Best Director winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) gives us our first look into his telling of the Broadway classic Les Miserables. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfriend, Les Miserables is expected to have a mid-December release.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Film: Snow White and the Huntsman
Starring: Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Chris Hemsworth (Marvel's The Avengers), and Kristen Stewart (The Twilight franchise)
Director: Rupert Sanders
U.S. Release: June 1st, 2012 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 127 minutes
It was announced around the same time that two movies based on the fictional character of Snow White would be released in 2012. First, there was Mirror Mirror, a lighthearted and quirky take on the Disney Princess. The other being Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders' dark and Grimm-like interpretation of the iconic story. Headlined by Kristen Stewart, the star of the Twilight franchise, along with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Charlize Theron, Sanders has everything imaginable at his disposal. But even with an Academy Award winning actress and one of the most famous stories ever created, can the first-time director deliver?
Snow White and the Huntsman initially ventures back to the childhood of Snow White (played by Stewart). After the death of her mother, Snow White's father falls victim to the luring charisma of the Queen (played by Theron). When the villainous woman murders him on their wedding night, the Queen overtakes the throne and the kingdom succumbs to evil. Eventually able to escape imprisonment from the Queen, Snow White must survive the dark forest and conjure up an army to reclaim the throne. With the aid of the Huntsman (played by Hemsworth) and seven dwarfs, Snow White attempts to restore peace and serenity throughout the land.
Director Rupert Sanders is given a large task with his directorial debut. Serving up a never-before-seen interpretation of a much anticipated blockbuster, the bar was set astronomically high. To his praise, Sanders delivers an astonishingly visual and profound journey into the childhood story that we all know so well. The director does a fantastic job of effectively using colors to set the mood for each and every scene. Easily the highlight of Snow White and the Huntsman, it's no exaggeration to start talking about a possible Visual Effects nomination from the Academy. In addition to the film's stunning visuals, actress Charlize Theron must once again be applauded for her magnificent work on screen. The remarkably gifted, Academy Award winning actress takes control of the film and shoulders all of the attention on herself. In doing so, she proves to be a much more reliable central character than the heroine Snow White. Theron effortlessly commands the screen and shows the audience multiple dimensions to the character of the Queen. In a similar approach to 2008's superhero classic The Dark Knight, Snow White and the Huntsman is a daring rendition that ultimately succeeds because of its elaborate focus on the villain.
Although the dark fairy tale manages to work well on screen, it does so with a few blemishes. Snow White and the Huntsman starts out strong and hits a lull in the second act. The audience is forced to sit through a mid-section that is much longer than it needs to be. Surprisingly, the body of the film adds minutes to the runtime without ever offering much to the story. Flooded with uninteresting subplots and other various nonsense, the middle portion pushes the level of unbearable. However, just moments before you're ready to throw in the towel, Sanders introduces the dwarfs and the comical characters give a much needed boost of energy to the feature. From that moment on, the movie picks up and the audience has no need to ever look back. Furthermore, for all of the praise given to Theron, it becomes almost too easy to criticize the casting decision of Kristen Stewart as Snow White. Offering up about as much emotion as a paper clip, Stewart only makes sense as Snow White by her appearance alone. Luckily for Sanders, Theron dazzles and Hemsworth proves to be adequate enough in his role to help sustain the film.
For the massive level of excitement I had prior to viewing the film, Snow White and the Huntsman came just shy of meeting my expectations. That being said, I must give the movie the respect it deserves and recognize it as the solid work that it is. Stunningly visual and original, Snow White and the Huntsman is a winning debut effort from director Rupert Sanders and his entire team. If you're eager to see the picture, then I suggest doing so. Chances are, you won't leave the theatre bitter with your decision.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
Film: Chernobyl Diaries
Starring: Jesse McCartney (Beware the Gonzo) and Jonathan Sadowski (Friday the 13th)
Director: Bradley Parker
U.S. Release: May 25th, 2012 (Rated R)
Runtime: 90 minutes
Oren Peli dabbles. He enjoys various aspects of the filmmaking process. As the scribe of the entire Paranormal Activity franchise and the director of the first installment, Peli also enjoys going beyond the pen and the director's chair to produce a feature every now and again. This time around, Peli is tackling the business end of 2012's newest horror film, Chernobyl Diaries. At the helm of the project is first time director Bradley Parker, most known for his visual effects work on the 1999 mind-bending thriller Fight Club. But one question remains, can the horror guru and newbie director deliver another hit?
Chernobyl Diaries revolves around Paul (played by Sadowski), an American born young adult now living in Kiev. When Paul's brother Chris (played by McCartney) travels to visit (along with Chris' girlfriend Natalie and mutual friend Amanda), Paul plans an "extreme tourism" excursion to Chernobyl. Completely run down and supposedly abandoned, due to the nuclear disaster that happened there in 1986, Paul and company discover that there's something living at Chernobyl.
Bradley Parker's Chernobyl Diaries is an unoriginal and superficial endeavor into the horror genre. What begins as an intriguing premise and suspenseful tale, ultimately unfolds in a reiterated and reused fashion. To its benefit, Chernobyl Diaries doesn't hesitate to jump into the thrills. However, once the scares begin, the movie spends very little time developing any sense of a meaningful plot. This becomes a frustrating aspect of the film since there's plenty of opportunities to elaborate more on a minimally addressed plot point. By failing to do so, Chernobyl Diaries ends up feeling all too flat and lacking in any depth. In addition to its flaws in the screenplay, the horror tale also falls victim to a second and third act that's completely overfilled with unnecessary chase scenes. Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, Chernobyl Diaries chooses to spend most of its duration having its central characters running from a villain that we hardly get to see. Rather than using screen time to build on a strong premise, the film mimics The Blair Witch Project to a fault. Furthermore, Chernobyl Diaries is filled with weak dialogue and mediocre acting, resulting in a failed attempt on many different levels.
On the other hand, there's a few redeeming qualities to 2012's newest horror effort. Chernobyl Diaries remains at least mildly entertaining throughout its mere 90 minute runtime. Also, the feature hints at an intelligent rationale for the events that transpire on screen. Yet, you can only walk away wishing that the writers had done more with the idea. Therefore, as the Chernobyl Diaries concludes, it feels more like a letdown than an abomination.
Much like Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity, Chernobyl Diaries leaves much to be desired. The entertainment value and the occasional scare are prevalent, but its one dimensional feel is far too disappointing to ignore. The core ideas are there, but the necessary creativity and execution are not. Hence, do your best to avoid rushing to the theatre to see Chernobyl Diaries. You're better off waiting for DVD.
Stars: One and a half stars out of 4
A new trailer has surfaced for Maniac starring Elijah Wood. As a somewhat re-imagining of the 1980's cult classic, the film is almost shot entirely in a POV style. As seen in the violent and creepy trailer below, Maniac follows a mannequin store owner, with some serious mommy issues, who has a knack for scalping beautiful models. Be warned, there's some nudity in this international trailer as well.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
It's no secret that animation guru Seth MacFarlane has decided to take his talents to the big screen in the form of Ted, a vulgar teddy bear that eats, breathes, and curses like a sailor. After the enormous amount of internet success generated from its hilarious red band trailer, MacFarlane and co have been dying to move up the film's release date. Ted, originally slated for a July 13th theatrical release, called "shotgun" on the vacated June 29th release slot formerly held by G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In an attempt to drive up their box office, Paramount has postponed the action sequel's release in order to add 3D. Hoping to ride the wave of Ted's massive internet buzz, MacFarlane and Universal Executives are eager for the film's newly slated June 29th release date.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Although The Hangover Part II was an obvious box office smash, the sequel still managed to leave a sour taste in audience's mouths. Almost immediately after the $500 million blockbuster opened, director Todd Phillips planted a seed for a third installment. Calling the debauchery series a trilogy (although the studio could easily beat this thing to death with even more future releases), Phillips really didn't have many details for the intended conclusion. Finally, some new information regarding The Hangover Part III has emerged courtesy of Life and Style Magazine. According to the report, an industry insider has revealed three main filming locations for the comedy. As to be expected, The Hangover Part III will take place in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, seemingly taking the story full circle. More excitingly is the report that the film will also have its trio of stars spending a week of clear insanity in Tijuana, Mexico. Early speculation on the film centered its story around the gang and their efforts to break Zach Galifianakis' character out of a mental hospital. Although the plot line hasn't been confirmed, the premise surely does sound intriguing.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
It's been a busy couple of weeks in the entertainment scene. Actor Nick Stahl went from being a missing person, to a found person, to a new entrant into drug rehab. Also, Marvel's The Avengers continues to rampage through the record books as it goes well over the one-billion-dollar mark worldwide. But most importantly, The Cannes Film Festival in France is well underway and giving us a glimpse into some potential Oscar highlights. It was just last year when Best Picture winner The Artist captivated audiences at the international festival and went on to achieve a remarkable amount of success from the Academy.
Cannes kicked off on May 16th (and runs through May 27th) with the opening film Moonrise Kingdom from acclaimed director Wes Anderson. The feature has officially premiered to what can only be described as glaring reviews (currently 96% on Rotten Tomatoes). Some other notable Official Selection pictures worth keeping an eye on are Killing Them Softly (starring Brad Pitt), Lawless (starring Tom Hardy), Mud (starring Matthew McConaughey), and The Paperboy (from director Lee Daniels).
Friday, May 18, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Film: The Dictator
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo), Anna Faris (What's Your Number?), and Ben Kingsley (Hugo)
Director: Larry Charles (Borat)
U.S. Release: May 16th, 2012 (Rated R)
Runtime: 83 minutes
Sacha Baron Cohen thrives on every ounce of controversial attention that he receives. The multi-talented actor, among other things, ingenuously helped re-spawn the mockumentary genre with his 2006 hit Borat. As a spinoff to a character from his HBO television show Da Ali G Show, Cohen constructed one of the funniest satirical comedies in recent memory. After a far less applauded follow up with his 2009 dud Bruno, Cohen and his joint-at-the-hip director, Larry Charles, have teamed up for a third attempt. And this time, they hope to restore their glory with The Dictator.
The Dictator follows Admiral General Aladeen (played by Cohen), the dictator from a North African country called Wadiya, during his travels to the United States. While in the U.S., Aladeen plans to address worldwide rumors that he is developing nuclear weapons. However, during his slumber in a New York City hotel room, Aladeen becomes the target of a ploy and is kidnapped by a U.S. government official. In the midst of his interrogation, the dictator has his signature beard cut off. Therefore, when he escapes from his kidnapper, Aladeen is left alone and unrecognizable while trying to survive in NYC. With the aid of a store clerk named Zoey (played by Faris), Aladeen attempts to restore himself to power.
With The Dictator, director Larry Charles and creator Sacha Baron Cohen once again dive head first into the realm of absurdity. In usual form, the pair continue their pursuit of stirring up controversy and habitual line crossing. Hence, The Dictator provides plenty of "guilty" laughs and cheap thrills that seem all too familiar. Far from the greatness attained by their debut collaboration Borat, the duo's most recent effort falls short of their obvious potential. Incorporating a highly outlandish and barren plot with large amounts of shock value, the film's comedic tone feels all too unimpressive. The Dictator, at its core, is nothing more than rehashed ideas thrown together in a jumbled, nonsensical script. It becomes clearly evident that Cohen cares more about stunning the audience than genuine filmmaking.
Although The Dictator is a far less successful attempt than their 2006 masterpiece Borat, the movie does manage to offer a constant source of laughs. Its cleverness is surely inferior to its predecessor, but the jokes still run rampant and some are undeniably hysterical. To its benefit, the feature succeeds in forcing the audience to laugh at scenes that they know they shouldn't find funny. Much like Borat, this infectious guilt almost becomes addictive and serves as the movie's brightest aspect. Furthermore, the film uses a minimal 83 minute runtime to its advantage. Never feeling abundantly dull or drawn out, Cohen and Charles seemingly recognize their limitations and take the safe approach by keeping the story simple.
As a comedy, The Dictator is a serviceable addition to the genre. On the other hand, as a movie in general, The Dictator lacks any real substance or fortitude. If you're interested in seeing another typical Sacha Baron Cohen film at work, then you'll probably find it amusing. However, level your expectations because The Dictator is far from the groundbreaking effort that Cohen once offered.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4
Monday, May 14, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Be sure to check out my latest work up on Geekscape featuring a compiled list of the Greatest Movie Moms. Just in time for Mother's Day, I managed to create a top 5 list of the best cinematic mothers and it's one you don't want to miss.
And I just want to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all you mom's out there!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Film: Sound of My Voice
Starring: Christopher Denham (Charlie Wilson's War) and Brit Marling (Another Earth)
Director: Zal Batmanglij
U.S. Release: April 27th, 2012 (Limited Release - Rated R)
Runtime: 85 minutes
Writer and Actress Brit Marling has slowly been making a name for herself. The indie princess has spent the last two years garnering well deserved attention at the Sundance Film Festival with big time roles in movies such as Arbitrage and Another Earth (which she co-wrote as well). In fact, Marling's latest independent gem to reach theatres is Sound of My Voice, which premiered at Sundance in January of 2011. Fifteen months later and Marling, the film's scribe and star, is ready to show it off to the world.
Sound of My Voice follows a young couple on a quest to make a documentary exposing a so-called cult leader as a fraud. Peter (played by Denham) and Lorna (played by Nicole Vicius) decide that the best way to get as much information as possible is to infiltrate the group. Upon doing so, they discover that the cult's leader Maggie (played by Marling) claims to be from the future, and her persuasive demeanor begins to threaten the couple's intentions.
First time director Zal Batmanglij, a close friend of Marling and co-writer of the film, gives an explosive debut with his mind bending feature Sound of My Voice. Avoiding any unnecessary build up, the movie opens with the main couple immediately posing as devout members of the cult finally meeting Maggie for the first time (the first twelve minutes can be seen on its website here). In doing so, the tension begins all at once and the audience is instantaneously hooked. Despite the film's slow driving pace, there is still a lot of intensity to the feature. It's main themes of trust and faith reign prevalent throughout the picture's entire duration. Not only for the film's central characters, but for the audience as well. Hence, Batmanglij serves up a successful directorial debut that will clearly place him on the indie circuit's radar.
Sound of My Voice is a well written piece of work. Much like Marling's screenplay for 2011's Another Earth, she attempts to blend the drama and science fiction genres together. Do not, however, expect much sci-fi in the feature. Marling simply uses it as a backdrop to stir up doubt, therefore developing the film's fundamental focal points of faith and trust. The talented writer is equally as impressive on screen. Her remarkable acting ability was first made evident in last year's Another Earth, only to be one-upped by her efforts in Sound of My Voice. Along with Marling, Christopher Denham is brilliant in his leading role. The gifted actor takes his skill to a whole other level and proves to be the backbone of the film. With such a creative script and a masterful cast, Sound of My Voice is definitely a worthy feature.
Although there's plenty to praise about the movie, Sound of My Voice struggles in a few areas. It's mere 85 minute runtime plays more like a two hour long feature. The picture's slow pace makes for a lull of a second act. Furthermore, there's a polarizing resolve that's sure to irk audiences. Ever since 2010's Inception finale, ambiguous endings have been the latest craze. Without giving away too much, I will say that the last scene leaves much open to interpretation. However, Marling and Batmanglij purposely do so to reinforce the film's main ideas of faith and trust. Like a puzzle missing pieces, there's enough facts and clues to sway you either way but keep you from seeing the entire picture.The beauty behind Sound of My Voice is that it asks you to think and trust for yourself. So I ask, what's the harm in that?
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Monday, May 7, 2012
Film: Marvel's The Avengers
Starring: Robert Downey Jr (Due Date), Chris Evans (Puncture), and Scarlett Johansson (We Bought a Zoo)
Director: Joss Whedon (Serenity)
U.S. Release: May 4th, 2012 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 142 minutes
After a record breaking opening weekend and crossing the $200 million box office plateau, Marvel's The Avengers has seemingly surpassed all of the hype. The well received blockbuster has done just about everything except solidify itself as the greatest movie of all time (and who knows, it's still early). Director and scribe Joss Whedon has quickly reinvented himself as one of Hollywood's best writers. After also penning the well received genre bending hit The Cabin in the Woods, 2012 has become the year of Whedon. And with the undeniable success of what's sure to be the franchise's first installment, I'd expect to start seeing a lot more of him.
Loki, the brother of Thor, ventures to Earth and steals the Tesseract, an energy source of unknown potential. Soon after, Nick Fury, the director of a peace-keeping espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., is forced to reactivate the "Avengers Initiative" in order to recover the Tesseract and put an end to Loki's fatal plans. Fury calls on the likes of Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (played by Evans), Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (played by Johansson), and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo) to stop Loki and help save Earth from destruction and tyranny. With the aid of Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner), The Avengers become our planet's greatest protectors.
Marvel's The Avengers is the exact definition of a "Summer Blockbuster". This action-packed thrill ride plays out like a beautiful musical number, perfectly calculated and harmonious on all levels. Writer/Director Joss Whedon, who's mostly recognized for his irrefutable excellence in constructing a screenplay, rises to the occasion from the director's chair. He brilliantly transforms what could have been a jumbled mess of misused characters into a coherent and convincing action masterpiece. With Marvel's The Avengers, there's excitement and special effects galore. In fact, more than enough to help ease you through the two hour and twenty-two minute runtime. Whedon goes above and beyond expectations to help create a virtually unmatched superhero all-star film. In addition to its excellent direction, a bright new star emerges on screen. Mark Ruffalo is extraordinary as Bruce Banner and The Hulk. The versatile actor shows off his acting chops and develops the character like never before. I sure hope Ruffalo enjoys the superhero label, because I sense a lot more green in his future (pun intended). It appears as though we've found this generation's Incredible Hulk.
Despite it's glowing reviews and unquestionable amount of success, Marvel's The Avengers is far from perfect. Whedon's fine script becomes slightly tainted with the overabundance of humor. Much like his other 2012 hit, The Cabin in the Woods, the director and scribe inappropriately uses comedy to try and mask deficiencies in the movie's plot. By the third act, the jokes become a farce and the feature loses a sense of credibility. On the other hand, perhaps the ample amount of humor is needed to help alleviate the picture's lengthy impression. Whatever the reason, the comedy becomes somewhat distracting and expected. Likewise, there's an enormous amount of predictability surrounding the entire film. Outside of all the punchlines, which seem to drop like clockwork, Marvel's The Avengers manages to unfold in a foreseeable fashion. Don't expect many twists or turns here as Whedon strictly follows the action/superhero formula to a tee. Although Marvel's The Avengers is an obvious smash hit, it still proves to have its fair share of flaws.
Prior to the start of the 2012 Summer season, most people eagerly awaited the release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Well, apparently Batman has met his match ... and several times over. Marvel's The Avengers and its collection of superheroes has set the bar and set it high. With the aid of a wonderful cast and a phenomenal job by Joss Whedon to make it all work, Marvel's The Avengers is an absolute must see. Action fan or not, there's plenty to enjoy here. So don't miss out.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Film: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Starring: Judi Dench (J. Edgar), Bill Nighy (Pirate Radio), and Tom Wilkinson (The Debt)
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)
U.S. Release: May 4th, 2012 (Limited Release - Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 123 minutes
Make no mistake about it, John Madden is a well established director. In 1998, Madden introduced the world to his most famous work, Shakespeare in Love. The critically acclaimed feature went on to receive 13 Academy Award Nominations including one for Madden in the Best Director category. Of the 13 nominations, the film managed to walk away with 7 golden statues. One of those statues went to Best Supporting Actress Judi Dench, a talented actress with multiple Oscar nominations but only one victory. Over a decade later and the Madden/Dench combo has finally re-teamed for this year's feel good movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Based on the 2004 novel The Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, the British comedy looks to cash in on all of its critical support.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel centers around a group of British Retirees (played by Dench, Nighy, Wilksinson, and others) who chose to spent their retirement in a less expensive but seemingly exotic hotel in India. Upon their arrival, the guests find that the hotel is far less luxurious than they had anticipated. However, through their shared experiences and zest for new-found life, the retirees discover a sense of hope and charm at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
John Madden works his magic again with another delightful journey into love and life. This time, however, Madden focuses his story through the eyes of the elderly and attempts to shed light on the hopefulness of aging. Rather than cashing in their chips and waiting to pass away, the director brings us along on an adventure with a wonderful collection of characters that easily remind us it's never too late to start another chapter in life. At the center of this heartfelt picture are Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson. Each character unique and offering an insightful perspective into the journey, these three exceptional actors enable the audience to open their eyes and hearts to the story. Dench is profound and philosophical as the film's main storyteller, and Nighy and Wilkinson pile up enough charm and wit to help carry the film along effortlessly. Praise must also be given to Dev Patel who delivers an even finer performance than his most notable work in the Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire. As the smooth talking hotel manager Sonny Kapoor, Patel astonishes and reaffirms his remarkable talents. With what is sure to be one of the year's best ensembles, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel succeeds at the hands of its star-studded cast.
On the other hand, as is usually the case with films that intend to focus on multiple central characters, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel experiences an overabundance of subplots. There are instances where certain characters fail to be addressed for over 15 minutes and it becomes difficult to connect with them. Similar to another British comedy, Love Actually, clearly the film would have been better served by ditching a lesser developed character or two and centering solely on the necessary ones. Furthermore, by continually forcing specific story-lines into the feature, the movie begins to drag during its closing moments. Thankfully, Madden doesn't allow the film's resolution to draw out too long and he manages to salvage the movie.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a laugh out loud and heartfelt piece of work. Madden does a spectacular job of keeping the film balanced and effective. Despite the feature's predictability and minor sense of a fairy tale ending, the movie is a feel good experience that can easily be enjoyed by all types of audiences. In what could become a possible Academy Award contender, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is, unquestionably, a film worth seeing.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
To show my appreciation for 2012 Razzie record-breaker Adam Sandler, April's poll question asked, "What is Adam Sandler's best film to date". The victor was Sandler's 1996 golf comedy Happy Gilmore (36%). Other Sandler films receiving votes were Billy Madison and The Wedding Singer (18% each), as well as Big Daddy and more serious movies like Reign Over Me and Punch Drunk Love (9% each).
With Summer blockbusters arriving in theatres this weekend, lead by The Avengers, be sure to vote on May's poll question (in the upper right hand corner) asking, "Which Summer Blockbuster will gross the highest amount".