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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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This Weekend at the Movies: Transform Your 4th of July, Hanks Style

There are big weekends, and then there are MASSIVE weekends. The release of a new Michael Bay movie, the third film in the TRANSFORMERS franchise at that, makes this a gigantic weekend. But if robots aren’t up your alley, maybe Tom Hanks is. If not them, perhaps Selena Gomez. If none of those, screw you!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

When director Michael Bay was out stumping for the first Transformers film, he said that he’d love to make a small, character-driven film, just for a change of pace, but that he can’t help but make these huge gigantic movies because he’s afraid they’ll just stop making them. And while that seems absolutely insane with summer blockbusters trying to outdo each other year after year, there doesn’t seem to be any bigger movie this summer than Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Sporting a relatively modest Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% (the first scored 57, the second a mere 20), reviews tend to be on the side of “it’s fun, sure, but c’mon, robots?” Though even the negative reviews mostly note that the climax – a nearly hour-long rampage through downtown Chicago - is staggering to behold. And in 3D. In a relatively modest summer at the box office, with few breakaway hits, this could be one of the few huge ones.

Larry Crowne

I was always disappointed that Tom Hanks didn’t direct another movie after That Thing You Do, one of the most assured directorial debuts and a very fine music film that also, miraculously, gave us one of the greatest pop songs of all time. And while Larry Crowne is kind of taking a beating in the press, scoring lower than Dark of the Moon on Rotten Tomatoes, I know I’m not the only one perfectly happy to head out for a new Tom Hanks movie. This one concerns a middle-aged man (Hanks) who, after getting fired from his job for having never gone to college (which seems like a bad reason to fire somebody, but I guess we’ll see), sets out to do just that. And maybe kiss Julia Roberts in the process. MAYBE.

Monte Carlo

In a plot that could ALMOST be a screwball comedy, Selena Gomez is mistaken for an heiress and taken on a whirlwind tour of, you guessed it, Monte Carlo. The difference is that Selena Gomez plays two roles. And that the movie also provides a launching pad for a new hit single. Claudette Colbert would have none of that. NONE OF THAT.

Stay tuned next week for an ensemble comedy with a great cast, and a family “comedy” with Kevin James.

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Pocket monsters to be pitied, pocket monsters to be despised!

Forgive my Edward D. Wood, Jr. paraphrasing above but, while I’ve had about zero interest in the whole “Transformers” thing, I’d pay money to see a feature version of “dark and gritty” Pokemon fan film below.

H/t to JoBlo.com, though I’m not sure everyone there, both commenters and blogger Paul Tassi, is really in on the joke. I was laughing through all of this. I think I was supposed to. Also, considering this was obviously made on a shoestring, I was personally impressed by the often very funny effects, too.

And one final thought, I admit I’ve never actually watched more than a couple of minutes of “Pokemon” at a time, but how is Ash really any different from Michael Vick?

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Stop me before I summarize the movie news again

It’s like a disease, I tell ya’…

* THR’s Borys Kit has the shortlist of actors being considered for the new Marc Webb “Spiderman” and, not surprisingly given Webb’s good taste in actors, they’re a pretty strong bunch, with the biggest name being the one-time “Billy Elliot” and the Tintin to be, Jamie Bell.

Megan Fox* Much as I am not a fan (I’m not sure who is, exactly), it was once tempting to think that maybe Michael Bay was perhaps showing good judgment by letting Megan Fox go from the next “Transformers” flick. If Jeff Schneider at the Wrap has his facts right, however, it might just be another reason to think even less of him and also, maybe, to worry about her. And is it really possible that the earlier reports were part of a bluff, which Fox has now called? Oy. H/t The Playlist.

* More from Borys Kit. I’ve written about Carl Erik Rinsch a couple of times here. He’s a very interesting commercial director who’s a protegee of Ridley Scott and who has an arresting visual style of his own. Now, it appears possible that his first feature film could be that new version of “Logan’s Run,” which maybe someone other than me remembers was actually based on a book — way better than the lame seventies movie, if my teenage opinions can be trusted — written in 1967 by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Rinsch definitely has a feel for science-fiction, I think.

* The Frairs Club’s next roastee will be one Quentin Tarantino. Expect cursing, but perhaps better written than usual. Lots of geek and pot-smoking jokes too, no doubt.

* If  you’re a killer, but forget you’re a killer, are you still a killer? And if you remember, can you start over and drop your bad habit? Those are the questions that appear to be the topic of “Jack,” which John Cusack has just signed on to. No word on who’ll be playing his no doubt brilliant and beautiful, yet vulnerable, doctor.

* Steve Carrell playing the big-in-the-Philippines songwriter of “We Built This City”? Works for me.

* Speaking of signing on, the new editorial director of THR aka The Hollywood Reporter is the former editor-in-chief of Us Weekly. Anne Thompson wonders just how complete a shift to celebrity journalism this might mean for the venerable trade pub, which may not really be a trade for very much longer if her pessimistic/realistic guess is right.

* Ever wondered why the residents of Skull Island bothered to put a Kong-sized door in that giant wall meant to keep the big ape out? Greg Ferrera has a theory.

* I didn’t even know this was happening, but the John Williams Blogathon is under-way at Edward Copeland’s place, celebrating easily the most famous film composer of our era. Yes, his work on “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” etc. is pretty great, but there’s he’s got more musical quivers in his bow than you might think.

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Raimi & Spidey part company; Hanks to direct again with Roberts in tow; history repeats on “Thor”; an auteur departs; ASC, WGA, and ACE noms; Nikki Finke makes a friend

Spiderman

My highly esteemed colleague Will Harris has been right on top of  the huge small screen stories that seem to be breaking right and left at the TCA conference this week. Still, it’s not like there hasn’t been any news in movieland. It’s almost hard to know where to start.

* The Hollywood Reporter as well as Nikki Finke and new stablemate Mike Fleming (more on that below) are carrying the news that, in the wake of ongoing script problems, the kibosh has been put on Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman IV” with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and a 2012 reboot, written by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac“) announced. The new film will feature a once-again teenage Peter Parker, so Taylor Lautner is no doubt already in touch with his agent.

THR says the script problems had something to do with a disagreement over supervillains between Raimi and Sony and/or Marvel Studios. Finke also notes that the fourth installment would probably not have been in 3-D and it seems reasonable that that might have been a factor, given the current mania for the process.

* In another apparent scoop for new Deadline team member Mike Fleming, Tom Hanks is returning as a writer-director for the second time since making his 1996 charmer, “That Thing You Do!” A comedy, “Larry Crowne” will reteam him with his “Charlie Wilson’s War” co-star, Julia Roberts. Like “Up in the Air,” according to Fleming it’s somewhat topical in that’s it’s about a middle-aged guy forced to reinvent his career at a time when past generations where just starting to settle down.

tom-hanks-and-julia-rober-002

While he’s at it, Fleming also has the word on Shia LaBeouf not going agentless after all and signing with CAA. Agents around the world can all breathe easier now.

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The Scream Awards go down the rabbit hole (updated)

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There was a time in this world when young people were frequently slightly ashamed of being bigger than average fans of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and especially comic books. I, personally, wasn’t embarrassed …and I paid a price. Those days may be over. In any case, the capacity crowd that showed up for Spike TV’s Scream awards, largely in costume and largely dramatically over- or under-dressed for a nighttime outdoor show after a very warm day, seemed more like club kids and less like the kind of uber geeks who become entertainment bloggers and film critics and stuff like that.

The Scream Awards are, in their fun/silly way, a big deal. Big enough to attract a good number of stars and even a few superstars like Tobey Maguire, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and his living legend “Pirates of the Caribbean” muse, Rolling Stone Keith Richard.

I, however, am not such a big deal and was reminded of that fact when, prior to the show I found myself with the less fashionable members of the not-quite paparazzi on the “red carpet” (actually a checkered walkway) with my little digital camera and even smaller digital recorder device, wondering whether I’d really get a chance to ask a question of one of the super-famed folks, knowing that the only question I could think of at the time would be something in the nature of “What’s it like be the most notorious rock and roll star in the world, having your blood changed, and snorting your late father’s ashes?” That probably would have been inappropriate, especially if I asked it of Jessica Alba.

What actually seems to happen at events like this is that, if you’re a small-timer especially, most of the big stars either go through another entrance or walk right by you at warp speed. Meanwhile, folks who are a bit more anxious to meet the press find their way to you with the help of PR types. As an example, for about half a second, I was almost able to talk with actor Karl Urban, who did such a great job homaging DeForest Kelly while putting his own hilarious stamp on “Bones” McCoy in “Star Trek.” However, within a nanosecond he remembered he was in a big hurry and politely scurried off.

After a few odd reality show people I didn’t recognize, and the pretty young actress who assays the part of “Female Addict” in “Saw VI,” our first actual notable was statuesque model turned actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is, make no mistake, a true superstar to TV sci-fi fans and is best known as Number Six, aka “the hot blonde cylon” on “Battlestar Galactica.” The actress appeared with her significant other, the owner of a British accent and a Giaus Baltar-style beard, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. I had a not terribly consequential discussion with her — lost because I apparently forgot to press the “on” button on my digital recorder. One would expect no less an effect from Number Six. UPDATE: Yeesh! As pointed out by my PH compatriot John Paulsen, the actress was actually Kate Vernon, who played the lady-MacBeth-like Ellen Tigh. It is true, all statueseque blonde women in shiny dresses look alike to me! My apologies to all concerned or unconcerned.

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Does Megan Fox have what it takes to go from starlet to star?

I watched “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” this weekend, and one thing really struck me as I took in the initial (and totally gratuitous) shot of Megan Fox in cutoff jean shorts half-straddling a motorcycle: Wow, she’s hot. Throughout the course of the next 150 minutes – really, did a “Transformers” sequel need to be that long? – I found myself observing Ms. Fox’s work wondering if she had what it takes to transform – pun intended – from starlet to star.

By most standards, she’s already a movie star. She has played a lead in two “Transformers” installments, had a supporting role (as a vacant actress, no less) in the Simon Peg comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” and she recently starred as the title character in the horror flick “Jennifer’s Body.” Moreover, she seems to have a stranglehold on the current #1 ranking as the Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. But does this really make her a star?

Not in my book. There was no point in the latest “Transformers” installment where Fox couldn’t have been replaced by Elisha Cuthbert, Jessica Biel or some other former (or future) #1 Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. When I started to type this up, I actually blanked on her name, and had to look it up on IMDB.com. (Ah, yes, Megan Fox.) If nothing else, that makes her a starlet.

Every year or two, there’s a new crop of young’ns vying for the title of “it” girl, and Fox owns it, for now. But it’s a dicey transition from being a hot young thing to developing a long-lasting, viable career in the movie business.

So, does she have what it takes to become a star?

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Extremely late Friday night news dump

Hey folks, day time tasks have slowed me down, but who was it who said “the night was made for movie blogging”? Okay, no one said that, but we all know it’s true! Anyhow, here are some items from throughout the week I haven’t had a chance to touch on…

* This interview with director Mary Harron has been linked to by several different bloggers throughout the week. If memory serves, it may not actually be new news that Christian Bale partially based his genius-level breakthrough performance in 2000′s “American Psycho” on Tom Cruise, but it’s perhaps more intriguing now that we think we more about both actors’ quirks.

Christian Bale in "American Psycho"

* It might be inside critic/film blogger baseball to you but it’s big — and somewhat distressing — news to me. The thought provoking and just plain cool Karina Longworth, who has helped me out via the miracle of linking many times at her Spout blog home, will be leaving the site at the end of the month, which will also no longer be providing new content including the work of Christopher Campbell (I frequently link to his “The Day in Film Bloggery” posts.).

Somewhat oddly, her soon to be ex-boss attributed her departure not to fiscal issues but to a difference over “vision” for the blog. So, his “vision” was not to have one at all? Anyhow, the consensus is that the hardworking Longworth will be going places regardless.

* I strongly disliked the pilot for “Fringe” (and said so right here) and, unlike David Medsker, I outright hated “Transformers.” (I didn’t even make it through the whole movie…oh, the pleasures of not reviewing.) Then screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman surprised the heck out of me by crafting a perfectly terrific script for “Star Trek,” marred only a little by director J.J. Abram’s hyperactive visual proclivities. (What’s wrong with using a tripod sometimes? Still, he got terrific performances and told a dandy tale, so I’m not complaining too much.) Anyhow, the  writers’ thoughts on the sequel are worth a look.

* Jackie Chan and Andy Lau are remaking Jet Li‘s 1981 breakthrough film, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard of before (at least not that I can remember), “Shaolin Temple.” I guess I should try to see it. Considering that Li was barely 19 back then and that Chan is now 55 (Lau’s in his forties), I trust he’s not playing the same character…or it’s been seriously rewritten.

* Disney is reportedly working on a “digital cloud,” in which content will be purchased and viewable in multiple formats. I generally get the consumer appeal of this, but I still fail to see why anyone would want to watch a movie on a cell phone. In fact, I think even the larger online version of this is way too small for this kind of beauty. (There’s a very brief Spanish language intro, by far the best version of this Disney classic I found on YouTube — the segment starts at 0:23.)

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Crime and punishment, Hollywood style

I’m going to defer this weekend’s box office preview for the morning because we have several fairly major breaking developments that probably shouldn’t wait. Guess who figures in the first item…

* In the case that director Marina Zenovich built in “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” — that the world-class director was both a criminal perpetrator and victim of legal malfeasance — one damning element was an interview with a former D.A. who was not supposed to have been involved in the case. As recounted by the L.A. Times’s Jack Leonard, David Wells said that he suggested to Judge Lawrence Rittenband that he could effectively sentence Polanski to jail time by ordering the accused director to undergo “diagnostic testing” in Chino State Prison, overruling the determination of a probation officer.

As described in the documentary this is, to say the least, outside the bounds of what is permitted in a situation like this. (In the context of the film it comes off as almost a petty vendetta.) Now, Wells claims that he lied. I’m not sure how to take that except that it’s never a good situation to be in when something you said may get you into trouble, and you suddenly claim that you were lying. At that point, you’re an admitted liar, the only question remaining is a matter of timing.

Roman Polanski, Douglas Dalton...and Neil Diamond?

At the same time, my own position on this case could be changing to the point where I may disagree with some of what I wrote in my review of the Zenovich film. I commend you to two extremely thoughtful posts on the matter: one by Anne Thompson (who also gets a huge h/t for this item) and the other by Karina Longworth. Karina’s take on the film was quite different from mine, but all of her points are at least valid and some may well be a lot more than that.

* A horrifying story I’d forgot all about reemerged today, as if to coincide with the Polanski matter. Roger Avary, who shared story credit and an Oscar with Quentin Tarantino on “Pulp Fiction,” co-wrote the screenplay for “Beowulf, and wrote and directed 1993′s “Killing Zoe” and the 2002 Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, “The Rules of Attraction” and also used to have a pretty lively blog, has been sentenced to a year in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.

Although Avary previously argued he was not drunk at the time of the accident which killed one friend and severely injured another, his blood alcohol level was reportedly above the legal limit. (No stories I can find say by how much, though legally and morally, I’m not sure if it matters.) He was also reportedly driving over 100 miles per hour. I wouldn’t want to live with what he must have on his conscience. Use a designated driver, wait several hours, if need be, until you are completely sober, take a cab, drink at home, or don’t drink at all.

* On a vastly lighter note, Nikki Finke broke the news today that cinephile-bane Michael Bay will be back at the helm for “Transformers III” with a presumably chastened Megan Fox. In this case, the crime will be on the screen and the punishment will be endured by critics.

* Also another “toldja!” from the mighty Finke: Leo the MGM lion may be a shadow of his former, but he will live to roar another day.

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“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and stuff

I don’t care about the upcoming “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which comes out one week from today. I’m a bit too old to have watched the original cartoons as a kid or played with the toys. I literally walked out of the 2007 movie, which I had used a hard earned frequent movie-watcher free ticket too see.

Nevertheless, I know a lot of you liked “Transformers” and are looking forward to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” So, instead of raining on your parade, I’ll keep my personal critic hat mostly off and simply report that some of the early reviews are out already. Variety’s Jordan Mintzer has a fairly positive review up and, the word is, if you dug the first one, you’ll probably dig this one. THR’s Ray Bennett says somewhat the same thing, but on the negative side (and sounds a lot like what I said after I saw the first one). IGN UK’s Orlando Parfitt confesses to Michael Bay love, but thinks it may all just be a bit too much of a good thing. And so it goes at Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, in the spirit of yesterday’s post on celebrity oddness, via Anne Thompson comes that Parade interview with “Transformers” star Shia LaBeouf you might have seen excerpted. Assuming he actually said everything he’s supposed to have said, this wasn’t a profile but a cry for help, which begs the question: If Steven Spielberg and company can’t find the right shrinks/clinics to get a talented young actor’s head on straight, who can? I suppose it’s like the old joke asking about how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. (Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change.)

It’s a little weird considering he’s pretty much the hottest young actor in Hollywood, etc., but I actually feel sorry for the kid. That is not like me.

But forget all that, here’s a “Transformers” trailer. Stuff blows up good — but for some reason, not the Eiffel Tower.

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