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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Entourage 7.3 – Dramedy

When Scott Caan’s douchebag talent manager was introduced at the tail end of last season, I assumed he would serve as a fun little nemesis for Eric as he tried to rise through the ranks at the new company. I didn’t imagine that he would have any chance of stealing Vince away from Eric as a client, however, and yet that’s exactly what appears to be happening. Granted, Vince shouldn’t feel compelled into keeping Eric as his manager just because they’re friends, but to get rid of him just because he doesn’t want to jump out of airplanes and party with a houseful of half-naked chicks is a bit juvenile. Then again, no one ever accused Vince of being mature, and his most recent behavior is proof of that.

The more time he spends with Scotty Lavin, the douchier he becomes – from impulse buying a Harley-Davidson, to bidding on (and winning) a dinosaur skull at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars just so the female curator will sleep with him. I mean, is that really necessary anymore? I thought he was a big star. Whatever the excuse, Vince clearly doesn’t feel like he’s being treated like he should, and you could just tell that he was a little annoyed when he learned that his chance to work with producer Randall Wallace on an upcoming project may have been squandered because Ari wouldn’t return his calls. It couldn’t possibly be because a movie based on a fictional Stan Lee superhero called Airwalker sounds downright terrible. Oh wait, never mind, that’s exactly why. Fortunately, Eric finally decided that enough was enough and went over to Vince’s house to confront Scotty. Their little pushing contest probably didn’t help his cause, but at least he managed to (accidentally) destroy that stupid dinosaur skull in the process. What a fucking waste of money.

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Meanwhile, Ari is still trying to make amends with his wife after she discovered him dancing around his office with Lizzie, and he’s not exactly making any headway. Ari definitely has a bit of dilemma when it comes to the sexy up-and-comer, because while he would love to make his wife happy by firing Lizzie, he knows that she’s too important to let go. So when Lizzie comes to Ari demanding that she be put in charge of the TV department while Andrew’s in rehab, he takes the neutral route by telling her that she’s not ready, hoping she’ll stick around and fight for the position instead of acting like a selfish brat. Instead, Lizzie quits, and Babs is pissed, fearing that they’ve made a huge mistake. And from the look on his face upon hearing the news, Ari doesn’t seem too pleased either – probably because Lizzie has the potential to steal several big clients from the agency if she walks.

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We Believe

You have to feel a little sorry for the makers of “We Believe,” the entertaining movie documenting the 100-year anniversary, if you want to call it that, of the Chicago Cubs’ last World Series victory. Many thought the 2008 Cubs were going to be the team that ended the heartbreak, and goodness knows they gave even the most cynical Cubs fan – of which this writer is one – reason to, well, believe. Late-inning comebacks, a no-hitter in a neutral stadium…it was a crazy year, just crazy enough to do the impossible. Director John Scheinfeld assembles a who’s who of Chicago celebrities, Cub players past and present, and assorted baseball luminaries (Bob Costas, George Will, Bud Selig) to discuss the unique relationship between the Cubs and their fans, intercutting it with history lessons of both the city of Chicago and the team they love. Their coverage of the material is most comprehensive; they even took a few minutes to talk about Steve Goodman, the folkie who penned the good-time song “Go Cubs Go” in 1984, which received a revival in 2008.

Unfortunately, Scheinfeld didn’t get the happy ending he was clearly hoping for when he began the project; the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Dodgers, and about halfway through the movie, Gary Sinise’s narrative updates on the team’s performance during the 2008 season become less and less frequent, and the movie begins to wander. When they finally get to discussing the playoffs, Sinise is mum on the outcome; they just show people discussing the aftermath. No one mentions the Dodgers by name, and only one person uses the word ‘sweep.’ What begins as a celebration of baseball and its loyal fans ends as a surprisingly insular, fans-only event.

Ah, but those Cubs fans will lap this up. The interviews with the 2008 players are refreshingly candid – best of the bunch was Ryan Dempster, who does a pitch-perfect Harry Caray impression – and the local celebs (Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna, Billy Corgan and Dennis Franz, to name a few) are upfront about their love for, and frustration with, their team. While “We Believe” may not chronicle the breaking of a century-old streak that they had hoped, it is a heartfelt tribute to arguably the most steadfastly loyal fans in baseball, if not all of sports.

Click to buy “We Believe”

  

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Old Show, New Season: “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Fair warning: those of you who have been chomping at the bit to see the much-vaunted “Seinfeld” reunion on this season of “Curb Your Enthusiam” had better cool your jets, at least for this week. Although the press (and I’m including myself in their number) immediately latched onto the season’s major plot arc and ran with it, there’s only the tiniest hint in tonight’s episode about the events to come. What we get instead is something which longtime fans of the series will nonetheless appreciate: a follow-up to the Season 6 finale.

If you were there at the end of Season 6, then you remember that Larry, now separated from Cheryl, had managed to find an unexpected love connection with Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox). Well, they’re still together, amazingly enough, but it’s hard to say how much longer the relationship is going to last. Part of it is because she’s starting to drive him crazy, but the other reason is…well, it’s better that you learn it for yourself. Suffice it to say that it’s a development which will immediately make you go, “Oh, God, this is going to be like Susan on ‘Seinfeld’ all over again…” Maybe it won’t be, but that’s certainly the first thing that leapt to my mind.

The season premiere is entitled “Funkhouser’s Crazy Sister,” and the title character – named Bam-Bam – is played by Catherine O’Hara. I gotta tell ya, it’s always great to see O’Hara, and she hits a home run with her role tonight, particularly after one of the characters makes the very foolish choice of indulging in a liaison with Bam-Bam. We also get a brief appearance from Wanda Sykes, and although she’s definitely not a strong presence within the episode, Cheryl does manage to turn up for a few minutes; it’s a testament to how much Larry has missed her, however, that he doesn’t completely lose it when their paths cross. (She unabashedly uses his name to get a good table at a restaurant.)

There’s one thing that doesn’t work very well in the season premiere: the action performed by Loretta’s doctor which annoys Larry and thereby sets off the episode’s series of intertwined events. I think any “Curb” fan worth his or her salt knows that Larry’s pretty easily annoyed, often by the most ridiculous things, but it just isn’t as funny when Larry does something that you know you’d probably do, too. And, trust me, anyone would stand aghast at the doctor’s action. It’s completely inappropriate.

Then again, when you think about it, there really isn’t that much about “Curb Your Enthusiasm” that is appropriate, so I guess it all works out okay in the end. And, besides, as ever, it’s just nice to have Larry David back for another season.

  

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TCA Jump-Ahead: “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

It occurs to me that, although I’m trying my best to cover the TCA tour in a chronological manner, there are some panels that you’d like to know about more quickly than I might otherwise get to them. As such, I’m instituting a new category called the TCA Jump-Ahead.

First up: “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

It’s kind of a running joke in the entertainment industry about how every season of “Curb” should be considered the last season of “Curb” until Larry David says otherwise…and, generally, Larry David is glad to tell you that he’s done, he has no more ideas, and he can’t be bothered to try and think of any. Thankfully, David announced last year that he would indeed be moving forward with a seventh season of the cringe-worthy comedy (and I mean that in the best possible way), and since then, there have been multiple rumblings about how various members of the cast of “Seinfeld” would be popping up. In the “Curb” panel yesterday, David finally provided some context to exactly how they’d be appearing.

“For years, I’ve been asked about a ‘Seinfeld’ reunion, as has Jerry and the other cast members,” explained David, “and I would always say, ‘No, there’s no reunion. There’s not going to be a reunion show. We would never do that. It’s a lame idea.’ And then I thought, ‘But it might be very funny to do that on ‘Curb.’ And I kept thinking about the idea. I started to think of different scenarios and how we could pull this off. I called Jerry, and Jerry was game. And I said, ‘Well, I’ll call the others,’ and I did. And we did it. So we’re doing a ‘Seinfeld’ reunion show on ‘Curb.’ We’re going to see writing. We’ll see aspects of the read-through, parts of rehearsals. You’ll see the show being filmed. And you’ll see it on TV.

What will you see? You won’t see the entire show; you’ll see parts of the show. You will get an idea of what happened 11 years later. And within the show, it will be incorporated into regular ‘Curb’ episodes. So the cast members will be playing themselves on ‘Curb’ while all this is going on. You’re not going to see a ‘Seinfeld’ show from beginning to end, but you will see parts of the show.”

And will there be any reference to Michael Richards’ sordid post-“Seinfeld” problems?

“It’s possible.”

The reunion is scattered through the season, and by David’s admittedly questionable recollection, the cast will be on five shows, though they won’t all be on the five shows. (“Jerry’s on five shows, I think,” he said. “The others will be on at least four. Maybe one or two of the others will be on five. I’m not sure.”) The season finale will be about the reunion show and will possibly be an hour long, though David admits that he hasn’t finished editing it yet and can’t say for sure.

There’s just one thing, though: anyone who’s been watching “Curb” for the previous six seasons has to figure that the odds look good for Larry – the TV Larry, that is – to somehow screw up this reunion.

“He might,” said David. “Do you need a staff job for next season? My guy might consider wrecking something like that, yeah. We’ll see what happens. My guy could very well wreck it. I’m not saying he did…”

Want a few more tidbits about the upcoming season…?

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