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.

November 18, 2014

Podcast Episode 39: Floating In ROSEWATER With The BIG HERO 6

This week's episode of the podcast tackles two very different movies aimed at two very different audiences.  But that's how we roll here at Daley Screening.  We take all comers.

Jon Stewart's Rosewater is an admirable freshman effort, depicting the story of Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari who was imprisoned by Iranian authorities and held in solitary confinement for 118 days.  Gael Garcia Bernal anchors the film with a lovely performance as Bahari.  Bernal not only conveys the anguish of Bahari's psychological torment, but also finds remarkable moments of levity and solace.  Stewart deserves credit for demonstrating the humanity of everyone involved, including Bahari's eponymous tormentor.  It would be easy to portray Rosewater and his superiors as paranoid, mustache-twirling dolts, but instead the audience walks away realizing that, from their perspective, the Iranian authorities were simply responding to a reasonably credible threat in the only way they knew how.  As Bahari tells Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones (who plays himself), America and Iran have more in common than most people realize or admit.  The film perhaps overreaches in a few of Stewart's more stylistic choices, but in the end it's a minor quibble.  It's a strong showing for Stewart's first film, even if it doesn't quite deserve some of the breathless adulation I heard coming out of Telluride.

Disney's Big Hero 6, adapted from an obscure Marvel title, is an absolute joy for both children and the grownups who take them to the theater.  We decided to go to a matinee screening with a friend and her kids (one of whom had never been to a movie theater before!) and everyone walked away smiling.  The story is just a little slighter than I would have liked and there are a few key moments where the movie really spells things out for the younger audience in a way that's almost eye-rollingly obvious for adults.  If you've seen a movie before, then you can basically see how the entire plot is going to play out after about 20 minutes, but I guess that's what separates Disney Animation from Pixar at this point.  Pixar doesn't talk down to its audience, ever.  But even if Big Hero 6 is lean on story, it's BIG on characters.  Baymax, the giant inflatable nurse robot, is equal parts sweet and hilarious.  He also sets a new standard for fist bumps.  But each of the supporting characters is totally awesome in their own distinct ways.  There's someone here for everyone to love, whether it be girly-girl Honey Lemon, hard-nosed speed demon Go Go Tomago, fastidious Wasabi or the overly enthusiastic Fred, who was MY FAVORITE.

Jenna and Jamie return to talk about all this plus casting developments for Suicide Squad, James Bond and Captain America, as well as Universal's misguided decision to reforge their classic monsters as modern day action adventures and the honest potential of the upcoming Rocky spinoff.

Next week: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

November 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 38: INTERSTELLAR Is Mostly Alright, Alright Alright.

I wanted to love Christopher Nolan's Interstellar so, so much.  A great cast, a talented technical filmmaker at the top of his game, hard science-fiction, space travel, and an exploration of the human condition...this is hitting all my pleasure points.  So it's hard not to feel the crushing weight of disappointment when I say that I only mostly enjoyed the film.  I think it's a beautiful film, expertly shot, featuring largely serviceable performances yet hampered by a script that's too often thematically blunt, emotionally overwrought and narratively adrift.  There's certainly plenty to like and, on the relative scale of Hollywood blockbusters, Nolan's latest is still far better than most.  Complaining about Interstellar seems like an outright luxury in a year in which Transformers 4 will almost certainly remain the highest grossing film in the world.  And yet, Interstellar is simply not the home run I was hoping for.  It's probably more like a double that's been stretched into a triple thanks to fielding error.

Bart, Jamie and I all walked away from Interstellar with very different feelings about the film, making for a pretty good podcast discussion if I do say so myself.  We also talk about the newly minted title for Star Wars Episode VII, Jared Leto's potential run as the Joker, Toy Story 4, The 6 Billion Dollar Man, and the interesting strategy for Hans Zimmer's upcoming score for Dawn Of Justice.

We also discover and immediately dispel the premature rumors of Macaulay Culkin's demise, which quickly devolves into an examination of the gender politics of the Talkboy. 

Next Week: Big Hero 6

November 06, 2014

Podcast Episode 37: BIRDMAN Or The Virtue Of Artistic Douchery

First things first: Birdman is a film whose technical beauty is irrefutable.  The cinematic prowess on display by director Alejandro Inarritu is nothing short of breathtaking and his "all-in-one-shot" aesthetic not only creates a tremendous sense of tension and momentum, but it recreates the breathless frenzy of being backstage at a major theatrical production with deft perfection.  On top of that, you've got some great work from stars the likes of Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts and the single greatest performance from Michael Keaton in a decade.  With all those things working in its favor, Birdman is an easy film to praise.

But I don't think it's an easy film to love.  Actors will love it.  Theater people will love it.  And having been both of those things in my life, I'm probably a little more forgiving of the movie than many.  But I suspect most of middle America is going to have more than a bit of trouble identifying with any of these characters.  I'd hardly blame you for walking out of the theater hating all actors, or at the very least feeling like you just spent two hours watching an indulgent circle-jerk about artists doing "important work."  After all, this is a movie in which the protagonist stalks around the theater treating his self-scripted, self-directed attempt to remain socially relevant like it was a matter of actual life or death while completely ignoring pain and injury of a fellow actor who had a stage light fall on his head during rehearsals for seemingly no other reason than "he was a terrible actor."

Then again, it's also a movie in which my favorite Batman screeches like a bird and levitates in his tighty whities.  Suffice it to say, I'm more than a little conflicted.

Bart and I discuss all things Birdman with my wife Jamie and his girlfriend Jenna Gabriel.  We also address Marvel's finalized Phase 3 slate, whether or not Gotham is actually a sneaky comedy, and the disheartening first look at Terminator Genisys.

Next Week: We take to the stars with Chris Nolan's Interstellar.

October 31, 2014

Podcast Episode 36: JOHN WICK And The Dubious Merits Of Puppy Murder

That puppy sure is cute, ain't he?

Don't get attached.

John Wick is not a movie for everybody.  Specifically, it is not a movie for lovers of dogs.  It is, however, a movie for lovers of well choreographed action scenes, pulpy crime stories and Keanu Reeves being Keanu Reeves.  I fucking loved this movie.  Bart was fairly unimpressed.  Jamie almost walked out of the theater in a rage.

We recorded this podcast last Sunday, but due to an overwhelmingly busy schedule I wasn't able to finish editing the thing until late Thursday night.  As a result, much of our attempt to parse the first trailer for Avengers: Age Of Ultron was rendered moot a few days after recording when Marvel announced their full Phase 3 slate and the upcoming Infinity War storyline.  I suppose this kind of thing comes with the territory.

That being said, it is gratifying that a number of our speculations were confirmed on stage at the El Capitan Theater, particularly the announcement of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.  Rest assured we cover a lot of this material in the next episode of the podcast, which we recorded last night.  With any luck, I'll have it published before Paramount abruptly shelves their Terminator remake, thus negating another major portion of our recording.

Next Week: We take to the skies with Michael Keaton in Birdman!