Friday, April 22, 2011

PART II: The Sequel, Prequel, Remake, Superhero Summer of 2011

By Steve Crum

Two Marvels and a DC describe the comic book superheroes represented on screen over the next three months. There are also enticing to retched titles running the gamut from aliens to penguins to zombies.

•Thor (May 6)—Based on the clunkiest Marvel Comics superhero of them all (here played by Chris Hemsworth), since his shtick is having mythical roots, and wielding a large hammer. Sort of like Hercules carrying a clobberin’ club. That simple premise will pull me into the theater. Kenneth Branagh directing Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins is added attraction.
•Green Lantern (June 17)—One of my childhood’s favorite DC Comics heroes, GL is green-ray driven through his power ring. Ryan Reynolds stars.
•Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)—Chris Evans dons red, white and blue to battle super Nazi Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) during WWII. Yet another Marvel hunk to unite the peace loving world.

•Hobo with a Shotgun (May 6)--Rutger Hauer is the hobo, the shotgun plays itself. Sounds like the homeless have a superhero. This title has Snakes on a Plane appeal.
•The First Grader (May 13)—An 80 year-old African enrolls in Grade 1.
•Hesher (May 13)—Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a pot-headed, garage-dwelling rocker, man.
•Midnight in Paris (May 20)—Woody Allen’s 42nd film has star-laced cast including Kathy Bates and Owen Wilson.
•Beautiful Boy (June 3)—A family stresses when the son decides to shoot up his school.
•Beginners (June 3)—Ewan McGregor plays Christopher Plummer’s son, both dealing with dad’s gay revelation.
•Super 8 (June 10)—J. J. Abrams directs harrowing story of teens filming their own zombie movie, and stumbling upon a real, living, dead person en route.
•Buck (June 17)—Documentary of the last of the true cowboys. B. Brannaman.
•Mr. Popper’s Penguins (June 17)—Channeling Ace Ventura, Jim Carrey is surrounded by six Gentoo Penguins. Also starring Angela Lansbury as an irate landlady.
•Page One (June 17)—Documentary about The New York Times, behind the scenes.
•Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (June 24)—Tribulations and motivations of TV’s red headed, late night host are explored via documentary.
•Larry Crowne (July 1)—Tom Hanks directs, stars with Julia Roberts, who plays his jr. college teacher. Hanks is highly motivated, his teacher is insensitive. The perfect love story.
•Project Nim (July 8)—Disturbing, true story documenting Nim Chimpsy’s training to teach him human language.
•Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)—Daniel (James Bond) Craig and Harrison Ford, director Jon Favreau, and producers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard team in this big budget sci-fi western. The top of my must-sees.
•Crazy, Stupid, Love (July 29)—Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in a romantic comedy of morals and manners. Will Carell have post-Office, box office chops? Looks likely.
•The Help (Aug. 12)—All about African-American maids of wealthy whites, Down South, in the 1960’s. Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek, and Octavia Spencer star.

•The Beaver (May 6)—Blend Jodie Foster as star and director with co-star Mel Gibson as a suicidal guy who speaks through his beaver hand puppet.
•Priest (May 13)—Horror flick set in aftermath of human vs vampire war.
•Bad Teacher (June 24)—Just what American education needs these cutback days, a role model like the teacher Cameron Diaz portrays: a jr. high teacher who keeps pot and booze in her classroom. Justin Timberlake co-stars as a substitute teacher.
•Horrible Bosses (July 8)—Three buddies team up to literally murder their respective bosses, a twist on Nine to Five. Kevin Spacey, Colin Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston star. A far from light comedy.
•The Change-Up (Aug. 5)—Freaky Friday flip of swinging bachelor and a married guy exchanging identities. The fantasy of it all.

•Passion Play (May 6)—Mickey Rourke’s jazz musician falls for Megan Fox, who has wings. Michael?
•Bridesmaids (May 13)--The flip side of The Hangover, featuring rowdy babe pals carousing the town for a good time. Homage to the recent royal wedding, no doubt.
•Submarine (June 3)—Teen strives to lose virginity to save his parents’ marriage.
•Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (June 10)—Any movie featuring Jaleel White (Steve Urkel of Family Matters) as a weird third grade teacher can’t be totally worthless, can it?
•Just Like Me (June 10)--Arab-American stand-up comedians on tour. “Take my country, please!”
•Trollhunter (June 10)—Trolls have infested Norway’s forests. Who do ya call?
•Zookeeper (July 8)—Kevin James is a keeper of talking zoo animals voiced by Cher, Sly Stallone, Judd Apatow, and other human beings.
CRUM’S TOP 6 SUMMER MUST-SEE MOVIES: Cowboys & Aliens; Captain America: The First Avenger; The Help; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Super 8; and Thor.
Keep this list until Sept. 1, and see if my predictions were correct. If they were not, please do not seek me out.
OK, let's choose one from the above list...Trollhunter. Here is the trailer. You decide:

PART I: The Sequel, Prequel, Remake, Superhero Summer of 2011

By Steve Crum

What can be said about summer movies? Summer good, summer not so. By September, we’ll know the successes and failures, but from an April, 2011 perspective, making predictions about the May-August movies is game-on. And what is gamier than an upcoming movie named Hobo with a Shotgun?

Of the 100+ movie openings beginning May 1, I have perused studio hype, production overviews, photos, interviews, and cast lists to help shape at least a semblance of credibility. The bottom line, however, is that it all whittles down to my own intestinal intuition (critic-speak for “gut feeling”). Factor in 60 years of viewing motion pictures, with a latter 35 years of critical scrutiny via review writing.

Superheroes have been scarce over the past couple of summers, but villains beware. This summer the DC and Marvel guys report for active duty in the guises of Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, and X-Men. Even that sword wielding muscle guy, Conan the Barbarian, returns –minus Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Realize that producing a sequel or remake of a popular movie nearly always translates to box office bucks, and you will understand why studios seem to be out of original movie ideas. 

Why risk it? That is why the likes of Harry Potter, Transformers, Spy Kids, Cars, Kung Fu Panda, and even Winnie the Pooh will undoubtedly fill theaters this summer. Popular actors and directors are linked to a variety of titles over the next four months. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts team in Larry Crowne; Woody Allen’s 42nd movie, Midnight in Paris, opens; Jim Carrey is surrounded in Mr. Popper’s Penguins; Jodie Foster directs Mel Gibson in The Beaver; and Harrison Ford straps on a holster to outshoot nasty ET’s in Cowboys & Aliens.

Filmgoers whose credo is to go the movies for pure escape, forgetting the cares and stresses of daily life, should love this summer. The aliens, talking cars, and giant hammer wielders are coming.

•Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20)—Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack returns to keep the franchise afloat.
•The Hangover Part II (May 26)—It’s not my cup of booze to laugh at guy friends getting drunk and behaving like jackasses, but apparently the movie going mass loves it. A second round, barkeep.
•Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 26)—Has it been three years since Jack Black voiced the Po bear? The Dragon Warrior returns.
•X-Men: First Class (June 3)—Dr. Xavier’s back story of his pre-wheelchair, pre-skinhead days is told. James McAvoy takes over Patrick Stewart’s persona.
•Cars 2 (June 24)—Disney/Pixar has added more colorful, talking cars five years after the original family hit.
•Transformers: Dark of the Moon (July 1)—Producers of this third take promise a better story than the last, the second, movie. Then again, the second movie made more than the first, so who’s counting quality?
•Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 (July 15)—Finally? Finally! Fans are promised non-stop action and a figuratively emotional broomstick ride. THE event of summer’s flicks.
•Winnie the Pooh (July 15)—Was it necessary for Disney to remake its own classic? Does computerizing it make it any better?
•Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Aug. 5)—Finally, after a bunch of sequels, a prequel. James Franco stars in the story of how a chimp first went ape over the gorilla his dreams. OK, went bananas. But seriously, this one sounds interesting since it follows the rise of simian dominance over humans. No Heston, but maybe a Statue of Liberty.
•Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Aug. 12)—ANY film by director Guillermo del Toro, even a redo like this one, is worthy of note.
•Conan the Barbarian (Aug. 19)—If this gives new star Jason Momoa the same career leverage it did Arnold, it could be Gov. Momoa down the line.
•Fright Night (Aug. 19)—Roddy McDowall is gone, but Colin Ferrell could carry this 3-D take on the original’s creepy vampire tale.
•Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (Aug. 19)—Is it worth dragging grade schoolers to see this installment?
•Final Destination 5 (Aug. 26)—What a misnomer title, unless this is truly the finality. Let it be.
[Continued in Part II...]
Here's the new, but improved (?) Conan the Barbarian:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Think piece 'Source Code' is terrifically paced, sci-fi thriller

By Steve Crum

Source Code is best described as a terroristic Groundhog Day, a reference to Harold Ramis’ already classic 1993 comedy-fantasy of a man (Bill Murray) repeatedly reliving the same day. While Source Code is anything but funny, it does involve a guy reliving a seven minute span, again, again, and again. Each time, he hones in closer on a mad bomber, with the goal of preventing detonation.

This is an unconventional think piece, impressively helmed by Duncan Jones, and penned by Ben Ripley (Species III). Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, Source Code is pretty much an original, self-described in ads as a “techno-thriller/action” picture. It is one of those movies that might require a second viewing to pick up missed nuances, due to plotting and characterizations.

Intellectual sci-fi fans will love it. The Transformers and Battle: Los Angeles visualists will get headaches from thinking too much.

A dictionary explanation of the term, “source code,” means text written in computer programming language, “specifying actions to be performed by a computer that will be directly read and executed.” Jake Gyllenhaal sensitively portrays Army Captain Colter Stevens. It is he who performs as the “source code,” having to carry out actions ordered by a seemingly nefarious government project, headed by the scientist Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), and assisted by Captain Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Goodwin is the one with whom Stevens communicates most often, remotely, via microphone and computer. In fact, Stevens is entirely by himself in some capsule-like trappings, in uniform, and unable to free himself. From the beginning, it appears he is being experimented upon, and thus confined. His only link is with Goodwin and Rutledge at headquarters.

Of course, that does not count Stevens’ repetitious leaps, much like TV’s Quantum Leap, into a stranger’s (named Shawn) body. Slowly, Stevens discovers the reasons why he is being transported. Looking into a mirror on the train early on, he sees what others see: Shawn’s face. Yet we see Stevens’/Gyllenhaal’s mug. Clever device, this, again lifted from QL. On each return visit to the commuter train, Stevens becomes more familiar with his car’s inhabitants, particularly Christina (Michelle Monahan), the babe who is always sitting across from him. As clues lead Stevens to his objective, Christina becomes, more and more, a vital part of the mission.

Duncan Jones gives Source Code an almost unnerving sense of urgency, while maintaining the mystery surrounding Stevens’ existence. The hows and whys are answered by the triple-twist of a finale, which left at least one viewer at the screening asking me, “Do you understand what we just saw?” I explained it to her, but I won’t reveal it here. Let me amend that by saying, I tried to explain it to her.

There are times, particularly within Stevens’ confined quarters between leaps, that are unbearably claustrophobic--if being unable to get out of a dim, closely walled area bothers you like it does me. There are also times of tender, bittersweet caring, between Stevens and Christina, and Stevens and his father (voiced by Scott Bakula--star of Quantum Leap!).

Clearly, this first major film by rock star David Bowie’s son, Duncan, is a terrific indication of career success.

GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A-