"Sucker Punch" is a failure, but a spectacular one

Posted by Sean Stangland on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 16:19

I believe a very good version of "Sucker Punch" exists. It is not the version now playing in theaters, unfortunately.

Director Zack Snyder's outlandish, fetishistic action epic is the latest entry in an increasingly popular sub-genre: the movie that is metaphorically about movies. Like "Inception" and "TRON: Legacy," it operates on multiple levels of "reality" and relies heavily on the audience's sense of nostalgia. If "Inception" is this pseudo-genre's masterpiece, "Sucker Punch" is its noble failure.

On the surface, "Sucker Punch" can be seen as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for teenage girls, a wet dream for fanboys, or both.

'House' suffers from erratic behavior

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 03/08/2011 - 14:53

Any television show in its seventh season, no matter how popular, runs the risk of becoming stale. For many, the "House, M.D." formula got crusty years ago: Someone suffers some horrible malady in the teaser, Dr. House and his diagnostic team assess the case in Act 1, House (Hugh Laurie) does something hilariously nasty to Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and/or Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) in Act 2, the patient takes a turn for the worse in Act 3, a member of House's team threatens to quit in Act 4, and House has a life-saving epiphany in Act 5. In the epilogue, the characters' personal drama is either resolved, or some drastic measure is taken and will likely be canceled out or completely forgotten one or two episodes later.

Reading that paragraph, you could reasonably assume that I have grown tired of David Shore's popular medical mystery -- but you would be wrong. This seventh season has been my favorite since the game-changing fourth, in which House hosted a "Survivor"-style competition for doctors who wanted to work with him. This current season is not as innovative or surprising, but has, at times, perfected the formula that made "House" a worldwide phenomenon, and tweaking it by finally putting House and Cuddy together.

So what happened last night?

Miley puts 'SNL' back on the radar

Posted by Sean Stangland on Sun, 03/06/2011 - 06:42

"Saturday Night Live" was, is, and always will be a show of peaks and valleys. The trolls would say it has been in a valley for years, but any faithful fan will tell you "SNL" has always been a hit-or-miss proposition. No "SNL" cast -- not even the revered Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Players led by Belushi and Aykroyd -- has delivered a perfect show.

Last night's show with host Miley Cyrus certainly wasn't perfect, but it was the best installment of this 36th season, one that has been starving for buzzworthy moments. In this year without a presidential election to lean on, only Bill Hader's Stefon -- a coked-up club kid prone to "laughing fits" -- has snuck into the larger pop culture picture. (And only barely.)

Who is America's best filmmaker?

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 02/28/2011 - 18:12

Answering that question used to be easy. You could say Spielberg or Scorsese, and no one would put up much of a fight. But the reputations of both men have flagged in recent years (fairly or not), and choosing the heir to the throne is difficult when you consider the talents we've seen flourish in the past decade or so. Some may be tempted to name James Cameron, but his output is infrequent -- and he's Canadian, to boot. (Christopher Nolan would be an even better choice were he not British.)

I ponder this question now because many of those in running for the title played a big role in this past awards season -- and even did decent box office. "The Social Network," "True Grit" and "Black Swan" are all worthy additions to their directors' careers, giving hope to those of us who value stylish, smart filmmaking as much as we value solid scripts and great acting.

Here are the top candidates, alphabetically:

Yeah, it really was that bad.

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 02/28/2011 - 11:29

No less an authority on film, comedy, life and love than Roger Ebert called last night's Academy Awards telecast the worst he had ever seen. Who am I to argue?

The reasons for last night's failure were many and varied. To wit:

  • Anne Hathaway and James Franco were a terrible match. She was bright and enthusiastic, he was clearly stoned out of his mind. The pretaped segment that began the show offered glimmers of hope, but those hopes were dashed the moment they hit the stage together. No one can fault Hathaway, who dialed her energy over the top once she realized her co-host was a dead fish. Her appearances on "SNL" prove Hathway has some comedic chops, but it's hard to score with the audience when your teammate has decided to stay on the bench.

Roll out the red carpet

Posted by Sean Stangland on Sun, 02/27/2011 - 00:43
The Academy Awards telecast will begin in a matter of hours, and while it will certainly be the most-watched program of the week, I get the feeling that almost no one is actually excited about it. The novelty of watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco host the show will wear off as soon as the first award is presented, leaving us only to wonder who will win the best supporting actress trophy. (Every other major award is a lock, if you ask me.) Everyone complains about the Oscars every year, but I hardly think it's the Academy's fault that the awards themselves seem so anti-climactic -- the Internet is responsible for that.

The Wolfpack is back

Posted by Sean Stangland on Fri, 02/25/2011 - 10:42

The first teaser trailer for this summer's "The Hangover Part II" has arrived (click here to watch), and it doesn't reveal too much about the film aside from the presence of a monkey, a new haircut for Zach Galifianakis and some beautiful additions to Ed Helms' face.

Hopefully the subsequent trailers leading up to the film's Memorial Day release follow suit. The trailer for the original "Hangover" gave away too many of the film's big laughs; had I not seen the ads, the morning-after scene of discovery might have been the funniest sequence ever filmed ... but I already knew about the tiger, the baby, the missing tooth and so on.

Who's the boss? Boston Rob

Posted by Sean Stangland on Thu, 02/24/2011 - 04:54

For the majority of TV viewers, Wednesday night belongs to Fox and "American Idol," and many of you saw Wheeling High School's own Haley Reinhart sing her way to Hollywood's Top 24 last night. Reinhart has a chance to be the Northwest suburbs' second "Idol" hero in as many years, joining Lee DeWyze on the path to (ever-changing levels of) fame.

But I'm much more interested in the villains a few channels away.

"American Idol" may be the most popular show in the era of reality television, but "Survivor" was the first -- and is once again the best, thanks to the return of "Boston Rob" Mariano, the crafty, wisecracking contestant who is probably the smartest player to never win the million-dollar prize. Two episodes into this season, dubbed "Survivor: Redemption Island," Mariano has masterfully manipulated his Ometepe tribemates, pulling off what host Jeff Probst described as "a vicious blindside" at last night's Tribal Council.

Oscar snubs Nolan, Moore and more

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 01/25/2011 - 18:38

The Oscar nominations are here, and predictability wins the day once again. The stage is set for a showdown between "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech," but I hold out hope that the late voting period and general awards-season fatigue could lead to a best-picture win for the Coens' surprise blockbuster, "True Grit." (Nevermind that "The Social Network" is clearly the superior film.) Here's my take on Hollywood's yearly ode to itself:

An open letter to the Academy

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 01/03/2011 - 18:30

The Oscar ballots have been mailed, and even with a field of ten best picture nominees, the annual ceremony already seems oh-so-predictable. Most prognosticators agree that there are only 11 films with a legitimate shot at making the cut; the only question seems to be whether Ben Affleck's "The Town" or Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" gets the tenth spot. The other nine are slam dunks: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone."

Though it seems that Hollywood's collective mind has already been made up, there are plenty of forgotten and overlooked efforts deserving of a nomination. For your consideration, I offer the following Oscar candidates: