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)