Friday, December 17, 2010

Movie Openings: Week of December 17th, 2010 - The TRON Juggernaut

I hate to say it but here comes the "Tron" juggernaut. With Disney's massive PR machine in full swing, there is no hiding from the so-called "movie event" of the year. Just like some of the big blockbuster movies already released this year, people will be going en masse to watch this film no matter what critics say. Bad or not, it looks so cool, so neon blue and oh so shiny. How can one resist?

However, before we get to the new movie releases for this week, let me first talk about the just-announced nominees for the upcoming 2011 Golden Globe Awards, which is sort of a weathervane and a pre-cursor to the more prestigious Oscars. Voted by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Golden Globes encompass awards for both television and movies. Here are some of the highlights of the movie categories:

Best Motion Picture - Drama: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The King's Speech," "The Social Network"
Best Actress - Drama: Halle Berry "Frankie and Alice," Nicole Kidman "Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence "Winter's Bone," Natalie Portman "Black Swan," Michelle Williams "Blue Valentine"
Best Actor - Drama: Jesse Eisenberg "The Social Network," Colin Firth "The King's Speech," James Franco "127 Hours," Ryan Gosling "Blue Valentine," Mark Wahlberg "The Fighter"
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky "Black Swan," David Fincher "The Social Network," Tom Hooper "The King's Speech," Christopher Nolan "Inception," David O. Russell "The Fighter"

As you can see, most the award nominees are dominated by a select group of movies and this trend should continue as we move into Oscar season. OK, enough of that. Now let's get on with this week's movie releases, shall we?

In 1982, a little-known sci-fi movie, bankrolled by Disney Studios (everyone else turned it down), made its debut and featured some amazing (then) state-of-the-art special effects that combined blocky computer animation with live action elements. The film was Tron and it turned out to be a moderate success, grossing over $30 million on a $17 million budget. But the legacy of Steven Lisberger's (the director and writer of the film) visionary creation is more far reaching than what its modest (by today's standards, of course) financials can tell us. Tron heralded the arrival of computer-generated animation use in movies, which is now standard operating procedure in today's moviemaking world. Using primitive computers with tortuously limited memory capacity, Lisberger and his team were able to pull off some amazing effects (the lightcycle sequence is a prime example) that completely astonished the audience and critics alike. So it seems appropriate that Disney titled Tron's sequel "Tron: Legacy," as the original pretty much pioneered the use of CGI in movies and we are all now living within the legacy of that vision.

"Tron: Legacy," finally making its debut 28 years after the original was released, is a direct sequel to Tron, with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn and his new avatar Clu 2. Even Bruce Boxleitner makes an appearance here, reprising his role of Alan Bradley and his avatar, Tron. Sadly, after all the media hoopla and fan anticipation, critics are not too impressed by the story as they are by all the stunning visuals. "Tron: Legacy" is just scoring a poor 49% rating so far on Rotten Tomatoes. But do we really think that is somehow going to hamper its box-office business? Hardly. Oh, and it's also in 3-D as well (remember what that did for Avatar?). While the movie itself may not be that good, the soundtrack, written and performed by French electronica duo Daft Punk, is an excellent album (read my brief review). Here is the synopsis for "Tron: Legacy":

“TRON: Legacy” is a 3D high-tech adventure set in a digital world that’s unlike anything ever captured on the big screen. Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), a rebellious 27-year-old, is haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his father Kevin Flynn (Oscar®- and Golden Globe®-winner Jeff Bridges), a man once known as the world’s leading video-game developer. When Sam investigates a strange signal sent from the old Flynn’s Arcade—a signal that could only come from his father—he finds himself pulled into a digital world where Kevin has been trapped for 20 years. With the help of the fearless warrior Quorra (Olivia Wilde), father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe—a universe created by Kevin himself that has become far more advanced with never-before-imagined vehicles, weapons, landscapes and a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing to prevent their escape."

Yogi Bear and Boo Boo are like bears and pic-a-nic baskets, one just loves the other so much and one can't go without the other. That's just too bad because in this big-screen debut of the beloved Saturday morning cartoon, Yogi and Boo Boo seem like they would rather be somewhere else. "Yogi Bear" is a comedy made totally for the 5 and under crowd and everyone else need not apply. A creative mix of computer animation and live action, "Yogi Bear" brings our favorite Jellystone Park dwellers to life like never before. Problem is, it is all wasted on lame jokes and potty humor, which leads me to ponder, is this movie even necessary in the first place? I'm sorry Yogi, you should have just stuck to cartoons. At a paltry 17% rating on RT and dropping, "Yogi Bear" is a big boo-boo for sure. Here is the lame synopsis:

"Everyone's favorite pic-a-nic basket-stealing bear comes to the big screen in "Yogi Bear." Jellystone Park has been losing business, so greedy Mayor Brown decides to shut it down and sell the land. That means families will no longer be able to experience the natural beauty of the outdoors -- and, even worse, Yogi and Boo Boo will be tossed out of the only home they've ever known. Faced with his biggest challenge ever, Yogi must prove that he really is "smarter than the average bear" as he and Boo Boo join forces with their old nemesis Ranger Smith to find a way to save Jellystone Park from closing forever."

Nicole Kidman has just received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama for her portrayal of Becca Corbett, a grieving mother, whom, together with her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are dealing with a recent personal loss in different ways. This is a intimate portrait of a family as they try to go about their daily existence while trying to hold on to memories and hope. "Rabbit Hole" is adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title by David Lindsay-Abaire and is currently holding steady to an impressive 83% rating on RT. Here is the synopsis:

"Becca and Howie Corbett (NICOLE KIDMAN and AARON ECKHART) are returning to their everyday existence in the wake of a shocking, sudden loss. Just eight months ago, they were a happy suburban family with everything they wanted. Now, they are caught in a maze of memory, longing, guilt, recrimination, sarcasm and tightly controlled rage from which they cannot escape. While Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie finds comfort.

The shifts come in abrupt, unforeseen moments. Becca hesitantly opens up to her opinionated, loving mother (DIANNE WIEST) and secretly reaches out to the teenager involved in the accident that changed everything (MILES TELLER); while Howie lashes out and imagines solace with another woman (SANDRA OH). Yet, as off track as they are, the couple keeps trying to find their way back to a life that still holds the potential for beauty, laughter and happiness. The resulting journey is an intimate glimpse into two people learning to re-engage with each other and a world that has been tilted off its axis. "

Next up is "How Do You Know," a romance-comedy directed by James L. Brooks and stars Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. The story is basically based on the titular question, "How do you know?" and is a love triangle story that centers on Lisa (Witherspoon), a softball player, Matty (Wilson), a narcissistic major league pitcher and George (Rudd), a businessman who is accused of a crime he did not commit. "How Do You Know" is turning out to be one of those run-of-the-mill rom-coms that is a great rental when it comes out on Blu-ray or a safe date night movie. Right now, its RT rating is hovering around 35%, which makes it a so-so recommendation. Here is the synopsis:

"Lisa's athletic ability is the defining passion of her life, having been her focus since early childhood. When she is cut from her team, everything she has ever known is suddenly taken from her. George is a straight-arrow businessman who is accused of a financial crime, even though he's done nothing wrong. Although he may be headed to jail, George's honesty, integrity, and unceasing optimism may be his only path to keeping his sanity. George and Lisa meet on the worst day of each of their lives: she has just been cut, and he has just been served. When everything else seems to be falling apart, they will discover what it means to have something wonderful happen."

Remember super lobbyist Jack Abramoff when he was in the headlines a few years back? Well, Jack's back. No, no, he's not out of jail yet but a movie about him is. "Casino Jack" is a biopic about the rise and fall of Abramoff and it stars Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as the powerful lobbyist, who also dabbled with organized crime to get what he wants. This movie is currently holding a 47% rating on RT and should only interest people with a penchant for biopics and for those who like to look behind the scenes at how Washington D.C. actually works. Here is the synopsis:

"Two-time Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey gives the performance of a lifetime in CASINO JACK, a riotous new film starring Spacey as a man hell bent on acquiring all that the good life has to offer. He plays in the same game as the highest of rollers and resorts to awe-inspiring levels of conning, scheming and fraudulent antics to get what he wants. Inspired by true events that are too over-the-top for even the wildest imaginations to conjure, CASINO JACK lays bare the wild excesses and escapades of Jack Abramoff. Aided by his business partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Jack parlays his clout over some of the world's most powerful men with the goal of creating a personal empire of wealth and influence. When the two enlist a mob-connected buddy (Jon Lovitz) to help with one of their illegal schemes, they soon find themselves in over their heads, entrenched in a world of mafia assassins, murder and a scandal that spins so out of control that it makes worldwide headlines. Directed by George Hickenlooper (FACTORY GIRL, THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS), CASINO JACK returns Spacey to the type of role that made him famous - a cool-headed, articulate snake charmer whose wild ambitions knows no limits or boundaries. "

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