“Country Strong” Poll Results

13 01 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow gets to host “SNL” this weekend, and once that’s over, talk around “Country Strong” will die forever.  It has put up lackluster numbers at the box office, only grossing $7.5 million in its opening weekend.  Surprisingly, Screen Gems chose to open it in less than 1,500 theaters, something that drove down numbers.

The reviews have been pretty poor, too, and I’m no exception.  Last week, I wrote:

“Unintentionally hilarious … it’s ridiculously melodramatic and populated with four stock characters who go through alarmingly little growth throughout the movie.  [There’s] no reason to care …”

It seemed like a good idea for Paltrow to be in contention for Best Actress given that rehabbed characters often make for flashy performances.  You all seemed to think bite the bait as well judging by the poll results.  3 voters thought Paltrow could get nominated, while only one detractor thought she wouldn’t.  If the I‘s have it, I’ll eat my hat in two weeks.

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REVIEW: Country Strong

8 01 2011

Unintentionally hilarious, “Country Strong” is a wannabe rehash of “Crazy Heart,” “Walk the Line,” and “Dreamgirls.”  It’s ridiculously melodramatic and populated with four stock characters who go through alarmingly little growth throughout the movie.  With no reason to care, it’s easy to kick back and enjoy some surprisingly classy country music.  That means there’s none of that soulless pop-country blend that Taylor Swift has pushed into the mainstream; it’s the country music you’ll hear in the saloons and bars in the heart of America.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kelly Canter plays a shamed superstar country singer pulled out of rehab early by her demanding husband and manager James, played by Tim McGraw.  Neither are in love with each other anymore, as Kelly has her eye on small-time singer Beau (Garrett Hedlund) and James goes after the much younger Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a beauty queen turned country-pop star who seems to be a Taylor Swift parody in herself.  As you can imagine, the two upstart country singers Beau and Chiles, whose relationship begins rocky, ultimately find each other in love.

I’m not going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the humor; I assume it was really poorly made and acted.  Denim-clad Paltrow is pretty dreadful when it comes to playing the rehabbing drunk apparently based on Britney Spears, tripping over cliches just like the movie itself.  She could have taken a few notes from Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married,” who totally nailed the confusion and disillusionment of the not-quite-rehabbed woman.  McGraw is fine playing a tough guy, and Hedlund feels natural on stage and behind the mic.  Leighton Meester, on the other hand, is comedic dynamite – which is probably attributable to her sub-par acting skills.  Funny, I thought she would have really picked up some great technique on “Gossip Girl.”

As long as you aren’t looking for a story or acting, you’ll enjoy the first hour and a half of “Country Strong.”  It’s corny, campy fun in country style.  But beware of the world’s worst ending, so bungled and poorly written that it derails the entire experience and leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth at the end.  It’s almost like in an effort to avoid predictability, they chose the most bizarre ending even though it didn’t fit with the movie’s tone or events.  So, in order to get the optimal experience out of a crummy movie, stop watching “Country Strong” after Kelly’s big concert in Dallas.  Make your own ending to the movie and just be satisfied with the dumb melodrama.  C





What To Look Forward To in … January 2011

13 12 2010

Hard to believe we are just around the corner from a new year!  2011, here we come … er, here we enjoy 2010’s movies a little while longer until the new year offers us something good.  Here are January’s sincerest efforts!

January 7

Nicolas Cage just keeps distancing himself further and further from his Oscar win for “Leaving Las Vegas” back in 1995.  He kicks off another disappointing year of quirky movie selection with “Season of the Witch,” originally slated for release about 9 months ago.  This supernatural thriller where he plays a 1300s Crusader and gets involved in some sort of black magic.  Needless to say, go see “Little Fockers” again.

Speaking of 2010, most theaters will finally be receiving “Country Strong” this week; whether it comes with any sort of awards season heat though is yet to be seen.  Gwenyth Paltrow’s vehicle as a fading country music star in desperate need of rehab looks a little corny and cliched, but would you rather see “Season of the Witch?”  My guess is no.

January 14

“The Green Hornet” was going to be a fanboy favorite, despite the casting of Seth Rogen as the title character.  Then some footage was released at Comic-Con, and everyone saw that it was just a typical Rogen slacker humor-a-thon.  They got angry, but I got happy.  I love Seth Rogen’s shenanigans, and I’m happy to see him move them to some genre other than gross-out comedy.

Is it possible for a movie’s trailer to get more coverage than the movie itself?  That’s likely the case for “The Dilemma,” a comedy of best friends, secrets, and infidelity strangely directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard.  With the use of the word gay, the trailer sparked an uproar and plenty of discussion on the power of words in society.  Apparently the joke stayed in the movie, and while I won’t head to the movie just to see that, I’ll probably hit it some other time once I’ve knocked out my mandatory 2010 viewing.

Also worth noting: “Rabbit Hole” should be getting a wide expansion this weekend.  If you haven’t seen it, SEE IT!  As for other 2010 movies just seeing release in the new year, there’s also “Barney’s Version,” the dramedy starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, and Dustin Hoffman.  All those names together can’t be too bad.

Opening as well is “Every Day” with Liev Schrieber, Carla Gugino, and Helen Hunt in a rare appearance.  But given the no-name distributors, it’s going to be a while before it hits anywhere other than New York or Los Angeles.  And for all environmentalists out there, “Plastic Planet” looks at how safe plastic really is.

January 21

“No Strings Attached” looks like a suitable romantic comedy.  Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, the movie tells the story of two lovers who only want a physical connection – in other words, the flip side of the coin of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s directed by Ivan Reitman, who helmed old classics like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” but also new stinkers like “Evolution” and “My Super-Ex Girlfriend.”  All I can say is that this had better not be for Natalie Portman what “Norbit” was for Eddie Murphy.

If “The Way Back” didn’t look interesting and gritty as you-know-what, I’d probably joke that it’s the “Defiance” of 2010/2011.  But alas, I can’t poke fun at this trailer.

And for the third time, “The Company Men” has been moved, this time to 2011 and out of Oscar contention.  So now everyone can safely stop worrying about Tommy Lee Jones pulling another “In the Valley of Elah” and get back to writing this movie off.

January 28

Hey, look!  It’s another movie starring Jason Statham and a gun!  In other words, you’ve probably seen “The Mechanic” before.  As for other retreads, there’s another Catholic Church conspiracy theory movie combined with an exorcism movie.  Top it off with a little creepy Anthony Hopkins, and you get “The Rite!”

From Prada to Nada” opens also in limited release, but this Jane Austen wannabe tale looks entirely dismissable.  Unless, of course, you want to see Carmen from “Spy Kids” all grown up.

So, what’s the verdict on January?  Are you going to don the glasses for “The Green Hornet” or just see “TRON: Legacy” again?






Oscar Moment: “Country Strong”

26 11 2010

“Country Strong” is Middle America bait, combining country music and rehabbed alcoholic singers a la “Crazy Heart” with a spunky heroine with a down-home charm a la “The Blind Side.”  Coincidentally, both of those movies featured leading performances that won Oscars in 2009.  So are we looking at a similar trajectory for Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie’s leading lady?

Paltrow has already hit the promotional trail in somewhat unconventional but definitely effective ways.  She guest-starred on “Glee,” singing a cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.”  Then, directly aimed at the people who will see “Country Strong,” she performed the movie’s titular track at the Country Music Awards (CMAs) in Nashville.  Here’s a clip of her singing:

Let’s not forget that Paltrow has already won Best Actress for a completely different flavor of acting (for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998).  Her star power could power her into the race even though her only Academy friendly movie that has gotten any recognition was “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001.  However, her foray into the dramatic with “Proof” landed her a Golden Globe nomination, so perhaps “Country Strong” will have that extra push to get her into the Best Actress field.  Yet even taking her competition out of the picture, I think it would be difficult for the Academy to vote her to a second win.  They realize now what a great honor their trophies are, and when someone like Hilary Swank has the same amount of wins as Meryl Streep, something’s up.

Paltrow and the movie have lost one big building block to an Oscar campaign in the Golden Globes.  The HFPA decided to place “Country Strong” in the drama category, which is much tougher to receive nominations (not to mention wins) because of the more respected field.  If the movie were placed in musical/comedy (since it features a lot of song), Paltrow would compete against Annette Bening and Sally Hawkins.  In drama, she will face Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and several other talented actresses.  And for the lightweight movie, talk about a huge long shot to score a Best Picture nomination.  The only way I could see it sneaking in would be for there to magically be more than 5 nominated films.

And since this is a movie about country music, it will be a strong contender in the Best Original Song category.  There are two featured tracks in contention for the win, “Me and Tennessee” and “Coming Home.”  The rules have changed in the Best Original Song category to try to prohibit one movie from hogging all the nominations and thus vote splitting; this is why Alan Menken only chose to submit one song from “Tangled” for consideration.  If “Country Strong” wants to win this category, Screen Gems needs to pick one song to put all their horses behind.

There are 18 days between the wide release of “Country Strong” and the announcement of the 83rd Oscar nominations.  If it manages to rake in some nice box office dollars, I suspect we could be looking at a financially successful movie popular with Middle America that this year’s Academy Awards really don’t have.  It could be an enticing proposition … but it would have to make big money FAST.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress, Best Original Song

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture





What To Look Forward To in … December 2010

15 11 2010

Hard to believe we are rapidly approaching the last month of 2010!  Enjoy the movies now, because soon Hollywood will be offering us its scraps.  We have an interesting December slate peppered with Oscar contenders and blockbusters, so it makes for an interesting mix.  Let’s get started at our look!

December 3

I’ve already seen “Black Swan” (mwahaha), and you need to see it.  Not for the faint at heart, I must warn.

FINALLY opening after being shuffled from preview post to preview post is “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the racy comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as lovers.  It’s changed release dates so many times, in fact, that I’m not going to write anything about it just in case I jinx it.  Also opening is “The Warrior’s Way,” which looks to potentially play “Norbit” for Geoffrey Rush’s Oscar chances.  And “All Good Things” looks like a jumbled mess that might be worth checking out on video if for no other reason than to see Kristen Wiig’s first major dramatic turn.  If you really need a Christmas movie, check out no-name distributor Freestyle’s release of “The Nutcracker” in 3D with Dakota Fanning’s sister and Nathan Lane!

Also in limited release is a documentary on Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan, called “Bhutto.”  I think she would be a fascinating subject, and I sure hope it comes to Houston.

December 10

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” looks to undo the disastrous effects of Disneyfication on C.S. Lewis’ classic series.  After “Prince Caspian,” the series needs a strong recovery.  Here’s to hoping the venture with Fox can do it.

As for “The Tourist,” I like anything with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  This could be a totally formulaic thriller, but it’s Christmas and I have time to see whatever.

For all those interested in having Julia Taymor’s bad trips mess with their mind, “The Tempest” opens in limited release this Friday.  The weekend also brings us “The Company Men” with Ben Affleck, which tackles the issue of unemployment in America.  Unfortunately, the zeitgeist movie market has pretty much been cornered with “The Social Network,” so it’s going to take a backseat.  “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden” also heads your way in limited release, yet even with the big name expatriate author out in front, this still doesn’t excite me in the slightest.

Oh, and opening limited this weekend and wide December 17 is a little movie called “The Fighter.”  It just stars a few no-names like Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.  It’s kind of got some minor buzz, so it could be worth checking out.  (Note the sarcasm.)

December 17

How Do You Know” is my top mainstream pick for December.  The combination of the light dramedy of James L. Brooks with stars like Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson is just endlessly appealing to me.

I feel like the jury is still out on what will become of “Tron: Legacy.”  It’s sure going to be a visual effects phenomenon worth my IMAX money, but is it going to be any good?  Quality doesn’t seem to shine through the numerous trailers.  Maybe it’s some ’80s child thing I don’t get.

I’ve also seen “Rabbit Hole,” and it is more than worth your time and money in the busy Oscar bait season.  Nicole Kidman is astounding.  Also in the indie spectrum, Kevin Spacey stars in the late George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” a story of big influence on Capitol Hill.  Expect the two-time Oscar winner to hit out of the park as usual.

In case your family was looking to fill the void that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” left in the holiday season, Warner Bros. has quite a treat in store for you with “Yogi Bear!”

December 22

As for big name, sure-fire Oscar bait, it doesn’t get much better than the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit.”  It’s the perfect holiday movie that is totally not for the holiday season.

For more shoddy kids’ entertainment, you could also check out “Gulliver’s Travels” if you think that a non-animated Jack Black still has the capability to be funny.  I don’t think he does, to be honest.  As for “Little Fockers,” I don’t want to ruin whatever jokes the movie has up its sleeve by watching the trailer.  Who knows, there could be few to be had.

In limited release, moody hipster Sofia Coppola has a new movie, “Somewhere,” to totally disrupt the mood of your holiday season.  There’s also Gwenyth Paltrow in “Crazy Heart” — I mean, “Country Strong.”  More on that when it opens wide in January.

I’ve been hearing good things all year about “The Illusionist,” an animated movie about a magician, NOT the Edward Norton starrer from 2006.  It obviously won’t be making Houston in 2010, but I hope I get to catch it some time before it hits Netflix.

December 29/31

The year closes with three awards-type movies: the depressing “Biutiful,” the Mike Leigh unfunny comedy “Another Year,” and the intense NC-17 “Blue Valentine.”  I’ll see all three, but the only one I’ll be rushing the box office for is the latter, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

So, what are YOU looking forward to in December?  I’m tightening up the poll this month to save some space by eliminating some of the less popular titles that never get votes.