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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Over The Hedge

Cast: Bruce Willis (RJ the Raccoon), Garry Shandling (Verne the Tortoise), Gene Wilder (Norbert the Owl) (voices); other cast not announced yet.

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Plot: Spring has sprung, and Verne and his woodland friends awaken from their long winter's nap to discover that a tall, green "thing" has mysteriously cropped up right through the middle of their home. Enter RJ, an opportunistic raccoon, who explains that the world beyond the hedge is the "gateway to the good life" where peculiar creatures called humans live to eat, rather than eat to live.

Suspicious and even a little jealous of RJ, the ever-cautious Verne wants to keep his blended family safely on their side of the hedge. But, proving the adage that one man's garbage is another man's--or rather animal's--treasure, the manipulative RJ tries to convince the woodland band that there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. Eventually, RJ and Verne form an unlikely friendship as they learn to co-exist with--and even exploit--this strange new world called suburbia.

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Greg's Preview: Tim Johnson gave me/us an entertaining walk through this movie's story (briefly), along with lots of concept art, and a short clip that showed Jim Carrey and Garry Shandling at work, giving the two leads their voices. I've never really read the strip this movie is based on, and I have a feeling most people who see this movie won't have had that experience either. As Johnson describes it, though, this is a simple (and funny) fable how animals might perceive us humans, and how our actions impact their lives. Johnson's goal with the animation style of this movie is to keep the animals faithful to a cartoonish interpretation (they sort of look like the 'Pogo' gang to me), set in a version of a woods from a tortoise's eye view. So, all of the background art (especially the interiors of human houses) has a grand scale to it. As Johnson put it, a refrigerator would tower over a racoon the way a six-story building looks to us, complete with a grainy feel to things in the distance (ie, the ceiling, windows, etc.) that might be outside the field-of-vision of small animals. In other words, the human world looks like a world of giants, which is an obvious approach, but I don't think I've ever seen expressed so well.

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One other thing that really sold me on this movie, however, was Jim Carrey's performance as RJ. Carrey did a great deal of improving with the script, and so it makes sense that the clip I was shown sounded customized for Carrey's bombastic delivery style; hearing him "sell" Vern the Tortoise on the wonders of human civilization was quite fun. This presentation also delivered the news that Gene Wilder is the third voice cast member to be announced, as Norbert the Owl. Of the four presentations I saw this week, this one is tied for my favorite (along with Sharkslayer). In some ways, it's the "smaller" of the four (the other two being Shrek 2 and Madagascar), but the limitations of the setting was attractive to me, because of that strong sense of place that Tim Johnson's presentation sold to us. After listening to him for 30 minutes, I felt like I knew the path to the hedge.

*Yahoo! Movies


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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pirates of the Carribean - Dead Man's Chest

In the summer of 2003, a new movie landed like a cannon ball in movie theaters across the land. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” had something for everyone – laughs, adventure, romance, gorgeous costumes, creepy skeletons, and larger-than-life characters. No wonder all of America was talking like a pirate – even though pirate movies have long been considered box-office poison in Hollywood, this one took no prisoners.

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It’s been a long three years, but on July 7 Captain Jack Sparrow and crew will be back, with dastardly new villains, a heart-thumping new quest, and a full shipload of familiar faces. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” reunites Jack (Johnny Depp), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) in a quest that will bring them face-to-face with a terrifying new menace in the person of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) – and reunite Will with his long-lost father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). There’s some rough sailing ahead in the Caribbean -- and we’d hate to miss a moment of it!

Fans of “Black Pearl” are thrilled – and so is Terry Rossio, who cowrote both films (and the upcoming third, which will complete the trilogy) with his partner Ted Elliott.

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According to Terry, when they wrote the first film no one was sure that it would spawn sequels … or even that anyone would want to see it! “Given the cursed nature of the pirate genre, we thought there was a good chance we were making the last pirate film that would be made for the next 20 years,” he laughs. “My writing partner, Ted Elliott, predicted the final box-office number pretty closely. I think he was the only person in the world who knew.” Now Captain Jack Sparrow will become part of a truly classic Disney crew in July, as Disneyland park and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World resort will unveil some fresh additions to the classic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Captain Jack will now appear in the attraction, along with his ... nemesis, Captain Barbossa, and the ghostly Davy Jones.

It’s a fitting step in the ring of inspiration that led from the attraction to the films, which are full of loving tributes to the pirate experience that has delighted generations of Theme Park Guests. The attraction was the source of Terry’s favorite moment in “Black Pearl”—“When Barbossa drinks the wine and it splashes down through his chest. That's where the story of the movie dovetails exactly into a key image from the attraction (and a special nod of gratitude to designer Marc Davis for that image).” And in “Dead Man’s Chest”? Says Terry, “We used so many key attraction images in the first film, there weren't a lot left! But be on the lookout for the dunked-water-spitting mayor.”

Writer Terry Rossio promises even more action in the new Pirates film!

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It’s no wonder that the films so lovingly reflect the spirit of the attraction – according to Terry, it’s practically in the writers’ blood. “We grew up in Orange County, California, and I spent many days each summer at Disneyland. I must have ridden Pirates 100 times. I didn't know it at the time, but now I'm going to count that as research,” he says. And the resulting movies feel very DISNEY – full of the adventure, wonder, and high spirits that Walt himself loved. It’s no coincidence that so many Disney films and attractions feature pirates – from “Peter Pan” and the first all-live-action Disney film, “Treasure Island,” to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction itself.

Robert Tieman, Manager of the Walt Disney Archives, tell us, “There is some evidence that a version of the Pirates attraction was part of the earliest concept sketches of Disneyland. A 1954 sketch by Disney artist Herb Ryman shows a small section of Adventureland labeled ‘Pirate Shack’ and ‘Bluebeard's Den,’ but nothing came of those early renderings.

“When New Orleans Square first started being talked about as a separate area of Disneyland (1957/58), Walt began thinking about what kinds of attractions could populate the area. The first idea was a Wax Museum type of walk-through building featuring pirates. Lots of years of story and conceptual artwork followed before the attraction finally opened in 1967.”

Pirates of the Carribean - Dead Man's Chest
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Terry promises us that each film in the trilogy will offer its surprises, and its own unique feel. “Pirates 2 is more action-packed and effects-packed and introduces four new main characters to the pirates world. As far as Pirates 3, let's talk this time NEXT year!”

Will there be a “Pirates 4”? Terry laughs, “That's like asking someone who has just collapsed at the finish line to run the marathon again!” Fans will have to wait and wonder to see what the upcoming chapters of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" saga will hold. Terry does say that the third film will wrap up the story of Captain Jack, Will, and Elizabeth in a satisfying way -- but as old sea dogs know, there's always room for more adventure, if that's what the cards should hold.

Visit the official site, but be warned -- here thar be Pirates!

*Disney Insider


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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow
Directed by: Ron Howard

The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code
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Some things you just can't avoid. Over the course of the last year or so, every time I looked at anything remotely involving the book industry, "The Da Vinci Code" was mentioned as either being a best seller of 'Harry Potter'-like proportions, or someone's favorite book (often even by people whose opinion I actually sort of respect).

So, bored while waiting for my trip back from Sundance this year, I found myself at the Salt Lake City airport with some change and a few hours to spare, so I bought the book for the trip back. I breezed right through it in the following 5 or so hours it took me to get back to my home town of Madison, WI. I don't normally read this sort of popular thriller stuff... not because I'm a snob, but I guess because I *do* whip right through fiction like this.

Not much of a challenge. On the other hand, I can see why this book is so popular; it's basically a series of word puzzles, cryptograms and logic puzzles that make it read like a cross between "Encyclopedia Brown", The Fugitive and the sort of Catholic conspiracy theory pablum you might hear on AM talk radio. It should be interesting to see how exactly this translates to movies; much of the puzzle solving involves Hanks' character prattling on for pages describing various historical concepts involving the founding of the Catholic Church.

I can see how these relatively little-known facts are interesting to most people, since this stuff is not talked about that much, but if you are familiar with terms like the Apocryphra, the Nicaean Council or the Codex Leicester, most of what Langdon says is going to be old hat for you (it was for me, pretty much). Admittedly, I was sort of informed by the book about the nature of the organization called Opus Dei, which is very central to the intrigue of the book (just want to confess that I'm not a *total* know-it-all :), though I have my doubts whether their actions are quite as exciting as he depicts. Over all, I thought the book was well-written and engaging enough for me to keep turning the page, but I was disappointed that with a hard cover price tag, it was over so quickly.

I guess, of course, the speed of the story is also what makes it a great candidate for feature film adaptation; except for 95% of all that historical exposition coming out of Hanks' character's mouth, it's very easy to imagine the movie being acted out in about 105 minutes.

The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code
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Anyway, as for what my expectations for the actual movie are now that I've read the book... I've got to say that pretty much everything we know about the movie is exactly what I would expect. Hanks, Tautou and Reno are 1, 2 and 3 exactly whom I would have cast myself.

I would not at all be surprised to discover Dan Brown wrote the characters with them in mind. Likewise, there's nothing particularly surprising that Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment are involved; despite the controversy that some people might attach to the movie's concepts, this is more or less a pretty standard thriller caper in the style of The Fugitive (and heehee... thematic elements reminiscent of Hudson Hawk and Dogma ; yes, really).

What I mean is Howard's success mainstream director is his ability to be just that: universally appealing, and that's why this novel is such a hit; its story is very broad and able to grasp the curiosity of a large audience, apparently growingly intrigued by the historical implications that documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hummadi have suggested over the last few decades. There's also a very good chance that it's this controversy that will help Sony and Imagine promote this movie throughout the spring and summer of 2006.

The story's implications about the nature of a certain Biblical female character could easily become the starting point of media-contrived "controversies" comparable to the hubbub surrounding The Passion of the Christ, except here, it's the Catholics who are made out to be the bad guys, not the Jews (well, certain types of Catholics, anyway, but the same restriction could be placed on the "villains" of Gibson's movie).

Anyway, I say all that to say this... the greenlighting of this movie was a no-brainer. Brown's novel is a runaway literary blockbuster of the sort seen only maybe once or twice a decade, and invariably, these sort of novelistic hits always become movies (heck, one of them, The Bonfire of the Vanities, *also* starred Tom Hanks).

Given the choice release weekend often reserved for the likes of 'Star Wars' prequels, this movie may lack much in the way of special effects (action wise, it's pretty standard fare), but it's literary origin is still such the novel du jour, and the timing is so perfect, that this movie is already a top contender to be one of 2006's biggest summer blockbusters.

*Preview by Greg, Yahoo! Movies


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

Starring: Ian McKellen , Patrick Stewart , Hugh Jackman , Famke Janssen , Halle Berry , Kelsey Grammer , James Marsden , Vinnie Jones , Shohreh Aghdashloo


With the loss of director Bryan Singer and the addition of Kelsey 'Frasier' Grammer as a blue beast, how will the second X-sequel pan out?

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Along with 1998's Blade, 2000's X-Men was the film that really kicked off the current cycle of films based on comic book superheroes. Director Bryan Singer made the X-Men franchise very much his own by directing the first instalment, which proved that a smart, stylish and concise film could be realised from the enormous back catalogue of 'X-Men' comic books. He performed the same feat with 2003's sequel.

X2 ended with the apparent death of one of the key characters, Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, but also hinted at the future introduction of a storyline that was legendary among fans of the comics, that of the Dark Phoenix. All seemed to be going smoothly with Singer - then suddenly, in July 2004, everything changed. Singer signed with Warner Bros to direct a Superman film.

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Although he said he'd have been happy to remain involved with Fox as a producer on X3, it wasn't to be. He was out, taking Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (who'd co-scripted X2), John Ottman (who'd scored and edited X2), Guy Dyas (X2 production designer) and Newton Thomas Sigel (the cinematographer who'd shot both X-films) with him to work on Superman Returns. Singer said, "I had a very strong vision for the next X-Men picture. But Superman has always been a dream of mine. Things weren't moving as quickly as... it was difficult. I love those actors and I have a strong relationship with the X-Men universe."

Fox and Marvel were left in something of a predicament, and, inevitably, the internet was soon awash with rumours. Among the liveliest ongoing sagas was that of whether Halle Berry would be back for more. The actress had been very vocal about her disappointment in the role played by her character, the weather-controlling X-Man Storm. Meanwhile, the franchise was spinning off in other directions, with proposed Magneto and Wolverine flicks (the latter has since been confirmed).

*Review by Film Review by Daniel Etherington,


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Monday, May 08, 2006

Snakes on a Plane A.K.A. "SOAP"

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, David Koechner, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Blanchard, Byron Lawson, Nathan Phillips

Plot Summary: FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) has been tasked with a relatively dull babysitting job, as he must accompany an essential trial witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles. The man he’s escorting can provide vital testimony that could incriminate a major mob boss. For Flynn, it is nearly the end of a long personal struggle to capture the reclusive Mafioso. As the unsuspecting pair boards the airplane that will take them to L.A., they are unaware of the mob boss’s somewhat unconventional plan to kill the witness before he ever reaches the final destination. An assassin will release a crate full of snakes while the plane is airborne. Flynn, his witness, the rookie pilot, and the terrified passengers must band together if they are going to survive the ordeal.

Snakes on a Plane
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Let’s talk about the title for a moment, which is either one of the best or one of the worst titles for a movie. You can decide. I feel that there is something to its simple descriptive quality. It should be pretty obvious what you are going to get from the film – a potent mix of deadly snakes and an airplane full of people. After that, you tend to instinctively imagine the worst. The secret probably lies in the combination of those two words “plane” and “snakes,” both of which relate back to our basic human fears of flying and, well, venom (or teeth, or death). I think it’s brilliant. Variety reports that this film has been getting incredible buzz since the summer of 2005, when it was first announced. It has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2006, despite zero advertising. Everything thanks to the inspired title. Apparently, websites have already been devoted to the film and have even developed a phrase out of the title. “Snakes on a Plane” is meant to describe a situation that has gotten so bad that it is uncontrollable. For example: “Ever since I forgot about the big project, my relationship with my boss is like ‘snakes on a plane.’” All this leads to only one conclusion: the film should manage to rake in a healthy amount of money once it comes out.

Hopefully, the actual movie will be as brilliant as the title, but that is rather doubtful. The entire premise is a fantastic gimmick, but the ridiculous nature is full of holes. For one, there is no guarantee that a bunch of loose snakes would actually kill the intended target. Second, why not just land the plane and evacuate? On the other hand, the fact that I’m even asking these questions suggests that I’m hooked on the idea. I hope that the filmmakers are aware of these problems and will be able to have fun with some of this absurd material. This is exactly why the inclusion of SNL veterans is so relevant. I think that Ellis will attempt the same type of trickery that he did with Cellular. By combining the implausible situation with humor, the film will not be open to such obvious criticism. It’s the only way Snakes on a Plane could work.

In Conclusion: Contrary to the manner other websites have applied to describe the film, it will not be a straightforward thriller. There will surely be comedic elements blended in to lighten up the atmosphere. Once the novelty of the idea wears off, however, I think that we will be left with a fairly generic adventure movie. I think the premise lends itself to many potentially outrageous situations, but as a late summer film, I think that Snakes on a Plane will be boggled down with some fairly conventional moments. I can’t deny that there’s something about the premise that has a grip on me so unless some new distressing information comes out before its release, I’ll be looking forward to this odd concept.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

'Clear Day' is a chick-flick for guys

PLOT: A middle-aged man loses his job and hits upon the idea of swimming the English Channel as one way to regain his self-respect and confidence. It's a journey that forces him to deal with the past, too.

You really can have too much of a good thing.

On A Clear Day is an endearing film with first-rate performances -- and it will probably be lost in the wave of Full Monty think-alike movies currently out there. Too bad.

On A Clear Day
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Like Kinky Boots and other similar plucky/indomitable spirit/there'll always been an England type movie outings, On A Clear Day is about one man's response to a personal crisis.

Frank (Peter Mullan) is a shipbuilder in Glasgow, and at 55 years old finds himself out of work. Frank is angry and confused at being laid off, but there's more to it than that. Without the anchor of work, he is adrift in a sea of emotions he doesn't know how to navigate. He and his wife (Brenda Blethyn) had two sons, one of whom drowned in childhood. That is a tragedy Frank has never really processed. And he and his other son, Rob (Jamie Sives) have a strained relationship.

For a variety of reasons, Frank decides that what he wants to do next is swim the English Channel. One of his first supporters is Chan (Benedict Wong), who owns the local fish and chips shop. Then Frank's mates (Billy Boyd, Ron Cook and Sean McGinley) all decide to help out with the swim as well, and they decide to keep it all a secret.

Frank trains; Frank's wife finds out about the swim; Frank and his wife quarrel; Frank swims; does Frank triumph? We'll never tell.

On A Clear Day has the same rise-above-adversity themes as similar movies, but it also has a half-dozen scenes that make it more interesting than that. And nearly all those scenes are about various aspects of Frank's personality. Frank is a complicated character. From his panic attack over being laid off, to his chats with his grandson and even to his guilty need to avoid having coffee with his adult son, Frank is established as a stand-up guy who struggles with the emotional side of life. He is endlessly admirable; thanks to yet another note-perfect performance from Peter Mullan, On A Clear Day offers an unusually good portrait of mid-life crisis.

Flawed by moments of sitcom humour, On A Clear Day still manages to tell an engaging story about men, work and friendship. It's like a chick flick for guys, which would make it a di -- oh, never mind.

BOTTOM LINE: Too familiar in some respects, as storytelling goes, but the saving grace here is Peter Mullan's performance as a man trying to cope with the emotional side of life. And who can argue with a Brenda Blethyn performance?

*Review By LIZ BRAUN - Toronto Sun


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