Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Facebook: The Movie!" "Like" It Today, I Know I Did.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language.
120 minutes
Columbia Pictures
**** 1/2 out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: The Social Network on Blogcritics.

What’s the first thing you did this morning? At some point I can almost guarantee it was logging into Facebook. If it wasn’t before you left the house it was more than likely something you did as soon as you got to work. Or maybe even while sitting in traffic with your handheld device of choice. The fact of the matter is that Facebook runs a huge portion of everyday life whether we “like” it or not. And if you ever wondered how the mega-site came to be or are simply looking for a second frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture race then look no further than David Fincher’s “The Social Network.”

Fincher comes locked and loaded, armed with a motormouthed lead (Jesse Eisenberg, “Zombieland,” “Adventureland”), a hilariously game supporting cast and a surefire Best Adapted Screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”) based on Ben Mezrich’s novel, “The Accidental Billionaires,” accounting the infant stages through the millionth members of Facebook.

Even I have to admit that I originally hated the idea of Facebook: being friends with all kinds of people you've either never met or haven’t seen in years suddenly anchoring themselves into your every thought and action. While “what’s on my mind” may not be as continually updated as others, I have since pretty much abandoned my Myspace account. Now after having seen this movie, I actually appreciate Facebook a little more, even if in the grand scheme of things, it all comes to fruition through years of litigation, backstabbing and ultimately an egocentric case of envy.

In Fall 2003, Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) has just been broken up with by his Boston University girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, the new “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). After she explains to him that he’s like dating a Stairmaster, he gets drunk and starts blogging about her being a bitch — and her false-advertising bra size. At the same time, he hacks into Harvard’s database and steals as many pictures of the female student body as he can. He launches a new site called (a “hot or not” rip-off) which crashes Harvard’s server after 22,000 hits in 2 hours.

This brings him to the attention of the Winklevosses: Tyler and Cameron (both played by Armie Hammer). They want him to create a site they call “Harvard Connection” where students can socialize online. After weeks of putting off the brothers, and scoring financial backing from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, the new “Spider-man”) to set up their own site called “The Facebook,” Zuckerberg launches his site. This pisses off the brothers Winklevi and their cohort Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who want to sue the pants off Zuckerberg and get him expelled for stealing their idea.

Eventually Zuckerberg gets stuck in litigation hell being sued by everyone from the Winklevosses to Eduardo himself (after his stock is diluted to the point that he has absolutely nothing to do with The Facebook anymore). All this is really brought on after Zuckerberg and Eduardo meet with Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). While Zuckerberg and Parker want The Facebook to remain “cool,” which is its niche, Eduardo thinks that they need to start generating revenue and gets totally cut out when he takes a summer trip to New York to look for advertisers. What initially seems like a minute change to drop the “The” suggested by Parker is really what sets things in motion. It is the grappling hook that Parker plants in Zuckerberg’s back.

To say anymore would ruin some big surprises. For what may seem like just another 120-minute gab-athon, brings about some pretty deep human rivers of emotion. Although Eisenberg has been pigeonholed into playing the same type of character he's played before, it’s a hilarious character. What he brings this time is a snarky attitude and very subtle mannerisms that speak much louder than anything screenwriter Sorkin has coming out of his mouth.

Whether you love Facebook or detest it, you’re probably on it. Even Erica Albright and both Winklevi have profiles and fan pages. Unfortunately, while the site may still be as “cool” as Zuckerberg and Parker wanted to keep it, it’s also chock full of the advertising garbage that Eduardo sought out. Thankfully you can hide and block such applications as Mafia Wars and Farmville.

While some people love the idea of having thousands of friends spread all across the globe, I have a hard time even being friends with some family members. When you don’t like the idea of your closest friends (I currently only have 219) knowing your secrets, why would you want someone in a foreign land sharing them with everyone else they know, but I digress.

As for “The Social Network,” Fincher has created quite a snapshot of the Internet generation and whether we like it or not, this is our story. Everyone wants to be somebody even if it’s just to their own friends. While showboating may be a great way to get noticed, how better than to broadcast it across the Internet on a wall where hundreds of friends will surely notice. I mentioned earlier that we have a surefire screenplay nomination but there’s also no way that Fincher and the film itself won’t be taken for granted come awards season. Along with his cinematographer Jeff Cronenworth, editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, another nod hopefully goes out to the cast as well as the score brought to us by Atticus Rose and none other than Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor. “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” finally have some competition.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zack Snyder Tries His Hand At Family Fare and Fares Very Well For At Least The First Hour

Rated PG for some sequences of scary action.
90 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures
*** out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole on Blogcritics.

Sorely lacking from today’s children’s fare is something that seemed to be in full swing throughout the ‘80s – a sense of danger. While some classics could be deemed too frightening for younger audiences now, does that say more about those particular films or does it say that children are far more heavily guarded these days? Leave it to Zack Snyder (“Dawn of the Dead,” “300” and “Watchmen”) to give a try while succumbing to both studio expectations and his own pretensions with the long windedly-titled “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

From “An American Tail” to “The Land Before Time,” along with “The Goonies” to “Gremlins” and even Disney’s own “The Black Cauldron” to “The Secret of NIMH” there was a sense of true danger which in turn enhanced whichever adventure was playing at the local multiplex that weekend. Nowadays families are stuck with things such as, most recently, “Marmaduke,” “Furry Vengeance” or “Alpha and Omega” to the true drecks of cinema – the “Garfields,” “Scooby Doos,” and “Chipmunks” franchises. There’s never been a greater time to thank Hollywood for Pixar and DreamWorks for giving families movies to really cheer about while Warner Bros. apparently has a lot of catching up to do in the story department.

While Snyder may not seem like the type to make a fore into family entertainment, for a good hour at least he really seemed to be onto something. Let alone that he’s working with a premise that needs to have talking hooters seem anthropomorphic, along with screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern (trying to launch a new series out of Kathryn Lasky’s novels) gave it their best shot. Unfortunately, the final half hour becomes so clichéd and formulaic, let alone cheesy and over the top that eventually there’s almost no salvaging what’s happened beforehand.

To keep things simple, which the movie seemed to have going for it, is a story about three siblings – Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), Eglantine (voiced by Adrienne DeFaria) and Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) – raised on tall tales about the ancient “Owls of Ga’Hoole” who keep order and stage battles against the evil Metal Beak (voiced by Joel Edgerton). Soren and Kludd are eventually snatched mid-branching by menacing members of The Pure Ones lead by the possibly sinister Nyra (voiced by Helen Mirren), right-hand owl to their true leader Metal Beak.

Soren discovers that it’s all an evil plot to “moonblink” them all into mindless zombie slaves to sort through pellets searching for metal flecks which are used for something that is never explained and yet when shown later in the film still makes absolutely no sense. It is said that it is some kind of weapon the Pure Ones are going to use to take away control from the Guardians.

Soren and his new friend Gylfie (voiced by Emily Barclay) are taken in by old grumbling Grimble (voiced by Hugo Weaving) who teaches them to fly and eventually escape from The Pure Ones to seek out the Guardians. Now it’s up to Soren to convince the Guardians of this sinister plot and take down Metal Beak along with his army of evil owls now including newest member/traitor Kludd who’s brought their young sister Eglantine as an offering to The Pure Ones to show his commitment.

Throughout the first hour there is a great sense of awe with that dash of danger thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, at almost exactly the one hour mark, Snyder and his writers throw in the most inexplicable use of a pop song in recent memory. While it was great to watch the owls fly around in an exhilarating use of 3-D, a training montage set to “To the Sky” by Owl City shows how lazy things are about to become. Yes, feathers fly and beaks collide all set to a bombastic score by David Hirschfelder but what was before slightly innocent becomes downright mean-spirited and far too violent for its inexplicable PG rating. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s any less violent than Snyder’s own “300.” These birds die great deaths and I do not mean valiantly.

“Legends of the Guardians” proves yet again just how hypocritical the MPAA can be as this film is every bit as violent, if not more so at times, than the two films (1984’s double whammy of “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) that singlehandedly caused the PG-13 rating to begin with. The gauntlet of violence here runs from implied beheadings to outright impalements. If your children have read the books, hopefully they’ll know what they’re getting into here, but if not, don’t let the rating fool you into thinking this is a clean cut case of family fare but then again, the movie isn’t worth the money spent to begin with.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Easy A" Earns Its Grade With Flying Colors

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.
92 minutes
Screen Gems
**** 1/2 out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Easy A on Blogcritics.

I’ve said before that some movies sure wear their inspirations on their sleeves. The ‘80s teen comedy genre is something that’s sorely been missing. When you find a movie with a true ‘80s vibe coming out now, it should be cause for celebration. You may think, judging by the trailer, that “Easy A” is aiming for the easy target of tweenage angst, but at least it sets its sights higher and longs for the yesteryears from when “A John Hughes Production” truly meant something.

With only his sophomore effort under his belt now, Will Gluck could be someone worth watching out for if the rest of his repertoire can live up to “Easy A.”(Gluck’s freshman film “Fired Up!” was a quickly dismissed guilty pleasure.) However, a lot of the credit needs to be shared with writer Bert V. Royal in his screenwriting debut. Calling to mind the likes of everything from “Heathers” to “10 Things I Hate About You” along with everything in between from “Mean Girls” to “Jawbreaker” including a dash of “The Girl Next Door” and a slight shade of “Juno,” Royal absolutely revels in the teen comedies that ran the gamut of multiplexes during the true heyday of instant 80s teen comedies.

While Emma Stone may not be a household name quite yet, she’s instantly recognizable having co-starred in “Zombieland,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “The House Bunny,” “The Rocker,” and of course “Superbad.” Proving herself far more assured and even more promising than another overly famous redhead (Lindsay Lohan), Stone nails what it is like to be a misunderstood outcast, at least that’s what my fiancée tells me. Having never been a teenage girl, the more movies like this I see, the more thankful I am not a girl.

The plot is a tad overly convoluted, but that sort of adds to the film's charm as it seems to suffer from the same issues as the lead character, Olive Penderghast (Stone). Olive lives a seemingly normal life for considering herself such an outcast. She gets good grades at Ojai North High School, spends her free time listening to her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) continually bitch about the 411 around school, and actually talks to her hilariously open and brazenly honest parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) while playing word games with peas or deciding which movie to watch for Best Family Winner Night as her father chooses to “Bucket List” this bitches!”

When Rhiannon tries to get Olive to join her for a weekend camping trip with her hippie parents, she tells a little white lie that instantly snowballs to gargantuan proportions. The “terminological inexactitude” of her situation gets embellished even more so when it grows from having lost her virginity to letting other people at school either feel her up or lose their virginity all for the sake of gift cards to everywhere from to Home Depot to Bath & Body Works coupons.

With a watchful eye cast upon her by local Christian extremist Marianne (Amanda Bynes), everything spirals out of control and things take a turn for the worst between getting sent to detention by Principal Gibbons (Malcolm McDowell) to the threat of being expelled after she brandishes all her new school stripper outfits with a big red “A.” Her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) may think she’s taking their reading of “The Scarlet Letter” a little too seriously, but little does he know that maybe it’s his student guidance counselor wife (Lisa Kudrow) who could use some counseling of her own.

Director Gluck sure knows how to ring hilarity out of a montage and how to bring a joke back for killer effect, and what movie doesn’t need a musical number for no apparent reason. With a game cast and everyone bringing as much funny to the table as they can, it’s no wonder that the film never feels as maudlin as it could. Thankfully when things get sort of serious it never overshadows the jokes and, while everything works out in the end, at least the film earns its finale which just may feature the most hilarious joke of the whole movie even if, as it was pointed out to me by said fiancée, it happens to be one wallop of a plothole. If a hilarious joke is the only plothole your film features, then I’d say you’ve done your job quite well.

“Easy A” is worth paying the money for and hopefully it finds an audience as anyone who grew up with the beloved John Hughes comedies can appreciate what’s on display, while current teens can play catch up and finally discover what all the fuss was about.

Ben Affleck Proves Again He's a Powerhouse Director Even If He Can't Figure Out a Fitting Ending

Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.
127 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures
*** 1/2 out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: The Town (2010) on Blogcritics.

Proving for a third time that his Oscar win back in 1998 for “Good Will Hunting” alongside hetero lifemate Matt Damon was no fluke, his latest two writing endeavors find Ben Affleck with a new partner in crime, Aaron Stockard. With Affleck behind the lens first on “Gone Baby Gone” and now “The Town,” it’s fair to say that behind the camera is a much better fit for him than trying to emote in front of it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Affleck’s acting skills, but his direction is just far more inspired than his acting chops. In fact, this may be one of the better performances we’ve seen from Affleck in years. Adapting Chuck Hogan’s novel, “Prince of Thieves” (with a title change probably intended not to confuse people with the “Robin Hood” movie), we find that all the skill he brought to the table with “Gone Baby Gone” was no fluke. While it may not be my bet for this year’s Best Picture, I certainly see a nomination in sight even if the ending is pretty much a standard issue happy Hollywood ending.

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay who has lived in Charlestown, Massachusetts his entire life. Growing up in the projects of Boston can be quite a burden but the people seem to wear their inheritance on their sleeves. We learn from the opening sequence that Charlestown produces more bank robbers than anywhere else in the U.S. Doug is one of these. Doug and his friends Albert "Gloansy" Magloan (“Gone Baby Gone’s” own Bubba), unofficial red-shirt Desmond Elden (Owen Burke), and the loose cannon of the group, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner hot off of last year’s Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker”), have just robbed a bank and taken Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “The Prestige”) hostage.

FBI S.A. Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”) working alongside partner Dino Campio (“Lost’s” Man in Black, Titus Welliver) are keeping tabs on these boys after they discover that one of them has some mighty interesting sick days at work, aside from the fact that Frawley knows they will “never get 24 hour surveillance unless one of them converts to Islam.” Meanwhile, Doug has confiscated Claire’s driver’s license during the robbery and starts stalking her to find out if she’s a threat to keep James from tying up their loose end with a bullet. Obviously Doug starts to fall for Claire after he learns enough that they’re all in the clear and he does everything in his power to keep her out of harm's way while Frawley keeps trying to get her to throw the whole gang under a bus. All the while, the boys are gearing up for one last job set up by local Irish florist gangster "Fergie" Colm (Pete Postlethwaite).

Surprisingly Affleck has learned quite well from a few of his past directors. From Kevin Smith he seems to have picked up an ear for natural sounding dialogue even if the accents can sometimes get in the way of understanding the conversations. And although “Reindeer Games” was a so-bad-it’s-good type movie, he can direct the hell out of a chase sequence thanks to some time spent with John Frankenheimer. Also of note, a shoot-out between the boys and the FBI in Fenway Park is filmed so that it’s never too busy or confusing and you can tell what’s going on, particularly with police dressed in black raid gear and the boys in white paramedic outfits.

Unfortunately there’s a subplot involving Chris Cooper as Doug’s imprisoned father that proves fatal to the film's denouement and as I mentioned about the Desmond character before, he is never on screen until he winds up getting shot. When a character isn’t even given something to do during the action scenes this should absolutely never come as a spoiler. And while Affleck gets hilarious usage out of the word “ostentatious,” the film never winds up feeling that way even if Affleck and Stockard can’t avoid a cop-out ending with no emotional punch.

Walking out of the screening someone told me the original ending to the book and I am sure that this could’ve been a far greater film had Affleck either cast someone else in the lead for the payoff to work or stuck with the author’s ending which fits the film’s tone much better.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A 2010 Fall Movie Preview

Article first published as A 2010 Fall Movie Preview on Blogcritics.

With summer behind us and the bi-annual dumping grounds of September/October upon us, there seems to be a little more amiss than usual. While the end of the year promises to lay out the ground work for the next Oscar race, I think it’s to be expected. While not everything looks as savory as, say, “Inception,” “Toy Story 3,” or even “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” there are definitely a few things to look forward to after all and here’s a weekly look at what’s coming our way!

Today director Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the franchise he birthed for the first time since the original. “Resident Evil: Afterlife” looks absolutely no better than any of the first three and even using James Cameron’s spiffy Fusion Cameras can’t keep me from thanking the movie lords that this was not pre-screened.

September 17 – Ben Affleck jumps back into the director’s chair while headlining another book-to-film adaptation as he strolls through “The Town” along with Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner. Emma Stone steps into the spotlight in what looks like the second coming of “Mean Girls” but I hear it surprisingly leans more towards “10 Things I Hate About You.” “Easy A,” consider me sold. On the other hand, M. Night Shyamalan takes the story and producing credits but his directing choice (the Dowdle Brothers, “Quarantine”) doesn’t exactly bring any inspiration of hope to “Devil.”

September 24 – Oliver Stone returns to “Wall Street” where Michael Douglas is going to teach Shia LaBeouf that “Money Never Sleeps” even if it’s with Gekko’s daughter. Kristen Bell, Odette Yustman, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Betty White headline an all-female cast to find out that history repeats itself in Andy Fickman’s “You Again.” Zach Snyder can hopefully bring us some true escapism with a film about talking hooters — no, not those hooters. “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” brings the season's longest title which hopefully the film can live up to. Ryan Reynolds gets to prove just how much you either love him or hate him as he brings a basically one-man act to “Buried.” While I wasn’t able to catch this one at Sundance I hear it’s quite the show.

Thankfully, October brings things back to life a bit.

October 1 - David Fincher brings us the behind the scenes shenanigans of everyone’s favorite site, Facebook. “The Social Network” combines Fincher with a stellar cast in “Zombieland’s” Jesse Eisenberg, the new “Spider-man” Andrew Garfield, our new “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Rooney Mara, and everyone’s favorite “mother lover,” Justin Timberlake. Matt Reeves makes things even more intimate than his POV-shot “Cloverfield” with his remake of the Swedish “Let the Right One In.” Say what you will about remakes, “Let Me In” looks pretty amazing but we shall all bear judgment.

October 8 – Everyone’s favorite bitch, Katherine Heigl, teams up with Josh Duhamel to find out how hard parenting can be in “Life As We Know It,” Diane Lane gets put to pasture in “Seabiscuit 2: Greener Grasses...” err, I mean “Secretariat,” and Wes Craven gets in your face as “My Soul to Take” is the latest in the 3-D conversion fad.

October 15 – The boys are back as Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera find outright hilarious ways to use 3-D technology in “Jackass 3-D,” while Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich are retired and extremely dangerous in “Red.”

October 22 – Things that go bump in the night get caught on camera like a busted pedophile as “Paranormal Activity 2” tries to scare up another cash grab from audiences. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood tries for Oscar gold again, reteaming with Matt Damon for “Hereafter” which deals with death and the supernatural in a far more award-winning way, to be sure.

October 29 – Just in time for Halloween comes another gore-off as “Saw 3D” drops the numerals and a hyphen as Lionsgate tries to milk their cow for the seventh year in a row. One of the films I’m most looking forward to comes out this day as well; “Monsters” looks like a fantastic hybrid of “Cloverfield” and “District 9.” From the looks of things so far it appears to be following the “Jaws” technique of holding off on its money shots, which just makes things even creepier if you ask me.
November churns out more things aiming to take a swipe at your wallet and starts off with as many as four films vying for your affection.

November 5 – “Megamind” hopes to lure you in with Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill in DreamWorks' take on superheroes and villains. Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis hit the road to make it to the delivery room in “Due Date.” Danny Boyle and James Franco bring us the hardships of the great outdoors and show everyone why I don’t subscribe to it, as the true story of Aron Ralston is brought to life in less time than the title: “127 Hours.” And finally, Doug Liman tries to rebound from “Jumper” with his own take on true life events with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as “Fair Game.”

November 12 – Tony Scott gets Denzel Washington in front of his camera again with Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson along for the ride in “Unstoppable” which lives up to its name by the fact that it’s yet another remake. Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, and Diane Keaton all get to be silly for producer J.J. Abrams in “Morning Glory,” and aliens hover and hoover in “Skyline.”

November 19 – The film that families are most anticipating is the finale of the beloved wizard series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” which, while it may be the first of the last, is also the first of the series to be in 3-D. And speaking of remakes, a French thriller gets my future sister-in-law as an extra alongside Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks in “The Next Three Days.”

November 24 – Christina Aguilera and Cher try to camp things up in “Burlesque” while Anne Hathaway stakes her claim on an Oscar with Jake Gyllenhaal in “Love and Other Drugs,” while “The Rock” continues to prove why we should call him Dwayne Johnson and drives “Faster” than ever before to avenge his brother’s death.

November 26 – Disney gets this day all to themselves and tries to outmarket their typical girl factor while focusing on the male secondary character in their computer animated take on Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) while Zachary Levi gets “Tangled”in misadventures along with the heroine.

December 1 – Oscar watch goes into hyperdrive as Natalie Portman battles her own inner demons while making out with Mila Kunis in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” while Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie get to take a vacation that has to be better than the insufferable “Eat Pray Love” as “The Tourists.”

December 10 – While underperforming for Disney, Fox has picked up the “Narnia” series as the “Chronicles” continue to bash you over the head with some good ol’ fashioned Catholicism as studio heads knock on wood in hopes that “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” battles “Ga’Hoole” for most extended title rights. Marky Mark brings his funky bunch to the ring in a switch-up for director David O. Russell in the aptly named “The Fighter.” Christian Bale and Melissa Leo bring their acting chops as well to chronicle boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) trained by Dickie Eklund (Bale).

December 17 – My most anticipated film of the fall season is “TRON: Legacy.” If you’ve ever seen the trailer in 3-D on an IMAX screen then you should have no question as to why. Considering the fact that the script comes from two “Lost” writers with a little help from the good folks at Pixar, this thing should be quite epic. On the flip side of epic comes the disastrous looking live-action “Yogi Bear.” While all they had to really do is dress up Dan Aykroyd in a funny hat and a tie, he could easily slip from the title character to Elwood Blues and no one would know the difference. Oh wait, except that he’d be actually funny reprising Elwood for a third time instead of driveling in this tripe. James L. Brooks finally returns after six years to bring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson together to ask the question without the mark, “How Do You Know.” Hopefully hilarity will ensue.

December 22 – When it comes to beating dead horses, no one does it better than the Focker family. This time Ben Stiller has “Little Fockers” and Robert De Niro takes a Viagra-esque pill requiring a shot in the old you-know-what. The trailer looks like more of the same but early word of mouth isn’t too hopeful. With a better director this time around, I hope it’s better than it looks. Maybe it will wind up being another “Death to Smoochy” where the film wound up being 100% better than any of the promotion led us to believe. Jack Black brings his shtick to “Gulliver's Travels” where maybe with a script co-written by Nicholas Stoller (who wrote and directed “Get Him to the Greek,” and directed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) along with a fantastic supporting cast including Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, T.J. Miller, and Romany Malco, things will gel and Black won’t run rampant.

December 25 – Now what would award season be without a new offering from the Coen brothers? They say that their “True Grit” is more inspired by the original Charles Portis novel than the John Wayne/Glen Campbell/Robert Duvall/Dennis Hopper film, but it’s no doubt that they’ll deliver their own brand of justice to the material. With a cast including Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld, it'll be interesting to see if the Coens can snag more Oscar wins next year.

December 29 – Last and certainly not least comes John Madden’s “The Debt.” After beating out “Saving Private Ryan” back in 1999, we’ll see what Madden has up his sleeve with Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson undoubtedly upping the stakes in the best acting categories while Sam Worthington seems to be there to appeal to the masses.

While there’s certainly something for everyone, hopefully there’s far more good than bad. But let’s all just take the next few months to breath a little easier before the Hollywood wastelands of January through March come our way again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

“Machete” May Not Text, But His Improvisation Methods Are Killer!

MACHETE (2010)
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.
105 minutes
Twentieth Century Fox
*** ½ out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Machete (2010) on Blogcritics.

Can a feature length film be made from a two minute fake trailer? If director Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” is of any indication, a whole new genre could be giving birth. While the original “trailer” ran before the start of the “Grindhouse” double bill back in 2007, both of those films (Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”) have gone on to receive extended cuts and separate video releases. However, talks have swirled about a full length feature for “Machete,” a role Danny Trejo was born to play.

While Trejo has never received first billing, he’s certainly had all the prowess necessary to carry a film. Leave it to Rodriguez to find a role ultimately suited for no one else to play. And in another way, had anyone but Rodriguez made a film of this ilk, it would most definitely get bashed on and deemed as being racist and misogynistic. Thankfully everyone I attended the film with certainly got the joke and laughed hysterically throughout. This is the film Rodriguez needed to bide his time waiting for “Sin City 2” to finally get the green light.

Speaking of which, Rodriguez unfortunately has plans up his sleeve for a fourth installment of his “Spy Kids” series. While the original was a pretty fun family flick, “Spy Kids 2” showed that the element of fun was beginning to slip and “Spy Kids 3-D” proved that the joke had officially been run into the ground. After bearing witness to the atrociousness of “Spy Kids 3-D,” “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D,” and his worst film yet, “Shorts,” I would rather see Rodriguez direct just about anything else than another “Spy Kids” film. Let alone the fact that his so-called “Kids” are now 22 and 18.

To keep things simple, Machete finds our new favorite “Mexican Federale” left for dead after Mexican drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) kills Machete’s wife before his eyes. Three years later Machete is propositioned by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill corrupt Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) for $150,000. But it’s all a set up and now Machete is on the run to clear his name and reap revenge finding help in everyone from taco vendor Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) who may or may not be a legend herself named “She” to his now priest brother Padr (Cheech Marin). He also finds help from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) who likes to think a lot and ponder naked in the shower when she’s not offering to help get the papers Machete needs to become a citizen himself.

A plead to Rodriguez – please stop making your crappy family films and give more back to your fans as you have with “Machete.” Leave them to pasture and make another “El Mariachi” installment. Hell, anything! When I see your name billed as director I expect to see something along the lines of “El Mariachi,” “Desperado,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Sin City” or “Planet Terror.” Even your segment of “Four Rooms” was the best part of that 50/50 debacle, and “The Faculty” was a tried and true guilty pleasure.

The cast gives their all, some even unexpectedly baring all for better and worse. Marin as an expletive-spewing shotgun-toting priest is beyond genius and casting De Niro as a racist senator was a hilarious touch even if the joke eventually starts to wear thin. My only true negative is that all the over the top outlandishness starts to lose steam as there really is only so many ways you can dispatch someone to a pile of red squib but it certainly is fun while it lasts.

And who knew you could so conveniently hide a cell phone as one woman proves. Sometimes I think Rodriguez lets the film run a little repetitive so that when something truly great happens you can appreciate it more. After all, how many times can you watch someone get obliterated with a gun shot in 105 minutes before you get bored? It’s the same beef I have with “Planet Terror.” I know Rodriguez revels in guerilla filmmaking but maybe take a little more time to caress your script instead of just throwing buckets of blood on the walls of your sets.

A final note is that apparently 2010 is the return of on screen full frontal female nudity between “Machete,” “Piranha 3D” and I hear it also pops up in “The American.” Maybe Hollywood has realized that their movies need to be a bit more titillating to get our butts in those seats?