Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two very sad passings: Gloria Stuart and Sally Menke

The film world has suffered two great losses this week - of a familiar and unfamiliar name - but both were vital in their own ways.

The first loss, was, of course, Gloria Stuart, whom most people know as the elder Rose in Titanic.  She had a solid career in cinema's early days, having appeared in everything from movies with Shirley Temple to James Whale-directed frighteners like The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House. She never became a great star, a fact she lamented, but she was always a striking presence in those films. She wasn't quite the tough dame but not quite the damsel in distress, either. She occupied a fascinating middle ground, and had a very striking look.

Perhaps this is suggestion is a little too on the nose, but she had a fascinating life - and you know who I'd like to see play her in a biopic? Kate Winslet. It will probably never happen, but it's a tantalizing prospect.

On balance, though, it's probably better that she wasn't better known, because otherwise, she would not have gotten the part of Rose in Titanic - a part she played beautifully. Her Oscar nomination for that film wasn't just a case of "Let's give the old movie star something before it's too late" - she fully deserved her nod. Again, she struck just the right balance between spunkiness and sensitivity. And if you ask me, she, not Kim Basinger of LA Confidential - should have WON the Oscar. But living to be 100 was a great reward. Wasn't she a dish?

The other passing this week was of a woman whose name few people know, but her work has been seen and admired by millions, even if they don't know what exactly it is they're admiring. Sally Menke, who edited all of Quentin Tarantino's films, perished in a hiking accident Tuesday. She was only 56.

Many tributes to Menke will call attention to big action scenes like the fights in Kill Bill or the car chase in Death Proof - as well they should. Her work on those scenes was among the best of their kind. 

However, I think Menke's best work was in the kind of editing you're not supposed to notice, like the date between Vincent and Mia in Pulp Fiction - and no, I'm not talking about the dance scene or the needle into the heart. I'm talking about the conversations of the date. Check it out again and listen. They're perfectly balanced. Tarantino has said the date was originally much longer, but he and Menke cut it down to perfect effect so it had just the right air of mystery. 

Whenever Pulp Fiction is shown on TV now, it includes a scene excised from the theatrical cut - the "Beatles people vs. Elvis people" scene between Travolta and Thurman. It's a great scene. It's probably the most widely quoted scene that was not actually in a movie. But Menke and Tarantino were right to cut it, because it dispels the mystique around Thurman's character too soon. 

That's where Menke truly excelled. Check out her work in Jackie Brown, which I think is Tarantino's second-best film, and certainly his most mature one. That film juggles multiple characters and subplots, but the movie breathes just right. The viewer never gets lost and gets caught up in the overlapping stories. That's the mark of  a great editor. 

If you have Netflix, check out the editing documentary The Cutting Edge, which has interviews with Menke and Tarantino, and you'll see what I mean. More importantly, you'll learn more about an "invisible" art at which Menke excelled. (Note: The free streaming ends this Thursday, so catch it soon.)

For Sally, for Quentin and for us who love their movies,  final cut has come far too soon. 

Bye Sally.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Maybe money never sleeps, but Oliver Stone's follow-up to his 1987 film comes closer than I expected to being drowsy.

It's a perfectly decent, enjoyable picture, but coming from a firebrand like Stone, it feels surprisingly tame. A movie with a plot wrapped around our economic woes would seem rife with dramatic possibilities, but it doesn't really mine them as deeply as I hoped.

The film begins with Gordon Gekko's release from prison, claiming among his belongings a mobile phone the size of a shoe. Crossing his path is - what else? - a young, opportunistic hustler, Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf), who falls under Gekko's spell. Gekko may not be rolling in dough anymore, but he still has charisma to spare, and Jake is hooked.

And this time, the emotional stakes are high  - Jake just happens to be engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) - and she refuses to have anything to do with her father.

On paper that sounds dramatically intense - on film, not so much. And that's strange. The actors all do good work. If anything, years of wear and tear on Gekko makes him more interesting for Douglas to play, and he does so to the hilt. Shia is well cast as the cocky rookie, and Mulligan is one of the brightest talents around. Stone directs the picture energetically, as well, creating several montages that pulse with energy, and the sequel moves fairly briskly.

Usually, however, if Stone errs, he does so by overplaying his hand, often underlining his points with sledgehammer dialogue. This time, however, the movie feels undercooked.

The original Wall Street had a fairly predictable plot, but it unfolded with a sense of urgency - and that sense is mostly missing here. And as is so often the case, I think the failure lies at script level. LaBeouf's character doesn't have much depth, so it's hard to develop a rooting interest in him. Gekko's daughter spends most of her time either scowling or crying - and not even Mulligan's considerable charisma can make her character compelling beyond surface level.

With all the financial peril in the headlines, the movie is certainly timely - and yet, in a strange way, maybe that's why it feels half -baked. Bombarded as we are with information 24/7 about the economy, a movie about it feels like old news by the time it comes out.

Wall Street famously told us that "greed is good." This new film tells us it's legal. As Gekko points out, his misdeeds were small time compared to today's financial shenanigans, and the sequel doesn't capitalize on that enough. The new movie doesn't crash, but it certainly doesn't explode either. GRADE: B-

Oeuvres: Oliver Stone

When many people think of Oliver Stone, the first word that comes to mind is "controversy." The first word that comes to my mind is "frustrating."

There is no doubt that Stone is a very skilled director. The trouble is, Stone himself often seems to doubt that.

Time and again in his films, Stone stages brilliant visual sequences, with his early- to mid-90s work being especially enthralling. Using hallucinatory imagery and innovative cutting, Stone's movies in this period were often hypnotic and mesmerizing.

However, his biggest flaw in all his movies is, he doesn't trust his own instincts. He'll do a great job pf making a point visually, then he'll beat the viewer over the head with truly ham-fisted dialogue that dilutes the power of the film. Sometimes the man just doesn't know how to get out of his own way - and more to the point, doesn't know when to shut the hell up.

When Stone does control his excesses, however, he's one of the best directors working. Here's my overview of his films I've seen, which excludes his early work. Given what I've heard about The Hand, that's probably all for the better. A review of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps will follow soon.

Salvador: The first part of a terrific one-two punch that established Stone as a director. The storytelling (and indeed the story itself) is a bit high strung, but James Woods' outstanding work as Richard Boyle carries the film. GRADE: B+

Platoon: If Salvador put Stone on the map, Platoon is the movie that made him an A-lister. Despite some overwrought dialogue, this is still the best Vietnam movie ever made. Sorry, Deer Hunter. Sorry, Apocalypse Now. And sorry, Full Metal Jacket. GRADE: A+

Wall Street: A movie about insider trading might not seem a ripe subject for high drama, but Stone pulls it off by getting some excellent performances from the cast and crafting fine, Scorsese-like visuals in some scenes. If only it were a bit less dramatically obvious ... GRADE: B+

Talk Radio: Few people have seen what is essentially a one-man show with Eric Bogosian as a caustic radio talk show host, and more's the pity. This is one of Stone's most underrated films, with the director and cinematographer Robert Richardson crafting striking imagery out of a limited setting. GRADE: A-

Born on the Fourth of July: The story of Vietnam vet Ron Kovic starts out very well, and then loses its way in the second half once Kovic comes home and struggles with his demons, and Stone struggles to keep his dramatics from overheating. Still, one of Tom Cruise's best performances makes it highly watchable. GRADE: B+

The Doors: Denis Leary summed up the dramatic arc of this film very well. "I'm drunk, I'm nobody; I'm drunk, I'm famous; I'm drunk, I'm dead." A fine lead performance by Val Kilmer and some trippy visuals can't save it. GRADE: C

JFK: Here is the film that is most emblematic of Stone's career. He crafts an astonishing look and feel for the movie, brilliantly capturing the paranoia surrounding the Kennedy assassination - then he undermines it with dull homefront sequences and courtroom speeches that don't just beat the audience over the head - they pummel it with a jackhammer. But even if one thinks it's BS as a historical document, it's visceral power deniable only by the foolish. Sadly, the only version available on DVD is the longer director's cut, which magnifies the flaws and is worth only a B. The theatrical cut is good enough to rate an A-.

Heaven and Earth: Stone's third film in his Vietnam triptych is the least successful. There are good performances and individual moments of power, but the story simply isn't especially well told. GRADE: C+

Natural Born Killers: If the script were as good as the direction, this would be one of Stone's best. As it is, it's the old familiar tale: great visuals, painful sledgehammer storytelling, For the wild imagery alone, though, it's unforgettable. GRADE: B+

Nixon: Stone takes his unorthodox, hypnotic visuals and makes them work in a most unexpected place: a presidential biography. And for once, the script doesn't undercut the film too badly. Terrific acting also bolsters this attempt not to condemn or pardon Nixon, but to understand him. GRADE: A

U-Turn: Once again, the visuals are hypnotic and the cast is solid - but this time the story is so undercooked as to barely be memorable. GRADE: C+

Any Given Sunday: Stone's football movie has some good acting, particularly from Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz, who turns in a surprisingly tough performance. They make it worth a look, but again, the story doesn't stick. GRADE: B-

Alexander: Hoo boy. All of Stone's worst tendencies come to the fore here. And this time, not even the visuals are enough to save what is a long, slow, and improbably boring mess. GRADE: D+

World Trade Center: Stone redeems himself by exercising restraint and simply telling a story straight and telling it very, very well. Some might miss Stone's florid images, but a story this powerful has no need for them. Excellent. GRADE: A+

W.: Stone's second attempt to understand an often vilified president isn't as successful as the first, partly because of cheap psychology,  and partly because Bush was still in office when this was made and so was unfinished.  It's just compelling enough to work, and Josh Brolin's lead performance is outstanding. GRADE: B 

To be continued ...

Friday, September 24, 2010


Emma Stone has bloomed into a leading lady.  But she's not QUITE the "it" girl. And that's why Easy A truly lives up to its name.

Make no mistake - all those people who have hailed the movie as Stone's coming out party are absolutely correct. She is simply sensational playing a girl who enjoys her new notoriety as the school harlot after  the rumor mill buzzes that she's done it - never mind that she didn't.  I first took notice of her as someone to watch in Superbad. She was also great fun in The House Bunny, one of the few Happy Madison/Adam Sandler movies with at least half a brain. And she was great again in the hilarious Zombieland

Easy A marks the first time she has to carry a picture, and she doesn't just carry it - she gives it a piggyback ride, flips it in the air and then catches it again on her very capable shoulders. Stone is wonderfully sassy and sarcastic. At one point in the film, talking about The Scarlet Letter, she deadpans, "Make sure you watch the original, not the Demi Moore movie where she talks in a fake British accent and takes a lot of baths." Give that girl an Oscar nod, not just a Golden Globe nod.

And yet, it is almost possible to overpraise Stone. She's tremendous, but she isn't the whole show. Notice the number of talented adults in the cast: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her parents. Thomas Haden Church as her favorite teacher. Lisa Kudrow as the guidance counselor All are terrific, and I don't think they all would have been here if the script by Bert V. Royal weren't crafted so well. 

Not only is Easy A very funny, it's also very smart - smart enough to give its story and characters real weight. I loved that the parents weren't the usual well-meaning dolts who come through with the pearls of wisdom at just the right moment. I loved the teacher's new world weary rant about Facebook, addict though I am. And I especially loved that Bert V. Royal's screenplay creates real consequences - there's much more at stake in the movie than mere popularity.

My only significant quibble is the overemphasis of the religious zealots who make Stone's life miserable. For one thing. lampooning these Bible-thumpers is akin to shooting fish (and loaves) in a barrel. And for another, Saved mined similar territory more gracefully. Amanda Bynes plays the ringleader very well, but Mandy Moore got there first and did it even better.

Even if the movie sometimes picks easy targets, it hits all of them. Easy A is the best high school comedy since Mean Girls - and like Mean Girls, it's not just for teens. This is a movie for people who graduated high school (and college) too. 

GRADE: A- (Natch)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

REVIEW: The Town

Ben Affleck's The Town never really surprised me - and that's both a complaint and a compliment.

It seems to have surprised a number of my critical brethren, who have generally exclaimed, "Wow, Ben Affleck really CAN direct," and/or "Wow, the chick from Gossip Girl really CAN act!" While I agree on both counts, neither of these views surprised me. Affleck had already turned in the very assured Gone Baby Gone, and as such, I had faith in his talent. If Affleck cast Blake Lively, I was reasonably confident she could do something other than a wear a cleavage-baring dress.

Everyone in the A-list cast delivers, but I was most impressed by Rebeca Hall's touching, nuanced performance. From Vicky Cristina Barcelona to The Prestige to Please Give and beyond, Hall always makes for an engaging presence that suggests something intense lurking beneath her placid surface, and that's especially true here, where she plays a bank manager who unknowingly falls for one of the men who abducted her (Affleck). Jon Hamm proves himself a very capable  action hero of sorts, and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) performs well as Affleck's hot-headed cohort, though I do hope Renner doesn't get typecast as "the loose cannon" too often.

What's truly impressive about The Town is what goes on behind the camera. Affleck directs cleanly and confidently, and what helps here are key behind-the-scenes personnel. His cinematographer is Robert Elswit and his editor is Dylan Tichenor, both Paul Thomas Anderson regulars. Other key collaborators include second-unit director Alexander Witt, and additional editor Christopher Rouse, both veterans of the Bourne series, who came in handy in shaping the complex and exciting action scenes.

As accomplished and enthralling as The Town often is, it doesn't quite hit the heights of other recent Boston crime dramas like The Departed or Mystic River, the latter of which is particularly echoed in this picture. The script, by Affleck, Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig, based on Chuck Hogan's  novel Prince of Thieves, unfolds rather predictably and isn't very good about misdirecting from its big reveals. Nothing here should come as a great surprise to anyone unless they've seen very few crime movies.  The ending, in particular, is too neat and tidy.

Still, The Town's flaws detract very little from it's considerable impact. Blake Lively should no longer have to atone for being a babe on a CW show, and Affleck does not have to atone for the J.Lo years either.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Second Rapunzel trailer less Tangled than the first

Disney has released a second trailer for its November fairy tale, Rapunzel, which I refuse to call by its more marketable than thou name.

That's appropriate, considering this trailer is much more Rapunzel-centric than the first trailer, which baffled many  people, including me. Disney seemed to be trying so hard to sell a princess movie to boys that it seemed to me to be in danger of selling its soul. It was just this sort of clouded thinking that contributed to Disney animation's decline in the past decade.

I will give credit where it's due. The new trailer is an improvement over the first. Maybe that's because I'm somewhat old-fashioned in my Disney tastes, and because I think Mandy Moore, who voices the lead, is an underrated talent.

But Disney isn't quite out of the woods here, in more ways than one. The trailer gives no indication that the movie is a musical, but it is - with songs by Alan Menken, no less - the composer of Disney's latter glory days who wrote the music for the "big three" - The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Shouldn't that be a selling point?

Apparently not. Does Disney think that the mention of songs will send today's kids screaming for the hills, even in a more female-centric trailer?

Then again, Menken's partner on this picture is Glenn Slater, who collaborated with him on the utterly forgettable songs for the udderly forgettable Home on the Range, so maybe Disney has a point, though I prefer to give Menken the benefit of the doubt.

At the very least, this new trailer gives me more hope than the old trailer that Rapunzel will be a fun film - even if Disney's marketing is awfully tangled.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A few words on Jean Arthur/The Devil and Miss Jones

Jean Arthur rarely ranks among the very greatest stars of all time. That's both unfair - and kind of fitting.

It's unfair because Arthur had an irresistible charm, and what made it so irresistible was that she wasn't really trying to lay on the charm, like, say, Marilyn Monroe - she just naturally was. And yet her not falling into most greatest stars lists is appropriate, because she had a way about her that was different from other great players. She didn't have the effervescence of Audrey Hepburn or the snap of the other Hepburn, Kate - but her characters combined a shield of sass that masked a core of romanticism. That made her fascinating.

I've seen quite a few of her pictures (as they called them back in her day), and many of them are flat-out classics. Even if they're not, they're at the least very good, partly because she's in them. Such is the case with The Devil and Miss Jones (1941, Sam Wood) which I watched last night. Charles Coburn stars as an uber-wealthy department store owner who poses as a lowly employee to thwart unionizers  - and one of those employees is Arthur.

The movie loses focus whenever it concentrates on anyone besides Coburn and Arthur, especially toward the end, but on the whole, it's great fun and well worth seeing. Jean Arthur always is.


The Jean Arthur films I've seen:

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
You Can't Take it With You
Only Angels Have Wings
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Talk of the Town
A Foreign Affair

PS - Whatever you do, don't mix this up with The Devil IN Miss Jones. 'Nuff said.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Big ol' review catch-up

It's time to play catch-up with all the movies I've seen lately but not reviewed. And it's also time to make a fall resolution: to begin reviewing films as I watch them to generate more posts here and bring things back to life a bit.

On the Big Screen

I Am Love: I had heard many good things about this film, from Tilda Swinton's fine performances to the lush cinematography. Both are indeed pluses, but Luca Guadagnino's overly showy direction kept pushing me away from the story, making the film a near miss. GRADE: C+

The Kids are All Right: Outstanding performances from all five principals (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) combine with a canny, observant script to make this the indie film of the year. Attention, Academy: This is an EXCELLENT occasion to get Julianne Moore her Oscar. GRADE: A

Please Give: Nicole Holofcener's film about New Yorkers around an irascible old woman has many knowing moments and an excellent cast. but the screenplay is ambitious to a fault. Holofcener tries to cover so much ground, she doesn't find a shape for everything she has to say - but it connects often enough to work. GRADE: B

Restrepo:  This documentary about U.S. troops stationed at a particularlly deadly outpost in Afghanistan captures very well the mix of emotions involved in enduring such a place. I only wish it had devoted a little more time delving into the personalities of the individual soldiers. I would have liked to have known them better.GRADE: B+

Piranha: This goofy, lurid remake offers up a surprising number of genuine scares - and I would rate it even higher even if it didn't go for the sick gross-out gag a few times too often. This was shot in 3D, but I saw it flat at a drive-in, and I would say that I missed something - except I'm rather glad that a bloody dismembered penis didn't break the fourth wall. GRADE: B

Solitary Man: Note to filmmakers: When you make a movie about a completely irredeemable prick, you have to give the audience something to latch onto in the script or the direction. This movie fails to do that. A strong cast tries their best, but when I don't care if a terminally ill man lives or dies, something has failed to connect. GRADE: C-

Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence's sensational performance as a young girl searching for her meth-head father has caused some people to mistake a very good film for a great one. The filmmaking is a bit too dry and ponderous, but Lawrence is a wonder. GRADE: B+

On the Small Screen

Following: Prototypical Christopher Nolan, which is to say that even in his early career, working in black and white with a shoestring budget, he was bending minds like no one else. I'd actually like to see him scale back and do something  more low-key again. GRADE: A

Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte: This high-camp follow-up to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, also starring Bette Davis and directed by Robert Aldrich, plays like a decent sequel - it's not as good as the original, but it's delerious enough to be effective. It's especially fun to see Olivia de Havilland chewing scenery. And gee, poor Bruce Dern - between this and Marnie, it appears his early career was devoted to being bloodily dispatched. GRADE: B

The Old Man and the Sea: The filming of Ernest Hemingway's classic novel unsurprisingly gets most of its power from Spencer Tracy's performance, but it tries too hard to maintain Heminway's prose in distrracting voice over narration. That narration breaks Billy Wilder's writing rule: When using voice-over narration, don't tell the audience what they already see. GRADE: B

Wild Boys of the Road: This is one of many very fine movies I discovered via  Martin Scorsese's Personal Journey Through American Movies. Directed by William Wellman, the film plays like a junior version of the seminal I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. The story structure is a bit repetitive (kids get in trouble, escape, kids get in trouble, escape), but it packs a punch nonetheless. GRADE: B+

Friday, September 10, 2010

The American is neither as good nor as bad as you've heard

On the one hand, there's Roger Ebert, who raves.

And then, on the other hand, there are members of the general public who rant.

Both reactions came  after seeing The American, George Clooney's latest film. Roger 4-starred it, but the general public forsook it, giving it a Cinemascore grade of D-. That's quite bad, considering the usually generous Cinemascore crowd rarely grades below a C.

Maybe it's the Libra in me, but I'm all about balancing the scales. As I so often do in disputes like this, I come down squarely in the middle. I LIKED The American, but I did not love it. I could understand why most audiences rejected it. The American is not for all tastes

If you harbor any resistance toward movies that are character studies -if you've never heard of director Michaelangelo Antonioni, whom Clooney's director Anton Corbijn tries to emulate - if your idea of a great action movie is anything with Stallone -  do  NOT see The American. You won't like it. You will find it about as exciting as watching a glacier melt. And the film movies at about the same speed.

But does that mean that if you like arthouse movies, and you know who Antonioni is, you will love The American? Not necessarily. I like arthouse movies and I know who Antonioni is, even though I've only ever seen Blow Up.  But I did not love The American. I thought the story of a weapons manufactuerer on the run was beautifully shot, with reliably solid work from George Clooney playing a lost soul.  Put in layman's terms, the theme of the movie is,  "It's no fun being a gunman." I found the idea of an assassin as a lonely soul was fascinating,

And yet, I found The American a little full of itself, a bit self-consciously pretentious. At heart, this is a tale best told as a short lasting an hour or less. But endless shots of Clooney's solitary  figure in a vast landscape overemphasize the themes of isolation and make the movie gaseous. There's just not much THERE there in the story. For me, that adds up to a good movie, not a great one. I'd give it a B.

So what do we learn from all this? Well, as many moviegoers have found out, trailers and TV spots can be deceptive. LA Times columnist Patrick Goldstein calls Focus Features disingenuous for knowing they had an arthouse movie on their hands but selling it as a thriller in the mold of Bourne or Bond.

But what else was Focus to do? If they sold the picture for what it really was, no one would have gone! People may come away hating the film, but it only cost about $30 million to make. It will turn a profit. Goldstein argues that Clooney may be hurt in the outcry over the film, but I doubt it. After all, this is a man who has made movies as uncommerical as Solaris and  The Good German. He's not going anywhere.

But you know who else could come out ahead in this? Critics.

That may sound preposterous because some people feel they got suckered by a movie those smarty-pants egghead critics liked. It just furthers the notion critics and Joe and Jane sixpack will never see eye to eye.

But you know what? The moral of the story is that even if you don't agree with critics, reading what we have to say will tell you what kind of film you're getting. We will tell you, better than the trailer, what the movie is like. You may not agree with us, but we'll be honest. Some people may say "If the critics like it, I'll hate it." Well, fine. So be it. Being used as a reverse divining rod is better than not being used at all.

But there's an even larger point to be made here. Movies come in all shapes and sizes, just like people do. Audiences may love Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, critics may hate it. Critics may like The American, even if audiences turn up their noses. And you know what? Both are OK. Neither means the death of American cinema. Popcorn flicks and arthouse fare will always be made, and as long as both are out there, then that's what matters.

The quote about movies I cite most often comes from Orson Welles, and it's especially apt here. He said, "To the movies, to good movies - to every possible kind."

He's right - even if you thought The American sucked.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Holiday movie preview: December/Undated

I changed the title of the blog post because even though most of December IS technically autumn, it just doesn't seem right to call it "fall," does it? On with the show ...


The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Narnia franchise moves from Disney to Fox, although I don't expect there will be much of a difference. One encouraging sign: the presence of the usually steady hand of Michael Apted behind the camera. PROSPECT: B

The Fighter: Amy Adams is in it, which is all I need to know, although I suppose it's also cool that Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg co-star and that David O. Russel (Three Kings, I (Heart) Huckabees) directs.  PROSPECT: A

The Tourist: The director of The Lives of Others makes a thriller with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. On the basis of the names alone, I'm interested. I shall withhold further judgment until I see a trailer. PROSPECT: B


How Do You Know: James L. Brooks directs Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson. Good enough for me, althrough it remains to be seen if this is closer to As Good as It Gets or Spanglish, the latter of which wasn't bad but needed an extra pass through the typewriter. PROSPECT: A

Tron Legacy: I had a big Tron Poster and the silly little electronic game when I was 12. I'm SO there. PROSPECT: A

Yogi Bear: Attention, Hollywood studios: Turning 2D cartoon characters into CG mutations is profoundly wrong and ugly, whether it's , Scooby-Doo, The Chipmunks or  Garfield. Enough!  PROSPECT: F


Gulliver's Travels: I like Jack Black and Emily Blunt but I have to agree with IMDB that this has a very Land of the Lost vibe too it. I'm wary. PROSPECT: C

Little Fockers: I'm not quite so in love with this series as the general public, but not quite so down on it as some critics. The notion of trying to shoehorn in Dustin Hoffman at the last minute via pickup shots troubles me. PROSPECT: B

True Grit: The Coens remake John Wayne's Oscar winner with Jeff Bridges in the lead. How can one NOT be interested in that? PROSPECT: A


The Debt: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) directs Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Tom Wilkinson in a story about Mirren being a Mossad agent. The premise and the trailer are intriguing enough.


Another Year: Mike Leigh directs. Attention must always be paid on that fact alone. PROSPECT: B

Black Swan: Darren Aronofksy moves from The Wrestler to The Dancer in a gritty ballet movie that is generating very strong buzz, particularly for Natalie Portman's performance. PROSPECT: A

Fair Game: Don't worry, this is not a remake of the Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford caper, but the film version of the Valerie Plame story, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts and directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity). PROSPECT: A

The King's Speech: The King in question is George VI, father of Elizabeth II. Such period pieces often strike me as stuffy, but I can't fault the cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi. PROSPECT: B

I Love You Philip Morris: This has been jockeyed all over the schedule, probably because the distributor fears that the notion of Jim Carrey playing a gay man in a dramatic role will make people's heads explode. Here's what makes my head explode: it's directed by the guys who wrote Bad Santa. PROSPECT: B

Never Let Me Go: Adapted from a story by Kazuro Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day,  the new film by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) has divided critics, with some saying it's a masterpiece and some saying it's too chilly and remote. But that very division is what intrigues me, along with the female leads: Keria Knightly and Carey Mulligan. PROSPECT: A

127 Hours: Danny Boyle follows up Slumdog Millionaire - and that's enough to hook me, but the premise ups the intrigue: a man becomes trapped under a boulder in a canyon and resorts to desperate measures to survive. PROSPECT: A

Somewhere: Sofia Coppola returns with a film about an actor (Stephen Dorff) holed up in the Chateau Marmont hotel, where his daughter (Elle Fanning) visits him. Dorff turns me off a bit, but Fanning is looking to match her sister in the eerie talent department. PROSPECT: A

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: The buzz says that Woody Allen's latest is not one of his better movies, but as a film buff, I must obey the commandment: Thou Shalt Always Give Woody a Shot.

What fall/holiday movies are you most looking forward to? Least? I would put The Social Network in the "most" slot and Yogi Bear in the "least" slot.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Fall movie preview: November

Apologies for the delay in continuing this preview - work got very busy and I needed the Labor Day weekend to recharge. Depending on how you're viewing this entry, my September and October entries can be seen either by scrolling down or hitting the hyperlinks.


Due Date: The trailers for this certainly look amusing enough, but I hope this isn't a case of huge hit (The Hangover) followed by letdown. That's another way of saying I hope the best jokes aren't all in the ads. PROSPECT: B

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf: Tyler Perry's movies have not interested me. Can't say if  this one, an adaptation of someone else's work, will be the one that hooks me. PROSPECT: C

Megamind: The good news is that DreamWorks has been on a strong streak of late, with How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After both being better than expected. The bad news is, the lead voice is Will Ferrell, whom I generally cannot stand. On the other hand. I did like him in Elf. We'll see. PROSPECT: B


Skyline: Yawn. Haven't we been through this before with War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Cloverfield,  etc. etc? It'll take more than a trailer showing the sky falling to hook me. Quite frankly, I'd be more interested if this were about the chili.  PROSPECT: C

Morning Glory: Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford in a morning news environment, directed by Roger Michell, who made Notting Hill and the underrated Changing Lanes? We're on in 5, 4, 3, 2 ... PROSPECT: A

Unstoppable: Well, that was quick. Just last year, Tony Scott and Denzel Washington took a train ride with their remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. That movie was decent, but rather tepid. The premise of this one, an out-of-control train,  looks just ridiculous enough that this movie might be more entertaining. PROSPECT: B


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I: The trailer boldly calls this, "The Motion Picture Event of a Generation" - and it actually doesn't sound like so much hyperbole. After all, can YOU think of another long-running franchise that has been so consistent? Where even the least compelling film (my vote is Chamber of Secrets) is still pretty good? Not even James Bond has managed that. PROSPECT: A

The Next Three Days: This thriller starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks and directed by Paul Haggis, about Banks being accused of murder and Crowe trying to clear her, looks pretty good - so why is Lionsgate  putting it up against Potter, which EVERYONE is going to see? Either Lionsgate knows something we don't or has performed the dumbest counter-programming of all time. PROSPECT: B


Burlesque: Co-starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. Wow. Sounds like a train wreck. Just hope it's the good kind. PROSPECT: C

Faster: Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton co-star in a revenge drama, directed by George Tillman, whose output is not all that distinguished. No read. PROSPECT: C

Love and Other Drugs: Anne Hathaway is earning very strong Oscar buzz for her reportedly sexually charged re-teaming with Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal - and this is romantic COMEDY, we're told. One blip is that the director is Edward Zwick, who is sometimes great (Glory) but is often middling (Blood Diamond, Defiance). PROSPECT: B

Red Dawn: Sigh - a remake of another movie where nostalgia clouds judgment, elevating a movie that was never that good in the first place. Casting for the Dirty Dancing reimagining in 5, 4, 3, 2 .... PROSPECT: C

Tangled: I really and truly hope the Disney magic is there with this musical fairy tale about Rapunzel. Yet I remain deeply suspicious of gearing the marketing to boys and changing the title in the wake of The Princess and the Frog's unspectacular box office. ("It underperformed because we didn't get the guys!") That's exactly the sort of corporate groupthink that stifled Disney animation in recent years. It would be the greatest joy of the season if the movie proved me wrong. PROSPECT : B

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fall movie preview: October

Ah, October 2010. It's looking to be an important month in a number of ways. Not only is it the month I turn 40, but it's also the month of some of the fall movies I most want to see - and some that I  least want to see.

In case you missed my September issue, click here.


Case 39: This wouldn't be one of the movies, but I am sort of intrigued by the idea of Renee Zellweger heading up a horror flick. Let's just hope she's done a better job of picking scripts than she has of late. It would not be good if this were the bloody equivalent of New In Town. PROSPECT: B

Let Me In: This isn't the movie I was referring to either, but I AM very curious to see this one. Since it's the American remake of the well-loved vampire film Let the Right One In, some will dismiss it out of hand. I'm going to give it a chance. The director, Matt Reeves, has talent - he made Cloverfield. And the lead is ideal: she's  Chloe Grace Moretz, a bright young talent who was the best thing about Kick Ass. PROSPECT: B

The Social Network: What's on your mind? Eric Robinette is majorly stoked to see the movie about Facebook's formative years. He also wants to see Rooney Mara, AKA The Girl who Will Play Lisbeth Salander in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. Eric Robinette likes David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. GRADE: A


Buried: There was a time when I would have applauded the idea of Ryan Reynolds being buried in a coffin underground, in a schadenfreude sorta way. Now I applaud it for more sincere reasons. The premise and the trailers have got me quite intrigued. PROSPECT: A

Life as we Know It: Katherine Heigl in a romantic comedy. Blah. And to think that once actually sounded attractive. Not after junk like The Ugly Truth. And supposedly Takers. PROSPECT: C

My Soul to Take: Normally I would scoff at 3D horror, but Wes Craven directed. Gotta give him a shot. PROSPECT: B

Secretariat: It has a fine cast with Joan Allen, and a great true-life sports story in the titular horse, but a mediocre director in Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask) and a mediocre writer in Mike Rich, who piles on the sentimental glop in treacle like Radio. Unless the reviews come in strong, I'll pass. PROSPECT: C

Jackass 3D: How to kill the 3D revival Part I. PROSPECT: F

Red: The good news: This thriller stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren. The bad news: It's from the writers of Whiteout and the indistinct director of Flightplan and The Time Traveler's Wife. Wait and see. PROSPECT: C


Hereafter: All you have to say is "Clint Eastwood directs," and I'm in. Don't care what it is. PROSPECT: A

Paranormal Activity 2: I liked the first Blair Witch Project. I heard the Blair Witch sequel sucked. I liked Paranormal Activity. Why do I get the sense history is about to repeat itself? PROSPECT: C


Saw 3D: How to Kill the 3D Revival Part II. PROSPECT: F

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fall movie preview: September

Having just returned from vacation, having played catch-up at work, and having noticed that it's now officially September, it's time to start the fall movie preview - even if it's officially still summer.

As always, each film gets a prospect grade, which goes like this.

A = Woohoo!
B = Cool
C = Eh.
D = *Mumble, grumble, gripe*
F=  #$!%!@$

Here's how September looks:


The American: If George Clooney toplines a film, I'm automatically there. Even when he kinda-sorta misses (e.g. The Men Who Stare at Goats) he at least misses in an interesting way. Those expecting a Bourne-style thriller may be disappointed; this feels much more low-key and European. In fact, I've heard it resembles the work of Antonioni, which to me is not entirely a good thing -  much of his work strikes me as self-important. Still, this is one of the top picks for the month, kinda by default. PROSPECT: B

Going the Distance: On again/off again couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long hook back up and - meh, can't find much of a reason to care. PROSPECT: C

Machete: The trailer from Grindhouse sprouts into a full-length movie. Looks rollicking enough, and I'll probably check it out, but Rodriguez's endless genre riffing is starting to feel a bit stale. PROSPECT: B


Resident Evil: Afterlife: I liked the first Resident Evil well enough, but not well enough to muster much interest in the sequels. PROSPECT: C


Devil: This jeopardy in-an elevator thriller actually looked fairly intriguing until seven unlucky words popped up onscreen: "From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan." What was once promising has become a total buzzkill.     I don't care if he didn't direct, his name has become a liability. Crowd in big cities have reportedly jeered when seeing Shyamalan's name - but it was happening in Dayton, Ohio too. Unless the reviews direct me otherwise, count me out. PROSPECT: D

Easy A: Teen comedies don't typically ring my bell, but this one has a funny premise (girl repeatedly fakes losing her virginity) and has a very appealing lead actress: Emma Stone, who was delightful in Superbad, The House Bunny and Zombieland, among others. Count me in. PROSPECT: B

The Town: I suppose one could say this looks a little too much like director Ben Affleck trying to be like Marty, but so what? The trailer is dynamite, and so is the cast. This is the movie I most want to see in September.  PROSPECT: A


Legend of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Gesundheit. And yeah, it looks like Happy Feathers as opposed to Happy Feet. But I am most intrigued by the director credit: Zack Snyder, that "visionary" who made 300 and Watchmen, but I won't hold the latter against him. PROSPECT: B

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps: Maybe money never sleeps, but the quality of Oliver Stone's movies has sort of been snoozy lately. Still, a sequel is more than a little timely, and he has an excellent cast. Let's just hope he doesn't give Mr. LaBeouf an excuse to bad-mouth the movie months down the line. PROSPECT: B

You Again: Certainly has a likable roster of actors, including Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Bell and the ubiquitous Betty White, but I have no read on this one. PROSPECT: C