Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at a selection of trailers for upcoming films, to see what tickles our fancy and what tickles that thing that hangs down the back of your throat.
When November comes around, the block-buster season is officially over, but the winter vacation family films haven’t hit yet, so we tend to get a lot of prestige pictures. “Prestige” as far as I can tell is code for “give us award nominations.”

November 2nd

Wreck-It Ralph

KL: It’s the usual Disney stuff – must we always do what we’re told to do, or can we break free and find happiness? – but at least it’s got a cute package, and I am a huge admirer of John C. Reilly’s endless talents. Get me going and I’ll talk about that guy like other people might talk about Hugh Jackman. He can sing! He can dance! He’s so funny!

The rest of the voice talent is pretty good, too, and the premise is cute. (I’m inclined to say a lot of the video game ‘types’ are probably mysteries to kids, but with console markets reselling old titles like they do, who can say?) Extra fun facts: Rich Moore also directed some classic animated shows, including “Cape Feare” from The Simspons and Futurama’s “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Cautious optimism, right here.

DW: And I feel incredibly out of step with my friends and family on this one. They’re all looking forward to this, and I…just don’t see the appeal at all. The character designs are bland, the story is the same sort of “home is where the heart is/believe in yourself” trite moralizing that every kid’s movie has, the use of celebrities as voices in animated films I just find incredibly distracting, and the premise feels like a particularly dumb Robot Chicken sketch. Yeah, there’s talented people behind this, and there’s probably going to be enough of a base level of quality to make this watchable, but I’m really picturing myself getting dragged to this when I’d rather just go and see Sean Penn play a goth.

The Man with the Iron Fists

DW: There are a few things about this that make it look like it could have promise. Visually it’s lush, with sets and costumes and fights that promise to be spectacular. And the cast is actually pretty strongly to my taste. But I’ve still got some reservations. Those fights, as epic as they look, also look pretty highly derivative of just about every major kung-fu movie of the past two decades.

And that’s the other big problem. This isn’t so much a new original film, as it’s remix-culture taking all the best bits of a bunch of films that were better and more original and mashing them all up into a new film. I’m burnt out on the whole remix-culture thing. Do something original, don’t rehash what others have done. It might be interesting, it might have flair, but ultimately it only creates ephemeral things.

The saving grace might be that this is hip-hop culture remixing martial arts films, and not the nerd pandering we usually see with this sort of thing.

KL: I wish I could remember who it was that gave me a very valuable lesson in the merits of animation. They were writing about Fantastic Four and The Incredibles, and pointing out that CGI imposed on real actors would always be inferior to the same impossibilities rendered in animation. You’re always going to notice the moment that a real person transitions into special effects – when something there becomes something not there. This disconnect does not exist in animation; their consistency never changes.

That’s a lot of words to say I’d be way more into this if it wasn’t apparently a showpiece for CGI artists.

This Must Be the Place

DW: I’m as skeptical of “quirk” as the next man, and my hatred for “daddy issue” movies is quite strong, but there’s something really compelling about the set-up here. An aging ex-rock star, stalking the Nazi war criminal his Holocaust survivor father could never find? That’s a unique story. That’s what I want out of movies, unique stories. And what it looks like we have here is a nice little picaresque that neither overplays the potential for farce, but doesn’t take itself more seriously than it should either. I’m pretty much down for that.

KL: This looks bananas and I have no idea what to make of it. Nothing about it particularly reads “comedy” to me – I mean OK, there’s Sean Penn’s getup, but he’s such a Super Serious Sourpuss overall that it now seems like the Sean Penn of Fast Times days was perhaps a transmission from an alternate reality.

Regardless it’s not grabbing me. We’ll see what the crix say.

November 9th

Skyfall

KL: My attendance is pretty much mandatory. I still marvel at the craftsmanship of Casino Royale, a movie that is as much an immersive experience for me as Fargo or Zodiac – I am not so much watching a movie as I am stepping into an aesthetic, one that envelopes me fully. Quantum of Solace was perhaps half as engaging (with action sequences not a tenth as imaginative or coherent), but I was nonetheless drawn to wounded thirst for vengeance that pulled Craig’s Bond and Olga Kurylenko’s Camille.

The writing crew appears to be the same, and I am a little skeptical of Sam Mendes’s ability to wow me; I respond to his movies either with surprised delight or impatience.

But man, I love Daniel Craig in this role, I love Javier Bardem, and I love Naomie Harris. I’d see this collection of actors in just about anything.

DW: I can never make up my mind whether I’m a Bond fan or not. Most of the films don’t really do much for me. I like camp, but there are limits, you know? The books are all right, but I’m not a spy book fan, and they’re different enough beasts from the films that it really doesn’t matter that much. Craig is the first Bond actor I’ve really liked, and a lot of that has to do with him being as different as possible from every actor who has gone before that he feels like a new enough character that I can ignore the other films. But, as much as I liked Casino Royale, I suspect it filled my quota for “good Bond films.” I had no desire to see Quantum of Solace, and this looks…pretty good, I suppose. I think I’d prefer to watch a film about Judi Dench kicking ass, so the hints of that impress me, but I just know that there’s not going to be nearly enough of M being in charge to get me excited.

Lincoln

KL: I’m sure it’s great. This is a biopic about a Great Man loaded with A+ talent all the way down. Perhaps I burned out too fast on the movie beat, but the Big Important Movies That Are Probably Great come out every November and I just get tired. I may see this if the family decides this is what we’re seeing on Thanksgiving, but barring that: Nah.
When did I get so old, guys?

DW: I’m mostly with you. You couldn’t ask for a better cast, but…Spielberg. Man, Steven Spielberg. There’s something about his blatant emotional manipulation and oversimplification of historical events into digestable, feel-good narratives that just rubs me the wrong way to an incredible degree. Even the musical cues in the damn trailer set my teeth on edge. You couldn’t ask for a more stereotypical “sweeping historical epic” set of notes. Add to that the November release, meaning someone wants an Oscar, and the whole thing just seems horribly cynical to me.

Life of Pi

DW: I’m probably pre-disinclined to be interested. Most of my exposure to the story prior to this was critics and readers I trusted criticizing the book for it lazy and confused religious allegory and the obnoxious boosterism of the book’s fans. And the story does have a very “Oprah’s Book Club” sort of feel to it. The sort of thing that makes people who don’t read very often feel good about themselves because it’s the sort of thing that’s mildly challenging.

If it wasn’t for Ang Lee being involved in the film I probably wouldn’t be interested at all. And what we get in the trailers is very pretty, but Lee can be very hit or miss. And when he misses, he misses bad. And when he misses, he usually misses because he didn’t have great material to work with at the start.

So I think I’ll just chalk this up as a “not for me” and leave it at that.

KL: See it’s like LIFE, because you’re trapped with SAVAGERY which you will FIGHT and then learn to TRUST and LIFE, YOU KNOW? GUYS? RIGHT? LIFE?

Ang Lee directs a beautiful movie, and I’ll admit to some mild pleasantness when I saw the extended trailer for this in front of Prometheus on a ginormo digital screen. It was OK, but the thinness of the content and its placement in front of an actual movie only undermined it; basically, it worked fine as the pre-feature cartoon but I’m not at all interested in seeing the two-hour version.

November 23rd

Hitchcock

DW: Why, what’s that I hear? Is it the tingling of tiny bells, baiting the Oscars to come out? I believe it is.

Look, I don’t doubt that Alfred Hitchcock was a fascinating man, and that there’s a juicy story to tell about the making of Psycho, but everything here just feels so…calculated. Look, it’s a Respected Actor in so much make-up that not only is he not recognizable, but he barely looks like the person he’s meant to be playing! It’s a biography of a famous person, with a Respected Actor in the lead role! Why, I do believe it’s even a movie about the motion-picture industry, celebrating the brilliance and vision of an auteur, triumphing over those pig-headed studio suits (who at least had the foresight to greenlight this picture, amirite guys?).

I’m sure it’s a good film. It’s also completely obvious why it got made.

KL: There are just so many great books about Hitchcock that never had to worry about obeying Sir Oscar, you know?

November 30

Killing Them Softly

KL: I’d be ready to dismiss this as Tough Guys Being Tough Guys, or Another Grim Lesson In Where Bad Life Choices Will Get You, or whatever, even though I like everyone here. However, this is adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, the guy behind Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I suspect this will not be enough to make this movie not about Karma’s Payback yadda yadda, which fans of crime fiction have seen a bajillion times before. But that talent is hard to deny.

Also go see Chopper if you haven’t. That movie is where I first encountered Eric Bana, so imagine the cognitive dissonance of going from that to, say, Funny People. Crazy world.

DW: I am like the only gay man in the world who Doesn’t Get The Appeal when it comes to Brad Pitt, so anytime he’s the headliner you really have to work hard to convince me that the film is worth seeing. This looks like virtually every crime drama I’ve ever seen, with every Hard Man type making an appearance. I mean, heck, you’ve even got Liotta and Gandolfini in it, and they’re the Go To guys for that sort of movie. I’m sure it’s good, but I think this is a definite wait to see what critics think. Or I’ll just go rewatch Drive.

7 Responses to “In A World for November, 2012”
  1. Bully says:

    I saw Life of Pi early at the New York Film Festival and reviewed it (shameless self-promotion link). It’s visually gorgeous and very affecting. That said, I’m a sucker for this sort of heart-tugging thing which may not work for everyone. The performances are excellent and the cinematography, especially in the pre-ocean Indian sequences in Pondicherry, are colorful and gorgeous. Also, there is a tiger.

  2. Damon says:

    I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Killing Them Softly, I’d hated the trailer but was stuck for something to see. If it had come out fifteen years ago I could see a Tarantino knock-off not doing it well, however it all felt very capable and deft. Didn’t know it was by the guy behind Chopper, it clips along at a similar pace.

  3. I’m with you vis a vis Brad Pitt, Dorian. There’s absolutely no There there, and it actually creeps me out.

  4. Maxo says:

    I just can’t get past how hard “Life of Pi” seems to be selling the magical-realism angle, especially considering the fairly dark tone of the book’s story arc; “Tintin” had a more realistic feel, and it was supposed to be cartoony. I just can’t get a handle on what Lee’s trying to do, and it’s worrisome.

    On the other hand, I’m all in for “Skyfall” and looking forward to “This Must Be the Place.”

  5. merchantfan says:

    What really confuses me about Wreck-It Ralph is that it’s purportedly a kids’ movie, but is set in an arcade, which haven’t really existed in America for a very long time. I suppose they still show up so much in media because they are more visually interesting than showing kids sitting at home with a console, but like catching chicken pox (which was on the Mighty Bee of all places), it’s something that just doesn’t exist anymore.

  6. RDaggle says:

    “The saving grace might be that this is hip-hop culture remixing martial arts films, and not the nerd pandering we usually see with this sort of thing”

    But isn’t there a long history between hip-hop and kung-fu movies, though? Off the top of my head, the Wu-Tang Clan for one. Pretty sure they are just the tip of a sizeable iceberg.

    Although it does seem that instead of pandering to a niche audience, this movie looks to be super-pandering to a super-niche audience.

  7. Rob H says:

    “But isn’t there a long history between hip-hop and kung-fu movies, though?”

    And almost all of it involves RZA in some way.

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