Thursday, August 19, 2010

After a bit of a mid-summer slump, August churned out some notable movies, and now the year in movies really kicks into gear for the beginning of Oscar season. And even though some have been calling 2010 a lackluster year for movies so far, they need to hold their tongues before looking at what's to come. With that, listed below are the top 10 films I'm most looking forward to go see between now and December.

10. Love and Other Drugs

Director Edward Zwick, who's used to directing big Oscar bait flicks like "Defiance," "Blood Diamond" and "The Last Samurai," tones it down a notch with this down-to-earth romantic comedy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Although the plot seems pretty familiar of the genre, what gets me excited about it is Gyllenhaal and Hathaway working together for the first time since "Brokeback Mountain." Both are gifted actors and seeing their playful side together could be frivolous good fun, and who knows, maybe even something a little more.

9. It's Kind of a Funny Story

Here's another comedy, this time in the vain of those low-key indie comedies like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno." This will most likely be this year's rendition with the breakout star Zach Galifianakis of "The Hangover" taking on a still silly yet also slightly more serious role. I'm less excited about this movie than I am anxious just to see how it turns out. The young actors, Emma Roberts and Keir Gilchrist, look promising, but my worry is this: could we be looking at Galifianakis overkill? Either he'll shine here or just be too much.

8. Hereafter

It's another Clint Eastwood film, this one starring Matt Damon and another one meditating on the possibility and consequence of death. So, it's basically Eastwood back in his usual directing form after his little break with "Invictus," which did not meditate on death. Not much has been released about it aside from a brief synopsis telling of three people who are connected through some form of brush with death. Gloomy stuff, but it could also be powerful stuff à la "Million Dollar Baby."

7. Machete

You read that right. "Machete," the fake trailer from Robert Rodriguez which premiered in "Grindhouse" is now blown up into a feature length movie from Rodriguez himself. It stars Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez and, yes, Lindsay Lohan before she got hauled off to jail. If "Planet Terror" is any taste of what this is going to be, I'm totally there for all the uproariously bloody, absurd and hilarious action.

6. True Grit

The only thing I know about this latest from Joel and Ethan Coen is that it is a western remake of a 1969 original of the same name. We've learned from "No Country for Old Men" that the Coen brothers have excellent control of the western genre, so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. It stars Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin.

5. Another Year

What can I say? Mike Leigh cannot go wrong, and every review coming out of Cannes for this one was a rave. I have no idea what it's even about, but according to the trailer that just got released, it looks to be simply about people and relationships and, well, life in general. In other words, what Leigh does best. And it stars Jim Broadbent who I love.

4. Somewhere

After "Lost in Translation," my love for writer/director Sofia Coppola officially began. That movie still ranks among my top favorites of all time. This woman could pretty much direct a commercial about laundry detergent, and I'd be more than thrilled to see it. In any case, her newest film seems to be very similar in style to "Lost in Translation" with a focus on the relationship between two people, this time one between a man and his young daughter. It's going to have some great music from Phoenix, too.

3. The Social Network

The first trailer for David Fincher's new movie was a wondrous tease. Now that the second trailer is up, we can see some of the acting chops this movie has to offer, especially from Jesse Eisenberg most notable from movies ending in the word "land"--also known as "Adventureland" and "Zombieland." The movie boasts a timely and intriguing premise, too, about the founding of Facebook. The hype for this one is running high, and I'm sure Fincher will deliver.

2. Black Swan

Like Coppola, anything directed by Darren Aronofsky I'm going to be excited to check out. "Requiem for a Dream" is a classic and 2008's "The Wrestler" was an absolute knockout. And so, upon hearing that his latest movie would be about a ballet dancer, I was immediately fascinated. Then came that startling photo of Natalie Portman with a porcelain-white face and black makeup. Finally came the trailer which was astonishing and breathtaking. It absolutely solidified in my mind that this was one of the most anticipated movies of the fall for me.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Well, it's Harry Potter and it is, without a doubt, the movie I am most looking forward to seeing. And it's not just because I'm some sort of Harry Potter junkie or crazy fan. This isn't "Twilight" we're dealing with here. These are legitimately great movies, each and every one of them, and I don't see how this one could be any different. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" even made it into my top films list for last year. It was that good. And since this first part of the franchise's finale is coming from the same filmmaking team, we're more than likely looking forward to something just as good. Besides, we gotta see how this whole thing ends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

After a long wait of anticipation, the announcement has finally been made of who will be playing Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's English language remake of the Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy starting with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" slated for a December 2011 release.

The choice of Rooney Mara, a relative unknown recently seen in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake and "Youth in Revolt," is a good one. It was also the most predicted choice as Mara is soon to appear in Fincher's "The Social Network." I'm trying to picture the actress with chopped black hair and wearing thick black makeup and lots of leather, and I think she could pull it off.

Comparing the two actresses, Rooney Mara (left) doesn't bear much resemblance to Noomi Rapace (right), who plays Lisbeth in the Swedish original, but no resemblance is required, however, as Mara can make the part entirely her own. The big question, though, is whether or not she has the acting chops to pull off the part, one that is quite dynamic and demanding both emotionally and physically. If she does make it work, then she's looking at a surefire breakout performance that is assuming Fincher's version of the films will be as big of a hit in America.

And with Daniel Craig (left) already announced to be playing the part of Mikael Blomkvist, who was played by Michael Nyqvist (right), I'm looking forward to him and Rooney Mara making a great team, one that will hopefully stand right there with the success of Nyqvist and Rapace.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)

For starters, I'm not so much a Michael Cera fan myself. With the likes of "Juno" and "Superbad" where the character he played in each were basically interchangeable, I figured this actor was a one trick pony. Working with director Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz," "Shaun of the Dead"), however, Cera has finally heightened his token deadpan humor and finessed it into his very own playing the 22-year-old skinny slacker named Scott Pilgrim. No matter your preconceptions of the actor and even with his high airy voice, lanky arms, nerdy demeanor and turtle-looking face, just give in to the fact that this guy is, along with being a character in his own video game, somehow a chick magnet. Might as well because otherwise you'll be missing out on, aside from "Inception," the second-most wonderfully original movie of the summer, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Edgar Wright, who is known for his already cult classic genre spoofs, tackles something entirely new in adapting the series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley. The world of Scott Pilgrim, embedded in the chilled snow-covered realism of Toronto, is ultimately a fantasy, a world that is itself one big pop culture reference spanning from the 80s and 90s to today. It's a world that explodes off the screen with hyper energy and speed, flashing lights, colors, lively humor, quirky romance and highly stylized violence where nobody really gets hurt. The clever and charming visual accents of the movie transform this world into a mash-up of a comic book and a video game with doors that literally "Slam!" and phones that literally "Ring!" with defeated enemies bursting into a flurry of coins with glowing acquired point totals.

Strange praise would be calling this the best video game movie ever made because this is the only video game movie that wants to look like a video game without actually being based off a video game. Stranger yet that there is now a video game based on this movie. How does that work? Strangest of all is that the movie works as a video game with a big heart at its center. Unheard of, right? Scott Pilgrim's goal is simply to win the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a role that has her looking like a minor version of Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), a girl who carries a little extra baggage: the league of her seven evil exes all of which must be defeated before Scott can safely date Ramona.

Before Ramona entered his life (and dreams), Scott lived an ordinary life playing in his crappy band, Sex Bob-Omb--with a humorously frazzled Mark Webber singing the lead, a pouty but adorable Alison Pill on drums and all the songs composed by Beck--and dating his 17-year-old high school girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Everyone around Scott observes and comments, rather bitterly for the most part, on his plight more so including how to let Knives down easy to go for Ramona rather than how to deal with the exes who want him dead. Among them is Scott's gay roommate, Wallace, in a hilarious and scene-stealing turn from Kieran Culkin and Scott's sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick), who is perpetually impatient with him. With pursuing Ramona, Scott still has his own singular ex to deal with, Envy (Brie Larson), who is inconveniently part of a rock band that Scott's own band must eventually face-off against.

Each ex Scott battles is fun, weird and unique, and each duel boasts its own designated set piece and a even a "vs." that appears before our eyes. Brandon Routh as a bleach-blonde who gained magic superpowers for being a vegan, Chris Evans as a skateboarding, cocky action star and Jason Schwartzman as Gideon, the head of the evil exes are the highlights. Even an ex-girlfriend drops in who's more bi-furious than bi-curious.

The cast of characters is great, Cera and Winstead make a fine couple because you can tell she's constantly skeptical of him even as she's falling for him and although "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is essentially another coming-of-age tale, when is the last time you saw one complete with 1ups and game overs? You'll be all too tempted to say this honestly is like nothing you've ever seen before.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"The Other Guys" (2010)

Going into an Adam McKay movie, you pretty much expect only one thing and that is big laughs. Good news that this latest from the writer-director does not disappoint even with the stakes set pretty high. "The Other Guys" is non-stop laughs and stands tall among the likes of "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights." When the credits began to roll, my cheeks hurt from laughing so much at this action comedy that sends up the buddy cop movie while also cleverly honoring the traditions of the genre. It's as if McKay and his co-writer Chris Henchy, who now helm the comedy website Funny or Die, looked at what Kevin Smith did with "Cop Out" and thought to themselves, "We've gotta do this the right way." They've done it.

An uproarious opening sequence with Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson camping it up and not holding back kicks things off. After such a promising opening with these two playing the stereotypical tough police guys, the movie luckily never loses steam in churning out the laughs. From under your breath chuckles to full-out guffaws, they keep coming. These two play P.K. Highsmith and Christopher Danson, the two head detectives who talk dirty and don't mind wrecking an entire city street for a minor marijuana case. When these guys return to the office, everyone cheers for them and idolizes them even for their crass recklessness.

Then there's the other guys, played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. They are Allen Gamble and Terry Holtz who are detective partners but never leave the office. And while Allen is complacent with sitting behind a desk typing and humming away, Terry desperately wants to escape the office, get out into the field and, as he states, fly like a peacock. Though they have the badges, they're not even considered real cops. This is because Allen is too careful about playing it safe, and Terry had the misfortune of accidentally shooting New York Yankee Derek Jeeter the last time he was on active duty.

From their very first scene together, we realize Ferrell and Wahlberg are an unexpectedly ideal comedic match. Ferrell sends Allen on one of his trademark comic riffs, this one about how a school of tuna could kill a lion, while Wahlberg's Terry repeatedly lashes out at him with uncontrollable anger. From there this oddball mismatching is constantly--and hilariously--arguing and quipping back and forth lovingly poking fun at the buddy cop dynamic.

Once the duo catches a lead, it sends them on a chase into corrupt corporate big heads who are using money they shouldn't be and paying off others in shady ways, and while the actual crime the pair is hunting down does get a bit muddled into Wall Street, there is the always superb Steve Coogan holding it down as the biggest corporate head of them all. Also great is Michael Keaton as the police captain who unknowingly references the titles of TLC songs and has a part-time job at Bed Bath & Beyond. Along with that is Eva Mendes as Allen's smoking hot wife who he treats as his plain-looking ball and chain of a housewife. They're both playing into the fun, which makes it all the funnier for us.

"The Other Guys" is crammed with plenty of ridiculous and intentionally silly scenes such as a slow-motion gunfight with Terry sliding on his back along a glass table shooting off his pistols like a madman. And the way a wild night of drinking is shown is absolutely hysterical and like nothing you've seen before. The stand-out here, though, is Wahlberg who effortlessly stands his ground even against Ferrell's antics. Casting such as this is what carries th movie making it easily the funniest comedy of the summer.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It would appear that remaking Swedish film hits is the newest trend in filmmaking. Along with all the buzz of David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," coming this October just in time for Halloween is the remake of the highly-acclaimed Swedish film, "Let the Right One In." Unassuming in its title, the film is about vampires but also hailed as one of the best vampire movies ever made. Lofty ambitions for the American remake, titled "Let Me In," coming from the director of "Cloverfield," Matt Reeves.

Upon checking out the trailer for "Let Me In," I have to say I'm looking forward to it. What most impresses me about this new version is the rather brilliant casting. After her successful break-out performance in "Kick-Ass," the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz feels pitch-perfect. The other young actor is Kodi Smit-McPhee best known for playing the Boy in "The Road" alongside Viggo Mortensen.

And if the trailer is any indication, the movie also seems fittingly dark and moody.