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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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Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis are officially returning to Middle Earth, and all I’ve got is this old thing…

To mark the news that both of these extremely fine actors would be reprising their roles as the wizard Gandalf and power-ring addict Gollum in the upcoming two-part epic version/expansion of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” I wanted to find some real cool video.

Maybe a great scene featuring both Gandalf and Gollum from the LOTR films. Except, I don’t remember any scenes like that. Do you? Anyhow, I couldn’t find anything online. Nor did I find anything with Sir Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis hanging out and exchanging funny banter or something. Nada.

So, instead I present this with great apologies to Leonard Nimoy and all of those who appreciate good music and fine production values. Spoiler alert!

Actually, I find “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” kind of catchy, even if the person who posted this video forgot to check how to spell Nimoy’s name.

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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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Ballad of a Thin Elf

In honor of her not unexpected casting in “The Hobbit” as Galadriel — along with a number of less well known performers — below is a moment of Cate Blanchett.

Since I’ve been in a Bobish mood today, I’m featuring her BAFTA-winning, Oscar-nominated turn as a sort of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ collage-like “I’m Not There.” Below, she performs my favorite Bob Dylan tune as Bruce Greenwood realizes that something is happening here, but he doesn’t know what it is.

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More midweek movie news — it bleeds so, alas, it leads

* It’s probably just the aftermath of a quiet holiday week or two, but there’s been an awful lot of movie news I haven’t mentioned this week. Tonight, however, all of the usual casting tidbits and what not are being overshadowed by an extremely dramatic new development in the murder or Ronnie Chasen. Chasen, you’ll recall, was the highly respected and well-liked industry publicist who was shot five times in her car with hollow point bullets in a murder that seemed senseless, yet not random. Tonight, the big news if you turn on any local news station out here is that police went to serve a search warrant, one of a few, on a “person of interest” in the case but before they could talk to the man, he committed suicide with a handgun. Not surprisingly, Nikki Finke has the latest on what has to be the strangest and saddest Hollywood story of the year.

* Speaking of Finke, she claimed another “toldja” tonight. Channing Tatum will be Jonah Hill‘s costar in the upcoming comedy rendering of “21 Jump Street” written by Hill and Michael Bacall.

* A ballet comedy with Chloe Moretz, Kristen Bell and Jackie Earle Haley? Works for me. Moretz makes a lot of sense here. As we discussed when I interviewed her last summer, she has a background in ballet. She was also fairly gaga over the portions of “The Black Swan” she’d been able to see.

* A sweet tribute to the late Leslie Nielsen by David Zucker.

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* Anne Thompson has a rundown of the selections for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is just about six or seven weeks away already, if you can believe it.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she posted an early review of the Coen Brothers new version of “True Grit” tonight. She was very positive about the movie herself but seemed to feel  that younger viewers don’t “get” westerns because they happened a long time ago. (Does that mean they dislike all films taking place more than a hundred years in the past? I find that a sad thought.) She also said the response at the screening she went to was “mixed.”

Well, at least so far it’s not so mixed with the geek elements of the film blogosphere because Drew McWeeney, Harry Knowles (who, yes, tends to be excitably positive), and Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend posted flat-out raves. This fan of Westerns, who recently read the Charles Portis novel and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the 1969 version really soon, is excited. Only blogo-blowhard Jeffrey Welles has labeled it a “misfire” in what I’ve read so far, and I can’t help but consider the source. At least he didn’t spend the review calling Jeff Bridges fat or something. It seems like every time I read Welles, he’s criticizing someone for being overweight.

* Left over from last night. Christopher Nolan makes sense and tells us to embrace the ambiguity. Actually, the deliberate little bit of doubt at the ending was one of the few things I liked unreservedly about “Inception” which, overall, was a big, cold, glittering disappointment for me.

* Michael Douglas is apparently doing well in the health department and, from a totally selfish point of view, the best part is that it really does look like the Soderbergh Liberace movie is going forward.

* Whedonesque reveals a non-story as Entertainment Weekly manufactures a dubious scoop on the Joss Whedon-less “Buffy” movie.

* I’m sure Peter Jackson knows exactly what he’s doing, but it blows me away that a big scale fantasy epic like “The Hobbit” is going to be shot with RED Epic digital cameras. I know I have huge retro tendencies, but somehow, I’d feel better if he were using those massive old 3-strip Technicolor cameras.

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Midweek movie news

Big movies are in the news today.

* James Cameron apparently won’t be directing the latest iteration of legend of Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Instead, he’ll spend the next few years doing the inevitable: “Avatar 2″ and “Avatar 3.” Apparently, the commitment now is partially in return for Fox making a large donation to green causes Cameron supports.

* Christopher Nolan gave Geoff Boucher the title of the next Batman installment “The Dark Knight Rises” — not very inspiring. Having previously eliminated Mr. Freeze as the film’s big bad, he also eliminated the Riddler. That leaves Catwoman, the Penguin, and…Man-Bat?

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Rallying in NZ for “The Hobbit”

A lot of fascinating things have happened in the history of movie making, but offhand I can’t think of an example of nationwide protests to keep a film in a particular country, but that’s exactly what happened today  in New Zealand, where it’s actually already tomorrow. The issue, of course, are the continuing threats amid the probably inevitable hardball negotiations to move production away from the small island nation in the wake of battles with local actors unions. Here’s what’s happening as the biggest protest is led by Richard Taylor of the famed WETA workshop which did such a great job on the effects in the “Lord of the Rings” films.

It’s important to remember, I think, that as successful as he is, Richard Taylor is very much an independent entrepreneur who has to keep a steady flow of work going for WETA. I spoke to him briefly at Comic-Con as he was helping to promote what appears to be a very unpromising and very low budget effects driven production. Thinking of him as someone who has collaborated closely with a guy like Peter Jackson, I was perplexed until I realized that, for a guy like him with a payroll, it’s always about the next job. Money is money and he can’t be too proud about the projects he takes on, as long as he delivers the best he can for the money. In the case of this particular next job, an entire country, small though it is, is seriously impacted.

For a bit more background, I have a great piece of video — including a very blunt interview with Peter Jackson (that’s Sir Jackson, to you) from last week.

H/t the fabulous El Guapo.

And one final note: Notice how New Zealand Finance Minister Gerry Brownlee assures anchor Mark Sainsbury that there was no negotiations going on between his government and Warner Brothers for improved tax incentives. If you read the THR story from today I linked to above, you’ll note that whether or not such negotiations are going on, people seem to assume they might be.

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Movie news and commentary…lots of it: “The Hobbit” is cast but <sigh> Mel Gibson exists and must be dealt with, somehow (updated)

Tonight’s box office preview has been moved to tomorrow because of a couple of a films news items that just can’t quite wait. The first can be dispensed with in a second. Casting has been announced on “The Hobbit,” short, snub-nosed and talented Martin Freeman will face his inevitable hobbity destiny as Bilbo Baggins, as Peter Jackson again casts a bunch of people I’ve mostly never heard of in smaller roles who’ll probably all be great.

And then there’s this news of Mel Gibson being let go from “The Hangover 2 just a day after it was announced he’d been hired to play a supporting role. Oy.

US-CINEMA-EDGE OF DARKNESS

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A roundtable chat with director Stephen Frears of “Tamara Drewe”

Stephen Frears on location for Anyone who thinks that the only interesting directors are the ones with obvious personal styles needs to take a long, hard long at the filmography of Stephen Frears. Something of a contemporary, English throwback to such versatile craftsmen of pre-auteur theory Hollywood as William Wyler, George Stevens, Robert Wise, and Michael Curtiz, the Cambridge-educated Frears began his career neck deep in the English New Wave cinema of the 1960s as an assistant director on Karel Riesz’s “Morgan!,” and Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 surreal youth revolt drama, “If…” Later moving on to directing for the BBC, his second theatrical feature, 1984′s “The Hit,” was mostly ignored despite an all-star cast, but did gain a cult following of which I am a proud member. Frears’ follow up collaboration with writer Hanif Kureishi, a then-bold cross-racial same-sex romance, “My Beautiful Laundrette,” co-starred a young Daniel Day Lewis and got more immediate results. It was a hit in arthouses on both sides of the Atlantic and helped make Lewis a star; it also paved the way for Frears’ smashing mainstream Hollywood debut, 1988′s Oscar-winning “Dangerous Liaisons.”

Since then, Frears has enjoyed success both here in the U.S. and at home in England with numerous BAFTAs and films as diverse as “High Fidelity” and “The Grifters” — for which he was nominated for an Oscar — as well as the ultra-English “The Queen” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” He’s dealt with modern-day cowboys (1998′s “The Hi-Lo Country”), English fascism (2000′s “Liam”), the monarchy (2006′s “The Queen”), and the illegal trade of human organs (2002′s “Dirty Pretty Things”). When George Clooney decided he wanted to try a live television remake of “Fail Safe” back in 2000, Frears handled the chore to no shortage of acclaim.

Frear’s latest, “Tamara Drewe,” has fared reasonably well with critics on the whole, though not so much with this particular longtime admirer. An adaptation of a graphic novel originally serialized in England’s The Guardian by cartoonist and children’s book author Posy Simmonds, the tale is a comic, modern-day homage to Thomas Hardy’s tragic 1874 novel, Far From the Madding Crowd starring Gemma Arterton as a formerly large nosed “ugly duckling” whose swannish post-operative return to her family’s estate sparks chaos at a writer’s retreat in ultra-picturesque rural England.

Apparently taking the casualness of California fully to heart, the 69-year-old Frears, who bears some resemblance to the late Rodney Dangerfield, arrived unshaven and in a t-shirt that had seen better days. If the “just rolled out of bed” look was disconcerting, however, we needn’t have worried. Frears was in good spirits and clearly enjoys sharing his views with the press.

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It’s the end of week movie news dump — now, with fewer items!

There really hasn’t been all that much interesting movie news this week, but things have definitely heated up just in the last few hours. Specifically…

* Via Quint at AICN, “The Hobbit” two-movie package has been officially greenlit, with Peter Jackson directing. It’s a good thing because I was really getting tired of those “it’s just about greenlit” “it’s almost greenlit” “no, it’s actually not quite greenlit because of MGM being on the block, nothing to see here” rinse-and-repeat stories. I don’t even care if Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming want to claim a “toldja” on this or how many casting rumors they’re repeating, just make the damn movies already.

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Oh, but first, they’ve got to solve the previously reported issues with SAG and AFTRA. As a good liberal I’m very pro-union and I think that anyone who thinks we’d be better off without unions should be immediately transported to a smokey factory in 19th century London and asked to work a 72 hour week without overtime pay. However, like all the other geeks, I nevertheless think SAG and AFTRA are probably overreaching here and are singling out the movie because of its high profile.

* A related story is also a classic example of an unpleasant news item arriving late on a Friday night in an attempt to bury it. The highly regarded executive Mary Parent — beloved of Joss Whedon fans for giving both the “Buffy” TV and the “Serenity” movie gigs — is officially out at MGM.

* The king of the world is supposedly flirting with making a movie about the queen of the world — not Oprah, but Cleopatra. Angelina Jolie is already set to star in a project that’s already sounding to me as bloated as the wildly over budget 1963 production, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, that nearly bankrupted Fox — despite being the year’s most successful movie (despite being a movie that almost no one likes today).

* It always tempting to make jokes about the porn industry, but HIV is no joke and there’s been an outbreak of it, so far limited to one on-screen sex worker. Is the site of a condom really that much of a boner buzz-kill?

* David Chase is reuniting with musical genius Steven Van Zandt, who played helmet-haired Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” as his music supervisor and is taking on a cast of more-or-less unknowns on his planned feature musical drama. This one I’m looking forward to. Before getting his start writing some of the best episodes ever of “The Rockford Files,” Chase was and presumably still is influenced largely by European art films.

BTW, if you’ve never heard Van Zandt’s great radio show and you like rock and roll, you’re missing something. Also, Mr. Van Zandt should be remembered as a human rights hero for his involvement with this great piece of pop music protest.

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