Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" Films Get Names

As per Hitfix, we have titles and release dated for Peter Jackson's much-delayed but finally-near-completed adaptation of The Hobbit.  Much like the trend recently with film adaptations of epically popular books, Jackson and New Line are splitting J.R.R. Tolkien's book into two parts.
it's gonna look like this, right?
Part one, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will hit theatres next Christmas on December 14, 2012.  The second installment, The Hobbit: There and Back, will open just under a year from its predecessor on December 13, 2013.  The Oscar-winning scriptwriting trio of Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens will be joined by The Hobbit's one-time director and scribe, Guillermo del Toro as writers on the screenplay.  Jackson, of course, returns to direct and a number of the original actors from Lord of the Rings return to New Zealand.
Jackon, post Kong Kong weight loss
Given that Lord of the Rings was such a monolith when it came to the Oscars, I'm very interested to see how The Hobbit plays in 2012 and 2013.  Will it be another dominate franchise, or are the Oscars over Jackson and Middle Earth?  I'm a little skeptical, especially since the industry will be voting for the first one knowing that it'll have the second to honor the next year.  I should probably begin the book before 2012, but that never effected my enjoyment of the original trilogy.  Surely it will make a statement in the technical categories, but what of the screenplay, acting, and other big races?  We'll have to wait a year and a half to find out.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Looking Back: Working Girl

(dir. Mike Nichols, 1988)

I've spent years trying to locate this movie and watch it.  No, I admit that it's not the hardest movie to find, but I could just never get a hold of it on Netflix or the library or whatever.  And finally it appeared on Instant Queue and my long wait was finally over (merely by saying "Honey, Harrison Ford is in it," I convinced my fiancée to sit down and watch it with me).

It's the late 1980s and hotheaded-yet-business-savvy Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is struggling to be more than just a peace of meat in the fast-paced world of New York business.  After calling her boss (a thin Oliver Platt) a pimp, she's relocated to the office of shrewd, shoulder-pad wearing Katharine Parker (played brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver).  Weaver at first seems to be a kind boss, and in fact if I didn't know she was supposed to turn out evil, that slow section of the film would have been devoid of tension.  But it was just waiting for Weaver to do something bad or act like a witch, which she finally does after being betrayed by McGill.  When Katharine breaks her leg skiing, our secretary cum Wall Street virtuoso takes over her office and begins to set in motion a brilliant business acquisition (originally her idea) which Katharine had tried to deflate and secretly steal.  Oh, and along the way she falls in love with Jack Trainer, a sleepwalking Harrison Ford.

You always hear Working Girl references as being very, very 80s in both fashion and design.  After watching the whole thing, I'm less shocked and more flabbergasted that it was so beloved at the 1988 Academy Awards. I hardly find anything to dislike about a film that's nominated for some kind of Oscar; I may not love every film nominated, but I can at least appreciate why some people like it, but about this film, I have nothing good to say.

Well, Weaver was good.  But the buck stops there. Oh, and the song "Let the River Run" by Carly Simon.  There was one particularly good scene at the beginning of the film, where Griffith is set up with a trashy businessman perfectly played by an ageless Kevin Spacey.

"You SLUT!"
How this was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and three acting races is a little beyond me. Griffith seemed like she was lost without a paddle the entire time, and not just because she was a woman in a man's world but because she was put in the precarious potion of having to act.  Maybe it was partially due to Kevin Wade's comically atrocious dialog, but Griffith's emotional range never rose above mildly irked.  Whenever something huge or stressful would happen in the character's life, all Griffith could muster was a banal "Okay" or "Snake" before hanging up the phone or calmly turning around.  I rarely say this, but it really felt as though she was merely...saying lines the whole time, and trying to remember them halfway through saying them.

Joan Cusack and Harrison Ford were both criminally underused and hardly present.  Ford's allotted one good scene, and after that the rest of his character and thereby his performance are nothing short of predictable. Cusack could have had a juicy part, but really is only able to shine in one scene that takes place about halfway into the film; after that, she basically disappears and Griffith's full lingerie set becomes her new sidekick.

The most painful part for me, though, was that no one changed in the film.  No character has an arch, there's very little evolution.  At the beginning, McGill was tough-headed and business-minded, and at the end she still is, but the only difference is people's perception of her.  Ford's character certainly doesn't change, since he's never painted as anything close to the other Wall Street snakes in the film, so when he has a heart of gold at the end there's no big reveal there (he doesn't even sleep with Griffith the night the drunkenly meet and she sleeps over).  Cusack's Cyn isn't carefully imagined enough by the screenwriter to even have a change, so the only thing that evolves on her is the amount of eyeliner and hairspray she uses.  Not even Weaver could manage an arch; witch at the beginning and witch at the end.  This, I think, is why I couldn't care about any character...they were just all so flat and boring.  This movie was about a working girl, but it's a movie that needs a lot of work to get through.  The costumes are the highlights.  GRADE: D-


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "50/50"

Try not to love him.  I dare you.  Just try.  Women love him and guys think he's awesome, and I'll always remember him as the best part of 3rd Rock From the Sun.  Is there a person alive who can look as dapper wearing skinny ties and vests.

I'm foreseeing the possibility of this snagging an Original Screenplay nomination for scribe Will Reiser, given the indie dramedy feel from the trailer.  This type of film typically registers well with the writing branch, and if not the Oscars most certainly the WGA.

I loved Levitt's work in (500) Days of Summer, so he's proven he's capable of leading man work.  His character is going down a different journey in 50/50, but this could be a big showcase for this constantly almost-next-big thing actor.  The supporting cast looks fun, with greats thesps like Anjelica Huston, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Philip Baker Hall offering reefer snacks.  The only slight concern I have with the trailer is Seth Rogen and the way-too-obvious-and-too-numerous alone shots of Levitt.  But, this could be a fun movie.

Oh.  And how about that Anna Kendrick?  She looks great in it.


Friday, May 27, 2011

"A hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card"

Loved him in Grease.  Rest in peace, Jeff Conaway.


Clip/Trailer from "Happy Feet 2 in 3D"

Yes.  That's actually the title.  It's not a subtitle or an additional discription, but this sequel to George Miller's Academy Award-winning Happy Feet is called Happy Feet 2 in 3D.  It's even its official IMDb title.  This is what we've come to, I guess.

There was something I found fun about the original, though.  It had nice songs, strongly-imagined dance sequences, and impressive animation.  I can say that I enjoyed it.  (Though, my personality is one of comparison, and since 2006 was a year of relatively weak animation, I think perhaps my opinion on the film is bloated.  But that's neither here nor there.)

While I'll always appreciate true-to-life animation, personally it just turns me off.  I appreciate it from a craft standpoint and understand how difficult it is to capture realistic humans, environments, and animals...but I just don't like it very much.  Nevertheless, given that its predecessor won the Best Animated Feature Oscar, this one is surely to be in the conversation if not a nominee at the 2011 awards.

Eat all penguins...please.  EAT THEM.
Also.  There is just so...much...dancing in this.  It's almost as if they're trying to say, "Hey, remember when we sang Grandmaster Flash's 'The Message' in the first one?  This is sorta like that!"  Does 3D have to be the future of animation?  Thoughts on the trailer?


Thursday, May 26, 2011

First Image of Pixar's "Brave"

The first image of Pixar's Brave has shown up over at Pixar Times.  Looks cool, huh?  And I should say, isn't this quite the brave move by Pixar?  From what I understand, Brave is going to be Pixar's first female-led animated film.  I'm not trying to create some feminist debate here, but Buzz, Woody, WALL-E, Remy, Carl, Marlin, Mike Wazowski, etc. were all men and all the stars of some of Pixar's biggest hits.  The closest the studio ever came to giving a female co-lead billing was Mrs. Incredible, who (by the good graces of Holly Hunter) carries the film.  But seriously...look at her awesome hair.

But nevermind that.  I'm very excited for this film.  Pixar hasn't released much information regarding this 2012 film, but what we do know is that it's being directed by another new-to-helming director, Mark Andrews.  Andrews was Oscar-nominated for the animated short One Man Band, and marks Pixar's third newbie director since the trifecta of Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, and John Lasseter helmed most of their 00s films.  But on board for the first time are two female scribes, in the duo of Emmy-nominee Irene Mecchi and Brenda Chapman, who became the first American female to direct an animated picture back in 1998 with The Prince of Egypt

As a rule, Pixar never let's me down at the movies.  I don't expect them to start here. Looking  good.  What do you think?


George Clooney in "The Descendants"

Above is the new trailer for Alexander Payne's first film since the Oscar-winning critical darling Sideways.  The Descendants, staring George Clooney and The Secret Life of the American Teenager's Shailene Woodly (who looks fantastic) as a clashing father-daughter pair, is about family dynamic in the wake of the mother's illness.  Supporting roles by Beau Bridges and Robert Forester look fun, and from the trailer alone we get a good sense of Payne's signature drama/comedy tightrope walking.
Er, tightrope running, I mean.
For my money, Payne is a great storyteller, but he's been hit and miss for me.  However, his films have consistently increased their visibility at the Oscars come awards season, if all three ultimately disappointed in early-season expectations.  I'm a huge fan of Clooney doing drama, so I'm hoping this is going to be good.  Below is the poster (seen here on IMDb in better quality), released just a few days ago, which looks only slightly like a Lifetime Original Movie.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jason Segal tackles "The Muppets"

If you saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides this weekend, you likely saw the brand spanking new trailer for the Jason Segal-penned revival of The Muppets.  But you may not have known you were watching it at first.  As always with the Muppets, the comedy reigns supremes, and that awfully tricky opening got me excited.  It's typical Muppet humor, but that's exactly what I love. Looks like there are a ton of musical numbers, which makes me smile; any chance to hear Amy Adams sing again in a movie is worthy of the ticket price.  Even a 3D ticket price.  I'm in.  Color me tickled to see the Muppets back on the big screen where they belong.
"Kermit...the Frog?"
The poster, pictured, below (and seen here on IMDb in higher resolution) is cool, if not slightly creepy.  When do we ever see the entire body of a Muppet?  I don't know if I've ever seen Fozzie Bear look so terrifying or Gonzo so dapper.  If he wears argyle the whole film, I may not be able to sit still.  Also, does it look like they're descending from an UFO?

Monday, May 23, 2011

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (B-)

(dir. Rob Marshall, 2011)

Full disclosure: this franchise is something which, despite poor quality and confusing narratives, I cannot hate.  No matter whether or not a Pirates film is good, I manage it thoroughly enjoy it.  It's the hold the franchise has over me.  Color me a biased film critic, matey.  (Also, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in all it's by-the-book and Disneyfied glory, is my favorite film of all time.  Right around The Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction, White Christmas, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

But this film, the fourth in an admittedly bloated series, was attempting to recapture the start-up magic of the original.  It was without the second and third films' penchant for elaborate, complicated plots and subplots.  But it never fully recaptured the feeling of the original.  What was so grand about the first three was their undeniable epic scope; you felt like you were watching something that was a true adventure flick.  But On Stranger Tides doesn't have that feeling.  It's deflated.

This time around, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp prancing around in the role that made him a star) is left yet again without a ship trying to locate the infamous Fountain of Youth.  Along his way he meets villain turned ally turned privateer Hector Barbossa (a perfectly hammy Geoffrey Rush), an erstwhile paramour (Penelope Cruz), and the mysterious Blackbeard (Ian McShane doing what he can to save the role from disaster).  Oh, and there's a replacement for Orlando Bloom's Will Turner in their somewhere and a mermaid.  But best not to bother ourselves with talking about them in depth, the filmmakers certainly didn't.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bane from The Dark Knight Rises

Above is the creepy new picture of Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, which just started principle filming the other day.  More excitingly, the very first image from Christopher Nolan's much anticipated follow-up for his Oscar-winning 2008 The Dark Knight.  Much ado was made regarding the first cryptic image of Heath Ledger's The Joker a few years ago, and Bane's appearance isn't disappointing me right now.  Typical Nolan twist on hardcore comic characters.  Let's hope the rest of the film holds up, shall we?

An improvement over the horrendous imagining of Bane in Batman and Robin, pictured below.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

REVIEW: Thor (B+)

(dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2011)

For starters, I was a major skeptic of this thing.  Just goes to show was a little restraint can do to an overblown genre.

Kenneth Branagh's surprisingly subdued superhero film, Thor, is something godly indeed.  Living within a genre that recently has been known for CGI-injected heroes, Chris Hemsworth has proven himself apt as the titular God of Thunder.  Much like Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, Hemsworth's stalwart performance is grounded in his earnest acceptance of the situations.  That sounds a little Acting 101, doesn't it, but it actually makes the fantasy elements within the genre seem more believable.  He's never amazed that he's a God, never in awe of himself or his surroundings, and that is where the character of Thor is crafted.

One can credit this to Branagh, but also credit must be due to Hemsworth and the writing.  From the script up, this is a character study.  Not an origin story, or something rooted in a climactic battle, but rather a small tale of a god becoming the man he was meant to be.  Again, much like Iron Man, the heart of the film is in the characters.  You care about Thor, and halfway through, you don't even realize that you haven't witnessed an enormous battle on Earth yet, and even when you do, you don't care all that much that it was relatively lame.  The beauty of Thor  is that you see the change a normal, more bloated battle would tell you...but Branagh and Hemsworth show you instead.  Like that less-than-awesome RDJ vs. Bridges fight to close out Iron Man, this Thor vs. Hot Laser Machine is more of an means to and end than an attention grabbing climax.  The greatest of all superhero movies hold their climaxes for off the battle field—Iron Man, Spider-Man 1 & 2, The Dark Knight, etc.—because they know the hero is what really matters.

Sure, some of the secondary acting is flat and useless, but that all goes back to Thor being the only character we need to worry about.  All the Asgard—Thor's home planet, er realm—scenes have their touch of silliness, but most of them don't last long enough to be too obnoxious.  When Asgardians visit Earth, however, hilarity truly ensues.  There is much intentional comedy within this action film, which adds to the heart of the picture.  When Thor's quartet of friends travel to Earth complete in their Dungeons and Dragons convention costumes, a lesser filmmaker wouldn't have noticed the inherent absurdity in that situation, but Branagh did.  Even the "can you repeat that?" Thor lore is spiced up with comedy, since no one can pronounce let alone understand what Mjölnir is.  It's rare, but some of the dialog is actually clever!  A pretty predictable but nevertheless rewarding ongoing gag about stealing computer equipment actually made the audience laugh—every time.

But basically where the film excels is where it isn't heavyhanded, where is allows the words and the actors to move the scene instead of CGI or battles.  The soft scenes outweigh the bombastic ones in both quality and interest; you hardly care that Thor is fighting some laser machine, you just want him to beat it and get on to the next scene.  The least interesting scene in the whole film is probably the most CGI-ridden, where Thor and his comrades travel to an ice planet to beat-up some Ice Giants and a faux-rancor monster.  Totally boring.

From a technical standpoint, the cinematography was exciting if not typical of the current action film lens flair style.  The Costumes are absurd, yet appropriately absurd, I think, the best someone could do to recreate the style present in the comics.  Set designs for Asgard are gaudy at best, but it's again the Earth scenes that are the highlight; while hearkening back to 1950s-style small-town-in-the-middle-of-a-desert look, designers Bo Welch, Maya Shimoguchi, Lauri Gaffin create a distinct atmosphere in Thor that somehow helps with the believability of a God landing in the desert.

Overall, though it has many faults, Thor has the chops of not only a great superhero film, but a great film.  For me, it ranks somewhere in the league with but below Iron Man, Spider-Man and Batman Begins, and handedly above The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Wolverine.  The wonderful Natalie Portman and the underused Kat Dennings are luminous as the human counterparts to Hemsworth's Thor, yet any and all Asgard residents (sleepwalking Anthony Hopkins' Odin and iron-jawed Tom Hiddleston's Loki) could have done much, much more.  For the many inside references to the upcoming Avengers, they all play too much into the hand of super-fans to actually be entertaining.  There's a scene where a soon-to-be Avenger appears, that falls totally flat by virtue of the unknown nature of both the actor and said hero.

Nevertheless, with Hemsworth and Downey Jr. on board for the Avengers project, I'm slightly less critical about this than I initially was.  If they can capture the magic that Thor did, I think we'll be in fine condition.  GRADE: B+