Box Office Preview: ‘The Expendables 2,’ ‘ParaNorman,’ and ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’

The Expendables 2

Come on, look at all the names in this one: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean Claude Van-Damme, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you need me to tell you what to expect you’re nearly 40 years behind the Hollywood action scene (and have likely never voted in a California gubernatorial election).

If you saw the first “Expendables” movie, then you know what’s coming here: action, action, and more action. Seriously, watch the trailer, it’s just the names of the stars intercut with explosions, guns firing, and chase scenes. It gives literally no information relating to the plot, which tells you just about all you need to know regarding its importance to the film. Nonetheless, here’s the official synopsis:

The Expendables are back and this time it’s personal… Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) — with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard — are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.

“The Expendables 2” has a 65 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Check it out if you’d like, just don’t expect much in the way of plot or character development.

ParaNorman

“ParaNorman” is the second feature film made by stop-motion animation studio LAIKA, the first being 2009’s “Coraline.” Both films have been met with a great deal of critical acclaim, and each has been “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with “ParaNorman” garnering an 86 percent rating on the Tomatometer and “Coraline” sitting pretty at 90 percent. Not to mention that in the year of its release, “Coraline” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. With all the accolades the two films have received, LAIKA may be the first studio that can really compete with Pixar if it can keep producing films of high enough quality that they transcend the box animated films are so often put in.

Anyway, let’s talk about “ParaNorman.” Kodi Smit-Mcphee stars as Norman Babcock, an oft-misunderstood young man with the uncanny ability to communicate with the dead, a talent that comes in handy when his small town is overrun by zombies. The official synopsis tells us “In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.” Smit-Mcphee’s co-stars include Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Many adults discard animated films, believing them to be childish or incapable of conveying the same emotion and character that live action films can. But like Pixar, LAIKA makes films that relay all those elements in spades, the fact that they’re animated isn’t a detractor. As such, despite its PG rating, ‘ParaNorman” is a kid’s movie that isn’t really for kids. As Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale put it, the film is a “journey into the weird and macabre that will likely play well with pre-teens and older, but may be too frightening for younger audiences. Though parents should use discretion when deciding whether their children can handle the scarier moments, “ParaNorman” is packed with enough comedy that it helps dampen the effect.” It seems “ParaNorman” is a film more for those who are children at heart than actual children, and deserves to be checked out.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The last film seeing a wide release this weekend is “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Let’s check out the official synopsis from Disney:

Director/writer Peter Hedges brings enchantment to the screen with The Odd Life of Timothy Green, an inspiring, magical story about a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim — and their small town of Stanleyville — learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts.

Given that its a Disney movie with a 41 percent rating on the Tomatometer, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” appears to be a try-hard heartwarmer that is ultimately more “style” (in the most Disneyfied sense of the word) than substance. Check it out only if you’re the overly-emotional type susceptible to that kind of drivel.

  

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Celluloid Heroes: David Medsker’s Top Movies of 2009

Let’s not mince words, because our very lives depend only upon truth: 2009 was not a great year for movies. It was the most profitable, but how much of that was driven by quality versus 3D and IMAX surcharges? And at the risk of sounding like one of those cranky critics who’s never satisfied, let me state that I did indeed find several movies that I enjoyed at the theater this year; I’m just not sure how many of them will stand the test of time.

This was very much a disposable entertainment kind of year, where movies were built to serve like a meal (consumed once), rather than a piece of furniture (stays with you for decades). Having said that, there were some damn good meals served up this year. Here are my ten favorites.

zombieland
10. Zombieland
The single best time I’ve ever had at the movies. It was at a theater that served beer, and the crowd was eager to have some fun. Needless to say, we did. I still think the death of the actor who turned in a brilliant cameo performance was cheap and illogical, but based on the woooooot! that it received when it happened, I am clearly in the minority.

avatar
9. Avatar
It’s not great storytelling – we’d actually pony up the dough for someone to punch up James Cameron’s dialogue if he’d allow it – but “Avatar” is extraordinary filmmaking. The landscapes of Pandora are so rich and unique that it’s easy to forget that none of it is real. To put in perspective just how huge “Avatar” is, the RoboCop-type battle weapon was the big showstopper in “District 9.” Here, there are dozens of them, and they’re just part of the scenery. People dog Cameron for his admittedly monstrous ego, but for God’s sake, look at this movie. Who else could make this? Nobody, that’s who. Love him or hate him, James Cameron makes sure every one of his movies gives you something you’ve never seen before, and holy cow, does he do that here.

district 9
8. District 9
That slapping sound you heard is Paul Verhoeven hitting his forehead for not thinking of this first. Neill Blomkamp’s aliens-as-Apartheid-victims story is the kind of art-imitates-life metaphor that makes Verhoeven involuntarily drool (and, sometimes, demand that an all-nude shower scene be written in somewhere), and Blomkamp works CGI miracles on a relatively miniscule $30 million budget.

basterds
7. Inglourious Basterds
It is such a treat watching Quentin Tarantino grow up. His stories are infinitely simpler, but they’re better because of it. “Basterds” is his simplest one yet, and while the movie is mostly dialogue, it’s not overly chatty. The scene in the sub-level German bar is worth the price of admission below, but Tarantino goes one better by delivering an over-the-top finale that is revisionist history at its most sublime.

coraline
6. Coraline
We love “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as much as the next Goth kid, but “Coraline” is Henry Selick’s best stop-motion feature yet, by a country mile. It has all of the spooky/funny elements of “Nightmare,” but the story, courtesy of Neil Gaiman, is ten times better. Most importantly, this movie is actually scary, as in ‘pay attention to that PG rating before deciding whether to show it to your kids’ scary. Unless you want to be awaken by your six-year-old’s night terrors for the next nine months, in which case we say go nuts.

hurt locker
5. The Hurt Locker
This has to be the front runner for Best Picture at this point, and it’s a most worthy candidate. Kathryn Bigelow’s been playing with the big boys for a while now, but even when she had big names (Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze) or big budgets (“Strange Days”) behind her, she never had a story as gripping as “The Hurt Locker” at her disposal.

fantastic fox
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
So delightfully odd that it’s almost impossible to describe. The animals, while incredibly well spoken, are still animals at heart – stay away from Mr. Fox when he’s eating – but Wes Anderson makes sure they’re also as human as can be. Bonus points for recruiting Jarvis Cocker to write the movie’s campfire song.

up 2
3. Up
It took repeat plays with my son to see just how bold and nontraditional this movie was. If the directors at Pixar are parts of the body, Pete Docter is unquestionably the heart, and his tale of a lonely widower and the little boy unfortunate enough to be on his porch when he sails his house for South America tugs the heartstrings like no other movie in Pixar’s catalog. When I interviewed Docter earlier this year, I told him that the “Married Life” montage brought me to tears…but not before I called him a bastard for making me cry. (He thought that was hilarious.) I’ve now seen the movie another five or six times, and damned if I don’t cry at that scene every single time. Fuck you, Pete Docter. You’re awesome, but fuck you.

500 days
2. (500) Days of Summer
The story of a guy who’s prone to fugue states, likes sad British pop music and singing karaoke, and spends years in the work force doing a job he has no business doing, and then he falls for the girl that is both the end-all-be-all and bane of his existence? Let’s just say that this movie spoke to me. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are too cute for words as Tom and Summer, and director Marc Webb stages one of the simplest but most brilliant scenes of the year with Tom’s expectations of Summer’s party playing out side by side with the reality. Also had the best musical number of the year.

up in the air
1. Up in the Air
Director Jason Reitman taps into into George Clooney’s effortless, endless reservoir of cool and uses it to make his protagonist, the terminally single, travel-happy hatchet man Ryan Bingham, a likable guy. Clooney has never been better, and Anna Kendrick (props to EW’s Owen Gleiberman for his pitch-perfect description of her character as a ‘bottom-line chipmunk’) goes toe to toe with Clooney from start to finish. Just when I thought I knew where Reitman would go next, he veers off in a different, much better direction. He’s only made three full-length movies, and he’s already a better director than his father.

Honorable Mentions
Moon
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Star Trek
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  

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