Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hammervision is relocating!

Hammervision is moving up in the world. Julie and I have been invited by the website Chicago Now to start blogging for them. We're keeping the name Hammervision, and are adding a whole lot more features, including television recaps! The new and improved Hammervision should be your daily destination for all things movies, television, and pop culture. The hope is that we get a lot more attention and more people to read the reviews, listen to the MCHammercasts, and more. Heck, we might even start getting paid to do this. My thanks to you loyal readers, and I hope you'll follow me to the new destination:

- John

Sunday, March 14, 2010

She's Out of My League (***)

She's Out of My League. 106 mins. R. Directed by Jim Field Smith. Written by Sean Anders & John Morris. Starring Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, TJ Miller, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrence, and Lindsay Sloane.

Formulaic and semi-funny, She's Out of My League coasts on the charm of its lead actors and proves to be a likeable, breezy comedy. Jay Baruchel (of Undeclared and Tropic Thunder) stars as Kirk, an airport security guard and self-proclaimed "5". After a casual run-in with a "10" hottie named Molly (Alice Eve) at the airport, Kirk soon finds himself dating her, much to the disbelief of his Apatow-lite gang of friends. Can these two opposites stay together? All signs point to yes. The movie has its share of immature gross-out gags (pube shaving, premature ejactulation), but darn it if they're not funny. She's Out of My League was written by the same two guys who did last year's underrated Sex Drive. I gotta admit, I'm a fan of their work. They write antagnostic older brother characters wickedly well, and their movies have a sweetness to them that is remniscent of earlier Farrelly brother works. Nothing revolutionary here, but a fun flick none the less.

- John

Green Zone (**)

Green Zone. 115 mins. R. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Written by Brian Helgeland. Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, and Jason Isaacs.

Matt Damon is a fine actor, and his collaborations with Bourne director Paul Greengrass have proved fruitful, but both are barking up the wrong tree with this ludicrous blend of fact and fiction. Damon stars as Jack Bauer, er, I mean Miller, a soldier in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction and not finding any. His futile search leads him to uncover vast hypocracy and lies in American government, and ends with lots of run-and-gun shoot outs and characters actually saying, "You shouldn't be here fighting this war." Yuck. Whether you agree with its politics or not, Green Zone just irks when the filmmakers are that unsubtle about their thesis. Greengrass is usually reliable, but the utter ridiculousness of the script (by Brian Helgeland) pokes holes in his handheld shooting style, and the movie looks (and feels) fake. Disappointing.

- John

The Ghost Writer (****)

The Ghost Writer. 128 mins. PG-13. Directed by Roman Polanski. Written by Robert Harris. Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, and Tom Wilkinson.

You can knock Roman Polanski the person, but you certainly can't knock him as a filmmaker, and The Ghost Writer is just the latest proof why. Ewan McGregor gives his best performance as years as a ghost writer assigned to write the memoirs of a scandal-prone British politician (the very game Pierce Brosnan). Mysteries ensue, and Polanski builds a darkly comic, noirish atmosphere that always manages to entertain and stay one step ahead of its audience. It is a slow, methodical thriller, but certainly not a boring one. The music is great (very remniscent of Hitchcock scores), and so are the twists at the end. Worth seeking out, if you can find it playing at a theater near you.

- John

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MCHammerCast: Worst 5 Remakes

This week on MCHammerCast, Matt and John shake things up a bit, joined by special guest Garry Wills to discuss the WORST 5 remakes. A timely topic to be sure, given Hollywood's obsession with plundering our favorite films of the past to churn out some extra money: Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, The Karate Kid, Death at a Funeral - all are coming to, or are already at, a theater near you. Get the podcast on iTunes or at

- John

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tron Legacy Teaser Trailer

Oscar 2010 Afterthoughts

Okay, so maybe changing my pick from The Hurt Locker to Avatar for Best Picture didn't pan out. I still managed to get 19 out of 24 correct. Not too shabby - I actually did pretty well with the smaller categories this year. It helped that there were no huge surprises, as predicted. I guess the biggest surprise was Precious beating Up in the Air for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Jason Reitman backlash has clearly begun! Not that I agree with it - Up in the Air was a fabulous film, and it is a darn shame that it walked away empty-handed from this year's ceremony. Also mistreated was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which, in the real slight of the night, lost Best Original Screenplay to Mark Boal's The Hurt Locker script. I'm sorry - The Hurt Locker was all about the visuals, not the written word. I call Bullsh*t. Apart from the awards, the show itself ran too long (why cut performances of the Best Song nominees if you're just going to have people dance to snippets of Best Score nominees?), and hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had a couple of good jokes, but mostly seemed to play it safe. I give the whole thing a "C". Next year - let's move the ceremony up to February and bring back some surprise!

- John

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (**1/2)

Alice in Wonderland. 109 mins. PG. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Linda Woolverton. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, and Mia Wasikowska.

Tim Burton never risks being boring as a filmmaker, and his take on Alice in Wonderland is no exception. Surprisingly though, this Alice is anything but wondrous. For all the creative tinkering and imagination that went into its production design, the end result is a rather drab affair. Like Burton's previous updating of a classic children's tale, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland is a cold and calculating slice of whimsy that makes you long for prior versions. At least Burton's Alice tries to tell a different story though. Here, Alice is a free-willed 19 year-old (newcomer Mia Wasikowska - a perfect fit for the role) who on the eve of an arranged marriage goes back to Wonderland (or Underland as it's called here - not sure what that's about) having no memory of her earlier visit there, in order to slay the Jabberwock and free the land from the tyrannical rule of the Queen of Hearts (an appropriately over-the-top Helena Bonham Carter). She encounters the regular denizens along the way: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), among others. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton tries to put a new spin on the classic tale, but it never really gels and ultimately comes off as a sub-par Chronicles of Narnia knock-off by the time the big battle hits near the end. Depp's Mad Hatter is shoehorned into a bunch of scenes unnecessarily, and he's gone to the well so often with his "eccentric" performances that I'm starting to take it for granted. His performance is all make-up and mannerisms. It's not funny or charming or even interesting at this point. Depp needs to do something he can sink his teeth into, and fast. Captain Jack Sparrow may have made him a mint, but it's also spoiled him. I much prefer when Burton and Depp are tackling darker subject matter - Sweeney Todd was brilliant (and so was Depp in it). The 3D in Alice is perfunctory and nothing special. In fact, I much preferred the movie's bookend scenes, set in the real world. At least that seemed like something new for Burton. Alice in Wonderland is not a terrible movie, just an unexceptional one.

- John

MCHammerCast: Top 5 SNL Comedies

This week on MCHammerCast, Matt and John are joined by guest Michael Mayer to discuss their Top 5 Comedies starring Saturday Night Live Cast Members. Will your favorite make the list? Get it on iTunes or at and find out!

- John

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

MCHammerCast: Oscarcast 2010

There's a special edition of MCHammerCast this week, with Matt and John breaking down each Oscar category and offering views, insights, and opinions on the potential winners, dark horses, and more. We've even added an opening theme song to the podcast - this. just. got. real. Get it now at iTunes and at, and check back later this week for another episode, where we'll discuss Top 5 Comedies Starring SNL Alumni.

- John

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oscar Predictions 2010

Going into this year's Academy Awards, it seems that there are sure bets in every category and that this could be one of the least surprising awards ceremonies in quite a while. But this being the Oscars and all, you just know there are going to be some surprises. While the acting categories seem all but locked up by their respective frontrunners at this point, the Best Picture race, ten nominees wide, really comes down to three: The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Inglourious Basterds. It's going to be a close race, and the Oscar telecast producers are probably glad that category is saved for last so everyone stays tuned in.

In years past, I've averaged about 18 out of 24 correct, and I have no reason to think this year will be any different, but you never know. So, for what it's worth, here are my predictions:

The smart money's on Hurt, but I think Inglourious is the dark horse here, and could possibly upset. I'd be very happy if it did. Hurt Locker is great, but overrated. It's sort of the Million Dollar Baby-type of Oscar winner.
3/3/10 update: Now I'm starting to feel the tides turning in Avatar's favor. There could very well be a rare split between Picture and Director this year. I'm sticking with Hurt for now, but am contemplating a last-minute switch to Avatar - stay tuned.
3/5/10 update: It's official - I'm switching to Avatar for Best Picture.

BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Bridges was robbed of a nomination for his role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. This is payback. Not really, but it certainly doesn't hurt his cause that he's never won. Plus, he's really good in Crazy Heart.

BEST ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
I think this one would have been closer if The Blind Side hadn't eked out a Best Picture nomination - clearly somebody in the Academy liked that movie.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Nobody else even comes close. Waltz gave the performance of the year - it's his to lose.

This is a one-woman race, despite some great performances from fellow nominees Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga.

BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
No female director has ever one the big prize. Even if The Hurt Locker doesn't win Best Picture, Bigelow's razor-sharp direction will come out on top.

Quentin's finest script since Pulp Fiction, and that's saying something. Brilliant dialogue. If this doesn't win and Hurt Locker does, I'll be pissed.

This is Up in the Air's best shot at winning, and it probably will.

Up is only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture after Beauty and the Beast. This is its consolation prize.

I haven't seen any of the nominees. The White Ribbon has a known and respected director, and fantastic cinematography, but seems to leave people a little cold. That's not the case with France's A Prophet, which just swept the Cesar awards, and is batting a 95% on rottentomatoes.

Bourne-like suspense coupled with powerful footage and an important message about animal rights should make this one tough to beat.

Hurt's quick cut, nerve-jangling build of suspense should win.

Gorgeous to look at, even if most of it was rendered by a computer

Pandora sure was pretty. Many people actually want to live there now.

Michael Giacchino's beautiful score has the upper hand due to that early music-only montage in the movie.

BEST SONG: "The Weary Kind", Crazy Heart
A good song featured prominently in the movie, and sung by surefire Oscar-winner Bridges.

District 9's effects were scrappier and impressive given the budget, but Avatar's were revolutionary.

Ornate period pieces usually win this category, so I'm sticking with tradition.

It's a shame that Trek only gets to win one Oscar tonight, but Eric Bana and his Romulan cohorts were the most showy of these makeup nominees.

Haven't seen it, but hear it's awesome, and people sound the most passionate about this one.

Another Wallace and Gromit short from director Nick Park, who's won before.
3/5/10 update: So, after reading a bit more about these nominees, it sounds like Logorama is pretty cool. I'm betting against tradition now, in the hopes that Wallace and Gromit are viewed as kind of "been there, done that."

Certainly sounds timely.
3/5/10 update: I've read up on this category a bit more, and it sounds like The Last Truck is timely but a little too sappy. I'm switching to Music by Prudence.

Toss-up between this and The Hurt Locker.

I'm splitting the baby on these sound categories in the hopes that I'll get at least one right.

There you have it. Let's check back and see how I do after the ceremony.

Projected Oscar totals:
The Hurt Locker: 3
Avatar: 5
Inglourious Basterds: 2
Up: 2
Crazy Heart: 2
Star Trek: 1
Up in the Air: 1
Precious: 1
The Young Victoria: 1
The Blind Side: 1
The Cove: 1
A Prophet: 1

- John

Cop Out (*1/2)

Cop Out. 110 mins. R. Directed by Kevin Smith. Written by Robb Cullen & Mark Cullen. Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Rashida Jones, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Kevin Pollak, Adam Brody, and Seann William Scott.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for buddy cop action pics. They don't even have to be good - as long as the casting is inspired, the quips are frequent, and the action is believable, I'll probably enjoy it. Heck, Bad Boys and The Last Boy Scout are two of my favorite movies. When I heard that Kevin Smith was taking on his first work-for-hire directing gig, and that it would be a comedic parody/homage of '80s action comedies - with Bruce Willis starring(!) no less - I was pumped. So, it saddens me to report that Cop Out (or its other title A Couple of Dicks) is a total lemon. Where to begin? Let's start with the screenwriters. They've crafted a story built around a missing baseball card. Yup, that's about all there is conflict-wise. Willis wants to get the card back so he can pay for his daughter's $50,000 wedding. Look, I know that this plot is purposely kept simple and unobtrusive to allow for more comedy, but that assumes that there's actually something, you know, funny. The dialogue here is beyond lame - Morgan and Willis talk endlessly around each other, never saying anything funny and seemingly forced to make dumb oral sex jokes every other minute. Next - the acting. Tracy Morgan is a funny guy in small doses, but he simply cannot act. And when he has to carry scenes on his own and play real emotions, Cop Out fails. Willis? He's just phoning it in and could care less. Last, the direction. Smith has never been a strong visual stylist - his gift lies in the written word, but even in a movie like this, which has only three action scenes, he has no idea how to stage them. The action sucks and the pacing is sloppy. C'mon! These are not hard movies to make! The only saving grace, and the reason I'm giving Cop Out an extra half-star is Seann William Scott. He steals every scene he's in and gives the movie a boost whenever he's on screen, which is not nearly enough. A huge disappointment.

- John

The Crazies (**1/2)

The Crazies. 101 mins. R. Directed by Breck Eisner. Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright. Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, and Danielle Panabaker.

The remake craze continues with this serviceable redo of zombie maestro George Romero's 1973 cult favorite, The Crazies. Boasting snappier pacing and better acting than the original, this new version directed by Sahara's Breck Eisner should satisfy the Friday night crowd, but doesn't make much of a lasting impression. Maybe that's because we've seen so many riffs on this same type of story in the three decades that have passed since Romero's movie was first released. Part viral outbreak thriller and part zombie horror, the 2010 Crazies follows a small-town sheriff in Iowa (Timothy Olyphant), his wife (Pitch Black's Radha Mitchell), and a few hangers-on as they try to escape the clutches of fellow citizens gone unexplainably berserk and the government that's trying to wipe them all out. The movie has a handful of boo! gotcha! scare scenes, nifty visuals, and a killer scene in a car wash (way better than the one in the last Final Destination flick), but the characters are dull and uninteresting. The infected are not portrayed all that inventively either - these crazies just come off like a sub-par 28 Days Later rip-off. In fact, you'd be better off watching (or re-watching) any of these other similar movies: 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, the '04 Dawn of the Dead. Remake aside, there's really nothing here you haven't seen before.

- John