Tuesday, May 23, 2006

X-Men's Last Stand Just as X-cellent as Previous Efforts

I saw director Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand last night and I thought it was pretty good.

I really don't understand why a significant contingent of insiders out in Hollywood made it its mission to challenge the studio's decision to replace original helmer Bryan Singer (who opted to do the upcoming Superman Returns instead) with the guy who gave us the Rush Hour movies. After all, most of the same people were really far up Ratner's you-know-what in praise once.

I’ve met the guy (we talked for After the Sunset) and he could not have been any cooler. Sure, you can tell that this X movie didn’t involve the exact same team, but that is not to say it’s any less entertaining or satisfying. If anything, the movie has a different sensitivity, which only adds to the sense of urgency its plot calls for.

The Last Stand certainly stands apart, tonally at least, from Singer's efforts. It caps off the trilogy nicely in terms of tying loose ends from X-Men and X2: X-Men United, tells its own story, and sets the stage for potential sequels (though the studio doesn't really have any plans for a fourth chapter anytime soon but rather a Wolverine spin-off).

As you probably know, in this movie a vaccine to "cure" mutants has been developed – but can you really fix a gene (in this case the X gene) that makes you who you are? Anyway, it gives mutants a choice: they can retain their gifts, as Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, pictured on set with Ratner) and his students call their powers, or give them up to become human.

But while Xavier understands why some mutants would consider this option – Rogue (Anna Paquin), I’m looking at you – the always-contrary Magneto (Ian McKellen) believes this "cure" is nothing but an opportunity for humans to obliterate all mutants.

And so, opposing viewpoints set the stage for one more battle, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), newcomers Angel (Six Feet Under's Ben Foster), Kitty Pryde (Hard Candy’s Ellen Page), and Beast (Kelsey Grammer) take a stand against Magneto and his Brotherhood.

What I will reveal at this point – the only thing I will reveal, actually – is that perhaps Ratner's movie lacks the sort of offbeat humor that was as predominant in Singer's entries as was the action, though it is there. As is the Dark Phoenix storyline (ish). And loss. There is loss in this one. Sad loss.

Having said this, in terms of mythology, I don't know much about what kind of research went into the script, but I was glad to recognize certain aspects from the animated series of the late-1990s. I’m confident that the X franchise will be revisited sometime soon in the future.

Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

This Summer, the World Is Madonna's Dance Floor

Tomorrow, Madonna embarks on her "Confessions Tour" in Los Angeles, for which she promises to "pull out all the stops" as she makes her way across major U.S. cities (including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Miami), Canada, Europe, and Japan.

Yet I cannot help but wonder if perhaps it’s too much too soon. After all, her hit "Reinvention Tour" was only two years ago. Is it really necessary for her to tour again after a couple of summers?

"I'm going to turn the world into one big dance floor," Madonna said back in April when the tour was announced. (Oh, yeah? Then how come there’s no South America or Australia on the schedule?) Surely, if anyone can do this it is the Queen of Pop, who at 47 has never looked or sounded better.

Am I excited about the tour? You bet your leotard I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that she’s coming to town. I just think that Madonna could’ve spent a little more time building up the success of her last album, Confessions on a Dance Floor
, stateside, before touring, since it was such a smash hit everywhere else.

For one, she should not have waited four months between the release, as singles, of the catchy "Hung Up" and "Sorry." Why was that? Oh, and get this – she's not releasing "Get Together" until the end of July.

And why hasn’t she tapped into some sort of advertisement tie-in for "Jump"?

These aren’t questions that only I am thinking about. Other fans are, too.

Also, since the whole premise of the "Confessions Tour" is to make the world into "one big dance floor," why has she reportedly included the undeniably slow numbers "Live to Tell," Drowned World/Substitute for Love," and "Paradise (Not for Me)" on the set list?

(Hey, at least she's doing "Like a Virgin" – I should just shut my trap, even though she's not doing "Holiday" for the first time ever – and who knows, perhaps she's re-invented those numbers for this tour.)

Again, Madonna can do whatever she wants (as she does remarkably well so often); I’ll try to be there to dance and sing, get up, and do my thing.
But, couldn’t she have included more upbeat, dance-y songs like "Physical Attraction," "Love Profusion," "Everybody," and "Keep It Together" in this upcoming outing?

In the end, none of it really matters – the "Confessions Tour" will be the hottest ticket this summer. I just wish I didn’t have all these questions. It’s called anticipation, I suppose, which is something Madonna still manages to create every step of the way.

P.S.: Rumor has it that Guy Ritchie will accompany the missus on the road, and that he will document the tour on film à la Truth or Dare and I'm Going to Tell You a Secret. Not for nothing, but that sounds like a really cool rumor.

Photo: CBSNews.com.

Friday, May 19, 2006

New Sept. 11 Movie Trailer Debuts Today

FYI: If you go to see The Da Vinci Code, be warned the trailer for director Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, debuts today.

Due out Aug. 9, the movie comes on the heels of United 93.

It follows the true story of Officer Will Jimeno (Crash's Michael Peña) and Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), two Port Authority police officers who rushed into one of the burning towers on Sept. 11 to help rescue people, but became trapped themselves when the tower collapsed.

The movie co-stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello as Jimeno and McLouglin's wives, respectively.

Photo: Paramount Pictures.
For Fun Go Over the Hedge

Spring has sprung in DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge, a cute and funny and smart and vibrantly animated movie that’s sure to appeal to both kids and adults just the same.

I know I liked it – a lot.

Since M:i:III is being touted a Tom Cruise disappointment, Poseidon pretty much sunk (and stunk), and The Da Vinci Code got mixed-to-bad buzz off its Cannes premiere, I’m guessing Over the Hedge is going to be this season’s first bona fide critical and commercial hit.

The movie follows the adventures of tortoise Verne and his woodland critter friends as they awaken from their long winter's nap…to discover that a tall, green "thing" has mysteriously cropped up right through the middle of their home.

Enter RJ (voiced by a terrific Bruce Willis), an opportunistic raccoon, who explains that the world beyond the hedge is the "gateway to the good life," where peculiar creatures called humans live to eat, rather than eat to live.

Suspicious and even a little jealous of RJ, the ever-cautious Verne (voiced by Garry Shandling) wants to keep his melting-pot family – which includes an overprotective possum and his daughter, a self-conscious skunk, and an ADD-addled squirrel – safely on their side of the hedge.

But, proving the adage that one man's garbage is another man's – or rather animal's – treasure, the manipulative RJ tries to convince the band that there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. (RJ, of course, has an agenda of his own.)

Eventually, though, RJ and Verne form an unlikely friendship as they learn to co-exist with – and even exploit – this strange new world called suburbia.

As you can imagine, Over the Hedge is filled with messages for kids (family and friendship are important, as is honesty and teamwork) and adults (slow down, take a moment to enjoy what you have).

It is really quite easy to get over any of this because the woodland creature’s adventures as so amusing – there are hearty laughs for all.

Not to mention, the talent voicing them is tremendously entertaining – Wanda Sykes as Stella the skunk and Steve Carell (go The Office!) as Hammy the squirrel are especially noteworthy.

My Rating ****

Photo: DreamWorks Animation.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Poseidon Sinks; You Don't Have To

What would summer be without a remake or a disaster movie – after all, both genres offer distinct possibilities for a fun time, which is kind of the point of summer to begin with, no? But what do you get when you flatly combine the two (this is too easy)?

A disaster of a remake, that's what.

I told ya it was too easy.

You know what Poseidon (a remake of Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure of 1972) is all about, though, so you can see where I’m going with this.

When a rogue wave capsizes the titular luxury cruise ship in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, a small group of survivors finds itself forming an unlikely alliance in a battle for their lives.

You’ve got the reluctant hero (Josh Lucas), who ignores the captain's orders to wait below for possible rescue and sets out to find his own way to safety.

There’s also a desperate father (Kurt Russell) searching for his daughter (The Day After Tomorrow’s Emmy Rossum) and her fiancé (Rumor Has It’s Mike Vogel), a single mother (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’s Jacinda Barrett’s and her wise-beyond-his-years son, an anxious stowaway (Mia Maestro, from TV’s Alias) and a depressed gay man (Richard Dreyfuss).

Determined to fight their way to the surface, the group sets off through the disorienting maze of twisted steel, making their way up the upside down wreckage as the unstable ship rapidly fills with water.

I never had any high expectations for Poseidon, which was directed by disaster-meister Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, The Day After Tomorrow). It being a disaster summer movie (though not one of Petersen’s most satisfying), I expected it to be an edge-of-you-seat thrill ride.

Instead, I found it derivative, clumsily edited (especially in the beginning) and written (character development is telegraphed at best, though it is clear that someone really likes Lucas in hero mode), and often cheap-looking (the opening shot reminded me of a beyond enhanced – read faux – architectural rendition). The body count is well-paced, though.

Having said this, Poseidon will probably make a boatload of money at the box office, precisely because it is so mindless. The biggest star of this movie is the rogue wave, of course. It’s too bad that she comes and goes much too quickly.

My Rating **

Photo: Warner Bros.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lindsay Lohan's Living in the Fastlane...So Try to Keep Up

I really like La Lohan, and I am not ashamed to say so.

I think she's really hot and really talented. I have both of her CDs (Speak and A Little More Personal (Raw)...got 'em!), which I listen and dance to every week – I even got to tell her so at last year's MTV VMAs – and I've seen all of her movies (Mean Girls is so fetch!).

So I'm really looking forward to catching this Friday's Just My Luck and A Prairie Home Companion (June 9). The latter is a Robert Altman-directed ensemble indie, while the former is Lohan's first romantic comedy, in which she plays Ashley, the luckiest woman in the world, whose good fortune is swapped for a handsome stranger’s terrible misfortune after the two share a kiss.

What I like the most about her is that even on a kind-of-grumpy morning like today, Lohan's still more enthralling than most starletbots. That's because she's got more moxie and sass of the charming kind, which is why the tabloids spread rumors about her and what not.

I'm not saying she's perfect. But any gal that can not just say "It's like, Yeah, motherf---er, I'm fine" (to her detractors in the now infamous Vanity Fair cover story), but also get her point across, is a fine gal in my book. And a fun one at that (I've seen her party – sorry...nothing scandalous to report about that occasion).

Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Your Weekend’s Mission: Heart Keri Russell

I just know you’re probably wondering, Keri who?

Well…we can’t all be in the loop.

Russell, best know to many as the titular fickle pickle from the dearly departed WB show Felicity, is, in no short measure, the catalyst to what transpires in Mission: Impossible III.

A catalyst, per Dictionary.com, is a substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.

Such is Russell’s presence in M:i:III, and as it has been in other movies before it (most recently in the overlooked The Upside of Anger). Even in the smallest of roles, she elevates her co-stars’ game while remaining memorable and quietly powerful and revealing new things about her talent along the way (she kicks it good in a ballistic action scene).

Russell’s a star, and seeing her shine brighter and brighter every year, slowly but surely, is fascinating, heartwarming, and just a little bit frustrating (because she should be everywhere by now – but she’s much too low key for that...unlike some people...and I love her for it). So your mission this weekend, should you choose to accept it, is to discover her.

This should be easy.

M:i:III finds IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) retired from active duty, though he has remained involved with the agency to train new recruits (like the one played by Russell). Hunt is drawn back into action when Owen Davian (Capote’s Philip Seymour Hoffman), a conscienceless international weapons and information provider, hits too close to home and eventually kidnaps his unaware fiancée (Michelle Monaghan).

As mentioned in a previous thread, J.J. Abrams (the mastermind behind TV’s Felicity, Alias, and Lost), making his feature-film directorial debut here, has revitalized the franchise by showing us what Hunt is up to when not in spy mode.

He an co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (both Alias vets) have done a terrific job at balancing the respective cerebral and visual elements of the first Impossible movies to complement them with a much-needed jolt of character development that should help ensure another Mission for Hunt.

As a result, M:i:III is, for those familiar with Abrams’ oeuvre, quite Alias-ish (the music was even composed by longtime collaborator Michael Giacchino, and look, there's frequent Abrams player Greg Grunberg), perhaps a bit too much.

I have seen Jennifer Garner try to compartmentalize her spy work with her personal life and go on missions that were on the impossible side on TV. In this movie, Cruise’s Hunt goes through a lot of the same things Garner’s Sydney Bristow has, so, and strictly speaking as an Alias and Abrams fan, M:i:III isn’t the most original.

It’s still a lot of fun, though, as Hunt and his team – including his old friend Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), transportation expert Declan (Match Point’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and background operative Zhen (newcomer Maggie Q) – travel the globe to save the day.

And, really, I’ll watch Russell in anything she is in, however short her screen time is (she and Abrams were much more a selling point than Cruise and his over-the-top promotional tour could’ve ever been).

She truly is the match that sparks the M:i:III fuse (cue in the theme song), one that should burn nicely into blockbusterdom. Now go on and complete your mission.

My Rating ***

Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

This Summer’s Leading Man is…Nacho Libre!

So I went to see Mission: Impossible III last night.

I liked it very much – J.J. Abrams (TV's Alias, Lost) has done a terrific job at balancing the respective cerebral and visual elements of the first Impossible movies and complementing them with a much-needed jolt of character development that should help ensure another Mission for Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.

That, and M:i:III is, for those familiar with Abrams’ oeuvre, the closest thing to an Alias movie that we will – and should – ever come close to getting…but more on that Friday.

Before the movie started, though, I got to watch the trailer for the upcoming Jack Black release Nacho Libre, which up to that moment I had pretty much paid zilch attention to.

I can now honestly say that I cannot wait for Nacho Libre, in which Black stars as Ignacio (his friends call him Nacho), a Mexican priest who moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler to raise money for his orphanage, to open on June 16.

So funny!

I mean, just take a look at the poster. Now take a look at the trailer
. Now tell me that Nacho Libre is not the leading man of summer.

You can’t, can ya?

Didn’t think so.

Photo: Paramount Pictures.