Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie Review: Big Laughs? Or Just Big?


Gulliver's Travels


We all know the 18th-century story of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, where the main character finds himself a giant amongst the tiny people of a mysterious faraway land, Lilliput. In this modern-day retelling, Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda) plays the title role as a Manhattan mail room clerk. He's smitten by an editor at the office, but Darcy (2012's Amanda Peet) is clearly out of his league. To get her attention, Gulliver tricks her into believing that he's actually a writer -- so she sends him on assignment to the Bermuda Triangle to cover a story.

After a fierce storm, Gulliver is shipwrecked and awakens in Lilliput -- where at first he is held captive, but then rises to hero status. Along the way, he helps another unlikely duo get together -- the island's princess (The Young Victoria's Emily Blunt) and an adoring commoner (Jason Segel from Despicable Me). Helping his new friends get together gives Gulliver much insight as to how he could win over Darcy. Now if only he could find a way to be back on the same ground with her again.

The comic-adventure film relies a bit too much on crude humor and special effects (although the 3D enhancement is once again unnecessary). It may not be that funny or adventurous, but there's some mild entertainment here thanks to a talented cast that rises above a silly script. It's not the best family film out this year, but it's certainly not the worst either. Directed and co-written by Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens). [Rated PG; opens Christmas Day]


Grade: B-


Notes:

  • The minor recommendation is helped along by a fun new animated short that precedes the film. Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up is a great sneak peek at what lies ahead for the Ice Age series -- as Ice Age: Continental Drift is expected to hit theaters on July 13, 2012.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews -- including Rabbit Hole, which opens wider on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Review: The Coen Brothers Tackle a Western Remake


True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men) have created their most mainstream film in True Grit, an adaptation of the 1968 Western novel by Charles Portis. The story, set in 1800s Arkansas, was previously adapted in a 1969 film starring John Wayne -- in his only Oscar-winning role.

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who undertakes a quest to avenge her father's death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney (Milk's Josh Brolin). Ross persuades an alcoholic U.S. marshal known as Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to join her in tracking Chaney down. He wants to go solo, but feisty Ross insists she go along. They are also joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants to take in Chaney for other crimes. The trio face danger and surprises on the journey -- truly testing their "grit."

Bridges proves that his Oscar win last year for Crazy Heart was no fluke -- he nails the gruff, but lovable Cogburn. And Damon (Hereafter) also successfully showcases his great range -- he really can do both comedy and drama. But it's Steinfeld who steals the movie in a perfect casting coup. The Academy will surely recognize her talents when the Oscar nominations are announced next month.

Although I never read the novel -- and don't recall seeing the original film -- this newer version may be less of a straight remake than some would think. Ethan Coen has been quoted as saying the film is a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version: "It's partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie. They lost a lot of humour in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. Another way in which it's a little bit different from the movie — and maybe this is just because of the time the movie was made — is that it's a lot tougher and more violent than the [original] movie reflects." (Source: IGN)

To sum up -- even if you're not usually a fan of Westerns, this film should not be missed. And if you've had trouble with the Coen Brothers' quirky writing and directing in past films, no worries here. There's no confusion as to what happens -- from start to finish. It's just a great American story -- dramatic, funny, touching and adventurous. And you'll witness the making of a new star in Steinfeld. [Rated PG-13; opens later today]


Grade: A-


Notes:

  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews.
  • Coming soon: a review of Gulliver's Travel.

Monday, December 20, 2010

MusicMonday:
Final Freebies of 2010


Where did this year go? Flew by! Today is the last MusicMonday post of the year -- so don't miss out on the final free music of 2010!
  • Are you on Facebook? If so, just head over to Facebook, "like" HobNob and claim your coupon for $5 in free Rhapsody downloads! Click here to get started. Offer expires December 31.
  • While you're at it, 'like" the iTunes Facebook page and get 10 sneak peek tracks from Vans Warped Tour 2011. Click here or image above to get started. Offer expires January 31.
  • Download 16 tracks from SPIN magazine's best of 2010 issue via iTunes here. Offer ends January 31.
  • Like Broadway tunes? Compliments of SHN and iTunes comes a 15-track Broadway music sampler. Click here to download -- and enter this code: BROADWAYINSF. Plenty of time on this offer -- it expires October 31 of next year.
  • thedownplayer.com has downloads of 10 songs --and they swap out the selection often. This week's offerings include a single from Broken Bells! Click here.
  • Finally, one last holiday selection -- from x5music.com comes 10 free Christmas piano songs; click here to download.


Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:

  • In another soft weekend, Disney's 3D Tron: Legacy debuted on top of the domestic box office with a $43.6 million opening. Quite a big leap from the original Tron film -- which opened with $4.8 million on the weekend of July 9, 1982.
  • Warner Bros.' 3D family entry Yogi Bear opened to $16.7 million to finish in second place. The CG/live-action hybrid had been expected to open at $20 million.
  • Coming in #3 was last week's winner -- 20th Century Fox and Walden Media's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It fell 48% to $12.4 million for a new domestic cume of $42.8 million. Overseas, the third Narnia film won the weekend with $29.9 million for a worldwide gross of $166.8 million.
  • At #4, Paramount/Relativity Media's The Fighter grossed $12.2 million as it expanded after opening the weekend before in N.Y. and Los Angeles.
  • Due to mostly poor reviews, Sony's How Do You Know (filmed partially in my neighborhood!) opened to a paltry $7.6 million -- only good for #8.
  • The weekend was down about 3% from the same frame last year.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Black Swan and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter

Friday, December 17, 2010

Movie Review: A Beautifully-Acted Drama


Rabbit Hole


How do you move on after the death of a child? There is no time frame rule for grieving. Nor does everyone grieve in the same way. Eight months after the death of their young son, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) continue to cope with their grief -- but in different ways. Whereas Howie finds solace in re-watching a final video of the boy over and over, Becca needs to strip the house of most reminders. Both find comfort in private platonic relationships -- Becca becomes close with the teenage driver (newcomer Miles Teller) who accidentally hit the boy, while Howie buddies up with a fellow bereavement support group member (Sideways' Sandra Oh). Can Becca and Howie's marriage survive with so much grief and secrecy?

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking in the story-telling here. Sure, it's heartbreaking -- but the movie stands out due to riveting performances by Kidman (Oscar-winner for The Hours) and Eckhart (The Dark Knight). And Oscar-winner Diane Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway) is terrific as Becca's mom -- mourning not only her grandson, but also her own son she lost several years back. Teller, Oh and The Good Shepherd's Tammy Blanchard (who plays Becca's sister) round-out a strong supporting cast.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and written by David Lindsay-Abaire -- an adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. If you can sit through the tough subject matter, the film is worth seeing for some astonishing performances. [Rated PG-13; opens in NY and LA today; wider on Christmas Day; nationwide on January 14]


Grade: B+


Notes:

  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews.
  • Coming soon: a review of True Grit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:

  • Fox's 3D action fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader opened with a disappointing $24.5 million weekend, but still managed to top the domestic box office. With an underwhelming performance, it remains uncertain if Fox will take on a fourth Narnia picture. Disney had previously dumped the family franchise following a disappointing first sequel.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first film in the series, opened with a franchise-best $65.6 million in 2005 -- en route to ring up $291.7 million domestically. The May 2008 sequel, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, debuted with $55 million and collected $141.6 million domestically.
  • The weekend's only other wide opener -- the Sony-distributed action thriller The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp -- earned second place with a debut of just $17 million.
  • The session's top 10 films fetched less than $83 million, roughly matching top performers' contributions in the same frame last year.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Black Swan, Megamind and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie Reviews: One for the Kids, One for Adults


The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The fun falls a bit short in the film adaptation of the third published novel in the C. S. Lewis epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This time around, the two younger Pevensie kids Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are transported back to Narnia along with their annoying younger cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). They join the new King of Narnia, Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his quest to rescue seven lost lords to save Narnia from a corrupting evil that resides on a dark island. Each character is tested as they journey to the home of the great lion Aslan at the far ends of the world.

The core cast is fine as always, but some of the supporting players are not seen as much as they were in the previous installments. Liam Neeson reprises his voice role of Aslan, the great lion and the highest of all the Kings of Narnia. And don't blink or you will miss the cameo returns of Tilda Swinton (I am Love) as the White Witch, and the older Pevensie siblings -- William Moseley as Peter and Anna Popplewell as Susan. Somehow minimizing these roles in the threequel really weakens the ride.

The positives -- it's great to see the kids again as they set off on a new journey -- and some of the special effects are top-notch. But unfortunately, the storytelling is quite simplistic this time around -- and the overall effect is pretty bland. Available in both 2D and 3D formats -- I saw the latter and can say, save your money and go with the standard format. Nothing spectacular happens in 3D. In summation, a minimal nostalgic recommendation from me -- based on continuing a classic story with some interesting characters and the actors who play them. Directed by Michael Apted (Amazing Grace), who has also signed on to do the fourth installment in the series, The Silver Chair. [Rated PG; opens today]


Grade: B-



Black Swan

Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) is back to his wacky ways with the psychological thriller, Black Swan. Natalie Portman (Brothers) is sensational as Nina, who lands the lead in a production of Swan Lake by a New York City ballet company. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother who exerts suffocating control over her. The stress of gaining the role and dealing with more pressure at home has pushed Nina over the edge. Things get even crazier when a new dancer, Lily (the equally great Mina Kunis from Forgetting Sarah Marshall), enters the mix.

The film is beautifully shot and is carried by some of the best acting of the year. But it's also a bit too bizarre for its own good. Nina pushes herself so hard that her stress causes her to be unsure if things she is experiencing are real, psychotic episodes, drug-induced hallucinations or dreams. And you'll be left wondering the same, too.

The excellent supporting cast includes Vincent Cassel (Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen) as the ballet's demanding artistic director and Barbara Hershey (The Portrait of a Lady) as Nina's mother. On the flip side, Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted) is a bit too campy as another dancer forced to retire due to age. The movie is very dark and compelling -- but also difficult to recommend strongly because it's way too over the top for all audiences. [Rated R; opens wider today]


Grade: B+


Notes:
  • Fourteen members of the Pennsylvania Ballet were cast as the corps de ballet in the Black Swan -- backdrop for the main actors' performances. A few were on hand at my screening for Q&A -- and admitted that real ballet life is stressful and drama-filled, but that Nina's character takes her grueling preparation a bit too far.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews, including the highly-recommended 127 Hours.

Monday, December 6, 2010

MusicMonday: December Downloads, New Holiday Tunes


New Holiday Music


I tweeted two new holiday songs over the past few days -- and they're worth repeating here:
  • Coldplay's new holiday single "Christmas Lights" was released last week. Watch the video at www.coldplay.com -- and you can download the song by purchasing it at www.iTunes.com/Coldplay.
  • The Maccabeats, a singing group from Yeshiva University, has huge internet Hanukkah hit with "Candlelight." It's sung to the tune of the pop song "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz -- and it's pretty catchy! Check out the story here -- and the YouTube video here.



Free Downloads

Here is this week's list of free downloads:
  • The music of The Grateful Dead is meant to be shared and enjoyed by everyone. Through December 8, you can download 30 classic live tracks here -- or by clicking the image at right.
  • Not to be outdone, the third volume of Live Bait -- tracks from Phish -- can be downloaded here.
  • To celebrate the release of Joe Purdy's 12th album "This American," you can download this 15-song album for free throughout December here.
  • Finally, Amazon has a free holiday mp3 for download each day through Christmas; download here.


Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:
  • Disney's Tangled, a 3D animated adventure based on the Rapunzel fable, rang up $21.5 million during its second weekend to top the box office.
  • Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1 settled for second place after two frames atop the box office rankings, earning $16.7 million for the weekend -- and now $244.2 million in cumulative box office after three weeks. That puts it comfortably ahead of any of the six previous Potter pictures for a similar span of time.
  • The weekend's only wide opener -- Relativity-distributed martial arts Western The Warrior's Way -- debuted weekly in ninth place with only $3.1 million.
  • Collectively, the top 10 films rang up $75 million, or 14% less than top performers in the same frame last year. That's the third consecutive year-over-year weekend downturn for the holiday box office season, which began the weekend before Thanksgiving.
  • Meanwhile, the weekend went very well for Fox Searchlight's Black Swan. The suspense thriller about ballet dancers directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Black Swan dove into 18 theaters in eight markets and came up roses with $1.4 million for a Searchlight-record $77,459 per venue. It opens wider on Friday.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Megamind and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter

Monday, November 29, 2010

MusicMonday: Cyber Monday Edition


Cyber Monday is all all about finding the best online deals. Well, what is better than FREE?


Free $3 Amazon Code!

First up, how about $3 in free mp3s from Amazon.com? Click here to cash in code GET3MP3S -- offer expires tonight at 11:59pm PT!


Free Holiday Downloads

Here are 28 free holiday tunes:
  • Target has 13 holiday songs -- including one from Guster -- available for download here.
  • American Eagle's 15-track holiday sampler -- including a song from Nada Surf -- can be downloaded at FILTER Magazine's site here.

Non-Holiday Downloads

And here is a list of today's non-holiday downloads:
  • Compliments of SPIN -- 13 tracks from the magazine's December issue -- download here via iTunes before December 31.
  • Download the debut single "Tennessee Me" from The Secret Sisters here.
  • Head to Xbox's Facebook page here to download Nutso's "Jealous."
  • Download the 15-track "it was never about the audience" album from Noise Addict here.
  • Get a free single from singer/actor Billy Burke here.

Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office


Notes:
  • In a close race, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1 remained the #1 movie with $50.3 million over Thanksgiving weekend. The next-to-last movie in the series raised its domestic total to $220.4 million after just 10 days in theaters, according to distributor Warner Bros. The film also has taken in $389.2 million overseas, giving it a worldwide total of $609.6 million.
  • Tangled, a 3D animated adventure based on the Rapunzel fable, was easily the top grosser among the new pictures with a surprisingly strong $49.1 million in second place and a $69 million cume since unspooling Wednesday in the biggest Disney-branded animated debut in years. The film far exceeded industry expectations, delivering the second-biggest Thanksgiving debut ever behind Toy Story 2, which had a $57.4 million opening in 1999.
  • The other Wednesday openers did not fare as well. Sony Screen Gem's musical Burlesque kicked up $11.8 million in fourth place during the weekend for a $17.2 million cume since its midweek bow. Fox's romantic comedy Love and Other Drugs earned $9.9 million in sixth place for the three days and a five-day cume of $14 million. CBS Films' Dwayne Johnson action film Faster snagged $8.6 million in seventh place for a $12.2 million cume.
  • Collectively, the weekend top 10 rung up $170.5 million, or 1% less than top performers in the same frame last year.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Megamind and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter, AP

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Movie Reviews


Four major movies open today as we hit the long holiday weekend. Being extra busy lately, I wasn't able to screen any of the films before their release. But I thought it would be helpful to summarize some key reviews for each. Looks like Tangled is your best bet in a weak bunch.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Burlesque

This newest musical stars Cher and Christina Aguilera. Co-stars Stanley Tucci. [Rated PG-13]

AP = 2 out of 4 stars
Entertainment Weekly = C-
Philadelphia Inquirer = 2.5 out of 4 stars



Faster


Dwayne Johnson stars in this new vengeance flick. Also stars Billy Bob Thornton. [Rated R]

AP = 1 star
Entertainment Weekly = D
Philadelphia Inquirer = 2 stars





Love & Other Drugs


Another raunchy romantic comedy -- this time re-teaming Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Co-stars the late Jill Clayburgh in her final film role.
[Rated R]

AP = 2 stars
Entertainment Weekly = C+
Philadelphia Inquirer = 2.5 stars



Tangled


Disney's 50th animated film is a new spin on the Rapunzel story. Mandy Moore voices the title role, with Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider. [Rated PG]

AP = 2.5 stars
Entertainment Weekly = B
Philadelphia Inquirer = 3 stars

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:
  • The newest Harry Potter film cast his biggest box-office spell yet with a franchise record $125.1 million domestically over opening weekend. In terms of revenue, that puts Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1 ahead of the series' best previous debut of $102.7 million for 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • Factoring in today's higher admission prices, the latest movie had roughly the same size audience as the franchise's best previous draws -- Goblet of Fire and 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which launched the series. Deathly Hallows and those two earlier movies each sold around 16 million tickets in their first weekend.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1 landed at #6 on the domestic revenue chart for biggest opening weekends, a list headed by 2008's The Dark Knight with $158.4 million. It also was this year's second-biggest debut, behind Iron Man 2, which is #5 on the all-time chart with $128.1 million.
  • After two weeks on top, DreamWorks Animation's Megamind fell to #2 with $16.2 million -- and a cumulative total now past the $100 million mark ($109.5 million).
  • Opening pretty weakly for Lionsgate at #5 was the debut of the Russell Crowe drama, The Next Three Days, with $6.8 million.
  • Collectively, top 10 finishers in the the holiday box office season's first frame rung up $185.3 million. That was 25% less than top performers in a comparable frame last year topped by The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Megamind, RED and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter, AP

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Review: An Action Film Like No Other


127 Hours


Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) is in Oscar-form once again with his dramatic telling of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who became trapped by a boulder in Utah for five days back in 2003. By now, we all know the true story of how Ralston ended up amputating his forearm to set himself free. So, it's an amazing feat by Boyle to create an engaging action film where the subject is alone and trapped -- especially one where we already know the ending. Boyle excels in pulling it off -- but there are plenty of accolades to go around.

James Franco (Milk) is excellent as Ralston, the loner who tells no one where he is going before his hike, while packing a bag with only limited supplies. He's pumped up for an exciting solo adventure -- but has some side fun before setting off on his main mission. Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain, Shooter) and Ambler Tamblyn (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) play two pretty hikers Ralston meets before the accident. The short meeting showcases Ralston's captivating energy and fun spirit -- but also highlights his ultimate drive to be one with nature as they part ways.

Then it's on to the accident -- where Franco truly earns the Oscar nomination that lies ahead for him. He's somehow able to believably convey the fear, strength, determination, imagination and gut-wrenching realization that Ralston dealt with during those five days. How Ralston was able to keep his sense of humor intact and his mind sharp enough to rescue himself -- even after severe dehydration, hunger and hallucinations set in -- is nothing short of a miracle.

Boyle proves past success was not fleeting -- as the filmmaker pulls together a great story (he co-wrote with his Slumdog Millionaire Oscar-winning screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy) -- along with superb acting, camera work, film editing and score. Sure, you may have to look away at the critical point in the story, but that's okay -- I did. And it won't diminish the overall effect -- a truly inspirational story of survival. [Rated R; opens wider today and nationwide November 24]


Grade: A-


Notes:

  • Watch a short interview with Aron Ralston here.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DVD Movie Review: A Modern Day Family Dramedy


The Kids Are All Right


Nic and Jules are in a long-term, committed and loving relationship -- raising two teenagers while balancing home and work lives. Like most couples, they're happy -- but things are by no means perfect. Pretty normal. So, what makes this a different story? Well, Nic and Jules just happen to be lesbians. Annette Bening plays Nic, a doctor, primary breadwinner and the stricter parent. Julianne Moore is Jules, the more laid-back stay-at-home mom. With the kids getting older, Jules is trying to get a new business off-the-ground, but that's just one factor adding stress to the relationship.

We learn that each woman had given birth to one of the two kids using the same anonymous sperm donor. As daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) readies to leave for college, her curious younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) asks her to contact the sperm bank in order to meet their biological father. When their father (Zodiac's Mark Ruffalo) enters the family's lives -- not only do the kids have to learn to adjust, but Nic and Jules face an unexpected turn of events that will truly test their relationship.

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) -- and written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg -- the film is an entertaining family dramedy strengthened by stellar acting from a great cast. As usual, Moore (A Single Man) and Ruffalo are terrific -- and so are Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Hutcherson (Journey to the Center of the Earth). If you're going to make a film where younger actors play integral roles, you better nail the casting. And here, the filmmakers did. Bening is especially outstanding -- I honestly had forgotten what a great actress she is -- and without a doubt, she'll gain a well-deserved fourth Oscar nomination (The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia). My only gripe with the film is that part of the story veered off and didn't seem completely believable -- and that's the only reason you won't see a higher grade from me below. Still, a must-see. [Rated R; released on DVD and Blu-ray today]


Grade: B+


Note:
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews of movies in theaters now -- or already released for home viewing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

MusicMonday: November Downloads -- Vol. 2


Free Downloads


Here is this week's free offerings:
  • Nine live tracks from Phish (Live Bait Volume 2) can be downloaded here.
  • Click here for a live Massive Attack set from this past June's Southside Festival in Germany.
  • Download "Bring the Light" from Beady Eye here.
  • Kellee Maize's new single "Hasta Abajo - All The Way Down" here.
  • NoiseTrade offers downloads for free (or pay what you can) -- click here for Sleeperstar's "Just Another Ghost" -- then click the back space on that page for more songs.
  • Here is UTNE Reader's November sampler with 11 free downloads.
  • Is classical music more your stlye? Click here for 24 classical masterpieces from Rise of the Masters.


Holiday Music for Free

Too early for Christmas? Yeah, I hear you -- but why not download these complimentary songs from Amazon.com now -- and save them for later when you're in the holiday mood!
  • The Incredible Singing Christmas Tree -- 16 VeggieTales' tracks -- download here
  • The Karaoke Channel -- Best Traditional Christmas Songs (14 tracks) -- download here
  • Chacra World Music Holiday Sampler (five tracks) -- download here
  • The Very Merry Christmas Sugo Holiday Sampler (five tracks) -- download here
  • Timeless Christmas (six tracks, including two from Neil Sedaka and two from Michael McDonald) -- download here

Many More

Want more free (non-holiday) downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:
  • DreamWorks Animation's Megamind was the #1 movie for the second weekend in a row. The 3D comedy, featuring Will Ferrell as the voice of a super villain, made just over $30 million this weekend -- and now nearly $90 million overall.
  • Opening in second place is the 20th Century Fox action thriller Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as railroad workers trying to stop a massive runaway train. The film made $23.5 million in its debut.
  • Among the weekend's other new releases, Skyline opened in fourth place with $11.7 million. The Universal Pictures sci-fi thriller depicts aliens invading and destroying Los Angeles. And Morning Glory, a Paramount comedy set in a network morning show starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, opened at #5 with about $9.6 million.
  • The top 10 films in the latest frame collected $110.4 million, or 12% less than top performers in the same session in 2009.
  • Coming up -- the home stretch to the box-office year will feature a number of limited-release "prestige pictures" vying for promotional bang from the year-end awards season.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Megamind, RED and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter, AP

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office


Notes:
  • DreamWorks Animation's Megamind debuted as the #1 movie for the weekend with $47.7 million. Distributed in a mix of 2D and 3D locations, 66% of its opening weekend earnings came from 3D screenings.
  • In other debuts, Warner Bros.' Due Date opened at a strong #2 with $33.5 million, while Tyler Perry's drama For Colored Girls premiered solidly for Lionsgate -- in third-place with $20.1 million.
  • Last weekend's champion, Saw 3D, slipped all the way down to #5 with $8.2 million -- down a steep 66 percent from its opening-weekend revenue. Halloween is over -- hello!
  • On an industry-wide basis, the weekend was very strong -- and even set a record for the best first weekend in November (previously $153 million in 2003). Overall revenues came in at $155 million, up 29.5 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when A Christmas Carol led with $30.1 million.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Megamind, Red, Hereafter, The Social Network and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter, AP

Friday, November 5, 2010

Movie Review: A Villain vs. Superhero Story with a Twist


Megamind

The latest animated comedy from DreamWorks Animation is a villain vs. superhero story with a twist -- one where you may end up rooting for the unlikely character. The villain here is the Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), who continuously terrorizes Metro City -- but the city and its people are always rescued by suave superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Megamind and Metro Man are both aliens who were sent to Earth as babies from their respective home planets. On Earth, they've had a long rivalry -- but Megamind always seems to be outwitted by Metro Man. Then during one of Megamind's many hostage plots involving news reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), tragedy strikes -- and it looks like Metro Man is finally out of the picture.

Now freed from his rival's shadow, Megamind proceeds to take control of Metro City. But over time, the big blue-headed villain comes to realize that he no longer has any purpose in life without an enemy. So, he concocts a plan to turn Roxanne's goofy cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) into Metro City's next big superhero, the fiery-headed Titan. But things do not go as planned when power quickly goes to Titan's head. Aided by his fish-like sidekick Minion (David Cross), Megamind must find a way to resolve an even bigger issue -- as Metro City now has two villains and no superheroes.

Written by
Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, the film is directed by Tom McGrath (Madagascar). All borrow plot points from recent animated features -- including Monsters vs. Aliens and Despicable Me -- so, the film isn't as original as it could be. And be forewarned, it's neither a laugh-out riot nor a 3D spectacular (it's ok to see in 2D!). But the animation and strong cast rescue the film's shortcomings. Ferrell (The Other Guys), Fey (Ponyo), Hill (Cyrus) and Cross (Alvin and The Chipmunks) add much liveliness to the tale. Surprisingly, only Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) is a bit flat in his first animated role. [Rated PG; opens today]


Grade: B


Notes:

  • Thanks to AOL, you can watch the first five minutes of the film -- with an introduction by Will Ferrell -- here. The opening serves as a great back-story that sets the stage well.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Day of November = Free Movie Rental Codes!


Brrrrrrrr -- it was the coldest morning here in the past eight months! Unless you're lucky to live in a warm climate, I am sure you're experiencing much of the same. It's time to spend more time inside -- with a free movie night! So, here is the latest list of Redbox and Blockbuster Express codes.

Just a reminder: these codes listed below can only be used once per account.


Redbox


Did you know:
  • If you create a new redbox.com account, your second online rental is on them! Details here.
  • Join the Redbox text club and get a promo code good for a free rental on the first Monday of every month (the code is sent to your cell phone -- and is good only for you!). Learn more here.
  • Blu-ray discs are now available at a Redbox kiosk near you. At my local location, DVDs are still $1 and Blu-ray discs are $1.50. Check here to see if Blu-ray rentals are available near you.
  • Finally, Redbox has a great new contest -- you could win free rentals for a year! Enter the contest here.

Below are free movie rental codes for use at Redbox kiosks:
  • DVDATWAG - expiration unknown; Walgreen's only
  • DVDKROG - expiration unknown; Kroger's only
  • DRIVEIN - expiration unknown; Sonic only
  • CHANCEMONOP - McDonald's only; Redbox and McDonald's have partnered to give away 1 million FREE Redbox rentals; this code will expire after it has been used 1 million times
  • DVDONME - no expiration
  • BREAKROOM - no expiration
  • Click here to find a Redbox kiosk near you.

Blockbuster

Below are free movie rental codes for use at Blockbuster Express kiosks:
  • 1MNDY - valid today only
  • G718A - expiration unknown
  • Click here to find a Blockbuster kiosk near you.

MusicMonday: New Month, New Free Mp3s!


Wow -- it's November already! Let's kick off the month with some free music!

First up, Amazon.com recently offered a promotional code to some members -- and it has spread around the Internet. It's definitely worth trying out before it expires today! Enter the code STUDENT3 at check-out to redeem a $3 credit. Amazon MP3 music downloads are available to customers located in (and with billing addresses in) one of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia only. Taxes apply in some states. The promotion code must be used by 11:59 PT tonight! So get shopping here!


And here are this week's
free downloads:
  • To celebrate three decades of Bad Religion, the band recorded a live album during its spring 2010 tour -- and are offering it as a free "thank you" to loyal fans. Download it here by joining the band's mailing list.
  • Meanwhile, SPIN Magazine has compiled a 10-track mixed tape of top acts covering Bad Religion. Included in the tribute are Switchfoot and Tegan and Sara. Download "Germs of Perfection: A Tribute to Bad Religion" here.
  • Compliments of Adult Swim -- three big albums! Download 16 metal tracks here, 9 softer singles here and 17 ATL RMX remixes here.
  • Incubus has a section on their site with free downloads of many of their biggest hits. Click here.
  • And finally, the new War Tapes 5-track EP "Fever Changing" is available here. You can name your price.

Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:

  • On this Halloween weekend, horror fans flocked to Lionsgate's seventh and final chapter in its lucrative slasher franchise, as Saw 3D earned an estimated $24.2 million.
  • Saw 3D boasted more than 2,100 3D locations among 2,808 total engagements -- with 3D venues contributing 92% of its weekend gross.
  • The solid tally for Saw 3D was still well short of a franchise record -- in fact, it had the third lowest opening in the series. Saw III bowed with a series-best $33.6 million in 2006 on the way to $80.3 million in U.S. and Canadian coin. The franchise's top domestic run came a year earlier, when Saw II fetched $87 million following a $31 million opening. But this year was a step up from last, when Saw VI opened with a disappointing $14.1 million and rang up only $27.9 million overall domestically.
  • Last weekend's champion, Paranormal Activity 2, slipped to #2 with $16.5 million -- taking the 10-day haul for Paramount Pictures' scary movie sequel to $65.7 million.
  • On an industry-wide basis, the weekend was strong. Top 10 finishers rung up a collective $83.8 million, or 13% more than top performers in the same frame last year.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Red, Hereafter, The Social Network, The Town, Conviction and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Hollywood Reporter, Reuters

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Schedule for Animated Halloween Specials


Halloween is this Sunday -- and most of the big networks (except CBS) are getting in on the fun. Here is the schedule of animated specials celebrating the holiday.


Thursday, October 28

8pm ET on ABC --

It's the Great Pumpkin,
Charlie Brown
  • The third prime time animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz.
  • Debuted on CBS on October 27, 1966 -- following the CBS premieres of A Charlie Brown Christmas (December 9, 1965) and Charlie Brown's All-Stars (June 8, 1966).
  • It just never gets old watching poor Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for The Great Pumpkin! And hearing Charlie Brown's repeated infamous line while trick-or-treating!
  • Stick around to watch Linus run for office in You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown -- which originally aired on CBS on October 29, 1972.
8pm ET on NBC -- Scared Shrekless
  • All-new special featuring film star, Shrek -- the second spin-off from the movie series which started in 2001 (the Christmas special Shrek the Halls debuted on ABC on November 28, 2007).
  • Halloween is Shrek's favorite holiday, and this year he’s planning a night of frights -- as he challenges Fiona, Donkey, Puss in Boots and the other fairy tale characters to spend the night in Lord Farquaad’s haunted castle telling scary stories. The last one to be scared "Shrekless" will win.


Friday, October 29


8pm ET on ABC -- It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
  • ABC is re-airing the classic one night later -- with You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown following once again at 8:30pm ET.


Saturday, October 30

8pm ET on NBC -- Scared Shrekless

8:30pm ET on NBC --
Monsters vs. Aliens:
Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space

  • NBC kicks off the night by repeating the new Shrek special.
  • Next up is the new-ish special starring the cast of the 2009 hit film, Monsters vs. Aliens.
  • The Monsters vs. Aliens special premiered on NBC on October 28, 2009.
  • Susan (aka Ginormica) and the Monsters must stop mutant aliens disguised as innocent-looking Halloween jack-o-lanterns from implementing their fiendish plan to take over Earth.

Sunday, November 7

8pm ET on FOX -- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXI

  • Due to the MLB World Series, the annual Simpsons Halloween special is delayed a week.
  • It's the 22nd season of The Simpsons -- and even if you no longer watch, you have to tune in for the annual Halloween special!
  • The 21st "Treehouse of Horror" episode -- like the others before -- will consist of three self-contained segments. Guest stars include Hugh Laurie and Daniel Radcliffe.
  • Tale #1 -- "War and Pieces" -- Marge, worried about the effects of excessively violent video games, encourages Bart and Milhouse to give wholesome, classic board games a shot. The best friends discover that board games are not boring after all when they find themselves playing a real-life game in which they must beat all the challenges before they are allowed to return to home. Think Jumanji!
  • Tale #2 -- "Tweenlight" -- Twilight fans are in for a real treat as Lisa becomes smitten with a mysterious new student, Edmund (Daniel Radcliffe), who also happens to be a vampire. When a romance blossoms, the young lovers run away to Dracula-la Land, leaving Homer to come to Lisa's rescue.
  • Tale #3 -- "Master and Cadaver" -- Homer and Marge set sail on a romantic second honeymoon, but are interrupted when they rescue Roger (Hugh Laurie), a castaway who escaped an attempted poisoning on his ship. Convinced that Roger is sabotaging their getaway and plotting a murder of his own, Homer and Marge take matters into their own hands.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office



Notes:

  • Doing better than experts predicted, Paramount's Paranormal Activity 2 topped the domestic box office this weekend with an estimated $41.5 million -- the best debut ever by a horror film.
  • Paranormal Activity 2 opened in 3,216 locations and earned more during its first weekend than its predecessor rang up in its first four weeks. The prequel also wiped from the record books a $40.6 million bow by 2009 horror pic Friday the 13th.
  • The original Paranormal Activity opened in September 2009 with $77,873 from just 12 theaters, part of a low-profile launch prior to the micro-budgeted original's wide expansion. A year ago this past weekend, the film topped domestic rankings with a $21 million session en route to an eventual $107.9 million domestic haul.
  • Paramount also had the #2 movie with the stunt comedy Jackass 3D, which opened in first place last weekend. Jackass 3D pulled in $21.6 million, down sharply from its $50 million opening. But the movie raised its 10-day total to $87.1 million, more than either of the earlier two "Jackass" movies took in during their entire runs.
  • After opening Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon's Hereafter in limited release a week earlier, Warner Bros. expanded the supernatural drama nationwide, and the film came in at #4 with $12 million. That slightly exceeded the studio's expectations, yet like most Eastwood dramas, it was a modest start. His films play to older adults who do not rush out on opening weekend in the same numbers as young crowds.
  • Year-to-date revenues are at $8.65 billion at the end of the weekend and are running 3.36% ahead of last year (thanks to higher ticket prices). Attendance is still lagging by 2.15%. Fall-to-date box office tells a somewhat depressing story with revenues off by 6% vs. last year and attendance running 11% behind last season.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of Hereafter, Red, The Social Network, The Town and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources: Hollywood.com, Reuters, AP

Friday, October 22, 2010

Movie Review: The Latest from Clint Eastwood


Hereafter


Invictus director Clint Eastwood and star Matt Damon re-team in the new drama, Hereafter. The film tells separate parallel stories about three individuals greatly affected by struggles with mortality -- and their beliefs in the afterlife. Damon plays American factory worker George, who is able to communicate with the dead, but finds it a curse rather than a gift. In another story, C├ęcile de France plays French television journalist Marie, who is haunted by her near-death experience after barely surviving the 2004 tsunami. Finally, newcomers Frankie and George McLaren play Marcus, a London boy who loses the person closest to him -- leaving him extremely lonely and longing for answers. As has been done in previous films in this style (yep, no longer original), all three stories and characters eventually converge.

The film has an extremely powerful opening showcasing Marie's survival. The special effects will pull you right into that horrific tsunami -- and the story. However, from that point on, the pacing of the film slows down significantly -- and at times, nearly stalls. And although it has a thought-provoking premise, and all three leads deliver strong performances, the conclusion seems a bit hokey and a tad unsatisfying. Still, Eastwood is a master director and the film is beautifully shot. Also stars the radiant Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) and the miscast Jay Mohr (better suited for comedies). Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), with original music by Eastwood. It's not as strong as Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby or Gran Torino, but still worth seeing. [Rated PG-13; opens nationwide today]


Grade: B


Notes:

  • Conviction opens wider today. Click here to read my review -- and to see an interview with star Sam Rockwell and director Tony Goldwyn.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Remembering Two Sitcom Legends


In the past week, we lost two TV legends -- actress Barbara Billingsley and actor Tom Bosley. Billingsley, 94, starred as the mom on "Leave it to Beaver" (1957 - 1963) and Bosley, 83, starred as the dad on "Happy Days" (1974 - 1984). Both shows were set in the same time -- the mid-1950s to mid-1960s. A time when almost all the mothers were homemakers, and the fathers always had the right answers. Ah -- a simpler time.

I found it interesting that photos released this week for both stars were quite similar! Check it out. And RIP to them both.


Photo captions/credits:


Right: TV's Cleaver family decorates their first Christmas tree, December 1957. From left, Hugh Beaumont, Jerry Mathers, Billingsley and Tony Dow (compliments of CBS; photo appeared on the Los Angeles Times Website).

Bottom: TV's Cunningham family decorates their first Christmas tree, December 1974. From left, Ron Howard, Bosley, Erin Moran, Randolph Roberts and Marion Ross (compliments of ABC, via Photofest; photo appeared on The New York Times Website)


Note: Although no date (or caption) was given for the "Happy Days" photo -- a keen eye will see that this image has to be 1974. How so? Well look who's in there -- the infamous older brother Chuck! The basketball-playing college student went to practice one day and never came back (during season 2).

The series debuted in January 1974 -- so, this photo has to be from December 1974 -- or season 2 -- which included the show's first Christmas episode. Randolph Roberts was actually the second actor to play the part. Gavan O'Herlihy originated the role in the first season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

MusicMonday: More Free Downloads


Here is this week's round-up of free downloads:
  • Compliments of People Magazine and iTunes comes a 10-track country sampler here. Artists (left) include The Charlie Daniels Band and Chelsea Field. Offer expires November 15.

  • The CMJ Music Marathon first started in 1980 with a modest amount of artists taking part in week-long festivities. The New York festival officially turns 30 this year, and the CMJ will have more than 1,000 artists performing throughout NYC tomorrow through Saturday. Spinner has compiled a list of over 50 free mp3 downloads of artists performing at CMJ 2010 here. And click here to learn more about the music marathon (and the accompanying film festival).

  • This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martens -- and you can now download the DM50 Album containing all 10 tracks that helped the company celebrate its milestone. Plus, they continually offer other free songs from a variety of artists. Click here for the current selections.

  • Download Far East Movement's single "Don't Look Now" (featuring Keri Hilson) on iTunes here.


Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.