March 31, 2007

Cinema Macabre, Volume 1: Puppet Master

Below is my entry to the first edition of the new Blogcritics film feature, Cinema Macabre. It is the brainchild of fellow writer Ian Woolstencraft to celebrate the world of horror films. Each issue will be a compilation of horror favorites selected by its contributors. My entry to the first issue is the low budget classic Puppet Master. Be sure to check out the entire column,
Cinema Macabre Issue 1: Psycho Killers, Devil Worshipers, and Lesbian Vampires Lurk Within!


Puppet Master (1989, d. David Schmoeller)
Back in the 1980's there was one name on everyone's lips when it came to independent, low budget horror and science fiction films, or at least that is what I would like to believe. That name is Charles Band, I would also accept Full Moon Pictures. Give this guy $100 and he could give you ten full length features that may show there budgetary roots, but rarely failed to deliver some entertainment. Amongst the hundreds of films to his name there is one that stands apart from the rest, Puppet Master. One of the standby's of horror is the creepy doll, as evidenced by the recent Dead Silence, the film that inspired me to revisit the horror classic.

The story concerns one Andre Toulon, played by William Hickey in a stroke of casting brilliance. He is a toymaker who has learned the magic art of giving life to inanimate objects, which he has done with a few of his favorite creations. Unfortunately, he is found by Germans seeking to learn the secret, and Toulon commits suicide rather than tell the secret. That all takes place during the WWII era. Fast forward to the present, a group of psychics have been summoned to the hotel by a man who has learned the secret and is using it to live beyond his death. Beyond that, Toulon's puppets have gotten loose and are killing anyone perceived as a threat. And kill they do, in a variety of ways. Each puppet is specialized offering its own take on death dealing, including Leech Woman puking leeches onto people, Tunneler goring people with his head top drill, Pinhead with his throat choking hands, and Blade's blade hand.

What can I say? I love the movie. It is a little odd, and quirky, and populated with memorable puppets who have gone on to star in a number of sequels. It may not be deep, it may not always make sense, but it does deliver a vibe which is simultaneously fun and creepy. The effects are well done and all done practically. Created before the CG boom and obviously crafted with love, this is a movie for low budget fans to treasure.

March 30, 2007

New Movies and Box Office Predictions: Blades of Glory, Meet the Robinsons

From a flood of six wide release films to two. This weekend has downsized its output to a mere trickle. Still, the trickle has the potential of generating this weekends top two hits. Lately it seems that you can always count on Will Ferrell and Disney animation, and that is what you are getting this weekend. But, if those two don't make you salivate, I am sure that there is a a film or three that you missed out on last week, making this a good opportunity to catch up on those desireables. Perhaps you need a little blood in your life, you could go with something like The Hills Have Eyes II, or maybe drama is what you desire, then go see Reign Over Me. Whatever your taste, there is definitely a movie out there for you!

Blades of Glory. (2007, 93 minutes, PG-13, comedy, trailer) Will Ferrell returns to his slapstick roots, following his critically successful turn in the marvelous, yet understated, Stranger Than Fiction. This time out he is paired with Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder (will he ever be able to distance himself from that role?) and heads out on the figure skating circuit. Following an altercation during the medal ceremony at the Olympics, the two are banned for life from the competition of male figure skating. The two find a loophole and now the once fierce competitors must team up and enter the pairs competition. I completely inspect this to be completely dumb, yet completely hilarious.

Meet the Robinsons. (2007, 92 minutes, G, animated, trailer) The latest Disney animated creation looks like it will be a cute romp. It is the story of Lewis, an orphan who longs to find his family. One day he meets a boy who takes him to the future where he meets, who else, the Robinsons, are colorful assortment of wacky characters. I do not know how the story will go, but I am sure the results will aim for the heartwarming. The trailer is smooth, brightly colored, and features a dinosaur clip that never fails to elicit a chuckle. Celebrity voices include Angela Bassett, Laurie Metcalf, Tom Selleck, Adam West, and Harland Williams.

Peaceful Warrior. (2007, 120 minutes, PG-13, drama, trailer) The director of the Jeepers Creepers, Vicotr Salva, movies steps away from horror and into a drama. It is the story of an athlete whose success drives him, until he meets a mysterious stranger who opens his eyes to another source of stregth. Scott Mechlowicz and Nick Nolte star.

Also opening this week, but not near me:

  • The Lookout
  • After the Wedding
  • Live Free or Die
  • Race You to the Bottom

Box Office Predictions
Will this be the first weekend in four whose top film has words in it? Last week was an acronym (TMNT) and the two weeks prior were headed by a number (300). I have no doubt that this weekend will be led by the latest Will Ferrell vehicle, Blades of Glory. Ferrell is box office gold in these slapstick comedies, and this will not be any different. It will be followed up by Meet the Robinsons, Disney's latest animated feature that is to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting public. The rest of the field? Who knows, they can take a bit of the breather after last week's wholesale switchout of the top ten flicks.

Here is how I think the top ten field will play out:

RankTitleBox Office
1Blades of Glory$36 million
2Meet the Robinsons$28 million
3300$15 million
4TMNT$14 million
5

Shooter

$10 million
6Wild Hogs

$8 million

7The Last Mimzy$6 million
8Premonition$5 million
9The Hills Have Eyes II$4.5 million
10Reign Over Me$3.5 million


What are you seeing this weekend?

March 29, 2007

Press Release: LILLIAN AXE ROAR BACK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

LILLIAN AXE ROAR BACK ON METRO CITY RECORDS LABEL WITH A NEW ALBUM, 'WATERS RISING,' FOR JUNE 19TH, 2007

Opening for the likes of Ratt, Poison, Queensryche, Krokus, Stryper and Lita Ford, working with some of rock's most respected producers and scoring several 'Headbangers Ball' approved video clips, Lillian Axe certainly carved (or perhaps more appropriately, chopped) a niche for themselves with metalheads worldwide during the '80s and '90s. And now, after an extended hiatus, the group - which is now comprised of Derrick LeFevre (lead vocals), Steve Blaze (lead guitars/vocals), Sam Poitevent (guitars/vocals), Eric Morris (bass), and Ken Koudelka (drums) - has unleashed their first new studio album in nearly fifteen years (and first for the Metro City Records label), titled 'Waters Rising.'

"We have spent the last 3 years getting this record done, in 4 different locations, and we have gone through a complete metamorphosis mentally and physically," explains Blaze. "It's a different environment in the music industry these days yet the spirit and soul in creating music has stayed the same in the Lillian Axe camp. My engineer, Rob Hovey, and I spent many hours experimenting with different approaches to this record, but it always came back to the same formula: do what we do, period."

Blaze also offered some insight regarding several favorite individual tracks from 'Waters Rising.' "The song 'Quarantine' deals with germaphobia - I suffer from this condition. I deal sometimes with the 'dirtiness' of the world by living in a very clean, pristine, and organized environment. 'The 2nd of May' speaks of child disappearance and the theories behind the inability to find so many missing people. 'Field of Yesterday' would be Lillian Axe's 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' The one song that encompasses the pieces sonically and emotionally that are the quintessential elements of that group. It is about eight minutes long and has a mid-section which capsulates the history of man's existence in an ethereal interlude which soars and then slams back to reality. '5' is an instrumental in which I used about 80 guitar tracks. I attempted to touch on many different aspects of the instrument from arpeggios to clean picking to orchestration to heavy blues riffs to speed
riffing to manipulation feedback. It took a while, as I wrote it as we recorded it, but the fanatic end result was just what I intended."

Originally formed in 1983, the New Orleans-based group soon caught the attention of Ratt manager Marshall Berle and MCA Records, leading to the release of the group's self-titled 1988 release (produced by late Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby), 1989's 'Love and War' (produced by Tony Platt, who previously worked with AC/DC), 1991's 'Out of the Darkness into the Light,,' 1992's 'Poetic Justice,' and 1993's 'Psycho-Schizophrenia' (the last two of which were produced by Leif Mases, who previously worked with Led Zeppelin). Additionally, such Lillian Axe tracks as "Dream Of A Lifetime," "Show A Little Love," "True Believer," and a cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What" received attention from rock radio and MTV.

By the middle of the '90s, Lillian Axe opted to take a break, although a collection of previously unreleased material was issued in 1999, 'Fields of Yesterday.' With metal once more ruling the charts and the airwaves by the early 21st century, Lillian Axe was back in business with live shows, resulting in the release of their first-ever live album, 'Live 2002,' recorded in Houston, Texas. Roadwork has continued for the band - including playing to 27,000 fans at Germany's Bang Your Head Festival in 2004, as well as an extensive European tour a year later. With new singer LeFevre recently replacing longtime frontman Ron Taylor, 'Waters Rising' sees a whole new metallic chapter unfolding for Lillian Axe.

"This album has been conceptually in the works for years. 'Waters Rising' represents the boiling point factor, that life seems to be a tumultuous ride always on the brink of explosion. These recent times on this planet seem to be proving this point. However, in each individual is the point where you reconcile this within your spirit and peace takes over allowing you to cope more effectively. The songs on this record cover the different ways that we deal with this factor and the fact that everyone is trying to make sense of it."

Tracklisting for 'Waters Rising':

1. Waters Rising
2. Antarctica
3. Become A Monster
4. Quarantine
5. I Have to Die, Goodbye
6. Fear of Time
7. Until the End of the World
8. Fields of Yesterday
9. Thirst
10. The 2nd of May
11. Deep in the Black
12. 5

For more information, go to:
www.MetroCityRecords.com
www.lillianaxe.com

CD Review: Clutch - From Beale Street to Oblivion

This is my very first exposure to Clutch. Yes, it's true, prior slipping this into the player I had no exposure to the band. Although, I am sure that I stumbled across a song or two here or there on soundtracks and compilations, though I cannot be entirely sure. That said, this album has insidiously crept into my head and kept me grooving long after the sounds were silenced. There belnd of Southern flavored rock, blues, stoner jam, and groove all blend to create an album that was not immediately to my taste, but repeat listening allows it to get inside and grow, like a mushroom in the dark just waiting to be picked.

Clutch has been a very active band with a number of albums and EPs being released ever since their label debut EP release through EastWest records in 1992, Passive Restraints. Nearly every year since then has seen a release of Clutch material, whether it be a full length album, EP, or collection, they are always easy to be found. This makes my lack of exposure all the more impressive. Certainly I was aware of the band, but for some reason never picked anything up. Well, those days are finally behind us. I have now been formerly introduced to the grooviness that is Clutch and their new album: From Beale Street to Oblivion, released by drt Entertainment.

So, without their past work to create a frame of reference, I have entered the fray relatively clean, save for my own musical preferences which have a habit of creeping into everything I listen to. My first pass through the album was not a terribly positive one. There was that uncertainty of what to expect, I had no idea what I was going to hear, and frankly, I was expecting something heavier. The stoner southern rock groove that greeted me caught me off guard, so the initial reaction swayed towards the "not so great" end of the scale. A few more passes, this time with a different mindset, and the riffs and flow have gotten past my defenses and shown me how good this album really is.

The album has a very "live" feel to it, there is a raw, clean sound that seems to be free from studio tinkering. That isn't to say it is not well produced, it is, but it really sounds as if the band got together in the studio and just recorded each of the cuts straight up. Plug and play, if you will. It has a lot of character, genuine emotion flows through the album.

I do not know how Clutch sound on their past recordings, but this album sounds like a band from the 1970's, but it is more than that. A rock and roll jam band that takes its old school influences and blends them with modern sensibilities, coming together to create this sound that knows where it came from yet isn't just regurgitating it. Clutch has made an album that cannot be easily labeled, it refuses to be stuck in one category.

I cannot say that any of the individual musicians stand out, but the music does not seem to be about the instruments so much as it is about the song. Everyone comes together to create this tapestry of sound, from the guitar riffs to the bass bed, from the solid drums to the stoner grungy voice, not to mention the liberal use of harmonica and organ (which sound very cool) everything in just the right place. They remind me of a groovier/bluesier version of Corrosion of Conformity.

Bottomline. I cannot say any single song stands out, but the album, as a whole, is quite impressive. After that initial expectation laden listening, I have found it hard not to get caught up in the sheer catchiness of the riffs and rhythms. This is a flat out rocking album!

Recommended.

DVD Review: Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj

Where to begin? I saw this when it reared its ugly head in theaters back in December. I couldn't recommend it, although I did see a few things that may be worthy of a view. Watching it for a second time on DVD, I am not sure I can even say that. I guess the problem starts with making a sequel that doesn't contain the title character, although they try very hard to mention his name every few minutes. I assume that is to make sure you remember you are watching a Van Wilder movie and that you didn't actually walk in on the neighboring screening of Turistas (which opened the same weekend, and had the same effect on audiences). If you are in the mood for a dreadfully predictable and particularly dull time, this may be the movie for you.

March 28, 2007

TV Review: Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Finale - "Crossroads Part 2"

Holy Frak! I just finished watching the season 3 finale for Battlestar Galactica, and it was quite a ride. This series is, hands down, one of the best shows currently in production. They continuously surprise me with what they are able to pull out. Sure, there is a sub-par episode every now and then, but even those are better than a lot of other television out there. This episode, "Crossroads Part 2," is one where they pulled out all the stops, and we are now left to wonder and wait, impatiently, for season four which is not slated to air until January 2008. Man, do they know how to deliver a cliffhanger.

For those of you whgo don't watch the show, you must. I do not care what types of shows you normally watch, you will surely find something to like here and become addicted, just like the rest of us have, and with the extended layoff, you will have plenty of time to catch up on everything on DVD. Now, if you haven't already seen the episode, you may want to stop reading now, as you may well have the surprises all spoiled for you, and none of us want that to happen.

This season has already had its share of surprises, from the Galactica breaking through the atmosphere for a dramatic rescue of the captive humans on New Caprica from Cylon control, to the spiritual crisis of a certain Cylon who ended up having her model boxed, to the return of Baltar and his incarceration, to the apparent death of Starbuck. All that and a lot more has gone down, all of it building towards the season ending trial of Baltar for crimes against humanity, treason, and whatever else they could lay on.

In "Crossroads Part 1," in a somewhat surprising turn, Lee joined the defense team, despite his despising the man he was defending. This led to him questioning Rosalyn on the stand, where he forced the reveal that her cancer had returned. Also in this episode was the appearance of staticy music heard playing throughout the ship, although only a select few seem to be hearing it, Tigh, Tyrol, Tory, and Anders. What does it mean? Hmmm, I wonder.... Could it be..... Cylons? We also got the return of the Cylon fleet, found to be following the colonial fleet from a distance, by a radiation signature from one of their vessels.

In "Crossroads Part 2" we start off with the trial of Baltar. If you have followed the series, you know how slimy, manipulative, and generally untrustworthy Baltar can be. You also know his involvement in the attack on the colonies and during the occupation. We all want to see him be found guilty (sort of, I love the character on the show and a guilty verdict may put a damper on that), but a not guilty verdict would be even more interesting. The trial goes on with Gayda on the stand, clearly lying about what he knows, telling a modified version of the truth. We all know of his dislike for his former boss.

Following Gayda's perjury, we get Lee put on the stand, much to the chagrin of the prosecution. Lee is allowed to testify, and gives a powerful speech as to why Baltar is not guilty. As he shows, reminding me and probably a lot of you, af many events for which the so called "good guys" are guilty, that they were forgiven. This speech can be directly thanked for the acquittal that is handed down, in a vote that includes Admiral Adama voting to acquit.

This is a big event, and one that is sure to have far reaching repercussions. As soon as it came down there was a near riot in the courtroom, which they have to quickly shuttle Baltar out. Now, Baltar has to fend for himself. What effect will this have on the fleet? I foresee Baltar becoming some sort of political/religious leader who will compete for control of the fleet before returning to the Cylons. Meanwhile, something else is happening, remember the music?

The four that hear the music are drawn to a remote room on Galactica. The foursome come face to face and have the dawning realization that they are, and have been since the beginning, Cylons. Now, I think it is still up in the air whether or not they really are Cylons. There is no proof that the music was a trigger, nor that the Cylons were even behind it, so there may still be something else going on. Still, it does seem as if these could be 4 of the final 5 Cylons to be revealed. Tigh, Tyrol, Tory, and Anders now have to decide what they are going to do. Can they be trusted? Should they fess up their belief to Adama or Rosalyn? None of them want to accept what they now feel to be the truth. Unfortunately, they do not have much time to discuss, or even think about the turn of events, as the Cylon fleet has somehow caught up to them and it is everyone to battlestations.

The four disband following an impassioned speech from Tigh about the man that he is and the man that he will still be, regardless of the Cylon reality. It sinks in with the others, and they head off to man their stations. Tigh arrives back on the command deck, pledging his faithfulness to Adama. I am sure they will have much to talk about in the near future.

The focus switches back to Lee, who handed in his stripes to his father when he decided to join the defense in the last episode. With all of the other pilots heading for their vipers, he grabs his flight suit and heads out to join the fight against the incoming Cylons. This leads to what may be the biggest moment in this cliff hanging episode. As Lee flies, he catches notice of an unknown ship in the nebula, he heads off to find out what it is. When he did this, and the way it disappeared from his scope, I had memories from two episodes back when Starbuck was seemingly killed while chasing a similar phantom.

As Lee looks around, another viper pulls up alongside him. He looks over at the other cockpit, stunned. The other pilot turns to return his stare, it's Starbuck! She says that it is really her and that all will be all right, she has been to Earth and will lead the fleet there. They fly on while a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" plays on.

The episode ends.

Wow. What else can be said? They pulled out all the stops and started up some great stories all wich got stopped before they began, all designed to make the break between seasons an interminable wait filled with speculation and impatience. The trial alone was a great story, and probably could have been drawn into a fantastoc cliffhanger on its own, but oh no. That was resolved, only to be followed with the potential Cylon reveal, and the cryptic return of Starbuck.

This series is so well written, acted, and realized that it is so easy to get drawn in and be just flat out captivated by the story that unfolds. I can not find the right words to describe just how wonderful this show is, but this episode is a great example of its television supremacy. I am just glad to know that we will be getting at least another 14 episodes come season four.

I can't wait!

March 27, 2007

Movie Review: Shooter

Feeling like a cross between an 80's era Stallone or Scwarzenegger flick and Bourne Supremacy-lite, Shooter delivers a straight up action revenge film that is easy to get sucked into and hard to resist. As I sat in the theater and watched, I couldn't help but think that this is the movie that The Marine wanted to be, but that is an entirely different issue. Shooter is based on paranoid conspiracy where they are out to get you. It is an effective film that plays cinematic shorthand with character identification and gets right down to the action, never wasting a moment on an extraneous subplot. In this regard, this is a successful movie that will keep you interested and not tax your ability to piece together an intricate plot. That is not to say that is is not smartly written, it is, but it is also an action film at its heart, and it delivers.

We are immediately introduced to our hero in the first scene. Mark Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger, a name which is more of a way of life (watch Wahlberg walk, it is never without a certain tough guy swagger), an expert Special Ops sharpshooter. He is with his spotter in Ethiopia, protecting a path way for a Marine convoy. Things go bad and Swagger and his spotter, also his best friend, are left to fend for themselves. Swagger makes it out alive and shortly thereafter he retires from the Marines and moves off the grid.

Fast forward a few years, Swagger is visited by Colonel Isaac Johnson, played with a decidedly low key sense of menace. The visit seems innocuous enough, but there is more than meets the eye. Johnson tells of a suspected attempt to be made on the President's life by an unknown sharpshooter from more than a mile away. Swagger's expertise as a sniper is needed to help ring him down. Swagger doesn't want to help, but if he didn't where would this movie be? Anyway, he chooses to help and it turns out to be a setup with Swagger as the fall guy. Now, it is up to our hero to uncover the conspiracy and find out who is behind it and why, plus clear his own name.

All of that is shown in the trailer, and to tell more would probably be to tell too much. There is not much in the way of subtext. The story is a straight shot from the outset, it does not waste any of its screentime, it never switches stories, or introduces characters or plot points that are not absolutely necessary to the outcome of the movie. In a sense, it is a thriller that has been boiled down to its bare essence, and then pumped back up with post 9/11 conspiracy theories and paranoid machismo. All of the elements come together to form a an entertaining thriller that is good for the moment, but doesn't step into the range of greatness.

Mark Wahlberg plays Swagger with that aforementioned swagger, but also with an easy confidence. He knows what he has to do and is determined to reach his end. He is also a very human character with limitations, a far cry from the superhuman Rambo types that were a staple of these types of movies for a long period. Joining him in his quest for justice is Michael Pena (World Trade Center), playing freshman FBI Agent Nick Memphis, as the sidekick. He stays to the background, leaving Wahlberg to do his thing, but he is the guy that we, the audience, can identify with. He is filled with curiosity and sees the inconsistencies and problems with what went down, but is shot down at every turn, the only way to find the truth is to team up with wanted man. There is one other face on the side of right, Kate Mara as Sarah Fenn, Swagger's spotter's sister. She is adorable, but she is also the biggest glaring problem, her acting and accent is just awful, I did not believe her to be this character for a second. Can't win them all. On the opposition is the trifecta of Glover, his rabid guard dog Jack Payne, played by Elias Koteas, and Ned Beatty as a corrupt senator.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film is always exciting, and is definitely stronger than his misstep in King Arthur. Here he demonstrates a much tighter focus of the material and digs straight ahead. The script from Jonathan Lemkin is also a step up from his last outing, Red Planet, it flows well as Swagger moves forward with his off the cuff plan to attain justice.

Bottomline. A solid thriller with good acting, for the most part, explosive action and a straight up story of justice. Wahlberg continues to be a solid actor looking very natural in his role as the heart and soul of the film. This is a film to see, it is a definite crowd pleaser. I am not crazy about the title, but I'll get over it.

Recommended.

Box Office Update 3/23-3/26: TMNT Charges Past 300

TMNT made a statement in its opening weekend, the mean green machine is back and ready to recapture its place in pop culture. Well, it may not have been that strong, but it did decidedly take the weekend's top spot over from 300. The animated action film brought a new look Ninja Turtle to the fore, delivering more than this viewer was expecting. 300 held the top spot for two weeks, and while it did slip out of the top slot, it still pulled in a good chunk of change. It will be interesting to see if these two films have the legs to stick out as competition begins to get heavier.

300 is poised to join an elite group, the mere handful of R rated films to crack the $200 million mark. It already has the best ever March opening, and the best ever Spring opening, in addition to having the third best opening for an R rated film. To cross the $200 million barrier would put it in the company of Passion of the Christ, Beverly Hills Cop, Saving Private Ryan, and Wedding Crashers. It needs less than $40 million to get there, and at the pace it is going, it should have no problem reaching that mark. Whatever its final tally is, the studio has to be ecstatic, as this has to be more than they ever expected from a stylized sword and sandal film with no stars.

This week featured a rather wholesale swap of films in the top ten. There were six new films released wide this weekend, and all six of them found their way into the top ten. They were led by the aforementioned TMNT, which is a wonderful new turn for the 80's icons. It was followed by Shooter, in third place. That was an exciting straight forward thriller, it was good, sort of like Bourne Supremacy lite. A couple more spaces down and you will find the unlikely pairing, at 5 and 6, of the family film The Last Mimzy, which I have not yet seen, and The Hills Have Eyes II, which I have. It may be a rather cliched horror film, but it does deliver the goods in the form of blood and tension. The final two came in 8 and 9, the films are Reign Over Me and Pride, respectively. The former is an emotional film that will leave you drained, as well as giving a new look at Adam Sandler, the latter I have not yet seen.

Of the returning films, Wild Hogs continues to show strong legs, coming in fourth. This film is proving to be amazingly strong as it is still selling out shows in my area. To further some anecdotal evidence as to the film's success, it seems to have tapped into an audience that does not get out to the movies as much, the people I see buying tickets seem to be more and more in their 40s and 50s. This could be seen as quite telling, and the success here may see more films aimed at the aging baby boomer demographic. This could perhaps be extrapolated to be proof that there is another market out there that could prove to be profitable, and lead to the development of other genres of films targeted at a more mature age and marketed on a large scale. Well, a guy can dream can't he?

Six films dropped from the list this week: I Think I Love My Wife (11), Bridge to Terabithia(12), Ghost Rider (13), Zodiac (16), Norbit (17), and Music and Lyrics (18).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
1NTMNT$24,255,205$24,255,2051
21

300

$19,862,491$161,706,1463
3NShooter$14,523,571$14,523,5711
42Wild Hogs$13,850,542$123,303,8174
5NThe Last Mimzy$10,024,819$10,024,8191
6N

The Hills Have Eyes II

$9,686,362$9,686,3621
73Premonition$9,562,739$31,653,4842
8NReign Over Me$7,460,690$7,460,6901
9NPride$3,533,300$3,533,3001
104Dead Silence$3,440,415$13,216,1402


Box Office Predictions Recap
There was a rather sizeable turnover this week, six new films entered the top ten, and I did a rather decent at getting their positions pegged. I was able to get half the field right on, with two others with in one position. I had similar luck getting the gross figures, some I was right in the ballpark, while others were off by as much as 50%. Better than I had expected to be.
Anyway, here is how I picked the field:

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
11TMNT$24,255,205$30 million
22300$19,862,491$22 million
53The Last Mimzy$10,024,819$20 million
44Wild Hogs$13,850,542$16 million
35

Shooter

$14,523,571

$15 million

66The Hills Have Eyes II$9,686,362$11 million
87Reign Over Me$7,460,690$9 million
98Pride$3,533,300$8 million
79Premonition$9,562,739$7 million
1010Dead Silence$3,440,415$4 million

DVD Pick of the Week: Children of Men

This is a very strong week, at least for me. There are plenty of films being released that will compete for yourhard earned cash. There are even a number of films that I am not familiar with that are rather enticing. Of course, no week is complete without a stinker or two, and this week is no different. Whether you are looking for family films, tearjerkers, visionary drama, foreign majesty, or classic films, there is something for you. Just like every week, there is one that is standing tall, high above everyone else.

This week's pick is Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. To those of you who haven't seen it: See it! Now. Don't wait. Stop whatever you are doing and proceed to the nearest Blockbuster or Best Buy, or better yet, use the Amazon links on this page. I really don't care how you manage to get your hands on this disk, just do it. You will not regret it, and you will have one of the finest films of this decade, and the best film of 2006 in your possession.

It is easy to describe the plot of the film, but that barely scratches the surface. It is a film set in the near future, 2027 to be exact. In this dark and gritty future women can no longer get pregnant, a fact that has led to the collapse of society. No one has any hope knowing that there is no future, they are living the end of the human race. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is one of those hopeless souls who is shown that there is a flash of hope. He is brought into the fold of some resistance fighters who have discovered a young woman is pregnant, now they have to get her out of the country to the mysterious Human Project for the sake of humanity. That sums it, but believe me there is so much more going on in this film, from vivid characters to socio-political commentary to religious symbolism. This is a fantastic film, hands down, game over.

This DVD release features some awful cover art, so ignore that. It also features good audio/video quality and a few interesting featurettes on the making of the film and on the philosophical leanings of the story. Would have liked more, but it is a nice selection. Regardless, this DVD is a must have.

Also out this week:
  • Happy Feet. This movie is sure to put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. It is a fun film that tells a nice story with fun characters and excellent animation. It also won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
  • The Pursuit of Happyness. This features what may be Will Smith's finest performance. It is a touching tale that is not manipulative and feels very real.
  • The Addams Family: Volume 2. Who doesn't enjoy the Addams's?
  • Curse of the Golden Flower. The story may not work for me, but there is no denying the grandiose beauty of Zhang Yimou's film, or of co-star Gong Li.
  • The Errol Flynn Signature Collection: Volume 2. The second set of Flynn classics. I am bit unschooled in his work, but the titles here look good to me!
  • Turistas. This is hear to warn you off of it. This was a dull and decidedly less bloody than it should have been. It wants so hard to be another Hostel, yet falls so far short.
  • After Dark Horrorfest. Seven films that were released as a cluster last October, no released individually and in this box. Are they good? I have no idea, but I'd like to find out. The titles include: Unrest, Reincarnation, The Gravedancers, The Hamiltons, Wicked Little Things, Dark Ride, and Penny Dreadful.
  • Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj. Has its moments, but this Ryan Reynolds-less sequel sputters along. I do like Kal Penn, but this is not his best moment.
  • Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, Vol. 1. The anime inspired Cartoon Network series. I watched a couple of eps, didn't particularly care for it.
  • Tokko: Volume 1. New anime horror series, looks good to me.
  • Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes. The original has a certain charm, plus Lance Henriksen, this one is just sad, although better than Blood Wings.
  • Ultimate Versus. A CG touched up version of Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus, a samurai zombie flick. Fun, but is one big action sequence. I have only seen the original version, looking forward to this.
  • Roman. From Lucky McKee, director of May, comes this tale of chilling murder blending fantasy and reality. Don't know anything about it, other than I want to see it. Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) co-stars.
  • I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave: Official Director's Version. Never heard of this one, title reminds me of I Spit on Your Grave, how can you not love a title like that?
  • Dust Devil. This is a very interesting supernatural tale, not entirely successful, but worth it for the adventurous. This is a reissue as a single disk, release, replacing the limited run five disk set.

What are you geting this week?


March 26, 2007

Press Release: MARILYN MANSON AND SLAYER TO CO-HEADLINE NORTH AMERICAN SUMMER TOUR

March 26, 2007

It's going to happen only once, so you don't want to miss it.

Slayer and Marilyn Manson announce that they will co-headline a North American major-market summer tour set to kick off July 25 on the east coast. Plans are for the tour to play some twenty-five cities and wrap up early September on the west coast. A full, confirmed schedule will be announced shortly.

Manson and Slayer will each play full sets, and two support bands, yet to be determined, will open all shows.

Just prior to the American trek, both Manson and Slayer will be on tour throughout Europe, sharing the stage at three European festivals - the UK's Download Festival at Donington (June 9), Greenfield Festival in Sweden (June 15), and Stockholm's Metaltown Festival (June 30).

Marilyn Manson just wrapped up work on his upcoming June release to be titled, "EAT ME, DRINK ME," which Rolling Stone magazine anticipates as "epic." Voted "Best Band in the World" by Kerrang! magazine, the army of noise behind Manson's bitterness is at once raw and massive when witnessing him live - "rousing the crowd with focuses ardor," states the New York Times.

Celebrating their 26th year together, the always-uncompromising Slayer was just named "Best Live Band" in SPIN's 2006 Readers Poll, and picked up their first Grammy Award last month for "Best Metal Performance." Their latest album, "Christ Illusion" - debuting at #5 on Billboard's Albums Chart - takes on the U.S. Government about the War in Iraq, prompting one newspaper to speculate, "If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he undoubtedly would be listening to Slayer."

DVD Review: Children of Men

Children of Men topped my best of 2006 list, and I am happy to report that it has successfully made the translation to the small screen with its impact intact. Alfonso Cuaron's film is a film that thrusts you into a dangerous and brutal world, yet brings hope for the future. This vision of the future is bleak and grim, there is a distinct feeling of hopelessness. Director Alfonso CuarĂ³n delivers a daring future world that takes you on a journey through the despair to the dawn of a new hope. Quite frankly, I loved this movie, and my love continues unabated on DVD.

The story is set in the future, not too far removed from our own. In this future women have become infertile, no more babies are being conceived. The very idea of this happening is blood chilling. Think about it, with all of the weird things that go on in the world, from pollution to genetic experimentation to all of the crazy drugs and chemicals being added to our food and used to treat illnesses, who knows if some sort of other side effects are changing us without being detected.

This is the story of a world that has lost hope, everyone is literally watching the world die. Civilization is collapsing all over the world, we get flashes of other major cities around the globe, every one is falling into chaos. England has enacted a Homeland Security Act that is being used to expel all non-nationals. This movie shows how the immigration issue is being dealt with as everyone is being rounded up and sent to refugee camps to await deportation. This future is dark and violent and feels very, very real.

What helps bring this future vision alive is how little we are told. There are things that happen to imply things about the world and the various groups and people involved, but we are kept on the outside looking in, forcing us into being one with Theo as he moves forward. While being sucked into the world, we are forced into his perspective, not unlike watching the action through a dirty window, where many of the details are fuzzy around the edges, only allowing focus on the primary action.

It is an extraordinary film that shows what smartly written science fiction can do. It is a movie that can give way to all sorts of thoughts. You may want to consider the reality of The Human Project and what it really is, or perhaps the political climate that led to the iron fisted rule that is currently in place, or perhaps the change in immigration policies and how it is related to current events. Maybe you would rather look at the more personal implications, like how would you react knowing you were part of the last generation of humanity, or the changes that Clive Owen's Theo goes through, what about the loss of hope, or the discovery of a possible salovation for humanity in the miraculous pregnancy. How about the religious aspects, the Christ-like metaphor of the child born to save the world.

Children of Men is such an extraordinarily complete film. It has so much to say, and do is it by saying as little as possible. There are so many things left unsaid, the details about what exactly is going on surrounding the main story, but with so much flavor left scattered about, it is entirely possible to put the pieces together to build a picture of the bigger picture. An astonishing accomplishment.

Besides the beautiful storytelling, Alfonso Cuaron has demonstrated his grasp of technique and inventiveness. This film has some incredibly detailed work from the sets to the way it is shot. I did not notice it when I saw it in the theaters, as I was drawn into the story so deeply, but now, watching on DVD, I can see some of the great technical work. There are a number of incredibly long takes with no edits, you don't notice it at first, but when you realize what you had just seen, you cannot help but wonder how they did it. In particular, the scene with the car chase, they are driving along, then the road gets blocked with a burning car and they are chased. During this scene, the camera is moving all around the inside of the tiny vehicle, which has 5 people inside, you cannot help but wonder just where they put the camera and how the managed to move it around as much as they do. The other is a tracking shot behind Clive Owen in the middle of a firefight.

I read that Alfonso Cuaron got together with two of his fellow directors, and close friends, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), to watch the film. Afterwards, the two friends couldn't figure out how he did it either.

Children of Men is a true triumph of filmmaking. It is a shame that it did not do better at the box office and got overlooked for the big awards at Oscar time, but as we all know, great films are not always recognized right away.

Audio/Video. The technical aspectsd of the film are very good. The audio track is Dolby Digital 5.1, and sounds very good. I do not have many comments on it, as there is nothing to really complain about. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the original aspect ratio. It looks good, giving the same gritty/grainy look without losing any detail as it was in the theater.

Extras. This single disk release has a nice selection of extras.
  • Deleted Scenes. Two excised scenes totalling 2:22. Nothing extraordinary, and they would not have added much to the film. I cannot help but think that there is more footage out there that was cut.
  • The Possibility of Hope. Documentary featurette runs nearly half an hour. It combines some onset footage with other archival footage with interviews of philosphers and historians about the themes of hope as brought up in the film. It is interesting and will give a bigger thought of what is going on in the film and in the world.
  • Under Attack. Running about 7:30, this takes a look at the car chase scene. It looks at just what was done to tecnically bring this piece to life. It is a rather landmark achievement.
  • Children of Men Comments by Slavoj Zizek. Philosopher and cultural critic, Zizek, gives some interesting insight into the film as to what is going on in the background versus the foreground. This runs about 5:40.
  • Theo & Julian. Nearly five minutes on how every attempts were made to keep these two characters human and relevant.
  • Futuristic Design. Running over 8:30 this featurette takes a look at how they went about creating the look of the future while keeping it relatable to the present day. This is something that they succeeded at wonderfully, creating a gritty looking world that feels like a rundown version of our own time.
  • Visual Effects: Creating the Baby. This is a brief three minute look at how the baby was created using digital effects. It is quite interesting, and just slightly creepy.

Packaging. I do not normally comment on the packaging, but I have to say that I cannot stand the cover art. It is advertised as some sort of Clive Owen action vehicle, with his face peering from around the corner, with the other side saying "The Year 2027, The Last Days of the Human Race, No Child Has Been Born for 18 Years, He Must Protect Our Only Hope." Yes, in a way it is accurate, but it has no elegance to it. I really wish that they had used the original poster art, it just looks so much better.

Bottomline. If you couldn't tell, I love the movie, and will continue to do so. This is a DVD that deserves to be on the shelves of every movie lover. It nicely represents the movie, and has a nice selection of extras, even though I would have loved a commentary track. It is a beautiful story of hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Highly Recommended.


March 25, 2007

Movie Review: TMNT

I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they first appeared back in the 1980's, and that carried through to the first live action film in 1990. Shortly thereafter, I grew out of the turtle phase and left such things behind me. I have now come full circle and have a growing nostalgia for such things from my youth. With the nostalgia kick, I was intrigued when I first learned of a new animated film, wary, but intrigued. The wariness was immediately eradicated when I saw the first teaser trailer showing the mean green machine in full computer generated glory, sprinting and jumping across the rooftops. Yes, that is what I'm talking about. I am happy to report that the movie lives up to the promise of the trailer and delivers what may be the best incarnation of everyone's favorite shell wearing ninja brothers yet.

OK, now I am sure that most of you have at least the slightest idea of the Turtle's story. Here's a quick recap, which I know has changed over they years, but the general gist is that four turtles were dumped in the sewers where they came into contact with some radioactive ooze that mutated them into humanoid form turtles. Along with the foursome, a rat also was mutated. The rat, named Splinter knows the ways of the ninja, taught them to the turtles and the fought crime. Great story, huh? Well, they had a nemesis named Shredder, whom was defeated in the 1990 film.

The story picks up after the first live action film, let's just forget the other two never happened. Following the defeat of Shredder, it seems that the team dynamic changed. Splinter sent Leonardo away to learn to be a better leader. During that time, the team split up, wach of the remaining brothers doing their own thing. But, trouble is brewing, and the promise of danger brings the four back together. Yes, there is another but, before they are able to face the oncoming threat, they must first learn ot deal with each other.

A big part of the story centers on the strained relationship between Leonardo and Raphael. This story is great, but pushes Michaelangelo and Donatello to considerably smaller supporting roles, something I assume will change should there be a sequel. Raph is something of a hothead, not happy with Leo's departure, and decides to take things into his own hands. Now that Leo is back, Raph is even less happy now that his brother has returned. It is an interesting dynamic that plays out, but there is the bigger story that they are all forced to deal with.

There is an ancient, immortal warrior who unwittingly let a number of ghastly beasties loose upon the earth, while his generals were turned into beastly stone statues. It just so happens everything is converging on New York, the warrior goes by the name Winter, and he has just bought the statues and is intent on bringing his men back and recapturing said beasties. It is up to the turtle foursome, along with April O'Neil and Casey Jones to get their act together and get to the bottom of the creature activity. Oh yes, the Foot Clan are still around too.

TMNT is a rather big departure from the prior popularized incarnations, and probably closer to the original underground comic book version. It strips away the straight up comedy and goofiness that infected the cartoon, taking a darker and grittier turn. It would be something akin to the difference between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, that is to say it is a fantastic change. It has its share of comedy, but it has a more serious tone that doesn't give away all the fun. The action is high, and there are a couple of great fights, this is what was promised in those other incarnations, finally brought to realization.

Director Kevin Munroe did a great job of realizing this incarnation. The animation looks great, perhaps not to the level of Pixar, but the look is spot on, from the gritty look ofo the city to the nice looking skin tones. It is a world realized very well, very fitting for the new look turtles.

Is it perfect? No, but it is a lot closer to it than I ever would have expected. It would have been nice to have some more surrounding information, maybe some news reports, or anything to imply that the scope was larger than is pictured. Perhaps, an additional 15 minutes to flesh it all out. Still, I have a hard time complaining as I had an absolute blast watching it.

I was interested to find that there were a number of celebrities who lent their voices. Among those stars was Mako, who died during the production last year making this his last big screen appearance having voiced Master Splinter. Other stars include Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil, Chris Evans as Casey Jones, Patrick Stewart as Winter, Zhang Ziyi as Karai, and Kevin Smith as Diner.

Bottomline. This was so much fun! The action was great, the animation was great, the story was good. It turned out to be so much more than I had expected. I can only hope that it does well enough to generate a sequel to expand on this new universe.

Highly Recommended.

Movie Review: The Hills Have Eyes II

This is a good example of what horror fans have to put up with. Horror fans all know about the good horror films that get everything firing on all cylinders, from acting, to story, to the all important scares. Horror fans all know about the bad horror films, the ones that are so inept that they wouldn't scare a child and are plagued by a bad story and even worse acting. Then there are films such as The Hills Have Eyes II, which for my money does a lot of things right, but is tempered by the presence of some awful dialogue and acting. It has a story that we have seen before, but builds enough tension and delivers enough gore to keep us, or me at least, interested until the inevitable conclusion.

I guess the big question is whether or not The Hills Have Eyes II is bad or not. The answer isn't all that simple, as there was much that I enjoyed about it, while there was plenty mixed in to damper my enthusiasm. Bad acting permeates the entire film, something that seems to be a staple of horror films so I can forgive some of it. Sadly, the dialogue does nothing to help matters, as there are a veritable truckload of bad lines being delivered by bad actors, most noticeably in the first third of the film, it does get a little better the further in you get. This improvement is probably due to the periodic culling, as our heroic band gets whittled down to the inevitable heroes (who you should be able to guess pretty early on, you may even be able to guess the order in which they expire).

The story, such as it is, has no connection to the first, save the fact that the mutants are still inhabiting the old atomic bomb testing facility in New Mexico. The survivor(s) (I cannot remember who survived that night of blood) of the earlier film are nowhere to be seen. Instead of a family stumbling across the cannibalistic mutant feeding grounds we are treated to a group of mismatched National Guard trainees out on their first mission. Hmmmmm...... a group of raw military kids? Sounds like fresh meat to me.

The kids are sent out to assist a scientific research team that has been charged with setting up surverillance in the long abandoned hills. Of course, assistance will be the least of their worries as they arrive to an empty camp. The scientists had run into some problems already, shown prior to the opening credits. It does not take long to get a good, up close and personal taste of blood and gore as the scientists are dispatched, setting up the real mission of the fresh faced kids.

The rest of the movie has the shrinking group of recruits shrinking as various mutants pick them off one by one. There is plenty of blood and jump scares to be had, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. The gore is plentiful supply as the kids are chopped up, bloodied, and battered, while the mutants are also dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways.

Despite the terrible dialogue and atrocious acting, the movie still got to me. It crawled under my skin and helped build up this feeling of tense dread. I can't say that I cared one way or the other whether or not all of the good guys were killed, but I was still into each kill. It is the kind of horror movie that you watch for the blood and just what will happen next.

Martin Weisz directed this outing. He does have a good grasp of stylishly presenting the gore and building tension, but he still needs to work on his overall directing and how to create an overall stylish and freaky movie. That is something that Alexandre Aja succeeded at on last year's The Hills Have Eyes. If only the film had lived up to the fantastic teaser trailer, you know the one, it had a couple of mutants dragging bodies across the desert. That was a brilliant piece of marketing.

Bottomline. I liked this movie, not a whole lot, but there was enough tension and gore to satisfy me. Look past the horror genre staples of bad acting and dialogue and you will find a fun exercise in blood letting. Then there is the opening birth scene....

PS: Did Michael McMillan, playing Napoleon, remind anyone of Topher Grace? I though the subtitle for this should have been Eric Forman Joins the Army.

Recommended.

Movie Review: Reign Over Me

What an absolutely draining experience. As I left the theater, I felt so emotionally spent that I just stood in the theater lobby, no speaking, not thinking, just standing there. I wasn't quite prepared for the ringer the Reign Over Me put me through. This is not to say it is a perfect film, it has its flaws, but it creates this vivid portrait of two men going through turning points in their lives, and helping each other find what it is they are looking for. The movie also gives us an Adam Sandler that I have never seen before. In short, this is a surprisingly moving, well acted film that is well worth your time.

I have not seen that many films that deal with 9/11. Last year I saw both United 93 and World Trade Center, both were excellent films in different ways. The former took the role of a fly on the wall of the United Airlines flight that went down in Pennsylvania, a moving and difficult to watch film, the latter aimed to restore faith in humanity, focusing on two of the survivors that were found trapped in the collapsed towers. What does this have to do with Reign Over Me? Well, it shows my experience with 9/11 films. To my memory, this is the first entirely fictional film to deal somewhat directly with the event.

The film starts out by introducing us to Allan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful dentist, with a lovely family. He is feeling severly overwhelmed with the balance of his family and professional responsibilities, resulting in him leading a rather repressed life. One day, on his way home from work, he spies his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). He fails to get his attention, but the sighting has lit something that was long missing inside of him. The next time Allan sees Charlie, he does get ahold of him, and a friendship is rekindled. It is an awkward friendship to start, you see, Charlie is in a very dark place cut off from most semblance of reality.

Charlie lost his family on 9/11. His wife, three daughters, and the family dog were all on one of the planes. This event has destroyed Charlie's world. He has withdrawn from society, unable to cope with the loss he has buried himself in video games, music, and kitchen remodeling. His renewed friendship with his old college bud begins to bring him back out of his funk.

The film was written and directed by Mike Binder. The story unfolds in a natural way, nothing is forced, and everything is given its due time. Reign Over Me is slowly paced, allowing Fineman's story and Johnson's sub-story be told over a period of time that is not rushed, but never boring. I found myself drawn into "Charlie-world," as Allan describes it to his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith). It is a story that is involving, sad, and ultimately uplifting.

Carrying the film are the impressive performances of Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle has really become a wonderful actor, especially in his Oscar nominated performance in Hotel Rwanda. Here, he is understated giving us a character who seems to have built up a shell around himself rather than seek to improve his repressed life. We slowly see that shell chipped away the more he spends time with Charlie. Now, Adam Sandler gives us the next step in the evolution of his action. He has previously shown some unseen depth in the likes of Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish, this is the next stage. He has given us a character that is withdrawn, sullen, and prone to bizarre moodswings, all of which he moves through capably. This is a Sandler that has not been seen before, and I was captivated by his performance, it felt raw and genuine, I believed in the pain that he was feeling, the reasons why he was so shut off. Wonderful performance. There are also fine performances amongst the supporting cast, although none are developed terribly deeply. Those performances include Liv Tyler as a young psychiatrist and Donald Sutherland as a compassionate judge.

Bottomline. I was taken on a draining journey through loss and rebirth. It struck me deeply. It is a story that seems designed to target the emotional response, yet while manipulkative elements are there, I do not feel as if I was. The pacing may not be perfect, but there is a very natural flow to the dialog and the development. This is a strong film that deserves to be seen.

Highly Recommended.

March 23, 2007

New Movies and Box Office Predictions: TMNT, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Reign Over Me, Shooter, The Last Mimzy, Pride

The cineplex is under attack! The scene is grim, there are film cans scattered, bits of celluloid flutter about like leaves in the wind, and the people.... The people are wandering about like something out of a Romero film. They are just milling about, staring at the marquis. They have this glazed look in their eyes, these blank expressions on drawn out faces. Why, you ask? Well, have you looked at the sign? There are six, count them, six new films hitting wide release this weekend. Talk about chopping up an audience. You would think that they could have spread these out a bit better, rather than going head to head in competition for your cinematic dollar. This is a nightmare for those who like to see all of them on opening weekend.

The Hills Have Eyes 2. (2007, 89 minutes, R, horror, trailer) Last year, French director Alexandre Aja brought his vision of Wes Craven's classic low budget horror film to the big screen in disturbingly gruesome fashion. It was a tale of a family cutting across the desert in New Mexico. This year, Martin Weisz takes over the directorial reigns making his big screen debut, following his success in the music video world. This is not so much a remake of the original sequel, as it is a sequel to the remake. This features a group of National Guardsmen patroling in New Mexico who respond to a distress call and meet up with some cannibalistic mutants who live there. Sounds like fun! The script was written by Wes Craven's son, Jonathan.

The Last Mimzy. (2007, 90 minutes, PG, fantasy/family, trailer) What is a "Mimzy"? All I can remember is the mention of mimsy in the poem "Jabberwocky." Something tells me that the two are not all that closely related. This story concerns a couple of children who uncover a mysterious box of toys, soon after which they develop talents. What is happening, and why? It looks like it could be a good fantasy film. Stars include Joely Richardson. Rainn Wilson, and Timothy Hutton. It was directed by Bob Shaye, the CEO of New Line Cinema, directing for the first time since 1990's Book of Love.

Pride. (2007, 104 minutes, PG, drama, trailer) When I see the trailer, I can't help but feel I have seen this before. It looks like it is well made, but just how many more of these inspirational sports movies do we need? They just keep popping up out of the woodwork, and while none have been out and out bad, I find myself wearying of them. This one stars Terrence Howard who takes his dream of competitive swimming to the city of Philadelphia where he starts the first all-black swim team. Co-stars include Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, and Tom Arnold.

Shooter. (2007, 124 minutes, R, action, trailer) Mark Wahlberg is back on the big screen on what looks like the continuing adventures of Dignam from The Departed, of course it isn't, but it sort of has that look. It is about a world class marksman, who left the service after a mission gone bad. Now, he is drawn back in as there is a planned hit on the president. Rather than catching the killer, he is set up as the killer. Now, he must set about to get justice on those who betrayed him. Along with Wahlberg are Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, and Elias Koteas. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua, his first film since King Arthur.

Reign Over Me. (2007, 125 minutes, R, drama, trailer) When I first saw the trailer for this, I couldn't help but marvel at how much Adam Sandler looked like Bob Dylan, it is rather striking. Anyway, the film looks to be quite good, Sandler has proven himself capable of more mature roles, and Don Cheadle is always wonderful. This is the story of Sandler, who lost his family on 9/11 and has never recovered from the loss. One day, he bumps into his old college roommate who becomes determined to help him recover. I am looking forward to this one. It was directed by Mike Binder, who also helmed The Upside of Anger.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (2007, 90 minutes, PG, animated/action, trailer) OK, what child of the 80's didn't go through a turtle phase? From the cartoons, to that first live action movie, they were everywhere. Over the past couple of years they have had something of a resurgence, a new series, and now a new movie. This time the feature is animated, and it looks good. All I can hope for is that it is. The movie is set sometime after they defeated long time nemesis Shredder. They have grown apart, but Splinter brings them back together as a new wave of mysterious happenings sweep the city. Oh please, let it be good.

The Namesake. (2007, 122 minutes, PG-13, drama, trailer) It wasn't long ago that I was wishing that Kal Penn tried more challenging material, he has good screen presence and timing. I didn't have long to wait as this film seems to fit the bill. It is the story of an immigrant family, moving from Calcutta to New York, and their son who wants to be American. It sets up the struggle between the old and new worlds. It looks wonderful, and it is accompanied by an good score that plays up the two sides. It was directed by Mira Nair.

Also opening this week, but not near me:
  • Air Guitar Nation
  • Color Me Kubrick
  • First Snow
  • Memory
  • Offside

Box Office Predictions
300 ran roughshod over the top films for the past two weeks, even with its precipitous drop between the first two weeks. Will it be able to continue its dominance? I would kind of like to say yes, but there is a lot of competition arriving this weekend that is going to be segmenting the audience to a large degree. The weekend is going to be a sprint, who ever can get out of the blocks fast on Friday is going to win. Who is going to play the role of leader? No idea, but I am sure I can guess. With so many new movies entering the field, the top ten is going to look very different come Monday. Will any of the 6 be flops? Who knows.

Here is how I think the top ten field will play out:

RankTitleBox Office
1TMNT$30 million
2300$22 million
3The Last Mimzy$20 million
4Wild Hogs$16 million
5

Shooter

$15 million
6The Hills Have Eyes 2

$11 million

7Reign Over Me$9 million
8Pride$8 million
9Premonition$7 million
10Dead Silence$4 million


What are you seeing this weekend?

March 22, 2007

How About a Nice Game of... Fantasy Movies!

You've heard of fantasy baseball and fantasy football, and some of you may have even heard of fantasy NASCAR. The big question is: have you ever heard of fantasy movies? I didn't until a few weeks ago when someone posted a link to Fantasy Moguls in a forum that I frequent. I was intrigued, so I checked it out and decided to give it a try. So, I rounded up some friends to fill out the roster and off we went to the draft room. I have to say it has been an interesting experience thus far.

Rather than managing a baseball team, or filling the shoes of a head coach, you step into the button down suit of a movie studio. Instead of drafting players, you draft movies. The league commissioner sets the start and end dates of the competition, and up to eight people can play. The goal is to draft a slate of 6 movies, and then hope that they do well. This is a fantasy league I think I can get behind!

I play fantasy baseball, now in my second season, but that is really a lot to keep up on. There are so many players and stats to study and track, it can be fun, in the short term, but does become a little tedious as the season wears on. On the other hand, I am a big movie guy, and with a much smaller number of items to track, I feel I can get behind it a little better.

Well, by now I am sure you are wondering just how you win at such an endeavor. To be honest, I am not quite sure, yet. There were two choices of gameplay, one being purely based on box office, which sounds a little dull to me, and the one they call Ultimate Moguls. This one takes a number of things into consideration, box office gross, per theater averages, IMDB user score, and weeks in the box office top five. Each one will garner points based on your positions, to be added to a final total. Ultimate Moguls is the version I chose for this initial foray into fantasy movies, it encourages more of a balanced slate of quality versus box office power.

The draft just recently ended, and it seems like there is a pretty good spread between the 8 studios. Here is how the draft played out:
My StudioTeam 2Team 3Team 4
Spider-Man 3Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's EndShrek The ThirdBlades of Glory
TransformersFractureThe InvisibleEvan Almighty
Knocked UpI Now Pronounce You Chuck and LarryDisturbiaPerfect Stranger
NextThe Last LegionThe LookoutMeet the Robinsons
HalloweenThe Invasion Resident Evil: ExtinctionBecoming Jane
WaitressAqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for TheatersAtonementInto the Wild
Team 5Team 6Team 7Team 8
Ocean's 13Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixGrind HouseRatatouille
Fantastuc Four 2: Rise of the Silver SurferThe SimpsonsThe Bourne Ultimatum28 Week's Later
Rush Hour 3Live Free or Die HardMr. BrooksSurf's Up
Hot FuzzUnderdogEastern PromisesAway from Her
Daddy Day CareNancy DrewMichael ClaytonA Mighty Heart
BRATZRescue DawnThe Nanny DiariesWAR (aka Rogue)

No sooner did the draft end that the add/drops began, but I am not going to get into that. I have to say that this looks like it is going to be fun. We have to track our film's outlook, and we can do add/drops so long as the movies in question have not opened yet.

Our play period begins on 3/29 and will run through 9/25. If it goes well, I may start another league up for Oscar time, or maybe even do one with my fellow Blogcritics, if there is interest, for the summer movies.

I am so much more excited about this than I was for fantasy baseball.


DVD Review: Sublime

Sublime is the second release from Raw Feed, the new specialty imprint from Warner Brothers. The first film was the slasher film Rest Stop. This second film steps in a different direction, allowing the label to demonstrate some diversity in what it is going to offer. This film steps away from the blood buckets, although it does have its share, and moves into more of a psychological horror style, more Jacob's Ladder and less A Nightmare on Elm Street. It tells the story of an everyman who is confronted with the fears of his life. Sublime is a film that tries very hard, but just does not quite make it to the end, moving in fits and spurts. Is it worth seeing? Perhaps.

The story centers on George Grieves (Tom Cavanagh), an everyman type character with a loving family and a successful career. He lives a comfortable life, although his life is questionable, a fact that is pointed out to him, rather pointedly by his brother. This brings George's life into something of a crisis, his fears begin to crowd for space in his mind as he prepares for an impending surgical procedure.

George goes to the hospital to undergo a colonoscopy. He meets his doctor, Dr. Sharazin, and his nurse, Zoe, and heads off for the procedure. Now here is where everything takes a turn. When George wakes up there is a distinct feeling that things are not quite right. Things happen that all point towards some sort of mistake. He has wounds where there shouldn't be wounds, the people around him act strangely, and George finds it impossible to convince anyone that anything is wrong. Is George losing his mind? Perhaps his fears are becoming reality. Whatever the case is, George's life has taken a turn for the bizarre.

The story sets itself up decently, but each point is given away by a flashback, so if you do pay attention you will be able to pick up on it, robbing it of any power to really shock or allow audience revelations. It is a film that is reaching for the stars but fails to break free of the atmosphere.

The film feels long. As I sat there in front of the television, I kept glancing at my watch waiting for the end to come. Sure, there are some interesting points, but the pacing is so slow that it really taxed my attention span. And for the record, I do not have a problem with slower paced films, so long asit can hold my attention.

Sublime has a lot of interesting elements. I love the whole fear manifested aspect, the main characters descent into his own personal hell. There is also a very creepy atmosphere set up, you can feel your skin crawl as the effective performance of Tom Cavanagh combines with the well done score. Then, when the twist comes, and you know its coming, in fact you have probably already guessed it, it still garners a reaction. Then there is the torture scene, featuring some wonderful Samuel L. Jackson-esque speechifying from Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, this was probably my favorite part of the film just for being so strange.

The problem lies within the pacing, some poor dialogue, and the way the many of the points are overemphasized to the point of not having to work for them. These elements just brought the overall work down.

Audio/Video. Neither one is all that bad. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and while the soundstage doesn't seem all that big, sounds perfectly well. The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, it is decent, a little grainy. The grain can be explained by the fact that it was shot in super 16 and then matted to the widescreen ratio.

Extras. There is a modest selection of extras (you get a bunch more if you get the Target exclusive version).
  • Commentary. The track is with director Tony Krantz and writer Erik Jendresen. This is a pretty good track in that it offers a lot in an easy to listen to format. I just didn't care for the explanation of the political subtext that "purposefully" injected into the story. Frankly, I didn't care for that aspect, maybe it is my not particularly caring about political subtext in my thrillers.
  • Interviews. There are two interviews, one each with the writer and the director. I have similar feelings to them as I did with the commentary. All of the political talk just struck me as being self-important, kind of "look at me." Perhaps a bigger complaint is the lack of editing by those who put them together. Each interview has moments of them asking the subject to repeat themselves, or adjust their microphone, or turn towards the camera. Basically, things that should have been cut out. Not very professional.
  • Surgical Exorcism. This is the full scene that is glimpsed during the film.

Bottomline. Is it worth watching? Sure. It is a film that tries way to hard for greatness, perhaps given some more thought it could have been very good. There are a couple of decent performances and Katherine Cunningham-Eves is gorgeous. Worth a rental.

Very Mildly Recommended.

March 21, 2007

CD Review: 300 - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

300 is an awe inspiring film. It is a film that forms a basis for myth and legend. Not intent on delivering a balanced historical recreation of the Battle of Thermopylae, the film plays out as a grand tale of battlefield glory. It is framed as an exaggerated tale, propaganda if you will, with the intent of getting the troops rallied for battle. It is a story of resounding good taking on the forces of evil that seek to enslave them. It is a film of new vision, a wildly creative and stylishly realized film that is exciting, breathtaking, and memorable. What does this have to do with the score? Well, the score is equally invigorating. Composer Tyler Bates has crafted a fascinating score which combines electonic components with traditional orchestration. Two worlds of music fusing together into a unique score.

Just as I was when I sat in the theater, I was captivated. The film was told with such style and vision to just hold my attention, the same could be said for this score. The music is bold, dynamic, and plays well with the other-worldly look of the the movie. It has some big orchestral bombast, some crunchy guitar and drum sections, and a solo vocalist that will trnasport you to another time and place.

Now, I have read about the apparent copying of Eliot Goldenthal's score for Titus. This is not something that I can attest to, not being familiar with thar particular work. I am not, however, going to deny that it is true, I have seen enough comments to be convinced that it is a near duplicate, in particular on the cuts "Returns a King" and "Remember Us," which were translations of Goldenthal's "Victoris Titus" and "Finale." I have also read that Bates will not go on record regarding the incident. Whether this is due to him not wanting to admit to plagiarism, embarrassment over being coerced by the studio or other force, or the fact that he may have done it unconciously is unknown. Whatever the truth may be, it has not hampered my sheer enjoyment of the score.

Even with those moments of, let's say, outside inspiration, The score blends diverse elements together crafting a score that melds beautifully with the action of Zack Snyder's film. Much like Clint Mansell's score for The Fountain, Bates' 300 score is realized as something outside the normal orchestra. It welcomes an approach that takes elements from disparate worlds, puts them in a room together and lets them come to terns with each other, with beautiful results.

This is not a score that you are likely to find yourself humming to anyone who will listen, it isn't that type of score. As you listen to it, you may find yourself taken to The Hot Gates, standing alongside King Leonidas as he and the 300 stand firm as they repel the onslaught of the Persian army. You will find yourself taken in by the disparate sounds, images burned into your head.

There is a lot to like, it is a score filled with high energy by a composer who knows what he is creating for (despite the compromised vision of Goldenthal's influence). The harsh guitar, electic violin, drums, brought together in a manic cacophony of action mirrors the wild action going on on the screen. Add to that the haunting voice of Azam Ali, and you have a score that is not hummable, but will burn itself onto your brain.

Bottomline. This is a wonderful score, perhaps my inexperience in reviewing film scores is coming into play, but I really enjoyed this. Haunting, crushing, and all around different from many of the scores I have listened to. It is one that was created in perfect union with the visual elements, and still work as a stand alone album.

Recommended.

DVD Review: Family Favorites - 4 Movie Collection

Universal has been busy re-releasing films from their back catalog in these nifty theme packs. Other recent collections include comedy sets centering on Tom Hanks and Steve Martin. Stepping away from the person-centric sets, this new set focuses on films for the whole family. Each of the four films on this set has a target audience of the young, with a side target of adults with kids, and adults with a soft spot for the source material of the films. You see, each of the four films is based on older series, updated and translated to a more modern screen. The four films includede are The Little Rascals, Casper, Flipper, and Leave it to Beaver. Each have varying degrees of success, yet come together nicely in this inexpensive set for some wholesome family viewing. Let's take a look at each of the films.

The Little Rascals
Who doesn't love the Little Rascals? No one that I know. They were a lovable bunch of kids out causing mischief. Sadly, their translation to modern day and the big screen doesn't go off without a hitch. The problem is that it is not so much a translation as it is an attempt at mimicry. There are definitely moments that will put you back to the first time you saw the gaggle of kids on the television screen.

Penelope Spheeris directed the film with a loving attention to the details of the old shorts, just strung some of them together to create a near 90 minute feature. You will hear the familiar theme music, go inside the "he man womun haters club." See Petey, and Alfalfas cowlick, and the sped up motion, all of the old standbys.

The primary thrust of the film is the breakup of Spanky's and Alfalfa's friendship while the big go-cart race approaches. You see, Alfalfa has gone against the rules of the club, as he is caught courting Darla. This event puts a rift between the two, that takes most of the rest of the film to mend, as they realize their mistake and must come together and win the race.

Now, the film has a sweet natured heart, and that goes along way towards overlooking the conventional nature of the story. The genius that steps forward to keep your attention is the wonderful bit of casting, these kids all look exactly right for the parts, that and the bits borrowed from the past work well. The problem lies in stringing it all together for a feature, this is best served in small doses. Still, the heart is hard to hate, and in the end I found myself smiling.

Casper
This is the best film on the set, not to say it is a great film, but it sits well above the other three films. This one pairs Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci (hot off of her success in The Addams Family) as a father and daughter pair who move into a haunted house.

The story begins with Carrigan Crittenden, played with cartoonish malevolence by Cathy Moriarty inherits a decrepit old house, which contains a hidden treasure. The only problem is that the home is haunted, and will not let them inside long enough to hunt down the hidden prize. That leads Carrigan to hire Dr. James Harvey (Pullman), a spook shrink.

Once in the house, they have to contend with Casper and his three mean uncles. While Casper is just looking for a friend, his uncles are all about the mischief. The story follows Casper's outsider bonding with Ricci's Kat, also an outsider. Their friendship blooms while Daddy bonds with the uncles, and Carrigan and her lackey, Dibbs (Eric Idle) await with increasing impatience.

The movie is funny, sweet, and just really worked. It may not be the deepest of films, but I thought the effects were well done, and the characters nicely written. Casper also shows the talent that Ricci is, again, not heavy material, but she carries herself with a certain charisma that shows a star in the making. Plus, it has some fun cameos from the likes of Dan Akroyd, Clint Eastwood, and others.

Flipper
Before he gave Mumble a voice, or Kevin a villainous bent, even before he was Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood was Sandy. Sandy was a troubled youth sent to spend a summer with his uncle on an island in the Florida Keys. It is thought that spending some time with his eccentric uncle may help out. As it turns out, the two of them have gotten more than they bargained for. This update of the 1963 film is mediocre at best, dull and predictable at worst. Still, it is another in a long line of inoffensive films aimed at the family market. It is not overtly bad, but it is nothing particularly special.

At first, the two make an unlikely pair that do not get along all that well. Sandy is a little surly and doesn't care to be told what to do, while his uncle is something of a free spirit who believes in order. Well, the two are at each others throats until Sandy meets an overly friendly dolphin. The dolphin becomes his way to a new life, a life that includes caring for something other than himself. The friendship between man and beast blossoms in the face of the cruel landlubbers who seek to keep them apart.

The issues take an environmental turn as a toxic waste dumping operation is uncovered. It is up to Sandy and Flipper to save the day. It is directed in a rather straight forward manner by Alan Shapiro who doesn't seem to bring a lot to the table in terms of style.

Still, while it was a little heavy handed in its message, and a little flat in its approach, there is nothing to really object to. It will be good for the kids, while adults may get a little bored.

Leave it to Beaver
I wasn't around during the time the source series was running, but have seen enough in reruns to get a kick out of them and their attempt to capture the nuclear family. It has a certain charm, from the goofy comedy of Beaver, to big brother Wally, to June, always in her dresses and pearls. Now, this update, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. It has a few nice character moments, but it seems to be trying to hard, there is a distinct feeling of desperation as the film strives for that old school feeling as it misses the mark more often than it hits.

All that said, I found it near impossible to actively dislike the film. Despite some poor acting, a story that goes nowhere, and the oftentimes tredious and predictable setups, it is not without its charms. Those charms come mainly in the form of young Cameron Finley as the Beaver. There was something quite endearing in his earnestness. Christopher Macdonald is also fun, playing Ward way over the top and just having fun with the role, somewthing that msot of the others on screen don't seem to be having.

The story centers on the intertwining tales of Beaver trying to gain the attention of his father by not disappointing him and Wally trying to impress a girl. There is something that just feels long winded, not a good sign for a movie that fails to reach the 90 minute mark.

Still, I am sure the kids will like it, and it is rather harmless. Watch on!

Audio/Video.
All of the films are presented in their original widescreen ratios and anamorphically enahnced. They all look good, sharp colors, not much in the way of artifacts. Audio is all Dolby Digital 5.1, and they all sound good too. Nothing to complain about on the technical side of things.

Extras. A couple of trailers, but nothing else.

Wrap up.
The films may mediocre when taken individually, when taken together in this set, you have a nice little bundle of films that are good for the family. I cannot find anything that is offensive, or unsuitable for viewing by the whole family. Casper is clearly the best of the bunch, but they all have a certain infectiousness that won't let you actively dislike. So, all I can say is sit back, make some popcorn, grab the kids, and make an evening of it!