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Box Office Preview: Board Games, Pregnancy, and something like ‘Borat’ 2


The Dictator

At this point if you don’t know what you’re getting walking into a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, you’ve probably never seen a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. That’s not to say “The Dictator” won’t be funny, but if you’re expecting 100 percent originality, you might want to look elsewhere.

“The Dictator” is the story of a North African, you guessed it, dictator, who’s called to answer for his crimes in front of the UN in New York. Believe it or not, it’s loosely based on a romance novel allegedly written by Saddam Hussein. Yeah, that Saddam Hussein, and yeah, romance. Anyway, when John C. Reilly strips him of his beard, nobody believes he’s a dictator anymore, so he has to find his way working in a food co-op with Anna Faris.

Fish out of water on the mean streets of America? Sounds an awful lot like “Borat,” but if it’s funny, who cares? I guess that raises the question, is “The Dictator” funny? The film is sitting at a 63 percent on the Tomatometer, so it’s probably more “Borat” (good) than “Bruno” bad. One thing the film has to set it apart from Baron Cohen’s previous work is that it’s not in his trademark interview-heavy mockumentary format. This probably means “The Dictator” sacrifices the more outrageous comedy that comes from duping public figures and nobodies alike for a semi-coherent plot.


Battleship

Now “Transformers” I get, theoretically anyway. There are characters, good guys and bad guys. It’s shit, but it makes sense, and more importantly it had Megan Fox. But a movie based on Battleship, the board game?

Apparently “Battleship” has a plot, but I’ll leave that explanation for Jason in his Bullz-Eye review. I imagine there are ships involved. Anyway, this movie looks like a turd. It’s at a 35 percent on the Tomatometer, and the consensus over there is that the film is “too loud, poorly written, and formulaic to justify its expense.” Jason’s viewpoint was a bit more optimistic:

But while the film does feel a little bit too much like a Michael Bay explosion-rama at times, to my surprise, it works remarkably well as a mindless piece of popcorn entertainment. It won’t wow you in any way, but “Battleship” knows that it’s big, dumb summer fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.

If that’s the case, so be it. But I have a question, and I’m being completely serious here: what is the world of Hollywood writing coming to when we’re getting movies based on 70-year old board games? What’s next, the Monopoly man going on a Godzilla-like rampage through the streets of Tokyo? Terrorists knocking down buildings with a voodoo Jenga tower? Thank you Screencrush for the ideas, but sad as it may be “Battleship” is a real thing, so there’s no more time for mockery, moving on.


What to Expect When You’re Expecting

It’s a romantic comedy, so already we know what we’re getting into here, don’t we? There will be cliches, love, a second act rife with conflict, and ultimately, a happy ending. But every once in a while a movie comes along that breaks the mold, throwing all those banal stereotypes into a pot and coming out with something great. This is not that movie. Let me repeat again, because I know eyes can wander over a word or two: this is not that movie.

That fact is especially unfortunate when you look at the film’s star-studded cast, which includes Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”), Rodrigo Santoro (like 4 episodes of “Lost”), as well as the recent success of “Think Like a Man,” which was also based on a self-help book.

If I could guess, and I can, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” tells the story of a number of couples, each with their own relationship problems centering around pregnancy and child-rearing. It really doesn’t matter, this movie is at a 23 percent on the Tomatometer. As such, you should avoid it like the plague.

If you’re looking for a recommendation this weekend, I’ll say “The Avengers,” just like last week and the week before, and yes, even if you’ve already seen it. Now, last week I also recommended “Dark Shadows” to big Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fans. The same goes here, “The Dictator” is sure to be enjoyable for fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – The Extra Man

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The Extra Man is a rather unconventional film about a pair of very unconventional characters. Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a young aspiring playwright who moves to New York City after an embarrassing incident that forces him to quit his job. He meets and moves in with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a former professor and playwright who now works as an “extra man,” which he stresses is not the same as a gigolo, or even a male escort; first of all, he doesn’t receive money for his services, and secondly, he doesn’t engage in anything sexual with the wealthy older women who hire him. Instead, he says, he brings a certain air of respectability and class to his engagements, in exchange for gifts and fine meals. In the meantime, he lives the sort of penniless existence that occasionally requires him to paint his ankles and calves with shoe polish in order to disguise the fact that he has forgotten to buy socks, which he says may have the added benefit of killing some of the fleas that inhabit him.

Louis is duly fascinated by Henry’s eccentric, acerbic ways, and Kline delivers one of the best performances of his career, mining big laughs from lines like, “I’m against the education of women. It dulls their senses and effects their performance in the boudoir.” He also rails against such practices as recycling and charity to the homeless, which makes an interesting contrast to Louis’ newfound job at an environmental magazine, where he develops a crush on his vegan, uber-green co-worker, Mary Powell (Katie Holmes). Louis is also fascinated by Henry’s mysterious, bearded neighbor, Gershon Gruen (John C. Reilly), who can be heard through the vents each morning singing beautifully as he showers. Louis is hiding his own eccentricity from his new friends, and without giving away too much about the course this particular character development takes, I will say it is perhaps the most sensitive, realistic exploration of heterosexual cross-dressing since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapting a novel by Bored to Death scribe Jonathan Ames, clearly share Louis’ attraction to cranky oddballs such as Henry, as evidenced in their excellent first feature, American Splendor. Henry has much in common with that film’s protagonist, Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), though there is a misplaced sense of class superiority in Henry that Harvey would undoubtedly abhor. Still, as mean-spirited and narrow-minded as Henry often seems to be, it is difficult as an audience member not to share in this fascination; as Louis says at one point, “You have a strange power over people, Henry,” to which Henry replies, “It’s my constant disapproval. People think it fatherly.” He might not be someone most of us would actually want to live with, but Henry is a wonderful cinematic creation, and probably Kline’s funniest role since A Fish Called Wanda. Though The Extra Man has much else to recommend it, it is this central character that buoys the film, and brings added life to all around him.

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Count the 1980s movie references with the cast of “Take Me Home Tonight”

Okay, I personally think John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei kind of cornered the market on humorous interpretations of the Human League kitsch classic, “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” in “Cyrus.” Still, Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer and (very briefly) Demetri Martin come pretty close in this nicely done promotional video for the upcoming 1980s-set coming of age comedy, “Take Me Home Tonight,” featuring the band, Atomic Tom.

Yep, you did catch Michael Biehn in there. He plays Grace’s policeman dad in the movie.

I’m currently embargoed from reviewing “Take Me Home Tonight,” but let’s just say that as someone who has been tired of the 1980s since the 1980s and has been tired of coming of age films even longer, my expectations were kind of shattered. What do I mean by that? You’ll have to wait. In the meantime, you can see my earlier post on the red band trailer.

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Wednesday night trailer: “Cedar Rapids” is excitement central

A new guy-centric comedy that’ll be premiering at Sundance (!) directed by Miguel Arteta. Ed Helms and John C. Reilly head a very interesting cast that also includes Anne Heche and the eternally underrated Stephen Root. (Sigourney Weaver is actually supposed to be in this movie, but you’d never know it from the trailer.)

This one made me laugh but it was much funnier the first time I watched than the second, and that’s not always the case with me. Anyhow, John C. Reilly has pretty much a direct route to my funnybone, but what is it about Ed Helms and befriending hookers in these movies?

H/t Mike Fleming.

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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A chat with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, directors of “The Extra Man”

Shari Springer Berman and Robert PulciniThe recent death of autobiographical comics writer Harvey Pekar at age 70 was a more bitter than sweet reminder of one of the first really great films of our young millennium. Released in 2003 and written and directed by the husband and wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, “American Splendor” dared to place actors Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, and Judah Friedlander — portraying Pekar, wife Joyce Brabner, and their ultra-nerd friend, Toby Radloff — alongside the real Pekar, Brabner, and Radloff, seamlessly combining traditional fiction, documentary film, and some charmingly minimalist comic book-style animation to make easily the most inventive and rewarding comics-to-film translation so far. (Yes, I think it’s better than “The Dark Knight.”)

What made it even more impressive was that this was the first fiction film by its makers. Prior to “American Splendor,” Berman and Pulcini were the documentararians behind a pair of films focusing on film and show-business landmarks. They chronicled the death of a venerable, movie-star-beloved Beverly Hills restaurant in “Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s” and the rebirth of the ultimate movieland cemetery into the world’s hippest burial plot in “The Young and the Dead.” The pair also made a 2006 IFC documentary about road movies, “Wanderlust.”

Their return to fiction films, 2007′s “The Nanny Diaries,” was less well-received, but now Berman and Pulcini are back with an imperfect but enjoyable comedy. Co-written with author Jonathan Ames (HBO’s “Bored to Death”) from his semi-autobiographical novel, “The Extra Man” stars Paul Dano as Louis Ives, a courtly 20-something with a fixation on 1920s literature and a certain amount of sexual/gender confusion, who finds himself spending a lot of time with his new roommate — an aging, ultra-obscure, ultra-reactionary playwright named Henry Harrison (Oscar and Tony winning veteran stage and film star Kevin Kline).

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Berman and Pulcini are also preparing their next film. “Cinema Verite,” with James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins starring in a screenplay by veteran scenarist David Seltzer (“The Omen,” “Punchline”). It’s a tailor-made premise for the couple: the making of “An American Family,” the groundbreaking and highly controversial PBS documentary series which essentially created the modern reality television genre in 1975. The series was also the inspiration for the 1979 Albert Brooks comedy, “Real Life.”

When I was escorted to the room at L.A.’s Four Seasons where I was to meet with the writing-directing pair, I was surprised to see only one person and at first I wasn’t sure I had arrived at the right place. Robert Pulcini and I talked about our shared first name (he’s a “Bob” too), and he explained cordially that his wife would be returning in just a moment. Shari Springer Berman arrived and then somehow got into the topic of the unusual spelling of my last name. All very fascinating — to me — but I figured I’d better talk about Berman and Pulcini’s movies instead.

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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

Since the film was set to premiere with a special screening and live concert at the Greek Theater a few days hence, it made sense to have a bunch of us entertainment-type writers show up for a series of roundtables with Brand and Hill, not to mention writer/director Nicholas Stoller and actress Rose Byrne, whose character has a special gift for singing the most obscene lyrics imaginable with the straightest possible face.

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SXSW 2010: Cyrus

As perhaps the most recognizable names behind the mumblecore movement, directors Mark and Jay Duplass have earned a small following over the years with festival favorites like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead.” Their newest film is a minor departure from the genre that put them on the map, but even though it has the backing of a major studio and features an A-list cast, “Cyrus retains the low-budget, independent spirit of their other movies. Mostly unscripted but not quite mumblecore, “Cyrus” may drive some longtime fans away, but this darkly comical look at the human condition is guaranteed to earn the Duplass brothers an entirely new audience.

John C. Reilly stars as John, a freelance editor who’s still getting over the divorce from his first wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), even though it’s been seven years since they separated. Jamie is now engaged to her new boyfriend (Matt Walsh), but she’s remained friends with John over the years and invites him to a party one night in order to meet someone new. John begrudgingly agrees, and though the night doesn’t get off to a great start, he’s eventually approached by Molly (Marisa Tomei), a beautiful single who’s totally out of his league. Nevertheless, the two hit it off immediately and start a romance, but when John worries that Molly is hiding something from him, he follows her back home to find that there’s another man in her life – her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Though Cyrus appears friendly enough at first, John soon realizes that the overly-attached mama’s body will do whatever it takes to break them up and keep Molly all to himself.

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It’s a relationship that could have easily come across as creepy if the material didn’t have such a genuine quality to it. Granted, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard to swallow at times, but the cast does a pretty good job of not focusing too much on the somewhat taboo nature of their bond by keeping the story flowing – particularly since all the dialogue is improvised. Marisa Tomei is easily the best actor of the bunch, but she’s a little out of her element here, relying mostly on her co-stars to guide her through each scene. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, on the other hand, have a real knack for comic improvisation, and it shows in their ability to constantly up the ante. Reilly is solid in his best role in years, delivering a performance that’s both funny and sweet, but it’s Hill’s semi-serious turn as the title character that will likely steal most of the limelight. It’s hardly worth all the fuss (he’s good, but not that good), but it’s still an interesting career move for an actor best known for comedies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.”

Even with its marquee talent, “Cyrus” is still very much a Duplass brothers film. Though it’s difficult to gauge how much they actually contributed to the story apart from writing the outline, their fingerprints are all over the final product – particularly the way in which it was shot, as if some of the more intimate moments are being recorded by a third party for some kind of bizarre documentary on Oedipus complex. These dramatic scenes are handled nicely by all involved, but without its dark, comedic undercurrent, “Cyrus” wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. And if the Duplass brothers can figure out a way to strike this perfect balance between drama and comedy (and to a lesser note, indie and mainstream) in every one of their films, their futures are going to be bright.

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While I was out…

If anyone out there has noticed my absence over the last few few days, suffice it to say I’ve been dealing with a family emergency and posting by me may remain a bit sporadic over the next several days. However, I’m hoping to keep things close to normal as, fortunately, things seem to be stabilizing somewhat.

Of course, it just so happens that I’ve been pretty seriously distracted just as Sundance was underway and there’s undoubtedly much I’ve missed. Here are just a few items that have caught my attention.

* Our very own Will Harris has been very much on top of story behind an upcoming television adaptation of work by highly regarded comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis. Now, add to that this revelation from Mike Fleming that another Bendis piece will be one of two vehicles that Zac Efron hopes will help him in his quest to perform a Johnny Depp-like -transition from Tiger Beat-style teen fave to respected A-list actor.

* There’s nothing like a bit of controversy to liven things up at a film festival, and this year Sundance is getting a shot of that from, of all things, an adaptation of a classic fifty-eight year old pulp novel. Michael Winterbottom’s reportedly very faithful version of grimness specialist Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” was reportedly all too faithful for some. The film apparently features some very brutal beatings of the women in the life of the sociopathic title character played by Casey Affleck. It probably adds to the shock factor that the victims are played by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. The Auteurs and Anne Thompson summarize the issues.

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* On a much lighter note, I take a personal interest in the film “Cyrus” because — back before it even had a name — co-director Mark Duplass discussed it with me right here, when I interviewed him behind his co-starring role in the very funny “Humpday.” The film stars Jonah Hill in what is being touted as something of a breakthrough performance, alongside Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly. Once again, Anne Thompson is on top of things and has an interview with Mark and his brother Jay, which I promise to watch when I get a moment. (Hey, I haven’t even watched the State of the Union speech yet.)

* I’ve got a solution to this whole question of whether or not we should forgive Mel Gibson. I say everyone who is offended by Mel Gibson’s past statements, etc., should see his movies if they want to, but they should refer to him only as “Sugar Tits.” Indeed, For long as I remember to do it, in these posts, from this point forward, he’ll be Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson or MSTG, for short. Seems fair to me.

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