Saturday, February 26, 2011

New In Theaters - March 4th, 2011

Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery,
Shohreh Aghdashloo, Michael Kelly & Terence Stamp
Directed by George Nolfi for distribution by Universal

The Plot: A aspiring politician (Damon) decides to challenge what fate has in store for him when he goes after the love of his life (Blunt), but soon finds himself the target of a mysterious group of men charged with keeping order in the universe.

The Final Word: Based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, the man credited with “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner,” “Bureau” asks the question “can we change our own fate?” Ironically that is also the question Damon could have been asking himself after seeing his 2010 films “Green Zone” and “Hereafter” under-perform. Although among major tent-pole releases, his track record is remarkably solid and with “The Bourne Ultimatum” scribe, George Nolfi making his directorial debut, Damon looks likely to re-capture the magic of the Bourne trilogy.

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen,
Neil Patrick Harris & Peter Krause
Directed by Daniel Barnz for distribution by CBS Films

The Plot: A modern day re-telling of the classic “Beauty & the Beast” tale which focuses on a spoiled rich kid (Pettyfer) robbed of his good looks by a Goth girl (Olsen) he savagely spurned.
The Final Word: The story of “Beauty & the Beast” and the story of CBS Films are both widely known by this point. “Beauty & the Beast” is a classic tale of two people trying to overcome a number of obstacles in the name of love and CBS Films is a classic tale of a studio trying overcome a slate of dismal box office performers in the name of business. Except we all know “Beauty” tends to have a happy ending. CBS Films really doesn’t seem to know what to do with this film. Similarly as to how the Beast was banished to his castle, “Beastly” was banished from its first release date following the failure of CBS Films’ first two releases. I’m not even sure the drawing power of Neil Patrick Harris or rising star Alex Pettyfer will be able to help this movie survive its crowded release date. Although the thing people tend to forget about CBS Films is that every one of its movies by design have a small budget (by Hollywood standards) and at the end of the day they do tend to re-coup their money. The problem is that CBS is a victim of its own success. People of course associate the studio with the network and for the network to be as successful as it is and not have the studio mimic that profitability raises a few red flags. Then again perception isn’t always reality, despite what certain people foolishly believe.

Starring (voices): Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin,
Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Beth Grant,
Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton & Alfred Molina
Directed by Gore Verbinski for distribution by Paramount

The Plot: A chameleon (Depp) who daydreams about being a hero suddenly finds himself in that role when he becomes a small town’s only hope against bandits.

The Final Word: Gore Verbinski, known for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, steps into the world of animated 3D for the first time, with his friend “Pirates” star Johnny Depp accompanying him. The versatile director is also taking his first stab at writing for a full-length motion picture. All of those details combined give “Rango” and Paramount a great chance of success at the box office. With Verbinski not returning to the helm of the “Pirates” franchise, this movie may the only chance audiences will get to see him and Depp re-unite on the big screen for a little while.

Starring: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt,
Michelle Trachtenberg, Lucy Punch, Michael Ian Black & Demetri Martin
Directed by Michael Dowse for distribution by Relativity Media

The Plot: A recent MIT graduate (Grace) decides to throw away the future everybody wants for him and go his own way, until he meets the girl of his dreams (Palmer) and realizes an upcoming end of summer bash may be his only chance to impress her.

The Final Word: We’ve seen this scenario a thousand times before where a group of teens or twenty-somethings believe they can change their lives at one major (generally milestone related) party. Although studios keep making them because if done right they tend to do well at the box office, but unfortunately more often than not most fail. This one is intriguing because it has a solid cast of rising stars, a fun trailer and a great catalogue of 80’s hits at its disposal. Relativity can’t be expecting to make a huge profit off of this one, but at least it seems to have a decent shot at success.

Previewed next week: Battle: Los Angeles, Mars Needs Moms, Red Riding Hood

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oscar Hopefuls: Best Picture Profiles 2011

With the Academy Awards coming up on this Sunday night, it’s time to take one last look at all the contenders for the movie industry’s coveted top prize.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis,
Barbara Hershey & Winona Ryder
Directed by Darren Aronofsky for distribution by Fox Searchlight

“I just want to be perfect.
The Summary:
A ballerina (Natalie Portman) competing for the lead spot in the New York City ballet’s production of "Swan Lake," finds the pressure of the competition impacting her grasp on reality.

The Background:
Darren Aronofsky is known for dark edgy style and this drama had plenty of both.  It also has a number of nominations, including one for lead actress Natalie Portman, who is the heavy favorite. While Aronofsky is one of the most talented young directors on the scene, he’s always been shut out of the Academy Awards, but this year both him and his movie were recognized with nominations, a sure sign the voters are beginning to expand their very structured horizons.


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo & Jack McGee
Directed by David O. Russell for distribution by Paramount Pictures


I'm the one who's fighting. Not you, not you, and not you.

The Summary:
The true story of “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Whalberg), a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who rose to fame after a rocky early career.

The Background:
Traditionally boxing movies do extremely well during the awards season and Wahlberg has become an early odds on favorite to win big. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams who play Wahlberg’s volatile brother, mother and love interest (respectively) have picking up buzz with every passing award ceremony. In fact many believe Bale and Leo are locks to win which could land Paramount’s tentpole a TKO on Oscar night.


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page,
Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy & Michael Caine
Directed by Christopher Nolan for distribution by Warner Brothers

“Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”

The Summary:
A skilled thief (Leonardo DiCaprio) who extracts secrets from people’s minds must reverse the process to reclaim his past and settle an old score.

The Background:
Warner Brothers knew it had something special in this action thriller from the incredibly talented Christopher Nolan; although they didn’t know just how special until the movie ballooned up the box office. The film succeeded because audiences now know what to expect from the thriller’s visionary director and as a result Warner Brothers was rewarded tenfold for their trust and patience. Now Nolan, his cast and the studio are all reaping the benefits this award season.

Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, 
Josh Hutcherson & Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko for distribution by Focus Features

“marriage is hard... Just two people slogging through the sh*t, year after year, getting older, changing.”

The Summary:
Two children (Mia Wasikowska & Josh Hutcherson) conceived through artificial insemination and raised by lesbians (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) track down their birth father (Mark Ruffalo) and introduce him into their lives.

The Background:
This is not your typical family movie and that’s why it works. With Bening and Moore, as a lesbian couple who have to come to grips with their kids desire to meet their birth father, the movie already had a solid foundation to build off of before the script was even finalized.  This is also one of those type of movies that the Academy had in mind when it expanded the Best Picture category to ten and as a result it was given the recognition it deserved.


Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter,
Guy Pearce & Michael Gambon.
Directed by Tom Hooper for distribution by The Weinstein Company

“If I am King, where is my power? Can I declare war? Form a government? Levy a tax? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them.”

The Summary:
The true story of how King George VI (Colin Firth) found his voice courtesy of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a maverick speech therapist called in to help him overcome a stutter.

The Background:
If early critic’s lists are to be believed, then this year’s “Best Picture” race is over and “The King’s Speech” is the winner. Breaking it down further, the movie has everything Academy voters love and with the Weinstein’s guiding the PR ship, it should have been a smooth ride across the award season waters. Although in the early stage of the Oscar race, the ship came across some rough sail as “The Social Network” went from dark horse to frontrunner. Although now after a slew of important victories under its belt, “Speech” could regain its status as King.


Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara & Lizzy Caplan
Directed by Danny Boyle for distribution by Fox Searchlight

“You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life”

The Summary:
The true story of hiker Aron Ralston (James Franco), who spent a harrowing 127 hours with his arm trapped under a boulder in an isolated Utah canyon.

The Background:
“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle chose to reunite with Fox Studios for his first film since his big Oscar win a few years ago and so far it looks to be paying off. Ralston’s story was already generating Oscar buzz well before its release, as was the actor portraying him. James Franco has built up an amazing following the last few years even though he basically dropped off the grid to go back to school. Although while Boyle was snubbed in the Best Director category (and in good company this year), both Franco and the film did pick up key nominations. It is unlikely either will triumph, but both will make voters give pause.


Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Joe Mazzello & Rashida Jones
Directed by David Fincher for distribution by Columbia Pictures (Sony)

“The internet's not written in pencil... It's written in ink.

The Summary:
The story behind the rise of the Facebook social networking phenomenon and the trouble sudden fame brought to its creator (Jesse Eisenberg)

The Background:
Similar to the social network website it is based on, the movie started out with some solid buzz and then literally exploded onto the scene. Talk went from it garnering a few nominations to later possibly dominating the field, before finding a middle ground on nomination morning. Although the question lately has become was it a case of “too much, too soon,” as the original frontrunner “The King’s Speech” has run the table as of late.


Starring (voices): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty,
Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton & Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Lee Unkrich for distribution by Disney/Pixar

“So long... partner. 

The Summary:
As their owner prepares for college, a group of toys begin to realize they face an uncertain future.

The Background:
Pixar took its arguably most beloved set of characters and gave them a send-off worthy of the era of they helped usher in back in the late 1990’s. With this third and presumably final entry into the franchise, the studio has proven once again there’s animation and then there’s Pixar. Unfortunately, the Academy still believes that animated movies don’t belong on the same tier as their live-action counterparts. Yes, they have instituted a “Best Animated Film” award, but even that has come under controversy. It’s unfortunate that movies like this are given a nomination in what seems like name only. “Toy Story 3” was without a doubt one of the best movies of 2010, but it is highly unlikely it will receive the votes needed to win the big prize. While settling for “Best Animated Film” isn’t something to be taken lightly, this movie deserves more.


Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin,
Barry Pepper & Hailee Steinfeld
Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen for distribution by Paramount Pictures

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God”

The Summary:
A fourteen year old girl (Hailee Steinfeld) turns to a trigger-happy US Marshal (Jeff Bridges) for help after her father is brutally murdered in front of her. Once she gets the Marshal on board, the situation becomes more complicated when she insists on joining him in tracking down the killer.

The Background:
In 1969, John Wayne starred in the original “True Grit” and picked up his first and only Best Actor Academy Award. With the Coen Brothers behind this 2010 remake, Paramount is hoping for similar luck for both the film and lead Jeff Bridges who also happens to be the reigning Best Actor winner. “Grit” started off as a dark horse courtesy of a slow run at the box office, but has quietly moved to the forefront and accumulated over $100 million at the box office.  This horse may now be a stud.


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser,
 Kevin Breznaha & Garrett Dillahunt
Directed by Debra Granik for distribution by Lionsgate

“Never ask for what should be offered.

The Summary:
A teenage mother (Lawrence) must search the Ozarks for her deadbeat drug dealing father after he jumps bail prior to his trial.

The Background:
Every year the Academy nominates a handful of people and films that the majority of the movie-going public has never heard about at all.  This year a number of those slots were filled by “Winter’s Bone” and its talented stars Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. A haunting drama, the movie has been on a number of critic’s year end lists and has enjoyed a nice second life on DVD. While it is unlikely to pull off any upsets, this time the prize may very well be the nomination.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New In Theaters - February 25th, 2011

Starring: Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, Billy Burke & Katy Mixon
 Directed by Patrick Lussier for distribution by Summit Entertainment

The Plot: After his daughter is murdered and his infant granddaughter is kidnapped, a hardened felon named Milton (Cage) breaks out of “Hell” to seek revenge on those responsible with the aid of sexy street-smart waitress (Heard) also out to settle a score.

The Final Word: I’ve always been of the opinion that the studios are obnoxiously and blatantly cramming 3D down the public’s throat just to turn a small profit. In the end, they will probably kill their golden goose, but until then we are stuck with it. Although the only time I’m ever okay with 3D for 3D sake is when movies likes “Drive Angry 3D” are released. While most times the studios try to spin a scenario to prove that 3D is warranted, in this case Summit has come right out and said they know it’s over the top, but that’s the appeal. Nobody goes to see this type of movie for the plot, they go to see it for the action and the special effects. If a distributor is upfront and honest about the way 3D is being used, I’m fine with it; it’s just the unnecessary usage that needs to end.

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, 
Richard Jenkins & Christina Applegate
Directed by Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly for distribution by New Line (WB)

The Plot: Two best friends (Wilson & Sudeikis) becoming restless with the married life are given a one week “Hall Pass” from their wives (Fischer & Applegate) where they can do whatever they want without consequence.

The Final Word: Believe it or not you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last movie the Farrely Brothers directed. Now the men responsible for such films as “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal” are coming back with a clever take on the buddy comedy and a strong cast of comedic actors attached.

Previewed next week: The Adjustment Bureau, Beastly, Rango, Take Me Home Tonight

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New In Theaters - February 18th, 2011

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas & Faizon Love
Directed by John Whitesell for distribution by 20th Century Fox

The Plot: FBI agent Michael Turner (Lawrence) and his stepson Trent (Jackson) must go undercover in drag after Trent witnesses a murder on his college campus.

The Final Word: Believe it or not, this franchise started back in 2000 and has somehow thrived at the box office, despite only putting out a new movie (almost) every six years. Now, Lawrence returns to cinemas across the country to reprise one of his most popular and profitable roles with newcomer Brandon T. Jackson joining the cast. With three tentpole pics slated to bow this President’s Day weekend, it will be interesting to see how well this latest installment does considering its predecessor failed to break the $100 million mark, which the original one had no problem surpassing.

Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, 
Dianna Agron & Kevin Durand
Directed by D.J. Caruso for distribution by DreamWorks

The Plot: A teenager (Pettyfer) with superpowers travels from town to town with his guardian (Olyphant) trying to escape from extra-terrestrial assassins sent to kill his kind.

The Final Word: Rising star Alex Pettyfer headlines this movie as John Smith, the fourth of nine super-talented teens who can only be killed in the order of their number. Directed by DreamWorks go-to director D. J. Caruso (“Distrubia,” “Eagle Eye”), this super-natural action film also stars “Justified’s” Timothy Olyphant and “Glee’s” Dianna Agron; both of whom the studio hopes will bring their TV viewers into theatres.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones,
 Aidan Quinn & Frank Langella
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra for distribution by Warner Brothers

The Plot: A doctor (Nesson) wakes up in Berlin after a car accident to find out that a new man (Quinn) has claimed his identity and his wife (Jones).

The Final Word: While we’ve seen this “identity wiped away and nobody believes it” premise a thousand times, there is just something about it that always seems to capture our attention. Even more promising is the presence of lead actor Liam Nesson, who also starred in “Taken,” which operated on a just as overly used premise, but did so with great success. With a solid supporting cast, Warner Brothers could find the same level success FOX found with the 2008 hit. Also working in its favor is that of the three films opening President’s Day weekend, this is the only one directly geared to adults.

Previewed next week: Drive Angry 3D, Hall Pass, Shelter

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New In Theaters - February 11th, 2011

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, 
Mark Strong & Tahar Rahim
Directed by Kevin Macdonald for distribution by Focus Features

The Plot: A Roman prince (Tatum) and his slave (Bell) embark on a dangerous quest to recover a storied artifact long ago lost by his father after a failed crusade that led to the disappearance of 5,000 soldiers.

The Final Word: I honestly don’t see the appeal of period pieces, but the movie studios love them despite how must it costs to recreate the era. The difference here is that Focus Features is has always marched to the beat of their drum and done so to great success, so it stands to reason this could be a success. I just don’t see Tatum’s star power being enough to drive in audiences. While he is on the cusp of breaking through, he may need another solid or two to appeal audiences outside of the “Step Up” demo.

Starring: (voices) James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, 
Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Patrick Stewart, 
Ashley Jensen & Ozzy Osbourne.
Directed by Kelly Asbury for distribution by Touchstone.

The Plot: The classic tale of Romeo & Juliet re-invented with garden gnomes.

The Final Word: Seriously despite the way the premise sounds; don’t brush this movie off. Kids will love it, but adults may also get a kick out of it. With music legend Elton John as the driving force behind it and a who’s who of A-listers lending their voices, the movie deserves a chance. Even more intriguing is that John’s songbook will be front and center throughout the movie, along with a few new originals.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman,
 Brooklyn Decker & Dave Matthews.
Directed by Dennis Dugan for distribution by Columbia (Sony)

The Plot: A shallow plastic surgeon (Sandler) who uses a white lie to meet women, must turn to his loyal assistant (Aniston) for help after his latest conquest (Decker) questions his honesty.

The Final Word: Adam Sandler has definitely had a few misses in his career, but with romantic comedies he seems to deliver every time. Timed perfectly to coincide with Valentine’s Day weekend, Sandler enlists Jennifer Aniston and recent “Sports Illustrated” cover girl Brooklyn Decker, in his latest collaboration with director Dennis Dugan. When you have a successful formula that has yet to let you down, you really should “just go with it.”

Starring: Justin Bieber
Directed by Jon Chu for distribution by Paramount

The Plot: The true story of Justin Bieber’s rise to fame as told through home movies and 3D concert footage.

The Final Word: The other week I wrote that “Sanctum” was a “a rare example of a time where the use of 3D is not only justified, but will more than likely enhance the overall viewing experience;” I can’t say the same thing in this case. This all comes down to dollars and cents and Paramount knows “the Bieb” equals huge profits.

Previewed next week: Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son, I Am Number Four & Unknown