Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why bitchy 'fanboys' are the film fan equivalent of Bill Kristol.

I'm not going to get into the misogynistic aspect of the trolling centered around a few on-set photos of Shailene Woodley from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  To those saying that she's not 'pretty enough' to be Mary Jane Watson, I'll simply extend a hearty 'f*ck you' and merely offer to be, wedding vows and relative current marital bliss aside, the next guy in line at the bar after you turn down her advances. But while others will justifiably focus on the offense at the trolling of a young actress having the gall to walk around without make up, I'd like to offer a bit of silver lining to this whole affair.  Now thanks to the Internet trolling, I can absolutely guarantee that not only will Shailene Woodley be insanely attractive as Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man, but she will also be a terrific character, in terms of acting and all of that 'less-important' stuff too.  Why do I know this?  Because the trolling fans have told me otherwise.  Trolling fans have been around for as long as I can remember.  And they have become the Bill Kristol of film fans.  They make noise, they attract attention and 'serious discussion', and they are always always wrong.

No Survivors - The utter wreckage caused by Pay It Forward...

Any number of movies can bomb critically and commercially to the extent that they harm the star or director or even the writer involved with the respective project.  But, 13.5 years later, the utter carnage reaped by Pay It Forward remains impressive and perhaps unprecedented.  Yes the movie wasn't very good and yes it didn't make very much money at the box office.  But the impressive thing about Pay It Forward, a would-be Oscar bait drama released in October of 2000, is how brutally it crushed the careers of pretty much all of its major players, inflicting wounds that have only just now started to wear off.  The film was considered a major player prior to its release. starring recent Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Oscar nominee (and shoulda-been winner) Haley Joel Osment. It was helmed by Mimi Leder, fresh off the blockbuster success of Deep Impact. The film was not a critical darling, getting savaged by critics to such a degree that many outright spoiled the film's kinda-sorta twist ending purely out of spite.  And it was not a box office success either, earning just $55 million worldwide off a $40 million budget.  But more importantly, the negative reaction to the film was so severe that it iced the white-hot buzz around all of its primary players.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Stoker (2013) delivers the gothic goods.

100 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Park Chan-Wook's Stoker is a delicious hybrid of its influences, which mix into an engaging fable of its own.  Written by Wenworth Miller (yeah, the Prison Break guy), the picture doesn't reinvent any wheels but offers strong genre pleasures for those who like 'this kind of thing'.  To say it's well-acted is almost redundant when your film is toplined by Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman.  Stoker is stylish, thoughtful and wears its influences on its sleeve while stilling spinning its own web.  It is part Shadow of a Doubt, part Hamlet while finding new territory to explore in the somewhat well-worn road of 'a young girl's coming of age/sexual awakening'.  It is a slow but ultimately hypnotic tale that is told with a certain tastefulness that makes its moments of misbehavior all the more jolting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Funny or not, The Onion's Quvenzhané Wallis tweet was effective satire that reflected back at us.

That so many were so outraged this morning is precisely the point.  Satire at its best highlights the lesser parts of society, using amplification to reflect it back at us and make us take notice of our own behavior.  Those decrying The Onion, a satirical newspaper, for running an offensive tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis are possibly missing the point.  Obviously this wasn't someone online expressing an honest opinion about how they felt about a nine year old actress celebrating her first Oscar nomination.     It wasn't Rex Reed calling Melissa McCarthy a hippo or Brett Easton Ellis whining that Kathryn Bigelow wouldn't be considered a great director if she wasn't a hot white woman who made manly war pictures (essay).  This was an intentionally offensive, knowingly disruptive statement intended to provoke outrage and offense sent out by a technically 'fictional' twitter avatar.  Sadly, it wouldn't have been as shocking if an even slightly older woman had been called a "cunt".  Because we do *that* all the time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Box Office (02/24/13): Identity Thief tops Oscar weekend, Snitch and Dark Skies open "okay".

I can't confirm this offhand, but I'm pretty sure Snitch has the biggest opening weekend of all time for a film based on a Frontline documentary.  The 'mandatory minimum sentences are evil' action drama debuted with $13 million this weekend.  That's not a huge figure, but it's above the sub-$8 million debuts from Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jason Statham in the last two months.  Lionsgate/Summit procured the film for just $5 million, so this is a solid win all-around.  The picture played 77% 18-49 and 53% male, earning a B from Cinemascore.  The solid 3.17x weekend multiplier, especially considering the predicted Oscar drop today, means that the film may have legs and an outside shot at $45 million.  It's not a massive success, and it means that Dwayne Johnson needs a viable franchise to be 'box office', but for a film with nothing but The Rock to sell, this isn't a bad debut at all (it's higher than the $8 million debut for 2010's Faster, for example).  Johnson still has G.I. Joe: Retaliation next month and the sure to be *huge* Fast & Furious 6 on tap for May, so this almost qualifies as his "one for me" art film.  It's a good movie that I hope finds an audience and it's clearly a better choice for action junkies than A Good Day to Die Hard.

Friday, February 22, 2013

It's what we say we want: The Oscar case *for* Argo.

Argo (review) is not my favorite film of the year.  It didn't even make my best-of-2012 list.  It had to settle for the Runner-Ups section along with fellow nominee/front-runner Lincoln, a choice that caused no end of consternation from my mother-in-law who considers both to among her favorite films of 2012.  My favorite film of 2012 is Cabin In the Woods, a film that had about as much of a chance of winning Best Picture this year as Kung Fu Panda 2 did last year.  My favorite film among those nominated is Zero Dark Thirty, which went from front-runner to also-ran after Sony made the financial choice to not fight back against the frankly shameful 'this film endorses torture!' arguments until after the film's wide release.  There are a few films that are nominated that I don't care for (Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook), but I'd have to say that if we're picking a Best Picture on a the basis of what film most positively represents the year that was 2012, Argo is the best and most logical choice.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: Snitch (2013) is a potent political diatribe disguised as a solid B-movie action drama.

115 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Writer/director Ric Roman Waugh and writer Justin Haythe's Snitch (trailer) operates on two levels.  On one hand, it's a pulpy and satisfying B-movie, a distinctly old-fashioned studio programmer about a normal man thrust into an abnormal situation.  The film is compelling and engaging, keeping its head to the ground in terms of plausibility and authenticity.  Even when the film chooses action, the action beats are small-scale and life-sized, which in turn makes them more suspenseful.  But the film also operates on a second level, that of a somewhat angry political polemic.  While the film doesn't go all-in in condemning the entire 'war on drugs', it sticks to a specific portion of that misguided policy and makes an unimpeachable case for its stupidity.  The film thus earns bonus points for being able to successfully mix social moralizing with its action drama while sacrificing little in the way of story or character.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The best Die Hard sequel isn't really a Die Hard sequel.

If you're among the many film nerds rather bummed out about the rock-bottom status of A Good Day To Die Hard and you need something to wash the taste out of your mouth, the likely scenario would be to watch a Die Hard movie.  But say you just watched all of them in the run up to the new film, what then?  There exists another movie, released to little fanfare and poor box office just under seven years ago, that is not only a superior Bruce Willis action drama but arguably is a better "true" Die Hard sequel than the actual four Die Hard sequels.  To be fair, I liked the three prior official sequels, so this isn't the place to tear them down.  But for those who want a kind of alternate universe Die Hard sequel, one that arguably operates as a plausible and emotionally compelling 'final Die Hard' movie, as well as a just plain terrific action drama, I officially recommend Richard Donner's 16 Blocks.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rooting against action: How Die Hard 5 is like Lilo and Stitch.

There are any number of problems with A Good Day to Die Hard.  But the biggest sin is that it constructs its "story" in such a way that we end up rooting against John McClane.  No, I don't mean the film makes him a villain or anything that creative, I mean that we spend much of the film not wanting McClane to do what he does best: interfere with the carefully-laid plans of others with impromptu and kamikaze acts of violence.  The other prior Die Hard movies basically operated on a simple premise: John McClane is minding his own business when he gets reluctantly pulled into a horrible situation, a situation for which he is the only real hope to save the proverbial day.  He doesn't want to be the hero, but he damn-well is going to stick it out until the day is saved.  This time it's different.  This time John willingly inserts himself into a situation that he does not completely understand.  This time John is *correctly* viewed as an unwanted nuisance and a distraction by the other good guys who are trying to do their jobs.  For most of the film, John McClane is the problem rather than the solution.  In short, John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard has become Stitch.

Monday, February 18, 2013

For Presidents' Day: The prescient politics of Air Force One...

In a two-for-one deal, today we discuss both an above-average Die Hard riff and a film explicitly about presidential politics.  As an action picture, Air Force One remains a rather terrific adventure, even if it follows the beat-for-beat structure of Die Hard a bit more than the likes of Under Siege or Speed. It's superbly acted by Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, while containing several strong action beats and a thoughtful adult presentation of its subject matter. But putting aside its worth as a genre exercise, it was and remains a fascinating piece of subtly political cinema.  First and foremost, it stands as a prime example of the pre-9/11 idea that a big studio popcorn film could have explicit politics, even morally complicated politics, without being considered overtly political.  Second of all, it stands as a potent and prescient meditation on the personality-driven nature of today's governmental bodies, the 'cult of personality' if you will.  The whole film becomes a meditation on the political legacies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, especially when it comes to our reactions to their respective foreign policy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Box Office (02/17/13): Die Hard 5 tops, Save Haven opens well, Beautiful Creatures tanks.

Thanks to an unexpectedly strong second-weekend showing of Identity Thief, there's going to be a lot of wrangling about rank this weekend.  But as you know, I don't care about rank, so let's just get into the numbers.  The biggest opener of the weekend was the stunningly terrible A Good Day To Die Hard, which earned an estimated $25 million for the Fri-Sun weekend, $31 million over the four-day Presidents' Day holiday, and a projected $38 million since opening on Thursday the 14th.  This was the first Die Hard film to open outside of summer, and it's arguable that Fox knew full-well that it had a turkey on its hands.  There were no press screenings until the last minute and Fox didn't even bother to attach a teaser to The Wolverine to prints this weekend, which seemed like a no-brainer save for the danger of being associated with a stunningly bad film.  Nonetheless, the brand is still somewhat strong, although it's obviously waning. Not even playing the inflation game compared to the first three installments which came out in 1988, 1990, and 1995, the fifth Die Hard earned just $3 million more in five days then the fourth picture, Live Free or Die Hard earned over its Fri-Sun weekend back in June 2007.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) dies badly.

A Good Day to Die Hard
97 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson 

For a retrospective of the entire series, go HERE.

As my father likes to say, if you don't quit while you're ahead, you'll never be ahead.  By all rights, Live Free or Die Hard (trailer 01) should have been terrible.  It came twelve years after the previous installment, was helmed by the likes of Len Wiseman (a man who managed to make a movie about vampires fighting werewolves boring), ended up with a PG-13, and held back from the press for as long as humanly possible.  Yet, thanks to strong action sequences and a story very much concerned with John McClane coming to terms with his metaphorical death (IE - irrelevance), the fourth entry was just good enough to justify its existence.  But the McClane luck has officially run out.  A Good Day to Die Hard is a terrible film, one of the very worst theatrical movies I have ever seen.  It's willfully stupid, lacking in basic character chemistry and narrative discipline, officially turning John McClane into a borderline insane anti-social lunatic.  It has nothing worth recommending.  A Good Day to Die Hard is basically the movie we all thought we were getting six years ago.

Friday, February 15, 2013

At long last, Dreamworks Land! Dreamworks SKG plays the long game to chase Disney's cultural cachet.

"It's a giant advertisement for a movie studio."  That's the thought that crosses my mind whenever I find myself once again journeying to Disney Land with family in tow on another sunny Sunday morning.  My family and I have season passes and according to the Disney web site we've visited 33 times just in the last membership cycle.  Disneyland and Disney World are not only considered 'the Happiest Place on Earth' but also the defining ultimate destination for family recreation.  For those who don't live in places like California or Florida where Disney has one of their theme parks, a trip to Disney is often considered somewhat of a once-in-a-childhood event.  But at the end of the day, it is no different than any other large-scale amusement park one can find in countless places around the world.  They have neither the fastest roller coasters nor the bumpiest bumper cars.  In fact, the entire Disney corporation, all of its theme parks and merchandise and tie-ins are basically in service of advertising an entertainment company, a movie studio.  When you consider what the Disney name means for so many people, so many children and parents, how it operates as a kind of cultural legacy, that's an incredible achievement. And now, at long last, it looks like Dreamworks is getting into the game as well. I missed the the story back in July, about Dreamworks finally getting their act together regarding amusement parks.  The first one is apparently coming to New Jersey, with another in Shanghai and three more announced today for Russia.  This is a step that I've frankly wondered why they didn't do sooner.

Brandon Peters retrospective reviews: Die Hard 5 (2013)

I was supposed to attend Tuesday's A Good Day to Die Hard screening, with the intent of having a review up Wednesday afternoon.  Alas, my wife got sick (nothing uber-serious), so I still haven't seen the film.  But thankfully Brandon Peters was kind enough to whip up a review in my absence.  I'm intending on seeing the film this weekend and will try to have a review of sorts up then, but in the meantime, let's let Brandon Peters give us his thoughts on the fifth and (for now) final Die Hard adventure...

A Good Day to Die Hard

Director:  John Moore
Starring:  Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cole Hauser
Rated R
97 minutes

We’re not a hugging family.
                        ~John “Jack” McClane Jr

Let’s start out like this. 
 From the director of Max Payne, The Flight of the Phoenix remake and The Omen remake.
From the writer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hitman and Swordfish.
I know.  How can you contain your excitement?

With that on the table, it should come as no surprise that A Good Day To Die Hard clocks in as an absolute disaster and outright failure.  That this is a film in the beloved Die Hard franchise makes it hard to stomach.  Bruce Willis shows up for a paycheck in film that seemingly goes out of its way to make the viewer dislike it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brandon Peters's Die Hard Rankings: Rank Harder

So as always, we do the “cool” thing and rank the films in the series from least to best.  I am going to say while there is a last place, all the Die Hards are well worth your time if you've never seen them.  Its quite easy to just sink into any one of these and enjoy the adventure.  The series features one of the most likable and charismatic leads you’ll find in any franchise, let alone action movie.  That alone makes me excited for any Die Hard film.  My lone wish for the future of the franchise would be one more McTiernan directed film, but I don’t believe that’ll happen.  If this next film is on par with the last one, I’ll be fine.  I’m not expecting it to be the best, just a fun, unique adventure featuring John McClane.

Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013) is *almost* fantastic.

Beautiful Creatures
129 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

So much of Beautiful Creatures (trailer/banner) is so unexpectedly terrific that it's almost a tragedy when the picture eventually falls victim to its own plot.  For the 80-minutes or so, the film is warmly engaging, alternating between scenery-chewing camp from the adults and genuinely emotional pathos from the kids, anchored by fine acting and surprisingly clever and authentic dialogue throughout.  The romantic leads (Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich) have undeniable charm and chemistry while the likes of Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson relish the inherently goofy nature of this material while still pulling back when required.  The film paints an evocative picture of life in a dead-end fundamentalist American small town and is unapologetic about depicting some unpleasant sides of religious fundamentalism.  But while the film outright soars when  it focuses on character and human interaction, it cannot withstand the weight of its own overly contrived mythology.  The deeper the film gets into its central conflict the more of a mechanical plot exercise it becomes.  So superb is the first 2/3 of Beautiful Creatures that I felt genuine disappointment when the film flubbed the landing, ending itself in the territory of merely 'very good'.

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 4 (2007)

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard. As such, the fourth film on the list is obviously Live Free or Die Hard. The film has a rocky history and a rocky reputation, but I agree with most of Brandon's points below (my original review from 2007).  About that jet scene?  Here's a tip: Just skip it.  Hit the DVD skip button once and the film still flows 100% and works a good 10% better overall.  I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Live Free Or Die Hard
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olymphant(astic), Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith, Cliff Curtis
Rated PG-13 (more appropriately R-13)

What, like you a big fan of the Fett?

No, I was always more a Star Wars guy.

                        ~WAR10CK to McClane

It took twelve years for John McClane to return to the theaters around the world.  The franchise seemed a tad like it was complete.  No, With A Vengeance didn't spell out an end, but it just felt satisfactory and I think everyone kind of assumed it was the last hurrah.  Now, that didn't stop murmurs of a Die Hard 4 from popping up every so often.  Following the opening of Armageddon in 1998 came the first wind.  Willis and Armageddon co-star Ben Affleck were going to team up for it.  Affleck would play McClane’s son Jack and the film would take a minimalist “no weapons” approach taking place in the jungle. This never panned out.  Throughout the years the rumors would be there and most of them somehow including a Lucy McClane rescue.  Maybe inspired by Stallone’s revisiting of Rocky Balboa, Fox and Willis were motivated to finally get this off the ground.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Are documentaries a pathway through the glass ceiling for female directors in the fictional narrative arena?

Consider this a slightly interesting bit of news that hopefully will be a sign of things to come.  I generally don't post every press release I receive, mostly because there are other places you can go for that kind of thing.  But the press release regarding what was basically a casting announcement for Dakota Fanning caught my eye.  The film is called Every Secret Thing and it's also starring Diane Lane,  Danielle Macdonald, and Elizabeth Banks.  It concerns "two 11-year-old girls who are convicted of murdering a baby and are incarcerated until they turn 18.  Upon their release, children start to go missing; as the police turn their attention to the duo, the mystery surrounding the original murder comes back to light." The film's director is one Amy Berg.  Okay, so you have  female-driven film starring several major female talents and directed by a female director.  Always good news, but so what?  Well, Ms. Berg is making her feature film debut on the project, having previous cut her teeth in the realm of documentary film-making.

Are we laughing *with* Melissa McCarthy or *at* her?

Rex Reed lit a fire under the blogsphere last week when his negative review of Melissa McCarthy's Identity Thief referred to Ms. McCarthy as "cacophonous, tractor-sized" as well as a "female hippo". On one hand, at this point in time, getting pissed at something Rex Reed said is a lot like being outraged that Anne Coulter said something racist or that Armond White panned Toy Story 3 by comparing it unfavorably to Transformers 2. It's just what they do, and being outraged over it just gives them the attention they crave and thrive on. He also made a statement at the end of the review which stated that Ms. McCarthy is "a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious". That statement gave me pause, because quite frankly, there may be some kernel of truth to it. Okay, Gilmore Girls fans like myself know that McCarthy has been in the industry for around fifteen years, so "short" is inaccurate right there.  And calling a woman a hippo makes you an asshole and possibly a misogynist.   But the rest of it, the seemingly insulting part about the root of her stardom... he may be indirectly correct.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekend Box Office (02-10-13): Identity Thief cements Melissa McCarthy's stardom while Side Effects clarifies Channing Tatum's box office drawing power.

Melissa McCarthy is officially a comedy mega-star.  There can be little dispute of that after this weekend.  Identity Thief topped the box office this weekend with an astonishing $36.5 million and I'm at a loss to think of any reasons it would do so well aside from Ms. McCarthy.  Jason Bateman is a terrific actor and a fine foil, but he's box office poison as a lead (The Switch opened with $8.4 million, Extract opened to $4.3 million, and The Change-Up debuted with $13 million).  The film's simple and self-explanatory title, along with the clever expository tagline ("She's having the time of his life.") surely helped, as did the lack of any big comedies in the current marketplace.  Parental Guidance and This Is Forty are both doing stealthy strong business, with $74 million and $67 million thus far respectively, but this is the first big star comic vehicle in awhile and it delivered in spades.

This was McCarthy's first big test of her alleged stardom.  Identity Thief was completely sold on McCarthy's new-found stardom.  The core imagery was basically her face on the poster, slipping a Slurpee next to a befuddled Jason Bateman. This is a much larger debut than Bridesmaids, the film which catapulted her to fame and proverbial glory back in May, 2011.  This is among the ten-best R-rated comedy debuts ever and the fifth-best for a non-sequel.  Heck, it opened bigger than the PG-13 Couples Retreat, which had a proverbial whos-who of comedy players (Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, and Kristen Bell) and managed a $34 million debut back in October 2009. Fox has to be thrilled at the moment, knowing that they have a plausible gold-mine in the Melissa McCarthy/Sandra Bullock action-comedy The Heat waiting in the wings for June of this summer.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 3 (1995).

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard.  As such, the third film on the list is obviously Die Hard: With A Vengeance.  Brandon, myself, and the OutNow Podcast crew did a commentary for this picture a few weeks back which just posted yesterday, so if you want a truly exhaustive and time-consuming look at the film, double-dip accordingly.  But I will say that the film's esteem has grown very much over the last 18 years, so the point where it's no longer scandalous to admit that you like it as much or more than the original.  In that sense, it's the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade of the series.  I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Director:  John McTiernan
Starring:  Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Sam Phillips, Kevin Chamberlin
Rated R

Wait a minute. You mean to tell me I'm in this shit 'cause some white cop threw some white asshole's brother off a roof?
                        ~Zeus Carver

After a five year hiatus, Die Hard roars back…with a vengeance (*sigh* I tried, but I couldn’t resist).  And that’s literally the title.  John McTiernan resumes directorial duties and returns the franchise to the fresh original and fun that infused the original entry.  The film was a big success and went on to become the highest grossing in the series and the highest grossing film worldwide in 1995.  Instead of following the sort of “Die Hard formula”, McTiernan opens it up instead of keeping it closed in.  New York City becomes John McClane’s playground this time around.  Early on, the plans were for it to either happen on a cruise ship (that script later became Speed 2: Cruise Control) or the Los Angeles subway system.  Both ideas were scrapped for a hot script called Simon Says.  Simon Says had already been turned to down by the Lethal Weapon franchise for their third entry.  McClane was added and the script was infused with Die Hard and became Die Hard: New York.  Later as we know, the title became Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Movies I love more than anyone else: Shanghai Knights (2003).

This is the start of what may be a reoccurring feature of sorts, spotlighting the movies that aren't just my favorites, but films that I probably hold in higher esteem than anyone else out there in the critical community.  First up is a film that celebrates its tenth-anniversary this very day.  I'm speaking not of How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days (which I don't loathe), but rather the wonderful period-set comedy adventure Shanghai Knights.  It is a movie that yes, I love probably more than any other critic on Earth.  It is one of the few movies that was so damn good and so bloody enjoyable that I intentionally saw it in a theater three times during its first month of theatrical play.  It is one of my favorite movies from the last fifteen years and I'd argue that it is a near-perfect version of what it's attempting to be.

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard 2 (1990).

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard.  As such, the second film on the list is obviously Die Hard 2: Die Harder.  For what it's worth, I like the film a bit more than Brandon does, although I can't disagree with many of the points he makes below.  In my favor is the fact that Roger Ebert gave it a rave review and considers it the best of the franchise.  To my discredit is the fact that my wife, devoted fan of Batman & Robin and White Chicks, also considers it the best film of the franchise.  And yes, I did actually watch this film on an airplane two years ago.  That was pretty amazing and a sign of how weird our technology has become...  Anyway, I'll leave the floor to Brandon once again...

Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Bruce Willis, William Sadler, Dennis Franz, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Fred Thompson, Franco Nero, John Amos, Art Evans
Rated R

Oh man, I can't fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?
                        ~John McClane

John McClane’s second adventure is a fun, but soulless action romp that feels more like a Die Hard knock off than a piece of the series of which it is a part of.  John McClane and the roped in characters from the first film are the things barely keeping it from being just another Die Hard rip off.  The film lacks the direction, heart and game-changing attributes the kept the first one fresh exciting and fun to revisit.  The second Die Hard bets on your nostalgic feelings of the first film with characters and sticking with a formula and beats that made the first film so great.  Just because the location has upped the ante, doesn't mean the film is breaking new ground or advancing.  Instead of advancing, it feels like running in place but with less passion and creativity than the first one.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There can only be two! A possible future where Disney and Warner Bros. dominate franchise tent-pole film making...

The news that has broken over the last couple days is not a little depressing.  While the Seven Samurai-esque Star Wars stand-alone film to be helmed by Zack Snyder was quickly denied, we have gotten word for Disney that there would indeed be stand-alone Star Wars films.  The bad news?  So far, they seem to be entirely centered around well-established characters from the original trilogy.  You want a stand-alone prequel involving Yoda?  Or how about films centered around a young Boba Fett or a young(er) Han Solo?  If so, you're going to be pretty happy over the next half-decade or so.  But if you thought that Disney was buying the Star Wars franchise to somewhat expand its universe rather than merely give us unneeded origins and/or backstories for the very characters we already know a good deal about, well this news won't make you happy.  In fact it reeks of the kind of lazy corporate thinking that gives entertainment corporations a bad name.  It's frankly the first bit of news that might make one thing that maybe Disney, which in general has been relatively good to the properties they have purchased over the years (Muppets, Marvel, etc.) might not be the perfect owner of Lucasfilm that we all thought.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What will the next wave of blockbusters bring? What 2013 release will be the next Star Wars/Batman/Harry Potter?

This is something I've touched on here and there, but here we are in 2013.  I've been waiting with baited breath for awhile to see what the 2013 movie release schedule bring.  Will he pattern I've long spoken of hold true?  Will this year determine the next decade of mainstream blockbuster filmmaking?  If history repeats itself, something out there to be released this year will change the game.  If the pattern holds will have a major smash hit that will not only make a lot of money for its studio but will also blaze a trail in terms of what the next decade of blockbusters will look like. It has happened every eleven years or so for the last few decades.  What major 2013 release will usher in the next wave of tent-poles   What will those new films look like?  Or has the game-changer already happened while we weren't paying attention?

Trailer: Fast & Furious 6 spoils but excites while laying down the flag as the biggest action franchise around.

Despite my hope that Universal wouldn't feel the need to expand upon their superb Super Bowl commercial, Universal doesn't just have a new trailer, but an incredibly lengthy 3:22 trailer to boot.  It basically does little more than to expand upon the plot spoilers hinted at in the teaser, with only the last 60 seconds or so devoted to spoilery stunts and action.  I could argue that the trailer should have ended at the 2:20 mark and gone out as an extended tease, but I know that I'm shouting at the wins.  It's great stuff, although I rolled my eyes a bit at the random shots of gyrating women and the cliche of having the main female heroine (newcomer Gina Carano) squaring off against the main female villain (back-from-the-dead Michelle Rodriguiez) rather than having cross-gender fighting.  Those quibbles aside, this looks pretty spectacular, and it seems that the once laughable Fast & Furious franchise is now basically the top pure action franchise in Hollywood in the moment, give-or-take the newly rejuvenated 007 franchise.  The stunts look great, everybody looks happy to be back, and this could easily be one of the biggest movies of the summer, if not the biggest behind surefire smashes Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness. Sung Kang is still around, meaning that we're still in pre-Tokyo Drify territory.  Expect his fiery demise to get ret-conned somewhere along the way, perhaps in a gambit involving time travel.  Anyway, Fast & Furious 6 looks like a genuinely great piece of earthbound action.  Now can Universal quit while it's ahead and not spoil anything else from here on out?

Scott Mendelson

Brandon Peters retrospective review: Die Hard (1988).

It's time for another comprehensive franchise discussion from Brandon Peters, this time centering around the February 14th release of A Good Day to Die Hard.  As such, the first film on the list is, well, Die Hard.

Die Hard
Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring:  Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, , Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush
Rated: R

No fucking shit lady, do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza?
                        ~John McClane

If you’re at least 25, a male and haven’t seen Die Hard… you've got to be kidding, right?  John McTiernan’s 1988 action thriller arguably changed an entire genre and still has its effect ever so present in today’s action world.  The film launched what will be a five-film franchise coming this Valentine’s day.  Do they all work?  Should it have stopped after one?  two?.  That’s what we’re here to discuss.

Coming off the hit film Predator, director John McTiernan was offered the big screen adaptation of the book Nothing Lasts Forever, a sequel to The Detective (which was made into a movie in 1968).  McTiernan found the material too dark and turned it down initially.  Once the script was lightened up, he accepted.  Due to a contractual obligation, the star of The Detective, an aged Frank Sinatra had to legally be offered to the role first before anything was to move forward.  As expected, he turned it down.  The script was then refurnished to feature a younger lead and also the character’s daughter became his wife.  Joe Leland then became John McClane as to not confuse this as a direct follow up to The Detective.  And hoping to reteam with his star from his previous film, McTiernan offered the lead to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Once he turned it down, the bill of usual action movie suspects turned it down as well (Stallone, Mel Gibson, Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, even Richard Gere). 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Crappy Super Bowl Episode. When good shows pander for Super Bowl viewers.

My mother used to say that every time she would recommend a television show to friends or family members, the next episode to air would inevitably be terrible.  It would seem that said curse has passed down to her son in a manner of speaking.  It's no secret that I've become a genuine fan of CBS's Elementary, finding to be not only much better than expected but arguably about as good as BBC's Sherlock in its own specific way.  No, Johnny Lee Miller doesn't have the raw magnetism of Benedict Cumberbatch, but nor is his version of Sherlock Holmes supposed to be a tall and striking creature of pure sexual charisma.  They are two very different shows, and they both mostly succeed on their own respective goals and intentions.  Elementary is akin to USA's Monk, albeit without the painfully cornball humor and (so far) without a main character who has no idea how civilization functions at any given moment.  So last night CBS gifted the show with a prime post-Super Bowl episode, surely a perfect way to hook the masses on this surprisingly good show, right?  Well... no.  Last night's episode was easily the worst episode of Elementary yet aired by a healthy margin.  Of course that shouldn't be surprising, since it was the latest show to fall victim to the Curse of the Super Bowl.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful gets an FX-packed Super Bowl tease.

I'm still not uber-impressed, but I imagine I'll like the marketing more where James Franco talks less.  It's no secret that the current season is absolutely starved for kids-faire.  My daughter literally asked me today when there would be more kids movies for her to see. Whether or not I end up dragging her to this (my wife wants to see it too apparently), I imagine it will benefit mightily from the lack of such family-friendly fare in the first two months of the year, akin to The Lorax opening to $70 million last year for the same reason.  Come what may, it reminded me that I probably ought to show her the original Wizard of Oz, as I imagine she'd enjoy that one. It's also a fine education in the whole 'color vs. black-and-white' issue since she didn't end up seeing Frankenweenie.  This certainly looks visually impressive, with a sparse and less cluttered look compared to Burton's Alice In Wonderland.  The laughing at the end pretty much rules out Michelle Williams as the 'wicked witch', so now it's just a question of whether or not Rachel Weisz (who the laughing voice sounds most like) is the real villain or merely the red herring to hide Mila Kunis's true villainy.  Anyway, this is probably the last major tease we'll see until release, give or take the usual clips released online.

Scott Mendelson        

The Lone Ranger gets a 90-second Super Bowl tease.

I'm not sure 'good enough' is quite what Disney wants to hear in regards to their very pricey summer tentpole, but that pretty much sums it up.  This Gore Verbinski film looks like solid fun, with a nice blend of humor and myth-making.  It's a bit odd to hear what I presumed is the villain (Tom Wilkinson) telling the 'comforting' story of the Lone Ranger, but I can't fault an ad for my own confusion.  The action looks grand and seems to have quite a bit of personality, and I'm partial to an action film that feels like a genuine 'jumping and swinging' adventure.  Will this set the world on fire?  I have no idea, but Disney can always just demand a Pirates of the Caribbean 5 at a reduced rate if this flops.  For those who like the western, this seems like the real deal, a genuine bit of western action-adventure on a modern tentpole scale.  And yes, on that note, it looks a lot better than Wild Wild West.

Scott Mendelson   

Star Trek Into Darkness gets a Super Bowl tease and (more intriguingly) a two-day early IMAX release.

Okay, so having Kirk ask who Benedict Cumberbatch is and having the villain merely answer "I'm better... at everything" is just being obnoxious, although I appreciate the subtle dig at those dying for confirmation about who he's playing in this sequel.  The rest of the tease is pretty much standard 'dark sequel' boilerplate, and I can't wait for someone to eventually cut together a super-cut of scary villain interrogation scenes with Joker, Loki, Silva, and whoever the hell Cumberbatch is playing, in turn followed by a supercut of their magnificent and meticulously planned escapes  ("He's been planning this for years!"  "He planned to get caught!" "He wanted to hit us where it hurts!").  What's interesting is the news that the film will debut on IMAX 3D two days ahead of its planned May 17th national release.  I wrote way back when that the successful five-day sneak release of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol would start this kind of thing, and it appears that I was right.  Tom Cruise's Oblivion is getting a full week of exclusive IMAX play and Skyfall of course opened a day early in IMAX.  Now Skyfall made a whole $2.5 million on that Thursday, so we're talking more about word of mouth than actually amassing major IMAX bucks.  Still, the early sneak release means that Paramount is playing long ball, arguably sacrificing a shot at the Fri-Sun record books (however unlikely) for a chance to get the word out before the weekend even begins.  It's a promising strategy and one that also implies that Paramount has confidence in the product and/or will be having long-lead press screenings for critics more important than myself.  I'll still get the All-Media at worst, but I sincerely hope that Paramount actually screens this for press *in* IMAX, unlike nearly every major theatrical release from 2012 save The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises.

Scott Mendelson

Iron Man 3 gets a creative and compelling Super Bowl tease.

This is the first piece of marketing we've seen since the teaser back in October, and it's actually a nice deviation.  The extended version (which only includes about 20 seconds of additional footage) is mostly stuff we've seen from the theatrical teaser while the remaining thirty seconds sets up without ruining a major action set piece.  I actually watched both Iron Man films over the last couple weeks and I have to say they have both aged very well, even the second one which is still flawed mostly in its messy third act and its weirdly kid-friendly tone when it comes to its poorly-developed villainy.  There's not much more to say, other than the set piece in question looks terrific and kinda scary (for no particular reason, the idea of being sucked out of an airplane, especially while still strapped to a seat, has always been kinda disturbing to me).  From what we've seen, it looks like Happy is the film's big death, but other than that I hope that Marvel and Disney show a little restraint especially as they actually have action sequences to market, as opposed to the last film which had just two major set pieces from which to cull footage.  I'm sure we'll get another trailer, probably attached to Oz: The Great and Powerful on March 8th.  But for now I'm glad about how little I know about the actual story, even having read the comic arc that it's loosely based on.

Scott Mendelson    

Fast & Furious 6 teaser wins the Super Bowl. I dare Universal to not cut any more marketing materials until after it opens.

Well, that was worth the wait, but then Universal, like Paramount's Transformers series, has always done well by way of Super Bowl teasers with this long-running franchise.  A few notes.  A) Are the random shots of scantily-clad gyrating women really necessary?  B) I still think Universal is nuts not to open this one in April where it will absolutely dominate the pre-summer season.  Oh sure, it may well win the Memorial Day weekend race, but everybody loses a little by the demo head-to-head match ups.  The Hangover III and Fast & Furious 6 are literally targeting the same demographic and both films will open a bit less than they otherwise would have without direct competition.  Coming off the obscenely good and quite popular Fast Five, an unopposed Fast & Furious 6 would be looking at a $100 million+ Fri-Sun debut.  Heck, The Hangover part III may well have a shot at that too under different circumstances, even if the second film wasn't quite as beloved as the first one.  But going head-to-head?  Now both will be lucky to get past $75 million apiece.  For what?  A dick-measuring contest?  Anyway, last point, this is such a grand and effective teaser that I challenge Universal to stop.

Weekend Box Office (02/03/13): Warm Bodies tops while Bullet to the Head tanks.

Ah, Super Bowl weekend!  Warm Bodies (review) can go from a $9 million Saturday to a $2.9 million Sunday and it's okay!  According to the studio, it earned $8.1 million on Friday, $9 million on Saturday, yet is expected to make just $2.9 million today.  Yes, I know today is the Super Bowl, but I'm always shocked by these mega drops each and every year.  The film, which has an estimated $20 million debut, played 60% female (because girls like horror films too!) and 65% under 25, which means it is doing best outside of the stereotypical older male football fan who is already getting ready for the big game so it may end up with a slightly higher weekend total in the end.  It earned a B+ from Cinemascore, with an A- from those under 25 and an A from those under 18.  Regardless, this is a solid debut for a film that easily could have played to the geek crowd exclusively. This is the kind of film that could have easily opened with $8 million over the weekend, as opposed to $8 million on its first day.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fast & Furious 6 gets poster and most boring title possible.

They just couldn't wait one more day could they?  Universal is of course debuting the first teaser for the sixth Fast and the Furious film tomorrow during the Super Bowl, and the prime reason for curiosity was discovering what the title was going to be.  Well, wonder no longer, cause Universal had to release the above teaser poster and spoil all the fun.  And really, Universal, Fast & Furious 6?  That was the best you could come up with?  They could have gone with any number of more creative titles for this sixth installment.  And while my personal pick, Faster & Furiousier, is probably never going to happen (followed of course by Fastest and Furiousest), the producers certainly had license to have a bit more fun than they've obviously chosen to do.  Also, boring title aside, we have a synopsis, which takes the story in the most logical next direction (the gang teams up with Dwayne Johnson in exchange for pardons), but it's also a little odd when you consider the last film.  

If you recall, the whole point behind the big $100 million drug money heist was to earn the financial security needed to not live on the lam anymore.  Yet now we learn that they are basically suffering from the same 'this is no way to raise a family' issues they had last time.  Minor issues to be sure, likely more to do with the generic plot synopsis than any real script problems, but I do hope that part 6 is indeed a continuation rather than a rehash.  What made Fast Five more than just hollow action stunts is the attention to continuity from the previous installments that gave the film an emotional kick that it otherwise would not have had.  Anyway, Fast & Furious 6 opens May 24th, against The Hangover part III.  One of those should damn well move since they are both targeting the same demographic, but that's not my problem.  I'll post the Super Bowl teaser sometime tomorrow evening.  So what would be your pick for a better, more creative title for this sixth entry?  Oh, and the official synopsis is below (spoiler warning if you didn't stay for the end credits of Fast Five).

Scott Mendelson

Since Dom (Diesel) and Brian’s (Walker) Rio heist toppled a kingpin’s empire and left their crew with $100 million, our heroes have scattered across the globe. But their inability to return home and living forever on the lam have left their lives incomplete.

Meanwhile, Hobbs (Johnson) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across 12 countries, whose mastermind (Evans) is aided by a ruthless second-in-command revealed to be the love Dom thought was dead, Letty (Rodriguez). The only way to stop the criminal outfit is to outmatch them at street level, so Hobbs asks Dom to assemble his elite team in London. Payment? Full pardons for all of them so they can return home and make their families whole again.


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