30 April 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Jackie Earle Haley portrays Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema's horror film "A Nightmare On Elm Street."
After Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company made new versions of "Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," along with lesser known horror flicks like "The Amityville Horror" and "The Hitcher," and Rob Zombie tackled "Halloween," it was inevitable that Bay and friends would take a walk down Elm Street.

In many ways, remaking Freddy Krueger is a much more difficult task than Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Leatherface. Freddy is a character with a personality, with a single  actor (Robert Englund) associated with the role. The others are unspeaking, masked psycopaths portrayed, in many cases, by stuntmen.

So for the 2010 version of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the producers found themselves an Oscar nominee in Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children," 2006; he's also known as Rorschach from last year's "Watchmen").

16 April 2010



"With no power comes no responsibility." So says the protagonist of the superb new superhero movie Kick-Ass, based on a comic book series by Mark Millar (Wanted).

But is that true? Shouldn't we all feel a responsibility to try to make the world around us a better place?

That is the mindset of New York City teenager Dave Lizewski (an amiable Aaron Johnson), a comic book geek who wonders why there are no real-life superheroes. He also thinks he'll look cool as a costumed crime-fighter.

So he orders himself a green and yellow wetsuit, which is baggy and not remotely cool on his skinny frame, though he thinks otherwise. Armed with a pair of batons and calling himself "Kick-Ass," he hits the streets in search of evildoers.

He ends up in the hospital.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Like the novel on which the film is based, this review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be heavy on exposition.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in Swedish author Stieg Larsson's internationally best-selling Millennium trilogy, all of which was published after his 2004 death.

All three films already have been made in Sweden and were released there and elsewhere last year. The first in the series--released under its original Swedish title or its literal English translation, Men Who Hate Women, in most other countries--did not wash up on these shores until March. It arrived here after becoming the highest-grossing European film of 2009 and the highest-grossing Swedish film of all time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the rare film that lives up to the hype preceding it.

Interview: Runaways director Floria Sigismondi

I recently interviewed Floria Sigismondi, writer and director of The Runaways. Read it HERE at Live-Metal.net.

The Runaways

The Runaways

The Runaways tells the story of the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name, but it is a man who looms largest over the action in the film. Dressed in garish '70s glam rock fashions (with makeup to boot), Michael Shannon's Kim Fowley, manager/producer/songwriter/architect of the band, stalks and prowls through the movie, dominating the screen whenever he appears.

Emotionally abusive if not physically (though at one point he brings in kids to throw trash and worse at the girls for rock 'n' roll "boot camp"), his methods are extreme, his behavior often revolting. He's being kind by his standards when he calls the girls "dogs." He's exploitative and creepy (his reaction after meeting Currie: "Jail-(expletive)-bait! Jack-(expletive)-pot!) yet somehow exudes a bizarre charisma. In that way, Shannon, nominated for an Oscar for 2008's Revolutionary Road, brings to mind Christopher Walken.

Date Night

Date Night

Date Night works as an action-comedy precisely because its characters do not know they are in either a comedy or an action movie. They don't seem to realize they're in a movie at all.

They are simply Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey), a married couple from New Jersey. They have a good but dull marriage. They genuinely like and love each other (yes, there is an important distinction between those two concepts). But between their jobs--he's a tax lawyer, she's a real estate agent--and caring for their two young children, their time for each other is limited to one weekly date. And even that has become routine--same restaurant, same food.

Trying to break out of this rut, the Fosters head into Manhattan for a night on the town. Of course, they can't get a table at the trendy new restaurant they want to try. In a rare moment of spontaneity, Phil claims the reservation of another couple the Tripplehorns that hasn't shown up.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans

Let's get this out of the way: 3D adds nothing to Clash of the Titans other than headaches and a few dollars to the ticket price. And, oh yeah, it makes the images darker and blurrier, too.

Avatar showed 3D can be used effectively, to bring the movie to the audience, creating a richer, more immersive experience. James Cameron, of course, conceived and shot that film in the format, even developed new technology to ensure his vision made it to the screen intact.

Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen movie, was filmed in the traditional two dimensions. It was only during post-production, after Avatar raked in the dough, that the decision was made to try to cash in on what has become with the one notable exception the most annoying Hollywood trend of my lifetime.

Maybe the filmmakers are hoping the extra dimension can mask the movie's deficiencies in other areas.

She's Out of My League

She's Out of My League

I was not expecting much from She's Out of My League, which, from the trailers, looks like an Apatow-lite romantic comedy with an untested leading man surrounded by a bunch of little known faces. What a pleasant surprise this movie is, then, coming from first-time feature director Jim Field Smith and screenwriters Sean Anders and John Morris (who also have credits on the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine).

Skinny, awkward Jay Baruchel is 20-something Kirk, whose dream is of being a pilot and reality is working in security at Pittsburgh International Airport. He hasn't had much luck with the ladies since being dumped by Marnie (Lindsay Sloane), who won over his family so completely that she still hangs out at his parents' home with her new boyfriend (Hayes MacArthur).

Kirk has a support group--a trio of fellow airport employees (T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel and Nate Torrence)-- that urges him to forget Marnie and move on with his life.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

For all of the wild, 3D effects, eccentric characters and sly nods to its source material, the highlights of director Tim Burton's take on Alice in Wonderland are the performances of his two favorite actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Depp, starring for Burton for the seventh time, is the Mad Hatter, whose shattered mental state is reflected in his physical appearance perpetually shellshocked, tattered clothes and hair apparently styled by Carrot Top. Depp, as is his wont, loses himself in the role and emerges with a Hatter who is as mad as ever yet more fleshed out and human than we have seen before.

Bonham Carter, Burton's longtime partner and the mother of his children, appears in her sixth film for the director. She is the nefarious Red Queen, she of the bulbous head, who controls the dreaded Jabberwocky, keeping the inhabitants of Underland in a perpetual state of fear.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island

During the past eight years, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have become arguably the greatest contemporary director-actor combo. Their last pairing, The Departed (2006), finally won Scorsese the best director Oscar that had eluded him so many times before. It was also the movie that, in my mind, established DiCaprio as one of our most dynamic leading men. It deservedly won the Academy Award for best picture and was one of the finest films of the decade (narrowly missing my top 10).

I tell you this so that it has meaning when I say that Shutter Island, the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, is the best work they have done together.

This isn't Scorsese chasing an award or some other form of prestige. Or DiCaprio looking to be taken seriously as an actor and not just as the Titanic heartthrob.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson

The premise of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief holds great potential potential the film never realizes.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a New York City teenager whose less-than-charmed life finds him plagued by dyslexia and living with his mother (Catherine Keener) and wretched stepfather (Joe Pantoliano).

But there is a reason why Percy can hold his breath underwater for an astonishing length of time: His father is none other than Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Greek god of the sea. Percy doesn't know this, of course, until he and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who turns out to be a satyr (half man, half goat) sent to him as a protector, are whisked away to a training camp for demigods (the offspring of god-human couplings) sort of a rustic, low-budget Hogwarts.

The Wolfman

The Wolfman

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the classic Universal horror movies. Some of my earliest movie heroes were Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., stars of Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941), respectively.

The Wolf Man, which revived the studio as a leading producer of horror films, holds up better today than the others. The 10-year gap did wonders for reducing the stage influence on the acting and the unimaginative, static cinematography.

Werewolves have been prevalent in many movies over the years, but for some reason, Hollywood left the original alone until now.

Given its troubled path to the big screen, The Wolfman (2010) is far better than it has any right to be.

When in Rome

When in Rome

If nothing else, the casting of When in Rome amazes.

The casting directors managed to find an actress tinier than tiny leading lady Kristen Bell (Alexis Dziena) and an actor that she towers over when she's wearing heels (Danny DeVito).

Little else about the movie is as amusing.

Bell is Beth, a young curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, married to her job and, jaded as she is about love, unlikely to be married to a man at any time in the foreseeable future. In Rome for her younger sister's (Dziena) whirlwind wedding, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), the best man, and surprisingly finds herself smitten until she sees evidence of his womanizing ways. A drunken foray into the "Fountain of Love" ends with her taking a handful of coins tossed in by lovesick tourists tourists who then find themselves hopelessly in love with Beth.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air

There is perhaps no film that represents the present better than Up in the Air.

A boss (Jason Bateman) gathers his employees and lays out the situation: It is a time of economic turmoil, the worst recession since the Great Depression, people are losing jobs at an alarming rate.

"This is our time," he says.

The company sends its employees across the country to do the dirty work--the firing--when other companies have to let workers go. One of its best is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who keeps an apartment but whose real home is airports and airplanes, hotel rooms and conference rooms. Where is he from? "Here," he answers from several thousand feet in the air.

There is truth in that, as he is approaching 10 million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines.