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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Exclusive Clip — “Cemetery Junction”

It’s annoying but true: in the current blockbuster-driven film climate, an increasing number of films which are clearly worthy of a look are not even getting theatrical releases. You’d think that the directorial debut of the widely acclaimed team behind the original UK version of “The Office” and HBO’s outstanding “Extras,” not to mention “The Ricky Gervais Show,” would at least get a limited arthouse release in the good old U.S.A. The fact that Ricky Gervais has become a well-known figure here as a comic in his own right should help, even if his movies as a writer-actor have so far failed to set our world on fire. If even Gervais’s equally mirth-inducing but less well known professional partner, Stephen Merchant, were to wander into, say, a random Santa Monica or Hollywood-area coffee house, he might well be mobbed.

Nevertheless, the DVD of Gervais and Merchant’s cinematic directorial debut, “Cemetery Junction,” was released yesterday and we have, I’m told, an exclusive clip from the film. As you’ll see, this appears to be a slightly jaundiced coming-of-age comedy-drama in the mold of something like “Diner,” “American Graffiti,” Fellini’s “Il Vitelone,” and innumerable other nostalgic-yet-brittle films made in Britain and all over-the-world.  It stars young Christian Cooke as the requisite dissatisfied local, dividing his time between hanging out with his more complacent mates (Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan), a theoretically dead-end job selling life insurance (hey, that’s what my dad did!), and falling for the boss’s beautiful but engaged daughter (Felicity Jones). Supporting turns are filled by Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Matthew Goode and, of course, Ricky Gervais. He just happens to appear in the rather amusing clip below.

  

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It’s your post MTV Movie Awards debacle movie news

Yes, isn’t it?

* Okay, so as I wrote in the post below, I felt slightly ill-used by the MTV Movie Awards PR apparatus. However, the question they asked Mrs. Lincoln remains: what did I think of the show? Well, when I finally watched it at home after a long drive home and an only-at-Universal-City-Walk possibility of following up a Pink’s chili dog w/sauerkruat with a Tommy’s Chili burger, I found it…okay. It was loud, vulgar — and not always in a good way — and it had excellent production values that the Oscars could learn from. I think I was as moved as everyone else by Dr. Ken Jeong’s speech about his wife’s former illness.

On the other hand, I could have done with less of the Tom Cruise dancing with Jennifer Lopez thing. The Les Grossman character was very funny, and definitely reminiscent of some real Hollywood characters, in the context of “Tropic Thunder,” but now it seems to have taken on an unneeded life of its own that is starting to creep me out and not in a funny way. But, once again, no one is listening to me and Cruise is talking about, Lord helps us, a Grossman movie. I’m starting to think he should talk more about Scientology.

Tom Cruise,Jennifer Lopez

As far as I what I felt about the actual awards and the movies and performances that were recognized…is there even the slightest point in complaining? I don’t think there’s any pretense that these awards are intended to honor good movies. Of course the “Twilight” movie was going to win. And I guess it’s somehow appropriate to know there’s at least one award Christoph Waltz just can’t get for playing Col. Hans Landa.

One thing that irked me slightly and then later amused me greatly, but not for the reason the MTV producers would have liked, was the much remarked upon proliferation of swear words. I use relatively few curse words for a modern-day American, but I’m not particularly opposed to them, especially when used in a clever or entertaining fashion. In the context of a show where the curses are to go out bleeped, however, more than one or two in a sentence can be a real problem for the audience at home that doesn’t hear it, and it really did bury many of the jokes in a volley of random silence.

Still, one comic highlight was Peter Facinelli’s acceptance speech on behalf of the rest of the “Twilight: New Moon” cast in which he apparently simply overwhelmed the person on the kill-switch with his deliberate carpet F-bombing, and several fuck-words made it through. It was a really funny moment that did not go on unnoticed by society’s killjoys who, just this once, weren’t completely in the wrong, I suppose.  I nevertheless believe that the religious fundamentalist-driven PTC should get a fucking life.

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Watch “The Ricky Gervais Show”

This should go without saying for fans of the original version of “The Office” or “Extras,” but Ricky Gervais is back on HBO in “The Ricky Gervais Show.” The show is based on a series of podcasts that Gervais and Stephen Merchant (co-creator of “The Office” and “Extras”) did with Karl Pilkington, a weird little man with a round head and a bunch of strange ideas.

The show premiered on Friday, and I was laughing so hard I was literally crying during the opening segment, where Karl explains his idea for how death and birth should proceed. Check out this clip from “The Late Show.”

  

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Zzzzz….”Avatar”…zzzz

We’re deep, deep into the January doldrums this week with the studios putting out three new movies that will be lucky to be fodder for late night cable or very hard trivia questions after a few weeks. We also, of course, have one true-blue blockbuster dominating the box office for the sixth week in a row.

Sam Worthington in And so THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio is beyond certain that James Cameron will, by Sunday, not only be the director of the #1 and #2 moneymakers of all time (not adjusted for inflation) but also will be matching his own “Titanic” record of six consecutive #1 showings at the U.S. box office. He also says “Avatar” will make roughly $25 million. That sounds about right to me, but all I can really say for sure is that it does seem reasonably sure to wipe the floor with the three fairly lackluster looking films on tap for this weekend.

The Tooth Fairy,” at least, benefits from a quickly understandable premise which has some comic potential, as well as a very strong supporting cast. Dwayne “no longer ‘the Rock'” Johnson is an unpleasant hockey star forced to become the winged pixie of everyone’s childhood. Playing M to his emasculated James Bond is a slightly stern Julie Andrews, with Billy Crystal and Stephen Merchant of “Extras” as his Q branch operatives, while Ashley Judd performs love interest duties. The consensus on this one is that, while  it’s the very rare critic who will go so far as to admit to actually liking the thing — it has a lousy 11% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes reading — it could have been worse. Talk about faint praise. The trailer isn’t exactly huge on laughs, but Crystal variation on his old Miracle Max shtick got a chuckle out of me. Considering the family factor and Johnson’s appeal, I suspect this Fox comedy will stand up nicely to the weak competition of the other new releases.

Speaking of weak competition, every review I glanced at, including the one from our own David Medsker, compared “Extraordinary Measures” to a TV movie. This fact-inspired maiden voyage for the newly formed CBS Films stars Brendan Fraser as a corporate executive with two children suffering from a rare disease who joins forces with Harrison Ford‘s curmudgeonly scientist to find a cure while battling the medical and corporate establishment.

Brendan Frasher and Harrison Ford take

This type of material can work in theatrical films as was proven by both Steven Soderbergh with “Erin Brockovich” and, before that, George Miller with the underrated “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Nick Nolte’s Italian accent wasn’t all that bad, besides, he got the emotions right.) The consensus here, however, is that pedestrian execution destines this film to fairly instant obscurity — a familiar face and an aging superstar won’t be enough to attract major audiences to a film that really could have used a few some good reviews. Instead, it got only 23% percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes admitting to even a mild liking for the film.

Only one critic we know of has even seen “Legion.” Released by Sony and made by a first time director with a background in effects work, this one sounds to me like an action/horror remake of Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” or “Wings of Desire” gone very, very wrong. The film has very literal killer angels besieging a diner — because hashhouses are always the best place to start an apocalypse. Starring Paul Bettany as the week’s second ass-kicking winged mythological being and Dennis Quaid as a sick looking middle-aged guy, DiOrio says this is “tracking best among young males” and I can’t imagine who else would see this one. Judging by Mr. One Critic’s ultra-harsh review, even they may find better better things to do. As for what religious people will make of a film which has angels wielding machine guns, I can only imagine.

  

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