<p>Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski headline the slight but satisfying 'Away We Go'</p>

Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski headline the slight but satisfying 'Away We Go'

Credit: Focus Features

The Motion/Captured Review: 'Away We Go' offers Sam Mendes sweet relief after 'Revolutionary Road'

Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski headline this sweet eccentric comedy about parenthood

Sam Mendes has built a solid, respectable, acclaimed career out of making films that I don't much like.

"American Beauty" may have suffered a profound backlash after winning the Oscar for Best Picture, but I still think there's a lot to like about it.  Sure, the third act is built on a lame "Three's Company" coincidence, and it doesn't really break any new ground in the "suburban life can be weird" genre, but it's got energy and style and some great performances.  "Road To Perdition" is a mild pleasure for me, but I'm not sure I could even explain what it is that doesn't quite gel about it for me.  "Jarhead" is one of those movies that I could feel myself forgetting even as I watched it, and I don't think I've thought about it since it ended.  I doubt I could even describe anything in it for you.  Pure Teflon filmmaking.

Then there was last year's "Revolutionary Road."  I wrote a fairly short, gentle review for the movie when it was released, but the more I've thought about it, the less I like it.  It is a remarkable amount of film craft to through at a shallow, rancid piece of writing that misses every subtle detail of the novel, reducing it to little more than a shrill screed about how lousy marriage and the suburbs can be.  Yawn.

Each of those films has fans, and I can understand why someone might like any one of those films more than I do.  I certainly don't think Mendes is a bad filmmaker.  I just think he makes very stylized, very theatrical films that hinge on pretty big choices, and like a lot of theater, your reaction to those choices is going to determine whether or not the film works for you.  His stage background is all over his choices as a filmmaker, the way he approaches each project.  Think of how completely he changes his style from film to film.  That's his signature so far... a different broad reality each time out.

And I can imagine after bathing in the poison of "Revolutionary Road" for the year or more he put into it, Mendes was probably ready for an about-face in tone.  That would certainly help explain the origin of the gentle, sweet, wistful look at a couple on the verge of parenthood looking for a place to call home.  It's by far the slightest movie Mendes has made so far, and I think it's the first of his movies that I sort of love completely.

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>Amy Adams, playing Amelia Earhart, is one of the few cast members to escape 'Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian' with her dignity intact</p>

Amy Adams, playing Amelia Earhart, is one of the few cast members to escape 'Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian' with her dignity intact

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The Motion/Captured Review: 'Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian' sets a new gold standard in lazy

Horrible screenplay strands a talented cast in this noisy, unfunny mess

This is going to be a very, very, very negative review.  Let's just get that out of the way.  If you need a simple binary yes or no answer, then mark me down for a "hell, no" and move on.  But if you'd like to help me puzzle through exactly how a smart and talented group of people (and Shawn Levy) manage to make a movie this terrible, then stick around.  This might take a while.

I didn't care much for "Night At The Museum" when it was released, and there's one passage from my original review that's worth reprinting.

"It's almost to the point where I wince when I see 'Screenplay by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant,' and that bothers me.  I like those guys.  RENO 911 makes me laugh very hard, and I enjoyed them on THE STATE.  They are very funny people, no doubt about it.  But lately, if they are the credited writers on a mainstream comedy, it's going to be cookie-cutter garbage.  HERBIE FULLY LOADED, the TAXI remake, THE PACIFIER, and now this... all I can think is that these guys are playing some elaborate practical joke on Hollywood, intentionally writing awful lowbrow crap just to see if they can get it greenlit.  As long as there's a tell-all book down the road called VIN DIESEL AND A DUCK, OR HOW WE RUINED HOLLYWOOD COMEDY AND GOT RICH DOING IT, then all will be forgiven."

It depresses me because that was sort of a half-joke when I wrote it in 2007, but these days, there's nothing funny about it.  I know that Simon Kinberg and Scott Frank both also worked on the script for this sequel, so I'll direct this to all four men, all of whom are people who I like and writers who have produced good work in the past:

What the hell is wrong with you?

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>Noah Ringer plays Aang in M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Last Airbender,' based on the acclaimed Nickelodeon series</p>

Noah Ringer plays Aang in M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Last Airbender,' based on the acclaimed Nickelodeon series

Credit: Paramount/Nickelodeon

TMR: 'Airbender' photos, On The Screen, and Gilliam at Cannes

A rant about the responsibility of reviewers as we head into the holiday weekend

Welcome to The Morning Read.

You ready for the holiday weekend?  Do you get a holiday weekend?  I don't.  I'm working all weekend long, getting stuff ready for next week, making sure you've got DVD reviews to read this weekend, and also juggling some time with my family over the three days between now and Monday.  Next Tuesday's my birthday, and I plan to take most of that day off.  Until then, I don't really get a break.

When I miss a day doing The Morning Read, it's pointless to try to catch up, because there's so much that happens in a given day.  I've been juggling a few deadlines this week, and in the process, I've just had to let a few things go.  All my best intentions can crumble in the path of an infant's ear infection and the ensuing doctor's visits, and sometimes, a new "Harry Potter" trailer just has to wait, y'know?

Still, it's a long four days coming up, so let's pack in plenty of Morning Read before everything slows down, okay?  I mean, there's plenty going on out there.

First, there are the weekend's releases at the theater.  I think we've said all there is for us to say about "Terminator: Salvation" this week, including my review of the film, but now it's time for you guys to get a look at it and decide if you think this is a new beginning or just one last shot at a fading franchise.  I'm getting ready to leave in a little while to catch an afternoon show of "Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian," but I'm not sure I'll be able to make myself go see "Dance Flick."  I just can't take those parody jukebox movies.  Stephan Elliott, director of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," is back this week with "Easy Virtue," a period comedy starring Jessica Biel and Colin Firth.  Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" is opening as well, with Sasha Grey starring fresh off her nonstop media blitz.  I reviewed the film at Sundance this year if you're interested.  And finally, if you're in NY, LA, or San Francisco, you can check out "The Boys," a documentary about the Sherman Brothers, composers of some of the most recognizable film music in history, a big part of the Disney company's legacy.  Chances are if you've ever hummed a Disney tune, the Sherman Bros. wrote it, but their personal life is evidently far less harmonious than their work, and I assume that's what the film deals with.

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>Jim Carrey, taking a brief break as the lead singer of Coldplay, appeared at Union Station today to kick off Disney's 'Christmas Carol' train tour</p>

Jim Carrey, taking a brief break as the lead singer of Coldplay, appeared at Union Station today to kick off Disney's 'Christmas Carol' train tour

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Disney kicks off the 'Christmas Carol' train tour with Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis

A scorching hot day at Union Station to promote Disney's biggest holiday title

When Robert Zemeckis is involved, the cutting edge positively bleeds.

I'm not surprised about the polarized reactions to the motion-capture films that Zemeckis is making these days.  He's made a fairly radical break from the filmmaking he built his name on, although I'd argue he's always been a guy who pushed technical challenges further than almost anyone else in the business.  I am surprised, though, when I hear people talk about these films like what we're seeing now is the final step in the evolution of this new type of filmmaking instead of acknowledging that we're looking at the very beginning of something.  These are the silent movie days, comparatively speaking, and Zemeckis is making movies that he knows will be outdated within a decade or so.  But if he doesn't make them, no one will, and the tech won't be ready for the storytellers who really nail it, who turn these tools to the right purpose.  And trust me... that day is coming.  I don't know who's going to make the first "OHMYGOD!" performance capture movie, but there will be one, and when it happens, there will be a gold rush of artists trying to get attached to a similar project.

And it'll all be thanks to the truly experimental spirit of Zemeckis.

I do agree with Devin Faraci, who was also at the event held at Union Station in Los Angeles early Thursday morning.  He said, "You know, maybe this time, I'll finally understand 'A Christmas Carol,' since the first 9000 film versions didn't really fully explain it to me."  This is one of the most frequently-retold stories in the English language, and not just in terms of direct retellings, either.  Every sitcom ever seems to have had its "Christmas Carol" episode, and there have been cartoon versions and knock-offs and semi-remakes and updates.  How many stories have starred Mr. Magoo, Bill Murray, and Patrick Stewart at different times?

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>'Terminator: Salvation' brings one of the most iconic worlds in SF cinema back to theaters, but to what effect?</p>

'Terminator: Salvation' brings one of the most iconic worlds in SF cinema back to theaters, but to what effect?

Credit: Warner Bros.

The Motion/Captured Review: 'Terminator: Salvation' succeeds to some degree, but in a minor key

This is the future war we've been waiting for?

"Terminator: Salvation" is a slippery little movie for me as a reviewer.  It's not badly made.  It's not badly acted.  It's not without some rewards for a viewer.

But it's also not something I'm comfortable recommending to fans of the first two "Terminator" films as a worthwhile addition to the mythology.

So does that make it a failure?  Or is it just a movie that takes a series in a new direction, a direction I'm not interested in but that other viewers might be?  I suspect that for some audiences, they will get what they need from the film.  John Connor (Christian Bale) spends a good 90% of his onscreen time BEING REALLY ANGRY AT THE GODDAMN ROBOTS, which is, I assume, what they hired him to do.  It's just that there's really nothing else going on here.  There's a lot of imagery of new robots that are part of this future war, a few big action sequences (although a lot fewer than one might expect), and a whole lot of talk about humanity and robots and destiny and... yeah.  Okay.

You know what it reminds me of more than anything?  Not the previous films in the "Terminator" series.  No, this feels more like one of the "Matrix" sequels.  This could easily be a real-world "Matrix" movie, where we just don't see anyone jack into the Matrix, and it would pretty much be the exact same film.  It's got a similar studio-Apocalypse vibe going on with its United States of Benneton cast and its fashionably grimy aesthetic.  And, I think, it'll probably have just about the same amount of impact with film fans as the "Matrix" sequels did.  I think it'll open huge this weekend because of the name and the potential, and I think a sort of confused disappointment will set in for a lot of viewers as they go to talk to other people about it.  Word of mouth is not going to drive a lot of second weekend business, and by the end of the summer, I think many people will have moved on completely.  If this does turn out to be a new trilogy, I will frankly be shocked.  I just can't imagine the support being there for it.

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>Moon Bloodgood and Common discuss their work in 'Terminator: Salvation'</p>

Moon Bloodgood and Common discuss their work in 'Terminator: Salvation'

Credit: Warner Bros.

The Motion/Captured Interviews: Moon Bloodgood and Common from 'Terminator: Salvation'

Drew McWeeny also talks to John Rosengrant, head of the robot-building team on the film

It's always hard when you're in a movie like "Terminator: Salvation," and you're not the star or even the main co-star, but you're at the press day and you know that you're basically the "Professor and Mary Anne" of the day.

To their enormous credit, Moon Bloodgood and Common didn't seem to remotely mind their day spent talking about the roles they play as part of John Connor's extended military family in the film. I had met and spoken with Moon on the set of the film, but I hadn't met Common until walking in and sitting down.  He's one of those guys who is getting role after role right now, just like Moon is starting to pick up some steam as well, and so even though they play smaller roles in this movie, I felt like it was a chance to chat with two working actors on the cusp of possibly breaking through to whatever that next level is.

Both of them seem like smart and charismatic people who are just one or two good roles away from really making an impression.  I'm not sure "Terminator: Salvation" offers either one of them the breakout moment they're looking for, but it did at least afford us the opportunity for the following conversation:

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>Jar Jar Binks turns ten years old today.&nbsp; That's right... he's just a kid.&nbsp; Now don't you feel bad for what you said about him?</p>

Jar Jar Binks turns ten years old today.  That's right... he's just a kid.  Now don't you feel bad for what you said about him?

Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Looking Back At 1999: Jar-Jar Binks is ten years old...

... and Hollywood hasn't learned a damn thing in a decade of blockbusters

Ten years ago?  Really?

Doesn't seem like it's been a full decade.  I can still vividly remember everything about the build-up to the release of "The Phantom Menace," the first new "Star Wars" film in sixteen years.

Fandom has changed profoundly in the last ten years, and it would be hard to argue that it's been for the better.  Although I detest that sub-moronic oft-repeated metaphor about George Lucas "raping my childhood," I could be willing to agree that 1999 was the end of fandom's innocent optimism and the beginning of something rancid and self-entitled and angry, something that's more about tearing down and insulting than about celebrating or enjoying.

On the surface, it seems like Hollywood has changed for the better, though.  Take a look at the sort of movies that make up most of what we see in any given summer right now.  It looks like the nerds won, doesn't it?  Like we've taken over?  Every Friday, there's a "Wolverine" or a "Star Trek" or a "Terminator" or a "Transformers."  Geek service of the most direct nature.  But for every one of those films that feels motivated by a love of the material or a story genuinely worth telling or an affinity for the genre, we get a dozen films that are craven, designed by committee, hollow and phony.  And it seems like "fans" have lost the ability to tell one from the other, willing to grant a monster opening weekend to almost anything, no matter how distinctly the marketing promises another goddamn heartbreak.  Part of it is a sort of battered-fan-syndrome, where they keep telling themselves "It will be different this time... it will be different this time..."  And part of it seems to be a gradual erosion of standards in which everything is one big homogenized equal.

So what does the tenth anniversary of "Star Wars" have to tell us?  What perspective have we gained?

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>The unlikely friendship between a lonely child named Russell and an angry old man named Carl is just part of the adventure of Pixar's 'Up'</p>

The unlikely friendship between a lonely child named Russell and an angry old man named Carl is just part of the adventure of Pixar's 'Up'

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar

The Motion/Captured Review: 'Up' may be Pixar's best film yet

A touching, funny, original adventure that proves 3D can be more than hot air

When people say something perfunctory like "Pixar's done it again!", it makes it sound like a magic trick.  Like no one will ever understand how this one studio turns out one instant piece of polished pop perfection after another.  That is, of course, nonsense.  It's not a magic trick at all.

Pixar makes great movies because they have a great story process, staffed with smart, creative people, and that process encourages invention and experimentation to such a degree that they're not afraid to tear a film down when it's not working, even if they're already in production.  The process between the various artists and writers and directors is remarkable... but it's almost to be expected at this point.  This is what happens when a creative company genuinely values creativity.

I'm not going to run through their filmography or tie myself in knots trying to rank this against their other iflms.  Why bother?  Over time, I return to all of the movies at some point.  Some more than others, sure, but it's sort of just based on my mood.  Having said that, my first reaction to a single viewing of "Up" (I'm going back tonight with Toshi and my wife) is that it may be the most original of their movies.  And by that, I just mean that it's harder to pin down than most.  It's not a "bug" movie or a "toy" movie or a "fish" movie or a "superhero" movie or "monsters" or "cars" or "rats."  It defies that sort of categorization.  It's an adventure story, but it's also a character-driven journey about a man determined to do whatever he has to do to honor the memory of his beloved dead wife.  It doesn't have the most conventional structure, either.  It's fantastic in some ways, but almost intimate in scope at times.  It's a film of contradictions and left turns, a series of self-contained movements that add up to something that ultimately satisfies both as pure entertainment and as emotional powerhouse.

And it's in 3D!

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>The cast of 'Inglorious Basterds' poses with writer/director Quentin Tarantino</p>

The cast of 'Inglorious Basterds' poses with writer/director Quentin Tarantino

Credit: The Weinstein Company/Universal

TMR: 'Eddie Coyle' on the shelf, plus a full 'Basterds' playlist on CHUD

Plus, do we need a 'MacGruber' film or a 'Zoolander' sequel?

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Aaaaaand, we're back.

I'm thinking I need to design some sort of bio-armor for myself when I travel.  Having children plays havoc with your immune system the first few years they're in school, and you add that to constant airplane time, and I'm pretty much ground zero for whatever black lung viral stomach flu thing will eventually end Western civilization.

On the plus side, I got home and found the BluRay box set of the first six "Star Trek" films waiting on my desk.  And Toshi and I decided to watch them together, which was been fairly sweeeeeet so far.  After "Wrath of Khan", we drove to the library, and on the way there, he announced from the back seat, "Dad, I pretty much love 'Star Trek,'" which are strong words from him.  He's not normally so quick to give himself over to the new.  From the moment I got home, he was telling me the box was waiting.  Actually, he told me on the phone while I was still in New Orleans. I love my nerd.  He's so hooked that I decided to try the JJ Abrams film with him on the bigscreen on Sunday, and that was pretty much the end of the world for him.  He stood.  He cheered.  He tried to do the Vulcan salute at the screen every time someone in the movie did it.  He's announced now that my house is the Enterprise, and he's assigned everyone in the house roles.  He is, of course, Spock, because "Spock is the one who is smart and he can fly the ship and he's got cool ears!"  Somehow, the one-year-old was chosen as Kirk over my vocal protests, and I have been named Chekov.  I'd be insulted, except Toshi seems to genuinely think Chekov is cooler than Kirk.

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post
<p>McG discusses his take on the classic 'Terminator' franchise</p>

McG discusses his take on the classic 'Terminator' franchise

Credit: Warner Bros.

McW VS McG! Drew McWeeny talks to the director of 'Terminator: Salvation'

McG discusses the original ending, the lack of humor, and more

I met McG for the first time on the phone.

He called me to talk to me after I ran a story with... how can I put it... an intentionally provocative headline.  And we ended up talking for well over half an hour.  Not as an interview.  Not as something for the site the next day.  Nothing like that.  Just him talking about his side of something.

It wasn't McG yelling at me.  It wasn't McG even necessarily trying to convince me of something.  I think it was just McG looking to make sure that his version of things was on the record.  And I get the feeling that's who he is in general.  More than anything, he wants to be sure that he gets a chance to have his say.

Which explains why the "three-minute-interview" you're about to watch is ten minutes long.

Because of some of the more pointed things I've had to say about "Terminator: Salvation" as it's moved from script to screen, and because I'm the guy who ruined the ending of the movie, McG practically circled me a few times before we finally sat down to talk during the press day.  And when they gave us the signal to wrap up, he waved the publicists in the room off several times.

[more after the jump]

Read Full Post