Fall 2010 Movie Preview — Part II: The Chronic Rift Podcast

Jeff Bridges returns to the game grid, Harry Potter faces down some deathly hallows — whatever the hell those are — and Jacques Tati gets animated as CHRONIC RIFT producer/host John Drew and I pick up our discussion of the cinematic goodness that will be greeting us as the year raps up. And if TRON: LEGACY, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, and THE ILLUSIONIST (the latter by the wickedly idiosyncratic animator Sylvain Chomet and based on an unfilmed script by the legendary Tati) don’t give you the tingles, hang on kid, cause that’s just the smallest fraction of what’s coming up in November and December.
Click on the player to discover how much you’ve got to look forward to.
And if you somehow missed the first part of this discussion, you can hear it here.

Fall 2010 Movie Preview: The Chronic Rift Podcast

In anticipation of my assuming the role of movie critic for THE CHRONIC RIFT — the legendary discussion show of all things science fiction, fantasy and horror that’s beginning its third year as a podcast — John Drew invited me on to discuss what genre fans should be looking forward to in the coming months. As you can expect, the conversation consists of equal parts reasoned insight, wild speculation, and geeky enthusiasm. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s also only half the conversation, since we went on at such length that the show had to be split into two parts. John notes at the end of this segment that part 2 will follow tomorrow. It may appear here as well, or it may be pushed back just a bit so we can bring you the CFQ POST-MORTEM (this week devoted to a discussion of the worlds of Ray Bradbury and William Castle), and the latest episode of MIGHTY MOVIE PODCAST, featuring Neil Marshall discussing his cojones-out historic adventure film, CENTURION, and Daniele Thompson on her wry comedy, CHANGE OF PLANS. We’re nothing if not eclectic here.
If you just can’t wait, we heartily commend you to www.chronicrift.com, where you can catch the thrilling conclusion as soon as it posts. (And hear lots of other good eps as well.)
Click on the player to hear Part One.

Let Me In release date & photos

Let Me In (2010) posterOverture Films releases this rather unnecessary remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the wonderful Swedish vampire film from 2008. Kodi Smith McPhe plays unhappy 12-year-old, bullied at school, who finds a new friend when the mysterious Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in next door. Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) wrote and directed LET ME IN, officially based on the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Sasha Barrese, and Cara Buono fill out the cast; plus there’s someone named V.J. Foster playing the “Original Vampire,” a character not seen in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
LET ME IN was produced by the recently reborn Hammer Films, a new version of the company that changed the face of horror in the ’50 and ’60s with their robust and colorful Gothic thrillers like HORROR OF DRACULA and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Let Me In (2008): Kodi Smith-McPhee and Chloe Moretz Let Me In (2008) Let Me In (2008): Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee Let Me In (2008): Kodi Smit-McPhee

Charlie St. Cloud & Inception: Cinefantastique Post-Mortem Podcast 1:25.1

post-mortem podcast graphi copy
Following up on this week’s Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast, which covered CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE, the Cinefantastique Post-Mortem Podcast examines the weekend’s other major fantasy film release, CHARLIE ST. CLOUD, starring Zac Efron as a young man who sees dead people – in particular, his younger brother. Also on the menu: listener mail takes Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski to task for being too critical of INCEPTION in Podcast 1:23.


Charlie St. Cloud: Film Review

zac-efron-charlie-posterThis lightweight but reasonably effective tear-jerker casts  Zac Efron (ME AND ORSON WELLES) as the titular Charlie St. Cloud, a young man who, as the saying goes, sees dead people. Although the supernatural element is used mostly as a metaphor for being haunted by the ghosts of one’s past, CHARLIE ST. CLOUD ultimately comes across like an M. Night Shyamalan pastiche cross-bred with a Harlequin romance and targeted toward the teen and young adult crowd, particularly women who prefer romance over scares.
Small town boy Charlie St. Cloud seems to have it made – charm, boating skills, a loving family relationship with his mother and brother, and most of all a bright future at Stanford that should provide a path to success in the big city. This last element is a source of concern for younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), who fears that Charlie will disappear from his life, just as dad did years ago. Charlie eases Sam’s fears by promising to practice baseball with him every day until he leaves for college. Unfortunately, while driving to a friend’s house, Charlie and Sam are struck by another car; after a brief near-death experience, Charlie is revived by paramedic Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta), but Sam dies. Burdened by survivor’s guilt, Charlie keeps his baseball practice appointment and is only mildly surprised to see Sam show up. Five years later, Charlie is working in the town’s graveyard, Stanford long forgotten; he keeps his daily appointment with Sam – almost the only social activity in his life, until his interest is captured by Tess (Amanda Crew), a young woman planning to sail around the world solo.
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD is obviously intended as an uplifting movie about overcoming tragedy and moving on with one’s life; the film teeters on the brink of bathos, without ever quite falling in. Yes, the CGI-enhanced skylines lend a storybook quality to the film’s look, but they also create a world in which the presence of ghosts is less obtrusive; yes, the musical choices are eccentric at best, with upbeat songs shoe-horned into the soundtrack as if to insist that Charlie is not really a gloomy person, even though he has a live-in job at a cemetery and interacts with almost no one but his dead brother, but there is just enough underlying bitterness to prevent viewers from overdosing on saccharine sweetness.
Charlie St. Cloud (2010) Zac Efron and Charlie TahanThat bittersweet quality is felt most keenly in the relationship between Charlie and Sam, which is laced with underlying resentment: Charlie refuses to let go of Sam emotionally, but he also resents Sam for holding him back; Sam, meanwhile, resents Charlie’s resentment, accusing his older brother of secretly yearning to leave him behind, especially after Charlie becomes interested in Tess.
After a first act that effectively sets the stage, CHARLIE ST. CLOUD settles into a too-measured pace meant to convey the stasis of Charlie’s life. The character is a bit too wrapped up in himself, too precious about holding onto his grief, and too passive to fully engage us. Florio, the paramedic who pulled Charlie back from the grave, is surprised to see the young man wasting his second chance by spending his life literally among the dead, and we are forced to agree. Fortunately, Efron is charismatic enough as an actor to hold our attention and our sympathy, even when we start to feel that Charlie needs a good swift kick to snap him out of his bad mood.
Things pick up when Tess goes missing while trying out her new boat. At this point,the focus shifts away from grieving to the suggestion made by Florio that there must be a reason for Charlie’s resurrection. Rather like Shyamalan’s SIGNS, at this point CHARLIE ST. CLOUD lays out message that things happen for a reason, and even tragedies can have silver linings. Charlie’s sixth sense gives him a clue to Tess’s possible whereabouts, but when the search goes on longer than expected, Charlie’s commitment to finding the lost woman requires missing his daily appointment with Sam. The dilemma is cleverly encapsulated in the dialogue, when Charlie’s co-worker Alistair (the charming Augustus Prew) asks Charlie whether he intends to go back or move on – a question that applies not only to the present emergency but also to Charlie’s life in general.
Charlie St Cloud (2010) Charlie takes big risks to win a sailing competitionThere are a few mis-steps along the way, which we are obviously not supposed to question in the midst of being inspired by the uplifting love story. At one point, Charlie physically interacts with another character on a rather intimate level, only to realize later that the person was present only in spirit – the only indication that Charlie is not able to tell the living from the dead at a glance. The script also makes a major miscalculation in portraying Sam’s death as the result of  a car accident; since the opening scenes go to considerable length to depict Charlie as a daredevil sailor who takes too many risks, the logical route would have been for Sam to die in a boating accident caused by his brother – which would have given Charlie more reason for feeling guilty.
Nevertheless, for all of its obvious calculations, CHARLIE ST. CLOUD is sincere and effective enough in its intentions to win over at least a few cynical hearts. Although it is no match for THE SIXTH SENSE or SIGNS, it is comes across better and less contrived than Shyamalan’s recent work, and as a love story tinged with supernatural overtones, it is much more charming and much less lazy in execution than THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (July 30, 2010). Directed by Burr Steers. Screenplay by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood. Music by Rolfe Kent. Cinematography by Enrique Chediak. Cast: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Donal Logue, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta, Dave Franco, Matt ward, Miles Chalmers.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore – film review

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty GaloreOn the continuum of cute kiddie fantasy films, CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE falls somewhere in the middle, leaning toward the low end of the spectrum. It is nowhere near as bad as this year’s woefully unfunny FURRY VENGEANCE or last year’s abysmally awful G-FORCE, nor is it quite as disappointing as the original CATS & DOGS (2001). On the other hand, CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE is no match for BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA (2008), nor is it even close to being in the same league with recent delights such as TOY STORY 3 and DESPICABLE ME. Kids will probably get a kick out of the animal antics, but their parents will likely be bored, despite occasionally witty touches obviously added with adults in mind.
CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE has police pooch Diggs (voiced by James Marsden) flunk out of his gig due to an excess of enthusiasm and a failure to follow orders. Fortunately, Diggs is recruited by the super-secret canine spy organization introduced in the previous CATS & DOGS movie. This time out, the culprit is Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler), who wants to unleash “The Call of the Wild,” a super-sonic sound that will turn dogs against their masters and allow the feline hordes to take their place as man’s best friend. Diggs, partnered with an experienced operative named Butch (Nick Nolte) and a cat named Catherine (voicd by Christina Applegate), sets out to foil Kitty’s evil plans.
Not surprisingly, the story is mostly an excuse to string together sight gags; unfortunately, few of these are laugh-out-loud funny. Overall, the writing is weak: jokes set up punchlines that fall flat, and you’re constantly reminded that you’re supposed to be laughing – even though you barely crack a grin. More often than not, the screenplay relies on a concept to generate humor (like dressing a villainous cat in a Hannibal Lecter get-up) without much regard for doing anything actually funny with the concept.

cats and dogs: the revenge of kitty galore (2010) diggs and catherine
Catherine the cat gets all wet to save her canine companion

With production design, opening credits, and a title song (sung by Shirley Bassey, no less) that deliberately evoke the James Bond films (Roger Moore even provides one of the voices), CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE is clearly sending a shout out to adults in the audience. One particularly nice touch is the teaming up of canine and feline to fight the common enemy, which recalls the Moore-era Bond films (like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) wherein 007 wound up cooperating with his Soviet counterparts. Sadly, the climax of this suplot (Catherine overcomes her fear of water to save Diggs) is casually tossed off midway through the film instead of being integrated into the final reel as a major set-piece.
The special effects for the animal lip-sync is adequate, but fifteen years after BABE, it is amazing to note how little progress has been made. That 1995 film still stands as the unbeatable example of animal anthropomorphism, thanks to its perfect integration of special effects, clever dialogue, and solid vocal performances.
Although an improvement over its predecessor, CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE is another disappointment – an amusing concept that yields a film unable to equal its own trailer.

Butch wears a jet pack - one of the film's many 007-type sight gags.
Butch wears a jet pack - one of the film's many 007-type sight gags.

CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (July 30, 2010). Directed By Brad Peyton. Written by Ron J. Friedman & Steve Bencich, based on characters created by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra.  Cast: James Marsden (voice), Nick Nolte (voice), Christina Applegate (voice), Katt Williams (voice), Neil Patrick Harris (voice), (Sean Hayes (voice), Wallace Shawn (voice), Roger Moore (voice), Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Joe Pantoliano (voice), Chris O’Donnell.

Genre Films Rule Summer B.O.

Inception_DiCaprioNot too surprisingly, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films were  the biggest grossing Summer box office films this weekend.
Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION hit bigger than expected, with a $60.4 million debut. Let’s see if the challenging SF film has legs.
Universal’s winning animated SF-inspired comedy DESPICABLE ME took in another $32.7 million, bringing it’s total to over 118 million dollars thus far.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE came in third place for Walt Disney Pictures, with just over $17 million in its second week, bringing the domestic total to about $24,500, 000 — considerably less than the studio expected, I suspect.
Teen/Tween favorite THE TWILGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE continues to draw respectable business, with another $13.5 million, bringing it’s domestic take to just under $265 million.
Pixar’s well-received TOY STORY 3 came in fifth, with 11.5 million, earning over $362 million in 4 and a half weeks, domestically. It’s made $630,209,000 world-wide.
Figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com

The Sorcerer's Apprentice flunks out

The Sorcerer's Aprentice (2010)What did we ever do to producer Jerry Bruckheimer that he should want to pay us back by taking the beloved “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode from FANTASIA (1940) and turn it into a soulless summer snooze-fest that virtually defines everything wrong with would-be blockbusters? The new live-action version of THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE has a trailer just barely good enough to make you hope there might be some fun to be had with the concept of a geeky college kid learning magic from a wizard, but almost every good moment has been squeezed into the coming attractions (and in fact some don’t even make it into the actual film). Viewers tricked into attending this magic show will marvel only at seeing their money go up the filmmakers’ sleeves.
After a prologue showing Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) capturing and containing the evil Morgana (Alice Krige), the story has physics student Davd (Jay Baruchel) identified by Balthazar as the “Merlinian,” a word so silly you wonder if the screenwriters are thumbing their nose at the audience. The Merlinian, it seems, is the only one with the power to destroy Morgana, which is really important because Balthazar’s old rival Horvath (Alfred Molina) is eager to release her so that she can resurrect a bunch of dead wizards and basically bring about the apocalypse, just because that’s the kind of thing villains of this type do. Dave thinks the magic thing is pretty cool, but he’s a bit of a slacker when it comes to practice, because he would rather spend time with Becky (Teresa Palmer), an old friend from grade school, with whom he has recently reconnected. Yeah, the world may be ending, but that’s no reason to interrupt your social life!
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is remarkable consistent in its enervated presentation. There is no attempt to make us truly fear the coming confrontation with evil, nor is there much in the way of self-satire. Instead, the film settles for a vague kind of jokiness that seems distantly related to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (Dave’s just an ordinary kid, who happens to be fated to face the forces of evil). The “Karate Kid” relationship between Dave and Balthazar never really materializes; the training scenes just sit there like a hat with no rabbit, and the attempt at emotional bonding is tossed off with such indifference that you suspect the filmmakers themselves must believe in magic – i.e., that some miracle would turn all of this dross into gold.
Baruchel gives more or less the same performance he delivered vocally in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which is at least enough to generate a few laughs – just about the only bright spots in the film. Cage coasts through trying to look cool; he barely even tries to register the script’s shifts from “humor” to “sentiment.” It’s as if he is belatedly trying to save his acting credibility by not wasting his talent on unworthy material, but he hasn’t quite taken the big step toward  adopting a camp attitude to express his contempt for the lousy movie he in which he is appearing.
Molina fares slightly better as the villain, but his best moments are in the previews – basically a handful of good lines that never add up to a compelling character. Toby Kebbell is mildly amusing as his young assistant – who fritters his genuine magical abilities away on a career as a flashy professional magician – but the character is wasted. The same can be said for Alice Krige (the Borg Queen from STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) and for Monica Bellucci (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, the MATRIX sequels), the latter of whom shows up as Balthazar’s love interest almost as if she were an afterthought in the screenwriters’ minds.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is virtually pockmarked with special effects, but except for a Chinese-type dragon and a metallic flying eagle, none of them are memorable; they simply shoot across the screen at regular intervals to interrupt the narrative tedium with a slightly different sort of tedium. With all the available CGI technology, it’s amazing that no one thought to orchestra a really great scene around it, let alone figure out how to build the effects toward a crescendo.

Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina
Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina

At times the action seems to have been generated at random to fill up the running time and give the characters something to do. You will lose count of the number of skirmishes between Balthazar and Horvath, with Dave in between, dodging plasma balls and other magical firepower. A sequence based on episode from FANTASIA is dropped in for not much more reason that to justify the use of the title THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. And in a transparently desperate effort to keep Becky involved in the climax, Dave has her climb an antenna tower to disrupt a magical stream of energy that is being relayed around the world – a scene knocked in a handful of shots that generate no suspense but lots of incredulity.
Rather like the recent THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is an exercise in not trying very hard – sort of a cinematic version of FIELD OF DREAMS (“Just shoot it, and the audience will come”). This approach can sell tickets to pre-sold viewers eager to visit their favorite characters on screen, but it’s hard to imagine anyone so besotted that they would fall for this second-rate magical routine. In the end, this sorcerer’s biggest trick will be making the audience disappear.
Dave impresses his would-be girlfriend with his Tesla Coil
Dave impresses his would-be girlfriend with his Tesla Coil

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010). Directed by Jon Turtletaub. Screenplay by Matt Lopez and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard; screen story by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal & Matt Lopze, suggested by the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode of FANTASIA. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Tersa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Omar Benson Miller, Monica Bellucci, Alice Krige, Jake Cherry, James A. Stephens.

Despicable Me review

Despicable Me (2010)

Leaves the latest Shrek lying in the dirt like a beat-up has-been

Pixar Animation Studios is probably not losing any sleep over this challenge to their supremacy in the animated family-film sweepstakes, but it is safe to say that, with DESPICABLE ME, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment leap-frog over DreamWorks Animation to take the second-place position, leaving SHREK FOREVER AFTER lying in the dirt like the feeble remnant of a dying franchise that it is. DESPICABLE ME is funny, imaginative, and heartfelt, mixing the different elements smoothly together. Graced with impressive computer-generated animation and sight gags that occasionally suggests a new millennium version of a Tex Avery Looney Tune, DESPICABLE ME also dares to reach whole-heartedly for the sentimental moments,  without the nudging and winking that DreamWorks uses to avoid appearing schmaltzy. It’s the best of both worlds, and even if the film never achieves the poignancy of TOY STORY 3’s fiery climax, DESPICABLE ME is in some ways more consistently entertaining from beginning to end.
The story focuses on Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), a criminal mastermind who has recently been upstaged by a new rival, Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). Trying to re-establish himself as #1, Gru hits on a scheme to steal the moon, but he runs short of capital and finds that the Evil Bank (formerly Lehman Brothers) is reluctant to fund someone whose prime may be past. Fortunately, Gru’s minions (yellow creatures who talk gibberish and look the same except that some have only one eye) pitch in to fund the scheme. The only problem is: Gru needs access to Vector’s well-guarded home. He achieves this by adopting three orphans who are scheduled to deliver some cookies they sold to Vector. At first, Gru sees the trio only as tools in his scheme, to be ditched the minute they have served their purpose. Will he have a change of heart…?

Gru changes his mind about the orphans after a fun-filled day.
Gru changes his mind about the orphans after a fun-filled day.

You don’t need a degree in screen writing to answer that last question. In essence, DESPICABLE ME is a CHRISTMAS CAROL-type story about a reprobate who finds redemption, the difference being that, instead of three spirits, it is three orphans who serve as the catalyst for change. One of the film’s little triumphs is that Gru is lovable from scene one, long before his transformation. For him, villainy seems to be a just career, not a matter of malicious intent (in fact, the woman running the orphanage seems far more wicked that Gru).
Judging from the numerous flashbacks to his youth, we surmise that mostly Gru is hoping to achieve something memorable that will finally impress his emotionally distant mother (voiced by Julie Andrews). The shock of seeing the younger version of the character performs a function similar to the one seen  with Anton Ego in RATATTOUILLE, although here it is used throughout, not as a last-minute surprise. (To stretch a point, Oliver Stone used a similar technique in a vain attempt to generate sympathy for the title character in NIXON.)
Despicable Me (2010)DESPICABLE ME is filled with hilarious visuals: some of them are delightfully over the top (as befits an animated comedy in 3-D), and some of it is so subtle you might miss it. (Although Gru’s minions are virtually identical, he has no trouble telling them apart, casually calling them by first name.) There is also brilliantly realized action-packed finale involving high-speed airships that works as well as any live-action scene you will see this summer.
Unlike recent live-action 3-D films (especially those converted in post-production), DESPICABLE ME actually puts the process to good use in scenes like this, and just to drive the point home, there is an amusing closing credits sequence that has the minions climbing a ladder out into the audience and springing off as if it were a diving board.
Despicable Me (2010)Although Gru’s redemption is predictable, it works perfectly on screen, thanks to a clever script, which knows when and how to push the right emotional buttons. DESPICABLE ME is not afraid to lay it on thick, but it goes just far enough to elicit a tear and a sigh, not a derisive guffaw. The film has clearly been designed with the family audience in mind, offering elements that will appeal to both children and adults; the film’s triumph is that it does not feel cynically calculated, and whether or not you are a child or have children of your own, you will be as delighted as any ten-year-old. This is one time, when the final-scene hint of a sequel actually engenders a welcome sense of anticipation.
DESPICABLE ME (July 9, 2010). Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud. Screenplay by Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul, story by Sergio Pablos. Voices: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Danny McBride.
despicable me (2010) Despicable Me (2010) Despicable Me (2010)

'Inception' Premieres in L.A.

inception_posterThe Hollywood Reporter attended the L.A. premeire of Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film INCEPTION last night, and spoke to the director about the ‘riskiness’ of making an original genre film in today’s market.

“Your perception of risk changes with the proximity of the release of the film. So when it’s an abstract thing, when you’re writing a script and trying to sell it to a studio, it seems like a no-brainer. It’s an exciting world, with tons of action, great cast, it’s going to be great.
Now, with three days out from the release of the movie, I’m like, Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?!”

However, the DARK KNIGHT director added: “You have to be bold these days. The only risk in movies to me, or the worst risk, is taking no risk at all.”
The SF action-thriller is at heart a ‘caper’ film, in which conspirators (lead by Leonardo DiCaprio) pull off heists not of real world goods, but ideas and concepts from other’s minds — by hacking into their dreams.
The cast includes includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN), Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.
INCEPTION premieres Friday, July 16th from Legendary Picures and Warner Brothers.