Friday, February 27, 2009

Movies opening this week

No podcast this week because, well, just take a look at what I had to work with.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk, Neal McDonough, Chris Klein, dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak)
The only remotely entertaining thing about this movie is Chris Klein's hilariously awful performance as a grizzled badass cop. Not only is he grossly miscast, but he then also overcompensates for his inherent blandness by reading every line with this absurd exaggerated sneer, and contorting his face into some hilarious parody of a tough guy (just check out the photo). Plus, he signs off all his walkie-talkie conversations with his support team by saying "Nash out!" like he's Ryan Seacrest. Except Ryan Seacrest would probably be more convincing in the role. Klein aside, this movie is boring and nonsensical and terribly written and surprisingly stingy with the fight sequences. And other than smoldering-hot three-day Chris Klein stubble, those are pretty much the only reason anyone would see a movie like this. Wide release

Friday, February 20, 2009

Movies opening this week (and last week)

Apologies for the unplanned hiatus in posting; I've been uncommonly busy the past couple of weeks. I think this is the first time I've completely missed posting about new releases since I started this blog over four years ago. Oops. Anyway, you can listen to me chat about last week's openings with my old Xtreme Disorder cohort Brian Black on last week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast; this week is so lacking in worthwhile releases that instead I devoted the podcast with Tony Macklin just to talking about the Oscars (it's missing the last 10 minutes, but I hope will be fixed ASAP).

Opening this week:

Fired Up (Nicholas D'Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, Sarah Roemer, dir. Will Gluck)
Coraline aside, this year so far has been so dismal in terms of movie quality that I can't bother getting all, er, fired up about this forgettable and pointless movie. It doesn't have anything going for it, but it's short and efficient and I believe nearly made me laugh at one point (although I can't remember why). D'Agosto and Olsen give terrible performances, delivering every line, whether it's a joke or a heartfelt speech, with the same bored insincerity, and as has been noted elsewhere, D'Agosto and Olsen are just absurdly old (28 and 31, respectively) to be playing high-schoolers. It is indeed like the filmmakers aren't even trying, which sadly sums up most of 2009 so far. Wide release

From last week:

Confessions of a Shopaholic (Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, dir. P.J. Hogan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
For a short time at the beginning, this movie almost had me on its side. Fisher is really charismatic and fun to watch, and as I've said many times, I like movies that bother to take seriously things that are traditionally considered frivolous. But this movie eventually drowns in its own hypocrisy, with no idea whether to be a smart cautionary tale or a frothy escapist comedy. Plus, it wastes a killer supporting cast. Still, I expect to see big things from Fisher, especially if she can find a vehicle worthy of her talents. Wide release

Friday the 13th (Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, dir. Marcus Nispel)
As others have pointed out, the original Friday the 13th isn't even all that good; it's completely overshadowed by the other two movies in the holy trinity of the slasher genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, both of which are scarier, with more interesting characters and better writing, and made by genuine auteurs who went on to define an entire generation of horror filmmaking. This remake/reboot/re-whatever doesn't actually follow the first film's template anyway - it dispenses with the plot about Jason's mother killing camp counselors during the opening credits, and then plods through a generic rehash of Jason himself hacking up a bunch of interchangeable, frequently nude young people. There's no motivation or reason behind any of it, and Nispel gives it the same music-video look he brought to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. It's a bunch of cheap jump moments and gratuitous breast flashes, with nothing there to hold your interest. Even the original was better. Wide release

The International (Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Brian F. O'Byrne, dir. Tom Tykwer)
If nothing else, the overhead shots in this movie look wonderful, and the much-praised shootout at the Guggenheim (for which the filmmakers built a whole replica of its rotunda) is every bit as impressive as you've heard. Take that out and put it in, say, a James Bond movie, and you'd really have something. Unfortunately, the story surrounding it is dull and full of cardboard characters, and surprisingly slow-paced for something by the director of Run Lola Run (then again, I remember being completely bored by his Lola follow-up, The Princess and the Warrior). Maybe more suprising is how conventional it is, given Tykwer's penchant for artiness and experimentation (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer may have been a mess, but it was an audacious mess). I would strongly argue for Naomi Watts as the greatest actress currently working in English-language films, but even she can't make her useless character interesting. The movie's ending, with a sort of hollow non-victory, doesn't make an insightful comment on the futility of challenging entrenched institutions; instead it just makes the preceding two hours feel like even more of a waste of time. Wide release

Friday, February 06, 2009

Movies opening this week

Forget what I said last week about a podcast hiatus; listen to me chat about these movies with Jeffrey K. Howard of Vegas Film Critic in this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast, which should be posted later today.

Coraline (Voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, dir. Henry Selick)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Maybe I spoke too soon last week about the overall shittiness of this year's movies so far as well; I don't have much hope for the rest of February, but this turned out to be quite a well-made, entertaining film. It's great to see Selick back after so many years off from feature filmmaking; his James and the Giant Peach is a favorite of mine, and of course he never gets the credit he deserves for The Nightmare Before Christmas (although a lot of the press on Coraline seems to be working to correct that). The 3D in this movie was never gimmicky, which means you could probably see it in 2D and not miss much; that's the kind of 3D I prefer. I was surprised how genuinely creepy it got toward the end, yet still remained kid-friendly and positive. If you've already caught all the Oscar nominees and are despairing at the quality of everything else out right now, this is the one to see. Wide release

The Pink Panther 2 (Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, dir. Harald Zwart)
And then there's this, which is right back to the standards that have been set over the last month. I've never seen any of the original Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies (I know, I know) or the first Steve Martin version, so my opinion may not be worth much here. It could just be in comparison to the mountain of terrible movies I've seen recently, but I found this to be relatively tolerable; not exactly funny or interesting or worthwhile, but acceptable to sit through for 90 minutes with no other choice. The jokes are stupid, the plot is useless, the direction is barely serviceable, and the actors are all on autopilot, but it's such a good cast (Martin, Reno, Mortimer, Garcia, Alfred Molina, John Cleese, Jeremy Irons, Lily Tomlin) that they're bound to make things occasionally mildly entertaining. This is blasphemy to die-hard Sellers fans (like this week's podcast guest) I'm sure, but for me it was enough that it didn't make me want to hang myself like New in Town or Paul Blart did. Wide release

Reign storm: Secret Warriors #1 and Agents of Atlas #1

I tend to stay away from Marvel's big crossover events these days, so aside from how they affect the handful of Marvel universe books I read regularly (She-Hulk, X-Factor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Britain and MI-13), I'm only dimly aware of the details of Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign. But this week I happened to pick up first issues of two new series Marvel is launching out of Dark Reign; one (Secret Warriors) thanks to persistent encouragement from the comic-book-store dudes, and the other (Agents of Atlas) because I generally like the writer, and liked at least the first half of the recent miniseries with the same characters.

And in a way these two series seem like textbook examples of how to and how not to draw in new readers who aren't immersed in crossover fever. Reading Secret Warriors #1, I felt like I was jumping into the middle chapter of some endless, tortuous ongoing story, and the experience was very dissatisfying. Yes, technically, scripter Jonathan Hickman (working from a story co-written with Marvel guru Brian Michael Bendis) introduced each character on the new team, and sort of explained what they were trying to accomplish, at least in some scenes. But it all seemed more like a perfunctory re-introduction than a real new start, and although I did learn each character's name, I learned next to nothing about any of their backstory or personality.

Instead I got an insanely convoluted explanation from leader Nick Fury of what the team's real goal with the opening mission was, and a confusing cliffhanger that seems to have left even hardcore fans a little unsure of what it means. Part of the selling point of this issue from the guys at the store was that it turns the Marvel universe on its head, but the final reveal just seems to needlessly complicate years of perfectly good stories, and comes off as another in a long line of cheap "everything you know is wrong!" gimmicks that Marvel and DC have been steadily peddling for the last few years. Furthermore, I think at this point I am just past caring whether the Marvel universe gets turned on its head or not; what I want to read is a mostly self-contained series with its own identity and set of characters that doesn't require an encyclopedic knowledge of several other series being published concurrently. I'm sure all the back-up pages in this issue with detailed lists of HYDRA bases and whatnot are full of really intricate connections to recent issues of various Avengers books or whatever, but to me they were pretty much meaningless. Stefano Caselli's art was lovely, though.

The first issue of the Agents of Atlas ongoing series didn't escape all the pitfalls of Secret Warriors, but it certainly did a better job of explaining its premise and establishing itself apart from other books. I'm sure it helps that I read writer Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas miniseries and thus am vaguely familiar with the characters, but even so Parker introduced them at least as well as Hickman did the Secret Warriors, plus included enough exposition to encapsulate the plot of the old series and the relevant Secret Invasion/Dark Reign details. I'm not entirely sold on the new angle that ties the Agents to Norman Osborn's new HAMMER agency, but I suppose that's what's necessary to bring in the large number of fans who only care about a book if it's intimately connected to a dozen others.

Carlo Pagulayan's art didn't live up to the great work Leonard Kirk did on the Agents miniseries, but it was perfectly solid superhero stuff, and fit Parker's pulp-adventure tone well (better was the throwback Silver Age-ish art by Benton Jew in the backup story, which fulfills Marvel's requirement to feature Wolverine in 90 percent of their books). Even though my excitement for the Agents miniseries petered out toward the end, this issue was fun and likeable enough that I'll be giving the next one a shot, which is more than I can say for Secret Warriors.