Sunday, December 30, 2007

Harry Potter 8?

J.K. Rowling said in a recent interview that she is no longer opposed to returning to the world of Harry Potter. Though it's not a very meaty article, click here to read what she has to say about it.

I've got mixed feelings about returning to the world of Harry Potter. On the one hand, there are probably countless new stories to be told in that world. On the other hand, it seems like Rowling wrapped up her classic series with such discipline and skill (epilogue notwithstanding), I'd hate for her to dilute her own legacy by not knowing when to stop.

What do you think? Are you ready for more Harry Potter?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas, Ringers!

This is the news that fantasy fans worldwide have been waiting for: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is finally coming to the big screen, thanks to the recent reconciliation of Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema. Read the exciting (and long-overdue) press release here.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. Hot on the heels of the disappointing news that our baby is likely a few weeks away still (sniff, sniff), this comes as a pleasant consolation, as Wendy and I are both big fans of both the books and Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy. The press release doesn't discuss a lot of specifics (such as casting or even an official director, although I would be shocked if Peter Jackson didn't take the reigns again), but the fact that everyone is at peace again is good news for everyone.

Shooting begins in 2009, with a target release date of 2010 for The Hobbit and 2011 for the as-yet-unnamed sequel to The Hobbit. (Yes, we're getting not one, but two more LOTR movies!) Can I get a resounding woo-hoo from everyone?!?!

Monday, December 17, 2007

"The Dark Knight" trailer debuts

Good news to Batman fans: the exciting new trailer for next summer's The Dark Knight, again starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, has premiered online. Click here to view it.

The summer of 2008 is shaping up to be a very promising season at the movies. What do you think of this trailer?

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Lost" to return on Jan. 31!!!

ABC finally made up its mind: Lost's 4th season is set to begin on Jan. 31 at 8:00 p.m. For those of you who are looking at a calendar, you'll notice that Jan. 31 is a Thursday, and 8:00 p.m. is normally the same time you'd probably be watching CSI, Grey's Anatomy, or The Office, if there were any new episodes of those shows left to watch. Instead, Lost will go up against NBC's Celebrity Apprentice (which is decidedly light on celebrity, if you asked me...).

Producers of Lost have finished only 8 of the promised 16 new episodes, and have said that the 8th episode ends in a bit of an unplanned cliffhanger, if it ends up being the 4th season finale after all (assuming the strike continues to go on...). While I'm thrilled for one of my all-time favorite TV shows to return, I really don't want to end up getting cheated out of those extra 8 episodes...

If you're not caught up with the show yet, Season 3 of Lost was just released on DVD this week (and my copies are currently lent out for the next several weeks), so make sure to check it out. And for those of you that are up-to-date, go here to see a brief Season 4 trailer that will help get you ready for Jan. 31.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Pushing Daisies" on hiatus

For those of you that watched the excellent Pushing Daisies last night, you probably didn't realize that you were getting the last new episode that has been filmed of the wonderful new show. Yes, that means Daisies now joins the wasteland of all our favorite shows to be indefinitely on hold until this cursed writer's strike comes to an end.

I really think Pushing Daisies has gotten better as time has gone on. It has always been witty, but it has continued to prove that it's not just a one-trick pony...the cast is great, the sets are whimsical, the narration is fantastic, and the story always seems to go in a direction you wouldn't have expected (like the revelation of last night's killer, as well as the identity of Chuck's mother). Best of all, the dialog is razor-sharp, fast, and always smart (like Olive's witch-bosom joke and Tennessee Williams reference). Rather than feeling like a romantic, I actually feel like an intellectual for loving this show.

For the love of all things baked and delicious, let's end this strike NOW!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Twilight" casting

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I never got past page 67 of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, and I highly doubt I will see the movie when it finally makes it to theaters, but I thought that some of my female readers might get tired of me writing about Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones, so I'm throwing them a bone. Producers have announced some of the major casting for the film version of Twilight, and I thought some of you might be interested to see Edward and Bella personified:
You might recognize this chap from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Cedric Diggory himself. Not really the type of guy I would see Wendy leaving me for, but I guess that's a good thing...

As for Bella, you'll recognize this actress (Kristen Stewart) from things like Zathura, Panic Room, and In the Land of Women. One thing I'll say for her is that she does moody well...

Stephanie Meyer is on record as loving these two casting choices. The real question is what do you think about them? Is this your vision of Edward & Bella?

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Indy 4" poster

You can expect a lot more of this random Indiana Jones crap as we get closer and closer to May 22. In this case, however, the crap genuinely gets me excited.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Making good use of the writer's strike...

Sounds like Kiefer Sutherland is making good use of the writer's strike; he's reported to Glendale City jail for his 48-day sentence for DUI. Read all the details here. While I am extremely bothered at anyone driving under the influence, and especially by Hollywood stars who occasionally seem to get special treatment (ahem, Paris Hilton), I find Kiefer's response to be mature, humble, and responsible. I hope he can get his alcoholism under control.

As for 24, which has only filmed 8 episodes of the upcoming season, I'm not sure what the ramifications are. He might as well get this all taken care of now while the writers are on strike and the show is out of production. EW reports that his jail sentence is not expected to interfere with the show's filming schedule.

For those of you who didn't catch Season 6 when it aired last spring, it was just released on DVD this week. I still believe it to be the weakest of the 6 seasons, with several storylines falling horribly flat (mostly revolving around the ridiculous choice to make Wayne Palmer the President). That said, the show is still one of the most unique and thrilling on TV, and even a weak season is better than no season at all. The show's unique format (each season representing a 24-hour day) can be as much an advantage to the show as it can be a restriction: if one day doesn't go so well, producers can start completely fresh for the next season, often with much better results (such as the mini-slump during Seasons 2-3, revived so well during Seasons 4-5). Let's hope the show bounces back for Season 7, and that they bounce back soon!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Romantic comedy reviews

For whatever reason, Wendy and I have seen three "romantic comedies" over the past couple of weeks, though not all of them were romantic and only one of which was really a comedy. Here's a brief review about each of them:
  • No Reservations: Is it just me, or has Catherine Zeta-Jones just sorta fallen off the face of the earth lately? After having watched her latest, I can't say I've really missed her that much. Based on the German film, Mostly Martha (which, though I've never seen, comes highly recommended by H.B. Arnett), it follows the life of a lonely but obsessive chef (Zeta-Jones) who unexpectedly gains custody over her young niece (Abigail Breslin) after her sister's death. The movie's advertising wants you to believe that this movie focuses on the romance between Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, though it's really mostly about the relationship between her and her niece. Now there are a few cute moments throughout the movie, mostly thanks to a warm performance by the young Breslin, but there are far too few laughs and a very uneven balance between the comedic and dramatic moments to recommend this movie. To top it all off, Zeta-Jones and Eckhart have zero chemistry (she looks way to old for him), and their romantic tension lasts all of about 5 minutes. Harmless, but not great. (** out of four)
  • Waitress: Here's an odd film that I'd been hearing a lot about since Sundance last year. It stars the appealing Keri Russell (TV's Felicity) as an unhappily married pie-making genius who unexpectedly gets pregnant, apparently only weeks before planning to leave her emotionally-abusive husband. Along the way, she falls in love with her OB-GYN (Nathan Fillion) and befriends the grumpy old owner of the diner where she works (played with spunk by Andy Griffith). Though the film is peppered with several charming moments and a few memorable characters, it deals with lots of unseemly behavior (almost everyone in the movie is cheating on their spouse), which makes it a little more difficult to root for anyone. Additionally, the movie's conclusion left me feeling unsatisfied; it has an almost anti-marriage, man-hating spirit that turned me off. The movie was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who also stars in the movie as one of the pie waitresses. Shelly was murdered earlier this year, and never got to see how her film would be received. Sad though her story is, here's a romantic comedy that could have used a happier ending, on and off screen. (**1/2 out of four)
  • Enchanted: Here's another movie with some misleading advertisements: it's not nearly as dumb as the ads make it look. It stars the talented Amy Adams (the hot purse girl from early episodes of The Office) as a Disney fairy-tale princess who is transported out of her animated kingdom into a modern-day (and live action) New York City by the local wicked witch (played with little gusto by Susan Sarandon). There she befriends a single-father divorce lawyer played by McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey (getting the girl on the big screen for the first time in since maybe Can't Buy Me Love), and is pursued with oblivious passion by a never-more-lively James Marsden (as Prince Charming). Along the way, she inspires Central Park crowds to join openly in spontaneous song, summons NYC vermin to help clean the apartment, and extols princess advice to all who will listen. The movie is silly, to be sure, but is also bright, fast-paced, funny, and occasionally surprising--clearly the best thing in theaters in this otherwise discouraging holiday movie season. Adams does her own singing, and has a great voice to add to her winning performance. The finale seems a little unnecessary (why is the witch still after the princess during the King Kong-inspired climax?), and the movie as a whole is occasionally cheesy, but your wives and daughters will be enthralled, and after sitting with you through this summer's very man-friendly lineup of movies, it's probably their turn for a magical night at the movies. After all, men, Rambo IV is just around the corner... (*** out of four)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I just got the chills...

A couple of pieces of good news for us here today, both courtesy of the fanboy website Ain't It Cool News:
  • The Writer's Guild strike could be ending soon. This source says it could be over as early as next week. Let's all say a silent prayer for Jack Bauer's return...
  • I just got back from Disneyland, where I made time for the Indiana Jones Adventure twice. And yet strangely, I get more geeky-chills from looking at the following image than from anything I saw on that great ride (click on image to see Indy in a larger degree of glory):
See a couple of other great Indy-images here. Memorial Day can't come soon enough!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Now I'm starting to get mad...

Since daytime soaps and late-night talk shows don't really tickle my fancy, the writers' strike has done little to affect me...until today. Fox has announced that 24's upcoming season has been shelved indefintely because of the writers' strike. Apparently they're not keen on starting Jack Bauer's next day from hell if they can't promise that they'll be able to end Fox's horrifying plans here.

It times like these, when this writers' strike starts to keep me from my yearly Jack Bauer fix, that I think that a little Jack Bauer-style torture of these stubborn studio execs isn't such a bad idea. Right now, I think that the stabbing-the-kneecap technique might do the trick.

Which form of torture do you think is most appropriate?

Monday, November 05, 2007

The end of scripted TV as we know it?

Some of you may have heard recently about the strike of the Writer's Guild of America that started a few days ago. I don't understand the issue completely, but know that part of it has to do with Hollywood writers feeling left out of royalties from TV shows released on DVD and other various forms of media (iTunes, etc.), which studios are refusing to cough up. And so, after much negotiation, the writers of your favorite TV shows and movies are now currently on strike.

I read today that Tina Fey joined her 30 Rock's writers on the picket line today; The Office has halted production because half its producers are also writers (not to mention actors). Same goes for Lost, Pushing Daisies, and Heroes. (Read more about it here.)The networks are now reportedly scrambling to finish up already-filmed episodes in preparation for the possibility of a long-term strike, in which case I suppose we'd be flooded with even more reality TV and news magazines.

Some of you might ask why the networks won't just go hire some talented young writers who haven't yet joined the WGA, and there is a possibility, I suppose, that they will. Having said that, any writers hoping to make it into show business are basically shooting themselves in the foot by writing against the WGA strike. As one radio reporter, talking to KSL's Nightside, put it: "They'll never work in Hollywood again."

Let's hope the studios and writers can make peace again, and soon! I can only imagine what life would be like without our favorite scripted shows!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"The Office 2" on its way?

This link asserts that NBC is getting set to spin off The Office (likely in the spring), although it sounds like the spinoff will not be stealing any of the mothership's original cast. Read all about it here (you'll need to scroll down to find it...).

How do I feel about this news? Well, happy that Dwight won't be leaving Scranton, for one, and sad that they are diluting the product--which rarely ends well (especially because The Office isn't really the huge hit NBC is acting like it is...). We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"24" Teaser; "Angels & Demons" news

A couple of interesting pieces of news for those of you Jack Bauer and Robert Langdon fans: First of all, Fox has released a teaser for Season 7 of 24 which genuinely looks different than previous seasons of the show. Again, if you don't want to know anything about Season 7, don't watch this link. (Having said that, I bet you anything that Fox will start promoting this like crazy in the next couple of months, so staying completely secret-free is going to be increasingly difficult...).

Personally, I think the 24 trailer is a great one--with plenty of action and new scenery to make it feel new, as well as a few familiar faces to tie us back to former seasons (they even address--twice--the controversial torture issue that has been so abundant in season's past). I really can't wait for the season premiere in January.

Next, Sony announced today that production will begin in February for the film adaptation of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code prequel, Angels & Demons, again starring Tom Hanks. Ron Howard is returning as the director. No other cast members have been announced. The target release date is December 2008. Read all about it here.

While I wasn't initially as impressed with the film version of The DaVinci Code as I would have liked, a recent repeat viewing left me feeling a little kinder towards the box office hit. I still don't love the albino-monk self-flagellation scenes, and think they could have found a more charismatic heroine, but overall it was a flashy and passable thriller, with some killer locations and a decent score by Hans Zimmer.

I always felt like Angels & Demons was a superior book to The DaVinci Code, even though it's a little gorier and has basically the exact same plot as its successor. Can't wait to hear how they try to film around the Vatican with such a controversial plot.

One more interesting note: although Angels & Demons is officially a prequel to The DaVinci Code, they have written it for the screen as a sequel. Since the two stories stand alone from each other and have very little ties to each other, I don't think it was that difficult for the screenwriter to adapt as a sequel. Still, I hope they'll do a good job with it--I think the story lends itself to be a very thrilling movie.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Amazing Racers

Well, here they are, for our viewing pleasure: the new teams from the next season of The Amazing Race. This time around, our teams include a grandfather/grandson, married ministers, and dating goths (bet you can't guess which ones they are...).

Can't wait!

Monday, October 22, 2007

"The Amazing Race" returns!

Hot on the heels of the season's first big TV failure (Hugh Jackman's Viva Laughlin), CBS has announced that TV's most exciting reality show, The Amazing Race, will return on Nov. 4 in the timeslot it previously occupied last spring (Sundays at 7 p.m.). Details on the racers are yet to come, but producers promise that the race takes us to new countries this time around, including Ireland, Croatia, and Lithuania.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: even in the dullest of seasons (the Family Edition, anyone?), The Amazing Race represents the best of reality TV, mixing interesting players/relationships with exotic, wish-I-could-go-there locations. It's the one reality show I really wish I could be part of.

Judging by the show's most recent Emmy win (the fifth in a row), critics are in love with the show too. If you haven't already become a racer, mark your calendars for Nov. 4!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dumbledore is gay!?!?!

I was shocked to read the following article this weekend:

All I can say is that I'm glad she didn't try to elaborate on this in the books.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

We should all be "Pushing Daisies"

Because of my aforementioned lack of engaging TV shows to watch this fall, I was willing to give one of the newbies a shot because of the overwhelmingly positive reviews I've been seeing for it. The show is ABC's Pushing Daisies, which premiered last night, and I have to say, it's definitely the most interesting pilot (premiere episode) I've seen since Lost three years ago. Not that this show has much else in common with Lost; Pushing Daisies is breezy, romantic, and completely charming.

The premise is the stuff of fairy-tales: a shy pie-maker is magically given the gift (or curse) to bring the dead to life with a single touch. This gift has it's pros (he talks to murder victims so he can solve the crime and collect the bounty) and cons (if he touches the recently revived a second time, they die again, this time forever...). Without giving too much away, the premise certainly shows promise of becoming a quirky and addicting diversion for Wednesday nights; a welcome contrast from the standard soaps and procedurals that dominate the rest of network TV.

The main reason I bring up this show is for all you Twilight fans out there; this show (or at least last night's episode) has the potential to be the charming romantic comedy you've all be waiting for. (Watching it by myself while Wendy was at the church, I stopped it halfway through so I could rewatch it with her...she loved it.) Having said that, it's romantic without being cheesy, witty without being cheap, and quirky but accessible. No, there aren't vampires, but it does involve death, so cheer up.

ABC is reairing the pilot on Friday night. If you missed it last night, set your DVRs to catch Pushing Daisies. For at least one hour, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Boring "Heroes"

In my neverending quest for some engaging television these days, I have continued to watch Heroes this season, even after having a mediocre reaction to last year's first season. Yes, I love the show's concept. Ordinary people with extraordinary powers is always good for some fun stories, even if it's not a completely original idea. Last season had a couple of humdingers, with the Claire/Matt/HRG/Nuclear Man episode (about 3/4 through the season) right up there with some of the best single hours of television I've seen recently. Having said that, the season as a whole was never so consistently addictive as to make me eagerly anticipate the new season. It ended with a whimper, and unfortunately has come back (2 episodes in) just as underwhelmingly.

Here are a couple of my problems with the show, in no particular order:
  • Too gory, especially the Sylar business. I know it's far-fetched, but come on, cutting off the top of a person's head is gross, even if you do it with magical powers.
  • Too many characters. Network serial dramas these days seem to be determined to weave so many stories that the most engaging ones often get the short-shrift, while the more boring ones get overly diluted (anything with Suresh). It's a problem even Lost has faced at times.
  • No rules. This is a problem I've had with the Mystique character in the X-Men movies--she can be anyone, anytime. It makes for sloppy storytelling. Anytime your character is in a bind, just give them a new power that will get them out of it, but the new power only works when it is convenient for the writers. The Peter character in Heroes is a perfect example of this, as is Hiro and his oh-so-finicky time-traveling skills.
I can't say that I've given up on the show completely--there's nothing better to watch on Monday nights--but I have decided once and for all that, unless they resolve some of my above concerns, this show will never be as great as the show that forged the path for its existence, Lost. February can't come soon enough.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Scratching my head

Jackie Chan was apparently quoted recently as saying ""I spent four months making [Rush Hour 3] and I still don't fully understand the humor."

I spent about four minutes in the theater and realized that I wouldn't ever understand the humor. The main difference between me and Jackie is that I didn't get paid millions to pretend like I got the joke.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More fun "24" facts

I am a faithful subscriber to Entertainment Weekly magazine, which I anxiously await every Saturday and read often in the car while I drive Wendy from store to store. Although the magazine is usually fairly celebrity-gossip-free (People or US Weekly it ain't, thank goodness), what really interests me is the fascinating focus in many of its feature articles about the entertainment business and behind-the-scenes peeks at some of my favorite TV shows and movies. (This week's edition, for example, dishes some fun stuff about Heroes.)

Having said this, the following article doesn't come from Entertainment Weekly, but rather from, another TV & movie-centric website that serves as a source for interesting news from time to time. I'm including the link because it includes a little more juicy 24 news (related to my previous post) as well as an interview with one of the show's producers. For 24 fans, it's a must.

Click here to read's article

Just like some of the great feature stories in Entertainment Weekly, this story includes some fun facts about 24 that helps illustrate a little better the huge phenomenon this show has become. Someday, when I have a booming career as an entertainment columnist (I understand that they are all ridiculously wealthy...), this is the type of article I will write.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chocolate + popcorn movies = Summer 2008

As if we needed more reasons to anticipate the upcoming Indiana Jones and Batman movies, I found this article that discusses some of the fascinating upcoming candy-bar cross promotions for next summer:

Even Mars is getting into the act with its Snickers Adventure bar containing a hint of chai and coconut. The limited edition offering ties in with Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The Indy tie-in also extends to M&M's, which will offer limited-edition Mint Crisp flavor...The silver screen continues to figure big in the marketing of sweets, and among the flavor fits unveiled during last week’s All Candy Expo was Hershey’s hook up with Warner Bros.’ next installment of the Batman series The Dark Knight coming to theaters next July. The Reese’s line will include bat-shaped chocolate and peanut butter pieces, and Kit Kat wafers bars will be stamped with the bat signal.

Suddenly I'm feeling like a Batman-flavored Symphony bar.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shocking piece of "Lost" news...

Yes, it's been a slow workday. So it's a welcome coincidence that on the heels of 24's big news, I find some interesting Lost news as well. Although not as potentially shocking as the 24 news, this post nevertheless gives us the hope that one of the more frustrating loose-ends from Lost's Season 2 will finally be addressed. It's not as surprising as it is satisfying, so unless you want to go into Season 4 completely blind, feel free to click here.

This is a welcome announcement, and makes the February premiere seem even further away. I can't wait to see what the producers have got up their sleeves.

Shocking piece of "24" news...

Those of you who love being surprised by 24's shocking twists and turns will undoubtedly want to avoid looking at the link below, but for those of you that need a compelling reason to return to the show after last year's underwhelming season, go ahead and click on. Don't be mad at me for spoiling this for you; you've been warned!

Click here for more details.

24 has been one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and has provided some of the most thrilling moments of any recent entertainment I can think of. Having said that, I've always felt that the show's restrictive format has limited the producers' ability to fairly resolve all of the show's many characters and storylines (with the exception of the main ones). Inevitably, some characters get the shaft. Such was the case with this character, who deserved better than what he/she got. Though I was already a fairly die-hard 24 fan, this just got me really excited for season 7.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Survivor," anyone?

I am a very casual Survivor fan. I have only seen three complete seasons of the show (Marquesas, All-Stars and Guatemala), and have only occasionally caught episodes of other seasons. My lazy attitude toward the show (really one of the major pioneers of today's reality TV craze) stems mostly from the fact that there were usually so many other shows on that I'd rather spend my TV-time on.

Not so this time. With the exception of The Office (which returns next Thursday), I can't think of another show this fall that I'm excited to watch. Yes, I'm mildly curious about Back to You with Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton--I've always loved a well-done traditional sitcom--although the jury's out on this one. I'll give it another week or two to decide if it deserves a timer on my DVR.

I'm also mildly curious about ABC's Pushing Daisies, which critics are unanimously declaring to be the best new show this year. Having said that, critics' also praised Studio 60 last year, and it ended up crashing and burning in a most spectacular fashion. So I'm a little reserved about jumping on the critics' "best" bandwagon.

At least Survivor is a proven brand, which season after season continues to attract people around the watercooler. Although its ratings have waned since the show first premiered, it still does huge numbers up against some other very popular shows, and has "outlasted" almost all of its clones (despite what NBC keeps trying to make us believe, The Apprentice is running on fumes). I think part of Survivor's success has been the exciting locations, which change each season, as well as producers' ability to recruit some very unique TV personalities (who, though almost always "beautiful," seem a little less desperate and shallow than, say, the creepy girls of The Bachelor).

As for the game itself, the challenges, rewards, and twists have evolved, sometimes in a thrilling fashion, and sometimes in a "all that hype for nothing" way (remember the racial division a couple of seasons back, which ended shortly and quietly after the premiere episode?). Having said that, I don't feel like there's anything else to watch on Thursday night, since I don't get into Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy, ER, or CSI. Yes, I'm back to Survivor by default.

Come January, my TV schedule gets a little more exciting, with the return of 24, Lost, American Idol, and The Amazing Race. But until then, I'm a Survivor fan again. Who's in with me?

Monday, September 10, 2007

The "Indy 4" official title is...

So we have Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, and... The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Well, it doesn't really roll off my tongue, but I guess it will grow on me. Having said that, I'm so excited about this movie that I'd still go see it if it was named Indiana Jones and the Quest for Britney Spears' Dignity, so I guess the title is irrelevant.

KOTCS arrives in theaters on Memorial Day weekend in 2008. What do you think of the new title? Do you have any better ideas?

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Return of "V"???

I stumbled across an interesting rumor today, indicating that there are talks of reviving the 1980s classic miniseries "V" (and its fantastic sequel, "V: The Final Battle"). While I'm certain that any revival would likely be gorier and racier than the original, I still have to say that I'm pretty curious about the idea of returning to one of my childhood's most fascinating TV fetishes. My parents would warn us about watching it; that it might give us nightmares. And of course, we'd be glued to that TV screen, even if it meant nightmares later on that night. I can still remember being completely creeped out about seeing the guy in the red suit being spied behind the dumpster while consuming a live mouse. Or Diana, the leader of the alien lizards, screaming "I WAS IN CHAAARGE!!!" Or when they'd peel off their skin to reveal that creepy green skin underneath. Or when that girl who mated with a lizard gave birth to human, one lizard. Man, I'm getting excited just thinking about it! Check out the full rumor here.

Who knows what will really happen, but given Hollywood's current fascination with all-things nostalgic, I wouldn't be surprised to see something happen. All I can say is that I'm sufficiently intrigued. How about you?

Friday, August 31, 2007

"Rush Hour 3": Don't waste your money

Maybe the trailers should have been a dead giveaway, but somehow I still found myself plunking down $5.50 to go see the latest from Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker. Let me save you all some time and money: don't bother. If you can't come up with one single new joke or clever fight, why bother even making a sequel? I mean, as disappointed as I was with Spider-man 3 and Pirates 3, at least they weren't telling the same story. Chris Tucker looked like he was just phoning it in, and poor Jackie Chan just looks tired. What a waste!

Kudos, by the way, to Provo's Cinemark 16 for kindly refunding my $5.50 after I left 30 minutes into the movie. No joke.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summer 2007 box office update

I know that this is the blog post that many of you skip right over, and that's fine with me. But never let it be said that you didn't know where to go if someone were to ask you (say, in a life-or-death situation) which of 2007's threequels made the most money. I can just see it now: there you are, hanging by your fingertips from the top of a 40-story building, while a maniacal moviebuff is lifting your remaining digits from the ledge, one-by-one, until you answer the life-saving box office-related question...then wouldn't you feel silly for skipping this post? So keep reading; the people on the sidewalk below you will appreciate your attention.

Since August's final full weekend occurred last weekend, the traditional summer movie season is now officially over. Though many of the movies are still in release and still earning, it's interesting to look at the standings for the summer (and year) so far to see what audiences responded to and what they didn't. Here's the top 10 for 2007 so far (from Box Office Mojo):
  1. Spider-man 3 ($336 million)
  2. Shrek the Third ($321 million)
  3. Transformers ($308 million)
  4. Pirates 3 ($308 million)
  5. Harry Potter 5 ($284 million)
  6. 300 ($211 million)
  7. Ratatouille ($199 million)
  8. The Bourne Ultimatum ($187 million)
  9. The Simpsons Movie ($174 million)
  10. Wild Hogs ($168 million)
(For those of you who really care, click here to see the full 2007 chart so far.)

Looking at the top 10, it's interesting to see both Ocean's 13 and Rush Hour 3 absent. And it's just a tiny bit surprising to me that Transformers has overtaken Pirates (though after having watched them both, I can't blame audiences for liking Transformers slightly more...). The top 10, however, does mask some of the summer's other box office surprises, such as the unexpected success of Knocked Up and Hairspray, or the relative failure of such high-profile releases as Evan Almighty and Hostel: Part Two.

Now of course, to really appreciate this information, you'd have to know how much money each of these movies cost to make--I'm certain that the above list is not ranked by profitability--as well as consider how long each of the movies has been in theaters. (Bourne, for example, has only been in theaters for about four weeks, and clearly has some life left in it; I'd guess that it will probably overtake 300 before too long.) And while this list is interesting to rank 2007 movies in relation to each other, where they fall on the "all-time" charts is increasingly irrelevant, given the constant inflation of ticket-prices.

It would be more interesting (to me, anyway) for analysts to start judging a movie's popularity based on number of tickets sold (not price) or on a movie's ability to maintain an audience over a longer period of time (rather than by the misleadingly front-loaded earnings of summertime "event" movies). But most so-called box office analysts (guided by the studios' marketing rhetoric) are only looking for a headline when describing weekend grosses (e.g. Spider-man 3 breaks all box office records!), rather than reporting how well audiences are really responding to a new movie.

Anyway, it's fun to think about, and one thing's for sure: these movies are making more money than I ever will. So think about that the next time you're plummeting to your death...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A guilty pleasure in the works...

I've been reading a little about one of the next big musicals coming to the big screen, and have to admit that I'm not-so-secretly fascinated by what's in the works. Here are a few of the ingredients:
  • Johnny Depp...singing!
  • Tim Burton directing (which means that no matter what, it will be visually amazing)
  • Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen)
  • Snape (Alan Rickman)
  • Stephen Sondheim's music
Yes, I'm talking about Sweeney Todd, the one about the murderous barber. Tim Burton tends to go over the top sometimes, especially when it involves blood (Sleepy Hollow, anyone?), so I'm guessing this will be a pretty gruesome movie (likely an R-rating). All I've seen is a poster, and it admittedly looks very creepy. But seriously, do we have to go over the above list again? Click here to see a bigger version of the disgustingly-perfect poster, and tell me you're not just a little intrigued...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"The Simpsons Movie" review

Well I know this is like a month late, but I joined some great friends (and fellow Simpsons fans) a few weeks ago to watch the latest adventure of our lovable (and irreverant) yellow family, this time in widescreen (very cool). And though I can't say whether the movie was really worth the 18 year wait, it is very funny and will satisfy any of the classic TV show's true fans.

The story doesn't really cover foreign territory: Homer makes some horribly self-centered and idiotic decisions, goes on some crazy adventures, alienates himself from his family, and repents and returns to make things right in the end. Along the way, each of the Simpsons characters gets their moment to shine (or flash, in Bart's case), as do nearly all of your favorite Springfield characters (though I can never get enough of Mr. Burns). Though nothing horribly fresh, the story is epic enough in scale to warrant a 90-minute movie, and yet silly enough to make the film feel light and fast-paced.

The animation is slicker and more fluid than a standard TV-episode, and the movie gets a nifty Hans Zimmer score to accompany the grand nature of the story. But it's really the script, as usual, that makes or breaks a Simpsons story, and for the most part, they got it right this time. So many of the recent TV episodes focus more on jokes and spoofs than on telling a human story. But the movie, like so many of the classic, early episodes, chooses rather to center on the story, and sprinkles it with healthy dollups of satire and visual gags. Though it's a tiny bit edgier than your standard episode, I'd say the belly-laugh ratio here is about as regular as some of the series' best episodes. (And as many times as you've seen it, the Spider-pig sequence still gives me the giggles...)

The Simpsons Movie is not for everyone; a little Simpsons goes a long way with people like my wife. But for fans, it's a fun way to spend 90 minutes, and a funnier movie than most I've seen in theaters for a long time. I can't wait to see it again. (*** out of four)

Monday, August 13, 2007

HP7 review

I guess it is probably safe by now to run a late review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but just in case, if you haven't read it and don't want anything spoiled, please go read someone else's blog for a minute, ok?

Without further ado, let me say that I loved this book. The thing that was most satisfying about it is that it successfully wrapped up all the loose ends from the other six books. It was 700+ pages of pure payoff, and I loved that. Overall, I felt like the writing was as strong as any of her other books--tight, fast-paced, and exciting. Having said that, I did have a few minor reservations about the book. For one, I felt like the pacing was a little off in the middle section (when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are sitting around for what feels like years waiting for the horcruxes to just show up...). When compared with the almost breathless pace that she creates for most of the rest of the book, that middle section just sags a bit in my memory.

Additionally, I thought that the controversial epilogue felt a little out-of-place in comparison to the rest of the series--the writing just seemed a little sloppy and rushed. Don't get me wrong--I don't mind the idea of the "19 years later" idea, I didn't mind the sugary-sweet sentimentality of it, and I didn't even mind the almost-overwhelming introduction to Hogwarts: The Next Generation. I just felt like Rowling rushed it a bit, and I wish it had been a little sharper and a little more consistent with the discipline and charm she employs during the rest of the book.

Altogether, the book was a great, emotionally-satisfying read. And with the exception of poor Dobby (may he RIP), I was thrilled that the rest of the casualties were mostly for characters that I hadn't grown too attached to (now if she'd taken both Fred and George...). When you put all the books together as a whole, I think that we're looking at a new series of classics, and it was so fun to feel like I was part of the adventure--I can't wait to share it with my own children.

Friday, August 03, 2007

"Bourne" again

In preparation for my viewing of the third Bourne movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, I caught up earlier this week with the previous two installments in the franchise (although in my defense, I was doing the ironing while watching them...). One thing that I really enjoyed about the first two movies is how consistent in tone and energy they remained, despite a change in director from Identity to Supremacy. When done well, I love it when sequels bring back the same writers, composers, actors, etc. with the intention to maintain continuity. Gratefully, Ultimatum falls right into line with its exciting predecessors; it's a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat ride, thrilling from start to finish.

The movie takes place not long (I'm guessing a matter of weeks) after the events of Supremacy, where, if you'll remember, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has just escaped yet another barage of attacks on his life, losing his girlfriend, Marie, along the way. Still wounded by his loss, and continually haunted by uncontrollable flashbacks of his mysterious assassin origins, he is obsessed with finding answers to his true identity and confronting those that have covered it up.

The film moves at a record-pace--from one intense globe-trotting chase to another (in the first 20 minutes alone, I think we see five different countries). And though Bourne has lost none of his lethal defensive or strategic skills, his pursuers seem to have more resources than ever in tracking him down. One of the film's most exciting sequences (there were two in particular that I can't wait to see again) has Bourne chasing/being chased through the narrow streets and rooftops of Tangier, Morocco. Director Paul Greenglass (who returns from Supremacy) has a fantastic skill at staging hand-to-hand combat in some very claustrophic environments. Though his shaky-camera tendencies bothered me a bit in Supremacy, they seemed a little more focused in this film than in the last (I never got motion-sickness this time around). And as is par for the Bourne course, there is at least one thrilling car chase in this film, which I won't spoil by detailing here, though I will say that I actually found myself taking a deep breath after it was over. Good stuff!

I should note that I was temporarily a little distracted during the movie, and though I did shamefully respond to a text-message mid-movie, I was gracious enough to actually leave the theater to take an important phone call. Altogether, I missed a chunk of about 10 min. right in the middle. And unless there was a random F-bomb or love scene thrown into the middle, I think it was also the least offensive (content-wise) of the three movies, though no less intense.

In the end, there seems to be a bit of a resolution to Bourne's quest for knowledge, at least enough to make you feel satisfied if this is, as rumored, the last time we see Bourne on-screen. In a summer where I had high hopes for the third entry in some of my favorite franchises (Pirates, Spider-man), The Bourne Ultimatum is the only one that hasn't disappointed so far. While I hope it's not really the end to what is probably our generation's greatest action franchise, at least it would be going out on a high note. (***1/2 out of four)

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Hairspray" review

If I took a few steps toward manhood with Live Free or Die Hard last week, I took a step back today with Hairspray, but the movie so harmless and bright that I really don't care. Based on the Broadway musical (which itself was based on the non-musical 1988 John Waters film), Hairspray is a light, frothy little movie that will at the very least put a smile on your face.

The story centers on young Tracy Turnblad (played charmingly by newcomer Nikki Blonsky), a plus-sized teenage optimist living in a segregated 1960s Baltimore. When given the chance to dance on the American Bandstand-esque TV show, she becomes involved in a racially-charged battle for integration. Along the way, she involves her mother (played humorously by John Travolta in drag) and father (an always entertaining Christopher Walken) and the hunky dancer Link Larkin (played with surprising talent by High School Musical's Zac Efron). Although race is a central theme of the movie, it is never dealt with in a heavy-handed way. When coupled with the themes of image and weight, the movie becomes more a message of tolerance; a breezy reminder to embrace those that are different and too accept their unique contributions.

The actors seem to give the movie their all, and the performances as a whole are quite good (although I couldn't really understand much of Michelle Pfeiffer's sultry singing under the actress's heavy affectations...). The music itself is cheery and catchy, and complements perfectly the film's bubble-gum tone. And I'm happy to say that this is the first movie-musical I have seen in years where it didn't seem completely obvious that the actors were being dubbed--it really felt like they were there singing live, instead of lip-syncing ( one thing I hated about The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge...).

It's not a perfect movie, and not a very deep one either, but it is high energy, and sometimes that's all a good musical needs. And while the movie won't change anyone's life, it's a step in the right direction for the modern movie-musical revival. (*** out of four)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Babies and wizards

A couple of quick updates, intended to make up for some massively blaring omissions from my blog in recent weeks:
  • Wendy and I found out that we're having a baby girl! As you can see from the counter at the bottom of this page, only 157 days to go! Now if we could just decide on a name...
  • Only slightly less exciting is the fact that I finished the final Harry Potter book on Monday, and though I won't spoil it here, really enjoyed it overall. I have a few minor quibbles about some of the ends that seemed too neatly tied-up, as well as a few pacing issues (could the three main characters have been in hiding for less than 600 pages, please?). But again, a most satisfying conclusion to a fantastic seven-book fantasy. I can't wait to see what Rowling has up her sleeve next.

"Live Free or Die Hard" review

Having now watched Bruce Willis in his latest Die Hard sequel, I can officially declare two things: Bruce Willis is one bad 50-year old butt kicker, and Live Free or Die Hard is possibly the worst title for a movie I have ever heard. Luckily, the movie is much better than its title.

Since I have never seen any of the previous Die Hard movies (I haven't ever seen the original Rocky either, so either I'm only half-a-man or just really lazy), but my Die Hard ignorance didn't really detract from my enjoyment; here's basically all you need to know: Bruce Willis plays Detective John McClane, who is apparently really unlucky and also really capable of wielding a big gun. Or causing lots of thrilling explosions. Or crashing a lot of cars. Or scowling at a lot of dumb bad guys, usually before killing them. Mindless as it is, the movie is actually pretty fun.

There are few action sequences in particular that I was sorry to see end: a noisy helicopter vs. police car chase and a horribly destructive (and awesome) showdown between a semi-truck and a really sleek-looking F-something jet (do you see how uncomfortable I am with all this man-lingo?). Lots of booms and bangs and crashes and kills (mostly bloodless), and really just a lot of good clean "manly" fun (with a heaping dose of some manly PG-13 action-movie cussing). (*** out of four)

In response to my previous post about the sanitization of movie sequels and how the trend hasn't historically helped a franchise financially...the jury's still out on this one. While Live Free or Die Hard has been well-received by critics, it will probably end up grossing roughly the same amount of money as did the franchise's previous sequel (1995's Die Hard with a Vengeance, runner up for the worst movie title ever), not including the inflation of ticket prices. So while it will likely be a profitable movie, (and possibly a franchise-savior), there's no way to know if its mild success is due to the tamer PG-13 rating.

Entertainment Weekly recently ranked the original Die Hard as the best action movie ever. Now that I've been initiated into the Die Hard-fraternity, I think it's probably time for me to check it out. Not coincidentally, I've also picked up chewing tobacco and scratching myself in public. Thanks for my introduction to manhood, Bruce!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" review

I saw HP5 last night on the IMAX 3D screen in Sandy, and wasn't disappointed. The producers have once again managed to tell a visually-arresting story while still maintaining much of the book's emotion and spirit. Although these movies continue the long-running story from previous films, it never seems like we're repeating ourselves. The performances seem fresh, the tone varies from film to film, and we can actually see forward progress in the characters we've come to love. (And the 3D for the final 20 mins is pretty cool if you get to see it.)

There is much to love in this installment. As I mentioned before, the sets, costumes, and special effects are all top notch and contribute perfectly to the illusion of a wizard world that exists alongside ours. And while the performances across the board are first rate, I especially loved the actresses cast to play Dolores Umbridge and Luna Lovegood, who were both perfect for their very eclectic roles.

I had heard it said that this film lacked the whimsical spirit of the book, but if that was really the case, it didn't bother me. (Frankly, all I remembered from the book was Umbridge, which they interpreted very well.) The movie was also a little funnier and lighter than I had expected, which was pleasantly surprising. That's not to say that the story isn't dark, but the biggest challenge I saw to this movie was its very talky nature--it could have used an action scene about midway through the movie (such as Ron's quidditch debut, for example). Rather than being scared, I think some smaller children might just be bored. And the ending felt a little rushed--I wouldn't have minded another 10-15 mins of revelations or explanations.

As for where this movie stands against the rest of the films in the series, I'm still trying to decide. While it has some of the emotional depth of the third movie, it also lacks some of the action of the fourth. Though it isn't my favorite in the series, it also isn't my least favorite. I'd probably put it somewhere in the middle, between number 4 and number 2 (so for those of you keeping track, I'd probably rank the Potter movies like this: 3,1,4,5,2). It's a very good movie, and an admirably efficient adaptation of an 870-page book. I can't wait to see it again. (***1/2 out of four)

One note for the HP producers who undoubtedly frequent my blog: bring back composer John Williams for #6 and #7, pleeeeeeease!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stack-ranking the "Harry Potter" films

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I haven't yet seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but we've got our tickets to see it in IMAX 3D on Monday. So to keep me occupied in the meantime, I thought I'd rank the four previous Harry Potter movies from best to worst (although "worst" in the case of HP movies really is a relative term...). So if you'll keep in mind that I love all of these movies, here we go:
  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: At first viewing I was disappointed with this movie, mostly because it left out a lot of meaningful moments from the book and wasn't as faithful to its literary source as the first two movies in the series. However, upon repeat viewings, this movie has really grown on me. The visuals are moody and memorable, the acting is first-rate (Hermione has never been less-annoying), and the tone is the perfect balance of whimsy and malice. And this movie gets extra points for John Williams' perfect score, which has a prime spot in my Ipod rotation.
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The first movie in the series had the uneviable task of welcoming the world to a cinematic Hogwarts and its associated magic. Happily, it pulled it off very well. Upon repeat viewings, the film is unnecessarily slow and overly loyal to its source, but it is also perfectly sentimental and appropriately innocent for an 11-year old Harry and his young audience. And could the casting have been more inspired?
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: This is definitely the most exciting of the first four movies, and remains a very entertaining and fast-paced adaptation of a 700-page novel. This movie's strengths include a streamlined and focused screenplay and some terrific performances (such as Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody). A couple of nit-picky complaints: I sorely missed John Williams score, and Michael Gambon's Dumbledore gets a little more feisty and cranky than I ever pictured him in the book. Altogether a very fun movie, and how great was that creepy graveyard scene?
  4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: This movie already had two things going against it: the associated book was my least favorite (too similar in structure to the first), and director Chris Columbus did little stylistically to distinguish this movie from the series' first film (though I complained about it at first, the producers' decision to shift directors from film to film--starting with #3--really helped breathe life into each film). Having said that, Chamber of Secrets does boast some very funny Ron-centric moments, introduces us to cute little Ginny Weasley, and gives us one last chance to enjoy the perfectly patriarchal Richard Harris as Dumbledore.
So there's my batting order: 3, 1, 4, 2. What do you think? How would you rank the first four movies? And for those of you who have seen #5, where would you rank it with relation to the other four movies?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Transformers," "Ratatouille" reviews

My movie-going habits seem to come in spurts, as I'll sometimes go weeks or months without seeing a new movie, and then suddenly I go see a bunch of them all at once. So in keeping with that spirit, here are a couple of quick reviews for movies I watched over the past few days:

  • Transformers: Say what you will about Michael Bay--whose movies are sometimes frustrating examples of excess--but when it's time for car chases and explosions and pure delightful cinematic chaos, he seems to be right at home. Since action is really the only thing anyone interested in Transformers wants to know about, I'll just cut to the chase. The action is fantastic, especially during the last 20-30 minutes of the movie. The Transformers themselves are a wonder to behold, and thanks to the wizards at ILM, fit seamlessly into this 13-year-old boy's fantasy--they really look amazing. (I also loved that they used the original voice of Optimus Prime.) The story, on the other hand, is messy and silly. Bay tries to make this an Independence Day-type ensemble, but the only character that really works in this movie is the one played by the charismatic Shia LeBeouf (the future son of Indiana Jones, reportedly). It's too intense and crass (Bay calls it "edgy") for most children, which is a shame, because most kids are justifiably dying to see this movie. But for the grown-up kids, it's really a great ride. (*** out of four)

  • Ratatouille: Pixar has done it again: I loved this movie. Mixing oodles of charm with a witty script and a decent little moral, Ratatouille is the type of movie that you wish we'd see more of. It's as close to perfect as a family movie gets: it's clever without being crude, funny without being silly, and uplifting without being heavy-handed. As I'm sure you know, it's the story of a food-loving rat who accidentally gets heavily (and secretly) involved in a the kitchen of a once-great Parisan restaurant. But what would happen if France's most notorious food critic gets wind of a rat in the kitchen? Of course we know that the movie will end happily even before it's begun, but it's really the journey that's so much fun. Visually, the movie is a treat to watch (as we've come to expect from Pixar), but the movie in general is a "delight to the senses" (a phrase coined by my bro-in-law, Peter), with a bubbly musical score and a theme that will make you hungry for fine food. It's a rare film that is truly appropriate for the whole family without being insulting or dull to any of the age groups. Pixar is now 8 for 8; I wonder if they're hiring... (**** out of four)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Will Harry Potter die?

Even before the book comes out, the biggest question surrounding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is undoubtedly "Will Harry Potter live or die?" Of course I have my own opinions, which are admittedly based largely in what I want (rather than what would make sense), but I think our scarred hero will indeed survive the series, if nothing else but to give millions of readers worldwide the happy ending that they all signed up for when they picked up the first book 10 years ago. Read my lips: Harry Potter will not die. (I'm almost starting to believe myself!)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Wicked," "Mary Poppins" reviews

Wendy and I just got back from a fantastic weekend in NYC, and found much to love (mostly in the form of Roxy's cheesecake and Max Brenner's chocolate). But of course two of the highlights were the big musicals that we saw on Friday and Saturday nights: Wicked and Mary Poppins, respectively. Here are my thoughts:

  • Wicked: This is every bit as much fun as people said, and then some. Even Wendy, who at times scoffs at a good musical, found herself captivated by this whimsical alternate take on The Wizard of Oz. The music is catchy and bright, the sets are colorful and dynamic, and the story is told with energy and charm. Though I thought I knew about the story, there were still several surprises that put a smile on both of our faces. If I have one complaint about the show, it's that we never got to see the Wicked Witch flying around the audience like I fully expected to see...still, it was a lot of fun, and worth seeing if you are ever in NYC.

  • Mary Poppins: We were also really excited to see this one, since it is one of our favorite childhood movies. You've got to hand it to Disney--they spare no expense when it comes to creating a spectacle on-stage. The sets were incredible; they were detailed and creative and constantly changing (they reminded me of the old Sunset Boulevard sets in terms of their grandeur). As for the show and story itself...we sort of wish we had seen this one first, since Wicked seemed to be so much more lively and consistently entertaining. Don't get me wrong, Mary Poppins has a few high-energy numbers that brought down the house (especially "Step in Time"), and is never without something interesting to look at, but missed a bit of the magic of the movie. In talking about it with Wendy afterwards, we decided that the Broadway Mary and Burt didn't quite have the same charm and personality as did good old Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, which could have helped the show feel a little lighter. Additionally, the show varies from the movie's story a bit, adding several new songs and characters that didn't necessarily enhance the story. Having said that, there is probably nothing bigger on Broadway, and it was a very fun way to spend a Saturday night.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The curse of the family-friendly sequel?

What do The Legend of Zorro, Evan Almighty, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer have in common? Interestingly, they are three sequels in dying (or at least ailing) movie franchises that have been released with a tamer MPAA rating than their predecessor(s) in an attempt to attract a wider movie audience. What else do these movies have in common? Each of them has made less than their predecessor--some of them (Zorro and Evan) making significantly less than the originals.

Now I'm all about keeping movies free of unnecessary excesses. But if I were the people in charge of greenlighting these movies, why mess with the audience that made your first film a success? Apparently someone liked that Zorro killed his enemies in the first film, and apparently someone liked the risque humor of Bruce Almighty. And apparently someone thought it was pretty great to see--wait, what was it really that people saw in Fantastic Four anyway?

But I digress...I'm just curious to know why producers these days think that their movies have to be everything to everyone. If they're going to make a sequel to a beloved movie, why not try to appeal to the audience that loved the movie in the first place? Tomorrow another "family-friendly" sequel comes out for a movie that was decidedly not family-friendly: Live Free or Die Hard, with a franchise-first PG-13 rating. What's next? Rambo IV: Waterguns and Smokebombs?

Let's see if this sanitized-sequel box office trend continues. And it might help if any of these sequels was actually worth seeing...

Friday, June 22, 2007

What will get me through Friday:

Steven Spielberg released this picture yesterday. Now that I've seen it, I'm actually starting to believe this movie is going to happen.

The movie comes out on May 22, 2008. Only 11 months to go!

In other news, Fox released the final trailer for The Simpsons Movie, which looks similar to previous trailers, with a few silly exceptions. (My favorite part comes during the last 5 seconds, which still has me giggling...). See the trailer here and then go see the movie on July 27.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Indiana Jones and the Lost Legos?

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article the other day about the recent lucrative licensing deals that are being created to coincide with the upcoming Indiana Jones sequel. Lucasfilms, who has been so successful in merchandising its Star Wars films in virtually every market possible, is hoping to do the same with their Indiana Jones franchise. Among the partnerships that are being forged include, of course, Legos, as well as deals with M&Ms and Burger King, among others.

It's interesting to note the difference in the marketplace since the last time an Indy film (Last Crusade) was released back in 1989. Although I was young back then, I hardly remember any merchandising that went along with the film's release (especially when compared with another huge hit that also came out that summer: the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman). Today it seems like it's hard not to imagine a movie being cross-promoted at fast food chains and in toy store isles (anyone else getting tired of seeing Black Spidey, Shrek, or Cap'n Jack on everything we touch?).

But seriously, how cool does that Lego Indy look? I'm almost praying our baby is a little boy so I can start stocking up on all the cool Indy toys!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Breach" review

We finally saw Breach, a spy thriller that we'd been meaning to catch up on since it was in theaters back in February. It tells the true story of Robert Hanssen, the worst spy in U.S. history, who was finally brought down back in 2001. I vaguely remember hearing the story, but didn't remember the whole story. And though some of the details are slightly sordid, it's a fascinating true story in our nation's recent history.

The movie tells the tale of Hanssen's fall through the eyes of an ambitious, young FBI agent-in-training, who is assigned to be a clerk for (and spy on) Hanssen. Since we already know from the film's very first scene that Hanssen is brought down, the suspense doesn't lie so much in where he will end up, but in how he gets there. There is relatively little action, but the movie moves at a brisk pace and is never dull (though pay close attention to the dialogue, or you'll be lost pretty quickly--watch this after the kids have gone to bed so there are no distractions).

The acting really is first-rate, especially from Chris Cooper, who plays Hanssen with so many layers that you don't know if you should pity the guy, root for him, or hate his guts. He could so easily have become a caricature--a shallow, one-dimensional traitor whose motivations are so black-and-white that the audience doesn't even have to think about how they feel toward him. But gratefully, Cooper (with some guidance, I suppose, from the screenwriters and director) chooses to play Hanssen as a morally-conflicted, socially-awkward anti-bureaucrat. He is amazing to watch. (Laura Linney and Ryan Phillippe also do good work in their leading roles.)

Though it's being advertised as a thriller along the lines of The Bourne Identity or a Jack Ryan movie, it probably has more in common with director Billy Ray's fascinating last film, Shattered Glass, which I reviewed here in April of last year. As with Glass, Breach details the difficult and complicated world of moral gray areas--not just in Hanssen's double life, but also with those in the intelligence community that are forced to lead lives of half-truths in order to bring the real truth to light. It's a tough--but ultimately satisfying--film to watch, because so of the movie's conflicting themes (family, religion, patriotism, career progression, etc.) feel so close to our own reality, even if we're not being spied on by the government. (There's a little coarse language, and some occasional references to Hanssen's sexual preferences that you should be aware of.)
(***1/2 out of four)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dwight = Frasier?

In one of the stranger stories I've read recently, Roger Friedman from is reporting that NBC is considering a spinoff to The Office featuring Dwight (Rainn Wilson) in a lead role. While this is still just considered gossip (especially considering the source), it's made me think about this a little bit, and I'm not sure I love the idea. Here are a few reasons:
  • Spinoffs rarely work. For every Frasier, there are a dozen Joeys.
  • It's not like The Office is a franchise like CSI or Law & Order that can co-exist independent from each other...
  • The Office isn't nearly the huge hit that NBC is trying to make it--it regularly loses its timeslot to both Ugly Betty and Survivor (although in the 18-49 age group it does pretty well). Things will get even tougher for the show when it moves up against CSI and Grey's Anatomy.
  • Finally, Dwight is a wonderful supporting player on a show with many odd (and terrific) supporting characters. But as soon as you put Dwight front and center, isn't he just a little too left-field to carry his own show? (You thought Michael Scott was weird...). All I'm saying is that it might be better creatively if you let the supporting players remain supporting players...
Like I say, it's just a rumor at this point. But in my opinion, NBC is about ready to "shrute" up a good thing. What do you think about a Dwight spinoff?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Comfort food

Wendy and I have been sick for the past couple of days. You know how it is--you've been curled up in the fetal position for 12 hours, hoping for some relief. When the sun starts setting again, you start to panic because you think it's going to be another night of consistent crawling toward the bathroom on hands and knees. For Wendy, the only thing that brings her comfort at a time like this is...Disney's Sword in the Stone?

I suppose we all have them: movies that just make us feel like we're little kids again. Movies that give us hope when it's gloomy outside. For me, I'd have to say my comfort food is Disney's Pinocchio, although yesterday I settled for Cars (very cute, by the way). Other sick-day favorites: Mary Poppins and Lord of the Rings. I also enjoyed curling up with To Kill a Mockingbird, which I'm reading for the umpteenth time (doing my Atticus research...).

What is your comfort food when you're sick?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sean Connery says "no thanks" to fourth Indy

Although I'm sure the fourth Indiana Jones (no title yet) will still be fun without him, the news of Sean Connery's choice not to appear in it saddens me. His statement, which you can view here, shows that he's still a class act, but wouldn't it be classier if he just un-retired and took one last adventure? And come on, Spielberg and Lucas, pull out the big guns (or checkbook...) and give him what he really wants!

Man, it makes me want to go watch those movies again, RIGHT NOW!!!

"Hairspray" trailer

Admittedly, I don't know much about this musical other than the fact that when on Broadway, one of the lead female roles was often played by a man in drag. So I don't really know what to expect from this big-screen adaptation, but it has a couple of things going for it:
  • a big, pedigreed cast, including Michelle Pfeiffer (where has she been?), John Travolta (in drag), Queen Latifah (as a blond?), and Christopher Walken (always brilliant), among others
  • a PG-rating: when was the last time a big screen musical was PG? Annie? Not that a PG-rating necessarily means a movie will be good, it just tells me that it won't focus as heavily on some of the seedier elements like other recent musicals (Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dreamgirls) have done. The industry seems to have the impression that musicals won't sell unless they are "edgy." I guess we're about to find out...
Then again, here are some of my reservations:
  • not since Mrs. Doubtfire has a woman in drag been funny (sorry, Norbit)
  • High School Musical heartthrob Zac Efron has a big role as...the naughty rocker? What's next, Elmo as Hannibal Lecter?
  • the movie opens up on July 20, one day before the final Harry Potter book is released. Honestly, who's going to be thinking about hairspray on a day like that?
Click here to watch the trailer, and then tell me on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely you are to see this movie. Right now, I'm a 6.