Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Blended – Romantic Comedy – May 23
Plot Summary: Jim and Lauren meet on a blind date. It goes poorly. They hope to never see each other again. Inexplicably, they end up stuck together, along with their respective kids, on an African Safari. As these things usually go, they experience Stockholm syndrome and begin to fall in love with each other, while their respective kids start to get along (while also being unruly). Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Frank Coraci and producer Adam Sandler. Actors Involved: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Terry Crews, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale, and Kevin Nealon. Potential: At this point, Adam Sandler has pretty much squandered all his goodwill. There is none left, and yet his films continue to make money because people like to laugh at stupid things. Maybe his best film is The Wedding Singer (which Frank Coraci also directed), and his other collaboration with Drew Barrymore, 50 First Dates, is also well-liked (more or less), so why not just throw them together again, it cannot be any worse than anything else he has made recently. On a side note, Terry Crews is fantastic. Trailer: Here.


Million Dollar Arm – Sports Drama – May 16
Plot Summary: J.B. Bernstein is a sports agent who is all washed up, but unlike Jerry Maguire not a single client believes in him. Desperate to get back on his feet and back in the game, he comes up with a crazy idea: why not transform an Indian Cricket player into a professional baseball pitcher. And yes, this is based on a true story. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Craig Gillespie, writer Thomas McCarthy, composer A.R. Rahman, and executive producer Bill Simmons (for sports fans). Actors Involved: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Bar Paly, Alan Arkin, and Suraj Sharma (who some will know from Life of Pi). Potential: Million Dollar Arm looks like a typical Disney live-action release: lots of sappy charm (like another baseball movie The Rookie). That said, this does have a good team behind the camera. Todd McCarthy is a very good writer of dramas (The Station Agent, The Visitor, Up, Win Win – all very good) and Craig Gillespie is a versatile director. This very well could be a sleeper for May. I also love baseball movies. Honestly, I even really like For Love of the Game. Trailer: Here.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Action/Adventure/Superhero – May 2
Plot Summary: Peter Parker is back with a new adventure. He is still trying to find out what happened to his father who mysteriously disappeared, which leads him back to Oscorp. To stop him, Oscorp throws a bunch of villains at him, like Electro, Rhino, and Green Goblin, because why not. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Marc Webb, writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, composers Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, and Hans Zimmer, cinematographer Daniel Mindel, and production designer Mark Friedberg. Actors Involved: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott, and Chris Cooper. Potential: The first The Amazing Spider-Man was a bit of a letdown overall, really only succeeding on the chemistry and talent of its leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (their stuff is fun), but never approaching the heights of Sam Raimi’s first two films. The first also had the awkwardness of again rehashing the origin story. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, free from this, has now the potential to tell a new story for Peter Parker, and Sony is certainly throwing a lot of talent at it (although, I would argue that the writing team of Orci and Kurtzman’s success is completely dependent on the quality of the director, and Marc Webb is only ordinary, thus will this new Spider-Man ever really be something special?). I suspect that the film will be entertaining and fun, but again not approaching the quality of the best superhero films (the likes of Spider-Man 2 for example). And yet, Garfield and Stone will probably be great in this and I am optimistic that the other actors will bring something to the film as well this time (unless they are terribly underwritten like the Lizard was last time). Trailer: Here.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi/Superhero – May 23
Plot Summary: The future is a mess with robotic monsters laying waste to mutants and humans alike, in a ploy to change the future, Professor X and Magneto send Kitty Pryde back in time…wait, wait that is the comic, I am sorry, I forgot this is the movie version of the X-Men, which really means Wolverine…Professor X and Magneto send Wolverine back in time to warn their younger selves about the events that lead to the destruction of the world as they know it. To change the future, they must change the past (or something like that, it is time travel, it does not make sense). Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Bryan Singer. Actors Involved: Every X-Man to ever appear ever…not really, but there are a lot, here are the highlights: Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman (WOLVERINE!!!), James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart. Potential: Sadly, Matthew Vaughn did not return to direct and write this movie. It is a big loss. His X-Men: First Class is by far the best in the series (like, it is not even close). So, we are left with Bryan Singer returning to the fold, and he is bringing his X-Men cast with him (because what we all want is more Halle Berry as Storm – said nobody, ever, or almost every other actor from his films as their characters; that said, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are fantastic and the redeeming quality of that original trilogy, if it can even be redeemed). Singer has made a film that looks massive and incredibly ambitious. It actually looks really cool, but I am of course highly skeptical, you know because of every other film he has ever made being mediocre. Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but honestly, those first two X-Men films are poor by comparison to what Vaughn did and the cast he assembled. I am also completely over Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Why does X-Men: Days of Future Past need to be yet another Wolverine movie? Oh that is right, because Fox thinks that he is the only character general audiences care about. And sadly, they might be right. X-Men: First Class, the only X-Men film to not feature Wolverine heavily (he only has a cameo) is also the lowest grossing (I think). So Fox will just keep rolling out Wolverine stand alone and Wolverine plus pals films. Okay, okay, enough complaining. The film looks big and should be entertaining. Maybe Singer will pull it off? It is not impossible. Trailer: Here.

Maleficent – Action/Adventure/Fantasy – May 30
Plot Summary: This is basically a live-action version of Sleeping Beauty, but focusing more on the villain character of Maleficent, her backstory and such. It also features Princess Aurora heavily as well, and their dynamic (which could be interesting). Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Robert Stromberg. Actors Involved: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Sam Riley, and Lesley Manville. Potential: I am all for these new live-action adaptation of the fairytales that Disney did fantastically as animated films. I like the characters. I like the stories. But, so far, they have not been very good at all. Alice in Wonderland is fairly awful and Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman is very forgettable. Maybe Maleficent will be the film to break the curse? Disney has hired Oscar winning visual effects man Robert Stromberg to make his feature directorial debut. I just hope that this film, like Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful (which I mostly liked because of what Sam Raimi brought to it), will not be too dependent of visual effects and thus lacking good narratives and characters. Stromberg does have a good cast. Angelina Jolie very well could can a wonderful Maleficent (she looks great in the trailer), and Elle Fanning, Juno Temple, and Sharlto Copley are all actors that I enjoy. I do not really expect great things for this film, but I hope that it is much more satisfying than the few updated fairytales we have seen so far – a step in the right direction ahead of the Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and Cinderella updates. Trailer: Here.


Walk of Shame – Comedy – May 2
Plot Summary: Meghan is a news reporter who dreams of becoming an anchor. Finally, after years of waiting and hard work, she has the opportunity of a lifetime – a job interview to be a news anchor. But, she decides to go out and celebrate the night before. Things get out of hand, and she finds herself stranded in Downtown L.A. without a phone, car, ID, or money. She has only eight hours to make it to the interview. What will she do?!?!? Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Steven Brill. Actors Involved: Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Gillian Jacobs, Sarah Wright Olsen, and Ethan Suplee. Potential:  Most people will probably recognize the name Steven Brill as the director of a couple Adam Sandler films from the early 2000s (if they recognize it at all, which probably asking too much). His track record is very terrible. The last two films he wrote were Ready to Rumble and Little Nicky, and the last two films he directed were Drillbit Taylor and Without a Paddle (but for those with fond memories of The Mighty Ducks Trilogy, he did write those films too). So basically, Walk of Shame being watchable is completely dependent on the comedic talent of Elizabeth Banks; and to that degree, the film does have a check in the positive column (but that might be the only one, well also one for Gillian Jacobs supporting, she is really funny too). Watch this at your own discretion. Trailer: Here.

Neighbors – Comedy – May 9
Plot Summary: Mac and Kelly Radner have a good, peaceful life in the suburbs with their newborn child. Everything changes, however, when a fraternity buys the house next door and converts it into their frat house. The Radner’s try to play nice, but the noise, parties and other antics drive them up a wall. They decide to engage in a prank war with the frat, thinking it will scare them off. Big mistake. Things escalate to unforeseen heights of madness and debauchery. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Nicholas Stoller and producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. Actors Involved:  Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jake Johnson, Lisa Kudrow, Carla Gallo, Craig Roberts, and Jason Mantzoukas (who is fantastically funny in The League). Potential: Neighbors has a lot of comedic talent behind it. Director Nicholas Stoller previously directed the very funny films Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and The Five-Year Engagement. Meanwhile, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen are responsible for Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This Is the End. Neighbors is the first potentially great R-rated comedy of 2014 and a dark horse for both comedy of the year and best film of May. The film has played to excellent audience reaction during a few preview screenings (like at SXSW). Critics also seemed to be enamored with it. This is worth checking out for fans of R-rated comedy. Trailer: Here.

A Million Ways to Die in the West – Comedy/Western – May 30
Plot Summary: Albert is a cowardly farmer, but somehow he has wooed a mysterious new woman who has come to town. He must summon up his courage, however, when her husband, a notorious gun-slinging villain, arrives in town looking for her. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Seth MacFarlane. Actors Involved: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Christopher Lloyd, and Wes Studi. Potential: I thought Ted was funny and I like Family Guy and American Dad!, but A Million Ways to Die in the West looks kind of ho-hum and a bit lazy comedy wise. I will still rent it, but I am not convinced that it is worth seeing in theaters. Comedy and the Western genre are things that usually do not go well together (unless you like Little Big Man or Blazing Saddles, both of which many do). This seems like a parody of the western genre, but that genre is honestly and sadly all but dead in modern filmmaking. Usually, parodies work because of their proximity to what they are making fun of, but here MacFarlane is basically kicking a corpse (when, and maybe this is just me, seeing westerns return as a viable genre would be great). All that said, MacFarlane does have a talent for jokes and makes the absurd work. This could end up being incredibly funny. Trailer: Here.

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