So you attended last night’ fabulous, stumpendous, special Advanced screening of The Dark Knight, I wasn’t able to attend (I cried myself to sleep) and will have to see it this weekend with the great unwashed. I have it on good authority that some folks from Nolan’s production office and movie actually read the site sometimes so let them and Warner Brothers know what you think. I may give a lucky poster a prize.
Although technically not a superhero movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most beautifully visual films of this or any other year. It’s also a combination of a lot of genres: comic book movie, action flick, fairytale, horror story, eco-fable, romantic drama, pulpy noir, FX flick. The thing is, because of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s love of the characters, and his amazing visual sense, all of these genres fuse into a whole that is ever-so-slightly greater than the sum of its parts.
Hellboy [Ron Perlman] and Liz Sherman [Selma Blair are together in this film – a situation that is more a bit awkward. As Abe Sapien [Doug Jones] puts it, “They have their good days and their bad days… and their really bad days. Complicating matters are Hellboy’s longings to go public – FBI liaison Tom Manning [a woefully underused Jeffrey Tambor] is particularly put out by a photo which the big guy posed for… and autographed!
Into this chipper little situation comes an elvish prince named Nuada [Luke Goss], who wants to raise the legendary Golden Army to destroy mankind as mankind has been replacing nature with shopping malls and parking lots. His twin sister, Nuala [Anna Walton] is dead set against this and flees – encountering Abe in the Troll Market [think a fusion of the Star Wars Cantina and the Floating Market from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere], where he helps save her from a troll. Everything escalates from there.
Perhaps The Golden Army’s greatest asset is Del Toro’s amazing visuals. All of the film’s creatures are beautiful [sometimes in very disturbing ways] and the sets are enthralling. The creatures are mostly practical and the prostheses and animatronics are absolutely state of the art. Of course, they wouldn’t mean anything if the story and the characters didn’t support them – but they do.
The film is probably hardest on Abe, who encounters romance for the first time in his life, but the Hellboy/Liz relationship takes some interesting and powerful turns as well. Then there’s the new kid on the block, Johann Strauss [voiced by Seth McFarlane], a Teutonic being of ectoplasm housed in an encounter suit that resembles the old spider-Man villain, Mysterio. Brought in to bring Hellboy to heal, Strauss shows some unique abilities, but can’t contain the curmudgeonly demon.
Del Toro shows that Pan’s Labyrinth was no fluke as he sets up action sequences and emotional situations that are simultaneously larger than life and as real as oxygen. He puts his characters through trials of epic proportion, while keeping their feet firmly on the metaphoric ground. The only real flaw of the film is that it may be too rich, too full. There’s so much going on – on every level – that it’s hard to get it all in one viewing. The cliché, “I laughed. I cried. It became part of me,” may actually apply here – Hellboy II: The Golden Army has an effect that lingers long after you’ve left the theater.
Final Grade: A
New Line’s Journey to the Center of the Earth is a flimsy plot – loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name – used to set up a string of wild [and at times gross and/or grotesque] 3D effects. The good news is that the combination of cast and CG effects make it – literally – a great ride.
Trevor Anderson’s [Brendan Fraser] work on seismic effects is threatened by a lack of results. When his nephew, Sean [Josh Hutcherson], comes to visit, a comment on his dad’s favorite book [guess…] leads to the discovery that seismic shifts lead to an unexpected location – and the figures match, precisely, those from the time when Trevor’s brother, Max, disappeared. The figures lead Trevor and Sean to Iceland and a mountain guide, Hannah Ásgeirsson [Anita Briem], whose father was a colleague of Max’s. Before you know it, the three are at the center of the planet!
Outside of encounters with luminescent birds, extinct dinosaurs, piranha the size of Great Danes and other odd occurrences, that’s all there is to it. What makes it work is that Fraser, Hutcherson and Briem give themselves over to the thrill ride completely. The screenplay, by Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, gives our heroes plenty of exciting situations to deal with – and a number of good [if not terribly memorable] lines to keep us the edges of our seats. Eric Brevig’s direction is frenetic enough that, even with a few pauses for breath and a bit of emotional interplay, the film zips by in a compact ninety-three minutes – without feeling too short. The 3D is generally very good, though there are a few places where it is outstanding. My personal favorite [which is to say, the one that made me jump the highest] involves a piranha – and I guarantee you won’t see it coming [sorry…].
It’s a pity that Journey to the Center of the Earth opens the same weekend as Hellboy II and the new Eddie Murphy movie [which is likely not half as much fun]. It would be a shame to see it get lost in the box office shuffle. It’s far too much pure fun for that.
Final Grade: B
In 1984 MGM released the original movie action movie RED DAWN, which has since become a cult classic and starred a veritable ‘who’s who’ among young Hollywood including Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey, was a dramatic depiction of teenagers forced to defend their home against foreign invaders. Now, Mary Parent, Chairman of MGM’s Worldwide Motion Pictures Group has announced that MGM has assembled its production team for a new installment of the classic action movie Red Dawn and that the production team includes some of the hottest names in movie business today.
At the writing helm for this latest installment of Red Dawn is Carl Ellsworth, who will be writing the script and will be moving forward with a draft based on a story by Jeremy Passmore who is currently writing The Prince, for Circle of Confusion, and Summer’s End, for Rogue Pictures. Ellsworth, who began his career as a writer on the popular television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for Warner Bros. is a top notch veteran when it comes to writing action movies having penned the such suspense thrillers as Disturbia for Paramount Pictures and Red Eye for Dreamworks SKG and is currently writing Y: The Last Man for New Line.
On board in the director’s chair for this action packed feature film is Dan Bradley, who is one of Hollywood’s most sought after 2nd Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator, having worked on such high profile projects as: Spiderman 2, Spiderman 3, Panic Room, Crank, Swordfish, Being John Malkovich, Seabiscuit, and Three Kings. He was also 2nd Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator on The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum, and is the 2nd Unit Director of MGM and Columbia Pictures’ New James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, which hits theatres in the U.S. November 7, 2008.
Contrafilm’s Tripp Vinson and Beau Flynn, who are currently producing MGM’s Bobism, are attached to produce Red Dawn. Producer Vince Newman, whose credits include A Man Apart for New Line Cinema, is also attached to produce and they are very excited to begin working on this project along with Ellsworth.
“Carl Ellsworth’s great character writing mixed with Dan Bradley’s innovative action will take RED DAWN to a whole new level,” said Flynn. He is also looking forward to working with Cale Boyter, Executive Vice President, Production and Becky Sloviter, Vice President, Production who will oversee the project for MGM. “We look forward to partnering with MGM on the new installment of this cult classic.”
Vinson feels that the concept of the story of Red Dawn has a very real place in today’s society. “Red Dawn’s story covers a big canvas but ultimately it’s a very personal story about the lengths you’ll go through to protect your hometown.”
Boyter agrees with the assessment that Red Dawn is still as relevant today as it was twenty-eight years ago: “I’m a huge fan of the original RED DAWN. I actually had the movie poster on my wall growing up, and it remains a great concept to this day as it represents an opportunity to make an emotionally charged action movie.”
That’s right, it’s time for another fabu EM Madhouse Screening! We have Tickets for the Exclusive DC Blackout Screening of The Dark Knight! The Screening will be held at Washington, DC’s Historic Uptown Theater, Wednesday, July 16 at 8:30. This is a special Blackout Screening, you have to wear Black or you will be turned away. If you want to attend, send an email with your request to email@example.com. Your request MUST contain your UserID, Full Name, the number of Admit 2 tickets you would like. The SUBJECT MUST say The Dark Knight Screening Contest. I will not accept any requests that do not follow instructions. All requests must be submitted no later than Sunday 13. I will notify all winners Sunday evening. Check out the official website here and read my interview with Christian Bale.
The trailers and clips released online for Hancock promise a superhero dramedy with an edge – and, for the first half of the film it delivers just that. Watching the drunken superhero get the bad guys while toting up millions of dollars in property damage is, at first, diverting and new. When he saves a PR whiz named Ray Embry [Jason Bateman], Bateman persuades him to change his image – first by doing jail time, second by treating people with more respect, and third by wearing a spiffy spandex outfit that looks like something out of the X-Men movies. Of course, being the rotten example that he is, before he can completely remake his image, Hancock develops the hots for Ray’s beautiful wife, Mary [Charlize Theron].
So far, so good. Hancock, in its first half, comes off as an effort to make a movie about the kind of hero that Marvel [Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk] does so well – the hero with superpowers and regular people’s problems. But now, we come to Hancock’s kryptonite. Like Superman, Green Lantern and so many classic superheroes, Hancock does, indeed, have a weakness – a weakness that’s telegraphed by several clues scattered through the first half of the film.
Therein lies the problem. After carefully setting up Hancock as one thing – a superhero – the revelation of his weakness changes everything, and not in the most sensible of ways. As I watched the clues develop, my first thought was, “oh, no. They wouldn’t…” Then, when it happened, I thought, “oh, no! They didn’t” – followed closely by, “golly-gosh-all-hemlock-gee-whiz-to-pieces! They did!” I won’t give the twist away, but I will say that, when you add up all the species of life and types of minerals there are on this planet, Hancock’s weakness is so hugely, disproportionately coincidental that, had it been used in a real comic book or graphic novel, the writer would’ve been laughed out of every comics shop in North America – just for starters!
As a result, the second half of Hancock is filled with mayhem of all sorts that, essentially, robs the film of the charm and wit that helped build up the first half. The shame of it all is that Smith, Bateman, and Theron give really good performances as the film disintegrates around them – and Peter Berg’s direction is precisely what it should be throughout. The problem with the script is that writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan seem to think that, because Hancock is a superhero movie, they can do anything they want. They’ve forgotten [if they ever even thought about it] that the best comics and graphic novels are set in universes that have rules – and adhere to them.
Sadly, the last half of Hancock, full of sound and fury as it is, totally undercuts the first half of the film’s effectiveness. In the end, Hancock may not be an average superhero, but his movie never reaches that level.
Final Grade: D+
You know it’s the 4th of July when you are sitting in a theater watching a Will Smith movie. Last week, I complained that Hollywood is trying desperately to turn James McAvoy into a leading man and I said he doesn’t have the “it” factor. Well one week later we see a full on display of a leading man who has that quality. And it’s surprisingly enough – Jason Bateman. He is what makes this mess of a film somewhat watchable. Now I’m not denigrating Smith because whatever you say about him, he also has that “it” factor where you would watch him read a phone book.
But Bateman is a real find. I loved him in Juno, but here I think he finally goes from being a cult favorite from Arrested Development (which I don’t get why people love it) to summer blockbuster status. I don’t think he’s ready to take on a leading role, but he’s great. Maybe it’s due to the fact that he’s the only likable person – the do-gooding, tree hugging, save the world PR guy Ray Embrey, who, after being saved by the foul mouth, alcoholic anti-Superman John Hancock decides he can turn Hancock into a real Hero.
The problem with the film, besides the fact that I was sitting next to these two girls who wouldn’t shut the f up, is it’s a ½ hour movie stretched to 90 minutes. Usually summer blockbusters have great 1st and 2nd acts, but lousy finishes. Hancock is the opposite. The first hour of this film is painfully slow, devoid of any heart, plot or reason for existing. The trailers and clips of Hancock walking around and flying drunk gets tired in the commercials, now imagine an hour of that. We see Hancock drink bottle after bottle of whisky. We see him tearing up streets just taking off and landing, we see him picking his nose. It’s a one note movie for the first hour; which is why Bateman’s manic performance comes as a breath of fresh air. Rumor has it Director Peter Berg wanted the movie to be edgier than this final cut. If edgier means another 20 minutes of a drunken Will Smith I would pass.
Hancock lacks a driving plot, villains and people we actually can get behind. The movie picks up in the 3rd act when Hancock finally becomes the Superhero he’s meant to be and we finally get to uncover some of his back story, his history with Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron). There’s an interesting, tragic love story that gets thrown in and here we start to see the beginnings of some interesting ideas that slowly started to suck me back into the film. It would have been fantastic if the studio had the guts to actually kill off Hancock at the end.
If Hancock didn’t try so hard to be “edgy” and “different” it could have been a winner. Instead with the only villain in the movie being a Whiskey bottle it barely registers as a blip on the radar. Though, I still loved Jason Bateman in this. Whatever you say about Will Smith he brings it with every role he takes on and you can tell that even here he’s really intense.
Final Grade D
By Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 7.2.2008
The folks over at Marvel.com have posted some nice new poster shots and a trailer from the upcoming Punisher: War Zone movie. The trailer looks really cool, if not a little B "Listy." I’m still not sold on Ray Stevenson as the lead. While watching the clip, I kept thinking, that should be Thomas Jane or even Dolph. "Punisher: War Zone" comes to a theater near you on December 5! Check out the trailer and the other photos Here.
The summer of the Comic-book movie continues this weekend with the launch of Wanted an adaptation of Mark Miller’s over the top graphic novel about a wimp who gets turned into an amoral, masochistic Super Villain. I had never heard of this book until the movie was announced last year. So I saw the film cold. I walked out of the theater being mixed, on the one hand Russia action director Timur Bekmambetov channels his inner Woo to bring us some amazing action sequences on the other the acting is all over the place. No matter how much Hollywood wants it to be true, James McAvoy doesn’t have the “It” factor. He’s ok in small doses but he just lacks charisma. Last year Timur floored me with the amazing, over the top Day Watch – if you are an action fan, you must see this. But all the elements that made Day watch so amazing, don’t work in Wanted.
Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman’s character overdoses and John Travolta’s character has to administer a shot of adrenaline directly to her heart? That is, roughly speaking, the effect that Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted has on an audience.
Wesley Gibson [James McAvoy] is a cubicle slave with an impressive, but meaningless title, and a boss who takes particular delight in demeaning him. He has a surprisingly good-looking girlfriend and a cheery best friend – who are sleeping with each other. Then, one night when he’s in line at a pharmacy to buy medication for his anxiety attacks, a gorgeous, tattooed goddess of a woman informs him that his father was the greatest assassin in the world; the number two guy killed him the day before and is just… over there!
Wesley, it seems, has inherited his father’s skills, but has been blithely unaware – mistaking his hunter’s/assassin’s traits as anxiety attacks. The goddess is named Fox [Angelina Jolie] and he is to become a member of The Fraternity – a society of assassins headed by the dapper, dignified Sloan [Morgan Freeman]. Of course, he’ll have to be trained – by a host of assassins with names Like The Repairman [Mark Warren] and Gunsmith [Common]. Then he will hunt and kill the man who killed his father.
Based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel of the same name, Wanted seems to be little more than a framework to showcase Bekmambetov’s dexterity as a director. Instead, it turns out to be a showcase for McAvoy’s transformation from wage slave to a man in charge of his own life – and for Fox to discover the real meaning of integrity. At the same time, of course, Bekmambetov does, indeed, throw everything he’s got into action sequence that take the work of people like Louis Leterrier and the Wachowski Brothers and ramp it up to a level so high that the bar is no longer even visible.
Except for a very few scenes, Wanted makes the proverbial bat out of hell look like a tortoise on its back. The fight scenes are agile in ways that combine John Woo and the Shaw Brothers with Peckinpah and the Wachowskis; the chases are well into the land that exists beyond ridiculous, and the gun play is beyond even that.
Bekmambetov hits us so quickly with pans and zooms and smash cuts and dissolves and changes of pace that we go along for the ride – even though the whole thing is as insubstantial as smoke [and we get some of that, too]. This is what summer blockbusters are supposed to be – smart and absurd and gracefully jagged adrenaline delivery systems. On that level, it is superb!
Final Grade: A
With an A-story that features the love story between WALL*E [Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class] and EVE [Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator], and a B-story that involves humanity’s possible return to a post-apocalyptic Earth, WALL*E is more than a bit of a gamble on PIXAR’s part.
Neither WALL*E nor EVE has a large vocabulary [at least, in terms of actual words – he has a number of R2D2-like sounds that clearly express what he’s feeling, and she has her own electronic vocabulary as well] – and neither has what you could call a real face [he’s a pair of binoculars on a box and she’s a floating egg with occasional arms & hands] – and yet we always know exactly what they are thinking and feeling.
Their romance is a classic one – and simultaneously poignant and hilarious – even though the film goes almost twenty minutes before a word of English is spoken.
The B-story features humans who have, in 700 years in space, become obese figures on floating couches/chairs. They live on a gigantic starship called the Axiom, where they are waited on, hand & foot, by robots of all sizes, shapes and functions [there’s more than a bit of eco-satire here, and it’s quite sharp].
The appearance of EVE [and WALL*E] with a fragile little plant from Earth should signal a return to Earth, but there are problems…
WALL*E does pay homage to various classic SF films [he resembles ET more than Johnny 5, and the ship’s autopilot, Otto, will certainly remind one of Hal from 2001], but homages are only cool if the film is worth seeing.
WALL*E is, quite frankly, dazzling. Purely from a cinematography perspective, almost every frame of the film is a perfect composition – and yet not predictable, or in any way sterile.
Some of the best moments include the realization that the deserted city we first see is only partly man-made [you’ll see what I mean…]; the lovely moment from the trailer when WALL*E trails his hand through asteroid dust like a little boy trailing his fingers through the water as a motorboat zips across a lake [see photo]; the beautiful skyscapes that open the film, and so many more [including the fact that WALL*E is hooked on Hello, Dolly – and has a cockroach as his only friend!].
WALL*E is the best film of the year – let alone the summer – so far. Easily. It may be too intense or hard to follow for younger children [the lady and four kids, ages about three to six, who were sitting next to me got up and left well before WALL*E reached the Axiom], so you should be aware of that.