Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Movie Preview: July 2011

Summer finally starts firing on all cylinders.

Article first published as Movie Preview: July 2011 on Blogcritics.

With June winding up a tad bit on the mediocre side, I suppose it was time for a breather before summer finally pulled out its big guns. The studios are prepped and ready with something for everyone and its high time they started earning your hard earned cash again. Let’s delve a little deeper and see what’s in store to break box office records or get trampled along the way.

July 1st

With its ever changing release date finally set for 9:00 p.m. June 28, it's time for Michael Bay’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em, special effects extravaganza to take over the summer’s box office as Transformers discover what’s lurking on the “Dark of the Moon.” With a real script on hand courtesy of more miss (“Scream 3,” “The Skeleton Key,” “Blood and Chocolate,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Impostor,” “Reindeer Games”) than hit (“Arlington Road,” “The Ring”) scribe Ehren Kruger, at least this time they have one. They’ve also brought along James Cameron’s Fusion cameras, replaced Megan Fox with a Victoria’s Secret model (Rosie Huntington-White), and scrambled up a better supporting cast in John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong, and even Frances McDormand! Cross your fingers that this installment harkens back more to the original than that dismal sequel.

Having been in the acting game for over 30 years now, it’s no wonder that everyone knows the name Tom Hanks. Aside from the fact that he’s also known for always giving a great performance no matter how lame the film he’s in (the Dan Brown adaptations anyone?), he’s also pretty keen when he’s sitting in the director’s chair. While his credits may only include “That Thing You Do!” and some TV episodes of “Tales from the Crypt,” “A League of Their Own,” and his own “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Band of Brothers,” he definitely knows how to make for winning entertainment. With “Larry Crowne,” here’s hoping his re-teaming with co-star Julia Roberts (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) can be as charming as the trailer and TV spots make it look, and that co-writer Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) doesn’t over-saturate the thing with too much schmaltz. I believe in Hanks. For the kiddie set, there’s also some flick starring Selena Gomez called “Monte Carlo” involving mistaken identities and a Gomez-filled soundtrack.

July 8th

When a film has a mass of writers attached to the credits it typically spells written by committee. And when said film is also attached to Happy Madison Productions, stars Kevin James, and an onslaught of talking animals, you know the film is going to make plenty of money while making most of the film-going audience wondering what exactly is wrong with all the people who willfully spent an evening watching it. Yes, James is starring in “Zookeeper” in which he plays the titular character looking like they aren’t even trying to cover up the fact that it’s just James reprising his supposed “everyman” role with which he’s been fooling audiences since “King of Queens.” Whatever happened to the once hopeful performance he gave us in “Hitch?” Oh wait, somewhere down the line he made best friends with Adam Sandler and it’s been all down hill from there.

Thankfully, on the upside of things, we get something better than that with “Horrible Bosses.” Here we get a grand comedic cast featuring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis being terrorized by their bosses from hell with the likes of Kevin Spacey, “Colin Farrell,” and Jennifer Aniston. If you’ve seen the ads for this you know it’s going to be a raucous good time. While director Seth Gordon may have not lived up to his promise when it comes to feature films after his debut with the documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” it's time for his big screen presence to reach its full potential. After all, he’s been honing his craft in the TV worlds of “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “The Office,” and “Modern Family,” and let it be known that “Four Christmases” was just his way of getting a foot in the door.

July 15th

Here we have the tale of two family fare movies. It’ll be no surprise to see whether our friends at Pooh Corner stand a chance against the final chapter of Hogwarts but alas, for some reason Disney found it acceptable to open their silly old bear, “Winnie the Pooh,” against “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” The best part about this is that “Pooh” takes things back to basics with traditional animated storytelling while Warner Bros. has decided to go all out for their grand finale where something finally happens and has added post-production converted 3-D into the mix. I think these two films speak for themselves and both will wind up in the top two spots this weekend because if you aren’t able to get into one, the other will surely be starting soon.

July 22nd

Marvel goes retro with “Captain America: The First Avenger” finally rounding out its “Avengers” tie-ins. Director Joe Johnston may not have the best track record, but he does know how to make for an entertaining time at the movies (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Rocketeer,” “Jumanji,” “Jurassic Park III,” “The Wolfman”). Even if most of them have wound up being guilty pleasures. Either way, when your cast consists of Chris Evans in the title role, Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull, with Stanly Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones also in tow, the stage is set for Marvel to once again rule the cinematic universe. The only thing capable of possibly killing the fun would be Paramount’s choice of writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), who only have the last two overwrought “Chronicles of Narnia” films under their belt. I’m sure everyone involved knows that there’s far too much at stake here for Marvel and Paramount to blunder right at the finish line.

On the flip side of things comes a new comedy from Will Gluck (“Easy A”). Justin Timberlake has been known to be funny when he’s doing stints with “The Boys” of Lonely Island on “Saturday Night Live” and managed to get some laughs in “Bad Teacher, but now he’s up against the likes of Mila Kunis who’s been bringing the funny since 1998 when she was cast as Jackie on “That ‘70s Show.” In an R-rated comedy centered around being “Friends with Benefits,” here’s hoping that this film succeeds even better than “No Strings Attached.” With the movie featuring game backup players Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, and even Emma Stone, I think things look pretty safe here.

July 29th

And the award for the month’s busiest day officially goes to July 29. With four big movies popping up, let’s take a gander. Two of the smaller offerings happen to be better looking than at least one of the two bigger films opening. When your prior string of hits consists of writing “Bad Santa,” “Bad News Bears,” and directing “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” let’s hope that for Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s second outing behind the camera pans out with “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” Ironically, in this case they didn’t write the screenplay. Credit this time goes to Dan Fogelman, who’s resume reads strictly Disney (“Cars,” “Bolt,” “Tangled”) and the atrocious “Fred Claus”). Here’s hoping Fogelman’s first foray into big screen adult oriented live action pays off since we already know Ficarra and Requa know how to bring the funny. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got such a grand cast consisting of Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Julianne Moore, and Kevin Bacon.

Meanwhile, Edgar Wright performs producer duties helping chum Joe Cornish get his aliens-invade-South- London opus, “Attack the Block,” into theaters on this side of the pond. While Nick Frost (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) may be the only familiar cast member to U.S. audiences, the trailer looks like it’s right up the alley of anyone waiting for Wright, Frost, and Simon Pegg to close their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Also today, we get a healthy does of CGI characters thrust upon us with director Raja Gosnell's (“Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” both “Scooby Doos,” “Big Mommas House,” “Never Been Kissed,” and “Home Alone 3”) lackluster cartoon adaptation upon us. This time he thought it was a good idea to give “The Smurfs” the “Alvin and the Chipmunk/Garfield” treatment and to drag Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, and Hank Azaria through the mud with him. As if anyone ever questioned whether these things are good ideas or not; they’re not.

So finally, comes the film that looks to be exactly what its title suggests: “Cowboys & Aliens.: The wild wild west is set for invasion with Jon Favreau taking the reigns. After building his resume with such films as the “Iron Mans”, along with “Zathura” and “Elf,” it also can’t hurt to have a few of J.J. Abrams’ closest buddies (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof), along with his “Iron Man” writers (Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby) helping out with the screenwriting duties. Judging by the previews, the movie takes some major liberties with the original comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. And thank jeebus! The original comic is pretty bland and features some awful storytelling, so there’s no way James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) can’t save the day as stylishly as you’d suspect. Not to mention they’ve got Olivia Wilde along for the ride in the female eye candy department, and Sam Rockwell too!

I feared that July would be the month to beat this summer, but so far the end of April through early June have given it a good run for its money. In the end, only the box office will tell what truly succeeded in spite of whatever we critics think. But of course I’ll be here to help you along the way in figuring out which films are wholly worth your time and money. Meanwhile, sit down and buckle up as July 2011 tides us over until next summer comes to blast us all away with its glutton of awesomeness.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Screen Gems

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Review: "Bad Teacher"

Sort of a “Bad Santa” with teachers.

**** ½ out of 5
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
92 minutes
Columbia Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Bad Teacher on Blogcritics.

Expectations can be everything walking into any movie. While some have ad campaigns and an onslaught of TV commercials, teasers, and trailers that lead you to believe their movie is the next cinematic-Ali, others simply have to rely on what gets cast up on the screen. When the film you’re about to see comes from a very hit (TV’s “The Office”) or miss (“Year One”) team of writers, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, all you can do is let the film prove itself. Thankfully, under the hilarious direction of Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence), “Bad Teacher” shows us that “Bridesmaids” aren’t the only ones out to earn our laughs this summer.

While Kasdan may have only produced two prior feature films you’ve actually heard of (“Orange County,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”), he’s finally aiming for the silver screen comedy big leagues here. Armed with a raunchy script and a more than game cast it’s no wonder that everything works so well. While Cameron Diaz may be fizzling from the spotlight she’s earned in the past, it’s nice to see her wriggling her way back into the realm of likeability. After her performances in this, “Knight and Day,” and “The Green Hornet,” it’s about time she started earning her paychecks again.

Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) hasn’t always been a “Bad Teacher.” She may have done whatever she could to keep herself outcast, but it’s not until her fiancĂ©e Mark (Nat Faxon) calls off the wedding at his mother’s (Stephanie Faracy) insistence, that she spirals into the foul mouthed, pot smoking, Craigslist rooming, alcoholic, possibly nymphatic teacher that she becomes after returning to John Adams Middle School (or JAMS, as its called throughout the movie). While gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) may have the hots for Elizabeth, she sets her sights on substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) even if he actually develops a crush on Elizabeth’s “across-the-hall-mate” Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch).

Amy and Elizabeth quickly develop a hate/hate relationship because Elizabeth would rather “teach” her students with school-themed feature films ranging from “Stand and Deliver” to “Scream,” while Amy thinks that teaching should be utterly “fun-tastic.” While Elizabeth may only yearn to earn $10,000 for breast implants (including embezzling funds from the 7th grade car wash) she seems to be changing her ways after she learns that the teacher whose students earn the highest scores on the state test gets a $5,700 bonus. Now she’s out to prove that she really can earn a paycheck even if she may or may not have drugged Carl Halabi (Thomas Lennon) to get her hands on a copy of the state test after posing as a journalist for the local newspaper.

While the advertising for the film has been as hit and miss as the writer’s careers, personally I’ve always laughed at the TV spots and knew there was a great comedic cast on deck as well as an assured director. I’ve only laughed this hard and this often in one other movie this year (the already mentioned “Bridesmaids”) and while comedy is of course always subjective, here’s another one that’s a welcome break from the glutton of superheroes, 3-D, and CGI-laden flicks being thrown our way this summer.

It may not have the same amount of heart as “Bridesmaids” did, but this is a totally different beast. Keep your eye out for some fantastic cameos and while you probably wouldn’t know it, the film works as a “Freaks and Geeks” reunion of sorts for Kasdan, Segel, and Dave (Gruber) Allen. And of course you also get to hear Timberlake sing, even if the song here is more akin to his collaborations with “The Lonely Island” than any of his solo offerings, but that’s far more fitting in a film of this ilk. So put your pencils down and your money for “Bad Teacher.”

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Movie Review: "Cars 2"

With “Cars 2,” even Pixar fluff is still better than most so-called family fare.

**** out of 5
Rated G
113 minutes
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Cars 2 on Blogcritics.

Sixteen years, 12 films, and 40 Oscar nominations later, Pixar has finally delivered their first true fluff piece. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s still miles ahead of what’s considered “family” entertainment these days and lives up to the studios typical standards. John Lasseter may be back in the driver’s seat since he brought us the original lackadaisical Cars back in 2006, but thankfully he found a reason to bring his billion dollars worth of merchandising back to the big screen with “Cars 2.”

With a story credit of three (Lasseter himself, co-director Brad Lewis, and Dan Fogelman) and surprisingly only one screenwriter in Ben Queen (who knows a thing or two about car racing after working on TV’s “Drive”) the quartet has managed to breathe a whole new life into the franchise that seemed destined to direct-to-video offerings. Quite a feat considering the series has already spawned a slew of “Cars Toons” and “Planes” on the horizon. By plopping Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his BFF Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) into the middle of the spy genre, it looks like the series is just getting warmed up.

“Cars 2” opens up as any episode of “Alias” or the latest “Bond” entry would with Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) looking for his lost agent who was last seen amongst the fiery oil rigs somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Finn discovers that his agent has been compounded and soon enough his own situation has been compromised and a grand chase unfolds. But not before McMissile leads Professor Z (voiced by Thomas Kretschman) and his cronies believe him to be killed. Now we find Mater up his old shenanigans, missing McQueen who quickly arrives back in Radiator Springs after winning his fourth Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. Here it’s business as usual where it seems like we’re going to be getting a whole lot of more of the same.

But then we begin to get introduced to the new lot of characters including Sir Miles Axelrod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who’s discovered the ultimate fuel alternative in Allinol, and Franceso Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro), an Italian race car who’s sort of like a G-rated Jean Girard from “Talladega Nights.” After Mater makes a phone call to a TV show, McQueen is goaded into accepting his ignored invitation to Axelrod’s World Grand Prix. Now McQueen and Mater are off to Towkyo where evil doings are afoot and McMissile mistakes Mater for an American spy and along with trusty tech Holley Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), Mater is sucked into the world of espionage to save the race from the dastardly plots of the “lemons,” who are out to prove Allinol makes quite a handy weapon when mixed with an electronic pulse in the form of a TV camera.

By taking the “Cars” characters and transplanting them into a whole new world (well, at least as far as the spy genre is concerned), Pixar has found a reason for this sequel to exist outside of selling billions more in merchandising. It’s a little more than coincidental however, that it’s being released with the opening of Cars Land as part of Disney’s California Adventures next summer. It’s a good thing the film is as good as it is to not fall under the spell of some other truly lackluster cash-grab sequels that have been unleashed upon us this summer (Disney’s own “Pirates 4” and “The Hangover Part II”).

All the standard Pixar delights are in place however, as we get a teaser for their next film, “Brave;” a new “Toy Story Toons” short, the far too hilarious “Hawaiian Vacation,” in which the gang give Ken and Barbie their dream vacation after they get left behind while Bonnie takes off for winter break. It was sad to see the gang back together again for these blissful five minutes but we all know that “Toy Story 3” is the best place to leave the film series. It’s more than okay to revisit them in this form if they’re going to be this hilarious.

The score by Michael Giacchino (a welcome Pixar regular now) brings to mind the best scores of spy movies past and Lasseter keeps the jokes flying no matter how high or low brow. While we do get more bathroom humor than most, Pixar somehow always manages to make them funny. And finally, the best joke in the entire movie is a nod to the reviews of the first one. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Whenever I need to find something to help me fall asleep, I put in “Cars.” It’s nice to see Pixar able to acknowledge their shortcomings while upping themselves.

If you’re skeptical about the 3-D, skip it. I kept glancing over my glasses and the world of “Cars” was as bright as crisp as ever as compared to viewed through the insipid glasses where it looks like the whole film seems to be taking place at dusk. At first I was worried that “Cars 2” would wind up being just another fluff piece to tide us by until their next truly original venture, but job well done on proving me wrong. While it’s far from the animated game changer I think both “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Rango” are, here’s hoping “Monsters University” can continue Pixar’s streak of showing just how well sequels can be done.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Movie Review: "Green Lantern"

“Green Lanturd” has come to try to soil our summer fun.

** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
105 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Green Lantern on Blogcritics.

Have you ever wondered why there’s such a floundering amount of DC Comics film adaptations floating around? No? Well it’s not too surprising anymore. With only two huge successes in the past six years (“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight”), you can’t help but wonder why they have more hits than misses. If ever there was a case study as to why Marvel Comics film adaptations generally beat the pants off DC-issued films it would have to be “Green Lantern.”

I love the superhero genre as I love action movies. While Marvel may be busy making sure their current crop are all tied together in a nice little package, leading up to next year’s “The Avengers,” DC can barely squeeze out a standalone feature. Let alone the fact that there’s a payoff scene I didn’t bother sticking around for as the quality level of the rest of the film singlehandedly makes moot of it. Let’s just say that DC is hoping for another “Batman”-sized franchise but I honestly don’t see that happening.

Maybe when DC returns to their Superman franchise with “Man of Steel;” at least that one still has producers Christopher Nolan along with wife Emma Thomas keeping a keen on things. Not to mention a proven director in Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer too. Can the teams behind “Batman,” “Watchmen” and the “Blade” series bring a fresh take to the Superman series? If I were a betting man, I would definitely be putting my money on black with this powerhouse team behind the production.

What we’re left with in “Green Lantern” is the story of hotshot maverick (“Top Gun,” check) Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), given a green ring of great power (“Lord of the Rings,” check), consisting of will, the strongest known power in the universe, by the dying alien named Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) (who happens to a lot like Freddy Krueger, another New Line/WB property coincidentally). Meanwhile, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, who at first looks like he could exclaim “bazinga!” any minute then later looks like the love child of John Malkovich and Eric Stoltz in “Mask”) has been recruited by his father, Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins, bet you can guess why he’s never given a first name in the film) to study the body of Abin Sur.

And just wouldn’t you know it, Hector has been infected with the “blood” of another alien strain which belongs to Parallax (our first glimpse of what Smokey from “Lost” might have looked like had they done any kind of film version). So now Hal Jordan has the ring of power and is whisked away to Oa, one of the 3,600 sectors, to train amongst walking bird-beaked fish-like Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and the burly oversized pug-faced Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan). Meanwhile, Sinestro (Mark Strong) has little faith in the human Green Lantern nominee and forges a new yellow ring of power consisting of fear to possibly fend off the evil Parallax if Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern, can’t stop it first.

What a hodgepodge of great ideas we’ve already seen a million times before, thrown into a blender and pureed. It’s not so surprising given the fact that there’s four credited screenwriters (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg); never a great sign. And if you ever happen to be wondering where the budget was spent, look no further than the Parallax CGI and the wasteful 3-D conversion. Maybe if Warner Bros. had spent the extra budget money on polishing up the planet Oa or hiring a different editor (Stuart Baird), things would gel a little better.

It’s sad that this is the best director Martin Campbell and Baird could cobble together. The whole film feels like you’re watching a TV pilot as every other scene feels so anti-climatic. You’re just waiting for the commercials to queue up. What’s sadder is that the pair worked wonders together on “Casino Royale;” I have no idea what happened here, let alone that Baird has brought his hand to some fantastic action films in the past (even if they were mostly from the '80s). Although I will admit there is one stand fight out scene involving Jordan and some laid off co-workers brawling in a parking lot.

There’s bound to be a complete cut of this thing that’s far better than the 105 minutes we got here. While that runtime may seem mighty short, a fair warning: this film feels about twice as long as that. So far, this is the most boring summer tent pole film in at least two years. And that’s being said about a film that’s apparently all about false climaxing. No wonder there’s an obligatory scene chock full of unintentional laughs where Hal asks his engineer friend Thomas Kalmaku (Taika Waititi), “You wanna see it?” He’s supposed to be asking if he wants to see his new superpowers but you’d never know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In the end it’ll be interesting to see what happens to this at the box office as I forecast it’ll have a big opening weekend before word-of-mouth spreads and Cars 2 is unleashed by Pixar. While many amongst the critical crowd have been scared of the upcoming sequel, at least this one takes things in a new direction and just about everything else released already this summer (“Fast Five”, “Thor”, “Bridesmaids”, “Kung Fu Panda 2”, and the best of the lot, “Super 8”) have all been monumentally better. This belongs amongst of the ranks of “Pirates Bore… err, 4” and “The Hangover Part II”). Alas, I may be too correct in this assertion as they’re all terrible movies making far too much money. Next please.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Friday, June 10, 2011

Movie Review: "Super 8"

This summer, it's arrived. 2011's best picture so far that is.

***** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
112 minutes
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Super 8 on Blogcritics.

As wonderful as nostalgia can be, is it able to support an entire film? If that’s the question raised most by J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” then the answer is a resounding yes. Thankfully, the film is far superior than that. Just last week in my June preview I also pondered what Abrams can bring to the big screen working from a totally original idea. Coming from the man who brought us the likes of TV’s “Felicity,” “Alias,” “Lost,” and “Fringe;” and the man who brought us such cinematic endeavors as “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek;” along with co-writing “Joy Ride” and “Armageddon;” it should come as no surprise to find “Super 8” to be his crowning achievement. It’s also coincidentally, one of the best, if not the best film of 2011 thus far.

A lot of comparisons have been getting thrown around lately about “Super 8” and they’re all pretty sound. Everything from “Stand By Me” meets “Jurassic Park” to “this generation’s ‘Goonies.’” All are fairly reasonable considering it’s about an eclectic group of friends dealing with possibly-extraterrestrial occurrences in their small Ohio town. But for me, the film more stands out comparable to Joe Dante’s “Explorers;” perhaps at least in tone (that is until the kids head into space). This group of friends are really only in a few scenes together and Abrams smartly focuses more on the friendship between Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Charles (Riley Griffiths), Joe and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), and the relationship between Joe and his father Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler). Unsurprisingly they have a single parent relationship with Steven Spielberg pulling the producer strings and Abrams touting this as an homage to the early 80’s Spielberg brand of family films when Amblin Entertainment meant everyone was in for a treat.

“Super 8” opens with Joe and Jackson dealing with the passing of mother and wife Elizabeth (Caitriona Balfe) after she’s crushed in an industrial accident at the local steel mill where she filled in that morning for Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), Alice’s father. Joe carries around a locket Jackson gave Elizabeth the day he was born and hangs out with his friends making super 8 home movies for a local film festival in Cleveland, but all Jackson wants to do is send Joe away for six weeks to baseball camp. It’s only when Joe, along with Charles, Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and underage driver Alice go off to shoot a train sequence where all hell breaks loose.

If you’ve seen the teaser trailer you may think you’ve seen the train wreck already. But nothing can prepare you for the full length version of that sequence. Thankfully, Abrams is not a purveyor of 3-D and the film is not converted, otherwise this would never have paid off as suspenseful or frightening as it does. You always have a sense of direction in the action and some of it is pulled off in what appears to be single takes. Abrams and Spielberg set out to show what could be accomplished using a mere $45 million budget and it has paid off beautifully. Also, the film is chock-full of yummy Easter eggs that just beg for multiple viewings. I seriously cannot wait to see this film again! Be sure to stick around for the end credits for a fantastic payoff scene.

Here’s a film where every single element comes together in ways we haven’t seen in family entertainment in far too long. The poignancy never comes off as forced, the relationships seem real, and even the requisite love story comes off as believable. Most adults could only dream of having the chemistry that sparks between Joe and Alice. Meanwhile, Abrams pulls off another feat of never oversexualizing any of this either. You always believe you’re watching real kids, sometimes in real danger, and thanks to his talented team of young actors we buy every minute of it. And even the transition of Jackson from suppressed, grieving, confused father to man of action comes through in a moment of hilarious fashion. And “Super 8” also brings us the most touching analogy of letting go seen in who knows how long.

Bravo to everyone from Abrams, Spielberg, and the entire cast. Even the little things, like posters on Charles’s walls for “Halloween” and “Dawn of the Dead,” are tiny pieces that takes things to the next level. Those are the types of films I was in love with in junior high too and to this day my all-time favorite movie is and will forever be Spielberg’s own “Jaws.” Even the score by Michael Giacchino only further proves my own belief that he’s the second coming of John Williams. And finally, harkening back to the heyday of the already mentioned “Goonies,” “Stand By Me,” and “Explorers,” crossing with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.,” with just the right dash of “Monster Squad,” “Cloverfield” and “Jurassic Park” is one thing. But hats off to Abrams and company for pulling it off and giving us the best film the 80s never gave us.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Movie Preview: June 2011

Article first published as Movie Preview: June 2011 on Blogcritics.

One of the funny things about summer is you never know what's really going to be any good, let alone great. The studios may try to slam you over the head with endless advertising trying to make you think they know what's in your best interest to see, but that's all a matter of publicity. This Memorial Day weekend saw the opening of two hugely anticipated sequels in the likes of “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “The Hangover Part II”. While one was furthering proof of Hollywood artistic bankruptcy, the former was not the smash hit it should have been, or at least not yet. However, with the months of June and July about to bombard us, we can only keep our fingers crossed that something worthwhile is thrown our way. Let's see what bones Hollywood is throwing us this June.

June 3rd

Having a weekend all to yourself must be nice for some film openings. When it comes to the case of “X-Men: First Class” however, it may be the best thing for director Matthew Vaughn. Rebooting a franchise essentially from scratch has to be a far from easy task. Having four credited screenwriters is also typically a recipe for disaster. Yet the word-of-mouth for this beginning level of superhero mutants is nothing but positive thus far. Currently sitting at 98% Rotten Tomatoes shows great news for Twentieth Century Fox. Fingers crossed that even clocking in at 132 minutes can't stop James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and January Jones from escaping the critically mauled “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” I have faith in the power of director Vaughn after “Layer Cake,” “Stardust,” and “Kick Ass” (his last superhero action foray). Let's just see if the word-of-mouth holds true.

June 10th

This weekend we find two very different pieces of filmmaking, each featuring a mostly nubile cast. One is destined to become one of the year's most nostalgic blockbusters while the other will undoubtedly die a quick box office death. When the name of J.J. Abrams is attached to a project you know you're in for something grand. After giving us the best “Mission: Impossible” film of the whole franchise yet (“III”), and one of the best reboots ever with “Star Trek,” we finally get to see what Abrams can bring to the big screen working from a totally original idea. It also can’t hurt to have someone by the name of Steven Spielberg as your right hand man on a project either.

Meanwhile, there's “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” for anyone with children, or even a pulse, to strictly avoid. When the biggest name in your cast can't even act (Heather Graham), you know you're headed for one of the summer's most bummer movies. Just because author Megan McDonald's book series plays like a fem-centric “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” doesn't mean director John Schultz will be able to work any magic into the film when his last directorial efforts include: “Drive Me Crazy,” “Like Mike,” “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town,” “The Honeymooners,” and “Aliens in the Attic.” My condolences to anyone who gets dragged to this when “Super 8” is playing in the next theater.

June 17th

Counter-programming is sometimes the only way to go. On one hand, you get your geek squad all fired up and on the other you give the rest of the family something see. The Richard and Florence Atwater 1938 classic children's book “Mr. Popper's Penguins” has screamed to be made into a movie for more than 70 years, and it's finally getting the big screen treatment. I just wish it wasn't getting a big 3-D treatment with what's sure to feature an abundance of poop jokes going splat in Jim Carrey's face as the TV commercials seem to indicate. I read this book countless times growing up and it makes me hang my head in shame that this is the best we finally get.

Not to mention that director Mark Waters has one solid hit under his belt with the superb “Mean Girls.” You can't help but wonder if maybe it was the Tina Fey script and cast that were the magic ingredients holding everything together on that one. I guess we get to see either way, right? Although it's also from Sean Anders and John Morris, the writing duo behind “Sex Drive,” “She's Out of My League” and “Hot Tub Time Machine...” Maybe I shouldn't be quite as worried now as they're also getting some help from Jared Stern who contributed to the scripts of “Bolt” and “The Princess and the Frog.” I have absolutely no idea what to think now but honestly kind of can't wait for better or worse (probably most of the latter though).

On the flip side of things comes the second big superhero flick with Ryan Reynolds getting all CGI in “Green Lantern.” Hal Jordan (Reynolds) finally gets to strut his computer-animated green suit of abs as the titular character with Blake Lively as the love interest, and Peter Sarsgaard as the villainous Hector Hammond. Director Martin Campbell certainly knows how to helm an action film what with treating us to two Bond films in “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” two “Zorro” flicks, and “Vertical Limit.” I’ve also heard surprisingly good things about his Mel Gibson vehicle “Edge of Darkness.” Now let’s just hope that the four credited screenwriters have cobbled together a consistent tone and all will be well for Warner Bros. after some incredibly iffy trailers and TV spots.

I think this one may work out to be either the big surprise of the summer or one of the biggest failures as DC has always had a sketchy past when it comes to wining Hollywood features. They’re better known for their share of “Superman III” and “IV,” “Supergirl,” “Swamp Thing,” “Batman & Robin,” “Catwoman,” and “Jonah Hex,” then they are for Richard Donner’s and Bryan Singer’s “Superman” films or any of Tim Burton’s or Christopher Nolan’s “Batmans,” or even “Watchmen” for that matter. Maybe it’s about time they were headed for an about-face, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

June 24th

Another Hollywood epidemic seems to involve witnessing couples either falling in love on and off set or falling out of love while filming, right? What about when the lead couple in a new film are already ex-lovers? Thus is the case for Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in Jake Kasdan’s “Bad Teacher.” Kasdan hasn’t made a movie since the criminally underrated “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” but between “Orange County,” and his work on “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” here’s hoping the meshing of Apatow regulars and some supporting players from “The Office” can help bring the funny. Also from “The Office” are screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. Only problem with that is their last feature film was the reviled “Year One.” Here’s hoping Kasdan has better luck with things than Harold Ramis was able to. I’m sure Kasdan’s indie background is on his side here however; let alone the film featuring the always welcome presence of Jason Segel!

And finally, there’s a wee movie you may have heard of going by the title of “Cars 2.” John Lasseter returns to the director’s chair of his own Pixar Studios in a sequel to the last film he directed for them. Aside from some random producing credits, co-director Brad Lewis is a literal newcomer to the field. With Pixar and Lasseter himself behind him you have to have faith in the noob. This Pixar film also only credits one person with the screenplay in Ben Queen. Looks like Brad Lewis isn’t the only first timer at work here. Originally Lasseter wasn’t set to direct but maybe he was brought on to make it totally work ala Brad Bird on “Ratatouille.” I have to admit I was originally worried about this one because “Cars” is my least favorite Pixar film, even if it’s been its most commercially successful. But the more I’ve heard about the project the safer it sounds as Lasseter is promising a full out Pixar spy flick as opposed to just another “Cars” outing. If this thing is at least as good as either “Rango” or “Kung Fu Panda 2,” I’ll be exclaiming, “dad gum,” myself.

So with June wrapping up rather nicely, it’ll be interesting to see how well the box office does with this past Memorial Day breaking all kinds of records. While “The Hangover Part II” in no way deserved the kind of money it’s making, you can’t help but think audiences are suffering from their own kind of memory loss when they have the exact same (and ultimately better and funnier) version sitting in their home video libraries. But that was bound to make tons of cash whether it was a worthy follow up or not. Meanwhile, hopefully “Kung Fu Panda 2” can keep its legs and keep itself in the game. There’s no accounting to taste when it comes to picking something to see over the weekend, and thankfully June has plenty to offer before July comes roaring in.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Relativity Media, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, and Columbia Pictures