did all but one of the beats). The album is long and a little uneven, but works very well in its overall listening experience. The good stuff is amazing (tracks Goblin, Yonkers, Transylvania, Nightmare, Tron Cat, Her, Sandwitches, and Golden are all musts). If his first album Bastard did not already establish Tyler, The Creator as one of the best young hip hop artists, Goblin certainly does. It is a great album. 4/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      Tron Cat – Produced by Tyler, The Creator
2)      Yonkers – Produced by Tyler, The Creator
3)      Transylvania – Produced by Left Brain

Available on CD and Digital Download

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Terrence Malick – Movies Spotlight – May 2011

Auteur writer-director Terrence Malick is known for making atmospheric existential films that incorporate beauty and nature into the story and feel of the narrative (even more so than character or plot is some cases). His films are always amazing to behold – meditations on their subject matter. Malick is interested in the artistry and emotional resonance of his visuals and characters. His new film The Tree of Life looks at a young boy in the 1950s who losses his innocence as he comes to terms with the world around him, his relationship with his father and growing up. Malick’s films are about meaning, each viewer deriving their own from the experience of watching them, and thus are polarizing. But regardless, it is undeniable that he is one of the master filmmakers working today.

Early Career:

Malick started his filmmaking career as a student, receiving his MFA from the AFI Conservatory in 1969. While attending the program, he made his first film – a short called Lanton Mills. He also met and made contacts in the program with the likes of Jack Nicholson and agent Mike Medavoy, who got Malick freelance writing work (he revised scripts, wrote an early draft of Dirt Harry and the produced script for Pocket Money). Malick continued to write, producing the screenplay for Deadhead Mills for Paramount Pictures, but the studio felt that it was an unreleaseable film. This experience changed Malick’s focus from purely a writer to wanting to direct his own scripts.

Badlands and Days of Heaven:

Malick’s feature debut came in 1973 with the film Badlands, about a young couple that goes on a crime spree in the 1950s starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (it is sort of like an existential Bonnie and Clyde). The film was made independently for little money and had a troubled production, but when it finally was screened for critics it received wonderful reviews prompting Warner Bros. Pictures to buy the distribution rights for three times the film’s budget. It is a brilliant film that is beautiful in its photography, but terrifying as it peers into the souls of it characters – a jovial amoral young man and apathetic young woman. Next in 1978, Malick wrote and directed Days of Heaven, a story about a hot-tempered farm laborer running away from his past who convinces his love to marry their rich but dying boss so they can claim his fortune, but becomes jealous when she beings to love him. It stars Richard Gere, Sam Shepard and Brooke Adams. The story, much like Badlands, is poetic and more concerned with the feelings and emotional experience of the characters than plot, but here the story and characters seem to take a backseat to the truly amazing aesthetics (specifically the cinematography). Malick and D.P. Nestor Almendros shot almost the entire film during the “magic hour” – the hours between day and night early in the morning and late in the evening. It is magnificent (Ennio Morricone provides a good score as well).

The Vanishing:

After Days of Heaven’s success both at the Academy Awards and at Cannes, Malick began work on a new film for Paramount Pictures entitled Q, about the origins of life on Earth. But, during pre-production he suddenly left the project and moved to Paris, disappearing from public view (though, he has always been considered shy when it comes to the media). During his twenty year absence from Hollywood, he worked on a number of unproduced scripts and produced a few films.


Back After Twenty Years:

Malick finally returned to Hollywood in 1998 with The Thin Red Line, a war film focusing around the Pacific Theatre of WWII, specifically the conflict at Guadalcanal. The film boasts a fantastic cast (here is the full list) and Malick’s typical brilliant aesthetics (this time working with cinematographer John Toll). Malick shot over a million feet of film, and his original cut was barely under six hours (the theatrical cut runtime is 170 minutes). The film was critically praised and accompanied Steve Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan as a nominee for Best Picture at the 1999 Oscars (while both are WWII films, tonally they are almost 100% different, and initially I liked Spielberg’s more but now I favor Malick’s). He next began work on an article about Che Guevara, which incited Steven Soderbergh to offer Malick the chance to write and direct a film about Guevara that Soderbergh had been wanting to make with Benicio del Toro (though Soderbergh ultimately ended up writing and directing it). Malick accepted, but after a year-and-a-half the financing had not come through and Malick moved onto a project he was just as excited about – The New World. The film is a poetic and romantic interpretation of the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, with John Rolfe playing a major role as well. The cast is brilliant with tons of wonderful actors; it stars Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher and Christian Bale. Again like his other films, it is beautiful and atmospheric. Malick’s collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki garnered maybe the best visual work to date (and Malick is again working with Lubezki on The Tree of Life and his next project). The film deals with many themes including the corruption of nature by civilized man, colonialism – the stark juxtaposition of the Americas to England is crushing. The film received a very mixed reaction upon its release in 2005, but since then has come to be regarded as one of the best films of the decade (making a number of critic’s lists, including Mick LaSalle’s).

Producer:

Malick has also served as a producer on a number of independent films, most of which he worked on during his twenty year break from directing. The highlights include Yimou Zhang’s Happy Times, David Gordon Green’s Undertow, Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace, Hans Petter Moland’s The Beautiful Country, and the documentaries The Endurance and The Unforeseen.

Future Projects:

In 2012, Malick has a yet untitled film that he wrote and directed scheduled for release. It is a love story starring Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck, while featuring Javier Barden, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Olga Kurylenko, Amanda Peet, and Barry Pepper in supporting roles (making for a great cast). And Emmanuel Lubezki is shooting the film and Jack Fisk is doing the production design (which is awesome for those that enjoy amazing aesthetics; Fisk has worked on all of Malick’s films, production design on The Thin Red Line and on, and as art director on his first two).


Terrence Malick’s Career Highlights:

1.)    Badlands (1973) – Director* [DVD/Rent]
2.)    Days of Heaven (1978) – Director* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
3.)    The Thin Red Line (1998) – Director* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
4.)    The New World (2005) – Director* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
*Editor’s Picks

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Movie of the Week - Spider-Man 2

This week’s movie is Spider-Man 2 (2004).

The middle film in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy, the film is about Peter Parker’s confliction between being Spider-Man and helping people at the cost of his personal life and wanting a life of his own: school, being with Mary Jane and really just being normal. However, this internal struggle is compounded by a new villain in New York City, Doctor Octopus. The film is directed by Sam Raimi, who infuses it with his campy style and slapstick humor (but not overly done like Spider-Man 3, which Sony ruined). It is the best film of Raimi’s career, both narratively and stylistically. It is almost (if not) a perfect film from a narrative structure perspective. Every scene works together building a fantastic story. Alvin Sargent wrote the script, but Raimi and Pulitzer Prize for Literature winner Michael Chabon crafted the wonderful story. Raimi also has an amazingly good crew on the film with composer Danny Elfman, cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Bob Murawski, and production designer Neil Spisak. The cast is fabulous as well, the three stars (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco) all do their best work of the series and Alfred Molina gives one of the best super villain performances, full of pain and hate, but also passion and regret (one of the few super villains that the audience can relate to and connect with). The film set the bar for all future superhero films to come, as at the time (and in my opinion still is, but The Dark Knight is really good too) it was the best of its kind – a film to be taken seriously as a piece of cinema, while also being fun and the box office tent pole/flagship film that Sony wanted it to be. It made AFI’s 2007 shortlist for the top 100 American films of all-time. The film is thrilling, funny and dramatically resonant. It is really a masterwork by Raimi. That being said, it is a must see for genre fans and cinema fans alike. Check out the trailer.


Available on Blu-ray (Trilogy Blu-ray), DVD and to Rent

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Video Games - Notable New Releases - May 2011

Portal 2

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Valve
Release Date: 4/18/11
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, First Person Shooter
Platforms: Windows , Mac OS X , Xbox 360 , Playstation 3

Aperture Science’s sassy, diabolical super computer, GlaDOS, has come back to life, seeking revenge on its destroyer by imprisoning her in an underground science facility and subjecting her to hundreds of tests. Armed with nothing but a portal creating gun, Chell and her companion Wheatley make their way through GlaDOS’s seemingly never ending puzzles in hopes of getting a chance to escape and destroy GlaDOS once and for all.



Mortal Kombat 9
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release Date: 4/18/11
Genre: Fighting
Platforms: Xbox 360 , Playstation 3

A vicious battle between the light and dark forces of the Mortal Kombat realm has taken the lives of all but two warriors, Raiden (light) and Shao Kahn (dark). On top of a pyramid the two do battle. However, Raiden soon realizes that he will not be able to defeat Shao Kahn, and in an act of desperation sends a message back through time using an enchanted amulet to warn himself of the impending fate of the Mortal Kombat realm. As Shao Kahn raises his hammer to deliver the final blow, Raiden whispers the words, “he must win” (however, Raiden does not specifically say who). Through a series of visions Raiden from the past receives the message and gathers that it is Lui Kang who must be the one to win the original Mortal Kombat tournament and save the world from Shao Kahn's impending reign.


Limbo 3 pack (puzzle games)


Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Release Date: 4/18/11
Platforms: Xbox 360 , Xbox Live Arcade

Limbo- In this morbid, dark, side-scroller adventure, play as boy trapped in between heaven and hell. Solve puzzles in an attempt to escape from this sad world. But be careful, limbo is a dangerous place.
Developer: Playdead Studios
Release Date: 7/21/10
Genre: Puzzle, Platform



'Splosion Man
-
Deep in an underground laboratory a science experiment has escaped. In this lighthearted, side-scroller play as the energetic, cake loving, spontaneously combusting maniac and wreak havoc on the scientists as they try to find ways of protecting themselves.
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Release Date: 7/22/2009
Genre: Action, Platform



Trials HD- An upgrade from the free online flash version, Trials HD is a side scroller that challenges its player to navigate over, under, and through obstacles while they attempt to ride to the finish line. Unlike its online counter-part, Trials HD incorporates more motorcycles, more explosions, 3d graphics, and some truly insane levels.
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: 8/12/09
Genre
: Racing, Puzzle