Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Movie Preview: September 2011

With summer coming to an end, so to are the blockbusters of yesterday.

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

While the summer season may have completely fizzled out as far as box office returns go, there was still plenty of good films thrown our way this August. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Fright Night,” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” all pushed the boundaries of the remake/reboot trend, while “The Help” proved itself to be the moneymaker DreamWorks was surely hoping for even if Warner Bros. will barely break even on their fifth “Final Destination.” To add insult to injury, here comes another helping of the bottom of the studios’ barrel with their September releases. Not everything looks as bad as you’d expect from the annual “dump month” but it doesn’t look entirely great either. Let’s take a peek.

August 31

Hitting a day early is “The Debt” with some great pedigree behind the scenes and a few in front as well. Director John Madden is not the football hero you’re thinking, but when he sets up a project at least know some thought will be put into it. It doesn’t hurt to bring along a writing team consisting of Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman (the duo behind “X-Men: First Class,” “Kick-Ass,” and “Stardust”), and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats” and the upcoming “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” adaptation). Hopefully with a cast consisting of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Jesper Christensen, it will make up for having sat through the trailer for what feels like at least a year now. Originally scheduled for release in 2010, maybe Focus Features is praying for some kind of Oscar buzz about their little espionage thriller that hopefully can.

September 2

Having a director (David R. Ellis, “Final Destination 2” and “4,” “Snakes on a Plane,” and “Cellular”) who knows a thing or two about both schlock and 3-D should help “Shark Night 3D.” Getting a PG-13 rating on the other hand either shows that the film was seriously dumbed down and heavily edited or the studio knew this was a good way to get more butts in the seats. Either way, any feature film featuring sharks is okay by me as they are my favorite animal next to my mini-dachshund named Beatrix Kiddo. With Sara Paxton cast possibly because she loves stripping down to her underwear, it makes you wonder what Donal Logue is doing in a 3-D horror movie about genetically-altered fresh water sharks. Hopefully he was cast as a comic relief because the man sure knows how to bring on the funny.

In other news, Dimension Films is finally releasing another film that seems to have been sitting around forever with their found-footage entry, “Apollo 18.” Whether it can wind up escaping the genre clichés and find a niche could happen so long as the film is more “Blair Witch” and less “Paranormal Activity.” With Timur Bekmambetov on board as producer there just may be hope for this after all seeing how it was originally planned for release in April, then moved to January of 2012, and now comes out today instead. None of that is a good sign and it’s not being screened for press so hopes are far from high on this one. No one will be surprised however, if the first thing out of the audiences’ mouth will be along the lines of, “Houston, we have a problem.”

September 9

I freely admit it, I used to watch “Outbreak” way too much as a teenager. The risk seemed far too real and basing it on the thankfully now-elusive Ebola virus just made it even scarier. While this may be the first time Steven Soderbergh’s delved into this type of a film, the man knows how to make a cracker jack suspense film when he wants to. Even the first “Ocean’s Eleven” had this element to the shenanigans keeping everyone glued to the screen on how they’d manage to pull off the big heist in the end. And working with Matt Damon for the fourth time at least he’s got a friend in tow who can seriously carry any film. “The Informant!” anyone? With an original screenplay courtesy Scott Z. Burns (“The Informant!” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Burns must have something up his sleeve here to pique the interest of both friends once again.

Tom Hardy has been playing badasses for years now. From his big break in “Bronson” to his big Hollywood premiere in “Inception,” things just keep looking up for him. Before he makes his debut as the “Bane” of Batman’s existence in “The Dark Knight Rises” next summer, we get to bare witness to some good ol’ fashioned pummeling in “Warrior.” Director Gavin O’ Connor may have had a stumbling block with “Pride and Glory,” but his “Miracle” was a pleasant surprise. Now we get to see if O’ Connor can enlighten the sport of mixed martial arts the way he did hockey. I won’t be surprised if by the end of the film I still despise the so-called sport but there’s no denying its legions of fans.

It seems the going cringe rate associated with Happy Madison Productions is far too high lately. They haven’t been able to crank out one honestly good movie since 2006 when “Grandma’s Boy” just couldn’t stop bringing the laughs. While Nick Swardson was featured in that film, not to mention almost all of them along the way, it’s no surprise he finally gets his own chance to star. Even if the trailer just makes you want to run away, run away. Starring as the son of two porn stars, his character “Buck Larson” finds out who his parents really are and feels that he’s “Born to Be a Star” as well. With director Tom Brady at the helm, it’s no surprise this looks dreadful. When you’ve only got “The Hot Chick” and “The Comebacks” on your resume, you leave no hope for audiences. But with an R-rating and co-writers Adam Sandler and Allen Covert behind you, maybe the boys will finally manage to make a filthy hilarious movie we can embrace. Unfortunately for Brady, he’s the odd man out here so expectations are running below sea level.

September 16

A trio of flicks make their way this day and two look better than the third. First up there’s another remake rearing its head. This time its Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs’” turn. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth replace Dustin Hoffman and Susan George with Alexander Skarsgård stepping in as Del Henney terrorizing a man and wife who’ve relocated themselves from Los Angeles to the South in place of Peckinpah’s not-so-jolly England. With director Rod Lurie making his name in indie film territory there’s hope to be had even if the film looks to take an even more voyeuristic approach than Peckinpah even came close to.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker still continues getting roles in a film whose title seems tailor made for ridicule: “I Just Don’t Know How She Does It.” If you were talking about landing lead actress roles, this one looks more like “Bridget Jones” than another Carrie Bradshaw. Maybe director Douglas McGrath can keep this more “Devil Wears Prada” or even “Morning Glory,” than “Laws of Attraction” or “27 Dresses” as it comes from yet another Aline Brosh McKenna screenplay just to keep the boys away and give the girls another reason for a night out.

This day another indie auteur tries his hand at balls-to-the-wall action with Ryan Gosling in the driver’s seat for Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” Having just won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this humdinger of a looking film, it seems to be looking at winning over the rest of the world upon its release. With a supporting cast consisting of Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks, this film sound primed and ready for action. While it may not have won the Palme d'Or, that doesn’t mean it’s not ready to steal the money from your wallet.

September 23

Literally something for everyone opens today. First you’ve got what looks to be the best of the bunch, “Moneyball.” Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane with Jonah Hill as his right hand man Peter Brand. With Oscar-winning scribes Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) adapting another Michael Lewis (“The Blind Side”) novel, along with Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) at the helm, there’s no doubt this is pure Oscar bait in the works.

To tide over the girls in the audience until he sheds his skin as a werewolf again, Taylor Lautner is on the run to find out why his baby photo is featured on a missing persons website in “Abduction.” The trailer features lots of things blowing up and director John Singleton knows a thing or two about bringing the goods in this department. With a surprising supporting cast featuring everyone from Maria Bello, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Lily Collins, and Sigourney Weaver, to Michael Nyqvist (!), hopefully writer Shawn Christensen can deliver some big dumb fun with his debut screenplay. It certainly looks more fun than it has any real right to be, but Lautner was actually pretty entertaining on his “Saturday Night Live” hosting stint so here we’ll get to see if he can carry a film with his shirt on.

For the art house crowd comes Gerard Butler looking scruff and gruff as Sam Childers aka “Machine Gun Preacher.” Director Marc Forster has been delivering the goods for a long time now with everything from “Monsters Ball,” “Finding Neverland,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” and “The Kite Runner,” while some have questioned his Hollywood attempts with the atrocious “Stay” and “Quantum of Solace” aka the first true “Bond” sequel ever. But focusing on the true story of a former drug-dealing biker whose found God helping Sudanese children, it looks like Oscar bait is running on high this weekend between this and “Moneyball.”

For the real action fans comes a film just seething with potential, right down to its title: “Killer Elite.” Based on the novel “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes we get Jason Statham and Robert De Niro pitted against bad guy Clive Owen with a film whose tagline reads “May the Best Man Live.” If that doesn’t scream high octane action with that cast I don’t know what does! And finally, we get another 3-D family film from the manipulative producers of “The Blind Side” hoping to wring you of tears on top of your hard-earned cash with “Dolphin Tale.” Casting Morgan Freeman as the lead do-gooder alongside Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., and a dolphin just seems like it was made with no intention aside from being melodramatic. Co-writer Karen Janszen only furthers my belief with credits ranging from “Free Willy 2” to “A Walk to Remember” to “Gracie.” Even director Charles Martin Smith reins from the original “Air Bud” so don’t be surprised if Warner Bros. spins this true tale into all sorts of goofy direct-to-video sequels.

September 30

Finally things slow down a bit for the end of the month but it’s not too soon for what the local press crowds are already declaring could be the best film of the year. “50/50” is the true story of one man’s battle and eventual win over cancer. Writer Will Reiser steeps the screenplay with what it’s really like to deal with his prognosis without all the violin cues and maudlin clichés. Casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen can only help matters even more. Both are hugely popular right now and while one seems to insist on only bringing the funny, anyone who’s seen Rogen in any Apatow production knows he can be genuinely sweet and emotional even while tickling your funny bone. With Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Anjelica Houston playing back up, I have no doubt this film will be every bit as good as the hype.

Haunted house movies have always been a Hollywood staple and they’ll never go away. Sometimes you just wish that a trailer doesn’t give everything away as it seems to have happened with “Dream House.” Universal Pictures better have some mighty surprises up their sleeves after having born witness to those two and a half minutes. But I suppose that really should be left up to writer David Loucka and director Jim Sheridan. I think how things turn out here will rely more heavily on Sheridan’s directing chops (“Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” “In the Name of the Father,” “My Left Foot”) than Loucka’s writing pedigree (“The Dream Team,” “Eddie”). But with a cast consisting of real-life newlyweds Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, along with the always reliable Naomi Watts, I’d say things are looking more up for this house than the trailer gives away.

And last but certainly not least comes what could be one of the month’s better surprises. While on the surface it sounds like every other romantic comedy ever made, and the premise certainly doesn’t help, “What’s Your Number?” has an even more misleading title to boot. The source novel’s title “20 Times a Lady” would probably just be even more confusing for mass audiences so why not find yet another way to dumb down the advertising, right? Anna Faris stars as a woman looking to find Mr. Right by playing a case of “High Fidelity” to find out what went wrong in the past to help her future. Meanwhile, her slutty neighbor (Chris Evans) offers to help her connect with her exes but we all know what that will probably mean by the time the credits roll.

With supporting players ranging from Andy Samberg, Zachary Quinto, Joel McHale, Martin Freeman, Aziz Ansari, Anthony Mackie, and Thomas Lennon to real life hubby Chris Pratt, the comedy should flow freely so long as there’s plenty of ad-libbing afoot and Mark Mylod’s direction doesn’t get in the way. When your screenwriters are Gabrielle Allan (“Scrubs”) and Jennifer Crittenden (“The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) are writing the jokes, ladies who obviously know funny, this should add up to more than it looks on paper.

Yes, September certainly lives up to the term “dump month” as there’s at least 18 films slated over five weekends and one Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean the month will be a total bust. There’s a few goodies sprinkled throughout even though we still have to slog through another October before we can finally start getting to the good stuff in November when Oscar starts calling everyone’s name.

Photos courtesy Focus Features, Relativity Media, Lionsgate, Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures, Open Road Films, Summit Entertainment, and Twentieth Century Fox

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie Review: “Colombiana”

Not even a glass-covered shark-filled swimming pool could enlighten another throw-away end of summer action flick.

** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality and brief strong language
107 minutes
TriStar Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Colombiana on Blogcritics.

When it comes to big, dumb action movies, there may not be a man whose name is as attached to the genre as Luc Besson. Having been a big fan since seeing “The Fifth Element” at a local dollar theater, he’s been adding the word fun to the proceedings as well; at least for the most part. Sometimes when he’s not in the director’s chair, his screenplays (co-writing with long standing buddy Robert Mark Kamen) can be led astray (“From Paris with Love,” and the worst offender: our own remake of his original “Taxi”). Now we have another preposterous laughathon to add to his oeuvre with “Colombiana” which seems to be a melting pot of his IMDB resume.

Beginning in 1992, there’s a meeting of the minds happening between Fabio (Jesse Borrego) and Marco (Jordi Mollà). Of course things turn south, and Marco orders Fabio to be killed but not before he makes it home to his wife Alicia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and eight-year-old daughter Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg). Fabio and Alicia are killed offscreen while Cataleya sits at the kitchen table looking comatose. Marco approaches her, asking for something her father gave her that belongs to Don Luis (Beto Benites). Instead of playing nice, Cataleya stabs Marco in the hand, announces she will see Don Luis to his death, and leads Marco’s cronies on a parkour-infused street chase where she runs to the U.S. Embassy and offers up her father’s information in exchange for a passport to the States.

After landing in Chicago, Cataleya hops a bus to Chicago to find her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis), demanding that he teach her how to be a “Professional,” err… killer, like himself. Emilio forces her to go to school in exchange for future services. Cutting to 15 years later (played in adult form by Zoe Saldana) Cataleya is on the prowl taking out anyone connected to Don Luis leaving drawings of orchids on their chest, along with a few bullet holes. Marco is trying to find out who’s behind the murders along with Special Agent Ross (Lennie James). Ross thinks he is looking for a man (at one point ignorantly saying there’s no way a woman could be behind 22 murders), but Marco knows that Cataleya has come for revenge upon Don Luis and hopes that his extradition in New Orleans is a safe enough hiding spot.

There’s also bits sprinkled about involving Cataleya and her (maybe more than a) friend with benefits Danny (Michael Vartan), but these are obviously padding, leading up to a beyond-ludicrous turn of events in the third act. Director Olivier Megaton may have been able to squeeze a few more drops of fun from the third “Transporter” film, but what he brings here are mostly moments of hilarious unintentional humor and action played with ranging styles. Everything gets thrown in the kitchen sink here, from the Ridley Scott/MTV quick-cut to a fight scene which seems to have been filmed with a strobe light.

Typically I adore these types of films, but lately the good ones are becoming further and fewer between. Even Michael Bay has been trying way too hard lately causing what used to be a genre in and of itself, big dumb fun, is getting increasingly just bigger and even more unfortunately, dumber. If someone could please remember to bring the fun back (and more than just having Saldana dance around in her short shorts and sucking on a lollipop) maybe “Colombiana” could have aspired to be a call back to the action movies of yore. As it stands, it’s sadly just another sign of the fizzling summer movie season.

Photos courtesy TriStar Pictures

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review: “Fright Night”

A rarity for sure, but “Fright Night” proves a remake can still be done right.

***** out of 5
Rated R for bloody horror violence and language including some sexual references.
106 minutes
DreamWorks SKG

Article first published as Movie Review: Fright Night (2011) on Blogcritics.

In the land of Hollywood, remakes/reboots/reimaginings, what have you, reign supreme. When it comes to horror films, that number is ever higher. Sometimes it feels like every month there’s at least one sequel or remake coming down the chute lately. If you’ve seen this year’s earlier entry, “Scream 4,” Hayden Panettiere’s character loves her horror movies and when asked to name a particular remake in a conversation with Ghostface, names off at least 20 entries. While the greats are few and far between, there’s just no stopping horror fans from coming back for more. Just last week we even got a series’ return to form with “Final Destination 5.” So it is without further ado that yet another cult classic is reborn, to far greater aplomb, with Tom Holland’s “Fright Night.”

If you’ve seen the original, or watched the trailers, you know what you’re in for and that’s not a bad thing. For once, a director (Craig Gillespie, “Lars and the Real Girl”) takes a playfully updated screenplay, courtesy of genre vet Marti Noxon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff “Angel”), and takes the vampire films as of late and proves that there’s still life in the undead blood suckers yet. They also prove that you can have fun with the genre while still staying true to original source material. But when your original is already as much fun as 1985’s “Fright Night” still is, I’m not surprised that they managed to not screw things up. However, they have also drastically changed the location but given a few new twists to liven things up along the way.

Hitting the ground running, a quiet night in a Las Vegas suburb is interrupted with a vampire attacking and killing teenage Adam (Will Denton) and his parents. Turns out, Adam was friends with best friends Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and “Evil” Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Ed and Charley are having bromance issues of their own thanks to Charley managing to snag the girl of his dreams, Amy (Imogen Poots). Charley thinks because he has decided to “grow up” and get a girlfriend that he’s too good for hanging out with Ed and sticks him on the back burner. Even if he still can’t help but lust for his neighbor across the street Doris (Emily Montague). Next door we find new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) has just moved in but just can’t seem to finish his interior decorating and Charley’s mom Jane (Toni Collette) wishes Jerry would at least get rid of his eyesore of a dumpster camped out on his front lawn.

It doesn’t take long before Ed is trying to convince Charley that Jerry is a vampire since he’s been spying on him because kids from school keep going missing. Things go awry when Ed goes looking for Adam and after he goes missing Charley finally perks up to what’s going down in his neck of the woods. He tries to enlist the Criss Angel-esque Peter Vincent (David Tennant) who has an illusions showcase called “Fright Night” and has a vast assortment of vampire and supernatural related antiques he buys off EBay. Peter wants nothing less than to help poor Charley with his vampire problem and it turns out that there’s more to his occult fascination than meets the eye. Again, the plot here is nothing too new. Charley sets out to take down Jerry himself and Peter finally steps up to help poor Charley put an end to Jerry’s neighborhood reign once and for all.

While 3D at the movies will always and forever be nothing more than a gimmick and a reason for boosting ticket sales, sometimes it can pay off. In this case it’s still totally unnecessary but adds some sense to the fun thanks to director Gillespie’s independent filmmaking background and sensibilities. There are some amazingly staged action/suspense sequences spread throughout including but far from limited to a high speed pursuit and a simple escape from inside Jerry’s house. Both of those scenes also end with some of the most hilarious punchlines in quite some time. And let’s just say that ash and embers may wind up being a new prerequisite when it comes to 3D effects in horror films. Along with snow fall it just may be the ace in the hole for truly effective 3D gimmickry.

Holland’s original “Fright Night” is far from being raked over the coals here and should reintroduce the current generation of vampire film fans to what they really are. Blood thirsty, charming and usually deadpan hilarious, Farrell brings out a great display of surprisingly subtle scenery chewing. He is nothing but perfect for the role of Jerry and it was nice to see that Gillespie and Noxon seem to acknowledge how long ago the original came out by never trying to keep the vampire surprise in the bag. A surprise cameo offers up a passing of the torch in a perfect sense for once and some of the hilarious lines including, “You’re so cool, Brewster,” is given new context without losing its laugh. And as far as my wife is concerned, there’s nothing funnier than a scrambling vampire after he’s been staked in the chest with a real estate sign. I say, when a horror/comedy can manage to make her snort with laughter when she’s never been a fan of the genre to begin with, I’d say job well done indeed. It really is just that much fun.

Photos courtesy DreamWorks SKG

Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Review: “30 Minutes or Less”

Huge laughs every 30 seconds or less.

**** out of 5
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence.
83 minutes
Columbia Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: 30 Minutes or Less on Blogcritics.

It’s gotta be one hell of a time following up a debut that comes with such high acclaim. Just to name a couple, Quentin Tarantino managed to pull it off with “Pulp Fiction” and Edgar Wright managed to do it with “Hot Fuzz.” Now we can add Ruben Fleischer to the list. Although, while it’s far from what some may have been hoping would turn out to be “Zombieland 2,” so to speak, “30 Minutes or Less” has more than its own brand of hijinks up its sleeve.

Being a first time screenwriter is also something Michael Diliberti has in common with the likes of Tarantino and Fleischer. Loosely basing the story (co-credited to Matthew Sullivan) on an Erie, PA bank robbery where that unfortunate pizza delivery guy met his explosive end, Diliberti has come up with one of the most hilarious screenplays in years. How much of the script remains onscreen is quite a question however as all of the key cast members are known all too well for their improv skills while the camera rolls. But between Diliberti and Fleischer’s directing skills, along with the cast, they’ve all managed to bring the funniest film this year has seen next to “Bridesmaids.”

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) works for Vito’s Pizza in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a delivery boy living every day like it’s “30 Minutes or Less.” He hates his job and seems to have a love/hate relationship with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari). Nick also happens to be in love with Chet’s twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) who has just informed him that not only has a classmate recently come out of the closet, but she’s moving to Atlanta for work. Meanwhile, our bumbling antagonists, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), are living the life of privileged man-children thanks to Dwayne’s father, The Major (Fred Ward), after he won $10 million playing the lottery.

Dwayne complains about how much he hates The Major and brags about being the heir to at least $1 million to a local stripper named Juicy (Bianca Kajlich). Juicy instantly sees her own opportunity in Dwayne and tells him she knows someone, Chango (Michael Peña), who can take care of his father for just $100,000. Dwayne jumps at the idea instantly as the money from his inheritance would be just what he needs to start a tanning salon as a front for a prostitution ring. Talk about delusions of grandeur. Now Dwayne and Travis hatch a scheme and strap a bomb to Nick’s chest during a routine delivery, giving him ten hours to come up with the cash. Nick enlists Chet to help him rob a bank where hilarity, double crossing, “rape kits,” and laser pens soon collide.

To give any more away would be criminal as the verbal sparring, visual gags and hilarious choices in musical cues fly fast and furious. Just as Fleischer did with “Zombieland,” he knows that the key to a successful comedy is to hit the ground running. And at a scant 83 minutes you couldn’t ask for a tighter run time. Most surprisingly too, the characters here are more fleshed out than most two hour dramas and Eisenberg shows us once again that he’s not just a one-note actor. And those with a keen sense for movie references will just find even more to love about “30 Minutes or Less,” one of the year’s funnier films.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Movie Review: “Evil Things”

There's a reason this skipped theaters and is heading straight-to-DVD today.

** out of 5
Not Rated
86 minutes
Inception Media Group

Article first published as Movie Review: Evil Things on Blogcritics.

The found-footage genre has been greatly overused as of recently. While it’s been used since as early as 1980s “Cannibal Holocaust,” it’s currently in a state of overabundance. Surely we can thank “The Blair Witch Project” for this. But where that film succeeded so greatly was in telling a simple story of a group of filmmakers stranded in the woods tormented by what may or may not be a benevolent spooky specter. While there’s been some great use of it along the way to now (okay, only “[REC],” “Cloverfield,” and “Blair Witch”) it hasn’t taken long to run it into the ground. Which seems to be the only thing the new “Evil Things” seems hell-bent on achieving.

Five friends are venturing out to a house in the middle of nowhere for Miriam’s (Elyssa Mersdorf) 21st birthday. Leo (Ryan Maslyn) has just bought himself a brand new camera and refuses to turn it off much to everyone’s chagrin. Along for the weekend are Cassy (Laurel Casillo), the pretentious one; Mark (Morgan Hooper), the aggressive one; and Tanya (Torrey Weiss), the hot one. Traveling the icy roads to Miriam’s aunt Gail’s (Gail Cadden) house, Tanya quickly gets sick while they all start getting harassed by someone in a van that probably uses the handle “Rusty Nail.” Being stalked by someone in a van is one thing but it’s another when you get to your destination and the power hasn’t been turned on. Aunt Gail shows up to give the kids a fake scare and then everyone has a wonderful evening of booze and pasta.

The following morning everyone is forced to head out to the wintry wonderland and it’s not too long before they lose their bearings and start blaming each other in a rather familiar fashion. Eventually they find their way back but not before they all start hearing noises in the woods and start screaming at each other and running for their lives against unseen forces lurking just beyond the camera light. Back at home they start receiving anonymous phone calls right before “The Ring’s” Samara leaves a wrapped video tape on the door step featuring footage making everyone stand in front of big open windows with the lights on. Now they’re under house attack by someone who thinks he’s the second coming of “The Silence of the Lambs’” “Buffalo Bill” lurking around the house with his own video camera using night vision.

When the viewer’s main focus while watching your film becomes making a checklist of all the films being ripped off you have much bigger problems; even more so than the inappropriate “spooky” music playing over the footage. A note to writer/director/editor Dominic Perez, when you feel the need to add eerie music over the proceedings something isn’t working. You can cut a lot of slack when it comes to low budget films and first time filmmakers that wear their inspirations on their sleeves. But it’s another thing altogether when every scene feels like it’s been copied and pasted from far better films over the years. Let alone when one of them has won Best Picture.

Referencing films is another route you can always go, something Eli Roth, Kevin Williamson, and more recently Rubin Fleischer have been mining to great acclaim. For every section of the film that happens to work it drags itself out to a breaking point which shows that Perez was in desperate need of someone else in the editing booth. We know that everyone wants to have their 15 minutes of fame. In all honesty, had the film been cut down to that length, maybe Perez could have achieved his own. However, as it stands, “Evil Things” only plays out like a been-there/done-that greatest hits collection without one ounce of originality or even any flare of its own.

Photos courtesy Inception Media Group

Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Review: “The Change-Up”

There's laughs to be had, but at what cost? Lowbrow heads for new lows.

*** out of 5
Rated R for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use.
112 minutes
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Change-Up on Blogcritics.

It’s been a pretty decent year for Jason Bateman. A very good year, considering the man has been continually in the acting game since 1981 for crying out loud. After having finally found success with the cancelled but brilliant “Arrested Development,” he’s essentially steered clear of TV. And after having not being in any films since 2009, it’s evident now that the man has stayed busy. This weekend now sees the release of his fourth film this year, “The Change-Up,” after having also headlined or was featured in “Paul,” “Horrible Bosses,” and “The Switch.”

Since the release of director David Dobkin’s first film (“Clay Pigeons”) his resume has been far more hit than miss. While he may have last issued us the atrocious “Fred Claus,” he also managed to squeeze in two very successful Hollywood films you may have heard of, “Shanghai Knights” and a little something called “Wedding Crashers.” “Knights” was a great sequel and one of Jackie Chan’s last fun American productions and we all know that “Crashers” is one of the biggest R-rated comedies of all time. Lightning could strike twice here for more than just Dobkin as “The Change-Up” happens to come from the sick and twisted minds of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the duo behind the first “Hangover.”

In “The Change-Up” we meet best friends Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave Lockwood (Bateman). They’ve been friends since they were 3-years-old(?). Dave has worked his ass off to get through college, marry the love of his life Jamie (Leslie Mann), and has a big house full of kids including a new set of fraternal twins and Cara (Sydney Rouviere). Meanwhile, Mitch flunked out of college to pursue an acting career which means he just wants to work one week a year spending the rest of his time getting high and scoring lots of women.

Dave’s life is of course very busy between work and home but manages to squeeze in one night to hit the bar with Mitch to watch a Marlins/Braves game. After Mitch drunkenly brags about all of his one night stands and various flings, Dave admits to how jealous he is and wishes he could so much as take a peaceful dump or simply learn how to rollerblade. After taking a piss in a fountain and simultaneously wishing for each others lives, a rolling black out occurs and the next morning they wake to find each other having swapped bodies. Wackiness ensues featuring all the requisite misadventures even if they try to explain the situation to Jamie who thinks the two are just up to a new level of dork-shenanigans.

Yup, it’s “Freaky Friday” for the frat-house crowds. From the opening scene featuring projectile diarrhea, pregnant flings, a starring role in a “lorno,” possibly getting to bang your hot co-worker, to a wife who needs to take it easy on the Thai food, for a good hour the film manages to raise the gross-out stakes. There’s also a kitchen scene that makes me wonder whether it’s the writers or the director who are huge fans of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Before they switch bodies, Reynolds is aping his “Van Wilder” role but then gets to play worried husband while Bateman gets to revel in playing the asshole after the switch, something he’s not typically known for but appears surprisingly good at.

Lessons are learned and montages show Dave and Mitch teaching each other how to be each other and when the film gets to the character side of the film things tend to slow down a bit. Leslie Mann gets to shine in what feels like a filler piece to get her back in tune for the now filming tentatively titled Judd Apatow “Knocked Up” spin-off, “This Is 40.” And the supporting cast seems to be having fun too, even if it mostly consists of Olivia Wilde playing Dave’s hot co-worker who happens to love baseball, tattoos, and also, of course, has a heart of gold.

Dobkin is still in need of figuring out how to successfully blend his raunch and schmaltz. It was the one thing that didn’t quite work in “Wedding Crashers” and it rears its head again here. Thankfully the entire cast is so likeable that it winds up working far better than it should even if you’ve seen the film so many times before. Some of my favorites of the genre include “Vice Versa,” “Like Father Like Son,” “Face/Off,” and yes, even the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis “Freaky Friday.”

So if you’re looking for some huge guilty laughs look no further. The jokes fly fast and furious even if some of them you may not feel good about laughing at in the morning. And while I may have given “Friends with Benefits” more credit than it really deserves, here we find the summer’s comedies still on track, even if sometimes “The Change-Up” aims too low.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Movie Review: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

One of the summer's best movies has arrived, "Hail Caesar!"

**** ½ out of 5
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.
105 minutes
Twentieth Century Fox

Article first published as Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes on Blogcritics.

When something has been around for 48 years and there has already been the original novel that started it all, six films, and two TV series, you can’t help but wonder how anyone could come up with something fresh. Meanwhile, reboot is the automatic fixer-upper in Hollywood and right now it’s all rage. So it’s no surprise that yet another franchise gets a do-over this weekend as we bear witness to the “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

Getting your foot in Hollywood’s door probably takes a huge case of luck. I would imagine even more so when your only feature film to date is a little Irish prison break flick (“The Escapist”). For director Rupert Wyatt, maybe it helps to have some friends in the system. Brian Cox reteams with Wyatt now along with the already strong cast of James Franco, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow. By adding Andy Serkis providing the motion-capture as “Caesar” the ape himself, you’ve got quite the cast.

In “Rise,” we are introduced to Will Rodman (Franco). Working at GenSys, he’s finally found the cure to Alzheimer’s called ALZ-112. During a presentation to some investors however, Chimp #9, nicknamed “Bright Eyes” (Terry Notary), goes on a simultaneous rampage nearly destroying the facility in the process before she’s shot down by a security officer. Turns out that “Bright Eyes” wasn’t being aggressive, she was being protective. See, she was pregnant and had given secret birth to a male baby in her lab cell.

Now Will is taken to task by his lab partner Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) to put the baby down after he’s already been forced to put down the first twelve. So naturally, Will takes the baby home where his own father, Charles (Lithgow), names him Caesar and over a period of eight years Will realizes that “Bright Eyes” has passed down the ALZ-112 and the baby ape grows up to be a sign language using super-intelligent simian.

Will’s boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) orders to proceed with testing after Will informs him that he’s tested ALZ on his own father and it works. But sure enough, Charles’s body forms antibodies against the injections and his disease returns with a vengeance. Meanwhile, Caesar has attacked Will’s neighbor (David Hewlett) and Will is forced to take Caesar to a primate facility. Here Caesar is treated like a prison inmate complete with a warden (Cox) of sorts and two guards; one evil in the form of Dodge Landon (Tom Felton), one good, Rodney (Jamie Harris).

It’s not too long before Caesar befriends a circus orangutan named Maurice (Karin Konoval) who also knows sign and eventually takes over as primate of his own domain after releasing a mini-Kong gorilla named Buck (Richard Ridings) and shows Rocket (Terry Notary) who’s boss. Back at the lab, Koba (Christopher Gordon) has shown just how far ALZ has come along while Franklin has been exposed to it in gaseous form. And just as we’re waiting for, the time finally comes for the excrement to hit the fan as Caesar escapes the facility and brings back the ALZ with him to the facility where the apes begin their revolt for freedom.

Thankfully, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver seem to have strong affection for the series even if their last writing efforts were 14 years ago (“The Relic”). But by keeping the plot more simplified than it may sound, it makes everything move along more smoothly. And if you have any worry about Rupert Wyatt in his first big budget directing gig, I couldn’t think of anyone better suited. Here’s a director who clearly knows how to keep things epic. Wyatt sure knows how to film an action sequence. Using Peter Jackson’s favored director of photography helps as well. You always know what’s going on, and thankfully Twentieth Century Fox stayed true to the 2D format and didn’t convert this nor their other summer franchise reboot (“X-Men: First Class”). Yes, we finally get to see the first man vs. ape battle in all its glory and it’s just as epic as you’d hope from watching the trailers.

Having never read the original Pierre Boulle novel, nor seen any of the other six films made me have to make sure it was a true reboot. It clearly serves as a prequel to the Tim Burton film but seems to me like the revolution of starting from scratch which just makes me very excited to see what kind of sequels to this new film they can come up with. Peppered with plenty of “Easter eggs” makes the proceedings even more fun for the series’ long time fans while setting us up for things to come in future films. And no review would be complete without huge congratulations to Weta Digital for bringing all of the apes to life. Now hopefully “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” does as well at the box office as it deserves to so that we can be treated to even more from a series that may be 48 years old but seems to be just getting warmed up.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Preview: August 2011

Summer holds out for one more month of genre goodness.

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

With summer finally starting to wind down, it’s always around August we have to prep ourselves for the oncoming genre films. It’s now all just a matter of biding our time waiting for the year’s Oscar bait to finally pounce. From comedies to horror to action, there’s always something for everyone before some head back to school while the rest of us just get through the work week. Let’s take a gander and see what the end of summer has cookin’.

August 5th

After six films and a TV series, not even Tim Burton and Marky Mark could properly reboot the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Now Twentieth Century Fox is at it again with a little help from Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital which is hilariously trumpeted in the first teaser trailer for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Now we get to see how a more modern take on Pierre Boulle can take on the rest of the series, now with James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, and Freida Pinto, and Andy Serkis as the new “Caesar” leading the way. With only a prison break film under his belt and working again with Cox, we’ll just have to see if director Rupert Wyatt can lead these apes to a new box office revolution. All signs point to greatness so far and clocking in at well under two hours is an instant plus. Here’s hoping Wyatt and the writer’s of one of my favorite guilty pleasures (“The Relic”) can provide us the summer of “Hail!”

On the lighter side of things, David Dobkin is back to his R-rated stomping grounds with “The Change-Up” to prove that “Wedding Crashers” was no fluke and that hopefully “Fred Claus” was. Along with the writers of the original “Hangover” (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore) we can only hope that they’ve still got some funny in them. From the previews, this has to be better than “The Hangover Part Douche” because that was essentially a hugely unfunny remake of their original success. Maybe they figured they were too good for the sequel and wanted to focus on more original things, even if it’s just a body swap feature. But with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in the leads we should be able to expect some hilarity to ensue even if it may be off the written path.

August 10th

Opening all on its lonesome mid-week comes writer/director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of author Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” Another popular book found on coffee tables across the country gives us our third helping of Emma Stone goodness in less than a month. The movie gods are surely smiling upon us right now. I suppose this is all just to tide us over until she’s gets to be “Spidey’s” girlfriend next summer but in the meantime she’s still got her (mostly) red hair on as future writer “Skeeter” Phelan. Skeeter decides she wants to start interviewing the local titular help and turn a Mississippi town upside down in the process.

August 12th

Speaking of out to prove their last film was no fluke is Ruben Fleisher. Working with a script from first time scribe Michael Diliberti means he isn’t straying too far from “Zombieland” territory as that too was an original sophomore screenplay. Packed to the gills with a hilarious cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson in the leads and a plot involving chest bombs, bank robbery, and hillbillies in gorilla masks, this should be the summer’s funniest out-right comedy since “Bridesmaids”.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. marketing has gone and added a “5” to the title of their latest “Final Destination” installment as it’s clearly obvious “The” wasn’t quite final. People love these movies, even if in an over-the-top sometimes so bad their fantastic sense. And let’s face it, the more gruesome they are the harder we fans cheer. The fourth installment was the goriest one yet and with it having been converted to 3-D became the highest grossing installment yet. Now they’ve hired “Avatar’s” second unit director (Steven Quale) to actually film this one in the third dimension to hopefully make this the craziest entry. With “Champ” Kind himself (David Koechner) along for the dismemberments hopefully writer Eric Heisserer (last year’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” remake and October’s “The Thing”) can show us why laser eye surgery can be bad for your health. If the new kill or be killed angle gives us something new, then “Final Destination 5” just may leave us screaming “whammy!” by the end credits.

Also, the summer just wouldn’t seem complete without at least one 3-D concert event at the local theaters now would it? Thankfully this time it’s not the Jonas Brothers, Justin Beiber or Hannah Montana. The kids of McKinley High School are up on the big screen for “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie.” Filmed live and in 3-D, everyone is accounted for bringing all of our favorite TV showstoppers in your face. While I’m sure Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is rolling over in her coffin, so to speak, the film only plays for two weeks to ensure that every fan will be running out for a ticket to bide their time until season three finally premieres in September.

August 19th

A slew of films invade theaters to vie for our attention as no less than four open this day. To sum it up a little quickly; Robert Rodriguez is back to his worst tendencies (aka family films) by unleashing a fourth “Spy Kids” upon us, subtitled: “All the Time in the World 4D.” This time starring a new family of spies including Jessica Alba and Joel McHale in the parental roles with Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard as the new “Kids.” Of course all of Rodriguez’ friends are back, ranging from original “Kids” Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega, along with Antonio Banderas, and Danny Trejo, to series newcomers Ricky Gervais (voicing the family dog) and Jeremy Piven as the lead bad guy. Meanwhile, the director of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th” remakes continues his own trend this time updating the silly looking and gory seeming “Conan the Barbarian.” We’ll just have to see how the first of the two Arnold Schwarzenegger remakes fares here. Hopefully this one leans more towards Nispel’s “Friday” than “Chainsaw" as it was far more fun.

Speaking of Schwarzenegger remakes and remakes in general, Colin Farrell stars as everyone’s favorite sexy maybe-vampire neighbor Jerry Dandrige in the “Fright Night” do-over courtesy of director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) before Farrell gives the mentioned second Schwarzenegger remake next year with “Total Recall.” Genre vet Marti Noxon is taking Tom Holland’s original to task and moving the setting to Vegas. Thankfully all the original characters are back as it just wouldn’t be “Fright Night” without Peter Vincent, Charley and Jane Brewster, “Evil” Ed Thompson, and Amy Peterson, now all being played by David Tennant, Anton Yelchin and Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Imogen Poots. The international cast gives me high hopes, but even more so is the sustained R-rating. My fingers and stakes are crossed that this stays true to the original as it’s one of the best horror/comedies most people haven’t seen.

Finally, the 19th brings us something for date night with “One Day.” Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess star as a couple of college grads who sleep together on the night of their graduation before the film shows us where each of their characters are on the same day of each year prior. Director Lone Scherfig knows a thing or two about love and heartache as shown in her last film “An Education.” Author David Nicholls adapts his own novel for the big screen and we’ll just have to wait to see if the apparently star-crossed lovers find happiness, or even each other, by the end of the film.

August 26th

Another busy day of genre leads the way here with a comedy, action, and horror. Having already seen the now titled “Our Idiot Brother” during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, you can read that full review now. However, it was one of the funniest films of the year by that point and still stands its ground. Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro (one of my favorite director’s) takes a writing credit and a seat in the producer’s chair for director Troy Nixey’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” update. With the year’s spookiest “trailer”trailer, here’s hoping Mrs. Scientology (Katie Holmes) can hold her own against Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins’ things that go bump in the night alongside Guy Pearce.

The last time director Olivier Megaton collaborated with uber-producer/writer Luc Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen we got the third “Transporter” film. Now they are bringing us “Columbiana;” which just may be what we’ve been needing to whet our appetite until Quentin Tarantino finally gets around to making “Kill Bill Vol. 3.” Zoe Saldana is the new “it” girl for action and after her turns in “Avatar,” “Star Trek,” and “The Losers,” she should be more than primed and ready. Hopefully Megaton, Besson, and Kamen remember that fun is the key word when it comes to these hyper-stylized exercises in excessive violence. Saldana plays the O-Ren character that witnesses the murder of her parents and grows up to be an assassin, naturally. While I was one of the few still entertained by “Transporter 3,” at least they’re trying something different while that franchise seems headed for a new TV show last I heard.

So that about rounds out the summer fun before September brings up whatever the studios have decided to dump upon us. At least this summer seems to be aiming to go out with a bang but there is still a lot of fun headed our way this fall movie season. Until then, I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on which of all these is worth your hard earned cash and most importantly, your time.

Photos courtesy DreamWorks, DreamWorks SKG, FilmDistrict, Lionsgate, Touchstone Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. Pictures