Thursday, October 31, 2013

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

Romance and Rom-Coms:

About Time (Richard Curtis) – Romance Sci-Fi – Nov 1
Plot Summary: On his 21st birthday, Tim discovers that he can time travel – a family trait passed on through the men in the family. Using this newfound ability, Tim is determined to win the heart of Mary, a girl he fancies (but it is proving more difficult than he anticipated). Filmmakers: About Time is the new film from writer-director Richard Curtis, the master of the British romantic comedy who gave us such films as Notting Hill, Bridget Jone’s Diary, and Love Actually (he also wrote The Black Adder, Mr. Bean, The Girl in the Café, and War Horse). This will be his third time writing and directing a feature film (his first two were Love Actually and Pirate Radio). He is working with composer Nick Laird-Clowes (of The Dream Academy), cinematographer John Guleserian (Like Crazy), and production designer John Paul Kelly (Bloody Sunday). Cast: The film stars Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams (veteran of many romance films). Bill Nighy (who frequently works with Richard Curtis), Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, and Tom Hughes feature in support. Expectations: About Time looks like a lot of fun. Yes, the whole time travel romance thing has been down before (see The Time Traveler’s Wife, which also stars Rachel McAdams, coincidentally), but Richard Curtis is a great writer and should bring a fresh take to the material. The film already came out in the U.K. earlier this year. It played to strong reviews from moviegoers, but critics were a bit more mixed. In a month crowded with big adventure films, this might be a nice change of pace. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

The Book Thief (Brian Percival) – Drama – Nov 15
Plot Summary: Liesel is a young orphan girl living amongst the horrors of WWII Germany. The only way she is able to keep herself from being lost in the anguish of it all is to steal books that have otherwise been banded by the Nazis so that she can share them with others, including the Jewish refuge her adoptive parents are hiding in their house. Filmmakers: Director Brian Percival comes from a background in British television, including directing multiple episodes of Downton Abbey. The Book Thief is his second feature. He is working with genius film composer John Williams (Lincoln), cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (Red), and production designer Simon Elliott (Byzantium). Cast: The film stars newcomer Sophie Nelisse and co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Ben Schnetzer and Nico Liersch feature in support. Expectations: The Book Thief looks like the kind of drama that is trying to be an Oscar-made prestige film, but ends up missing the mark. That said, it does look like a decent drama that is probably worth renting for fans of the book and war dramas. The primary cast is very strong and Sophie Nelisse looks like she gives a potentially breakthrough performance. Trailer: Here.


Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood) – Action/Adventure Sci-Fi – Nov 1
Plot Summary: Aliens attacked Earth, and the world just barely survived. In an attempt to be better prepared for a future invasion, the military begins training new young leaders whose brains are better situated to deal with the aliens. Ender Wiggins is one such recruit. He is sent to a military school in space, where he soon begins to separate himself from the rest of the class with his strategic brilliance. Will he be Earth’s saving grace? Filmmakers: Writer-director Gavin Hood made a name for himself with his breakout hit Tsotsi (which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), but has since struggled in Hollywood directing two underwhelming films: Rendition and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Looking to finally capitalize on his potential, he is working with composer Steve Jablonsky (Pain & Gain), cinematographer Donald McAlpine (who shot X-Men Origins: Wolverine for Hood), production designers Sean Haworth (The Thing) and Ben Procter, and producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek Into Darkness). Cast: The film stars Asa Butterfield, and co-stars Harrison Ford and Hailee Steinfeld. Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, and Nonso Anozie feature in support. Expectations: Ender’s Game has potential to be good. Gavin Hood is a director with talent; he has just struggled within the confines of Hollywood. And, the cast features a good mix of solid young talent and quality veterans. But, I suspect it will be a throwaway blockbuster – entertaining and fun, yeah probably, but nothing special. The sour taste of Hood’s Wolverine movie (which is fairly terrible) serves as a hard-to-forget reminder of what happened last time he tried to make a big budget genre film. Plus, this feels like a weak attempt for Summit Entertainment to reenter the Young Adult Genre Film bonanza now that their golden goose (Twilight) has expired. For fans of summer blockbuster style films, this is probably worth renting, but for everyone else, there are other big genre movies to wait for (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Thor: The Dark World). Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor) – Action/Adventure – Nov 8
Plot Summary: A new enemy has come to the universe, one so menacing and powerful that not even Odin and the might of Asgard can withstand it. Thus, Thor must embark on his most trying adventure yet, looking to both Jane Foster and his troublemaker brother Loki for help. Filmmakers: With Kenneth Branagh not returning, Marvel engaged veteran HBO series director Alan Taylor to give Thor a much more grounded, gritty feel – using his work on Game of Thrones as a template. He is working with composer Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3), cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (who shot Taylor’s season two episodes of Game of Thrones), and production designer Charles Wood (Wrath of the Titans). Cast: Returning are Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins, while new to the series are Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi, and Chris O’Dowd. Expectations: Thor is probably my favorite of the Marvel Phase One individual superhero films. It has a great mix of action, drama, and comedy, and Kenneth Branagh brought a fantastic tone and look to the world. Plus, Chris Hemsworth is phenomenal as Thor. Thus, Thor: The Dark World is a film I am really looking forward to seeing. Alan Taylor is on paper a very good and smart choice, as his work on Game of Thrones is wonderful (a darker style Marvel is very interested in bringing to Thor, as Phase Two overall seems to be darker tonally). However, Taylor is accustom to coming into a series with the main, strong creative force being someone else and just directing what is on the page (all the aesthetics and other big creative decisions already made). Here, he will need to step up and make those decisions (Marvel’s overall creative overseer, Joss Whedon, did need to step in to punch up a few scenes).  From what I have seen, the film looks visually fantastic and I think it will probably end up being about as good as the first Thor film (which would be slightly disappointing given that The Avengers and Iron Man 3 are both very good and elevated the expectations of future Marvel films). Trailer: HereReview: Here.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence) – Action/Adventure Sci-Fi – Nov 22
Plot Summary: After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have become symbols of hope in Panem, inciting rebellion in many of its districts. Thus, Katniss and Peeta are targets for a government desperate to retain their power – but how to deal with these national heroes? Filmmakers: Writer-director Gary Ross is not returning (which is probably not a bad thing), and thus Lionsgate hired Francis Lawrence to take over. His work on Kings probably best translates to what he will need to do with Catching Fire. Although, he has shown he can capably direct action too with Constantine and I Am Legend. He is working with composer James Newton Howard (who also scored the first film), cinematographer Jo Willems (Limitless), and production designer Philip Messina (who also worked on the first film). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland all return. New to the series are Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Toby Jones, Amanda Plummer, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Expectations: The Hunger Games, while entertaining, lacked a good story with a true dramatic arc for Katniss. Everything just felt too easy, as she never really has to make a tough choice, and thus the film is dramatically uninteresting. In an effort to correct this, Lionsgate hired two Oscar winning screenwriters to adapt Catching Fire for the screen: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (who is currently writing Star Wars VII). Francis Lawrence has never really made a good film (his best work coming on Kings), but Catching Fire does not need to be anything amazing. It just needs to be entertaining and create a more dynamic dramatic narrative arc for Katniss. From what I have seen, the film looks a lot more compelling than the first. I am interested to see how it turns out narratively (as its box office success is all but assured). Trailer: HereHereReview: Here.

Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee) – Family Adventure Comedy – Nov 29
Plot Summary: The Kingdom of Arendelle has been plunged into eternal winter by the icy sorceress Elsa. Now, it is up to her sister Anna and her rag-tag group of friends (which includes a talking snowman) to save the kingdom, battling the harsh elements and beasts that await them. Filmmakers: Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee have never worked together before, but each comes from an animation background within Disney. Buck co-directed Tarzan (and also Surf’s Up for Sony Animation) while Lee co-wrote Wreck-It Ralph. I think Buck will be focused on the animation and Lee the story aspects. They are working with composer Christophe Beck (The Muppets) and producer John Lasseter (Disney Animation’s head guy). Cast: The voice cast includes: Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff. Expectations: Disney’s Pixar film this year, Monsters University, while commercially successful did not really make the same type of impact that Pixar films usually do, leaving 2013’s Animation Oscar wide open (much like 2011 when Pixar released Cars 2, their worst film). Frozen looks good, in a safe Disney sort of way. Although, to me, it kind of looks like they are trying to just recapture the feel and general story ideas of Tangled (Disney’s best animated film in some time). In any case, this certainly looks like it should be in the running to compete for the Animation Oscar and parents taking their kids should not be too disgruntled at the prospect of watching it (as it looks funny). Trailer: HereReview: Here.


Last Vegas (Jon Turteltaub) – Comedy – Nov 1
Plot Summary: Four friends in their sixties decide to get together for one last hurrah in Vegas to celebrate the final member of their group’s last days as a single man. Filmmakers: Director Jon Turteltaub is well versed in making forgettable Hollywood fair with films such as Cool Runnings, National Treasure, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and this looks like more of the same. He is working with composer Mark Mothersbaugh (21 Jump Street), cinematographer David Hennings (Horrible Bosses), and production designer David Bomba (The Company Men). Cast: The film stars Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Michael Douglas. Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, and Romany Malco feature in support. Expectations: Last Vegas is The Bucket List version of The Hangover – I mean, I guess this had to happen eventually right? Yes, it does have a strong group of actors, but this is essentially just a paycheck to them – they show up, say some lines, make some faces, and get paid (Dennis Quaid has been doing it for decades). And yet, there will probably be some laughs for those willing to use a rental on it. Trailer: Here.

Plot Summary: Brett has fathered 533 children. How did he do this? A mix-up at a fertility clinic he made donations to twenty years ago. Now, 142 of them have filed a lawsuit to reveal his identity. Brett has always been an underachiever and must now decide if he wants to step up and take responsibility. Filmmakers: Writer-director Ken Scott already made this film in Canada and released it in 2011. It is called Starbuck. Apparently unafraid to rehash the same material again (I mean, what is the difference between remaking your own film and directing any other Hollywood movie that just recycles past narratives), he is working with composer Jon Brion (This Is 40), cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards (The Change-Up), and production designer Ida Random (No Strings Attached). Cast: Vince Vaughn stars (and will once again treat us all to his tired shtick), while Cobie Smulders, Britt Robertson, and Chris Pratt feature in support. Expectations: Delivery Man looks like a lot of Vince Vaughn’s comedies – an underachieving but mildly charismatic man-child who tries to finally put his life together. Vaughn plays this character pretty well (Dodgeball and Fred Claus – for the five people that enjoyed it, me included), and the supporting cast, particularly Chris Pratt (who is hilarious), should add some good stuff. More than likely, this film will just be a throwaway comedy, but maybe it will turn out to be funny and somewhat emotionally resonate. Maybe even worth renting. Trailer: Here.

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