Archive | April, 2011

Weekend Film Recommendation: Gangs of New York (2002)

29 Apr

We’ve been doing the Weekend Film Recommendation for a little while now and this is the first time that I’ve included a Martin Scorcese film, which is surprising because he is my favorite director. There are a couple of his films on Netflix Instant (Casino, Mean Streets, The Last Temptation of Christ) and all of them are more than worth checking out. However, I chose to hone in on Gangs of New York.

As with most Scorcese films, you’re going to need three hours or so to sit down and watch, but this is one of those films that doesn’t feel like it actually takes that long. Scorcese sets up engrossing characters and an intriguing plot within the first five to ten minutes of the film, anchored strongly in Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar Nominated performance as Bill the Butcher. Lewis has a way of making what could have been a static character and bringing the viewer to both admire and despise him equally. Everything he does is grand and charismatic, and the cinematography brings that to light, especially in scenes with large crowds.

The subtle social commentary about the balance between tradition and progress, run beautifully throughout the film until it comes to its ultimate culmination in the end. To me, while this may not be Scorcese’s best film, it is one of his most  thoughtful and socially significant ones since Taxi Driver. It is equal parts brutal, bold and beautiful.

There is a downside I will mention in passing: Cameron Diaz. She does her best to sabotage a work of art with her fake Irish accent and cardboard acting, but fortunately she is only in the film a small amount. Also, her performance is counter-balanced by such great actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, and John C. Reilly. 

While I am not belittling Adrien Brody’s performance in The Pianist, I think Daniel Day Lewis was robbed of the Oscar that year, and it was also sad to see another outstanding directorial work by Scorcese get waived by the Academy, prolonging his long overdue recognition.

Trailer:

To add Gangs of New York to your Netflix Instant Queue, click here.

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Opening This Week (Apr 25 – May 1, 2011)

28 Apr

There are definitely some candidates this week threatening to oust Rio from its two week run atop the box office, with another childish idea for a movie (Fast Five) and also an actual kids movie (Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil). Let’s run ’em down:

Fast Five

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jordana Brewster

Director: Justin Lin

Synopsis from IMDB: Dominic and his crew find themselves on the wrong side of the law once again as they try to switch lanes between a ruthless drug lord and a relentless federal agent.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: I have seen every single one of these films and despised them more with each viewing. While the reviews for this film are by far the best out of the franchise, the previous four have taken out of me any desire to see this installment. To add more meatheaded madness to Fast Five, the cast has added Dwayne “Forever Known as The Rock” Johnson. Maybe this will finally be his first overall positively reviewed film ever.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

Rated: PG

Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Patrick Warburton, Glenn Close, David Ogden Stiers 

Director: Mike Disa

Synopsis from IMDB: Red Riding Hood is training in the group of Sister Hoods, when she and the Wolf are called to examine the sudden mysterious disappearance of Hansel and Gretel.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: The first Hoodwinked film was “OK” at best. There were moments of humor, but were offset for me when I discovered it was a musical. So, suffice to say, it was not my cup of tea, but I know that there were a lot of people, mainly kids, that thoroughly enjoyed it. After watching the trailer for the second one, and reading some of the early reviews (18% on RT), it sounds like the sequel will be more of the same, except with less humor.

Prom

Rated: PG

Starring: Thomas McDonnell, Aimee Teegarden, Siu Yin Chang, De’Vaughn Nixon

Director: Joe Nussbaum

Synopsis from IMDB: A group of teenagers get ready for their high school prom.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: This Prom seems about as exciting and creative as the synopsis posted above. I suppose every generation needs multiple movies about the big event to call their own, but I doubt this one will go down in memory as one of the best. It is receiving mixed reviews (54% on RT), which is better than I would expect, but not enough for me to recommend seeing this one.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Brandon Routh, Taye Diggs, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem

Director: Kevin Munroe

Synopsis from IMDB: The adventures of supernatural private eye, Dylan Dog, who seeks out the monsters of the Louisiana bayou in his signature red shirt, black jacket, and blue jeans.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: Brandon Routh proved that he can pull of dead pan humor, as seen in his character in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, so this film certainly has something going for it right there. It looks like it is trying to be the next Shaun of the Dead, which will be very hard to pull off and from the early reviews, it does not look like it does. I’m willing to give it a chance though and hope to find it entertaining at least.

13 Assassins

Rated: R

Starring: Arata Furuta, Hiroki Matsukata, Kazuki Namioka, Koji Yakusho

Director: Takashi Miike

Synopsis from IMDB: A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: The premise seems simple, but the trailer looks to make it much more spectacular. The cinematography especially looks far above average, and it looks like it could be a more sophisticated version of 300. The early reviews have been outstanding (87% on RT), so this looks like it would definitely be worth checking out.

Where Does Hugo Strange Fit in The Dark Knight Rises?

26 Apr
Late last year we kicked off a flurry of The Dark Knight Rises rumors with speculation on who the villain would be for Nolan’s third installment.  We now know for sure that both Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) will both be involved in the plot, but at the time the popular rumor was that Hugo Strange might make an appearance.  These rumors have since fallen off with the announcement of Bane and Catwoman, as well as additional rumors of Talia Al Ghul, The League of Shadows, and Alberto Falcone.  However, the Hugo Strange rumors ramped back up this past week thanks to My Entertainment World.

An unconfirmed plot synopsis for the next Batman film hit the internet including a plot line for Hugo Strange.  In this synopsis, Dr. Hugo Strange, a villainous psychiatrist, concocts a a plan to destroy Batman and ultimately replace him.  Though Strange will appear as a villain with similar motivations in the upcoming video game Batman: Arkham City, this plot line seems to fit nicely into Nolan’s universe and gives the film a more intellectually formidable villain opposite Batman.  It could also explain Bane’s presence in Gotham as he was created by Hugo in the comics. 

This, however, can never be explained

I’m still not convinced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard’s characters are as advertised and I think it’s possible Nolan and Co. could be intentionally leading us astray with some of these announcements and/or rumors.  I’d personally like to see Gordon-Levitt play a villain like Strange as opposed to an “ambitious cop”, as Strange appears to be a character with much more depth and importance.  However, we’ve seen villain over-kill in superhero films before so the inclusion of a third opposition to The Dark Knight must be handled with care.

What do you think, is everything “as advertised” with The Dark Knight Rises or are we purposefully being fed false rumors and announcements?  Would you like to see Hugo Strange in this next Batman film given what we already know about Bane and Catwoman?  The Dark Knight Rises is slated for release July 20, 2012.

Is Ghostface Dead for Good?

26 Apr

It is no secret my love for horror films and the Scream franchise in particular.  Going to the midnight showing of Scream 4 and watching Ghostface terrorize a new group of teens, as well as some franchise favorites, may be my movie-going experience of 2011.  That experience may take on a bit more nostalgic importance now that Scream 4 appears to be the last installment of the current franchise.

As far as modern horror films, particularly as far as sequels and slashers go, Scream 4 was a cut above the rest.  Arguably the best Scream film since the original (though Rotten Tomatoes suggests Scream 2 is superior), Scream 4 revitalized the self-aware and all but replaced the panned Scream 3.  However, money talks in Hollywood and Scream 4‘s poor box office showing thus far has left the future of Scream 5 about as promising as one of Ghostface’s victims.  Rumor is that Dimension plans on ending the Scream franchise here, for the moment.

Well I guess that answers that one.

 For a franchise that reveled in being “meta” and depending on its irony to keep the viewer engaged, it is being dealt a bit of irony itself.  The disappointing revenue from this latest Scream film support the trend that horror remakes have a much higher rate of success than franchise sequels, suggesting that if we do see Ghostface again on-screen it will be in the form of a remake.  Isn’t this exactly what Scream 4 was trying to avoid by mocking the current craze?

If there is, in fact, no Scream 5 in the future, let’s hope that the Weinsteins and Dimension let the franchise rest without a reboot.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Creepshow (1982)

22 Apr
Quality horror anthologies are a rarity, so when they do come along they often resonate with the audience create a cult-like following.  Some of the more well known anthology films include: Black Sabbath (1963), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Campfire Tales (1997), and most recently Trick ‘r Treat (2007).  However, perhaps the gold standard for this subgenre is Creepshow (1982).

However, this image clearly suggests it's "Tales from the Hood"

Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, the behind the camera credentials of Creepshow speaks for itself.  However, there are a few recognizable names on-screen as well.  Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, and Stephen King (yes, same one) all star in five different tales of terror inspired by the E.C. Comics of the ’50s. 

If anyone reading this has seen any of the previously mentioned anthologies they would know that these films are as much about their campiness as they are scares.  Creepshow is no different, but the attention to detail and the quality of work by those on and off screen seperate it from lesser attempts.  Romero’s touch captures the comic book style and the script, though droll as King’s work can sometimes be, fits the tone.

Initially the film may have delivered some scares alongside the camp, but nearly thirty years of aged effects have tamed the film’s shock value to some degree.  Regardless, Creepshow still holds up as a high quality, fun horror anthology that should be seen by any fan of the genre.

New to Blu-Ray/DVD this week (April 19, 2011)

19 Apr

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (April 15, 2011)

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

Director: David Yates

Synopsis from IMDB: As Harry races against time and evil to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world: the Deathly Hallows.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 to home video will probably be the ramp up to the marketing campaign for the release of …Part 2 to release this summer.  The first installment of this two part chapter was a well made, engaging film for franchise die-hards and casual fans alike.  Those who want to watch or re-watch part 1 before heading to theaters for the finale of the Harry Potter saga will make up most of this DVD/Blu-Ray’s buyers, but is likely to do pretty well.  For those of you die-hard fans who can wait, however, you may be better served waiting for the 2nd part to release on Blu-Ray, as you’ll probably be able to get a collector’s set with both films.  You can read our Take Two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 by clicking here.

Add Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 to your Netflix Queue.

The King’s Speech

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter 

Director: Tom Hooper

Synopsis from IMDB: The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  The King’s Speech was one of the best films of 2010 as indicated by its multiple Academy Award nominations and wins.  Everything about this film is noteworthy when discussing cinematic achievement, and it is extremely entertaining to boot.  There’s not much else needed to say about this film except that it is a must watch.  Though there isn’t much else needed to say, we still managed to think of a few things in our Take Two of The King’s Speech.

Add The King’s Speech to your Netflix Queue.

Somewhere

Rated: R

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning and Chris Pontius 

Director: Sofia Coppola

Synopsis from IMDB: A hard-living Hollywood actor re-examines his life after his 11-year-old daughter surprises him with a visit.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  I didn’t think I had heard of this film until I re-watched the trailer and was reminiscent of seeing it once.  Though the trailer doesn’t tell you much, except that the film is written and directed by Sophia Coppola, it does have a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the description of the film does minimally peak my interest.  This film will probably make its way to the lower half of my Netflix queue.  However, being written and directed by Sophia Coppola and featuring a song by The Strokes in the trailer will probably grab the attention of some viewers more than it did my own.

Add Somewhere to your Netflix Queue.

Rabbit Hole

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest 

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Synopsis from IMDB: Life for a happy couple is turned upside down after their young son dies in an accident. Based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  I feel obligated to mention when a film is nominated for an Academy Award because it is a prestigious honor and does provide the film (and my take) credibility.  I am starting to feel like a broken record though as every week at least one Oscar nominated film is released to home video.  This week seems like every film, including Rabbit Hole, as Nicole Kidman was nominated for best actress.  I know Rabbit Hole will be a great film but I often have a hard time putting these types of films high on my Netflix queue simply due to their often melancholy themes and tone. 

Add Rabbit Hole to your Netflix Queue.

Gulliver’s Travels

Rated: PG

Starring: Jack Black, Emily Blunt and Jason Segel

Director: Rob Letterman

Synopsis from IMDB: Travel writer Lemuel Gulliver takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Liliput, where he towers over its tiny citizens.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  I have not had the (dis)pleasure of seeing Gulliver’s Travels so I’m going to try hard not to pass too much judgment, though every inclination tells me this movie is terrible.  Jack Black once was able to carry a movie as a lead (that one time being School of Rock), now I can only handle him in supporting roles or animated features.  Judging by the trailer it seems they took a lot of creative liberties with Jonathan Swift’s book as well, which typically isn’t a good thing.

Add Gulliver’s Travels to your Netflix Queue.

The Way Back

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell

Director: Peter Weir

Synopsis from IMDB: Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take: Though I have seen Harry Potter and The King’s Speech, of all the films releasing this week, The Way Back interests me most.  Peter Weir is a very good director, as indicated by the abridged filmography in the trailer, and Ed Harris has a very strong screen presence and rarely chooses bad roles.  Colin Farrell even seems to be moving past his Miami Vice days and is choosing his roles more wisely (though back to back remakes of Fright Night and Total Recall may prove otherwise).  Despite its limited release in theaters this should prove to be worthy of at least a rental.

Add The Way Back to your Netflix Queue.

New to Blu-Ray/DVD last week (April 12, 2011)

19 Apr

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (April 8, 2011)

Rated: PG

Starring: Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley

Director: Michael Apted

Synopsis from IMDB: Lucy and Edmund Pevensie return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace where they meet up with Prince Caspian for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Along the way they encounter dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors before reaching the edge of the world.

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  I thoroughly enjoyed the first Chronicles of Narnia film, mostly because it was a book I was forced to read during childhood and was interested to see C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece on-screen.  However, my distaste for reading prevented me from completing the other two novels and therefore my interest in the films has deteriorated.  If you were a fan of the first two films you’ll probably want to complete the trilogy, though this film was less critically praised than the other two.  For those of you new to the franchise, check out the first two then make your decision from there.

On a related note, Liam Neeson is the most bad*ss man alive

Add Voyage of the Dawn Treader to your Netflix Queue.

Country Strong

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow and Leighton Meester

Director: Shana Feste

Synopsis from IMDB: A drama centered on a rising country-music songwriter (Hedlund) who sparks with a fallen star (Paltrow). Together, they mount his ascent and her comeback, which leads to romantic complications involving her husband/manager (McGraw) and a beauty queen-turned-singer (Meester).

Trailer:

Pac’s Take:  What a terrible segue from Liam Neeson and all his glory.  Despite there only being two major releases this week, Country Strong still manages to be the lesser of the two.  It is a wonder why Little Fockers didn’t get pushed back to compete with this instead of the laundry list of last week’s releases.  The novelty of Gwyneth Paltrow singing country has worn off since the film’s theatrical release and her appearance(s) on Glee.  Throw in Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester and I’ll be skipping this one for sure.

Add Country Strong to your Netflix Queue (At your own risk).