Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gravity single take trailer

So yeah... this looks pretty damn awesome.

Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men). Comes out October 4th. Oh yes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

And yet, continuing my last post, here's what the summer of 2015 could wind up looking like...

 Avengers 2
Superman/Batman team-up movie
Star Wars Episode VII
 Independence Day 2
 Terminator 5
Pirates of the Caribbean 5
 Jurassic Park 4 (maybe)

Those are just the franchise blockbusters that we know of, who knows what else the studios will try kicking up that summer. I just hope Guillermo del Toro decides to be smart and release his movie in the Fall of 2015. 

And yeah, that's kind of a problem. We're gonna be so pre-occupied with these bloated blockbuster franchises that it'll be impossible for anything original to even take shape. 

What films came out in the summer of...?

Just making an observation here. 

All big tentpoles to come out in summer of 2013:
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
Fast and Furious 6
After Earth
Man of Steel
World War Z
White House Down
The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
The Wolverine

Five years before....2008:
Iron Man
Speed Racer
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
The Incredible Hulk
The Dark Knight
The Mummy: Tomb of Dragon Emperor

Five years before... 2003:
X2: X-Men United
The Matrix Reloaded
2 Fast 2 Furious
The Hulk
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Bad Boys II
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life

Five years before... 1998:
Deep Impact
The X-Files
Lethal Weapon 4
The Mask of Zorro

Jurassic Park
Last Action Hero
The Fugitive

It used to be that you'd have a big budget action blockbuster tentpole per month in the summer. But now, there's one every week. It's really stupid, honestly. Why did we start making so many of them? It creates a cluster and, inevitably, a good amount will fail. A few of those 2003 ones are kinda in-betweens. Not exactly tentpoles, but they are films the studios spent a good amount of money on. But if May - early August is the bread and butter for major studios, why would you have 12 blockbuster films all coming out in a row like that? Some are bound to fail. There's fatigue. The movies that have been number 1 in the box office the past few weeks have been animated ones: Monsters University and Despicable Me. To me, that sounds like blockbuster fatigue. It's time to start spending money more wisely, Hollywood.

The question marks for 2013: Fifth Estate, Mandela, Furnace, 12 Years a Slave movie trailers

The Fifth Estate, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 12 Years a Slave, and Out of the Furnace could all be given serious awards consideration by the end of the year. But the trailers? Not much to go by, really. There's just something about each of the four trailers that just don't feel right. Out of the Furnace looks the most solid, but the Mandela and Slave look awards-baity. Also, The Fifth Estate looks like The Social Network goes political. That's just my judgment of the tone of the trailers. Hopefully this'll just be another example in a long line of lame movie trailers, but still... I have my reservations.

Out of the Furnace trailer:

The Fifth Estate
12 Years a Slave
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Friday, July 19, 2013

2012 >>>> 2013 so far

No offense 2013, but 2012 is kinda kicking your ass.

Check out my top 12 films of 2012. Guess what? 11 out of 12 of those movies were truly released in 2012. One of those movies, "Your Sister's Sister," premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival before making its official US premiere in 2012. See, that's how people generally count things. Movie makes a festival run in 2011, but does not get released in theaters/VOD until 2012? Then it counts as a 2012 movie. Usually, movies that premiere at Sundance and Cannes tend to make their US theatrical premiere later that same year. But a lot of movies that make festival premieres late in the year don't get a theatrical release until the next year.

So that's usually how that works. Now look at my top 10 movies of 2013 so far. FOUR of the top six movies on my list had their festival premieres in 2012. "Place Beyond the Pines" and "Frances Ha" premiered at Toronto last year. "No" and "Mud" premiered at last year's Cannes. So, in that case, "Upstream Color" would be my number one 100% pure 2013 movie on the list. Take out the 2012 festival premiere movies and what do we have left? Color, Pac Rim, Before Midnight, This is the End, Side Effects, and Trance. Only two of those films are big studio films: Pac Rim and This is the End. 2013, thus far, has been the year of the indie, in my view.

What I'm trying to say, basically, is that 2012 was such an awesome year that four of my favorite films of 2013 are really just leftovers from last year. What was most surprising about 2012 is that more than half the movies on my year-end list where big studio films. Five of them were released between September-December. So far, 2013 is starting to resemble 2011, but could it actually wind up being weaker than that year? Yes and no. 2011 didn't exactly bring the house down, indie-wise. There were a few decent indie/arthouse films that year: Tree of Life, Shame, Beginners... I wouldn't really count "The Descendants" or "Drive" in that category though "Drive" has an arthouse feel to it. Therefore, 2013 definitely looks stronger in that regard so far.

What I'm getting tired of are big studios clustering their "serious" films for the end of the year, I mean, it's getting ridiculous. But let's look at the upcoming serious films for 2013. The fall of 2013, that is.

September: Prisoners, Don Jon
October: Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, The Counselor, Oldboy
November: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Nebraska, Grace of Monaco, Out of the Furnace, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
December: Dallas Buyers Club, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, Monuments Men, August: Osage County, Labor Day

Ok that's pretty much a full list. Not bad too. You got Alfonso Cuaron's first film in six years. Steve McQueen is back. Scorsese, Alexander Payne, The Coens, Paul Greengrass, Jason Reitman, and David O. Russell are gonna try to put their best feet forward too. You also got the rare Spike Jonze movie. Before "Her," the man's made one movie in 11 years.

2013 is an interesting year in that there's a lot of question marks, but not many sure things. We have no idea what American Hustle, Her, Monuments Men, or Labor Day will look like yet. It's exciting to see what the fall will bring us, but who knows what we'll actually get? Then again, what made 2012 so strong was so many pleasant surprises. Who knew Rian Johnson would explode with "Looper"? Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" was just as big of a question mark at this point last year. Heck, "Zero Dark Thirty" wasn't high on my anticipation list last year, and yet it stole my heart.

That said, couldn't we get some of those films released earlier? Look at November and December. I named 13 films. There's about 8-9 weeks in those months, why do we have to make those months such clusterfucks?

Moving on.... a brief Oscar talk

It was sad seeing 2010 and 2011 end with such "so-so" films winning best picture. I'm talking about "The King's Speech" and "The Artist." Tom Hooper, who won the Oscar for Best Director in 2010, has since gone on to show how limited he is as a filmmaker. As for Michel Hazanavicius? Are any of us really that excited about the next movie he's making?

For me, "Argo" was a solid choice for Best Picture. A choice I can't really complain about. But those two years, 2010 and 2011, really feel like odd years. Two years where we had really solid American films released, but the Academy went with a UK film and a French film instead. Two inoffensive, easy-to-swallow films nonetheless that don't really display a strong sense of craftsmanship. Films centered on strong performances and, in one case, a gimmick. The Oscars really seem to be losing touch.

See, I'm wondering if The Oscars would ever eventually go the way of the Grammys. For the longest time, The Grammys would award their highest accolades to albums/records that, frankly, nobody cared about. They didn't award great albums or popular albums, they awarded albums nobody cared about. Lately, they've been trying to go the popular route and it's been getting them higher ratings, but it's made them even more of a joke than before.

The Oscars aren't perfect of course, we know that. But every year people complain about the Oscars choices and every year they look for ways to go the "more appealing" route. They keep trying to get exciting hosts to come aboard, but that hasn't exactly made them the ratings juggernaut they used to be. Is the solution be to reward more popular films though? Looking at what 2013 has brought us so far? I fucking hope not.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Movies on my radar for the rest of the summer

Movies on my radar for the rest of the summer

Lot of interesting films this summer, but only a couple that are big studio films.  Like the first six months of the year, it's been all about the indie films. That won't change these next few months. In case you think there won't be anything worth watching now that summer's halfway over, here's a list that shows you that's not really the case. Check it out.

Pacific Rim is already out and you know how I feel about that one. In the meantime...

July 19th
Only God Forgives

This is one of those movies where "rottentomatoes" scores mean especially little. This is Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling collaborating once again. This time with a script Refn wrote. It got wildly mixed reviews in Cannes with some people booing. And you know what? I'm still excited as hell about this movie. Go figure.

Computer Chess (comes out July 17th)

This one just looks odd. Andrew Bujalski is known for being one of the more critically acclaimed filmmakers of the mumblecore genre. Well, this film, is unlike anything I've seen judging by the trailer. I don't know if I'll catch this in theaters, but it's definitely perked my interest.

July 26th

The Wolverine (comes out July 24th)

The last superhero movie of the summer. You gotta give it to Hugh Jackman. He loves this character and he puts his all into each Wolverine performance. Let's hope this one is a step above the previous Wolverine film.

Blue Jasmine

Two words: Cate Blanchett. Critics are going insane over her performance. Apparently, it's a show stopper. How do you not get excited over a great acting performance? Also, this one has quite the cast: Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale... pretty cool. Oh yeah, it's directed by Woody Allen.

Fruitvale Station (wider release, July 26th)

This one is technically already out but a wider release is expected to come on the 26th. This was a Sundance favorite, winning the Grand Jury Prize. The Weinstein Company bought the distribution rights to the film so you can bet they'll be heavily pushing this one come awards season. 

August 2nd
The Spectacular Now

James Ponsoldt is an up-and-coming director who really got the attention of critics with last year's "Smashed" which starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  This time around, he's got "The Spectacular Now" which looks like it could be another indie gem. Shailene Woodley from "The Descendants" stars in this one.

August 9th

The last big budget studio film I'm looking forward to for the summer. Neill Blomkamp wowed everyone, including me, with "District 9" and now he's come back with another original sci-fi action film? And Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are in it? Been awhile since Jodie Foster's been in something I cared about. She's always been a solid actress when the right role comes her way. But again, this is a sci-fi action flick and it's all about what Blomkamp can deliver with his sophomore effort. To me, "District 9" has already made him a serious director worth following, but Elysium could solidify his standing. Can't wait.

August 16th
Kick-Ass 2 (comes out August 14th)

Jim Carrey made news earlier this summer by saying he refused to promote his role in Kick-Ass 2. What concerns me with the sequel is that Matthew Vaughn did not come back to direct this one, instead, Jeff Wadlow has taken the reins. Who's Jeff Wadlow? His last film was "Never Back Down," a film that came and went back in 2008 without much people noticing. Let's hope he can step his game up for this one.

August 23rd
The World's End

If Elysium is number 1 on my most anticipated films list, The World's End would be number 2. Edgar Wright directing, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost starring. This is the final film of the "Cornetto trilogy" with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz being the first two. So yeah, this one is definitely a must-see. In a summer where we had the Hangover trio, the Frat Pack, the Apatow Gang, and the Happy Madison... crew, we'll see if Team Wright-Pegg-Frost can deliver the best comedy of the summer.

Drinking Buddies

Another interesting indie. Joe Swanberg is an incredibly prolific filmmaker and this is his most mainstream effort. It's got an interesting cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, and Jake Johnson. I don't expect this to set the world on fire, but it looks decent enough.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Blockbuster cinema: what can we forgive?

Blockbuster cinema: what can we forgive?

It's a thought that has been crossing my mind since last week, after I saw Pacific Rim. To me, Pacific Rim is quite obviously a good blockbuster film. I think it's great, in my mind, but I'm not trying to force anyone to think it's great. I just think people should be able to acknowledge that it's good. Like many blockbuster films, it has problems. But all blockbuster films exist simply to entertain. They all have a certain promise. In Pacific Rim's case, the promise was very straightforward, cut-and-dry: giant robots will fight giant monsters. In the end, it didn't matter why. It didn't matter if all the plot elements worked 100%. The only thing that mattered, in the end, is if the movie gave us what it promised. Did the movie work in what it was trying to do? With Pacific Rim, the answer is yes.

I feel like we always have a point of contention with summer blockbusters. Every year, it's a new thing. This year, it's mass destruction. Destruction porn. The issue was raised with "Man of Steel," mostly because of the sheer amount of destruction in the film. It seemed crazy to some because... when did we ever care about this before? To me, it raised a problem with the movie itself. It's not that "Man of Steel" wasn't good because of all the senseless mass destruction because nearly every superhero/blockbuster film contains a great amount of destruction. What was wrong with "Man of Steel" is that the entirety of the destruction simply wasn't justified. There wound up being so much of it, that it just didn't make sense for a Superman film. Not only that, but the fact that Superman seemed indifferent to the destruction. Not only that, it seemed the filmmakers were indifferent to the destruction as well. It felt like it was almost a given. An after thought. They made it seem almost... normal.

What made The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises so thrilling was that the destruction had a point to it. The Joker was a mad man, an anarchist, and he liked to play games on society. Each thing he did, there was a certain level of awe to it. Everyone reacted with fear. The city of Gotham was shaken by it. Batman had to go into hiding after it was all said and done. There were consequences to the actions represented in the film. With The Dark Knight Rises, the destruction was tenfold. While the motivations of Bane were a bit murky throughout, he nonetheless seemed to have a specific purpose. But, more than that, the film made you feel that all this destruction was wrong. That things were dire. Lives were at risk. Things seemed completely doomed. Batman's got a broken back and is halfway round the world and the city of Gotham is about to explode! Oh no!

In Man of Steel, General Zod has purpose, but nothing ever seems too tough for Superman to overcome. That's why the sheer destruction of Metropolis simply makes no sense. It just seemed as if Superman was letting all these things happen to this city. He seemed to have no concern for the people whose lives were at risk, which was everyone. The movie gives us these themes of hope, they gave us a reason to care about Superman (kind of), but the film never really showed why Superman wanted to save the world. It never showed why he actually cared about anyone. The only people he seems remotely concerned with, in the final act, are Lois Lane and his mother. There's no sense that he has to save anyone. Of course, he ultimately does save the world and defeats General Zod (well, kills him), but we never see the consequences of all the destruction that's been caused. We never see how the people react to Superman, or to any of the events that transpired. Everything is, inexplicably, back to normal. This all made the destruction seemed more unnecessary than usual. Furthermore, Superman himself is destroying buildings as he fights General Zod and Zod's cronies. He has no regard for human life!

There's destruction in The Avengers. I was able to rewatch The Avengers recently and it was interesting to have a point of comparison with Man of Steel. With The Avengers, it makes sense. There are multiple superheroes. Captain America tries his best to keep everyone safe. Everyone is fighting with purpose. There are endless amounts of bad guys flying into Earth for them to fight/destroy. Destruction is caused, but there is a sense of spectacle to it. There is a sense of danger. There's a sense that the characters might not pull it off. We're given a circumstance that seems impossible to get out of. With Man of Steel, Superman's objective is made perfectly clear and there's never a sense that he can't pull it off. He's fucking Superman. That's really the absurdity of it. Superman never really struggles, never really seems to have any difficulty. So because of this, we're not worried about how these issues are going to be resolved. Instead, we are just left with images of Metropolis being destroyed, over and over again, without any really thought behind it. We're just waiting... waiting for Superman to save the day. And one of the worst things you can do to an audience is make them wait.

Pacific Rim doesn't have the same flaws as Man of Steel. This is what has been bothering me with some of the critics reviews. People seem to be equating the destruction in Pacific Rim with the destruction of Man of Steel and it simply doesn't work. First of all, PR is set years into the future where Kaijus have been running amok for years now. At this point, a good majority of these cities have been evacuated. People are made aware of the Kaijus presence. That's why when, as a robot tries to fight a Kaiju, and he punches through a glass building.... we don't see anyone in there. And for the most part, aside from the Hong Kong scene, all other scenes take place in the ocean. Yes, in the dark, rainy ocean. Another scenario I had no problems with. The action in Pacific Rim is purposeful, striaght-forward, and makes sense. The film has character and story cliches galore, but allows itself time to go into all these different characters just enough for us to care. It's not breaking any new ground in these departments, but it at least gives us more of a context to care about these robot/monster fights. Plus, there are real people inside these robots, controlling these robots. Each time a monster fights a robot, real lives are at stake. That's not like Man of Steel where two superhumans are punching each other without any of it actually affecting them. With Pacific Rim, the robots are ultimately representative of two like-minded people bonding together for a common goal: to kill these Kaijus. For me, it's a completely functional movie. And as long as the movie is completely functional from a story/plot standpoint, I can get all-in on the action.

It's when the movie tries to do too much that things go awry. I have the capacity to like action films, to like blockbuster films. I think the problem is, because there are so many of these action blockbusters and they all need to be top notch in the CGI department, and because there are way too many writers working on these films... lots of these blockbusters wind up being overcooked. There are too many plotlines, too much unnecessary story development that goes nowhere, too many missing pieces. The story and plot wind up being so confusing that the action winds up being less satisfying. The truth of it all is, I don't mind cliches. I don't mind if the story deliberately goes from point a to point b to point c. As long as the writers make everything sound enough and make these characters lively enough, it can work. For me, the genius of Pacific Rim is that everything is set up so that the action sequences are the centerpieces. Everything is built up for these moments. As I said in my review, we wind up getting what we paid for. We get these action sequences where we are actually able to FOCUS on the action. What an amazing idea.

What this all ultimately comes down to is... what can we forgive? For some, the cliches in Pacific Rim may be too much for them. That's the thing. People come into these movies, having been made so cynical thanks to so many other shitty movies, that they don't know a good blockbuster when they see one. And I truly mean that. To me, Pacific Rim is as functional and the CGI is as breathtaking as Jurassic Park. When you remember Jurassic Park, do you really remember the characters? Or do you remember the dinosaurs more? Of course, it's the latter. Jeff Goldblum always puts his best foot forward and is usually very memorable in these types of movies. But you came to see the dinosaurs and you get the dinosaurs. You get what you pay for. Jurassic Park is classic, vintage entertainment. In my opinion, Pacific Rim should be on that level. It's pure entertainment. You can find flaws in Jurassic Park's logic, but can you forgive those flaws? Most can. And you should be able to. You should be able to forgive the flaws in Pacific Rim and just accept it for what it's trying to be. You shouldn't be forcing Pacific Rim to adhere to standards that simply don't belong.

Because, if we can't enjoy Pacific Rim for what it is, then we're basically dismissing all like-minded action films when they're done well. In the age of "convoluted blockbusters," Pacific Rim really stands out. It reminds you that these films don't have to be convoluted, they just have to work. They can be simple as long as you can see the money on the screen. The $185 million. This is all we ever wanted from a film like Pacific Rim. It's all I ever ask for. Of course, if every film was made like Pacific Rim, it may not be as special. But the bottom line is, there is no film this summer or last summer (or the last few summers) that is like Pacific Rim. Even The Dark Knight films have a certain amount of convolutedness to them. That's why people can pick apart those films so easily. But Pacific Rim knows what it is, knows exactly what it's trying to be. That's why, as annoying as those scientists are, they are absolutely necessary. If we want to be cynical, we can find many flaws in Pacific Rim. We can find many flaws in The Dark Knight. But the reason why people enjoy those films is because the films ultimately work in what they're trying to do, so we can forgive the flaws.

There's a point where a film reaches an "unforgivability" point. The Amazing Spider-Man simply didn't work for me because the movie doesn't justify its existence. It doesn't make a case for itself as it's too reminiscent of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man. Will time be kind to the film? Maybe? The problem is that nothing in the film stands out. At its best, the film is solid. But when it comes down to it, it's not clear in what the film is trying to do, or what the film is trying to be other than to be an obvious "reboot" film.

For others, they may enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man just enough for them to be ok with the film's obvious conceit. Again, it's all about what we can forgive. But as long as we can't come to some sort of an agreement about what a blockbuster film should be, we'll never really know what makes one good or what makes one bad. There are some that are so obviously bad that we can all recognize it. But, think about how many of these films make hundreds of millions of dollars. It's not shallow to think Pacific Rim is great because of the action. For me, since the film centers itself around the action and allows the action to breathe and be its own thing, it's perfectly fine. Pacific Rim is the only film, since The Matrix (in my view) that is so breathtaking and flawless in its execution of the action, that I can forgive the other aspects. That's what I can forgive.

Maybe the purpose of this post is to kind of clear the air. Because for some, my opinion on Pacific Rim may be deemed contradictory compared to my general dismissal of other blockbuster films. But there are specific reasons as to why the film works and there are specific reasons as to why others don't. I think it's time to really think about why these movies work/don't work. So, this is me, starting that conversation. What makes a good blockbuster film? What makes a bad one? Why do some people love Man of Steel but not The Dark Knight? What do we even want? Why was Grown Ups 2 number one in the box office? What are we even doing anymore?

Think about all these questions then come back to me...

Computer Chess trailer

So add this to your must-watch list. How strangely awesome does this movie look? It just looks weird. It'd be fun just to get sucked into this world for 90 minutes. It's like a lo-fi period piece. From director Andrew Bujalski...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Top 10 Films of the Year So Far

This is extremely tough, there's already been so many good ones to come out in the first half of the year. There is no obvious #1 thus far either. In my opinion, there has not been a film yet that I would deem as being "A" quality, but there are a handful that just missed the mark. You'll see most of this list are films I either gave an A- or B+ to. As I've mentioned before, I give grades based on the quality of the individual film, but my lists are based on what I personally prefer. So I loved a film like "This is the End" which is one of the funniest of the year, but there are some films I graded a "B+" to where I still very much admire what the film was trying to do.

1. The Place Beyond The Pines
2. No
3. Upstream Color
4. Pacific Rim
5. Frances Ha
6. Mud
7. Before Midnight
8. This is the End
9. Side Effects
10. Trance

I have been touting Pines and No throughout the year. They've impressed me in numerous ways and right now they are etched pretty firmly at 1 and 2 but are very interchangeable. Upstream Color, which I need to watch again, has stuck with me ever since I first watched it. So while I gave films below it slightly higher grades, I just really admire the scope and just the insanity of it all. I also suspect that upon a second viewing, it would only solidify my positive feelings on the film.

4-6 are funny because those films couldn't be more different. Pacific Rim is simply the best theatrical experience I've had all year. It can't be top 3 because there are just too many other, non-action elements that are lacking. But, for just being a pure blast to watch, it's jumped to number 4.

Although, by the year's end, Frances Ha could easily usurp that spot simply because of how effortless the film comes across. It's light, it's 86 minutes, and it was also a joyful viewing experience for me albeit in different ways. That's why my top 5 are what they are. I just really enjoyed those films, for their craft, and for the fun time I had while watching those films.

Mud, for me, is solid at number 6. It's got great performances and a good heart, but I think I admire the film more than I love it. Same goes for Before Midnight, which just didn't hit me as much as it should've. Perhaps I'm too young. I love Before Sunrise and Sunset, I just didn't have the same enlightened feeling I had with Midnight. I still found much to admire about it though.

This is the End was hilarious, but like last year's 21 Jump Street, a purely hilarious film just doesn't hold as much weight among the other seven films. It was only meant to be a rocking good time, and it definitely was. That's why it's in the top 10.

Rounding out the list are Side Effects and Trance. Side Effects is prone to being forgotten because it was released so early in the year, but it is a delicious psychosexual drama. Trance, a film that I gave a B to, is on the list because I still love how ridiculously twisty the film is. I stand by my B grade though.

We'll see if the second half of the year gives us any solid A's (according to my grade book).

Has Adam Sandler given up completely?

Adam Sandler has tried. He's tried a handful of times. After nearly a decade of churning out comedy vehicles like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer, Sandler in 2002 actually tried stretching his acting chops with Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love." The result? A very warm critical response that has turned into flat out praise over the years. The status of "Punch-Drunk Love" has really risen over the years. Once thought to be a nice change of pace for PTA, it's now seen as the beginning of a complete stylistic shift in the auteur's work. For Adam Sandler? It was more of a detour.

It's understandable Adam Sandler would go back to his comfort zone after "Punch-Drunk Love" had middling box office returns. But, he didn't give up entirely. In the next six years, Sandler starred in James L. Brooks's "Spanglish," "Reign Over Me," and he collaborated with his old friend Judd Apatow on "Funny People." All three films garnered respectful, lukewarm reviews although not overtly positive. Still, from 2002 to 2009, Sandler tried to crossover four times. He never tried to go overboard, although "Reign Over Me" may have showed him stretching too much in his acting ability. He chose more serious films that didn't force him to be completely different with "Funny People" perhaps being his best performance of them all. But general audiences simply did not care and after Sandler (and Apatow) poured their heart and soul into "Funny People" (which may have been uneven, but it's very underrated), for Sandler, the only choice was to go back to what he does best. After all, his Happy Madison films were consistently making bank at the box office.

But his films after "Funny People" have been unbearably bad. In the mid-naughts, "Anger Management," "50 First Dates," and even 2008's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" were passable entertainment. They all hovered around the 40% mark on Rottentomatoes and they made a solid return in the box office. After "Funny People"? His most critically successful live-action film was actually last year's "That's My Boy" which managed to get 20% approval from critics. The other films? Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, Grown Ups 2? None over 19%. And with Jack and Jill and, so far, this weekend's Grown Ups 2, the percentages are well under 10%. The only other filmmakers who have made films that consistently get such horrendous ratings, and still get the chance to make more films, are those idiots who made "Disaster Movie" and "Epic Movie." Has Adam Sandler and Happy Madison really reached that level of suckitude? It seems that way.

Now Rottentomatoes is not the be-all, end-all in evaluating a movie. We all know that. But, it is a pretty good guide and indication of just how far Adam Sandler has fallen with the critics. From respectable, to middling, to disaster. The fact that he's made five of his worst films after "Funny People" indicates to me that he's given up completely. His schtick has just gotten completely stale and way too juvenile for a man that's in his 40s. You wonder, though, if the lack of enthusiasm for his more serious projects is a big reason for this. "You don't wanna see my good movies? Fine. I'll give you the worst shit you'll ever see." "Funny People," after all, literally pokes fun of the life of a comedian who is a complete shell of his former self. Was the film predicting Adam Sandler's future (save for the cancer subplot)? Why does it feel like his humor has gone completely cynical and unbearable? He's never been the comedic master, but would he have even thought to make "Jack and Jill" 15 years ago? I don't think so. It really seems as if he doesn't care anymore.

A change is going to have to come soon. While the critics have never really been on Sandler's side, his last two films failed to cross the $80 million mark. That's after ten straight Happy Madison films, which he starred in, of $100+ million grosses. Audiences are finally starting to turn on Adam Sandler. It's not working with the public, it's definitely not working with the critics. Honestly, it's kind of sad. Is Adam Sandler stuck in a corner here? Is he incapable of crossing over into more dramatic territory and having that film become a huge hit? Is he stuck making these horrendous comedies forever? And will these Happy Madison comedies continue to make less money? Even if "Grown Ups 2" manages to be a hit, that only proves that he still has box office clout when he's starring with other well-known comedians. He's starring in a Happy Madison film next year with Drew Barrymore, together they have managed to produce two films ("50 First Dates," "Wedding Singer") that went over fairly well with audiences and critics alike. Can that film help boost his status with audiences and critics? Or has he gone past the point of no return?

Perhaps he can win the audience back, as long as he stays away from truly terrible concepts. But, it doesn't really look like he wants to back to "serious" films and that's really a shame. At the very least, it'd be nice to see him team up with Judd Apatow again on something that's a bit more focused and allows him to be more normal and affable. Sandler has aged gracefully over the years, but can he really do the same schtick, the same fart jokes, well into his 50s? Ben Stiller has managed to cross over successfully, Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell (for the most part) have managed to as well. Those three also seem to have more goodwill with the critics. Ferrell, in particular, while he's really only ventured into serious territory once ("Stranger Than Fiction"), the films that he does with Adam McKay always manage to be financially and critically successful. Stiller, Carrey, and Ferrell have made plenty of clunkers as well, but not with such consistency as Sandler in the past few years. They seem to genuinely want to entertain audiences and make funny movies, even if they don't always work. Adam Sandler seems to have given up on trying to make good comedies, in earnest. And, with that attitude, it's only a matter of time before audiences decide to turn their back on him for good. Let's hope that doesn't turn out to be the case. It's not as if we don't want Adam Sandler to succeed, he just seems too rich to care. And if he doesn't care, why should we?

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Pacific Rim" review

When the first trailer for "Pacific Rim" came out, people had the right to be skeptical. Robots vs. Monsters? How great could this really be? Will this be like Transformers? Or a glorified Syfy movie? But the genius of the Pacific Rim trailers is how closely the cards are kept to the chest. You can't really imagine just how awesome this movie is until it's right there in front of you. While I did not want to see "Pacific Rim" in 3D, being able to see it in an Imax 3D theater had to be the ultimate viewing experience. These monsters are fucking huge. The robots are huge as well. I mean, really huge. There's a lot of crazy CGI going on here with a number of things that could go wrong and yet somehow, amazingly, Guillermo del Toro pulled it off. "Pacific Rim" is very much the real deal.

Another reason to be skeptical is Guillermo del Toro. He's made the "Hellboy" films, "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Devil's Backbone," but nothing could have really foreseen that he'd be able to tackle a project that has such a massive scale as this one. Now I'm hoping he'll always have a chance to tackle big budget projects. If big budget blockbusters have to be made, give one to Guillermo del Toro. With "Pacific Rim," he has officially put his stamp and signature on the blockbuster film. The man knows what he's doing, and he does it well. He's made me a believer, for sure.

From the outset, the premise to "Pacific Rim" is explained clearly. Kaijus = monsters, Jaegers = giant robots. These Kaijus have, for some reason, risen from a crevasse beneath the Pacific Ocean. After a few years of armed services from multiple countries failing to adequately fend off these monsters. A project is funded to create these giant robots, or Jaegers, that must be controlled by two humans simultaneously with their minds being locked in a neural bridge.

The Jaeger project winds up being a success, but with more and more Kaijus coming up from this crevasse, it becomes clear after a few years that they're not just gonna go away anytime soon. While the UN wants to crack down on this expensive project, Commanding Officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) demands to be given one more chance. The UN agrees to fund the project for eight more months, but after that, it's kaput.

So Stacker enlists the help of top notch Jaeger pilots along with two scientists to try to defeat these Kaijus and close off the portal that they are coming from. It's going to be an extremely difficult battle, with lots of sacrifices to be made, but it must be done. We will not cancel the apocalypse!

Admittedly, "Pacific Rim" has a few cheesy elements. Many scenes from the first half of the movie feature a litany of character cliches. You have the romantic subplot between the hot shot former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an up-and-coming one (Rinko Kikuchi). It's... cute, to say the least. Then you have the rivalry between the hot shot and another, younger egotistical pilot (Robert Kazinsky). They fight, they're at odds with each other, but eventually come to respect each other. You have the young up-and-comer demanding to be a pilot in one of the Jaegers with the Commanding Officer repeatedly turning her down. Of course, she'll eventually co-pilot a Jaeger with the pilot she's having a budding romance with...

Yes, it's all rather cheesy and goes through cliche after cliche, but it actually gives the second half more emotional resonance. And perhaps it comes across as cheesy simply because the film has an earnest tone that's devoid of cynicism, and it never takes itself too seriously. There are lighter moments sprinkled throughout the film, definitely helped by the quirky scientists (played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman). So when you have the big, gargantuan action sequences in the third act, the scenes wind up being more fun because you get a good taste of who these characters are. So, there are cheesy moments, but by the end, you're glad they're there.

We also may not get too much explanation in the way of why these Kaijus are here, but the film's strength is its utter simplicity. Many recent blockbuster films have gone by the wayside thanks to overly complicated plots containing too many scenes where you don't know and don't care what's going on. In "Pacific Rim," every scene serves a purpose, everything leads to something, and what it ultimately leads to is very satisfying.

And that's really the name of the game: satisfaction. You get what you pay for here. Robots fighting monsters. You're going to see that here. And you know what? It's actually fun to watch. Really fun. With action sequences that, quite frankly, nearly took my breath away. I was utterly and completely taken aback by how well-made this film was, from an action standpoint. The amount of CGI and information that is going on throughout these monsters/robots scenes is staggering, and yet del Toro is able to direct these scenes with 100% clarity. You actually know what's going on here! What a treat!

It's not perfect, not everything in the film adds up. It's got a few too many cliches, I am willing to admit that upfront. But the action in "Pacific Rim" is so good and the film is so fun that it's easy to forgive everything else. Del Toro somehow manages to make it work. "Pacific Rim" stands alone as the best film of the summer. Bravo, Guillermo.

Grade: A-

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"World War Z" review


Considering the difficulties the producers had while completing "World War Z," it's remarkable how coherent and thoroughly intense the final product winds up being. WWZ was supposed to be released late last year during the Holiday 2012 season. But upon entering post-production, the producers (including Brad Pitt) and director Marc Forster decided that the original ending just didn't do it for them. So, they decided to completely re-write and re-shoot the entire ending. What we're left with is ultimately pretty satisfying, although you can definitely sense that it had been rushed.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, who used to work for the United Nations but decided to leave so he can stay home with the kids. When Gerry, his wife Karin, and their two daughters get in the car to start the rest of their day, they immediately sense that something has gone wrong. The family lives in Philadelphia. Being stuck in traffic in Philadelphia is usually not something to be alarmed about, but on this particular day, everyone seems to be in a state of panic. We soon find out why: zombies. A zombie apocalypse. Everywhere.

Gerry, after fending off zombies and speeding off to Newark, NJ (where there are more zombies), manages to get his family safely onto a helicopter on the way to a UN ship. His former colleagues want him to figure out what's going on and how to stop it. This leads him to places like South Korea, Jerusalem, and a WHO research facility in Cardiff, Wales. The centerpiece of the film is in Jerusalem. The city has managed to successfully keep zombies from coming in after having built a wall. We soon learn that these zombies are attracted to sound, and thanks to a mishap in the city's PA system, dozens of zombies attempt to climb over the wall. The effect of which is visually stunning.

What makes WWZ work is its relentless pace. From the outset, you're not given a chance to fully settle down with these characters. These zombies are extremely fast and brutal, which means the film is extremely fast and brutal as well. As I said, the Jerusalem scene is one that stands out in particular. So much so, that the final act at the WHO facility simply does not compare in intensity. We still get some intense moments towards the end, and it's interesting to note that these scenes in the final act are much quieter. This creates a feeling of dread and it's very effective, but that doesn't change just how friggin awesome that Jerusalem scene is. 

The intensity, the action, the pacing makes up for a story that's honestly quite lacking. The actual mystery in itself is not explored very much and the way Gerry comes to the conclusion on how to (temporarily) save the world seems a little too rushed and far-fetched. Obviously, knowing that the ending was re-written and re-shot at the last minute is a good explanation for this, but the point remains. The end result gives us an ending that works, but not necessarily one that adds up or makes a lot of sense if you put any thought behind it. This is a movie that wants us to take the idea of a zombie apocalypse seriously, it's kinda hard to do that when the solution is that simplistic. (I don't want to give too much away).

Another thing that hurts the film is the main character. Gerry Lane is nothing more than an audience surrogate. He's supposed to have special skills, working for the UN and everything, but his only real skill seems to be that he's incapable of dying. Seriously, the amount of shit that he winds up going through during this movie really makes it hard to suspend disbelief. There's no way anyone can survive through all that. But more than that, we're just not given enough to think of Gerry Lane as anything more than an extension of us. He's just kind of a boring character. He feels underwritten. As if the writers tried so hard to make this movie work that they forgot that there's a main character here that we have to follow this entire time. I'm a Brad Pitt fan, but he does not put in a memorable performance here.

Still, there are many aspects of "World War Z" to be impressed about. It's a well-crafted film and, for a zombie film, manages to be work even if it takes itself a bit too seriously. I don't know if I'll be rushing to see a sequel (they're already working on one), but considering how lackluster this summer has been, you can't really go wrong with "World War Z."

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"The Bling Ring" review

When you're young, you never really think of the prolonged consequences of your actions. Neither do the kids in "The Bling Ring," who go from one celebrity's home to another, robbing these wealthy actors and models blind. Their favorite hangout spot is Paris Hilton's, but the ultimate place to rob is Lindsay Lohan's. It's all about dressing like them, looking like them, acting like them, wanting to be like them. Could robbing someone be the ultimate form of flattery? With these cast of characters, perhaps the answer is yes.

Their brush with the lime life will be short lived, but they certainly manage to enjoy the ride while it lasts. Either these kids are really stupid or they just don't care about getting caught. For roughly a year, they were having the thrill of their lives: stealing money, taking expensive clothes, going to all the best nightclubs. They will now have to pay for their crimes, but obviously there was something very glamorous about this world. At least Sofia Coppola seems to think so. "The Bling Ring" is based on a true story, inspired by real events. A bunch of kids in Los Angeles suddenly decided to start robbing Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, etc..., robbing them blind. When they were caught and wound up getting media attention, they got exactly what they wanted. Such is the nature of modern society.

What bogs down "The Bling Ring" is the way Coppola treats her subjects. Merely watching these kids rob these celebrities isn't interesting enough. With little characterization, there is little reason to care about the consequences of their actions. And, like with "Spring Breakers," "The Bling Ring" makes its point loud and clear. Unlike "Spring Breakers," it doesn't have a memorable performance or a perverseness to it that would make any of this intriguing. "The Bling Ring" is ultimately flat. Not much energy, vapid characters, and incredibly thin story. We don't know why these kids want to rob celebrities. We can certainly draw our own conclusions, but "The Bling Ring" is very much surface area. It doesn't attempt to delve into the lives of these characters, instead it just makes general assumptions on their life styles and who these people are. Could these characters really be that empty? Perhaps. And if that's the point Coppola is trying to make, that's fine and dandy, but that doesn't benefit the film. You can have unlikable characters, but you can't center your film around completely empty, boring characters. Especially, if you have nothing interesting to say about them.

Instead "The Bling Ring" very much feels like Sofia Coppola's attempt to make fun of celebrity culture and the generation that embraces it. What grated me the most about the film was the sense that we, the audience, should feel smug and superior to these characters. I think that's a mistake. It would have been more interesting to give us a reason to care about them. They don't have to be likable, they just have to be interesting. This film is completely devoid of interesting characters.

I don't know why Coppola stopped caring about character. I appreciated that "Somewhere" was strictly a moody film. It at least had a tender story with likable characters. Her best films allowed her to indulge in her melancholic style while giving us a strong backbone of a story to get behind. That combination was what made "Virgin Suicides" and "Lost in Translation" such unique films. Since then, Coppola just seems detached from her subjects. She only gives us a basic representation of these characters, and in "The Bling Ring," we are barely given that.

The most obvious comparison to make with this film is Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers." I admired "Spring Breakers," but found it a chore to sit through. It's quite clear after watching "The Bling Ring," that Korine made the better, more involving film. I won't say that I've given up on Sofia Coppola, she's just entered her 40s and has a long way to go. But, with "The Bling Ring," she's definitely heading down an unfavorable path. C'mon, Sofia, you're better than this.

Grade: D