Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: 9 Memorable Moments from Day 9

For all of the panels that NBC-Universal offered us yesterday, none of them were really chock full of memorable quotes, so I thought I’d go a slightly different route with today’s retrospective and just cite some of my favorite moments from throughout the course of the day…and if you think this is mostly just a way for me to avoid having to trudge through the transcripts, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Give me a break: it’s Day 9, and I’m very tired from arguing with Kara DioGuardi fans.

And on that note…

1. Bravo’s “Platinum Hit” session

You’ve hopefully already read my open letter to Ms. DioGuardi about my disappointment with the way she handled the inevitable question about her departure from “American Idol,” but that wasn’t the only part about the panel that grated on my nerves. One of the other judges on this songwriting-competition series is Jewel, and…okay, first of all, let me acknowledge that I’m not really a Jewel fan and under threat of death wouldn’t be able to come up with a more recent Jewel song than 2001’s “Standing Still,” but even when it comes to artists I do actively like, I don’t enjoy it when they slip into braggadocio. After Jewel dropped these lines during the panel…

* “I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”

* “I bought my house from all my hits.”

* “Bob Dylan took me under his wing when I was about 20. My first record was considered a failure, but he liked it and he was like, ‘Don’t sell out, don’t change, don’t start doing grunge, just do what you do, stay on the road, stay solo acoustic.’ And I did because he believed in me. And Neil Young was the same way.”

…I pretty much tuned out. I’m sure Jewel’s a very talented songwriter, but as I walked away from the panel, it was more with the feeling that she’s much more talented at namedropping.

2. Oxygen’s session for “The Glee Project.”

Actually, I couldn’t tell you a thing that was said during the session. I was too busy looking at the mike girls – they bring you the microphones to ask questions, then take them to the next person when you’re done – who were dressed in cheerleader outfits for the panel. Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to get home to my wife…

3. Keith David talking about the development of his awesome voice during the panel for “The Cape.”

“I was always a second tenor,” said David. “I was never, you know, Alfalfa. But when about 13, and I was a singer before I was an actor, and all I could sing was loud, and certainly I came into this I came into that Alfalfa transition where all I could do…”

At this point, he switched into a wobbly voice… “is talk like that all the time.”

Back to his regular voice. “And then something began to switch, and now I sound like I sound, you know. I’m grateful to be here because I do get a chance to use all you know, in the first episode, I say I’m using my stage voice. Well, you know, I mean, that was one of the when I read the script, that was one of the funniest moments for me because it’s, like, when I’m auditioning for things, many times I’m told, ‘Can you tone that down a little bit? Can you bring that back?’ So this is one of the few times I’m not always told that. That’s kind of nice.”

4. The “Harry’s Law” panel discussing the age of the show’s star.

By the time someone asked about the fact that Kathy Bates is 60 years old, which is pretty elderly when you consider the demos that the broadcast networks tend to look for, she’d pretty well charmed most of the audience. First, she said she decided on doing the show because, in her character’s first scene, “she had her feet up on the desk, she was smoking pot, and watching ‘Bugs Bunny.’ After that, I was in.” Then, when asked if it was hard to sustain her character’s grumpiness, she admitted, “I come naturally to that. Not to be flip, but I can be a naturally grumpy person…and adjusting to the long hours on the set helped that right along!”

When the topic of age was addressed, which series creator David E. Kelley took it in stride. “Not many networks have come to me recently and said, ‘Can you give me a series with a 60-year-old lead?'” he admitted. “But I have to believe that, given the universe of 500-plus channels, there has to be room on the landscape for one. When we landed Kathy to play the character, (NBC) were beyond thrilled. You can say it’s one thing to have a 60-year-old lead. It’s quite another to have Kathy Bates as your lead. So they probably, with a grain of salt, said, ‘Gee, do we want a series with an older actor?’ But once it became Kathy, there was no hesitation whatsoever.”

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2010 Year End TV Review: Scott Malchus

2010 was another great year of television, despite the fact that most of the new fall network shows were forgettable. While the big four seem to have a handle on coming up with new comedies, they still can’t develop innovative dramas to compete with the cable channels. Fox made an attempt with their excellent “Lone Star,” but viewers stayed away and the series was quickly cancelled (despite support from the network president). With Lost leaving the airwaves, it seems that if you want to watch something other than a procedural, you’ll have to tune to AMC, FX or HBO. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great cop, lawyer or medical shows (“The Good Wife” immediately jumps to mind), but the TV landscape is wide open enough that stories about all walks of life should be able to survive.

Best Drama: Friday Night Lights (Direct TV/NBC)

There was a lot of great drama on television this year (“Southland” was exceptional, “Lost” went out in glorious fashion, “Men of a Certain Age” was moving and effective), but I would be remiss if I didn’t place “FNL” at the top of my list, just where it has been since the show premiered in 2006. It’s hard to believe that this will be its last season. No other show has me cheering and laughing and crying week in and week out. Even during the cringe worthy moments (Julie’s affair with the TA) I can’t bring myself to raise the remote and fast forward through them. I’ve stated time and again on Popdose that this show is the most realistic portrayal of small town life I’ve ever seen on television, with beautifully written and acted characters, smart direction, and perfect music selections to create the mood of each scene (not to mention W.G. Snuffy’s poignant score). I love the Taylors; I love the community of Dillon, Texas; and I love Friday Night Lights.

Best Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)

A tough category. There are so many strong comedies on television right now, including NBC’s Thursday night lineup and ABC’s Wednesday shows. Of all of them, “Modern Family” makes me laugh the hardest; so hard that my wife and I have to rewind to hear the second and third jokes of each scene. With a great cast and insightful writing, “Modern Family” is a modern classic.

Best Reality: The Biggest Loser (NBC)

I generally hate reality shows on network television, however there is something truly inspiring about “The Biggest Loser” that grabs me every week. Here is a series about people seriously having to take back their lives otherwise they could die. The money at the end never seems to be as important as the health benefits they receive. Unlike most of the reality competitions shows, the inspiration that comes from watching “The Biggest Loser” occurs from watching every contestant, not just a select few. Obesity has overtaken our country and the men and women of “The Biggest Loser” prove that you can take back your life and that you are in control of it.

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If you don’t watch the premiere of “Community” tonight on NBC…

…then you’ll be missing the best new show of the fall season.

You may recall from my Fall TV Preview that I said of the pilot for “Community,” “When I watched it, I was convinced that I was watching the funniest sitcom of the new season. I was not wrong.” Now, granted, I was predisposed to like the series before I’d even put the screener of the pilot into the DVD player – I’m a fan of Joel McHale’s work (I’ve got a TiVo season pass for “The Soup”) and Chevy Chase’s work in virtually every film that he made during the ’70s and ’80s (though, to be honest, the only film he’s done since then that I still enjoy revisiting is “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”) – but it certainly didn’t hurt seeing “Daily Show” correspondent John Oliver turn up in a meaty guest role within the first few minutes, and it didn’t take long for me to fall for the ensemble as a whole.

Here’s a rundown of the characters:

* Jeff (McHale), a fast-talkin’ lawyer whose degree has been revoked
* Pierce (Chase), a man whose life experience has brought him infinite wisdom
* Abed (Danny Pudi), a pop culture junkie
* Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a 28-year-old dropout with something to prove
* Troy (Donald Glover, a former high school football star trying to find his way
* Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), a sassy middle-aged divorcée
* Annie (Alison Brie), a high-strung perfectionist
* Señor Chang (Ken Jeong), a slightly unhinged Spanish professor

When I arrived at the TCA summer press tour, I was a man on a mission: to interview as many members of the cast of “Community” as I possibly could, so that I might do my damndest to get people to watch the series. Not that it necessarily needs my help, given the incredible promotional push that the network is putting behind the show, but, still, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sitcom that’s this funny and has this strong an ensemble from the word “go” (seriously, I think I’d have to go back to “NewsRadio”), and I wanted to do whatever I could to get the word out. In the end, I ended up chatting with five of show’s regulars during the tour (McHale, Pudi, Brown, Glover, and Jeong), catching up with two more by phone after making back (Jacobs and Brie).

Sadly, Chevy Chase was surrounded by hordes of my peers through his time at the tour, and attempts to secure a phoner with him prior to the run date of this piece were unsuccessful. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to talk to Chevy sometime in the near future…and, y’know, don’t be afraid to drop NBC an E-mail and ask them to try and make it happen for us…but in the meantime, click here (or on the above graphic), then sit back and enjoy these conversations with the rest of the cast.

When you finish, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t run straight to your TiVo and order yourself up a season pass for “Community.” It’s that good. I swear. And if you don’t believe me, here’s proof:

Finally, check out Chopard, one of the most recognized watch and jewelry brands in the world.

  

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NBC: What’s New for Fall 2009

The Jay Leno Show (Mon., Sept. 14 @ 10:00 PM, NBC)

The competition:
Monday: “Castle” (ABC), “CSI: Miami” (CBS)
Tuesday: “The Forgotten” (ABC), “The Good Wife” (CBS)
Wednesday: “Eastwick” (ABC), “CSI: New York” (CBS)
Thursday: “Private Practice” (ABC), “The Mentalist” (CBS)
Friday: “20/20” (ABC), “Numb3rs” (CBS)

Starring: Jay Leno
Producers: Debbie Vickers, Larry Goitia, Jay Leno, Jack Coen, Stephanie Ross (“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”)
Network’s Description: Marking a new era in television, Jay Leno, recently named America’s Favorite TV Personality by the 2009 Harris Poll, moves from late night to primetime on September 14 when his series becomes the first-ever entertainment program to be stripped across primetime on broadcast network television. The series promises more comedy in the 10 o’clock hour and will showcase many of the features that have made Leno America’s late-night leader for more than a dozen years.
The Buzz: About as mixed as buzz can be. This is the most controversial maneuver in the past several decades of television history, a Hail Mary by the people at the Peacock. It’s highly possible that the people who’ve abandoned “The Tonight Show” since the tall, skinny Irish kid took over have just decided to go to bed early for a change and are fully prepared to start watching their old buddy, Jay, in his new locale. Then again, maybe they won’t. It’s a crazy crap shoot, this series, and all that us critics can do is sit back and see what the viewers decide to do.
Pilot Highlight: None, obviously, due to the live nature of the show.
Bottom Line: If you like Jay Leno, you’ll like the show. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s really as simple as that. But will you watch the show? Leno has the right attitude by acknowledging outright that he doesn’t expect to beat original programming, only anticipating that they’ll probably start to take home the ratings gold once the reruns start. I like Leno as much as the next guy, but I like scripted dramatic programming better. For that alone, I’m not exactly rooting for him to succeed. But with that said, I’m mostly just curious to see what’s going to happen.

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