Friday, February 27, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Street Fighter (1994)

Had I not been stricken with the flu over the last two days, I was planning on catching an early Friday morning screening of Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chin Li. Now that I've read the reviews, I'm sad that I didn't. Aside from the fact that it currently has a 0/20 on Rotten Tomatoes (can it equal or surpass 72 negatives out of 72 and take the One Missed Call perfect score award for 2009?), I can say that I haven't laughed this hard while reading bad reviews since The Cat And The Hat, back in November 2004. So, instead of trying to sit through the new movie, I made some chicken soup and decided to check out the recent Blu Ray release of the 1994 Street Fighter.

Street Fighter
1994
101 minutes
PG-13

Released over Christmas weekend to lousy reviews and break-even box office, the Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle has a certain infamy as it featured the last film work of critical darling Raul Julia. He took the role as lead villain M. Bison as a favor to his kids. Little did he know that he would die of a sudden stroke two months before the release date. He apparently was wheeled into the ambulance clutching the script for Robert Rodriguez's
Desperado.

However tragic that it may be that a great actor's last work should be a lead role in a big budget video game movie, one must acknowledge that Julia looks like he's having a blast during the entire film. And frankly, he's still the best reason to sit through this colorful, campy, guilty pleasure. Decked out in a red military jumpsuit with a long, flowing red cape, M. Bison proves that if you're going to have a villain say something like "Why do they still call me a warlord? And mad? All I want to do is to create the perfect genetic soldier. Not for power, not for evil, but for good," then he sure as hell better be wearing a cape.

Raul Julia's performance is full of choice nuggets like that. Whether explaining to a fellow villain that 'Bisonapolis' needs to expand the food court to allow all of the big franchises places to build, or using an arcade-style joy stick and six button set up to fire missiles at oncoming boats, Raul Julia's M. Bison seems a pitch perfect parody of over-the-top scenery chewing (and stealing) villainy that become fashionable after Die Hard and Batman. Among the lines of dialogue that I will now try to work into every day conversation:

"Behold, the face of your destruction, and of my victory!"
"What's the matter? You come to fight a madman, and instead find a god?"
"You do not deserve the martial dignity of a firing squad! No! You shall be killed by a wild beast, a beast BORN of my own genius! Raise the incubation chamber!"

It doesn't hurt that M. Bison is actually a menacing bastard, as he opens the film by snapping the necks of two of his hostages. You watch his performance, almost on edge, wondering what daffy, bat shit thing he's going to say next. One of my favorite bits comes at the end, right as Colonel Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme) and M. Bison face off for their final duel. Guile rips off his jacket and exclaims: "Are you man enough to face me?" M. Bison replies "Anyone who opposes me will be destroyed!" Uh... right. Now, to be fair, those are the lines that the respective characters say when you select them in the original game, but what's shocking is how not out of place Bison's inexplicable response is in the context of Julia's performance.

So, what about the rest of the film? Well, it's pretty terrible, albeit in a train wreck kind of way. It's written and directed by Steven E de Souza, who wrote three of the definitive action films of the 1980s (48 Hrs, Commando, and Die Hard). This is easily the brightest, lightest, happiest film ever made about murderous governmental regimes, UN hostage crises, and the slaughter of indigent people. There is a moment early on where Jean Claude and his team welcome a group of refugees, and they are easily the healthiest, happiest refugees I have ever seen; a few even have a skip in their step.

With the exception of Julia, Wes Studi (as crime boss Sagot), and Roshan Seth (as conflicted Dr. Dahlism), every other performance stinks to high heaven. Stilted line readings, awkward inflection, etc... you know you're in trouble when Jean Claude Vane Damme is arguably the fourth best actor in the film. But the film does amazingly find a place for all sixteen
Street Fighter characters, and only a few (T Hawk, Captain Sawada - a rejiggered version of Fei Long) are mere cameos. The action is perfunctory and at no point does anyone, I dunno, fight on a street, for money. By the climax, the film has morphed into a live action GI Joe film (M. Bison's henchmen even look like Cobra soldiers) and I defy you not the hum the GI Joe theme song as Guile's boat makes its way to Bison's fortress (yelling 'Yo Joe!' and 'Cobra!' at appropriate moments in optional).

As for the Blu Ray, Universal was nice enough to port over all of the extras from the standard definition release (deleted scenes, previews, commentary, featurettes, etc), as well as offering a handful of HD previews for the new video game: Street Fighter IV. As for the image, the picture falls into two categories. When the scenes are indoors and darkly lit, there is quite a bit of grain and what not. Fortunately, most of the film is shot either outdoors or in brightly lit interiors. And these portions look gorgeous. The image is bright, shiny, and abundantly colorful. Since I first saw the film in a second run theater, this is probably the best presentation I've ever seen of this particular movie. The packaging draws two complaints. First of all, Universal does that dumb thing where they put two actors side by side on the cover, and then bill them on the opposite sides. So you have Jean Claude Van Damme on the right and Raul Julia on the left. Yet Jean Claude Van Damme's name is first billed (on the top left), while Raul Julia gets second billing (top right). Second of all, this special re issue is called 'Extreme Edition'. C'mon Universal, have a sense of humor and call it 'Championship Edition Turbo Hyper Fighting'.

Yes, by any rational standard,
Street Fighter is a pretty lousy movie. But the sheer campy buzz, the cheerful exuberance (as opposed to the new film, which is allegedly dark, dour, and glum), combined with Raul Julia's possibly brilliant performance, makes this one worth a glance.

The Simpsons live on...


The Simpsons have just been renewed for another two seasons, which will send them sprinting past Gunsmoke as the longest running fictional prime time program (60 Minutes is now in its thirtieth season) . While the show may never again reach its peak of season 4-9, it has been in fine form for the last few years. Whether intentional or not, I always found it interesting that the show found its rhythm again during season 16 (2004/2005), which was right when Fox was bringing Family Guy back onto the air.

The Simpsons
will have 493 episodes at the conclusion of its 22nd season, so I'd be shocked if Fox didn't give them at least one more, so they could vault past the mythical 500 episode mark. As it is, it's difficult to imagine a world without new weekly episodes, The new title sequence highlights the rich tapestry of characters that make up Springfield and the enduring legacy that Matt Groening has created. There is little argument that the show is perhaps the greatest comedy ever made, and one of the very best TV shows in the history of the medium. That it has remained so good for so long is nothing short of a miracle.

Scott Mendelson

DVD Review: Watchmen The Complete Motion Comic (2009)

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic
2009
325 minutes
Not Rated
Available on DVD or Blu Ray on March 3rd.

by Scott Mendelson

Well, this is an interesting idea. As if we needed another reason to stop reading books, we now have the DVD equivalent of an audio book. Basically this two disc set contains the entire printed text of Alan Moore and David Gibbon's legendary graphic novel. With limited animation, occasional sound effects, and voice acting by Tom Stechschulte, this is the kind of project that lives or dies by the original subject matter. And since we're dealing with arguably one of the greatest comic books ever written, this 'watch the book' format is surprisingly involving.

Some plot - Set in an alternate 1985, where America won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon has been re-elected for the fifth time, this sordid, dense mystery involves the violent death of a government sanctioned vigilante known as The Comedian. The investigation brings about a reunion of sorts of former crime fighters, as the bitter, psychotic vigilante Rorschach is absolutely convinced that The Comedian's murder is both part of a plot against former costume heroes and somehow connected to the ever growing tensions between America and the Soviets.

The DVD is divided up into two discs, with chapters 1-6 on the first disc, and chapters 7-12 on the second. The total run time is a massive 5 hours and twenty-three minutes. While, as noted above, this is basically a glorified audio book, it works far better than I expected it to. The best compliment I can pay is this - I only watched the first chapter, as I'm seeing the movie on Tuesday and want to be able to judge it as a standalone movie rather than as an adaptation (it's been long enough since I last read the comic that I only remember the big plot points). Despite this intention, I genuinely wanted to continue and may in fact watch the whole thing once I've seen the film.

The image is crisp, clean, and brightly colorful. The animation is fluid and there are no complaints to be had with this fine video presentation. I'm sure the Blu Ray is better, but this is still a solid presentation. The DVD comes only with the single extra - a sneak peak at the new Wonder Woman film. The DVD also comes with a $7.50 coupon towards a ticket to the Watchmen feature. The Blu Ray apparently contains a brief featurette and a digital copy. Normally I couldn't care less about a digital copy, but surely something that is the equivalent of a book (IE - something to be read on the toilet) should have the option to be viewed on a portable video device.

In the end, this is a surprisingly successful experiment and a canny cross promotional item. Warner Bros can now say that they have given fans a completely faithful animated adaptation of Watchmen, regardless of how good or bad the Zack Snyder film is. It's very much a case of both having and eating your cake. In fact, as a bonus, this may be the first Alan Moore adaptation that Mr. Moore might actually approve of.

Film - A
Video - A-
Audio - B+
Extras - D

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weekend Box Office Finals (02/24/09)

Sorry for the delay... real life got in the way.

I usually make fun of people who are constantly astounded by Tyler Perry's box office prowess. But this time I'd wager even Mr. Perry himself was a little surprised at cracking the $40 million mark. Tyler Perry's seventh film, and his third Madea comedy, crushed the competition over Oscar weekend. Madea Goes To Jail grossed $41 million, becoming the holder of Lionsgate's biggest opening weekend ever (it's a whopping $8 million more than Saw III opened to back in October 2006). Aside from a cameo in Meet The Browns and occasional appearances on the TV series House Of Payne, Tyler Perry hasn't donned the fat suit since 2006's Madea's Family Reunion (which ended up with $63 million). In between Madea films, he's directed four films, produced two plays, and created two television shows. What have you done with yourself since Febraury 2006?

Perry burst onto the scene in 2005 with Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, which stunned everyone by grossing $21 million over opening weekend and finishing up with $50 million (I personally remember looking at the poster and thinking 'oh good, someone gave Steven Harris a lead role'). Perry's follow up was the $30 million opening for Madea's Family Reunion (it ended with $63 million). On the other hand, nothing he's done since has come even close to that watermark (which is ironic, as his films have gotten progressively better). Daddy's Little Girls, the only film in which Perry did not appear, opened to a mere $13 million and finished with $31 million. The follow up, Why Did I Get Married, featured prominent star turns by Perry and Janet Jackson, and opened to $21 million and finished with $55 million. Meet The Browns, which was actually a cocktail of several different Perry plays, opened with $20 million and closed with just under $42 million. Finally, The Family That Preys was crippled by snow storms over opening weekend and had to settle for a $17 million opening. Alas, it never recovered and ended up with $37 million.

So, as you can see, Madea Goes To Jail has out grossed the entire domestic figures of The Family That Preys and Daddy's Little Girls in just three days. It was less than $1 million away from Meet The Browns, so we can assume that Madea Goes To Jail is now Perry's fourth highest grossing film. By next weekend, assuming it doesn't tumble harsher than other Perry pictures (they usually drop upwards of 50% in the second weekend), it will be his new champion. This isn't just a case of Madea fans coming out in force. Perry really hit the press circuit on this one, and Lionsgate cut a very broad ad campaign that emphasized the larger than life nature of Madea, rather than the spiritual and moralistic elements at play with Perry's output. As a friend put it, Tyler Perry snagged the 'Paul Blart demographic' with this one.

Of course, we'll see how those unsuspecting white and/or agnostic viewers take to the heavily spiritual and somewhat socially conservative content mixed in with the 'big fat black guy in a dress' comedy. Regardless, it is absolutely shameful that no one has bothered to cast Perry in a big studio tent pole. Hell, he'd probably have better luck in Beverly Hills Cop IV than Eddie Murphy would at this point. Cast him alongside Adam Sandler in a comedy and everybody wins. He's a solid actor and he obviously has a big, expanding fan base. Although JJ Abrams is taking a step in the right direction, casting Perry as 'Starfleet Academy President' in the new Star Trek film.

There are only three other box office stories of note. First of all, Taken will cross $100 million next weekend, which is incredible considering the film had been released in Europe for almost a year and there has been a DVD quality bootleg available online for months (I guess piracy isn't the great Satan of Hollywood). This is a huge win for Fox and if they have half a brain, we will see a sequel in the next two years. Secondly the absolutely fantastic Coraline has now surpassed Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride and the original release gross of The Nightmare Before Christmas (counting those Halloween 3D re releases, the original Henry Selick directed picture has grossed $75 million). As of the next couple days, it will surpass the $56 million gross of Wallace And Gromit: Curse Of The Were Rabbit to become the second highest grossing stop-motion animation picture, behind Chicken Run (which grossed $107 million). Of course, the big problem will come next weekend, when it loses most if not all of its 3D screens to The Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.

The last major story is the epic, hilariously appropriate death plunge of New Line and Paramount's Friday the 13th reboot. It grossed $40 million last weekend. It did just $7.9 million this weekend, equaling a stunning 80% plunge. While it's only 6th on the all-time drop list, it's by far the biggest plunge for a movie that actually had anything approaching a decent opening weekend. Forget what I said about not making it to $100 million... this one won't make it to $75 million. We're talking about a movie that will do nearly 55-60% of its total gross over its first three days. Still, chalking up to the low budget and likely shelf life on DVD, this is still a big hit for New Line Cinemas. It certainly seems like New Line is quickly becoming the Tupac Shakur of film studios, finding its strongest success after its death.

Anyway, tune in next weekend (if time allows) for the um... much anticipated debut of Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chin Li (on the plus side, I hear the new game is pretty terrific). We'll also finally see the release of the much delayed (and allegedly much tinkered with) immigration drama, Crossing Over (co-starring Harrison Ford, in a 'sorry I turned town Traffic' supporting turn). Alas, expect Jonas Brothers to win the day. I'm expecting as large a showing as last year's Hannah Montana 3D concert, if not larger (after all, girls will see a movie just because they lust over the Jonases, while boys would not do the same for Hannah Montana).

Scott Mendelson

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Wonder Woman (2009)

Wonder Woman
2009
74 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

For at least the last twenty years, Warner Bros and DC Comics have struggled in vain to launch a live action feature for the female member of DC's holy trinity. While Superman and Batman have both come, gone, and returned, Wonder Woman has yet to find her way to the silver screen. Warner Bros can take their time. Meanwhile, fans and newbies alike can enjoy the animated feature of the legendary Amazon princess. Exciting, funny, violent as hell, and displaying an almost angry feminist streak, Wonder Woman succeeds so well as a definitive origin story that it almost renders the eventual live-action movie a moot point.

A token amount of plot - Born of clay as a gift from the Gods, Princess Diana spends her days training for battles that will never be fought, as she lives with her mother Hippolyta and her many Amazon sisters in the mysterious, peaceful island of Themyscira. Long shielded from the realm of man, the inhabitants of Themyscira are tested when American fighter pilot Steve Trevor inexplicably crashes into their world. Left without recourse, Princess Diana must deliver Steve Trevor safely back to America while simultaneously hunting down Ares, the God of War whose past rampage caused Queen Hippolyta to isolate her people.

While the plot is relatively routine, the film delivers in spades elsewhere. The animation is razor sharp, per the norm for the Bruce Timm gang. The drawings are slightly more angular than those found in Justice League, and the character models reflect a strong attempt to differentiate itself from the 1990s Timm cartoons. The all-star cast (including Virginia Madsen, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, and Oliver Platt) never become bigger than their characters, and it is a testament to them that I didn't spend the whole film playing 'guess the voice actor'. The characters are vivid and sympathetic, and the dialogue is sharp and quippy. Even the villains are given shading. The emotional high point involves a dying declaration of a traitorous sister, as she plausibly explains why she turned on her fellow Amazons.

The many action scenes are both epic in scope and intimate in detail. Parents of very young children are forewarned - this one earns its PG-13. The film is filled with pervasive, painful, occasionally bloody violence (the first cut apparently earned an R). The opening and closing battles are a joy to behold, and they represent some of the finest action set pieces in the DC animated universe. And, as befits its nature as a true feminist film, the picture does not shy away from showing women viciously killing and brutally dying in battle (although co-writer Gail Simone resists the urge to have any Amazon warriors perish via refrigerator). But the film works as a character comedy as well, as the somewhat contrived Diana/Steve romantic subplot gives way to clever banter and genuinely witty repartee. Actors Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion have genuine chemistry, and that fabled 'lasso of truth' provides the thrust for a few terrific gags. While one could argue that Wonder Woman shouldn't need a male companion in her maiden voyage, the partnership lends itself to surprisingly substantive commentary regarding the role of gender in modern American society (including, at the very least, the thin line between chivalry and chauvinism).

As Diana travels New York City, she is shocked to see female children taught that they are less than their male counterparts, while female adults feign helplessness as a means of flirtation. Refreshingly, director Lauren Montgomery and writers Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic do not simply toss the Wonder Woman character in a story where her womanhood is irrelevant. The creators also refuse to pat themselves on the back for creating a film involving a female super hero. Instead, they present the idea of such a hero as normal and expected, blisteringly questioning why it should be noteworthy at all. This is not a perfect film. A first act dogfight goes on much too long, and the story is still a relatively conventional origin story. Furthermore, I still bemoan the inexplicable demand for a mere 75 minute run time, especially in a film that is aimed at older kids. But in every other way, Wonder Woman is a terrifically entertaining action picture, with fully drawn characters, clever dialogue, and a clear and specific point of view. And the final scene provides an absolutely perfect caper that will have fans and geeks grinning from ear to ear. Wonder Woman is not a masterpiece, but it is awfully wonderful.

Grade: A-

The Blu Ray: The extras on this one, like all the DC universe original features, are worth the purchase by themselves. We have four bonus Justice League episodes, although 'Paradise Lost 1 and 2' are pretty bland, per much of Justice League's first season ('To Another Shore' and 'Hawk and Dove' are much better). There is a trivia-filled feature commentary, two full-length documentaries that I haven't had time to watch yet ('Wonder Woman - a Subversive Dream' and 'Wonder Woman: Daughter of Myth'), and a sneak peak at the next DC animated feature - Green Lantern.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Musings on Friday the 13th...

This isn't a full on review. First of all, I don't want to step on Brandon Peters' toes and second of all, I don't think the film deserves my full attention.

Congratulations on that epic 80% second weekend plunge (more on the box office when the actual figures are announced). It takes a special kind of disappointment to make The Happening look leggy. My wife and I saw it on a Saturday night, at a major theater. More people died onscreen than were sitting in the auditorium. And yes, even my wife was stunned at its ineptness (and she likes those Sci-Fi Channel horror craptaculars). It's also the rare movie that is so dark and hideously photographed that it already resembled a bootleg that was shot by a guy with a camera in the theater.

Having said that... it was not boring. Oh no, it was too strikingly, head-slappingly stupid to be boring. My wife's favorite line was uttered by macho rich kid Trent, who drops his gun in the lake and exclaims, in all seriousness, 'where are you, gun?' To be fair, in what may be a case of me watching far too much Barney/Thomas The Tank Engine of late, I half expected the firearm to answer him with a chipper cartoon voice.

But we both loved the fact that Jason Voorhees seems to be the smartest 'mentally challenged' person in the history of cinema. He's apparently retarded, yet he can create a stunningly complex underground layer that would make Ernst Stavro Blofeld proud. There are animal traps, intricate electrical grids, and alarm bell systems, all cleverly hidden underneath an old turned-over school bus. Oh, and Jason is apparently an expert archer, able to pierce the skull of a swiftly moving target from hundreds of paces (does that new Dark Avengers team over at Marvel have an opening?). Alas, Jason was not smart enough to bring two arrows, so he has to improvise on said target's girlfriend. Good thing she hid underneath just the right dock... otherwise Jason would have had to swim after her, and we all know he has issues with swimming.

And we loved that Trent was considered a punk for cheating on his girlfriend with the random blond, but that said girlfriend (Jenna) was a-okay for running off with the moody motorcycle-riding drifter who was just looking for his sister. We loved the terrible math on display in the prologue (apparently 2009 is 'nearly 20 years' ago from 1980). I loved the geeky GPS dork, who seemed all too overjoyed at being the fifth wheel, the only guy without a girlfriend in a weekend smoke and sex party. And we love that the recession has apparently hit recognizable character actor Richard Burgi, who shows up for what barely amounts to a cameo. Between him and Xander Berkeley showing up for a walk-on in Taken, times are obviously tough for first season 24 vets (Leslie Hope seems to be pretty busy, although Michael Massee could use a steady gig).

But the very finest element of this 'reimagining' is the apparent revelation that Jason Voorhees is a stone-cold marijuana dealer. That weed bounty that the kids were looking for in the prologue? Apparently, since no other explanation is given, that weed belongs to Jason himself. Yup, old hockey mask isn't just crazed, he's just protecting his crop and his stash. So, ladies and gents, the message of the new Friday the 13th is: "if you mess with Jason's smack, Jason will smack you right back". Well then, bring on the unrated director's cut!

Scott Mendelson

Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs teaser... 7 years gone and still no acorn.


Madness is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Scrat has been chasing after that single acorn for seven years. In Rent terms, that's 3,679,200 minutes (no day but today indeed). At some point, the desperate little squirrel needs to let it go, move on, and find a new food source. You'd think he would have starved to death by now. At some point persistence becomes obsession becomes madness. At this point, it's really just sad.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Dark Knight (finally) crosses $1 billion worldwide. Now, it's only $800 million away from Titanic.

Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo broke the news last night. The Dark Knight is now the fourth film in history to gross $1 billion globally.

The current list -
Titanic - $1.84 billion
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King - $1.11 billion
Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest - $1.06 billion
The Dark Knight - $1.00 billion

Two things of note -
As Gray pointed out, The Dark Knight is the rare blockbuster of late to earn far more domestically than overseas. It ranks 22nd on the all-time overseas chart with $468 million. Second of all, this benchmark would have been passed a lot sooner had the film not been more or less banned in China due to the subplot involving Chinese gangsters and Hong Kong corruption. A wide release in China would have arguably added at least $30 million to the global coffers.

This is all speculation at this point, but it seems logical to me. Anyway, Mazel Tov to all involved. And let us again marvel at the whopping $723 million lead that Titanic has on the closest runner up. Only 29 movies have ever made more than $723 million worldwide total. Short term opening records will rise and fall. Inflation will eventually catch up to the $608 million that Titanic grossed in America (I'd argue that had the film won Best Picture at tomorrow's Oscars, The Dark Knight could have closed the $70 million gap). But I cannot imagine in my lifetime seeing the worldwide record tumble. It is the Joe DiMaggio 56-game hitting streak of movies.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roger Ebert on remembering Gene Siskel...

Here is Roger Ebert's long, lovely essay marking the ten-year anniversary of Gene Siskel's shocking, unexpected death at the far-too young age of 53. It's really been ten years. I always appreciated how Whoopi Goldberg took a moment at that year's Oscars to eulogize the man whose advocacy did so much for so many young and/or challenging filmmakers. Pardon the obvious sentiment, but ten years gone and we all miss the man terribly.

Scott Mendelson

Exclusive clip from Wonder Woman

video

Here is a brief, 1 minute video clip from the upcoming (and allegedly bad ass) Wonder Woman animated feature. It comes out on DVD and Blu Ray on March 3rd. In exchange for this obvious product plug, Warner Home Video will be sending me a copy of the film for early review. I can live with that. Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Exclusive - Rod Lurie confirms, comments on DVD release for Nothing But The Truth

First off, a hearty thank you to Sony Pictures for arranging the DVD (and Blu Ray, I presume) release of Rod Lurie's Nothing But The Truth. As you recall, just as the film was getting critical raves and picking up steam as an Oscar contender (especially for stars Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga), its theatrical release and awards campaign were effectively ended by the sudden bankruptcy of Yari Film Group last December.

"I think what's toughest for myself and my producing partner Marc Frydman and Kate (Beckinsale)," stated director and writer Rod Lurie, "has been that we keep hearing all this praise, (to) keep getting this or that accolade, and knowing that the only people that will see it on a big screen are festival goers".

I personally only saw the film because I called Yari and asked for screeners, literally days before the company collapsed. You can read my review here, but the film is well worth catching up with in two months. Commenting on the inexplicable situation of having your distribution studio going under right before release, Lurie called the experience "akin to a drive-by shooting".

"One day all is fine and the next day, through no fault of your own, you're riddled with bullets. On the other hand, the DVD will be fully loaded and the Sony folks have just been the coolest. I think that they may give it some kind of extra push. Its a great opportunity for them - and this also applies to What Doesn't Kill You* - a full on commercial film that is still virgin territory for the film buff." According to Lurie, the DVD will contain a commentary track, deleted scenes, and at least one documentary.

*What Doesn't Kill You was the other major 'Oscar bait' picture that fell victim to the studio's death (it will also be released on April 28th). Sony Pictures deserves major props for rescuing both of these fine dramas and giving them the home theater releases they deserve.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Branding children as child predators to protect children from other children?

Here is a lengthy Slate article by Dahlia Lithwick detailing the issues with middle and high schoolers actually being charged with various forms of child pornography for sending sexually suggestive or explicit photos of themselves to their boyfriends and girlfriends. Basically, the logic follows that because kids might suffer harm from sending such pictures (photos being leaked online, the alleged harm that comes when kids do or think anything sexual, etc), it is justifiable to charge said kids with distributing, receiving, and possessing child pornography.

Ok, if the point of child pornography laws is to protect kids from being victimized by adults, how exactly is it protecting kids to have adults charging them with serious sexual offenses and potentially branding them sex offenders for life? If the point of child pornography laws are to protect children from lecherous adults, what exactly is the logic in going after children who send sexual images of themselves to other children? And since the more prevalent situation involves girls sending the pictures and the boys receiving them, there is a certain sexism in charging the girls with distributing child porn and charging the boys with merely receiving or possessing it. But, as the article correctly points out, if everyone in the chain of events is being charged with some form of child pornography, who exactly is the victim here?

Here's the simple version of why this is stupid beyond belief. I have a 17-month old daughter. I certainly would prefer she not send sexually explicit photos of herself to her boyfriend when she's fourteen. But, I'm far more afraid of her being branded as a sex offender, with all the goodies that go along with that (having to register, being forced to live in designated areas, being stigmatized, basically being removed from the fabric of society) for engaging in said adolescent sexual misbehavior. And going after kids for being dumb kids in the name of protecting kids is the pinnacle of illogical.

Scott Mendelson

Headline du jour. Apparently murder is an occupational risk of being an actress.

CNN has this story up on their front page, a Santa Monica cold case involving a young would-be actress found murdered in March 2008. Fair enough, hope they catch the murderer, but the headline reads "Slain actress found dark side of Hollywood dream". Really? First of all, how many young women who come to Hollywood to be a star actually end up being murdered, Black Dahlia style? I'm guessing very few, especially if you don't count those who end up in the seedier acting venues and/or prostitution (of course, I presume not all that many fall into that category either).

Second of all, I'd wager than being murdered in your own home is pretty much the 'dark side' of any situation. And really, if she had been an auto mechanic who was murdered in her shop, would the headline read 'slain auto mechanic found dark side of car repair'? Or how about 'slain college co-ed found dark side of educational pursuits'? Oh, here's one... 'lost Challenger astronauts found dark side of interplanetary space travel'. I could do this all day, but I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. Yeesh.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, February 16, 2009

Angels and Demons trailer goes online...


I've written before about the tragedy of a mediocre or bad film spawning a superior sequel, only for said sequel to under perform because no one was willing to be fooled twice (Tomb Raider: Cradle Of Life, Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian). So while The Da Vinci Code was a huge international smash, almost no one particularly liked it. This of course killed the chance for 'So dark the con of man' becoming some kind of adjective catchphrase ('Dude... that car is SO con the dark of man!'). So, while everyone says Angels And Demons is a far superior book to The Da Vinci Code (D&A actually came first, but the film is placing it afterward), the prequel turned sequel to The Da Vinci Code is the surefire candidate for surprise 'flop' of the summer (it's even opening in the same slot as Prince Caspian). By that I mean if it only does $125 million domestic, it'll be viewed as a 'shocking flop' and the series will die forever, regardless of how profitable it ends up being (I can't imagine it cost more than $100 million total).

Ironically, this trailer (click on the link for a nicer copy) makes the film look far more exciting and entertaining than the boring-as-unbuttered toast original ('So dark the con of... zzzzzzz'). For one thing, it doesn't seem to be taking itself quite as seriously. I do enjoy how the trailer is basically just Hanks' Robert Landgon explaining to everyone all of the details of the plot. Meanwhile, female lead Ayelet Zurer is allowed merely to look pretty and be impressed with Robert Landgon's expertise (I'll assume she is allowed to speak in the actual film). Stellan Skarsgard and Ewan McGregor seem to be having more fun, with just a touch of camp, so that's a plus. And most importantly, Tom Hanks has ditched that classically bad haircut of part 01 for the more traditional buzz cut.

Scott Mendelson

Transformers 2 trailer goes online...


Here is a link to a nice version.

The money shots are almost identical to the Super Bowl spot, so there isn't much new to add.  The trailer is almost entirely composed of said money shots, without a trace of narrative or storyline (I didn't notice any music and there are only two brief dialogue scenes).  It certainly looks scarier, darker, and much more intense than the campy original (allegedly what Michael Bay is aiming for).  This also seems to be more of a 'how would the world react if this really happened' movie, which will automatically be superior to the contained and introverted original story.  I kind of like the idea of a horror film involving murderous giant robots.  Anyway, even if I hate the movie as much as I hated the original, it'll still likely be worth taking in one viewing in IMAX.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some quick thoughts on that upcoming A Nightmare On Elm Street remake...

I guess the $46 million 4-day Friday the 13th opening means the feared Nightmare on Elm Street remake is about to get fast tracked, right quick (when are we going to see that Martin Campbell remake of The Birds?). For the record, the movie could actually use a remake. The original still holds up as a creepy and surreal horror film, but all of the kid actors are pretty mediocre (yes, even Johnny Depp). And good on Platinum Dunes for getting a hungry, artistically talented rookie to direct the thing. Better a hungry music video vet with something to prove than a theoretical auteur just in it for the glory (think Rob Zombie).

The only problem is that Freddy Kruger will likely be played by someone other than Robert Englund. This isn't James Bond or Batman, a character so iconic that the actor who plays him is almost irrelevant. Freddy Kruger is a character who is explicitely tied to the actor who created him from scratch. Freddy Kruger is as much a creation of Robert Englund as John McClane is wholly Bruce Willis or Indiana Jones is basically Harrison Ford with a whip.

Simple solution - just cast Robert Englund in the remake, make sure he doesn't ham it up like he did in Freddy Vs. Jason (where he seemed to be doing an impression of Englund playing Freddy), and let the blood fly. He wouldn't cost too much, he already knows the role, and Platinum Dunes would be buying themselves scads of PR goodwill from the geek community. But since they won't do that, is there any actor on Earth who won't feel like a kid in a Halloween costume when playing the legendary Fred Kruger?

Scott Mendelson

Friday the 13th scores $41 million over opening weekend...

First of all, the Platinum Dunes remake has made $41 million over its opening weekend, already out earning every traditional Friday The 13th movie in three short days (it is still second in total gross to the $87 million grossing Freddy Vs. Jason). Hell, it's $19.3 million Friday number out grossed the domestic totals of Friday the 13th parts 7-10 (and the first day was within spitting distance of the $19.4 million gross of part VI... I'm surprised New Line and Paramount didn't pad it accordingly). Whomever those 'experts' were that predicted that this would do $20 million for the weekend... well, they should be jammed into a tree with a machete.

This opening is right in line with the $25 million+ openings for Marcus Nispel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Rob Zombie's Halloween, adjusted for inflation, the perfect release date (why didn't Halloween opening on Halloween weekend, again?), and the general acceptability to mass audiences. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (accurately) had a nasty, gooey, painful looking trailer that promised blood, grime, and prolonged suffering. Halloween had a trailer that promised swift and horrifying death and sheer brutality (again, quite accurate). The Friday the 13th series has always been the 'kinder, gentler' slasher franchise. Yes there was blood and gore, but the deaths were quick, painless, and often more funny than scary (does anyone know anyone who has ever actually been frightened by a Jason film?). At a glance, the film looked far more appealing to the casual horror fan (the sort that enjoys the PG-13 outputs) than the previous remakes (it also helped that this wasn't a horror masterpiece being remade, but rather a piece of crap that happened to spawn a popular series).

Of course, the big trump card was New Line and Paramount's ability to actually open the film on Friday the 13th, the day before Valentine's Day no less. I can't imagine how angry Lionsgate must be that they had to open My Bloody Valentine 3D in the middle of January. Like The Omen: 666, this was a remake that seemed to have been created to capitalize on a release date. And like the Omen redo, this film is pretty much finished now that said release date has come and gone. The Marcus Nispel Jason remake had a pathetic 2.108 multiplier, which is just below the 2.13x for Sex And The City and just above the 1.935x multiplier for Twilight. Of course, those two didn't have a holiday weekend (tomorrow is Presidents Day) to bounce off of. I'd be shocked if Friday the 13th gets to $100 million, even with around $46 million likely in the bag by tomorrow evening.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guest Review: Friday The 13th (2009)

Friend and fellow film geek Brandon Peters was kind enough to tap out a Friday the 13th review, freeing me to see the visually intoxicating Coraline 3D instead. Be gentle, it's his first blog.

Friday the 13th
2009
95 minutes
rated R

by Brandon Peters

In the current trend of remaking or “re imagining” horror classics, there is one key goal that must be adhered by: taking a film franchise that once scared so many, and making it scary once again. While succeeding tremendously on his first venture, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Marcus Nispel’s second effort, Friday the 13th, falls flat on its face.

Friday the 13th, while being one of the most well known horror franchises, is definitely dated and could actually use a modern reboot. When re imagining the series, it is important to look at the highs and lows of said series, pay some homage, and yet tell a new, more frightening version of the tale. This new version of Friday makes its biggest mistake in taking the lower notes of the original series and embracing them rather than letting them rest in peace.

Instead of a straightforward remake of the original film, this one crams a retelling of the first four films of the franchise as its template (most critics and the like are touting this a remake of films 1-3, however the movie and most of our characters are based heavily off of the 4th Friday). Seeing as Jason Voorhees, the character that will bring in the money, didn’t appear until the second film, and then donned the iconic goalie mask in the third, this is an obvious choice. And instead of bringing a fresh writer to the series, the writers of the poorly received Freddy vs. Jason have been brought back to the franchise.

The film opens with a really brief black and white retelling the end of the first film, where Pamela Voorhees (Jason’s mother and the killer in the first film) is beheaded by the lone surviving camp counselor of the original Friday the 13th massacre. This is not the only setup scene we are treated to. Next, we are given four young people going camping in the woods, with hopes and aspirations to find some marijuana and sell it. One of these characters is Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti). She and her boyfriend stumble upon the now closed Crystal Lake Camp and a mysterious cabin. While at the cabin, Jason murders their friends and later comes for them. We are now 20 minutes into the film and they happily let us know that the title of this movie is Friday the 13th. (Interestingly enough, this part of the setup would have made the movie slightly more serious and intriguing had we not seen this whole ordeal.)

The movie jumps to six weeks later (in a half hour, we jump in time twice). Trent (Travis Van Winkle) along with his girlfriend (Danielle Panabaker) are going on a weekend getaway with their “oh so lovable” friends to Trent’s father’s cabin in the woods. When they stop at a gas station, they run into Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), who is searching for his lost sister Whitney (who we last saw having a murder party with Jason). Trent and Clay do not hit it off during their first exchange, but Trent’s girlfriend takes a liking to him. After this, Trent and gang head to the cabin for a crazy party weekend. Clay shows at the cabin, and is quickly ushered out by Trent. However, Trent’s girlfriend, feeling sorry for Clay, joins him on his quest to find his lost sister. Meanwhile Trent and the rest do what all stereotypical Friday the 13th cast members do; smoke weed, drink beer, have premarital sex, show off your rack, piss people off, and not have a care in the world for anyone other than yourself. Now, cue Jason. Go movie go!

An essential part of making a horror movie scary again is giving us characters we can actually care about and that don’t deserve to be killed or tortured. This is where both Platinum Dunes Texas Chainsaw pictures excel and a film like Rob Zombie’s Halloween fails miserably. Sadly, this Friday takes the Rob Zombie route. This happens when you mistake nudity and smart ass comments every two seconds for character development. Naturally every character deserves to be killed within the first word that comes out of their mouth. In this film, Trent hilariously comes off as a live action version of one of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s “Frat Aliens.” The characters that you do care about are the ones you know are going to be within reaching distance of the closing credits.

On a side note, are today's movie going teens actually caring about these characters? Some of these would-be victims say some raunchy and funny things that make me snicker every once in a while, but does it make me care for them? No. It makes the characters that much more obvious to be the “funny guy who you like, but you know is going to get it.” These characters are simply throwaways. Also, are today's tween, teen, and college females identifying with the “slut who takes her shirt off” characters? I hope not. Finally, casting former pop musician and Dancing with the Stars contestant Willa Ford and known joker character actor Ryan Hansen (from Veronica Mars) does not help to add to the credibility of this film being scary in the slightest. These are the kind of obvious victims and character types that I thought ended when we were given much more quality products like Scream and the like.

On the plus side, the kills (while seen from a mile away every time) are much more inventive than most remakes. A sleeping bag tied shut over a campfire is a highlight. If they had spent as much time on at least some characterization as they did the kills, the cast might be more likable. Each kill is very enjoyable and for the most part isn’t over the top or insanely graphic (funny how Michael Myers is remade with Jason-style kills and Jason is remade with more stealthy thoughtful kills).

Despite having the best production values of the series (and probably being the best made Jason movie of all), I couldn’t tell the difference between this film and any random entry in the original series, be it Jason Lives or A New Beginning. I honestly cared more for the characters in the original two films than I did this one. It didn’t feel like a remake, nor did it feel like it was our first venture. It honestly feels just like another Friday sequel, albeit with a bigger budget, sexier cast, and a better cinematographer.

There is one last little bit worthy of mention. There is an overabundance of marijuana and marijuana-related referencing in this movie. It is completely unnecessary to many scenes and the entire story. Perhaps this film could serve as a modern day Reefer Madness.

If you’re looking for just another Friday the 13th, or you’re the death enthusiast type that roots for the killer rather then damsel in distress running from said killer, this is definitely up your alley. If you’re looking for some creative reinvention, an engaging story, or you just want to be scared by a little suspense, go ahead and wait. I did have fun, but this was not the film I was looking for it to be.

Grade: C+

Yes, I'm still here! Thoughts as Mendelson's Memos approaches Year Two

Apologies for the complete lack of posts this week. Work has been insanely busy, and may remain pretty heavy for the next couple months. Still, I fully intend to keep this site up and running. Some thoughts while I bide my time...

First of all, I'm working on a major project at the moment. I am currently posting pretty much every single review that I have written as a film critic. With the possible exception of five really awful pieces of writing I tossed out back in 1996 ,this site will soon contain copies of every film review I have ever written (I'm still debating on the 1996 stuff... they are really poorly written). And since I have the option of backdating this stuff, it will be dated when the review was actually written (think of it as time travel via blogging). So if you want to find my original theatrical review of King Kong, go into the archives and pull up 12/12/05, which is the day I first wrote the review. Said reviews will be relatively untouched, save for any obvious spelling or grammar errors that I would have corrected had I noticed at the time.

Second of all, I'm giving some serious thought about what direction I want to take this site (and, by proxy, the other places where I'm syndicated). With my one-year anniversary approaching (March 4th, 2008 was my first post, although the site didn't really get started until April 30th), the time comes for reevaluation and recomittal. In year two, the main difference will be a simple one: I will quit posting purely for the sake of posting. With a certain amount of success (syndication at Film Threat and Huffington Post) comes the added pressure to create content, under the assumption that more success is just one or two needless entries away. Obviously family and work comes first, but it had gotten to the point where I was unwilling to use my free time to actually see movies, so that I could instead use that time to write about movies. In 2009, I will write only when I want to and only about what I want to.

I'm going over my old posts and my old reviews to see what does and does not hold up. Here are some thoughts -

My reviews from the 2005-2007 era are arguably smarter, wittier, and more passionate than the giant glut of late 2008 output. Up until the recent Oscar rush, I was doing them far less frequently, and I had the time to fine tune each one (again, the potential to reach a wide audience created pressure to put out more film reviews for my secondary outlets). So while I still enjoy reviews and plan to continue them, I'm not going to make an effort to review a movie or two every week, nor will I use quickly written reviews as filler material in between essays.

My political stuff does not hold up in the least, not because it is bad, but because it is so time-sensitive. So while I'm not completely swearing off politics (sorry, Kyle), I will only be discussing the issues of the day if I really have something to say (besides, Salon's Glenn Greenwald pretty much speaks for me 85% of the time). For a solid political blog run by a friend of mine, check out The Political Doctor.

I love doing box office analysis and I'm allegedly pretty good at it, but it does present a problem in terms of time spent and total content. If I were to resume doing what I did in the summer, with a Thursday box office bingo, a Saturday rundown of the Friday numbers, and then notes on the weekend finals on Tuesday, then there would be little time for anything else. So while I will soon start doing in-depth box office again (I enjoy rereading that stuff more than anything else), it will be at my convenience.

While trailer reviews are fun to write and they make my hit count sky-rocket, they are a pain to produce (all the YouTube embedding and what not). So, they will still exist, but they will not be a regular feature.

I will make a point to refrain from writing a whole post basically giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to someone else's reporting or essay. I may have a super brief post alerting readers to a given article (and why it is or isn't sound), but I'd prefer to concentrate on my own scholarship rather than pick apart the scholarship of others. Although I will continue to call 'bullshit' on any articles that A) give Frank Miller full credit for revitalizing Batman, B) repeat false statements about film and box office history (ie - 'Waterworld was a flop'), and C) label any horror film that contains graphic violence as 'torture porn'.

Finally, I am putting out an open call to anyone who wants to contribute to this site. Most of the people who comment here have sites of their own, but for anyone who does not and/or wants to do any kind of joint venture on a given topic, I'm all ears. All publication decisions will be at my discretion. Also, anyone who wants to ask a question to be answered on this site is more than welcome.

Ok, that's it for now. I'm hoping the current workload will slow down a little after the holiday, but until then keep refreshing and tell your friends (and Laura, keep proofreading, I really do appreciate it). The goal in 2009 will be quality over quantity. Mendelson's Memos will still remain a film blog that strives to be genuine literature.

Scott Mendelson

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