Saturday, December 31, 2011

When it comes to girls' toys, it's not 'pink vs blue'. It's 'pink vs normal'.

The problem isn't just that 'boys stuff is always blue and girls' stuff is always pink'.  Because, as anyone who has walked through a toy store knows, that's not actually the case.  When you go to buy Legos or board games or the like, you generally have two choices.  You have the regular version of a given toy with whatever colors the creators decided to use and then you have the 'pink version' of that same toy.  This is actually far more troubling than merely offering a 'boy-friendly' version and a 'girl-friendly' version of these otherwise mainstream toys.  And, slight digression, this only happens with stereotypically 'boy friendly' products.  You don't see blue-tinted variations on make-up kits or doll sets, which in turn hurts younger boys who might want to play with dolls (that's a whole different essay).  You have the 'normal' version vs. the 'girl version'.  What this obviously tells girls (and parents, natch) is that it is 'not normal' for them to want to play with Legos, doctor kits, tool-sets, or seemingly mainstream board games.  No, that's not how 'it's always been' done.  And while that may currently be 'normal', it sure as hell isn't right.

Scott Mendelson     

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part VI: The 'Best' films of the year.

Here is the sixth (and probably final) essay detailing the year in film.  This time, it's the best of the best.  Of course 'best' is a subjective term, so you might want to consider these my 'favorites'.  Despite what everyone likes to whine about at the end of every year, 2011 was in fact one of the better years in a good long time.  Maybe it was the effects of the 2007 WGA strike wearing off, maybe it was just dumb luck, but on the whole, movies, especially mainstream movies, were pretty on-spot more often than they weren't.  But just as important, most of the year-end Oscar bait was actually quite good, so this is a year where I don't have to half-heartedly apologize for having a list filled with movies nobody saw and mainstream pictures that no one admits to liking. Even if it took 1/3 of the year to really get cooking, 2011 was an uncommonly solid year for all forms of cinematic entertainment.  And of course, there are at least a few films that might have made the cut if they hadn't come out so close to the end of the year (mainly A Separation, Shame, and Pariah).  But they merely become contenders for the 2012 Black Book award (IE - great films that you saw too late to include in your best-of list, named after  Paul Verhoeven's fantastic 2006 World War II thriller that I saw in mid-2007).  And thus, without further ado, here are the very 'best' films of 2011.  As always, the list will be alphabetical order, with a final paragraph at the end for my very favorite film.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part V: The Runner-Ups

This is the fifth of several year-end essays detailing the year in film.  I'm cheating quite a bit here, as I originally did not plan on writing a 'runner-up' list.  But, upon reflection, I realized that I had ten films that were really quite good but nonetheless didn't make my absolute best-of list.  One could argue that writing about more films possibly dilutes the impact of the eventual 'best-of' list, but at the end of the day, I saw a lot of really good movies this year, and I see no reason not to celebrate as many of them as I can get away with.  So now, in alphabetical order, the ten 'runner-ups' of the year.  And yes, I'm stealing three of these from the earlier 'good films you missed' list, because I damn-well would have reserved them for a runner-up list if I knew I was going to have time to write one.  In their place I added one (Winnie the Pooh) that didn't get its proper glory.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part IV: The year's worst films.

This is the fourth of several year-end wrap essays detailing the year in film.  This time, it's time to document the worst of the worst in cinema for the 2011 movie year.  Of course, while most critics make a point to try to seek out the allegedly best in cinema in any given year, not quite as much effort is made to track down every would-be stinker.  As such, I've tried to highlight truly terrible films that either 'damn well should have been good' or represent something greater than itself via its artistic failure.  Anyway, without further pretentious ado, here are the nine worst films in alphabetical order, followed by the absolute worst picture in 2011.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part III: Good films you missed.

This is the third of several year-end wrap essays detailing the year in film.  This time, it's about highlighting the good or great films that slipped under the radar somehow.  Some got rave reviews and wide releases but stiffed at the box office while some never made it out of limited release.  All are worth tracking down and all are, with one exception I will point out, now available on DVD/Blu Ray/download/etc.  And nearly all of them are not hardcore independent films, but seemingly mainstream dramas and comedies that would have likely merited a wide release even a few years ago.  Once again, these will be in alphabetical order. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Weekend Box Office (12/26/11): MI4 tops and War Horse makes strong Xmas day show as 10,000 movies get small piece of Christmas pie.

 Oh god, what a crowded and complicated weekend this was.  You had three major movies opening on Wednesday, one of which had been in IMAX release five days earlier and one had been racking up bucks all over Europe since October.  You had one major release on Friday and two biggies right on Christmas Day, plus a smattering of limited releases and wide expansions all throughout the weekend.  Topping the box office was the wide release of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (review), which earned $29 million over the Friday-to-Sunday portion, with $61.3 million between the Wedneday-Monday six day wide opening.  Combined with five days of IMAX-exclusive grosses ($17 million), and the fourth entry in the franchise has a solid $78 million all-told.  Those aren't insane numbers, especially when you consider that the original Mission: Impossible grossed a then-record $74 million in six days way back in 1996 and the next two sequels did $91 million and $57 million (the latter off a normal non-holiday weekend) in their first six days, but Paramount knew it was sacrificing opening weekend might in exchange for long-term play-ability.  It should be noted that aside from a few outliers (Interview With the VampireMinority Report, and War of the Worlds) and the first three Mission: Impossible films, Cruise's opening weekends generally fall in the $25 million range, whereby they usually slowly crawl to $100-130 million.  So while the the pure $29 million Fri-Sun number is a bit below the prior M:I entries, it's actually at the high end of Cruise's opening weekend scale.          

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part II: The Overrated.

 This is the second of several year-end wrap essays detailing the year in film.  This time, we're dealing with 'overrated' films.  Here is the hardest one to write, merely because it's simply a list pointing out why ten films you all loved are actually either not-that-great or actually pretty terrible.  Most are what I would consider 'bad movies' that are being hailed elsewhere as greats, while a few are merely mediocre movies that are inexplicably being given a critical pass in most circles.  Again, if you've been reading me this year you'll probably be able to guess a few of these.  As always, these will be in alphabetical order. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 year-end wrap-up part I: The Underrated.

 This is the first of several year-end wrap essays detailing the year in film.  First up, here are ten films that qualify as 'underrated'.  Some of them are good, if not great films, that were unfairly maligned.  Others were mediocrities that nonetheless did not deserve the level of scorn which they received and/or had content that was worth pointing out and praising within the flawed final product.  As always, they are in alphabetical order, with one special mention at the end for the 'most underrated film of 2011'.  I'm sure anyone who has been reading me this year can guess which film that is...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feast your eyes on Benjamin Andrew Moore's awesome 'History of the Bat-Suit'.

This chart of Batman's various batsuits from 1939 to today is beyond impressive.  The artist's name is Benjamin Andrew Moore.  HERE is his site and HERE is his Twitter handle.  Click on the picture to 'embiggen'.  No more commentary, other than that I'm enough of a Batman nerd to confirm the accuracy of nearly every quote he uses, and in some case can tell you what story they came from.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Rooney Mara shines as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's otherwise pointless and neutered The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) remake.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
160 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo feels like a James Patterson novel drained of all color and pulpiness while given a somber air of alleged gravity and importance.  That is not entirely an insult, as I enjoy trashy crime fiction and the kind of thrillers Paramount used to put out with regularity in the late 1990s.  So if I tell you that this film plays like a drawn-out, overly pretentious, and ice-cold extended episode of Criminal Minds, that's not quite the insult you might make it out to be.  I rather enjoy Criminal Minds and its James Patterson meets Justice League construction.  But how I wish that this film, which is less suspenseful and (by virtue of its toned down violence) less sensational then the Swedish original, embraced its pulpy roots just a bit more.  Come what may, if I may paraphrase Ty Burr, asking David Fincher to direct this material is like asking Picasso to paint a fence.  What it earns in earnestness, it loses in pure entertainment value and outright quality.

Ridley Scott's 'not an Alien prequel' Prometheus gets a trailer that looks an awful lot like an Alien prequel, or an Alien rip-off.

If I seem a little less excited about this project than others, it's because A) I'm not an Alien junkie (I love Aliens, like Alien and Alien: Ressurection, and respect the comprised vision that is Fincher's extended cut of Alien 3) and B) Ridley Scott is just as likely to make Robin Hood or Hannibal as he is to Kingdom Of Heaven or Blade Runner.  Actually, as I scroll down the list of Scott's movies over the last 20 years, I actually find far more I didn't like (1492, American Gangster, GI JaneBlack Hawk Down, etc) than ones I did enjoy (Gladiator which I still think is vastly overrated, Matchstick Men which is underrated, Thelma and Louise, etc).  Aside from that, the project feels a whiff desperate, as if Scott just decided to return to the franchise that made him a name after a few costly flops.  Now having said all of that, the footage on display does look quite impressive. The scale is pretty large and the cast is aces, but I could have said the same thing about Body of Lies.  And the preview is certainly selling the movie like either an unofficial Alien prequel or a big-budget variation on the template that Alien established (think Event Horizon or Virus).  But for now, there is no reason not to give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt.  This one drops on June 8th, 2012.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Review: War Horse (2011) is pure, unapologetic old-school melodrama.

War Horse
145 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

It would almost be lazy to say that War Horse is 'the kind of movie they just don't make anymore', but it would also be explicitly accurate.  It is a grand, sweeping melodrama complete with wide vistas, long takes, and soaring music that is intended to stir the soul.  It is a simple tale that happens to take place during complicated times, and it touches upon the tragedy of its era while remaining focused on its core narrative, which is the journey of its title character.  More than any other movie since Peter Jackson's King Kong, Steven Spielberg's War Horse is arguably operates as a textbook example of what 'going to the movies' is supposed to mean.  But unlike so many recent odes to cinema or genre homages in the last few years, War Horse is an 'original' story (albeit adapted from a novel and a play) that stands on its own four hoofs.  It is a flawed film, and much of its emotional impact depends on the viewer's affinity for horses.  But when it's cooking, it's a pure, unadulterated MOVIE in the best sense of the word.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hobbit gets a trailer. Maybe you CAN go home again after all...

The highest compliment I can pay to this footage is that it looks absolutely a part of the prior Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Unlike the Star Wars prequels, which looked and felt like a world very different from the original trilogy, this two-part adaptation of The Hobbit should fit right in with the first three films.  How wonderful it is to hear that music again, from the mournful beautiful main 'Shire theme' to the almost subtle appearance of 'the Ring theme' when an old friend pops up in the end, these two films feel of a piece with what came before.  The only real 'concern' I have is that I never found The Hobbit that engaging as a novel.  Truth be told, I never got around to actually reading Lord of the Rings because I wasn't all that intrigued by the original story.  But for those who enjoy the first book as much as the next three, I can find no fault with what is on display at the moment.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens on December 14th, 2012.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson    

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How 2001 was a film game-changer V: Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter influence a decade of blockbusters.

This is the final entry in a handful of essays that will be dealing with the various trends that were kicked off during the 2001 calendar year, and how they still resonate today.

Yesterday (the 19th) marked the tenth anniversary of the US theatrical release of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.  It was just over a month after the US theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which had debuted with a record-breaking $92 million opening weekend.  Debuting with a December-record $72 million five-day haul, The Fellowship of the Ring parlayed superb reviews and splendid word of mouth to break a number of Christmas and New Year's season records and show off some of the best legs this side of Titanic and The Sixth Sense. These two films, which closed out the year, would directly or indirectly pave the way for the next full decade of would-be blockbuster filmmaking.  At last, we had reached a point where basically anything was possibly onscreen if you had enough money and (ideally) enough talent.  The culmination of every trend discussed in the prior essays (the gutting of the R-rating, the explosion in opening weekend box office potential, the emergence of overseas box office dominance, the mainstreaming of 'family entertainment' etc) was personified in the massive success of these two big-budget fantasy pictures.  Whether based on a novel, a comic book, or a theme park ride, big-budget fantasy spectaculars were about to become the dominant tentpole of choice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises gets a moody and refreshingly cryptic trailer. It stills seems to be pointing at Chris Nolan's version of The Dark Knight Returns.

There was absolutely no way that this trailer was going to excite me as much as the first glimpse of The Dark Knight four years ago.  As I've written before, that was basically THE Batman movie that we had been waiting our entire geek-lives to see, a street-level crime epic pitting Batman, Gordon, and Dent against The Joker for the moral soul of Gotham.  So what is this one exactly?  Well, Nolan is obviously going for a pretty grand-scale finale, and the scope is relatively impressive thus far.  I could carp that the attack on the football field is the kind of implausibly weird thing that happens in a C-rate episode of Justice League or in a Transformers movie, but oh well.  Football fanatics, does that still count as a legitimate touchdown?

Review: Torn between being a stand-alone drama and an all-encompassing history lesson, Angelina Jolie's ambitious In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) is the very definition of a noble failure.

In The Land of Blood and Honey
127 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Angelina Jolie's director debut is caught between two very specific goals.  On one hand, it wants to be a thoughtful, adult romantic drama that happens to be set during a period of rather ghastly civil war.  On the other, because there really hasn't been a major motion picture set during the Bosnian war that raged primarily from 1992-1995, writer/director Jolie feels a need to craft a somewhat definitive account of the conflict. As a result, much of the picture feels like a glorified book report, with characters ham-fistedly explaining the nature of the conflict, the living conditions of the victims, and character arcs.  The film constantly violates the 'show-don't-tell' rule, with lead characters explicitly stating their emotions and their character arc.   Like Atom Egoyan's Ararat (which dealt with the 1915 Armenian genocide), the film spends much time feeling less like a movie and more like a verbal power-point presentation.  The film earns kudos for revealing a bit of somewhat forgotten history, and it deserves plaudits for telling its story from the point of view of actual participants, rather than 'an outsider looking in'.  But no matter how noble its intentions, the film fails as a history lesson and a stand-alone drama.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend Box Office (12/18/11): Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked underwhelm compared to predecessors while Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol sizzles in IMAX debut.

This was a weekend where two films gave the strongest evidence yet that there may be some kind of 'slump' in domestic box office while a third stood as a firm 'It's the movie, stupid!' rebuttal.  The two main wide releases, heavily marketed sequels to exceptionally popular originals, opened at levels far below their predecessors.  The top film of the weekend was Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows (review), which debuted with a seemingly solid $40 million.  But the sequel opened 36% lower than the first Sherlock Holmes opened with over Christmas weekend two years ago ($62 million).  That's a pretty big drop, especially when it wasn't exactly contending with the $75 million-grossing second weekend of Avatar this time around.  I've long been of the opinion that the pre-Christmas weekend is among the strongest to open a film, as you can parlay your opening weekend into two full weeks of 'school vacation' time and get some occasionally incredible legs (essay).  The film cost $125 million, which is a touch more than the $90 million original, but still not a case of overspending on a sequel.  It remains to see whether this frankly shockingly depressed opening is a case of moviegoers not having an interest in the continuing adventures of this variation on Sherlock Holmes or whether it's merely a case of it not being appointment viewing.  Also not helping matters was the blogosphere obsessing about a seven-minute Dark Knight Rises prologue (which actually kinda stunk) that was playing in 40 IMAX theaters showing Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol while ignoring the actual Dark Knight Rises trailer (which is officially offline until I presume Monday morning) that was attached to all prints of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The fire sputters! About that Dark Knight Rises IMAX prologue...

It should be noted that I wasn't a huge fan of the bank robbery prologue for The Dark Knight four years ago.  It was the traditional trailer that got be uber-excited.  I will concede that the bank robbery sequence worked better in the film than it did as a stand-alone preview (as gorgeous as it looked, the dialogue was a little wonky and it was 'just a bank robbery').  Having said that, the seven-minute sequence that allegedly opens The Dark Knight Rises is actually somewhat terrible.  Whether or not it was a rush job (as I've heard), the sequence fails in several seemingly basic ways that leaves a very poor first impression about the otherwise unseen film.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011) is a new action film classic.

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol: the IMAX Experience
133 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol is an outstanding action thriller that happens to be the fourth entry in a long-running franchise (essay).  Like the three previous entries, this is a mostly stand-alone picture that feels absolutely like the work of its director.  And if this entry feels a bit more like 'just another day at the office' than the prior entries, it makes up for it with uncommonly impressive big-screen splendor.  There is beautiful location work and obscenely impressive stunt-work that reminds us how wonderful action films can be when we are seeing something astounding while still being able to believe our eyes.  It is easily the best entry since Brian DePalma's initial installment way back in 1996 and a top-notch piece of genre filmmaking.  It is easily the best espionage action-picture since Martin Campbell's Casino Royale and it is simply relentlessly engaging entertainment.  It is also a glorious return to form for Tom Cruise, as the film operates as a 133-minute rebuttal to those who would declare Cruise's career to be dead and buried.

Sadly appropriate. Why The Artist 'deserves' to win at this year's Oscars.

Barring a box office blow-out by War Horse or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and/or stunningly good reviews for the still-hidden Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it does look like this year's Oscar race is all-but finished, with the presumptive winner being The Artist.  And I can think of no more fitting choice.  No, I don't think it's the best film of the year. I don't even think it's very good (review).   The reasons I don't like it are ironically why it makes tragic sense to anoint it as the 'film of the year' in 2011.  It is, I'll presume accidentally, indicative of much of what ails the entertainment industry at this very moment.  It celebrates what is hurting the industry, so it makes sense that the industry would celebrate it in turn.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: The Artist (2011) is a textbook-example for our nostalgia-obsessed culture.

The Artist
100 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

The Artist is a silent film about the death of silent films.  It is arguably no better or worse than any number of silent pictures that were produced in the 1920s, with a narrative that rips-off Singing In the Rain just enough to matter.  As an attempt to replicate a long-defunct film style, it is I suppose a success.  It amuses and generally entertains, but it exists with little artistic style of its own.  It exists merely to be a rather standard silent film, and I would argue not even an exceptional one at that.  Like Hobo With a Shotgun and Super 8, The Artist is yet another example of the ongoing trend of genre exercise.  It offers no commentary on its era nor any particular insight into the nature of the silent picture.  Other than the fact that it is indeed a silent film made around 90 years after the rise of 'talkies', it has little to offer.  

Review: Carnage (2011) is amusing, but predictable and uninspired.

80 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

There is nothing terribly wrong with Carnage, Roman Polanski's adaption of the play God of Carnage.  But it's story, which involves two couples who meet to discuss the playground injury that one child inflicted on another, plays out exactly as you'd expect it to.  It's fun while it lasts (and it's an awfully short picture), but the picture contains little insight and an unfortunate predictability, both in the actual narrative and in the casting, that it renders the final product very-nearly pointless.  Thanks to an unfortunate need to cast exactly-to-type, the film even loses much of its appeal as an acting treat.  It's not a bad picture, and it's entertaining while it's being watched, but it's almost obscenely inconsequential.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Expendables II gets a teaser, which indeed teases.

This is obviously a teaser, and once again I'm almost tempted to say that Lionsgate should just stop there, since anyone who doesn't want to see this picture probably won't be persuaded by seeing various samples of the various action sequences. Anyway, the important glimpses are of course right at the end, when we get to see Schwarzenegger and Willis engaged in actual combat. The Expendables II opens August 12th. As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Re - My LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY review will be up this Monday...

Apologies for pulling it down, but after realizing that there were no other reviews online, I went back to the press invite and realized that there was an embargo.  It's just a few days from now, but I did not intend to break any such deals and do not wish to incur the wrath of Film District, so down it goes for now.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rock of Ages gets a 'bangin' trailer... My wife is going to want to see this one.

Oddly enough, it's Alec Baldwin that feels the most mannered in this star-filled version of the 80s-rock homage musical from 2006.  The trailer wisely hides the main attraction, which is seeing Tom Cruise as a stereotypical 80s rock star, until the very end of the spot.  The cast looks impressive, and kudos to New Line Cinema for not hiding the fact that this is actually a musical (it's subtle, but there are at least two shots of characters actually signing out loud).  I happen to think that Hairspray is the best film musical of the modern era (sorry, didn't like Moulin Rouge and Chicago is painfully overrated), so Adam Shankman helming this one puts it pretty high on the list.  Rock of Ages will be released on June 1st, 2012.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011) delivers terrific animation, moments of brilliant action, but little else.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
105 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

I've written before about the recent quasi-trend of filmmakers spending time, effort, and money merely to concoct glorified homages to the films of yesteryear.  Most of these films contain little to no relevancy or ideas and exist merely as an exercise in nostalgia.  But The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a curious variation on this sub-genre.  Not only is it a pure homage to the old-fashioned adventure films best represented by the Indiana Jones series (and the serials and pulp novels such as this series that inspired them), it is a homage directed by the man who helped create that defining series in the first place.  On the surface it is an adaption of the Georges Rémi comic book series that ran from 1929 to 1976.  But while the film certainly exists in that world, with a faithfulness that I cannot attest to one way or the other (I've been told it's quite faithful), it basically amounts to director Steven Spielberg (and producer Peter Jackson) using the motion-capture animation technique pioneered by Robert Zemeckis to craft a homage to the theoretical Steven Spielberg adventure film.  With these new crayons to play with, it's a darn shame that Spielberg couldn't think of anything better to draw than what often feels, intentional or not, like a self-administered pat-on-the-back.

Monday, December 12, 2011

G.I. Joe Retaliation gets a 'realistic' trailer, for better or worse.

I'm of two minds about this one.  On one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this second G.I. Joe movie being a bit different, both visually and in terms of tone, from the last picture.  So the last one was colorful and campy while this one is trying to sell itself as somewhat more serious and arguably more generic.  Fine, no harm, no foul.  On the other hand, as someone who LIKED G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, this new entry feels less like 'your G.I. Joe action-figure dramas brought to life!' and more like 'A G.I. Joe movie for audiences who are probably a little too old to reasonably have an interest in a G.I. Joe movie'.  Part of the fun of the last film was seeing the characters that we all loved back in the 1980s (Baroness, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Duke, Destro, etc) come to life in $175 million worth of candy-colored carnage (say what you want about those robo-suits, but the Paris chase is a fantastic action sequence).  This time around, it's basically like someone made an admittedly stylish-looking action picture (that ninja cliff fight is about six kinds of awesome), cast some name actors (The Rock, Bruce Willis apparently playing himself), and some relative unknowns, suited everyone up except the two returning ninjas in generic battle gear, and then slapped 'G.I. Joe' on the marquee for marketing purposes.  Will it be a 'better' movie than Sommer's initial entry?  Perhaps, at the very least it hopefully won't shoot itself in the foot during its final 20 minutes in order to neuter its major villain.  But, based on what we've seen, it feels less like a (as I know it) G.I. Joe movie than the first film.  Having said all of that, I love that they are keeping the terrific cliffhanger of the first film.  I like that the button gives Willis the joke, but Adrianne Palicki gets the comic reaction shot.  Anyway, this one drops on June 29th, 2012.  Then we'll know, which is of course about 50% of the battle.

Scott Mendelson      

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) features a career-peak Tilda Swinton turn in a devastatingly sad, and highly interpretive horror drama.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
112 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

It would be argued that Lynne Ramsay's bracing We Need to Talk About Kevin is among the least literal pictures since Inception.  By that I mean it can be (correctly?) interpreted any number of ways, or it can be appreciated at face value for the tale it appears to be telling.  Whether it's a straight-ahead horror story, a striking parable, or a fantastical 'what-if?' that operates as the opposite of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, the film is a powerful piece of work and features a stunningly good lead performance by Tilda Swinton.  At heart, it's about the horror of not being able to bond with your child, and thus not really loving him/her, as well as the inexplicable pressure on parents (arguably more-so on mothers) to never have a cross thought about their respective offspring.  If you're one of four people reading this who don't know how the story eventually goes, I'll do my best not to reveal it here.  But the ultimate destination plays out less as surprise and more as a resignment.  This is not a film about 'dealing with the unthinkable', but rather about a mother who sees the writing on the wall but is powerless to stop it.

Men In Black 3 gets an oddly confusing teaser.

Yes, we've heard about the problematic shooting for this third entry, how the film took a giant recess in order to basically rewrite the script, how the costs are now so high that it will be almost impossible to make any money back for Sony even if the film is a monster hit.  But what strikes me about the trailer are two things - A) Will Smith is well-past this kind of material, even if he doesn't seem to have aged much since 1997.  It's no secret that I think he signed on to this project in a panic after Seven Pounds was wrongly perceived as a flop (if you've seen Seven Pounds, you'd be impressed with its $168 million worldwide total).  To be honest, had Smith not felt that he needed some kind of 'box office comeback', I'm sure he would have tried to get his kids to take over.    B) This trailer is actually quite confusing.  We spend the first half with business as usual, and then after a poorly constructed 'time warp' moment, 'J' arbitrarily can't find 'K' (Tommy Lee Jones) only to be informed that he died in 1969.  I certainly have no objections with teasers that only give away the barest hints of story.  In fact if this were a better constructed trailer I'd tell Sony to stop with this one.  But the teaser is actually somewhat confusing in its narrative, especially to those who don't already know the plot synopsis.  Still, Josh Brolin looks and sounds like a perfect 'young Tommy Lee Jones' and Emma Thompson does shine on the rare occasions she gets to play in the broad comedy sandbox (come what may, Junior was quite good).  Anyway, Sony drops this one on May 25th, 2012.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekend Box Office (12/11/11) New Year's Eve and The Sitter open weak while Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Young Adult open huge in limited release.

In what one might call 'the calm before the storm', two middling wide releases debuted to relatively middling numbers.  Next week sees a flurry of major wide releases over the last two weeks of the year, so this frame was a bit of a breather.  The top film was New Year's Eve, which debuted with $13.8 million.  That's one of the weakest #1 debuts of the year, and about $1 million less than Valentine's Day grossed on its first day back in February 2010.  That film scored the record for a romantic comedy debut with $56 million over Fri-Sun.  Of course, that film had romantic comedy heavyweights like Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Garner.  This film had a slightly lower-wattage cast, with only Katherine Heigl and Zac Efron qualifying as box office draws.  The newbies this time around (Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Hillary Swank, Jon Bon Jovi, Halle Berry, Lea Michele, etc) are names, but not actual 'bring them to the theater' movie stars.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises gets a snazzy second poster.

I don't have much to add, as the poster basically tells the tale.  As it is, I will say that at this point, considering all the online hub-bub and speculation, that it would almost be more courageous for Chris Nolan NOT to kill off Bruce Wayne at the conclusion of this third and final installment of his Batman saga.  A 'shocking' finale is not quite as surprising when everyone has been expecting it for nearly a year prior to release.  Anyway, I am officially back on board the Bat-hype train.  On a personal note, I still dislike the idea of Bane somehow being a bigger and more defining threat than The Joker, but I'm going to have to get over that at some point.  The IMAX preview and the full trailer both drop on Friday in theaters (with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows respectively), with the trailer likely going online on Sunday night or Monday morning.  My previous concerns aside, it is more fun to be excited than to be cynical.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Amazing Spider-Man gets a stylish, dark, misleading (?) poster.

One could carp about the tagline, which claims that we are getting 'the untold story' while all evidence points to us getting merely a new version of the exact same story as Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man.  Other than that, this is a pretty terrific piece of marketing, using a lack of color, or even its hero in costume, to set itself apart from prior versions.  It does seem, at a glance, like Sony is taking a page from the Marvel playbook, as it's basically selling this film as 'a Peter Parker story' rather than 'a Spider-Man story'.  Again, I could carp that all three Raimi Spider-Man films were Peter Parker dramas first and web-slinging action pictures second, but no matter.  Thanks to Superhero Hype for the 'get'.

Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson: MEDIOCRE INTERVIEWER! - Diablo Cody on Young Adult.

I don't do interviews, so you'll pardon the messy edges.  But I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Young Adult (review) two weeks ago where writer Diablo Cody and actor Patton Oswalt were in attendance.  Long story short, I ended up getting some phone time with Ms. Cody, in what was supposed to tie in with that rambling essay I wrote on Wednesday.  Anyway, thanks to a slightly curtailed time and my desire to talk about the movie itself, the questions below mainly deal with Young Adult.  Point being, I asked her half-a-dozen questions and got half-a-dozen worthwhile answers, all of which are paraphrased to the best of my ability unless there are actual quotes.  Just don't look for a pattern or any narrative coherence.  My fault, not hers, and if I do this again I'll be sure to get a phone recorder that actually works.  But here we go...

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) entertains, intrigues, and amuses, but becomes too frantic for its own good.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
128 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

There are times when this second Guy Ritchie-helmed Sherlock Holmes adventure threatens to become what the first film was advertised as.  The first picture, if you recall, was marketed as an all-action, all-comedy, huge tent-pole adventure that just happened to feature the world's most famous detective (teaser and trailer).  In fact, the 2009 Sherlock Holmes (review) was an often quiet and contemplative character piece, a genuine mystery drama that had moments of big budget spectacle.  This new film tries its hand with the 'bigger is better' philosophy, to varying degrees of success.  The action is more frequent and of a larger scale, and the characters are less mournful and introspective this time around.  But what's lost in the fury and bombast is gained with an upping of the stakes, both personal and external.  Oddly enough, the highlight of the last picture, the relationship between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, becomes almost a distraction this time around, taking time away from what should be the primary attraction - the battle of wits between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

He's complex. She's a bitch. The implicit double-standard of 'unsympathetic' female characters.

I've long discussed, usually in the context of another topic, about how female film characters are judged on a far harsher sliding morality scale than their male counterparts.  The upcoming release of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's Young Adult, which basically plays like a classic anti-hero Oscar-bait dramedy except for the fact that the anti-hero is female, will be an interesting test case.  Had the film starred a popular male star, its quality would likely place it among the current Oscar front-runners.  But two days before release, it has been more-or-less absent from the Oscar talk. Male characters get to be selfish oafs, immature man-children, and all manner of criminals, but as long as they learn a lesson in the end and/or are doing their misdeeds for a noble cause (usually a pretty girl, a kid, or an animal), they are let off the moral hook.  But female characters are rarely allowed to be villains, and almost never allowed to be complex antagonists.  Moreover, in mainstream films, all a female character has to do to earn the wrath of critics (and audiences?) and/or be declared a villain is basically have a three-dimensional personality. And more often than not, the actresses themselves are often judged not entirely on the quality of their performance, but also on the relative morality of the character they are portraying.   

Monday, December 5, 2011

David Denby damn-well should have honored his agreement, but his excuse is 100% accurate and should start a conversation about 'awards-bait' scheduling.

As most of you know, the blogosphere caught on fire yesterday when it was reported that David Denby, film critic for The New Yorker, would be running a review of Sony's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in today's issue of the magazine, which would publish eight days ahead of the official December 13th embargo.  Long story short, the New York Film Critics Circle were shown the film early and ahead of everyone else after they arbitrarily decided to move up their voting dates for their annual awards, mostly in order to be FIRST in the parade of year-end awards.  Despite promising to respect the embargo, Denby has gone ahead and published the first review.  I won't link to it, but (slight digression) I will say that it's almost as short as this paragraph and he might-as-well have been reviewing the eight-minute trailer.  Sony executive Scott Rudin directly confronted Mr. Denby, which started a back-and-forth email thread which climaxed with Denby being banned from future Sony screenings for the immediate (?) future.  Good.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekend Box Office (12/04/11): With no new wide-releases, Twilight tops, Muppets drop, and smaller films (Shame, Descendants, Artist) take center stage.

As is sometimes the case with the post-Thanksgiving weekend, studios did not offer up a single new wide release.  While that's understandable considering the customary huge drops that the holdovers take this weekend, it's frustrating this year considering the sheer amount of product being released over the last ten days of the year (does Summit really expect The Darkest Hour to strike huge over Christmas weekend?).  Anyway, to the surprise of some (including me), a larger-than-expected drop for The Muppets allowed Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I to top the box office for the third weekend in a row.  The fourth film in the saga grossed $16.9 million, for a drop of 60% and a cume of $247 million.  While it's still trailing the respective end-of-third weekend totals of New Moon ($267 million) and Eclipse ($255 million), it had the largest third weekend of the franchise and a slightly smaller drop than New Moon (which tumbled 64% in weekend three for a $15 million weekend).  So while it still may end up trailing the last two pictures, it has a fighting chance to end up awfully close to the $295-300 million range of the prior sequels.  It's also just ahead of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I, which had $244 million at this point and eventually crawled to $295 million.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Updated! About the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo footage from last night...






Obviously, the eight-minute preview for David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not online and probably won't be at least until after the weekend (update, it just went up on 12/02/11).  I do not know if it will be playing in theaters before theatrical prints of Straw Dogs or whether it was just something to get the film critics/pundits excited.  The footage is basically a primer for those completely unfamiliar with the franchise.  We meet the main characters, we see Christopher Plummer lay out the primary mystery, and we get a look at our heroes in action, both when on the case and on their own time.  First and foremost, let me just say that the footage looks absolutely breathtaking.  While the pallette of choice is dark (think grey skies), there is a haunting and epic feel to the film that arguably surpasses its TV-movie of the week subject matter.  But, it's also the kind of specifically shot and grey-hued film that can look bloody awful when projected incorrectly.  So unless I end up attending a press screening, I'm definitely forking out Arclight money for this one.

Going broke chasing boys: Why Disney ditched princesses and spent $300 million on John Carter, and what it means for the Mouse House's core demo.

If you've seen the trailer for the upcoming John Carter, you know that not only does it not look like it cost $300 million, but it so painfully feels like a Mad Libs male-driven fantasy blockbuster that it borders on parody.  It's no secret that Disney thinks it has a boy problem. One of the reasons it bought Marvel two years ago was to build up a slate of boy-friendly franchises.  And the last two years have seen an almost embarrassing attempt to fashion boy-friendly franchises (Prince of Persia, Tron: Legacy, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I Am Number Four, Fright Night,  and Real Steel), only half of which were even as successful as their alleged flop The Princess and the Frog (which obviously grossed 'just' $267 million on a $105 million budget because it starred a character with a vagina).  We can only ponder the reasons why Disney decided to outright state that they were never going to make another fairy-tale princess cartoon again, even after Tangled became their most successful non-Pixar toon since The Lion King, but I'm pretty sure Disney won't be making such statements about boy-centric fantasy franchises anytime soon.

Painfully obvious sexism watch: One of these JOURNEY 2 posters is not like the other. Hint, it's the one with giant boobs are more important than giant bees.


Here are four character posters for Warner Bros' upcoming Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.  Each poster highlights a lead character and a respective giant animal menace.  As you can clearly see, the focus point of three of the posters is the actual special effects creation that is chasing our heroes.  In three of the posters, the human character is smaller than the monsters, thus making the giant animals themselves the center of our attention.  Of course, the second poster on the left, the one highlighting Vanessa Hudgens is a bit different.  In her poster, the flying bee creature is smaller than Hudgens's profile.  So if the giant bee is not the center of attention isn't the fx monster in this poster, than what is?  Why, Hudgens's boobs of course.  As you can see, the largest thing on the poster, the thing that is clearly intended to be the focus point for Hudgens's poster is the young actress's rack.  The marketing team at Warner Bros. didn't see fit to fetishize Dwayne Johnson's massive muscles or any manly attributes that Josh Hutcherson may possess.  But in her character poster (and the main poster on the left), the young actress's breasts are apparently the main attraction. Because of course when you're a girl in a generic or male-driven mainstream genre film, even when it's a PG-rated adventure aimed at younger kids, the only marketable attributes you have is your 'fuck-ability'.  Stay classy, Warner.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trailer: John Carter looks like a rip-off of the countless stories that ripped it off.

The good news is that this does indeed look pretty impressive on a visual level.  The action looks large-scale, but the relatively generic desert 'Mars' locale does make one wonder where that $300 million (!) went.  The bad news is that the narrative seems as generic as can be.  I know Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars franchise was a pioneering work of science fiction way back in 1912.  But there is a danger of adapting the 'one that started it all'.  Frankly, it looks less like an original work and more like a generic copy of the many many stories that have borrowed/homaged/stolen its template over the last century.  The ripped shirtless hero who can barely act finds himself in a lost world and just happens to be there to lead the fight against an oppressive rule and score with the token princess? Smells like Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes to me.  That may not be a fair judgment, but when you're spending $300 million on a new franchise with no stars that looks like dozens of other such pictures, saying 'Oh, but this is the one they all ripped off!' isn't going to cut it.  Despite the huge budget and Pixar pedigree, this looks like the most generic male-driven fantasy blockbuster possible, lacking any wit or character or concepts to make it stand out in any way.  Alas, Disney debuts this Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) picture in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D on March 9th.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson


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