October 2014 movie guide – what to see, what to avoid, and what the eff?

October is an interesting time of year in the film industry. The summer blockbuster hangover is over, but Oscar season isn’t quite ready to bombard us with biopics, period pieces, or Benedict Cumberbatch.

October is where studios release movies they think might have a chance to do well, but will fade into obscurity if they don’t. And horror movies. Because, you know, Halloween.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at what came out nationwide in October 2013:

Films that were questionable on release and did really well:

Gravity
Captain Phillips
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Yeah, I liked it. Doing the Jackass-style pranks/dares in the guise of an actual movie was a solidly done permanent)

Films that were questionable that flopped:

Runner Runner (If they’d made this in 2006 when online poker was still a big thing, it would not have failed so miserably)
The Fifth Estate (Remember this? Cumberbatch as Julian Assange? Yeah, I didn’t either)
The Counselor (Such a great cast. Too bad it didn’t come together)

Generic Horror:

Carrie (It apparently was a slow year for Halloween-related horror)


So as you can see, October is a mixed bag of mostly dramas that you’ve got a 50% chance of being good – for nationwide releases.

Are you wondering what you should see in theaters this October?

I’ve got thoughts on 6 films releasing in October. Two I’ll definitely be seeing, two I won’t be seeing, and two that I’m not sold on yet.

Two to view:

Gone Girl

Ben Affleck. David Fincher (the director of Se7en, The Social Network, House of Cards, etc.).Neil Patrick Harris in a serious role. The vastly underrated Rosamund Pike. Tyler Perry not playing an overweight, sassy woman. This film is loaded with exceptional talent. It touches on subjects that are all-too-real in 2014 America. The monotony of suburban life. The media frenzy when a white woman disappears. Then secrets unravel for a husband and wife who’ve drifted apart. All under the guise of a “whodunneit” (Affleck and Pike play Nick and Amy Dunne. It’s a pun).

Prediction: I think this will be much like 2013’s “Prisoners.” It will be regarded as a very well-done, provoking film, but ultimately forgotten when it comes to Oscars (Prisoners was only nominated for a single Oscar). But that doesn’t diminish what the final product will be. I’m going to see it mostly for NPH and to see Affleck as a smarmy husband whose guilt is in question the entire film.

Birdman

I’m still not sure what the hell this movie is about. All I know is the trailer ends with Michael Keaton wrestling Edward Norton – who is wearing some kind of fancy male underwear.

Ok, so I know a little bit. It’s a dark comedy from the director of “Babel” and “21 grams” with Keaton playing a washed-up former action movie star (Birdman was his character) who’s coming to terms with the end of his career. And appears to hallucinate. Or at the very least, daydream (there’s lots of weird images in the trailer)

Prediction: “Birdman” will end up being described as “The Wrestler” meets “Black Swan” crossed with a black comedy. There’s too much talent here (Keaton, Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone) to think this will flop. The Oscars usually shy away from comedies – even dark comedies – but I could see a nomination or two coming from Birdman

Two films I won’t even

(that’s right, I went white-girl “can’t even” on you)

Fury

I’m sorry, but I can’t take a serious approach to a hardened WWII movie that is A) completely fictional, and B) has Shia Lebouf in it. That’s right – this is a 100% fictional story set during World War II. Which means you’ll see “a rag tag group of scrappy newcomers under the leadership of the grizzled veteran take on the Nazis behind enemy lines against impossible odds.”

Sounds ridiculous and formulaic, right?

“Outnumbered and outgunned, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany”

That’s from Sony’s synopsis.

Ugh.

Left Behind

Nicholas Cage in a re-make of a Kirk Cameron  Rapture propaganda film.

Here’s the trailer:

Yup, I called it propaganda. This, and other films like it (The Identical, Heaven is for Real) aren’t made for the masses to enjoy. They have a target audience and a religious message to get across. These kinds of films offer very little philosophical or cultural influence on the Zeitgeist. They’re just different movies with the same message every time, “Only with God is anything possible.”

People go to films to be entertained. To see stories that pull you on an emotional arc. To offer a harsh truth about humanity.

Left Behind is a 2 hour sermon. If that’s what you want from your films, then go for it. These films aren’t made for the average movie-going fan, and that’s why they fail at the box office.

If you want to see some serious thought-provoking shit about a rapture-like event? Check out HBO’s “The Leftovers”

Bonus “won’t even”

Annabelle

This is the creepy doll from my grandmother’s house. I assume many harvested souls are stored within its 1950’s plastic body. My brother and I would take this doll, throw it in the closet, stack about a dozen heavy coats on top of it, and lock it away for the duration of our visits.

Creepy doll from my grandmother's house.

Creepy doll from my grandmother’s house.

This is the creepy doll from “Annabelle.”

annabelle

No fucking way man, no fucking way.

 

Two films I’m still not sure about

 John Wick

Keanu Reeves as a former hit-man who comes out of retirement because the Russian mob killed his beagle puppy?

When did studios start reading my fan fiction?

First-time director and long-time Hollywood stuntman Chad Stahelski brings us a re-stylized version of the “hit-man/mafia” genre, with what looks to be some dark comedy aspects, as well as possibly poking fun at the genre itself.  It looks decent enough, but also looks trite and full of cliches. Which is great if it’s meta. But we won’t know that until reviews come in.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Nightcrawler

No, Kurt Wagner is not getting an X-Men Spin-off. This looks to be a rather twisted venture into the world of “as it happens” journalism – starring Jake Gyllenhall. The trailer doesn’t offer much in terms of deep plot details, but it will be interesting to see which route they take – does Gyllenhall’s character get caught up in some kind of bigger crime ring? Or does he start committing/instigating crimes so he can report on them?

At the very least, it looks like an interesting character study set against the background of cutthroat, gotta-have-it-first journalism.

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Second Chance Cinema – Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Before watching ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ earlier this year on Amazon Prime, the only exposure I’d gotten of it were horrible TV spots and this trailer:

The trailer left an awful taste in my mouth, worse than gingerbread drywall ever could. My first thoughts were “What the fuck – another ‘re-imagined’ fairy tale? Jeremy Renner’s getting a paycheck, Famke Jansen is desperate for roles, and this is just another Hollywood crap-fest some studio threw against the wall and hopes it will stick to the teeny-bopper Twilight crowd.”

Oh – and the TV spots had horrible puns as taglines that turned me off – such as “Revenge is sweeter than candy,” and “The Fairy Tale grows up.” – Super lame.

Also working against it was a late-January theater release date. January and February is where films go to die – usually (Thankfully ‘The Lego Movie’ was an exception to that). That release date made me think the studios didn’t think enough of it, but had to release it anyways.

But here’s the hard data – The ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are abysmal. 15% of critics liked it. But I kept seeing posts on Reddit about how it wasn’t that bad. It has a 6.1 rating on IMDB. So I went and looked at the Wikipedia page for Hansel and Gretel. And here’s some of the biggest factors I found that would have pushed me to see this had I known about them:

It’s rated Fucking-R! There’s gore, there’s swearing, there’s T&A! (If you go back and watch the full trailer, it never mentions that the film is rated-R. That should have been a HUGE selling point).

– Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Had I known this, I would have expected it to be funnier than the trailers show.

– It’s a “hindsight is 20/20” thing, but the film MADE OVER FOUR TIMES ITS BUDGET BACK, mostly from a strong overseas performance ($50m budget vs. $225m box office). A sequel is in very early stages of pre-production. For comparison’s sake, Van Helsing made less than twice its budget back ($160m vs. $300m box office)  and Jack the Giant Slayer (which was released just a month after HAG:WH) made less than its original budget ($200m vs. $197m box office). 

  Those points aside, here’s why you should give ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ a chance.

It’s a dark parody of other fairy tale “re-brands.” The hero in these kinds of stories always has some kind of flaw that makes him not-so-invincible, and in this case, it’s that Jeremy Renner’s Hansel has “the sugar sickness” from his forced feedings at the witch’s house when he was a child. So yes, he has diabetes. The writers also weren’t striving for accuracy, as most of the characters have indistinguishable accents and speak using very modern vernacular. The film also doesn’t take itself too seriously, a la ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ or ’21 Jump Street.’

The puppetry, make up, and practical effects. Where other films in the genre (see ‘Van Helsing’ and ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’) go full-on CGI, director Tommy Wirkola opted for practical effects and puppet creatures that at least come close to Jim Henson’s work.

This is a muppet-style puppetry creature

This is a muppet-style puppetry creature, not CGI.

Here’s Famke Jansen’s makeup as the Witch Queen: HanselGretel_Famke-Janssen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you’ve got a few minutes, watch this behind-the-scenes video that shows a whole lot more than I can write here.

 

And finally, it’s not that long of an investment. There are two cuts of the movie, and the one on Amazon Prime checks in at a svelte 88 minutes (the “uncut” version has 11 extra minutes of footage that is more gruesome, and in one case, a lot darker). It’s a well-paced, fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Is it high art cinema? Not at all. But sometimes that’s not what we’re looking for. This is a diamond in the rough. Or at the very least, a lollipop after a salad.

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Snowpiercer – the movie no one is talking about because the studio thought you were too dumb

Snowpiercer will hit limited theaters in about a month (June 27th), and you probably won’t see many ads for it, despite starring Chris Evans and being one of the most popular films in Korean history.

Here’s the most recent trailer – released today.

It’s a Korean-made sci-fi dystopian film about how global warming has ushered in a new Ice Age and Earth’s only survivors live on the train the Snowpiercer, powered by a perpetual-motion engine. Eventually, a class system develops and a revolution starts brewing.

Yup, it sounds like Elysium or The Hunger Games. But it’s based on a French novel and adapted by accomplished Korean director Bong Joon-ho.Click the link, see his awards. Dude’s got talent.

But it’s Joon-ho’s first English-language film, and that caused some problems. The Weinstein company acquired the distribution rights, and wanted to cut 20 minutes from the Korean theatrical cut. From Screen Rant, 

“Apparently the scenes that are to be removed are primarily ones that flesh out the characters’ backgrounds and development, and by getting rid of them, Snowpiercerwill come across more as a pure action movie than a drama. The goal, said TWC (The Weinstein Company) when explaining the request to Bong, is to make sure his film “will be understood by audiences in Iowa… and Oklahoma.””

Fortunately The Weinstein Company came to their senses and decided to leave the cut as-is. But they are only limiting it to select theaters (your Angelika theaters and the like).

The reviews of the film are phenomenal. Please keep this movie in the back of your mind when it comes out. Please see it and show The Weinstein Company that you don’t need a foreign film dumbed down to enjoy it.

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Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards to direct “Rancor” Biopic for Star Wars Franchise?

Godzilla director Gareth Edwards will direct his own Star Wars films – one of the planned “spin-off” solo films aside from the new trilogy.

With his experience with giant monsters, I kind of hope it’s a biopic of this guy.

Image

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Godzilla reviewed: Of Monsters and Men

Warning – minor spoilers ahead.

 

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla opened this weekend to the fire-energy roar of $196 million worldwide, exceeding expectations of a re-boot of a franchise that desperately needed one (RoboCop – really?) The last taste Americans got of Godzilla was Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “disaster film of a disaster film.” The previous sentence and this current one are the only words I will write about that abomination.

Edwards’ Godzilla is visually impressive, (mostly) scientifically and historically viable, and most of the actors fit their part beautifully. There are a couple of narrative and technical issues that rubbed me the wrong way, but I’ll get to those in just a bit.

Cranston plays the melodramatic widower desperately trying to discover the truth exquisitely. There is so much pain and frustration in his voice, it’s hauntingly convincing. He easily has the best dialogue in the film.

Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins play two scientists on the search for Godzilla and other “MUTO’s” (that’s Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) in the wake of the Nuclear Age. Basically they’re in the film to provide exposition on the back story and give a minimal connection to what spawned the Godzilla franchise in the first place – Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Elizabeth Olsen is the wife of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, and she is greatly underused. Criminally underused. As the younger Olsen sister (of the Mary-Kate and Ashley variety) she’s had to forge her own career path. In two years it will be Olsen and Jennifer Lawrence at the top of Hollywood.

Let’s get to the star of the movie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

No, it’s not Bryan Cranston, it’s not Ken Wantanbe, and it’s not the big ol’ green lizard himself. It’s the guy who played “Kick-Ass.”

Taylor-Johnson has a bright future as a potential American action star. He’s completely shredded and learned how to kill his British accent (in Kick-Ass he keeps calling them “supra heroes). But this movie wasn’t the right showcase for him. His range of emotions is extremely muted.

This is ATJs default facial expression

This is ATJs default facial expression

 

His character, Ford, is in both the right and wrong place at the same time. He travels to Japan to bail out his father just when a MUTO is about to hatch. He heads to Hawaii to go home to San Francisco just when that MUTO attacks Oahu. He reaches California just in time to hitch a ride on a train with a nuclear missile that will attempt to kill the MUTO. Oh, and he’s a bomb-diffusal expert in the Navy who retro-fits the nuclear missile with a manual timer so it won’t be affected by an EMP. And he’s the only one who can disarm it if needed.

That’s a lot of coincidences to swallow, even for a movie about giant radioactive monsters.

Speaking of which, let’s get to the monsters.

The MUTOs are interesting creatures. In their larval stage they can somehow absorb radiation, but once they hatch they can eat bombs. And create EMP blasts by smashing down a foot. Their origins are unknown, but they aren’t given any ulterior motivations. They feed and they reproduce, like any animal would. The MUTOs kind of look like this monster from Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones crossed with the Tumbler from The Dark Knight. Nothing more to see here.muto-combination

 

Now onto Godzilla himself. Man it must suck to be him. Mankind has spent 50 years trying to blow him up, while he bides his time as the protector of the Earth from creatures with less noble intentions. That’s it. Humanity tries to nuke the MUTOs, and when that fails, it falls on Godzilla to clean up the mess by destroying San Francisco. Godzilla only comes out when he’s needed, but no one’s quite sure what his true intentions are. He’s kind of like Batman in that regard.

Visually, Godzilla is awesome. He looks like a Kodiak bear crossed with a Gila monster. The teeth, claws, scales, and tail are brilliantly generated and move smoothly. And that roar. Wow. There’s one instance where Godzilla roars at a MUTO, and just when you think it should end, it goes on for another 3 or 4 seconds. He expresses his dominance that way, and it’s chilling.

In terms of monster-on-monster action, this movie gets it right. It’s brutal and animalistic. I won’t get into specifics, but Godzilla kills one of the MUTOs by pulling a Col. Jessep (If you get this reference and comment on it below, I’ll definitely give you a shout out!).

The only technical issue of the film is the music and sound effects. Accomplished composer Alexandre Desplat’s score isn’t memorable, and at moments came off childish. Several times the music broke into a Psycho-esque violin shrieks, and the horror-film motif of the music didn’t work.

And as for the sound effects, one would assume a giant lizard tail smashing into a building would create a large sound of glass shattering and concrete collapsing. But not in this film. At points it seemed like Edwards was trying to make an artistic statement by NOT having those kinds of effects. And it cheapened the fights just a little bit. But the biggest knock on the sound? Again – without giving too much away, but how does a 300+ foot tall lizard monster in the heart of San Fransisco not make a sound while approaching another giant monster?

Final Verdict: 18K gold. Very well done, but it has its flaws. Hopefully the already-rumored sequel will focus on different human characters, and perhaps give us a human antagonist as well?

 

godzilla-review

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An open letter to Adam Sandler. Please stop.

Dear Adam Sandler,

Why? Why do you keep making movies? You either really need the money, or really DON’T need the money. And according to this, you don’t need the money. Not like Nicholas Cage.

Your newest movie, “Blended” comes out next  week opposite of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Guess which one will have more on-screen carnage and destruction?

Since 2004, you’ve been associated with 19 movies, including next week’s “Blended.” Two of them are “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Two. And those two were actual serious roles – Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” and the 2007 film “Reign Over Me.”

Since “Funny People,” here are the films you’ve associated yourself with:

Grown Ups
Just Go With It
Zookeeper
Jack and Jill
Bucky Larson
Hotel Transylvania
That’s My Boy
Grown Ups 2

“Hotel Transylvania” has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score at 45%. And it’s damn near impossible to do worse than that on a collaborative animated feature these days.

“Blended” is your 3rd romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore. Is there no one else in Hollywood willing to kiss you on screen?

Your movies have become a bigger joke than when you’re inevitably hit in the testicles in your latest movie.

Please stop.

Stop traveling to exotic locations with your buddies and making each other laugh. Stop having a good time with your friends making tons of money and sharing the screen with beautiful women and talented co-stars. Stop living your dream.

Ok, that actually sounds like a pretty nice life. I’m jealous. You’ve earned your way into America’s zeitgeist and are living the life you want.

Stop making the rest of us look bad.

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