Wednesday, March 5, 2014

At the Movies – March 2014 – Part 2: Hollywood Films


300: Rise of an Empire (Noam Murro) – Action/War – Mar 7
Plot Summary: In the aftermath of 300, Greek general Themistokles leads his armies against the invading Persian forces led by Xerxes (a man his people believe a god) with the fate of Greece in the balance. Filmmakers: Zack Snyder directed 300 and is returning as a producer on the film, but he has turned over directorial duties to Noam Murro, who previously directed the marginal dramedy Smart People but is better known for his commercials. Murro is working with composer Junkie XL, cinematographer Simon Duggan, and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. Cast: Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, and David Wenham reprise their roles, while Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, and Jack O’Connell join the cast. Expectations: 300: Rise of an Empire seems like a cheap sequel made to benefit from the goodwill of the original – basically not needing to exist. But, hopefully that assessment is incorrect and the film is decent. 300, good or bad, is one of the most influential films on the visual style of action and adventure projects that followed it (TV and film). It surprised everyone with its style, appeal, and box office success (other than Frank Miller fans). It is unlikely that this sequel will be as popular (and certainly will not be as influential). I think it is worth a rental for fans of 300, but is probably not a priority for anyone else. Trailers: Here.

Need for Speed (Scott Waugh) – Action Crime Thriller – Mar 14
Plot Summary: Based on the video game, the story is about Tobey Marshall, a street racer who is betrayed by his friend/business partner and sent to jail. Now out, he seeks revenge by joining a cross country race, which also features his former friend; however, his friend finds out about Marshall’s intensions towards him and puts a large bounty on Marshall as the race begins. Filmmakers: Former stuntman turned director Scott Waugh made his debut with the lackluster Act of Valor. Need for Speed is his second film. He is working with composer Nathan Furst, cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, and production designer Jon Hutman. Cast: Aaron Paul stars (in his first high profile gig since Breaking Bad) with co-stars Imogen Poots and Dominic Cooper. Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton, Rami Malek, and Scott Mescudi feature in support. Expectations: There has never been a great movie based on a video game – not one, and this does not look like the film to break the trend. Need for Speed more or less looks like a The Fast and the Furious knockoff, you know because that franchise is miraculously exploding at the box office (even into its sixth film, and its seventh will probably do really well too) and DreamWorks wanted to get in on some of that money (and not having an original idea themselves, turned to the successful video game series). I do not think it warrants a visit to the cinema (unless you love car movies, or you just enjoy watching all the big action movies in the theaters, which is understandable); I mean really, this probably does not warrant a rental either, unless you are a fan of spectacle-drive action/racing films. Trailer: Here.

Divergent (Neil Burger) – Action/Adventure Romance Sci-Fi – Mar 21
Plot Summary: In a utopian future society, peace is maintained by all people being separated into specific groups. These groups are determined by a special test that all people take as a teenager. Beatrice Prior is one such teen, about to take the test to see where she will end up; however, her mind is special and the test cannot read her – something called Divergent. Prior, and others like her who cannot be pinned down by society, put the whole system at danger. Thus, Jeanine Matthews, the leader of the society, makes it her mission to find all the Divergent and put an end to them. Prior must hide in plain sight, pretending to be a part of one of the societal groups to survive. Filmmakers: Director Neil Burger is a filmmaker with a lot of talent. This film The Illusionist is very much overlooked and under seen. Coming out in 2006, it made a great companion piece to The Prestige (which also came out that year). His other Hollywood films The Lucky Ones and Limitless are also good (but not quite on the same level). He is working with composer Junkie XL, brilliant cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler, and great production designer Andy Nicholson. Cast: The film stars Shailene Woodley, and features Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Ray Stevenson (who I like in pretty much everything he has done, but especially Rome), Maggie Q, Jai Courtney, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, and Mekhi Phifer in support. Expectations: Divergent is yet another young adult book series hoping to make it big on the silver screen. It is being promoted as the new The Hunger Games (much like another potential YA series starter, The Maze Runner, coming out later this year) – even casting a fantastic young actress in the lead, and building a strong supporting group around her (following The Hunger Games model). I really like Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller (see their film The Spectacular Now); they are among the best young emerging actors right now. I do not really know anything about the book series, so I cannot speak to that, but the film looks marginally interesting. It does not seem to bring anything exciting and fresh to the table. For me, the good cast, director, and crew are the only reasons I will see this. So many young adult film series are just terrible that it is hard to care about them until they are screened and the verdict is out. That said, however, this does have all the right pieces to make it something special. Trailer: Here.


Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin) – Adventure/Comedy Family Musical – Mar 21
Plot Summary: The Muppets, rediscovering their former success, decide to go on a world tour. Unfortunately, they find themselves pulled into a European jewel-heist caper, when a Kermit the Frog look-alike sabotages the real Kermit and takes his place among the Muppets. Filmmakers: The good news for fans of The Muppets is that most of the creative people involved are returning for Muppets Most Wanted, including director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller, and songwriter/music supervisor Bret McKenzie. The sad news is that the driving creative force behind the last film, Jason Segel, is not returning in any capacity. Bobin is again working with composer Christophe Beck and cinematographer Don Burgess, while production designer Eve Stewart is new to the team. Cast: Along with the Muppets, the film stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell. It also again features a ton of cameos (my favorites: Tom Hiddleston, Christoph Waltz, and Jemaine Clement). Expectations: Muppets Most Wanted is a family film that can be enjoyed by the whole family – and not just young kids. The highlight of The Muppets was its brilliant songs (winning an Oscar for Man or Muppet – which was my favorite part of the whole film), and with Bret McKenzie returning the same will likely be true again. The main cast also features really good comedians who should play off the Muppets really well. This is certainly a must-see for Muppets’ fans and movie-going families. Trailer: Here.

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