Thoughts: The rock-and-roll docudrama features have been the rage in Hollywood since the Stone Age. From La Bamba to Sweet Dreams to Great Balls of Fire, Hollywood loves a good look into the lives of the men and women behind the music. Hank Williams is an interesting subject and it’s hard to believe it’s taken until now and the boy from E.T. to get it made. The trailer and poster proclaim Williams as “Music’s Original Bad Boy” and that’s probably a fair statement. How much people will want to hop in this car and ride along for the last days of Williams’s life is another question entirely.
Synopsis: As the nation states Euromerica and New Shanghai vie for supremacy, a factory worker begins to suspect that he’s a spy, though he is unaware which side of the fight he’s on
Release Date: August 3, 2012
Thoughts: A remake to the 1990 Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven sci-fi classic seemed blasphemous at first. The original was a crowd-pleasing box office hit and I just didn’t feel like there was room for another Recall pic to exist. The teaser trailer hit and I was intrigued, now the second trailer has arrived and I’m impressed. Boasting some nice visuals and familiar (but not unwelcome) sequences, the remade Total Recall just moved up a few notches in my “Looking Forward” to summer movie checklist. Colin Farrell scored last August with the Fright Night remake and if all goes as planned he’ll start of August 2012 on top again.
Synopsis: An agoraphobic psychologist and a female detective must work together to take down a serial killer who copies serial killers from the past.
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, Harry Connick Jr., Will Patton
Director: Jon Amiel
Running Length: 123 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: The root of every good thriller comes down to its casting. True, you can cast a movie with A-List stars and still get F-List product (see Oceans 12) but if a director casts their movie well that’s sometimes half the battle. Director Amiel (Sommersby) nabbed two of the most interesting actresses for this thriller and in doing so he elevated what probably was a second-rate script into a meaty and twisty tale that still spooks and entertains nearly 20 years later.
For my money, Weaver is one of the most underappreciated appreciated actresses in the business. Yes, that’s a contradiction but for all the good notices she’s gets she’s never cracked that awards junket part of Hollywood and that’s a crime. Here she’s a psychologist suffering from agoraphobia after a terrifying encounter with a serial killer she helped put away (Connick Jr cast SO against type). Confined to her house, she plays video games and participates in chat rooms that are so dated looking (this was 1995 after all) that it seems she is communicating with a stone tablet. She also can’t resist listening to her police scanner, and in doing so begins to see a pattern of killings taking place around San Francisco.
On the other side of the law is Hunter as a veteran detective working these murders, eventually meeting up with Weaver who reluctantly agrees to help with the investigation. As both women dig deeper into the cryptic clues they realize too late that a game has been set into motion and they are now active participants.
Structurally, Copycat is like most other 90’s thrillers with its slow burn opening, twisty second act, and tidy finale. It’s not out to redefine the genre nor is it willing to step too far out of its comfort zone. Instead, the film plays into the strengths of both actresses and allows them ample time to flesh out their characters. What we end up with is a compact thriller full of eerie camera angles and gruesome murders. It’s not a spoiler to say that you learn the identity of the killer halfway through but it’s a necessary revelation to propel the movie forward. This also thankfully eliminates the dreaded red herrings that have sunk many a similar thriller.
Though the film may be slightly stuck in the 90’s (the aforementioned computer set-up and Weaver’s costumes that are from Ann Taylor’s 1994 collection) the pacing is very much in line with a thoughtful thriller we’re still seeing today. The supporting players (Mulroney, Patton, Connick Jr, and our killer who I will not identify) all take a backseat whenever our ladies are present..
I’ve held off on talking too much about Hunter because watching the film again I was struck by what a dynamite job she did with the role. I actually think her character was good enough to warrant a spin-off film and would love to have seen Hunter tackle the role again with the right team in place. Hunter was in a short-lived television series but could easily have parlayed this Copycat character into the small screen as well. Weaver’s arc probably ended here but she too could have moved forward with Hunter in another outing.
Amiel brings an off-kilter look to the film with hardly any angle being a straight shot. Everything is filmed slightly askew which instantly puts the audience off step. It’s a clever device that, when matched with Christopher Young’s score (which you’ve heard in about 1,000 previews since) creates a nice atmosphere. As it stands, Copycat still works as slick entertainment without having shed too many lives in the decades since it was originally released.
Synopsis: A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.
Release Date: June 29, 2012
Thoughts: Actor-Director Sarah Polley has come a long way from playing Ramona Quimby. She’s graduated to a sensitive director that knows how to work with her actors to create stunningly accessible characters. Working with some unlikely candidates (Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman) and one usual suspect (Michelle Williams), Take This Waltz has been touted as a breakthrough movie for many involved. Whether in front of the camera or behind it, Polley keeps things interesting and moving – I expect nothing less here.
Review: Two things that not everyone may know about Sister Act:
1) It was originally conceived as a vehicle for Bette Midler
2) Whoopi Goldberg HATED making the film and was offered quite a sum to return for its sequel a little over a year later.
It’s interesting to note these facts while taking in the film on the eve of it’s 20th anniversary (I remember seeing it at the Yorktown 3 in Edina…anyone….anyone?) because if Goldberg isn’t having fun, you can’t tell. As much as I love Midler I can’t see this film working as well as it does with her in Goldberg’s part. True, after Midler left the project a number of re-writes took place to craft it into something that plays on Goldberg’s strengths but even without the rewrites Goldberg makes this work in a way that I don’t think Midler could have.
Sister Act remains one of those movies (for me, at least) that never, ever gets old. I find myself laughing just as much now as I did when I first saw the film with its winning combination of good hearted humor and easy going performances. It’s one of the most harmless films outside of the cartoon canon and it’s only the real grump that wouldn’t crack a smile at one point or another.
As second rate lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, Goldberg was at the peak of her popularity when the movie was released. Two years after winning an Oscar for Ghost this was her first leading role that proved her box office mettle. Sadly, every movie released after wouldn’t measure up to the success of this outing but at the time of its release it etched her name on the A-list for a time.
I usually catch this movie once a year and maybe it’s my newfound critical eye but the film seemed much breezier on a recent viewing. After witnessing a murder involving her mob boss boyfriend, Deloris’ is witness protection-ed into the guise of Sister Mary Clarence as a downtown convent. This journey seems to come quickly and before we know it she’s become the choir master to a seemingly tone deaf gaggle of nuns. I love a good nun movie (have you seen Nuns on the Run? You should.) and the nuns are out in full force here.
The movie does take several potshots at nuns and the Catholic Church but they’re all good natured and in the spirit of fun. The film isn’t out to take any religious prisoners and skates by on charm and an energetic supporting cast for Goldberg.
Smith was already a two-time Oscar winner and may have been an eyebrow raising choice for the stern Mother Superior in a screwball American comedy. She brings her indefatigable humor to her role and really creates some comedic sparks with Goldberg. Both actresses play well off each other and their relationship is a key element to the film’s success.
Three other nuns also play a role in Goldberg’s universe and they run the age gamut. Veteran actress Wickes is put to good use as a spry nun that’s seen it all…the film already had a tsk-tsk taskmaster in the Mother Superior so Wickes plays her role with a nice balance of grandmotherly irascibility. Newcomer Makkena fits in nicely as the churchmouse-y Sister Mary Robert though I still find it crazy that her voice was dubbed. Could they not find someone that could do the role and sing? Najimy has always been a scene stealer and she nearly steals the film away from Goldberg with her boisterous and beaming Sister Mary Patrick. All three women (plus the other chorines) nicely support our star like the good nuns they are playing.
As choir master, Deloris works her magic and creates a sound that literally brings in people off the street in the skid row-esque neighborhood the convent/church is housed on. The nuns going out into the community is one of several musical montages and just seeing the 90’s attire alone creates major laughs. Before you know it the church is packing them in and the choir is gaining national attention from the Pope (how long Deloris has been at the church is one of those fuzzier forgotten parts of the script). With the added attention from the press comes danger from the mob and…well…it doesn’t really matter because we all know how it’s going to turn out.
Dogged by critics when it first was released, Sister Act rose to be a box office smash and inspired a sequel just a tad over a year later. Some feel the sequel was superior but I continue to have a soft spot in my heart for the original. The music still works wonderfully with the story and the laughs continue to land. Ardolino (Dirty Dancing, Chances Are) works wonders with the piece and gives it a sheen that is heaven sent. It’s not complicated, it’s not boring…it’s a fine example of a movie capitalizing on the talent and hand and riding that to success.
Synopsis: Centered on a new CIA operative in the universe based on Robert Ludlum’s novels.
Release Date: August 10, 2012
Thoughts: Renner continues his ascent into the A list by headlining this continuation of the Bourne films. How the series will survive without Matt Damon remains to be seen but I for one think that a change was warranted. Renner has shown he can balance drama and action and Bourne has always ridden that fine line well. I like that characters from the previous films continue to pop up and feel that this will be a nice kick start to a whole new legacy of Bourne films.
Synopsis: A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women, and make easy money.
Stars: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Olivia Munn
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Length: 110 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Chef ~ Paul Rathburn
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: In the heat of the summer we retreat to movie theaters for escapist entertainment – sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. We thrill to large scale action adventures that transport us to different dimensions (some in 3D!) The staple of summer popcorn films is the counterprogramming of studio films to balance out the weeks between movies like The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight. In the final week of June there is calm before the storm of July and on June 29 two non-action effects extravaganzas are being released. One is People Like Us which I reviewed a few weeks ago and the other is Magic Mike, director Soderbergh’s latest experiment and Tatum’s fourth film released in 2012. The biggest trick that Magic Mike has up its sleeve is the sleight of hand the marketing department has pulled on audiences that will go into this thinking it’s a chick flick comedy full of naked buff men and romantic entanglements. Yes, skin is shown and things get tangled but it’s a dreary affair that’s not very fun and not very funny.
“Loosely” inspired by Tatum’s own pre-Hollywood life as a stripper, Magic Mike is a ginormous misfire that would be unwatchable were it not for a few inspired performances and Soderbergh’s hot glistening cinematography. (Why Soderbergh still relies on a pseudonym when he’s the cinematographer is a mystery).
Soderbergh is one of the most frustrating of directors operating in Hollywood today. The man has had some incredible peaks and awesomely awful valleys of his career and one must appreciate his willingness to fail in such a grand scale. His problem lies with his continued allegiance to inspiration from material that doesn’t belong on screen, which can create discord with the players and audience who can never really become one with the material.
Now I’m sure when Soderbergh and Tatum were sitting around between takes on Haywirethat Tatum’s story sounded like a cinematic bull’s-eye to the director. Stripper by night, struggling entrepreneur by day Tatum’s Mike supposedly has a heart of gold but it’s never revealed how he came to do what he does or why he seeks a start-up business loan from a bank when he’s literally rolling in sweaty greenbacks. In an overall storyline that stretches across the three months of a Florida summer, we follow Mike and his co-workers both on and offstage in various stages of undress.
Enter Adam (Pettyfer) who we learn has squandered away an athletic scholarship and has now taken up residence on the Tampa, FL couch of his sister (Horn). A chance meeting with Mike on a construction site and one night of bar hopping later Adam is awkwardly onstage at the XQuisite male dance revue run by Dallas (McConaughey). How Adam moves from outside to backstage to onstage is a cinematic contrivance you’d be blind to not see telegraphed out fairly early.
Now that has the makings of a decent movie, right. There’s humor to be mined, drama to be explored, and more than enough opportunity to give the audience what they want in terms of celebrity skin. Unfortunately, what we end up with is a movie that’s less Boogie Nights, Showgirls, and All About Eve than it is like a male version of Coyote Ugly (thanks to my +1 Brian Skellenger for reminded me of that B-Movie Classic). Going further, Magic Mike actually makes Coyote Ugly look like Gone With the Wind in terms of cinematic achievement.
Don’t get me wrong, the athletic frames and waxed chests of Tatum, Pettyfer, Bomer, Manganiello, and McConaughey are on full thong display but after a while the sight of yet another fuzzy rump had most of the audience yawning rather than squealing with delight. Still, with the exception of twelve pack abs of Maganiello the rest of the men start to blend together after a while and their stripping scenes are more montaged than anything else. It’s not remotely sexy or titillating which is what many will be plunking down their bills to see. Actually, the most effective moment is when McConaughey is teaching Pettyfer the basic rules of the bump and grind in a garishly mirrored workout studio and tiny biking shorts.
Speaking of McConaughey, much like Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages his performance is so over the top and crazy that I found myself applauding his efforts rather than knocking him points for it. If anything, he has the riskiest role in the movie and even if his character seems a bit underwritten he knows just how far to take the guy without losing us in the process. Cruise ultimately wins this showdown but McConnaughey steps up to the plate admirably and in much less clothes (if that’s possible)
The other standout is Horn as Pettyfer’s sister. While she struggles with some of the lighter material she’s a nice grounding presence when onscreen with her believable delivery and curiously charming looks. It’s unfortunate that she’s paired with Tatum and Pettyfer as screen partners but they should count themselves lucky she was there to save their scenes.
Pettyfer struggles both with an American accent and with a role that’s too sullen to be absorbing. I think I get what he was going for but instead of coming off as someone who is surprised that he can make money by doffing his kit, he appears aloof and not as part of the action as he should be. Bomer and Manganiello are glorified cameos as they don’t have much to do outside of the club scenes.
Tatum is the star of the show and any good will he’s built up this year with Haywire, The Vow, and 21 Jump Streetgets blown to smithereens in an egotistical and drab performance that I’m sure he thought was going to going to nab him some awards. Well, he may be looking at a Razzie Award for Worst Actor and he would definitely deserve it. He’s clearly the best dancer and the most comfortable onstage yet he’s strangely concealed thanks to the camera angles and other actors. Tatum labors hard with his dialogue but just sounds like he’s forgotten his lines half the time.
That brings me to the script which was “written” by Reid Carolin (who also shows up as Horn’s boyfriend) I put that in quotes because I find it hard to believe there was a script to the film at all. Nearly everything sounds like one long acting improv exercise put on by himbos that have never met or interacted with another human being before. You can tell it’s improv-ed because when in doubt the actors drop the “F” bomb to fill in words they can’t think of fast enough. Now I don’t have any problem with blue language when it’s called for but here it’s overused to the point of annoyance by a crew that can’t even say it with any conviction.
All of this mess is up on screen courtesy of Soderbergh and at this point in his career I feel like I want to give up on him. Where is the man that gave us sex…lies…and videotape? Or Out of Sight? Or Traffic? After a string of duds that were not fulfilling at all I think Soderbergh is losing his way as he delves deeper into his artistic mind. This film is an example of a movie that never should have happened or, if it had to happen, should have been structured and filmed differently.
Soderbergh has always been a brilliant cinematographer and that’s true here. His view of Florida by day stands in stark contrast to the hallucinatory nightlife he captures onscreen. It’s visually excellent but then those pesky actors have to start to talk and it all goes to pot. Music wise, this has one of the worst soundtracks ever. Quentin Tarantino Soderbergh is not, showing no flair for song choice and calling on really heinous remixes of familiar songs. It’s a nightmare to listen to.
I feel for the countless numbers of moviegoers that made plans around seeing this film over the weekend. They are in for a movie they didn’t sign up for and don’t deserve. If you do see this movie and do like it I want to hear about it – I really do! However, if all you can talk about is how hot the men are then save it because that bucket doesn’t hold water in my book.
Synopsis: After Washington DC detective Alex Cross is told that a family member has been murdered, he vows to track down the killer. He soon discovers that she was not his first victim and that things are not what they seem.
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Thoughts: Based on one of the 18 (and counting!) novels in a popular series by James Patterson, Alex Cross sees Tyler Perry stepping into the role created by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Nothing against Perry, who is a fine actor when he wants to be, but taking over for Freeman is no small task. As a fan of the Alex Cross novels (though I admittedly haven’t read one since #10) I always considered this a series better suited for television than the big screen. It doesn’t help that the films continue to be made out of order which means the Cross character will forever be scattered amongst movies. The trailer doesn’t do a lot for me, looking to be more of a by-the-numbers police mystery. Also, is Matthew Fox sick or something? Rather than looking super ripped in his villain role he looks malnourished which maybe just adds to his creep factor. In any event, I’m a proven sucker for a thriller so all gripes aside there’s no doubt I’ll be catching this one in October.
Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Erin Wasson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson, Dominic Cooper
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Running Length: 105 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Confederate Vampire Soldier ~ Andrew Niemann
TMMM Score: (3.5/10)
Review: When you buy your ticket for a movie called Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter you should already be well aware that this won’t be the Abe Lincoln story you learned about in History 101. The film has been criticized by critics for not being “believable” and lampooning an important president in US History. I would point all of these naysayers back to the title and just shrug my shoulders. What people should be crying foul on is that Seth Grahame-Smith’s interestingly clever novel of the same name has been rewritten by Hollywood and Grahame-Smith himself…creating a film that isn’t very interesting or clever. Even the one nice action sequence and the performance of Walker in the title role can’t save the film from being drained of all humor and life.
The novel was written and released soon after the enormous success of Grahame-Smith’s genre blending Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is also getting the Hollywood treatment soon. It was a sly tome that posited that Abe Lincoln became a hunter of vampires after his mother was tragically killed by a debt-collecting creature of the night. Written in mostly diary form (like the seminal vampire novel, Dracula) the source material for the film wove historical fact with literary fiction, insinuating that vampires were behind slavery and fought en mass in the Civil War to keep the slave trade going and their meals plentiful. All the while, Abe slays vamps while ascending the political ladder…eventually coming out of retirement for one last mission. The book had an intriguing prologue that admittedly was never resolved but a nice ending that bridged a gap between the speeches of two important historical figures.
The screenplay jettisons much of the nice historical ties and one has to wonder what possessed Grahame-Smith to do it. Who knows if it was Hollywood pressure or rewrites he wasn’t a part of but this movie just can’t be called an adaptation of his novel. It can’t. It could only lay claim to the concept because everything else is so different. Grahame-Smith even created a villain (Sewell) and villainess (Wasson) that never showed up on the page. Now, what could have been a dark comedy has been turned into a run of the mill vampire tale with the stock villains stock intentions (Vampires want to take over the world!) and a greatly diminished in power leading character.
What gives the film some reprieve is Walker’s take on Honest Abe. Looking uncannily like a young Liam Neeson (who he played a younger version of in Kinsey and who, interestingly enough, was long-attached to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln before being replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis) Walker cuts a nice figure as the 16th President of the United States both as a boy and as the political leader he became. Credit should also be given to the make-up department who successfully transform the 30 year old into the elder Lincoln. Walker may have to do some penance for the movie overall but he’s a nice light in a dark forest…I am so curious what his mother-in-law Meryl Streep thought of it! It also doesn’t help that the screenplay removes much of Lincoln’s arc as he battles vampires by night and his personal struggles by day. Crucial characters have been excised and a love interest forgotten probably due to time constraints – that’s too bad because it would have been more interesting than what is there now.
The supporting players here are fairly weak with not a one of them feeling like they were the first choice for the role. Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln has become a better actress over the years and Grahame-Smith made a wise choice by beefing up her role for the movie. Mackie and Simpson are two of the least impactful “best friends” in recent memory and Simpson in particular looks ridiculously out of place amongst the rest of the cast. Though one-note, Sewell has the look of a nice bad guy and Cooper overacts as another vampire that helps Abe out.
Grahame-Smith has added several wrinkles not present in the book that have varying degrees of success. As I mentioned before, increasing the duties of Mary helped fill in some gaps but leaving out key historical elements don’t make much sense. It’s insinuated that once Lincoln’s parents die he has no one in the world which we know isn’t true. And no mention is made of the Lincoln’s other children after the focus is placed on just one. A twist to the vampire rules about killing each other is introduced that I found interesting…also calling the head vampire Adam who lives in Eden Plantation captures the kind of humor the book had.
Another drawback is the tone of the movie. No one is having any kind of fun whatsoever and that becomes a serious drag for the audience. It’s played so deadly serious that a kind of funk wafts off the screen to our eyes and ears that we, too, don’t want to give ourselves over to it. Would all involved have been willing to place their tongue firmly in their cheeks and played up the concept a bit more I think the film would have really taken off. The most incredible line of the movie comes near the end when Mary actually says to a running late Abe “Come on, Abraham…we’ll be late for the theater!”…and one can almost hear the “dum dum DUM” that plays silently after that phrase.
Director Bekmambetov has no shortage of visual creativity but, unlike his superior Wanted, the movie feels like a “best of” display of the director skill rather than breaking any new ground. The 3D filming technique is used to decent effect but it’s the 3D style of having things fly at you that is favored, rather than movies like Prometheuswhere the technique was used to give the images more depth and life.
Maybe it’s because I had recently closed the book on which this was based that I had so many problems with the changes. I realize that every move to the screen will come with some sacrifice but the changes here felt like a wholesale redo of the work. I’m not suggesting the book was a classic by any means or that the concepts presented in it were any more believable…but it’s the way the book was presented that made it easier to digest. Here, the proceedings on screen are not so much presented as thrown at us without any care so it was difficult to appreciate it. If only the team had been willing to have some fun, a better movie would have resulted.
Synopsis: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Thoughts: You gotta give it to Bradley Cooper, the man could easily rest on his laurels and take every action film or dopey comedy that comes his way. Instead, Cooper takes a road less traveled and attaches himself to movies that might otherwise be a tough sell. While The Words does have its share of appealing actors, the success or failure of it will fall to Cooper’s shoulders as he navigates a movie that looks to have equal amounts of romance and drama. Arriving as the summer fades from memory, The Words is another test of Cooper’s appeal as a draw for moviegoers. He parlayed 2011’s Limitless to a modest box office hit and could very well have another sleeper on his hands.