It’s March, when film studios traditionally release films that they would like to make money on but know don’t stand a chance against the summer and winter megafilms. Ken Lowery take a look at the trailers for a selection of these upcoming releases and find a few bright spots amidst a sea of “ehh.”

March 2nd

The Lorax

DW: When looking at the list of films scheduled for this month, there was surprisingly little that elicited any strong reactions from me at first glance. This was pretty much the only one. Granted, the feeling it evokes was pretty much the same way Sherman felt about Atlanta, but that’s a reaction at least.

Usually when compiling the list of films for these posts I kick out anything that just looks self-evidently shitty. I made an exception here because the fact that Dr. Seuss’s environmental fable could be made into a cynical, merchandise spewing, catch-phrase spouting sub-Dreamworks attempt to rip off families in the name of shutting kids up for eighty minutes says something about the profoundly craven and mercenary nature of the film industry.

In other words, the fact that this even got made shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with America.

KL: I like that bit where Danny DeVito thinks the woman is a man, because that’s funny because she’s mannish, I guess! Anyway the delivery, setup and editing sort of resemble what jokes look like, and it plays on status quo notions of gender, so ha ha am I right.

Maybe I’m picking on the one stupid joke too much, but it is a stupid joke firmly lodged into the slot reserved for stupid “kicker” jokes at the end of brainless trailers, so if this piece of marketing is meant to represent the film then… yikes.

March 9th

Silent House

KL: Horror filmmakers: This isn’t the ‘70s, and you’re not writing for drive-in magnates. “Inspired by True Events” means nothing anymore; we are all well aware of the incredible wiggle room that kind of language grants you.

I am not automatically down on found footage stuff. It has its place, and it can work – whether it’s “true” found footage like the original Paranormal Activity or a slightly more loose interpretation a la Monsters – if handled with precise care and a deep knowledge of the limitations of a faulty camera.

Chris Kentis and Laura Lau did Open Water together, which I hear was good but cannot personally testify to because just the premise gives me the willies. But no. I don’t think so.

DW: A copy of the original Uruguayan film has been sitting, unopened in its Netflix folder, on my tv stand for like a month. I had heard good things about the film, I’ve been digging this Spanish-language horror Renaissance we’ve got going on lately, and while it’s cheesy, the “real time” gimmick sucked me in.

And then I saw the US trailer a few weeks back for the first time and what I thought was a spooky ghost movie with a clever format turned out to be just another “found footage” film about a woman being terrorized because we’re just going to run with the misogynistic overtones of the horror genre I guess.

I find it a bit depressing that the original was sold on the real time gimmick and this remake is pushing the “true story” gimmick. It feels like an indication of just how little originality is currently on display in the American horror genre.

I’ll probably just settle in and watch the original instead.

The Decoy Bride

DW: I’ll usually at least give films that stick this many British comedy actors in a look, but I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be a painful proposition this time around. About the only thing we don’t see in the trailer is the eventual realization that, yes, Doctor Who ditches the bitchy American and falls in love with the homespun English girl. And, really, they don’t need to show us that, because it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. I suspect that if they attempted any other ending in a film that, in all other regards, is so unrelentingly by the numbers, they might end up with riots in the theaters.

KL: So when the voice-over guy says “The only thing she didn’t plan for…” in the trailer for a romantic comedy, there is only one thing that will ever, ever be said next: “is falling in love.” That’s it. Forever.

I think Kelly MacDonald is extremely watchable and quite talented, but ho boy, we make enough of these things here. We don’t need to start importing them.

John Carter

DW: I’m enough of a fan of the Burroughs novels that I wanted this to be good, but not so much of a fan that I feel terribly upset that this honestly doesn’t look very good. Mostly I’ve just been entertained by the comedy of errors Disney has gone through in trying to market the thing. “No, don’t call it Princess of Mars, people will think it’s for girls. No, don’t call it John Carter of Mars, people will think it’s campy.” Now I’m mostly curious to see how badly sanitized from the novels this is going to end up being. (My bet is Carter’s background as a Confederate will be excised but the White Man’s Burden subtext will still shine through.)

Visually it’s pretty enough, and for the most part it stays within a reasonable family-friendly approximation of what’s actually in the books, but there’s something the feels vaguely perfunctory about the thing as a whole. As if the creators reached the “good enough” stage and decided that they were done for the day. It doesn’t help, either, that casting an actor an uncharismatic as Taylor Kitsch as a swashbuckling ass-kicker doesn’t do the film any favors.

I mean, hell, they even went as boring and generic as possible with the damn font for the logo. It’s almost like they’re trying to scuttle the film on purpose.

KL: I like Tim Riggins, so there’s that, and Andrew Stanton has written and directed my absolute favorite Pixar work, so there’s that. I also like it when animation directors move into live action, because they tend to want to move the camera more and push storytelling into further dimensions than “OK I guess pile on some more CGI.” They typically do something with the tech at their disposal; Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, while thin as a sheet of paper, was a hell of an entertaining thing to look at.

There is also Disney’s troubling record with live-action spectacles. I still like the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but everything else since then has been a hot mess – from the Pirates sequels themselves to bland, charmless, and curiously anonymous stuff like Prince of Persia. Perhaps Disney will let Stanton do his thing.

My Cyno-O-Meter still ticks over to “optimistic” on this one, but it won’t take much more than a strong breeze to tip it over to “nope.”

March 16th

21 Jump Street

DW: You know, calling attention to the fact that Tatum and Hill look in no possible way like actual high school students doesn’t do anything to change the fact that the very notion that actors in their thirties could pass as high school students is just as ridiculous now as it was in the original series.

My inability to suspend disbelief aside, this looks like a pretty standard action comedy, only dumbed down as much as possible. Hill’s not funny enough to sell it on his own, and Tatum isn’t pretty enough to make up for the fact that the film looks neither funny nor exciting. I’d ask why they even bothered to make the film, but we all know it’s because somebody paid for the rights and, by God, they’re going to make that money back somehow.

KL: I don’t… get it. The two directors are vets from Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and not much else. The writer, Michael Bacall, is making something of a go of it lately – he co-scripted Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, wrote Project X, and now this. I guess it’s a property that has some loyalty, and I guess there’s some mileage to be gained from the whole “no actors portraying high school kids look anything like high school kids,” but man, I cannot imagine even picking this up as a $3 purchase at Entertainmart. Or remembering it in August.

Mirror, Mirror

KL: If I’m being perfectly honest, I have way more love for this than for Snow White and the Huntsman. The latter looks like another joyless “epic” grafted onto a fairy tale, because God knows we needed more of those. Mirror Mirror at least has Tarsem Singh going for it, and there’s a guy who for the most part has not been afraid to use controversial techniques like “color” and “a style that does not look like one of 30 people could have directed it.”

Not that I think this won’t also be a disaster, and I never could stand Julia Roberts. But at least it’ll be a disaster with style.

DW: Oh, man, I really wish Singh wasn’t involved with this. I love his aesthetic, but it physically pains me to see it grafted onto a vehicle for a braying Julia Roberts and a past his sell-by Nathan Lane spouting lame fairy-tale jokes and puns that even the writers of a Shrek film would hesitate to include. Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t look any better, no, but at least it’s not pretending to be anything other than a bloated epic.

It is so damn pretty but every time a character opens their mouth I just wince.

March 23rd

The Hunger Games

KL: Say “The Hunger Games” in my household and my wife will tremble, which is likely the case in many, many households across America. I’ve abstained from the phenomenon (I usually read A, not YA, he said with unintentional condescension) but do not find fault in the outline of the material. Oh sure, there have been a thousand iterations of this storyline before, but that is 1) the lot of genre works, and 2) absolutely no indicator of quality.

I do like the people in front of the camera – lots of smaller roles filled with colorful actors looking to see if this franchise will hit, and a strong lead in Jennifer Lawrence. The presence of Gary Ross as writer-director is an interesting one, and harder to peg – dude gave us broad, friendly fare like Dave and more ambitious work (that, I admit, I was not crazy about) in Pleasantville. The campaign does not turn me off and I hope we have a winner here, but really, my opinion here is moot. I will be seeing this movie.

DW: I’ll be honest here; despite the praise that I’ve seen the books get, the premise squicks me out far too much for me to read them or watch this. I know, I’m a horror guy, but, y’know, there’s “scary” and then there’s “casual disregard for the dignity of human life in the name of entertainment.” And much of the excitement I see from people about this property feels more like the later. It’s much like when Battle Royale was a thing, and people would gush at me about how great it was. “It’s about these teenagers and they have to fight to the death and the deaths are so awesome!” and I just want to slowly back out of the room.

So, yeah, we’re just going to chalk this one up to “not for me.”

A Thousand Words

KL: I’m going to go ahead and make the observation I’m sure everyone else is making, because it needs to be made: was Jim Carrey unavailable? Because this is exactly the kind of high-concept comedy he built the second act of his career around: lots of riffing safely confined within family-friendly MPAA standards. I suspect – and try to stay with me here – that Eddie Murphy’s character will learn a lot about the value of true, heartfelt words. But don’t hold me to that.

DW: I don’t know, all the mugging and built-in cameo opportunities for “famous friends” make me think this was a vehicle that Adam Sandler passed on. But otherwise you’re pretty spot on; this is a safe, innocuous, “family friendly” comedy that looks to be about as rote and predictable as every other “mysterious magical figure teaches asshole an important life lesson” film ever made.

March 30th

Wrath of the Titans

DW: Well…

That’s certainly a sequel to a CGI-heavy sword-n-sandal film that wasn’t particularly impressive to begin with. It’s big and loud and looks to be just going through the motions, much like the first one. Only with more grime where the first one at least promised a certain sense of spectacle.

My weakness for gladiator films means I’ll probably get this from Netflix at some point, but it’ll be one of those “oh, hey, didn’t Wrath of the Titans come out a while ago?” rentals.

KL: I was not a fan of the first installment and struggle now to think what the Clash remake’s legacy would be to inspire a sequel. All I think of now is Liam Neeson in shiny armor and the minor debacle of being the first and most prominent movie to get an obvious post-production facelift to dark, underwhelming 3D. I guess that movie also hit the golden ratio of cost to revenue, so here is our formula-mandated sequel.

I summon no passion here, because nothing about the original remake (and FUCK YOU for making that phrase a reality, studios) can be said to inspire passion in anyone, least of all the people involved.

Actually, I am inspired to passion by one thing: Studios, we are done with your “We will make Sam Worthington a thing whether you like it or not” mentality. It’s not going to happen.

Intruders

KL: Straight up, I loved 28 Weeks Later, even more than 28 Days Later, so I am all about whatever it is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (such a great name) wants to do next. And what’s not to like about Clive Owen?

Independent of that, this trailer works on me. “Hollowface” is kind of dumb but I guess it fits the idea that a kid came up with it, and the slow emergence of the monster/villain/whatever from the closet to face the dad, in defiance of every “the boogeyman isn’t real” demonstration in the history of the world, is nice and creepy. Yes.

DW: Oh, hell yes. This? This is what I want from my horror films. A convincing atmosphere of dread, a relatable fear tied into a fantastic, impossible fear, and a premise appropriate for the genre.

I wasn’t a fan of Fresnadillo’s other films. I recognized the quality, but, eh, zombies by any other name are still zombies and I just don’t care. I’m glad he’s sticking to the genre but branching out into more interesting areas.

5 Responses to “In A World for March, 2012”
  1. elsie says:

    I’m eager for The Hunger Games because I’m teaching with the novel in a college humanities course focused on ethics. The students have gotten into the novel (and finding readings that grab them is a huge challenge). Of course, when I see the movie, it’s going to be with 20 18-year-olds, so pray for me.

  2. I’m looking forward to John Carter and The Hunger Games, being a fan of the ERB books in the case of the former. I’ve never read the latter, but for me it’s HOW the story is told. And there’s also Woody Harrellson and Donald Sutherland.

    Given the bloody carcasses that have been Dr. Seuss-based films (although Horton Hears A Who was actually enjoyable), The Lorax promises to be more of the same. The fact that IHOP has Lorax-themed menu items pretty much says it all.

    On Mirror, Mirror, whaddayasay we go to Julia Roberts’ house, stuff her in a burlap sack, drive to the nearest playing card factory and dump her in a vat of chemicals?

    Just for shits and giggles, y’know?

  3. Saw the Decoy Bride…it was friggin awful. I love Tennant and I love MacDonald but no amount of cute charisma could help that stinker. Keep in mind that I REALLY wanted to like it.

  4. Peter says:

    If I have to see Intruders, expect Hunger Games… and you are just LUCKY I never read the books…
    xxoo

  5. David Alexander McDonald says:

    Mirror, Mirror just for Tarsem’s direction (dislike Roberts intensely), John Carter actually seems to have pulled it off as a big adventure piece, so I’d like to see that too, though not in 3D. The rest…mehhhh.

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