Monday, August 29, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 55 - Timecop (Guest: Eric D. Snider from Film.com)


In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by Eric D. Snider (from Film.com) to discuss Peter Hyams' 1994 film, Timecop.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:41

Media Consumed
Tyler
Jack the Giant Killer - 2:45
"Conan The Adventurer" - 3:10
Silver Surfer comics - 5:50

Eric
"The Wire" - 9:48

Ben
"Breaking Bad" - 11:53
The Shit Show - 13:05

Review
Timecop - 17:55

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Tombstone - 51:21
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 51:54

Character Name Game - 55:45
Up My Queue - 58:40

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Of all the movies promoted at Comic-Con 2010, I was the most surprised by Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. With the veteran hand of Guillermo del Toro writing and producing, and first time director Troy Nixey at the helm, it looked moody, atmospheric, and - most importantly for a horror film - downright scary. They showed us the opening scene, and I was captivated by what we saw; excellent production design, a frightening concept, and some well-placed sound effects worked wonders on that audience, and had me leaving the convention anticipating the film's release. So it brings me no pleasure to report discouraging news: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a lifeless, boring "horror" story almost completely devoid of scary moments. For me, it's the biggest theatrical disappointment of 2011 so far.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Director: Troy Nixey
Starring: Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce


The story is simple enough: young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to Rhode Island to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). They all live in a spooky old mansion they're renovating; it once belonged to an enigmatic artist named Emerson Blackwood who dies at the hands of little demon/fairy/mythical figures in the aforementioned prologue. The creatures demand the price of one human life every time they surface, and their diet consists solely of children's teeth. When Sally discovers the basement where they live, they spend the entire movie trying to convince her to come "play" with them. 

Sally's a child of divorce, and an annoying one at that: she sulks around a lot doing typical divorced child things - being ice cold to dad's new girlfriend, wandering off by herself, you get the picture. She's intrigued by the creepy whispers she hears calling her name, and she's so desperate for attention that she repeatedly sneaks off to meet the creatures, ignoring the orders of her workaholic father (never seen THAT character before). Bailee Madison has some good years ahead of her on the silver screen, but this is not a breakout performance from her. [I'd guess she was cast due to her striking resemblance to Katie Holmes (it's uncanny, really), but that makes no sense in the context of the movie, since Holmes' character isn't her mother.] Sally does so many stupid things - all typical haunted house movie stuff - that I couldn't root for her. By the end, I was secretly hoping she'd die, just so the message of the movie would be one guarding against stupidity.


It's safe to say one of the most important elements in any film bearing Guillermo del Toro's name is creature design. In Blade II, the Hellboy franchise, and his most critically acclaimed movie, Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro has shown an affinity (and affection) for crafting interesting creatures that play important parts in the stories he tells. In Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, they were nothing more than miniature hunchback people with small fangs, less than a foot tall and not threatening in any convincing way. It would take very little effort to simply kick one in the face, and the force of such a kick would surely kill it, but apparently that concept never enters the mind of anyone in the film. The mythology of these creatures (traditionally, one of del Toro's strengths) is wildly inconsistent in this movie, another one of the film's many let-downs. The little things whine about how it hurts them to be in the light - occasionally they'll scream in pain when someone shines a flashlight on them - but late in the movie there's a scene in which a creature wanders through a brightly lit dinner party with no ill side effects, and yet another scene in which someone shines a light directly on one and it just scowls and growls without running away.


No one could ever call Guillermo del Toro lazy - he's one of the busiest people in Hollywood. He's got more projects in development than anyone else I can think of (except for maybe DiCaprio), and he even spent two years developing The Hobbit before stepping down and letting Peter Jackson take the reins. But Don't Be Afraid of the Dark seems to be a result of del Toro's time and attention being stretched too thin. The movie has no pulse, the pacing is terrible, and it's not actually scary. That last aspect is what I found particularly insulting, considering del Toro's talks about how the MPAA gave the film an R rating for "pervasive scariness" even though they didn't have to rely on torture and gore. The MPAA apparently consists of a few hyper-sensitive seven-year-old children, because I doubt anyone from another age group would find this movie so devastatingly frightening that they'd give it an R rating.


Perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is that almost nothing relevant happens for the majority of the run time. After the opening sequence, nothing happens for a solid hour. Then there's one jump scare, and nothing happens for a while. There's even a potentially scary scene in a bathtub, but because these creatures hardly ever do anything worth being scared of, it's next to impossible to see them as a serious threat. That's the main reason this movie is the biggest disappointment of the year: squandered potential. With the talent involved here, this should have been a home run. But a lazy script and mediocre direction result in a movie that just doesn't sustain interest. Until next time...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Warrior

Gavin O'Connor continues his trend of family-centric dramas with Warrior, a story of two brothers on a collision course through a high stakes tournament of mixed martial arts (MMA). As someone who is utterly disinterested in mixed martial arts, I didn't think this film would have much to offer me, but contrary to my cynical first impressions, I ended up liking this movie quite a bit. It's a well-executed drama that has a nice balance of family conflict and hard-hitting action, and the main actors all give great performances, creating a cast of compelling main characters. What else do you want from a MMA movie?

Warrior
Co-writer/Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte


Tom Hardy continues his rise to stardom by delivering a standout performance as Tommy, the down-on-his-luck younger brother who looks to MMA as a distraction from his military past. Hardy is a terrific actor, utilizing a slouched posture, mumbled speech, and a fire in his eyes to depict his character. He is in excellent shape here, too, recalling his physically demanding role in the underseen 2009 film Bronson that really grabbed Hollywood's attention. One can assume Hardy acted in Warrior and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises in close proximity since he's taking the part of the hulking villain Bane in Christopher Nolan's sequel. Joel Edgerton, a name not yet well-known among the general public, proves he can lead a Hollywood movie here, giving a more well-rounded performance than some of his co-workers and really making the audience root for him in a dire situation. Edgerton is probably more famous for parts he hasn't even played yet, with a lead role in the upcoming prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing and a huge part in Baz Luhrmann's remake of The Great Gatsby, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan.


Surprisingly, the best performance in the movie comes from Nick Nolte, a guy who many (myself included) had all but written off because of drug problems. There may be some Best Supporting Actor talk for him once Oscar season rolls around, and he probably deserves a nomination. He's sympathetic, earnest, and his character's downward spiral late in the movie comes as a heartbreaking blow to the audience. Some may say it's melodramatic or a bit over the top, but that would be the fault of the writers, not Nolte himself. He does some great work with what he's given.


Boiling it down to its most basic elements, Warrior is this year's The Fighter. The influence of David O. Russell's Best Picture nominee can be felt all throughout O'Connor's movie, from the handheld verite style (nearly every shot has an object out of focus in the foreground) to the underdog vibe running throughout. In fact, one might say that this is the ultimate underdog sports movie, considering it has not one, but two underdog stories running simultaneously. Comparisons to FX's short-lived television series "Lights Out" are not unwarranted either, as the relationship between Edgerton's Brendan and his wife Tess (played by Jennifer Morrison) is similar to the one depicted in that fantastic show. I'm all for progressive narrative storytelling, but some movies are actually better off it they benefit from the familiar; Warrior takes the tried-and-true approach to its story, and though it has elements that we've seen in many of the Rocky films and other sports stories over the years, they work very well within the context of this movie.


And for those of you who come for the fights, you won't be disappointed. Overall, I'd label this a family movie, but there are some pretty bone-crunching sequences that actually drove my audience to applause multiple times. O'Connor shoots the action as effectively as the family turmoil and - thanks to some excellent sound design - you can almost feel it when someone gets lifted and body slammed to the mat. Professional wrestler Kurt Angle even makes a cameo as "The Russian," essentially a copy of Dolph Lundgren's seminal character in Rocky IV.


The relationships in Warrior aren't quite as interesting as those in The Fighter, and though the cast does fine work, there isn't anyone who comes close to Christian Bale's towering performance as Dickie Eklund; I'm simply warning against raising expectations too high. But if you're jonesing for a good sports movie, you won't find a better one this side of 2011 than Warrior. Until next time...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 54 - Marathon Man


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss John Schlesinger's 1976 film, Marathon Man.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:57

Media Consumed
Tyler
Plan 9 From Outer Space - 2:26

Ben
The Kid Stays in the Picture - 10:05

Review
Marathon Man - 16:05

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Timecop - 51:10
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 52:48
 
Poetry Month Reading - 55:35
Character Name Game - 59:07

Where You Can Find Us - 1:00:40

Sunday, August 14, 2011

30 Minutes or Less

In 30 Minutes or Less, each of the main actors capitalize on former on-screen personas to coast through a version of a real-life horror story repackaged into a Hollywood comedy. This is nowhere near the worst film of the year, but it's also nothing to write home about and, at best, it's maybe worth a viewing on home video. 

30 Minutes or Less
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson


Ruben Fleischer's second feature takes a similar approach to genre considerations as his debut film Zombieland did: 30 Minutes or Less operates in a world in which movies exist, and his characters use popular culture to influence their actions. When two jackasses (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) strap a bomb to pizza delivery guy Nick's (Jesse Eisenberg) chest to coerce him to rob a bank, Nick sits on a toilet while researching ways to diffuse it, calling to mind a similar scene in Lethal Weapon 2. Later, Nick says he doesn't know how to rob the bank, but his best friend, an elementary school teacher named Chet (Aziz Ansari), points out that Point Break is a perfect instruction manual of how to pull off the job. An action-filled car chase plays over Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On," a song that perfectly encapsulates 80s cop comedies, first appearing in Beverly Hills Cop.

The film succeeds in these moments, but unfortunately can't sustain that success for the rest of the movie. When it's not overtly referencing other movies, the movie aimlessly wanders between recycled plot points (best friends fight, make up, band together to accomplish their mission; stupid guy wants to kill rich dad, hires assassin, there's a mix-up) that aren't enough to make us truly care what happens to any of the characters. A half-assed love story between Nick and Chet's sister Kate is a pitiful attempt to make the protagonist sympathetic, but it's a failure on every level. There isn't much acting going on here: these guys are basically playing versions of themselves that we've seen before in other media, and it really feels like everyone involved (including Fleischer behind the camera) was mailing this one in.


I'm not looking for one hundred percent realism when it comes to mainstream Hollywood comedies, but when Aziz plays a school teacher who bails on his kids in the middle of the day to follow Eisenberg around, I feel like it's not too much to wonder what happens to those kids sitting there without a teacher for the rest of the day. Same thing with the money stolen from the bank - aren't the cops going to come looking for it? The film ends - SPOILERS AHEAD - with the main trio of Jesse, Aziz, and Sister driving away into the night, talking about how much awesome stuff they're going to buy with this money they stole. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I'm pretty sure it's not that easy to rob a bank and get away with it. The lack of difficulty in accomplishing their goals seems to run parallel to the laziness of this script as a whole. It's flat, has no natural momentum, and even though there's a literal ticking clock and the stakes and suspense should be ramped up, these guys take so many random side trips that nothing seems to matter at all by the finale.


At the end of the day, we can only watch Danny McBride do his Kenny Powers schtick for so long. It's funny for a minute or two, and then it just gets tiring. I'm not placing the blame entirely on McBride here, since he's one of many who are just breezing along here with no real heart or emotional investment, but he's an easy target because, more than anyone else in this film, he just does the same thing in nearly every movie he's in these days. It's a problem found in a lot of actors these days, and on one hand you can't fault them; these guys are just trying to cash in while they can because no one can predict when the tides of mainstream taste will change and leave them high and dry. But just because they are mailing it in, that doesn't mean I have to like it. 30 Minutes or Less? Return to sender. Until next time...

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 53 - The Usual Suspects (Guest: Katey Rich from CinemaBlend.com)


In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by Katey Rich (from CinemaBlend.com) to discuss Bryan Singer's 1995 film, The Usual Suspects.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:15

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Jackie Chan Adventures" - 1:45
Final Destination 5 - 3:45
Tomahawk Talk - 8:18

Katey
Brighton Rock - 9:12
Season 1 of "The Wire" - 12:37

Ben
"Samurai Champloo" - 14:35

Review
The Usual Suspects - 19:15

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Marathon Man - 47:50
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 48:57
Character Name Game - 51:13
Poetry Month Reading - 53:11

Know Your Specs - 56:10
Where You Can Find Us - 1:04:15

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 52 - Pitch Black


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss David Twohy's 2000 film, Pitch Black.




Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:50

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Batman: The Brave and the Bold" - 2:45
"NTSF:SD:SUV" - 6:10
Comic series "52" - 7:38
Earwolf plug - 12:10

Ben
The Apartment - 14:05
ABC Press Tour - 21:00

Review
Pitch Black - 32:45

Wrap-Up
Next Week: The Usual Suspects - 1:03:30
Listener Voicemail/E-mail/Twitter - 1:04:40
Poetry Reading - 1:05:50
Character Name Game - 1:12:30
Know Your Specs - 1:15:40
Where You Can Find Us - 1:20:43

NJNM After Midnight: Ep. 4


Episode 4: The Cinematical World of Harry Potter
The ole NJNM crew pontificate with special guest Pat about Ben's decade-long experiment with the Harry Potter franchise. Check it out!

Download Here [Direct Link]

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I'm sitting in a theater, and the trailers begin. Hey, there's James Franco, talking about a cure for Alzheimer's. There's an ape, creepily standing over a couple in their room as they sleep. There go multiple apes, galumphing down the Golden Gate Bridge and leaping into helicopters. I scoff, shake my head, and sigh. This does not look like my idea of a good time. I doubt I'll see this movie.

Cut to a few days before the release date of Rise of the Planet of the Apes - the film in question, in case that was unclear - and I'm shocked to discover an amazing amount of good buzz for the movie from the critical community. I reiterate to friends the notion of watching 50 apes wander around a city like a bunch of little T-Rexes (T-Ri?) in Spielberg's The Lost World doesn't appeal to me, but I admit my curiosity is piqued. People I trust are digging this thing, so I decide to see a Saturday afternoon showing - more out of a desire to appease my curiosity than to actually see the movie. And I'll be a damned dirty ape: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is surprisingly excellent.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton


On paper, this movie has many things stacked against it. A 20th Century Fox tentpole (a studio known for releases of...questionable quality over the past decade), it's got a relatively unknown director in Rupert Wyatt, the filmmakers opted for motion capture effects instead of practical prosthetics, and the entire film is a seemingly unnecessary prequel to a franchise which began in the 1960s and crashed and burned with Tim Burton's entry in 2001. Yet, despite all of these negatives, the film rises (no pun intended) above these obstacles and becomes one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the summer.


The motion capture work here - and Andy Serkis' performance - is, for the most part, astonishingly good. The technology still hasn't quite leapt over the uncanny valley, but after a few minutes of general unease when I realized the CG apes are just slightly unrealistic, this honestly wasn't an issue. The emotion the filmmakers were able to capture from Serkis and the other actors' faces is palpable, and makes the apes the best part of the entire movie; not only that, I'd go as far as to say this is the most impressive use of motion capture technology that I've seen on film. (Avatar featured alien creatures, so perhaps the emotion was easier lost in translation as opposed to here, in which the apes reacted like humans in many ways.) 


The most impressive task the writers accomplished was balancing the character of Caesar. He could have easily been immediately villainized, considering his future in this franchise. Instead, he becomes a tragic figure, one who elicits compassion from the audience. He's the kind of character we kind of pull for to get his way in the end, even though he may not go about it the proper way. It's been many, many years since I've seen the original Planet of the Apes, but my memory of it (especially in that iconic finale) conjured feelings of despair and hopelessness with regards to the apes; here, they're matched up against abusive caretakers and corporate sloths, making the apes and their plan sympathetic in the long run.


The action was solid all the way through, the pacing was fantastic, and the acting was great. That Golden Gate Bridge sequence I mentioned from the trailer? Awesome. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a single set piece, character, or even a moment that didn't propel the story forward. (How often can you say that about a summer blockbuster?) James Franco, and John Lithgow brought their respective A-games, and supporting players like Tom Felton, Brian Cox, Tyler Labine, and Freida Pinto rounded out a wonderful cast of compelling characters. But at the end of the day, this is the Serkis circus and Andy reigns supreme.


Based on my perception of the movie before I saw it, I can't believe I'm saying this, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is worth your money to see in theaters. It's not only a great summer movie, it's a coming of age story for an ape (a "coming of ape" story, perhaps?) that is equally as effective as any similar story told from the human perspective. This is one of the rare pieces of pop culture that transcends its cynical studio-driven origins and, against all odds, turns out to be highly entertaining. This is the surprise of the summer. Until next time...

Monday, August 1, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 51 - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss Mike Newell's 2010 film, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.





Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:50

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Thundercats" series premiere - 2:25

Ben
Season 2 of "Breaking Bad" - 8:29
The Clock - 10:15

Review
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - 15:15

Wrap-Up
Listener E-mail/Voicemail - 53:20
Next Time: Pitch Black - 57:27
Character Name Game - 59:26
Up Your Specs - 1:00:45
Where You Can Find Us - 1:09:00

NJNM After Midnight: Year in Review


Episode 3: State of the Podcast
Ben and the "T Man" set up shop in the fictional, downtown Chinese restaurant to talk about themselves...and the podcast. But mostly about themselves. Check it out!

Download Here [Direct Link]