Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011 - Part 2

As promised in Part 1 of my Tribeca Film Festival blog, below is a list of the 12 films, 3 interviews, and 2 panels I have attended to date.  Over the years of attending film festivals I have learned that I can generally tell which interviews and panels will be worth attending, but when it comes to the films I just never know.  My grades of the films below are almost the complete reverse of what I would have expected.  I never would have guessed that 'The Trip' and 'The Swell Season' would be at the top of my list, albeit only for the first half of the festival.  I still have at least 7 more to go, and I'm sure hoping for some good ones.  But here are my thoughts on what I've seen so far.

The Trip - Grade: A-
British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves in this abridged compilation of the 6 episode series from the UK, where they embark on a road trip throughout Europe as food critics, all the while exchanging witty repartee and competing in bringing the funny.  In typical British fashion, the humor is dry, but it's often a riot, particularly during the many scenes where they face off with their impressions.  If there's one thing funnier than a great impressionist, it's two great impressionists competing and it just doesn't get much better than duelling Michael Caine's.

The Swell Season - Grade: A-
If you've seen and enjoyed 'Once', the little film that could from 2007 about the romance between a man and a woman through their songwriting and performing, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song, then you'll undoubtedly appreciate this documentary made shortly after the success of that film.  What was originally intended to be a behind the scenes doc of the tour that followed their Oscar win ended up being more about the real life relationship that developed between stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.  Like many docs, this one may not be quite as real as I want to believe, but I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  I actually liked it even better than 'Once' and it makes for a great companion piece to that film.

Alec Baldwin interview of Director Doug Liman - Grade: A-
We all know and love Alec Baldwin.  New fans would say so for '30 Rock', and older aficionados for his starring film roles like 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'Beetlejuice'.  But for me, it's his unforgettable ensemble work that reigns supreme in films like 'Glengarry Glen Ross' and 'The Departed'.  And while Doug Liman is probably most famous for directing blockbuster hits like the Bourne series or 'Mr and Mrs. Smith', I'll more fondly remember him for 'Swingers' and the underseen but tremendously entertaining 'Go'.  And I will never forget this interview, if only for being front row center, and literally about 6 feet away from these iconic film legends.  How did I get such a great seat?  OK, OK I'll let you in on my secret.  I bought a reserved seating ticket, which was only $10 more than the regular ticket, and I still showed up two hours early making me first in line.  Was it worth it?  Oh yeah.  This would have been a solid A experience if it were just a little longer than 60 minutes.

Tribeca Film Festival Creative Director Geoff Gilmore interview of Variety Magazine Editor in Chief Peter Bart - Grade: A-
OK I realize most people reading this won;'t know either of these two guys.  Gilmore spent the majority of his career as Director of the Sundance Film Festival, under Robert Redford, and just recently moved to the Tribeca festival.  And Peter Bart has done it all in Hollywood, including running Paramount Studios with infamous producer Robert Evans, and being responsible for films like 'The Godfather', 'Rosemary's Baby', and 'Harold and Maude'.  He also cohosted a talk show I used to love called 'Shootout' with Entertainment Guru Peter Guber.  There aren't two more interesting guys to listen to when it comes to film, past, present and future.  Again, this would have been a solid A if not for the way-too-short 60 minute running time.  Although, it was free of charge at Barnes & Noble, so how can I complain?

The Good Doctor - Grade B+
Orlando Bloom plays a young doctor with good intentions, but things go awry when he develops a connection with a young patient.  This film is much better than I expected, and the stellar supporting cast includes Rob Morrow and the always amazing J.K. Simmons.  I blew it big time by not attending the premiere screening in order to see 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' (below).  Sadly, none of the cast showed at my screening.

Brian Willliams Interview of Robert DeNiro - Grade: B+
If you've seen Bob DeNiro interviewed you undoubtedly must be wondering why anyone would pay money to sit through what was extremely likely to be a complete bore.  In fact, Trobeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal basically stated that very observation in her intro to the interview.  Well, I certainly asked myself that very question, especially after watching DeNiro on Letterman a few months ago in what was one of the most painful interviews I've ever seen.  (Look for it on YouTube.)  DeNiro barely spoke a word, even after being asked direct softball questions.  Nevertheless, considering what a quiet guy he is, he gave it his all, and Williams did the best he could to extract interesting information.  I'd be lying if I said this was a revealing interview, but it was still a great experience to see a living Hollywood legend in person, again from the very front row.

Grave Encounters - Grade: B+
Considering this film is basically a ripoff of every found footage horror film made to date, call it 'The Blair Witch Project' in an insane asylum, it's still a pretty fun, scary, guilty pleasure.  If you like this genre, watch and enjoy.

Digital by Design Panel - Grade: B
One of the things that makes Tribeca a special festival is the quality of the panelists at the free industry panels.  It's not uncommon to see heads of studios and entertainment related companies giving you their two cents on where the industry is and where it's going.  I find that type of thing very interesting.  And I really must remember to bring my resume next year.

The Last Rites of Joe May - Grade: B-
The inimitable Dennis Farina embodies this film about a lifelong loser approaching the end of his life and thrust into a situation where he might be able to finally do some good.  It's a bit TV movie-ish, but Farina can do no wrong in my eyes (ever since his memorable role in 'Midnight Run') and he's in pretty much every frame of the film. 

Angels Crest - Grade: B-
This is an emotional family drama starring an ensemble cast including Jeremy Piven, Kate Walsh, and Mira Sorvino about the death of a three year old child and the impact it has on a small town.  The strength of the film is surely the cast.  And I'm always a sucker for films that take place in nature, particularly heavy snow.  (Who's seen 'A Simple Plan'?  'Into the Wild'?  'The Clearing'?  'The Contract'?)  But this one's a bit melodramatic and would have been better in the hands of a more seasoned director.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame - Grade: C+
Billed as a Chinese Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, and with a title reminiscent of classic Scooby Doo, my expectations were high.  But unfortunately this one didn't come close.  Great visuals helped keep it interesting, but an overwhelming amount of exposition and subtitled dialogue combined with too many action scenes made for a sub-par experience.  But to be fair, I was tired and I may have to see this one again.

Hideaways - Grade: C
This fable about a family of men cursed with various odd powers and reactions had a lot of potential but just went askew.  By the end I found myself extremely disappointed.

Blackthorn - Grade: C
I love Westerns just as much as the next guy.  Probably more in fact.  But do we really need a sequel to 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'?  It's ok to dig up a classic as long as the follow-up is something special.  This is not.

Jesus Henry Christ - Grade: C-
Arguably the biggest disappointment of my festival, this dysfunctional family dramedy is no 'Little Miss Sunshine'.  It's no 'Juno'.  It's no 'City Island'.  It's just a decent idea with a talented cast, including Michael Sheen and Toni Collette, brought to the screen in the wrong hands of a sub-par director. Sadly that happens frequently at festivals.

Treatment - Grade: C-
Add one to the Mumblecore movement with this film by the producers of 'Humpday'.  But don't expect the same level of exciting realism you get with that film, 'Cyrus', 'Baghead', 'or 'The Puffy Chair'.  This one is just plain dull and I expected a lot more.

Writing the Doc Panel - Grade: C-
Generally I only attend the panels I know will be entertaining.  In this case, I just had nothing better to do.  And, sadly, it may have been better to do nothing at all.  I didn't really find this panel on 'writing' a doc to be that interesting.  Sorry, panelists.

Beyond the Black Rainbow - Grade: F
Wow, where do I begin?  Billed as a Kubrickian 'sci-fi fable of a young woman imprisoned in an experimental laboratory facility and the mysterious scientist who is her captor', this film sounded appealing.  And while we all know Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' is not a fast paced film, this one sure made it seem that way.  To me, it was incomprehensible and purposeless.  And while I can't speak for the entire audience, I can tell you that no one I spoke to had much clue WTF was going on.  And, considering this was the international premiere, it was actually laughable how many people walked out in the middle.  It was truly painful to sit through.  But, with that said, I can't help but ask myself, what grade would I have given '2001: A Space Odyssey' if I had seen it before film scholars had deemed it a classic?  Is it even a classic or have we all been duped into thinking so by a small group of 'film visionaries' who may be playing a practical joke on us all?  Well, I'm really not sure, and this film may in fact be genius, but I'm going with my gut and giving it an F.  Of course, this review may intrigue at least one of you out there enough to seek it out, see it, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011 - Part 1

If you're a regular reader you may have noticed that I haven't posted anything the last few days, as I generally do.  And that's because I've been away at the Tribeca Film Festival.  This is my sixth year in a row of attending that festival which is now celebrating it's 10th anniversary.  The festival was founded by Robert DeNiro and long time business partner Jane Rosenthal to revitalize the downtown area of Manhattan after September 11th.  In just 7 months DeNiro and Rosenthal threw it together and the first annual festival took place in the Spring of 2002.  My first time attending wasn't until 2006 but I had such a great time, I've returned every year since, and as usual the first half of this year's did not disappoint.

This is consistently my favorite film festival to attend, but not because of the movies themselves.  Truthfully, the films are hit or miss, and I generally see some of my favorites and least favorites of the year at this festival.  But it's the Q&A's following many of the films, the panels, and the interviews with celebrities and industry professionals that really make it something special.  In the first five days I saw Brian Williams interview Robert DeNiro, Alec Baldwin interview director Doug Liman, a Q&A with celebrities including Jeremy Piven, Kate Walsh, Mira Sorvino, and Tribeca Film Festival Chief Creative Officer Geoff Gilmore interview Variety Magazine Editor and former Paramount executive Peter Bart.  (Yes, I realize most of you won't know the latter two, but they're two of the most interesting guys to hear talk about the film business.)  All four of those events were truly a treat to attend that I won't ever forget.  Check out the pictures below.

But there's also another reason this festival is consistently the most fun to attend, and that is the people you meet along the way.  I always try to make conversation with whomever I'm standing in line or sitting next to because you never know who they are, and at Tribeca, more times than not, the person next to you is actually pretty interesting to talk to.  And sadly that ain't usually the case at other festivals.  There's just something about New York City and the folks who attend this festival that just adds to the excitement of the experience.  And trust me, you just don't get that same level of excitement and energy at many other festivals.  I'm excited for the second half and will surely be sad when it's over.  But there's always next year.

Check back tomorrow for a list, description, and grade for the 12 films, 3 interviews, and 2 panels I have attended so far.  My grades range from A- to F.  Wow.





Friday, April 22, 2011

Water for Elephants


Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and 'Inglorious Basterds' Christoph Waltz star in the adaptation of the best selling book by Sara Gruen.  The story takes place in flashback as told by Pattinson's character when he's old and grey, as played by Hal Holbrook, who recounts his time spent with the Benzini Brothers travelling circus during the Great Depression, run by hot tempered Waltz, who is married to star performer Witherspoon.

It's hard to translate a great book into a great movie, but I think this is a pretty decent adaptation.  It successfully captures the look and feel of the book, and the casting is reasonably good, although I'm not as big a fan of Pattinson as the ladies, and Waltz still seems a bit too Nazi-ish to me.  And, of course, there's nothing too surprising about the narrative, even if you haven't read the book, but that's ok for what it is.  It's a nice, feel good love story and the backdrop of the circus makes it seem special and original.  I enjoyed it and I think it'll make for a pretty good date movie.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arthur (2011)


Russell Brand stars as the titular character in this remake of the 1981 film of the same name starring Dudley Moore.  Arthur is a spoiled, drunken playboy who doesn't know how to do anything except squander his mother's fortune.  Fortunately there's an awful lot to squander.  (Although by my calculations, if he spent as much as we see in the film, even his billion dollar fortune wouldn't last.)  However, his life turns upside down when his mother gives him the ultimatum of marrying uptight businesswoman Jennifer Garner or else she will disinherit him.  Now, I know what you're thinking.   Is that really a tough decision?  Marrying Jennifer Garner hardly sounds like a punishment.  But to Arthur it is, especially once he falls in love with commoner Greta Gerwig.

The story arc of this remake is very close to the original, but it's been updated of course.  Normally I'm not a fan of remakes, but this one really needed one.  I saw the original when I was a kid and revisited it recently and it just doesn't hold up.  I find it astonishing that Dudley Moore was nominated for an Oscar.  His performance was one-note and hackneyed.  And the Academy Award winning theme song is a simply a dreadful ear sore.  So I actually think this version works better.  Brand was the right choice to replace Moore.  And the Academy Award winning part of the butler, Hobson, originally played by Sir John Gielgud has been filled by Dame Helen Mirren, which was also clever casting.  And while it was simply impossible to believe that Moore's character was willing to give up a fortune for Liza Minnelli, I can at least suspend my disbelief for Greta Gerwig.  I'd give up a sizeable chunk of my savings for her.  But I just can't get around that the movie is completely predictable, especially if you've seen the original.  Some parts of the film work well, but others are just a drag.

I couldn't see this one pre-release date because the only advanced screening offered in my area was in conflict with the only advance screening of 'Your Highness'.  I originally suspected 'Your Highness' would be better so I went to see that instead.  But after seeing them both, I'd say it was a dead heat.
Grade: C+

Monday, April 18, 2011

Insidious


Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the guys behind the 'Saw' franchise, are back with a new horror film that's kind of a return to the horror films of yore.  It's basically a haunted house flick with a 'Poltergeist' feel.  Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson play the unsuspecting couple who encounter trouble of a supernatural nature when they move into a new house that couldn't look more like a haunted house.  I mean, seriously, what did they think was going to happen when they bought it?

If you've been a reader of my blog since day one, you may recall I already reviewed this movie 6 months ago when I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival.  But since it's been a while, and since it was the 5th movie I saw that day, at a midnight screening no less, I figured I'd revisit it and see if my review of it has changed.  And for the most part it hasn't.  It's a fun film for sure, but a lot of the scares are pretty cheap, with spooks jumping out at you and shrill sound effects to punch up the nervous energy.  Those kinds of scares are just too easy for my taste.  Although, the third act really takes things to an unexpected place, quite literally, and that is by far the best part of the film.  So there is a lot to like here, but as much as I dislike the 'torture porn' genre it spawned, I have to say that 'Saw' was a better film.  And 'Scream 4' in theaters now is a lot more fun.  Nevertheless, this one is a spooky ride and horror fans will certainly have a good time.

Grade: B

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold / Philadelphia Cinefest 2011 Final Thoughts


So Philadelphia Cinefest 2011 officially came to an end last night.  And unfortunately I didn't make it to nearly as many screenings as I wanted to.  My final count was only 7, which is just sad.  But you can read all about why I only saw 7 and my review of the first 6 in my Philadelphia Cinefest 2011 Part 1 post from a few days ago.  But last night I had the pleasure of seeing the closing night screening of Morgan Spurlock's 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' with Spurlock in attendance affter the film.  For those of you unfamiliar with Spurlock, he's the comedy documentary genius behind 'Supersize Me'.  (And for those of you unfamiliar with 'Supersize Me', shame on you.  It's the classic 2004 doc about Spurlock eating nothing but McDonald's for 30 days. Check it out, because it's really great.)  Anyway, I'm a fan of Spurlock's, and this movie did not disappoint in the least, nor did his lengthy Q&A afterwards.  Great times.

The premise is hard to explain.  The film is about the omnipresence of product marketing.  It's truly everywhere.  We're inundated by advertising on billboards, buses, magazines, and commercials of course,  but the latest trend is for product placement in our TV shows and movies.  So Spurlock decided to make a documentary about getting product sponsorship for the movie he's making ... about getting product sponsorship.  In that respect, it's kind of a movie within a movie.  Ultimately he's trying to find one major sponsor to pony up $1 Million in exchange for getting an above the line credit in the title of the film.  For example, if company Brand X gave him $1 Million to make his documentary, the documentary would be called 'Brand X presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold', which is about Spurlock trying to get a company like Brand X to pony up $1 Million.  OK I think you get the point.  It's great fun from start to finish and I highly recommend seeing it.  It premiered at Sundance in January and apparantly has received acclaim already.  And it opens at the Ritz East theater in Philadelphia this Friday.

And as for my final thoughts on this year's Philadelphia Cinefest 2011?  Well, as I mentioned in my last post, it was significantly smaller than I've ever seen it, having attended every year for over a decade.  But the strength of the festival has always been the programming, regardless of the size.  Sure, I've seen my share of terrible films at Philadelphia film festivals past.  But I've also seen some fantastic ones that I might not have seen otherwise.  For more on that, you can check out my Philadelphia Film Festival (A Look Forward and a Look Back) post from last October.  And overall I always end the festival happy that I went and sorry that it's over.  This year I definitely feel like I missed out on some good screenings, but I'll be looking out for them to re-appear elsewhere.

If I have one critique of the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance who puts on the festival, it's that they really make no effort whatsoever to get to know their devoted attendees.  Like I said, I've been attending for over a decade, and most years I buy the all access badge.  But I highly doubt the folks who run the Alliance know or care who I am.  By contrast, the Philadelphia Film Society, who now puts their festival on in October, makes a strong effort to get to know their members and bring a sense of community to film fans of Philadelphia.  So my recommendation is to attend both festivals, but look into becoming a member of the Philadelphia Film Society rather than the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance.  They'll leave the light on for you.  (Damn it, that's that brand marketing embedded in my head again!)

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold:  A-
Philadelphia Cinefest 2011:  B 

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies opening today are in green)

Super                                   Grade: A

Scream 4                              Grade: A-

Limitless                              Grade: B+

Source Code                        Grade: B+

The Conspirator                  Grade: B+

Battle: Los Angeles              Grade: B
Rio                                        Grade: B

Win Win                              Grade: B
The Adjustment Bureau    Grade: B

The Lincoln Lawyer            Grade: B

Insidious                             Grade: B

Queen to Play                    Grade: B

Jane Eyre                            Grade: B-

Rango                                 Grade: B-

Arthur                                Grade: C+
Your Highness                   Grade: C+
Paul                                    Grade: C
Potiche                               Grade: C

Hop                                     Grade: C

Red Riding Hood               Grade: C-
Sucker Punch                    Grade: C-
Hanna                                Grade: D

FOX 35 News Orlando - Friday 4/15/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I give my thoughts on 'Scream 4', 'Rio', and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1'.




Rio


Jesse Eisenberg is the voice of Blu, one of the last birds of his kind, who was snatched from his natural habitat many years ago and brought to the U.S for profit.  Fortunately for him, he ended up as the companion to a really nice girl, so he's quite content with his life until his owner is convinced to bring him to Rio to mate with another rare bird, voiced by Anne Hathaway.  And then trouble happens, of course.

While this is not a Disney film itself (it's made by Twentieth Century Fox), it seemed to me like a throwback to the classic Disney films of the 60's and 70's, reminding me of classics like 'The Rescuers' and 'The Jungle Book' crossed with the Exchanted Tiki Room attraction from Walt Disney World.  And with some very enjoyable musical tunes thrown in, old school style, and Rio as an excellent backdrop to the film with some great visuals, it makes for a pretty smooth viewing.  For a kids movie, this one's pretty good.  (I'm going to assume that one kid who was wailing in the back of the theater for half the movie just had an accident or something.)

Grade:  B

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scre4m (a.k.a. Scream 4)


Well, if you've been keeping up with the blog, then you read my homage to the original trilogy a few days ago, and you know how much I love all three.  So naturally I was a bit cautious about getting too excited for this sequel more than 11 years after the last one.  Nevertheless, this was one of the movies I most looked forward to seeing this year.  And I'm very pleased to report that while it's not perfect, it is easily one of my top two favorites of the year so far (with 'Limitless' being the other.)  Just as I started to question why I go to the movies almost every day, I get one that reminds me exactly why.  This one is great fun and was totally worth the decade-plus-long wait.

Of course I have a lot I'd like to say about it but I really don't want to ruin anything at all.  I obviously won't spoil who the killer is, but really it was never about that to me anyway.  These films are about the pleasures sprinkled throughout the film.  It almost doesn't even matter who the killer turns out to be.  Did it matter in Scooby Doo?  So I won't spoil any of your journey to the reveal of the killer's identity.  But I will say that, as per usual, the horror dream team of director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson hit the mark once again.  I give special kudos to Williamson, because the writing of all four films is so clever he makes it seem like other writers aren't even trying.  For instance, where do you go after you've deconstructed horror films, sequels, and trilogies?  Well, I won't even spoil that, but go see it and find out.

And whoever does the casting also deserves seriously mad props, because each film is a who's who of talented rising young stars.  This one adds Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Alison Brie, Kristin Bell, Anna Paquin, Rory Culkin, and Adam Brody to the impressive list of 'Scream' alumni.

To be sure, this fourth outing will still be enjoyable even if you haven't seen the first three, but I highly, highly recommend seeing them first if you haven't, and revisiting them even if you have.  I'm certainly glad I invested 6 hours doing just that last weekend.  Trust me, you'll get a lot more out of the experience.  So go ahead, make some popcorn, dim the lights, and have an 8 hour Scream-a-thon this weekend.  And for gosh sake, if the phone rings while you're watching and someone with a creepy voice asks you what your favorite movie is, don't hang up on th ... wait, is that my phone ringing?  I'll be right back.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Philadelphia Cinefest 2011 - Part 1

For the last five days in between keeping up with my advance screenings, including 'Rio' and 'Scre4m' which I will post about later in the week, and catching up on the original 'Scream' trilogy, and my day job of course, I've been attending as many films at the Philadelphia film festival, known as Cinefest, as possible.  Unfortunately I haven't seen nearly as many as I have in the past, partially due to the aforementioned reasons, and partially due to the fact that the festival is shorter than ever before, showing significantly less films at fewer venues.  (Although last year's festival didn't happen at all so I probably shouldn't complain.)  Undoubtedly due to the recession, this year's April festival is only showing around 55 films over only 8 days at basically one venue, The Ritz East, with only two screens.  (A few sporatic screenings are being shown at The Trocadero, The Painted Bride, and The Piazza at Schmidt's.)  And most films are only screening once or twice.  By comparison, the festival used to run 11 or 12 days, and show up to 150 feature films, two to three times each, on up to seven screens simultaneously.  So it's quite a bit smaller this year than in its hey-day and as a result I've only seen 6 so far (not including 'Exporting Raymond', which I saw a few months ago at the Santa Barbara Film Festival).  And Cinefest ends this Thursday.  Sad, I know, but here is a summary of what I've seen for those of you who care about the smaller festival fare:

The Troll Hunter
Per the title, this is a Nordic midnight-type monster movie about Trolls and the men who hunt them.  I'm getting a little tired of the 'found footage'-'Blair Witch'y type horror/monster films, but nevertheless many of them are very entertaining, like 'Cloverfield' and 'The Last Exorcism'.  And this one is no exception.  It's good fun.  And the troll theme was a nice fresh touch.  It's playing at the TriBeCa Film Festival in a few weeks for those of you East Coasters who want to check it out.
Grade: B

Lapland Odyssey
This is a Finnish comedy about a sorry gent whose girlfriend gives him an ultimatum that he best get her a Digibox (a.k.a a cable box) or she'll leave him.  And since he's poor, a series of misadventures follow on his quest to get one and keep his lady.  It's pretty fun and the crowd definitely had a good time.
Grade: B

Ceremony
Michael Angarano, who's only 24 and 5'7" according to IMDB, plays a spunky fellow who stumbles upon an ex-love played by Uma Thurman, who's almost 41 and 6'0" according to IMDB, and he tries to convince her to get back together with him, despite the fact she's getting married to a handsome, successful, rich movie star.  The casting should give you an idea of how offbeat the film is.  It felt very Wes Anderson to me, and Angarano could easily have been replaced by Jason Schwartzman.  The film is mainly a drama, but with some quirk to it, and while it's not a total success, I did like that it's different.  It opens at the Ritz theaters in Philly on 4/22, but I wouldn't go out of your way to see it.
Grade: B-

Womb
Billed as 'super weird and super creepy' by Cinefest, this is a slow-burn science fiction film involving true love and cloning.  Alas, in retrospect, I'm not quite as crazy about the film as I am about the idea.  It was just too slow for my taste and you can pretty easily see where it's going.
Grade: C

Endhiran (a.k.a. Robot)
This is a relatively big budget science fiction Bollywood film about a group of inventors who make a robot as the ultimate military weapon.  According to the Cinefest write-up it's 'the most expensive production in Indian cinema history' and 'enjoyed the largest international premiere of any Indian film to date'.  So that's why I went to see it.  And the score is by Academy Award winner A.R. Rahman, who did the score to '127 Hours' which I absolutely love.  The music was decent, and in typical Bollywood fashion there are many long musical dance numbers.  And the movie was sort of fun, with a few very impressive action sequences.  But at almost 3 hours long I felt more than a little underwhelmed.
Grade: C-

Wuss
A loser returns to his high school as a substitute teacher in this quirky indie drama, and along the way he gets involved with an ex-classmate at a reunion, a violent student, and a young femme fatale in his class.  It simply doesn't go anywhere interesting.  And the 25 minutes of technical problems preceding the film didn't help.
Grade: D

Be sure to check back for more Cinefest reviews and my final thoughts on this year's festival.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Scream 1 - 3



In anticipation of the upcoming sequel to the 'Scream' trilogy, I thought I'd take a stroll down memory lane and revisit the first three.  It's hard to believe it's been almost 15 years since the first one and over 11 since the last.  Who else feels old?  I can clearly remember sitting in the theater for a weekend matinee back in 1996, not even suspecting how revolutionary the film I was about to see would be.  The first 'Scream' totally reinvented the horror genre, deconstructing every trite aspect, playing with them and adding humor by addressing horror movie cliches, all the while keeping things just as scary as its predecessors.  It was the perfect blend of horror, mystery, and comedy.  Call it a slasher film meets 'Scooby Doo', directed by horror master Wes Craven and written by newcomer Kevin Williamson, who went on to write 'Dawson's Creek', as well as many other horror films, none of which compared in quality.  It quickly became clear that these films wouldn't follow the rules of traditional horror movies, which they frequently make direct reference to.  Unlike those scary movies of yesteryear these films wouldn't be afraid to kill major cast members very early on, even if they were prominently featured in the promotion of the film.   No one was safe.  And isn't that the exact kind of unpredicatability that you want in a horror film to keep you on the edge of your seat? 

The first 'Scream' featured few established movie stars, like Drew Barrymore and Henry Winkler, but instead became a launching vehicle for rising young talent (some of which were just beginning in successful TV shows) including Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowen, and Liev Schreiber.  (Believe it or not, Jamie Kennedy is consistently the best part of these films.)  And this killer cast, pun intended, combined with a hip, stylish, atmospheric feel, in large part due to a great haunting score by Marco Beltrami mixed with some darker themed pop songs, combined with visually interesting locations make this a true classic.

While the first entry addressed the rules of horror films, the second, released a year later in 1997, equally cleverly deconstructed the typicalities of sequels.  And in doing so, it becomes one of the rare sequels arguably better than the original, a topic that is slyly discussed in the film itself.  Additional newcomers in the cast include Jada Pinkett (pre-Smith), Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, Joshua Jackson, Jerry O'Connell, Portia De Rossi, Rebecca Gayheart, Tori Spelling and Luke Wilson.  Since the first film was so wildly popular, it suddenly became a desirable part for a name actor to be killed after only a bit role.

2000 brought the third installment, adding Parker Posey, Patrick Dempsey, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, Lance Henriksen, Scott Foley, and Patrick Warburton to the cast.  It doesn't break too much new ground, but there are new rules that apply to a trilogy, and regardless, it's just great fun to see the surviving cast again for one last time.  (Or so we all thought ... until now.)

While they may not completely stand the test of time, partially due to being copied by inferior horror movies, and spoofed by the 'Scary Movie' films, they still hold up pretty darn well.  And the trilogy will always remain on my Best Horror Film list.  Now let's see if 11 years later we get something that can compare to how groundbreaking the originals were.  Is this just greedy studio executives trying to milk this franchise one last time?  Or did a new script arise with a story that just needed to be told? 

I'll let you know on Friday.

Grade for Scream:  A

Grade for Scream 2:  A

Grade for Scream 3 :  A-

Friday, April 8, 2011

FOX 35 News Orlando - Friday 4/8/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I give my thoughts on 'Your Highness', 'Hanna', and 'Casino Jack'.




In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies opening today are in green)

Limitless                              Grade: B+

Hall Pass                              Grade: B+

Source Code                        Grade: B+
Battle: Los Angeles              Grade: B
Unknown                              Grade: B

Win Win                               Grade: B
Kill the Irishman                  Grade: B
The Adjustment Bureau     Grade: B

The Lincoln Lawyer            Grade: B

Insidious                              Grade: B

Queen to Play                     Grade: B

Jane Eyre                             Grade: B-

Rango                                  Grade: B-

The Mechanic                     Grade: C+
Your Highness                     Grade: C+
Just Go WIth It                   Grade: C
Paul                                    Grade: C
Hop                                     Grade: C
Red Riding Hood               Grade: C-
Sucker Punch                    Grade: C-
Hanna                                Grade: D

Your Highness


Danny McBride, James Franco, and 'Pineapple Express' director David Gordon Green are back together again with an R-rated crass comedy fantasy film, and this time they lured Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel along for the ride.  This parody of quest / fantasy films blends situations from usual suspects like 'Robin Hood' and 'Clash of the Titans'.  But there's plenty of sexual humor and forced F-bombs thrown in to constantly remind you it's kind of a spoof.

I could say I liked this movie better the first time I saw it, when it was called 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights', and it's certainly not as good as Mel Brooks' films, but we don't get many comedy fantasy films so it still felt fresh enough to be enjoyable.  It's entertaining enough for a few laughs assuming you like crude humor, but not much more.  Frankly, Portman and Franco are too good for a film like this, but I suppose I understand they wanted to stretch and do something different.  This is really more of what you expect from 'Eastbound and Down's McBride.  I can say I found it slightly more palatable than 'Paul', the recent spoof on alien films, featuring the voice of fellow 'Pineapple Express' alum Seth Rogen, but I was still sporatically drifting off and waxing nostalgic for Mel Brooks.  But for those of you who liked 'Paul', this one is right up your alley.

Grade:  C+

Hanna


Hanna is a young girl played by Saoirse Ronan. (Don't ask me how to pronounce that, but you've seen her in 'The Lovely Bones' and a great film called 'The Way Back').  She's been raised away from society and trained by her dad, played by Eric Bana, to be the ultimate assassin.  But she feels it's finally time for her to fulfill her mission, which involves an evil CIA operative played by Cate Blanchett in this action thriller.

Let's cut to the chase.  I hated this film.  To me, it was a complete bore and an utter waste of time.  I honestly couldn't find one scene that was worth watching.  And I wanted to.  I really did.  Especially since the trailer showed a lot of potential.  But this is definitely not 'The Professional'.  (If you haven't seen that, then you really should.)  And it's also no 'Le Femme Nikita' or 'Point of No Return'.  It's just a big, dumb, dull, action movie.  I can easily say it's one of my two least favorite films of the year so far.  (I debated whether it takes the prize from 'The Rite' but decided against it.) 

Now, with that said, I must say that select people in the audience really seemed to be enjoying the film.  And the few reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes are quite favorable.  And Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+!  I just don't get that at all.  I'm usually in synch with the critical mass, but we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one.  Or maybe I missed something.  Well, I can't explain the critics, but with regard to the advance screening audience, and I've said this before, I think some people are just really happy to be out of the house and doing something for free.  I, on the other hand, would have preferred to be home burning my money.  My opinion is that you should skip it and rent 'The Professional'.  Or, for a better Hanna(h), may I recommed 'Hannah and Her Sisters'?
Grade: D (and dangerously close to an F)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teenage Paparazzo


Most of us know Adrian Grenier from the endlessly entertaining HBO show 'Entourage' as big time movie star Vincent Chase.  So how do you follow up a role as tabloid fodder for the paparazzi?  Well, you can make a documentary on the paparazzi themselves.  Sounds good, but maybe you need an additional hook?  Ok, how about a doc focusing on one particularly obnoxious, narcissistic paparazzo who's only 13 years old?  Yeah, that's the ticket.

So many questions come to mind, I'm sure.  How can a 13 year old kid be a paparazzo if he can't even drive?  Doesn't he have school?  Don't his parents mind?  Well, it probably doesn't hurt that according to him he can make up to $1000 per picture.  Hmm, if that's the case, why don't we all quit our jobs and follow suit?  Maybe because if it was as lucrative as they make it sound, then why do all paparazzi look like they haven't bathed, shaved, or changed clothes in weeks?  Or maybe because most people think it should be criminal what they're are allowed to get away with, and some of us prefer to earn a decent, honest living rather than invading on others' privacy?  Well, those are my thoughts anyway.  But if you want to see a fairly entertaining documentary about what it's like to be a paparazzo and their targets/victims, including interviews with Paris Hilton, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, Lewis Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, and the cast of 'Entourage' then check out this DVD.  I personally wish our society would stop focusing on the tabloid aspects of celebrities who shouldn't even be famous and return to appreciating the craft of those that should.  I'm just so damn tired of Paris, Lindsey, Britney, Brangelina, The Kardashians, Snookie and The Situation.  Hmm, I wonder what Charlie Sheen is up to?

Grade: B-

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Exporting Raymond


We've all seen 'Everybody Loves Raymond', the Ray Romano led sitcom that ran for nine seasons and ended in 2005.  And, while not everybody loved it as much as the title indicated, it certainly had a very successful run and a huge fan base.  And since Hollywood executives never miss an opportunity to dig up the dead, an idea was presented to 'Raymond' creator, writer, and executive producer Phil Rosenthal.  Why not re-tool it to run in Russia?  They can even use the same scripts and just make minor tweaks as needed.  After all, Russians and Americans have the same sense of humor, don't they?  Well no, but apparently it worked for 'The Nanny' and 'Married with Children' which have apparently been very successful over there.  So it should be a piece of cake, right?  Well, unfortunately it wasn't quite that simple, but fortunately Rosenthal had the foresight to get the whole adventure on video and bring us this entertaining documentary.  If you thought Romano and clan were funny, you should check out Rosenthal.  He's the comic mastermind behind that show, and can make you laugh simply by a subtle look on his very expressive face.  And lucky for you Philly folks, Rosenthal is scheduled to be in attendance at the upcoming Philadelphia Cinefest on Thursday April 7 at 6:30 PM, or catch a second showing on Saturday April 9 at 12:15 PM.  A link is below.  It's a good movie, and Rosenthal's Q&A makes it a great experience.  Don't miss it.

http://www.phillycinefest.org/film-details.cfm?id=9687

Grade: B

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dogtooth


No, this is not 'Dogville', the 2003 film starring Nicole Kidman from famed Danish director Lars von Trier.  This is 'Dogtooth', a Greek film from 2010 that was one of the five Best Foreign Language Film nominees at the Academy Awards, and now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  But it's certainly twisted and perverse enough to be mistaken for a von Trier film.

This is the story of three teenagers, two girls and a boy, living in a nice house with their parents.  But unlike most teenagers, these three have never been exposed to the outside world.  Even worse, they don't even have names.  And even worse, almost everything they've been taught is untrue.  And even worse yet, there isn't any clear indication as to why.  Best case, their parents are doing it to protect them from the world.  Worst case, it's a twisted experiment.  Based on this description, one might consider this to be 'The Village' meets 'The Truman Show', but while I found those two films delightfully entertaining, this is just dark, disturbing, and perverse.

Normally all I ask in a film is to give me something original.  This one did that in a big way.  But it also just made me feel bad.  Like von Trier's 'Antichrist', some will deem this as a brilliant triumph in filmmaking.  I view them both as 'torture porn' and bad for the soul.  Skip them both, unless of course you're into that sort of thing.

Grade: C

Friday, April 1, 2011

FOX 35 News Orlando - Friday 4/1/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I give my thoughts on 'Source Code', 'Hop', and 'Black Swan'.




2011 First Quarter

Well, we're already a quarter of the way through 2011, and it hasn't been a great three months for films.  In fact, I haven't given out an A yet.  (Although 'Limitless' is close and maybe it deserved an A-.)  Below is a summary of my grades for the year so far:
Limitless                              Grade: B+
Hall Pass                              Grade: B+

Source Code                       Grade: B+
No Strings Attached          Grade: B
Battle: Los Angeles            Grade: B

The Green Hornet             Grade: B
Unknown                           Grade: B

Win Win                             Grade: B
Kill the Irishman                Grade: B
The Adjustment Bureau   Grade: B

The Lincoln Lawyer           Grade: B

Insidious                            Grade: B

Drive Angry                       Grade: B-


Cedar Rapids                     Grade: B-

Jane Eyre                          Grade: B-
Rango                                 Grade: B-

The Mechanic                   Grade: C+

Just Go WIth It                  Grade: C

The Dilemma                     Grade: C
Paul                                    Grade: C
Hop                                     Grade: C
Take Me Home Tonight    Grade: C

Season of the Witch         Grade: C-
Red Riding Hood              Grade: C-
Sucker Punch                    Grade: C-
Sanctum                            Grade: D
I Am Number Four           Grade: D
The Rite                            Grade: F