Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at a selection of trailers for films releasing this month, to see which ones create visions of sugar canes dancing, which ones deserve a visit from the Krampus, and which ones we’d rather get into arguements about whether Zwarte Piet is racist or not instead of watching.
It’s December, so that means the last hurrah of award contenders, family friendly epics, and the obligatory attempt to make musicals a viable genre again.
DW: All through this trailer, I kept going back and forth between “this might be tolerable” and “for fuck’s sake, really?” at what was going on. On the one hand, we’ve got a pretty stock and unimaginative set of characters: nerdy guy, rebel girl, jock, shy beauty, token black kid. You can do interesting things with stock characters in a horror film, but doing “Breakfast Club only detention hall is haunted” isn’t really stretching things too much. Especially when you go and stunt cast Judd Nelson. It’s all a little too on the nose, and it comes off lazy. Especially when you throw in some really awful CGI and an extremely plastic looking bronze statue as your set centerpiece.
So points for a catchy name and doing the obligatory horror movie in December counter-programming, but I’m going to mark this as a “pass” I think.
KL: This is a locally produced movie. It’s also a locally produced comic. I’m not sure which came first – I think it was the comic, then the movie. If I sound hazy and confused, it’s because Bad Kids Go To Hell has had a booth at every local comic and sci-fi convention for the past, oh, 78 years or so, and it felt more like set dressing for being a nerd in Dallas rather than an actual thing. It was like finding the North Star in rooms full of sweaty men: “Oh, there’s the Bad Kids booth. We must be in North Texas.”
But here’s it an actual thing. They’ve been four-walling theaters in Dallas and showing up on IMDB’s front page and there’s even some billboards, so I guess this thing is a Real Boy. It’s obviously a work of passion for somebody – no one spends that many years flogging something that was essentially vaporware most of the time without believing in it – and maybe it’ll be surprising? I won’t be finding out firsthand, anyway. I look forward to the BKGTH booths having something to actually sell in the spring, though.
DW: I actually really like everyone who is in this, and FDR is one of my favorite presidents. (And, y’know, after a couple of years of a particular political party doing their damn best to trash his legacy, a public reminder of how awesome he was is probably a good thing.) Under normal circumstances, I’d be all for this; good cast, interesting characters and situation. It’s the timing that wearies me. It’s a bio-pic in December that promises to make statements about things. It’s that baiting for awards that tires me. I’d be a lot happier if the film was just its own thing and not trying to be “important.”
KL: I read a review that mentions at one point that Murray, as FDR driving in a car with a distant cousin played by Laura Linney, pulls the car over so Linney can give him a handjob. So I think I’m good, thanks.
KL: Eric Bana is one of those actors who landed in my good graces for all time with the first thing I saw him in: Chopper. That he diversified pretty rapidly since then solidified his position, even when he showed up in some stinkers. And it looks like he’s gonna be kinda-sorta a villain again, which is nice to see.
There was a time in my life when I really sought out these twisty-turny tightly woven crime dramas with family n’ sex n’ death all tangled up together. That time is passing, but some little piece of this sparks something in me – maybe it’s Bana, maybe it’s director Stefan Ruzowitzky, whose The Counterfeiters was well-regarded. I’d like to know how it goes.
DW: Bana I think gets under-rated as an actor, probably mostly because most of the American films he’s been in were, frankly, not very good. But he’s really good as a villain, so it’s nice to see him in something that plays to his strengths.
I’m mostly in the same boat when it comes to the whole “twisty crime drama” genre. Used to really like it, now can just sort of take it or leave it. I think I can tolerate about one a year at my current rate of film consumption. (Though, oddly, my appetite for 80s horror films remains undiminished and I seem to be watching a lot of second tier teen comedies, if my “Recently Viewed” list on Netflix is anything to go by. Must be an age thing.) So, I’ll probably make the effort to search this one out. I like Bana, and I haven’t seen anything good in this genre for a little while, so sure, why not.
KL: When all is said and done, this world will contain approximately 18 hours of Peter Jackson filming hobbits, and that is the conservative estimate.
Much hay has been made about Peter Jackson turning 320 pages of book into a trilogy, and rightly so. But I thank him for satirizing his own complete departure from anything that resembles the concept of restraint. The Lord of the Rings (while a filmmaking accomplishment in the sense that building a massive, sturdy and occasionally eye-pleasing convention center is an architectural accomplishment) was the worst thing that’s ever happened to him. There was Peter Jackson who made The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures; then after all that success and bloat, there was Peter Jackson who is I think still filming T Rexes fighting King Kong right this very second.
I saw all three LOTR movies in the theater. I saw the first one midnight, opening night. I saw the second one the weekend of its release. I saw the third one two weeks into its release, because it was there and I wanted to be done with the thing. And there was so much Epic Battle in that movie that I actually burned out on Sweeping Epics for over a year. I wonder if he even remembers how to make a movie that clocks in at less than 120 minutes.
Short version: No thanks.
DW: I’m probably a sucker. I’m in, just because it’s looking like a competently made fantasy-adventure film, with maybe more than a little hint of bloat. I really don’t care about the technical aspects that some people are arguing about. And I’m fairly amused by the very serious fans complaining about it looking “too jokey,” as if the novel doesn’t have talking purses and golf jokes in it.
Short version: Oooh, pretty colors.
KL: Pretty big piles of angst surrounding this movie re: lionizing the death of Osama bin Laden, which forgets two pretty critical things: 1) this was in progress when he was found and killed, and 2) Kathryn Bigelow has never demonstrated much belief in the romance around authority generally or the military specifically. I’d say the same holds for writer Mark Boal, who also wrote The Hurt Locker and (the execrable but still not misty-eyed) In the Valley of Elah.
Bigelow is near the top of my small list of “will see absolutely anything they do.” She marries the mundane and the observational with the harrowing and thrilling with breathtaking ease. We’ll see if Zero Dark Thirty is the one where Bigelow veers hard into crypto-fascism, as portions of my Twitter feed fear, but I am doubtful.
DW: Bigelow and Boal are probably on the very short list of people who can probably be trusted to make this movie without turning it into a massive propaganda piece. Which it is going to be treated as anyway, and that will be fun to watch, if for no other reason than to see the usual cable news talking heads project their own issues onto a piece of art.
Yeah, I think I’m probably more interested in this as a socio-cultural artifact than as an actual film.
DW: Setting aside the issue of naming a film after the main character is proving to be a really bad idea, what mostly strikes me is that Tom Cruise is rapidly approaching the self-parody phase of his career. Yes, we get it, he likes to think of himself as an action-movie badass hero, so let’s make a film that throws every stupid cliché that goes with that into this! And let’s hire his pet screenwriter to direct it! And then let’s make sure that we make everything really, really, really blue all the time in the digital grading! Blue sells, right? It’s like they’re daring us to make fun of it. From self-aware film-makers that might work, but I really don’t get the idea that Cruise and anyone he hires to make himself look good are really anything other than entirely earnest.
KL: I think it was Chicago Sun-Times film blogger Jim Emerson who cracked the Tom Cruise Code for me: he’s great when he’s playing narcissistic characters brimming over with anger. He does the “feelings” stuff OK, but he was perhaps more at home than he’s ever been as Vincent, the heartless hitman in Collateral.
I am way less interested when Cruise plays this type as the hero. Sure, the last Mission Impossible had a lot going for it, but all that really did was demonstrate that Cruise is an effective action figure in the hands of a very good director. Everyone under Cruise’s name is great – Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner fucking Herzog – but ehhhh.
I am also a little put off by how much the trailer looks like it’s pushing Jack Reacher the character and not Jack Reacher the movie. Are you selling a franchise or a story? All I’m saying is, the Die Hard trailer didn’t play like a sizzle reel for how badass John McClane is, you know?
DW: I am a bad homosexual, as Les Mis is actually not a musical I am fond of. (I don’t think it’s as terrible as Wicked if that makes you feel any better…) It’s just a little too French I suppose with its bleakness and despair and really not funny at all comic relief and really not believable at all central romance and misguided insistence that spending approximately thirty years following Jean Valjean around is worthwhile in any way when the end result of doing so is that he gets to see Cosette end up with some snot-nosed punk that she could really do better than.
The cast just edges out my dislike for the material that I may consider seeing it, if it’s the 26th and I’m in the middle of Oregon with nothing else to do.
KL: Dorian, I too must admit that I’m a bad homosexual. I have never seen Les Mis in any form. I have seen Cats once, and that was a high school production starring a friend’s sibling. God help us all, I’ve seen Rent like five times in various media, despite never particularly liking it. And that’s about it for me and musicals.
This is a very talented cast but look, man, I’m just going to have to own it: Musicals do not speak to me.
KL: I thought I’d learned my lesson with QT after Death Proof, but Inglourious Basterds had juuuuuuust enough Christoph Waltz and Leone-aping and batshit-crazy finale to hook me in. Now, I haven’t watched IB since my first viewing, which should probably tell me something, but…
I guess Tarantino’s on this kick where he uses movies to correct historical wrongs: killing Hitler, writing a slave killing the hell out of racist slave owners, et cetera. That’s fine, I guess, though I would prefer to see these kinds of gleeful revisions done by people who would have a let’s say more direct connection to these historical atrocities. Also by people who have anything meaningful to say about vengeance. But I sure like the idea of Jamie Fox and Christoph Waltz bantering and shooting and whatnot.
Actually, if I’m being honest, the thing I really want to see is Leonardo DiCaprio being a joyous sleazeball. The rest is kinda like seeing a Beatles cover band – the real thing won’t ever happen again, so if you want a live show you’ll have to settle for their echoes and shadows. That is, I think, the Tarantino experience in general.
DW: I grew tired of Tarantino’s schtick a long time back. I’m not seeing the “growth” some of his fans claim he has gone through in any of his recent work. Sure, cinematically he’s improved; his films look better, they’re marginally more coherent, he’s stealing from (excuse me, “homaging”) other directors less. But they’re still violent recreations of exploitative genre films, and he’s still saying the same thing. Namely, that exploitative genre films are cool, man, and wouldn’t it be cool if they still made them.
But they do, Quentin, and as hamfisted as they are, I find them a hell of a lot more interesting than your 70s throwbacks.