Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TV Preview 2011/2012 – 25 Must See Series, Part 5: 5-1

Has television programming ever been better than it is right now? Not in terms of great individual shows, but in terms of lots of really great shows (many of which did not make this list, and I had some tough decisions) on the air right now. This is a list of the best twenty five series in the upcoming 2011/2012 season.

Rank: 5
Genre: Comedy
Network: NBC
Creator(s): Dan Harmon
Premier Date: September 22, 2011
Current Season: Third
Plot Summary: The series is about a smartass lawyer whose falsified education records are discovered and is disbarred pending his completion of college credits. Thus, he enrolls at Greendale Community College looking to coast through and quickly return to his great life as a lawyer. But, while at Greendale, he meets friends who become life his family.
Why It Made the List: (In the ‘Cast’ section I am limiting myself to listing five names so it does not get out of hand, but I need to list the other three regular cast members here because they are all wonderful: Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown and Ken Jeong). Community is the funniest show on TV. Everyone in the cast is brilliant, each doing their own thing and style of comedy (I love that each has their own moments and style, the show does not confine them to specific generic jokes like most comedies seem to do). Creator Dan Harmon also is not afraid to take the show to crazy awesome places – the paintball episodes, for example, are among the most amazingly great things on TV (creativity and fearlessness like this reminds me of another TV auteur Joss Whedon). There are a lot of great, very funny comedy sitcoms right now – Community is simply just the best.

Rank: 4
Genre: Crime Drama
Network: Showtime
Creator(s): Jeff Lindsay and James Manos Jr.
Premier Date: October 2, 2011
Current Season: Sixth
Plot Summary: The series is about Dexter Morgan, a likable Miami police forensics investigator, specializing in blood work. But Dexter has a secret – he is a serial killer. He also lives by a code, to kill only those who deserve it and escape justice.
Why It Made the List: Dexter is a wonderful mix of horror, comedy, drama, mystery, suspense, and action. At its best, there is not a show that it better. Michael C. Hall is outstanding in the title role and is really what makes this show so great – plus the excellent writing. Season six has a couple challenges facing it: first, new showrunner Scott Buck is taking over the reins (but he is a veteran of the show and has written many of the great episodes), and second can the show stay fresh, when each season arc is more or less the same. Colin Hanks has joined the cast and is rumored to be the season’s big bad. I love this show, the blood and violence may not be for everyone, but I highly recommend it for those that enjoy Showtime and HBO style dramas.

Rank: 3
Genre: Adventure Drama
Network: HBO
Creator(s): David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Premier Date: April 15, 2012
Current Season: Second
Plot Summary: The series is about the many plots of kings, queens, knights, and renegades to gain the throne.
Why It Made the List: How good is Game of Thrones? Well it is a new show and is already in the top three. Fans of adventure and fantasy genre films have been waiting for a series this good – and one of HBO at that. The cast is fabulous, and is only getting better for season two with the additions of: Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer, Gwendoline Christie, and Hannah Murray. The visuals and writing are equally as fantastic. The show reminds me a little of Rome, with the larger than life characters and all the scheming. Game of Thrones was the most talked about show of last season, and one you should not miss out on.

Rank: 2
Genre: Crime Drama
Network: AMC
Creator(s): Vince Gilligan
Premier Date: July 17, 2011
Current Season: Fourth
Plot Summary: The series is about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is informed he has terminal cancer. He is an underachieving chemistry genius who has nothing to leave his family once he is gone. He decides to cook meth to make some money, and just gets sucked deeper and deeper into a life of crime.
Why It Made the List: Breaking Bad is amazing. If you do not watch this show, you really need to start. Bryan Cranston is beyond brilliant as Walter White and Aaron Paul is very good as his partner. Sadly, season five (or the last 16 episodes whether it ends up just being season five or split between five and a sixth season) will be the last. Aside from how well written and acted this series is, what I love about this show is how much it has evolved. Walter White from episode one to present is almost unrecognizable – the best shows are able to do this without missing a beat. In my opinion, Breaking Bad has taken up the mantle that The Shield left for best crime drama on TV.

Rank: 1
Genre: Drama
Network: AMC
Creator(s): Matthew Weiner
Premier Date: March 2012
Current Season: Fifth
Plot Summary: The series is set in New York City during the early 1960s. It is about Donald Draper, a genius ad man with a mysterious past.
Why It Made the List: The best show on TV means it has the best writing, best characters, best narrative arcs, best performances – Mad Men has all these things. It was a great show from the start, but really came into its own in season two, and has just become better and better with each season. The cast is perfect; in addition to those listed above, these actors also do phenomenal work on the series: Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Kiernan Shipka (who will benefit greatly from the break the show has taken), Alison Brie (who is lucky enough to be on two of the best five shows), Jared Harris, and especially John Slattery. While this does not have the action, suspense or adventure of many of the other shows on this list, Mad Men has fantastically well drawn characters that continually develop over the course of the series –watching the lives of these characters, caring about them all. Season four completely changed up the show, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. With Breaking Bad, Mad Men is a show you must watch.

TV Preview 2011/2012 – 25 Must See Series, Part 4: 10-6

Has television programming ever been better than it is right now? Not in terms of great individual shows, but in terms of lots of really great shows (many of which did not make this list, and I had some tough decisions) on the air right now. This is a list of the best twenty five series in the upcoming 2011/2012 season.

Rank: 10                                 
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery
Network: Fox
Premier Date: September 23, 2011
Current Season: Fourth
Plot Summary: The series is about Olivia Dunham, an FBI agent who investigates unexplained phenomena with the help of a formally institutionalized scientist Walter Bishop and his son Peter.
Why It Made the List: Fringe started out as a The X-Files like procedural, but with the show becoming more serialized the narrative has become much more interesting. I like this show a lot because it is different from anything else on TV (well as least as much as something on network TV can be). Where it is now from how it started in the pilot is amazing – Fringe’s writers are so ambitious to push the show’s narrative. While this may not be as highly ranked on other TV lists, I love watching Fringe – from its wonderful aesthetic, great performances and writing to its inventiveness and multifaceted narrative. There is not a better sci-fi show on TV.

Rank: 9
Genre: Period Crime Drama
Network: HBO
Creator(s): Terence Winter
Premier Date: September 25, 2011
Current Season: Second
Plot Summary: The series is Nucky Thompson, a politician and gangster who ruled Atlantic City during the 1920s.
Why It Made the List: All you really need to know about Boardwalk Empire is that it is a period gangster series on HBO executively produced by Martin Scorsese – if you are not interested at this point, maybe this show is not for you. It is also one of the best acted shows, dominating the TV Screen Actors Guild awards in 2011. In addition to the principal cast, Boardwalk Empire has great guest stars, including: Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Gretchen Mol. Gangster genre fans need to see this.

Rank: 8
Genre: Comedy
Network: NBC
Premier Date: September 22, 2011
Current Season: Eighth
Plot Summary: The series is about the employees at the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of the paper company Dunder Mifflin – done in the style of a documentary.
Why It Made the List: The Office has two big challenges this season: first, can the show continue without Steve Carell? Second, can the show return to the quality consistency it once had? James Spader has been cast to be Steve Carell’s replacement and it on paper seems like a good choice, but of course we will have to wait to see how it plays out. While the seasons as a whole continue to be good, the episodes consistency has not been quite as good in the last two seasons. The show is also relying too much on celebrity cameos lately. I love this show, more even than the British original (on the surface that sounds crazy, maybe, but it is because I know and love these characters more than the British versions). There have not been too many sitcom style comedies that have done a better job of fleshing out their characters, and this is really why this show is so good – and it is really funny.

Rank: 7
Genre: Western
Network: FX
Creator(s): Elmore Leonard and Graham Yost
Premier Date: February 2012
Current Season: Third
Plot Summary: The series is about an old-school style U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who is reassigned to Eastern Kentucky near his hometown, surfacing up old feelings and conflicts.
Why It Made the List: Westerns are few and far between these days, and great ones are even scarcer. Justified is a Modern Western, but still features a lot of the same ethos of the classic Westerns of cinema (and to a lesser extent TV). After Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant is just the perfect person to play the lead in Justified (Raylan is not too different from Seth Bullock, and that is not a bad thing as both a great characters). While season one was very good, it only scratched the surface of the show’s potential. Season two was even better and thus there is a ton of expectation for season three. TV needs a great Western, and Justified is that show right now.

Rank: 6
Genre: Mystery
Network: PBS
Creator(s): Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Premier Date: Spring 2012
Current Season: Second
Plot Summary: The series is a modern update of the Sherlock Holmes story – a brilliant student of details who puts his gift to work solving crimes with the help of his friend Dr. Watson.
Why It Made the List: Sherlock Holmes is a character that has been done a ton of times (and even recently as a blockbuster movie series). Even so, BBC and Masterpiece Theatre’s Sherlock is completely fresh, exciting and original (even when it incorporates classic characters and storylines). I cannot wait to see Sherlock’s impending confrontation with Moriarty, who was done so well in season one. There are so many detective and mystery procedurals on TV today (some good like Bones, but most are just tired and poorly made), Sherlock should be the standard that all these shows and future procedurals to stand against and try to achieve the same level of quality. If you have not seen this yet, get on that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Game – The R.E.D. Album (2011) – Review

Game – The R.E.D. Album
Much like LAX, Game’s The R.E.D. Album has really good tracks (about eight) and a lot of filler. This album would be better if he just cut out the tracks that are not quite album quality (getting it down to about twelve songs). That said, iTunes allows us to uncheck songs, so I guess it does not really matter (and maybe the more music we get the merrier?). Game has really good flow and his lyrics fit his persona and style well. He has a lot of features on the album, mixing hip hop’s big stars like Lil Wayne, Drake, Rick Ross with LA legends like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. I also like that he features LA’s upcoming great artists Tyler, The Creator (there is a lot of hype around their track Martians vs Goblins, but personally I prefer Tyler’s track with Pusha T: Trouble on My Mind) and Kendrick Lamar. Game works again with Cool & Dre who make beats that fit Game’s flow well, but he also branches out working with DJ Khalil (who is making really good stuff right now) and up-and-comers Hit-Boy and Boi-1da. This is not quite a classic West Coast album like his first two albums (The Documentary and Doctor’s Advocate); it has much more of a mainstream hip hop sound (in terms of what is popular right now and not specifically geared to a certain region or style). However, there is enough good music to keep Game in the conversation for the best artists in hip hop (though, with all the great newcomers lately competition is getting very strong). Game fans are going to like The R.E.D. Album; others should probably just cherry pick the best songs. 3/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      The City – Featuring Kendrick Lamar, produced by Cool & Dre
2)      Ricky – Produced by DJ Khalil
3)      Good Girls Gone Bad – Featuring Drake, produced by Cool & Dre

Available on CD and Digital Download

Monday, August 29, 2011

At the Movies – September 2011 – Part 3: This Month’s Best Films

Must See of the Month:

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn) – Crime Drama – Sep 16
Summary: The film is about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman. After a heist goes wrong, he discovers that there is a contract out on his head. Filmmakers: Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is known for very atmospheric and intense films (Valhalla Rising is a good example). Drive as a crime drama with an action aspect to it is a slight change of pace for him, which should be interesting. He has an odd mixture of collaborators working with him including crime drama genre composer (mostly) Cliff Martinez (Traffic), cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (who shoots all Bryan Singer’s films) and indie production designer Beth Mickle(Kind of a Funny Story). Cast: The cast is very good in its own right, but especially fitting for the genre with Ryan Gosling starring and supporting work from Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks. Expectations: When I first heard about this project, having recently seen Valhalla Rising (and having loved parts and found others not to work, but certainly found Refn to be a fantastic filmmaker), I was very interested to see how Refn would fare making more of a Hollywood (or at least indie Hollywood) style narrative – and in particular one in this genre. Then I saw the trailer, and probably like everyone else who has seen it, I was blown away. It looks incredible (like top five remaining films of the year incredible – it reminds me of Bullitt). That said, this is easily the film I am most excited to see this month – but it is not just me. Drive was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and is one of the highest rated films from this year’s festival circuit. Check out the trailer. Review.

Worth Checking Out:

Contagion (Steven Soderbergh) – Thriller – Sep 9
Summary: The film is about an outbreak of a deadly disease and the team of doctors tasked with saving the human race from annihilation.  Filmmakers: Director Steven Soderbergh has been a bit uneven (at least for me) with his recent films, some good and some terrible. But when he is on, he is a very good filmmaker, especially when directing dramas. He has never really made a thriller, so I am interested to see how this turns out. He is shooting the film himself and working with frequent collaborator composer Cliff Martinez (Solaris and is also scoring this month’s Drive) and production designer Howard Cummings (The Usual Suspects). Cast: Contagion’s cast is almost too good for the film to be bad with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, and Elliot Gould. Expectations: Honestly, I when I first heard about this film I was weary – not another Outbreak I thought, I mean how many of these films can they make. But having Soderbergh involved gives it the potential to be great and the cast kept me from dismissing it. The trailer is also quite engaging. I think it looks like a good thriller (be it one we have probably seen before, but good nonetheless). Check out the trailer. Review.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller) – Sports Drama – Sep 23
Summary: The film is about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane – the man who changed baseball. Using advanced statistics and computer analysis to pick his players, enabling him to build competitive teams on a budget. Filmmakers: Excellent director Bennett Miller is back for his second feature (his first was the Oscar winner Capote). He is again working with composer Mychael Danna and two of the best in their respective fields cinematographer Wally Pfister (who shoots Chris Nolan’s films) and production designer Jess Gonchor (who designs the Coen Brothers’ films). Plus, the script is by Steven Zaillian (American Gangster) and brilliant writer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). Cast: It has a wonderful cast too with Brad Pitt starring and Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, and Kathryn Morris supporting. Expectations: I love sports dramas, especially baseball dramas, so maybe I am bias right off the bat, but Moneyball has the right director, crew and cast to be an Oscar contender. It looks to be very good based on the trailer. Bennett Miller made one of the ten best films of 2005 (which was a very strong year), thus Moneyball comes with a lot of anticipation and expectation. Check out the trailer. Review.

50/50 (Jonathan Levine) – Drama – Sep 30
Summary: Loosely based on the life of the film’s writer Will Reiser, it is about a 27-year-old who is diagnosed with cancer, and his struggle to beat the disease. The film also looks at how his loved ones deal with the news. Filmmakers:  Indie director Jonathan Levine made a name for himself among the indie film crowd with his first two films All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Wackness. 50/50 looks to be more of a Hollywood style film, but if is as good as it looks it should serve as a springboard. He has a great crew with one of my favorite composers Michael Giacchino (Let Me In), cinematographer Terry Stacey (Adventureland) and production designer Annie Spitz (who got her first job as a production designer on The Wackness). Cast:  The cast has a great mix of some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood with Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick co-starring and Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall featuring in support. Expectations: It is difficult to make the kind of R-rated comedy that producer and co-star Rogen usually makes when you throw in cancer (just look at Funny People, which I think is underrated, but it did not play well for general movie-goers). However, there is enough talent, both dramatically and comedically to make this work. It looks to be both very funny and dramatically engaging. Check out the trailer. Review.

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

Romance and Rom-Coms:

What’s Your Number? (Mark Mylod) – Romantic Comedy – Sep 30
Summary: The film is about a woman who cannot find her one true love. She is told that once you past twenty relationships you will never find true love. Desperate, she decides look back at her last twenty relationships. Filmmakers: Director Mark Mylod has a good background in TV comedies, doing great work on Entourage. However, his last feature The Big White was not great. He is working with rom-com composer Aaron Zigman (The Proposal), very good cinematographer J. Michael Muro (Open Range) and production designer Jon Billington (who worked with Mylod twice before). Cast: It has a great comedic cast with Anna Faris starring and Chris Evans co-starring. The supporting cast is also awesome: Mike Vogel, Aziz Ansari, Martin Freeman, Zachary Quinto, Joel McHale, Thomas Lennon, Andy Samberg, Chris Pratt, Ari Graynor, Anthony Mackie, Ivana Milicevic, and Ed Begley Jr. Expectations: It looks very formulaic (not that is a surprise for this genre). Faris is usually funny and this is jammed with a number of very funny people, so hopefully it can overcome its genre trappings (and the overall downward trend of recent rom-coms) and play as a good comedy. Most of the films coming out this month are serious, so this might do well as alternative programming. Check out the trailer.

Serious Films:

The Debt (John Madden) – Thriller – Aug 31
Summary: The film is about three Mossad secret agents who undertook a difficult mission in 1966, tracking down a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin. Thirty one years later, secrets about the mission start to come to light. Filmmakers: Director John Madden had a huge hit in 1998 with Shakespeare in Love, but his next three films were disappointing. He is looking for a return to form with this.  However, very good filmmaker Matthew Vaughn is producing the film, which he also co-wrote with Jane Goldman (the duo behind Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). Madden has a great crew with composer Thomas Newman (WALL-E), cinematographer Ben Davis (Kick-Ass) and production designer Jim Clay (Children of Men). Cast: The cast is stellar co-starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciran Hinds, Jessica Chastain (a star to watch), Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington. Jesper Christensen features is support. Expectations: The film was originally slated to be released last December, but with the sale of Miramax it was delayed – Focus Features coming in to take over distribution. There are two reasons I think this has great potential: first, the talent behind and in-front of the camera is excellent and second Focus Features generally puts out very good films. It has played well for critics, but more on the mixed side than really positive. Check out the trailer.

Warrior (Gavin O’Conner) – Sports Drama – Sep 9
Summary: The film is about two fighters who are brothers. Both the products of a broken family, each is looking for redemption in their own lives as they enter a big MMA tournament, only to find that they must face each other in the final. Filmmakers: Writer-director Gavin O’Conner had a hit and good film with Miracle, but Pride and Glory (his next film) never lived up to it potential and talent. Warrior feels like a merging of the two.  He is again working with composer Mark Isham and production designer Dan Leigh, both of whom worked on Pride and Glory. Indie D.P. Masanobu Takayanagi is shooting the film. Cast: Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star, both on the edge of becoming movie stars (Hardy’s ascension is just about guaranteed with Inception last year and The Dark Knight Rises next year). Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte, Noah Emmerich, Kevin Dunn, and (WWE/TNA wrestler) Kurt Angle feature in supporting roles. Expectations: Warrior looks like a good sports drama, though based on the trailer it seems to be structured for optimal sappiness (what sports drama is not though?). There have not been too many good MMA films (Redbelt is only one I can think of), but this certainly has great potential. Check out the trailer.


Straw Dogs (Rod Lurie) – Thriller – Sep 16
Summary: A remake of the 1971 film of the same name, it is about a young couple who move back to the wife’s hometown in the Deep South. Tension begins to build between the locals and the husband, erupting in a conflict that threatens the couple’s welfare. Filmmakers: Writer-director-producer Rod Lurie has a lot of talent, but has been a little hit-or-miss on his first five feature films (my favorites being The Contender and Nothing But the Truth), however his last film is by far his best. Composer Larry Groupe and very good cinematographer Alik Sakharov have both worked with Lurie in before, while production designer Tony Fanning (Brothers) is new to the team. Cast: The cast is a bit mixed for me. I am a big fan of Alexander Skarsgard, who co-stars, but the main two stars Kate Bosworth and James Marsden are a bit iffy. The supporting cast is good, featuring James Woods, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, and Walton Goggins. Expectations: This just seems like one of the more unnecessary remakes to date – first, Sam Peckinpah’s film is brilliant and second, the leads are not all that great (though I hope to be proved wrong). That said, the trailer does look good. I think this could be a very gripping thriller, and having Skarsgard playing the villain can only be a good thing. Check out the trailer.

Abduction (John Singleton) – Action – Sep 23
Summary: The film is about a teen that sets out to uncover the truth about his past when he sees his baby photo on a missing person’s website. Filmmakers: Director John Singleton entered Hollywood with the breakout hit Boyz n the Hood, now on his ninth film his name still has cinematic value thanks solely to that film (but really, Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning and Four Brothers are his only good movies, that is three for eight). Abduction seems like a step backward (but it is a paying gig, so why knock it). He is working with an odd mix with mostly indie and comedy composer Edward Shearmur (The Winning Season), action D.P. Peter Menzies Jr. (Clash of the Titans) and frequent collaborator production designer Keith Brian Burns. Cast: The film stars Taylor Lautner and co-stars Lily Collins. However, they are surrounded by a ton of talent in supporting roles with Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney, and Elisabeth Rohm. Expectations: Basically Abduction is a Hollywood experiment – being: is Taylor Lautner a bankable star outside of Twilight, and will those fans follow him to other genres and films? I suspect this will do okay but not great. Though, the very good supporting cast does make this a little more interesting, but not enough to do anything but maybe make it rentable. Check out the trailer.

Machine Gun Kelly (Marc Forster) – Action/Biography – Sep 23
Summary: The film is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a drug-dealer who changed his life and became a crusader and protector for hundreds of Sudanese children. Filmmakers: After venturing into Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking with Quantum of Solace, Marc Forster is back into a more comfortable place – indie-style with Hollywood stars. He is again working with cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (who shoots almost everything Forster does) and for the first time with Philip Messia (who has worked frequently with Steven Soderbergh). Cast: Gerard Butler stars in the film and has a great supporting group around him with Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, and Madeline Carroll (who I think is another potential star to watch, she just has not yet made a Movies Spotlight piece). Expectations: Really you cannot trust a movie starring Gerard Butler right now given what he has put out recently (The Ugly Truth, Gamer, The Bounty Hunter…yeah, pretty terrible). But Machine Gun Preacher looks different. Maybe I am swayed by it co-starring thee actors I really like. Maybe I think Marc Forster has a great movie in him. Whatever it is, I think this will be a good action drama. Check out the trailer.


Summary: The film is about a guy form the Midwest who follows his dream to follow in his parents’ career stardom and moves to Hollywood to become a porn star. Filmmakers: This is another film from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions and is co-written by Sandler, Allen Covert and star Nick Swardson. Director Tom Brady is a veteran of Happy Madison too, having directed The Hot Chick. Composer Waddy Wachtel (Grandma’s Boy), Michael Barrett (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) and production designer Dina Lipton (Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star) have all also worked within the Happy Madison brand. Cast: Swardson stars and the supporting cast features Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff, Miriam Flynn, Curtis Armstrong, Adam Herschman, Pauly Shore, and Edward Herrmann, and Happy Madison frequents Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante, Covert, and I would not rule out cameos from Sandler and/or Rob Schneider. Expectations: The films that Sandler makes for his friends are very often not as good as Sandler’s own (though Grandma’s Boy is the exception). But going in, you have to know this is not going to be good at all – just really silly and hopefully funny. Test audiences have not liked it much at all leading to it being delayed from March to now. If you love Sandler style humor and his films, maybe this is worth renting, otherwise probably one to miss. Check out the trailer.

I Don’t Know How She Does It (Douglas McGrath) – Comedy/Drama – Sep 16
Summary: The film is about a finance executive who must constantly manage between her roles as family breadwinner, wife and mother. Filmmakers: While Writer-director Douglas McGrath does have a background in comedy, his best film to date is the crime drama Infamous. He is working with a good crew featuring one of my favorite film composers Rachel Portman (Never Let Me Go), cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (The Painted Veil) and production designer Santo Loquasto (who frequently works on Woody Allen’s U.S. films). Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker stars with co-stars Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear and a good supporting group with Christina Hendricks, Busy Philipps, Sarah Shahi, Kelsey Grammer, Jessica Szohr, Olivia Munn, and Seth Meyers. Expectations: I Don’t Know How She Does It looks very run-of-mill, like we have seen this movie before (or something similar). The cast makes it somewhat interesting (not so much SJP, but the supporting players, and I always like Pierce Brosnan), but for me this is a pass (though, like everything, I will probably rent it). Check out the trailer.


Shark Night 3D (David R. Ellis) – Horror – Sep 2
Summary: The film is about a group of teens who spend a weekend on a lake in the Louisiana Gulf – problem is someone released a bunch of man-eating sharks into the lake for kicks. Filmmakers: Stuntman turned director David R. Ellis has made five previous horror films (my favorite being Final Destination 2 and I did not like it). He is working with the cinematographer Gary Capo and production designer Jaymes Hinkle again, as both worked together on Asylum with Ellis and independently on a few of his other films. Cast: The film has an okay cast with Sara Paxton (who looked to be a rising star a few years back, and it has yet to really come together; I was a fan of the remake of The Last House on the Left however, which she co-starred in), Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Alyssa Diaz, and others – plus Donal Logue shows up to add some credibility. Expectations: Any movie that feels the need to put ‘3D’ in the title is clearly not good enough on its own merit and thus needs to stoop to the level of gimmickry, and one that is to some degree ruining cinema (but if 3D keeps the studios alive in the wake of declining DVD sales, it is an evil I can live with). The only reason to see this is if you are a fan of this subgenre of horror, otherwise just skip it. Check out the trailer.

Apollo 18 (Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego) – Sci-Fi – Sep 2
Summary: Ever wondered why the U.S. has never gone back to the moon? Well you are in luck, as the film depicts, through decades-old found footage, the shocking secrets behind NASA’s abandoned Apollo 18 mission. Filmmakers: Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego has a background making horror films in Spain (though, I have not seen any of them). He is working again with his frequent collaborator cinematographer Jose David Montero and horror specialist production designer Andrew Neskoromny (Slither). Cast: The cast is fully made up of unknown actors. Expectations: This has jumped around a lot in the schedule, first it was going to come out last year, then early 2011 then summer then early 2012 and now finally it has been pinned down to September 2nd. It is yet another in the now long line of ‘is it real?’ horror films that have been surfacing – some love them, some do not. The trailer makes it out to be a decent looking sci-fi thriller. Check out the trailer.

Dream House (Jim Sheridan) – Thriller/Mystery – Sep 30
Summary: The film is about a man who moves his family to a new seemingly idyllic house. However, soon the family uncovers that there was a brutal crime committed against the former residents of the house. But, not all is what it seems (and the trailer gives way too much away, watch it at your own peril). Filmmakers: You do not often see very good directors tackle horror genre films (though, this might not exactly be a horror film, but based on the trailer, I am putting it here), and Jim Sheridan is a good director (despite the utter terribleness of Get Rich or Die Tryin’). Sheridan brought some good people with him in the form of composer John Debney (Machete), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ) and production designer Carol Spier (who often works with David Cronenberg). Cast: He also has a fabulous cast – the film stars Daniel Craig, co-stars Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts and features Jane Alexander, Sarah Gadon, Elias Koteas, Lynne Griffin, and Marton Csokas. Expectations: Whenever there is a good director paired with a good cast there is potential for a great film. This looks to be a really good mystery (though, again I wish the trailer did not tell me so much, or maybe there is even more twists that the trailer just wets the appetite). Horror and thriller fans, probably at least, want to rent this. Check out the trailer (unless you hate spoilers).

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

Art-House Dramas:

Tanner Hall (Francesca Gregorini & Tatiana von Furstenberg) – Drama – Sep 9 [limited]
Summary: The film is about four teenage girls who attend an all-girls boarding school in New England. It is a coming-of-age story. Filmmakers: Co-directors Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg make their directorial debut and are working with indie and TV composer Roger Neill (Beginners), indie cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard and TV production designer Ray Kluga (Royal Pains). Cast: The cast features a few great young actresses as it co-stars Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Amy Ferguson, and Brie Larson. Tom Everett Scott, Chris Kattan and Amy Sedaris feature is support. Expectations: This was made in 2009 and had trouble finding distribution (I assume the big push behind rising star Rooney Mara is why it has distribution now). It was an official selection of the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, but has not done too well with critics. However, there is no denying the talent of the young cast members. Maybe this is worth renting. Check out the trailer

Restless (Gus Van Sant) – Romance – Sep 16 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about a terminally ill young girl who falls for odd boy who likes to attend funerals. He is also friends with a ghost, who is a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII. Filmmakers: Director Gus Van Sant is a filmmaker who could have (and would have) succeeded in Hollywood, but instead decided to focus on making indie films with non-professional actors and fresh faces, films like Elephant and Paranoid Park. But he has now returned to making higher profile indie films with this and 2008’s Milk. He has an excellent crew with composer Danny Elfman (scored Good Will Hunting for Van Sant), cinematographer Harris Savides (shot Milk for Van Sant) and production designer Anne Ross (Lost in Translation). Uber-producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as well as Howard’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard are producing. Cast: The cast is also fantastic with Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper starring and supporting work from Jane Adams, Schuyler Fisk and Ryo Kase. Expectations: Howard and Grazer certainly hope that this is an Oscar (long-shot) and Independent Spirit Award nominee (much more likely). Van Sant is a good director and Wasikowska is a great emerging talent, thus I have high expectations for Restless. It has performed well on the festival circuit and was on the Cannes shortlist. I think this will be a good quirky indie romance, and probably on the sad side. Check out the trailer.

Killer Elite (Gary McKendry) – Action – Sep 23
Summary: The film is about a retired British Elite SAS member who gets back into the action when his mentor is taken hostage. Filmmakers: Director Gary McKendry is making his directorial debut and he has a fitting crew with a score from the band Pale 3 (Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek), cinematography from action D.P. Simon Duggan (I, Robot) and Alain Duplantier (Anything for Her) and production design from action specialist Michelle McGahey (The Matrix, as the art director). Cast: While this is a Jason Statham action vehicle, the rest of the cast is great for the genre with Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Ben Mendelsohn, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Abaje. Expectations: Killer Elite looks like a fun action film, and we all know what to expect from a Statham movie going in. I think it is interesting that with this cast the film had to go the indie route to get financing and distribution. I suspect this will do better on the rental market and overseas than in the U.S. box office (I will certainly be renting it). Check out the trailer.

Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) – Drama – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a man who is having apocalyptic visions, interfering with his family life. He is not sure if he needs to keep his family safe from himself or an impending disaster. Filmmakers: Indie writer-director Jeff Nichols is back with his second feature. His first, Shotgun Stories, showed his talent for drama. He has a good indie crew with composer David Wingo (who works with David Gordon Green a lot), cinematographer Adam Stone (shot Shotgun Stories for Nichols) and production designer Chad Keith. Cast: With Michael Shannon starring (also starred in Shotgun Stories) and Jessica Chastain co-starring, the leads in the film are top-notch. It also features supporting work from Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Shea Whigham, and Ray McKinnon. Expectations: Take Shelter has been receiving rave reviews from the festival circuit and Shannon is a favorite for an Oscar nod.  Though it is early, this might be the indie darling of the year (taking away a lot of the thunder from The Tree of Life). It won a critics award at Cannes and was nominated for Best Film at Sundance. I expect this to be a good drama with excellent performances. Check out the trailer. Review.

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan) – Drama – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Lisa Cohen, a young woman who witnesses a bus accident. She is caught up in the aftermath when questions of whether it was intentional or not threaten to throw many people’s lives into further chaos. Filmmakers: Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan returns to make his second film (his first was the well received You Can Count on Me). He has also had some success as a writer with screenplays for Analyze This and Gangs of New York under his belt. He is working with super producer Scott Rudin, British indie cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski (he is Polish, but shoots a lot of indie British stuff) and production designer Dan Leigh (who is also designing this month’s Warrior). Cast: The cast is quite good with Anna Paquin starring, Matt Damon co-starring and supporting work from Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin, Krysten Ritter, Jean Reno, Olivia Thirlby, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Expectations: Margaret was filmed in 2005, so why has it taken six years to see a release? Well, Lonergan’s cut was three hours and Fox Searchlight wanted it to be two hours. Many editors tackled the problem (including some of the industry’s best like Thelma Schoonmaker). An ugly legal battle ensued, and here we are in 2011 with a 149 minute cut. There certainly is a black cloud over the film which may kill all awards potential, but that does not discount the fact that there is a lot of talent involved. I am looking forward to seeing it. Check out the trailer.

Art-House Comedies:

Summary: The film is about a group of 30-year-old friends that always go to an end-of-the-school-year party at one friend’s summer home. But when his parents decided to sell the house, the friends decide to have one last hurrah – an orgy (and why not). Filmmakers: Co-writers and directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck are accomplished comedy writers (working on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, and King of the Hill) but make their directorial debut. They are working with a decent crew with indie composer Jon Sadoff (The Romantics) and TV cinematographer John Thomas (Gossip Girl) and production designer Alan Hook (Dawson’s Creek). Cast: Jason Sudeikis stars and it has a great mix of comedians in support with Lindsay Sloane, Lucy Punch, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell, David Koechner, Don Johnson, Martin Starr, Rhys Coiro, and Will Forte. Expectations: While the trailer is not great, the film has been getting good reviews from advanced screenings. Bell, Labine, Starr, and Sudeikis are all comedic actors I enjoy and thusly I am looking forward to renting this. There are not too many good indie straight-up comedies (though this year produced Cedar Rapids), but this has potential to be very funny. Check out the trailer.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig) – Horror Comedy – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Tucker and Dale. They are vacation at their decrepit mountain cabin. Suddenly, they seem to be attacked by preppy college students who keep accidentally killing themselves. Filmmakers: Writer-director Eli Craig makes his feature debut and is working with TV cinematographer David Geddes and production designer John Blackie. Cast: It stars two very funny people in Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk and features Katrina Bowden. Expectations: Craig has twisted the horror genre (specifically, the ‘cabin in the woods’ sub-genre) in a very funny and interesting way, having the college kids thinking that Tucker and Dale are hillbilly killers, while they think the kids are some sort of Satanist suicide cult. This is a must for fans of low-budget horror comedies, as it looks fantastic. Check out the trailer.