Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wreck It Ralph vs Flight in the Weekend Movie Preview.

Easily expected to be the biggest film this weekend, Wreck-It Ralph is the latest release from Disney Animation. The plot follows Ralph, the protagonist in the fictional video game Fix-It Felix, who tires of being the bad guy and leaves his game to find another in which he can become a hero. Along the way he encounters Tamora Calhoun, a sergeant in the Call of Duty/Halo style game, Hero's Duty and Vanellope von Schweetz, an 8 year old girl in racing game, Sugar Rush. But while Ralph is trying to realise his dream, Schweetz discovers a problem within her own game, one that could have dire consequences not only for the cast of Sugar Rush but the entire arcade - and it looks like Ralph leaving his own game could be the cause of all the problems. Development on Wreck-It Ralph began a number of years ago, as an idea from story artist Sam Levine. At that point the picture was known as Joe Jump and featured an over the hill character attempting to make the transition into modern videogames. Levine was making good progress on the project (enough for a rough synopsis to turn up online) but when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney Animation in 2006, the status of Joe Jump became unclear. While the Pixar honcho let Levine (and his writer) work on the project for a further year, it began to languish, and with little sign of moving forward, Joe Jump was put on the shelf and Levine was assigned to another project. While Lasseter was impressed by the core idea, he wasn't sold on the story itself. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Um, so there's going go be a new Star Wars movie...

I'm sure you've read the news by now (Forbes).  If you haven't, Disney just spent $4 billion to acquire Lucasfilm and plans on releasing the first of three new Star Wars films in 2015 (press release after this essay).  George Lucas himself had been slowly lessening his role in the company he founded and Kathleen Kennedy will be the president and operate under Disney head Alan Horn. So first of all, Disney just paid another $4 billion to acquire another gigantic company and bring it under the Disney umbrella.  Second of all, we're getting Star Wars Episode 7 in 2.5 years (I'm  presuming it will open Thursday May 21st, 2015).  George Lucas will not be directly involved in these new films behind a consulting role.  And no, Paramount still holds the rights to the Indiana Jones series.  So what are my thoughts on this?  I almost didn't comment, because I'm wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to say.  Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this...

James Bond 007: Movie Deathmatch

This a very cool little video pitting Bond against Bond.  I completely admire its extremely unbiased approach (SPOILER: Connery doesn't always win).  Bravo to whoever put this together as it plays rather seamless.  Its short, but I could have enjoyed probably 20 minutes of this.  Skyfall opens Friday November 9th in the states and I'm rather excited for it.  Hopefully I'll be able to catch it in IMAX.  Scott's already seen it and you can find his thoughts here.  

If you've got any cool (well-made) Bond videos like this you'd like to share, feel free to throw them my way.  I'd enjoy seeing them.  Thanks to Ty for bringing this to my attention.

Brandon Peters

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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Wolverine gets a stylized teaser poster.

Thanks to Slashfilm for the 'get'.  This is a nice piece of stylized comic book art for what is looking to be a potentially interesting comic book film.  We all know that the film will take place *after* the X-Men series and we know that James Mangold seems to be trying to craft a character study first/action film second picture that just happens to be a comic book spin-off.  Of course, there is a chance that the melodrama-in-Japan narrative will turn out being a bit silly.  I can't speak to the source material, but the episode of the otherwise superb Wolverine and the X-Men that centered around Logan's adventures in Japan is hands-down the worst episode of the 26-episode run (the creators openly make fun of it on the commentary).  Still, whether or not the world needs yet another 'Let's give Logan his own film!' entry, it does seem that the cylinders are firing a bit hotter this time around.  At the very least, it'll give us another fantastic video game spin-off.  As for when we'll see a trailer, assuming Fox actually attaches it to a Fox release, the most likely option is to hold off until the February 14th debut of A Good Day to Die Hard unless Fox can cut a green-band trailer that would be appropriate in front of Life of Pi in three weeks.  The Wolverine, as the poster states, comes out July 26th, 2013.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Wreck It Ralph (2012) doesn't reinvent the wheel but merely reaffirms the Disney template.

Wreck It Ralph
2012
100 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

It is perhaps slightly disappointing that Disney's latest animated feature is not so much an example of branching out so much as pouring the same drink into a new glass.  Just as Pixar's Brave (review) seemed like an attempt to fit alongside the standard Disney princess mold, so too does Wreck It Ralph  (trailer) exist as a Disney cartoon that would rather have a Pixar logo at the front.  But in the end Wreck It Ralph is a Disney cartoon through-and-through, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is vividly animated and generally entertaining, and it uses its video game settings as the basis for any number of clever jokes.  But truth be told the film is not really about video games, merely using the video game format as a colorful wrapping for a rather conventional story.  In hindsight its story is actually somewhat generic, not going as far off the reservation as Meet the Robinsons (review/essay) or even Bolt.  It's a witty and charming film, but it's slightly dispiriting how often it teases us only to skirt back to genre convention.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekend Box Office (10-28-12): Skyfall kills overseas as Argo tops four weak new releases.

There were four wide releases opening domestically this weekend and not one of them made any real impact at the box office.  The big news was the overseas debut of Skyfall (review) which opened in the UK two weeks ahead of its US debut.  The 23rd official James Bond film earned a massive $77 million in the 25 markets it debuted in.  The film earned a massive $32 million in the UK alone, for the second-biggest UK debut weekend of all time, behind the 3D-enhanced Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II.  It earned far more initially than Casino Royale ($21 million) and Quantum of Solace ($24 million), setting the stage for a massive US debut and what will surely be the biggest 007 film yet domestic and worldwide.  I don't think it's the best 007 film or that it should be an Oscar contender, but it's a darn good movie and anyone merely wanting a top-flight bit of action will be thrilled with this entry.  I can't imagine it not opening huge and playing for a rather long time, especially as it will be unopposed in the mega-blockbuster department (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn II will play exclusively to its fanbase, massive as it is) for a month until The Hobbit part 1 of 30 opens on December 14th.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A problem from (cinematic) heaven: There are just too many high quality adult movies in the marketplace!

As most of you know, the ambitious and expensive Cloud Atlas will be opening this weekend with around $10 million for the weekend.  Even with Warner Bros. merely on the hook for distribution and marketing and even with the film's $100 million budget covered by foreign pre-sales, this is not a pleasant figure for a rather impressive movie.  There will be finger-pointing and blame to go around over the next few days.  But I would argue that the primary reason for its box office failure is actually a net positive.  In short, Cloud Atlas had the bad luck to open during what can only be called a plethora of adult films.  I've talked quite a bit about the slow and steady comeback of adult cinema in an age of non-stop tentpoles, but there is one downside to the current deluge.  It can be argued that there is actually too much adult product out there in the current marketplace.  And as we all know, a large majority of adult moviegoers aren't quite as frequent as the younger crowd.  The stereotypical adult moviegoer, the one with a family and a job and various responsibilities, maybe only goes to the movies once a month.  And if they went to the movies this weekend, they probably went to see Argo.


Second Chance Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Welcome to Second Chance Cinema.  This ongoing series will feature Scott or myself revisiting an infamously terrible film we only saw once (preferably long ago) or haven’t seen in a long time.  I’m starting this one with a film I have notoriously disliked over the years – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.  I haven’t seen this one since seeing it in the theater EXACTLY 12 years ago today (convenient timing, eh?).  I was big time soured leaving the theater and haven’t looked back since.  A podcast that frequently haunts my headphones, Attack of the Killer Podcast (http://www.horrorpalace.com/audio-podcasts/attack-of-the-killer-podcast/), inspired me to pick this one.  Their Facebook page asked for opinions of what some of the worst horror sequels of all time was and I named Book of Shadows.  They all pretty much disagreed and felt it was an underrated film.  Okay, without further adieu, lets dig into this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Skyfall (2012) delivers the 007 goods (if not greats).

Skyfall
2012
143 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Taken on its own, Skyfall is an exciting and relentlessly entertaining action thriller.  It is strongly acted by a game cast, has sharp dialogue, a stunning visual palette, and several engaging action sequences.  But taken as the twenty-third entry in a long-running franchise, one must acknowledge that it is less an original take on the iconic hero than a mix-and-match from several past films.  But what prevents the film from attaining greatness is the unsure tone and what feels like periodic pandering to the fans.  Seemingly stung by the (grossly unfair) reception to Quantum of Solace, Sam Mendes and company feel pressured to include certain franchise elements that periodically clash with the Bond film they clearly want to make.  More troublesome is the film's theme, which takes a offhand few moments in GoldenEye ("Is Bond still relevant in the modern era?") and attempts to fashion an hamfisted entire narrative out of it, complete with enough on-the-nose monologuing to make Chris Nolan blush.  What hampers the unquestionably engaging and ambitious film is the sense that we're drudging along recycled territory.

Brandon Peters's 007 series retrospective final analysis part 2.

This is the end.  Hold your breath and count to ten.  After three months of extensive and rather superb retrospective reviews of every single 007 film that's been currently released since 1962, it all comes down to this.  What follows below is Brandon Peter's final analysis, split up into two sections. Part one is HERE.  Part two is a critical ranking of every single film, complete with links to his respective essays, so you can all argue in the comments section.  Following that is my actual review of Skyfall, which I saw on Monday night was holding off on reviewing until Brandon had his say on all that had come before.  Expect said review to drop later this afternoon.  And yes, once Brandon sees Skyfall (hopefully in IMAX, as it really should be seen in said format), he will offer his take on this site as well.  But for now, let's all dive in and see how the chips fall.  As always, share your thoughts in the comments section below (for what it's worth, I rather agree with probably 90% of the rankings, at a glance).  At the very least, you should give him a hearty thanks for crafting this rather fantastic ongoing series.  We look forward to whatever Mr. Peters decides to contribute from this point on and look forward to his adventures in the Great Valley.

A chance to shatter a glass ceiling: Fox should hire Jane Goldman to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I'm going to make this as brief as I can.  As most of you know, the industry was somewhat stunned this afternoon when it was announced that Matthew Vaughn was stepping down from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past (IE - X-Men: First Class 2).  The film is set to roll in early 2013 which means Fox will be scrambling for a replacement director.  The rumor mill suggests that none other than Bryan Singer is being lured back to the director's chair for the franchise that he started twelve years ago.  Jack and the Giant Slayer feels like a dud and Superman Returns nearly killed an iconic franchise.  You know my thoughts on directors returning to franchises they walked away from long ago after a string of disappointments and you can know admit that I was right about Ridley Scott and Prometheus.  I have another idea for who should helm the sequel.  She is the co-writer of the last X-Men First Class and this upcoming sequel and she is a frequent collaborator with Mr. Vaughn having co-written nearly all of his projects since Stardust back in 2007 while also writing The Woman In Black just this year.  If you want someone who is comfortable in the world established by Bryan Singer while also arguably offering a fresh perspective to a now-12 year old series, she's an obvious bet.  That Jane Goldman is a "she" is a bonus.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cloud Atlas versus Fun Size and more as John Gosling previews the week's new films (10-26-12).

Cloud Atlas is an adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling, multi-layered book of the same name. It spans six different time periods, beginning in 1850 and ending in a distant post-apocalyptic future, and covers many aspects of the human condition and the idea of eternal recurrence. Thought to be impossible to translate into a screenplay (something Mitchell himself admitted) due to its complex nature and themes, it came as some surprise when director Tom Tykwer revealed in 2009 that he had begun work on a script for Cloud Atlas with The Wachowski's, who had optioned the rights to the book. This came about when The Matrix duo were shooting second unit on the 2005 flick V for Vendetta, and noticed star Natalie Portman engrossed in the book. After listening to Portman rave over it, both Lana and Andy read it and were equally as impressed. On the look out for a project on which they could collaborate with Tom Tykwer , they urged the German-born director to read it. He too was blown away and quickly joined the project. But commitments on both sides held back work until 2009 (Tykwer was finishing up The International, the Wachowski's were experimenting with Iraq war drama Cobalt Neural 9, a project on which they would not secure funding). By February 2009, the trio assembled in Costa Rica to begin work. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Brandon Peters's 007 series retrospective final analysis part 1.


This is the end.  Hold your breath and count to ten.  After three months of extensive and rather superb retrospective reviews of every single 007 film that's been currently released since 1962, it all comes down to this.  What follows below is Brandon Peter's final analysis, split up into two sections.  Part one, which deals with favorite characters, favorite villains, and the like, is below.  Part two, which is a critical ranking of every single film, will hopefully follow in the next couple days.  Following that is my actual review of Skyfall, which I saw on Monday night but am holding off writing about until Brandon finishes his series.  And yes, once Brandon sees Skyfall (hopefully in IMAX, as it really should be seen in said format), he will offer his take on this site as well.  But for now, let's start the end game for this epic 007 retrospective.  As always, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Review: Cloud Atlas (2012) says little but does so beautifully.

Cloud Atlas
2012
165 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

At a glance, Cloud Atlas is exactly the kind of movie we say we want from mainstream Hollywood.  It is a grandly ambitious and visually dynamic adventure story, filled with a parade of fine actors and often unexpected plot turns.  It is a piece not about things but about ideas, delivered with high style and in a mostly entertaining fashion.  But if I am honest with myself and with you, I must confess that the many nuggets of wisdom to be found in Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer's sprawling epic don't amount to much.  There is little to challenge the mind and nothing beyond fortune cookie platitudes and the philosophy seems to explicitly apply to the main characters.  But if the philosophy doesn't dig any deeper than "Everything is connected." or "What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?", the film is indeed a mostly entertaining piece of unconventional popcorn cinema.  There is much to admire and appreciate in the world of Cloud Atlas, even if it doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Watch/Discuss: Iron Man 3 gets a solid, but rather similar-looking teaser, as Tony must save himself yet again.

That I'm not a fan of the new armor's color scheme is a minor point.  I'm still bitter that they switched Mario's color scheme in Super Mario Bros. 2 almost 25 years ago.  But while the footage looks good and the stakes seem higher this time around, I can't help feeling a sense of deja vu.  Is this not the second sequel where a diabolical villain decides to teach Tony a lesson in humility by tearing his world apart, just as Tony himself is going through a mental/emotional crisis?  Or more to a point, is this not the third Iron Man  film where Tony basically has to use his toys and his brains to basically save himself and/or his company from destruction?  We see a quick flash of Guy Pearce, reminding us that we're basically seeing The Mandarin (played by non-Asian actor Ben Kingsley) tossed into the "Extremis" story arc.  The most interesting moment is what is apparently a possibly mortally wounded Happy Hogan, as he's certainly a likely candidate for a major death who's absence won't screw up the franchise too much.  Since Favreau arguably doesn't want to stick around forever watching other people take on his franchise, it's a good bet he doesn't survive this chapter.  Anyway, Shane Black's Iron Man 3 opens in the US on May 3rd, 2013. As always, we'll see.  Now it's your turn.  What is the chance that Iron Man 3 can become the first truly *good* part 3 in comic book film history?   

Scott Mendelson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Catch 22: The ironic failure of Alex Cross.

As I wrote two summers ago, there was a great irony in the idea of Super 8 being sold as the great summer original in a sea of mediocre sequels and reboots.  The J.J. Abrams sci-fi drama sold itself as a diamond in the rough only to find itself facing off against one of the strongest mainstream summers in recent memory.  So it is the case with Lionsgate's seemingly failed Alex Cross.  I've long written about how the inexplicable death of the James Patterson film franchise signaled a sea change in Hollywood.  Despite earning $74 million in America on a mere $30 million budget, Along Came A Spider was the second and last of the Morgan Freeman-starring Alex Cross thrillers.  That Paramount, which once counted on pulpy, star-driven, adult-skewing (and often R-rated) thrillers as their bread-and-butter, would forsake what seemed to be a profit machine signaled that something was changing.  As I've written before, 2001 was a game-changer for mainstream Hollywood in a number of major ways.  One of the major wind changes we saw was the slow death of the adult-driven mid-budget genre film in favor of 'all tentpoles-all the time'.  As I discussed earlier this year, the last two years has seen a real resurgence in just the kind of film that Kiss the Girls represented.  Irony of ironies, when Alex Cross did return, the movie-going world didn't need him anymore.

Iron Man 3 gets a teaser poster and a synopsis.

The trailer drops tonight at midnight, so I'll try to have it posted tomorrow morning.  Anyway, here is the first teaser poster, with the synopsis after the jump.

Scott Mendelson

Just in time for Halloween: some classic horror films for kids!

I'm not the only one who noticed a somewhat odd trend this fall, with three would-be spooky stories pitched directly at the younger audiences.  While the actual level of would-be horror varied from picture to picture (Hotel Transylvania didn't even try to terrify while ParaNorman was downright disturbing in its morose sense of tragedy), it did give me an idea for the Mendelson's Memos annual Halloween essay.  This time around, we're looking at horror films that, if not specifically targeted at kids, are nonetheless appropriate for younger audiences and in-fact may serve as a gateway drug to the world of the homicidal macabre.  I'm sticking to seven that I think deserve to be highlighted, I've purposely avoided the ones that everybody knows (IE - Poltergeist or Ghostbusters) or older films that are merely appropriate for today's jaded kids (think The Birds or Jaws).  As always for the sake of my sanity, these will be in alphabetical order.  So without further ado, let's dive right in!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekend Box Office (10-21-12): Paranormal Activity 4 drops but still tops while Alex Cross is quite cross.

When you have a sequel that cost just $5 million, it's not really a big deal when your opening weekend drops about 43% from the last time around.  Yes, Paranormal Activity 4 opened with "just" $30 million, which is much lower than the $52 million debut of Paranormal Activity 3 last year and the $40 million debut of Paranormal Activity 2 two years ago.  But with micro-budgets like this, who cares?  Amusingly, it actually followed the exact same midnight-to-weekend pattern as the first two sequels, earning 15% of its opening weekend ($4.5 million) at Thurs night/midnight advance screenings.  Obviously audiences aren't quite as jazzed for the series, which isn't exactly a surprise.  We've had four films in three years.  Even if we admit that the series is dropping faster than the Saw franchise (which took six entries to really drop like a rock), we have to admit that $30 million was the average number for the first four Saw sequels and none topped an opening bigger than $33 million.  Fittingly, it was partially the competition of the platforming first Paranormal Activity that gutted Saw VI (ironically the best entry in the seven-part series) three Halloweens ago, basically tossing the reigning king off the mountain and stealing the crown (read the historical scrolls HERE).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 22: Quantum of Solace.


With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a couple weeks, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the twenty-second entry, with a full review of the inexplicably maligned Quantum of Solace. I hope you've enjoyed what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall, because, to quote Adele, this is (nearly) the end. Without further ado...

Quantum Of Solace
2008
Director:  Marc Forster
Starring:  Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright
Rated PG-13

Take a deep breath, you only got one shot, make it count.
                        ~James Bond

STATS
Kills:  17
Bond Girls:  Camille Montes, Strawberry Fields
Car:  Aston Martin DBS V12
Locales:  Siena, Haiti, Austria, Bolivia, Russia
Odd Villain Trait:  Elvis, tall and has a wig that makes him look rather silly
Song:  “Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White & Alicia Keyes

Quantum of Solace (QoS) is considered the first ever direct sequel to a Bond film, starting up moments after the closing events of Casino Royale.  One could argue this untrue as Diamonds Are Forever picks up right where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service left off.  Going further, Dr. No through to Diamonds (minus Goldfinger) all carry along Bond’s battle against SPECTRE.  While calling it a direct sequel is the easiest way to spin it, the two films are more closely tied than any previous two films.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why The Twilight Saga film franchise mattered, what it accomplished, and why its legacy is ultimately a positive one.

In just a month, The Twilight Saga film franchise will come to an end.  Oh sure we may see spin-offs, reboots (probably in a different medium) and/or quasi-sequels in some form in another, but the five-part Edward/Bella saga will come to its apparent climax.  We can argue that few if any of the entries (including the unseen final chapter) were any good.  We can argue their morality and/or philosophy and debate what (mixed) messages the core audience took from the series as a whole.  But one cannot deny the cultural impact of the series.  Of all the countless fantasy films to follow in the wake of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, it is the only one of its ilk to actually make it past a second entry beyond The Chronicles of Narnia.  Heck, aside from the Aslan fables and the yet-unreleased second chapters in The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, it is the only post-Potter/LOTR fantasy-lit series to even get a second chapter. But more than sheer staying power, The Twilight Saga was important in a number of ways, most of them actually net-positive. In the end, I firmly believe that the film industry is a better place because The Twilight Saga existed and flourished.

Watch/Discuss: Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher gets a second somewhat generic trailer.



Putting aside the whole damsel-in-distress subplot (Rosamund Pike arguably deserves better), this all feels so... small-scale for someone like Cruise.  It looks pretty amusing, with a strong cast (Robert Duvall, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, and Warner Herzog as the villain) and pulpy dialogue to spare.  But the million-dollar question is whether or not the never-terribly imposing Tom Cruise can pull off such a relentless bad-ass.  It's still an open question after this trailer frankly.  It's no secret that I'm as big a Cruise fan/defender as anyone, but he seems to be trying *so* hard, and not in a good way.  And if I may nitpick, the tagline arguably should be "The law has limits.  He doesn't."  "He does not." isn't nearly as blunt and to-the-point.  Still, assuming this Christopher McQuarrie film didn't cost more than $40 million, I'm all for a bit of old-school R-rated pulp.  Oh wait, it's PG-13, cost $50 million, and runs 130 minutes!!!  Okay then, make of that what you will.  Long story short, if I'm going to see a Jason Statham film, it probably ought to star Jason Statham.  Anyway, Jack Reacher opens December 21st.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Next time you're bored at the office: A full length audio commentary for Moonraker...


Aaron Neuwurth, on whose fine podcast (Out Now with Aaron and Abe) I occasionally guest, was an early fan of Brandon Peter's nearly-complete James Bond retrospectives.  As such, he invited Brandon and I on to participate in a handful of 007 audio commentaries.  We've done three as of now, having just recorded GoldenEye two nights ago.  But until that one, please enjoy this enjoyable and information-packed chit-chat for one of the most inexplicably underrated 007 adventures, Moonraker.  That's right, Moonraker.  Long story short, it's a rather compelling and dark little Roger Moore film that gets unfairly maligned purely due to the final 15-minutes or so set in space.  It's actually one of Moore's better entries.  Don't believe me?  Give it a watch and a listen.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Next time you're bored at the office: A full length audio commentary for From Russia With Love...



Aaron Neuwurth, on whose fine podcast (Out Now with Aaron and Abe) I occasionally guest, was an early fan of Brandon Peter's nearly-complete James Bond retrospectives.  As such, he invited Brandon and I on to participate in a handful of 007 audio commentaries.  We've done three as of now, having just recorded GoldenEye last night.  But until that one and the one we did last week for Moonraker (spoiler - it's much better than you remember), please enjoy this enjoyable and information-packed chit-chat for one of the more beloved early 007 adventures, From Russia With Love.

Scott Mendelson

Paranormal Activity 4 vs Alex Cross: John Gosling previews the week's new movies (10-19-12)

The Paranormal Activity franchise is a multi-million dollar global phenomenon and shows little sign of stopping. The origins of the series stretch back to 2007 when director Oren Peli gathered a group of unknown actors together and shot a very small scale scare flick utilizing the 'found footage' technique (to keep costs costs down he even converted his house into a shooting location and set just seven days aside for filming). The story followed a young couple who encounter strange goings-on in their house. Katie claims an evil presence has always been with her, while her partner Micah is skeptical Setting up a video camera in their bedroom, they soon discover unexplained events, which escalate in the space of a few days. Made for just $15K, Paranormal Activity began gaining strong word of mouth thanks to an impressive showing at the ScreamFest Horror festival. This screening ended up securing Peli an agent but attempts to get the film a distribution deal stumbled even after the director (and Miramax's Jason Blum) re-edited the feature for its Sundance debut. A number of DVDs were sent out to any potentially interested party and one managed to catch the attention of Dreamworks execs Stacey Snider and Adam Goodman, who brought the film to Steven Spielberg's notice. The studio quickly cut a deal with Peli, on the proviso that he re-shoot the picture with an increased budget and higher production values. He agreed, on the condition that he could screen his original version for an audience first. When people walked out not long into the screening, Goodman figured they'd backed a failure. However, when he realized that the people had left due to being frightened by what they'd seen, his opinion changed. The remake idea was scrapped and the studio quickly moved to purchase the domestic rights to distribute (via their deal with Paramount) and the international rights to any sequels. Peli then re-edited the film, and altered the ending from the one seen at Screamfest. But, due to ongoing talks between Paramount and Dreamworks regarding their partnership, all of the latter's productions were delayed for the foreseeable future. Only when Adam Goodman became head of Paramount in summer 2009 did Paranormal Activity gain a release date.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 21: Casino Royale




With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a few weeks, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the twenty-first entry, with a full review of arguably the best film in the franchise, in terms of pure objective quality, Casino Royale. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it. But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...

Casino Royale
2006
Director:  Martin Campbell
Starring:  Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
Rated PG-13

Now the whole world's gonna know that you died scratching my balls!
                        ~James Bond

STATS
Kills: 12
Bond Girls:  Vesper Lynd, Solange Dimitrios
Car:  Bond wins an Aston Martin, but the mission gives him an Aston Martin DBS V12
Locales:  Madagascar, Bahamas, Montenegro, Venice
Odd Villain Trait:  Le Chiffre has a scar on his eye and weeps blood from it
Song:  “You Know My Name” pefromed by Chris Cornell

Casino Royale is an absolute masterpiece in the 007 series.  The film is top notch big budget entertainment and one of the best reboot films ever created.  One could argue that this isn’t the first time the series has been rebooted.  Every time a new 007 take the role, it could essentially serve as a new start to the series (minus On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).  Following the ridiculousness of Die Another Day, Eon decided to rid itself of that era and start anew, grounding James Bond and focusing on physical effects and stunts.  What hasn’t been said about this movie already?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mega-spoilers aside, Carrie remake gets a potent teaser.

On one hand, this is a very very effective horror teaser.  The imagery is terrifying and the build-up is genuinely creepy.  On the other hand, it does blatantly give away the finale for the young kids who don't know their Stephen King and/or Brian De Palma history (to be fair, it's not like the original film's marketing hid the finale back in the day).  On one hand, you could argue that the Carrie story has an added timeliness in the wake of yet more bullying-related tragedies of late.  On the other hand, the original book/movie was as much about sexual repression and religious fundamentalism as it was about a shy and awkward girl being picked on.  Is there any chance that a mainstream film in 2013 will be as blunt about the story's sexual content as the 1976 film was?  Still, director Kimberly Peirce's claim to fame is the ever-so-slightly similar Boys Don't Cry which remains a one of the better films of its type.  I'm not sure the world needs another Carrie.  But I'm also willing to allow that a remake of Carrie will have more to offer than a remake of Robocop, so I'll try to keep my pessimism in check for now.  Plus, any movie that stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Judy Greer has my automatic interest.  Anyway, if you already know the ending, do check out this rather good teaser.  Carrie opens March 15th, 2013.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Why is Liam Neeson: Action Star more popular than Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme? Turns out, he's not.

One of threads of my Taken 2 review the other day was that I was shocked by how small-scale the action sequences were.  Rather than resembling a big-budget action sequel, it felt like a straight-to-video knockoff, the sort that 90s action icons Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal are currently pumping out.  So what is it that makes a Jean-Claude Van Damme action film go straight to DVD and a Liam Neeson action sequel open with $49 million over its opening weekend?  Well, I was curious about whether or not Neeson really was more popular than the action stars of 'old'.  The answer, using Box Office Mojo's inflation-related calculations, surprised the heck out of me, and hopefully it will prove interesting for you too.  To my surprise, the original Taken was not so much a runaway smash hit on its opening weekend but merely a lucky recipient of inflation and ever-rising ticket prices.  A hit is still a hit, but a comparison of the numbers shows that Liam Neeson really is the Steven Seagal of his day.  


Press release: Disney announces boatload of Disney/Pixar/Marvel release information...

I'll let you decide what is newsworthy versus what is not.  Of course it would have been more newsworthy had Iron Man 3Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier *not* gone the 3D route, but there you have it.  I'd be shocked if Guardians of the Galaxy and the newly announced Ant Man (my daughter will be excited as she's a big fan of The Wasp) don't go the 3D route as well.  The sad news is the removal of Phineas and Ferb from the summer 2013 schedule to parts unknown in 2014.  That can't be a good thing, right?  Anyway, the whole load of newly dumped info is after the jump.  The field is now yours. Oh, and just for fun, here's the newly released synopsis for the rather epic-sounding Thor: The Dark World.

In the aftermath of Marvel's Thor and Marvel's The Avengers, Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos... but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.


Scott Mendelson

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Weekend Box Office (10-14-12): Taken 2 repeats at top while Argo and Sinister impress.


With five new wide releases, it was a traffic jam at the box office this weekend, but the surprisingly robust Taken 2 still held court at the top.  Despite being a watered-down rehash of the first film, audiences only somewhat deserted the action sequel.  It's down 55% for a $22 million weekend, which is horrible compared to the first film's 16% second weekend drop, which ironically ended with a $20 million second weekend.  The first film had $53 million after ten days while Taken 2 has $87 million, or a bit above what Taken had after its third weekend ($87 million).  The second film will surely match the first film's $145 million domestic total and it's already flying far higher overseas this time around.  So yes, we'll likely see a Taken 3: The Takenest in 2-3 years time.  The top debut film was Ben Affleck's Argo.  The picture earned a rock-solid $20 million, or just below the $26 million opening of Affleck's The Town just over two years ago (the earlier film had a sexier cops/robbers plot and tabloid-friendly movie stars).  The $44 million R-rated political drama is a perfect example of 'what can grownups see at the theater these days?' and it's good to see they turned up.  Most importantly, the film had a stunning 3.38x weekend multiplier, all-but unheard of these days for a live-action film.  It (correctly) earned an A+ from Cinemascore and played 74% over 35 years old.  Long-story short, it's going to have huge legs regardless of its Oscar hopes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Taken 2 (2012) cuts its nose to spite its face.


Taken 2
2012
92 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Despite my best efforts, I actually saw Taken 2 last night.  Long-story short, I had time to see a film late last night and everything else I wanted to see either had inconvenient showtimes (The Perks of Being A Wallflower), was something my wife wanted to see (Sinister, Pitch Perfect), or was something that my daughter may eventually decide she wants to see after all (Frankenweenie).  And yes, as expected, Taken 2 was indeed a bad movie.  But it was bad in a rather surprising way.  First of all, unlike the lean, mean, and rather cold-hearted original, this sequel not only was edited to achieve a PG-13 in a way the first film was not (the differences in the first film's international R-rated cut and the PG-13 version were minimal), but it was pitched to a younger audience.  Gone were the moments of cruelty or out-and-out brutality.  Gone was the unrelenting determination of Liam Neeson's bad-ass, willing to shoot innocent bystanders and threaten the family of a crooked cop, replaced by a painfully generic "I have to save my wife from bad guys and mostly attack in pure self-defense or defense of others".  With a subplot involving Maggie Grace's driving test, which arguably harkens back to the much-loathed "Jeff Goldblum's daughter proves she shouldn't have been cut from the gymnastic team' gag in The Lost World, and an emphasis on reconciling a dysfunctional nuclear family, the film feels pitched to a weirdly conformist and/or younger audience.


Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 20: Die Another Day.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a few weeks, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the twentieth entry, with a full review of one of the worst films in the franchise, Die Another Day. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it. But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...

Die Another Day
2002
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese
PG-13

I’m Mr. Kil
                        ~Mr. Kil

Okay, so I’m starting a little early, but I have to mention this.  This moment is so horrible.  Bond gets out of his car and this big goon by the side of the road just awkwardly and out of place says this to him.  FOR NO REASON.  Bond doesn’t acknowledge the guy or anything.  Its almost very “I like turtles” variety.  And seriously?  Mr. Kil?  That’s like calling Oddjob ‘Mr. Hat’.  Or Red Grant “Blonde Strong”.  Or calling Jaws…uh…oh…well…”Giant Metal Mouth Biting Man”. 

STATS
Kills:  16
Bond Girls:  Jinx, Miranda Frost
Cars:  Aston Martin Vanquish
Locales:  North Korea, Cuba, Iceland
Odd Villain Trait:  Zao has the side of his face embedded with diamonds
Song:  “Die Another Day” performed by Madonna

Ridiculous.  If I were to describe Die Another Day with just one word, that’s what I would choose.  Bond’s 20th film, released on his 40th anniversary features poor direction, performance and much absurdity with an overabundance of call backs (some obvious and some very Where’s Waldo-ish).  Like the other long tenured Bonds, Roger Moore and Sean Connery, before him, Pierce Brosnan bows out on an obvious sub par entry and one of the worst films of the series.  Funny, both Pierce and Sean left off with diamond related satellite-laser beam plots by madmen who are having DNA reconstruction done to change faces.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Les Miserables gets character posters and a very familiar theatrical one-sheet. Can't friggin wait...!

The four character posters, highlighting the four lead actors/characters (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfriend, and likely Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway) are after the jump.  I have little to add only to repeating my foaming-at-the-mouth excitement from earlier discussions of this project.  December 25th, or whenever Universal lets me see this thing, can't come soon enough.  The above comparison, which basically speaks for itself, came from Average Film Reviews.

Scott Mendelson

The Gangster Squad gets a second silly trailer along with some very Caucasian character posters.


This still looks like a bunch of kids playing dress-up and acting out juvenile cops-and-robbers fantasies.  Think Bugsy Malone remaking LA Confidential.  Maybe it's the weirdly 'let's appeal to the kids!' rap song on the soundtrack.  Maybe's it's Sean Penn acting as badly as he can.  Maybe it's the marketing department trying to sell the idea that we're supposed to *care* about the forbidden romance between Emma Stone (as "the girl", I hope merely as a favor to Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer) and Ryan Gosling.  But this frankly looks rather silly and, R-rating and apparent ultra-violence notwithstanding, like a stereo-typically CW-friendly remake of LA Confidential or Mulholland Falls (yes, I know the latter also starred Nick Nolte).  Anyway, also dropping over the last couple days are a bunch of posters.  The theatrical one-sheet is notible in that it resembles the cover of a low-budget straight-to-VHS gangster movie from the early 1990s.  Not *bad* so much as having a distinct 'B-movie' vibe.  The character posters are more disconcerting.  As you'll see after the jump, we've got nine actors getting billing and just five character posters.  Amusingly, the cast's lone African American castmember, Anthony Mackie, doesn't get his own poster, having to stand at the back of the proverbial bus behind box office dynamo Giovanni Ribisi.  What about Michael Pena?  Hispanics apparently don't get face time at all, as he, along with the very Caucasian Robert Patrick are completely MIA.  Stay classy Warner Bros, stay classy.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The forgotten classic among 007 theme songs...

I've generally stayed out of the James Bond waters of late for pretty obvious reasons.  But as a result of Adele's Skyfall being released, I went back and listened to the previous 007 theme songs, paying extra attention to the post-GoldenEye tunes that I have perhaps only listened to once or twice.  First of all, I take back every vaguely defensive thing I ever said about Madonna's "Die Another Day".  The tuneless, joyless disco chore is every bit as awful as the pundits claimed ten years ago, so mea culpa.  But the next one on the list was Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale.  I had only heard the song perhaps once, when I saw the film in theaters six years ago (confession: when I watch the 007 films at home, I usually skip the credit sequences as they do nothing for me and of course are completely disconnected to the  narrative).  So imagine my surprise as I discovered, six years late perhaps, what a rather terrific and catchy kick-ass rock tune Cornell's ditty actually is.  It's firmly in the vein of hard-rock "being a spy is *hard!* tunes from The Living Daylights and A View To A Kill (and arguably Live and Let Die).  It's also the catchiest tune since Duran Duran's "Dance Into the Fire" and stands alongside that camp classic as one of the best pure rock-n-roll songs in the Bond universe.  Anyway, if you haven't listened to it in awhile, sample above.  And consider this a second mea culpa, for not realizing how good this theme was all those years.

Scott Mendelson

The new Texas Chainsaw 3D poster is missing something.

Anyone else notice anything missing in this one-sheet for Texas Chainsaw 3D?  Anyone else notice that there is perhaps a rather iconic object, one that you would think would be a key marketing image, is not present in this theatrical one-sheet?  No?  Okay, I'll give you a hint... look at the title again.  Okay now look at Leatherface's hands.  What isn't he holding?  YES!  Sigh... this rather terrible-looking Texas Chainsaw 3D opens on January 4th, 2013.  I'm sure a trailer will be attached to every print of Paranormal Activity 4 next weekend ensuring a massive opening weekend come January.  Oh well, at least now I'll have an easier time defending the painfully underrated Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning.

Scott Mendelson

If you have the time, watch the entire 42-minute Steven Spielberg Q&A from last night's Lincoln screenings.

I will hopefully be seeing Lincoln when the regular press screenings begin, but for now here is the complete 42-minute Q&A that followed a national sneak of sorts that took place last night at various AMC theaters (the LA one started at 4:30pm, so I didn't even try to sneak in).  Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis were in attendance.  For now, enjoy this rather enjoyable video. if the embed crashes or doesn't work, the link is HERE.

Scott Mendelson

Release date musical chairs: How to fix the upcoming November/December clusterf**k...

I mentioned this briefly last night, but taking a look at the release date calendar of the last two months of the year, it is clear that something is quite amiss.  It's not just a matter of too many movies being released at the end of the year, nor even a matter of too many "Oscar bait" pictures drowning each other out as is sometimes the case.  No, when you look at the release calendar for November and December, you notice an odd pattern.  There are nine weeks in the last two months of the year, during which we have a total of twenty-one (21) wide releases, counting the November 16th expansion of Spielberg's Lincoln.  Now you might think "Oh, that's about two per week, that's not so bad".  But the problem is the scheduling itself.  There are five of those nine weeks with just a single new release, leaving the fifteen other movies to fight it out over the remaining five weeks.  It gets even more dire when you look at the specific release schedules in question.  You've got four weekends with one (1) new release and one weekend with two (2) new nationwide releases.  That leaves fifteen movies fighting it out over four weekends, four weekends which now average 3.75 films a weekend.  Something's gotta give and/or someone has to have the good sense to move around a bit and spread the wealth.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tarantino's Django Unchained gets a full trailer, keeps its awful Christmas Day release date.

As usual with most recent Tarantino films, if you look closely at the trailer you'll find bits of action surrounded by lots of people talking and talking.  The effectiveness of a Tarantino film generally rests with the quality of the conversations.  In this case, why not spend Christmas day listening to Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, and Christoph Waltz chit-chat for a couple hours (or more)?  DiCaprio looks like he's having the time of his life and if the film earns Oscar love he seems the most likely recipient.  As I've said before, Tarantino makes *movies* and this gorgeous and richly-colorful bit of revisionist history looks like no exception.  Will it be high art, a subversive look at another very dark historical chapter through the wish-fulfillment lens of cinema? One hopes so, as Inglorious Bastards pulled off that trick three years ago.  But even if it's just a trashy good time, it looks like a fun time with good company.  I'm not sure how smart a Christmas day release is. If you have a bunch of family members in the house after Christmas, what are the chances everyone in the family is old enough for this hard-R action comedy?  Truth be told, the big family is going to probably see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey again as a consensus choice.  If I were Weinstein Company, I'd move this one to the December 14th slot vacated by Les Miserables, which is now opening alongside Django Unchained.  Oh heck, December 7th now has nothing but the Gerald Butler romcom Playing For Keeps.  Point being, being perceived as a box office flop won't help the film's Oscar chances, especially with voting occurring even earlier this season.   So I'd get the hell out of Christmas if I were them.  Anyway, what do you think of the trailer or the release date?

Scott Mendelson

Hitchcock (IE - The Making of Psycho) gets a trailer.

Well this looks like good fun, even if it tries to sell the making of a popcorn entertainment as an epic "Us vs. the World!" underdog story.  Based purely on the cast alone, this is one of my top must-sees of the Oscar season, as I can't imagine it not being a gold-star acting treat.  I could carp that it follows the standard biopic trailer, even to the point of trying to sell the story of the world's most famous director making his next pulp fiction as a grand David vs. Goliath story.  But the actors all look grand and this looks like a good bit of inside-baseball fun.  I don't know how much general moviegoers will care about this one (when I was twelve, would my friends and older relatives flocked to a film about the making of The Treasure of Sierra Madre?), but if it's cheap enough if should be a solid investment.  I do wish we had gotten a glimpse of Michael Wincott as serial murderer Ed Geinn, but I hope his apparent absence doesn't mean he's but a cameo. Anyway, Hitchcock debuts on November 1st as the opening film of the AFI Film Festival before debuting in limited release on November 23rd.  As always, we'll see.  Your thoughts?  

It's Argo versus Sinister versus Here Comes the Boom in John Gosling's weekend movie preview (10-12-12)

 Our first new release on this busy week is the latest directorial effort from Ben Affleck. Argo is based on the real life story of the audacious rescue of six U.S diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979/80. The basis for the screenplay is in part based on the memoirs of CIA Agent Tony Mendez (who orchestrated the rescue) and a 2007 Wired magazine article entitled 'How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran' written by Joshuah Bearman. The film follows true events, though as Affleck has been quick to note, Argo is based on a true story, as opposed to being a true story and thus a certain amount of dramatic license has been used to bring the events to life. After students and militants swarm the American embassy in Iran, which results in 52 people being taken hostage, a group of six people manage to evade capture and ultimately seek sanctuary at the Canadian Embassy. In order to get them out of Iran safely, the CIA enlist the skills of their agent Tony Mendez, a specialist in covert and clandestine work. Mendez comes up with the idea of a fake film (the Argo of the title), with the idea of passing off the six diplomats as members of the Canadian film crew, who are in Iran to scout locations. To further cement the cover story, the CIA set up and staffed an office in Los Angeles for the fake picture and even produced posters for inclusion in Hollywood publications. With the help of the Canadian government (who granted the U.S citizens Canadian passports), the plan was put into place. 


Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 19: The World Is Not Enough.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a over a month, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the nineteenth entry, with a full review of one of the most underrated entries, The World Is Not Enough. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it. But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...


The World Is Not Enough
1999
Director:  Michael Apted
Starring:  Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Denise Richards
Rated PG-13

Remember 007, shadows always remain in front or behind... never on top.
                        ~Q

STATS
Kills: 25
Bond Girls:  Elektra King, Christmas Jones, Dr. Molly Warmflash
Cars:  BMW Z8
Locales:  Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Istanbul
Odd Villain Trait:  Renard has a bullet in his head, taking away his body’s senses, it will eventually kill him as it slowly travels through his brain, making him already dead.  Also there is Bullion who has a gold set of chompers.
Song:  “The World Is Not Enough” performed by Garbage

Okay, skipping an introduction paragraph and shooting right past the brief synopsis, let’s just get to THE biggest sticking point of this movie right away.  Denise Richards stinks.  And she lays a big egg in this film.  I’m fully aware of that.  Not only is her performance lame, but she’s brings zero accountability to her role as a nuclear scientist.  I don’t think she is the worst Bond girl of all time (minor spoiler, I prefer this kind of crap Bond girl to what we’re going to get in the next film), but she definitely earns a place in the top 5-10 worst.  Just because she sucks does not mean this film does.  I think a lot of the ill regard to The World Is Not Enough revolves around people’s memory of this character.  She doesn't show up until an hour in, and a better costumed and more skilled performer might have people looking back more fondly on this film.  And yes, her character has no business (maybe because Richards isn't good) being involved in many scenes, but I argue this is far from the first time this has happened.  For me, and after seeing pretty face after pretty face “attempt” to act in earlier films during my marathon, I’m able to shrug it off and enjoy the film being provided.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Argo (2012) is a terrific old-school historical thriller

Argo
2012
120 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

I've written a lot over the years about film punditry so seemingly starved for excellence that they will anoint mere craftsmanship as art.  Ben Affleck's Argo (trailer) is a crackerjack piece of filmmaking craft.  It is an astonishingly authentic representation of a rather important historical turning point, vividly capturing time and place with such skill that it genuinely feels like a film created in its time period.  It is rich with period detail and filled to the brim with top-notch character actors.  It is so engaging and so entertaining that I frankly don't care whether every allegedly non-fiction detail is true.  But ironically the picture's greatest strength as a movie arguably becomes its greatest flaw as a film.  It is not really about anything other than itself, refusing to infuse its narrative with any deeper meaning beyond our own knowledge of what happened next.  It is not a sober historical document but rather a caper film that happens to take place during a major moment in world history.  Like Moneyball, it is refreshingly lacking in perceived importance but also suffers from a lack of gravitas.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012) is a thoughtful and powerful deconstruction on the modern crime comedy.

Seven Psychopaths
2012
109 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths is something of a miracle.  It works both as a straight-ahead crime dramedy while also serving as a piercing satire of said genre.  It is a delightfully funny and clever romp in the land of violent criminals as well as a post-modern commentary on both the cliches of the format and the very fact that we not only embrace such characterizations but hold them on a higher platform in terms of critical acclaim and prestige.  At its basest level, McDonagh's film aims to take every wanna-be hip gangster saga that has emerged eighteen years after Pulp Fiction and slap them all silly.  But while the meta-moments and occasionally outlandish violence may stand out, it's the commitment to its own reality and acknowledging the tragedy of its own blood-soaked tale that makes the film linger and makes it a genuine work of brilliance.  This is simply one of my favorite films of the year and one of the year's happiest surprises.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weekend Box Office (10-07-12): Taken 2 scores $50m while Frankenweenie stumbles and Pitch Perfect stays on-note.

As always, check out John Gosling's insanely informative 'preview' of this weekend's new releases HERE.

Taken 2 basically pulled a Bourne this weekend, as a prime example where a well-liked and leggy original film capitalized on said goodwill with a massive opening weekend for the second installment.  Taken 2: The Takening earned a massive $50 million this weekend, which is more than double the $24 million debut of the first Taken over Super Bowl weekend 2009.  If the numbers hold, it will be the third-biggest opening in October, behind only last year's $52 million debut of Paranormal Activity 3 and $50.4 million debut of Jackass 3D.  The trajectory is most similar to the Bourne series and yes the last two 007 films.  The Bourne Identity had a $27 million debut in June 2002, which was followed by a leggy run to $121 million and a sterling performance on DVD as a top-rented title.  Two summers later, The Bourne Supremacy debuted to $52 million and ended its US run with $176 million.  While Casino Royale was technically the 22nd 007 film, it played like a reboot/fresh start to the franchise and it too parlayed a solid $40 million opening into a leggy $167 million run and massive critical and audience approval.  Two years later, Quantum of Solace opened with $67 million and quick-killed its way to a $168 million domestic gross.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 18: Tomorrow Never Dies.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a over a month, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the eighteenth entry, with a full review of  Tomorrow Never Dies. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it. But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...


Tomorrow Never Dies
1997
Director:  Roger Spottiswoode (of Terror Train fame!)
Starring:  Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench
Rated PG-13

When you remove Mr. Bond’s heart, there should be just enough time for him to watch it stop beating.
                        ~Elliot Carver

STATS
Kills:  25 (estimate)
Girls:  Paris Carver, Wai Lin
Car:  BMW 7 Series, Bond’s casual ride is still the Aston Martin
Locales:  Russia, Hamburg, China
Odd Villain Trait:  Stamper, another Red Grant but trained in Chakra torture
Song:  “Tomorrow Never Dies” performed by Sheryl Crow
Other notable song:  “Surrender” performed by kd Lang

GoldenEye’s follow up film, Tomorrow Never Dies, was a studio rush job in trying to cash in the restored success of the 007 series.  The production seemed to be a mess, starting off with an incomplete script.  It’s surprising as none of that seems to translate to the final product.  It’s not the best of the series, but seems to float on the better side of the middle ground like For Your Eyes Only.  Tomorrow Never Dies features media mogul Elliot Carver trying to start WWIII between China and the UK.  He has a stealth ship in which he initially uses to sink a British battleship.  James Bond is sent in to investigate Carver, looking to gather information from his ex-flame and wife of Carver, Paris.  Bond also stumbles upon a Chinese agent, Wai Lin who is also investigating Carver.  The two team up to uncover and stop Carver.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

UPDATED: Adele's new SKYFALL theme is frankly terrific.

It's no secret that I think that the vast majority of James Bond theme songs are pretty silly.  They mostly range from goofy ("Thunderball"), guilty pleasure ("A View to a Kill") to fun-but-completely incomprehensible ("The Living Daylights") to terrible ("The Man With the Golden Gun") to dishwater dull ("Die Another Day"). So it is with a token amount of shock that Adele's new theme song, revealed in full with lyrics in the above video, is pretty darn good.  The vocals are superb, it makes terrific use of the 007 theme, and it manages to almost exist as a stand-alone contemporary single.  It's a ditty worthy of the better Bond themes ("Nobody Does It Better", "Live and Let Die", "All Time High").  So have a listen as the marketing campaign for Skyfall enters its final stage before the film's UK debut (October 26th) and its US debut (November 9th).  What are your thoughts on Adele's latest contribution to a fifty-year musical tradition?

UPDATED with a new short trailer cut to the song, which works just fine.

Scott Mendelson

Note - In response to comments, yes I am a big fan of Tina Turner's "GoldenEye" theme song, especially as its line 'You'll never know how I watched you in the shadows as a child...' evokes the idea that the musicians penning 007 themes grew up on the franchise.  But it doesn't quite work as a stand-alone single, which is why you never hear it on the radio, hence it's not one of the very very best themes.

Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem gets a terrifically operatic trailer.

There are so many major trailers being released over the last couple days that you'd swear the Super Bowl was this weekend.  But my pick for the best of the bunch is this engrossing and genuinely unnerving little tease from Rob Zombie.  In times good (The Devils Rejects), bad (Halloween), and in-between (Halloween II), Zombie has created a distinctive template and a unique voice in the horror scene, so I'm glad he's still around and I'm doubly-glad that he seems to be operating well-outside his safe zone.  This feels more like a Dario Argento picture than a traditional 'redneck rampage' Zombie picture.  And since Argento hasn't made a great picture since who-knows-when, why not let Zombie take a crack in this sandbox?  Anyway, Anchor Bay will be distributing this one sometime next year, and the visuals combined with the operatic music make this one a rather great horror teaser.  Of course, I don't know the actual budget or actual scale of this picture (it screened to mixed reviews in Toronto), but this is a genuinely successful tease and my pick for uh, best trailer of the week.

Scott Mendelson

A Good Day to Die Hard gets a generic but amusing teaser.

As expected, Fox is indeed attaching the first teaser for Die Hard 5 to prints of Taken 2, which opens tonight at 10pm (I may or may not attend).  There's nothing wrong with this teaser and its use of "Ode to Joy" serves to remind us that it is ineed a Die Hard movie and not just a generic action picture where Bruce Willis kills people.  There is no real hint of plot and only a token acknowledgment that the story takes place in Russia.  Other than John McClane's son (Jai Courtney) the only prominent new character is the Russian bombshell Julia Snigir.  I'll forgive the drooling on display as the last two Die Hard films had pretty bad-ass female villains, so one hopes Snigir is an antagonist and not a love interest for John McClane Jr.  Truth be told this does look pretty fun and of a certain scale, even if John Moore has yet to make a good movie.  Anyway, A Good Day to Die Hard debuts on Valentines Day weekend, 2013, which is where Fox had good luck ten years ago (!) with Daredevil.  As always, we'll see...  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Scott Mendelson

Guest Essay- Merrill Barr asks: Is The CW about to take control of the television landscape?

The year was 1987 and the television landscape was dominated by three major broadcasting networks, CBS, ABC and NBC. Seeing an opportunity to take hold of a specific niche of the viewing public, young viewers to be precise, media mogul Rupert Murdoch took an investment $325 million to launch what is now known simply as FOX.  Through forward thinking innovation in programming like edgy sitcoms (Married… With Children), barrier breaking sketch shows (In Living Color), animated sitcoms in prime time (The Simpsons), young lead characters (21 Jump Street), reality television (COPS), prime time soap-operas (Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place), dark science fiction (The X-Files) and a first down line during NFL games, FOX has since become the biggest name on the Nielsen charts every season (American Idol).  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

She has a name. Her name is Sharon Carter! On the way we discuss actresses and female characters in genre fare.

One of the big would-be stories yesterday was the announcement of five actresses apparently on the 'short list' to play Sharon Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Such stories are always big news in the blogsphere, mainly because it allows bloggers to write a handful of sentences and then decorate their site with various pictures of attractive women.  What's amusing/disconcerting about these stories is how pretty much every single website describes this role as 'the love interest' or 'the romantic interest'.  Most of the sites can't even muster a token 'female lead', opting to describe the role as Steve Roger's "arm candy".  Look, barring some inexplicable surprise, we all know that one of the five actresses in the running (Emilia Clarke, Jessica Brown-Findlay Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, and Alison Brie) is likely playing Shield agent Sharon Carter, distant relative (grand-daughter/great-niece, etc.) of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter in the last Captain America film.  She has a name, she has a character and a history that can be referred to when discussing this casting news.  How about we use some of that information instead of just referring to her as Steve Roger's newest sexy time partner?  


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