Thursday, March 1, 2012

At the Movies – March 2012 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Serious Films:

Summary: Fred Jones is a fishery expert who is asked to do the impossible when he is approached by a consultant, Harriet, looking to make a sheikh’s dream come true: bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen. Filmmakers: Lasse Hallstrom has a very good dramatic track record with wonderful films such as The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Plus, he is working with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire), one of my favorites composer Dario Marianelli (Atonement), cinematographer Terry Stacey (50/50), and production designer Michael Carlin (The Duchess). Cast: The film stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt with Kristin Scott Thomas in support. Expectations: Two great lead, a good crew and a good director make for what will likely be a good film. Advanced screenings have also played to very good reviews. Looks like a feel-good drama with what will likely be a romantic subplot between Blunt and McGregor as well (I have not read the book it is based on, but those who have can either back me up or tell me I am wrong, just going on what the trailer tells me). I am looking forward to seeing this (if not in theatres, definitely through Netflix). Trailer: Here. Review.


Summary: Ted is in love with Audrey, but to court her he must find the one thing that she loves most – trees. However, trees have long disappeared from their town. Thus, Ted must go out on an adventure to find a tree for Audrey, only to encounter the Lorax – a grumpy protector of his forest. Filmmakers: Co-directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda bring a good animation background to the project. Renaud directed Despicable Me while Balda worked in the animation department on that film, but comes from Pixar. They are working with composer John Powel (Kung Fu Panda 2) and production designer Yarrow Cheney (who also worked on Despicable Me). Cast: The voice cast features Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White, Rob Riggle, and Danny DeVito as the Lorax (and he just sounds like Frank from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in his delivery). Expectations: This is the third film from Illumination Entertainment, the other two being Despicable Me and Hop, and I suspect that if you liked either or both of those, this is probably something you would enjoy. For me, DeVito’s voice-work is enough to probably garner a rental, assuming the film is not terrible. Trailer: Here.

John Carter (Andrew Stanton) – Sci-Fi Adventure – Mar 9
Summary: John Carter is a Civil War veteran who is somehow transplanted to Mars. Once there, he is imprisoned by the planet’s inhabitants. However, due to the difference in gravity between Mars and Earth, Carter finds that he has considerable physical abilities and just might be the savior to a princess whose kingdom is under siege. Filmmakers: While Walt Disney Motion Pictures is the distributor, this is also being called Pixar’s first live-action film, as it is helmed by Andrew Stanton (writer-director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo). Stanton has a wonderful group working with him on the film including a Pixar frequent collaborator composer Michael Giacchino (Up), cinematographer Daniel Mindel (Star Trek) and production designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight). Cast: The film features a mix of live-action and animated characters. Taylor Kitsch stars with support from Bryan Cranston, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West, Polly Walker, James Purefoy, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton, and Daryl Sabara. Expectations: John Carter is a little bit of an enigma, because on paper it looks great (Stanton plus his excellent crew, and a good cast) but the trailers so far have been very suspect (many blaming Disney for not knowing how to properly market the film). It is very likely that this will underperform (I expect it to). Critically speaking, a lot is riding on Kitsch’s (fresh off Friday Night Lights) ability to carry an epic, playing against both very good actors and animated creations. Pixar, for the most part, can do no wrong, but until critics and the public gets a chance to see this, I think Disney is a little weary. I hope it is great, but I am quite skeptical based on what I have seen. If anyone can pull it off though, it is Andrew Stanton. Trailer: Here. Review.

21 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Chris Miller) – Action Comedy – Mar 16
Summary: The story of two would-be cops, Schmidt (smart not strong) and Jenko (strong not smart), who work together to make the force. However, it is not as exciting as they imagined and their blatant underachieving lands them a transfer to an undercover branch, whose goal is to infiltrate a local high school to bust a synthetic drug ring. Filmmakers: Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller make their live action debut with this, their second feature (their first was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; they also made the cult TV hit Clone High). They are working with action producer Neil H. Moritz (Fast Five), (one of my favorites) composer Mark Mothersbaugh (Rushmore), cinematographer Barry Peterson (Zoolander), and production designer Peter Wenham (Battle: Los Angeles). Cast: It stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (both of whom are also executive producers on the film) and features a great comedic supporting cast with Jake M. Johnson, Ellie Kemper, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle, Johnny Simmons, and a cameo from Johnny Depp (star of the original TV series). Expectations: 21 Jump Street looks like it could be a good action comedy (much in the same way Pineapple Express was) – it certainly has enough talent. The film’s success will probably come down to how well directors Lord and Miller transition into both live-action and action. Based on what I have seen, the film looks funny – providing the year’s fist potentially good R-rated comedy. Trailer: Here. Review.

Wrath of the Titans (Jonathan Liebesman) – Adventure – Mar 30
Summary: Zeus has been captured and imprisoned by his son Ares and brother Hades in the underworld, and the Titans have been set free to ravish the Earth. It all comes down to Perseus to once again save the day. Filmmakers: Director Jonathan Liebesman coming off 2011’s Battle: Los Angeles is looking to make a much better action adventure epic than Louis Leterrier’s (fairly terrible) Clash of the Titans (Leterrier, however, returns as an executive producer). Liebesman is working with a good group including composer Javier Navarrete (Cracks), cinematographer Ben Davis (Kick-Ass) and production designer Charles Wood (The A-Team). Cast: Returning to the cast are Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Danny Huston. New to the cast are Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Toby Kebbell, and Edgar Ramirez. Expectations: Liebesman has a tough task, as this has to be good enough to erase the memory of the letdown that Clash of the Titans was – I think he is up to that challenge (though, I liked Battle: LA when many did not). The cast is also very good; I particularly like the additions of Pike and Nighy (two of my favorite supporting players). The main issue with the first is that it was too much like Transformers mixed with Pirates of the Caribbean. If Liebesman can give this its own voice and style then maybe it will turn out okay. I mean, is anyone really expecting much for this anyway? Trailer: Here.

Mirror Mirror (Tarsem Singh) – Adventure – Mar 30
Summary: Winning the race to release, 2012’s first Snow White film sees the Evil Queen steal control of the kingdom by ensnaring Prince Charming with magic. Exiled, Snow White allies herself with seven rebels to win back her birthright. Filmmakers: Director Tarsem Singh is a potentially very interesting choice to make this fantasy adventure, as his aesthetic style is one of the most visually potent in cinema today (for an example see The Fall). Another check in the positive column for this Snow White versus the other comes in the form of composer Alan Menken (who is responsible for most of the iconic Disney music from 1989-1997; highlighted by: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin; recently he scored Tangled and wrote Star Spangled Man for Captain America: The First Avenger). Cinematographer Brendan Galvin (shot Immortals for Singh) and production designer Tom Foden (designed Immortals and The Cell for Singh) are also working on the film. Cast: Lily Collins (Phil’s daughter) and Julia Roberts star with Armie Hammer, Sean Bean and Nathan Lane in support. Expectations: While Mirror Mirror may have won the race to get into theaters first, Snow White and the Huntsman looks quite a bit better (in a trailer vs. trailer comparison). Mirror Mirror will certainly be visually stunning and Roberts is going to bring a lot to the character of the Evil Queen, but the film looks very silly and geared towards children (which is fine, but often kid’s films end up being a bit too immature which ultimately hurts the narrative for adult viewers). Snow White and the Huntsman also has a huge advantage with its supporting cast (while the filmmakers might be a wash to slight advantage for Snow White and the Huntsman, and it is a wash when looking at the leads). I am interested to rent this to see what Singh brings to the fairytale, but based on what I have seen Mirror Mirror does not look like it is worth seeing in the theaters, especially in comparison to the other upcoming Snow White film. Trailer: Here.


Project X (Nima Nourizadeh) – Comedy – Mar 2
Summary: In an effort to make a name for themselves, three high school seniors throw a huge birthday party while the host’s parents are away. However as the night progresses, everything starts to completely unravel and get out of control as more and more people hear about and show up to the party. Filmmakers: Director Nima Nourizadeh makes his feature debut, but he is supported by a creative team that includes writer Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street) and producer Todd Phillips (Old School and The Hangover films). Cinematographer Ken Seng (who is a got fit for the realism-low grade style, having shot Quarantine) and production designer Bill Brzeski (The Hangover Part II) are also working on the film. Cast: The film stars a number of unknown actors headlined by Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown. Expectations: Based on what I have seen, Project X reminds me of 2010’s The Virginity Hit, in terms of being about high school kids, starring unknowns and being made to seem like it might have been filmed at a real party with real people. However, this being completely centered on a party, it also draws comparisons to Can’t Hardly Wait (though, from what the ads would have me believe, a lot more extreme and crazy). I think at best this will be a potentially funny throwaway comedy aimed at teenage boys and at worst it will be another terrible throwaway comedy aimed at teenage boys. Trailer: Here.

Friends with Kids (Jennifer Westfeldt) – Comedy – Mar 9
Summary: Jason and Julie have been lifelong best friends. Now in their thirties, they decide that the best way for them to have kids and not lose the spark in their romantic relationships is to have a baby together while keeping it completely platonic between each other. Filmmakers: Writer-director-producer-star Jennifer Westfeldt makes her directorial debut, but is known for the film Kissing Jessica Stein which she wrote and starred in. She is working with composer Marcelo Zarvos (The Beaver), cinematographer William Rexer (Ceremony) and production designer Ray Kluga (Tanner Hall). Cast: Westfeldt and Adam Scott star, with a great supporting group including Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s husband), Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns. Expectations: The cast is fantastic, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly given Westfeldt’s other two films that she wrote not playing to a lot of critical acclaim) it is being met with mostly mixed reviews (edging more on the side of negative). Based on what I have seen, it looks funny (but nothing special). I will definitely rent it as I do enjoy comedies and this has some of the better film comedians involved. Trailer: Here.

Casa de mi Padre (Matt Piedmont) – Comedy – Mar 16
Summary: Armando Alvarez and his brother struggle to save their family ranch when they find themselves at war with Mexico’s most ruthless and feared drug lord. Filmmakers: FunnyOrDie’s Matt Piedmont makes his directorial debut (filling in for Adam McKay, who is typically directs his project’s with Will Ferrell). Piedmont is working with fellow FunnyOrDie founders McKay and Ferrell as producers. Composers Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau, cinematographer Ramsey Nickell (Pretty Persuasion) and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh (Going the Distance) round out the principal crew. Cast: Ferrell stars with a great supporting cast including Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, and Nick Offerman. Expectations: Casa de mi Padre is a big experiment for Will Ferrell – can he turn the one-note joke of him speaking in Spanish into an entire action comedy that works? Plus, do Ferrell fans want to see a movie in which they have to read subtitles? Ferrell-McKay films are usually very funny: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers; but, their last The Other Guys was not very good (at least in comparison). I think Casa de mi Padre looks funny (though, I wish John C. Reilly was in it too), but I am not sure it will work as a full feature film (versus a short). Trailer: Here.

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