Archive for February, 2009

Releasing Today, 2/27/2009

Posted in Coming Soon on February 27, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

“Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”
THE RUNDOWN: It’s been fifteen years since the original “Street Fighter” film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia, however this new movie is not a sequel. Based on the popular video game series from Capcom, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” looks like decent action, but little else. Andrzej Bartkowiak directs (he directed “Romeo Must Die” and “Doom”), and he seems to know how to film a martial-arts fight scene. Whether or not this film can survive in the box office has yet to be seen.

“Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience”
THE RUNDOWN: I probably don’t need to say anything for this. The title speaks for itself. Like any concert film, if you’re into the band, it’s sure to please. Otherwise, stay away.


From screen to… screen?

Posted in Reviews on February 24, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

It was 1972 when the first “Pong” video game came out for home use, and much earlier than that when video games were just being imagined. By the mid-80’s, names like Atari and Nintendo would dominate a blooming industry that would become a staple in today’s society, and eventually in our cinema as well.

Now, I’m a pretty stereotypical guy. I like action movies, comic books, and video games. This was true in 1993 when the first live-action video game-based film was released, an adaptation of “Super Mario Brothers” starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper.

I was fired up for this one, at the ripe age of seven (I turned eight a month later). My summer revolved around Mario. After I saw it, I loved it. And when it came to the local movie store I rented it over and over and over…

Of course, the film “Super Mario Bros.” is nothing like the game. The game involved two plumbers going through a magical mushroom kingdom battling evil mushrooms and turtles (and sometimes Bullet Bills!) all to save Princess Peach from the evil giant turtle monster, Bowser the Koopa King. The film’s plot? Two plumbers from Brooklyn accidentally are warped to another dimension where they must rescue Princess Daisy from evolved humanoid dinosaurs and their king, Koopa.

Fans were absolutely repulsed by the changes. Mario and Luigi are Italian! Koopa is a turtle, not a T-Rex! The princess’ name is Peach not Daisy (though there is a technicality in that one) and Koopa’s name isn’t Koopa… it’s Bowser! That’s just to name a few. Personally, I got over it. I figured, close enough.

Filmmakers seemed to think the same thing, as they followed “Mario” up with action-adventure game film “Double Dragon.” The film was nothing like the game. It was terrible. Very cheesy, silly, and horrible action scenes. With a PG-13 rating, the film hardly got an audience with kids, but with all of its stupid visuals and horrible storyline, there wasn’t any hope for adults either. The movie sucked.

Then: “Street Fighter.” Jean-Claude Van Damme, a very talented martial-arts superstar and former kickboxing champion, does battle with Raul Julia, a classically trained, Oscar-winning actor who had no place in such a film. Based on one of my favorite fighting games, “Street Fighter 2,” from Capcom, this film version directed by Steven E. deSouza(who wrote “Die Hard,” by the way) is like its predecessors in every way: unloyal to its source, cheesy, over-the-top, bad humor, and still PG-13, so that kids can’t see it and everyone else won’t want to.

What went wrong with “Street Fighter” was that it thought it was a kid movie. The makers clearly took the material lightly, while fans of the game (hint: me) wanted to see something more serious.

We would get our wish a year later with the film adaptation to one of the bloodiest games of all time, “Mortal Kombat.”

By today’s standards, the film “Mortal Kombat” is quite cheesy in effects and even script. By comparison to previous video game flicks, it’s Shakespeare. Cool visuals (for the time), inventive fight scenes, accurate storytelling, and swift direction from Paul WS Anderson, “MK” “konquered.”

Then the sequel would follow. “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” is one of the worst films ever made. It’s not the worst (we’ll get to that), but it’s bad, bad, bad. It picks up seconds where the first one ends, with half of the cast replaced by lesser-known and less-talented actors. Those missing faces from the first one are greatly missed, because they remind us about all the fun times we had watching them, instead of these new actors poorly portraying their characters and butchering what could’ve been a fantastic franchise.

The movie’s like “Power Rangers” on meth. Lots of stylized violence and killing, but nothing in terms of story, performance, or execution. Heck, the effects don’t even look good. An action fan can only take stupidity to a point. When it starts to get annoying, we don’t want to see it anymore. “MK2” was annoying. Very annoying.

Two years later “Wing Commander” came and went. It starred Freddie Prinze Jr, Matthew Lillard, and Saffron Burrows (alongside a very good supporting cast) in a poorly-written special effects flick that indeed had effects, but nothing else that special. The plot was “Top Gun” meets “Das Boot” meets “Star Wars,” which must’ve sounded like a good idea on paper, but when they actually got there they should’ve gotten a rewrite. I remember playing the video game with my cousin when I was a kid (if you ejected during a mission you got a medal). I loved that game so much, I saw this movie. I’ve seen it several times now and I can’t tell you why I like it, but I do. Don’t see it.

In 2001, we were hit with two big ones, and that’s not just a reference to “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” We were also hit with another bad-ass babe, this one a hot little scientist named Aki Ross in the animated flick “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”

The “FF” movie needed drastic rewrites. Ok, it just shouldn’t have happened. The film itself is a very solid sci-fi story, with excellent animation and great action scenes. But it isn’t “Final Fantasy.” Where are the mages and knights and elves and those giant canary things (I think they’re called “chocobos”)? We want that! Not “Earth’s spirit is dying let’s go hug a tree.” A few years later, we get the film sequel to the game “Final Fantasy 7” titled, “Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children.” They finally give us something like the games, but what happens? Incomprehensible story (unless you’ve played the game 8,000 times), poor direction, lame new villains… will we ever be happy with a “Final Fantasy” film?!

“Tomb Raider” was great though. It captured the spirit and essence of the games, gave us a sexy and stylish Angelina Jolie, and had great effects and good action along with it.

But as hot and tough as Lara Croft is, no one is as cool as Alice (Milla Jovovich) in the “Resident Evil” franchise. Alice awakes naked in the bathroom of a mansion, her memory gone. Soon, commandos storm the place and inform her that she is someone very high up in the Umbrella Corporation, and there’s been an accident in the underground lab… a T virus has been released, killing everyone… then reanimating them into zombies!

Critics will disagree with me on this, but the “Resident Evil” films, including “Resident Evil,” “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” and “Resident Evil: Extinction,” are great action. Lots of explosives, lots of special-effects, and I even think the story is pretty interesting. Sure none of them are “Dawn of the Dead.” But if you look at zombie films today and how popular they’ve become, it’s all thanks to “Resident Evil” and its hero, Alice.

Months after a so-so “Tomb Raider” sequel, subtitled “The Cradle of Life,” we got hit with a bombshell, metaphorically… though I bet getting hit with a bombshell hurts about as much as the film “House of the Dead,” released October 2003.

For everything that “Resident Evil” did to zombie films, “House of the Dead” single-handedly destroys all of it. Directed by clinically insane and complete moron Uwe Boll, “House of the Dead” is like watching a beautiful creature vomiting and spewing diarrhea at the same time. Nudity! Zombies! Gore! Matrix-like bullet time! What more are you looking for?

How about a story that wasn’t written by a second-grader’s brain tumor and a script that wasn’t found up the buttcrack of the world’s worst porn writer?

Add to that graphic display, there’s also horrendous editing (including spliced-in footage of the video game), very dull pacing, annoying music, and do I have to mention the acting was bad? Or can we just take that as read?

No, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” isn’t the worst film ever made. Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead” is.

Uwe Boll would then go on to become known as the Ed Wood of video game filmmakers. Actually, he’s more like the Ed Wood of our time. Or would it be more accurate to say Ed Wood was the Uwe Boll of his time? Whichever is worse, I guess.

In the years leading up to, well, now, Uwe would make “Alone in the Dark,” based on a kind of popular PC game, but nowhere near close to the original story. He would make the medieval vampire flick “BloodRayne,” which I think everyone agrees was a big mistake. And he would make “Postal,” which a desperate few actually kind of liked. Kind of.

Last year he released his best film yet, and it still sucked. Based on the game “Dungeon Siege,” the film was called “In the Name of the King,” and starred a miscast Jason Statham as a peasant farmer in a fantasy land where a king, played by a miscast Burt Reynolds, is murdered by an evil sorcerer, played by a miscast Ray Liotta, who wishes to take over the world… which is what most evil sorcerers want nowadays. It’s up for the farmer, cleverly named “Farmer” to lead an army to stop him.

The usual is bad in this movie, but there’s also some good. While the acting and script are horrible, even considering the cast, and the editing sometimes incomprehensible, “In the Name of the King” has some very nicely done action. Now call me desperate, but this is improvement on Uwe Boll’s part. Before we had insane bullet-time, poorly spliced, awful-looking effects. Now he’s brought in the martial-arts choreographer from Jet Li’s “Hero,” Tony Ching Siu-Tung, to spice up the fight scenes and bring us some more cohesive action. And I gotta say, it works!

Like all of Boll’s films, nothing in “In the Name of the King” is perfect, and most of it sucks. It’s about a step above “Dungeons and Dragons,” which was about two steps below “Kull the Conquerer,” which was a whole sky-scraper below “Lord of the Rings.” So my best advice, don’t see this film unless you liked “D&D” or “Kull.”

“Doom” was also released. I loved that game, but never for an instant thought it should’ve been a movie. I think director Andrzej Bartkowiak proved me right, and he’s a decent director. It did have the Rock and Karl Urban facing off at the end though, and I must say that was cool.

“Silent Hill” I think tried too hard to be a really inventive horror flick. It should’ve gone for more screams and less psychological stuff. But it was a noble effort, and not the worst video game adaptation ever.

“Dead or Alive” was so bad I thought it was another Boll film. But it wasn’t. This abomination was done by action guru Cory Yuen, who should know better. Not that his source material provided much to use. What do you do with brainless bimbos who can fight? On second thought, don’t answer that question…

However, there’s hope for video game movies. Uwe Boll is getting better, even if he has a long way to go. Filmmakers are starting to take the content seriously, as we can see in past films like “Resident Evil,” “Silent Hill,” and even the recent “Hitman.” And we still have much to look forward to. The promise of a much more action-filled, effects-pumped “Doom 2,” the Bruckheimer-produced “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a Paul WS Anderson take on “Castlevania,” plus, opening this week, a relaunch of the “Street Fighter” series, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.”

Hopefully these films will have gamers pressing pause, laying down the Red Bull, and going out to see a movie. Or they could just wait a few months and download it onto their Playstations.

Looking Forward… Summer ’09

Posted in Coming Soon on February 23, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

The Oscars are over. We can move on and leave 2008 behind. For those who didn’t watch, know that “Slumdog Millionaire” swept the whole thing, and Heath Ledger did indeed get his Oscar.

But enough of that. Personally, I’m ready for 2009. Ten years ago, we were watching “The Matrix” and “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” like crazy, amazed at how far films have come. Now, it’s the turn of the decade, people will no longer call the year “Two thousand eight” or “Two thousand nine.” It’s about time for “Twenty-ten” to come around. But first, let’s stop and look at what’s in store for us in the mean time.

The summer is my favorite time for movies. Although the winter, with all of its Oscar-winners and such, usually has intense films with plenty of depth, spring and summer films are loud, raucous, and dazzling to the eyes. “Independence Day,” “Armageddon,” “Spider-Man,” “The Fast and the Furious…” all big spring and summer films. It’s the time of year that reminds us why we love to see movies. We want to be entertained. This year’s big season looks very entertaining.

On May 1, the first day of the season, we’re introduced to a new, alien world in the animated sci-fi film “Battle for Terra.”

The film’s director, Aristomenis Tsirbas, is an expert in visual effects and trailers of the film so far look very fascinating. However, because of the cutesy-kid aspect of it, older audiences may not be interested. Then again, look at “Wall-E.”

Released that day as well is “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” This film will dominate that week. The story revolves around the past of Logan aka Wolverine, who we all know from the “X-Men” comic-books, animated series, and record-breaking movies. Hugh Jackman will reprise the role of the anti-hero mutant, and we should see some interesting cameos from various other Marvel Comics characters… did anyone say Gambit and Deadpool?

“Star Trek” opens the week after. I have no doubt this will be big. Why, you may ask, do I think this when the past two “Star Trek” films have tanked in the box office and been met with critical scorn? Simple: a new cast, a fresh look, and “Lost’s” JJ Abrams behind the wheel. There’s more appeal for this “Star Trek” than any other film in the franchise. If done right, without all the techno-babble and cheap effects, this film could spark a whole new side to “Star Trek” that we’ve never seen. And you know they’re already thinking sequel.

“Angels and Demons” is released mid-May. It’s the prequel to the very dull “The DaVinci Code.” Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, who shouldn’t be wasting their time, return to their roles and I’m willing to bet this one’s not worth the time.

May follows up its power-house lineup with one of the highest anticipated films of the year, “Terminator: Salvation,” the fourth installment of the very successful “Terminator” series about John Connor (Christian Bale) leading the human resistance against the cybernetic machines called Terminators. The film is getting a lot of hype, both positive and negative. While everyone wants to see another “Terminator” film, many fans have been quick to protest the choice of McG as the director. The “Charlie’s Angels” director insists this is a completely different film, and in my opinion it probably will be. Any action film with Christian Bale is bound to be better than “Charlie’s Angels.”

Released that same day (for the kiddies) is “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” Need somewhere to take the little guys while the older siblings go to “T4?” This one looks perfect. Laughs, big stars, and plenty of good special effects should fuel this family comedy.

Moving on to June, the effects-driven family film “Land of the Lost” comes out June 5 and it looks like fun. Fans of the old TV show should enjoy it, and hopefully it won’t be too scary for kids.

Opening June 12 is what I think will be the non-series action flick of the year, “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3,” a remake of the classic 1970s film. This version is directed by Tony Scott, son of Ridley Scott. He’s a solid, dependable director and he has two solid, dependable stars in Denzel Washington and John Travolta, who are on opposite sides of a hostage situation involving a subway full of innocent passengers. Sounds like fun!

Two weeks later we get Michael Bay’s latest epic, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” in which the evil Decepticon robots return to Earth to do battle with the Autobots and the kid who beat them the first time (Shia LaBeouf). I was a casual viewer of the “Transformers” cartoon series when I was a kid, but man was I excited about the first live-action “Transformers” film. It was a slice of Hollywood heaven. This one should also be great, at least for a sequel.

Jumping into summer, July 3 is time once again for those prehistoric wisecrackers in “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs). There’s problems with this one. For one thing, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” wasn’t much of a hit. For another, dinosaurs came before the ice age, not after. This is sure to confuse kids and frustrate elementary school history teachers to the Nth degree. I suppose the kids will like it, but something tells me this one’s bound to be a dud.

On July 17, the wait is over. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is finally released. After over a year and a half of anticipation and hype, the sixth (SIXTH!) “Harry Potter” film is hitting theaters. Personally, I’m excited. I’ve seen all but number five, and I think this one looks excellent. And this is coming from someone who never read the books. This one will probably be the highest-grossing film of the year. Look for some broken records too.

Moving toward the end of the blockbuster season, on August 7 we have “GI Joe: Rise of Cobra,” a remake of “Transformers” rival “GI Joe.” I’ll see this one for sure. It should be good. But it won’t be the year’s biggest or best. It has a good cast, but can it succeed the same way as “Transformers” has?

“Inglorious Basterds” hits theaters in August and will no doubt get its audience. The film is directed by movie-genius Quentin Tarantino, who in case you don’t know did “Pulp Fiction,” “Resevoir Dogs,” and “Kill Bill.” His last film, “Death Proof,” was a dud. Can he make up for it in this unconventional World War II actioner?

Concluding our summer will be the slasher-horror movie remake “Halloween 2,” directed by Rob Zombie. The first in the remake series was decent, but horror sequels seldom live up to expectations (try the original “Halloween 2”). Don’t bet on this one.

Soon, fall will roll around and we’ll get more horror, more drama, and eventually plenty of awards.

2008: A Year in Film

Posted in Flashbacks on February 21, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Oscar time. On February 22, we will learn what is officially the best picture, performances, director, special effects, documentaries, short films, make up, etc. of 2008. ’08 was a wild year for movies, and as we come up to the biggest film awards in America (and possibly the world), I’m going to look back on the year and reminisce about the good, the bad, and the over-the-top ugly! Let’s begin…

The year opened with “One Missed Call,” one of those creepy horror films that gets rated PG-13 to get money from teens who are gullible for that stuff (thanks “The Ring”). Not long after, we get “Meet the Spartans,” an incredible waste of time (but not talent), another spoof movie from the “Date Movie” folks, this one mainly poking at “300.” Released the same day was Sylvester Stallone’s bloody, brutal action epic “Rambo,” the fourth in the “First Blood” series. In it, we basically get a retread of “Rambo 3,” when Rambo must go behind enemy lines to save a group of innocent lives.

Filming “Rambo” was no easy feat. Stallone and company arrived at their location the day of an uprising. “There were a lot of you might say ‘people’ trying to dissuade us from filming there,” said Stallone. “There were a lot of threats to myself, to the crew. There were some formidable death threats and it definitely had us fearing for our lives at times. The day we landed was when Thailand had their military coup. I’m seeing all these planes leaving and here comes one arriving and that is us. It was certainly daunting.”*

Also big that first month was “27 Dresses,” a retread of “My Best Friend’s Wedding…” One of many.

February moved and shook into existence with a box-office smashing concert film from Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. Miley fans rejoiced and the film earned $65 million in the box office, quite a lot for a concert film!

Also released was “The Eye,” another bland PG-13 horror film. It’s a sad day when Hollywood horror films are so desperate for money that they’ll cater to the younger crowd and thus make their films much less scary. Then again, the new “Friday the 13th” was just released and I’ve heard it’s no better.

The Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson adventure film “Fools Gold” did well in the box office that month with $70 million. The film was received warmly by audiences, but critics hammered it. My suggestion: don’t see it unless you have to.

“In Bruges,” an independent comedy about two hitmen hiding in Belgium, was released the same day. If you haven’t seen it yet SEE IT. It’s one of the best of the year and a great romp.

Also released that month was the well-received actioner “Jumper,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” and the tense thriller “Vantage Point.” All were met with mixed feelings.

March came in with Roland Emmerich’s latest epic “10,000 B.C.” This film belonged with the summer films in my opinion, but then again it isn’t uncommon for some studios to release some of their big-budget films a little early.

You’re probably noticing something… most of these films seem pretty mediocre. And most of the films out right now (besides last year’s Oscar stuff) seem pretty much the same. It’s not because the year sucks in film. It’s because Hollywood likes to delay projects that they don’t think will succeed and release them in winter, or maybe make a cheap product (“Meet the Spartans”) and release it right at a time when there’s literally nothing else to see. Let’s do April, yes?

April didn’t have much, but it did have “The Forbidden Kingdom,” starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li in their first appearance together. The film had great action and fun humor. Not one of the year’s best, but a fun action-adventure tale.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” a comedy about a nobody musician who gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend, also came out. Following that, two more comedies were released, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and the funny-but-forgettable “Baby Mama.”

Harold and Kumar have become the modern Bill and Ted. Their stoner exploits are buying them box office success and there are talks of a third one.

May started with one of the year’s worst films, “Made of Honor,” a “27 Dresses-ish” romantic comedy that also feels a lot like “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” These rom-com writers just don’t have anything original do they?

May brought out an early summer, with some of the year’s powerhouse films, including “Iron Man,” “Sex and the City,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Speed Racer,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” All films, with the exception of “Speed Racer” did exceptional in the box office, especially “Iron Man,” which grossed over $300 million.

But what of “Speed Racer?” That film cost $120 million to make, was directed by “The Matrix” scribes Andy and Larry Wachowski, and is based on a cult Japanese cartoon from the 1960s! Add a great soundtrack, awesome special effects, and more colors than a Crayola box, and you have one heck of a kid movie! Heck, you’ve got a doozie of an action movie too! So what went wrong?

Jim Emerson of the Chicago Sun-Times complained about the film’s hyper-activity and overuse of green screen and effects. He also said, “‘Speed Racer’ is a manufactured widget, a packaged commodity that capitalizes on an anthropomorphized cartoon of Capitalist Evil in order to sell itself and its ancillary products.”**

All of that could be, but I disagree. “Speed Racer” felt like a roller-coaster ride of fast action and dazzling visuals. Yes, there is product placement and the script gets very cheesy at times. But look at the original cartoon. Was the story of the cartoon ever not cheesy?

Audiences missed this film and moved on, but I say it’s the most underrated film of 2008.

Clocking in as a huge success that month was “Sex and the City,” which grossed over $150 million. The film was a hit with fans and non-fans alike, and I must admit wasn’t too bad. I even laughed a few times.

Released in early June was the ho-hum Adam Sandler flick “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and the very popular animated kid’s film “Kung Fu Panda.” Both films excelled, but I’d avoid the first one.

We also had our second superhero film of 2008 released in June, “The Incredible Hulk.” Surprisingly better than Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” the story seems to be a sequel for a different film. The back story displayed during the opening credits has some discrepencies from the 2003 film. Barring that, the film is the definitive “Hulk” film, starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler and featuring some very good special effects. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of June we experienced “Wall-E,” one of the best films of the year. Telling a story of the remaining “living” thing on Earth after years of pollution and global warming, “Wall-E” follows a trash-compacting robot who lives in a storage crate and collects various junk. Then a spaceship brings a strange visitor to his parts and his world is turned upside down.

“Wall-E” was not just great animation, it was phenomenal storytelling, a great science-fiction experience with minimal dialogue scattered throughout, but constantly interesting situations. If your family doesn’t watch any other movie together this year, watch “Wall-E.” It’s fantastic.

July opened with the hugely popular Will Smith superhero film “Hancock,” and followed up with another solid comic-based film, “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.” But they were mere distractions from the big attraction that month… “The Dark Knight.”

I don’t need to tell you how much “The Dark Knight” grossed. The number is impressive, but the film speaks for itself. Never has an action film, let alone a superhero film, given the viewer so much depth in story, so much power in performances, while providing a thrill ride of effects and action throughout. It is artistically the most important and notable sequel since “The Godfather Part 2.” Barring the fact that it is Heath Ledger’s last and best performance, it is still the best film of the year.

Opening the same day was the highly successful ABBA musical “Mama Mia!,” starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. It’s a contender for “Chick Flick of the Year” (against “Sex and the City” no less), but in my opinion, the fab four reigned supreme this year, despite “Mama’s” great song and dance numbers (especially that end credits sequence).

Also released that year was the clever docudrama “American Teen,” the Oscar-nominated documentary “Man on Wire,” and the box office disaster, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”

August started out promising with the special-effects flick “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” What better way to end the summer than a third installment to the widely successful “Mummy” series, this time featuring Jet Li as the villain! The film saw major success, despite being met with a mostly negative critic response. What’s our say? Read Shaun O’Donnell’s review in our next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters!”

Also released was the stoner-comedy “Pineapple Express.” Seth Rogan stars with Larry Franco and the two make the perfect comedy duo. The film revolves around two stoners running from a rich gangster who’s been spotted by one of them committing murder. The film had high expectations and was received well by critics and audiences. Personally, I enjoyed it to the fullest.

“Tropic Thunder” was also released, and quickly became the year’s favorite comedy. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. (who received an Oscar nom for his role) star as filmmakers filming a Rambo-esque action film in the middle of a war zone. Very interesting, since the year’s earlier “Rambo” film was actually filmed in a war zone.

Released later that month was “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” which was computer animated and poorly conceived. The film needed either rewrites or just needed to be scrapped, but the end result was a waste of time, and in the end only served as a pilot to the Cartoon Network TV series. Go figure!

Released late in the month was “Meet the Spartans-ish” spoof/rip-off/whatever “Disaster Movie.” Ironically, the film is, itself, a disaster. Thankfully this time the film failed to make a profit. Apparently movie-goers are beginning to send  the message to Hollywood: We don’t want this crap!

Also released was successful independent romance film “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Roger Corman remake “Death Race” starring Jason Statham, mediocre comedy “Hamlet 2,” and unsuccessful sci-fi flick “Babylon A.D.”

About the only thing worth seeing in September was “Eagle Eye.” What else will I say about it? Find out in the next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters.”

September was probably the worst month of the year, which is a shame considering some of the potential of the films released then.

We had the Nicolas Cage actioner “Bangkok Dangerous,” (also featured next issue), which was immediatley billed as “Another Nicolas Cage Movie.” “The Women” featured Meg Ryan amongst other talented actresses and eventually succumbed to being a horrid “Sex and the City” clone. Tyler Perry released an ill-received drama titled “The Family That Preys.” The Coens dropped us a confusing and overdone “Burn After Reading.” The Dane Cook, Jason Biggs film “My Best Friend’s Girl” flopped, as did the tender romance picture “Nights in Rodanthe,” starring Richard Gere…

But the biggest disappointment of September was “Righteous Kill,” featuring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro appearing on screen together for the first time since Michael Mann’s “Heat.”

Some people think Robert De Niro and Al Pacino would be a kick to watch just reading a phone book,” says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. “Well, bring on that phone book. ‘Righteous Kill,’ a.k.a. The Al and Bob Show, is a cop flick with all the drama of ‘Law and Order: AARP.’ This movie defines drag-ass.”+

It’s sad to see these two titans of film go this way in their career. Once upon a time, they were the kings of drama, with pictures like “The Godfather Trilogy,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,”  “Scent of a Woman,” “A Dog Day Afternoon,” “Casino,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Scarface” and, together, “Heat.” All of these films are worth watching, especially for any movie buff. But now what are they making? “Meet the Fockers,” “Insomnia,” “The Adventures of Rocky and Bulwinkle,” “The Recruit,” “15 Minutes,” “Two for the Money”… They’ve hit a downfall in their careers.

Here’s what I want: another film directed by Scorcese or Coppola that stars one of these guys. It doesn’t have to be both… but I’d like to see another great film from those directors and those actors. To DeNiro’s credit, he did direct the excellent spy film “The Good Shepherd,” and Pacino was strong in the very good “Merchant of Venice,” but let’s see these two really shine.

October always provides some scary horror flicks just in time for Halloween, and this year Hollywood delivered “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.”

Ok seriously, the two big horror flicks in October were yet another “Saw” sequel, “Saw 5,” (see our review in a coming up issue), and Clint Eastwood’s thrilling “The Changeling,” which is not so much horror, but still provided a lot of suspense!

Seth Rogan returned that month to make the over-the-top sex comedy “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” or, abbreviated for TV, “Zack and Miri.”

At the beginning of November we were bombarded by “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” which I will say this: If you liked the first “Madagascar,” you’ll probably like this one too. Personally, I thought the first one worked a little too hard for laughs and not hard enough for story. Good for kids, but for older audiences, I’d see “Wall-E” instead. Actually, see “Wall-E” period.

Also released that month was a small foreign film called “JCVD,” a fictional story about Jean-Claude Van Damme, the popular action movie star. Van Damme starred in it and the film was met with positive critical reviews.

The other big indy film released that month (and possibly the biggest indy film of the year) was Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated, Lauden-winner^ “Slumdog Millionaire.”

If you haven’t found a worthy reason to see this movie yet, despite what everyone is telling you about how great it is, at least see it for these reasons: the film is well-made, well-acted, happy, sad, beautiful, inspiring, heart-wrenching, suspenseful, stunning, entertaining, compelling, and very, very well put together. In my view, it’s the year’s second-best film, and my pick for the Best Picture Oscar. Don’t think about it anymore. See this film.

December had a nice mix of big blockbusters and Oscar-hopefuls. At the beginning we had Marvel Comics film “Punisher: War Zone,” a follow-up to the underrated 2004 release “The Punisher,” as well as the sci-fi actioner “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

We also had the well-acted Oscar nominee “Frost/Nixon,” the powerful “Doubt,” the inspiring “The Wrestler,” the endearing “Gran Torino,” the epic “Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Defiance.”

Also released that month was very suspenseful but incredibly inaccurate “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as a German soldier out to assassinate Adolf Hitler. An intriguing plot, directed by Brian Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote Singer’s excellent “The Usual Suspects,” the film didn’t deliver on several counts. It was met with critical scorn and a so-so performance in the box office.

So how did 2008 add up as a year in film? In my opinion, this was a very good year. Despite our “Valkyries” and “Made of Honors,” 2008 was a strong year for the film world. “The Dark Knight” grossed well over $500 million domestically, and had a worldwide gross of $999 million, making it the second-highest grossing film in history.

We also got an incredible film from Disney/Pixar, after their previous ho-hum releases like “Cars.” “Wall-E” was a standout of the summer, and is possibly the best Pixar film yet.

Our comic-book films such as “Iron Man,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army,” “The Incredible Hulk” and even “Punisher: War Zone” all delivered to their audiences, and even added more depth to the world of comic-book cinema (look out “Watchmen!”).

“Mama Mia!” and “Sex and the City” performed very well at the box office, and were even well-made and solid films.

The year’s failures, “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” “Speed Racer,” and “Disaster Movie,” will most likely be forgotten if not already. Where this year succeeded, its failures were also big.

Looking toward the future, at 2009, I think we already have some promising movies ready to come out soon. A new voyage and cast for “Star Trek,” a resurrection of “G.I. Joe,” “Watchmen,” the year’s most promising superhero film, also “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (and possibly “Magneto” as well), the “Transformers” sequel, “Terminator 4,” and who knows what else?

Some of these films mentioned in this article are reviewed in “Hollywood Blockbusters,” a movie newsletter read by people nationwide. To subscribe for free, email Thank you for reading!

*Quoted from “Access Hollywood”
**Quoted from the Chicago Sun-Times
+Quoted from Rolling Stone

Releasing Today, 2/20/2009

Posted in Coming Soon on February 20, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail.”
THE RUNDOWN: Is it just me, or is Tyler Perry’s Madea character swiftly turning into an African-American Ernest? I realize the Grandma Madea has heart and a message, but how many times can she possibly be funny. This time, she goes to jail and has several misadventures. Based on a play by Tyler Perry, written for the screen by Tyler Perry, starring Tyler Perry, seen by fans of Tyler Perry. Also in the film series: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

“Fired Up”
THE RUNDOWN: Here’s another high school sex comedy that will most likely be heavy on sex and weak on comedy. It’s about two young men who decide to go to cheerleading camp instead of football camp because they want to pick up chicks. It’s rated PG-13, so expect some close calls on nudity, but nothing special. I’d wait a couple of months for the Unrated DVD release. Will I like it? Read my review in next Wednesday’s Nuvo, or online at

Read tomorrow’s blog for a retrospective look at the good, bad, and ugly films released in 2008. Then watch the Oscars Sunday night and see how awful my predictions were. In the meantime, I look forward to any comments that you, the reader, might wish to make about movies, the blog, or entertainment in general. My blog is open for discussion.

The 2009 Oscars: A Prediction by Nick Varnau (let’s hope I’m right)

Posted in Film in General on February 18, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

The Academy Awards, aka The Oscars… a time where celebrities and movie fans alike sit back and look at the previous year in film, and then decide once and for all who is the best in what category. Right now, it’s the best time for moviegoers… this is the “Road to the Oscars,” where everything good is in theaters and it’s too cold to do anything else.

But if you just got back from the theater, grab a drink (to refresh you from the salt in the popcorn), print this entry, and sit back and read my 2009 Oscar predictions based on educated guesses from someone who  thinks he knows something about this stuff. Here’s what I think:

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
COMMENT: I’m disappointed with two of these movies being up for Best Picture when another film clearly deserved it more: eight-time nominee “The Dark Knight.” “Benjamin Button” received thirteen nominations, and deserves some of them, but I think it’s the Oscars’ most overrated film of the year. The other film I’m disgruntled about is “The Reader.” Good movie. But not great, and not Best Picture. “Frost/Nixon” is a very good movie, well-acted and well-directed. It won’t get it. It’s bested by both “Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Both films are worthy of the title.
FINAL PREDICTION: “Slumdog Millionaire.” The film is just awesome. “Milk” is excellent no doubt, and part of me wishes it would win, but I doubt the Academy would give their highest award to a film about gay rights. “Slumdog” will get it.

Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”
COMMENT: I think this one’s a no contest. All of these directors are great, but one of them shone brightly this year, and deserves it the most.
FINAL PREDICTION: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn, “Milk”
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
COMMENT: Again, all very strong performances. I doubt Pitt or Jenkins will get it, though Pitt has a higher chance. Frank Langella could, but I think it comes down to Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke for “Milk” and “The Wrestler” respectively.
FINAL PREDICTION: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler.” I think Penn’s performance was more dynamic, but I think Rourke’s performance was more real. Rourke deserves it. He’s been through a lot. I pick him as an upset, but don’t yell at me if Penn wins.

Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
FINAL PREDICTION: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married.” Anne Hathaway has this one pretty easily. She’s got the skill, she’s got the hype… I think she’s got it.

Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr, “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”
COMMENT: These were all great performances, but only one shone brighter than any performance this year: Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Dead or alive, he deserves to be awarded the Oscar for that part. It was an incredible piece of acting.
FINAL PREDICTION: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight.”

Amy Adams, “Doubt”
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Christina Barcelona”
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”
FINAL PREDICTION: Viola Davis, “Doubt.”

That’s all the big ones. To catch the full outcome, tune in Sunday night to the ceremony, hosted by Hugh Jackman, and look for me on the red carpet (I won’t be there, but it’s always fun to look).

Profile: Clint Eastwood- The Good, The Bad, and the Extraordinary

Posted in Profiles on February 16, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

Clint Eastwood is many things. An actor, director, producer, multi-time Oscar winner, father of seven and grandfather of two… but what he’s most known for is that face. That cold, determined look in his eyes. He’s famous for playing a character who has no name, but everyone knows the name Clint Eastwood.

Born May 31, 1930, in the prime of the depression, Clinton Eastwood Jr., son of a steel worker in San Francisco, Eastwood joined the military after having missed the second World War, and served as a swimming instructer in a boot camp during the Korean war, after surviving a plane crash and swimming three miles to shore.

After the war, young Eastwood was undecided about what to do in life. “Growing up, I never knew what I wanted to do. I was not a terribly good student or a very vivacious, outgoing person. I was just kind of a backward kid. I grew up in various little towns and ended up in Oakland, California, going to a trade school. I didn’t want to be an actor, because I thought an actor had to be an extrovert – somebody who loved to tell jokes and talk and be a raconteur. And I was something of an introvert. My mother used to say, ‘You have a little angel on your shoulder.’ I guess she was surprised I grew up at all, never mind that I got to where I am. The best I can do is quote a line from ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.'”*

By 1955, he was starring in B-Films such as “Tarantula,” and soon got a part on the TV Western “Rawhide.”

“Rawhide” led to the biggest role he would ever play: The Man With No Name.

In 1964, the Italian film market was low. Sales were down and profits were nowhere. A group of producers hired director Sergio Leone to direct a film that could be marketed to an American audience as well as an Italian audience, but filmed by an Italian studio and shot for virtually nothing. The film was called “A Fistful of Dollars,” and it was an American Western remake of the Akira Kurosawa film “Yojimbo,” about a stranger in a town with two warring gangs who manages to take out both sides. The hero would be played by none other than Clint Eastwood.

“I was tired of playing the nice, clean-cut cowboy in ‘Rawhide,'” said Eastwood. “I wanted something earthier. Something different from the old-fashioned Western. You know: Hero rides in, very stalwart, with white hat, man’s beating a horse, hero jumps off, punches man, schoolmarm walks down the street, sees this situation going on, slight conflict with schoolmarm, but not too much. You know schoolmarm and hero will be together in exactly 10 more reels, if you care to sit around and wait, and you know the man beast horse with eventually get comeuppance from hero this guy bushwhacks him in reel nine. But ‘Fistful of Dollars’ was different; it definitely had satiric overtones. The hero was an enigmatic figure, and that worked within the context of this picture. In some films, he would be ludicrous. You can’t have a cartoon in the middle of a Renoir.”*

Two sequels followed, co-starring Lee Van Cleef. The final film in the trilogy, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly,” is often hailed as the best Western ever made.

Eastwood would then star in several more films, including “Hang ’em High,” “Coogan’s Bluff,” and “Kelly’s Heroes” before starring in his very own directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me.”

The film co-starred a young Jessica Walter, and was a large success. It would be the first of many Eastwood-helmed films that would be highly praised.

That same year, Eastwood starred in one of the biggest films of his career, “Dirty Harry.” He played a cop on the edge with an itchy trigger finger. The film elevated Eastwood into a higher level of celebrity status and the character and some of his one-liners became instantly recognizable.

Said Eastwood, “I think people jumped to conclusions about ‘Dirty Harry’ without giving the character much thought, trying to attach right-wing connotations to the film that were never really intended. Both the director and I thought it was a basic kind of drama – what do you do when you believe so much in law and order and coming to the rescue of people and you just have five hours to solve a case? That kind of impossible effort was fun to portray, but I think it was interpreted as a pro-police point of view, as a kind of rightist heroism, at a time in American history when police officers were looked down on as “pigs”, as very oppressive people – I’m sure there are some who are, and a lot who aren’t. I’ve met both kinds.”*

Eastwood would go on to make several sequels in the years to come, all which were successes.

In 1992, after over two decades of success with both acting and directing, Eastwood would make his masterpiece, one of the best films of the 90’s, “Unforgiven.”

Co-starring in the film was a friend of Eastwood’s and fellow actor, Gene Hackman. Said Eastwood, “Gene Hackman was interesting because I gave the ‘Unforgiven’ script to his agent and he said no, he didn’t want to do anything violent. But I went back to him and said, ‘I know where you’re coming from. You get to a certain age and I’m there too, where you don’t want to tell a lot of violent stories, but this is a chance to make a great statement.'”*

Hackman eventually accepted the role, and even won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. “Unforgiven” also won three more awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. To date, it’s ranked as one of the greatest films ever made.

Clint Eastwood’s next major role as actor and director would be in the 1995 drama, “The Bridges of Madison County.” This would prove to be a different film for the aging superstar. In it, Eastwood plays the part of Robert Kincaid, a photographer for National Geographic who has an intimate but brief enounter with a woman named Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), that would change both of their lives.

“In ‘The Bridges of Madison County,'” said Eastwood, “(Robert) Kincaid’s a peculiar guy. Really, he’s kind of a lonely individual. He’s sort of a lost soul in mid-America. I’ve been that guy.”*

The film was successful, but definitely an unusual film for Eastwood, who commented, “When I was doing ‘The Bridges of Madison County,’ I said to myself, ‘This romantic stuff is really tough. I can’t wait to get back to shooting and killing.'”*

Eastwood went on to make two thrillers, “Absolute Power” and “True Crime,” a comedy called “Space Cowboys,” and another thriller, “Blood Work.” He would direct all of these, as well as the drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

In 2003, Eastwood directed an incredible, star-fueled drama called “Mystic River,” which swept the Oscars and amazed audiences and critics alike.

“I did not have to be in front of the camera, so it gave me a chance to stand back and watch some of the best performers we have in the country,”** said Eastwood prior to the film’s release.

The film won two Oscars, Sean Penn for Best Actor and Tim Robbins for Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture.

The next year, Eastwood would return to the screen, behind the cameras, and at the Oscars with a film about morals, boxing, and will-power, “Million Dollar Baby.” In it, Eastwood played a boxing coach who reluctantly trains a young lady (Hilary Swank) and puts her on the independant circuit. But like most of Eastwood’s films, the tale would not turn out as happy as it would seem.

The film won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Actress (Hilary Swank), and Best Director.

In the years ahead, Eastwood would direct two incredible war films about Iwo Jima, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” a critically-acclaimed drama called “Changeling,” and his most recent film, “Gran Torino,” about an aged man who takes on a gang in his rough neighborhood after the death of his wife.

“There’s a rebel lying deep in my soul,” said Eastwood. “Anytime anybody tells me the trend is such and such, I go the opposite direction. I hate the idea of trends. I hate imitation; I have a reverence for individuality. I got where I am by coming off the wall. I’ve always considered myself too individualistic to be either right-wing or left-wing.”*

Eastwood is 78, but he doesn’t seem to have any quit in him yet.

“My involvement goes deeper than acting or directing. I love every aspect of the creation of motion pictures and I guess I’m committed to it for life.”*

*quoted from
**from studio briefing