All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

MOVIE REVIEW: Fast & Furious is Exactly That!

The original cast of The Fast and the Furious reunites for this fourth film in the series – and it does exactly what it says on the label. Under the leadership of director Justin Lin, who also directed the Tokyo Drift instalment of the series, we get a car movie that will please fans of the previous movies.

fast-and-furious

The plot – Paul Walker’s FBI Agent O’Connor and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretta are after a drug kingpin named Braga for their own reasons – is merely a device to let cars race [and, occasionally crash, smash or blow up]; guys brawl and women to wear skimpy clothing. It’s not Oscar® bait; neither is it indie art. It’s a popcorn movie of the most obvious order.

The races and various other stunts are different enough to feel fresh and get your adrenaline rushing. The stars – Walker, Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster – perform about as woodenly as they ever have, but that doesn’t matter. The villains [John Ortiz’s Campos, and Laz Alonso’s Fenix Rising] get the benefit of being portrayed by able character actors and chew the scenery admirably.

Fast & Furious is one of those movies that are just well enough made to work for its target audience. It’s nothing to write home about, but if you’re looking for a car/brawl/explosion movie with skimpily clad women, this is your movie. It probably won’t matter if you forget it mere seconds after you leave the theater.

Final Grade: C+

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Sci-Fi President Dave Howe Speaks!! Why Syfy? Why!!!???

dave_howe

There have been a lot of responses to the rebranding of the SCI FI Channel to Syfy, which takes effect on July 7, 2009. Most of those responses [as is usual on the good ole Interweb] have been negative – and there’s been a question of whether SCI FI appropriated the name from a popular website that had existed for ten years before a sudden name change. SCI FI honcho, Dave Howe said of that situation, “Once we settled on Syfy it became apparent to us that, you know, the Syfy Portal existed.” Of course, he said a lot more than as he attempted to give us a better understanding of the process of rebranding and its ramifications for the channel’s future.

(Fearless leader note – Do I deliver or what? I told you last week I’d try and get Dave to spill his guts about this stupid name change, unfortunately I was in the middle of moving to Florida so couldn’t sit in. But our fellow Sci-Fi Digital Press folks put his Dave’s feet to the fire. Great job Ken! Participants in this teleconference call included: Ken Gold [Media Boulevard], Meredith Woerner [i09.com], and Kelly West [cinemablend.com]. Continue reading HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Sci-Fi President Dave Howe Speaks!! Why Syfy? Why!!!???

TELEVISION: Cupid: The God of Love Is In The House!

Cupid [ABC, Tuesdays, 10/9C] has an odd history. Rob Thomas [Veronica Mars] had this prematurely cancelled series in 1998 about an exiled God of Love who was exiled to Earth until he could match one hundred couples – true love, mind you. Then, and only then, would he be allowed to return to Mount Olympus. The series was smart, witty, funny, and almost desperately romantic and quite possibly the best show of the year in the minds of many critics. It also put Jeremy Piven on the road to something akin to stardom. It lasted fifteen episodes. Ever since, Cupid fans have been clamouring for it’s release on DVD. Now, ABC and Mr. Thomas have resurrected the series and the good news is that it’s very good.

Cupid & Shrink

The set up is virtually identical: Cupid [Bobby Cannavale]is the love god who is exiled to Earth for his arrogance, and charged with matching one hundred couples – without the aid of magic – before he will be allowed to return home. As in the original, he is thought to be crazy [though there are brief moments that give the audience clues that he isn’t] and only released into the world under the supervision of psychologist Dr. Claire Allen [Sarah Paulson].

Dr. Allen specializes in love, too, but love built on a foundation of sensible and logical steps. She and Cupid – now going by Trevor Pierce – are at extreme ends of the spectrum in their beliefs and approaches to the subject. His first attempt is to help an Irish troubadour find the woman with whom he had a “transcendent moment” on her last day in Ireland. In the process of helping Dave [Sean McGuire], Trevor enlists the aid of a reporter named Madeline [Marguerite Moreau] – who falls in love with Dave!

The premiere episode of Cupid is almost as smart, witty, funny and romantic as the original, if a little less brash and little more dramatic. The interplay between Trevor and Claire is saucy and clever; the two are very much a match for each other in intelligence and wit. The supporting characters – Felix [Rick Gomez] and Lita [Camille Guaty] – are an improvement over their original series counterparts. Felix is the guy who takes in strays – which means he hires Trevor to work at his bar and gives him a place to live. Lita thinks Felix is crazy [there’s that word, again] for doing so.

The direction is precisely what the show needs – the pacing is up-tempo, but not too much to make it jarring when a shot requires a bit of lingering, but never holding onto a shot for too many beats. The entire production is good enough that I will be very disappointed if Cupid is, once again, too hip for the room. Really, the original show was ten years ahead of its time, stylistically and content-wise – which means we should be ready for it, now. And maybe, just maybe, we can get that DVD set of the original series.

Final Grade: B+

MANGA: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka – Astro Boy Tribute Is an Instant Classic!

North Americans might not recognize the name Osamu Tezuka, a significant percentage of them know about Astro Boy – which, along with Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion, was the first anime´ to really connect with that audience. One of the best Astro Boy adventures – both in a twelve-part manga serial and as an episode of the anime´ series – was The Greatest Robot in the World. Naoki Urasawa, best known for his manga series, Monster, has chosen to take that epic adventure and re-work it for today’s audience.

Pluto Vol. 1

Continue reading MANGA: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka – Astro Boy Tribute Is an Instant Classic!

TELEVISION: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: And Now For Something Completely Different!

I suppose that, outside of the show’s quality, there are three unusual things about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is that it is a show whole family can enjoy – and it’s on HBO [Sundays, 8/7C]; it is shot in Botswana, Africa, with a completely black cast, and it is one of the most physically beautiful shows on television. It is based on the series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith.

Precious & Grace

Precious Ramotswe [Jill Scott] is a “cheerful woman of traditional build” [as McCall smith has descrivbed her] who inherits one hundred and eighty cows from her father – and sells them to buy a small house in the country’s capitol city, and set up a detective agency. Although she is a cheerful woman, there is hint of sadness about Precious that harkens back to her marriage to an abusive musician. It is this part of her that is able to relate to the pain of a schoolteacher whose son has vanished.

Precious sets up shop in a defunct post office – which leads to an awkward encounter in the first act. It’s a small thing, but it gives us a deeper understanding of her character’s generosity of spirit. She also acquires a secretary, Grace Makutsi [Anika Noni Rose], who is as ramrod stiff and uptight as Precious is round and relaxed.

In the two-hour premiere, we learn about Precious’ life prior to moving to the city. Her life unfolds in a leisurely manner, shot against some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. If you’re looking for fast-paced and/or glib, you won’t find it here. Instead, even the move to the big city and the acquisition and resolution cases [five in the premiere] are developed in an almost stately procession of events.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is not Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, or Hammett’s Sam Spade. If they are hard-boiled, then Precious Ramotswe is most definitely soft-boiled, or maybe gently poached. The series is about character – hers, and her country’s. The various mysteries that are solved are there to show us that life requires character. They are handled in a manner that, at time, seems incidental to making [and being] friends; chatting over “bush tea,” and enjoying life – and when two of them overlap, it feels as natural.

Botswana is one of the few prosperous African nations – and one of the most beautiful. It is exactly the kind of place you might to find a curiosity like a ladies’ detective agency. Directed by Anthony Minghella [his last work], from a script he co-wrote [with Richard Curtis], The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is unique. Unless you’ve read McCall Smith’s books, you have never seen anything like it. It is different in many ways – all of them good.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Monsters vs. Aliens 3-D: Dreamworks Catches Pixar With Homage to B-Movies!

The premise is simple: to stop and alien invader, the U.S. military releases its force of five captured monsters. The catch? It’s not as simple as they thought.

Group Shot

Although it took a veritable legion of writers [okay… five] to come up with the final script for Monsters vs. Aliens, like the group that pieced together Casablanca, these guys did good. Monsters vs. Aliens is the best 3-D CG B-movie monster mashup ever! [Okay… it’s the first 3-D CG B-movie monster mashup. Your point is…?]

It all begins when Susan Murphy [voiced by Reese Witherspoon] is hit by a meteor and grows to 49.5 feet tall. Before she knows it, she’s been abducted by the military and placed in a top-secret prison along with The Missing Link [Will Arnett], B.O.B. [Seth Rogen], Insectosaurus and Dr. Cockroach [Hugh Laurie] – who represent, in the same order, The 50-Foot Woman [Attack of the 50-Foot woman], The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Blob, Godzilla/Mothra and The Fly. The alien[s] in question would be Galaxhar [Rain Wilson], a bored, four-eyed purple [might be] people eater who is looking for a little excitement. The plural would be his clones…

The human element comes mainly from Susan, who’s engaged to a rather full-of-himself cable weatherman with ambition, Derek Dietl [Paul Rudd]. Unfortunately, Derek is also not happy with the new Susan. Stephen Colbert does a great job voicing an overconfident but easily confused President of the United States, and Kiefer Sutherland gives just the right amount of humanity to balance the extremely hawk-ish warden/guardian of the monsters’ prison, General Warren R. Monger. There’s even a wistful bit of philosophy from the “you can’t home again” school of thought.

Monsters vs. Aliens is a fast-paced, laugh-filled ride. For the second week in a row, I’ve seen a movie where the trailer, good as it is, does not contain the best bits in the movie. Not only that, but the 3-D is amazing – though there are only a very few blatant gags, including one just a few minutes in. It’s as though directors Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman are telling us, “our 3-D could do lots these gimmicky gags, but we really don’t need to do that to tell our story.”

While the script might be a bit jokier than, say, the average Pixar film, there are character moments that would not be out of place in one – and the animation is, for the first time right up to the Pixar level. Then there’s that wonderful 3-D. It seems that each new 3-D film outdoes its most recent predecessor and that’s the way it is here. Part of the fun of seeing the screening I attended was in hearing the little kids in the audience gasp as the world of the movie drew them in. Even the mom next to me was entranced. Yes, MvsA works as an homage to B-movie monsters; as a coming of age story [Susan’s a late bloomer, eh?], and as a wild romp for the kids.

I thoroughly enjoyed Monsters vs. Aliens – and the audience gave it a standing ovation. Good thing I’d decided on my grade before they started standing [and blocking the screen while stuff happened onscreen during the credits…].

Final Grade: A+

TELEVISION: SCI FI and RHI Entertainment Agree To Do Three Four-Hour Movie Events: Riverworld, The Phantom and Alice!

The SCI FI Channel announced today that they have, along with long-time creative partners RHI Entertainment, begun work on a series of three four-hour movie events: Philip Jose Farmer’s renowned Riverworld; Lee Falk’s The Phantom [the first costumed avenger, created a full year before Superman], and Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

Phantom

Riverworld is a two-night, four-hour movie event based on the popular award-winning series of novels by Philip Jose Farmer. It’s the adventure of Matt, a combat photojournalist, killed along with his fiancée by a suicide bomber, who awakens in a mysterious world where everyone who has ever previously lived on Earth, has been “reborn” along the banks of a seemingly endless river. Determined to locate his lost love Jessica, Matt joins forces, a 13th century female samurai warrior named Tomoe and American novelist Mark Twain. Together they sail upriver in search of its source, and to discover where they are and who put them there. Riverworld is produced by Reunion Pictures (Airdate 2010).

The classic comic book character The Phantom has been re-imagined and transported to present day in a live-action, four-hour movie from writers Dan Knauf (Carnivale) and Charles Knauf. A favorite costumed hero for more than six decades, The Phantom relies on his wits, physical strength and skill with weapons over superhuman powers. Production is slated to begin in April in Montreal with Director Paolo Barzman (The Last Templar) at the helm. The Phantom is produced by Muse Entertainment (Airdate 2010).

Alice is a modern-day reinterpretation of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alices Adventures in Wonderland. The four-hour movie event is written and directed by Nick Willing; director of SCI FI and RHI’s 2007 record-breaking, Emmy-nominated miniseries, Tin Man. Production on Alice is expected to begin in May in Vancouver. Alice is produced by Reunion Pictures (Airdate: Late 2009).

Pre-production and casting are under way.

MOVIE REVIEW: Duplicity – Kickin’ [Corporate] Espionage Old School!

Espionage movies usually deal with state secrets and impeccably dressed spies; state secrets and dishevelled spies, or grim, dark corporate espionage. Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity harkens back to movies like Charade and North By Northwest, in which intelligence wit and charm are as important as guns. In fact, there are no guns in Duplicity.

Duplicity

Gilroy’s male and female leads – Ray Koval [Clive Owen] and Claire Stenwicke [Julia Roberts] – are, respectively, ex-MI6 and ex-CIA operatives now working in corporate espionage for two major companies and may [or may not] be trying to screw each other over as they try to figure out what major breakthrough might be about to make the news. The two corporations are run by old school titan of industry, Howard Tully [Tom Wilkinson] and Dick Garsik [Paul Giamatti], whose style is more piratical.

Duplicity demands a certain amount of attention to detail. The script is smart and filled with seeming double, triple and [potentially] quadruple-crosses. Literally none of the characters is stupid, and this time Gilroy pulls it off [unlike with Michael Clayton, where one brief moment of idiot plotting destroyed the whole film].

Owen and Roberts get to dish out some witty dialogue; develop a strange [and maybe false] relationship over the course of the film which is structured in both the past and the present – each arc developing chronologically until the very end, when there’s a revelation that makes sense even as it dumbfounds. Wilkinson and Giamatti give their usual excellent performances and Gilroy’s direction reminds of Stanley Donen [Charade]. He propels the film at a pace that only seems leisurely, and uses a four-way split screen to establish locations in much less time than might otherwise be needed.

The one thing about Duplicity that might have been better [and this is just a weird thought that I had during the closing credits] would be to have cast Giamatti and Wilkinson in each other’s roles. As it is, though, the film is grand, smart fun, and that makes it a winner.

Final Grade: A-

MOVIE NEWS: Disneynature Says See a Movie, Plant a Tree!

Disney introduces Disneynature, its first new label in sixty years, with a truly unique promotion. For every paid admission over the course of the first of its premiere film, EARTH, Disneynature will plant a tree. If, say, ten million tickets are sold, then ten million trees will be planted [that’s a lot of carbon dioxide being converted to oxygen!].

EARTH 01

Disney’s goal is to ensure that it plants trees in areas that conservationists have identified as important hot spots of biodiversity. Disney will oversee the planting of the trees in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, which is considered the most endangered rain forest in the world. Today, only 7 percent of the Atlantic Forest remains. Disney is committed to ensuring the trees are planted and cared for to provide the greatest long term benefit for the planet.

EARTH, which premieres on Earth Day – April 22, 2009 – follows the lives of three animal families. The film is narrated by the legendary James Earl Jones. If the trailer for EARTH is any indication, the film should be breathtakingly beautiful.

MOVIE REVIEW: I Love You, Man – Somewhere, Judd Apatow Is Envious!

The trailer for I Love You, Man is one of the funnier trailers to hit theaters in the last year. Some of its gags are funny enough to serve as the best bits of most comedies. In I Love You, Man, they are but a taste [I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since Superbad!].

Jammin'

The film creates a new Odd Couple for the 21st Century – Peter Klaven [Paul Rudd], a vaguely metrosexual real estate guy who is slight, uptight and definitely not outta sight; and Sydney Fife [Jason Segal], a big, gangly, good-natured goof whose good with investments but otherwise the slob to end all slobs. The set up, as explained in the trailer, is that Peter is getting to married to his girlfriend of eight months, Zooey Rice [Rashida Jones] – but he has no male friends and is, thus, shy one Best Man.

When Peter overhears Zooey’s best girlfriends – including Denise [Jaime Pressly], and Hailey [Sarah Burns] – wondering if maybe he’s not just a little weird, he decides to do something about it. A genuinely montage follows as Peter seeks advice from his gay brother, Robbie [Andy Samberg], on finding a friend. Cue the montage of his pitiful attempts to take his brother’s advice – a genuinely hilarious montage, I might add.

Then, at an open house to showcase Lou Ferrigno’s home, he meets the charmingly blunt Sydney and they click on that “bro” level immediately. The two bonds over the best fish tacos in town – and the music of Rush. Before you know it, the two are spending so much time together, that Zooey begins to feel left out.

I Love You, Man works on a number of levels: the bromance between Peter and Sydney; the romance between Peter and Zooey; the gross-out comedy with fart and vomit jokes; the genuine sweetness in the development of the relationships. The script [co-written by director John Hamburg] is clever and insightful and the various levels of humor seem to perfectly balance the moments of drama that arise naturally out of the characters and their situations, and Hamburg’s direction is so good that he makes it sing.

I have no idea who coined the term “bromance,” but it has come to be associated with the films of Judd Apatow. I Love You, Man is a terrific, non-Judd Apatow Judd Apatow movie.

Final Grade: A