Sunday, October 30, 2011

Magic Mike: Who's the Joke Really On?

I interviewed Gina Gershon a handful of years ago and brought up the topic of Showgirls. Before I even asked my question, she knew what was happening and jokingly asked, “Don’t do it. Just don’t.” The actress said that even a decade after the infamous film was released; every interview ends up coming back to it. Is Hollywood about to release its second cult favorite stripper movie?

The idea sounded like an off the cuff comment that would never go anywhere. Channing Tatum turning his time as a stripper into a film titled Magic Mike. Tatum isn’t exactly the shyest, most buttoned up actor. He is who he is and doesn’t have a problem letting fans know where his roots lay. But things got really interested when the up and coming actor got some pedigree behind him. Steven Soderbergh signed on to direct and a who’s who’s of male hotties agreed to strip down. An all-star male lineup that includes Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Alex Pettyfer, and Adam Rodriguez will be dropping trou and shaking what their mama’s gave them.

So, regardless what anyone might think this movie is happening. Not only is it happening, but it is being released at the high of the summer movie season. Warner Bros. announced in the last week that Magic Mike will be unspooled to theaters on June 29th. This shows that Warner Bros. also has confidence that this could be a huge hit. Maybe, they are looking to get bachelorette parties coming to theaters instead of actual strip clubs during the summer wedding season. This could also be one of the biggest unintentionally gay films ever made!

Filming is now done and by January there will probably be a trailer available. But it’s still hard to take this seriously as happening. I’m waiting for Soderbergh to admit in an interview that we’re all being punk’d. His track record shows that this probably won’t be the case. This is the director who has gone against normal convention with films like Bubble and The Girlfriend Experiment.

Magic Mike has tons of buzz and hype, but will that translate into box office? Movies like Snakes on a Plane have shown that buzz can be deceptive, especially since a lot of Magic Mike's buzz has been about how much of the guys', um, talent will be on display. Ultimately, it will depend on the tone of the film. Have Tatum and Soderbergh gone the dramatic route or is it going to be a comedy, as listed on IMDB? Depending on what sound bite you listen, it could go either way.

You know what would really make the film shine? A sex scene set in a pool. Perhaps even a winking cameo by Gina Gershon warning the guys that stripping will follow them for the rest of their lives -- at least for the next decade or so, anyway.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Scream 4: What Went Wrong?

This year has not been kind to the box office. Theater revenues have been down for most of the year. Even though the summer receipts increased, it was the lowest attended summer season since 1997. Once of the most unexplainable disappoints of the year was “Scream 4.” It was released with high expectations and hype, but upon release the film landed with a thud. Its domestic gross was less than half the previous film and, at $38 million, it didn’t even cover the production budget.

While “Scream 4” wasn’t as well received critically as its predecessors, it didn’t get trashed either. There was also some behind-the-scenes drama with writer Kevin Williamson leaving the film that had people questioning the quality of the film. But when the celluloid hit the screen it received mostly favorable reviews from fans.

It’s the best of the sequels, but “Scream 4” does have its faults. With the film being released in DVD this past week, I am taking a more critical look at the film’s shortcomings.

Know the Rules, Don’t Be Cynical About Them

The original film laid out the rules to successfully survive a horror movie. That was 15 years ago. The characters in the film are savvier and have grown up in a world where everyone knows how to make it into the last reel. But most of the characters, from Jenny in the opening scene to Robbie and Olivia, they are not just aware of what to do, but are now also completely cynical about the rules that have been seen again and again in movies.

When the murders started happening, the characters aren’t actually scared to be mutilated. If the characters don’t have a fear of being killed, then how is the audience supposed to be frightened? In the opening scene alone, Jenny gets a call from the killer. When she realizes it’s not a friend playing a joke, you would think the terror might have set in. Instead, she retorts to him, “I have a 4.0 GPA and 135 IQ, asshole.” As of doing well on her geometry test will keep her alive. Less than two minutes later she is hiding behind a door that opens outward and gets stabbed in the back – literally.

Too Many Characters, Too Little Time

In movies like the “Scream” series, having extra characters serve as red herrings are necessary to keep the audience guessing. But when you have 6 victims in the opening, 6 teenaged friends, 3 returning characters, and 5 adult characters that need to have screen time in a film that runs 111 minutes, it’s going to get tight. Williamson and ghostwriter Ehren Kruger do their best to deliver personality to the characters, but that’s a lot to serve. Sure, it also gives the film a body count of 15 – a series record. But there is too much going on in the film.

Survivors Keep Surviving

Gale, Sidney and Dewey are the “Scream” series. Having survived 15 years and multiple attacks, they are all survivors. But how much suspense is there when there is an underlying, unspoken rule that none of them will be killed. It has long been known that Sidney wouldn’t get killed since she is “the last girl.” But the filmmakers have painted them into the corner with a trio of last girls.

For a film series that is known for breaking the rules, what better way to prove that than by killing the last girl?

Despite its faults, “Scream 4” is a fun film and has some good scares in it. While in development Williamson said that he was looking forward to making another trilogy for the series. Word from the Weinstein Company is that they are interested in continuing the series. Hopefully for the next film, they will lock the script in before the cameras begin to roll.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scream of the Day: Elise Neal

When Elise Neal was cast in the high profile sequel to Scream, she hit the acting equivalent of winning the lottery. By getting cast as Sidney’s best friend Hallie, Neal immediately got an elevated profile in Hollywood. It was a film that every starlet was (no pun intended) dying to get a role.

For Neal, Scream 2 was just one of the four roles that she in 1997. Despite getting the additional exposure, the actress took a turn to the small screen the following year with a leading role as D.L. Hughley’s sitcom, The Hughley’s. The show was not a huge hit, lasting for four years. Once it ended she rebounded with another sitcom, All of Us, produced by Will Smith and Elise’s Scream 2 co-star Jada Pinkett-Smith.

Moving on from her sitcom roles, Neal has worked steadily jumping between supporting roles in films like Hustle and Flow and, more recently, The Love Ranch. She also recently appeared on the NBC show The Cape.

Branching out from just acting, Elise Neal also helped to create the R&B group Assorted Flavors. Last year, she also gave an interview to TV One claiming that the Pussycat Dolls’ song “Don’t Cha” was originally hers, which was performed in Neal’s cabaret act, until lead PCD singer Nicole Schrezinger stole it. Schrezinger hasn’t responded to the claims.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Scream of the Day: Matt Keeslar

The most maligned of the Scream trilogy, Scream 3 took more of a comedic tone than outright trying to scare the audience. Part of the problem was the high bar standard set by the previous films, and the introduction of new writer Ehren Kruger to the series because creator Kevin Williamson was unable to return.

Though uneven at times, Scream 3 does have some fun characters to add to the stable from the previous films. Taking on the role of Tom Prinze, indie actor Matt Keeslar helped close out the trilogy. Tom was playing the role of Dewey in the latest Stab sequel and was also the most ambivalent about the happenings surrounding the cast as they begin to get picked off one by one.

Keeslar moved from Adrian, Michigan to New York City to attend the prestigious Juilliard School. Though Juilliard frowns upon working as an actor while in school, Keeslar began to quickly rack up roles in movies like Quiz Show and Renaissance Man. Eventually he was forced to drop out of Juilliard after his third year due to the demand for him.

Keeslar, who had already garnered indie cred with roles in Waiting for Guffman, Last Days of Disco, and Psycho Beach Party, has leading man good looks that made him a perfect fit for the role of Hollywood star Prinze. He scored a one-two punch in 2000 with the release of Scream 3 and the television remake of Dune. With the exception of the occasional big role like his starring role on ABC FAmily's The Middleman or Stephen’s King’s Rose Red, Keeslar has been taking guest appearances on hit shows and using his good looks to star in made-for-TV romantic comedies. He most recently appeared on TNT’s Leverage.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Scream of the Day: Portia de Rossi

Scream 2 came out with much hype and fanfare. But there was something interesting in the structure of the film -- a handful of supporting characters were included who had nothing to do with the film. A relatively unknown Australian actress named Portia de Rossi appeared in one of these thankless roles as sorority sister Murphy.

Lois (played by Rebecca Gayheart) and Murphy were minor characters who tried to recruit Sidney for their sorority. Murphy was also uttered the infamous line, "Hi! No, I really mean that, Hi!" and was never seen again after partying the night away while Derek was tied up on the theater stage.

De Rossi, who was mostly known at the time to American audiences for her role on the television show Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher and the Hugh Grant film, Sirens.

As many of the up-and-coming actors from the Scream trilogy have done, Portia has gone on to make a bigger name for herself -- both onscreen and off. Her big break came the following year when she took on the roll of Nelle Porter on the hit show Ally McBeal. It wasn't until joining the Bluth family as part of the cult favorite Arrested Development that the actress really began to gain a following. She re-teamed with her Scream filmmakers when she joined the beleaguered production of the werewolf film Cursed. Portia has found continued success on the small screen with roles in Nip/Tuck and Better Off Ted.

In her personal life, Portia de Rossi is one half of a Hollywood supercouple with Ellen DeGeneres. The two began dating in 2005, forcing the actress to address speculation about her sexuality that began when photos were published of her and an ex-girlfriend. De Rossi has also taken up many charitable causes and has spoken publicly about suffering from anorexia during the early years of her career. Last year, the actress became an author with the publication of her autobiogaphy Unbearable Lightness.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scream of the Day: Maureen Prescott

The first real victim, and the reason why the original Scream trilogy ever happened, was Maureen Prescott. While "she was no Sharon Stone," the role was played throughout the series by actress Lynn McRee.

Maureen was an omnipresent character throughout the series. Always talked about and there, but not one with much screentime -- though that did change with Scream 3 and Sidney's nightmares. As such, McRee never received billing for her work in the early films (which consisted of appearing motherly in photos with actress Neve Campbell).

Fans of the series learned, as did central character Sidney Prescott, that Maureen had an affair with the father of Sid's boyfriend, resulting in the split of his parents. As the third film explained, Maureen also spent time in Hollywood trying to be an actress. Her plans didn't quite go as she liked and she buried that period -- and the son who was born during it -- of her life.

Much like her most famous role, McRee herself is a bit hard to place if you look at her IMDB resume. With only a hand of roles, all minor, spread across 20 years, McRee began acting in 1982. However, it wasn't until a pair of roles in the 1989 films Witchtrap and Dragon Fight that she gained billing. Since her time as Maureen Prescott, McRee has appeared in Gus Van Sant's Milk and most recently The Violent Kind, which appeared at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

The actress, who is also a mother, currently lives in Haiku, Maui, Hawaii.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Women in Hollywood Don't Get a Second Chance

No one will ever accuse Hollywood of being an equal opportunity type of town. Based off just your looks, a career could be over before it ever starts. For those who do make it in Hollywood, trying to stay on top is a job in itself. But there’s a more subtle type of discrimination at work in the entertainment industry. Whereas men are able to bounce back from scandal relatively easily, women have a much harder time.

Hollywood has always been filled with stories of preferential treatment towards men, between being much higher paid to the types of films that are made to the opportunities that are given to men in the film industry versus women. Last year’s Academy Awards was groundbreaking because Kathryn Bigelow was the first female director to ever win the coveted award.

But a more dubious distinction is given to men like Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Chris Brown. Each of the men has had scandals and controversies that lesser man would not have been able to rebound. However, to varying degrees they were all able to continue working and even regain some of their popularity. Gibson, the most lethal of the trio, made comments that should have killed his career, but he has continued directing and acting. Sheen, until possibly this week, seemed to have the entire industry turning a blind eye to his antics. Sure, his career took a hit after the whole Heidi Fleiss scandal, but his career was more successful than ever afterwards thanks to “Two and a Half Men.” Brown, two years ago became a leper after beating then girlfriend Rihanna. Many thought his career might be dead because she was a pop princess. Despite some minor hiccups along the way – thanks Twitter! – Brown is now back on the Billboard charts with a hit single, “Yeah 3x.”

Their careers have rebounded to different degrees, and Sheen is checking to see exactly how much latitude CBS is going to allow him. But more to the point, it seems that the industry, and in turn America, is willing to take a gamble to give these men a second (sometimes, a third or fourth) chance. What you don’t see though are many women getting these types of chances.

Take a look at Winona Ryder, who’s drugged up kleptomania spree is nothing compared to brutally beating someone, going on an anti-Semitic tirade, or putting hundreds of people’s jobs on the line because you feel like going on a bender. Ryder hasn’t been able to recover from the fall that her career took, mostly taking either bit parts or roles in independent films for the last decade. Until that point she had been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and her biggest roles afterwards were in Adam Sandler’s “Mr. Deeds” and in the recent bomb “The Dilemma.”

Close to matching Sheen’s problems is Lindsay Lohan. In and out of rehab along with other legal issues, Lohan has made as much of a career from the tabloids as she used to by being an actress. People turned on her quite quickly when trouble began to unravel for her. It’s only been in the last couple weeks that people have even considered getting behind the actress and hoping for a comeback. Whether she will or not is another story for another time, but one thing is for sure. If you don’t have anyone backing you up then you have a much smaller chance.

Will Hollywood ever look at women and men the same way? It’s doubtful, but everyone deserves a second chance regardless of gender.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stop Being an Asshole at the Movies!!

Regardless of how big your home theater is or how powerful your surround may be, there is something special about seeing a movie at the cinema. Rarely, despite technological advancements, do movies ever look and feel the same at home as they do when inside a movie theater. However, there’s a growing annoyance that has begun to fatal infect the magical film going experience – the rude person sitting next to you.

Now, granted being that as a critic it is rare that I pay to see a film. But there are plenty of screenings that I go to with regular moviegoers in their full glory. Back when I started as reviewer more than a decade ago, most people thought it was something special to get the chance to see a movie before it came out. Nowadays, that is not the feeling. Instead they feel entitled to be there and as such their behavior has grown worse to the point of intolerable.

While seeing Paranormal Activity 2 back in October two girls thought it would be okay to talk throughout the whole film. It got to the point that I actually had to give the dreaded shhhh to them. In the past people have answered their phone and started talking on it. There’s also always someone who decides the reserved seat must before them, despite having a specific person’s name on it. However, my favorite experience came when a family brought a picnic spread of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and all of the sides to a screening at the Ritz Five. When they were told that wasn’t allowed, the one woman got upset and began yelling at the security guard. He told merely told her she would have to take the food outside or throw it away.

What is wrong with these people? Having a picnic at the movies? Really?

It’s not like being quiet in a movie theater is a new rule that was just started. These have been in place since the beginning of cinema. It’s common courtesy that is missing from many people and before you say it, age knows no boundaries to the douchebaggery. Adults are just as much to fault as younger people. The only difference is that the adults definitely should know better.

Everyone will make a quick comment in a movie or check their phone to see the time, possibly even sneak in a candy bar. Heck, half the fun of going to the movies while growing up was seeing what you could sneak in. It’s not just the fact that audiences are behaving this way, but the attitude in which they are doing it. They think there is nothing wrong with their behavior. What’s worse is that as a society many of us are getting so desensitized to it that we almost just accept it.

Well, it’s time to take a stand. Normally, I’m not a fan of inflicting violence, however, next time someone is talking if you smack them in the face I guarantee they will be too stunned to talk. (However, be careful in Philadelphia – they have a habit of shooting people for lesser offensives) If someone answers their phones, just take it and throw the phone at the screen. If someone smuggles in some kind of offensive smelling food, just take a bite out of it. No one will ever know what hit them – literally.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kevin Smith Biting the Hand that Feeds Him

With Sundance 2011 having come to a close last weekend in Park City, Utah, a new crop of ingénues, promising filmmakers and celebrated films have emerged. The Sundance Film Festival, which began in 1978 as pioneered by Robert Redford, has evolved from merely being a haven for indie film buffs into a weeklong party fueled by films. Celebrities descend on the small ski town each year in January to promote their films and pick up some free swag and attend some well-funded parties in the process.

Because of the spectacle, for one week each year Park City becomes the hub for the entertainment world. With the cluster of marquee names in town, there is always a flurry of stories to come out. One of the biggest this year started long before anyone arrived in Utah. Director Kevin Smith was making headlines before 2011 even dawned due to the promise of auctioning off his newest effort Red State, a horror movie about right wing fundamentalists and horny teenagers, at its festival screening. He outlined the idea online:

"Here's something that's not so much news as my stated intentions for RED STATE: if it gets into Sundance, my plan is to pick the RED STATE distributor right there -- IN THE ROOM -- auction style. Might even bring up a professional auctioneer to make it fun and unintelligible. And if you're a multi-millionaire who can't make it to the first screening of RED STATE, fear not: maybe we'll set up an eBay page for the post-screening bid-calling as well."

With the exception of Cop Out, where he was basically a hired hand, and Mallrats, Smith has spent his entire career under the wing (or as some might say, iron fist) of the Weinstein brothers. Over the course of his career, Smith has seen modest returns on his films thanks to a rabid, devoted fan boy base. Nevertheless, he has become bitter and unhappy with his chosen industry. Much of his ire has been directed at the fact that film companies spend almost as much money to market a film as it does to produce it.

But his openness, which is what endeared him to many of his fans initially, has given away to pointing the fingers at everyone except himself. Even though his movies have been middling, at best, over the last few years, he seems to think that critics are too hard on his films. To promote Red State, don’t expect to see any articles with Smith -- he’s not doing any because the press gets information incorrect.

According to a message on his Twitter feed, Smith said, "I'm not press-junketing at all, anywhere… In fact, I'm not doing any press outside of maybe a business piece or 2 to help sell the flick if needed, & radio (LOTS of radio)."

However, how did word get out of about the auction? Well, of course it was picked up (I presume accurately) by the mainstream media. Smith’s well placed publicity stunt created a frenzy with many people anticipating the screening and the chaos that could follow. But it was for naught because the filmmaker ended up selling Red State to himself for $20.00. Again, the media has run with the story and information about his Red State U.S.A. Tour that kicks off in March. The most ironic part of his media blackout is that his wife is a former journalist with the USA Today.

Perhaps this whole plan might be better received if the word out of Park City about Red State wasn’t mixed at best. Hollywood and fans give auteurs plenty of rope because the products they release is worth the eccentricities. But Smith hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that early films like Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma promised. Rather Smith comes across as a spoiled filmmaker who has an average gross $22.6 million dollars and feels that people should bend over and worship him. He’s already made an announcement that after one more film, he will be retiring from directing and it may not be a moment too soon because you can only bite the hand that feeds you so many times before it fights back.