Weekend Film Recommendation: This is Spinal Tap (1984)

5 Aug

If you are a fan of heavy metal, rock music in general, or improvisational comedy, this film’s for you. If you haven’t already seen this movie and you love any of those things, I would actually question your credibility. Even if you don’t like any of those things, it can be equally humorous to see that culture spoofed in what is widely considered of the greatest comedies of all time.

This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary about the fake British heavy metal Spinal Tap (played brilliantly by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) on their comeback tour. Their previous success has been eclipsed by their huge egos and an amateur filmmaker (Rob Reiner) is capturing their downward spiral in a hilarious commentary of the heavy metal culture.

While the movie is funny enough in and of itself, what adds to it is that most of the dialogue was ad-libbed, much like many of other films that followed from Christopher Guest and company (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind). Not only that, but Guest and McKean wrote all the songs for the band and everyone in the band is actually performing on their respective instruments on the soundtrack. Even though everyone in the film made up most of their own dialogue, only Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner received writing credit despite their best efforts to convince the Writer’s Guild Board of Directors otherwise.

Entertainment Weekly ranked this as the #1 Cult Film of All Time and Premiere voted this the #1 Comedy of All Time in 2006. You will find several references to this film throughout pop culture, mostly when talking about music, or anything for that matter, being “cranked to 11”. There are plenty of outstanding things to say about it and I was pretty sure most everyone had seen it, but recently I would mention it and several people said they hadn’t, so that’s why I am including it as a Weekend Film Recommendation.

Here is the trailer:

To add This is Spinal Tap to your Netflix Instant Queue, click here. If you get the DVD version instead, there is a commentary track that features the band doing the commentary and is considered one of the best DVD commentaries around.

 

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Review: Cowboys & Aliens

4 Aug

Cowboys & Aliens

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Director: Jon Favreau

Chris’ Take: I said in my article about the films that were opening last weekend that I thought that Cowboys & Aliens had a 50/50 chance to be successful. I think a lot of that was based on hope that maybe they could find a way to make the premise based a little bit more in reality and that the film would find a way for us to somehow take it seriously. I knew that this was a summer blockbuster and that “seriousness” and “realistic” aren’t terms that really matter during the months of June – August, but with the outlandishness of the premise I actually thought it would be necessary to at least balance it out with some thought or it would end up being just like how the trailer for Battleship makes itself appear.

The film is loosely based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert, wounded and wearing a mysterious metal bracelet. He can’t remember who he is or where he came from, but he stumbles upon a nearby town and finds out that he is a wanted criminal known for train robbery and murder. He is about to be handed over to the U.S. Marshals when out of nowhere the town is attacked by aliens, and many citizens are abducted. Lonergan finds out that the bracelet on his hand is an advanced weapon technology and possibly the only hope of defeating the aliens. He joins the gruff Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) and their posse in tracking down where the aliens took the townsfolk, in hopes of getting them back and ridding Earth of the alien scourge.

The film starts out very strong, introducing the audience to some intriguing characters and building a firm foundation steeped in the familiar feeling of an old school western. Daniel Craig is a great pick for Lonergan and really does attract the attention of the viewer with his tough and tumble mug. Right at the beginning we also get to meet the sheriff of the town (Keith Carradine) and he appears to be another strong character that is capable of maintaining a strong screen chemistry with Craig during and after Lonergan’s initial arrest.

Then, the film took a nose dive into oblivion. Harrison Ford shows up going over the top trying to convince us he is the bad ass Colonel Dolarhyde.

Trust me Mr. Ford, you don't need to do any convincing that you're a badass.

He sounded like he swallowed the voice modulator from the recent Batman films, and he came across as a cartoonish character that didn’t fit well with Craig and Carradine’s reasonable portrayals of serious western characters. It was when Ford showed up that I started getting a pit in my stomach that this film was going to go south.

I was thoroughly enjoying the Western that was unfolding, despite Ford’s attempts to ruin it and I hoped the aliens would just subtley (as much as aliens can) join the scene. While I knew they were coming, and that it would be a difficult task to make the two genres blend together,  I was hoping that the Jon Favreau and crew had found a way to do it. The aliens’ arrival was jarring, as it was supposed to be, but it still was difficult to take in and adjust to the change in style.

From that point on, the film couldn’t find the balance between being a Western and a sci-fi action film, and felt uneven the whole way through. Daniel Craig did his best to keep the audience interested, and Harrison Ford did his best to bring him down. As much as I love Harrison Ford in many of his films, I thought he was a distinctly destructive factor to any chance this movie had to be successful. There was so much talent involved and Craig really tried to pull it off, but it was squandered every time Ford opened his mouth. No one else seemed to have any screen presence to support Craig either, even Sam Rockwell who usually is a magnetic presence in just about any role. Every time Rockwell showed up I realized that I forgot he was in the movie.

Favreau did manage to keep the jovial and summer blockbuster tone that I came to expect from his other action films, but his tone alone wasn’t enough glue to keep the film as a cohesive project. Possibly, this could be due to the fact that apparently 14 writers were involved in this project, even though only 5 were credited in the film. The production process was apparently difficult and it might have been that too many fingers were in this pie.

The pie ended up looking like this.

Like I said, in my humble opinion, it seemed that the only way for this film to work was to somehow actually approach the film in a serious manner, which is difficult to do when the title of the film is Cowboys & Aliens. That is not to say that you can’t have fun with it, it is a summer movie after all, but I think some maturity was needed to bring the two genres of Western and sci-fi together in an enjoyable fashion. In order to do that you need actors that will bring that maturity with them, and (with the exception of Craig) it just wasn’t there. I’m sure there are several teens that will love this movie, but I was hoping for something more. I guess it’s my fault for having hope.

OVERALL: C-

News from the Rumor Mill: Fishburne Joins “Man of Steel”, Green Lantern 2, Francis Ford Coppola’s Avant-Garde New Film

4 Aug

I’m finally able to carve out some time to write about the rumor mill. Most of this stuff isn’t rumor anymore though:

Laurence Fishburne Will Play Perry White in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel

I have to say, I didn’t see this one coming, but Deadline and other sources are reporting that Laurence Fishburne just landed the part of Daily Planet editor, Perry White in Zack Snyder’s production-plagued Superman film, Man of Steel. For obvious reasons, I don’t think a lot of people would’ve predicted this, but I think it is a good change. I think Fishburne will provide a welcome change to the character for the film, not that Perry White usually plays a big role in Superman’s stories, but he will be a strong and recognizable screen presence that I’ll look forward to seeing.

The sad thing is that I can see Snyder making Perry White look like this.

He joins a well rounded cast that already has a relative newcomer, Henry Cavill, playing Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, and Christopher Meloni in a TBD role.

Speaking of Zack Snyder:

Zack Snyder Will Direct  The Last Photograph

Last summer, there was some buzz about Zack Snyder working with Christian Bale on an original project entitled The Last Photograph. All that seems to be known about the plot is that it is a drama set in “war-torn Afghanistan” and involves two journalists travelling there due to something they saw in a photograph. Sean Penn is rumored to be playing the other lead role.

Originally, Niel Arden Oplev, who directed the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was set to take over as director. Snyder was going to act as co-writer and producer, but was going to let someone else take the reins behind the camera. Now, Snyder is apparently taking over because Oplev is stepping away from the project for unknown reasons.

My opinion of Snyder is based on his earlier works such as Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen. I haven’t seen Legend of the Guardians or Sucker Punch (although that one is in my Netflix Queue), but from what I hear they were marking a downward trend for him. From what I’ve seen, I like him as a director and I think it is admirable that he is trying to shift away from adaptations and remakes and work on more original projects as well. However, I am kind of waiting to see Man of Steel, which could be the deciding factor of whether I get excited about this or not, although I’m sure this will be a completely different style than his typical comic book movie.

Green Lantern 2 is Given the Green Light

The rumors about Green Lantern 2 have been bouncing around even before the film came out. It was surprising that as badly as the film tanked at the box office, and with fans and critics, that they were still pressing forward with the sequel. According to multiple sources, including Film School Rejects, Warner Bros is continuing as planned with the franchise and is making some adjustments, namely that they wants a “edgier and darker” approach for Green Lantern 2. They also are bringing in a new director.

I know a lot of people would disagree with me here, but I like this. Green Lantern was far below everyone’s expectations and I think there is a some potential for a good superhero film in there. Just like a Lantern, it is only limited by imagination. The most creative construct they could make Reynolds come up with was a hot wheels track, which was pretty lame. Also, as I mentioned in our review, we were teased with Sinestro at the end, who would make a far more compelling villain than a huge ball of fear, or Hector Hammond (despite Peter Sarsgaard’s best efforts).  Anyway, I think an edgier film is a better approach than the cartoonish look that the first film had, but it will be hard to transition to that, I’m sure. There is no word on who the new director will be, but hopefully they can find someone who is up to the task. It might be hard nailing a decent director, because selling this idea to someone will be difficult since there is so much negative buzz about this project.

That's never been a problem for Michael Bay, but he doesn't really pop to mind when I think "edgy and dark".

They also need to make sure they have a decent writer this time, preferably one who actually has a concept of plot structure.

Francis Ford Coppola Attempts Odd Film Gimmick with Twixt

I have an incredible respect for Francis Ford Coppola. Photos from his films line my apartment, and I rarely become immersed in films like I did with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He truly is a great director, so it is with great hesitance and with all due respect that I say…maybe old age is causing him to go a bit senile.

There may have been hints of it here.

His newest film, Twixt, which he showed footage from at the latest Comic Con is a droll looking horror film starring Val Kilmer as a “has been” horror writer who is looking to revive his career by going on tour. He ends up in a small town with a secret that piques his curiosity. You can watch the trailer here:

It is not the trailer that worries me, probably because I fell asleep halfway through, but how he plans to release the film. He wants to take his new project on a 30 city tour, which will include a live orchestra playing with the film and apparently will take input from the audience and re-cut the film based on their reaction. It is a little hazy how this will work, but he wants the film to be a living project, which sound interesting in theory, but I like the idea that the director has a singular vision and portrays that on the screen. Feedback is good, but this sounds like too much feedback, especially depending on the different audiences that he encounters. I still have faith in him, he did direct some of the greatest films of all time, but this does seem like a bit much. I suppose I shouldn’t judge until I see exactly what he is talking about, but I am just merely reacting to what I see so far.

What are your thoughts about the latest news? Did you like the Twixt trailer?

REVIEW: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

2 Aug

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone

Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

I pulled the double feature on Sunday, thanks to the rain, and I’m glad I did, because Crazy, Stupid, Love provided a nice reprieve after my screening of Cowboys & Aliens.

Crazy, Stupid, Love revolves around Cal (Steve Carell), who is struggling on his own after his wife (Julianne Moore) tells him she wants a divorce. He tries to get back in the dating scene by going to the local bars and clubs, but is far removed from what is “cool” and what women are looking for. A young womanizer named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him and teaches him how to be attractive to women, but Cal still finds himself longing to reunite with his wife.

This summer comedy started out seeming like a watered down take on The 40 Year Old Virgin, except this time it was The Man Who Only Had One Woman and is Now Too Old to Know How to Pick Up Women. It featured Steve Carell acting like a bumbling idiot at bars while his friends tried to give him pointers to no avail. While I like Steve Carell and The 40 Year Old Virgin, I really had no desire to see a remake of that. Thankfully, it quickly changed tone to something deeper and more heartfelt.

Steve Carell anchored the film, but he certainly was strongly supported by Ryan Gosling who was appearing in his first straight up comedy role. Gosling nailed his part, portraying the playboy and I was wondering how they could make a believable character arc for someone that shallow and one-dimensional at the beginning of the film. To me, one of the best scenes in the film was watching the first night he spends with Emma Stone’s character, and watching him be enamoured by her. It was a touching look at the first inklings of love, and they did a superb job of making their romance convincing.

Not only did the adults in the film deliver great performances, but two of the younger actors involved, Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton, showed that they have a promising future as well. Their characters’ “romance” is actually somewhat disturbing, but they certainly played their parts earnestly and complemented the older characters well.

The writer, Dan Fogelman, whose credits before this were limited to lighter fare, brought a delightful mix of comedy and depth, something that I wasn’t expecting in a summer comedy. Directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa, who gave us last year’s I Love You, Phillip Morris, did a great job of using that mixture to their advantage. While some other films might try to hard to force both comedy and drama together in an awkward and spotty way, Ficarra and Requa sewed them seamlessly together.

 I think that this is one of the most well-rounded comedies that I’ve seen in a while. It is no Best Picture winner, but I think there is a good chance that it could make my Top Ten List at the end of the year, not that the competition has been that fierce so far. I highly recommend this film if you’re looking for an alternative to the typical summer fare. It goes down smooth, but takes some time to digest.

OVERALL: A-

Opening This Week (05 Aug 2011)

2 Aug

Cowboys and Aliens rode off with the top spot at the box office, barely beating out The Smurfs. Initial estimates had them tied with $36.2 million apiece, but after the actual numbers came in Cowboys had $36.4 million and The Smurfs had $35.6 million. Captain America: The First Avenger dropped to third place this week with $25.6 million, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 crossed the $1 billion dollar international box office mark by adding $22.5 million in domestic box office. 

I’m increasingly joyous as we approach the end of the summer movie season and the junk food cinema that entails. I am ready for the heavier morsels of Fall, but for now we’ll have to settle for these appetizers:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rated: PG-13

Starring: James Franco, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis from IMDB: An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: I’m really not sure what to make of this. There is a part of me that wants to give the Planet of the Apes franchise another chance after Tim Burton’s 2001 disaster, but I’m not sure that this will come through. So, I will probably hesitantly go see this and keep an open mind. I have low expectations for it, so I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if it fails and will do my best to enjoy this summer feature. I don’t think it will do that well in the box office though because the last one left such a bad taste in the mouth of many viewers who actually knew what the franchise was about, and I don’t think that the younger viewers care enough about the premise to attract a demographic below 21 years old. However, the reviews have been positive so far, 83% on RT, and there has been a lot of laud for Andy Serkis returning to his CGI roots by playing Caesar, the main chimp.

The Change Up

Rated: R

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde

Director: David Dobkin

Synopsis from IMDB: A comedy in which a married father accidentally switches bodies with his best friend, leading to a series of wildly complex difficulties.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: Another film coming out this weekend that I don’t really know if I’m interested in or not. The premise of the change up is a tiresome gimmick in Hollywood, used in multiple movies and kids tv shows. I like both of the lead actors, and I would hope that Jason Bateman’s “switch” would give him a chance to be a little crazier than he is in most of his films. The early buzz from advanced screenings is almost all positive, which does get me a little excited, but we’ll see. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it to this one this weekend, although it is a possibility. If not, I’ll probably add it to my Netflix.

Limited Releases

The Whistleblower

Rated: R

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Synopsis from IMDB: A drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: I definitely like the cast of this film and it looks like a mature and intense thriller. It has 71% on RT and many of the reviews are praising Weisz’s performance in particular. I’ll probably put this on my Netflix queue.

Bellflower

Rated: R

Starring: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Rebekah Brandes

Director: Evan Glodell

Synopsis from IMDB: Two friends spend all their free time building flame-throwers and weapons of mass destruction in hopes that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang “Mother Medusa”.

Trailer:

Chris’ Take: I’m glad that I read the synopsis before I watched the trailer because I would’ve been confused as hell as to what was going on. It looks like two guys and a girl drive a lot and light things on fire. While the film is still a little sketchy looking, the reviews for it have been outstanding. While it only has 12 reviews on RT, all are glowing and so far it has a perfect 100% on RT. I look forward to seeing this film when it becomes available On Demand or on Netflix.

 

 

**Trailer Time** (Special Edition): “Battleship” and “New Year’s Eve”

28 Jul

This is a special edition of Trailer Time. I don’t mean the good kind of special. It’ s the window licking kind….

Battleship

I’ve mentioned this film before, several months ago, and how terrible I thought the idea was. I know I’m not really supposed to lay judgement to the film itself without seeing it, and when I wrote about it before I was merely criticizing the idea. Now that the trailer is out, subtitled edition, I have a really really hard time imagining any way that this could be good. A movie based on a board game….ok Hollywood you could do worse than that, but basing it on something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever….this could quite possibly be the worst idea I’ve seen in a while. Check it out:

This hits home for me for a couple of reasons.

1) I am a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) in the United States Navy. There has not been a decent film portraying that side of the military in a very long time. I keep hoping that we get something that can make us look cool, but it is next to impossible. SWO is not an exciting life and making an accurate and exhilarating film about us is definitely a challenge, but the Aviators who at least have the movies Top Gun to claim, will never let us live this down.

2) We don’t even have Battleships anymore! This film would’ve made sense, and been more exciting if you had just set it in a time when there were Battleships and it was actually cool to be a SWO.

Okay, "cool" and "SWO" should never be used in the same sentence.

You could probably make a film that was much more like a real life version of the game if you set the film back during World War II or something. Then you could’ve brought a historical aspect into it as well and made it somewhat educational.

3) Aliens? …..Really? Aliens? Maybe this movie was written by two kids playing Battleship who had just chugged three Mountain Dews and were like, “You know what would be awesome? Some aliens? Go get a crayon and we can draw up a picture for my Dad, the Hollywood Producer. The geekdom website Topless Robot also had an interesting origin story for this film. You can check it out, here.

New Year’s Eve

Last year’s Valentine’s Day featured a star studded cast and led to many star-lacking reviews (14% on RT). Anyway, so what happens when your film didn’t do as well as expected? Why stuff more stars in the cast to the point where there will be no plot and only cameos of course! That’s what the new film New Year’s Eve seems to be all about. There isn’t much more to talk about except that at this point. I’m sure it will make back some money, since most of the actors in there seem to be fading in Hollywood and probably in need of a quick buck. Anyway, here is the trailer:

New Posters for “The Avengers” and Why The Hulk is Getting a Makeover

28 Jul

Here are the new posters for Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, courtesy of Marvel.com.

As some of you may know, Mark Ruffalo is replacing Edward Norton (who replaced Eric Bana) as The Hulk in next year’s The Avengers. While the ins and outs of how this came to be are still a little hazy, there is one thing that Producer Kevin Feige was clear on…the actual look of The Hulk will change as well. While some die hard fanboys might protest, after reading an article from the L.A. Times this new approach could be more interesting than the recent Hulks we’ve seen. This is what Feige had to say:

“He’ll be about the same size he was in “The Incredible Hulk” [which was about 9 feet tall] or maybe a little bit smaller. His muscles won’t be quite as cut. We figure he’s been the Hulk now for a few years and [his physique is changing]. He’s not as cut or as ripped as he was in “The Incredible Hulk.” The most important thing is that face. As you can already see in that concept painting, it is — more than any Hulk that’s ever been done in live action — a Hulk that let’s you see the actor in there. You will be able to see Ruffalo in there. That was a big revelation for us. It’s just a concept painting, but in that you can see the [influence of Marvel Comics pioneer and original Hulk artist Jack] Kirby, as people have already pointed out, but also, and equally important in this case, Ruffalo’s eyes and his cheek structure. It is him.”

Later in the interview, he also added this:

It was something we actively avoided before. Hulk was Hulk, he’s not any one actor and Hulk should look like Hulk. It was  like Iron Man’s armor, in a way, it wouldn’t change depending on the actor wearing it. But we’ve taken a different approach because Hulk is Banner and, frankly, we came to question our approach. Why are we not doing it this way?  So we did a few designs that put Ruffalo into it, and we immediately saw how much more you feel for the creature. When you keep that connection going between Banner and the Hulk and you have characters around him trying to reach Banner inside — “Bruce, calm down,” and all of that classic Hulk stuff — it means more if you see the same actor throughout. I think before it was something we thought might look silly. We were nervous about getting it good enough [via visual effects] to work. Frankly, it was the same way we were nervous early on about making Steve Rogers skinny for “Captain America.” Is this going to look disturbing? Is this going to look silly? In the end, we got that one right. We’re going to get this one right.”

I agreed that they definitely did an outstanding job with making the skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, so I’m interested to see what they do with Hulk. Although, for a minute when they said that the Hulk won’t be as “cut” it brought some humorous images about a Fat Hulk to mind.

What are your thoughts about this? Should they just leave well enough alone? What do you think about Ruffalo as The Hulk?