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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"On the Lot" still on the air...for now

I have a confession to make: Wendy and I couldn't muster up enough interest in On the Lot to watch the whole thing last night. On the one hand, it's becoming a most fascinating failure--a huge fiasco coming from some pretty big names (Spielberg and Burnett). On the other hand, I don't care how bizarre the show's shortcomings are, it's outright dull! We sat through one of the movies (the ring in the toilet one) but just couldn't sit around and listen to the judges or the hostess make things more awkward than they already were.

As I browsed today, I noticed a short article describing some of the strange happenings surrounding the much-hyped show. Though Fox claims that it's sticking with the show through August, it sounds to me like they are trying to kill the show slowly (like trying to shoot a deer with a BB gun). Click here for the full story.

I still argue that a show for amateur filmmakers is a great idea, but I think the American Idol format is what killed the show (as well as some really boneheaded producers). While I'm sorry I recommended the show to my loyal readers, the show could just as easily been fantastic, so I feel vindicated. Still, for those of you (like me) that devoted precious time to this strange show, I'm sorry. I guess there's nothing left for us to do but focus our attention on So You Think You Can Dance...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Pirates 3" review

First things first: continuing this summer's crappy trend, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is not as much fun as the first two Pirates movies. It's too long, too slow, and too confusing, at least for the first two hours. (Yes, you heard me, the movie is two hours and 45 minutes long! Normally the length wouldn't bother me--the previous Harry Potter was the same length, but it was consistently thrilling and fast paced.) Having said that, when At World's End finally gets going, it floats nicely into a frantic, dizzying, delightful finish.

As I mentioned, there's more story here than is worth mentioning, with every sort of pirate being introduced and given his or her own little subplot. Because there are so many new stories to tell, there isn't time to address the stories we're all really interested in. Case in point: Johnny Depp's Captain Jack isn't even introduced until about 40 minutes into the movie! To add to the frustration, the other likable or interesting characters (Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Captain Barbossa, etc.) don't get their storylines addressed until nearly the end of the movie, amidst all the chaos. And what kind of a pirate movie waits until the final 30 minutes to stage a swordfight?!?!

Having said all this, it would appear that I disliked this movie; to the contrary, when it finally gets to its conclusion, it satisfactorily ties up all the loose ends (from each of the three movies), even giving some surprising plot elements you might not have expected. The climactic battle takes place in a swirling maelstrom, complete with rain and explosions and lots of delicious special effects and death. So if you had asked me at about the two hour mark, I would have said it deserved ** out of four. Thanks to the final 40 minutes or so, it earns *** out of four.

This summer is disappointing me a little bit so far; I really hope Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn't disappoint, or I might have to reconsider a new hobby...