Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

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Let’s start with some caveats, as few summer blockbusters arrive with the baggage that “The Mummy” is carrying on its shoulders. Not content to simply launch a new franchise, the fat cats at Universal are pinning the hopes of a brand new Cinematic Universe — the de riguer requirement of all major studios in the post-Avengers world — on the merits of this modern retelling of the old Boris Karloff ambling menace.

First, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a new mummy (lowercase) movie, just as there’s nothing wrong with telling stories on screen that feature ghosts, ghouls, trolls, chupacabra, giant snakes, giant spiders, or any other fantastical antagonists.

Second, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cinematic universes. If the movies are good, the movies are good: that’s really all there is too it.

That said, “The Mummy” is not good, and it suggests Universal maybe shouldn’t have cashed its chips so early on its so-called “Dark Universe” (with a slate of films announced already and Johnny Depp cast as The Invisible Man). Russel Crowe pops in as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in a few heavy-handed scenes that hint at his potential menace and one of the better-choreographed sequences, but to little impact.

What “The Mummy” does well is make the already-good 1999 version starring Brendon Frasier and Rachel Weisz look resplendent in comparison. New protagonist Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) passively trips toward the film’s convoluted and undercooked finale, driven by a combination of demonic possession and a desire to rescue a romantic interest (Annabelle Wallis) with whom he shares all the chemistry of an elementary school science fair project. There’s a dagger and a red stone and crusader tombs and a lot of talk of Set, the Egyptian god of war, all of which is thrown at the viewer like obstacles in an Asian game show.

There are exactly two things this movie does well: the zero-gravity plane crash in Act I that was aired *in its entirety* during the film’s trailers and a chase scene underneath London’s streets that features a brief scene of eye-poppingly impressive underwater photography. Beyond that, it’s a muddled mess of corporate cash-grabbing.

As for the mummy herself, gender-swapped for the modern era, Sofia Boutella does as good as can be expected with the material, but is robbed of any her predecessor’s menace and mystique by the movie’s rush to make her telegenic. Compared to the genuinely chilling Act II of the 1999 film, in which Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep slowly regenerates while haunting his human prey, Boutella’s reanimated corpse makes light work of a few nameless meat sacks before she’s back to her old, strategically-shrouded-to-appease-the-MPAA-rating self.

It’s a rushed, narratively delinquent disappointment that could have injected some of that old-fashioned movie magic into the modern cinema landscape, but instead falls victim to the paint-by-numbers CGI malaise we’ve all grown fatigued of.

Grade: C+

*The Mummy opens nationwide on Friday, June 9.

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In 2013, two dude-bro brothers named Mike and Dave posted an ad on Craigslist looking for dates to accompany them to a wedding. You likely heard the story, as the stunt quickly gained the viral ubiquity of our fleeting national attention.

And like clockwork, here we are three years later with an irreverent comedy based on Mike and Dave’s antics (an eventuality overtly prophesied in the Craiglist post in question). As the down-to-business title suggests, this is a movie about Mike and Dave, played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, who need wedding dates, which they find in Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza through the miracle of the internet and daytime talk show television.

Both men are well-intentioned and affable manboys whose life-of-the-party aspirations are inevitably undone by flying too close to the sun. This premise is introduced in probably the only coherent and comedically consistent vignette of the film, as Mike and Dave’s family visits with a slide-show montage of their past destruction and a mandate to arrive to their sister’s upcoming nuptials with plus-ones in tow as a protective measure against their accidentally destructive nature.

There are a few more laughs to be had, but not many. The movie plays as if SNL devoted an entire episode to a single sketch: it’s largely improvised and occasionally funny, but most of the jokes fail to land and everything would be better with a few more celebrity cameos. To their credit, Efron, Devine, Kendrick and Plaza are committed to their bits, working overtime to squeeze a few more drops of comedy blood out of the stone that is the film’s outline of a script. But their performances are also grating, particularly Plaza, who is forced to relinquish her otherwise capable comedy timing in favor of a barely two-dimensional caricature of a “bad” girl playing nice.

At every turn “Mike and Dave” seems desperate to position itself as a spiritual extension of Wedding Crashers, going so far as to name-drop the earlier film in a particularly on-the-nose scene. But while leads Efron and Devine exhibit some of that Wilson/Vaughan chemistry, the surrounding film is severely lacking in the showmanship and ingenuity of better comedies.

It’s a failed attempt that barely entertains for its shorter-than-it-feels running time.

Grade: C+

*Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens nationwide on Friday, July 8.

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A couple of weeks ago I was at my brother’s house and he asked me what good movies were coming out this summer. I started listing off the usual suspects of big-budget summer tent poles – Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Fast 6 – when he stopped me and said “Isn’t there anything that isn’t a big loud sequel?”

I wasn’t prepared for the question and was uncharacteristically frozen by it. I sat there, slack jawed, for about two minutes trying to think of something, anything, that was neither a sequel nor featured a hero in a cape before I finally just changed the subject by asking about his kids or the weather or some other such subject that normal people talk about.

It was a sad moment, both because I failed to serve what is essentially my sole purpose in a social scenario and also because I had let my perfectly-justified excitement for one of the geekiest years of cinema on record to overshadow some of the great independent, artistic and dramatic works that are forthcoming.

So, with the official start of the summer movie season descending upon us this Friday with the opening of Iron Man 3, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the less bombastic titles heading to cinemas this summer that (in my humble opinion) can’t come soon enough.

Here’s four movies whose trailers don’t feature a single explosion (unless you count fireworks) and one that does.

The Great Gatsby 

Sure the trailer is big and loud with a Jay Z-produced soundtrack and lots of beautiful shirts, but Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby is still a dramatic dissection of the myth of the American dream, based on the timeless literary masterpiece by F. Scott Fitzgerald that most moviegoers only loosely remember skimming through in their high school English class.

In this third and latest silver screen adaptation, Leo DiCaprio is the titular Gatsby, a man haunted by his past and clinging to a precariously-constructed future. The film is set in the heart of the roaring 20’s, in which the privileged are drunk off their own excess and the rest of the world struggles to survive. Topical? Yes much.

As a reminder, Luhrman is the man that gave us the visually indulgent Romeo + Juliet (also starring DiCaprio) and Moulin Rouge, as well as cult classic Strictly Ballroom and polarizing one-movie-that’s-really-two Australia. Sink or swim, Gatsby is sure to be bold in style and unique in vision.

Much Ado About Nothing 

First off, if I had one wish it would be that my life could essentially be the trailer for Much Ado: hanging out in black and white with Nathan Fillion and the rest of the Whedon regulars while great music plays in the background. But in the interim, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with watching this movie as soon as possible.

After wrapping post-production on The Avengers, geek-extraordinaire Joss Whedon decided to relax by inviting a few of his actor friends out to his house and filming a micro-budget adaptation of Bill Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. If you’re a fan of any of Whedon’s non-avengers projects (Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, etc) that’s probably all you need to hear, but if not then look at this as a modern retelling of a classic story populated by a who’s-who ensemble cast of terrific character actors.

To The Wonder 

Terrence Malick is one of those directors – like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino – where you probably already know if you’re a fan or not and if you’re not sure then approach with caution. I first came across his work with 2005’s The New World – part of a week long movie-watching binge as I recovered from a hernia surgery – and then again with 2011’s The Tree of Life which featured Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and dinosaurs. To this day I’m not entirely sure what The Tree of Life was about but I’ve learned that it’s best to avoid prescription-strength pain killers when watching a Malick movie.

His latest, To The Wonder, wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t think it was worth seeing for the average person. So if you’re intrigued, just bear in mind that you should go in with certain expectations. Chief among them being that TTW will likely be missing a lot of the elements that make up a typical film, such as dialogue, or plot.

In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t think of To The Wonder as a movie at all. Think of it instead as a two-hour art installation. Still intrigued? Then get ready for some of the most hauntingly beautiful imagery you’ve ever seen.

Before Midnight

I had the chance to see Before Midnight at Sundance but held off to give myself the opportunity to watch its predecessors Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (yes, BM is a “sequel” but come on, spirit of the law here). I’m glad I did, because Before Sunrise more than lived up to the hype and now I’m all but thirsting to see what happens with the characters.

18 years after their chance meeting on a train headed to Vienna (Before Sunrise) and 9 years after reuniting in France, we check back in with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Greece. Expect a lot of walking and talking in exotic locales and a minimalist plot that mostly centers on philosophical discussions of life, love and relationships.

Elysium 

Somewhere in the middle of all the sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations we have this original science fiction concept straight out of the amazing mind of District 9 creator Neil Blomkamp. Much like how D9 told the tale of racial inequality disguised as a humans vs. aliens flick, Elysium uses a dystopian future as an allegory for economic disparity and class warfare.

In Elysium, we find a world in which the wealthy have escaped the dirty, polluted Earth to live in a floating paradisaical space station while the rest of us are left behind to scratch out whatever pitiful existence we can. Matt Damon, bald headed and outfitted with a black market militaristic exoskeleton attempts to crash the party, upsetting the delicate balance in the process.

District 9 was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2010 and gave us Sharlto Copley, a balls-to-the-wall South African who has largely dwindled in lesser projects ever since (see: The A-Team). With Elysium, we have Blomkamp’s follow-up and a returning Copley, and I can’t wait to see what happens. It also boasts the first on-screen appearance of Jodie Foster since her odd, head-scratching Cecil B. Demille Award acceptance speech, so there’s that.

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Continuing in the tradition of week-late summer blog postings. The family and I descended upon Garden City for our annual Bear Lake adventure week. For the last decade or so we’ve been spending one week every summer at the Sweetwater/Ideal Beach resort at Bear Lake doing our best to avoid actually entering Bear Lake’s waters.

The first couple of years we would rent wave runners for a romp in the chop but as our clan has gotten older (read: younger due to insurgence of spawn) such high-octane thrills have given way to a week of poolside relaxation and a LOT of Tennis.

Of note this year is that my immediate family has begun the process of transitioning into a self-sustaining extended family. In years prior a trip with “the cousins” meant a vacation with my parents siblings and their children. As of this year however the voyage included the children of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wood only (and distinguished guests) making “the cousins” My sibling’s children, and my siblings and I – in turn – the generation of “Aunts” and “Uncles.”

I can not tell you how weird this is for me.

Being the youngest, I am the only Wood child without a spouse and spawn. So while it’s all fine and dandy to call me Uncle Ben it makes for an interesting trip when you are caught in an age-chasm between those changing the diapers and those whose diapers are being changed.

The best way to deal with this, repeatedly spanking my brother Jake on the tennis court – which I did, with the help of my double’s mate/Australian brother-in-law Varian a.k.a Big V. This victory comes with an asterisk, however, in that none of us are particularly good at playing doubles, especially my father, Jake’s teammate.

The other way to deal ageism is that if you can’t beat them, join them. I somehow conned Catherine into being my plus one for Thursday night and took full advantage of the opportunity, packing as much activity into the relatively short time she was there with us. We swam in the pool, biked into town for a shake and had a moonlit kayak ride before playing a board game with the bunch and calling it a night.

In closing, here’s some pictures I took. As usual, they offer no catalog of Wood family fun. Instead they’re the usual amateur landscapes that I pretend anyone gives a hoot about.


The water at Bear is at a great level right now. It got hit, like all of Utah, with the drought 8 or so years ago and has never gotten back up to where it used to be but this year was the highest it’s been in a long time. All around the edge of the lake we had these great sandbar islands with water behind them. The pools where about 10 degrees warmer than the lake and I saw a few groups set there stuff up to play in them, instead of the lake 40 yards away.



I’m starting to develop a certain taste for shots of benches (as seen here). There’s something poetic about them for me. More often than not you get these city benches that are just dropped on the side of the road because someone might want to sit down. Then there’s the other kind of bench, those benches that are placed intentionally at a location because people WILL sit there, because they overlook some mammoth spectacle of nature or awesome vantage point. To take two steps closer and get a shot of the lake, you end up with another little pic of water and horizon. With the bench in the foreground (at least for me) it makes me think of how often you can’t see the forest for the trees.

As it turns out, I wanted a different angle for that shot but some lake-strolling punk decided to set up camp right in my frame. Oh well, it still turned out ok.


As I said before, Bear Lake’s water level has been crazy low for the better part of 10 years. That armada of wave runners parked on the sandbar used to be rented out of this cove but were uprooted by the drought. We’ve been going to Sweetwater for 10 years and every year I gauge the water level by how close it comes to filling this cove back up. You can see the old docks slumped on the side of the hill on the right side of this shot; and the whole interior is a stagnant pool of moss and weeds. Just beyond the cove, in the center, you can see the glistening turquoise water, just out of reach.

And, notice how the two benches are facing the OTHER way.

If I were some snobby bigshot photographer I would think up some great metaphorical name for this picture. Something about yearning for the past, or maybe some allegory for heaven and hell.

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I was trailer hopping on youtube today when I came across this tasty slice. It’s comforting that even in today’s world of CG gimmickry Hollywood can still produce a genuine B-movie.

Yes, that WAS acting legend Christopher Lloyd.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this kind of cinematic trash. If you ever want to have a good time check out 8 Legged Freaks. It’s about spiders, big ones.

I probably won’t be watching Piranha 3D, and I certainly won’t be watching it in 3D. Still, this trailer is 2 minutes and 13 seconds of American pride.

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Last weekend (or s0, I have no concept of time anymore) I had my first of hopefully a long summer of outdoor concert excursions. Utah-based piano sensation (I use that term lightly) Jon Schmidt played a free outdoor gig at Nibley, followed by fireworks.

Last year I was assigned Nibley in my Reporting Public Affairs class and spent a semester attending their bi-weekly city council meetings as well as any other happening event in the community. Nibley is great, and with Logan, North Logan, and Providence becoming burgeoning metropolises it’s the place to be for close, but far relaxation in Cache Valley. And, for a relatively small town, they put on some pretty well-organized events.

I’m not particularly fond of Jon Schmidt’s music, and after seeing his act three times with almost no alteration whatsoever he leaves much to be desired. However, a free outdoor show in Nibley with fireworks? I watch a Katy Perry concert under those circumstances.

Needless to say, the evening was highly enjoyable. Trevor, Hayley, Skyler, Rachel and Allie kicked it on a blanket while I scampered around taking pictures for CVDaily.

The Boys, it took a few tries to get one with all of us “smiling”

Ben at Work: Rachel took this shot of me taking a shot of Jon Schmidt. As it turns out Allie was taking a picture of Rachel at the same time.

The girls, significantly more impressive.

Skyler in the heat of the moment; or, maybe just in heat.


The many moods of Trevor and Hayley.

Now that this is behind me, I’m feeling a familiar itch for the Twilight Concerts that start next week in SLC. Bring it on baby.


Shmidty wrapping up the night with his “Love Song/Viva La Vida” staple.

Nibley fireworks. I’m especially glad I went to these since I might miss out on fireworks for the 4th of July thanks to the brilliance of my employer.

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