Wednesday, February 27, 2013

At the Movies – March 2013 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

The Host (Andrew Niccol) – Sci-Fi Romance Thriller – Mar 29
Plot Summary: Melanie Stryder is one of the last remaining humans after parasitic aliens have taken command of the Earth. She meets Jared Howe (another human) and they form an intense romantic bond. However, Melanie is captured by the aliens (sacrificing herself to save Jared). But, unlike other human hosts, she forms a bond with the parasite and rebels against the aliens to help the humans (as her love for Jared is too strong). Filmmakers: Writer-director Andrew Niccol has a strong background in sci-fi, having made the 1990s genre classic Gattaca. However, his last film (also within the sci-fi genre) was the very disappointing In Time. He is working with composer Antonio Pinto (who also scored Lord of War for Niccol), cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (who mostly works with Marc Forster), and production designer Andy Nicholson (this is his first film as production designer, but he has a strong background in art design – and is doing the production designer for this year’s Gravity). Cast: Saoirse Ronan stars, with Diane Kruger, Max Irons, Jake Abel, William Hurt, Bokeem Woodbine, Boyd Holbrook, and Frances Fisher in support. Expectations: The Host is yet other potential franchise starter targeted at young women to replace Twilight – and this one also happens to be based on a new novel series by Stephenie Meyers. Based on what I have seen, it looks much better than Twilight and Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic young actress (see: Atonement or Hanna). Plus, Diane Kruger should make for a good villain. While I will probably not see this in theatres, I do look forward to renting it. The romance aspects will likely be overly dramatic (as that is the trend for things aimed at young women), but Niccol will hopefully bring the right mix of action and sci-fi tonal elements to the project as well. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

Dead Man Down (Niels Arden Oplev) – Crime Thriller – Mar 8
Plot Summary: Beatrice is assaulted in her home by a local New York City crime boss. She blackmails Victor, a contract killer, to find and kill the man who assaulted her, so that she can have her revenge. The twist is, Victor works for the man he is hired to kill. Filmmakers: Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev makes his Hollywood debut with this film after the breakout success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He is working again with composer Jacob Groth and production designer Niels Sejer. New to the team is cinematographer Paul Cameron (Total Recall). Cast: Also reuniting with Oplev is star Noomi Rapace. Colin Farrell also stars, while Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, and F. Murray Abraham (who is making a comeback with this, Homeland, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) feature in support. Expectations: Dead Man Down looks like a very entertaining crime thriller, which great action beats. Many filmgoers prefer Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to David Fincher’s American remake (though, I am not one of them), and thus this should give many fans their first taste of Oplev’s talent with a bigger budget. Many filmmakers do not make the transition to Hollywood very well putting out disappoint work, but this does look potentially quite good. Trailer: Here.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) – Crime Drama – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Four college girls want to have a great Spring Break, but they have no money. They decide to rob a restaurant, and are subsequently caught. A local drug dealer, arms dealer, and aspiring rapper Alien bails them out with big plans for them. Filmmakers: Writer-director Harmony Korine has made a few indie films (probably best known among them is Gummo), but this is his first film to see a wide theatrical release. He is working with maverick producer Megan Ellison (who funded many of the best films of 2012), composers Cliff Martinez (Drive) and Skrillex, cinematographer Benoit Debie (The Runaways), and production designer Elliot Hostetter (A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III). Cast: The film stars James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vansessa Hudgens, and Rachel Korine. Heather Morris and Gucci Mane feature in support. Expectations: Spring Breakers has played to mostly positive reviews and buzz during its 2012 festival tour. Personally I am of two minds about it. On one hand, it looks like an entertaining look at the dark side of back-alley contemporary culture, and I appreciate directors that have a unique style. But, on the other hand, it also looks like nothing more than an exercise in depravity, fueled by sort of a stereotyped idea of what contemporary party culture is and how young people tend to be drawn to it. It also looks highly stylized (in a music video-like way), which can often be to a film’s grave disadvantage in the hands of lesser filmmakers. I have a feeling that young people (which are probably its targeted audience) will generally like the film, while older filmgoers will not be as enthralled by the style and plot. Trailer: Here.


Jack the Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer) – Adventure Fantasy – Mar 1
Plot Summary: The live-action telling of the classic tale with a twist – a young farmhand named Jack with magic beans discovers a kingdom in the clouds inhabited by giants. Only, this version is juiced up with big action set pieces. Filmmakers: This is director Bryan Singer’s first film since his disappointing Superman Returns and Valkyrie (and honestly, I think his best films X2 and The Usual Suspects are both vastly overrated). He is working with his frequent collaborators writer Christopher McQuarrie, composer John Ottman, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. New to the team is production designer Gavin Bocquet (Stardust). Cast: The cast is fairly impressive with star Nicholas Hoult and a supporting group featuring Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Warwick Davis, and Bill Nighy. Expectations: Jack the Giant Slayer does look like an entertaining adventure fantasy film, but really it is hard to get my anticipation up too much because I do not fully trust Bryan Singer. For me, he has never made a great film. I do like the cast a lot though (Hoult from Skins, McShane from Deadwood and Kings, Nighy from Dead Man’s Chest , Davis from Life’s Too Short and Deathly Hallows Part 2, and McGregor and Bremner from Trainspotting). That said, I will probably still see this in theatres, because big movies should be seen on big screens. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi) – Adventure Fantasy – Mar 8
Plot Summary: A carnival magician named Oz sets off for an adventure that takes an unexpected turn when he is transported by a tornado to a fantasy land where he is thought to be the inhabitants’ savior from an evil witch. He must use his wits and skills as a magician to stay alive. Filmmakers: Director Sam Raimi has a mixed bag of a career to date. Spider-Man 2 is an incredibly well made masterpiece (and in my opinion the best comic book film still). The Evil Dead Trilogy is a cult classic (and a lot of fun). A Simple Plan is an overlooked gem. But, he also has his fair share of forgettable films. With Oz the Great and Powerful, he is making his first film truly aimed at a young audience (or at least that is the impression I get from the trailer). He is working with frequent collaborators composer Danny Elfman and cinematographer Peter Deming. Production designer Robert Stromberg joins the team via Disney to give it that Alice in Wonderland look (which is unfortunate). Cast: Raimi is also reteaming with his Spider-Man star (well Harry Osborn star) James Franco, who is in the lead. The supporting cast features Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Spencer, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff. Bruce Campbell probably shows up for a cameo too (along with the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and Three Stooges references). Expectations: I love Raimi’s best work. He has such a unique style and great understanding of storytelling – he just sometimes lets his pension for silliness to get out of hand. Oz the Great and Powerful both looks good and terrible to me. The Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland was awful, and a perfect example of visuals and style over substance to a reckless degree. Oz the Great and Powerful’s trailer looks and feels just like Alice in Wonderland, as if Disney wanted to just do the same thing again for a new 3D release – and that worries me. But, the character interactions are decent in the trailer, and Raimi has enough goodwill built up to get the benefit of the doubt. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua) – Action Thriller – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Mike Banning was one of the best secret service agents protecting the President, but after a tragic accident he has since been disgraced. However, on one fateful day, he might be the President’s only hope after terrorists attack the White House. Trapped inside, Banning uses his skills and knowledge to try and save the President. Filmmakers: It has been awhile since director Antoine Fuqua made a name for himself with Training Day, as he has since had a disappointing series of films (though, most are entertaining, just not at the same level – though, I did enjoy King Arthur). Olympus Has Fallen does not really look like a step in the right direction, as much as merely more of the same from Fuqua. He is working with composer Trevor Morris (The Tudors), cinematographer Conrad W. Hall (Panic Room), and production designer Derek Hill (Hatfields & McCoys). Cast: The film stars Gerard Butler (who is also producing), and features Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Robert Forster, and Ashley Judd in support. Expectations: Well, at least Olympus Has Fallen (also known as Die Hard in the White House) has Gerard Butler in action hero mode and not romantic comedy mode – though, at this stage, is Gerard Butler in any mode a good thing? 300 might be the last thing anyone actually liked him in and that was 2006 (he was decent in Coriolanus too). The supporting cast is a mixed bag as well. Basically, if you like Die Hard-esque movies then this is probably worth checking out, if not then it probably safe to assume this is just another throwaway action film (entertaining, sure, but nothing special). Also, as everything in Hollywood comes in twos, you can see White House Down in June too and compare. Trailer: Here.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Jon Chu) – Action – Mar 29
Summary: Cobra gets the drop on the Joes right off the bat, infiltrating the highest levels of government and declaring the Joes enemies of the State. Most are killed in the initial attack, leaving a few to band together and fight back. Filmmakers: Director Jon Chu does not initially seem like a great fit for the action franchise with a filmography that reads Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but then remember that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was terrible, so what does it matter? Chu is not going to make it worse. He is working with a good action oriented group with composer Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class), cinematographer Stephen Windon (Fast Five), and production designer Andrew Menzies (Knight and Day). Cast: The film features Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, Dwayne Johnson, Ray Stevenson, Ray Park, Walton Goggins, Joseph Mazzello, Byung-hun Lee, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Pryce, and RZA – among others. Expectations: I was a huge G.I. Joe fan as a kid. I loved the TV series, the movie, and the 3 and ¾ inch action figures. Thus, when The Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, I had somewhat of a nostalgic anticipation. That film was bad. Now I know better (well I did then too, but I still rented it). Retaliation looks like a big fun dumb action movie. It was delayed from last June to March reportedly to add 3D, but there have also been rumors that with Channing Tatum’s apparent rise in popularity Paramount wanted more of Tatum in the film and thus reshot some of the scenes (though this has been denied by Chu). In any case, if you want something mindless and superficial, but with stuff that blows up, then this is for you. The rest of us will just rent it (or at least think about renting it). Trailer: Here.


21 and Over (Jon Lucas & Scott Moore) – Comedy – Mar 1
Plot Summary: The night before his important medical school exam and the next step to his bright future, a promising student is taken on a rambunctious night by his two best friends to celebrate his 21st birthday. Filmmakers: The writers of The Hangover series, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, make their directorial debut with this film. They are working with composer Lyle Workman (Get Him to the Greek), cinematographer Terry Stacey (50/50), and production designer Jerry Fleming (Crank). Cast: The film features mostly unknown (or lesser known) actors – like Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, and Sarah Wright. Expectations: 21 and Over looks like a cross between The Hangover and Project X – which is not a bad thing as both those films are very funny. However, it also walks the fine line between exaggerated fun for comedic effect that works and mindless stupidity that makes the viewer feel like they wasted their time. The odd are not on its side. That said, for fans of crazy party comedies, this is probably worth renting and maybe seeing in theatres. Trailer: Here.

Plot Summary: Magician Burt Wonderstone is having a hard time. He needs to remember what made him love magic as a child. He splits with his longtime partner Anton Marvelton and begins spending time with his boyhood idol Rance Holloway in hopes of recapturing his magic. Also, he must figure out how to one up his rival, a guerrilla street magician named Steve Gray. Filmmakers: Director Don Scardino has spent a lot of time directing episodes of television. His most recent notable work has been on 30 Rock, where he directed about one fourth of the series. He is working with composer Lyle Workman (Win Win), cinematographer Matthew Clark (worked on 30 Rock as well), and production designer Keith Cunningham (The First Time). Cast: The film stars Steve Carell and co-stars Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey. Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Gillian Jacobs, James Gandolfini, Brad Garrett, and Jay Mohr feature in support. Expectations: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does have a great comedic cast with Carell, Buscemi, Carrey, and Arkin (and Jacobs is fantastic on Community), and it is the second script from the writing team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley who wrote Horrible Bosses which was funny. But, it looks like a typical ‘safe’ Hollywood comedy, full of watered-down recycled jokes and cheap laughs. Maybe I am wrong, but I think this is a rental at best. Trailer: Here.

Admission (Paul Weitz) – Comedy – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Portia Nathan is a Princeton admissions officer. She likes her job and is good at it, but something is missing in her life. However, everything changes when she is introduced to an aspiring Princeton student who might also be her son (who she gave up for adoption as a young mother). Filmmakers: Director Paul Weitz made some good films with his brother Chris early in his career – particularly About a Boy – but has since made a string of disappointing movies on his own (and Chris has not done any better). Maybe this is the film in which he turns things around? He is working with composer Stephen Trask (who Weitz worked with on In Good Company), cinematographer Declan Quinn (who Weitz worked with on Being Flynn), and production designer Sarah Knowles (also worked on Being Flynn). Cast: It stars Tina Fey and co-stars Paul Rudd. Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin, and Gloria Reuben feature in support. Expectations: I like Tina Fey and Paul Rudd a lot, but Admission does not look all that funny or good. However, it was picked up by Focus Features, which does have a decent track record on average (more so in drama – but still). I hope the trailer is just weak and the film is both better and funnier than it is made out to be, otherwise this will just be other in the line of forgettable films from Weitz. I think it is safe to call this a rental. Trailer: Here.

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