People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
  DVD Review: Youth In Revolt
Michael Cera is an actor about whom I'm somewhat split. Like a lot of people, I discovered him in his breakout role as George Michael Bluth on the brilliant sitcom Arrested Development, and he remains one of the best things in the entire show. It's where he perfected his stuttering-wallflower shtick, and, in the context of the show (where he plays an awkward 15-year-old with a sad crush on his cousin), it's perfect. But Cera's basically been playing variations of George Michael ever since, which has led to a lot of people experiencing a sort of Cera fatigue. (I know more than one person who pretty much hates him because he always seems to be doing the exact same thing in everything he does.)

Youth In Revolt is a movie that directly plays on Cera's on-screen persona. He plays Nick Twisp, a shy Michael Cera type who falls for Sheeni, a girl at the trailer park his mom and her boyfriend have forced him to spend his summer at. After hearing about Sheeni's too-cool boyfriend, Nick creates a new persona for himself, the devil-may-care, cigarette-smoking Francois Dillinger. Francois appears as another character who only Nick can see, and he's the exact opposite of Nick (and by extension, the Cera Persona).

With Youth In Revolt, Cera does prove that he can go outside of his usual stuttering-geek wheelhouse, and most of the scenes with him in character as Francois are hilarious. Cera's also surrounded by an able supporting cast, including Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and the always-game Fred Willard, and they're all doing solid, funny work.

The main problem that the movie can't string together enough quirky, vaguely funny scenes to overcome is the fact that the character of Sheeni (who, as the girl Nick is pursuing, is sort of the primary driver of the plot) is sort of horrible. She's pretentious, manipulative and appears to take great pleasure in messing with Nick, always happy to mention her mysterious, apparently perfect boyfriend, Troy, to make Nick feel jealous and inadequate. Which, considering every action our hero takes is in pursuit of her, ends up undermining the movie. I was sort of amused for much of Youth In Revolt's running time, but I never actually cared about Nick or whether or not he won Sheeni. Many of the characters are funny and eccentric, but none of them are what I'd call likeable or engaging, so I never cared about what happened to any of them. And I certainly didn't care if Nick ended up with Sheeni.

Youth In Revolt exists halfway between something close to reality and the absurd fantasy-world of movies by filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Napoleon Dynamite's Jared Hess. Almost every character in the movie except for Nick has a weird eccentricity that feels manufactured and put-on, with the exceptions of Nick's dual father figures of his actual father (Buscemi) and his mom's boyfriend (Galifianakis), who are both blue-collar slobs that the movie really seems to look down on.

There's some funny scenes in Youth In Revolt, but on the whole there's little more going on than forced quirkiness. Despite its flirtation with indie-film pretension, Youth In Revolt has nothing to say about youth or rebellion or puberty beyond "teenagers want to get laid." Bravo.

Overall there are movies that cover much of the same ground that are funnier and more observant than Youth In Revolt. The biggest thing I got out of watching this movie was reassurances for the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that there's more to Michael Cera than his Arrested Development shtick. And there is, but unfortunately it's been largely wasted with this film. The good news is, Scott Pilgrim hits theaters in just over a month. Now that movie looks awesome.


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
  DVD Review: She's Out of My League

She's Out of My League is a charming, sweet and pretty funny little romantic comedy about an awkward airport security guard named Kirk (Jay Baruchel) who somehow finds himself dating Molly (Alice Eve), a ridiculously hot party planner. The movie never strays too much from the usual notes movies like this typically hit, but it's a light, fluffy piece of entertainment that bops along nicely. It's certainly not one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, but it made me laugh more than I expected it to, and it's filled with solid, funny actors in supporting roles, which helps to elevate the material above the usual generic "raunchy" relationship comedy.

A lot of the plot and characters in She's Out of My League are fairly paint-by-numbers; Kirk's family is the token group of lowbrow social misfits who say and do inappropriate things at dinner, a mirror image of every wacky family in movies like this, and his gang of buddies is basically lifted from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and every other movie like that (there's the ladies man, the smartass and the guy who's even more of a loser than the hero), but the actors in those roles are actually pretty good for the most part (especially T.J. Miller as the smart-alecky Stainer), so it never really grates.

She's Out of My League is definitely an R-rated comedy, but it never feels like director Jim Field Smith is piling on gross-out humor or raunchy gags (though there are some of those, including the requisite ejaculation joke, which makes me wonder if there might actually be a guidebook for creating movies like this) for cheap laughs. Because it lacks the pedigree (i.e. a producer credit from Judd Apatow) of similar comedies in recent years, I assumed it would go that route, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's a fairly smart, legitimately funny comedy.

The movie's primary weapon is Jay Baruchel in the lead. The Montreal-bred actor is really cementing himself as the go-to guy for geek-types in movies, and he's one of the best at it. He's really funny, and he also conveys a vulnerability and sweetness that makes viewers naturally want to root for him. He's funny without stealing scenes from his comic-relief sidekicks, and charming enough to make Kirk seem like he could legitimately be appealing to Molly. Once the movie gets going and you get to know the characters a little bit, it never seems that weird that Molly would be into him. She's Out of My League smartly plays up Kirk's insecurity, rather than the incongruity of their respective appearances, which I found refreshing.

The only character in the movie who isn't surprised by Molly's attraction to Kirk is Molly herself. Alice Eve doesn't have to do much as Molly other than look hot (which, admittedly, she's pretty awesome at), as she's mostly the straight-woman, but she's got solid comic timing and a charm about her that quickly reassures viewers that there's no third act twist coming that reveals that Molly to be a superficial monster who's actually just messing with Kirk. But she really sells from the moment she enters the movie that she's genuinely into Kirk, and it makes her an easy character to like.

Things do get pretty cliché in the third act, and the "conflict" at the end feels even more tacked on than usual for a movie like this. It was literally midway through Kirk and Molly's climactic argument before I realized, "Oh! This is the part where they fight so he can go win her back…!", it was so ridiculously out-of-the-blue. At this point in our cinematic evolution, I think you have to either really nail that part of the movie, or don't do it at all. The idea that there has to be some conflict for them to overcome in order to be a couple is just lazy, paint-by-numbers screenwriting, and while I realize that most of the appeal for She's Out of My League has to do with it knowing exactly what kind of movie it is, but I really would have like the movie more if it wasn't so satisfied to just hit all the usual marks. I mean, for the love of god, there's a climactic scene involving characters running through an airport! Are you even trying when you sit down to write that sequence in the 21st century? In fact, I'm starting to wonder they didn't make Kirk and his buddies airport workers just so they could use that cliché. If they were trying to be ironic or comment on romantic comedies, they failed.

But overall, as a guy whose dating life probably skews a bit closer to Kirk's than I'd like to admit, She's Out of My League is a sweet little wish-fulfillment romantic-comedy, the geeky male equivalent of the movie where the mousy career woman (who is actually clearly just a ridiculously hot woman under glasses and a bad wig) successfully convinces Matthew McConaughey or Gerard Butler to stop his womanizing ways and settle down. It's a nice, disposable piece of entertainment, and it's helped greatly by the fact that it's actually quite funny. It's sweet enough to keep the guy half of a date night interested, and sweet enough to appeal to fans of romantic comedies.


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Thursday, June 24, 2010
  First look at 'Conan,' plus trailers for 'The Green Hornet' and 'Red'

So there’s a new Conan movie in production, starring Jason Momoa from one of the Stargate TV shows I never watched. I’m a bit of a Conan fan, though I came at the character through comics rather than the novels and stories where author Robert E. Howard created the iconic barbarian, and the original 1981 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Conan the Barbarian is a total classic (though it deviates quite a bit from the source material, which means a lot of really hardcore Conan fans hate it. And the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, simply sucks), so needless to say I’ve been curious about this new cinematic Conan.

The first official picture of Momoa in character has been released, above, and I can say he certainly looks the part. Momoa, who had a big mop of dreadlocks on Stargate, also appeared to still be rocking that look when a grainy spy picture popped up a few months ago, which left many fans (myself included) more than a little disappointed. But it looks like the studio is eager to put those fears to rest with this new pic, as Momoa even appears to have Conan’s ice-blue eyes. Momoa, who I gather did a lot of running and jumping and swordfighting-type stuff on Stargate, can probably handle the physicality of the role, and I don’t think Conan the Barbarian is a role that requires incredible acting chops, so all Momoa has to do to nail it is not suck. Conan is directed by Marcus Nispel (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes, as well as the very Conan-influenced Vikings vs. Native Americans flick Pathfinder), and is slated to hit theaters in 2011.

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Sony’s finally released a trailer for The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogen and Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, and it looks alarmingly generic. A genuinely brilliant director (Frenchman Michel Gondry, who made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is behind the camera on this film, and aside from one brief shot in the trailer (the neat little camera trick after Chou’s Kato kicks someone), there’s nothing in this trailer – which, in fairness, is just that, and not always the best thing to judge a film on – that suggests there’s anything going on in The Green Hornet that we haven’t seen before. Even the dynamic where the ostensible sidekick is more capable than the hero feels rehashed. And the fact that I couldn't understand any of Chou’s lines in the trailer doesn’t bode well for his chemistry with Rogen, who, again, seems to be playing himself. Maybe Christoph Waltz, glimpsed only briefly, can save this one? Who knows.

Sony seems to not know what to do with The Green Hornet; they recently bumped the film from a high-profile Christmas release to the relative dumping ground of January 2011, but they’re also converting it to 3D (which, as I understand it, is not cheap). I can’t pretend I’m not curious, but at this point there hasn’t been much about The Green Hornet that hasn't left me confused at best. I guess I’ll find out what the deal is on January 14. In the meantime, have a look at the trailer for yourself.

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And finally, an item that I can, at this point at least, endorse wholeheartedly. It’s a teaser trailer for an upcoming action thriller (with much more of a comedic edge than I would have guessed) called Red, about a group of retired CIA badasses who find themselves targeted by their former agency. The cast is what makes this one look so compelling: Bruce Willis as the lead, with Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich as his former team.

Red is a movie close to my heart for a few reasons: it’s based on a very cool comic miniseries of the same name by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner (though the movie has expanded and changed a lot, which is fine; the comic was really spare, and would barely have made a 20 minute short on its own), and it was also shot mostly around my office in Toronto. (Well, old office technically; we’ve moved since they filmed this.) Those two factors always had me curious about the movie, but having seen this teaser, which looks awesome and hilarious and fun, I’m now officially really excited. Red is set for release on October 15.

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Friday, June 18, 2010
  Summer. What happened?

There’s less than two weeks left in June, and I’ve only seen two genuinely fun movies this summer. One was Iron Man 2, which semi-officially kicked off the summer blockbuster season more than a month ago, and the other was The A-Team, which was a metric ton of fun, but is also already considered a box office disappointment. Aside from Shrek and the Karate KidStill pretty much the only good non-kids movie so far. remake (both kiddie movies, you’ll notice), this summer is widely considered a weak one so far in terms of both box office and quality. Now, obviously, money isn’t everything, but it’s not like there’s been a pile of critical hits so far either; perceived financial disappointments like Sex and the City 2, Marmaduke and Prince of Persia all received so-so reviews at best.

By this time last summer we had already seen the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, Angels & Demons, Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Up and The Hangover, all of which, regardless of your feelings about the respective quality of those films, are considered to have at least been moderately successful. Everyone knows there are flops every summer, but this year looks more packed with them than usual. Despite the studio trying to convince everyone it’s a huge deal, I know absolutely nobody who is the least bit interested in the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action-comedy Knight and Day, and I don’t even think Warner Bros. expects the critically-savaged Jonah Hex to do much business this weekend.

The big hope, aside from the guaranteed hit that is Toy Story 3, is Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which, as intriguing as it looks (I’ve always got time for ambitious, thinky sci-fi movies filled with striking visuals), is still a big mystery. It’ll obviously open big based on post-Dark Knight hype alone, but whether or not its (presumably) more challenging subject matter turns off audiences in the long term remains to be seen. (Movies like Watchmen prove you can use marketing and buzz to get people into theaters opening weekend, but if people walking out of the movie afterward didn’t enjoy it, that’s pretty much the end of that.

There are still a few movies I’m really excited about seeing in the coming months, like Inception, Predators, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg cop comedy The Other Guys, but I can’t help but think this summer will go down as a let-down in terms of the quality of the big movies released, and so far, it appears audiences voting with their wallets for the most part agree.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010
  Ghost Rider sequel getting Cranked?

It’s always a bit strange when I’m far more interested to the sequel to a bad or mediocre movie than I was in the original, but suddenly Sony’s planned sequel to the weak 2007 Marvel Comics adaptation Ghost Rider starring Nicolas Cage, has gotten a lot more interesting with the news that directing duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the team behind the Crank movies, are in talks to helm the follow-up, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

The original Ghost Rider was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, a self-described comic geek who, unfortunately, can’t make a movie to save his goddamn life (he was also behind the 2003 atrocity Daredevil). Johnson’s heart was in the right place, and he certainly had a game star in Cage, who injected Ghost Rider’s alter ego, stuntman Johnny Blaze, with a goofy, Elvis-like charisma. The movie itself wasn’t that terrible; there were some interesting FX shots and it was fairly cool to see the supernatural avenger’s signature flaming skull brought to life onscreen, but I can’t recommend a movie where the best thing I can say about it is “it wasn’t as awful as I had expected.”

I’m excited about the potential involvement of Neveldine/Taylor, as they credit themselves, the duo responsible for the wonderfully insane Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage, some of the best action movies to come out of America in years. (Crank 2 also features an awesome performance by the late Corey Haim.) Their Crank follow-up, Gamer, was a bit of a disappointment, but the fact that it devolves into a generic action movie is somewhat redeemed by it being the first movie I’ve ever seen that satirizes online gaming and social media that was clearly made by people who have an actual understanding of such things.

But I’m digressing. One of the things I love so much about the Crank movies is how utterly insane they are, but Neveldine/Taylor, who used to make music videos, have a really great eye for composition and a touch for wacky camera tricks, and I’d very much like to see their over-the-top visual style applied to a comic book movie. (They were originally set to direct this summer’s Jonah Hex with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, until “creative differences” saw them leave the project, though they still have a screenplay credit.) Add to that the fact that Cage is also reportedly in talks to return – I’d love to see how Nicolas Cage could get in a Neveldine/Taylor movie – and suddenly Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance is looking very intriguing indeed. Stay tuned for more news as I hear about it.

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Friday, June 11, 2010
  DVD Review: 44 Inch Chest

44 Inch Chest is a British gangster film from the writers of the brilliant 2000 gangster flick Sexy Beast (see that movie if you haven’t, it’s great), and it also shares a few actors in lead Ray Winstone and co-star Ian McShane. But while Sexy Beast was a slick, stylish gangster flick with a riveting performance from Ben Kingsley as a ridiculously stubborn thug who lent the film a real sense of menace and tension, 44 Inch Chest is more of a meditation on love, heartbreak and the masculine ego. With gangsters.

The story follows Colin Diamond (Winstone), a middle-aged tough guy from the British underworld who finds out his beloved wife (Joanne Whalley) has cheated on him with a French waiter half his age. Utterly devastated, his shady pals Meredith (McShane), Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and Mal (Stephen Dillane) abduct the young lothario from the restaurant where he works to set up an impromptu trial – with him tied to a chair – so their heartbroken friend can feel better about himself.

While director Malcolm Venville doesn’t have the visual flair of Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer (that film is referenced all over the box art and extras on this movie, so they’re very much inviting that comparison), 44 Inch Chest is a really great-looking movie. Venville has an excellent eye, and while his film isn’t as in-your-face with style and use of crazy colors as Sexy Beast, his film is filled with wonderfully composed shots, and the pacing is top notch.

The best thing about 44 Inch Chest is the actors. Everyone here is doing stellar work, particularly McShane as the supercool gay gangster Meredith. While almost every scene he has references his homosexuality, McShane resists the temptation to play him as a cartoonish drag queen type, rather giving him an incredible charisma fused with a menace that lurks just beneath the surface. And the delight he takes in riling up Hurt’s decidedly homophobic Peanut is a ceaselessly entertaining running gag.

Hurt, one of my favorite British character actors, gets a wonderfully meaty role to sink his bizarre false teeth into as the cranky Old Man Peanut. Wilkinson makes Archie the most easily likeable character in the film – we’re introduced to him while he’s enjoying a nice, quiet evening with his mom – and his positive dispositi
on makes him the natural mediator in the group. And Stephen Dillane, the only actor in the ensemble I wasn’t familiar with going in, ended up making the smart-assed Mal one of my favorite characters in the movie.

But is 44 Inch Chest is anyone’s show, it’s Winstone’s. The arc he gets to display as Colin – heartbroken man, terrifying bully, repentant husband – takes real chops, and he’s stellar. The way the film is structured, we get flashbacks as the film goes on of what happened before the little kangaroo court began, and the insights they provide end up shading the character of Colin. Winstone really is playing a man with a broken heart, and for much of the movie it’s the other characters who get to seem threatening, so he ends up spending the first act seeming like just a pathetic, blubbering sadsack. But once the plot starts to thicken as the film unfolds, we get glimpses of Colin as the terrifying, violent thug his friends know him to be.

Aside from the acting, it was the intimate, theater-like vibe of 44 Inch Chest that impressed me the most. Aforementioned flashbacks aside, the bulk of the film is set in a small room in a run-down tenement with the main characters delivering speeches to each other, and it really felt like a play a lot of the time (and I mean that as a high compliment). And it means every actor in the film gets at least one big, juicy monologue to play with. McShane has at least two totally awesome speeches, but the real centerpiece is Winstone’s lengthy speech to Loverboy, delivered mostly to the camera in a tight close-up, about the true nature of love, and how it takes hard work. It’s incredibly well done, and surprisingly heartfelt and touching. I wasn’t expecting this level of emotional engagement from a gangster/revenge movie, but it knocked me on my ass. There’s a rhythm to Louis Mellis’ and David Scinto’s dialogue – which is also often hilarious – that approaches masters like Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet. 44 Inch Chest is simply a piece of great writing, and much of the movie’s appeal is watching a pack of great actors go to town with the material.

As much as 44 Inch Chest isn’t as flashy and slick on its surface as Sexy Beast, Venville adds a bunch of wonderfully subtle touches, like the French waiter only being referred to as Loverboy, or the fact that he doesn’t even have a line in the film (he literally just spends the movie sitting there looking scared, but his role is still fairly significant), or the fact that Colin and his friends are never officially identified as gangsters, and we never get an explanation as to exactly what it is these men do. It’s little touches like that that make 44 Inch Chest feel like it takes place in its own little reality; there’s a history between these characters that’s almost never directly referenced, but is always present.

As much as 44 Inch Chest is about love and heartbreak, it’s also about love between men. The characters in the film have an unbreakable bond that goes beyond business, and as sinister and violent as the goings-on can be (there is a bloodied man tied to a chair in the middle of the room that they all keep threatening to murder, after all), it’s always clear that Colin’s friends are doing this for him out of a completely genuine sense of loyalty and love. They hate Loverboy as much as he does – maybe even more – because of what he’s done to their friend, and it’s clearly painful for them to see their comrade reduced to such a pathetic state.

The pacing in 44 Inch Chest is a bit odd, and it’s not really a traditional gangster movie, which may put off some viewers. There isn’t a lot of violence or “action” for a movie ostensibly about gangsters. It’s similar to Reservoir Dogs in the way it’s sort of set after a lot of the action that drives the plot, and mostly follows the characters as they react to what happened earlier, which is eventually made clear to the audience in pieces over the movie’s running time. It’s a slow-burn movie that lacks a big payoff – I suspect some viewers will really dislike the ending, which is almost anti-climactic – but the ending was actually one of the aspects of the movie I liked the most. It felt like it fit in perfectly with the rest of the movie.

I went into 44 Inch Chest expecting a hard-edged British gangster film, and while it certainly has those elements, it ended up being a strangely insightful story of love, betrayal and the male ego. It’s not as superficially “cool” as a lot of other movies about underworld types, but it’s an excellent film nonetheless, and will appeal to mature, intelligent fans of the genre. Highly recommended.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010
  Fright Night remake, more Bourne and Tom Cruise's latest

Lots of little news items today about a few interesting projects today. First off, two more people have joined the cast of the remake of the 1985 vampire horror-comedy Fright Night, about a teenager convinced his next door neighbor is a vampire (and he’s right), but nobody believes him. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Terminator Salvation) signed on some time ago as Charlie, the lead, Colin Farrell is on board to play the charming vampire and Toni Collette (United States of Tara) will play Yelchin’s disbelieving mom. Now on board are Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Kick-Ass and Superbad fame as Evil Ed, Charlie’s friend who becomes a vampire, and David Tennant, who recently wrapped a stint as the title character in the BBC’s revamped Doctor Who, will play a Criss Angel-like stage magician who claims to be a vampire expert, but it turns out he’s full of it. (It’s a reimagining of Roddy McDowell’s role in the original, where he played the host of a late-night horror show.) While I haven’t seen the original Fright Night since I was a kid, I have quite fond memories of it, and with the whole vampire craze going on right now, I guess now’s as good a time as any for a remake. And if they retain the comic tone of the original, the new Fright Night could stand out as more than a post-Twilight cash grab.

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Fresh from an in-character appearance at the MTV Movie Awards, the rumors appear to be true: Paramount says Tom Cruise will reprise his role as foul-mouthed movie mogul Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder for a spin-off movie. Now, I’m a huge fan of Tropic Thunder – I picked it as one of the best movies of 2008 – and I enjoyed Cruise’s comic turn more than a lot of people I know, but I really just don’t see Les Grossman carrying a movie. Characters like that work best in short bursts, as Cruise did in Tropic Thunder, but an entire movie about him sounds like it could be pushing it. Personally, I’d much rather see Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus character get his own movie.

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Universal seems hellbent on making more Bourne movies with or without the participation of star Matt Damon and director of the latter two movies, Paul Greengrass, hiring a screenwriter to start work on a fourth film, with the working title The Bourne Legacy. Damon’s said in the past that he doesn’t want to make a Bourne movie without Greengrass, who seems more interested in making non-Bourne films for the time being (though marketing his last collaboration with Damon, Green Zone, as a Bourne-style thriller clearly didn’t help its box office), but Universal wants The Bourne Legacy in theaters in 2012, which doesn’t sound like a timetable that would accommodate either Damon (one of the busiest actors in Hollywood) or Greengrass. The fourth script will reportedly have a new story, and will disregard the two other scripts for a new Bourne movie that Universal hired some writers to work on last summer. I think the Bourne franchise could survive without Greengrass, as brilliant as he is (his movies are the best in the series), but a Damon-less Bourne film seems like a dodgy idea. Audiences love these movies (they’ve made almost $1 billion in total), but they also clearly associate Damon with the role. I don’t think people will shell out their hard-earned money just because the word Bourne is on the poster. I’d rather Universal waited until both Damon and Greengrass were ready to make another Bourne film, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Hollywood doesn’t really listen to me.

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Finally, a little item just for me. I wrote a big rant not too long ago about how stupid I think video game movies are, and sure enough, a week or so later a weird little short turned up on the web that claimed to be from some sort of Mortal Kombat movie. As it turns out, it’s basically a demo reel from director Kevin Tancharoen (last year’s Fame remake) and fight choreographer Larnell Stovall (who worked on the recent Undisputed III: Redemption, an awesomely fun martial arts movie that I’ll find an excuse to write about in greater detail some day soon) to try to get Warner Bros. on board with their vision of the film. It also features Michael Jai White from Black Dynamite, one of my favorite movies of last year (read me gushing here).

Now, as dumb as game movies are, I think fighting games like Mortal Kombat have potential to make fun kung fu movies (martial arts movies and fighting games share thin plots, colorful characters and, if done well, exciting action), and it looks like Tancharoen and Stovall get that. Their vision of Mortal Kombat deviates from the stories of the games (which involve mystical creatures and ancient magic and stuff) and grounds it in a grittier, dare I say “realistic” context (I know, I know), and it looks like it could work as a fun, violent martial arts flick. If these guys make the next Mortal Kombat movie, I’ll eat my words and line up to see it. Have a look at the short below and judge for yourself.

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Friday, June 4, 2010
  DVD Review: The Road

The Road is a movie that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning novel (one of the best books I’ve read in a decade, and I’m a pretty voracious reader by most standards), and the bar set by the Coen Bros. with their Oscar-winning film of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (pretty much a flawless movie, in my estimation) is so high that it’s effectively unreachable. Not helping director John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall is the fact that the source material is actually far less film-friendly than the more plot-driven No Country. But I was very pleasantly surprised by their version of The Road, which, while it doesn’t approach the perfection of No Country for Old Men, is still a very good movie that manages to hit many of the book’s emotional beats without being too depressing or bleak. There’s a core of hope to the book that the filmmakers manage to tap into, and it makes The Road much, much more than an overly serious riff on The Road Warrior.

The Road, if you’re unfamiliar with the book, follows a father and son in post-apocalyptic America. The cause of the catastrophe is never explained, nor are the characters’ histories explored beyond a handful of golden-hued flashbacks, which Hillcoat and Penhall expanded considerably from the even more vague flashbacks in the novel. McCarthy’s book is less proper prose than a sort of tone poem about humanity, and the plot – The Man and The Boy (never named) are making their way south in the hopes of finding a more friendly climate on the coast – is almost non-existent. The Road is basically a collection of sequences of the Man and the Boy encountering other survivors (most of them bad; the death of just about every plant and animal on the planet has led many to turn to cannibalism), and Hillcoat and Penhall sort of stumble by trying to serve two masters: the novel and the moviegoing audience. The biggest problem with The Road – and it’s hardly a major one, and will really only be noticed by people who’ve read the book – is that it sort of falls halfway between being an incredibly loyal adaptation (à la No Country) and a more Hollywood-style revamp (i.e. with beefed-up action and a more traditional narrative arc). It doesn’t ruin the movie, and thankfully Hillcoat and Penhall err on the side of being faithful to McCarthy’s novel, changing the structure considerably but otherwise staying very true to the book. (Hillcoat says in his commentary that McCarthy approved of the final film.)

But The Road lives and dies by its actors, and Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both incredible as the Man and the Boy. McPhee, in particular, is fantastic, and I look forward to seeing him in the otherwise ill-advised upcoming remake of the mind-blowingly great Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In (read me gush about it here and here). Mortenson is just so reliably good at this point in his career that I can’t even come up with anything clever to say about his performance. He’s simply awesome in what’s clearly a very challenging role.

In addition to the leads, there’s also a handful of other great actors who turn up in tiny roles (often just a single scene), including Charlize Theron, glimpsed in flashbacks as the Woman, whose emotional scenes with a heartbroken Mortenson are almost difficult to watch. Guy Pearce and Michael K. Williams (best known as Omar from The Wire) also turn up, but it was Robert Duvall who blew everyone else away as an old blind man. His scene with Mortenson and McPhee at the campfire was, for me, easily the best scene in the entire film.

Beyond the lineup of stellar actors, The Road really benefits from Hillcoat’s direction. The Australian first grabbed me with his Outback western The Proposition (which starred Pearce), probably the grimiest, dirtiest film I’ve ever seen. His gritty visual style is perfect for the ash-covered world of The Road. The crew also used mostly real locations (much of it was shot in and around Pittsburgh), as opposed to using CGI to create the film’s desolate, blasted landscapes, and the results make the movie seem that much more real. Hillcoat also does an excellent job of ramping up the tension – I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie where the mere fact that there was a person in the distance could inspire bowel-clenching terror – and The Road is as scary as any horror movie.

As for the DVD itself, there’s a commentary track from Hillcoat that’s a little dry, but he’s charmingly self-conscious about his lack of experience doing commentaries, and once he gets comfortable he provides lots of interesting insights into the process of bringing The Road to the screen, including the process of involving McCarthy. There’s also a pretty good making-of featurette, as well as a small collection of deleted and extended scenes.

Overall The Road really surpassed my guarded expectations, and while it’s not best-film-of-the-year material, it’s emotionally involving without being too much of a downer, filled with incredible performances and some really striking imagery. The Road is a refreshingly mature, grown-up post-apocalyptic movie with genuine heart.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010
  First look at Captain America, new Scott Pilgrim trailer

Ain’t It Cool News posted some images of what is apparently the almost-final costume designs for Marvel’s upcoming Captain America movie. I’m okay with them. I’m not the world’s biggest Cap fan (though the current run, written by the brilliant Ed Brubaker, is some of the best mainstream superhero comics going), so I can’t pretend I have some deep, nostalgic connection to the little wings on his head on his outfit in the comics (but the comic geek in me sort of misses them), but my first thought was this seems like a pretty cutting-edge costume considering the fact that, as I understand it, the bulk of the movie’s action is set during the Second World War. And as a friend of mine pointed out, that there’s really a lot of pouches on there.

All that being said, these are obviously just illustrations, so I’ll reserve my judgment until I see the first actual photos of Chris Evans in the real-life suit. As much as the buzz surrounding Captain America was somewhat negative until Evans’ casting (script problems, budget disputes between the director and Marvel, etc.), I’m cautiously optimistic that the movie will be good. I like Evans a lot, and I really like the stage-setting for Thor and The Avengers Marvel started doing in Iron Man 2. Who am I kidding? Screw head-wings, I’m excited. Captain America: The First Avenger hits theaters next summer.

* * *

Because I am a kind and benevolent movie blogger, I will leave you today with the new trailer for Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I’ve already gushed over how awesome the comic is, and how primed I am for this movie, so I’ll skip that. But I will say that this new trailer (which really showcases the action; I really can’t wait for this thing) also puts to rest a lot of the concerns I had about Michael Cera playing the title role. I’ve said before that the character of Scott Pilgrim and the persona Cera adopts in everything he’s ever done couldn’t be more different, but it looks like he’s finally moving out of his stuttering-wallflower wheelhouse.

I want to see this movie so badly I’m on the verge of tears. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is out August 13.

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