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Friday, September 28, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson Returns with The Master

Written by Kirk Baird

By the age of 27 Paul Thomas Anderson was hailed as a genius, a wunderkind, and an impressive new voice among young filmmakers.

The film that garnered this attention was Boogie Nights, an unconventional (read: refreshingly nonjudgmental) examination of the booming pornographic film industry in the 1970s and 1980s in San Fernando Valley.

The film brought several future Hollywood stars to the fore in Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, and John C. Reilly; resurrected Burt Reynolds’ career; and probably saved the career of Mark Wahlberg by proving to audiences he could act better than he could rap as Marky Mark.

Anderson is back in the spotlight for The Master, as always a film he wrote and directed, a detached examination of a nascent pseudo science-religious movement in the 1950s founded by a charismatic writer and intellectual named Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman).

The film centers on the relationship between Dodd and Freddie Quell (a sure-to-be Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix) as the drunken and violent ne'er-do-well who stumbles into Lancaster's life and becomes a surrogate son. Theirs is a complicated relationship of envy and respect, anger and love, and that's where the relationship remains — frozen in place, as with most of the other characters in the film.

The Master is receiving strong buzz and currently enjoys an 87 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Anderson films don’t come often: In the 16 years since Anderson, now 42, made his first studio feature, he’s directed only six movies. For comparison's sake, Steven Spielberg directed nearly twice that amount in his first 16 years as a filmmaker.

Here’s a quick examination of Anderson’s oeuvre:

Hard Eight (1996): For Anderson’s first film he establishes a persistent theme of his films up through and including The Master of surrogate father and wayward son. Philip Baker Hall plays Sydney, a longtime gambler who takes the inexperience and down-on-his-luck John (Reilly) under his tutelage in Reno. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a casino cocktail waitress and hooker named Clementine whom John falls for, which brings unexpected complications into his life.

Boogie Nights (1997): The three-minute tracking shot that introduces the film’s cast of characters remains one of my favorite opening shots in movies. Based loosely on the life of porn legend John Holmes, Boogie Nights is the story of porn star Dirk Diggler (Wahlberg) and his rise to fame, followed by his steep decline into drugs. The film is also populated with a menagerie of characters with struggles of their own.

Magnolia (1999): Tom Cruise was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2000 as a bitter and aggressive motivational speaker, one of many fascinating flawed characters whose lives randomly intersect in this mosaic set in San Fernando Valley. The film’s emotional core is punctuated by Aimee Mann’s terrific soundtrack, which was also nominated for an Oscar.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002): Anderson thought enough of his abilities and of Adam Sandler that he cast the oft-critically maligned comic actor in Sandler’s first dramatic role as a troubled soul who finds true love, gets mixed up in strange phone sex hotline trouble, and must overcome emotionally crippling family members and other hostile forces to win her affections.

There Will Be Blood (2007): The union of Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis sprouts the expected results, with Day-Lewis earning his second Best Actor Oscar as miner turned rich oil man and force of nature Daniel Plainview in early 20th century Southern California in this mesmerizing film essay on capitalism, religion, and father-son relationships.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mumford & Sons Return (Finally!)

Written by Kyle Slagley

After waiting for three years, Mumford & Sons fans finally got a second round of the folk-rock-Americana that has carried the band to fame since Sigh No More was released in October 2009.

Babel, the album some listeners have been craving since before the boys performed at the Grammy Awards in 2011, was released on Tuesday. As expected, it contains heart-wrenching laments and instrumentals that sometimes sound like a runaway steam engine.

Although the musical formulas for both Sigh No More and Babel are fairly simple, the area where frontman Marcus Mumford really shines is in his lyrics. A close review of the text reveals references to Shakespeare, the Bible, and even Steinbeck while calling on the listener to maintain faith in ideals like love and redemption. Combine those themes with Mumford’s fiercely passionate vocals and the swelling instrumentals and it’s no wonder the group has exploded into multi-platinum territory in little more than three years.

Babel has been met with reviews on both sides of the spectrum. Those touting the success of the band’s second full-length album are clearly fans of the gritty formula that put Sigh No More at the top of half a dozen Billboard charts. The main criticism being that Babel’s sound does not deviate from Sigh No More at all. As far as I’m concerned, Mumford & Sons have a good thing going with a formula that clearly works; if it ain’t broken…

For those who logged on or ran out on Tuesday to snag a copy of Babel, it won’t be too long before we hear the familiar cry for more. Will Mumford really make us wait another three years? How will we manage? Rest assured there are other artists out there that can give listeners their folk fix in the meantime. Here are a few of my favorites to supplement your playlist.

Graceland by Paul Simon: Simon put this album out after spending a great deal of time in South Africa in the mid eighties. It’s a hodgepodge of musical styles, but the blend of South African mbaqanga on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” makes this track one of the best on the album.

Gord’s Gold by Gordon Lightfoot: No folk collection would be complete without at least one of Lightfoot’s albums. As a die-hard Lightfoot fan, I can say that Gord’s Gold is a good collection that showcases his talent as a songwriter and contains some of the lesser-known tracks like “Don Quixote” and “Carefree Highway” that happen to be my own favorites.

Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes: This is the first full-length album by the Seattle group and it contains some of the best baroque-folk I’ve heard. Fleet Foxes enjoyed local success around the Northwest but received quite a bit more acclaim in Europe than the U.S. I recommend them as one of the best indie-folk groups you’ve never heard.

Flaws by Bombay Bicycle Club: Lead singer Jack Steadman has a voice reminiscent of Iron & Wine as is evident on the first track, entitled “Rinse Me Down.” While Bombay sports a different tone than Marcus Mumford, it’s still a good choice for when a mellower sound is wanted.

Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down by Noah and the Whale: The best part about this English quintet is by far the feel-good tone. On this debut album, listeners get a chance to hear the uplifting nature of the band’s music. Interesting fact: Laura Marling, former girlfriend of Marcus Mumford, was a member of the band until 2008, when she left to pursue a solo career a few months after this album was released.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Avengers Unites Marvel Superheroes

Written by Kirk Baird

In a recent interview with Stan Lee, I asked the famed comic-book writer and co-creator of so many classic Marvel superheroes — the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four — if there are any titles remaining he would still like to see on the big screen.

Of course Lee, 89, had several he said would make great movies, Dr. Strange and Black Panther being two he mentioned by name. He also said if any Marvel film was competently and properly made, any of its superheroes could be a winner on screen. Perhaps that’s why he’s excited about the upcoming Ant-Man adaptation by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).

But alas, not all superhero films are created equally, especially from Marvel properties. But those that have worked have been met with critical praise and huge box-office numbers, the biggest and best of these being this summer’s The Avengers. This all-star team-up of some of Marvel’s biggest names — Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow — not only was the biggest film this summer, but ranks as the third biggest moneymaker of all time. With the release of The Avengers on DVD and Blu-ray, here are some of the other best and brightest of the Marvel superhero film catalog:

The first two X-Men movies (X-Men and X2) and the prequel reboot, X-Men: First Class. The link between these three movies is filmmaker Bryan Singer, the director and cowriter of the first two X-Men movies and a hands-on producer for the reboot. In between these high points for mutant kind was X-Men: The Last Stand, which Singer and his writing team abandoned in favor of the ill-fated reboot, Superman Returns, while director Brett Ratner was brought in at the last minute.

X-Men: First Class was a successful attempt at negotiating around the third film disaster and reigniting the X-Men franchise, this time at the beginning, with a new cast, several new heroes, and a fun 1960s James Bond vibe.

Iron Man and Iron Man 2: With the cheeky brilliant Robert Downey, Jr., in the lead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, a genius, cocky, and sardonic scientist billionaire, the first Iron Man proved to be a classic in the comic-book genre. I’m in the minority, though, in thinking that Iron Man 2 is a worthy sequel. In terms of summer popcorn entertainment, it does exactly what it needs to do: keep you entertained from start to finish. Look for Iron Man 3 next summer.

Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2: I’m not so much a fan of this summer’s Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, as I feel it covered much of the same back-story territory that Sam Raimi and co. did with the first Spider-Man, which launched the franchise in splendid fashion. The second film was even better, now that the characters had been established and it could move beyond the origin story. The third film, unfortunately, tried too hard to one-up its predecessors, squeezing in three villains and a muddled plot.

Captain America: The First Avenger: With the origin of Captain America as the movie’s plot, director Joe Johnston cobbles together an engaging superhero romp that never takes itself too seriously, and even manages to pay homage to World War II propaganda films. Chris Evans makes for the ideal film representation of the perfect soldier. Evans will also don the red, white, and blue costume again in 2014 for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hot This Week: September 24

Snow White and the Huntsman grabs the top spot on this week's DVD chart, while Battleship continues its run of success at #2. It was a big week for new music, with seven of the top ten titles being listed for the first time, led by the latest from the Dave Matthews Band. Likewise, six new titles make their way onto the fiction chart, with Jack Reacher propelling Lee Child's latest to the top. The non-fiction list, on the other hand, remains largely the same, with No Easy Day staying on top, followed by the latest from journalist Bob Woodward.

  1. Snow White and the Huntsman
  2. Battleship
  3. What to Expect When You're Expecting
  4. Safe
  5. The Hunger Games
  6. The Five-Year Engagement
  7. The Lucky One
  8. The Dictator
  9. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  10. Think Like a Man
  1. Dave Matthews Band, Away from the World
  2. Little Big Town, Tornado
  3. Bob Dylan, Tempest
  4. The Avett Brothers, Carpenter
  5. The xx, Coexist
  6. ZZ Top, La Futura
  7. Imagine Dragons, Night Visions
  8. Matchbox Twenty, North
  9. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  10. Amanda Palmer & Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre Is Evil
  1. A Wanted Man, Lee Child
  2. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  3. The Time Keeper, Mitch Albom
  4. Delusion in Death, J.D. Robb
  5. Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon
  6. This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
  7. Zoo, James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  8. Frozen Heat, Richard Castle
  9. The Tombs, Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry
  10. Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice, Michael Brandman
  1. No Easy Day, Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer
  2. The Price of Politics, Bob Woodward
  3. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  4. Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza
  5. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  6. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  7. Mortality, Christopher Hitchens
  8. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  9. How Children Succeed, Paul Tough
  10. The Revenge of Geography, Robert D. Kaplan

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 Emmy Awards Announced

The 64th annual Emmy Awards were presented on Sunday night, celebrating the best of the best that television has to offer. The ceremony was hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who kept the show moving while entertaining the audience between award presentations. It was mostly a tame performance, the highlight coming when 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan pretended to pass out on stage for a Twitter gag.

The night’s big winners were Modern Family (ABC) and Homeland (Showtime), each with four awards, including Best Comedy Series and Best Drama Series, respectively. Homeland also won for Best Drama Actor (Damian Lewis) and Actress (Claire Danes), while Modern Family won Best Supporting Comedy Actor (Eric Stonestreet) and Actress (Julie Bowen).

As a network, HBO did very well in the awards, to no one’s surprise. The movie Game Change, detailing Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, won four awards, including Best Actress Julienne Moore for her portrayal of Sarah Palin. Julia Louis- Dreyfus won Best Comedy Actress for Veep, and Boardwalk Empire took home a trophy for Best Directing. There were no awards, however, (at least during the televised portion) for series like Girls and Game of Thrones, despite a number of nominations.

Other notable winners included the History special Hatfields & McCoys, which won for Best Actor (Kevin Costner) and Supporting Actor (Tom Berenger). Dame Maggie Smith won Best Supporting Drama Actress for PBS’s Downton Abbey, while Best Supporting Drama Actor went to Breaking Bad’s (AMC) Aaron Paul. Jon Cryer won Best Comedy Actor for his role on Two and a Half Men (CBS).

Let us know your thoughts on the ceremony and the awards in the comments section below. For a full collection of winners, please see our website.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

Written by Kyle Slagley

Ask just about any group of patrons to name the most prolific author of horror novels they can think of, and more often than not the response you’ll receive is Stephen King. Like him or not, the Maine native has almost singlehandedly restructured the way the average reader thinks about the suspense novel.

King’s first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974; since then, both his bibliography and his film credits have grown at such an astounding rate it leaves you wondering if the man isn’t eerily supernatural, much like some of his stories. Indeed, King has over 50 novels, twice that many short stories, and numerous miniseries and films based on his writing.

King turns 65 today, and based on his official website he shows no sign of slowing any time soon. In fact, this week a release date (September 24, 2013) was announced for his upcoming novel Dr. Sleep, the much-anticipated sequel to The Shining.

Here are some of our favorite books and movies from the frighteningly masterful and masterfully frightening writer.

Carrie (film: 1976): A high school girl with telekinetic powers takes revenge on her classmates after being humiliated at prom.

The Green Mile (film: 1999): Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan tell the tale of a wrongfully convicted murderer on death row with an unusual gift for healing.

It (novel: 1986, miniseries: 1990): Inhabitants of Derry, Maine, must face an evil clown that terrorizes the town by bringing fears to life. This work is quite possibly the reason that so many of us, to this day, have an irrational fear of clowns.

The Shawshank Redemption (novella: 1982, film: 1994): An established banker is wrongfully sentenced to life in Shawshank prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. During his imprisonment he expands the prison library and navigates the corruption of the guards before escaping.

Hearts in Atlantis (novella: 1999, film: 2001): Published in a collection of the same name, this story follows a boy who helps a friendly stranger with supernatural gifts escape the pursuit of the shady folks that follow him.

Carrie: The Musical (soundtrack: 2012): Debuting on Broadway in 1988, Carrie: The Musical made its mark in theater history as the most expensive flop on Broadway at approximately $8 million to produce and closing after only five performances. On March 1 of this year, the Off-Broadway revival debuted at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, closing the following month on April 8 after 46 performances.

For a comprehensive look at King’s prolific career, SmartBrowse “Stephen King” on our website.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

With Remake in Theaters, Judge Dredd Comes to Blu-ray

Written by Kirk Baird

Just as a revamped Judge Dredd appears in theaters this weekend, the 1995 version starring Sylvester Stallone makes its debut on Blu-ray. The timing, of course, is not a coincidence.

Stallone plays Judge Dredd, a humorless law enforcement agent in post-apocalyptic future Earth who is police, judge, jury, and executioner in one. This new style of quick justice is the only way an overcrowded society can function and keep lawbreakers off the streets.

But one judge abused his powers and was arrested and convicted by Dredd. This former judge, Rico, played by Armand Assante, escapes prison and goes after Dredd, implicating him in the murder of a journalist and his wife. Diane Lane plays the young judge who tries unsuccessfully to clear Dredd of the charges. With the roles reversed and Dredd now a convicted murderer and outcast, he must work to clear his name and save the city from the hell that Rico plans to unleash.

Stallone does his worst Stallone impersonation, and Rob Schneider is along as a petty criminal and comic relief. Assante chews scenery like it’s his last supper.

A making-of featurette makes very clear the studio thought it had something special with Judge Dredd. The truth, however, is that Judge Dredd was a major bomb and may have hurt Stallone’s career more than any other flop he's been in. But in a strange, unexplainable way the movie has aged well as a cult film. The film is based on a popular British comic strip character from 1977.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Depp, Burton Shine Together in Ed Wood

Written by Kirk Baird

Martin Landau insists his 1994 Oscar-winning performance as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood was a “love letter” to the actor forever linked to his role as Dracula.

By the early 1950s, Lugosi was an aging drug addict and persona non grata in Hollywood — at least to major film studios. But Wood, widely regarded as the worst director of all time, changed that, and adopted Lugosi into his menagerie of showbiz outcasts in his film club.

Theirs is the non-romantic love story, Landau says during the commentary on the recently released Blu-ray edition of Ed Wood, of two fast friends who inspired and boosted each other. Wood was a schlocky filmmaker whose career was aided significantly simply by name-dropping Lugosi to potential movie backers, while Lugosi, through Wood, had a second chance at a career.

Their story soars with Landau and Johnny Depp, as Wood, in the leads, and a witty script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski that celebrates their eccentricities. Wood’s transvestism is played not for cheap laughs, but for empathy, and his unintentionally awful films are brought to life in a gentle manner that glows with admiration.

Director Tim Burton, a longtime fan of Wood and his films, is clearly inspired by this story, perhaps because he had a vaguely similar director/fan relationship with Vincent Price, and even cast the aging actor in his final memorable role in Edward Scissorhands.

A quirky and unusual outcast finding his way in normal society is a constant theme in Burton’s oeuvre, but it’s never felt so relevant or personal — perhaps because Ed Wood is the only biopic he’s made.

Depp delivers a high-energy and quickly accessible performance that doesn’t look to audience pity, but rather lauds the filmmaker for his tireless ambition and stubborn perseverance against all odds and critics. It’s among Depp’s finest screen moments. Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, and George “The Animal” Steele lead a terrific supporting cast.

Burton fought the studio to film Ed Wood in black and white; renowned makeup artist Rick Baker, who won an Oscar for his work on the movie, said it was the only way that Landau’s makeup as Lugosi looked natural. On Blu-ray, the black-and-white digitally restored film is simply gorgeous and worth the upgrade alone. Most of the film’s many features are holdovers from the 2005 DVD release, but the commentary by Burton, Alexander and Karaszewski, Landau, and others from the film remains one of the better and more entertaining behind-the-scenes audio tracks available.

Burton and Depp have worked together eight times in their career, and most likely will continue their partnership. With only a few stumbles in their collaborations, Burton and Depp bring out the best in each other. Wood and Lugosi would be proud.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Page One Looks at Changing Face of Newspapers

Written by Kirk Baird

Working in newspapers most of my adult life, I acknowledge I have a soft spot for print journalism and I fear for its future. I don’t think newspapers are going away, as so many other doomsayers predict; rather, they are changing. Perhaps my fear is for the unknown of what that transformation will be.

The entertaining and engaging documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times is an admirable effort in putting faces to this mounting industry crisis, as major newspapers are losing money and shuttering or slashing staff to keep the presses going.

To examine this nationwide problem, filmmaker Andrew Rossi turned his camera to the leading light in U.S. newspapers, The New York Times, and specifically its new Media Desk, a department created to report the transformation of journalism amid the changes from the Internet and social media.

As with any newspaper, there are colorful characters at the Times, none more so than David Carr, a fair, thorough, and tough-minded media reporter and columnist who is a recovering cocaine addict. After surviving the depths of despair in his own life, it’s hardly surprising that Carr is also the most optimistic in the film about the survival of The New York Times and print journalism as a whole.

Equally fascinating to those who haven’t worked in a newsroom will be the excitement Rossi builds as Carr works to report a damaging expose of the upper-management culture and climate at the Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Orlando Sentinel, among others, and its new ownership.

As Page One: Inside the New York Times suggests, the debate about the future of journalism will rage as it has for decades. Media is an industry constantly in flux. And while experts have differing opinions on what changes new media will bring, everyone is in agreement that a world without newspapers would be a bleak one indeed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hot This Week: September 17

This week, Battleship climbs over The Hunger Games to claim the top DVD spot, while the Jason Statham-led Safe is the top newcomer at #3. Matchbox Twenty returns to the top of the music charts with their first album of all-new material in ten years. Gone Girl falls from the top of the fiction list, toppled by the latest from Mitch Albom and a collaborative novel from James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. In non-fiction, the much-discussed account of SEAL Team Six's mission to take down Osama bin Laden debuts at the top.

  1. Battleship
  2. The Hunger Games
  3. Safe
  4. The Five-Year Engagement
  5. The Lucky One
  6. The Dictator
  7. Think Like a Man
  8. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  9. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  10. Bernie
  1. Matchbox Twenty, North
  2. Imagine Dragons, Night Visions
  3. Lecrae, Gravity
  4. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  5. Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
  6. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  7. 2 Chainz, Based on a T.R.U. Story
  8. TobyMac, Eye on It
  9. Trey Songz, Chapter V
  10. Cat Power, Sun
  1. The Time Keeper, Mitch Albom
  2. Zoo, James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  3. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  4. The Tombs, Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry
  5. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  6. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  7. Last to Die, Tess Gerritsen
  8. NW, Zadie Smith
  9. Garment of Shadows, Laurie R. King
  10. The Beautiful Mystery, Louise Penny
  1. No Easy Day, Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer
  2. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  3. Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza
  4. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  5. Mortality, Christopher Hitchens
  6. The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
  7. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  8. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  9. How Children Succeed, Paul Tough
  10. A Father First, Dwyane Wade and Mim Eichler Rivas

Friday, September 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Tyler Perry!

Written by Kirk Baird

Filmmaker Tyler Perry is a cottage industry in media, with successful plays, films, and TV shows, which he writes, directs, produces and often stars. In celebration of the auteur’s 43rd birthday today, some highlights from his film, TV, and stagework:

Tyler Perry: The Plays (2007): A collection of Perry’s first seven plays, including Madea's Family Reunion; Madea Goes to Jail; Why Did I Get Married?; Diary of a Mad Black Woman; Meet the Browns; and I Can Do Bad All By Myself.

House of Payne, Volumes 1-8: an award-winning sitcom about a multigenerational working-class family as they experience all of life's struggles with faith, love, and, most importantly, humor.

Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself (2009): After Madea catches some children looting her home, she turns them over to their Aunt April, a nightclub singer who wants nothing to do with her late sister's kids. The hard-living singer discovers the importance of family with the help of a handsome Mexican immigrant.

Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls (2007): Monty is a blue-collar worker trying to gain custody of his children from his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Julia is a hotshot attorney who has offered to help Monty with his case. Can these two people from different backgrounds find love with each other?

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (2007): A story about the difficulty of maintaining a solid love relationship in modern times. Over the weekend, husbands and wives take a hard look at their lives, wrestling with issues of commitment, betrayal, and forgiveness as they seek a way forward.

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (2011): Madea, everyone's favorite wise-cracking, take-no-prisoners grandma, jumps into action when her niece, Shirley, receives distressing news about her health. All Shirley wants is to gather her three adult children around her and share the news as a family. It's up to Madea, with the help of the equally rambunctious Aunt Bam, to gather the clan together and make things right the only way she knows how: with a lot of tough love, laughter, and the revelation of a long-buried family secret.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Summer Box Office Recap

Written by Kirk Baird

The Avengers was the crown jewel of the summer movie season, while some big-budget flops such as Dark Shadows and Battleship took a toll on the overall box office. But the biggest losers this summer were the film studios, which watched ticket sales continue to slide. Attendance, according to, dropped about 4 percent to 533 million overall, the lowest number in nearly two decades. Just since 2002, total ticket sales are down 100 million.

Just as alarming: box-office receipts also were down 2.84 percent — about $4.3 billion — from the same May to Labor Day period from 2011.

Of course, higher ticket prices and upcharges for 3D and IMAX help mask this serious problem in the industry: patrons are coming to the movies less often.

Marvel’s The Avengers got summer off to a massive bang with a $1.5 billion worldwide total haul, $620 million of which was from the domestic box office, according to The runner-up box-office king was The Dark Knight Rises, with $433 million domestically and more than a billion dollars worldwide. Rounding out the superhero triumvirate was The Amazing Spider-Man, which was also the third-highest grossing film this summer at $260 million domestically and $735 million worldwide.

On the flip side of these successes was Dark Shadows, which earned less than $80 million domestically for the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp supernatural dark comedy that cost $150 million to produce, and Battleship, which grossed only $65 million domestically for the $209 million film based on the Hasbro board game.

It was the foreign box office to the rescue, however, pushing both films to a profit with $236 million and $302 million total worldwide receipts, respectively.

The foreign box office also helped Men in Black 3 generate nearly $625 million worldwide and Snow White and the Huntsman earn $394 million around the globe. Not every film needed help from abroad, though.

The raunchy R-rated comedy smash Ted, about a teddy bear come to life, grossed $216 million domestically, more than four times the costs of the film. Even better was Magic Mike. The comedy-drama directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Channing Tatum as a Tampa stripper — the film was based on the actor’s real-life experiences — earned nearly $114 million in North America, or more than 16 times its $7 million production cost.

Small-budget films also found big audiences this summer.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel earned $131 million worldwide on a budget of $10 million. And Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom grossed nearly $60 million worldwide on a budget of $16 million.

And while no production budget was available, certainly the conservative documentary 2016: Obama’s America exceeded industry expectations with more than $20 million so far at the domestic box office after an opening haul of $31,000 in mid-July in one theater in Houston.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Titanic Gets 15th Anniversary Rerelease

Written by Kirk Baird

Just out on a two-disc Blu-ray, two-disc DVD set is the love story set to tragedy and drama, Titanic. Fifteen years after its release, the film remains an effective combination of a director’s unyielding vision, an audience-pleasing romance, historical curiosity, and arguably the best use of CGI in movie history with the sinking of the ship.

Written and directed by James Cameron, the 1997 Best Picture Oscar winner remains the filmmaker’s greatest triumph and, until Avatar came along, his most flawed work. Titanic is a 90-minute gripping film with a 90-minute warm-up, but given the limitations of Cameron’s workspace — he had to shoehorn a dramatic plot into a historical disaster everyone knows — his script and film succeeds.

Leonardo DiCaprio shoulders some unnecessarily harsh criticism for his role as lower-class and happy drifter Jack, while Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for her role as upper-class beauty Rose, who’s miserable with her station in life. The unlikely couple make for a likable and, more important, believable pair, and without them Titanic’s sinking is simply an exercise in groundbreaking effects.

But this movie is less about the people on board the ship than the film’s namesake, and the spectacle and grandeur of the recreated Titanic and its historically accurate details make for a magnificent display on Blu-ray. While the commentaries with Cameron, the cast, and historians have been imported from the 2005 DVD release of the film, the Blu-ray offers two-and-a-half hours of new material, including a pair of documentaries — Reflections on Titanic and Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron — as well as 30 deleted scenes, and 60 behind-the-scenes featurettes. This is a must-have for fans of the second-biggest film of all time.

To complement the Titanic Blu-ray release is Ghosts of the Abyss 3D, Cameron’s documentary capturing his return trip to the Titanic and its resting place on the floor of the icy Atlantic Ocean. The three-disc combo Blu-ray 3-D/Blu-ray/DVD version offers the original hour-long theatrical release from 2003 and an expanded 90-minute cut. The extra half-hour provides extended trips into the rusting and deteriorating ruins of the ship, as Cameron and actor Bill Paxton, who played treasure seeker Brock Lovett in Titanic, dive in submersibles to the wreckage. More impressive is the footage from special underwater robot cameras nicknamed Jake and Elwood as the crafts negotiate ghostly dark rooms and hallways that have been silent since April 15, 1912. CGI effects provide context and ghostly visions to the often-unrecognizable remains, as the ship is slowly being reclaimed by the sea and sea life.

Ghosts of the Abyss makes a fascinating bookend to Titanic — assuming after more than three hours on the S.S. Cameron you’re up for another 90 minutes with the director and the doomed ship.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11, Eleven Years Later

Written by Kirk Baird

United 93 opened in theaters nationwide to critical acclaim in April, 2006. Months earlier, the trailer for the film — a white-knuckle and gut-punch re-enactment of the hijacked flight that crashed in Pennsylvania — was famously derided by audience heckles of "Too soon!"

"Too soon" seems so distant and quaint now, especially as Sept. 11 has become a cottage industry in our popular culture 11 years later.

Musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tori Amos, and Toby Keith have flocked to the theme. Writers explored the attacks and the aftermath in an assortment of fiction (Terrorist by John Updike and Falling Man by Don DeLillo) and even non-fiction (the bestselling The 9/11 Commission Report). And, of course, filmmakers followed United 93's lead with sobering examinations of a post-9/11 world, including Reign Over Me, World Trade Center, and most recently Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

For a nation that once collectively said it was "too soon" to discuss the tragedy, we are spending a lot of time absorbing Sept. 11, 2001, reading about it, and watching it.

"Too soon?"


With the 11th anniversary of the attacks today, here are some Sept. 11-themed movies and documentaries:

*9/11: The Filmmakers Commemorative Edition (2002): French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet happened to be filming a documentary on NYC firefighters when the attacks happened, and their cameras captured moments of heroism, chaos, and death that are impossible to forget.

*Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004): Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore explores the Sept. 11 attacks, and the role of the Bush administration, in his controversial documentary.

United 93 (2006): Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) directed this tense recreation of the heroism of 40 strangers who stood as one against the terrorists who seized control of their plane.

*World Trade Center (2006): Oliver Stone directed this true story of the rescue of two Port Authority policemen trapped in rubble after they volunteered to help the victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

Reign Over Me (2007): Adam Sandler stars in this drama about a suicidal New Yorker who lost his family in the attacks with Don Cheadle as the friend who tries to help him.

Man on Wire (2008): This Oscar-winning documentary details the famous high-wire walk by Frenchman Philippe Petit in 1974 between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers as well as history about the buildings themselves.

Mooz-lum (2010): A moving drama that explores post-9/11 life for a black Muslim in an increasingly wary society.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011): A grieving 9-year-old boy goes on a great adventure through New York City as way to be close to his father, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

*Unfortunately, these movies are out of print.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hot This Week: September 10

This weekend saw the worst weekend box office gross since 2001, so obviously movie lovers were getting their fix at home. The Hunger Games kept the top spot, with Battleship coming in second and several other movies and TV shows making the list for the first time. TobyMac and hip-hop supergroup Slaughterhouse take over the top of the CD chart. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl rules the fiction list for another week; there are no newcomers to the non-fiction chart, although three titles do re-crack the list.

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. Battleship
  3. The Dictator
  4. The Lucky One
  5. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  6. Think Like a Man
  7. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  8. Bernie
  9. Sons of Anarchy: Season 4
  10. The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season
  1. TobyMac, Eye on It
  2. Slaughterhouse, Welcome To: Our House
  3. Trey Songz, Chapter V
  4. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  5. Alanis Morissette, Havoc and Bright Lights
  6. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  7. 2 Chainz, Based on a T.R.U. Story
  8. Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
  9. fun., Some Nights
  10. Adele, 21
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. The Beautiful Mystery, Louise Penny
  3. Last to Die, Tess Gerritsen
  4. Bones Are Forever, Kathy Reichs
  5. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  6. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  7. The Inn at Rose Harbor, Debbie Macomber
  8. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  9. Friends Forever, Danielle Steel
  10. A Sunless Sea, Anne Perry
  1. Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza
  2. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  3. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  4. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  5. Paterno, Joe Posnanski
  6. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  7. Double Cross, Ben Macintyre
  8. Dearie, Bob Spitz
  9. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  10. American Sniper, Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

Friday, September 7, 2012

MTV Video Music Awards Recap

The annual Music TeleVision Video Music Awards took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last night. 

The red carpet preshow was special this year, sporting a double decker platform red carpet where Demi Lovato won the first VMA of the evening for Best Video With A Message and coincidently performed the hit song, "Give Your Heart a Break." Calvin Harris won the second award at the preshow, Best Electronic Dance Music Video for "Feel So Close" and later DJ’d between awards and musical guests. Rapper Wiz Khalifa and fiancée Amber Rose made the big announcement that they are having baby.

Rihanna kicked off the show with the first performance of the evening with spectacular lasers, graphics, and choreography. She performed “Cockiness” featuring A$AP Rocky, and her megahit, "We Found Love" which won her the big award for the evening, Video Of The Year. Stand-up comedian Kevin Hart MC’d the event. The first award of the evening was presented to One Direction for Best Pop Video. One Direction took home the most Moonmen of the evening with 3 wins. Pink performed “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” while doing her signature aerial flying stunt. In another interesting visual twist, Pink’s backup dancers wore costumes turning them into giant dancing lips. Say what you want about Pink’s hair, clothes or attitude; that girl can sing!

Alicia Keys sang her new single “Girl On Fire” from her album of the same name, due out November 27. Joining Keys on stage was Nicki Minaj and Gold-medal Olympian Gaby Douglas who did a bit of light tumbling during the tail end of the performance. Taylor Swift closed the show with her smash hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to promote her upcoming album Red which drops on October 22.

The women of the evening rocked the house with the strongest performances of the night. Overall, however, the show was rather disappointing. It felt very staged and predictable with awards going to only the artists in attendance. Many big stars were not in the audience, and quite a few nominated artists like Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Beiber were also missing. Although she has a good excuse with her delivery date getting close, expectant-mother Adele’s absence was also noticeable.  

British-heartthrobs One Direction probably made the biggest splash of all the stars in attendance. Not only are they young, hip, and British, they have revived the boy band phenomenon and have as large a following as The Backstreet Boys or New Kids On the Block did at their respective primes. Surprisingly though, their performance of “One Thing” was mediocre at best.

For a network that has become known primarily for shock-value programming, there was no singular “Wow!” moment this year. There was no ‘meat dress’, Kanye West wasn’t there to take away a microphone, and Britney Spears didn’t show up looking like a train-wreck. On the flip side of that coin, with VMA go-to performers gone, there were no stellar acts even close to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” from 2009 or Gaga’s “Paparazzi” also from 2009.

With the show being televised on a Thursday evening, the lack of star power, and the safe middle of the road performances, the future impact of this award show is questionable. The days when celebrities from all walks of fame attended the VMAs to see and be seen are apparently on the way out and we’re getting close to the time when Music TeleVision will no longer be able to justify the ‘Music’ portion of their name. Only time will determine the importance of this show in American pop culture.

2012 MTV Video Music Awards -- Winners List
Video of the Year  Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris -- "We Found Love"
Best Male Video Chris Brown -- "Turn Up the Music"
Best Female Video Nicki Minaj -- "Starships"
Best New Artist  One Direction -- "What Makes You Beautiful"
Best Pop Video One Direction -- "What Makes You Beautiful"
Best Rock Video Coldplay -- "Paradise"
Best Hip-Hop Video Drake feat. Lil Wayne -- "HYFR"
Best Electronic Dance Video Calvin Harris -- "Feel So Close"
Best Video With a Message Demi Lovato -- "Skyscraper"
Most Share-Worthy Video One Direction -- "What Makes You Beautiful"
Best Director M.I.A. -- "Bad Girls"
Best Choreography Chris Brown -- "Turn Up the Music"
Best Visual Effects Skrillex -- "First of the Year (Equinox)"
Best Art Direction Katy Perry -- "Wide Awake"
Best Cinematography M.I.A. -- "Bad Girls"
Best Editing Beyonce -- "Countdown"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Remembering Michael Clarke Duncan

Written by Kirk Baird

Michael Clarke Duncan was a giant of a man, whose first big impression on moviegoers was as an innocent death row inmate with mysterious healing powers in 1999’s The Green Mile. His performance was nominated for an Oscar.

Duncan died Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, following complications from a heart attack he suffered in July. He was 54.

A former bodyguard, the 6-foot-5-inch Duncan turned to acting in his 30s, with his breakthrough coming in 1998’s Armageddon starring Bruce Willis. Willis was impressed with Duncan – enough to work with him again a year later in Breakfast of Champions and to recommend him for the role of John Coffey in The Green Mile. The pair would also work again in 2000’s The Whole Nine Yards and 2005’s Sin City.

Duncan also appeared in the 2001 Tim Burton remake of The Planet of the Apes, 2002’s The Scorpion King, 2003’s Daredevil, and 2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. With his bass-like voice, he was a natural for animated films as well. Duncan provided voices to the 2003 Spider-Man TV series as the villain Kingpin (which he also played in the live-action Daredevil), the leader bear Tug in Disney’s 2003 Brother Bear and its 2006 sequel, the rhinoceros Commander Vachir in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda, and the heroic CGI Green Lantern Kilowog in the 2011 live-action Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds.

Check out:
The Green Mile
Kung Fu Panda
Planet of the Apes (2001)
The Scorpion King

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Written by Kirk Baird

The National Football League kicks off the regular season tonight at 8:30 p.m. EDT with the Dallas Cowboys taking on the defending Super Bowl champs, the New York Giants. Here are a few football films to help pad the season.

The Replacements (2000): This 2000 comedy starring Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves tackles that brief period in professional football when substitutes took over for the striking players.

Any Given Sunday (1999): A gritty behind-the-scenes examination of professional football directed and co-written by Oliver Stone, with Al Pacino chewing scenery (as only Pacino can) as the head coach, Cameron Diaz as the team’s president and co-owner, and Jamie Foxx as the promising young quarterback, a role that made Foxx a star.

Brian’s Song (1971): This made-for-TV film is the ultimate tear-jerker for grown men, chronicling the true story of teammates and friends Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams).

Invincible (2006): Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale, a bartender turned improbable walk-on with the Philadelphia Eagles in this drama based on an incredible true story.

Friday Night Lights (2004): Texas is crazy for high school football — I know, I grew up there — and this drama based on the bestselling book by H.G. Bissinger and starring Billy Bob Thornton captures it like nothing else. Also check out the award-winning TV series (2006-2011) as well.

Rudy (1993): Sean Astin takes on the inspiring true story of a Notre Dame football player considered too small to play and who fought the odds to take the field.

Jerry Maguire (1996): A terrifically entertaining look at the money side of football through the up-and-down career and relationships of a sports agent (Tom Cruise), with an Oscar-winning performance by Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a difficult but talented wide receiver.

The Longest Yard (1974): The original drama starring Burt Reynolds is far superior to the Adam Sandler comic remake about a former pro quarterback now in prison who fields a football team of inmates to play the prison guards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hot This Week: September 4

The Hunger Games maintains the top spot on the DVD list through the holiday weekend, followed by Sacha Baron Cohen's latest alter-ego comedy, The Dictator. Trey Songz moves to the top of the music chart; just as notable, perhaps, is the fact that Adele does not appear for the first time in a long time. There are only two newcomers to the fiction list this week, the top one being the latest from Terry Brooks at #3. In non-fiction, Joe Posnanski's biography of the former Penn State head coach, the late Joe Paterno, takes over the top spot.

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. The Dictator
  3. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  4. Bernie
  5. Lockout
  6. Freelancers
  7. American Reunion
  8. Dexter: The Sixth Season
  9. 21 Jump Street
  10. Silent House
  1. Trey Songz, Chapter V
  2. 2 Chainz, Based on a T.R.U. Story
  3. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  4. DJ Khaled, Kiss the Ring
  5. Justin Bieber, Believe
  6. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  7. Owl City, The Midsummer Station
  8. Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
  9. Tenth Avenue North, The Struggle
  10. One Direction, Up All Night
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. The Inn at Rose Harbor, Debbie Macomber
  3. Wards of Faerie, Terry Brooks
  4. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  5. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  6. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  7. Odd Apocalypse, Dean Koontz
  8. Black List, Brad Thor
  9. Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
  10. The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silva
  1. Paterno, Joe Posnanski
  2. Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza
  3. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  4. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  5. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  6. Shadowbosses, Mallory Factor
  7. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  8. Fool Me Twice, Aaron Klein and Brenda J. Elliott
  9. Dearie, Bob Spitz
  10. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson