Every month Ken Lowery and I look at trailers for a selection of upcoming films to try and figure out which are worth our time, which aren’t, and which are the the ones that the SyFy channel passed on.
It’s October, which means horror movies, and the latest entry in the profitable franchise of the moment. But if I want to watch a “spooky kid” movie I’ll just go see The Bad Seed again, y’know?
DW: I wish I could still feel some enthusiasm for Tim Burton films, but every trailer and ad for this just fills me with that “Yep…that’s a Tim Burton film, all right” feeling. The same sorts of character designs, the same visual motifs, the same story recycled once again. Oh, is it about a sensitive outsider rejected by his community? And do they only realize his value once they can exploit him? And does he have to save them from themselves somehow? Gee, what a shockingly new theme for Burton to tackle. I’m only amazed that he somehow failed to get Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter to do voices. I can’t even honestly say that this might be okay as a kid’s film, as making it a black-and-white piece suggests that this wasn’t intended so much for children as it was for adult Tim Burton fans. Maybe that Nightmare Before Christmas gravy-train is finally starting to lose some steam and Disney needs a new Burton holiday film to exploit.
KL: Well, there you have it. Anything I say would just be gilding the lily.
KL: Lots to unpack here. I’ll go numerically.
1) I don’t mind found footage films. I don’t think the form itself is inherently bankrupt, and it’s provided me with some very solid scares. It’s just another tool, in other words.
2) I’m drawn to anthologies in any medium, despite the fact that they’re almost guaranteed to be at least 50% garbage. But it’s true; when I used to cover the local film festivals I’d shove aside features to see short film features. Whenever a non-Marvel or DC publisher puts out an anthology I’m more than likely to buy it, even if (perhaps especially) the talent is unknown to me. The combination of format restriction and young talent wanting to prove themselves is exciting. I guess it’s the potential that appeals to me. I have seen and read some serious garbage in my anthology-hunting life, but the truth is I rarely remember those. I do remember the gems, and there are enough of them to keep searching.
3) Ti West, director of The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, does one of these installments. The constraints and expectations of found footage go contrary to his usual style, but West is in that rare “Automatically Yes” club.
4) I hear mixed things. But when don’t you, with anthologies?
DW: I really want to like this, but there’s a lot of “buts” that come up when I think about it.
Ti West is a director I really want to like, but both of the films I’ve seen so far were competently made but didn’t really make me connect with the characters or the stories. I can tell he’s good and knows what he’s doing, and he keeps doing stuff that I kind of want to see, but the actual finished product never actually clicks for me. And when it comes to the very mixed reviews this is getting, it’s actually his segment that I’ve seen called out most frequently for being lackluster. And the found footage thing…in general, it’s not really something I like. It always highlights the artificiality of film for me, rather than obscuring it, which I think is what creators who use the technique are going for. It’s oddly Brechtian in that sense, I suppose. Here, though, it actually feels like one of the few times that technique and subject matter actually match up, so I don’t think it will bother me.
I don’t know. I almost broke down and rented it on-demand a while ago (since the local theater company won’t book films that appear on on-demand services), but the $10 price deterred me. I’m thinking this is a rental. I want to see it, but I can wait.
KL: Cool! Cute stories about nutty people who are way, way into kitschy hobbies have now filtered down into the consciousness enough to be made into big star-studded ventures! Step aside, Christopher Guest. We don’t need your mockumentaries anymore.
Perhaps I’m being a touch unfair, because I like a lot of these actors. But may I also point out that the director has done nothing of note and this is the writer’s first credit? Hmm. Hmmmmmmm.
DW: I…actually laughed at a couple of points in the trailer. I know, I shouldn’t, but it happens so rarely. Light and fluffy isn’t generally my thing, but this is a heck of a lot of people I do actually like quite a bit doing the light and fluffy, so…I think I’m down for it.
DW: Setting aside my “emoprog” reservations about how incredibly problematic it is to be making a movie about anti-American violence in Iran when election-year rhetoric is painting the Iranian government as worse than ten Hitlers, this actually looks pretty good. Affleck is still a pretty damn good actor, and he’s turned into a pretty damned good director while no one was looking as well. Plus, I kinda like these stories where the reality is more bonkers than any made-up story could ever approach.
I mean, the fake film that was used as a cover had designs by Jack Kirby. That sounds like a very weird comic fan wish-fulfillment fantasy, but nope, real.
KL: I’ve been pretty lukewarm on this – perhaps it’s how the trailer is cut that annoys me, where it goes through a handful of tone shifts and music cues to that bald-faced statement about how making a movie is super important you guys, and while I can agree with that, it feels awfully self-congratulatory to say it from the safe confines of Hollywood star power rather than as, say, an Iranian filmmaker.
However, Affleck is a tremendously gifted storyteller, he has assembled a great-as-usual cast, and early reviews out of festivals have been rapturous. Plus there’s the Jack Kirby thing. I mean come on. Give him at least one line and I’ll be over the moon.
DW: This is the sort of thing that’s generally right up my alley, horror-wise. We’ve got a bit of folk horror with the pagan elements, we’ve got the metatextual stuff with the monster living inside images, and we’ve got a haunted house story that flips the script by casting a male lead in what’s usually a more feminine-focused sub-genre. And it actually does look clever and creepy and original, which is a bonus.
But, man, using “from the producers of Insidious” as a come-on has absolutely the opposite of the desired effect on me. Because, guys, that film was awful. Just…just absolutely terrible. Like, I need to remember who it was who told me that it was actually good because I need to make a note to never take their opinion on the quality of a film seriously ever, ever, ever again.
So, cautiously optimistic, but still waiting for it to pop up on Watch Instantly, I think.
KL: There is something slightly above-the-paygrade about what they’re teasing us with here, and that is promising. The Insidious thing I can forgive because Hollywood is all about selling the sure thing, and what’s a better bet-hedger than mentioning past success, however unwarranted? (This is the only explanation for any movie to ever sport the phrase “From the makers of Despicable Me,” which you may remember as a formless blob of surprisingly profitable time-wasting.)
My wife has a soft spot for movies like these. So do I, but my soft spot can usually hold out until Netflix, like Dorian. My wife cannot. So let’s hope for the best.
KL: Lot of obvious Tyler Perry jokes to sidestep here (“Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry’s James Patterson’s Alex Cross,” et cetera) so I’m just going to say this sure looks a lot like a throwback to the late ‘90s and early aughts, when serial killer movies that played like “My First David Fincher Pastiche” gamely filled up weekly release schedules.
I’ll just close by noting that Matthew Fox has very rarely been in any movies that I liked (just the one time, actually: Speed Racer) and that the first thing I thought of when I saw the various elements advertising the movie – Tyler Perry, James Patterson, serial killer garbage (“taut,” “cat and mouse,” etc) – my instinct was to rename it Supermarket Check-Out Line: The Movie. That, I would see.
DW: I’m not sure which transition is more jarring: Morgan Freeman to Tyler Perry, or intricately plotted mystery thriller to generic action movie.
I actually liked the first two Alex Cross films. I mean, they’re not great, and they both hinge on the same “completely unexpected” plot twist, but as far as American mystery films go, they’re not bad. This, though, this is just typical big, loud and dumb action movie territory. Good on Tyler Perry for trying to broaden his appeal, I guess, but I really do need a little more wit or style if you’re just going to give me loud and dumb.
DW: I honestly don’t know what to make of this. It looks big and ambitious and a sweeping epic, but it also looks like there’s way too much story to cram into a two hour film here, which makes me worry that no one story will be developed enough, and the run on from that is that the film as a whole will be just completely disjointed.
On the other hand, a big, sweeping, ambitious sci-fi epic with something more to say than “explosions are cool” is the sort of thing I feel almost obligated to support, and as one of the people who were absolutely 100% correct about Speed Racer being amazing, I’m hoping that the Wachowski siblings can pull off another worthwhile project.
Heck, the ads even prominently feature Tom Hanks who…I’m not a fan of, and I still find myself leaning towards thinking this is going to be worth watching.
KL: I guess the whole Cloud Atlas phenom passed me by. When I asked My Good Friends On Twitter about the book, which I had not heard of until the movie trailer smashed its way to the top of Trending Topics, I got some pretty divergent responses: people either thought it was an epic must-read or an epically pretentious waste of time. Which sounds right up the Wachowskis’ alley, truth be told.
I also loved Speed Racer and I love that the Wachowskis – previously VERY FAR down my list of favorite filmmakers – are using their clout to keep trying new, crazy shit. I like new, crazy shit. I like it even if it’s not very good. I will see this.
KL: As surely as the Disney and Nickelodeon ecosystems must replenish themselves with new talent to keep their day-to-day empires going, there must also be an outpatient program to rehab their darlings into – if not quite adult actors – something beyond “oh, the one who does the kid stuff?” And so: Fun Size.
I find the “ecosystem” metaphor to be useful. Needs must be met, resources must be acquired and, when used up, expunged. It’s a pretty pure system that infrequently brushes up against our own. Like how Zac Efron keeps trying to be a thing.
So I guess this is Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist for people who were the little brother’s age when that movie came out (so old) featuring the kind of Halloween that only exists in my dreams. Everyone dressed up in great costumes, swarms of children going door to door, elaborate haunted houses…
I’m going off on a tangent. This film’s got nothing to do with me and I’m going to forget about it as soon as I finish typing this paragraph. Suits me fine.
DW: I don’t know, maybe I’m getting reverse-cynical in my old age, but…I think I might like to see this?
For some reason, despite the “Nickelodeon Films” tag at the start there, which believe me, in any other circumstance would be a big, flashing, red neon “Avoid” sign to me, this gives me the same sort of “smarter than it needed to be” vibe that the trailers for Sex Drive and Easy A gave off, and I ended up really enjoying those.
Or maybe it’s just nostalgia kicking in and all these films just remind me of a sanitized version of the 80s teen sex comedies I watched on HBO when I was a kid. It could be either/or, really.