REVIEW: Office Christmas Party

6 12 2016

As sad as it may be, if one movie from 2016 could serve as a (non-polemical) time capsule for what it was like to live in this year, that movie might be “Office Christmas Party.” From top to bottom, the film is chock full of time-specific references to technology: iCal, Uber, 3D printing, frustrating Wi-Fi. Imagine watching this in 30 years with your kids. They are likely going to ask a lot of questions about what certain terms mean.

But beyond the minutiae, very little about “Office Christmas Party” feels specifically tied to the year. Unlike television’s “The Office,” whose episodic structure dictated it ignore the ravages of time, cinema’s unique capability to provide a snapshot of a particular cultural moment has led to some invaluable representations of corporate America. Particularly in the wake of the 2008 recession, movies from “Up in the Air” to “The Company Men” to “The Internship” serve as documentation to the hopes and anxieties of the average blue-collar worker in their time.

The premise of the film seems to provide a great launchpad into some topical territory. Jennifer Aniston’s Carol Vanstone, a Miranda Priestly impersonation spiked with a Grinch attitude, rolls into the Chicago branch of her family business to announce a 40% reduction in employees and total cancellation of Christmas bonuses. There’s an initial wave of panic, anger and frustration from the managers in the office, especially from Carol’s entitled brother, branch manager Clay (T.J. Miller). But once that subsides, there’s no 2016-specific fuel to their actions, no sense of worry that the climate is unforgiving. “Office Christmas Party” could have been written at just about any time in the last 40 years and simply spruced up with current cultural products.

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REVIEW: Zootopia

29 02 2016

ZootopiaTalking animals, a town whose title mashes up “zoo” and “utopia,” the Disney brand – all good signs for an evening of escape away from the madness of the world around us that seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, right? Actually, wrong. “Zootopia,” the latest in-house effort from the Mouse House, actually feels more plugged into contemporary problems than many “issues” movies manufactured during prestige season.

Given the escalation of the American presidential election even in the past month, writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston could not have imagined how relevant the message of their script would become when they started writing back in 2013. The titular city of “Zootopia” is a metropolis of the animal kingdom and a hotbed of diversity, like New York City or Houston. Predatory animals like tigers and foxes have learned to live in harmony with their former prey like rabbits and sheep due to the evolution and adaptation of their culture.

The promise of this pluralism attracts optimistic young bunny Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin. Never one to let her size or species discourage her unbridled enthusiasm for justice, she defies the odds to become the first rabbit cop in Zootopia. The average family film would simply let Hopps flounder for a bit and eventually find her footing by tapping into some inner strength. With all due respect to the charms of “Wreck-It Ralph” or “Frozen,” the lessons of “Zootopia” go much deeper. They examine the very tenets that form the (now seemingly shaky) foundations of our society.

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REVIEW: The Gift

23 11 2015

The GiftThere is nothing explicitly wrong, so to speak, with being a throwback to a type of movie that does not get made much anymore. Such is the case with “The Gift,” written and directed by Joel Edgerton, a film that harkens back to Adrian Lyne-style thrillers like “Fatal Attraction.” The setup is practically identical, even, with an outsider posing a threat to a young professional couple.

In “The Gift,” however, the menace is not the temptation of sexual gratification in the future but the looming specter of the past. Jason Bateman’s Simon finds himself and his wife, Rebecca Hall’s Robyn, pestered by his old high school classmate Gordo (Edgerton – in front of the camera as well). The annoyance goes far beyond the social awkwardness Gordo tends to exhibit, and it draws Robyn’s curiosity to answer the question why exactly her husband just wants this guy to go away.

Her quest for clarity provides some decent thrills as it also invites an escalation of creepy defensiveness from both men. Yet, in equal measure, “The Gift” also manages to feel so … expected. Why Edgerton brings out these somewhat dusty genre tropes remains a bit perplexing. This style of thriller is not yet so outmoded that other filmmakers should be paying loving homage, so that motive does not feel right. He’s neither in conversation with the conventions nor revising them.

Perhaps, for his feature debut, Edgerton just wanted to go with something that generally tends to work. Hard to blame him for choosing safety, though it’s a somewhat disappointing start as a director for a man who makes such riveting choices as an actor. B-2stars





REVIEW: A Lego Brickumentary

31 07 2015

A Lego BrickumentaryA Lego Brickumentary” gets part of its title by clever wordplay on the word “documentary,” appropriating about half of the letters it contains.  Fittingly, that roughly approximates the amount of content in the film that resembles non-fiction cinema.

As fun and engaging as the film might be to watch, directors Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge essentially do the bidding of the Lego brand.  This amounts to a shinily mounted piece of corporate propaganda, the kind of CNBC special that highlights the global reach and outreach of the company.  Lego comes across as a product deeply responsive to the needs and desires of its fans across all age groups – and, of course, the corporate social responsibility aspect gets trumpeted big time.

The film, with its friendly and funny narration provided by Jason Bateman in CGI Lego form, feels like it is not meant for consumption in the fashion of a normal documentary like “Citizenfour.” Discretely contained portions could play across multiple rooms at a Legoland exhibition, which may very well be its ultimate destination. (In which case, the feature format makes for a particularly egregious cash grab.)

But the puff piece elements notwithstanding, “A Lego Brickumentary” actually makes for pleasantly informative viewing. How people use the bricks for art, physics, and social connection proves very unexpected and fairly intriguing. Disentangling the reality from the corporate PR spin makes for a small concern, sure, yet getting to see how the Legos make such universal creative building blocks from geeks to math professors actually makes for quite an eye-opening watch.  B / 2halfstars





REVIEW: This Is Where I Leave You

20 09 2014

This Is Where I Leave YouIt took me until a college intro-level theater class to realize it, but the term melodrama actually means “music drama.”  In Shawn Levy’s adaptation of the novel “This Is Where I Leave You,” he really deploys that definitional dimension to convey all the film’s emotion.

As if we couldn’t already tell that two family members alone together was going to result in clichéd conversation, Levy cues each scene up with Michael Giacchino’s gentle piano score to softly amplify the forced profundity.  Or maybe if we’re lucky, Levy will treat us to a mellow Alexei Murdoch ditty.  (The singer is employed far less effectively than he was by Sam Mendes in “Away We Go,” for the few out there who care.)

The film seems to move forward solely on the logic that everyone needs to almost cry alone with each other.  It doesn’t matter to what extent the actors can manage authenticity – usually they don’t manage at all – because it’s impossible to escape the hoary hokeyness of the directorial heavy-handedness.

“This Is Where I Leave You,” which follows a family of four estranged siblings coming back to sit shiva for their deceased father, brings a lot more under its roof than it can handle.  Levy recruited a heck of a cast but seems unsure of how to deploy them in roles that require more than easy comedy.  The film’s dialogue makes more than a few attempts at humor, yet its talented players seem to timid to explore that element.

The reserve of the cast only serves to exacerbate the awkward blending of three distinct comic stylings: the reactionary stoicism of Jason Bateman, the strung-out loquaciousness of Tina Fey, and the live wire erraticism of Adam Driver.  (As for Corey Stoll, their eldest sibling … well, every family needs one serious member).  They don’t feel like family members so much as they come across as uncommonly adept scene partners who can feign a passable relationship until someone yells cut.

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REVIEW: Bad Words

7 07 2014

Bad WordsJason Bateman has long been saddled with the reputation as a go-to guy for playing the uptight, no-nonsense straight man in comedy.  After having finally watched “Arrested Development,” I can see why he got typecast – he’s quite skilled at it.  But too much of a good thing can get quite boring, and he’s rarely given a great supporting cast to whom he can react.

It appears that in order to get a different kind of role, Bateman had to step behind the camera himself for “Bad Words.”  His performance recalls two others in films that also began with the same word: Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa” and Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher.”  Bateman tackles a character, Guy Trilby, who is more or less irredeemably rotten to the core, save the one classic written-in soft spot that gets exposed over the course of the film.

Guy exploits a loophole in a national spelling bee – he never graduated from middle school – and enters himself into competition at the ripe old age of 40.  His presence alone angers parents, but they’d probably put a bullet through his head if they knew the shenanigans he pulled to fluster their kids.  Stuck in arrested development as an 11-year-old bully, Guy ruthlessly humiliates vulnerable and insecure teenagers into making mistakes at the microphone.

Bateman and writer Andrew Dodge clearly intend these moments to be funny, but all too often, “Bad Words” seems too far away from any sort of moral compass.  Rather than eliciting laughs, they activate our sympathy and pity for the kids Guy is picking on.  It’s not unlike the feeling I had watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” wondering how I could possibly find humor and levity at the expense of someone else’s livelihood.

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REVIEW: Paul

10 08 2013

2011 saw one movie, J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” corner public interest on the influence of Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking on modern moviegoing.  I’m a little upset that “Paul” couldn’t bask in a little of that light.  It’s a fun, spirited send-up of science-fiction tropes featuring a hilarious self-aware alien, Paul (the voice of Seth Rogen).

“Paul” also puts science-fiction, comic-book culture under the microscope to be sent up.  And for that task, there’s probably no one better than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, two men whose humor seems to play particularly well to that crowd.  Pegg and Frost both wrote the film, and they also star in it as Graeme and Clive, two Brits who come across the pond for comic-book Mecca … Comic-Con.

Traveling the United States in an RV, they encounter crude, crass extraterrestrial Paul.  He’s the masterstroke of the movie, perhaps the best manifestation of Pegg and Frost’s comedic brilliance to date.  He’s got ties to all sorts of conspiracy theories and is incredibly connected to the entertainment industry.  The problem is, the rest of the movie just falls short of the character’s shrewd construction.  Though it is a satire of the human-meets-alien movies of the past two decades, “Paul” often allows itself to lazily slip into the trappings of the subgenre.

And, lest I forget to mention it, “Paul” has Kristen Wiig as one-eyed fundamentalist trailer trash taught to sin by Paul.  Sure, her character’s a little juvenile, just like the rest of the movie when it isn’t cleverly harkening back to ’80s sci-fi classics.  But Wiig, and “Paul” as a whole, somehow make the stupidity seem more fun than they probably are.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Identity Thief

19 03 2013

I walked into “Identity Thief” after having a pretty dismal week.  I knew I wanted to blow off some steam in the form of laughter, and I was willing to sit through just about anything to get that satisfaction.

Thankfully, Melissa McCarthy delivered.  She didn’t do it big time, but she brought enough fun and humor with her improvisational comedy that it gave me the bare minimum of the need I was looking for the movie to fill.  Now, I was hoping it would do a little bit more … but as Osgood would say in “Some Like It Hot,” well, nobody’s perfect.

The movie is enjoyable and fun when McCarthy gets to have free play and improvisation with Jason Bateman, an average joe who gets his identity stolen by her habitual plastic kleptomaniac.  Sadly, his Sandy Patterson and her “Diana” do not get nearly enough of this unstructured time.

They are often reduced to gimmicks and clichés that are beneath McCarthy’s talents for sure.  I don’t mean to suggest Bateman isn’t a capable comedian or actor; indeed, I think he plays an easily identifiable everyman that resonates with a lot of people.  He has excelled in supporting roles in Jason Reitman’s films “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” yet his starring vehicles all seem to totally miss the mark.

From “Couples Retreat” to “Horrible Bosses” to “The Change-Up,” Bateman has yet to prove himself as a capable comedic leading man.  I think this might have something to do with his persona’s defining characteristics of rigidity, though I will admit I have never watched “Arrested Development” – and that might change my opinions on Bateman.

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REVIEW: The Change-Up

6 08 2011

It’s a stretch to call “The Change-Up” a comedy.  The movie feels like a two-hour gag reel of failed jokes axed from an offensive stand-up comedian’s routine.  It puts you on edge, too, because you are always scared that it’s going to go one step too far and really offend someone like Michael Richards or Tracy Morgan.

Sophomoric and immature humor can be funny at times, but when anything relies solely on it, the act gets old really quickly.  The movie tastelessly hurls pot-shots at mentally challenged people, Down syndrome patients, Japanese people, and Catholics, just to name a few, trying to get a laugh at their expense.  This kind of shock jock technique treads a thin line between making a statement or commentary and exploiting stereotypes for personal gain; “The Change-Up” is so far on the wrong side of that line it really isn’t funny.

Not only that, the movie as a whole just doesn’t produce the laughs that it should.  The writers of “The Hangover,” who penned the stale reimagining of “Freaky Friday” that can barely be called a script, took the wrong lesson from their smash success.  We didn’t respond so overwhelmingly positively to “The Hangover” because of its raunchiness and vulgarity; that’s standard order in Hollywood R-rated comedies nowadays.  We responded because it was outrageously original and a fun ride because we never knew what to expect.

“The Change-Up” represents that lazy and misplaced mentality that  doubling the crudeness and gutting the inventiveness down to next to nothing will still produce a good comedy.  As evinced by all the jokes that fall terribly flat and the ability to see the wheels of the movie turning the whole time, it doesn’t produce anything except a rollickingly predictable and forgettable time at a movie that should have you rolling on the floor.  And alas, there are probably more body changing movies out there than decent laughs in this movie.

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REVIEW: Horrible Bosses

6 07 2011

We are now inhabiting the post-“Hangover” world, and in case you needed any proof that studios are looking to locate the success gene in the hit comedy’s DNA, I submit “Horrible Bosses” as evidence.  It really shouldn’t surprise you; it’s a page straight from the television networks’ playbook.  As soon as Fox premiered “American Idol,” every network wanted a singing competition.  After ABC had a big hit with “Dancing with the Stars,” every network suddenly had a dancing show.  We live in a culture of thinly veiled rip-offs that barely bother to disguise their ever-so-slight variations from the original success story.

The good news for Seth Gordon and the “Horrible Bosses” team is that, at least at this moment, I still find the formula amusing and funny.  The next movie shamelessly pressed from the “Hangover” mold, however, will probably not be in my good graces, so at least they got the timing right on this one.  But the fact that some movie other than the sequel has tried using a similar blueprint for high cash and laugh returns signals a foreboding era in comedy.  (Then again, I said the same thing last summer about “Iron Man 2” being the first of many “The Dark Knight” rip-offs, and nothing seems to have materialized there.)

The film invites these comparisons by using what may be the most recognizable aspect of “The Hangover” for laughs – the Wolfpack.  From now on, any comedy that has a ragtag alliance of three thirtysomething guys will inevitably have to be measured against the ridiculously high standard set by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis.  Unfair?  Probably.  Justified?  Definitely.

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Random Factoid #378

10 08 2010

Have you seen the trailer for “The Switch?”  Looks kind of ehh, right?  Typical late summer fare that will have to pass for entertainment (at least for those of us not fortunate enough to have an independent theater).  Just so we are all on the same page for the rest of the post, I’ll embed the trailer below.

The poster to the left doesn’t really make you want to see it much either.  The gasp on Jennifer Aniston’s face and the pretentious-looking sniffle that Jason Bateman is doing sure doesn’t tell you much about the movie.  But look closer…

Did you notice the pedigree of the movie?  It’s from the people who brought us “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Does that add to your anticipation at all?  It shouldn’t, given the murky relationship between “The Switch” and the two Best Picture nominees.  I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about the reference given that Jason Bateman was in “Juno,” but The Los Angeles Times did some investigating:

The studio’s marketing wizards are plugging “The Switch” as being the movie “From the people who brought you ‘Juno’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ ” But who are these “people”? The film’s directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, had nothing to do with either of those films. Nor did the film’s screenwriter, Allan Loeb. The film’s producers, Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, were producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” but had no involvement at all with “Juno.”

It turns out that those “people” are the people at Mandate Pictures, the production company that was involved with both “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” as well as such films as “Whip It,” “Drag Me to Hell” and the “Harold and Kumar” series. I’m sure all the folks at Mandate are really nice people, but it feels like a big stretch to use such a tenuous connection to lure us into the theater to see a film whose writers and filmmakers had nothing to do with “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Do you feel cheated at all?  If you were really going to spend $10 to see this movie because you could mention it in the same sentence with “Little Miss Sunshine,” you ought to up your cinema smarts.  I don’t ever use poster connections to tell me what movies to see, largely because I will have figured out what movies my favorite filmmakers have chosen to involve themselves in.  I especially could care less for romantic comedies and mindless action movies, both of which are genres whose success is driven mainly be stars, not directors.  Sorry, David Frankel, I saw “Marley & Me” because I love dogs and Owen Wilson, NOT because you directed “The Devil Wears Prada.”  Meryl Streep is the reason that movie is good.

Fun little closing note: there is one movie that could have used “from the man who brought you ‘Little Miss Sunshine'” on its poster.  That movie?  “Toy Story 3.”  Clearly it didn’t need to tout that name to make any money.





REVIEW: Up in the Air

20 12 2009

I’ve never been much of a person for philosophy.  However, I do love the story about the philosophy professor who teaches a whole class and then concludes with an exam that has one word written on it: Why?

The other day, I decided to give myself the same exam.  Why?  Why do I spend so much of my life obsessing over movies?  What are movies other than a bunch of moving images?  What does my life amount to if I spend the entirety of it staring at a screen?

A few hours later, I sat down in a theater and watched Jason Reitman’s latest feature, and every doubt or qualm I had about the time I devote to cinema went away.  “Up in the Air” is a movie that reminds you why you love the movies, and I would be willing to throw away days of my life to find two hours of cinema as perfect as these.

Here, Reitman adapts a novel by Walter Kirn but does not merely transpose page to screen.  He takes Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), the man who becomes fascinated with grabbing frequent flyer miles while traveling around the country firing people, and sends him on a different route.  Reitman’s trajectory goes straight through a chilly air current of recession and job loss affecting millions of Americans at this very moment, but at no point does “Up in the Air” hit turbulence.  Reitman remains in complete control of his vessel at all times, guiding with a firm and confident hand.

Everything in Ryan Bingham’s life involves reducing commitment.  His job is fueled not just by bad economy but also by people who want an orderly, unemotional way to let employees go.  His life consists of routine and self-sufficiency, all the while proving to himself that he can feel surrounded when others insist him to be isolated.  He preaches his lifestyle without attachment to those willing to listen as the only way to a life completely free of burden.  Where others fill their lives with relationships and family for satisfaction, Bingham turns to elite rewards programs and a lofty goal of earning ten million frequent flyer miles.

But two forces begin to disrupt Bingham’s smooth sailing.  The first is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), the callow new employee fresh out of Cornell who proposes a new system that threatens the high-flying lifestyle that he has turned into an art.  In order to reduce travel budgets and keep employees at home, she allows for the further desensitization of their terminations by simply informing those out of a job through a computer.  Bingham objects not just because of the obvious hazard it poses to his way of life but because he sees himself as more than just a messenger boy.  He is a voice of reassurance and a reminder that greater things lie in store; losing your job isn’t the end, it’s the beginning if you allow it to be.  To give her a taste of what it feels like to drop the ax on unsuspecting Americans, the boss (Jason Bateman) sends Natalie on the road with Bingham, who is less than willing to sacrifice for her to gain some insight.  The second force is Alex (Vera Farmiga), the female counterpart and kindred spirit of Bingham.  They instantly connect over the joys of traveling, and passionate feelings emerge.  But due to the nature of the lives they lead, neither is looking for any sort of commitment.  Yet as chance encounters become planned encounters, Bingham begins to wonder if his firm resolution to a life without connections is really one without burden. Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Couples Retreat

28 11 2009

Hollywood loves combo deals.  A recent favorite is the probing exposé of a relationship mixed with comedy.  “Couples Retreat” follows this recipe, but there is only a fair amount of laughter added to offset watching long sessions of couples therapy.  Surprisingly, the script (written by stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau) captures a wide scope of realistic relationships, perhaps some of the best in comedy of this type.  However, the writing is also the film’s weakness as it plays like a rerun due to its devotion to the typical “relationship movie” formula.  You come to expect some master plan behind all the exercises that pull the couples apart (while subtly bringing them together), but the movie amounts to little more than just a string of events.

The married-with-kids couple whose relationship has become like a job (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman).  The high-school couple who has been together way too long (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis).  The anal couple who is frustrated because everything doesn’t go according to their perfect plan (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell).  The older man-younger woman couple that always manages to raise some eyebrows (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk).  Chances are, you know at least one of these couples.  “Couples Retreat” dwells largely on the familiarity of its characters to propel the more serious side of the movie.  At the same time, it allows the strengths of the actors to provide some comic relief.  Vince Vaughn does a few trademark trite spiels; Jon Favreau gets plenty of moments to be curmudgeonly; Jason Bateman plays average Joe with a tinge of neurosis.

“Couples Retreat” doesn’t really succeed as a comedy, but it does manage to portray some very realistic relationships with very real problems.  As the directorial debut of Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” – you know, the one they play all Christmas on TBS), it’s not such a bad place to start, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.  We’ve seen all the stars in this movie do better, and it isn’t too far out of line to request more.  But for what it’s worth, this will provide you some amusement yet fail to deliver the belly-laughs we have come to expect from actors like Vaughn, Favreau, and Bateman.  B- /





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall