Friday, July 29, 2011

"The Smurfs"

I would like the hour and fifty minutes or so of my time I spent watching The Smurfs back, but surprisingly a lot of others did not feel that way. The Smurfs themselves are very cute, and admittedly I have never seen the TV show, so I wasn't going to see the film for the nostalgia, but by the end of the film I was practically sleeping in my seat because I was so bored. As one of the children behind me said to his mother, "Take me out of here, please!"

The Smurfs live a life of relative contentment in their mushroom houses in the forest. However, the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria, "Love and Other Drugs") wants to steal them so he can harness their power and become one of the greatest wizards of all time. In their hurry to avoid him once he finds their village, the Smurfs end up accidentally running into a portal, which takes them to New York City. They must find a way back to their village while at the same time avoiding Gargamel and his cat, both of whom are on the hunt for them, and in the process they end up making friends with two humans, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris, TV's "How I Met Your Mother") and Grace (Jayma Mays, TV's "Glee") Winslow.

"Sarah's Key"

Sarah's Key is one of the best, and also the saddest, movies I have seen in quite a while. Readers of the novel on which the film is based say that it's fantastic, and so I had high hopes for the movie as well. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance, "Ricky") and her family live in Paris, and are Jewish. In July 1942 they are rounded up with the rest of the French Jews and sent to a detainment camp. Her parents are sent on to a concentration camp, but for some reason the children are left behind for an additional week. Sarah and her friend are able to escape, and they take refuge with a French couple in a village, who later ends up raising Sarah as one of their own. Sarah must first return to Paris, however, to rescue her brother Michel, whom she locked in a closet in her family's apartment, in the hopes that he would be saved and not included in the round-up.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas, "Nowhere Boy") is about to move into a new apartment with her husband. The apartment has been in the family for decades - since August 1942, in fact - and Julia slowly learns how the family "acquired" the apartment after the Starzynski family was arrested. She becomes obsessed with finding out Sarah's story and whether Sarah is still alive now, and her journey takes her to New York and Italy, among other places. What she finds will impact her in the present day, and she must have the courage to decide what she wants to do once she learns this information.

"Cowboys and Aliens"

Cowboys & Aliens is receiving mixed reviews, but I liked it a lot. A few people I knew who also went to the screening complained that it was slow-paced, but I am usually the first to jump on the "This movie is tooooo slow" train, and I didn't feel that way this time. They will also say that they expected more from it; but really, with a title like Cowboys & Aliens, how much can you expect in the first place?

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, "Quantum of Solace") wakes up in the middle of cowboy country (New Mexico, late 1800s), not knowing who is he or how he got there. He has a mysterious techy-looking bracelet on his arm that won't come off. A band of men on horses see him and aim to take him in, in case he's wanted for something, but he disarms them all easily, and that is the first time that we get an inkling of his past life and who he was in it. Jake finds himself in the town of Absolution, where he eventually sees an old foe, Woodrow (Harrison Ford, "Morning Glory"); he is about to "have words" with him when aliens invade and snatch up many of the townspeople. Woodrow and Jake decide to work together in order to get their people back, and along the way they find out that they actually work pretty well together after all.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love"

I had wanted to see this movie for a long time based on the trailer and the A-List cast - Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone, just to name a few. The film ended up being funny but also surprisingly serious in parts; it could have been funnier, but it's definitely still worth seeing.

Cal (Steve Carell, TV's "The Office") is devastated when his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, "The Kids are All Right") tells him that she wants a divorce. He spends a few days moping around at a local bar, where he eventually meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling, "Blue Valentine"), a "ladies' man" who decides to give Cal a make-over. Cal met Emily when they were in high school, and they married at 17, so Cal has never been with other women before. Jacob's make-over gives Cal the confidence he needs to go back to the bar and meet new women.

At the same time, his son Robbie (Jonah Bobo, TV's "The Backyardigans") has a major crush on their babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, "The Green Hornet"), even though he's 13 and she's 17. To complete the love circle (more like a parallelogram at this point!), Jessica has a huge crush on Cal, and can't understand why Emily (Moore) would divorce him. Meanwhile, Jacob has met Hanna (Emma Stone, "Easy A"), who is a "gamechanger," as he tells Cal, and may even make him abandon his bachelor/"player" lifestyle. As Cal tries to figure out what - and who - he wants in his life, he realizes that maybe he's still in love with his wife after all, and he decides to try to get her back.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Captain America: The First Avenger"

Captain America: The First Avenger is the fourth comic book-inspired movie to come out this summer, joining the ranks of the great (Thor, X-Men: First Class) and the not-so-great (Green Lantern). While Captain America ended up not being as good as I expected, it's still entertaining, and worth seeing in the theater.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") wants to do his part and help fight the war, but he has numerous health problems and is too skinny to join up. He tries to be recruited multiple times, but it never works, until Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci, "Burlesque") chooses Steve to be one of his science experiments, as he is on the quest to make American "supersoldiers" to fight the Nazis. The experiment works on Rogers, who immediately becomes more muscular, taller, faster, and powerful, but the serum is destroyed, and so he will be the only "supersoldier." When Steve finds out that his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan, "Hot Tub Time Machine") and his unit have been captured by the Germans, he embarks on a mission to rescue them.

"Friends with Benefits"

From its plot summary, Friends with Benefits sounds very similar to No Strings Attached, which came out in theaters this past January. From the posters, it looks like the only difference is that Justin Timberlake replaces Ashton Kutcher, and Mila Kunis stands in for Natalie Portman. The actual difference between the two movies, though, is that NSA was cute but not great, in my opinion, and FWB ended up being hilarious and a lot better than I thought it would be.

Jamie (Mila Kunis, "Black Swan") is a headhunter who is looking to recruit Dylan (Justin Timberlake, "The Social Network") to work as the art director for GQ in New York. He's an LA boy, born and bred, and isn't too keen on moving all the way across the country just for a job. Jamie shows him how fun NYC can be, however, and he decides to take the job. They become friends and one night, Jamie complains to him about how sometimes she misses sex, but she doesn't want to start a relationship because that comes with consequences and "rules." Jamie and Dylan decide to have a "friends with benefits" relationship, which includes sex but no attachments. The plan works well for a while until Jamie decides to break it off, and see what "real" guys are out there for her. Meanwhile, both of them end up being single for the July 4th weekend, and Dylan persuades Jamie to come to LA with him while he visits his dad and sister. The pair soon realizes that being "friends with benefits" is something that might not work for them after all, because they're starting to fall for each other.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Interview with Don Jeanes, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" actor

Don Jeanes
photo credit Michael Rozman
Don Jeanes is an up-and-coming actor who has been in quite a few sci-fi pictures so far, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon, in which he plays Neil Armstrong. I recently got to talk with him via phone for The NYLA Report about his role in the movie and his upcoming films.

Liz Parker: So how did you hear about the Neil Armstrong part in Transformers 3 - were you asked to audition?

Don Jeanes: Yeah - it was kind of classic Hollywood at work! There was a call for Neil Armstrong look-alikes and my cool agent sent in a copy of my headshot and resume and I got called in. What was a little funny was that I didn't really know it was for Transformers - they were kind-of secretive about the whole audition process. What first tipped me off was when I got to the audition and I got the sides and it said "man falls away from a giant robotic space," and I was like "Hmm, this might be something bigger than a commercial!" I read once to the casting director and she said "That's great, but Mike likes it a little bit faster that that" and I was thinking "Uh, I don't know who Mike is," but I said "Thank you for your direction." I read it again and she said "Perfect."

I actually thought that I didn't get it, because normally they call you back within one or two weeks, and I didn't get a call until three weeks later, that I got the role, which naturally I was ecstatic about. But no call back, which was kind of crazy too."

So generally it's like one to two weeks before they call you?

Yes, generally you'll know - if a week goes by and you don't get a call, as an actor, you're just like "Eh. I didn't get it. Moving on" - you know? And after three weeks, you're definitely "It's over," but it ended up taking them about three weeks.

Had you seen any of the Transformers movies before auditioning?

I'm a huge Transformers fan. I loved the cartoon when I was little and I went to see both one and two in the theater. I know a lot of people didn't like the second one, but I remember sitting there and thinking "My God, if I could ever be a part of such an amazing movie, that would be the greatest thing." And now here I am!

Did you know you were auditioning for Neil Armstrong? Or did you think it was just a role in your age group, or what?

Oh, I knew I was auditioning for Neil Armstrong, just not Transformers. They were looking for Neil Armstrong look-alikes, so I parted my hair and went on in.

Okay. Did you do any research on him, maybe look him up on the internet beforehand?

Yes, I did, I looked up some things, and there's not many pictures of him - there's one of the three guys sitting there with their helmets and then a few interviews, but those were later on in life. And then before the role, when I knew I had gotten the role and the shock had worn off, I started doing a lot of research - I locked myself in the apartment here for three or four days and watched all the moon footage I could get my hands on. I remember thinking to myself at one point, "This is my job. I watch footage on the internet as part of my job." I went to the L.A. Space Museum too.

What's crazy is that the metal is pretty thin around the orbiter and they sit very close together, it's like sitting in a movie theater seat all the way to the moon. And then I started doing a lot of physical training - running, etcetera - because we didn't get to see the suits until about two weeks before we went to set and they're about 50 pounds each and they don't breathe at all, it's like being in a sauna. They're modeled directly after the real spacesuits, actually.

I know you're from Texas originally, so how did you get to L.A.?

Via New York, actually. I started acting when I was very young, in Texas, and then I was looking for an easy credit in high school, so I stayed in it. I had some great teachers who really encouraged me, and I started doing some one-act play competitions in high school, and then I got a theater scholarship to a local community college because of that. I did go on to take a hiatus to get a business degree, and I did about a year of sales after college. In 2004 I moved to New York and started doing a lot of off-off-Broadway stuff - so far off it was almost in New Jersey!

So you came here via New York then.

Yeah. I was in New York for almost two years exactly and I loved the city - being a country boy it was amazing to see so many people when you first come to Times Square - but it just got a little claustrophobic. So in 2006 I told my then-roommate, "Dude, let's move to Los Angeles," and we packed up everything we owned and made the trip.

How did you like working with Michael Bay, and did you get to interact with Shia [LaBeouf] or Rosie [Huntington-Whitely] or any of those people?

Unfortunately, I didn't get to act with them - we were pretty much isolated "on the moon." All my scenes with Michael Bay ... he's just a straightforward guy, we were in a time-crunch when we were on set and he moves constantly and he just seemed like a guy who needed to get things done in a certain amount of time.

I had a pretty cool first interaction with [Bay] - on the set for the first day, for principal photography for the entire film, I showed up in my astronaut suit, and we hear a guy saying "Bring me an astronaut over here!" and it was Michael Bay. They were taking shots of the small handheld cameras that you see in the trailer, and they were taking close-ups of that and they needed a hand of an astronaut to adjust the dome of the camera. The cinematographer was having a hard time getting the shot right and Michael started razzing him a bit and the cinematographer started razzing him back and then they started to laugh and I started to laugh. I felt a lot more at ease around him after that.

So was that one of your favorite parts of filming, or did you have other favorite parts?

The entire filming was awesome but there was one time when Cory Tucker (who plays Buzz Aldrin) and I were sitting, just chillin', and this old guy comes up to us out of the blue and starts talking to us. All of a sudden, somebody standing there said "Do you know who this guy is?" and I said "Uh ..." and he said "This is John Frazier, he won the Oscar for special effects for Spiderman 2." [Frazier] said to us "I want to show you guys a picture," and he walked off, and I thought I would never see him again, but he came back with his iPhone and a picture of his Oscar in one hand and a garbage can in the other, and he said "This is the night I won the Oscar - life goes on." He was really cool.

So I see on IMDB that you're going to be in a new movie called The Ascension. Can you talk a bit about that?

Sure. The Ascension I would categorize as a sci-fi horror slasher film. It starts with an archaeologist finding these ancient artifacts on a desert island and he brings them back to the States and does a ritual with them, which opens a portal to the other world, releasing what we'll call right now the Dark Lord. All of a sudden, mysteriously, these suicides happen, and I am the boyfriend of one of these unfortunate suicide victims - my name is Johnny Burns in the film. I team up with Carl Kolchinski, who is played by Corbin Bernsen, and we fight the Dark Lord to keep him from dominating Earth.

So what is the Dark Lord, is it like an alien?

More of a supernatural being.

Okay. I immediately thought Harry Potter when I heard that. [laughs]

I never thought about that. But it's going to be nice and heavy with CGI and blood.

Do you have any other projects you're working on?

Yes, actually I'm viewable right now in the web series "Alpha Planet," which has held the number 1 spot on koldcast.tv and popcornflicks.com. It's a post-apocalyptic web series that's set 250 years in the future on Earth, after the nuclear holocaust has happened. Humanity was forced to board a giant spaceship called The Ark and was in space for over 200 years. After no other life-sustaining planet was found, we came back to Earth on an expedition, but the first expedition was lost, so now another crew is going to find the lost expedition. I play Luke Brody, who's a weapons expert and I'm basically in charge of the four-man crew. Things start to get very interesting when we touch back down on Earth.

So what has been your favorite thing to work on so far? Has that been your favorite, or Transformers?

Oh, it's gotta be Transformers. It's an epic role in an epic movie and I'm so honored and feel so lucky to be a part of it ... not that those other roles weren't significant in my career, but I think this has been the biggest one.

Are they going to make a Transformers 4? Have you heard anything about that?

I could not speak to that. I don't know.

So what were some of your favorite movies when you were growing up?

My Girl, with Macauley Culkin. I loved that movie, I was depressed for like three weeks after I watched it. I used to love "The Lone Ranger," the TV show ... "The Lonesome Dove," which was a great show. I also liked Big, with Tom Hanks.

I saw you were also in an episode of "CSI: New York." Do you like doing movies more, or TV shows?

I like them both but I do gravitate towards movies. I love to film a project and dig deep into a character and then move on to another character. I'm a vagabond in that way.
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon is currently playing in theaters. Check out the trailer here, and make sure to watch Jeanes in The Ascension, coming to theaters soon, and in the web series "Alpha Planet."

Friday, July 15, 2011

"A Better Life"

I didn't know much about A Better Life before seeing the movie, except it had about an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good. It turned out to be a heartbreaking, sad movie, but with characters that you will think about long after the movie has ended.

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir, TV's "Weeds") is an illegal alien who has lived in the U.S. for a while now, and his son Luis (newcomer José Julián) was born in this country. Carlos works as a gardener in the hopes that one day, he and Luis can move out of their unsafe Los Angeles neighborhood, and Luis can go to a better school. Carlos has no form of transportation, and when his friend goes to sell his truck, complete with gardening tools, he asks his sister for a loan, in the hopes that he will have his own gardening business. His first day with the truck, he hires another illegal, Santiago (Carlos Linares, "Where the Road Meets the Sun"), to work for him; however, when he is climbing a palm tree, Santiago steals the keys to the truck and Carlos's cell phone and takes off with it. Carlos and Luis must find Santiago and the truck, because the truck and the business is their only hope for having a better life.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"

I started reading the first Harry Potter book back in 1998 or 1999, when it came to the US, and I loved it. The last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was released in theaters near the end of last year. The movie we've all been waiting for, however - the climactic end to the series, and to an era, really - was this one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it definitely does not disappoint.

The other films in the series gave a bit of background information on the characters, but DH Part 2 skips all that, immediately picking up where the last movie left off: Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is in possession of the Elder Wand, which makes whomever owns it the most powerful wizard in the world. Meanwhile, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are still at the beach house where Dobby died, looking for Horcruxes. They think that the final Horcruxes will be at Hogwarts, so they return there, to find a grim situation afoot: the dour Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) is currently headmaster, and the students are often "disciplined" (or beaten) for disobeying the rules. Voldemort soon finds out that Harry has returned, and the fight to the death begins.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Zookeeper"

I like Kevin James, and I like talking animals, but I did not like Zookeeper because I was bored throughout most of it. The talking animals are definitely the highlight, as they all have unique voices - voiced by quite a few stars. The animals are funny, and I feel that if the movie focused more on them, it would have been more interesting.

Griffin (Kevin James, "The Dilemma") works as the Head Zookeeper, and has been there for eight years. Five years ago, he proposed to his then-girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, "Iron Man 2"), and was harshly rejected; he has been wary of women ever since. At his brother's engagement party, Griffin runs into Stephanie again, and she tells his brother's fiancee that he has such potential. Griffin remembers, however, that the reason she didn't want to marry him the first time was because he works in a zoo, and he decides to quit and work for his brother at his auto dealership. The zoo animals, however, don't want to see this happen, so they decide to break "The Code" and reveal to him that they can actually speak. The animals try to help Griffin win over Stephanie so that he will remain their zookeeper, as he is one of the best ones they've had in years.

"Horrible Bosses"

I had high expectations for this movie, because along with a big cast of A-listers, the trailer looked hilarious. Although my expectations weren't fully met, Horrible Bosses did have many funny scenes, and I would still recommend seeing it.

Nick (Jason Bateman, "The Switch"), Dale (Charlie Day, TV's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis, "Hall Pass") all have a problem: they hate their bosses. Like really, REALLY hate them ... so much so that they consider killing their bosses just to make their lives easier. Of course, they know nothing about the business of killing, and so they drive to the seediest bar they can find to find themselves a killer for hire, where they meet Motherf**cker Jones (Jamie Foxx, "Due Date"), who agrees to be their "murder consultant." The guys agree with him that the least conspicuous way of going about this would be for each of them to kill one of the other's bosses, so that it would be harder to trace back to them. Unfortunately, while they are in the "recon" stage of the plans, an unexpected twist puts a wrench in their plans and forces the guys to tweak them a bit.