Archive for June, 2010

All the parts come together in ‘Eclipse’

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" Bella (Kristen Stewart) is torn between two inhuman lovers (Taylor Lautner, left, and Robert Pattinson) in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”

Her mouth says yes, I will marry the vampire.

But her heart says wait, let’s not count the werewolf out.

In “Eclipse,” the third film based on the popular supernatural romance books by Stephenie Meyer, poor Bella Swan could literally be torn between two lovers at any moment.

The first “Twilight,” directed by indie filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke, set up a straightforward, low-budget romance between morose high school student Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her undead classmate, shimmering Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) with a sparkly set of golden peepers.

The sequel, “New Moon,” directed by Chris Weitz, took a downer turn into soap operatic mush with lots of teen angst emanating from Bella, who wants to become a vampire, and from Edward, who at 109 years old really isn’t a teen, and doesn’t want to “bite” Bella until they are properly married. Who knew?

“Eclipse” comes from director David Slade, who gave us “Hard Candy,” an edgy thriller about a tough little girl (a pre-“Juno” Ellen Page) who traps a pedophile and sets out to neuter him with kitchen utensils. Right away, you’d expect “Eclipse” to be shade darker and nastier than its predecessors. It is.

Slade never lets the inherent silliness of “Eclipse” stop him from throwing everything into this project, which is part epic, part teen romance, part war movie, part comedy and as violent as a PG-13 movie can probably get.

Bella has real trouble following through on her plan to spend an unhuman eternity with Edward. She keeps leading on poor Jake Black (Taylor Lautner), the shirtless hunk of lupine beefcake who wants her for himself when he’s not in werewolf form. (Read more…)

‘Grown Ups’ opts for the juvenile instead of the mature

Friday, June 25th, 2010
Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler in "Grown Ups" Chris Rock, left, David Spade, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler star as childhood buddies brought together for a party 30 years later in the comedy “Grown Ups.”

“Grown Ups” is a sleazy, hypocritical family comedy that makes fun of fat people for being overweight, ridicules older people for having a libido, makes sport of “ugly” girls for not being supermodels, pokes fun at older women for expelling excessive gas, and gets mileage out of plopping people’s faces into animal poop.

Clearly, a market exists for this juvenile, witless comedy, as evidenced by a Monday night preview of “Grown Ups” where viewers roared with approval at many of these jokes – except for the many other jokes when they remained stone-cold silent. (Rob Schneider waking up with a breast pump attached to his right nipple didn’t go over well at all.)

Taking a cue from “The Big Chill” (which took its cue from “Return of the Secaucus Seven”), “Grown Ups” uses a funeral to reunite five childhood basketball pals 30 years after they won the 1978 championship for their school.

Their beloved coach (Blake Clark) has gone to the final playoff in the sky, and the former players have come together for not only his funeral, but to spend a few days reconnecting at a summer cabin near the lake with all their kids. (Read more…)

‘Knight and Day’ delivers lots of speed, little substance

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in "Knight and Day" June (Cameron Diaz) hangs onto rogue CIA agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) in the action thriller “Knight and Day.”

If you took all the breathtaking stunts and wild chase sequences in “Knight and Day” and pressed them together so tight that they squeezed everything else out, you’d still have a bloated, cliche-riddled Hollywood action movie.

Only shorter.

A thin line separates a tongue-in-cheek spy adventure (any 007 film starring Roger Moore) from an overt spy movie parody (any “Austin Powers” comedy).

“Knight and Day” has no idea where that line went.

So, some of Tom Cruise’s impressive displays of athletic acumen approach the level of a fun and clever Jackie Chan fight sequence.

Others, such as a scene where Cruise steps into machine gunfire to prove his love (and the bullets magically miss him!) hearkens back to the silliness of Leslie Nielsen’s “Naked Gun” comedies.

“Knight and Day” opens with Cruise flashing some free advertising for a cool set of shades (he did wonders for Ray-Ban Wayfarers in “Risky Business”) while hanging around an airport.

He checks out women, but not for the regular reasons. When he finally spots June Havens (Cameron Diaz), he makes his move by pretending to bump into her and transferring unknown contraband into her purse.

We find out his name is Roy Miller and he’s a rogue CIA agent who’s been accused of kidnapping a dweeby genius named Simon Feck (Paul Dano) with his tiny invention: a battery with perpetual, renewable energy.

“Knight and Day” apparently wants to be a source of perpetual energy as well. Director James Mangold throws the narrative thrusters into overdrive, pushing Roy and his unwitting partner June from one hyperbolic survival sequence to the next. (Read more…)

What the ‘Hex’? ‘Jonah’ cursed with being plain awful

Monday, June 21st, 2010
Megan Fox and Josh Brolin in "Jonah Hex" Lilah (Megan Fox) and Jonah (Josh Brolin) hang around while figuring out their next move in the western thriller “Jonah Hex.”

I know it’s only June, but it’s never too soon to start taking bets on the worst movie of 2010.

Which brings us directly to the leading contender so far, Jimmy Hayward’s jaw-droppingly bad, abysmally assembled supernatural western based on the DC Comics tale of a mutilated bounty hunter who can talk to dead people by touching them.

“Jonah Hex” clocks in at a breakneck 81 minutes, and I can only conclude that Hayward’s overactive editors went crazy with the editing software and lopped off all the parts that actually made sense, then deleted all of the graphic violence to qualify the film for a family-friendlier PG-13 rating.

That might explain why every time someone dies from a hatchet strike or a bullet, the camera cuts away and lets the shoddy sound effects carry the suggestion of violence.

“Jonah Hex” is so devoid of character development, functional plot and sense of style that not even Megan Fox about to pop out of her corset can make anyone care about what happens next — except seeing two words, “The End.”

Josh Brolin stars as Hex, who used to be a good soldier in the Civil War until he refused to carry out an order to burn down a hospital — with people still inside. (Read more…)

‘Toy Story 3’ simply first rate

Monday, June 21st, 2010
Cowboy Woody from "Toy Story 3" Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) calls for help on Chatter Telephone (Teddy Newton) in the sequel “Toy Story 3.”

I realize that only baby boomers might get this reference, but “Toy Story 3” features a horrific, white-knuckle survival sequence that packs as much raw power as the single gunshot that killed Bambi’s mother.

Yes. Bambi’s mother. I’m not kidding.

It’s been a long time since a G-rated animated feature has been this scary, this smart, this moving, this thrilling and this visually dynamic. (Even more than Pixar’s “Up?” Yes!)

The sheer excellence of Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” is all the more amazing because it’s a second sequel to a hit movie, so the writers are limited to using certain characters and conventions already established in “Toy Story” (1995) and “Toy Story 2” (1999).

When you consider that almost all of the original actors have returned to play their characters 11 years since the last “Toy Story,” this sequel deserves even greater admiration. (Jim Varney, the voice of Slinky the dog, died in 2000 and has been replaced by Blake Clark. Bo Peep, Wheezy the Penguin and the Etch-a-Sketch apparently have become yard sale fodder.)

“Toy Story 3” takes up when young Andy (John Morris) is preparing to head off to college. What will he do with all his favorite toys? Throw them away? Donate them? Take them to college?

The green army soldiers don’t wait around. They bail.

Andy sets aside all his toys, except for Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), to be donated, but an accident places them in the trash bin. Woody’s attempt to save his pals becomes the first crisis of many as the toys struggle to survive and face the biggest question of their existence: Who will play with them and give their lives meaning? (Read more…)

100 Ways To Get a Bad Review (51-60)

Monday, June 14th, 2010

When you think about it, a lot of places can tell filmmakers how to make movies: Columbia College. UCLA. USC. NYU.

  • But how many of them can tell filmmakers ways to avoid bad reviews of their movies?
  • I can.
  • I offer 100 ways to warn filmmakers – beginners and veterans – on how they can avoid making simple errors that can cost them major critical points when their pictures go to market.
  • Let’s face the ugly truth. Creative inbreeding in Hollywood has reached “Deliverance” proportions. I defy anyone to sit through three movies — any three of any genre – and not notice the same rusty lines of dialogue, the same arthritic visual devices, even the same lame props and set-ups.
  • Except for a handful of filmmakers who actually think outside of the Cliché Box (Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme lead the very short list), many Hollywood storytellers seem content to let their movies become narrative viruses that simply replicate themselves as quickly as possible, with different casts, of course.

So, here come the next 10 of the 100 lamest, most unimaginative ways filmmakers can dare critics to dis their works. As for those filmmakers who continue to use the following elements of creative stagnation, I can only say on behalf of film critics everywhere, “Thank you. You’ve made our day.”

Read my 100 Ways To Get A Bad Review Page.

Pity the fool who takes ‘A-Team’ romp too seriously

Thursday, June 10th, 2010
Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson in "The A-Team" Face (Bradley Cooper), left, joins Hannibal (Liam Neeson) as members of “The A-Team,” an update of the 1980s TV series.

“The A-Team” doesn’t just kill.

It overkills.

In a good way.

Sometimes.

As directed and cowritten by Joe Carnahan, maker of the unlikeably nasty and stylistically choked “Smokin’ Aces,” the silver-screen incarnation of the 1980s TV series has the courage of its convictions to go all-out as a giant, dopey cartoon of an action film, riddled with brain-dead action movie dialogue, increasingly preposterous action movie clichés and an amazing, standout performance by “District 9” star Sharlto Copley as the comically unhinged pilot “Howling Mad” Murdock.

“The A-Team” shows us the formation of the squad of framed soldiers originally commanded by George Peppard as Hannibal Smith, with Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, Dirk Benedict as Faceman Peck and Dwight Schultz as Murdock.

Now, the A-Team has evolved from Vietnam War vets into Iraq war vets who meet in Mexico, depicted as anything but a vacation destination.

Hannibal (an unexpectedly thoughtful Liam Neeson) is about to be ripped to pieces by dogs unleashed on him by corrupt Mexican cops.

Somewhere else, Face (Bradley Cooper, radiating rakish cool) is about to be burned alive by more corrupt Mexican cops.

B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) escapes from his forced labor at a dead-end job in a Mexican chop-shop.

The trio gets together (a see-it-to-believe-it scenario), then makes a getaway in a chopper piloted by Copley’s Murdock, sprung from a local mental ward by Hannibal.

The A-Team quickly (and without the necessity of common sense or internal story logic) takes on a mission to intercept $1 million in counterfeit U.S. bills, plus the U.S. mint plates that created them.

Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but then, oh no! They’ve been double-crossed by a Black Forest special ops guy named Pike (Brian Bloom), who sends them to prison for stealing the plates and assassinating General Morrison (1980s TV star Gerald McRaney), the only person who knew of the A-Team’s secret mission. (Read more…)

Dann chats with ‘Splice’ director Vincenzo Natali

Friday, June 4th, 2010
Director Vincenzo Natali “Splice” Director Vincenzo Natali relaxes at Chicago’s Trump Towers between interviews for his new science-fiction horror tale.


Director a splice of life

Detroit-born Vincenzo Natali has directed four features so far, the last one being “Splice,” a science-fiction thriller that opens today.

The filmmaker now makes his home in Toronto, Canada. He recently came to Chicago’s Trump Towers to answer some questions about horror and human nature, and the scary subject of genetic splicing.

Q. “Splice” is about scientists – played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley – who genetically create a new life-form, which they debate whether should be killed or protected. How would you describe it?

A. I think it’s a creature film spliced with a relationship story. That is what always intrigued me about it. I wanted to make an intimate creature film, one that would explore the nuances between creator and creation. I hope it works for people. I’m a great lover of creature films. This is my love letter to creature movies. As someone who appreciates the genre, I thought it could be treated with a slightly more delicate and sophisticated hand.

Q. Any reactions from ethics or religious groups?

A. It’s a very loaded topic. Hopefully, the film isn’t clear about where it stands morally. It goes into some very gray territory. There are clearly some positive things to come out of this technology. And there are great dangers … I cowrote the script in consultation with a geneticist, and had a geneticist involved in the production of the film. They were very enthusiastic about the film. I haven’t heard from an ethics person or religious group. I’m not sure how they would feel about the movie. They might support it. (Read more…)

Stars set ‘Get Him to the Greek’ on right (but raunchy) road

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
Jonah Hill and Russell Brand in "Get Him to the Greek" A record label junior executive (Jonah Hill), left, tries to keep rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) on time for his concert tour in “Get Him to the Greek.”

“Get Him to the Greek” is another vulgar, laugh-your-head-off adult comedy from the Judd Apatow School of Offensive Humor Redeemed by Icky Characters You Slowly Learn to Love Because They’re So Darn Human.

This one is written and directed by Nick Stoller, whose saucy and sassy comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” introduced the world to self-destructive British rocker Aldous Snow, who graduates from a supporting character there to a lead here.

The epic quest-like plot kicks into action when a Pinnacle Records junior executive named Aaron Green (“Superbad” star Jonah Hill) suggests to his pushy, foul-mouthed boss Sergio (Sean Combs) that they bring back Aldous (reprised by ultra-blue stand-up comedian Russell Brand) for the 10th anniversary of his successful concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

But, as we glimpse in a series of revealing pseudo-rock video news clips, Aldous has fallen on tough times after his newest single, “Infant Sorrow” – a callous exploitation of children caught in some generic Third World war – is accused of setting back race relations more than the video beating of Rodney King.

Sergio orders Aaron to pick up Aldous at his London home, get him to New York to be on the “Today” show, then make sure he arrives at the Greek Theatre in time for his concert in three days. (Read more…)

Old dog ‘Marmaduke’ needs a few new tricks

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
Marmaduke and Carlos from "Marmaduke" “Marmaduke” (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Carlos the cat (voiced by George Lopez) head to California for stupid pet tricks.

“Wait for it,” the Great Dane tells us. “Wait – for – it!”

Then he passes doggy gas on his human owners, who cough and choke on his bodily discharge.

“Marmaduke” begins this way, and ends the same way with the Great Dane letting his wind rip on his hapless humans again.

“It never gets old!” the dog chuckles.

Sorry, Marmaduke, but it was even old back when Shrek did it in the mud puddle.

“Marmaduke” is the kind of family entertainment that gives family entertainment a bad name.

Its dumbed-down script, woefully shallow story, ridiculous action sequences and cheap bathroom humor might be diverting for extremely young children, but why would most parents want to expose their kids to a movie written way beneath their level?

Marmaduke, of course, is the beloved giant canine from the popular comic strip. In this movie, Owen Wilson provides the dog with his affable, cornpone personality, forced not only to incessantly narrate every detail of the film’s opening scenes, but to deliver moldy, obvious jokes such as “I’m all ears. Literally!”

Apparently, there’s not enough trouble for a dog to get into while living in Kansas, so the screenplay moves Marmaduke’s family, the Winslows, to Los Angeles where Phil the dad (Lee Pace) gets a job with the Bark organic food company run by William H. Macy, who can barely utter his pandering dialogue without wincing with embarrassment. (Read more…)