In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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The 2012 Producer's Guild of America Awards are approaching, celebrating both Theatrical Motion Pictures and Long-Form Television with a new batch of nominees that the PGA has just released. Many of the films are no surprise—crossovers with the upcoming Golden Globes nominees abound. For theatrical motion picture include The Artist, The Descendants and Midnight in Paris; nominees for animated theatrical motion picture include Rango and The Adventures of Tintin.
The television nominees also offer some unsurprising names, including Mildred Pierce, Downton Abbey, Parks and Recreation, Boardwalk Empire,Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Colbert Report.
Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Producers: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green
Producers: Graham King, Martin Scorsese
THE IDES OF MARCH
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
Producers: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Producers: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
Producer: Denise Ream
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Producer: Melissa Cobb
PUSS IN BOOTS
Producers: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou
Producers: John B. Carls, Gore Verbinski
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Producers: Michael Rapaport, Edward Parks (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Producer: Philip Gefter
Producer: Simon Chinn
Producer: James Gay-Rees
Producers: Cameron Crowe, Michelle Panek
The David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in Long-Form Television (Movies of the Week and Miniseries)
CINEMA VERITE (HBO)
Producers: Zanne Devine, Karyn McCarthy
DOWNTON ABBEY (Masterpiece) (PBS)
Producers: Julian Fellowes, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame
THE KENNEDYS (ReelzChannel)
Producers: Jon Cassar, Jonathan Koch, Stephen Kronish, Steve Michaels, Michael Prupas, Jamie Paul Rock, Joel Surnow
MILDRED PIERCE (HBO)
Producers: Todd Haynes, Pamela Koffler, Ilene S. Landress, Christine Vachon
TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO)
Producers: Carol Fenelon, Jeffrey Levine, Paula Weinstein
The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:
30 ROCK (NBC)
Producers: Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Marci Klein, Jerry Kupfer, Lorne Michaels, David Miner, Jeff Richmond, John Riggi, Don Scardino
THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS)
Producers: Chuck Lorre, Steve Molaro, Faye Oshima, Bill Prady
Producers: Ian Brennan, Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, Kenneth Silverstein
MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
Producers: Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Jeffrey Richman, Dan O’Shannon, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker
PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC)
Producers: Greg Daniels, Dan Goor, Howard Klein, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett, Michael Schur
The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
Producers: Eugene Kelly, Howard Korder, Stephen Levinson, Martin Scorsese, Rudd Simmons, Tim Van Patten, Terence Winter
Producers: Sara Colleton, John Goldwyn, Chip Johannessen, Robert Lloyd Lewis
GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
Producers: David Benioff, Frank Doelger, Mark Huffam, Carolyn Strauss, D.B. Weiss
THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)
Producers: Brooke Kennedy, Michelle King, Robert King, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David W. Zucker
MAD MEN (AMC)
Producers: Jonathan Abrahams, Scott Hornbacher, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Blake McCormick, Dwayne Shattuck, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television
THE COLBERT REPORT (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen T. Colbert, Richard Dahm, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW (Syndicated)
Producers: Mary Connelly, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Geiger Schrift, Ed Glavin, Andy Lassner, Kevin A. Leman II, Jonathan Norman, Derek Westervelt
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER (HBO)
Producers: Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, Dean Johnsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)
Producers: Ken Aymong, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney
THE 64TH ANNUAL TONY AWARDS (CBS)
Producers: Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television
THE AMAZING RACE (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
AMERICAN IDOL (FOX)
Producers: Charles Boyd, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller, Patrick Lynn, Nigel Lythgoe, Megan Michaels, Ken Warwick
DANCING WITH THE STARS (ABC)
Producers: Ashley Edens Shaffer, Conrad Green, Joe Sungkur, Rob Wade
PROJECT RUNWAY (Lifetime)
Producers: Jane Cha Cutler, Desiree Gruber, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Jonathan Murray, Sara Rea, Colleen Sands
TOP CHEF (Bravo)
Producers: Daniel Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Dan Murphy, Nan Strait
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
Producers: John Dahl, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons
AMERICAN MASTERS (PBS)
Producers: Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS (Travel Channel)
Producers: Christopher Collins, Julie Lei, Lydia Tenaglia, Tom Vitale
DEADLIEST CATCH (Discovery Channel)
Producers: Thom Beers, Jeff Conroy, John Gray, Sheila McCormack, Ethan Prochnik, Bill Pruitt, Matt Renner
UNDERCOVER BOSS (CBS)
Producers: Chris Carlson, Susan Hoenig, Eli Holzman, Sandi Johnson, Stephen Lambert, Allison Schermerhorn
ANDERSON COOPER 360º (CNN)
BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA (BBC)
NBC NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC)
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW (MSNBC)
60 MINUTES (CBS)
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (ESPN)
REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL (HBO)
SPORTS CENTER (ESPN)
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
2010 FIFA WORLD CUP (ABC / ESPN / ESPN2)
U.S. OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP (CBS / ESPN2 / Tennis Channel)
DORA THE EXPLORER (Nickelodeon)
PHINEAS AND FERB (Disney Channel)
SESAME STREET (PBS)
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (Nickelodeon)
ASK A NINJA (blip.tv)
THE GUILD (WatchTheGuild.com)
PARKS AND RECREATION PRESENTS: "APRIL AND ANDY'S ROAD TRIP" (NBC.com)
30 ROCK PRESENTS JACK DONAGHY, EXECUTIVE SUPERHERO (NBC.com)
WEB THERAPY (LStudio.com)
*These programs were not vetted for producer eligibility this year but winners in these categories will be announced at the official ceremony on January 21st.
Source: Producer's Guild
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.