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Box Office Preview: Here come the ‘Men in Black,’ also ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and another crap Hollywood horror flick


Men in Black III

The Men in Black are back, with time travel! Let me start off by saying I fucking hate sequels. And threequels? Fuggedaboutit. Speed round: name ten threequels that didn’t suck, no cheating. I’ll try, there’s “Return of the Jedi, “The Return of the King,” “Toy Story 3,” uh, uh, Jackie Chan!

So what is “Men in Black III” about? Time travel, duh, I already told you that. But seriously, the beginning of the movie has Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones still running around doing their alien-fighting thing. But suddenly, history has been rewritten and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is somehow at the center of it, or at least that’s what the trailer told me. With K’s life and the fate of planet at stake, Agent J (Will Smith) “will have to travel back in time to put things right.” Along the way, he’ll discover “there are secrets to the universe that K never told him—secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.” Also, Andy Warhol is an Agent.

Could “Men in Black III” be the rare exception that makes the rule? Or will the filmmakers wish they could go back in time and put a fat red light on this thing? The film is at a 68 percent on the Tomatometer, but no consensus has been reached yet. So as with any series, if you’re a huge fan of the first two, sure, you’ll like it. For us average folks, meh, it’ll probably be alright. However, as A.O. Scott of The New York Times points out, people will have low expectations of the movie specifically because it’s a threequel. When the bar is low, it’s easy to jump over it.

Apart from the urgent necessity of reminding us that Will Smith is a movie star (and the usual need to wring a few more dollars out of a profitable franchise), “Men in Black 3” arrives in the multiplexes of the world with no particular agenda. Which may be part of the reason that it turns out to be so much fun. You don’t need to study up on the previous installments or master a body of bogus fanboy lore to enjoy this movie for the breezy pop throwaway it is. Your expectations may be pleasantly low, and you may therefore be pleasantly surprised when they are exceeded.


Moonrise Kingdom

Well, unfortunately for my sarcastic side (which is actually both of my sides), “Moonrise Kingdom” looks really good. It’s been certified fresh on the Tomatometer with a 98 percent rating. Also, Bill Murray is in it, nothing else need be said. Shit, Wes Anderson directed and Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis and Jason Schwartzman are in it too? I know, fuck me right?

So “Moonrise Kingdom” is the story of two twelve year-olds who fall in love and run away together on a New England island in 1965. Much to the dismay of the local police captain (Willis), and the boy’s scout troop leaders (Norton and Schwartzman), and only slightly to the dismay of the girl’s father (Murray).

Seriously, I’m not too good at this whole “wow this should be a really good movie” thing. Most of what Hollywood churns out is mindless trash. I hate it, but it makes my life easier. What else can I say? It’s a Wes Anderson film, perhaps his best one yet, and 47 of the 48 critics listed by Rotten Tomatoes loved it. See this movie.


Chernobyl Diaries

Speaking of mindless trash, “Chernobyl Diaries,” brought to you by Oren Peli, the director of “Paranormal Activity,” will also be released this week. I don’t really have much to say about it yet, Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t posted any reviews nor could I find one in any major publication. All I’ve got to work from is the trailer and the official synopsis, which states:

The film follows a group of six young vacationers who, looking to go off the beaten path, hire an “extreme” tour guide. Ignoring warnings, he takes them into the city of Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, but a deserted town since the disaster more than 25 years ago. After a brief exploration of the abandoned city, however, the group soon finds themselves stranded, only to discover that they are not alone…

“Extreme tourism,” ooooo… Scary… I’ll say what I do about most movies that look like crap, if you’re into the genre or the director’s earlier work, this film could be for you. Otherwise, stay away. When you’ve got “Men in Black III,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and “The Avengers” (for all four of you who haven’t seen it yet), there’s little to no reason to see a movie like this.

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Easter with Tevye

I grew up in the kind of Jewish home where Santa Claus came on December 25 and a certain pagan rodent arrived on a seemingly random Sunday in the Spring, often accompanied by matzoh brie for breakfast if it was Passover.  Over the years, my inevitably confused interest in my Hebraic roots increased, and I quickly understood that the three holiest texts in Jewish scripture were the Torah, the Talmud, and Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof.

With a book by Joseph Stein, music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and drawn from stories by pseudonymous Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, often called “the Jewish Mark Twain,” no Jewish wedding or bar/bat mitvah was complete without half the score. A particular must for even a lot of the non-Jewish weddings I’ve attended remains “Sunrise, Sunset.” The song, a succinct expression of the bittersweet feelings involved with watching beloved children turn into adults, remains the most effective technology for extracting tears from parents known prior to the release of “Toy Story 3.”

The tale of a goodnatured, deeply religious milkman trying to marry off his three daughters in the face of pogroms and the onslaught of history in early 20th century Tsarist Russia did roughly what “The Godfather” did for Italian-Americans (ethnic controversy notwithstanding) and “Roots” did for African-Americans, create a sense of history during a time when present day changes often seemed overwhelming. If you hadn’t seen “Fiddler,” as my mother’s friends inevitably called it, on the stage, you were suspect. If you missed the movie, you might as well get baptized.

All of which is just a longwinded way of saying that, when we the 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition of director Norman Jewison’s 1971 film of “Fiddler on the Roof,” genetics pretty much forced me to raise my hand for it, though it hasn’t been a favorite since the day I got my cinephile magic decoder ring. The slightly grainy and slightly gauzy film — director of photography Oswald Morris shot it entirely through a woman’s stocking and won one of the film’s three Oscars — looks as good as you can probably hope for on Blu-Ray, naturally, and John William’s solid but occasionally too-pretty adaptation of Jerry Bock’s score sounds nice, too, but the movie remains problematic for this viewer.

It’s not so different from a lot of other awkward stage-to-film musical translations of its time. Chiefly, Canadian director Jewison tries to adopt a realist approach to try to sell the highly theatrical material in the unforgiving medium of film, which might have been next to impossible regardless. Though Jewison retained much of the choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”), setting it in real or real-looking locations is a doomed strategy. The best strictly musical scenes, like the famous “bottle dance” wedding sequence and the rousing “L’Chaim,” were shot on a London soundstage.

A solid cast led by Israeli actor Topol as Tevye, the milkman, and featuring Yiddish theater legend Molly Picon and future “Starsky and Hutch” star Michael Glaser (he’d add “Paul” to his name later) among many others, helps. Chaim Topol, who played the part on stage in London and Tel Aviv, is a better choice than the brash and notoriously difficult to control original Broadway Tevye, Zero Mostel, would have been. Among other issues, Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” was not the first movie Jew to break the forth wall and address the camera directly. No one would accuse Topol of underacting, but if it had been Mostel talking and singing at us about the importance of “Tradition,” the audience would have been forced into a defensive crouch.

Of course, there’s much more to than issues like cinematic style and acting to the ongoing appeal of “Fiddler on the Roof.” It remains popular not only in the U.S. but is still performed even in Japan, where the story of the breakdown of ancient traditions has had an oddly logical resonance. No amount of quibbling is going to kill the film version of “Fiddler,” nor should it.

Oh, and happy Easter if that’s your thing. Have a chocolate bunny for me.

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Academy nominations stay truer to form even than usual

In a funny way, the most surprising thing about this year’s batch of Academy Award nominations was how strongly they stayed true to Oscar’s long-held habits — even a Film Drunk could see it this year. At least in terms of sheer numbers of nominations, the Academy was most generous to a historical/inspirational costume drama from England over a somewhat edgier and less traditionally fashioned tale ripped from today’s business headlines.

academy-awards

The King’s Speech” led the nominations with 12, followed by “True Grit” with 10, and just eight for “The Social Network” — still very much the front-runner in my opinion — and “Inception.” Though Anne Thompson sees the momentum shifting in a more royal direction, I think it’s a big mistake this time around to read too much into sheer quantity. For example, I would be surprised to see a huge number of non-”technical” awards for “True Grit” or “Inception.” (Roger Deakins’ “True Grit” cinematography and the amazing effects of Christopher Nolan’s team being very likely winners).

Considering where most of the awards have gone so far, the only thing really going for “The King’s Speech” and against the previously prohibitive favorite, “The Social Network,” is aforementioned traditional Oscar genre prejudices and the inevitable backlash most highly acclaimed and award winnings films get. However, outside of infantile attention-hog critic Armond White, I actually haven’t noticed a huge anti-”Network” backlash though there were some off-target feminist complaints. (A movie about an almost literal boys’ club is going to depict a boys’ club atmosphere.) In any case, the rather enormous and still ongoing on- and off-line backlashes against “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Titanic” clearly didn’t hurt those films’ Oscar prospects one bit.

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Directors Guild and Visual Effects Society Nominations

Historically, the Directors Guild nominations, and even the actual awards, have tended to correlate with the Oscars both for Best Picture and Best Director to some degree. Now that the Oscars have ten nominations, that might dilute things a bit. Even so, I think it’s fair to say that the this year’s five nominees have excellent shots at getting a Best Director nomination and are close to a lock for Best Picture nominations.

cecil_b_demille

The nominees are: Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech,” Christopher Nolan for “Inception,” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.” Among the directors excluded who made films a lot of people are pulling for are two women: Lisa Cholodenko of “The Kids Are All Right” and Debra Ganik of “Winter’s Bone.” As Anne Thompson points out, the Guild has been slightly more open to nominating women than the Academy in the past. On the other hand, after last year’s big win for Kathryn Bigelow, it’s possible some of the pressure is off, or not.

Though it’s not as earth shaking, we movie fans like our movie special effects and the Visual Effects Society has made their nominations. No big surprises here either as the nominees for the movie with best effects are “Inception,” “Iron Man 2 ,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” I think it’s fair to say that visually stunning “Inception” should have the lead here, but we’ll see. In animation the nominees are: “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Toy Story 3,” “Tangled,” “Shrek Forever After,” and “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

The complete lists of award nominations, including a huge list from the VSA, are after the jump.

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Writers and Producers announce award nominations

The Producers Guild and the Writers Guild, two-thirds of the three best known guilds in Hollywood, have announced their award nominations. If you’re in a hurry to see the actual contenders, they’re all after the flip below. The Directors Guild list will be along next week.

There aren’t any major shocks and mostly what they do is solidify the already leading contenders for the big Kahuna of awards with the bald head and the sword where his genitals should be (thank you, Dustin Hoffman!). If you’ve been following this at all, you can probably guess which films are getting the nods.

Still, there are some interesting differences in the Writer’s Guild awards, but it has to be said that’s likely because a few major contenders were ruled as ineligible under that organization’s rules — their awards are intended not to honor the best writing, per se, but the best writing done under WGA aegis. You could call that counterproductive, but just try an argue with a writer. I guess it’s not too surprising that a British film like “The King’s Speech” might not fit as I’m sure England has its own organizations for writers, but I have no clue why the 100% American originated “Toy Story 3” wouldn’t be written under the Writer’s Guild jurisdiction. (It’s not because it’s animated. Other movies excluded include the highly acclaimed indie, “Winter’s Bone,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”)

Toy Story 3

Meanwhile, on the producers’ side, there’s been the usual controversy about the eligibility not of films but of the people credited as producing them. Nikki Finke covers the fact that Relativity honcho Ryan Kavenaugh — quickly becoming perhaps the most written about exec in town — was ruled ineligable for “The Fighter” despite being very much involved in the production. The problem, of course, is that at least everyone knows what a writer does. “Producing” a movie can mean almost anything from putting up the cash, to owning the rights to a property, to having the correct spouse.

The film nominations are after the flip. For the voluminous TV nominations for each group, just click on the links for the complete list.

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