Sunday, April 26, 2009

2009 Summer Movies

Some famous critic once said something like, 'Springtime at the theatre is where bad movies go to die.' This is certainly true for this year, as it is for most years: our spring films have been mixed with mediocre comedies, lame action pics, and a few weird animated films for kids. Nothing has been truly great and worth seeing.
Well, all that changes on May 1. Thus starts the summer with the opening of the first big film of the season, the Wolverine prequel. Everything from there is big popcorn movies and lots of fun. Not all of the movies will be good, but this is the time of year when people go to the movies, regardless of their tastes. Here is an analysis of what to see this summer, week-by-week.

Friday, May 1
X-Men Origins: Wolverine

This film will be the Iron Man of this year: a big, highly anticipated superhero movie to kick the summer off with a bang. It doesn't look very good, but it will attract a large audience despite critical reviews. The most popular character of the X-Men films gets his own movie, complete with unnecessary backstory and a horde of new characters, including Gambit from the comics.

Friday, May 8
Star Trek

My pick for the film to beat this summer: Following in the footsteps of Batman Begins and Casino Royale, this film presses the restart button on an ancient franchise to lure back old fans who got bored and new, young fans who will see sequels and TV shows in the future. This film tells how James T. Kirk got to be the captian of the starship Enterprise. J. J. Abrams directs his first theatrical film since Mission: Impossible III, and it looks amazing.

Friday, May 15
Angels & Demons

The Da Vinci Code was a huge hit, and this sequel has been highly anticipated, but since it's sandwiched in between such heavy competition, this film will probably go largely unnoticed by moviegoers. The reunion of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks should make this film worthwhile, though, and the fact that it's also based on a book by the same author should make it as complex and as intense as the first film.

Thursday, May 21
Terminator: Salvation

The show may get cancelled, but the franchise is still alive and well in the multiplex as the series begins a new trilogy (the studio hopes). A new director and a new setting- McG and an apocalyptic future overrun by bloodthirsty machines- gives this a burst of adrenaline. In place of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we have newcomer Sam Worthington as the human face of the Terminators, and in place of Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl, we have the potty-mouthed Christian Bale as the legendary John Connor. The film shows how Connor got to be so legendary.

Note: This is for adult moviegoers. For kids, go see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, the kiddie sequel with Ben Stiller, out Friday, May 22.

Friday, May 29

Everything Pixar touches turns to gold (usually Oscar gold), and audiences are expecting nothing less than an amazing experience from the studio's tenth feature film, and their first in 3-D. This film is about a grumpy old man who escapes from society by lifting his house up off the ground with thousands of balloons and travels to South America. A young, annoying Boy Scout (or the fictional equivalent) tags along, bringing comic relief. They find some kind of adventure there, but as always, Pixar is being very secretive about the specifics of the plot. Can't wait.

Friday, June 5
Land of the Lost

Will Ferrell's new comedy looks better than a lot of the films he's done in the last few years as it also adds a lot of science fiction to the laughs. Ferrell and two others travel back in time (or is it forward in time?) to a lost world with dinosaurs, cavemen, and very slow-moving reptilian creatures. It's based on a TV show that's way too old for anybody in our generation to remember; but I'm sure we won't need any kind of background knowledge. Looks very funny.

Friday, June 12
The Taking of Pelham 123

A remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. (Their first film together!) Travolta plays a terrorist who hijacks a subway car and threatens to kill innocent passengers. Washington is the public service workman who is forced to negotiate with him on the radio. Looks like a good old-fashioned action film. You know, the kind without the CGI.

Friday, June 19
Year One

Unlikely comedic duo Jack Black and Michael Cera play lazy cavemen in the year- you guessed it- 1. Not historically accurate in the slightest, this movie follows them on a road trip to supposedly save a girl from slavery. Looks pretty funny, even if it may not make sense. Michael Cera is a really good actor; is he capable of playing other characters besides the awkward shy guy?

Wednesday, June 24
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Story? Nope. Logic? Not in the slightest. Explosions? You better believe it. This sequel from mega-director Michael Bay has really big Decepticons attacking Earth, supposedly taking revenge for all the bad guys that were killed in the first film. The heroic Autobots have to protect Shia LaBeouf and hottie Megan Fox from destruction. The huge success of the first film guarantees that this one will be a hit. Buzz about LaBeouf's broken hand being in the movie will boost its audience.

Wednesday, July 1
Public Enemies

This film takes the spot of the prestige film of the summer. Johnny Depp plays the legendary true-life bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale (in his second big film this summer) plays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who took him down. Michael Mann directs this big action/drama pic that will lure more mature audiences to the theatre and may actually score Oscar nominations for Depp and Bale. Bale needs one; he's a huge star with a lot of talent.

Note: This film will be for the older folks. For kids, go see Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, out the same day. And preferably in 3-D.

Friday, July 10

Sacha Baron Cohen is back with a sort-of spin-off of Borat, based on another character he played on Da Ali G Show. (Expect an Ali G movie to come out in another three years to complete the trilogy.) Bruno is super-gay and super-trendy and makes real people super-uncomfortable. Shot in the same faux-documentary style as its predecessor, this film doesn't look as good as Borat, but it will definitely be worth watching for anybody who was a fan of the movie, or the original show.

Wednesday, July 15
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Finally! This film was set to open by last Thanksgiving and was delayed because of the long-terms effects of the writer's strike and the economy's downfall. This highly-anticipated film is based on the second-to-last book in the series, but it may not be the second-to-last movie. (Deathly Hallows may be split into two films. Nothing is certain yet.) This one has Harry and Dumbledore diving into memories to discover Voldemort's past so they can find out how to defeat him, and also has further adventures of him and his friends dealing with romance, Quidditch, and classes. This one looks very dark but with a breath of fresh air in comic relief, very welcome after the dreary first couple of films. Sure to be a huge hit.

Friday, July 24
The Ugly Truth

Not much opening this week. This romantic comedy is the best pick, starring Gerard Butler as a sexist jerk put on a dating TV show to boost ratings, and Katherine Heigl as the show's unapproving producer. They hate each other at first; something tells me they'll end up falling in love.

Friday, July 31
Funny People

A very fitting title: Adam Sandler joins the Apatow gang, alongside Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann, in Judd Apatow's third movie, following the enormous success of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Sandler's character is very much like himself, an aging comedian who became very famous, except he's dying. No, not like the audience isn't laughing: literally dying. Rogen, a younger fellow comedian, is a big fan and is taken under his wing during his final months. When it turns out he may not be dying after all, he tries to get is ex-wife Mann back. Except she's married to a tough Australian guy played by Eric Bana. (This is Bana's second of three films of the summer, after playing the villain in Star Trek and before playing a time traveler in The Time Traveler's Wife.) Looks like a very funny and a very moving return to the director's chair for Apatow.

I don't really consider August to be a summer month since school starts sometime in that month, but some big films are still coming out at the back end of the biggest season in film. Some highlights: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, based on comic books/animated TV shows/action figures follows an elite team of soldiers headed by Dennis Quaid; Taking Woodstock, a dramatic film by Ang Lee starring Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch about putting together the legendary music festival; Inglourious Basterds, the latest Quentin Tarantino film about a group of American soldiers during WWII sent into Germany to terrorize and brutally kill Nazi soldiers, headed by Brad Pitt; and The Boat That Rocked, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a music pirate in a boat out in the ocean around the UK illegally broadcasting popular music to thousands of eager listeners, and the officials' attempt to shut them down.

See you at the movies this summer!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Observe and Report *1/2

Observe and Report
*1/2 out of ****

Seth Rogen has always been a love-him or hate-him guy. Before this film, I definitely was in the former club. The crudeness and sweet honesty that worked so well for him in films like Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno turns him into an ugly brute in Observe and Report. In his other films, he always plays his characters so that no matter how badly he acts, no matter what sludge comes out of his mouth, he is always somehow likeable. This is certainly not the case for this film.
Rogen plays Ronnie, an inept and egotistical mall security guard that still lives at home with his alcoholic mother. He takes his job way too seriously. His co-workers, Dennis, played by Michael Pena with a lisp, and the Yuen twins add to his enormous ego. He has a stalkerish crush on Brandi, a makeup counter girl and obvious ditz played by Anna Faris, a good actress who always hides her talent by taking roles in films like this. When a man starts flashing women at the mall, including Brandi, Ronnie is determined to catch the guy to fulfill some epic quest of his to be a mall hero. Ray Liotta plays a police detective who keeps coming back to the mall, despite being easily annoyed by Ronnie. The plot is extremely cliche and many of the jokes fall flat.
The strange thing is, this movie actually starts off promising. The first ten or fifteen minutes have funny gags and make all the characters instantly loveable. Then, as the movie progresses, the jokes start becoming repetitive and Rogen's character gets less and less likeable, until we are all convinced he is insane and doesn't deserve to get what he wants. The ending is predictable, and also very implausible.
People who see this movie and love it will say that it was not supposed to be a great film, that it is simply cheap entertainment. Well, my argument is that this film was only minimally entertaining. The director is as inept as his main character if he thinks constant repetition of the line 'Fuck you' is the height of hilarity and that excessive and bloody violence belongs in a silly comedy like this. The film promised cheap comedy and failed to deliver.
I would only recommend this film to Seth Rogen fans.

You can watch the trailer here:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles- Season 2

Note: This will NOT be a spoiler-free post.

I know I've only covered movies in my blog so far, but I watch television too, and there's plenty of good entertainment still on there. Besides, it's my blog, and I make the rules. Anyway, this is only a small departure from my usual subject matter because, after all, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a show based on the Terminator movies. It can be confusing to those who are only mild fans of the movies, as it lies on a different timeline than the third and (upcoming) fourth movies.
I was skeptical about the potential of the show before it premiered. After all, the movies were rated R and were filled with brilliant action and awesome special effects. Those things can't be translated to the small screen; can they?
The first season proved that the concept would work on television. They simply alter the material to make it like a PG-13 film, and show the Connor family's continuing adventures that are hinted at in the movies. It takes place maybe five or so years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when Sarah Connor and her son John are on the run and constantly trying to stop Skynet from being built and Judgment Day from happening. Sarah is played by Lena Headey, who everyone knows from 300. John is played by Thomas Dekker, who most people will recognize from Heroes. Cameron is the Terminator, disguised as a young, hot girl, sent back through time to protect John. Cameron is brilliantly played by Firefly alum Summer Glau, and is definitely the favorite character of the series. Often the best part of a particular episode is something Cameron does or says. Other Terminators, all looking different from one another and none of them looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, are sent back to do different jobs. There is always one that is looking for the Connors to kill them. The human resistance- led by a future John that we never see- also sends humans back through time. One of them happens to be Derek Reese, Kyle's brother. For everyone familiar with the mythology of the films, this means Derek is John's uncle. Derek is played by Brian Austin Green, who is best known for being engaged to Megan Fox in the real world. Season 1 ended with a car bomb blowing up with Cameron inside, leaving her fate unknown.
This season started out with the best episode of the series thus far. Cameron was not destroyed, but she was damaged, and she attempted to kill John. They fixed her, and continued their adventures. John met a girl at school, Riley, and fell in love with her. Cameron was jealous; Sarah disapproved. Eventually it was shown that Riley was from the future and her mission was to get John away from Cameron. Riley was killed by Jesse, Derek's girlfriend from the future. Derek then attempted to kill Jesse; whether or not he succeeded is unknown.
James Ellison, in the first season was an FBI agent. At the beginning of this season, he has seen enough evidence to believe the Connors' story and quits his job. He is slowly drawn to a big computer corporation looking to make the most advanced robots on the planet. The company is run by a Catherine Weaver, a Scottish woman that is more than she seems. It is revealed that Weaver died a while back, and a liquid metal Terminator has been living her life. Bringing in the liquid metal, made very popular in the second film, was a great addition to the show as it lured in more viewers and put a new spin on the show that is impossible to acheive with the limited run time of the movies. Garbage's lead singer Shirley Manson has a very impressive acting debut as Weaver.
While a good show, it is far from perfect, or even great television. For every exceptional episode that airs, a crappy weird one is also made. The show has just as many assets as it does pitfalls. Its strong points include John's new haircut, Cameron's faultiness, the aforementioned liquid metal Terminator, the episode where Sarah has to take care of a young boy targeted by machines, the origins of Cameron, the episode where a Terminator accidentally travels back to the 1920's, and a daytrip down to Mexico that turns deadly. Its weak points include the alien invasion episode, the sleep clinic episode, Sarah's unexplainable obsession with three dots, and the often creepy sexual tension between John and Cameron. The show's writers seem to write a lot of filler episodes, saving the good stuff for later, which is a good tactic to lose viewers quickly. The show's time slot being switched from Monday to Friday nights didn't help either.
Due to the writer's strike, season 1 was vastly shortened down to a pathetic nine episodes. Season 2 was given more or less a full season with twenty-two episodes. The extra time allowed for a lot more character development and free range for new characters to come, go and get killed. I would have to say that the second season was better, despite its obvious faults. The first season tried to bring viewers in by giving them exactly what they expected and wanted: lots of robots fighting in long action sequences. However, the second season excels by largely staying away from mindless sequences like that. (Although the occasional robot fight is thrown in, and it is always welcome.) The second season focused on a lot deeper issues that the first season was only able to briefly touch on: topics like the difference between computer intelligence and human wisdom, the role of religion in this death-filled sci-fi universe, young love and the yearning for a normal life, and above all, the connection between a mother and her child. It is when the show does quiet scenes with just two actors that its true colors come out, and it is that aspect of it that brought me back to watch it week after week, even on the awkward Friday night time slot.
As for the season finale, it was actually kind of a letdown, except for the last five minutes, in which Sarah and John are separated, potentially forever. The second-to-last episode was actually much better, in which Savannah, Weaver's young daughter is targeted and saved by the Connors. Derek is killed (who saw THAT one coming?!) and Sarah is arrested by police, leaving John alone with Cameron. In the finale, they attack the police station and free Sarah and visit Weaver. Surprisingly, she is a benevolent Terminator that apparently has been programmed to help the Connors. Cameron finds John Henry and removes her own chip and gives it to him. (If you haven't been watching, John Henry was a Terminator trying to kill John before they destroyed his chip. But, his super-advanced body was stolen by Ellison and experimented on by Weaver and her company. They were training it to be a good Terminator that could help the world, not kill people.) They have also apparently built a time-travel device in the basement of the building (that, conveniently, has never been mentioned before). John Henry used it to travel through time, so Weaver and John follow him. Sarah refuses to go; she stays in the present with Ellison. When they arrive, John finds out he is in the apocalyptic war-torn future where, in a Pulp Fiction-like twist, Derek is alive, and he gets to meet his father Kyle for the first time.
The whole thing was obviously a set-up for the third season. Well, more like a promise for what the third season could potentially hold. The show's ratings have been dropping steadily and it is very possible that it will not be renewed for a third season. The episode that aired tonight would have been a very disappointing series finale.
So, if you have not watched the show, take a look at it online. If enough interest is built, Fox may decide not to cancel it and bring it back. The show is fun to watch and the Terminator story is very relevant to today, as it could plausibly happen that humans could be at war with the machines we make.
One final note: has anyone else noticed that they never actually say the word 'Terminator' in the show except when referring to the title? They always say 'cyborg' or 'robot,' or 'metal,' the future people's nickname for all things robotic. My guess is that this is a legal thing; the show's producers don't own the rights to the word. But the show is being produced by the same company that is making Terminator: Salvation, the next film in the franchise. Does that mean they won't be able to say 'Terminator' in the movie either? This is mildly annoying and I hope it's a problem they can fix. It's hard to fight an epic war with an enemy when you can't even say their name.