From the opening moments of Salt, a couple of things become crystal clear: a) Tom Cruise was a fool to have walked away from this one, and b) Angelina Jolie is now the world’s premiere action star.
Hollywood is having the same financial ups and downs as the rest of business world.
On the down side, MGM , which is almost $4 billion in debt, said on Thursday that its lenders agreed to let it skip interest and principal payments until July 14. In a news release, the struggling studio said “The lenders took this action in support of the company’s ongoing efforts to evaluate long-term strategic alternatives to maximize value for its stakeholders.” While MGM is treading water to keep from sinking, the creditors are attempting to fend off a take over bid by Time Warner, whose offer they feel is way too low. The creditors are instead trying to figure out a way to restructure the company and keep it as a stand-alone studio.
On the upside, In the first major film financing deal to hit Hollywood since the economic downturn, Village Roadshow Pictures Group on Thursday closed on a $1 billion credit facility to finance its current and future slate of movies. Bruce Berman, chief executive of Village Roadshow Pictures had this statement to make about the lucrative deal.“This new financing enables us to expand upon the solid foundation we’ve established within the industry and grow our slate of tentpole and star-driven films.”
Village Roadshow, which was formed in 1997, has been one of the industry’s leading financiers and producers of studio released motion pictures. Sixty-one of their library of sixty-five movies have been released in partnership with Warner Brothers. This is the longest running partnership that the venerable studio has had with an independent production studio.
Outside of these ups and downs, a lot of new projects are in the works for the folks out in Hollywood land last week. Here is around up of the movies audiences can look forward to seeing.
I just finished watching the depressing Things We Lost In The Fire, how do I follow that up? With the equally depressing, overwrought drama A Mighty Heart, which Angelina Jolie was nominated for her work as the wife of Daniel Pearl an American Journalist working for The Wall Street Journal who went missing for 10 days and was eventually discovered he was killed Pakistan by Terrorist. The film is a harrowing tale of one wife’s quest to find out the truth of what happened to her kidnapped husband. Jolie is amazing in this movie.
When I saw this, it was on the Paramount lot in one of their older screening rooms. Instead of being able to see all the subtitles in the movie I was staring at the back of someone’s head, so I came real close to walking out. Here in the comfort of my own home I can appreciate how good this movie is. Director Michael Winterbottom crafts a story that is more than a grieving wife story, it’s a well-crafted mystery. Even though we all know how it ends, the journey to that revelation is really good. The amazing thing about Jolie is that when she does take on a part she gives herself totally to it, you never see the “star,” just the character she’s playing. When you are at her level, it’s no longer about her having that “It” factor.
This is a terrible HD transfer it doesn’t even look as good as an upscale DVD. The picture is grainy and a bit fuzzy and the colors are drab and overcast. Having crystal clear 5.1 Dolby TrueHD seems a little wasted on this. There are three language tracks English, French and Spanish (both in Dolby Digital 5.1) and Five Subtitle Tracks – 2 English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The menu navigation simple and straightforward nothing fancy. I do like the video background with the scenes on the home screen, very beautiful.
- A Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart – A 30 Minute doc about the making of the film. (Standard Def)
- Public Service Announcement for the Pearl Foundation with Christiane Amanpour (2 Min, SD)
- Committee to Protect Journalist (8 Min, SD)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
A Mighty Heart is an important film that should be seen, for no other reason than to watch Jolie once again show why she is “Angelina Jolie.” But this Blu-ray version is not the format to see it in. The regular DVD would be better. This will be released March 24, 2009 for a retail price of $29.99.
Movie – A
Video – C-
Audio – B
Features – D
Menu/Navigation – A
Final Overall Grade – D
EM Review by
Originally posted 3.14.09
The story of how Po [Jack Black] becomes the Dragon Warrior – despite the skepticism of the Furious Five Masters, Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – is one of the year’s surprise hits, critically as well as at the box office.
The film’s DVD release is full of bonus features and, in a special two DVD package, includes The Secrets of the Furious Five. This twenty-five minute tale finds Po facing his greatest challenge – teaching a class of easily distracted young bunnies the art of king fu [Master Shifu, still voiced by Dustin Hoffman, seems particularly tickled by the situation]. To get the class’ attention, Po relates stories of how each of the Five – Crane [David Cross], Monkey [Jaycee Chan], Mantis [Max Koch], Tigress [Tara Strong], and Viper [Jessica Di Ciccio] – had to overcome such flaws as impatience [Mantis], Compassion [Monkey], control [Tigress], and so forth. Even Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] puts in an appearance.
Most of Secrets is filmed in the beautiful 2D style seen in the prologue to Kung Fu Panda, with CG used for scenes that feature Po and his class – and the clever cover art from the two DVDs is designed to be one larger picture when placed side by side.
There is a wealth of features on each DVD.
Kung Fu Panda: Audio Commentary by Co-Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne; Meet the Cast; Pushing the Boundaries [improvements in CGI]; Sound Design; Kung fu Fighting Music Video by Cee-Lo; Mr. Ping’s Noodle House [watch a master make noodles from a simple ball of dough]; How to Use Chopsticks [this time for sure!]; Conservation International: Help Save Wild Panda; Dragon Warrior Training Academy; Printables and Weblinks [DVD-ROM], and Dreamworks Animation Jukebox.
Secrets of the Furious Five: Po’s Power Play: Learn to Draw [Character animators show how to draw their respective characters]; Dumpling Shuffle [which bowl is the dumpling under]; Pandamonium Activity Kit [DVD-ROM]; The Land of Panda: Learn the Panda Dance; Do You Kung Fu [demonstrations of basic kung fu forms]; Inside the Chinese Zodiac; Animals of Kung Fu Panda [and how they relate to their namesake forms of kung fu], and What Fighting Style Are You?
Grade: Kung Fu Panda – A
Grade: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+
Grade: Features: Kung Fu Panda – A+
Grade: Features: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+
Final Grade: A
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
Pandas are perceived as being laid back, relaxed and just enjoying munching on bamboo shoots. Kinda like your fat, old uncle Kenny – only bigger and with fur. Casting a panda as a kung fu master is one of those contradictory images that just automatically provoke smiles and chuckles – if not hysterical laughter. Which is why Kung Fu Panda had to be more than just another animated movie. In order for it to work, the film would have to find a way to make us believe – in with excellent CGI – that Po [voiced by Jack Black], a poor panda working for his father in a noodle house, could make that leap to… wait for it… Dragon Warrior!
In anticipation of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung [Ian McShane] breaking out of the most secure prison in the country, Master Shifu [Dustin Hoffman] has trained the Furious Five – Masters Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – in hopes that one of them would be chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Warrior and obtain the Dragon Scroll that would take them to an almost exalted level of martial arts mastery. Through a fluke involving fireworks and a chair, Po finds himself chosen to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] – and fierce lessons must be learned by all of them so that, when Master Oogway’s time comes, the Dragon warrior will be ready to face Tai Lung.
Kung Fu Panda is a small miracle in both character and animation development. The script, by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger [from a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris] packs as much character into the film as action [and there’s a lot of action!]. Watching Po and his father, Mr. Ping [James Hong] deal with the changes in Po’s life are fraught with genuine emotion; the disbelief of Shifu and the Furious Five combine to make things even harder for the poor Po. The animation of the martial arts sequences add to the depth of the film with their intricacy and clarity.
Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have done a masterful job of matching voices to characters [Jolie and Liu especially, bring it – and Rogen, counter cast as the tiny Mantis gives his character a surprisingly supple quality] and staging both moments of frenzy and unexpected beauty [the passing of a key character]. Kung Fu Panda is a movie that might have been wholly summarized by its title, but instead is so much more. Thanks to the factors mentioned plus the unexpected range of Black as Po, this is a classic in waiting.
Final Grade: A
Roger Zemeckis has created an amazing world in Beowulf – the CG adaptation of the epic poem we all suffered through in high school English. Here, though, we get a loose adaptation that assigns human motivations to the major players – including the decidedly inhuman Grendel and his mother. Does it work? Just often enough make the expensive 3D process worth it.