1. Hotel Transylvania (Sony/Columbia, 3,349 Theaters, 91 Minutes, Rated PG): See, I’m conflicted about this one. I have a natural aversion to any film that features both Adam Sandler and David Spade in it, even if they are only providing voices. However, Genndy Tartakovskyhas done Samurai Jack and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV cartoons, some quality stuff.
When it’s this much of a toss up,I go to the plot: Dracula’s idyllic life running a resort for monsters looking for a break from humanity comes to an end when his hotel is discovered by a human boy. No, it’s not that the secret is out, it’s because the boy develops feelings for Drac’s teenage daughter.
It is a unique twist on a rather common premise. But it’s also Sandler and Spade. If only there was a good time travel movie coming out this week instead.
2. Looper (TriStar, 2,992 Theaters, 118 Minutes, Rated R): What I love about this movie is that writer/director Rian Johnson came up with this film with the idea to cast his friend Joseph Gordon-Levitt. By some casting miracle, Bruce Willis decided to join the film as the future version of Gordon-Levitt’s character. One problem: They don’t look anything alike. So, even though he was with the project from the very beginning, Gordon-Levitt is the one going through hours of make-up to look like Willis and not the other way around, because, well, I guess Willis doesn’t wear make-up.
Of course, as good as the make-up is, it has the unfortunate disadvantage of having ample examples of how a younger Bruce Willis look easily available on Netflix. But Gordon-Levitt’s acting as a pseudo-Willis is spot on.
But what about the film? Oh, it is a futuristic thriller where Gordon-Levitt is a hitman for the mob. Only with a twist–the mob sends their victims back in time so there isn’t a dead body in their present day. Things go swimmingly until the assassin looks an older version of himself in the eye as his next victim.
3. Won’t Back Down (Fox, 2,515 Theaters, 121 Minutes, Rated PG): Let’s do the rundown, shall we? Hot button topic that is in the news today? Check. Two women fighting against all odds against an unmovable system? Check. Cast loaded with Oscar nominees and/or winners? Check. Based on a true story? Well, it says it was based on actual events, so, close enough. Check.
What we have here is an Oscar-bait movie that is also trying to be a financially successful film as well. Typically, films like these succeed in neither goal.
The film centers on a young mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who teams up with an educator (Viola Davis) to try to make their inner city school better.
Jamie Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal are in negotiations to join the terrorists-take-over-the-White House action flick White House Down. Foxx is up for the role of James Sawyer, the Obama-esque President of the United States, the target of the terrorists attack. Gyllenhall will be playing Agent Carol Finnerty, the head of the President’s Secret Service detail.
Currently, Channing Tatum is set to play John Cale, the Secret Service agent in the White House when it comes under attack.
Both Foxx and Gyllenhaal are both solid actors, certainly higher on the scale than I would put lead Tatum. And having read James Vanderbilt’s initial screenplay draft for this project, they are really good choices. Now let’s see who director Roland Emmerich is going to cast for some of the supporting characters and villains.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, the Bat-franchise goes back to the beginning with Batman Begins and to the Academy Awards with The Dark Knight.
After the debacle that was Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was looking to start over at square one. Joel Schumacher thought that was an excellent idea, and said as much in a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly:
It’s unlikely the studio will stick with the shticky tone of Batman & Robin. But if it does, count Schumacher out. ”The only way I would do another Batfilm is if we went back to the basics,” says Schumacher. His ideal Batman movie would be based on Miller’s Batman: Year One, a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, a no-frills account of Batman’s first year of crime fighting. ”It would be nice to take the bigger-is-better concept out of it,” he says, ”and just go pure.”
Schumacher had originally wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s legendary origin redo when he signed on for Batman Forever, but Warners’ executives, wanting a more kid accessible piece, ignored his wishes. They would ignore his wishes again. But this time, it would be with him doing a reboot based on Batman: Year One. The studio thought that was a good idea, but were looking to Miller and director Darren Aronofsky to handle it.
While this seemed like a comic fans’ dream—Miller co-writing a script with a hot, up-and-coming director in Aronofsky—it was not meant to be. The version of Miller’s script I read had more in common with his Sin City comics than his 1987 storyline that the film was named after. This version found Bruce Wayne living on the streets, working as a mechanic at a garage in the bad part of town, directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was heavy on violence and adult themes, something that would have been perfect for the Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro pairing in the 1970s but ill fitting for a 2000 Warner Brothers studio looking for a PG-13 film to bring in the teens.
The studio, after briefly considering a Batman vs. Superman film, would turn to Christopher Nolan next. Nolan gained much acclaim for co-writing and directing the inventive indie drama, Memento. He was still a relatively unproven director—this film would only be his third big studio film he directed—but Warners made an excellent choice. The film Nolan made, Batman Begins, ranks up there with the best comic book films ever made.
Nolan paired with David S. Goyer, a Hollywood screenwriter with comic book writing experience, to create a film that while wasn’t directly adapted from any one particular comic book, drew pieces from the overall Batman comic book history to create their narrative. The plot involves Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s training to become Gotham City’s protector, eventually saving it from destruction by his former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).
The entire cast of the film is the best cast any comic book film has had or likely will have. It was chock full of Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and, eventually, Bale), Oscar nominees (Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Neeson) and quality actors like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Oldman, who would eventually get an Oscar nod too, was especially good as the film’s moral center, James Gordon. Playing against type as a decent, honest man, Oldman gives one of his best, if somewhat underrated,performances of his illustrious career.
It seemed like it would be almost impossible for Nolan to top what he did with Batman Begins, but he did it on The Dark Knight with the help of a spectacular addition to the cast—Heath Ledger.
Heath Ledger’s untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose has added a mythic quality to his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, that his deep immersion in the character scarred his psyche in a manner that led to his overdose (the drugs found in Ledger’s system are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia). It feels unseemly even to bring it up, but I do so to make the point that the performance would have been mythic even if Ledger survived. His Joker is the defining Joker. And I am saying that while having the utmost respect for the work Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have done with the character.
The Joker is written in the movie as a force of nature, an agent of chaos. He exists to destroy the fabric of society. He is a cipher—his history is unknown and his motives are unclear. This is not an easy role to play. It could be the perfect opportunity make it hammy or give a portrayal that was out of place with the film as a whole. Ledger gave a scary, realistic performance that was totally believable. All the posthumous accolades that Ledger received, including becoming the first star from a comic book movie to win an Oscar, are all well deserved.
However, all the accolades that Ledger receives takes away from a great film and the solid performances of the other new additions to the cast—Aaron Eckhart as the tragic figure of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a vast improvement, I must say).
The Dark Knight set yet another impossible task for the next sequel to try and top it. That task begins in a few weeks when The Dark Knight Rises is released.
This film promises to be the last in the series, introducing Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) into the mix. It looks like Ra’s Al Ghul will be returning as well, either in a flashback or, well, if you knew the comics, you’ll know of another way he could come back. The plot is timely too, supposedly tying into the disenfranchised poor versus the entitled rich that was the basis for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. While Nolan is staying on to produce the next phase of the Batman film life cycle, it looks like whatever comes next will be a fresh start.
Next time, we look at a time when everything Marvel touched cinematically did not turn to gold. In fact, movies were made that we never seen at all.
1. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal, 2,783 Theaters, 109 Minutes, Rated PG): Wow. It’s like an end of summer sale in the cineplexes this week. “All movies must be released, every film must go! We got to make room for our fall models, and we’re passing the films on to you!”
I am woefully unfamiliar with the Nurse Matilda line of book which the first Nanny McPhee was based on, although I imagine that’s because I grew up in the U.S. and not the U.K.
The film seems to obviously be a labor of love for Emma Thompson, who starred and wrote both movies. And it is probably due to her influence that A-list stars such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ewan McGregor agree to fill out the cast.
But the concept just seems cold to me. It skews a little too close to Mary Poppins for me, so I really can’t get into it. But since the first film did well enough to garner a sequel, so I guess I am in the minority on this one.
2. Piranha 3D (Weinstein/Dimension, 2,470 Theaters, 89 Minutes, Rated R): This film I feel very positive about. It features a cast that consists of Oscar winners, Oscar nominees, Emmy winners, Golden Globe winners, stand-up comedians, ex-porn stars, hot actors from popular TV shows, horror directors and the grandson of Steve McQueen.
The directors of the last two Piranha films, maybe you heard of them–Joe Dante and James Cameron–were offered cameos but couldn’t do them. Not only is it a remake of a film that shamelessly rips off Jaws, it rips of Jaws itself by casting Richard Dreyfuss in a take off of his Jaws character (only this time, he gets eaten). How can you not like this film?
The plot, as if you really need one, is that an underwater earthquake releases giant prehistoric piranha into a lake resort region. A band of strangers must team up to stop them before the entire town becomes lunch.
3. The Switch (Miramax, 2,012 Theaters, 100 Minutes, Rated PG-13): This film has a lot going for it. I love Jennifer Aniston. I like Jason Bateman. I like a lot of other actors in the film. But it just leaves me cold.
I think it all comes down to the premise. Aniston plays a 40-year-old woman who decides to go the Turkey Baster-route to have a baby. During an “insemination party”, her jilted male best friend (Bateman), jealous for not being asked to be the donor, switches the donor sperm with his own.
I’m not saying you can’t get pregnant by using a turkey baster. I’m sure that it is possible. But for this film to work, Aniston has to have a big party for all her friends the night she’s going to stick the turkey baster in–so to speak–and have the donor make the donation at the party so that Bateman can switch his out, because I’m fairly certain that semen doesn’t have all that long of a shelf life. And this kind of donation would have to work the first time out, which is a hit or miss proposition to begin start out with. This is stretching possibility to the breaking point, farther out than I am willing to go along with.
Sometimes high concepts need a little more thought before they are presented.
And I can’t believe I actually wrote the word “semen” on this site. I really can’t.
4. The Lottery Ticket (Warner Brothers. 1,973 Theaters, 95 Minutes, Rated PG-13): This films has an interesting cast, a unique premise, and a pretty firm demographic to call its own this weekend. But I don’t know if that will be enough to call it a good film.
A young man wins $370 Million in the lottery on a Friday, but cannot cash the ticket in until Tuesday due to a holiday weekend. During the weekend, word gets out of his winnings and his neighbors start to canjole, guilt, seduce and threaten the money out of him.
Which is a premise that seems like it could have a lot of potential. But, really, some of the bits seem far fetched. Really, if someone threatens to beat you up if you don’t hand over the winning ticket, call the cops on him.
1.Dear John (Sony/Screen Gems, 2,969 Theaters, 105 Minutes, Rated PG-13): The words “From the people who brought you The Notebook“should be all this film needs to succeed. That film is unusually popular for some reason. And this one appears to be the same kind of sappy romance.
It was adapted from a novel by Nicholas Sparks, the same novelist that wrote the novel, The Notebook, but this film is not directed by Nick Cassavetes, but by Lasse Hallstrom. Which is a bit shocking.
With films such as My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat on his resume, one would expect that his career would follow along an Oscar worthy path. His doing such a soapy romance seem like a major step down. He will probably earn more money doing these kinds of films, but still.
What’s the film about? A soldier falls in love with a girl while home on leave.
2. From Paris With Love (Lionsgate, 2,722 Theaters, 92 Minutes, Rated R):It seems like John Travolta has become comfortable that his comeback will stick. The last couple roles of his feature him instead of acting developing a weird hairstyle, chewing scenery left and right, and basically phoning it in other wise. The Taking of the Pelham 1 2 3 fits this bill, Old Dogs featured him with a relatively normal hairstyle but basically cashing a paycheck and then you have this one, where he looks like a freak.
Of course, he’s playing an FBI agent trying to stop a terrorist attack in Paris, so the look doesn’t really match up with the job. But, hey, whatever gets him paid I guess is okay with him.
If Travolta somehow tried not to have his physical appearance do the acting for him, this film looked like it had the potential to be a fun shoot ‘em up like, well, Shoot ‘Em Up. But, as it is, Travolta’s style and recent film choices make me very wary.
3. Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight, 819 Theaters, 112 Minutes, Rated R): The week after the Oscar nominations is when the smaller films that received some nominations start rolling out to larger releases. This film received three nominations, including one for Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The other nomination was for Best Original Song.
Bridges plays a country singer battling with a number of demons. Gyllenhaal plays a journalist who inspires him to fight these demons.
Bridges, a five-time Oscar nominee, is the early favorite to walk away with a statue on Oscar night. If you want to see why, go see this one if it opens near you.
4. An Education (Sony Classics, 760 Theaters, 95 Minutes, Rated PG-13): This film shares more in common with Crazy Heart than being a film nominated for three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actress for Carey Mulligan, and Best Adapted Screenplay) to open wide this week. It also stars Peter Sarsgaard, who is married to Crazy Heart‘s Maggie Gyllenhaal. Small world, huh?
The film is based on the memoir of journalist Lynn Barber a details the adventures of young British girl in pursuit of the dream of an Oxford education. Her world is turned upside down with the arrival of David Goldman, a slick playboy who is quite a bit older than she is. Their casual acquaintance soon turns to love and then turns to the prospect of marriage. Has she thrown her dreams of an education away for a new set of dreams? Or is everything not what they seem?
All the reviews rave about the screenplay (by Nick Hornsby) and Mulligan’s performance, so both nominations seem worthy. Check the film out and see if you agree.
On Friday, we here at FilmBuffOnline handicapped the Oscar race as we saw it. As we all know, the nominations have just been released. How did we do? Well, let’s find out. And the nominees are…
Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man
Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 5 out of 5.
Commentary: It wasn’t too hard to get 100% correct when four of the five were gimmies. Morgan Freeman played a real-life inspirational hero, and most years that will be enough to get you the nod.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in Invictus
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 5 out of 5.
Commentary: Again, with a perfect record, if you count picking Plummer as an outside shot as a prediction. Of course, the “playing a real-life person” factor and the “legend at in the winter of his career” factor was enough to give Christopher Plummer his first Oscar nomination. Conventional wisdom says this statue is Christoph Waltz’s to lose, but I’m getting a feeling that Plummer could spoil, especially if he gets the “here’s a statue for lifetime achievement ” sympathy vote.
Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Carey Mulligan in An Education
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 5 of 5.
Commentary: Another clean sweep! This is our best year ever! Up into this category at least!
And I totally don’t believe this story about Sandra Bullock not expecting a phone call telling her she was nominated. She’s the favorite to win the whole thing! Pretending to be humble only works if, well, you need to be.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Penélope Cruz in Nine
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Mo’Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 4 of 5.
Commentary: The first surprise of the nominations, as Maggie Gyllenhall gets the honor of losing to Mo’Nique on Oscar night. So left fied was this that I picked Mariah Carey over her as a possible candidate. Crazy Heart seemed to be a Jeff Bridges vehicle all along, but I guess the Academy thought Gyllenhaal was worth a nod.
Avatar – James Cameron
The Hurt Locker– Kathryn Bigelow
Inglourious Basterds– Quentin Tarantino
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire – Lee Daniels
Up in the Air– Jason Reitman
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 5 of 5.
Commentary: Again, a very predictable category. And , since there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, all five of the director’s films are nominated for Best Picture, avoiding the reoccurring controversy of one of a director being snubbed. Of course, to look at it another way, now there are five directors being snubbed.
Avatar – James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
The Blind Side – Nominees to be determined
District 9– Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
An Education– Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
The Hurt Locker – Nominees to be determined
Inglourious Basterds – Lawrence Bender, Producer
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire– Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
A Serious Man– Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
Up – Jonas Rivera, Producer
Up in the Air– Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers
Number of Nominations We “Called”: 10 of 10.
Commentary: 100% correct, even if we thought that The Blind Side, District 9, and A Serious Man were long shots. I’m happy that the Academy gave a nod to the genre flick District 9. I’m very happy that Up got a nods. There would have been a rant if it wasn’t in the list. I think it deserved a spot even if there were only five spaces.
The Blind Side is listed by many as a surprise, but, really, there was enough Oscar buzz around it that I included it as having a chance on my list. What is surprising is that such a poorly received film got a nomination. The film received a 70% positive rating at the movie review aggregatesite, Rotten Tomatoes. That did qualify it as “Fresh,” or recommended, by the site, but was only 11 percentage points away from being classified “Rotten,” or not recommended. Of all the possible candidates I listed on Friday, only Nine scored lower (and abysmal 37% positive rating). All the other films listed scored at least five percentage points higher.
This is indicative of the axiom, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The field was extended to 10 films to put to rest the controversy about good films not getting nominated. But a good number of critically acclaimed films didn’t make the cut, but the treacly, feel-good, factually inaccurate film did. If they keep this up, maybe the Academy should expand the nominees to 20.