Friday, April 23, 2010

Trailer Review: High School

Release Date: Fall 2010

Website: Official High School site

Starring: Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Matt Bush, Michael Vartan, Sean Marquette

My Review: After watching this very bizarre (and short) early trailer for High School, the only thing I know for sure is this: Adrien Brody can be really friggin’ scary when he wants to be.

High School is apparently a comedy, though the teaser trailer makes it look and feel like a horror movie, with its quick scene cuts and Brody’s menacing voiceover (adult language ahoy, kids). But when it premiered at Sundance back in January, it was most decidedly a comedy. Plus it’s about weed, so it has to be a comedy. Everybody knows that Hollywood only bases dramas around the harder drugs.

After high school valedictorian Henry (Matt Bush, of the so annoying AT&T cell phone ads) gets high for the first time, the principal (Michael Chiklis) announces a no-tolerance policy and orders a school-wide drug test, where anyone who tests positive gets immediate expulsion—which would probably cause a problem or two with Henry’s college scholarship. So he comes up with a brilliant plan: Find a way to get the entire school high, so everyone fails the drug test. And to do this, he’s going to need to bring in the town’s preeminent pot dealer, a colorful character played by Brody who goes by the name “Psycho Ed.” This plan is bound to go off without a hitch. Or, like, not…man.

Would I Pay For It?: I’m more likely to rent it so I can enjoy it at home with an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos without anyone passing judgment on me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

‘Spider-Man’ the Musical: Just Pull the Plug Already

I’m aware that theater people aren’t always completely grounded in reality, but the fact that money is still being poured into the black hole that is the Spider-Man musical (officially titled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, yes, really) is beyond ludicrous. For those not in the know, here’s a brief rundown:

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (hereafter referred to as Spidey) is a Broadway musical that has been in the works for what seem like decades. Julie Taymor—who brought The Lion King successfully to the stage with ingenious puppets and mediocre everything else—is directing, and the U2 boys Bono and The Edge are writing the music. Spidey has been fraught with problems, most stemming from how expensive it is.

Obviously, Spidey isn’t going to be some minimalist production, because Spider-Man has to, like, do stuff, and the sort of technology and pyrotechnics this show requires doesn’t come cheap. At one point construction of the set actually came to a halt because they ran out of money. Financial backers started dropping out, and the opening date was delayed multiple times (and the longer a stage show can’t collect ticket sales cash, the bleaker things get). At last count, over $50 million has been sunk into Spidey, thus making it the most expensive Broadway musical production ever. That’s right; Miss Saigon landed a motherf’ing helicopter on the stage, but still came in under Spidey on budget.

But even as opening night got pushed further and further back, and the budget got more and more bloated, the production team behind Spidey stayed strong, convinced that the show would go on and people would come to see it, mainly due to Evan Rachel Wood playing Mary Jane and Alan Cumming as the Green Goblin. But the thing with known actors is that they are in demand and have other projects to work on. So while Spidey started and stalled and sputtered its way toward opening night, its big-name draws had careers to worry about. Wood dropped out of the show in March, claiming scheduling conflicts. Then just a couple of days ago, Cumming also left due to the expansion of his role on the successful TV drama, The Good Wife. (Note to Spidey staff: “Successful” means the show is running and people are watching it. Just FYI).

So what is basically left of Spidey is an empty theater and several mountains of debt. The show was originally supposed to open this past February, then got pushed to March, then finally settled on November 2010. But now that it’s down two actors—and the two actors that were going to draw an audience—Spidey is basically screwed. Producers need to stop pouring money into this sinkhole and just write Spidey off for what it is: A cautionary tale to overly-ambitious, but ultimately short-sighted producers. Even if the show had opened, it would have had to lucratively run for several years to recoup the money put into it, and that was highly unlikely to happen. Why? Because it’s a friggin’ musical about Spider-Man!

Once upon a time, New York musical theater was filled with shows based on classic literature, operas, and—most daring of all—original ideas written by talented people! But in recent years, Broadway has become a dumping ground for whatever half-baked Hollywood-inspired crap producers think will get tourists to shell out $130 for orchestra seats (because locals know better than to see those shows or pay full price for anything). Sometimes is works out, but for every Mary Poppins and The Lion King, there are dozens more Young Frankensteins and Tarzans. And unfortunately for Spidey, no amount of Bono or cracked-out Taymor puppets is going to save it from its Tarzan-like stench.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Trailer Review: Ondine

Release Date: June 4, 2010

Website: Official Ondine site

Starring: Colin Farrell, Stephen Rea, Alicja Bachleda, Tony Curran, Alison Barry

My Review: Even though I’ve never been an avid follower of Colin Farrell’s career, I wouldn’t have pegged him for the fantasy movie type. Most actors who don’t already have a career steeped in this sort of lighter fare usually go the family-friendly route when they want to create something their own children can watch. So if only 10% of the rumors about Farrell’s personal life are true, you can understand my curiosity as to what drew him to his role in Ondine.

A bit darker than most American fantasy movies, Ondine is a sort of Irish fairy tale that blends fantastical elements with reality. Farrell is a fisherman named Syracuse who wants to make sure everyone knows just how Irish he is, so is lays the accent on with a putty knife. One day while out at sea a mysterious woman called Ondine (meaning “came from the water”) is pulled in with his fishing nets, so the natural thing for Syracuse to do is bring her home with him and steal some ladies clothes for her to wear.

Syracuse’s wheelchair-bound daughter, Annie, is fascinated by Ondine, and seems to know all about these magical creatures that come from the sea. She tells her father that Ondine can stay on land for seven years, unless she has a husband from the sea who takes her back. And apparently there is a mysterious man looking for Ondine, which will only cause problems for the blossoming romance between her and Syracuse.

For those who like their fantasies a bit less juvenile, Ondine may be what you’re looking for, with its PG-13 rating and sensual scenes between Syracuse and his water lady. I just hope that there’s a bit more to Ondine herself than coming from the water and bewitching those around her, because disguising what is merely a tortured love story as a fantasy movie is pretty sneaky, even by movie studio standards. And no amount of Colin Farrell hair wafting in the Irish breeze will make up for it.

Would I Pay For It?: No, but providing it gets some decent feedback, I would eventually rent it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trailer Review: The Kids Are All Right

Release Date: July 7, 2010

Website: Official The Kids Are All Right site

Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

My Review: My first reaction after watching the trailer for The Kids Are All Right was to breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, a comedy with truly talented actors that isn’t based around a gimmick! There’s nary a wacky wedding scene, a sassy geriatric, or a road trip to Las Vegas to be found. And what’s more, the plot is actually a plausible situation. Are filmmakers finally starting to notice that real life can actually be amusing?

Moore and Bening are lesbian couple Jules and Nic, who are mothers to two teens, Joni and Laser (played by Wasikowska and Hutcherson). As is natural, Joni and Laser are curious about where they came from, so they dig up their sperm-donor dad Paul (Ruffalo) and give him a call. Suddenly, he’s no longer a passing interest or a faceless DNA distributor as he eagerly becomes an active part in their non-traditional family life. Jules is pretty cool with it, Nic is less so, the kids are happy to get to learn more about themselves, and Paul is like an excited puppy; sort of confused about what he’s gotten himself into, but he’s just so happy to be there.

Besides how not contrived the story is, I also love how a non-traditional family is painted as a harmonious and functional unit, rather than being played for cheap laughs. Jules and Nic have been together for ages and are clearly devoted to each other and the life they share, but of course they have their share of squabbles and disagreements. Joni and Laser are bright, intelligent teens who, despite being curious about their origins, don’t bemoan the fact that they were raised by two women. I also like how Jules and Nic each gave birth to one of their children, as lesbian couples are so often portrayed as one being the “mom” and the other the “dad,” thus fitting them more closely to the “conventional” family mold. But Jules and Nic don’t need convention; they each have a nurturing side, a disciplinary side, and their own distinct personality, flaws and all. Every family should be so lucky.

Would I Pay For It?: While I don’t necessarily think The Kids Are All Right warrants a trip to the theater, I look forward to the DVD release (it’s been in my Netflix queue ever since the positive reaction it got at Sundance last January).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Trailer Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Release Date: July 23, 2010

Website: Official Dinner for Schmucks site

Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Schaal, Bruce Greenwood

My Review: When you first hear the premise for Dinner for Schmucks (a remake of the French comedy Le dîner de cons), where a group of business executives have a contest to see who can find the biggest moron to bring to dinner, your initial reaction is to think how awful and degrading that is. Then you hear that it’s starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and everything’s cool again.

Rudd is Tim, a man trying to work his way to the top who is sure a promotion is coming his way. And it is, providing he can find some hapless tool to entertain his colleagues. Once a month his boss hosts a dinner party where each guest is to bring some random idiot for mocking, and if Tim can bring the best idiot, he’ll get his promotion.

Tim’s girlfriend is rightfully horrified by the notion, which gives him pause, but then he meets Barry (played by Carell)—a socially awkward, accident-prone dolt who makes taxidermied mice dioramas for fun—and the opportunity is just too good to pass up. Cue the hijinks.

The pairing of Carell and Rudd has struck comedy gold before (in Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin), and Dinner for Schmucks is ripe with potential, though the trailer is a bit lacking. Rather than seeming like an idiot, Barry seems more klutzy and clueless, but overall a well-meaning guy (not unlike Carell’s most famous character, Michael Scott). It would be more appropriate (and hilarious) to see him channeling his Anchorman character, Brick Tamland, who was about as stupid as a person can get without being diagnosed with something. But maybe the trailer isn’t showing all of the movie’s best moment, so it will actually be a delightful surprise when first viewed. Some trailers still do that, right?

Would I Pay For It?: I love Carell and Rudd together in another comedy, but I want it to be uproariously funny, not just mildly amusing. If I hear through the grapevine that it’s actually funny enough to warrant the price of a ticket, then yes. Otherwise, this will be a rental.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Summer Movies I’m Looking Forward To

Yes, I’ve been kind of a lazy blogger recently, mainly because of being busy at my day job, but also due to being uninspired by what the entertainment world has been offering lately. I haven’t been to a live theater show in awhile due to the astronomical cost of tickets and the theater district’s reluctance to give me free seats (which they should, since I would gladly write something about their show). Movies are also getting really expensive to go see (thanks 3D! Asshole!), and the last movie I paid to see in the theater was the tearfully disappointing Alice in Wonderland. There are always new movie trailers available to pass judgment on, but after awhile, they all start to look the same. Raunchy comedy! Girls planning weddings! Ethnic movie! Overwrought drama! Nicholas Sparks!

But now we’re in the month of April, which means May comes next, which means Memorial Day Weekend, which means…the start of summer movies! For reasons that I’m sure make sense to them, movie studios tend to stockpile their good stuff for release during two key parts of the year: Oscar time and the summer. Why any of us bother to go see movies any other time of the year is beyond me, as nearly all movies released at any other time of the year run the gamut of terrible to just plain forgettable.

So in the spirit of forgetting the cinematic tripe that’s been shoveled out over the past few months, here are some of the summer flicks I’m looking forward to seeing (and feel free to check out the full list of upcoming summer releases to create your own list):

Get Him to the Greek – Opens June 4

I’m not necessarily a big fan of Russell Brand, but I loved Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s one of those movies where if I see it on TV (and HBO likes to play it pretty often), I’ll put it on and tune out the rest of the world for the next two hours. Brand’s character, the libidinous rocker Aldous Snow, was a highlight of the movie whenever he appeared onscreen, so I’m curious to see how basing an entire movie on him will work out. It may very well be a disaster, but I’m willing to take that chance.

Toy Story 3 – Opens June 18

Even while I found Cars and Ratatouille to be no better than “just OK,” Disney-Pixar movies really have yet to take a misstep. The first two Toy Story movies were excellent; cute, funny, original, and touching, all without being too cloying or precious (a territory Disney has wandered into on its own many times before). I actually enjoyed the second one slightly more than the first, and can’t wait to see if the third installment continues to exceed its exceptional predecessors.

Dinner for Schmucks – Opens July 23

The 40 Year Old Virgin’s costars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd team up again for this comedy, and that’s all I needed to hear. Rudd is a businessman whose boss invites him to a dinner where every guest has to bring along the biggest idiot they can find. He who brings along the biggest loser is declared the winner, and is possibly the next in line for a promotion. Yes, it sounds mean-spirited, but when you have Carell playing a bumbling IRS employee who creates taxidermied mice dioramas for fun, it kind of puts everything into perspective. Plus, if you think the idiots don’t come out on top at the end, you clearly haven’t seen enough movies.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Opens August 13

Unlike Oscar time, when movies are all about the drama, summer movies are all about the action, which usually means a lot of comic book-inspired flicks. Unfortunately for me, these movies really aren’t my cup of tea (no, I don’t care about Iron Man 2, which opens on May 7 for those who are interested). But the trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World actually makes the movie look kind of awesome, and a lot of fun (which is exactly what a summer movie should be). It’s based off a comic book (excuse me, GRAPHIC NOVEL) that I have no knowledge of, but it stars Michael Cera as an unlucky in love 20-something who meets the girl of his dreams. The only catch is he has to battle her seven evil exes before they can be together, thus creating a bizarrely campy romantic comedy/action-adventure hybrid movie. It’s directed by Edgar Wright, who directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both excellent comedies. And there are those who like to argue that Cera plays the same “awkward dorky guy” in every movie he makes. But he does it so damn well, I really don’t care.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – Opens June 30

Haha, no, just kidding. Twilight is obviously the worst thing ever.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trailer Review: Lottery Ticket

Release Date: August 20, 2010

Website: Official Lottery Ticket site

Starring: Bow Wow, Loretta Devine, Ice Cube, Brandon T. Jackson, Terry Crews, Keith David

My Review: If you like your comedies formulaic and only mildly amusing, then you’re going to lukewarmly look forward to Lottery Ticket.

Bow Wow (who is apparently no longer Li’l) stars as Kevin, a young man who shares an apartment in the projects with his grandmother (played by the always-sassy Loretta Devine). Everyone in the neighborhood has big dreams, but precious little money to make them happen. Then Kevin and Grandma get a lucky break when they win big— over $300 million big—at the lottery. The lottery office is closed for the 4th of July three-day weekend, so Kevin tries to keep his winnings secret until he can cash in, otherwise everyone will be hitting him up for money. But naturally, everyone finds out anyway, and of course they all want some money, so Kevin’s in for some wacky shenanigans over the next three days.

Maybe I’ve seen too many “winning the lottery” movies (It Could Happen to You, Waking Ned Devine) and too many wacky “money makes people crazy” comedies (Rat Race, Mad Money) to see any potential originality in Lottery Ticket. Heck, even the title alone is an uninspired yawn. Maybe the studio figured since the blunt self-referential title worked so well for Hot Tub Time Machine, lightening would strike twice if they adopted the same formula. Well, I took a peek into the future in my Upright Shower Stall Time Machine, and they are going to be sorely disappointed.

Would I Pay For It?: Um…no.