THE FILM YAP » Chris Columbus We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Success of Harry Potter Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:12:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This Friday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I will open to thousands of theatres across the country. This new film has been labeled as one of the cinematic events of the year and it’s not even the final chapter. If you’re not a fan of the series, the title seems foreign to you. What are Deathly Hallows? What is this Part I nonsense? Why are so many midnight tickets sold out?

Franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have had decades to build up a strong fanbase. Comic book heroes like Batman and Superman have been around for just as long and have had plenty of iterations to excite fans. So how did Harry Potter become one of the movie events of the year, when his first book came out just over ten years ago?

The success of the book series has been talked about by a million other sources. It was a phenomenon that captivated audiences, especially young readers in an unprecedented way. Warner Brothers was smart and started working on the first film while the books were picking up steam. How they approached the first book set the standard for what made everything possible.

They took the property seriously. Handling this book was like filming The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby. This wasn’t a time where they could just call it “Harry Potter” in name only and have it be about young wizards in love. It was an expensive project and it paid off. As the train pulled into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fans were gasping that their beloved image was realized in a wonderful way.

The people behind the movie were top notch as well. Having actors like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and John Hurt brought a level of prestige to the picture especially with them bringing their A-game. Director Chris Columbus was a success from his Home Alone films and screenwriter Steve Kloves was just off his Oscar nomination for Wonder Boys.

This dedication continued as the cast expanded to include Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Toby Jones, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Jason Issacs, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, David Tenannt, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, and now Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans. These are some of the finest actors working today and their performances reflect this isn’t just a simple thing to amuse the kids.

This was a level of respect and trust that still isn’t seen today as other studios try to replicate the success of these films. Films like The Golden Compass, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, and The Spiderwick Chronicles are made in hopes they will catch fire like Harry Potter. All of those are bestselling series, but not in the same caliber as Harry Potter. (But what is?) Those movies just dipped their toes in the water instead of really focusing on making a special film. Starting a franchise is a risk but if all the pieces are there then that has a better chance. People did not flock to Pirates of the Caribbean because they loved the ride so much. People saw the movie because it had a great story with great performances and everything looked amazing.

Asking Hollywood to make good films is a frivolous request but the stats speak for themselves. The All Time Domestic Box Office is filled with movies that are still beloved to people’s hearts. These are the films like Avatar, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, E.T. and The Lord of the Rings. There are plenty of films on this list that I think are dreadful, but they made an impact with someone because of the consideration that was put in to them.

The Harry Potter films are not perfect films, but they can show how you can make a modern franchise into a success.

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief Sun, 27 Jun 2010 13:00:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The teenage protagonists in “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” battle physical, mental and emotional challenges: ADHD, dyslexia, paralysis and parental abandonment among them.  They soon learn, however, that the very setbacks they have been dealt will enable them to be stronger than those with carefree lives.  In other words, everything happens for a reason.

The underlying message of “Percy Jackson,” director Chris Columbus’ adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular middle-grade book series, and is encouraging for youths who feel out of place in their world.  Who doesn’t want their boring school field trip to turn into a battle of good vs. evil?  As the title character, a bright-eyed demigod (half god, half mortal) who must save the world while exploring his newfound powers, Logan Lerman is convincing in times of bravery and confusion.  Alexandra Daddario brings a young “Kill Bill” vibe to her portrayal of Annabeth, daughter of the goddess Athena, exuding a tough vulnerability without being overly sexualized by the filmmakers (though I could have done without her molded leather armor).  Brandon T. Jackson’s satyr channels a young Orlando Jones in the best possible way, and Jake Abel’s smooth-talking charmer brings to mind a “Risky Business”-era Tom Cruise.

It’s a good thing the youthful cast is excellent, because the dialogue is often cheesy.  Uma Thurman and Pierce Brosnan especially have to deal with punny clunkers in scenery-chewing cameos.  Combined with the fun special effects, though, the stilted lines give off a 1980’s kids movie vibe.  There should be more of those, no?

DVD special features include five deleted scenes and two featurettes.

Movie: 3 yaps

Special features: 3 yaps

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief Fri, 12 Feb 2010 18:45:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
The studio would not screen “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” for critics here in Indianapolis. It’s something that’s been happening more and more lately. Once, it was only tiny little indie films. Now, mainstream movies like this are skipped.

In this case, it was especially curious because several weeks ago they contacted several local critics and offered interviews with the cast. We took them up on it — you can read the Q&A here – but still no screening. Exasperating.

Usually when a film is not screened, it’s because the studio knows it has a dog on its hands. “Percy” is not a dog of a movie; it’s actually a pretty good one. It’s a pleasant enough action/adventure story for the preteen crowd — sort of a Greek mythology version of “Harry Potter.”

Instead of spells, Percy Jackson (a winning Logan Lerman — one to watch) and his cohorts have gods for parents: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, Hermes, etc. This makes them demi-gods — humans with magical powers.

Percy thinks he’s a regular kid with dyslexia and ADHD, a loser whose mother (Catherine Keener) is married to a slob of a step-father. His only friend is Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a cripple on crutches.

But when minotaurs and furies start materializing out of thin air to attack him, it’s a clue that his daddy is actually Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). It seems some miscreant has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt, and he thinks it’s Percy. Unless the lightning is returned, the gods of Olympus are going to war.

The movie is based on a popular series of books by Rick Riordan. Screenwriter Craig Titley and kid-centric director Chris Columbus — who directed the first two “Harry Potter” movies — aim for a slapdash of PG-rated mayhem mixed in with some Greek Mythology 101.

In their reckoning, the Earth is populated by hundreds of offspring of the gods, who have a tendency to visit and “hook up” with mortals and then skedaddle. Percy and his ilk think they’ve been abandoned by their parents — a none-too-subtle metaphor for the divorce epidemic.

Percy is taken to Camp Half-Blood — think Hogwarts as a summer retreat — to train and learn about his destiny.

Grover is revealed as a satyr, half-man, half-goat and all girl-loving horndog. The headmaster is a centaur who had been posing as a wheelchair-bound professor at his school, played by Pierce Brosnan. Luke (Jake Abel) is the friendly son of Hermes who takes Percy into his confidence. Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, is the baddest warrior in camp.

(No hint as to why all the demigod students happen to be between 16 and 18 years of age — was the early 1990s the Summer of Love for gods coming to Earth to knock boots?)

The plot is fairly simplistic and silly, something involving finding their way into Hell to confront Hades, who’s taken Percy’s mother hostage. First they have to find three magical pearls that will allow them to return from the fiery depths.

This, of course, involves fighting increasingly dangerous critters pulled from the pages of Greek and Roman lore. Uma Thurman has a nice cameo as a sunglasses-wearing medusa. Other star turns include Sean Bean as Zeus, Rosario Dawson as the spouse of Hades, and Steve Coogan as the original man in black himself.

“Percy Jackson” is certainly not a great film, but it’s well-executed family entertainment that will keep even parents reasonably entertained.

The only supernatural mystery is why the studio didn’t want critics to see it.

3 stars

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“Percy Jackson & the Olympians” cast Wed, 20 Jan 2010 02:26:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A water-loving warrior – who also battles ADHD.  His best friend, a mythical protector masquerading as a physically disabled wisecracker.  A fierce female with an ax to grind, and a teenage demigod struggling with his own power.  All converging at a hidden enclave and fighting deadly beasts masquerading as ordinary people.

These are the four protagonists of “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” the latest in young adult fantasy films that opens February 12.  Directed by Chris Columbus and based on Rick Riordan’s bestselling novels, “Percy Jackson”  follows modern-day demigods – half mortal, half god – on a quest to save the world while finding their own place in it.  Recently, “Percy”‘s quartet of rising young actors – Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, and Jake Abel – sat down in Chicago to discuss teen issues, special effects and their new status as relatable fantasy icons.

According to its cast, “Percy Jackson’s” Greek mythology mixed with contemporary aspects are what sets it apart from other fantasy franchises.  “There’s a modern twist that separates [the film] from anything that’s ever been done,” said Jake Abel (“The Lovely Bones”), who plays Luke, son of Hermes.  “And after all these years, the gods are still bickering.”

“There’s so much to relate to in the movie,” said Lerman, who plays the film’s title character.  Still in his teens (Lerman turned 18 the day of this interview), he has already appeared opposite Mel Gibson, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in “The Patriot” and “3:10 to Yuma,” respectively.  “It’s symbolic of everyday problems.  Percy is your average high school student with dyslexia and ADHD, and now he finds out he’s the son of Poseidon.”

“I think Percy is cooler than the Harry Potter character,” added Brandon T. Jackson, best known for his role as rapper Alpa Chino in “Tropic Thunder.”  “He’s from Brooklyn.  There’s a little bit of an edge to him.”  According to Jackson, the film is both surprising and down-to-earth.  “You think my character[Grover, a half-man, half-goat creature known as a satyr] is disabled this whole time, but he’s really a protector.  Then we’re in class, and this Fury comes out of nowhere that we thought was a substitute teacher.  It’s very based in reality.”

Alexandra Daddario (“Bereavement”) sees her character Annabeth, daughter of Athena, as a typical young  woman – albeit one with mean combat skills.  “She has her own weaknesses like any teenager,” said Daddario, who began her career at age 16 with a recurring role on “All My Children.”  “She struggles with school and her mother, and also has ADD.  I go through that in the acting business too: there’s a lot of rejection and questioning yourself.”

Despite the accessibility of their characters, however, the actors did have to balance their performances with the film’s considerable special effects.  Fortunately, an open-minded crew helped ease the transition.  “The CGI can be drawn in to what you imagine,” said Jackson.  “You can collaborate with Chris Columbus.  He’s the type of guy that’s like, ‘do whatever you want to do, and we can work around it.’  He’s not a dictator director.”

“I like when they tell you ‘it’s going to look better later.’  They know you feel like such an idiot doing certain things,” Abel said.  “There was one part where I had to [scream] with the lightning bolt, and they kept telling me, ‘you’re gonna be underwater, it’s gonna look so cool.'”

“We know they’re sitting in the editing room laughing at us!” added Daddario.

“It’s about finding a comfort level,” said Lerman.  “One thing that helped me a lot was embarrassing myself.  So I’d go out there and scream my head off before a take or do Ian McKellan [in “Lord of the Rings”] impressions.  And then when you’re able to get into a scene, it’s actually easier to work with the green screens.  You can work with a character that you create, that the visual artists are going to create with you, and you can do whatever you want.”

“Your only limitation is your imagination,” added Abel.

All four actors, who shared an easy camaraderie throughout the interview, were optimistic that “Percy Jackson’s” blend of modern-day conflict and impressive CGI will leave audiences of all ages entertained and inspired.  Said Jackson of the film’s underlying theme: “It’s about your greatest weaknesses becoming your greatest strengths.”

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I Love You, Beth Cooper Mon, 02 Nov 2009 05:26:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER

I gotta say, since “Heroes” started, Hayden Panettiere has been my next star-in-the-making.

Okay, maybe she’s really been my she’s-18-right? celebrity crush, but you know what I’m saying.

So playing the vixen in the high-school-boy fantasy “I Love You, Beth Cooper” should be right in her wheelhouse.

And it is, but that doesn’t make the movie any good.

“Cooper” follows valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust), who in a fit of seize-the-day, proclaims his love for the school sexpot during graduation, in front of his parents, her, all of their friends, and her ROTC-cadet boyfriend (Shawn Roberts), setting off a teen sex comedy that wants to be in the league of stuff like “Porky’s” or “American Pie.”

The difference is those movies are funny, and “Cooper” is not. “Beth” forgot her funny. Instead we get Nickelodeon-grade pratfalls and lame situations, and a best-friend sidekick who may or may not be gay.

And who would love Beth after the stuff she pulls? She’s mean and moody and out of control. But still Denis endures the beatings at the hands of Beth’s ROTC-cadet boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts). Funny, I remember most of the military kids in my school were a little on the dorky side.

Add in things like a complete, willful and wanton destruction of property, and a complete lack of police activity resulting, and you get a wholly unbelievable narrative. In one scene, Kevin destroy’s Denis’ house, then beats him up at someone else’s house party, a scene that ends with Beth driving a Hummer into the house to escape.

It’s all meant to be silly, but in a sex comedy like this, the fun is in realizing the fantasy in the real world, not in entering a fantasy world all its own. The fun is gone when our characters aren’t real people.

I could go into a breakdown of the acting, but there’s not much point. The stars are passable and may or may not be capable of doing decent work in other films, but the material here is so wretched it is really difficult to tell.

DVD extras are unnecessarily copious given the quality of the film, with a commentary track, a “Godfather II”-style alternate ending that is better than the one offered in the final film, a couple of featurettes, and a series of increasingly worthless deleted scenes.

It’s all window dressing for a condemned house, or lipstick on Sarah Palin. It’s just a waste of time.

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