Piper's promising (paid) program

Posted by Sean Stangland on Wed, 07/14/2010 - 05:42

In 2000, some pegged Piper Perabo as The Next Big Thing In Movies when the unknown actress landed the lead role in Jerry Bruckheimer's "Coyote Ugly." Ten years and many flops later, Perabo just might be The Next Big Thing On Television -- assuming USA's new spy dramedy "Covert Affairs" lives up to its potential.

Last night's premiere seems to have everything going for it. Produced by "Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman, this lighter variation on "Alias" is a natural fit among USA's stable of breezy crime shows. It surrounds a sexy star with familiar, sexy faces in a bright, glossy environment. (Seriously, the photography in "Burn Notice," "Royal Pains" and "White Collar" borders on blinding.) "Covert Affairs" doesn't do anything particularly original, but it does its genre proud.

31 Years at the Movies, Part 6

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 06/28/2010 - 21:41

I started (and abandoned) a series last year called "30 Years at the Movies." I wrote five of them, which you'll find links to at the bottom of this entry. I also started (and abandoned) a second blog that ultimately proved to be unnecessary; I should have posted all that stuff right here.

So I'm reviving and renaming that occasional series of essays on films important to me, and I'm doing it with an updated version of something I wrote for that other blog. (You'll notice my profile to the right insists I am 29 years old, but I assure you I am 31. I've been asking the webmaster to update that thing for months.) Today's entry is about the much-maligned film I consider to be the best of the past decade. Here goes.

• • •

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg
Released June 21, 2001

Stanley Kubrick died March 7, 1999, just four months before his final directorial effort, "Eyes Wide Shut," was released to theaters. He didn't live to see the 21st century and, consequently, the year 2001, which is an awful shame. Kubrick's work often seemed ahead of its time, even when it was telling stories about the present.

5 vampire movies you should rent

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 06/28/2010 - 17:16

Fret not, Twi-hards. None of these are Dracula stories, and none of them are (completely) in black-and-white. But they are all quirky and/or artful vampire flicks that you should consider adding to your Netflix list after you're done freaking out over "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." I probably won't be joining you at the theater this week, because I haven't even seen "New Moon" yet, but I did enjoy the original film even if I think R.Pattz and K-Stew have zero chemistry. It probably would have worked better as a pilot for a TV series -- think Buffy meets "The O.C." in the Pacific Northwest.

But I digress. Here are some great vampire flicks for your renting enjoyment:

Tom Cruise: new and improved?

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 06/21/2010 - 18:51

Tom Cruise is back this week in "Knight and Day," a secret-agent comedy with Cameron Diaz that looks flat-out hilarious in its trailers. Between this and his memorable appearance as rotund rageaholic Les Grossman in "Tropic Thunder," it appears that Cruise has successfully rehabbed his image since his disastrous media tour for 2005's "War of the Worlds." (You know, the one that began with jumping on Oprah's couch and verbally sparring over psychiatry with Matt Lauer.) His perfect movie-star image served him so well for so long, and now he's poking fun at that veneer. Hopefully the new film lives up to its trailers; it opens Tuesday at midnight.

My taste (or lack thereof) will be called into question again when I tell you I have always been a huge Tom Cruise fan -- to the point of placing "War of the Worlds" atop my list of that year's best films. I have paid to see every Tom Cruise flick since 1996's "Mission: Impossible" in the theater, even "Lions for Lambs." (I was there first show, first day.) It's not that I think Cruise is that great of an actor, though he has had moments of greatness in stuff like "Magnolia" and "Rain Man," but he is a trusted brand, if you will. I know I'm gonna get sugary refreshment from Pepsi, pain and suffering from the Chicago Cubs, and supremely produced entertainment from Tom Cruise. Oh, there are exceptions -- Mountain Dew Code Red, 1908, "Cocktail" -- but the product usually meets or exceeds expectations.

Predictably, Pixar does it again

Posted by Sean Stangland on Sun, 06/20/2010 - 23:33

"Toy Story 3" had the best weekend, business-wise, in Pixar's history, taking in an estimated $109 million from Friday to Sunday. That's a ringing endorsement from a moviegoing public that has been starving this year -- I mean, how many good flicks have you seen lately?

And "Toy Story 3" is very, very good. My knee-jerk reaction is to call it Pixar's second-best film behind "WALL•E," a film that also finds emotional catharsis in characters made from metal and plastic. The third act of the film is unexpectedly moving, and not just because this might be our last go-round with Woody, Buzz and the gang. A breathless escape sequence ends with a scene that no fan of these films will soon forget -- all I'll say is that I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing, and was so very relieved when it was over. Some will be tempted to call the following denoument manipulative and schmaltzy, but "Toy Story 3" earns the tears it will force out of you.

Nintendo dazzles at E3

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 06/15/2010 - 16:14

Nintendo got nerds' hearts racing today with their annual press conference at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles. After years of catering to casual gamers with motion-based games for the Wii, President and CEO Reggie Fils-Amie delivered the goods in a big way. He showed nothing but huge franchise games, all coming by the end of 2011. To wit:

• "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword," the first Zelda game built specifically for the Wii, with a graphics style somewhere between "Twilight Princess" and "Ocarina of Time"

• "GoldenEye 007," a remake of the Nintendo 64 FPS that basically invented the modern multiplayer experience, this time with Daniel Craig as James Bond

• "Donkey Kong Country Returns," a next-gen iteration of the popular 2D platformer

• "Kirby's Epic Yarn," which puts the Nintendo platform hero in a world made of stitches, zippers and cloth

• "Metroid: Other M," which gives Samus an over-the-shoulder view a la "Resident Evil 4," but appears to feature "God of War"-style beatdowns

• "Mario Sports Mix," in which the plumber and his pals play arcade-style hockey, volleyball, dodgeball and basketball

• "Epic Mickey," a Warren Spector-designed take on Disney that features 3D and 2D platforming

• RPG sequels "Dragon Quest IX" and "Golden Sun: Dark Dawn" for the Nintendo DS

• And last but certainly not least, "Kid Icarus: Uprising," the long-awaited sequel to the original NES game which will be the launch title for the new Nintendo 3DS console, which promises a three-dimensional display without glasses. How is such a thing accomplished? Fils-Amie offered no clues Monday.

Pixar to the rescue

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 19:01

Pixar is the best movie studio in the world. I don't think that's a debatable statement. It began as a division of Lucasfilm before being sold to Steve Jobs in 1986, and a string of full-length computer-animated hits released by Disney eventually led to The Mouse acquiring the studio in 2006. Now it's impossible to separate the brands from each other. Woody, Buzz, Nemo and Lightning McQueen are, right now, arguably more important to the Walt Disney Company than Mickey and Donald. The future success of Disneyland's long-suffering sister park, California Adventure, all but hinges on Pixar's stable of characters -- a new "Toy Story" attraction opened in 2008, a gigantic area devoted to "Cars" opens in 2012, and the park's new centerpiece show, "World of Color," leans heavily on Pixar imagery and music. (Check out all 27 minutes of "WoC" right here. If you have an HD monitor, go full-screen.)

We the moviegoers are depending on Pixar to finally give us a flick worth paying for in 2010. "Toy Story 3" opens Friday in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D, and it couldn't come at a better time: "Prince of Persia" was an empty bore, "Iron Man 2" wasn't funny (or short) enough, and we shouldn't even speak of "MacGruber." To give you an idea of how bad 2010 has been at the theater, the best flick I've seen all year is "Brooklyn's Finest." (And yes, I did see "Kick-Ass." Meh.)

Epic fail: Video games on film

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 17:28

I honestly thought "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" would break the curse of the video game movie. It has the right producer (Jerry Bruckheimer), the right studio (Disney), a respected director (Mike Newell of "Donnie Brasco" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"), an acclaimed star (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a huge budget ($200 million, according to Box Office Mojo).

I was wrong.

Will the Hawks let me down again?

Posted by Sean Stangland on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 17:20

My fellow Chicago Blackhawks fans are intimately familiar with an aching, violent brand of frustration. For many years, it seemed as if everyone -- the refs, the league, even the team's owner himself -- was against us.

I went to my first Blackhawks game in April of 1993. The Hawks had just finished the season atop the Campbell Conference and were Stanley Cup favorites one year after losing to Pittsburgh in the finals. I was there for the first playoff game against bottom-seeded St. Louis, and Brian Noonan scored a hat-trick for the home team. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to win, and the Blues won the game -- and the next three. For the third year in a row, the highly-touted Hawks would go home, disgraced.

On Oct. 16, 1993, the Blackhawks lost a 1-0 overtime game in Winnipeg when Nelson Emerson threw the puck past goalie Ed Belfour from behind the net. Everyone with a brain knew the goal shouldn't have counted, but referee Dennis Morel and the video-replay geniuses in Toronto apparently had theirs eaten by zombies that night.

Going to Orlando this summer?

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 06/01/2010 - 19:03

America's destination theme parks are gearing up for a huge summer, and Universal's Orlando resort is probably going to enjoy the best attendance in its 20-year history. Guests of Universal's hotel complex were treated this weekend to two-hour previews of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new themed area in the Islands of Adventure park that revolves around the boy wizard. Visitors can shop at Ollivander's, get a butterbeer in Hogsmeade, and ride two themed roller coasters. The main attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a one-of-a-kind ride housed in Hogwarts Castle.

Forbidden Journey puts riders on the end of a robotic arm that travels through the castle on a track. Early reports say the experience is like a much more active version of Epcot's popular Soarin' ride. Filmed elements and animatronics combine to take you through a Quidditch match, into Aragog's lair, and face-to-face with Dementors. (Orlando's Attractions magazine has an extremely detailed description of the ride and its surroundings on its blog.)