November 25, 2014

Podcast Episode 40: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 Kicks Off The Revolution

I couldn't help but walk out of Mockingjay: Part 1 feeling a bit disappointed.

The first Hunger Games movie left a real bad taste in my mouth, but Catching Fire actually kind of won me over with its liberal dose of sassy Jenna Malone and its promise of legit rebellion and the outright warfare to come.  That's the shit I was all excited to see in the first half of the final installment of this franchise.  Sadly I was let down on both fronts, with Malone sidelined off screen for all but five seconds of the movie and the rebellion whittled down to two and a half skirmishes spread out over two hours of screen time.  Those skirmishes are pretty cool in their own right, but I would have gladly taken more scenes of rebellion in the districts over Katniss staring pensively out over a brook.

There's plenty to like here, including Katniss's inability to perform in a propaganda video (I refuse to acknowledge this franchise's inane fixation with Suessian lingo), every word out of Elizabeth Banks' mouth, a well staged rescue operation, a horrific field of corpses and one last chance to enjoy Philip Seymour Hoffman.  But the biggest problem with Mockingjay: Part 1 is that it simply doesn't feel like a complete story.  We're not quite in Deathly Hallows* territory here, but everything that happens in this movie is merely the prologue to whatever's coming in Part 2.  It's enjoyable, but not exactly satisfying in its own right.  It reminds me of Episode 7 from any season of Game Of Thrones, one of those episodes that's more about moving the chess pieces into place so they can strike the killing blow later on down the road.

Bart and I talk to avowed Hunger Games fanatic Jamie about all this as well as her own wild-eyed theory that Peeta is secretly the boring version of Johanna. (I'm paraphrasing here.)  We also talk about the recent Peanuts trailer, the upcoming Star Wars trailer and casting rumors for both Jean Grey and Jessica Jones.

Next Week: Foxcatcher and/or Horrible Bosses 2

*Or, as I call it, Harry Potter And The Campsite Of Sadness

Welcome To The JURASSIC WORLD Trailer

When I first heard that Jurassic World would be set in an actual, functioning dinosaur theme park, it was as if a light went on in my brain.  I never realized just how much I wanted to see that movie until someone actually said it out loud, and I instantly felt stupid for never having thought of it earlier.  Now we've got our first real look at Colin Trevorrow's version of Isla Nublar in the first trailer for the movie, which I thought was supposed to premiere during Thanksgiving football.  I'm happy to get it two days early, as now I can spend Thursday focused on my 12 pound ham.

I really love the world building here.  The lazy river, the water show, those crazy bubble cars...I am all about it.  I remain a little skeptical about that kid from i, but I dig that Bryce Dallas Howard is actually running around the park, striking Goldblum-esque poses with road flares.  I'll reserve judgement on the actual dinos, as we're way too far out for any of the effects work to be completely finished.  I do really, REALLY love that haunting arrangement of John Williams' original score.

Astoundingly enough, what I'm most concerned about right now is Chris Pratt.  Dude is trying real hard to put on his Serious Face for this movie, which is the opposite of what I was expecting.  Not that I thought this was necessarily gonna be Star Lord Plays With Dinosaurs, but he just looks so stiff and uncomfortable.  Pratt delivers his lines here with all the charm of a doorknob, something I never thought I'd hear myself saying.  Maybe he's playing some kind of total burnout, which could be totally great, but the way his scenes are cut together here, largely with no one to bounce off of, feels a bit clunky.

Then again, we've got that amazing shot of him riding a motorcycle alongside a pack of trained velociraptors.  The only way that could get any better is if Pratt was riding an actual dinosaur that had lasers strapped to its head.  I can still dream.

Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs Movie Is Still Happening

It's been a crazy couple of weeks for the Steve Jobs biography, scripted by Aaron Sorkin and set to be directed by Danny Boyle.  First it looked like the project was all geared up and ready to go with Christian Bale in the lead and Seth Rogen circling the role of Steve Wozniak.  Then Bale abruptly backed out and a few weeks later, Sony dropped the project entirely after two years of development.

But Universal has now stepped up and grabbed the project, which The Hollywood Reporter Hollywood reports now has Michael Fassbender attached to play the Apple founder.  Good for Universal.  They've taken some hits over the years, producing some sneakily great films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the Kick-Ass franchise and 2 Guns (which is secretly amazing) that somehow never managed to find their audience theatrically.  They could use a real prestige picture and I honestly find Fassbender a much more fascinating choice to play Jobs than Bale.

My prevailing interest in this movie remains Aaron Sorkin's script, which is based loosely on Walter Isaacson's dense and lengthy biography.  The whole script is structured as three scenes that take place on the eves of various product launches.  I'm a big fan of slice-of-life biographies, as opposed to these big, sprawling stories that try to run the gamut from birth to death.  I'll take My Week With Marilyn over Ray any day.

I've also heard that Jessica Chastain is attached in an unspecified role, which I assume to be Jobs wife but will probably turn out to be his daughter in the future, reading morse code messages from her father on her Apple Watch.

November 24, 2014

Oscar Isaac Is Your New Apocalypse

Right around this time last year, Oscar Isaac was totally blowing my mind as the titular character of the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis.  I'd enjoyed his work in movies like Drive and the sweet but under-seen 10 Years, but it was his turn as the talented yet mopey folk musician that truly won me over and convinced me that this guy is destined to be a perennial Oscar contender for at least the next decade.

In the meantime, Isaac has been a hot commodity for every major film franchise under the sun.  He recently finished shooting a leading and possibly roguish, Han Solo-esque role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he's been on Marvel's short list to play Doctor Strange for ages now.  But instead Isaac has planted his flag over at Fox, signing on to play Apocalypse in Bryan Singer's next X-Men film.  Solely from a logistical standpoint, this makes a lot of sense: the guy's gonna be pretty busy in a galaxy far, far away for the next few years, so taking the lead role in another major franchise would likely burn Isaac out and prevent him from shooting the kind of adult, artistic films that he truly loves.*  By playing a one-time villain in a very isolated series, Isaac gets to collect a comic book paycheck and still keep the door open to appear in either the Marvel or DC cinematic universes somewhere down the road.

I will say I was expecting Singer to go with someone with a more imposing physical presence (Tom Hardy's name was bandied about quite a bit) but, based on the picture above, I expect that the character will eventually be realized with the aid of quite a bit of motion capture.  I'm also curious to see just how far they go with Apocalypse's giant purple cheek-lips, as it's one of the few facial features that distinguishes him from Darkseid and Thanos, both of whom will also be getting some serious screen time in the next couple of years, inevitably leading to some poor kid getting the wrong action figure for a future Christmas.

*I talked to Isaac for a few minutes following a Llewyn Davis screening and he was both polite and gracious as I asked him to recommend some titles for my movie-a-day project.  He offered up some rather obscure Russian art films that I eventually tracked down but did not get a chance to watch before my year was up.

November 20, 2014

I Remain Un-Enchanted By This PITCH PERFECT 2 Trailer

All of my best friends from college are the people from my co-ed a cappella group.  In fact, just last night I was hanging out with about eight of them in a bowling alley for someone's birthday.  I attend the current group's shows a few times every semester and once every year the many members from all eras gather together in a different city for our annual Reunion, where we spend a weekend in a state of general and musical intoxication.  It is, without a doubt, the highlight of my year, every year.

Keep that in mind when I tell you that I don't give a shit about Pitch Perfect.  (And know that the rest of my a cappella group thinks I'm nuts.)  I can appreciate the first film from a musical perspective - all the arrangements are absolutely top-notch and the performances are excellent.  I like Anna Kendrick as a rule and there are a few discrete moments that I enjoy, like the aging quartet of dudes still trying to relive their a cappella glory days (yeah, yeah...) and the color commentary by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins.  But I think the characterizations in general are way too broad, particularly the over-the-top stereotypical Asian roommate whose every scene causes instant eye-rolls.  More importantly, I HAAAAATE the way they portray a cappella arrangements as something that the performers just make the fuck up off the tops of their heads, as opposed to something that requires hours of work and intense attention to detail.  For me, both of these issues are perfectly encapsulated by Anna Camp's shrill musical director.  The fact that she does not immediately recognize Kendrick's talent for producing mashups as an essential skill of musical arrangement is frankly idiotic, and every time she adds the "aca" prefix to another word, I want to aca-set her hair on fire.

Besides, the Treblemakers were just plain better than the Bellas.  THERE, I SAID IT!

I'll admit that I was mildly curious at the prospect of a sequel, mostly because it marks the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks, with whom I am utterly enamored.  That was until I saw this trailer.

I appreciated that the original was centered around the ICCA's, an actual competition that is a big fucking deal in the world of college a cappella.  This giant, bombastic "World Championship" they're touting here?  Whatever.  I'd much rather watch two hours of what appears to be an underground a cappella fight club held in David Cross's basement.  And I don't want to be that guy, but what is wrong with Rebel Wilson's face?  It looks alien and painted on and I don't understand.  I have nothing but love for Elizabeth Banks and this thing will absolutely make a pile of cash, but I'll wait until it comes out on Blu-ray and my wife starts watching it on a permanent loop for weeks on end.

Sidenote: Are we really using Snapchat as a movie marketing tool now?  When did that become okay?

November 19, 2014

I Am Weirdly Okay With This PEANUTS Trailer

A few years ago, CBS and Paramount released a remastered edition of Star Trek: The Original Series with all new special effects sequences.  A lot of people cried foul, preferring the show to remain unsullied by computer animation, but I don't really mind these new editions.  The animators didn't go all George Lucas-crazy on the episodes and in fact took painstaking effort to recreate most of the original shot composition in great detail, as opposed to slapping on a bunch of whiz-bang bells and whistles.  Mostly it's just nice to not have every planet look exactly the same, or to see the classic Enterprise engaged in some honest to goodness combat maneuvers.  Besides, if I want to watch the episodes as they originally aired, my Blu-ray box set contains both versions of every episode.

I guess that's why I'm okay with this trailer for a new Peanuts movie.  We still don't have any sense of the story, but we do get a better look at the execution of the animation and how they're handling the actual characters.

Thankfully, there's clearly no attempt here to make Charlie Brown and company hip and modern.  There's no flashy celebrity voice casting.  I could do without the cloying pop song, but hopefully that's just marketing bullshit.  More importantly, the essence of those classic Peanuts cartoons still looks to be intact, just realized in CG rendering instead of hand-drawn animation.  I'm kind of fine with that.  All great cartoon characters have evolved over time as animation techniques have progressed.  Just look at Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse.  So Charlie Brown's head is now spherical instead of simply circular.  Is that really what matters here?

All I care about is that the characters remain true to their roots.  The facial expressions still look like they were drawn in pencil.  Those wavy motion lines persist.  Charlie Brown is still a blockhead and the Red Baron is still flying.  And as someone who grew up watching Snoopy Come Home, I'm glad to see that my favorite cartoon beagle and his yellow feathered friend are still exactly as I remember them.

The Trailer For Disney's Live Action CINDERELLA Looks Expensive

I mean, I guess.

Do we really need another version of Cinderella?  I understand that Hollywood is still enamored with live-action adaptations of classic fairy tales because they have the dual benefit of instant name recognition and no real author or estate from which they have to properly purchase the rights.  I feel like this trend is finally starting to wind down, which I'm especially thankful for after not one, but two mediocre re-imaginings of Snow White.  But I'll at least give those movies credit for attempting to build on the source material in some way by bringing something new to the table.  Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Maleficent as a rape survivor may not have been 100% effective, but you can't accuse them of not having a bold concept.

Kenneth Branagh's live-action Cinderella appears to be an exact recreation of the classic Disney animation, only this time with actual humans.  Do we really need this?  I can't imagine why.  And most of the casting is so obvious and uninspired.  Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother?  Whatever.  I actually rolled my eyes when Helena Bonham Carter emerged from her digital old age makeup as the Fairy Godmother.  This film clearly meant to be breakout vehicle for Lily James, although I highly doubt that it will be the best showcase for her talents, whatever they may be.  The only person who really stands out to me is Prince Charming, mostly because he's played here by Robb Stark's Contact Lenses.

This thing might be unnecessary, but at least they spent a fuck-ton of money on it.