Every month Ken Lowery and I watch the trailers for some of the films coming up to see what looks promising and what proves the creative bankruptcy of the film industry. This month we’ve got a remake, a remake, and a couple other remakes.

August 5

The Change-Up

DW: As much as I like Reynolds and Bateman, I’m more than a little taken-back that a film like this even got made. I mean, honestly? A body-switching comedy? I would have hoped that Kirk Cameron had driven the stake into the heart of that particular genre long ago, but I guess, given the current fervor for recycling ideas and concepts at film studios at the moment, its return was inevitable. I can’t tell if grafting the concept onto a raunchy dude comedy is a deliberate calculation to exploit a profitable market or aiming for the hoped for nostalgia for the genre trope amongst the target demographic.

Given the curiously reactionary bent most dude-comedies seem to be taking these days, I’ll be genuinely surprised if this ends on any note other than “family man discovers true value of family and monogamy, party guy discovers true value of family and monogamy.” And it’s that dreadful predictability that really kills any interest I might have for this.

KL: Despite the trailer’s hints at crassness, this looks to be about as safe and predictable as could be managed – a body-swap comedy of old with a little bit of latter-day dude-com raunch. Reynolds and Bateman are just fine, but they both seem to be rocketing toward that gooshy, mediocre center of mainstream, acceptable R-rated comedy. My disappointment with them is their presence has never been a “sure thing” on the big screen—but I always felt they could be, with the right scripts. Seems like that’s not going to happen, though.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

DW: I was never really a fan of any of the Planet of the Apes films, so I’ve got no nostalgic connection to this. I’m neither affronted that continuity is being violated nor pleased that the thing I remember from when I was a kid is coming back.

Which means that this whole enterprise just rings hollow for me. I can see the “look how epic we are” vibe that the trailers and ads are trying so hard to sell, but mostly I can’t help trying to figure out if that’s anywhere near a reasonably believable estimate of the number of chimps and gorillas in San Francisco. The innate silliness of the premise is ill-matched to the earnest tone they’re taking.

KL: I was not born with the gene that makes me care about this franchise. I don’t hate it, nor do I begrudge anyone’s love and admiration; I simply don’t care. Perhaps it’s all in the timing: I’m just slightly too young to have enjoyed the movies the first time around, and I grew up in a house with cable and pay channels so there really wasn’t a reason to watch the endless repeats of the Apes movies on regular channels. The moment where all the joggers look up and see apes in the trees is cool, but otherwise, nope.

August 10

The Help

KL: Hooray, a feel-good movie about how great white people were in the segregated South!

Emma Stone is great and I love her (though I question the need to cast her in everything that does not star Amanda Seyfried). Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard – all great. Watching this trailer, I feel the questions Roger Ebert asked about Glory: this story is great. But why do we have to see it through the eyes of white people?

DW: If this were coming out later in the year, I’d guess that the studio was Oscar baiting, as this is the sort of “very important” story, with a feel good tone, that occasionally manages to beat out the stories of brave people nobly and tragically dying that usually win.

It seems like every couple of years we get a movie beating us over the head about how racism is bad that somehow manages to make white folks the heroes. In general, I prefer the more poppy feel of this and Hairspray to the grim seriousness of things like Crash, though I can’t help but feel that the insistence on setting these things in the past is just a convenient way to avoid dealing with contemporary expressions of prejudice. So, points for meaning well, I suppose.

August 12

30 Minutes Or Less

KL: I like everyone and everything going on here (though I find Danny McBride trying in anything but the smallest of doses), so, yeah, probably. It’s an August comedy release so I don’t think there’s a lot of faith in quality on behalf of Sony Pictures, but then maybe they think this’ll be a bigger hit if it doesn’t have to contend with The Hangover Redux. What’s to say? The movie math adds up, and barring horrible reviews I’m on board.

DW: McBride is one of those people that friends keep telling me is really funny, and I’m just not seeing it at all.

Apart from that, nothing really excites me here. I felt Zombieland was pretty over-hyped, and Eisenberg…I don’t dislike him as an actor, but there’s a certain sameyness to all the roles I’ve seen him in. And Swardson’s post-Reno 911 efforts have actually repelled me in their utter lack of anything remotely resembling humor. I think I can pass.

August 19

Conan the Barbarian

DW: I do love me some gladiator/barbarian/sword and sandal movies. I’m not sure that we’ll ever get back to the glory days of the 80s for the cheapie fantasy film, but between this, Immortals, and a few other films on the horizon, it looks like a half-decent attempt is being made.

Pre-teen me would have been thrilled by this. We’ve got a mostly naked lead, monsters, wizards. It’s almost literally a check-list of stuff you need to throw in there to have a barbarian fantasy film. It’s a total throw-back, just with the kind of slick look that a decent budget and modern CGI can allow you. Which isn’t to say that it particularly looks good. I’ve got no illusions as to whether or not this is going to be a good film at all. But I’ll be happy if it entertains me and puts me in a pleasingly nostalgic frame of mind.

And ninety minutes of nearly naked Jason Momoa won’t hurt, either.

KL: This is definitely a barbarian movie. Like Apes, I missed the boat on these—unlike Apes, I might go see this one anyway. Really, any kind of big action epic that’s skewing R and isn’t about superheroes is worth at least a glance from fans of action epics.

I do wonder if the movie will suffer from Protagonist Hyper-Competence. I don’t know where or when it happened, but action heroes of late are just a little too good at what they do, and the question of “can the hero survive this?” is all but gone. Re-watch Die Hard sometime to get a sense of what I mean, and how revolutionary and involving that simple concept is. Conan’s probably just gonna shred ‘em, though.

Fright Night

DW: I’ve never made a secret of my general distaste for vampire films. Mostly I’ve just never cared for their trite clichés and symbolism, being just a step above the even more terrible zombie films. And the “revisionist” vampires, the tortured misunderstood romantic souls, have become even more of cliché, to the point where anyone making a movie or writing a book where vampires are just plain, nasty old monsters, can act as if they’re doing something transgressive and original. One of the few bright spots was the original Fright Night, which I’ve written about before, and it was actually a pretty damn clever use of vampires as a reaction to the overuse of slashers and serial killers that dominated 80s horror, and brought back a healthy dose of eroticism, both hetero (Charlie’s peeping habits) and homo (everything else in the film), to horror movies. It was a knowing, ironic, postmodern take on horror before even that sort of thing got played out.

And now they’ve remade it. Horror remakes frustrate me, as the films that get selected are usually the ones that really don’t need remakes, and the creators of the new versions frequently seem to miss the essential merits of the originals. I want to set aside my fanboyism and my prejudices. I really do. I like pretty much everyone in this cast quite a bit. I want to see them working together and doing something fun and clever.

But right away those hints that the people behind this have staggeringly missed the point creep in. In the original, our hero Charlie was a nerd. He was such a nerd that even Evil Ed, the creepy proto-goth gay kid, made fun of him. Here Charlie is a cool kid and it’s Ed that is shunned for figuring out that Jerry’s a vampire. It’s a pointless reversal. Jerry creeps on women openly here, completely destroying that ambiguously gay cover identity that charged the original. The character of Peter Vincent looks to have been almost completely excised from the advertising, which makes me wonder how marginal a role he’s going to end up having. And the rest looks like your typical action movie with a horror gloss that I see way too much of these days.

Which is an extremely long way to say “nope, I don’t like it.”

KL: I have a deep and abiding love for the original Fright Night, and a deep and abiding dislike of most all horror movie remakes. This particular remake falls somewhere in the queasy middle, where the promise of Colin Farrell as an evil vampire may very well be outweighed by the roteness of the rest of it. The fun thing about the original (beyond all the hetero- and homoerotic tension) is how playful it is, especially in the character of Peter Vincent. But Peter Vincent is a very specific character from a very specific time in cinematic horror, and so Fright Night may very well be a very specific horror movie for a very specific time—as it stands, it sorta looks like Disturbia (which I like!) plus a vampire.

August 26

Colombiana

DW: Okay, I’m down for this. Sure the biggest star is Zoe Saldana, and that’s being generous with our usage of the word “star.” And it’s just another revenge film, hitting the same story beats and tragic back-story that every film of that type invariably gets. But I’ve got a soft-spot for French action films, and this is another team-up by Luc Besson and Olivier Megaton, and even if Transporter 3 was the weakest of those films I still liked it. Sometimes I’ll happily take style over substance.

KL: Zoe Saldana is pretty OK to watch, and this looks like the sort of thing Tony Scott would make if he kept up on his Ritalin. So yeah.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

KL: On the plus side, this movie’s got Guy Pearce, Guillermo Del Toro on script and a flotilla of trailers with some style. But we also have the presence of Katie Holmes and the ol’ “kid crawling under the bed sheets” gag, so maybe there’s not as many fun ideas going on as I’d like.

In recent years I’ve actually crept away from jump-scare-style horror movies, only to find myself craving them anew. I was probably the last person in America to see Paranormal Activity (on DVD, just a few months back!) but now I want more of that, please. Also it’s fun to go to these things with your wife and she screams and jumps a lot. It just is.

DW: I’m actually really looking forward to this, despite Mrs. Tom Cruise. Del Toro I find hit or miss, but relegating him to producer and script-doctor are probably safe bets. And even though I’m generally opposed to horror remakes, the original film was part of that spate of 70s made-for-tv horror films that in general boasted very good scripts…and not much else that was praiseworthy. So taking the core script and touching it up is something I’m surprisingly pretty okay with. I like haunted house films, and the “little creature” genre hasn’t really been touched in awhile, and so melding the two sounds good to me. But mostly I’m happy because someone has made an R rated horror film, about a kid in peril no less, that’s not advertising itself on the basis of gore or brutality, but on mood. I have to get behind that.

Our Idiot Brother

KL: Paul Rudd has all but burned off his good will with a string of forgettable comedies where he plays, well, Paul Rudd. Here at least he’s revisiting a stoner concept not unlike his memorable bit in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so that’s something. The cast surrounding him is pretty solid, too, but not quite enough to dazzle me into forgetting that there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot to this. Um oh hey Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones are a couple. What was I saying again?

DW: As much as I like looking at a scruffy Paul Rudd, and as tolerant as I can be of the “wacky stuff happens” comedies, that there doesn’t really seem to be much of a plot does count against this. I think this is a “wait for the reviews” film, followed by a Redbox trip when it makes it to home video.

August 31

The Debt

KL: Doesn’t raise a pulse at all. Hooray for Helen Mirren and hooray-with-reservations for John Madden, but this is a trailer and premise that fails to grab me on almost every level. It doesn’t help that it’s written by three folks (Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan) whose collective and individual work has not impressed me. Not for me.

DW: As much as I might otherwise be intrigued by a thriller that takes place in two different periods, with all the potential for interesting storytelling techniques that can offer, this is looking pretty by the numbers. What? A secret from the past has the potential to ruin the reputations of the heroes today? How utterly original.

5 Responses to “In A World for August, 2011”
  1. elsie says:

    Nope, I’m not seeing anything at all here that appeals to me. It’s a bummer because I really am in the mood to see a movie, just not any of these.

  2. Luc says:

    I find your comments on the new Apes movie interesting, in that you seem to focus entirely on your relationship (or lack thereof) with the original franchise. I’ve seen the first Charlton Heston movie once or twice, but my interest in this one is in no way based on its status as a Planet of the Apes movie, but rather in its basic identity as a Che Guevara-style rebellion centered around animal rights. As well as being the most noteworthy cinematic instance of a veritable army of (relatively realistic) apes wreaking havoc. I saw it earlier today, and while the basic plot is a generic Spartacus “rise of the oppressed” transposed onto apes, it’s the only mainstream movie I’ve seen this summer that didn’t feel like I’d seen the exact same thing before.

  3. Tim O'Neil says:

    To be fair, Conan is pretty much the original example of Protagonist Hyper-Competence, going back to Howard. True, Arnold gets beat up a bit in the first CONAN film, but it’s similar to how Clint Eastwood gets beat up in THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY – he just gets better and cuts more heads off.

  4. Tales to Enrage says:

    Conan also lived in a time where being competent at a lot of things was easier to accept. The idea that someone could be good at tracking, hiding, sword fighting, and horseback riding makes more sense than knowing 13 languages, 20 forms of martial arts, having 3 PHDs, and being under the age of 30 at the same time.

  5. Evan Waters says:

    There is something very inert about the Debt trailer. I’m not even sure if it’s a reflection of the film or if it’s just cut together really poorly.

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