The Croods in theatres March 22

20th Century Fox releases this 3D computer-generated prehistoric comedy from DreamWorks Animation. The story follows a curious daughter who chaffs against the restrictions of her father, who warns them of the dire consequences of disobedience and especially the danger of leaving the safety of the cave – until unforeseen circumstances force a reappraisal. Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders wrote and directed. Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, and Cloris Leachman provide voices.
U.S. Theatrical Release: March 22
The Croods 1-sheet

Texas Chainsaw 3D: January 4

The buzz is back – this time in 3D, and we bet you can’t wait to see the titular tool comin’ at ya out of the big screen. Lionsgate opens TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D on Friday, January 4, 2013. Although the trailer presents the film as a follow-up to the 1974 original, we imagine that the distributor has “SAW”-ed the film, to make it more like their infamous bread-winner.
The script seems to have gone through at least a few drafts, with five credited writers: Adam Marcus & Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms for screenplay; Marcus & Sullivan and Stephen Susco for story. (Susco wrote the American versions of THE GRUDGE; Marcus wrote and directed JASON GOES TO HELL.) In the director’s chair is John Luessenhop (whose only previous feature film directing credit is the prison melodrama LOCKDOWN).
The cast includes Alexandra Daddrio, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, James MacDonald, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle. Beill Moseley (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) shows up, as do several alumni of the original: Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, and John Dugan.
Release Date: Friday, January 4, 2013.

Wreck-It Ralph review

Wreck-It Raph commiserates with a group of video game bad guys.
Wreck-It Raph commiserates with a group of video game bad guys.

Over the decades, Walt Disney Animation Studios has done a fine job of creating numerous animated feature films that appeal not only to children but also to the child in all of us: THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and TANGLED come to mind. And then, on the other hand, there’s WRECK-IT RALPH, which plays like an afternoon kiddie cartoon that somehow escaped to the big screen. Oh sure, some references to old-fashioned video-games may fly over the heads of younger viewers, but little else will. The story  pushes a heartfelt message, but the humorous antics are pitched at a strictly juvenile level that will have parents yawning while their children roar in approval.
In fact, I am so obviously not the film’s target audience that I have pressed back into service Timmy, the imaginary five-year-old nephew who reviewed UNDERDOG back in 2007. Amazingly, five years later, Timmy remains five years old, making him the ideal audience for WRECK-IT RALPH. Take it away, Timmy:

This movie was about this guy named Ralph who didn’t like being a bad guy anymore because the good guy has all the fun and Ralph doesn’t like it that people don’t like him and they don’t invite him to their party and they don’t give him cake. And it made me feel sad for Ralph except Ralph breaks everything when he goes to the party, and he was kind of stupid, so I started to just think he was stupid and I didn’t like him more than the other people who didn’t like him.
Ralph goes to another games where they go in space and kill space alien bug monsters and it was really cool and I wanted the rest of the movie to be there but then Ralph gets a medal and he goes to another game that was like a girlie game called SugarSlush or something like that, and it was kind of boring there and I thought they wouldn’t stay there too long but they did stay too long like almost the rest of the movie and I kept wanting to see the space alien bug monsters again, and we did but not in the other game – they were in the girlie game and that was kind of fun because I hated the girlie game and liked seeing the bugs eat everything but it took too long for this to happen.
Anyway Ralph gets his medal but this girl steals it because she needs it to get in a race to win so she can show the other girls she’s as good as them, and Ralph hates her because she stole his medal but then he sees the other girls bash up her car and Ralph feels sorry for her and stops the other girls, and then I felt sorry for the girl and I kind of liked Ralph too because he was nice to the girl after the other girls were mean to her. It was kind of mushy but kind of good too. But then some other stuff happened and it wasn’t as good anymore.
But then the Fix-It Felix guy comes to take Ralph back to his game because no one is playing the game anymore because there is nothing for Fix-It Felix to fix when Ralph is gone, but before they can go back the bugs come, and there’s this cool lady from the alien space bug game who shoots ray guns at the bugs and Fix-It Felix likes here and it’s kind of mushy but funny too because he’s like little and short and she’s big and strong.
And towards the end the other girl who stole Ralph’s medal gets to race but she doesn’t get to the finish line because the bugs eat the finish line, but Ralph helps her, so he’s like not really a bad guy anymore but he has to act like a bad guy in the game with Fix-It Felix but now Fix-It Felix is nice to him and everybody is happy, and it was okay towards the end with the race and the space alien bugs, but I just wish that part came sooner.
Oh, and I almost forgot, the girlie game was kind of boring but it looked kind of pretty like candy and it made me want to go to the snack bar and buy some candy after the movie was over.

Well, there’s not much to add to that. The plot of WRECK-IT RAPH is essentially a rewrite of TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: a character who tires of his job, tries something new, then returns to doing what he does well at the end. John C. Reilly is great as the voice of Ralph, but the character himself is a bit of a dumb lug; at least he learns his lesson by the end.
Much expertise went into crafting the 3D computer-animation, which is lovely to look at but not particularly engaging. Jumping from game to game allows for some amusing clashes of style, but that carries the film only so far.
There are just enough good moments to make WRECK-IT RALPH a bit more than a waste of time for anyone over ten,  but most parents will find the film’s greatest value when it arrives on video, and they can pop it into the player to distract the kids, while Mom and Dad do something else.
wreck it ralph poster cropWRECK-IT RALPH ( Walt Disney Animation Studios, November 2, 2012). Directed by Rich Moore. Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston. Voices: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg. 108 Minutes. Rated PG

FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE Director Tsui Hark: Fantasy Film Interview Podcast

Look, Can't We Just Excange Insurance Info and Leave It at That?: Jet Li (right) faces off against Chen Kun in FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE.
Look, Can't We Just Exchange Insurance Info and Leave It at That?: Jet Li (right) faces off against Chen Kun in FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE.

FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is the first Tsui Hark film to be shot in Imax 3D, starring Jet Li. Okay, stop salivating and sit back down, we’ve got work to do.
Granted, your enthusiasm is understandable. Hark — master of such deliriously epic action films as PEKING OPERA BLUES and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA — came roaring back to prominence last year with DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, and now returns with an ambitious adventure that’s actually a continuation of a film series that started in 1967, about a desert inn where both the noble and the infamous rub elbows and clash swords. In addition to all the expected Hark trappings, such as inventive battle scenes, sharp comedy, and women characters who can stand their own against their male counterparts — including a mysterious swordswoman, played by Zhou Xun, and a lusty barbarian princess, played by Lunmei Kwai (because would you want any other kind?) — the increased palette of China’s first Imax 3D film gives the director a whole new way to mess with your mind. Trust me, Hark takes generous advantage of the opportunity.
This is Hark’s return to MIGHTY MOVIE PODCAST, and we’re glad to have him back; less glad that it had to be via a not-quite-Dolby-grade phone connection. We’ve done our best to smooth out the audio — hopefully you’ll find the discussion well-worth the effort.

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Cashiers du Cinemart & 3-Descent: CFQ's Black Hole Ultra-Lounge 2:31.2

Cashiers du Cinemart‘s Mike White hangs out after the Cinefantastique Spotlight to talk to Dan Persons about his magazine, his anthology, Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection, the clouded future of 3D, and, of course, the indelible allure of BLACK SHAMPOO.

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CFQ Round Table Podcast 2:20.3: Taking Stock of X-Men on Screen

X-Men
Prophetic messaging? The first few X-MEN films were entertaining; then came WOLVERINE...

In this week’s Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the Podcast with a Sense of Wonder – Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski appraise the X-MEN film franchise: what have the mutants contributed to the world of comics-to-movies adaptations? Also up for discussion: remembering late actor Vincent Price – the Merchant of Menace – on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Plus a look at the week’s most interesting news: Is it good or bad that the live-action, Americanized remake of Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA is going nowhere fast? Does Christopher Nolan’s use of IMAX instead of 3D for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES indicate a better way to immerse audiences in on-screen world’s of fantasy? And do we really want or need a DARK SHADOWS remake with reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins recast as a thoughtless playboy?

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Drive Angry: CFQ Spotlight Review Podcast #6

Yup, Cage doesn't flinch as the car explodes in slow-motion behind him.
Yup, Cage doesn't flinch as the car explodes in slow-motion behind him.

Twisted metal, slow-motion explosions, outrageous gunfights, and more bodies than you can count – some naked, some bloody, some both – and all of it in 3-D! It’s a rip-roaring trip down the Road to Hell as the Cinefantastique Podcast crew (Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski)  hitch a ride with Nicolas Cage for DRIVE ANGRY, the movie that dares to reveal what Satan really thinks of Satanists. Is this the film that GRINDHOUSE tried (and failed) to be? Listen in, and find out!

Drive Angry 3D: February 25

Summit Entertainment releases this action-packed fantasy film, starring Nicolas Cage (THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE) as one of the damned, who escapes from the infernal region hoping to redeem himself by preventing his granddaughter from being sacrificed by a cult. Amber Heard (ZOMBIELAND) plays the requisite hot, tough girl who decides to help out Cage’s character, and William Fichtner (THE DARK KNIGHT) is the demonic “Accountant” sent to retrieve the wayward soul and return him to the Devil. Unlike too many recent 3D movies, DRIVE ANGRY was actually shot in the stereoscopic process. Director Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer previously gave us the enjoyably over-the-top MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, so we expect similar fun here.
Drive Angry 3D

Gnomeo & Juliet: February 11

Disney opens its latest computer-animated comedy nationwide, including 3D engagements. As you have probably guessed from the title, this is a skewed adaptation of Shakespeare’s play ROMEO AND JULIET, with gnomes. Pretty high concept, huh? Kelly Asbury directed from a screenplay co-written with eight other writers (not counting the Immortal Bard). The voice cast includes James McAvoy and Emily BLunt as the title characters, Jason Statham as Tybalt, Michael Caine as Lord Redbrick, Maggie Smith as Lady Blueberry, Patrick Stewart as Bill Shakespeare, Julie Walters as Miss Montague, Dolly Parton as Dolly, Hulk Hogan as the Terrafirmenator, and Ozzy Osbourne as Fawn.
gnomeo poster 2011_gnomeo_and_juliet_001 gnomeo_and_juliet GNOMEO AND JULIET Gnomeo-And-Juliet Gnomeo-and-Juliet-3-006

Avatar: The Special Edition review

Avatar Special Edition banshees
A new hunting scene for the Special Edition

As you all know, AVATAR is back on the big screen, showing exclusively in Digital 3-D and IMAX 3-D engagements. As you also know, this release is billed as the “Special Edition,” because writer-director James Cameron has restored nearly nine minutes of footage, expanding the already lengthy film’s running time to nearly 170 minutes (the maximum capacity for analog IMAX 3D screenings). Is the new special edition truly all that special, or is this just a cynical money-grab?

The answer is: neither. Despite the new scenes, AVATAR remains much the film it was before: a blockbuster entertainment of magnificent proportions, lacking subtlety while proudly wearing its heart on its sleeve – when it’s not blasting away bad guys with all the over-heated enthusiasm of THE EXPENDABLES. Yes, 20th Century Fox’s decision to re-issue the film was based on bottom line considerations, but in this home video era, we should appreciate the opportunity to re-experience the film on the big screen: AVATAR had still been doing good business when it was pushed out of 3D venues by ALICE IN WONDERLAND last March, and since then, ticket buyers have been ripped off by a succession of 3-D post-production conversions (CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE LAST AIRBENDER, PIRANHA 3 D) that were almost enough to permanently sour discerning viewers on the process. A return trip to Pandora is enough to eclipse those bad faux-3D memories

The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.
The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.

The real reason to see AVATAR again is to remind yourself what 3D looks like when done right. Although Cameron avoids gimmicky images of objects projecting out of the screen, he uses the process to great effect in flying scenes: separate from the background, all those copters, banshees, and floating jellyfish truly seem to be suspended in mid-air. Also, the clear separation of objects in the foreground from objects in the background allows Cameron to load the frame with details that would seem cluttered in a 2D rendition (all those virtual monitors, view screens, and lab equipment start to look like a jumble if you close one eye and watch the film flat).
The additional footage, which represents just about 5% of the total running time, is not enough to make a substantial difference in the film overall. Some of the extra minutes fill in expository details that only sharp-eyed fans would notice:

  • A trip to a school house, riddle with bullets, gives a good clue why Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)’s Na’Vi outreach program is not going so well.
  • Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) reveals her full name to Jake (Sam Worthington) in the scene wherein she introduces him to her tribe (so now we know how he knows her name).
  • Jake’s narration explains why the legendary floating mountains of Pandora stay airborn.
  • We see the aftermath of a Na’Vi attack on some bulldozers that were smashing down trees. It’s obvious that the Earth forces can use this “provocation” as an excuse to justify action they wanted to take anyway: namely, attacking the Na’Vi’s tree-home.

avatar_special_edition_movie_image_01Other footage adds more action or simply expands on scenes that already existed:

  • Early on we glimpse some dino-size creatures we had not seen in the previous cut. Later, Jake in his avatar-body joins the Na’Vi’ as they fly on their banshees, hunting down these large creatures.
  • The “mating” scene between Jake and Neytiri is a bit longer but not at all explicit – unless you count the shot of their braid tendrils intertwining which is a bit suggestive of…something or other.
  • In this version Tsu’tey (Laz Alonso) does not die from his fall during battle. He lives long enough to pass the leadership baton to Jake, who then, according to Na’Vi ritual, puts Tsu’tey out of his misery with a stroke of his blade.

This new footage does little to expand on the plot or themes, nor does it address any of the reservations I expressed about AVATAR during its initial release (such as the absurd use of the word “unobtanium,” which should have been explained away as a joke). It’s nice to have the little narrative gaps filled: I had always wondered why Dr. Augustine’s outreach program was faring so poorly; now we know it was sabotaged (whether intentionally or inadvertently) by gunfire from the company mercenaries. And the burning bulldozers (along with the dead human crew) make it more understandable why the company drones are convinced that military force – not peaceful negotiation – is the only option.

The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence
The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence

Mostly the new scenes give us more of Pandora, which is for usually worth seeing. Sometimes, however, the extra minutes make themselves felt. The hunting sequence, for example, offers some nice aerial thrills, but it also expands the weakest portion of AVATAR: Jake’s learning the ways of the Na’Vi is a necessary plot point, but it could have been conveyed in a brief montage; instead, it virtually becomes the second act – a lengthy series of scenes that does little to advance the story but does give Cameron more opportunities to show off the beauties of Pandora.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the re-release is the opportunity to see AVATAR post-backlash. A second time around, the heavy-handed message and the one-dimensional villains seem simply like part of the film’s texture – not great virtues but hardly the fatal flaws that detractors would have us believe them to be. The movie’s strengths are more than enough to eclipse its weaknesses, which seem more and more like trivial nitpicking. Though far from perfect, AVATAR emerges victorious – a film with a Sense of Wonder as wide and beautiful as the skies of Pandora.
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