RoboCop (2014)


RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

(2014) Science Fiction (MGM/Columbia) Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Aimee Garcia, Douglas Urbanski, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow, K.C. Collins, Daniel Kash, Zach Grenier, Maura Grierson. Directed by Jose Padilha

Military drones have become over the past 12 months something of a cause célèbre, although drones have been in use for years. In the near future, those drones will be even more sophisticated – human control may well be entirely unnecessary. However most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of life and death being doled out by machines.

Pat Novak (Jackson) begs to differ. The host of the right-wing news magazine show The Novak Element thinks that having robots in law enforcement would be a very good thing. However, existing laws in the United States prevent drones and robots being used in a military or law enforcement fashion on U.S. soil. Novak is campaigning to change all that.

Raymond Sellars (Keaton) would like to see him succeed. As the CEO of OmniCorp, the multinational corporation that supplies robotic devices to the military and to international law enforcement, he’s chomping at the bit to get at the virgin U.S. market but is frustrated that public opinion is against him. However, he knows that given the right stimulation, public opinion can change. What the machine needs is a human element.

Cue Alex Murphy (Kinnaman). An honest cop on the Detroit Police Department, he is chasing a  criminal gang leader named Vallon (Garrow) whose investigation by other cops on the force has stalled. An inadvertent miscue by a lowlife gun dealer gives him and his partner Jack Lewis (Williams) an opportunity to connect Vallon to actual crimes and put him away. Unfortunately, someone tips off Vallon and Lewis gets shot for their troubles.

Realizing that Murphy is not going to give up until he gets an arrest, Vallon arranges for Murphy’s car to be wired with an explosive device. It goes off, critically injuring the cop in full view of his wife Clara (Cornish) and son David (Ruttan).

This gives Sellars the perfect opportunity. Brilliant cyberneticist Dennett Norton (Oldman) can rebuild Alex; he has the technology. He can give Murphy all the advantages of being a robot while still retaining his human control. However, there are glitches. A machine doesn’t hesitate or consider human consequences; it just acts. Murphy is held back by having a conscience and emotions. Norton reluctantly must delete these items from the programming.

In his RoboCop role, Murphy scarcely even responds to his family who quickly realize that something is wrong. Norton isn’t happy about the situation either – the whole point was to retain both the human and machine and what he has created is essentially an automaton with some organic material. Nonetheless RoboCop is a huge success and Sellars is getting exactly what he wants – a repeal of the laws that keep his company from profiting in America. However, when Murphy’s human side begins to reassert itself, RoboCop becomes expendable in a hurry.

The 1987 Paul Verhoeven-directed feature was more of an over-the-top satire of consumerism as well as social commentary on urban decay and the ultimate soullessness of our society. It was most definitely a product of its time. Brazilian director Padilha (making his English language debut) is far more subtle but no less satirical, but with a little bit more thought beneath the satire – what constitutes humanity and at what point do we cease being human? He also asks a question that is very much one that should be getting asked more often – is trading freedom for security a wise idea?

I appreciate undertones of that nature, and give the movie points for it. However, movies of an action/sci-fi bent also need to be entertaining and for the most part, this one is. Kinnaman has a facial resemblance to Peter Weller (who originated the role) but in the Alex Murphy scenes shows a little more warmth than Weller radiated. He does surprisingly well as RoboCop and gets the right movement that you’d expect from a robot.

Michael Keaton is one of those actors that you don’t realize you miss until he shows up for an infrequent role. He is perfect for Sellars, making him almost likable despite his black heart. Only near the end of the movie do we see Sellars’ true colors but by then Keaton’s sucked us in. Oldman also manages to bring the conflicted nature of Norton to the fore and show both sides of the coin equally. Cornish is, I think, supposed to act as the conscience for the movie but doesn’t quite jell there. Jackie Earle Haley is awesome as OmniCorp’s prejudiced chief of security.

While the CGI is good (especially a squirm-inducing scene in which we see Murphy without the RoboCop armor) and the action decent, the story has a fractured element to it and seems to be travelling in all sorts of directions. Reportedly, the studio was extremely involved in the film and frustrated Padilha’s creative control to the extent that he made some unwise comments which he later recanted. However, the movie does show all the earmarks of studio interference which is never a good thing. Too many RoboCooks spoil the RoboBroth.

Despite the critical bashing it’s received, the movie is decent enough entertainment. If you go in expecting the same humor as the original, you’re not going to like this much. In fact, this version could have used a little more humor which it mostly gets from the Novak show segments that open the movie and are shown intermittently throughout. I would have been interested to see what Padilha’s vision for the film would have turned out to be although I understand that the movie’s budget became an issue in that regard. I suspect that he could have turned this into a better film than it turned out to be – although what he did produce is pretty good in and of itself.

REASONS TO GO: Pretty decent entertainment value. Kinnaman does a fine job as does Oldman and Keaton.

REASONS TO STAY: Muddled and unfocused, a sure sign of studio interference.  

FAMILY VALUES:  While not as violent as the 1987 original, there are plenty of bullets flying and some mayhem. There’s also a few choice bad words here and there as well as a disturbing image of the remains of Alex Murphy after the bomb blast.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman have both been involved in the Batman franchise; Keaton as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s two films, Oldman as Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Norton’s trilogy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Total Recall

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Hysteria

New Releases for the Week of February 14, 2014


RoboCop

ROBOCOP

(Columbia/MGM) Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle. Directed by Jose Padilha

In the near future, crime is out of control and military contractors have developed robotic law enforcement machines to keep the peace but the American public is wary to have them patrolling their streets. Enter RoboCop, a melding between human police officer and unstoppable machine. However, the global corporate conglomerate that created him may have a darker agenda in mind when they upgraded officer Alex Murphy.

See the trailer, a promo and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material)

About Last Night

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant. Two friends start dating a pair of roommates. As one relationship struggles, the other seems to blossom and then vice versa. A remake of an ’80s romantic comedy with a decidedly urban spin.

See the trailer, a featurette and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)

Date and Switch

(Lionsgate) Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Nicholas Braun, Dakota Johnson. A pair of close friends in their senior year of high school make a pact; the experienced one determines to get his friend laid before senior prom. However, things take a turn for the different when the virgin comes out of the closet and explains that he’s gay.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including crude dialogue, pervasive language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens)

Endless Love

(Universal) Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Robert Patrick, Bruce Greenwood. A young man working his way to a better life meets a beautiful young girl from a privileged background at the country club resort where he works. The two young people fall in love, which doesn’t sit well with the rich dad who is ruthless and will do anything to keep the young lovers apart – including making them watch the 1981 Brooke Shields version of the movie.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying)

Gunday

(Yash Raj) Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan Khan. Two young orphaned refugee boys, on their own in the mean streets of Calcutta, rise through the ranks of that lawless town in the 1970s to become folk heroes – legendary crime figures who were both feared and beloved.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Winter’s Tale

(Warner Brothers) Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe. Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, the movie depicts a love story that spans time from turn of the 20th century New York City to the modern Big Apple as an apparently ageless man chases his love through time pursued by the personification of evil

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some sensuality)

Good Neighbors


Jay Baruchel is lost in the kitchen.

Jay Baruchel is lost in the kitchen.

(2010) Psychological Thriller (Magnolia) Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, Emily Hampshire, Xavier Dolan, Gary Farmer, Kaniehtiio Horn, Pat Kiley, Michelle Lanctot, Jacob Tierney, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Clara Furey, Diane D’Aquila, Sean Lu, Kevin Tierney, Nathalie Girard. Directed by Jacob Tierney

We like to think we know our neighbors. We hang out with them, invite them into our homes, share confidences with them, sometimes we even have their backs and expect that they have ours. But how well do we really know them?

Louise (Hampshire) lives in an apartment building in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grace district. She works at a Chinese restaurant as a waitress. When one of her co-workers disappears under suspicious circumstances, she suspects it’s the work of a serial rapist and murderer who has been terrorizing the district. She begins to follow the case in the newspaper obsessively.

She’s kind of a cold fish who lives with her cats and generally eschews human contact in favor of feline contact. One of the few exceptions is Spencer (Speedman), a paraplegic who lives on the ground floor of the building. He lost the use of his legs in an automobile accident that claimed the life of his wife. Like Louise, he’s a bit obsessed with the same serial killer. He can be randomly cruel and disarming literally in the same sentence.

Into this mix comes Victor (Baruchel), a somewhat socially awkward school teacher just returned to Montreal after spending time in China. He develops an instant crush on Louise and lobbies hard to develop a friendship with Spencer.  Victor’s attempts at romance begin to take a creepy turn – he refers to Louise as his fiancée even though the two of them haven’t even been on a date yet.

When an abusive alcoholic woman in the building turns up dead, signs point to the work of the serial killer and it becomes apparent that he may well be among them in their own building. Is there safety in your own home when there is already a killer living there?

Canadian director Tierney has a fine hand with suspense and knows how to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. This isn’t a generic thriller in which the identity of the killer is revealed at the end of the film – in fact, this isn’t a whodunit in the sense that you find out surprisingly early who done it.  It becomes more of a cat and mouse thriller, although at times you’re not sure who the cat is and who is the mouse.

As far as I can make out, there is a highly Freudian aspect to the film; Louise, Spencer and Victor represent the superego, the id and the ego which I think is a terribly innovative idea, although I wish they’d have been fleshed out just a teeny bit more. The characters are a bit on the one-dimensional side, although Baruchel, Speedman and Hampshire all do pretty well with what they’re given.

Some of the violence and sex here is pretty graphic and disturbing in places, so those who are susceptible to such things might think twice before streaming, renting or buying this bad boy. And while I understand the motivation to keep things more or less in the apartment building, you have this incredibly beautiful city (Montreal) which is even more beautiful in many ways in the dead of winter and choose not to use it which completely mystifies me. Cinematographer Guy Dufaux shows a really good eye in some of his shots but  sadly doesn’t get to exercise it as much as I would have liked.

However despite some of the film’s flaws, the engineering of it is so masterful and the suspense layered on so perfectly that I can overlook some things that don’t work as well. Overall this is a taut, well-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and a nice little hidden gem worth seeking out on Netflix, Blockbuster or whatever source of streaming you choose to patronize.

WHY RENT THIS: Skews the genre somewhat. Nicely suspenseful despite telegraphing identity of killer too early

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Unnecessarily claustrophobic. Character development is a little bit one-dimensional.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly intense violence and just as intense sexuality as well as some fairly explicit nudity not to mention a plethora of cursing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The working title was Notre Dame de Grace named for the district in Montreal where the action takes place and where the movie was filmed.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7,072 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pacific Heights

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Redemption Road

Goon


Rock 'em sock 'em robots.

Rock ‘em sock ‘em robots.

(2011) Sports Comedy (Magnet) Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill, Eugene Levy, Marc-Andre Grondin, Kim Coates, Nicholas Campbell, Richard Clarkin, Jonathan Cherry, Ricky Mabe, George Tchortov, Karl Graboshas, Larry Woo, Stephen Sim, Ellen David, David Paetkau, Dave Wheeler, Sarah Scheffer. Directed by Michael Dowse

To those who know me, it’s no secret that ice hockey is my favorite sport. The grace, the speed, the skill appeals to me. Perhaps it is my half-Canadian heritage that instills the love of this great sport into my genetic make-up. Hockey, after all, is part of the Canadian DNA.

The flip side of the sport is the fighting. Goons, the vernacular for enforcers who are there to act as nuclear deterrents essentially, are the brawn of the sport. They rarely get the ink of the goal scorers but are as respected if not more so in the locker room of those teams they toil for and let’s face it, many fans love them more than the skill players.

Doug Klatt (Scott) is a bouncer in a New England bar whose father (Levy), a doctor, is disappointed in his son’s career direction and is not shy about expressing that disappointment. Doug’s best friend, Pat (Baruchel) is a hockey nut. While Doug and Pat are at a minor league game, Doug gives a beat down to a player who ventures into the stands. This catches the notice of an opposing coach who gives Doug a try-out even though Doug can’t skate.

Doug learns to skate and becomes an enforcer. After a few weeks he becomes a star goon in the league and is eventually promoted to Halifax to protect Xavier LaFlamme (Grondin), once a highly coveted prospect in the NHL whose game has deteriorated due to drug use, ego and attitude. Well, there’s that but also LaFlamme has also lost his nerve after being badly injured in a hit by Ross “the Boss” Rhea (Schreiber). Now the phenom avoids contact at nearly any cost. That generally doesn’t lead to a long career in the NHL.

Doug is a sweet guy at heart who has never really felt like he belonged to anything in his life, but now has found a purpose. He’s even attracted a girl, Eva (Pill) who is a self-described slut willing to give up her promiscuity for Doug. Things are going well for Doug  despite his father’s continued disapproval but you know that a confrontation with Rhea – who happens to be Doug’s idol – is inevitable.

Baruchel co-wrote this with Evan Goldberg, both of whom also co-wrote Superbad. This script really isn’t up to that level, being a bit more of a niche project, but it fills that niche admirably. Much of this is due to the performances of Schreiber and Scott. Schreiber plays an enforcer reaching the end of his career with a certain amount of cynicism, knowing that he has been exploited. Schreiber gives the character not only the toughness that such a character would naturally own but also with the intelligence and thoughtfulness that is a Schreiber trademark.

Scott’s character isn’t terribly bright and is socially awkward. He’s kind of an anti-Stiffler, not very confident with women and not terribly sharp. He tends to punch first and ask questions later. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t basically a nice guy. Although there’s an enormous amount of gay slurs in the movie (reflecting a homophobic sensibility in sports in general not just hockey) Doug stands up for his gay brother Ira (Paetkau) as much as any good brother would.

This is the best hockey movie since Miracle and maybe since Slap Shot which it is more akin to and could be said to be the spiritual godfather to the film, although it is actually based on the memoirs of real-life minor hockey league goon Doug Smith. I do have issues with movies that glorify the violence in hockey – maybe I’m in the minority (and I don’t think I am) but I don’t love hockey for the fights but for the speed and grace of the game, the skills of the players and that the game hasn’t been overwhelmed by egos in the same way other major sports have.

Still, I was entertained by the movie and even though I will admit a bias towards the sport, I believe the movie will be entertaining even for those who aren’t particular fans of the game. I’m not sure it will make a lot of new fans of the sport but you never know. Game on.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best hockey movies in recent years. Scott and Schreiber deliver strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Goon-like players are becoming an endangered breed in modern hockey.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of swearing, plenty of hockey violence, some fairly strong sexual content and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former NHL players Mike Ricci and Georges Laraque make cameo appearances in the film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: In Power Play Mode the viewer can access features and commentary enhancing what’s onscreen when the Power Play icon is onscreen. There’s also an HDNet featurette, a bloopers reel and a sit-down interview with Scott and Baruchel. There’s also some video hockey cards featuring characters from the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.5M on an unknown production budget; very likely made a tidy profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Slap Shot

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Back to the Future

New Releases for the Week of June 14, 2013


Man of Steel

MAN OF STEEL

(Warner Brothers) Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Christopher Meloni. Directed by Zack Snyder

An alien from the planet Krypton is sent to Earth as a baby to escape that planet’s destruction and is raised as their own by a childless farming couple. The yellow sun of our world gives him super strength and speed, the ability to fly, heat vision and other remarkable powers. However, he can’t escape his past and another survivor from Krypton comes looking for this super man to take vengeance on his father. The buzz on this one has been super hot and this could well wind up being the biggest hit of the summer

See the trailer, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language)

Before Midnight

(Sony Classics) Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Ariane Labed. What started in Before Sunrise and continued in Before Sunset finds the couple of Celine and Jesse more than two decades after meeting on that Vienna-bound train now located in Greece. They’re in their early 40s and dealing with encroaching middle age but deep below the worries and cares of life is that wonderful life-infused couple of the first film. Can they reclaim that energy?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content/nudity and language) 

Fukrey

(Eros) Pulkit Samrat, Manjot Singh, Ali Fazal, Varun Sharma. Four college students, staring an unremarkable life in the face, hit upon the scheme of converting one of their member’s dreams into lottery numbers. Confident that they’ll strike it reach, they seek a bankroller but when they find out who’s controlling the purse strings, their lives take a completely different turn.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Kon-Tiki

(Weinstein) Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgård. Legendary Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl seeks to prove his theory that ancient native of South America settled in Polynesia. In 1947 he sets out with his wife on a balsa wood raft called Kon-Tiki to show that it could be done.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for a disturbing violent sequence) 

This is the End

(Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill. Party at James Franco’s house! As a group of his Hollywood buddies gather at the Oscar-nominated star’s mansion, they are trapped by strange and dangerous events. Beset by suspicion and cabin fever, they are eventually forced to venture out into the apocalyptic landscape. Will they find redemption, or a horrible but funny death?

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opened on Wednesday)

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence) 

She’s Out of My League


She's Out of My League

Beauty and the Geek.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (DreamWorks) Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, T.J. Miller, Nate Torrence, Krysten Ritter, Lindsay Sloane, Mike Vogel, Kyle Bornheimer, Jessica St. Clair, Debra Jo Rupp, Adam LaFevre, Kim Shaw. Directed by Jim Field Smith

There are some couples who are perfectly suited for one another. Everything just seems to mesh. You just take one look at them and you know they were meant to be together. Then there are other couples that you wonder what the hell they’re doing together at all.

Kirk (Baruchel) works for the TSA at the Pittsburgh airport. An awkward, gangly sort but a sweet guy at his core, he has just gotten over a breakup with Marnie (Sloane), a bitchy sort who inexplicably has charmed Kirk’s parents and is essentially part of the family now, including her new boyfriend. They’re getting ready to take a family trip to Branson, Missouri – complete with matching t-shirts. Henpecked Kirk is the object of scorn even in his own family.

Then who should walk through his security check station but Molly (Eve), a super-hot party planner who was once a lawyer. When she forgets her iPhone, Kirk offers to return it to her when she returns to Pittsburgh. When he does, the two hit it off and she invites him to one of her parties. Before long, his sweet nature wins her over, much to the chagrin of his friends as well as hers.

His friends are basically slackers with jobs including Stainer (Miller), Jack (Vogel) and Devon (Torrence). They opine that Kirk is basically a five – at best – and Molly is a ten – a hard ten. And, as we all know, you can never move more than two places in either direction. This whole relationship is an aberration, against the laws of nature.

Naturally Kirk’s own insecurities begin to take root. He’s painfully aware of how much better looking Molly is than he is and is convinced that Molly is pity-dating him. What’s surprising is that Molly has insecurities of her own and between the two of them what could be a good thing could rapidly become a nightmare.

As the recent crop of romantic comedies go, this is better written than most. However, there are places where you feel like Smith, a member of the British sketch troupe The Dutch Elm Conservatoire and making his feature film directing debut here, is going for a Judd Apatow-like feel to the film but without the bite Apatow brings to his projects. Unfortunately, the script is too sweet at its heart to really do that effectively.

The source of the sweetness is primarily Baruchel. He has a nasal, somewhat pedantic delivery of lines that I’ve found annoying in other movies but it works here. His character is nerdy but sweet-natured at the core, which is the kind of role he seems to do best in having played it in several other movies.

Alice Eve is suitably gorgeous here, and she plays her role with a little more smarts than you might think it called for. Other movies would have just asked for interchangeable cleavage which is how some reviewers seemed to think this one was. Nah ah, ink stain breath; this is a part that required depth and Eve provided it. End of story.

There are elements of romantic comedy 101 here, however plus the Apatow wannabe syndrome. Those serve to torpedo the better elements of the movie which, in places, are charming and sweet. Some of the humor – such as a premature ejaculation bit and a very strange bit on male genital grooming – almost seemed like they came out of other movies.

The relationship between Kirk and Molly is what works best about the movie. These are two seemingly disparate people who get together for all the right reasons – something that is less common in reality than you might think. When the movie concentrates on that relationship, it is at its best. When the movie delves into comic reasons to break them apart, well, not so good.

WHY RENT THIS: Alice Eve is actually pretty good and totally hot. The movie is sweet in places.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Baruchel’s sad sack character is too much like other characters he’s played. Plot seems too much like an Apatow movie, only without Judd Apatow.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of bad language and some sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During a scene when Kirk’s friends are teasing him about a premature ejaculation, Jack’s hamburger is seen to have French Fries in the bun. This is how they are served at Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh institution. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a faux talk show starring Torrence as a date advice host.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $48.8M on a $20M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Tooth Fairy

Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

You know it's love when you're alone in a crowded room.

(Screen Gems) Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, Jay Baruchel, Rafi Gavron, Aaron Yoo, Alexis Dzieno, Jonathan B. Wright, Zachary Booth. Directed by Nick Sollett

They say that there is somebody out there for everyone. I suppose that’s also true of insufferable, sensitive hipsters with indie rock leanings.

Nick (Cera) has broken up with his girlfriend Tris (Dzieno); well, it’s more like she broke up with him and while his head realizes it, his heart doesn’t. He leaves her pathetic messages on her answering machines and has made a series of “breakup” mix tapes which are numbering in the double figures at this point.

Tris, like Nick, is a high school senior and she doesn’t have time for mopey losers like him. She already has a new boyfriend and is more concerned with having fun her senior year. She wants to go out, and her besties Caroline (Graynor) and Norah (Dennings) must go with her. Caroline, a party girl of epic proportions is fine with that but Norah, who is less outgoing, is just along for the ride. As Tris throws another mix CD from Nick into the trash, Norah retrieves it, convinced that Nick (who she’s never met) is her musical soul mate.

Nick is certainly musical; he is the only straight member of a New York indie rock band called the Jerk Offs along with butch gays Dev (Gavron) and Thom (Yoo). Apparently their only purpose in life is to jumpstart Nick’s romantic life, since they are sick and tired of Nick moping around. So when Norah kisses Nick in order to make an ex-boyfriend (Baruchel as the loathsome Tal) jealous, they are only too happy to nurture a budding romance, even though neither Nick nor Nora have any romantic intentions in the slightest.

They both have a good deal of baggage; Nick with his lovesickness, Norah with being the daughter of a music industry legend which, while it gets her into clubs without standing in line, often leaves her wondering if the friends in her life are only in it for the perks she brings to the table. She might not be wrong on that score.

As it turns out, Nick’s favorite band (and Norah’s too) Where’s Fluffy are playing a surprise mystery show somewhere in Manhattan and a number of clues have been left as to its location in toilets and clubs around town (I often get my information in toilet stalls, don’t you?) and most of the Scooby gang are eager to chase down this Epic band of Awesomeness.

Unfortunately, Caroline gets soooooooooooooo wasted that she needs to go home and it is up to the gay bandmates to get her there, but she flees when she figures out she’s in a strange van and so the rest of the movie is spent finding Caroline and, in the case of Nick and Norah, romance as well.

Let’s get a couple of things straight; I have no problem with indie rockers, twee hipsters or romantic comedies in general. I don’t even have any problems with high school kids. I do have issues with movies that purport to talk down to me and tell me that because I don’t like Vampire Weekend I’m some sort of clueless idiot. I also don’t like movies that paint themselves in hip colors but are really disguising the fact that they’re a standard Hollywood romantic comedy, even if they started out life as a novel.

The soundtrack for the movie is awesome, as a matter of fact; whoever picked out the music (and the highly cool Bishop Allen makes a concert appearance in the movie) can pick out my Infinite Playlist anytime they want. However, I have an issue with the movie’s internal logic. Here, the kids exist in a kind of fairyland New York City where there’s plenty of street parking, nothing bad ever happens to young women in cocktail dresses left deserted at the side of the East River in the early hours of the morning. In this world, suburban New Jersey kids are apparently able to spend the entire night out in the Big Apple without their parents freaking out and calling the National Guard. In this fairyland New York City, no parents appear other than Norah’s dad and even he is merely a picture on the wall. His presence exists to get Norah into nightclubs.

Cera is an actor who has plenty of appeal; I can see it. What he doesn’t appear to have is the ability to vary his performance much. He’s the same guy in Superbad and Juno - hell, he plays the same guy in Paper Heart when he’s purportedly playing himself. We get it – he’s sensitive, kind and far cooler than anyone else in the room. He just doesn’t play a character I connect with.

Dennings has some real chemistry with Cera and that is what makes the movie more than just a soundtrack with pictures. She’s funny, she is less too-hip than the other characters in the movie and she alone of all the people who get more than a few moments of screen time is the one I’d want to hang out with.

I will give the filmmakers credit for utilizing their location to its best. This isn’t the highbrow Manhattan of Sex and the City but more like the underground Chicago of High Fidelity. These people may have the same taste in music that I do, but they are not my people.

WHY RENT THIS: The soundtrack is great, and there is considerable warmth at the movie’s heart.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s too self-consciously hip for its own good, and while I dug the music, I didn’t want to spend any time with the people.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some lewd and crude behavior, a smattering of foul language, a bit of sexuality and some mature themes, including teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the title characters are based on Nick and Nora Charles, the main characters of the “Thin Man” series of books and movies.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video for “Middle Management” by Bishop Allen, the song that is played at the club when Nick and Norah first meet; there’s a faux interview given by American Pie’s Eddie Kaye Thomas with the pair, and a puppet version of the movie performed by Kat Dennings and a group of cardboard cutout puppets (with many bear attacks thrown in for good measure). 

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Open Road

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Alfred Molina is disturbed to discover that Nicolas Cage has blue balls.

(Disney) Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell, Alice Krige, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Cherry, James A. Stephens, Gregory Woo, Peyton Roi List, Nicole Ehringer, Ian McShane (voice). Directed by Jon Turtletaub

 The world is a magical place, even the parts we can see. There exists a whole world, however, that we can’t, one in which the impossible is commonplace, and in that world good battles evil incessantly, barely in the lead although not without cost.

Balthazar Blake (Cage) is one of the three apprentices to Merlin (Stephens) – yes, that one – back in 840 AD, along with Veronica (Bellucci) and Horvath (Molina). All of them are in conflict with Morgana le Fay (Krige), who wants to enslave the world by using a spell called The Rising, which will raise the dead into an army for her. She probably should have put in a call to George A. Romero.

Horvath betrays his fellows and Veronica takes a bullet for Balthazar, winding up imprisoned along with Morgana in a grimhold, a nesting doll that acts like a prison. As the years roll by, Balthazar adds more of Morgana’s followers to the grimhold as additional layers to the doll until he finally captures Horvath himself.

But Balthazar’s work is far from done. The dying Merlin told Balthazar that only one sorcerer can truly destroy Morgana and it is Balthazar’s job to find him. It only takes about 1200 years, but Balthazar finally locates him. Talk about determination!

Young Dave (Cherry) goes on a school field trip and spends most of it trying to get the attention of a comely young blonde named Becky Barnes (List), whom he asks in a note if she’s interested in him as a friend or a girlfriend. Becky checks the appropriate box, but a coincidental wind blows the note all the way to a curio shop named Arcana Cabana which is run by – you guessed it – Balthazar. Using the test of a dragon ring, Balthazar realizes that Dave is the one he’s looking for; the Prime Merlinian. Note to writers: where do you come up with these names? It sounds like something dreamed up by a panel of math geeks at an MIT calculus conference.

Because he’s nine (or ten, depending on who you ask) years old, Dave manages to release Horvath from the nesting doll…err, grimhold, and all Hades breaks loose. Balthazar and Horvath manage to be sucked into a magical urn that will hold them for ten years to the day. Why? Just because.

Ten years later, the adult Dave (Baruchel) is a physics nerd at NYU when he runs into old flame Becky (Palmer) when he runs a physics primer for English majors, which is an idea which no doubt the administrators at NYU are scratching their heads and wondering “wha…?” about. Although apparently without a job and no visible means of support, Dave has placed several eight-foot Tesla coils together in an unauthorized lab in a subway turnaround. Why? Just because.

Of course, now the two wizards are out of their urn and looking for that grimhold, Balthazar so that he can protect the world and potentially destroy Morgana once and for all, and Horvath because he wants to resurrect Morgana and destroy the world. Why? Just because.

Balthazar knows he needs to teach Dave the basics of magic and quickly because (queue serious music) the fate of the world rests in his hands. Why? Just…oh you know what comes next.

The trio of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Turtletaub and Cage has previously teamed up in the two National Treasure movies, which I found to be a seriously entertaining take on the Indiana Jones movies. This one is less effective although it still remains entertaining. This movie is a bit of a mash-up between genres, an action movie blended with a fantasy movie, sort of like Harry Potter in Die Hard. Expelliarmus mothereffer!

Cage and Molina are effective here, and you get the feeling there is a bit of a nudge and a wink in their work. They spend most of the movie lobbing plasma balls and one-liners at one another. Baruchel is less effective for me. He is the perennial dweeb in movies over the last few years, and I can understand why he was cast – Dave is certainly a science nerd. However, his hunched over posture, perpetual whining coupled with his inability to make intelligent choices, made it very hard for me to root for him. I was kind of hoping that Cage would turn him into a newt and save the day.

There is plenty of eye candy and most of it is pretty decent, although there’s a ton of plasma balls, fire streams and lightning bolts hurtling around. Some real cool sequences include a Chinese dragon (which while it was chasing Dave, made me think inadvertently of the much better movie How to Train a Dragon which featured Baruchel’s voice) and a steel eagle from the Chrysler building. There is also an homage to the sequence in Fantasia that inspired this movie which I enjoyed.

The trouble with movies about magic is that sorcerer’s should be pretty much invincible, particularly ones as powerful as these. For example, there is an extended car chase sequence in the last third of the movie; very well done, but it seemed to be fairly pedestrian. They could have easily done a chase with something more imaginative – invisible horses, beams of light, anything – and you would think that a sorcerer could wave his arms and turn the car into a mule.

Similarly, a crucial plot point involves Becky moving a satellite dish so that a spell can go awry. Wouldn’t the sorcerer casting the spell be able to move the satellite dish back into place? After all, they’ve been moving objects telekinetically throughout the movie.

But I digress. Anyone going to a movie like this and expecting Scorsese is a lunatic. This is Bruckheimer, and he excels at movies that entertain on a visceral level rather than inspire or educate, and that’s fine folks – we all need mindless entertainment once in awhile. However, I would have expected a movie about magic to be more, well, magical. Definitely this is entertaining, but it could have been done so much better with a bit more imagination.

REASONS TO GO: Cage and Molina do some pretty solid work here. The eye candy is effective.

REASONS TO STAY: Baruchel is a bit too whiny and foolish to get behind as a heroic lead. The whole car chase sequence seemed unnecessary and could have been handled more imaginatively.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of fantasy violence and some scenes of brief sexuality, but for the most part should be okay for audiences of all ages, although some of the creatures might be a little scary for the littlest of kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Abigail Williams is based on an actual person who was accused of being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century, ran away and was never heard from again.

HOME OR THEATER: There are enough sequences that have the gee-whiz factor that I give a slight nod towards seeing it in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My Life in Ruins

New Releases for the Week of July 16, 2010


July 16, 2010

Paris is beginning to look more and more like San Francisco.

INCEPTION

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger. Directed by Christopher Nolan

In the future, Dom Cobb is a thief who specializes in extracting the secrets of others through their dreams. He is very skilled at what he does and has made a lucrative living, but he has paid a heavy price. A fugitive, his skills have cost him everything he holds dear. One last job will give him a chance to redeem himself; but rather than taking secrets, he is going to implant an idea instead. However, standing in the way of him and his team is a hidden enemy who seems to know every move they make before they do. Is this the perfect crime or the perfect set-up?

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, interviews and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard and IMAX

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout)

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

(IFC) Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Melissa Rivers, Don Rickles. The iconic comedienne is the subject of this surprising documentary that shows her struggles in maintaining her career in a culture that worships youth and discards the elderly. Through the words of her friends, family and the legendary performer herself, we revisit the tragedies and triumphs of a groundbreaking female comic who became a household name in an era when the stand-up world was dominated by men.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and some sexual material)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

(Disney) Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer. An ancient sorcerer has been protecting Manhattan against his evil nemesis, but it is becoming apparent that the sorcerer needs help. He takes on a reluctant apprentice and gives him a crash course in the ways of magic. The new sorcerer will need to learn quickly and work with his mentor perfectly or risk losing everything to an evil beyond measure.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language)

The Square

(Apparition) David Roberts, Claire van der Bloom, Anthony Hayes, Joel Edgerton. In the grand tradition of Double Indemnity and Body Heat, this Aussie-set suspense movie sees an affair between a married man and a married woman. When her criminal husband hides his illicit loot in plain sight, she hatches a plot with her lover to steal the money and utilize a professional arsonist to hide their tracks. The plan backfires and things go from bad to worse in this acclaimed thriller.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for violence and language)

Standing Ovation

(Rocky Mountain) The 5 Ovations, The Wiggses, Alanna Palumbo, Joei DeCarlo. A national tween music video contest pits two groups of friends against each other. They will leave everything on the stage as they set outdo each other in music, choreography and costuming while enduring the wackiness of modern tween life. Someone pass me the insulin.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for some rude behavior)