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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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Ricky Gervais is back at the Golden Globes

They brought him back again, and Ricky Gervais kills it again. Check out his opening monologue above.

The ratings for the Golden Globes slipped a bit this year but Ricky was still hilarious.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

It felt like there was more star power on hand than usual for a winter tour…but, then, having Oprah in your midst kind of skewers your perceptions on that sort of thing. I suppose it’s a testament to how many famous people I’ve met over the years, though, that one of the biggest reasons I look forward to the tour is not because of who I might interview but, rather, because I’ll get the chance to hang out with the friends I’ve made within the TCA. All told, it was another great time, but, as ever, when it was over, I was more than ready to get back home to my family and share my memories with them…and with you, too, of course.

Well, let’s get on with the reminiscing, shall we?

Oh, but one word of warning: if you followed my daily dispatches during the tour, then a couple of these stories will sound strikingly familiar, but please rest assured that the majority of the material has not been copied wholesale and is, in fact, 100% new. Swear to God.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Made in Spain” (PBS)

Not being a foodie, I wouldn’t have known José Andrés prior to his kick-off of PBS’s first day at the TCA tour if he’d been standing next to me…and, even then, I wouldn’t have known that I was supposed to care who he was. After several minutes of clips from the first season of “Made in Spain,” however, I was already in love with the series, and when Andres himself took the stage, it was impossible not to be charmed by him. He’s a sweetheart of a guy for whom food truly is life, but he’s also a hoot.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “An Idiot Abroad” (Science Channel)

I was seriously bummed when I heard that no one from “An Idiot Abroad” was going to be in attendance for the show’s panel, but I figured, “Okay, at least they’ll be there via satellite.” In retrospect, there’s no way they could’ve been funnier if they’d actually been onsite. Naturally, just being in Karl Pilkington’s presence was enough to inspire Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant to dissolve into a fit of giggles, but they were utterly warranted this go-round.

Here, see for yourself:

Most annoying panel: “Platinum Hit” (Bravo)

Between Kara DioGuardi handling a question about “American Idol” about as poorly as she possibly could have – read more about that here – and Jewel dropping names like they were hot potatoes (“I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”), I’m hard pressed to think of any panel that left a worse taste in my mouth.

Panel which had the least need for an audience: “The Best of Laugh-In” (PBS)

It wasn’t entirely surprising that a panel consisting of Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens and George Schlatter would be able keep things moving along without any of the critics in attendance actually needing to ask a question, but they kept passing the conversational ball back and forth until someone in the crowd finally had to stand up and ask if it was okay to ask a question. Schlatter instantly shot back, “We’re trying to talk here!” Laughter ensued, as did plenty of questions about the history of “Laugh-In.” “Are you guys having fun?” Schlatter asked later. “Because we’re having a ball!” Must be what keeps them looking so young: you’d never in a million years believe that Worley – that’s her in the feathered boa, in case you hadn’t guessed – is 73 years old.

Funniest panel that you probably had to be there to appreciate: “Community” (NBC)

The only person not in attendance was Chevy Chase, who was described as being “very under the weather,’ but his co-stars more than made up for his absence. If I tried to tell you about it, though, you’d probably just stare blankly at me. Some of the funniness came from the giggling of the various panelists, some it involved one-liners which would require a lengthy amount of set-up for you to appreciate, some of it was totally visual, and…well, you get the idea. But it really was hilarious, I swear. The most easily-translatable moment is probably Donald Glover’s story about how they had to teach Betty White the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” on the set. “I assumed she knew ‘Africa,’” he said. “I was, like, ‘Everybody knows that song!’ But, like, that song was out when she was already old. She was already 50-something.”

Greatest Moment of Complete Honesty During the Tour: When I approached Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) to ask him a question, he agreed, but then he looked down at my recorder and said, “Oh, my! You’re not going to record this, are you? I’d rather you didn’t.” At this point, he performed a perfect mock aside, holding a hand to his mouth and whispering, “I’m a little bit tipsy!” So I turned off my recorder. Kudos to you, Mr. McBrayer. Would that more actors had that blend of good humor and common sense.

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The Golden Globes happened, the world continues to turn

You probably know by now that the big water cooler topic in Hollywood about last night at the Golden Globes isn’t so much the awards themselves. Yes, there were some nice surprises in the acting categories, most notably for Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version.” “The Social Network” remains a big Oscar favorite, and so on. (You can see a complete list of last night’s winners here, by the way). No. It appears the most criticized man in Hollywood this day is not Mel Gibson or Jeff Zucker, but one Mr. Ricky Gervais.  Here, via the Guardian, is the opening monologue for those of you who missed it or want to relive the moment.

It seems to me that there is no more thankless high-profile task in major-league Hollywood today than being a stand-up hosting an award show. Much better to be an actor doing tightly scripted song-and-dances. As a conventional host, if you’re too much of a flatterer you annoy everyone who wasn’t personally flattered, but just ask Chris Rock and Jon Stewart how even relatively tame cracks can be bandied about in the press for days as writers panic on behalf of show biz egos.

Mary McNamara‘s piece at the L.A. Times underplays the criticism that Rock received at the time for his not-too-extreme critique of Jude Law’s acting abilities compared to Hollywood greats. David Letterman was bashed for being too silly. Stewart was deemed insufficiently differential and not funny enough, though to me it was case of maybe being too honest for the room. Of course, that was the Oscars — which shouldn’t be taken all that seriously but still has a certain mythological import to it — and this was the Golden Globes, the famously drunken award show with the often bizarre nominations and sometimes strange wins.

My attitude is this: Yes, Gervais crossed the line at points — though determining where the line is isn’t always so easy. The crack about Scientology and certain allegedly closeted top stars was pretty nasty, and worse, wasn’t funny. I could understand why the head of the HFPA was angry — though if he didn’t want to have cruel jokes made about him and his job, he’s heading the wrong organization. On the other hand, Gervais was often very funny with better aimed and gentler jabs, and last night’s performance does have its fans. I thought the joke about Bruce Willis being Ashton Kutcher’s dad was funny and it looked to me like Willis maybe thought so too. Others were somewhere in between. They hired Gervais, but what they really wanted was Don Rickles. Someone who’d insult people in such a way that no one would take it seriously. That’s hard to do if you don’t happen to actually be Rickles.

I wouldn’t want to be Gervais, or Gervais’s publicist, today but I think we all take these things way too seriously, and everyone still has their careers. We spend too much time reading the tea leaves and are too quick to make Nikki Finke-style conclusions about the goodness or evil of certain figures based on pretty minimal information. The Steve Carrell “it never gets old” line and putative feud over the different versions of “The Office” struck me as more Jack Benny and Fred Allen than West Coast vs. East Coast rappers. They might well have been “joking on the square,” but they might just as easily have been nervously joking.

Anyhow, if any of you have any thoughts on the matter, feel more than free to pipe up in comments. Oh, and be nice!

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It’s 2011 and time for the return of the Friday night news dump

I haven’t done this in awhile and I know I’m missing a bunch of stories from early in the week, but you’ll read this and you’ll like it, damn it!

* Mike Fleming is claiming a “toldja” on the news that Elijah Wood will be appearing in “The Hobbit” as Frodo Baggins who is, I believe, not yet born during the events of Tolkien’s original children book. The rumor from earlier in the week has now been confirmed and nothing will ever be the same.

* Mr. Fleming also has the latest on speed-crazed Hollywood buying the rights to a book that has yet to be published and the remake rights on a documentary almost no one has seen. At least we know what the documentary’s about, and it does sound like material for a good movie — except, of course, it’s already a movie.

* Robert De Niro will be heading the jury at Cannes this year. This will be his third go-round in the gig.

* There’s been a ton of quibbling on why it’s not a sequel and maybe not even a spin-off, but the fact remains that Judd Apatow is building his next film around the terrific characters from “Knocked Up” played by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann. I have to admit I find these kind of fine distinctions to be marketing-driven annoyances. Novelists cast supporting characters from past books in leading roles in newer books all the time and no one calls these books anything other than “novels.” Novelists like Sinclair Lewis and Kurt Vonnegut treat their worlds like the Marvel Universe, so why can’t there be an Apatow-verse?

knocked-up

* Ricky Gervais has apparently signed up to play Mole in an upcoming version of “Wind in the Willows.” Ordinarily, I’d be a little bit excited about this news, but this is a project coming from Ray Griggs, who I frankly wonder about for a number of reasons. I’ve written about him before, at least he had the good sense to hire WETA in on the project. Still, if I were a friend of Gervais’s I advise him to stay away. It has a funny smell about it.

* Oscar winning writer-director Paul Haggis is taking his complaints with the Church of Scientology public in an upcoming book-length expose to be written by Lawrence Wright. Haggis is a former member of the church. I’d tell you what I think of Scientology, but that’s a whole other blog post. I will say I think this will be big.

* Danny Strong played the greatest geek ever on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and went on to become a respected screenwriter with his script for the Jay Roach television movie about the 2000 election, “Recount.” Now he’s back in the genre world with a gig rewriting something called “Earth Defense Force,” which Sam Raimi is producing.

* Stan the Man got his star on Hollywood Blvd. Excelsior!

* Ron Howard wants you to know that the “Arrested Development” movie is really still happening. Sure, why not?

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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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Press Conference for “Schmucks”

For those of us who enjoy contemplating the historical and political currents that run through film history, it’s tempting to look at the latest comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents,” “Recount”) as a possible reflection of American discomfort at the brutal nature of business and the growing disparities between the wealthy and the increasingly lumpen middle-class. However, when you’re talking about a movie that ends with a confrontation between a good idiot (Steve Carell) who designs amazing dioramas using dead mice and an evil idiot (Zach Galifianakis) with the power of mind control, but only over other idiots, that may be taking things a little seriously.

D4S-11998c

Opening this Friday, “Dinner for Schmucks” borrows its premise and some of its plot from Frances Veber’s 1998 “The Dinner Game.” Paul Rudd co-stars as Barry, a rising L.A. executive who finds that entering his company’s upper echelon will mean participating in a competitive Dinner for Winners. All the guests are to bring an extraordinary person who has been unrecognized by society — in other words, a dithering idiot. The winner of the nasty game is the one whose guest is the most amusingly stupid.

Barry is initially appalled by the idea and assures Julie (Stephanie Szostak), his horrified art curator girlfriend, he’ll have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he needs to pay for his Porsche and his absurdly large apartment at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel (in real life, you’d need a billionaire’s wealth to afford that). It’s a choice between being nice and being unemployed and in debt. Then the fates seem to reward him when, driving through a quainted-up version of Westwood Village, he nearly runs over Tim Wagner (Carell), a clueless IRS employee and ultra-naive artist committed to his “mousterpieces.” Wagner, of course, turns out to be a goodhearted type whose attempts to help his new friend backfire in increasingly absurd ways. Fortunately, most of them are funny, particularly thanks to some outstanding and often completely unhinged supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as an absurdly pretentious and untalented, but hugely successful, artist on the make for Barry’s increasingly angry girlfriend and all other attractive women on the planet.

D4S-05684

“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t going to electrify cinephiles or become a staple of screenwriting seminars, but a couple of weeks back it had proven itself to be a very effective laugh-getting machine at a West L.A. screening. Therefore, full of a free breakfast, a selection of journos were in a pretty good mood for a morning press conference at the Beverly Hilton with a number of funny and/or talented people, including stars Carell and Rudd, supporting bad guys Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek“) and Ron Livingston (“Office Space“) as well as director Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman, who are about to become directors themselves with the film version of the BBC comedy, “Cruise of the Gods.”

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Do yourself a favor — check out “Louie” on FX

Louis C.K. is a rising star in the world of comedy, or is rising as much as a 43-year-old journeyman comic can. He first landed on my radar on the 2006 HBO series “Lucky Louie,” which was shot in front of a live audience in three-camera format. The show built a fan base, but wasn’t well-regarded by the critics, which led to its cancellation.

I then heard an interview of the HILARIOUS Patton Oswalt (about a year ago?) in which the interviewer said that he was the funniest standup working today. Oswalt quickly dismissed the compliment and said that Louis C.K. was the best.

So now it’s 2010 and he has a half-hour single-camera sitcom on FX. The standards are looser than network programming, but are tighter than HBO, which keeps its star in check somewhat (probably to his benefit). Not unlike Larry David, he basically plays himself — a comedian who is also a divorced father of two.

The show intermixes his day-to-day life with bits of his standup act shot in clubs around New York City. He goes to the doctor (Ricky Gervais), meets with his therapist, goes out on awkward dates, attends a PTA meeting, stuff like that. And he finds a way to make it all funny.

There isn’t much in the way of a season-long story arc, so there’s no harm in catching the latest episode and going from there.

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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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