Monday, April 27, 2009

Wolverine Battles Pirates, Swine Flu

Okay, so that leaked workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t exactly do the film any favors in the weeks leading up to its May 1 release. Despite 20th Century Fox’s best efforts to combat piracy, anxious movie fans were able to illegally get their hands on the unfinished film and were hardly shy about sharing their disapproval with the world. Indeed, the claws came out.

To boost ticket sales and counter any damage the notorious leak may have caused, Fox is trying another strategy: gimmickry. FirstShowing.net reports that Wolverine will feature multiple endings on different prints of the film, meaning that viewers will have to see it multiple times in different theaters to see it all. At least one of the endings features Deadpool, whose treatment in the film was a sore subject among comic book fans long before the workprint hit the Web.

Giving fans an incentive to keep coming back is a novel idea, but if the film itself doesn’t deliver then tacking additional footage onto the ending probably won’t encourage repeat business. If it’s crap, we won’t want more of it.

I’m trying to avoid the negative buzz swirling around Wolverine, but the overcrowded trailers and television spots aren’t helping me stay optimistic about it. If this is a “solo” film, then why does it seem to have more X-Men characters than any of the actual X-Men films? This movie should have focused on the central conflict between Logan and his archrival Sabretooth, using the Weapon X program as a backdrop. Shoving Gambit, Blob, Emma Frost, Cyclops and quite a few others into the mix as fan service just makes the narrative cluttered if handled improperly. Still, I’ll be seeing Wolverine this weekend with a relatively open mind and hope for the best.

In other unfortunate Wolverine news, it seems as though the clawed Canuck has fallen victim to swine flu despite his mutant healing powers. Reuters reports that theater chains will not be releasing Wolverine in Mexico this weekend in light of the outbreak, which has killed up to 149 people in the country. Authorities are trying to limit large gatherings in public places in an effort to control the epidemic, which may delay the film's Mexico release for several weeks.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Soloist: A Wort Report Review

Based on the real-life relationship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr.) and homeless musical prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx), The Soloist makes every effort to tug at the audience’s heartstrings with some solid performances by its two leading men and a wrenching examination of the link between homelessness and mental illness. It has all of the proper ingredients of an Oscar contender, but its unfocused narrative and inconsistent tone make the entire affair unnerving, overwrought and ultimately disappointing.

Stumped trying to think of new ideas for his column, Lopez comes across Ayers out on the streets of Los Angeles, aptly playing a violin that has just two strings. Lopez is intrigued and, upon learning that Ayers was once a cello student at Juilliard, he writes a story about him. A reader is so moved by the story that she sends Lopez her cello to give to Ayers. Lopez then hooks Ayers up with a local homeless shelter in an apparent attempt to salvage him and share his musical talent with the world.

This may sound like an uplifting story, but The Soloist—directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) with a screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich)—is a complete downer. Lopez is driven to help Ayers both out of compassion and an apparent need to prove to himself and others that he is not exploiting the schizophrenic musician. However, Lopez soon learns that some people can’t—and won’t—be helped as his relationship with Ayers takes some disturbing turns later in the film.

Downey is great as the frenzied, downtrodden writer while Foxx makes his character’s mental illness believable without devolving into caricature. However, it never seems as though Lopez’s interest in Ayers extends all that far beyond subject matter for his column. Lopez helps Ayers out, sure, but with every generous act comes new material for him to mine, a point that is even brought up (and never fully resolved) by his editor/ex-wife, Mary Weston (Oscar nominee Catherine Keener). Downey and Foxx try to make the relationship work through their natural chemistry with one another, but the script just doesn’t articulate their mutual affection very well.

Despite solid performances and its valiant attempt to tackle social problems—namely our attitudes toward the mentally ill and the homeless—The Soloist never strikes that fine balance between the schmaltzy and the genuinely sentimental. Through Foxx’s performance we feel sorry for Ayers, but the film’s generic flashback sequences showing us early parts of his life give us the impression that we’re being manipulated. There are also odd comedy bits sprinkled throughout, including Lopez’s attempts to use coyote urine to rid his lawn of raccoons. They should provide relief from the film’s serious primary subject matter, but these awkwardly-placed attempts at humor come off as misfires.

The Soloist isn’t a bad film, but it never lives up to the potential of its story nor does it do Downey and Foxx’s performances justice. It's a flawed symphony that hits far too many sour notes.

The Soloist (2009)
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Susannah Grant (Screenplay) Steve Lopez (Book)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener
Release Date: April 24, 2009
Rated: PG-13

Friday, April 24, 2009

Random Bloggery for April 24

If you're like me and live in the greater New York area, you have some phenomenal weather to look forward to this weekend, with plenty of sun and temperatures in the 80s. Go fly a kite or ride a bike or something.

But before you squeeze into those bicycle shorts—and we all wish you wouldn’t—check out this awesome opening cinematic for Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which hits Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on June 16.

Leonard Nimoy: Still Trekkin’

Leonard Nimoy will be reprising his role as Mr. Spock in director J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and the 78-year-old actor has already told The Associated Press that he’s not averse to donning his iconic pointy ears in the film’s inevitable sequel.

“If J.J. Abrams calls me, I answer the phone,” Nimoy said. “I don't say ‘never’ anymore.”

As most fans already know, the Abrams film—the 11th in the franchise—revolves heavily around time travel, with Nimoy playing an aged Spock while Heroes’ Zachary Quinto stars as a younger version of the half-human, half-Vulcan.

“The character is much more relaxed about who he is and what his life should be about whereas [Quinto’s Spock] is just beginning to find himself,” said Nimoy. “It works extremely well. The character I portray in this film is much more like who I am today, personally. I am as close as possible to the character as I could ever be.”

Star Trek hits theaters on May 7, and if you’re not the least bit interested in checking it out after seeing the trailers, you might be out of your Vulcan mind.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Governator Makes Computerized Cameo in Terminator Salvation

You didn’t think that we’d be seeing a fourth Terminator movie without an Arnold Schwarzenegger appearance of some kind, did you?

According to Variety, Schwarzenegger—who has headlined all previous entries in the film series as the titular cyborg—will be making a brief appearance in the latest installment. Appropriately enough, the cameo will be computer-generated. Scary. This should probably worry the Sarah Connors of the world, but it’s good news for fans.

Director McG reportedly used Schwarzenegger’s body-cast mold created for the first Terminator as a basis for a digitized version of the character. The California governor gave the footage the thumbs up, allowing McG to include it in the finished film.

Terminator Salvation opens May 21.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Are Video Games a Dangerous Addiction?

A study published April 20 in the journal Psychological Science suggests that nearly one in 10 gamers ages eight to 18 may be addicted to video games, exhibiting at least six of 11 alarming addiction symptoms such as skipping chores to play games, poor performance in school due to excessive play and playing games to escape reality.

USA Today’s Game Hunters blog reports that these symptoms could indicate pathological addiction, similar to that of a gambler. The research, funded by the National Institute on Media and the Family, also found that pathological gamers were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with an attention-deficit disorder and have health problems worsened by extended play, including hand and wrist pain.

However, report author Douglas Gentile, director of the institute, writes that the study “yields far more questions than answers.” He adds that this issue clearly requires more research, “with almost one out of 10 youth gamers demonstrating real-world problems because of their gaming.”

As a gamer, this research is pretty troubling to me, but if video games are in any way detrimental to young people then I fully support further study on the issue. While I often scoff at charges that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is ineffective or that violent video games marketed toward adults are turning our children into bloodthirsty killing machines, it’s clear that video games can be and often are addictive. When that world encroaches on real-life responsibilities, it’s definitely problematic.

And just like anything else, a video game is best enjoyed in moderation. Unless, of course, it's really good, in which case you should probably call in sick from work for a few days, turn off your phone, neglect your loved ones and subsist entirely on a strict diet of Top Ramen and Red Bull so you can play unfettered.

Kidding. Sort of.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Random Bloggery for April 17

Hey gang, I'm gonna keep this one brief. I’m trying desperately to de-stress before an assuredly jam-packed weekend deprives me of sleep for two days. In addition to some writing projects I’m working on, I hope to finally finish Resident Evil 5, which gets incredibly good toward the end. I also may play a bit more of Fallout 3 to earn back some of the gamer cred I probably lost when I let it collect dust since I bought it in January.

On top of all that, I’m also trying to work my way through the original Star Trek series before the new J.J. Abrams movie hits theaters on May 7 (yes, I know it’s a reboot and watching the series is pretty irrelevant). As a Star Wars kid growing up, I was never all that into Trek, but now I’ve really come to appreciate the classic series for what it is. I’ve also watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan a few times over the last few months, and I've learned it's a phenomenal revenge film whether or not you’re a Trekkie (or is it Trekker these days?). I'm a series convert, but don't expect me to get fitted for Vulcan ears or anything...yet.

If you want to cyber-stalk me in-between updates/articles/reviews/minutiae, follow me on Twitter.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

McG Talks Terminator Sequels

Terminator Salvation’s May 21 release date is still weeks away, but director McG is already prepping for a follow-up if the fourth installment of the blockbuster franchise is successful.

“I would never presume there would be another picture—that is up to the audience,” he told the MTV Movies Blog. “But if the audience jumps up and likes it and wants another one, Christian [Bale] and I have been talking about it and we’ll see what happens.”

Keeping in line with just about every science fiction or fantasy property these days, McG plans on turning his Terminator revival—depicting the post-Judgment Day struggle between man and machine—into a trilogy. Anyone hoping for this film to bring any semblance of closure to the 25-year-old series will likely wind up disappointed by the time the credits roll.

“The ending is indeed elliptical,” he said. “And it challenges the audience. It’s not a happy little bow of an ending at all. The ending is tough and requires reflection, and in some degrees it bifurcates the audience. You walk back to the car and one person thinks it means this, and the other person thinks it means that.”

In related killer robot (or cybernetic organism) news, it looks like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be saying “hasta la vista, baby” to its dwindling viewership. Entertainment Weeklys Michael Ausiello writes that a source close to the show told him that it has been unofficially canned. A Fox insider added, “Consider it canceled.” However, we won’t know whether or not to expect a third season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles until Fox announces its fall schedule on May 18.

So it looks like we might be getting more Terminator movies, which is great news. However, the surprisingly good Sarah Connor Chronicles—which, against all odds, turned Brian Austin Green into a total badass—could be on the chopping block. Is it possible to be excited and disappointed at the same time? Excitappointed?

Hey, if a Hollywood director can go by the name “McG,” then I'm officially allowed to make up words.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Random Bloggery for April 11

Hey all, just want to wish everyone out there a very Happy Easter and a Happy Passover. It’s been a crazy week for me, and I look forward to relaxing with family and getting in some quality time with my Xbox 360. Hopefully I can find a way to combine the two, but I don’t think my niece would have all that much fun with Fallout 3. Post-apocalyptic wastelands aren’t very inviting to toddlers.

If you’ve had your ears and/or eyes open at all this week, you may have caught Eminem’s new video for “We Made You,” the first single off his forthcoming album Relapse, which hits store shelves on May 19. Anyone that knew me in high school and college knows that I was a huge Eminem fan, particularly when it came to The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, which may be two of the best rap albums in the last decade. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.

“We Made You” continues Eminem’s trend of releasing a radio-friendly celebrity slam to promote the much better material on the rest of his albums. However, Eminem hasn’t released a full-fledged album since 2004’s so-so Encore, and the entertainment landscape has changed significantly since then. Today, it's commonplace to take snarky shots at celebrities such as Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and Sarah Palin, all of whom were already ripped to shreds by the tabloids and gossip blogs months ago. If Eminem wanted to be edgy, he should have gone after people who aren't such easy targets.

But watch the video and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Filming Begins on Iron Man 2!

If you’re anything like me, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was one of your favorite films of 2008. You also might be obsessively following production on the sequel, due to hit theaters May 7, 2010. According to Favreau's Twitter page, Iron Man 2, which features Robert Downey Jr. returning as the titular superhero/billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, began filming this week.

Downey is joined by Iron Man co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Stark’s leggy assistant Virginia “Pepper” Potts. New additions to the cast include Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, who had a cameo in the original film as secret agent Nick Fury. In addition, Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Stark's best friend Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes.

I'm already excited, and you should be too.

Lucasfilm’s Red Tails Begins Production

Lucasfilm Ltd. announced April 6 that it has begun production on Red Tails, a fictional World War II film inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, the United States’ first all-black aerial combat unit. The film, directed by Anthony Hemingway (The Wire, Battlestar Galactica) and written by John Ridley (Three Kings), is based on a story penned by Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator George Lucas. It will soon begin principal photography in Europe.

“I’ve been wanting to do Red Tails for 20 years, and we’ve finally got the means to showcase the skill of the Tuskegee pilots,” Lucas said in a statement. “We’re working on techniques which will give us the first true look at the aerial dogfighting of the era. And our top-notch cast will really make this story special.”

The cast includes Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Oscar nominee Terrence Howard (Crash), Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) Nate Parker (The Secret Life of Bees), David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland), Tristan Wilds (The Wire) and Grammy winner Ne-Yo (Stomp the Yard).

“I’m thrilled to have such a fantastic cast of actors and such a talented director to work with,” said producer Rick McCallum. “The story of the Tuskegee Airmen represents a milestone in American history, and we’re all proud to be paying tribute to their heroic efforts. That cultural significance is not lost on anyone in this great young cast.”

A release date for Red Tails has not been announced.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Freddy Krueger Cast in Nightmare on Elm Street Remake

We’ve known for quite some time that New Line Cinema is remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the studio has been tight-lipped as to who will be playing supernatural child murderer Freddy Krueger in the franchise relaunch.

The 1984 original and its seven sequels all starred character actor Robert Englund as the undead serial killer. However, Variety reports that Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach) will be donning the striped shirt, tattered fedora and razor-fingered glove in the Platinum Dunes reboot, which begins shooting next month in Chicago. Samuel Bayer will direct.

While I’m certainly among those who grew up loving the Nightmare series, the movies themselves have never been as good as the ideas they revolve around. As the series progressed, the actual horror subsided while Freddy became a pop culture icon, making the movies less about genuine scares and more about creative kills and punny one-liners.

Because Englund is this character, it’s hard to imagine anyone else would be half as good. However, if they want to make Freddy scary again, Englund and his comedy schtick simply have to go. Haley, based on his unsettling performance as troubled crime-fighter Rorschach in Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation, could take these movies in a terrifying new direction.

Do I think we really need a Nightmare on Elm Street remake? Absolutely not. But the Platinum Dunes Friday the 13th reboot has grossed $65 million domestically since its February 13 release. We had to expect a glossy new Nightmare film to be right around the corner.

But hey, at least Hollywood is embracing the green movement—everything’s recycled!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Random Bloggery for April 3

Happy Friday! Last week, I unofficially launched a new regular feature on The Wort Report called Random Bloggery, which will serve as an informal update on all the stuff I’ve gotten my grubby little hands on over the past week. Since The Wort Report isn’t my full-time job and things like food, sleep and a social life aren’t always conducive to writing 600-word reviews of every movie I see or game I play, this will be an easy way for me to separate the “LOL WIN!” from the “OMG FAIL!”

On the gaming front, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying both MadWorld and Resident Evil 5, although I fear that the over-the-top bloodshed of the former may become tiring after a while. When I first fired it up on my Wii, I was amazed by the intuitive control scheme and the brutal stylized violence. However, by the time I decapitated my fifth zombie with a golf club, I found myself wishing this game had a bit more to it.

Resident Evil 5, while doing little to reinvent the franchise like its 2005 predecessor, is a quality action title that ties up a lot of the series’ loose ends. As of this writing, I’m very close to the end of the game yet I’m still unfortunately all-too-often grappling with its aging control scheme and frustrating inventory system. That said, Resident Evil 5 is intense, fun and sometimes even scary. I highly recommend it.

Speaking of things I highly recommend, you should really go see I Love You, Man. I caught it last weekend, and while I loathe the term “bromance” to describe a movie genre, the film is a really humorous take on male camaraderie. Stars Jason Segel and Paul Rudd—having displayed great on-screen chemistry in last year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall—are really likeable characters here. I particularly liked how Rudd’s character is awkwardly incapable of coming up with nicknames for male friends. I plan on working “Jobin,” one of his many failed attempts, into at least one conversation this week. Be warned, Jobin. Oh, would you look at that. Mission accomplished! Y'see kids, just aim low. That way, you're always a winner!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wolverine Movie Leaks Online

It may have seemed like an early April Fool’s joke when X-Men Origins: Wolverine illegally hit the Web on March 31—one month ahead of its release date—but 20th Century Fox executives were hardly laughing. The leaked version of the film is reportedly a rough edit, with temporary music and sound as well as incomplete visual effects shots, but that hasn’t stopped large numbers of overzealous fans from downloading the X-Men prequel and posting early reviews.

Since I don’t condone Internet film piracy, I won’t link to any of the sites offering the leaked film for download. However, for those who simply must see it, it’s really not all that hard to find. But remember that when you obtain media through illegal channels, you’re not sticking it to wealthy executives. You’re hurting lower-level employees. In this economy, they’re the ones being laid off when films underperform at the box office.

Reuters
reports, however, that Fox is on the case. "The FBI and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) also are actively investigating this crime,” the studio said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting."

That’s all well and good, but there’s no way Fox is going to be able to stop people from getting their hands on the film at this point. Whether or not this leak will hurt Wolverine’s ticket sales remains to be seen.

I urge anyone who wants to see this film to do the right thing—wait until it hits theaters on May 1st.