Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny

SXSW Review: 'The Slammin' Salmon'

Broken Lizard returns to peak form with this frequently hilarious ensemble comedy

<p>Jay Chandrasekhar, Eric Stolhanske, April Bowlby, Paul Soter, Cobie Smulders, Steve Lemme, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kevin Heffernan in 'Broken Lizard's The Slammin' Salmon'</p>

Jay Chandrasekhar, Eric Stolhanske, April Bowlby, Paul Soter, Cobie Smulders, Steve Lemme, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kevin Heffernan in 'Broken Lizard's The Slammin' Salmon'

Credit: Broken Lizard Industries

I sort of like Broken Lizard as underdogs.  I remember walking into the first screening of "Supertroopers" at Sundance, and no one in that theater knew what it was or who they were.  The film absolutely killed as a result, blindsiding everyone there.  By the time it hit theaters, enough advance buzz existed that there was a bit of a "prove it" attitude from fanboys, and I don't think they gave the film a fair shake.  And then with "Club Dread" and "Beerfest," there's been a feeling that people were almost lying in wait for the films, determined to prove how much smarter they are as an audience than Broken Lizard are as filmmakers.  And at Sundance this year, I heard many people in the press grumbling about how "The Slammin' Salmon" must be awful because it wasn't even being shown to the press.

I'm sure the guys who make up Broken Lizard would prefer not to be underdogs at this point.  I remember being on set for "Beerfest," talking to Warner Bros. about signing BL to a long-term deal that would allow them to not only make their own films but to also produce for other rising comedy talent, and that optimism was very encouraging.  It also seems to have evaporated after "Beerfest" actually came out.  While Jay Chandrasekhar, who directed the first four features for the group, stayed busy with episodes of "Knight Rider," "Chuck," and "Lipstick Jungle," it was Kevin Heffernan who stepped up to direct this one, and the result has a different energy.  It's also the best overall film they've made since "Super Troopers," and I hope it gets a wide enough release to be a significant hit for the guys.  It's such an appealing, silly, easy-to-like film that it would be a shame if it wasn't given a chance to reach the widest audience possible.

[more after the jump]

Motion/Captured Must-See: 'It's A Gift'

W.C. Fields hates you, and with good reason

<p>'Open the door for Mr. Muckle!' W.C. Fields finds the perfect foil in the Depression-era classic 'It's A Gift'</p>

'Open the door for Mr. Muckle!' W.C. Fields finds the perfect foil in the Depression-era classic 'It's A Gift'

Credit: Universal Home Video

Why this film and why W.C. Fields?

Is it reflexive?  Am I just running down a checklist of comedy icons and now it's his turn?

No.  I'm not particularly brand-loyal it comes to the early days of comedy, with the possible exception of Buster Keaton.  Him, I endorse across the board.  Everyone else, I've got my likes and my dislikes.  And in the case of W.C. Fields, I think it all came together in his Depression-era comedy version of The Book Of Job, and any discussion of great movies should include this dark-hearted misanthropy.

Part of that is because of Norman McLeod.  This is a guy who worked with the comedy legends of his day, and helped shape who they were on film.  He directed the Marx Brothers in "Monkey Business" and "Horse Feathers."  He directed Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in "Topper."  He directed Danny Kaye repeatedly.  He directed Bob Hope and Bing Crosby repeatedly.  And, yes, in 1934, he directed the great W.C. Fields in the film that I think best showcases the particular comic sensibilities that made Fields such an icon in his time.  Not only did he know funny innately, he helped define the vocabulary of how it's still being shot today.  He understood that it's not just funny people doing funny things, but also how you shoot and cut it.  He really understood where to put his camera to sell every single punchline.  He made great use of all of his actors and not only his stars. 

[more after the jump]

Final 'Star Trek' Poster Appears At MySpace

Iconic imagery, but does it speak to the general audience?

<p>A glimpse at the final 'Star Trek' poster, which is exclusively online at MySpace</p>

A glimpse at the final 'Star Trek' poster, which is exclusively online at MySpace

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Okay, I think that the new "Star Trek" poster that just went online at MySpace is sort of amazing.

But to the general public, who aren't that savvy, is this monochromatic look at pure velocity going to communicate the scope and the excitement of what it looks like JJ Abrams has pulled off?  Or is this preaching to the choir?

Tough call, but I'm excited by everything we've seen on this one so far, and that last trailer is such a perfect piece of film marketing that I am willing to bet there is no misstep, great or small, that could derail this movie at this point.

On The Screen (3.27.09) 'Monsters Vs. Aliens' reviewed

Plus what else is on screens near you this weekend

<p>'Monsters Vs. Aliens' is the first test of Jeffrey Katzenberg's determined drive to make every film for the rest of eternity in 3D</p>

'Monsters Vs. Aliens' is the first test of Jeffrey Katzenberg's determined drive to make every film for the rest of eternity in 3D

Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

The biggest title opening this weekend, both in terms of budget and in terms of screen count, is "Monsters Vs. Aliens."  I talked a bit about the experience of going to see the film in IMAX 3D in a piece I ran earlier this week, but I didn't really review the movie.  Let's kick off this column today with a more formal look at the film itself, even as I crank up this gorgeous "Quantum Of Solace" BluRay loud enough to piss off my neighbors.

"Monsters Vs. Aliens" is closer to the "Kung-Fu Panda" end of the Dreamworks Animation scale than the "Shark's Tale" end of things, and that's encouraging.  Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman co-direct, and it's obvious they have a genuine love of both giant monsters and '50s aliens, as they gently, affectionately roast both sub-genres.  There are moments where the film succumbs to the pop culture joke thing that derails so many Dreamworks animated films, but not many, and for the most part, the humor seems to be an organic extension of the characters and the situation.  It's a huge spectacle, especially if you see it in 3D, and features some solid voice work by a star cast, something that isn't always the case.

There are some mis-steps.  I think pretty much every scene involving The President, played by Stephen Colbert, is a bust.  In fact, can we declare a moratorium on wacky scenes set in the War Room?  Even in films where they're supposed to be serious, like "Watchmen," it just feels like someone trying to out-do Kubrick and "Strangelove," and that ain't never gonna happen.  The War Room scene here is redundant, since it's mainly designed to introduce the various Monsters in the film, but by that point, they've already been well-established.  It's like they decided to build a trailer right into the movie, but when you're actually sitting in the theater, these scenes sort of stop things cold.

[more after the jump]

The Morning Read (3.27.09) Ridley Scott in 3D, Neil Marshall in ancient Rome, and 'Land of the Lost' test-screens

Plus trailers for 'Fame' and 'Away We Go,' and Ebert and The House Next Door on overlooked movies

<p>Olga Kurylenko in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion,' an epic about the war between the Romans and the Picts</p>

Olga Kurylenko in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion,' an epic about the war between the Romans and the Picts

Credit: Centurion Films

In honor of this week's weirdest casting news, I'm watching one of the discs from the latest chronological collection of "Three Stooges" shorts.  This is the box set where Curly retires and Shemp comes in, and it's a little sad seeing how sick Curly obviously was even before the stroke.

Have you seen the new trailer for "Fame"?  Man, I was a fan of the original, and I even enjoyed the TV series during its first few seasons.  It's one of those fairly foolproof concepts, and I'll give the people who cut the trailer credit for trying something different.  I hope there's some weight to the film, though... that's why Alan Parker's movie worked... that R rating allowed them to present real kids with real lives in a way that didn't seem to pander.  My big question about the remake is what relevance does "Fame" have in a post-"American Idol" world?  There are so many ways to grab your fifteen minutes now that I'm not sure kids want to hear "hard work and actual talent" as a formula for success.

How about the also-new trailer for "Away We Go," the new film from Sam Mendes?  Looks to be a 180-degree turn away from "Revolutionary Road," and that delights me.  It's a big year for Dave Eggers in the film world between this and "Where The Wild Things Are," and I love the simple warmth of this trailer.  John Krasinski looks good in it, but what I found to be the great surprise of the trailer is Maya Rudolph, who looks like she's doing very grounded and real work.  We haven't seen much from her on film, so I'm very curious to see if she shakes off the "SNL" in this role.

[more after the jump]

The Motion/Captured Review: 'The Haunting In Connecticut'

Tepid Lionsgate ghost story may scare young viewers, but everyone else will be bored

<p>Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner play mother and son in the Lionsgate release 'The Haunting In Connecticut'</p>

Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner play mother and son in the Lionsgate release 'The Haunting In Connecticut'

Credit: Lionsgate/Gold Circle Films

I really wish I liked this film more.

The basic approach is one I like.  It's a ghost story, but grounded in a character drama first.  And considering how wretched the writing is in much of the genre, it's always nice to see someone put the emphasis on character first.  But as much as I like that approach in theory, in practice, "The Haunting In Connecticut" comes up short, and the result is a movie that spends most of its brief running time stuck in neutral before lurching to a sort of muted finale.  This is PG-13 horror at its tamest, and I suspect the only people who will be scared by anything in it are young horror fans who haven't seen many haunted house films before.  And while I am happy that there is a young audience just learning about horror, I am frustrated that they are the most-served percentage of the audience, while those of us who have been fans of the genre for decades are left to sift through remakes and retreads and sequels no one asked for, hoping for an occasional gem.

This was screened as part of the Fantastic Fest At Midnight series at SXSW while I was there, and I had high hopes for it based on the earlier work of director Peter Cornwell.  If you haven't seen his movie "Ward 13," it's an inventive and ambitious stop-motion animated film that plays with horror tropes in some new and intelligent ways.  Almost none of the style that distinguished that short is on display here.  This is anonymous studio horror, familiar at every turn, and it feels like it was built by committee, not by a filmmaker.  Part of that is the script by Adam Simon & Tim Metcalfe, which commits the cardinal sin of any horror film:  it's dull.  It's not just a little dull... it's consistently dull, and the characters continually make choices that are frustrating and motivated by nothing more than their presence in a horror film, one of my biggest pet peeves.

[more after the jump]

On The Shelf (3.23.09) James Bond BluRay, Venture Bros return, and Deneuve's 'Last Metro'

Plus Andy Richter's cult comedy, more pre-code Hollywood, and indie Kristen Stewart

<p>Brock Samson wrestles a mummy in one of the more normal moments from 'The Venture Bros.'</p>

Brock Samson wrestles a mummy in one of the more normal moments from 'The Venture Bros.'

Credit: Cartoon Network

I'm a wee bit frustrated right now as I'm coming up short, week after week, unable to afford all the films I'd like to add to the collection.  I hate having that itch gnawing at me, especially since the rational part of my brain knows I already spend all my time behind on my viewing stack.  Doesn't matter.  The film nerd side of me simply wants to possess as much as possible, just in case of a random whim, and just to satisfy my OCD.  And I'm headed to Amoeba later today just to make it worse for myself.

For example, "Quantum Of Solace" was released on DVD and BluRay this week, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.  I am baffled by anyone who ranks this at the bottom of the series, or even in the bottom third of the series.  There have been some wretched, stupid, unwatchable James Bond films over the years, and a few of them even starred someone besides Roger Moore.  But "Quantum Of Solace" would be enjoyable even away from the series.  As part of the series, I love what it does, and I think it makes a tremendous bookend to "Casino Royale."  I look forward to adding the BluRay to my Bond collection, which I suppose I'm rebuilding now.

I was so happy when I finally got every Bond film on DVD, and now they're putting them out in these new BluRay transfers that are even better, particularly the early gorgeous '60s stuff, and I find myself ready to start buying them again.  This week, "Goldfinger," "Moonraker," and "The World Is Not Enough" are all added to the list of available titles.  I may trade up only the films I consider the classics of the series, meaning "Goldfinger" gets the upgrade.  I don't think I ever need to spend another dollar on "Moonraker" or any of the Brosnan titles.  And I think I'll pick up "Never Say Never Again" on BluRay as well, since I have a real soft spot for it even if it's sort of a dud.  Connery's good in it, and he really sells the character one last time.

[more after the jump]

The Morning Read (3.26.09) 'Wild Things' trailer and lost Kubrick

'Nightmare' answers, Cameron reflects on 'Terminator,' and Vaughn's 'American Jesus'

<p>Max (Max Records) and KC (Lauren Ambrose) on the move in 'Where The Wild Things Are'</p>

Max (Max Records) and KC (Lauren Ambrose) on the move in 'Where The Wild Things Are'

Credit: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Good morning, folks.  I've been thinking a lot about The Morning Read in the last few weeks.  It's easily the thing that's gotten the most feedback since I started here at HitFix, and I know people are checking for it daily, and I'm actually really happy with the format.  I just know that on some days, it can take a few hours to put together, and the morning becomes the afternoon before I can publish it.  I'd like to make it a little more concise, with the possibility of an Afternoon Read on a very busy day, and then actually emphasize a few stories with articles of their own if they're worthwhile or if a story is breaking.  I think it'll help keep things active here on the blog, and since I'm trying to get better at the "constant content" thing, I think maybe a slightly shorter Morning Read, but with more frequency, might just be essential.

Yesterday's biggest news was the arrival of the trailer for "Where The Wild Things Are," which you can see in high-def over at Apple.com, and it pleases me to see how strong the reactions to the trailer have been so far.  It's absolutely accurate to the look and tone of the movie, so if you like what you've seen so far, that's what you're going to get when the movie is released.  I think it's exciting that so many people seem to understand already just how odd and challenging this film is, and instead of rejecting it, that seems to be what has them interested.

[more after the jump]

SXSW Review: 'All Tomorrow's Parties'

A hypnotic documentary about an underground music phenomenon

<p>Guitarist Doug Martsch from Built To Spill performs at the September 2008 edition of All Tomorrow's Parties</p>

Guitarist Doug Martsch from Built To Spill performs at the September 2008 edition of All Tomorrow's Parties

Credit: Rolling Stone/Jason Bergman

There was a time in my life when live music was really important to me, an essential part of my regular entertainment diet.  If I liked a band, I felt like I had to see them play every time I could, and there were certain bands I even followed from city to city on certain tours.  Film was always my first love, but live music ran a close second.

At some point, that changed.  And it changed completely.  It just turned.  I didn't feel that same manic urge anymore.  I can't even tell you why it happened.  It just did.  I'll occasionally go see a show now, but it's more of a special occasion, and sometimes, I'll look around during a show and see a look on someone's face as they're gripped by that same urgency I used to feel, and I envy them that ability.

That's a big part of what I felt while I was watching "All Tomorrow's Parties," a new documentary about a decade-old music festival in England that's unlike any other music festival I've heard of.  More than anything, it reminds me of what the New Beverly's been doing with filmmakers, or the Alamo's classic Quentin Tarantino festivals.  At All Tomorrow's Parties, the festival invites a curator, a headliner like Mogwai or Sonic Youth or Explosions In The Sky.  The curators then pick enough other bands to fill out an entire weekend's worth of music, like a giant live mix tape, and because it's a differerent curator each time, the personality of the festival is always changing.

[more after the jump]

The Morning Read (3.24.09) 'Wild Things' images, 'TinTin' methods, and Girl Talk debate

Plus screwed-up subtitles and 'Bruno' tricks

<p>One of the new images released this week from the new film adaptation of 'Where The Wild Things Are'</p>

One of the new images released this week from the new film adaptation of 'Where The Wild Things Are'

Credit: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Wow.  It feels like I've been on the road forever, but it's actually just been a little over a week.  That's the last major road trip I've got planned until Comic-Con this summer, so for the next few months, we can focus on the regular routine here at HitFix.

During that week-plus I was on the road, lots of stuff happened that I didn't report here on the blog, and I'd like to catch up this week even as we dig into what's new.  So if you see something here this week that's not "brand-new," it might be new to me.

I see that Yahoo! Movies decided to put together a list of "The 100 Movies You Should See Before You Die."  And looking at it, there sure are a lot of familiar titles there.  It's sort of what I was hoping to avoid with the Motion/Captured Must-See Project, and the whole reason I put together a List Of Duh before even starting.  There are so many great films that people don't already know the title of that recommending "Die Hard" seems almost frustratingly wrong.  Yes... it's an action classic.  Yes... it was imitated mercilessly.  But do you really think "Die Hard" is underrated or overlooked, or that it needs the help of a list at this point?  What point is there in doing any of this if we're not going to try to broaden the conversation instead of just repeating the same thing over and over?

[more after the jump]

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