Every month, Ken Lowery and I look at some of the trailers for forthcoming films to see what whets our whistle and what rains on our parade. September is one of those transitional films, where the pics not quite good enough for summer blockbuster tentpoles, but not serious enough to Oscar-bait get dumped, and it leads to a peculiar assortment of films at the best of times.

September 7th

The Words

DW: I really want to like this. There’s pretty much no one in the cast that I don’t like, and I find the premise intriguing. And that’s despite it being a story about writers, which is the sort of narrative narcissism that usually annoys the spit out of me, although it doesn’t quite seem to rise entirely above the sort of tedious Pretty People Problems that the hinted at romantic subplots suggest.

But then the trailer starts playing that terrible, terrible song and now I’m going from being intrigued to being actively annoyed with this whole enterprise. And finding out that the name of the band is “Imagine Dragons” only makes matters worse.

KL: From the writers of TRON: Legacy!

OK, to be fair to writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, their names may certainly be attached to that deflating balloon of a movie, but I doubt any one person (or writing unit) really wrote the final product.

But in my deep-seated prejudice against stories about writers, I will look for just about anything to make me say “nope!” and I think that may well be it. The Words is also coming out not only in September but early September, so we’re still firmly entrenched in “dumping ground” season. There may well be some fragile gems to find, but it’s better to have an overdeveloped sense of skepticism about these things. Your heart will break less.

September 14th

The Master

DW: Everybody I know seems to be looking forward to this, and only most of them seem to be doing so out of morbid curiosity over the whole not-Scientology angle. There’s plenty to recommend here. Superb actors all around, what we see in the trailer is simply beautifully shot. But Anderson is one of those directors that I’m still waiting to like; what I’ve seen before I never really found particularly compelling. Partly that’s my general impatience with both drama and “filmy” films. And, maybe I’m just being contrarian about this, but I’m not really interested in a not-Scientology film. Granted, the real story is probably legally unfilmable and too lurid to be plausible by movie standards, but this treatment seems far too reverent for a film about sociopaths preying off one another.

KL: I want so badly to be in the Paul Thomas Anderson club. I find his work mostly impenetrable – or maybe that’s not the right word. I find it obvious and just sort of there, which is a criticism leveled against a lot of things I like, so I guess what I’m really saying is that I don’t seem to operate on the wavelength that turns his observations into profundities.

But I want to believe. I will go into this movie as eager to love it as anything in recent memory. Maybe this time, things will be different.

(I also enjoy anything that swipes at Scientology, so bonus points there.)

September 21

Trouble With the Curve

KL: Life lessons! Hard truths! Jokes about getting old! The girl will fall for the guy! Heart and soul will be valued over computers! I have some sneaking suspicions about how this story will unfold, so if you want I can just lend you my copy of Bull Durham for let’s say half the ticket price. We’ll both come out ahead.

I have to give studio programmers a thumbs up, though: September 21st will have this rom-com thing which also brings in old timers, the gritty cop drama, the sci-fi action comic book thing, and the PG-13 horror movie! There’s something here for everyone except, I suspect, fans of memorable movies.

DW: I just love films that use baseball as a metaphor for family dysfunction and healing.

Oh, wait, no…I really hate that.

Yeah, this is just about as by-the-book as you can get. All the beats are telegraphed in the trailer, all the major themes are tired cliches. And the cardinal crime, it just looks completely lazy and unambitious, like all the major cast members had pay-or-play contracts that were almost due and so had to be put in something.

End of Watch

KL: Found footage comes to the modern cop drama!

I have, without realizing it, become something of a connoisseur of David Ayer’s films. I have seen Harsh Times, Street Kings, Dark Blue, Training Day and S.W.A.T. and boy I’m starting to detect a theme here.

I also spent my adolescence and early 20s injecting the works of James Ellroy directly into my brain stem. And, like, I think I’m done, guys. I get it. The thin blue line is so narrow it’s easy to fall off of it, family, honor, finding out the LAPD’s just another gang and choosing to do the right thing even if no one will ever know you did, et cetera, et cetera. Got it. I’m good!

But I guess Jake Gyllenhaal will be shirtless so for all I know my wife is already camped out.

DW: Hey now, Jake Gyllenhaal in “serious actor mode” is actually quite good. Of course, here he’s in “action movie guy mode” and results there haven’t been as impressive.

I’m usually the first one to use the “fauxmentary” approach as an excuse to dismiss a film, and…okay, it’s not doing the film any favors here, because while I’m willing to suspend enough disbelief to believe that the film crew got dragged along with two hero cops fighting a drug cartel, I have a harder time buying that the film crew also just happened to get some shots from the angles of the bad guys in the big shoot-out. It all just calls attention to the artificiality of film as a medium rather than obscures it, which I rather thought was the whole point.

But damn, look at those arms on Jake. It’s a rental in our house for sure.

Dredd

KL: Mixed feelings. It sounds like they’re going very lean with this one – no real exposition or backstory on Dredd (which keeps in line with the character) and lots and lots and lots and lots of action. I like Lena Headey as just about anything, and I really like the idea of her as a ruthless Dredd-style villain. Also, Alex Garland. Not an even track record, but he usually tries, dammit. The Guardian even gave it a good review.

Still: 3D action movie released in September adapted from a comic book. No way in hell I can convince my wife to see this, so it’ll be down to spare time. Not an abundance of that around these parts lately.

Dorian, when did we get so old?

DW: I think we got old when we realized that Hollywood wanted other people’s money more than it wanted ours.

I’m in the mixed feelings camp here as well. I’m not a huge Judge Dredd fan, but I’ve read some trades and I can appreciate the character and…honestly, apart from Karl Urban’s performance, this doesn’t feel like Dredd to me. Dredd’s world should be big and bizarre and has a strong hint of a satirical edge to it. Dredd is a guy who hangs around with psychics and aliens and fights creatures from other dimensions. This feels weirdly mundane and far too straight-faced and serious. I mean, the Stallone film was pretty terrible, but it felt more Dredd-ish than this does.

Maybe it will do well and we’ll get a sequel with Judge Death.

House At The End Of The Street

KL: This has “put on hold and then released to capitalize on The Hunger Games” written all over it. A preliminary search says it was intended to release in April but got pushed until now. To not split the Jennifer Lawrence brand, I guess.

I think Jennifer Lawrence is the real deal. I liked The Hunger Games an awful lot, and she was absolutely crucial to giving that movie heart and soul. That’s to say nothing of Winter’s Bone, which similarly hinged on her unpretentious and completely authentic performance. Also she’s in a tank top in the trailer and I’m only human.

This one doesn’t seem to have much else going for it. I’m hearing vague hints that there’s some kind of big twist to the story, which is fun, but less fun if you’re spotting for it for the duration. I suspect I’m out.

DW: Well, I would certainly hope that there’s some kind of twist, because otherwise those two minute trailers are pretty much the entire movie. Boy meets girl, boy has murderously violent sibling locked in basement, murderously violent sibling stalks girl, boy turns out to be not so innocent after all. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that film at least twice in the last couple of years. (Of course, I also watch a lot of really incredibly shitty horror movies.)

So, scares for the kiddies, but fairly sanitized ones because Lawrence is the draw and girls don’t like their horror quite as gorey and visceral as boys do. And although I’m not a gore fan, I’m also not a Teen Stars in Peril fan, so it looks like a “pass” for me as well.

September 28th

Hotel Transylvania

DW: I’m the one who was underwhelmed by ParaNorman (for a variety of reasons, and the cop-out with the identity of the gay character after the film draws so many parallels between anti-gay harassment and anti-fictional-psychic harassment isn’t even a big one) so you would think this would be something I’d look forward to. I mean, it certainly has that Mad Monster Party vibe that I enjoy.

It’s the Sandler factor I can’t get past. Tartokovsky is generally well-regarded, and I’ve got no real complaints about his past work (though, to be honest, I don’t think I ever enjoyed any of them as much as the nerd hive-mind thinks I should have), but if hitching this project to Sandler and his Pandering Pals is what it took to get this made, well…maybe it didn’t need to get made.

KL: Not interested. Mildly surprising, given the premise, but nah.

I’m trying to figure out Andy Samberg here. Why is he hitching his wagon to the Adam Sandler train? Does he not see what everyone else sees? Or is he taking the hand up from SNL work to make some space to do the stuff he wants to do? I guess I’m the fool because I refuse to let the fact that Grown-Ups made obscene amounts of cash into my particular reality, but at the same time, that thing he made earlier this year with Sandler tanked. Guess it was already too late by that point.

I think Samberg is funny and very talented, but this feels like watching your honor student kid turn into a surly goth or something. Troubling. I hope it’s just a phase.

Looper

DW: A slick sci-fi action film with It Boy Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Yeah, I can probably be persuaded to check this out. That it’s actually an original story (well, original within the context of film as a whole and not the specific sci-fi genre of time travel stories) and not yet another remake is a plus. The only wild card for me here is Bruce Willis, who doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to choosing sci-fi films. With the exception of The Fifth Element, but I’m willing to concede that that one’s for a more discerning palatte than most have.

KL: I’m slowly, slowly, slowly coming around on JGL as a legitimate leading man and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Bruce Willis – he’s not the most discerning when it comes to picking roles, but I think that’s also a strength. He’s willing to be tough or to make fun of being tough.

The trailers have not particularly grabbed me, but I feel an almost Team Genre-like pull to support the movie if it’s even halfway decent. You’re right, Dorian; it’s kind of amazing to see a sci-fi concept not adapted from somewhere else get so much push.

And as I was writing this a critic I like very much threw a quick “B+” rating for Looper on Twitter. Promising!

3 Responses to “In A World for September, 2012”
  1. Roger Green says:

    The reviews on The Words were savage (17% positive on RT).

  2. Adam Farrar says:

    For being directed by Tartokovsky, the animation of Hotel Transylvania looks cheap and bland. That screenshot you posted could have been from any anonymous cartoon in a discount dvd bin.

  3. Evan Waters says:

    The trailer for Looper didn’t impress me but it’s apparently getting some good advance word.

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