April 30, 2007

Cinema Macabre, Volume 2: Satanico Pandemonium

Last month, Ian Woolstencroft, in association with Blogcritics Online Magazine debuted the new monthly feature, Cinema Macabre. It is a collection of brief horror film reviews, as contributed by Ian, myself, and other contributors in the BC world. Below is my entry to the second edition of the feature, the 1975 nunsploitation film, Satanico Pandemonium. Be sure to check out the other contributions in:
Cinema Macabre Issue 2: Kinky Nuns, Otherworldly Kids, Radioactive Jelly-Men And A Zombie Soldier Await You


Satanico Pandemonium (1975)
Man, they made some crazy movies back in the day. Back in the 1970's there was a short lived subgenre callen "nunsploitation." Never heard of it? Well, I have to admit that I heard about it a long time ago, but this was my first foray into the genre. I have read that it was kicked off by Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils. This one came a few years later and hails from the country of Mexico. If you are wondering what the ingredients of a nunsploitation film are, always factor in nuns (of course), lesbian sex, blood, gore, and a serious dose of weirdness.

Cecilia Pezet stars as Sister Maria, who spends much of her time in various stages of undress. Before we get to the stripping, we are first introduced to Sister Maria as she walks through the garden at the convent, picking flowers. On her jaunt she comes across a strange naked man who offers her an apple. Hmmmm, I wonder who that could be? It is, of course, the devil in the flesh, there to tempt her and lure her to the darkside. This leads Maria to a crisis of faith as her spirituality is tested. In an attempt to discourage her failing faith, she goes to her room, promptly removes the tophalf of her clothes, ties a belt of thorns around her waist and flagellates herself with a think leather whip. So tell me, are you interested yet?

Despite her attempts to stay on the straight and narrow, she quickly finds herself succombing to her repressed desires. She attempts to seduce her fellow nuns, as well as a local farmboy, who rejects her, leading to her darker murderous desires. The film builds to a point where there is no turning back, although you are left wondering if it was a dream, or was she truly visited by Lucifer?

I found that the movie did not go quite as far as I had expected, although it is still rather twisted subject matter. It strikes me as a low budget production, although it looks great with its lush colors and nice use of shadows. It was directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares who did a good job with the fringe material. It is a movie that fans of exploitation style cinema should definitely look into. Satanico Pandemonium is rather slowly paced as it draws you into Maria's changing mental state. The film is carried squarely on the shoulders of Cecilia Pezet, she delivers a performance that is a combination of innocence and unbridled sexuality, a collision of opposites resulting in a performance that will hold your attention.

Check your beliefs at the door and slip into this notorious entry of nunsploitation, which, coincidentally, was the inspiration for Salma Hayek's character in From Dusk til Dawn.

CD Review: Warren Zevon - Stand in the Fire

What an absolute eye opener of a live album this was. It captures the unbridled rock and roll energy that Warren Zevon possessed, at once large and epic and small and intimate as an artist could ever be. A storyteller, a singer, a songwriter, an artist, a live performer, no one will ever be able to match what Warren brought to the table. This release has been a long time coming, but now that it is here, it must be witnessed.

I was something of a latecomer to the table when it comes to my listening to Warren Zevon. My Father was a fan, but he was not an artist that I picked up on from him until I was into my 20's. We had the oppostunity to see him perform live in 1999 when he was gearing up for the release of Life'll Kill Ya, a brilliant slice of classic Zevon wit, insight, and skill. It is an evening that I am likely to never forget. He was on the stage alone, he performed half the set on acoustic guitar, the other half on keyboard, and it was this fantastic evening, kind of like hanging out with an old friend, singing along and just having a good time. Now Stand in the Fire is a distinctly different experience, but one that is in line with what I know of the man known as Warren Zevon.

Stand in the Fire was recorded at The Roxy in LA, a small, intimate club that seemingly had its roof nearly blown off by this energy filled performance. This has to be one of the best live albums I have ever listened to. This is what a rock show is all about, loud, and brimming with energy. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been there that night, but it is one for the history books. It features a Warren Zevon teetering on the edge of madness. It stands apart from his great studio recordings, as the wit infused songs take on a new life as he adlibs a few lines, involving such characters as James Taylor and Brian de Palma in his tale of a werewolf loose on the streets of Los Angeles.

Generally, I would not think referring to a live performance of this style to possess unbridled energy, but that is the case here. You can feel each note bubbling over as they are performed by an artist on the edge. Having overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol, Zevon did not allow the temperament of his past indiscretions take a toll on his fervent energy, dark tales, or ingenius way of incorporating humor. I thought I had a good idea of what Zevon was about based on his studio recordings, but this is an eye opening foray into just how skilled an artist he truly was.

The album contains performances of such classics as "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," "Excitable Boy," "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," and the incredible "Werewolves of London," which everyone knows even if they don't know who Warren Zevon is. I have to give much thanks to Rhino for finally releasing this long sought after album. There are even a few bonus songs that were previously unreleased from that special night, "Johnny Strikes Up the Band," "Play it All Night Long," "Frank and Jesse James" as a solo vocal/piano piece, and "Hasten Down the Wind" which he introduces with a personal note regarding what it means to him and just how important the song was to him.

Bottomline. This is just a great album capturing an artist at his peak. It is powerful, epic, personal, and everything in between. At one point he says “Get up and dance, or I’ll kill ya! And I’ve got the means!” and you believe that he could make do on that promise. That is one in your face sentiment that is countered later during his intro to "Hasten Down the Wind,": "Speaking as one who has abused privilege a long time, I tell you, it's great to be alive." And I tell you, your music will live forever.

Highly Recommended.

April 29, 2007

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz

From the brilliant team beind Shaun of the Dead, comes this new genre mash up. Following the successful reinvigoration of horror/comedy, they have turned their eye on the action/comedy. The results are spectacular. The approach to making a successful spoof of the action genre is to play it straight. A plot involving murder in a small town is approached with deadly seriousness and the comedy just builds from there. It is such a brilliant comedy that blends subtle and wildly over the top comedy within a story that is actually well developed and much more than what you would expect from what is, essentially, a movie that makes fun of buddy action conventions.

Simon Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a straight laced, by the book police officer. He is a man who is very good at what he does, unfortunately, he is too good at what he does. Because of his prolific arrest record, he is given a promotion which forces a change of scenery, you see, the rest of the force are tired of looking bad in the wake of his success, so this is a conspiracy to allow them to shine. Angel is a little upset by the move, but follows orders and reports to a sleepy town where he crime rate is so low as to not really require someone of Angel's abilities. However, this doesn't stop our hero from finding crimes occuring all around him.

He is teamed with the lovable, sweet natured lunk, Danny, played by Pegg's Shaun co-star Nick Frost. Here is a guy who is infatuated with the action filled lifestyles of the cops he sees in the movies, constantly pestering Angel about his exploits in the big city. Together, they embark on a relationship that mirrors what is usually seen in romantic comedies, while remaining within the confines of the platonic world. The two become embroiled in a murder mystery that is going on right under the noses of many fo the good townfolk, explaining the extraordinarily high accident rate.

I really don't want to spoil it, so I will refrain from any further plot description. Suffice to say, that the movie is the perfect balance of story, character, and humor. The cliches that are so prevalent in these types of films are skillfully skewered here, yet feel so natural in service to the plot. It is a satire poking fun at action films and gun culture that welcomes them just as often as they laugh at them. This is what a satire should be.

Co-writers Edgar Wright (who also directed) and Simon Pegg have crafted a story that develops characters that we can genuinely feel for while peppering their dialogue with comedic touches both blatant and subtle. It is a movie that has equal parts hidden jokes as it does overt silliness. It is a film that is not constrained by its genre roots, gleefully taking those conventions, turning them on their ear and then blasting them back out onto the screen.

While delivering a lot of laughs, Hot Fuzz also delivers the action oriented goods, with a blood soaked shootout, a wild car chase, and even more laughs interspersed. the climactic shootout is, hands down, one of the best to grace he big screen in some time. Successfully mimicking other films such as Point Break and Bad Boys II, both of which are discussed in the movie, the scenes feel natural within the progression. In short, this is a masterful film which may not be perfect, but more than delivers the goods when it counts.

Bottomline. This movie is a big ole piece of brilliant. An engrossing film that is as much love song to as it is a satire of the joy of the action film. It is blazingly original in its approach of the material. It has a cast that has wonderful chemistry and comic timing. It just comes out firing on all cylinders and delivers the goods.

Highly Recommended.

Movie Review: The Invisible

What do you get when you cross The Sixth Sense with Ghost what do you get? Well, probably something that looks like The Invisible, but stars Bruce Willis and Whoopi Goldberg. You know, that probably would have been a better movie, instead we actually get The Invisible, a dullard of a film populated with a cast that is easy not to like. There were a number of things to like about the movie, but with characters that I did not care for, it was hard to be entertained. Now I don't need a movie to have likable characters, but some movies need them, you need someone to identify with, and this one failed to deliver.

If you have seen the trailer, you have an idea of what the movie is about. High school student Nick Powell is attacked and left for dead, now Nick is stuck in a state of limbo where he has to solve his own murder in order to live again. Sure, the concept is a little out there, but it is one that could prove to be very interesting. Now director David S. Goyer injects some nice visual touches, but the characters and their development is too weak to truly carry the concept anywhere. The story never really takes off, and never comes together in any logical fashion. The characters are mere sketches of people, there more to propel the plot then to inhabit the world.

We are introduced to Nick, an apparently gifted poet who makes money on the side by selling term papers to the school jocks. He is an angst filled rich kid whose father died when he was young and a stand offish, cold mother who doesn't listen to him. Why should I like this guy? Is it because he stuck up for his broke friend who bought a stolen cell phone from the school underachiever? Because his mommy doesn't listen to him? He is just an annoying kid that I have no reason to connect with, much less when his limbo land adventures kick in.

As the story flows, we meet Nick, his lower incomed buddy, Pete, and the slacker/thief Annie Newton, these form the primary troika that move the story along. As that story goes, Annie robs a jewelry store while her mechanic boyfriend steals a car. Being a little upset that she didn't listen to him, he calls the cops on her and she is arrested. Annie thinks Pete was the guy who told, he says it was Nick, and Nick is beaten and left for dead. Nick, now in limbo land has to figure out he is a limbo citizen and then find himself before he really does die.

Now, first off, with friends like Pete, who needs enemies? Annie is given a little humanization through her rough home life where she acts as guardian to her little brother from their rather rotten parents. Sounds like I'm describing the average episode of Boston Public. Again, why am I supposed to care about these characters?

Something I found humorous was, as I was leaving the theater I stopped to talk to a friend who works at the box office, he told me that a few people came out and told him that it was a good movie but you had to pay attention in order to "get it." Huh? Were we watching the same movie? This was not hard to get at all, the hard part was trying to like it. Besides the unlikable characters, the script went through some gymnastics to get everyone into place and fails to explain, or give adequate surrounding information, why some things happen. I am mainly speaking of the climactic scene involving Annie and Nick, it seems to change the rules, or at least skip a few steps along the way.

As poor as the story is, as hurry up and wait as Mick Davis and Christine Roum's script is, Goyer makes a valiant effort at making it, at least, visually interesting. Now Goyer is still a rather inexperienced director, but he does show the potential of becoming a good one, his writing still leads his directing ability by a wide margin. I would have liked to have seen what his script may have been like, proving his worth, to me, with work on films such as Dark City, Blade, and Batman Begins. While his writing would have been welcome here, I like his flourishes here.

There are many scenes throughout that I really liked. I liked the long single takes where we see Nick interacting with the environment followed by the reveal that all was just as it was, showing that he actually did nothing. They are all done in a single take, although I presume that cuts are hidden in the swish pans, still they are interesting, if perhaps overused, scenes. I also liked the reveal of the Annie beneath her all black wardrobe in the club scene, with Nick watching on. Also, the whole sequence with Annie and her boyfriend on the cliff was visually arresting. Justin Chatwin did a decent job in the reveal of Nick's nature, the scene with the bird. Until the final line, that was a very good example of "show, don't tell" filmmaking.

The Invisible is a remake of the Swedish film Den Osynlige, which was based on the novel of the same name. I can only wonder how successful the original film was at creating a sympathetic hero, and how the reveals are made there. I guess I am going to have to track down the original film now.

Bottomline. I had hopes for this one, I liked the trailer, I liked he concept, and I liked the director. However, the story execution is poor, supporting cast is poor/underused, and everything did not come together in a satisfying conclusion. Still, there were a couple of things to like about it, but nothing to make it a must see on the big screen.

Not Recommended.

April 28, 2007

Movie Review: The Condemned

How far is too far? Reality television isn't going away, and with everyone looking for the next way to shock an audience, how far away are we from a show that introduces a real battle to the death? The things are going, it does not seem to be that far removed from a possible reality. From the ratings that shows like American Idol and Survivor generate, combined with the wall to wall, twenty four hour coverage of such tragedies as the recent Virginia Tech shooting, Columbine, and the ongoing war in the Middle East, I would not be hard pressed to believe that there is some unscrupulous producer concocting a scheme to inject a little more shock and awe over what is presently acceptable for prime time television. It is this very subject that The Condemned seeks to contend with, sadly, they don't hit the broadside of a barn.

The Condemned is the third go around for WWE Films, distributed through an agreement with Lionsgate. Their first film was the successful slasher film See No Evil which featured Kane as the resident psychopath, that was followed by the 80's styled actioner The Marine with John Cena in the title role. The WWE Superstar to get tapped this time? None other than 90's badass icon Stone Cold Steve Austin, playing a Snake Plissken-esque renegade.

The story follows a heartless television producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) as he travels the world looking for a wide array of death row inmates to buy. He buys them in order to pit them against each other in a battle to the death, with freedom as the prize. Once he has all of his players in place, he equips them with an explosive ankle collar, to help keep them in line. The ten condemned contestants are dropped around the island, and essentially left to their own devices as the game gets underway.

The concept is sound, although it is a mash up of other films such as Battle Royale, No Escape, Running Man, Series 7, My Little Eye, and even Halloween: Resurrection. I have no problem with recycled plots, see my enjoyment of Vacancy. What I have a problem with is the fact that it is just a mash up, there seemed to be little to no thought put into the execution. I can picture it now, the writers are pitching the story: "It's going to be great! You see, we take all these hardcore killers from around the world and put them on an island so they can fight each other to the death" "Well, OK, what's the catch?" "This is where you're really gonna get excited! It is actually a contest being broadcast over the internet! It'll be a bigger event that the Super Bowl!" "Sold, cast Stone Cold in the lead and you got yourself a deal!" "Awesome! We can have a script for your approval in an hour."

I like the idea, and I think that it is one that can be done a few times over and still retain a level of interest. Watching this one play out, I couldn't help but shake my head in dismay at what was unfolding in front of me. Granted, I was not expecting much, I just hoped to have a little fun, but even with low expectations, I could not find much to hang onto. It wanted so much to be a message film about our infatuation with violence and what kind of effect it has on people, who draws the line, and who decides when the line is crossed.

There are a few threads that play out through the film. One is the game itself with the ten convicts roaming the island, a second is a change of heart among the production staff, an FBI investigation into the game, and a faltering relationship between Austin's Jake Conrad and a divorced mother of two in Texas. None of them have any depth, and none of them are all that believable.

Above the attempted stories and messages, this is meant to be an action film. The problem is that they forgot to include the action. Sure, there are a few fist fights and a couple of explosions, but the action is not exciting and it is not compelling, in fact, the fights may be the most incompetently shot excuses for action I have seen in a long, long time. Whenever a fight starts the cameraman goes into convulsions with the camera waggling every which way. It is so bad as to induce motion sickness and confuse the viewer. I had no idea what I was looking at. They should have gotten ahold of the WWE production crew to learn how to pull back and let us see the fights, it's OK to use some wild inserts, but give us some perspective on what we are watching.

Beyond the poor action, the characters were flat, uninspired, and rather boring. We do not get to learn all that much about them, aside from their criminal status, and thus are not given a reason to care about any of them. Sure, they try to give Auston a bit of likability, but it was not nearly enough. Then the evil producer, well I don't think we are supposed to like him anyway, but the staff members who have a change of heart that is another story altogether. It is handled rather heavy handed, and not at all within the realm of reality. They want you to believe that they are suddenly shocked by what they are seeing, when they all entered into this with their eyes open, I didn't buy their faux shock.

Believe it or not, there were a couple of things I liked, but they were not enough to make this watchable, or even recommend for the cheese factor. I liked Austin, he isn't given much to do, and his attempts at being sensitive are awful, and watching him run is painful, but put him in a fight or give him a snappy one liner, and he is your man. Then there is Vinnie Jones, who made Juggernaut so memorable last year in X-Men: The Last Stand, makes a memorable mark as a wisecracking murderer and rapist. Finally, Rick Hoffman, who was the American Businessman in Hostel, gives a goofy, highly caffeinated turn as the director of the game. Well, that is about it for the likability of the movie.

Director Scott Wiper does not impress with this outing. What could (and should) have been a fun, over the top action fest turned out to be a drawn out affair that goes nowhere as the stories either taper out or are ended with an unsatisfying conclusion. The writing is right down there with the directing, you can add in all the one liners you want, but you have to have a compelling tale, or at least a fun story.

Bottomline. This is a movie that would have been better left on the shelf, or at most go direct to video. The story is flat, acting is atrocious, direction unbearable, all adding up to an action movie without the action, a message film that fails to make a point. Oh well, at least it gave me something to write about.

Not Recommended.

CD Review: Crushed - My Machine

Deceptively good melodic riff rock sounds like a good way to describe this debut release from Crushed. It wasn't quite what I expected from a band with the name "Crushed." I was expecting something a little heavier, a little dirtier, a little more raw, what I got was something in a different direction. The Phoenix, AZ based quintet hooked up with producer Mike Clink and together put out a solid crisp album that is sure to garner at least a little attention, attention that it deserves.

Crushed is a band that had little impact on me the first time through, but it has an addictive quality that grows on you, not unlike a fungus. You know the kind of band that just gets under your skin and begins to affect you little by little until you are sucked into the sound and admit that it is actually pretty darn good. Their songs deliver a mix of strong riffs and melody, forging ahead into the realm between radio rock and something more, playing both sides of the coin against the middle.

As I listened to them, two other bands came to mind. They may seem like an unlikely pair, and you are quite likely not to hear it, sometimes I pull strange things out of what I listen to. OK, the two bands are Filter and Korn. That's right, Crushed reminds me of those two bands. The biggest comparison is that vocalist/guitarist Mark Lauer's voice sounds like a cross between Korn's Jonathan Davis and Filter's Richard Patrick. Beyond that, the band offers up some nice melodic hard rock that has shades of Filter, while they are not adverse to offering up something a little bit harder, in the Korn vein, but not quite.

Despite these comparisons, Crushed's sound stands on its own. The music is strongly driven by the guitar and the grooves they lay down, and they certainly get a big and thick sound that simultaneously delivers crunch and smooth melody. The guitar duties are handled by Mark Lauer, Mike Halland, and Harry McCaleb who splits time on keyboard. There are a lot of guitars on this album, including some nice use of acoustic to back the electric, a sound that I have always enjoyed. Not to be left behind is the solid rhythm section of bassist Michael Brown and drummer Jeff Garten. I cannot say that either one was spectacular, although Garten had some nice drum fills and keep things lively, this is not to say they aren't good, it is more like they are perfectly suited for the music that Crushed delivers.

My Machine kicks off with a pair of crunchy rockers that I can imagine being great live in "What Kind of Life" and "Hovering." That is followed up by the lighter, more melodic "Dwell," offering a different look at the band. Other highlights on the album include the nice "Crash Coping," the heavier "A Game of You," and the acoustic "Everything's Gone."

Bottomline. They aren't going to immediately grab you, but they will take up residence in your head as the melodies sink in. They bring a nice variety to the table and have the talent to bring it to the next level. I suspect that we have not heard the last of Crushed and their next outing will be closer to realizing their talent.

Recommended.

April 27, 2007

New Movies and Box Office Predictions: The Invisible, The Condemned, Next

Welcome to the only weekly column that focuses on the films opening in my personal driving radius, fortunately, that radius covers enough theaters to include most of your wide releases, and eventually, the occasional indie flick.

This week brings four new wide releases to the cineplex, all hoping to scrape together a few bucks before the big guns start rolling out to commence the start of what is believed to be, potentially, the biggest summer movie season of all time. It is littered with potential big winners, with the the three biggest coming in May alone. Enough of that, this week holds some promise with a new supernatural thriller, an explosive sci-fi actioner, a B grade action flick starring a pro wrestler, and stupid comedy about breakdancing and the mentally stunted. Quite the selection if you ask me. I guess the biggest question is if any of them are worth your cinematic dollar?

The Invisible. (2007, 97 minutes, PG-13, thriller, trailer) David Goyer returns to the director's chair, directing someone else's material for the first time, and his first big screen outing since 2004's Blade: Trinity. The high concept that this centers on sounds very cool, and the trailer looks pretty snazzy too. It is the story of a high school student who is beaten and left for dead, however the boy lives on in limbo between the world of the living and that of the dead. He has to find out what happened to him in order for the chance to live again. Justin Chatwin stars as our hero, he has appeared in War of the Worlds and The Chumscrubber.

Next. (2007, 96 minutes, PG-13, thriller, trailer) Nicolas Cage sets his sights on his second hit of the year, following Ghost Rider. This time around it is a sci-fi actioner centering on a pre-cog, he can "see" a few minutes into the future. He is drawn into the spotlight when a terrorist threatens to detonate a nuclear weapon, he is consigned to try and prevent it from happening. I believe this has the best chance of taking the top slot this weekend, although it looks like it could be pretty silly, though it should still be fun.

The Condemned. (2007, 100 minutes, R, action, trailer) OK, let's take bits of Running Man, No Escape, Battle Royale, and probably a few others, mash them together in what looks to be a brainless, overblown action flick. Is that a bad thing? No. I have a feeling that this will be fun, stupid, but fun. It is the third release through WWE Films (following See No Evil and The Marine), and features Stone Cold Steve Austin in the lead role. It is the story of a group of ten death row inmates that are dropped on an island with orders to be the only survivor, all while the game is beamed live across the internet. It also includes Vinnie "I'm Juggernaut, bitch!" Jones in the cast. It was directed by Scott Wiper.

Kickin' It Old Skool. (2007, 107 minutes, PG-13, comedy, trailer) Huh? It is not often that a movie make's me shake my head in dismay, but this one did it. This is one movie that is destined to not make much noise come the box office tallies. Jamie Kennedy did his take on the white rapper in Malibu's Most Wanted, here he moves onto 80's breakdance culture. Kennedy plays a 12 year old dancer who busts his head and lands in a coma in 1986, 20 years later he wakes up, stunted mental development and all, and sets out to put the dance team back together. Can you guess what I will be skipping this weekend?

Hot Fuzz. (2006, 121 minutes, R, action/comedy, trailer) Moving into wider release following last week's limited dominance. With this expansion, it moves into my driving radius, and I cannot wait to see this. Edgar Wright directs the faces familiar to fans of Shawn of the Dead, including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Before they took on the conventions of the zombie film and created a great new zombie film, this time they turn towards gun culture and big action films. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a top cop who gets transferred to a quiet town with a high accident rate, Angel smells something funny going on and much comedy ensues. I can't wait!

Black Book. (2007, 135 minutes, R, thriller, trailer) Paul Verhoeven left the world of Hollywood, where he worked for decades delivering hits like RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls, to return to his homeland, The Netherlands, where he went ahead and crafted a thriller set during the end of World War II. Based on true events, it chronicles the journey of a young woman who, with her family, heads for liberated Allied territory before being ambushed. She is the only survivor, she then joins the resistance and infiltrates the Nazi command. The trailer looks very good, and I have heard the film is too.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley. (2006, 127 minutes, NR, drama, trailer) This Irish film from director Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes film festival. The film stars Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Red Eye, 28 Days Later) and Pádraic Delaney as brothers who fight the Black and Tans for independence. It is set in Ireland in the 1920's and focuses on the Irish rebellion against the British. I have heard nothing but good about this film, and considering it won the Palme d'Or, that is a pretty good resume all by itself.

Also opening this week, but not near me:
  • Diggers
  • Fakers
  • Jindabyne
  • Something to Cheer About
  • Ta Ra Rum Pum
  • Wind Chill
  • Zoo

Box Office Predictions
This is it, the last shot at none "blockbuster" style films to make some money for awhile. The summer movie season officially gets under way next weekend with the release of Spider-Man 3, with Shrek and Pirates hot on its tale. This week is going to be top-lined by Nicolas Cage's second hit of the year, although it will not reach the $100 million final tally. It will be followed by the new teen thriller The Invisible, which should be a decent draw, bleeding fans away from Disturbia, I would think. The rest is up in the air, I would like to think that Hot Fuzz will get a word of mouth boost and do better this week with the increased theater count. We shall see.

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

RankTitleBox Office
1Next$15 million
2The Invisible$11 million
3Disturbia$10 million
4Hot Fuzz$7 million
5

Blades of Glory

$6 million
6The Condemned

$5.5 million

7Fracture$5 million
8Meet the Robinsons$3.5 million
9Are We Done Yet?$2.5 million
10Kickin' it Old Skool$2 million


What are you seeing this weekend?

April 26, 2007

Jack Valenti, Dead at 85

Jack Valenti died today at the age of 85 at his home in Washington, DC. In March, he suffered a stroke which led to his hospitalization where he spent several weeks. It was complications from that stroke which ultimately led to his death. He had an illustrious career, first as a White House aide, but more importantly as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a post he held for 38 years.

In 1963, Valenti was in charge of the press during JFK's visit to Dallas. Following JFK's assassination, Valenti become a close advisor to LBJ, even living in the White House for the first few months of his term. In 1966 he left his position at the White House and became president of the MPAA.

His tenure at as president of the MPAA was not without controversy. Before the controversy, the outspoken copyright proponent introduced the ratings system, which has stood in place ever since. Sure, there were some changes here and there, most notably in the dropping of the X rating after it was appropriated by the adult industry, and the creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984.

Controversy reached one of its peaks in 1982 when he lobbyied against the advent of the VCR and the ability of people to record programs at home. He famously made the following statement during a Congressional hearing: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." A rather extreme comparison, and one that ultimately proved to be false, as it did pave the way for the home video market which gave Hollywood another way to get some cash from the public.

Also during his tenure, he supported the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, of which many of us music and movie lovers are not much of a fan. He also was behind the screener ban, which did not allow any studios to send out copies of their films to Academy members for awards consideration. It was done in an effort to stave off the prevalence of copies of those films appearing online. It did not last long, as indie studios came together to oppose the ban.

From White House aide and confidante to MPAA chief, Jack Valenti had a long career in the public eye. For better or worse, he left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry, and while I cannot agree with some of what he stood for, he will be remembered for a long time to come.

My prayers go out to his family and loved ones.

TV News: Fox Does it Again - Drive's License is Revoked

Why? That's all I want to know. Not every show is a hit right out of the box, not everything can be a ratings juggernaut like American Idol, which I personally cannot stand. Sometimes it takes a little time, a little nurturing. However, it seems like more and more often, if a show is not an instant hit, it disappears in a matter of weeks, sometimes less. Drive is the latest casualty, towed to the garage after a mere three episodes (four if you count the premiere as two). I, for one, was really enjoying the show and the ways each character's story fit into the larger puzzle that was slowly being pieced together.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was writing down my thoughts on the two night premiere. I really liked the show, almost from the opening credits. It was a fast paced, action packed show that held a lot of promise for the future. It was an ensemble thrill ride that felt natural right at the start, the characters were all introduced in a nice manner, there were easily delineated, they were all interesting. The show had a great chemistry among the cast, the writers were weaving an interesting story, creating a larger shadow conspiracy flavored with the smaller personal stories of those who entered the race and those who were coerced. The directors laid out a colorful palette of action, nicely shot driving sequences, fights, character interaction, it just gelled so well.

It's all over now. Fox has decided to close shop on yet another Tim Minear series. Something tells me the guy should try shopping his shows elsewhere. Just take a look at the series he has been involved with, besides Drive:
  • Standoff - Consulting Producer on the short lived hostage negotiation series that starred Ron Livingston. Sure it wasn't the best series, but it probably deserved better than it got.
  • The Inside - Executive Producer on this Peter Coyote series about an up and coming FBI profiler. This series held much promise.
  • Wonderfalls - Executive Producer on this fun, quirky series about a slacker, played by Caroline Dhavernas, who speaks to inanimate objects which usually try to help her do the right thing. This was a lot of fun, cancelled before its time.
  • Firefly - Executive Producer. Here is the big one, the way this was handled by Fox. They aired episodes out of order, pre-empted episodes, and completely mishandled the show from the get go. Fortunately, we got a DVD set of the series and a big screen movie (Serenity). This had all the makings of a great show.
  • Angel - Tim Minear held a few different Producer-y titles on this one, it was also the longest running, although still cut before its time.

Mark down Drive as the latest casualty. Nathan Fillion was great as the centerpiece of the ensemble, he could get down with the action, be a complete badass, and be sensitive and vulnerable, all in the same scene, the perfect anchor. The other characters were also on their way to filling their positions. All of that cut short by Fox's decision not to continue with it.

Shows are not always going to be hits, and it seems to me that Fox is strictly after the big flashy entrance, never willing to give a show the time it may need to grow an audience. The last show I can remember them growing an audience with is The X-Files, but that was long time ago. Ever since then, I have seen show after show get canned after just a few episodes, never to be seen again. Sure, some of them probably didn't deserve getting on the air in the first place, but, as evidenced above, some of them were quality shows which were not given their due.

Trying to figure out why a good show fails is a hard thing to say, outside of the instant jumping on the network for doing the dirty deed. In retrospect, things have to be examined, find out where missteps may have been made. Could they have cut better commercials? Could they have been better placed? Did they put it in the wrong timeslot? Cast more "name" actors? Ahh, who knows. All I know is that we are left in the lurch, never to know what was going to happen during this cross country race, never know what happened to Alex' wife, or how the half-brothers would get along, or the girl with the baby, or any number of stories that were developing.

Thank you, Fox. Thank you very much for canceling yet another show that I was enjoying.

This sad, unfortunate news was broken by TV Guide's Ausiello Report.


DVD Review: Night at the Museum

When I saw Night at the Museum projected on the big screen, I found myself having a good time in spite of myself. I remember walking into the theater and wanting to enjoy it, but also wanting to not enjoy it too much. Why I had that approach I have no idea. Despite those intentions, my defenses were quickly worn down and I found myself sucked into this delightful family fantasy. Revisiting now on DVD, I find I have no defense to the charms contained within. Is it a great movie? No, not really, but what it does do is hit all the right notes and deliver a wide eyed spectacle that has a lot of heart. You will turn it off at the end with a smile on your face, and perhaps the desire to visit a museum to see where "History comes to life!"

Night at the Museum doesn't allow itself to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of why the museum's denizens come to life. To try to give any sort of realy explanation and dig into the supernatural aspect of the life giving would have proven to be death to the comedy. Am I sure of that? No, not at all, but that is what I feel, I much rather the approach of getting in, accepting what is happening and really playing up the fatastic aspects. The movie gets down to the task at hand in short order, director Shawn Levy knows what we wanted from it. With a title like Night at the Museum, we want to be immersed in the night at the museum.

Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a divorced father who is trying to connect with his son. Between the two are many barriers that must be crossed. You see, Larry is a man of many schemes, none of which work, and which have left Larry down on his luck, regularly evicted from his various living quarters, fired from his jobs, and wondering if the moment to connect with his son has passed. This leads him to the position of night guard at the Museum of Natural History. So, the story, at its heart, leads to the connectin between father and son, and it is rather sweet to watch the progression of their relationship from the brink of disaster to the precipice of forever.

Besides that underlying theme of redemption of the father, and probably the bigger reason to really like this movie, is everything that goes on inside the museum. The special effects are great, they are convincing and they are fun. Larry is thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. He is learning the hard way on the job. As everything comes to life, Larry finds himself completely unprepared for what goes on. The museum contains a T Rex skeleton that likes to play fetch, Genghis Khan who wants to rip things, fire fascinated cavemen, the lovely Sacajawea, Teddy Roosevelt, a mummy, the fighting men of the diorama room, among all manner of other craziness. Amazingly, all of these elements come together in a story where a man realizes what he is meant to do, he takes charge and does it, and it is fantastically entertaining.

Stiller leads an spectacular all star cast that includes Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Carla Gugino, Paul Rudd, as well as legends Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. It is hard to argue with the talent involved. All credit to Shawn Levy for keeping everything on track. Everyone plays their role and they all make you believe in what is going on.

The movie is structured in such a way that you never concern yourself with the plot holes and inconsistencies. They exist, but I really didn't care. The likability, the humor, the look, everything worked in perfect harmony to break down my defenses and allow me to really just become engrossed in what was going on in the moment. It is a lot of fun.

Audio/Video. First let me say that the version I viewed was a burned pre-release set that has a studio bug appear a couple of times onscreen, so I have no idea how closely this matches up to the final production disk. I will say that the audio sounds very good, no complaints there, but the video is a bit of a different story, and I hope the final disk looks better. Everything seemed a little washed out and there were some compression issues. I have seen worse, but I expect more from this high profile release.

Extras. The movie is available in two versions, the single disk and the 2 disk special edition.
  • Disk 1 is the same for both sets, and it is filled out with a pair of commentary tracks, one with director Shawn Levy, and theother with writers Robert Ben Garant (Deputy Junior from Reno 911!) and Thomas Lennon.
  • Disk 2 is filled with a number of extras covering various aspects of the production, from fluff pieces to televised pieces, to segments made specifically for this release. Among the included extras are deleted scenes, a blooper reel, special effects featurettes, on the set footage, storyboard comparisons, the Comedy Central Reel Film special, and a couple of Fox Movie Channel Presents segments. Altogether, I liked the extras and think that they went beyond pure fluffiness and are worth springing the extra cash for.

Bottomline. I enjoyed the heck out of this movie, probably more now than when I saw it on the big screen. It has heart, it has big laughs, it has fun performances, and it has great effects, elements that all blend together into this fun fantasy filled family comedy. I recommend this without reservation.

Recommended.


DVD Review: Smokin' Aces

Wow, Smokin' Aces. This was the first jolt of life that came to the 2007 calendar year. It was the first film to ignite the excitement of the cinema. It opened at the end of January, and was not really met all that enthusiastically by the critical world. Hell, even I wasn't quite sure if I liked it when I left the theater that night. However, I do know that my adrenaline had jumped up a few notches. The film is, essentially, Tarantino to the nth degree, but without all the skill in execution. What it lacks for in polish and finesse, it makes up for in its frenetic energy.

I truly wanted to love Smokin’ Aces. The trailers set a high bar, I loved the hyper-kinetic look, the promise of bullets and wild humor, and the impressive array of stars. What I got were some great action set pieces, some nice humor, and a story that went through too many hoops to force everything into position while never developing a character to like. I can honestly say that I did not care what happened to any of the characters. It did not matter one iota whether they all lived or died, whether anyone was successful at achieving their ends.

But, and there is almost always a but, I still found myself enjoying the ride. It was not nearly as much as I had hoped, but there was a certain giddy joy that could be gleaned from the cartoonish characters, the outlandish situations, and the infectious energy that pervades the camera moves and editing. It is a comic book/video game come to life.

The plot has a hit put out on Buddy “Aces” Israel. He is currently in a battle with Primo Sparrazzo for control of the Nevada crime scene. When it comes out that Aces is going to testify for the Federal Government, essential shutting down the family, Primo puts out a hit on the sleazy Vegas showman. One million dollars goes to whoever brings him Buddy’s heart, an odd contract to be sure, and one that is more than meets the eye. This attracts all manner of colorful characters to the Lake Tahoe penthouse that is currently serving as house and home to our titular character. Buddy is holed up, sealed off from the rest of the world, surrounded by Motley Crue levels of decadence, lines of coke and crumpled bodies of used hookers litter his living space. It is this hotel that serves as host for the likes of a master of disguise, an expert in torture, a trio of tattooed punks, and a lesbian hit-couple.

Watching it again, on DVD, allows me to write off more of the problems that the film is infused with. I found that it played very well in the home theater. The craziness was scarecly contained within the television frame, and I think that the smaller screen works to its advantage, allowing a smaller canvas for it to play itself out on. The pulpy material seems a bit more suited to it, although it is big and in your face and a blast on the big screen.

Audio/Video. The disk looks good, the action is smooth, the sound is clear, and the colors really pop. The disk is presented in its original aspect ratio, which is always a good thing, and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1.

Extras. In addition to the wild movie, there is a prety good selection of extras included.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes. A few more scenes to add to your experience, including a longer version of the bar scene with Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, and Martin Henderson.
  • Outtakes. Your typical collection of flubbed lines.
  • Cowboy Ending. Not satisfied with the way it ended? Here is an alternate ending.
  • The Line-Up. Here are a series of clips to introduce you to the various caharacters and groups, focusing on Buddy, the bounty hunters, the Tremor Brothers, The Feds, and others.
  • The Big Gun. An interview with director Joe Carnahan while on the set.
  • Shoot'Em Up: Guns and Effects. A featurette looking at the stunts and the gun training involved to bring the world to life.
  • Commentaries. There are two tracks here, one with writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen, the other with Carnahan, Common, Christopher Holley, and Zach Cumer.

Bottomline. It is far from perfect, but it is so far over the top that I feel some great level of forgiveness. I allowed myself to wallow in the Tarantino-esque craziness. This is definitely a movie to grab some popcorn and just have some fun with.

Recommended.


April 25, 2007

DVD Review: Planetfall

Independent, no budget cinema is always a gamble. You can never really know what you are going to get. Sometimes you get a great story from creative staff that has vision, and what they lack in money they more than make up for in energy and effort. More often than not, however, what you get can scarcely be called a film, it is something that may have vision, but the execution is so bad as to make it nearly unwatchable. Now, where does Planetfall, uhh, fall? Definitely somewhere in between, but with strong leanings towards the unwatchable.

The story is centered in the space western genre that has been mined by the likes of Firefly and Oblivion, and clearly inspired by the likes of Star Wars and Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. However, as enjoyable as the premise is, it is sunk by bad dialogue, bad acting, and poor effects. Only the last of which is a forgivable sin. I can overlook poor effects, if the overall story can convince me to believe in them, there has to be an energy, the film has to sell the look, and this doesn't quite do it, though I cannot truly fault a no budget film for having bad effects. They tried and for the most part succeed at conveying what they are there to do. Now if the dialogue and acting had been better, this may have been a different story.

The setting is a planet that has been torn apart by civil war. The war is being waged between those with psychic abilities and those without, and at the center is a drug which enhances, or gives the user, those psychic abilities. Now the final shipment of that drug has crashed in the wastelands of the planet. A number of different groups are heading out to the waste to find said shipment of drug. First there is a bounty hunter named Lux, who teams up with an old partner/lover, not because she wants to, but because she needs the money this could bring her. Then there is Wendy, a roguish bounty hunter who is currently running a scam with a wanted felon, but when word of this drug hits her radar, she enters the hunt. Lasly, there is a group of psychic mercenaries that desperately want to find the shipment. Everyone involved has secrets and other desires surrounding the search, but the script is rasther poorly developed and I really had no idea what any of them were really trying to do.

The movie runs 90 minutes, but feels more like 3 hours. The acting is so completely bland that I could not find any interest in the characters stories. Each one moved along their path getting closer and closer to their goal, all as I cared less and less. The bland acting and the dialogue they have to deliver was more than enough to cancel out my brain's desire to figure out what was going on, nothing seemed all that interesting. At times it was a struggle to keep focused, with much of my viewing time spent wandering around the scene, looking at the effects rather than the story, and I do not feel that I really missed much.

For as poor as the story and acting ended up being, I have to applaud those involved in the effects and prop creation. For a movie that seems to have had a budget of $30, they were able to accomplish a lot. The effects are of a decidedly lower quality than the latest ILM or WETA outing, but they are done by people that believed in what they were doing and were trying to create an otherworldy feel, which they did. As for the proprs, they looked good, they were suitably made to look likje futuristic weapons and clothing of the west. Congratulations to those who worked on this end of the picture.

Released by Heretic Films, this is an ambitious release for such an unheard of film. The disk is filled with extra material, centered on an hour long making of documentary called Planetfall: Perils and Pleasures of Fiscally Feasible Filmmaking. I watched some of this, and it is interesting in how they went about making this film, from the genesis of concept to the finished product and all of the pitfalls encountered in low budget filmmaking. There are a series of deleted and extended scenes, none of which would have improved the film. A travel documentary made in exchange for shooting priveledge called Pickwick Mill: A Guided Tour with Alan Struthers is here, as is another location featurette, Discovering Rosemount Ruins. A silly little segment on director Gianni Mezzanotte (alter-ego of director Michael Heagle), My Name is Still Gianni. There is a brief look at the propsmakers, which is quite interesting, called Fans of Style: Designing Planetfall included. Legendary low budget director Ted V. Mikels, who appears in the film, has a lengthy interview included. Finally, there are three, yes three, commentary tracks, one with the director, the other two featuring a pair of primary cast members. The disk is truly loaded and offers some insight into the world of shoestring cinema.

Bottomline. While I cannot, and I mean cannot, claim to like the movie, I have to applaud what they were able to accomplish in terms of the effects, but feel the concept held so much more potential. This can only be recommended to the hardcore shoestring cinema fan, all others should steer clear.

Not Recommended.

DVD Review: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! - The Complete Third Season

Did the two live action movies fail to feed your itch for Scoobert? Well, fortunately for you, Warner Brothers has already released the original series that started it all, Scooby-Doo Where Are You! seasons one and two, plus the best of the Scooby Doo movies, the complete Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt series, and a variety of other episode collections and entries from the more recent series. Now, if all that isn't enough for you, and honestly, who can get enough of the Scoob? Here comes Warner Brothers again with Scoody-Doo Where Are You! The Complete Third Season to attempt and satiate that insatiable itch.

Well, before actually taking a look at the series, we should take a look at just what, exactly, this two disk set contains. If you were saying "There wasn't a third season to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" you'd be right. The classic series only ran for two seasons back in 1969-1970, it never made it to a third. However, the show was revived with new episodes in the mid to late 1970's and aired under the title The Scooby-Doo Show and was a part of Scooby-Doo All Stars and aired in 1978. I have read that these episodes did run, at some point, with the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! title and opening animation/music. Here, the 16 episodes are run with the The Scooby-Doo Show title and music with lyrics welcoming you to the new show. While looking up information on the series, I found the history to be rather confusing with different episodes being attributed to different incarnations of the series, with this collection often called the unofficial third season. Whatever the case is, this is the third season of a version which has not yet had its first two seasons released. So, take it for what you will, Scooby completists will want it, hile anyone else looking fro a Scooby fix will be more than satisfied.

I like Scooby-Doo, I remember watching all manner of reruns back in my youth, and while they all follow the same formula, they are always a bunch of fun. How can you go wrong with an animated comedy with a supernatural sleuthing bent?

The shows always went the same way. They would start with the gang heading off to meet a friend or relative, they bump into a town with a ghost or monster problem. The gang would invariable offer to investigate. Freddy and Velma were the clue gatherers, Daphne would find some trouble, while Shaggy and Scooby would run into the ghost and get chased, in a rather comedic fashion. Following the chase, the gang would set a trap that would not work until Scooby would trip up causing the bad guy be caught, with the climactic reveal of who the monster really was as the scheme was explained.

It was a simple formula, all they really need do is insert the monster and the scheme, and come up with the setting. For as repetitive as the stories really were, there was something that clicked. There was this magical blend of creative that made the formula feel fresh, from the story to the animation, the gags to the look, it all worked together.

The 16 episodes presented here are all a blast. This collection features the Scooby Gang facing off with Iron Face, Jaguaro, the Tar Monster, a Warlock, and the dreaded Willawaw. Each episode will give you a bunch of laughs and will truly put a smile on your face. Scooby-Doo is fun for the whole family.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in the original ratio of 1.33:1. While not perfect, it looks very good, and probably the best they have looked since their original broadcasts. The colors are sharp and everything is nicely clear. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital mono, and it sounds just right, just like I remembered it.

Extras. Not much to speak of, a little more would have been nice. The lone featurette is called Hanna Barbera: From H to B. It runs for over twenty minutes and takes a look inside the relationship between the duo. We also see the work that went into the creation of the classic cartoons, and all of the people that were involved. It is well worth the watch. Also included are DVD trailers for The Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, What's New Scooby Doo, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond.

Bottomline. Watching Scooby's antics is a lot of fun, and a nice way to melt away the day's stress with a little bit of silliness. I only wish that Warner Brothers had labeled this better as to what you were getting, help defuse some of the convoluted Scooby family tree. It is a minor nit as the episodes themselves are fun.

Recommended.

April 24, 2007

Box Office Update 4/20-4/23: Disturbia Holds Off Fracture

Last week's dominant winner, Disturbia, held on to become a repeat offender at the top slot this weekend. It wasn't nearly as dominant as its first outing, but it did have a modest drop.It held off the latest Anthony Hopkins thriller, Fracture. The former was a surprisingly strong Hitchcock retread, and has already doubled its production budget, which will make the studio rather happy, while New Line's Fracture had been expected to pull in bigger numbers on the strength of Hopkins, but while it made a play for the top spot, it fell short by a few million. The rest of the field was all bunched up a ways back.

Blades of Glory finished in third place, and in doing so became the fourth film to cross the century mark for 2007. It joins Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs, and 300 as the early year films to reach 6 figures. It will probably top out in the $120 million range. This was a funny Will Ferrell romp that reached for a fraction of last summers Talladega Nights.

The field contained three more new releases, in addition to Fracture. Coming in at the fourth position was the horror/thriller Vacancy, starring Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. This is a very effective gritty shocker that goes for atmosphere and genuine scares rather than buckets of blood, and it is very much worth seeing. Down in sixth is the movie that could have been the biggest film of the weekend, had Rogue Pictures given it a wider than 825 theater release. It topped the top ten in its per theater average, which topped $7,000. Finally there is the Adam Brody/Meg Ryan romantic comedy that failed to make much of an impact, In the Land of Women. It opened in eigth place and will probably fade quickly.

For a little off top ten news, 300 continues to add to its bottomline. It is a mere $200,000 away from Terminator 2 for number 7 on the all time R rated list. That film had a production budget of $65 million, and is working towards $500 million worldwide, Warner Brothers has to be incredibly happy with how this one turned out. Pathfinder is rocketing for the bottom, and will struggle to crack the $10 million mark. Grindhouse is going to fall way short of $30 million, and I am sure the Weinsteins are less than pleased. How about this? Way down at number 23 is Night at the Museum, which will arrive on DVD on April 24. It has accumulated a box office take of over $249 million, and will likely cross the 250 mark before it closes for good.

Next week, the last before the arrival of the big budget blockbusters, will see four films go wide in an attempt to make some cash prior to being swallowed. Those films are The Condemned which stars WWE Superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin as a man on death row entered in a game of life, David Goyer's supernatural thriller The Invisible, Jamie Kennedy as a breakdancer in Kickin' it Old Skool, and Nicolas Cage as a pre-cog in Next.

Four films dropped from the list this week: 300 (11), Pathfinder (12), The Reaping (13), and Grindhouse (14).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
11Disturbia$13,010,778$40,205,1422
2N

Fracture

$11,014,657$11,014,6571
32Blades of Glory$7,677,569$100,951,4394
4NVacancy$7,603,376$7,603,3761
53Meet the Robinsons$6,967,089$82,089,9594
6N

Hot Fuzz

$5,848,464$5,848,4641
75Are We Done Yet?$5,181,426$39,572,2013
8NIn the Land of Women$4,712,341$4,712,3411
94Perfect Stranger$4,104,808$18,072,9262
107Wild Hogs$2,820,440$156,161,3358

Box Office Predictions Recap
This was almost a mirror image of my placement for last week. In other words, my placement was pretty poor, getting two out of ten places correct. My fallacy was in underestimating the staying power of Disturbia, and over estimating Fracture and Vacancy at the top, and way overestimating the expansion of Richard Gere's The Hoax. On the other side, I did a little better in my dollar estimates, after overestimating my top two picks, five of the remainding films I had pegged within $1 million, with a few of them within half that amount. One more week to go before the summer blockbuster season gets under way, where the top films are a little easier to guess.

Anyway, here is how I picked the field:

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
21Fracture$11,014,657$18 million
42Vacancy$7,603,376$15 million
13Disturbia$13,010,778$14 million
34Blades of Glory$7,677,569$8 million
55

Meet the Robinsons

$6,967,089

$6.5 million

176The Hoax$1,229,781$5 million
97Perfect Stranger$4,104,808$4.5 million
68Hot Fuzz$5,848,464$4 million
79Are We Done Yet?$5,181,426$3.5 million
1010Wild Hogs$2,820,440$2 million

DVD Pick of the Week: Deja Vu

Welcome, once again. This week brings with it a large number of television titles, so if you are a fan of the so-called idiot box, this is going to be a happy week for you. As for you fans of the big screen, there are still a few choice selections for you, including an Oscar winner and one of the biggest box office hits of 2006. So whatever you may be looking for, I am sure there is at least one title for you in this week's crop of freshly grown home entertainment.

This week's pick is the latest wild visual extravaganza from director Tony Scott, who teams with writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio to deliver the inventive and surprisngly intelligent time travel thriller, Deja Vu. This is a film that is high on flash, yet doesn't skimp on the story. It is true that if you stop and think about it, you will likely end up with a migraine, but that can be said about any time travel themed movie. These films open themselves up to loopholes and plotholes, and all manner of reality based issues.

Denzel Washington stars as an ATF agent who is recruited by Val Kilmer into a secret branch of the FBI, where the secret of time travel has been cracked and is being used to prevent crimes before they can occur, shades of Minority Report but very different in execution. One of the best segments of the film is a car chase, which stands as one of the best that I have witnessed. It is one that ties into the time travel element of the movie, and is very exciting visually. If you see it for nothing else, you should check out this chase sequence.

The DVD includes a behind the scenes featurette called "The Surveillance Window," as well as deleted and extended scenes.

Also out this week:
  • Planet Earth. This is that excellent documentary that has been running on The Discovery Channel. I have not seen all of it, but it is an absolutely gorgeous look at the world. It will also be available in the high definition formats.
  • The Queen. This won the OScar for Best Actress, with Helen Mirren taking the top prize. It is a very good portrait of the Royal Family during a difficult time.
  • Night at the Museum. Well, you either like Ben Stiller, or you don't, I do. This turned out to be a fun special effects filled comedy/fantasy that is just flat out entertaining.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season. OK, this is one that you will probably want to skip. The reason being that music replacement is rampant as they were unable to secure the rights for the majority of the music used. In addition to that, many of the episodes are the cut syndicated versions. In short, this is a butchered release.
  • The Odd Couple: The First Season. I always enjoyed the reruns of this that I saw, it is finally arriving on DVD.
  • Harry and the Hendersons. Who doesn't have a soft spot for this family flick? It may not be hard hitting, but it is sweet and fun to watch.
  • Kidnapped: The Complete Series. This short-lived drama arrives on DVD to strike while some of you may remember it. I watched the first few and thought it was mediocre at best.
  • The Drew Carey Show: The Complete First Season. I didn't start watching this until very late, but I have caught some more in reruns, and it is a really funny series, very underrated.
  • Thr3e. This looks like it could be fun, I'm always game for a movie about a psycho killer.
  • Stryper: Live in Puerto Rico. Do you remember Stryper? They had their heyday back in the mid 1980's, they reunited and went on tour a few years back and proved they still had it. Here is that document.

What are you getting this week?


April 22, 2007

Movie Review: Fracture

So, Gaspard Ulliel failed to give you that old time Hannibal itch that needed scratching. Well, you may now be able to satisfy that itch. No, this is not a a new entry in the Hannibal series, but it does feature Anthony Hopkins in a deliciously twisted role that has him facing off with the forces of good. No, it is not a horror movie, but it does deliver murder and an ingenius way of covering it up. Fracture is an effective crime thriller featuring strong performances in its two leads. It is a filled with tense drama, surprising humor, and is one of the best thrillers so far this year.

Ryan Gosling stars as Will Beachum, a sly, cocksure assistant district attorney whose impressive conviction record has allowed him to rise up the ranks in a short period of time. His rising stock has attracted the attention of a high powered private firm that brings the promise of big money and a whole new lifestyle. Before he can leave his public job behind, he has one more case to try, and it promises to be the toughest one he has faced yet, putting his future in jeopardy.

Anthony Hopkins is the defendant,Ted Crawford, an engineer of some sort with an intelignece level that is off the charts. He is in a union that is merely the semblance of a marriage, so he decides to end it. The trailers show Crawford pulling a weapon and shooting his wife in the head. What follows this event is Hopkins facing off with Beachum in a battle of wits, the old guard taking on the new guard.

This is a thriller that doesn't rely on twists and shocks. All of its shock cards are played in the marketing, the film itself follows the unfolding of the criminal case. It is a play of words, a tale of facts unfolding in a straight up manner that allows the actors to ply their trade to sell the story.

When Hopkins and Gosling are the featured players the tale soars, but when the interaction is Gosling and a few choice others, it falters through some poor character chemistry. In particular Gosling and Rosamund Pike, who plays Goslings private sector boss and love interest. There is just a very poor connection between the two and their scenes together fall flat, leaving little impact. Likewise, I was not sold on the character of David Nunally, played by Billy Burke, his role of the adulterous detective isn't terribly strong outside of the requisite plot points that he is there to divulge. Then the ending isn't quite the big reveal hoped for, but I still found it to be rather satisfying.

Now, in other movies, those flaws could be more than enough to sink it. However, Fracture survives on the wonderful performances from the two leads, Hopkins in particular. Hopkins brings dark menace and sly humor to the role, he brings a confidence only someone like he can. Few actors can portray the menace that he can, his mere presence on the screen is electric and commands attention. Gosling has an interesting arc himself, dealing with the ego and his drive for success, perfection, and, eventually, redemption. He does a fine job of bringing this character to life and his face offs with Hopkins are fantastic. The movie features old, smarts against an up and coming sharp mind. In a way it mirrors the actors in these roles, with Hopkins as the reliable old guard and Gosling as the up and coming star of the future.

The film was directed by Gregory Hoblit who gives the film a dark feel, yet doesn't try to do any crazy gymnastics, rather letting the actors carry the tense drama. The screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers has a nice pace and is filled with great lines, dialogue driven tension, unexpected humor, allowing the actors to really dig in and have a little fun with it.

Overall, Fracture is a satisfying thriller that manages to succed in spite of its flaws. It features fine performances, nice art direction, and a welcome straightforward delivery. I found it to be involving and much more enjoyable than I had expected. It is one of the better thrillers to reach cinemas so far this year.

Recommended.