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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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Weekend box office: greed is still pretty good

Things turned out at this weekend’s box office more or less as predicted on Thursday. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” came in on top at an estimated $19 million for Fox, according to the Box Office Mojo chart, about a million or two shy of the figures being bandied about, but close enough for an adult skewing film expected to have decent legs. Nikki Finke thinks it may have missed it’s moment in terms of being a topical must-see and also avoiding some bad press provided by the mouthy Oliver Stone. Maybe. She also points out that Fox hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak this summer. Still, this is actually a career high, raw cash wise, for Stone and not too bad a showing for the longest break between an original and a sequel since Martin Scorsese and Paul Newman dared to follow-up the genuine classic, “The Hustler,” with his underrated non-classic, “The Color of Money,” a quarter century after the fact.

Following not so far behind, really, is Warners’ “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” which earned an estimated $16.3 million. Anthony D’Allesandro is calling the film a “bomb” along the lines of the recent “Cats and Dogs” sequel. That may be accurate compared to what family films like this usually make and in light an as yet unspecified large budget but it’s still within a couple of million of this weekend’s $50-70 million live-action hit.

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While the books might have had an audience, something just seemed generally awry and the film lacked a clear premise for non-fans other than “owls fighting.” Whether or not Zack Snyder, whose early hits are receding in the memory of Hollywood, no doubt, gets to remain in the high end movie big leagues may now be largely dependent on what happens when his strange and zany looking action fantasy, “Sucker Punch,” comes out on 3/25/11.

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Amanda Seyfried, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Atom Egoyan on “Chloe”

Movies involve looking at people. Sometimes those people are doing some pretty intimate things, too. No wonder then that voyeurism remains about the single most pervasive and discussed theme in the movies and, no matter how often the particularly cinematic obsession of voyeurism has been recycled, there’s always room for a new angle.

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In the case of “Chloe,” which is hitting about three hundred theaters nationwide today, voyeurism in the form of morbid curiosity threatens not only the desiccated relationship of an affluent middle-aged couple played by Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, but also the woman’s familial ties with her son (Max Theiriot) and possibly her entire life. The vehicle for all of this is a young woman Dr. Catherine Stewart bumps into who turns out to be a high-end sex worker named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried). The sex work in question here is that Dr. Stewart has some pretty good reasons to worry that her professor husband may be cheating, and so she asks Chloe to test her husband’s fidelity in the most direct way possible.

As for the results, all you really need to know right now is that this is an erotic thriller, that it’s directed by the elliptical art-house master Atom Egoyan at his most Hitchcockian, and adapted with some definite cunning by writer Erin Cressida Wilson from a relatively banal French import (2003′s “Nathalie”). Interestingly, “Chloe” is also produced by Ivan Reitman. Reitman is, of course, the famed director and producer far better known for broad comedies like “Meatballs” and “Ghostbusters” than for stylish melodramas. These days, he’s perhaps even better known as the father of “Up in the Air” co-writer and director Jason Reitman.

Sadly, “Chloe” will likely also be remembered as the movie that was interrupted when leading man Liam Neeson got the horrific news that his wife, Natasha Richardson, had died as the result of what appeared to be a minor skiing accident. Even a year later, it’s obviously a sensitive topic that was not broached at the first of two press days I attended at the L.A. Four Seasons to promote the film with Amanda Seyfried, a burgeoning film star after the success of such films as “Dear John” and “Momma Mia!,” and Erin Cressida Wilson, who is probably best known for her screenplay for the kinky romantic comedy-drama, “Secretary” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.

Things got off to what I suppose is an appropriate start given the kind of movie “Chloe” is. Asked about a word tattooed on her ankle, Seyfried volunteered it was crude British slang word for “vagina” — it’s apparently a kind of joking term of endearment used by her and friends. And then there was the European journalist who was clearly tasked with getting material as gossip-rich as he could manage. As the inevitably top-of-mind topic of the film’s somewhat explicit nude sex scenes came up, as well as the inherent difficulty of doing those scenes, his felt the need to ask which of the cast members was the best kisser. Seyfried, somewhat outspoken and girlish, but also clearly a pro at 24 years of age, sidestepped the icky question. Fortunately, someone came up a query that was more germane if no less sensational: Did she meet with any real-life prostitutes to research the role?

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“No. Atom actually met with some working ladies in New York and I believe in Toronto as well…It was interesting what he had to say and how he approached it. He was very open about the information that he needed and they were very willing to share. And that’s the same with Chloe; she’s very willing to share that part of her life because she feels like it and in a way it’s being justified by [the fact that] someone’s asking you about your job.”

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

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Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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Yet another Friday night movie news dump

Really not that much to say, except…

* Summit has acquired the North American rights to distribute “The Ghost Writer,” a political thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. And why is this the top item? The director is Roman Polanski. Wait for this film to benefit from a lot of free publicity generated by people who think it’s wrong to see any movie in which someone involved with it once did a very bad thing. If you follow that rule, you’ll miss a lot of movies.

* Not too surprisingly, that report I mentioned on Wednesday that James Cameron‘s next movie is going to be an outer space redo or homage or what have you of The Seven Samurai was all wet. Instead, quoth the Playlist, he’s producing, but not directing, a remake of the not-so-great (at least as far as I can remember it) sixties sci-fi hit, “Fantastic Voyage.” It could work and will probably be at least a little bit fun in 3-D.

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* Speaking of Cameron, it’s a bit weighted towards the geek press at this moment, but reviews have been leaking all over the place for “Avatar” and, guess what, the critics seem to think there’s something to the hype. At the very least the film is guaranteed to get a bunch of technical nominations and probably win them. Throw some Oscars into the marketing mix of James Cameron’s latest, and a genuinely gigantic hit with massive legs could brewing.

How long before the inevitable backlash? Well, Michael Phillips‘ review encompasses both frontlash and backlash. Putting on her critic hat, Anne Thompson writes a prose poem. She says all us cinephiles are going to have to see it multiple times. Well, I’m sure some of us will disagree there. Contrarians, skeptics, and extra-tough critics, start your engines.

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